The children start us off on the idea of the journey, with John Hood and both Sue and Peter Blackwood opening up new paths for our imagination. The last word, or more appropriately, the Postlude, goes to Donald … but I get to choose the music for this issue, and what a wealth of it there is … starting with Bach’s Sleepers Wake!
Thanks as always to Rod Mummery for the production work, and keeping the editor sane!
Suzanne Yanko, Editor
Of Desiring – Advent
As most of you will know, over Advent this year we are taking a lead from the “waiting” theme of Advent to employ the Song of Songs to explore the substance of New Testament “waiting” on the coming, or return, of God in the person of Jesus. While the idea of waiting on God’s coming to his people is familiar to us, along with the apocalyptic form in which it is expressed, the reason for this waiting – the substance underlying the apocalyptic form – is perhaps rather less so.
Advent is a season that has to do with desire and longing. Each year the gospel readings follow a similar pattern – first an apocalyptic vision of the coming of the Son of Man, then the preaching of John the Baptist and finally, as a word of fulfilment, the account of the Annunciation to Mary or of the birth of Jesus. Promise, imminence and fulfilment are the themes of the Advent gospel readings each year. This cluster of ideas has to do with human desire and longing: “promise” relates to what we yet lack; “imminence” invites preparation to receive; “fulfilment” is the delivery.
Yet the desires and longings at the heart of these readings are those of a particular people in particular circumstances. The Old Testament reading for Advent 1 this year was an extraordinary expression of desire – Lord, that you would tear open the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64.1)! The psalmist (80.1-7) sang, Lord God, how long will you be angered?; you have fed your people with the bread of tears; stir up your strength and come to help us; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
The apocalyptic thought of Jesus’ time was concerned with a similar rupturing of the order of the present age, from which God’s righteousness seemed to be absent. We don’t have to think the rupturing in the same way as they did or look for what they looked for in terms of historical events, but we do have to hear what they heard and intended by the imagery: that the desires which matter, the ones the fulfilment of which would make us our true selves before God, can only be met in the coming of God.
For most of us, the force and focus of the desires expressed by Isaiah and that psalmist are too strong to claim as our own. Our lives tend to be filled with rather confused desires. Unlike the psalmist we lack clarity in our longings, for our desires are in constant conflict. We long for the fulfilling gentleness of close human relationships, but can be fearful of the cost of such relationships. We desire prosperity and wealth but at the same time long for freedom from the harsh competitiveness upon which we depend to create that wealth for us. In the midst of such confusion, the proposal that God is coming can even take on a threatening tone: Beware! Keep alert! Stay Awake! This is not good news for those who are not sure that they will be ready when God comes; have we desired the wrong things?
These tensions suggest to us that there is an art in desiring, a right kind of desire to be sought. Such a creation of desire is not a matter of trying to persuade ourselves that we really do want God to come into our lives; this could simply be self-delusion. The true art of creating desire is more a matter of learning, for example, that the longing cry of the psalmist is indeed our own, and coming to claim it as our own.
Those who play stringed instruments know that the strings will sound not only when you strike them with finger or bow, but also when another string tuned to the same pitch is sounded. The movement of the air by the struck string causes the second string to resonate – literally to “re-sound” with the same tone. Our lives with their conflicted and competing desires are like a violin badly out of tune, and so largely unresponsive – un-resonate – when heaven sounds forth. To cultivate the desires which matter is to allow God to adjust the tension on the strings through reflection on scripture, prayer and growing into a life of service, that with time we might be found to be more in tune not only with God but also with our true selves.
This God comes not to threaten us because we have desired, but to uncover our true desire, to reveal that desire to us, and to meet it. We do well if this Advent we turn again to prayer, asking that God teach us to desire, tuning us to his Song, that we might be freed from false and empty longing and freed for the hope which will not be disappointed, the coming of the God who brings us our hearts’ desire.
News from the Church Council
Church Councillors are pleased to give you a summary of recent news of the Congregation and Church Council business.
Sunday worship has been rich and varied, sustained by outstanding preaching by Craig in his recent series on 1 Thessalonians and now during Advent on Song of Songs. Following morning tea, members of the Congregation have been stimulated by speakers at monthly Sunday Conversations including Tom Sutherland (David’s brother) on life at mission in South India, Deborah Kottek on the work of UCA chaplains in prisons and Geoff Thompson on the doctrine of the Trinity. The Moderator, Dan Wootton attended worship and afterwards responded to concerns and answered questions. Among other observations, he identified a need for the Synod and Presbyteries to attend more to their pastoral responsibilities.
