Wednesday, 27 May 2015

POETS UNITED - WEEDS

“If you spend time alone in the wilderness, you get very attuned to living things.” - George Dyson

Poets United this week is devoted to the topic of "weeds". This is a topic that I have a very soft spot for, as I believe that all plants wild or cultivated, hybrid or common, garden-sown or wilderness-grown have a place in our life and can all contribute positively to our existence.

Many of the so-called “weeds” are useful and valuable plants in their own right – we have just lost the knowledge, experience and sagacity to use them appropriately. See my previous blog post on this topic here.

My poem this week:


The Weed

Behold the orchid, a precious hybrid,
Resplendent in its baroque beauty
Dazzling in its polychrome coloration,
Rare, charming and elegant,
A most perfect flower…

My own floret, humble,
Insignificant by comparison
Most likely to be trodden on,
As it will often pass unnoticed,
Or treated with contempt, if seen.

The rose, pure bred and sleek,
A proud, fragrant blood-red bloom
Rising tall from glistening green leaves,
The epitome of refined grace,
Admired and desired.

My leaves a dusty green,
And my habit recumbent;
My smell oddly singular:
To a few pleasing, perhaps,
To others mildly unpleasant.

Look at the lily, wan and lofty,
In the greenhouse raised
And cosseted lovingly
By nurseryman’s tender,
Unending ministrations…

My own existence haphazard,
Yet hardy, tenacious in waste places;
I grow and self-seed and persist –
For those who get to know me,
I am a plant most useful, indispensable.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

WHY DO I BLOG?

“Only on the Internet can a person be lonely and popular at the same time.” - Allison Burnett

I was reading last week about people’s blogging habits and the reason behind their blogging. This prompted me to think more about the topic and question further my own personal reasons for blogging. Firstly, I contextualised my own needs for this form of communication and where it sits with me and my own life. It was easier to think of reasons that I don’t blog for, initially. I don’t blog for fame or fortune, as this is neither the place to do it in, nor am I searching for either. Besides I have yet to hear of a blogger who received a huge cheque in the mail because of their blog!

I don’t blog to attract a huge following, proselytise people to my religion, convert them to my moral or ethical precepts, my way of life or ideas, or make money out of them. My list of blog friends comes from people who read my blog and want to connect, or the other way around - because I read others’ blogs and wish to have them on my list for easy access. I like my blog readers to be varied and representative of as many different kinds of people as possible, each with their own ideas and convictions, living in all kinds of places around the world and having different lifestyles, beliefs, values. I don’t want all my blog readers to believe the same things I do, nor do I wish them all to agree with me. However, what I do like in my readers is an enquiring, curious, open mind, one which is ready to engage in discussion and which is willing to open up to new ideas, as I am.

I do not blog to meet a partner, wife, girlfriend, lover, soulmate. I am happily partnered, but always welcome new friends into my life. Because of the nature of the electronic medium, making new friends on the internet is both easy and difficult at the same time. Easy because of the wide availability of a large cross section of people that one is constantly exposed to and the simplicity with which one may connect to them. Difficult because of the ease with which one may offend, disgruntle, bore, cause misunderstanding, lose contact with others. Difficult also because of that lack of real face-to-face conversation, sharing of everyday interaction, social gatherings, etc. However, this situation of creating long-distance friendships is far from impossible and is not unprecedented - in the past, several long-term and genuine friendships were contracted and maintained by correspondence. The charming and poignant memoir “84 Charing Cross Rd”  is a case in point.

I don’t blog to keep contact with my family. I prefer to see them face-to-face, talk on the phone, visit them. Even the ones who live thousands of miles away I prefer to contact individually, as privacy is important to me and they respect mine as I respect theirs. An ancient Greek proverb that was drummed into me as I was growing up stated “What goes on in your house should not be made public” and I am afraid that I have lived according to that. Incidentally, that makes me a good person to keep secrets, in the same way that I expect my friends and family to keep mine.

