Old folk at lunch

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Anne's birthday plus two things that did not happen


Anne was deadset on going to the Hilton for her birthday so I took her there on Saturday.  I almost always find fancy places like that disappointing.  The food is often "innovative", which usually means "strange".  So I was not totally surprised at the strange dinner we did get.  I thought that ordering a mixed grill for the both of us would be pretty safe but it wasn't.  It allegedly included: "slow roasted pork belly. outside skirt. kangaroo fillet. lamb cutlet. duck breast. handmade italian sausage. lemon. salsa verde. micro greens."

That sounds OK on a quick glance but the "sausage" was just some sort of small rissole and the last two items were just some kind of sauce.  I am quite keen on mixed grills but I have never before come across one consisting of meat only.  No eggs, no bacon, no fried onions, no salad etc.  And I didn't even get a bread roll with it!  And the dessert I ordered again sounded good on paper but turned out to be tiny: Good for the waistline, I guess.  And the ambiance was non-existent.  We were seated facing a blank wall!  A very poor return for the nearly $200 I spent. No wonder they had so many empty tables on a Saturday night.  I didn't complain about it to Anne or any one else at the time but I will never set foot in that place again.  I often host family dinners at the Bollywood which cost me $300+ so I don't mind spending the money. I just like to get good food and good value for money.

Next morning was better.  Anne and I went along to a breakfast organized by her son Byron at "Lock & Load", a West End cafe we know well.  Byron has two little boys so I sat with them and had the sort of fun I always have with little kids. They amuse me and I amuse them.  The food was good as it always is there.  We had it in the back garden, which makes a pleasant venue.  A much better ambiance than at the Hilton.  If I were a Muslim I would say:  "Death to the Hilton".  Fortunately, my values are Christian.

The things that did not happen:  I have in past years put on a Burns night on 25th but that got a bit hectic for an old guy like me. With a birthday on 23rd and Australia day on 26th it was a lot of celebrating.  So I no longer do a Burns night.

But, as it happens, our usual family BBQ on Australia day was cancelled at the last minute so I had a quiet day.

That evening, however, Joe came in to help me set up a small computer museum.  So, in addition to my Windows 10 main computer and my notebook computer, I now have a DOS machine and an XP machine up and running.  Joe did all the work as he knows a lot about hardware as well as being a programmer. He told me recently that he is writing some firmware for his employers, which I found impressive -- though I suppose it is just another "C" exercise.

UPDATE:  Joe wrote the program using C#, which is blue, he tells me, in a rare burst of synaesthesia. C# is a Microsoft version of "C"




Friday, January 1, 2016

A quiet New Year



With Anne being away I spent my New Year's eve pretty much alone.  Joe came in however and connected the new DVD drive for my computer so that was good.  The new drive does work well.  I watched an operetta DVD on it and the new drive did not hang up on a bad patch where my other DVD players did.

And I decided to go shopping at Aldi to see what the latest of their ever-changing range was. I was rather pleased to see that Aldi do markdowns on slowly-moving stock too. I bought a few things, including an allegedly Angus beef family pie for $3.59.

That night I microwaved a frozen dinner of Gyoza plus Udon noodles that was quite good.  Frozen dinners have improved a lot these days.  I had it with leftover salad from Tuesday, a leftover bread roll and some leftover tomato juice.  It added up to a reasonable dinner.

Today I went in search of breakfast at the Buranda shopping center, as I often do.  As I expected, it was all closed up but as I also expected, the Pakistani kebab shop over the road was open.  They do quite a good kebab so I had that.  One of the sauces offered for the kebab was "chuckney" sauce.  I deduced that "chutney" was meant so ordered that.  It was nothing like any chutney I know but it was OK.

I then decided that I needed a treat so noted that the frozen yoghurt shop was open.  I went in and had a bowl of half mango and half chocolate flavour topped with mulberries.  A definite indulgence.

And for dinner I had the discounted pie that I bought from Aldi.  It was fine.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

An early New Year's eve


Anne will be away bushwalking on New Year's eve so we brought our celebration forward to today.

Anne brought along some fresh Sydney rock oysters as she usually does for special dinners. They are small but very tasty.

We had our favourite main course: Lots of lamb cutlets with plenty of salt and fried onions -- plus salad and bread.  I guess it seems humble but it suits us.

It may surprise some but lamb is a rather dear meat in Australia these days.  Not many families can have it routinely.  There is a lot of demand for the bodies of our dear little woolly creatures from overseas, which jacks up the price.

Von and Simon live in NZ sheep country and they in fact produce lambs with some regularity.  So they can always have all the lamb they want as long as they can explain to little Hannah where all the dear little lambs have gone.  Not easy!

Simon told me where NZ sheepmeat mostly goes but all that I can remember is that mutton mostly goes to India.  What the main markets for hogget and lamb are I forget -- but I think the Middle East is big somewhere there.

We had a bottle of St. Henri shiraz with it.  St. Henri used to be regarded as the second best wine from Penfolds after Grange. That may not still be so.  It is a fairly expensive drop but nowhere near as dear as Grange. It used to be a lighter wine than Grange and it still is but it is much closer to Grange these days.  Anyway, it went down well

We finished off with some Christmas pudding and cream.

Then we took a trip to the Mozarthaus in Salzburg to take in an excellent performance of one of the world's most famous comic operas, Così fan tutte.  We went there via my big screen and a two-DVD set I have recently acquired.  You see more on DVD than you would by going there physically anyway.

As anybody who knows the show will tell you, it was was 200 minutes of silliness,  but amusing silliness.  It was the 2013 performance that I have.  I did not know any of the singers but it was a good production all round:  Minimal sets but lots of wonderful Mozart music.

BTW:  People who know no Italian sometimes pronounce the name of the show as if it were "Cosy fan tutte".  It is not.  The squiggle on top of the i tells you that the final syllable is accented.  It is an "ee" sound. Italian almost always stresses the penultimate syllable but, like all natural languages, it has some irregularities.

UPDATE

Von found the useful chart below about where our lambs go. The big consumer is Europe, followed by Japan. Makes sense. There's lots of well-off people there. Australia and New Zealand may sell into different markets, however.



Friday, December 25, 2015

A good Christmas


On Xmas eve Jenny put on a sausage sizzle for 6 of us: Herself & Nanna, Joe and Kate and Anne and myself.  The sausages were allegedly by Heston Blumenthal but the degree of his involvement must be speculative.  They were good anyway.  Sausages are one of my favorite foods.  And we had a good Pavlova for dessert.

So Kate had a real family occasion for Xmas even though she was away from her own family.  There were 3 generations present, including a 91 year old grandma.

Jenny had presents under her tree for us all and Anne brought along some presents too. I just handed out cheques of a sufficient amount to buy something pretty good.  They seemed well received.  Nanna said she is going to spend her cheque on a "nice" new watch.

Joe got a game called "5 second rule" which we all later played. To progress in the game you have to answer simple questions very rapidly.  My brain has slowed down in my old age so I was hopeless at it.  Kate was the youngest present and she won it.

And on Xmas day Joe drove us out to Suzy & Russell's place -- our frequent venue for family occasions.  We had cheeses for morning tea including one that was vegetarian -- made from tofu or some such!  I didn't try it. Lunch was mainly the product of a big and nicely cooked ham, with accompaniments, of course.  There was no food-freakery about our Xmas fare.  It  was totally "incorrect" according to a lot of modern notions but we all just bogged in to it all.  Timmy had brought along some creations based on Tim Tams that seemed likely to cause instant diabetes!

I talked mainly to Jenny, Ken and our Squadron Leader.  He really is a Squadron Leader -- back in Brisbane for the holidays.  Not being an airforce type, I always have to ask him if he is a Squadron Leader or a Wing Commander but he informed me that Wing Commander is way too high up for him.  He doesn't fly aircraft but he does supervise them.  We had a big debate at one stage over whether fantasy fiction is good fiction.  Ken and I thought not and Kate weighed in with a defence of Harry Potter.

We talked a fair bit about global warming at one stage, which we all find hilarious.  Kate was not aware of the facts about it so Joe, Ken and I explained it all to her.  As a psychology graduate, she is familiar with the concept of statistical significance so was surprised to hear that the differences between average global temperatures for recent years have not been statistically significant.

