No Bull, It’s An Ole Bull

Paolo Vettori of Florence

I have been back to my usual saturnine self this whole week. Last week, I wrote about Rusalka’s song to the moon by Antonin Dvorak, and connected the opera to some of my close friends’ enthusiasm about going to the moon! “We are very early!” they have been chiming in like a new meme, yet it does not seem to register in their ageing minds that their next phrase “We are going to the moon!” is as contradictory as saying you will find the American flag on the moon because Armstrong’s moon landing was faked. It is as contradictory as my childhood complaint to my mother about the eye-watering agony from the joss sticks as she dragged me to the smoke-filled temple, “Ma, why do we need to go? No one goes to the temple anymore because it is too crowded.” It is said that those who have already invested in Bitcoin are ‘very early’ in the crypto space and can be likened to when football players are still relaxing in their locker rooms, not quite ready to walk out to the stadium where the floodlights had just been turned on. The national anthem won’t be sung for awhile yet, and the crowd hasn’t settled down in their seats because they are still queuing to buy their beers. ‘Going to the moon’ in cryptocurrency terms simply means the price of the coin is rising like a long green candle in the charts. Can they be early yet have the rockets to take them to the moon? Compared to some of them, I am quite pusillanimous, my money is still far away from my mouth. I ain’t about to put my money in my mouth even though investing in crypto feels right. The Aussie dollar keeps weakening against the USD, and my savings is still stuck in the bank earning less than one miserable percent per annum whilst the government is openly stealing my money using inflation as a means to whittle away the purchasing power of my money. For the whole of my adult life, I have been conditioned to believe that inflation is good as we need it to grow our economy. But, I now understand inflation is the root cause for global warming or climate change. Our “inflationary monetary system” is based on debt which therefore requires inflation to help pay for it. As Jeff Booth taught me, ‘Ever higher prices (inflation) require more production, more consumption, more transportation, more energy, more government spending. More, of everything, Forever!’ More consumer spending, more inflation, therefore more global warming. Now, you understand why I feel down. Diligently separating my rubbish into three different bins at home suddenly feels futile. No bull, there is no way we can beat inflation! It is embedded in every government policy by every government in the world.

Undoubtedly, my ageing friends’ arguments are sound. The indisciplined loose monetary supply policy world-wide has resulted in the predictable debasement of currencies and high inflationary pressures in most countries. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen blames consumer spending for high inflation instead. It is true, the higher the demand, the higher prices go up. She is supposedly a macro economics expert yet she won’t connect the dots and say it’s the government’s policy of giving the people easy money that has led to more spending? The US inflation figure is now the highest since 1982, at 6.8% but she won’t tell you that is a lot less scary than the real figure. You see, they keep redefining what CPI is by changing the basket of goods and services and seasonally adjusting it month-to-month. ShadowStats using the same methodology prior to 1980 show the real inflation in the US is at 15%. My friends are therefore bullish about Bitcoin (BTC). No bull, they reckon that is the only way to protect our savings. The only asset class that will hold its true value and appreciate over time. Sure, Bitcoin is volatile. Very! It is volatile in the short term but goes up in value in the long run. Fiat currencies may be stable in the short term but devalue markedly in the long run (sometimes even in the short run). Look at the Lebanese pound and the Turkish lira this year. Even the USD has devalued by a lot, despite its strength against many other currencies. The other central banks have also been madly expanding their money supply therefore making them worth less. At the start of 2021, we needed USD29,358 to buy one BTC. Today, it takes about USD48,000 to buy one. No bull, BTC may be volatile, but its price is very bullish. Its adoption by major institutional investors and countries will only see its value surge even more early next year.

My mood turned dark mid-week after being chastised again. This time it was about my reputation for openly enjoying freebies but “you don’t give freebies,” the friend chided me. I simply replied I am too old to multi-task. I can’t give and receive at the same time! Another friend sarcastically said, “He gives anonymously!” Being anonymous means there is no way for me to substantiate it or disprove it. I have often said we give because giving gives us pleasure and makes us feel good. No doubt, our gift brings joy or relief to the receiver but giving also makes the giver feel good about themselves. In other words, ultimately the act of giving is also for selfish reasons. This is further supported by the good book in which the theme about giving freely is that we will grow richer and God will love us more. Another friend who clearly enjoys hitting me below the belt, asked why I am so stubborn like a bull. “Why can’t you give generously?” he asked, quite obviously insinuating that I do not. So, I merely growled softly revealing my saurian teeth. Grrrrr…. a pity he missed my gnashed smile. The Mrs’ younger sister, ages ago, advised me to be insouciant and learn to ignore negative remarks about me, but no bull, growling under my breath is the best I can do.

