Saturday, 25 February 2012


“Great music is in a sense serene; it is certain of the values it asserts.” - Rebecca West
We have had a very hot day today in Melbourne with the temperature just under 40˚C for most of the day. After doing some shopping and chores as early as we could, we ended up at home, which fortunately remained cool through the non-stop operation of the air conditioner. One is thankful on days like this of the technology and the way it can make our life easier. In the half darkness of the curtained off rooms we relaxed, watched a movie, read and listened to music.

Then evening came and even in the approaching darkness, the heat was intense. Tonight’s low will 21˚C and then again, another hot day tomorrow in the high 30s. Summer weather lingers all during February, which tends to be our hottest month. One yearns for autumn on days such as these. We humans are never content, it seems, we long for summer’s heat in winter, in summer we would snow and ice, in autumn’s decline we desire the burgeoning growth of spring and in spring’s flighty weather we yearn for autumn’s mellowness…

For a little Saturday Serenity, here is the gorgeous Lento, the second movement of Antonin Dvořák’s Quartet No 12 in F, the “American”. Music doesn’t get more serene than this. Enjoy it and enjoy the season you are experiencing this very day!

This post is part of the Saturday Sareenity meme.

Friday, 24 February 2012


“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” - Bertrand Russell
It’s been a hard week and I’m glad it’s Friday. I haven’t been feeling too well and I have been stretching myself a little too thin. I’ll take it easy this weekend and try to relax a little and get ready for another onslaught next week. Got home late as there was a long meeting at work that went until 6:00 pm. Having missed the 6:05 pm train I had to wait half an hour for the next one and didn't get home till 7:00 pm. It made for a long Friday.

To relax, I made an old fashioned drink. The glass may not have been in the freezer for three hours, but 10 minutes was long enough.

1   part dry vermouth
1   part brandy
1   part lemon juice
     ice, granulated sugar

Put a martini glass in the freezer for at least three hours. Take the glass and wet the rim by running around it with a segment of lemon and frost the rim with the sugar. Shake the vermouth, brandy and lemon juice with ice, straining carefully into the sugar frosted glass.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


“In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing.” - Mignon McLaughlin

Magpie Tales has provided the beautiful image again this week.  Looking at Venus in the sky, I had to sit on this one for a while as a host of ideas assailed me – too many in fact and I wrote a poem yesterday, which I immediately trashed. Today, a haiku seemed to satisfy both the message of the image as well as me.


Forgotten number
Of your telephone: That which
I once rang by heart.

As it is also Thesaurus Thursday today, let me give you the definition of “Love” from “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce (1911), the eText of which is available on line here

LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease, like caries and many other ailments, is prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.


“Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” - Thomas Carlyle
Today is Ash Wednesday, which in the Western Christian churches marks the first day of the season of Lent. Lent begins 40 days prior to Easter (with Sundays not included in the count). Lent is when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. In many cases, this has been reduced to a symbolic act where one consciously gives up something they enjoy: “I’m not having any chocolate for Lent” or “I’m going to become a vegetarian for the Lent period”.

In church, during some Ash Wednesday masses or services, the priest will lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of worshipers. Ash Wednesday and Lent are mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, but also most importantly by the Roman Catholics. The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning rituals with ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.

Eastern Orthodox churches observe the Great Lent, during the 6 weeks or 40 days preceding Palm Sunday with fasting continuing during the Holy Week of Orthodox Easter, bringing the Lenten period to seven weeks. Lent for Eastern Orthodox churches begins on Monday (called “Clean Monday”) and Ash Wednesday is not observed. This year, the beginning of the Great Lent for Orthodox churches is on the 27th February. The Greek Orthodox church calls the Great Lent “Megále Saracosté” to distinguish it from the Lesser Lent, which is observed before Christmas.

The discrepancy in the start of Lent between Western and Eastern churches occurs as the Orthodox faith follows a modified Julian calendar to establish the date of Easter each year and Easter must fall after Passover, so it does not always or often coincide with the date of Easter in other faiths, which is calculated according to the Gregorian Calendar. In 2012, Western Church Easter is celebrated on the 8th April, while the Eastern Church celebrates Easter the following Sunday, April 15th.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


“Abandoning meditation, penance and self-restraint, and the wisdom of good actions, you do not worship and adore the Lord's Name.” - Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Happy Mardi Gras! Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday”, or “Pancake Tuesday” are alternative names for Shrove Tuesday. In most Western churches this is the last day of the pre-Lenten non-fasting period.  It was a day during which all remaining eggs, milk, butter and cheese in the house had to be consumed, hence the custom of making pancakes. The term “Shrove” is the past tense of the verb “to shrive”:

shrive |SHrīv| verb ( past shrove |SHrōv|; past participle shriven |ˈSHrivən| ) [ with obj. ] archaic
(of a priest) Hear the confession of, assign penance to, and absolve (someone).
• (shrive oneself) Present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution.
ORIGIN Old English scrīfan ‘impose as a penance,’ of Germanic origin; related to Dutch schrijven and German schreiben ‘write,’ from Latin scribere ‘write.’

