Monthly Archives: April 2020

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 9-16 April 2020

Heather Cox Richardson. Really people – this is must listen stuff. She does two video casts a week: on Tuesday about current affairs, and on Thursday about American history. In the episode on Tuesday 7th (I think) which is about current events,  she discusses the Wisconsin debacle and previous attempts to disfranchise (which is a word, apparently) voters then she moves on to gerrymandering… and even little ol’ Australia gets a mention. She picks up on that strange comment by Jared Kushner that the masks and PPE belonged to ‘us’ (i.e. the federal government). Who is ‘us’? Very discursive and wide-ranging, but she really brings a historian’s eye to current events. Her Thursday 9 April history podcast looks at the west coast, and the way that there was a strong push by the oligarchs of the slave states to replicate a slave-based economy in the West as well. There’s a bit of myth busting here about the Alamo (I never did get Davy Crockett and all that stuff, fodder of black-and-white afternoon movie fare).  You can access her videos through her Facebook site

The Documentary (BBC) I’m always quite interested to learn what other people think of Melbourne.  In ‘Melbourne: The Sounds of the City‘, Peter White, blind since birth, negotiates Melbourne’s tourist highlights – MCG, St Kilda etc.

The Eleventh (ABC). In Episode 5, Deadlock,  Elizabeth Reid, Whitlam’s advisor on women, tries to convey a warning from artist Clifton Pugh, that Governor General John Kerr was on the move. The Khemlani loans affair just goes on and on, and Malcolm Fraser starts playing hardball.

Revolutions Podcast  Back with Mike Duncan for the Russian Revolution up to 1905. (He’s taking a six month break, then returning in October to take the Revolution up to the early 1920s).  In Episode 10.28 The Spark  Lenin and his wife Nadia Krupskaya returned from a relatively easy exile in Siberia. Lenin moved first to Germany, then after Nadia’s release, they moved to London where they established the marxist newspaper Iskra (The Spark). In Episode 10.29 Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, the second conference of the Russian Social and Democratic Labour Party was held in 1903, also in London after being disrupted by police attention in Brussels. Duncan here argues that the famous split between Bolshevik/Menshevik was a question of whether the party was to remain a fist, or more of an open hand encouraging a wider membership. He also suggests that it was a highly personalized split. Lots of lessons for any organization, actually.

Strong Songs  Oooh! A new discovery (courtesy of Looks 10 Chats 3 which I drowsed through while enduring a migraine)!  This is a fantastic series where Kirk Hamilton takes a song and pulls it apart, showing why it works. I started from the beginning, with Episode 1 Toto’s “Africa”, created when he didn’t even know if there would be an episode 2. He obviously decided that there would be because there is an Episode 2 You Can Call Me Al, looking at the Paul Simon song from the Gracelands album. You’ll hear the song with different ears afterwards.  Really, really good.

My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #12: Cusco

Well, we did really have plans to go to Cusco and Machu Picchu but even before the coronavirus put the kybosh on the whole trip, we hit a roadblock with Cusco. At an altitude of 3399 metres (higher, in fact than Machu Picchu) we were told by The Travel Doctor that we shouldn’t take a 15 month old baby there.  (I’m sure that amongst its population of 428,450 according to Wikipedia, there must be a baby or two – but who is to argue with The Travel Doctor?)  So, in real life we would have had to rethink this part of the trip – but sitting here on my computer chair, I can do whatever I like! So…off to Cusco!

Another city, another Plaza de Armas. This plaza looks huge, but fairly low rise. It has two prominent buildings, the Cusco Cathedral and the Church La Compania de Jesus. It looks gigantic now, but it was in fact just part of the Haukaypata,  the Great Inca Square, that predated the arrival of the Spanish.

It is the site for important festivals, including Inti Rayma- the Inca Festival of the Sun, and the religious festival of Corpus Christi. The ceremony of Inti Rayma has three different scenes conducted in three different places. The first scene of the festival, is held at the Qoricancha Palace situated on Av. El Sol. (see below). It then moves to the  Plaza de Armas and finally ends up at  Sacsayhuaman 3 kms out of Cusco. It is held on June 24th, the winter solstice and the Inca New Year.

