Tag Archives: Henri-Frederic Amiel

Weekend Coffee Share – 11th May, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Yesterday, was Mother’s Day here in Australia. Geoff gave me a beautiful bunch of flowers, the kids did nothing and I ordered myself a book I’m really looking forward to receiving through the mail…Julia Baird’s: Phosphorescence. I can’t wait to read it, especially because I have a dreadful track record for buying books and not reading them, which mirrors my approach to gardening….buying plants and leaving them out the front dying of total neglect. So, wish me luck and I think you’d better hold me to an update next week. Hopefully, it should be here by then, but you never know with the post. Like everything else, it’s not running on all cylinders either.

We went down to my parents’ place in Sydney yesterday for Mother’s Day lunch. Up until a year or so ago, my mother had been coming up to our place once a week for something like 14 years, but we haven’t seen them since Christmas Day this year. It’s been so long that it even feels like a mistake. I’ve got it wrong. Geoff and I ended up with chest infections so we didn’t go down for the kids’ birthdays back in early March and then lock down slapped us in the face and cancelled Easter. And my brother’s birthday….So, our Mother’s Day Cake actually had Happy Birthday on it.

Happy Birthday Cake

An update on the coronavirus  here in Australia, We’ve currently had 95 deaths and have around 750 active cases. You could say we’ve been very lucky, and I guess in many ways we have. However, it’s more a case of wise judgement, quick action by the government, heeding the examples of Wuhan and Italy and knowing just how rampantly infectious this virus is before it got here.

I’ve also wondered whether there’s some kind of correlation between Australia’s response to the coronavirus and gun control. You might recall that Australia dramatically changed its gun laws following Tasmania’s Port Arthur massacre on the 28–29th April 1996 where 35 people were killed and 23 wounded in a mass shooting. Australia’s response is often used as a shining example of what is possible whenever America experiences another mass shooting. Once again, our infection rates are sending the rest of the world a message…Stay home and stay safe.

The big question for Australia and New Zealand is… where to now? Each state in Australia has different incidence rates and so there’s no overarching national prescription. At the moment, where we live in NSW, two adults and dependent children can visit someone at home, which allowed us to visit my parents for Mother’s Day yesterday. On Friday, restrictions will further ease  with 10 people being able to meet indoors and non-essential shops are starting to open. For many, this will be an alleluia moment. However, when you listen to our Chief and Deputy Medical Officers and our State Premier, there’s definite caution and the situation is described as “precarious”. We still need to social distance and people in high risk categories are still being told to stay home. I’m planning to lie low over the next two weeks and if the stats remain low, I’ll ease up a bit. After all, amidst all the optimism, there’s also the expectation of new cases and I need to ensure that’s not me. Indeed, we all need to think about how to keep our immediate circle and ourselves safe and work out from there and not necessarily just go by the rules. The more people we can keep out of circulation the better.  This is no time to be a lemming!

Billy the Bantam crop

Billy the Bantam arriving home in Sydney on board the China in 1919. 

Meanwhile, my research into WWI Australian soldiers serving in France continues. Last week, I found out my Great Great uncle’s battalion, the 13th, had a lively animal mascot, Billy the Bantam Rooster. He travelled all the way to France via Egypt and even managed to return home, unlike way too many of his human mates. On arrival at their billets in the French village of Steente-je near Bailleau, Billy immediately set about showing those French coq’s who was boss and defeated four roosters well over twice his size in a battle of David meets Goliath. Indeed, to use an old-fashioned Australian colloquialism, you could say Billy was as mad as a two bob watch (that was a cheap watch back in the days before decimal currency arrived in 1966.)

Amiel's journal

I was also chasing up on a quote which took me on a thrilling literary adventure. While reading a NSW Red Cross Journal from December 1916, I stumbled across this quote from Swiss philosopher and journal writer Henri-Frederic Amiel:

“Never to tire, never to grow cold; to be patient, sympathetic, tender; to

look for the budding flower and the opening heart; to hope always; like

God, to love always–this is duty.”

Henri-Frederic Amiel

This has led me to his Journal Intime, which was published by friends after his death and completely eclipsed his other life’s works. I have read throiugh the introduction and a couple of entries and am intrigued and gripped by what I’ve read so far. Have you encountered his work at all? I wrote an introductory post the other night: Midnight With the Philosopher’s Journal and will be posting more and would love you to join me.

