Saturday, January 31, 2009

Around the World in 80 Books

Well, I'm still travelling.

You might have seen my previous posts, in which I decided to hop on the idea of the good folks at The Penguin Blog, and head around the world in 80 books.

Three stops, and I've already proven a few things to myself:
1. I'm not so hot at going in a straight line.
2. I'd better have a good budget for this trip, because I seem to be indulging in a lot of trans-Atlantic travel.
3. I'm keeping pace with the Penguin blogger, but I'm off in a totally different direction.

So, what happened?

Well, after France, I'd had enough of the rain, the misery and the dead bodies everywhere (Simenon's Sixth Omnibus). So I headed straight for Italy, and for the cooking of the northern regions.

Second stop: Italy, of course!
Book: Regional Foods of Northern Italy, by Marlena de Blasi

Even though I am a cookbook nut, and adore to cook, this time I decided that I was going to sit down and read the entire cookbook, cover to cover. Ingredients, directions, notes. I'd like to say I managed it, but that would be a lie. I came pretty close, but some recipes just didn't take my fancy, and so, after reading the ingredients, I let myself move on.

Conclusions as a traveller:
Stock up on pancetta, and invite a few friends around. There's lots!

And after our lovely time in Northern Italy in mid-2008, I can imagine the landscape, picture the towns, and almost smell the markets.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Hot, hot, hot, hot...

'Pic supplied'

That's four days above 40 degrees C (104F), with an overnight drop to just under 30 (86F). Normal for lots of places of course, but not normal for Melbourne. Looking forward to a 'mere' 36 (97F) tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gonna be HOT

Australia Day was sunny, late 20s (80F). Today and the rest of the week is forecast between 30 - 40. (86 - 104F) which isn't funny.

Two views from the Carlton Gardens behind the Melbourne Museum by Bev.

One of the great things about Melbourne is that the weather's always changing - the joke goes, if you don't like it, come back in a minute or two. This factor becomes critical when house construction is considered. We have a brick terrace house, which is slow to heat up. Wooden construction houses heat up much quicker, and also cool down quicker. The problem is if your house gets hot, which takes two or three days at 30+, it stays hot for quite a while. Of course we have air conditioning, but we don't use it any more than we have to. But aircon is really critical in our car. When you open the car door, the heat coming out could probably power quite a large town.

No-one on the streets when the mercury's up. Talbot, Vic.

Of course that's minor. Djokocvic (who could only be a tennis player with a name like that) was 'forced' out of the Australian Open today. Anyone even trying to play tennis at 36C+ is really looking for trouble. Even walking the dog is done at a slow pace.

And even that's trivial too. In the countryside the State Emergency Services (SES) are on full allert and the fire danger is 'Extreme'. As long as the winds stay low, they've got a chance. The streets might look like a wild west ghost-town in the sun, but it's all too possible for the homesteads to be burnt out - just like that.

The old Hotel's not looking good.

There's no cloud on the horizon, and that's bad. Melbourne's dams are at only 33.5% full (or 66.5% empty is more the point) - the best in the state at the best they're going to get.

In most of Europe an North America, winter's the killing season, with summer the fecund time. In Australia, summer's the killing time, when everyone keeps out of the heat and prays for rain. The native plants and animals shut up shop, coming out at night and growing in the winter's cooler, wetter weather. It really is a different country.

Of course there's an up side. Bev comes in with...

...fresh, warm, tomatoes from the garden. Must be dinnertime.


PS: it got to 43.4C (110F) in Melbourne today, Wednesday.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A great Australia Day out

Today was a very special day. Thanks to the huge array of great things there are to do in Australia (and particularly Melbourne) on Australia Day, we were able to sample a free couple.

First stop was the RACV Australia Day Picnic and Federation Vehicle Display. What that means is something in the order of 500 cars, bikes and trucks of all kinds back to the earliest days.

The bling alone is something else.
Once, car makers put out Art Deco design for the masses. Even the door handles were attractive grace-notes.
Even sometimes outclassing the sculpture. The Picnic is in the Kings Domain Gardens, a great venue.
My friend Brad's Merc (a topic we will return to in a later post). We stopped for a bite with Brad and Kistin and their friends, under a tree on the grass and watched the passing scene.

