Week 249 – flying high

On Tuesday morning Neil and I went on a scenic helicopter flight over Melbourne (Neil bought me the voucher for my last birthday, almost 12 months ago!).

There were storm clouds on the horizon (leading to some dramatic lighting effects) but luckily they remained distant and we enjoyed clear views and the occasional shaft of sunshine as we buzzed from the city centre over the container port to Williamstown and followed the line of the coast down past St Kilda to Sandringham.

Our return journey took us over the suburban sprawl of Brighton and Caulfield, and the parks and sports stadiums that lead back into town.

Inside the helicopter it was cosy – like being in a small car. It was so noisy that we all wore headsets (which actually made it pretty quiet) which enabled us to talk to each other.

There were a few bumps on the way up (the skyscrapers create their own wind tunnels) but otherwise the ride was very smooth.

We learned that our smartly-liveried red and gold helicopter was European-made and would have cost $2million to buy!

Neil had to head off to work afterwards, but I went on to the new Hokusai exhibition at the NGV. It is a survey of the Japanese artist’s career, made up of prints held by the NGV and a Japanese gallery. All his most famous series were well-represented.

The largest amount of gallery space was devoted to a full set of his most beloved, and most striking series, the 36 Views of Mount Fuji, including 2 prints of The Great Wave (the NGV’s own being the best copy). Having looked at all the wonderful images in the exhibition, it was this set that I kept coming back to. The radical composition and design of them is quite thrilling, still, combined with the wonderful evocation of time and place (all those fascinating, busy little people!).

The waterfalls were wonderful too, in their crazy abstraction, and with a gentler appeal, the more bucolic scenes captured in his series ‘One hundred poems explained by the nurse’ (see below – ‘the sadness of autumn’).

Also within the exhibition were a number of Hokusai’s Manga, which were full of tiny monochrome images of anything and everything, from self-defence techniques to deep sea fish to dance choreographies. And there was a small selection of his eerie images of traditional ghosts and demons.

On Thursday evening it was Melbourne’s annual ‘Art Nite’, when a number of the little independent galleries in the city centre open late. The event seems to get smaller each year. The first few galleries I sought out, whilst clearly operational, were shut, and when I did find a busy one, it turned out it wasn’t part of the event, I’d just stumbled on the opening night party!

There was a lot of bad art on show, but there were some fun things, including a colourful shopfront of Mexican outsider art (pictured) and a few atmospheric landscapes – I enjoyed a series of highly bleached-out photo-real canvases of Australian coastal vistas, and some interesting photo-collages of New Zealand glaciers.

In one of the poky rooms inside the prettily dilapidated 1930s Nicholas Building, an artist had set up an old-school sound installation, utilizing piles of antiquated electronic equipment. It beeped and buzzed and whispered and felt right for the space, which overlooks Flinders St station (see picture).

On Saturday it was incredibly windy – too windy to go running or risk flying debris in the park – but it was also sunny and bright and very mild. Happily Maisie had been invited to an indoor trampolining birthday party in Tooronga so she got the chance to burn some energy off.

I couldn’t bear to hang around in the play-centre for long so braced myself against the wind and made it across a motorway overpass to a surprisingly lovely narrow stretch of native landscaping following the path of Gardiner’s Creek.

Down by the creek it was relatively sheltered, and the rushing wind in the tall eucalypts disguised the noise of the nearby traffic, and set up haunting harmonies in the great electricity pylons.

The warmth had brought out the sweet scent of the wild honeysuckle, and the zing of the yellow wattle flowers, swaying wildly against an azure blue sky was stunning.

I had such a tranquil little walk, it was quite hard to adjust back to the noise and sugar-fuelled rush of the play-centre when I walked back to pick Maisie up!

Later on, while it was still blowing a gale, and the clouds were drawing in, Maisie and Tommy decided to go biking/scooting so we headed down to the skate park and they had a fine time being buffeted around. Luckily there wasn’t any sand blasting in our direction!

The winds died down a little in the evening, and Maisie and I went up to Gertrude Street to see the annual Projection Festival. Despite her flagging energy levels (evening events are always a struggle for her), Maisie was very engaged with all the little animations and films screening in shop windows and alleyways.

Those that particularly took her fancy were a large wall projection of roiling pink and green bubbles, a black-and-white film of a bird-like Japanese dancer, and a charming naive animation of land being settled – from the cutting down of native forest, to early tin shacks, to a forest of sky-scrapers, which eventually all took off like rockets.

I enjoyed the usual display of mechanical holographic flowers, the spectacle of a VR lounge (I couldn’t be bothered to queue to try out the VR itself), and a simple shadow-puppet show of a procession of fantastical beasts.

On Sunday it was still again, the sea as pale as the sky when I went out on my run. Unusually the children played quite happily together in the house – long convoluted games about overseas travel (Tommy was set on going to South America) which involved packing many large bags full of stuff and dragging them from room to room. I didn’t feel too guilty leaving Neil with them for an afternoon as I headed out to see a few local buildings that had been opened up for this year’s Open House event.

The first was Eildon Mansion on Grey Street, one of St Kilda’s earliest houses, constructed in 1850 when St Kilda was still a colonial hamlet surrounded by coastal swamps. The original elegant Regency style house was aggrandized in the 1870s by its new owner, a prominent sheep breeder, who added sombre grey columns and porticos, bay windows and balconies.

The structure has a commanding presence, but it isn’t beautiful! The interiors didn’t survive the many years that the building was used as a boarding house, and the gardens (which used to run down to the sea) were sold off, piece by piece, during the last century. But the Alliance Francaise, which now operates the building, has sympathetically restored some of the rooms, including the airy ballroom, and the beautiful ornate quarry tile floors in the hallways and verandas.

In the basement is the old kitchen which they have left scruffy – preserving traces of the mid-century wallpaper and smoke blackened walls, and the low arched tunnels off to storage rooms still have a Victorian atmosphere. The local historians who ran the guided tour were full of fascinating facts about the building and St Kilda back in the day.

I went on to Christ Church in Acland Street, another building from the 1850s. Constructed from local sandstone, it was surprisingly light and generously-proportioned inside, the red-brown wood of the pews and rafters shiny and polished and the perky stained glass windows glowing in the afternoon light. Most spectacular was the altar, which had been beautifully restored (to its original design) by a Melbourne art school. The walls were patterned with golden fleur-de-lys, and the pipes of the little organ (made by the London firm of Hill & Son) were painted teal and terracotta.

I just had time to make it to one more place, a sprawling 1930s apartment block in Balaclava. Home to a number of creatives – including designers, architects and gardeners – the residents committee had decided to turn the building’s extensive flat roof into a garden.

Despite the soil/gravel substrate being only 12cm thick, it was so much more than a green roof, there were swathes of wild grasses and blue-flowering rosemary and carpets of tiny succulents. Little wooden box vegetable plots had been set up at strategic points (i.e. above supporting walls). It was such a calm airy space, a real oasis!

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