Episode 22: Confessions of a Grumpy Old Woman

Savouring delights and horrors

In recent times, I have been indulging in the happiness-inducing activity of compiling a random list of things that especially irritate me. Grumpy old woman that I am, I want to vent about these delights /horrors here in blog land.  To some, this blog episode, in itself, may well be very annoying, having a certain strident, soapbox flavour. Fair enough. Yet, everyone probably has her or his own list that they may feel compelled to shout from the rooftops occasionally.

Hopefully, I will strike some chords with several like-minded people along the way. Alternatively, I will certainly get up the noses of others on some issues.  For light relief, I do end the episode with a short celebration of a few of life’s pleasures, at least as I see them.

The ‘annoyances’ list is not in any particular order from least upsetting to the most upsetting,  or vice versa.

      Aside: One annoyance for you, dear reader –  the pictures this time are only in   the happier zone below. The difficult stuff is harder to illustrate, although I wish I could. Maybe if all the points were joined together visually and aurally, they would make an unusual documentary film…

1. I want to start with an English usage irritation first.  Of course, there are a multitude of headaches in this zone, and many books and blogs have been written on the subject. Nonetheless, I am particularly distressed and even, dare I say, disgusted, by how few people are able to distinguish between ‘bought’ and ‘brought’ anymore. Illiteracy is sadly on the rise from all angles. Even quite competent journalists trip up here. Therefore, I probably have lost this battle, but I refuse to retreat. For instance: ‘He bought the suitcase over and displayed it to the media.’   Shudder. He didn’t buy it, he was bringing it there. Bought/brought. I rest my case. 

2. On a more visual level,  I cringe when I witness someone drinking directly out of large milk bottles, juice bottles etc from the fridge, then putting the unfinished bottle back for the unsuspecting next user, as if the perpetrator is  innocently sharing these beverages. Pour it into a glass! This practice gives me a shiver down my spine. To me, this is selfish and inconsiderate, as well as unhygienic. When this bottom-feeder cultural practice is portrayed in films and on tv,  usually self-centred men or abominable teens are the perpetrators.  I hear this is also quite common in some households.  When I mentioned this abhorrence recently, a friend shook her head and said slowly, ‘You can never stop a bloke doing that’.

3. Another quite maddening, homespun practice that is often shown in the screen media is the following: the  long-haired heroine has an evening shower, then she goes to bed with dripping wet hair. Why does she not use the drier prior to settling down for the night?  As my mother would say, this is a sure way to get a chill – dear Mum was always worrying about us in relation to catching chills. Recently in the ABC TV series The Beautiful Lie, the heroine performs this ritual very late at night, after having consorted wildly with her lover. The wet hair in this case symbolises infidelity, as she crawls into bed beside her betrayed husband. Enough said.

4. Picnics and camping are outdoor pursuits holding little appeal for me. I don’t mind enduring an occasional companionable picnic, if there is a pleasant view, if the company is tolerable, if it is held in a shady spot, if there are no biting insects around, if I don’t have to sit directly on the ground, if the food is tasty, and if there is a strategic escape route readily available. That statement contains several big ‘ifs’.

And now to camping. In 1970, I travelled across much of  Europe over several months with my partner at the time. We were young, healthy and adventurous. And we camped. Our tent was supposed to be able to resist a Force 10 gale – luckily we weren’t tested to that extent. The campsites were of variable quality, some of them grotty, as well as overcrowded and quite remote.  I particularly disliked the brash, loud American college guys who would hog the showers and use all the hot water, as if this was their god-given right.

After a long time on the road, we were inevitably behind schedule. Thankfully, we had to withdraw from a Kontiki camping trip to Russia and Poland, which we had impetuously pre-booked with some friends. We were both very glad that this adventure didn’t eventuate, particularly after hearing the rather grim post-trip stories from those friends. Also, throughout Europe, we had witnessed, firsthand, the ubiquitous Kontiki expeditions, replete with drunken, gormless Australians. Cringeworthy reality checks can be very useful indeed. Camping and I parted ways long ago.

5. I don’t like certain fads.  Paleo diets, quinoa, kale, rocket, those green shots in a glass…no matter how supposedly good for me, all such food fashions leave me cold. Also  ‘Bondi Hipster’ posing can be galling, whether it be in relation to food and beverage fads or healthy-living fads. While I enjoy the satirical comedy, I dislike the faddishness of gentrification-on-overdrive once again. I do, however, like the trend of preparing food from farm to fork. On the other hand, I suffer the passion for ‘gluten-free’ fare by those people who aren’t genuine celiac sufferers, but who are just super trendies. And I dislike being served food on flat wooden platters. The other day I dared to ask for an alternative china plate, which I received without a patronising comment, so resistance is possible.

6. I hate clowns, sad or happy. Need I say more?  I am also becoming very weary of circuses, particularly the excessively over-produced extravaganzas.

7. Mobile phone contracts give me the heebie-jeebies.  I inevitably become confused and I am invariably ripped off, experiencing difficulty with the rehearsed language  used in these so-called negotiations.  Newspeak is rampant. I am made to feel out-of-date, incompetent and powerless. Anything to do with Telstra these days is a major downer…

8. Earnestly performed Interpretive Dance, while often a source of unintended humour, tends to give me a splitting headache.

9. Anti-intellectuals and rightwing, racist partakers of the history wars all make me fume.

10. I cannot bear all forms of fundamentalism, including happy clappies/tea-party types and ISIS. Or far-right, reactionary Catholics like Tony Abbott. Religious dogma is the scourge of the world – so many crimes and horrors have been perpetrated in the name of religion. I think our governmental institutions should be completely secular in more than name only, and one’s religious beliefs should never be allowed to influence decisions in Parliament. Hence the powers-that-be should stand up and meaningfully embrace secularism, making policies and laws that allow, for instance, equal marital and other rights for the LGBTIQ communities, and the long overdue legalising of abortions in Queensland…

12. I abhor Islamophobia and racism. Too many people think simplistically that all Muslims are bad because of the maniacs on the fringe, who often take the name of the religion in vain. It is like damning all Christians because of the rabid Ku Klux Klan. I am very ‘pro’ a humanitarian approach to all those seeking asylum here.  People seeking asylum are not at all illegal, and there are no queues when you are fleeing persecution and violence.  All our appalling off-shore and on-shore concentration camps should be closed immediately, and alternative, in-community processes should be enacted. I do not hold with smug, defeatist rhetoric, nor do I passively accept the tyranny of the supposed majority. These apathetic, often deeply racist views and practices can be changed. Thank heavens for heroes like Julian Burnside and many other outspoken activists against social injustices perpetrated in our name by people like Peter Dutton.

In a similar vein, the whole Adam Goodes’ saga has been painfully racist, revealing a chillingly ugly side to our culture, fuelled by such lying shock jocks as Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt. I am also disturbed by the increasingly normalised use of that ghastly word assimilation. This word and the outdated, horrendous practices it evokes are definitely racism-driven, conjuring up the stark shadows of Australia’s disgraceful colonial policies and unjust, discriminatory practices inflicted on Indigenous people and migrants during the often shameful invasion history of Australia.

This is a rich, multicultural society, strengthened by diversity and inclusiveness. I try not to despair when new fringe political parties spring up, catering to blatant neo-fascism.

12. Of course, being a feminist, I find misogyny hateful in all its monstrous forms, often manifested in horrendous trolling, domestic violence, oppression and non-equal wages.

13. As far as human beings and their personality traits are concerned, I cannot bear meanness or mean-spiritedness. I also find people who continually manifest narcissistic, self-serving, non-empathetic characteristics, very upsetting and hard to deal with. I deplore mischievous treachery and arch game-playing of all kinds.

14. Petty though this might seem, I also cringe every time I hear someone say ‘haitch’ instead of ‘aitch’, when spelling aloud a word like ‘Helen”…

15. Last but not least, I dislike the Moreton Club, a snob-ridden establishment, situated very close to my dwelling place.  While I like the distinguished historical building very much,  I recoil from the overly well-dressed women who park their posh cars and trail regularly into this club, day and night, at times with their male partners who probably belong to the Brisbane Club, the Queensland Club or Tattersalls. This prominent show of exclusivity by monied snobs represents the power of the social class elite, along with a particular form of gender discrimination, etched here in stark relief.

As I have calculated that the youngest women I see regularly entering the building are about 50,  the place won’t wither away for quite a while yet. Hopefully the progeny of this privileged elite will find the club too retro, stuffy and boring in the not-too-distant future.

A friend who had reciprocal membership there invited me to dinner one night, even though she was very concerned that I wouldn’t talk the talk or even walk the walk of the upper class. I was instructed to dress very conservatively – no slacks allowed, only dresses or skirts – and to indulge in polite, meaningless conversation, thereby not at all revealing my apparently shocking left-wing views. As I was curious to see inside and soak up the ambiance in this enemy territory, I agreed, through gritted teeth, to behave myself on their terms. Never again!

Let There be Light…

Now, surprise, surprise, I want to document a tiny, bright clustering of my delights.  Enough of that darker list for now, although letting it all hang out can be uplifting and even therapeutic.

I derive pleasure and joy from many delightful people and cultural pursuits. Strong friendships and deep-seated loyalty are very important, while betrayal is anathema to me. Here is a small selection of things I like, also chosen at random, but all precious to me in different ways…

image

Enjoying a recent chat with the wonderful Sir David Puttnam, producer of many films including Local Hero (1983) – one of my all-time favourite films. Back in the early 80s, I was offered a job as production assistant on this film, but sadly I had to forego that privilege. Ah, the road not taken…

At the Frick Museum - one f my favourite places

At the Frick Museum in New York – one of my favourite places

Watching films and tv series at home in New Farm

Watching films and tv series at home in New Farm

 

Bruce

Bruce and Obama – two American heroes

Another of my heroes,  Paul Keating – a very recent conversation with Kerry O’Brien at the Opera House in October, 2015. (Bring back Keating…!)

 

Good food and wine

Good food and wine in Bologna, Italy

image                                                               Bob and Joan…

And now – a Photo Montage of some friends I love and who bring me joy. Wish I could post pictures of everyone who is equally special to me. And, thankfully, I am not always an Old Grump…

Some lovely friends...

image

image

 

 

imageimage

image

image

image
image

imageimage

                                           Happy times everyone… 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making room for the women: the subversive power of reading

Making Room for the Women: the subversive power of reading

A famous novel from the Seventies...

