Saturday, 12 February 2011


“I have my own particular sorrows, loves, delights; and you have yours. But sorrow, gladness, yearning, hope, love, belong to all of us, in all times and in all places. Music is the only means whereby we feel these emotions in their universality.” - H.A. Overstreet

A routine Saturday, with the usual chores to do, shopping, some gardening. But at least a beautiful evening with an outing, a nice dinner, and quiet time for relaxation…

For Song Saturday today, something that will make the purists cringe, but I’m sure something that the more open-minded amongst us will appreciate. Bach would have liked it, I think!

Here is French songstress, Mauranne, singing “Sur un Prélude de Bach”.

Do you like it?

Thursday, 10 February 2011


“My favorite animal is steak.” - Fran Lebowitz

Another very busy day at work today, in which I achieved lots, at least. I just wish that all people would work together as a team – it’s enough to have a bad apple to make the whole crate go off. I really don’t understand the sort of person who is nasty and mean for no reason at all. If personal gain is involved, I would understand it, but to be bad just for the sake of being unpleasant or malicious is beyond me. Fortunately, I have the support of my staff and I have enough patience to deal with this person in a calm and conciliatory manner – for whatever it’s worth…

We presently have a group of Korean medical students visiting our College and they are doing a Summer short course with us. They are greatly enjoying it and are a very vivacious, fun-loving group. The professor who has come with them is also a very friendly and outgoing woman and today we had another two members of their staff join us. I took them all to lunch with members of our own staff and after asking them where they would like to go, what type of cuisine they wanted to sample (this being the very cosmopolitan Melbourne with an embarrassing richness of choices), we all went to a typical pub and we enjoyed a typical pub lunch. This the overseas guests also enjoyed greatly.

Melbourne pubs are omnipresent and vary greatly in terms of atmosphere, décor, cuisine, pricing and ambience. Everyone has a favourite one or two, and while they all mainly serve alcohol at a bar, they all also serve meals. The arrangement is more or less the same – one is seated, looks at the menu, selects their meal and then goes and orders, pays and the meal is served at the table. The quality of food and the service varies greatly, but pub fare is generally very similar, with most popular pubs having standard, popular meals like spaghetti carbonara, veal parmigiana, oysters Kilpatrick, Caesar salad, steaks of all persuasions, fish and chips and other such old favourites.

Some pubs are more trendy and they do some vegetarian meals, Thai food, Chinese cuisine, or “fusion”. The prices of Pub meals are generally quite reasonable except in the very trendy ones (pubs with a superiority complex) that are found in the more “aristocratic” suburbs. I have never enjoyed an outing in one of these “uppity” pubs and the food is pretentious and expensive – not good value for money at all. The wine is also quite expensive in these pubs (not to mention the clientele, which can be a little challenging as well!).

Today, we lunched at the Lion Hotel in the Melbourne Central Shopping Centre in the heart of the City. This is an average pub located in the upper level of the shopping centre and is in “faux” old English pub style. It is quite enormous and tends to be rather busy most of the time. There are many bars and lounges and eating areas, but the nook that we usually frequent is a private room called “The Library” which is in the back of the pub. It is a relatively small room that will fit about a dozen people at the most, all sitting around a big rectangular refectory table with bench seats along its three sides. It is decorated like a library with shelves and books and curios in cabinets, old prints on the wall and looks quite homey and “old-world”.

Our Koreans loved the ambience and atmosphere and were most impressed with this unexpected place on the top floor of a modern shopping centre in the heart of the bustling city centre with skyscrapers all around. We had typical pub fare, with some choosing traditional beer-battered fish and chips, others an expanded version of the other standard BLT (bacon lettuce and tomato) sandwich, others fyllo pastry vegetarian parcels and some choosing the Cajun-style chicken. We drank some beer and once again our guests were very pleased. I was pleased also as the expense account did not have too big a dint in it afterwards!

A pub that we sometimes go to closer to home if we want a typical night out (Sundays are usually good) is the “Old England Hotel” in Heidelberg, about a 10 minute drive away from our house. This is a slightly up-market version of a typical pub, but at the same time it is not pretentious. The food is reliably good and reasonably priced with the service average. It’s an easy solution to going out somewhere without fuss or need to dress up for when we are not in the mood for cooking (it doesn’t happen often, but it’s good to have this choice).

Another pub that is reliably good is the Railway Club Hotel, in Port Melbourne. This serves great steaks so when we are feeling carnivorous (that also doesn’t happen too often!), we go there for a very nice steak dinner. One can inspect the choice of meats in the glass fronted fridge and select the cut of steak they like (or for the squeamish like us, we leave it up to the chef!).


