Saturday, 19 April 2008


“Share our similarities, celebrate our differences.” - M. Scott Peck

Hello from Brisbane. I am here for work for the last couple of days and tonight I presided over the graduation of our Brisbane students at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. It was a an extremely good ceremony, well organized, at a beautiful venue and very well attended. The students were enthusiastic, the staff optimistic and with a good morale, while the organizers had planned everything well.

Giving a graduation speech can be a very delicate matter as it needs to have just a tad of humour, much hope and forward-looking optimism, while there must be a backbone of hard-nosed realism underlying it all. I think I had a good mix of everything and many people commented favourably afterwards.

Afterwards the staff went out to dinner at a Greek restaurant (Kapsali) at Southbank where we had a nice meal and live music, dancing and much fun been had by all. I am flying back to Melbourne tomorrow morning at 6:00 am, so forgive the brevity of the post.

Here is something sophisticated and jazzy, just right for this time of the night for all you night owls out there…

Dave Brubeck’s
classic “Take Five” from a 1966 Berlin concert. Great music, fantastic musicianship and very talented performers. Enjoy your weekend…

Friday, 18 April 2008


“The point is that you can't be too greedy.” – Donald Trump

A snippet of an article written by Rebecca Urban, and appearing in this morning’s edition of “The Australian” Newspaper:

“Millionaire’s Dinner

You’ve got to hand it to the Millionaire’s Factory for living up to its moniker. Last night Macquarie Bank hired a convoy of Hummer limousines to transport 25 of its best and brightest to its annual Millionaire’s Dinner at Buon Ricordo in Sydney’s Paddington. The soiree was to celebrate another year raking in the millions. Exactly how many won’t be known until the bank reports its full-year results next month. But clues of financial robustness can often be found in a party’s choice of champagne. So was it the 1983 Louis Roederer Cristal at $800 a pop? The Italian eatery is renowned for its fettucine al tartufovo – a pasta served in a cream sauce, with a lightly fried truffle-infused egg. It’s the yummiest carbonara in town.”

Amidst global concerns about a world-wide recession, as indicated by the US economy downturn, stories like this seem strangely obscene. Even more so, is this characterisation justified, when one considers the recent rolling interest rate rises over the last few years that battling wage-earning householders in Australia have had to put up with. Shall we add to that the widespread and ever-increasing bank charges that are announced regularly? Not forgetting of course the sort of pay that bank executives demand and get – six and seven figure annual salaries are the norm. And of course, consider also the luridly golden handshakes that abound in the banking sector upon retirement or cessation of employment of executives.

Champagne at $800 a bottle? Of course they can afford it. Truffles, caviar, lobster, foie gras? Of course they can eat it until they gorge themselves senseless. Limousines? Seafront villas? Private jets? Why not? The money is theirs to spend. Their defence? They have t do it to satisfy the demands of their stockholders. The only way they can survive (if living in the lap of luxury can be called that) is to keep on increasing those yearly profit figures. Who helps them do it? You and I every time we use their services, which we are forced to use (have you tried to live nowadays without using the services of a bank?).

Still, this is the free enterprise system, and it rewards those who can use it to their advantage. But, can we make it fairer, somehow? Can we limit endless greed that results in extremes of wealth (and consequently poverty)? How do we control the excesses of capitalism, but nevertheless still manage to reward hard work? How do we moderate and curb the ruthless profiteering while at the same time we do not curtail personal freedom and do not limit private business? Any ideas?

Now that I have written this I have remembered a sumptuous and extravagant dinner that was given as a gift of gratitude. The wonderful film “Babette’s Feast” (1987), which was based on the novella by Karen Blixen. Babette is a French refugee who works as a housekeeper for two sisters in rural 19th century Denmark. She wins a lottery and spends all her winnings on ingredients and wines for a special dinner party she cooks:

• Turtle soup, accompanied by Amontillado sherry
• Buckwheat blinis and caviar, with Veuve Clicquot vintage champagne • Caille en Sarcophage avec sauce perigourdine (quail in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce), served with Louis Latour Clos de Vougeot • Salad, cheese, fresh fruit • Rum baba, dried figs, followed by fine Cognac…

A story of unrequited love, restraint and piety, indulgence and decadence, a story of extravagance and sinfully unrestrained sensual enjoyment. The contrast between the Protestant and the Catholic, the austere and the baroque. An epicurean meal becomes a symbol and Babette’s gesture is liberality mixed with prodigality, generosity mixed with excessive waste. Great meal, great film…

Thursday, 17 April 2008


“What shall become of us without any barbarians? Those people were a kind of solution.” -
Constantine Cavafy

The field daisy, Bellis perennis, is today’s birthday flower. It is the symbol of purity and virginity, adoration and innocence. In the language of flowers, the daisy speaks the words: “I share your sentiments”. It is under the dominion of Venus and in the past bruised leaves were applied to the testes to reduce swellings there! It used to be said, that Spring had not truly arrived until one could step over 12 daisy blooms under one foot on a lawn where they were growing.