A famous influential novel from the 70’s women’s movement…

 

In 1978, I lent my friend Judy the novel The Women’s Room by Marilyn French, and because of this, her husband Nigel accused me of breaking up their marriage. Judy loved this powerful book, which has been considered a key lightning-rod text of the women’s movement. Soon she was questioning the whole basis of her marriage. She subsequently packed up and left with their young daughter.

I suffered a form of collateral damage when Nigel’s rage rained down on my head. He shouted that I had deliberately initiated their irreparable marriage breakdown. That was not my intention. Maybe this incendiary book-lending event was a subversive trigger, and maybe not.

Germaine and Gloria - feminist inspiration

Germaine and Gloria – feminist inspiration at different stages in the journey

At the time, this novel certainly was one of many controversial books circulating in the West – for instance, those written by authors such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir. In many forums, including women’s consciousness-raising groups, their prominent symbolic presence, as well as their landmark books, inspired a critical explosion of conversations and actions focusing on the misogynistic chains of patriarchy. Definitely, women were on the move, marching on the streets, challenging gender and sexualities stereotypes. Many of us also demanded access to further education.

The Second Sex - another key feminist text

The Second Sex – another glittering  feminist book eagerly consumed

Seductive education: sweeping aside superficiality 

A Mature Age Entry scheme facilitated free entry for older, less qualified people into the University of Queensland. I was a researcher on a project examining the impact of this phenomenon of Mature Age Entry, charting the narratives of older women returning to study. Excited by this open tertiary study opportunity, Judy enrolled the following year in a Bachelor of Arts, specializing in Women’s Studies and Sociology. This gave her dangerous access, according to Nigel, to even more taboo, transformative ideas.

I guess her burning desire for the illuminating offerings of Higher Education was also my fault, in Nigel’s mind at least. When Judy and Nigel met, she worked as a glamorous air hostess. Their eyes locked romantically across a crowded domestic flight. From his perspective, Nigel, an average kind of guy, had definitely gained a valuable asset, a prestigious, beautiful prize attached to his arm, a desirable handbag for both social and business events. This glittering object also perfectly performed her fabulous domestic goddess role, delivering smart dinners at home, impressing his work associates with her divine table settings and her delicately stuffed mushrooms.

Stuffed mushrooms - a Seventies timewasting masterpiece

Stuffed mushrooms – a Seventies timewasting masterpiece

Yet she hankered after more enlightened stimulation in this claustrophobic, private space, where he paraded his ego as well as his public achievements. To her, motherhood was indeed a very fulfilling part of this package.  On the downside, as both wife and mother, she was even more trapped in a stifling financial and emotional dependency vortex, from which there seemed no escape.

At no stage did Nigel engage in critical self-reflection and face the reality of their marriage breakdown situation. He could not and would not recognize that the fault might have lain, in so many ways, with his deep-seated, masculinist assumptions and attitudes. Their relationship bargain was entwined inexorably in the whole fossilized notion of traditional marriage, based largely on a cultural web of outdated romantic myths and lies.

Monogamous marriage as an institution was then about gendered and sexualised power, privileging a masculinist, heteronormative view of the world. Such an ideology positioned a woman as an inferior, docile person within society, to be largely seen and not heard. The women’s movement of the 70’s, aka Second Wave Feminism, fundamentally challenged these deeply ingrained values, beliefs and attitudes.

Changing patterns: beyond entrapment

At least women’s voices are being heard today in Western democracies, and great advances have been made. We might even see a few more conservative women appointed to the front bench in the Australian Parliament, now that our regressive, sexist Prime Minister/Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has been removed from office. However, all such seeming advances are often muted trappings both here and globally, a form of ‘one step forward and two steps back’, even for educated, middle class, cisgendered women in the privileged West. Also conservative women often reinforce the dominant ideologies and vehemently deny being feminists, further blocking progress for women’s equality.

The hegemony of the heterosexual couple also still prevails, often bringing a false sense of power for the woman within such a seductively comfortable relationship framework. Single people, particularly women, who do not conform to this normative, exclusive structure can often be isolated and treated as inferior, or even as a threat. Single men don’t seem to suffer the same negative experience in couple-land. As comedian Judith Lucy says, they are socially acceptable as long as they still have their own teeth – not much to live up to.

Regrettably, New Millennium versions of Nigel’s patriarchal view of the world still tend to hold firm. As for people from the Australian LGBTIQ community, basic equal human rights are still, on many levels, a long way off, including within the domain of marriage equality as well.

 

Doris Lessing, Mary Wollstonecraft, Kate Millett - amazing women writers

Doris Lessing, Mary Wollstonecraft, Kate Millett – amazing women writers challenging the bounds of patriarchy

 

Explosive 70’s stories

In my early research on mature women returning to study, I encountered many variations on the Judy story. After their return to study, quite a few women were suffering abuse on the domestic front and immediate financial hardship, but gaining in knowledge and power in the arduous long term. Often these were women from conservative backgrounds, experiencing an extraordinary knowledge ferment and a radicalising metamorphosis.

One extreme case that I encountered in my study was that of a northern European migrant woman. Her tradesman husband forbade her from achieving her ambitions. Over many years, she had to go underground and study part-time externally, hiding her books, and any evidence of her notes or her communication with the University. This was doubly hard, given that he had total control over the money she could spend every day. She had to account for every last cent, and therefore posting assignments back to the University, as well as any bus fares and so on, had to have receipts.

From this repressive environment, she managed to attain a degree in Education. She finally plucked up courage and broke the news, inviting him to come to her graduation. His fury knew no bounds, as, to him, his male authority had been challenged on so many levels. Things did not work out well for her. Her heroism still astounds me.

Simone's marvellous autobiographies…what a goddess.

Simone’s marvellous autobiographies…what a goddess.

Fear of feminism

I gave a paper at a conference on Higher Education in Sydney about the women I had interviewed in this study. Of course, the daily papers and radio show hosts latched on to one section in particular in my presentation. Unsurprisingly, the media players sensationalized my argument. They claimed erroneously that the phenomenon of mature women returning to study directly related to the steep increase in divorces within Australia. Women who were intellectually on the move therefore ’caused’ untold familial and societal havoc and wreckage. ‘Down with feminism’ was the blatant subtext of the right-wing media coverage.

This fear of feminist power still prevails in many quarters. Perhaps there was a direct cause-effect link to a long ago innocent, yet explosive, lending transaction regarding a timely book, The Women’s Room. A little forbidden knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing.

Thanks to Laurie Penny for her Masterclass at the 2015 Brisbane Writers’ Festival. She thought the Women’s Room story was worth pursuing.

Chapter Nineteen: Adolescent sex, drugs and rock n roll, Brisbane style

Going to the movies at the Boomerang picture theatre was fun, until some boys put chewing gum in our hair. Ah, the miseries of adolescence!

Going to the movies at the Boomerang picture theatre was fun, until some cheeky boys rubbed chewing gum into our hair. Ah, the miseries of adolescence! I turned the mammoth age of 70 this year. Hence I have been reflecting more on my so-called journey along several crooked often tortuous paths, containing good and bad choices, not just in relationships and career paths, but also, cool and uncool fashion, flattering and horrific hairdos (sometimes with chewing gum damage). Memories of key moments in adolescence loom large…

Recently I heard a contemporary update on the state of play in adolescent land in 2015. A friend has expressed concern about her early teenaged daughter’s being admired and clumsily wooed by boys. One unpleasant boy was particularly aggressive; he has been dealt with, satisfactorily consigned to the dustbin of history.  Meanwhile, a more respectful boy is seeking the beautiful girl’s attention. Hopefully things will all go swimmingly;  but as those of us well past adolescence know, that phase of life can be an exciting, fun-filled and, at the same time, often painful physical and emotional roller coaster.

Brisbane in the late Fifties and early Sixties was rockin’ and rollin’ with the rapidly burgeoning Western Capitalist phenomenon – the construction and the exploitation of the shiny new baby boomer product, the ‘teenager’.  And we embraced it all. Well, most of it. My mother wouldn’t let me own an Elvis Presley record, nor would she allow me go and see the film Jailhouse Rock, which she thought was an outrageous, immoral step-too-far for her teenage girl, who was apparently in danger of screaming, fainting and ripping her clothes off in ecstasy.

Hanging out in the front yard with Pippa & Pedro in 1959 -60.

Hanging out in the front yard with Pippa & Pedro in 1959 -60.

Devils, God and Barbarism in early Teen Land

Between the ages of 13 and 15, my friends and I were each attempting to manoeuvre our own private roller coasters, at the same time communally attending random parties and school dances, all of variable quality, sometimes with dud blokes, at other times with seemingly gorgeous (if a bit pimply) crushes.

With other teens in the local neighbourhood, I also went to monthly Scout dances at the local hall in Yeronga Park, and the occasional Fellowship dances at the Yeronga Church of England Hall. These were all pretty innocent really, although there was the occasional outdoor assignation for a bit of a pash in the dark with someone called Kevin or Noel or Lennie….

My brother Pedro and cousin Godfrey did get into terrible trouble after decorating the church hall with dramatic posters they designed. These imaginative posters featured provocative quotes from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and other iconic sub-cultural sayings such as ‘Live fast, Die young and Be a good-looking corpse’, along with art works similarly confronting to conservative older people. The two were henceforth deemed to be Devils Incarnate and were summarily banished forever from church dances, a ban that certainly didn’t scar them for life.

Meanwhile, that same sanctimonious church minister who banished my devilish relatives, was rubbing himself up against my back whenever, at age 14, I practised alone on the church organ in readiness for Evensong. I found this creepy activity decidedly  discomforting,  and I always shrank from him, knowing it was wrong but not able to say anything.  Then I had no words to name this unwelcome advance, and to articulate my outrage – sexual abuse, harassment etc are concepts from later in the 20th century.

And this was a man of intimidating stature and power, not one of the dirty old men who flashed occasionally at Pippa and me in Yeronga Park as we rode our bikes past them. When that same minister visited me in hospital at the age of 18, just after I had been critically injured in an accident, proclaiming that my injuries were all part of his God’s plan for me, I turned my back on him and his religion forever.

 Let’s Dance: Endearing and Not-so-Endearing Mating Rituals

The scout master and his henchmen would try to block bodgies and widgies from coming along to those dances.  There was a sprinkling of such disengaged young people in our neighbourhood, and I recall once getting a cigarette burn on my arm from one of the bodgies. I wasn’t sure why he did that – lashing out against the type of person I represented to him I suppose, or even some kind of weird mating ritual.

