Hello world!

Welcome to Not a Fashionista where I share random thoughts about all the various aspects of being a woman in the 21st century.  Hope you enjoy, and if you do, please leave a comment.

David Hockney – a master colourist

I first came across David Hockney’s work through the lithographs of Celia Birtwell, wy back in the 70s when I was an art student studying printmaking. I loved these images, the simplicity of the line work with its subtle wash – stylised but capturing a moment.

On exploring Hockney’s work further I saw an exhibition of his LA Swimming Pool series and again I was struck, not just by the naturalness of the image/subject matter but at the complexity of the structure and composition that made these images so alluring; they were so quintessentially modern.

David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1972

Many decades later I was fortunate to see a wonderful exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia which showcased the work of Dale Chihuly as well as featuring Hockney’s A Bigger Grand Canyon. For me it was one of those ‘wow’ moments. Coming out of the wonderfully curated Chihuly show – which was akin to walking through Aladdin’s Cave – to see this incredibly strange painting consisting of many small canvas boards in the strangest colours was one of the highlights of my art viewing.

What made it so special was a short film that accompanied the work: David Hockney talking about his process in constructing this amazing piece. Not just the footage of him driving his convertible along mountain rides listening to Bach, but also his using photographs of multiple viewpoints and then the process of colour selection. I finally sat down right in front of that painting and it took my breath away. I was able to experience it from so many different point of views (perspectives) that it wasn’t a static image, it was an alive and deeply moving colourful experience. Sadly, the NGA has now hung this masterpiece on a wall over the escalators so that it’s impossible for anyone to really see/view/experience it, or indeed understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t understand why this decision was made as I think it remains of the true great works in the collection.

David Hockney, A Bigger Grand Canyon” 1998

One of Hockney’s ‘tricks’ is to eschew traditional perspective – a fifteenth century construct which is fixed  – and opt for a more subjective view. He sees his objects from multiple perspectives, from many views and many sides and angles and manages to capture the visual experience of being in the presence of the depicted image. Masterful.

So it was with great anticipation that I wanted to see the NGV’s exhibition of Hockney’s new works: Current. And yet, when I expressed my interest and asked if people wanted to go see it with me, the response was lukewarm: ‘nah’, not really interested.
I had talked to a friend who had seen it and she related how impressive the digital/iPhone images were and Hockney’s discussion of his art making on video. I definitely wanted to see this. I had also seen a very short interview with Hockney on SBS about this show and the glimpse of the images impressed me with their bright colour and sheer joyfulness. I was going to see this show.

And so I did. I managed to convince a friend to see it with me – he and I went to uni together to study Art History and although he was sceptical about the show, he was gracious enough to come. I’m extremely pleased to say that he was blown away and thought it one of the best shows he’d seen. Hockney is not just a master of colour he is a master of invention.

Hockney’s use of the iPhone (and then the iPad) to create ‘pictures’ is mesmerising. His use of colour is breathtaking and his skill, well, I think he is one of the greats. And at age 90 he is making inroads and creating works that not only astound but delight. If ‘joy’ was something I had expected to experience, I found it to be so much more than I could ever have contemplated. There were so many ‘wow’ moments in viewing those works; so many mouth-gaping ‘how is that possible?’ that I came away convinced that I had seen one of the greatest shows of the 21st century (second only to an exhibition of Anselm Kieffer that I saw at the Royal Academy of Arts in London).

Money matters

Discombobulated by the sudden discovery of having left my wallet at home.

I drove to Queensland Uni the other day to meet with a potential supervisor (for my PhD). I dropped my husband off at the airport as he was going away to a conference interstate and continued on my way, paying attention to the Google Maps lady to ensure that I was in the correct lane for the right exit out of the tunnel etc. It’s been a while since I lived in Brisbane and I find driving around the place very confusing. Once upon a time I used to drive everywhere without the aid of an electronic device – there were road maps which you would consult and then try to memorise. Seemed so straight forward that I’m not sure why I have a sense of panic about driving without the aid of Ms Google.

Finding a parking spot at the Uni was quite an exercise but I finally managed to and it was right opposite the pay station. Handy. And then I realised I didn’t have my wallet with me. I hadn’t bothered to put it into the bag I’d taken. There was no money in the car – not even coins – and I didn’t have a credit card. I had planned to get a cup of coffee and perhaps a bite to eat before my meeting. Now I couldn’t even get a bottle of water. Or pay for the parking. But even worse – and this is where my panic hit crisis – I couldn’t get fuel for the return journey.

I don’t know anyone in Brisbane so there wasn’t anyone I could ring to come rescue me (bring money). And I didn’t have one of those banking accounts that let’s you use ATMs without a card. I also had no identification which made it hard to try and get fuel without paying for it (I would of course have paid later, if that transpired to be at all possible). Finally I decided that all I could do was find someone to give me some money. Worse case scenario I would ask my new supervisor (embarrassing). I could transfer money into her account immediately. As for the parking ticket, I left a note saying that I didn’t have my wallet and I had gone to find some money. Nothing more I could do on that front.

Eventually I found an angel of mercy who helped me out. I think she just took pity on me when I told her my plight and although she wasn’t able to do anything in her capacity as an employee of the university, she offered to do so personally, an act of human kindness. So I transferred money into her account and we went to the ATM and she withdrew some money for me – enough so that I could get a bottle of water and put enough fuel in my car to get me home.

My meeting went well and I got good news about my PhD propsoal and supervision and was thrilled with the outcome. But I was so thrown by the experience that I’m still unable to process my thoughts and feelings about the outcome. It required quite a bit of wine that evening, but even after a long, deep sleep and a morning yoga session, I’m still feeing a sense of discombobulation. Hopefully in a week or so I will be able to laugh at my stupidity. But I will remain forever grateful for the kindness of strangers. And I will also put some money in the car for any such future emergencies.

