Saturday 12 November 2011


“Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This afternoon we went to the National Gallery of Victoria, which is one of the most amazing art galleries to visit, easily the best in Australia and certainly one the best in the Southern Hemisphere. We are very lucky to have this gallery with its profusion of significant art works housed in such a magnificent building in our city.

Above is a painting in the gallery by Frenchman Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 – 1898), who is one of the greatest French decorative painters. His international influence was even greater than that of Gustave Moreau (1826 – 1898). He had to abandon his studies at the Polytechnique because of illness and travelled in Italy during his convalescence, where he discovered the frescoes of the Quattrocento and decided to become a painter. Ary Scheffer, Couture, Delacroix (for 4 days) and above all Théodore Chassériau were his teachers at the École des Beaux-Arts.

In 1850, exhibited a Pietà at the Salon. In 1861 his career as a painter of murals for public buildings began with the Musée d’Amiens. He decorated many buildings, including the Panthéon, the Hôtels de Ville of Paris and Poitiers, the Sorbonne, various French museums, and the Boston Public Library.  He was a very French mind (to the extent that his work attracted that other very French painter, Matisse) who brought to his art a sense of grandeur and an organisational logic that were precisely the gifts required for vast mural decorations.

His decorative compositions attempt to reach monumentality not through depth but through superficiality, linearity of construction, the “majesty” of the organisation and also by a certain philosophical pretention. The mobility of the man is clear; the influence of his work quite outstripped its intrinsic qualities, but he was, whether we like it or not, one of the masters of the Symbolist age, an age which made of Beauty and the Pure Idea a veritable religion.

In 1884 de Chavannes was asked to paint a decorative cycle of two friezes representing Summer and Winter for the new Hôtel de Ville of Paris, recently built to replace the building burnt down by Paris communards in 1871. Twelve years later de Chavannes painted this smaller version of Winter for a private collector, Prince Alexander de Wagram. The artist has radically simplified his forms and has rendered his subject matter to a flat, decorative style. This has resulted in some critics calling this painter a “proto-abstractionist”, while others maintain that he is more akin to the symbolists.

This is a wonderful painting to behold. The muted colours, the shades of grey, the figures carefully placed in the two-dimensional space and the symbols of the season combine to form not only a highly decorative painting, but also one that gives rise to contemplation and introspection. The cloaked and heavily garbed figures of the elderly contrast with the unseasonal group of bare torsos of the woodcutters in the middle distance of the right, while the silhouettes of the riders in the distance holds a fascination that is only made more acute by the bare trees.


“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” – Plato

It was another full day today, but it was an enjoyable one too. The weather was beautiful – fine and warm but not overly hot. We did our shopping and went to the library in the morning and that was rather fun as we went to Lalor Shopping Centre. This is always vibrant and lively with lots of people, fresh fruit and vegetables, little shops that stock all sorts of delicacies form all parts of the world and with a widely multicultural population that is wonderful to look at and listen to. There is always some street entertainment, and once again today it was a singer and a piano accordion player. We then came back home, had some lunch, did some chores and then watched a movie. In the evening we went out to dinner – nothing fancy, but nice!

For Song Saturday today let’s go to Spain. Several centuries back for the origin of the song, but a very contemporary interpretation of it. The song is from the Cancionero de Palacio (Madrid, Biblioteca Real, MS II - 1335), also known as Cancionero de Barbieri, which is a Spanish manuscript of Renaissance music. The works in it were compiled during a time span of around 40 years, from the mid-1470s until the beginning of the 16th century, approximately coinciding with the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. The song has been re-interpreted by Antonio Cortés is a very folksy Spanish style.

It is “Tres Morillas m’ enamoran en Jaen” (Three Moorish girls made me fall in love in Jaen), by an anonymous composer.

If you wish to hear a version more sympathetic to the original here is Jordi Savall’s interpretation:

Three Moorish Girls

Three Moorish girls have made me fall in love in Jaén,
Three Moorish girls so lovely,
Went to pick olives
And found them already picked in Jaén,
Axa, Fátima and Marién.

I asked them, “Who are you ladies,
Who have robbed me of my life?”
“We are Christians, who were once Moors in Jaén,
Axa, Fátima and Marién.”

