Weekly photo challenge: Solitude

There’s this song that goes:

Son, in life you’re gonna go far
If you do it right
You’ll love where you are.
Just know, wherever you go
You can always come home.

Son, sometimes it may seem dark
But the absence of the light is a necessary part
Just know, you’re never alone
You can always come back home.

It’s 93 million miles, sung and partly written by Jason Mraz. It’s a song about something so much bigger than us, yet without which we cannot live. Though we are incomprehensibly far from the sun, its light and warmth after travelling all that way are perfect for us and our planet.

My son in Germany sometimes feels likes he’s millions of miles from home, but fortunately he’s not. He likes this song because of the reminder: You’re never alone. Once, when he was still living with us, I had a migrant English student come for a lesson and my son played 93 million miles on his guitar for her. We all sang it together, and by the end we felt like every one of the world’s problems was solvable!

93 million miles from the sun
People get ready, get ready,
‘Cause here it comes, it’s a light
A beautiful light
Over the horizon into our eyes.

Here’s my son when he was still in Australia, enjoying solitude between a rock and a hard place on ‘Ben’s Walk’, a riverside forest track in Nowra, New South Wales. It’s an image of solitude, a moment when he was on his own, contemplating the river view. Although, as the song says, ‘You’re never alone’: his dad was round the other side of the rock and I was outside the gap with a camera!

Ben's Walk, Nowra, NSW

Rock gap on ‘Ben’s Walk’, Nowra, NSW

Actually, he’s not alone in Germany either, for he has his wife, Mrs Amazing. But this post is for him in those hours when she’s away doing amazingly astronomical things and he’s physically alone. It’s a bit of electronic interaction that might, just might, momentarily curb the negative side of his solitude.

Thanks WordPress for the challenge.

Australia Day 2017

 

To celebrate Australia Day today, 26th January, in our nations’s capital, Canberra, there are the official government-organised events like the Australian of the Year ceremony at Parliament House (last night), a Great Aussie Day barbecue breakfast (this morning), and, later, a citizenship ceremony, a flag raising ceremony, kids entertainment, bands, and finally fireworks.

The winners of the four categories in the Australian of the Year Awards deserve recognition for their many years of service, offering solutions to hard-to-solve problems of often-forgotten groups of people. The principal award of Australian of the Year was given last night to Professor Alan Mackay-Sim for his ground-breaking work in repairing spinal cord injuries.

This year’s winners were all quiet achievers. Today there’s another Australian here in Canberra who’s quietly getting our attention, a patriotic man who’s not just flying one Australian flag on his car or his house for the week as some do. This guy, pensioner David Goodall (who prefers to be called Spurs), has arranged a display of Australian flags on his front lawn and footpath – there are 229 bunting flags, one for every year since Captain Arthur Phillip planted his own flag, the Union Jack, in the soil of Sydney Cove and claimed this land for England. Spurs has also displayed flags for each Australian state and territory.

The facing neighbour has allowed him to set up chairs for those who wish to visit and be present at 9.30 this morning for an indigenous Welcome to Country ceremony by a local man, Wally.

When I went for a look last weekend, I admired the tall blue agapanthus lilies growing along his front fenceline. Don’t they blend well with the blue of the flags! I wonder if that’s a coincidence…

Here I like the red reflections on the tinder-dry Canberra grass as the sun shone through the Union Jack crosses in our flag corners. Spurs set up the whole display, paying for everything himself and writing all the signs and slogans. A number of them are written with everyday Australian expressions like “Good on ya mate” or with facts from Australia’s 229-year European history, but there’s also a tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives for this country:

The display is at 9 Biffin Street, Cook. Any Canberrans who enjoy driving past displays of Christmas lights can now extend the pleasure to Australia Day, for Spurs intends to do this every year for the rest of his life in Biffin Street. Good on ya mate!

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Changing Seasons: January

Cardinal Guzman has put up a photo challenge that seems challenging enough for me as a non-photographer.

He has two versions. I’ve chosen the easy path:

    • Each month, post one photo (recipe, painting, drawing, whatever) that represents your interpretation of the month.
    • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!

