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

Lorikeet Loop Walk, Belair National Park

There is nothing like a walk in the Australian bush at Christmas time to bring to mind the fanciful nature of the rituals we cling to.  Mention of Rudolf, sleigh bells and decorated fir trees conjures images from literally half a world away from the reality that is any one of our many Australian landscapes.  Australians have the uncanny ability to celebrate one thing, when observing in nature the complete opposite.

I have lived the European Christmas once. This week presented a sad reminder of it. I was at once enchanted and flabbergasted by the stark truth of celebrating the season depicted on our cards, carols and gift wraps, while rugged up to visit two German Christmas markets. Drinking mulled wine from little purpose-made cups, wandering between countless stalls full of handmade Christmas decorations and foods, the wafting smells of hot pretzels and sugar were perfect for the chilly weather of the northern hemisphere. It was not incongruous with our Christmas culture, just our Christmas place.

I returned to my home town of Adelaide this week to be with family and friends, and took the opportunity to walk each morning in the Belair National Park, literally down the hill from where I was born, in the dene where I grew up.  Sunday School picnics, primary school excursions and Corroborees (probably well-meaning yet insensitively-named back in the 1970s, with no mention of the traditional Kaurna owners) and later friend’s weddings at Old Government House have etched this landscape into long-term memory and imprinted familiar sensations.  My grandfather’s patient volunteering eradicating bone seed make this place the closest I have to a place of my ancestors, for a South-Australian of European extraction.

This magnetic park draws me each time I return home and I’ve become very familiar with the lovely 40 minute Lorikeet Loop Walk (and sometimes Valley Loop Hike extension to get the walk to over an hour).  In this week, there has been a gradual build up to the hottest Christmas day for 70-odd years for Adelaide, but despite the already warm mornings, the walks were shaded and not yet uncomfortably hot.

It is a testament to the hard work of the rangers (Harry Butler-types you sometimes see passing in their utes) that the wildlife is flourishing in the park.  The Belair Recreation Park of my childhood in 1970s was a very different place. Tall, abundantly leafy, introduced trees casting their cool, solid shade widely between well-tended ovals skirted by painted corrugated-iron huts evoking the deep green of Europe. Today, due to diligent work of volunteers also, this park contains many stands of the subtle coloured eucalypt grasslands now rare in the rest of the Adelaide Hills and plains, but the perfect and necessary environment for kangaroos, emus, koalas, bright pink and grey galahs, yellows of sulphur-crested cockatoos, bright blue of the Superior blue wrens, wood-ducks, magpies, kookaburras and crows – all of whom made their presence felt as I walked my daily circuit.

It felt like an Australian rendition of a partridge in a pear tree some mornings or rather a koala in a gum tree as I walked these beautiful tracks, collecting the list of wildlife that joined me.  But true to the experience, the perfect song accompaniment for this bush Christmas is not Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer or the Twelve Days of Christmas, but William Garnet James and John Wheeler’s more apt, Carol of the Birds:

Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Down where the tree ferns grow by the river
There where the waters sparkle and quiver
Deep in the gullies bell-birds are chiming
Softly and sweetly their lyric notes rhyming
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Friar birds sip the nectar of flowers
Currawongs chant in the wattle tree bowers
In the blue ranges lorikeets calling
Carols of bushbirds rising and falling
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Greetings of the season to you!

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Beyond Borders in Blois

A child of the city of churches, I grew up visiting Adelaide’s pre-eminent ‘Sunnyside Mall’ at first with my mother in our school holiday Myer excursions, then later of my own volition.

I remember the buzz and excitement (from some) when the multinational Borders Bookstore graced the Rundle Mall with its presence. Riding the tidal wave of coffee popularity, the business traded on the promise of being able to browse books whilst sipping on coffee, which, amongst other things, for some years made it a successful business. Its enormity for Adelaide could be measured by the fact that this bookshop had several levels and internal escalators. Up until then only large, long established retailers boasted this. Then ebooks and the internet seemed to make it impossible for such behemoth businesses to continue and as soon as it came, it was bought up by bigger (or more secure fish), then eventually disappeared.

When I say some were excited, I like to excuse myself, because I’m cynical about the perfect storm of a US multinational in a small local market with many rival booksellers, and I worried for the future of the small bookstores in Adelaide.

So you can imagine the pure joy, when on my 2013 trip to Blois, France, while pursuing the long line of my Chartier ancestors,  I happened across the answer to the coffee/book browsing dilemma in the form of Liber.Thés, a clever, quintessentially French, play on words for a librairie/salon de thé (bookstore/tea salon).

