I went to two weddings on the weekend and, despite discovering an intense need for a photography course and a new lense, I snapped away merrily. Of the 300, here are eight that are relatively passable. And yes I do have a thing for the contrast of the bride’s dress in black and white.
Road trips are one of life’s little pleasures. They’re travel without the hassle of check-ins and departure times and airplane breakfasts. They’re wind-in-your-hair, music-turned-up-loud, junk food-snacking snapshots of fun and freedom. I’ve decided that this summer I will go on more road trips – to anywhere at any time. If a weekend is free, then the bag is going in the boot and the girls are being called.
With road trips, there are two rules. A) embrace spontaneity and B) go with the flow. Book your motel room, fill up the tank and see where the wind takes you.
But do keep in mind these key ingredients. They’ll make the trip even better …
Solo road trips are a little lonely and ever so scary and there’s no one to sing with. There’s also no one to commiserate with, should a flat tyre get in the way and, whilst going solo is the ultimate in soul searching style, for a real road trip, you need the kids in the back and the DJ in the front.
Mix-CD (although mix-tape sounds so much cooler so feel free to refer to it as a mix tape.)
Music is to a road trip what salt is to fries. They are a beautiful partnership, each encouraging the other to bring out the best in one another. Singing must be loud, harmonies taken and caution thrown to the wind.
When creating the mix tape, a balance must be struck between big numbers (for belting) and whimsical, pensive tunes for the way home. There also must be a good mix of old and new songs with forgotten classics peppered throughout.
Wind down the windows, throw back your head and sing. Sing like there’s no tomorrow. Cars alongside you will rock out with you, reveling in your gay abandonment. Own it.
The first stop/meeting place of any self respecting road trip is a coffee shop. If you’re brave, or feeling particularly American you can buy a pit-stop coffee from a roadside restaurant/service station just for the novelty factor.
If you’re slightly more discerning with your coffee, then pull into a little town somewhere along the way – perfect excuse to stretch your legs and take some more photos.
Any sort of junk food snack is an integral part of a road trip, but lollies hold a special place on the in-car menu. Particularly if said lollies are fake teeth. The hours of entertainment that can be milked from fake teeth are astonishing. As are the photos.
There is, however, an art to inserting the fake teeth, make sure you push your own all the way until the pink ‘gum’. Completely realistic.
You will feel sick by the time you arrive at your destination, but think of the hilarity.
Complete no brainer. Particularly if lolly teeth are involved.
A Psychic Experience
Palm readings, tarot cards, psychics … there’s no better way to make a trip memorable, than a brush with the spiritual. There’s something quite magical about it and it provides the bulk of the conversation in the car post-reading. Also, who doesn’t love kicking off conversation with ‘oh yes, this one time I had my palm read in this tiny little town down the south coast …’
A Simple Bag
If it’s summer you need three things; swimmers, a dress and thongs. Pack light, and where possible, go barefoot and barefaced. The intention is escapism so keep it simple.
That’s me in New Zealand on a road trip I took earlier this year. Bloody. Good. Times.
Also published in Trespass Magazine 3/12/09
The boy from Melbourne with the voice did things the other way round. He courted interest and relative hype in his home country before he took off and wowed the USA and UK and, as the story goes, a little producer by the name of Mark Ronson. Following Merriweather providing vocals for Ronson’s cover of The Smith’s ‘Stop Me’, the two of them began to work together on Daniel’s debut album Love and War. The album was a winner, and Merriweather, after several years abroad was garnering the sort of attention an artist of his calibre deserves.
Which brings us to the Metro and a smooth, fluid performance with moments of rawness and purity only truly prodigious musicians can create. There was the initial potential Merriweather would be too smooth for his own good and the night would never break through that layer of silk that seemed to sit atop his vocals and physicality, but as the music kept coming and the sunglasses and jacket came off, the edge came through and the voice began to wander, powering through the big notes and swimming through the slow songs.
He worked his way through Love and War looking and sounding completely and utterly comfortable in his own music and in the capable hands of his (pretty bloody brilliant) band. Change and Impossible were big and bouncy, Cigarettes sweetly sad and both approaches allowed that heart stopping voice free rein. His cover of Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed was another standout but it was his final number, the intimately beautiful Red that sealed the deal. Merriweather’s voice was made to sing about pain in a way that pulls it apart and lets his listeners look in on the emotion pulsing at the heart of the song and that’s exactly what he did with Red.
Love and War has been a long time coming and Australia has taken its sweet time in cottoning onto one of its biggest talents. Let’s not be stupid enough to let him get away.
