It’s Tough at the Top

July 12, 2007 at 2:52 am (Uncategorized)

Poor old Johnny. His faculties have started the slow but steady mass walkout of old age. Think of it as a kind of union strike, if you will. One key member of faculty jumps ship and the whole institution comes tumbling down like a house of cards. It seems his powers of recall are not what they used to be. Or perhaps it’s nothing to do with memory loss at all.

I’m married to a man who has difficulty remembering names. I know perfectly well it can happen to anyone. Llew sometimes struggles to recall the name of someone he went to school with for six years. Occasionally he stumbles over my name, on more than one occasion calling me ‘Flick.’ That’s his sister. It doesn’t do a lot for a woman’s confidence to be misnamed at all, but I can tell you it’s especially mortifying when your husband calls you by his sibling’s name. There’s nothing flattering about it.

So I don’t want to suggest there’s anything deeply sinister simmering in John Howard’s white head. He forgot someone’s name. Big deal. He must be so tired – I bet he’s not sleeping as soundly as he used to, and not only because he’s old. I bet he’s got a pretty fair case of stress-related insomnia on the brew, and that makes it hard to function, let alone play name games on national radio. But I did find it interesting, I did, reading this article on SMH online, to note certain similarities between this latest blank and the last time it happened. You see, Johnny’s done it before. Last year, when he couldn’t remember the name of the Liberal member for Makin in SA. That member’s name is Trish Draper. This time we head further south to the great state of Tasmania. When pressed, Johnny admitted he didn’t know the name of the Liberal candidate for the important, Labor-held seat of Franklin. The candidate’s name is Vanessa Goodwin.

Can you see what these two people have in common, aside for Howard’s amnesiac reaction to them? Yes, that’s right. Pass GO and collect $200. They’re both women. Maybe I am drawing a connection that is unfair and incorrect. That’s possible. But when I look at John Howard’s politics, and when I look at the Invisible Woman, who has done absolutely nothing as far as I’m aware in her 11 years as wife of the country’s most powerful man, I can just about believe that Howard’s barely concealed, 1950s-style chauvinism might – even on a subconscious level – have contributed to the mental cue cards slipping.

I can only hope he stumbles over Maxine McKew’s name the same way, because that will mean he’s underestimated her. Because on some level forgetting the names of these two women is not a momentary lapse of memory. It’s about not having made the effort to know them. Something about those two women failed to penetrate his mind in an indelible way. I know Beazley had the same problem, and I’ve already said these things sometimes simply happen. But the fact that this particular chauvinist has forgotten these particular names did give me pause, and I wonder if it means more than the fact that our PM is old and tired.

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Love-Lies-Bleeding at the STC

July 10, 2007 at 11:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Last Saturday was the opening night at the Sydney Theatre Company of Don DeLillo’s latest play, Love-Lies-Bleeding. As I mentioned yesterday, I bought our two tickets the day I found out the STC was staging it, and I tried to pick the best of whatever seats they had left. This strategy found us in the upper reaches of the stage left, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be there on opening night. I bought a copy of the play itself online when it published last year, so I was familiar with the work in a way most of the audience probably wasn’t, and as you know I’m already at something of an advantage when it comes to DeLillo. Anyway, the main point is I was extremely excited about seeing DeLillo’s words come to life.

And didn’t they what. It is actually magical to see a play live that you have otherwise only read. In this case, it completely transformed the text, as indeed it is intended to do. The inflections, the pauses, the accents, the corporeal reality – plays are written with a view to all these and more elements of performance, so it’s no accident the effect of seeing it brought to life is so profound. I’d enjoyed reading the play, I’d even laughed aloud to an empty house a few times, but I loved seeing this.

DeLillo’s so particularly masterful at the vagaries of human speech that it’s a shame he’s only written two plays to date. His ear lends itself so very well to the eye. I hope he continues in this direction because it adds a dimension to his work that is very simpatico. And all the familiar themes were there, too, at least the ones that I spent so long analysing: adultery, space, journeys, secrets – Llew says there was a hotel in there too but oddly I don’t remember it. Then some of DeLillo’s better known themes: death, art, retreat, the desert, the New York subway. For a shortish play (there was no interval), he really managed to pack a fair punch.

