Monday, 12 November 2018

The Colour of Sydney

Jacaranda blooms against blue Sydney sky
Jacaranda Time!
There's a magical purplish-blue hue dotted across Sydney's skyline at the moment. Yes, it's Jacaranda Time! The Jacaranda mimosifolia, a tree introduced to these shores around 150 years ago, for a short period during spring (a.k.a. Michaelmas Term in the Olden Days) generously gives most of us the treat of a regal display of their purple blossoms. I say most, as for some*, (and I'm not naming names, Mum), they are not a treat but a nuisance, dropping their showy petals and carpeting otherwise tidy lawns and driveways and even playing merry havoc with their swimming pools. Tiresome! 

But for the rest of us, tourists and locals alike, they are much beloved and when they put on their splendid display, it's worthy of celebration. The Pipistrello's are particularly lucky to live in an older part of the city, where the trees are abundant and well-established, and as we aren't tasked with the job of cleaning up after them, we are quite happy to Make a Fuss over their seasonal glory. Even a grey and wet day is made brighter by their pop of colour peaking out over rooftops and across vistas.

Woolloomooloo rooftop view if Sydney Harbour Bridge and jacaranda in rain
The Harbour Bridge glimpsed across rooftops
Mr. P. and I walked with J through the rain over to the Art Gallery of New South Wales the other day to catch the end of the John Russell exhibition, taking in the grand floral display through the old suburb of Woolloomooloo, where the harbour foreshore and naval base rubs up against Victorian terraces and narrow streets, public housing and chic modern developments. Eclectic, maritime, but oh-so-leafy, too, this little suburb is what separates the Pipistrello roost from the City and is home to J&P and is a far cry from the plague-ridden slums of its past, a mere hundred-odd years ago.

Springtime jacaranda blooms in Woolloomooloo
The spring streetscape on a sunnier day

The exhibition John Russell: Australia's French impressionist**  was the first survey of this artist who spent forty years from the 1880s in Europe, studying first at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, then under Fernand Cormon in Paris. There he settled into the avant-garde set and experimented with emerging styles and the exhibition is thusly broad and ranges wide. Along the way he formed close friendships with Van Gogh and Rodin and had an influential encounter with Monet in Brittany, which is evident in some of the works which I did prefer (unsurprising, as my taste, as mentioned before, is so very Pedestrian). Alongside Russell's work there were pieces from his friends and contemporaries and a series of Rodin's busts of his wife, Marianna.

Behold, some of my favourite paintings of John Russell's, a former resident of our 'hood come good:

John Russell painting, The Garden, 1887, AGNSW exhibition 2018
The garden,
Longpré-les-Corps-Saints, 1887

John Russell painting, Antibes, 1892, AGNSW exhibition 2018
View from Hotel Jouve, 1892

John Rusell painting, Rough Sea, Morestil, 1900
Rough Sea,
Morestil, Belle-Île, c1900

John Russell painting, Stormy weather at Belle-Île, 1904, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Stormy weather at Belle-Île, 1904

Perhaps it was the seasonal joy of the Jacaranda-Fest working its magic on my subconscious, but the preceding four choices of painting did leap out at me as worthy of a photographic attempt. Because I am unsubtle and need to push my palette point, here are some more gratuitous photos of the same streets walked on a sunnier day:

Jacaranda blooms in Woolloomooloo with street sign
Beneath the canopy

Jacaranda blossoms under blue sky in Woolloomooloo
Painterly palette in Cathedral Street

East Sydney Hotel with jacaranda tree in bloom on sunny day
Classic old pub on Cathedral Street
And a couple more of Russell's painting, for good measure and to show I'm not entirely fixated on purple at the moment:

John Russell painting, Mrs Russell among the flowers at Goulphar, 1907, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Mrs Russell among the flowers in the garden of Goulphar,
Belle-Île, 1907

John Russell watercolour, Pear blossom in grey, 1920, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Pear blossom in grey, 1920

Rainy day outside AGNSW with view to Potts Point and Woolloomooloo in springtime
Rainswept view from the AGNSW across to Woolloomooloo
You could take the man out of Sydney but its colours remain in his work!

