Saturday 1 May 2010

MAY DAY 2010

“He that is in a town in May loseth his spring.” - George Herbert

Happy May Day! The celebration of May Day dates back to ancient times and like many ancient festivals it has a Pagan connection. For the Druids of the British Isles, the first of May was the second most important holiday of the year, as the festival of Beltane was observed then. It was thought that this day divides the year into half. The other half was marked by Samhain on November 1st.

In ancient times, the predominant May Day custom was the setting of the New Fire. It was one of the ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. The fire itself was thought to give life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men with their sweethearts passed through the smoke for good luck.

When the Romans occupied the British Isles, the beginning of May was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers. It was in her honour that a five-day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The festival would start on April 28 and end on May 2. Gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane. The day became associated with fertility rites and the maypole became associated with this aspect of the celebration. Trees have always been the symbol of the great vitality and fertility of nature and were often used at the spring festivals of antiquity. The maypole is a stylised tree and is an obvious phallic symbol.

The election of a May Queen is also a May Day tradition. When the sun rose, the maypole was decked with leaves, flowers and ribbons while dancing and singing went on around it. The Queen was chosen from the pretty girls of the village to reign over the May Day festivities. Crowned on a flower-covered throne, she was drawn in a decorated cart by young men or her maids of honor to the village green. She was set in an arbour of flowers and often the dancing was performed around her, rather than around the Maypole. The May Queen may have been a personification of Flora, the Roman goddess.

May Day observance was discouraged by the Puritans. Though the holiday was revived when the Puritans lost power in England, it didn’t have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rites.

May 1st, International Workers' Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, and is recognised in most countries. The USA and Canada are among the exceptions. This is despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the holiday began in the 1880s in the USA, linked to the battle for the eight-hour day, and the Chicago anarchists. May Day is celebrated as Labour Day in most countries around the world, including the United Kingdom. It was officially proclaimed and endorsed by the Soviet Union as the Day of the International Solidarity of Workers.

For May Day, a beautiful Brazilian song sung by the incomparable Elis Regina. It is called “Vento de Maio”, or “May Wind”. My (very bad) translation follows, but I don’t speak Portuguese…

Vento de Maio

Vento de raio
Rainha de maio
Estrela cadente

Chegou de repente
O fim da viagem
Agora já não dá mais
Pra voltar atrás

Rainha de maio
Valeu o teu pique
Apenas para chover
No meu pique-nique

Assim meu sapato
Coberto de barro
Apenas pra não parar
Nem voltar atrás

Rainha de maio
Valeu a viagem
Agora já não dá mais...

Nisso eu escuto no rádio do carro a nossa canção
(Vento solar e estrelas do mar)
Sol girassol e meus olhos ardendo de tanto cigarro
E quase que eu me esqueci que o tempo não pára nem vai esperar

Vento de maio
Rainha dos raios de sol
Vá no teu pique
Estrela cadente até nunca mais
Não te maltrates
Nem tentes voltar o que não tem mais vez

Nem lembro teu nome nem sei
Estrela qualquer lá no fundo do mar
Vento de maio rainha dos raios de sol

Rainha de maio valeu o teu pique
Apenas para chover no meu pique-nique
Assim meu sapato coberto de barro
Apenas pra não parar nem voltar atrás

May Wind

Wind of sunrays
May Queen, you’re a
Shooting star.

The end of the journey
Suddenly arrived;
Now there's no more
Going back

May Queen
Thanks for your rejection,
It caused it to rain
On my picnic.

So that my shoes were
Covered in mud,
Just so that I won’t stop
Or go back.

May Queen
It was worth the trip,
Now there's more...

I listen to our song on the car radio
(Solar wind and sea stars)
Sunflower sun and my eyes burning with too many cigarettes,
And I almost forgot that time will not stop or wait for us.

May wind
Queen of sunshine
Go to your shipwreck,
Catch shooting stars no more;
Don’t force it,
Don’t try to return to what once was.

I do not remember your name,
I do not know
Any star there on the seabed
Wind of May,
Queen of sunshine.

Friday 30 April 2010


“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.” - Henry David Thoreau

Australia has been making its mark in the world as a trendsetter in things cultural and artistic for quite some time. It is the turn of the epicurean now with four top Australian restaurants being awarded a place in the coveted 100 best restaurants of the world as published by the San Pellegrino group. Two in fact are in the best 50, while the other two are in the 51-100 list. The best restaurant in the Australasia region is “Quay” in Sydney, which comes in at number 27 in the world.