In that case, a scientist should report that global temperatures have been flat for nearly 20 years -- with no warming whatsoever.  As Kate said in proper philosophy of science terms, the null hypothesis should have been accepted. The media however always report the tiny differences -- usually in one hundredths of one degree -- as showing that the recent year has been the "warmest".  Sadly, most people believe it.  Tiny random fluctuations are held to prove something.

I actually spent most of Xmas eve writing a small essay about global warming and I made some other points to Kate that are the same as the last two paragraphs of that essay.

So it was a day of interesting and fun discussions.

For the kids there was a water balloon fight in which some of the adults joined too.  That was obviously the biggest fun of the day. There were three littlies present: Dusty, Sahara and Ava-Marie.  Little Ava-Marie has turned out to be a very pretty little girl.

We arrived at about 10 o'clock and left at about 3 o'clock. As soon as I got home I had a big nap.

At around 7pm Anne arrived at my place after being at her son's place for most of the day.  We watched the Queen's Xmas message and then had our usual Christmas night supper: ham sandwiches.  I always buy the ham for our Christmas lunch so get to take a few  offcuts with me when I leave to go home. So it makes very nice ham sandwiches later on

I liked the Queen's Christmas message.  I was please that she quoted chap. 1 of the Gospel of John, a most interesting chapter that I have studied at great length.  I can even recite some of it in the original Greek!  The gnostic elements in it make it interesting.

I am rather pleased to see that the Queen, who is Head of the Church of England, is actually a Christian.  As she said in her 2014 message: "For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life."

UPDATE:

And Anne and I carried on our gastronomic adventures into Boxing day.  For breakfast Anne made us some chipolata sausages and beans with fried onions and and a fried egg.  Plus toast off course.  It is undoubtedly humble food but I enjoyed it.  It is food of my own ethnicity and I am happy about that.

And that night was a Saturday night, which is my sandwich night.  I don't like going out on Saturday night among all the drunks so I eat at home and use the time to indulge myself with another of my likes: Sandwiches.

And the bread you use for sandwiches does matter.  For some reason unknown to me the far-and-away best white bread in Brisbane comes from Chinese bakers. So I went to the brilliant Chinese bakery at  the Woolloongabba Fiveways and got a loaf of it for my sandwich night.

We still had some ham off the bone left over from Christmas so we had ham sandwiches without any pickles or anything else on them.  And that was great.

The Chinese also make brilliant meat pies, rather surprisingly, so when I was there I saw some of them winking crustily at me in the display cabinet so had to buy one of them too.  Anne and I had half of it each.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A welcome visit


I was pleased today to receive a visit from Martin C**, a relative on my mother's side.  As far as I can figure he is my second cousin.  And he looked in good form.  He is a good-looking blue-eyed and good humoured man in the prime of his life.  He even has hair. I have some but he has more.

I got my brother to come along as he is the one who is up with our family genealogy.  Martin has done heaps in that direction so I needed help with that.

I was amused to find that Martin is like most of my relatives -- very conservative,  I am not going to dob him in but what once was said of Syngman Rhee (who was he?) is roughly true of Martin: "He is so far Right that he is almost out of sight".  My brother and my son are similar so Martin was in congenial company.  It's a pity he does not live in Brisbane normally. He would be a fun guest on many occasions.  I would like to hear him talk to some Leftists.  They wouldn't believe their ears.

He lives in the far North, where I come from. And views such as his or mine are perfectly mainstream there. I suspect that my surviving sister, Mrs. Smith (Yes. That really is her name), might think that way too. I know she loathes Arabs. She lived in Saudi for a couple of years, while her husband was working there, so experienced first-hand the disgusting way Arabs treat women.

Martin very kindly brought with him a selection of the photographic treasures he has discovered.  Below is one of old Paulina, when she was working as a maid in England.  She was my great-grandmother on my mother's side.



Another very rare picture below -- of old Joe, Paulina's husband. We have quite a few pictures of him but this is unique.  It shows him as a boy with HIS father.



Note the sharp shoes on the father. And note his confident stance. A man of fashion? My father was "a bit of a lair" in his youth

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hummus




I like hummus so when I was in Woolworths recently I asked an employee where where I could find some.  She promptly directed me  to the appropriate place on the shelves.  And I found there a number of offerings. And the one I bought was excellent.

But, being an old guy, I could not help reflecting on how differently my enquiry might have been received one or two decades ago.  I would have got: "Hummus?  What's that? We don't stock it".

How times have changed -- for the better.

I look forward to hearing of Von's experience with hummus.  Do they have it in the shaky isles?


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Le nozze di Figaro





I have just finished watching on DVD a 2006 French performance, sung in the original Italian with English subtitles, of "The Marriage of Figaro" by Mozart.  It is one of the most famous operas of all time so I am perfectly sure that I can say nothing original about it -- except perhaps to say that I still prefer Viennese operetta. Operetta is shorter and wittier.  But Mozart's wonderful music makes up for everything, of course.  The overture is one of my favourite pieces.

So what I want to do now is just to leave a few notes here for my own future reference about the cast of the performance I saw. I might at first note something amusing, however.  Apparently there was an IKEA in the 18th century!  The opening scene is of Figaro putting bits of a disassembled bed together!  In the original libretto he is just measuring up the room at that point so the producers of this show obviously had a little joke.

Pietro Spagnoli as the Count was very Italian, rather like a Mafia Don, so definitely well-cast.  Luca Pisaroni as Figaro is actually Venezuelan-born but probably from Italian parents.  He grew up in Italy, anyway. He gave a very strong performance.

Well-known German soprano Annette Dasch was strikingly pretty as the Countess.  She is quite tall too, taller than everyone else in the cast aside from Figaro -- and she seems about the same height as him.  And we see at one point that she is wearing FLAT shoes!

Her looks rather show up the gaunt-looking Welsh soprano Rosemary Joshua as Susanna, though Susanna was very well played.  Joshua is very experienced in that role. Maybe Joshua was on a very severe diet at the time. I gather she was born in 1970 or thereabouts so should not have been noticeably aged in 2006.

I disliked Austrian mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager as Cherubino. She is probably a fine woman but I thought she was very unconvincing in the role.  But I detest trouser roles anyway.  The part was originally written for a male so why not stick with that?  I appear to be quite out of tune with the times in that matter, though.  There is actually a currently fashionable feminist claim that men can play women's roles and women can play men's roles and it makes no difference.  As far as I can see, the difference is in fact highly visible.  It is just not good casting.

Looking into the ethnicity of opera singers is a little hobby of mine.  I like to guess what they are on first encountering a singer, even though I mostly get it wrong.  So Sophie Pondjiclis as Marcellina quite puzzled me. At times she looked very Italian but at others did not.  So I looked her up.  She is Greek.  So that rather solved it.  Greeks can be as explosive as Italians but don't do it as often.  That is as I have seen it, anyway.

Some of the info above was a little hard to get. Most of the singers are not well-known.  I very often in such searches find that I can get the info I want from sites in German only.  There is just nothing in English.

When looking up Pondjiclis there was nothing useful in English so I got the info off a non-English site.  I assumed that I was reading German but when I looked closely I saw it was in French, a language I have never studied. The foreigners begin at Calais, you know, to bowdlerize an old expression.

But, if I know roughly what the text is about, I find I can follow most European languages.  I remember reading a scientific paper in  Romanian once!  With only two major exceptions, European languages are all related, so the Latin, Italian and German I have studied open up other European languages fairly easily.

There are online quite a lot of excerpts from this performance, particularly of the arias sung  by Annette Dasch.  Below are two. Both have English subtitles.  The first is "Dove sono i bei momenti":



And we also have "Che soave zeffiretto"



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A small health crisis


I don't make a habit of recording my fortunately rare ailments but being an old guy, I am inclined to mention the badder ones. I got a severe attack of diverticulitis on Saturday morning (Nov. 28).  I was pretty sure what it was as I was found to have diverticuli many years ago and have had the very occasional attack since.  In the past I have always "cured" them by simple steps such as going on a liquid diet for a day or two.

This attack was a very painful one, however, and was, as such, pretty disabling.  So I thought it could be something more serious than inflamed diverticuli.  I therefore took myself off to my usual private hospital and had a CAT scan, as one does.

