Two wonderful food writers are the late AA Gill, UK and Jeffrey Steingarten, USA. Both have a unique voice and have brought something special to ‘foodie’ writing. Both writers have created a persona, which whilst probably not true adds something immeasurable to their style.
AA Gill seems to be an angry, sardonic working or lower middle class intellectual with a ‘chip on his shoulder’. Although, this is not an adequate description. It is superficial, and certainly not true. He was upper middle class from a happy background.
What is true is that he spent his late teens and the whole of his twenties as a drunk.
Jeffrey Steingarten presents the persona of a New Yorker with obsessive compulsive behaviours. It is also probably not true, but adds an energy to his writing. I’ll cover him in a later article.
Steingarten tends to give you more information than you ever wanted to know, but in a very entertaining way. AA Gill gives you less than you want (fewer column inches).
I’ll concentrate on AA Gill, who wrote a few short articles on the British pub amidst a massive oeuvre of food and travel writing. Although he offended many people constantly, it was an integral part of his style. The quotations below are from Table Talk 2007 a collection of his column articles from the Sunday Times.
Judith Brett The Coal Curse: Resources, climate & Australia’s future, Quarterly Essay 78, 2020. The Coal Curse is the following Quarterly Essay to Cry Me a River by Margaret Simons which I used to give a 2020 update to my essay on the Murray-Darling Catastrophe. I am using The Coal Curse by Judith Brett in a different way.
It is not my intention to summarise Judith Brett’s essay but more to highlight the salient issues and to focus on a couple of the corespondent’s responses to the essay in the following Quarterly Essay 79. I gave a general background to the Quarterly Essay and Black Inc. in the 2020 update, if you are interested.
The Coal Curse Judith Brett’s Essay
Judith Brett is emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University in the essay she says:
I am a historian, so I look for explanations not just in the perfidies of the present, but in the decisions and events of the past. … This essay is about the history of Australia as a commodity-exporting nation and its political consequences. Economic history is unfashionable nowadays… Economic history is dry and hard to narrativise. But how a country makes its living can explain a lot.
Judith Brett says:
In 2018-19, Australia’s top exports were iron ore, coal, natural gas, international education and tourism in that order. Coal became our top-earning export commodity in the mid-1980s and has been at number one or number two ever since, vying with iron ore, which needs metallurgical coal to be transformed into steel. The production of LNG has increased rapidly over the past decade … and it is now our third-largest commodity export and rising fast. Between 2018-19 and the previous financial year, its export value grew by 60.9 per cent. Coal, LNG, iron ore: in 2018-19 these three earned 41.8 per cent of our export income.
This is why Morrison [Australia’s current Prime Minister] brought a lump of lacquered coal into parliament in February 2017. “Don’t be afraid don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you,” … The point was to ridicule the Opposition’s support for renewable energy, and it was a stupid stunt. But it put on full display how impossible it was for many of our political leaders to imagine Australia’s future without fossil fuels.
EM Foner Union Station Series & Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
EM Foner Union Station does not fit my normal Classic SciFi inclination. As you would know from my Classic SciFi series, ten to date, I am a fan of old-fashioned classic science fiction and also would like to remind or introduce people to some of the best books.
In the articles I try to do slightly more than a conventional book review by providing a deeper background and some analysis.
Roy Lewis The Evolution Man is also labelled by Penguin as Science Fiction. I would label it more as humour and not what I call Classic SciFi; though I’d highly recommend it as a must read.
My preferred science fiction and use of the word classic are those books from the 1940s on that try to advance novel ideas and a theme that is plausible and pays lip service to scientific rigour whether from hard science or the social sciences and psychology.
Nevertheless, there are other genres and I have read works from many of them, including the occasional fantasy novel.
My liking of and slight addiction to EM Foner’s Union Station Series does not fit this model. It is unusual for me. Akin perhaps to an otherwise intelligent reader’s attraction to Mills & Boon or Westerns but this does not do justice to EM Foner. The categorisation with Mills & Boon and Westerns is also important. The story or the clothing of each type of writing falls within similar forms of ritualised convention. In EM Foner’s case this is quite clever, if somewhat unusual. The Union Station books are funny and subversively intelligent but quirky.
Union Station Series
There are 18 Union Station books to date published over the last six years. They are all of similar quality and their ratings average over 4 on Goodreads, which as a reader tends to be my preliminary criterion of excellence these days. When browsing books on secondhand shelves anything over 3.75 tends to be a reliable guide to my giving new authors a go.
