Category Archives: Books

Scenes from the top of Mount Wellington. Tasmania, Australia. 2010

Years ago I bought a book called, “The Royal Tour 1901, or the Cruise of H.M.S. Ophir; Being a Lower Deck Account of their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York’s Voyage Around the British Empire”, at a garage sale. It was a fascinating reproduction of a British seaman’s illustrated journal of his time as a sailor on the 1901 royal tour that visited Australia.

Unfortunately I gave it away a few years later.

The book was interesting to me because it was full of descriptions of Australia and Australian life from over a hundred years ago. Although the author Harry Price, didn’t have much good to say about Sydney (probably one of the more dangerous ports in the world at the time and who could blame him), where I live, his book is full of little glimpses of the naive and excited mindset of an ordinary person who felt they were part of a great empire. Like I said before, fascinating stuff.

One of my favourite parts of the book is when Harry decided to use his day of shore leave to walk from Hobart (Tasmania) to the top of Mount Wellington which looms over the town. 

Mount Wellington is further away (19kms or nearly 12 miles by road) than it looks from Hobart, and it’s surprisingly high (1,271 metres or 4,170 feet). An ambitious and very steep day-walk that Harry Price was ill prepared for.

Locals in Hobart can tell you that the summit is quite often covered with snow, even in the Summer.

Not only were Harry’s navy shoes totally inadequate for the task, it also snowed as he reached the summit and he wasn’t wearing warm clothing. A sodden and freezing Harry got back to his ship late at night and with bleeding feet. I remember as I read the book how I identified with Mister Price’s optimistic cluelessness. I totally understood the young Harry’s delusion of being 10 feet tall and bullet-proof. I’ve felt the same way in the past and it’s gotten me into what I like to describe as “character building experiences”.

It must be a testosterone thing.

When ever I hear people use the word “adventure”,  I’m always reminded of something I read years ago (I can’t remember who said it and I haven’t been able find out, but I was under the impression it might have been Mallory), that, “adventure is discomfort, remembered in comfort”. Although many people wish they had more adventure in their lives, I can honestly say from personal experience, that adventures are usually very unpleasant when they are happening, but of course they make for great dinner table chat. 

Nowadays I feel that adventures come from bad decisions and are to be avoided.

21st century travel in Europe. Part 3, Travel information.

When I look back on my life of travel, I can’t help but marvel how things have changed.

When I first started off travelling on my own in 1974, I was 17 and there wasn’t very much information for people who wanted to get off the beaten track. I left Australia all those years ago with Lonely Planet’s second book, Across Asia on the Cheap and an old early version of BIT Travel’s Overland to India and Australia, which was about 10 or so pages stapled together with very brief bits of information and an encouragement to visit travellers in prisons along the way.

Even though 1974 seems a long time ago and people often ask me what Asia was like before everyone else found out about it and spoilt it. Truth be told, I felt as though I’d come too late and “missed it”, because it seemed like it was overrun with people just like myself (just not quite so young).

Nowadays there are a plethora of guides and maps aiming at every part of the market.

Lonely Planet has become a monster that is producing so many travel guides that you’d need an extra suitcase to carry all their guides to Europe and a fair bit more money as the guides have become quite expensive. I still think that the Lonely planet guides are the best general purpose guides on the market but the trouble is, so does just about everyone else. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into the trap of following the well worn rut made by other people who have bought the same guide by the thousands.

Now it’s the 21st century we don’t need guides made from dead trees anymore because most of us (especially you who are reading this) have computers.

Not only can you do your general research at home before you leave but I’d also recommend taking a laptop along with you on your trip for the following reasons:

1. Instead of trying completely organise your trip bookings  before you go, which will lead to tears because the real world doesn’t work like a well oiled piece of clockwork, you can book as you go, online. We used to make our bookings as we went. The great thing about is that you can refine your search terms to find hotels in the area you are interested in that have free Wi Fi, parking, cooking facilities (look for “apartments), laundry or whatever else you are desiring. Another very good website is Trip Advisor which is excellent for checking reviews (we thought their reveiws were more reliable) of where you’re thinking about going or staying. In our experience, was consistently cheaper than if we walked in off the street and we often only made our bookings the night before.

