Friday, March 10, 2017

MAMMON OR MILLENIAL EDEN



(dogs with federation pavilion)


"We demolish your houses, destroy your avenues, build hotels on your parks and zoos, flog your institutions, lock your bars, empty your streets of life, fill your burbs with motorways."



Elizabeth Farrelly's piece in the SMH today touched a nerve. Read it. She's genuine and heartfelt, and not bunging it on. I'm not saying she ever did, but there's something there, some end-point, that feeling that enough is enough and 'the point' is close if not reached. You really don't know you are at those moments till you are there, till something goes snap. SNAP.

I had a less than pleasant experience last week in Centennial Park. A bit of a snap experience. The park has been the subject of some criticism for its increasing privatisation of various parts, for varying periods of time, some regular (out door movies), some recurring (fun runs), some one offs, two offs, who knows what's next (film shoots). Plus film festivals, food fairs, garden shows, you name it, they've probably thought of it. Even camping or glamping is mooted. I bet the wildlife can't wait.

There's one area of the park which is especially dog friendly. It's the valley - Federation Valley -where the Federation Pavilion sits, a large sandstone edifice which all but totally overwhelms the sandstone plinth commemorating the union of the states therein. In years I don't think I've seen anyone inside (it's mostly gated and somewhat forbidding) looking at this memorial, which once sat in a bit of a rough paddock, surrounded by a steel picket fence, open to the elements.  But it did ask the question - who am I?

If you look at a map of the parklands, you can see why this doggy area is just that - a hugely popular doggy area.

(map 1 - overview)

Below is the detail of top-right of map 1, and shows the Federation Valley below the Moonlight Cinema area and surrounded by all the parking hullabaloo that goes with it  :


(map 2 - detail)

Now, dogs aren't allowed off-leash within what's called Grand Drive (the white circle in the top map) and for reasons of access (foot or car), topography (level and grassed, suitable for all ages, with good wide visibility), animal safety (a good distance from roads) and free of competing interests, this Federation Valley is essentially the only decent place for dogs and their owners to (both) socialise safely. It wasn't always to be. Park management went through a phase of wanting to ban dogs in the Valley, as hard as that is to believe. A public outcry, Rally for the Valley, eventually saw the public emerge the winner. 

But you wonder if there is still is some smouldering resentment. There's no poo-bag dispensers except for one, not infrequently empty, a steep climb was up yonder beyond the sandstone ridge (see map 2). Bins are scarce and roadside, for ease of emptying, not for ease or safety in disposing. 

And (slowly getting to the point) the Valley has been recently taken over for a film shoot (Peter Rabbit). For months, maybe 3 or 4 months if memory serves me well. The closed off area (it even had no photos notices splattered around at first) occupies the whole of the Valley but falls short of the Monument, effectively forcing dog users elsewhere, or around the Monument, and therefore much closer to the main road, cars, and bicycles. 



Note the "Centennial Parklands is proud to support the Australian film industry". They're not doing it for free - that's the whole point - and the subtext is a pretty strong:  if you have any problem with this, then you're not supporting the industry.

Anyway (very slowly getting to the point). recently there have been signs advising that there may be loud explosions from the set. Like loud explosions that could scare dogs, off leash dogs. Indeed they could. 

We arrived the other evening, and getting out of the car, with the dogs of course, were met by a pleasant woman from the shoot, warning that explosions were imminent. Thank you I said, quite calmly actually. It wasn't till I got down to the Valley and saw the dogs on the roadside side of the monument, with a ranger driving through them in a ute, that the prospect of a loud BANG and scattered dogs became quite real. I was worried for the puppy. Before I could gather myself, let alone the dogs, the ranger had arrived in the ute. 

"Are those lovely kelpies yours?"
"Yes, they are."
"Well, there ..."
"I know, the lady up the hill told me. And can I say I am really pissed off about it."

(Verbatim, continues)

"Dog owners are usually nice people. What happened to you?"

And off she sped, across the dog off-leash area, waiting-for-loud-explosion-to-panic-the-dogs area, leaving me wide mouthed.

