Saturday, 9 July 2011


“Poor, dear, silly Spring, preparing her annual surprise!” - Wallace Stevens

A beautiful fine and warm day today. We took the opportunity to walk by the banks of the Merri Creek. The trees were mainly bare and thrust their naked branches almost defiantly up into the blue of the sky and their fine twigs were like exclamation marks, punctuating their resistance to the wake up call of the strengthening sun. The creek flowed swiftly, its waters grey and one could imagine its coldness despite the sunshine, as the gusts of wind carried some bite.

And yet, the first stirrings of Spring were in the air and the buds were swelling. Some of the first blossoms were out. Flowering gorse bushes with their chrome yellow flowers, the wild onions with exploding sprays of pure white bells, the oxalis with lemony yellow blooms expressing the acidity of the plant’s sap. The humble speedwell with its delicate light blue flower echoing the wintry blue sky, the majestic wattle – all green and golden, and the rich purple and lilac of the wild pea looking like bright paint drops on the verdant green of awakening vegetation. Here a clump of fragrant violets, a happy garden escapee, there a deep blue Salvation Jane (or Patterson’s Curse, if you must!).

We needed the walk after visiting our friend in the nursing home again. She was feeling poorly today and was grateful for our visit, even though her weakening mind was filled with confusion and fuzziness.

For Song Saturday, a song by Edvard Grieg, “Våren” which is about a dying man and his view on his last spring. It is sung by Sissel, a fine Norwegian soprano. This is an rare perfomance from 2001. In the period between 1877 - 1880, Grieg produced a set of songs as his Op. 33 on texts by a man some called the peasant-poet of Norway, Aasmund Vinje (1818 - 1870).

Friday, 8 July 2011


“Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” – Epicurus

I am quite relieved it’s Friday, as it has been a very busy week. It is one of the best times of the week, Friday evening, as it is just before the weekend and the work of the week is over. Many people like to socialise with their work colleagues on Fridays after work, having drinks at some pub, or even go out for a meal. However, I couldn’t think of a worse time of the week to do that – perhaps it’s a sign of my middle age. Nevertheless, at the risk of appearing unsociable, I do not join my colleagues for drinks on Friday evenings. The thought of home is too much of a strong attractant and the cares of the week too great to protract them with the inevitable “talking shop” types of conversations that tend to occur at these functions.

The evening meal at home on Friday is also quite special as it is once again a dinner that anticipates the weekend and tends to be accompanied by some wine, dessert and is a very relaxed affair. I particularly like Friday evenings in winter because to get home quickly and savour the cosiness is a wonderful way to end the working week. And so it was this evening. While some colleagues went off to have their customary Friday evening drinks, I hurried home where we had a wonderful dinner, some wine, music and pleasant conversation. The food is not as important as the company one enjoys at mealtimes. As Epicurus said: “To eat and drink without a friend is to devour like the lion and the wolf.”

Another seasonal recipe today, perfect served with some wine and a fresh garden green salad. Follow with a creamy cool yoghurt and fruit dessert. Perfect wintry Friday night dinner!

Potato Quiche

•    3 cups grated hash brown potatoes
•    1/2 cup melted butter
•    1 heaped cup diced, cooked ham
•    1/4 cup chopped onion
•    1 cup grated tasty cheese
•    3 eggs
•    1/2 cup milk
•    1/3 cup cream
•    salt to taste
•    pepper, ground nutmeg, mace and mixed dried herbs to taste

•    Preheat oven to 220˚C.
•    Press hash browns onto the bottom and sides of a 25 cm pie dish, at an even thickness. Drizzle with melted butter, and sprinkle with salt.
•    Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until beginning to brown.
•    In a small bowl, combine ham, onion and shredded cheese.
•    In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, salt, herbs and spices.
•    When crust is ready, spread ham mixture on the bottom, then cover with egg mixture.
•    Reduce oven temperature to 175˚C.
•    Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until filling is puffed and golden brown.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!” – William Shakespeare

I visited Borders Bookstore in Melbourne Central today as it was its last day before it closed down. This is only one of the 123 Borders and Angus and Robertson bookstores that are closing down across Australia, with a loss of more than 1,800 jobs. They were all part of the REDgroup Retail chain, which is winding up its physical book retailing outlets, as no buyer was found for the bookstores. The administrators, however, have secured a deal to sell their online businesses. This is a situation that seems to be reflecting worldwide trends and is causing great apprehension amongst retailers of all kinds who rely on shopfront sales. Yet another well-known Melbourne bookstore, “Reader’s Feast” closed after operating in the City for the last 20 years.

