RegularRandom: 5 minutes with blueberry ash

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When I moved into my Potato Point house it had a front lawn surrounded by diosmas, and a military line of callistemon along the fence. J was looking for somewhere to indulge a rainforest phase and we needed to hide the all-night lights in the garden next door, so he planted a mini rainforest in my front yard. Elaeocarpus reticulatus (aka blueberry ash – my preferred name -lily of the valley tree, blue olive-berry, scrub ash, ash quandong , and if you absolutely must, fairy petticoats) was one of these trees. They now intermingle with the callistemon and the myrtles along the side fence, and have taken up residence along the front. Because it’s so crowded, they don’t achieve the rather splendid shape of a mature one in the swampy bush behind Potato Point beach, which was where J collected some of the seeds.

When I walked to my front gate in late spring I was accompanied by the smell of licorice. It took me a while to trace it to those raggedy fringed flowers, hanging in racemes, snuggling in amongst their toothed glossy leaves. When I structured the photos in Snapseed, it became obvious why they are called “reticulatus”: the veins in the leaf spread like a net.

The pleasures didn’t end when the flowers faded and fell. First I had a white petal carpet under the trees along the drive, like feldspar in granite, and soon, when the berries form, the pink and creamy- white of the flowers will be replaced by sky-blue globular drupes enclosing the recalcitrant seed. I don’t have baby blueberry ashes popping up all over my garden because the seeds are hard to germinate: sometimes they go to sleep for twenty years, waiting for fire or a good soaking to wake them up. J tried smashing them and soaking them in acid to hurry them along, but that didn’t work.

Most of my trees have white flowers, but there is one pink one.

This week in RegularRandom, DJ features delicate baubles, her own reflection, and a very elegant minimalist Christmas tree. I try to match at least delicacy, and the pink flower is specially for her.

Happy birthday! You’re 5 today

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Today my beloved Polish grandchildren turn an unbelievable 5. They are long and lean and fascinated by rockets and in Maja’s case her ability to “make a bridge” with her body: Jaś says “I can’t do that because my head’s too big.” Skyping has been my only contact since March. Sometimes we connect. Sometimes we don’t. Maja greeted us on one call, saying: “Not them again.” One Skype we didn’t see them at all because there was a man in the kitchen doing something with wires in the wall who plainly gazumphed Babi and Dziadek. For a while Maja only communicated via Mummy, but the last few times she’s talked directly to us. Jaś began by chatting away, but now disappears, once he’s finished breakfast. One session Maja refused outright to pay us any attention at all, and then emailed us a message.

What a journey it is birth to 5!

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RegularRandom: 5 minutes with a rainbow lorikeet

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It’s 5.30 am and I’m off for my first mini-walk of the day. I’m grumpy and unwilling. I bop up and down stairs three times, delaying departure. The last bop is to pick up my camera, thinking “I won’t see anything to photograph, but just in case.”

There’s no sign of recent rain, except the clacking and shrilling of frogs in the swampy land near the creek, and the sky is clear and pink. The surf is up and the waves roll and crash. I head up Short Street, past my favourite Potato Point house to the seat near the wooden staircase, overlooking Jemisons beach. At the south end the waves erupt massively against the rocks, and the sun makes a blinding path across the sea.

Suddenly I’m joined by a rainbow lorikeet. It perches on the stair rail. It comes over to the bench. It hops towards me, blue head, orange chest, green wings, and beady red eyes. It explores the planks of the bench, has an tentative chew, and hops closer, almost to my hand, conversing in lorikeet all the time. It lands on my jacket, its blue almost the same colour, and then my shoulder. We eyeball each other briefly. Having finished assessing me, it takes up residence on my head.

Then a flash of rainbow and it’s off to delight someone else.

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I’ll keep my distance, and suss you out first.

Mmm. You look OK. Maybe I’ll join you on the bench. But don’t expect too much. I’m a bit shy.

Shyness butters no parsnips. I’ll edge a bit close and see what happens.

OK. No harm done. A bit closer. Your hand’s probably harmless, but I won’t actually hop on it.

That’s as close as I’ll go down here. I’ll hop a bit higher. But don’t think you’ve got me tamed.