The original Inti Rayma celebration was first held in 1412. It went for 9 days, with dances, processions and animal sacrifices. The last one held in the presence of the Inca emperor took place in 1535. I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that the Spanish outlawed it and other Inca religious practices. In many places the celebration was interwoven into the Catholic festival of St John the Baptist (no doubt to appease the Spanish Catholics) which occurred at much the same time. In Cusco, the Inti Raymi was reintroduced in 1944 as a historical reconstruction, and has been conducted every year since then as a theatrical production.

Theatrical production notwithstanding- this would be amazing to see. (I guess it won’t go ahead this year, though)

Very close to the Plaza de Armas is Corichancha, variously spelt Koricancha, Qoricancha or Qorikancha. It is now the Convent of Santa Domingo,  but it was built on the base of the Inca temple which was uncovered in 1953 when an earthquake destroyed the church but left the Inca walls intact.  Corichancha was the centre of the Inca cosmos, from which 42 straight lines spread out on all directions, sometimes for hundreds of miles.  It contained several temples within the complex, with the walls covered in gold plate.  As you can imagine, the Spanish were quick to ship that gold back to Europe and, as was their wont, they quickly demolished the Inca temple and built a church on the site instead.

Now here’s a different take on Coricancha, presented by a tour group interested in megaliths, who are exploring the sonic and energy fields of the old Inca Temple. Apparently if you stick your head in the alcoves on the walls and sing ‘A’ it sets up a reverberation. Likewise, you can take your dowsing stick and detect a petal shape of energy in the centre of a courtyard. Hmmm.

My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #11: Colca Canyon

This is all just fantasy, right? Because I don’t know if I really would get up at 3.00 a.m. to sit in a minibus for many hours to visit Colca Canyon. It is located 160 kilometres out of Arequipa on very small roads, and the altitude is high (4910 m. above sea level). I suspect that both the bus ride and the altitude would see me doing this trip by myself, as it wouldn’t be suitable for a 15 month old baby.  You can do it as a two day hike, but there’s no way that I’d be climbing out of this canyon.

But the canyon itself is one of the deepest in the world at a depth of  3,270 metres (10,730 ft) and it looks spectacular.  Touristy, yes but- hey, I might see a condor! I’ll stand there with a bloody great eagle on my head!

Not too sure about that tunnel in an area full of earthquakes and volcanoes, though.

I know that many travellers suggest taking a 2-3 day hike, instead of trying to squash it all into one day. That way you walk from the bottom of the canyon to the top. But this fantasy, remember, and this fantasy doesn’t stretch that far!

‘There Was Still Love” by Favel Parrett


2019, 210 p.

There is an unsettling synchronicity about writing a review of this book while our government is closing its borders and our lives are being upended and constricted by government fiat. The parallels between our current situation and the 20th century of Czechoslovakia are slim, however. I may not hold my grandchildren for six months, but the rupture in the lives of those who escaped the fall of the Iron Curtain and those who did not was far deeper. But, as the title says, there was still love.

There are three threads in this book. One of them takes place in Melbourne in 1980, with young Malá living in with her Czech grandparents, Mána and Bill, cocooned in the warmth of their love in a frugal and ordered household typical of many post-war refugees. At the same time, there is her cousin Ludek, also living with his grandmother Babi in Prague, completely unaware of his cousin’s existence. He yearns for his mother Alena to return from her tour of the West with a theatrical company, and doesn’t realize that the government is using him as the lure and tether to bring her back to Czechoslovakia.

It is only near the end of the book that you realize the link between these two stories of grandchildren, wrapped in the love of their grandmothers. The two grandmothers were sisters, and by sheer happenstance, one ended up in the West and the other in the East. Their lives diverged at that point, even though they ran along parallel lines.