I always enjoyed visiting and shopping in both Borders and Reader’s Feast, especially the latter. This bookshop is down an escalator on the corner of Bourke Street and Swanston Street in the heart of the City of Melbourne. One could go downstairs and spend many happy hours browsing, looking, sampling and of course buying one’s favourite books. There is something special about a bookshop, especially when it is a large one where they have a great selection of all sorts of books, like this one. One can find treasures that one wasn’t aware existed, be absorbed by something unlikely, and discover odd, engaging books that one wouldn’t even bother clicking on to obtain more information online.

There is something about the ambience of a bookshop that is immediately appealing. The smell of the printed paper, the quietness, the rows of book cases, the other customers – people of the same ilk… But most of all the books! Shelf after shelf of delights of all sorts, fiction and non-fiction, weighty tomes of philosophy, copiously illustrated natural history, handsomely bound literature, colourful paperbacks, children’s books, delightful travel books, cookbooks, science fiction, history, romance, computer books, music books, art, craft, geography, science, biology, linguistics, gardening, photography and the list goes one and on!

Now don’t get me wrong, if you have been reading this blog, you’ll know I am a little bit of a technophile. I love the smart phones and the iPod, computers and new software, the web, the iPad and therefore eBooks. It is so immensely convenient to have hundreds of books in a single iPad, not to mention the convenience of buying a new book or magazine anywhere at any time through the web bookstores online. This is the key to so many people switching to the electronic versions of books and magazines. Technology is changing our lives in countless ways, and this is just another one of these. Our lives are changing faster and faster as advances in technology, electronics, medicine, science, biology are constantly surging ahead at lightning speed.

Is it any surprise then that bookshops are struggling to maintain their businesses running profitably? They do less business and they have to compromise themselves and try and sell other things too, like DVDs and CDs, homewares, gifts, even coffee and sandwiches! That is, unless they also have an ebookshop – the success of Amazon as a business vouches for this. We are flocking to the web for all sorts of things because it is easy to do so. We are creatures of comfort and convenience and we can shop expediently and at our leisure online. Are all sorts of shops now on their way out? I know that DVD hiring shops are becoming less and less common. The ease of access of entertainment via technology is taking its toll there also.

Somehow, I think the bookshop will survive. And thankfully here in Melbourne we have many small bookshops (especially the second-hand variety) that still flourish. They stay in business because of bibliophiles like me! There is nothing like spending some time in such a place and immersing oneself in the books, wandering around and sampling the treasure trove, like a child taking a package out of a lucky dip. Nothing like sitting down and leafing through a book, revelling in the touch of the pages, the smell of ink and paper.

Vale, Borders! We are witnessing the end of an era. Welcome to the new generation who will look at real books as relics of an age gone by. The same as a generation of children nowadays who even view CDs as a trifle quaint, not to mention those ancient things: Vinyl LPs! In thirty years the world has changed so much, I dread to think what lies ahead. Images of “Fahrenheit 451” spring to mind and they are scary. Will books only be published in electronic form in the future? Will real books be soon relegated to the same fate as vinyl LPs? Appreciated by only a small group of aficionados who search high and low to find them and treat them in an almost worshipful manner once they have them in their possession? Oh, brave new world, indeed!

bibliophile |ˈbiblēəˌfīl| noun
A person who collects or has a great love of books.
bibliophilic |ˌbiblēəˈfilik| adjective
bibliophily |ˌbiblēˈäfəlē| noun
ORIGIN early 19th century: From French, from Greek biblion ‘book’ + philos ‘loving.’

