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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Flâneuse

A flâneur? In a 19th-century dictionary he’s a loiterer, a lounger, an indolent man spending his time idly. In contemporary dictionaries he’s a loafer, an idler, a stroller, a dawdler, an ambler, a laggard.

So many options to describe a man who has no timetable, no destination. Doing nothing, going nowhere. Apparently.

Yes, a flâneur in French is a man. But a woman, too, can loiter and lag. She’s the flâneuse.

Strolling the streets of my city, observant, detached, armed with a small camera, watching for someone who’s not like the others, I occasionally play the part of the flâneuse, capturing a few colourful characters in this city. But their colours can distract. Here I’ve removed them.

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I love hair. My trigger finger itched when I saw this man who hasn’t seen a barber for some time. I stopped and loitered as flâneuses do. It was lunchtime and his eye was on a small charity barbecue stand while my eye was on his hair. I bet he’s an interesting bloke.

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Within minutes I came across another one who avoids the barber. With his long white hair and beard and his black scarf and coat, he loses nothing in a conversion to black and white. He’d been to the sausage-sizzle stand and was sitting down for a lunch break.

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Not far away I spotted another long male ponytail, plaited. Whatever he was saying, it amused his companions, the woman handing out The Big Issue free magazine and the bloke with a can of Mother and an attitude.

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On my way home my ears were tickled by a busking guitarist who plays here frequently and brilliantly. A busker with a ponytail. His head was bent low over his guitar, eyes fixed on the strings, but when a passer-by threw a few coins into the guitar case and stopped to watch, the guitarist looked up and sort of smiled, as tickled by his one-man audience as I was by his music. I dropped some money into the guitar case. He had earned it.

The Daily Post challenged us this week to become flâneurs. As I ambled and wandered – not aimlessly nor idly – observing people in front of me, across the street, under a tree, against a wall, I concluded that not all of us are forgettable.

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Weekly photo challenge: H2O

When fishermen leave taps dripping or even running at public fish cleaning tables, the seagulls make the most of the free fresh water, even if they have to stick their beaks right up into the spout, and then only after waiting their turn.

Seagulls, Mosquito Bay, South Coast NSW

Seagulls, Mosquito Bay, South Coast NSW

Seagulls, Nelson Bay, Port Stephens NSW

It’s a good spot to watch a seagull coming in for a landing, to admire the beauty of spread wings.

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Thanks WordPress for the prompt, reminding us that all living creatures need H2O.

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Weekly photo challenge: Nostalgia

Any image of a tram makes me long for the past. When I was a child in Brisbane there were trams in the city, but by 1969 the use and support of trams had declined and the tramway was closed. It had been operating since 1885.

Brisbane tram, 1968, courtesy of Aussie mobs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/10115705345/in/photostream/

Brisbane tram, 1968, courtesy of Aussie mobs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/10115705345/in/photostream/

(An aside: In case you’re wondering about Vincent’s, they were powders for headaches, wrapped in paper. You poured the powder into your mouth and washed it down with water. My father took them daily. They were withdrawn from the market in the 1970s because they were causing renal failure and codeine addiction. So he shouldn’t have taken them with confidence after all.)

These days in Australia, only Adelaide and Melbourne still have trams. Melbourne is famous for them, and whenever I’m there I catch them just for the fun of it.

When I lived in Lyon, France, I often got around on trams, enjoying the ease of hopping on and off without having to climb stairs or walk down the aisle in search of a seat, as you do on a bus or a train, and without having to descend into the subterranean metro stations.

At present in Canberra, a light rail system (tramway) is under construction, but there’s a heated debate about the expense of it and disputes about the benefits. A local election in a couple of weeks will determine whether the project continues. And if The Opposition wins, it will stop the construction and cancel the contracts for which numbers of people have been employed. Hmmm.

But despite the arguments against our tram project, my nostalgia-filled heart is firing up memories of tram trips taken, of the fun of travelling on these little street trains, of waiting at the tram stops with my mother or father, or by myself in Lyon, holding my ticket nervously purchased in much-practised French, and being transported quickly and efficiently to my destination. So, rationally or not, I’m pro tram.

This 1941 photo of a tram in Port Said, perhaps waiting for the Australian soldiers to jump on board, gives me a little thrill every time I look at it. I wish it could teleport into my life so I could ride on it.

Tram, Port Said, Egypt, c1941

Tram and Australian soldiers, Port Said, Egypt, c1941. Photo from my father’s album. Subjects and photographer unknown.

Thanks WordPress for evoking my nostalgia.

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Useless Virtue

A new literary journal, Sun Star, has just released Issue 2 of Volume 1, and one of my translations of Jean Lorrain’s stories, “Useless Virtue”, is in it. And there’s a bonus: the editor has written a short piece in regard to translations of old works in the public domain. If you’d like to read the story, it’s available online for free here. Scroll down to page 29.

