Saturday, 25 September 2010


“Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” - Mark Twain

What a day today! Spent most of it gardening and weeding and getting things done around the house. It was Grand Final day today and all of the Australian Rules Football aficionados were either glued to their TV set or in the ground cheering on. Turns out the big game ended in a draw, which last happened in 1977. Now they’ll play again next Saturday! Football is not my cup of tea so it was a Saturday just like any other today.

I had a very special Saturday afternoon with nice music, pleasant conversation, then a wonderful dinner and a special person to cuddle up next to! The rain came after and we watched it over the bay while lying in bed…

Here’s a special song that I love. Tony Bennett sings “The Shadow of Your Smile” from the motion picture “The Sandpiper”, it won the 1965 Grammy for Best Original Song and was awarded the 1966 Song of the Year. The music was written by Johnny Mandel, the lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


“An orange on the table, your dress on the rug, and you in my bed, sweet present of the present, cool of night, warmth of my life.” - Jacques Prévert

We had a lovely Spring day today – at least during the middle of the day as it was sandwiched between between a gray drizzly morning and a cool gray afternoon. The temperature went up to about 19˚C and the sun felt quite warm for a while. I went for a walk and enjoyed the sunshine and then back inside… Tonight it’s quite cold and the evening has fallen quite abruptly. Winter is still lingering!

And seeing the last of the Winter oranges are still around, what better way to say goodbye than with a Greek Orange Cake!

Greek Orange Cake
500 g fyllo pastry
4 eggs
1 glassful vegetable oil
250 g Greek style yoghurt
zest of two oranges
1 heaped tsp baking powder
vanillin sugar to taste

For the syrup
3 cupfuls of water
2 cupfuls sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 glassful freshly squeezed orange juice

•    Beat the eggs, oil and vegetable oil in the mixer bowl and add the orange zest, the baking powder and the vanillin sugar.
•    Brush the fyllo pastry leaves well with vegetable oil and lay them down ruched next to each other in a medium-sized baking dish. Reserve a couple of sheets. Cut them transversely and pour on top the mixture that has been prepared in the mixer bowl. Lay on top the pleated oiled reserved pastry sheets and press down gently to ensure they contact the mixture.
•    Bake at 180˚C for 30 minutes.
•    In a saucepan, place the sugar, water and cinnamon stick. Boil for five minutes, stirring all the while. Add the freshly squeezed, strained orange juice and remove from the flame immediately.
•    Pour the syrup over the cake that you have removed from the oven while still hot.
•    Allow to cool and cut into squares to serve.
•    Delicious with a dollop of double cream.


“If your life at night is good, you think you have everything.” Euripides

In the northern hemisphere it is the autumnal equinox today and there is a full moon out, it is the day of the Autumn Moon Festival, while in the southern hemisphere it is the vernal equinox. It is also the second day of the Jewish Sukkot Festival. Sukkot is a Hebrew word meaning “booths” or “huts” and refers to the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the autumn harvest, as well as the commemoration of the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert after Sinai. Sukkot is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur on the 15th of Tishrei and is marked by several distinct traditions. One tradition, which takes the commandment to “dwell in booths” (Leviticus 23:42–43) literally, is to build a sukkah (a booth or hut). A sukkah is often erected by Jews during this festival, and it is a common practice for some to eat and even live in these temporary dwellings during Sukkot.

Tradition calls for one family to enter the sukkah, recite the Motzi prayer over the meal to be eaten, and then add a special blessing: “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu leishev basukah.” - Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us through Your mitzvot and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah. Another custom of Sukkot involves extending hospitality, especially to the needy. Tradition is that there are certain guests of the festival, ushpizin, who are present in spirit in every sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and David. In addition, many Jews will invite guests outside of their families to join them for a holiday meal.

There are two more symbols associated with Sukkot that deserve attention. Lulav is a Hebrew word meaning “palm branch” and refers to a unique ceremonial object associated with the holiday of Sukkot. Lulav is also a generic term, describing a three-sectioned holder with a single palm branch in the center, two willow branches on the left, and three myrtle branches on the right. Etrog is a Hebrew word meaning “citron,” and refers to the special lemon-like fruit used in conjunction with the lulav in the Sukkot ritual.

