Monday, May 22, 2017

36 Hours In Havana, Cuba

Screen shot from the New York Times video

Another in the New York Times series 36 Hours In… This time we’re visiting Havana, Cuba. Damien Cave writes:
Havana is no longer frozen in time, at least not completely. With Cuba’s guarded openness to private enterprise grabbing hold, classic American cars and salsa singers now share the cityscape with new and inventive offerings in food, culture, night life and hospitality. No other city in Latin America, or perhaps the world, can claim to be having just the kind of moment that Havana is experiencing now after so many decades gasping for change.
For visitors, the capital is a mash-up of past and present, freedom and restriction. It’s a city of architectural decay, but also creativity, where artists have turned a defunct cooking-oil factory into a performance space, bar and music venue that on any given night makes Brooklyn look as cool as a suburban Ikea. It’s a city where finding ingredients for a stellar menu requires feats of Promethean ingenuity; where opera is subversive, and kitschy too; where the Internet is just arriving, fully formed and censored; and where young Cubans without money are fleeing, while those with connections and ideas await great success.
Officially, some limits for Americans remain in place. Despite restored relations with Cuba, tourism is still banned by the embargo. But for those who reach Havana under the 12 categories of legal travel, or without permission, and for the rest of the world, the city is ready to entertain and confound.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Open Day at Government House, Adelaide

General view of Government House grounds

Today was one of those rare days on Adelaide's social calendar, for today the hoi polloi, that is the masses or common folk, were allowed to visit the residence of the Queens representative in South Australia, His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC. 

According to the official website, two Open Days are held each year at Government House, and today was one of those. I have of course, been aware of these rare events, but have never made the time to visit the grounds or tour the residence. Today, the perfect autumnal weather provided the ideal environment for that long delayed visit, and some of the many photographs I took during my visit are featured here. 

The First Government House

Government House, Adelaide is the oldest Government House in Australia. The first Government House, was constructed of timber slabs, wattle and daub, a thatched roof, calico ceiling, and external stone chimneys. It is believed to have been on a site between the present railway station and the River Torrens, and was destroyed by fire in 1841. 

When Lieutenant Colonel George Gawler replaced Governor Hindmarsh in 1838, he abandoned plans for a permanent house of timber and gave directions for the erection of a new building of masonry to cost £4,000 - if possible, but not to exceed £5,000*.

The total area of the grounds is 5.6 hectares. The emphasis is on the provision of a permanently attractive environment, always ready for inspection by visitors, with large areas for social and formal functions such as garden parties.

View of the Hindmarsh Dining Room

The Hindmarsh Dining Room 
The Hindmarsh Dining Room serves as the Governor’s private dining room, as well as for official luncheons and smaller, more intimate dinners. When ambassadors come to visit South Australia from Canberra, it is customary for the Governor to invite the ambassador and his or her party and selected guests to lunch at Government House.

Her Majesty Queen Alexandra

Above: Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia (Dec 1, 1844 - Nov 20, 1925), was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1852, her father, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderbug-Glücksburg, was chosen to succeed his distant cousin, Frederick VII to the Danish throne.

At the age of sixteen, and in the manner of inter-marrying royals everywhere, Alexandra was chosen as the future wife of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and thus was destined to eventually became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India.

What? Too much information?

Still life by the renowned Adelaide artist, Hans Heysen

Above: A still life from renowned artist Sir Hans Heysen. Hans Heysen (Oct 8, 1877 - July 2, 1968) was a German-born Australian artist who became a household name for his paintings of monumental Australian gum trees. Heysen also produced images of men and animals toiling in the Australian bush, as well as groundbreaking depictions of arid landscapes in the Flinders Ranges. He won the Wynne Prize for landscape painting a record nine times.

His Majesty King George V, 1910 - 1936

The Entrance 
The Entrance and Porte Cochere to Government House were built in 1855 as part of the second stage of construction. The area is used for receiving official guests and for arrivals and departures of the Governor on official business. Portraits in this area are of King George V (above) and Queen Mary (seen below).