On Saturday mornings, Joan and I would go fairly regularly to O’Connor’s Boathouse at North Quay, ostensibly to learn how to dance with equally gormless and awkward partners, and, in reality, mutually sifting through the chaff hoping to find someone worthwhile for future assignations. Other dance classes were held around town, sometimes after school, also quite useful for meeting boys. As many of us were at single sex schools, meeting anyone of the opposite sex was tricky, given the tough school rules on consorting with boys after school hours. On such dancing afternoons, we were awkwardly and self-consciously grading the talent on display in their distinctive school uniforms, a glaring form of social labelling. We Grammar girls, for instance, were always competing for the boys’  attention with the snobby girls from St Mag’s (St. Margaret’s) and Somerville (Snobberville) House.

What School Did You go to? A Pertinent Aside..

At that time, and even today, the strong residue of such labelling still holds in some quarters.  Brisbane was then an inward-looking white tribal culture, primarily built around the suburb you lived in,  what family you came from, and very definitely what secondary school you attended. This narrow GPS culture of privilege and exclusion is (hopefully) gradually changing. However, when I was growing up and mixing  in various social circles at school and at Uni, and even being interviewed for jobs,  ‘What school did you go to?’ was a front-and-centre defining moment.

The ripple effect of such parochial assumption and identification  is integral to the toxic phenomenon of homosocial reproduction, where ‘like picks like’ – historically, mostly white males from elite schools – for the top drawer, privileged career placements, scholarships, and advancement of many kinds. It becomes all about whom you know, whom you recognise that you would feel comfortable with; merit and equal opportunity tend to fly out of such elevated windows.

Party Central: let’s pash

While I found that some worthless boys from a more ‘upper class’ suburb and a posh school would turn up their noses, dropping me when they discovered where I lived, our modest home in Annerley was actually a very handy one for teenage parties. It had a large yard containing various secret nooks and crannies such as ferneries, rock walls, and even a leafy hill out the back for scrambling up and hiding behind the large tennis practice board which was centre stage. As well, there were convenient ‘hidey holes’ under the house, as long as you avoided the ping pong/billiard table, and also managed not to trip over my ever-optimistic, home handyman Dad’s gaggle of rusty motor mowers and swag of old washing machines scattered around in various states of disrepair.

Dressed for a Friday night beatnik party - the boys came along later. Photo 1 (left) ~ Beatnik-themed party at my place. The boys arrived after tea.
Photo 2  (right)~ pre-party practising on a bongo drum

I can only now recall two kissing games we played at such parties – I think there were more, but time has clouded my memory. We did of course dance to the latest rock and roll records, trying to be so groovy.  We would also start with the rather tame game of ‘spin the bottle’.  As the evening hotted up, we played Kissing in the Dark, which involved a boy and a girl separately going around and shining torches on couples to find out those who weren’t kissing someone.  As you had to kiss someone for such a long time in this game, it was difficult to breathe, and you often suffered some form of lockjaw. If you were found coming up for air, and you were therefore not clenched in an endless passionate embrace with the person beside you in some dark place, the ‘springer’ would replace you, and the ‘springee’ would become the roaming torch person. The couplings were invariably heterosexual. Any variation on this theme was unthinkable back then, though Pippa and I would occasionally practise kissing so we could get better at it when we encountered the next boy we wanted to kiss.

Amongst the group of guys at these parties, you soon got to know which ones were the best kissers, and make a beeline for them at the start of the game. Joan and I also gloried in the ‘older brother syndrome’ – we were fortunate enough to have on hand a core swag of available blokes to select and invite, friends of either my brother Pedro or her brother Godfrey, who happened to be a couple of years older than the female peer group, a state of play which certainly suited us girls. Mostly we wouldn’t have been seen dead partying with boys our own age – so uncool.

Me and cuddly Dudley - one of my brother's friends who shared the Party Central Annerley house with him

Me and cuddly Dudley – one of my brother’s friends who shared the infamous Party Central house in Annerley with him. I spent the occasional boarders’ weekend here in Brisbane when I was 16 -17, while our parents lived in Cloncurry. More on that epic phase in the next instalment…

Party Postmortem time: unveiling the sexual riddle

One important aspect of all this Sixties pashing was the underground cult of Numerical Sexual Activity. Long postmortem conversations always followed any social events. During these forensic examinations, my girlfriends and I would carve up and examine the entrails of, among other topics, how far anyone went with a particular boy. This truth or dare game became quite mathematical and technical.

 

Party Postmortem back at school

Party Postmortem back at school – 1960

The following is a rather illuminating sexual activity grid we employed, replete with euphemistic labelling. As far as I’m aware, several variations on this grid were prevalent at the time:

2 = kissing

4 = Upstairs outside

6 = Upstairs inside

8 = Downstairs outside

10 = Downstairs inside

12 = penetration with condom

14 = penetration without condom

This of course doesn’t really bear too close an examination. It was girl-centric, in a strange way, and, ironically, most of us had a very hazy idea what variations on 10: downstairs inside actually entailed in real life, for instance, or why 14: penetration without condom was the pinnacle sexual activity. I am not at all sure whether boys had a similar grid framing their own sexual wish list/variations. Theirs was probably more crude and more basic – just a hunch.  Of course my research is purely speculative and conjectural here, and I know this adolescent arena deserves more serious empirical investigation…

More to follow (probably) in the next blog instalment…

 

 

 

Episode 18: New York, New York

Reflections and lights in NYC.

Glittering reflections and lights in dazzling NYC.

 

I am starting to surface post my full-on New York sojourn, when for three hectic weeks in May this year, I briefly morphed (at least in my mind) into a New Yorker, living and breathing in that seductive city. At times I was flying on a New York high, while at other times I was grounded, concerned that I was failing an elusive subject called ‘New York 101’. So much of what I wanted to do often seemed to be defeated by time and place. This city is overwhelming in many ways, yet very rewarding in other, often quite intangible and unexpected ways.

Columbia Circle from the 36th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Columbus Circle from the 36th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

I arrived, feeling the exhilaration I always get when in huge and not so huge cities that I love, such as London, Paris, Prague, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne…though with the New York experience, there is a very special visceral form of  happiness and buzz. This was my fifth visit, spanning over about 35 years.

Fantasising at the Algonquin

Firstly, I treated myself to two nights at the famous Algonquin Hotel in mid-town, where I could fantasise about hanging out with the Dorothy Parker crowd on the Round Table. When the concierge said a warm ‘Welcome back!’ to me on my arrival, I accepted the welcome gracefully, even though I had never been there before. Maybe I just look like someone famous?

My bedroom at the Algonquin Hotel

My bedroom at the graceful Algonquin Hotel

The New Millennium refurbishment of this hotel respects the art deco origins and the literary links to the New Yorker, Vanity Fair  and other associated publications. For a whole decade from about 1919, a group of writers such as Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, Franklin P. Adams, Robert E Sherwood and others would have lunch every day at the Algonquin, at the now famous Round Table in the dining room. Today they would be all over social media I guess.

The Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel

The Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel

Most of these writers were critics, and often their acerbic views found their way into the New York Tribune the next day. They influenced young writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Initial funding for the New Yorker magazine was, I gather, given by the Hotel management, and that magazine started up in 1925.

The New Yorker is everywhere in the Algonquin Hotel

The New Yorker is everywhere in the Algonquin Hotel

While I didn’t actually enjoy a meal seated at the Round Table, I dined nearby in the dining room. Friends and I did go back from time to time for a light lunch in the bar, with a view of the Table, nibbling on mini-Reuben sandwiches. Many tourists and visitors come along to the Algonquin every day, asking simply to see the Table in order to soak up the ambiance.

The Algonquin also has amusing ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs in each room, reflecting the literary nature of the place:

image

American Dollars look like Monopoly Money

Over the road from the Algonquin Hotel is a deadly (in every sense of the word) antique jewellery store called Barclay Galleries, where I accidentally found myself at a half-price sale, as if in a dream, purchasing some special jewellery.  The rather crazy but shrewd shop owner even gave me a beautiful diamond necklace to wear around during the day just to enjoy it, even though I definitely wasn’t going to purchase that piece.  I returned it pretty quickly, saying that the necklace was more suitable for Cate Blanchett than for me. I was also of course scared to lose it.

When I finally decided that I would purchase my chosen (supposedly half-priced) items, they assured me I could pay a deposit, and even settle the bill at my leisure from Australia, taking the items with me. That offer made my head spin even more. I did eventually ‘max out’ the credit cards.

I like to think my lovely art deco earrings and necklace are an investment, even potentially an heirloom, rather than a rash indulgence and a rush of blood to the head, in this my 70th year. My lovely New York friend Alicia Manhattan was very supportive that night over drinks in the Algonquin Bar, when I tentatively told her the story and displayed my glittering purchase.

 

Very dangerous jewellery store on W 44th St

Very dangerous jewellery store on W 44th St

 

With my dear friends from England at the Gramercy Tavern where we went to celebrate my 70th birthday. I have the jewellery on but it may be hard to see. Also wearing a Japanese scarf I purchased in Chelsea.

With my dear friends from England at the wonderful Gramercy Tavern where we went to celebrate my 70th birthday. I have the jewellery on but the pieces may be hard to see. Also wearing a Japanese designer scarf I purchased in Chelsea.

Postscript to the Jewellery Saga

It was hard being in the SOMETHING TO DECLARE queue at the airport on my jet- lagged return to Australia, admitting to Customs personnel that I had spent considerably more than $900 on my jewellery gift to myself. For those not in the know, $900 is all you are allowed to spend on any particular item before it has to be declared on entry into Australia. The shop has since sent me a lovely present – an alabaster jewellery case – minus any extra jewels.

Soaking up Chelsea…

One corner of the living room in my apartment on W24th St Chelsea

One corner of the living room in my apartment on W24th St Chelsea

The next place I stayed in was the leafy, gentrified suburb of Chelsea, in an apartment attached to Dupuys Landing http://dupuyslanding.com/Dupuys_Landing_Guest_House/Dupuys_Landing.html.

I was very lucky to be able to stay there, as the rooms and apartments are always in high demand. At the time, the other rooms were occupied by several elderly survivors of the 1945 atomic and hydrogen bombings in Japan. These people were visiting New York schools to talk about why we should be against nuclear weapons. Interestingly, the Dupuys Landing owners are very involved in the anti-nuclear movement.