I swear to you by the Koran,
In which you ladies believe,
That each of you and all three
Have thrown me into great anguish.
Wherever I cast my eyes they will see:
Axa, Fátima and Marién.

Friday 11 November 2011


“We would love to be boring. Plain vanilla is fine.” - Peggy Fowler

It’s been a very full week and I am glad it’s Friday. I came home today and had to do some repairs to the little studio we have in the back garden, as the storm the other day caused some damage. One of the good things about daylight saving is that one can come back home and be able to work in the garden well into the evening. Fortunately, the damage was nothing that few nails and a hammer could not fix, so the repair was all done within half an hour. It was lucky that we did not get any serious damage and no leaks of water into the building. However, I did keep thinking of the poor people that had to cope with storm damage to their house or even whole roofs coming off…

The weekend promises to be busy also, Saturday full of chores and perhaps a night out, while Sunday will be devoted to work as we have an Open Day and also I have to work on a submission that is due on Monday. It seems that I’ll blink and the weekend will be over, so any leisure that can be had should be enjoyed to the full.

For Food Friday today, a recipe for cupcakes, which seem to be very popular at the moment, with even whole shops devoted to their retail sale!

Vanilla Cupcakes

Ingredients - for the cupcakes

•    100g unsalted butter
•    250g caster sugar
•    50ml vegetable oil
•    25g arrowroot
•    2 tsp vanilla extract
•    4 eggs
•    80ml milk
•    100ml double cream
•    300g plain flour
•    3 tsp baking powder

For the buttercream
•    300g icing sugar
•    25g liquid glucose
•    50g condensed milk
•    2 tsp vanilla extract
•    200g unsalted butter, softened
•    100g baking margarine, softened
•    200g icing sugar
•    100ml double cream

1.    For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to180˚C. Line a muffin tin with cupcake cases.
2.    Melt the butter over a low heat in a small pan, pour it into a bowl with the sugar, oil, arrowroot and vanilla. Beat well until smooth, then whisk in the eggs followed by the milk and cream.
3.    Sift and beat the flour and baking powder into the butter mixture in batches until smooth.
4.    Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until about two-thirds full, then bake for 20-25 minute or until the top is springy to the touch. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and set aside to cool.
5.    Meanwhile, for the buttercream, mix the icing sugar, glucose, condensed milk, flavouring and butter with an electric mixer in a bowl until smooth and light, then beat in the baking margarine until smooth.
6.    In a jug, stir the icing sugar into the cream until dissolved. Beat this gradually into the butter mixture until light and fluffy. (This buttercream keeps very well covered at room temperature for 2-3 days and can be warmed slightly and re-beaten if the texture is too firm.)
7.    To decorate the cupcakes, fill a disposable piping bag with the icing and snip off the end or fill a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle.
8.    To pipe on the icing, start at the outside edge piping round the edge of the cupcake in a spiral towards the centre. When you reach the top, pull up quickly to finish the swirl.

Thursday 10 November 2011


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

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day here in Australia. This is because the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month marks the signing of the Armistice, on 11th November 1918, which signalled the end of World War One. At 11 a.m. on 11th November 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare. Initially, when WWI ended, the day was known as Armistice Day but was renamed Remembrance Day after WWII. In the USA the day is known as Veterans’ Day.

Each year Australians observe one minute’s silence at 11 a.m. on 11th November, in memory of all those men and women who have died or suffered in all wars, conflicts and peace operations. This is a simple yet very effective way of remembering the massive loss of life and immense suffering that humankind has been subjected to in all of the various armed conflicts that have blotted recorded history.

In Australia, Remembrance Day ceremonies are held in almost every city and town across Australia. All major cities have a Shrine of Remembrance and every town has a monument honouring the fallen Anzacs. Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra hold formal ceremonies that are very well organised and well-attended. This year, ceremonies will be very significant for the families of Australian soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan.

The National Remembrance Day Ceremony includes a formal wreathlaying and will be attended by many high level dignitaries and diplomats. Australian’s Federation Guard and the Band of the Royal Military College will be on parade. Members of the public are of course also invited to join the National Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.