After an uplifting service to commemorate All Saints Day, members of the Congregation gathered to enjoy drinks and lunch in the Hall, made more special by the table settings and gradual service of shared dishes, smoothly co-ordinated by Bev Wendelken. In the following Sunday afternoon, our organist Donald joined his partner Anja to perform a splendid free concert by her group ‘Anja and Zlatna’, which they presented in the Hall as a gift to the Congregation. On the subject of giving, the Congregation has continued to donate freely to asylum-seeker Akbar who is also cared for by visits and prayers.
In the weeks of November, Craig led two study groups which met to discuss William Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: The Economics and Christian Desire. The theological insights of this book proved a complementary and valuable counterpoint to the study of Theopolitical Imagination by the same author earlier in the year.
Church Council has covered a wide range of business at monthly meetings which have been demanding and often long, but harmonious and usefully relieved by refreshments. At our last meeting for the year we were glad to welcome Maureen Postma following her recent election as a Church Councillor for a period of 5 years. This meeting approved an updated position description of the Administrator of the Congregation, Greg Hill, whose core role among other duties is to administer the finances and properties of the Congregation. The date of the AGM of the Congregation has been set for 22 March, an earlier date than last year to ensure that reports on the activities of 2014 are still relatively fresh. Audited financial reports will be received at a Special Meeting on 24 May.
Church Council continues to rely on the supporting work of the Finance and Property Committee (Rod, Alan, Craig, Mark, Gus and Greg) and to receive reports of the activities of our UnitingCare Hotham Mission through Board members Gaye and Craig and the minutes of Board meetings.
The most significant resolution of the December meeting was to receive ‘Mark the Evangelist: Mission Futures’ and following some forthcoming modifications to recommend it to the Congregation for discussion and approval at a congregational meeting to be held on 22 February. Drafted by Craig over several months with the help of a working group, the paper sets out directions for mission and ministry for the next 5-8 years and draws on guiding documents prepared for the Congregation in recent years. Church Councillors believe that it outlines a vital imagining of the life and work of the Congregation and will serve as the basis for our annual ‘Focuses for Mission and Ministry’. ‘Mission Futures’ will be emailed to Congregation members in early February.
Feedback and queries from members of the Congregation are welcomed by members of your Church Council: Gaye Champion, Belinda Hopper (Secretary), Wendy Langmore, Gus MacAulay, Heather Mathew, Rod Mummery, Tim O’Connor (Chair), Maureen Postma, Craig Thompson (Minister), Alan Wilkinson and Ann Wilkinson.
Update from UnitingCare Hotham Mission Board
UnitingCare Hotham Mission is focussed on supporting people who are disadvantaged in our local areas. UCHM has been working steadily this year towards this end through its work with its homework clubs in Kensington and North Melbourne, through its involvement in the Food Service at St Albans, and through some supportive grants we have made. We support the work of the North Melbourne Learning and Language Centre (to fund additional language classes for Asylum Seekers) and have underwritten and supported fund-raising efforts from the Kensington Neighbourhood House, to also provide extra language classes for Asylum Seekers. Carolyn Webster, the Manger of the Kensington Neighbourhood House is on our Board, and we are intent on building ever-stronger relationships with our neighbouring agencies and working in partnership with them. We also support asylum seekers through agreements with Lentara UnitingCare to provide 57 Curzon St and flat 3 589-593 Queensberry Street as homes to asylum seekers.
Carmel Murphy, our community worker, is working hard to support the Food Service and the Home Work Clubs. Carmel successfully applied for three small grants through the Share appeal to provide an Expansion of the Food Service, an additional Homework Club to be centred in one of the more socially and economically disadvantaged areas of Kensington and an education support program providing assistance to disadvantaged families with upper secondary school student(s)s so that the student(s) remain in school and complete their secondary education.
Currently the Food Service provides food to between 18-20 individuals or families, and the Homework clubs work with about 35 children per week. Using these two services as our starting points, we are hopeful that we will be able to reach out further to the families of the children at the homework clubs, and build additional relationships with those experiencing food insecurity, through the food relief work being undertaken at St Albans.
