23 March 2019

Tiny House Festival Australia .. this weekend!!! Thanks USA

The Tiny House Festival Australia is being held this weekend (March 23-24th 2019) at Bendigo Racecourse in Central Victoria. The event is showcasing vendors and suppliers, work­shops, guest speakers and screenings, plus tiny houses and vans on display. Investigate the lives of those who want a simpler and smaller life.

Five years ago, there was little information about tiny homes in Australia. Now Tiny Houses Australia Facebook page has c52,000 followers. With a third of greenhouse emissions coming from build­ings, living in an eco-friendly tiny home drastically reduces one’s carbon imprint.

 Mobile Tiny Home, Ringwood

History of the American Movement In 1970 artist-architect Allan Wexler pursued the idea of living in a compact space, helping him promote his art. In 1973 authors Loyd Kahn and Bob Easton released the book called Shelter which advanced the idea of living in a compact space more widely. Other authors like Henry David Thoreau and Lester Walker became advocates for the tiny house movement. In 1990s, artist Andrea Zittel used the concept of the tiny home in her work which became another inspirat­ion for the movement. In 1997 author Sarah Susank published the book The Not So Big House which promoted environmental protection.

In 2002 the Small House Society of America was created. And a dec­ade later, Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. was founded by Jay Shafer. Shafer then created a second company called Four Lights Tiny House Co. His first design was only 96 sq feet, and he was soon creating tiny homes on wheels. His colleagues Nigel Valdez and Shay Salomon published their guides of the small house movement in 2006 while Greg Johnson published his memoir in 2008.

In 2013, Austin Texas wanted to help the homeless so they created a Tiny House Solution. From there in 2015, Tiny House Collaborative was promoted and founded to help educate oth­ers on the fine design of tiny homes. In 2016, legislation was passed in Kalamazoo Mich­ig­an that allowed the tiny homes to be altered, to help those who wanted to live a smaller functioning lifestyle.

The average house size for an American family used to be 1,780 sq ft/ 165 sq ms in 1978. This had almost doubled by 2007 when the average family house­hold grew to 2,662 sq feet/247 sq ms for a normal house. But a tiny home averages c400 sq feet/37 sq ms. Compare to Australia. After WW2, 969 sq feet/90 sq ms was an average family house in Austral­ia. Only in recent generations did the floor space creep up until the average new house built in 2016 was 2508 sq feet/233 sq ms.

Open, light filled kitchen living area 
Study/bedroom upstairs

In Australia,  to  make the formal living room less squashy,
family time in summer can be enjoyed on a veranda

So what are the financial, lifestyle, maintenance, environmental and recreational advantages of tiny houses?
A. They can be owned faster than normal mortgages
B. Some tiny homes can be made on wheels for easier travel.
C. They are less expensive to build and easier to maintain.
D. Tiny homes can be more creative with storage.
E. They can be built from eco-friendly, recycled material.
F. They use solar & wind power better than standard homes.
G. Designing a tiny home is simple, and it is easily upgraded.
H. Having a tiny home on a property can create more outdoor space for family and animal fun.

The Cost of a tiny home in the USA can range anywhere up to US $100,000; fac­t­ors that affect the pricing are size, design, mobility, interior design and the materials used to build the tiny home. Overall, building a tiny home is definitely less expensive compared to getting a house mortgage for a fixed rate and a 30-year loan. It is a way to save on overhead and long term expenses. Adding solar and wind power to utilises natural resources, and a manageable septic system is built so the expenses are relatively small.

Who wants Tiny Houses in Australia?
Since the first tiny house groups appeared on Facebook in 2013, such groups and pages have proliferated. The original Facebook pages, such as Tiny Houses Australia, have 52,000 followers, and new groups have emerged since. In cities with expensive housing costs, tiny houses could be part of a solution to the perennial housing problem, as well as improving urban density and environmental sustainability.

Since 2015, most of these tiny houses were mobile and only 20% were intended to be permanently in­stalled in the land. Most of those preferring rural locations wished to build a perm­anent house, while those wanting urban locations preferred mobile houses. As a result of urban land costs?

Demographically, interest in tiny houses was focused on single women over 50; in fact they were the fastest-growing demographic for homelessness in Australia. This was due to widowhood or divorce, employer bias against older women and lack of superannuation savings. Older single women could locate an independent tiny house on property belonging to an adult child.

When buyers wanted to reduce overall debt or to downsize, normal housing was often too expensive. Environmental sustainability and the backlash against the McMansions of previous decades was strong. But what did this mean for urban planning? There were significant bar­riers, particularly a] inflexible planning schemes and b] the cost of land. This might indicate local governments needed to become more open to the idea of tiny houses as an alternative to blocks of flats for increasing density.

