Friday, December 31, 2010

So much to talk about...

Hello all,

Hope you had a great Christmas and that your New Years is equally wonderful. On Boxing Day our internet died, the line to the house is dead and will not be repaired until the 2nd of January - so no telephone and no internet at the moment.

The washing machine is still broken and I am typing this in an empty little laundromat in Paddington while my clothes wash; this is the slowest computer I have encountered in years. I type and then I look up and watch the letters slowly appear one after the other like old fashioned magic. It would be novel if it didn't cost $2 for 20 minutes. That is the price of half a load of washing... anyway, television tells me that laundromats are interesting places, interesting things happen in them. I had an idealistic, somewhat romanticised vision of what going to the laundromat was going to be like - I was wrong. I guess because the last time I needed to use a laundromat was in Paris and everything is romantic and wonderful in Paris. That and the fact there was a cafe next door and I just had coffee while I waited and it was an experience, not a chore.

Anyway, being cut off from the outside world I have been reading more than ususal, for uni and for pleasure. I finished the Hemingway novel, read a Graham Greene novel and a book of Charles Bukowski's poetry - excellent. Will tell you all about them soon. I also got Stephen Fry's autiobiography for Christmas! I have also been very diligently transcribing the interview also, more than half way through now. I will catch up when I can as there is so much to talk about.

Until then,
Happy New Year!!!
Love Fiona

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Garden of Eden...

Hope you had a great Christmas and Happy Boxing Day. I am still transcribing the interview and I am now more than half-way through Hemingway's The Garden of Eden. It is the kind of book that I don't want to read too fast, because I have no more Hemingway to read after I finish it. I need to track down some more. I have read: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and The Sea, A Movable Feast, Men Without Women, Death In The Afternoon and now The Garden of Eden. (Which has recently been made into a movie).

There is a great quote in chapter eleven: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." Considering Hemingway's end it seems somewhat prophetic; however, it is difficult not to read foreboding into the way Hemingway writes about death. I don't find him depressing though, I enjoy Hemingway immensely and don't want to run out of books of his to read. I need to find copies of For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Have and Have Not and his books of short stories. Do you have a favorite Hemingway work?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Brisbane...

Merry Christmas from Brisbane, Australia! No snow here. Christmas Day is expected to be a warm-ish 26 degrees (78.8 Fahrenheit) with some rain.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Laurie Duggan...

I am busy transcribing an interview I was lucky enough to be able to conduct with Laurie Duggan recently while he was in the country, he is a foremost Australian poet, currently residing outside London. He was warm and friendly and answered questions candidly and was very forgiving of the fact that it was my first interview (ever!). Thanks to his professionalism, my lack of experience didn't seem to affect the quality of the interview which will be utilised as primary research for my PhD thesis. It was an exciting experience for me also getting to talk to him and he generously gave me two of his books of poetry and (is this too uncool?) - I got him to sign them for me!

It was a real delight to meet him and to discuss his poetry from his early career up until now. His latest book is Crab and Winkle, a great little book of poetry written in Duggan's wonderful journal/ collage/ I do this, I do that, style of writing. There are some good reviews on it here (Jacket magazine) and here (Australian Poetry Review). His writing is an ecclectic mix of so many influences, styles and models; I best way I can describe it is if you can imagine Ezra Pound and William Carlo Williams co-authoring work with Frank O'Hara, Jack Kerouac and Kurt Schwitters. That description pails into insignificance beside his actual work, but his works offer lovely observations, over-heard conversations, quotations from history websites and even graffiti, he combines moments, with reflections, questions, thoughts , etc. etc. to create a really interesting writing style that is all his own. You can also check out Duggan's blog.

I have a new found respect of researchers/ journalists etc. everywhere who transcribe recordings, it is a long, slow process; probably made more tedious but my made-up touch typing style, that can either be fast or accurate, but not both. Have spent a couple of hours typing up the interview and I am only seven minutes in - the interview goes for over an hour - this may take a while!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Man Who Hated Children...

