Fiction For Me

Books, books, books

Books, books, books

Today’s Daily Prompt is:

When reading for fun, do you usually choose fiction or non-fiction? Do you have an idea why you prefer one over the other?

I read both, I enjoy both. I write mainly non-fiction (for some reason I just can’t manage plot) but when it comes to fun I read fiction.

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A Cornucopia of Sounds

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “You make a new friend. Make them a mix tape (or playlist, for the younger folks) that tells them who you are through song.”

To discover who I am through music I think it would be germane to go back and listen to a few songs from my younger days before hearing some songs that sum up who I am today.

We should start with three tracks that were played and played when I was quite young. The first is from an album that I thought was Petula Clark or Julie Andrews but I can’t find it in the discography of either. It was an LP of children’s songs on thick plastic and the track I remember best is ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ – “If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise”. The other record I remember vividly was an LP with Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and The Wolf’ on one side and Saint-Saëns ‘Carnival of the Animals’ on the other. I particularly loved Peter and The Wolf.

There was also a song my mother used to play a lot which was a mother singing with her small daughter. I can’t now remember the song or the artist but it was a song of love. I’d like to add that to the list, I’ll try hard to remember it over the next few days. That song would define both the closeness of my mother and I back in my early years but the closeness I now have with my own daughter.

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Beauty In The Moment

Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing t...

Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Describe what it feels like to hear a beautiful piece of music or see a stunning piece of art.”

I’m not a great one for classical music, I don’t listen to a lot of it or know a lot about it but there was one day when I spent time listening to some of the most beautiful classical music with a friend who was an expert.

I went over to visit Jason to choose some music for my father’s funeral.

He introduced me to Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’ and Bach’s ‘Mass In B Minor’. These are two of the most beautiful pieces of music, both written as masses late in the career of both composers, both written after they had lost their faith and both written after they had lost some of their faculties, Beethoven was deaf and Bach by the time he finished his Mass was blind.

Both of these pieces start with huge, swelling masses of music. As I hear the Mass start with those massed voices I can feel my body slow to the rhythm of the music and a calm comes over me when the voices fade and the woodwinds take over. Bach seems to be quite deliberately manipulating me into a calm and contemplative mood before the choir comes back with the hymnal section.

This piece of music was designed for a church service. It is meant, designed, to manipulate your feelings and put you into a receptive and reverential mood. It works brilliantly. As I listen through the hour and half, approximately, that the Mass takes I find it calming yet at the same time there are a couple of sections where I find it difficult not to cry.

For a truly moving experience get a really good recording of the Mass (the one of the Münchener Bach-Orchester conducted by Richter seems to be considered the best), put it on your iPod and take it to the best cathedral in your town.

The Beethoven Missa does the same thing to me. It is a wonderfully calming and moving piece of music that deliberately sets out to manipulate your mood and emotions. If you open yourself up to it that is exactly what it will do.

Seeing great paintings can be the same. When I think of the artistic wonders of Rome and Florence I did appreciate and enjoy the works in the Uffizi and Vatican galleries but the pieces that truly moved me were the ones in churches and chapels.

There is a secret to truly allowing the art to work its magic on you. The first thing to remember is not to rush. When you first enter a church take a moment to calm yourself. Take a seat on a pew and allow the place to affect you, allow your eyes to adjust and your mind to open.

When I do these things looking at a fine painting in a church is a marvellous experience. I’ve stood in both small chapels and grand cathedrals awed by the beauty of the work. I’m filled with wonder at the skill of the artist.

Though I am an atheist I can understand how, particularly hundreds of years ago, this art and music moved people closer to their god and made it easier to believe. It certainly fills me with a sense of wonder and awe, in me it is towards the power and beauty of the human condition that it can throw up such joys as these.

Choosing Is Hard

Choosing the Red and White Roses by Henry Payne

Choosing the Red and White Roses by Henry Payne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “How do you pick what blogs or books to read? What’s the one thing that will get you to pick up a book or click on a link every single time?”

Picking books is a task both difficult and easy.

I find it easy to pick some books, they are the books by authors I have already read and trust to deliver something worth reading. If David Weber publishes a new book I know I will probably enjoy it. There are also older authors whose works I am slowly working through, Philip K Dick is the most common of those at the moment.

