Monday, November 2, 2015


The morning after J was discharged now that her mitral valve leak had been repaired (the fine fibrous tendons which finesse its closure had ruptured - the strings of my heart were broken she confessed in an unguarded moment of truth about her past) and a ring inserted into the tricuspid valve which had collaterally been distorted by a struggling ventricle, we took her for breakfast at Jackies before heading off to the Blue Mountains for a swap to another car to complete the four hour drive homewards.

Jackies is where C told Debbie to stop worrying about turning fifty and for fucks sake, have a party. Which she did.

There's a fashionable women's shop next door, or overhead mostly, as Jackies sits mainly in a gorgeous golden old sandstone cellar. A side service door to the shop is from Jackies upper courtyard. There's interesting comings and goings often enough, and on this morning a fine looking young woman in sensible shoes carried in a bucket chocka with the most gorgeous roses, a soft pale apricot pink rose at once subtle but attention commanding at the same time.

A second bucket arrived as we were leaving. I for one couldn't help myself. I mostly can't. The smell was a thing increasingly rare, and transporting, literally back to childhood. My father's favorites were 'Forty-niner*' and 'Peace", about as old fashioned as old fashioned roses get, or got. I all but swooned and smelt again. "Take one" she smiled, "it's 'Josephine'." 

(* named after the 1849 Californian gold rush)


At last I find some time to log into blogger. While I can't say that I've been aching to do it, not really, there has been something knawing away inside me - the need to keep a rudimentary record of things.

This post started a month or so ago when the first signs of spring appeared and by now we seem to have catapulted into an early summer with storms and humidity already all the go. Everything is green, and there's leeches about and the dog had a tick under her mandible the other week. The ceiling fan over the bed in on most nights, and the lawn scattered with bedding during the day

Things have been a bit askew the past few months. About the only constancy, and comfort, is the diurnal-ness of the bush - kookaburras in the morning calling in the day and a lengthening twilight with wombats out, brazen as ever. These photos are weeks old now, when the summer grass was first shooting.

                                                              (drenched but undeterred)

                                                            (only cute from a distance)

Anyway, as I said, there's been some hiccoughs.

The dog tore a hamstring when she took off one evening in the hunt for whatever - most likely a wallaby or roo, or fox maybe. She came back lame and the dreaded suspicion of a cruciate tear didn't realise, but rather she had a grey-hound kind of injury which needed rest and patience and is now completely healed.

More significantly, there was a fall on a coast walk when someone beloved felt the land give way and snapped both tibia and fibula just above the ankle in a dramatic and instant upheaval, highlighted in its extravagance in that the Police Rescue needed to be involved.

Broken bones in legs are sobering. They highlight vulnerability. They destroy independence. They threaten deformity. And like all illness, they bring you together.

It makes me consider just what courage was involved in the great Dame recovering from bilateral broken femurs. You need the one to support the other and, without the either for the or, a return to weight-bearing seems impossible. But she for one did. While our episode was only the one leg, my (equally big and Scottish) dear one managed admirably.

Here's Joan, back on her timbers in the most matter of fact kind of way and, as usual, dismissive of undue adulation.

And just recently a country friend with neither family nor strong city connections has been our guest while waiting for and eventually having heart surgery. She disguises much of herself well with a visage and patter of unending and not uncommonly inappropriate optimism. Or denial. Is there a difference?

The night before her scheduled appointment with the heart-lung machine (which actually turned out to be a rehearsal of sorts: we were to sit all day waiting, her chatter became less oblique and more grounded as the hours wore on before being told mid-afternoon that it was cancelled and delayed at least a fortnight, sorry about that) she handed me an envelope, awkwardly. Inside was a cash cheque for a large amount of money which I shoved back in with an exclamation of: 'whatever are you thinking?'

'In case you need to dispose of me.' She was as white as the envelope with fear.

