Week 243 – herding cats

A bank holiday Monday was the last day of our (very!) long weekend. We’d booked in (with Lizzie K and Rosa) to see a 9am session of short films for kids at ACMI. I’d wondered whether we’d struggle to get into town so early, but as Maisie had woken bright-eyed at 5.30am asking whether the film was about to start, we had no trouble making it there on time (far too early, in fact!). It was Tommy’s first trip to the cinema and he didn’t want to sit down – he was a bit spooked by the dark auditorium and the closed doors. And what didn’t help was the security guard who came up and said that if we hadn’t taken our seats within 30 seconds we would be evicted (due to fire regulations). [I wrote to the venue afterwards noting that it was rather a heavy-handed approach given that the session was aimed at 2-year-old children, and suggesting that they could perhaps, in future, use a more child-friendly space, but they didn’t really get my point, they just responded by restating their fire regulations].

Happily, once the films had started, both kids were transported (despite their refrain of ‘can we go to the cafe now?’ after each one!). It was a really imaginative selection of very short, mainly wordless, films from all over the world, utilising many different animation techniques. The first was a stunningly beautiful and haunting tale of a tiny fox exploring a desert island and dreaming of a huge whale, which he finally encounters as a giant skeleton on the mirror sands. There was an amusing vignette about a ballerina wolf and a cheeky duck (which had all the kids giggling), one about a confused moose living a turbulent life in a snow globe, another about a greedy tiger cub, another about a handy hippo who builds a bird house. There were some ugly computer animations about aliens and fantastical lands, but one of them – a bizarre story about a young girl going up into the mountains for her yearly ‘head changing’ ceremony – made a great impression on Maisie!

After a chaotic post-film coffee/catch-up with Lizzie in the ACMI cafe (it was like herding cats), Maisie, Tommy and I hopped on to the 67 tram and ended up travelling all the way to the Booran Reserve – I hoped they would burn off some energy in the adventure playground. The place was stupidly busy as per usual – Maisie immediately disappeared and Tommy found a quiet spot and refused to move an inch. Luckily after a while it started to rain and I was able to locate Maisie in the thinning crowds, and make our escape!

We met our new neighbours on our return home – Emma and her two girls, aged 3 and 7. Maisie and Camille (the older girl) clicked immediately. They played gymnastics in the park and sat down and wrote stories together. It all seemed very nice – a friendship I’d definitely like to encourage! Tommy wasn’t quite so accommodating with Harriet – he doesn’t like anyone rearranging his toys!

It felt particularly exciting to be on my own at 9am on Tuesday after I’d dropped Tommy and Maisie off at kinder/school! I made the most of my precious hours off with an early film (my local cinema opens at 10am most days – how civilised!). It was ‘My cousin Rachel’, a classy adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier thriller with Rachel Weisz as a wonderful scheming widow (all smouldering dark-eyed glances in the guttering candlelight), set in lush Hardy-esque countryside. Afterwards I met Roni and Jules for an Elwood cafe lunch. We moaned about our kids, as we generally do, and felt better for it afterwards! I also enjoyed an unusual bagel sandwich of roasted mushrooms and cannellini bean hummus.

On Wednesday I was very surprised when my exercise class trainer called to say that I was the only person booked in to the morning’s session, and that he would be happy to come to me. So I had a full 50-minute one-to-one personal training session in the park across my road. As I panted through the endless squats and lunges I was relieved not to encounter anyone I knew in the park! The post-exercise soreness lasted several days longer than it usually does.

The weekend was broken up by a few play-dates, the first on Friday evening after school when Maisie, Tommy and I descended on Maisie’s friend Jasper’s house for a movie night. Only Maisie was too scared by all the movie options (all Disney kids films) so we made pizzas, waved sparklers and constructed glow-in-the-dark headbands instead (while Tommy bashed away at Jaspers miniature drum-kit). On Saturday we met up with Maisie’s friend Juno at the Melbourne Museum. We explored the new children’s galleries further.

Tommy enjoyed making patterns (see picture) and shining a giant torch which lit up a series of stuffed night-birds, frogs and crickets, each of which made it’s call when illuminated – a lovely exhibit! Maisie had planned her itinerary beforehand – and had even written it up – ‘we miot see the shioney rox’, ‘we miot see the rain forist’ with accompanying drawings. She and Juno did indeed see all these things! In the park outside the museum, the great elms were glowing golden with the last of their autumnal foliage. The tree shadows on the bright panels of the museum cladding were striking too.

On Sunday Gamelan DanAnda held an open house event. I was keen to be involved but with both kids in tow I wasn’t sure how useful I was going to be! Having managed the long 2-tram journey to Thornbury without incident, once we were stuck inside the gamelan studio, things got tricky, mainly due to Tommy just wanting to shout, poke about and run around (he’s not at the easiest age!).

