British Museum Treasure Hunt

From a diary entry 10th December, 2013: London

One of the joys of international research is that often you get to have quite lengthy email back and forth discussions with the managers charged with gatekeeping collections. Sometimes all the way down in the Antipodes, one doesn’t quite realise just how many gates one must pass in order to be admitted the inner, hallowed sanctum of a reading room.

With such an established institution as the British Museum, this should come as no surprise though. Millions of items dating back through antiquity and beyond are now even more precious than they were to the Georgians who began collecting them (through sometimes less than savoury means – but that’s another story altogether).

The conversation began by email between myself and a staffer of the Prints and Drawings Room, as I was interested in seeing what they might have collected as a background to the famous goldsmith, Peze Pilleau.

It culminated with the directions:

“We are limited to 12 places so I would suggest that you try to get here as close to 10.00 if possible. It is best to come via the North entrance which is at the back of the museum in Montague Place – take the lift to the 4th floor, you will come to a set of double doors leading to our exhibition gallery (Room 90), turn right & behind the Michelangelo cartoon is the entrance to the Print Room -please ring the bell. Please bring some form of ID with you.”

It was enough to make me feel like my visit would resemble an episode of Get Smart.

So the day came. As I was to enter through the back door of the Museum, I thought it best to disembark the Tube at Russell Square, closer than Holborn which is nearer the front of the Museum. Conveniently (not), that had 176 stairs to street level, no options.  Then I went on a 10 minute adventure through a children’s playground and several parks that weren’t Russell Square as I had expected, but in the opposite direction to that intended, making me late for my 10am appointment. But even when I’d got to the back door, there were many more gates to pass through.

Note to self for next time you’re running late: when you find the two Aslan lions lackadaisically sentinel with paws crossed, as if guarding the ark, enter with caution. Do not presume to leave your cloak conveniently just inside the back entrance, because that Cloak Room is for ‘members only’ and you’ll need a member’s card.

Then, use the accessible toilet because it is the only one within a waterbag-walk of where you are at present. Then, know that Room 90 is an active rotating exhibit gallery which will probably have an exhibit entitled ‘Japanese Art of Sex and Pleasure’.

Also, know that the Michelangelo ‘cartoon’ takes up a full tall-door sized wall.  Oh, and you can rattle the door to the Prints and Drawings Room all you like, but unless you press the top doorbell – brass (of course) you will stand there ALL DAY.  Bring a time-piece – the clock in the reading room maybe incorrect as it gets wound only once a week!!

I took the opportunity to go to the shunga exhibition later. It was full-on.  I have never seen (as you’d expect), so many over-sized penises assembled in one place. There was flesh everywhere – nothing left to the imagination.  It seems that the masculine inclination to hyperbole made it onto limited edition Japanese prints too – the features of porn are apparently everlasting. Men’s and women’s genitalia were equally displayed in all their glory – a democracy of erotica. It was quite a revelation and it seemed, considering the number of couples being caught in flagrante delicto through the wide open doors of Room 90, that the gatekeeping might have more appropriately been re-assigned.

Library tragic at the British Library

Diary entry 30th December, 2013: London

On Saturday, I made my debut at the British Library by requesting two books in French that contain details about our Hemer (Mathews) ancestors, the Pilleaus and Pezes from Le Mans.

As I was standing outside at 9.30am in the brisk air with twenty or so others, waiting to be ‘let in’, I wondered “have I just joined the ranks of the library tragic”?

Armed with nothing but our lead pencils, clear plastic bags and locker keys we race into the Rare Books and Music Reading Room to secure our seats. Wanting to be at the front of the line is only slightly less futile than wanting to be first in the queue for a plane trip, those books aren’t going any where fast, and some have been extant for several hundred years.   I suppose some positions might hold better Feng Shui or closer access to requests desk or the microfilm or the photocopier, but it still makes me smile. 

