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Saturday
Jun302018

Future chess master?

Hayden decided that he wanted to learn chess, so he spent the Saturday watching hours of chess tutorials before proceeding to beat me three times in a row. Having recently watched the Queen of Katwe, Lydia and I are not sure that pursuing a career in chess is such a good idea...

  

 

 

Saturday
Jun302018

Star Wars

Hayden has been getting into Star Wars recently (well... the lego version), so I took him to see the Star Wars Identities exhibit. It was very interactive, allowing him to build his own Star Wars hero, and guiding him through all the formative experiences that create a person's values. Hayden came up with:

Also, I got to see Jabba the Hut before he put on weight

and the most awful early concept art of Yoda

 

Sunday
Feb182018

Bavarian snow

Hayden had a ball running around finding snow in the Nymphenburg Castle gardens in Munich.

Lindenhof castle, built in a homage to the Bourbon kings

Snowman

Oberammer, famous for its Lüftlmalerei (fresco) houses, and the Passion Play it puts on every 10 years, in thanks for God only destroying half the village with plague in 1634. Hayden will remember it as the scene of snow fights.

Neuschwanstein Castle. Built in 1886 by the mad king Ludwig, living out a fantasy of medieval kings. Decorated inside with a fake stone grotto, halls dedicated to the Swan King, and a Byzantine throne room. The guy was insane, but he had style - the castle is the model for the Disney castle, and has become the idealised version of medieval castles in the public zeitgeist.

Hayden and friend jump into every pile of snow they see in Freising.

Sunday
Feb112018

Israel and Palestine

         

Welcome to Israel and the occupied Palestinean territories. Military, what military? No, military implies occupation, this just happens to be the military wing of the Israeli police force. Every normal city has police, right?

 

The old city of Jerusalem, where three religions fight over which set of myths didn't happen at landmarks that have been pretty much chosen at random (but long enough ago they are worth dying for).

Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Built on the site that was randomly selected as the location of the death of Jesus, despite: a) Jesus probably not existing, and b) even if he lived and died, this certainly wouldn't have been the right location. No matter, there are several different "real tomb of Jesus's" that you can visit while in Jerusalem.

Western Wall, the site where Mohammad is said to have left his horse while visiting Jerusalem, despite certainly never visiting Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, the same wall is said to be the wall of the Jewish Second Temple, despite probably not being so. While there was a tentative truce for hundreds of years, the site is now claimed by some Muslim groups as being exclusively Islamic in origin, while some Jewish groups want to see the entire site demolished to rebuild a Jewish temple. Currently the whole complex is controlled by the military arm of the Israeli police, who control the inflow of tourists, Jewish prayer groups and (erratically and intermittently, as we saw) Muslim prayer groups.

View of Jerusalem from the roof of the Austrian Hospice.

View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

The remains of Lifta, the only Palestinean village abandoned during the Six Days War that has not been completely destroyed. The original owners are still not allowed to return.

Old town of Jaffa

New town of Tel Aviv, built from scratch on the sand dunes outside Jaffa in the 1930s.

Thursday
Feb082018

Paris in the winter

Thursday
Jan252018

They don't breed vegetarians in Switzerland

As seen in Saas Fee

Sunday
Nov052017

The Alhambra

The Alhambra, a fortress-palace built by the Islamic rulers of Granada a thousand years ago, a relic of a world now gone



Sacremonte, the Roma neighbourhood of Grenada, with houses built into the hillside.


The tranquil gardens of the Alhambra. Just one hill over from the Sacremonte, the climate is completely different from the blistering semi-arid district. The water features, tall trees and shaded walls create a cool and shady microclimate, a luxury fit for kings.

Touring the old Jewish quarter of Grenada, with all history obliterated aftr the Christian conquest and explusion of Muslims and Jews from the city
Sunday
Sep242017

#VoteYesAustralia

10 years ago, Lydia and I got married. Thankfully, we had to right to marry for love, with a secular wedding based on equality and mutual respect. You know, not traditional marriage at all. We went to Canada to get married, where the law recognises love as the highest value:

"Our bride and groom have brought us amidst the beauty of these mountains to celebrate the peace and joy that they have found together. Let us gather our thoughts and good wishes as we witness and share in their formal joining in the legal state of matrimony. The state of matrimony has matured as our society has matured. From an ancient tradition, marriage has developed into an expression of joy between any two people sharing love, respect and understanding. Our couple have found true happiness in each other, and with joy they have entered a life-long companionship and will comfort and support each other with gentleness and strength. In marriage, we give ourselves freely and generously into the hands of the one we love, and in doing so, each of us receives the love and trust of the other as our most precious gift. Today our bride and groom proclaim their love to the world."

Disgracefully, Australians do not yet have this right. There has been a clear majority in favour of same-sex marriage for over 10 years. Unfortunately, the country as a whole has not voted with its convictions, with a parliament substantially more religious and conservative than the people. Yet even the right-wing Liberal party, dead against anything progressive or inclusive, has known better than to campaign openly against LGBT rights in Australia, preferring to obfuscate and delay.

