Saturday, January 31, 2009

Taking Refuge from the Heat ...

... in a cinema is a good idea. Meeting our friends to see Revolutionary Road at 4.45 was also a good idea, as were the iced drinks and ice creams we devoured. And given that a bit of a cool change arrived while we were inside, our timing was also perfect. The only problem was the enormous blackout that plunged the cinema into silent darkness about ten minutes before the end of the movie, just after Leonardo has eaten his scrambled eggs.

But people were pretty calm and resigned. We picked up our refund (not that it was really the cinema's fault), argued about the possible endings on the way home, then sat outside in the breeze, drank home-made ginger beer, then some Little Creatures, then some sauvignon blanc, and then, with pizza, because it was Friday night, a little cabernet merlot as well. We played Scrabble in three teams, but were too lazy to move around the table, so it was the two fathers, a mother and a goddaughter, and a mother and a godson. Much hilarity. But I hate the new little book of stupid Scrabble words like Qi, whose meaning no one can ever remember. But worse, my brain was so addled by the heat I only realised three moves later that IQ is an abbreviation, and therefore not allowed. Rats!

When our friends had gone, we moved in on the Verdasco-Nadal match, coming in at the third set, and staying on till the end. It was completely and utterly absorbing, to see each player pushing and extending each other, each with immense respect for each other's game. And now there's an additional thrill to any such event: will the power hold out till the end of the match? Either at Rod Laver arena, or on our little bit of the grid? I turned off every single light in the house, while we were outside...

Admittedly, these are exceptional circumstances: the hottest week on record for Melbourne. But it does seem as if the infrastructure is very fragile indeed. Refrigeration, trains, power are all vulnerable. And what is worst of all: it's our children who are really going to bear the brunt of climate change and failing systems in twenty or thirty years time. And it will be our fault.

Friday, January 30, 2009

You Know You're in the Middle of a Heat Wave When...

  • you welcome the little breath of cool air that comes out from the air-conditioned bank when you withdraw cash from the ATM
  • the hot air coming out of the bottom of the fridge is heating up your kitchen so much that you think someone left the oven on
  • you are too scared to turn the fans or the little air-conditioner in the bedroom up too high in case it triggers a black-out in your suburb
  • and when you think it's better to be riding your bike home at 7.00 at night, when the temperature is still 43, than being stuck on a crowded train platform because the train tracks have buckled in the heat.
  • and when you know that however bad it is in Melbourne, it's worse in Adelaide
[Update: later that same day: still 43C]

  • when your sunglasses get almost too hot to wear on your face
  • when the pavement burns your feet through your sandals
  • when the thermostat inside the car registers 50C
  • when the bitumen is breaking up on the roads
  • and when there are fires on Hoddle St and a bookshop in Carlton, because the air conditioner exploded. Watch this space.
Really looking forward to that cool change they are promising: just 35 tomorrow!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Woman returns to work after 25 years

Kate just sent me this as an email attachment. Naturally, I couldn't open it, but I found it on YouTube. As Kate said, anyone under 40 probably won't get it...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fish, water, wind, trees and sun

For the record: it's currently 42 degrees outside at 3.00 in the afternoon, and climbing. That's hot! And it's just day 1 of the four days above 40 we are promised this week.

My plan for today was to put on my old white cotton dress, which weighs little more than about two handkerchiefs, and sit quietly in my study at home, which is still pretty cool in the old downstairs brick part of the house. I had just opened up email when it turned out today had to be the day that we emptied the fishpond. There is a little leak, and the wonderful Bill was coming by this afternoon to start the repairs. This meant the pond had to be emptied and dried out by 5 this afternoon. The drying part was not a problem, in the sun, but the emptying was horrible. It is quite a complex system, and the process involved moving most of the rocks and plants to make sure no fish were left behind as we emptied the filter and ferried buckets of water around the garden. Which may at least mean the plants have a chance of surviving.

It was really more than a two-person job, so this meant persuading the resident teenager, who was all showered and changed (Obama t-shirt and cherry red jeans bought second hand for $5), and ready to go out, to change into old shorts and spend half an hour ferrying water. He did do it, but he said only because I made him feel guilty. Which I guess was fair enough...