The less intrepid tourist might not find this little gem, sited on the rive gauche (left bank) of the Loire, and away from the popular attractions like the Royal Château de Blois and for me the Archives départementales de la Sarthe.  But once on the other side, it is difficult to walk past it, as the atmosphere is both bookish and artistic – an altogether bohémien little nook. In weighing up whether to go in, I was reassured by 1. lots of customers, 2. lots of books and 3. a très cool look.

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I was searching for a feed, but I took the opportunity to search the shelves as well, and providently found a book which mentioned my ancestor’s name. (I had been shown this book earlier at the Château Royal de Blois when speaking to their collections manager about my ancestor).  It was a limited edition book, 16/155 – Deville, Les Horologers Blésois – a bargain (not), at €180. There are many other second-hand treasures here.

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I seated myself in the the room with all the books, and took the opportunity to have a flip through the large volume. I was accompanied by the industrious bibliophile/barista who whipped up gorgeous pumpkin soup with croutons and a salmon and avocado tartine.

Are two martinis too much? Well, I had them too – not usually a martini drinker, but then also not usually in Blois! Abstract art covers the walls, a very french mosaic the floor and the bar is covered with a mosaic even Giulio Cesare (the reputed founder of Blois in 100-44BC) would be proud of.

If I was ever interested in the multinational bookshop, I’m certainly beyond Borders now, and much happier sitting in a local icon, catering to antiquarian book-hunters and which will most likely be here forever.

 

liber.thes@free.fr – 21 avenue du Président Wilson 41100 Blois 0254781478

Adelaide Writers’ Week 2016

I know it is probably sacrilegious, but I almost like listening to writers talk about their books more than reading them.  Am I just strange, or is there some powerful chemistry going on when a story-teller re-tells their story interwoven with their personal lived experience?

In late February, early March, 2016 I spent a gorgeous ten days in my home town, Adelaide, attending one of the pre-eminent (so I’ve heard, as I haven’t attended any others) writers’ weeks in the world.  There is a sense of pure indulgence, sitting under those beautiful trees, listening to very wise and patient human beings, speak about the books they have birthed in recent times, and not-so-recent times.  It is a profound experience which I might yet be processing for a couple more weeks, if not months, now I’m back in my Melbourne stomping ground.

There are many facets that make up the diamond of Adelaide Writer’s Week, an integral part of the Adelaide Festival program, begun all those decades ago during the time of Don Dunstan.

As I was reminded by a number of people I sat with in the audience, it is one of the only free events in the world.  The ability to be able to flexibly drift between the tents of speakers, without having had to have decided on who you want to hear, and booked, and paid ahead, is absolutely unique.

So too, I think, is the Adelaide audience’s capacity to engage deeply with writers, and the process of writing. This ability is matched by their propensity to look out for one another, and connect with complete strangers over books and ideas.  I had lovely conversations about trees and travel, publishing and patriarchy in the warm embrace of an Adelaide summer.

Another aspect is how finely curated the program is, flipping between paired authors talking on themes and solo authors more closely with their work and lives under the spotlight, the directors skills at being able to anticipate and even create, thought-provoking combinations of writers and interviewers is simply poetry in motion.

To wander through the list of books I read each year, is to chart a course through ideas and themes that I myself deal with in my life. There seems to be a happy convergence of those themes, perhaps because that is the way of things – after all we see what we want to see.

I thought I might recount some of the ideas/issues I have been grappling with or that struck me when listening to the wonderful insights these authors shared.  The wonderful part for me, is that one cuts out one’s own pattern from a shared experience. A bit like a snowflake cut-out exercise. Even though I shared this experience with thousands of others, my resulting snowflake of ideas, characters and experience from the six days on the grass will be unique – just like everyone else’s.

I must declare my leanings. I’m interested in writing historical fiction in colonial settings, fascinated by biography and French culture so I chose to visit the places where this would be discussed. As you will see from this blog, I am also exploring the concept of travelling and the journey of the soul, so this was another theme I looked out for in the offerings.

Day 1:

A place called winter. Patrick Gale has a beautiful voice and an eloquent way of putting things.  I connected with his exploration of where fault-lines start in the patterns that are carried through generations and digging for the reasons why things come to be. As happened a number of times his talk was punctuated by the noisy flock of galahs that were the other resident artists for the week. He spoke of the myth and reality of the new colonies. The romanticised ‘new frontier’ and ideas of empire being sold as a lie.  As with many authors, there was a deep acknowledgement of the displacement of indigenous people and I found much food for thought about how we write ‘the other’ in story. From a technical viewpoint, his description of writing drafts of the story first by chronology, then re-ordering, then from the reader’s perspective, to be really helpful.