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


“The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterdays bear date with the moderate antiquities for the rest of nations – the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.” - Mark Twain

In the news these last few days is a report about the fabulous treasure found in an Indian temple in Kerala State, in southern India. The treasure trove was found in the subterranean vaults of the 16th-century Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple that honours Lord Vishnu in Thiruvananthapuram. The vaults of the temple that had been sealed closed for over 100 years were opened on the instructions of the Supreme Court following a complaint from a local advocate alleging mismanagement by the temple trust. It is believed that most of the treasure was deposited by the royal family of Travancore. The family’s descendants still control the temple.

The treasure includes bags of gold coins, diamonds and other jewels and solid-gold statues of gods and goddesses. It is estimated that the valuables are worth about 22 billion dollars, and this without including the contents of the still sealed Section B, a large space expected to reveal another sizeable collection of treasures. Temples in India often have rich endowments, mainly derived from donations of gold and cash by pilgrims and wealthy patrons. This temple, however, has assets that dwarfs the known fortunes of every other Indian temple. Temple wealth is meant to be used by administrators to operate temples and provide services to the poor, but the administration of the temples’ wealth often become the subject of heated disputes and controversies.

The Supreme Court ordered the opening of the vaults at Padmanabhaswamy to assess the wealth of the temple after a local activist, T P Sundararajan, filed a case accusing administrators of mismanaging and poorly guarding the temple. The apex court has proposed the appointment of a museum curator to catalogue, photograph, and preserve the treasure. Two former judges of the Kerala High Court appointed by the Supreme Court are supervising the inventory of the treasure. The court would also decide which items should be conserved, which displayed in the museum and which others to be kept in safe vaults. Representatives of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and members of the temple trust were present when the treasure was unsealed.

The court warned of serious consequences if any party claims ownership of the treasure. Kerala State would not seek control of the temple or its treasure, a step that some activists have recommended. The Supreme Court will decide what happens to the treasure and the rest of the temple, which sits in the heart of Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, once it has established the total value of the holdings (this could take months to finish).

Kerala has been a spice-trading centre for millennia and P.J. Cherian, director of the Kerala Council for Historic Research, said: “Traders, who used to come from other parts of the country and abroad for trading in spices and other commodities, used to make considerably generous offerings to the deity, not only for his blessings but also to please the then rulers.” The treasure trove is hard to imagine, including hundreds of kilos of gold coins issued by the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore, the British East India Company, the erstwhile princely state of Venice, Mysore and even some of Australian origin; a four-foot-tall gold statue studded with emeralds; jewel encrusted crowns and 15-foot-long gold necklaces.

Quite apt then to have an Indian poet provide the poem for today’s Poetry Wednesday offering:


LIKE this alabaster box whose art
Is frail as a cassia-flower, is my heart,
Carven with delicate dreams and wrought
With many a subtle and exquisite thought.

Therein I treasure the spice and scent
Of rich and passionate memories blent
Like odours of cinnamon, sandal and clove,
Of song and sorrow and life and love.

                            Sarojini Naidu (1879 – 1949)

Sarojini Chattopadhyay
was born at Hyderabad on February 13, 1879 the eldest of a large family, all of whom were taught English at an early age. At the age of twelve she passed the Matriculation of the Madras University, and awoke to find herself famous throughout India. Before she was fifteen the great struggle of her life began. Dr. Govindurajulu Naidu, later to become her husband was not a Brahmin, even though of an old and honourable family. The difference of caste roused an equal opposition, not only on the side of her family, but of his; and in 1895 she was sent to England, against her will, with a special scholarship from the Nizam. She remained in England, with an interval of travel in Italy, till 1898, studying first at King’s College, London, then, till her health again broke down, at Girton. She returned to Hyderabad in September 1898, and in the December of that year, to the scandal of all India, broke through the bonds of caste, and married Dr. Naidu.