This morning I was in the Botanic Gardens here in Canberra and was stopped in my tracks by this Corymbia ficifolia. Family: Myrtaceae. Dwarf orange. Sometimes called Red Flowering Gum.

The Canberra Botanic Garden has nothing but native plants. The gardeners have found ways to grow plants from all parts of Australia, even rainforest plants in a lower part that is reached by stone staircases, a place that’s kept dark and wet to encourage rainforest trees and ferns to grow. And up in the bright sunlight there are trees like this orange Corymbia ficifolia, a native from a small area near Walpole, way down on the very south-west coast of Western Australia, and here it is growing on the opposite side of the country in a different climate. Bravo, Botanic Gardeners!

The photo is my interpretation of January in Australia. Bright orange native flowers, clear blue sky, hot morning.

Weekly photo challenge: Names

It is said that the department store Whiteaway Laidlaw & Co. was often nicknamed Right-away & Paid-for, since they accepted only cash and offered no credit. It was also known simply as Whiteaways and became a household name in India, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai during the first half of the 20th century, as well as in other British colonised cities like Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya, seen here in these wartime photos.

Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Nairobi, Kenya, c1941

East African Standard building on the corner, Whiteaway Laidlaw department store on the right, Delamere Ave, Nairobi, Kenya, c1941 (from my father’s WWII album)

The store was founded by Scotsman Robert Laidlaw in 1882 after he had lived in India for 20 years. He was not just an entrepreneur but also a philanthropist and British politician. He died in 1915 in London, but his emporium continued until 1962. It imported and sold household goods and was also a tailoring business, selling products that appealed to Europeans and wealthy locals. As advertised on the store sign in Mombasa, they were drapers and “Complete Outfitters”.

Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Mombasa, Kenya, c1941

Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Mombasa, Kenya, c1941 (from my father’s WWII album)

Kenya was then a British colony engaged in defending itself against Italian Ethiopia (created in 1936) on its northern border. Kenya herself contributed a great number of men to fight for the British colonial Military: the King’s African Rifles. The Italians were defeated in November 1941 during my father’s period in North Africa. Hence, he had these photos in his album.

I’ve been looking at these old photos since I was a small small child and have often wondered why two photos feature the same franchise of Whiteaways. Perhaps my father bought some outfits here. Apparently the store catered for shoppers with a small purse, which would therefore have attracted soldiers. Thanks to WordPress for challenging me to find out who Whiteaway Laidlaw were.

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The Enchanted Ring

Today a new story has been published in Peacock Journal online, “The Enchanted Ring”, written by Catulle Mendès in 1887, translated by me. The story is in his collection, Pour lire au couvent (To Read in the Convent), which might surprise since it’s a wee bit spicy for innocent convent girls and only a little less risqué than his tales in Pour lire au bain (To Read in the Bath).

To set the scene, the Peacock Journal editors have illustrated the story with Claude Monet’s impression of Vétheuil in the outer regions of Paris in 1879. This will give readers a hint that the story works its way towards a country inn where three rich and handsome princes are resting for the night (only one of them is asleep…).

Claude Monet, ‘Vétheuil, Paysage’, 1879

Another of my Mendès translations, “The Only Beautiful Woman”, appeared recently in The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation which you can read about in my blog post here where you’ll see a photo of Catulle Mendès standing casually in his study reading a story. Or a poem. If you don’t recognise Mendès, you might recognise his daughters from this painting by his friend Auguste Renoir in 1888, now in the Met Museum, New York:

daughters-of-catulle-mendes-renoir

Auguste Renoir, ‘The Daughters of Catulle Mendès’, (1888), Huguette b. 1871, Claudine b. 1876, Helyonne b. 1879

Peacock Journal has a theme: beauty. The editors search for it in every submission. I feel fortunate and chuffed that they found it in “The Enchanted Ring”. Make your day better by popping over to read this and other stories about beauty.

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Weekly photo challenge: Anticipation

In anticipation of a 2.6 metre fence to be built in front of Parliament House in Canberra, Lester Yao, a young architect, came up with a plan during the week to invite everyone to roll en masse down one of the grassy roof slopes.