The afternoon was a mix of performances and workshops. While we were performing the kids set up camp at my feet (i.e. on the stage). When they weren’t trying to bang the instruments, Tommy would utilise any silence to ask ‘is it all finished now?’! Maisie was very keen to take part in the workshop and she did pretty well with the rhythms, if not the technique. I had the extra challenge, while teaching her, of trying to manage Tommy on my lap, who was loudly pronouncing ‘gamelan is boring’! He did enjoy banging a small gong for a while, but was soon complaining of his arm being sore. Thankfully the whole event was pretty informal, so I don’t think my feral children ruined it too much (and we didn’t stay too long).

Week 242 – natural wonders

On Tuesday I joined Avengers-fan Michele (her appetite whetted by last week’s excited pod-cast review) at the cinema to catch the new ‘Wonder Woman’ film. Comic book origins stories/action movies aren’t really my thing, but the beautiful Israeli actress playing the lead captured the character’s sassy bravery and innocence well, and her male love interest (a swashbuckling spy) was also nicely acted – between them they managed to carry the movie (set in the trenches of WW1, with lots of explosions) with spirit and humour.

On Wednesday morning I had my first ever one-to-one personal trainer session (the only other person who turned up for my regular class was half an hour late)! It was pretty intense – as well as the bouts of boxing interspersed with weight-lifting/squats, I had to keep up a conversation with the trainer. Elies has led our classes for several years, but this was the longest chat we’ve ever had and I learnt lots of interesting things about his life!

On Wednesday night I went to hear the legendary Melbourne band ‘The Necks’ perform in a claustrophobic new Brunswick jazz club. They have been free-improvising extended live sets for 30 years or so, and have been rated by some (respected!) critics as one of the best bands in the world. So I was very excited! I managed to find a bar stool to perch on near the front of the room which enabled close observation of their intricate techniques.

The pianist started with a rippling split chord ostinato, very fast, with varying accents and the occasional added note/slight shift, while the bassist pulsed key tones sliding with harmonics. The drummer utilized various pitched crotales/larger bronze cymbals which he resonated over the larger drum skins, then started dragging across the heads to make a squeaky, industrial noise, amplified with rumbling bass drums and clacking rattles. It was all very atmospheric, and gradually built in intensity, but there was never any rhythmic, harmonic or melodic progression. It had a pleasant-enough Steve-Reich-like feel, and the musicians’ virtuosity (within terribly strict parameters) was never in any doubt, but after a while it just got dull! It was entirely humourless (in contrast to Ari Hoenig’s delightful trio set earlier in the festival). The audience, all seated/standing pretty uncomfortably, listened in hushed reverence. As it was a late gig, I had to leave to catch the last train 15 minutes into the band’s second set. But I didn’t really mind, as it was much the same as the first!

On Thursday Tommy and I ventured to a recommended playground a couple of suburbs away – a train ride and a long walk away. It’s an imaginatively constructed wooden fortress, full of narrow passages, tunnels, wobbly tyre bridges, hanging bars and slides. When we arrived, the sun peeking through the freezing mist, we were the only people there, and Tommy explored every corner. He wanted me to come too but cunningly it’s all child-sized – too tight for most adults! It is set in an attractive green meadow dotted with native trees, and we enjoyed finding gum flowers and clacking seedpods (pictured is the fruit of the kurrajong tree).

Maisie was very excited this week by the arrival of their classroom dog. Her form teacher has recently undertaken training with his black labrador, Susie, who is now qualified as a working ‘therapy dog’, and will be based in their classroom most days. All the kids could talk of nothing else all week!

Maisie’s school was closed for training on Friday, so we made the most of a free week day by heading to the zoo. The animals all seemed very alert and restless – perhaps because three new lions have recently moved in (their enclosure has been empty for a while).

The tiger was pacing around roaring, the elephants moved round en masse, shaking various ingenious tubes and rattling spinning bars to release hidden food treats, the lemurs were leaping around their new aerial walkways.

Whilst Tommy was up for a whistle-stop tour, Maisie was really fascinated by all the animals, happy to sit and gaze at them for long periods of time.

She had prepared her outfit especially to attract butterflies, and after standing still patiently for a while in the butterfly garden she was rewarded by multiple landings – at one point she had two on her hand and another on her head.

I enjoyed seeing some new lizards and a free-roaming gaggle of guinea fowl, and gained some unusual glimpses of a pelican’s fully-ballooned beak (Maisie found it freaky!), and the underside of a tiny frog.

Neil caught a flight to Sweden late on Saturday night – he’ll be away for the next 3 weeks. We’d planned a day of family activities – breakfast out, a walk to the beach, but Maisie’s behaviour was so abhorrent we had to abort, and settled on splitting the kids up as usual! And I managed to escape for an hour for a haircut.

On Sunday I got the kids (who are both incredibly noisy these days) out of the house early – we ended up heading back to the fortress park in Hampton, which this time was full of weekend families and parties, but it was big enough to absorb them all and still pleasant. In the afternoon we went to a local street party billed as an ‘irreverent celebration of the Queen’s birthday’ (we have an annual bank holiday in honour of this). Unfortunately it was a bit of a damp squib.

