Archive for April, 2009

Two Black Swans
April 28, 2009

A “black swan’ is a term for large-impact, hard to predict, rare event which is beyond the realm of normal expectation. 

This phrase has been used a lot in articles about the current world financial crisis.   In a world of mainly white swans, the appearance of a black swan is remarkable event.  

The term is too poetic to be left to the financial world.  I think  ‘black swan’  events can occur in  individual lives also.  Maybe not necessarily as having a large-impact – but as rare, hard to predict events,  beyond the realm of normal expectation.

I remember two events that suddenly shifted the parameters of my daily world.  

When I was at University in Northern Ireland in the 80’s, I went to see Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams speak.  These two community activitists had started and promoted a remarkable pan-religious peace movement that successfully challenged the violent factions in their country.  It was an act of phenomenal bravery.   The movement was called “The Peace People” and they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.

About 200 people turned out to hear them speak in a small theatre.  At the end, the two women brought out the Nobel medal and put it on the table.   They invited people to come down, speak to them personally and look at the medal.  

About 80 people stayed and crowded around the table.  It was very informal.  I spoke to Mairead Corrigan – she was friendly and gracious.  I then picked up the Nobel Peace Prize medal and held it in my hands.  It was solid and kind of rough-hewn.  I remember turning it over, seeing the three figures on the back and wondering what they signified.  Considering all that the medal represents, I still feel amazement that I had it in my hands.    

Another ‘black  swan’ happened when I was young.  I lived in Richmond, BC.  It was originally an area of farms that was then slowly being converted to residential areas.

Two blocks from our house was a high school with large field.  The one edge of the field abutted wooden fences – small livestock pens that sometimes held horses, but were mainly empty.

One day, to everyone’s amazement, a zebra appeared in one of the pens.

Back in the 60’s, it might as well have been a unicorn – the chances of seeing a zebra were about equal.  Word spread and everyone came to see it.   We tried to feed it grass from our hands.   I seem to remember the zebra was shy about coming to the fence.

The zebra was there about two weeks, I think, then it was gone.   I don’t remember any explanation as to why it was there.   None was needed.


Living Toys
April 22, 2009

Months ago, I saw an interesting documentary of the Berlin Philharmonic on an Asian tour.  It was an insightful film.  Several musicians discussed the anxiety and intensity of being part of one of the world’s great orchestras.  The Berlin Philharmonic’s  conductor,  Sir Simon Rattle, is very charismatic, articulate and enthusiastic.

The orchestra was shown rehearsing and performing a work called ‘Asyla’ by British composer Thomas  Ades.  As a non-musician, I’m not that articulate on the subject of music – but Ades weaves disparate sounds together in fascinating ways.   I enjoy new music even though it can be dissonant and challenging – you have to go forward to meet it and find out what it has to offer.

So this month,  I was happy to see that the Turning Point Ensemble – a local chamber ensemble, was performing some of Thomas Ades music, including “Living Toys” (written when he was 22).   This particular ensemble includes some of the best musicians in Vancouver.

I researched the composer, Thomas Ades on the internet.  He is only in his thirties and is considered a modern master.  Interestingly for me , his grandfather was Egyptian and was said to be the model for Nessim in Laurence Durrell’s ‘Alexandria Quartet’.

The four books of Alexandria Quartet were among my favorite novels when I was in my 20’s – and maybe still are.   I have read each of the books at least twice.  The characters are diverse and fascinating and Durrell is simply a great writer. 

But the wise, dignified Nessim is a portrait of the grandfather of Thomas Ades?  What a pedigree.

There is an interesting piece on Ades at this link  The composer spells his name with an accent over the ‘e’ but my keyboard can’t insert that.

I really enjoyed the concert, was thrilled again, and am a confirmed Ades fan.   The performance took place in small black studio with multi-level seating – like the skeleton of an opera house.   The ensemble also played the short and haunting classic piece, “The Unanswered Question” by Charles Ives – a long-established modern master.  The program notes  included this intriguing quote:

“What has sound got to do with music?!”  (Charles Ives)

April 18, 2009

Cherry blossom trees are in full bloom in Vancouver. 

Two spring haikus from Yosa Buson (1716 – 1783), who was was one of the major haiku poets of the Edo period.  He was also a highly-regarded painter and his haikus tend to be very pictorial.

I like the spare beauty of this haiku:

Lighting one candle/With another candle/This spring evening.

And this one is also memorable:

 No underrobes/Bare ass exposed/Gust of spring wind.

Spring Irises
April 13, 2009

I painted these irises for the fun of using bright saturated colours and watercolour pencils.   Watercolours often use more subdued or neutral tones.

My ‘blog banner’ image is a close up of an iris painting I did.   I had sent a painting to R. in Toronto.  He put a macro lens on his Nikon camera and photographed the image up close.   Look at it and you can make out the iris colours.  


April 8, 2009

I challenged myself to write a blog last summer.   Finally, it’s getting hard to think of things to write.  I’ll probably just do it once a week or so now.   In the spirit of that, this post is on indolence.

I saw these words on a T-shirt once:

Sometimes I sits and thinks/Sometimes I just sits. 

Indolence is usually defined as laziness.   Defined by its root words,  it actually means – no pain/sorrow/grief.

I read an article last month which mounted a strong defense of idleness and indolence, quoting eminent persons like Samuel Johnson and Pascal.  It was a valiant effort,  I thought, considering the credo of Western culture which is,  ‘I work – therefore I am.’

The world is too much with us…/Getting and spending/We lay waste our powers/Little we see in Nature that is ours.

These lines from Wordsworth were among my mother’s favorites.  When I was young, she was always in the same corner of the kitchen with a book and a cigarette and coffee.  She spent a large part of the 1960’s in that corner, smoking and reading current fiction. 

I justify my own lengthy spells of indolence with these lines from the poem,  ‘Wake Up.  Day Calls You.’  by the Spanish poet, Pedro Salinas.

That is your fate: to live/Do nothing/Your work is you/Nothing more.