Image from www.danielmerriweather.com
Ever since I walked out of The Invention of Lying, feeling completely underwhelmed, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what went wrong. In the process, I’ve tried to pinpoint what went right and all I’ve come up with so far, are a few moments of sharp comic timing (which, given the cast, is completely expected) and the odd Gervais-ism that is funny simply because it’s Ricky Gervais. Which leads me to believe, through the powers of deduction, that what went wrong with this film was … pretty much everything.
Look, I love Ricky Gervais. Would marry him tomorrow if he asked, just so I could follow him around laughing. In my eyes there are very few things he can do wrong. But even I’m struggling to accommodate The Invention of Lying which lacked just about everything required to make a good comedy, including chemistry between the cast, a sharp script and any degree of cleverness.
The world in which we find Mark Bellison (Gervais), a chubby loser with a snub nose, is one in which people are incapable of telling a lie – and it would appear they are also incapable of holding anything back, which is problematic and logically unnecessary in general, but necessary for the script to work at all. They say it how it is with no regard for hurt feelings because, one would assume, if lying hasn’t evolved then nor has the ability to be hurt by the truth. I say assume, because for some reason, in 2009, seemingly tens of thousands of years since humankind began communicating with each other, one man has decided he has had enough of having his feelings hurt and of being one of life’s losers, and so says ‘something that isn’t’ purely for personal gain, and so the story begins.
Sort of. To say ‘begins’ implies some sort of life and flow and journey that has at least a beginning and an end and takes us all with it. And unfortunately, none of this pertains to The Invention of Lying.
The biggest problem was the flawed premise. It’s too big and too tired to simply meander through it, unsure of what part of truth, honesty, morals, right and wrong you want to comment on. It’s like the film’s creators were unsure of how they were going to approach the various concepts tied up in the idea, and said ‘let’s just see how we go.’ The result was a scattered treatment with no clear structure or commentary (and commentary is inescapable when discussing the merits of lying versus truth) and a lacklustre attempt at religious parallels. A few clever touches snuck in once Jesus entered the fray, but unfortunately the funniest part of that whole section of the story was Gervais’s wig – and when you’re laughing at wigs harder than you are dialogue, there’s a problem.
The cast, whilst rife with superstardom and talent, failed to deliver. Rob Lowe had a few funny moments, but was largely a caricature, one that was difficult to like or dislike beyond what the film dictated you had to do (dislike). Tina Fey was good, but potentially underused. Jennifer Garner was largely unlikeable – or, better put, failed to inspire any sort of feeling, not for any other reason than she was boring, and even the comedy stalwart of the lead’s best friend, played by Louis C.K., was completely fizz-less, as was the relationship between him and Gervais.
The sad thing is, this could have been done well. A more ruthless approach to the premise – what stays, what goes, what do we want to actually say with this film – would have been a good start. A tighter script with less toilet humour, more British subtlety would have been the next step. An entirely new female lead might also have been a good idea.
Overall, the film brings nothing new to the table. This is forgivable if the familiar points you’re making are made with wit and insight. However saying nothing new and walking well trodden ground without wit or insight is unforgivable. And for the man who brought us the groundbreaking comedy The Office it is especially so.
Get out of the USA Ricky. Go home, sharpen your teeth and come back to us the way we love you – raw, unafraid and diabolically funny.
First published in Trespass Magazine on 24/11/2009
Our Girls; Aussie Pin Ups of the 40s and 50s
I’ve recently become quite preoccupied with Australian history, since learning more about the convict ancestry on my mother’s side and seeing bits and pieces of a memoir being published on my father’s side. So I was rather thrilled to receive this lovely little book in the mail, packed as it is, with tales and photos from 1940s and 50s Australia.
Self professed aficionado of mid-20th century design and pop culture, Madeleine Hamilton has gone looking for Australia’s answer to the bombshells and Cheesecake girls and the result is a beautiful trip down Australian culture’s memory lane.
In the fascinating post-war period, Australian women were, according to Hamilton, ‘leading far more complex lives than the ads for refrigerators and floor cleaners suggested.’ The notion of femininity and sexuality, a continually morphing concept, was once again on the move. As was Australia as a country, growing quicker than the hem of her skirt could be let down. It was an exciting period and these girls were the provocative faces of its popular culture.
We can rattle off the American beauties of the 40s and 50s with ease. We know their stories, their mythology and their, more often than not, tragedies. But we know nothing about our own girls, which is what makes this book such a little treasure. Along with photos of the girls in all their suggestive glory, original magazine covers and posters, Our Girls; Aussie Pin Ups of the 40s and 50s looks at the stories behind the women with the artfully posed legs and sparkly eyes – and let me tell you, they make for far more interesting reading than the ones behind today’s pin ups, who pale in comparison in every which way.