One Life. Kate Grenville raised an issue I have thought about for a while now.  Once you hear a story,  whose story is it? What rights does another have over it?  In her discussion of her previous work, The Secret River, Kate was emphatic that there is a line to be drawn about what stories we are ‘entitled’ to tell.  The discussion ranged widely through creativity, choice, women’s lives and loneliness, but a pretty strong theme came across, that ‘ordinary stories’ have just as much right to be heard as ‘heroic’ ones.

Legacy. The conversation between Magda Szubanski and Leah Kaminsky about the legacy of war in their families and their writing was rivetting.  In my experience of the stories told by my family, I related to the way they identified war traumas transferred down through generations.  This seemed to be compounded by the experience of being second generation Australians. Magda summarised her experience of her father’s trauma and the way that it effected her, “He was the gong that was struck and I’m the one stuck in the reverberation”.  There was a sense of helplessness in this idea, which Magda acknowledged and it is fascinating to me that while these traumas can have such an impact on people’s lives, they achieve greatly, whether in spite of it or because of it who could tell. Another aspect of this that seemed to be present for both writers was that there is a magnetism to telling this story, the drama of it. What is the place within us that resonates with the trauma and tragedy of war?

A Golden Age.  Whereas I felt quite personally involved in the other sessions of the day, for this session, I felt like a spectator.  I was absolutely fascinated by the characters holding the stage and felt that their stories and the story of their interplay on this stage would actually be far more fascinating that those of their chosen heroines. Laura Thompson has written about the Mitford sisters and Robert Wainwright about Rose Porteous, both stories, that of privilege and the world of the movers and shakers. It seemed a long way from my seat.  It also seemed somehow titillating to be talking about these women, in a way akin to a Woman’s Day expose.  I haven’t read either book, so I can’t comment on the angle that these writers were taking, however it always interests me what draws people to write about certain characters, or in fact whether stories choose their author.

Keating. The afternoon sun was beginning its westerly escape as a huge crowd assembled to listen to a commentary by arguably two of Australia’s most significant journalists about one of Australia’s most significant Prime Ministers, Paul Keating.  The place was packed to the rafters to hear Kerry O’Brien taking the interviewee seat to Laura Tingle and they didn’t disappoint. The session could have easily spilled well into the evening, as Kerry loves talking about this topic and it was so interesting to his side of the Keating TV series. The ideas that stayed with me were that Keating had curiosity, imagination and was a warrior, but Kerry also pointed out whilst these things clearly had him ahead of the pack, Keating despised the idea of being “too far ahead of the mob”.  This period in Australian political history will always hold a special significance for me as I was just starting out in my first job, and at that stage lapped up most things political.  Now, not so much, but it was great to hear the period retold so skilfully.

Plain speaking Jane.  I’m glad that Richard Dawkins couldn’t attend because when he was still on the list, I had decided (despite wanting to see Jane Caro more) that I should go and see what this man was on about.  “There are no right ways to be a woman, only wrong ways, so be as wrong as you like”.  It came in the first few minutes, but really it is Jane’s mantra.  I ended the day, quite convinced that the value to me of Writer’s Week, is in the writers, not just their books.  Jane reminds us that we needn’t apologise for being different any longer.

Day 2:

A Marriage. Lauren Groff and Virginia Reeves had a lovely discussion dove-tailing the stories of their respective books, looking at the theme of marriage. Is marriage possible? Is it desirable?  Is silence malignant or benign? All big questions.  The work of Gillian Rose was mentioned and quoted –  “In personal life, regardless of any covenant, one party may initiate a fundamental change in the terms of relating without renegotiating them, and further, refusing even to acknowledge the change . . . There is no democracy in any love relation: only mercy.” Love’s Work.

Traveller’s Tails. For a traveller, this session was appealling, and Fran Bryson and Beth Yahp explored faraway places but not surprisingly questioned where is home?  Does travel enable in the traveller, an exploration of the concept of home.  Fran’s vivid descriptions of her travels in Brazil, and Beth’s portrayal of her family’s history and the spiritual, unseen world was mesmerising.

Political Women.  The second session hearing Jane Caro, but this time joined by Annabel Crabb.  These two women have impeccable credentials in terms of social and political commentary and their insights into Australian society are candid and often a sad reflection of the struggles women undergo in order to be taken seriously in the world full-stop, and the world of work and politics in particular.   In outlining the current climate, it reminded me of a book that I read a long time ago, Rhonda Mahoney’s, Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies and Bargaining Power.  I’m not so sure I did get any answers, but I suppose it is always good to illuminate the issues.