Hotham Mission has been included in the UnitingCare giving box campaign (previously known as Operation Santa). Through this Christmas appeal Hotham mission will collect donations from Target in Flemington to distribute to families in our community
We are wondering what more we can do to bring the work of UCHM and the congregation together. If there is anyone who would like to be directly involved in our work at either the homework clubs or the Food Service, please speak to me, or any other Board member directly. For example, we need people who can help children at the homework club with their work, or perhaps be available to speak with parents. Financial donations are always welcome, and we have an ongoing appeal through the Give Now site to support English classes for Asylum Seekers, at Kensington Neighbourhood House. Or, if you have any other idea about mission and congregation together, please seek us out. We are very interested in your contributions – thoughts and actions – to our mission work.
Contact with The Local Muslim Community
The targeting of Australian Muslims has been a matter of concern to Church Council, and in November Church Council made contact with the Imam at the Islamic Council of Victoria (West Melbourne), Mustapha Sarakibi, to convey this concern and to express its support for and solidarity with Australian Muslims. The Imam was invited to share this message of support, offered by Church Council on behalf of Mark the Evangelist Congregation, at Friday prayers.
The Imam expressed his deep appreciation at this message. He said that he has been contacted by numerous churches and individuals expressing similar concerns and conveying messages of support. He said that this has been a great source of encouragement. The Imam spoke of his membership of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association (JCMA) and the supportive role it has played. He spoke also of his work in prison chaplaincy and his respect for Deborah Kottek who presented a Sunday Conversation to us in September on her work as Chaplaincy Coordinator across the Synod.
In making this call on behalf of Church Council, it felt like a good conversation, and a worthwhile endeavour.
At the personal level, I’ve resolved to be more sensitive to opportunities to reach out to Muslim acquaintances and express that same concern and support.
No Peace this Christmas for the Holy Land
As we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, let us spare a thought and a prayer for those in the Holy Land who long for peace – and for the justice that will lead to a peaceful society for both Palestinians and Israelis. Let us remember in particular Brother Peter Bray (Vice-Chancellor, Bethlehem University in the Holy Land) who has visited us here at Mark the Evangelist.
A Prayer for Bethlehem this Christmas, by Chris Rose (Director, Amos Trust, UK)
Actions in support of justice & peace
St Paul’s Shipwreck – in the Elm St Cottage!
With the children we have been looking at what an amazing man St Paul was. He appears so often it seemed a good idea to follow his journeys and realise how very courageous he was in so many different ways.
What better place to mock up the shipwreck than in the bath in the cottage with plenty of Radox to create a tempest. Here are Sam and Coulton contemplating their decorated Roman grain ships breasting the foam.
Standing in two streams
In 1966 I completed my primary degree with Indian Studies as one of my majors. Buoyed by a curiosity engendered by my study, I spent six weeks of the long summer vacation visiting the country with which I had been academically preoccupied over the preceding three years. On that occasion my travels began and ended in the city whose name was then written as ‘Calcutta’. Since then I have been back countless times in connection with my post-graduate study and, since 1989, in connection with my work on Indian cinema and Bengali literature. I had been taught at the University of Melbourne by Sibnarayan Ray and Atindra Mojumder, both of whom, sadly, are no more. The latter became a very dear friend of mine. He was also the initial supervisor of my doctoral work on Niharranjan Ray and gave me invaluable help with my translation of Ray’s classic Bangalir Itihas. For my half-century old love affair with Bengal, he is almost entirely to blame.
I don’t remember much about that first visit. I stayed at the Great Eastern Hotel at Rs.28 a night and enjoyed Golden Eagle and Kingfisher at less than Rs.10 a bottle. I was immediately taken by the traditional costumes in which the various departments of staff were attired, such as the strikingly plumed turbans of what would today be known as the security guards on each floor, men who, I discovered, were easily approachable and extraordinarily courteous. I also embarked on a friendship with one ‘JK’ Datta, a friendship that lasted until his death in 1998. I remember having a beer with him in the Mermaid Bar of the Great Eastern in December 1966 while listening to a broadcast of the Davis Cup final being played between India and Australia in Melbourne. In the Indian team was Jaidip Mukerjea, whom I would come to count among my good friends some years later. (In that final he was part of India’s only victory, pairing with Ramanathan Krishnan to beat Roche and Newcombe in the doubles.)
JK introduced me to Bangla, both the language and the bottled variety. He introduced me to Rabindrasangeet and taught me my first Tagore song (Klanti amar, khama karo prabhu). His wife and most of his eight daughters introduced me to Bengali home cooking at their house in Shibpur, where I came to spend a lot of my time. I would take the ferry across the Hooghly and then find my way through the narrow and tortuous alleys to Hazarhat Kalitala Lane, to spend hours in adda and song.
