Saturday, 20 December 2008


“Night is the blotting paper for many sorrows.”

Sometimes we try to please too many people at once and all we manage achieve is our own misery. The peacemakers amongst us know this all too well, and the rich store of proverbial wisdom has to say that “he who tries to stop a fight receives the most blows”. Such was the day today and the music encapsulates my mood.

It is Eleni Karaindrou’s “Adagio”. Eleni Karaindrou was born in the mountain village of Teichio in central Greece and grew up in Athens where she studied piano and theory at the Hellenic Conservatorium. From 1969-74 she studied ethnomusicology in Paris and, on returning to Greece, founded the Laboratory for Traditional Instruments at the ORA Cultural Centre. She has since been an active campaigner on behalf of Greece’s musical resources. Karaindrou has a long history of writing for film and theatre; to date, some 18 feature films, 13 plays and 10 television series have featured her music. Although most of her work has been with Greek directors she has also collaborated with Chris Marker, Jules Dassin and Margarethe von Trotta. Eleni Karaindrou has been associated with Greek director Theo Angelopoulos since 1982.

Friday, 19 December 2008


“All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful: but the beauty is grim.” - Christopher Morley

Every morning as I go to work, I try and walk as much as possible (weather permitting). I usually get off at Flinders St Station and then make my way to work, winding my way through the early morning hustle and bustle across the city. I go through the many alleys and laneways that like a labyrinth criss-cross the CBD. I walk through the maze and every morning I uncover hidden treasures and a charming atmosphere. Melbourne is very much a city of the Victorian era and many of the original 19th century buildings are still very much in evidence. The main city streets are grand and capacious, but behind them and between them, Melbourne's north-south laneways are renowned for their intimacy, sense of intrigue, convenience and visual charm. They weave an eccentric and chaotic pattern across a city better known for its wide streets and regular grid pattern. Many of the laneways have been upgraded with new bluestone paving and street furniture, but they are all a living, wonderful part of my home city.

Usually by 7:00 a.m. as I walk through, there are many cafés, bakeries, eateries and small restaurants that are open for the breakfast trade. I enjoy smelling the aroma of the freshly roasted and ground coffee, the lovely rich smell of toast and fresh bread, the pungency of bacon and eggs and the occasional musty whiff of an open cellar door leading to gloomy depths below street level. The delicious scent of vanilla and hot waffles is a particular favourite of mine as I walk by one the little Belgian eateries on Desgraves St. Melbourne’s coffee culture surrounds one in the laneways and arcades with street cafés and funky coffee shops around every other corner. Expensive art work in shop windows mixes with public art on the streets and further along, great swathes of graffiti on the walls.

The arcades are also another wonderful feature of the city and these range from the magnificent Royal Arcade and Block Arcade (the latter housing the historic Hopetoun Tea Rooms, dating back to 1893, where one may enjoy scrumptious tea and cake) to the more modern shopping arcades filled with every manner of shop. One of the best ways to take in Melbourne’s laneways is to lunch alfresco at one of the many delightful eateries. Hardware Lane, Centre Place, Block Place, The Causeway, Desgraves Street and lanes either side of the Chinatown strip all offer a great outdoor experience. Melbourne rightfully has the reputation of being the home of the best restaurants in Australia and if you are a foodie and visiting Australia, Melbourne should be high on your list of places to see.

Later, in the evening one may have dinner at one these wonderful restaurants and if you would merely drink, tucked away in many of Melbourne’s laneways are also numerous bars. You can find them on Meyers Place, Bennetts Lane, Bullens Lane, Sniders Lane and Market Lane. However, Melbourne’s laneways wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity to shop, but the shops in the laneways and alleys are one-of-a-kind. No K-marts and department stores here, just tiny shops that sell anything and everything, stocked with unique items, be they clothes, shoes, gifts, art, or simply zany, crazy objects.

