Monday, 28 October 2013

Mondrian on the streets of Paris

I love seeing themes pop up from the streets of Paris. I was surprised to notice the ongoing influence of Piet Mondrian in Paris. Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter, his nonrepresentational form is apparently called neoplasticism.

148 Blvd St Germain 75006

Mondrian bags for sale
or from the supermarche
You see Mondrian everywhere when you look.

Mondrian cows
Mondrian jewellery

We had seen an Yves St Laurent Mondrian dress at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I didn't know at that stage that it was the start of a trend. 

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Silver Brumby

I'm so glad to have finally read this classic Australian book, it's a crying shame that I hadn't read it before. I really wish I had read it when I was going through my horse mad preadolescence though, I'm sure it would have become a cherished childhood memory. Reading it now, it's still an enjoyable, rather thrilling story, and I can definitely see why it is such a beloved favourite for many people, especially those lucky enough to read it in their own childhoods. 

The Silver Brumby tells the story of Thowra, a magnificent silver foal born to Bel Bel at the start of the book. Bel Bel teaches Thowra how to survive the difficult life of a brumby (a feral horse in Australia). She teaches him to watch the weather, to learn his way around the rugged terrain where they live, how to find food despite the winter snows, and most of all to be afraid of men. Very afraid. Bel Bel knows that Thowra's beauty will make him become hunted, and that he must use his cunning to remain free. 

Elyne Mitchell's famous Silver Brumby books are set in the remote alpine high country of New South Wales. Elyne lived, worked and rode in the area, and her knowledge and passion for it is very obvious. 

Spring was coming to all this mountain kingdom. Foals would be born, young kangaroos, possums and wombats would be snugly in their mothers' pouches. The hawks and great wedge-tail eagles would hatch their young; fat dingo pups would roll in the sunshine; and the wild horses would fight for their mares and gallop over the hills in all the glory of their strength.

I was surprised to have Bel Bel come across a dingo, as I don't normally think of them as alpine creatures, but they're there in low numbers. I also learnt that the beautiful crimson rosellas that I see every day are also called lowries, I've certainly never heard that name before. I wonder if it was a more common name for them in the 1950s when The Silver Brumby was written?

I do love that she's grounded it in such a specific, real area. Usually I don't like books with maps at the start, but I've enjoyed the map here, and have checked back to it quite often. I have visited the area, but not for a very long time. I've climbed Kosciosko (our highest mountain, and "climbed" I mean walk up the quite gentle track) as a teenager, but haven't really been back since then. I really must take the time to return some time soon. 

The Silver Brumby is well written and fast paced, with action in every shortish chapter. The author really conveys Thowra's fear of man, and his changing nature- his early antics as a foal, his love and knowledge of the wild, high places that Bel Bel has taught him, and his growing maturity as he grows up to become a colt and then a stallion with his own herd.

The bush was quiet as he went on his scouting expedition. The only sounds were the normal rustlings and movements of evening, as the wombats came out to sun themselves in the last pleasant rays, as the animals who feed by day went off to their homes, and those that fed by night started to stir. He knew no possums would come till that strange moment that belongs to no time at all, when it is neither dark nor light. Then their pointed faces, that are both curious and wistful, would peer down on him from the gum trees, and he would smell the strange possum smell, more pungent than eucalyptus, but very like it. 

Elyne Mitchell went on to write 13 Silver Brumby books over 6 decades! The Silver Brumby was Highly Commended in the 1959 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards. Sadly it was beaten by two joint winners- Nan Chauncy's Devil's Hill and John Gunn's Sea Menace, both of which I fear are rather forgotten titles, I've not heard of them before, they appear to both be out of print and neither are available in my library. I've seen it speculated that the horses talking to each other, and to the other animals put the judges off. Whatever it was, with hindsight it was probably a mistake.

The Centenary Edition is perhaps a bit misleading. The centenary is celebrating the anniversary of the birth of the extraordinary Elyne Mitchell, not the publication of the book. Whatever the occasion I do think that it's wonderful that people are still reading this book.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Lifeline Bathurst Bookfair

Last week I travelled to Bathurst for the second year in a row for the Lifeline Book Fair at the Bathurst Showground. 

Horse training has certainly changed since last I saw it

There's always lots of eager book hunters. 

