Tuesday, 29 December 2009

In the festive season

This Christmas we were alone. It was sad to be without any of my children, grandchildren, and brothers and sisters. Next year, I am resolved, it will not be like this. Dr P has no Christmas sentiments, but I do. The Christmases of my childhood and youth come to mind, and I recall the nativity of Jesus Christ, as well as the Christmas gifts, Father Christmas and the excitement and delight of the children, and the coming together of families and friends. I hope that the relentless and rampant commercialisation will not totally swamp and overcome the reasons that Christmas Day became a cause for celebration.

My older sister M, who has been ailing for some time with what appeared to be varying and confusing symptoms, has finally been diagnosed with a form of dementia. She is not old. While there is a certain relief that a diagnosis has been made, this is very bad news. Her illness seems to have reached the stage where it has started to gallop, and the rest of her life, for however long, will be difficult for her and all her family. Her family is upset and angry, blaming the doctors, as well as the sisters who tried to get better medical help for her. This is very understandable, but wrong, as it was not an easy or obvious diagnosis.

In many ways her life has not been easy. While her marriage is a happy one, the rural community in which she lived was not very open and welcoming, and there was a distrust for and scorn of city people. She had to overcome the tragic death of her fourth child. Then, to great joy, another son was born. The family had to fight dreadful bushfires several years ago, and suffer the awful drought which still continues.

I feel desperately sad. While we have never been very close, even as children, she is my sister, the oldest of the seven of us, and the only person left who has known me for my whole life. She was, I think, jealous of me, and naturally concerned to maintain her position as the eldest. As a child, I did not understand this: she was older, and better at everything than I was, and of course I admired her and looked up to her. While we share many interests, especially a love of music, our temperaments are very different. In recent years we have been closer, but have seen each other rarely.

And at home here, Dr P becomes more shaky, feeble and forgetful, and we wonder what lies ahead of us.

I want to be with my own kith and kin. I don't want to live the rest of my life apart from them. Blood ties are so strong, so important.

My youngest sister P will be here for a few days, and then probably my second daughter and children will follow. This will be treasured time for us all.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Less is more: the fewer the better

If there is nothing else to grumble about, it is always possible to discuss misuse of language and bad grammar.

A pet peeve of mine is the misuse of 'fewer' and 'less'. The other day at my least favourite supermarket, I noticed a sign inviting customers with 'less than 12 items' to use the quick check-outs. If I'd had a texta pen handy, I could have corrected this, but alas, I did not, and what is more, my strict upbringing, which emphasised consideration and respect for others, would have prevented me from writing on someone else's property. (What a pity all those graffitists did not have this sort of upbringing.) Strangely enough, when I consulted one of my few books on the English language, there was this very example quoted. For some reason, I do not have a copy ofFowler's Modern English Usage, but I just now noted in one of the bookshops' pre-Christmas blurbs that there is a new edition. Now there is a good Christmas present idea! We would not want too few copies to be sold.

Surely it is my bounden duty to to try to educate the masses, wherever some or all of them can be found. I am unlikely to buy a loud hailer and take to the streets, the newspapers regrettably seldom, if ever, give space to my thoughtful, considered and invariably correct opinions, and Dr P already knows and agrees with my views on the correct use of language, grammar, spelling and punctuation. (We have delightful coses together pointing out the egregious errors of others, and pounce with glee on the far from few errors so frequently made by those expert practitioners of the English language and the art of communication, that is to say journalists and television reporters.)

I need to have fewer things bugging me, and there will be less weighing heavily on my chest once I get this written. Although this post might well be less fun to read than usual. On the other hand it may be possible that few other writers could express it so well.

Simply put, 'fewer' is not as many as. 'Less' is not as much as.

I have noticed that fewer and fewer people can understand this distinction. Here are some practical examples, which may or may not express my own views.

Are people less intelligent, less well-educated or just less sensible? Do fewer people care about this issue? (I noticed in an article in The Australian recently that someone kneeled down.)

If our borders were more secure and our policies harsher, fewer boats carrying asylum seekers would set out for Australian waters. If this country had more boats patrolling the seas, there would be less chance of foreign boats reaching Australian territories.

Mass vaccination campaigns have resulted in fewer serious epidemics. Now that fewer people are vaccinating their children, diseases such as whooping cough have become more rather than less prevalent. Fewer people would catch such diseases, and fewer lives would be lost if all babies were vaccinated.

I should buy fewer books, as I have so many of them already that there is much less space available on the shelves.

Fewer resources are available for our public hospitals, and it is less easy to get prompt medical attention.

If there were fewer cars on the roads, air pollution would be less. The tempers of motorists would be less frayed.

If climate change is in fact happening, there will be less rain and less water available. Without adequate water less food can be grown.

I drive a Toyota Corolla, which uses less petrol than many other cars, especially four wheel drives.

The more I say, the less my husband listens.

Older people and little children are less able to tolerate severe heatwaves.

If people in Western countries ate less food then there would be less obesity.

The outsourcing of jobs overseas may result in there being fewer jobs available here.

There are many fewer children per family now than there were one hundred years ago.

Are footballers kicking fewer goals these days compared with the great players of the past?

These are but a few examples. May I rest my case?

And don't get me started on the all too frequent use of object pronouns instead of subject pronouns. (Her and Brayden got kicked out of the nightclub. Me and him finished the HSC recently. Her and Abbott are emerging from the Party Room now. Yes, this last really was on the TV News, as it happened.)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Out! damned spot: the hundredth post

If my count is correct, this is the one hundredth post. Having observed the centenary posts on other blogs, I felt it should deal with a special subject, so have been trying to think of one. Alas, in such cases, the Muse slips away and hides, emerging only while I sit on buses, am in company, unblessed with writing materials, or when I am deep in my dreams, which are evanescent. I am doomed to be a prosaic person.

So here I sit, home from the dermatologist's, who has excised more of my bottom, in case the melanoma had started to scatter cells about. Dr P is at bridge, so there is tranquillity in the house, and I am taking advantage of that, and of the effect of the anaesthetic. In a while it will start to hurt, they say. I got there and back by bus, with no ill effects, and bought myself some sushi for lunch.

The dermatologist complimented Dr P on his powers of observation, in noticing the melanoma. She and her assistant proceeded to inject local anaesthetic, and then started work, kindly asking me could I feel anything, like cutting. Yes, I could, so more anaesthetic was injected and away they cut. Was I a redhead, they asked? Apparently redheads are more sensitive to pain. So there you are, my daughters.

It is a curious experience, somewhat de-personalising. I was lying on my front, and of course could see nothing of what they were doing. They worked away, conversing together about Christmas, daughters going to the beach, the weather forecasts, and foods the doctor could not longer consume because they gave her migraines, while I lay there log-like, breathing softly so as to remain as relaxed as possible. And not to wriggle!

Apparently there will be substantial bruising: women, especially fleshy ones, are more prone to bruising, and they warned that this excision will give me more pain that the first. When they had finished they showed me what they had removed, and it is the size of two small walnuts. I am to apply cold to the afflicted part, for ten minutes per hour for the rest of the day. On the way home I bought a heat/cooler pack, which is now freezing in order to be applied as soon as possible. I intend to treat myself very kindly for a few days and not to gad around. The stitches remain in for a fortnight, which takes me into the period between Christmas and NewYear. My GP's practice will be closed, so it will be necessary to take myself off to the local hospital, and I hope there are no real emergencies when I go. There is to be another pathology test. I am glad there is nothing major wrong with me, as every procedure has cost more than $300. I hope the Medicare rebate is a significant amount.