Architects, consultants, planning professionals and acad­emics collaborated on the Tiny House Planning Resource for Aust­ralia 2017. It aimed to assist planners, policymakers and the community understand the tiny house movement and its potential to contribute to greater choice in housing supply and diversity. Yes, tiny houses were just one end-of-the-housing-form continuum that didn't suit all demographics. But the increasing interest showed local govern­ments needed to broaden their thinking.

Mezzanine floor bedroom
small, but well fitted

A tiny, but well fitted bathroom and laundry

"The tiny house on its own freehold lot has to be a way to enable ease of financing. "If a local government is serious about affordability, planning regulations need to change to enable freehold titling and increased density without having to go through costly and time-consuming development approval processes."

Researcher Catherine Foster has travelled across Australia to document how 21 architects made functional tiny houses in c90 square metres. Her book, Small House Living Australia 2017 outlined the floor plans that worked.

Although totally committed to reducing my family’s carbon imprint, I would not have been prepared to raise the children in a tiny house. Now we are two adults alone, a tiny house would be very appealing, as long as the ground floor was one immaculately clean and uncluttered kitchen-living room. The bedroom and study would have to be on the mezzanine floor, and fully equipped with a computer, tv and library. The labrador would need a kennel on the veranda.

19 March 2019

Which nation owns falafel as its national dish?

The first part of his post comes from Alexander Lee. The second part reflects my own experiences.

Falafel is an archetypical Middle Eastern dish. Made from ground fava beans, chickpeas or both, these deep-fried balls are a staple of Levantine cuisine. Whether eaten alone as a quick snack, or served in a pitta with salad and tachina-based sauces, they are a common sight across the Levant.

Falafel is as contested as the region itself. While Israelis have fêted it as their national dish, Palestin­ians see it as the theft of their distinctly Arab special­ity. Clearly own­er­ship of this most dist­inctively Levantine dish was bound up with issues of national identity between the two nations.

Falafel platter 
with hot sauce, sliced tomato, lettuce, pickled turnip & parsley.
Credit: Abla’s

Meanwhile the Lebanese want falafel recognised as their own; and the Yemenis say it is they who invented it. This is not just a matter of cul­in­ary pride. Mostly arguments about the origins of falafel are refracted through the lens of political rival­ries.

Despite all the claims, falafel was almost certainly developed in early modern Egypt. There are no references to any­thing resembling falafel in pharaonic texts; in any case, the vege­table oil in which falafel was fried was then very expensive. Nor was falafel invented by Coptic Christians as meat-free food for Lent.

Falafel is modern, appearing in Egyp­t­ian lit­er­ature only after British rule (1882). Pro­bably this was bec­ause British officers from India may have asked their Egyptian cooks to prepare the Indian cuisine using local ingredients.

Falafel probably emerged in Alexandria, the country’s prin­c­ipal port and home to the largest concentration of British and European troops. At first, its principal ing­red­ient was fava beans, which were grown in large quantities nearby and which became an Egyptian staple under the Muhammad Ali dynasty. From Alexandria, falafel spread across the country, then migrated.

Shortly after WW1, it had reached what is now Lebanon and, in 1933, falafel shops opened in Beirut. Soon falafel travelled down the Red Sea coast towards Yemen, north along the Mediter­ranean to Turkey and west towards Libya. Each nation general­ly left the basic recipe unchanged, slightly altering the ing­red­ients to suit their own tastes or to reflect the balance of local agriculture.

Falafel also reached the Jewish communities in Palestine and the Jewish pioneers adopted it readily. Having long grown used to cultural exch­an­ge with Muslim neighbours, they gave no thought to whether it was an Arab food or not. They simply integrated it into their own cuisine. It was tasty and filling, and the ingredients could be bought cheaply. Falafel balls were convenient to eat, served either hot or cold.

The Jews who came to Palestine from Eastern Europe, especially during the 1920s and 30s immigration-waves, were more hostile. Susp­icious of anything they regarded as Arabic, these Ashken­azi Jews stuck dogged­ly to their own cuisine, finding falafel alien food.

Independence for Israel came in 1948. Though recipes extol­ling its nutritious qualities appeared in news­papers, falafel’s popularity was patchy. Two developments changed that:

1] the introduction of rationing. Struggling to cope with the influx of new immigrants, and lacking both food and money, Israel introduced a strict programme of food rationing in 1949. Not only was falafel a good substitute source of protein, but cheap enough for even the poorest families.