I stayed at Ramakrishna Mission in Golpark on a number of occasions and then in 1989 my friends Ravi and Mili Bose went to stay in Shibpur as Mili’s confinement drew near, and they lent me their flat near Sakher Bazar; there I wrote much of the first draft of a book on the films of Mrinal Sen. For the first time I was able to do my own cooking, which meant I had to do the market each morning too. I had a very happy association with a number of the vendors, all of whom were notably polite in not laughing out loud at my tendency to confuse Bengali words of similar sound, conflating pumpkins with bites and cucumbers with crematoria, so provoking dismay with my confidently rendered nonsense. I also came to stay in rented accommodation in Gariahat, Jadavpur, Hazra, Jodhpur Park and Ranikuthi, coming to live much the same kind of life as my Bengali neighbours lived. In 2003 I bought a small flat of my own in Jheel Rd. Soon after, I even featured as ‘Calcuttan of the Week’ in The Telegraph.
Becoming familiar with the physical city was a vital prerequisite to establishing an identity in it. While I now have a small car, experiencing at first hand Kolkata’s suicidal pedestrians and homicidal drivers, for most of my time I have got around at ground level, becoming familiar with the city by being part of it. Even being crammed into a minibus gives one an experience never to be found in Melbourne, with one ear catching snatches of conversation and the other taking in the frenetic barking of the conductor on the running-board, and from time to time experiencing intimations of imminent mortality as the driver’s daredevil antics slide deeper into lunacy. But walking is safe (relatively) and can also be exhilarating. The vision is usually colourful, and over the sounds of the traffic one hears vendors calling out their wares, the frenetic voices of those engaged in disputation (something of a beloved Bengali pastime, it would seem), the plaintive cries of beggars, blasts of music coming from some shop, a young man happily singing some film song (something you would rarely see in Melbourne, where people are strangely self-conscious about singing in public) and the underlying hum of continuing conversation delivered at machine-gun pace. I used to love walking up S.N. Banerjee Road from Chowringhee for the smells. It is a stretch accommodating a number of spice shops, and the mix of various spices and incense is extremely pleasant – even with the occasional whiff of something not at all nice.
While there is so much to see and hear and smell that is characteristically Kolkatan, there is also so much to taste. Indeed, eating as a Bengali might well be the subject of a lengthy article in itself. I particularly like those many things that are not really part of the non-Indian culinary experience in Melbourne, such as paneer, certain vegetables and the wonderful range of fresh-water fish. At the risk of being charged with heresy I would say my favourite fish is bhetki, which I prefer to hilsa, the latter having too many bones for my limited patience. And I have an inveterate weakness for Bengali sweets, especially sandesh, for which I often find myself yearning when in Melbourne. I am sure that breakfast in Heaven would be parathas and ghugni, deshi tea and tal sandesh. But in Kolkata, such delights are available for long after breakfast.
But man does not live by sandesh alone. There must also be food for the soul. The cultural life of Melbourne is very diverse, reflecting the ethnic backgrounds of the many different communities who have come to live here. In Kolkata, however, I imbibe a strong and rich cultural cohesion, integrally maintained by a few cardinal bastions. Preeminent among these, I suppose, is Rabindranath. It is popularly said that he wrote more in one lifetime than most people can read in one lifetime – certainly I have held him close to me for fifty years and have hardly got far at all into his vast rachanavali. The other bastions of Bengali culture are more embraceable, such as Bankimchandra, Bibhutibhushan, Jamini Ray, Nandalal Bose, Nazrul Islam, Atulprasad, Satyajit Ray. The list could be extended much further, but it would always encompass much the same cultural and spiritual values that have come to mean so much to me since that day in 1964 when I attended my first lecture in Indian Studies I. Culturally, there is so much to get lost in in Kolkata.
