Notre-Dame de Paris

I was fortunate during my career in business to spend a lot of time in Paris. Not much was free time, but I managed to squeeze in visits to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and more – as Paris is the ultimate “walking” city. Imagine being faced with this dilemma: you are in Helsinki, Finland on a Friday in March; you finish (no pun intended) work, and are due to be in Paris on the following Monday. Would you spend the weekend in Helsinki? Or opt for Paris? Not sure why I called it a “dilemma.” Spent all of that Saturday in the Louvre. Sunday at d’Orsay.

Unfortunately, I did not see Notre-Dame de Paris from the inside, but marvelled at its beauty from the outside, and marvelled too at the length of the lines of people waiting to get inside. It was truly a sad day on April 15 with the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame.

This is some of what I missed – the magnificent stained glass – virtually irreplaceable. To me perhaps the real marvel of Notre-Dame is its history – going back nine centuries. What a remarkable feat of engineering and construction considering the tools available to man in the mid-1100’s. And then there is the procession of events – including the crowning of Napoleon as Emperor of France, the Requiem Mass of Charles de Gaulle, and who could forget Philippe Petit, who in 1971 secretly strung a wire between the towers of Notre-Dame and tight-rope-walked across it.

Notre-Dame above, with its towers, as I recall.

I will not dwell on the fire here, as much has been featured in the news. But it was reassuringly good news that President Macron of France quickly stepped forward to say that Notre-Dame would be restored to its splendour, and within five years.

It was also heart-warming to learn that in the two days following the fire, more than 845 million euros were pledged to re-build Notre-Dame. Total S.A., Apple, The Disney Company, L’Oréal, LVMH and Kering are among the prominent contributors. I thought it might be interesting to look into some of these companies. Total is a major oil and gas company; Apple and Disney we all know; and so too perhaps, L’Oréal, for its cosmetics. But what of LVMH and Kering?

LVMH, or Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton, is a French luxury goods conglomerate, and it has offered 200 million euros to help re-construct Notre-Dame. Christian Dior S.E. owns LVMH and Bernard Arnault is the Chairman of Christian Dior and Chairman and CEO of LVMH. According to Bloomberg, Monsieur Arnault is worth more than 90 billion dollars.

That is M. Arnault above, with his wife, Hélène Mercier-Arnault. M. Arnault is 70; his wife is not. Madame Mercier-Arnault is a Canadian and is a renowned concert pianist. Nice going Bernard.

You may not know LVMH as a company, but you will know some of its brands. The impressive list includes wines and spirits (Dom Perignon, Hennessy, Glenmorangie, Cloudy Bay); fashions (Dior, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Thomas Pink); watches (Bulgari, Tag Heuer); cosmetics (Guerlain, Dior); and retailing (Sephora and Le Bon Marché). And that is only a partial list.

Kering? Kering S.A. is another luxury goods manufacturer (the French seem to have a lock on luxury goods). In true French fashion, Kering divides its businesses into “Houses,” which sounds so civilized and so much better than “Subsidiaries.” So Kering has the “House of Gucci,” and the “House of Saint Laurent.” Then there are Alexander McQueen, Boucheron and Brioni. Thirty years ago I walked into the Brioni store in New York, looking for a blazer. The one I liked was 1600 bucks. Fortunately, Macy’s was just a short cab ride away.

The Chairman and CEO of Kering is François-Henri Pinault. M. Pinault is reportedly worth about 31 billion dollars. He is married to the actress, Salma Hayek.

M. Pinault and Ms. Hayek above. Not to be unkind, but his tux looks to be off-the-rack. She looks just fine.

M. Pinault however, came up with 100 million euros for Notre-Dame.

In the photo following are Liliane Bettencourt and her daughter Françoise Bettencourt Meyers. Madame Bettencourt passed away in 2017, leaving her fortune to her daughter, thus making Madame Bettancourt Meyers the richest woman in the world. The Bettencourt family has long owned L’Oréal, the leading global cosmetics company. There is a lot of interesting history with the Bettencourts and for fear of having my “blogue’ read like a gossip column about the rich and famous, I will shut it down here. But kudos to the Bettencourts and L’Oréal for pledging 200 million euros for Notre-Dame.

Well, maybe one more thing.

In 1831 the French novelist, Victor Hugo, wrote “Notre-Dame de Paris” (which we know as “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”), hoping to raise awareness and funds for a restoration of the cathedral, as it had fallen into disrepair. Hugo wrote, “it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant , before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.” He was successful in his activism and soon thereafter restorative work began.

Above, Charles Laughton in the 1939 movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” There have been numerous movies made of the Hugo novel, including an animated Disney version. But the Laughton version wears well.

Ken Griffin

I decided this winter that I should take painting lessons. Painting has long been an interest, and I thought it might be time to see if I had any talent. How difficult could it be? As of this writing I am halfway through the lessons, and progress, albeit slow, is being made.

And no, that is not one of my paintings. But it hits to the point; how difficult can it be?

The painting pictured above, is named 17A, and it was painted by Jackson Pollock, the American “drip” artist. 17A sold in 2016 for $200 million.

The painting pictured below is not mine either. This painting, called “Interchange,” was completed in 1955 by the Dutch-American artist, Willem de Kooning. It sold for $20.68 million in 1989, and again in 2015 for $300 million.

One more to show you (and again, not mine). “False Start” was painted in 1959 by the American Jasper Johns. It sold at auction in 1988 for $17 million; and subsequently sold for $80 million in 2006.

It was described as “an explosion of colours, bright and frenetic, among which we can see stencilled labels such as ‘wrong,’ ‘gray,’ ‘orange,’ ‘red.’ The artwork is entirely dedicated to colour in this case – there is no subject, just different components that aimed to break the artist’s habits the he saw as certain limitations.” Whatever. Mr. Johns has (he will be 89 this year) a reputation for less vibrant, moodier productions.

The three paintings were purchased by a gentleman named Kenneth C. Griffin. Mr. Griffin is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the American hedge fund, Citadel. Citadel has something like $28 billion under management, and in 2018 Citadel paid Mr. Griffin $865 million. His net worth is estimated to be $9.9 billion.

Mr. Griffin is not shy about spending his fortune. Apart from the $580 million he dropped on these three works of art, he is heavily into real estate. In 2018, he purchased four floors of a condominium building in Chicago (Citadel’s home base) for $58 million. The four floors were described as “raw” and will need about $25 million worth of build out. Mr. Griffin already owned three residences in Chicago for which he paid $47 million.

What next? Why not buy the most expensive piece of real estate for sale in the United States? Mr. Griffin paid $238 million for a 23,000 square foot condominium in the New York City high rise known as 220 Central Park South. And again, the price is just for the “raw’ space or a “white box” as they say in NYC. It will take at least another $25 million to make the place liveable. Mr. Griffin owns the 50th to 53rd floors. 220 Central Park South is pictured below – the tall building on the Park. One newspaper article described the residence as a “place for him to stay” while on business in New York. I know for a fact there are actually some really nice hotels in NYC.