There are also times when I feel the need to go back to an old friend, when Austen, Hardy or Tolkein call to me. These are like a holiday, a rest from the work, the intellectual effort of understanding a new book.

Then it gets hard. Finding new authors to enjoy is difficult. I often lower the cost of testing the waters by having a look in a second hand bookshop. I also subscribe to the free sample edition of ‘Fantasy & Science Fiction’ magazine.

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Immersed In A Culture

crane and papers of the same size used to fold it

Origami crane and papers of the same size used to fold it (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “If you could pause real life and spend some time living with a family anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

When I first read this question I immediately leapt to an answer that was made from a view of tourism. Then I realised that the important part of this question is the phrase “with a family”. This phrase implies that I will be immersed in more than the usual tourist life, that I will become part of the real local culture.

This then pulls me in two different directions.

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The Arts, Always The Arts

The University of Sydney, established in 1850,...

The University of Sydney, established in 1850, is the oldest university in Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “If you could take a break from your life and go back to school to master a subject, what would it be?”

Oh, what a joy. If I had the time and money to go back and restart my BA.

I’m sorely tempted at the moment to do just that. One problem I’d have is that there are too many subjects I’d like to study.

On my first run at Uni a dozen years back I started with English and Linguistics.

To go to University for a BA and not study English literature seems to me almost a crime. To be told I had to read all those great novels, plays and poems. To be told I had to listen to experts increase my understanding of them. To be forced to sit around an discuss them in tutorials. All I can say is ““Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

I loved English. I had such a good time.

Then there was linguistics. Apart from phonetics (aaaaaarrrgggggggg) I ate it up. There was the marvellous elements of systems in linguistics and an increasing understanding of how grammar worked that drew me in like a bee to pollen.

I also did a semester of mythology. I’d go back to that too. At the moment I have a couple of Joseph Campbell’s books sitting there waiting for me to read. I loved “The Power of Myth” and I’m looking forward to “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

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Conflict And Change

China's FIRST McDonald's

China’s FIRST McDonald’s (Photo credit: flickr.Marcus)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “It’s the year 2113. A major museum is running an exhibition on life and culture as it was in 2013. You’re asked to write an introduction for the show’s brochure.”

As we look back a hundred years to 2013 we shouldn’t be surprised to see cultures in conflict across the globe and new technologies changing the way of life. It has been so throughout history.

2013 was in the middle of two major cultural conflicts.

China was emerging as the financial and strategic powerhouse for most of the world while the US, who had dominated the 20th century, was thrashing itself to death; turning itself inwards and increasingly spending time arguing about the colours of the deckchairs while ignoring the iceberg buried in the bow. It was going through the same process as the British a century before them.

At the same time Anglo-European “democratic” christianity found itself still cleaning up the ruin it had made of the Middle East and it’s relationships with the more theocratic governments steeped in the Muslim religion. Despite an “Arab Spring”, where the people of the Middle East attempted to move towards a more secular and democratic culture, radical extremes fell back into power.

At the time the major technological changes were electronic. The impact of the invention of the semiconductor in the mid twentieth century had by this time moved out of business and into almost all aspects of the personal. The biggest changes were seen in personal communications with an increasing percentage of the population carrying an always on compute/communicate device in their pocket.

The impact on art was incredible. This was the height of the divide between high Art with a capital A and the more public art. Public visual art (mainly in the form of 2D video) was designed for the mass, massively popular and delivered in any number of ways. This was the high point for TV, which delivered public art, public entertainment and information, enough of each for most people. Sometimes it was delivered in larger public venues, the ‘cinema’, but on an artistic level this differentiation was increasingly moot.

This period was also the one where the mass delivery of media was changing to more personally tailored models delivered to an individuals compute/communications device and frequently people had two or three of them of varying size and function.

Then there was the art of the so called “artist” which was seen only in galleries and (according to the cognoscenti) could only be appreciated through a lens of high culture so that it was seen by almost no one.

So the really interesting art of this period, as this exhibition shows, is that public art. There was a great deal of it produced by the US or under US control but to focus only on that would be to give a disservice to the major output of both India and China.

Almost totally missing in the artistic world at this time was the influence of the Middle East and the Muslim religion. We can probably put this down to the almost total domination of mass media in the 20th century by the United States and the constant conflict between the two cultures in the late twentieth and early twenty first century. The art of the area rarely moved out against the biases of this conflict.