Baby it’s cold outside

… and wet.
The Queensland version of cold has hit. It’s 18 degrees and I have the heating on. I’m still in my yoga clothes (crop leggings, top, zip-up jacket and I’m wearing my TOMs). So it’s not that it’s cold enough to be rugged up and I haven’t yet pulled out all my winter woolies or even my long-sleeved T’s, but there’s a definite chill in the air.

Usually I wouldn’t really notice. The car is in the garage and leads directly into the house and there’s an automatic door opening the garage so there’s really no need to experience the elements – just go from one car park to another. Except that I no longer have a car to drive. I’m getting around on my pushbike. My pushbike is one of those electric ones that has a motor to assist in getting up those hills that seem to be everywhere, so riding my bike isn’t really an effort. Until it’s wet and windy. That’s an altogether different kind of experience.

Yesterday the wind blew my bike helmet back off my head, almost garrotting me (I definitely need to get a new helmet that fits better) and the the rain, though light, kept hitting my face and making my glasses wet and impossible to see out of. Today I was prepared and wore my goretex coat over my hoodie to protect me from the rain and wind. But what I didn’t factor in was that despite leaving my bike under an awning it was wet when I came back to it and I ended up with a wet bum.

The other problem is that if it’s raining, my yoga mat, which I have on the back of the bike, gets wet.

And then there’s the problem of shopping. The basket on the front of my bike isn’t designed to hold much weight so I can’t put any shopping there – just my little bag with wallet and keys etc. So I have to try and secure my shopping on the rail on the back of the bike. Which means that I have to be very mindful of what I can buy. One day I got carried away and when I went to secure my shopping found it wasn’t going work – there was just too much.

I like getting around on a bike when it’s a nice day and I don’t really have much to do. It’s certainly a great way to get to the beach and Hastings St here in Noosa where it’s impossible to find a park when the tourists hit town, but as for using it as my main form of transport in this cold wet weather? It sucks.

Modernism in Queensland

In a post-post-modernist world, how many people are familiar with the amazing accomplishments of the modernists?  They were the pioneers of colour, form, daring simple styles and subject matter previously deemed unworthy of artistic endeavour.

I was a bit sceptical about going to see Modernism at Queensland Art Gallery, an exhibition showcasing the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, Grace Cossington-Smith and Margaret Preston.  Putting those three women’s work together seemed a bit like an afterthought – we’ve managed to secure paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe but not enough for a stand-alone show, or curating a show out of whatever’s not recently been seen from the stockroom.  Certainly it seemed odd to show O’Keeffe with the other two Australians – Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington-Smith.

But each artist has transformed traditional still-life into a more vibrant and modern aesthetic.  Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings fill the canvas with close-ups of magnificent blooms, their bright colours and abstract quality conveying a distinct sensuality. Margaret Preston’s graphic paintings focus on design and pattern and remind me of the early Russian modernists with their focus on constructivism and utilitarian design as well as the still-life paintings of Giorgio Morandi. One of my favourites is a very minimalist painting of a tray of cups Implement Blue (1927), highly stylised and beautiful in its minimalist, industrial design. I love the play of light and use of geometric pattern and colour.  I’m not a fan of Preston’s later work where she appropriates colour and design from a quasi-Aboriginal aesthetic – all these strike me as being works of design rather than landscape painting.

In a way, Grace Cossington-Smith is the odd one out; her paintings seem more post-impressionist rather than modernist – apart from The sock knitter (1915) – and her subject matter less interesting. The sock knitter is a portrait of her sister knitting socks for soldiers fighting in France.  The interesting thing about this painting is it’s emphasis on compositional structure: the play of horizontals and verticals through the misalignment of the cushions on the back of the sofa which sit at odds with the intimate and commonplace subject matter.  It’s one of Cossington-Smith’s best (if not the best) paintings). A tension between subject matter and surface, which reminds me of Matisse.

Christopher Allen in his review of the exhibition (when it showed originally at Heide) wrote: The exhibition includes a number of abstract or semi-abstract works from O’Keeffe’s earlier period, including the years when she shared a home with Stieglitz at Lake George. These are finely painted with a sensuous pleasure in surface texture and a love of seductive, even sexual forms, even if the notoriously vulval flowers are barely present here. And it is this erotic vitality that separates her so starkly from the rather spinsterly sensibility of the two Australians.”  And it is indeed this aspect that made me sceptical of seeing this show.

I first came across Georgia O’Keeffe when I was a young art student in the 70’s. Back then she was very much a feminist icon – her bright paintings of canna lillies and other exotic flowers were often described as images of vulvas, though O’Keeffe always denied this.  In some way O’Keeffe’s work became conflated with that of Judy Chicago’s (one of the “first-generation feminist artists,” who was part of the Feminist art movement in Europe and the United States in the early 1970s to develop feminist writing and art and at the time and who were heroes to many young women seeking to advance their own artistic practices). 

Chicago’s famous installation The Dinner Party was a collaborative piece that made no hierarchical distinction between art and craft, indeed it was the very inclusion on some of these crafts (hand women settings, pottery, embroidery etc) that made the installation so significant. I was lucky enough to see it in the 80’s at the Melbourne Exhibition Building, which was still functioning back then.  The Dinner Party is considered as one of the first epic feminist artworks, serving as a symbolic history of women in Western civilisation. It consisted of three large tables put together to form a triangle, covered in white tablecloths on which were 39 elaborate place settings, each representing a significant mythical or historical woman of whom O’Keeffe was one.  Each of the plates was beautifully hand painted depicting a flower or butterfly image evoking a vulva.

