“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” – Anton Chekhov
Saturday night in Adelaide. I am just about to go out and have dinner with some of my colleagues. It has been a lovely mild and sunny autumn day and now as the evening falls, the temperature is also dropping and the sky, still quite clear is full stars.
A little Handel for this Saturday night. Here is his Sarabande which was used to great effect in the movie “Barry Lyndon”.
“The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse.” - Edward Koch
Greetings from Perth, where I am presently for work. It is a lovely warm and sunny autumn day here with the temperature reaching an equable 27˚C. The difference between the hustle and bustle of Melbourne is quite marked. The pace is slower and more relaxed here and the people are rather more casual and take things easily. Nevertheless, quite a few tourists are around, and also many young people from overseas on working holidays.
I had a very pleasant lunch at the Dôme café-restaurant on St George’s Terrace. Dôme Coffees Australia was founded in Perth in the early 1990s with a promise “to deliver the World’s Finest Coffees to its discerning guests”. From the first café in Cottesloe, to the latest in Bahrain there are now more than 70 cafés in Australia, South East Asia and the Middle East delivering on this promise with more than 10,000 cups a day.
The ambience was casual and relaxed but the menu was very ordinary. One had the immediate impression that one was in a chain restaurant from the type of menu, the ordering and paying arrangements and the ordinary service. In fact the service was poor. I had a Caesar salad which was fresh and well constructed with a freshly cooked poached egg, tender green leaves of Cos lettuce and an added extra of smoked salmon.
The best test of an unknown restaurant is a simple, standard dish (like the Caesar salad), which though deceptively straightforward and seemingly uncomplicated can be botched so easily! Although the meal was surprisingly good (given the poor service), the restaurant could not be recommended without reservations. So much depends on good service when one is dining out!
This evening I officiated at the graduation ceremony of our College’s Perth Campus in the newly renovated Perth Town Hall. The evening went extremely well and there were many happy faces in the auditorium. Not only the graduates, of course, but also the all-important family and friends who supported the students through their academic career. I always enjoy graduation ceremonies as they are the culmination of many years of sacrifices and hard work by the students and families, and they are the ceremony where the fruits of that hard work are harvested and celebrated.
Tomorrow morning I’m off to Adelaide where another graduation ceremony awaits me on Sunday!
“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
The latest events in Athens have left me exasperated and quite distraught. As I wrote in this blog a couple of days, the financial crisis in Greece was bound to have repercussions and the draconian economic measures that have been announced by the government were going to be the stimulus for a massive public outcry. Sure enough, thousands of protesters (at least 30,000 people, although some estimate double that number) took to the streets yesterday in an attempt to voice their dissent and displeasure against the economic measures, which are felt to target unfairly the poorer citizens.
The protest was peaceful up to a point as the march took the protesters towards the Parliament, where the protest was to culminate. However, the government maintains that a small proportion of the protesters were the “known-unknowns” (as the Greek press describes hooded anarchists who are behind a number of terrorist attacks). These hoodlums, they say, are the ones responsible for the heinous acts of terrorism that robbed three ordinary bank employees their life, amongst them a 4-month pregnant woman.
The Marfin Bank in central Athens, housed in a restored neoclassical building was the site targeted by the protesters. Molotov cocktails and large quantities of petrol were thrown through smashed windows of the bank and the building was immediately enveloped by flames, forcing occupants to seek escape via the roof, which unfortunately was inaccessible. The tragic loss of life occurred on the first storey, as people struggled to reach the balconies. Some succeeded while others were overcome by fumes and smoke. As well as the pregnant woman, another woman died and also a young man.
The march in Athens yesterday was frightening in terms of both size and brutality. Demonstrators in wild hordes stretched several kilometers throughout the central Athens maze of streets. The protest began from Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares, named after the god of war). It is said by many eyewitnesses, that a lot of the protesters came prepared to do battle, armed with gas masks, sticks and Molotov cocktails. Apparently, this was not a case of just the usual suspects of the hooded “known unknowns” being violent, other ordinary citizens enraged by the crisis joined in too. The protest was fought by police with tear gas and once again the protesters maintain that the police used excessive violence, which further exacerbated the crowd’s anger.