SNAP. It was a snap moment. I was playing the ball. She had played the man. I phoned the Park management. He was polite and indulged me. But, as I unleashed about having used the park almost daily since the man walked on the man (when I had first moved into the immediate area - yes I was a University student, and now I'm old), and about my father born 1902 who had played in the quicksand, probably the swampy lands in the centre, and how I felt strongly about the park being a people's park, he eventually got a word in edgeways, and pointed out that no I wasn't paying anyones wages, that as a tax and rate payer I wasn't contributing to the Park, and that the Park actually got no funding from Government, none. From a Government not exactly short of a quid. He seemed rather proud of the fact. 

I was left to say : "So it isn't my Park. In fact I am a guest in your Park". To which he did not disagree. 

SNAP. My attachment was severed. I felt disenfranchised. I felt I knew something of what it was like to be disenfranchised. I felt I glimpsed some understanding of how people who are disenfranchised took action - at the ballot box, on the street. And moreover, the more I thought about it the clearer it became that apart from the dog issue, which will revert shortly to the status quo, at least until the next 'Proud to support the Film Industry' episode, there is simply nowhere in Centennial Park where there is guaranteed peace and solitude. Not like the great parks of the world - Regent's Park, the Vondelpark, the Tiergarten, even the heavily used Central Park in New York. 

I'm with you Elizabeth Farrelly. 

By the way, the inscription on the Federation Monument reads:

                                     MAMMON OR MILLENIAL EDEN





Wednesday, March 8, 2017

ONE MAN ONE PIANO





The air of excitement carried over the weekend. People were talking. Daniil Trifonov
was the hot ticket in town, and it was one night only. The full program is here.

Robert Schumann

Kinderszenen, Op 15
Toccata, Op 7
Kreisleriana - Fantasias, Op 16

Dmitri Shostakovich 

Selections from 24 preludes and fugues, Op 87
                           No. 4 in E Minor (a late addition)
No. 7 in A Major
No. 2 in A Minor
No. 5 in D Major
  No. 24 in D Minor

Igor Stravinsky

Three movements from Petrushka
Russian Dance
Petrushka's cell
The Shrovetide Fair

There was certainly only one piano, and no music, but there were many moments when that we were hearing one man with two hands playing only that one piano defied comprehension. Two hands can't do that. One brain can't concentrate and sustain that, whatever the cerebral memory, whatever the muscle memory, and ten fingers on two hands simply aren't enough. The physiology involved is staggering, even for peak physiology - he's 26 and one day.

The entrance was as brisk and the perfunctory bow as deep, but the posture was different now he was just him. The intensity still burned. Upright more, leaning back more, neck sometimes quite extended, eyes to the heavens - I could see them, white balls with irises unseen staring into the infinity. And as the evening progressed , so did the show. By the time we were at the Stravinsky, there were chair leaving leaps, and serious grand gestures. This was a mighty good show. 

To say anything about the concert is pretentious beyond belief. It's music I am not especially familiar with (but the Shostakovich is mine to get to know much better, much), and hey, I can barely play chopsticks. But I have thoughts, with the general sweeping comment that there was lots of forte from this pianoforte, but no lack of subtlety.

The Schumann Childhood Fantasies were a slowly evolving slow careful reflection of dreams and memories, a wonderful lesson in how music can say what words can't express. The Toccata that followed was as jaw-dropping an example of technical brilliance as I've ever heard. Or likely to hear again. There was a roar from the audience, a not especially good audience sadly, some late arrivals, some persistent coughs, and a damn mobile phone that waited till the final note of the last Fantasia to bring us back to earth with its vulgar melody. It earned a deserved rebuke from a vocal audience member. Not to mention those who at the end of the evening couldn't get out quick enough. Rudeness writ large.

The Shostakovich I enjoyed the most, and dedicate myself to exploring in depth. The final 24th had a finality and sonorous depth that the evening could well have stopped right there. But the circus was about to begin, and while circus is completely the wrong word in its superficiality, the showmanship of the Stravinsky was dazzling in the extreme. As I've said, words fail me. Except thank you. 





Monday, March 6, 2017

PROGRAM LIBRARY




                                                                         (2017)

This is worth a big shout out. HURRAH.

Yvonne has pointed out in comments in the preceding post that the SSO does have a program library dating back, as far as I can see, to 2012 inclusive.

Great news. Save the link : SSO Program Library.