The service at the hospital was first class as usual.  I saw a very good duty doctor and was in the scanner not much longer than 30 minutes after I had walked in the door.  Try to get that promptness of treatment from a public hospital!  It cost me a net $160 to walk in the door but after that my health insurance covered everything.

The scan confirmed diverticulitis so I was given a couple of intravenous infusions of antibiotics and sent on my way with a scrip for Augmentin, the current drug of choice for diverticulitis. The Dr wanted to admit me but I have had enough of hospitals, even the ones that are first class.  But the infusions I got did seem to reduce the problem to a degree so I felt my choice was reasonable anyhow.

When I took the Augmentin tablet that night, however, it gave me terrible nausea, a known side-effect.  I was chucking for about 6 hours.  So the cure was marginally worse than the disease.  So on Sunday and Monday I took nothing at all, in my usual way.  I am no pill-popper. At age 72 I take nothing routinely, which is apparently rather rare

But the problem was still grumbling away to some extent first thing this morning so I went and saw my GP at mid-morning. He agreed that Augmentin can be a problem.  He said he can't take it either, as it gives him diarrhoea.  It's a clever drug but not right for everyone.  So the Flagyl and Keflex I got from my GP have had some use now with good results already appearing.  I should be right pretty soon.

Anne was very helpful while I was really ill, doing what she could for me.  I am still keeping to fairly mushy food at the moment so I got her to feed me some scrambled eggs for my tea tonight.  She makes excellent scrambled eggs so they went down very well.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

An army reunion


Two of my fondest memories are of my teens when I was a "Bible bashing bastard" (to use Gough Whitlam's description of his mortal enemy, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen) and my early 20s when I was a member of Her Majesty's Australian armed forces.  Fundamentalist Protestantism requires a bit of discipline and the army does too and, as a result, both generate cameraderie, which is a good feeling.

My army career was in no way glorious, though not inglorious either. Though I am inclined to believe that at one stage I may have been the most inefficient Sergeant in the Australian Army.  Unless he is being kind, our USM at the time, Rod Hardaker, will probably concur with that.

My unit was 21 Psych, a CMF unit. CMF was the name for Army reserves at the time -- part-time soldiers, though I in fact went on full-time duties a few times and ended up getting my discharge from a regular unit.

Being a professional corps, the psychology corps was a little different from other army units -- as was remembered several times at the reunion of our Brisbane tentacle of it last night.  It was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the unit -- held at the well-known Kedron/Wavell rissole, which is in fact located at Chermside.  The consensus last night seemed to be that we were smarter than the rest of the Army.  That was probably true, as we were nearly all university people.

The difference that has always amused me is that I found kindred spirits for my love of early classical music in the unit. Both the USM and the OC were like-minded.  So that may have earned my bumbling ways more tolerance that would  otherwise have been the case. I can't imagine another army unit being commanded by people of such arcane tastes, though one of the university regiments might be a possibility.

I was pleased to see that Colonel George Kearney was both present and looking robust -- a man of both academic and military distinction. He must be in his 80s now.  But he still managed a stentorian voice for his talk to us all.  And he still has hair!

His vintage showed in his choice of dress, however.  Dress was specified as casual and his dress was indeed a form of casual:  Reefer jacket with grey trousers. I have in fact worn that myself at times in the past but I think its fashionability dates to the '60s or thereabouts. Just as old ladies often wear the hairstyles of their youth, old guys tend to wear the fashions of their youth. The young folk of today must at times be nonplussed by the number of decrepit-looking old guys getting around in shorts much shorter than is now normal.  But we wore such shorts way back when so we still do

It was also interesting to see how the majority present interpreted casual.  There was great consensus that it meant dark trousers and an open-necked checked shirt.  I wore that too.  I "fitted in" for once!

There were actually other similarities among those present: Most were healthy-looking tallish old folks, mostly in their 60s, I would guess, but there was of course a considerable age range. A sadness was that most of us had thickened at the waist but mostly not by a lot.  Both Rod Hardaker and I were, however, among the less virtuous in that regard.

I was remembered during the night mostly for an accident.  During drill for recruit training, I managed to stab myself in the hand with a bayonet.  I think that made the day for most of those present at the time.  I still have the scar. A scar of honour?  Maybe.

I think there were about 60 people present at the gathering so I was a bit disappointed that many of the people from my time were not there.  I was however pleased and interested to greet those I did recognize.  The time that wounds all heels had changed most of us so greatly, however, that we mostly didn't recognize one-another at first.

I am afraid that my native jocularity burst its banks at one stage when I was talking to Peter Muir.  By way of announcing that Peter and I had been at camp together at one stage, I announced to those present that Peter and I had slept together!  In case that produced confusion, I followed that up with a comment that "But those army beds were very uncomfortable".  All present would have recognized a reference to the foldable canvas stretchers that we slept in at camp. I think there were about 8 men per tent in them.

Most of the evening was just spent chatting and catching up but we did have some short talks after a couple of hours -- mostly  reminiscences.

I am rather peeved that John Howard abolished the army psychology corps on the grounds that civilians could do the work more cheaply. If you are evaluating someone's suitability for the army, who better than other army men?  I am told however that the civilians who got the job were in fact largely former army psychologists.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Guy Fawkes, a dinner and a 4-year-old


Yesterday was Guy Fawkes day: "cracker night".  But we are not allowed to own or use fireworks these days in most of Australia.  You now have to go to New Zealand to honour that historic and fun tradition.  We are now "safe" from ourselves.  Good that the Kiwis allow people to take their own risks.  And I see that Von has introduced Hannah to her heritage in that regard.

But all was not lost. The evening was still a good one for me. I shouted Jill and Lewis a pre-Christmas dinner at the "Sunny Doll", my favourite Japanese restaurant.



Anne and Jill have a lot in common.  They both do a lot of travelling and both read a lot of books.  So they chatted around 2 hours away without scratching the surface.  They are both very chatty ladies but they listen too, which is not true of all chatty ladies.  Lewis and I were left to chat to one-another for a fair bit of the time but Lewis always has plenty to say so that worked too. We had plenty of laughs anyway.

Lewis is a good example of how much we owe the Ashkenazim.  He was a pharmacist for most of his life so is pretty cluey. But he has had rather a lot of bad luck. Despite having lowish blood pressure he had a rather bad stroke shortly after his retirement.  But he fought back against it and has recovered very well.  He can drive again etc.

And he immediately took an interest in the subject of stroke.  He involved himself with other stroke patients and helped them with rehabilitation.  And he became such an authority on stroke, that, at age 82, he gets called on to give medical students a talk on the subject.  And, among the many other things he does, he also became a "visitor" at the "Wesley", a private hospital that we all go to for medical services in our old age.  So he goes around the wards just offering a friendly word and a friendly ear to people laid up in their hospital beds.  He could just stay at home and watch TV but he has got that restless Ashkenazi energy and likes to be active.  So he is well-known and appreciated at the Wesley.

But the Wesley is very popular and has only 500 beds (public hospitals often have over 1,000) so there are occasions when they are "on bypass" -- i.e. they tell the ambulance service that they are full and cannot take in new patients.  And that happened recently when Lewis had a bad turn and the ambulance was called.  After they had put Lewis in the ambulance and asked him where he wanted to go, he said the Wesley, of course.  But the ambulance did not move off.  He asked them what was the problem.  They told him the Wesley was on bypass. He said to them:  "Tell them who you have get on board".  They did and the Wesley immediately  accepted him

He told me that story last night and I pointed out to him that what happened was a good example of what one of mt favorite Bible texts says.  In Ecclesiastes 11:1 we read: "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days" (ESV).  In other words, do good without thought of reward and a reward WILL come.  He earned and got the special treatment he received.

I ordered for all of us at the restaurant, as I know the offerings well.  We had a dish of tempura vegetables to start and I ordered Chicken Teriyaki Don for Jill and Lewis.  I had my current favourite, which is Omurice with pork --  and I ordered a Pork Belly bento for Anne.  It is quite a big bento there so everyone was impressed by it, including Anne, as I knew she would be.


