Chronology of story-telling: Fencer, Arrival, Rosalie and La La Land

Christmas 2016

It must be the holiday season. I’ve seen four films in the last couple of weeks. It seems the themes are the extensive use of flashbacks/chronology as a technique and the contrast of masculine and feminine energy and intent.

Rosalie Blum, Julien Rappeneau (2015)

I think I see French films because I keep needing things to remind me of or pull me towards France.  I love finding the familiar in French films. In Midnight in Paris, I smiled realising I’d eaten in the Polidor restaurant and in the Scarlet Pimpernel the vision of Mont Saint Michel sent a tentacle in the 1980s that only pulled me to visit 30 years later.

In Rosalie Blum, the setting seemed familiar and was confirmed by the tiny red and white balisage on the tree outside Rosalie’s house. I was dragged back to the landscape of my first Camino outing on the Vezelay Route. The bridges of Charite-sur-Loire and Nevers brought back those familiar French tourist feelings. Familiar also was the Nakshi Katha tapestry in the young woman’s bedroom – but this took me back to Bangladesh.

This film deals with family issues – mothers and absent fathers. They’re complicated, and they are a problem that doesn’t get solved.  I’m not going to say a thing about the plot, because it unfolds perfectly and if you know anything about it, the effect will be spoilt. What I can say is that like many films I’ve seen from this part of the world, there is a delightful interplay between generations and a cheeky, tricky little mystery that slowly gets explained. The wonderful charm of a French film, unravelling and revealling itself slowly, leaves ends that are not neatly tied.  This is life isn’t it! And the French get it.

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve (2016)

This clever film in the ilk of the Alien series, deals with the shock and terror of visitors from outer space and the global response to them.  Playing extensively with chronology in plot and setting, this film brought to focus the differing energies that can be brought to bear on common problems.  The ‘macho shoot-em up’ leading to crisis, while the patient and curious feminine communicating/reasoning towards understanding.  Ultimately it lays bare the only way forward for the human race: together.  Too much more explanation would give the film away. Great performances from Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. This one’s well worth seeing.

The Fencer, Klaus Härö (2015)

Fencing has always held some mystique for me.  This was expertly developed in Arturo Perez Reverte’s, The Fencing Master, and it has been beautifully showcased in The Fencer. In line with the chronology theme of these movies, the history of the main character unfolds in this film and along with it touches on the uneasiness of hiding and the need to find purpose in the limbo of hiding out. The realities are brutal in this small community where a teacher, finding everything being stacked against him, one item of sporting equipment at a time, uses his one enduring skill to engage with the young girls and boys of the school.  The dull but total threat of a totalitarian regime on a small communities that want the best for their children becomes clearer as the fencer gallantly provides the ultimate opportunity for his young but devoted pupils.  It is a beautiful, yet sparse film which despite the frosty setting, is imbued with great warmth and depth of character of the fencer, his students and their parents. Not lost on me was the juxtaposition of the nimble-footed chivalry of fencing with the lead-weighted power play of post WWII Europe.

La La Land, Damien Chazelle (2016)

A romantic, modern day equivalent of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie – casting Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to tell the age-old story of falling in love and following your passion.  Surprisingly, it was a musical, something I hadn’t realised before the first song, and as it often does with surprise musicals, I was a little taken aback. I should’ve known with the opening credits taking place with a massed highway (carpark) scene with hundreds of dancers.

With allusions to a Hollywood film of yester-year, with modest dress and good manners, it kept with the storyline of an actress struggling with resilience in the face of rejection and a traditionalist-jazz musician not wanting to let jazz die. Not surprisingly, it didn’t reach the Astaire/Rogers heights.

With a tinge of Sliding Doors, and once again messing with chronology, this musical film proved a spectacle which defies categorising. After John Legend appeared, I wondered if he’d written the score, but no.

It is a feel-good film (ie. take it or leave it) about the importance of never giving up on your dream, but also the reassuring support that your champions give you while you’re still aspiring.  It reminded me of the quote “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and will sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” C.S. Lewis

 

84 Charing Cross Road – Melbourne Rare Book Week approaches

84 Charing Cross Road, David Jones (1987)

Going back in time, this classic, multi-BAFTA award-winning film, based on a true story, reminds us that sending parcels half way around the globe was not invented by the age of online-shopping. It is about loving old books and the people who sell and collect them.