The works on display at QAG are actually well curated and worth the visit.  Depending on your individual taste you’ll find one artist’s work more interesting than others.  For all my misgivings about a show on modernism that consisted of these three seemingly disparate female artists, I think it’s interesting to re-visit this long-forgotten aspect of early twentieth century art making and remind ourselves of the trajectory.  Certainly some of O’Keefffe’s beautiful pastel works seem like a precursor to colour-field painting, especially the paintings of Helen Frakenthaller and I loved some of her dark almost abstract landscapes. I also found resonance with Tim Maguire’s beautiful close-up paintings of flowers, especially tulips. Whatever the connections, whatever the inspirations, it’s always good to see some art and be reminded of how it’s an ever changing landscape (pardon the pun).



Passwords and remembering

We live in an era where everything has to be password protected.  I remember when this phenomena first hit us – back then you just needed something simple; something you could easily remember.  But then came the hackers and the warnings:  never use the same password on your accounts.  So we modified (the same password); after all, we needed so many that it was hard to remember them all.  You needed to write them all down (sometimes in a straightforward way, but often a bit more cryptically).  Then came the apps that could keep all your passwords safe and protected in one place – you only needed to remember one and it would unlock the safe to reveal all the others – you just needed to remember to update them whenever you had to reset a password.

Next came injunctions for more complex, less memorable passwords consisting of a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.  And now whenever you are asked to set a new password you’re offered a dazzling combination that is impossible to make any sense of in order to remember – you need to write it down before you do anything else (including setting your password) which inevitably leads to either not writing it down correctly or not entering it correctly (especially on iPads and phones) which then necessitates having to re-set your password and then remember to record it and so the cycle goes on.

I confess to being one of those people who make use of the same password with clever variations (actually, they’re very standard and I’m sure a hacker would easily figure each and every one of them out), but even this gets me into trouble as inevitably, I can’t ever remember what the variation was.  And because it’s often ‘three strikes and you’re out’ I’m forever having to reset my password, with, you guessed it, another variation on a theme.  How else do you remember?

Reading my way through 2016

This year has started out with much reading – days spent lazing about the pool or at the beach – there’s nothing quite like reading a good book interspersed with dips in the ocean. Going through my kindle library I was astonished at how many books I had read over the course of the year.

Currently I’m reading The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad which is both interesting and captivating. Åsne Seierstad entered Afghanistan two weeks after the September 11 attacks and followed the Northern Alliance into Kabul. Disguising herself by wearing a burka, she lived with a bookseller and his family in Kabul which provided her with a unique opportunity to describe life as ordinary Afghan citizens saw it.

Most journalists who covered the fall of the Taliban and, like her, traipsed down through the Hindu Kush to enter Kabul with the soldiers of the Northern Alliance were delighted to discover that, in the city’s Intercontinental Hotel (in which the rooms had no sheets and no running water), there was a surprisingly well-stocked bookshop. It was run by an urbane man ready to share his stories. This is Seierstad’s bookseller. He tells her: ‘First the Communists burnt my books, then the Mujahedeen looted and pillaged, finally the Taliban burnt them all over again.’ I’ve not yet finished this, but it’s very interesting, especially reading about how repressed women are – part of the Afghani culture rather than a direct result of despotic regimes.

I’m also reading a huge tome about Queen Victoria – Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird, which I was given as a Christmas present.  It’s meticulously researched, well written and very engaging.

Previously, I read Susan Faludi’s In the Darkroom, an account of her investigation into the life of her estranged father who she learned had undergone sex reassignment surgery at the age of 76. It’s essentially a book that investigates identities – her struggle to grasp her father’s reinvented self; Hungarian politics;  the Jewish fugitive Holocaust in Budapest –  and raises the question: Is identity something you ‘chose’ or is it the very thing that you can’t escape?

My 2016 reading list:
Books I really enjoyed and definitely recommend:
Plato and a Platypus walk into a Bar by Daniel Klein and Thomas Cathcart, a book that seeks to explain philosophy through jokes.  I laughed out loud reading some of these and couldn’t help but sharing some of the jokes with family and friends.  Here’s one that illustrates the Reductio ad absurdum argument in Existentialism (our tendency to unthinkingly identify with the attitudes and values of our social ggroup by showing use exaggerated instances):

Abe and his friend Sol are out for a walk. They pass a Catholic church with a sign out front that says “$1,000 to Anyone Who Who Converts.”
Sol decides to go inside and see what it’s all about.
Abe waits outside.  Hours go by.  Finally Sol emerges.
“So?” says Abe.  “What happened?” 
“I converted,” says Sol. 
“No kidding!” says Abe.  “Did you get the thousand pounds?”
Sol says “Is that all you people think about?”

An aside from the authors:  So we’re not politically correct.  We’re philosophers.  So sue us!

Barkskins by Annie Proulx.  Wow, what a writer.  I was in awe of her ability to create two interconnecting narratives that spanned three hundreds of years and traced not only the settlement of Canada but also the demise of the Indians through the story of two immigrants to New France, René Sel and Charles Duquet, and of their descendants. It spans over 300 years and witnesses the deforestation of the New World from the arrival of Europeans into the contemporary era of global warming. For a review/synposis, click here.

Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood. Highly recommended, the protagonist is an artistic director who is about to stage a very controversial version of The Tempest when, in an act of treachery, he is fired.  Living in exile in a backwoods hovel he takes on a job of running  theatre course for inmates at a nearby prison.  Here, he takes his revenge in the form of putting on his Tempest.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. A the story of two families whose lives become intertwined and incredibly dysfunctional following a drunken kiss at a christening. It follows their lives over the course of five decades and culminates in the discovery by the youngest sibling that his life has been hijacked and turned into a best-selling novel and film. Read a synposis/review here. I also read her novel Run which tells the story of Bernard Doyle, an Irish Catholic Boston politician. He and wife Bernadette have one biological son and later adopt African-American brothers Tip and Teddy.  Four years later, Bernadette dies from cancer. Sixteen years later, Tip and Teddy are university students. Bernard, the former mayor of Boston, has invited them to a Jesse Jackson lecture and a reception afterward. Tip is pushed out of the path of an oncoming vehicle by a woman the family believes is a stranger. The novel’s plot centers around that woman’s identity and that of her 11-year-old daughter Kenya, who comes to stay with the Doyles. This is my least favourite of Patchett’s novels – it’s a bit schmaltzy.

