half-way through

The other day my friends described me as hectic. Intelligent and vibrant, they were lovely to add. But also hectic. 

Hectic is not onomatopoeic. But the word does generate the feeling or action it labels. And I don’t really think hectic and anxious are great characteristics.

I agree with my friends. I AM hectic. I have been hectic for a while. The good side of hectic is perhaps where my vibrancy comes in. I love discovering new things, being challenged, rising to the challenge, being successful in my endeavours. I love people and exchange and inspiration. This is all good. 

What I think is perhaps not so good are the reasons behind the hectic way in which I tend to throw myself at life. I have been doing it for the last 4 or 5 years. It is about distraction, proving a point, proving myself, filling in gaps, living in the moment, not allowing time for too much reflection. Perish the thought that I over-reflect.

This year I have felt less inclined to be hectic. And in the last four weeks even less so. Which inevitably has allowed for much of the completely self-indulgent reflection which has been evident in my recent posts.

Don’t get me wrong. I live a charmed life. There are just some areas I need to improve.

A blatant example of my hectic head is the fact that I have started four books, got halfway through each one, and then started a new one. I want to finish them. I particularly want to finish Hannah Kent’s book. It is so beautifully written and captures so vividly the Icelandic anguish of the protagonist. And it was a thoughtful gift.

My goal for the next three weeks is to finish all four of these books. To sit quietly on the red couch and absorb and appreciate the thoughts and writer’s craft.

And to replace hectic with thoughtful and aware presence and appreciation.



art as therapy

Alain de Botton. My favourite philosopher.

It occurs to me that I have a lot in common with Alain de Botton.

Ok. Well. Not really. Alain was born two years before me. In Switzerland. He was brought up speaking French and German until he was sent to boarding school in Oxford and English became his primary language.

Hmmm. Ok, not so many similarities.

Moving on. 

He did lots of fancy academic things as an undergraduate and went on to complete a Masters Degree in Philosophy. Alain started a PhD but stopped to start writing books for the general public. Great move. 

His first book, written at the age of 23, Essays in Love, was a simple and honest account of the rise and fall of a relationship. From the first ripples of excitement at the meeting through the getting to know and the learning the ways through to the question of how and when to say ‘I love you’. Right through to the demise and the excruciating sense of loss at the end.

Alain de Botton went on to write numerous essays, novels and has become best known for his works of non-fiction sometimes described as a philosophy on everyday life. He has a talent for using his very clever brain to deliver profound reflections in an accessible package that so succinctly reflects common experience and wondering that we, the non-philosophers, struggle to pin-point and name in any kind of coherent way. And I speak for myself.

So. Pretty much nothing in common with Alain de Botton.

Tonight I saw the man in action. His latest offering involves the subversion of three international art museums, Melbourne’s NGV, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, and a book he wrote in collaboration with philosophical art historian, John Armstrong. 

The idea behind Art as Therapy is that we are often told that art is important. We are not as often told why we should see it that way. Alain and John have some suggestions. Which, of course, are multi-faceted. But multi-faceted is as appropriate in a philosophical approach to the importance of art as it is in diamonds. Except I have never been one for diamonds. Give me philosophy any day.

Alain thinks that art can help us with life. 

Art helps us remember things by preserving experiences and helping us remember things we might forget. Like the way a rainbow looks when it is so bright that its mirrored image is nearly as bright as the original. Or the way the moon looks when it is such a nice morning that it decides to hang around just to glory in it. Faced with these soul-filling images, we are for a time relieved of our preoccupations and can just enjoy the beauty. Art does that for us, capturing moments, beauty and forcing us to focus, for a brief period of time, on life’s most meaningful aspects.

Historically, in art, Constable did that with his clouds. Or Monet with his beautiful field.

Art can also offer us the feeling that others have felt the same pain that we have.

Mark Rothko, whose work, Untitled, appears in the Tate Gallery, explains his paint on canvas as being the outpouring of his own sadness meeting with that of the person looking at the work. Our experience as humans is a collective one. We just don’t always acknowledge that.

Art is so often classified in terms of their chronological and historical relevance. This is easiest for curators. But Alain believes that conventional museum displays avoid the potential available for art to heal.

Art can connect us to each other and to ourselves. Art  is a tool that can help us by inspiring, consoling, redeeming, comforting, expanding and reawakening.