We walked the length of Fitzroy Street (which was full of angry homeless addicts – Maisie didn’t understand all the swear words – ‘what are they saying?’ she asked!) trying to find something going on and were about to give up when a couple of bagpipers started up and one of the Melbourne horse and carts arrived carrying a disappointing QE2 impersonator. Then they stopped for a while while an (admittedly impressive) drag queen cavorted around in front of them for photos. There were also a couple of beautifully dressed stilt walkers which Maisie posed with. But that seemed to be it so we soon headed home.

Week 241 – snapshots and spies

On Monday Tommy and I headed to the NGV to meet Sarah and Arthur at the new children’s exhibition, created by Australian environmental artist Fiona Hall. She had created two rooms, a welcoming wooden forest for little children, who could make collages of trees and animals, and peer into little floor-level wooden boxes to watch videos of spiders and frogs and butterflies, and an eerie black night woodland with skull-infested walls for the older kids, who were invited to create emojis symbolising various forms of ecological destruction. Tommy was fascinated by all the videos and enjoyed running around, but wasn’t fussed about collaging! Arthur (who is the same age) wasn’t bothered either, so we ended up at the riverside children’s playground, where Tommy discovered his climbing confidence. He scaled a big rope climbing frame for the first time ever!

On Tuesday night I went to see ‘Neruda’, a recent Chilean film about the famous mid-C20th poet and politician. Framed around his flight from Chile, in the wake of President Videla’s 1940s communist witch-hunts, it was no grim polemic (although it didn’t shy away from the violence of the time), rather a comical/tragical cat-and-mouse game between Neruda (and his disparate army of supporters) and a troubled buffoonish detective (brilliantly played by Gael Garcia Bernal). It was bawdy and clever and dreamlike – I enjoyed it, but the mainly elderly audience seemed very disappointed!

A squally showery start to Wednesday put off most of the boot-campers, but on the dot of 9.30am, the sky turned a brilliant crystalline blue, and the two of us who had bravely turned up were subjected to an intense weight-based session (there was nowhere to hide)! Unable to lift my arms afterwards, I headed to the NGV Ian Potter to see a new exhibition by the New Zealand-born artist Patrick Pound. He collects things – old photographs, postcards, random found objects etc. and creates themed series-based art works with them. The first room was fascinating. He had built up a vast archive of people’s discarded snapshots – tiny fading photos of families and friends, tourist sites and possessions, dating between the 1900s and the 1970s – and arranged them in themed groups. There were people posing/reading books, ‘air’-related shots, which varied from aeroplanes to people caught in high winds, and home entertainment, moving from piano sing-a-longs to hi-fis.

Most captivating were the selections of mis-shots – those where the photographers shadow was captured, or where the subjects’ heads didn’t quite make it into the frame, or a finger partially obscured the lens – the type of moment that would never be preserved in digital images! Most intriguing were the photos that had been purposefully damaged in some way – faces scratched out, people whited out, or faces simply cut out (for a locket perhaps – but the rest of the cut photo had for some reason been kept!).

In the second room Pound had tried to use the same method to group random objects from the NGV’s permanent collection, but, despite copious explanatory labels, the connections were often too tenuous to illuminate the objects in any new way (but there were some interesting curiosities along the way – many lesser paintings by C19th French artists, several classic images by the great C20th American photographers, some beautiful First Peoples carvings).

A room full of the artist’s own found object collections was fun – a shelf full of wooden knife-blocks, a series of (genuine) paperbacks that he had sourced over the years, which, counted, via their front covers from zero to ’26 and one’. I also liked a short series of unlikely photographic juxtapositions – including the moon/golf ball pictured.

In the final gallery the artist had tried to cross-connect various different series, creating a web of images and objects on the walls and tables. Most interesting was a series of identical postcards of a famous American cliff-top hotel, each annotated by its individual sender. Some time in the early C20th the hotel had burnt down, so the series continued with its ruin (framed exactly as the previous shot), and later, with its refurbished version.

In the evening I met up with my Elwood friends for a rare jaunt into town (rare for us as a group, if not for me!). We ate trendy noodles at the Docklands fusion joint Bang Pop, and went to the Exhibition Centre to hear a live recording of a popular American cultural podcast (one of which Lou is a big fan of). There were three items on their agenda – the first was to review the new Wonder Woman film, which they discussed in a lively, incisive, way and were pleasantly surprised by (it has a feminist angle and an intelligent romance!), the second was a well-structured interview with Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, who performed solo renditions of a couple of her hits live (the highlight of the evening!) and talked eloquently of her creative process and ways of dealing with worldwide fame.