* In the unlikely event a Youth is lurking about these pages, Get Back to your Studies!

** If this exhibition is News To You, sadly, you have now missed it.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Chemistry At Home & A Fruitless Experiment

Art Deco painting, lady scientist, 1932
Pass me the pipette, Mr. P!

I'm rather fond of playing with a bit of Chemistry in the home. Nothing too technical, nor beyond me requiring more than my kitchen scales and some litmus paper; just the sort of stuff that housewives used to knock up without much fuss in the days before the White Lab Coat of Authority sternly told us through advertising that only factory-produced household sundries &c. are to be Trusted, and anyways are so much more Convenient, and thus those little skills nearly vanished overnight.

Vintage household chemistry book, Two Thousand formulas, recipes and trade secrets, Harry Bennett
Handy Household Reference

While researching some of these lost Olde Ways, I found an excellent second-hand book by Harry Bennett, F.A.I.C., entitled catchily, Two Thousand Formulas, Recipes & Trade Secrets: The Classic "Do-It-Yourself" Book of Practical Everyday Chemistry. It's a reprint from a 1930s publication and an example of the kind of book that most householders had as a handy reference for when they needed to refresh their memory on how to prepare envelope mucilage or cold cream or billiard chalk or Absinthe (choose from English, Fine, two styles of Swiss & à la Turine!).

Norman's Indian Mucilage advertisement, bulldog strength glue
Pipistrello's Frugal Tip:
Make your own mucilage, instead!

Truth be told, some of the ingredients for the myriad recipes are a tad hard to come by these days, if not downright illegal, and serve to remind the Modern Reader just how far Society has regressed in its trust of our Fellow Man. I'm sure some sideways glances would be cast at my local Chemist if I was found to be shopping for some Sodium Cyanide (NaCN) and Mercury (Hg) and what-not for my Iron Rustproofing Solution. But if the End-Of-Days comes and Electricity & Google were to be switched firmly Off then the Pipistrello's will be fine as I now have my handy recipes for making the Rubber Bands which will be necessary for holding our post-Apocalyptic world together and the Tutti Frutti Essence which will add a bit of colour and flavour to our fallout-grey lives.

Hiking boots fail, rubber bands and crocs, one-size fits all
Rubber bands, so essential for navigating the
Post-Apocalyptic Future

Anyhow, it has been a Bit of a Year here, what with one thing and another, and the Pipistrello colony has had to become rather more intimately acquainted with some new-fangled advances in the Field of Medicine than we none of us had expected a little while back. One of the many joys of belonging to a family means that while one member may get the Hands-On Experience, we all get to Learn Something. Today's Lesson, concerning the treatment for a Gentlemen's Complaint, comes not from my copy of Two Thousand Formulas &c., nor even from Modern Western Medicine but from something more thrilling and far, far older: viz. Traditional Chinese Medicine ... Or would have, if Australia's quarantine laws were not so stern and unadventurous.

Chinese acupuncture chart
Coy and mysterious

Last weekend, over at my Brother's place, the Gorgeous A, whose culinary talents are a rival to the transfixing Li Ziqi, was hoping to prepare a decoction for her father as an adjunct to the Western Medicine treatment for his, ahem, condition*. It may surprise you, or not, to discover that when she trundled down to the Chinese Herbalist to fill the "prescription", as dictated over the telephone by the Chinese Doctor in Guangzhou, he merely threw his hands into the air with frustration and declared that this infuriating country prohibits the importation of most of her required ingredients!

While we were all poised to discover how efficacious this Tonic would be, Gorgeous A's quest for seven Periplaneta americana** thus Came to Nought, and I have sadly no scientifically-tested results to report. Now if you know Sydney, you might puzzle over this Quarantine Mystery, as the humble American Cockroach and their German cousins positively flourish in this fine city (and are the pesky reason why my experiments with Home Curing have to be refrigerator-focussed) and wonder why the apothecary did not figure for himself, Oh, a gap in the market! Opportunity knocks!, for they abound in a free-range capacity here, and are thus ripe for canny exploitation.