2. Having a computer and an internet connection gives access to Google Maps which will help you plan driving routes and calculate E.T.As.

3. It is possible to download the whole of  the Wikipedia database (without pictures) and put in on your hard drive. We used this a lot in the car as I was driving. My wife would look up interesting  things that we passed out in the middle of nowhere.  It really is amazing how much stuff is in the Wikipedia database and we used it constantly.

4. You can keep abreast of what’s going on in the world if you’re in areas that don’t have T.V. in your language (in our case this came in handy in France, Italy and Spain). You can also find out what special events might be going on in the local area when you are there.

5. You can keep up with your E-mail and do your banking on-line without having to go into those grotty, and to my mind suspect, internet cafes.

6. You can download your image files from your digital camera as you go and make data discs to send home by post as insurance you don’t loose your images. I made two D.V.Ds for each batch of photos I took. One disc was mailed home and the other I kept hold of.  The reason why I did this was so that if the computer played up or got stolen I’d have back up and if a disc was lost in the mail I’d still have back up. As it was, the computer worked fine and all the discs made it back home, but I know if I hadn’t have taken those precautions, the gods would’ve seen to it that I would’ve been punished for my hubris.

Smaller laptops are better for travelling, not just because they are easier to pack, but because a laptop that is about the size of a book will fit in a glove compartment of a car or in a hotel room safe. I’d also recommend taking one of those adapters that enables one to use the power from a cigarette lighter in a car. If you forget to take one with you, don’t worry because you can buy them over in Europe, and the same goes for the electrical plug adapters.

We usually ended our days in Europe sorting out where we wanted to go next, what route to take and where we were going to sleep by getting a rough idea from maps and various guides we had. Then Engogirl (my lovely wife)  checked it all out on the computer and made the necessary reservations (I did all the driving, Engogirl did all the planning and booking).

Without a doubt, I’d say taking the computer with us was one of the main reasons why we had such a great time so free of hassles and complications.

Can’t you see I’m reading? Seven Hills, NSW, Australia. 2010

My wife is a constant and voracious reader.

Engogirl’s parents told me that when they took her to Europe as a child of  seven years old, they had to think up a strategy to get her to engage with the travelling they were doing,  instead of reading all the time. My mother-in-law thought up the idea of getting Engogirl to keep a journal and write down what she had done each day to make sure she took notice and thought about where they were.

Even now as an adult, Engogirl would prefer to read, than do just about anything else, and a quiet Saturday morning reading the weekend paper is about as close to nirvana for her, as it gets.

Charlemagne’s rag and bone collection. Aachen, Germany. 2009

When I was very young I read a biography of Charlemagne by his chronicler Einhard, so from that time I’ve had an interest in him and it was for this reason we (my wife, Engogirl and I) visited Aachen in Germany. Aachen’s big claim to fame is that it was Charlemagne’s capitol and he built a cathedral there known as the Dom.

The original Dom was an eight sided church that was originally built 1,200 years ago and it has been so rearranged; added to and redecorated that as our tour guide said, “you will not see any Carolingian decoration, only Carolingian form.

Years ago I visited the famous cathedral in Chartes, France and the guide there said that an analysis of the mathematics of gothic architecture hadn’t led to an understanding of the origins and reasons behind the design style. A few years after I’d been to Chartes, I was lying on my back on an autumn day in the forest in British Columbia; as I looked up at the deciduous trees over arching me with their multicoloured leaves I was suddenly made conscious of where the gothic architects got some of their inspiration from.

In the belly of an alien beast thinking about alien ideas whilst looking into the face of the giant boogeyman in the sky

In the picture above, of a gothic addition to the Dom you can also see where H R Giger (the designer of the “Alien” movies) may have mined some of his ideas from.

Whilst listening to the guide talk about the various changes that the Dom has been through, I found myself thinking of what Joseph Campbell had to say in his “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” about the oedipal desire in the immature for things to stay the same.

In today’s western culture there is a reverence for things that are old just because of the fact that they are ancient. Cultures like the Japanese don’t care that much if something is old; they are more interested in if it is good on an aesthetic level.

