Saturday, 28 May 2011


“Man will begin to recover the moment he takes art as seriously as physics, chemistry or money.” - Ernst Levy

A still life is a work of art that typically shows inanimate subject matter, either natural (flowers, plants, rocks, food, shells, etc) or manufactured (books, vases, drinking glasses, jewellery, coins, pipes, etc). The origins of this type of art is to be found in Ancient Greece with many extant examples, but also numerous descriptions of (now lost) art works in literature. In the Middle Ages, a rich trove of still life painting can be found in illuminated manuscripts, while with the advent of the popularity of the panel painting, Flemish, Dutch and German exemplars were soon imitated across Europe.

Still life paintings give the artist freedom of expression, as well as allowing much leeway in selection of subject matter, colours, composition and technique than do most other genres of painting (e.g. portraits). Still life paintings before 1700 often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted. For example, a common example of still life with an obvious meaning is the “Vanitas” type, where the mortality of human beings is highlighted by the depiction of ephemeral beauty (e.g. a flower), an example of death (e.g. a skull) and a reference to the passage of time (e.g. an hourglass).

Other types of thematic still life paintings especially popular in the baroque period were flowerpieces, usually of very ornate vases filled with a profusion of flowers of every kind; the four seasons, with reference to objects typical of each one; the four continents, the four elements and so on. Other types of still life painting chose as their theme various occupations (butcher, fishmonger, cook, man of letters, etc) and the objects depicted were appropriate to the métier illustrated.

Another common example of allegorical still life was the depiction of the five senses: Sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. This allowed the artist free rein to pick subjects that illustrated the five senses, but there was also a formulaic association of certain objects with the senses. Musical instruments were always a good choice for the sense of hearing, flowers for the sense of smell, items of food for taste, rich cloth like velvet for touch and a mirror for the sense of sight. The contemplation of such paintings could be the source of much reflection and philosophising, especially if one considered the deterioration of the acuity of the senses with advancing age. Similarly, the artist could introduce much contrast in the objects depicted, giving a didactic indication of “good versus evil” where the senses are concerned.

Illustrated here is a typical such still life depicting the five senses. It is by Frenchman Jacques Linard, who had many such thematic works in his oeuvre. Still life paintings have always been popular as they are highly decorative and appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Artists could make a decent living from still life paintings if the public found their work appealing.

Jacques Linard (1597-1645) was baptised on the 6th of September, 1597. The first record of being an artist was in the 1620’s. He was in Paris by 1626, and his first securely attributed still-life work is dated the following year. He was married in 1626 to the daughter of a Parisian Master Painter. He lived in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, where a number of French still-life painters such as Louise Moillon and Lubin Baugin worked alongside Flemish artists specialising in this genre.

In 1631 he was created Peintre et Valet de Chambre du Roi, a post that guaranteed him a degree of financial independence. Linard’s works of 1627-44 were mainly of fruit and flowers; with Louise Moillon, however, he was among the first French artists to combine successfully the female form with still-life elements. A painting such as Basket of Flowers (Paris, Louvre) owes something to Flemish prototypes in the anachronistic grouping of flowers that span several months. Patiently recording the flowers as they bloomed, and working on the picture from a series of drawings and sketches, Linard demonstrated his commitment to working from nature. However, this work also has a distinctively French elegance and economy of composition.

In the painting above, “The Five Senses”, Linard follows the well-established successful formula of this type of still life painting, with numerous references not only to the senses, but also with acknowledgement of the moralisation common in other types of still life like the “Vanitas”. There is a sumptuous blue velvet purse illustrating touch, but next to it are cards and silver coins. The moral there is: “Beware! Lovely to hold, but easy to lose if you succumb to the evil of gambling…” A landscape painting within this painting and a mirror refer to sight, as does the vase of multi-coloured blooms. The flowers of course refer to the sense of smell, as does the fruit, which pays homage to both smell and taste. The open music manuscript book is a reference to the sense of hearing. The contents of the two boxes are perhaps to add fuel to our sense of curiosity, but maybe not!


