Monday, September 24, 2007

32 Days : Traces of Trieste

32 Days until I experience L-Space when reading Terry Pratchett, and not because I can't find a book in the Reid Library.

Today I was read a historical monograph of the benandanti of the Fruili region of Italy in the 16th Century. The epically named The Night Battles is a fabulous read, mostly for the extraordinary images of the male witches of the region fighting with fennel and sorghum stalks to determine the fertility of the land and the nefarious Inquisition transforming their agrarian Holy Legions to Demonic Legions by sheer bloody-mindedness.

Aquileia Basilica

Fruili is the only region of Italy I have actually visited, and the towns of Trieste, Montefalcone and Aquileia mentioned in the text are the towns I know from my few days there with Kim. While reading The Night Battles I could picture the region as I remember it, although my visit in 2003 is separated by oceans of time and context from my reading today.

Today I am looking forward to the end of my year of study so I can read more monographs of places I have visited, bringing them to life again in my mind, my memories of them having become a little threadbare from repeated handling in the last few years.

NOTE: Google Books only gives you the first four pages of each chapter to read. If you search for a key word that will be on the majority of pages in the chapter it will bring up enough pages for you to construct the rest of the chapter. That is how I get around books that are not in the library ... L-Space in truth!


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

52 Days

In honour of the release of The Bourne Ultimatum I had decided to make my 'kill-some-brain-cells-to-unwind-before-I-go-to-bed' reading the first of Robert Ludlum's oeuvre I had ever read. Plunging back into the fantastic Corsican landscape with Scofield took me right back to the start of my love of assassins.

It was USSR (uninterrupted sustained silent reading) in Yr 7 and as my classmates commenced their Judy Blume and Paul Jennings novellas I pulled out The Materese Circle. Frankly disbelieving, my teacher pulled the schools’ Head Girl up the front to ask in a shocked whisper if my parents knew I was reading the book. I blithely assured him that I was a precocious reader and this was shaping up to be as good a Frederick Forsyth. I was released to read more about the nefarious aims of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in the conspiratorial and overblown style of Mr Ludlum and in the next book I went on to meet my favourite of Robert’s assassins, Jason Bourne.

After almost seven years absence from any of Ludlum’s books, trying to credit any of his extraordinarily convoluted plotlines about shadowy multinationals, dormant Nazi genetic breeding programmes and hysterical rogue assassins are harder than ever. Not because they are silly or overwritten, which is undeniable, but because they are no longer scary or unbelievable. One legacy of reading world news and a certain event between two airplanes and two New York Skyscrapers is that shadowy organizations have stepped into the sunlight, incubators are sending out their products and the hysterical killers are sanctioned. No Ludlum novel can out-spy, out-assassin and out-conspire the real world now, and I think that is the great strength of the movies.

All the movies are credits to the scriptwriters, who turn dated storylines into highly contemporary storylines, especially in the subtly of the treatment of those who created Jason Bourne. I was unsurprised, if disappointed, when the Vietnam War roots of Bourne and Treadstone disappeared from the first two movies, but utterly impressed when they made an unmistakable return in the third movie in the contemporary setting of the USA’s war against its own terror. Watching the movies adapt to their times is like watching Jason disappear on the Marseilles wharf in Identity, you barely notice the commentary but it is there and if you blink, you miss it.

Even a fleeting comparison of the Bourne movies and the War in Iraq yields some interesting observations. Identity, released in 2002, still holds to its spy-novel roots, the USA assassinating leaders in Africa is no longer implausible as the Marines search for Osama in the hills of Afghanistan. No ambiguities had yet turned the War on Terror into a farce and Identity was clear in its morality, concentrating more on the need to take out a potentially dangerous leak than the morality of those who wished to take him out.

Supremacy is released in 2004 as the War in Iraq hits its first patch of trouble, the WMD revelations in the UK and the US and the realisation that the USA will be in Iraq for a very long time indeed. The audience is still unaware, however, of the lengths to which the US Government is prepared to go to maintain Homeland Security and the motives for the corrupt elements in the movie is still the relatively familiar story of money and falling in with naughty Russians. I grew up on Cold War spy novels so I was bemused to see Russia making a comeback as the worldwide bad guy, all of Putin’s hard work getting my favourite country back on the side of evil with his fondness for blackmailing small European countries, assassinating journalists and dethroning oligarchs paying off.

It is Ultimatum, released when the powers of the US government are unrepentant in their contravening of the rights of their citizens that the films really hit their stride. The shock of watching a shooting in Waterloo and agencies drugging targets on the street at first stretches your credulousness until you remember a young Brazilian shot in the head on a Tube train and the Europe-wide inquiry into the CIA flying prisons. Unfortunately for this decade, ‘black ops’ is no longer a word used to glamour up a film, it actually happens on streets worldwide, and not just by US operatives.

Choosing to make the villains of the last movie the government that chooses tough love over rights for its citizens and foreigners was bringing the franchise back to its roots in the books. Bush has been putting the War in Iraq and the Vietnam War through some pretty spectacular historical contortions in the last year to align them to his satisfaction, and I would like to think that those who chose the direction of The Bourne Ultimatum knew what they were doing when they decided to let Bourne and his extreme ways loose on those who would oppress in the name of security.

Monday, September 03, 2007

53 Days

In winter last year I was alone in my apartment listening to a storm break around my balcony and reading Beowulf on the couch in a blanket. Falling asleep I dreamt of viking verses and when awake composed my own, incomparably inferior, for my own amusement.