Another reason I don’t blog is because I don’t want to keep a diary of my daily occurrences of my life, my innermost feelings, thoughts, hopes and fears online and in public. I have a diary that I write in, should I wish to do that, and that (as most diaries are) is a personal affair, kept for my own reasons, my own perusal and represents a part of me that only I should see.

I don’t blog and subsequently send chain emails to people about my posts, believing this will bring me good luck, fortune, health, wealth or the like. I don’t blog to break any records, achieve honours in some hall of fame of Blogland, or be a featured site. I don’t blog to waste my time and hopefully my blogging doesn’t waste other people’s time (although there is an easy way to deal with that, should they decide that is the case - the magic “unfollow” button).

So, secondly, why do I blog? I have painted myself into a corner, you may think after listing all the reasons I gave above in the negative.  I blog because I enjoy communicating, and enjoy sharing things. What I learn, I wish to pass on to others. What I enjoy, and I believe can be enjoyed by others, I wish to share with them. I am delighted when someone tells me, “Here is a book that I have just read and really enjoyed. I think you will enjoy it too, because of a, b, c reasons…”  And what a delight when I do read that book by an author I was unaware of and I enjoy it too. I wish to do the same unto others…

I love learning and I shall continue to learn till my dying breath. I wish to learn about other countries, other cultures, other religions, other values, other lifestyles. What better forum to learn that in, than Blogland, which is peopled by a rich variety of ethnicities, nationalities, religions, geographies, political convictions, etc… It is a wonderful place to learn first-hand, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, about these other lives all around the world.

Blogland is the country where many creative people live. Amateurs, dilettantes as well as professionals. These people are very generous with their art and every now and then I get a real buzz when I discover some wonderful talents that they so generously share. I view, enjoy, praise and constructively criticise their work, if that is what is invited. In my own way, I too create and I also share my creations. All human beings wish to receive praise and encouragement for what they do, when they believe that it is done well. I am no different. Sometimes one feels that close friends and family will praise one because of an obligation to do so or because of a tactful loyalty. The praise of strangers is often much more appreciated, as one always feels it is more spontaneous and genuine. However, that is not my sole reason for blogging and fishing for compliments is not what I do in real life either. Besides, if one is willing to offer one’s creations to public scrutiny, one may always attract the criticisms of the professional, which can give one some exceedingly good advice for one's improvement, but what should be kept in mind is that the criticism may at times be quite scathing!

I blog to expand my horizons, to educate myself, to find new interests, discover new ways of looking at the familiar and unearth exciting things that I was unaware of. In the process, I feel that I must give something back to the Blogland community. I offer back into it my own discoveries, my own amazement and wonder of this world that we all live in. Often when I write my blog I will look up something on the net, a reference book, another book on my shelf and forget the blog altogether for quite some time. Blogging is yet another stimulus for my curiosity and need to learn.

In my time as a denizen of Blogland I have communicated with some people that are facing a time that is truly difficult and trying for them. Some of these people have chosen to use their blog as a safety valve, a path to catharsis, an avenue for liberating their emotions and feelings. Sometimes, their stories touch me and move me and I do what comes naturally - what I would do if I met someone wanting help next to me, someone close to me or even a stranger in need by the side of the road. I do what I wish others would do for me when I am in need. A kind word, a personal message, a thoughtful gesture may make an enormous difference in a life. Sometimes it is easier to speak to a complete stranger and bare your soul than it is to do so to your partner, your family, your friends. Sometimes a person who is completely neutral and uninvolved may see the situation from such a perspective that it sheds a new light onto your predicament.

I blog with what I hope is an open mind - I am not a fanatic and will change an opinion gladly if it is shown to me to be erroneous. I respect all people from different backgrounds, religions, countries, cultures. I appreciate the differences between us, tolerate other ideas and views that may be diametrically opposed to mine. I value freedom of thought and the right of each and every person to express it, provided they do not actively insult, demean or belittle others.

Seriously now, perhaps I should leave it to Albert Einstein to sum up for me:
“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed towards ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.”