“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music” - Sergei Rachmaninov

A very restful day today, with a relatively late awakening and breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Then some household chores and shopping, culminating with a visit to the library. I love visiting the public library and spending some time there looking at the new arrivals, new CDs and DVDs. We always manage to borrow something despite the huge number of books, CDs and DVDs at home…

Today, it was a CD of Telemann’s music that attracted my attention. Georg Philipp Telemann (born March 14, 1681, Magdeburg, Brandenburg; died June 25, 1767, Hamburg), was a German composer of the late Baroque period, who wrote both sacred and secular music but was most admired for his church compositions, which ranged from small cantatas to large-scale works for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Telemann was the son of a Protestant minister and was given a good general education but never actually received music lessons. Though he showed great musical gifts at an early age, he was discouraged by his family from becoming a professional musician, which at that time was neither an attractive nor a highly remunerative occupation. He taught himself music, however, and he acquired great facility in composing and in playing such diverse musical instruments as the violin, recorder, oboe, viola da gamba, chalumeau, and clavier. In 1701 he enrolled at the University of Leipzig as a law student, but his musical activities won over his undivided attention and were to engross him for the rest of his life.

For his 18th-century contemporaries, Georg Philipp Telemann was the greatest living composer. The dreaded critic Johann Mattheson wrote of him: “Corelli and Lully may be justly honoured but Telemann is above all praise.” Through his public concerts Telemann introduced to the general public music previously reserved for the court, the aristocracy, or a limited number of burghers. His enormous output of publications provided instrumental and vocal material for Protestant churches throughout Germany, for orchestras, and for a great variety of amateur and professional musicians.

Telemann’s multiple musical activities and the prodigious number of his compositions are remarkable. In his lifetime he was most admired for his church compositions. These vary from small cantatas, suitable for domestic use or for use in churches with limited means, to large-scale works for soloists, chorus, and orchestra. His secular music also has a wide range, from simple strophic songs to the dramatic cantata “Ino”, written at the age of 84. Many of his operas were successful, particularly “Pimpinone”. His orchestral works consist of suites (called ouvertures), and concerti. His chamber works are remarkable for their quantity, the great variety of instrumental combinations, and the expert writing for each instrument.

Here is his Concerto in A minor, TWV 21:25, played by Collegium Musicum 90 with Simon Standage.

Friday, 27 May 2011


“If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” - Winston Churchill

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you how you vote! The results of a survey by (a site that makes recommendations based on preferences, ranging from which car you should drive to which holiday destination or college choice is best for you) indicates that your political views say a lot about the food choices you make. For example, people who lean to the political left prefer thin-crust pizza, fancy shaped pastas, such as fusilli, and a glass of wine with dinner, while right wing conservatives enjoy deep-dish pizza, McDonald’s French fries and a can of coke with their meal.

Hunch used 80 million answers to questions that it asked its 700,000 members, in order to predict particular demographics, personality and other characteristics based on their food choices. They then compared all that against the political views the survey takers associated themselves with. Overall, 43% of participants said they tended to support liberal (leftist) politicians, 17% indicated they supported conservative (rightist) politicians, and 23% said they were middle of the road. It should be noted, however, that the web-based survey is not as scientific as truly objective polls because, among other factors, it was not based on a representative sample of the population.

Nevertheless, one is fascinated by some of the results, some of which are summarised here:

•    Liberals are 28% more likely than conservatives to eat fresh fruit daily, and 17% more likely to eat toast or a bagel in the morning, while conservatives are 20% more likely to skip breakfast.
•    10% of liberals surveyed indicated they are vegetarians, compared with 3% of conservatives.
•    Liberals are 28% more likely than conservatives to enjoy beer, with 60% of liberals indicating they like beer.
•    The majority of both liberals and conservatives agreed there’s a significant difference between organic and processed food.
•    Liberals are more likely to like seafood, but dislike fast food.
•    Conservatives like meatloaf, beans, mashed potatoes, gravy and a can of soft drink, indicating they often eat fast food.
•    Left wingers are likely to describe a bacon cheeseburger as “disgusting”, while right wingers describe it as “delicious”.
•    Liberals are more likely to eat ethnic foods, often cooking up a lamb coconut curry with rice as a typical home-cooked meal. Conservatives on the other hand describe ordinary Chinese take-away food as “exotic ethnic food”.
•    Everybody loves lasagne!

Although there’s a correlation between views and food choices, the study doesn’t say that one influences the other, as demographics could also play a role. This isn’t the first study to show behavioural and other differences between conservatives and liberals. For instance, a study published in 2008 in the journal “Political Psychology” revealed a person’s office or bedroom holds tell-tale signs of whether that person is a conservative or a liberal. For instance, while political conservatives tend to keep a tidy, organised office, political liberals favour colourful, more stylish but cluttered spaces.