So, back to blogging. It has been a positive thing to do, and has helped me deal with minor irritations, some very sad and painful griefs, and many of the problems in my life. It has enabled me to hear the voices of others, to expand my world, to get more balance, and to realise anew how interesting, and, in general, how good people are. And to learn how better to get to know people, and to be more open, which, in my life here, away from my blood family, has been a very restorative thing. The year has been both interesting and difficult, and I feel that I am now better able to deal with things and to be assertive in a more positive and less negative way. I have tried to write so as to show my better and not my worst side, and this has been a good discipline: not to give vent to dislike or hate, and to enable me to free myself from being a victim drowning in a mire of self pity. The years ahead are likely not to be easy, as Dr P's age and feebleness increase.

To those who read and comment, I appreciate you all so much, and send you my profound thanks, best wishes for Christmas and New Year, and lots more blogging contacts in 2010. I will be blogging again before New Year, but this seems a good moment to review the year and to consider the good with the bad.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The call from the doctor

Yesterday, as I was about to leap from my seat and dash for the bus, there was a phonecall from the dermatologist. According to the pathology report, the tissue excised from my bottom a week ago was an early melanoma in situ. Which is what I thought it would be, despite the optimistic reassurances of the doctors not to worry, as it did not look as though anything was wrong. Next week I am to have a wider excision, in case cells had started spreading, but this is mostly a precautionary measure.

Nevertheless it made me feel somewhat buffetted by fate. It is my third melanoma and my fourth cancer, and I wonder how many more might be waiting for me. How did I manage to get a melanoma on my bottom, which as far as I know has never ever seen the sun?

So I regret to admit that yesterday I wept a few tears and indulged in a good dose of self-pity. Today I feel more cheerful, but wish I had family here to get me there and back, and to hold my hand. It is not a good time of the year to have a sore bottom for another couple of weeks.

Dr P's car has been repaired and has been handed over to his grandson, along with all the paperwork. So that's that. The grandson, B1, has done very well in his exams and is to do his honours year in development economics in 2010. On Sunday there is a Dr P family lunch at our place. I have flagged some time off to visit family once the P family is back from their overseas jaunts and summer holidays.

I am off to a group dinner with Wednesday's Italian. It should be fun. I can't get to the class next week because of my prior engagement.

I have had two very embarrassing to self senior moments this week. Firstly I mistook the starting time for the opera, and missed the first half hour. (So did my friend.) The next night I turned up two days early for tonight's dinner. When I arrived at the restaurant, it was crawling with official looking people and TV crews. You had to fill out a form so that if you were filmed the TV crew could identify you! It turned out that Master Chef was cooking there that evening, with the contestants doing the cooking, and the restaurant patrons invited to pay however much they thought the food was worth. At that stage a nasty suspicion crept inexorably into my mind.... and sure enough I had stuffed up. I did my best to melt surreptitiously into the night. I hope they do not recognise me tonight - I would die of embarrassment.

A good week, yes?

Monday, 7 December 2009

High praise again to Pinchgut Opera

About a year ago I wrote about Pinchgut Opera's production of Charpentier's David et Jonathas (Oh Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay! -Wonderful Pinchgut Opera). I have attended every one of Pinchgut's productions since they started in 2002, and wouldn't ever miss them. The operas, by Purcell, Handel, Charpentier, Rameau, Vivaldi, Monteverdi, and Mozart, are seldom or never performed here.

Pinchgut uses the Sydney's Angel Place Recital Hall. This is a lovely venue, with a good acoustic, but it was not designed for stage productions, so Pinchgut and their designers have had to be very clever and creative in the staging.

I have just seen this year's production, L'Ormindo, by Francesco Cavalli (1602-76). The libretto is by Giovanni Faustini. I'd never heard of the opera, and Cavalli was only a vague name to me, despite my passion for early music. However, Grove regards him as the most important opera composer in the quarter-century following Monteverdi.

L'Ormindo is a total contrast to last year's opera. First produced in Venice in 1644, it romps through desire, sexuality, frustration, the plight of being married to an old and impotent king, the determination to take pleasure and not to allow 'love' to interfere with pleasure. It ends with true love triumphant (of course). It is essentially a comedy, and very tongue in cheek, mocking all the platitudes of love, although it has a truly affecting death scene with the most-heart-wrenching high violin music. Of course, they are not really dead: they, and we, only think they are! While the cast is small, each character is well-written, and given a goodly amount of music and acting.

Due to various circumstances, I missed the first half hour of the opera. Fortunately I had earlier downloaded the libretto and read it at home, to get my head around the old-style Italian. Just as well. It is a very sharp, very witty libretto, quite cynical about human behaviour and sexuality.

As ever, it was a most enjoyable performance, with wonderful singing, acting and staging, a great orchestra. Imaginative surprises abounded. Pinchgut reaches an extraordinarily high standard, and long may they continue. My slight reservations are that the opera is not emotionally engaging (apart from, as noted above, the death scene) and the music, while pleasant and enjoyable, cannot compete with the other operas Pinchgut has performed. But all in all it was a great night.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Too much noise


Especially in the city, which is where I spent several hours today. My friend the bell ringer and I met for our monthly lunch, during which we regaled each other with the significant events of the month. She showed me her photos of her recent trip to Queensland to look at fossils, and told me the horrific story of one of her grandsons being attacked after he finished work and was robbed, badly stabbed and bashed by, it turned out, recently released violent criminals. I told her about Dr P's car accident and his falls, and we discussed the increasing delights of the aging process. We had a good time - we always do - but decided not to go to that cafe again, as it was too noisy. We can cope with other people conversing, of course, but they put some noise on, of the sort that made conversation very difficult. We asked them to turn it down, and they turned it down a smidgin, but then it crept up again. Now we have to find a non-noisy cafe. Not easy.

Afterwards I set off to do some Christmas shopping. I went to Myers and I am by no means sure that I can tolerate another expedition there. The reason is that noise level inside is just frightful. Of course, ground floors, with all the tizzy jewellery, cosmetics and perfumes, not to mention the perfume piranhas trying to take a bit out of your person or your purse, are hideous places to traverse. Every single section pipes or blasts different music (???) sorry, very loud noise with lots of thumps, bangs and wailings. The ears are assaulted from all directions and one noise becomes indistinguishable from all the others. We have only two ears, for goodness sakes, and they are not wired separately.

I thought the din might decrease on the higher floors, but this did not happen to any significant extent. Microphone-amplified voices offering specials hailed the hapless shopper. I struggled through the children's wear section, in order to buy a baby present for my latest great-nephew and a dress for my granddaughter, and then tried looking at radios, stereos and their ilk. Big mistake! To the general noise level is added the sounds coming from about one hundred TV sets, with all their flickering images. Any possible ability to choose something vanished. I quickly admired the Apple display and then started looking at cheap digital cameras. My poor ears were then assaulted by a high-pitched alarm sort of sound which no one seemed interested in turning off. I fled and took the bus home.

I seem to remember that marketing research shows that if people are bombarded by lots of noise, flashing lights, confusing displays and designed difficulty in reaching the desired part of the shop, they get bemused, and fall into a trance-like state which makes them more susceptible to advertising and to impulse buying. Lifts are not easily seen or reached, and it is difficult to go anywhere in a straight line. Indeed, I remember in New York in the late 1980s department stores were arranged so that it was necessary to walk in a diagonal direction, and it was very easy to get lost. Department stores in Australia adopted this design arrangement soon after. I hate it.

Was there not some legislation years go to protect people from too much noise? Was it repealed? Does it not apply to shops? Why are shops allowed to blast loud music not only inside their premises, but into the streets and arcades as well? All this, and traffic and building construction noises too! In not too many years from now there will be millions of not-so-old people with severely damaged hearing - and the most likely consequence is that the noise levels will rise even higher. With a bit of luck I will be dead by then, but I am tempted to sit somewhere with a ghetto-blaster and play Wagner or Mahler at excruciating levels. Payback!

