Art – United Galleries

March 31, 2007

I found this art gallery via Sonja, who has published her second book and had it launched. I am just a tiny bit envious since the novel is still locked in the bowels of this PC with no additional words added in the last 6 weeks. Sonja is a fan of one of the artists who is represented by the gallery and who kindly allowed her to use his art on the cover of one of her books. Carlos Barrios. His is the painting catching your eye as you scan this blog! Title: Bonnie. There is more of his stuff hanging in the United Galleries. I have no art hanging in this gallery (sadly) and don’t know any of the artists, except remotely via Sonja so this is not some sort of gratuitous plug. I just love some of the stuff here. Check the photos by Paola Talbert or the paintings by Kim Nelson. Kim’s work with light is stunning.

Getting Under Your Skin

March 31, 2007

My earliest memories of tattoos were of those etched onto large motorcycle riders who would growl into Palmerston every year before they headed into Central Otago for a spring festival or carnival of some sort. I can’t quite recall exactly what the occasion was, though it elusively slides around in the back of my skull avoiding being pinned down. (It will pop out once I have posted this note!) Tattoos went with beards, Harleys and leather. Nothing original in that. A universal image in fact. Thereafter images of tawdry tattoo shops in Melbourne complete the picture, as do the very rough tattoos military colleagues turned up with after a drunken night on the town. Some were funny, though not with the humour you would wish on yourself, but because the wearer had no idea why he was now sporting a full blown Indian chief in feather headdress across his back. (That guy slept on his front for weeks!) I must have seen on at least three occasions the classic tattoo scenario of one girlfriend’s name thoroughly embedded only to have the wearer hook up with another “name” a short time later. And one NCO I once worked for had the indignity of enduring an artist who had imposed his inability to spell all over his body.

So all of this tends to put tattoos in the redneck basket for me. Humorous in part but not something I could ever buy into. Though I have long given up the notion that it is somehow evil (childish association with bikers sowed that seed) or undignified. Indeed I will confess that tattoo art over the last few years has grown into something more restrained, creative, objective and carefully designed. And in many cases has become quite attractive, and is even erotic on the right canvas.

But the New York artist who did this piece of clever work has lifted the genre to another level altogether. Anil is his name and this link takes you away from here to his website where you can see more of this wonderful stuff. Well, its art, so some of it is wonderful and rest is clearly framed for beauty in the eye of the beholder only!

Cliches about Paris Are True

March 31, 2007

I arrived from Switzerland in Paris in the late afternoon. No one wanted to speak English. I wandered around the station with no maps and no instructions. I asked at a counter and a man through the wire mesh simply shrugged his shoulders. Very conscious that I looked out of place and lost – not a good thing necessarily in a station such as this. So kept moving. Asking, looking, asking some more. To no avail and lots of shoulder shrugging. Eventually stood in the middle of the platforms and studied the flow of pedestrians to see how to get to the Metro. The pulsing throng suggested a particular direction so I headed into the flow of commuters and found some stairs down which I descended. Wandered a maze of tunnels and platforms. Finally found man behind a wire screen who gave me a map in French. On and off trains. Connecting names to the map. Exploring and familiarising by trial and error. Eventually resurfaced into a warm Paris spring afternoon, amid street side tables and the smell of coffee, about fifty metres from my hotel. That was a small affair, full of Americans. So small the door to the room was constructed like a stable door, the top half opening over the bed. Throw your suitcase through that opening and onto the bed. Slide through the bottom half which is butting up to the bed and preventing any overweight guests from entering the room! Access to the room is via a narrow winding stair, so narrow it is only good for one person. Shout up or down the stair well before moving between floors to ensure the route is clear. The Americans think it is hilarious. I guess they are told to tone it down so often the licence to shout must be a relief. That evening I walk 17 kilometers taking in as much of the town as possible. The benefit of all the experimentation in the Metro came the next day when I was able to give instructions to an elderly American couple who had no French and were completely lost. They were impressed by this Australian who knew his way around after only 18 hours. Little did they know the intensity of the orientation exercise but were grateful to be delivered to their stop. In my wanderings that afternoon across cafe streets and through parks with kissing lovers, from crowds under “the tower” to railway porters and ticketeers who refused to engage in conversation it was pretty obvious that in this initial sampling of this city I found that every cliche about Paris to be true. I love it.