The Life of Elves. The lilt of a French accent under the shady trees of Adelaide Writer’s Week was always going to be a magnet for me, but the combination of a wise,  contemplative and humble writer speaking about her writing held me there.  It was only part-way through the session, that I realised I knew Muriel Barbery’s, The Elegance of a Hedgehog, but not the book. It was a film I had watched in the past year in a flurry of video-shop movie binges of French films.  I was so impressed with it as a film and I can’t wait to read the book.  Muriel feels in her writing she gets the chance to build understanding where as in her work as a academic philosopher she was occupied with explaining.  It was an insightful session.

Day 3:

Fairy Tale. Again making my way to see Muriel Barbery, this time in a lovingly curated session, paired for a magical discussion with Patrick Dewitt. Perhaps it was these authors, perhaps because they were discussing fairly tales, or perhaps it was just happenstance, but this session was a goldmine of beautiful ideas to me.  The meaning and etymology of words is fascinating to me, but even more so through the lens of a French speaker.  Because the languages share so many common words, the exploration of the different meanings held in the two languages, or the discovery of old English words that are still used in French with the same meanings is one of the things that most enchants me about speaking with French speakers.  In what ways is a virtuoso virtuous for instance?  The conversation roamed far, looking at the intertwined relationship of nature and art: the creativity of people and it’s connection with nature.  Patrick’s book exploring two people communicating confusion/unrealised desire, Muriel’s two little girls who understand stuff (reminiscent of the sensitive ones in Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News). Not only were the stories discussed, but the life of a writer was considered.  A writer can’t control the thoughts: in a way they are a follower.  Following, listening and observing – all key skills that need to be cultivated in the craft of writing. A writer wouldn’t want to force their point – arguing, convincing or being the purpose of the writing is not the aim. An enchanting time.

The Making of a Writer. Bill Manhire and Max Porter, witty and intelligent with salient advice for budding writers. The nuts and bolts of being a writer with an elegant sufficiency of words. I can’t remember if it was this session or the other that Max spoke at, but at some point he said something about it not being so useful reflecting too much on the life and character of the author as he didn’t feel it was helpful in reading the book. I beg to differ, and on later reading his Grief is the Thing with Feathers, I was struck at how economic is his use of words, a feature of his elegant spoken word during the sessions. In this session he mentioned that he the author must make the book the most ‘itself’ it can be, however once it is finished and in the possession of the audience, it assumes a life of it’s own, and the life that the reader gives to it.  He said that ‘finding the singleness’ never worked for him. It was interesting to hear the writers speak of the location where they write – shutting the door on the family and sitting down for allocated slots of stolen time.  Bill said “It is the job of every writer to find their voice and speak in it”. In this way writing becomes the playful search for the voice.  The importance of editing was mentioned – asking the hard questions in the 1st edit. What makes a good writer?  Reading.  Ideas books – don’t throw away anything. I understand this, and have accumulated many notebooks already.  A most helpful session.

Ocean of the Future. I could listen to Simon Winchester all day.  The combination of his voice, his knowledge, his journalistic/storytelling style make for a wonderful session. His book, The Map that Changed the World, has sat on my shelf waiting for me to read it for many years and in the months following the festival, I had the pleasure of reading The Surgeon of Crowthorn but before I heard him speak I hadn’t read his books. He felt that his secret to success is to have a good idea, a good structure and good writing. I would add to that, write often. He has published over twenty books.  I liked the ideas for providing structure to his books Atlantic – the seven ages of man, and the five classical elements used for The Men Who United the States.  I have always appreciated this in books and hope to employ it in my own.  Another reason I could listen to Simon all day is that I appreciate his observations, such as the United States “seeing the Pacific as their own private lake”. Seeing this in light of the current TPP negotiations is a very interesting observation, and one which aligns with my view of the world. It is always easy to appreciate your own ideas mirrored in another isn’t it – especially when so fluently and intelligently presented!

Day 4:

Undermajordomo Minor. Patrick Dewitt and Max Porter.  These two had the benefit of a pre-existing relationship so the session felt like phone tapping this dynamic – an editor and one of his authors.  Patrick, with dry humour notes “I don’t necessarily turn my back on the world … but my interest is waning”, while Max quips about cross-dressing, “I come from a country where the people that run it, do that kind of shit every Friday night”. I haven’t noted much else about the discussion, but remember being amused and fascinated at the same time.

