Month: June 2016

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – St Raphael

Today is the birthday of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French writer and aviator. He is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). 

During World War II he was a pilot with the Free French Airforce, based in North Africa. In July 1944, he disappeared over the Mediterranean during a reconnaissance mission. There is a monument to Saint-Exupéry at Agay, a small seaside village 10km east of St Raphael on the French Riviera.



Vasari – Florence

Today is the anniversary of the death of Italian author and artist, Giorgio Vasari, who died in 1574.

As we mentioned in a previous post, Vasari’s main claim to fame is as a writer. His book, “The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects”, was published in 1550 and is still in print today.

Vasari was also the favourite architect of Cosimo I de Medici, designing the Uffizi Palace in Florence, and the Vasari Corridor which connects it to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno. The 1km long Vasari Corridor features in Dan Brown’s novel, “Inferno”. The corridor can be visited on a guided tour.


Barry Humphries – An Autobiography

Published in 1992 and just now borrowed from a library, Barry Humphries’ biography called “More Please” is not a happy or a funny book. When writing in the persona of Edna Everage he can be more light-hearted. Similarly this inventor of many words and phrases that have become part of Australian slang like “chunder” or “don’t go the raw prawn with me” uses a more serious turn of phrase in this autobiography. Words like opsimath, mephitic and pilose caused us to reach for a dictionary.

Melbourne honoured its famous son, with a somewhat hideous statue of Dame Edna Everage placed in the waterfront development known as Docklands. Barry Humphries has reportedly never liked the statue and was not sorry to see that it has been temporarily put into storage to make way for a new apartment building.

Dame Edna Melbourne

Cloud Spotting

Some books have such a specific setting that you need to travel to a particular place to appreciate the location that the author describes. Other books have a much more general setting that you can appreciate in many places.

We recently read a book whose setting and subject can be seen from almost anywhere in the world – even from your living room window. The book is “The Cloudspotter’s Guide” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

This witty and informative book explains everything you ever wanted to know about clouds, plus many intriguing things that you never thought of asking. For example, what happens if you fall all the way through a cumulo-nimbus cloud? And which Renaissance painter represented clouds most accurately in his paintings?

Amazingly, there are just 10 main types of cloud (known as genera) in the world. Most of them are split into different species and varieties, in a manner similar to botanical naming of plants. Pretor-Pinney’s entertaining book describes all these cloud types and gives guidance on how to identify them. It’s recommended reading for everyone who has a soft spot for clouds.

Clouds Perth

Lachlan Macquarie – Sydney

As you might have guessed from the previous blog entry, we Australians take our early Governors rather seriously. After all, they did help to create the modern Australia. But sometimes we forget that there was a rather amusing side to some aspects of their lives as well.

Enter “Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia” by David Hunt. This entertainingly irreverent book makes fun of everything from our revered Governors to myths about the poor mistreated convicts who were transported here simply for stealing a loaf of bread. Nothing is too sacred to escape debunking. If this book doesn’t make you laugh about Australian history, nothing will.

Even Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who is revered as a demi-god in Australia, is revealed as an egotist who insisted on having his name attached to as many of Australia’s geographical features as possible and was determined to restore his family fortunes.

There are two statues of Macquarie in Sydney. One stands in front of the Mint and shows him in a seriously reflective mood. The other in Hyde Park, looking along Macquarie Street (below), and makes him look like a gilded superstar in front of his adoring fans. The second one is much more in keeping with Hunt’s witty account of Macquarie.

Lachlan Macquarie Sydney



Arthur Phillip – Sydney

We recently read “Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy” by Michael Pembroke. As you would guess from the book’s title, Pembroke tells much more about Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, than we learnt in history lessons at school. Spy? Mercenary? We had never heard about those parts of Phillip’s life before.

The biography is an engrossing read and helps the reader to better understand Phillip’s varied and interesting life, the more admirable (and sometimes not quite so admirable) aspects of his character, and the magnitude of his achievement in bringing the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 and setting up the first colony.

The statue of Phillip below is in Sydney, on the top of the Arthur Phillip Monument in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Arthur Phillip Sydney