It is in the nature of Greeks to dissent, protest, voice their displeasure, march and be actively anti-government. This is felt to be part of their democratic right. However, the line is drawn by most citizens at violence. The financial crisis and the worsening economic woes of the country may have changed the position of many people who feel as though they have suffered enough. However, at this point where some innocent workers found an agonised end in a firebombed building, and where the protesting mob caused the murderous tragedy, may be a trigger for some serious soul-searching.
Ironically, yesterday was the feast day of St Irene. In Greek, Irene means “Peace”. In the country where Western civilisation was born, maybe is fitting that Western civilisation’s death will commence here also. How sad, what a pity, what a great loss for humanity, what a tragedy…
“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” - Edna St Vincent Millay
When our beloved is far away from us we discover a new way of loving. The experience of our affections alter in quite subtle ways and hits us with quite a punch in our everyday life. The longer the period of absence is protracted, the greater our change and our every action and thought begins to be coloured by that absence. Here is a poem I have just written for my own beloved, now far away…
Your Distant Presence
Though far away, you are close to me,
Because your distant presence
Attunes within my heart, your heart.
Though far away, I hear your voice,
When you call me; and its lingering echo
Resonates deep within my soul.
Though far away, I see your face,
Your smile a distant sun that warms
Each ice-cold fibre of my body.
Though far away, I taste your kiss,
Each time I bite into a ripe strawberry,
Fragrant, lush, juicy and succulent.
Though far away, I speak your name,
And my winged words fly out,
Across the oceans, swiftly to find you;
And in their beaks they carry my kisses,
And in their claws grasp my solitude.
Though far away, you’ll hear my words,
Calling your name, giving you kisses.
And my solitude, delivered to you, will be no more,
As you open your arms and in your dream of me
Will feel my love enveloping you softly.
Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday. Please visit her blog for more poems.
The economic situation in Greece has reached a crisis point, which has threatened not only the European economy but has also cast a shadow on the shaky recovery from the global financial crisis. Greece is the leading economic force in the Balkans and a collapse in its economy will have dire consequences in its immediate vicinity. Furthermore, the single currency model that the European Union has espoused makes it vulnerable if one of its member countries fails. As if all this weren’t bad enough, the remaining southern European countries (Italy, Spain and Portugal) are also on shaky financial ground. However, it is not a problem confined to southern Europe, even Ireland is in trouble!
Greece is a developed country with a high standard of living and very high Human Development Index (HDI), ranking 22nd on the Economist’s worldwide quality of life index. Since the early 1990s, Greece’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has also been higher than the European Union average. However, the Greek economy also faces significant problems, including rising unemployment levels, inefficient bureaucracy, illegal immigration, para-economy, tax evasion and corruption. Greece’s economic growth turned negative in 2009 for the first time since 1993. This was because of over-lending in recent years. By the end of 2009, as a result of a combination of the international financial crisis and local uncontrolled spending prior to the October 2009 national elections, the Greek economy faced its most severe crisis. The national debt, put at €300 billion, is bigger than the country’s economy, with some estimates predicting it will reach 120 percent of GDP in mid-2010. The country’s deficit (that is how much more it spends than it takes in) is 12.7%.
Greece’s credit rating (which is the assessment of a country’s ability to repay its debts) has been downgraded to the lowest in the Eurozone, meaning it is viewed as a financial black hole by foreign investors. This leaves the country struggling to pay its bills as interest rates on existing debts rise. The Papandreou government, which came into office last year and inherited many of the financial problems from the previous Karamanlis government had to slash its budget and renege on most of its election promises in an austerity-driven strategy to try to reduce national debt. These measures are of course not popular in a country that has in the last few years been living beyond its means.