Also, if you look at a person, check out their gaze. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to follow other people’s eye movements, according to research published in the journal “Attention, Perception & Psychophysics”. Such political ideology seems to run deep, with another study published in the April 7, 2011 issue of the journal “Current Biology”, finding participants who indicated a liberal ideology tended to have a larger anterior cingulated cortex, a brain region linked to monitoring uncertainty, while conservatives showed a larger amygdala, an area linked with greater sensitivity to fear and disgust.

It seems amazing that not only our political views seem to hard-wired into our brains, but they also influence our behaviour, lifestyle and choices, such as the food we eat. One would now think twice about organising a large dinner party with guests across a wide range of the political spectrum. It would be tough to negotiate a menu that pleases all and is politically “neutral”!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


“The ability of a person to atone has always been the most remarkable of human features.” - Leon Uris

Today is National Sorry Day, which is an Australia-wide anniversary held on May 26th every year since 1998. The day gives people the opportunity to come together and share the steps towards healing for the Stolen Generations of indigenous children, their families and communities. Stolen Generations refer to Indigenous Australians who were forcibly removed from their families and communities in order to assimilate them into white society.

The first National Sorry Day was held on May 26, 1998, which was one year after the tabling of a report about the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their blood families and communities. The report, known as “Bringing Them Home”, at last acknowledged that Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and communities since the early days of European occupation in Australia. Governments and missionaries were responsible for this forced separation, which created miserable conditions and psychological problems for whole generations.

Various “assimilation” and “protection” policies were implemented by the late 19th century. However, the most systematic and widespread forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families occurred during the 1950s and 1960s in the name of assimilation. These children are now known as the “Stolen Generations”. They were brought up in institutions or fostered to non-Indigenous families. This removal was official government policy in Australia until 1969.

In the 1980s welfare and community groups spoke out against such government and social welfare practices that were clearly discriminatory against Indigenous people. This forced a reappraisal of removal and placement practice during the 1980s. In 1980 the family tracing and reunion agency Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation was established. Similar services now exist throughout Australia.

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Prime Minister at the time, tabled a motion in Parliament on February 13, 2008, apologising to Australia’s Indigenous people, particularly the Stolen Generations and their families and communities, for the laws and policies that inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss. This formal parliamentary apology included a proposal for a policy commission to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in matters such as life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity. This event was regarded by many as a step forward in reconciliation.

On Sorry Day, one is more likely to see the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flags flying. The Aboriginal flag is horizontally divided into two equal halves of black and red with a yellow circle in the centre. The black symbolises Australia’s Aboriginal people and the yellow circle represents the sun. The red represents the earth and people’s relationship with the land. It also represents ochre, which is used in Aboriginal ceremonies in Australia. Harold Joseph Thomas designed the flag, which was first flown at Victoria Square in Adelaide on July 12, 1971.

The Torres Strait Islander flag stands for Torres Strait Islanders’ unity and identity. It features three horizontal stripes, with green at the top and bottom of the flag and blue in between, divided by thin black lines. A white dharri (a type of headdress) sits in the centre, with a five-point star underneath it. The color green represents the land. The dharri symbolises all Torres Strait Islanders. The black represents the people and the blue represents the sea. The five-point star symbolizes the island groups. The star is white, which symbolises peace in this case. Bernard Namok designed the flag.

The Stolen Generations represent one of the most reprehensible and callous policies that have ever been realized in Australia’s history. Formally apologising for this and trying to redeem for the mistakes of the past is the least that we as Australians can do to try and redress some of the wrongs that were committed. Sorry Day is a symbol of the reconciling nature and the all-inclusiveness of our present-day Australian society.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” - Anne Bradstreet

The day was gray and moist, cool and wintry today. The last few days of May will yield to June the sceptre of the changing seasons, and Winter will officially arrive dressed in his furs and woollens. I walked a little in the park this afternoon and before I returned home, it started drizzling. The sky was dark and the trees bare, the leaves on the ground a thick, crackly carpet. My nose was cold and I hurried to get home. The lights were on, the sight a welcoming one. The heater would be already be on and soon a hot dinner on the table! How lucky I am!

As Autumn Turns to Winter

Swirling brightly, falling, twisting,
The leaves dance gracefully
As the wind blows and the twigs shiver.

Chirping mournfully, fluffing feathers,
The birds cluster on the fence posts
As the raindrops start to fall.

Clouds rolling, massing gray and moist;
No trace of blue, the sun has disappeared,
As dun, woollen blankets hide the sky.

Moving gently, lonely playground swing creaks
In the deserted parklands of ashen afternoon,
As I brave the cold and rain, walking alone.

Mushrooms sprouting, pumpkins ripening;
Flowers fade, summer a distant memory
As garden settles into a dying pose.

