Tuesday, December 27, 2011


On Christmas eve we had a drink with J (J was the first letter in this blog) and D in their old sandstone house in North Sydney. The garden is wonderful, a wild mix of natives and exotics. What was completely captivating was a small stand of huge, almost mutant, sunflowers. They stood about two and a half to three metres, reaching up to the sky, like satellite dishes.

There was no way I could get level with them to peer into their round yellow faces, which is what I wanted to do. I love them. But they're not for picking. The only time I bought some was when we did the church for Dad's funeral. We tried for as many of the flowers he grew and so in amongst the more traditional Sydney suburban flowers, arranged with a free range looseness he always did (and he always did the house flowers; Mum would be the one who collected a single bloom of whatever for each place at the table, on occasions, like Christmas, or when visitors came) were some bright yellow sunflowers which he used to grow in the country garden into which I was born and first got dirt under my nails and the smell of wet earth in my nostrils.

Funny how it all came flooding back, not the flower so much as the context, the backyard-ness of it. Not even in France, well especially not in France, were such memories stirred.

On Boxing day we popped into Jy's for coffee and to meet her new grandson. Jy was the birthday girl on Lord Howe Island. Bursting out in her inner city little backyard was this brilliant flowering grafted west coast gum, a Corymbia ficifolia I think, a fabulous explosion of drag queen pink.

Thanks to Mr Apple and the i-phone, that's a camera in my pocket.

Friday, December 23, 2011


You have to be quick. The moment I step outside, the Rosellas are off, Crimson Rosellas mostly, squatting on their stumpy little legs, beaking out grass roots with no interest in grubs or worms. The Eastern Rosella is less common and altogether more discrete, with softer colours of greens and pale yellows; none of that flashy red and blue. I've yet to see one on the ground - it's usually a swooping fly-past and gone into the trees.

(Crimson Rosella with grass root)

Harder to catch is the English Black Bird. At first glance he could be confused with the Blue Satin Bower Bird, but the latter has a gorgeous lilac eye ring, while the Black Bird's is distinctly yellow.

Perhaps he still feels an intruder and is ever wary, for he's never still, not for more than a second (unlike the parrots which stay at the food source until disturbed) and is forever darting around. He even seems to know he's being watched from inside - looking, skipping away, turning back, a sudden change in direction, watching, off again. He like grubs, nice fleshy ones.

The especially handsome King Parrot, as we saw yesterday, is a seed berry guy, and considerably more photo-friendly. A poser in fact.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Polly came today. I was talking on my mobile phone on the verandah when he just flew in. And all alone too. The King-Parrots often, or rather mostly, pop around in pairs or threes, as as such, when one gets spooked, off they all wing. I sometimes wonder if this is some diversion game as not infrequently one or two will return shortly and while I can't be sure, I do wonder if the pecking order has been changed.

Anyway, there he was, sitting directly in front of me, and in a eye-to-eye exchange served notice that he expected food.

The dog, as we'll see soon, happened to be inside and confidence and trust was running high outside. I should say these parrots are the most forthcoming of them all, usually ping-pinging their way from tree to tree approaching the house, then settling close by waiting, and waiting, expectantly. This beautiful thing came sound unheard.

I think preemptive feeding of native animals is a bit of a selfish indulgence, risking upsetting the natural order of things, the food chain. So you'll find lots here providing an abundance in the local diet - wattles for seed, grasses for grubs and beetles, lilies for berries. These days, with the wattle in seed and the grass moist from constant drizzle there's lots of Gang-gangs , Rozellas, Whip birds, Blue Satinn Bower Birds, Grey shrike-thrush, Robins, Willie Wag-tails, and most visible of all - the common (English) Black Bird, with a soft limpid song at complete odds to the calls and shreaks of the true locals.

Anyway, today it was Polly, up close. I confess I do just happen to have a box of seed in the pantry for just such a special occasion. I ducked inside for a small handful of seed (not too much), the camera, and a stern word to the dog.

I deliberately kept my portion small, and sure enough, when done he went straight on to the berries of the seeding Dianella caerulea (native blueberry lilly) spilling over the verandah's edge.

Meanwhile, you-know-who was sitting patiently inside salivating pools onto the floor.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Sydney's summer (and Bill Gates vacation) has been ambushed by the Girl-Child. It's generally cool, cloudy, and wet, despite the few days of dazzling blue sky, which only reinforce what we're not having. I've had one swim only so far, and not one showing of the body-less-beautiful at the beach. Never mind.

So it's all rather indoorsy. There is the not to be overlooked blockbuster at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the 'entire' contents of the Musée Picasso, Paris (closed for renovation) and certainly more than I've managed to see on repeated visits to same. 150 works are superbly displayed, and yet again, one visit is not enough. It's strange to see them dislocated from their more natural ambiance. It makes them even more arresting. I was pretty much drained after two hours, which is about my gallery limit at this level of intensity, and still one room to go.

Here's the about to retire, sadly, Edmond Capon doing a bit of publicity and giving some of his thoughts on the man and his work.

Bookings are heavy. Book in advance.

Not so far away, tucked among the gentrified Victorian terraces of Paddington is the Sherman Contempory Art Foundation founded by Brian Sherman whose son Emile was, you may remember, the producer of The King's Speech.