There is no great build-up or denouement in the book, which is gentle and quiet. I will confess to finding it a little difficult to follow. The narrative swaps back and forth between Melbourne and Prague and across time, with the focus on different characters whose names rather too similar – Malá, Mana, Ludek and (admittedly, a surname, Liska). I found myself wondering why she chose to structure the book in this way. Perhaps it was to make more complex what was actually a simple, if profound story?

What comes through most in this book is, as the title suggests, love. Love between sisters separated by distance and ideology; love between mother and child, and most of all love between grandparent and grandchild – each time, flowing both ways.

My rating: 8.5/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

aww2020I have included this in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020.


My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #10: Arequipa

Close to the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina Monastery. Built in 1579, it served as a cloister for Dominican nuns between the 16th and 18th century, and it still houses a small religious community.  Like much else in Arequipa, the buildings are made of volcanic sillar stone, which is porous and prone to cracking, and it was badly damaged in the earthquake in 2001. It was founded by Doña Maria de Guzman, a rich young widow who was the first prioress. All women admitted to the convent were expected to bring a dowry of $150,000USD in current-day money, and a list of 25 items including a statue, a painting, a lamp etc. No wonder it became enormously rich, until the Vatican sent someone out to clean it up (and send all the riches back to Spain).

(Familiar accent narrating the video!)

One of their most famous nuns is Sister Ana de Los Angeles, who entered the convent as a three year old in 1607 for her education. Her parents took her out at the age of ten or eleven in order to marry, but after receiving a vision of Saint Catherine of Siena, she wanted to return to the convent as a nun. (I’m sure that the prospect of being married off as a 10 year old had nothing to do with it). Her mother was furious, and refused to pay the dowry, so her brother paid it instead. She spent the rest of her life there, becoming noted for her ability to predict whether a sick patient would live or die. When she died in 1686 they didn’t need to embalm her because of the sweet perfume her body gave off, and after being exhumed 10 months after burial, she was still fresh. The sisters petitioned to have her proclaimed a saint, but 334 years later they’re still waiting (and she’s probably not quite so fresh).


Creator: Murray Foubister   Source: Wikimedia 

They have a beautiful website here, in both Spanish and English.

A 15 minute walk from the historic centre is the Casa Museo Mario Vargas Llosa.  In Chile, I was hunting down houses belonging to Pablo Neruda, in Cartagena I enjoyed a Gabriel Garcia Marquez tour, so while in Arequipa, why not check out this museum, located in the birthplace of Peru’s Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa. Only 48 people per day are allowed to visit.  I have read only one of his books, The Feast of the Goat, and his most well-known book is probably Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. He ran for the Presidency in 1990 but was defeated by Alberto Fujimori. Hmm…his politics are probably more right-wing than I’m comfortable with, but you can’t argue with his Nobel Prize, awarded 2010 for a huge body of work.  He was a former President of PEN International, and he was recently attacked by China for a column he wrote about coronavirus. Apparently they had a crisis meeting late last year to discuss the poor state of the museum, which has a heavy reliance on holograms but….if I were there, I’d go anyway.  Museums for writers should be encouraged, I reckon.



My non-trip in the time of coronavirus #9: Arequipa

Arequipa is known as the “Ciudad Blanca” (White City) because many of its public buildings are made of a beautiful white volcanic stone. It is the second most-populated city in Peru. It is surrounded by snow-covered volcanoes and it looks stunning.  As usual, there is a Plaza de Armas, built on the Spanish template. This one was built in the 17th century and has much more architectural unity than some of the other Plaza de Armas. It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

This video is in Spanish, but you’ll get the idea:  (actually, it’s nice clear Spanish)

The Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa takes up the whole of one side of the square. It has been damaged several times by earthquakes, and after the most recent one in 2001 the  left tower was completely destroyed and the right tower was badly damaged.  The altar and the twelve pillars are made of Italian marble, the brass lamp in front of the altar is from Spain and the pulpit was carved in France. The organ was shipped out from Belgium, and is said to be the largest in South America, but it got damaged on the way out and doesn’t sound the best, apparently.