Here is a poem by Wilfred Owen, one of the soldier-poets of WWI, who unfortunately was killed a few days before Armistice…

Parable of the Old Men and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchéd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son…

Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

armistice |ˈärməstis| noun
An agreement made by opposing sides in a war to stop fighting for a certain time; a truce.
ORIGIN early 18th century: From French, or from modern Latin armistitium, from arma ‘arms’ (see arm2) + -stitium ‘stoppage.’

Wednesday 9 November 2011


“Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article on it” - Mark Twain

Today we experienced one of those abrupt weather changes that is very characteristic of Melbourne. The day was quite changeable to begin with and there were some showers in the morning, however, by lunchtime the weather had settled into a hot and steamy, almost subtropical day. I was at a workshop all day today and as I finished in the early afternoon I went for a walk around the campus of the hosting University, which was quite pleasant, humidity notwithstanding. By the time I got home in the evening, large cloud masses had started to move in from the West and at about 7:30 pm the thunderstorm broke.

What we experienced in the inner suburb where we live was only one of a series of wild storms that swept across Victoria, damaging homes, toppling trees and causing flash flooding in many parts of the metropolitan area. These storms passed through the state and in several hours there were big downpours near Port Fairy, Wodonga and Ballarat. Central Melbourne was largely spared, though flash flooding and damage to homes was reported in Eastern and South-eastern suburbs. The intensity of the downpour over Werribee led to the storm being classified as “dangerous”.

The State Emergency Service received more than 1000 calls for help and they were preparing for more calls for assistance as the rain continues overnight, although not be as severe. In North-eastern Victoria the storm apparently formed a “mini cyclone” when it passed through. There were 150 reports of fallen trees, including in Castlemaine, Woodend and Maryborough. The Frankston area was hardest hit with 215 calls for help made in the area and 30mm of rain falling in Frankston in 30 minutes. The bureau also had reports of a waterspout off Black Rock.

East Bentleigh had 23mm of rain in just six minutes, with large hail, and Oakleigh South received 14mm in 10 minutes. Golf ball-sized hail hit south of Ballarat in the afternoon, and 100km/h plus winds hit Port Fairy and Cape Otway. The roof of a house near Wodonga was torn off and another 12 were damaged. No doubt the total damage bill across our state will add up to many millions of dollars by the time the effects of the storm are all tallied up.

One is tempted to invoke climate change as an explanation of extreme weather phenomena like this and the environmentalist forum will no doubt make much of this latest occurrence to highlight the opportune and appropriate passing of legislation relating to the Carbon Tax. In fact the champion of our Carbon Tax legislation, PM Julia Gillard, has been quoted as saying that “…from today Australia would address the problems of climate change including ‘extreme weather'’ such as big floods and storms.”.

However, extreme weather events in Australia and more specifically in Melbourne, are not something new. If one takes the trouble to examine meteorological records and historical data, one will see that there have been quite severe manifestations of extreme weather since records began in the 19th century. Our planet has a very active atmosphere and a cyclical weather pattern that will often cause spectacular weather with disastrous consequences in many parts of the earth over the centuries. More extreme, worldwide shifts in planet weather occurring over a period of millennia give us periodic ice ages that alternate with warmer eras.

How much humans and their activities influence world-wide weather is a moot point and there are many scientific papers that can be quoted that will either support or refute climate change as a result of human activity. Whatever the case may be, it makes sense to respect our environment and ensure that we do not pollute our earth, do not use our natural resources unwisely and live a life that is compatible with sustainability and good utilisation of our expendable natural raw materials and increasingly diminishing forests and wilderness.

Here is a good time-lapse video of the storm in Melbourne made by a friend I follow on Twitter:

Monday 7 November 2011


“After your death you will be what you were before your birth.” - Arthur Schopenhauer

The image from Magpie Tales is a rather lugubrious one today, perhaps in keeping with the Northern Hemisphere season, and also attuned to All Souls’ Day (November 2nd). Death is an inevitability that we must all face up to sooner or later. The advantages of doing this sooner are immense, as we can spend our lives doing useful, wonderful things that are more productive than sitting around worrying about dying. Perhaps most people have no issue with the idea of death itself, but are more concerned about the process of dying. The two concepts are quite different and should be distinguished.