Her Majesty Queen Mary

Above: Her Majesty Queen Mary. Hers may not have been 'the face that launched a thousand ships', but her name has graced some of the biggest, and most famous ocean-going passenger liners in the modern world.

Landscape Painting

Numerous paintings can be seen decorating most of the public rooms in Government House. There is a strong preference for works by Australian artists, with an even stronger preference for traditional works of art such as still lifes and landscapes, or bucolic country scenes. I did not see any work that could be regarded as modern or contemporary (although that is not to say that these styles are not present in the non-public areas of the building).

Antique settee at Government House, Adelaide

Furniture at Government House leans very heavily towards the antique and traditional. Like the lack of contemporary and modern art, I saw no pieces of furniture that could be regarded as modern.

Detail of the stained glass Federation Windows in the Ballroom.

The Federation Windows 
The "Federation Windows" are a particular feature of the Ballroom. The alcove, dais, and the stained and painted glass windows at the north end of the room were installed by Governor Tennyson on the occasion of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in 1901 following the opening of the first Australian Parliament in Melbourne. The windows were designed and made by the Adelaide firm of E.F. Troy.

Details for the window on left:
  • The Royal Coat of Arms (motto DIEU ET MON DROIT - God and my right - signifying the Monarch’s right to rule).
  • "E" stands for King Edward VII; "A" for Queen Alexandra.

Details for window on right:
  • Coat of Arms of the Duke of York.
  • "G" stands for George, Duke of York; "V" for Victoria Mary, Duchess of York (who later became known as King George V and Queen Mary).

A still life, one of many paintings on loan from the Art Gallery of S.A.

Above, another of the many traditional works of art on display at Government House. This work, like many others is on loan from the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria

Above: A portrait of Queen Victoria (May 24, 1819 - January 22, 1901). Not many people can lay claim to having a historical period named after them, but Queen Victoria is certainly one of them. Victoria inherited the throne at the age of 18, after her father's three elder brothers had died, leaving no surviving legitimate children. Her reign of 63 years and seven months was longer than that of any of her predecessors and is known today as the Victorian Era.

Scrapbook with press clippings about Australia's first Aboriginal State Governor

Above: Sir Douglas "Doug" Nicholls was the first Australian Aboriginal person to be knighted, and also the first to be appointed to vice-regal office, serving as Governor of South Australia from December 1, 1976 until his resignation on 30 April 1977, due to poor health. To my knowledge he is still the only Aboriginal to have been appointed Governor of an Australian state.

State Dining Room

The State Dining Room
The Large Dining Room was added during the second stage of construction. Up to twenty eight people may be seated for dinner at the mahogany dining table which is dated 1850-1900. “Russian” service is traditionally used in Royal and Vice Regal households - where guests serve themselves from silver platters held by the service staff.

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Acknowledgements: Much of the information on this page is sourced directly from the Official Government House, Adelaide, website. Other information is sourced from Wikipedia. All photographs by Jim Lesses. Note: Click on images to view at full size.

*£5,000 in today’s figures would be around £515,000 (adjusted for inflation), or approximately AUD$899,370.

More Information

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Telling The Story of Slavery in America

The magnificent oaks of Oak Alley. Image: Jim Lesses

During my 2012 American trip, I spent five nights in New Orleans and among the numerous activities I engaged in during my stay in the Crescent City, were tours that included the Laura, and Oak Alley plantations. Being the political animal that I am, I was very much aware of what seemed to be the ‘whitewashing’ of history associated with both these beautifully preserved sites, and the part they must have played in supporting one of the worst stains in human history—the institution and maintenance of organised slavery on a massive scale.

It is not as if the history of slavery was completely ignored at these former plantations, and others like them, but more that the legacy of slavery was left to the imagination of the visitor rather than bringing it front and centre. The beautifully maintained plantation homes, and the well manicured lawns and gardens, might leave visitors with the impression that life on a pre-American Civil War plantation wasn’t all that unpleasant. In fact, the Oak Alley Plantation can be hired for weddings, corporate events, and overnight stays—“A tranquil retreat in the heart of Plantation Country”—proclaims one caption to a series of images on the site. While life may have been very pleasant for the plantation owners, it was far from pleasant for the slaves.