I don't think this is a political statement

There weren't as many copies of 50 Shades of Grey as I expected

There were two tables of kids books
where I spent a lot of my time

Master Wicker's enthusiasm didn't quite last that of his mothers

My 1001 haul
13 new titles

My non-1001 haul

Lifeline is a telephone counselling service and they hold many book fairs around the country to raise funds. They are annual events in most places. I've been attending two local book fairs for the past few years. I always bag a bargain (ie buy at least a big shopping bag of books). I'm not sure how many of last years books I've read yet. But I will at some stage. Planning for my dotage perhaps?

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sarah Turnbull at Mudgee Readers' Festival

The chance to see Sarah Turnbull speak was one of the big highlights for me at the recent Mudgee Readers' Festival. I'm so glad I went, her session alone was worth the trip. Sarah was fascinating to listen to and she had a particularly good facilitator for this session. 

Like millions of other ladies of a certain age I had read Sarah's memoir Almost French when it came out in 2002, and dreamed of living that Parisian life too. I was somewhat astonished when early on Sarah said she was shocked to have the most envied life according to the SMH. That was surprising for me, and it almost seemed disingenuous, but I came to realise that Sarah is so humble that she really meant it.

Sarah's session was a wide ranging discussion of both her books- there was some discussion about Almost French, but mostly about it was about this years All Good Things. She lived in Paris for 9 years, the time described in Almost French, a title she meant in an ironic way. All Good Things is a more personal memoir, and picks up where Almost French left off.

Sarah's French husband Frederic is a lawyer and he was asked to set up an office in Papetee. Any big move is always a form of escape, and represents the need for rejuvenation. So Sarah and Frederic soon found themselves living in a tropical paradise on Moorea. Her back door was 15 metres from the water, and Sarah would swim in the sparkling waters each morning. Sarah intended to write a novel on Moorea, she had been researching 19th century Breton peasants while in France, but somehow a novel of rural misery couldn't form in her island idyll.

All Good Things is a second memoir, dealing with Sarah's time in Tahiti. She was undergoing fertility treatments over this time. All Good Things deals with the nature of, and longing for paradise and the special nature of islands- any island can be an Alcatraz. You come face to face with yourself on an island. There are no distractions on an island. They were to stay for 3 1/2 years, and Sarah felt very ready to leave when they did, she needed more stimulation than even the soaring peaks, palm trees and blond sand of Tahiti could provide.

Sarah gave us a fascinating discussion on art and artists. Gaugin and Matisse both famously spent time in Tahiti. She felt Gaugin to be a cliche in Tahiti. Matisse captivated her, and his presence is woven throughout the book. Matisse visited Tahiti for 3 months, mainly in Papeete but was grumpy and bored. Matisse was fascinated by the underwater light of Tahiti, he left Polynesia empty handed, and it took 15 before he created his famous sea cutouts. Sarah found this reassuring and gorgeous- you never know what an experience will bring, or how it may inspire something unexpected. She too felt mesmerised every morning by the colours and light as she swam in the warm waters of her island home. Indeed in Tahiti Sarah wrote with a painterly picture of the lagoon above her desk, although All Good Things was written after she had left Tahiti, she needed distance before she could begin writing and process her experiences. Polynesians love colour, and Sarah said she has taken away more use of colour from her time in Tahiti.

Most foreigners stay in Tahiti for 2-4 years (rather common in many expat stays actually, I stayed in Canada for 2 1/2 years), and there was some interesting discussion of the expat experience. Sarah realised that she and Frederic were the outsiders, they needed the Tahitians, but the Tahitians didn't need them.

Paris and Tahiti are both iconic places, both make people dream, and they foster a longing for paradise. This longing can morph into a longing for happiness. She wisely noted that noone ever aspires to be content. Contentment while a beautiful feeling, is a humble aspiration.

Sarah and Frederic now live on Sydney's Northern Beaches, and said she felt like a tourist on her most recent trip to Paris. Sarah offered interesting perspectives on both France and Australia. She sees Australia as having a masculine imprint, while she feels France has a feminine imprint citing packaging as an example- appearance is fundamental, and there is an appreciation of the beauty in small things, functionality is a bonus. Sarah felt that some of our Australian fears as a society were those of an island- fears of boats and invasions by foreigners.

