Saturday 19 July 2008


“He does not need opium. He has the gift of reverie.” - Anais Nin

I had some rather startling and very sad news today. From an old acquaintance I learnt that one of my university friends whom I had not seen for years had lost his job, got a divorce and in a few months time had lost everything and had become hooked on drugs. He had always been a bit of a loner, a rather withdrawn and introverted individual, quirky, sometimes acidly pessimistic. We all liked him nevertheless and whenever he drank (always whisky) he became morbidly facetious, quite brash. When we graduated he had become quite successful as an academic, then started his own business, finally to move interstate, where he got married. I had not heard form him for many years. And now this second hand news and what a melancholy lot it was too…

Apparently he’s been in and out of gaol, he’s tried to give up the drugs, but he’s been unsuccessful in his attempts. The last time anybody heard of him he was living in a disused factory with some fellow squatters. The factory has now been demolished, making way for apartments and so our old fellow student disappeared.

One hears about drugs, sees the news reports, reads the papers and magazines, even hears of it around one. Until it hits closer to home, until it is someone one knows, one does not realise how drugs destroy lives so completely…

For Song Saturday today, Greek song dedicated to my old fellow student

For My Own Good

I saw my world get demolished in front of me
I saw my neighbourhood become dilapidated
For my own good,
I saw the trees I used to climb on cut down,
I saw my dreams all loaded in a removalist’s truck
For my own good.
I saw the teacher beat me with zeal,
I saw my hands swollen from the strapping,
I saw my nerves become slowly shattered,
As they beat me with compassion and affection.

For my own good
For my own good,
Until my mind couldn’t take it any more,
It took backward turns, for my own good,
And now I’m in room number nine, for my own good,
In its serenity, hoping to find myself.

I saw them share their bread with me,
I saw them making clothes out of my old clothes,
I saw my mother weeping hopelessly,
I saw my old man emigrate,
For my own good,
I saw my friends trying to help me,
I saw them telling me to give you up.
I saw myself one dawn being dragged to the police station,
And so as to be set free to say whatever I needed to say…

For my own good
For my own good,
Until my mind couldn’t take it any more,
It took backward turns, for my own good,
And now I’m in room number nine, for my own good,
In its serenity, hoping to find myself.

For my own good,
For my own good,
There, where my brain and body become numb,
Injections, pills, electroshock treatments, for my own good,
Today they took away the man next to me, dead;
While I struggle to find myself,
And I have a hidden knife with me, for my own good…
Για το Καλό μου

Είδα ένα κόσμο να γκρεμίζεται μπροστά μου
Είδα να γίνεται γιαπί η γειτονιά μου,
Για το καλό μου.
Είδα τα δέντρα που σκαρφαλώνα κομμένα
Στο φορτηγό τα όνειρα φορτωμένα,
Για το καλό μου…
Είδα το δάσκαλο να με χτυπάει με ζήλο
Είδα τα χέρια μου πρησμένα απ’ το ξύλο,
Είδα τα νεύρα μου σιγά-σιγά να σπάνε
Με καλοσύνη και με στοργή να με χτυπάνε.

Για το καλό μου,
Για το καλό μου.
Ώσπου δεν άντεξε στο τέλος το μυαλό μου,
Πήρε ανάποδες στροφές γαι το καλό μου
Και είμαι στο θάλαμο εννιά για το καλό μου,
Στην ηρεμία, για να βρω τον εαυτό μου.

Είδα να κόβουν τη μπουκιά για τη μπουκιά μου
Ρούχα να φτιάχνουν απ΄τα ρούχα τα παλιά μου.
Είδα τη μάνα μου να κλαίει απελπισμένα
Είδα το γέρο μου να φεύγει για τα ξένα
Για το καλό μου,
Είδα τους φίλους μου να σκίζονται για μένα
Είδα να θέλουν να ξεκόψω από σένα.
Είδα χαράματα να με τραβάν στο τμήμα
Για να γλιτωσω το κελλί να πω το ποίημα.

Για το καλό μου,
Για το καλό μου.
Ώσπου δεν άντεξε στο τέλος το μυαλό μου,
Πήρε ανάποδες στροφές γαι το καλό μου
Και είμαι στο θάλαμο εννιά για το καλό μου,
Στην ηρεμία μήπως βρω τον εαυτό μου.