I hope to do some dot point memories of some recent shows shortly. Web browsing and commenting is still some way off yet. The back-list needs to be worked through some more still.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


                                                                    (michael sowa)

When we got back home, with the Berlin Philharmonic concert still a very fresh memory, K was especially keen to revisit their Digital Concert Hall (DCH). There was a small window of time to compare the actual in-the-hall experience with that of the transmitted live broadcast. We had subscribed to the DCH some years ago, probably after a similar Berlin visit I'd guess, but it lapsed.

The streaming rate was slower then I think, either their level or ours (which has improved), and the depth of programming may not have been what it is now, of that I'm uncertain. Now they have a speed test you can do for your region, and we were satisfactory, although we still occasionally have a small stall in the upload. Certainly our equipment has improved. Our speakers are one step just short of what I'd really like (the boxless DEQX calibrated Kyron Kronos system) and we've a new projector and a wider screen - all in all still a comfortable domestic experience but with excellent audio and visuals.

There's a trial period with the DCH, and we watched the concert we'd just seen (the Barenboim Tchaikovsky 6 and the fascinating Widmann Devil Cupid) and then the Mahler 1 with Dudamel which we missed by a few days. And then we signed up. It's excellent. The broadcast quality is astounding, and the direction faultless and musically informed to the highest level. The integration of sight and sound is note perfect with phrase and arc 'pull backs' just when that's what you're wishing for.

I'm not recommending subscribing; I don't ever recommend how people spend their money. But I can say there's much to explore. There's a vast library of broadcasts, there's films, and there's interviews (and they are free - see the Widmann interview above and the Yuja Wang interview in the comments of my previous post). But it's hard to avoid the reality that good equipment makes it very much more worthwhile.

We've been watching the movies, starting with the Karajan films (the very beautiful Carlos Kleiber - I Am Lost To The World we already had on DVD). No wonder they are so good at it; they're being doing it for decades. It was HvK who really introduced the concert film with an aggression and ego-centricity of which he was his own master. The pursuit of perfection, and his own place in the centre of it, is something to behold. Even to playing mime to previous recordings, some players dead, the orchestra was worked to the bare finger and bleeding lips.

If the result was sometimes like Disney gone Deutsch

the tradition of matching sight and sound was started.

From last weekend viewing:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


       (RCA album photograph of Johannes Brahms taken c 1879 and from the personal collection of Fritz Reiner)

"I love it" I heard myself saying to the frowning seat neighbour. "It's something I grew up with -- the Van Cliburn", her facies slowly morphing into a look now more like that if I'd said my mother was a Russian princess, or I'd given an obscene inheritance to aboriginal health and joined a monastery.

We had just heard 'Chinese Superstar' Yuja Wang play the Brahm's Second. She is quite a character, oozing charm in a Lena Horne silver spangly fishtail dress, with a jet black bob of hair, and a no nonsense dazzling technique. That she played this "most adult" of piano concertos, "the biggest from the pianistic and musical standpoint" so masterfully caught me by surprise, but it shouldn't. She's late 20s. And Cliburn won Moscow at 24, and recorded the Brahms at 28.

                                               (from her Facebook, not the SSO performance)

Ah yes, I smiled, rifling through the records as soon as we'd arrived in the bush in the black of night and the fire was alight. Of course we played it, just us together now, and quite fine the pressing is still. 'This album is also available in stereo' it says proudly on the back cover, next to RCA 1962.

John Rosenfield, from The Dallas Morning Herald, writes that Brahms was clean-shaven when he started the concerto and 3 years later, now 45, had matured in look and output with a concerto with 'the seething rather than eruptive passions of middle years' and a 'grandeur at times spiritual', in a sense a 'full-blown Brahms symphony with piano obbligato', as Hanslick had written.