Self-portrait in a wing mirror.

And a terrific shot by Bev.

Fred Flinstone minds the dash of an Austin aesthetic.

While the kids and families had a blast. There is an adult in the Canadian Military Pattern truck, we think! (We saw so many cool cars and stuff we'll be returning to this in a later post or two. This is just a taster.)

That wasn't all. There was a RACV/AFA 'Flyball' competition which Bev particularly enjoyed. As Bev's photo shows, the lady's top says, 'we have hot dogs' Some of the little guys (one Jack Russell just launched) lapped the bigger ones.

We'd noted that there was a tall ships gathering on the other side of the bay at Williamstown. So we thought; "why not?" and decided to cruise across and have a look. We were very glad we did.

There was Melbourne's own Enterprize replica, built here as a copy of the first ship to settle the area.

And visiting was the 1903 Alma Doepel, which has moved to Melbourne from Port Macquarie for a major refit at Docklands over the next year or two. I think we'll be seeing a bit more of her.

Meanwhile a young lass was having a great time zooming about on the water. Here she is just having tacked.

We had great weather, warm, nice breeze, beautiful sun, and just perfect conditions. We got home tired and happy. This is the life.

It was a grand day out.


(PS: For those that know their flags, you may have noticed they weren't the usual suspects. The flag in the heading photo is the Royal Australian Navy Ensign, flown from Young Endeavour. And the centre flag on Enterprize in the last photo is the flag of Victoria, not Australia.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hello-Bonjour Zach!

The clan increases.

Bev's sister Tam has had her boy Zachary James safely, and both mother and baby are doing well, and back at home with grandmother and grandfather. Bev's now an Auntie by blood, which sounds rather Dracula!

Of course, thanks to the wonders of the interweb and some newish equipment, we were able to use Skype for a videoconference. How 2001 A Space Odyssey, eh?

Unfortunately, due to some careless backlighting it all rather looked like a ransom demand, crossed with Munch's 'The Scream' particularly when Zach yawned mightily, and gathered a worried look from the new mum. (The little mite didn't really scream, of course.)

Bev's threatened to sketch up Zach's view later...

PS: (And, lifted from Bev's blog here, This is a photo of her Great-Grandmother holding her Grandmother. In 1915. Don't they look gorgeous?)

Congratulations! (Félicitations!) to all.

The sinister hand of power.

On January 23rd, the new American President, Barack Obama, signed the order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, ending one of the most appalling blots on a democratic country's history.

But what I immediately noticed in the above photographs is that a man - who is usually regarded as the most powerful in the world - is a member of a minority group regularly and routinely discriminated against, and subjected to second rate education, among other difficulties. No, not that he's black.

He's left handed.

That's 'sinister' (from 'Sinistrus' - Latin, left) 'cack handed', a 'southpaw', and so on and worse.

You thought the 'sinister' in the title had quite a different meaning, didn't you?

That's part of the left-hander's problems.

More interestingly for a man who received a 'good' education, going on to practice law, this photograph shows that at an early age his school failed him.

No-one taught the future President how to hold a pen properly. He has the classic 'crippled crab' of the left-hander trying to avoid smudging his ink because he was taught a right hand grip on his pen.

There's lots of study (and rubbish) written about left handedness from the erliest days when they were regarded as the devil's children, to today where they might have an advantage on the cricket field or in the arts, but from the right-hander's pocket in a man's jacket to scissors the world is set against us. Left-handers are regarded as 'more clumsy' and 'die younger' on average (66 rather than 75) because they are more prone to accidents. Using tools which are designed for someone else is quite a big bit of the explanation.

But then, the Chinese regard all western writing as incredibly cramped and restricted, their brushmanship requiring free fingers, wrist, elbow and shoulder for control. And those writing right-to-left operate in a different world on many levels.

Any left hander will know of the many minor problems we face, and that this isn't even a news item about the President's background is no surprise.