Now maybe it’s time to put my best face forward. This?

Or this?

Ot this …?

Enough fiddling around. You’re harmless. I’ll hop onto your arm. Your jacket is a welcoming colour. And now for the final act of daring. Onto your head. That’ll surprise you!

This is my contribution to RegularRandom. This week DJ photographs chocolates, arranging them beautifully, against a beautifully considered background.

Movies: August – December 2017

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It’s a while since I’ve been to Narooma Kinema, and in that time it’s had a major facelift. I’m not too sure about the external colour scheme, but the 30-seater theatre where I’ve spent so many pleasurable hours is unchanged, and on my first visit I manage to snaffle my favourite front-row seat with plenty of leg-room, and a shelf for the interval chai latte.

I launch myself back into movie going with nearly five hours of opera. “Der Rosenkavalier” was the first opera I ever saw, some fifty years ago, and it was so sparsely staged and so long – my mental picture is of people standing in front of a mantelpiece and singing interminably – that it turned me off opera till recently.

The opulent staging by the New York Metropolitan Opera is a very different kettle of fish. Yet again I’m awed by the double skills needed by opera stars: they have to be able to both sing and act. And this lot can. Opening scene – young lover and older woman – dissolves into the older woman’s sense of time passing: the poignancy of her confession that sometimes in the middle of the night she stops all the clocks; and her conviction about the end of the affair “if not today, tomorrow”. And so it proves. Octavian falls for the young bride he carries the silver rose for and has to navigate around the boorish Baron Ochs, who shows the fading arisocracy (Strauss wrote this is 1911) in all it’s ghastliness: entitlement, sexual predation, and total gracelessness. The nouveau arrived don’t fare much better: ostentation and a determination to be accepted by the aristocracy no matter how, in this case father virtually selling his daughter for a title. When the Marshallin vacates the stage in favour of the younger woman her lover is in love with she shows what grace and dignity look like.

What I particularly enjoy about the Met live on screen are the bonus offerings in the interval – in this case two intervals. An interviewer waylays the singers as they leave the stage, often dripping with sweat, to interrogate them about their roles and how they perceive and developed them. Or talks to the stage designer for a future production of “Tosca” about using 3D printing for the armature of a statue. Or discusses the intricacies of the music with the conductor. Or talks to the director about the ideas that drive his production. Or talks to the wigmaker (40 hours per wig, an average of 70 wigs per production) who plays a cameo role as hairdresser in this production. I’m introduced to a new concept: retiring from role. Two of the leads are about to do just that. For Renée Fleming , the Marschallin has been a signature role: she’s played it many many times and says she’s added as many layers to it as she can.  Elina Garanca who played Octavian so stunningly, is also moving on from this role to more mature ones. I’m intrigued by this definition of retirement.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/savor-renee-fleming-in-der-rosenkavalier-at-the-met

It’s not often I sit through a movie with a smile on my face. I loved the gentleness of this one, set in Mongolia, despite the slaughter of sheep, rabbits and fox. The relationship between Aisholpan and her father, her mother’s acceptance of her daughter’s ambition, the teenage giggling of her friends in the dormitory at school are all natural in a way you don’t often see on screen. So is the montage of disapproving elders when they hear about the eagle festival ambitions of a girl. So many sequences adhere to my mind: Aisholpan’s capture of her eaglet after a perilous descent down a rocky cliff, her father holding the blue rope; Aisholpan clumsily painting her fingernails and then her sister’s in preparation for the festival; her strength when she catches the eagle on her arm; the horses sinking into snow on the fox hunt in the icy vastness of winter; the disappointment on her face when her eaglet fails to catch the fox.

Reviewers castigate the movie for not being a “true documentary”, whatever that is. They point out that girls have been eagle huntresses before; that other girls were competing in the eagle festival Aisholpan won. Does this matter? I’ve given up seeing documentaries as absolute truth long ago. I’m more than happy to see it as the story of a strong girl fulfilling her dreams without high drama and over-dramatic setbacks. The few moments of tension come from extreme landscape. One reviewer calls it a “documentary fairy tale” and that seems to me to be a perfectly satisfactory categorisation. A spectacular vast natural landscape: ordinary loving people and relationships; a simple story of achievement. These are rare in the world of movies and gave me great pleasure.