Constantine Cavafy was a Greek Alexandrian poet who was born on this day in 1863. His family was one of the oldest and most renowned of the Greek diaspora. He lived in Alexandria, Constantinople and London, and just as he was coming to the end of adolescence, his family’s fortunes changed and his poetry is tinged with the colours of decadence and remembrances of past glories. His intense eroticism and “art for art’s sake” puts him on a parallel course with Oscar Wilde. Although embracing the European decadence he never denies his Hellenism and often his poems mine deeply into the past in order to gain inspiration and comment cuttingly on the present and future.

His poetry influenced not only his compatriots but through his involvement with the English made him one of the better known of the modern Greek poets. The recurrent theme of eros as viewed by the ancient Greeks often revolves around his own homosexuality and with implicit and tacit understanding transcends the fleshly eros as described and attempts to capture the spiritualism of love. He died on the 29th of April 1933, of throat cancer.

By Constantine Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

diaspora |dīˈaspərə|noun (often the Diaspora)
Jews living outside Israel.
• the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel.
• the dispersion of any people from their original homeland: The diaspora of boat people from Asia.
• the people so dispersed: The Greek diaspora in Egypt flocked back to Greece in the ‘60s.

The main Jewsih diaspora began in the 8th–6th centuries BC, and even before the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70, the number of Jews dispersed by the diaspora was greater than that living in Israel. Thereafter Jews were dispersed even more widely throughout the Roman world and beyond.
ORIGIN Greek, from diaspeirein ‘disperse,’ from dia ‘across’ + speirein ‘scatter.’ The term originated in the Septuagint (Deuteronomy 28:25) in the phrase esē diaspora en pasais basileias tēs gēs ‘thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth.’

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


"The avarice of mankind is insatiable." - Aristotle

This poem occurred to me after watching a documentary on tomb robbers in Ancient Egypt. The value of valuables is subjective and context dependent…

The Hidden Tomb

In endless, shifting desert sands
A hidden tomb lies undiscovered;
Far from all sacrilegious hands,
In centuries of dust lies covered.

The wind and sky will sing a dirge
The stars and moon shed tears;
While ghostly shadows urge
Old memories to flee from biers.

A lonely traveller lost will trip
On buried headstone drab,
And with a crazy fervour grip
The ancient broken marble slab.

Here lies treasure, shiny gold
Here rubies, pearls, more jewels.
Much more than he can ever hold,
The endless wealth his avarice fuels.

He fills his pockets clutches treasure,
While desperately he thirsts for water;
He laughs with endless mirth and pleasure,
Forgotten thoughts of wife and daughter.

The desert sands will move and shimmer
The sun will burn and scorch and wither.
A year has passed, his white bones glimmer
Among the bright gold, vipers slither…

The avarice of the miser may be termed the grand sepulchre of all his other passions, as they successively decay. But unlike other tombs, it is enlarged by repletion and strengthened by age. - Charles Caleb Colton

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


“Since when was genius found respectable?” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The crocus, Crocus aureus, is the birthday flower for this day and it symbolises the gladness of youth. The ancient Greeks had a rather more lugubrious tale to tell. Crocus was a beautiful youth who loved Smilax, a nymph. His love was unrequited and he pined away and died. The gods turned the hapless youth into the flower while the nymph was changed into the yew tree.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Leonardo da Vinci, in 1452, born in the little town of Vinci (his name means Leonard from Vinci!), situated in the heart of Tuscany, only a few kilometres from Florence and Pistoia, a stone's throw from Pisa, and within an hour's drive from Lucca and Siena. Leonardo had a keen eye and a quick mind that led him to make important scientific discoveries, yet he never published his ideas. Instead he kept diaries and meticulous notebooks where he soliloquised about his thousands of ideas, recorded hundreds of his inventions and countless sketches.

He was a gentle vegetarian who loved animals and despised war, yet he worked as a military engineer to invent advanced and deadly weapons, some of which were used very successfully in the internecine wars that ravaged the Italy of his time. He was one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance, yet he left only a handful of completed paintings, but each one of them universally admired as a true masterpiece.

Leonardo was the illegitimate son of a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant girl, Caterina. After a tranquil childhood in Vinci where is talent for drawing became apparent, he was sent to Florence, as an apprentice in the studio of Verrocchio (1469). His talent was acknowledged and he became a member of the corporation of painters in 1472. In 1473, he completed his first known drawing, “La valle dell'Arno” (The Arno Valley). He painted an angel in Verrocchio's "Baptism of Christ" (1475) and then “The Annunciation” in 1477. This is followed by the famous “Portrait of Ginevra de'Benci” in 1478.