Here is a YouTube video on Melbourne’s laneways, especially so discussing the Public Arts projects involving the city’s laneways.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


“Christmas is not a date. It is a state of mind.” - Mary Ellen Chase

As we approach Christmas, it is interesting to note why December 25th was chosen to mark the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas had its origins in older festivals that marked a very special time of the year: The winter solstice. The word solstice came into Middle English from Old French, from the Latin solstitium. This is a compound of sol- (sun) and -stitium (a stoppage), so the word means “the sun stands still”, reflecting the time when the Sun apparently stops moving north or south and then begins moving in the opposite direction.

In every year, there are two solstices. In the northern hemisphere, the June solstice happens when the Earth’s north pole is tilted its maximum amount towards the Sun. The December solstice happens when the north pole is most tilted away from the Sun. Thus, the June solstice is the day with the most sunshine, and the December solstice has the longest night. The opposite is true in southern hemisphere, with the winter and summer solstices in June and December respectively.

In each year, there is also an equinox in March and another in September. These days are the times when the night is as long as the day. This is reflected in the word's Latin root, aequinoctium, from aequi- (equal) and nox (night). In the northern hemisphere, the vernal (spring) equinox is in March and the autumnal (fall) equinox is in September, with seasons reversed once again in the southern hemisphere.

The time when the Sun is brightest and the days are longest is the summer solstice, near June 21st in the northern hemisphere. Yet the hottest days of summer usually come in July or August, when the days are shorter and the Sun is lower in the sky. Winter’s coldest days also lag the solstice by about two months. Why? When the sunshine maximum comes in June, the landscape and atmosphere are still warming from the winter's chill. Although the Sun begins to lose strength after the solstice, there is still enough heat to continue warming the landscape until the balance shifts about two months later.

In the days after the winter solstice, although the Sun’s heat is returning, it is still not warm enough to keep the landscape from cooling further, especially during the night. It is not until early March that the balance of solar heat and night-time cooling shifts into a warming trend.

The Winter solstice is also known as Yule, and this is a major Wiccan holiday. Many religions have placed the birth of their solar hero gods and saviours on this day: Jesus, Horus, Helios, Dionysus, and Mithras all claim Yule as their birthday. Since this day also represents the point at which the sun begins to wax, it represents rebirth and regeneration in the Wiccan tradition. Aptly, therefore the word of the day is:

Wicca |ˈwikə| noun
The religious cult of modern witchcraft, esp. an initiatory tradition founded in England in the mid 20th century and claiming its origins in pre-Christian pagan religions.
Wiccan |ˈwɪkən| adjective & noun
ORIGIN representing Old English wicca [witch.]


“Human beings love company even if it is only that of a small burning candle.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

This morning as I was walking to work I saw a street woman asleep on a bench. Her clothes were torn and dirty and she too looked as though she had not washed for many days. Her hair was unkempt and grey, tangled in heaps around her head, and although her face was worn and prematurely aged, I could tell it had once been beautiful. I could think of a hundred reasons why she had ended up in this state with all her belongings in a couple of bags and wearing all the clothes she possessed. Somehow, the reasons did not matter, what mattered was her solitary state in amongst the three million people of this city. Nobody to worry about her, none to talk to her, not a single person out there to love her? How does our modern society alienate some people like this? And yet, even the rest of us, with friends, family, loved ones, how often is it that we feel alone?


I wear my solitude like an old shirt,
Faded, almost threadbare,
But still possessing the comfort
Born of long habit.

I taste my solitary ways like a dragée,
Whose sugar coating beguiles
Unwary taste buds, till the
Enclosed almond turns bitter.

Alone, I hear my heart beating
Amplified like raindrops on tin roof,
Or an expert solo drummer,
Executing a cadenza.

My singularity is perfume of violets,
Intense and overwhelming;
But so soon evanescent:
The scented becoming scentless.