While I could muse that maybe the neighbour's frown was that some of the grandeur, orchestral grandeur, and balance was still in the rehearsal room, or maybe whatever else it was, and I felt it was that she simply didn't care for the work (and that I wasn't really in the mood to discuss) it was wonderful to hear it again and have memories stirred. But rest assured that the piano and the cello, Umberto Clerici, were talking in some of its most touching moments, among many, the especially beautiful Adante, the piano like the Woodbird, peace reincarnate, showing the way.

What I didn't know was much about Van Cliburn. Taught by his piano teacher mother, his winning of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, an award endorsed by Richter and ratified by Krushchev, at the height of the cold war and the start of the space race, made Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr an American of ticker tape parade celebrity. Criticised for a contained career, one wonders how much his homosexuality restricted his trajectory. Despite enduring relationships with men, and particularly Thomas J Smith, his sole survivor, he lived with his mother till her death, and American showmanship had big closets, even now let alone then. That he played for Reagan in 1987, at the height of the AIDS crisis, in which he would be embroiled, is forgiven - Mikhail Gorbachov was present.

Louisiana born and Texas raised, he went to Church and kept going to Church, more's the story, and Van Cliburn's church was the Fort Worth's Broadway Baptist Church which now contains the huge organ he donated in memory of his mother. When in 2008 the Broadway Baptist Church faced the controversy of including photos of gay and lesbian couples in its church directory, and welcoming them into full membership, for which it would be expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention, Cliburn was frequently mentioned as a gay member of the congregation.

The final word in this unravelling story of a man "whose talent deeply touched many" resonates well with me. On the other side of the world, a school boy in a suburban house with a radiogram, awakening to his own complexities, and containment, was and remains deeply touched.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The blurb says for Sydney it's been fifteen years since (the four act) Don Carlo(s), the mighty grand Verdi take on politics, religion, insurrection (and sex) was given a run here. It was it seems beyond the scope of the forces, and/or finances, involved and boiled over into a dummy spit by Elijah Moshinsky about the standards of the orchestra with Simone Young, then MD, taking up a strident defence. Now he, and not she, is back.

For me it's been twenty.

Here I am at the grand old age of mumble mumble meeting it for the first time live. In younger days, I waited half a day on the steps of Palais Garnier, all comraderie and false expectations, before retiring ticketless for lunch at (Maison de) La Lozère, a rustic cheapo at the back of the tourist bureaux for the region. And after that, and a carafe or so, we lingered in the luxury of slow time in Paris. I'd been in Paris a month, and C had just arrived.

It was September 27 1986.

Terror was on the streets. Nine days before, the most deadly of a series of bombings spewed death, havoc and more fear through the city as the Tati discount store on Blvde Montparnasse exploded. I was staying nearby at St Sulpice. Armed police, or military, were stationed every fifty metres or less on the streets, and corners. There would be no tickets, standing, returns or otherwise, to off-the-streets for this grand season opener.

Anyway, last night the Don Carlos arrived in Sydney from Melbourne where the reviews have been fairly gushing. I really only wanted tell my little story for my rocking chair days, but I've a few wee thoughts on things.  Many of the now regulars I was hearing for the first time. I don't know the work well, just the few more famous bits, though we watched the Salzburg Kaufmann/Harteros/Pappano (five act) version on the weekend, and then a bit more.

It is long; it is big; it is hard. And they did well. Is it narky to complain at all? Not really - it's hugely expensive. We sat in the front row which is more affordable, but you are denied subtitles (it shouldn't be too hard to organise I'm told) and with a tendency toward anything you can sing I can sing louder, it was seriously loud. And for what it's worth, there were way too many empty seats. There's something wrong here. There should be people waiting half a day of tickets (v.s.).

Ferruccio Furlanetto was outstanding. He stopped the show, rightly so. Really, a tremendously sung and felt Philip. I did like Jose Carbo's Rodrigo. I really like his style. They could call the whole damn thing Rodrigo; he's there, and there, and still there. Diego Torre was pretty unsubtle. The voice is big, and rings, or at least your ears do in the front row, if not bleed. Once (I can think of only once) in the final love duet he softened into some nuance and it was a really lovely sound. Latonia Moore's a big voice too and had the music's measure, if for me again relying a bit too much on more is more. Milijana Nikolic I'd been looking forward to seeing, and she's impressive, and handsome of stage. David Parkin was a very strong ghost, a very young one but then ghosts can sound whatever. Daniel Sumegi was up against Mr Furlanetto and didn't win.

