World Cup 2018: Socceroos the product of Australia’s creation!

Events such as the soccer World Cup in Russia are about more than a bunch of blokes (or women) kicking a ball around a park. Sport carries mass and popular culture, the culture of youth and minorities. Perhaps, though, the way it carries national cultures — or is purported to — gets particularly noticed.

“The principle weapon of the Australians is their mental approach,’’ a French journalist said about the Wallabies some years ago. The aim, he wrote in the French daily Liberation, is less to win for one’s “country, flag or for history” than for one another.

“They play for the other members of the team, their mates (in English in the text). They’re competitive until the end for the guy who defends next to them on the line. And it’s this dynamic of active solidarity that makes them so formidable.”

Who wouldn’t be touched by the story of Daniel Arzani? The 19-year-old who came to Australia from Iraq aged seven and has just become the youngest player ever to make the Australian World Cup Squad. To the bemusement of fellow rail passengers, I found myself screaming at my iPhone on the Munich Underground upon reading the news: “Go son, go!”

Arzani’s parents told reporters he thought he wanted to be either a neurosurgeon or a footballer before choosing to be a footballer. When his father, speaking for the family, said he loved Australia and its “culture” it was presumably not the art galleries or the architecture he was talking about but the environment that enabled young Daniel to dream of being both a Socceroo and a brain surgeon; remembering, of course, that the “loved” culture also created the art galleries and a lot of the art that’s in them.

The products of culture — a symphony orchestra or dance troupe — bring hundreds, even thousands of people, into contact with each other. Never more so than when the product is sport and especially if that sport is football. The soccer World Cup, starting in Russia this week, is by far the biggest single-sport competition in the world.

Seen from abroad, sport in Australia looks tribal, as elsewhere, but not in any violent sense — off the field, there are neither hooligans nor skinheads nor black-clad anarchists marauding in the streets. To borrow from historian Manning Clark’s famous phrase, where sport is concerned there’s no “blood on the wattle”.

The veteran German journalist Holger Gertz, who’s covering his fifth World Cup after 10 Olympic Games (Summer and Winter), has told me more than once that he thinks the Sydney 2000 Olympics were the “most beautiful”. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and with the Cold World over, with all those volunteers and local crowds applauding the prowess of non-Australian athletes, “they made us feel that world peace was in reach.”

Yes, there have been ethnicities associated with domestic soccer clubs, but that has receded with Australia winning through to the finals of the past four World Cups.

In fact, Australian sport appears both intensely international and intensely local (the creation from scratch of our own football code is testament) and usually a source of integration for non-Anglo Australians and pride and expression for Indigenous Australians.

We want to see the Socceroos do well because they represent us, but also because we feel that we’ve played a part in creating them. They are us.

Pictures: https://www.istockphoto.com/de/fotos/australian-soccer-team?mediatype=photography&phrase=australian%20soccer%20team&sort=best

Sir John Monash and Anzacs deserve recognition in Europe

ACCORDING to his military ID, he was at Villers-Bretonneux in France on Anzac Day, 1918.

But he was not an Anzac. He was from Oldenburg in Germany’s north. August Grotelüschen “spent a lot of time in the trenches of the Somme”, his son told a group of German newspapers. “But he never said anything about it”.

In an interview to mark a hundred years since the start of WWI, Rolf Grotelüschen, then 85, said that he kept the remnants of his father’s war years neatly in the Oldenburg family house: field post cards; dark blue soldier’s pass; photos of August at 18 in a grey military uniform. “In this year of commemoration,” he said, “I wish people would learn from these things.”

We know from observers’ accounts that one of the most striking things about men returning from the battles of the Somme was their silence. The horrors of what they had lived and witnessed, at least initially, were indescribable — “the back of language broke”, to use Robert Hughes’ memorable phrase.

We also know that when civilians talked about the war with religious metaphors — of cavalry, crucifixion and martyrdom — the image that most readily came to men on the Western Front was the abattoir. And this on both sides of the lines.

By definition, the Sir John Monash Centre, to be inaugurated at Villers-Bretonneux tomorrow, argues the imperative of a single institution focusing on the specificity of Australia’s story on the Western Front. And that is fair enough given the depth of Australia’s bearing, loss and wartime presence there. And of the commemorative context: France is home to more than 30,000 war-related sites, memorials and monuments and Belgium hosts many, too.