For me blogging is a way of communicating, of generating friendships and creating understanding, sharing information and knowledge, exchanging points of view, enjoying others’ virtual company around the world. It is a manifestation of personal freedom and a demonstration of the power of ideas, the liberty of our thoughts. Blogging can contribute to our learning and our ennoblement, it can entertain and amuse us, it can move us and touch our lives in unexpected ways. Let us blog on!

Monday, 25 May 2015

MOVIE MONDAY - THE PIANIST

“Sometimes even music can’t substitute for tears.” – Paul Simon

Think of this situation: One evening you are sitting in your dining room and enjoying a delicious dinner with your family. The radio is playing some light music, there is laughter and pleasant conversation, all is warm and cosy. Isn’t this a blessed situation to be in, enjoying family life, peace, contentment?

Then there is an announcement on the radio. Because of your surname (or colour of your skin, or religion, or whom you voted for last election - or take your pick of whatever unreasonable “reason”) you are told that you have 24 hours to vacate your home, taking with you only one suitcase with your belongings. You are to present yourself at an internment facility where an uncertain future awaits you. Possibly you will be split away from your family, you could be forced into hard labour or even put to death…

Can most of us even imagine this scenario happening to us, in our cushy, protected and wonderfully democratic first world environments? (and a glance down my friends list here on Google confirms that I am addressing a first world audience for the major part). “Can’t happen…”, you say. And yet it did, it does and will keep on happening unfortunately.

Yesterday we watched Roman Polanski’s highly acclaimed film “The Pianist” (2002). It is a harrowing film based on the life of a brilliant pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman a Polish Jew, who has written an autobiographical account of his experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII. He witnesses first-hand the atrocities of the Nazis in the Polish capital. As his family is rounded up to be shipped off to the Nazi extermination camps, he escapes deportation and eludes capture by living in the ruins of Warsaw. He is helped and hindered in his struggle to survive by some unlikely characters, but overall his message is one of hope despite the devastation that he witnesses.

It is a marvellous account of one man’s struggle to survive, a testament of self-preservation and a reassurance that there are people who are willing to help us selflessly in our hour of need. People whom we consider as friends may drag us down and denounce us, betray us; while at the same time our enemies may stretch out a friendly hand that may save our life in our direst hour. Despite its grim subject matter, this is not a paean to Jewry and the holocaust in aggressive tones, nor is it an all out denunciation of a regime whose excesses are historically documented. It is a film that singles an individual, an anti-hero if ever there was one and his feeble attempt to overcome his fate, an attempt that becomes an all-consuming battle towards the end. His life, being his music, is his only focus and salvation.

This is a film that brings out raw emotion from the viewer, it is one that depresses and uplifts, takes one from the depths of desperation to the highest peaks of hope and elation. The music of the film (mainly Chopin) is exquisite and entirely apt. If you have not seen this film, definitely one to watch!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

ART SUNDAY - GEORGES BRAQUE

“I no longer believe in anything. Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them or between them and myself. When one attains this harmony, one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence – what I can only describe as a state of peace – which makes everything possible and right. Life then becomes a perpetual revelation. That is true poetry.” - George Braque

French artist Georges Braque (13 May 1882 – 31 August 1963) was one of the founders along with Picasso of the Cubist art movement. His piece ‘Nude’ (1907-1908) can be regarded as one of the first works in Cubism. He is one of the revolutionaries of modern art and together with several of his fellow artists at the time generated controversy, but at the same time changed the manner in which people viewed art and made them revise their expectations of what an art work was and what it meant.

George Braque was born in 1882 in Argenteuil, a Seine-side village near Paris. Both his father and grandfather were skilled artists. In 1890 the family moved to the port of Le Havre where Braque led quite a solitary childhood. He went to the local École des Beaux-Arts but failed his exams in 1899, leaving his parents to apprentice their son to a local painter-decorator. In Paris Braque gained a craftsman’s diploma and through a friendship with Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz became involved in the Fauvist movement.

In 1907 he first saw the work of Cézanne and in the same year met Picasso who had just completed ‘Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon’ (1907). Although not immediately impressed, Braque began experimenting with a fragmented style, eventually completing ‘Nude’ (1907-1908) which can be seen as one of the earliest works in Cubism. Returning to the Mediterranean, and to painting landscapes, Braque was rapidly developing his own distinctive vision, imposing his own take on the landscape rather than replicating exactly what he saw.