Again today the wind is sweeping in from the coast and today, unseasonally warm for spring, has again woken the undistinguished yet unbowed poet within me.

We perch before the wind on this scarp of brittle land
It bows our trees and scours our beaches and drives the fires on
It takes the sun and threads our skin with heat in every strand

We perch beneath the blue sky on this slice of salted earth
It draws our eyes and drinks our water and meets the sea at last
It takes the wind and hurls it down upon the green and burnt

We perch, we plunder, we partition, we preserve
We persecute, we plow, we plead
We pray, we take our pleasure
and we play with vultures perched.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

54 Days

It may have been a small turn for mankind, but it was a big turn for me. I cooked my first BBQ meats without male supervision tonight. To perfection. Which is a good thing because it was Father's Day and Dad had especially requested lamp chops and sausages, so I had to make sure it was done well.


And by golly was it done well! And not well done either, but medium rare, just the way we like it.

I even ensured I maintained the 'Aussie Male BBQing Stance' for the duration of the cooking to guarantee optimum BBQing feng shui. Or something. All Aussie men take 'The Stance' when BBQing, although they almost always have a beer in the hand that rests near the hip while the other hand uses the tongs to turn the meat. My variation was a lady-like hand on a pastel-clad hip while I turned the roasting meats.

Still, it worked well.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

55 Days

Today Sophie hosted a beautiful High Tea at her house for her 23rd Birthday, with the special guest appearance of a birthday cake made from The Woman's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. Sophie's mother (hereafter referred to as the Legendary Mrs Hall) had provided the following to make her daughter's guests feel as if they were safe amongst the hedgerows and moors of Somerset or Devon:

The Legendary Mrs Hall's Menu:

Cucumber sandwiches, ham sandwiches and cheese pastries.
Chocolate slice and scones, jam and cream.

A cake from The Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book and matching cupcakes.

Iced tea, champagne, juice, tea and coffee.

The party was exclusive and gracious, the Legendary Mrs Hall and Mr Hall fabulous hosts and the food was top-notch nosh. The cheese pastries were tasty, the cucumber sandwiches tart, the chocolate slice rich, the scones bite sized and the marshmallow icing on the dense sponge cake and cupcakes heavenly.

Amongst the quiet chat and delicious food I was reminded of my first Christmas in London. I was working for the Evangelical Alliance and my workmates each extended a warm welcome to me to join them for Christmas celebrations to take the place of my missing family. I accepted two invitations, one on Christmas Eve and one on Boxing Day.

Christmas Eve was a tea at Gill’s house, a short stroll across the Common to South Wimbledon. Tea was taken in a long wallpapered parlour with a log fire, sparkling Christmas tree, plump couches, three couples with a handful of children and a hyperactive Labrador. I enjoyed being in the midst of a family again, especially the kids, as I had begun to miss my cousins quite a bit.

My hostess presided over two teapots from which I had no less than seven cups of tea.

Despite being a Britophile, and one finally in Britain, I was still a reluctant tea drinker at the best of times, although in the various English households I had been a guest in since my arrival I had learnt to drink it in larger quantities. When in Lewes with Elisabeth I had experienced for the first time the tea tray, ever present in the living room, poised and ready for tea every two hours. Christmas Eve with the children and the Labrador I drank a record number of cups of Lady Grey tea and it is still my favourite, my sister buying me loose leaf Lady Grey for my birthday this year.

To my delighted Australian eyes the food itself had been pure Enid Blyton:

Ham and mustard sandwiches, smoked salmon sandwiches, jam sandwiches and cheese scones with gentleman's relish.

Crumpets, meringues, chocolate cake and gingerbread men.

The two pots of tea impressed me beyond measure, I’m not sure if you noticed.

That evening was something unique and fulfilling for me; listening to the conversation, watching the dark through the windows past the Christmas lights and watching the Labrador pacing too and from the kitchen as Gill replenished her teapots. It was exactly what I had imagined English life to be like.

Boxing Day lunch with Carol was in Streatham, the first time I had ventured outside of the Tube Map into the more beautiful parts of London. The Ashley-Smith’s had a house with the one thing I still had not set eyes on, a real English back garden. It was long and hedged, it held a vege patch, an orchard, and to my mind foxes and fairies. That day I learnt what happened to the leftovers of the vast English Christmas dinners (turkey SO many different ways) and I was taught to play bar billiards by Carol, her mother and her 80-year-old Grandmother.

Tramping around the garden with Carol’s father, listening to the stories of Streatham as the resting place of shepherds bringing the flocks from the Sussex Downs to London and scoring 1000 points in bar billiards in a warm parlour with three generations of Englishwomen was wonderful and still a treasured memory.

So although today prompted many memories of good times in London, there was an even stronger reminder of why I am here, now, in Perth. The cake, as previously mentioned, was from The Woman’s Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. This book is an integral part of the childhood memories of many children across Australia. For my own siblings and I the Birthday Cake Book represented Nirvana, cakes that we could dream about, but that Mum would never make. We would sit around it for hours, lovingly cataloguing the endless shapes, icing, lollies and toys that turned each cake into childhood fantasies of racing tracks and swimming pools.

I got to see my first genuine Women’s Weekly Children's Birthday Cake at 26, and not a moment too soon! Life is good.