Since the building opened in 1988, adults and children have enjoyed rolling down the slope or even jogging or training on it, and indeed this was part of the inbuilt anticipated pleasure designed by the architect Romaldo Giurgola (who died in May this year). When the security fence goes up in the new year, the public will no longer have such free access as we do today.

Lester Yao put out a call on social media last Monday, and in response hundreds of people turned up for the peaceful rolling protest. We drove towards Parliament House and saw all the people on the grass from the approach road, so we parked, went to have a look and discovered that a few minutes earlier, on a signal, they had all rolled down from the top. Even though it rained yesterday, all day, as well as the day before, this morning was dry and the temperature was up and no one was complaining about their damp grass-stained clothes. As the rollers began to disperse, much of the space was cleared, which suited individuals who wanted to do their own thing without getting crushed.

dsc06030

There are many ways to roll down a hill. Most lay across the slope and propelled themselves over and over like a log. But a few creative ones did somersaults  until they were giddy. The woman below did headstand rolls.

Parents rolled holding a child, dog-owners rolled with their dogs, and people rolled with rolling cameras. Quite a few adults simply played by themselves like children, rolling on their own for the sheer silliness of it.

In the photo below, there’s a guy laughing at the two rollers in front of him. It looked like such fun…

…that he couldn’t resist. He just had to see what it felt like.

(Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t roll down the hill.)

Romaldo Giurgola had designed the building with a roof that could be accessed by the public in a spirit of democracy. He liked the idea that we could walk over the top of those in charge of us. But that is all about to change.

Thanks to the WordPress photo challenge for the Anticipation prompt.

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The Only Beautiful Woman…

… is the title of my newest translated story, published yesterday by The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation. You can read the story online: go to the website, scroll down to the translator’s note (that’s me, of course) then click on “click here to read”. You’ll then be able to enjoy The Only Beautiful Woman by Catulle Mendès, originally “La Belle du Monde” in his collection Les Oiseaux bleus.

Like Perrault and the Grimm brothers, Mendès was a great creator of fairies. In “The Only Beautiful Woman” the incurable selfishness of humans is embodied in a trifling, time-wasting princess who frightens even the mirrors that reflect her beauty.

Image from

Image from “L’Illustration”, no. 3240, 1 April 1905

I’m very grateful to The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation editors for publishing my work, especially since this is my second appearance in their journal. In 2015 they published my translation of Madame Gorgibus by Jean Lorrain, another story in which one character suffers from another’s selfishness. But Mme Gorgibus never sees the victory of good over evil; her story is less of a comedy than Mendès’ little tale in which mirth predominates and the ending is happy.

I invite you to read these tales; they’re old and short but memorable! If you enjoy them please let me know.

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Nervous

We arrived at the ruins of the burnt-out observatory at Mount Stromlo before the sun set yesterday, excited about the performance we were about to see: “Nervous” by the Australian Dance Party, an hour of contemporary dance, music and lighting.

At eight o’clock, inside the structure in the light of the early evening, four dancers began their interpretation of the inner turmoil of nervousness, while the audience waited outside in anticipation, peeking in through the doorway. At last we were invited into the space to find a chair or floor cushion to settle into for the performance as the dancers slowly and aimlessly walked about the circular centre of the floor, confronting each other and almost colliding, wondering about the thing that was making them nervous.

And then they seemed to come together in harmony and moved as one.

Once the audience was comfortably seated, the dancers picked up speed, and the idea moved from wondering to worrying. The nerves were back in control, and we soon learnt why, through the dialogue of the blonde dancer: “Hey, there’s something I really need to talk to you about.” We heard it over and over in different phrasings, as she talked to herself or moved up to the audience and addressed them directly. Hello, there’s something…. No. Hey, how are you? There’s something I… No. Ahhhh, there’s something I really… No. Ughhh, just act natural… Why is this so hard?…

And as she practised her speech, the other three were her conscience, the angels and devils telling her she was doing it right and doing it wrong and she was hopeless at this but had to do it anyway. The four became one conscience and approached the audience, and again the blonde spoke, Hey, there’s something I really…, while a second dancer held her breath, another writhed and the fourth groaned painfully. All of that stuff that goes on inside us while we’re trying to appear calm and in control.

