Saturday, October 13, 2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

It's windy though, said the pilots

Qantas pilots discuss matters arising
Waiting at Brisbane airport to come back to Sydney after Peter Grimes,  I visited the Watermark Books and Cafe for a Campos coffee. Next to me were three Qantas pilots discussing their flights.
"Weather looks alright," they said.
"Yes, but it's windy."
A friend said later that comment would have stressed her out,  but I was so busy trying to sketch the pilots without being obvious that I didn't really think about what they were saying
It was a bit bumpy in the air, but nothing like the lumps and bumps on the way up two days earlier. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Brisbane: cars roar and cars roar

Brisbane is a city for cars, noisy racing smelly cars. The roar of cars is everywhere, sometimes loud, sometimes a dull roar.  Two days here is plenty for me because I've been a pedestrian. It's like being a pedestrian on a race track.

I am staying not far from the cultural centre of the city, the South Bank. To get there I walk over a bridge dodging down an unmarked  set of steps at the other side to get away from the roar.

At the QPAC (Queensland Center for Perfoming Arts) last night the comments by two couples about my plan to walk home after the concert were instructive.
The Queenanders who had come from Melbourne 50 years ago said " Oh it's a short walk, you probably wont won't need a taxi. And it very safe too!"
The born and bred Queenslanders said " Oh that's a long walk!"
Those comments say a lot about Brisbane.  I did walk home and at a brisk pace it took little more than 15 minutes.

C'mon electric car makers, get a move on. Make our cities livable.

From the bridge at night. The pink poles are on the neighbouring bridge

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Queensland's Peter Grimes

How disappointing it must be for an artist to travel half way around the world to sing, then fall ill. That happened to Stuart Skelton this week.
Stuart Skelton as Peter Grimes
I came up from Sydney to see the Queensland Opera production of Peter Grimes. I saw it this evening, a very successful semi-staged version.

Skelton managed the first act, then handed over to a stand-in. Although not well, he very generously acted the rest while his substitute stood at the side and sang from the score. It makes a big difference to have someone who can act the part on stage, even if they don't sing and Skelton is the quintessential Grimes.

Last time I saw a substitute sing in the wings was in Leipzig when a lead singer in Die Frau Ohne Schatten was ill and in that case an assistant marked the singers movements. It helped, but was not nearly as successful. This is when you realise that opera singers really have to be good actors as well as extraordinary singers. It is a very demanding profession.

21 Sept. Addendum: I got an email from Queensland Opera today apologising that Stuart Skelton was unable to sing the full performance. Apparently the doctor diagnosed severe pollen allergies. He'll apparently sing the full concert on Saturday.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Falsified foods

The recent news that honey is not always honey reminded me of some South American olive oil I bought from a well known purveyor of organic foods a while back.  I discovered it was not olive oil only after I had used most of it (olive oil solidifies in the fridge) and since then I have bought Australian Olive Oil with a definite use-by date. 

Today I discovered that coffee can also be dodgy. I am one of those smallish percentage of the population who can't digest coffea robusta beans so I always ask before ordering if the coffee is 100% arabica. I can tell if there are robusta beans in the mix as it has metallic taste.

This morning I dropped my car off for a service then made for the cafe selling Campos coffee down the road. It has changed hands and now it sells ' leaf and berry' brand coffee. I asked if the coffee was 100% arabica and the owner said very forcefully that "he wouldn't sell any of those other floor sweepings', by which he meant robusta beans. I said some people liked a bit of robusta in their coffee but he was adamant it was rubbish. I was still doubtful as 100% arabica was not written on the coffee packet so he checked with the agent who replied it was 100% arabica. So I ordered my coffee.
I took a sip.... it didn't feel right.  I looked up the coffee bean online and there was nothing about it being 100% arabica in the bean description. The metallic taste developed as I researched and I wondered who was telling fibs, the coffee company, the agent or the cafe staff?  The cafe manager had checked and shown me the agent's reply on his phone so it wasn't him. As left, coffee un-drunk, I told him I was certain there was a % of robusta in the mix. Arabica beans are more expensive and if he is paying for them, he should get them.
In checking online I had discovered that the firm selling 'leaf and berry' brand also sells the Gusto brand. I used to drink a daily cup of coffee at my local cafe, but they switched without notice to Gusto coffee and after a particularly bad reaction I decided to buy my own coffee machine. The cafe was sold shortly afterwards. A European cafe owner had told me that coffee firms offer large inducements (white goods etc) for  multi-year contracts and I felt sorry for the new owner.  The cafe changed hands a third time and now it sells 100% arabica coffee again - but I have my own machine and hardly visit.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