The other book I loved by her is a series of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a memoir that is wide ranging and deeply personal, told with wit, honesty and charm. If you’re interested in finding out more about Ann Patchett, read her personal account of how she decided to open up a book store to keep independent bookstores alive:  The Bookstore Strikes Back.

Georgia Blain who sadly, died last year, is the daughter of celebrated Australian journalist Anne Deveson who wrote about her son’s schizophrenia Tell Me I’m Here and later went public about her own struggle with dementia. Births, Deaths and Marriages is Blain’s memoir which describes her experience of dealing with her family with honesty and bravery.  She also wrote very candidly about the ambivalence many women experience about parenting and motherhood. Other books by Blain I read are: Closed for Winter,  Too Close To Home and for me, her best book: Between a Wolf and a Dog click here for a good review/synopsis of this book.

All the Pretty Horses:  The Border Trilogy 1 by Cormac McCarthy – a must read for all.  I love the prose style – so quintessentially American (and I must read the other books in the series).

The Last Painting of  Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith tells the story of an Australian grad student (conservation/restoration) who agrees to paint a forgery of the one remaining painting by Sara de Vos who in 1631 was admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St Luke in Holland.   It’s a decision that later haunts her as half a century later, she’s curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters, and both versions threaten to arrive. An very well-written and enaging book which is a bit of a thriller.

One Life: My mother’s Story by Kate Grenville – I can’t praise this biography highly enough.  It is everything that the Dusevic memoir (see below) is not. It reads like fiction rather than fact, imaginatively sympathetic, it’s a beautifully written and intimate account of her mother’s life.

M Train by Patti Smith.  I loved this little book by this wonderful poet.  Like her earlier book about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe Just Kids, I read this in small chunks, mesmerised by her wordcraft.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende is a beautiful book. It is the story of Irina Brazili, a care worker struggling to reconcile her own troubled past, who meets Alma (nearing the end of her life) and her grandson, Seth, at Lark House nursing home.  As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, and learn about an extraordinary and secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

Fall by Candice Fox.  I heard Candice Fox being interviewed on the radio and was incredibly impressed by the way she thought out the structure, narratives and characters of the three books in this series.  Dark, compelling, conflicted characters, like the other books in the series, this a real page turner.  This is the third novel in the series, following Hades, and Eden (both of which I had read at the end of 2015). Fall is perhaps not as gripping as the earlier two but it’s still a gripping thriller. Like I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, I highly recommend them (albeit they are essentially “pool-side reads”).

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a sad and very moving tale, focusing on the lives and friendship of four graduates from a small Massachusetts college who move to New York to make their way. Over the decades their relationships deepen and darken as they realise that their greatest challenge is to protect Jude,  a very talented litigator but an incredibly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome, but will define his life forever. I loved this book.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov who, in 1922 is put under house arrest at the Hotel Metropol where he has a suite.  Rostov is however confined to a tiny attic room and stripped of the trappings that defined his life.  Throughout his incarceration he questions what makes us who we are. This is not a novel of thrilling conflicts so much as charming encounters. As the years pass, the count always behaves as a perfect gentleman. He never complains about his confinement — never even admits that it is a confinement. This is a story of how for many decades, his life continues and changes within the milieu of this once cosmopolitan hotel.  A very engaging read.

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann.  A story told from multiple perspectives about a senseless and brutal attack on an old man as he leaves his favourite restaurant following his usual lunch.

Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Zubanski. I was very sceptical about a comedian’s ability to write well, but was suitably impressed; Magda Zubanski is  a very good story-teller.  This is an intimate and revelatory memoir, describing her journey of self-discovery from a suburban childhood, haunted by the demons of her father’s espionage activities in wartime Poland and by her secret awareness of her sexuality.

Ducks on the Pond by Anne Summers is an autobiography spanning the years from 1945 to 1976. It charts her life, growing up in postwar Australia and her long journey which led to her becoming a founding member of the Women’s Liberation Movement (in Austraia), an award-winning journalist and ultimately a key adviser to prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.  Summers was also instrumental in creating one of the first women’s refuge centres in Australia.  A remarkable woman, her book Damned Whores and God’s Police was seminal in changing the way that women saw themselves.  Interestingly, I only bought this book because I mixed up Anne Summers with Georgia Blain’s mother, Anne Deveson, also a writer and journalist.  However, I’m glad I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have read this interesting book about mid-century Australian feminist politics.

Kafka by the Shore by Haruki Murakami.  I loved this book.  It consists of two distinct but interrelated plots, with the narrative runing back and forth between both plots, taking up each plotline in alternating chapters.  It’s centred on two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner. I think Helen Garner is one of Australia’s greatest writers and have loved her non-fiction books (This House of Grief, The Spare Room, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Cast the First Stone). Everywhere I Look is a book of essays, panning fifteen years of work, in no particular order but full of unexpected moments, sudden shafts of light, piercing intuition, flashes of anger and incidental humour. From backstage at the ballet to the trial of a woman for the murder of her newborn baby, from the significance of moving house to the pleasure of re-reading Pride and Prejudice. It includes Garner’s famous and controversial essay on the insults of age, her deeply moving tribute to her mother and extracts from her diaries, which have been part of her working life for as long as she has been a writer.