The Dom was changed over the years to suit whatever the prevailing taste of whoever was in charge was. As I thought about the mentality of the people who decided to make the changes, I wondered if they made the changes through a self confident and mature sense of themselves or was it just pure ignorant arrogance. I’m pretty sure it was arrogance, but at least it got me thinking.
Is our reverence for old things, and desire to preserve them a manifestation of an oedipal desire for things to stay the same; the intellectual equivalent of not wanting to grow up? Are we now an anally retentive culture?

If our ancestors had the same attitude to the past and old things as we do, then no new art would’ve been produced to cover or replace the old, and our culture would’ve become as moribund as ancient Egyptian culture which didn’t change that much for thousands of years.

Another thing that caught my attention at the Dom was all the relics. First off there was the garments of Mary, the diaper of Christ and the beheading cloth (WTF!) of John the Baptist.

Yeh right!

I wish I was around when that load of crock was sold; I’d have been in with an offer to sell them a bridge.


To be fair to the contemporary people of Aachen, all the descriptions of the relics are prefaced in the tourist literature with, “the so called”. I got the impression that nowadays, no one outside of the church seriously thought that the relics were anything more than the products of medieval con artists. I’d also be willing to bet that there wouldn’t be too many Jesuits who think that the “so called” relics were real.

Then there was the alleged throne of Charlemagne (no one is sure he ever sat in it), said to be made from marble from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It’s a fairly pedestrian affair (I was reminded of an outhouse seat) but the interesting thing about it and the relics is that that were all used to add legitimacy to Charlemagne’s rule and the rule of those who followed him.

God always seems to get dragged into whatever causes suits those in power. Funny how every side sees god as being on their side. I suppose for many people in power way back then, the fact that they were in power, was proof of god’s favour. It’s sort of similar to the thing that those bible thumping evangelists who are into “prosperity preaching” go on about. I’m rich and powerful, therefore god is my co-pilot or god is my co-pilot and therefore I will be rich. The need for physical proof of the existence of god in the form of relics goes against the whole Christian teaching of the need to have faith alone. I guess back in Charlemagne’s times, Christianity was still on shaky ground. The same could be said for some congregations in parts of today’s affluent cultures. 

In the Dom there is also what is left of Charlemagne’s bones. Apparently there are only about 50% remaining, due to various bits and pieces ending up in other churches and hands. It would seem that everyone wanted a piece of the legitimacy that anything to do with Charlemagne bestowed.

All the talk of Charlemagne’s bones reminded me of The Venerable Bede’s book, “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”. In Bede’s book he mentioned about the medical practices of the 8th century. Bede told of how prayers were said over the sick person and “holy” relics (usually the bones of a saint) were waved over the affected area. Since Charlemagne was eventually canonised, his “relics” would’ve held powerful juju in the minds of many believers back in the old days.

It sounds an awful lot like the witchcraft from Africa that is lampooned so often in movies.

When you think about it, twelve hundred years ago isn’t that long ago. If a generation can be considered to be twenty five years, then a thousand two hundred years would be forty eight generations. It might sound like a lot but imagine a group of forty eight, twenty five years olds and you’d be looking at a thousand two hundred years manifest in the flesh in one hit.

We’re not that far ahead of cultures that we think of as primitive.

Peter helps me feel normal. Wingello, NSW, Australia

When I was in my early 20s I read the book, “On the Road”by Jack Kerouac and when I finished it I thought to myself, “what was all the fuss about?” So the guy did a bit of hitchhiking and hung out with a few other young guys.  It didn’t sound like a big deal to me and by the time I had read the book, I’d already travelled extensively; hitch hiked tens of thousands of kilometres; come under mortar fire in a war zone and worked in the carnival as a laser light show operator. 

“On the road” just seemed very tame to me. 

I had a similar feeling when I saw the much hyped movie “The Motorcycle Diaries”about Che Guevara travelling around South America with his friend by motorcycle. Some of my friends had raved about the movie and I can remember when I watched it, thinking to myself, “hrumph! So what! A couple of guys from well-off families go on a motorcycle trip, big deal!” To top it all off, nothing really happened.