Day 5:

The Crow. Jonathan Bate and Max Porter with Michael Cathcart talking Ted Hughes. Despite the confluence of subject matter, the discussion was a little disjointed, and was plagued by a few technical hitches, and the session was also being broadcast to Radio National.  However, it was a fascinating wander over the life and works of Ted Hughes, the intertwined story of Sylvia Plath and two authors views on the phenomenon.  The highlight was a recording of Ted Hughes reading his poems at the same Writers’ Week, in it’s infancy in the 1970s under these same trees. A revealing session.

Salt Creek. Having been researching my own interesting family history in colonial Western Victoria, I was really excited to hear Lucy Treloar talking about her experience writing her book, Salt Creek.  In addition, the book is set in my home state, South Australia in an area that I frequently travelled through to visit my aunt and uncle on a farm north of Kingston during my childhood, so this session held a special interest for me. How does one adequately deal with the subject of dispossession and the ‘obliviousness of the colonial attitude’ – partly a religious Victorian attitude of dominion, mingled with concepts of empire. On one hand the pride exhibited by Darwin, “impossible to behold the far colonies without high pride and satisfaction” and on the other the reality that “death follows the indigenous wherever the European goes”.  It was a session where the realities of that time were treated with sensitivity and encouraged me to read the book.

Day 6:

The Natural Way of Things. The galahs visited again during this session advertising their breakfast arrival in the park. I came part-way through this session, and it wasn’t one that I had on my list, but part of the discussion I caught was about the difference between marketing aimed at men and women, the former being about augmenting their power, the latter being to make up a perceived deficit. Charlotte Wood has since been numerous awards for this book, and I need to put it on my reading list.

Archipelago of Souls. A reflective session in which Gregory Day asked, “What do we do with the darkness (inside ourselves) when we want to love each other”. An interesting look at the effects of war; fear and defensiveness. Observing people choosing to be away from other people because they don’t know how to bring the ‘awful thing’ (their trauma), with them to the relationship. One thing I found useful was the idea that ‘if it sounds like writing, throw it out’.

Chance Developments. It would be an interesting exercise to survey readers about which Alexander McCall Smith books they prefer.  I myself, have never been attracted to the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, however once I started the 44 Scotland Street series, I became hooked. I’ve also dabbled in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, but haven’t got as far with them. Alexander’s whimsical, quirky and funny view of life is not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but he draws the crowds and I really enjoyed hearing from him in person.  His nature spills into his books, and he is an author that regularly has me laughing out loud – which can be disconcerting for other passengers on public transport. A lovely session.

Outsiders. Given the large number of Aboriginal writers in Australia, I was a little surprised by how few make it into the program of Adelaide Writers’ Week – outsiders indeed.  One exception was the wonderful discussion between Tony Birch and Paddy O’Reilly. Tony’s extensive experience as a writer and teacher of the technique of writing was evident in the discussion, but especially in answering the questions posed by several writers at the end of the session.  He writes to the character until it becomes a part of him. He also brought a strong sense of place in his descriptions of Birrarung (the Yarra River in Melbourne) of his youth, and the distinction between land rights and the rights of the land, the agency of the river. The river is the backdrop for his novel, Ghost River and in it he deals with kids faced with challenges which they are resilient enough to survive.  The idea that learning to listen and learning to write are intertwined brought up again the themes that had come up earlier in the week.  The discussion covered the importance of observing land and place and making this the subject of research – detailing noise, smell, image and texture. Finding out what a place isn’t is just as important, and this sense of bringing the story into relief was also a technique used in writing stories.  Both authors encouraged writers to give their stories space after writing, reading again at a distance and getting other people to read, joining writers groups for critique and also suggestion.  It is important to find the method for you, of letting the character unfold. For the technicalities of writing, this was an excellent session and it brought forth many more questions from the audience than there was time for them to be answered.

Adelaide Writers’ Week 2016

On a couple of occasions in the early 2000s, before I moved away from Adelaide, I managed to drop in to AWW for a couple of sessions in between lectures of my Bachelor of Music at Adelaide University. 2016 was the first time I have made the time to attend for the whole week and immerse myself in the atmosphere.  It is for me indulgent yet indispensable in its inspiration. The space it creates for practising listening and being open to the wisdom of experienced writers is a true blessing, and over the past year I have found myself reflecting on the ideas it has raised for me more than once. The impetus it creates for an aspiring writer is palpable, and I would classify it now as a must-do for my professional development.