Sunday, March 5, 2017

THE TROUBLE WITH





The only trouble with Siren Theatre Company's The Trouble With Harry was that it was nearly, so almost, trouble free, but just enough short of fully trouble-free to be a bit frustrating.

In a conscious effort to get to more theatre, and a conscious effort to support the Mardi Gras events, off we went. I knew little about the story, other than Harry wasn't a real Harry, and murder most foul was only the beginning of what scandalised Sydney in the 1920s. K knew nothing. The audience was very female skewed, and I happened to quip to one couple - "Bit of a girl night!" - which drew a quick retort - "then you'll fit right in dear" - and we roared with laughter and giggled about it sitting across the aisle from each other, she especially pleased with her quick wit. "Serves you right" said K.

On a spare set, so beautifully lit that I wish there were some visual records somewhere, with some stunning compositions and direction by Kate Gaul, with marvellous use of four simple curtains to define time, space, illusion, and mystery, the story of Harry Crawford from Lachlan Philpott's pen evolves in the lanes and pubs and poverty and struggle for survival and love in the rough guts of early 20th century Sydney. This was the Sydney of my parents formative years. It interests me a lot.

I loved what Mr Philpott wrote. I'd like to read it, and linger with it. The use of the 'Under Milkwood' like man and woman to describe the scenes, paint visual and acoustic pictures, play with emotions, echo (literally) the action, and spell gossip and innuendo in a poetic vernacular was at once much the core of the beauty of it while at the same time much the source of the trouble. I, and not alone I think, was missing too much. It flew past me too fast when I would really have liked to savour the words, let alone stay abreast of some details.

The full story I didn't grasp till I read the Herald's review (and what an amazing and heart breaking story) after the show.  I had a pretty good grasp on things, but K was struggling, and one woman we spoke with heading to the car park said she hated it because she didn't ever get to grips with the plot. Which is a big shame, because it was all there, the jig-saw falling into place. And yes, audiences have to pay attention - it's not play school - I know, but ...

Anyway, I'm reluctant to criticise. The cast I thought were wonderfully good, especially the difficult woman playing a woman playing a man of Jodie Le Visconte, Jane Phegan's brave but hapless wife, the wide-eyed innocence, not for long though, of Jonas Thompson's son, and the deeply disturbed daughter of Bobbie-Jean Henning. I was ultimately moved to tears.

The Seymour Centre was pretty brutally minimal. Maybe some lights swung outside? Gosh, even coloured ones? Or is this the new way of the world. Anyway, it's a good theatre space, the small one downstairs. Heads up to Siren. Ham Funeral next.






A GOOD START


(because I like it)


The Sydney Symphony Orchestra season doesn't seem to have an 'Opening Galah' anymore, which I assume has something to do with David Robertson's time schedule. But the early season gala with Vengerov was a very fine start to the year. The concert programme is no longer available on-line (hate that) ~ Brahms Violin Concerto followed by Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony, Vengerov soloist, David Robertson conducting.

Limelight review is here. It was that good. He is technically astounding, no news there. I (also) went to a rehearsal and sat close, really close, though he didn't play his cadenza, a very showy affair, saving it up. Unexpectedly, I think I enjoyed the Tchaikovsky even more, which is a pretty silly thing to say, considering. But it was the surprise element that caught me and swept me up and along. The cellos and violas have swapped places, the horns are bunched and not linear, and the orchestral sound is very good and solid. Like the Germans K mused, even.

The 5th is Tchaikovsky dealing with life's cards, the homosexual ones presumably. Robertson kept too much sentimentalism at bay, and while not matter of fact either, there was a truthfulness about the presentation that I found moving, a progression to resolution and acceptance. And Ben Jack's noble horn solos finally put that damn cigarette ad to rest, praise the lord.

But wait, there's more.


There's fame-preceding-him Daniil Trifonov himself, with much excitement all round. And also for the first time the elegant young Spanish conductor ex-percussionist Gustavo Gimeno, an Abbado protégé, conducting big stuff in Europe, Nth America and Japan, and what's more, moving into opera.  I like Spaniards.

The programme was Young Russians (I hope that links lasts; there's some good reading) : Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, Op. 25; Rachmaninoff''s Piano Concerto No 1, Op. 1; Shostakovich Symphony No 1, Op.10.