In Melbourne, “Attica” ranks 73rd best in the world and I’m pleased to say that I have dined there and can offer an opinion. Even though I enjoyed the experience of dining there, it was more to do with the company rather than the food. The ambience and food were a little too precious for my liking and any restaurant that has menus that offer “tastings” according to the whim of the chef rather than allowing the diners to select their own dishes puts me off immediately. The tasting menu idea is so condescending… Nevertheless, there are some interesting ideas and the tastes and textures one samples are unique, although (at least for me) not conducive to a second visit.

Which brings me back to something I have often said: Simple food with a few seasonal and fresh ingredients cooked in a straightforward way is often the best tasting, but the hardest to do well… Which is why so few restaurants offer that type of food and which is why good home cooking is so much better than most restaurant food. The trouble with many restaurants, especially the modern ones that vie for “best in the world” status is that they are so full of artifice and artistry. There is something fake about such food and the tastes are too foreign and bizarre to be memorable and evoke an emotion from the diners.

Food is such a fundamental need, but it is also a pleasure and can evoke a strong emotional response from most people. The abominations of “molecular gastronomy” and other such nouvelle cuisine oddities leaves me somewhat cold. Mum, your cooking rules!

Thursday 29 April 2010


“Man's destructive hand spares nothing that lives; he kills to feed himself, he kills to clothe himself, he kills to adorn himself, he kills to attack, he kills to defend himself, he kills to instruct himself, he kills to amuse himself, he kills for the sake of killing.” - Josef de Maistre

There has been a spate of UFO sightings in Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory. The NT is notorious for reports of flying object sightings, perhaps because the air is clear and visibility of heavenly bodies is good, but also because many people tend to spend quite a lot of time in the open in the balmy tropical nights. As the number of sightings of UFOs is high in NT, it is no surprise that a website is devoted to these sightings, which is maintained by Alan Ferguson, a UFO aficionado and photographer who has seen many UFOs and has photographed many. Some people may beg to differ…

According to Ferguson, the sightings increase during the dry season (which is starting now) and which sightings are corroborated by many other people. There were at least seven sightings of UFOs in the last week, around the Darwin area. Geoff Carr, an astronomer, said he believed 99.9% of all the UFO sightings could be explained as simple weather phenomena. The objects that people have seen and have been captured on camera have ranged from dark disks flying in broad daylight to strange lights glowing in the night sky. Many of the sightings have been explained by experts as aircraft, weather balloons, clouds, planets, stars, etc.

These latest reports from the NT are highly topical as the famous astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking warns that our earth could be at risk of an alien invasion. Hawking has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist, as the universe has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

Hawking suggests that aliens might simply raid the Earth strip its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.” He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

The scenario is well known to us from science fiction stories, as for example “War of the Worlds” and “Independence Day”. It is a chilling thought and it is unlikely humanity would have a chance of resisting an attack by technologically advanced aliens intent on coming to earth and stripping it of its resources. However, although it makes a very good story, it is an unlikely scenario in real life. A technically advanced civilisation capable of making spaceships capable of interstellar travel, would certainly have the means to be self-sufficient and able to harvest resources from interstellar space or non-inhabited worlds.

One may also be excused in thinking that to get to that advanced stage of civilisation and technology, aliens would also be advanced socially and would not be bellicose and cruel. I am thinking that perhaps they would be superior to us in every way. I think those poor aliens, should they visit earth soon would have to fear more humans than we from them… Heaven knows we are cruel enough to each other because we have different skin colour to each other, or a different religion or have different politics! Aliens would have no chance of surviving!

Tuesday 27 April 2010


“Only in love are unity and duality not in conflict.” - Rabindranath Tagore

April in the Antipodes is such a contrary month that sometimes grates against the Spring of my northern hemisphere psyche, and sometimes resonates deep within my adopted southern existence. April the smiling month of northern climes, weeps autumnal tears in southern latitudes. A battling duality draws my heart out into a thin string that elongates and threatens to break, only to fold in upon itself again and again, and quickly spin into a multi-ply thread. April for me personally carries with it lots of memories both unpleasant and pleasant. It encloses within it many anniversaries, both agreeable and disagreeable. Its northern-southern contrast encloses within it good and bad, smiles and frowns, pleasure and pain…

Here is poem freshly written, as the full moon graces our sky which today was at times laden with leaden clouds full of rain, and other times cleared to allow autumnal sun to shine through.

April’s Full Moon

The end of April soon to come
And Autumn ripens like a juicy plum,
While moon fills, calm and silver,
The night cold, bright quicksilver.
I loved you, lost you, now all but forgotten.

The end of April is so sweet
As memories, of foot so fleet,
That run by and disappear too quick –
Candle all burnt out with black wick.
I gave my heart, and lost it; as an apple rotten.

