I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Friday, April 04, 2014

On stuff, infrastructure, and beauty

I’m just back from a whirlwind trip to Sydney. We hired a van and drove up on Tuesday, taking up some furniture from the house, as well as a pile of stuff Paul had bought to set up the flat he is renting until the flat we are buying is finished. He is planning to be in Sydney only every second week, but there is still a lot of stuff you need to start out a residence from scratch. And because he will not have a car in Sydney and is also travelling a lot overseas at the moment, he had chairs and bed delivered here, while he also stocked up on kitchen stuff, an ironing board, and a pantry full of food to get him started. He also packed up about 24 boxes of books. Some of the kitchen things he bought are really beautiful, and it was a bit seductive to be unpacking them all and seeing his new crisp bedsheets, and shiny kitchen saucepans and the sharp knives and the green enamel bakeware and the green toaster and the pretty blue cups and teapot.

And also to sleep in a brand new bed when ours at home is so old it … well, you don’t want to know. The temptation of new stuff. But of course all the glasses and plastic boxes had sticky labels and paper wrapping and other boxes, and all the kitchen utensils were wired into cardboard, and had stupid little silver chains that attached their instructions.

I’ve been thinking about the big piles of rubbish in the oceans, lately; and we certainly made our sad contribution this week.

We shared the Hume with big trucks, all hauling stuff up and down between the cities, too. We arrived about 8 and went out for pizza, but then had to unload the truck so we could carry the bed and all the bedding upstairs, propping open the security door and waiting for the single, slow lift. And even with the lift, there was still a lot of lifting and carrying. The building’s a bit run down, but the bathroom in the flat has been recently renovated and the whole place is quite big and light.

On Wednesday we hauled boxes of books to Paul’s office on the UWS campus. By the end of the day my arms were a bit trembly with the weight of carrying big boxes of books upstairs. But we changed and headed off to our luxurious night out. We will have to pull in our horns financially to pay for this Sydney accommodation, but we treated ourselves anyway to the outdoor performance of Madam Butterfly. Should be easy, we thought. A pleasant ferry ride to Circular Quay, and there you are.

But.  The ferries don’t go all the way to Parramatta past about 5. So we ended up sharing a taxi with a woman we met at the dock. We drove ten minutes to Rydalmere dock, trying to persuade the taxi driver we didn’t want to go all the way in by taxi. So we paid $20 for a ten minute ride, but then only $6 each for a 55 minute ride on the Supercat. It was just beautiful.  

It went slowly at first, steering between the mangroves, I guess, but gradually speeding up past blocks and blocks of houses and apartments: so many people in Sydney must have a water view. It was dusk, and the sun was glinting off the water and the city as we approached.

As the harbour bridge came into view, the catamaran sped up, like a horse heading for its home, and docked at Circular Quay on perfect time. We then had to walk across to Mrs Macquarie’s point, through the Botanical Gardens. But the gardens were closed, and we found ourselves wandering around in the dark, wondering if we should get another cab. Surely there’d be signs pointing the way, we thought. But there was nothing. Maybe Sydney folk just drive everywhere or go by taxis. Maybe Sydney institutions don’t care about visitors. We were not the only ones getting lost and anxious. We ended up walking down a tunnel towards Woolloomoolloo (I’d learn to spell it if I lived there, I promise), where the narrow footpath actually gave out at one point. Honestly, Sydney: just a few signs for visitors would help. It can’t be that hard. Afterwards, we were directed to a water taxi, and did a quick trip around the point and back to Circular Quay for $10 in 5 minutes. We'll know next time. 

However, once we got there, we had time enough to buy edamame beans, almonds in soy, gyoza, and champagne to see us through the first act, which was astonishing. We were five rows from the front in the middle section. The seats looked west across to the opera house and the bridge, so the performance took place with the water and the sunset behind it, and then on the left, the tower blocks of the city, but with the darkness of the gardens intervening. There were a few flying foxes still in flight; and the crescent moon turned more and more orange as it sank into the water. You can just see it, pale and white, between the trees here:
The set is an exercise in engineering excellence. The first act is lit for dappled sunlight through the trees on a steep green hill. We were exhausted and so stayed in our seats at interval and watched as two cranes built Butterfly’s house and the unfinished block of units behind her (Pinkerton’s abandoned strata title), not a little like our own not yet finished Sydney apartment. The stage hands were more like builders, and indeed throughout the second act, these other folk (builders? Stage hands? Chorus?) hovered around and lit their little fires and walked on and off: the chaotic everyday world sitting behind this intense drama. As Pinkerton says, the Japanese house design is very simple, and you can change it as you go – like Japanese marriage.  The opera set was not simple, but its mutability was powerfully underlined through this “performance” of house-building at interval.

Hiromi Omura was simply extraordinary as Cio Cio San. A strong and lyrical voice, and a commanding actorly presence. I’d seen this opera before and the singer seemed abject and desperate all the way through. But this woman was playful, and defiant. The chronology of the opera’s setting was a bit confusing, but the symbolic force of this young Japanese woman loving her little rhinestone encrusted denim shorts and her American flag singlet, and draping them in her diaphanous white wedding gown in the final scene was heartbreaking.

It really was a highlight of my opera-watching career, on a par with Parsifal at the Met in March. It was both emotional and beautiful, and also intellectually smart, somehow. The simple beauty of two lovers against a bit white artificial moon? But it had also been a day crowded with stuff. Moving things here and there; setting up our own real house; seeing a fictional "marriage"disintegrate. Such beauty and stillness, but made out of such an expense of energy. Can it really be sustainable, what we do? What we give ourselves?