But then this minority group (7-10% est) has had quite the run in power. The only right-handed US Presidents since 1974 are G W Bush and J Carter. That's quite the minority's achievement.

It's probably not important.

But I think it's interesting.

I'm left handed.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

M&J's 'New' Gaff

Our good friends Meghan and Julian recently had their house extension completed, and it was a great honour to be invited over for the first big meal after it was all done. As ever, there was a bit of heartache along the way, but it seemed to us that it all went very smoothly overall, particularly with the work they'd done before in research and choosing stuff. Here's a few pics to celebrate the new house bit.

The view from the sofa - taken by James, of course...

Upstairs is a new bedroom (there wasn't an upstairs at all, before).

Ingredients. We ate well, as ever at Meghan's, but a happy cook with a new kitchen... a joyous sight. (And one to hang around, because the grub's good too.)

While the girls chat in the kitchen,

The boys do 'boy talk' by the computer.

And dinner was excellent, of course.


Monday, January 19, 2009

A wedding you couldn't refuse

As we walked through Fitzroy Gardens (a popular venue for open air weddings) one wedding to be was re-embarking. Probably Italian-Australian, the suits and cars looked rather like someone was made an offer they couldn't refuse.

Welcome to the family, Guido.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The scene: France, 1950s

I thought it was time for an update on my quest to read my way around the world.

In case you're wondering, I'm still in France. I did mention that the Simenon that I was reading is an omnibus, right? So I'm on the second novella of three.

It's still raining, and there's still a lot of booze going down.

Luckily - I suppose, (though that could be debated) - most of the meteorological and spirit-ual activity is on the page. Here in Melbourne, it's been windy and dry, and suddenly hotter than French Algeria (as I believe it to be). On crowded, hot trains -- that is, when they are not cancelled -- I read of the infidelities and petty lives of Parisian characters. (It's almost better when they are cancelled, because then I read on train platforms and can make believe I'm in a nice park somewhere, and that I'm not going to be late for work again.) There is much sleeping around, mentioned in off-hand manner. Murders happen. People get desperate, and depressed. Maigret goes home for lunch. (Madame Maigret is unflappable, as ever. I'm sure her tailoring is immaculate. Black and white; Eau de Nil.)

In Melbourne it's hot; but in Paris it still rains.

I still haven't decided where to go next, and although I wanted it not to be England (too predictable), I'm flirting with a lovely new book just arrived from Margo -- a book of maps and memoires and the countryside of the Cotswold. It's cheeky and cute - just what you want in a flirt. But there's a hint of more intelligence on closer acquaintance.

Will it be -?

We'll see. Maybe the weather will change.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Last take off to Skies Unlimited

Australian Aviatrix Nancy-Bird Walton AO, OBE died today, aged 93. It is impossible to list her achievements; suffice it to say that she learned to fly at the age of 19, in a culture which discouraged and disparaged women from such things; that she gained a commercial licence, and used it, no easy feat, and again, a thing women of the time weren't supposed to do - they were "biologically unsuited".

And she was rightly proud to have never crashed a 'plane, although flying in an era when accidents were part of a normal day, and in bush flying, a tough environment. She would, I'm sure, be proud to be always remembered in all accounts as 'a lady'.

She founded the Far West Children's Health Scheme, flying where even the Flying Doctors didn't go. In 1950 she founded the Australian Women Pilots' Association, whose motto was 'skies unlimited'.

More here on the Hargraves site, and the ABC obituary.

Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) chief executive Nigel Milan said Ms Walton carried out some of the first medical evacuations in regional NSW.

"Nancy was one of a kind," he said.

Mr Milan said Ms Walton undertook one of the first air ambulance missions when she flew a medical evacuation in 1938 for a premature baby, Jack Stanmore, who had just been born at the Ivanhoe Hospital, in NSW's far west.

"Jack only weighed 1.5 kilograms and was not expected to live and the fledging Ivanhoe Hospital didn't have equipment to treat a delicate premature baby with breathing difficulties," he said.