This related to the observance of presenting oneself to a priest for confession before the holy period of Lent began. The religious significance of this day has been lost in our mostly secular society, but the festive element of Mardi Gras has remained with great carnivals being staged in many parts of the world around this time. The pancake making and eating seems to have also survived. Interesting how the corporeal has managed to survive, but the spiritual, alas, has petered out…

1    pint (≈ 470 mL) cream
6    fresh eggs
1/4  pound  (≈ 114 g) sugar
1    nutmeg, grated
            flour to make a thin batter
            some butter for frying

Beat well the cream and eggs together and add the sugar and nutmeg.  Add as much flour as will make a thin pancake batter. Be careful as not to add much flour.  Grease the hot pan with a little butter and wipe lightly with a cloth.  Spoon the batter so that the bottom of the pan is covered evenly and thinly. Fry the pancake well on one side and then toss quickly so that the other side is also a golden brown colour.  Serve with savoury or sweet fillings.

Sunday, 19 February 2012


“Revenge, at first though sweet, bitter, ere long, back on itself recoils” - John Milton
We watched the 2010 Patrick Hughes film “Red Hill” yesterday, an Australian film which he produced as well as wrote the screenplay for. So it is very much his own film! It starred Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley and Tommy Lewis and one could call the film an action thriller, although some would even call it a “Meat Pie Western” (viz: Australian Western ;-). Although he film has flaws and is riddled with clichés, for the most part we enjoyed watching it despite some gratuitous violence, which was included to appeal to the younger market, I guess.

The plot centres on Shane Cooper (Kwanten), a young police constable, who must survive his first day’s duty in a small Australian highland country town. The town is immediately attacked by an escaped Aboriginal convict (Lewis) and who appears to have a grudge against the local police officers and their clique amongst the townspeople. Bisley plays the tough Chief Inspector of the town, “Old Bill” who appears self-assured and confident and runs the town according to his own laws. Cooper’s pregnant young wife (Claire van der Boom) provides a vague romantic interest, but this is most definitely a dick flick.

The film definitely pays homage to the Western genre and Hughes obviously understands this genre and delights in transporting to the Australia countryside and putting in a modern context. The main characters, Kwanten, Bisley and Lewis, make the film and they are all very competent in their roles. However, the supporting characters are rather shallow and provide fodder for the convict’s vengeful rampage. Hughes doesn’t offer much exposition in any of his characters, but still manages to propel the film forward interposing action shots with the more contemplative scenes. Steve Bisley is excellent in his role and a pleasure to watch, stealing most of the scenes with his personality and great acting ability. Lewis hardly utters a word, yet succeeds in making us feel the menace and brutality that his role has to exude. Kwanten plays a vulnerable “hero”, who is at times silly, weak, resourceful, green and scared. He is the most human of the characters and the one most viewers would identify with.

The cinematography and music (by Dmitri Golovko) are excellent and the overall mood of the film sets the right tone for the action. It is violent, often gratuitously so, and the plot has many holes, especially of the type: “She knows the monster is in the alley and she knows that she can’t defend herself, so why does she decide to go into the alley and confront the monster – and ends up getting killed?”… If we judge “Red Hill” as a ‘serious’ film, it will not score too many point. However, Hughes doesn’t take the film seriously and knows he is aiming to entertain. His direction is competent and his script has intelligence at its core and there is some poignancy and pathos there too. However, pandering to the market in order to make the film sell diminishes its overall value.

It still is worthwhile watching this film, negative points notwithstanding. While it is not up to the standard of the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men” it is an engaging film and it does make a point about attitudes and prejudices of our society. It just falls short of being a classic as it is not original enough. Nor is it a copy, but rather a mélange of many and none. If you watch it, be warned there are some violent and fairly gruesome scenes in it. The only thing that made me laugh was the panther, although it was a good-humoured laugh and I forgave Hughes for his rather heavy-handed attempt at deeper symbolism…


“Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one” - Albert Einstein
On Saturday we enjoyed a special showing of the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery of London, at one of our cinemas here in Melbourne. This was an interesting experiment, based on the November 2011 opening of the exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” which was screened at cinemas across the globe, making it the first art exhibition opening to receive simultaneous global transmission. Beginning on Thursday 16 February, “Leonardo Live” will be screened at 650 cinemas across Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and USA.