I have just finished reading Christina Stead's 1940 novel, "The Man Who Loved Children". This was one of those reads born from guilt... why hadn't I ever read any Stead before now? Stead (1902 - 1983) was an Australian novelist who wrote at least sixteen novels and four books of short stories. Stead is described as "Australia's 'lost' novelist", partly because of her travels and partly because of her belated success. "The Man Who Loved Children" is considered to be her best novel and although it was published in 1940, it wasn't acclaimed a success until it was republished in 1965. Taking the 56th place of the 100 ALL TIME novels list, Time magazine described the book as:

"one of the most truthful and terrifying horror stories ever written about family life"

Stead had an interesting life, and lived in America and Europe from the 1930s up to 1974 when she returned to Australia, she wasn't published here until 1965. "The Man Who Loved Children" is an auto-biographical fiction, based upon Stead's childhood. The novel follows the social decline of a family, and the painful interactions between the estranged parents and their six children. It was remarkably well written, I was completely absorbed by the narrative, but it was very depressing and ultimately made me question humanity. She must have had an utterly horrid childhood, the father is based off her own father and the step-mother off her own step-mother.

Even though it was depressing, am I glad I read it? Yes.
Could I have put it down and not finished it? No.
Do I ever want to read it again? No.

It was like reading "The Sound and the Fury", mixed with "The Power and the Glory", but on speed. It makes Faulkner's Compson family look like the Brady Bunch and the children's misery in Stead's novel is almost on par to the misery the whiskey priest endures throughout Green's paradoxical novel. I have moved on now to Hemingway's unfinished, posthumously released novel, "Garden of Eden", so far, much less depressing... but only so far... What are you reading at the moment?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I wish...

We went to the new exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane today, 21st Century: Art in the First Decade. It was fantastic, very fun with lots of interactive art works, like the ribbon wall and the lego table pictured above. There were many other works that visitors could participate in and great children's activities, including a room filled with balloons, bird nest making, drawing tables and touch screen activities.

We saw Rivane Neuenschwander's installation called I wish your wish and I got a ribbon that said "I wish I could be invisible" and Dylan's ribbon says"I wish I could make a time portal" and he also picked up another one that said "I wish my family was normal."

I love the way galleries are curating exhibitions that are interactive and also cater for little ones. The exhibition is on until next year, so if you get a chance, it is a lot of fun.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stolen Space...

Chris Stain ‘Grapes Of Wrath’
An Under Pressure Art Production ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’
Alexander Korzer-Robinson ‘Inner Life II’

StolenSpace Gallery in London has an exhibition of book covers on at the moment called "Never Judge...?". A group exhibition in association with Penguin Books UK where artists were invited to create an original artwork for the novel of their choice the size of a traditional Penguin book (198 x 129 mm). A great concept for a show and some marvelous artworks also. Apparently the 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea sculpture/book cover has mechanical parts that move the tentacles - very cool. All of these images were found on the StolenSpace Works From the Show page, there are about a hundred more books to look at if you have the time!

PS. Happy Birthday Dylan!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rivane Neuenschwander...

On Saturday the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is opening its latest exhibition, called 21st Century: Art in the First Decade. There are more than 200 works by 140 artists, including an installation by Rivane Neuenschwander called I wish your wish. The work is based around an old Brazilian tradition, visitors select a ribbon with a wish printed on it and tie it to their wrist, when the ribbon falls off the wish is supposed to come true. I am really excited about this whole exhibition, but this installation in particular.

PS. We have moved now into the little old terraced house - almost all unpacked - great to be so close to the city, the university and Dylan's work. Loving the 1920s gas stove and the claw foot bath tub.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Classic Travel Writing and Smut...

Hemingway image credit

I am currently reading Immanuel Wallerstein's World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction, as well as Christina Stead's The Man who Loved Children. Which was a largely ignored 1940 novel by an Australian author; however, the novel won critical acclaim when it was republished in 1965 and subsequently made it onto the TIME magazines 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005. And just arriving in the mail box this morning was a copy of Ernest Hemingway's The Garden of Eden which was the second Hemingway novel posthumously (there have been many more) and it has recently been adapted into a film.

I have just finished reading Flaubert In Egypt translated and edited by Francis Steegmuller, it contains Gustave Flaubert's travel notes and letters as well as excerpts of his travel companion, Maxime de Camp, and his book Souvenirs Litteraires. They traveled from Alexandria to Sudan and back again (and then onto Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece and Italy - however these journeys are not recounted in this collection). I marveled at the various narrative voices, not just because there is more than one author, but because Flaubert is full of contrasts. He is so candid in his travelogue and so saccharine in the letters to his "dear old darling" Mother. Yet it is the letters to his friend Louis Bouilhet that are the most charming and informative; the letters are warm, familiar, honest and at times vulgar. He writes to Bouilhet about his brothel adventures, about the dancing women and the famous courtesans.

