Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Knowing Indonesia

At the start of 1962, when I sailed from Sydney for the Old World, my grandfather was surprised, indeed slightly shocked, that a young Australian might venture out into the Northern Hemisphere without having first visited Outback Australia and our neighboring New Zealand. Today, in a way, I agree with him. But I’ve never, of course, regretted for an instant my profound relationship with France, along with parts of Britain and the Mediterranean (particularly Greece and Israel). For me, travel has always been an almost sacred affair, carried out necessarily in solitude, akin to setting foot in an ancient monastery. Consequently, I’ve never really traveled very much at all, except maybe into my own metaphorical “heart and soul”.

For Australians in general, Indonesia is a very special nation, since they’re our closest northern neighbors. Personally, I’ve never set foot there. As a schoolchild in Grafton, in the 1950s, I was thrilled when my paternal grandparents, in the context of an exchange program, welcomed a male Indonesian student into their home for a short time. (It’s not impossible that his name is going to spring into my mind, one night, in a dream.) He was so intelligent, refined and friendly that we tended to look upon him as an exhibit in a cultural museum. I would love to know what he thought of us.

Click to enlarge

Today, in my native land, everybody is shocked (like me too) because, in the early hours of the morning, Indonesian police dragged a couple of nice Australian fellows out of their beds in Bali, and stood them up for execution in front of firing squads. Needless to say, I disagree entirely with this kind of barbarian manslaughter, which serves no useful purpose. Here in France, on 18 September 1981, the great lawyer Robert Badinter made a moving speech to the National Assembly that culminated in the abolition of the death penalty.

« J'ai l'honneur,
au nom du Gouvernement de la République,
de demander à l'Assemblée nationale
l'abolition de la peine de mort en France... »

It would be marvelous if every civilized nation in the world were to abandon forever the disgusting death penalty… but we’re nowhere near the achievement of this goal. Just look at Texas. Meanwhile, it would be good if Australia were to make an effort in getting to know our northern neighbor, instead of reducing the Indonesian nation to the sole silly low-cost pleasure-ground of Bali.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

Centenary of a terrible Turkish crime

The French media are full of in-depth articles about a horrendous crime perpetrated by the precursors of present-day Turkey exactly a century ago, starting on 24 April 1915. But it had nothing to do with the Anzac fiasco at Gallipoli on the following day. The tragedy that concerns European historians, politicians and intellectuals of all kinds was the revolting Armenian Genocide, which resulted in the massacre of between 800,000 and 1.5 million victims.

An Armenian woman kneeling beside a dead child in a field near Aleppo.

The modern state of Turkey refuses stubbornly and stupidly to condone the use of the term “genocide” to designate what happened. To see the list of nations that respect the notion of an Armenian genocide (such as France), alongside those that don’t (such as Australia), click here.

Meanwhile, in my native Clarence River region, they’ve been “celebrating” gaily and naively the Anzac fiasco of 1915 (totally ignored by French media) by means of joyous horseback cavalcades, meant to symbolize the participation of Australia’s Light Horse Brigade. In reality, of course, there were never any Aussie horses at Gallipoli…

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Anzac Day madness

Within the forthcoming 48 hours, my native land will be moving massively into a lugubrious funereal mode of existence, incorrectly labeled as a national celebration of soldiery and martyrdom.

Mourning the death of a warrior is meaningful in the special case of relatives who were once in personal contact with the fallen individual. Celebrating the bravery of a military hero is a different affair, which can be meaningful for observers whose knowledge of the heroic individual comes from written records and hearsay. Today, through the simple arithmetic of dates and ages, there are no longer any living Australians who might mourn an ancestral World War I martyr. Consequently, we are faced with the unique possibility of praising the bravery of the precious few who did indeed perform proven acts of bravery.

One such soldier was my father’s uncle Francis Pickering [1897-1945], who was awarded a Military Medal for his “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the attack on the village of Joncourt on the 1st October 1918”.

The exploits of "King" Pickering (whose nickname became my father's official given name) are outlined in my book They Sought the Last of Lands – My Father’s Forebears [Gamone Press, 2014].