John J. Cummings III; Screen shot from the New Yorker video.

Since my 2012 trip, I am delighted to see that at least one former property—the Whitney Plantation—has now been set up as the first memorial of its type in America. The New Yorker magazine, under the byline of Kalim Armstrong ran an item and video in February 2016, Telling The Story of Slavery from which the following quote is taken:
John Cummings, a lawyer who founded the [Whitney Plantation] museum, spent sixteen years planning and over eight million dollars of his own money to restore this site, which honors the memory of those who were enslaved on plantations and whose labor helped build this country. The Whitney Plantation is not a place designed to make people feel guilt, or to make people feel shame. It is a site of memory, a place that that exists to further the necessary dialogue about race in America.
The Whitney Plantation was founded in 1752, and is located in Louisiana along the historic River Road, which winds down the Mississippi toward New Orleans. Here is the New Yorker video:

It wasn’t hard to find other videos detailing various aspects of slavery and the plantation system online, and the following 28-minute video is from what appears to be a made-for-television series called Weekends With Whitney. Independently produced by Whitney Vann, the program focuses on the story behind the Whitney Plantation and supplements the New Yorker video very nicely. Note: This show has three advertising breaks built into the video, but thankfully they are short and almost unobtrusive.

If You Go
The Whitney Plantation
5099, Highway 18, Wallace, Louisiana.
Open 9:30am to 4:30pm every day except Tuesday
(The museum is also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Years Day, Mardi Gras, Easter Sunday, and July 4th.)
Note: the website states that, “There are no self guided tours at The Whitney Plantation.” And further that, “The only way to visit The Whitney Plantation is through a guided tour.” Tours are given every hour between 10:00am and 3:00pm.
Prices range from $10.00 to $22.00 (see website for full schedule)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

SA Weekend #6: Cornish and Clare Valley Festivals, Government House Open Day

The Kernewek Lowender Festival, May 19-21, 2017
The Kernewek Lowender Copper Coast Cornish Festival is set to delight locals and visitors alike this weekend, May 19-21. The festival is a unique major cultural event in South Australia, that has been held biennially in the Copper Coast Towns of Moonta, Wallaroo and Kadina since 1973. 

'Kernewek Lowender' means 'Cornish happiness' in the Cornish language, and the Kernewek Lowender lays claim to being the world’s largest Cornish Festival outside Cornwall. This year more than 40,000 people are expected to head to the region to celebrate the long-standing Cornish heritage of the towns. The Cornish pasties alone are worth the drive!

Also referred to as the Copper Triangle, this geographic region on Yorke Peninsula is so named for the copper that was mined in the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today the three towns at the centre of the region are proud to maintain their Cornish heritage at a festival that features fairs, traditional Cornish food (Cornish pasties and Swanky beer), Maypole dancing, Furry Dancing, a Cousin Jack and Jenny competition, and the selection of a May Queen.

But Wait, There’s More—Much More!
Cemetery tours, Cornish language lessons, History Seminars, Pasty Bake-Off, a Classic Cavalcade of Cars, Music from Country, Celtic and Rock-N-Roll bands, Food, food and more food, Poetry & Prose, Heritage Museums, Parades, and on and on…

More Information

Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend – May 19-22
Almost 40 wineries, three breweries and 30 restaurants will be participating in events during the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend this May. The program includes tasting and blending sessions, master-classes, opportunities to meet the winemakers, picnics, gourmet breakfasts, long-table lunches, live music and more.

See the full program for event details and shuttlebus services. 

Government House Open Day
His Excellency the Governor and Mrs Le welcome you to visit Government House
Government House Open Day – Free entry
Sunday, 21st May 2017
10:00am – 4:00pm

Government House will be opened to the public on Sunday, 21st May 2017 as part of DreamBIG - Big Family Weekend.

Government House staff and volunteer guides will provide an insight on how Government House is used in the present day by the Governor to advance the interest of the State.  Meanwhile, history enthusiasts can immerse themselves in a bygone era with historical displays and memorabilia.
  • Find out who was murdered in Government House and look out for the ghost
  • Imagine yourself dining on fresh South Australian and home grown produce at the State Dining Room table, which will be set with silver and crystal for a formal dinner
  • View where the Governor presides over Executive Council
Tours of the gardens will be guided by the Friends of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.
Entry is free.