A primary school in W 23rd Street displaying their love of the arts.

A primary school in W 23rd Street displaying their love of the arts.

Across the road in Chelsea, this sign popped into the window

Across the road in Chelsea, this sign popped into the window

Friends outside the renowned Chelsea Hotel

Friends outside the renowned Chelsea Hotel

When Drippy met Grumpy in Greenwich Village

In the second week, I discovered a chemist shop entitled the Apothecary on Bleecker Street in the Village. Needing something urgently for a drippy nose (I had a head cold) I was about to go in, when who walked past me but Bob Dylan. Was I indeed hallucinating, given that I had unexpectedly encountered Patti Smith only a few days before in another part of Greenwich Village? I wanted to rush over and tell him I loved his work, his concerts in Oz etc etc,  but it didn’t seem right with the man just going about his business. I had to play it ‘New York cool’, which means letting celebrities have an unencumbered private life.
 And my nose was very drippy – definitely not a good look. I sighed and went into the  Apothecary, getting involved in a transaction which took a while. Then I meandered into a jewellery store next door where the owner said he remembered me from 10 years ago  – which was, I suppose, a good sales gimmick….
After that I headed towards the bar on Grove where I was meeting Savannah & Pierre pre the play The Flick. Who should be coming back my way with some grocery shopping bags but Bob again! This time I got an opportunity for more of a full frontal scrutiny. While earlier the profile, the clothes, the demeanor all seemed so right, I wasn’t so sure this time. He seemed irritated by a lot of blaring horns – other people on that street were recognising His Bobness, the god of music. Again I wanted to say something, but held back as I started to wonder if Mr Flared Nostrils  was some kind of deluded nutter – a Dylan impersonator, and not the real thing.
 I mused later that I had definitely not seen him up close and personal at Byron and Brisbane in recent times,  so who knows how the man really looks anymore, especially with no big screen images at his Neverending Tour concerts. Was he ageing well? Older than me, his skin needs some attention, but he is raging against the dying of the light in innovative, creative ways.  However, this guy seemed to be, weirdly enough, more Dylan than Dylan; I let him pass me by. There is no photographic record of  this incident…
I googled later to find out whether Mr Grumpy Dylan was even in town. That search checked out – he had been on the David Letterman show the night before. And the video of that performance confirmed for me that I had encountered the real person in the flesh (and not some dipstick fraud)  in his old haunt, Greenwich Village.
See some stuff here about his recent TV performance:
 http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/david-letterman-bob-dylan-performs-as-hosts-final-musical-guest-on-late-show-10263104.html
Dancing and singing and piano playing buskers in Washington Square near where I saw Patti Smith and Bob Dylan (separately)

Dancing, singing and piano playing buskers in Washington Square, near where I saw Patti Smith and Bob Dylan (separately)

Some Cultural and Social Highlights in NYC – a photo montage

Modern dance gig in Chelsea

Modern dance gig in Chelsea

Birthday cake at the Gramercy Tavern

Birthday cake at the Gramercy Tavern for my New York birthday – the earlier one celebrated  in New Farm was rather different.

At the Frick Museum - one f my favourite places

At the Frick Museum – one of my favourite places

Portrait of Grete Stern - a great exhibition at MOMA by her and her partner Horacio Coppola

Portrait of Grete Stern – we enjoyed a great photography exhibition at MOMA by her and her partner Horacio Coppola

Sculpture Garden at MOMA

Sculpture Garden at MOMA. I loved hanging out at this museum. Thanks to Madam Ping who gave me my treasured Global Membership card.

Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR at their estate in Poughkeepsie, upstate New York. Eleanor was a wonderful woman, ahead of her time. We loved her cottage though we didn't get to see it all. We had to hop on a bus again. The poor ageing African American guide who was suffering some ailment and couldn't walk or talk very well, was told rudely by an Anglo American visitor to 'Speak more slowly and walk more quickly'! Such racist ageism was a knockout.

Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR at their estate in Poughkeepsie, upstate New York. Eleanor was a wonderful woman, ahead of her time. We loved her cottage, though we didn’t get to see it all. We had to hop on a bus again. The poor ageing African American guide who was suffering several ailments and couldn’t walk or talk very well, was told rudely by an Anglo American visitor to ‘Speak more slowly and walk more quickly’! Such racist ageism was a knockout.

Stand up comedy at the Gotham Comedy Club

Stand up comedian Gina Yashire at the Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea

Funky band discovered in the Subway performing at  world peace charity function

Funky band discovered in the NYC Subway – performing here at world peace charity function at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

The Flick - a great play off Broadway. We also went to nearby bar Buvette in Greenwich Village.

The Flick – a great play off-Broadway. We also went to nearby bar Buvette in Greenwich Village.

Bar Buvette - great wine and food here in Greenwich Village. I should have invited Bob Dylan to join us.

Bar Buvette – great wine and food here in Greenwich Village. I should have invited Bob Dylan to join us.

 

The New York Philharmonic orchestra performing brilliantly at St John the Divine Cathedral http://www.stjohndivine.org

The New York Philharmonic orchestra performing beautifully at St John the Divine Cathedral

The NY Philharmonic concert at the huge cathedral of St John the Divine was amazing. http://www.stjohndivine.org

In the VIP section I was lucky enough to sit next to famous culinary expert Rozanne Gold. Check out Rozanne’s blog: http://www.rozannegold.com/rozanne.html.

Thanks dear Alicia Manhattan…

 

Friend at World Peace charity function

Other friends at the same function

Three new friends at the Tanenbaum Organisation glamorous charity function on World Peace at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

An artist's view of New York. (sorry about the image - capricious  wordpress is blocking me to edit this)Au revoir New York … 

EPISODE 17: FREE FALLING, SEPTUAGENARIAN STYLE

 

All boarded up - living in a squat

All boarded up – like living in a squat

A surprise love-fest and a storm-affected bedroom

This blog is rambling along into its second full year, having been started in late 2013. Thanks, dear reader, for hanging in there. I had a surprise note from WordPress recently, informing me that I had experienced a statistical phenomenon on 14 February this year. My blog stats don’t really interest me – usually I get 10 hits, then 3, then none, then 7 whatever.  But suddenly I was galvanised by what is called a ‘spike in the stats’.  Inexplicably, 42 unknown people logged in and read my blog on Valentines Day. Was this some kind of weird love-fest? According to WordPress, my stats are ‘booming’.  Wonders will never cease. However, things have calmed down considerably since the mysteriously spiked love-in day.

Distracted momentarily by the stats phenomenon, I have been feeling a certain kind of cabin fever since the freak hail storm in Brisbane in November 2014. The windows were smashed, and it was pretty scary witnessing shards of glass and huge hailstones hurtling towards me. As I inhabit a national heritage, art deco building, the arrangements for replacing the lead light glass have been quite problematic, and this will take at least another 5 months to fix.

In about 5 weeks, however, the boarded-up windows will finally disappear and be replaced by ordinary glass windows until the beautiful historic windows are fixed throughout the building. At least we will have some light and air again. Thanks to those dear friends who have offered me cool places to stay during this post-storm saga. Your warm generous hospitality has been most welcome.

Leafy vista in my idyllic  Burleigh refuge.

Leafy vista in my idyllic Burleigh refuge.

Turning seventy: what does it all mean?

As some of my readers would know, I am tentatively on the cusp of becoming a septuagenarian, after a decade of being a proud sexagenarian, which was a much more exciting and raunchy-sounding decade. I particularly enjoyed being 69…

On the other hand, the word ‘septuagenarian’ sounds like a kind of disease, involving septicaemia or something equally horrible. Septuagenarian – it will take me a while to get my head around this and become used to entering this formidable decade. But when I think of all the great women who are about my age, I feel a lot brighter and stronger…

For instance, Helen Mirren, Charlotte Rampling, Susan Sarandon, Joan Baez, Hillary Clinton, Deborah Harry, Patti Smith, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler are all heading there very soon, or else are already in their seventies.  Really, it is no-holds-barred for me in that illustrious company, although I don’t think becoming the next Prime Minister is in the grand plan. Sorry Hillary, we could have hung out together on the world stage.

Of course, there are also all my old school mates entering this decade as well. They may not be famous in the same way as the women  listed above are. Nevertheless, they have been very special to me and pretty wonderful to go through life with. I went to all-girls’ secondary schools,  although I still keep up with my mixed class primary school mates as well. The annual Yeronga primary school reunion will be an interesting one this year, marking yet another decade still alive together.

Some Primary School mates

Some Primary School mates

Turning seventy gives pause for thought and reflections over the life lived thus far…My parents died at 74 so that is a fairly bleak thought! But I am trucking along ok, with, like many others, a few dramatic stumbles along the way.

I had a ‘wakeup call’ recently when I fell over a nasty sandbag carelessly left by the Council in the gutter at the end of the street. Falling at my age is always pretty scary, until you find out in Emergency that no bones are broken and that the wounds will mend eventually. One ankle and the other knee all suffered injuries and my face had much bruising and swelling, along with several wounds, including one that had to have stitches. Thanks to the special sweet blokes who helped me on the night, one a dear friend and the other a ‘good samaritan’ stranger.

After several weeks of physio, I finally am driving again, and my face doesn’t look like the train wreck it was. I was scaring people, for instance, on election day as I limped along with my cane, looking like the walking dead. I also realised that climbing up and down 39 steps each day here at home is looming as yet another safety issue to solve in the future.

The offending gutter

The offending gutter and sandbag

A further impact of this fall was underlined for me when the doctor cheerfully proclaimed, as she stitched up my face, “You might need some plastic surgery after this”, not realising what buttons she was pressing.  Even so, she must have noticed the deep scarring I already have on the right side of my face, damage which occurred when I was a passenger in a near-fatal car accident at the tender age of 18.

An accidental miracle

I know I am being a bit silly and over-sensitive, after all this time, but it is not at all surprising, I guess, that this comment did unwittingly trigger some pretty horrific recollections, sensitivities and anxieties for me. For years, I had mercy amnesia about the 1963 accident itself, although I recall only too well being on the critical list for days afterwards in intensive care.

The young woman sobbing in the bed next to me had been accidentally shot in the back by her farmer husband, and was going to be crippled for life. I was luckier than her, as my broken bones and other injuries healed pretty well over the next two years, before I could get back to Uni again. I was declared brain damaged, as well as with permanent facial damage at the time, and after the court case, I was mortified when the daily paper screamed this in the headlines. At the time, I was teaching English and Ancient History at St Peter’s College, trying to be a respectable, functioning person. My ex-husband and I went on a world trip almost immediately for the whole of the following year.