It looks spectacular at night


Source: Wikimedia.   Creator: Bruno Locatelli

Historically, the Spanish population retained fidelity to the Spanish crown, even when the independence movement was afoot elsewhere.  In 1805 the Spanish crown gave the city the title “faithful” by Royal Charter. It remained under Spanish control under the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824 (which was later than many other cities). There has long been rivalry between Ayacucho and Lima.

Apparently, there is even a distinctive dialect, where they elongate the last vowel of the final word in every sentence.  And, unusually for South America, they use the ‘vos’ form of ‘you’ (replacing ‘tu’ and ‘usted).  They seem to use ‘vosotros’ too. I’d be doomed: I never bother learning the vosotros form.  Life is too short.

You’ve got to love a city that has the Chili River running through it. Unfortunately, all the city’s waste water is dumped into it.


Flickr: Santiago Stucci

You can go white water rafting on the Rio Chili, about 20 minutes out of the city where I should imagine the water might be cleaner. It advertises itself as being for “all ages” but nah-  you young ones go ahead and I’ll mind the baby.

My non-trip in the time of coronavirus#8: Arequipa

We knew that Easter Week (Santa Semana) was very important in Peru, so we were keen to see some Easter festivities, little realizing that they would all be cancelled.

On the Friday morning, while still in Lima, we could have seen the Good Friday parade. A statue of “Del Señor de los Milagros” (the Lord of Miracles) is brought out from Lima Cathedral, preceded by women in white veils walking backwards bearing incense. He has been a feature of the Good Friday parades since….1999. That’s invented tradition for you.

We heard that the main cities for Santa Semana celebrations were Cusco, Ayacucho and Arequipa.  At this stage, we were planning to go to Cusco later, and apparently they throw eggs around in Ayacucho, so Arequipa it was.  We were going to fly out of Lima on Good Friday in the afternoon, in time to catch the evening festivities in Arequipa.

Actually, this beautifully filmed video is better than anything we would have seen:

They finish up with a ceremonial burning of Judas. This happens in other cities in Spain and in Mexico too, where they often substitute political figures

He’s a remarkably modern looking Judas, and they do start the fire in a curious place. I’m watching this with a horrified fascination. Boy, that got rid of him.

‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman


2017, 383p.

Eleanor Oliphant is a lonely thirty-year old woman. Just not ‘self-contained’ or without friends, she is bone-achingly lonely:

There have been times when I felt that I might die of loneliness. People sometimes say they might die of boredom, that they’re dying for a cup of tea, but for me, dying of loneliness is not hyperbole. When I feel like that, my head drops and my shoulders slump and I ache, I physically ache, for human contact – I truly feel that I might tumble to the ground and pass away if someone doesn’t hold me, touch me. (p 269)

She works in the back-office of a design company in Glasgow, the only job she has ever had.  She is prickly, judgmental, oblivious and agonizingly awkward.  Nothing comes easily; she is suspicious and sees the worst in people, while affecting a supercilious superiority.  It is no wonder that she repels people, and becomes the butt of their jokes.  Except, perhaps, for Raymond from I.T., a disheveled ‘techie’ who calls for her help when a old man collapses in the street. In that act of kindness, Eleanor is gradually brought into a circle of other kind people – not saints, but just ordinary people acting with everyday kindness. Small things, like haircuts and a cat, gradually put some colour into a very bleak life.

We gradually put together Eleanor’s back-story. We learn that she has a burn scar on her face, that she has been the victim of domestic abuse, that she spent many years in foster care and  that she has weekly talks with her mother, who is a truly evil, cruel woman. Honeyman’s control of unfolding Eleanor’s story is masterful. At one stage I felt that it was all falling into place too easily, until a twist at the end that I will not reveal. Endings are often difficult, and I think that I enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book better than the last part.  I wish that the twist was explored more deeply, but on the other hand, I didn’t need it straightened out and explained either.