For the next few years Braque worked closely with Picasso particularly between 1910 and 1912, experimenting with Cubism and this new technique in which to represent form and space. Musical instruments were frequently depicted such as in ‘Man with a Guitar’ (1911) and a number of still-lifes for example, ‘Still-Life with Pipe and Glass’ (1912). In 1912, realising that he was succumbing to the notion of art for art’s sake, he abandoned Cubism.

Braque and Picasso began experimenting with colour and collage and achieved some impressive results. In 1914, however, Braque enlisted in the French army and fought in the Second World War before being wounded in the head. Returning to the studio in 1917 his work began to change as he adopted a more graceful style, using curves and muted colours. In 1922 an exhibition of his work at the Salon d’ Antomne was acclaimed and by the 1930s his reputation was international.

He continued to paint still-lifes and interiors, with the ‘Studio’ series, begun in 1947, proving one of his most accomplished. The work that Braque produced in collaboration with Picasso is varied in quality though impressive in the radical experiments with technique. Despite working closely together, their approaches were quite different with Braque proving more considered and Picasso more spontaneous. Braque was also concerned with representing a subject in his own way, conveying more than just the image before him.

Braque constantly struggled with the use of colour in regard to form, and it was only after designing a series of stained-glass windows in 1953 that he finally reconciled the two as can be seen in ‘The Studio VIII’ (1954-1955). He was a quiet man but his reputation was such that he received many accolades during his lifetime and was accorded the greatest honour of all in a state funeral when he died in 1963.

The painting above is ‘The Duet’ of 1937 (Oil on canvas. 129.8 x 160 cm. Musée National d’ Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France). From the mid 1930’s the human figure returned in Braque’s work and his personal style became less cryptic/abstract and more immediately engaging for the viewer. In this painting, the two figures are immediately recognisable as singer and pianist rehearsing (quite chauvinistically) a Debussy song. The silhouette-like figures are highlighted by the very decorative wallpaper in the background while the pink and green in the women’s dresses act as magnets for the viewer’s eyes, which move back and forth while exploring the scene.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

MUSIC SATURDAY - LEONARDO LEO

“When I die, I’d like to come back as a cello.” - Wayne Newton

Leonardo Leo (5 August 1694 – 31 October 1744), more correctly Lionardo Oronzo Salvatore de Leo, was a Neapolitan Baroque composer. Leo was born in San Vito degli Schiavoni (current San Vito dei Normanni, province of Brindisi), then part of the Kingdom of Naples. He became a student at the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini at Naples in 1703, and was a pupil first of Francesco Provenzale and later of Nicola Fago. He was undoubtedly influenced by the compositions of Pitoni and Alessandro Scarlatti.

His earliest known work was a sacred drama, “L’ infedelta abbattuta”, performed by his fellow-students in 1712. In 1714 he produced, at the court theatre, an opera, “Pisistrato”, which was much admired. He held various posts at the royal chapel, and continued to write for the stage, besides teaching at the conservatory. After adding comic scenes to Francesco Gasparini's “Bajazette” in 1722 for performance at Naples, he composed comic operas in Neapolitan such as “La’mpeca scoperta” in 1723, and “L’ Alidoro” in 1740.

His most famous comic opera was “Amor vuol sofferenze” (1739), better known as “La Finta Frascatana”, highly praised by De Brosses. He was equally distinguished as a composer of serious opera, “Demofoonte” (1735), “Farnace” (1737) and “L’ Olimpiade” (1737) being his most famous works in this branch, and is still better known as a composer of sacred music. He died of a stroke while engaged in the composition of new arias for a revival of “La Finta Frascatana”.

Leo was the first of the Neapolitan school to obtain a complete mastery over modern harmonic counterpoint. His sacred music is masterly and dignified, logical rather than passionate, and free from the sentimentality, which is present in the work of Francesco Durante and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. His serious operas suffer from a coldness and severity of style, but in his comic operas he shows a keen sense of humour. His ensemble movements are spirited, but never worked up to a strong climax.