Diane Arbus: A biography.  Diane Arbus was an American photographer and writer noted for photographs of marginalised people – dwarfs, giant, transgender people, dusts, arrives performers – and others whose normally was perceived by the general populace as ugly or surreal.  Although she did many spreads for Vogue,  glamour, Seventeen and Harper’s Bazaar, Diane hated the fashion world and hated working for it.  Her work only came popular after her death – she committed suicide in 1971 – after which she became the first American photographer to have her work displayed at the Venice Biennale.

Modern Love:  The Lives of John and Sunday Read by Lesely Harding and Kendra Morgan.  A very detailed and insightful exploration of the Reads and the artists that were drawn into their orbit.

Books I read that enjoyed but were lightweight:
The Woman on the Stairs by Bernhard Schlink is a novel about a fictitious painting called Woman on Staircase. The unnamed narrator is a German lawyer who, while on business in Australia, comes across the painting in a Sydney art gallery. Immediately, he is bewitched again by its subject: “She was softness, seduction and surrender.” Instead of flying back to Frankfurt, he contacts a detective agency to find out the owner of the painting and the whereabouts of the woman he loved and lost 40 years ago.1  I have read a  number of Schlink’s books since The Reader, none of them caught my interest as much a this first novel did.

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss.  This is a story about the breakout of more than 1000 Japanese prisoners from their camp in Cowra on August 5, 1944  and of one prisoner – the sensitive, university-educated and English-speaking Hiroshi – who remains at large. His unexpected but fortunate fate is to find himself protected within the Erambie Aboriginal Mission outside the town, by elders who make the hard argued decision to harbour him in their air raid shelter. Interestingly a few years earlier I had read Tom Keneally’s Shame and the Captives about this same incident which dramatised tensions within the Japanese prisoner population  – between officers and other ranks, zealots with death wishes and others opting to wait for peace – and among their Australian jailers.

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs, a novel about the key years in the life of Lucia Joyce, Joyce’s only daughter, who was confined to a mental institution for the last 47 or so years of her life. A “by the pool” read.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Frerick Backman – a light hearted read about and absurdly pedantic woman who finds herself after 20 years of marriage, separated from her husband and both unemployable and totally inept at social interactions. A quick “lie by the pool” read.

The Girl from Krakow by Alex Rosenberg follows one woman’s battle for survival in a saga that spans from Paris in the ’30s and Spain’s Civil War to Moscow, Warsaw and the heart of Nazi Germany.

Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higahino follows a twenty year journey of Detective Sagasaki as he pursues the connection of two people who are inextricably linked to an unsolved crime.  A great detective novel.

The Misremembered Man by Christins McKenna, a quirky little story about the search for love and life in rural Ireland.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.  Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Her unexpected visit forces Lucy to confront the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of her life: her impoverished childhood in Amgash, Illinois, her escape to New York and her desire to become a writer, her faltering marriage, her love for her two daughters and her ambivalence towards her mother.  It’s a beautifully written story.

The Golden Son: A Novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is about a young Indian doctor who leaves his village for a residency in the US. But grapples with the expectation that as the oldest son, he is expected to inherit the mantle of arbiter for all village disputes. And he finds himself torn between a beautiful American girl and his old childhood friend. A very good read

While the World is Still Asleep by Petra Durst-Benning. Set in 1890s Berlin, this is the story of a young girl who, following the tragic death of her younger brother (for which she is blamed) is sent to a sanatorium where she discovers the joy of riding a bike. Back in Berlin, Josephine is determined to keep riding, despite a woman riding a bicycle being taboo.The title comes from her idea of riding under the cover of night, while the world is still asleep.

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media’s obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between  monster and a man.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. This is a quirky debut about two ten-year-old girls who, following the disappearance of Mrs. Creasy take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home.
Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Read a review here.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan.  Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovers on the day of his retirement that he has inherited a baby elephant – an inconvenient gift, but as Inspector Chopra has one more case to solve he discovers an unexpected partner in the baby elephant.  This is a bit of romp in the same vein as Anelxander McCall Smith books.

Goodbye Sweetheart by Marion Halligan, another Australian writer who I have tended to find too light-weight. This is the story of a successful lawyer, bon vivant, loving husband and father who has a heart attack and dies while swimming in the local pool. A man apparently happily married, yet, with two divorces behind him and three puzzled children. As his family gathers each comes to the realisation that he was not the person everyone thought. Essentially, a book about the messiness of life.

The Madwoman Upstairs by Cathrine Lowell is the tale of Samantha Whipple, the last remaining descendent of the Bronte family who searches for clues to the real identity of the lesser known Bronte.

The Dust that Fall from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres.  For me, nothing beats Captain Correlli’s Mandolin which had me almost rationing my reading, desperately not wanting the book to end.  Red Dog is also a fabulous book (I got this on audio and really enjoyed listening to it while driving) and interestingly de Bernieres manages to get the Australian idiom spot on.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.The tale of the inhabitants of a small Sussex town in 1914. Another “pool-side read”.

The World Without Us by Mireille Jachau is a story of a family who each struggle with loss and frailty following the death of one of the three children.

Books I read that I enjoyed (sort of) but wouldn’t recommend:
The Wonder by Emma Donaghue is about a nurse who is sent to investigate whether an eleven-year-old girl who has stopped eating but remains miraculously alive and well, is a fraud.I gave up on this as it was a bit slow.

The One Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.  This has been made into a film and I  think the film was better than the book, though I didn’t finish either.

The Blue Guitar by John Banville – I realised a quarter into this book why I wasn’t a fan of Banville’s.

The Light Years:  The Cazalet Chronicles 1 & Marking ztime:  The Cazalet Chronicles 2 by Elizabeth Jane Howard – somewhat dated and lacking in any real substance. I read these because I had read a review about Howard’s autobiography and thought the books would be worth reading first.  I was wrong.

Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim follows two characters: Lisbeth, the daughter of the plantation owner and Mattie, her wet nurse, a slave on the plantation. Mattie is brought into the house to feed Lisbeth but Lisbeth is so attached to her that Mattie basically raises Lisbeth. Mattie longs to be able to raise her own son, Samuel, and finds ways of entwining Samuel and Lisbeth’s lives. However Samuel is sold to a neighbouring plantation and there begins a sad trajectory. The story of slavery, the desparate attempts to flee and the dire consequences has been well documented and written about.  Despite the novel approach I got bored (in anticipation of the inevitable) and didn’t finish it.

Whole Wild World: A Memoir by Tom Dusevic,who is a Walkley Award-winning journalist.  Essentially it’s about his growing up in Sydney in a migrant – Croatian – family.  I found it a bit ho hum and couldn’t really be bothered with it.  Something about the tone or timbre of his writing.  Perhaps he’s better suited to journalism.

And finally, the worst book I read:
The Mountain Shadow:  The long-awaited sequel to Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, which just made me very angry.  So badly written and so condescending. Don’t bother.

I think there have been one or two other books that I read and quickly handed on to the second-hand bookshop, but if I can’t remember them then they’re not worth mentioning.

This has turned out to be a far greater list than anticipated.  It appears that I have had somewhat indolent year, but I hope you find some inspiration for your reading. And please let me know of books that you have read and enjoyed – I’m always on the look out for a good read.

Take one with food

Take one daily with food.

Sadly, that’s not a glass of wine being referred to. It’s my new drug regime. A daily dose of chemotherapy taken orally with food. I’ve been diagnosed with a rare blood cell cancer – Myeloproliferative Neoplasm. More specifically: Essential thrombocythemiaIt’s where the bone marrow produces too many platelets. The danger being that they can cause clotting, heart attack or stroke. But the real concern is that if untreated it leads to acute leukaemia. Not nice.

Strangely, apart from feeling tired I haven’t had any real symptoms to speak of – only the occasional feeling of being ‘bone tired’. But that’s just a symptom of a busy life.

My doctor thought my platelets were too high when I had a blood test to monitor the effects on my liver from another drug I had been taking. And he began to be worried. But for over a year my platelets were high – no-one else thought anything of it. This new doctor thought I should see a haematologist. I didn’t really think that anything much was wrong (I’d  had a very low iron count for ages but it had slowly improved), but I did get a strange feeling when I found that the haematologist was in the Oncology department of the hospital. That sent a shiver of anxiety through me.

It was a quick visit with a possible diagnosis which required a further set of blood tests from both the hospital and an external pathology lab and possibly a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy (ouch!)  Still I thought nothing of it.

And then I arrived for my follow-up visit to be smilingly assured that indeed I did have this rather rare blood cell cancer, but hey, they got to it early so good news: it hadn’t depleted my bone marrow and beat a path to leukaemia. And further good news: all I need to do is take a chemotherapy drug orally for the rest of my life. No problems.

Side effects? “Most people handle them fine” was the doctor’s response. The pharmacist was a little more alarming: “these are very toxic”. She proceeded to go through the list of possible side-effects; with each one a sense of disbelief and horror settled in (the leaflet advises you to wear disposable gloves whilst handling the capsules). Of course, most people (who are these most people?) don’t get all the side-effects. But should some of the more severe ones happen: Do not pass go. Call an ambulance and get to the hospital. Stat. OK. And then there’s the problem of my immune system being compromised so I have to be careful not to catch colds, not to bruise, not to bleed.

So here I am, week 2, still struggling to process what it all means. Still trying to cope with how strange my body feels. Wondering every day if I’m going to be able to get up and do things, get to yoga or will I be on better terms with the toilet bowl.

The things that most get to me is the overwhelming tiredness, a sense of being weary, depleted; a lack of energy, a lack of joy and an accompanying sense of frustration. And then there’s the nausea which can be just a mild rolling queasiness or a more virulent retching. Either way it makes it difficult to get on with life. And finally, the lack of appetite. This has surprised me. It’s not something I’ve really experienced before – the total lack of desire to put food into my mouth, to eat. I compensate by making juices and eating grapes and sometimes having some broth. I try and have a proper meal in the evening but it’s often a struggle to get through. The worst thing is that a lack of appetite means a zero level of interest in cooking food. For me, this is going to be a great challenge.

All in all, it’s not a big thing. Once my body adjusts to this new chemical regime I’m sure I’ll be fine. Meanwhile, I just have to wait and see how I feel each morning, each afternoon, each evening. I can’t plan to go do my favourite yoga classes because I have no idea whether I’ll be able to get up and make it. So for now, I go slow. Real slow.

Essential thrombocythemia (ET) is a rare type of blood cancer. ET occurs when the body makes too many platelets, the part of the blood needed for clotting. It’s a rare chronic disease diagnosed in an estimated 3 per 100,000 population.

What are the odds!!


Pastiche or homage?

On a recent visit to the Queensland Art Gallery I was intrigued by a number of images and realised that they reminded me of works by other artists.

First up was a small group of photographs in the Asian section which I found striking in their simplicity and in the power of their gaze.  They were by an Indian photographer – Pushpalama N, – whom I’d never heard of – whose images are  very much like those of Cindy Sherman.  And like Sherman, Pushpalama N. explores narrative figuration and uses herself as the model, in a variety of guises.

She was born in 1956 in Bangalore and originally trained as a sculptor then went on to work in performance photography and film using elements of popular culture to explore place, gender, history. According to artsy.net, Pushpalama N. is a “photo-and video-performance artists [who] plays the subject in images that critique female stereotypes in India and the reductive classifications furthered by ethnographic documentation.”  Hmmm.  Not sure what that means but essentially she re-enacts historical representations of women in order to subvert them.  Just like Cindy Sherman.

No matter the text (or for that matter the sub-text), the works are striking and powerful and well worth checking out.  I have to praise the curator of this little show for the strength and vision here; I browsed the web for images of Pushpalama’s work to illustrate this blog and mostly I was unimpressed with what I saw.  But the selection of black and white photographs at QAG is quite stunning and well worth a look.

