Saturday 3 July 2010


“Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, Dance, Dance till you drop.” - W.H. Auden

Another difficult and busy week is over and thankfully the weekend is here. A lovely night tonight with candlelight, lovely food and music and then a warm embrace. What else could sum it all up except Astor Piazzola’s “Libertango”?

Thursday 1 July 2010


“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.” - Edith Sitwell

Another wintry, cold and rainy day in Melbourne today. It is good to see the rain falling down and the garden looking soaked. Our spring bulbs have started to sprout and soon they will start to bud. The rose bushes have all been pruned and the trees are all bare, except for the citrus trees that are laden with ripening fruit. We have two lemon trees, an orange tree, a grapefruit tree and a very young mandarin tree not yet fruiting. Except for this mandarin tree, the rest are laden with fruit and we have been enjoying them at the table or freshly squeezed as a mixed citrus juice which is delicious.

One of the easiest dishes to make, but also one of the most tasty and nutritious, is clear broth. Although it serves as a basic ingredient in all sorts of dishes, for example, stews and risottos, it is in its own right a perfect supper. A bowl of broth will warm you in the winter, refresh you in the summer, heal you if you are feeling unwell and nourish you if you are hungry. It is perfect year round if you’re on a diet.


•    4 litres of water
•    1.5 kg of beef, either shanks, short plate, short ribs, or brisket (gravy beef is fine too).
•    A large piece of spongy bone, or a joint, split
•    A chicken carcass
•    3 sticks of celery with leaves (or a celery heart)
•    2 carrots
•    2 onions
•    5 pepper corns
•    2 cloves
•    Salt to taste (add at the end, and I do mean add it to taste!)
•    Finely chopped parsley and/or chives, and/or thinly sliced mushrooms for garnish

Meat from older animals is better because it has more flavour, and the beef should not be too lean. A piece of spongy bone, or a joint, split, enriches the taste and nutritive value of the broth, although it also makes it greasier.

Start with cold water and add the meat, vegetables, and seasonings (minus the salt) to the water at the same time. Heat the pot over a high flame until the broth comes to a boil, and then turn the heat down. Simmer the broth for a couple of hours, or until a fork easily penetrates the meat. Add the salt and check the seasoning, strain the broth, let it cool, and remove the fat that rises to the surface (the best way to do this is to chill the broth and remove the congealed fat with a fork). Use the broth to make other soups, risotto, and other dishes, or serve it by itself. We are having this for dinner tonight, accompanied by toasted bread and a light dry red wine.

The meat can be used as a boiled dinner, or made into meatballs. However, the long boiling does tend to extract its nutrients and taste. The vegetables tend to disintegrate, and the bones of course should be discarded (or everything fed to the dog!)


“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.” - Thomas Alva Edison

I was in Brisbane today for a second series of meetings and once again, although a very tiring day, it achieved much. There was a great deal of team building, as well as resolution of a number of issues that we identified as important and causing quite a few stresses within the organisation. The weather here was not as good as I expected it. Usually, a Brisbane winter is relatively warm and dry compared to Melbourne, but when I arrived yesterday it was pouring and quite cold. I had taken the airtrain from the airport to the City (much more sensible than taking a cab as the traffic is terrible especially during peak hour), so in order to walk the 500 m or so from the station to work I steeled myself to get soaked. Fortunately just out of the station my eye caught a second-hand shop and thankfully I was able to buy an umbrella for the magnificent sum of one dollar! It got me to work nice and dry…

One of the peculiarities of working in Brisbane is that I have to lodge myself on a “hot desk”, which is always a little disconcerting as I like having my “things” around me. At least I was at a nice quiet spot today in between the meetings. I wanted to meet many more staff members than I finally got to meet, but unfortunately, that is the way things usually pan out. One plans much on the agenda but some things take twice as long to wrap up than one plans for…

There is a lot to be said about multitasking. I have always been able to do this quite successfully, but I have some colleagues who are very focussed and can only do one thing at a time. I must say that unless I multitasked, I would never be able to get through the amount of work that I do. I sometimes wish I had another pair or two of hands, which would increase my productivity even further!

Another type of colleague is the one who always seems to be busy, is rushing hither and thither, but on analysis doesn’t seem to accomplish much. I have some of my staff on performance management as they seem to be poor planners, have no time management skills and fumble away but don’t get much done.

Tomorrow, back in Melbourne I have a series of implementation meetings and a whole clutch of emails that I did not manage to answer today. No doubt there will be some correspondence for me on my desk. At least the weekend is only two days away…

team spirit (noun)
Feelings of camaraderie among the members of a group, enabling them to cooperate and work well together.
ORIGIN: Old English tēam [team of draft animals,] of Germanic origin; related to German Zaumducere ‘bridle,’ also to ‘teem’ and ‘tow’, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin ‘to lead.’ + Middle English : from Anglo-Norman French, from Latin spiritus ‘breath, spirit,’ from spirare ‘breathe.