I am of course one of the lucky ones really, having been saved that dark night by sheer happenstance. At the accident scene, the clumsy ambos left me lying on the side of the road, while they attended to the driver, my then boyfriend, Jimmy. It is amazing that, sometime later, I heard that medico friends of my brother-in-law had very luckily turned up at the accident scene on Coronation Drive, and managed to convince the skeptical ambos that they, who were dressed up as sailors for a costume party that Friday night, were actually trained doctors. On examining both me and Jimmy, they urged that he was fine, and that I was about 20 minutes from death.

A close call then. My next direct brush with the Grim Reaper was in September 2012, when I was about 10 hours from boarding a plane to Vienna for a conference. According to the cardiologist who examined me that day, if I boarded that plane, I would die. Maybe I won’t be ‘third time lucky’ in this tricky Bergmanesque-chess game with the grim one, though who knows? I may have 9 lives!

I will finish this on an ‘up’ note, for me at least. Even though I was pretty sore and sorry on election day, the results were very pleasing indeed. The highlight of the night is pictured below, and it has only gone up from here…Woman Premier of Polish descent and woman Deputy Premier of Lebanese descent, and more women than men in cabinet. What an extraordinary triumph. Becoming a septuagenarian in this particularly optimistic Queensland political climate is truly very heartening. We just have to sort it out Federally now. Go Tanya and Penny!

One super highlight on election night

One super highlight on election night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image

EPISODE 16: FABULOUS FILMS AND FESTIVALS of 2014

A counter at the Regal in Brisbane. This cinema was showing Human Capital and Winter Sleep before Xmas..

A counter at the retro Regal in Brisbane. This little cinema was showing both Human Capital and Winter Sleep before Xmas..two amazing films from my Top Ten. They also screened the luminous Ida earlier this year.

This is the special Silver Screen episode, an appropriate way for me to end the year. In the past month, I haven’t been able to avoid perusing other people’s seemingly authoritative lists of the ‘best films of the year’/ ‘worst films of the year’. While these lists can become rather tedious and even pretentious, I am still curious enough to check them out.   I certainly don’t always agree – but that is half the fun. I should also keep lists of all those tasty-sounding films that I haven’t yet seen and wish to check out in the new year when I get a chance. As with book reviews, I  know I should keep notes, but I am rather haphazard in my personal must read/must view list-making ventures. However I have managed to list some such films for the record in this blog.

Cinema is Dead…Long Live Cinema!

Strangely enough, I work with some people who seem to be quite pleased that cinema is doomed and in decline – at least that is their viewpoint, which I do not share. I neither see nor experience their fatalistic version of death and diminishment when I go to the cinema, nor when I attend festivals, nor when I read about the multitude of world film festivals, the making of independent films, studio films, transnational co-productions, blockbusters, art house films, genre films, documentaries…and watch achingly exquisite feature films from unfamiliar places and cultures, such as Corn Island (at BAPFF this year). Of course there have been great advances in technology this century, and one can view and interact with moving images on multiple platforms. But cinema is continually reinventing itself and filmmakers still want to make that special feature film or documentary for the big screen.

Please don’t talk to your friend or check/answer your mobile phone anywhere near me..!

Hopefully North Korean hackers (or two boys from Idaho?) won’t shut down the cinema exhibition experience. Regarding the irritation of being near inconsiderate people (talking to friend, checking mobile phone constantly..) in the cinema, I have become more restrained with my ‘shushing’ lately, since a person was murdered in the US in the middle of an altercation.  The ‘shusher’ or the ‘sushee’ just might have murder on her/his mind! See this link…

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/14/tampa-police-officer-movie-theatre-shooting

The Q & A after Winter Sleep screening at BAPFF with producer Zehnep Atakan.

The Q & A after the Winter Sleep gala screening at BAPFF with the talented dynamic producer Zehnep Atakan.

My top films: more or less in order (very difficult to rank)

On a more peaceful note, my top 5 feature films seen this year are as follows: the towering Winter Sleep, the throbbingly beautiful Ida, no frame spared; the wondrous genre surprise of the year Under the Skin; the superb craftsmanship of Boyhood; the exciting, flawless, soaring Birdman. 

At the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, I saw the famous Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s multi-award-winning film Winter Sleep, which makes it to top of my top 5 of the year, though in a way all five are first. I loved Ceylan’s last film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which I personally think was more sweeping, more layered and more profound than Winter Sleep, although I don’t want to split hairs over these two undoubted masterpieces

The next 10 viewed in 2014: Human Capital; The Drop; Her; Black Coal, Thin Ice; Blue is the Warmest Colour; Stranger by the Lake; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Gloria; The Dallas Buyers’ Club; Tattoo (this is a very powerful, stylish German film from 2002, by director Robert Schwentke, which screened at the German Film Festival this year).

At Graceville Regal in Brisbane - thank the film gods that this cinema will show superior international films

At Graceville Regal in Brisbane – thanks to the film gods that this cinema shows superior international films in its lineup

Other favourites from film festivals this year

I attended several festivals such as MIFF (Melbourne), BAPFF (Brisbane) and IFFA (Iranian festival). Many films screened there have lingered, long after viewing them. For example, the curious yet very engaging Icelandic film Of Horses and Men; Corn Island – the beautiful Georgian/German/French/Czech/Kazakstani/Hungarian film of haunting long silences and powerful visuals; Hope, a visceral, gut-wrenching French film made in northern Africa about desperate refugees trying to cross the Sahara safely, dreaming of a new life in Europe; the revealing Iranian film I’m Not Angry, which had a knock-out performance by the leading actor – Bella and I are still haunted and disturbed by the ending of this film; the impressive Iranian film Snow which depicted a once respectable middle-class family, slowly but surely disintegrating at every level of their existence.   

There are of course a number of superior feature films I have missed but which I want to see very soon, if possible – Two Days One Night; Locke; Whiplash; Force Majeure; Mommy; Tom at the Farm; Leviathan

Top documentary films this year:  

With Gil Scrine, Sean Maher and Danny… at the Cinema Ventures special screening of Gore Vidal: the United States of Amnesia

With Gil Scrine, Sean Maher and the director Nicholas Wrathall… at the Cinema Ventures special screening of Gore Vidal: the United States of Amnesia

The best doco for me in 2014 was Sacro Gra, Winner, Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival. This film was the first documentary ever to win this much-sought-after prize. I saw this extraordinary production at the Italian Film Festival. A close second was Gore Vidal – the United States of Amnesia – a wonderfully probing portrait of an intriguing, charismatic writer and towering public intellectual. Then there was 20,000 Days on Earth, the earthy, revealing, riveting  film about Nick Cave;  and Regarding Susan Sontag. While this film may not have given the whole picture of this fascinating multilayered woman, another towering public intellectual of her time, it was absorbing and well worth seeing, in order to work out the placement of more of the jigsaw puzzle pieces of her fascinating, complicated personality and life history. Another doco treat was The Search for Weng Weng; this very entertaining film chronicles an amazing journey by local Brisbane filmmaker Andrew Leavold to find an unlikely star of Filipino cinema. Finally I rate Trespassing Bergman, in which a number of eminent filmmakers such as Michael Haneke and Claire Denis make a respectful pilgrimage to Ingmar Bergman’s home on his remote island, while others discuss the ways Bergman exploded their minds and influenced their own filmic creativity. Along with some great archival footage, this is just my kind of special film festival treat! Thanks MIFF.

Another superior doco to see asap: The Salt of the Earth 

Top Oz films seen this year:

Predestination; My Mistress; Felony 

Other Oz films to see as soon as I can: The Babadook; 52 Tuesdays; Tracks; Charlie’s Country

Most underrated Australian film of the year: My Mistress. Many others agree with me about this great first feature by Stephen Lance. Margaret and David were very petty and inexplicably erratic in relation to this Queensland film.

A right royal regal cinema

Once again I return to the Regal at Graceville (another poor pic below, but you get the idea). I am definitely thankful for such not-so-small mercies here in Brisbane. While Palace Centro and the Barracks, along with the Dendy, are programming more and more mainstream, ‘safe’ films in their standard lineups,  the steadfast, dare I say visionary, Regal manager takes on some stunning international films that would otherwise not be released here in Brisbane, except at festivals, if we are lucky.

While it is great that the Palace cinema chain does have a series of festivals featuring different nations’ films through the year (e.g. French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, British etc), often it is not possible to attend a particular screening, and many a great film can slip away. If there is no commercial release it is a struggle to catch that film at a later date. I will never forget the words of one Director of the (then) Australian Film Institute – she said rather rudely, over a few drinks – “Helen, if you want rotary clothes hoists, stay in Brisbane; if you want to see films, move to Sydney or Melbourne.”  I do go to Sydney and Melbourne film festivals whenever I can, but since those doomsday words, I have, along with other devotees, tried to do my bit to actively improve film culture in Brisbane – not an easy task over the years, but often very satisfying. Long live Cinema…!

 

Inside Cinema 1 at the Regal. Sadly 2 women near me chatted to each other throughout Human Capital, despite my shushing them and turning around etc…I despair of such people who think they are still at home watching the film in the lounge room.

Inside Cinema 1 at the Regal. Sadly 2 women near me chatted to each other throughout Human Capital, despite my shushing them and turning around etc…I despair of such ignorant, inconsiderate people who think they are still at home watching the film in the lounge room.

 

 

EPISODE 15: Huge Delights from Screen Culture

Consumption city: watching Vera on the tellie

Consumption city: the cool, ageing critic watching the dogged, ageing detective Vera on the tellie at home

Looking back rather prematurely on 2014, I feel the urge to chronicle some of my impressions on screen culture, within which I  regularly immerse myself. This first instalment will be mainly about the small screen, and will be concerned largely with overseas productions. I do intend to do a follow-up Australian TV episode as well as of course a blog episode totally devoted to Films.

I have a pleasant enough viewing set-up at home (see accompanying picture) – not ideal, technologically speaking, but it suits me OK for now. I even tape programs still on VHS, a rather embarrassing fact I find hard to admit as a film academic – but it is now out there in blog confession-land.  One day I will simply have to upgrade my systems, hopefully getting ‘by with a little help from my friends’. Meanwhile I am mainly ‘watching the detectives’ parading on the small screen as much as possible, with some light relief thrown in. (Apologies to Meatloaf and Elvis Costello).