There's not much wind, so while it's hot, at least there is not that soul-destroying northerly wind we sometimes get in summer, but every now and then, a little breeze would float by, and the citriodora would drop, as if on purpose, a little group of leaves it had decided it could do without. A bit like the whomping willow in whatever Harry Potter film it is, when one leaf drifts slowly to signal the beginning of autumn, and then the whole tree gives itself a shake, and they're all gone. Giving a whole new meaning to the word "deciduous".

Anyway, we scooped up bucketloads and ice-cream container loads of water and all the regular muck that's always at the bottom of the pond, at the same time as trying to catch fish and move them into areas we weren't emptying. (It is quite an elaborate system, with different levels.) Some of the perch would leap out of the net as soon as we caught them: remarkably frisky, and suddenly a whole lot bigger than they normally look. When the water was ankle deep, I was standing scooping out water, and they would come between my feet and nip me. Cute! We lost only one that got caught out in the shallow hot water when we had gone inside because we were starting to feel faint.

It was a horrible, job, really: very hard on the back, and very hot. But I kept thinking: this is the pond, and these are the fish that gave me such comfort when I was convalescing, so it was not that hard to keep shovelling. And all but one poor fish are now safe in cool deep ponds. It's hard to imagine it ever raining enough to fill up the pond again when it's fixed, though: I think we will probably have to buy some water.

Now I'm back in my white dress, about to read an ARC draft, translate the last stretch of Havelok for our reading group tomorrow, then reading another chapter of a PhD thesis. Haven't even put the fan on yet...

P.S. Aaargghh! Weather pixie has put her bikini on!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism Blogging (4) The Wide Brown Land

Today is Australia Day. Recent custom suggests we are supposed to be having a barbeque to celebrate, though we had one last night, and called in the neighbours at the last minute, only to remember that Dokic was playing in the fourth round. Andy (Alan's temporary tenant) and Sophie (Alan's friend) don't follow the tennis, but Alan came in and watched the end of the first set with us. I was thrilled to see her win in three hard-fought sets, appalled to see the replays of her rolling over on her ankle at 7-6 in the third, but equally appalled at the crowd who lost its composure in the last game and cheered when Klebanova missed her serve, then equally loudly shooshed each other (itself, I guess). Given she played her best points to echoing silence from a packed arena, I thought the Russian showed a remarkable temperament, but I'm just so impressed with Dokic's composure and concentration. According to the press in Serbia who have hunted him down, her father is threatening to come to Melbourne if she makes the final. Judging from the crowd support, I think Australians would link arms at the immigration desk to stop him coming in and messing with her head again.

Today's medievalism is a bit oblique. I was listening to the radio while making coffee before (I'm reading drafts of ARC applications today; and a girl needs a break now and then), and they were taking talkback on the moment listeners came to love their country, and one woman recounted an experience I have had many times. She was flying to Alice Springs and looked out the window to see the vast expanses of red beneath her, and realised she loved her home. How many times have I climbed aboard a plane in a cold London night and fallen asleep to wake at 4 in the morning and look out to see a pale blue sky over the reddening rosy expanses beneath me. You go for hours, looking down, and barely seeing a road or a light. The wide brown land, indeed.

Why is this medievalist? Angela Catterns on the radio replied to this woman, and said, yes, it was a spiritual experience, like going into one of the great cathedrals in Europe. And there it was: the direct and easy equivalence between medieval spiritual heritage and the sacredness of land. Or home. This is, of course, quite different from indigenous notion of sacredness and custodianship. But in the sense that this vision of the red heart of the country takes your heart and soul into a different place, it's interesting to me that the analogy for this lifting out of the self is drawn from the medieval European past.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Three Big Nights

Three hot summer nights: three wildly different forms of entertainment.