I'm hoping to reread Almost French soon, and have All Good Things ready to go on the shelf. I actually saw Sarah Turnbull in two sessions, she was a panellist in the When Life Throws Us Lemons How Do We Use Them for Gin and Tonic, perhaps I'll have time to tell you about that some time.

Monday, 21 October 2013


There are many amazing opportunities for dining in Paris. Some you chance upon, others need meticulous research, planning and reservations weeks or months in advance. Alain Passard's Three Star L'Arpege is certainly worth searching out.

We enjoyed an astonishing lunch at L'Arpege back in July. Alain Passard takes a particular interest in vegetables, so we chose L'Arpege for a family lunch as Master Wicker is vegetarian. It was a perfect choice.

We made our way to a rather nondescript street corner in the 7th,
happily walking distance from our flat

We had tiny starters of a pastry morsel with broccoli and cabbage- which doesn't sound all that great, but was of course wonderful. And a plate of the most peppery raw radishes- slightly too peppery for me.

A trio of mini tastes.
Beetroot and lavender. Carrot and parmesan. Cucumber

Beetroot sushi with lime and garlic
Master Wickers favourite course

Fresh strawberries from the garden, four spice cream, onion, elderflower

Two bottles of this rather magnificent wine lost their lives this day

Fresh lettuce from the garden with smoked almond dressing

Vegetable plate with sweet and sour sauce, geranium flowers, raspberry and cassis

Zucchini veloute
The speck mousse was then served by our waiter
and omitted for Master Wicker
Perhaps the best thing we ate in a month in Paris!

Peas with orange flower and onion with cassis

Ravioli with beetroot and peas in clear broth

Smoked spring potatoes with mustard emulsion and peas

Master Wicker's potato gnocchi with onion during the "main"

Sea bass with almonds, fava beans and sorrel
Mr Wicker and I shared the fish and meat mains

Lamb with potato gnocchi

Fresh cows milk curd, fig

We wondered why they merely wiped our knives during the meal.
We were presented with them to take home at the end!

Petit fours!
Apple and almond tartlets. Fruit pate.
Beetroot and rhubarb, lemon verbena and sorrel macarons. 

They made me a special birthday cake!

There was a nougat with honey and red fruits that I was possibly too full to photograph. 

Chef came out to speak to each table at the end of lunch
After all this we might have needed to go have a nap....

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Friday, 18 October 2013

Lord of the Flies

I missed out on reading Lord of the Flies in high school because I was in the wrong English class. Actually I don't remember our teacher getting us to read very much at all. Whenever it all got to hard we had to rewatch the 1963 movie version of Day of the Triffids again and again (and I don't think we even got to read the book).

So for a long time now Lord of the Flies was on my list of books that I really felt that I should have read. It was a perfect choice for me to read for Banned Books Week this year.

Picture source

I'm so glad to have finally read it. Lord of the Flies is certainly a modern classic. There have been several movie versions, multiple covers. It even has its own Simpsons episode (Das Bus, Series 9). Now I can finally get the references. And in a moment of perfect synchronicity there were Lord of the Flies references in the very next book I read- Peter Goldsworthy's His Stupid Boyhood.

William Golding's Lord of the Flies is a form of homage to RM Ballantyne's The Coral Island. In both books a group of boys are marooned on a lush tropical island. Although they're dreadfully different stories. RM Ballantyne's three boys are the only survivors of a shipwreck. Lord of the Flies has an unknown number of boys survive a rather mysterious plane crash. Golding even overtly references The Coral Island. 

"While we're waiting we can have a good time on this island."
He gesticulated widely.
"It's like in a book."
At once there was a clamour.
"Treasure Island-"
"Swallows and Amazons-"
"Coral Island"

And then at the very end, on the last page. 

"I know. Jolly good show. Like the Coral Island."

Except of course Lord of the Flies isn't really like The Coral Island at all. Yes, The Coral Island was a stepping off point, some boys stranded on a tropical island, but these are vastly different stories. And Lord of the Flies is worlds away from Swallows and Amazons! 

