Biographical Log of Michael Furstner - Page 5

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Friday January 11, 2008 (diary, bio, travel, drink)

Shirley in Rome, May 2007

As I walk into the Surf Club to watch some tennis and English soccer today, I am waved to their table by two friends having lunch there, Rowley and Marie Cornell. Rowley and I both worked on the Copper/gold open pit mine on the beautiful and exotic island of Bougainville (PNG) back in the late 70s. I started a bridge club there and both became enthusiastic players of the game. They lived one street down from us in Arawa and therefore suffered my first ugly shrieks on the saxophone.
I especially remember Rowley's great performance back then as the lead in the local repertory's production of A Streetcar named Desire. He also asked me to record some background music on my piano for the play, which I did. It became a repetitive rhythmic staccato chord pattern which worked quite well with the mood of the play.
Rowley and Marie fly out to Rome later this year to get onto a cruise around the Mediterranean, then through the Suez Canal and onto the Indian Ocean, more or less in the reverse order as my cruise last year.

Rome, just a one day stop during our cruise last year, on a rather wet day in May. Our bus first drives around all the compulsory Roman monuments, permitting only brief glances from the window, then drops us off near a large square. We walk around in the rain, Shirley (my travel companion) and I, have some lunch, the rain clears and we walk some more. I let Shirley continue her non stop shopping and settle down at the terrace of Hotel Lugano back on the square where we are to meet up with our tour guide again. I place my order, what a bliss, finally a civilised beer. Have not had one like this for years! Definitely the highlight of my day.

A civilised beer in Rome Gradually the other passengers of our cruise also stroll back onto the square. One couple has purchased a huge stuffed boar, it weighs a ton! He collects boars, the guy explains apologetically as we all look rather puzzled, and it will be the very first piece for his new collection. His wife winces. I offer to give him a hand with carrying it. So he and I are probably the only two people in all of Roman history who have walked together with a stuffed boar through the Park Borghese. That surely needs to be celebrated.

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Saturday January 12, 2008 (diary, travel, cruise, food)

At Lefty's for our birthday, Jan. 2007

As Babette's birthday is on January the 10th and mine on the 15th we usually go out for dinner one evening between these two dates. So tonight we arrive at Lefty's again. We have not booked and the place is pretty full but they can accommodate us with a table outside. It is dry and quit pleasant this evening, and there is a large umbrella nearby if it does start to rain.
We are just about through our usual entree of breads and dips when Wayne Swan, newly elected Treasurer of the Federal Government walks in with a six pack of beer under his arm (XXXX Gold as a good Queenslander). It is good to see this frugal attitude in his personal life (Lefty's is fully licensed but you can BYO). Perhaps he will also be a frugal Treasurer as he repeatedly has assured us on TV.

This is a great thing in Australia. High profile politicians can move here freely amongst the general public without being harassed in any way. Every body goes on as usual, but it does create a comforting closeness to the Government and a reassurance that they too are only human after all. At Jimmy's Place too we have spotted the odd Federal Minister, at one time ordering the last "roast duck" in the house, so that Doug missed out that night.

The Silver Shadow in Katakolo, Greece 

2007 I have several times referred to my cruise last year in this Blog, so perhaps it is time to give you some details and introduce you to our ship, the Silver Shadow with some photos.
Since migrating to Australia in 1965 I have flown countless times back and forth to Europe. So I decided to do it at least once in my life by ship, like the migrants in the early days.
Of course it has not been quite like those days. I booked a luxury cruise with the Silverseas Group, renown for its luxury, hospitality and comfort. One of their ships, the Silver Shadow does every year a round the world cruise of around 120 days, starting in Florida sailing in Westward direction. I saw an advertisement of it in the paper in 2006, asked a friend, Shirley from Adelaide, if she would like to join me, and we booked a 41 day segment from Singapore to Lisbon, stopping at 20 places along the route. It has been a wonderful experience and throughout this Blog you will hear quite a bit more about it.
The Silver Shadow is one of the 4 ship fleet of the Silverseas Group. It was built in Italy in 2004 and has won ever since the Best small Cruise ship of the Year award. Style and elegance without opulence or bombast are hallmarks of the ship's fittings and decorations throughout. The ship accommodates 285 staff and up to 380 guests.