Tuesday: after an appallingly hot day, an evening picnic (pea, leek and mint frittata: chicken and apricot salad; and raspberry bakewell tart: all made by my own fair hands) in the botanical gardens, followed by a lively performance of Taming of the Shrew. The cool change had come in and by the end of the evening I had wrapped the picnic blanket over my knees, and those of my parents. As night darkened, the stage was beautifully lit against a backdrop of cypress and eucalypts. Possums appeared in the trees; flying foxes flew above us; and moths circled in the floodlights. But what a difficult play it is. This was a fairly "straight" comic production, with a nod to the cross-dressing Rufus Sewell BBC version. Oh, what the hell: why shouldn't we have a picture here?



But really: surely this play should put an end to the idea of Shakespeare as the man for all seasons and times kind of thing? I think there are a number of ways around its difficult politics: something allegorical about the accommodations required in all marriages, perhaps. Or something about the deliberately provocative final speech, delivered by a boy in women's clothes? something like the envoi in Chaucer's Clerk's Tale? But none of these rationalisations is straightforward! Anyway, lots of discussion as people made their way to their cars. If Shakespeare's plan was to get men and women talking to each other, it worked!

Last night, a different kind of Melbourne event. We booked tickets for the tennis a few days ago, not knowing who'd be playing, and really lucked out to be part of the jubilant, warm, excited crowd that welcomed Jelena Dokic back into its arms. The poor girl still looks dreadfully troubled, even damaged, but the crowd was willing to recognise the struggle she has had with her father and all (and is of course desperate to find an Australian tennis champion). And she played brilliantly, and emotionally, narrowly losing the second set in a tie-break, but eventually edging out the No. 17 seed. We all screamed and yelled. Joel was at first very disapproving of any applause of poor play by Anna Chakvetadze, but was soon yelling out "c'mon Jelena" with the rest of us. We were part of a record crowd for a single day of any Grand Slam event. We got there around 5, and caught fragments of a few matches that were finishing up; feasted on gourmet sausages (my lads); and nori rolls and rice paper rolls (me and Paul's mother), before we headed up to the fourth back row of the stadium. But who cared? The atmosphere was electric, and our sight of the court fantastic. I've half a mind to go again next week.

Tonight it was time to stay home, and chill out. One of Joel's friends had lent him the Julie Tamar film, Across the Universe. Here's the trailer:



A wonderful, wonderful film, though probably much better on a big screen. But in your loungeroom, you can sing along. I'm going out tomorrow to buy a copy of Abbey Road.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism Blogging (3); OK, it's Tuesday, but surely that's ok...

Hmm. Have slowly started cleaning up my office at work in preparation for eleven months' absence; and am very slowly going through my list of things to do before I can really get down to some writing: examining PhD theses; assessing journals for the ARC; chasing up signatures from colleagues on new graduate applications; hunting down illustrations for an essay for antiTHESIS; deciding on the content of another essay; trying to find accommodation in Philadelphia and New York. It's also been very hot. It got up above 40 in Melbourne today, and then suddenly crashed to the high 20s. Much more comfortable.

Anyway, yesterday's medievalist blog topic was voted by the readers of the Melbourne Age in 1987 as Victoria's favourite building. It is the "Gothic bank" in Collins St, designed by William Wardell, a devoted follower of Pugin who migrated to Australia in 1858. It is magnificent.



And possibly looks even better in black and white:


Scroll down here for best images, especially of the interior. Keep scrolling on this site: there are some great shots here.

ANZ also built a skyscraper with postmodernist neo-Gothic arches up the top behind the bank, which you can see in the first picture above:



Discussing Wardell's building (we'll have occasion to re-visit his work on future occasions, especially when we look at St Patrick's Cathedral), Brian Andrews, in Australian Gothic (p. 25) quotes J. M. Freeland, Architecture in Australia on the building boom that was responsible for much of this very elaborate building style:

The pumped-up prosperity based on over-extended borrowing which was to envelop the whole of eastern Australia during the eighties was to reach its hysterical climax in Melbourne. In that town financial caution was to be thrown to the winds; crazy ventures were to be launched with loans over-subscribed within an hour or two of opening and with people fighting for the opportunity to invest their money: clever unprincipled financiers, many of them penniless when the decade began, were to float dozens of finance companies and building societies and, by the peak year of 1888, create an artificial and frantic land boom which was to be the prelude to the greatest and most terrible of depressions in Australia's history.