I’ve also been watching Masterchef, which I’m enjoying as much as ever and the other night I watched Graeme Murphy’s production of Romeo & Juliet featuring the Australian Ballet. It’s possibly only the second ballet I’ve ever watched from start to finish, and to be honest, I prefer more of a medley with acts of various works put together. I couldn’t see the point of the start which was the court scene, but the death scene at the end was amazing and as tragic as ever. I’ve also been listening to podcasts from the Irish Times. I haven’t listened to a podcast before so that was yet another new thing I’ve tried since lock down and I’m pretty chuffed by my capacity to branch out and explore these new things.

No one is bored here, and we will be craving boredom over the next couple of weeks. Geoff noticed a few pallets of floorboards on an auction site and won the bid at 25% of retail. They come from a movie set and have barely been used. While FINALLY replacing our very cruddy carpet in the lounge room and conquering the adjacent kitchen dining areas sounds very exciting, there’s a staggering amount of work involved moving all the stuff out and it doesn’t help that i collect very delicate and fragile antique china. Indeed, our numerous collections aren’t going to make this much fun, and in the meantime we’ll be needing to store the floorboard. I can already feel a massive headache coming on. Indeed, make that a massive, skull crushing migraine. However, it will make a world of difference to our place. Wow. I can’t wait. I can’t wait until it’s OVER!!

Before I head off, I just wanted to tell you about a heart warming touch of human kindness we received on the weekend. We’ve had friends from Church offer practical assistance and some groceries. We knocked these offers back due to social distancing concerns on the practical assistance front, and we felt there were people who had lost jobs who could use the groceries more than us, and we switched to buying our groceries online. Anyway, just because you’re being self-sufficient doesn’t mean you don’t need connection, friendship, love and encouragement particularly at the moment. The very morning after a rather melancholy and reflective night, the package arrived. We waited for all the family to arrive home before we opened it, which naturally fuelled our curiosity. Who had sent it? It had come from Melbourne, which threw us a bit. We’re from Sydney. Finally, we opened our box of tasty snacks and there was a card from our niece, who was simply thinking of us. I was so touched and it really warmed my heart. We tucked a bit more in my brother’s birthday card. I didn’t want to be tight after being so blessed.

Panorama Yattalunga2

Pano sunset Yattalunga….Geoff and Rowena Newton 

Lastly, my local walks have continued. I managed to spot a pelican at our local beach on Wednesday afternoon on sun set, which was quite unusual. I don’t think I’ve even seen a pelican there before and we’ve been living here for 20 years. Thursday, I met up with my usual coffee friend, Roland, but we’re now walking instead and we walked along the rocks on the Southern end and sat on a rock inhaling the view across to Umina Beach (home) and the sea air. Driving home, I saw possibly the most electrically beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. There were magically layers of glowing pink and orange cloud and I was almost delirious…and annoyed. I didn’t have my phone or my camera, but managed to catch the moment past the moment on my SLR when I got home. I had to drive a bit down the road to escape all the power poles. (Who put them there??:?)

sunset

I didn’t quite capture the moment, but it’s still stunningly beautiful. 

On Friday night, I desperately hoped for a repeat of the previous night’s sunset and so I rallied up Geoff and a friend and headed over to her place at Yattalunga. It took a bit longer to get there than anticipated and I lost my phone (yet again) before we left, which also delayed things. So, the sun had actually set by the time we pulled up, but it was still beautiful and serenely atmospheric!!

Yachts Yattalunga pano

Yachts at Yattalunga.

Jetty Yattalunga

Low tide Jetty At Yattalung, NSW Central Coast.

Yachts Yattalunga

It’s amazing the different colours you can bring out. 

I am finding my time beside the ocean very therapeutic. I’m sure so many of us are just longing for those waters to wash over us and take everything associated with this rotten coronavirus away. Cleanse away the grief, weirdness and stress of trying to keep ourselves and loved ones safe go to work and juggle school at home for the kids. Indeed, I might head back to the water tomorrow and cleanse my soul again. This is also a spiritual thing for me, and I can feel God with me through all of this, but it always gets complicated.

Anyway, what’s been going on in your neck of the woods? I am quite interested in what it’s like for people in different countries as we make our way through the coronacrisis as well as some of the artistic and creative responses.