Chicken Teriyaki Don

And now for the 4-year-old.  After the dinner Anne told me a little story about one of her sons when he was 4.  I have always found age 4 to be the most gorgeous age for a bright child.  They do and say such funny things.  I adored Timmy and Joe at that age.  So Anne's boy at age 4 had figured out the clock to some extent.  And he noticed that he usually got his lunch at around 12 noon.  So promptly at noon he would sit himself down at the kitchen table waiting for his lunch and would yell if he didn't get it.  Anne was of course not always ready to give him his lunch at exactly that time but her son's actions certainly hurried her up.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The cup



Once again I watched the Melbourne cup along with most of my fellow Australians. And it was exciting as ever, with a huge change in ranking at the last minute.  And it was a 100 to 1  outsider that came forward at the last moment to win.  Big Orange led for most of the way and would have looked a cert for anyone unfamiliar with cup runs.  It fell right back at the end, however.  And the winner, Prince of Penzance, was a New Zealand horse ridden by a female jockey, the first female jockey to win a Melbourne cup.

New Zealand horses often do well but this horse was originally bought for only $50,000 so is still a huge surprise. The owners were six mates. Describing themselves as “small fry owners", the men decided to pool their cash and buy a nag they hoped might win at a country meeting. They probably backed their own horse at 100 to 1 so will be rich men now.

I drew the favorite in a sweep but none of the three I drew got anywhere.  But Tom Waterhouse also got it wrong so I am in good company.


The ever immaculate Tom with wife Hoda, a lady of Iranian origins

And a home-made dress won the Fashions on the Field competition


28-year-old Emily Hunter wore an outfit run up by her mother.  She is now in line for some very rich prizes, worth around $100,000 all up.

I can't myself see what was good about the winning outfit but what I know about fashion would fit on the back of a small postage stamp.  I do note however that the winning outfits over the years have tended to be fairly conservative


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Olives from Spain and tomatoes from Italy: Why?


Various people exhort us to read the label on the bottles and cans that we buy.  Greenies want us to be sure that the contents have not hurt any whales, food-freaks want us to be sure that no salt has ever come near it and patriots want us to avoid buying anything imported.

And I DO read labels, but for a quite different reason from the three above.  I like the information they contain about economics.  They don't actually mention economics but they still tell us various things about economies.

The labels that particularly interest me are on the El-cheapo cans  on the bottom shelves of supermarkets -- usually bearing some sort of "House" brand. And what they tell us about the world is quite amazing.  They tell us that CHINA FEEDS THE WORLD.  Not only do they make almost all of our electrical gadgets these days but they also feed us all to a significant extent.  "Made in China" is what you nearly always read on those "Home brand" bottles and cans.  Chinese groceries now populate the world.

People tend to sneer at such goods but for the many who prefer to keep their money for beer and cigarettes, China is a godsend.

So how come?  Doesn't China have its work cut out feeding its own 1.3 billion people?  It's those clever Chinese farmers.  They can make crops spring lushly out of even unpromising ground.  Let me give an historical example of that:

Two of my great grandfathers were in on the Palmer River goldrush.  The 19th century was a century of goldrushes as new lands were opened up -- and one of the goldfields was on the Palmer river in far-North Queensland, Australia.  And much gold was dug there by people from all over the world.  And Chinese miners were there too.

Some of the Chinese, however, realized that they could win more gold by using their farming skills.  The miners had to eat and bringing in food from South was very expensive.  So the Chinese market gardeners got more  gold from selling their produce than they ever would have got by mining.

BUT:  The soils on Cape York Peninsula (where the Palmer lies) are notoriously poor and shallow.  So what to do about that?  Easy: The Chinese gardeners went all around collecting people's shit -- the traditional fertilizer of China, India and lot of other places. Shit-collecting is real shit-work but it is amazing what people will do for gold. And shit is great fertilizer so the Chinese market gardens flourished.  You can still see patches of lushness where the Chinese gardens were as you travel through the area to this day.

So the Chinese are great farmers and much of China is fertile so they coax amazing amounts of food crops out of their farms. China is about the same size as CONUS, Australia and Canada (about 3 million square miles in all 3 cases) so they do actually have a lot to work with -- enough to feed their own 1.3 billion people plus feeding lots of us.

And you can learn all that by reading labels!

But sometimes you can get a surprise.  You pick up a cheap can and expect to see "China" somewhere on the label but in fact see the name of some European country.  Why would Europeans want to send their stuff half way around the world to Australia?  Easy: Because of the EU common agriculture policy, which is mostly aimed at propping up French peasant farmers but which affects the whole of the EU.

Europe's problem is one that makes Greenies say "nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah" when you tell them about it.  Now that fracking has put panic about oil running out to rest, the Greenies these days are constantly prophesying that we will run out of food (Global warming, you know).  European agricultural administrators must wish there was some truth in that because their problem is the opposite: Europe produces TOO MUCH food -- more food than they can sell.  They pay their farmers big  subsidies to produce all the excess food and then pay Australians and others to eat it. Insane of course but that's politics.  You wouldn't want to contend with angry French farmers either.

So when I recently picked up from my local supermarket a very cheap bottle of Manzanilla olives from Spain and some very cheap canned tomatoes from Italy it was because the EU was selling the stuff off at a fraction of its cost just to get rid of it.  In the old days they used to donate it all to Russia (They did!) but Russia feeds itself pretty well now that they have got rid of Communism

Still, I suppose it is good that the Chinese have some competition.  Pity the European taxpayer, though.  Interesting things, those labels, aren't they?

Incidentally, olive trees grow so well in Australia that in South Australia they are regarded as weeds!


UPDATE:

I am pleased to report that I have at least some readers who know stuff.  One reader has asked how I square surplus olives with reports that this year's olive crop is way down due to unfavorable weather

In a way, the question answers itself.  The big jar of olives that I recently bought is NOT the product of this year's crop.  It has been known since ancient times how to store olives and I am sure that the EU people of today are really good at it. And in the way of these things, the EU bods would not sell off their stuff straight away.  They would wait until all hopes of a normal sale were gone.  So goodness knows when my olives came off the tree.  They taste great anyway

Another thing that I believe to be true but have not researched is that olives grown for oil and olives grown for human consumption are different.  So a shortage of oil olives may not tell us much about the supply of eating olives.

For what it's worth, I NEVER these days buy ANY European olive oils -- not even the big green tins of "Olio Sasso.  Diretta importata dall Italia" that I remember from my childhood.  Italian and Spanish olive oil distributors have really blotted their copybooks with contaminant and substitution scandals so I now buy  Australian olive oil exclusively.  Australian olive oil is a Southern European product made with Northern European ethics. So there are pyramids of Spanish and Italian olive oil in my local supermarket but I bypass them all.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Long time no see


Up until yesterday, I had not seen Sandra since she was 4.  She is now 35 and we met at my place for afternoon tea yesterday.  Both her parents were once good friends of mine but over the years I had lost touch with them, much to my regret.  And both died around 15 years ago.  So it was a pleasant surprise when Sandra found me on Facebook and got in touch.

There were a lot of family disruptions during her childhood so she did have a difficult childhood that has left its mark.  She now however seems to have got over most of that.  Her parents had tended not to talk much about their past, which was once very common, so I was able to tell her a lot about her parents that she did not know and was very pleased to hear. She was particularly pleased to hear my fond recollections of Alec, her father.

I think I was able to be helpful and supportive to Sandra in various ways so I expect to be hearing from her again.  Her  father and I saw eye to eye on most things so I should be able to express thoughts and viewpoints similar to what her father would have wished to say to her were he still alive.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A boy turns 4


4 is a wonderful age for a bright child.  They can observe, reason and talk -- and they do.  But given their still limited range of experience, the conclusions they come to can be hilarious.  They get things wrong but you can see their reasoning.  A quarter of a century ago, both Timmy and Joe were great examples of that and I remember that time with great fondness.

But a new generation has now arisen and the latest to turn 4 is Dusty.  Suz and Russ put on his birthday party on Saturday.  It was a lunch and whenever I have been invited to a lunch in the past, it has been my practice to skip breakfast -- so that I would have the capacity to try a few things on offer at the lunch.

That tends to make me seem more gluttonous than I am, however, so this time Anne and I decided that we would have a light breakfast beforehand.  And we decided to have jam sandwiches.  So I had some of that wonderful Chinese bread I get locally and at around 9am I put various jams on the dining table.  I also put the big Vegemite jar on the table.  And that was too much.  Vegemite goes wonderfully well with well-buttered fresh bread so the jam was ignored.  I had two slices of bread with Vege on them only. Plenty of butter and plenty of Vege on fresh bread is one of life's great pleasures IMHO.  Anne just had honey on her bread as she usually does.