Wednesday 30 June 2010


“Hard work spotlights the character of people:  some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all.” - Sam Ewing

I am in Brisbane today and tomorrow and for work and it has been an extremely busy day, even more so tomorrow. Today more than any other previous occasion it was a case of functioning as a team with my fellow directors and enjoying that special connectivity that can occur if a team of compatible people get together and work on a common goal. There was a palpable feeling of collaboration and teamwork in the room today and the best analogy I could use was a well run relay race where the baton was passed faultlessly from one person to another.

The poem for today is by Tsuboi Shigeji. He was an influential modern Japanese poet. Tsuboi was born on the island of Shodoshima and studied briefly at Waseda University in Tokyo, but he never graduated. He started as a modernist  and anarchist, but as Marximsm grew stronger in Japan, he broke up with the anarchists and started to work for the proletarian movement, writing short political prose pieces and being an active organiser. He was imprisoned twice; for the second time he was imprisoned with other left-wing writers and tortured until he renounced his right to publish anti-government works.

This action of the government was intended to discredit the whole movement. He went home to recuperate from his ill treatment in prison. Later Tsuboi returned from the country in despair, feeling as a traitor (he wrote about it in his poems Self-portrait, Mask, and Criminal). He spent the of the war years in Tokyo, inactive apart from forming Sancho kurabu (Sancho Panza Club), writing short humorous prose pieces with hidden anti-war messages. After the war he helped to form two magazines, Shin nihon bungaku (New Japanese literature) and Gendai shi (Contemporary poetry) and wrote one of his most popular collections of poetry, Fusen (Air-balloon, 1957). In 1962 he joined a half dozen other left-wing writers to found the journal Shijin kaigi (Poets' Conference), dedicated to helping workers, male and female, express their dissatisfaction s about the status quo. His wife was the popular Japanese novelist Sakae Tsuboi.

Star and Dead leaves

A star was talking with the withered leaves
In the still midnight.
Only the wind stirred round me then.
Strangely forlorn,
I tried to share their words.
The star swooped from the heavens.
I searched among dead leaves
But could not ever find it.

                              Tsuboi Shigeji (1889-1975)

Tuesday 29 June 2010


“Physics is imagination in a straight jacket.” - John Moffat

After fixing my computer problems today (it’s handy having a good computer shop with full technical support across the road from work!), I’m back and ready to roll again! I’m rather sorry I missed Movie Monday yesterday, so I’ll do my film review today as we watched an interesting film at the weekend. It was the 2009 Coen Brothers film “A Serious Man” with Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed and Sari Lennick.

To enjoy the film fully, one should be aware of several things: Firstly, the Old Testament Book of Job. It relates the story of Job, his trials and tribulations at the hands of the Devil, while he is being tried by God, his discussions with friends on the origins and nature of his suffering, his challenge to God, and finally a response from God. The book addresses the problem of evil and suffering in the world, trying to reconcile this with the existence of God.

Secondly, one should be aware of the paradox stated by Schrödinger to illustrate the bizarre nature of quantum mechanics. It concerns a cat that is placed in a box with a “diabolical mechanism” that could cause the death of the cat depending on a random event, such as the disintegration of a radioactive nucleus. Schrödinger’s cat in the sealed box remains both alive and dead (as far as the universe outside the box is concerned) until the box is opened.

Thirdly, one should be aware of the concept of dualism, in its variety of interpretations. For example, the yin and yang that symbolises the duality in nature and all things in the Taoist religion. Or moral dualism, which is the belief of the great complement (in eastern and naturalistic religions) or conflict (in western religions) between the benevolent and the malignant. Most religious systems have some form of moral dualism - in western religions, for instance, a conflict between good and evil. In the philosophy of mind, dualism is any of a narrow variety of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which claims that mind and matter are two ontologically separate categories; etc.

Lastly, familiarity with the Hebrew language, Jewish religion and culture would certainly add an extra dimension to the film.

The film opens with a curious wintry vignette in 19th century Middle-Europe, where a Jewish man who has just come home converses with his wife regarding someone who helped him fix his cart. It turns out that the man who helped him has been dead for two years (or has he?). This is an illustration of Schrödinger’s cat and when the “ghost” comes knocking on their door to partake of the soup the husband has promised him, the wife does her “diabolical experiment” in order to prove the man is ghost and therefore evil. This sets the scene for the whole movie, which, however, takes place in 1960s American suburbia.