It’s difficult to talk of life at this point. People were living underta huge diversity of conditions at the time with parts of the world steeped in technology and plenty while large amounts of the world was suffering under one, if not more of the Four Horseman; Famine, War, Pestilence and Death. Even in moderately peaceful India and China there was a huge dichotomy. In the “Lifestyle” gallery you can see an iPhone which sold well in India while its cost would have been the entire budget of a vast number of families for months.

Please go through the rooms of the gallery and appreciate the diversity of 2D video in the period from 2008 to 2018. We have focussed on 2013 but provided art from the same period to provide a better context for the art of that particular year.

On a personal level I’d like to point you towards my favourite pieces, don’t miss either the Pixar room or the HBO Gallery. Once you’ve done that make sure you check out the Bollywood and Hong Kong floors to see the extremely talented, prolific and totally different output of the emerging artistic powerhouses of India and China.


Bottles of Bass alongside the champagne in Edo...

Edouard Manet’s 1882 Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I caught a post on ‘lines and colors’, Charley Parker’s excellent blog on art, about an exhibition currently on in San Francisco, ‘Impressionists on the Water’, programmed to coincide with the America’s Cup in that city.

The six images in Charley’s post reminded me of both the variety of the Impressionists and how much I admire and enjoy them. It is perhaps my favourite artistic movement, particularly if you include their forebear Manet and the Post-Impressionists Gaugin, Cézanne and the incomparable van Gogh.

There is something about the sensibility of their painting and the amazing awareness of light and colour. On top of that I always get a sense of immediacy with their paintings as if they are almost rushed. Certainly my favourite modern artist, Vincent van Gogh, didn’t hang around when he was painting. In a short artistic career of a little more than a decade he produced over 2,000 artworks (over 800 of them paintings in oil).

Personally (and I am no expert or really know what I’m talking about – this is my personal experience) I contrast their painting with the classical masters of the Renaissance who seem to have this incredible ability to produce amazing detail and richness. Seeing Raphael’s work in the Vatican apartments was an experience.

Then when I look at the work of the impressionists and post-impressionists I see artists who, close to the turn of the twentieth century, were presaging what we have since learnt about how the brain sees. Their painting seems to have detail only in the places we might focus if we were observing the scene and even within the focal points there will be levels of detail. Figures are more detailed than trees while a figures face will be finer grained than their clothes and hair. I look at it and think that’s how our brain sees.

Look at Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere” and you can see a perfect example. You’ve almost certainly seen this image but look at the way Manet gives so much detail to the woman’s face but almost none to the bottles in front or the crowd seen in the mirror behind her. I love it.

Go check out some images at WikiPaintings but remember that they are a pale shadow of seeing the real thing. Any chance you get to visit a good art gallery should be taken, I’m by no means an art aficionado or expert but great galleries and exhibitions still manage to blow me away.

Stranger In A Strange Land

Rays of light, symbolically represented as hor...

Rays of light, symbolically represented as horns on the head of Moses (Michelangelo), can be a graphic symbol of Wisdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “What’s your favorite part about visiting a new place — the food? The architecture? The people watching?”

What is it like for me to be a stranger in a strange land?

The first thing I notice and enjoy in a new place, a totally new place, not just a new town, is the light. Australia has a particular light, bright and full or air. Europe is a softer light and South East Asia has a light filtered by the high humidity except for that glorious hour late in the afternoon after the rain.

Then I notice the different buildings. It’s not just the architecture but the street advertising and furniture. To my eye the buildings in Australia are fairly monotonous. They were built by a first world country in the last hundred years and we have very little that is noticeably Australian. It’s only when you start going north up the coast of Queensland and you run into the classic Queenslander lifted high off the ground, girdled by wide overhanging verandahs and shuttered windows and doors. These aren’t storm shutters, they are built to shut out the world while letting the cool night air into the house.

My first trip to Europe was such a shock. I’d come from Sydney via a day in Bangkok where of course the architecture is anything but Australian – even the shopping centre architecture is totally different in Bangkok let alone all the other buildings, though I have to say our inexpensive hotel close to the airport could have been almost anywhere in the world – standard multi-storey concrete construction.

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