Shirley getting a tan It is almost a floating Art Gallery with contemporary paintings, sculptures and statuettes displayed throughout the ship's pathways, stair cases, lounges, restaurants and bars. I have spent days trying to photograph some of these, unfortunately with limited success due to the glass covers over the paintings. They did specially open up for me several of the cabinets with sculptures, so that I could photograph these individually without the disturbing light effects from the glass doors. I will show you some of these on a later date.
The staff and personal matched the style of the ship with their never failing genuine smiles, hospitality, and I would say friendship which made us passengers and staff feel like one large and happy family, remaining together in our memories forever. Many return again and again, as members (as Shirley and I now too are) of the "Venetian Society". I spoke to one guest who had clocked up over 750 days at various trips with Silverseas. It has become his home away from home.   More later.

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Sunday January 13, 2008 (idea, writing, music, Jazz)

"The single most important character in writing is the full stop!" I throw into the conversation. Maybe it is because I am still stone sober that I state this so obvious fact. Babette and Doug have been sitting on their front porch for some time, enjoying the sun on this literally very "Sun"day afternoon, with a slow but steady parade of glasses of whites. They have observed and discussed the grass, trees, birds in great detail and now, as I emerge from my siesta, are into the current editing stages of Babette's first novel.
But it is important. The full stop defines the length of every single phrase and therefore too has a strong influence on its shape and content. It sets the step by step thought process for both the writer and reader. Most of all it creates the rhythm, excitement and energy, forward motion and smoothness of flow of every written piece. Or is the cause for the lack of it.

In music too phrase length is important. But unlike in writing it has had the uniform four bar length for centuries. Certainly in Western music, be it classical or the more recent Jazz standards and Popular music. A typical phrase in music starts on beat 1 of the first bar and ends on beat 1 in bar 4, usually sustained in reflection for 4 beats until the next phrase begins. This regular, repetitive format was perhaps first dictated by the requirements for regular dances, or lyrics, or poetry in rhyme. It has subsequently been ingrained into our minds by song, after song, after song, so that we experience it now as the most natural of all musical expressions rather than the straight jacket it really is.

Erik Satie, selfportrait Enter the 20th Century! Even before it has properly started the eccentric and contrarian but brilliant French composer Erik Satie starts to stretch musical sentences like elastic bands. He also leaves out bar lines in some of his pieces, just to confuse and annoy the still very old fashioned audiences who refuse to applaud or even acknowledge him. He is much admired however by his astute musical colleagues. Like Debussy and Ravel for example, who closely observe, adapt and expand many of his new ideas in their own compositions.
Later Olivier Messian stretches the rhythmic approach to music even further by adapting the irregular patterns of bird songs to his compositions.

At the same time when Satie and his contemporaries are redefining Classical music in Europe, a new musical art form is born in the US : Jazz. Initially they gladly adapt the 4 bar phrase tradition, modelling their 12 bar blues and other song formats to fit the standard. Louis Armstrong sets the first important item on the agenda, in his legendary (recorded) improvised intro to "West End Blues".
The legendary Charlie Parker In a mere 30 seconds he pulls the earlier Jazz expressions away from the cosy and safe embellished melody approach, down into the underlying realm of chordal harmonies. This new direction is bold and breathtaking, but also scary because improvisation has now become fully creative, unsupported by the safety line of the familiar melody.

It is not until a few decades later that the restless and explosive Charlie Parker is probably the first Jazz man to feel and rebel against the restricting 4 bar phrase. Like all his many other musical innovations he attacks this one too with a vengeance. Charlie starts and ends phrases at any point in a bar almost at random. He stops one sentence within 2 beats even before it hardly started. Others he stretches out to 5, 6 or more full bars, creating enormous tension and excitement to stunned audiences. After him Jazz has never ever been the same again.

I too, like every other aware contemporary Jazz improvisor, has had to break out of the 4 bar phrase straight jacket. Unlike Parker, who probably did this intuitively with the force of his explosive personality, most of us have to work hard at it. I practised for a considerable period of time before I got complete control over my full stops. But once there it is enormously liberating. Initially you have to remain very conscious of this new facility and use it with thought and foresight in your improvisations. Gradually however it becomes second nature and just another of one's intuitive skills needed for this wonderful art form.