PJs and Pansies

Sydney has had an unseasonably cold early spring, cold and dry. The cold seeped into my bones last week inspiring me to lengthen all my pyjama sleeves by 8-10cm, a job I have often thought of doing but usually while tugging my sleeves lower in bed and forgotten in the morning. Now suddenly my PJs have nice long sleeves and I am wondering why I didn't change them sooner.

This week spring is finally making its way into our hemisphere and suddenly all the pansies have burst into flower.  We know to enjoy them while we can, before winter gives way to sudden summer heat. Soon those PJs will be way too hot.




Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Bach's Goldberg Variations :

Bach's Goldberg Variations played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, a concert I heard live then watched several times online. This was one of those uplifting concerts, memorable for their ability to express emotion. One of those concerts you'd love to hear multiple times.

Such concerts are difficult to put into words - thus the nearly four week gap between seeing and writing. Do see it if ever the Australian Chamber Orchestra play it in a hall near you.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Steven Osborne piano (or Hello Marcellous!)

It isn't often at a concert that you discover you are sitting next to someone whose blog you follow.

The English pianist Steven Osborne played Debussy and Prokofiev last night at the Angel Place Hall.
 
I love the music of the romantics, from Beethoven to Sibelius but have never been a big fan of French impressionists like Debussy.  Osborne, however, took the opportunity to talk to his audience before playing each piece (he said it relaxes him) and told us a bit about composing music which gave me a better insight into this music. He said it is relatively easier to compose a piece in which a couple of tunes fit into an agreed structure than a piece (like Debussy's music) which is a single piece carrying itself forward without a pre-agreed structure. I listened to the Debussy pieces more attentively than I would have done without the explanation.

My seat neighbour didn't seem terribly enamoured with a pianist talking about the music before playing. He had swept in just before the concert, with bright pink scarf flying and a glimpse of red rimmed button holes on a black coat.
 
Something about the way he listened to the music made me think he may be a pianist himself, so I asked him during the interval.
'Yes', he said, ' Well no. Well I used to be! But yes!'
He turned and asked me, 'Are you?' 
'No.' 
'You're an artist or something?'
(I'd doodled little sketches of Osborne in my program.)
'Yes.' I said. 'Yes, and I often paint musicians.'
He considered.
'Did you grow up in New Zealand?' he asked.
'Yes I did,' I said, thinking he had picked up my accent. 
'Oh,' he laughed, 'I read your blog! And you read mine!'

How often do you find yourself sitting next to someone whose blog you follow? The blogs I follow are an eclectic bunch, usually discovered by accident and mainly well written diaries giving me an insight into lives different very from my own. Among them are a couple of blogs written by people who know much more about music than I do and who sometimes hear the same concerts I have heard. I visit their blogs to read what a formally trained musician thinks of the music I have heard - although not before writing my own impressions. 

'Well I wonder who you are?' I replied rather disconcerted. 
Angel Place hall holds 1200 people and even if you know another blogger might be in the audience, you don't expect to be sitting next to them, or if you are, you don't expect to be told.
'Are you Marcellous?' I asked. 
Once or twice in five years Marcellous and I have commented on each other's blogs, which puts us, I suppose on the end of the friendship spectrum below 'vague acquaintance' level. 
He laughed. 'Yes I am!

It was a very odd feeling discovering the reality behind the blog, a feeling we seemed to share. But perhaps if we are seated next to each other again we might find we have progressed up the friendship table to 'more than vague acquaintances'. 