Mrs Dalton-Morgan, Librarian from Hawthorndene Primary School, would be proud of me. At the time when I visited, there was an exhibition showing. Where would we be without our Georgian ancestors? With fewer libraries and other ‘collections’ apparently!

Has a more poised and elegant ballerina has ever been found curating an exhibition … ? Enjoy this window on Georgian life.

I hope to publish an article on one of the notable Georgian ancestors this year – look out for it.

 

The. A. Margot. School. A.

February 4th, 2015 – I keep finding more of the reviews I’ve posted to Facebook – yes this is TWO YEARS OLD now.

OK, so next in the epic list of (good) films … the rag rug grows by the digital minute!

Thanks to everyone who mentioned Mads Mikkelsen. I don’t have a TV, so of course I’m completely oblivious to the presence of this man on screen as psychopath, however I took up people’s recommendations and this is what I’ve been watching. Mads is my new favourite actor – bad luck Johnny Depp!

The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg (2012).
I’m not so sure I could watch Mads in gruesome things, but his portrayal of this character was so moving and believable. As the rating sticker says this film certainly has ‘strong themes’. A school teacher fighting for custody of his son, is accused of the sexual abuse of a young girl. The film is about his struggle to prove his innocence. Top film, if ever so tragic.

A Royal Affair, Nikolaj Arcel (2012).
Shakespeare: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Hamlet (1601). When too much Mads is barely enough! He is so good in this, and this one really tickled my fancy for history of the period and challenges to the grip on power of the church. What an amazing history Denmark has had – Shakespeare was well ahead of his time – 150 odd years or history really does repeat! Beautiful period piece that reminded me of Dangerous Liaisons.

Margot at the Wedding, Noah Baumbach (2007).
I can’t remember why this was recommended, but it paired really well with Jack Black in School of Rock, which apparently I needed to watch because I play the, ‘well, cellooooo’! This film is icky in a proper Noah Baumbach way and was a Nicole Kidman film I didn’t mind (I normally can’t stand her acting – but this role she played extremely well). Margot (Nicole) is annoyingly smug and crazy when she turns up at her sister’s place. Betrothed Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Malcolm (Jack Black) get completely thrown by Margot’s presence and everything that was going to be slowly falls apart. A bit of a strange ending, but there you have it. Thanks again Noah!

School of Rock, Richard Linklater (2003).
What can one say? Hilarious in a pathetic kind of way. Classic Jack Black. From the crowd-surfing into nothing to the Principal chatting up the rock musicians at the end.  I’d seen my “well celloooooo” quote quite early on. The comment rivals “couldn’t you choose a smaller instrument to play” in my experience when introducing myself as a cellist. I wasn’t going to watch the rest, but hey, there was rag rug to finish, and I didn’t feel like watching a subtitled film (takes my eyes off the weaving).

Un homme et une femme: A Man and a Woman, Claude Lelouch (1966)
And a French film with subtitles to finish off. It is quite hard to believe that this film is one year off 50 years old.   What a classic French film. What amazingly well-adjusted boarding school children. What is it about train scenes in France? That’s all. There is not much to say – it’s a French film, I’m in heaven automatically. Apparently Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant re-united for A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later in 1986. Another one for the film list.

The beginning of a ‘Big Year’ at Bool Lagoon

After 25 years driving the picturesque Mount Gambier to Adelaide road, and seeing the familiar brown Bool Lagoon sign just shy of Naracoorte, today I decided to turn off the road and see what it was all about. It was reportedly flush with birds after the past overly-wet six months, so I was hopeful of some good bird watching. Maybe it will be the beginning of my very first Big Year (2011, David Frankel).

As soon as you turn off the main highway, you start to see them.  Smaller break-away flocks flying in formation to and from the lagoon.  I’d borrowed the car from my aunt and uncle – they have a pass for all National Parks in Australia – handy! The CD skipped over to Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending. Not so sure I’ll see so many of them though.