Eurozone finance ministers have finally agreed to a 110 billion euro rescue package for Greece to prevent a default and stop the worst crisis in the Euro’s 11-year history, from spreading through the rest of the European Union. Germany, the eurozone’s biggest economy, wants greater austerity measures from Athens, including more tax cuts, easier firing of civil servants and increased privatisation, for Germany to commit to the bailout. Greece has introduced a number of austerity measures in order to tackle its debt, leading (understandably) to widespread public opposition. Civil servants’ bonuses (including Christmas and Easter windfalls) will be cut by between 12 and 30 per cent, saving about $2.25 billion euros. It is pledging to trim social security payments further by raising the retirement age and banning early retirement in a bill to be produced in May. The state pension will also be frozen, saving $600 million euros. The VAT is being increased from 19 to 21%, this expected to raise $1.7 billion and is to introduce a 2% supplementary petrol tax to bring in $600 million euros. A one-off corporate tax will raise $1.3 billion euros and a 2% supplementary cigarette tax will give an extra $400 million euros. There will also be a one-off tax on holiday homes and oversized properties, while the commercial activities of churches will also be taxed.
Yet, despite the agreement by European finance ministers last Sunday on the unprecedented three-year loan package to Greece, the euro fell as world markets questioned the ability of the Greek government to push through its new austerity measures pledged in exchange for aid and is an indication of the worry that other vulnerable euro states may be following Greece’s footsteps. The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, says the Greek Government has come up with an ambitious program to address its economic crisis. The IMF says its executive board will consider approving Greece’s request for about $40 billion in loans within the coming week.
I am finding it difficult to come to terms with Greece’s financial position, given the reckless way in which the country and its economy have been run for the past few years. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has been dubbed the “evil woman” of Europe by Greeks given her reluctance to bail out Greece. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president and also a philhellene, is the “good guy” who has from the outset wanted to help Greece out. Perhaps we should consider the way the two leaders live in order to understand who has the better plan for Greece’s rescue: Mrs. Merkel, a physicist raised in communist East Germany, has a hard-working, parsimonious lifestyle, still lives in a modest Berlin apartment she occupied before her election in 2005, and does her own shopping. She has an analytical, somewhat bland personality that in many ways reflects the national value system, according to Gerd Langguth, author of a 2005 biography of her. Mr. Sarkozy resides in the majestic Élysée Palace and has an army of staff members, not to mention his republican French background with its tradition of state intervention and a more Mediterranean and relaxed attitude toward public debt.
Greeks should perhaps cast their minds back to the legend of Hercules and the choice he made at the beginning of his life as hero. When confronted by the two goddesses, Kakía (Vice) and Areté (Virtue), he chose the rocky, winding path pointed out by Areté and not the easy, straight road pointed out by Kakía. To be honourable and virtuous takes great courage and self-sacrifice. The road of vice is easy to begin with but leads to ruin soon enough…
“My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
We watched a rom-com from France at the weekend, which was quite lightweight and enjoyable, but still, it had bit of a hidden sting in its tail… The 2007 romantic comedy “Un Baiser, s'il Vous Plait” released in English as “Shall We Kiss?” was written and directed by Emmanuel Mouret. As if that weren’t enough, he also played one of the leading roles (see above as Nicolas, with Virginie Ledoyen, who plays Judith)! We rather enjoyed seeing this amusing persiflage of a film and we got into a discussion following it, which I presume is exactly what the director set out to do. An enjoyable rom-com, which nevertheless tried to make a point about the profound consequences of one’s even slightest actions.
The film is a story within a story and briefly, the plot is as follows: Gabriel, a native of Nantes, and Émilie, a visiting Parisienne, meet by chance in Nantes and he offers her a ride. They seem to get on very well and they end up dining together, talking and laughing all the while. As Émilie gets dropped off at her hotel by Gabriel, he tries to give her “a kiss without consequences”. Émilie refuses the kiss and warns him that a kiss could have unexpected consequences. When the perplexed Gabriel protests the innocence of his kiss, Émilie tells him a story, which in flashback makes up the bulk of the movie. It concerns Judith, her husband Claudio and her best friend, Nicolas. The triangle of this main story illustrates Émilie’s refusal to kiss Gabriel.