Hello Marcellous! My spell-correct keeps changing your name to Marvellous.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Photo books from fotobuch

They say in business that if you under-promise and over-deliver your clientele will keep coming back. I was reminded of this today when ordering photo-books.

Almost 10 years ago a friend in Germany told me she had tried several of the producers of photo-books and had found fotobuch.de the best. I ordered one shortly afterwards. Fotobuch.de has custom software that you download onto your computer.  To make the book you open the software then load your photos either automatically or manually.You add captions, or poems or other descriptors, choose the page background, photo frame size and colour etc. I always place photos manually and spend lots of time fiddling to make each page looks as good as I can make it. I have made quite a few over the years and each time I discover new features.


The main problem for me is that they don't ship to Australia so I have to make them when I am in the EU or get others to bring them for me. Two days ago I realised that the photobook I had made of recent photos could be brought home by traveling family members if I ordered it quickly enough and had it sent to Scotland where they are staying. They leave next Friday.

I put the order in on Wednesday evening, Wednesday morning their time. The fotobuch.de website says it takes 3-5 working days to produce books, and because I ordered two somewhat different books (one for me and one for them) I guesstimated five days but hoped for four.   If they were sent Monday evening they might just make it to Scotland in time.

An hour ago, Friday evening (Friday morning their time) I received an email saying the books have been delivered to DHL. Production took only two days and now they are on their way.  I was sent a  shipping number, so I can track them on the DHL website, which currently says they are being delivered to the local distribution center.  It looks promising, but I have no idea of shipping times in Great Britain. Surely books that have been produced in two days could be delivered in six?  I have my fingers firmly crossed.

[To fotobuch.de if you are reading this: I love your product, but please consider shipping to Australia!]

Sunday, July 01, 2018

A story about coffee machines

I don't live near a large shopping center so when my old Sunbeam coffee machine needed replacing I had to drive some way. I had done a bit of online research and discovered my machine was no longer in production but that a similar small Sunbeam got good reviews.  I bought one of those from Harvey Norman, refusing the extra long warranty the shop assistant was very determined to sell me.

I took it home and followed all the instructions for prepping a coffee machine but when I tried to make my first cup of coffee next morning the machine didn't work. No water throughput. So I called the Sunbeam people, got a number and took it back to Harvey Norman and swapped it for a new one, the same brand and model.
It was a Mini Barista and once again I took it home and prepped it and all seemed in order. I couldn't believe my eyes when I tried it the next morning and it didn't work. I took a video of it not working as it seemed so unbelievable, but the Sunbeam man didn't seem to think it unbelievable and just said I should ask for my money back.

Before I returned to the shop this time I went to the local library and looked up coffee machines in  Choice magazine. I was chagrined to discover that this machine got a very low rating when compared to others (so much for google 'research'). I made a list of the top four and set off again to the shopping center. I returned the machine for a cash refund then looked around for something else. None of the top machines were sold by Harvey Norman so  I went around the corner to a Bing Lee shop where they were all on display. I bought the one at the top of the list and although I was asked if I wanted extra insurance there was  no hard sell.
Breville Barista Express

My  new machine is a Breville, rather more fancy and expensive than the other but it works like a dream and makes much better coffee than my older simpler one. Despite all the driving I consider myself very lucky the two Sunbeams failed and I ended up with a much better machine. The experience taught me to do better research than just looking on google before buying such items and it also made me wonder about Harvey Norman, Would I have got my insurance back for the failed machine? Why are they selling only substandard models? Is that true for all their products? Questions, questions.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Bread with porridge

Today I made the best bread loaf ever. It was a surprise as the bread was an experiment. I had added the rest of my uneaten porridge to the mix. I had to put in a few more spoons of flour when it became sloppy.  

My bread book said oats can be successfully added to bread but still I crossed my fingers hoping that I had not wasted the other ingredients by varying the recipe. I didn't expect it to produce my best bread ever.