The reserve is set firmly within a farming and wine-growing community, however I was still surprised to see a herd of cattle all over the road, being shepherded by their owner on quad-bike, just as I was going to turn in.

The stone wall announced Bool Lagoon Game Reserve, because yes, birds are still hunted here (although the duck and quail hunts had been restricted by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources during the 2016 season). The announcement was made by Minister Hunter. Ironic.

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All manner of winged creatures greet you as you drive around at tortoise pace. It didn’t really feel right to even get close to the 40km speed limit, so I suspect I’m more a watcher than a twitcher or a chaser. Up close it’s dragonflies. Along the side of the small bitumen road, it is baby magpies, still finding their feet and wings.  Out in the lagoon, it is the black swans with their little broods trailing behind them and up in the air it is the large ibis and geese, writing their hieroglyph messages in formation to all who will watch.

I would like to have walked out across the lagoon on the board walk, but unfortunately it sits in disrepair. This is a bit of a tragedy, when it would be great to get out there amongst it – apparently it has been out of action for some time now.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes down too, as signs warn that the frogs and turtles also cross the roads.

Many of the birds that come to this lagoon are migratory, and boy do they flock together. Robert Lynd said, “In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.” Well,  I stopped at one point where the reeds made a grassed garden in the water and the large magpie geese honking to each other were less seen than heard.  They certainly make a racket. It was gorgeous in its isolation, if not silence. There were thousands of birds to see but I lost count after 10.

It was hardly like the film, I had virtually no competition for my front row seats in the bird hide at Hacks Lagoon, although another couple had arrived just after me, and proceeded to look around at their own pace. They didn’t resemble Owen Wilson or Jack Black one bit.

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I enjoyed my little visit, staying for about an hour, and then it was time for me to fly home to roost.  The day reminded me far more of that other beautiful bird film, Travelling Birds: An Adventure in Flight (2003, Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats). Oh to be able to fly with them like that. Being earth-bound though, I am content to just watch them, rather than count them, and appreciate their aerodynamics, strange habits and weird sounds.

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.” William Blake

Bool Lagoon, Naracoorte, South Australia.
Park fees apply – book online at National Parks South Australia.

The Tale of Genji – the Uji chapters

In the chapters of the book of my life, there are a number of leit motifs – common little elements that appear again and again. Some are musical, some are experiential and others are books. Sometimes all it takes is for one unsuspecting radio program to remind me of one.

It happened again on the 22nd December while listening to the Radio National Summer School program. Zoe Norton Lodge and Mark Sutton went in search of the definition of The Novel, then in pursuit of the earliest example.

The classics were noted, experts consulted, much conjecture ensued and the centuries slowly wound back before the conversation turned to the obscure (to some), The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu.

I have never read the tome, but it has been in my consciousness since 1992, when it began to sit on the shelf of a long-term relationship, beckoning to be read along with Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos and Emily Bronte’s, Wuthering Heights.  The Bronte I got to, but the others not so much.

I continued to fail to understand the significance of the The Tale of Genji but it made its presence felt again when I moved to Sydney in 2006. I couldn’t help but notice, and was fascinated by, a fellow Stanmore station commuter’s familiar brick-like choice each morning. It was the most unlikely work commute book I could imagine – it is around 1,100 pages long. I was always tempted to strike up a conversation about it for this fact alone.

When I visited Japan in 2012 for a Suzuki music conference in Matsumoto and had the opportunity to add on another few days in Kyoto, I was looking for things to see. The little river-side town of Uji caught my attention, not only as the centre of the Japanese green tea universe and its World Heritage-listed shrines and temples, but also because it was the scene of several of the chapters, the last ten to be precise, of The Tale of Genji. There it was again, that book!

According to the travel guides, Uji is also home to a museum dedicated to the story, two monuments on the edge of the river and a discovery trail (I’m ever so fond of a treasure hunt).  So, still having never read the book, I set out to educate myself about this significant story and possibly sample the green tea.