The Mercury Cinema is proud to host the Transitions Film Festival – a visionary program, dedicated to spotlighting the complex challenges, cutting-edge ideas, creative innovations and mega-trends that are redefining what it means to be human.

Transitions presents positive, solutions-focused films and showcases cutting-edge ideas from around the world, along with the creative, academic, governmental, community and business leaders who are creating change locally. The Festival has been inspiring audiences and powering social change since 2012, hosting festivals in Melbourne, Adelaide and Darwin and facilitating screenings in Alice- Springs, Hobart and across Australia.

The Transitions Film Festival program also features a fantastic range of speakers and special guests. For full program and speaker information go here... 

North Adelaide Hotel

Live Music in Adelaide: The North Adelaide Hotel
CityMag is celebrating Adelaide’s status as a UNESCO City of Music with a series on the music scene – from front bars to the local talent that’s gone abroad.

For every venue like the Grace Emily, Wheatsheaf and Governor Hindmarsh (all local hotels), there are at least another half-dozen smaller and lesser-known pubs clamouring for a speckle of recognition in Adelaide’s live music scene. Rarely do they host musicians with recognisable names or faces (unless it happens to be an old school friend, or a work colleague with a weekend alter-ego), and rarely will there be a line of enthused punters waiting by door, hoping to get front-of-stage. 

The North Adelaide Hotel is one of those newer live music venues and is proud of its support for local musicians. By doing so, the North Adelaide Hotel is keeping alive a long-held suburban pub tradition that helps foster and encourage new and emerging acts.

If You Go
The North Adelaide Hotel 165 Tynte Street, North Adelaide
Open from 11am, Wed-Sun and from 3pm on Mon and Tues. 

Not Only, But Also…

At the Art Gallery of South Australia
North Terrace, Adelaide
Now through July 2, 2017

YIDAKI: Didjeridu and The Sound of Australia
At the South Australian Museum
Now through July 16, 2017
> Online: 

PLAY: Objects of Play 
State Library of South Australia
Now through May 28, 2017
Location: Treasures Wall, first floor Spence Wing
Note: Free entry; Open during library hours

In The Saddle — On The Wall
A Kimberley Aboriginal Artists touring exhibition
Flinders University City Gallery at the State Library of South Australia
Now through June 25, 2017

Tuesday—Friday: 11:00am—5:00pm 
Saturday & Sunday: 12:00—4:00pm

Raggers and Radicals: Student Activity and Activism from 1880
Level One, Barr Smith Library 
Adelaide University, North Terrace
Now through June 30

Kings, Queens & Courtiers
At the David Roche Foundation House Museum
Now through July, 2017

Now get out of the house!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

At The Movies: The Eagle Huntress

Photo: Asher Svidensky

This spellbinding documentary follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl who is fighting to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations of her Kazakh family. Through breathtaking aerial cinematography and intimate verite footage, the film captures her personal journey while also addressing universal themes like female empowerment, the natural world, coming of age and the onset of modernity.

The above synopsis comes from the Internet Movie Database entry for this film. 

Immediately after watching The Eagle Huntress, I had my doubts as to whether the film was an authentic documentary, or merely a reconstruction of events that had already taken place earlier in the life Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a young girl who dreamed of becoming a hunter and trainer of eagles, a role that has traditionally been reserved for boys and men on the chilly, windswept steppes (large areas of flat, unforested grasslands in South East Europe or Siberia), in a remote corner of Mongolia. However, after a couple of hours searching for, and watching interviews with Otto Bell, the director, I am more than satisfied that the events depicted in the film are captured pretty much as they happened.

Otto had seen a series of photographs on the BBC website by the Israeli photographer, Asher Svidensky which immediately sparked his interest in Aisholpan’s life. He was also quick to see the cinematic possibilities of telling her story and bringing this to a wider world, and I’m very happy he did because the film is definitely worth seeing. 

