Pierre of Ithaca. Brighton Le Sands, NSW, Australia.

Today I went cycling with my friend Paul along the cycle path that follows the beach of Brighton Le Sands which is very close to where Captain Cook first landed in Australia.  Since the day started off overcast it wasn’t so hot today and the cycling was quite pleasant. 

Brighton Le Sands is in Botany Bay and because of that fact it doesn’t get really big waves and to be honest it’s not a particularly interesting beach.  The beach itself is probably about 5 km long and every couple of hundred metres there are rock breakwaters going out a few hundred metres into the water.  There weren’t very many people at the beach except for a few kite surfers and the occasional fishermen at the end of the breakwaters. As we were cycling along we noticed at the beginning of one of the breakwaters near where the beach and the water meet, there was an old man trying some sticks together with some discarded rope to make himself a shelter from the sun. 

Pierre makes a shelter from the sun

Since he was on the breakwater near the beach, he wasn’t far enough out to fish and I was wondering what he was doing so I went over to him to have a chat.  As I got closer I could see that the shelter builder was a little nut brown weather-beaten old man.  At first I thought he might be from India or Afghanistan but as soon as he responded to my hello I could tell from his accent that he was Greek and he told me his name was Pierre. 

After exchanging introductions the conversation quickly moved on to the nature of happiness which of course involves discussing Greek philosophers. 

Don’t think for a minute that I consider myself a learned man on the subject of philosophy. I’ve read a little bit, here and there, and there are a few things that have stuck in my head that I often think about.

It would seem that Pierre liked to spend the days sitting on the breakwater either fishing or thinking about life. I soon found out that Pierre came from the Greek island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea and that he came to Australia when he was 13 years old and hadn’t been back to Greece since. I asked him if he missed Greece and he answered me with a smile and said “we create our own reality in our heads and I can be happy anywhere and I don’t need to go back”.  Then he went on to say, “the past no longer exists outside of our memories and you can’t live in the past”.

Pierre makes a point

After talking with Pierre for a while I found myself recognizing a lot Epicurean thought, along the lines of what it is we actually need to be happy in our lives. Epicurius felt that all we needed was to be free, without pain, surrounded by friends with some modest shelter and enough food to eat. Epicurius also thought that wealth and power were completely unnecessary to achieve happiness. We talked about Epicurius for a while then moved on to Socrates and then onto another favourite of mine, Diogenes.

I told Pierre that in a way he reminded me a little bit of Diogenes. Now when one compares somebody to Diogenes they have to be careful because he is best known for living in a barrel outside of a brothel from where he used to abuse the men entering, for being degenerate and slaves to their appetites.  Occasionally the brothel patrons would throw money at Diogenes to make him shut up.  When Diogenes had enough money, he used to go into the brothel himself.  I didn’t have to explain myself to Pierre because he understood that Diogenes was a man who was not that interested in luxury and contented himself in an ascetic life of contemplation.  Pierre in his little shelter made of sticks, seemed to me, to be very close in spirit to Diogenes.

One of my favourite stories about Diogenes is the time that Alexander the great came to visit him because he had heard about the brilliant philosopher who lived in a barrel.

When Alexander came to Diogenes who was lying on the ground, he became very annoyed that Diogenes didn’t stand up and acknowledge him, and he said to Diogenes, “aren’t you afraid of me?”

To which Diogenes replied, with the question, ” are you a good thing or are you a bad thing?”

Of course Alexander answered, “a good thing”.

Diogenes then went on to say, “well I have nothing to fear from a good thing”.

Alexander realising that he had been caught out by some very clever reasoning responded to Diogenes, “oh Diogenes! Is there anything I can do for you?”

Diogenes just replied, “don’t stand in my light”.

Instead of being insulted, Alexander realised that Diogenes was somebody who was indifferent to the power that Alexander wielded, so he replied to Diogenes, “Were I not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.”

When I told Pierre the story of Diogenes and Alexander, he laughed and said that his favourite story about Diogenes was about when Diogenes was asked about how he would like his body to be treated when he died, and he responded that he wanted his body to be left outside the city walls so the wild animals could eat it. Horrified when they were told of what Diogenes wanted, his friends asked how would he feel about that. Diogenes replied, “just leave stick a with my body so I can chase away the animals that want to eat me”.  His friends said, “how can you use the stick if you don’t have the consciousness to use it, because you’re dead”? To which Diogenes replied, “in that case I won’t have any consciousness to care about how I’m treated”. Pierre then went on to say that is one of the reasons why he is not afraid of death, because when you die you have no consciousness of the fact that you are dead.

Pierre of Ithaca

I spent about 45 minutes speaking to Pierre and I feel it was time well spent and I think that quite often in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives we pass by people, particularly older people, who have some very interesting things to say. Sometimes I think that we of the Anglo Celtic background that I come from, show no respect older people and I always find it charming when I see young people from other cultures, like Greeks for instance, who show respect and listen to their elders.

Vietnamese butcher. Hanoi, Vietnam. 2007

This is a photo of one of the cleanest and nicest butchers I’ve ever seen in a developing country. When I saw the big piece of pork loin in the front, it looked so fantastic to me at the time that I remember wishing to myself that I had my Webber barbeque with me.

The meat looks better than the mat from the supermarket near home

Usually butchers in third or second world countries can be disgusting and very bad smelling, but in Hanoi they looked pretty good and didn’t have the usual sickening pong I’ve come to expect in tropical countries. As a matter of fact I felt pretty confident eating anywhere that served freshly cooked food where there were lots of locals eating when I was in Vietnam.