2] The second was the arrival of MANY Sephardi Jews from Ye­men, Turkey and North Africa. In 1949, 100,690 Sephardim arr­ived in Israel from these regions, 41% of all immig­rants in that year! Having already loved falafel in their nat­ive count­ries, they happily brought it with them to their new home and cooked it regularly.

In the wake of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948-9, there was a concerted effort by the Israeli government to foster a dist­inctive sense of Israeli national identity and to separate its culture from that of its neighbours. Helped by the fact that many Yemeni Jews soon started opening falafel stalls, the Israeli government incorrectly promoted the idea that falafel had been imported not from Egypt but from Yemen.

By the 1960s, this nationalisation process was complete. Fal­afel had been identified as the Israeli dish par excellence. It was proudly served on long-haul flights by Is­rael’s nat­ion­al carrier El Al; and top chefs prepared special dishes in international cookery compet­itions. 

Falafel sandwich 
with pitta bread, tomato, mint leaves, pickled cucumber, turnip and lettuce 

By then falafel had begun to reach more distant shores. Waves of Arab and Turkish migrants in the early 1970s had taken it through Europe, especially Germany. Even in the USA in the late C20th, falafel began to be appreciated by a much wider audience.


In my parents’ home, I had never been to a Sephardi synagogue or heard of Sephardi cuisine. Presumably this was because almost the entire Jewish community in Melbourne before and soon after WW2 were from Poland, Russia, Germany or Hungary.

Then I joined a pioneering youth movement in 1963 where the focus was on scouting skills, working the land and Hebrew language. All the movement’s parties celebrated with platters of falafel, chumus, techina, pitta bread and pickled vegetables. Finger food!

Going to Israel the first time, for a Gap Year in 1966, the food in the academy was cheap, fattening and filling, but not very healthy. So although falafel was still not traditional enough for me to love it, some of the other Ashkenazi students from abroad readily adapted.

Then both of my Ashkenazi sons married beautiful Sephardi wiv­es (one family from Alexandria and one family from Damas­cus) and their diets changed. One son eats falafel and chumus as an entrée before every dinner. The other son has it on the table, with a range of other entrées, every single Sabbath and Holyday dinner.

16 March 2019

Caravaggio and Giorgione, lost and found

Judith beheading Holofernes (c1607) was accidentally found in a manky Toul­ouse attic in 2014. Burglars had broke into the house, but they left the painting, believing it worthless! It remained a secret for another two years!! But since then, Judith and Holofernes has been analysed by experts at the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France at the Louvre. Most of them concluded that it most likely created by Caravaggio (1571-1610).

The painting depicted the biblical story of Judith, the young widow in Biblical town of Bethulia who put an end to the Assyrian siege on her city by seducing and beheading General Holofernes.

Judith beheading Holofernes, c1607 
By ? Caravaggio, 

In 2016 the French government placed an export ban on the painting to allow time for the Louvre to consider whether it should be bought. The estim­at­ed price of €100m represented 15 years of the Louvre’s acquisition budget, and the museum already had three exceptional Caravaggios. The museum decided not to buy it and when the ban ended, the painting was available to travel. The Louvre decision meant the painting can be auctioned in late June 2019 in Toulouse. There are 68 known paintings by Caravaggio, including this one, only four of which are in private hands. So a museum would be the most likely buyer in June.

In the meantime, Judith and Holofernes is being displayed at Mayfair’s Colnaghi Gallery this week. Eric Turquin, a Paris-based expert in the Old Masters, is in London now with the painting, to make the case for it being a genuine Caravaggio.

Since Caravaggio was my favourite artist in the ENTIRE universe, I don’t understand why he was so unfashionable from 1650-1950. But apparently his paintings were worth very little in those 3 centuries. Note the last Caravaggio auction in 1971 when Christie’s offered Martha and Mary Mag­dalene (found in South America). The head of the Nat­ional Gallery did not believe it was a Caravaggio, so it failed to sell. Soon after it was bought privately for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

As there is no reserve price on Judith and Holofernes, please just wrap it up and send it to me. I don't have the US $115-170 million estimated value, but I will love the painting tenderly for the rest of my life.


Now a work from another artist, found in a different country and painted in another century. Read about Giorgione's life in Lives of the Most Excel­l­ent Painters, Sculptors and Architects written by the It­al­ian art hist­orian Giorgio Vasari (1511-74). The painter came from the small town of Castel­franco Veneto, 40 km inland from Venice. He probably served his apprentice­ship in Venice under the beautiful Giovanni Bellini; there he settled and rose to prominence as a mas­ter. Giorgione in turn influenced the even more beautiful Titian. But was Giorgione Titian's master? It is possible that they were both pupils of Giovanni Bellini, and lived in Bell­ini’s house. They worked together on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi frescoes and Titian finished some paintings of Giorgione after his death.