Why is loneliness such a dreadful
And unwelcome guest, when
For so long, solitude has been one’s
Most faithful companion?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


“Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun.” – George Scialabba

It is Arthur C. Clarke’s birthday today and he was born in 1917. He died in March this year at the age of 90 years after a long battle with post-polio syndrome. He was one the most famous of science fiction writers whose pragmatism and cool logic could be seen in even his most fanciful works. He denigrated religion as “a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species” leaving written instructions that his funeral be completely secular. “Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral,” he wrote.

As well as writing science fiction, Clarke was a visionary who wrote more than 100 books on space, science and the future. The 1968 story “2001: A Space Odyssey” (written both as a novel and screenplay with director Stanley Kubrick – see yesterday’s blog), was a frightening prophecy of artificial intelligence run amuck and it shot him into international fame. When Clarke and Kubrick got together to develop a movie about space, they looked for inspiration to several of Clarke’s shorter pieces. As work progressed on the screenplay, Clarke also wrote a novel of the story. He followed it up with “2010,” “2061,” and “3001: The Final Odyssey.” “2010” was made into a film sequel. In 1969 Clarke was the co-announcer in American television’s coverage of the moon landing, making him an instantly recognisable face across the globe.

Clarke is credited with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are called Clarke orbits. His nonfiction volumes on space travel and his explorations of the Great Barrier Reef and Indian Ocean earned him respect in the world of science, and in 1976 he became an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

His last novel, “The Last Theorem” was co-written with Frederik Pohl, another famous sci-fi author) and is the swan-song in a long and distinguished list of brilliant creativity: Some of his best-known books are “Childhood’s End” (1953); “The City and The Stars” (1956); “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1967); “Rendezvous with Rama” (1973); “Imperial Earth” (1975); and “The Songs of Distant Earth” (1986). Clarke's legacy in the movies may well continue after his death, with a film adaptation of “Rendezvous with Rama” having been in development for years, with actor Morgan Freeman as producer and star.

Real-life space exploration of space followed in the wake of Clarke’s fiction. After the first moon landing in 1969 (an event predicted by Clarke decades earlier) NASA Administrator Tom Paine said in an inscription to the writer that he “provided the essential intellectual drive that led us to the moon”. Clarke's 1979 novel, “The Fountains of Paradise” helped spark the real-world efforts to build a space elevator from Earth to orbit. The idea is still being pursued, even though its realisation may still be decades away.

Clarke was born in Minehead, western England, the son of a farmer, Arthur Charles Clark became addicted to science fiction after buying his first copies of the pulp magazine “Amazing Stories” at Woolworth’s. He read English writers H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon and began writing for his school magazine in his teens. Clarke went to work as a clerk in Her Majesty’s Exchequer and Audit Department in London, where he joined the British Interplanetary Society and wrote his first short stories and scientific articles on space travel. It was not until after World War II that Clarke received a bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics from King’s College in London.

Serving in the wartime Royal Air Force, he wrote a 1945 memo about the possibility of using satellites to revolutionize communications. Clarke later sent it to a publication called Wireless World, which almost rejected it as too far-fetched. He moved to Sri Lanka in 1956. In an interview with The Associated Press, Clarke said he did not regret having never traveled to space himself, though he arranged to have DNA from his hair sent into orbit. “One day, some super civilization may encounter this relic from the vanished species and I may exist in another time” he said. Clarke enclosed with his DNA, a handwritten note that read “Farewell, my clone”.

“Rendezvous with Rama” is one of my favourite of Clarke’s books. It is set in the 22nd century, the story involves a forty-kilometer-long cylindrical alien starship that enters Earth’s solar system and is hurtling to the sun. The story is told from the point of view of a group of human explorers, who intercept the ship in an attempt to unlock its mysteries. I first read the book when I was a young and impressionable high school student and then again more recently. It is a book full of solid science and is essentially the blueprint for a starship that can be built by earthlings for travel in interstellar space.

