Saturday, 16 October 2010


“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” - Roger Miller

Last night we had quite storm – rain lashing down, at some stage hail and then even more rain. It was nice to lie in bed and hear it all happening just outside the window, happy to have a roof over one’s head and a nice warm bed…

Today the weather was erratic and unstable. Sunny and smiling one minute, sullen and weeping the next. Nevertheless we did our shopping, went to the library and then this evening time for rest and relaxation. And what best to do this to than with this piece of Mozart that is pure delight and pleasure? Here is the caramel-like Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581, which was written in 1789 for the clarinetist Anton Stadler. The work was finished on 29th  September 1789 and Mozart described it as the “Stadler Quintet” in a letter of April 1790. Delicious!

Friday, 15 October 2010


“Vegetables are the food of the earth; fruit seems more the food of the heavens.” - Sepal Felicivant

The weather all along the southeastern coast of Australia has been terrible. Flooding rains, storms, hail, high winds and in the south, cold… In Tasmania it has been snowing! This is of course right in the middle of our Spring – for all you northern hemisphere readers, our October is equivalent to your April. Such is the situation with climate change, no doubt we shall see many more extreme weather events in the decades ahead. Nevertheless, I think that resourceful Homo sapiens will do something to alleviate the troubles that future generations will have to cope with. Call me an optimist!

The weather wasn’t very conducive to flying and on my way back from Sydney this evening it was a very bumpy ride indeed! When landing in Melbourne there was lashing rain and high winds and the plane jolted on the tarmac and there were hundreds of creaks and snaps, croaks and whirrs, screeches and cracks as the plane landed. My fellow passenger next to me had grown very pale and she took deep breaths and had her eyes closed, while she clutched at the seat, her knuckles white. When finally the plane taxied in, she opened her eyes and murmured “Thank, God!” As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t the worse landing I had experienced and once again, if one flies one must be prepared for the worse…

The workshop in Sydney today was fantastic! It was quite a small group of high-ranking academics from many universities and a few colleges, and we all had a round-table discussion on academic standards, and generic threshold learning outcomes of educational programs in Health, Medicine and Veterinary Science degrees. The discussion was stimulating, engaging and frank. It was quite a useful three hours or so and I came away with quite a good understanding of our new tertiary education quality agency that will be set up over the next couple of years.

We were very well fed during the seminar, but I gorged myself on the extensive selection of fresh fruits that were available, rather than the sandwiches and sweets. We had luscious strawberries, blueberries, grapes, pineapple, melon, watermelon, pawpaw, passionfruit, bananas, apples, tangerines, oranges, peaches, nectarines and cherries for our delectation. The good thing about Australia is that because it is so big, it spans several latitudes and “seasonal” fruit is greatly varied at any time of the year. One can choose from the perennial tropical favourites of the far north, to the delights of the subtropics with their early fruiting varieties of spring and summer fruits and then go to the temperate south with its range of late winter offerings and spring delicacies.

We are very lucky in Australia as the produce is always fresh, of good quality and relatively cheap. Fruit and vegetables are in plentiful supply and when going to the market or the greengrocer, one can go overboard and shop, shop, shop! I don’t think there are any fruits or vegetables that I particularly dislike, even though there are many that I love. I could quite easily give up meat or fish, but I could not give up fruit or vegetables. Which of course is wonderful as fruit and vegetables are full of the goodness of nutrients, minerals, vitamins, fibre, essential microelements, sugars, antioxidants, anti-ageing compounds, active anti-cancer complexes and of course they are all delicious!

Thursday, 14 October 2010


“The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.” - John F. Kennedy

The whole world breathed a collective sigh of relief today as the Chilean miners were finally rescued from their living interment. The whole time during their time under thousands of tones of rock, we had all been watching with anxiety the rescue effort and as metre after metre of the shaft was dug, hopes increased for their survival and rescue. Jubilation today was universal as the 33rd and last miner was raised from a potential grave. The chamber 625 metres underground that they were trapped in for 69 days is finally empty and the miners who cheated death and set a record for surviving underground for so long are at last reunited with their families.