Beyond the Picardy region and parts of northern France, the French, like the Germans, even Bavarians whose great grandfathers stood across the front lines from us at Fromelles, don’t know much about the Australian experience, sacrifice or contribution to the so-called Great War.

Explain at a Paris or Munich dinner party that there are some 46,300 Australians laid out in the rich black soil of the Western Front, or that we suffered more than 5,500 casualties in our first 27 hours of warfare at Fromelles in 1916, and you will usually be met by a stunned, rather embarrassed silence. That we might also know, though, that 27,000 Frenchmen were killed in 24 hours on 22 August, 1914; 20,000 Brits on day one of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916). Further east, the story was much the same. When the war was finally over — with more than 9 million dead in 52 months of fighting — 15 per cent of Serbia’s population had been wiped out.

John Monash at his headquarters in the Villers- Bretonneux sector. (Pic: Australian War Memorial)
John Monash at his headquarters in the Villers-Bretonneux sector. (Pic: Australian War Memorial)

General Sir John Monash and the Anzacs of the Western Front are about to get the kind of recognition they deserve — for their vast sacrifice, resolution and courage, for their victories with the allies in 1918. Demystified (if that’s possible), Monash, even for those who make the effort to see him with a degree of objectivity, was surely our greatest military leader. Monash the Jewish Melbourne citizen soldier and engineer, of German family origins, who co-engineered the great allied breakthrough of August 8, 1918, that German commander General Erich Ludendorff would call “the black day of the German army”.

World War One was important in forging Australia’s identity as a young nation and much of it happened in the
muddy trenches of France and Belgium. Events on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918 lie at the bedrock of our national story, especially in Europe, so are central to us putting our case here, in a deep sense, about who we are. (As is the Quai Branly museum, which opened in Paris in 2006, integrating Australian indigenous art into its architecture and hosting one of the largest collections of it anywhere outside Australia). For a long time, France was the country in continental western Europe that mattered most, still matters a lot, and with the advent of president Emmanuel Macron, not to say Brexit, matters more again than it did even a few years ago.

Interactive screens inside the galleries at Sir John Monash Centre on the site of the Australian Memorial outside Villers-Bretonneux. (Pic: Ella Pellegrini)
Interactive screens inside the galleries at Sir John Monash Centre on the site of the Australian Memorial outside Villers-Bretonneux. (Pic: Ella Pellegrini)

To quote Pauline Neville-Jones, formerly political director of the UK Foreign Office, “if you want to be important in France, you need to be grand”. But ‘grand’ doesn’t mean grandstanding, or shouldn’t, and we’ll see whether the Centre manages to be both big-thinking and personal, and the extent to which Australian, local and other visitors take it to heart. But it’s true that a wide-reaching synoptic account of Australia’s role on the Western Front, writ-large, has been needed for a long time.

And yet over many years travelling back and forth from Paris to the Somme and the north of France for commemorative events, it’s the commonality of experience, not infantry tactics or the details of any decisive military offensive, that begins to mark you — the sacrifice and family suffering across countries, borders and cultures.

And the contemporary relevance.

The kind of destruction that was witnessed in Europe between 1914 and 1918 could surely never happen again? Well, it did; 21 years later. Surely other European countries, if not the world beyond, could have stopped tensions between two nations — Austria and Serbia — rising to the point of spinning off into war? They didn’t. We cannot idly presume then that they would if, say, antagonism between Russia/Syria and the US, or North Korea and the US, were to reach boiling point.

went looking for Rolf Grotelüschen for this story and instead found his notice. He bowed out last year, aged 88. So is perhaps again with his father, with members of the German and even Australian imperial forces and all those others now — who knows? Or perhaps that’s just how some civilians, for whom the universal tragedy of WWI remains incomprehensible, still prefer to think of it.

A dangerous combination: Revisiting the Paradise Papers …

Exhaustive media coverage of Donald Trump’s large, highly selective tax cut has highlighted a regrettable aspect of the Paradise Papers, which detailed how some of the planet’s richest individuals and companies avoided payment of billions of dollars in tax by using offshore tax havens.