I’ve booked my trip back to Adelaide for the 2017 version and I await it eagerly!

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We’re all in this together

Aside

Sitting at a rail platform observing and listening to all the people collecting, ready to get on the train, and the Ben Lee song, We’re all in this together pops into my mind. I smile to myself with this realisation – and this was before I checked his lyrics,

“Woke up this morning
I started smiling
Cos you were smiling
And were all in this together
I’m made of atoms
You’re made of atoms
And were all in this together …

“And on the subway
We feel like strangers
But were all in this together”

It has been a week of it, hasn’t it? We may try to distance ourselves from what we see as the ‘other’ in politics or geography. But today more than ever, we realise that the world is actually small and that something that affects one of us, affects all of us.

We can take opportunities that present to us every day to enhance the connection we have to the people around us, whether familiar or unfamiliar.

Having a break from my survey work today, I was eating lunch at Flinders St station. I took a seat at a picnic table and it wasn’t long before the 82-year-old across from me struck up a conversation.

It doesn’t take much to connect with someone. Just listening to what they are saying, and responding with questions and observations builds a rapport that makes both of us feel connected.

I might not be able to solve all of the world’s problems or address suffering on a broad scale, but I can take opportunities to connect deeply and well with those who cross my path.

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” The Talmud

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Aside

December 8th, 2015

The Belier Family, Eric Lartigau (2015)

If you didn’t see this film at the French film festival, you’ll get another chance now – it’s your lucky day. Continuing my signing theme of this week it is a heartwarming film about a family just doing their thing, and grappling with giving their child both roots and wings. You’ll laugh and cry. It is a treat!

Via Tolosana: Epilogue – Know Thyself

La Commande – Pau – Toulouse – Paris – 896 kms in a BlaBlaCar 

“Going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply”  Leonard Cohen

A restless sleep, but I did dream. I wrote morning pages in bed this morning, because I could. I was up and going at 8am and M-H had laid out breakfast for us.  We ate while watching the Portuguese pilgrim depart, and M-H commented that this is how she usually spends her mornings: watching a stream of walkers exiting the little town.  It was so beautiful I was getting teary watching him disappear down the road. I feel so lucky coming back to such a lovely place to ease out of the way. I thought while having a bath the day before, you do need time for the way to leave you, just as you need time to leave the way. I was transitioning back into the road of my usual life. The terrain takes a turn for the more familiar, and then before you know it, you’re back on home soil. It is how it is meant to be.

The pilgrim in Oloron-Sainte-Marie park, Reiner, inspired and challenged me to always ask. To always be open. To always say yes. Marie-Helene thanked me for being open and saying yes to her offer.  She said she admired my courage in saying yes.  I assured her, it wasn’t a hard decision to make when she said she was living in La Commande.  I loved this place. It was such a gorgeous spot to come back to.

It was a slow morning, and at just past 11:00am, we left for Pau where I was to meet my ride back to Paris via Bla-Bla-Car.  Marie-H drove out of the town a different way to the one I’d walked in on, and I realised the little houses continued out quite a way along the road on this side, making the community seem bigger than I thought it had been.  We arrived in the small carpark in front of la Gare only about 20 minutes after leaving. I was still so impressed by M-H’s generosity in driving me. There was the funicular I love so much and the sound of the rushing river.

I met up with my ride, and it was a pretty uneventful return – a long 8 hour drive in a car back to Paris with a deux chevaux (Citroën 2CV) sighting.

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Getting to my hotel room, what greets me in the bathroom, but the universal bathroom decor of scallop shell to bring my pilgrimage to a close.

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The next day I took a bus through he ‘chunnel’ (Channel Tunnel) to London for a Huguenot Conference, also sighting another deux chevaux. My legs continued to feel for the road, they were tired and sore but I think they would have preferred to continue walking.

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Viola wrote to me – “I’m in Bilbao now, I’m travelling inside myself, it is hard and wonderful.” I knew exactly what she meant.  Travelling inside yourself is hard and wonderful, but as all the great philosophers agree, there is great wisdom in knowing thyself. What better way to have the time and the mental space to gather this wisdom than go for a very long walk.

After a week in London, I shot back over the channel to Semur-en-Auxios and Granville to visit two friends for another 10 days or so, before heading back to Paris to take a flight back to Australia.

On the last night of my epic via Tolosana sojourn, sitting in my room in the Hotel George Sand,  yes there is one (and it is great), about to repack my bags ready for the evening flight the next day, I was taking advantage of the super convenient wifi in my room (as opposed to the super inconvenient wifi I’d experienced along my walk), and what pops into my inbox:

Subject: Between Marciac and Maubourguet.