Eventually the nervousness conquered its victims and they could do no more than lie on the cold concrete floor in the purple light of defeat…

Over all of this movement was the intense electronic music composed by Ben Worth (my son), pulsating and vibrating and making us physically vibrate with it. It was loud and soft and occasionally absent but it always returned. And there was Robbie, the lighting guy up there on the platform with Ben, playing his lights over the dancers as darkness descended. Robbie’s light show became one of the players playing with the dancers’ nerves.

Ben, left, and Robbie, right, on the platform behind one of the old concrete arms that supported the telescope in the past.

By nine o’clock, the sky above the roofless structure was black and starry with a crescent moon and nearby Venus growing brighter by the minute. Some cords from the floor became a prop that lit up and tangled about them, winding around and wrapping them up. The music stopped, the darkness was almost complete. Someone began clapping, and we realised this was the end.

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Great

After the US election, Ailsa at Where’s my backpack wrote Great, a poem. I read it out loud (no one was listening) and heard myself almost rapping… It’s a two-part verse, beginning in darkness, ending in light.

Encouraging bloggers to add some goodness to the dish on the other side of the scale, she has challenged us to do something GREAT:

Create something beautiful and share it with the world. Write something true from the depths of your humanity and share it with the world. Do something kind for someone in need. Embrace a different culture. Volunteer. Plant a tree. Tell someone how much they mean to you. Reach out to someone in your community you’ve never even noticed before. Try to understand someone else’s point of view. Learn something new. Teach your kids something new. Stand up to bullies. Protect those being victimized. Be brave. Be gentle. Be vulnerable. Nurture. Encourage. Forgive. Love. Shine.

The word Volunteer leapt out at me with its capital V. It’s what I do. I’ve done voluntary English tutoring for years, but previously only once a week. This year, it has been five days a week, a few hours each day. The rewards for the students are free language instruction and friendship, but for me the rewards are many and varied. They buy me flowers, plants, perfume from France, skin products from New Zealand, clothes from China (!), crockery and meals. But mostly, it’s coffee.

We meet in local cafés, where the owners have come to know me and my students. They even know what we’ll order, each student ordering the same thing every week.

This week I combined the great thing that is Ailsa’s poem with my volunteering: I used her poem in a lesson. I asked my student to read it out loud, tell me what poetic devices were used, and tell me what it all meant. Here she is expressing her feelings about the negative half, words about words that are ‘meant to shock, intimidate, demean and mock’, followed by the positive half, words about words that ‘serve to heal, unite, encourage and appeal’.

Now, I doubt that any great act on my part will counteract the new US president’s policies, but one day at a time, one person at a time, is a policy that’s working to make life better for me and my students in this part of the world.

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Weekly photo challenge: Tiny

Yesterday I was quietly translating a fairy tale about dragonflies and damselflies when a couple of stuck bugs walked over my window. Tiny stuck bugs, one walking forwards, the other dragged behind, backwards. Unlike my fictional insects, flying didn’t seem to be an option. I needed an excuse to procrastinate, unable to decide whether the story would be as much fun for others as for me, so this tiny event suddenly seemed like something I should record for posterity.

I tried to pick them off the window with a sheet of paper but they tumbled onto my monitor and walked quickly and unceasingly over every surface on and near my desk, across the laptop, over the Cruzer memory stick and down the power cord…

… over my diary page where Alice is dancing with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, and looking very much like painted bugs…

…and around my mother’s portrait.

I thought: you two need to be doing this outside with other tiny things. And as they marched across the books piled beside my keyboard, making their way blindly along the edge of a fairy tale collection where tiny bugs are friends of fairies…

… I took my chance, picked up the book, and… oops! They flipped upside down! You’d think this would have kept them still for a moment, but no. Together they flipped right way up (undoubtedly not in a united effort) and I hurried out the door while they were running in a frenzy over the book. And yet, when I held them next to my potted pansies they refused to get off without some shoving and shaking.

This is the story of a tiny procrastination. It was all the break I needed to give me strength to go and read two fairy tales and translate one.

Thanks Daily Post for this tiny photo challenge.

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