May 1995

Space Age Train in a Paddock

March 30, 2007

Today I had a slightly weird experience. I am not too sure what to make of it. I departed early in the morning on a diesel powered passenger train out of Bern after a F5 slice of pizza for breakfast (it was better than the F25 can of XXXX beer I found last night – that can had been out of Queensland for at least a decade!!). We had a beautiful, clear day and the rumbling train took us through classic postcard scenery of Switzerland, tracing a train preferred route though valleys and across plains with snowcapped mountain backdrops. As the valleys narrowed we were pushed more and more into farmer’s yards and each “clickety click” took us in and out of small farms, and chalets, and firs, and poultry and goats, sheep and cattle. And all very green. I think an indication of ones “Australianness” is how much you notice green fields. I see them everywhere.

I had a ticket that said I was on the French TGV so was a little disappointed in Bern to find myself on a more plain and ordinary carriage. Comfortable. But stock standard. A short time after we crossed the Swiss border our train slowed and then stopped. Everyone started to get off. I stayed in my seat – there was no station! We were stopped in the middle of an open meadow, covered in knee deep grass. I was the only remaining passenger before a guard insisted I get my luggage and get off – or risk going back to Bern. I did as I was told.

For about fifteen minutes we all stood in the field. There was a low grass covered rectangular mound that hinted at an earlier platform perhaps. But other than this, a small crowd of fellow passengers (all very relaxed) there was nothing, from horizon to horizon, to suggest this was a other than a normal part of the trip. Conscious of the unseen larks in the sky twittering away I was gazing to the West when to my surprise a TGV slowly slid into view, coming through the grass, around a bend and eventually gliding to a silent stop beside us. I followed what everyone else did and climbed aboard. Once we were seated the TGV quickly took itself to blast speed and we did not stop again until we reached Paris.

That was very bizarre. No marked stop. Open paddock. TGV appearing out of nowhere. All very well if there was no snow or rain. The experience would have been something else if it had not been a beautiful day. I could see nothing on the map that shows where we stopped. Bizarre.

May 1995

A Good Therapy…

March 30, 2007

In fact, the best. There is no question that getting out and helping someone else is a good way to take your mind off the daily things that are nibbling you to death. The trouble is, our community is so insular, and we are so reluctant to ask if anyone needs help that we end up helping no one, including ourselves.

I found a rather extreme example of people helping others in a story of a group of people who got together to help build a house for a family in all sorts of need. Building a house is out there, but a good example of putting someone in front of yourself. While it is not really covered in the story, I bet there was more gained by those who did the giving. Working together in a community way can be stimulating, healthy, objective and usually puts your own distractions in perspective.

That challenge has been put to our own church community and last week some of us got together to do something about some needs at the local Spastic Centre. Mail-outs, weeding and painting had us all come together to help some of our community. Painting included this mural which Athalie is working on, decorating a wall in one of the therapy centres.

It was a day of putting others before ourselves. But in the giving we were all blessed, by working together and most simply through the action itself. In this therapy centre for spastic children and adults we got the best therapy of all. Each other.

Casino Disloyal

March 26, 2007

As I stroll past the Baccarat room I see his Asian, farmer’s face cupped in his hand. It is a striking face for its length, fifty or so years in the sun, and its whispery whiskers. And its solemn concentration. He looks like a rice farmer from the back blocks of Shenzen, and very well might be – or is a descendant of a Ballarat gold miner and longer in this country than I. Jostling his side are younger faces and more eager hands. Clamouring around the table for what he seems to know is not available. In half a pace he is gone and I am stepping around a fat man in long shorts, T-shirt and a colourful anklet around his ankle. Somehow he has gotten in without any shoes. Or he has lost them in here. He is looking for a Blackjack table but even on this Monday night the tables are full. He falls behind my stroll and I don’t look back at him. A pair of short denim shorts capping of long legs and high heels wiggles through the crowd and vanishes, like a lost catwalk model, but lost in a jungle of prosaic singlets, raucous laughs, intense gazes. Past two country boys in cowboy hats playing an electronic game of some sort and giggling at each other like two school girls. Finding the inane hilarious. They seem to be the only ones having a good time as the place fills up and the rolling din of pokies chatter into the night, the music volume lifts, the constant hum and chatter of the crowd and the rhythm of the calls from the game supervisors keeps up a constant chorus which seduces with the momentary thought is the only place to be.

You could write a PhD on those who frequent this place but as we had dinner in a restaurant that is part of this complex and watched the flood of visitors it is patently obvious that it attracts those who look like they can least afford it. OK, the Chinese lady who popped a nonchalant $800 down might have been deceiving us with her looks but she was pretty casual about her loss and moved on to another table to place other bets. The Asian farmer and his Asian baccarat friends intently focused on their game. Lebanese playing the blackjack, students playing the same. Old geezers placing sports bets looked out of place – more at home in a run down TAB, with an air of the drunk and the homeless about them. Sadly, while the occasional couple strolls through, as do groups of friends, most people shamble in on their own. Maybe attracted to the prospects of winning something but I wonder how many come here for the social interaction as well. Well, at least being around others, if not actually interacting. And how many come here with a movie induced notion that there is something glamorous about a den like this?