If you are a crime fiction fan, then there will come a time when you no longer can ignore the giant shadow that looms over the genre in the form of Raymond Chandler. A shell-shocked alcoholic who decided he could write crime just as well as anyone else, Chandler turned to novels relatively late in life (he was fifty one when he wrote The Big Sleep). From there he made the jump to screenplays, including The Blue Dahlia (1946) and collaborating on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) while continuing to write his novels. He also continued to drink and eventually drank himself to death, dying in 1959 at the age of 71.
The Big Sleep (1939) is the first of his Phillip Marlowe series and stands as one of the greatest contemporary crime novels ever written and Marlowe himself as one of the ultimate characters of the genre. The famous opening paragraph is enough reason for both claims. It’s perfect.
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
As a crime lover, I have become accustomed, perhaps even desensitized to, the world of DNA and detailed gore that belongs to the genre in its modern incarnation. When I pick up a crime novel, I need a lot to keep me satisfied. I need intrigue and forensics, mystery and murder, psychopathy and psychology, twisted protagonists and tortured perpetrators. Most, recently, bar Stieg Larssen’s trilogy, have failed to satisfy. My faith in the genre has been waning.
I read The Big Sleep just in time. It was a timely reminder of the cleverness required of crime writing, the light touch needed to twist the plot just when the time is right, and the character work necessary to justify out of the ordinary behaviour. Chandler has it all in spades. The bells and whistles of forensics are a long way away and mysteries are solved with whiskey, instinct and a whole lot of nous.
Phillip Marlowe, the original cynical, fearless private dick hero, is called upon by an ailing millionaire, General Sternwood, to track down a blackmailer who is allegedly owed gambling debts by one of Sternwood’s wild daughters. And so it begins. Pornography rackets, gambling, deception and seduction, The Big Sleep has all the ingredients and Chandler spoons out the twists and turns with bang on descriptions and spectacular inner monologue. The city of angels takes on a whole different colour of dirt and its occupants both a hedonism and darkness that creates the perfect backdrop for a perfectly murky, seedy tale where nothing is ever what it seems, particularly not when the wealthy and beautiful are involved.
Chandler plays with language and the reader is richly rewarded. He may well have kept a notebook in which to jot down metaphors as they came to him, they are so deftly scattered throughout the story. The humour is dark, the judgment silent but ever-present and the man at the centre of it all so utterly mysterious, thank God Chandler wrote a series.
Penguin Books, $9.95
First published on Trespass 19/11/2009
So I’ve just been eyeing Rihanna’s cellulite over a morning cup of tea. I didn’t seek it out, really, it was just part of my daily ingestion of sensationalism over at The Daily Mail. Anyway, that’s all by the by, because as interesting as my cellulite-watch justifications are, there’s something a little more interesting that’s happening and I want to know if you’re all noticing it too.
There has been a lot of noise, for quite some time, about the whole body image thing. So much noise, in fact, I daresay those two words make everyone want to cover their ears and scream. And fair enough. But whilst all that noise has been happening, something else has too. I can’t help but notice that, rather quietly, arms have crept back into the realm of acceptability. With a little bit of thigh and stomach on the side. But let’s start with the arms.
For so long, arms have been banished to the Naughty Fat Corner. Arms were less okay than, say, the casual flash of one’s most intimate area. But now, now I can’t help but notice upper arms are making a comeback, sliding silently back onto screen and into magazines with little more than a relieved sigh at losing the taboo tag. Britney Spears has upper arms that move when she does. So does Tyra Banks and Kelly Clarkson and Mariah Carey. Kelly Osbourne is dancing about the stage with her arms on one of America’s highest rated programs. Hilary Duff has arms and legs and so does Jordin Sparks.
Joining the upper arms, a little shyly and with a modest blush, are legs. Thighs. The Kardashian sisters have thighs. And they’re three of America’s most famous women right now (a fact which deserves more attention at a later date). Rihanna has thighs. So does Blake Lively (lovely, long thighs, but they’re there nevertheless) and Beyonce and Leona Lewis and Bones’ Emily Deschanel and Greek’s Spencer Grammer.
It seems to me, that whilst all this hoo ha has been going on about body image, an ever so quiet revolution is taking place. It’s a small one, and with every two steps forward, there’s a stupid magazine article waiting to kick it two steps back, but it is undeniably happening.