Για το καλό μου,
Για το καλό μου,
Εκεί μουδιάζει το κορμί και το μυαλό μου
Ενέσεις, χάπια, ηλεκτροσόκ, για το καλό μου.
Σήμερα πήρανε νεκρό τον διπλανό μου,
Ενώ παλεύω για να βρω τον εαυτό μου
Κι έχω κρυμμένο το σουγιά, για το καλό μου…

Friday 18 July 2008


"I never see any home cooking. All I get is fancy stuff."
- Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

A very busy day at work today and hardly any time to do anything else except attend meetings, chair selection panels, and co-host a workshop. After a twelve-hour day, it was a wonderful to come home and relax. The smell of freshly-baked apple pie on days like this is a very welcoming and delightful smell to come home to. Here is how we make it at home:

Ingredients (for the pastry)
500 g flour
250 g butter cut in small pieces
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
250 g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoonful ground nutmeg and mace
zest of one lemon, pinch of salt.

(for the filling)
5 apples (Granny Smith are good)
3 tablespoonfuls apricot jam
5 tablespoonfuls caster sugar
1 cupful of sultanas
1 teaspoonful ground cloves/cinnamon

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add to the butter/sugar mixture the eggs and yolks beaten together, but little by little so that they are incorporated without curdling. Sprinkle the spice and zest into the mixture and work well. Add the sifted flour little by little until a soft dough is formed. Cover with greaseproof paper and let the dough rest for half an hour in a cool place. Peel and core the apples, cutting them into slices. Stew them with the sugar and spices until they soften. Roll out half of the dough to about 4 mm thickness and line a buttered 25 cm flan tin with it. Spread the jam on the top of the pastry and layer the stewed apples mixed with the sultanas over it. Roll out the remaining dough and cover the pie, securing the edges by pressing the layers of pastry together and scalloping it. Cut out a small heart shape in the centre of the crust and sprinkle the top of the pie with coarse sugar. Bake the tart in a hot oven (400˚ F/210˚ C) for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown in colour. Eat hot or cold with lashings of fresh, whipped cream.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday 17 July 2008


“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” - Helen Keller

I spent most of my day today in a special disability workshop, where senior academics and management from our institution were taking part. This was to ensure we were up to date with legislation, that we have adequate policies and procedures in place to ensure fair treatment of people with disabilities and that we were sufficiently comfortable with educating people regarding diversity in the workplace and our student body. The workshop proved to be very useful and interesting and our staff got much out of it.

In a large teaching organization such as ours, we have both staff and students who have some disability. Impairment of vision or of hearing, locomotor disability, learning disabilities are very common, but also becoming much more common are various mental disabilities or disorders. It is quite interesting to look into a classroom and although everyone looks quite “normal” and “ordinary”, to know that about 6% of the people there have a disability that interferes with their learning. This is in contrast with the community, where the percentage of disabled people may be as high as about 18%.

By law we are required to provide disabled people with equal access to education and employment. Although this will often create problems for the organization in terms of adequate facilities and resources, trouble and expense, I feel is worthwhile as a diverse environment is an enriched environment. Disabled people often describe themselves as “differently abled” and I tend to agree with that characterisation. How often do you see a blind person being able to use their fingertips to read Braille efficiently and quickly, or be aware of sounds more acutely than a sighted person? Deaf people engaged in a rapid conversation using sign language, or being able to lip-read? People with a variety of motor disabilities being able to carry out the most complex tasks, eg. painting, with the aid of their lips and mouth.

The question then turned to inclusiveness in terms of age, gender, race, religion, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, language, etc. The same legal obligation binds us in all of these cases also. Discrimination based on any of these criteria is illegal and there have been numerous cases where people have sued successfully for being discriminated against on these grounds. I was pleased to say that all attendees came out of the seminar suitably enlightened, but I was also heartened by the broadmindedness and non-discriminatory attitude of our staff.

disability |ˌdisəˈbilitē| noun ( pl. -ties)
A physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities : Children with severe physical disabilities.
• A disadvantage or handicap, esp. one imposed or recognized by the law: He had to quit his job and go on disability.

ORIGIN: From Latin, sometimes via Old French des- + late Middle English (also in the sense [easy to use, suitable] ): from Old French hable, from Latin habilis ‘handy,’ from habere ‘to hold.’

Wednesday 16 July 2008


“Nothing is permanent.” – Gautama Buddha

Silly argument;
The heart is now painted the
Colour of winter.