Euripides, the ancient Greek dramatist was born in 484 BC on this day. He wrote some 90 plays, of which 17 survive complete, while another 17 survive as fragments. He is one of the foremost of the ancient Greek tragedians and his plays are often about women in tragic situations (e.g. Medea) and his plots are very realistic and concentrate on the situations that elicit violent emotional reactions from them. He was criticised fro his often used device of deus ex machina where a god or goddess appears at the play’s end to provide a contrived solution to an intractable problem… Towards the end of his life, he accepted the invitation of King Archelaus I of Macedon and stayed with him in Macedonia, allegedly dying there in 406 B.C. after being accidentally attacked by the king's hunting dogs while walking in the woods.

The plant for the birthdays falling on this day is the common field mushroom, Agaricus campestris. Because some poisonous mushrooms may resemble the edible ones, the mushroom in the language of flowers suggests the meaning “suspicion”.  This confusion is also at the bottom of the warning couplets:
    When the moon is at the full,
    Mushrooms you may freely pull;
    When the moon is on the wane,
    Wait ere you think to pluck again!

The Welsh call poisonous mushrooms bwyd ellyllon = “meat of the goblins”.  Fairy rings, are the term given to the ring of mushrooms that form as the spores are ejected from around the rim of the fruiting body of the parent fungus, in the belief that they arose from the feet of fairies dancing in a circle.  Dreaming of gathering mushrooms is an indication of the lack of attachment on the part of a partner.  Astrologically, the mushroom is under the dominion of Mercury in the sign of Leo.

In Japan the autumnal equinox is termed Higan, meaning the “other shore”, implying heaven. Buddhists will pray in temples and in cemeteries for the souls of the dead in ceremonies reminiscent of All Souls’ Day.

Today is also the national day of Armenia and Saudi Arabia!

Armenia is the smallest of the 15 republics of the former USSR that gained its independence in 1991.  It is about 30,000 square km in area with a population of 4 million people.  It is East of Turkey and North of Georgia. The capital city is Yerevan with other main centres being Karaklis, Kumayri and Kamo.  It is a mountainous, landlocked country with small but fertile regions of arable land.  The main industry is machine-building with chemicals and textiles also contributing to the economy.  Farming and raising of sheep, goats and cattle is also important.

Saudi Arabia is the largest country of the arid Arabian Peninsula. It became independent in 1913 after the occupying Turks were expelled. It has an area of 2.4 million square km and a population of 15 million people. The country is extremely arid with no permanent rivers and very low rainfall, extremely hot in the Summer. In the mountainous West there is sparse vegetation and it is only in the coastal oases that date palms and cereal crops flourish. The economy is dominated by oil, which is Saudi Arabia’s major export and source of wealth. The petrodollars pay for irrigation schemes and land reclamation projects intended to raise food production. The capital city is Riyadh with other major cities being Mecca, Jeddah, Medina, Ta’if, Najran and Abha. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Muslims from all over the world converge on Mecca to complete the “Hajj”, or visit, which every devout Muslim must make at least once in their life.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


“There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.” - Joseph Conrad

As is the case with every trip, when I return to the office there are a number of things to do and lots to catch up on. Today was no exception and the day flew by with non-stop meetings, people dropping in to see me, correspondence to attend to. I was in at seven in the morning and managed to sneak away at 5:30 p.m. For lunch, I had a couple of fruits at my desk and that was while I was answering emails. A pleasant surprise was a Chinese colleague who came in and brought me a moon cake as tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival.