On the bus I thought I should check whether I had any phone messages. Myers had been so loud that hearing a phone in my handbag was an extremely remote possibility. Sure enough, Dr P had phoned and left one of his more charming messages. Someone called around earlier in the week wanting to check the energy efficiency of the house , so I agreed they could come today at 2 pm. What with taking Dr P this morning to get pathology tests done, and doing some grocery shopping while I waited for him - all before breakfast, and then dashing out, I forgot this appointment. Dr P was very shirty about it all. It was certainly my fault, but not the end of the earth. There was not a a lot of milk of human kindness on offer at our house just then (see how today's experiences have affected my style of composition) and then his daughter, SD1, rang and she proposed and he agreed, without any reference to me, some sort of family lunch at our place the weekend after next - 'they' would bring the food! Is it too much to expect that I might be a part of these discussions and arrangements without having to make an issue of it? Do I live here?

The migraine started. I took myself off to bed, but could not sleep, because of feeling disgruntled. So I sit here, letting off steam, enjoying the peace of the night.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Meaningless and meandering musings

Having done a little blog browse, and admired the absolutely gorgeous full moon - for once not obscured by cloud, I am not yet quite ready for bed. Today I had a piece cut out of my bottom, but am told it is unlikely to be a melanoma. It was cut out because I have had a couple of melanomas in the past. It has been stitched, but is not sore. Clever Dr P found this little spot - it was not in a place I can see easily, not that I spend a lot of time looking at my bottom, which is not as pretty a sight as it may once have been. Sigh!

I had to dash off early from this morning's Italian class to get to the medical appointment, and needed to take a taxi for the last part of the trip in order to arrive on time. The taxi driver filled me in on his negative views of our Prime Minister, and I did not bother responding with a similar but succinct and accurate analysis of the new Liberal leader, as I could so easily have done. You can only do so much in a five minute taxi ride, especially if you have given him the wrong street number...'Oh', he said, 'You should have told me the name of the premises.' Yes, well! I plead mild stress.

On the way home I did a bit of shopping for Dr P, and paid the council rates. Exciting stuff! Excited by the probability of a greater life expectancy, I ventured into the garden and lightly pruned the African daisy, which seems to think it is both able and entitled to crowd out all the competing vegetation. I then carefully examined the kaffir lime, to calculate the low probability of its setting any fruit. There are a couple of microscopic fruits which might survive another few days. I don't know why none of the fruit sets: the tree grows frenetically, and it gets lots of TLC.

News flash - the clouds are appearing and doing their best to obscure the moon.

Yesterday I was to have taken the computer to the city to the Apple Store to have a Genius look at it to see whether something needs fixing. It is very sluggish, and would not burn a CD of my photos. There was a problem in ejecting the CD, and I had to read the manual. I had to abandon the effort to take the computer to the city, as it is just too heavy, awkward and difficult to transport. All the connections had to be reinserted, of course, so I had to crawl and wriggle around the floor and the back of the desk to retrieve and reinsert them. It felt at least as heavy as my suitcase for the Italian trip was. Now I will have to get someone to make a home visit. Or buy a new computer.

Now there is a very tempting thought!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Falling down

Dr P fell over in the kitchen this afternoon. A cockroach ran across the kitchen floor, he tried to hit it with the fly swat, and fell. He was unable to get himself up, and nor could I get him up. I tried to get him into a kneeling position, so that he could get some leverage which, with my help, would get him to his feet, but he seemed unable to do so or to figure out the technique. He wanted me to ring his daughter so she could come over and help hoist him up. That could have taken some time, so instead I went into the lane, where some builders are working on a neighbouring house, and asked two of the men to help, which they very kindly did.

Dr P banged his arm and it bled a little, and fortunately he did not seem too shaken by the fall. But he should know better than to lunge at a cockroach.

Tonight he fell again. This time we were able to get him to his feet without having to call for help. He tried to carry his plate to the kitchen - something I always do, so I wonder why today he thought he could manage it. When he called me I was upstairs changing my clothes, as I was going to a concert. Naturally I stayed home, but if it had happened five minutes later I would have been gone, and he would have had to press his panic button. He took his blood pressure and that was normal, and he has gone to bed, rather shaky and subdued. He needed comforting and reassurance. It might be a good idea to take him to see the GP.

It is a worry. He is so heavy that it is extremely difficult for me to get him off the floor. When his legs gave way about four years ago, he fell and hit his head on the door jamb. I managed to get him up by using the computer chair, and then pushed him around. I had already arranged to see the GP that day about his condition and increasing weakness, and following my visit, he called to the house, and had Dr P admitted to hospital by ambulance. As he could neither stand nor walk, a laminectomy was necessary, and he was in hospital and rehab for a good six weeks. Various modifications were made to the house, such as handrails, we subscribed to a panic button service, and later had an inclinator installed. However this year he has become increasingly feeble, and tonight seems somewhat confused from the falls. What will happen and how will we deal with it? This sort of slow decline is awful.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Stages of aging

Last week Dr P went off to play bridge. Usually he gets a lift from friends, but that morning the friend whose turn it was to drive rang to say she could not drive him home. I had other engagements that day so was not available for chauffering duties. She and I urged him to get a taxi home, but he decided to drive himself. He set off. I felt rather anxious.

Just after 10 am he rang to say he had had an accident. He had been turning into an area of the carpark which led to a small parking area near an entrance with a ramp, which enables people to avoid having to climb the stairs into the club. Despite this bridge club being full of elderly people, there is no lift. Dr P's foot hit the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and the car hit the concrete wall.

Fortunately he was not hurt, just rather shaken, and went on to play his bridge. His kind partner drove him home. He has now decided not to drive any more, and once the car has been repaired he will give it to his grandson. For some time now he has not wanted to drive, and when we go anywhere together, or if he has a medical appointment I drive him, and accompany him to the appointment, and participate when necessary.

Along with everyone else, I am very relieved at this decision. Using taxis will cost him much less than registering and insuring a car, and it is much safer. He was not driving well, but was not amenable to persuasion to abandon driving. Understandably he was reluctant to abandon his independence, and to acknowledge yet another limitation of old age – he is almost 86 – but it seems that old people can get quite mean, and that he begrudged paying the cost of a taxi. Often he just won’t listen to reason, and he is used to having a servant class available to him, and I am the latest – probably the last – in a long line. He can be extremely stubborn, impervious to argument, and ready to shout people down. I do not want to be totally at his beck and call, and want to be able to lead my own life.

And yes, old age can be a real bugger. Dr P's old age shows itself in lack of mobility, severe forgetfulness, which necessitates constant repetition of everyday facts and arrangements, worsening deafness with consequent difficulty in conversing with family and friends, various health issues, the needing of frequent naps, the rigidifying of attitudes, and a far greater dependence on others. It is harder to maintain cheerfulness, and impossible to live life as before. I do sympathise and feel sorry for him, and do all I can to help, but it can be very frustrating and difficult. Although in many ways he is very generous, he is often very selfish.

A couple of years ago I read David Lodge's book Deaf Sentence. Lodge is quite deaf himself, and in this novel deafness is central to the plot. He writes 'Deafness is comic, as blindness is tragic.' Deafness, he says, might arouse pity, but not terror. He quotes Milton's Samson 'O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon, /irrevocably dark, without all hope of day' and offers'O deaf, deaf deaf' to illustrate the fact that deafness does not have the same pathos. While the blind have pathos, and there are visible signs which reveal their blindness, he says that 'we deafies have no such compassion-inducing warning signs' and indeed provoke irritation rather than compassion, because people must shout and repeat themselves constantly when trying to communicate with the deaf.