* He is unlikely to be lurking about these pages so the shared confidence shouldn't cause further embarrassment.

** Yes, the American Cockroach is Farmed in China for the lotions & potions so-beloved by the Chinese. And while you may look askance at the prospect of being prescribed 7 in a tea, Your Correspondent caught and ate one, sashimi-style, as a toddler to no ill effect!

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Greek Series: The Marble Masons of Despotiko

Scaffolding Galore
Twilit Scaffolding & Cranework Adorning the Parthenon
Recognise this Grand Design? Yes, it's the Parthenon in Athens. Just so you know, it still looks like a Building Site that's hit a few Snags along the way; maybe a couple of issues with the Council, who knows, but it's still ages off what Kevin McCloud might call Watertight, perhaps never!

To see what it might look like when the Occupants have Moved In you must travel to Nashville in America, and behold the full-scale polychromic replica replete with a 42-foot tall statue of Athena (whose face is reputed to be modelled on a youthful Elvis Presley, according to the amusing docent who was my guide) - but I digress ...

Marble Masons Handiwork
Acropolis Restoration Work: A Giant 3D Puzzle!
In spite of the Curious Neighbours (a.k.a. Tourists) climbing all over it on a daily basis and the Second Fix perhaps still some ways off, there are still some fellows Gainfully Employed on site: the Marble Masons. Notwithstanding the never-ending nature of this project, these skilled craftsmen are rather sought after for other sites besides Athens' Acropolis. So where do they end up moonlighting?

Yes, on Despotiko! You may be forgiven for thinking that Ol' Holiday in Greece of mine was a dim memory by now, but no! there's plenty more juice to be squeezed from that lemon! Here's another peek into the World of Archæology as seen by this Correspondent, before I forget any more of the Salient Details. Let me introduce you to some of these fabled Marble Masons in their natural habitat:

Despotiko Marble Restoration Work
Just add Heat & Noise!
Give these men some scaffolding, a small and noisy diesel generator to run some angle grinders, some hand tools and ropes and pulleys and they will turn your Restoration Dreams into Reality ... albeit rather slowly.

The Despotiko Sanctuary to Apollo Before & After
What came before (well, an artist's impression)
Here is a Handy How-To Guide for those at home: First find an Olde Parian Marble Puzzle Piece that you can identify from amongst the pile of many hundreds, then mark out some useful reference points on its surface with your little laser gadget:

Laser measurements on marble pillar piece to aid in restoration
Not just a lump of rock: Restoration awaits!
Make a perfect fit for this surface in a new piece of marble (freshly quarried not from Paros any more but neighbouring Naxos) with some Trusty Geometry, hand tools and plenty of Skill, like this:

Glittering white Naxian marble ready-shaped for mounting old marble remnants
Gleaming new marble pieces ready for marrying up with the old
Use some Magic to join them together, or failing that, some titanium pins and cement and then shape using said angle grinder as required:

New-meets-old marble column base ready for shaping
A new-meets-old column base ready for shaping

Marble mason at work shaping a column piece with an angle grinder
A Mason at one with his grinder

Shaped and smoothed column base marked up for installation
Nearly ready for moving into place
Using the Time-Honoured Methods handed down by the likes of the Egyptian Pyramid-Builders, wrap your selected piece in ropes, manœuver it off your workbench and then roll it over timber logs to your desired destination. Apply these same low-tech techniques to winching your piece into place.
Nota bene: Allow a couple of hours for this stage - Rome/Athens/Egypt &c., weren't built in a day!