Being unable to find rare and collectible books in New York, a sassy Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft), writes letters all the way to Marks & Co bookshop in London where Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins) and his fellow staff work.  Their correspondence ranges widely about books but also progresses to gifts for the manager and his colleagues.  Not only are the great and rare gems of literature noted and discussed, but the story takes one through the realities of post-WW2 London where food such as eggs were rarer than old books. Judy Dench makes brief appearances as Frank’s wife, Nora. In a poignant twist, despite communicating from 1949 – 1976, the book lovers never met, Helene only visiting the closed shop in 1971. And what is a classic film without classical music?  Rach 2 and Handel’s Messiah provide a fitting background. This is the total package.

This is a fitting review to introduce Melbourne’s Rare Book Week. I went along to several sessions in 2016, and can highly recommend it. The week culminates in the ANZAAB Melbourne Rare Book Fair, now in its sixth year.  If you enjoy walking amongst limited edition prints, leather bound books and antiquities of the paper variety, you’ll be in book-nerd heaven here. And its ALL FREE!

Melbourne Rare Book Week 30th June – 9th July PROGRAM

45th ANZAAB Australian Antiquarian Book Fair (Melbourne Rare Book Fair) – 7th – 9th July at University of Melbourne’s Wilson Hall.

Gentle dreams and sacred things … tribute to Michael White 2008

May, 2008

Yesterday I took a very fast train between Basel and Den Haag.  I would like to share with you what came to me on that journey …

I am taking a very fast train from Basel to Den Haag to pursue my cello dreams.  I closed my eyes listening to Kate Bush singing Big Stripey Lie from her Red Shoes album.  Some words jumped out at me,

”your name is being called by sacred things that are not addressed or listened to, sometimes they blow trumpets”

and my thoughts wandered to the voices in our lives – the useful ones and the disturbing ones. Then to people who have difficulty with the voices that disturb their thoughts and that have a grip they can’t seem to break.  I think of the voice in my life that affirms me.  I thought about Michael’s work. (I had the privilege, even pleasure, of sharing a 5 day intensive with Michael White in November, 2007).

I contemplated my life and the other voices that have affirmed me and was taken back to the discussion we had on Imaginary Friends.  The topic in the course facscinated me. I remember Michael asking who had Imaginary Friends and many of us put up our hands.  I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of Imaginary Friends have been marginalised in our society. Their usefulness is suspect, their role possibly destabilising and existance certainly questionable.

I thought of my Imaginary Friends, Peter, Paul and yes, Porgets who I used to greet at the front door and invite inside to play with me when I was a child.  I wondered what role they were playing?  I like to think they were urging me to keep my light alive, to trust myself, to be confident in myself, to believe that I am worth it.

I have read the contributions of all of you who have generously shared your sadness, musings, wistful yearnings and at times anger about the sad news of Michael’s death.  I haven’t had anything to say until now.  But I must share this, because his voice rekindled my flagging spirit and encouraged me to never accept when the still, small voice of hope, joy and love is not addressed or listened to.

As I write this, the tears are streaming with the words and these are finally tears for Michael – the first after a month.  This seems like slow-acting grief.  But the ache that the loss of such a committed human being, carer and activist, is deep.  As I depart Bonn, I know that I will be bonny again and I know that he would be touched that it was a song with poignant words that brought his memory and meaning to me in my life, back to life.  I re-listened to Kate’s song so I could write down the words, and more jumped out at me

 “all young, gentle dreams drowning in life’s grief, can you hang on to me?”

I honour my young gentle dreams and I hang on to them tightly.  As the grip gets stronger, the confidence to follow them gets stronger too. These words, by Kate Bush, great wordsmith, remind me of the wistfulness and curiosity that were rekindled in me during the course, and that Michael had this amazing way of looking at things, with a gentle curiosity, almost amusement.

Quotations provide such a great inspiration to me, and two of my favourite come to mind:

“Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.  Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light”.  Albert Schweitzer

and

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born”. Anaïs Nin

I believe that Michael was saying, and is still saying, let us all nuture gentle dreams and sacred things in our own lives and in the lives of others.

With deepest thanks Michael, for your example, your encouragement, and your patience.

Greetings to you all from Den Haag, let us keep Michael’s voice alive in our activities and relationships – work and personal.

Love.

Click go the shears – February 2017

Staying at Naracoorte for a three week holiday earlier this year, I took the opportunity to go and visit my cousin, Graham, who now runs the farm at which I spent many of my childhood holidays. Not much has changed, except the pine trees out front are taller.

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Out the back, over the hill, with large gums standing looking on silently from the wheat-coloured paddocks, I drive up to the shearing shed. It has been raining all morning, but it is a January kind of warm and muggy.  I hear the radio first, AC/DC Highway to Hell, then smell the sheep and climb the aging ladder up to the nerve centre.

It is 8:30am and they’ve already been at it for an hour. The thick oily-urea smell of sheep gets in my nostrils and before I know it I’m wiping my nose with the irritation.