Tuesday 15 July 2008


“When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.” – Anaïs Nin

There is quite a to-do in Australia these days with the celebration of World Youth Day, this year hosted by Sydney. It is organised by the Catholic Church and it involves young people between the ages of 16 to 35 years. It is the 23rd World Youth Day and it is to be celebrated between July 15-20. This international gathering of about 150,000 young people in Sydney is meant as a celebration of faith amongst young people from all over the world who will take part in prayer, catechism sessions, informal gatherings, and festival events. The Pope is here in Australia and is spending much of his time in doing the expected things, while also trying to be suitably “hip” by, for example, sending SMS messages to the registrants’ mobile phones.

The purpose of World Youth Day is threefold (and I quote from the official site):

1. Putting Trust in the Young:
World Youth Day is a coming together of young adults from the four corners of the world and a strong reminder of the strength and confidence the young bring to the Church today.

2. Gathering Together:
World Youth Day is not simply a gathering for the young people of the world, but a time to put trust in the world's youth. A calling for the world's youth to come together as one people.

3. Meeting the International World on a Human Level:
It is still a marvel in this the 21st Century to exchange with others and to be a part of an international experience. International events are able to stir much hope but also many fears (increase in fundamentalism, nationalism and other new conflicts. . .) The Church and Christians themselves have a role to play in preventing the development of these fears, and in aiding each person in finding their way and discovering hope.

Unfortunately, the celebrations are already being marred by adverse publicity, immigration scams, traffic gridlock, gloomy statistical data about the lack of faith shown by the young, disastrous media releases bordering on the racist and irresponsible by Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Pell and a conservative, backward-looking dinosaurian mentality that is still showing how much out of touch with the 21st reality most of the world’s larger churches are. While Cardinal Pell was telling young people that no Western country was producing enough babies to keep the population stable and declaring himself as a climate change sceptic, the Pope was busy apologising to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and telling the faithful to heed the scientists and do their bit to be “green”.

I am sure great fun will be had by all, and the Youth Day extravaganza will have its full share of pure faith, good intentions, drunken orgies, hits and misses, heady exuberance and wilted great expectations. It will take more than fairground policies to attract the young faithful to an aging church and once the party is over, the 21st century Y-generation will go back to following the dictates of their "fat relentless egos" (Cardinal Pell’s words, once again).

Call me a cynic, if you must, but I am skeptical of such large events and such public professions of faith and religion that is presented to the masses in technicolour, vistavision, Hollywood-style super productions…

Monday 14 July 2008


“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots; the other, wings.” – Hodding Carter

We watched Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 film “Fanny and Alexandrer” at the weekend. This is Bergman’s swansong and considered by some as his finest film, one of the best ever made. I had watched it in the eighties, but being younger and less reflective had found it rather pompous and boring. I watched through more mature eyes and through a more sympathetic and understanding prism this time around. The film is doubtlessly sumptuous and a cavalcade of tempora and mores of the Swedish pre-world-war-I reality. It also reads as an affectionate and nostalgic autobiographical note of the director’s own life (disturbing middle section notwithstanding).

The film is very long. In its entirety it is over five hours long, although it is usually shown in its curtailed 188 minute version. An epic either way. It is divided into three parts: An introductory lyrical and wonderfully evocative, joyous section of Christmas in the rambling Ekdahl household. A theatrical family with their many relatives and servants, upper middle class and certainly not niggardly in their ways, enjoying the bounties that life has given them. Oscar and Emilie Ekdahl, are the director and the leading lady of the local theatre company, Fanny and Alexander their young children. The lush Christmas décor in brilliant reds and vibrant greens is the backdrop of happy and often romping goings-on in which the characters are introduced and fleshed out.

The death of Oscar introduces the middle part of the film in which the widow Emilie is consoled by and then courted by the bishop, who finally marries her. Emilie, Fanny and Alexander move into his austere and forbidding house, where whites and greys dominate and the cold, barren rooms are locked with their windows barred. The children are forbidden to take their possessions with them and the bishop makes their life utterly wretched. Emilie regrets her marriage but is trapped in it by pregnancy.

The third part of the film is the liberation of Emilie and her children by Isaac, a family friend and lover of the children’s grandmother. The use of a Jew as a catalyst in this escape from the tyrannical bishop is a comment on the ways that religiosity shackles and tortures humanity, thwarting the epicurean philosophy so evident in the first part of the film. Bergman comments on religion, piousness, religiosity and ultimately, a thinly veiled tartuffian hypocrisy.