He painted “San Gerolamo” and “The Adoration of the Magi” in 1481, but both of these remain unfinished. In 1482-3 leaves Florence for Milan, in the service of Ludovico Sforza. He paints the “Virgin of the Rocks” (1483-6) and begins to explore human flight (1486). His anatomical drawings in the manuscripts are drawn between 1488 and 1489. He designs a flying machine in 1492 and this is followed by work on the giant equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza (1493). He paints the second “Virgin of the Rocks” (1494) and “The Last Supper” (1495).

In 1496, he meets mathematician Luca Pacioli, with whom he studies Euclid and paints "Madonna and Child with St. Anne" in 1499. In the same year he leaves Milan to return to Florence, stopping in Mantua and Venice (1500). Cesare Borgia assumes Leonardo as military engineer in 1502 and Leonardo designs war machines and draws topographical maps (1502-3). He draws studies for "The Battle of Anghiari" (1503-6), followed by the famous “Mona Lisa” in 1504.

He studies the flight of birds, designs flying machines, and tries to square the circle in 1505. He studies fluid elements: Water, air and fire in 1506-8, returning to Milan in 1508. He paints "St. Anne" in 1509 and undertakes detailed anatomical research the following year. He goes to Rome seeking the patronage of the new pope, Leo X in 1513. In 1515, Leonardo constructs a mechanical lion for the coronation of Francis I, King of France and also draws the famous “Self-Portrait”. In 1516, he goes to the court of Francis I, Amboise and designs a palace in Romorantin in 1517. He died in Amboise, May 2, 1519.

Monday, 14 April 2008


“I don't think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that still remains” - Anne Frank

Last Saturday we watched Olivier Dahan’s 2007 film “La Môme” with the extraordinary Marion Cotillard bringing to life France’s tragic songstress, Edith Piaf. The film was extremely well made, and Ms Cotillard well deserved her Oscar. I had heard conflicting reports of this movie, especially berating the flash forwards and flash backs, but once we started watching we were hooked and the story of one of the most famous of French singers that was unfolding on the screen hooked us completely.

The movie is well directed and acted and is quite brutal in its depiction of one woman’s tortured life. Piaf was raised away from her mother and father in a cheap bordello, lost her sight for a time, travelled with the circus, sang and slept in the streets, lost her child at 20, was wrongly accused of murder, struggled with a drug addiction, lost her true love and other dear ones in her life, and still had the courage to get up on stage at the end of her life to sing "Je ne Regrette Rien" (I regret nothing).

The film is obviously filled with much music and song, with all the favourites of Piaf’s repertoire making an appearance. Although for the most part Piaf’s recordings are used on the soundtrack, French singer Jil Aigrot is credited with the vocals for some of Piaf's songs, particularly those from Piaf's younger years (e.g. Mon Homme, Les Mômes de la Cloche, Mon Légionnaire, De Gris, L'Accordéoniste, Comme un Moineau and Les Hiboux), songs for which there are no recordings by Édith Piaf or where the song was presented in a manner different from anything recorded by Édith Piaf. The climax of the film is Piaf at the end of her life, hobbling on to the stage of the Olympia Hall in Paris and singing her signature tune, “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien”.

A note about the name of the film. In most English speaking countries, the film is known as “La Vie en Rose” (Life through Rose-coloured Lenses), but in the original French, “La Môme” means the kid, the urchin and “Piaf” is sparrow. Hence, “La Môme Piaf”, which was the singer’s assumed name when she first started singing means the little sparrow.

Watch this film, although sad and gritty, it is strangely uplifting, also…

Sunday, 13 April 2008


“Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay.” – Sallust

Paul Klee. “Hermitage”. 1918. Watercolor on chalk ground. 18.3 x 25.4 cm. Paul Klee Foundation, Kunstmuseum, Berne, Switzerland.

For Art Sunday, the art of Paul Klee, with one of my favourite paintings of his. Paul Klee was born in Munchenbuchsee, Switzerland in 1879. He studied art at the Munich Academy of Fine Art (1898-1901) and later became associated with the Blaue Reiter group. Artists in the group believed that they had a responsibility to "heal the gaping wound that separates man from his environment".

Klee was living in Germany during the First World War and in 1916 was called up by the German Army. He was not sent to the front-line and spent some of his time painting aeroplanes. His war experiences appeared in his book, Diaries: 1898-1918.

After the Armistice Klee taught at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau. Klee was a brilliant and undogmatic teacher and a stimulating writer on art. The most important book Klee wrote during this period was, Pedagogical Stetchbook (1925).

With the emergence of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany, Klee returned to Switzerland. A large number of his paintings on display in Germany were confiscated by the Nazis as degenerate. The growth of fascism in Europe affected Klee badly and he began to suffer from acute depression. In 1935 Klee developed scleroderma, a rare debilitating disease. Paul Klee died in 1940.