Sunday, September 28, 2014

Devine comedy

Last night, P., Frank and I went off to Hares and Hyenas bookshop for a part of the Fringe Festival, Tasmanian Luke Devine performing a monologue about the Gothic horrors of growing up in Tasmania. It was less funny than appalling (though it was also wryly funny), and I was delighted to find that Carmel Bird's formulation of Tasmania being full of ghosts (Aborigines, convicts) was in fact first put by Manning Clark in the late thirties. The show seemed like the makings of a future book. Afterwards, we crossed the road for dinner at Calmao Flamenco, a Spanish eatery. We decided we would tolerate the entertainment (guitarist and flamenco dancer, $2.50 per head) to try the food. It was excellent. I had the garlic prawns and croquettes, P. and Frank shared a patatas bravas, then had chops and prawns with chorizo respectively. P. and I had the very potent brandy and anise coffee to finish and I had the sherry and raisin icecream which was huge so shared with Peter. After an initial glitch with the wine, the service was very attentive; we retired very satisfied.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Proms etcetera

On Thursday night, P., Frank and I went to Noel's for dinner. He had cooked a yummy and spicy paella followed by a fruit fool. We had a good night with lots of political argument. At Noel's, we ignore the dictum to not discuss sex or politics over dinner. On Friday, Frank was busy at the radio station, so P. and I shopped alone at the mall, then had an excellent and reasonable lunch at Madame Sousou's, opposite where Howell the Yaris lives (the car we took today). I had the steak tartare, sharp and tasty, with French fries and a good, crunchy iceberg salad. In the evening, P. and I had a cheap and cheerful at Yoyogi, next to two Japanese young women who might as well have been from another planet. P. joked later that he wondered whether they were going to eat anything as they spent most of their time with their devices and he wondered whether they might try to swipe the food and be puzzled when nothing happened. We then went to the Town Hall (we missed Robbie Doyle Ha! Ha! Ha!) where the Melbourne Symphony did a pale facsimile of the Proms. Not that I'm in favour of 'Rule Brittania' and all that bollocks, but at least the English version has a sense of occasion. This had none. Eddie Perfect did a very lacklustre compering job, while the lacklustre conductor who seems to have conducted every secondrate orchestra in the world did a workmanlike job with a program which was bland in the extreme. The only bright light was Emma Matthews doing the Jewel Song and Ophelia's Mad Scene, with an encore by Calvin Bowman, which saved the night. The MSO seems to have lost any inspiration it might have had. Today (Saturday), P. is resting up with a cold/flu and I went to the Convent Market for a few goodies: real milk, flathead, pasta (for the carbonara) and waratahs (for the living room).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Curate's Egg

Last night, P. and I went to the Playhouse at the Arts Centre to see Bell Shakespeare's version of 'The Dream'. The program said, 'Tis almost fairy time' which was a fairly accurate description of a production which contained very little magic at all. Some of the cast were excellent (Ray Chong Nee, Nikki Shiels and Julie Forsyth) and all were serviceable, though at times it felt a bit like going through the motions. But then, the whole was absorbing. Unfortunately, Bell Shakespeare for this season and next year are doing the plays I really want to see in Sydney only, so we might give them a miss for next year. After the play, we went to Fatto which had its dining room closed for a function. However, we had a very good meal in the bar: I had a tasty vitello tonnato with quince paste (!) and a scallop dish and for dessert an excellent chocolate pudding.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Good news and bad