Sound familiar?

And a personal note. My aunt, who now lives in Sydney, was a very resourceful woman, who used to love coming into the city from Moonee Ponds and Keilor, where she used to live. In fact, she would take friends and visitors around to visit various banks of architectural or stylistic interest: and this was always the centrepiece of the tour. My uncle was not really one for much travelling or going out at night; and I can remember marvelling one evening, when my mother, sister and aunt and I had seen a movie in the city one evening, and Muriel commented on how beautiful her beloved city looked at night, all floodlit, and all. For she had mostly only seen it during the day. It was just one of those moments that consolidated the difference in our lives, just one generation apart.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Adelaide one day; Melbourne the next

In all the vagaries of summer weather, one thing is pretty sure: whatever they're doing in Adelaide, we'll probably be doing half a day later, though not always in such an extreme fashion. Same goes for blogging, with Pavlov's Cat and me. Not for the first time has she pre-empted me on a bloggy topic.

This morning she mentions the hot night, and opening up the house when the temperature drops. In our house I am the one who obsessively patrols the doors and windows, opening and closing according to the time of day, the angle of the sun, and the direction of the wind, constantly modulating to maximise comfort.

Last night was Melbourne's third hottest night on record, going down to a minimum of 28.1 (that's 86, by the double-the-number-you-first-thought-of-and-add-30 method of conversion). We were heading for 39 today, but the cool change came in much earlier than expected, and we only got to 32 before the south-westerly breeze blew in. I'm now sitting with the french door in my study open; and it's perfectly pleasant. Because we'd had only one day of extreme heat, the old brick part of the house hasn't heated up at all, so we are off the hook for a few more days, I think, till the temperature climbs again. Hope it's pleasant on Saturday when we are off to the tennis for the final of the Open lead-up tournament. I also hope Roger Federer makes it through to Saturday...

OK, back to work now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Coolest Newbie

Just to prove that this household has not been inattentive to its online commitments, I'm happy to announce that Son of Humanities Researcher has just been given an award: "Coolest Newbie" in the Zelda Universe online discussion forum. My pride knows no bounds.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism Blogging (2)

... and here are the ruins of the old city walls ...

I hadn't been down this part of Royal Park for years, but we rode past these little ruins a week or so on our way to dinner with Heikki and Katerina in Parkville. Riding back at night they looked even more mysterious and gothic, and I wasn't even sure what they were, but I've just ridden over in the early evening sunlight to photograph them; and of course, they are crenellated gatehouses.

Or perhaps guard boxes.

With extra piles for flagpoles.
On the outside they are beautifully pointed with lead.
And here is how you make crenellations when you have cut big blocks: just tip them up on their sides.
Further up the road the mystery is revealed: this was the entrance to Anzac Hall.
From the www.australia.coop website.

Anzac Hall is part of the Urban Camp. It was built between 1940 and 1941 for the RSL as a cinema and recreation hall for troops at Royal Park.

In 1942 a large part of Royal Park was used as a staging camp for US troops on route to the Pacific. The Americans called their area Camp Pell.

After the war Royal Park was the principal demobilisation centre for all Victorian service personnel and the area known as Camp Pell was used by the Housing Commission for emergency public housing until its demolition during a clean up campaign for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

Why Camp Pell? Does anyone know what this refers to?* The Urban Camp is used for country kids to give them a means of exploring the city. There was a group having a meal, so I didn't go too close, but here's a taste of its current architectural style.

Anyway, I'm struck by the survival of the gate houses in the modernisation of the 1950s — even though they weren't very old, someone must have thought them distinctive enough, or invested with enough heritage value to preserve — and also the choice of medieval crenellations for the 1940s. When we think of medievalist architecture, we often think of ecclesiastical, education or commercial applications, but military ones are probably just as common.**

And now I know why Gatehouse St has its name. It's not particularly near these gates, but I wonder if there were, or are, others, closer to that street.