It is indeed quite unfair, but very true. My voice is soft, it makes me hoarse if I have to shout, and it is amazing how quickly my mood changes from kindness and helpfulness to irritation. I remonstrate with myself constantly 'Control your temper! He can't help it!' But he could at least use his hearing aid! Then I get depressed, thinking that these should be my good years, and, if I should outlive Dr P, I will probably have become so decrepit myself that I won't be able to have any fun or do anything, and there will be no one to care for me. That is no way to live, so such thoughts must be banished. And the decision to stop driving is a good one.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Profound disquiet arises in my breast

As previously noted, I occasionally watch crap TV, something Foxtel is very good at providing. Last night Dr P and I watched a documentary on plastic surgery, by Louis Theroux. Talk about creepy! It was set in California, and the programme gave the viewer to understand that plastic surgery is a pretty routine event there. Young women, who probably have not yet given birth, turned up in droves to have breast implants, liposuction, nose jobs, and nips and tucks all over, it seemed. There were also a number of men who had upper arm muscle implants as well as implants in their breasts to make them look more muscular. I thought they looked really weird. The separation between the breasts/chests looked very unnatural and strange. All the patients/customers babbled on about their self-images and self esteem, and how important it was for them to look as 'good' and 'hot' as possible. Louis Theroux himself underwent liposuction and emerged looking rather pleased with his improved body image. It all made me feel quite sick. The doctors interviewed did not seem to have any worries about their own bodies and faces, and believe me, they were no oil paintings themselves.

After watching all of this, and wondering what the world is coming to, I went to the website of a plastic surgeon, who is the son of friends. His practice seems to be predominantly breast implants, the cost is $8000, and there are glowing testimonials about the doctor, the staff, the care, the surgery and above all, the results. There are before and after photos of the breasts (but not the faces). There were mentions of how they had always hated their breasts, and again this reiteration of the importance of body image to their self esteem.

It makes me feel quite sick, for various reasons. I really hate to think that some doctors concentrate on this sort of surgery, probably, of course, because it is so financially rewarding. We think of doctors as being good people who care for others, heal them and save lives. At least, I suppose, they are not engaged in violent crimes, drug peddling, swindling people or dishonestly cheating them and destroying lives, like many other rich and successful people. But all the same most plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons does not seem to me to be improving our society.

Perhaps women are particularly vulnerable to the media and business manipulation and social pressures to conform to artificial notions of beauty and thinness. There is such constant emphasis on the female body, and what seems to be an incessant pounding of images, advertising, and stories, that young women in particular evidently increasingly feel it is normal, imperative and their entitlement to undergo botox injections to stop the appearance of aging, and to have breast implants, so they look 'hot,' and can wear plunging necklines revealing their nice new albeit artificial D cup size breasts. It is as though many women cannot apply rational thinking processes to their body images. The notion that an unaltered body is beautiful and worthy seems to be disappearing.

What are we doing to our young women? How can we better protect them?

And why are breasts described as pert or perky?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Balls in the air

Oh bother! I have had to cancel the computer appointment tomorrow, as I had forgotten that I had been invited to go to a concert tomorrow, and had double booked myself. I have yet another physiotherapy appointment in the morning before the concert. In the afternoon Dr P has to be taken to see his GP. At least I can defer lugging the computer into the city on a bus.

Last night was choir practice and we finished very late. The work we are singing is a Bruckner Mass, which I sang years ago, and decided that I did not care if I never heard it again. There are some lovely bits in it, but most of it is fairly so-so. It is also very hard on the voice, and in one part we have to sing eight bars of high A's, before moving on to some high Bb's. We did these parts a number of times last night and I came home barely able to squeak. The concert is next Friday evening, and we have dress rehearsals on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I have another physio appointment on Tuesday morning, and one of my twelve nieces plus a friend is arriving that morning, to stay overnight, and then take off to see more friends in Sydney. It will be lovely to see her, but it will not be possible to spare her much time. And I realised that it will be impossible for me to get to the other Italian class late Tuesday afternoon. Oh woe!

These days we lead a fairly quiet life, as Dr P's age, deafness and lack of mobility make joint social events increasingly rare. While he still reads the newspapers and watches the news, he no longer reads books and his short term memory is very bad. He won't go to films any more because he cannot hear the dialogue. It is sad when life contracts in these ways. I miss the man I married. What with the classes, choir, the lectures and lunches with friends from time to time, my life is fairly active still. There are days when Dr P looks as though he feels rather neglected (not true) and this makes me sad. I am not yet prepared or ready to have my own life contract in the same way, but there needs to be a balance, the balls have to be kept in the air, and I do not want to become merely a domestic slushy.

Dr P has taken some unauthorised slices of the second Christmas cake and declared it to be not much good. It was left in the kitchen, and thus a constant temptation. Asking to be eaten, actually. My usual output is generally better, he declaimed. I had a little taste myself, and judge it to be a fairly basic but quite nice fruit cake. To help it along, I sloshed a bit more brandy over it. Mind you, the first cake is superlative and any other cake cannot possibly compete. Cake 1 won't be cut until Christmas Day. In the meantime Dr P will probably continue to hack off more slices from Cake 2, and become accustomed to lesser fare.

After the art lecture today I had coffee with a woman from the choir, who also goes to the lectures. She had her 88 year old mother with her, who is very alert and active despite her various disabilities. It was a very pleasant time, and I hope that a friendship will develop between us. How to maintain and make friends is a subject I have thought about constantly since my move here, and certainly it makes things easier if you stay put in a place instead of moving here and there. When starting afresh making new friends can take quite a long time. It depends on being able to meet like-minded people, and then having the opportunity and time to get to know them. Sometimes it is just a matter of luck: suddenly mutual interests are discovered, or a spark is immediately struck, but usually the process is slow and organic. Choir members are obviously like-minded but what with all that singing there is relatively little time to meet and get to know many of the members.

So the day finishes with optimism.

Monday, 9 November 2009

A saga - making the Christmas cake

Suddenly it seemed time to make the Christmas cake. Although it takes quite a long time, it is something I enjoy doing. For some reason (a genetic throwback?) my children do not particularly like Christmas cake, and anyway they all live far far away, so that Christmas together happens only occasionally.

Last year I did not make a cake, reasoning that we ate it far too quickly and that it would only increase our girth. Last week I decided that yes, I would make a cake, justifying this on the sheer pleasure I get from the process. Promptly, I set about buying the ingredients. First I went to the local health food shop, which had almost nothing, but said they would have more arriving in a few days. Then I went to the local organic food shop. This is a very large and extensive shop, which is wildly successful, and also very expensive, so generally I go there only to buy potatoes or such like in an emergency. They had lots of ingredients, which all looked delicious. But the quantities were all wrong. They came in 200 gram packs, not the 125, 250, 375 or 500 grams which as every cook knows, are the measures generally required for cake making.

Somewhat perturbed but undaunted, I next visited the Nut Shop in the city, which is where I always buy my preserved ginger for the Dutch Ginger cake, which even those who generally affect to dislike ginger (Dr P, et al.) fall upon with glad cries and devour eagerly. It is very easy to make and I am happy to share the recipe.

The Nut Shop is generally full of people buying nuts, dried fruits, fudge and chocolates. As I perused their produce, it was borne upon me that the packaging quantities were all in 200 grams, not 250. I therefore felt seriously pissed off. In order to get the required quantities I would have to buy more than I needed or wanted. This seemed to me to be a despicably filthy capitalist trick. Or an international conspiracy. Or both!

So when did this change to standard packaging weight take place? Why did I know nothing about it? It could have happened any time in the last two years, but if so, why were there no outcries or street demonstrations? Why were cooks all over Australia not protesting vociferously. Was it mentioned on Master Chef? Although I have to admit that the commercial TV stations' programs documenting the manifold injustices of the world might have mentioned it, but I never watch them, so I will never know.

So I had to buy more raisins, sultanas and mixed peel than I needed, but the Nut Shop did sell glace fruit, ginger, nuts and cherries by weight. I still had to check out a couple of ingredients at the supermarket, where the quantity situation was the same. It was, however, most aggravating to have had to go all over the place to buy the fruit. OK, so I am retired, but my time is still precious, and it is the principle of the thing! No one should have to adapt a recipe in such a ridiculous way.