The lights shining through welcoming window,
The house warm and a hot dinner smelling savoury,
As autumn turns to winter.

Monday, 23 May 2011


“I beg you take courage; the brave soul can mend even disaster.” - Catherine II

The USA has been having a hard time lately, what with the economic woes, the unemployment, the falling dollar, the rising fuel prices, foreclosures, business failures, increased homelessness, rising crime rate and most importantly the natural disasters that are taking their toll, it is not the best of times. The most recent of the disasters that hit the small town of Joplin in Missouri was one of the deadliest single tornadoes that struck the USA in almost 60 years. The twister wrought its terrible work over a distance of 6.5 km and left just under 120 people dead and many hundreds injured. There are still so many more buried under wreckage, hopefully some of them alive and able to be rescued. The death toll from 2011 tornadoes until now, stands at 455, the deadliest year for tornados since 1953.

Looking at the pictures published makes one feel awe, terror, pity and compassion. Wreckage everywhere, homes and businesses reduced to rubble, cars that have become just piles of twisted metal and big trucks crushed and bent over themselves as if they were made of tinfoil. There are reports of heavy rain, strong winds, lightning and during the peak of the freak weather phenomenon, flying debris that was hurled with might through the air only to crush anything in its path. Some video footage of the disaster leaves one speechless. More than 2,000 buildings (about a third of the city of 50,000 people) were damaged or destroyed.

My heart goes out to everyone affected by the disaster, but also to the courageous rescue workers who continue to work relentlessly in the aftermath. In their exhaustion they continue to pick their way through rubble, gingerly moving debris, listening carefully for sounds of terrified people buried in the wreckage. It takes a special person to be a rescue worker, a firefighter, an ambulance worker, a police officer, a search and rescue worker. Their lives are dedicated altruistically to helping others and everyday they prove through their actions their love for their fellow human beings. Who needs more proof of one human’s care and love of another than in the face of these workers who risk their own lives daily to help save the lives of others.

Which brings me to Harold Camping, who predicted the unrealised Doomsday and subsequent Rapture for believers on May 21, 2011. This pernicious man exemplifies all that is dangerous in someone who professes to be a man of God. Through his influence and wide ranging media powers, this man convinced thousands that the end of the world was indeed coming on the 21st of May and they, in their blind belief gave everything away, and waited for the end that never came.

This preacher shows all what is treacherous in such preachifying. The point of preaching is to inform or convince the hearer of a certain world-view or belief. Many non-religious people shun preachers and accuse them of forcing their own beliefs on people. But preaching can also serve as an inflammatory encouragement to people who already subscribe to the preacher’s beliefs. A preacher can light great fires by fanning small embers in the hearts of people. For many, the term “preacher” is derogatory, while some consider it an honour. It all depends what the preacher is preaching, I think. Camping’s preaching has caused immense damage and he continues to preach, now having modified his Doomsday prediction for October 21st this year. I dread to think how many people will once again be misled and beguiled…

I guess we should be grateful that Harold Camping confined his activities to preaching only. Do you remember three decades ago the events that resulted in the deaths of more than 900 people in the middle of a South American jungle? Though called a “massacre”, what happened at Jonestown on November 18, 1978, was to some extent done willingly, making the mass suicide all the more disturbing.  The Jonestown cult (the “People’s Temple”) was founded in 1955 by Indianapolis preacher James Warren Jones. Jones, who had no formal theological training, based his liberal ministry on a combination of religious and socialist philosophies. His followers lost their lives in their belief of Jones’ Doomsday prophecies. Just as well Camping did not advocate mass suicides in the advent of the May 21st “Rapture”.

Look at the picture above. It is a photograph by Roger Nomer of “The Joplin Globe”. A rescue worker is carrying a young girl to safety. Here is a man who is putting the word of God into action. He doesn’t preach, he doesn’t want to convert anyone to his faith, his belief is strong and sure enough to compel him to work everyday miracles. He doesn’t have to wait for Doomsday to experience “Rapture”; his rapture comes every evening when he goes home exhausted, content in the knowledge that his daily work has given the gift of life to many of his fellow humans who otherwise may not have lived. Here is a man of God, preaching through his actions and making a difference, making the world a better place. Harold Camping, look at this picture and be ashamed…

Sunday, 22 May 2011


“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” - Jane Austen

This is going to be another non-movie Monday as we spent the day travelling from Perth back home to Melbourne. If you read this blog, you may remember I dislike watching movies on planes and this time was no exception. Usually, until the plane takes off and the seat belt sign goes off, I do the cryptic crossword from the day’s paper. This is a good way to start off the flight and gets my mind working. Although I am a good flier, I do like staying awake and alert during flights, especially the sort to medium length ones. The flight from Perth to Melbourne is about three-and-a-half hours long so it is not too long at all.