The end of April, once again
Entices, binds with golden chain.
The moon gazes on, dispassionate
While dark of night, once passionate
Now makes me feel the weight of my years.

The end of April covers, seals,
And ultimately time passing, heals.
From apple seed, from rotting fruit
A new tree sprouts, takes root;
My heart regenerates, and love again dries tears.

See Jacqui BB's blog for more poems on Poetry Wednesday!


“There’s something in every atheist, itching to believe, and something in every believer, itching to doubt.” - Mignon McLaughlin

The reconciliation of religion with history is always a tough proposition. Religion relies mainly on faith, whereas history relies on facts. The older a religion is the less the facts and artifacts we can find to substantiate claims made by that religion’s holy books, its adherents and belief systems. History, which relies on facts and documentary evidence is sometimes more reliable, but unfortunately, even in history books serious errors have been promulgated (for one or another reason) as time and closer investigation often shows. It is an electrifying experience when one finds some real documentary evidence that tends to support a religious belief and it galvanises the adherents of that religion into raptures of joy, while the non-believers are somewhat shaken in their skepticism.

I read in the paper in the train this afternoon that a group of explorers said on Monday they believe they may have found Noah’s Ark. Apparently, while searching for the remains of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey, a team of evangelical Chinese-Turkish explorers successfully excavated and ventured inside a large wooden structure at an elevation of more than 4,000 m above sea level.

Specimens of the wood found at the site were dated as being 4,800 years old. Officials of the Turkish government and Cultural Ministries regarded the finds positively and jointly announced the discovery with the exploration team in Hong Kong. They planned to submit an application for the wooden structure to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. A mutual agreement for further co-operation was signed and the Hong Kong team members were recognised as Honorable Citizens of Agri Province, Turkey.

The decrepit wooden structure that was discovered by the team was entered through various openings, to discover seven enclosed spaces. More “rooms” are expected to be discovered. Attending experts and government officials agreed that the discovery is of great significance. In light of historical records, they believe that the most probable identity for the structure is Noah’s Ark and subsequent scientific studies should be undertaken. Mr. Gerrit Aalten, renowned Dutch Ark researcher said, “The significance of this find is that for the first time in history the discovery of Noah’s Ark is well documented and revealed to the worldwide community.”

The absence of photographs from the report is conspicuous. The types of dating tests that were done (and by whom) are not given. The composition of the expeditionary team is also rather suspicious as it is a prejudiced group that has a vested interest in the discovery. The Turkish authorities also are far from impartial as they can only benefit from publicity surrounding the supposed find: Tourism to the region will be greatly boosted by any claims that the Ark has been discovered. Furthermore, when I googled the “renowned” Mr Gerrit Aalten I found very little on him, except one site which he has obviously constructed.

Call me a skeptic, but I regard such claims with suspicion. Maybe it is my scientific training and my logic that is getting in the way of pure faith. However, let me also add that anyone who believes in a religious idea fervently needs no tangible proof to underpin that faith.

Monday 26 April 2010


“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” - Peter Ustinov

We have watched a few comedies over the last couple of weeks, which goes to show that we have had need for some serious escapism. When it came to select a film to watch, the deep serious stuff got the flick and we chose instead the light and frothy, humorous, funny or downright silly. I’ll present a few of these comedies we saw lately with a brief review and a recommendation (or not).

The first was a very formulaic vehicle for Doris Day, from those innocent days of the 1950s, which even as this film was being made were passing by so rapidly. It is the 1959 Richard Quine film “It Happened to Jane”. Doris Day plays Jane, a widow who is trying to earn a living by farming and selling lobsters. Jack Lemmon plays George, her lawyer friend (long-suffering and virtuous) who looks after Jane and her children (but no hanky-panky – it is a 1959 film and Jane is a widow and George is even a scout leader!). When one of Jane’s shipments of lobsters is ruined because of railway inefficiency, Jane decides to sue the railroad magnate who is the “meanest man in the world” (played by Ernie Kovacs). The usual trials and tribulations follow with love, justice and the American Way triumphing in the end. This was a predictable and fairly tedious movie, interesting only as a historical document. Mildly amusing in parts, irritating in others.
Our rating 5/10 (IMDB rating 6.6/10).

The 2007 Scott Hicks film “No Reservations” is a remake of the 2001 German film “Mostly Martha” written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck. We have seen both films and we still prefer the original German one, although the US version is quite good too. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart are much better looking and sexier than the more average-looking Martina Gedeck and Sergio Castellito. The production is slicker and the little niece in the US version is the cuter Abigail Breslin, rather than the more taciturn Maxime Foerste. The remake didn’t disappoint, but it was a little more shallow than the original. All actors played well and Catherine Zeta-Jones looked most demure in her chef’s outfit. Definitely worth seeing either or both of these films.
“No Reservations” - Our rating 6.5/10 (IMDB rating 6.3)
“Mostly Martha” – Our rating 7.5/10 (IMDB rating 7.3).