The remote setting and natural scenery (the towering Altai mountain ranges of Western Mongolia, and steppes stretching off to the far horizons) are simply stunning. The rituals and routines of daily life, and the work of herding, milking, and hunting seem hard—but not so hard as to make one grateful they don’t live in that environment. Scenes of family life are generally presented as tough, but they also come across as romantic and wholesome. Here is a family that works hard and plays hard. Their material possessions are reduced to the basic and essential. We don’t see a television anywhere, although we do see several portable radios. There are also motorbikes, vehicles of various types, a portable solar panel or two—and horses. Lots of horses.

Oh, and of course, eagles. A lot of eagles as well.

I was very impressed with Aisholpan’s ability to work with and relate to the young Golden Eagle she caught with the help of her father, Rys. These magnificent creatures are not like the pigeons and doves that flap gently about our city streets. These are large, heavy birds that weigh up to seven kilograms (15 pounds), and grow to have 7-8 foot wingspans. The trainers and hunters must be able to bear the weight of these birds as they sweep in and land on their outstretched arms with a force that I suspect would knock pasty-faced city boys like myself flying off their feet. But Aisholpan handles these flying missiles with a wide smile and nary a quiver. That she was able to do this at just 13 years of age is an even greater achievement in my opinion. Clearly, they are brought up tough on the Mongolian steppes.

The eagle hunters capture the young birds just before they are able to leave their aeries, and according to tradition, will release them back into the wild after a number of years of captivity. In fact, the film begins with a scene in which Rys, Aisholpan’s father is depicted as doing exactly this.

There are scenes in this film that may distress some viewers. Hollywood movies involving animals usually have a sentence buried in the end titles that say something to the effect that,’no animals were harmed during the making of this film.’ The Eagle Huntress carries no such note. After all, the eagles are trained specifically to hunt. Rabbits mostly, but also foxes and other small game. They also have the ability to hunt animals as large as wolves, which I have to say amazes me no end.

Here's the official movie trailer for the film

I went looking on YouTube for more clips about the film and about Aisholpan in particular, and was pleased to find several very good videos that included interviews with her and her father. These took place during their visit to the Sundance Film Festival where the film was receiving its premier screening. The Eagle Huntress is beautifully shot, and Aisholpan, her father, and her family are all natural actors who are proud to share their culture and traditions with the wider world.

The Eagle Huntress Featurette - Documentary (2016)
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If you have a chance to see the film at your local cinema, or streaming on Netflix or another online streaming service, do so. You won’t be disappointed.

Updated: May 17, 2017
Just after uploading this post, I went looking for the original 2014 BBC News story that featured Asher Svidensky’s photographs of the young eagle huntress, which you can read here

I also happened upon a more recent article about the film that mirrored my opening paragraph doubts about the authenticity of the film with regard to it being a true documentary. This article, Is the Eagle Huntress really a documentary?, also on the BBC News website raises genuine questions about this issue, but again as I indicated above, I am still “…satisfied that the events depicted in the film are captured pretty much as they happened.”

And finally, both articles above carry discrepancies with regard to the spelling of Kazakh names. In the first article, the young girls name is spelt Ashol-pan, not Aisholpan, though the second version is used in the second of these articles. Also the IMDB gives her father’s name as Rys, while the second article on the BBC News site gives his name as Agalai. For now I have chosen to use the same spelling as that used on the IMDB site.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TED on Tuesday: The World of Caves

Screen shot from the Jill Heinerth TED video

Cave diver Jill Heinerth explores the hidden underground waterways coursing through our planet. Working with biologists, climatologists and archaeologists, Heinerth unravels the mysteries of the life-forms that inhabit some of the earth's most remote places and helps researchers unlock the history of climate change. In this short talk, take a dive below the waves and explore the wonders of inner space.

More people have walked on the moon than have been to some of the places that Jill's exploration has taken her right here on the earth. From the most dangerous technical dives deep inside underwater caves, to searching for never-before-seen ecosystems inside giant Antarctic icebergs, to the lawless desert border area between Egypt and Libya while a civil war raged around her, Jill's curiosity and passion about our watery planet is the driving force in her life.