What Alain and John are suggesting is a different approach to consuming/appreciating the art in the galleries. Rather than chronological ‘schools of art’, should we not perhaps inhale the works as mirrors which reflect our love, our pain, our questions on life? These two men have been offered the chance to create a path of discovery for us through these three museums. A meandering path. If you live in Melbourne, you can follow this yellow brick road from this Friday, 28 March until 28 September. There is even a free app to assist you on the road.

Who am I kidding? I have nothing in common with Alain de Botton. I would never have come up with that.

But I wish I had.

Passata Day

Tomatoes. The taste of summer and an essential ingredient in Italian cooking. Traditionally in Italian culture, communities get together as Summer draws to a close and tomatoes are ripe and abundant and make passata, summer in a bottle, to see them through the Winter months.

Not having any kind of cultural attachment to communities who have these traditions, I wannabe-ed myself amongst it with a bunch of strangers. Well, almost strangers. Rohan and Kate were my ‘in’ after the self-sufficiency workshop last August. http://lyttelfishbigpond.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/low-and-slow.html City girl once again grabbing sound-bytes of authentic experience.

It was a big day. There were a lot of tomatoes. The tomatoes are softened in big pots of hot water then passed through a tomato press, twice. Then bottled, capped and put into big drums of hot water over a fire for the final heating and sterilising. I spent most of my time on the tomato press. I have a blister and a tired arm. And I also have 12 Asahi bottles of passata.

Passata Day isn’t just about making tomato sauce. It’s about bringing people together, sharing and talking and working and laughing. And it’s about the moment, maybe months later when you open a bottle of passata, and you get to taste Summer again.

Beware the ides of March

I start getting nervous around this time of year, that crazy Ides of March time of year. But what ARE the Ides of March and why should we be wary of them?

It turns out we don’t need to be wary at all. Shakespeare has far-reaching influence it seems. He penned the phrase and used it in his tragedy, Julius Caesar. And it has become happily ensconced in our collective cultural psyche. Maybe just because it sounds good. And properly delivered, sounds pretty ominous. If only people 400 years from now would bandy around phrases that I have written and others would sagely nod in recognition at the now universally acknowledged reference. 

But back to the Ides. Now, there’s a phrase you really don’t get to pull out that often.

The Ides happen every Month, Ides being from the Latin iduare, which means to divide. It was the Roman term for the day that came in the middle of the month, and divided it in two. March has 31 days, so the 15th is the Ides of March.

Not particularly ominous.

Although it wasn’t a great date for Julius Caesar in 44 B.C, which is when he was assassinated at the hands of the Roman Senators who wanted to get rid of him and change the way the Roman Republic was being run. And his death certainly signaled a turning point in Roman History.

Shakespeare picked up on the delightfully sordid conspiracy leading up to Caesar’s demise and dispatch and introduced an element of anxiety for the audience by having a soothsayer and, in fact his own wife, warn Caesar of his impending fate by telling him to “beware the Ides of March.”

Shakespeare’s Caesar did nothing of the sort and to once again use someone else’s words, the rest is history.

Sometimes we inherit ideas and preconceptions from past generations, those around us or from our own embattled souls. Ideas and fears become imbued with a power they should not have.

Happy halfway through the month.


I discovered a new word today.

The word itself isn’t new. It has been around in Portuguese since the 13th century. But it is new to me. It startled me because I didn’t know there was a word for these feelings I carry inside. 

And there isn’t a word in English. There are collections of words, phrases that circle the implications and impact of the feeling, but don’t quite get its essence.


It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries with it a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return.

Saudade is the love that remains after someone is gone. When their absence is a presence and everything reminds you of them. You not only miss them, but it hurts, and you keep on looking for them.

According to historians, this word came into popular use in the 15th century, although it had appeared in a medieval Portuguese songbook two centuries earlier. It later became a catchword when Portuguese ships sailed to Africa and Asia. A sadness was felt for those who departed on the long journeys to the unknown. There were stories of shipwrecks and battles. The women and children left behind suffered deeply from the absence of their men. There was the constant feeling that something was missing, the yearning for the presence of the loved ones who had sailed. 

Saudade can apparently be bittersweet. Sad and happy feelings collide. Sadness for the loss, and yet happiness for the ecstasy of having been able to love that person.

It is like playing the Aminor chord on my guitar and feeling its sadness and beauty resonating inside me.

all is lost

I’m sorry… I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried, I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn’t. And I know you knew this. In each of your ways. And I am sorry. All is lost here… except for soul and body… that is, what’s left of them… and a half-day’s ration. It’s inexcusable really, I know that now. How it could have taken this long to admit that I’m not sure… but it did. I fought ’til the end, I’m not sure what this is worth, but know that I did. I have always hoped for more for you all… I will miss you. I’m sorry. 