I don’t know how many artists consider the process of their art and their art practice and how many never reflect upon it. When I was involved in science (biology), I was very interested in the process of how science works. Indeed, I was interested in the philosophy of science and science practice.
Most scientists, however, didn’t give a hoot about the process or philosophy of science other than learning to conduct their work as a rigorous practice that would pass muster under the peer review system. This approach didn’t have any direct negative consequences. Except in biology, I thought occasionally the gung ho approach led to an indifference to statistical processes and sometimes to poor and even wrong analysis. Most scientists, however, didn’t give a hoot about the process or philosophy of science other than learning to conduct their work as a rigorous practice that would pass muster under the peer review system. This approach didn’t have any direct negative consequences. Except in biology, I thought occasionally the gung ho approach led to an indifference to statistical processes and sometimes to poor and even wrong analysis.
With reference to art, some artists are interested in the process of how they make art and why, while others just get on with it. I naturally fit in to the former camp and because of this I tend to see some benefits, though not enough to justify any artist from changing their natural inclinations.
The benefits I see are that you are at least aware of the flow of your work and its direction. While you may not pay much attention to your process when the flow is energetic, creative and satisfying. And, you have barely enough time to make the work you are driven to create. When things change, you may be more able to understand.
You may be frustrated that things aren’t the way they used to be, but you also have the tools to analyse why. You can either accept the hiatus; or you can seek out reasons and techniques to cope with change. You are more likely to be experimental and to seek out new directions.
This is not meant to be overly philosophical, but I am interested in my own practice. For ten years, I became what I termed an accidental artist, but I was inspired by what I was doing and powered ahead without thinking more than necessary about the process. The period was creative and immensely satisfying. Then came the hiatus. I basically stopped what I had been doing and for a long time engaged in what I thought of as mucking around, including going to basic courses with my partner Denise.
More recently, I taught myself linocutting and joined a print making cooperative called Megalo in Canberra to learn how to print my works professionally. I still haven’t explored the extent of my potential relationship with Megalo Print Studio.
Also recently, I have done several more courses and joined a Thursday art group hosted by artist Jenny Manning, which I have found both inspiring and stimulating. Because of this group, I have begun to place works in exhibitions and have expanded my repertoire. Continue reading “Pandemic Art Update”→
Murray-Darling Basin Update 2020: Cry Me a River by Margaret Simons
Since I wrote my article The Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe, which has attracted attention and good feedback, the problems with the Murray-Darling have become even more prominent.
The issue has risen in the public consciousness because of prosecutions of cotton growers in the northern basin, more evidence of corruption, criticism of government waste of money, many more articles on different aspects of the Murray-Darling Basin in newspapers and more stories on Australian ABC radio and ABC TV.
Publicity that water entitlements in Australia, based on 2018 figures, are 10.4% foreign-owned and that Chinese interests own 1.9% (with the USA about the same and the UK 1.4%) has recently enraged people against China on Facebook. Publicity that most water entitlements are owned by large agribusinesses, those with the deepest pockets, and those whose crops make the highest profits has never gained the same traction.
Concern about the Murray-Darling Basin, however, appears to be growing.
Margaret Simons has written an excellent Quarterly Essay called Cry Me a River in 2020, which has ignited more public debate on the Murray-Darling Basin, even under the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown.
The remainder of this article concentrates on Margaret Simons’ essay. I can’t summarise the essay here and I assume most of you haven’t read it. Nevertheless, I think you’ll find the information contained rewarding. It may also inspire you to buy or borrow a copy of the essay. Cry Me a River is the most current, clear and detailed overview of the Murray-Darling Basin crisis currently available.
We live in an environment, where I’d contend, there has been no clear political direction on a future for Australia in twenty-five years. The political class — particularly the conservatives — tends to obfuscate debate on crucial issues and to obscure prioritising on where the money is spent. The general media, which is in decline (and dominated by News Corp), doesn’t cover broad topics well or in-depth. The ABC, despised by conservatives, struggles on — despite ongoing funding cuts.
In this environment, Morry Schwarz and Black Inc. have introduced the Quarterly Essay (2001), the Monthly Magazine (2005) and the weekly Saturday Paper (2014) as independent commentary on deeper issues concerning Australia.
The Quarterly Essay is printed in a book-like size. Each issue comprises an essay of at least 20,000 words, which is followed by correspondence on the previous essay. Hence the correspondence to Cry Me a River is contained in The Curse of Coal by Judith Brett, Issue 78, 2020.
The featured image shows just how adaptable specialist hummingbirds who migrate to North America are and have to be in the habitats they migrate through and to.