Sometimes I feel so disconnected with most of the people that I share society with by the differences in our life experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel superior, just different. It always amazes me when I talk to people and they tell me about how they lived in the one place, went to the same school and have only had a few jobs all their lives.  I almost envy people who can say that they have a hometown or they refer to, “my” high school.

Every time I see a TV show with that old trope about the high school reunion it’s like I’m watching some strange ritual being performed by an exotic tribe from a strange faraway land. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to still have friends from high school. I went to six primary schools (I was expelled from one), three high schools, two colleges and one university.  Because I’ve moved around so much as a kid, it hasn’t been a big deal for me to just walk away from friendships that I have made and begin new ones very easily.

In short, I’m what my wife (Engogirl) describes as an over stimulated jaded piece of meat.

The whole idea of having a career is such an alien concept to me that it’s almost unimaginable.  The reason why I find it so hard to get my brain around the concept of a career is that I find it difficult to understand how somebody’s attention can be held for so many years doing the same thing.  I usually do things (with the exception of photography) for about five years before I move on to something else.  Most jobs I’ve had, with one exception, have only lasted about a year or two.

I suppose, “recalcitrant dilettantism” would be a suitable description of my chosen career path.

Here’s a short list of some of the jobs I’ve done, starting with part-time jobs I had at night in high school.

Newspaper boy.  Bus boy.  Waiter.  Kitchen hand.  Door-to-door salesman. English (as a second language) teacher in Cambodia and Japan.  Worker in a tractor factory (only did that for about two months because it just sucked so badly).  Pizza maker.  Ceramics slip caster. Mouse racer (a carnival job). Laser light show operator. Set builder in the theatre. Camera salesman. Photographic assistant in a large studio. Photographic lab manager. Outdoor equipment store manager.  I now fake it as a designer (sets, websites, graphics) in my own little business. 

Now that I’m married, live in the suburbs and own a house, my life is so totally different to what it used to be.  If you were to ask some of my older friends what I was like before I met Engogirl 13 years ago you would hear adjectives like, party animal, lunatic, dangerous, trouble. I’ve even had some friends tell me that they thought I was going to be the first person in our social circle to die because I was so reckless. All my friends feel that Engogirl has civilised and calmed me down.

Before I met my wife I used to rock climb quite a bit and most of my friends were people like myself. Rootless drifters living on the fringes of decent society working only because they were saving enough money to go on their next trip.

Two weeks ago Engogirl and I went to her parent’s holiday home down in Tallong and when we were down in that area (the Southern Highlands) we dropped in on an old friend of mine, Peter, and his wife Simona.

Simona and Peter

In the picture above of Peter and his wife you will notice that there is a framed advertisement (for Bonds clothing) behind them that has a red shirted young man sitting on a chopper. The young blond haired dude is Peter in his early 20s. He was quite the chick magnet in his day and when I used to work with him I noticed that quite a few women still found him attractive.

I first met Peter about 15 years ago when I was the manager of an outdoor equipment store and he was a customer. At that time Peter used to live in a tent for about 4 or 5 months of the year down in the snow country so he could spend his time with his girlfriend (at the time) skiing.  When Peter wasn’t skiing he used to install television cable systems in hotels and live aboard other people’s boats minding them for them.  After spending a couple of seasons skiing, Peter moved back up into Sydney and started to work in the store I managed.  It was during this time that we worked together that I heard about Peter’s life.  He had travelled extensively and he used to have a yacht charter company in Sydney Harbour with several yachts and he owned a block of apartments until he lost it all in a divorce.  Although Peter wasn’t too keen about the idea of losing so many assets, he was quite philosophical about it all, telling me that he felt that his life was getting far too complicated and stressful and that it was all probably for the best. Every now and again Peter would supplement his income by delivering yachts up the coast to Queensland.

Peter stayed on in the outdoor equipment industry for another couple of years and in his spare time he built a catamaran and lived on it in Sydney Harbour. About five years ago Peter met Simona and they were married within about a year.  It was always really obvious to me that life in the city working in a normal job never really suited Peter. A couple of years ago Peter and Simona moved down to the Southern Highlands to a town called Wingello.