Here are his cello concertos, played by Anner Bylsma:
Concerto for violoncello n.2 in D Major
Concerto for violoncello n.5 in F Major 14:15
Concerto for violoncello n.4 in A Major 27:41
Concerto for violoncello n.3 in D Major 43:13
Concerto for violoncello n.1 in A Major 56:45
Sinfonia Concertata (Concerto n.6) in C Minor 1:09:15

Friday, 22 May 2015

FOOD FRIDAY - BANOFFEE

“Life is full of banana skins. You slip, you carry on.” - Daphne Guinness

Banoffee pie is an English dessert pie made from bananas, cream and toffee from boiled condensed milk (or dulce de leche), either on a pastry base or one made from crumbled biscuits and butter. Some versions of the recipe also include chocolate, coffee or both. Its name is a portmanteau constructed from the words “banana” and “toffee”. It is sometimes spelled “banoffi”.


BANOFFEE

Ingredients
250g digestive biscuits
125g butter, melted
2 ripe (but not brown) bananas
300ml double cream
395g can sweetened condensed milk
70g brown sugar
50g butter
Extra butter and brown sugar for frying bananas.

Method

Place the biscuits in the bowl of a food processor and process until crushed. Add the butter and process until well combined.
Put the biscuit mixture in a round 25 cm (base measurement) fluted tart tin with removable base. Use the back of a metal spoon to firmly press the biscuit mixture over the base and side of the tin. Place in the fridge until required.
In a skillet, place some butter and add the peeled, sliced bananas. Sauté lightly until the bananas are golden. Sprinkle some brown sugar on top and mix well. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Once bananas are cooled, place in prepared biscuit base, arranging slices in a layer along the bottom.
To make caramel filling, place condensed milk, sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 10-12 minutes or until caramel thickens (do not boil!).
Pour the hot caramel over the bananas on the biscuit base. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 1 hour to chill.
Slice and top each portion with a dollop of cream. Serve immediately.

Add your own favourite recipes using the linky tool below:

Thursday, 21 May 2015

THESAURUS THURSDAY - EBULLIENT BACH

“If we were all determined to play the first violin we should never have an ensemble. Τherefore, respect every musician in his proper place.” - Robert Schumann

The ‘Word for the Day’ today was inspired by this music that I heard on the radio this morning:

It is J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No 3", BWV1048, and the word is:

ebullient |iˈboŏlyənt; iˈbəlyənt| adjective
1 cheerful and full of energy: She sounded ebullient and happy.
2 archaic or poetic/literary (of liquid or matter) boiling or agitated as if boiling: Misted and ebullient seas.
DERIVATIVES
ebullience |əˌbʊljəns| noun
ebulliently |əˌbʊliəntli| adverb
ORIGIN late 16th cent.(in the sense [boiling] ): from Latin ebullient- ‘boiling up,’ from the verb ebullire, from e- (variant of ex-) ‘out’ + bullire ‘to boil.’

And it certainly is very bubbly, energetic, cheerful, ever-forward moving music! Bach could create something this remarkably complex and intricate and make it sound so simple and facile. And of course such is the case with all six of his Brandenburg Concertos, which are masterpieces of the baroque!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

POETS UNITED - HAPPINESS

“Be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life.” - Omar Khayyám

This week Susan of Poets United has set the theme of “happiness”, on which participants are to contribute a poem.


Defining happiness can be difficult as it means many different things to different people. Some people say they are happy if they are experiencing well-being, have a high quality of life and if they are flourishing. Some equate happiness with contentment. Other people take a more hedonistic approach and say they are happy when they are successful in their search for pleasant (and avoidance of unpleasant!) experiences.


Some of us, look at happiness in a more holistic way, believing in living life fully and in a deeply satisfying way. This may include unpleasant experiences together with the pleasant ones, but happiness implies that we can cope with the unpleasantness, being able to make positives of negatives and being content knowing that one has done the right thing at the right time, and that one has acted with consideration for others, has been kind, compassionate and selfless. It is a case of living one’s life with virtue and probity and being rewarded with happiness.