Last night, my indolence very quickly evaporated. I had been languid all day – maybe it was the summer heat that finally got to me. Even Murray, my son’s dog, cut short the afternoon walk that he normally looks forward to. No bull, he is given total freedom and can roam as far as he wants. He is leashed of course, but he walks in front and I follow obediently. I never complain. I am actually thankful to him for bringing me to the places around my neighbourhood that I never knew existed, despite the 25 years living in this small suburb. Yesterday, we quickly returned home without detouring across the main road or snaking our way along serpentine streets that hug lush green parks. Murray was contented to gnaw at a bone instead. No bull, he is one smart dog and I know I won’t go astray by simply following him. There is no further need to read about Buddhism. We have found the secret of contentment. He ate his bone and I ate my peanuts in the shady corner of the neighbour’s synthetic putting green. Side by side. Hot as it was, Murray made sure a part of his body was in contact with mine.

Murray brought me here! It’s only 2,300 steps from home.

No bull, the ‘Ole Bull I ordered in February this year has finally been made. Hand made, to be precise. It is a very fine copy of the 1744 Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù ‘Ole Bull’. I can’t believe my luck, but the great Paolo Vettori of Florence somehow agreed to make it for me. For me! He normally is too busy to accept commissions from amateur players – after all, he has a long queue of professional musicians wanting his instruments. I am not even good enough to call myself an amateur player these days. A wannabe amateur player, maybe. The photos of my violin came last night and brought me back to life even though I was ready for bed. I am still so chuffed by it. It looks as beautiful as the real thing. The real thing was of course made by one of the greatest luthiers in Cremona. Even the varnish is yellow-orange, its richness and tender quality like the real thing. I love the yellow-orange varnish on the darkly oxidised colours of the wood’s grain, and the golden tint in the varnish seem to emphasise the exquisite grain even more. The two-piece back is simply gorgeous, even the stripes are reminiscent of the original. Its beauty is further accentuated by the rounded and voluptuous outline. The purfling may not be ebony; my son said it is more likely stained black willow strips. The core, usually made of poplar, is tight and not obvious. The wood of the top board was an antique beam of spruce from an old mansion. Dendrochronology dates the tree rings of the wood to the year 1600. The beautiful back, sides and ribs are from maple wood purchased in 2005 and seasoned in their workshop for 16 years. I love the fleur-de-lis, but not on a violin, and luckily there isn’t one on mine. I knew there wouldn’t be one on its back, because the original doesn’t have one! It is marvellous that instruments of such quality are still made today, the standard of this one is as fine as any in the great history of violin-making. (I may have inadvertently revealed my bias here.) The geometry and symmetry of the scroll already show the great attention to craftsmanship, its spontaneity and flare can only come from a hand that has great control to cut with such tremendous freedom and boldness. Bravo, Paolo! A modern-day master of the finest quality, Paolo Vettori is certainly not at all dwarfed by the giants in the art of violin-making. I think in a few hundred years from now, Paolo Vettori will be comparable to the great makers such as Antonio Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesù and Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. The real thing today sits in the Chi Mei museum after the foundation acquired it in 1992. The ‘Ole Bull is believed to be the last violin made by Guarneri del Gesù who is reputed to be the greatest violinmaker since Stradivari. It once belonged to the famous Norwegian violinist, ‘Ole Bull (1810-1880). Bull was a highly successful composer also, but as Robert Schumann once wrote, he was famous as one of the greatest violinist of all during his time. Bull was also a skilful luthier (he studied with JB Vuillaume in Paris) and had a great collection of instruments by Amati, da Salo, Guarneri and Stradivari. But, he often performed with his favourite, the Guarneri that would eventually be named after him.

My violin! A copy of 1744 Guarneri Del Gesù ‘Ole Bull’ made by Paolo Vettori
My violin! The sexiest two-piece back I have ever seen.

No bull, isn’t this the most gorgeous instrument ever? This is a fine piece of art. The best investment I have ever made. That anyone can make. What better way to protect the value of our savings than to invest in a work of art that will only grow in value? At the same time, we get to appreciate the magnificent craftsmanship of the luthier! No bull, forget about the bit about Bitcoin above. This is to me, the best form of investment. After all, what are the important features or properties of money? Durability – a fine stringed instrument such as this beauty is durable – people will always want to make beautiful music from a beautiful instrument. Portability -it is portable, as proven by soloists and musicians as they travel with their instruments to all corners of the world performing in concert halls, outdoor venues and recording studios. Such pieces of art are also finite – the wood that is necessary to produce the sound quality that these instruments are famous for become rarer and rarer as the forests disappear. Scarcity is a very important character of money, if not the most important. Above all else, these fine instruments produce the most sonorous tones and in the good hands of a performer, the exquisite sounds will pull heartstrings and make us feel alive. Music that is cathartic can be healing and music that is exciting and happy can change our moods much more positively than money ever can. That’s no bull. I feel I am so lucky and blessed to be given this chance to own one. Thank you, Paolo, from the bottom of my heart. For more information about the Vettori family, visit

My violin! I love it!

6 thoughts on “No Bull, It’s An Ole Bull

  1. Mr. L:
    Wonderful !! It will be up to you to play the violin to get it to resonate and open up. Put some regular daily work! On the bridge with the bow!!
    And yes! A better investment than bitcoin!
    Well done!
    Mr L


  2. A. Cheang:
    Another great piece of work. I fully agree with your friend’s remarks on freebies. He gave you materials to write about. Otw you’d be struggling with writer’s block.


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