I didn't care for the sets one bit. I know it's a Sydney / Melbourne small stage / big stage thing. But I just do get why you design for a tiny stage by making it two thirds smaller. And then fill it with costumes which cramp it even more. The sets were realist through hyporealism to semi-abstract, and the clincher I-really-don't-like-this was the jail scene where some granite arch, looking like an opera house shell had crashed through, was plonked there some reason still escaping me and for Mr Carbo (bless him) to gingerly tippy toe across without slipping. Now, I have to bitch - a ghost with walking sticks? Can someone help me there?

The production was stand and sing, mostly. Mr Furlanetto got some character into it, Carbo too, and the others tried, but really, detailed it isn't. It guess with something this size, it's consuming enough to get people placed. It really is a massive work. At least they're doing it.

Rushing (to Susan Graham singing Ravel and Respighi), I ungraciously overlooked credit to the great choral work, the well cast minor roles, the really very fine and true Verdi sounds from the pit and the charming Andrea Licita conducting. His score was as fat and squat as it was old, weathered and well fingered, and likely been toted around the globe for yonks. He certainly knew it, and enjoyed it.

Monday, July 6, 2015


I didn't fail Economics 101. I didn't even do it. But I look at Greece, and it's like looking at someone prescribed blood-letting (phlebotomy) and when they look pale and dreadful and nearly dead the doctor says 'mein Gott' you look pale and dreadful and nearly dead, we must take some more blood. Which seems silly, unless you want them dead anyway.

It's all very complicated.

Thankfully, the Washington Post explains all the big words.

And Pyrrhus might have the last word.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Yesterday I found the book of poems Mary gave me. It had been missing for years and occasionally when I'd go through spasms of regret that I'd lost it I'd search again but fruitlessly. Yes, it was in a bookshelf, and it's been waiting for me to be ready for it. It knew.

                         Elizabeth Barrett Browning - Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Mary was my mother's eldest sister, the eldest in a family of five siblings, and with my mother the second youngest of that family, and me the youngest by a long way in ours, then Aunty Mary was a good deal older than I. She had flame red hair and lived, when my memories of her start, in Vaucluse. She was heavily burdened, I suspect, despite very comfortable circumstances, and years later would never fully recover from what was in those days called a mental breakdown. I think about her often, and my cousin Robert, always with the feeling that age was then a barrier which now is finally dissolving such that she can talk and I can listen, through the poems. And fingers touch.

For me this is a very precious gift, a personal selection from another's treasures, from the heart to the heart, slightly worn and aged by her eyes and hands and thoughts, and worries. And there is an envelope with a letter dated 8 May 78. I sometimes think that handwriting is more touching than a photograph.

I've not been good with poetry. The intensity and concentration has often defeated my lazy inclination to stream of thought and less disciplined patterns. It's time.

                                              I thought once how Theocritus had sung
                                          Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
                                             Who each one in a gracious hand appears
                                              To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
                                              And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
                                              I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
                                              The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
                                            Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
                                             A shadow across me. Straightway I was 'ware,
                                               So weeping, how a mystic shape did move
                                            Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
                                            And a voice said in mastery, while I strove, -
                                       'Guess now who holds thee?' - "Death," I said. But there
                                          The silver answer rang, - 'Not Death, but Love.'

Wednesday, June 24, 2015



I put the UND in just to draw attention to it. There's a fair bit of emphasis, naturally, on it. It's all about the joining. Which reminds me (I seem to be getting to that age) of a schools Verse Speaking Competition. The set piece was called "Black and White" and I was marked down for emphasising the 'AND' as I announced the work before starting off : "I met a man along the road ..." Adjudicators be blowed. And is a pretty important word.