My favourite Christmas cake recipe is from Charmaine Solomon's book The Complete Asian Cookbook, and is a Sri Lankan/Dutch recipe, full of glace fruit, lots of spices and essences, honey, and a jar of Chow Chow preserves, which can only be found in Asian food shops, and not always then. It is necessary to plan ahead for this ingredient. It is a jar of various melons and fruits in sweet syrup. Apparently a substitute is melon and ginger jam, but I am nothing if not authentic, and thus Chow Chow preserves it has to be. I have another two jars lurking in the pantry, just in case there is an international Chow Chow preserves shortage. This cake is absolutely splendid. If the Imam fainted over an aubergine dish, he surely would have expired over this cake.

The day before yesterday I chopped up all the fruit. It takes quite a long time, but in its own way is quite a soothing activity, and my mezzaluna makes it quite easy, rocking away at all angles across the fruit on a large chopping board. The mezzaluna does need regular washing, as all the sugar in the fruit makes it very sticky. The mixture then is marinated overnight in brandy.

On Sunday I set about the making of the cake, in a relaxed and leisurely manner. What does take time, I find, is lining the cake tin, and as can be seen, I don't get this quite right. The paper has to be cut to the appropriate size, fitted, fastened and buttered. There was only just enough brown paper left, and today I had to buy some more.

First the batter is mixed. The recipe requires 12 egg yolks and six egg whites. Here is the batter
with the fruit added. It is a stiff mixture so I use my lovely Huon pine spurtle to mix it in thoroughly.
The cake is large, so the average Mixmaster bowl is not quite large enough.

Just for general information, here is the recipe,

and the lined tin.
The six egg whites, stiffly beaten, and then folded into the mixture. Again, the spurtle works well.
But hands are required to get it well mixed.

Here it is in the cake tin, ready to bake.

I cook this cake at 130 degrees C for four and a half hours.

Here is the cooled cake. You can see the little dents in the shape, signifying domestic authenticity, and not some automated factory process.

It is now wrapped up and hidden. Dr P seems not to realise that it is a Christmas cake, and thus not to be hacked into bits for his immediate delectation. In some respects I am happy to take on the role and responsibility of a domestic dictator.

However, there was some fruit left over.... so here is the chopped mixture for a smaller and lighter cake marinating away there. Tomorrow will be another busy day.

Today I did some general food shopping and visited the health food shop there, which had all the fruit in the (formerly) standard quantities. Too late for me and my cakes this year, but I will know where to shop next year.

And there are six surplus egg whites to use up, so it looks as though I will have to cook a large pavlova.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Incompetence - don't laugh too loudly

The little technical problems of life - how bothersome they can be. Especially when I find out there was no problem - just lack of comprehension and common sense on my part.

I thought I had a problem with my mobile phone. When I went to type in what I thought was the text box, all I got was numbers, accompanied by a semicolon. Not letters. The phone is relatively new, an el cheapo, bought as a stand alone, and not part of a plan.

I found the instruction booklet, and looked carefully through it. Instruction books are written in simpler language these days. All the same I could not find anything which addressed my problem. Oh damn, I thought, I am going to have to find the receipt, go to the retailer and explain the problem. My heart sank and I felt very daunted. I went through all the possibilities I could think of in the phone's menus. Nothing worked. Should I reset everything? Surely this would not be necessary, as who knows what other problems would occur? Or, I thought, I'd have to ask my children. They, of course, all live in other cities, and might have sniggered at me and said 'Oh Mum!'

So I took the phone with me when I went to the shops yesterday, and called in at a Vodaphone shop. The man fiddled around for a couple of minutes, and then told me that what I have to do with this phone is to enter the number the message was to be sent to before I tried to write any text. So simple. My old phone, a genuine antique if ever you saw one, which has been handed on to Dr P, did messages the other way around, so my mind had not contemplated the possibility of a different way of doing it. It is the same brand of phone, after all.

It is all a bit worrying when you consider that I am the technical expert in this household. And that I gave technical help about her mobile phone to my bell-ringing friend last time we met. We are having lunch together today so we can laugh about this humbling experience.

The computer has been very sluggish for a while, so I have finally got around to making an appointment to get it looked at by a Genius in the Apple Store in the city. This means unplugging the computer and lugging it into the city by bus, hoping that I don't drop it, and that I manage to get a seat in the bus. Fortunately the staff at the Apple Store are very kind, patient and tolerant, and since they introduced their technical help and education system, quite a few 'older' people (ie over thirty) now regularly go along to learn more about how everything works. (Although I would like to eavesdrop on their lunchtime talks and hear some of their horror stories about the average idiot user.) I had several sessions before I bought the iPod, and, as I am considering buying a new computer, I will be able to book in for lessons about it all, so as to make it all easier.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Titles and forms of address

Today’s lesson deals with the continued use of archaic, outmoded and grovelling forms of address and tiles. It is time to consider their appropriateness and to rethink their use.

Here are some titles which really aggravate me. There are probably many others.

His/Her Majesty

His Imperial Majesty

His/Her Highness

His Eminence

His Grace

His/Her Worship

His Lordship

Her Ladyship

His/Her Excellency

His Reverence

The Most Reverend

His Holiness

The Honourable

The Right Honourable


Be it noted that there is a certain gender bias in some of these titles. They seem designed to create an aura of grandeur, of authority, inequality, and separateness from others, and may imply both overtly and indirectly that the holders of such titles are more worthy of respect and good fortune than us lesser mortals. However, such titles can also suggest, to put it crudely and unkindly, that the holders are up themselves. My argument is that such titles originated in authoritarian, hierarchical, unequal and stratified societies, and were intended to indicate authority, distinction, royalty, nobility, religious office-holders, and general importance. And to keep people in their places.

Some titles, of course, describe occupations, professions and qualifications, such as Professor, Doctor, Judge, Commissioner, President, Prime Minister, Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition. These do not present any problems. They describe the occupation, office or function, and separate it from the personality.

Titles such as Duce and Fuhrer are indelibly linked to evil and abhorrent people who brought great misery to the world. It is interesting that the Italians no longer use the word Duce (which means Leader). These days, it seems, the word used is capo.

Some people, possibly traditionalists, old fogies or monarchists (the David Flints of the world) are not only happy to retain such titles, but would see them as appropriate and expressing respect. My rejoinder is that there are less grovelling and more accurate ways of expressing respect for a person, or an office or an occupation.

After the French Revolution the general form of address, until the restoration of the monarchy, was Citizen. I quite like this, though the practice seems to have got a bad reputation from the Terror and the Scarlet Pimpernel novels of Baroness Orczy, which sent out a strong message that equality was bad, while aristocrats were inevitably noble, courageous and honest, and could outwit an evil democrat any day of the week.

The Americans seem able to cope with addressing their President as Mr President. This seems an excellent way of giving respect to the office, which does not require or imply any obsequiousness or grovelling. Respect is important, but ought to result from legitimate and democratic authority, responsibility, functions and general courtesy, rather than from the continued adoption of outmoded and ridiculous titles.

Here endeth the rant.

Your humble, devoted and obedient servant,

Her Opiniatedness Persiflage

Monday, 2 November 2009

Things up with which I will not put

Mondays are not always the best day of the week. Often I go to a music discussion group. Dr P often plays bridge. As he does not drive often these days, he is usually given a lift, but not always. On those days I get called to duty. Usually I don't mind, but I do not want to have to do it every week, as my group finishes before his, and I have to hang around. I also often give a lift to one of the men attending the group, whose wife usually has to rush off for more musical duties. They live across the road, and they give me lifts home from concerts from time to time, so it is an arrangement of mutual convenience and helpfulness.

The premises where Dr P plays bridge does not have a lift, and the stairs are steep and difficult. So I take Dr P around the back where there is a ramp. I drove to the ramp area, with my passenger chatting away, and waited and waited. Finally I went back around the front and there was Dr P, with other elderly persons hovering anxiously about him, and he was absolutely livid at having had to wait, and quite abusive, not only because of the misunderstanding about the pick-up point, but also because he had worn a belt which was too loose and his trousers were falling off him. This too was all my fault because I never buy him a belt which is the right size.