Elvis Presley was guilty of making many movies in his career, when perhaps he should have just sung more. Most of the Presley movies were predictable, mind-rotting mash, a loose scaffold to support his singing character who was ever ready to belt out another song. We really like his songs, but his movies are really trashy. We watched the Normal Taurog 1961 “Blue Hawaii” knowing what we were in for, but the DVD was a gift and we did not look at the horse’s mouth… Elvis starred as young man back in Hawaii after being a soldier in Europe. He has to find his own way rather than be part of his father’s business. Joan Blackman plays his Hawaiian/French girlfriend while Angela Lansbury plays his scatty, socialite mother. Lots of songs are sung, of course and the scenery is quite delightful. Only for Elvis fans…
Our rating 5/10 (IMDB rating 5.7).

Speaking of Elvis, how about a movie with hundreds of Elvises, 34 of them flying? The 1992 Andrew Bergman film “Honeymoon in Vegas” is a stilted comedy starring a very uncomfortable looking Nicholas Cage and an ageing James Caan, vying for the love of Sarah Jessica Parker, all in Vegas during an Elvis impersonator convention. It’s kitch and predictable and didactic and very Hollywood.
Our rating 5.5/10 (IMDB rating 5.8).

And what was our favourite, Wes Anderson’s 2001 movie “The Royal Tenenbaums”. This was a comedy drama about the vicissitudes of a very strange family, the Tenenbaums. Three grown prodigies, all with a unique gift of some kind, and their mother are staying at the family household. Their father, Royal, who had left them long ago, and comes back to make things right with his family. The stellar cast includes Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Gwynneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson. This is quite an engaging, though odd film, where drama mixes with black humour.
Our rating 7.5/10 (IMDB rating 7.6).

Enjoy your week!

Sunday 25 April 2010


“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” - José Narosky

Today is Anzac Day, one of the most important commemorative days in the Australian Calendar. ANZAC was the name given to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey early on the morning of 25 April 1915 during the First World War (1914-1918). As a result, one day in the year has involved the whole of Australia in solemn ceremonies of remembrance, gratitude and national pride for all our men and women who have fought and died in all wars. That day is today, 25 April.

Every nation must at some stage, come for the first time to a supreme test of quality; and the result of that test will hearten or dishearten those who come afterwards. For the fledgling nation of Australia that first supreme test was at Gallipoli. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra leads the nation in honouring the fallen, but every city, town and village in Australia today commemorated the significance of this day with a variety of activities that perpetuates the memory of the dead, “lest we forget”…

The Gallipoli operation cost Australia 26,111 casualties, 8,141 dead; New Zealand 7,571 casualties, 2,431 dead; Britain 120,000 casualties, 21,255 dead; France 27,000 casualties, 10,000 dead; India 1,350 dead; Newfoundland (now part of Canada) 49 dead.

The painting for this Art Sunday is Charge of the 2nd Infantry Brigade at Krithia (1927) by Charles Wheeler (1880-1977). He was born on 4 January 1880 at Dunedin, New Zealand, son of John Edward Wheeler, labourer, and his wife Victoria Julia, née Francis, both English born. After John's death, Julia moved with her family to Williamstown, Melbourne, about 1891. Apprenticed in 1895 to C. Troedel & Co. as a lithographic artist, Charles began part-time study next year at the Working Men's College; in 1898 he took drawing classes at night in the National Gallery schools under Frederic McCubbin and in 1905 joined the painting class under L. Berbard Hall. Some five years later Wheeler held his first one-man show. In 1910 the National Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased his painting, 'The Portfolio', and the National Gallery of Victoria acquired 'The Poem'. Wheeler exhibited with the Victorian Artists' Society in 1908-10 and with the Australian Art Association in the 1920s and 1930s.

In April 1912 he had travelled to London, visiting Paris and the Prado in Madrid to see the work of Velazquez. In the following year he exhibited 'Le Printemps' at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français, Paris, and in 1914 went to the Netherlands. Returning to England before the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted in the 22nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (1916) for his actions at Vimy Ridge, but refused a commission and remained a sergeant. Demobilized in February 1919, Wheeler took a studio at Chelsea and exhibited 'Autumn Afternoon' and 'Golden Hours' at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Back in Melbourne, he held an exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in March 1920. For some years a private teacher of drawing and painting, he became assistant drawing instructor at the National Gallery in 1927 and drawing-master in 1935.