If this sounds too philosophical for you, then you can simply think of happiness as being a string of moments of feeling good because you are pleasing yourself, and at the same time not only not displeasing others, but also making them experience good feelings as well. And this for me is paramount – happiness is not a solitary feeling to be experienced by me alone, it is a feeling that I need to share with others – it is its inclusiveness of others that multiplies the positivity of experience for oneself.


Here is my poetic contribution:



My Happiness

When I work with others
And all of us, we toil united
To make of this world
For everyone a better place,
That is when happiness is born.

When I can help to build,
Rather than raze, demolish;
When I can say a kind thing
Rather than search for bitter criticisms,
My happiness multiplies and grows.

When I can right a wrong,
Ask for forgiveness, genuinely;
And when I can make amends
Discreetly, from my heart, without effort,
That is when my happiness is most keenly felt.

When I am with you
And I make your eyes smile,
That is the moment
That will live on in my memory,
My life coloured by my happiness.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

BOOK BURNING

“The paper burns, but the words fly away.” - Ben Joseph Akiba

The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank was written by a Jewish schoolgirl who hid with her parents in a secret room in a flat in German-occupied Amsterdam for three years before they were betrayed to the Gestapo at the time of WWII.  She died at the age of 15 years with most of her family in the Bergen-Belsen death camp (1945). Only her father survived to find the diary and have it published. The diary is a poignant account of a young woman’s thoughts and feelings, simple joys and irrepressible optimism, even under the most desperate circumstances. As well as being a significant part of world literature, it is now a mandatory part of the curriculum at all German schools.


In 2006, a group of about 100 skinhead Neo-Nazis kicked around, tore up and burned copies of this book. They cheered and shouted, singing Nazi anthems as they disrupted a gala celebration of Midsummer. This is of course déjà vu. In the 1930s, in Germany, Nazi supporters made mounds of the books written by Jews and burned them in huge pyres. Even then, some knowledgeable journalists recalled the prediction of the poet Heinrich Heine, who had said a century earlier: “Where one burns books, one will soon burn people.” The Holocaust that followed was painful proof of Heine’s prediction.


There is concern worldwide with the re-emergence of extreme right groups that are responsible for many activities that are evidence of racial hatred, religious intolerance and the curtailment of civil liberties, free speech and freedom of thought. It is a sign of our times perhaps, with increasing terrorist attacks, the rise of fundamentalism in many of the world’s major religions (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism) and the economic problems that many people in even the world’s richest countries are finding themselves in. Many predict that we are steadily heading towards warfare on a global level.


The burning of books is a symbolic act nowadays, but nevertheless a particularly reprehensible and loathsome one to me, as a rational, tolerant, thinking person who respects other people and their ideas. However, in the past the burning of books was even more insidious and had as an effect the expunging of the history of a whole culture. For example, when missionaries began to travel to the New World, ecclesiastical book censors and the practice of book burning went with them. Anxious to convert the Mayans, missionaries destroyed nearly all of their books. Only three or four Mayan books remain in the world today. Needless to say, a wealth of historical, social, anthropological, scientific and artistic information has been lost to us.


More of these book-burning incidents may be quoted and this list is from Wikipedia (see article here)