Had we been by ourselves I could have dealt with it, but with another person in the car, who is only a casual friend, it was very awkward and unpleasant, and I am still feeling cranky. Having our imperfections both individually and as a couple thus exposed is horrid and embarrassing. I am prepared to take responsibility for my own mistakes and shortcomings, (although occasionally this can take a while) but to be blamed for things such as his choice of a loose belt made me, in my turn, livid. It can be difficult living with a person who never accepts blame or responsibility. Especially because basically I try so hard to be a good person, and to do the right thing, and I have a strong sense of justice. Thus I flare up when an unjust or baseless accusation is made against me.

When Dr P has calmed down I will take all the belts to the nice shoe repairer down the road and get more holes put in them. I have not quite calmed down yet, so it will not be done tomorrow.

Why are stupid things like this so infuriatingly annoying to all concerned?

Anyway I do think I am getting better at handling such contretemps, thanks to all the how to de-angst sessions I have had. I have become more positive and assertive. Part of me feels cross because in fact we have been getting on quite happily and pleasantly.

Tomorrow SD3 arrives for the day, before flying off to her beach house down the coast. So there will be a family lunch somewhere.

As one of the Italian classes is tomorrow afternoon, and it is my turn to present the argomento, I used up all my steam in writing it. The topic is not Music, Steam, Belts, or Pick - Up Points, but the Melbourne Cup. There was a lot of vocabulary to look up. Despite my racing-mad daughter and her photographic talents, little information about a) horses, and b) racing stays in my mind, so I had to look it all up on the Internet. I can say definitely that there is no horse running called Mea Culpa.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Not about anything much

I should really go to bed, but feel the day is not yet finished. Nor have I done any reading today.
This is my 'busy' day. I fly out the door early to catch the bus to the city to get to the Italian class. Our teacher, who always used to arrive late, has been startling us with his punctuality this term. There are a couple of new people in the class, and so far they seem to fit in very well, and may even belong to the race that knows Joseph.

After this class I go to an art history lecture, which are generally excellent, where I meet the friend with whom I travelled to Italy. It was pleasant to discuss the trip and how much we both enjoyed it.

By the time I arrived home, I really did not feel like doing anything much. So I didn't. Dr P finished off the pea and ham soup, and I had pasta, then sat down to vegetate in front of the TV. My mind was not greatly improved by this.

We had friends over for lunch on Sunday - a spur of the moment thing organised on Saturday. Because I had an all day choir practice on Saturday I had no time to cook anything, and so decided to buy salads, cold meats and smoked salmon on Sunday morning. When I left to go shopping I checked the walls of the house (I always do this because I am now justifiably paranoid) and found there were four large graffitis, three on one wall and one in the lane. It took me an hour to clean them off, and they are still visible. One was so high I had to stand on a chair to reach it. It took more than one bottle of graffiti remover.

All of this did nothing for my sweetness and light levels, but I soldiered on personfully, and did the shopping in record time, and set off for home. This took twice as long as usual - BECAUSE - the traffic was jammed a long way back, due to the fact that some idiot (possibly the Premier?) had approved an event which involved closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for hours, in order for TURF to be laid across its length and breadth, following which 6000 allegedly fortunate but possibly psychologically disturbed people could have a picnic on the Bridge. After the picnic the turf had to be removed, of course.

I cannot comprehend why anyone could possibly think this event was a good idea, and the pages containing the letters columns in the newspaper have been spontaneously combusting from the outraged comments of those who were inconvenienced by the closure, and from the rest of the people who think it was just plain stupid.

(When we arrived in Brescia the piazza in front of the cathedral was being transformed into a garden with plants, seats, stage and catering facilities for a fashion and design event. To restore the piazza to its original condition took the next two days, but at least they were not blocking off a major traffic route.)

Notwithstanding the graffiti and the traffic jams, we had an excellent and enjoyable long lunch, and there is a lot to recommend going out and buying ready prepared food, especially when Dr P opined that although he enjoyed the potato salad, it was not as good as mine. (Of course not.)

In other news the nasturtiums have gone mad, the fuchsia is blooming, everything is growing, but the kaffir lime tree yet again is not setting its fruit. Why not?

The day has now finished. And so to bed.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Why are fire engines red?

Perhaps as the season changes and we have to re-accustom ourselves to hot weather, even at night, I notice things which suddenly become easy to complain about.

I have encountered here and there a few blogs, such is this - an enjoyable piece of vituperation - discussing some of the really stupid names unfortunate and innocent babies are given. Not their faults, poor little lambs. Having noticed names such as Natarsha, Symantha, and Giaan (how the heck are you supposed to pronounce that?) I went on line and checked some birth notices, and in one fell swoop discovered Laycie, Haylee, Aspen, and Trinity Starr (!) the sister of a little boy named Indiana. I am so sick of surnames being used as first/given/Christian names such as Harrison or Mackenzie. And as for the names Sarah Palin gave her kids!!!

Does no one teach children that there are some rules of English pronunciation? Such as the effect of a double consonant? Yes, I know English is supposed to be a difficult and inconsistent language, but it really is not as bad as it is often made out to be.

OK, enough already. I am now about to destroy any credibility I might have as a rational being.

Some evenings I amuse myself by watching some really bad television. And guess what, it is usually American. We have Foxtel, and one of the channels is called Home and Health. This afternoon I watched half of a programme called Yes to the Dress. In this, bridal consultants take brides to a wedding dress place and urge stupid females into totally unbecoming dresses. I cannot believe how dreadful they look as they fantasise about walking up the aisle swathed in a rigid strapless dress with a tight waist ballooning into massive skirts and trains.

There is another programme which gets overweight brides-to-be into training so that they can lose enough weight to fit into one of these horrid monstrosities. Can anyone explain why people imagine that strapless dresses are becoming?

Then there are parenting and children series such as Jon and Kate Plus Eight, and Seventeen Kids and Still Counting. I read the other day that Jon and Kate's marriage is on the rocks. Certainly the bits I watched today indicated that neither is enjoying dealing with eight little kiddies all that much, and that their survival technique is to adopt a very military approach.

The seventeen children one is sanctimonious in the extreme, so I will skip that in future. The names all start with J, and there is a Jinger. I wonder what the 18th baby will be called? But I did gather that to make ends meet they rent out quite a few investment properties, and that they own nine vehicles. And their accommodation is not to be sneezed at. And quite likely the income from the TV stations helps buy the odd crust.

Other series on offer are Who'll Age Worst, Plastic Surgery Before and After, Rich Bride, Poor Bride, Perfect Housewife, and Downsize me.

Tomorrow night I might watch Why my baby won't sleep. Should be fun.

I will confess to enjoying Supernanny, but I don't see it very often, as Dr P tends to arrive downstairs, and immediately starts jeering at me. I take no notice, as he watches his own junk, such as Two and a Half Men, which makes me leave the room immediately.

It is quite satisfying to watch programmes which confirm one's prejudices. But seriously, this channel focuses on extremes, and preys on female uncertainties about their bodies and beauty, and appears to put a relentless pressure on women to see the world in such terms.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Window shopping

For the delectation of the passer-by, and the perusal of lovely things, here is a selection of photos I took as we wandered hither and thither.

Inevitably on our way to the various museums, galleries, churches, ruins, etcetera, we passed many shops. I am not complaining. While not the shopper I used to be when I was still slender, it is enjoyable to look at what is on offer in the shops. I perambulate around the Queen Victoria building and around department stores, but in the last few years find that fashion appeals to me less and less, partly because so many clothes are very unflattering to many women, and secondly because the fabrics used are so tizzy and of such poor quality.

In Italy, where such deficiencies are less common, it was a pleasure to window shop. The displays are elegant and gorgeous. Purple is the colour of the season and there is absolutely nothing wrong with purple. Jewellery shops abound, as well as a goodly selection of shops catering to the many and varied passions of the female.