The boys come together and form a rather dysfunctional group. Many of the boys don't know each other despite being on the same plane. A number of the boys though were part of  a school choir. Early on Ralph calls the boys together using a conch shell, and soon emerges as a leader. Ralph recognises the importance of setting up shelters for the boys, and also keeping a fire going to act as a beacon to aid in rescue. But there are no early rescues and the boys must survive on their own. They must gather fruits, and hunt for meat. Soon deep divisions appear in the group, the spectre of the monster, and the tensions of their life without adults takes its toll.

While I am pretty much relieved at having finally read Lord of the Flies (a literal translation of Beelzebub), it wasn't a story I loved. A friend felt that Golding's writing style can be difficult and holds a reader at arms length- which is a perfect way to put it. I never really got turning pages quickly until the very last chapter. I was never comfortable with his writing style somehow. Yet I always found the story interesting, even if it wasn't compelling for me.

William Golding sounds an interesting, if not always pleasant, man. He went on to win both the Nobel Prize and Booker Prize (in 1980 for Rites of Passage). Lord of the Flies had an interesting birth- it was written in exercise books while Golding was a schoolteacher. Goldings experiences in the war and as a school teacher were the background to this enduring classic. 

"I must say that anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head."

Lord of the Flies was said to have had 21 rejections before Charles Monteith at Faber rescued it, and then ordered a substantial rewrite to remove much of the early section focusing on an atomic war, the title was changed from Strangers from Within, and it was eventually published in 1954. Perhaps this is how everyone besides me knows that the children are stranded after some sort of atomic war? I thought the clues in the book alone quite obtuse, but it does make sense as a cold war novel. I am not at all surprised that it was originally written for adults. Some of it still makes harrowing reading. 


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 16/10/13

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we've encountered in our weekly reading.

My Wondrous Word today comes from a press release. The big book news around here today is that New Zealander Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries. 

Eleanor is the youngest ever winner of the Booker, and has written the thickest book ever to win. Both the Canadians and Kiwis are claiming the win. I've just noticed that the prize was announced at the Guildhall in London. I went to a free concert there in July! It's rather silly, but makes me feel closer to the action. 

Orrery. Noun. 

It is, he said, “a book you sometimes feel lost in, fearing it to be 'a big baggy monster', but it turns out to be as tightly structured as an orrery”.

A mechanical model of the solar system. After Charles Boyle, Fourth Earl of Orrery (1676-1731), for whom one was made. The free dictionary. 

Picture source
I've seen things like that before, but never knew their name. I think orrery is a perfect word for the Chair of the Man Booker Judging Panel to use. 

Just for the record I think it's a mistake to change the rules for Booker contention to include American authors from next year. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Family

I saw this movie accidentally yesterday afternoon. A friend asked us if we wanted to go along to a Can Assist fundraiser so we said yes, and then asked what the movie was. Turns out it was The Family. I'd never heard of it before. But then Mafia movies aren't my genre of choice, even if they're Mafia comedies. I went in knowing absolutely nothing about the movie or plot, and was pleasantly surprised (by some of it).

Robert De Niro plays ageing mobster Giovanni Manzoni who is living in France under and FBI witness protection program. His family, wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and two teenage children move to a quiet Normandy village at the start of the movie. The French setting was a big bonus for me, and provided much of my interest. It also gives The Family some genuinely funny moments.

I love that dog food line. Mind you Mr Wicker and I were the only ones audibly chuckling at that.

The Family is based on a French novel, Malavita (Badfellas in English translation, which all gets a bit confusing as Goodfellas the movie is referenced in The Family), by Italian sounding, but actually French author Tonino Benacquista. The movie is known as Malavita in France, but seems to be The Family in the English speaking world. The reviews haven't been universally glowing, primarily I think because it's too randomly and gratuitously violent for a comedy, although the humour, and French location are what saved it for me. All the main actors are very good and we do care about their stories, even if you have to close you eyes for some bits.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Spring 2013 #2

Our glorious spring continues in Australia. I'm not certain of the names of most of these flowers (ok the tulips are obvious) but can still rejoice in their beauty. 

And it's always fabulous to see some birds. This duck was standing about in the tree on one leg for ages.
Australian Wood Duck
(Chenonetta jubata)

And this one was gone in a moment. But there are lots of them around at the moment, I'm seeing them pretty much every day on my walks. 

Sacred Kingfisher
(Todiramphus sanctus)
Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy