Monday, June 24, 2013

Life on a Greek Island.

                                                                Lefkade Street.


Drinking coffee on Dorsfore Street.

In our world were most people are oblivious to their immediate surroundings, it comes as no surprise that most of us pass each other in the street without noticing what any one is wearing let alone doing. Half the time we are unaware of the buildings we pass, the colours of the environment, or the activity of the street, we are so absorbed in self as though in a dream. It is as though we have forgotten how to see, how to appreciate the world and people around us, each of us live our life in this wonderful world full of variety, a world in constant flux.

A few years ago I spent a delightful few hours sitting at a street cafĂ© on Dorsfore Street, Lefkade. Historically, Dorsfore was a Dutch archaeologist, who attempted to prove that Odysseus on his return from Troy on a Phaiakians ship landed on the Lefkade coast near here. His evidence for this theory will be found in a Homer passage in the Odyssey,  the story tells us that Odysseus awakes in a  caves facing east of which there are many on this island. The details of this event need not concern us here, but rather that Dorsfore Street, presents a microcosm of Greek island life. The reason I was sitting there was that my wife had injured her eye and had spent the best part of the night in a state of pain, and was now upstairs in a doctors’ surgery. Like many streets in small Greek towns the mornings are full of great activity. All sorts of people seemed to be coming and going, intent on their business and taking the opportunity to exchange gossip with their neighbours.

                                                              Dorsfore Square

Sitting here at my table waiting for my coffee among locals as they click their worry beads, I became aware of the large number of elderly ladies dressed in black, who keep appearing and disappearing from a narrow side lane opposite. Old men were also appearing bent over walking canes as they moved very slowly, with great determination down the road towards their destination. In hot pursuit a white beard priest also appeared waving a sheet of paper in the air in their direction as though trying to gain attention. I have no idea where this mysterious lane goes, or what roll the priest is playing out in the morning’s theatrical activities, but a lot of people kept appearing and disappearing from within the lanes iron clad walls. Lefkade’s  buildings are built of galvanized iron, the upper stories painted in soft pastels colours due to the frequent earthquakes in this part of the world. Shutters are painted in complementary colours creating a most pleasing vista. The last major quake causing damage was in 1948, when the citizens decided on this novel strategy. It seems to have been successful as the earthquakes of the 1950s caused little heartache. The street is lined with all sorts of shops, some selling fish lying on tables, meat hanging from hooks out on the pavement, other trying to sell cloths, hardware, food or whatever you could carry away. Lined up outside many of these shops are a number of unique tables, varying size and condition compete for attention. The one opposite me outside a rather rundown shop with an array of American Express, Visa and Master card stickers, groans under a load of door mats and towels. The shops are very catholic in their stock selection, but this wooden table barely remains erect, with its broken leg held together with metal straps and wire, another leg requires the support of a house brick to gain extra height. This shop however sells jewellery along with floor mats, pillows and towels, and heaven knows what else. This is very much the Greek way, no matter what a customer asks for you  are required to find some other product as a possible alternative.

 The parade continues up and down, rotund women with black scarves securely tied beneath their chins, darting fashion conscious young women in tight smart pants and jackets with arrays of gold buttons, or colourful tops recently purchased in Athens weave in and out through the crowd. Others with designer bags slung over shoulders stand out in marked contrast to the older inhabitants of the town. One young mother with flashing eyes pushes her prams past me with her mother guarding baby while she stops to exchange gossip with friends. The old men of the town for the most part appear to have little to do at all, they simply walk slowly up and down, stopping for a chat every so often to discuss politics with passer bye or to a driver slowly driving down the street with his window down, and animated arm movements as they go. Some are more commercially minded and arrive with the odd plastic milk carton full of lemons and other objects I am unable to identify. One gentleman squats on the pavement plucking feverishly at the odd leaf in his box of eggplant in an attempt to improve their saleability.

My ice coffee has arrived as the church bell chimes eleven, the waiter has his complimentary cigarette butt hanging out of the corner of his mouth, everybody smokes here lighting one after the other in rapid succession. Customers at the next to my table discuss the football match ball by ball showing on the TV as though they are broadcasting to the world at large. Every now and then  patients appears from the doctor’s  door behind my chair, still no sign of my wife, eventually she appears, and informs me that the doctor told her blue eyes are very beautiful, but not very practical!
                                                                Back Street, Lefkade

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fuchs [fox] Seranade and More.

As the great Tasmanian fox hunt draws to a close after some ten years or more of baiting, searching under bushes and behind rocks for the elusive fox, it seems appropriate that today's concert at Kettering should include a work by Robert Fuchs. Not that I am suggesting for one moment that foxes have not been introduced into our treasured island, after all we have actually sighted one on our front patio. This in turn lead to a concerted search with night cameras to capture a photo of the villain. Foxes on islands, that is the four legged variety always pose a major threat to wild life. Whether some disgruntled individual was responsible for the introduction we will never know. But for now all has been laid to rest and the eradication programme laid to rest.

However, the two legged Fuchs was another matter. Down here in the ' country' [30mins to Hobart], we are very lucky to have a team who organise regular concerts nearly once a month. They source out professional musicians from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Groups. Fuchs [fox in German] was a 19th cent Austrian composer of considerable renown, he was held in very high esteem by Brahms who considered him a splendid musician. During his lifetime Fuchs was referred to as the serenading fox. This was the first time I have heard any of his compositions and personally found them rather heavy. His music is very tonal and has a strong modern edge which is reasonable considering he died in 1927.

Among the other pieces played was Schubert's' String Trio in Bb in one movement, an early work of considerable lyricism. The other work being a fairly early chamber composition of Beethoven written when he was 28. The String Trio in G Op9 was a delight in every way. Often claimed by critics as one of his best chamber pieces, it has all the flair, contrasts, and surprise you would expect from a major composer. The String Trio of Newbery, Naselow, and Brown combined beautifully in playing this work. William Newberry and Monica Naselow both play with the TSO, while Dale Brown is a member of the Lucida Quartet.

If you are a local Tasmanian who has never driven down to Kettering for one of these Sunday concert make a note in your diary for the next one 14th July 2013 at 3pm.

They may look cute, but don't let this happen in Tasmania. Foxes are very good at concealment.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The role of Intellectural and Artistic Involvement in Social and Political Issues.


The Role of Intellectuals and Artists in Social and Political Issues.

When we live in a time of great social change and dysfunction, there is a moral obligation to express dissatisfaction publicly. We need at times to expose deficient ideas and questionable policy, and take up unpopular positions.

Currently, there seems to me to be far too much political correctness, it is as though ideas may no longer be debated in a rational and impartial way. Any descent from the official or accepted line is considered irrational. Yet, over the centuries thinkers and artists have express contrary viewpoints to the accepted behaviour of their day, and through their efforts achieved some success in creating a better world. Political correctness may of course address certain issues, generally minority ones in various societies, and I have no argument with the need to address such concern, but fair aesthetic and social concepts for certain groups may have adverse effects on the population at large.


The concepts of philosophers, artists, and thinkers have over the centuries raised many social, legal, and economic issues in need of reform, however for their insight to have impact it is necessary to tread the middle ground. Socrates encouraged his followers to think problems through, but accepted that the Athenian citizens had to introduce the necessary changes themselves, and not have them imposed from outside. Whether we are discussing Rousseau, Goethe or Russian novelists, the package is the important thing. Thinkers have to engage the public with new ideas, whether it is slavery, both physical or economic for only then may improvement be made. The important point being that their ideas be separate from official government policy, otherwise it will be treated as propaganda.


The Russian novelists Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are a good case in point, would their social agenda have had the same impact if it had not been clothed in fictional storytelling. Confining themselves to the use of fiction they were able to maintain their purity and integrity in a powerful way. Tolstoy’s literal writing on social issues did not engage in the same manner as his fiction does. The greater the artistic and scholarly quality of the work the greater its influence and the more likely meaningful solutions will be found. Often with the demise of spiritual belief people are left founding in a vacuum, searching for the meaning of life in a world were the pursuit of material things has swamped our values. Happiness is an internal state of mind.


Unfortunately too many visual artists today rely too much on technique to gain attention, rather than develop original content. This is a pity for it contributes nothing as to where the world needs to move from here. There are serious problem aboard in need of solutions. Half the world seems to be searching for a better life, a utopia somewhere else other than were they were born. There is a raise in extreme right-wing political thought throughout the world, which if history teaches us anything generally leads to some form of dictatorship. Somehow we need to find new ways of doing things. Whether people are sufficiently engaged in serious intellectual thought remains to be seen, but one issue is only too plain for everyone to see, far more thought needs to be undertaken before action takes place.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How Lineal is History?


How lineal is History.

We all know that the Romans built straight roads under with the belief that this was the quickest way to move from point A to B. This concept seems to have taken root in western thought with the accepted belief in a sort of lineal view of history, if only the world was that straight forward! Over the years many people have suggested to me that they can see no point in studying history, they sincerely believe in a lineal approach were the world continually develops to higher planes. We continually talk about progress, how tomorrow’s ideas will be better, that life continually improves for the better. It is as though Henry Ford’s famous remark, “there is only the present”, a belief in the continual development to a higher level of knowledge. Such ideas have some validity if we only view the world in recent or short time frames, but when the larger, longer picture takes shape, we quickly realise that there is no uphill lineal road to a better and better world. Rather our history suggests that life’s experiences are more like a ball of wool a kitten has chased all over the floor. Given the present dire state of our world at the moment there is no reason for great opportunism. We are living in a world over run by all sorts of prophets, fundamental, national, environmental, economic ones to name just a few, who are determined to ram their ideologies down our throat. In terms of our own lives the only certainties were birth and our future death, everything in between is in the hands of fate.