Hand winching marble column base into position on Despotiko's dig site
High-vis. optional

Newly restored 2-tonne marble architrave ready to be installed on Despotiko
 Architrave ready to be winched atop two columns

Marble architrave in position atop columns on Despotiko
Architrave in situ and capped with more original bits
(Not my pic! Photo Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture & Sports

If necessary, drill some holes for some titanium pins for later:

New Naxian marble column bases on Despoiko
Ready for the next column piece
Apply a liberal amount of grinding to effect the finish you desire, and do coat all persons in the vicinity with a fine, glittery coat of Marble Dust in the process:

New-meets-old marble columns ready for finishing smooth at Despotiko's Apollo Sanctuary
In the rough, at this point

Take plenty of time to stand back and admire your handiwork:

The 2018 Season on Despotiko drawing to a close
The old & the new

The close of the 2018 Season on Despotiko showing new marble works
All tidy after the 2018 Season

Continue until you have run out of Puzzle Pieces/Patience/Funding. If you have any leftovers, you could always utilise them in the manner of the invading Franks in the 13th Century, viz. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Frankish castle on Paros built with Classical & Archaic-Era Marbles
Fun with leftovers on Paros, circa 1260 CE

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Winter's Tales

Slogging Through Winter
(apologies to) Kay Nielsen, 1914

Winter this year has seemed so long. Just when you think the weather has turned a corner, the Frost descends again (well, out in Mum's neck o' the woods) and it's brrr!! in our warm-temperate city once more. However, I am pleased to report that two miserable & consecutive days of hay-fever indicate that Spring has indeed Sprung and it's time to take stock of my Winter Reading before I forget.

Books read this winter 2018

Top of the pile because it's top of the list is Patrick Leigh Fermor's dazzling memoir-of-sorts, A Time of Gifts. In December of 1933, at the age of 17, PLF set out with a rucksack, a sturdy staff, some reading and writing material and, wearing hobnail boots and puttees, started to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Armed with only his wits, his good manners and youthful naïveté, a blessing in the form of a gift for languages, and a stipend of a pound a week, he trudges through a European winter following a Romantic Path along the Rhine then the Danube and this book, the first of a later-published trilogy, finishes with him at the gates of Budapest as the spring of 1934 buds.

Along the way, he takes the reader on a rambling cultural and linguistic tour of the byways of the history, art and architecture of the places he passes, whilst his present-day encounters were of a Europe about to profoundly change. As my own European experience has clung closer to the shores of the Mediterranean, this is unexplored territory, and I shan't say too much about the vast amounts of time I wasted  spent in the later pursuit of fleshing out some of the cultural and artistic references, except that the interweb is great, isn't it? What I have not shown is the companion book to this bedtime read, The Collins Australian Pocket Dictionary, which I am not shy to say was extensively thumbed (and at 70,000 references was at times inadequate but far easier to wield in bed than our Collins English Dictionary, which at 162,000 references would have been the Better Choice).

For company and to while away the long hours of walking, PLF amused himself with singing and reciting prose and poetry. He lists (at over four pages!) his repertoire of memorised material, in English, French, Latin and a few "bits" of Ancient Greek, prefaced self-deprecatingly with, "The range is fairly predictable and all too revealing of the scope, the enthusiasms and the limitations, examined at the eighteenth milestone, of a particular kind of growing up."..."A give-away collection."
Unsurprisingly, for those who may not be familiar with the writer, he went undercover in occupied Crete during WWII as a crack guerrilla, living in mountain caves, masquerading as a local shepherd.

Verdict: Fabulous. Will be chasing up the next book, Between the Woods and the Water.

As a great coincidence, the Lovely L is also a fan of PLF,  and we were surprised and pleased to see at the Bernaki Museum in Athens this (southern) winter an exhibition of his wife's, Joan Leigh Fermor, 1950s Greek photos! And you will never guess who they were friends with? ...

Paddy Leigh Fermor

Margot Fonteyn & Freddy Ashton, 1951!

Margot in the Nuddy!

Ballerina Feet!

Back to the books: Mary Beard's SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome was my non-fiction favourite for a whole host of reasons, such as History!, Rome!, Factoids!, Mary Beard!, etc. etc. I shan't bang on.