“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.” - Bill Watterson

A very busy day at work today, with hardly any time to sit back and have a quiet moment! We are working on so many urgent and critical projects at once that it’s really quite amazing that we are managing to carry on as normal with the routine day-to-day activities also. The good thing today at least was that I managed to catch up with three old friends (sure enough one was on the phone, one was on Skype and one on Messenger) and even though the conversations were short, it felt good to say “hello, how are you, how are things?”. Nowadays of course we don’t have any excuse for not keeping in contact – as I said, phone, Skype and Messenger – but even though I enjoyed the brief chats, I still felt I missed the “real” flesh and blood people and the wonderful feeling one has when chatting face-to-face for a leisurely amount of time…

The word of the day today is “contact”:

contact noun |ˈkänˌtakt|
1) The state or condition of physical touching: The tennis ball is in contact with the court surface for as little as 5 milliseconds.
• The state or condition of communicating or meeting: Lewis and Clark came into contact with numerous river tribes | He had lost contact with his friends.
• [as adj. ] Activated by or operating through physical touch: Contact dermatitis.
• A connection for the passage of an electric current from one thing to another, or a part or device by which such a connection is made: A one-way electrical contact between a metal and a semiconductor.
• (contacts) Contact lenses.
2) A meeting, communication, or relationship with someone: They have forged contacts with key people in business.
• A person who may be communicated with for information or assistance, esp. with regard to one's job: Francie had good contacts.
• A person who has associated with a patient with a contagious disease (and so may carry the infection).
verb |ˈkänˌtakt; kənˈtakt| [ trans. ]
Communicate with (someone), typically in order to give or receive specific information.
contactable |ˈkänˌtaktəbəl; kənˈtak-| adjective
ORIGIN early 17th century: From Latin contactus, from contact- ‘touched, grasped, bordered on,’ from the verb contingere, from con- ‘together with’ + tangere ‘to touch.’

We so often speak of keeping “in contact” with people nowadays but actual physical touching or physical presence is not involved. We have contacts all over the world with whom we communicate electronically, but no actual “contact” is involved. We seem to be turning into people who physically touch others less and less, even though we may boast a huge number of “friends” and “contacts” in our electronic communication channels. Are we becoming a species of loners and solitary recluses, socialising only in virtual spaces? We seem to be thriving on multiple contacts with other hermits living a safe distance away from us?

In the train I often see people absolutely cringe during rush hour when there is the slightest chance that they may contact someone. The other day someone nearly toppled over as he stepped back to avoid being too close to another person. He was embarrassed, but at a safe distance, notwithstanding the near fall. I remembered the situation in India when I was there and the sardine-like proximity of people in trains and I almost burst out laughing there in the train, but I restrained myself, only because there were so many people crowding me!

Is this progressive, debilitating isolation and tendency to become loners that forces us sometimes to seek out crowded public events? Is the privation of contact that makes us seek out the crowds of football games, public events, protests, demonstrations, large parties? Do we need to periodically reassure ourselves of the gratifying presence of large numbers of our own kind close to us? Is this part of the reason why massage is such a popular therapy nowadays? Is it because it provides us with the sense of touch and contact that we miss in our daily solitary life? Is this what causes some people to perhaps thrive the close contact of peak hour trains?

Perhaps we are becoming too civilised for our own good. Contact but more specifically physical touch, is one of the most fundamental of our sensory perceptions and one that can trigger some of the most significant emotional responses. We may have iPhones and Skype, computers and messenger applications, Facebook and Twitter, but the fundamental and most satisfying way of communicating with other people remains the face-to-face meeting and the wonderful sense of touch.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


“Valour is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.” - Michel de Montaigne

While we are still reeling under the effects of the floods in the Eastern states of Australia, Perth in Western Australia has been battling bushfires, with nearly 50 homes lost to the flames and many times more of them damaged. We live in a land of extremes and natural disasters seem to be a fact of life for Australians ever since this land was settled. I can only imagine what the poor British thought in the first few decades of the first white settlement when confronted with cyclones, floods, bushfires, locust plagues, sandstorms, high winds…

There is currently much debate in parliament regarding natural disasters and the way that Australia will rebuild and how we shall pay for it. Although most people support a short-term levy (paid by those who can afford it as a tax payment), there is also talk of spending cuts and allowing the budget to go into the red rather than preserving election promises of a balanced budget or one in the black. The aggregated bill that goes into many billions of dollars demands payment and one way or another Australia will have to pay…

These topics seem to be far removed from Poetry Wednesday, however, there is an underlying theme of adversity and courage that manifests itself in the most unfortunate conditions. The Australian psyche seems to be one that rise to the challenge of adverse situations and typically one can rely on one’s fellows in times of hardship in Australia. It is a harsh land that we live in, but it also one of bounty. While Australians are tough to match the land, we all tend to have a soft spot for those of our fellows that are down and out and we are all willing to lend a helping hand and be generous of spirit. However, the courage shown by the victims is something that is admirable and worthy of acknowledgement.