There’s a large show of recent Cindy Sherman works at QAGOMA which I had seen on a previous visit but had to see again. I’m a Cindy Sherman fan; her earlier photographs remind me of stills from film noir but more than that I’m fascinated by her craft: her skill in creating narratives and in transforming herself into highly constructed character studies.  They are performance pieces. Interestingly, according to QAGOMA, “Cindy Sherman is one of the most recognised and influential artists of our time”.  Yet no-one really knows what Sherman looks like.  She uses herself as a model for all her works, but through the use costumes, makeup, prosthetics (and more recently digital photography) Sherman transforms herself into highly stylised characters. There are no depiction of Cindy Sherman.

The images in this current show are very different to previous ones – in content, scale and in Sherman’s use of digital technology, especially Photoshop.  But the biting satire and commentary are still there.  There is a wonderful series of 5 metre-tall ‘society portraits’ from 2008, and two rather subversive fashion house collaborations, the Vogue-commissioned ‘Balenciaga’ 2007­–08, and ‘Chanel’ 2010–2013 in which Sherman clothes her everyday women in haute couture, placing them in incongruous settings.   They’re not fashionable or stylish and the result makes you re-think the whole notion of ‘fashion’, of who it’s for and how it ends up. It’s also a commentary on our society’s fascination with aspiration, narcissism and the cult of celebrity.”

The other works that impressed me (and that I had to come back for another look) are by Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori (my spellcheck’s having difficulty here so I’ll refer to her as Sally Gabori), a Kaiadilt woman (from the Gulf of Carpentaria, off north-western Queensland) who began painting at the age of 81.

Large intensely coloured canvas, bright and block like.  Powerful images.  This was new indigienous art and I was impressed.  I’m not sure that anyone’s really game to talk about indiginous art except in very traditional non-formal terms.  For some reason (the ovious ones) aboriginal/indigenous art isn’t scrutinised and critiqued in the same way as other art.  What I found so refreshing about these works was not just their vibrant palette but their intensity and the way the paint was applied – not a dot or line to be seen – let alone a smudge of ochre.  It was almost colour-field and indeed reminded me very much of the huge fluid painting of Helen Frankenthaler. Interestingly, the little extended labels (the things that people most usually look at longer than the art work) said not a thing about the construction of the work.  Instead it was all about ‘country’.  I didn’t really understand what the relationship of country was to the visual representations on these framed canvases but I was keen to find out.

This exhibition is a retrospective; it includes her early paintings, her large collaborative works with other Kaiadilt women, and her almost monochromatic recent paintings and works on paper. The experts say that the paintings are “depictions of her homeland …. abstract in nature, but retain representational elements which map traditional country and cultural identity in monumental paintings.”[Jeremy Eccles,SMH]  One thing is certain:  in both the design and the boldness of her colour Gabori’s work is unique in Aboriginal art.

What’s striking to me is the (apparent) lack of traditional iconography (though again, I think it’s interesting that the labels speak about country rather than the painting).  Nicholas Evans in his obituary  in The Australian wrote that: “Beyond the names she gave them, Gabori was reticent about revealing the exact interpretation of her paintings. My view is that they are worked up from distinctive blocks of light or colour, emanating from the land and sea at the locations she names; the landscapes are transmuted so radically that they are barely recognisable.”
So why can’t we just read them as abstract paintings and critique them in the same way we do other similar (i.e. abstract) works?  I suspect it’s the artistic equivalence of political correctness. Interestingly,  there is a painting by Australian abstract artist Tony Tuckson just around the corner from the Gabori, and if you didn’t know you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Gabori painting.  I was (again) struck by the similarities.  And again, I have to wonder: why can’t we talk about these works within the same terms of reference?  They’re clearly very similar.  Ah, the art world.  When it adopts political correctness, it’s anyone’s guess.

And finally, a piece that made be laugh out loud (particularly in it’s quotidian pasticheness)  was a 3-D glass and metal sculpture  in situ outside the art gallery:  a mini pyramid, paying homage to The Louvre’s Pyramid. l I have no idea of who this is by – or for that matter, what it is – but I thought it was imminently fitting that it was there.


So next time you’re in sunny Queensland wandering what to do – go take a wonder around the galleries.  You’ll be surprised at what you find.

Car wash – DYI

Today I washed my car. By hand. That’s a first for me. Not to say my car has not been washed but that this was the first time I washed it in the driveway with a bucket of soapy water and a sponge an one of those chammi cloths that d5y up all the rain. In Sydney I used to have my car washed (and vacuumed) while I did my grocery shopping. Excellent service, bonus being you didn’t need to search for a car park – just drive straight in to the carwash, leave your car, sop and return to a nice clean vehicle.. It was good value too – $25 and they would make it all spark-a-lark-a-lark-a-ling clean: windows cleaned inside and out, all the inside surfaces cleaned, vacuumed throughout, including the boot and for a bit extra, the tires (or is that the wheels?) cleaned too.

Here in Noosa there are such car wash places, only those coin operated self-serve ones – not even those that you just drive through and freak you out when the big brushes descend over your car. Lacking any real facilities I opted for the self-serve coin-operated place. It wasn’t good. Firstly, I didn’t really know what to do and ended up soaked; secondly, it was expensive – I seemed to be forever putting in dollar coins.

First time I visited I drove in, read the instructions went to use the machine only to find I didn’t have enough gold coins. Dejected (I had psyched myself up for this), I drove off not realising that there is a machine there that converts your small silver coins to gold ones. Next time, prepared with an abundance of coins (or so I thought) I started feeding my coins into the machine, unaware that once the coins drop the water starts gushing out of the long hose/pipe that’s attached to the wall. By the time I figured out what to do my coin was used up. So, standing with the hose/pipe thing at the ready I insert my nextccoin: bam. Doing it.