It was a beautiful time to be out riding. The day is pleasantly warm; and because it's still school holidays, there's very little traffic. I rode over almost entirely on bike tracks and parks, and rode back through the empty car park outside the zoo. A large roaring could be heard. Bear? Lion?

* answer. Ahem. Should have looked this up in Brown-May and Swain's Encyclopedia of Melbourne. Major Floyd J. Pell was a US airman killed in 1942, defending Darwin against a Japanese air attack.

** correction: seems that Royal Park was used as a barracks in the First World War, too, so the gatehouses may well be much older than the 1940s. Will have to do some more work on this one. Here's a history of the Park. Brown-May comments that in 1946, 3000 people were temporarily housed at the camp, which became known as "Camp Hell", and was "popularly represented in slum stereotypes as a hotbed of immorality and disease, while its residents struggled with the vagaries of rotting wooden and rusting metal huts, inadequate amenities and streets turned to mud whenever it rained" (Encyclopedia of Melbourne, p. 109). Lovely!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism blogging

Gog and Magog have given me an idea. I'm going to try and keep a little Monday Melbourne Medievalism blogging routine up for a while. There are so many medievalist buildings and things in this city, but although I often notice them, it's not always easy to know what to do with them; or indeed, to say precisely what they themselves do. So I'll try and include a photo and a description, and try and analyse what I see, and try and formulate the right questions to ask. And yes, this is going to be part of my research for our Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory project — as well as another collaborative project that is at the very embryonic stage. Any suggestions, comments on these buildings and images more than welcome!

The first example is probably a bit obvious:


This wonderful building is a local landmark around Carlton (first suburb north of the city, and the locale of the University of Melbourne), and was built in 1889 by Inskip and Robertson as the site of the Carlton Club (it's now a restaurant). Note the kangaroo gargoyles and what are described as "Florentine arches". The style is also sometimes described as Venetian gothic. (We are very quickly going to exhaust my knowledge of architectural vocabulary, I'm afraid, but there's a fuller description of the building here.)

When I say this building is a bit obvious as a choice, that's because I chose it for the front cover of this book:
The photograph was taken for the book by my friend Robert Colvin, and I love the mixture of the celestial Australian sky and these weird gargoyles. Click on them for more detail. They are kind of bearded, with kangaroo-shaped ears and haunches, though with gryphon paws. You can't see their tales* from this shot but they are big and kangaroo-like in shape, except that they curl up the back of the statues (they're not strictly gargoyles) and end in a little leonine plume. The statues are holding shields which according to the heraldica website are in an elongated Venetian shape, and are perhaps even modelled on this kind of thing (with a similar charge: the diagonal bend, though without the beards and lions of the Barbarigo coat of arms) from the Doge's palace in Venice (check out the Doge's little hat as a crest):
So, let's see. If the architectural style is labelled "florentine" or "venetian", perhaps this is rather a kind of renaissance revival, rather than a medieval one. But then "gothic" pretty much implies medievalist in architectural terms, I think; and "venetian gothic" is a recognisable term in the Melbourne context. And the idea of the kangaroo gargoyles and their shields also makes it deeply medievalist, even if that is mediated by quattrocento Venice. (I am also at the very bottom of what I hope will be a steep learning curve about Australian heraldry and its medievalism.)

Sarah Randles has a neat essay in this book about the choice of gothic as an architectural style for a number of key Australian buildings. And Brian Andrews has written a masterful book on the subject, with a special focus on ecclesiastical buildings. There are certainly some beautiful medievalist churches in Melbourne, but I'm going to try and keep my range as wide as possible. They won't all be buildings, but many of those that are going to feature on this Monday blogging will date from the second half of the nineteenth century, when Melbourne was still booming, out of control, on wealth from the gold rush of the 1850s and the "land boom" of the 1880s, when land prices rivalled those of London, as I have just read in the wonderful new book I have just bought, Andrew Brown-May and Shurlee Swain's Encyclopedia of Melbourne, which is going to be tremendously helpful for this project.