Hummingbirds are feisty and assertive out of all proportion to their size. They will chase off much larger birds from desirable flowers.
They remind me of a little Maltese terrier of my sister’s. A white ball of fluff who had no idea that he was only a small dog. I stupidly took him up in the bush on Black Mountain one day and for a kilometre and a half with the dog in my arms had to fight off the frightening attacks of a pair of swamp harriers, who thought he was close enough to a rabbit for dinner.
I’d like also to use the word aggressive for the hummingbirds but in ethology (animal behaviour) ‘aggressive’ is not to be used, as it is both too vague and anthropomorphic to boot (putting human traits, emotions or intentions onto animals).
As a young person, I thought hummingbirds were incredibly exotic and I wanted to see one. I failed when I went to Canada and travelled through America, Mexico and South America in my early twenties (see Winnipeg and International Peasant Foods). I didn’t see a single humming bird.
Consequently, I was excited when we went to the USA and Canada from May to July last year, at the hope of finally seeing hummingbirds in the wild.
I saw my first hummingbird at the back of the commercial camping area in Zion National Park, flitting and hovering over the stream — the Virgin River. Steve our guide said that he’d seen them there on previous trips. It was adverse circumstances entirely — almost dusk and cold. It hailed while we had dinner half an hour later, up to six inches piled in drifts around our tents. And it snowed overnight.
The hummingbirds — there were two — must have been catching insects. They were midstream. And there were no blossoms nearby.
I’ve seen and climbed on a number of volcanoes around the world including Mount Bromo in Java, Mount Agung and Mount Batur in Bali; Mount Vesuvius, with Pompei and Heraculaneum; Mount Etna and Volcano in Sicily; Mount Fuji in Japan and the New Zealand volcanoes.
The only ones I’d consider dangerous while I was on them were Mount Bromo, Vulcano and the New Zealand volcanoes.
On Mount Bromo whilst an eruption was always on the cards, I actually got into trouble exploring alone away from the crater. The very sharp rock was only millimetres thick with dust underneath. It was easy to break through and hard to climb up the steep gullies.
In the Aeolian Islands we stayed on Lipari. On Vulcano while climbing the volcano we were warned by a climber coming down to avoid getting trapped in clouds of smoke which were toxic. Denise also wouldn’t follow some of the trails I wanted to go down. We couldn’t get to Stromboli because it was late in the season and the boats weren’t running.
In New Zealand, one doesn’t think of earthquakes but they are always possible. I slept through one on Bali, which killed several people
New Zealand has plenty of dangerous activities including tramping, helicopters, ice climbing, climbing Mount Cook and the volcanic areas around National Park, Rotorua and White Island.
My article on the Tongariro Crossing outlines some of these around National Park. Mount Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro aren’t necessarily benign.
In the article I say:
The park’s three volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu — all active — are the southern end of a 2500 km long range of volcanoes. The northern end of this volcanically active zone within New Zealand, which passes through Taupo and Rotorua, is White Island in the sea off the Bay of Plenty. All three are magic places to visit and within a few hours drive of Tongariro.
The cause of this volcanic activity in New Zealand is where the Pacific Tectonic Plate is subducted under the Australian Plate.
What is History 11: World Economic History to 1990
What is History: Richard Baldwin The Great Convergence 2016
I was planning to write the next Jared Diamond Guns, Germs and Steel articles following on from Guns, Germs and Steel: Overview and Polynesia A Natural Experiment of History and I will soon. I accidentally picked up a second hand copy of The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin 2016 from Canty’s bookshop and decided that it had important information that couldn’t wait.
I usually don’t have much time for macroeconomists and rarely read economics books. But, at least Baldwin is interested in economic history and covers a period from 200,000 years ago to the present, which is extraordinary, certainly a much longer period than most economists ever think about. He has some quite important things to say about the early history of humankind and on the development of world economics up to the modern era.
I had been introduced to Kondratiev cycles (or waves) some time ago by Fred Emery (See Future Predicting and Q Research methods). Fred was interested in the modern modifications of the cycles (see Wikipedia below). He was also interested in the energy implications of the following:
Industrial Revolution (1771)
Age of Steam and Railways (1829)
Age of Steel and Heavy Engineering (1875)
Age of Oil, Electricity, the Automobile and Mass Production (1908)
Age of Information and Telecommunications (1971)
(Wikipedia, Kondratiev Wave)
But, Fred thought the new forms of energy or ways of using new technologies were still intricately tied up in the Kondratiev idea of 40-60 year cycles of expansion, stagnation and recession, with their impacts on labour, production and prosperity.
