Thursday, 29 May 2014

On First Viewing Paris

There is the low hill of Montmartre
And the modest river of the Seine
Carving an elegant curve through the city
And curling around two small islands,
But it is not geography that makes Paris great.

There are lovely, low-rise, red-geranium-dotted stone buildings,
Six stories and then an attic roof of slate or curving metal;
Many little parks; tree-lined wide boulevards;
Winding, history-filled cobbled streets;
But it is not these that make Paris great.

It is along the monumental stretch of the Seine,
Under or across its beautifully arched bridges,
Past buildings grand, golden and rich in history,
Where ancient obelisks stretch into the sky,
The spires of towering cathedrals soar
And the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay
House and shelter their grand beauty
That you can begin to feel the greatness of Paris.

It is a greatness beyond buildings.
Everywhere are the words Liberté , Égalité , Fraternité,
And everywhere the sense that here
A blood-stained tide swept away a past
Based on inequality, justice and oppression,
That the sweep of human history was irrevocably changed,
That the idea of privilege of birth
Should not determine opportunity
And that citizenship should be open to all.
Here you begin to feel the greatness of Paris.
It is in Napoleon's Arc de Triumph,
Not just a victory arch or a monument to ego
But a statement about justice and opportunity;
You sense it in the once blood-soaked Place de Concorde,
Where the guillotine took ruthless revenge
For a thousand years of injustice and greed.
Yes, it is here that you  feel the greatness of Paris.

And inside the great museums that line the Seine,
Musée d'Orangerie, Musée d'Orsay and L'ouvre,
Hang the great paintings of the world,
Not just for a strutting, privileged few
But for a great human throng from all over the world
That stand in long queues to glimpse their beauty,
Their extraordinary representations of the complexity of the world
And the creative power of humanity.
This also is what makes Paris great.

And even if you know as you walk along the Seine
That these grand and monumental buildings
Once stood as the proud boasts of individuals,
Or rose because of the stifling oppression
Of the cruel co-rule of Church and Monarchy,
Which for more than a millennium built and maintained power
By a cruel, ruthless, selfish oppression,
They now stand beautiful, graceful, golden and grand,
Monuments to the greatness of Paris, the glory of France,
And, by extension, to the whole of humanity.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


From the massive, white-limestone, staggeringly ornate Notre-Dame de Fouviere, Lyon flows down over the ancient Roman ruins, through the cobbled, twisting, narrow-laned medieval Vieux Lyon, over the beautiful Soane and into its low-rise, elegant, park-filled Enlightenment centre until finally, leaping the nearby Roane, it washes into the modern city, spilling out into the suburbs and satellite towns in the far distance.

It is a handsome, prosperous place. On its narrow streets cyclists are everywhere and cars are few, even at peak-hour. Underneath the streets, a superb metro swiftly, cheaply and regularly transports its willing population.

Until late in the evening the pavements are packed with crowds from the innumerable little bouchons that line the brightly-lit, narrow streets of this ancient city of beautiful river walks, massive cathedrals, museums and a rich history that winds, like its traboules (secret passages), through Vichy France, the birth of cinema, silk weaving and printing back to antiquity, to Caesar Augustus and finally, in 43 BC, to the Roman military colony of Lugdunum.  

Sunday, 18 May 2014


At first there is a gentle glow
Appearing in the dark of night,
Followed by a gorgeous display,
The herald of fullness of light.

What blessings come from light.
Green plants and fruits abound
And brightly coloured flowers too
Come suddenly surging from the ground.

Through fissures, flaws and cracks
Light must come seeping through,
Exposing dark and dangerous things
Previously hidden from view.

Opened doors receive more light,
Likewise the opened heart too.
Into these rooms floods the light
And what it touches it can renew.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Spring in Geneva.

15 May.

Spring waves its luxuriant, green wand over the city. The wildflowers raise their red, blue and yellow heads and dance above the meadow grass. The hedges that line the streets and gardens are thick and green. New bright leaves adorn the ancient oaks and chestnuts. Everywhere is a pink or blue abundance of azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs and wisteria but across the mirrored silver lake the steeply-rising Jura Mountains are still tipped with a thin ribbon of snow, a lingering reminder of the bare coldness of now almost swept-away winter.

Flight from Sydney to Geneva

13th May, 2014.

A little wobble. A bump. The great wings stretching a long way out above their massive pendant engines. A pause. A whine. A sudden surge. Rumbling. Shaking. Gathering speed. And then suddenly smoother, the land is falling away, the light is lying in great, softly glowing columns upon the silver sea, turning west, across the dry, brown continent, over land rippled as if by some vast tide or occasionally deeply gouged by a giant claw, over the expanse of dry salt lakes, above castle clouds and distant high-rise cloud metropolises, westward, ever westward, towards the setting sun, the endless night and finally the high, snow-covered, green-valleyed Alps of Switzerland.