Oh yes, Mr. Griffin bought another pied-à-terre in early 2019, dropping $122 million for a townhouse in London. Then there is a Miami Beach property for which he paid $60 million. His neighbour in Miami is Kim Kardashian – how lucky is that! And he has homes in Aspen, CO and Hawaii.

To be fair, Mr. Griffin is not generous only to himself. He has donated $150 million to his alma mater, Harvard, and dispensed at least $500 million to charitable causes. I wonder how he would feel about making a donation to the Qualicum Beach Aspiring Artists Society (QBAAS)?

In 2015, Mr. Griffin split from his wife of 11 years, and perhaps this prompted his real estate buying spree. After an acrimonious negotiation, they reached a divorce settlement. As far as I know, the ex-Mrs. Griffin (pictured with Mr. Griffin in happier times below) is on the market and would not be a bad catch.

Of note: The painting pictured below, “Flag 1983,” is another Jasper Johns creation. It sold at auction in 2014 for just over $36 million. Its dimensions are about 12 inches by 18 inches. If my calculations are right, the painting cost someone approximately $167,000 per square inch. Yes, I know. It’s stupid. But I am beginning to believe my new found interest in painting has potential.

And one final comment: It may seem to some that this blog entry is about money. It isn’t. It’s about the absence of sanity.

Sir Nicholas Winton

Canadians will know Joe Schlesinger well. Mr. Schlesinger was an executive producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) beginning in 1966, but quickly found his niche as a foreign correspondent for the CBC in such disparate locations as Hong Kong, Berlin, Washington, Central America and more. He was born in Austria in 1928 to a Jewish family, and raised in Czechoslovakia. In 1938, after Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany, Mr. Schlesinger and his younger brother, Ernest, were sent to England, in the “kindertransport,” that was the brainchild of Nicholas Winton. Mr. Winton, a British citizen and businessman, arranged for the transport of 669 Jewish children out of Czechoslovakia to Britain and to Sweden. Our Mr. Schlesinger lost his parents to the Holocaust, but made the most of his opportunity as a distinguished journalist for some 40 years. He passed away at age 90 on the 11th of February this year. That is “Joe” below with the U.S. Capitol Building in the background.

Sir Nicholas George Winton was born in 1909 in England to parents of German Jewish origins (the family name being Wertheim). He got an early start in banking and became a stockbroker; work that took him to continental Europe. In November, 1938, “Kristallnacht” (“the Night of Broken Glass”); a pogrom in Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland, was carried out by paramilitary forces and civilians. The result was the destruction of Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues, the murder of Jews and the transport of thousands of Jews to concentration camps. Below: One of the more than 200 synagogues that were destroyed during Kristallnacht.

It was Kristallnacht that moved Nicholas Winton to action. He established an organization to assist children of Jewish families – families at risk from the Nazis. Despite the challenges of transporting the children from Czechoslovakia and through the Netherlands, 669 children were moved to the United Kingdom and some to Sweden. Many of their parents did not survive the war. There was to be another group of 250 children to be sent abroad, but their fate was sealed with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and with that the beginning of the Second World War. Of the 250 that were left behind, only two survived the war.

Nicholas Winton above, with one of his charges.

By all accounts, Nicholas Winton was a humble man. It wasn’t until 1988 that his wife found a scrapbook that detailed the names of the “kindertransport” children, their parents, and that names of those who took the children under their care. That same year, in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s television programme, “That’s Life,” Nicholas was invited to be a member of the audience, and unbeknownst to him, his scrapbook was unveiled, and “kindertransport” explained. In a truly moving tribute, the programme’s host, Esther Rantzen, asked members of the audience whether anybody owed theirs lives to Nicholas Winton. More than two dozen came forward to acknowledge and to thank him. (If you have 4 minutes and 41 seconds, go to youtube, and search for, “Story of Nicholas Winton BBC That’s Life,” and I guarantee you will be brought to tears).

In 2003, Nicholas Winton was knighted by the Queen. His courage and actions have been widely recognized by the Czech government, and in his home town of Maidenhead, England, a statue of Sir Nicholas was unveiled in 2010 by Theresa May, then Britain’s Home Secretary.

Deservedly, Sir Nicholas lived a long life, passing away in 2015 at the age of 106. Sir Nicholas is shown below greeting Joe Schlesinger.

 

Albert Finney

At first glance you might have thought the gentleman pictured above was Jeff Bezos. The gentleman, in fact, is Albert Finney, pictured with Aileen Quinn and her dog Sandy in a promotional photo for the 1982 movie musical, “Annie.” Albert played “Daddy” Warbucks, Ms. Quinn played Annie, and I regret to say I have only Sandy’s stage name, which is Sandy.
Albert Finney, sadly, passed away at age 82, on February 7 of this year. He was truly an acting icon, prominent on the stage, in television, and in film. What I find fascinating about Albert (and I am pretty sure he would want to be referred to as “Albert”) was his distain for the limelight. He shrugged off the idea that he should become a Hollywood leading man, preferring to take on character roles (what better evidence than his willingness to go bald as “Daddy” Warbucks). Albert led his personal life much the same way, enjoying his wealth; traveling widely, with a penchant for lovely ladies, good cigars and fine wines – not necessarily in that order. Ladies first, always.

It would have been easy for Albert to fall into the Hollywood trap; to become the target for gossips and paparazzi. Here he is below, in the title role of 1963’s “Tom Jones.” His portrayal of Tom led to his first of five Oscar nominations. While never a winner (and clearly he should have been), Albert decided against attending awards events, and it is worth noting, again shunning convention, that he turned down a knighthood, saying, “the Sir thing slightly perpetuates one of our diseases in England, which is snobbery.” Conrad Black, please note.

I have made a list of my 10 favourite movies of all time, and “Tom Jones” is quite near the top of the list. And Albert Finney would be one of 10 favourite actors.

Here are some of his roles – the “character” roles that he so loved. Below, as Hercule Poirot, in “Murder on the Orient Express.” Agatha Christie dubbed Albert the best of all the “Poirots.” Nominated for an Oscar, Albert decided against attending the Academy Awards, saying the he would be up and down having to take so many smoke breaks.

In the following, as Winston Churchill in the television movie, “The Gathering Storm.” He won the Emmy for Actor in a Leading Role. I can find no evidence that he attended the ceremony. In the opinions of legions of critics, Albert’s portrayal of Churchill was the best of all; impressive considering that Rod Taylor, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Burton, Bob Hoskins and Gary Oldman, among others, had the honour. And yes, Mr. Goldman won an Oscar for his version of Mr. Churchill.

One more thought about Albert and Churchill. In a previous post (January 14) I wrote about “Heaven” and having Sir Winston come to dinner. Now that Albert is firmly ensconced in Heaven, why not invite him to join in? He could do his Churchill impression for Sir Winston, share some wine, and smoke cigars. Albert is just the type of guy you would want to have for dinner. Cigars at the dinner table? Not to worry. Again, no harm can come to those smoking in Heaven.