I’ve always been nauseated by Australia’s constant attempts to glorify the utter madness of the terrible events that took place in Turkey on 25 April 1915. When I was a youth in Grafton, a pair of ridiculous dates—Anzac Day and, a month later, Empire Day—sickened me constantly by their obvious absurdity. Why should the youth of Australia be expected to celebrate the nasty deeds and archaic illusions of the blood-thirsty old lion on the other side of the planet?

And who was this fragile but pretentious and depressive Victorian dandy named Winston Churchill, a future alcoholic rejected by his father, whose crazy appreciations of military conquest resulted in an entire generation of young Australians being sent to a certain death? Shame on his name!

These days, I’m saddened whenever I see young Aussies falling into the crazy trap of a would-be “celebration” of Anzac Day madness, fueled emotionally but superficially by the senseless romantic lament of a lone bugle and bagpipes at dawn. What utter nonsense! Such Australian visitors would do better to spend their time in Istanbul (ancient Constantinople), admiring the splendors of our Byzantine heritage. And those who are adamant upon visiting the horror sites of the Western Front would do far better, in my humble opinion, to make an effort to establish authentic in-depth contacts with modern France and Europe…

I’m now including the addresses of three interesting but quite different videos that illustrate the negative aspects of Australia’s Anzac Day madness. They’re lengthy (well over an hour) and dense. But I advise you strongly to take time off and settle down comfortably to view them.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Woodpecker drops in for sunflower seeds

I’ve often seen this fellow drumming on a wooden pole alongside the tiled box in which I put sunflower seeds for the flock of great tits [mésanges in French] that spend the winter months at Gamone.

He’s a great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopus major) [pic épeiche in French]. A red patch on the nape of his neck identifies this specimen as a male. Today, I discovered for the first time that he’s interested in the sunflower seeds inside the box.

Clearly, he had realized that the box contained good stuff for birds. He inspected the situation closely for a while, to make sure that it would be perfectly feasible to move inside for a feed. At one stage, he even made an aggressive gesture towards a great tit that had dared to fly into the box from an opening on the other side. Needless to say, the tit was no doubt surprised to encounter the large head of a woodpecker gazing into the seed box, and it promptly darted off to safety in a nearby shrub.

Finally, the woodpecker decided to venture into the box, where it stayed (out of sight) for a minute or so. It returned to its familiar wooden pole to break open the shell of a sunflower seed, but I suspect that it had rapidly opened and consumed seeds during its short stay inside the box. All afternoon, the bird returned regularly to the pole and the seed box to take advantage of its newly-discovered source of food.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Archaic flute

Click to enlarge

Its size suggests a didgeridoo. But the line of holes indicates that we’re faced with a wooden specimen of the flute family. Could this archaic object be a remnant of a flute abandoned by the hairy musician Pan when he was gallivanting around Gamone, many eons ago, in search of maidens who might wish to learn to play his fabulous pipes?

No. It’s simply a branch of one of my giant linden trees, mortally wounded by a woodpecker.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Yvonne Skyvington [1919-2015]

My paternal aunt Yvonne Elizabeth Skyvington was born at the Hillcrest Hospital in Rockhampton (Queensland, Australia) on May 1, 1919. She died at Taree (NSW) on Sunday evening, April 12, 2015.

After an in-depth career in nursing, Yvonne married Reginald Tarrant, and they had three children: Lynne (married name Greenlees), Roger (deceased) and Glenn (married name McMurrich).

The death of my dear aunt (with whom I was in constant contact during the writing of They Sought the Last of Lands, Gamone Press, 2014) means that I am henceforth the senior member of the 19th-century branch of the Skivington family, from the Dorset village of Shroton (also known as Iwerne Courtney), who spelt their name as “Skyvington”.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Slight misunderstanding

People who’ve dabbled ever so little in the domain of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics—to the extent, say, of reading the fantastic story of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone by Jean-François Champollion—are likely to have met up with the French term cartouche, designating a group of symbols enclosed in a round-cornered rectangle, and representing the name of an important personage. The following example of a typical cartouche is the name of the pharaoh Ramesses the Great [circa 1290-1224 BCE]:

Now, cartouche is in fact the everyday French word for “cartridge”. In French, as in English, there are two kinds of cartouches:

 • Cartridges of the kind you fire in guns.