There's a story in that.  Anne is very cautious about what she eats so when I bought Leatherwood honey she assured me that she didn't like it.  I just raised an eyebrow at that.  It steadily went down however so under pressure she completely revised her opinion.  I now have Yellow Box honey and that is going down steadily too.



Americans will never understand Vegemite, our iconic Australian sandwich spread, but the Brits do. Their Marmite is quite similar. And then there is Kiwi Marmite ....

So back to Dusty.  He was already showing signs of his new age of responsibility.  Up until now on any family occasion Dusty has given an exhibition of perpetual motion -- running everywhere.  But on Sunday he actually walked quite a lot!  Growing up is an amazing thing.

Dusty was however consistent in that he again got a lot of his birthday cake smeared across his face.  He is an enthusiastic eater.  I can't imagine where he got that from.

Russ fired up his big BBQ as usual and cooked some excellent sausages, among other things.  Being something of a sausage freak, I had three!

I talked a bit to Ken, fresh back from visiting Paul in Edinburgh. As was to be expected, Ken gave a view of the situation in Edinburgh that differed considerably from what Paul reports in his emails.  Those two disagree about almost everything. My relationship with my son is a great contrast.  We mostly see eye to eye but where we don't the view of the other is respected.  We laugh a lot. And Joe is no pushover.  He's got a lot of quiet confidence.  

And it's the same with Paul and me.  I have his complete respect and I have always supported him and helped him in any way I can.  Paul is not normally antagonistic, though he is very exuberant and assertive.  He is a lot of fun and we miss his lively presence now he is away.

Opening the presents was a lot of fun.   In the usual modern way, Dusty got heaps of them.  And he gave good cuddles of thanks to his donors.  Some sort of water-bomb gadget seemed to be the biggest hit.  Via Jenny, I gave him a track set for his toy cars. Joe gave him a plastic gun.  All little boys like guns and Dusty's parents allow such things.

Everybody was pleased to see Joe, as they usually are, and I saw him get big cuddles from both his mother and his sister.  He brought Kate along and I think she is now getting used to the family and all our little idiosyncrasies.  She spent a lot of time speaking to Anne, who no doubt had wisdom to offer.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The saga of the chair -- plus Zar und Zimmermann


One would think that getting hold of a comfortable office chair would be a simple matter, but it can in fact be a problem. I sit in front of my computer for around 12 hours a day so I am rather aware of the chairs I sit in whilst doing so.

Many years ago at the Rocklea markets I bought a quite simple office chair that had apparently been sold off by some government department.  And we know that governments always buy the best. It is only the mug taxpayer who is paying.

And this chair was very good.  It was upholstered in a fetching shade of maroon and was generally referred to as "the red chair".  And I sat in that chair with the greatest of ease for around 20 years.  It did however over the years become rather grotty so when something in the steel chassis snapped and gave the chair a lean, I decided that it was time to bid the red chair goodbye.  I put it out the front and it disappeared.

That was a great mistake.  I have never since found a chair as good as the red chair.  To replace it I first went to Lifeline to inspect their offering of chairs and found one that seemed good -- costing me about $25.  But it just was not comfortable enough so I looked around suppliers of new office chairs and found that sums of around $1,000 were being asked for a lot of them.  No way!

So I eventually ended up at Officeworks.  You would think that they would have a good range of office chairs on sale and they do -- mostly for around $200 -- made in China.  So I bought one -- a "Bathurst" chair.  And it was really good, just what I wanted. But after about 9 months something came adrift inside it and it developed a distinct lean.  So I took it back.  Officeworks is one of Mr Goyder's tentacles and he seems to have drilled it into all 200,000 of his employees that they must be cheerful, pleasant and helpful at all times.  And they are.  So I had no difficulty at swapping the degraded chair for another one.  But I was not of course going to risk a second Bathurst chair.  So I chose a slightly more up-market one and paid the difference.

But within a year, its casters seized up. They ceased to cast, if that is what casters do.  So instead of the chair rolling it could only be dragged.  That did considerable damage to my polished board floor, which later cost me quite a bit to fix, so I took that chair back too -- and chose yet another one.

And the third chair wasn't bad -- though not as good as the Bathurst chair -- but it too failed eventually.  After 11 months it started refusing to stay up.  I would be sitting in front of my computer typing away and suddenly finding that I was sinking down floorwards whilst doing so.  I could only take so much of that so went back to Officeworks with that chair too.  It was quite a heavy thing so Joe came with me and carried it.  I suspect that he did more than carry the chair for me.  Being tall, taciturn and well-built with short hair, he might have been mistaken for my bodyguard or some such.  He wouldn't have looked like someone you would want to argue with!

Anyway, I was treated with good cheer and came away with another chair of the same model as the one that had sunk.  One can only hope that I won't be  back there again next October.

It was of course a "some assembly required" product but I am getting good at that by now so it only took an hour to put it together.  Anne happened to be present so was fascinated to see me doing something with my hands for once. She is a nurse by trade so even adopted a nurse-like role -- things like handing me my Allen-key when I dropped it.

So wish me luck with my new chair.  I suspect I will need it.  Its casters run very well so I am pleased about that.

Also yesterday I got in the mail a DVD of Zar und Zimmermann -- a German comic opera written about 150 years ago. It took me a long time to decide to buy it but I thought it might be worth a go. It is Austro/Hungarian operetta from either side of the year 1900 that I like and this was composed well before that period in Germany. But I seem by now to have acquired all of the few available DVDs of Austro/Hungarian operetta so I thought I might branch out a bit. Zar und Zimmermann (The Tsar and the carpenter) is after all an acclaimed and popular comic opera that is still performed in Germany.



Alas, however, the humour was very low level -- clown humour just about.  It had none of the quick wit and sophistication of Austro/Hungarian operetta.  I just got bored with it and turned it off 1.5 hours into the 2.5 hour show.  Maybe I will try to watch it again some time.  Could the final hour redeem it?  Who knows?

UPDATE:  I have now watched the final hour of the show and have ended up more favourably disposed towards it.  I even got a laugh out of the scene where the mistaken emperor Peter meets his girlfriend in his new role.  The show as a whole was just fun with nothing horrible happening -- which I liked.  I tried to re-watch the mentally ill "Carmen" recently but couldn't do it. It was just too silly.  I gave that DVD to Anne.  She likes conventional opera.

I was most taken with the scenes of Dutch shipbuilding, set in 1698.  It was great to see the old hand-tools in use -- adzes, augers, two-handed planes and crosscut saws. I may be one of the few left who have had some contact with all that.  I have seen a man use an adze and I have myself used a wood auger.  It is downstairs in my garage as I write this.

And seeing the crosscut saw was very nostalgic.  I remember my father setting and sharpening his big blue-steel crosscut saws.  He used them to cut down big forest trees in the era before chainsaws.  Yes: There was such a time.

And the very first Ray in my Australian family was a sawyer -- A central trade in building the old wooden ships. How do you get evenly straight planks without a circular saw?  The old sawyers did it.  The original Joseph Henry Ray came out from England to Australia as a convict chained up in the hold of a sailing ship -- an East Indiaman.  So I almost could see my great-great grandfather at work in this show.

An excerpt:



YouTube sometimes does strange things when clips are called from it. You get the wrong clip altogether sometimes. If the above clip is irrelevant, the link to the intended clip is here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/Yat7RGaR9q4

There were actually some distinguished people in the show.  The girlfriend was sung quite charmingly by the Slovakian Lucia Popp, whom the Austrian cultural authorities recognized as a Kammersängerin.

And the conductor was the distinguished Australian Charles Mackerras. There seemed to be rather a lot of Mackerrases around in Australian public life at one time.

The show was supposedly set in "Saardam", now "Zaandam". The production was from the Hamburgische Staatsoper, 1969.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Der Opernball by Heuberger



 

Perfect Viennese froth and bubble!  A perfect farce!  Nothing serious from beginning to end. Full of laughs.  A most enjoyable show.  It sometimes takes a bit to get "into" an operetta but this was all in the open from beginning to end. It is one of those operettas that one can watch time and time again without it palling. It was, of course, all about flirtation and deception, as a farce usually is. 