For the trailer click here

Albert Namatjira is an Australian artist, the first Aboriginal to paint his country in the white man’s way. He became famous and his paintings sold well. This documentary is shaped around the Namatjira project, an attempt to recover copyright of his work for his family. A play is one centrepiece, performed around Australia and then in London, where his descendants have an audience with the uncomprehending queen, hoping that she’ll give them back their land. The other centrepiece is documentary footage from the 1940s – 1950s and the present in Namatjira’s community. It damns Australia’s ongoing attitude to its Indigenous people. The commentary from the past is condescending and paternalistic, and current attitudes are no better.
The landscape of the red heart, the subject of Namatjira’s art, is stunning, glowing red soil the background to startling white gums. His relationship with white artist Rex Batterbee is the only redeeming aspect of race relations, although the white producer of the play is respectful, seeking family approval before proceeding and using an all-Aboriginal cast.

If you want to watch a trailer for the documentary, click here

If you want to see his paintings, click here for a google images collection.

If you want to know more about the copyright issue, read these news items

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-07/fight-for-copyright-continues-from-namatjiras-family/8881474

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-09/albert-namatjira-copyright-sale-a-mistake/8335624

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/film-festivals/miff-2017-premiere-charts-familys-battle-to-reclaim-albert-namatjiras-legacy-20170724-gxha3o.html

What an experience! If you are edgy about heights, expect to be clammy-palmed for the duration, as people hug sheer cliffs, make their way along a knife-edge of snow, hang suspended over emptiness in their dangling tents, pause in the middle of a vast vista of mountain peaks and fog, mutter “I want to be at home” when the cold and the height and the danger finally makes them recognise the risks they are taking. Robert Macfarlane’s script reflects on the insanity of mountaineering (if you’re not a mountaineer) and comments that now climbing Everest isn’t an adventure, it’s standing in a queue. But oh the beauty of the mountains from the comfort of my Kinema seat: the pleats and folds of snow, the icicles bordering a cavern, the sharp rockiness outlined in white, the sublime night skies. And the smallness of human beings against this majestic background.

This documentary is visually magnificent. The script is sometimes banal and trite, maybe the fault of the voice which intones rather than speaks. The music is played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra under Richard Tognetti: much that is familiar from the classics, some specially composed. The music is only occasionally domineering: just once in the early stages when the suspense of the climber’s search for handholds didn’t really need reinforcement with dramatic music.

The film traces attitudes to the mountains over time. We see in a Sherpa elder bowing and burning incense the old feeling of awe: the mountains as a place for gods and monsters, not humans. Slowly puny men begin to desire conquest and by the end of the documentary thrill-seekers are going to increasingly absurd ends for their adrenaline fix, leaping off pinnacles with pushbike and parachute, jumping out of planes on snowboards, skiing impossibly vertical runs, and joining endless crowds in pursuit of conquest.

For the trailer, click here

Just as well you don’t have to like the lead character in a movie. Giacometti channeled by Geoffrey Rush is obnoxious and selfish and self-obsessed. And often very amusing, as he virtually kidnaps an American to be his subject for “a few hours” that turns into three weeks. He chases after his prostitute-muse, insists on an absolute position for his subject, agonises over his lack of talent, stashes banknotes indiscriminately all over the studio. And still there are pleasures: the contrast between him and his wryly acquiescent sitter, who could be an American abroad from a Henry James novel; the reconstruction of the studio that is visually beautiful in its chaos and untidiness; the imitation sculptures all over the place, which had to be exact replicas and then had to be destroyed so they wouldn’t find their way onto the market as originals.

Watch the trailer here

I am alone in the Kinema to watch this. It’s a savage indictment of the treatment of negroes in America (and Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal people), scripted by James Baldwin, whose words are interspersed with footage from the worst times. It’s framed around the lives of three assassinated men – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King – who were all Baldwin’s friends. Baldwin’s passionate words reshape the concept of racism:

You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves – and furthermore you give me a terrifying advantage – you never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

This documentary is confronting and challenging in its starkness. Maybe now Australia finally has a law allowing gay marriage, it’s time to really tackle justice for Aboriginal people.