Anyway, this has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to come along and join us each week.

Best wishes and please stay safe,

Rowena

 

Midnight With the Philosopher’s Journal.

Well after midnight the night before last, a melancholy spirit crept into the house via the backdoor, and  joined me, my cup of decaf tea and row of Cadbury Hazelnut chocolate.  Zac, our gorgeous Border Collie x was sleeping across my lap nursing my keyboard,  while the rest of the house slept (or at least pretended to be asleep). In hindsight, I half wonder whether Zac was there to protect me from such spirits late at night, in the same way he guards the house from more physical threats. After all, when you put things in perspective, we often need more protection from ourselves than an intruder.

Anyway, as some of you would be aware, I’ve been researching and writing a collection of short  bios of Australians serving in France during WWI. I won’t just say soldiers, because my latest addition is Bill the Bantam Bugler, a bantam rooster who joined the 13th Battalion 12th reinforcements in camp at Liverpool in Sydney. Not one to be left behind,  he boarded the Suevic on the 22nd December along with the intrepid  Maud Butler and travelled to Egypt, before arriving in France.As it turned out, Billy the Bantam found his own battlefields in farmyards across France where he became the all-conquering Australian Napoleon of the chicken run. No rooster was too big for this little guy bursting with fight.

It was while I was researching Billy, that I came across a series of journals put out by the NSW Red Cross during the war. These journals have been a treasure trove of snippets, taking me off in all sorts of directions.

As you might’ve gathered by now, my research proceeds in anything but a straight, linear path and darts off on multitudinous detours. These are okay. Indeed, you could well consider them “the scenic route”. However, being in unchartered territory, I also need to develop strategies for finding my way back to the main road, or I’ll never get this finished.

Anyway, in the August 1916 edition, I found a quote which has taken me off on a completely different journey, forging a new main road straight through the bush. It reads:

“Never to tire, never to grow cold; to be patient, sympathetic, tender; to

look for the budding flower and the opening heart; to hope always; like

God, to love always–this is duty.”

Henri-Frederic Amiel

Amiel's journal

I’d never heard of this Swiss philosopher before, or  his famous journal: The Journal Intime. That’s now changed, and I spent the rest of the night reading through the most profound, gripping quotes, which I thought you might also appreciate. These all come from his journal:

“I am a spectator, so to speak, of the molecular whirlwind which men call individual life; I am conscious of an incessant metamorphosis, an irresistible movement of existence, which is going on within me — and this phenomenology of myself serves as a window opened upon the mystery of the world.”

“He who floats with the current, who does not guide himself according to higher principles, who has no ideal, no convictions–such a man is a mere article of the world’s furniture–a thing moved, instead of a living and moving being–an echo, not a voice. The man who has no inner life is the slave of his surroundings, as the barometer is the obedient servant of the air at rest, and the weathercock the humble servant of the air in motion.”

“A bubble of air in the blood, a drop of water in the brain, and a man is out of gear, his machine falls to pieces, his thought vanishes, the world disappears from him like a dream at morning. On what a spider thread is hung our individual existence!”

“Our true history is scarcely ever deciphered by others. The chief part of the drama is a monologue, or rather an intimate debate between God, our conscience, and ourselves. Tears, grieves, depressions, disappointments, irritations, good and evil thoughts, decisions, uncertainties, deliberations –all these belong to our secret, and are almost all incommunicable and intransmissible, even when we try to speak of them, and even when we write them down.”

“Composition is a process of combination, in which thought puts together complementary truths, and talent fuses into harmony the most contrary qualities of style. So that there is no composition without effort, without pain even, as in all bringing forth. The reward is the giving birth to something living–something, that is to say, which, by a kind of magic, makes a living unity out of such opposed attributes as orderliness and spontaneity, thought and imagination, solidity and charm.”

“He who is silent is forgotten; he who does not advance falls back; he who stops is overwhelmed; out distanced, crushed; he who ceases to grow becomes smaller; he who leaves off, gives up; the condition of standing still is the beginning of the end.”

I particularly loved this quote with it’s note of pure melancholy, and social isolation:

“I can find no words for what I feel. My consciousness is withdrawn into itself; I hear my heart beating, and my life passing. It seems to me that I have become a statue on the banks of the river of time, that I am the spectator of some mystery, and shall issue from it old, or no longer capable of age.”