Here he is again, starring with Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich.” Albert looks quite pleased with himself. Gentlemen, try to keep your eyes on Albert. Another Oscar nomination for our friend, by the way.

In his final movie role, Albert appeared as a gamekeeper in the James Bond epic, “Skyfall.” Daniel Craig, our current James Bond, said of Albert, “I’m deeply saddened by the news of Albert Finney’s passing,” he said. “The world has lost a giant.”

“Wherever Albert is now, I hope there are horses and good company.”

I wasn’t aware that Albert was a horse guy, but at least on earth he had good company. He was married three times; one of his wives being Anouk Aimee. Lovely. According to my sources (basically media gossips) he also had “relationships” (the Hollywood word for “nooky”) with “the likes of singers Joan Baez and Carly Simon, actresses Samantha Eggar, Jacqueline Bisset, Jane Asher, Jill Bennett and model Erica Creer.” Apparently he was “irresistible.”

Above is Albert as I would like to remember him. Young, but totally happy with his life to that point. And it only got better.

Oh, and what of Jeff Bezos? Very much in the news lately, as his wife has filed for divorce. Jeff, as the CEO of Amazon, is worth about $70 billion; half of which he may have to pass along to his soon to be ex-wife Mackenzie. Jeff, for all his smarts, apparently sent compromising texts and photos to his mistress, the TV anchor, Lauren Sanchez. Somehow the messages ended up in the hands of the National Enquirer. And no, Jeff is not exactly “irresistible.”

Chili

It is that time of year. Winter is here, and with winter comes a chill in the air, not to mention the rain (at least here in Lotus Land). But what better time for comfort food, and the comfort that comes from a bowl, or two, of chili con carne.

Everyone has a favourite recipe for chili, and there are endless numbers of recipes to be had on-line. The www.allrecipes.com website appears to have almost a thousand chili recipes (I looked at just the first dozen or so). The recipe that follows is the result of contributions from friends, plus a twist or two of my own.

I like a lot of beans in my chili (ignore the consequences!); and I like a lot of “carne” as well. I start with a mix of dry beans – black beans and pinto beans work well – about 8 ounces of each in a slow cooker set to low. Make sure you have enough water to cover the beans, as they will expand into the space as they soften. The beans should be cooked to the point of firmness. Once done, strain and refrigerate the beans. I generally do the beans the day before.

Next the meat. Brown about a pound or more of ground lean beef in a cast iron pan. Remove and pour off any fat. Italian sausage is next. We have a great market close by that makes sausage with a mix of lamb, spinach and feta. I like about a pound of sausage, removed from its casings, chopped roughly and browned in the cast iron. Once done, remove the sausage, but this time leave the fat (the feta gives off an amazing aroma). Over low heat and with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, add a medium size onion (chopped), 3 tablespoons of minced garlic, a minced jalapeño pepper, a tablespoon each of red pepper flakes, cumin, and turmeric. Plus lots of crushed black pepper.

Sauté, then transfer this mixture to a slow cooker. Add a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes together with the beef and sausage. Top that off with a 12 ounce can of Guinness and let simmer for several hours. About two hours before serving return the beans to the slow cooker. And think about adding a cup of frozen corn kernels when the beans go in. They add colour and some crunch. Serve the chili with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheddar.

Barbari Bread

You can always serve your chili with tortilla chips, but why not bread? Barbari bread is a staple in Iran. There it is called nan-e barbari; here in North America it is known as Persian flatbread. Barbari will have a crisp crust and be soft and airy inside. While it is often served with feta cheese in Iran, it occurred to me it would be a perfect match with chili. In the following photo you get an idea of what barbari looks like,
fresh from the oven.

Making barbari does not have to be complicated,. Start with a cup of lukewarm water and in it mix a little more that a teaspoon of active dry yeast and a half teaspoon of sugar.

Let it proof for 15 minutes. In a large bowl or food processor mix 2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Add the yeast mixture and process (or knead) until the dough separates from the side of the bowl. Knead by hand for a few minutes to form a nice elastic ball. Place the dough ball in a large bowl greased with canola or olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles in size (about an hour).

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, place the stone on the lower rack while the oven heats up. (In the absence of a pizza stone, use a non-stick baking pan, without preheating the pan). Place parchment paper on a baking pan and work with your dough on the parchment paper and punch it down on the paper to a thickness of about a half inch. The dough will form a rough rectangle. Once the dough is ready for the oven, I brush the surface with a thin film of olive oil mixed with a teaspoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of garlic powder. Then sprinkle the surface with sesame seeds. If using the pizza stone, slide the dough and paper off the baking pan onto the stone and bake the bread for 15 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on the top with a crisp bottom crust. If you are using a baking pan, place some corn meal on the pan before placing the dough. You may need to bake the bread just a little longer.

Heaven

I got to thinking the other day, “what will Heaven look like, and what is there to look forward to?” That’s a slice of the Blue Ridge Mountains above – supposedly “almost Heaven.” I could live with that. There must be a golf course or two nearby.

I’m not in a hurry to get to Heaven, and I cannot decide if I want to get there gradually or quickly. When the time comes, and it IS coming, and given the choice, maybe quicker is better, as in just having played 18 holes of golf, shooting my age, followed by a two hour de-brief, then ramming my convertible into a telephone pole. Done.

I am assuming I will end up in Heaven, based on the slimmest of qualifications. But I have several questions. It would be nice if one could end up in Heaven at one’s preferred age. Fortunately I have kept all of my old passports and as I rifled through them, I decided that I would like to be in Heaven as a 45 year old. Good photo. I was fit back then, financially in decent shape, enjoyed my work. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great if my parents were there, close by, at roughly the same age. When my mother was 45, I was 17. Now with me being her contemporary, things would be different. I wouldn’t be hearing, day after day, “what are you going to do with your life?” Too late.

And what about accommodations? I expect I will arrive in Heaven as a single, and I would like a very nice condo, two beds, two baths, den, open plan living area, and facing the golf course, something like the one below.

Okay. So I have this nice place. Who do I want to have over? Certainly there are some old friends that I have lost over the years, and hopefully they have chosen to arrive in Heaven and have taken on an age similar to mine, 40-45, which would make things work. And then I am thinking; Donna won’t arrive here for another decade or two (longevity in her family), what about former girlfriends? Katherine Low and I were an item when we were 20. Back then I called her “Millie.” To my knowledge, she never married, and I understand she is up here somewhere, so why couldn’t we get together? Strictly platonic, of course. I could go on Google.hvn and get Millie’s number.

I haven’t seen Millie since we dated, and I never saved a photo (how would I explain that?), but she looked something like this:

But apart from old “friends” would it not be possible to connect with a few others up here. Maybe do a dinner party. Winston Churchill is here; probably having chose 65 as his “Heaven age.” (He became Prime Minister at age 65). Get his number through Google.hvn; call and ask him to come over casual; say that I will have lots of champagne and brandy, and tell him that he can smoke cigars at the table. You can’t kill anyone with second-hand smoke in Heaven.