I have often thought about the situation and put myself in their position. The first thing that one would have to do immediately the accident happened would be to reconcile oneself with one’s death. To feel trapped beneath 600 metres of solid rock is bad enough, but to also have to contend with stifling conditions, lack of water of and food, overcrowding and the fear of being crushed to death at any time is enough to make one slightly nervous, to say the least! The feelings of doom, depression, anxiety, claustrophobia, despair, hopelessness would all be formidable adversaries in a hole 600 metres underground.

The courage of these men and their strength that helped them survive is remarkable. The joy of their families to see them alive and well after nearly 70 days underground is indescribable. Their happiness at having cheated death and come back to the surface and the light must be a rebirth.

I am in Sydney for a couple of days and I have a very busy schedule. I shall be attending a seminar and workshop on tertiary education academic standards, which looks as though it will be very interesting. In addition I am inspecting the site of our new campus in Sydney. It looks as though it is in a magnificent location and there will be quite a great deal of refurbishment and rebuilding to order, which should make for a great purpose-fitted facility. Thankfully the weekend is not far off…

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


“Spring is sooner recognised by plants than by men.” - Chinese Proverb

Oh, how Winter dawdles this year! It’s been so long and even though Spring is here, officially, today the weather was wintry, dreary, gray and wet. My office was cold and I put the heater on. I had to go out at lunchtime and after walking through the wet streets, battling with my umbrella, dashing in and out of arcades as I negotiated the length of the City, on the return I took a taxi as the rain started in earnest and I was laden with shopping bags. This evening when I got home, a single fragrant rosebud greeted me in a vase on my desk in my study. A loving hand had picked it from our garden and its beauty was evidence enough that Winter was departing…

A Rosebud

In driving rain and wind that bites
A rosebud braves the weather.
The sun is under leaden clouds,
But warms the cheery heather.

Departing Winter’s pallid shroud
Is spread on waking garden;
Each flower for its survival fights
Its will to live must harden.

It’s Spring but still, this Winter lingers
With tightened fist and claw persists;
And yet the smile of Flora, melts hearts,
Caresses buds and for her ally sun enlists.

Winter shuffles along, but still departs:
No more the snow, and ice has melted.
Spring touches with her gentle fingers,
And Chloris is with bright daisies belted.

The rose has bloomed, the lily richly smiles!
Love beckons, Spring’s here with her wiles.

Monday, 11 October 2010


“For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” - William Penn

News this morning of the death Joan Sutherland, “La Stupenda” of the world operatic stage, surprised and saddened me. She was one of the great stars of opera and I had seen her performing live, which made me understand the sobriquet attached to her persona. At 83 years of age, one had to expect that death would soon be calling at her door, but one has in one’s mind a strong image of such immensely great personalities that they seem to be immortal, unable to succumb to the ravages of age, disease, death…

Her death in Switzerland was a shock to my system as the way that I remember her was as that vivacious, larger than life figure, singing on stage looking majestic, commanding, beautiful and ageless. She was born in Australia and shot to international fame in 1959 when she assumed the title role in The Royal Opera’s new staging of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden. From then on she was unrivalled in the bel canto repertoire and continued the revival of interest in the operas by Bellini and Donizetti that had been pioneered at the start of the 50s by Maria Callas. She went on to conquer all the major opera houses of the world, including the notoriously difficult audience at la Fenice, Venice who, after her appearances as Alcina, named her ‘La Stupenda’ (the stunning one).

She possessed a clear, agile, powerful voice and a flawless technique with a great vocal range. This is the reason she excelled in the exacting and demanding roles written for the soprano voice by Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi. She bid farewell to the stage in 1990 in the role of Marguerite in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots with Opera Australia in Sydney and appeared alongside two of her regular on-stage colleagues, Luciano Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne as party guests in the Royal Opera’s staging of Die Fledermaus the same year.

Joan Sutherland had been suffering ill health for some time and died in her home surrounded by the people closest to her, gazing out on the Swiss landscape, in a town near Montreux. Her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, and their son Adam survive her.

Requiescat in pace, Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE (7 November 1926 - 11 October 2010). The operatic firmament has been robbed of one of its brightest shining stars.