As I read this,  I pictured myself as Michelangelo’s Statue of David standing beside the River Neckar in Heidelberg where I lived many years ago. Or, perhaps, I was seeing Amiel, and I’ll recast myself as the Venus de Milo, which I saw in the Louvre on the same trip.

Perhaps, many of us are also feeling like that powerless, detached, isolated statue on the river bank. We’re simply watching as our loved ones, income, jobs, businesses, savings are all being swept away by the river’s flow, and there’s nothing we can do to hold them back. In so many ways, we are powerless. Or, our capacity to respond and “fix” the impact has been greatly reduced, and this doesn’t sit well in our mindset of “Just do it”, “Make it happen”, or “you can be anything you want”.

Where are we to turn?

My Dad used to say that doing something tough “put hairs on your chest”, which I wasn’t keen on as a girl, but I now understand that he was talking about building grit and resilience. Whatever doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. He also said: “life wasn’t meant to be easy.” However, he didn’t use the full quote:

“Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.”

― George Bernard Shaw

Anyway, getting back to what brought me into my melancholy zone of reflection the other night. Australia is now at the point of legitimately easing social distancing restrictions. While this is seemingly great news, for me personally its implications are mixed. Being at high risk myself, I need to work out what all of this means for me. Being in more of a melancholy mood at the time, I could see myself being left behind at home, while the rest of the country was out partying. Indeed, I even saw myself as that child stuck inside peering out while all the other children are playing. My hands and face are pressed hard up against the window watching all the others play and there’s such a deep, unfathomable heartache. A never-ending but very private cry.  In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that my thoughts galloped ahead of themselves.  We’re not at the point of coming out yet here in NSW, and I might not be left behind. The spread is being very well contained and might be all but wiped out.

With my chronic health and lung issues, these universal restrictions have not only been a lifesaver, for once we’re all in the same boat. Before they came about, with my husband working in a known hot spot and the kids being at school, we were expecting that I’d need to evacuate both from the community and from our family as well. Australia’s initial infection rates were heading along a similar trajectory to Italy and we had no reason back then to believe Australia would largely dodge the bullet. Consequently, we bought a camper to house me away from the family in our backyard. That’s how serious it was. Now, Australia’s in an entirely different position where we’ve almost eradicated the virus, but we’re not there yet.  New cases are still appearing, including a new cluster in Victoria. Restrictions haven’t eased much as yet. However, we will now be able to visit my parents for Mother’s Day tomorrow with the kids. That’s two and adults and dependent kids. That’s all that’s allowed, although school is going back one day a week, but we’re holding back at the moment. I don’t know how it’s going to look in a few weeks. So, I could well have freaked myself out without reason. Our State Premier is taking a very cautious approach. I might not get left behind.

Anyway, in the meantime, I was pleased to hang out with Amiel for a few hours, which has now extended into reading his journal, which is accessible online here and I strongly recommend reading the introduction as well:  Journal Intime

I am trying not to get too caught up what many of us know as “the dark side of the moon”. However, I also feel it’s important to acknowledge that it’s there. That it’s okay to indulge in it for a time, but like my many research detours, we shouldn’t linger too long and always endeavour to get back to the main road. Or, even return via the scenic and take a more uplifting route if we can.

I would love to encourage you to read Amiel’s journal with me and stay tuned for further posts. I already have a few up my sleeve.

How are you getting through the coronacrisis? Are you okay? Or, have you also had times of feeling melancholy, afraid or just confused? Even just having shops, Church, dance studio, schools, parks, museums and art galleries closed is throwing us out of kilter, and we’re not dealing with the worst of it.

It’s important to let these feelings out and share where we’re at. We don’t need to hide our grief away. Those of us well away from the epicentres, have big shoulders and are able to help carry the weight of your grief. It belongs to us all. You don’t need to bear it alone. Thankfully, the Internet is enabling us all to connect despite layer up on layer of border closures, shut downs and precautions and we can spread the love around like lashings of butter on hot toast.

From my place to your place, hang in there and we hope you’re doing okay.

Love,

Rowena

PS A big thank you to all my blogging buddies who’ve been through lock down with me! I truly appreciate our friendship!!!