Maisie was glad to get back to school on Monday (the start of her last term as a ‘prep’ pupil!), and Tommy was glad to get some time (and mummy) to himself. The spring sunshine has brought a bumper blossoming of clivias (as well as elms – they only really go for it every couple of years or so!). In the late afternoon we bumped into my neighbour Emma who offered me a free ticket to a talk being given by one of her friends that evening, at the grand old (mid C19th!) Athenaeum Theatre in the city. Emma works in publishing, and her friend happened to be Richard Flanagan, one of Australia’s best-regarded authors. I hurriedly checked in my bookcase to see if I had read any of his works – and I had read (and enjoyed) one of them – ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’.
Flanagan was talking about his new novel which picks apart the conventions of memoir. The background story to it was fascinating, harking back to his first substantial piece of writing, where, under very unlikely circumstances, in the early 1990s, he had been employed to ghost-write the auto-biography of one of Australia’s most notorious con-men. They had met a number of times over a period of 3 weeks, and then the con-man had committed suicide, and Flanagan (having got almost no information out of him) had to complete the book as best he could – so although presented as a memoir it was more a work of fiction.
He also had some passionate things to say about the importance and ‘truth’ of a novel, as opposed to ‘fake news’. I quote (from a Sydney Morning Herald article) ‘…they [are] fictions designed to bolster power and deny people the fundamental truth of the world. Lies are a pernicious form of fiction, while novels are a liberating form of fiction that we need more than ever.’ He also argued for the novel as a rare private space, allowing the reader to explore their multiple identities. He was very scared about the totalitarianism of social media, although he retained a surprising optimism for the positive strength of human nature.
On Wednesday evening I went to see an interesting film by the writer Mike White (I like his perceptive, deftly-characterized social commentaries). ‘Beatriz at dinner’ was about a Mexican masseuse who works at a holistic health centre, but who one evening gets stuck (due to a broken down car) at the luxury gated beach mansion of a wealthy client. The client, who has known her for a while, invites her to stay for dinner, and it turns out the gathering is of hot-shot property developers who are celebrating their latest land-steal. Beatriz’ initial nerves and awkwardness become (carefully contained) horror and rage as she realises who these people are (she had been displaced from her Mexican home as a child by just such a ruthless team), and she feels spurred into some sort of action.
On Friday Tommy and I met up, at a park in town, with Liam and Moko (we’d met the little boy and his mum in another park a couple of weeks back and the boys had hit it off so well that we exchanged numbers!). The boys were very excited to see each other again, and ran around driving their toy cars and splashing water for an hour or so, while Moko (who is Japanese, and has also lived in Melbourne for 5 years) and I and chatted and tried to keep warm, as it was a distinctly chilly morning, threatening rain, which finally appeared driving us inside to the ACMI galleries (where Tommy tried out his first joystick-controlled computer game).
Afterwards Tommy and I caught the tram up to RMIT, to see their current exhibition ‘Experimenta Make Sense: International Triennial of Media Art’. It was great fun – full of colourful, immersive, installation art and striking projections. Tommy loved it so much that it was quite hard to get him to leave!
In the first gallery was a huge clear balloon, inside which were two shiny silver and gold ‘lungs’, which gently inflated and deflated. The outer balloon represented economics (the pressure was governed by live share market data), the inner two ‘breathing’ balloons represented ‘nature’ and ‘humanity’. Alongside this were several video pieces, one which I’d seen before (an exploration of the British Museum’s archive of aboriginal artefacts), the other an attractive 4-screen presentation of an alien’s visit to earth (Tommy loved this one!) – the alien’s destinations included the greenhouses at Kew Gardens.
In a darkened side-room, two large floor-level pools of water, swirling with clouds of dry ice, were projection screens for images of swimmers in water that was sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes blood red. Both Tommy and I were mesmerized by this one, it was very beautiful. We also enjoyed another room with great wall-sized projections of slow-motion waves filmed from under the water, and (this one particularly intrigued Tommy) a mechanized sculpture where two red sandstone rocks were slowly dragged across a rough metal table, as they wore down they left bright orange trails of dust.
A final room featured a sound and light installation about electro-magnetic currents. A small floor-based rotating robot emitted buzzing clicking noises (it sounded like a swarm of insects whizzing around your head) which directly interacted with a laser projection of electromagnetic waves.
The futuristic theme continued for me in the evening, with a packed-out Friday night screening of Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Bladerunner 2049’. The original Bladerunner (well, whichever reboot of it that is regarded as the ‘classic’ version) is one of the few sci-fis that I’ve genuinely enjoyed – I guess it’s the beautifully realised (and convincingly grimy) production design, the dystopian bleakness, the slowness, and the lack of slimy aliens (the presence of Harrison Ford helps too!).
‘2049’ was a worthy sequel, the great destroyed vistas recreated and expanded in breathtaking CGI (not something I say very often!!). 30 years after the previous film left off, a young replicant (i.e. robot human) policeman is tasked with finding and exterminating the remaining survivors of an earlier ‘rogue’ replicant series. On a routine job he uncovers a ‘miracle’ – traces of evidence that suggest that a replicant has given birth to a live human baby. He is tasked with finding this ‘miracle child’. But he isn’t the only person on the trail – its (possible) presence threatens the status quo, so the ruthless leaders of the controlling corporation are also in pursuit, and will destroy anyone or anything that gets in their way.
Neil flew to Sweden on Saturday for the very last instalment of his sabbatical there – a 2 day dissemination event. He decided not to stay away for any longer, so the majority of his 4.5 days away were spent in the air! Maisie, Tommy and I spent a sunny afternoon hanging out at the MPavilion, listening to a free music performance. Two young Fitzroy hipster bands were playing. The first was a solo set by ‘Sweet Whirl’, a lugubrious but compelling singer who accompanied herself on bass guitar. The second (which I didn’t enjoy quite so much, although Maisie was entranced, and wanted to stay till the end!) was a trio of piano/singer, bass and drums. The singer, Sarah Mary Chadwick, had a distinctive, but after a while, annoyingly effected, vocal style. Her melancholy songs were generally rather slow, with the occasional, welcome bust of energy.
We were invited for tea to Mip and Stacey’s house. All the kids (Maisie, Tommy, Polly and 2-year-old Nelly) happily went off to play in another room while us adults sat round the kitchen table and chatted. After supper, Mip got out his old electric train set which was greeted with huge excitement – Tommy was squealing with joy! The kids were so undemanding, that I was surprised to check my watch and discover it was 9.30pm! We suffered for the late night the following day, with some feral behaviour, but I reckon it was worth it.
Despite the late night, the kids were up at 7am (a little later than usual, it has to be said!). We joined Ante’s soccer class at Maisie’s school oval, and both Maisie and Tommy had great fun running after the ball and kicking it around (although rarely in the right direction). We went out for a cafe coffee afterwards, and then whiled away the afternoon in the park, which was heaving with birthday parties/school group gatherings – I’ve never seen it so full. Happily a few of my friends were involved in these, so I managed to catch up with my neighbour Rachel, and Michele, who is currently managing crowds of petrol-heads at the Motorcycle Grand Prix.