This is also called the Chinese Moon Festival (中秋節), which is on the 15th of the 8th lunar month. Just like Christmas and Thanksgiving in the West, the Moon Festival is one of the most important traditional holidays for the Chinese. Many legends abound regarding this Festival and the story of Houyi is told at this time:

Houyi was very good at archery. There were once ten suns in the sky, which made plants wither, and fierce beasts to run wild and imperil people. It was too hot to live under the ten suns. To save the people, Houyi started to shoot the suns. He shot down nine of them one by one, and he might have shot the last one if he was not called off by the people. Thus the severe drought was gone and the wild beasts went away. It is said Houyi’s wife was Chang Er, who swallowed the elixir stolen from her husband, and she flew to the moon and became the goddess of the moon. She has lived in the palace on the moon ever since. Houyi was killed by Fengmeng, a disciple of Houyi who learned to shoot from him. You might see Chang Er dancing on the moon during the Moon Festival.

The Moon Festival is also an occasion for family reunions. When the full moon rises, families get together to watch the full moon, eat moon cakes, and sing moon songs. With the full moon, the legends, the family reunions and the poems, this is a special time. That is why the Chinese are so fond of the Moon Festival.

The Moon Festival is also a romantic one. A perfect night for the festival is if it is a quiet night without clouds and with a little mild breeze from the sea. Lovers spend such a romantic night together eating moon cakes with some wine while watching the full moon. Even for couples who can’t be together, they too can enjoy the night by watching the moon at the same time so they can feel that they are together at that moment.

Here is a poem I wrote for this occasion:

The Autumn Full Moon

Gazing at the clear sky on this Spring night
And looking at the full moon of September,
A distant northern Autumn I remember
When you were near, and your eyes were bright.

The stars are sparkling and the garden fragrant
The night is cool and air crisp as a crystal bell.
Spring flowers bright, in moonlight flagrant
But memory’s fallen leaves sad tales will tell.

We shared a moon cake under full moon’s light
And laughed as autumn winds blew candles out;
Now I can find no trace of you about –
I loved, you left, the moon’s the mistress of the night.

The Autumn full moon in Spring is mocking
My thoughts, remembrances, feelings frozen;
My life so empty, and your absence shocking
This lonely path we tread as we have chosen.

Tell me pale Moon, does she too gaze on you tonight?
Could she perhaps be thinking of me, in your silver light?

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.” - Martin Luther

Yesterday evening, after work I managed to visit King’s park in Perth. This is a magnificent site a stone’s throw away from the city centre and consists of extensive parklands (400 hectares!), botanic gardens, function rooms, a café, a restaurant, a gallery and tourist shops. Although the park is good to visit all year round, it is exquisite in September when the native wildflowers are in bloom. I took the free Red Cat bus from the city centre to the Havelock St stop just near the park entrance, and then walked up the magnificent ghost gum lined driveway to the park’s main tourist area. The panoramic views from there, even from a stationary vantage point, extend across the city, to the hills, and down the river. The city views make for an obligatory photograph from the top of the hill and one can see the numerous tourists lining up and pointing the camera at the panorama.

However, King’s Park offers far more than breathtaking views. Of its 400 hectares, approximately two thirds are bushland, which during the wildflower season (September and October), comes alive with colour. The famous wildflowers of the Western Australian outback are well represented here and even if you cannot make it to the wilds off the beaten track, you can enjoy the wildflowers about 1.5 km from the Perth city centre. The remaining third of King’s Park comprises beautifully landscaped gardens, picnic and barbeque areas and playgrounds.

Because of its extensive size, the park is fully serviced by roads to make it accessible to cars, but also more importantly, there are many paths and trails for the visitors on foot. Although one can explore them oneself, one can also take a free guided walking tour. These start every day at 10 am at the Karri Log. Most of the flowers and trees are identified by their scientific and common names with small plaques, making it easy even for the layperson to know what is growing in the Park.

King’s Park is also a site highlighting certain aspects of Western Australia’s history. In addition to the main war memorial, which contains the names of all soldiers lost during the first and second world wars, the Park’s roads are lined with trees, at the base of which there are plaques laid in memory of individual fallen soldiers. This is a touching reminder of the toll Australia had to pay while fighting wars on distant foreign lands. Standing by one of these trees and reading a name on a plaque that reminds one of a soldier long dead, killed in the prime of youth for an idea, for freedom; and gazing up at the tall green tree is a humbling experience.