The most recent tactic, used by the very disappointing Malcolm Turnbull, has been to insist that a referendum is needed to change the constitution to allow same-sex marriage. Except, this morphed into a plebiscite, since the religious right wanted to vote against even if the country voted for. The argument is legally rubbish - the Constitution of Australia does not need to be changed, as ruled on by the High Court of Australia, so this has now degraded into a non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey. Exactly like all the surveys that have consistently shown majority support for same-sex marriage for ten years, except this one is costing $120 million.
 

Oh, and the other important difference? The right-wing has created an situation where the vitriol held by a minority of Australians is now publically on display. By holding up the human rights of the LGBT community to a public survey, every hate-filled venomous group feels free to spew bile in public. Knowing from past examples that public votes on LGBT rights led to increased homophobic attacks and LGBT youth suicide, it is utterly contemptible for the Australian right-wing to run this useless and unnecessary postal survey.

That said, the survey is happening, so of course we are voting. My postal survey came in today, so we had a family discussion with Hayden.

"Hayden, in Belgium you can marry anyone that you love. So a mummy can marry a daddy, or a mummy can marry another mummy. But in Australia, the law doesn't let mummies marry mummies, or daddies marry daddies. Do you think we should change that law?"

"Why is Australia being mean? Yes, we should change that law".

Pretty straight-forward yes vote there. So, for the children, #VoteYes. It is not a difficult question, and that is before even going into all the heart-wrenching stories of gay couples suffering the consequences that being unmarried can entail during situations such as hospitalisation and death. Please, #VoteYesAustralia

Sunday
Aug272017

The Lord of the Rings, New Zealand style

I'm in Wellington today, a charming city which combines the look of San Francisco suburbs (with daily earthquakes, the city copies San Fran housing to great success), with the laid-back New Zealand style. I got to go up to Mount Victoria, where the houses having tiny "baby cable cars", with 400 single-person sized cable cars used to get up to the house. Looking through the list of things to do, I thought a Lord of the Rings tour would give a nice taste of the city.

The Lord of the Rings was a very influential book for me. The Hobbit the was the first book I read, at 5, and made me crave more books to read: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." I read and reread the Lord of the Rings at least a dozen times as a teenager, and I still love Tolkien's method of world building by creating, but only lightly referencing, a deep history. If nothing else, it immunised me against religion when I first heard about Christianity ("You believe what? Like, gods and things from Lord of the Rings? You think that was real?"). I quite liked the movies too, in that they did away with the worst aspects of Tolkien's world (the tedious detail of the long-expected party, the complete absence of all women) and kept true enough to the grandeur of the books. 

I had a guide to the filming sites of the Lord of the Rings, who knew perhaps too much about the filming (which room number her favourite stars stayed at in the local hotel, what time they went shopping, etc). We saw the location for the Buckland ferry scene ("hiding from the Black Rider"), the gardens of Isengard and the valley of Rivendell. The odd thing was that so much of the filming was done in very narrow shots with magestic scenary from the South Island stiched in behind, so it kind of seems odd that they worried about the location at all. We also visited the excellent Weta studies. Weta Studio is named after the weta, the giant "spider" of New Zealand (actually a type of cricket), which can be translated into English as "the God of all Ugly Things". Weta Studio certainly lives up to the name, with all manner of uglies made inside, from the orcs of Middleearth to prosthetics for slasher films. It is amazing the level of detail that goes into it, with real human hair weaved hair by hair into most of the prosthetics (except the Dwarven beards, which used yak fur to get that coarse curly look). The scene where orcs pulled down the trees of Isengard actually involved fake trees, with 700,000 silk leaves woven in. The attention to detail is incredible.

The filming of the Lord of the Rings has transformed Wellington. There was an embryonic film industry here before the LotR, with TV series such as Hercules and Xena, but Peter Jackson changed it into a world player. The LotR cost $600 million to produce (it made more than $8 billion, so the production company can't be upset), most of which was ploughed into the local economy. Vast numbers of local staff were employed over a decade to work on different aspects (stunts were initially done by the local karate club, until someone broke a collarbone), and Peter Jackson constantly reinvested money from the film and his profits into creating a film ecosystem that is one of the few places in the world where films can be made the entire way along the production process in a single site. Small production facillities such as Weta blossomed into major industry players, and Peter Jackson even bought his own polystyrene factory to ensure a good supply to the film industry. The old industrial site is now transformed, with an abandoned paint factory becoming a studio and digital effects companies springing up. Since the LotR, over 150 films have been made in Wellington, and there has been a 700% increase in tourism to Wellington, shaping the entire economy.

The location of the scene where the hobbits cowered from the Black Rider, while spiders crawled over them. They were originally going to include a rare weta, except it got killed by one of the centipedes, so they buried it and moved on.

Sunday
Aug132017

A summer in Oxford

So fast our summer sabbatical in Oxford is over. Weeks flew by filled with interesting meetings, lazy hours in our little garden, long walks along the canals, the occasional beer in an English pub, and visits by the best friends you could imagine. We celebrated some major milestones, 10 years married and Hayden's 6th birthday. We got to re-indulge in pleasures of our youth, with Oxford surprising us with its familiarity to Australian eyes, while encountering new pleasures of today. Even a trip to the hospital was an occasion to smile with a visit from a volunteer clown. A magical couple of months to be treasured.