Once the use of electronic devices is allowed, I take out my computer and work on that for the majority of the flight. There is always something to do on the laptop, both work and leisure, so that keeps me occupied. Afterwards, when we approach our destination and I turn the computer off, I finish the crossword or do few more word puzzles in the paper while the plane lands.

On today’s flight, I was distracted by a movie that a passenger sitting in the seat ahead of me had chosen to see and I was able to look at, through the gap in between the seats. The movie (as it turned out from the end credits, since I had not seen the starting sequence) was “Country Strong”, directed and written by Shana Feste and starring Gwynneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester. I investigated it on IMDB once back home to see whether in fact I would search the movie out to watch.

During the flight, I looked up several times (“eavesrising”? Is that we call eavesdropping for the eyes? ;-) and it seemed whenever I looked up someone was singing on the screen. The film was clearly a musical. As a genre, musicals don’t really attract me, especially the biographical type, which this movie seemed to be as well. Further along the film it was also obvious that the music in question was country – not my favourite genre, either. It is amazing what one can tell about a movie by simply looking at the pictures and not listening to the soundtrack at all – even if the movie in question is a musical.

Just by looking, it appeared that the story was about an ageing country singer with an alcohol problem and a young singer who admires her and want to become like her. Superficially it reminded me of (now, in retrospect, after reading the IMDB plot summary) the classic Bette Davis 1950 film, “All About Eve”. Gwynneth Paltrow is the Bette Davis equivalent and Leighton Meester is the Anne Baxter equivalent. There appeared to be several relationships all going on at the same time and overall “Country Strong” seemed to be just an excuse for stringing together a clutch of country songs for the fans.

The IMDB discussion about the film seems to be polarised. Half the reviews are positive and they are generally by self-disclosed country music fans, while the negative reviews are written by the critics and the non-fans of country music. The plot line according to IMDB is:

A drama centered on a rising country-music songwriter (Hedlund) who sparks with a fallen star (Paltrow). Together, they mount his ascent and her comeback, which leads to romantic complications involving her husband/manager (McGraw) and a beauty queen-turned-singer (Meester).

Now the verdict. Would I seek out and watch this movie on DVD? No. If caught it on TV or the DVD fell into my lap, I would probably watch it while doing something else. If anybody has seen it, enjoyed it and would like to convince me otherwise, please leave a comment.


“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” - Mark Twain

I had a full morning at the conference again today, but fortunately the afternoon was spent having some respite. It was good to go out and relax and forget about work for a while. Decided to go to Fremantle for the afternoon, which proved to be an excellent idea, as the weather was good. We took the train (at $9 for a family return ticket was excellent value) and in 30 minutes we were there. Initially the train was packed as the football was on in the Subiaco Oval and the West Coast Eagles, the home team, was playing.

Fremantle or “Freo” as the locals call it, has a character all of its own and it is so different from that of Perth. There are many fine old buildings that are well preserved and restored to their former glory and one can sense history pervading every street corner when one walks around. The town boasts the best preserved example of a 19th century port streetscape in the world with its world-famous heritage buildings and a fascinating maritime and convict history. Fremantle is a still a busy port and for many people, their first experience of Australia.

The back streets are dotted with dockworkers’ cottages, warehouses converted into trendy apartments and off-the-beaten track local haunts.  Essential stops on the Fremantle WA history trail include WA’s earliest convict jail, the “Roundhouse”, the more substantial Fremantle Prison and the WA Maritime Museum. The Town Hall is a fine example of civic architecture and there are also a number of beautiful old churches.

Supporting this rich history is a strong creative streak that can be sampled in the local arts, crafts, jewellery and hearty food available in the renowned Fremantle Markets. High Street for fashion from local designers, art galleries and Aboriginal crafts and homewares. Most of all, Freo is about soaking up the laid-back ambience; chilling out in a street cafe; enjoying fish and chips fresh off the boat at Fishing Boat Harbour; or enjoying a pale ale at an award winning microbrewery.  Once one is finished relaxing, the town is transformed at night when the street cafes, bars and nightclubs crank up.

The picture is St John’s Anglican Church in Fremantle, a beautiful 130 year-old church with wonderful architecture, magnificent stained glass windows and numerous sculptures both inside and outside the church.