1. Chinese Philosophy books (by Emperor Qin Shi Huang)
2. Sorcery scrolls (by Early converts to Christianity at Ephesus)
3. Epicurus’ book (at Paphlagonia)
4. Egyptian alchemy texts (by Diocletian)
5. Christian books (by Diocletian)
6. Books of Arianism (after Council of Nicaea)
7. The Sibylline Books (by Flavius Stilicho)
8. Egyptian non-conforming Christian texts (by Athanasius)
9. Repeated destruction of Alexandria libraries
10. Etrusca Disciplina
11. Nestorius’ books (by Theodosius II)
12. Qur’anic texts (ordered by the 3rd Caliph, Uthman)
13. Competing prayer books (at Toledo)
14. Abelard forced to burn his own book (at Soissons)
15. Samanid Dynasty Library
16. Destruction of Cathar texts (Languedoc region of France)
17. Maimonides’ philosophy (at Montpellier)
18. The Talmud (at Paris)
19. Wycliffe’s books (at Prague)
20. Non-Catholic books (by Torquemada)
21. Decameron, Ovid and other “lewd” books (by Savonarola)
22. Over a million Arabic and Hebrew books (at Andalucia)
23. Tyndale’s New Testament (in England)
24. Servetius’s writings (burned with their author at Geneva)
25. Maya sacred books (at Yucatan)
26. Luther’s Bible translation (in Germany)
27. Hobbes books (at Oxford University)
28. Anti-Wilhelm Tell tract (at Canton of Uri)
29. Religious libraries (by Robespierre)
30. Early braille books (at Paris)
31. Anti-Communist books (by Bolsheviks)
32. “Valley of the Squinting Windows” (at Delvin, Ireland)
33. Jewish, anti-Nazi and “degenerate” books (by the Nazis)
34. Theodore Dreiser’s works (at Warsaw, Indiana)
35. Comic books (at Binghamton, New York)
36. Judaica collection at Birobidzhan (by Stalin)
37. Communist and “fellow traveller” books (by Senator McCarthy)
38. Wilhelm Reich’s publications (by U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
39. Library of writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer (by Suharto Regime)
40. Jaffna library (by Sinhalese police officers)
41. Anti-Pinochet Dictatorship books (at Valparaiso)
42. “The Satanic Verses” (in the United Kingdom)
43. Oriental Institute Library, Sarajevo (by Serb nationalists)
44. Books “contrary to the teachings of God” (at Grande Cache, Alberta)
45. Abu Nuwas homoerotic poetry (by Egyptian Ministry of Culture)
46. Harry Potter books (at various American cities).

A small step now from the grim dystopia of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” becoming reality. Oh, what wonderful world we live in! How proud we should be to call ourselves human beings. Hail Homo sapiens sapiens!

Monday, 18 May 2015

MOVIE MONDAY - IN THIS WORLD

“Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” - Victor Hugo

To be forced to flee from one’s home and country for one or another reason must be one of the most traumatic experiences that one can live through. The life of a refugee is fraught with dangers, hardships, risks, an uncertain future and often of course, brevity - as death stalks the refugee on many fronts (I still remember with horror the 58 Chinese refugees who were found suffocated in a container in Dover). Throughout the world, the number of refugees is escalating and the reasons why they are forced to leave their homes are many and varied: Political persecution, religious intolerance, social problems, economic reasons, war, terrorism, famine, natural disasters…

A refugee is so-called because he or she is seeking refuge or asylum. Protection from the dangers that threaten their existence in their native lands and the chance to live a peaceful, safe existence. The 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees defined a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.” This definition was expanded in 1967 to include “persons who had fled war or other violence in their home country”.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants gives the current world total of refugees as approximately 12 million and estimates there are over 34 million displaced by war, including internally displaced persons, who remain within the same national borders. The majority of refugees who leave their country seek asylum in countries neighbouring their country of nationality.

This topic is dear to my heart as my family and I were forced to leave our homeland (Greece) in late 1969 and we had to come to live in Australia, because of political reasons. We were opposed to the military junta of Greece at the time, and as my parents were involved in anti-dictatorship activities it came to the point of risking capture and being jailed or fleeing. We were lucky to be accepted for immigration into Australia, with some fortunate and timely intervention by relatives and friends.

The film we watched last weekend struck a chord with me, even thought the circumstances of the refugees shown were different. The film is In This World (2002) and is directed by Michael Winterbottom. It is made in the style of a documentary, but although the story is inspired by actual events, it is a dramatised account. It is the story of two cousins, Enayat and Jamal, who are Afghan refugees. They live in a camp in Peshawar in Pakistan and try to escape to Great Britain using the help of people smugglers. Their dangerous journey leads them along the ancient “Silk Road” through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey towards London.