Two shearers, Hayden and Corey, repleat with double-layered dungarees and quick-grip moccasins are bent nearly double (partially supported by a padded and sprung shackle which hangs from above) holding the sometimes un-cooperative sheep still, while they remove last year’s coat. The shears, no longer the clicking variety, make a mechanised shrill buzzing sound, glide through the wool, separating it instantly from the sheep, leaving a discarded pile on the floorboards. The number of fleeces is clocked on a small silver counter and they earn $2.94 each one (double for a ram).

To the uninitiated, it is a pile of wool. To the roustabout, Mykia, jetting around the floor in her tennis socks, the pile contains many distinct possibilities. The rectangular section of belly wool is separated, the cruddy bits discarded and a sample is taken (from a spot originally found close to the ribs of the sheep). Then with an action akin to collecting up bedsheets you’re taking to the wash, it is swept up into a big heap to be weighed.

“6.4!”  Kilograms that is, the weight of one fleece.

The figures are being carefully recorded and matched with numbered ear tags to assist with selecting the strongest potential breeders for the following year.  This pile of wool is then flung across the wool table – a waist high collection of spanned metal rods that let the dags drop through to be efficiently swept up with a flat plastic-swivel-headed broom, known as a sweep.  It is like magic to see how the fleece expands and contracts like a rubberband and when it lands, moving as one entity.

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Now the edges, the parts that come from the legs and tail, get separated and thrown over onto separate piles, to keep the quality of the wool high. The wool classer, Ron, similarly gathers the fleece into a loose pile to pluck a strand which he then flicks – the closest thing to clicks you hear in a shearing shed these days.  If it fails the test, the wool is classed as tender, and the fleece joins a small pile (around 3% in this shed) of wool which is not so strong – where the sheep may have suffered stress during the year. Then the pile of wool joins the 180-204 kilograms of other fleeces in the baling machine, where it gets compressed under pressure.

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Behind the red metal swing gates, Matthew, pen-er-upperer (I think that’s a word) and his red dog, Rusty, continue to herd the flock closer to their disrobement.  The rams wait patiently in separate corrales, they will get their turn at the end. Graham takes a turn at shearing, but assures me his skill is in taking care of the sheep rather than getting the wool off. To my untrained eyes, he looks enough like a pro.

Graham’s is a fairly small concern, however Ron, a veteran in the district, speaks highly of it’s quality.  He’ll get a good price for the wool at sale, but not so much this year for the quality, but more due to the high market value; such is the seemingly arbitrary nature of the commodity market.

Over smoko, the shearing shed gossip of shearers coming and going, travel stories and local personalities continue while Lizzy the kelpie surveys the shed.  I joked later that I only managed to shear 60 sheep, but actually I am in awe of the physical endurance required to do this work. Click go the shears, seems such an upbeat ditty to describe such a back-breaking vocation.

Subterranean track-work blues and the Sunday Walk

For the past several weekends, by some twist of fate, the quest for gainful employment has resulted in me traipsing the near East of Melbourne city in a combination of train, tram and foot. There has not been one day so far where some part of my journey has not been disrupted. Track work to Victoria Parade trams one week, Clifton Hill trains the next, my frustration at not being able to plan a solid route and arrival time for my weekend work days has been getting me down, and anxious. At the same time, I have started dreaming again of another long walk in France. Little did I know that the conflicting ideas of work and play were to blend into the best idea I’ve had in a long time.

Walk to work!

Excitedly on Saturday night, my walking pants were a snug fit, and I slipped my feet into the most comfortable hiking boots I’ve ever owned. Walking the 8 kilometres to work was an option. Make a day of it. Pretend you’re walking in France.

Why not?

The way is direct, and follows my train route for part of the way, and tram routes for the rest, so I could always hop a wheeled mobile if I needed to, but I can try the freedom of the legs instead.

6:00am and my alarm beckons … I arose with the anticipation of a path not yet travelled. Morning pages until 7:00am, and then shower. Breakfast and a 7:55am departure. I have to be at work by 9:30am.

Leaving Northcote station, brisk but not biting. Up Hartington, and the bells of the convent were ringing out. Past old Greek ladies dressed in black arriving in cars, and by foot – slightly more funereal yet just as smart as weekday CBD-suited women. Down my little cut-through to Merri train station, with fig-tree aromas, refreshed bollard graffiti critical of a certain catholic cardinal and in the distance two balloons – probably hovering over my destination.