Today, a poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849 - 1902), whose popularity sky-rocketed as it was used in the film of the same name: “Invictus” (2009). The theme of the poem being one of adversity and the struggle to survive, suits my topic well today. Invictus means “unconquerable, invincible” in Latin and if we have strength of character, great stores of courage and fire in our soul, we can overcome anything and we are truly unconquerable!


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849 - 1902)

Monday, 7 February 2011


“I believe that all wisdom consists in caring immensely for a few right things, and not caring a straw about the rest.” - John Buchan

Today is the Hindu Festival of Vasant Panchami. Vasant Panchami is devoted to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and art. It is celebrated every year on the fifth day (i.e. Panchami) of the Indian month Magh (January-February), the first day of spring. During this festival children are taught to write their first words, under the tutelage and protection of the goddess. Most educational institutions organise a special prayer for Saraswati and invoke her guidance and protection.  Pens, notebooks, and pencils are placed near the goddess’s feet to be blessed before they are used by students. Brahmins are fed and ancestor worship is performed, while the god of love Kamadeva is worshipped. The colour yellow rules this festival, with people usually wearing yellow clothes and the goddess Saraswati herself, being worshipped dressed in yellow. Children are give yellow-coloured sweets and customarily will fly kites on this day.

Saraswati is the consort of Brahma, and her name derives from the Sanskrit word “saras” (meaning ‘flow’) and “wati” (meaning “woman”). Initially Saraswati was a river as well as its personification as a river goddess. In the post-Vedic age, Saraswati began to lose her status as a river goddess and became increasingly associated with literature, arts, music, learning and knowledge. In Hinduism, Saraswati represents intelligence, consciousness, cosmic knowledge, creativity, education, enlightenment, music, the arts, and power. Hindus worship her not only for secular knowledge, but for “divine knowledge” essential to achieve liberation from the cycle of reincarnation (moksha).

Saraswati is shown with four hands, which symbolise ego, intellect, alertness and mind. She carries a lotus and scriptures in two of her hands and she plays music on the veena (an instrument similar to a sitar) with her other two hands. She rides on a white swan. Her white dress is a symbol for purity. The swan signifies that people should have the ability to discern good from evil. If the goddess is depicted sitting on a lotus, it is an indication of her wisdom and veracity. When the goddess is shown sitting on a peacock, it is a reminder that a strong ego can be held back by wisdom.

Vasant Panchami marks the end of the winter season and welcomes Spring. Yellow signifies the brilliance of the sun and the vibrancy of life. During the Vasant Panchami festival, India’s crop fields are filled with the color yellow, as the yellow mustard flowers at this time of the year. Hindus will prepare and feast on a special pastry called kesari halwa, which is made from flour, sugar, nuts, and cardamom powder and saffron strands. Saffron gives the sweetmeat a vibrant yellow color and its distinctive fragrance.

The holiday is celebrated with great splendour and affection in India and it is a public holiday. Government offices, schools, colleges are closed on this day. Some private offices are operational as is public transport, however, there is heavy traffic due to many processions at various places.

Sunday, 6 February 2011


“A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it.” - Alfred Hitchcock

We watched two films at the weekend, one relatively new and the other “vintage”. We enjoyed both of them although they were very different and represented two entirely different genres. We can recommend watching both of them, unless you are allergic to one or both of the genres…

The first was the classic 1972 Mark Rydell Western “The Cowboys”, with John Wayne in one of his best mature roles. This was a typical Wayne Western, but it had some surprises, as well as a delightful performance by Roscoe Lee Browne who played the black cook of the cattle drive. The film was big and bold and the cinematography was beautiful. It dealt with a coming of age of a group of young cowboys (aged 9 to 15 years!), who are hired by Wayne in desperation as he cannot get any cattle drovers on account of them running away to take part in the gold rush. Their job is to take a herd of cattle across the country, dealing with all sorts of dangers and villains in the process.

The film is typical Hollywood and in this case that is to its credit. There is a luscious music score, good performances, interesting plot, humour and pathos, light-heartedness and poignancy. John Wayne aged 65 years in this movie gives one of his best performances, I think. He interacts beautifully with his fellow-actors, especially the young boys, who are very convincing and give good performances all round. Bruce Dern makes a convincing villain, but the honours must go to the great performance by Roscoe Lee Browne, whose every scene is a stealer.

We thoroughly enjoyed this movie (which oddly enough we hadn’t seen before) and we can recommend it most highly. As well as lots of shooting, it does have a sad ending, so be warned.