Many people are concerned that they will be in pain when they are dying. Whenever we hear of someone who died, our first question seems to be: “Did s/he suffer? Was s/he in pain?” I acknowledge that concern about the process of dying need include consideration of the physical effects and manifestations of the disease or other cause of death, but most people seem to have serious concerns about the emotional, spiritual and metaphysical aspects of the cessation of life. Add to that the feelings of those who are left behind and our concern for them and how they will cope with our departure and one immediately begins to understand why death causes such disquiet for many of us.

Well, in the Southern Hemisphere we are in our last month of Spring, Southern November being the equivalent of Northern May. The weather is very changeable, with many showers and Spring rains that are making the gardens look green and are filling them with flowers. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered May a mournful and unlucky month, dedicated it to the dead, thus no weddings were celebrated in this month. I have altered the image to reflect our season, with apologies to Magpie Tales…

Spring Rains

The equinox balances day and night
And sun aligns itself most carefully.
Spring showers turn to rain
And iron weeps rust.

The air is warmer, birds soar into flight
But moon wanes most mournfully.
The deep ache turns to pain
And dreams to dust.

Spring is a most melancholy season
Despite the wild burgeoning of green.
Flowers suit more the grave,
And bitter thought.

I try to find in all a rhyme, a reason,
But deep down lurks my vengeful spleen;
How easier if all I forgave,
No longer fought…

Sunday 6 November 2011


“Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.” - Samuel Johnson

We watched the third and final part of the Millennium Trilogy, comprising three movies based on the Stieg Larsson novels. This was the 2009 Daniel Alfredson film, “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”. This was a long film, running at just under 150 minutes and having relatively less action and less nail-biting sequences than the previous two (see my reviews: “The Girl who Played with Fire” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). This film was taken at more relaxed pace and there was a lot more explaining and tying up of loose ends that had been left dangling from the previous two movies.

The same cast makes its return and the level of acting and production were good, although I must say that I was a little disappointed with the quality of the image in several scenes here and there (we were watching a BluRay disc). The film is a worthy conclusion to this trilogy, however, and to get the full effect one must watch the three movies in rapid succession, possibly over three nights. I don’t think I could bear to watch all of them on the same day! They are tough going, quite violent and confronting films. However, they are all closely tied to one another and one must watch them in close sequence to truly understand what is going on.

The plot picks up where the previous film left off: Lisbeth has been shot in the head and while being treated in hospital, she is under close supervision. As she recovers, She is set to face trial for attempted murder. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Lisbeth must prove her innocence and sanity. Powerful political enemies, conspirators on a governmental level, spies as well as Lisbeth’s ghosts from her own tormented past, surface and threaten not only Lisbeth’s life but also that of her friends.

One needs to concentrate when watching this film as the explanations of what motivated Libeth’s adversaries are convoluted and not always stated obviously (so could be missed!). The critics disliked this movie and they compared it unfavourably with what they considered was the best of the three films, the first one. However, I found this movie a worthy conclusion to the trilogy and once we started watching it, we were hooked. The courtroom drama that takes place in the latter half of the movie is extremely well done and one cannot help but become involved with Lisbeth who has been very much the victim of such a huge conspiracy, as well as suffering abuse from a number of perverted individuals.

Watching this series of films one cannot but be overawed by the brutality of one human against another, especially the crimes committed by the powerful on the powerless. The catastrophic consequences of such monstrous actions on the lives of those affected by such treatments are explored by Larsson and through his clinical exposé of society’s indifference to many such crimes and criminals, he rings alarm bells wishing to rouse us from our apathy. By superimposing one terrible act upon another, a violent image after another, one atrocity followed by a worse one, he challenges our detachment as observers and encourages our basic humanity, urging us to react and become personally involved. These terrible acts must be prevented from occurring by active intervention, just of the kind that Lisbeth’s champion Mikael engages in.