I seemed to spend a long time watering as I waited for the next phase. I thought it was automatic and just seamlessly flowed from one cycle to the next. Wrong. So back I went to the instructions and realised I had to use the soapy scrub brush (though this is an option). I got the brush from the other wall, fed in my coin and began scrubbing. Then I noticed all this water gushing out on the floor. Apparently, you’re meant to scrub before you insert your coin and remove the previously usedchose/pipe from the wall attachment in order to rinse the soap away. More gold coins later my car is clean but not dry or polished or vacuumed. By then I gave up trying to figure out what to do with the various cycles on the so-called automatic wash and drove my car to the vacuum point to experience yet another round of frustration with the power running out before I could properly vacuum all the surfaces in the car. My vacuum cleaner at home has ore suction that the supposedly heavy duty one there. I drove off vowing to never set foot on the site again.

Subsequently I have found there is a serviced car wash place at the Sunshine Plaza in Maroochydore. The Sunshine Plaza* is pitched as the “Sunshine Coast’s largest retail mall/centre”. I was rather excited the first time I went there, looking forward to being able to make all the usual purchases (Sydney style). Alas. What can I say? The Myer store there (the main attraction) is smaller than the one in Hobart. The Plaza’s only saving grace is that it has a skin clinic that I use, a good sized supermarket, Howard’s Storage, First Choice Liquor store and nearby, an Asian grocery store. But really, that’s it.

Last week, having an appointment at the Plaza I determined to have my car cleaned. The Plaza has an incredible paucity of parking – it’s not unusual to be driving around for at least 15 minutes searching for an elusive spot. It’s also not unusual to stalk people coming out with with their shopping and slowly following them to their car (usually only to discover some one else is already waiting with blinkers on). Grrrr. Getting my car washed seemed like an ideal solution to the parking problem as well as a much needed clean. And yet. I drove in only to be asked if I had a booking!!? They were fully booked. Deep breath. Search for car spot.

On the positive side (and one must always look for the bright side of things when you live outside a big city), I did discover the joys of manually washing my own car. And I vacuumed too. So now, adept at this new enterprise I shall endeavour to keep my car shiny clean for much longer (and make a booking for the real car wash place next time I’m in Maroochydore).

* ‘Plaza’ is a term favoured by all shopping malls, large and small, it is quintessentially, Queenlsandish.

Did you know: The start of the history of car washing dates back to 1914. People used to manually push or move the cars through stages of the process. Eventually, manual car wash operations peaked at 32 drive-through facilities in the United States. The first semi-automatic car wash was active for the first time in Detroit, Michigan using automatic pulley systems and manual brushing.

Pachydermal therapy

My brain’s tired.  More specifically, my right brain is tired. I’ve been overusing it. Too much computer work, thinking work, analysing and problem-solving. So today I’m going to give it a rest and be free of thinking.  I’m going sit in the sun and read my book, go for a walk along the beach and then I’m going to crochet an elephant. Ha? Really. I am in fact, crocheting a baby elephant.  Well, a soft, cuddly toy version of a baby elephant.

It all began when I decided to knit a beanie. I live in Noosa where the weather is never really cold enough for winter woolies but for some reason I decided I wanted to knit a beanie. I went to extraordinary lengths to purchase my pattern and wool (finding places to buy yarn here is an exerBeaniescise in logistics).  I managed to find the perfect pattern on-line but the wool that was recommended was impossibly expensive to send (it was from Germany and the shipping costs were $55).  A trip to Brisbane resolved the problem, though there too it was a bit hit and miss.  Long story short I knitted my beanie and proudly wore it on a visit to frigidly cold Melbourne.  Both my daughter and my gf loved the beanie; I left it with my gf and resolved to knit my  daughter another one.   Which I did.  By then I had become quite enamoured of knitting – especially beanies because they require knitting on 5 kneedles, which is both challenging (keeping the stitches from dropping off not just one end of the needle but two – or in this case 8!!) and fun.  It was a good thing to do in front of the telly – less drinking too (you can’t very well knit and drink).
However four beanies later, I’d had enough.  But I still wanted to knit something.  I came across some very cute toys and things on Pinterest and then I found a photo of a crocheted elephant.  I was sold.  I used to crochet way back when (remember back in the early 70’s crocheted ponchos?) so I knew that it was something I could do.

crocheted elephantOnce more I went in search of yarn. I couldn’t find the specified yarn but figured something approximating it would do – the most important thing being the colour. It didn’t take long for my brain and fingers to remember how to crochet and all was going well until I suddenly realised that this cute little cuddly toy was going to end up being rather big.  I had envisaged something that was maybe 15-20cm but the head of this elephant is looking more like an elephant cow than a baby one and I suspect the entire thing is going to be the size of a toy poodle – the real ones, not the stuffed toy variety.

What to do?  I wondered if it was the yarn I was using – I had purchased 8ply but perhaps it needed to be 4ply.  As I’ve said, I can’t leave problems alone – I have to fix them, so once more I went in search of yarn.  I did manage to find some 4ply but it wasn’t in the right colour (too pale) but never mind, I figured I could dye it a darker grey later.  Turns out that it doesn’t really make much difference and that the pattern is indeed for a somewhat larger toy elephant.  I’m going to persevere because once I’ve started something I’m determined to finish it.  Perhaps I can stuff it with something a bit sturdier than fluffy toy stuffing and use it as a door stop.  Not sure quite what that stuffing would be – maybe poured concrete? Or perhaps I could just donate it to a creche.

I have to admit that I really had no idea of what I was going to do with this little elephant – I don’t know anyone with babies.  It was just a cute project to keep me occupied.  And keep me occupied it has.

Now I think I’ll move on to my linguine doll.

linguini doll