Well, no markdowns here for the and and ands.

It's a huge undertaking, mounting Tristan and Isolde, and the Sydney Symphony did a splendid job. It's not a matter of being grateful for small mercies, as in doing it at all, but in succeeding so well. Mind you, I think they should. Do opera in the concert hall I mean. After all, it was the orchestra in its previous ABC life that shunted the opera out of the big (now Concert) hall, dual purpose admittedly, into the then Drama Theatre, now the Joan Sutherland Opera Theatre. That's faint praise. She didn't like it and neither does anybody else.

The Concert Hall looked very impressive. The acoustics rings were pulled up high and the vastness of the space, an acoustic nightmare, was even more apparent. The rear projection screen was a morphed sail x parting proscenium curtains arrangement. The lighting was wonderful, quite stylish. The concert platform was stuffed with players, and the singers sang from behind the orchestra on an elevated platform, below the big screen, with their own rear screen (the black space in the photo above) which served as a sound board and for some lovely soft abstract lighting effects. That they carried so well across the orchestra (despite some criticisms I've heard) is a credit to this sensibly placed backing, themselves, bless them all, and David Robertson who managed the forces at work, and their balance, brilliantly. I thought, thought I.

S Katy Tucker, from New York, whose projections for The Flying Dutchman were so beautifully evocative, was here again. How hard is it to do projections for Tristan? Really hard. Whereas she had focused on the sea and facial closeups in Dutchman, using footage from off Bondi, and Eric Owens astoundingly beautiful eyes, and kept things pretty abstract, I don't think she was quite so successful this time round. Perhaps she had intended to use the singers faces, especially the eyes, the windows, who knows, but the cast changes would have precluded that anyway. The step into literalism with various Adam and Eve like images of idyllic almost teenage gooey love smitten faces and figures in various stages of rapture was a step too far. For me. But this is evolution of the art form, and I am totally supportive. The fine line between emphasising the text and music and distracting from it is a very fine line indeed. I've seen a semi-staged Ring (Budapest) where the projections were sometimes overwhelmingly moving and sometimes clunky. It is as individual as any production decisions and I welcome more. Like a Lohengrin.

(these pics are from Michael Halliway's review)

Robertson and his orchestra deserve great praise. The sound was good, for this hall. The balance was excellent. The detail was there, and the sweep never lost. And the soloists were delicious, especially Tobias Breider's gorgeous viola number. While I might have wished for more indulgence and some goose bumps in the Act 2 duets, like the most beautiful moment of the whole work, the call for the night, O sink hernieder, nothing prepared me for the closing bars where he let them rip in (cliche warning) waves of emotion so strong as to overpower, appropriately, the formidable Isolde of Christine Brewer, drowning here to death in a wondrous outpouring of sound.

Christine Brewer, a mature and experienced Isolde, was a noble stately princess bride lover doomed. I had reservations (she's been here twice) that were swept aside with the sheer stamina, the sheer will power, the lovely middle voice and the every word.

Lance Ryan stepped in for Stuart Skelton who withdrew because of delayed preparation. He needed a potion or some healer. That was a huge disappointment - to not hear his role debut (now to be Baden-Baden before Berlin, London and the Met) in his home city before his home crowd. Ryan we'd heard in Milan in the Siegfried Siegfried and, well, it wasn't much to my liking. But what could be a nasal timbre here was delivered as steel, a bit pitchy wobbly under pressure notwithstanding, effectively broken by his submission to the sword (his guilt, in my book). Stamina again carried the day, or night, or whatever page of Schopenhauer you're on at the moment.

Especially wonderful was Katarina Karnéus' Bragane, with gorgeous voice, emotionally committed, here, there, everywhere, warning, warning. Sadly I missed her Nuits d'été. I'd have gone back just for her if I could.