And all credit to Robyn Nevin’s company. The set looked great, the lighting was perfect, the direction by Lee Lewis assured and that cast – wow. Nevin herself was just terrific, perfect in the role of Toinette. Early on I had severe doubts about the quality of Benjamin Winspear’s American accent in the role of Sean, but it didn’t take long for his nerves to settle, and in the end I understood his slightly in-your-face demeanour as a shrewd interpretation of the character’s personality. Max Cullen in the role of Alex was in his element and really very impressive – I felt he was exactly the man of the text and exactly the right amount more. Paula Arundell, too, although again with a couple of dropped vowels, was very moving in the role of Lia, particularly as she delivered her unconventional eulogy at the end. Special mention to Shaun Goss for an eerie, improbable inertness playing Alex ‘in extremis’ for the duration of the play. Llew and I discussed it later, and agreed it was impossible to tell until the curtain call that it had indeed been a living person sitting there all that time. Quite creepy, really, but for the fact that his situation was then made so utterly impossible to ignore.

It was superb, really. Two things REALLY upset me, and they’re not the fault of the players. The first is that they deserved a standing ovation and didn’t get one. I think Australians – is it just Sydney? – are such wet blankets in the enthusiastic applause department. Why can’t we give it up with feeling? The audience was pretty grey – it’s not often I get to say this anymore, but Llew and I were the youngest by a mile – but still, I think a rousing burst of applause is simply marvellous for kick-starting one’s circulation. It was all over too quickly, and the lights were up before I realised there would be no encore. I’d like to say they should have had one, and I certainly said ‘bravo’ out loud and hoped they’d be able to hear me offstage.

The other thing that irked the hell out of me was the fact that there were empty seats of two dotted throughout the theatre but most especially in the main section. Now, I couldn’t get seats in the main section, they were all ‘sold out,’ so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out they were unused corporate seats for the play’s sponsors and their clients. The primary sponsors are the law firm Ebsworth and Ebsworth and Myer. They might like to consider what a false economy sponsorship is if they’re not going to give a play its best chance of success. This was opening night, and there were screaming gaps in the audience because their corporate seats went fallow. It’s really appalling. I could have given those tickets away in a heartbeat to people who would have really appreciated them. Considering the age of the majority of the audience, it’s a particular shame that none of these wasted seats went to a younger part of Sydney who probably can’t afford the city’s exorbitant theatre prices. It made me furious sitting there looking across at those sets of two, and not least because so many empty seats had a much better vantage point than did we. But the main thing that makes me rage against these corporate-client seats going begging is that without question the players deserved a full house. Love-Lies-Bleeding is on at Wharf 1 until September 1, and you’re mad if you don’t take advantage of this great performance by a great cast of a great play by a great contemporary American writer.

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When a Bad Day Gets a Whole Lot Worse

July 10, 2007 at 12:37 am (Uncategorized)

Sorry about the absence of a post yesterday – more technical issues beyond my control. I have plenty to tell you, too, especially about Love-Lies-Bleeding, the DeLillo play currently showing at the Sydney Theatre Company. We bought tickets for opening night months ago, so it was like a big treat in reserve. I’ll write a whole post about it, but in short: go see it. It’s fantastic.

I’m glad they didn’t ask to see any ID when I got to the theatre box office on Saturday night because I didn’t have any. My wallet left my employ without notice last Thursday night. I used it at 9:30 pm, and thought I put it in the plastic bag as I left the shop. Then I walked directly home. I didn’t need it again until about 4:30 pm Friday, which is the first I knew of its being gone. One question that will continue to plague me is how did I lose it? I checked the plastic bag and it was intact. The only other explanation is that I left it on the counter at the shop, but they don’t have it.

It was a sickening moment when I realised my wallet wasn’t in the house. Sickening on several levels, the first being that our fortnightly grocery money was in it. In fact, I found out my wallet was gone when I went to do said grocery shopping. Yes, over two hundred clams in cold, hard cash. That was enough to make me want to cry, because we can’t afford to lose our grocery cash. Then there was the new Ferry Ten and Bus Ten passes. We budget by outlaying for our known expenses upfront every fortnight, and because last Thursday was payday, my wallet was teeming with the predictions of the new fortnight: food, bills, transport. Then there were my membership cards, my learner’s licence, my keycard and my Visa card. A block of my business cards, too, so whoever picked up my wallet is a thief.