The third item was billed as a discussion of cultural identities and stereotypes, featuring the acerbic contribution of Michael Williams, the (Australian) Director of the Wheeler Centre (host of the event, the centre organises an impressive international programme of talks by writers and thinkers). The Americans were lazy, they kept dwelling on the obvious Aussie stereotypes (the Aussie audience was getting restless!), never elevating the discussion beyond tourist-type observations. Williams had some pertinent things to say, and was the most interesting of the lot. He recommended several books for the panel to read, including ‘Wake in Fright’!

On Thursday evening I went to our first school parents social event. All the prep parents were excited to be out and the (otherwise empty) St Kilda Road pub was doing a roaring trade! It was very good to be able to have a non-kid-distracted chat with the many people I’ve only managed to say a brief good morning to in the six months since school has started! I guess the ‘community’ they talk about will build over the years!

On Friday night I went to see a delightfully offbeat and perceptive American indie film entitled ‘Twentieth Century Women’. Set in 1978, it was about a strong, fiercely independent career-woman/55-year-old single mum of a sensitive 15-year-old lad. As he starts to get more wayward, in the absence of any decent men, she asks his best female friend and her 20-something art student lodger (both of whom are shouldering a whole load of complex issues themselves) to take on mentoring roles. She isn’t ready for him to turn into more of a feminist than she is!

On Saturday we took the kids to hear a free jazz performance in Fed Square, as part of this year’s International Jazz Festival, but sadly there weren’t the spectacular star performers of previous years, just a bunch of earnest-looking music students from Neil’s university. The various instruments (Tommy in particular was keen on the double bass) kept them interested for a short while but we were soon heading back to the ice cream shop.

Neil gave me the afternoon and evening off on Sunday, and I made the most of it with a fabulous cultural programme! The first four hours were spent in the cinema, watching a special James Bond double bill to commemorate the recent passing of Roger Moore. I’m not sure I’ve seen any of the classic Bonds on a big screen, so it was a real treat! The first film was ‘The Spy who Loved Me’, featuring one of Ken Adam’s inimitable villain’s lairs (Stromberg’s floating fortress), the indestructible henchman Jaws, Moore’s spectacular yellow-jump-suited ski chase, and of course, the submarine Lotus. The second was ‘For your eyes only’, a more gritty down-to-earth tale of double-crossing and revenge, with yet more ski-ing, a chase in a yellow 2CV, a feisty crossbow-wielding heroine and a spectacular (yet low-key) rock-climbing finale. Throughout it all, Roger was his wonderfully twinkly, suave, laconic, self.

After the films I climbed the dingy stairway to a little upstairs club in one of the elegant 1930s buildings that line Swanston Street. The American drummer Ari Hoenig was playing a set with his trio (bass and piano). Their music was elegant, intricate and playful – every musical phrase part of a delightful conversation between the players. Hoenig sometimes led by playing ‘melodies’ on the drums, defining the notes by applying different pressures to the drums (all done on the fly) and his solos, which would veer wildly, surprisingly between grooves and time signatures, were always framed by bass/piano bass-lines, which contextualised them in an unusual way. It was a joy to hear such wonderful musicians, not something I get enough of in Melbourne!

Week 240 – Maisie at the gallery

I continued to make the most of the film festival on my doorstep early in the week with two more short film sessions at the St Kilda Town Hall. The first was a (non-competition) selection of recent Japanese films. They had a very different sensibility to the Australian shorts. The first was a bawdy comedy/cautionary tale about a flat-chested teenage girl who believes she’ll be popular if she has large breasts. She wakes one day to find her desires have magically been fulfilled, but she finds that she hasn’t anticipated the consequences. A brief animation about a young woman’s horror fantasy on spotting a cockroach run across her apartment floor struck a chord with me! Another delightfully whimsical stop-motion animation told the tale of a sleepless boy and a moon squirrel. The final film was set ten years after the Japanese tsunami, a poignant story about an orphaned apprentice carpenter remembering his childhood friends.

The following evening I watched more Aussie shorts. The first was about a young African girl navigating conflicting identities in urban Australia – at high school she desperately tries to conceal the fact that she’s a pregnant child bride. Another moving story concerned a father and son, estranged by their grief, following the death of their wife/mother in a bush fire. My favourite film of the night was a dark comedy, filmed in glorious garish 1970s tones, about depression in the suburbs – a housewife burns the supper as she has online sex with a stranger, while a suicidal office worker tries to electrocute himself in the bath with a string of fairy lights.

On Wednesday afternoon Maisie and I enjoyed a sweetly mournful dusk recital by a choir of currawongs (see picture) in our silver birches. Later I met up with Sam and Claire-Anne for a meal at my current favourite St Kilda restaurant, the asian fusion joint Spring and Summer. We enjoyed a tasty prawn pad thai and green beans with a cashew nut sambal, but the stand-outs were a dish of goolwa pipis (local cockles) in a sticky spicy sauce, and a home-made coconut sorbet, with thick strips of fresh coconut in it.

On Thursday night I went to see a recent British adaptation of the Julian Barnes novel ‘The sense of an ending’. Jim Broadbent was wonderful as the main protagonist, a self-centred, pompous, but not unlikable man who has sailed through a successfully unremarkable life on the peripheries, unaware of the great dramas he has brushed against. An unexpected bequest suddenly makes him wake up to life in general.