I wanted to visit Ferrara because of my interest in Lucrezia Borgia. My Italian class studied and translated a biography of Lucrezia, who did not have an easy life. She was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, who became Pope Alexander VI, and sister of Cesare Borgia, upon whose life and career Niccolo Machiavelli based his seminal work, The Prince. Lucrezia was not the wicked woman so often depicted. Her second husband, whom she loved, was murdered by her brother. Her third marriage, made for political reasons, as was customary, was to Alfonso, the heir to the Duchy of Ferrara. Alfonso was a notable soldier, obsessed by developments in armaments, at a time when the French had invaded Italy, causing massive political instability.
Upon her marriage Lucrezia was obliged to leave behind her infant son, and never saw him again. He died young. She had numerous pregnancies, which were always difficult, and the last one killed her. In those days there was no notion of giving a woman time to recover from miscarriage or childbirth. The sooner she could be impregnated again, the better.

We sought out the convent where Lucrezia was buried, but it was closed for restoration. There is a fascinating account of Ferrara, the Este family and Lucrezia in H V Morton's A Traveller in Italy (published in 1964, I picked it up a year ago at a second-hand book stall) and he managed to gain entry, at a time when the nuns still observed enclosure rule.

These shops are in Ferrara, a city of about 40,000 people. We stayed in the historic centre, close to the Castello Estense. It was a notable cultural and literary centre during the Renaissance. Ferrara is lovely. Outside the walls people drive their cars, but around the historic centre, they walk or ride bicycles. Naturally they talk on their mobile phones as they cycle along.

I liked the combination of this revealing neckline, notwithstanding the swathing of the neck itself.
Here is food for the body. We passed this shop in the very narrow main street of Bergamo's Citta Alta. It all looked delicious, and was very crowded, so that it would have taken ages to actually buy anything. Bergamo features lots of cakes, but we did not try any of them. They had a cake made of polenta, but I am afraid the very thought made me shudder. The meringues looked good though. As we walked past the shop some time later we espied a fly in the window, which put us off a bit.

This is a wool shop in Brescia. We did actually go inside, and perved and yearned over the gorgeous yarns - the cashmere, the alpaca, the silk blends. I might have bought some if only I had had a pattern in mind, and knew how much to buy. On the other hand my suitcase was already quite heavy enough.
This is a shop from the fearsomely expensive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, just near the Duomo. I don't really go for silver, but these were elegant and sumptuous. The shop also sold a range of the lovely silver and enamelled animals which are sold in Florence. I think the prices in Milan easily exceed those in Florence. I had already bought two small ones in Florence, a boar, and an owl. It took my granddaughter about five minutes last week to spot that there were a couple of new ones. She'd like to nick off with them. She has to wait, though.

Finally, the Ricordi music store. Ricordi was Verdi's publisher, and so the world owes his memory some respect. It is a lovely shop and as we had some time to kill on our last day in Italy, we stayed there over an hour looking at all the CDs and books. It was not a bad way to end our trip.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Moving forwards, and back

Naturally I have managed to get the photos in the wrong order of the trip, but such errors must be endured. The photos above and below are of the Arno River. It does not matter how often I visit the wonderful city of Florence - and believe me, it is not nearly often enough - I keep taking photos of the river and its bridges. This photo with the large concreted area is something I never spotted before. It is a pescaia - a sort of weir, and there is another one, according to my map, further upstream. How long has it been there, I wonder? It is downstream from Ponte della Trinita, roughly between the churches of Ognissanti, and San Frediano on the opposite, or Oltrarno side. I had never managed to get to these churches before, and as we came away from San Frediano on the Sunday morning before Mass was held, we peered over the embankment wall, and noticed all this. It is evidently a fishing spot, and there is a man in waders in the water on the far side fishing. The Arno is probably fairly polluted, so do they fish for sport or food, or both? I am perplexed about the large concreted area with all the chairs.
I like this photo for the reflection of the sky.
This is the mercato of San Lorenzo, and we were on our way to visit the church of San Lorenzo, the Medicean chapels and the Laurentian Library. The chapels and the Library were closed on my previous visits. As we walked through, the man with his arms akimbo posed, so we cheered and waved. He will never know he is on my blog.

San Lorenzo is a Brunelleschi (the Duomo dome architect) church, built as the Medici local church for Cosimo il Vecchio, who did not go in for splendour, but for lack of ostentation and modest living. Effective power rather than its pomps was enough for him. The local stone of Florence is known as pietra serena, and it is indeed cool and serene, with an austere beauty, with the church owing as much to the balance and perfection of its proportions as to the materials and decorations used.
The chapels, with the Michelangelo statues of Night and Day, and Dusk and Dawn, are wonderful, and Michelangelo has the same wonderful proportions and balance in his architecture. The other chapel, despised by Oscar Wilde, is a riot of coloured marbles and feature highly decorative pietra dura work. I am a sucker for gorgeous marbles and stones (as a child I wandered around cemeteries and monumental masons), and cannot equal Oscar Wilde's refinement and sensitivity. It is really a very very Baroque interior.

For the first time we visited the Laurentian Library, with the staircase designed by Michelangelo. Beautiful as it is, the interior of the Library excelled it, and it is a monument to literacy and learning. There was an exhibition of the development of writing and the development of alphabets, and of books from basic commercial records to literature, copies of ancient works, illuminated manuscripts of incredible beauty and perfect scripts to the development of printing. Seeing such antiquities and the development of learning and civilisation is inspiring and wondrous.

Pietra dura work is one of my minor passions, and I have two small pictures and a pendant. Very modest works, they are, but I love them. This photo is of a shop window selling pietra dura. On the Oltrarno, where our hotel is, there are several shops and workshops, where I always linger. There is also a museum, Opificio delle Pietre Dure, and lots of it on display in the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi. It is incredibly detailed work, making pictures of scenery, birds, flowers, using semi-precious stones.
As one of my Italian classes is studying Dante, oh so slowly, I could not resist this pizzeria in the city of Dante's birth.
This is the facade of the church of Santo Spirito, designed by Brunelleschi, but not completed by him. Like San Lorenzo, the interior is serene and beautiful. A Baroque baldacchino was put in place many years later. Some think it spoils the church, but I say the church is pretty hard to spoil, and I rather like it.
A view of Florence from the Pitti Palace. I managed to get approval from the attendant to take a photo from the little balcony. In this part of the Pitti Palace visitors kept having to lean forward so as to read the name of the painter and the title of the work. This leaning kept setting off the alarms, but fortunately the attendants were quite sympathetic and understanding. We explained that we were getting on a bit and our eyesight was not what it was. They nodded understandingly.

Indeed we found that despite there being treasures left, right and centre everywhere we went, the security was not of the officious and obnoxious kind encountered in Australian galleries. We were able to peer and get up close, and point at things in a picture. Bags were not permitted as a rule, and taking photos was prohibited - not that such prohibitions or any reminders ever stopped your average culture lover and camera enthusiastic from flashing away there, because of course such rules cannot possibly mean me myself personally - oh no!

Back in Rome, which is where I meant to resume. These two photos are of the church of St Ivo della Sapienzia, a Borromini church, notable for its spiral belfry, and (according to the guide book) for its astonishing complexity, and an ingenious combination of concave and convex surfaces. Borromini and Bernini worked together, but then fell out, and were rivals. But the two of them made Rome what it is today. Borromini was a complicated and difficult man, and in his later years suffered from feverish melancholia. This eventually led him to fall on his sword, but he did not die immediately and suffered horribly.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Mostly Rome

Why not start with a photo of the Colosseum? I visited it on my first ever trip, and this time we decided to refresh the memories. It is awesome, in the original sense of the word. We had come by the Metro and as we were about to cross the road we were accosted by a woman wanting to sell immediate entrance, with a guided tour. For twice the cost. Being relatively aged and mature, we thought we'd take our chances, so went and queued, and got in after only ten minutes. The real reason entry took so little time is that the Colosseum is immense, and it does not matter how many people are admitted, it is NEVER going to look as though there are more than a handful of people in it. Just even thinking about the number of people who crowded into in in its g(l)ory days make my head spin. The pale part is a floor which has been put in to enable people to see how it worked. Immense pieces of columns abound.