The other film we watched was the 2010 Mike Newell fantasy “Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time”. This was an elaborate fairy tale seemingly straight out of the Thousand-and-One-Nights. The Disney studio, which was responsible for this movie, has a tradition of such fare and it does it well. The movie was inspired by the video game series “Prince of Persia”, so I’m sure we shall see one or two sequels, although at a budget of $200,000,000 to be made, it still has to earn a quid or two to break even!

The film concerns itself with the King of Persia and his three sons, two of whom are his own and one of whom is adopted. The adopted son is the hero of the story, Dastan, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Gemma Arterton plays his leading lady, Tamina, who is the princess of a mysterious sacred city, Alamut. The King’s brother follows the three princes to Alamut to do battle with it as there is evidence that Alamut has a store of weapons that it is selling to the enemies of the King. The city is overtaken by Dastan’s strategy and bravery, and he takes as booty a magic dagger that has the capability of turning back time. However, all is not what it seems, and there is traitor amongst the three Princes – or is there? Alamut had no store of secret weapons (tongue in cheek dig at Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?) and the Princess Tamina has to grudgingly side with Prince Dastan to recover the dagger and save not only the kingdom, but also the world it turns out.

The film was entertaining and was pure escapism and fantasy. However, as is the case with many Hollywood historical or quasi-historical films what history was shown was grossly inaccurate – but never mind, we won’t show this film in a history class. However, one does wonder, with a budget of $200,000,000 couldn’t they employ a historian to vet the film? But that’s Hollywood for you, the historian’s wages were instead used for the pedicurist who did the dogs’ nails!

One again we enjoyed this film, as it was full of humour, incident, action (some wild parkour sequences!), lavish costumes and scenery, fantastic CGI that blend imperceptibly with the real scenery and actors. The result is a polished, high quality bit of fluff that will keep many amused. Not having seen the video game (much less played it), I cannot comment on how accurate a depiction of the game the movie is, but as a movie it worked for me – within its genre.


“The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you've gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?” – Zhuangzi

Well, the celebration of the Chinese New Year was going at full throttle this weekend in Melbourne. There were numerous events in many places, the first and foremost of course being Chinatown in Little Bourke St. As well as that, Crown Casino had various activities, understandably as many of the gambling patrons (especially international big rollers) are Chinese. Along the Southbank Casino Promenade a Chinese New Year Market with all sorts of stalls and activities was set up, attracting many Melburnians who visited it, despite the rainy weather. Traditionally, a rainy New Year in Greece is considered auspicious, I wonder if it the same for the Chinese?

It is the Year of the Hare (or Rabbit) this year and it officially started with the New Moon of Thursday night. If you are a Hare (i.e. born 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927, 1915) you are diplomatic, good at negotiating, gentle, emotional or even sentimental. Rabbits are also a little selfish and you can pursue your own pleasure, although you tend not to hurt others in the process. You can be badly hurt by thoughtless treatment or criticism from others, but you are tactful enough not to show it. You typically appear well-groomed and have good manners, but also you are playful and you can surprise people. You are a sensitive lover, but also shrewd and seek a partner who offers the security you need in life. Your strength is in observing situations, assessing the game and coming up with a solution or an innovation when the time is ripe.

I have resisted to select Dürer’s well-known “Hare” to illustrate this week’s Art Sunday, but I will refer to it! I have chosen rather a lesser known work which is also quite beautiful. It is Hans Hoffmann’s “Hare in the Forest” of 1585. This is a highly attractive work and as beautiful as the hare is, the vegetation is what holds my attention more as it is exquisitely rendered. There is lady’s mantle and thistle, hare bell and plantain, dock and hawksbeard, grasses and woodland herbs. The trunks of the trees frame the scene in the foreground, providing a warm background that complements the fur of the hare. Smaller animals and insects abound and when one looks carefully discovers all sorts of detail.

The hare itself is sitting rather nervously, I think, almost as if it is aware of having its “snapshot” taken and is poised mid-bite just as it started to nibble a leaf of lady’s mantle. Its fur, whiskers and eyes are well painted, although one can tell that the calibre of this artist is a lesser one than that of the masterly Dürer. His “Hare” of 1502 is a wise old animal, introspective and serene. The pose is almost identical but the vantage point of Dürer is slightly more elevated. And the almost monochrome drawing with watercolour shows the older artist’s superior draughtmanship. Hoffman had seen the “Hare” of Dürer, while in Nuremburg. Later, when Hoffman went to work in the court of Emperor Rudolf II, he helped the Emperor acquire the watercolour for his Kunstkammer.

Hoffman’s “Hare in the Forest” is housed in the Getty Museum.