On Saturday Maisie and I popped into town to see some art at the NGV Ian Potter gallery. We went to see a new exhibition by Australian artist Brook Andrew. His bleak narratives are about colonialism and racism, but his pieces are large and colourful – featuring metallic paint, huge inflatables and lashings of neon, so Maisie was thoroughly entertained!

We had a wander through the permanent collection and Maisie took photos of some of her favourite works, which included several large shiny metal sculptures (Maisie is pictured with one of them), some patterned Op Art, a forested landscape (which reminded her of our walk last week), a murky brown collage of fabric, wood and glue/sand, a pre-raphaelite blossom orchard and a black kimono finely embroidered with native flowers and leaves. We both enjoyed a room full of sculpture busts – particularly a vast white marble face (pictured with Maisie) and a trio of comical pottery heads by Brendan Huntley.

In Federation Square there was a big community event entitled ‘The Long Walk’, marking the start of National Reconciliation Week. It was held by the charity of the same name, which was founded to continue the pioneering activism of the indigenous (former) Essenden footballer Michael Long. Various bands and a hip-hop troupe performed, before the gathering crowd walked to the MCG for the start of the annual ‘Dreamtime’ football match. Maisie enthusiastically joined in the hip-hop moves, and loved all the music, despite it being pretty low-key. The first performer was a talented solo singer/guitarist who alternated his own multi-tracked compositions with crowd-pleasing covers. The second performer was Casey Donovan, a talented soul singer, the youngest ever (and first indigenous) winner of Australian Idol (back in 2004) and now a successful singer and actress. She was a great performer, with a wonderfully warm stage presence.

On Sunday we braved sudden downpours on a trip into town. After shopping for balls (both kids are suddenly into ball sports!) and underwear (we continue to try and enthuse Tommy about wearing underwear like a big kid, but he isn’t having it!), we attempted to balance out the consumerism by popping into ACCA for a dose of art. The exhibition, by Melbourne artist Claire Lambe, was full of mirrors and screens and sound, and both Tommy and Maisie were quite intrigued. The subtext was dark and disturbed psyches, but pictures of people rolling in melted chocolate and a shiny metal flower in a dark cave full of disjunct sounds, appealed to them.

Week 239 – shorts and colours

A chill start to the week with a mysterious swirling fog swathing the city in cloud till late in the day. Tommy and I enjoyed murky views of the city skyline framed by the Westgate Bridge, on our way to Scienceworks.

Once inside the museum, Tommy made a beeline for the kids area, where he got busy with the construction play, operating the forklift and filling wheelbarrows with blocks and loading them on the conveyor belt. In the kitchen he prepared me elaborate concoctions of plastic foods and endless cups of coffee.

I tried to interest him in a couple of the more ‘scientific’ exhibits, and he was quite taken with a set of tiny working models of steam machines. We looked round the grand Victorian buildings of the old water pumping station, and hung out with the massive boilers for a while (see picture).

The museum is situated right by the main shipping lane into the container docks, so we went for a stroll along the (heavily fenced) waterfront to see what we could see. It’s an industrial area, so we were the sole ramblers, and the only road traffic was oil tankers, filling up from the nearby refinery (Tommy excitedly announced every one!).

We were lucky to see a huge container ship pass by. It was so large (and riding so high in the water) that the funnel had to be folded down to fit under the bridge (which has a 58 metre clearance!). The piloting tug boat was acting as a brake (tugging in the opposite direction – I’ve never seen that before, only seen them attached in front).

On our way back to the station I spotted the first of this year’s wattle blossom – one welcome winter sight.

On Tuesday I went to the Melbourne University Gallery. Their current exhibitions explore notions of national identity in C19th landscape painting; dioramas and the refugee experience, and the impact of vast global migration.

The landscapes, sourced from American and Australian collections, were on the top floor – there were luminous twilight scenes of fishing villages and forested hills, and detailed engravings of early Australian cityscapes with picturesque groups of naked natives in the foreground. The colours were enticing, but not so the politics – the colonial narrative in the American and Australian images was very similar. But some of the paintings had less repugnant sensibilities – a glowing Hunter Mountain sunset foregrounding the stumps of cut trees, indicated an early concern for the degradation of nature as a result of settlement.

On the middle floor, Australian artist Tom Nicholson, whose work concerns monuments, memorials and other collective visual forms, documented his most recent project on dioramas. He interviewed the lead sculptor of a set of dioramas that were commissioned by President Sukarno in the 1960s for the Monumen Nasional in Jakarta. The sculptor was asked to create a series of scenes that established a definitive Indonesian history and national character. The difficulties of satisfying the many stakeholders were challenging enough, without the brutal change of regime halfway through the process, with Suharto wanting to establish his own mythology.