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth was perfect casting for the role and by far the best actress in all three films. She brought the character of a damaged woman to life and we could feel her pain as we came to understand how deeply the scars of the damage had disrupted her whole consciousness. Although she looked fearsome and feral –someone you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley, she was also vulnerable and her suffering was palpable in many scenes. This diamond hard exterior hiding a gooey soft internal world was amazingly well-portrayed.  A fine actress indeed! The remainder of the cast does an excellent job also, but these are Noomi’s films.

The whole trilogy is gritty, horrific, violent, realistic (unfortunately!) and extremely challenging. These are not films to watch and be entertained by, to pass the time with, but rather they are there to make us think and to challenge the status quo of our politics, our social and cultural norms, our values and personal responsibilities. Well worth investing the time in watching all three of these!


“Sculpture is the best comment that a painter can make on painting.” - Pablo Picasso

We have an interstate guest visiting so we decided to go to the Yarra Valley to have a look around some of the wineries, have lunch there and look at some of the art on exhibition as part of the Yarra Valley Arts initiative. The Yarra Valley is less than hour’s driving to the northeast of the Melbourne CBD and is the place where Victorian winegrowing started in the mid-19th century. As one drives through the outer suburbs of Melbourne, one encounters rolling hills densely planted with vines, beautiful verdant valleys and distant blue mountain range backdrops. There are lush pastures, beautiful forests and rivers with villages surrounded by bushland like Marysville, Healesville, Yarra Glen and Warburton.

There is a wealth of vineyards to visit, ranging from the small family concerns that produce boutique wine ranges in small quantities, to the larger concerns that have many hectares of vines and produce wine by the megalitre each season. There are hundred-year-old vineyards and wineries as well as the new arrivals that have just planted out their vines. One may sample the wines, tour some of the winemaking facilities, and there is no dearth of places to linger over a meal as one discovers the regional fresh produce, well-prepared food that is matched to the local wines in the vineyard restaurants. One may also choose to stay a night or two in a chic boutique B&B, a self-contained cottage, a winery retreat or even a five-star luxury hotel/resort.

Many local and international artists have chosen the Yarra Valley to live in and work in. There are many galleries in which they exhibit their work and one may visit many small artist studios dotted around the region and see where the art is created and talk to the artists themselves, and hopefully buy one of their art works.

We visited three wineries: St Huberts founded 1862, Domaine Chandon founded in 1986, and the oldest of the three wineries, Yering Station, which was established in 1838. We tasted the wines, had a lovely lunch at Domaine Chandon and wandered through the sculpture exhibition at Yering Station. Much of the sculpture on exhibition is quite challenging and radical and new, with some it begging the question “yes, but is it art?”. However, we saw some pieces that were interesting and thought-provoking, while others left us completely cold.

There were some “installation” pieces also, dotted around the extensive parkland and gardens of the Yering Station. It was quite amusing to see some of the prices. An installation of magnolia twigs by Wona Bae that looked like some sort of animal burrow had a price tag of $14,500! I doubt that there would be a queue of people lining up to buy that one! There were a few other audacious pieces that challenged the credibility of the creators as artists, but there were also some thoughtful, well-crafted pieces that were interesting as well as more appealing on an intellectual level.

The Yarra Valley Arts and Yering Station Sculpture Exhibition and Awards is a collaborative event between Yarra Valley Arts and Yering Station, which a premier winery in the Yarra Valley. The exhibition was started in October 2001, has grown incrementally since then and is now an iconic event on the Victorian Arts calendar attracting strong interest. Yarra Valley Arts is a not for profit organisation dedicated to enhancing the cultural lives of those who live, work and visit in the Yarra Valley.

The sculpture exhibition showcases a cross-section of contemporary Australian sculptural practice from established and emerging artists. The sculpture exhibition is staged in the beautiful landscaped gardens designed by Michael McCoy and offers ample opportunities for placement of outdoor sculpture, while the long indoor corridors and breezeway of the winery’s function centre and restaurant offers indoor and sheltered space in which more delicate art work can be displayed.

Definitely worth visiting, even if modern sculpture is not your cup of tea, you can still enjoy the gardens, the wine, the good food and the sweeping vistas of the breath-taking landscape. Here are some of my photos from Domaine Chandon.