Larry Gopnick is a physics professor who is struggling to get tenure. He has a wife who has just announced to him that she will leave him for his best friend, two teenage children, a daughter who steals money from him to save up and get a nose job and a son who smokes dope and is terrorised by a bully at school. Add to that an uncle who has problems with a dripping cyst and is unemployed, and gambling and possible worse… There is a sexy neighbour who sunbathes in the nude and tempts Larry and as well as that, a Korean student who bribes Larry so that he won’t fail him.

The film is black tragicomedy and it examines in modern-day dress the trials of Larry (Job), who is attempting to maintain his faith in God amongst all the vicissitudes of life that he has to deal with. There are some wonderful scenes where the humour is subtle but quite cutting, a couple where one may laugh out loud, but also a few poignant ones. Man’s powerlessness in the face of adversity and his dependence of faith is examined, while the consideration of sin and its consequences is also explored.

I wouldn’t call this the Coen Brothers best film, but perhaps it’s the most ambitious. It is directed with verve and the cinematography is good. The atmosphere of the 1960s is well executed and the acting is excellent. One of the weak points of the movie may be seen to be the end, however, given the duality theme and the uncertainty principle exemplified by Schrödinger’s cat, the end is in keeping with the film.

I would recommend it if you are after a more cerebral comedy and if you like philosophising! Otherwise, if you want slapstick, watch the Three Stooges.

Monday 28 June 2010


Back as soon as I can...

Sunday 27 June 2010


“All say, ‘How hard it is that we have to die’ - a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.” - Mark Twain

We have lots of paintings hanging at home, nearly all of them originals, either painted by us or by friends, a few by professional artists. We have only one print of a work by a famous painter hanging on a wall, the rest being ensconced in our numerous art books. The single print is a work by Rembrandt van Rijn, called “The Mill” and painted between 1645-1648 and now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Of the thousands of paintings that we like, one may ask why choose that particular one to buy and hang up on the wall?

Rembrandt is a consummate painter, there is no doubt of this, and his works represent a high point in western painting. His portraits (including his self portraits) and figure paintings are the major part of his oeuvre and this particular painting represents an exception in terms of genre and subject. It is, however, a masterpiece. When we visited the National Gallery in Washington we were overjoyed to see this work and stood transfixed to admire it. The recent restoration and cleaning has converted a dark and golden work that carried the patina of centuries into a lighter picture full of more detail and revealed a magnificent sky, which is now creamy and bluish-gray, as opposed to the dark golden brown before the restoration.

Windmills were widespread in Holland in the past and as well as the usual function that one associates with them (the grinding of barley and wheat into flour), in the Netherlands the mills were also used to pump water and reclaim land. Mills were very special to the Dutch and they were symbolic of the battle for existence and the provision of staples of diet, as well as symbolic of the battle against the sea and the expansion of the land. Further to this, for Rembrandt the mill symbolised his origins, as his father was a barley miller.

The Mill sits majestically on a hilly promontory on a river and its sails catch the light of the setting sun, which make them golden yellow. These tonal values contrast beautifully with the blue-grays of the sky and the sunlit mill further contrasts with the ominous stormy clouds on the left. Three groups of figures on the foreground provide interest. On the left, a mother and child; in the middle two washerwomen; and on the right, a boat and its occupant, an older man – Charon-like, as if on the Styx… Living figures representing three ages: Childhood, young adulthood, maturity. As the sails of the windmill turn, so does time pass and such as life is, it fleetingly disappears as death approaches. Much like the fleeting rays of the setting sun, or the blue of the sky obscured by the storm clouds that will cover it.

The river separates the foreground and the background and mirrors the sky. “As is above, so it is below” – the cosmic order of the heavens is reflected in the order here on earth. The ripples in the river generated by the washerwoman, iterate the “ora et labora” dictum that is amplified by the boatman going about his work. The child watches on, learning its place in the cycle. The river flows and re-enforces the message – time passes, as in Apollinaire’s famous poem…

Sous le Pont Mirabeau

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine.

Vienne la nuit, sonne l'heure,
Les jours s'en vont je demeure.

Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse.

Vienne la nuit, sonne l'heure,
Les jours s'en vont je demeure.

L'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'espérance est violente.

Vienne la nuit, sonne l'heure,
Les jours s'en vont je demeure.

Passent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine.

Vienne la nuit, sonne l'heure,
Les jours s'en vont je demeure.
                        Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 - 1918)

This is a lovely painting and one may easily become lost in its depths and meditate its mysteries. One may philosophise and ponder while gazing into its perfection. It is restrained and has limited colour palette, economical in its composition, much like the thrifty Dutch of Rembrandt’s time. I never get tired of it and like seeing it on the wall, it has become part of who I am and where I live.