In the second part of the project, Nicholson worked with a group of Hazara refugees in Jakarta, talking about their experiences and thinking about key scenes in their lives that could be recreated in diorama form. Their testimonies were terrible and heart-breaking, but most had found some temporary solace in Jakarta. Some of the figurines, made by the refugees in collaboration with Indonesian artists, were displayed on a large white table in one of the galleries.

On the ground floor were two works presented as part of the current city-wide ‘Art + Climate = Change’ Festival. The first was a striking three screen video piece by British artist John Akomfrah. It was about the colonisation of the seas – juxtaposing historical documentary, re-enacted film footage of C19th whaling and slave ships and recent footage of modern refugee boats, with beautiful images of wild nature from BBC documentaries.

The other piece was an immersive data visualisation inspired by the work of French philosopher Paul Virilio. The projection (onto a 270-degree surround screen) linked information on current global human migratory trends with details on the underlying social, economic and environmental causes. It was appropriately alarming. Migrations were presented as great gushing fountains of pixels, flowing across the globe, the world map turned blue and purple and brown with floods, earthquakes, droughts and fires. The thousands of cities that will be submerged by rising sea levels gradually sank beneath a rising blue tide line (Western cities were the last to go as they’ll be the ones with money to build defences). On leaving the museum, the autumnal trees cheered me up a little!

On Wednesday, Tommy and I enjoyed the autumn colours in the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was a rather damp and grey morning, but the bright leaves glowed in the gloom.

Tommy wanted to make friends with the ducks and moorhens, but got rather scared when they all started running after him (‘will they eat me up?!’).

On Friday night I went to the Arts Centre to see two new pieces performed by the Sydney Dance Company. The first was entitled ‘Full Moon’, by the Taiwanese choreographer Cheng Tsung-lung. It was a beautiful fusion of contemporary Western choreography techniques with intricate and robust Taiwanese dance moves. Each performer pursued their own path, sometimes blending or in counterpoint with others. The costumes, by a Taiwanese fashion designer, gracefully accentuated the character of each dancer. A sturdy athletic female dancer whose choreography was all leaps and rolls, wore a bulky dress of brilliant scarlet rags (like a Baris). Two female dancers in tawny gold/monochrome began the show with a mischievous clownish duet, their faces obscured by their hair. The men wore feather-light floor-length skirts of silver-grey parachute silk, which they whirled like dervishes. The mournful electronic soundtrack kept things moving, and the lighting changed gradually, initially white overhead, then shifting golden to the side, and in the last movement forming a glowing backdrop white, with a golden frame, which changed infinitesimally into a black frame round a deep misty red, rather like a sculpture by James Turrell.

The second piece, ‘Ocho’, by the company’s lead choreographer, Rafael Bonachela, was quite a contrast. It was about urban struggle – the piece’s 8 characters were initially trapped in a small glass box, and when they escaped it was only into a slightly larger high-walled concrete enclosure. Their movements were vigorous, earthy, angry. The music was strident, glitchy electronica, strobe lights flashed and pulsed. But after a short while it became rather tiresome. The dancers fought and had sex and eventually a haunting aboriginal song signalled some higher purpose and their movements became simple and synchronised. It was an embarrassing cultural appropriation.

On Saturday we attempted a family country walk. A bus from the city took us to the hilly and wooded eastern suburb of Warrandyte, where a few large areas of river-land remain undeveloped.

It was a mild, azure-skied day, and it was beautiful to be amongst the towering gum trees full of raucous bird song.

The kids climbed fallen logs, found sticks and beetles, and picnicked by the river, but when it came to walking anywhere, they were far from keen!

So we hardly made it to the start of our planned walk (tree-top koalas had been rumoured, but we’ll never know!) but we did spot some king parrots and galahs, and heard the frogs singing in the reeds.

There were also signs of the C19th goldrush – including a river cave blasted by the C19th gold prospectors who once diverted the Yarra in order to mine the original channel (the river flows along both channels now).

In the evening Rowena and I went to the St Kilda Film Festival (an annual festival of short film screenings at the St Kilda Town Hall). We went to a programme of recently made Australian shorts, and saw seven films, varying in length from 1 to 15 minutes. The quality was surprisingly high. Stand-outs were a chilling and clever drama about four young lads on a drunken joy-ride, a poignant portrait of two young orphan sisters, and a tragic story of a young girl’s unrecognised depression in a small country town. The least successful film, about two bickering friends looking for their car after a drunken night out, had some local interest, as it was all filmed in the back streets of Balaclava.

On Sunday I went to see some more short films. They weren’t quite as good as those I saw on the previous day, but I liked the gentle humour of a three-minute shot of an old couple eating dinner, sharing companionable silence, the seriousness of a short drama about C19th slavery in Queensland, and a story about a young detention officer’s growing uneasiness concerning her boss’s working practices. My favourite though was a selection of found footage from Japan – long silent tracking shots of 1940s street scenes. It was fascinating! Worst were a couple of sci-fis, hackneyed moral quandaries in ridiculous CGI set-ups.