I have been very lucky that my cultural feasting and my work (which are often one and the same) have brought me into close contact with some extraordinary people who have, probably without knowing it, taught me so much and given me so much to treasure. I had a very short association with Niharranjan Ray before his death in 1981, but those few meetings with him made an indelible impression on me. He opened the door to me on our first meeting dressed simply in lungi and singlet, hardly creating the appearance of one of the giants of Indian academe, and yet almost instantly it was plain that his very nature defined urbanity. He had a warm and ready smile complemented by an almost mischievous twinkle in his eye. Then I spent many hours talking with – or listening to – Mrinal Sen, from whom I gained an interesting political slant on cinema and some abiding ideas of the importance of film in propagating social justice. I remember once he told me that his doctor had advised him to give up cigarettes, and so he was now smoking a pipe. I was led to feel optimistic about his health, as a pipe takes a little while to light, and Mrinal could never really stop talking long enough to complete that task. Buddhadeb Dasgupta enriched me not only with his films but also with his poetry, and he and I have enjoyed a strong friendship for more than twenty years. He is one of the few people I have known who is technically more inept than I am. Once we were to record an interview for some south Indian film journal. I had prepared the questions carefully, and he had arranged for a cassette recorder. The machine would not work. He found another, and that too proved to be obstinately ineffective. Eventually a third one seemed to be reliable and we started the interview. About half an hour into it he stopped me and timidly confessed that he had forgotten to press the ‘play’ button. The film journal did not get its interview. I always enjoyed my working sessions with Buddhadev Guha, a couple of whose novels I translated back in the late nineties. We often strayed from the job at hand as his shining talent as a raconteur would always want to assert itself. What he seemed to like most, however, was playing the role of the extremely generous host, filling me with fine food and fine whisky. Going to his house also had the bonus joy of meeting his wife, Ritu, one of the most beautiful interpreters of Rabindrasangeet I have ever heard. Prafulla Roy, another close friend, has shared his literary gifts with me, but he is also a rich storehouse of social history whose reminiscences about the Partition, in particular, are a constant source of fascination. Some years back I had the pleasure of staying for six months in the flat below his while I was working on a translation of some of his short stories. From my first visit to his home his wife made it her business to make this rather amply built Australian even larger. Somewhat goaded by my enthusiastic assessment of Bengali fish, one night she prepared eleven fish dishes with appropriate accompaniments and proceeded to fill me with them all. It was a gastronomic experience of Olympian proportions, and it was as much as I could manage to get down the stairs afterwards and collapse onto my bed.
Living in two cities as different from one another as Melbourne and Kolkata are might be assumed to be psychologically challenging, but I don’t think that my sanity has been compromised in any serious way. There is, however, an initial shock on returning to Melbourne from Kolkata, a slight feeling of unease that derives from the quiet and seeming emptiness of the city. Why aren’t car horns being tooted? Where are all the people? Then one is reminded of temporarily forgotten things like orderliness and tidiness. With the exception of the height of the peak period you are always likely to get a seat on public transport; cars do in fact stop for people standing at a pedestrian crossing; and getting on or off a peak hour crowded train has none of the desperate pugnacity I have experienced at Jadavpur station around 5.00 in the evening. The streets are almost entirely free of litter, and there are no dogs other than those on leashes being walked by their owners. In case a dog should relieve itself during its walk, the owner is required by law to carry the wherewithal to clean up and remove the mess. On the other hand, while graffiti in Kolkata is almost entirely political and, it would seem, regulated to some extent, in Melbourne it is an indulgent mess, an outrage which disgraces an otherwise beautiful city.
However, there is no initial shock on returning to Kolkata after a time in Melbourne. As I drive from the airport to home, I always feel as though I have never been away. The characteristic disorder, the unrestrained noise, the untidiness are all part of the city’s personality, a personality which, I suppose, travels with me wherever I go, just like the presence of a loved one or close friend. Sometimes I am led to think fondly of Melbourne’s regularity, especially when Kolkata’s exquisite chaos plunges into the surrealistic. That can indeed be overpowering, and if my sense of humour has been eclipsed in some way I may submit to impulses of intolerance and even anger. But the predicament is mine alone, for the city is what it is and nothing will ever change it. If you don’t like it, leave. I choose to stay.
I have actually found countless examples of a lack of punctiliousness – endearing imperfections – lending the city an element of charm. I remember a popular bar/restaurant a friend and I used to frequent weekly where the management apparently thought it would be a step into modernity to put a new door, incorporating a pane of one-way glass, on the men’s toilet. Unfortunately, the carpenters did not seem to be concerned about which way was the one way, so men comfortably relieved themselves while diners were treated to a reality cabaret. I also like the dichotomy of the signs beseeching good behaviour in public gardens. The ones in English tell us to “commit no nuisance” while the ones in Bengali say “Do not piss here”. When I first noticed the same Bengali sign on the newly constructed police quarters in Jadavpur, a policeman was enjoying the bliss of relief right under it.