This is the other thing. I can’t figure out how I could have lost it, but at a certain point a lost wallet becomes stolen, doesn’t it? Someone picked it up and failed to return it. That’s theft. And I just struggle to understand that my wallet wasn’t met by the kindly visage of a curious good samaritan leaning down for a better look – what are the chances? I believe the majority of people would do the right thing. Unfortunately, whoever scored my wallet did the wrong thing. It wouldn’t cross my mind for even a second to do anything other than hand in a wallet that wasn’t mine, and I feel sad that the karmic world wasn’t on my side on this occasion.

It’s not really the money, although that really winded me, two hundred bucks being a lot of money and intended to fund our feeds for two weeks. No, it was that the wallet had huge sentimental value. After failing to find anything of above-average interest in Italy, I finally found my new wallet in Tokyo on our last day of holidays early last November. It was so unusual. I haven’t seen anything like it here, and I really loved it. The leather was camel-coloured, the wallet itself quite large, and it had the decorative detail of a red chilli in a clear plastic circle over the clasp. It sounds stupid, but it was cool. So I know whoever picked it up – or took it somehow, I know it happens – really hit pay dirt. They got my lovely wallet, and everything inside I couldn’t afford to lose. Bummer. Such a bummer. And I was already having a pretty lousy day on Friday, so this quite frankly fucking sucked.

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The Lowy, Llew, and Loving Letters…

July 6, 2007 at 5:59 am (Uncategorized)

I was hoping to have Llew’s summary of Kevin Rudd’s speech at the Lowy for you today, but unfortunately Llew’s flat-out with work and hasn’t had an opportunity to do it for me yet. Stay tuned, though, and I’ll get it to you next week. It was basically the announcement of Rudd’s international policy, and it from what I understand from Llew, it was sound. We’ll all find out more about it, no doubt, but I’m glad we had our own insider there. He was recognised as a Lowy lunch regular at the door and allowed to sneak in at the last minute – well done, Llewie!

I’ve been thinking all week about the death of letters, so as the afternoon wears away on this Friday, I thought I’d share my lament with you. I have just about every letter I have ever received. I can’t bear to throw them out. I keep cards, postcards, invitations and your standard epistolary Dear Dianas, too. I keep them all. Sometimes, once in a blue moon (or rather more accurately, once on a rainy day), I even read some of them again. I think they’re things of wonder, and I cherish them. It’s so rare an event these days, receiving a letter, that it makes my heart ache for all those unsaid things. All those moments and observations and memories that aren’t being recorded anymore. Oh I suppose even this blog is a strange little open letter of sorts, and I know it’s how many of my overseas friends check up on me, but there’s none of the intimacy, none of the special honour of knowing it’s a letter I’ve written especially for ‘you,’ because you’re different people, and that knowledge affects what I say and how I say it.

Email is an incredibly powerful tool, and it is a vehicle of expression, no question. Some people who would never, not in a fit, have kept in touch with me through letters remain in my life thanks to email. I appreciate its speed, and I appreciate its size. I have boxes filled with nothing but lovely letters, and yet I can find email correspondence dating back years at a glance in a space that isn’t one. It’s all very remarkable to me. But the thrill, the out-and-out rush of excitement when I get a real letter in the mail is something I adore and the loss of which I truly mourn.

People don’t send me letters anymore. I occasionally write them, but I too am guilty of letting other modes of expression do it for me. I must start writing letters again. I had a brief revival when Tim was in West Chester, and that was fantastic because Tim wrote back, and his letters arrived in thick creamy envelopes that I thought were just fabulous. But now he’s back in Australia and my mailbox is as empty as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard is bare. It’s so sad.

I hate the fact that the mailbox is really just the repository of bills and advertising now. Once a month, if I’m lucky, my magazine arrives, but I’ve already decided I’m not renewing my subscription when it runs out in September, and then where will I be? Left holding out for the occasional postcard from some other bastard’s holiday – great!

Those boxes of letters are wonderful time capsules. Sometimes their potency is devastating. Sometimes old letters move me to new tears. And the laughs – boy, plenty of those. Teenage friends becoming angsty university students becoming professionals becoming parents…there’s lives in them thar letters, I tells ya, lives. They breathe their own air from another time and place, and I think they’re absolutely grand. I must start writing letters again – without them I am lost.

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Wind Madness

July 5, 2007 at 5:55 am (Uncategorized)

As the wind rages along the coast outside, it occurs to me that sometimes being caught in a big wind drives me really quite mad, so I googled ‘wind madness’ just now and was relieved to find I am not the only one: there were over 2 million matches. One of these took me straight back to a subject of a few days ago – the Andes – so armed with it and Joe Simpson’s reflections, I can safely say I’m going to give mountaineering a miss. Too much potential for total insanity…oh and, er, death.

