The Black Madonna of Montserrat

 THE Black Madonna of Montserrat

The Black Madonna of Montserrat perched high above the congregation. Hand outstretched, she rested on an ornate throne decorated with Venetian mosaics. From where I sat I could see people kissing her, with the queue of waiting pilgrims stretching back down the stairs, into the Santa Maria de Montserrat and out the door. The basilica is dark and spacious, filled with candles and gold, shadows and incense. The voices of the famed boys’ choir filled the air.

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The Allure of Unusual Venice.

Unusual Venice

Wings outside a cathedral. Nothing unusual about that. Not for Venice, anyway.

Her streets may be thronged with tourists, but the city is alive with those who live and work here – simply rise at dawn and wander through the fish markets behind the Rialto, or have a quiet coffee with the locals in a backstreet cafe before they head off to work and you realise how many people live in this place of no cars.

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On Discovering a Painting by Vasari

On Discovering a Painting by Vasari


I know of Vasari largely through his Lives of the Artists (considered the first work on art history). I read this once in Florence, and it brought to life the works adorning the city around me. Born in 1511, Giorgio Vasari lived in Florence through the High Renaissance, and was befriended by Michelangelo; he knew many of the men whose biographies (and gossip) he recorded in his seminal work.

Vasari was also an architect – hence the eponymous Vasari Corridor in Florence. He designed the Loggia for the Palazzo degli Uffizi, as well as the corridor connecting Uffizi to The Pitti Palace across the Arno.

Yet I did not expect to stumble across one of his paintings in the port of Livorno.

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Snake Season in Hong Kong


Apparently it’s snake season in Hong Kong. So The South China Morning Post informed me.

Despite having found a traditional snake shop hidden away in Central, I have never really though of Hong Kong as a place for snakes. Australia, yes. We have more than our fair share of venomous creatures, and I once sat on a red-belly black when nine months pregnant (another story). As we’re always telling visitors here, everything in Australia wants to kill you. But Hong Kong is a city of high rises, not snakes.

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Writings From Japan – Lafcadio Hearn – My Review

Writings From Japan - Lafcadio HearnIn Writings From Japan, Lafcadio Hearn shares his impressions of his few months spent here, including memories and impressions of his first day.

In 1853, Commodore Perry negotiated access for American ships to Japanese ports, and the country came out of its self-imposed isolation to open up to the West. Hearn arrived shortly afterwards in 1890, to a land still mysterious and mythical in all aspects of life.

Hearn’s writing reflects his wonder and his growing love and appreciation of Japan, her people and her culture. His lyrical style befits his mood, as if his days pass in a dream:

….the white fire of the Japanese sun is taking that pale amber tone which tells that the heat of the day is over. There is not a cloud in the blue – not even one of those beautiful white filamentary things, like ghosts of silken floss, which usually swim in this most ethereal of earthly skies even in the driest weather.


Hearn spent these first months travelling around Japan (largely by rickshaw, it would seem) not only marvelling at the country, but immersing himself in the culture. This is reflected in the chapter headings: At the Market of the Dead, In a Japanese Garden, Insect Musicians, The Chief City of the Province of the Gods. Much of what he writes may seem like a world now vanished, but it still exists in hidden parts of the country, often in full view.

Indeed, Hearn became so enamoured of the country he never left (he died in Tokyo in 1904), and his writings brought him international recognition. He is seen as one of the first Western writers to bring Japan to life for the Occidental reader, and his works are still taught in Japan. In 1936 a museum was built in Matsue next to the house where he once lived.

For me, Writings From Japan proved a timeless work about a fascinating country. It was a book I left by my bedside and dipped into between other readings; it was a work inspiring me to return to this amazing country, where the past and the present at times meld together, at time sit side by side, and others float in those seperate bubbles of wibbly-wobbly time-wimy bits

Always a reason to return (book in hand).