His skill was recognised early. In 1500, at 23, he was chosen to paint portraits of the Doge and other dig­nitaries. In 1504, he was commissioned to paint an altar­piece in the Cast­el­franco cathedral. In 1507, The Council of Ten commissioned a picture for the Hall of the Audience in the Doge's Palace.

In 1507-8 he and others were employed to fresco the exterior of the newly rebuilt Fondaco dei Tedeschi-German Merchants' Hall at Venice, having already done the exterior frescoes of other Venetian pal­aces.

Leonardo da Vinci met Giorgione when the old master's visited Venice in 1500 and found the young man to be charming, a great lover and a mus­ician. Giorgione expressed the grace of contempor­ary Venetian existence in his art, Leonardo said.

Sadly Giorgione died of the raging plague in Oct 1510, only in his mid 30s. Fortunately he had already had a great influence on his foll­owers in the Ven­et­ian school and remained one of the greats of the Renaissance era.

Now a chance discovery in a Sydney library of a 500-year-old sketch has impressed art historians. The red-chalk draw­ing by Giorg­ione was found at the University of Sydney Library, on the last page of a 1497 edition of Dante Alig­hieri’s Div­ine Comedy. The sketch has an ­accompanying hand-written inscrip­tion in black ink and dated 1510: “On the 17th Sept, Giorgione of Castelfranco, a very excellent art­ist, died of the plague in Venice at the age of 36 and he rests in peace.

Melbourne Uni Prof Jaynie Anderson, author of  the book Gior­g­ione: The Painter of Poetic Brevity, estimated its worth to be in the mil­l­ions. And, she said, the Sydney discovery transforms our un­der­stand­ing of ­Giorgione’s life and his relation to other artists. [Both claims may have been overstated]. In 1510, at the time of Giorgione’s death, the book had likely been the art­ist’s property. It contained a Virgin Mary and child, with the emphasis on the Christ child. “The Virgin’s face is blank. It is very abstract, little more than a doodle, but all the more beautiful for that.”

Giorgione sketch, The Madonna and Child. 
University of Sydney

The 1497 copy of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy
gold-tooled inboard binding.
University of Sydney’s Rare Books and Special Collections.

Prof Anderson said that the c1500 sketch was related to a group of paint­ings attributed to Giorgione: Holy Family and Adoration of the Sh­ep­herds in the National ­Gallery of Art in Washington, and the London Nat­ional Gall­ery’s Adoration of the Magi. These paint­ings showed similar Vir­gin and child groupings, as analysed in the British art jour­nal Burl­ington Magazine in March 2019.

Were Venetian paintings of the early 1500s without literary reference? No. Sydney Uni­versity’s discovery suggested that the Venetian artist read Dante’s early C14th verses in the Tuscan dialect AND that his sketch was a direct response to the narrative poem.
How did the 1497 Dante edition arrive an Australian university? Apparently the University’s first vice-chancellor Charles Nicholson began collecting rare books in the 1850s. His collection of antiq­uities formed the basis of the university’s Nicholson ­Museum. My main references were published in The Australian Newspaper, 16th Feb 2019 and 23rd Feb 2019. And the Sydney University Newsletter 25th Feb 2019.

12 March 2019

Lord Horatio Nelson, William Wilberforce and slavery in the Caribbean

Horatio Nelson (1758–1805)’s first long sea-voyage as an adolescent boy was to the Jamaican sugar colonies of the West Indies in 1771-2. He served in the region as a Naval officer during the War of American Indep­end­ence (1775–83). This was at the very time million of Africans were being transported to European colonies as slaves.

Nelson had developed a close affinity with the planters in the Caribbean, befriending local colonists. He became a close friend of Simon Taylor, a Jamaican slave owner, and in 1787 married his wife Fanny Nisbet, daughter of a wealthy slave owner. And they all firmly believed that the Britain's booming economy rel­ied heavily on the Atlantic slave trade.

Portrait of Nelson, 1797 
by L.F Abbott 
75 x 62 cm, National Portrait Gallery

Who was Will­iam Wilber­force (1759–1833)? He studied at Cambridge University creating a lasting friendship with future prime minist­er, William Pitt the Younger. In 1780, Wilberforce became M.P for Hull, later representing Yorkshire. In the 1780s Wil­b­erforce and his allies argued for an end to slave-trading on the basis that it was an immoral blotch on the reputat­ion of a proud, Christian nation. 