Verdict: If you love such things as well, do read it and it was worth waiting for the paperback edition to finally be published for ease of reading in bed.

A clutch of 20th-Century women writers made up the bulk of the fiction reads. I finally got around to reading my first Barbara Pym's: A Glass of Blessings and Excellent Women, which I adored for their quiet and amusing post-War portraits of women having small-"a" adventures in their small-"l" lives. Tea-and-gossip writing.

Ditto for the pile of (unphotographed) Maeve Binchy's that Mum lent me. From memory, there was Light a Penny Candle, The Lilac Bus, The Copper Beech and Scarlet Feather. Same sort of stories, just Irish and Catholic and a bit later in time. Thanks, Mum!

I found a copy of The Theoretical Foot by the celebrated American food-writer, M.F.K. Fisher, on the occasionally surprising, informal book exchange we have in the foyer of our apartment building. It's verdict is: Undecided. I did not find it witty, as the gushing blurbs on the cover claimed. It made me a tad tense reading it and I hoped for something more.

(I also thought I read Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green, but appear to have been mistaken, so it goes back onto the pile beside the bed. Duffer!)

Finally, I shall admit I read Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis and Hated It! It came highly recommended by the Effervescent R and declared a Must-Read whilst on my Greek trip. I did soldier on with it and got to the end but, honestly, the writer had to have been On Drugs while writing it. I did not like Zorba, nor the narrator, nor the bizarre and random violence. It appears that it's a much beloved and inspiring book for vast swathes of the reading public for more than half a century but I completely missed the point. The best I can say is that the cover did complement quite nicely a favoured taverna in Antiparos. Yes, I'm an Unlettered Philistine.

Zorba the Greek as a Greek-holiday read
I'm lost for words

Thursday, 13 September 2018

One Man's Folly ...

... Is Another Man's Folly!

Many interesting things find their way onto my radar courtesy of the interweb, not the least of which is the occasional auction catalogue for various Goods & Sundries. Pictured above is a Victorian-era Folly which is coming up for sale in Paris. While my blog's creed does specify that No Money will be spent around and about these pages, I do anyway offer this up for your delectation on the off chance that your garden needs enhancing. We in the Pipistrello household have no need for such an adornment to our lives, and indeed this style is not in keeping with our Art Deco apartment block, so if your heart does quicken at the prospect of taking delivery of such a charming, ready-antiqued bit of Olde Worlde garden ornamentation, I should only be pleased for you to grasp the bidder's paddle.

This folly, which lived in the garden of the now-demolished Cowbridge House in Wiltshire, home to the wealthy tea trading Brooke family, can be yours in a couple of weeks for an estimated 120,000 - 160,000 euros - a mere snip at the price. The auction blurb tells us the commissioned architect was a Victorian favourite, one John Shaw Jr., but the accompanying Lifestyle Shot does indicate that it won't give shelter to many of your friends and family after all, so large gatherings about it will need to be had only in fine weather. It appears to be missing a couple of its original pine cones upon close inspection of the photographs, but that should not affect its value. Mr P. upon being shown this fine object, did ask the very sensible question, Do They Deliver?, but as always, the devil is in the fine print, so Postage & Handling will need to be dealt with at further cost, as will some rather hefty bidders fees, and you should ask about Assembly Instructions as it may need to be flat-packed.

If you are persuaded you need to make a Statement in your garden but don't have the room for the Folly, or your taste runs to a more Exotique Style, perhaps a Pair of Sphinxes would suit you better? These girls tick many boxes for desirability: they are French, sport terrific Hair, are a teensy bit Risqué, have some floral and fabric details and have their own frolicking stone chubsters astride them so you have no fear of the neighbourhood children climbing atop. Yes, there's a lot going on. They are estimated at about the same price as the Folly but any decent handyman about the home would be able to install them as it's a bit more obvious here which way up the pieces go, plus the auction house has helpfully offered up an accompanying photograph as a sort of Serving Suggestion:

If you are tempted by these offerings, I exhort you to be mindful of the phenomenon of Buyer's Remorse, which can afflict anyone in possession of a credit card, a computer and a bottle of wine. These items aren't called Follies for nothing!