After a fairly quiet Sunday doing the crossword, I joined the vast climate change demo in the city which stretched from the Library almost to the Treasury Gardens, though I didn't stay for the speeches (boring). In the evening, P. and I went to town where we had a quick meal at Meatballs in Flinders Lane. Other times I have passed by there there has been a queue. No way. Because we were early, we got in easily. Verdict: never again. I realise how lucky we are with food as I rarely have cause to complain even in el cheapo venues like Yoyogi. This place, which has been very trendy, is okay and P. said his Italian-style meatballs were good. His empty plate testified to that. On the other hand, my chicken balls (I'll spare you the obvious joke) with pesto and mashed potato were fairly bland. The serve was too big, but that is hardly a cause for complaint. The worst fault was the massively overpriced house red, $76 for a litre, which was not very good. As we exited to the theatre, there was a queue up the road at Chin Chin, mainly customers of Asian origin. The show at the theatre was 'Parade' put on by the Collective. It was an excellent minimalist production with book by Alfred Uhry ('Driving Miss Daisy') and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. I do not know what justified the use of mikes in such a small space with such good performers. Their use actually causes a style of performance which might be described as Webberly which does nothing for the music. The plot about the story of Leo Frank who is charged with the murder of one of his workers, Mary Phagan, is a true story, though the treatment was a touch on the sentimental side with some confronting material which counterbalanced. A strange mixture as was the music which verged on a Sondheim/Webber pastiche. All in all, it is well worth seeing in spite of the drawbacks as the drama is compelling.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two world premieres

I spent most of the week finalising the government job, now back with the author for checking. I've also started on my comments/corrections on the novel as well as a bit of work on the biography, so I'm quite busy. By way of recreation, on Thursday night, P., Frank and I went to the third Syzygy concert this year at the Salon in the Recital Centre. This one was quite varied with works by Charlotte Bray, Rausto Romitelli, Gordon Kerry (a world premiere commissioned by Julian Burnside, thank you both of you) and David Dzubay. They were difficult works, played with zest and skill by the ensemble and were a delight. Afterwards, we had a good meal at Blondie, with my special kanga tataki a highlight. Next morning, we did normal shopping then lunched at Addict in Johnston Street which was excellent: very different combinations and tastes. In the evening, P. and I went to a percussion concert at ANAM in South Melbourne. The students there have had a residence with Kroumata Percussion, from Sweden, and Australia's Speak Percussion. The resulting concert included another world premiere (two in two nights, we are lucky) of a work by Danish composer, Bent Sorensen, called (ironically for percussion), 'Silence'. There were also works by Edgard Varese, Liza Lim, Sven-David Sandstrom and Anthony Pateras. It was a rousing concert, attended by the usual suspects. Beforehand, we had the usual good Japanese at Wasabi. Now, back to work.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Melbourne Con Concert

Yesterday, P., Frank and I went to the Melbourne Conservatorium for a free lunchtime concert. The Quartz Quartet (Caroline Hopson, Rachael Beesley, Anna Webb and Zoe Wallace) performed works by Edwards and Milhaud with great spirit and accomplishment. We'll probably head for more of these concerts where likeminded geriatrics (and a few students) go for a freebie. We had a good lunch at the nearby Dax cafe in the Brain Centre, a very lavish medical research building designed by Lyon Architects (see the post yesterday on the Housemuseum). Back home, I cooked a chicken laksa, meant to be for two, but which will provide a few lunches.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Smell of Paint

Yesterday, after the Sunday crossword and a bit of work on the government job (still tidying that up), P. and I went on the bus and tram to the Lyon Housemuseum for their annual lecture, 'The Smell of Paint or Architectures of the Dark' by Paul Carter. His main subject was The Diver, part of an Etruscan-Greek tomb in Italy (Paestum). It was stimulating and a bit off the wall as one would expect from Carter and certainly changed the way I think about antiquities. After the lecture, the Lyons provided coffee and refreshments (including yummy crustless sandwiches, which I now call crotchless sandwiches) and we walked around looking at the collection which has been rearranged a bit and contains some new items. Home to try the ready-made Peking Duck from the supermarket: abut 6 out of 10.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bold as brass

Last night, after a quick Yoyogi meal, P., Frank and I went to the Melbourne Town Hall for a concert by the Australian National Academy of Music. The main game was an arrangement of Strauss' Alpine Symphony for brass, percussion and organ. A novel idea, the arrangement was by US trombonist, Jay Friedman and was conducted by another trombonist, Michael Mulcahy. It worked amazingly well with some sections excised as unsuitable for the treatment. It was preceded by works by Koehne, Broadstock and Terracini, all impressive in their own way. Calvin Bowman was the accomplished organist. The ANAM students acquitted themselves enthusiastically and well as always.