I was given the bread maker several years ago. It had been an op-ed shop buy and has been a wonderful addition to my kitchen. Bought bread now tastes like fake bread to me so I'd have to replace the breadmaker if it broke. Or I could be like my mother who made her own bread with little kneading until she was over 90. 
Haferstuten= oat loaf
Addendum. The bread looked good but was not suitable to toast as it was so dense. Perhaps I added too much extra flour. Bread with porridge - not really recommended!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Musicians in Wellington

Last weekend I was captivated by two very different musicians. 

Simon O'Neill, the New Zealand tenor was one. He is one of those rare tenors who can sing Wagner repertoire. Since I heard him in 2014 his voice has deepened. It is now a rich and resonant treat. He sang the Wesendonck Lieder and his German diction was flawless. Congratulations Simon, it was a wonderful concert.

The NZSO, with whom he sang, played Bruckner's 4th Symphony after the interval. It is a long and demanding work but they played wonderfully well. . Bruckner is not my favorite composer, mainly because it is difficult to tune your digital player to play the alternating very loud and very soft music that characterises his work - if you adjust to hear the quiet parts the rest blasts you out of the room. In a concert hall however it is a different story and I loved the orchestra blasting out their forte parts - the audience vibrated with the music as the strings and horns threw themselves into the music. They must have needed masseurs the next day.

The other musician I saw on Sunday was very different. He was sitting at a painted piano on the Wellington (NZ) waterfront.  He played the way my self-taught father used to, with the left hand strumming time to the right. I found myself humming his tune all evening.


Addendum 23 June: Today I read that shortly before the Wellington concert, Simon recorded a lullaby in German and Te Reo Maori with the NZSO as a gift for the new baby of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (More about the recording here.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

A hat on a chair

Interior with chair and hat
I am taking an art class at the local art Centre, partly to connect with a few more members of the community, but also to practise working with a palette knife.

Today's effort frustrated me so much I scraped the whole thing off then drew into the mess left behind with the knife and a wet rag. I enjoy scratching away with a palette knife.  Tonight I decided to draw into it with Indian ink but discovered that my bottle of Indian ink has long since dried up. Tomorrow I will buy a new bottle.

Addendum (next day) I discovered today that Indian ink is no longer sold as people use it to tattoo themselves. I will have to check art shops because surely it is still needed for Calligraphy? (The man from the office supplies shop told me that typing fluid is also no longer sold as it was being sniffed. It made me wonder how many other products have been disappeared for our own good.)
I added a little more colour and strengthened the darks.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Electric winter

Knitted wool jumper - old now, but warm
I am not keen on the idea of electric blankets, that is, I not keen on the idea of lying on an electric current all night. Every year I say to myself that a hot water bottle will be a good substitute this year, and then June arrives. My house is an icebox in winter and the bedroom the coldest place of all, being on the south-side and (I am guessing) having no ceiling insulation. 

Once again I have succumbed, the electric blanket is on the bed. I switch it on in the evening so I have a warm bed, but switch it off before climbing into bed. I still don't fancy lying on an electric current all night.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Yulianna Avdeeva in Sydney

Riveting. That is the word for Russian pianist Yulianna Avdeeva's performance in Sydney last week. Not showy, not flamboyant, but so persuasive that she captured her audience from the moment she began playing. 

In Sydney last Monday a lot of the audience had autumn sniffles but there was not a movement or a cough during Avdeeva's entire performance, such was the entrancement. Avdeeva won the International Chopin competition in Warsaw in 2010, the second woman to win this coverted prizde (Martha Argerich was the first) and has built a solo career since then. I had the feeliing that she played exactly as the composer would have played. The last time I had that sensation was listening to Sebastian Knauer playing his Wilhelm Kempf tribute and it is a sensation one doesn't forget..