"In April last year, Jack and his wife Ellie travelled from Dubbo to be reunited with Nancy at her Neutral Bay retirement home, and introduced her to their grandchildren, as part of the (RFDS) 80th anniversary celebrations."

From The Age.

It is an honour for Qantas to be allowed to have named their first Airbus A380 after her.

Rightly, she has been (and will continue to be) an inspiration for aviators everywhere, but particularly in her home country.

As is often said, we shan't see her like again.

Pic by 'Cloud Basher' from the Wabirdz forum. Heading photo of a 1930 promotional badge.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Round the world again...

Well folks, I'm off. Round the world again, wandering from country to country and checking out the sights.

'What?' you say, 'So soon?'

Sure! I'm taking up the reading challenge on the Penguin Blog: Round the World in Eighty Books. Sam the Copywriter intends to read from country to country around the world, without leaving home. It's inspired me, and I'm off on my own journey.

Here's a quote from Sam about the rules he's made for himself:
1. I can travel only between countries that share a border, or are either side of a body of water that needs crossing. Thus, I could go England-France-Spain-Portugal-Morocco-USA, but not Japan-Mongolia-Finland. I'm sorry if you could all work that out that without having to refer to a map - geography is unfortunately my Achilleus' heel.

2. The suggested book can be set in the country, set in one city of that country, or even set in space but by a famous author from that country. Translations get bonus points, but not if they are so complex that my eyes start revolting [-or is that 'revolving'? - B]. And I'd prefer fiction, but if pushed will do the odd non-fiction.

3. Hopefully that's it. More rules may appear should I find the current ones make this as much effort as stressful real travel.

Check out the full post on the Penguin Blog for the fabulous first instalment: "The marshes, and London, England".

Are you tempted to play along? I think I will! I may make my own rules, or follow lines of conquest and colonisation, but the idea is great, and I need to break out of a reading rut.

So, last night's book is as good a starting point as any:

First stop: Paris -- with Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret.

Book: The Sixth Omnibus: Maigret and the Wine Merchant
(My edition is published by Penguin, 1972.)

Ross introduced me to the sheer variety of Maigret novels, and I read several of his copies when we were in Halifax in July. So when I hit the buy-sell-trade bookshop last week, BookTalk Cafe, and I saw a row of Simenon novels on the shelf, I knew that some of them would make up an essential part of my trade for the day.

I picked up two Omnibuses and a single title. They're wonderful light reading, and I'm enjoying Paris.

Conclusions as a traveller:
Invest in a bottle of Cognac and a warm overcoat.

Where am I going next?
I'm not sure! From France, according to the rules, I can go to Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland or Belgium - or I can cross the Channel to the UK, or hop a ship into Northern Africa. I would even let myself visit any of the former French colonies. Suggestions welcome!
Stay tuned for postcards.


PS. James says he can go all the way around the world reading only Biggles books. Bah.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

All the best for 2009

Hope it's a toothsome time.

Time for coffee & cake

It's not every year you can say you've had coffee and cake in seven countries, and while that may not be the most exciting claim for our 2008, it was certainly a satisfying one.

In Urbania, Italy.

With Max in Patisserie Valerie, South Kensington, one of James' favourite haunts:
Where they do cake with a capital K!

Tea in the Lake District, in a Swallows & Amazons house.

Of course when it comes to Kake, you can't beat the Germans...

In the Munich Art Gallery. They talk my language; 'LARGE cup of tea'. (But I had another cappuccino.) And we fought over a Kasetorte mit Sauerkirschen. (It was somewhere between 'Wunderbar' and 'zuper'.)

And then, of course, there's the Monmouth Coffee Co, mentioned in an earlier post...
Breakfast in Denmark.
A decent coffee in Paris (remarkably hard to find; but then we had just left Italy).
Can't go wrong in Melbourne. Bev's café Stax, or Cafe 16 near her old work:

And the café at the art-deco (revived) Balwyn cinema, during the Italian Film Festival. A great place to while away an hour or two when you get the clock-change wrong.

But there's nothing to beat home-made scones, at home.

I'm with Marie A here...