I know many people who would find it difficult to live in Kolkata. I even know a few who would find it impossible (including one or two Kolkatans). By contrast, Melbourne has been judged twice, I think, to be “the world’s most liveable city” (a clumsy turn of phrase for which I am not responsible) and in many ways it is easy to see why. However, a disturbing feature of life here is what seems to be a growing violence, often among young people and fuelled by some kind of substance excess. There is also the phenomenon of road rage, where an aggressive, impatient driver will vent his anger physically at another who has offended him in some way. Of course, it is not at all as bad as what we might read about American cities, but I still would not feel safe on certain streets or even on public transport late at night here. Of course, Kolkata has experienced violence on a monumental scale, even long after Direct Action Day in 1946. I remember the India-West Indies test match at Eden Garden in 1967 when the crowd reacted somewhat extravagantly to the double-selling of seats.
More orthodox violence was the cost of the Naxalite Movement in the seventies, while the peculiar political institution of the bandh has always raised passions to a physical expression, sometimes resulting in serious injury and even death. I remember once buying fish in Lansdowne market when the sounds of passionate disputation started emanating from somewhere, significant enough, apparently, for the sudden hiding of cash under gunny sacks and the secreting away of bhontis (the large curved knives with which the vendors process their fish). I was told that the dispute was between two excessively emotional brothers and could end in love but more likely in havoc. The whole procedure was smooth and, I thought, well-rehearsed – clearly this was not the first time the brothers had threatened the serenity of the market. Of course, there must be pockets of the city where miscreants flourish, but I have never been aware of them. If the newspapers are an accurate indication, violence in Kolkata would seem to be more private than public, especially violence against women. This is probably true in Melbourne too, and in both cities most instances of private violence go unreported. Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I have never felt unsafe or in the least bit frightened to be on Kolkata’s streets at night. And the most impatient and irritable driver on the city’s roads is probably an Australian in a blue Nano.
For me there is no difficulty in living with my feet in two streams, apart from small problems associated with being away from one or the other for too long. Finding identity in a place, putting down roots, is something which happens largely unwittingly and is often a drawn out, gradual process. There must have been a time when I felt pangs of discomfort in Kolkata, simply because of its unfamiliarity; having gone back there so often and for longer and longer periods of time, I gradually acquired a sense of belonging. Flying toward Dum Dum arouses a feeling of eager anticipation, while leaving induces a slight sense of hollowness, like leaving your book on the bus. So I guess I identify – at least to some extent – as a Kolkatan, albeit a rather pale one who speaks Bengali very badly.
Recognising this dual identity someone once asked me how I feel about India-Australia cricket matches. I don’t like Australia getting beaten, and I do like India winning. So serendipity prevails, no matter what the result. I am also asked if I have a preferred stream. While there are familial and property ties that bind me to Melbourne, there is also a very strong and constant emotional appeal that draws me back to Kolkata. I am a very lucky man, finding fulfilment standing in two streams.
A fall into grace
Tai Shan (Mount Tai) in the Shandong Province of China has been a place of worship for 3,000 years. In September, on a concert tour with the Melbourne Bach Choir, I walked down the 7,500 stone steps from the cloud-covered summit to the valley below.
Barry, one of our tour party fell on the steep stone steps not far from the top. He gashed his leg. He was immediately surrounded by a group of concerned young Chinese climbers. First aid supplies appeared. A young man took charge of operations. A woman cleaned and bandaged the wound.
It was agreed that Barry should continue to walk down rather than climb back up to the top to catch the cable car. A girl offered him her walking stick. There were many such sticks on the mountain.
They were for sale at the foot of the mountain. They were made of bamboo and had an ornately carved handle grip. Barry was confident he could manage without it but the girl insisted.
He descended the mountain for over an hour. The girl stayed within sight all the way down. ‘Good’, thought Barry, ‘I will be able to return the stick at the bottom of the stairs.’ There she was, all the way down, not too close, but not far away.
At the bottom he looked around to find the girl so he could give her stick back, but she had gone. He could not return the gift or say ‘xiè xiè’ (thank you). She had no intention of claiming her stick back, but she stayed close to ensure Barry’s safety.
Barry kept the stick. He wants it to have a special place in his home to remind him of the spontaneous hospitality and loving care given him on an ancient place of worship by strangers who would not pass him by.