To watch the trailer, click here

From Pooles to 1080

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All you need for a walk like this is an extremely low tide. Otherwise you’re stymied at every protuberance. Last weekend we had such a tide in the afternoon, not always my liveliest time. But the delights of the walk kept me wide awake. Around three headlands, through two pebbly coves, over one long-grass rock bypass, past five large orange dykes, between untidy masses of black lava long since solidified, and onto parallel ridges. Ironstone boxes containing blue striations. Shells perched on minute ledges, or clinging to horizontal surfaces. Rockface laminated in wavy lines. All under light sea mist and the threat of rain.

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The next day back to the end point of yesterday for another look, under new umbrellas: J’s a gentle mauve (he thinks it’s grey) and mine leopard spotted. Another meandering orange dyke, making its way through pitted black volcanic rock. Ovoid rock intrusions. And a suffragist crab: green, purple and white.

RegularRandom: 5 minutes with my clothesline lily

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I usually hang my washing in full sun on the deck, but a while ago I had a pile of big things, so I lugged them to the downstairs line. There I found a flourishing lily, as tall as the fence, that I’d never seen before. The rope forming the clothesline had rotted through too. Maybe I hadn’t been round this corner of the house for two years?

So I pegged out the sheets and blankets, and heeded the call to photograph the lily. I have to confess, as usual, that I don’t stick religiously to five minutes. After all, when I’m writing I draft and revisit and discard and refine and try again. Why not with the camera? These photos are the result of two mini-sessions, one with my Sony after a night when we had five raindrops – about our limit in those days despite promising forecasts – and one a bit later on a dry morning a few days later, using my macro-wizard 3.2 megapixel Konica Minolta.

I’m not a fan of lilies, probably because I’ve got it stuck in my head that they’re the flowers of death. But as a photographic subject they are superb. The graceful spiralling shapes of the petals; the solidity of the yellow stamen-cylinder; the delicate green streaks; their crunkling in decay like the wise crepey skin of an old woman. I’m lucky in the background too: what better than the worn wood of an old paling fence?

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Coda

Three or four weeks later, after a day of gloriously solid rain, I returned to the clothesline and found the lily partly prostrated, and the seeds forming.

DesleyJane has my deep admiration, both as a woman who puts pain on hold to photograph, and as a photographer of supreme delicacy. This week she spends her RegularRandom 5 minutes with a posy of roses.

Postcards from the Past: Tell Husn, Pella

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9th January, 2001

We drive up the Jordan Valley, green, fertile paradise for vegetable growers. When we arrive at Pella we’re taken on an overview tour of the dig site which leaves me reeling: tombs, fortress trenches, the towering Tell Husn, and in the valley of the dead stream, Roman ruins, columns, a church, and a theatre. We pass the pottery dump, carefully marked on the map as such for the benefit of future archaeologists; the walls of a mosque; and an Islamic cemetery, where local children are still buried, giving them a direct route to paradise.

Our guide tells us they found two things today with “diagnostic potential”: a small shard with a Greek inscription, and the decorated side of what was probably a cult stand. We learn a crucial distinction: red dirt is ground dirt; brown dirt marks human additions. I become quite expert distinguishing dirt colour once I start troweling.

However, we don’t work on this first day. We cross the valley to Tell Husn, Mound of the Fortress, breaking a lock with a crowbar to do so. A stiff climb, boobytrapped by loose rocks, takes us past chamber tombs carved in the hillside between 64 BC and 400 AD. We walk down worn stairs through a rock door that opens smoothly on a rock hinge. Inside are several niches, some still containing sarcophagi.