But in this place there is no discernment. That is one thing that might be said about gambling – its sucks them all. And accepts them all. Dressed in any attire. From any social strata. Look like a homeless bum? Come on in. Dressed like a poor student. Welcome. Knocking around with your spiky haired teenage mates. Place your money fellas’ just don’t come into the bar area. On the pension and can only play one or two cent games – Welcome too, we have dozens of machines for you. This is fiscal hell, with flashing lights, noisy demons, bandits that will play you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, red carpets, orange lights, and you can’t stay away. Bands and entertainment and coffee shops and fast food diners if you need them. Cup your farmer’s head in your hands and gaze at your table and be mesmerized as your hard earned cash is easily lost. And don’t be surprised when you run dry and our warm hospitality is no longer warm – at least not until you turn up again with more chips. We’re loyal to the last – your last.

Oh Dear, Loose Moose

March 25, 2007

I cleared Massachusetts this morning, departing Hanscom AFB (I have since discovered that Hanscom is heavily pixellated on Google Earth (lat=42.4662646665, lon=-71.2843313498) – its facilities are classified in some way but the focus on their electronic warfare capabilities is well recorded on various sites) and headed for Worcester via the 495 before getting onto backwoods road “9” and heading west to Northampton and then on to Pittsfield. On the way through to Worcester I was continually surprised by the number of deer either grazing quietly on the side of the road, in the median strips, or every few miles spread across the road in a pile of minced meat not unlike the way kangaroos can end up. I don’t think I had ever thought of deer being this numerous, this relaxed around traffic, or even being this visible in the middle of the day. Not being sure about how skittish or otherwise they might be around traffic I moved into the centre lane after coming across the third or fourth grazing on the side of the road. After a while I realised they were going to care less about my little car if they were not batting an eyelid at the semi trailers blasting past every few seconds.

When I was in primary school, at the age of about ten, I developed an obsession for all things to do with the War of Revolution. I think it was Paul Revere’s ride that did it but the concept of the Minutemen caught my imagination as well. I got my hands on anything I could read about it and the subject was the first thing I researched when I got to High School and found books about it in the library. So I was keen to visit Boston and at least get to Bunker Hill. Poor Mr Revere would have a hard time of it now. I got the sense that unless there had been a bi centenary (1976) Bunker Hill and just about everything else of significance to this period would have disappeared under houses or freeways. Yesterday I walked to Bunker Hill and did so along a dilapidated path which took me under a freeway and through a collection of cardboard houses lived in by homeless men. It went by the grandiose name of the Freedom Trail but it was one track on this trip so far where I was wary about my personal safety. That it is not clearly marked only underscored the sense that 1776 is not well respected by those who live on top of it. I finally found Bunker Hill, a small patch of grass nearly swamped by development. I guess we do the same at home – treat with indifference the sites that are significant to our shaping and history. I left Bunker Hill with a different picture in my head to the one that I had formed in High School.

Visiting Concord was another matter altogether and I enjoyed a sense of history of the area that I did not get in Boston. Though still in a very built up area of the country there had been bit of a disturbance up the main street that morning, with a moose wandering around loose, giving everyone some excitement. I had pulled into the railway station to park my car before walking around, and was told by some locals to look out for a moose. I thought I was being conned, not expecting these animals would exist this far south, until I saw a notice pasted up by a local authority warning that a moose could be an ornery thing to tangle with and advising they were best to avoid. Apart from an elusive moose Concord held an unexpected pleasure in its graveyard. I spent some time walking through reading the stories engraved there. Fortunately there is more here than simply a name and birth and death date although the slate was not holding the details from the weather very well.

This is an area of the country I need to spend some more time in but I am on a tight timetable and am now ensconced in a little bit of Revolutionary history for the night, this being Washington’s old accommodation in Carlisle. This diary is getting harder to fill out the longer I spend on the road but some more on Boston will be worth the effort. Later. Now to bed.