Monday, 15 December 2008


“The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.” - Chinese Proverb

I watched Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) again recently and was surprised at how little my appreciation of this film had changed over the years. One may have expected it to be dated and look “clunky”, however, as a vision of the future it retains a certain freshness, even though the high technology depicted is slightly antiquated. Nevertheless the film is visually rich and makes for rewarding viewing even on an abstract level, independent of the story. I was watching it rather amused as it was often described as the ultimate movie to watch on a “drug trip” – it is certainly one that stretches time and through images and music can create a heightened state during a drug-induced euphoria. Kubrick takes a great risk in attempting to capture beauty on film – whether this is an arid African landscape, a moonscape, deepest space or a depiction of the falling through a time/space discontinuity. The film is slow and builds up gradually to the climax, which is interrupted by an almost irrelevant episode of the likes of a psychological thriller.

The film has as its theme the evolution of mankind. Several million years ago some hominid apes live an animal-like existence until they encounter a rectangular black monolith that causes them to evolve into the next stage of development. Closer to the present time, the same type of mysterious monolith is discovered buried under the surface of the moon. This is the stimulus for the next stage of human development involving interplanetary travel and dependence on computers. The middle part of the film involving the mission to Jupiter and the interaction of one of the spacemen, Dave, with Hal the villainous computer is the main recognizable cinematic “plot” of the movie. It is a sparse story but directed with masterly aplomb by Kubrick. The last part of the movie concerns the interaction of Dave with yet another black monolith that heralds the next stage of human development – the space child.

The film is ground-breaking in several important cinematic ways. Its use of slowly building climaxes (which may irritate many). The use of classical music in some beautiful image sequences that serve no purpose except to cajole us into a sense of cultural appreciation of the art of movie-making. The overlapping stories linked by the common monolithic theme. The almost Hitchcokian middle part of man versus machine. And the final self-indulgent psychedelic trip that heralds the postlude of a conclusion to the film that may be misunderstood by many. The mystery surrounding the monoliths is never resolved in the film, but that an alien intelligence is responsible for them is indisputable. This contribute to the overall awe-inspiring nature of the film and contributes to the constant sense of apprehension that mounts to terror as the film winds to a close.

This is the science fiction film par excellence. A great achievement of a great director, perhaps his greatest film. When one thinks of what was being made Hollywood in 1968, one is amazed by the foresight and vision of Kubrick, truly one of the great directors.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


“To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man.” - Michael Servetus

We live in interesting times and that reminds me of the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”… Interesting because of the worldwide upheavals, economies in crisis, wars, terrorism, massive population shifts, climate change, social inequity, crumbling governments, people running amuck. Yet, ours are not the only interesting times, the history books are full of similar epochs with numerous crises and awful turmoil. It’s just that I would have thought humanity had learnt a little form past mistakes and a simple reading of history would have had a sobering effect. But who bothers to read history anymore?

The painting for this Sunday is Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Temptation of St Anthony”, a work full of terror and apprehension. Illustrative perhaps of some past “interesting times” or prophetic of the present ones.

Bosch, Hieronymus also known as Joen or Jeroen van Aken was born about 1450, in 's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc) in the Netherlands and died in 1516. The painting above was painted around 1505-1506 and is oil on panel, 131.5 x 53 cm (central panel), 131.5 x 53 cm (side panels, each). It now hangs in Lisbon, in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.

The complete triptych depicts the Flight and Failure of St Anthony (left wing), Temptation of St Anthony (central panel) and St Anthony in Meditation (right wing). In the works of northern masters, the realistic landscapes of Italian painters are transformed into fantasy-scapes in which anthropomorphic forms mix with imaginary ones. These often accompany the usual Christian motifs, like a temptation of Saint Anthony, representing a weird mixture of legend and pure imagination. Bosch was remarkable in his choice of subject matter that allowed him to indulge his bizarre sense of the grotesque and the fantastic.