The film illustrates the impossibility of indulging one’s desires without affecting someone else’s life. This is especially true in relationships, even in very happy relationships where one partner may “stray” and bring the universe of the other partner collapsing in around the couple. The plot also distinguishes between falling in love and loving, passion and affection, selfless sacrifice and selfishness. The difference between the lover and the beloved is also pointed out. I shall not say more in case you wish to see the film yourself, so I will not spoil it.
Apropos films and watching movies, in my paper in the train today I saw a risible article regarding what wine to drink when watching movies. The ploy is a marketing device and concerns Oovie, a DVD renting company and a Sydney Wine Bar, Time to Vino. The 'Time to Vino' sommelier, Clint Hillery said that the DVD-wine pairing system is like selecting the right wine to have with a specific kind of food/meal, the best combinations enhancing the effects of each other. In terms of the movie genre, the effect caused by the right wine would be a heightening of the emotions that were generated by the film. In case you are wondering what drop is right for what genre, here are the recommendations:
“Et in Arcadia Ego…” - “And in Arcadia I (had lived).” This is a tomb inscription that serves as a memento mori to the carefree travellers who may chance upon it. It purpose simple, to remind even the happiest of mortals that happiness and youth are transient and the tomb awaits us all. Arcadia, the Greek rustic region in the Peloponnese was from ancient times idealised as a wonderful place to live in natural and simple surroundings.
The first appearance of a tomb with a memorial inscription (to Daphnis) in the idyllic settings of Arcadia appears in Virgil’s Eclogues V 42 ff. Virgil took the idealised Sicilian rustics that had first appeared in the Idylls of Theocritus and set them in the idealised and rustic Arcadia. The idea was taken up again in the circle of Lorenzo de’ Medici in the 1460s and 1470s, during the Renaissance. In his bucolic work Arcadia (1504), Jacopo Sannazaro painted the picture of Arcadia as a lost world of idyllic bliss, remembered in nostalgic verses. The first pictorial representation of the familiar memento mori theme that was popularised in 16th-century Venice, made more vivid by the inscription ET IN ARCADIA EGO, is Guercino’s canvas above, painted between 1618 and 1622 (in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica Rome), in which the inscription gains force from the prominent presence of a skull in the foreground, beneath which the words are carved.
Two shepherds gaze with awe at the tomb on which the skull is set. Attributes of death and decay like the mouse and the fly re-enforce the message of memento mori. Paintings such as this were commonplace once, especially meant for contemplation by the rich and powerful. The message was: “Where you are, I once was – where I am you shall be. Remember, you are mortal, no amount of money or earthly power will subvert the arrival of death…”
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (born 1591, Cento, died 1666, Bologna) was better known by his nickname Guercino (meaning “the squinter”). He was an Italian painter of the Bolognese School. Although he was self-taught he developed precociously into a formidable artist. Even though he spent much of his life in Cento (a small provincial town between Bologna and Ferrara), he managed to become one of the major artists of his day. He was early inspired by the classical reforms of Carraci but his pictures were full of movement and intense feeling.
In 1621 Pope Gregory XV summoned him to Rome where the artist stayed until 1623, trying to balance his own dynamic temperament with the rarefied manner of the classical school. In the process producing some very original and striking paintings. After Gregory's death in 1623, he went back to Emilia, his energy gradually seemed to dissipate and his painting became more controlled. On the death of Guido Reni (1642), who had loathed him, Guercino moved to Bologna where the dominant climate was coldly classical. Altering his art to suit this atmosphere, Guercino took over Reni's religious picture workshop and his role as the city's leading painter.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.