Yes, it was an email from Matthieu.

The End.

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Even back in the streets of Fitzroy, Melbourne, way- markers are not far away

The. The. Dazed. Cider. Shaw shank. To.

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July Flicks

The Shipping News, Lasse Hallstrom (2001)
This film is such suitable viewing for a wannabe writer, “It’s finding the centre of your story, the beating heart of it, that’s what makes a reporter“. Among other things, this is a story of a man recovering his sense of esteem and voice. In the process of making a new life for himself and his young daughter in the place of his ancestors, he discovers several skeletons and a new love. A beautiful portrayal of ‘sensitive’ people – those who seem to be able to tap into a universal knowledge. Kevin Spacey and Julienne Moore are brilliant. Judi Dench – of course is wonderful, but the real winner is the wonderful book that the film is based on by Annie Proulx.

The Railway Man, Jonathan Teplitzky (2013)
Can’t go past Colin Firth … ever. In this film he shows his flexibility and accomplishment as a seriously fantastic actor. Jeremy Irvine was great also as the young Eric Lomax. I don’t even mind Nicole Kidman – that’s saying something. Based on a true story, this is a testament to the capacity of the human being to transcend huge trauma and suffering through forgiveness. Having gone through my own version of the Spanish Inquisition in the past few months, this film impressed on me that although you may tell the truth, your inquisitors may not be interested in it, or be able to see it with their own colouring of the situation. When this happens, you can only practice forbearance. It also holds a powerful lesson for the way we are the ones that continue our own suffering, continuing to engage with paper tigers. “Sometime the hating has to stop“. Brilliant film.

Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater  (1993)
Quite a stupid film, but I think that is the idea. Unbelievably violent, yet blaze about it. Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich all looking a whole lot younger!

Night at the Museum, Shawn Levy (2006) 
Another story of a father finding his place in the world, although Ben Stiller isn’t so convincing to me as a father. It had the fantasy elements of the father/son relationship in Big Fish, but also the importance of a father to the imagination of a child as in Life is Beautiful. Reminder of the late, great, Robin Williams with the ever drawling Owen Wilson going head to head with Steve Coogan – a winning combo? Entertaining Sunday night film.

Cider House Rules, Lasse Hallstrom  (1999) 
A simple man working out what his business is. Films always speak to me. This one challenged me to work out what my business is. Maybe this is what I’ll work out in the next 10 weeks (see Via Tolosana posts). I loved Michael Caine in this film, his honour yet brokenness and Toby Maguire for his simpleness and principles. Interesting that both this and the Shipping News (the two were packaged together in a twin case) are of course by the same director and both deal with themes of unwanted children, incest and complicated family relationships. Strongly directed – I’ll put Lasse on my list. Once again also a testament to a great writer, John Irving.

Films about men, but aren’t they all? Fathers, men working out what their business is or as some would put it, with ‘failure to grow up scripts’. I can’t be too critical, after all, I think I have one of those too. Incest – not the most cheery topic, but it makes for very real and raw film material. Water nightmares – an unexpected common theme!

Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont (1994)
I had no idea what this film was about, having heard the name for all of the years since it was released, but expecting more of a Bourne Identity-type action thriller. This film couldn’t have been more different but at the same time, so exceed my expectations. The story of this film is so very powerful, yet hopeful. As with Cider House Rules, racism figures strongly amongst the themes of this movie, as does the play between innocence and guilt – and are these just relative concepts anyway? What is the price of freedom? Morgan Freeman has always been a favourite of mine, and once again doesn’t disappoint and as you’d expect, neither does Tim Robbins.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert Mulligan (1962)
Despite this film being now over 50 years old, it speaks to a universal truth and will never date. Wrongfully accused of raping a white woman, black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) is defended by a lawyer who at all times stands against the bigotry and racism of his town. Meanwhile his children see literally first-hand how justice and the law are two very different things, and in turn are challenged to bring new understanding to the other ‘mockingbirds’ in their midst. I first read this book, and saw this film in Year 8 of high school, however the only thing I remember is Scout swinging on the tyre swing in the first scene. It is strange how such an image of innocence stays with me when in fact it is the central theme of this film. I had the pleasure of seeing this last night with my friend Natalie at the Marrickville Library, as they were celebrating the release of Harper Lee’s prior written, but never before released book, Go Set a Watchman. A local film buff spoke about the film, and mentioned the deep impact that making this film had on it’s actors, saying that Gregory Peck and Brock Peters remained friends until Peck died. It is worth going back in film history to see how far we have come, and yet how much further we still have to go in terms of seeing justice for all people.