Friends of mine had told me that Peter had moved into a yurt and because I had known Peter so long I assumed that he built himself a large round circular tent in the style of the Mongols, like what I’d seen at the Kyrgystan pavilion at the 2005 Expo in Aichi Japan.

Yurt at 2005 Expo in Japan

It certainly wouldn’t have surprised me.

I didn’t have an address for Peter but I knew that if I asked the people in the only store in Wingello where he lived they would know because he is such a sociable character they would be bound to know him. Sure enough they did and they gave us directions to his place, finally saying, “he lives in the yurt and you can’t miss it”.

I have to be honest and admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that Peter was actually living in a solid house. Aparently, such octagonal houses are known locally as yurts.

Peter and Simonas yurt

Peter now makes a living as a local handyman and Simona owns and runs a little junk shop.

Peter and Simona bought the “yurt” in an unfinished state and when we arrived they were in the middle of laying beautiful travertine marble tiles on the floor. The bottom floor has all the shared living areas and there is a circular staircase in the centre that goes up to their bedroom. I was told that they wanted their house to be like the inside of a lighthouse and that they were also seeking permission to add another story on top of their bedroom to make their house look even more like a lighthouse.  I knew it was pointless to point out the fact that they lived 100 km from the coast.

Who cares anyway?

Nothing about Peter is ordinary and he has absolutely no time for conventions of any kind. Having said that, Peter is a lesson in conviviality and capability. He is always surrounded by a tribe of friends and he seems to be capable of manifesting anything. 

One of the main reasons why I like Peter is that he makes me feel normal. Nothing that I have done in my life seems different or extraordinary when I am with Peter.

What I’ve been up to lately and what’s on my fridge.

My last week has been very busy with cooking.  I’ll be having some friends of French descent over this Friday night as a pre-Bastille Day celebration.  There will be 10 of us in total, and I want to make sure that the food is of a standard that my friends have come to expect from me.  I usually don’t make meals of the same ethnicity as my guests as I know that they will be comparing what I’ve made to what they grew up with. 

One of my pet peeves is the way how Italians crap on about food and their mother’s cooking.  So many Italians, I have met seem to think that not only their mothers are the greatest cooks in the world, but also that Italians are the only ones who know how to cook.  I am so over the idea of the integrity of ingredients and the simplicity of flavours that I hear so many celebrity chefs on television harp on about.  This Eurocentric chauvinism about food seems to deny the validity of complex flavours developed in the east, such as Indian and Thai cuisine.  I just won’t have it.

To all you Italian guys out there, who were always going on about your mother’s food, get over it and move out on your own!

This now brings me to the French. Sure enough, some French food is fantastic but to be quite honest, I’m not interested in eating so much offal and saturated fats.  I remember being quite shocked when I first looked in the bible of French cuisine “Larousse Gastronomique” at how much butter, cream and guts there was in so much of the so-called traditional French cooking. 

I keep on hearing about how the French eat these high saturated fat meals, and that they have a low incidence of heart disease in their country.  Some say it’s the red wine that is drunk with the meals that is helping ameliorate the effect of such a high-fat diet.  I think the reality is, that years and years of eating high fat food has killed off all the generations of the people who can’t metabolise so much fat and what is left is a country that is populated with people who are genetically engineered to efficiently process fat.

As for me, I have been genetically engineered to efficiently accumulate fat so my body can produce cholesterol and store it for hard times by lining my arteries with it.

Since I am getting together with my friends for, what is essentially a French celebration, I thought I’d put aside some of my fears and prejudices and cook them a French meal.

Whenever I cook a dinner for a large group I always test the menu two or three times beforehand to make sure I don’t have any surprises on the night. Since I wanted to avoid fatty foods I thought I’d cook fish dish of John Dory with shellfish, saffron and merguez broth. Sure enough there was cream in the recipe, but I used about a quarter of what was specified.

Quelle horreur!

John Dory with shell fish saffron and merguez broth on wilted English spinach

The end result wasn’t bad, but I felt that merguez overwhelmed the lightly flavoured fish.

Since trying my hand at the French sea food meal, I was asked by a friend of mine who is a professional chef to help him with the preparation of some Indian dishes that he wants to serve at his wedding in November. So I spent the whole of Saturday with Mark at his place, cooking enough food to totally stuff 20 people.