Richard Baldwin is also interested in phases (cycles) in economic history but not wedded to equal time periods. Phase 1 Humanising the globe is from 200,000 years ago to around 12,000 years ago. Phase 2 Agricultureand the first bundling is from 12,000 years ago to around 200 years ago. Phase 3 is from around 1820 to 1990, the industrial revolution, the age of steam and globalisation’s first unbundling. Phase 4 is from 1990 and begins with the ICT revolution (information, communications technology) and is the second unbundling.
In my last article International Peasant Foods, I spoke of a trip from Canada down through Mexico and South America, which included two-and-a half weeks in New York. From this article and the one on Winnipeg food you may have gathered that I was a conventional soul. From this it should come as no surprise that the first old master I fell in love with instantly I saw the real paintings was Johannes or Jan Vermeer.
In New York I was fortunate to see and admire three Johannes Vermeer paintings at the Frick Museum and five at the Met. All profoundly wonderful. Eight Vermeer paintings represents about one fifth of the Vermeers in existence.
After I left South Africa, I spent two weeks with my girl friend’s brother in the Hague and a few days more in Amsterdam. My first view of the Girl with a Pearl Earring c. 1665 at the Mauritshuis was gobsmacking. I had a similar feeling because I wasn’t expecting it when I first saw the large Art of Painting 1666-68 at the Kunst Historische in Vienna. I viewed Art of Painting several times on that trip and spent at least an hour on two occasions contemplating it. I’ve done the same thing with Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The Mauritshuis in the Hague and the Riksmuseum, Amsterdam added another seven Vermeer paintings to my viewing tally making fifteen and I saw two more in London at the National Gallery and two at the Louvre in Paris which made up nineteen or 51% of the total Vermeers in the world (37, including three disputed ones). All this by 1975 was more by luck than intent. But I have never lost my admiration for Vermeer as a painter.
Many years later I’ve raised my tally to 76% or three quarters. None of this has been by major intent and some of it has been by accident. I am not a twitcher (a term for ticking off bird species) and I am always happy to see Vermeer paintings over and over again because each is a rare occasion. I never tire of them. Each viewing is through the same naïve eyes as my first impression of Vermeer in New York.
I have added to my tally with trips to Dublin, Vienna and Berlin. Denise and I were also quite fortunate to view Italy’s first Vermeer exhibition Johannes Vermeer and the Golden Age of Dutch Art. We stumbled upon it at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome in October 2012. It was open in the evening and there were hardly any other visitors. The exhibition had eight Vermeer paintings, several marvellous and two disputed ones.
I have shamelessly referenced other painters in my own art because of a joy in art. In particular, I have used Hieronymus Bosch, Italian Renaissance artists and MC Escher among many others in my art making. I haven’t used Johannes Vermeer in the same way, but his art does perhaps indirectly underlie some of my main ideas in making art.
I love world art from all eras, but it is only Vermeer and my excitement at walking into the Jeu de Paume (tennis courts) on my first trip to Paris and viewing the wonders of impressionism that have made the earth move. It took me years to forgive the French for moving these works to the Musée d’Orsay. Continue reading “Johannes Vermeer Paintings”→
The idea for a restaurant called International Peasant Foods began in Winnipeg. The background is outlined in the previous article Winnipeg as the Center of the Food Universe in 1973. The article explains why only once in a lifetime can one be naïve about food and completely open to new dishes and taste experiences. Nevertheless, I still needed to experience more variety of ethnic or regional foods.
Beyond that the idea for an International Peasant Foods restaurant had a long-term gestation, which lasted through three long term relationships. The idea was freshest, however, in South Africa and in Australia in the late 1970s. The refinements later were small.
The International Peasant Foods restaurant idea, with a better restaurant name, didn’t ever eventuate. I knew all along, that creating and running a restaurant is a bone-numbing labour of love, which requires the dedication and physical hard work that has never been my style.
In my defence for never getting beyond the inclination, for most of my career I’ve earned more money by thinking and arranging, than by manual efforts. A character flaw in certain circles I’m sure.
I did engage in sustained physical effort for things that were deeply meaningful (such as zoological field work in natural environments), early on in my development.
International Peasant Foods evolved over twenty years. All my girlfriends who shared the idea with me in the two decades concerned, three of them, loved cooking and liked eating too, but it was only the last one who had talent to burn. She did cook for some years in an executive boardroom in London and thoroughly enjoyed it. But age caught up and made using her law degree a better option.