I’d made quite a late start, having dropped in to some other shrines and temples on the way to Uji that morning. I’d caught the train, and I knew I was in the right place given the sign greeting me near the station. Now I just needed to find the start of the trail.

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However, I needed an ice-cream refresh first. When in Uji, do as they do and eat their green tea icecream. After giving myself brain freeze, I found the trail and set off across the Kisen-bashi Bridge to To-no-shima Island, then continued to the other side of the river via the Asagiri-bashi Bridge, following the little brass plates in the pavement.

Just on the other side of the river, there is a monument to the chapters of the book that are set in Uji.  Here the lovers, Ukifune (meaning floating boat – or maybe floats my boat) and Prince Niou-no-Miya, are shown in a boat on the Uji-gawa River. Hikaru Genji has long-since died, but his son Kaoru and the Prince vie for Ukifune’s affections and she eventually jumps into the river to escape. This is clearly 11th century high romantic drama of epic proportions.

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Walking along small shady pathways past more shrines and temples, away from the main food and commerce area of the town, in time you arrive at the The Tale of Genji Museum. It provides a multi-media experience of the story and the “glamourous world of the Heian imperial dynasty”. It also has a great Japanese cafeteria and gift shop all housed in a  modern building, set in well manicured Zen-like gardens. Throughout the complex, every opportunity is made to reference the story, from the lunch trays to the lamps. The quality of the museum equals the apparent reputation of the book which Royall Tyler (interviewed on the program and one of the many translators of the book) described as a being a ‘flagship’ or ’emblem’ in Japanese literature.

Arcing back around into the town, you re-cross the river again via the Uji-bashi Bridge and a monument to the author, Murasaki Shikibu. Until I went to Japan, despite bumping into it a number of times, I never realised that ‘the first novel’ was written by a woman.

Murasaki was a born into a previously aristocratic family, and descended from a family line of notable poets. She wrote a diary, a volume of poetry and The Tale of Genji while a noblewoman in Kyoto.

Uji has a beautiful name and during sakura (cherry blossom) season, its vistas certainly match it. From the overgrown, bonsai-shaped trees to the narrow streets lined with gift-shops, tea houses and restaurants, there is plenty to see here, and it could easily fill two days or a lazy three days in your Japanese itinerary.  I felt a little rushed and it was hot in the afternoon, so I’d recommend wandering the trail early and taking in the shrines and temples in the afternoon. Whilst the area is quite traditional looking, it was still hard to imagine what this place may have been to the courtly writer or her protagonist.

In the late afternoon, I availed myself of a sweet ginger drink – a kind of ‘still’ ginger beer which was beautifully refreshing. I had a brief shop in a gift-shop where I bought the most exquisite threaded earrings (that’s a blast from the past – I wonder if that craze swept 80s Japan too) and in the evening, went back to a little restaurant in the middle of the ‘suburb’, surrounded by houses. I was early for dinner and I sat at the bar watching the chef assemble my little tray of delights. The food (as most is in Japan) was perfectly presented and of elegant sufficiency.

It is interesting to note that my latest little bump into the The Tale of Genji just confirmed what Royall Tyler said of it – “The Tale of Genji is more discussed, than read”. While I was listening to the radio conversation unfolding, I thought to myself, I wonder when it will next make its way into my life!

Uji is 20-30 minutes (depending on which train you take) from Kyoto on the JR Nara line. Cherry blossom season is around the first week of April in Kyoto – but check the internet for the forecast for each year.

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ON AIR: 40 years of 3RRR

Last year I took the unprecedented step of subscribing to not one, but two local community radio stations, RRR 102.7FM and PBS 106.7FM.  I kind of got sucked into their subscribe-a-thons because they do such a great job with them, but I also figured I do listen to them when I’m driving around in a GoGet car, and certainly get my money’s worth. What is  great about listening is the absence of whiny and insistent ads for things you neither think about nor want to buy.