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Greek Series: Vehicular Taxonomy

Home-made agricultural vehicle
Fun with Leftovers
As may be deduced by my utter disinterest in the Automobile as a Genus, I neither drive nor indeed own a driver's license, so ordinarily pay little attention to the choices people make with their vehicles. However, there were a few notable sub-species that I felt were worthy of inclusion into my ongoing Greek Series. First up is this dapper gent, above, who has crafted his own ingenious work horse out of bits and pieces from about the traps. I am sure it has excellent off-road capabilities and it falls squarely into the Variety of Agrarian-DIY. In Australia he may be referred to as a Bush Mechanic.

Fiat 500 is a popular Greek choice for an economy vehicle
Ciao Gino!

 Even I could not fail to notice how expensive petrol was in Greece, (around twice that in Australia) so was heartened to see the very sensible and economical Fiat 500, a.k.a. the "Gino", absolutely everywhere. It is possibly the most popular car there right now (according to my unscientific observations) and the one and only car that holds any interest for moi as for many years and many kilometres this was Mr. Pipistrello's car, too*. This is a fine example of the Variety Eco-Sensible.

Three-wheeled utility vehicle in Greece
Three-wheeled Ute
These three-wheeler utility vehicles, or Tradesman's Trike, need no introduction to anyone familiar with labourers around Southern Europe. They are probably a modified Scooter as they sound exactly the same, but can accommodate up to two burly passengers and a tray-load of Masculine Miscellany and travel at the giddy speed of around a Brisk Walking Pace. I would suggest that all the three vehicles above are Varieties of the same same Species, the Modified Lawnmower.

Death Trap Scooter-Chic
Summertime Scooter-Chic
This duo are astride the zippy Mediterranean staple, Genus Death Trap, Species Scooter, which comes with a host of levels of road-worthiness and noisiness (the Italian Vespa, or Wasp, is such an appropriate name). As may be noted, the absence of socks on the pillion passenger is the only indication of the weather at the time - it was well over 30 degrees that day! - but they were otherwise stylish and comfortable. The helmet on the driver did surprise me as my recollection of the Grecian laxity toward road safety was embodied in my own experience as an eventually competent scooter rider on Patmos 23 years ago. (... Hey, T, remember when we actually wore helmets in those early days? What were we thinking??)

Fisherman's Runabout in Greek Harbour
From the Sublime ...

And so to the maritime Genus of private vessels, Mucking About With Boats: In addition to the Pleasure Craft sheltering in the harbour, we have these little examples of the variety Fishermen's Runabouts, with a strong flavour of the DIY-modification about them, too. Amazing what you can do with a row boat and a couple of wooden boxes. Just add an outboard motor and you could be a sea-going scooter rider!

Luxury cruiser in Greek islands
 ... To the Ridiculous

If your eyes are good enough, you may see that this example of the variety Maritime Luxe bears the name "Christina O." Yes, that Christina O. (Pipistrello and the Lovely L did not get an invitation to drinks aboard this, ahem, Billionairess' Runabout but did get to spy upon it while relaxing on a beach after working as navvies on the Despotiko dig one day). Looks like she may be in possession of all the mod-cons.

Port Chaos on Paros at night

Finally, just a fun shot to see what it looks like when man, beast, car, scooter, articulated lorry and roll-on-roll-off ferry get together at a port. Lovely L and I wove our wheely-bags between this tooting and honking chaos as we disembarked the Blue Star ferry, the Patmos, on Paros. Of the 6,000 Greek islands, what was the chance that our ferry for this trip was named after the last island I visited, so long ago?

* I did enjoy being chauffeured about in Gino, with his cream paintwork and red leather seats, but we have gone even more eco-sensible these days and are now car-free, and Gino was put out to pasture.

Bats In The Belfry