Well, words fails me. He's cool, but incredibly likeable. The intensity of his relationship to the music, at whose service he is alone at, and the instrument is amazing. I was thinking if I closed my eyes when I reopened them he wouldn't be there, but instead morphed into a man-piano fantasy. He's incredibly intense; did I say that? He doesn't play the piano, as say Bronfman plays the piano, he becomes the piano; did I say that? The posture is strongly hunched, head so close to the keys as if there's a current between them, pulling him closer, till a wonderful arch of arm and hand, musically driven of course, eases him back and his body opens forth, as if letting doves fly into the heavens. I was, quite frankly, bewitched.

There's much written about him, not the least by Alex Ross here.

Gustavo Gimeno is a very welcome addition to the roster, may he return soon. The Prokofiev was most elegant and restrained, eschewing showy exaggeration. And the Shostakovich I thought wonderfully delivered. The thing with Shostakovich for me is it really needs to be heard live. It's such an immersive experience., the textures, details, and dimensions easily blurred but thrilling when fully realised. Here we had this amazing cauldron of ideas, bubbling away, with little spurts of the future flashing out, fleshed out, and I want to go back but I can't.

But I can go to Wunderkinde's recital on Monday.





Thursday, February 16, 2017

R & R




By the time we reached Dong Hoi I was feeling a bit drained. I thought it was probably that on top of the long drive (which is anything but relaxing when you still can't help thinking everything and everyone on the road will eventually run into you), I would really have liked to have stayed in Hue

Actually, all of the above, plus I was coming down with a cold.

Dong Hoi is another city where the river(s) open and empty into the sea. The whole extended coast of Vietnam is shaping up in my mind like this, with these massive rivers flowing out of Cambodia and Laos. The area reminded me if anything of the central coast of New South Wales - emerging out of slow development because of isolation and a lower capital base, but blessed with wonderful natural resources like lakes, inlets and outlets, and stunning beaches. There's a brightly painted fleet of squid trawler boats which putter out at night and whose bright spot lights dance about in the black sea.

We were meant to be doing the going-up-the-river-thing and into some caves - UNESCO ones I think. But I couldn't muster up the energy.

Some rest and sleep was on the agenda, Hanoi was on the horizon, and this did just fine:




Monday, February 13, 2017

DMZ II - THE TUNNELS




It's a few Kms drive (east nor east toward the coast) from the bridge over the Ban Hai river through lush and beautifully managed farm land to reach the incredible Vinh Moc tunnel complex.

It's gorgeous country - well sealed heavy clay roads criss-crossing their way through fields of corn, pepper trees, rubber tress, grazing stock - roadside houses with open street frontages doubling up for business - food, repairs, mechanics - children on bicycles, scooters loaded up or pulling wooden carts, a pagoda here, incense at a shrine there, yellow stars on red flags against the lush dense green, and very little tourist traffic. And brilliant telecommunications, as usual.

(pepper)




(rubber)

There's our car at the rear, silver, where we shared water and (pho) chicken noodle soup, add you own spices to taste, with a gentle Dutch couple. 


The tunnels are very well organised for visitors - a large visitor centre, a row of street sellers to run the gauntlet though but where buying a bottle of water gets you a loan of a torch, and not far past the ticket box we bump into a small tour group whose guide readily invites us to join.


Her father, she would later tell us, had been born in the tunnels and spent the first six years of his life there - in a tunnel complex dug by hand by a whole community desperate to survive the increasingly heavy American bombing - 9,000 tons of it - from raid after raid of B52s (a word they well know). 

Two kilometres of tunnels - living, sleeping, cooking (smoke was diffused through chimneys to not be a give away), maternity, meeting rooms ~ existence.


Above ground the whole ares is riddled with shallow trenches (are the Vietnamese the shortest people in the world) for moving about unseen, and dotted wth big bomb craters.



And bombs. No shortage of bombs.

                                                          (person for size reference)


And in a jolt back to normality, there's this charming house just a few metres away.


The entrances are well restored, well, over-restored, and there's occasional light globes along the way, but you still need that borrowed torch, or the light from your phone. I could only occasionally stand up, and it was a matter of just following the person in front, crouched, down steps, up steps, around corners, glancing sideways into a narrow room from time to time, the heat building up, and the claustrophobia getting a bit unpleasant. 