On the top of the Tell there are large level stone platform foundations that take us back to 3000 BC, earlier than Egypt’s Great Pyramid. In another area there is a large complex dating from 300-600 AD. The ground floor walls of stone are still there, but the upper storeys of mud brick and timber have gone. There are also traces of huge cisterns, a fortress, a grain depository, stables and a beautifully reconscructed Byzantine wall. We share the top of the Tell with a shepherd and his flock, and a Bedouin camp fenced with thorn bush. Although we didn’t see them, there are rich Bronze Age tombs on the slopes of Tell Husn, one of which had the skeleton of a servant at the door, legs bound by a huge bronze shackle: the other earlier one yielded over 2 000 objects ranging from gold earrings and copper bracelets to pottery and alabaster vessels.

At midday, the sense of ancient peace is disturbed by the roar of Israeli planes making a very loud statement overhead.

When we descend Tell Husn we look around the Roman Ruins in Wadi Jirm. The odeon is paved with red and white stones. With the arrival of Islam, missing paving was replaced by pieces of altar screen, sometimes made into a careful pattern, sometimes just a torn corner. A mosaic floor has been backfilled to preserve it.

Earthquakes feature in the history of this site. Once, two people were carrying lamps. The material of their clothes fused with their skin leaving traces of silk, undoing theories that these were the dwellings of poor people. Skeletons were also found with gold coins stitched into their clothing. There were signs of houses subdivided, as if times had got tougher, families larger.

When we return to the dig house we watch in the yard while the morning’s haul of pottery is sorted – handles, rims, bases, designs. Inside the pottery is divided into type by the dig director. The day’s finds are basketed according to material – flint, groundstone, ceramics, shell, and metal – ready to be assessed and catalogued and then redirected for cleaning, drawing, or photography.

Today I walked on 1000 years of human habitation and a million years of human activity. Information came in a deluge, and my chaotic notes reflect this. I’m not sure I’ve got any of it right.

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Eurobodalla beaches: Josh’s Beach

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This is the last of the Eurobodalla beaches in the southern part of the shire – or at least the last of the named ones.

On Saturday morning J is going to an alternative energy expo – not something I want to share – so after I deposit him, I meander off without much of a plan. Idly, I turn off the coast road between Kianga and Dalmeny and experience the now- familiar weekend astonishment as I crest a hill and see an unfamiliar rocky coastline spread out ahead of me. A turnoff I must have passed hundreds of times, mind you, and a rocky coastline about 20 kilometres from home. I love the way these pleasures have been lying in wait for my declining years. At least that’s when I’m not thinking “What the heck have I been doing all my life?”

The road is flanked by alcoves mowed and spangled with dandelions and blue star-shaped flowers with minute maroon berries. Close behind the beach are houses, and the cliff-edge has been landscaped: grasses, trees, mint bushes, spectacular purple berries, and in wilder places, escapee red hot pokers.

I park the car in a dead-end street, and stride along the cycleway, passing a wooden staircase down to the beach, and side-stepping a pavement penguin with green-pebble eyes. My green-jelly eyes gobble up great chunks of rocky coastline, and the blue blue sea scintillating with sun-drops. Waves break and the foam recedes, captured by a current that sometimes carries it, an untidy white ribbon, from headland to headland. I’m not the only one who relishes the view: a sign warns that there is an $110000 fine for removing, lopping or poisoning trees between the house line and the cliff edge.

I pause at a lookout and read two information panels. One acknowledges the long presence of Aborginal people feasting on shellfish for thousands of years and leaving behind gigantic middens. The other one offers an armada of coastal steamers, linking the south coast with Sydney: passengers and supplies this way; passengers, butter, cheese and timber on the return journey.

I walk on past banksias to the point where I can see the coastline stretching south before I turn back. Joggers overtake – thud, thud, thud – usually in pairs: a cyclist pauses at a bench and indulges in arcane exercises; a family group approaches keeping slow pace with grandma on a walking frame; I murmur “G’day” to a couple wheeling a pram.

I go down the wooden staircase onto the beach. A small boy up to his ankles in the sea, shouts at the waves, and two family groups lounge on the beach. I head to the rock platform to the north as the day heats up.

The beach is rocky: long ridges, intricate lattice-work, ironstone dividers.

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When it gets too hot, I return to the shade in one of the grassy alcoves, and begin writing this post en plain air. Then the summons to collect J. I bring him back here for a picnic lunch (dips, triple Brie, sardines, and corn thins), supervised by a couple of splendidly disrobing spotted gums.