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Screen shot from the Eddy Cartaya TED video

A ranger at Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, Eddy Cartaya not only solves cave crimes — he also explores the ever-changing system of caves within Mount Hood's Sandy Glacier.

Much of Eddy Cartaya's life takes place in caves. A ranger at Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, in charge of law enforcement and investigations, he solves crimes that happen in caves. This can range from investigating the theft of lava formations that date back 6,000 years to tracking down a group of people who covered over ancient cave art with spray paint. 

Cartaya and his climbing partner, Brent McGregor, also explore the frozen, icy caves created in the Sandy Glacier as it slowly slides down Oregon's Mount Hood. In 2011, the pair identified and explored three caves which they named Snow Dragon, Pure Imagination and Frozen Minotaur. Together, the caves create 7,000 feet of passageway through the glacier. Experts think this may be the longest glacial cave system in the United States outside of Alaska.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Surfing The Web: Kissing Fanny, Ten U.S. Hikes, 32 Toronto Tips, Adelaide History

Say, What? The Art of Kissing Fanny!
One of my favourite blogs is the very eclectic Messy Nessy Chic. Vanessa, or ’Nessy’ as she refers to herself, is a young expat English woman now living in Paris. I don’t know how she does it, but her blog has one of the most interesting collections of stories and posts that I have ever encountered in my many years of trawling across the Internet. Every visit reveals a new gem that is sure to enlighten, amuse and entertain the reader.

A recent post; The Art of Kissing Fanny has to be read to be believed. It just goes to prove that there is a story behind everything—no matter how arcane or obscure.
There’s a curious expression used in Provence by pétanque players. “Embrasser Fanny” or to “kiss Fanny”, is a small recompense for making a fool of oneself to put it simply. But where does this mischievous phrase originate from? Fanny was a waitress at a local café in the Savoie region or Lyon– no one seems to agree. Watching the men playing pétanque (or boules) one day, she declared that she would allow any man who lost 13-0 in pétanque, to kiss her on the cheek.

Mount Katahdin. Photo: Alamy

Ten of The Best US Hiking Trails
Once, dear reader, I fantasized about walking across America, a ridiculous idea if ever I had one, if only because I was well into my late-50s when I was taken with the fantasy. Not that others haven't done exactly that before or since my imagination got the better of me. It's just that the cold hard reality of my aging bones have told me loud and clear, that "It ain't gonna happen, buddy!" Not in this lifetime, anyway. Still, I can dream, can't I? And this is as good a place as any to keep feeding that dream.

From a rocky wonderland with views of Las Vegas to the green ridges of the Appalachians, readers of the British newspaper, The Guardian share their favourite great walks. Among those recommended are walks through the New England mountains, Vermont’s 272 mile Long Trail, New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness trails, and the Continental Divide Trail which runs through five states from New Mexico to Montana.

Toronto skyline

The Solo Traveler: 32 Tips for an Affordable Toronto
Among the many email newsletter I subscribe to (the basis of a blog entry themselves), is the very fine and comprehensive Solo Traveler site. The Canadian writer, Janis Waugh writes in her bio that she “…became a widow and empty-nester at about the same time.” In 2009, she began Solo Traveler and the site has quickly become one of the most popular sites for information and tips specifically aimed at people who travel solo—of which I am one. Of course, the information on the site is just as useful for couples, and families.

Completely at random, I have chosen to highlight the article, Affordable Toronto: 32 Free and Low-Cost Tips from her site, but seriously, take some time to browse through the hundreds of excellent feature articles awaiting you. There is surely something for everyone here.

Source: State Library of SA Searcy Collection RG 280/1/7/418

Then and Now: Eleven Rare Historic Photos of Adelaide
Since I was born and raised—and still live—in Adelaide, Australia, I thought these rare images from local history may be of interest. Besides, May is History Month in South Australia, so that is as good a reason as any to include this article. Among the images is the one I chose to illustrate this section, which shows two nurses, or “ministering angels” from approximately the year 1913 caring for two babies at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital (now renamed The Women's and Children’s Hospital).