You will have noted that I have room for 8 at my dining table, plus I can put a few more at the counter. Arnold Palmer? Absolutely. It would be good to have him one-on-one rather than sharing him with thousands as it was on Earth. I would have a couple of questions for Arnie.

For example, “did he really like Jack?” And, “were you OK leaving your widow all that money?” In advance, I think I know the answers to both.

Who else? Certainly my Dad. What a treat it would be to sit down with your father at age 45. My Dad never opened up about his service in the War. Gone for 5 years and never had a second thought that it wasn’t the right thing to do. Maybe in Heaven we could have that conversation.

I still have some seats to fill. Cary Grant? Absolutely. Cary was 51 when he made the movie, “To Catch a Thief,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock. So Cary might be a bit past the 40-45 guideline, but please! He looked great at any age. Here he is with Grace Kelly.

I have questions for Cary that I would bring up at dinner. For example, who was his favourite co-star? Grace Kelly? Kathryn Hepburn? Joan Fontaine? Eva Marie Saint? No reason to hold back now, as the press is nowhere in sight. If I were Cary, I would vote for Grace. She was a Princess after all.

I still have several seats to fill. Not to dwell on actors, but I have to include Ingrid Bergman. “Casablanca” is my favourite movie of all time, and I know that Ingrid is up here somewhere. A simple phone call (I would tell her that Cary is coming, of course) and could she join us for dinner? Yes. Lots of questions for her as well. Favourite co-star? Was Bogie really that short? Would she be embarrassed if I told her that she was the most stunning actress ever on screen (in “Casablanca”)?

Anyway, I will fill out the dinner table in a few moments, but there are some logistical things to get out of the way. For example, there is transportation. How do you get Winston Churchill to your place for dinner? In Heaven, you simply wish for it (but you need to send a formal invitation, of course) and he would arrive at the appointed time. Should he bring Clemmie? You bet.

Food and drink? In Heaven the fridge is always full of the things you need. Just like on Earth. It just happens. No need to go to the market. Wines and spirits? I would not push the Heaven thing too much and insist on the finest of wines and whisky. I would be OK with Aussie wines, and a nice California cab, and Glenmorangie – even though Churchill might not be too pleased.

So, back to dinner. Leonardo da Vinci? Good God yes. Steve Jobs? For sure. I am beginning to wonder what I am doing at the same table. I just want to sit there and listen to the conversations. If the discussions get heavy I can chat with my Dad, as he always had a pretty straightforward view of life. That’s him above, circa 1940. In today’s vernacular, he would have been a dude (and certainly a Skuxx).

What about media in Heaven? One of the saving graces. No need for Facebook or Twitter. The people you need to connect with can be reached with a simple phone call. Cary, can you come for dinner? “What day, what time?” “Shall I bring Grace?” “Prince Rainier?” “No, just Grace will be fine.”

The news? No more newspapers. TV? Sure. But just classic flicks. And Netflix and Super Bowl reruns featuring the Patriots. No more Fox news. Sean Hannity and Donald Trump will be headed to the southern alternative when the time comes anyway. That is a fact.

My Heaven seems to be a nice landing place and I start to wonder; what about those who were less advantaged on Earth? What is their notion of Heaven? As on Earth, and as it continues unfairly, their expectations may fall far short of my own. “As on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” Sadly, for many.

But, I do have to remind myself, this is about me and what I have to look forward to. The dinner table? Add John Wolfe. Our next-door neighbour in Connecticut. John passed on in 2009 at age 90. We met when John was 68 and I was but 40. Among his many words of wisdom? “Son, only serve Bombay Gin, Sapphire, with a thimble full of vermouth and a spray of single malt Scotch, and you will have the makings of the perfect martini.”

Heaven …

Viewing

Here are some insights into you might want (or not want) to see on the big screen or your flat screen. I have added ratings to each, based on Rotten Tomatoes, IDMb (Internet Movie Database) and my own assessment, which is simply a likability score.

“The Favourite”

Not your mother’s movie. But a movie nonetheless loved by critics. The New York Times critic called it a “bracingly cynical comedy of royal manners.” To me it is a black comedy, and bizarre at times, often difficult to watch. There are some truly comedic moments. At a formal ball, Rachel Weisz’s character, Sarah, and her partner, break into a dance worthy of a 2019 rave party. Or the Duke of Marlborough, Sarah’s husband, calmly reading what appears to be a newspaper (did they actually have newspapers in 1711?) as soldiers ride into the grounds of his estate, intent on making his arrest.

For those of you who are fans of “The Crown,” you will know Olivia Colman as the actress replacing Claire Foy as the Queen. Olivia on the right. Claire on the left. Olivia has starred as well in “Broadchurch” (Netflix) and “The Night Manager” (AMC).

Olivia, along with Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, form a female triangle of tension, intrigue and eroticism in “The Favourite,” with Olivia as Queen Anne. Rachel’s character, Sarah Churchill, has the ear of Queen Anne to the extent that nothing happens, politically or personally, without the influence of Sarah. But that all changes when Emma Stone’s character, Abigail, arrives at the royal palace. Abigail quickly rises from kitchen help to Sarah’s maid, and on to be the confidant of the Queen. The tension rises between Sarah and Abigail, as the latter transforms from a seeming innocent to a cold, manipulative power seeker. Rachel as Sarah below. (Rachel in real life is married to Daniel Craig of James Bond fame).

Emma Stone, as we know, won an Oscar for “La La Land.” Not sure what it is about her, but she is always good – as in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Birdman.”

This is a movie that sticks in the mind. But difficult to sit through. There is much tension and uncertainty. Would I see it again? No. Am I happy to have seen it? Yes. Would I recommend you see it? Maybe not. The performances are exceptional. The movie will be a contender for a Best Picture Oscar, and each of the main actors – Colman, Weisz, Stone – stand a good chance to be nominated for Oscars for their achievements.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94%/60% (Critics/Audience)
IDMb Rating: 8.1 (out of 10)
My Rating: 8 (out of 10)

“The Mule”

Clint Eastwood is 88 years old and still directing movies. In “The Mule” he is featured in the starring role. I have been an Eastwood fan since “Rawhide” and his move into the so-called spaghetti westerns, the “Dirty Harry” series and more. Clint elevated squinting and mumbling to an art form. His best work came in later years – “Unforgiven,” Million Dollar Baby” – to name just two. He has proved himself a producing and directing force, along with some solid acting that almost made you forget you were watching Clint Eastwood. But maybe he should just stick to directing, based on “The Mule.”

A few of us agreed that “The Mule” could have been so much more. Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena were pretty much wasted in their roles as FBI agents. Plus a lot more drama could have been inserted into scenes that took the “Mule” (Eastwood) on his drug-laden cross country trips from New Mexico to Illinois. “The Mule” will make a lot of money. But not really worth a trip to the cinema.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 65%/67% (Critics/Audience)
IDMb Rating: 7.2 (out of 10)
My Rating: 5 (out of 10)

“Roma” (Netflix)

You may not recognize the name Alfonzo Cuaron, and I guarantee you will not know the name Yalitza Aparicio. Mr. Cuaron directed “Roma.” He also directed “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Children of God,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and “Gravity.” He has been nominated for 6 Academy Awards, and has won two – for Best Director and for Editing for “Gravity.” And has added 6 British Film Academy Awards.