During her stay in England she met Arthur Symons, a poet and critic. They corresponded after her return to India. He persuaded her to publish some of her poems in 1905 under the title “Golden Threshold”. After that, she published two other collections of poems, “The Bird of Time” and “The Broken Wings”. In 1918 the collection “Feast of Youth” was published. Later, “The Magic Tree”, “The Wizard Mask” and “A Treasury of Poems” were published. Mahashree Arvind, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru were among the thousands of admirers of her work. Her poems are in English, but their soul is Indian.

In 1916, she met Mahatma Gandhi, and she totally directed her energy to the fight for freedom. She would roam around the country like a general of the army and pour enthusiasm among the hearts of Indians. The independence of India became the heart and soul of her work. She was responsible for awakening the women of India. She brought them out of the kitchen. She travelled from state to state, city after city and demanded rights for women. She battled long and hard for the self-esteem of the women of India.

In 1925, she chaired the summit of Congress in Kanpur. In 1928, she went to the USA with the message of the non-violence movement of Gandhiji. When in 1930, Gandhiji was arrested for a protest, she took the helm of his movement. In 1931, she participated in the Round Table Summit, along with Gandhiji and Pundit Malaviyaji. In 1942, she was arrested during the “Quit India” protest and stayed in jail for 21 months with Gandhiji.  After independence she became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. She was the first woman governor. She passed away on March 2, 1949.


“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”-  Jimmy Carter

I saw a middle-aged man on the train today, and he immediately attracted my attention for a number of reasons. One could immediately tell he was an ex-soldier from the medals he wore on his lapel, an RSL badge, and thrown in for good measure a red poppy – a relic from Anzac Day, no doubt. Although he wore a suit (which had seen better days), shirt and tie, he was still wearing his military boots. He was carrying a large bag, a rolled up display poster and a folding table. He was getting into the City early, and would be setting up a table to sell something or other for RSL fund-raising. His gaze more than anything was what transfixed me. An intense gaze and a serious countenance, eyes that were looking out, yet strangely unseeing. He stared straight ahead and his lined face was grave, while his calloused, gnarled hands that were holding onto his baggage firmly had obviously been through a lot.

The reports of more Australian soldiers being killed in foreign conflicts immediately came to mind. This man was one of those that had served and obviously survived. The row of medals on his coat indicated that this soldier had been through battle, had taken part in many missions, had killed, had seen some of his comrades injured, or perhaps worse. His presence on the morning commuter train was incongruous. However, the way that he looked out of his seemingly disciplined and imperturbable façade indicated that all was not well inside. There was a rawness of soul that still managed to seep through the chinks of his armour.

Whoever has seen active duty, has fought in a war, has confronted violence of that magnitude first hand is forever changed. I looked at his hands again and imagined them holding a gun, pulling the trigger, could see the bullet travelling with lightning speed through the air, finding its target with lethal accuracy. I could hear the repeated gunfire, the explosions, the shouts of the people, the cries of children. War is an ugly truth that we try and push out of our minds as much as we can. It is easy in countries like ours that are far removed from conflict and where we are able to live our cushy lives in pursuit of our self-indulgent goals whatever they may be. This ex-soldier’s presence on the commuter train jarred and forced people to acknowledge these foreign conflicts that Australia is involved in. I wasn’t the only one who had observed him…

News just in tell us of a decorated Australian commando on his fifth deployment to Afghanistan that has been shot dead in a firefight with insurgents. This is the eighth commando to die in the conflict and the 28th Australian soldier killed there since 2001. Sergeant Todd Langley, 35, from the Sydney-based 2nd Commando regiment, died from a gunshot wound to the head during the battle in southern Afghanistan on Monday. His death follows that of another decorated veteran commando, Sergeant Brett Wood, 32, killed by an improvised explosive device in May. He was on his third tour of Afghanistan.