Baby steps my friends, it’s all about baby steps. We’re nowhere near where we need to be in our attitudes towards what constitutes femininity and beauty, but I think the pendulum is starting to swing. Body parts that were once starved/blasted/sliced/shamed/photoshopped off, are reappearing in the public domain as normal and accepted. And that’s precisely what we need to have happen. The change won’t come about because one indie magazine runs Beth Ditto in her birthday suit on the cover (however bold that move was). It won’t come about from lauding an extreme body type whilst bashing another. It will come about through the steady reintroduction of body shapes and sizes into our daily media diet. And that, on some scale, appears to be happening. Thank God.
It’s an old, familiar tale, grief, one that has been told in so many different ways, with so many angles of it examined and laid bare in cinema and literature. Michael Winterbottom’s treatment of loss is a subtle one, with much of the sadness left for the audience to uncover for themselves.
The film opens with ten year old Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) and her sixteen year old sister, Kelly (Willa Holland), playing a game in the car as their mother (Hope Davis) drives. Mary, caught up in the game, unthinkingly covers her mother’s eyes and they crash into an oncoming car. And then we’re at the funeral. We’re in the awkward conversations, the stifling sadness. We’re with Joe (Colin Firth) as he graciously accepts people’s offers of sorrow with that mute shock that follows a sudden tragedy. Seemingly looking for a change, or to simply escape, Joe accepts a position teaching at a university in Genova and relocates his children from New York to an apartment down one of the Italian city’s many winding alleys. There they individually struggle with their pain and in Mary’s case, their guilt. Joe flirts with a romance with one of his students, as his relationship with an old college friend, Barbara (Catherine Keener) struggles to realise itself; Kelly finds herself a boyfriend as insolently pretty as she is, to assist her in her dual voyage of escapism and self discovery, and Mary wanders the streets lighting candles and getting lost knowing her mother is never far away to lead her home.
The film is unconventional in technique and structure. The use of handheld camera and long, continual shots mish mashed with short, sharp scenes, drags you in and puts you inside the mourning family and inside the gritty, hot bustle of Genova. The absence of conventional plot is also vaguely disorienting; there’s nothing to hold on to, no markers to map where you’ve been and where you’ll likely go as the film proceeds. Thus we are not merely observing Joe and his two daughters as they navigate a new life in a new country without their wife and mother, we are joining them and their uncertainty.
The performances are all strong and utterly believable, largely because they are without the heaviness of overt sentimentality. In fact the film is largely without sentimentality in general, which makes it such an intensely life like experience as opposed to a cinematic one. We aren’t sad because all the filmic indications are telling us we should be – we’re sad because we can see exactly, no we can feel exactly, what is going on beneath the surface as the family try to pick up the pieces. Because that is exactly where grief so often lies – beneath the surface.
Half an hour out of Siena, in the South Siena region, lies Tocchi, a tiny four-house village. It is home to a castle, one restaurant that may or may not be closed down, and a greater population of geese than people. The sun bakes the earth, the horses swat flies and look disinterested in fawning tourists (of which there are few) and every hour or so, a car trundles down the dusty main street. Not much happens in sleepy Tocchi and that’s what makes it so endearing and, after the whirl and wonder of the bigger Italian cities, such a blessed relief.
We were nearly four months into a non-stop rollercoaster around-the-world-trip when everything came to a standstill in Siena. It had to. We needed to slow down for a while. By the time we reached Tocchi, we had already travelled through the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Spain and parts of Italy. And, as brilliant and intoxicating as non-stop, worldwide frolicking is, you get tired – tired of trains and planes, airports and busses, and of brushes with less than hygienic accommodation. By the time the little car carrying the three of us, and 80kg of luggage rolled to a stop, at the end of a long and dusty road, we were ready to just stop and smell the roses for a while. Or the sunflowers, which blanket vast areas of the Tuscan landscape in yellow and green.
The farm house was what dreams, novels and movies are made of. A rough tiled floor, lemon walls and a sun filled kitchen. It had the prerequisite bay windows (for sitting and reading in, of course) loft bed and a big scrubbed pine table, around which we gathered to sample our attempts at Italian cooking. Emphasis on the word attempts. It also came with a pet dog, Mose, a pet horse, Mari Lou and a coop of chickens to which we fed our scraps every morning. There are few things more romantic than prancing about in a coloured sundress, throwing the scraps of your hearty cooking to clucking hens.