From Aqueduct to Aqueduct – A Walk from Pisa to Lucca through Monti Pisani
We left our hotel in Pisa armed with map and instructions on the start of a three-day walk. Across the River Arno and out through the city wall we eventually found the beginning of the aqueduct, that ancient Roman structure that was to be our companion for the next two hours. The path beside it was flat and straight and cyclists and joggers were also out enjoying Sunday morning sunshine. The aqueduct disappeared as we arrived at the village of Asciano. The terrain climbed steadily upwards towards the Monti Pisani, one of the most ancient mountain ranges in Italy, that rises steeply above the river plain. Soon we were clambering up a small rocky path that twisted in hairpin bends through the trees. By midday we reached Mirteto, an abandoned monastic village, and stopped to eat lunch. Our instructions at this stage told us that ‘the path climbs steeply’ and it did get steeper and steeper. Labouring on we eventually found ourselves at the summit of Mt Della Conserva. We had missed a turn off and were about 1.4km from where we should have been at Foce Pennecchio and we had slaved upwards an extra 120 metres.
Fortunately, with the help of four local young people, we found a signpost that sent us in the right direction, and from then on most of the track was fairly flat though still with many large loose rocks. From the heights of Foce di Calci we could see the town of Calci where we were to stop for the next two nights. It was below us and we felt that we were nearing the end of an exhausting day. However, in our enthusiasm to finish the day’s walk, we took a wrong turn and then realised that we were coming into the wrong side of the town, which we could see through the trees. So we tracked back up the steep hill and trudged along what seemed an endless track to eventually arrive at Tre Colli and our accommodation at La Fellonica an agriturismo establishment. We had taken eight hours to accomplish what was described as a five-hour walk!
We felt and looked exhausted so much so that our hostess, Catarina, immediately insisted that we should have tea in the garden. As the only guests we had the magnificent old farmhouse to ourselves (Catarina lived elsewhere). The building covered four floors and was obviously used by many walking groups. The bathroom area was a revelation. For the four bedrooms in our part of the house there were four ‘wet rooms’ each with a shower, basin and toilet. Lovely hot water but no shower curtain so everything in the room was likely to get wet and did! We managed to stagger the 800 metres back up the hill to the local restaurant for dinner and then down again to a warm and comfortable bed.
This self-guided walk offered a day’s rest between each of the walking days for which we were very grateful. Our breakfast was served in the garden amongst flowering hydrangeas, camellias and well-established trees beside the stream that previously powered the mill next to the farmhouse. Despite the length of the walk the day before, we ventured into the main part of Calci along the road that led into the valley. The hills around the town are cultivated with olive groves on terraces and above those are pine and chestnut trees. Calci is now a substantial commuter town, but its history is of a modest agricultural town that milled chestnut flour, pressed oil from olives and produced sawn wooden planks.
On our second walking day we passed through the town of Calci, past the Carthusian monastery and up the mountain to the village of Montemango. As we climbed, the view of Pisa was revealed with the Duomo clearly seen as was the Tower leaning to the left. The track went up and up and up and came out on the top of Mt Grande from where we were then able to walk around the mountain on a fairly level track. The view was of a large area of plain with the River Arno looping around. Then we descended towards Buti on a track that went through pine trees and many large holly bushes with very bright red berries. On this walk we saw only two intrepid cyclists, two walkers and an apparently abandoned car. After six hours of walking we found a very comfortable B&B awaiting us in the Piazza San Francesco.
Buti is a beautiful small town. The houses are painted yellow, and pink, and apricot with terracotta-tiled rooves. It is dominated by a castle and the stream that runs through the middle of the town. Small gardens are full of colour and balconies with pots of red geraniums. It is a real country town in that the shops shut at 1pm and are open later between 5 and 8pm, so that he evening meal is most likely to be eaten about 9pm. We found people very friendly and the local food delicious, as was the ice cream. In the Piazza Martiri della Libertà nearby the cathedral was a WW2 memorial concerning a massacre by the Nazis said to have taken place up in the mountains. There are eighteen names on this memorial along with their ages; the oldest was 60 and the youngest 16. It became very obvious to us that war had a great effect on small communities.We were very sorry to leave Buti, but we had the last walking day to accomplish. We were to be driven to Serra di Sotto but our kind hostess agreed to take us even further to Prato di Calci. This saved us a steep climb and took about an hour off the walk. We were 840 metres up the mountain and walked on roads and tracks that were relatively free of loose stones. Again our instructions did not quite equate with the landmarks around us. There were plenty of the red and white signs marking the tracks but in the end we headed in what we thought was the right direction and went down a very steep path that was more like a drain. The fact that there were hoof marks in the mud gave us some comfort that it must go somewhere. Fortunately we came out on a road and discovered that we had missed a great number of hairpin bends. We were going in the right direction and by early afternoon came to the herringbone stone water channels, another Roman legacy. From there it was a short distance to the aqueduct leading into Lucca, and the end of another six-hour walk.