I selected this image for a specific reason—namely, because I spent 14 years of my working life at the Children’s Hospital (as it was still called then), and despite the pain and suffering I saw there, those 14 years were among the most rewarding years of my life. As an aside, I have been fortunate enough to have only been admitted to hospital once in my 68 years—at the very same Adelaide Children’s Hospital—when I was admitted, at the age of five, to have my tonsils removed, an incident I still remember to this day.

P.S. I should also stress that apart from the 'pain and suffering', I also witnessed many moments that bordered on the miraculous, many of which were carried out by new generations of 'ministering angels', and medical personnel.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day

I have already written about the Mother's Day celebrations I attended on the Greek island of Ikaria during my visit there over the summer of 2014 in Mother's Day Greek Island Style

I wrote then:
"...what I especially love about these island celebrations and traditions, is that they are embraced equally by the very young as well as by the very old. No one shouts at the kids to sit down and keep quiet, or to stay out of the way of the performers. The whole square seems as if it is being rearranging constantly by an invisible hand that manages to keep dancers, children, organisers and visitors out of each other's way, as the evening progresses."
My parents emigrated to Australia from Ikaria just before the Second World War, and as much as I love New York City, Ikaria is my true second home. I had planned to return to the island this year, but another much bigger island (Manhattan) enticed me back for what may be my last visit. In the meantime, Ikaria is not going anywhere, and all being well I will return to Greece and the island in 2018.

For Mother's Day, 2017, I thought it appropriate to repost the video of the Mother's Day celebrations one more time--so clear away the tables and chairs and get dancing!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mona Lisa Crush

Why do we do it? Is it because of the clever marketing? The fact that the portrait is the work of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest artists of all time? The enigmatic smile, perhaps? Or because if you are visiting the Louvre in Paris, the visit would be incomplete without going to see the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo (to give the portrait its full title)?

I read somewhere that it has been estimated that most visitors lining up to see the Mona Lisa spend as little as 15 seconds in front of the painting. Fifteen seconds! I don’t know if there is any truth to that claim, but certainly virtually no-one has time to linger more than a few minutes before her. The crush of bodies, the raised cameras, the ridiculous selfie poses struck by gawking teenagers and adults who should know better, and the constant attention and wariness of security guards, all combine to make any visit to the Mona Lisa one of the least enjoyable experiences of any trip to the Louvre.

Besides, the painting is hardly on the grand size. At just 77 cm by 53 cm (30 inches by 21 inches), Leonardo da Vinci’s masterwork is dwarfed by just about every other work of art inside the Louvre. This also makes the possibility of examining the painting closely a pretty much hopeless task—not that you can get that close to it anyway.

When I visited at the beginning of winter in December 2010, the lines to room 6, on the first floor of the Denon wing were thankfully short and the crowds almost thin. I hate to think what the queues must be like during July and August, the peak European tourist season.

If you really must go to see the Mona Lisa during your Parisian holiday, don’t be surprised if you come away from the experience disappointed by the whole circus surrounding this one painting. Instead, make up for any disappointment you feel by immersing yourself in the hundreds (in fact, thousands) of other fabulous art works to be seen and enjoyed, up close and at leisure in the same room and throughout the museum.

Once you have had your glimpse of Señora Gherardini, turn around and stand in awe, as I did, before a work of such monumental proportions that it is impossible not to be impressed by the size and scope of the work. This is Paolo Veronese’s, ‘The Wedding Feast at Cana’.

Click this link for full screen view of Wedding Feast at Cana... (zoom in for closer look at this masterpiece)

Where the Mona Lisa is 77cm x 53cm (30in x 21in), Veronese’s ‘Wedding Feast…’ is a massive 6.77 metres by 9.94 metres—or 22.2 feet high, and 32.6 feet long!

Now here is a painting you can get lost in. Here is a work that demands the viewer stop, contemplate, examine, and marvel at Veronese’s vision.
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Here’s a short video that gives you some idea of the number of visitors who crowd around the Mona Lisa trying to claim their ‘fifteen seconds’ of personal space with her enigmatic smile. As the camera pans around the room you also get a glimpse of Veronese’s Wedding at Cana.

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