Set in the early 1970s in Mexico City, “Roma” presents a year in the life of a middle class family living in a gated house, with a mother, grandmother, four young children, and two servants, including the maid played by Yalitza Aparicio. As Cleo, she is an indigenous Mexican, who works hard, without complaining, and who is impregnated by Fermin, a young revolutionary. Cleo reveals to her pregnancy to Fermin in a movie theatre, whereupon he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, never to return. She finally tracks him down and he erupts in violent denial, leaving Cleo to solve her own problems. What Cleo is good at solving are her employer’s problems. Cleo is the glue that holds the family together – the husband has left them abruptly and without resources – and the children are like her own.

This is movie that draws you in – albeit gradually. Ms. Aparicio is remarkable as Cleo: there are few characters in cinema who portray such feeling or strength without hyperbole. One of the most touching scenes is Cleo giving birth to a still-born daughter. She conveys the kind of feeling that the viewer cannot be anything but deeply affected. And on a beach vacation, despite not being able to swim, and in heavy currents, she rescues two of her young charges (Yalitza as Cleo with the children in the following image).

See “Roma.” Available on Netflix.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%/83% (Critics/Audience)
IDMb Rating: 8.2 (out of 10)
My Rating: 8 (out of 10)

“Call My Agent”

Another offering from Netflix. Season 3 has just arrived. “Call My Agent” (in French, “Dix pour cent”) is a clever satire about a Paris-based talent agency, ASK, whose agents are totally immersed in personal issues while trying to manage the careers of their clients, all of whom are prominent French actors and entertainers. With each episode comes a different client with a challenge: for example, preparing Juliette Binoche for a speech at the Cannes Film Festival; or trying to repair a rift (a rift, in fact caused by one of ASK’s agents) between Isabelle Adjani and a movie director. The agents have a penchant for wounds that are self- inflicted, be they personal or professional wounds. If you don’t mind subtitles, this is fun to watch.

Our agents above. The Globe and Mail reviewer called this “an absolute gem.”

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: N/A
IDMb Rating: 8.1 (out of 10)
My Rating: 9 (out of 10)

“The Sisters Brothers”

You put John C. Reilly in a movie and I will probably watch it. Well, maybe not. But not because of Mr. Reilly. He is always worth watching, as in “Boogie Nights,” “Chicago,” “The Hours,” “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” and now “The Sisters Brothers.” This is a brutal western – with some great comedic moments – based on the novel by Patrick deWitt. The movie pairs Mr. Reilly with Joachin Phoenix as Eli and Charlie Sisters, hired gunmen out to track down and kill Hermann Warm, who, allegedly, has stolen from the brother’s employer, the Commodore.
Perhaps more a movie for guys. The critics liked it, I liked it, but few others seemed to as it failed to break even at the box office. That has not stopped Mr. Reilly from moving on to other projects. “Holmes and Watson” (with Will Ferrell as Holmes and Mr. Reilly as Watson) is currently in theatres, and apparently is awful. Not on my list of flicks to see. Mr. Reilly and Mr. Ferrell team up quite often, and often with mixed results. Then there is “Stan and Ollie,” with Mr. Reilly as Oliver Hardy and Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel. A must see for me.

Ratings for “The Sisters Brothers?”

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 85%/66% (Critics/Audience)
IDMb Rating: 7.1 (out of 10)
My Rating: 7 (out of 10)

“A Star is Born”

A movie that has been done four times, starting in 1937, with Fredric March and Janey Gaynor; in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason; and in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. The 1937 and 1954 versions are worth seeing, as is the 2018 film. Think of the current “A Star is Born” as “Crazy Heart with Gaga.” As good as Bradley Cooper is as director and lead, Lady Gaga stripped down, makes the movie. And I only mean “stripped down” in the sense that she is not wearing meat or some such, for a change, but she is without make-up with only her talent to be seen. This is a movie I will see again. The story still works, and is even more timely considering the addiction crisis that is upon us. The ending is a sad reminder that often there is only one solution to addiction.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%/81% (Critics/Audience)
IDMb Rating: 8.1 (out of 10)
My Rating: 9 (out of 10)

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

I am a big Queen fan, mainly because of Freddie Mercury. Hard to believe that Freddie (born Farrokh Bulsara) has been gone so long (he passed on in 1991 at age 45) but it is tribute to Freddie and his bandmates that their music still lives on. I enjoyed “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the music, and for the performance of Rami Malek as Freddie. The movie itself is pretty predictable, but Mr. Malik really holds it together. He was able to capture the excitement of the Live Aid concert of 1985, where Freddie had the Wembley audience spellbound (go to YouTube to see Freddie at Live Aid). The movie was well received by audiences, but not so much by critics.

Freddie on the left, Rami on the right.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 62%/90% (Critics/Audience)
IDMb Rating: 8.2 (out of 10)
My Rating: 6 (out of 10)

“Can You Ever Forgive Me”

This is a very entertaining movie, with Mellissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant starring. Ms. McCarthy plays Lee Israel, a down-on-her-luck author who, out of desperation, forges letters, supposedly written by famous cultural figures, and sells them to art and book dealers. A nice, profitable business, and as the cops close in on her, she turns to Mr. Grant to act on her behalf. She forges, he sells. This is Ms. McCarthy as have never seen her; a slovenly, curmudgeonly character, but one who is gradually embraced by the viewer.
Mr. Grant is her antithesis; well-groomed, out-going and charming. Despite their differences, they make an unforgettable screen couple. Worth seeing.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%/83% (Critics/Audience)
IDMb Rating: 7.6
My Rating: 8 (out of 10)

More to come. Apart from “Stan and Ollie,” I plan to see “They Shall Not Grow Old,” a documentary created by Peter Jackson about the Great War (Peter Jackson is responsible for the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies); “Vice,” starring Christian Bale: “Destroyer,” with Nicole Kidman; and “The Punisher,” its second season coming soon to Netflix.
I will report back …

New Zealand Revisited

It was in February of 2018 that we made a trip to New Zealand. Ostensibly a golf tour, my prowess on the golf courses came up quite short of my expectations. (I have often said, that “if you lower your expectations in golf, you may often meet them.”) My original blogs from NZ covered about 16 days, requiring a lot of scrolling, so I won’t repeat them here. I prefer to hit some high points mostly unrelated to golf.