Kurwneal, that's another big sing, was in good hands with Boaz Daniel and then came Uncle Marke - well, thank you John Relyea, another short notice step-in. A Met stalwart and a world-stage bass here at short notice was rich pickings and he was fabulous.

Angus Wood (Melot) and Harrison Collins (Steersman) and the men of the Sydney Phil Choir were worthy locals, and the Canadian John Tessier a bright beautiful young sailor and shepherd of almost unnerving accuracy.

It cost a fortune and I hope the exclamations and praise, and financial support, and the satisfaction of achievement and success, will keep the momentum. Sydney needs this, especially the major works which simply can't fit into the little black box.

Waiting for transport home we heard that the reason the first few rows thinned out as the night progressed was that from them one could not see the singers, nor the subtitles. People either left or tried to move back to other seating. That's an issue needing attention, or appropriate pricing.

Peter McCallum's rave is here.

Margaret Throsby interviews Christine Brewer here. Really touching.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


It turned out that Navy Day was the following Sunday.

Below the hotel balcony we watched them assemble and after about an hour of various comings and goings and rearranging, they all marched off behind the band in their heavy blue serge uniforms, off down through Baixa towards the river, River Tagus, as the sun started to heat things up for another day in the 30s.

After breakfast we took the subway down to Commercial Square, a grand place of three arms of Government buildings embracing the river and welcoming the world, and a man on a horse, of course

and where by now the troops had arrived and the crowds were building up.

After endless speeches, they all marched off to one side only to reassemble again and return in grand style for the big march past the official dais. Nothing to see there, the dais I mean, but I do like a good band and sailors are, well, you know - hello sailor.

(clicking makes them bigger)

The heavy weaponry followed and, bless them, there were a few guns and things but mostly they were parading their zodiacs of various sizes and the most menacing it got was the camouflage and black face.

Meanwhile, some frogman and sundry others waited on the riverside rocks...

... before scaring the gulls off with a few flares to start the 'show':  (In this photo you can see the famous April 25 Bridge and the Christ (Christo Rei) on the other side of the river.)

The show was two helicopters dropping divers into the river as a fleet of zodiacs sped out from one of two warships and in formation they turned and picked up the dropees on the run.

It would be way too patronising to say it was quaint, but there was a beautiful simple charm to the whole event, bereft of aggression and its hardware.

It all reminded me of the time, long ago time, when the new Queen came to Wagga Wagga (1954) and under equally blue skies and beating sun thousands of school children stood. All I remember was a helicopter coming to winch up a woman (or man in a dress?) waved frantically from the roof of a tin shed in the middle of the oval in a flood rescue demonstration. In checking the date, I found this slightly cringe-worthy yet amusing reflection on colonial adulation and while there's nothing about helicopters or floods (and I don't expect anyone to watch all 14 minutes) it does confirm that it was hot.

And it's Wagga Wagga, not Wagga. Wagga Wagga it's so nice they named it twice.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


The cold biting Atlantic chill which cut through to the bone when we arrived abated day by day, except at the dizzy heights of Sintra (more anon) to where I went twice, and the dizzier cliffs of Carbo da Roca (likewise), once. By the end of the first week even the locals were wilting a little.

And by the end of the week, I'd taken to seeking refuge in the late afternoons in the shade of an almost cantilevered garden - the lovely two levelled belvedere Garden de San Pedro Alcantara - with two fountains and of course a man on a horse (lots of them in lovely Lisbon). There was always a breeze from the river while the castle, plonked stubbornly in the belting sun opposite, baked.

                              (the exposed lower level with the castle opposite and the river in the distance)

 (retreating to the shade of the upper level with fountain, man on horse, cafe, busker, and idling everyones)

This retreat from the heat is a quick fanicular climb from The Avenue of Liberty (the end which meets Rossio) and the hotel - the white building left of the obelisk, second top floor (below the roof terrace) second doors from the left. Wave!!

A funicular!