Crocodile Dundee in Munich: the sequel that never was

With Munich’s famous Oktoberfest coming to a climax this week, clam-handed castaway RICHARD OGIER has the city’s DIY denizens decidedly non-plussed.

A friend whose hair, I think it’s fair to say, is receding faster than mine, has sent me a link for an Australian TV commercial that promises the wonders of “German engineering, for your hair”. A car could be a shoebox on wheels but with German engineering will purr like a pussy cat — years of exposure to television advertising has taught us that. But German hair?

Something called “caffeine shampoo” that comes from an aerodynamic red-cap bottle purports to carry the secret of an eternal head covering for men. The original version, going by You Tube, is English, and shows a suddenly caffeine-energised red hair pushing along a white background, like a sunburnt worm spiralling through a snowstorm. Well, if the Brits are dopey enough to vote for Brexit (delisting 60% of exports and blaming foreigners for it), they’re silly enough to still be making ads with guys in white lab coats talking animatedly about a computer graphic. But I am susceptible. At 52, though my birthday was only recently, I have deplumed at the crown to the point of sporting what most of Sydney now calls, I’m told, a “mosquito launching pad”, which in my case qualifies as cute humour because you could stand a tray of drinks on it.

When I moved to Munich from Paris three years ago, the most important thing for me was to attend the Oktoberfest, 10 days of drinking cold beer with six million others direct from glasses big like milk tankards. Second was to get myself a top-line BMW.

Like degustation of the finest wine when in France, high in the expat male mind upon moving to Munich is that ‘Beemers’ are made here. “A beautiful car, but is it really better than its rivals, though certainly more expensive?” cautioned a French friend who has recently converted — from Peugeot to Renault. He said, “it’s merely a symbol of success” which naturally is why I want to see myself driving the streets of the Bavarian capital in one of these babies, the slightly receding but otherwise elegantly ageing virile type. Cruelly, my wife punctured my Luftballon by heartlessly pointing out that we can’t actually afford a “what, Series 5?” (self-parking 7, she meant), what with the Paris mortgage; rent in Munich; school fees; my Irish “sinking fund” and — oh alright! — the additional financial drain of my laboratory hair replacement program.

But Germany’s flair for engineering and building stuff has manifested itself in ways I didn’t expect. I shuddered at the news that a lift was to be installed in our building and that there might be, as Gert the elderly neighbour explained it, “some disruption”. Well, the works-in-progress were tidier than the kids’ room. The lift-builders, all dressed the same, put multi-sided metal bits in neat piles behind a little rope at end of the day. I came home one afternoon to find Gert (still with all his hair) standing po-faced among the workers. “We have struck water”, he told me. Over his shoulder, at the bottom of a seemingly interminable mine-shaft, I could see a guy thigh-deep in swishing water, a flash light on his helmet. I imagined hearing the slow yawing of bending metal for weeks afterwards, like the crashed plane parts floating in the sea when Tom Hanks goes down in Castaway but miraculously survives four years alone on an island chomping into raw fish and drinking coconut milk. But really, almost nichts (nothing — I’m taking lessons). The water problem was fixed; the lift just went in, all glass and light metal. I can tell you, the experience really marked me.

I can’t claim to be exactly handy but it never mattered before I moved to Munich after a long stint in Paris. Some of my best friends are jazz musicians, notoriously unhandy as a rule — one, I recall, as good as ruined a door trying to change a lock. My German landlord, a big Bavarian with a bouffant who speaks American english like a native (though loudly), put up a bedroom blind when we first moved in — this is true, Mr Trump — in about nine seconds, to the astonishment of my wife. (When I read her draft excerpts of this text she said, “that’s rubbish. It was 90 seconds”). Admirably on a later visit, he tried to hide his irritation, in psychology I think it’s called “rechannelling”, when after a long lesson I still could not “do the hoses” to re-fire the hot water system when rising pressure cuts it out. This he did by telling me he had greatly amused a group of dinner guests explaining that he had a new Australian tenant who was not handy. They had all seen the Crocodile Dundee movies, so assumed I could — I’m paraphrasing — open a can of white beans with a long knife. I could see in my mind’s eye his big frame bent double over the table, dinner guests laughing like hyenas at tales of the new Oz tenant useful around the house like a farting old dog.