WATCHING THE DETECTIVES…USA style

The international TV highlight of the year for me was the taut, terrific US series True Detective. Even though the script sometimes was over the top and the plot resolution rather far-fetched and loose-ended – who cares, all is forgiven, when the two magnificently talented actors, Matthew McConnaughy and Woody Harrelson, played up a superb storm. Like many others, I am looking forward eagerly to the next instalment, even though those two actors won’t star in it and the setting will also be different in place, if not in mood.  I gather from the internet that  the three male leads in Season 2 will be Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Taylor Kitsch, with the female lead as yet undecided.  One aspect I am very proud of in relation to the multi-awardwinning first season of True Detective  is that a former star QUT Film and TV student, Patrick Clair won the Emmy award for designing the Best Opening Titles Design in a TV Series. His industry work is haunting and unforgettable, and this is a fabulous artistic achievement!

Another excellent offering from the US on the small screen this year was, of course, Fargo – not quite as good as the film, in my opinion, which is a masterpiece by the Coen Brothers; but probably I shouldn’t compare the two mediums. It is great to hear there is another season in the pipeline. Will the extraordinarily menacing Billy Bob Thornton be raised from the dead? I will certainly miss him in the new series.

Of course, Breaking Bad just seemed to get better and better in so many unexpected ways, that this series has become lauded as a masterpiece alongside such all-time stand-out masterpiece series as The Sopranos and The Wire. Who can ever forget the finale? What more accolades can I hand this series? It is extraordinary in every way.

And I have to mention the less well-recognised, gritty series Justified, which I discovered to my delight in the USA a couple of years ago, and have followed faithfully, season by season, ever since. Deputy US  Marshal Raylan Givens (played by the delicious actor Timothy Olyphant) and his nemesis Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) struggle with their own personal demons, as well as good and evil in Harlan County, Kentucky, where they both grew up together, and then followed separate paths. The final season is due to premiere in the New Year – what another summer feast to savour then.

SAVOURING BRITISH, IRISH AND EUROPEAN TV PRODUCTIONS

British television show highlights for me this year have been a few gems discovered, almost by chance, via Foxtel channels such as BBC1. I had to install Foxtel 20 years ago because of reception issues in New Farm, particularly regarding ABC and SBS, neither of which I could live without, both professionally and personally. Then, and even more so now, these national channels are under threat. Need I say more?

Aside: I know I should renegotiate my deal with Foxtel as I seem to be one of the lost souls in their marketing strategies – some person I spoke to a while ago couldn’t quite believe the deal I had, which was so out of date it wasn’t funny at all. He probably hadn’t even been born when I had Foxtel installed.  This company does forget their loyal longstanding customers, that is for sure. 

Two series off the beaten track that I have enjoyed this past year have been Shetland and Vera, both originally from novels by Ann Cleeves. There is a dark, northern atmosphere, a tustling within and between the protagonists, their respective pasts and the challenges of a dangerous present, and the leading actors are topnotch — award-winning Brenda Blethyn (Vera) and Douglas Henshall as Jimmy in Shetland (with his sexy Scottish accent). Vera had a very short run a while ago on Nine – it was pulled typically and unceremoniously, before it could even get a following… so it is good to see  the show now on the crime channel Thirteenth Street.

Similarly haunted by demons (which homicide detective isn’t?) is the main protagonist Tom of Hinterland, a crime series set in Aberwystwyth, Wales. This series has been called by The Guardian ‘nordic noir done the Welsh way’. While this isn’t up to the high standard of such superlative Nordic noir series as The Bridge, The Killing and Wallander,  the stories are fresh and quite compelling, with many windswept, moody shots of an introverted hero on the edge.

QUIRKY IN THE BEST SENSE

One special favourite of mine in the latest mix has been Quirke, another superb, very dark series (Irish/British) which I stumbled on by fortunate happenstance, while searching for something else. Set in 1950s Dublin, the marvellous Gabriel Byrne brilliantly inhabits the main character, a troubled pathologist, and the three-part series is so much better than the often fatuous CSI-type programs on commercial TV. Over the past couple of years, I have read and enjoyed the novels on which the series is based, and this added an extra dimension of pleasure, rather than being a distraction. Sometimes one can get caught up too much in a vortex of comparison, where the adaptation is found wanting. However, this series is so well produced that this never happened for me. The amazingly versatile author is Booker Prize winner John Banville, who writes the Quirke books under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black.

Another compelling Irish-British crime drama is The Fall, starring the super-cool Gillian Anderson as the DCI,  and the standout actor Jamie Dornan, playing the villain.  I am currently re-watching the gripping Season 1  on SBS, and I am looking forward very much to Season 2. I am not quite sure if that will play on Foxtel or on SBS first. Another quite enthralling detective thriller  screening unheralded on SBS currently, is called Salamander, a Belgian noir production about corruption and murder cover-ups at the highest level of society, and the establishment’s attempts to silence a top detective who is compulsively trying to unravel the mystery. This one has its flaws, but is still worth a look.

Another top crime series for me is the French production Braquo (slang for heist). I have loved most of the episodes, although the latest season this year was very brutal and quite difficult for me to watch at times, hardened old crime viewer that I am. The line between the gangsters and the police often blur in gut-wrenching ways in this whole series. But who can resist watching the magnificent,obsessed Jean-Hugues Anglade (Caplan) or the gorgeous, impulsive Nicolas Duvauchelle (Theo)? Season 4 is in the pipeline – this will be an explosive finale.

The Bridge, Braquo and Borgen…note no pirating here.

The Bridge, Braquo and Borgen…note no pirating here.

THE CHERISHED TOP DRAWER 

As with Breaking Bad, I think enough has been said  by me and by so many already about The Bridge, and The Killing. I am totally devoted to these series as well as to the Danish top-drawer series Borgen, which of course is not a crime drama, but an intelligent political drama. With the Scandinavian noir productions, I feel that the US and British remakes have not really worked for me, and I tuned out after only a couple of episodes of  remakes of  The Bridge and The Killing. On the other hand,  the superior, award-winning British production Broadchurch  was a highlight indeed, and ironically, the US remake, Gracepoint, is also very good, no doubt helped by the fact that the extraordinary actor David Tennant unusually plays the same cop character in both productions. I haven’t seen the final episodes of Gracepoint yet, but hope to catch them soon. It appears also that Broadchurch has a sequel in the pipeline, which is good news.

COMPULSORY ADDICTIVE COMEDY 

On a lighter note, my absolute unmissable highlights every week, whenever possible, are as follows: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (I hope to be in the audience for this gritty, astute satire when I go to New York next May); The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert – sadly this is finishing in December when Stephen takes over from David Letterman on the Late Show; and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, also a sizzling satirical program. While Sean Micallef’s Mad as Hell emulates these three shows, as do many of the Chaser efforts, these three are the anointed masters of the genre. In a different comic sub-genre, I have also thoroughly enjoyed Lena Dunham’s audacious show Girls – tender, funny, crazy, groundbreaking – what a wonderful new voice and towering talent. I will not hear a word against her. The trolls are jealous morons, trying to bring down yet another soaring young woman. And last but not least, I simply love Louie  with the unrivalled talent of Louis C.K. It is hilarious, sad, with so many poignant, discomforting, achingly humorous insights into family, relationships, urban living, growing old…

As a postscript I did want to mention another discovery on the web, rather than on TV. If you haven’t already done so, immediately click on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, with Jerry Seinfeld –  like coffee, it is very addictive and glorious at the same time. Each little episode has its own delights – don’t skip over any of them.   http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com

POSTSCRIPT ON FILM VIEWING CONTEXTS – A TASTER FOR NEXT TIME

When it comes to film culture, I often leave my indoor world and go to the Palace Centro or Barracks, GOMA cinematheque, and, at times, out of loyalty, to the New Farm Cinema around the corner,  where hopefully they will soon start screening more art house films. I also occasionally drive across town to the good old Regal at Graceville – well worth supporting –  and to the Schonell which seems to still be hanging in there by a thread. Regrettably, I have dropped off in my attendance at the Dendy – distance and inconvenience are the catchwords there, and often their programming seems a bit limp these days compared with the fierce independence of yesteryear.

AND A SPECIAL PLUG…

Stephen Lance (director), Harrison Gilbertson (actor) and Leanne Tonkes (producer) at a gig celebrating My Mistress.

Stephen Lance (director), Harrison Gilbertson (actor) and Leanne Tonkes (producer) at a gig celebrating My Mistress.

Please also support another greatly talented QUT Film and TV graduate’s first feature film. The wonderful Stephen Lance has directed and co-written a very brave, beautifully shot film called My Mistress. The cast and the editing are brilliant, and the lush locations are particularly well chosen and fascinating.   My Mistress is screening currently at the Palace Barracks in Brisbane and no doubt in other States as well at the Palace. Don’t hold off – go now, go often, as edgy Australian films such as this need every support very early in the exhibition and marketing calendar. As a mother and daughter said to me after the Q & A at a special opening night screening on Thursday night, they had chosen the film at random, and were very happy with their choice – they both loved it.  Happy viewing!

 

But more of this in the next Blogisode…

 

EPISODE 14 (B): RANDOMLY RESEARCHING CAFE DELIGHTS

 

 

The Moray Cafe - a fluid sensible breakfast/brunch/lunch menu

The Moray Cafe – a fluid sensible breakfast/brunch/lunch menu

Plating the wooden platter – such a second-decade-of-the-New-Millennium issue

This blogisode isn’t quite what I had planned so ambitiously after Episode 14 A. But hopefully it will be a readable interim romp through some cafes I often frequent in my  inner Brisbane urban habitat. Many are great, though some I have certainly found wanting.

Firstly, a few days ago I had a late breakfast at the good old Moray cafe. I was slightly alarmed to find that they now plate the vege brekkie/brunch on a wooden board. The different ingredients are very artistically arranged a la Masterchef, although it is rather intimidating and difficult to work out where to start. While you valiantly engage with and ultimately desecrate  this work of art,  bits and pieces do tend to move around and threaten to slip off the wooden slab quite alarmingly. As Dorothea said to me only last weekend, when she finds herself again at certain places that are about to serve her meal on a trendy wooden board, she intends to request that the food be plated on an ordinary plate. For her, the flat piece of wood is a step too far.