 Against this background what can the past teach us about the present. Firstly, it is clear history does not operate in any lineal way, it is if anything random. Athenian Democracy’s demise was primarily due to lack of strong ethical leadership, personal self- interest was allowed to take charge. The Roman Republic suffered a similar fate, likewise Augustus’ Empire created with such hope eventually meet with the ingenious sacking of Rome by barbarians, and its eventual demise. Followed by the dark ages when literacy declined over much of Europe. People often forget that such events can and do happen.  We need only recall recent event in Cambodia to realise how easily such things can happen, unless we are able to read the signs.

This is the whole point of history studies, nothing just happens, everything has a cause and effect. Studying the past enables us to identify possible causes and reasons for the ups and down of events, and hopefully allowing us time to plan possible counter measures. The past offers us examples of what has worked and what hasn’t and why. Not that history ever follow the same exact pattern, but humans, being human seem continent to read from a similar script. Peoples concerns are fairly constant, I recall reading many years ago how a young Egyptian mother in the Middle Kingdom, wrote a letter to her absent husband that their teenage son was mixing in bad company, and what should she do.

 Unfortunately humans don’t count long term memory as one of their virtues, sure they can remember their teams’ football results, but ask most citizens to relate the evening news an hour or so, after watching it you would find a large percentage of failures. This is one of the pluses of history study as fortunately most written down in a readable form. We must accept of course that all historical discourse is a particular viewpoint or personal view, but still it offers greater optimism and invaluable insight to events and circumstances at the time. Optimism is necessary to survive , but knowledge of similar past events offers greater advantages. Our current political leaders don’t appear to  offer any great insight, and most don’t seem to have any  understanding of the past, they often give the impression that society continually advances from one high to the next with only minor hiccups. Tell this to current Russian pensioners who no doubt felt after the revolution of 1917 life would improve. They hoped to be looked after in their twilight years, rather than forced to live hand to mouth on a Moscow street.

People are too easily brainwashed into untenable beliefs, history illustrates the continual pitfalls in any faith in lineal development to a better world in human affairs. Our desires and dreams remain the same, but the goal posts are continually moving. Study the past and try to understand when certain events are likely to happen from tell tail signs, only then will you safeguard yourself, your loved ones, and hopefully your country as well. We don’t need another dark age, there is no future in extreme ideologies, the past if it has anything to teach that such ideas only lead to misery and death. We can only counter such a threat by rational logical thought and personal behaviour. Dogma only leads to entrenched positions not solution. Socrates advocated the discipline of thinking about thinking, in order to develop the second-order character of the subject. Reflective thought helps the formation of belief and claims to knowledge about the world. Now is the time to start!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The role of Education in a benifical life.


What are the main goals of education.

The never ending stream of graduates from Australian University, particularly from the faculties of Economic and Commerce, should cause any casual observer to ask, what is the most important purpose of education? What is the goal? Unitarianism  seems to be destroying what should be the main focus of our education system, namely helping human kind to see clearly what they ought to be and how they ought to live. It often seems to me that the world is being overrun by all sorts of theorists with little practical experience of the real world.The world in which we live. I know all this sounds very idealistic, but a sound broad view of the world in which we live is vital for the future of humankind. In our increasingly technical civilization, we need an educational system to teach us the right way to live, along with the ability to earn a living. So I am not suggesting that practical skills are not important, but there now seems to be a total focus on what degrees offer the best monetary rewards. Far too many students shy away from science, mathematics engineering,  subjects perceived as not financially rewarding.

 The never ending convey belt of graduates from Universities, many without any life experience, few social graces, and often little training in lateral thinking should alarm us all. After all they are the alleged leaders of tomorrow. Like many people, I view the current global economic meltdown as theory based implemented by young guns with very limited understanding of the possible implications of their actions, that theory will always fit all. It seems that often common sense has deserted many of our decision makers. Personal gain and vested interests have overwhelmed logic. Whether we like it or not the world is finite. Practical ethical thinking seems to have deserted our economic thinkers. Sound business practise should travel hand in hand with social conscious.

 Unfortunately early education, primary and secondary schools are not in much better shape. Most children’s school reports tell a parent next to nothing other than Jonnie is somewhere in the middle and is making progress! There seems to be little time spent teaching children how to add up or spell, let alone their responsibilities to each other and society in general. But they all know their rights, if not their responsibilities. In this country I have experienced shop assistants who seem unable to add two simple numbers together, let alone address more complex problems. Everyone talks about the crises in education in Australia, but little seems to be done. You would think mobile phones, iPod’s and so on would be banned from the classroom until students have demonstrated an ability to solve basic problems. If Australia does not take good stock of itself its future look bleak ,it will not be benefiting from the so called Asian Century, but may find itself among the also ran. I am still waiting for a political party to appear before the coming election to put together a coherent policy , a plan for the country, that has imagination, ethics and sound economic sense. It is possible to embrace them all, but this requires leaders with vision, delectation, and selflessness, not self interest. No doubt I am asking for too much.