Engineering, building and fixing stuff I’ve come to think, is linked to good civic behaviour — what the French refer to as civicisme, without always indulging it. In Munich they recycle à tout va, at the local swimming pool via a quite complex system of colour-coded bins (like the markedly less efficient red, green and yellow boxes of world trade negotiations). And how’s this for a statement of state-directed purpose? The Isar, the river that flows through the centre of the city — like the Yarra, Thames or Seine — was depolluted and cleaned up about ten years ago so that vast numbers of locals now swim along its white-stoned banks in Summer, hardly a broken beer bottle in sight. And this from a region with some 40 beers types, 627 breweries and more than 4000 beer brands. Perhaps it’s in these little ways, and not the grand gestures, that a city shows its true colours? A city that had the heart and soul but crucially also the organisational talent, to welcome 20,000 refugees in a weekend at the top of the European migrant crisis in September 2015.

At the news-agency across the street, I can leave a set of keys. The ground-floor hairdresser takes parcel deliveries for everybody in the building. Less appealing is that one is expected to do the same. Meaning that if you answer your inter-phone to the postman, Amazon or any other brand of brochure, brush or broom pedlar, he’s on the way up. No matter that his delivery, for which you must sign, is for neighbours unknown to you — or for young David across the hall, and his Iranian wife Sarah, who knocks at the door with saffron soup on special days, the significance of which she explains, but who otherwise we never see.

Other little boxes can be found at the mouth of the Metro. These are newspaper dispensers. You lift the plastic lid, put in the coins, and take a copy, feeling like a pleasantly upright Münicher. Once I was short 20 cents and felt wracked with guilt at helping myself, anyway. I returned to pay up later. It flashed through my mind relaying the fact of these things to my French mate, to stop by late at night in his new Renault and pick up a couple, for my font door or to position neatly in a corner of the living room, so that party guests might help themselves to a free paper when they visit.

Flushed by modern Munich’s sense of the collective, the good samaritan spirit, I took to turning in my chair when first here to talk to the locals in beer halls and cafes in basic German — oh hell, English. My entreaties would fall on deaf ears. There’s little or no eye contact in Munich, especially with the opposite sex. You can walk along a viaduct in Paris, see a beautiful woman in the street 20 metres below and she will, as if wearing ball-shoes, spin around in a second to spot you looking. I always feel embarrassed: the eternal guilt of the 1980s-reconstructed, feminist Anglo-Saxon male. Looking dishevelled. No German engineering in the hair.

Mark Twain wrote a famous essay about the confusion inherent in “the girl” being the neutral “das” Mädchen in German, but that’s nothing. Much harder is the second verb at the end of the sentence (“I wish I could do it”, becomes, “I wish that I it do could” — and which “could”?) Well, try that fast after a few litres of beer at the Oktoberfest. But Twain was right about the fiendishly hard road to mastering the four cases, which change word-endings. So “a problem” with the hot water system would be “das Problem”, but more than one would be “die Probleme”, while with (all) these problems “mit diesen Problemen”, you’d rather just be back at the office, or trying to put a bedroom blind up against the clock.

The Brexit Brain-Buster: the ramifications of Brexit go well beyond the EU

With the consequences becoming clearer, the Brexit brain-buster must be sewing the seeds of doubt among some monarchist Australians, including those former Prime Ministers who variously backed and congratulated the Brits for choosing to go it alone in last year’s Brexit referendum.

On Zsofia Boros’ CD release, Local Objects

The second album from the Hungarian-born Vienna-based guitarist finds her embracing a broad scope of music, broader even than on her outstanding debut En otra parte.

Bumbling Boris the Confidence Trickster

Where EU leaders have got it wrong is that Brexit is less a crisis for Britain (though it is that), than the latest manifestation of a deep-seated European malady. A sense of the risk of the EU unravelling is alive in the air in Germany and France because the fear is that Brexit has launched a dangerous dynamic of EU disintegration that, if uncontrolled, may, like Brexit itself, prove unstoppable. Perhaps this is something of which David Cameron, but also Boris “Opt-Out” Johnson, are painfully aware.

On Markus Stockhausen

If a trumpeter’s sound grows pinched in later years (Miles Davis), scribbling (Don Cherry), or it thins (Freddie Hubbard), Stockhausen’s seems to have reached a glorious peak.