For many of us, that ‘step too far’  related to eating out includes super-noisy places where you can’t hear your companion across the table, indifferent service,  smug plating of tiny morsels, impossible menu descriptions with ingredients that require you to have to beg a definition regarding what on earth the dish is….

At Choquette with the hottest by in the world and Athena.

At Chouquette with Athena and the hottest most wonderful inner urban boy in the world.

Perfect French decadence

The French patisserie in Barker Street New Farm poses yet another consumer hazard, far worse than the embarrassments of feeling awkward  while chasing slippery food around a flat wooden platter, or not understanding the title of an elusive ingredient.  I really need to be given an electric shock every time I am about to order and consume the rich gorgeous delicacies at Chouquette. I am sure that just about everyone queuing up  at the counter, viewing the multitude of potentially deadly but completely irresistible temptations, feels much the same. The customers also try out their school French and fantasise at the same time that they have been teleported to an actual Parisian patisserie. This is definitely soul food.

What’s in a name?

One cafe around the corner from Chouquette is Ponycat, also a relatively new establishment in New Farm. It is open from early mornings till about 3pm. At least Chouquette has the decency to stay open til 5 pm  from Wed – Sat, for those late-ish afternoon teatime treats. I overheard the Ponycat owner explain the reason for the rather odd name. Apparently one of his friends chose it when she was stoned – at least I think he said that. I will stand corrected if anyone knows an alternate truth. The food here is pretty good, the service ok, and they serve acceptable coffee I understand.

Aside: Not being a connoisseur of coffee I am afraid that I cannot be the judge on that fundamental ingredient for any of these cafes. Hence I have to confess that I am an unreliable cafe connoisseur. Shock, horror, I even order decaf and I am becoming a connoisseur in that department – an unrecognised and unappreciated talent. Yet I am often made to have an alternative such as chai latte. Sigh. Still nice people don’t mind being seen with me at cafes.

The rather mysterious Ponycat in Brunswick Street New Farm

The rather mysterious Ponycat in Brunswick Street New Farm

Ponycat also serves breakfast and lunch throughout the day; as far as I’m aware there is no limbozone gap between breakfast finishing and lunch beginning. Many a cafe used to present with such a gap, which my friends and I have often encountered, although more and more places are now doing the overlapping meal roster which is very heartening. For instance, the Moray Cafe used to be rigid in its division, but now has breakfast til 3pm and lunch from 11.30 a.m., so no yawning hungry gaps occurring there.

Waltzing at the Strauss – a very inner-city adventure

Hence my surprise in the City recently (yes, I sometimes leave New Farm), when I disovered that the very trendy cafe Strauss has a deadzone from 11 − 11.30 a.m., when no food is served. Hopefully they will work out how to get around this dilemma soon, although, maybe, from their business perspective, this issue isn’t a high priority. I have enjoyed coffee at Strauss – well chai latte – being purists they don’t serve decaf. Also I have enjoyed their late afternoon wine with a lovely cheese platter. My friend Catherine had the charcuterie platter. It is also heartening to see sought-after cafes opening up in lane ways, giving the inner city and the Valley a welcome Melbourne/Parisian feel.

My disruptor friend Catherine enjoying a glass of wine at funky Strauss in a lane way near the Irish Club, Elizabeth St.

My disruptor friend Catherine enjoying a glass of wine at funky Strauss in a lane way near the Irish Club, Elizabeth St.

Cruising out of the Cru Bar

On the other hand, regarding the gaping hole factor, I always remember with fondness being thrown out of  the Cru Bar in James Street  with several friends, because we complained when they wouldn’t serve us any actual food between 11am and 12 noon, due to issues with the kitchen and the chef. I have become very tired of that excuse.

We also wear that Cru Bar expulsion incident as a badge of honour (no photo of Cru Bar…I don’t wish to promote it).

Double Shot - a pretty sensational success story, though don't eat the Mexican dish

Double Shot – a pretty sensational success story, though don’t eat the Mexican dish for breakfast

A double treat: Double Shot and the Sourced Grocer 

The very popular cafe in Oxlade  Drive, Double Shot, opens from Wednesday to Sunday from 6am to mid-afternoon. This is run by two guys originally from Melbourne, and the quality of the food, drink and service is very high. As with one of my favourite restaurants, Beccofino in Teneriffe, they don’t take reservations. But they do graciously bring me whatever I order for my delight into the hairdresser next door, which is much appreciated.

At least the Moray Cafe and the Little Larder in Moray Street do allow bookings, which can be very handy sometimes, especially with large groups.  Double Shot, like The Sourced Grocer in Florence Street, also serve many of their meals on wooden platters. Crushed  herbed avocado on toast is a recurring theme  at both these establishments.  While I find The Sourced Grocer/Cafe a tad pretentious,  I really want to like this establishment, as many of my friends swear by it. You can buy organic produce there as well in the tempting grocery store at the back, which is a bonus.

The Source in Florence Street - too trendy for its own lunchbox? or the best in town?

The Source in Florence Street – too trendy for its own lunchbox? or the best in town?

 

Quite a find with sunny service and good food

Pablo, another quality place, is fairly new, situated in Brunswick Street in Merthyr Village, opposite the hardware store.  I find it hard to resist the mushroom and parmesan dish there. When I told the featured person (below) that I was taking the photo because I was doing a blog on cafes in New Farm (I didn’t want him to think I was taking the photo solely of him for some fetishistic purpose), he said that Pablo was the best in the suburb. I am not sure I can go that far, but it certainly is a very pleasant place to be, both inside and outside, and I haven’t had a so-so meal there ever.

Pablo in Brunswick Street - a nice discovery

Pablo in Brunswick Street – a nice discovery

And now: carving up the New Farm Deli

Over the road in the Merthyr Village itself stands, of course, the New Farm Deli, quite a famous establishment in Brisbane. Many people come from far and wide to partake of their goodies. The Ascot set, for instance,  turn up regularly in their best linen garments and newly coiffed hair,  to see and be seen, sitting triumphantly right beside the carpark, feeling the special buzz that apparently comes with slumming it. When two such over-dressed and excessively be-coiffed women encountered a long term New Farm resident and old friend of mine relaxing there one morning in his tracky dacks,  they visibly recoiled in horror. He responded succinctly to their nasty uncalled-for snobbery, requesting quietly but firmly that they  ‘Get out of New Farm and go back to Ascot!’ I am very proud to know him in the ‘hood, heroically keeping such intruders at bay.

Aside: My ‘tracky dack’ friend’s  verbal expression was not quite as forceful as what was cried out by the carload of fired-up lesbians driving by the startled first rash of customers at the interloper Coffee Club in Boundary Street West End – ‘Die, Yuppies, Die!’ But I guess there was a hint of the same sentiment. 

New Farm Deli - adding the car fumes to the flavour

New Farm Deli – coffee with car fumes on the side?

Being a local, I am a bit over the Deli – I can take it or leave it.  I do wonder how consuming all those car fumes enhances the flavour of all that food and drink. Nevertheless, I confess that I enjoy the occasional special lunch there with the inimitable Ms Wren, Sir Lancelot and Prince James. We tend to have their very acceptable spaghetti marinara for lunch, although of course this dish never can measure up to the epic spaghetti marinara of yesteryear, served back in the seventies and eighties at the old Coronation Motel restaurant. Ah food nostalgia – that  superlative pasta dish has literally never been bettered, despite much comparative testing of  this dish over the decades in establishments around the world. What was that chef’s fabulous secret ingredient I wonder?

The Little Larder  - no friendly chickens in sight

The Little Larder – no friendly chickens in sight

Fossicking at the Little Larder

The Little Larder, situated even closer within my immediate hood, has been a pretty reliable place for a pleasant enough brunch or a quick coffee whatever. There have been some ups and downs with changes in management and staff over the years.  I recall a wanna-be theatre director being quite rude to me, while supposedly taking my meal order. But he will remain nameless. I am glad that I didn’t go and see a play he recently directed – happily the play got very mixed reviews…Rumour has it he was actually sacked from Little Larder, but not sure regarding the veracity of that rumour.

On a brighter note, how delighted I was about a year ago to see, over quite a few weeks, a couple of splendidly pushy chickens who had escaped from a pen nearby, strolling up the street and onto the footpath outside Little Larder, happily pecking away at the crumbs on the ground, and not so happily, fouling up the footpath. A friend’s dog was scared out of his wits, and cars braked suddenly at this unexpected sight of poultry on the loose in this inner urban precinct, wandering along in the supposedly ‘most liveable street’ in Brisbane (obviously they were very smart chickens). They have since disappeared, although management assures me that they didn’t end up in any chicken pies.

The bagels they serve are to die for...

The bagels they serve are to die for…

Bagel bliss at the Banneton

Another fairly regular haunt of mine is Banneton, a little cafe tucked away in Brunswick Street, more or less opposite the health food shop. They do serve  bagels to die for (they probably are slowly killing me), though their pastries are a bit stodgy. The Chouquette up the road in Barker far outdoes them in that department. I do like the Banneton because it is usually a pretty quiet haven, with the grotesque News Limited daily papers available to flick through – a guilty read, though I pride myself on not having paid money directly to Rupert Murdoch for these papers.

 

The Chester-Doggett Sts corner cafe

The Chester-Doggett Sts corner cafe – the Dello Mano

Fronting up in Chester Street

Each time I have been to Dello Mano, which has quite an attractive setting, the place has just missed the boat regarding service, food and drink…important elements needed to be very satisfactory in order to score a high rating overall. Also despite the quite pleasant setting, the sun always seems to be blinding my eyes there. This is a shame, but I tend to give the place a miss these days. However, I am looking forward to sampling the Chester Street Bakery and Bar down the road instead. I have popped in once for takeaway there, but because of parking problems in the vicinity during the day, I haven’t been able to linger.

You probably won't view me and Bella at Vue much more these days

You probably won’t view me and Bella at Vue much more these days

Vue – fading from view

Another currently disappointing place that I have visited quite a lot over the years in the Merthyr Village is Vue. It used to be pretty good – nothing to rave about, but very handy and acceptable for a drop-in  catch up with a friend.  One day we had diabolical service with one meal never arriving, and another time there was further confusion…two times fail and you’re out for Bella and me. Luckily we found Pablo around the corner.