Past plate-sized red camellias plopped face-up in my path on Bridge St then onto High St, Westgarth, the bakery already filling up, including my go-to listening professional. On towards the Merri Creek, over the bridge, watching the water below, now subsided from the rains several weeks ago leaving large river stones exposed. The traffic: only slight, but in Hoddle St, pungent already. Past the beautiful yellow leafed trees, vestiges of autumn, letting them go in the Clifton Hill park. On over the freeway past a paddy-van and two policemen in a standoff with a leftover from Saturday night’s partying.

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Left into Johnstone Street, on familiar turf, not taking my path to 3MBS, but turning right onto Nicholson St. Great café to check out sometime – Admiral Cheng-Ho, perhaps a foretaste of the suburb I would walk through next. Casting eyes left, another convent spire punctures the fog in the distance to the east. The road ahead, narrow for a main one, flanked with car-parking bays and, it would become apparent, coffee shops a plenty. Mavis the Grocer across the road, Three Bags Full, and the colossal Mihn Phat Asian Supermarket led me to Victoria St.

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Crossing to leave Nicholson and become Lennox, I was in housing commission country. Three locals loudly arguing the toss about something providing a kind of welcome committee. The characteristic, now tired high-rises a symbol of bureaucratic treatment of poverty and ever-growing neglect, fortunate only that they are not in the northern hemisphere this week. Despite this, a community veggie garden smiles at me. I say a silent prayer for their English counterparts, 58 presumed dead in the Grenfell Tower disaster. A figure no terrorist could match. We have our eyes on the wrong enemy.

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A beautifully muralled Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association, past the All Nations Hotel and Richmond West Primary School. This has been suburban Australia since the 70s. Continuing along Lennox St, I am grateful to have found a long street that may take me all the way to my Cremorne destination. Off the main drag I pass street cats and locals walking their dogs past Edwardian woven-wire fencing (something I thought was peculiarly Adelaidian, but has obviously migrated east). I start to wonder about how my time is going, whether I’ll make it as I climb the hill up past the back of Epworth Hospital to Bridge Rd. On the other side, as I gather speed on the downhill, I check my time, and have plenty.

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I am delighted to find several Art Deco apartment blocks that overlook the city skyline ripe for my future prospects for rooms with views in my favourite era of habitat. I hit Swan St next to Mahalo Poke and try to venture further East, but not so far to hit Church Street yet. I want to approach my building from the back streets if possible. The next through-street, Green, is bedecked by the most detailed and spectacular mural.

By miracle, just shy of the East Richmond train station, there is an underpass. Here is the cut-through I desire. Walking south, atop the subterranean Burnley Tunnel, the landscape again changes, this time to industrial. Just shy of the Yarra, I spy the old Cremorne sub-station, and aptly named Electric Street delivers me to my office.

9:22 am. I’m early. Maybe I can walk home too.

How long would your walk to work be?

 

 

 

 

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The Artist’s Way in May – Merri Creek Studio

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, is an international best-seller that contains “a course in discovering and recovering your creative self.”

I have been working with Julia Cameron’s wonderful books for five years now, and continue to write morning pages as she recommends, each morning.  The practice of writing three long-hand pages every morning, first thing, is a great gift. I’m lucky, as I have rarely found that I don’t want to do them, more that just sometimes it is hard to make time (they have been known to get done at 10pm at night on occasion).  It is revealing, healing, enlightening, moderating, assuring and it has brought to light so many ideas, directions, pieces of advice and comfort that I couldn’t even begin to count them.  I love sharing how successful they’ve been for me, and have decided to start hosting/facilitating sessions for others to find out how useful The Artist’s Way is.

There is a beautiful little shop in the next suburb that I fell in love with the first time I walked past it.  (It has always been a dream of mine to own a shop with a dwelling behind/above it and I’m always looking out for them).  When I was thinking about running these workshops, I thought it would be a perfect venue. It is intimate, yet spacious, it is a print-maker’s studio and it has the most awesome north/eastern facing windows.  So I plucked up the courage to contact the print-maker who has encouraged me with my ideas.  The result is The Artist’s Way in May.

This 6 week workshop series offers you the space to work through weekly activities contained in The Artist’s Way in a supportive small group setting. It covers the first half of the book as a form of discovery. This course will help you to listen to your inner voice and discover your talents whether your medium be writing, painting or singing (or something else you are yet to discover). The emphasis of the course is to feel safe while exploring your path to creativity.

Each workshop will last for around 2 1/2 hours with tea/coffee and morning tea provided (please advise any dietary requests by email).

Let the north/east facing windows and the arty interior of the gorgeous Merri Creek Studio light your creative fire in Artist’s Way in May.

Bookings HERE

Contact me for more information HERE

I have written about Julia Cameron in other places, The Creativity Commitment and Solvitur Ambulando, and mention writing the Morning Pages all through my Via Tolosana 800km walk through France.

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 to 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 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.