Week 238 – birds and bollywood

A day at the zoo always provides a good start to the week. The weather was chilly, hazy and damp, but in between the showers, the animals were making the most of the sunshine, shaking themselves off and getting some exercise in.

We started, as always, at the meerkat enclosure, then spent some time in the aviary, spotting various intriguing birds that we hadn’t seen before.

After being orange-eyed up by the emu, we watched the giraffes lunching, the lemurs grooming, and the mandrills survey their territory.

We saw the hippo paddle a few laps of his pool (adult hippos don’t swim, they propel themselves along with one foot on the bottom – a bit like punting) – looming right up against the underwater glass panel.

The gibbons and spider monkeys put on some spectacular acrobatic shows. My favourite, the white-cheeked gibbon, leapt and swung and spun, swapping an arm for a leg in mid-air, every movement so languid and perfectly poised, it was amazing to see (I was sorry Maisie missed it, given her current fascination with climbing/acrobatics!).

Tommy was particularly taken with the white-headed stilts (a small native black and white water bird). He watched them wade through their little pond, spearing insects and weed from the muddy water, for a very long time!

He also enjoyed interacting with the darting otters who were calling to each other in high-pitched squeaks, and watching the tiger who was devouring a meaty bone in the relative dryness of his shelter.

In the evening I went to see ‘Their Finest’, a new British comedy/drama about making propaganda films during the Blitz. It was surprisingly sharply scripted, with a strong feminist angle, a refreshing take on an oft-represented era.

On Tuesday I popped into a little exhibition at ACMI celebrating the early years of Indian film. ‘Bombay Talkies’ was a movie studio founded in 1934, by Himansu Rai, an Indian lawyer/actor/producer who was passionate about presenting Indian stories to western audiences. In the 1920s he made several silent films, based on Indian epics, which he filmed in Indian palaces (with the enthusiastic co-operation of the local Maharajahs) with the help of a German technical team, and distributed in the West. Later, he went on to film his first ‘talkie’ with both English and Hindi soundtracks.

His second wife, the beautiful actress Devika Rani, also took a leading role in managing the film studios, which were known for being run along fair and non-exploitative lines. Their movies often addressed domestic and social issues, and featured beguiling song and dance numbers (precursors to modern-day Bollywood). Most of the artefacts on display were copies of letters – arranging finances, engaging actors and props, responding to fans etc. The minutiae was fascinating, and the English in which they were written was so graciously polite, even when the underlying message wasn’t! There were a few intriguing movie clips, but sadly not of great quality, as the archival footage wasn’t in great condition.

On my way home along Acland Street, I took a picture of the recently-completed ‘cocoon’ – a large woven bamboo structure, which the artists have been constructing onsite over the past couple of weeks.

On Thursday Myomi and I took Jack and Tommy to the Booran Reserve, Melbourne’s newest and largest children’s park (I’d taken Maisie there a few weeks back). Despite the winter chill, they headed straight for the water jets, and the hamster wheel was a big hit (see picture). The giant rope-climbing-frame proved rather daunting, but Tommy managed to scale one of the lower rope-ladders. What with all the sand, tunnels, swings and slides, it was hard to drag them away, but we lured them home with the promise of chips!

On Friday night it was the opening of the Photo-marathon exhibition, and the announcement of the winners. I didn’t expect any recognition for my photos, and I didn’t get any! But there were many interesting images that weren’t short-listed, so I felt that I was in good company! I was happy that a number of my pictures were unique (no-one else had photographed a blue latte!) – I seemed to have the right idea at least, as novelty appeared to be one of the main criteria for the winning images. The winner for ‘Birds Eye View’ was a picture of a drone, for ‘Underground’ it was a murky shot of gravestones (both were unique images/ideas). The winner for ‘My entry number’ had collected 199 twigs and laid them in a line on the ground. ‘Survival of the fittest’ was an arty shot of a shopping trolley, ‘Juxtaposition’ a picture of shadows through glass – relevance to the topic didn’t seem key in those categories! ‘My little secret’ and ‘Quirky’ were good – the first was a close-up of a man trying on sparkly high heels – just the feet, seen under the changing room curtain, the second a clever action shot of guy sliding/leaping down a banister.

I went on to ACMI to see a film showing as part of the current ‘Human Rights Film Festival’. Entitled ‘Raving Iran’ it was an affectingly low-key documentary about two talented but rather bumbling young House music DJs, who were persevering with making a career in music in Iran, despite everything about their music/music scene being completely illegal. There were some wonderful scenes of a covertly arranged desert rave. In desperation, they looked for ways of escaping, approaching people-traffickers, and sending out CDs to every international electronic music festival they had heard of. Miraculously, a Swiss dance music festival offered them a gig, and a precious 5 day visa. Once there, they had to decide whether to abandon their families and seek asylum.