Tasmania third instalment

At Stanley, we stayed at Stamps, in the old post office, where we had stayed before. It has been renovated and was very flash, though our attic roofs made frequent connections with our heads. We visited Highfield historic home nearby and had two meals at the pub as our second night was a Monday and everything else was closed, even the pizza shop and the fish and chippery. Next day, we drove across the northwest via Burnie (Jacquie Lambie country) and Penguin (a less than first-class toasted sandwich). We stayed in a motel at Deloraine with a wonderful view of the Western Tiers. The motel should be classified by the National Trust as a relic of the (nineteen) sixties. We went on to Launceston via Entally House in Hadspen, a very pleasant old pile. In Launceston, we finally scored fish and chips, and viewed the Gorge and both branches of the Art Gallery and Museum. Our pseudohistorical apartments were being noisily renovated next door. We also went for a walk on the Tamar Wetlands and a drive round the Tamar Valley where a world-record was established for non-delivery of toasted sandwiches: fifty minutes until we gave up. Though our overall experience was very good, there were many aspects of Tasmanian tourism which need to lift their game if the moribund state is to promote its wonderful tourism assets, most notably ringing back after queries are lodged and providing good and reliable catering.

Tasmania second instalment

After a good breakfast at Penghana on Wednesday 27 August, we dagged around Queenstown station (though the train was not running that day) then looked at the rather disorganised museum which contained everything ever donated, significant or not. Then we hopped into Hebe and headed for Strahan, a very pleasant town on Macquarie Harbour. Our accommodation was The Crays, a set of very comfortable and well stocked units opposite a good seafood eatery, Risby Cove, where we had dinner. In the meantime, we took a lovely forest walk just down the road to Nelson Falls. Next morning, we joined the Gordon River Cruise on the harbour, to the dangerous heads, then up the Gordon River with its beautiful rainforest and reflections in the tannin-coloured river. It was one of the highlights of the trip. It also included a somewhat over-dramatised walk around Sarah Island, the old convict settlement of considerable horrors. We had a good pub meal that night. Next day, we went to Zeehan, a very moribund ex-mining town with a quite good museum and old theatre. I started my survey of toasted sandwiches for lunch at the Zeehan snack bar. They were definitely the winners. We then went the short distance to Corinna Wilderness Cabins, crossing the Pieman River on the punt. To our delight, since our last visit, they now provide food with a chef who has escaped flash kitchens like Vue du Monde for the solitude of Corinna. We had a boat trip, on a smaller boat than last time, down the river to a shipwreck and beautiful falls and fern gully. After two nights there, and a couple of walks, we were rested and very refreshed. Next morning, Sunday, we took the Western Explorer road through the Tarkine to Stanley. We passed hardly any cars (two or three) on the three hour journey and finished at Morrowah where the pub definitely won a prize for one of the worst in Australia for service and quality for lunch. I suppose it is the backwoods. We then went on to Stanley where we stayed for two nights.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