• Cartridges of the kind you insert into printers.

There should be no confusion between these two quite different kinds of cartridges. That’s to say, your printer wouldn’t work if you inserted shotgun cartridges into the place that’s designed to house its ink supply. And there’s no way in the world that you could fire ink cartridges out of a shotgun.

In the recycling zone of my local supermarket, there are plastic containers designed to receive such stuff as used batteries and empty ink cartridges. As a regular consumer of cartridges for the Canon printer attached to my Macintosh, I often drop empty plastic cartridges into this box. I was intrigued to find that the supermarket management has been obliged to put a warning sign on the latter container:

The words in red state that it is prohibited to put shotgun cartridges into the container. Apparently there are local hunters who don’t understand that the container is intended for empty ink cartridges. And the supermarket management was disturbed to find that their personnel might be obliged to handle ammunition, be it live or spent. On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever dropped any ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics into this container.

Awesome art… and I weigh my words

Click YouTube for a bigger version of the video

I couldn't help thinking that, when the girls got up out of the uncomfortable positions adopted for this remarkable session of body painting, they must have had creaking joints.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dick pics

I’m old-fashioned… which isn’t surprising in the case of a fellow born in 1940. I belong to a generation of old-timers who were never tempted to use advanced technology to transmit images of their sexual organs to various corners of the planet, and maybe even (by inadvertance) into outer space and distant galaxies, where lots of little green guys and gals will be able to appreciate our earthly junk. These days, apparently, more and more people are engaged in this activity… just for fun, naturally. I’m led to believe that transmissions of this nature are generally intended for a restricted circle of receivers, most often a single individual. But problems do occur, and some of these images escape, as it were, and end up getting into the wrong hands (no pun intended). And there can be misunderstandings, too:

This question is examined in detail in the following fascinating video of an interview between John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on the US TV channel Home Box Office, and the US whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

‪Yesterday, in the early hours of the morning, a bust of Edward Snowden was erected in a New York park.

On this morning’s news, I heard that authorities in New York have just removed this statue.

Click here to read the full story of this affair. Let me add that few people are aware of what’s actually happening. To punish Snowden for disclosing lots of secret documents and then pissing off to Russia, Pentagon authorities are in fact going to put him to shame by enhancing the existing statue by appending a big ugly reinforced-concrete copy of the whistle-blower’s penis (based, so they claim, upon authentic visual data), and then putting the modified statue back on public display. This mission, carried out by NSA agents, is code-named Whistle Blow Job. But don't tell anybody I told you...

Bluegrass music in Belgian movie

The Texan singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt [1944-1997] gave the world a fabulous song, If I needed you, which used to be sung by Joan Baez.

It is presented here by the Flemish singer/actress Veerle Baetans accompanied by the writer/actor Johan Heldenbergh.

If I needed you
Would you come to me,
Would you come to me,
And ease my pain? 
If you needed me
I would come to you
I'd swim the seas
For to ease your pain

In the night forlorn
The morning's born
And the morning shines
With the lights of love
You will miss sunrise
If you close your eyes
That would break
My heart in two

The lady's with me now
Since I showed her how
To lay her lily
Hand in mine
Loop and lil agree
She's a sight to see
And a treasure for
The poor to find

Bluegrass music played a central role in the splendid movie whose English title is The Broken Circle Breakdown (in French, Alabama Monroe], directed by the Flemish producer/screenwriter Felix Van Groeningen.

I've often expressed my admiration of the great Belgian singer Jacques Brel [1929-1978], whom I've always looked upon as one of the major vocal artists of all time. In the case of the Flemish-speaking individuals behind the Alabama Monroe phenomenon, I'm astounded by the extent to which they've successfully assimilated and then beautifully enhanced a musical culture that would appear to be so different to that of their "flat country".