Monday, June 30, 2014


Last night it blew a gale, cold as charity etc etc. I took to the bed early with my socks still on, a big cup of hot milo, and the six hundred pages of Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom of which I'm a third the way in and still any thoughts of taking Akabar are only just emerging.

While I'm impatient to get to the Bernanos books which have arrived, I can't skip quickly through Arabia and its all male world (there has yet to be one female character), a world of men whose "strength was the strength of men geographically beyond temptation [of civilisation]".

For whatever it may reveal about me, I can say I had to read twice the description of twenty nine year old Sherif Shakir whose 

"mother had been Circassian, as had been his grandmother. From them he obtained his fair complexion; but the flesh of his face was torn away by smallpox. From its white ruin two restless eyes looked out, very bright and big; for the faintness of his eyelashes and eyebrows made his stare directly disconcerting. His figure was tall, slim, almost boyish from the continual athletic activity of the man.
  [ ] 
In war he was the man at arms. His feats made him the darling of the tribes. He, in return, described himself as a Bedawi, and an Ateibi, and imitated them. He wore his black hair in plaits down each side of his face, and kept it glossy with butter, and strong by frequent washings in camel urine. He encouraged nits, in deference to the Beduin proverb that a deserted head showed an ungenerous mind: and he wore the brim, a plaited girdle of thin leather thongs wrapped three of four times round the loin to confine and support the belly. He owned splendid horses and camels: was considered the finest rider in Arabia: ready for a match with anyone."

Back in the bedroom. Most of all, there's the dog, and her body heat. She presses hard against me, playing jig-saws, moulding herself into my contours, often starting the night on her back and looking face-wards into the bedside light. Last night she crossed her forelegs with a display of nails I couldn't resist catching on the phone.

In a brilliant piece of design, the actual nails are really only half their appearance. Reality is doubled by hairs of matching shape and colour.

(As usual, clicking of photos enlarges them)

Friday, June 27, 2014


Last night (Thursday) the endlessly fascinating Cate Blanchett was in conversation with Anne Summers, feminist, thinker, writer, publicist in front of a sell out house at the Sydney Theatre. The house was very much predominantly female, perhaps as much as 70-80%, with the rest made up of gays and otherwise arty fellows, and the odd husband here and there.

                                                                        (my pic)

It was, for me at least, a rare occasion to see someone of such success and huge fame talking freely, as freely as freely is, about life, career, arts, feminism, and things Australian, not that she hasn't been outspoken before on issues she cares about.  But Anne Summers is a good and gentle foil, and the promise of some genuine insight into Cate Blanchett was well fulfilled.

It was interesting to watch and wonder where performance started and stopped, and perhaps during questions from the floor there was an extra bit of naturalness that crept into her voice, and style, with hints you were really at home with her, or she with you. But that's unfair, to suggest she was any more acting than any of us act all day every day, playing our roles, at home, at work, wherever. The content was never in doubt, always her, and generous and genuine. Most generous.

                                                           (from the twittersphere)

She spoke about her career. How as a young girl she was taken with her mother to see the Mikado starring the "louch" Frank Thring. (Never heard of him? Yes, you have as the first four seconds of this might remind you.) Mid performance the Mikado's black moustache fell to the stage and looking down at it Frank decried 'Damn this cheap Japanese merchandise' and on with the show. She was, she said, thrilled by the risk and danger.

Of a career path that means taking what interested her, not what may or may not be perceived to be the calculated right career path - her first role as understudy to (the great) Kerry Walker.

She spoke of the nerves. Always there are nerves. Shitting bricks, like tonight. And of the need to not see beyond the moment, never looking through the play to the end, and thinking in the wings waiting an entrance 'All I have to do is walk over there and sit in that chair" and it would begin - the interaction with the other players which was all it was about.

She spoke of the search for perfection and the never ending doubt about what's been done. About seeing the world through the eyes of the characters, people you often didn't even like, but who had a perspective and view that needed to be considered. I've often wondered why actors, not all  but many, had seemed to have achieved such worldly wisdom. Here was a clue: they had been many people in many situations, many lives in one.

She takes inspiration from watching children play and interact with honesty and innocence.

She loves and thrives on language, and turns to the dictionary when searching for the elusive. Just what does the word 'must' really mean?

She and Andrew raise the boys, letting them into the wonders of the stage and the arts when appropriate, while domesticity and schooling goes on as normal, even dealing with internet porn well before she ever dreamed she would need.

She abhorred the sexism dished out onto Julia Gillard, who regardless of politics or circumstance would never have been the subject of such filth if she had been male.

She spoke of the years running the Sydney Theatre Company. She answered questions from the floor with humour and honesty.

She gave her time freely, and for that Anne Summers made a donation in her name to the Children's Hospital Randwick, and about six or eight children of varying age came on stage at the end (including the delicious little girl of perhaps four who had her routine well worked out, and peering into the auditorium went through a little dance routine, arms arched over her head for a slow full turn and bow, oblivious to anyone else on the stage, especially Ms Blanchett) and presented her with gifts and flowers.

She restores your faith, makes you proud, and betters the world. Cate Blanchett.

Saturday update: This isn't the 90 minutes we got, but in just three minutes, you get a good idea of what she says, and how well she says it. It is under the Murdoch banner, please forgive. She did.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


The furore over the ugly bigotry (embracing violence) of that Georgian soprano, now 'released' or 'withdrawn' from next week's fast approaching Sydney Otello, went up like a bushfire, catching Opera Australia apparently off guard or head in the sand, or up its back door.