At last, Tasmania

The first instalment: P., Frank and I caught a late morning Virgin flight to Hobbitt where we checked into the Old Woolstore Hotel where we had stayed before in the same room believe it or not. We then had a light lunch at the Museum and Art Gallery and perused the collection which hadn't changed much. The occasional art exhibitions were a bit less than impressive. That night we had another reprise: dinner with Michael Podesta at the Henry Jones Eatery which was as good as last time, or even a bit better. It was very nice eating somewhere where it was possible to talk easily. Next day, we made up for our art deficit by visiting Mona where the exhibitions had changed quite a lot, though some things remained the same and they were reinstalling the vast Sid Nolan 'snake' work. In the evening Frank went off to have dinner with friends while P. and I had an adequate seafood meal at downstairs Mures. Next day, we picked up our hirecar Hebe the Corolla and headed for Queenstown. We hadn't reckoned on the treasures on the way such as Lake St Clair or the nature walk along the Franklin River which was glorious. However, it was a very long journey along a very windy road. We arrived in Queenstown where we were staying at Penghana, the old mine-manager's mansion on top of the hill with sweeping views of Queenstown. The very welcoming hosts who lease the house from the National Trust provided a very good dinner.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Waking Up Dead

Yesterday, I got working on the government job which (gasp!) is nearing completion. I should be finished today sometime apart from a bit of administrative clearing up. Last night, P. and I had a good meal at Wagamama in Flinders Lane, then went to 45 Downstairs for 'Waking Up Dead', a onehander by Trudy Hellier, directed by Susie Dee. The actor was the superb Caroline Lee playing a woman who ignores her husband's infidelities until it is too late. The play showed the benefits of a lot of workshopping and reworking and was taut, economical and packed a strong punch which disturbed sleep late into the night. An excellent but simple set by Callum Morton and a very spare soundscape by Ian Moorhead completed a production which showed what theatre should really do. More on our trip overseas soon, I promise.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Very good talks

Still catching up on things post-Tasmania. On Monday night, P. and I went to a talk sponsored by the Asia Institute at Melbourne Uni. and Human Rights Watch from one of their Indonesian researchers, Andreas Harsono. He outlined his opinion of the new Indonesian president and the challenges he faces in the human rights area. They left us with a ten-page letter they had given to the incoming president and vice-president giving suggestions for areas they need to cover. A tall order indeed. Like our visit to China left me, this talk left me with contempt for the pathetic excuse for politicians we have in Australia who can't even run a small country with relatively few problems. On Tuesday morning, Frank and I went to the Recital Centre to hear an unusual combo at the Coffee Concert, recorder and classical accordion, in the persons of Genevieve Lacey and James Crabb. It was a virtuoso performance of a very varied repertoire: folk tunes through Bach to Chick Corea. In the evening, P. and I went to a screening of the film, 'Ringbalin' sponsored by the Australian Conservation Foundation. It depicts a line of ceremony reproduced and started by the Ngarrindjeri people with other groups along the Murray and Darling rivers to call up rain. It was an intriguing film followed by discussion with elders from various groups and the filmmaker. A good meal at the Pei Bar followed. Tasmania is coming but I'm very busy.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Hitting the ground running

We're now back from Tasmania (on last Thursday afternoon) after a splendid time. I'll write about that over the next few days, but it is taking a bit of time to catch up after 11 days away, especially as there have been many events since we arrived back. First was the shopping on Friday morning, just normal stuff to stock up on after being away. On Friday night, we went with Michael, Lesley and Louise, plus friend Jan from Tasmania with Frank to celebrate Michael's 20th birthday. (We'd had dinner with Michael on our first night in Hobart in a return visit to Henry Jones restaurant). This one was at Matteo's in Brunswick Street (where Mietta's was many years ago). The food and the company were all excellent, if perhaps a little rich after the toasted sandwiches in rural Tasmania (more of that anon). On Saturday, P. and I toddled off to North Fitzroy where friends of George P. had organised a 60th birthday party for George, including some of his present-day carers and very old friends. It was a good occasion with George bawling his eyes out during the speeches. Sunday was fathers' day, and we went with Dad to a splendid Melbourne Chamber Orchestra concert with works by Bach, Purcell, Bartok, Grieg and Stanhope with an encore from Grainger (Country Gardens). Very good, varied programming. Next year's looks just as good. I'll start on Tasmania tomorrow.