Eleanor’s voice is distinctive: arch and highly educated, it also reveals a sardonic but needy humour. Honeyman sustains this voice throughout, and as a reader you are both repelled and yet sympathetic towards her.

Although I normally avoid best-sellers that have stickers on the cover, I really enjoyed this book, and devoured it over a couple of days. I found myself laughing out loud in several places, and tears brimming just a few pages later.

My rating: 9

Sourced from: CAE bookgroups as our March 2020 read.

My non-trip in the time of coronavirus #7: Lima

I’m cheating a bit here, because if we had really gone on our trip, we would have moved on to Arequipa by now on Good Friday.  But given that our planning didn’t get much further than Arequipa, I’ll mentally linger in Lima for a bit longer.

If I’d been there, I would have gone to LUM (Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion- I must say that I don’t know how those words in Spanish fit into the acronym). On my travels I have found myself visiting a museum commemorating atrocities that have occurred in living memory : in Medellin with the Museo Case de la Memoria, The Museum of Human Rights and Memory in  Santiago,  ESMA in Buenos Aires, and the Rwanda Genocide Memorial in Kigali.  I often feel a bit ambivalent about visiting such museums: I’m aware that they spring from a political impetus and are often strongly contested and I fear that I’m being voyeuristic. But I’m also well aware of the importance of truth-telling, something that the Uluru Statement from the Heart implores us to do in relation to Australia’s indigenous history, and something that we seem unable to bring ourselves to do e.g. in the Australian War Memorial. So yes, if I were there, I would visit the museum in this spectacular building.

LUM  opened in 2014 to commemorate the dead and to address the country’s enduring polarisation over human rights abuses committed by both the Shining Path guerrillas and  the armed forces in the 1980s and 1990s. It was  funded principally by Germany and also the EU, Sweden and the UN development program. It came under fire almost immediately for being biassed towards Shining Path by the supporters of former president Alberto Fujimori (who is in jail now anyway). However, it was championed by Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa .

Here’s a video about it with English subtitles.

It’s closed at the moment, as is everything else in Peru, because of the coronavirus.  But there’s a good virtual tour you can do, accessed through the link below. Click on the black arrows to go forward, and the blue dots have more information.  It’s all in Spanish, but that’s what Google Translate is for. Or, if you’re learning Spanish as I am, there’s hours of reading here.



I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-8 April 2020

Heather Cox Richardson. Heather Cox Richardson is an American political historian who has been posting daily blogposts about American politics. Like the rest of us, she is shut in at home, so she has decided to do two weekly videos. The first is, I suspect, a quick run through of her American History 101 and a tie-in with her recent book How the South Won the Civil War. The other weekly video is a Q&A about recent political events in America. Given that I never studied American history, I’m interested in her Thursday (US time) American history series.  She just sits there and it all spiels out, so she’s obviously done this before. Now that I am actually on a phone plan that gives me plenty of data, I just stream it while I’m walking because there’s nothing to see other than a woman sitting in front of bookshelves.  But she’s very fluent, and clear and engaging. You can get the videos through her Facebook page. Excellent listening.

Rear Vision (ABC) Of course, I’m far more interested in Latin American history now that I’m learning Spanish. Rear Vision has a really good podcast from May 2018 that gives a summary of Latin American history in the twentieth and twenty-first century, especially in view of what seemed to be in 2018 a return to right wing government. (It hasn’t completely turned out that way, Jair Bolsonaro notwithstanding). Latin America makes a right turn is an excellent, if somewhat outdated, summary.

Somewhat more recent is the program A destructive mine and a civil war: Bougainville’s path to an independence vote.  Well, after the referendum they were supposed to go to the polls to elect their regional council in May this year- I doubt that will happen.  And the program Protests in Lebanon, also from November 2019 is about the protests against the sectarian carve up of politics in the Lebanese constitution.  It’s strange to listen to these programs now that the world has been turned upside down by coronavirus, but of course the issues won’t go away.