The live coverage and subsequent documentary transmission, was able offers art lovers worldwide an unprecedented opportunity to experience the work of Leonardo da Vinci. This was definitely the next best thing to actually being there in what turned out to be a sold out exhibition as soon as it opened. The coverage was presented by art historian Tim Marlow and journalist Mariella Frostrup. “Leonardo Live” explored the exhibition on its opening night and featured detailed examinations of the paintings and drawings on show with some insights into the genius of Leonardo. The film featured interviews with special guests and experts, including exhibition curator Luke Syson. The paintings were shown in the context of Leonardo’s life and oeuvre and as well as offering the opportunity to look at each painting in its entirety, close-up footage revealed the astonishing detail of the works.

We enjoyed the presentation overall, although the two presenters did seem like over-eager puppies at some points, trying desperately to make the “show” a bit like a cross between a grand final football coverage and a sensational coverage of an election evening broadcast. The interviews were of limited interest with some of the “VIPs” interviewed being more enthusiastic to self-promote rather than knowledgeable about the topic at hand. Fiona Shaw’s interview about the “Salvator Mundi” painting was particularly fuzzy. I would have preferred more time spent on the paintings, examining the details, the technique, the history, the relationship of Leonardo’s art with other artists of his time, etc.

The concept of this exhibition at the National Gallery being transmitted in this manner was innovative and served an important purpose – bringing art to the masses worldwide. As such, the presentation was sensationalised in order to appeal to the masses. I would personally have preferred a non-live event (even though what we saw last Saturday was canned) that was more studious and carefully prepared, with real experts on Leonardo’s art providing insights into his life and work, rather than a hyped up, “gee-whiz” presentation like an Oscars ceremony with “VIPs” of token value.

The genius of the art of Leonardo is remarkable – that is indisputable. However, the way that we have made art a commodity and the way that we market the art of the masters of the past is something that can be debated at great length. The “Mona Lisa” on T-shirts and mugs, the copies of Rembrandt that we hang on our walls, the reproduction of each and every masterpiece in books, DVDs, other forms of visual media, and now of course the internet, may give the viewer a false impression of what the art actually looks like and rob somewhat from the impact the art work has on one when it is viewed in reality. This type of broadcast attempted to make art more accessible and may provide the only opportunity for some people to see a Leonardo painting “close-up and personal”. However, it is a different experience viewing the work with ones own eyes.

When I visited the National Gallery of London several years ago I was astounded by Leonardo’s drawing of the “The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist”, sometimes called “The Burlington House Cartoon” (see detail above – view whole here) Its immense size (141.5 cm × 104.6 cm) and its wonderful luminosity was something that I was not prepared for. I had seen this work before reproduced in art books, on the net, in magazines. Seeing it in reality was a revelation. I spent over half an hour looking at it, drinking it in, reveling in its wonderful detail and depth. Once again watching the “Leonardo Live” presentation, this work was highlighted. However, the impact was quite different. Yes, one appreciated the drawing in the broadcast, but the sheer gob-smacking reality of the original was lost. I had to go away and attempt a copy of this magnificent drawing and I did several (good) drawings of details of the work, which only increased my admiration of the genius of Leonardo that I clearly lacked…

No doubt the future will bring us even more “perfect” reproductions of original art works. Maybe a near-perfect Picasso could be hung on walls of every home. Maybe flawless copies of Monet can be made with the aid of technology and we can populate our museums with these ersatz works. That may prove to be a wonderful experience insofar as making these works more accessible by as many people as possible, but perhaps we should rethink how we view great art. Travelling great distances in order to be able to view an original hanging in one gallery in one part of the world was one of the highlights of my various travels.

Thinking about it, I once again question “what is art?”, how do we appreciate it? Is an original superior to a “perfect reproduction” (if such a thing exists…), is the creation of something new even possible or is every original work dependent on all previous works that have come before it? Is a Leonardo somehow more “superior” to a scribble by Picasso that he tossed off while he said with wonderful insight: “If I spit, they will take my spit and frame it as great art.” Interesting ideas, interesting discussion one may have…