We live in peaceful times in a country ostensibly at peace. We work, play, shop, pursue our pleasures, laugh and carry on with our lives, cosily insulated from adversity, civil unrest, conflict or all-out war in other parts of the world. Our media bombard us with inconsequential inane “news” about sports, celebrities, new products, fashion, food and entertainment while “feel-bad” news like war, disease, conflict, anti-government demonstrations are relegated to second place, something to mention as quickly as possible and immediately forget. The “serious” newspapers and magazines are obligated to carry more extensive articles on these “bad news” items, but there are big colourful advertisements right next to these, about luxury cars, watches, perfume, jewellery. Yes we acknowledge those “bad news” items, but we move on quickly to the glossy advertisements – much more appealing…

Here is such an item that fails to register in most people’s mind any more: “Twin suicide attacks ripped through the city of Taji north of Baghdad, killing at least 35 people, after Iraq suffered its deadliest month so far this year in June. Thirty-five people were killed and 28 injured when a car bomb and an improvised bomb exploded simultaneously outside a government office where national identification cards are issued, and the provincial council offices.” We glance at this and most people would not read further than the first sentence. “Iraq, bombs, death – what’s new?” the reader would ask and move on to something more engaging: Princely weddings perhaps, or the latest sexual escapades of some Hollywood celebrity…

I wonder what news the ex-soldier on the train is interested in? Is he one those who keeps up with what our troops are doing in foreign conflicts? Does he and his comrades get together and reminisce, comment on these latest news items, have a view, lobby politicians perhaps? Or maybe they would want to forget? Would they immerse themselves in the mundane inanity that whitewashes our attention daily in such an aggressive manner? The wearing of his medals and his fund-raising activities for the RSL would suggest to me that he would do the former. His presence behind his stall, the poster above him and the fund-raising merchandise on his portable table would be a reminder for the rest of us that somewhere on some battle front, an Australian soldier is pointing his gun across some expanse at some enemy. Someone’s son, brother, husband, uncle, cousin, boyfriend, colleague, mate is facing death daily. Someone who may become one of those pesky little news items that we glance at and move on from: “Australian soldier shot dead in a firefight with insurgents…”

The soldier got off one station before mine. A young man who was also getting out offered to help him with his baggage. The soldier looked surprised and turned half-smiling to the young man to thank him and politely refuse his help. “You’re a gentleman,” he said to him, “Not many people would be offering to help. I appreciate it, but I’m fine. I’ve been through worse…”

Sunday, 3 July 2011


“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”   James Earl Jones

Yesterday was a cold winter’s day with wind and rain. In the gray gloom of the afternoon we sat down in the warmth of our home and as we hadn’t had any lunch, we popped some corn and armed with bowls of its fragrant floccules we watched a movie. This was a movie that I had seen in a cinema when I was living in Holland when it had first come out and I remembered it as good one. When I saw it at our DVD shop I got it, as I was keen to watch it again. It is the 1993 Vincent Ward film, “Map of the Human Heart”, an Australian, Canadian, French and UK co-production. This is an ambitious film and deals with a number of significant themes, however, at the heart of the plot is a tender love story that begins in childhood and continues until the characters’ maturity.

In the 1930s an Eskimo “half-breed” named Avik lives with his only surviving relative, an elderly grandmother in the north of Canada. He encounters a map-maker, Walter, who becomes a father figure for him. As Avik learns to speak English by helping Walter with his surveying, it becomes apparent that he has contracted the “white man’s disease”, tuberculosis. Walter takes the boy with him back to Montreal where he leaves him to be treated at a sanatorium. Avik meets a fellow child-patient there, the “half-breed” French Canadian girl named Albertine. Their friendship blossoms and together they get into all sorts of mischief annoying the strict Catholic Sister Banville. Albertine is cured and departs from the sanatorium leaving Avik heartbroken. When he too is cured, he returns to his own people and his grandmother. His return is at an unfortunate time when there is dearth of game, for which he is blamed as he has now been contaminated by the “white man’s ways”. Now a young man, he teams up with Walter on a return expedition and signs up for the war. He’s assigned to a bomber group and has good luck in bombing flights over Germany. Near the end of his service time, he chances to run into Albertine again, who is working in bomber command, and the two rekindle their friendship, which has turned into something more, for Avik, at least. Unfortunately, all sorts of misfortune dogs their relationship and part of it relates to Albertine’s desire to pass herself off as a “pure blood” white woman.