The photo with the statue is of Campo dei Fiori, one of my favourite places in Rome. On my first trip to Rome my sister and I stayed at a small and very basic hotel nearby, where the shower was part of the room, separated only by a shower curtain. The statue is of the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at the stake for heresy. Such punishments form a large part of the horrors of the past - it seems that cruel and unusual punishments - the type prohibited by the American Constitution - were commonplace in the days when life was short, nasty and brutish, and formed part of the entertainment of the people, rich, powerful, poor and weak. Western civilisation has reached better standards than those of the past. Campo dei Fiori is still a market place, with fresh food and flowers sold there to the people of Rome. Cafes and restaurants abound, and it was there that I had my first gelato of the trip - raspberry, which surely must have an addictive substance in it, as it is quite madly delicious. From Campo dei Fiori we proceeded to Piazza Farnese, and a view of the Palazzo Farnese. Some idiot sold it years ago to the French, and it is now the French Embassy, which means that people cannot get into it. Drat! From there we walked across Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Piazza Navona, and visited the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, which is beautiful. Obviously I cannot describe the many churches we visited, but I can certainly recommend them. Then we set out to find San Luigi dei Francesi, which has three Caravaggio paintings, including the Calling of St Matthew. It took us a while to find it, mostly due to my poor map reading. Despite directions from helpful Romans we could not find it. When we did succeed, we realised that one reason for our difficulties was that it was covered in scaffolding, and thus was not recognisable.

This is the remarkable oval staircase of the Palazzo Barberini, built for Pope Urban VIII and family. He is the one who authorised using the bronze from the roof of the Pantheon for Bernini's baldacchino in St Peter's. This is the sort of thing that bean counters do to save money. This gave rise to the saying (and I can't remember the Latin) that what the barbarians could not do, the Barberini did. It is a remarkable building, with a flight of 80 stairs
(yes I counted them)
between the ground floor and the first floor. Surprisingly, it has a copy of the Holbein portrait of Henry VIII.

The Elvis and Beatles stained glass windows are part of a cafe in via Veneto. Good fun.

I have managed to delete some of the photos I had selected. Sorry. I don't think there is an undo button available for this sort of thing.

The noseless Statue comes from Brescia. Part of conquerors' revenge. The other photo gives the history but it might not be legible.
I dare not have a go at deleting the duplicate Elvis image.

This black cat is painted at the base of a wall in a street in Brescia, and I have to say is an improvement on the usual standard of graffiti, which is ubiquitous and awful. There was another and similar cat image in another street. No idea what it means, but I love those orange eyes.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Home again, home again

I am back home. Goodness me, it is a long journey. Having discovered that our flight was continuing to Christchurch, New Zealand, it became evident that there are people who live even further away from their destination than I do, and thus I felt quite sympathetic towards them.

It is good to be home. The reunion with Dr P has been very loving and pleasant and it is good to be able to tell him all about the trip. He missed me a lot. His family cared for him well, and apparently his grandson ate huge bowls of pasta with Bolognese sauce every night. Nothing else. (Sometimes I think boys are very strange.)

On the first flight out of Milan I was next to a man who lay down and slept for most of the flight, and snored very loudly the whole time. I felt like having a loud and hysterical tantrum, but my convent upbringing would not let me, so I had to lie there and just fume silently, as I envied him his remarkable capacity for sleep. I managed only about 4 or 5 hours for the entire journey, and last night woke after five hours. Obviously I am typing this while deeply asleep, but I am shortly going to bed, and hope that tomorrow morning I will have recovered from the admittedly fairly mild case of jet lag.

Somehow I imagined that on my return I could sit about idly and gather my forces, but of course life is not like that. My initial idea that we would go out for dinner faded as I realised it was a public holiday and that really fresh food might not be available. So I thawed some pea and ham soup and cooked some croutons and we feasted on that. Today I had to clean the refrigerator (yuk) and then go out and shop, and then lug it all inside.This was a relatively easy task, as I have been lugging my heavy suitcase up and down stairs on stations, and on and off several high steps on the various trains, so obviously this stood me in good stead for every day activities. Sometimes, as we did our little old ladies' act, a strong and helpful male would help and we were always most grateful. But why do so many stations not have lifts?

Our last stay was the Citta Alta of Bergamo, a most beautiful spot with stunningly beautiful buildings and a fascinating history. We walked all around it and came away with much information about its history, especially in the post-Napoleonic period when it became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the political repression was extremely severe. A nice new law was introduced for crimes such as having a weapon, and people could be arrested, tried, convicted and executed within several hours. Horrific!

I took what probably amounts to a thousand photos in this city. On our last day we visited the Donizetti museum, and bought a ticket which gave us entry to several other places, including the large campanile (Campanone). When we turned up there, the lift was out of order, and it was still out of order the next time we tried. Thus, when we set out on our final ramble, I left my camera in the hotel, and having found that the lift was finally working, went up, climbed another 45 stairs and stepped into the most stunningly beautiful view, and there I was with no camera. Generally I take lots of photos of bell towers, for the edification of my friend the bell-ringer, but she is missing out on a photo of the Campanone's huge main bell.

We did visit the Citta Bassa, but did not manage to see much, and when we arrived at the Contemporary art Gallery, found that it was Art of a highly self-indulgent and pretentious kind. So we walked to the funiculare, leaving any other offerings to themselves.

We climbed the Rocca, from which the views were almost as spectacular, and followed an exceedingly suspicious cat around its walls. Bergamo seems always to be shrouded in mist, which never lifted.

Although we arrived in Rome, we departed from Milan, and so took the train to Milano Centrale Station, which has lifts (halleliua), and moving walkways, toilets, and a Left Luggage department. We deposited our luggage there, and then braved the Metro. We got out at Duomo, a trip which took a whole five minutes, and the doors opened and closed at every station in 12 seconds. We emerged from the Metro to see rise before us the most achingly beautiful building imaginable, the Duomo, which has been cleaned since I first saw it with my sister years ago, and it is light and pale and seems to be about to float away. Notwithstanding being searched on entry and reminded that no photos or filming were permitted in the interior, most people evidently think that such restrictions could not possibly apply to themselves, and so cameras were constantly flashing.

I must here engage in some cultural relativism. In Asia everyone takes off their shoes before entering a temple and women know not to try and shake a monk's hand (all these contaminating females!) and in mosques evidently sensitivity, courtesy and decorum govern behaviour. Why, then, do people feel it is acceptable to disturb Christian religious services, to pose for photos in churches, to take photos and video despite the prohibitions, eat and drink, and to kiss and fondle as well? It made me very cross: I feel we should respect our own history, culture and traditions. And other cultures should respect each other.

All in all, we had a wonderful time, and saw so many beautiful places, buildings, scenery and art, and enjoyed the immense courtesy and generosity of spirit of the people. We enjoyed each other's company, never had a cross word, had the freedom to do exactly as we pleased, without having to conform to a timetable. The weather was excellent, the hotels ranged from satisfactory to very good, the train trips were pleasant, with mere frissons of anxiety about whether we were on the right platform and on the right train, and the itinerary always interesting and the stays just long enough. I did a little shopping in Florence, following which I restrained myself with admirable self-discipline and merely window-shopped (ah! the gorgeous aquamarines and amethysts in Ferrara - they are all still there).

There were many special hours and places, and I will reflect on them and examine the photographs to preserve them in my memory. It is good to be home.

And now to bed!

Some photos next time, when my mind and body are less of a blur.