The Razzbuffnik at the food processor

 The idea of the dinner was to trial a variety of foods and then give a questionnaire to our 20 guests to see what they liked and didn’t like.

The food for the main course

 There will be about 150 guests at this wedding and it looks like Mark has made quite the rod for his back considering that he wants to do all the cooking. I have foolishly offered to help. It looks like it’s going to be one hell of a day.

Mark, his friend Ed and Sonia the bride to be

On Sunday, my wife and I had a really lovely day sitting out in the backyard reading the weekend paper and drinking vodka martinis. Although it’s winter here in Australia, it’s not that cold, and since we light up the chiminea, it’s quite comfortable to sit outside all day.

A perfect Sunday

Because I have discarded the idea of serving fish for my French friends, I’ve latched on to the idea of preparing poulet chasseur (hunter’s chicken). I spent Monday, trying out a combination of recipes, and I think I’ve come up with something that my guests will hopefully like. I’ll post photos and the recipe after the dinner.

Over the weekend I’ve been listening to Bebo & Cigala on their album Lágrimas Negras

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This last picture is in response to Pat Coakley’s question, What’s On Your Refrigerator?

what is on my fridge

The stuffed toy is the amazing, everlasting and very cantankeous “Magic Pudding” character from Norman Lindsay’s children’s book of the same name. The black dancing figure, magnet, is of Kokopelli a South Western American fertility deity, usually depicted as a humpbacked flute player who is also a trickster god and represents the spirit of music

The gaze of existential angst. Manila, The Philippines. 1975

Sometimes when I look at my old photographs that I took many years ago, I feel similar to an astronaut who has returned to the earth from the lunar surface with moon rocks. What was gathered in a short time, will be analysed for many years to come, answering questions that weren’t even thought of when the mission was begun.

Like many people in the early 70s, I read quite a few of Hermann Hesse’s books and a quote from the prologue of his book Demianstruck me like a lightning bolt when I first read it at the age of 17 or 18, when I was travelling around South-East Asia.

“Every person’s life is a journey toward himself, the attempt at a journey, the intimation of a path. No person has ever been completely himself, but each one strives to become so, some gropingly, others more lucidly, according to his abilities. Each one carries with him to the end traces of his birth, the slime and eggshells of a primordial world. Many a one never becomes a human being, but remains a frog, lizard, or ant. Many a one is a human being above and a fish below. But each one is a gamble of Nature, a hopeful attempt at forming a human being. We all have a common origin, the Mothers, we all come out of the same abyss; but each of us, a trial throw of the dice from the depths, strives toward his own goal. We can understand one another, but each of us can only interpret himself.”

Ever since I read that quote I have realised that one’s life is an evolutionary journey towards understanding what it is to be a human being.  I’ll be the first one to admit that I have been a fairly appetite driven, base and hedonistic animal most of my life but every now and again, I’ve bumped into little diamonds of wisdom that helped me get back on track to some kind of understanding and enlightenment.

One of the things that I’ve really struggled with all my life is to try and determine what is important and what is not, in terms of what to do with one’s short time on this earth and how to be while we are here.

I’ve always instinctively known that it is meaningless to define one’s self in terms of a career.  Working has been a means to an end for me and if I didn’t have to pay for the basic necessities of life, I wouldn’t work at all.  Now that’s not saying I that wouldn’t want to do anything.  I’m one of those people, that is driven by the need to create, and as such I’m never truly idle.

What has always repelled me from the idea of having a career is the recognition that, for me, most jobs just turn into a pointless slow-moving river of continuous ennui.

The gaze that says, is this all there is?

Occasionally I think about the character (Whit I think) from Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men, who when asked by the main character George, why he always blows his weekly salary at the local brothel, replies along the lines of, ” when I look back on my working life,  I can’t distinguish one day from the next, but when I go to the brothel remember every single moment”.

That’s not the kind of life I want to lead! 