After seeing this post, my mother sent me this recipe:

How I make a good “German Schnitzel” ( and fooled a lot of people!)

Slice the pork loin up, into 1/4 inch slices. I pack the unused portions in zip-lock plastic bags and freeze them ….then we have schnitzels whenever we want for a fraction of the cost of a Vienna schnitzel (which of course is veal) which I find a little too bland for my taste.

One slice is enough for a man sized meal, by the time you’ve pressed the crumbs into it.

(I use seasoned bread crumbs and an egg with a little water or milk in it)

First score the pork, criss-cross, on both sides, dip it into the egg mixture, and then cover it with the breadcrumbs, and push them in hard, with you finger-tips. The meat will press out to double the size. Turn them over a couple of times, to maximize the covering of breadcrumbs

Heat about 3 tablespoons of light oil, to right temp for frying. Re -dip the schnitzel in the egg mixture again, and drop into pan carefully.

That last re dipping is the secret, it STOPS the absorption of a lot of oil and also stops the whole thing from sticking to the pan, they only need a few minutes on either side. I usually just cut into one to make sure it’s cooked to pink juicy,(not bloody) so it still is cooking when you are ‘plating up’

Its not greasy and it’s crispier outside, If you leave it too long before you eat it, yes it will go softer, and overcook itself……Try it you’ll like it!

Bounty from our top paddock

A little while back, I replaced all the balustrades around our home. During this renovation I made a mistake and cut the plank that was to be used as the fascia of the upstairs balcony, too short. It was treated pine suitable for outdoor use and it about 4500mm (approx. 15ft) long by 300mm (12″) wide and 50mm (2″) thick. It wasn’t a cheap piece of wood and to add insult to injury, I’d already painted it with about 4 coats of paint.

It really bugged me that it would be wasted.

Every time I saw the wasted plank it annoyed me. Another thing that was bugging me was my upstairs balcony. In short, it was a useless waste of space. The view from the balcony just looked into other people’s back yards and it was completely open to the elements which meant it was too hot in the summer and too cold and wet in the winter.

Our backyard is very small and the little vegetable garden beds that we have, needed to have their crops rotated so we didn’t build up too many pests. Trouble was that we only have two garden beds and I wanted to give the beds more than a year’s rest from any specific crop. This dilemma led to me using the wasted plank to make a planter box for the upstairs balcony.

From the plank I was able to make a planter that measured approximately 800mm (about 2’6″) x 1500mm (5′).  I mounted the planter on 9 castors to make it easy to move.  The castors came from a series of cheap office chairs that I’d been stupid enough to buy over the years.

Engogirl had been reading about a new theory (to me at least) of mixed crowded planting. Basically the book she was reading suggested that in nature plants take up whatever ground is available and natural growth is quite dense and varied in species.  Apparently this crowded mixed planting helps to control pests that love monoculture crops. We decided to plant chillies, cherry tomatoes, basil (a good companion crop for tomatoes) and chives.

The upstairs balcony gets much more sun than the rest of the garden and it wasn’t very long before our efforts were paid of with lovely organic vegetables.

Engogirl with delicious home grown cherry tomatoes and chilles

 The planter has been so productive that we’ve jokingly named it, “the top paddock”. You’ll notice that we cover our tomatoes in brown paper bags to protect them from pests so we don’t have to use insecticides.

The tomato seeds we planted were called “Tommy Toes” and they are a heritage seed which means that they are an older strain of tomatoes from the 1800s. We chose heritage tomatoes because they are “indeterminate” which means they bear fruit over a period of four to six months instead of the fruit becoming ripe all at once (determinate) like many modern tomatoes that are bred for industrialised agriculture that needs a crop to ripen all at the same time so as to be more efficient and economical to pick.

As I mentioned before, one of the main reasons why we grow our own tomatoes is because of how low quality the tomatoes that are offered by the supermarket chains are. I’ve never had a good tomato from a supermarket yet! The supermarkets basically dictate to the growers that they want a tomato that looks good for longer and travels well, rather than tomatoes that taste good.

A pox on all their houses!

To try and ensure that we will have plenty of tomatoes, we gave a few packets of some other heritage tomato seeds to my wife’s parents to plant on the property of their holiday home out at Tallong. This has already paid off because a few days ago my father in law dropped by with a shopping bag full of tomatoes. Of course we couldn’t use them all straight away so I semi-dried them

Drying organically grown roma tomatoes

 and put them in mixture of olive oil, herbs, garlic and capers.

These are sooo delicious

Once you’ve eaten your own home grown tomatoes, you’ll never go back to those hard and tasteless excuses for tomatoes that the supermarkets sell.

A pox on all their houses!

Joe Cocker at the Commodore, Vancouver, BC, Canada. 1981

This shot was taken before Cocker had made his comeback with “You can keep your hat on”. The Commodore was an old ballroom (it was demolished years ago) with a springy wooden floor and it only held several hundred people. The crowd loved him and the whole place just pumped up and down to his music. Joe seemed genuinely surprised at the audience’s warm and enthusiastic applause. He put on a great show and I feel lucky I saw him at that time in his life.

Joe Cocker

Because of the smallish crowd I was able to get up fairly close to the front and take this shot with my trusty 135mm f2.8 lens. Almost unbelievably this shot was taken using Kodachrome 64!

Here’s a video from a live performance with Joe Cocker in 1981

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