My. New. The. Then.

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June 24th, 2015

Latest movie marathon

My Afternoons with Margueritte, Jean Becker (2010). I like simple French films. I don’t need some fancy plot, a mind-bending mystery or drop-dead gorgeous stars. This is a film about the love of words, and the actions of love. It has its pleasant surprises, but deals with the harsh reality of growing up truthfully as well. It certainly doesn’t glamorise its character’s lives. Thoughtful, entertaining and real! Pregnancy.

New Year’s Eve, Garry Marshall (2011). Love Actually meets … well, nothing actually. It is just Love Actually in a different guise. There are so many big name actors in this film that it kind of reads like Who’s Who. It was entertaining and the variety of stories centering around New Year’s Eve was interesting. It is romantic. It is slightly funny – I think that serves the definition of RomCom. Two babies.

The Sweetest Thing, Roger Kumble (2002). More ‘sexual’ than ‘comedy’, this is an unsurprising next chapter to ‘He’s just not that into you‘. Pretty mindless. No stars from Margaret or David I’d guess!

Then she found me, Helen Hunt (2008). Colin Firth. Now there’s two words that work for me in a romantic story! Biological clock. There’s another two words for me that seemed to sum up my movie watching this week, and also make me convinced that we see what we want to see, or are currently trying to wrestle with in our lives. I suppose film and theatre have always been that for me. I liked that this film put lots of different, difficult life events into one 100 minute film. It is nothing to write home about, but the themes of motherhood, partnerhood, grief and loss and providence are worth pondering and more than a little familiar!

Being. Certified. After. The. Edge

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May 23rd, 2015 Part 2

So, the films for the week:

Being There, Hal Ashby (1979). If you’ve seen Harold and Maude, this will come as no surprise. The premise is similar to a cross between Forest Gump and The Truman Show and leaves you questioning what is real anyway. Just because you’re ‘there’, it doesn’t mean you have the same take on reality. A really clever and funny exploration of the ruse of capitalism and the trappings of wealth laid bare by a simple gardener. It was strange seeing Peter Sellers in a serious role (one he asked for and got) and it was great seeing Shirley McLaine. Whilst the film looks a little dated now, the portrayal of wealth in it and After the Wedding (below) look strangely similar.

Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostmi, (2009). This film once again plays with the viewer’s sense of reality. This time some features of long-term relationships such as expectations are explored. I could watch Juliette Binoche forever although it all felt a little too scripted about the art theme of ‘originality’, yet refreshingly original and ambiguous in the true relationship of the two main characters. Maybe there was something lost in the translation between French, Italian and English. William Shimmel was a new one to me, but strangely familiar. He is a highly experienced and accomplished opera singer, however looks to have moved into films – the latest one I’ve seen being Amour.

After the Wedding, Susanne Bier (2007). The best ‘wedding’ genre film I’ve seen, with a close second going to Monsoon Wedding. What a powerful and real film. Set between India and Denmark (with the as-recommended amazing Mads Mikkelsen). The themes of the previous two films come together here – the trappings of wealth and the features of relationships all unfolding with a good pace to reveal the truth of a complex situation.

The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach (2005). Laura Linney is fast becoming my favourite female US actress, not least because I just learnt she gave birth at 49! She seems to pick the most quirky and philosophical films, and does an amazing job with all of them. Her English accent in Driving Lessons was fantastic. So this film, in the long line of her great films breaks my heart for it’s bittersweet content and humour. For me it captured perfectly how we tell the truths that justify our position, the way we repeat the same mistakes over and over, and don’t understand that we are causing the pain in our lives, and most powerfully how parents indoctrinate their children. A really uncomfortable yet valuable film. Jeff Daniels and William Baldwin were hilariously type-cast, and the latter’s tennis-playing ‘brother’ smacked of Wes Anderson … who surprise, surprise was producer. Go Wes!

The Edge of Heaven, Fatih Akin, (2007). WOW. There isn’t an issue of ‘the day’ that this film does not cover. It is such a poignant portrayal of human beings, their foibles, passions and freedoms. In some ways it mirrors the coincidences and seeming serendipitous of After the Wedding and Certified Copy, asking the question, are we connected after all? But despite the search, no-one is truly successful in completing the picture. The characters lives are intertwined, yet they are oblivious to this. It is such a clever story and acted beautifully. Thank you Fatih Akin.