Why is it called Josh’s Beach? A schoolteacher at Narooma Central School in the 1960s lived in Ocean Parade and his surfie students used to call it Josh’s beach after him. We name our beaches strangely here: after poisons (1080) and now after a school teacher. The name became official recently, and caused a heap of controversy. Other locals have called it many things over the years: Rocky Beach, Back Beach, Little Beach, Our Beach. Somehow, after a visit from the Central Mapping Authority, who talked to an ex-councillor, Josh’s Beach became its official name. It’s also known as the beach with nomadic sand – sometimes there’s sand and sometimes there isn’t.

Bogolo 

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You sit across the table from one another, you and Natalie. Her offering is a closely argued document called “Relationship of mafic rocks and surrounding rocks in the inferred subduction complex, Batemans Bay district, south-eastern NSW”. In front of you is a small black notebook, with the hopeful heading Geology 2017. You are here to negotiate understanding, you a novice geologist with serious limitations, her a university student offering her honours thesis. You feel blessed to have found her. She writes about a place you’ve visited, and she draws detailed  diagrams of different formations, which is the next best thing to her actually standing on a rock, pointing at it, and saying “This is the Bogolo formation. See here and here and here … these are the characteristics.”

But unfortunately for you, she uses words as well as diagrams, lots of them. Her lexicon is as dense as gabbro. One sentence might offer you “shear zone thickening”,  “olistrostomal flows” and “disrupted bedding”, leaving you with very little to hang understanding on. Simple pronouns lack meaning as you fail to understand their antecedents. Even a phrase like “migration of faults” where you know the meaning of the words in isolation raises questions about what exactly they mean here. However, she’s done her bit, so she leaves you to it.

You struggle on because you really want to know. You think about yourself as a learner: that urge to go and do something else – knit, cook, even housework – rather than battle on through the hard bit. “Geology for dummies” doesn’t always provide the desired definition.

It’s a long long time since you’ve done such intellectual battle. You mainly read history where the discourse and language is familiar. Even an occasional foray into the world of Nabokov’s butterflies or Gawande’s history of cancer doesn’t make this kind of stringent demand. There, if you don’t understand you can skim over the hard bit without missing too much. Rocks and their foundation stories make no such concessions. If you want to understand you have to persist and hope that eventually you’ll get it.

II

The Bogolo formation is more than 90% mudstone. Long, long, long ago very fine clay particles settled at the bottom of the ocean or a lake or a lagoon or a peaceful stretch of river. Slowly the resulting mud was buried and compressed by the weight of more sediment. The water squeezed out and the slurry became rock. But the Bogolo Formation isn’t just mudstone: it’s a mélange, including fragments and blocks of sandstone and basalt with a diameter somewhere between a centimetre and twenty metres in an unsorted mishmash. As a sedimentary rock it should be layered, but it isn’t, not systematically. It’s been knocked about in its formation. Geologists can’t agree on how. Caught up in a monstrous flow of debris? Crunched up in a fault system? A casualty of huge mud volcanoes? It hasn’t had an easy time of it, whichever explanation you go with.

III

It’s a glorious spring day as I walk down the spur to Bogola Headland, Gulaga looming a few paddocks away on my right and the sea sprawling and sparkling on my left. Surely this is where I’ll find laid out before me the Bogolo Formation Natalie has introduced me to and that I’ve read so much about. I round the corner and step onto a rock platform. It’s flat, unbroken by the fissures or the sharp edges that usually make rock hopping a business of intense concentration. I stroll over the surface, mostly level, no need to grapple with foot-eye coordination, except occasionally where a boot-sized hunk extrudes. The rock, grey-ochre, silver, purple, copper-streaked, with occasional constellations of white specks, has an almost talc-like smoothness and occasional stripes. I reach my hand down and stroke the silkiness and the slightly rougher streaks. Small nodules / excrescences in the vertical surface take the shape of coronet, braid, necklace. Near the ocean, lumps become pinnacular, sharp edged, huge. It’s easy to look and describe: I’m quite at home with rock patterns, the sun and the sea.

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