Slave holders, on the other hand, patriot­ically maintained that their trade was utterly vital to Britain’s imperial econ­omy. And the connection between the Navy and the colonies was very strong. Import duties collected on British colonial produce helped fund the Treasury whose primary objective was defence of the realm. The country was divided.

So how do modern histor­ians know Lord Nelson’s true beliefs? Let­t­ers he wrote onboard HMS Vict­ory reveal­ed his posit­ion, showing his vehement opposition to Wilber­force ’s camp­aign for the abolition of the slave trade and his sympathy with the slave-owning elite. To help his friend Simon Tay­lor, Nelson wrote he would launch his voice against the “damn­able and cursed doctrine of Wilber­force and his hypocritical allies”. Afua Hirsch says Nelson used his position to "perpetuate the tyran­ny, ser­ial rape and ex­ploitation org­anised by West Indian planters, some of whom he counted among his closest friends".

Wilberforce, the Anglican Bishop of London and their religious allies had to work for decades to end Britain’s offic­ial in­volve­ment in the transatlantic slave trade. His nation­wide camp­aign helped bring an end first to the trade between Africa via Brit­ain and the Caribbean in 1807, and then to slavery itself in the 1830s.

Nelson was widely celebrated for victory in the 1798 Battle of the Nile, off Egypt's Mediterranean coast. And he became even more famous as the heroic victor of the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. He lost his life at the height of the fight­ing, against the rival combined fleets of Napoleonic France and Spain, aboard his flag­ship HMS Victory. The dead Admiral was soon elevated to the status of an al­most god-like imperial, patriotic hero. But though extremely capab­le in command of a fleet, he had been in other ways a flawed human being, limited by his own experiences and friend­ships. Thus Christer Pet­ley showed how Nelson, the British Navy and Trafalgar were all linked to the big­ger British political struggle over slavery.

Thanks to Lord Nelson, the British Navy soon enjoyed almost complete control of the seas. After the British formally abolished the slave trade in 1807, Nelson’s succ­essors took freeing of the slaves ser­iously.

  Slaves working the sugar cane, early C19th 

The hundreds of USA statues that still stand, often in southern states, have always been the subject of trauma for many African Americans. The mem­or­ials are rightly seen as glorifying slavery and segregation, and perhaps energising white supremacist groups. While the USA argues about whether to tear down monuments to the support­ers of slavery, Britain has trouble in confronting its ugly past.

The USA is moving on from its slavery and segregationist past. But have the British at least put the nation’s monuments in their historical context? Yes, Nelson’s column does include the figure of a black sailor, cast in bronze in the bas-relief. He was probably one of the thous­ands of slaves promised freedom if they fought for the British mil­itary, only to be later left destitute and homeless, in London. The black slaves whose brutalis­ation helped make Britain a global power ..largely remain invisible.

Lord Nelson’s supp­ort­ers have moved to defend him. They argue that he was the man who twice defeated Napoleon at sea, and, in so doing, confirmed Britain’s unparalleled naval supremacy. Now Afua Hirsch says that Britain should look more carefully at its past, to understand itself better today. The Trafalgar Square statue should be protected since Nelson was truly one of the nation’s greatest maritime heroes. But a full picture is required; historically accurate plaques need to be added.

Battle of Trafalgar, c1807 
by JMW Turner
171 x 239 cm, Tate

In the British sugar colonies in the Carib­b­ean in the late C18th, it was the transatlantic slave trade that drove the thriving plantat­ion econ­om­ies and made huge profits that flowed back into the wider British economy. Could British colonial­ism continue to thrive without the trans-Atlantic slave trade?

In the battle over slavery, Nelson clearly symp­ath­ised with the sugar traders’, naval leaders’ and slavers’ pol­itical outlook. As he became more exper­ienced, he increasingly despised Wilber­force and staunchly opposed the British abolitionist campaign. Brit­ain’s best known naval hero, he might have used his seat in the House of Lords and his hugely influential position to perp­etuate slavery in the British Caribbean. If he had lived long enough!

Nelson's Column 
Trafalgar Square, London

For new research, about the Royal Navy and the C18th British Atlantic Empire, read Christer Petley’s book The Royal Navy, the British Atlantic Empire and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 2016. And for Napoleon's role in making slavery legal again in the French colonies, read the BBC article. The Emperor's efforts to restore slavery meant that campaigning for the 1806 Act in Britain would help to undermine Napoleon's plans for the Caribbean.