Both Jason Scott Lee and Robert Joamie who play the older and younger Avik do a great job with their roles and are quite convincing as the Inuit boy who grows into a troubled “white man’s” manhood. Anne Parillaud and Annie Galipeau who are cast as the older and younger Albertine do equally well, although their roles are not as meaty as Avik’s. Patrick Bergin cuts a dashing figure as Walter until the viewer’s sympathies are alienated by his character’s development and changing behaviour. A young John Cusack as a mapmaker makes a cameo appearance and the iconic Jeanne Moreau is a convincing Sister Banville and has some memorable one-liners (“And this is Hell, where all the Protestants are!”). Ben Mendelssohn, the Australian actor, has a good supporting role.

The direction is good, although one could (in a mischievous and carping mood) complain that Ward has used every cliché in the book and that he favours melodrama and coincidence to move his story along. The movie is poignant and has a good story, which overcomes most of its faults. It is a memorable film and the tender-hearted viewer may find it quite sad and heart-wrenching, while greatly involving and engaging. The jaded cynic will be on the lookout for faults and will do much to criticise the film on every count. Vincent Ward invested his pay off for his work on “Alien” (1992) to finance this film, which says something about his commitment to it and his belief in its worth.

The music by Gabriel Yared is appropriate and underlines the drama in the film in a supportive and apt way. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography is beautiful and he does much with the lonely frozen expanses of the arctic, the fiery bombing of Dresden, the flying sequences and the panoramic views of countryside. Visually, this is a greatly stimulating film and there are many scenes in it that are quite memorable and haunting. The ending of the film is quite heart-rending and the camera work is especially good.

We saw the movie on DVD and it ran for 109 minutes, although the original film was much longer than this (4-5 hours long, I believe, perhaps one could hope that will be released as mini-series). It would be good to have watched a director’s cut as I am sure some of the abruptness of some scenes would be eliminated and some subplots would have been allowed more time to develop into stronger supporting frameworks for the main story. The sweeping epic of the story would have been allowed to flourish even more and the character development would not have been as forced.

The themes of the film relate to family, personal identity love, death, and man’s inhumanity to man. Throw in some prejudice, search for one’s place in the world and the despoliation of our environment and you have a very full bag for the 109 minutes of the film. One could classify this movie as a romantic drama, but it had more depth than a typical “chick flick” and one that most men would enjoy equally well. We found it a tough film to watch as it was intense and generated some strong emotions, however, it was also a good film, one that we would recommend to our friends (but maybe not to some of our acquaintances).


“The painter can and must abstract from many details in creating his painting. Every good composition is above all a work of abstraction. All good painters know this. But the painter cannot dispense with subjects altogether without his work suffering impoverishment.” - Diego Rivera

For Art Sunday today, a Mexican artist who profoundly influenced American painting in the first half of the twentieth century. Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico in 1886. He began to study painting at an early age and in 1907 moved to Europe. He spent nearly fourteen years in Paris, and he encountered the works of such great masters as Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, and Matisse. As any great artist, Rivera needed to establish for himself a new form of painting that would express his own artistic sensitivities as well as one that could express the complexities of his era and be able reach a wide audience. When he began to study the frescoes of Renaissance Italy he knew that he had found his medium. Thus establishing his strong belief in public art and his view of the fresco as a means of expressing himself, Rivera returned to Mexico.

Fresco means “fresh” in Italian and it describes a work which done on a wall (mural) on freshly-laid plaster. The paint is applied directly on this surface and seeps into the wet plaster, giving a brilliant and durable work as the plaster dries. Using the large-scale fresco form in universities, museums, train stations and other public buildings, Rivera was able to introduce his work into the everyday lives of people. As an artist, Rivera focussed on human development and the effects of mankind’s technological progress. He wanted to tackle the grandiose themes of the history and the future of humanity. As a Marxist, Rivera saw in public frescoes a viable alternative to the elite walls of galleries and museums (or even the walls of the homes of the rich). His fame grew in the 1920s, and he completed a number of large murals depicting Mexican history. His work appealed to the people and its colourful, easily accessible pictorial elements provided a decorative and political motifs which they could contemplate. His work made a commentary on the progress of the working class and criticised capitalism and its exploitation of the worker.