A very popular cafe with great coffee - frequented by police as well as a gaggle of G20 security guards

A very popular cafe with great coffee – frequented by police as well as a gaggle of G20 security guards

Mixing with Law enforcement

The last cafe on this list is the highly reputable Bellissimo Coffee in Wandoo Street, Fortitude Valley, near the James Street Market. More and more, this classy popular place is being overrun by cops, and now security guards being trained for the G20 are swarming there as well. This is all rather off-putting. However I can’t really blame them, as especially great coffee is served, or so I understand. This is yet another elite place that won’t serve decaf..and I guess the coffee joke is on me. At least they aren’t rude and supercilious when they say no.

This Brisbane-centric blogisode has just brushed the surface here in my hood really, and I haven’t done a proper survey. As with hairdressing and yoga instruction establishments, new shiny cafes are opening up all too regularly  around me. I have most probably missed other people’s favourite cafe in my locality – please post any comments if you wish. Also any plugs for your favourite places in other localities around Australia and the world are most welcome.

 

EPISODE 14 (a): eat, drink, love, whatever

Paella at Era Bistro in Melbourne St . Brisbane. Dining out before the achingly amazing Dylan concert.

Paella at Era Bistro in Melbourne Street, Brisbane. Dining out with other dedicated fans before the achingly amazing Dylan concert.

Wining and Dining: serving up this first bite-sized blogisode 

Always dedicated to such sensuous and sensual lifestyle pursuits as wining and dining, I wrote a journal article back in 1989, on the topic of the history and cultural significance of Brisbane restaurants. In this article, I tied the burgeoning restaurant culture to the ‘coming of age’ of Brisbane as a city. Prior to this publication, I also presented my foodie findings at an international conference that year. I had plans to do a ground-breaking cultural study on wining and dining across the world (the words ‘international’ and ‘comparative’ always combine to make a very productive approach). My supervisors at the University didn’t take my ambitious food culture project very seriously at the time; I think they were jealous that they hadn’t thought of such a delicious project first.

The article on Brisbane restaurants

The article on Brisbane restaurants

Boldly dining out, strictly for research purposes only…

In any case, undeterred and unfunded, I have been munching my way around the world for many a long year, a particularly piquant form of  ongoing ‘research’, which still continues – see the survey questions posed at the end of this episode.

This wining and dining trend has led to some very memorable moments, locally, nationally and globally, not always documented by appropriately lush photos at the time. I tend to immerse myself in pleasurable events, often forgetting to take the photos until it is too late. I did manage to snap some great photos for my original Brisbane restaurant research, but sadly those seem to have vanished into the mists of time, as have many of the places I wrote about then. Hence the rather ‘free range’ photographs served up here.

In dedicating these two closely linked blog episodes (14 a, with 14 b to come later next month) to funky foodies everywhere, I will try to give a not-too-obtuse thumbnail sketch of what I was on about in that academic article, as well as a smattering of observations regarding eating out in Brisbane (and elsewhere) in the New Millennium. I could never hope to emulate here in blogland the very special Jenny Menzies, with her terrific food blog – see, for your enjoyment: http://newfarmfoodstories.com/about-2

Ms Wren and me enjoying the delights of Da Silvios in Bologna

Wondrous Ms Wren and me enjoying the tasty delights of Da Silvios in Bologna, Italy, September 2013. What a great culinary experience that was…highly recommended if you ever go to beautiful Bologna.

 

Touches of sophistication: the early dining-out days

Here are a few reminiscences on several establishments from the past; those readers who have enjoyed dining out in Brisbane, then and subsequently, might hopefully also recall and share their own experiences in a blog commentary. The first central European restaurant was probably the Old Vienna (1966);  the French restaurant Chez Tessa opened a bit later on Wickham Terrace – a smart establishment, closing down sadly in 1972 after quite an ‘a la carte’  flourish for a few years. La Grange was another notable French place in the Seventies.  At least Chez Tessa represented a down-to-earth break from the elevated eating style of restaurants such as the nearby one at the Tower Mill Hotel/Motel, where the revolving movement and the view were much more outstanding than the food. There does seem to be a widespread inverse correlation between altitude  and quality – the higher you go, the less impressive the eating experience.

The seedy Seventies: consuming women and food in masculinist spaces

What also flourished in Brisbane at the time were places designed for businessmen’s lunches, such as Tom Jones in a basement in Caxton Street.  The advertisement for Tom Jones says it all: ‘Businessmen get onto it at lunchtime’, featuring images of scantily-clad waitresses serving two smirking, lecherous blokes in suits.

The text of the ad further promises ‘a quickie’ and ‘she will lay it out in front of you when you arrive’. Not much sexual subtlety in ’70s Brisbane – nor even in the late ’80s, despite the critical advent of  ’70s Second Wave feminism. For instance, two restaurants appealing to male business clients, Exclusively Yours and Carolina’s, advertised in the daily newspaper’s business pages, considered to be an exclusively male domain. These ads featured coyly (brutally?) truncated, naked parts of the female body, carved up like pieces of meat, and ‘plated’ for masculine consumption.

Brisbane’s cultural cringe

Other cringeworthy self-promotions and publicity abounded in different ways. For instance, Lennons’ 30th floor Talk of the Town boasted not only  of ‘sweeping views’, but also of the ‘finest smorgasbord in Australia’ (it seems the manager had visited Wrest Point, Melbourne and Sydney and could vouch for that judgement).

The late Seventies saw the restaurant craze spreading inevitably to the suburbs. By the end of that decade, there were about  300 restaurants in total, with the media trumpeting the existence of at least 100 (self-important) ‘quality’ restaurants in the whole of  Brisbane. By the Commonwealth Games in 1982, Brisbane was on the cusp of becoming a much more cosmopolitan city. Hence, the restaurants tended to symbolise this increasing sophistication in a particular way.

 

Rather dated decor at suburban restaurant Rhubarb Rhubarb in 2014. At least it is BYO.

Rather cliched decor at the suburban French restaurant Rhubarb Rhubarb in 2014. At least this is BYO – regrettably, a dying breed of eating establishment.

 

The restaurant families in Brisbane: the rise and rise of Italian fare

A rags-to-riches, migrant Aussie battler myth surrounded Gino Merlo, who opened the famous Milano restaurant in Queen Street – ‘From cane to caviar:  By the sweat of his brow, he (Gino) has become one of Australia’s leading restaurateurs’, catering for the then premier Dr Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen and other supposed luminaries  (newspaper article, 1981). Gino’s brother Lou opened Merlo’s in 1974. These Italian restaurants operated at the higher end of the inner city market, largely servicing Brisbane’s establishment, and thereby causing some disquiet, at times, for those who opposed the right-wing government holding gerrymandered sway for too long then in the state of Queensland. A tricky, ongoing dilemma – should food and politics ever mix?

At the lower, more populist end, there were the equally legendary Lucky’s Trattoria (also opened in 1974) and the Giardinetto in the Valley. At Giardinetto in Brunswick Street (an evolved  version of this restaurant is still there) I remember feeling pretty sophisticated ordering Lasagna in the ’70s. I also enjoyed many outings to Lucky’s, as much for the ambiance as anything else.   Inside, opera music blared out, with appropriately over-the-top paintings on the walls, often featuring images of the proud Lucky himself.  At the end of each meal, this beaming owner/cook Luciano/Lucky would emerge and present, with a flourish, plastic eggcups full of a rather dodgy marsala for everyone lingering at the table – provided you were a regular. It was impossible to refuse this offering or resist this performance art.

Ann Street near where Lucky's establsihment  used to be

Ann Street, Fortitude Valley, near where Lucky’s establishment used to be

Valley nightlife: a smorgasbord of transexuals, cockroaches and a wedding

Regardless of rumours (never proven!) that Lucky’s Bolognaise sauce was largely Pal dog food, and facing up to the realities of the cockroaches scuttling across the floor (and tables), as well as the very challenging toilet out the back, I visited Lucky’s in Ann Street many times. I particularly liked finding myself there around 3am, when many trannies would come in after a show for various forms of sustenance, creating a very special atmosphere.  Memorably, there was also the very funky occasion of an unconventional wedding celebration at Lucky’s for my dear friends Savannnah Burgundy and her partner, Pedro Beaujolais, who certainly didn’t want to have the usual wedding breakfast ritual in the ’80s.

It seems that these days, the irrepressible Luciano (Lucky), having retired and passed on his legacy to his son in a different venue, still serves food and joy at an aged-care facility. I hope he still sneaks marsala serves in plastic eggcups to the patrons there as well.  What a great way to be ‘seeing himself out’. http://www.volunteeringqld.org.au/web/index.php/news-media/newsmenu/media-centre/press-coverage/1189-luckys-one-in-six-million-who-care

 

Eating in a village outside Oriolo Romano in Italy. No obvious cockroaches here though the waiter whispere d to us that the owners supported that great Italian cockroach Berlesconi.

Eating in a village outside Oriolo Romano in Italy. No obvious cockroaches here, although the waiter whispered to us that the owners supported that monstrous Italian cockroach, Silvio Berlusconi. For a moment, we nearly gagged, but, thankfully,  managed to soldier on…sometimes, definitely,  food and politics should be kept very separate.

Feedback please (10 sort-of- questions for further research…)

Here are a few burning questions that I am often asked or which happen to float around in my brain on this topic.  Hopefully, through a combined effort, we can compile a few useful lists and insights for foodies everywhere (predominantly, but not solely, in Brisbane). You are welcome to answer through the comments, or on Facebook, or via email to me.

Results will be compiled and published in the related blogisode coming up later in September. Please send along also any appropriate pics if you wish.

1. Recommend worthwhile, good value restaurants that still allow you to BYO wines.

2. Recommend any exemplary, quiet restaurants that have sensitive soundproofing decor inside, so that you can actually hear everyone speaking around the table, without having to shout and without ending up with a headache/earache at the end of the evening from all the clatter and shrieking.

3. Name places that allow easy, generous crossover times for breakfast and lunch and are not precious about that limbozone time, when it is too late to partake in the breakfast menu and too early for lunch.

4. Tell us about your most delicious eating-out experience/s in all its/their glory.

5. Send us any funny/quirky/awful  food allergy dining stories.

6. Name your favourite restaurant and tell us why.

7. Should food and politics mix?

8. Any topic you would especially like covered next time around?

9. Any memories triggered by restaurants covered in this blog?

10. Any nice  related photos would be much appreciated with your comments on any topic.

 

One of many dessert treats at legendary Da Silvios, Bologna, Italy

One of many dessert treats at legendary Da Silvios, Bologna, Italy