The Kiwis are wonderful people. Always friendly, always courteous, always curious about their guests. Kiwis (along with Aussies, of course) have their unique accents and very interesting colloquialisms, of which I will list several:

Gu-dye – good day, but the way the Kiwis say it, it comes out “Gu-dye”
Banger or snarker – you are probably familiar with “banger” as in bangers and mash, but a snarker is also a sausage
Pong – stink
Sparrow fart – sunrise
Greasies – fish and chips
Shark and taties – also fish and chips
Bradbury – succeeding against all odds (named for Steve Bradbury, an Aussie Olympic short-track speed-skater who won gold in 2002 after all his opponents crashed) – as in “did a Bradbury”
Pommie – a Brit
Up the duff – pregnant
Main – the primary dish of a meal. The Kiwis use “entrée” to describe the first course
Chook – chicken
Full tit – you might think it has to do with a yet-to-be milked dairy cow, but it means to go at full speed
Good on ya – well done (sounds like “gudonya” – one word)
Flannel – face cloth
Frenchie – a condom
Jaffa – a term used by country folk to de-mean city folk, as in “Just Another F**ker From Auckland”
Jandals – flip-flops
Skint – no money
Stubbies – could refer to short bottles of beer, or short shorts on men (the latter are quite often seen in NZ and are not that attractive)
Dairy – convenience store
Take-away – if you want a coffee, or anything “to go,” ask for “take-away”
Dunny – toilet
Togs – bathing suit
Fart sack – sleeping bag (fart sack may be a universal term)
Gummies – rubber boots (Wellingtons)
Skux – good looking dude. Skuxx – really good looking dude
Goon – an Aussie term meaning box wine
Bugger – damn (often heard on the golf course)
Thunder box – my personal favourite. An outdoor bathroom. Passed along by one of our Aussie golfing mates

Famous Kiwis

Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw is New Zealand’s most famous rugby star.
Richie is a god in NZ. You don’t even have to say his last name. “Richie” is like “Leonardo” in that respect (that would be Da Vinci and not DiCaprio). Richie led the NZ All-Blacks to two World Cup championships and is the most capped rugby player in history (“cap” is an international test match). He was appointed captain of the All-Blacks at just 24 and went on to be named the World Rugby player of the year a record three times before retiring.

Today, there is evidence of Richie everywhere: commercials for dairy products, headphones, MasterCard and more. Air New Zealand produces very entertaining flight safety videos (have a look on Youtube) – where you can see Richie doing a spoof of “Men in Black.”
While in a bar just a few days before leaving NZ, I put the “Richie” theory to a test. Seated at a table next to us was a young man from Auckland. I asked him, “if I said Richie to you, what would be your response?” He said, without hesitation, “McCaw.”
Yes, that is Richie in the following photo. A dude. Well actually, a skuxx.

In January, 2017, Richie married Gemma Flynn, a field hockey player who played for New Zealand in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. Gemma, of Maori descent, originates from Tauranga. This is Gemma in the following photo. A dish.

Richie and Gemma will have attractive, very athletic children.

Sam Neill

Probably New Zealand’s most prominent actor. You will know Sam from the “Jurassic Park” movie series, “The Hunt for Red October,” and more recently “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (a terrific movie that also features Julian Dennison, a young Maori actor). Sam was born in Northern Ireland into a military family and at age 7 moved with his family to New Zealand, his father’s home country. Although Sam holds British and New Zealand passports, he considers himself a Kiwi. Sam owns a winery named Two Paddocks in the Queenstown area; as of this writing he is 71 and unquestionably a skux; and he is a former stutterer who, he says, occasionally stammers.

Rachel Hunter

That is Rachel in the following. She is a bit of a dish, even at 48 (although not 48 in this photo). Rachel is a model and actress, but you would be hard-pressed to remember any movie or TV show in which she was featured. More importantly, she has been a model in the “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue, and posed nude in a 2004 issue of “Playboy.”
Perhaps Rachel’s biggest claim to fame is that she was married to Rod Stewart, before separating after nine years and two children. Rod is currently married to a woman who looks remarkably like Rachel Hunter. And Rod, now Sir Rodney, has been married three times and has fathered eight children with five different women. For that and a little bit of music, he was knighted by the Queen. Rachel is a native of Auckland.

Peter Jackson

Sir Peter Jackson is a three time Oscar winner, as a director and writer. He directed the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies. While Jackson has received accolades for his work with the trilogies, his breakthrough came with his direction of, and screenplay for, the movie “Heavenly Creatures.” This is a film worth seeing. Based on the true story of two teenage girls who murdered the mother of one of them, the movie marked the debuts of Melanie Lynskey (a Kiwi herself and played Rose in the TV series “Two and a Half Men”) and Kate Winslet. The girls in real life spent 5 years in prison for their crime and were ordered never to see each other again. One of them, Juliet Hulme, changed her name to Anne Perry and is a successful novelist (and the subject of a previous blogue posting). She has written almost 50 books, most of them murder mysteries. Sir Peter was born in Wellington.

Keith Urban

Keith was born in Whangarei on the North Island. As a New Zealand country music performer, he has won four Grammy awards. Keith moved to Australia as a teenager and began his guitar playing and singing career. You will also know Keith as the husband of Nicole Kidman. Nicole was born in Hawaii and moved to Australia early on. The couple live now in Sydney, Australia. Nicole was previously married to Tom Cruise. Apparently likes to tower over her spouses.

Kiri Te Kanawa

Dame Kiri was born Claire Mary Teresa Ralston to a Maori father and Pakeha (of English ancestry) mother in Gisborne, where Captain Cook first landed in NZ. She was put up for adoption at the age of five days. Dame Kiri was raised by the Te Kanawa family and given the name Kiri (for “Bell”). Her adoptive father was Maori and her new mother also of European descent. From her earliest days she began to sing, first at home, then locally, then into Australia, and on to London for formal training. She eventually made it to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as an understudy to Teresa Stratas. Dame Kiri is pictured in the following. Lovely.

Jonah Lomu. Jonah was the youngest rugby player ever to play for the All-Blacks, starting his career in 1994 at age 19. At 6”5” and 265 pounds, it would be hard to imagine bringing Jonah to the ground. Even though he was diagnosed with a serious kidney ailment in 1995, which ultimately required a transplant, Jonah still managed to become one of international rugby’s all-time great players. Unfortunately, Jonah suffered a heart attack and passed away at age 40.

King Tawhiao

Proclaimed the Maori king in 1863, he served until his death in 1894. King Tawhiao (Tukaroto Matutaera Te Wherowhero Tawhiao and whose image follows) rose in rebellion to the British governor’s demand that there be no “dual sovereign;” that fealty was to Queen Victoria only. Tawhiao went to war – a war that resulted in the loss of Waikato – vast tracts of land for the Maori, and seemed to cement Britain’s colonial tradition of, “once I have moved into your house, you will need to find a place to live elsewhere.

Russell Crowe

No one seems to want poor Russell. He was born in New Zealand and supposedly applied for citizenship in Australia in 2006. Word is that his application was denied. Russell is well known for his dodgy behaviour, including fights and just plain rudeness. While visiting New York on one occasion he threw a telephone at a hotel concierge. None of our Aussie friends on this tour had good words for Russell. “Arsehole” seemed the sum of opinion. Although Russell was born in Wellington, he completed much of his schooling in Auckland, which some might say could qualify Russell as a “Jaffa”.