In the girl one sees the woman; in the man, the boy? Meeting Markus Stockhausen in the wings after a duo concert in Germany reminds me of his 1980s performance photos: no longer a boy even then, but boyish, wraithlike, something of Peter Pan in the regard. A web check confirms the pictures are of famous papa Karlheinz’s sui generis late creation Donnerstag, that stunned audiences and left one critic remembering the “brilliance” of trumpeter Markus more than 30 years later. On stage earlier, he produced a trumpet sound of such startling bell-like resonance and beauty that one was left floating, adrift suddenly, wondering whether spirits might live in the trumpet of Markus Stockhausen.

I remembered that young Mozart reportedly passed out when he heard a trumpet played in the open air for the first time. On his new CD Alba with recent Lee Konitz pianist Florian Weber (Stockhausen’s first for Manfred Eicher’s ECM in 15 years) there’s a track – just a fragment really – where he blasts impromptu trumpet notes into the body of Weber’s piano. The effect is mesmerising, transporting, as of a glorious colour field slowly rising.

For a telephone interview three months later, he comes on the line saying he doesn’t want to talk about music in “conventional terms”. The facts-based approach I presume, of influences, discographies, practice routines. But I would like to ask about one of the most significant father-son relationships in modern music. He recalls rocky moments in the 90s, Markus making his way now as a polygenre trumpet-player, neither jazz nor classical but clearly sourcing both – until the break. “In a way our final farewell started in 2001 when I decided not to play his music anymore, and I went through all kinds of feelings – of guilt; of missing him. It was like this long fade, so when he died (in December 2007), it was another step in that feeling of farewell.”

Stockhausen’s improvising ability was plainly evident early – hear his bright-toned Strahlenspur solo on Rainer Brüninghaus’s Continuum (1984) – but it was perhaps only after his father’s passing that true colours really started to come. Out from under, the technique that made jaws drop began to be channelled more effectively. The sound certainly changed, growing fuller, rounder, developing this magnificent, steely resonance.

Prompted, he talks about Freddie Hubbard’s First Light as a major early influence, the visionary Miles of In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, and Kenny Wheeler for his sheer musicality. Yet at a rigorously cleanliving58, Stockhausen’s tone is probably fuller than Freddie’s ever was and certainly than it became. If a trumpeter’s sound grows pinched in later years (Miles), scribbling (Don Cherry), or it thins (Freddie), Stockhausen’s seems to have reached a glorious peak.

In the decade to 2012, he tells me, he put out 12 CDs of his own music on his Cologne-based Aktivraum label. But there was plenty of other music on other little labels. Taken together, this may be why the recordings are not better known. Still, there’s some very fine improvisation on Joyosa (2004) – his solo on Mona a melodious gem – the exquisite Streams with guitarist Ferenc Snétberger (2007), or Electric Treasures (2008), a live small group recording with pianist Vladyslav Sendecki that is a veritable cracker.

Partly for having lived through the demanding rigours of father Stockhausen Inc. – musicians starving themselves for days before performance and so on – his capacity to blend into musical contexts set by others is remarkable, and rare for a trumpet player (not generally retiring types). Room-transfiguring moments open pianist Antoine Hervé’s Invention Is You (2001), while on Michel Portal’s excellent Dockings (1998), Markus very nearly takes the honours.

Twenty-five years of intense closeness with the dominant post-war composer however, inevitably left their mark, not least by imprinting the primacy of music’s spiritual dimension. “Improvising is one of the most intimate things you can do with another person. It comes very near to love-making,” he says.

Today, about half Stockhausen’s time goes on the duo with Weber, another with clarinettist Tara Bouman, and his highly original Quadrivium quartet. Much of the rest is dedicated to seminars and conferences called “Singing and Silence”, “Healing Sound” and “Intuitive Music” (a term conceived by Stockhausen Snr). Why so? “First because of my own personal quest and this inner need to be in that spiritual sphere. Sometimes it’s even more intense and nearer to me than in certain concerts, which have more of a virtuoso or entertainment aspect.” That intensity can be tested on Alba (released this month) and when Stockhausen and Florian Weber appear at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on Tuesday 31 May.

Picture: Gerhard Richter, www.richterkoeln.de

On Ferenc Snetberger’s CD release, In Concert

The ECM debut of Ferenc Snétberger features the widely-acclaimed Hungarian guitarist in solo performance before a rapt audience at the Liszt Academy in Budapest.