The DVD I have records a "Made for TV" show of 1970 from Munich.  Libretto by Victor Leon and Heinrich von Waldberg; Directed by Willy Mattes; Music by Richard Heuberger, an Austrian.  The show was an instant hit at its first performance in 1898, getting rapturous applause.  And I fully understand why.

Movie versions of books and plays often stray a fair bit from the original and this one did too.  There is also a 1964 B&W version of the show featuring Ingeborg Hallstein and Peter Alexander which is  now known only from a clip from the famous Chambre séparée scene, and it too seems to have strayed off in yet a different direction.  But both meanders were successful and amusing so that is what matters.

Incidentally, I read that Heuberger spent a long time thinking about his composition of the Chambre Séparée scene but then sat down and wrote the entire duet in one afternoon. 

The cast

I was pleased to see two familiar faces in the show:  Harald Serafin and Tatjana Iwanow.  I would not have recognized Serafin though. I had known him only in his incarnation as Intendant at Moerbisch -- mostly when he was in his '70s.  But in this show he was around 35.  Quite a shock to see how much difference age can make. I actually think he was more amusing in his '70s  -- though he was very good in this show. I was also interested to see that he was quite tall compared to the other actors in the show.

Ancestrally, he is half North German and half Italian so it was a bit amusing to see him cast as an Englishman in this show.

I first saw Tatjana Iwanow in Dollarprinzessin, recorded in 1971.  In both shows she played most convincingly a very cynical and scheming older woman.  She could bark orders well too, as when she shouted Setzen! at the maid "Hortense".  She played such an evil role that one could miss that she was actually quite good-looking however:  A fine figure of a woman with brilliant blue eyes.

The maid was played by Christiane Schröder.  A Berliner with grey eyes and fair skin, she looked rather English to me. She was rather short and also slightly built -- "only a slip of a girl", as the Irish say.  When Serafin grabbed her to dance with her at one stage, he looked like a monster beside her.  She was thrown around rather like a rag doll on a couple of occasions, actually.  

Schröder had a sad life.  She was born in 1942, had considerable success in the theatre and in films but became depressed and at age 38 jumped off the Golden Gate bridge to her death. She was a dear little thing with real talent as a singer so I am sad that life turned out so badly and ended so soon for her. She did at one  stage marry so one hopes that gave her some of life's rewards for a time.

I am putting up below a picture of her with "Henri", her Naval cadet boyfriend, played by Uwe Friedrichsen, a Saxon, who is now in his 80s and well known as a character actor on German TV.  Something he did well was (blue) eyes opened very wide in a portrayal of surprise on various occasions.  All the color pictures of him online are in elderly roles so this is the first pic put online of him as a young man.  Google has picked it up  but there are so many pix of Friedrichsen online that you have to be an experienced or very patient Googler to find it


His part was originally written as a trouser role so I am profoundly glad that the producers of this show did not feel obliged to follow that obsolete fashion.  I hate that custom.

And I must mention the two ladies who were testing out their husbands.  Hélène Mané as "Angele" and Maria Tiboldi as "Marguerite" were both very pretty ladies who also sang well, the brown-eyed Hélène Mané with the big smile particularly.  She was elsewhere known for singing in Bach cantatas. I thought she looked either Italian or Southern French so I was not surprised to read the following puff about her: 

"Hélène Mané comes from a French-Italian family of singers, her coloratura is known in all continents and she has guest-appeared in operas from Leningrad to Lisbon. Her repertoire is mostly Italian."  

She seemed a nice lady anyway. At least one publicist saw her as the leading attraction in this show so the puff was perhaps not out of bounds.  She certainly got some good arias to sing and sang them well.

The Hungarian Maria Tiboldi was 31 at the time of the show but looked very young -- thanks, no doubt, to some combination of good skin and stage makeup.  She had a very pleasant rather low-pitched speaking voice.  A soprano with a low-pitched speaking voice seems rather mad but it is not uncommon in my experience.

The three women of the show, Tiboldi, Mané and Schröder

And I enjoyed the expressions of the Chambre séparée waiter.  Very droll and world-weary beneath the formality. He actually had a good racket going.  And it was one of the good laughs when Friedrichsen claimed to be aflame with passion for "Hortense".  The waiter was nearby at that point and, in an entirely understandable way, he rolled his eyes on hearing that! He was also amusing earlier on in that scene when "Hortense" urged Geduld (patience ) on her admirer.

And I did enjoy Heinz Erhardt as "Caesare-Aristide", the scandal-sheet proprietor  It was a comic role and he played it very well. The episode where his escort ordered a huge and expensive dinner  at his expense was utterly corny but so well-done as to be amusing anyhow. I still laugh when I think of it.  No wonder Erhardt was a noted comic.  And his wild dancing was a caricature of dancing. A great laugh.  He was trying to impress the low-class "Feodora" with his youthfulness.

He is just one of those naturally funny men like John Cleese or Barry Humphries.  He comes across as absurd from the outset.  He was a marvellous asset to the show. Some of the jokes involving him are in that rare category of jokes that you laugh at every time even if you have heard them many times before.

But I was surprised at the scene where "Hortense" was talking with her friend, the chambermaid at the "Ritz".  The chambermaid was clearly half Negro. That really stood out beside the very fair Berliner. Was political correctness already around in 1970?  Perhaps. Viennese operettas are usually as all-white as Russian ballet.  On second thoughts, it can't have been political correctness -- as the black lady was cast in a lowly servant role. So it was actually that naughty "stereotyping"!

Operetta normally has a clear leading lady and leading man but that was not at all clear in this case.  I guess that Serafin was  the leading man but who was the leading lady?  I would have to nominate "Hortense", even though she is clearly from the "second string" story.  For comparison: In Graefin Mariza at Moerbisch, I thought that Marco Kathol was the outstanding male figure too, despite being second string.

The action

Both Mané ("Angele") and Christiane Schröder ("Hortense") sang the Chambre séparée song very well but the singer who sang it best on this occasion was, in my view, Schröder, playing the little maid "Hortense".  She put out a few coloratura  trills at times throughout the show, so was no mean singer. 

Having said that the show was a classical farce, I don't think I really need to say any more about the plot. It was to a considerable extent a re-run of the plot in Fledermaus,  albeit with two deceived men instead of one. 

There were lots of funny bits but one that stays with me is  when the journalist asks the Englishman's wife what he had to give her to get a kiss.  She replies:  "chloroform".  What a put-down! Chloroform is a surgical anaesthetic.

As is common in operetta, there are fleeting jokes, jokes that fly by you in a couple of seconds which you may or may not "get".  One such was when "Georges" the journalist gets his invitation.  The other two men make fools of themselves when they get their invitations but "Georges" does not.  On hearing that his letter is from the Ritz, he immediately SNIFFS it.  And on detecting perfume rightly assumes that he will be busy later that day.  He has obviously had assignations with ladies at the Ritz before.  The maid reads him well, however.

Another fleeting event was when the maid introduces the low-class "Feodora".  I can't really isolate how she does it -- curtseying with upturned eyes and a smile maybe -- but she does display amused contempt for Feodora.  A Parisian maid may not be high up but is still a respectable somebody -- certainly above the hoi polloi in social status.

Another fast-moving joke lasting only a few seconds was towards the end of the show when the plebeian "Feodora" was suggested by the clueless "Caesare-Aristide" as the new chambermaid, that was generally accepted but Serafin quickly slipped her some "silence-money", which she promptly and wisely tucked into her bra.

Another thing that you had to be attentive to get was when the naval cadet was kissing the hand of the English lady.  His inamorata, "Hortense", gives him in passing a quick thump  on the shoulder while he was doing that, producing an "ouch" from him.  The lady thought it was a comment on her so he  had to improvise quickly to get out of the situation. He didn't actually say "ouch", however.  That was as the subtitles rendered it.  He said something like "auer", which is very much like what some English-speakers would say

I was also amused when the cadet did not stay restrained for long when he got his lady into the Chambre separee.  After drinking some champagne with her, he demanded that she get it all off -- domino, dress and all.  Navy directness, I guess.