In Summer, King’s Park is a must to visit at night. The drive up the main road in King’s Park lined with ghost gum trees that are spot-lit and look like an otherworldly marching army of sentinel guards. Recently, during Summer, the people of Perth have been treated to cinematic and thespian delights in Kings Park. The Sunset Cinema, which screens outside in the Lakeside Picnic Area shows classic, art-house and cult movies. Also, local and interstate theatre companies often put on a production, usually Shakespeare, in the idyllic surrounds of the Park, including recent productions of “Taming of the Shrew”, and “Romeo and Juliet”.

One of my favourite areas of the park is the Federation Walkway, which rises high up amongst the treetops and not only affords magnificent views of the surrounds, but also makes for a good platform for observing the birdlife and flora. The Walkway extends 620 metres through the Botanic Garden along a combination of on-ground pathways and a spectacular elevated 52 m glass and steel arched bridge suspended amongst a canopy of tall eucalypts.

Another favourite of mine is the water garden, which wends its way through multiple levels and incorporates waterfalls, rock gardens, cascading rills and tranquil pools where ducks dive and swim, providing the visitor with the venue for a tranquil walk and a wonderful soul-raising experience.

Back home tomorrow, with an excellent trip both work-wise and as a change to the routine!

Sunday, 19 September 2010


“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” - Neil Postman

On Saturday night before my trip we got a chance to see a very good movie, which was quite powerful and confronting, but also hopeful in an understated way. It was Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film “Children of Men”. It was a stark, violent, harrowing science fiction story of a near-future dystopia, set in a post-apocalyptic England where the future is not so bright nor the world so brave and new.

The movie is set in 2027 AD, where because of an unexplainable, world-wide infertility epidemic, no child has been born for 18 years. Scientists are at loss to explain the reason and the population is gritting its teeth to cope with the mass desperation that this grim reality engenders. African and East European societies collapse and their dwindling populations migrate to England and other wealthy nations around the world in order to survive. In a climate of nationalistic violence and racial hatred, Theo Faron a London peace activist (now turned bureaucrat), joins forces with his revolutionary ex-wife Julian in order to save mankind by protecting a woman who has mysteriously become pregnant.

It is a film that actively questions our present society, its values and morals, its intolerance and lack of understanding. It looks at the problem of refugees, both political and economic, and the violence that can be generated in the wake of renascent nationalism, which is blighting many parts of the world nowadays. These problems are put into context and are given their relative importance by the hypothetical situation: “What if there were no more children born any more?” From this perspective, the other issues covered by the film become almost irrelevant as humanity is confronted with the grim reality of its own extinction – not with a bang but with a whimper…

I found the film especially poignant given the large number of stories that are regularly being aired now of babies killed, abandoned or thrown in the rubbish. The latest example was that of woman who gave birth in the toilet of an aeroplane, disposed of the newborn in the toilet rubbish bin and returned to her seat as though nothing had happened. Fortunately, the baby was saved but this action (whatever its motive) highlights our society’s ills on a fundamental level. The preciousness and sanctity of human life that is immediately obvious when one holds a newborn baby in one’s arms should inspire awe and humility. The film underscores this core idea of humanity that should be inherent in all of us. The disposal of unwanted babies is contrasted with the situation illustrated where no babies are born worldwide and the immense consequences for humanity that this has.

A particularly gripping scene that drove home the message particularly violently was one where the main characters wander into an abandoned primary school, which has become deserted, dirty, unkempt. Vestiges of children’s presence are seen in a few faded and torn drawings, abandoned stuffed toys thrown on heaps of rubbish and rusty playground equipment. “What if there were no more children?” the scene asks and one sees degeneration, decay, extinction.

On the flip side of this is the attendant misfortune of an ageing population and increasing number of elderly people who more than the few young ones see the world without children through eyes that were used to having babies and children around them all the time. People who should have been parents and grandparents see the world change for the worse, consumed by violence and anarchy and there is no hope of a better life, no salvation.