It is shot on DV and considering the medium, the cinematography is great, with some of the night shots in the mountains of border of Turkey, very dark, grainy and indistinct, creating a tension and atmosphere of fear that would have been difficult to portray with well-shot film.  The film does not politicise, nor does it preach. It is a fairly dispassionate account told without guile and one feels drawn into the plight of the characters, even though characterisation is minimal. On their odyssey, the two boys have to contend with border guards, police, thieves, smugglers, and numerous changes in currency and language. The vision of London is that of a paradise that beckons them and it is this dream-like Cockaigne that sustains them during their arduous trip. The film makes us identify with the main characters because it establishes very quickly their humanity, which we share.

The film, however, is making an important political statement. It forces us to take a stand in the end, forces us to take sides and have an opinion. How to deal with this world-wide problem, how to heal the social and political cancers in those countries that force their populations to flee? How to prevent exploitation of the weak and needy by the rich and powerful and how to prevent human tragedies from recurring? This is a powerful film, sad but oddly hopeful at the same time. Young Jamal reminded me of a stray seed carried by the wind and landing on a rocky infertile mountain. He battles with the elements in order to germinate and grow, but the adversity makes this young stunted plant strong and resistant to the unfavourable environment. What does not destroy him, makes him stronger…

Sunday, 17 May 2015

ART SUNDAY - ARTHUR BOYD

“Painting is easy - unless it’s done well.” Edgar Degas

Arthur Boyd was born in Murumbeena, Australia in 1920. He came from a long line of artists: Painters, potters, writers, musicians; which may explain his own versatility in creating works with paint, ceramics and print techniques. Even as a youth under the tutelage of his family he was creating art worthy of an accomplished artist.

He lived in London in 1960 and exhibitions of his work there in the early ‘60s established his reputation in Britain. His themes and images remained purely Australian in his work, with the powerful presence of the Australian bush, the Aborigines and the colonists ever a feature, even in his biblical paintings. His work remained figurative while his colleagues were painting abstract canvases, as his brush always needed to express emotions and feelings that spoke even to the most artistically uneducated lay person.

After his time in the army during WWII, Boyd returned to Melbourne where he came in contact with John and Sunday Reed and the Contemporary Art Society. In 1945, he married Yvonne Lennie and lived at Murrumbeena where he made pots and other ceramics. He first found public recognition with his Wimmera and Berwick landscapes of the 1940’s and 1950’s. In 1959, he moved to Europe where he exhibited his best known series, “Love, Death and Marriage of a Half-Caste Bride”, based on his observations of the Aborigines in Australia.

He returned to Australia in 1971 and in 1973 purchased a property on the Shoalhaven River on the NSW south coast. His beloved landscapes of the Shoalhaven have become some of his most loved and recognisable works. Throughout his lifetime Boyd generously donated both his properties and thousands of works to the Australian public.

He was awarded many prizes and awards, including an Order of Australia and a Retrospective exhibition travelled Australia in 1993. Boyd’s work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, all state galleries, many regional galleries and numerous public and private collections, both nationally and internationally. In 1995, Boyd was named Australian of the Year for his extraordinary contribution to Australian art and his great generosity to the Australian nation.

His paintings are sensuous, approachable, painterly and glorify in the wondrous quality of the medium he is using. He died in Melbourne in 1999. Bryan Robertson, says in his ‘Boyd in London: A Friend Remembers’, published in the Australian Art Collector:
“The death of Arthur Boyd in his 79th year was a great loss to Australian painting and a special sadness for those who have some knowledge of the richness and diversity of Australian painting in this century and have witnessed, if only at the irregular intervals of his London shows, the tremendous contribution to that richness made by Boyd in the past five decades.

The painting above is “Jinker on the Spit, Shoalhaven” of 1981. It is oil on composition board, 44.2 x 59.2 cm in a Private Collection, Melbourne. Boyd says of this painting: “I have done several pictures with jinkers in them. In one I used black swans, but in this one I made them crows. There are so many crows at Riversdale that you are aware of them all the time.”

Ref: Sandra McGrath, ‘The Artist and the River’, Bay Books, 1982, p.268.