Avdeeva played Chopin then Liszt, in an intelligently curated program, with one piece melding into the next where that was fruitful. I could have listened to her all night.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Neighbours are a treasure

My neighbour ordered some bulbs and this evening she came over to offer me some. It is just the right time to plant bulbs and I am delighted to have some to plant out in the autumnal sun. They are just ready to sprout. I think I'll plant them in a pot so I can retrieve them more easily post flowering.
Pot of bulbs


My mother planted a great paddock of daffodils that flowered every year. Remembering this, I planted some daffodils in the lawn one year but they didn't thrive, flowering only one season. My mother's soil was temperate clay and fertile, while I live on an almost tropical sandbank.

Addendum (next day):
They're in the pot, watched over by Ms/Mr Kiss
The bulb container watched over my Ms/Mr ­čśś

Selby and Friends, in Turramurra

Concert sketch: Lepp├Ąnen, Selby and Valve
Kathryn Selby is a fine pianist who chooses excellent musicians with whom to play. On Sunday it was Vesa-MattiLepp├Ąnen who is concert master for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Timo-Veikko Valve who is Principal Cellist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. 

Hearing these exceptional musicians in an intimate setting (the Uniting Church hall in Turramurra) is a special pleasure and word must have spread as the concert was well attended. Several attendees were in wheelchairs. I hope if I ever need a wheelchair I live near a venue visited by such wonderful musicians. 

I went with two people who are seated much more often on bicycles than concert chairs. 
The were captivated and commented,  "Oh they are so completely in time!" and 'What fun they are having - they obviously like playing together!' What fun to experience the concert through their eyes.

Selby and Friends are playing in Melbourne, Adelaide and at the City Recital Center in Sydney this week.  Catch them if you can.




Friday, April 20, 2018

Nicole Car and the Australian Chamber Orchestra


Nicole Car: songs of suffering

If you sing songs of desperation and despair, and so many opera arias are, you look like this even when, like Nicole Car, you have a winning smile and graceful deportment.

Today Nicole sang songs of Mozart, von Bingen and Beethoven in a very cleverly curated Australian Chamber Orchestra program that included not only the three composers mentioned but Handel, Puccini and Verdi. It was a real treat.

Nicole  got a very enthusiastic reception as did Satu V├Ąnsk├Ą who played a short solo on her new violin which has the most remarkable clear sound. I am sure you have to be a virtuoso to elicit this sound from a violin but I was captivated and astonished by this instrument in her hands.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ayse and friends at the Sydney Opera House

'I learned on my trip to Turkey last year the ability of the Turks to create joy through the appreciation of simple things, even in the midst of  life's difficulties.'

The speaker is soprano Ayse Goknur Shanal who together with three fellow musicians (kemane player Ali Y─▒ld─▒z, ba─člama player Deniz ┼×im┼ček and pianist Ashley Hribar) gave a wonderful and wonderfully heartfelt concert 'Anatolia', at Sydney Opera House Utzon Room on Sunday. They were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of a migration agreement between Australia and Turkey with a concert of Turkish folk songs.
From left: Ali, Ashley, Ayse aand Deniz
Personally I had a multicultural experience that evening such that few cities can offer. I was there to hear a group of gifted first and second generation Turkish Australians play Turkish music, but before the concert I stumbled on the 'Lighting of the Sails', an Aboriginal inspired light show with projected images on the smaller opera house sail. It lasted 5 minutes from 6pm. I was joined by lots of Asian tourists who all recorded it on their phones, so it is probably a much uploaded travelogue entry.
Lighting of the Sails

Then I met a Chinese tourist who was also attending the concert I was seeing. On discovering I paint, she showed me (on her phone) her personal collection of art works. They included some astonishing needle-worked art that she said were very expensive (artist unknown). This was her third visit to Sydney but her first to the opera house.

My other neighbour at the concert was a Turkish woman who was an avid opera fan and who spoke excitedly of the many operas she had seen at the opera house or on the harbour.

The day had been much hotter than usual in April and I had almost left my woollen shawl at home. However, I was very glad the hot weather had not diverted me as the venue was cold then even colder. As the concert progressed my shawl crept over the knees of we three women and my two neighbours were as grateful as I was for the warmth. Being linked with these women in such a way made me think of  Ayse's words about deriving joy from small things. 


If you use Facebook, the concert (part 1) can be viewed here.