A small bonus in the show which I enjoyed was in the first dancing scene.  It included a tall thin male dancer with a big conk in black garb and a top hat who reminded me powerfully of John Cleese doing "silly walks".  Not sure it was intentional but it was amusing. He actually did well to leap about so much.  At one stage he took his hat off and we could see a bald spot in his hair.  So he was no spring chicken. 

I was surprised that the "Englishman" (Serafin) was portrayed as making a social class mistake.  Social class is pretty influential in Germany but to this day it is even more so in England.  An  educated Englishman would NEVER make a class mistake as gross as that portrayed.  Heuberger must not have known the English well. There were actually several points in the show where the English were mocked. Serafin's mistake was inviting the loud and brassy "sister" of a Paris cafe proprietor (undoubtedly a rather "available" lady) to a formal middle-class dinner.  It at least reduced the tension that she arrived late.

Her gaffes were epic:  Mistaking In flagrante as a place in Italy and not at all knowing what a Tintoretto was.  But she was indulged.  

Like most Australians, I have no time for social class myself but it is a central concept in sociology, which I taught for a number of years.  I even have a published  academic journal article on the subject. See also here. So maybe I know something about it anyway.

And another social class oddity was that "Hortense" had a rather familiar relationship with the family who employed her.  I suppose that master/servant relationships do differ and this one was simply towards one end of the spectrum. The maid had an out-of-class role in Fledermaus too, particularly in the recent Moerbisch version. 

And when the servant "borrowed" from her mistress a garment to wear to the ball, that was, of course, another re-run of Fledermaus.

And the show ends up in classical operetta style with lots of laughs.  The scene of three men marching up together to confront  a line of three ladies was a great comic invention. But all three couples were happily reunited. After all the dramas, they end up flying into one-another's arms:  How it should be but not always so in real life.

I should mention that the show was presented as a Rahmenerzaehlung -- a story within a story.  The "outer" and quite minor story was of Tolouse Lautrec telling what happened at the Parisian opera ball to his nice-looking young red-headed model. It was quite a nice little story but quite tangential to the whole.  I suppose it was a way of getting a narrator on stage.  Narrators are not common in shows these days but they have their uses.

The bit I liked about that story was when the model imagined the fallout from the ball. She saw the galumphing Caesare-Aristide as triumphant because of the lies that "Feodora" told about his performance in the Chambre Séparée. Crazy!

The model

Four good scenes, Serafin discovering the Parisian ladies in the first one.  Some good shots of Iwanowa in the second one. And the Chambre séparée song in the final one.  The lady in sky-blue is the maid "Hortense"

Putting up film clips one after another does seem to get YouTube muddled rather often but let me try it. I try below to put up the 1964 clip of the  Chambre séparée scene -- with Peter Alexander and the ultra-feminine Ingeborg Hallstein.  I like the voices better there. If it doesn't come up, it is here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/OYP4jTTa5tM


Note the tiny gesture she uses to tell her escort to blow out the candles. Hallstein is good at tiny but expressive gestures.  She really is the ultimate female.

Other details

At the risk of exposing myself as a naif in these matters, I was rather surprised at the continual rain of confetti (if that is what it was) at the Paris opera ball. In the days of my youth, I went to quite a few balls at Brisbane's much acclaimed but now lost "Cloudland" ballroom but I never encountered anything like that. It has been said that a significant fraction of Brisbane's population was conceived in the "Cloudland" carpark so there is no doubt that it was a good ballroom. I just have memories of some lovely ladies at that time. The only one whose name I can remember is Zita Trevethan

It would be rather silly of me to try to explain all the jokes and allusions in the show -- so I won't try  -- but but perhaps I should explain what the "three sacred things" were that Paris and Vienna were said to have.  Paris had Napoleon Bonaparte, the Red Mill (Moulin Rouge) cabaret and the opera ball.  Vienna had Sissi, the Prater and their Opernball.  "Sissi" was the late, admired, and still commemorated Empress Elizabeth of Austria. There is to this day a museum devoted to her in Vienna.  And the Prater is a large public park which includes the oldest amusement park in the world -- plus many other attractions.

And what was the bergère that Serafin was asked to inspect? A bergère is basically a big comfortable French armchair with an upholstered back and armrests.  In this case, however, it would have been a fancy and upholstered chair for two. You see one in the clip with Hallstein above

I thought I might also say a word on what a "Domino" is when it comes to ladies' clothing. They are basically a 19th century phenomenon.  They were all-covering garments often worn to masked balls and the like. They are a way of hiding in plain sight, so were well adapted to the story in this show.  As you can see from the picture of "Hortense" below, they had hoods and big sleeve and usually had fancy trims. They are usually in mostly dark colors so in this show the pinkness stood in for fancy trims and helped them to be easily identified by the adventure-seeking males.  The inside of the hoods, however, was black.


And the journalist's half-remembered dream from the future was a bit of a challenge.  Who were "Birdstein" and "Caravan", for instance"?  Fairly easy: "Bernstein" and "Karajan".  But the others were harder.  "Nelly" was presumably Grace Kelly and "Pallas" was "Maria Callas", but that is as far as I can confidently go.  Was one of the others Jacqueline du Pré?  Maybe. I have her wonderful recording of the Elgar cello concerto.

The massive hair arrangements that the ladies wore had a certain attractiveness.  Like the holy apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11), I like a lot of hair on the head of a lady.  But they were rather obviously wigs on this occasion so I could have done without that.  The wigs really sprouted when they went to the ball. Only "Hortense" seemed to be showing her own hair throughout.

Translations

One word that was wisely left untranslated in the generally excellent subtitles was "Kobold".  "The fairies" or "gremlins" would work as translations  in some contexts but basically it is a German myth that has no exact translation.  Kobolds were mischievous spirits with no clear equivalent in the English-speaking world.

An odd thing about German was that the pink dominoes were variously described as "nelke" or "rosa".  Both are names of flowers in German.  There is no dedicated word for "pink" in German as there is in English.  I gather that "rosa" is the most common translation of "pink" but roses come in a many colors -- as any Texan will tell you.

I wonder a little why Chambre Séparée is used in the show when perfectly good German alternatives would seem to be available -- Privatzimmer, Privatkammer and even Privatgemach.  I guess that use of French is seen as more sophisticated.  There is an impression of the French to that effect in the English-speaking world too. If sexual promiscuity equates to sophistication, I guess the impression is an accurate one. An amusing thing is that the expression as a whole is German rather than French.  The French say "cabinet particulier".  Boringly "private room" in English, of course. 

As Obama might say, let me make that perfectly clear:  Although it uses French words, Chambre Séparée is actually a German expression. 

And a VERY small point that pleased me:  I noticed that in the Ueberall song "Angele" referred to Naples as "Neapel". Most likely that is normal German practice but it is quite sophisticated. In Tuscan Italian the city is Napoli.  But  "Neapel" is how Neapolitanians refer to their city.  And what a marvellous example of continuity that is. When the Greeks founded the city around 2,800 years ago they called it "Neapolis" -- meaning "New city". And "Neapel" is very close to that ancient Greek name: Marvellous.  Memory preserved over an amazing stretch of time.

Seeing it is such a big feature of the show, I thought I might give below one version of the words of the Im Chambre Séparée song, followed by my translation of it into English.  
 

Geh'n wir in's chambre séparée 
Let's go into the private room
Ach, zu dem süssen tete a tete, 
Oh! for the sweet head to head
dort beim Champagner und beim Souper 
There with champagne and supper
man alles sich leichter gesteht!
One more easily confesses everything

Ach, kommen Sie, mein Herr,
O come my sir
Dass ich gestehe, 
 That I may confess,
was längst für Sie ich schon empfinde.
What I have long felt for you
So kommen Sie zu Tête à tête
So come to the head to head
Dass ich gestehe; ja, gestehe,
That I may confess, yes confess
Was längst; ja, längst
What for a long time, yes a long time
Für sie ich, ja, empfinde.
What I have felt for you

Geh'n wir in's chambre séparée 
Let's go into the private room
Ach, zu dem süssen tete a tete, 
Oh! for the sweet head to head
dort beim Champagner und beim Souper 
There with champagne and supper
man alles sich leichter gesteht!
One more easily confesses everything
 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Another expedition to Japan (not really)


It had long been arranged that Katie's father would be coming up to Brisbane from Canberra at about this time of the year.  And he did.  As a proper father he wanted to be sure that his gorgeous daughter was in safe hands.  