In 1930, Rivera visited the USA for the first time. In November 1930, Rivera began work on his first two major American commissions: The first for the American Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the second for the California School of Fine Arts. These two pieces subtly incorporated Rivera’s radical political views, while maintaining a sense of simple historical depictions as requested by the organisations that commissioned his work. As an artist, Rivera had a gift to condense a complex historical subject (such as the history of California’s natural resources) to its essential parts. For Rivera, the foundation of history could be summarised in the historical view of the struggles of the working class.

In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Rivera visited Detroit. Henry Ford commissioned him to decorate the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts with a depiction of the history of the American Worker. Completed in 1933, this fresco depicted industrial life in the United States, concentrating (aptly, both in terms of location as well as the personal interests of his patron) on the car plant workers of Detroit. It is interesting that Rivera’s radical politics and independent nature did not draw as much negative criticism as one would have expected. Though the fresco generated controversy, Edsel Ford (Henry’s son) defended the work and it remains today Rivera’s most significant painting in America. Rivera, however, did not fare nearly so well in his association with the Rockefellers in New York City.

In 1933 the Rockefellers commissioned Rivera to paint a mural for the lobby of the RCA building in Rockefeller Center, called “Man at the Crossroads”. This work was to depict the social, political, industrial, and scientific possibilities of the twentieth century. In the painting, Rivera included a scene of a giant May Day demonstration of workers marching with red banners. The clear portrait of Lenin leading the demonstration was what inflamed the patrons, rather than the subject matter. When Rivera refused to remove the portrait, he was ordered to stop and the painting was destroyed. That same year, Rivera used the money from the Rockefellers to create a mural for the Independent Labor Institute that had Lenin as its central figure.

Throughout his life, Rivera remained a pivotal figure in the development of a national art in Mexico. His tempestuous association with fellow-artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a notable highlight of his life. While a young painter, Kahlo communicated with Rivera, whose work she admired. She asked him for advice about pursuing art as a career. He recognised her talent and encouraged her artistic development. This led to an intimate relationship, which resulted in their marriage in 1929, despite the disapproval of Frida’s mother.  Their marriage was often troubled. Kahlo and Rivera both had strong temperaments and numerous extramarital affairs. The bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men and women, including Josephine Baker. Rivera knew of and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous. For her part, Kahlo was furious when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Their second marriage was as troubled as the first. Their living quarters were often separate, although sometimes adjacent.

In 1957, at the age of seventy, Rivera died in Mexico City. He is considered one of the greatest Mexican painters of the twentieth century. His influence on the international art world was considerable. Among his many contributions, Rivera is credited with the reintroduction of fresco painting into modern art and architecture. His radical political views and his dramatic personal life have kept biographers busy since his death. In a series of visits to America, from 1930 to 1940, Rivera brought his unique vision to public spaces and galleries, enlightening and inspiring artists and laymen alike. His impact on America’s conception of public art was seminal. In depicting scenes of American life on public buildings, Rivera provided the first inspiration for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA program. Of the hundreds of American artists who would find work through the WPA, many continued on to address political concerns that had first been publicly presented by Rivera. Both his original painting style and the force of his ideas remain major influences on American painting.

The fresco above is from the series in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, completed in 1934 and is entitled: “El Hombre in Cruce de Caminos” (Man at the Crossroads). Lenin figures prominently here and above him the May Day parade. This is Rivera reconstructing his destroyed Rockefeller Center work on more sympathetic walls… The folly and potential wisdom of mankind are contrasted and man as the master of the universe and his own fate is shown in the centre of the work. Man at the crossroads must choose between prosperity and progress or destruction and annihilation.