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I’ve previously written about “Useless Virtue” on my blog, twice, without writing the actual story (which would have disqualified it from being published elsewhere…). I posted here with a translated part of Lorrain’s accompanying introduction to the story, and here with some connections to paintings of Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens that helped me visualise the action while translating it.

I found the original, “L’Inutile Vertu”, in a small brown book on a dusty shelf at my old university, Contes pour lire à la chandelle (Stories to read by candlelight), but it also appeared later in La Revue Illustrée, a French turn-of-the-century journal which was, unsurprisingly, illustrated, with pages such as this one (courtesy of Gallica).

Page from 'Inutile Vertu in 'La Revue Illustrée, no. 16, 1 Aug 1901

Page from “L’Inutile Vertu” in “La Revue Illustrée”, no. 16, 1 Aug 1901

Illustrated adult books and stories seem to be out of fashion now. But why should children have all the fun of comparing the words to the pictures? For me, it’s an exquisite pleasure to read copies of La Revue Illustrée. True, they’re in French, but there are many examples of English illustrated journals available online that would be a great source of enjoyment for anyone who likes to study drawing styles and the decorated page, not to mention illustrated stories.

If I were gifted with a pencil or a paintbrush, I might have illuminated my own translations. Now there’s a thought. I wonder if there are any translators out there doing just this…

*****

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In praise of the strandline

The tide flows and ebbs and leaves for us a snaking line of sea debris, variously called the strandline, the high water mark, the high tide mark, the wrack line.

On Saturday, in the drizzle of the afternoon, I was wandering along the beach at Dalmeny on the south coast of New South Wales, wondering what this bulky material was that had been left behind and not washed back into the sea.

Strand line, Dalmeny NSW

Dalmeny NSW

The debris was here to stay, and even to be appreciated, for it became a source of enjoyment for me as I studied the shapes and found small surprises, natural and unnatural, hiding among these dead sea things. This strandline seems to be composed of thousands of sea squirts, cunjevoi, all the same in ugly tone and form. But a few moments of close observation revealed beauty where at first there seemed to be none. There was this foot form with purple shell toes:

And a ropey sea plant hanging behind rich russet red weed:

There were a few hints of human marine life, like this green cord caught in the roots along the bank washed away by the fierce stormy sea:

Something spongey, something weedy and something blue made a still life arrangement that broke up the monotone line of sea squirts:

There was even man-made beauty in this forest of dead branches stuck in the sand. There’s something appealing about the two art forms as neighbours…

Before I left the beach that afternoon, a shipwrecked manifestation of The Scream called to me as I passed.

Australia has 10,685 beaches. Give or take… When I’m tempted to think I’ve seen everything a beach can offer, I remind myself of the thousands I’ve yet to explore. Of course, the paradox is that I love the sea as long as I’m not in it. The line of debris caught my eye simply because my back was turned to the water. But if I were a swimmer or surfer I might have ignored the beauty in the detail of this strandline.

In Australia the term for this debris seems to be strandline. But thanks to an excellent blog about shorelines in Oregon, USA, theoutershores.wordpress.com, I learnt that it can also be called a wrack line. Wrack is a great word for this stuff, having two meanings: wrack is a type of seaweed cast ashore, and wrack is also what is left behind after devastation.

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Weekly photo challenge: Mirror

Cones. Bert Flugelman (1923-2013) created them, and the National Gallery put them out under the blue Australian sky in the Sculpture Garden. Flugelman produced a number of stainless steel sculptures in Australia (where he lived), not to be confused with Austria (where he was born).

‘Cones’ in spring, Sculpture Garden, NGA

Children and adults alike love the 20 metres of image-distorting steel forms. You can be as thin, fat, short or tall as you want. Cones is a paradox, a totally unembellished minimalist artwork yet filled with detailed images. The seven iconic conic sculptures reflect this little bit of Australia, the sky and trees and flowers and dry sandy ground. And anyone standing around.

Today I was fortunate to find myself alone in this corner of the Garden to snap some photos sans visitors. My camera’s eye caught me in the stainless steel mirror, and my mind made a link to the nearby Portrait Gallery where I had just spent an hour, where I had seen a self-portrait of Bert Flugelman (it’s a sculpture), and now here he gives me my own self-portrait, an image of no one in particular. Indeed, it’s better (in my humble opinion) than the self-portraits by Ken Done and Sidney Nolan that really do look like no one in particular!

Self-portrait with wattle

Self-portrait with wattle

Thanks to the WordPress photo challenge, I was prompted to get my camera out today as I was passing through the Sculpture Garden.

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Weekly photo challenge: Frame

Two photos from the old war album. The captions are as I found them, written by my father. The photographer is unknown: they might be my father’s photos, or they might have been given to him by a mate.

Western Desert, Egypt/Libya, 1941/42

Western Desert, Egypt/Libya, 1941/42

Nile Bridge, Cairo, c1941

Nile Bridge, Cairo, c1941

The “Nile Bridge” is the Abou el Ela Bridge, Cairo – construction completed in 1912, demolished in 1998

Thanks WordPress for prompting me to post photos of framed shots.

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