So the scene is set for a man alone film. Man vs nature but ultimately vs himself.

Mum always reckoned that my dad looked like Robert Redford. And I can see that. At 77 and in all his cragginess, Robert Redford looks good. I imagine my dad would have too. 

With the simple voiceover at the start, an existential vibe is set. An unnamed man is on a boat, on his own, and everything goes wrong that could possibly go wrong. 

Something has broken this man. He is here alone, in the Indian Ocean, trying to repair his boat and himself.

Films such as All is Lost and Gravity have gripped us this year. The primal fear of being lost, stranded and on our own, seems to strike a chord. 

Robert Redford’s and Sandra Bullock’s characters are not only battling the elements, but their own psyches. Nature forces them to face their past as they fight to surmount their present challenges.

Our world is increasingly populated. We have a plethora of means of communication at our fingertips. We have technology, history, and very clever people to guide us.

And we have never been more lost and alone.

au revoir

Today I said goodbye to the little dog.

And despite the holes and the pee on the carpet, I will miss him.

Sometimes you don’t realise how good something is and how much you really need something until it is gone. I knew he was cute and clever and he liked seeing me when I came in the door. But I understand now that looking after this little dog wasn’t so much what he did for me, as what he brought out in me and I will miss that possibility. I think I felt a little inadequate, leaving him for long periods of time and getting annoyed at his impatience to just be out with me, walking and being in the world together. It was always an adventure, full of possibilities for him, but I was mindful of the road and other dogs and impending dark. I felt as though I didn’t really give him what he needed.

He isn’t mine and he will love being back in his home with his people and all that is familiar. 

I do appreciate the time. 

Thank you, little dog. I am happy for our last walk and cuddle.


fat tuesday

Mardi Gras, also known as Carnival, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day.

Mardi Gras is both an end and a beginning. It is the end of the season which started after King’s Day, or Epiphany, on the 6th of January, when Christ is said to have revealed himself as God the Son in human form. In France they eat a galette des rois or King’s cake on this day, and in fact through the whole of January, if bakeries have their way. 

And, just to digress a little, as is my wont, when I lived in France many years ago, and went to the hairdresser to try and French myself up a little bit, you know, achieve that certain je ne sais quoi level of sophistication which my 22 year old rabbit-in-the-headlights look did not encourage, there was a heated discussion about the actual galette des rois between two other clients. 

There are two recipes, you see, one is a brioche ring, or crown if you will, with glacé fruit ‘jewels’ on top, the other is a flaky pastry frangipane tart. But both have a fève, which used to be a dried bean and is now some sort of teeth-breaking porcelain charm that, should you be the one to break your teeth on it, means you get to be the King. And wear a gold paper crown. Very exciting, I can tell you. More exciting was the fact that this discussion about the two cakes went on for the full hour and a half that I was getting my hair cut by the hairdresser who periodically would disappear behind the curtain, reappear, cut some more hair, and disappear again. Later, when revealing the source of my not very sophisticated haircut, I was told that he was in fact the town drunk, and even later, by another hairdresser, that this was not a haircut, but a massacre. I had even taken a little photo of Juliette Binoche from the film Bleu along with me as a visual explanation of what I required. To no avail.

This has nothing to do with Fat Tuesday. Except that King’s day is the start of a celebratory season of cakes with bits in them, parties, costumes and parades. And that all comes to a screeching holt tomorrow, post Fat Tuesday on Ash Wednesday.

So Fat Tuesday is all about eating EVERYTHING in the cupboard. Go on, you know you’ve been looking forward to eating that tin of condensed milk all by yourself, washing it down with the maple syrup and generally ridding the house of the fatty, rich food you will deprive yourself of over the Lenten Period which leads up to Easter.

Pancakes seem to have become the epitome of all that is Fat Tuesday as they use up milk, eggs, butter and any kind of fancy jam or nutella you may have lying around which would tempt you over those 40 long days and nights of fasting.

So. I have eaten a pancake. Which I suppose means that I will have to give up something over the next 40 days. 

It’s sad that that in enjoying the full richness of an experience, there has to be a giving up involved. So we can celebrate the joy of an epiphany, but only for so long. Ecstasy and golden light and then ash and sack cloth and deprivation.

Take hold lightly, let go lightly. Holding on too tightly to the seasons and the ebb and flow of life and expecting too much from them is not realistic. Nor does it fit the calendar.