Saturday was a tale of two parties. The first was held in a children’s play centre in a suburban shopping mall. Maisie and her friends had a ball spending two hours climbing and sliding and speeding round on tricycles and eating as much sugary food as possible. The adults sipped coffee and tried to shut out the screams, bright artificiality and claustrophobic grubbiness. Afterwards Maisie drew a picture of herself playing with her friend Polly.

In the evening I was invited to a friends’ husbands’ 40-something birthday party, held at our nice local real ale bar. Co-incidentally (the birthday boy was British) the pub was holding a ‘Best of British’ night with an all British beer and food list, and a playlist of UK pop hits. The walls were festooned in plastic Union Jacks, and life-sized cardboard cut-outs of iconic British figures lurked in the corners. Most of the party attendees had been drinking since the mid-afternoon, so everyone was in high spirits – and the cardboard figures became inveigled in various hi-jinks (David Beckham was kidnapped and photographed in various locations around St Kilda!). I didn’t know many people, but it didn’t matter, everyone chatted to everyone, and it was great fun!

Sunday was Mother’s Day (I don’t know why the observance is different here than in the UK). Maisie had made me a lovely card (a design of hearts and snakes!) and bought me a bracelet from her school’s fundraising mother’s day stall. I escaped for the afternoon and went to see ‘Lahoriye’, a new Punjabi film about a contemporary cross-border Indian/Pakistani romance with the back-drop of Partition. It was a mainstream movie, made for a Punjabi audience (I was the only white person in the cinema), and as such, it wasn’t subtle – it was like a rather extended, clunky, soap opera – but it was admirably non-partisan, and the social complexities and intricacies of family hierarchies were well handled.

Week 237 – Van Gogh in Aus

I made the most of a rare and precious child-free Tuesday by heading to the NGV to see their recently-opened winter blockbuster show, entitled ‘Van Gogh and the Seasons’. There has been much fanfare about the exhibition, as paintings by Van Gogh rarely make it to these shores. And already, before the gallery doors opened at 10am, there was an excited queue snaking down St Kilda Road.

There turned out to be a lot of padding. The first room was devoted to a massive video projection of luscious southern French landscapes, the second featured a selection, from Van Gogh’s own collection, of contemporary/historical lithographs and etchings (interesting, in terms of how they informed his brushstrokes, compositions and content – many of them celebrated the rural labourer). The third room was full of Japanese ukiyo-e (from the NGV’s own archives) – lesser-known Hokusais and Hiroshiges – beautiful to look at but not all of them essential in getting the message across that Van Gogh was inspired by them!

Finally, in the fourth room, there were the Van Gogh paintings. Each one had its own special wall, protective plinth/step and bench – like a little altar. Each of the four sections (of the one large room) was devoted to a season, with earlier and later paintings (and a number of ink sketches/etchings) presented alongside each other. Autumn was first. I was taken by an early dark-hued work, a scene of a lone peasant woman walking home through the flat, poplar-edged Dutch fields at dusk. Despite its dingy palate it had a vividly atmospheric crepuscular glow. I also loved a scene of blasted pine trees against a fiery orange sky – a late work, made when he was crippled by mental illness.

Because of the way the paintings were presented, it was possible to view them quite closely sideways on, which meant that you could study the brushstrokes (see grape harvest detail). I still find it quite surprising that cameras are allowed in every exhibition here. It makes the dynamic of the gallery quite different – no more hushed reverence and slow-moving huddles of people, but instead a crowd of bustling paparazzi clicking away constantly on their phones. It wasn’t great constantly having a phone shoved in front of my face when I was looking at a painting, but conversely, people generally moved on swiftly, so I could linger as long as I liked without annoying anyone!

The winter section was mainly devoted to melancholy little sketches of snow-bound orchards and graveyards (many from an unhappy period Van Gogh spent with his parents in a small Dutch village). Spring introduced us to his most colourful, vibrant works. I spent some time absorbing the greens/ochres/purples/turquoises of a cherry orchard, and admired a lovely sketch of a patch of grass full of spring flowers – almost all of it captured in short vertical straight lines. The wonderful geometric details of a pine-tree stump made me think of Australian paper-barks.

A lively summer sketch of the white candle flowers of a horse chestnut tree made me feel home-sick (and sad for all the dying horse chestnuts in Europe), and I was very happy to see the exhibition’s key-note painting – the cedars in a corn field – shipped over from London’s National Gallery (a painting I always try and visit whenever I’m there!). I left the exhibition wanting more, but also inspired by seeing some world-class art!

With the exception of a happy evening spent enjoying the soporific harmonics/harmonies of Jeremy’s selonding (an ensemble I haven’t played in for a year or so), the rest of the week was unremarkable. It was very cold and wet and Maisie was ill again (school really is taking its toll – she’s applying herself so much to the work that she is constantly exhausted) so we stayed in a lot and tried not to go stir-crazy!

Maisie did muster up the energy for her first bike ride with Daddy – from our house to the end of St Kilda pier and back (a distance of about 5.5 kilometres).