Sir Edmund Hillary

Born in Auckland but definitely not a Jaffa, Sir Edmund, along with the Nepalese Sherpa, Tensing Norgay, became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The year was 1953, and the ascent was regarded then as a remarkable achievement. Since then, however, there have more than 5000 successful attempts. But Hillary and Norway made the ascent without the benefit of ropes and ladders, and with a rudimentary oxygen apparatus. When Sir Edmund was not climbing mountains, he tended bees.

Anna Paquin

I include Anna Paquin here for a few reasons: yes, she is a citizen of New Zealand; and yes, she is well known as an Oscar winning actress for her supporting role in The Piano, at age 11. But of note is that Anna was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, my home town.

Graham Kerr

Graham Kerr (pronounced “care”) may not be a citizen, but he is well known in New Zealand. A Londoner, Kerr moved to New Zealand to join the Royal NZ Air Force as a catering consultant. From there he moved to a NZ television cooking show. Years later, he emerged (in a series taped in Canada) as “The Galloping Gourmet” – in a breezy cooking show that lasted three years. Possibly not a chef to be taken seriously (one critic called him, “the Liberace of the Food World”), Kerr has largely disappeared from public view, despite having written more than 30 books. He now lives in Mount Vernon, WA.

You might have expected a photo of Graham Kerr, but instead you get this.
The giant weta is the world’s largest insect. It is the size of a sparrow. I felt a bond as I held the little fella in my palm. Fortunately, the giant weta is confined to a small area north of Auckland. On the plus side, there are no land snakes or other reptiles (crocs for example) in NZ. Australia on the other hand …

Some other facts and figures regarding New Zealand:

• It has been said that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand. Not even close. There are some 4.5 million people in NZ; and as of June 2016, there were 27.6 million sheep. I personally saw about 7 million of the latter
• On top of the sheep population, there are more than 10 million head of cattle, two-thirds of which are dairy. There are almost one million deer that are “farmed”
• The NZ national badminton team in the early 2000’s adopted the team name “The Black Cocks.” There were complaints and the name was dropped
• The only land mammal native to NZ is the bat. All other mammals were brought to NZ by humans
• The Kiwi is the logo for the Royal NZ Air Force. The Kiwi is flightless. A certain irony there

• Harrington’s Brewery in NZ produces a beer named “Sobering Thought”
• NZ has 400 golf courses, more per capital than any other country
• More people in New Zealand die each year while lawn bowling than scuba diving
• The Moa was a flightless bird that stood 12 feet tall and weighed in at 500 pounds. Moa were hunted into extinction in the 15th century. The lady in the photo following is at no risk. Moas? Herbivores

 

The Fat-Tailed Dwarf Lemur

This little guy (Cheirogaleous medius) is native to the western coast of Madagascar. And he (let’s go with “he”) is typically quite small – as an adult weighing in at about a third of a pound. Lemurs are primates, and thus closely related to humans. The fat-tailed dwarf lemur is famous within the scientific community as the only primate known to hibernate for extended periods. This lemur will hibernate for up to 7 months – remarkable for any member of the animal kingdom. He will gorge for months during the wet season, feeding on fruits, flowers and bugs, storing fat in his tail, which may account for as much as 40% of his body weight. It doesn’t really get cold in Madagascar, but it gets pretty dry, and our lemur goes into hibernation. What scientists find intriguing about this hibernation is its length and the extent of torpor. Torpor is defined by decreased metabolism, heart rate and body temperature. While in torpor, the lemur’s heart rate will drop from about 180 beats per minute to four; breathing will decrease to one breath every ten to fifteen minutes; and body temperature will match that of the ambient temperature.

On the western coast of Madagascar the ambient temperature may drop to the low 40’s (Fahrenheit), taking with it the body temperature of the lemur (his usual body temperature matches that of ours).

Lemurs and Sleep

Humans enjoy two types of sleep; REM or rapid eye movement sleep, and non-REM sleep. We dream during REM sleep, while non-REM is restorative sleep. For humans, non-REM sleep is vital. But lemurs during hibernation seem only to experience REM sleep (no way to know if they dream), leaving scientists to wonder if they sleep at all. Animals deprived of non-REM sleep die over time; but not the fat-tailed dwarf lemur. It is a curiosity that is still being studied. Another curiosity is just how scientists are able to derive their data. They have to attach EEG sensors to the tiny foreheads of the lemurs. Similarly, they have had to implant sensors in a handful of the lemurs to measure body temperature. Gotta have small hands. Future occupation for a certain politician?

Does any of this matter?

Duke University is at the forefront of research into the behaviour of lemurs, especially how the brains of dwarf lemurs deal with hibernation. Could hibernation extend human life? For example, could a hibernate state be induced in patients waiting for the availability of an organ to be transplanted? Or could the metabolism of astronauts be managed to enable them to endure months of travel, absent the large quantities of nutrients necessary (as in the “Aliens” movies where Sigourney Weaver rises from an extended sleep, still looking quite fit and dishy)?

The CBC

I believe that taxpayers’ dollars are well spent on CBC Radio. Over the years I have enjoyed “This Country in the Morning” and “Morningside” with Peter Gzowski; “As It Happens” especially during the Barbara Frum years; and now “The Current” where the story about the fat-tailed dwarf lemur recently was broadcast. CBC Television? Love the news, but will pass on “Schitt’s Creek.” So thank you, CBC Radio for the lemur story.

Madagascar

Madagascar lies off the east coast of Africa and is the fourth largest island in the world – not that much smaller than the state of Texas. (If anyone asks; only Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo are larger islands).

From the air at least Madagascar is a gorgeous place. Having broken off from the Indian continent more than 80 millions years ago, its flora and fauna are unique. About 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else. Lemurs, for example, are endemic to Madagascar. While lemurs are cute, there are a lot of things in Madagascar that are not. Lots of big bugs you would not want to meet. The hissing cockroach, below, is 2 to 3 inches long.

Spiders, scorpions, giant centipedes and malaria-causing mosquitoes abound. Plenty of snakes, none “overly dangerous to humans” (whatever that means). The good news? No lions, hippos, or crocs. But still not a place for me. Only four golf courses; just one an 18 holer.

My advice? Gather the grandkids and watch the movie.

George Mallory

This is George Mallory as a young man. Presumably about the time he came out of “public” school and prior to the outbreak of The Great War. George was born in 1886 to a British clergyman, and at the age of 13 entered a boarding school, Winchester College. (It is said of the British elite of Victorian times that “they kept their dogs at home and sent their sons off to kennels.”) It was at Winchester that George was introduced to climbing – his ultimate passion. After graduating from Cambridge he became a school teacher, and just 6 days before the outbreak of The Great War was married to Ruth Turner.

Much of what I have gleaned about George Mallory came from a book written by Wade Davis, the book entitled, “Into the Silence.” It is indeed about Mallory, but a good portion of the book deals with The Great War. And what intrigued me as well was the emphasis on British society,
especially the sense of entitlement that came with being born of wealth and privilege.

If you were a “public” (read “private”) school boy, you had a one in five chance of perishing during the war. If you fought in the trenches, you had a 50% chance of survival. If you were a colonial (Canadian, Aussie, Kiwi, etc.) forget it. If you were a general, miles behind the front lines, you would be bivouacked in a chateau, and might go for a morning ride on your well-groomed horse.

Such was the life of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, a military visionary who disdained the use of steel helmets, the airplane as an instrument of war, and played down the importance of machine guns, which the Germans used ruthlessly to mow down the Allied boys charging out of their trenches. Eight years after the war Haig still extolled the “value of the horse,” going on to say that “aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse …” This from a man under whose charge more than two and a half million soldiers of the British Empire were killed, were maimed, or went missing, and whose son, long after the war explained away Haig senior, saying that “the suffering of his men caused him great anguish … that he felt it his duty to refrain from visiting the casualty clearing stations because these visits made him physically ill.” Haig below, doing what he did best.

Enough of that. Back to Mallory and his three attempts to scale Mount Everest (named in 1865, for Sir George Everest, previously the Surveyor General of India).

As a schoolmaster, Mallory was exempt from enlisting in the British armed forces. But with each passing month, and with increasing reports of his friends falling in battle, Mallory was given permission to join in the war effort. By early 1916 he was in France serving in the trenches as a second lieutenant (public school fast-track?) and through the course of the war he had periods of front-line duties interrupted by extended leaves back home. In any event, he survived the conflict relatively unscathed, and by January, 1919, he was back teaching. Very quickly unhappy as a schoolmaster, Mallory in early 1921 received a life-line; an invitation to join the Everest Committee.

Mallory above, in early climbing days, doing what he did best.

1921 then, marked the first attempt for scaling Everest, at 29,035 feet, the world’s tallest mountain (think about that height the next time you are traveling on a jet at 35,000 feet).

If nothing else, the seeming interminability and real horrors of The Great War toughened the resolve of the team that would try to conquer Everest. None of this was trivial. There was the passage to India by boat; train travel to Darjeeling, and from there by pony, mule and by foot to Tibet. As tough as the journey might be for the British climbers (all born of money and with that, social standing), the real heavy lifting was done by porters, Sherpas, or “coolies” as they might be referred to by their masters. On the second attempt in 1922 to reach the summit of Everest, seven Tibetans died in an avalanche. The compensation: 13 British pounds for each family in “quarterly installments (for how long I do not know – but I am guessing, not for long).

The first attempt on Everest ended unsuccessfully with Mallory climbing to 22,000 feet.

OK. Why, might you ask, has a photo of the actor Peter Finch insinuated itself into this blog about Mallory. That is Finch in a scene from the 1978 movie “Network,” for which he won the Oscar as best actor, and
for which he will be remembered for his rant, “I’m made as Hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Among Peter’s other accomplishments; five BAFTA awards (the British version of the Academy Awards); three marriages, and affairs with Vivien Leigh and Shirley Bassey.

But it is onto Peter’s “father” George where the emphasis shifts. George Finch was a vital member of Mallory’s first two attempts to climb to the summit of Everest. The elder Finch was born in Australia, and while accepted into the Mallory’s inner circle of climbers, there was a great deal of opposition to his inclusion; mainly because he was an Aussie. The Brit elitists didn’t fancy a colonial joining the “team,” never mind that Finch senior was an expert mountaineer, or that he had remarkable scientific underpinnings (as an example, it was Finch who insisted that the summit of Everest could only be reached through the use of supplemental oxygen). George was married to Alice (“Betty”) Fisher, and in 1916 went off to war. And here is where it gets more interesting. Betty gave birth to Peter some 10 months after George’s departure. It seems that Captain “Bertie” Campbell, on leave in England from duties in France, slipped into the gap, so to speak, and impregnated Betty. George tracked “Bertie” down in France, and beat him to a pulp. George decided that Peter was to be raised as a Finch and there was an attempt to reconcile with Betty, but it seems that Betty had difficulty keeping her knickers on in the presence of others. The Finches divorced, and Peter was raised by George’s mother. George, no saint he, had taken up with Gladys May while still married to Betty, impregnated Gladys, and just as quickly, cast her aside. He eventually married Agnes “Bubbles” Johnson.

George Finch, during the ascent of 1922, firmly stuck by his belief that to conquer Everest required supplemental oxygen. Mallory had gone off before Finch, without oxygen, and reached an altitude of 26,800 feet. Finch, climbing with Geoffrey Bruce, and with oxygen, climbed to 27,300 feet, higher than any man had ever climbed. But to preserve Bruce’s health, they had to retreat.

Finch was regarded as the “finest ice and snow climber in Britain” yet he was not invited to participate in the 1924 Everest expedition. The reasons were not clear. Jealousy? His Aussie heritage? Never mind. He would eventually count his blessings. George lived to age 82, passing on in 1970.
That’s George (on the right) and Geoffrey Bruce in the following, after their record climb.

Again, Mallory was to lead the third expedition. In preparation, more than 3,000 pounds of food, tents and equipment were sent to the base of the Himalayas, including sixty tins of quail in fois gras and 48 bottles of champagne. All moved by porters. One of the members of the expedition, Noel Odell prepared himself in Darjeeling with games of squash, followed by tea, dinner and dancing late into the night. Entitled? You think?

Climbing Mount Everest was never going to be a straight shot. Camps were to be set up at various stages along the way and would be supplied with tents, food and oxygen at certain altitudes, with teams charged with carrying supplies in a sort of relay before retreating to lower levels. For example, two climbers (Brits, of course) together with 15 porters would carry supplies to Camp V at 25,500 feet, before returning to Camp IV at 23,000 feet. Camp VI was at 26,500 feet and VII at 27,300 feet. Camp VII would be the final launching pad for reaching the summit (still almost 2,000 feet higher).
Mallory’s partner for the final ascent was Sandy Irvine, at only twenty-one, athletic, brilliant and fit for Everest. Mallory was not yet 40 himself, and certainly still fit for the mountain. A year before, Mallory, when asked the question why he would want to ascend Everest, responded, “Because it’s there.” And here it is.

In the photo following, Mallory and Irvine are shown at Camp IV with oxygen apparatus in place. It was the last photo taken of the pair. It is believed that Mallory and Irvine departed Camp VI, and some in the expedition were convinced that they had in fact climbed to the summit of Everest. The photo was taken on June 6, 1924. The body of Mallory was recovered in 1999 – 75 years later. The body of Irvine has never been found. There is no evidence to suggest that Mallory and Irvine reached the summit.

Mallory had broken a leg and suffered broken ribs and a head injury, indicative of a fall. His remains were relatively well preserved, as seen in the following photo…

It would be 6 more expeditions over almost 30 years, before the successful conquest of Everest by the Kiwi, Edmund Hillary and the Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. Since that climb in 1953 there have more than 5,000 successful ascents of the mountain.