In one letter he writes about his visit to a Turkish woman in silk robes embroidered with gold, he tells Bouilhet that "This is a great place for contrasts: splendid things gleam in the dust. I performed on a mat that a family of cats had to be shooed off - a strange coitus, looking at each other without being able to exchange a word, and the exchange of looks is all the deeper for the curiosity and the surprise. My brain was too stimulated for me to enjoy it much otherwise. These shaved c***s make a strange effect - the flesh is hard as bronze, and my girl had a splendid arse."

Flaubert also shares tall-tales about public displays of coitus and buggery, with men, women and animals alike, that he has heard stories of and even a man dying of masturbating too much. For every drop of semen, Flaubert informs his friend, costs a litre of blood. Contrasting the sexual liaisons of Flaubert and du Camp are wonderful descriptions of the desert, the Nile, camels, stubborn donkeys and always monuments covered in bird droppings (Flaubert never fails to describe the way the white lines of the poo are wider at the top than the bottom the of the monument).

In 1849 and 1850 when Flaubert was making this journey, Madame Bovary was still along way away, he had so far had little success as a writer and Egypt was still being "discovered" by the West. Places like Abu Simbel were yet to be fully excavated and the Sphinx was still mostly covered in sand, with only the head and part of the neck uncovered, the entire body was yet to be rediscovered. This was a time of slave trading and cudgels (sticks to hit people with - Flaubert found these most amusing). And du Camp was busy photographing every monument he could, and was actually the first to photograph the Sphinx.

It was also a time when European travelers were able to behave in ways that would be unheard of today. For example, Flaubert writes of his adventure to a cave of mummies, where he walked over the bodies in the dark, breaking bones beneath his feet, and he took a foot as a souvenir. The foot went back to France with him and had pride of place upon his desk and apparently a well meaning servant even cleaned it up with some boot polish. Flaubert's companion took home with him two feet, two hands and a mummified head because he liked its hair.

So smut and European racism and barbarism aside, it is a wonderful collection of letters and reflections, full of history and colour. I enjoyed reading this book and I didn't struggle with the sexual nature of it as much as I did with the 19th century European world-view. The letters to his Mother are a delight - what she must have thought sitting at home waiting for him! - and du Camp's milder, much more edited reflections (he left out all of his encounters with women), corroborated the exotic nature of their travels together. It is difficult to imagine how little Flaubert and du Camp would have known about Egypt before their travels there - Flaubert was armed with a copy of Herodotus' Histories (written in 450 - 420 BC) - and they missed many of the sites now known to European tourists, simply because they had not been re-discovered yet. It really was an amazing adventure, even though Flaubert admitted to being bored often, I wasn't.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Wrap Up...

J.N photographed by Christina

I have spent most of this week with my sister, as we come to terms with the loss of our friend. The funeral was on Wednesday, a Lutheran service with hymns, prayers, a choir and piano pieces. The music was beautiful, as was the eulogy, but seeing three of my friends as pallbearers, their beautiful manly faces contorted with grief, as they walked out of the church with the body of our friend, that was the most painful part. The friends and family stood collectively outside the church for one last prayer as J.N's mother touched his coffin for the last time and as the car pulled away and there was complete and utter silence. Then it rained, and the funeral party stood about in the rain, lost for a while, before finding shelter back inside the church or under awnings, no one ready to leave just yet.

When we did leave, "the kids" (J.N's friends), went for our own wake for him at a nearby pub, we filled a courtyard and stayed for hours, sharing stories, memories and condolences. And trying to understand, coming to terms with the finality of his last act and forgiving him. A moving scene; his university lecturers beside his ex-girlfriends, school friends, fellow artists and musicians and house mates.

Yesterday I spent the day with my sister again and our school friend Woody, who flew down from North Queensland for the funeral, he was very close to J.N. Woody has grown into such a beautiful man and it was wonderful to see him, and such a pity about the circumstances.

On a final positive note, we have found a little rental and been approved. It is an old little two bedroom terraced cottage right in the heart of Brisbane, built in 1873. A little run down, but has a lot of charm, cheap rent and a great location.