The acting was excellent, with Michael Caine taking great relish in his role as a marijuana-growing senior citizen looking after his invalid wife. Julieanne Moore has a small role, which she plays well, but the honours go to Clive Owen as the reluctant hero Theo Faron. Kee, the young pregnant woman is played ingenuously by Clare-Hope Ashitey and there are some good cameo performances by a variety of character actors. The cinematography is well done and the secondary theme of pollution and environmental despoliation is brought out in all of its awesome dread.

An excellent film, although full of violence and images that may shock some people, I recommend it most highly as a movie that will make the viewer think and ruminate upon many of the current issues that plague our society this day and age. The movie is based on the 1992 novel by P.D. James, and although the film is an adapted version, it is said to have pleased the author.


“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” – Oscar Wilde

The flight to Perth was uneventful and surprisingly short – just under three-and-a-half hours instead of the usual four. On landing in Perth, I set my watch two hours earlier, which gives one an idea of the vastness of Australia. The weather was perfect: Sunny and a balmy 18˚C, which was soon to climb to an equable 22˚C. Tomorrow the temperature will reach a maximum of 23˚C and on Tuesday, 26˚C! I went for a walk and admired the beautiful flowers in bloom everywhere – Spring is truly here in Western Australia! By chance I came across an exhibition in the Perth Town Hall, which I hastened to view. It was the City of Perth Black Swan Prize for portraiture.

In 2010 artists from across Australia vie for the Lester Group Prize of $30,000 and the Perrine People’s Choice Prize of $7,500. All paintings submitted for this competition/exhibition must be of well known or well respected Australians. The exhibition was quite amazing. There were over 40 paintings, with a vast array of styles and techniques, but all of them exceedingly well-crafted and as far as capturing the essence of the person who sat for the portrait goes, most of them were quite successful in presenting a cameo of the persona of the sitter. I liked several of these portraits (and you can view all 42 finalists on the site above), but the one I have posted was definitely one of my favourites. It is a portrait of Robert Juniper by Nigel Hewitt. The painting is rather somber, befitting the subject. Juniper is a Western Australian artist who studied commercial art and industrial design at Beckenham School of Art in England.  He returned to WA in 1949 and taught art. Since 1974, Robert Juniper has devoted himself full-time to painting, sculpting and printmaking. Recognised as an artist of poetic and spontaneous vision, Juniper has established himself as one of Australia's leading painters. He is best known for his evocative depictions of the West Australian landscape. His main influences range from English painters of the early 1900s, Paul Klee, and Japanese work of the 19th century, through to his contemporary, Australian artist, Sam Fullbrook.

Nigel Hewitt is a visual artist based in Perth, Western Australia. His images are most frequently mixed media on canvas, with subjects ranging from contemporary environmental and political issues to the personal and ambiguous notions of discovery and existence. His portrait of “Bob” is intimate and powerful. The artist’s aged face and distant gaze challenges approaching death that is symbolised by the skeletal ram’s head behind him. Although he is supported by a stick, his powerful hands grasp firmly and he looks into the light, like a true visionary. An artist paints another artist with an understanding that may be lacking if the sitter has different profession…

It is interesting that most of the portraits were photorealistic and unfortunately that means for quite a few of them quite lifeless. One or two that strove for originality were rather mundane but one or two were very quirky and hence memorable. Overall it was an enjoyable experience and just right for Art Sunday!

Borders had a sale of CDs, with any four CDs in the store for $30. I couldn’t resist of course and bought quite a few good ones, saving about $150 on the regular prices! It was quite an amazing buy, also considering that many of the ones I bought I wouldn’t have found in Melbourne at that price… I also bought a new shirt and tie for tomorrow as they were also on special (not in Borders)!

I finally went by our campus and inspected the facilities. The cleaners had done a good job, everything was in order for the panel tomorrow. Thus assured, I finally came back to the Hotel and had a lovely bath, soaking in the tub for about 40 minutes. There’s nothing as restful after a long trip and a few hours of walking. I dined at the club rooms and had some excellent little tidbits washed down with champagne, finishing off with some luscious and sweet strawberries that smelt delightfully and tasted even better.