Of course, Italians love their food and the Tuscans (proud inhabitants of the 5th largest region in Italy) are no different. They’re known for their simple and hearty take on cooking, no drizzling of jus over a seared coin of salmon fillet, in sight. One of the main specialties this region is known for is game such as rabbit and hedgehog, which we didn’t sample (namely because none of us were game enough ourselves, to go and catch a hedgehog). We were, however, treated to the culinary delights of a local, something our tastebuds will always remember. On our first night in Tocchi, Costanza, who rented out the little farm house in which we stayed (www.craigslist.com) cooked the weary travellers dinner. In a kitchen that overlooked miles of rolling khaki paddocks dotted with horses and snow white geese living, as everything seems to do in Tocchi, in harmony, we shared an antipasto course of eggplant and zucchini with goats cheese, a primo of pasta in olive oil and sea salt with fresh vegetables (from the vegetable garden) and for dolce, a platter of rockmelon. Later that night, stuffed and unable to move, there was a knock on the door as we prepared for bed. Costanza with a little basket of breakfast things, complete with a cloth covered jam jar. Of course.
Getting into the town centre from Tocchi involved comical scenes of three brightly dressed travellers waiting roadside, in the middle of nowhere for a bus that could very well decide not to turn up. And, when it did, we invariably didn’t know how to purchase or validate a ticket (depending on where you are, that system changes) and so the ride in was tense as we waited for a conductor to jump aboard at the next, usually deserted, stop. Siena itself is, after the big cities of Italy, wonderfully quiet and quaint and probably sick of people writing books about being beneath its sun. Quaint cobbled streets hide cafes and seem to wind on forever. We happened to be there for Palio, a traditional medieval horse race Siena is famous for, and so the town was bustling with a competitive energy and festooned with each Contrade’s flag. When not getting swept up in the infectious crowds, we gorged on garlicky pizza and café lattes in between doing our week’s grocery shopping and soaking up that famous Tuscan sun.
And so, for a week, we whiled away the days lazing about with Mose, trialling Italian recipes but never quite succeeding with the nonchalance Costanza did, and once or twice venturing into the tiny, silent centre of Tocchi. There were no people in sight, save for those peering out from behind their curtains, and we were mainly the subject of many an inquisitive glare from the bustling geese. We were in the middle of a long, hot Mediterranean summer and beneath the oh so famous Tuscan sun, to boot. And, it has ot be said, had I spent any more time under its literature-beloved rays, I can guarantee I could have bashed out yet another saccharine novel. You just can’t help it. Tuscany casts a spell that lingers long after you leave it.
A friend of mine brought this article to my attention today. It’s a great article. Succinctly written, it highlights a familiar and sad plight faced by too many women. The subject matter is incredibly significant and it’s something we all need to know about – but that’s not what I really want to talk about today. See, as said friend and I discussed, there seems to be something missing from the article, something that stops the reader from pumping their fist at the end and rushing out to try and change the world – which is something the nature of the issue should instill in those who learn about it through the power of words.
The problem with the article, we decided, was the language. It wasn’t impassioned enough, it wasn’t emotive enough. It was enlightening, absolutely, and it made clear the importance of the issue – but it didn’t hammer it home. It was … too male?
The idea of male and female language is one that really took off in the 70s, thanks largely to the poetic, hyperbolic writings of Helene Cixous. She called for women to adopt their own language in order to write about their own experiences – instead of replying on and perpetuating language that privileged men over women, something she termed phallogocentrism. Cixous famously asserted that, because women are more strongly tied to our physicality, so must our use of language be and we therefore must learn to ‘write the body.’
To borrow from a recent university essay of my own …
We use language without even realising how all-powerful it is in perpetuating ideas and concepts and truths. Without realising how inherently it favours one gender over the other. Without realising the role it plays in creating meaning. I believe this was at the heart of Helene Cixous’s passionate The Laugh of the Medusa, when she called for women to start writing the body. The creation of a new language that doesn’t privilege one gender over the other, that attempts to circumvent a binary logic that has long marginalised women; and before any of this could take place, a localizing of female sexuality.
We see examples of phallogoenctrism and attempts at l’ectriture feminine (female writing) all the time in fiction and academic essays, but reading the Paul Sheehan article today made me realize both these notions exists in the everyday journalism which brings us our news and serves up opinions and dictates our attitudes. And so, to borrow a Carrie-ism, I can’t help but wonder what effect could this have on reinforcing social ideals of gender? Is the language of journalism a male domain and, if so, is there room for female writing?
* Anyone wanting to learn more about Cixous and her contemporaries and/or the notion of l’ectriture feminine for academic purposes or general interest, send me an email, I have books and essays galore to recommend.