It doesn't say much more about Gog and Magog, however, and nor does it mention this building, as far as I can see so far. But for many of Melbourne's secular and civic buildings, the ornamental Gothic of their style is easy to read as an exuberant expression of conspicuous consumption. Echoing the display of the Doge's palace in Venice is a confident act of nineteenth-century admiration for that city, and a comfortable ease with heraldic display, even in the abstracted, depersonalised form of these shields.

* for tales read tails; then marvel at the number of times I read that and thought it looked a bit funny and just left it there...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Why I love Melbourne, Part whatever...

Well, we always knew Melbourne was the cafe and coffee heart of Australia, thanks mostly to our post-war Italian and Greek immigrant population. This was confirmed a few months ago when Starbucks confirmed it was closing down 61 of its 84 Australian outlets. Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne had most of these and they were always going to struggle against a specialist coffee culture that was well entrenched since the 80s. Melbourne in particular prides itself on its European-ness, in places like Carlton and St Kilda; and I must admit I do love to try out the tiny cafes in the network of arcades in the heart of the city.

We found ourselves in the Royal Arcade at Christmas, looking for the Oxfam shop to buy goats and vegetable gardens, and were reminded of the magnificent Gog and Magog clock there....


Here are a few other pics I've found: the arcades range from grand ones like the Royal and Block arcades (note the Hopetoun tea rooms on the right below: great place to meet your aunt for afternoon tea) ...

... to the less formal lanes that criss-cross between the arcades...
... to the somewhat more jazzy ones west of Elizabeth St. This is Hardware lane:
In this last one, note the sign on the left: this is one of a number of chocolate bars and cafes that now dot the city as the cafes do. There's a lovely article on this new chocolate culture in the paper this morning. Makes me want to forget those pesky New Year's resolutions and head down for a Belgian hot chocolate with chili. Shudders in anticipation...

Friday, January 02, 2009

New Year, Traditions

Over at In the Middle folks are discussing their New Year's Eve traditions. They seem to involve civilised things like watching the television.

Down here, chez nous, that's for Christmas night, when we invariably and inexplicably watch the dancesport championships and try and predict the verdict of the unseen judges, as to who can do the best samba (from positions of pure ignorance, you understand). A day or two later, it's time to start cleaning up the garden, moving the furniture, shopping for extra glasses, having delightful conversations with the girls at Flowers Flowers on St Georges Road (no website; but thoroughly recommended for unusual and startling flowers and brilliant ideas) and cooking up a storm. We have had a party every year since the millennium, with the exception of 2006 when I was coming to the exhausting end of the radiotherapy, and we just love it. We end up doing odd things, though, like cutting plastic cups in half and using them to float 50 citronella candles in the fishpond (it looked fantastic), and setting bamboo flares alight with a little too much lamp oil. We also wear out our legs and feet and sometimes get a bit exhausted by the scale of things. For Paul it was the number of mangoes he cut up; for Joel, the garden lights that kept getting in a tangle; for me, it was the last three stuffed peaches, the last three cheese profiteroles, and the last three pastry tartlets filled with smoked salmon and dill-flavoured cream cheese. But people bring such good cheer to a New Year's party that it is always a delight. They bring wine; some bring food; and some bring friends and neighbours.

It's not such a late night as it used to be. I can remember Joel sitting up with his grandmother watching television as the new millennium dawned over the Sydney Opera House: singers and musicians calling in the new year with eerie, otherworldly sounds. But it is summer here, and not far from the summer solstice, so New Year's is a lovely time to be outside and up late. And up early, if you have the energy.

We are still cleaning up, though, slowly moving the furniture back into place, soaking the tablecloths in bleach, eating up leftovers, and making sorbet from the left-over fruit...

One of the best things, too, was finding the little vegetable knife Maggie Tomlinson had given me years ago. I thought it had disappeared, but it was just in the back of the cutlery draw. When she gave it to me (a wedding? a birthday?) she pasted a small coin to the card. I didn't know this tradition: that if you give something sharp like a knife or scissors, the coin stops the blade cutting the friendship.

Oh, and if you are reading this blog and wondering why you didn't get an invite to this party, I'm very sorry: we are much better at the food than we are at the invitations. Drop me a hint and I'll do better next (i.e. this) year.

Happy New Year to all.