Public and independent radio has for a long time been my much-loved medium for information, thoughtful comment and music (my other favourites are of course ABC Classic FM and ABC Radio National). I sometimes engage deeply when I am listening to broadcasts, and I blogged about one such experience in Skirting the Doldrums. Listening to radio sends me on philosophical tangents, takes me delving into filing cabinets worth of memories and often makes me laugh or cry. In the form of independent radio, it can bring a diversity of sounds and opinions that is so sadly lacking from mainstream media.

As part of Melbourne Rare Book week in 2016, I was lucky enough to take a guided tour of the hallowed conservator’s room in the State Library of Victoria where we were shown some large posters that were being prepared for the upcoming RRR exhibit to mark their 40 year anniversary,  ON AIR: 40 years of 3RRR. Being newish to Melbourne, it was not until I wandered into the State Library of Victoria just before Christmas that I saw the manifestation of the strong and vibrant grassroots movement I’d joined. The space set aside in the Keith Murdoch gallery of the State Library of Victoria forms a fitting tribute to the hours of audio, hundreds of volunteers, social and musical history of Melbourne community radio.

It is an interesting challenge to showcase the history of audio and musical culture in a building housing a collection devoted to books but it is successful in its multi-media approach. Ranging from letters to the station, posters and other ephemera to a collection of audio devices found in the station and prepared video interviews with station stalwarts, this display was a walk down memory lane for a child of the 1970s whose musical experience spans exactly the same era. I’m sure for music lovers who have resided in Melbourne during the last 40 years, this exhibition would re-kindle many memories. The display also speaks to the symbiotic relationship between the station and the local/national alternative music culture and industry.

The value of RRR is in the alternative voice it brings to Melbourne’s cultural mix. The fact that it has lived and grown to a community of over 12,000 people in the 40 years is a testament to the need for it and it has now taken on a life of its own, “It’s there as an alternative to the mainstream. It’s a bit like a footy team – committee men (sic) come and go, players come and go, but the fans and the colours stay the same” Leaping Larry L, 2004.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit. It is a free exhibition and its showing has been extended until 26th February, 2017 at the State Library of Victoria.

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Colourful architecture, French clocks and cricket balls.

Postcard from Christmas 2013

Until today, for me, portobello was a type of mushroom. Now I’ve had a Notting Hill experience (who was it that suggested it to me? Thanks btw), it will henceforth also mean colourful architecture, French clocks and cricket balls.

I started with a late breakfast at Jamie’s Recipease (a complete surprise I happened across after alighting from the #28 red double decker bus but not the same without my friend Jo W, [and after Googling, I realise closed just recently]). I got to write my journal upstairs at the East-facing, full length, sunny window bench whilst six keen adherents whisked furiously behind me at Jamie’s cooking class sans my friends Joanne R and Janelle (who would’ve loved it). 

Despite the sign for the Robert Redford film showing across the road at the Gate Cinemaall was not lost when I finally decided to venture back outside into the cool air wondering where all the crowds were heading. I followed, and found Portobello Road.

I’m glad to be here in winter – it would be even more of a human traffic jam if the road was fully packed with stalls, as I’m sure it is in summer.  I passed the showy counterfeit watches at the road stalls and shimmied into the second-hand shops in 6th-hand buildings, only to find real French clocks, silver-topped walking canes and cricket balls. I could even have purchased Banksy reproduction, if I’d been inclined.

I had a rustic Italian ‘dinner’ at 3.30pm consisting of artichoke risotto accompanied by prosecco then biscotti with espresso chaser at Osteria Basilico. This delightful corner ristorante was still decked out with its red Christmas decorations and snow covered fir tree branches in the window. It looked so inviting, how could I resist? Such a lovely accompaniment to the crisp weather.

No photos – you’ll just have to imagine.

Featured image by John Eckman, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons license Portobello Road, W11, London