In this one room there was to be found, until the weekend just past, a deceptively simple installation by Tokujin Yoshioka: Waterfall. In an unintended diversion on the way to the greengrocer, shoes covered with paper slip-ons, I heard myself make a little gasp when I walked in, totally taken aback by the simplicity and beauty and silence - a quantum change from the just outside bustling.

With thousands of straws, Tokujin Yoshioka fills the room with the appearance of billowing soft clouds of transparent water particles, to walk though and sit amongst, in tribute to the greatness of nature and the beauty in that greatness.

Tokujin Yoshioka's world is here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Gross und Klein (Botho Strauss, 1978, Berlin) is nothing if not a 'star vehicle' and in Cate Blanchett it has a very starry star indeed. And incredibly, she's on stage for something like three hours each performance, then home to three children, eight times a week, week after week, while co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company as well. I am in awe.

She seems so hardworking, so sensible, so balanced and yet so naturally glamorous that affectation never blips on the radar, and most of all, she is possessed of this extraordinary talent to assume a character in such a seamless almost mysterious way that the art and craft of her craft and art dissolve. It is a thing of beauty. This is a beautiful performance, far more so for me than the last time I saw her, in a much acclaimed but less convincing (for me) Blanche in Streetcar. Not that she wasn't good. She's always good.

Perhaps it's the language (translation and adaptation by Martin Crimp) with mixed vernacular and straight text laced with German names and ultimately a universal voice for a universal dilemma - the search for meaning and truth in the banality of the everyday. Perhaps it's the character, a disconnected Lotte, in a disconnected city is a disconnected world, who finds no meaning in the meaningless of existence and therein some salvation. As dysfunctional as she first seems, it is she who ultimately sees that the insanity is not within her but around here.

I was not ever less than riveted, and sometimes overcome, as in the final scene, where Lotte, hunched perfectly still, almost transparent, out-of-body for a time, now a spirit (Cate does transparent better than anyone, ever - helped by Nick Schlieper's lighting and Johannes Schütz's set design which are just stunningly effective) as the characters of her world sit motionless alongside her, each chillingly called offstage by name through a cold soulless intercom, as if to execution, none returning. When the doctor (for we are in fact in his waiting room) finding her when he imagined his day was done enquires as to her purpose, she closes the play (almost) with:

"I'm just here. There's nothing wrong with me"

That I could be so wise.

It is not to everyone's taste. One hears things like 'well I just didn't understand it, and we didn't go back after interval" That's the whole point surely. Tell me anyone who understands this thing called existence and I'll show you a very advanced spirit. There has been some criticism of the director (Benedict Andrews for an unable-to-travel Luc Bondy) but that is beyond my level of theatrical maturity. I just found it profound and true to my sensibilities.

I was on the phone first thing next morning and scored two returns for this week. To hear the text, to be transfixed by Cate B again, as for example in the mesmerising moment when the black stage holds nothing but a metallic phone box (lit from within with Lotte dialling haplessly out) starts to slowly rotate and drift, that incredible face and body shape of Cate Blanchett, revolving around before us, now visible now not, drifting away, in a scene that took me right back to that moment in Kubrick's 2001 where the astronaut is cut adrift in space and spins out of control in a fusion of complete horror and incredible beauty.

This 'production' will be reprised in London next year as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad (oxymoronic to some I know). I wonder if Luc Bondy will be re-involved.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I've just discovered this. If ever you've wondered what the fuss was all about, wonder no longer. Heavens knows where this is from, cos the heavens are the source. It is early Joan, peak Joan, perfect Joan, unsurpassed Joan. How often is stunning bandied around? Well, even for an old Joan diehard like me, this is completely amazing, technically incredible, crisp diction, infused with emotion, and with her trademark brilliant shining top.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


(source: via the australian)

The SSO's concert year ended with the lively and idiomatic Osmo Vänskä at the helm. I can't remember having seen him before (this being his third visit) but on Friday's showing I'm sure I haven't. He's most memorable. And he happens to be my Sibelius man of choice - Finnish that he is - someone who knows his way around that place, that garden, that house and that soul.

"What secrets of musical emotion does Vänskä possess?" asks a moist eyed Alex Ross. I'm the least to be able to contribute to that question, but whatever he is open to, however he hears a work, he knows how to take the orchestra, and thence us, with him. Thankfully. And it unlikely you've been there before. (I've just given myself this little present for Christmas which fills in a few small holes in my Osmo collection.)

As it was on Friday night - somewhere I'd not been before I mean. The Tchaikovsky Symphonic Ballad, the turbulent disturbing Voyevoda was a first hearing, as was the Prokofiev Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra, with a dazzling debut by the American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and moreover, as was the Eroica, Osmo Vänskä's Erioca that is. It was (cliche warning) like hearing it for the first time. The Allegro con brio was very brio, a startlingly cracking pace to launch this very personal and very satisfying look at an old warhorse, with extraordinary use of dynamics and a perfectly balanced sound shining new light here, there, everywhere. The critics enthuse here and here.

The orchestra has moved into marketing mode for the end of the year and the end of its Mahlerfest. This promo is worth watching just for the much loved Diana Doherty's wide-eyed take on Mahler and Mr Ashkenazy - the 'little duracell bunny'. And, yes, I'm a buyer.

Yet, there's another recording I'd really love - the three new works Osmo Vänskä introduced me to on Friday night, as I think would many in the full hall (its tourist time in town). If only.