October 1989

The Handicapped Have no Rights

March 20, 2007

Two months ago the press down here got hold of a story that had a lot of resonance in the US – that of the so called “Ashley Experiment”. It is a story that has been rattling around in my head ever since, the more so for the negative responses to what has been done to Ashley. It is a story of parents of a daughter (Ashley) who is severely handicapped but is clearly part of the their loving family. In order to guarantee a quality of life they thought ideal for Ashley her parents have had a number of medical procedures undertaken on their child, the one gaining most attention being the hormone treatment which will keep their daughter small and lightweight for the rest of her life. She has also had a hysterectomy and her breast buds removed, in order to deter potential sexual harassment. Her story can be found at

Critics of the process and the parent’s decision have focused, in part, on the rights of the child (she cannot talk and could not be involved in the decision making process) and the ethics of the decision. Indeed typical commentary was distracted by the so called ethics, or lack thereof, of the “experiment”. But the irony of this scenario is that if you argue in defence of these kids on the basis of ethics, or “doing the right thing”, they end up with no rights such as you and I enjoy. Our own daughter cannot speak. Or make any decision about her lifestyle. If our social security people had any say she would have no rights since we are not supposed to make decisions on her behalf – she is after all an adult. It gets to a ridiculous point where to even get her pension we have to take her into the social security office to “parade’ her – necessary to convince the retarded staff behind the counter that she can’t sign her own documentation. Left to her own devices she has no rights. It is only that someone speaks up for her that she has any rights, and quality of life, at all.

A touchy point with young handicapped women who live in a group home, as our daughter Jocelyn does, is their contraceptive regime. On the one hand we are accused of interfering in her life by putting her on the pill. That assumes she has the ability to make choice about who she might have sex with. (She does not, a separate issue altogether.) Most often with these dear people their rights only come about if we interfere and facilitate those rights. Of course that is when, as with the parents of Ashley, you are accused of being self serving and not looking after the interests of the child. It is a battle you never win.

For the record I applaud what Ashley’s parents have done. If you want to be provoked have a look at their site. And be encouraged by the notion that sometimes the rights of these people come about when people “interfere” on their behalf. Left to their own devices these children would have no rights at all.


An Extraordinary Well

March 18, 2007

Our prowl around Delhi with Nigel Hanklin turned up some surprising revelations. Some of which helped remind us that the modern day has no exclusive claim on art, inventiveness, science or creativity. Sure, we know all that, but sometimes it requires something to be in our face to understand it.

We paused for a stop at a low brick wall in the shade of a large tree, then walked around to one end of the wall, ascended a few steps and were presented with this rather odd view, looking down into this structure with a small green pool at the bottom. Its scale can be gauged by the figures in the top right hand corner. I exhausted all ideas about what this structure was before Nigel revealed that it was in fact a well. Albeit a very large one. Once filled to within about eight feet of the top. But which had in fact been only about a third full for most of its life, as the lighter, less weathered brickwork shows. In fact the water level was most consistantly at the ledge above the largest and lowest arch at the far end. Steps at one end descend to this depth. It still eludes me as to why a well would be build with the arches and interior architectural decorations if they were to spend all their life under water.

As it turns out modern Delhi has put so much pressure on the water table that the well is nigh on empty, the current small pond revealing the depth of the table. But that earthen mound of centuries old silt covered in weeds must be ripe for an excavation, surely. As a kid I used to watch people excavating old wells, of the more traditional kind, around the goldfields of Otago, pulling out old bottles and crockery. What would a 3-4 century well of this size reveal?

Art or Science? Me or You?

March 16, 2007

With more than 100 blogs under my belt what has this medium turned into? How much of it is art? How much should be intuitive and off the sleeve? And how much thematic, scripted, planned, scientific? I have to confess that the exercise of writing this blog has evolved through a number of phases reflective of my intentions. It started out with a hard focus on my travel diaries, and then moved into some attempts at posting up past and current creative writing. I even invited some serious, journalistic writing houses in the US to comment. Surprise surprise, they replied.

Then some kids responded to the blogs and I found myself writing not for myself but for an unseen but imagined audience. I went searching for tools that would broaden my readership and perhaps even earn the site a few dollars. (So far $5.10!!). I don;t think that should be the focus and I have resisted Google’s Adwords. Where I have used the blog to help shape the novel I have been grinding away on for the last few years that imagined audience has been very helpful, freeing up thoughts and forcing some discipline into the writing.

Now it has settled down into what I really think it should be. Something that has proven cathartic and therapeutic. Something for myself. Writing about my recently killed friend, JD has confirmed that. Perhaps writing for myself will infuse a more honest air to the posts. And if readers respond to that, well and good.

Mind you that has not stopped me prodding for feedback. Dave, had a look and kindly posted some feedback. Not everyone reacts well to his advice but if you are going to hang your shingle out you need to expect the occasional egg to be thrown at it. He does what I should really do and create a separate blog for different themes. He has a few out there including I think I will be sticking with this blog alone, writing for myself, and keeping fingers crossed that the posts have a resonance with those that stumble over them. Comments always welcome of course!!

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