Evan’s corner: An afternoon with Simon Schama

Written by: Evan Lowenstein
One beautiful Friday autumn afternoon on the Mornington Peninsula, I had the wonderful pleasure of being present at a Wheeler Centre function to hear my great hero, Simon Schama, expound his views on all manner of subjects.
Now I know that you all may be surprised to read that your accountant can have a hero in the shape of this extraordinary polymath, but I do have other interests – other than spreadsheets and balance sheets.
Sir Simon, who was out from the UK, has an extraordinary intellect with an interest in art, cooking, travel, politics and his own Jewish heritage. He has demonstrated his various passions in many books, DVDs, TV shows and documentaries.
He was in Australia as a guest of the Sydney Writers Festival but spent a few days in Melbourne, promoting his book: Wordy. His latest book is a collection of fifty essays spanning four decades of writing. It includes a series of rather light stories and articles on all sorts of subjects.
Schama has a particular passion for art and he is most well-known for the TV series, The Power of Art, where he tells a story of one particular major historical painting each episode and brings them to life with the most evocative language and meaning I have ever heard from an historian.
In fact, the last chapter of this remarkable DVD involves the Rothko murals. His commentary had such an amazing impact on me that I undertook a pilgrimage to London, Houston, Tokyo and New York to see the power of Rothko’s work for myself.
In the Wheeler Centre conversation, beautifully hosted by Professor David Hansen of the ANU, the topics they discussed ranged from Schama’s mother’s cooking to the fate of Western democracies, epic English novels and the power of Rembrandt – with lots of Jewish jokes thrown in – all told with an urbanity and the wit that he is so well known for.
I would certainly recommend that you get a copy of his books and DVDs because they are a remarkable resource for anyone interested in culture and humanity.