The world of children is explored and contrasted with that of adults. There is an earthy sexuality pervading the film – open and forgiving in the first part, ingrown and perverted in the middle. Redemption is foremost in the end with acceptance of the fruits of two dangerous liaisons. In the one instance, the redemption comes through generosity, while in the other purification is only resolved through the violence of hellfire.

The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, the acting faultless and the direction masterly. Bergman has summed up his whole art in this film and has given us a beautifully haunting piece that enchants, disturbs, tantalises, frightens and amuses. It won four Oscars and numerous other awards, and has much in it to draw back the viewer for a second and third and fourth viewing. Not one to watch in one’s salad years, but certainly a film to savour in one’s port wine and stilton age.

Sunday 13 July 2008


“I want to make the trivial serve to express the sublime.” – Jean-François Millet

For Art Sunday today, a painter representing the “realist” school of France, active in the mid-19th century. Realists were very much concerned to paint the world "as it is" without idealisation. They reproduced objects as observed in nature (as opposed to drawing upon the imagination). They focussed on everyday and commonplace themes, not prettifying, nor compromising anything. They served a social purpose by depicting the labours and struggles of average workers and peasants. Their canvasses nowadays appear romantic and are tinged with an air of nostalgia, as the type of life they depicted is sufficiently far removed from our own reality, so as to evoke some lost golden age when life was less complicated and closer to the ideal. Theya re represented by Courbet, Daumier, Millet, Van Gogh’s early works and to an extent by Lautrec.

Jean-Francois Millet was born on October 4th, 1814, in Gruchy, near Gréville, France. He
died January 20th, 1875, Barbizon. He was renowned for his peasant subjects. Millet spent his youth working on the land, but by the age of 19 he was studying art in Cherbourg. In 1837 he arrived in Paris and eventually enrolled in the studio of Paul Delaroche, where he seems to have remained until 1839. After the rejection of one of his entries for the Salon of 1840, Millet returned to Cherbourg, where he remained during most of 1841, painting portraits. He achieved his first success in 1844 with “The Milkmaid” and a large pastel, “The Riding Lesson,” that has a sensual character typical of a large part of his production during the 1840s.

The peasant subjects, which from the early 1850s were to be Millet's principal concern, made their first important appearance at the Salon of 1848 with “The Winnower,” later destroyed by fire. In 1849, after a period of great hardship, Millet left Paris to settle in Barbizon, a small hamlet in the forest of Fontainebleau. He continued to exhibit paintings of peasants, and, as a result, periodically faced the charge of being a socialist. Letters of the period defending Millet's position underline the fundamentally classical nature of his approach to painting. By the mid-1860s, Millet's work was beginning to be in demand; official recognition came in 1868, after nine major paintings had been shown at the exposition of 1867. Important collections of Millet's pictures are to be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and in the Louvre.

The earnest simplicity of some of Millet’s paintings can sometimes appear to approach a saccharine sweetness, which can seem almost kitch in its appeal. However, There is much to be admired in his work and it was Millet’s painting that set the scene for impressionism. Van Gogh admired his work greatly and copied several of his canvasses.

One of the most famous of Millet’s paintings, here reproduced is “The Angelus”. This is a prayer practice rich in doctrine and devotion. This practice commemorates the mystery of the Incarnation by reciting certain versicles and responses with three Hail Marys and a special concluding prayer. It used to be recited morning, noon and evening. The church bells rang –three tolls for each of the invocations and nine for the concluding prayer.

The Angelus traces its beginnings to the thirteenth century. In that era bells were often inscribed with the angelic salutation. Although the origin of the Angelus is obscure, it is certain that the morning, midday and evening Angelus did not develop simultaneously. By the sixteenth century the various customs were unified. The morning prayer was recited to commemorate Christ's resurrection; at noon, Christ's passion; and in the evening to recall the Incarnation, since St. Bonaventure taught that the angel's visit to Mary came at evening.

Millet depicts a man and a woman standing in a field. They are farmers. He holds his cap reverently as he stands with bowed head, and she in a white cap and long blue apron over her dress clasps her hands as a prayerful look sets her face. They pause in prayer near the end of the workday. At the woman's feet is a basket of potatoes, and at her far side rests a wheelbarrow full of empty sacks. At the side of the man is a pitchfork spiked upright in the ground. The breaking clouds are blushed with light as birds flit in the twilight. The viewer can almost hear the bells ringing in the spire of the church in the distant right of the painting. Millet was accused of mawkishness and sentimentality in his depiction of this simple scene. However, this was a familiar scene to him and one could observe it happening many a time in the fields of the French countryside during Millet’s time.