Here she is immortalized by technology for our perpetual enjoyment, singing “Casta Diva” from Norma by Bellini. 
The Elizabethan Symphony Orchestra is
conducted by Richard Bonynge
at the Sydney Opera House.


“Why should people go out and pay money to see bad films when they can stay home and see bad television for nothing?” - Samuel Goldwyn

We watched a rather ordinary movie at the weekend. It was Joel Zwick’s 2004 “Elvis Has Left the Building” with John Corbett and Kim Basinger. Zwick has been responsible for the 2002 “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in which Corbett starred again. This director seems to have a slew of other comedy/romantic comedy movies and TV series in his credits. He handles this genre fairly competently, but there is no innovation or surprises in what turns out to be standard Hollywood grist. The entertainment version of junk food…

The plot is fairly thin and the gimmick is the killing of several Elvis impersonators throughout the film. Basinger plays a Pink Lady make up travelling saleswoman who has the habit of being at the wrong place at the wrong time and managing to get involved with the Elvis impersonator deaths – accidental or otherwise… She manages to hook up with an advertising executive (Corbett) who seem to be running across dead Elvises all over the place as well. You guessed it, it’s a match made in Las Vegas…

The film is pleasant enough to have on in the background while you’re ironing or something like that, but I wouldn’t recommend it for dedicated viewing. The laughs are few and far between and they are more likely to be smiles or half-chuckles in any case. Corbett and Basinger do a decent enough job of what little the script has to offer them and the direction is pedestrian. The Elvis impersonators in most cases deserve what they get and the two detectives on the case are at best annoying or tiresome.

I guess there aren’t that many redeeming features in the film, but if anyone has seen it and has a different opinion, please comment.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”  - – Rachel Carson

Just recently, a good friend of mine sent me an email which contained this link to an interesting news story about a Parisian apartment that was locked up for 70 years and has only now been opened up to reveal a veritable time capsule from the turn of the century. The apartment is situated near the Trinité church, between the Pigalle red light district and Opera. It was locked and uninhabited but wasn’t abandoned nor empty, as someone was paying for its rent. It was filled with furniture, books and various works of art.

The most remarkable painting in the apartment was that of a woman in a pink muslin evening dress. The woman was Marthe de Florian, and the painting was by Giovanni Boldini. This was confirmed by a written love note from the painter to de Florian. The apartment belonged to Marthe de Florian’s granddaughter who left for the south of France before World War II and never returned. She had just died recently at age 91, and legal experts who have been tasked to draw up an inventory of her possessions in the apartmnent made the amazing discovery.

The people charge with making an inventory of the contents of the apartment, had  speculated that the paintng was the work of Boldini, but there was no record of the painting. According to Marc Ottavi, an art specialist, “No reference book dedicated to Boldini mentioned the tableau, which was never exhibited.” When the visiting card with a scribbled love note from Boldini to Marthe was found in the apartment, the suspicion was confirmed. Later a reference to the painting was found in a book by Boldini’s widow, which said it was painted in 1898 when Miss de Florian was 24.

The painting was sold at auction and bids opened at €300,000. The bidding became feverish and the process offered rapidly shot up as 10 bidders rivalled to own the now famous artwork. The winning bid was €2.1 million or $3 million. “It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion.” Mr Ottavi said.

Giovanni Boldini enjoyed a long and successful artistic career (1842 - 1931). Born in Ferrara, Italy in 1842 and trained on the Italian Renaissance masters from childhood with his religious artist-father, Antonio Boldini. He also studied under other accomplished artists, gaining a reputation even at that young age as an accomplished portrait painter. He then studied in Florence at the age of 20, at the Scuola del Nudo (the School of Nudes), a subject he would return to only in old age.

Giovanni combined work and study for many years, training in Paris and London, and Holland and Germany. He moved to Paris but continued travelling for his work. He developed his own, distinct style, and his portraits grew in fame, helped greatly by a portrait commissioned by Giuseppe Verdi in 1886, the biggest celebrity of his day.

The discovery of this new work under such amazing circumstances is a surprise and a fortuitous turn of affairs. It goes to show that who knows how many masterpieces may be so near to us and we do not even suspect it…