When I think of Armstrong and Parker as the two undisputed giants in the development of the Jazz language, the remarkable comparison with J.S. Bach and Beethoven suddenly comes to my mind. They too are the two towering giants who dominated the development of music throughout the earlier and much longer period of the Classical music era.
It is intriguing to note that both Bach and Beethoven where brilliant pianists, while Armstrong (on trumpet) and Parker (on alto sax) where both wind instrument players. Does this perhaps reflect the situation that in Classical music it were mostly keyboard players who were fully au fait with the principles of harmony and tonality, whereas in Jazz every musician must be well on top of this, regardless the instrument he plays ?

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Monday January 14, 2008 (diary, telephone, sport)

Good bye my friend Babette leaves for Sydney this morning to work at her school there for a week and a half.
The weather has been dry now for the last few days, but up on the North Queensland coast the wet weather is continuing with floods everywhere. Nobody really minds as the water reservoirs are finally starting to fill up again. An active cyclone season is also predicted for the next few months.
I make arrangements to get my new Telstra phone for the 'Next G' network tomorrow. For the last five and a half years I have used my trusted CDMA Kyocera phone, which provided reliable online access even in the most remote places of Australia. I am sorry to let it go, but the network is closing down in two weeks time so I have no choice. I also use Vodafone, but their Australian network is mainly confined to the large cities. FTP file uploads onto my web site have also been almost impossible with them. I will keep it for my email access when I am in Europe later this year. Vodafone networks are good over there and in every country, although rather expensive.

The Australian Open Tennis Championships have started today in Melbourne. It is the first Grand Slam event of the new year and all the heavies are present. At the Surf Club I watch two matches simultaneously on two screens mounted side by side. Good old Davenport is back in the game after giving birth to her first child. She is slugging it out with an energetic young woman from Italy, Sara Errant, and in the end wins out.
Everybody else on the deck faces forward out over the sea, except me. I always sit with my back to it watching the screens on the wall. A rather self opinionated man with a sharp voice sits on the table behind me conveying to his lady companion several of his ideas on sport and the world in general. Quite annoying. And I become slightly worried. Am I like this ? Sometimes ?!

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Tuesday January 15, 2008 (diary, my birthday, food)

Rear deck, Babette's place It is early morning, I sit on the rear deck of "ThreePonds" (Babette and Doug's property on the Sunshine Coast hinterland). It drizzles rain in a rather pleasant way and I can hear the small waterfall murmuring away down below me. A small stream feeds and connects the three dams on their property, with a waterfall where it exits the last dam near the rear of the house.
It is my 71st birthday today, so I contemplate a little before getting on with some chores for the day. Answering emails, processing a few orders, getting a hair cut, photos for my International drivers license and, most importantly, changing my phone. This is rather painless as the Fone Zone girl (Karen, in Kawana) is efficient and helpful. I end up with all my contact numbers on the new phone (a silver coloured LG TU550) and an internet connection that works fine for browsing, emails and FTP file transfers onto my web site.
Back home however I find out all to quick that this new 'Next G' network is nowhere near as good as the old CDMA which is shutting down. I loose contact with my son Jeroen, phoning from Darwin, several times so that we have to continue our conversation on a land line. With CDMA this has not happened to me even once in over 5 years, no matter where I was. People around Darwin and in WA are not very happy either with this new network. Hopefully things will improve in due course. Bloody Telstra!

In the evening Doug and I go out for dinner (Babette is in Sydney). We are trying the Chancellor Park Tavern in Sippy Downs, nearby. It is a new place with rather cold, matter of fact fittings and decor, but the food is not bad and reasonably priced. Their oysters are large and fresh, unlike at some places I have been to.
There are quite a lot of retired couples having dinner here tonight, reason no doubt being the Tuesday dinner 'Special'. Two meals plus one bottle of wine for only $29.95. There is a good spread of six meals to choose from. Tonight however we select something from the a la carte menu. We will come back here again in the future.

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