Nicholas Pickard details the company's piss weak (that's me, not Mr Pickard) response here. Strange questions remain however not only about the clumsy way it dealt with the matter but about just what is going on in the shadows and corridors of this massively tax payer funded company.

Norman Lebrecht editorialises that reasons beyond homophobia were the petrol in the molotov cocktail lobbed into OA's final rehearsal schedule. Matters of xenophobia and the employ of foreign artists are mentioned. The timing of the 'release' of the offending material does suggest a trap, while not excusing OA from either poor diligence or otherwise crass denial.

Meanwhile, the company's website not only has yet to list who will sing Desdemona on Friday week, there is no mention of a Desdemona is the cast. Imagine that! At least they could announce that Ms TBA has agreed to perform. (*) Most worrying is that the Georgian soprano (I don't feel inclined to type her name) is still scheduled to sing Tosca in Melbourne later this year. Is this a matter of principle or not? Apparently not.

No mattress for you (I read somewhere) Floria Bigot. Which raises the other ugly side of this nasty affair, and that is the dealing of like with like. Some of the attacks on the singer in question have been no less vile than her own spew, and not so wunderbar at all.

Amid another outcry, but this time completely arse-up, the upcoming Sydney Festival of Dangerous Ideas has pulled a debate titled Honour Killings Are Morally Justified by Uthman Badar, who called the outcry over a worthy topic (Sharia law) with a provocative title but yet to be aired 'baseless hysteria'. That is not to associate the two 'campaigns', but to contrast them.

You see, we live in a country that has lost its governing conscience. The highest legal position is held by a man who believes, and believes strongly enough to legislate, that bigotry is a right.

As the woman said to me in Berlin, I shame for this.

(picture above from OA's Otello webpage)

(*) Armenian Lianna Haroutounian to the rescue.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


It is the month of the long shadows and we are usually in the other hemisphere, missing what can be the best month in the Highlands - short crystalline blue days, long dark snug nights brilliant with galaxial dazzle, and neither bush fires nor snakes to haunt the well-being. This year is persistently and unusually warm and still. No frosts yet. The weather changes worry me if I let them, but for now these days are near bliss.

For the solstice, K lit candles in the bedroom which burned all night.

There's a clearing in the big gardens defined by a circular stone wall. Plans were to have a central fire pit, and on mid-winters evening light a big fire and take our clothes off and dance to flying sparks under the stars. Meanwhile, the candles in the night will do. If this all sounds 60s hippie, that's fine by me.

This morning, Sunday of the winter solstice weekend, the sun rose around seven, lifting itself up over the north east ridge of distant gums and, sitting low, looked right into the bedroom and onto the pillows with sleepy heads still. With the verandah doors just open a dog width, cool morning air slipped in to glance a cheek.

Unlike other climes, flowering goes on all year. Banksias are in full swing, and the Grivillea 'Forest Rambler' which I've hedged at the bedroom window to entice the honey eaters is spotting already, the early sun fleshing out it shell pink beauty.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


We're in the middle of a busy music week with four nights of concerts.

At the Opera House, Emanuel Ax is now four fifths of his way through the Beethoven Piano Concertos with David Robertson and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra while in the City Recital Hall Richard Tognetti (a man of nature it should be remembered) has expanded his Australian Chamber Orchestra to embrace, as conductor for the first time as far as I know, the symphonic world with the natural worlds of Sibelius 6 and Mahler 4.

The Beethoven is astoundingly good and about to climax with the fifth tomorrow night. Ax is such a beauty to watch - self effacing, a dazzling technique without a hint of flash or dash, delivering a quietly thoughtful and meaningful look into the development of these great concerti with complete mastery (and an incomprehensibly perfect trill) supported by and supporting the orchestra in glowing form. Robertson and Ax have something going.

Tognetti's approach to the Sibelius and Mahler affected me significantly. I was in fact rivetted. We were sitting on the first floor opposite Mr Tognetti (having changed seats and nights to accommodate the Beethoven 3 and 4) and he is quite something to watch communicating the when and the how, especially the how, with his orchestra - scratch you could say with a hint of being somewhat, and inappropriately, demeaning - which had been boosted with (mostly younthful, fresh and generally gorgeous) players from all around the world:

Amsterdam Sinfonetta
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
University of Newcastle (on Hunter I think) Conservatorium of Music
Estonian National Opera
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Tapiola Sinfonietta
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Camerata Salzburg
Macau Orchestra
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra
Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Synergy Percussion

Did I say the word 'world' already? This was a lovely and warm and heartfelt bringing together.

The Sibelius was unusually vigorous, even muscular, without any sacrifice in the beauty of the ACO string sound (its very beautiful) and the light he shone onto / into a work I find pretty evanescent brought textures and shapes that had escaped me. This was crystalline snow in the brightest of light. One could venture to say antipodean in approach.

The Mahler 4 - again there was a measured and studied careful beauty in the parts, such that while the parts may not have ever been more than their sum, nor perfectly balanced, the sheer beauty of and joy in the music making made me want to go again and wallow in them.

But Beethoven called. And as the very contented audience left the Concert Hall the next night after the Beethoven 3 and 4, fireworks exploded appropriately over the house and harbour. Alas not for Mr Ax, who deserved no less, but apparently because we had won a football match, something Mr Robertson had kept us informed on at interval and at the close of the concert.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


There's something wrong, which anyone who knows anything about kelpies should pick, in this iphone snap of a late afternoon walk through the bush after a downpour. The lowering sun in your face made everything all but monochrome and the wet forest floor glistened silver.

But kelpies never walk behind. They lead. She is always a few metres ahead, and I had to call her back to try, unsuccessfully, to capture that special moment when she walked through the light. She's facing  the wrong way.