The three days of walking was a challenge, as it was both different and difficult, but we were pleased with our achievement. Would we do it again? Probably not, almost certainly not, but we did enjoy seeing the countryside at close hand and staying in small towns that are not always on the tourist route.
As it was in the beginning
Whilst listening to Rev Ian Smith speaking to us recently about the Christmas Bowl Appeal my mind went back to when Rev Frank Byatt first came up with that idea. I still remember the discussion that took place within my extended family – what a good idea it was and in what way we might support it.
It is hard to present a picture of life all those years ago but one thing that has altered dramatically is the way Australian society celebrates Christmas. For our extended family the Christmas season was a very special time and Christmas dinner was more than just an extravagant meal; it was part of a special time we looked forward to with impatient expectation. One of the highlights was the Christmas pudding that had ‘real money’ in it – a chance for us younger members of the family to become ‘rich’ if we stumbled across a threepence, sixpence or occasionally a shilling in the pudding. Much thought went into what the ‘windfall’ may be spent on.
But Mr Byatt’s idea changed that. It was decided by our elders (parents and visiting aunts and uncles) that we should in future donate our ‘new found wealth’ to those less fortunate than ourselves!
The newly established Christmas Bowl appeal was the recipient of our small but useful coins and from then on that is what happened until it was no longer considered safe to use our currency in Christmas puddings.
When I last visited my parents in New Zealand last year, my mother gave me a beautiful old pocket-sized copy of the Book of Common Prayer – she had found it in the exchange shop at the tip but it still came enclosed in its little leather sleeve, and even contained its pull-out ‘How to use this book.’ In short it was in brilliant condition and provided easy access to quite some important information – the perfect addition to my (expanding) library. For me one of its most useful features was its addition of the Latin name at the head of every psalm. For example, as I open it in front of me now, I have bookmarked it at “PSALM 130 – De profundis// Out of the deep I have called unto thee, O Lord” and so forth.
Unfortunately for me, most ecclesiastical music was not written in English. A great deal was of course, composed to accompany the Latin text. But it was this little book to which I make reference every week that was able to bridge that gap immediately for me when it came to comparing musical settings of psalms. Whenever I am able to, I will find a piece that is based on the psalm that we sing for the Sunday service.
For a keyboardist seeking this sort of appropriate music I am indebted to the German baroque Lutheran tradition. Luther and his associates composed tunes to be sung to each of the psalms – the most well-known Lutheran anthem is of course, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” a paraphrase of Psalm 46 “God is our strength and refuge” but many of the other tunes are well known outside of the German tradition. All the organists in Protestant Germany knew these tunes and would accompany the congregation on the organ. They provided the basis of much improvisation and composition (most of Bach’s cantatas feature the psalm and the tune for the service in which they were to be performed).
As well as my little prayer book, I am enormously grateful for the internet, in particular biblegateway.com which provides translations of the Bible in almost every language as well as various versions of each – the English versions number exactly fifty different translations, there are five German, four French, and I’ve referred at least once to Russian and Serbian!
Every week, when we see the pieces I have programmed, they may often look like quite an unrelated piece by some obscure German, Dutch, or French composer. But please come up and ask me, more often than not, it will be the psalm we have sung that day.
For those who might be interested in reading more about improvisation, Anja and I have published an article for Music Australia. It can be read on the following here.
Mark the Evangelist: Mission Futures – Discussion of paper following Sunday worship February 22
Congregational AGM – Following Sunday worship March 22
From the editor
Thanks to all our contributors who shared their experiences with us. It is good to carry that sense of community with us into the Christmas season.
Bev Wendelken, Archie & Lorraine Yick and Heather Mathew visited Edna Fitzgerald at Taralla in Croydon on November 16 and found her in good health and spirits. They brought us back this message:
“Edna sends her greetings and good wishes to all her friends at Mark the Evangelist”.
John Eliot Gardiner leads the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, with Bernarda Fink, in Bach – Christmas Oratorio – Schlafe, mein Liebster