Paris, and all that jazz

The romance of jazz in Paris still resonates. Take a walk up rue Mouffetard or the little knot of streets around St Germain and you keep bumping into tiny fragments of it. The postcard photos of Miles and Charlie Parker evoke that postwar period where the Left Bank Paris of Sartre, cafés and long cigarettes jumped off from reality into myth.

Fifty years on, if more by chance than design, the focus of jazz in Paris has moved from the Left Bank to the Right and especially a handful of clubs on a street near central Châtelet: the Sunset-Sunside, the Baiser Salé, and the Duc des Lombards, which reopened in February after seven months of renovation.

Comparing rue des Lombards with New York’s 52nd Street in the 1940s would be an overstatement (though a French newspaper couldn’t resist recently), but its vibrancy is testament to the elevated position that jazz still holds in the cultural reckoning here. Jazz provided the soundtrack to the “literary genius” and archly leftwing politics of existentialism, and later, French cinema’s nouvelle vague. Today, like France itself, jazz has moved to the right – outwardly at least. The revamped Duc des Lombards, with its muted interiors and designer chic, looks like the kind of club that President Sarkozy and his wife Carla would visit.

For years, patrons of “Le Duc” were greeted by a giant exterior mural of saxophonist John Coltrane. With investment from new owner Pierre Vacances and chief executive Gérard Brémont, the club has been refurbished using the music of “The Duke” (Ellington) as the leitmotif. “Black, Brown and Beige”, the title of the master’s extraordinary suite, are the colours of the main ground floor room, while an electronic curtain behind the bandstand reproduces images inspired by Ellington songs.

The Duc has overturned the old jazz club practice of three separate “sets” until the wee hours, with two concert performances of 90 minutes at 8pm and 10pm. In a stroke, artistic director Jean-Michel Proust has made a weeknight outing to a jazz club something conceivable for locals and visitors.

In an ambiance that a local critic called “San Francisco beatnik”, an outsized pole used to obstruct views of the stage but now vision is good, including from upstairs. And with food on offer by Alain Alexanian, Michelin-starred for a restaurant in Lyon – reckon on spending about €35 for a meal – “Le Duc” feels like a very classy act.

A stone’s throw away, Le Sunset-Sunside is in fact two clubs – two bandstands, bars and two club rooms – accessible via the one entrance. The Sunset was the first club on the street, established in 1982, and began life with a jazz-rock bent (interestingly, that stream of jazz came to Paris later than London or New York).

But programming became eclectic long ago. Joined by the Sunside in 2000, the Sunset has always sought to highlight the best French players – early in the week, when it’s hard even in Paris to fill a jazz club, Monday nights are a jam session and Tuesdays are given over to the “New Generation”.

Yet top-flight Americans also feature: Brad Mehldau, Steve Grossman and Wallace Roney, in the last year or so. “I don’t like jazz in compartments,” says owner-programmer, Stéphane Portet. But it’s fair to say, as at Le Duc, a modernist brand of hard-bop dominates. Sit up front and the closeness of the musicians – of the sound of wind on brass – makes both clubs excellent places to hear modern music.

Just next door, Le Baiser Salé is home to African jazz in Paris – but by no means exclusively so. Last weekend, one of the most exciting of the current French players, Pierre de Bethmann, performed a tribute to Herbie Hancock’s post-Miles Davis electric music. Jazz or jazz-related singers are also a regular fixture.

If nostalgia for Left Bank Paris takes hold, Le Caveau de la Huchette is a venue where time seems to have stood still. Swing and boogie-woogie are the main events, in a setting to soften the heart of even the most avant garde tastes.

By all accounts, “Le Caveau” hasn’t changed much since the Left Bank New Orleans revival – which happened about 40 years ago. The Doriz family have been its proprietors since 1969 and have hardly ever missed a night.

Where to hear it
Le Duc des Lombards, 42 rue des Lombards, tel: +33 (0)142332288
Le SunsetSunside, 60 rue des Lombards, tel: +33 (0)140264660
Le Baiser Salé, 58 rue des Lombards, tel: +33 (0)142333771
Le Caveau de la Huchette, 5 rue de la Huchette, tel: +33 (0)143266505