There's one at the top and one at the bottom and they pass midway, often with cheers from car to car, windows down, excitement all round.

There's several in Lisbon, and here's why:

It's steep. And steeper than it looks, believe me. Notice the leg in the top right hand corner? Leg by day, sex shop by night.

It was here one afternoon, in the lengthening shadows, with a man lifting his dog for a drink from the bubbler  ...

... that there came, of all things, a small naval band in their heavy blue woollens. And they smiled, and warmed up, and one handed out leaflets: Navy Day was coming up.


Lisbon is lovely, a fading lovely, bleaching out and slightly weary, looking backwards and seemingly uncertain about itself. Residents, unprompted, talk openly about how cheap it is, how friendly and welcoming they are to the waves of mainly Germans and French rolling through, and an antique dealer in things of rare exquisiteness even brought forth a list of former colonies and went through each in faltering English, ending with Timor, 1975. He seemed unaware or too discrete to hint at Australia's role in the Indonesian takeover.

But it is not particularly easy, at least at our age. The city of seven hills is exactly that and with every step cobbled, the blessing of staying upright is levied on the knees and feet.

Rebuilt in a hurry after the 1755 earthquake, it's one of those cities where time seems to have faltered.  In the 20th C, the wily Salazar steered the country around the second world war, and it was spared the worst of the ravages of postwar development. Poverty has some advantages. I've just finished Neill Lochery's Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light : essential visitor reading with its tales of wheeling and dealing, spies and spivs, gossip and intrigue, the tungsten trade, and the tragic details of the death of Leslie Howard, forever Ashley in my mind. Our hotel by chance is at Rossio, the centre of it all.

The one flat part of the city is the mainly retail area Baixa, abutting the river between the heights of the old moorish castle on top of the Alfama neighbourhood on one side and funky Alto on the other. But Baixa's crowded narrow streets are best rattled through and back again (gorged with tarts) on the crowded and charmlessly modern tram 15 to Belem, or on the equally ridiculously crowded old rattler tram 28 best caught in the early morning at its origin - at least you can get on and pity the poor locals who with unending generosity, and necessity, tolerate this disney-land of tourists.

28 loops up and down around the city in a crazy figure of eight, the cross-over in Baixa (the flat part for anyone still following) scraping cars and hapless pedestrians off walls as it clatters its way through one of the most delicious tourist rides in the whole wide world. The round trip takes two hours.

Not since Venice is one so assaulted by tourists and one's own status as same.

Baixa, I should addd, is especially interesting for being that section of the city rapidly rebuilt with small dense housing to accommodate as many as possible as quickly as possible after the earthquake. It proudly carries the name of the remarkable Sebastian de Carvalho e Meioe, the first Marquis of Pombal who amongst so much else oversaw the reconstruction of the city and carries his name - the Pombaline part of the city along with its Pombaline architecture.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


It's a long flight: Berlin-Frankfurt-Dubai-Sydney. From up there, down here looks small-minded, bigoted and immature. And extremely selfish. But the air is clean and the coffee good.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


We are about to head off home.

After ten lovely days in Lisbon we came back to Germany for ten days in Berlin, via a short diversion to Rotterdam to catch up with friends. A lot has happened and there's heaps of stories and snaps for later.

We're just back from a hugely emotional night at the Philharmonie. The orchestra is simply in a class of its own and the love that was poured out for Barenboim with a genuine and sustained standing ovation was very affecting.

Earlier in the week any apprehensions about The Love for Three Oranges at Deutsche Oper were quickly dispelled with a witty Carsen production brilliantly delivered (Steven Sloane), sung in the original French with German and English subtitles. It was stunning.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


We've arrived in Lisbon and its seven hills. It feels a bit like being in a crumbly film set. The sun was setting by the time we had wandered down to the river. A chilly Atlantic breeze hurried us along before ducking into a side street restaurant for seared salmon and boiled potatoes brought by the wizen faced man with a single tooth.