At last, eventually, thank god, there is a god, finally we emerged. At the South China Sea!


Relief was short-lived. Back up again, in we all went, sweating and stooped, till eventually, finally, at last, why didn't someone warn me, we climbed out of entrance 5, very near the complex entrance.



There were 140 networks in the region. They lived like this for six years. Six B52 years.



THE DMZ




Whatever I expected the Vietnamese Demilitarised Zone to look like, I wasn't what I should have - namely the simplicity of wide flat river banks and two bridges - an old one and a new one - in a completely unremarkable landscape except for a high flying national flag.

There's much to said here and I'm not up for a fraction let alone the half of it. Let's go back to the 17th C and a French Jesuit, one Alexandre de Rhodes, credited with establishing Christianity in Vietnam after the Portuguese did a little prepping. There's a concrete sore thumb cathedral in Hanoi (where I am now, jotting this down), another one in Saigon, but not much else left, as far as I can see, except for a lot dead bodies. Vietnam is today one of the least religious countries in Asia, the majority practice some form of naturalistic religious belief or subscribe to Buddhist ideas. Of Vietnam's (probable) 100 million, perhaps 8% are Christian.

Jump forward a few centuries of Indochinese colonialism to 1954 and partition. The French are gone, and the Americans are around. The Geneva Convention of July 21, 1954 recognised the 17th parallel as a "provisional military demarcation line" temporarily separating the country into the Communist north under Ho Chi Minh, and the pro-Western south under Boa Dai, the tail end of the Vietnamese imperial house.

Here's Boa Dai again from the gallery in the Hue Citadel.


And the signing of the Geneva Agreement:

                                                               (from the dmz museum)

The 17th parallel approximated where the Ben Hai river enters the South China Sea and so a demarcation line became geographically a Demilitarised Zone some 5 Kms either side of the Ben Hai river along its course to the border with Loas.

This whole area has loomed large in my imagination, infamy to which I might well have been exposed in my adult life I suppose. We approached from the south on Highway 1 just a few Kms in from the coast, after a few hours drive from Hue.

There's the high raised flag, the river flats, the river, a new concrete road bridge from where the occasional truck would honk when they saw me taking a photo, and the old bridge. A bizarre looking communist-style (whatever that means) edifice was oddly placed alongside a side canal.



And there was no one there. No one. Our guide (we had a guide and driver) let us out to walk across to the 'North'. Actually you needed tickets which he would buy on the other side, where there was an unmanned small museum, a rough roadside rest stop with a mangy dog and nothing you'd want to buy except water, and a ticket seller. And of course the flag pole reaching high from a massive concrete base next to what I was told was the house where the Americans would hold meetings with the North Vietnamese. It looked like it was built yesterday.

No sooner had I got there than reality set in. It was cold and brutal on a hot sunny day.


(facing north with the new bridge is on the left)

A man in a boat smiles, and waves. (OK, I waved first.)


Turning to look behind, back into the south, the perspective you are meant to see and feel is revealed.


And now you can make out the arch to the glorious north, the museum on the right and the flag pole and adjoining meeting house on the left, across the highway.


We wandered about a little - surely this was safe from the 'don't leave unmarked trails because of unexploded material' warnings. Still standing was a huge band of loud speakers for blasting propaganda south across the river.


And of which they were mighty proud - one stood either side of the museum entrance, lest you forget.


The museum was a museum to war, to victory and reunion, the entrance dominated by another statue of Ho Chi Minh of which there seemed no shortage in the south, but this would be the last one I would see. The north has him.

(the bridge in 1961)

                                                                             (a young guerrilla fighter)

(us troops fleeing)

(reunification)

And of particular significance, an operating table made from pieces of downed American aircraft - a more sobering and shockingly affecting relic I couldn't imagine, its stories of survival or death long washed away.




(as usual, clicking to enlarge gives better detail and the option to scroll through the pics)

Friday, February 10, 2017

ON THE ROAD AGAIN




We're off again, heading up Highway 1 from Hue toward the Demilitarised Zone. It's not as frantic as down south around Saigon perhaps because it just isn't, or maybe the New Lunar Madness has settled.

I told you there were water buffalo not in the water, and not all of them have keepers with sticks.