Joe however decided not to be present.  That was more reasonable than it seems.  The family knew him well from his time in Canberra.  And there was at that time a gap in his studies and assignments that he wanted to use to visit his friend in Sydney.  Joe values his friends greatly and I entirely approve.  His Sydney friend is the ONLY good friend he has made since his schooldays, so is very important.  And Joe spends quite a bit on airline fares to see his Sydney friend.

But that did leave a bit of a gap here in Brisbane.  So I stepped into the breach and shouted Katie's family a Japanese dinner at my favourite Japanese restaurant here in Buranda.  

Katie's father is a landscaper and when we had a bit of a chat, I heard that retaining walls are one of the things that he does.  I have very strong views on retaining walls.  Is that a surprise?   Most people know that I have strong views on politics so how does it fit that I also have strong views on retaining walls?  Maybe it just means that I have strong views!  I suspect it does.

Anyhow we totally agreed that boulders are the only retaining walls worth having in the long run!  LOL.  But I have been involved with the building game for many years so I think I have picked up a bit about it here and there.

Most of us had the Teriyaki Chicken Don but Katie's mother had the Japanese curry -- which was a good choice. It must come as a surprise to most but the Japanese do brilliant curry!

We retired to my place for tea and coffee afterwards with both Anne and Jenny doing the honours for that.  With two sociable ladies present, the occasion had to be a success!  We had the drinks on my front verandah, which is a place always enjoyed.  The Mulberry tree in front of us was in full leaf, as was the Asparagus vine, so that was a nice environment, but the real boon was a possum or two in the tree in front of us.  Close-up wildlife!  

We discussed the antics of the local bush turkeys a bit.  They are very bold here now that they are protected.  I often see one or two of them strolling down my street.  I always think they would make a nice roast but my father ate them in the good old days and he said that they were pretty tough to eat.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Anne has a challenging weekend



Anne likes as much variety in her dinners as possible.  She is however also suspicious of "new" foods.  A challenging combination!  I have however bullied her into trying various "new" foods -- usually "ethnic" ones -- from time to time and 9 times out of 10 she ends up liking it, even asks for it again!

So on Friday night I took her to "Delights of Paradise", an upmarket Indian restaurant here at Woolloongabba.  And we just had Chaat (snacks).  We had Dahi Puri, Sev Puri, Aloo Tikki Chaat and Samoosas like you have never seen them before.


Dahi Puri


Aloo Tikki Chaat

Poor Anne really struggled but she did end up eating most of it and is ready for another trip -- but not too soon.  I thought it was all wonderful.

Then on Monday morning I made her breakfast "soup", but not like any soup you have had before.  It's something I remembered from my distant youth.  It's what working-class Italians in the North start their day with.  You heat up some milk, break eggs into it (I used only the yolks), add coffee and sugar.  You then serve it up and break bread into it.  It's pretty good stuff.  So Anne had to cope with that "new" thing as well.  But as it was basically just milky coffee it was much more familiar to her and she was quite pleased at having something "different".

A lot of fun

UPDATE: Next Friday night I asked her did she want to have Chaat again and got a firm "No". She did however want to try the main meals there so we did that. She ordered a fish curry and greatly enjoyed it. BUT: It gave her food poisoning. Nothing serious, just Scombroid food poisoning, which can be countered by antihistamines. So she suddenly had the symptoms of a heavy cold for a couple of hours. That place is bad to her.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Giuditta (Judith)




I hesitated for some time before buying the recording  of Giuditta.  With music by Lehar and a performance from Moerbisch (2003) how could I go wrong?  I just did not like the synopsis.  The ending was undoubtedly romantic but it was not happy!  That is usually not allowed in operetta!  No wonder Harald Serafin (for once) did not cast himself in any of the parts.

I cannot for the life of me see why the librettists did not change the ending to a happy one.  It would have been very easy to do.  If I were Intendant, I would.  As it is, the ending was more like grand opera than operetta.   But a lot of people like that, I suppose. I am not the first to note the similarity with "Carmen".  It was Lehar's last work, appearing in 1934.

It was however rather redeemed for me by having Montazeri as the tenor.  And it was amusing to see little Julia Bauer in a "second banana" role again.  She did well.

"Giuditta" was played by Natalia Ushakova, a good-looking green-eyed Russian soprano born in Uzbekistan in 1979.  She debuted in opera in 1999 and has had a rather meteoric career since. She is now an Austrian citizen.  She would have been 24 in this show.  You can hear the power of her voice best here, in a clip from "Tosca".  And here you can hear her giving an impeccable rendition of Puccini's wonderful O mio babbino caro.


Ushakova in a studio shot.  With good looks and a great voice how could she go wrong?

But "Giuditta" was just too neurotic a lady for me, something that Ushakova played extremely well. "Giuditta" had no resilience at all.  But that was part of the role.  She was supposedly of Spanish and North African ancestry: A Mediterranean person.

And the gap between the people of North-Western Europe and the Mediterraneans is well-known-- emotional Southerners and cool Northerners. And both groups are aware of it.  Italians tend to regard Germans as very alarming people, for instance.

I am of the Northwestern Volk.  And it is an easily definable Volk.  It is simply people who speak Germanic languages and trace their ultimate ancestry to the shores of the Baltic --  the Germanic people -- whether Germans, English, Scandinavians or the German lands more broadly defined (Swiss, Flanders etc).  We are all pretty similar in our restrained emotionality.

But in the South emotions run riot.  And Giuditta was certainly a case of that.  Women routinely choose military men as partners because they are real men.  But they all "wait" for their men while their men are on deployment. Giuditta had no conception of that.

Anyway the Giuditta lady just seemed nutty to me.  Compare that with my favourite operetta  -- Wiener Blut -- where Hallstein is as cool as a cucumber throughout.  A great difference but still lots of laughs.  There weren't many in Giuditta

I use the German word Volk because it is right for what I mean.  English has no equivalent word.  It is NOT "Right wing".  The old Communist East Germany put VEB (Volkseigener Betrieb) on all its products.  "Right-wing" Communists?

The clip below is of Ushakova singing her Giuditta theme song (Meine Lippen, sie kuessen so heiss).  Rather low rez, I am afraid




Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Joe gets a job


Joe has been taken on as a software developer with a computer firm  that is named after a spider.  Expect his own site to be renamed  as "arachnid software".

It is quite a coup for him considering that he started studying IT little more than a year ago.  He has definitely found his niche.  As it was for me, programming is just easy for him.  I shook his hand to congratulate him when he gave me the news:  Very demonstrative by traditional Anglo-Saxon standards! Joe did see that as a rite of passage (to be anthropological about it)

He wants to finish his Uni courses this year so is happy the job is only part-time at the moment.  He expects that his role will expand in time, however.

I took Joe, Kate and Kristian to our favourite Japanese restaurant to celebrate.  I took a bottle of Barossa Pearl to help but nobody drank much.  Joe and I are natural jokers so we don't need alcohol to become cheerful.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Vera Lynn



I quote:

"Dame Vera Lynn, DBE (born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917) is an English singer and actress whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during World War II. During the war she toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. She was called "The Forces' Sweetheart"; the songs most associated with her are "We'll Meet Again" and "The White Cliffs of Dover". She remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the United States and recording such hits as "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" and "My Son, My Son". In 2009 she became the oldest living artist to make it to No. 1 on the British album chart, at the age of 92. She has devoted much time and energy to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children and breast cancer. She is still held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the twentieth century"

All of that means nothing unless you enjoy her singing.  And I do.  With her emotional voice who would not? Her most famous  song is "We'll Meet Again" but also try "When I Grow too Old to Dream".

She even sings a German song effectively here: "Lili Marlene".  It's the voice that does it.  It transforms a German prostitute into a romantic wonder.  It's a great song so it is a wonder that an English singer does what is probably the best version of it. Marlene Dietrich also has claims, of course.

Perhaps most amazing of all, we have here her singing wonderfully that great British patriotic song "Land of hope and glory" -- apparently at age 98!

Finally:



She looks so wonderfully English -- which she was and what she  stood for -- much of which now seems to be lost.