If I hadn’t gone to art College at night, the 5 years I lived in Brisbane and worked selling professional photographic equipment would’ve been wasted years.  Like the character in Steinbeck’s book, I can’t remember any particular working day from that job.  It scares me to think that one’s whole life can go by so unremarkably.  I am absolutely certain life must amount to more than that.

So the gaze of my existential angst has led me to being more of a generalist than a specialist and I content myself with the thought that evolution doesn’t reward specialisation for very long.

Rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus)

I was having breakfast in my backyard as usual this morning when the lorikeet in the photo landed in the ficifolia (red flowering gum) about 3 metres (3 yards) away.

two more reasons to be cheerful

Over the last few years my wife and I have landscaped our backyard from a sterile and sun-baked wasteland of lawn into a beautiful oasis of colour and calm. I have my breakfast outside nearly everyday and my wife and I eat outside about two or three times a week throughout most of the year. Even in the cooler weather we light up the chiminea and sit out and enjoy the enviroment we have created for ourselves.

Recently I’ve been counting my blessings (doing the old “be here now” thing) and I feel that I’ve got it made. I’ve got a lovely wife; a great circle of friends; a nice little house that’s nearly paid off; my freedom and I live in a prosporous stable country. I think that the mood of Jamiroquai song “Corner of the earth” from the album “A Funk Odysseybest describes how I feel when I’m blissed-out about such things.

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I’ve also been thinking about Epicurus lately and how what he has to say has so much relevance to my life. He is quoted as saying ” It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing ‘neither to harm nor be harmed’). And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.”

Epicurus promoted ethical reciprocity (treat others as you would like to be treated) 300 years before Christianity appeared and started to claim credit for such a concept. He also came up with a very useful little list (for this confusing consumerist, status driven, hero worshipping world we live in) of what is necessary

  • Freedom
  • A life free of pain
  • Shelter
  • Friends
  • Food

unnecessary but nice

  • A big house
  • Meat every day
  • Wealth

and what is totally unnecessary

  • Power
  • Fame

If you’d like to know a little more about Epicurus and a few other philosophers I like to recommend the following book by Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy

Too much of a mediocre thing. Eating in America

I was just reading a blog from the States, and it was about a diner in Oregon that serves ridiculously large pancakes.  The image in the post, reminded me of the many times that I have been to America and how I am usually disappointed with the food that I get served at restaurants over there.  Of course there are some great restaurants in America, but the trouble is, there are so many more that aren’t.  One gets the impression that some marketing genius has decided volume surpasses quality.  It reminds me of that old joke from the rag trade, “never mind the quality feel the width”.

I took this picture of a meal that my wife and I ordered at a restaurant in Page Arizona, because it reminded me of a humorous little book called “Never eat anything bigger than your head”.

Never drink anything bigger than your head

On a more serious note, we had ordered some margaritas and you can see the size of the drinks that we received and they were strong.  

As in most small towns, Page has very poor public transport infrastructure, and it strikes me as irresponsible that such large drinks are served to people who have no other way of getting home other than their own transport.  In my minds eye, I can imagine getting pulled over by the police, and being booked after a breath test and protesting that I’d only had one drink as I’m taken away!

As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said “less is more”.

Cliff dwellers. West of Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, USA

It’s starkly beautiful country out near Lee’s Ferry. The land has very little vegetation and the soil underneath ranges from pink to orange. It’s the sort of land that beggars the question of how do people make a living out there? The population density is so low that I imagine that it would be a lonely life. Perhaps that’s why people move out there, to get away from the teaming masses.

If the architecture of the houses that they live in is any indicator, I’d say that they are certainly individuals who are following the beat of a different drummer to most other people. It is disconcerting to see how closely some of the houses have been built to the cliffs with all the loose rock above.

Cliff dwellers.jpg

Lee’s ferry was named after John D. Lee who led the infamous “The Mountain Meadows Massacre” where Mormons with the help of local Utes wiped out a party of settlers from the east.

Juanita Brooks has written a fascinating book titled “The Mountain Meadows Massacre” (strangely enough) which illuminates this dark portion of Moron history. The book is not a Mormon beat up. As a non-Mormon I was almost totally ignorant of their history and Ms. Brooks book very skillfully details the incident and helps me understand why the Mormons moved out west and why they were so fearful at the time.