According to this glutton for punishment, wind madness might even have an official name: anemomania. Last Sunday, my parents-in-law presented me with an awesome belated graduation gift: a gigantic Macquarie Dictionary fourth edition. It smells lovely. So, as I officially crack the spine for the first time (okay, I fanned the pages on Sunday…), let’s look up anemomania and see what it says…

Absolutely nothing. How anticlimactic. But it does have anemo- : a word element meaning ‘wind,’ as in anemometer. [Greek, combining form of anemos wind]

Then we have anemogram, anemograph, anemometer, and, um, anemone, at which point we’re already totally off topic (except not… literally it means daughter of the wind). I wonder if ‘fear of wind’ is anemophobia…? At any rate, as I glance down that list on page 50 of my brand new dictionary, I am rather alarmed by the number of words whose meaning I do not know. I am, after all, someone who should have a better than average grasp of the language. That’s what this whole ‘doctor’ malarky is about. There’s some comfort in the italicised qualifier archaic, for the word ‘anent,’ because it’s no longer in common usage, but what about anergy? I honestly didn’t know until just now it meant a deficiency of energy or a lack of immunity to an antigen. Actually, quite a lot on this list is rather medical. You can see how easily you might get distracted, going in to look up ‘wind madness’ only to find yourself suddenly confronting the horrors of ‘the congenital absence, either wholly or partially, of the brain’ (‘anencephaly,’ noun) or an ‘abnormality in the number of chromosomes (that would be ‘aneuploidy,’ noun). How utterly hideous. Moving right along, then…

So do I have wind madness? Sometimes. Sometimes being out on a windy day makes me very cross. But other times I love it. I love the blustery strength of it throwing me off course, I love its absolute disregard for my appearance (I suppose because it allows me to care less about it myself), I love its operatic aural range. But most of all I love it – really love it – when I’m on Katie and Peter’s boat, and we’re all out sailing together somewhere near Lion Island, and we look out toward the horizon and watch the wind race toward us across the water. You can see it. The force of the wind blackens the water as it bears along to meet us, so the wind looks like it’s casting a shadow as it approaches, or like it’s some inky creature approaching us from beneath the surface of the waves. It’s very exciting, and just thinking of it makes me realise I wouldn’t be without my wind madness after all.

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The Latest on the Lowy…

July 4, 2007 at 4:18 am (Uncategorized)

I just thought you may be interested to know that I have been back to the Lowy Institute since Warwick and I debated its capacity to produce independent research, and certainly my own position/impression has not changed. I attended the Wednesday lunch seminar last week. The presentation, by ANU anthropologist Dr Abby McLeod, was very loosely about the elections in Papua New Guinea that took place over the weekend, and more directly about some of the cultural, economic, and geographic factors contributing to PNG’s complicated systems of exchange and power. Dr McLeod’s insights were really interesting, and not at all prescriptive. I’ve been to PNG, and I loved it, so more than anything her presentation just gave me a better grasp of some of the country’s often misunderstood and heavily criticised negotiations of control. What we might think of simply as ‘corruption’ is in fact often part of a very layered tribal system of reciprocity, and I came away thinking again that our system of democracy can’t simply dismiss nuances like these in PNG’s fledgling version/s of democracy. We have to try to understand and respect such differences – there’s really no need, nor should there be any expectation, for PNG’s democracy to exactly mirror our own. Anyway, not only did the Lowy provide food for lunch, it again provided more food for thought.

Frustratingly, Llew and I missed out on places for tomorrow morning’s ‘Distinguished Speakers’ presentation by Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd. The Lowy’s online RSVP system collapsed under the strain of people rushing to fill the places, and we did not make it in. This makes me want to scream, but screaming changes nothing. I’m still not going. Llew passes the Lowy on his way to work each day, so he’s inclined to just try anyway in the morning, so I’ll let you know if he succeeds in getting in. Clearly we’re not the only ones who attend these Lowy presentations who are interested in what Kevin Rudd has to say.

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Touching the Void

July 3, 2007 at 4:12 am (Uncategorized)

Last night Llew and I finally watched Touching the Void, the film based on Joe Simpson’s book of the same name, which tells the story of his nightmarish experience as a 25 year old climber tackling the hostile western face of the Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes, with his climbing partner Simon Yates. Have you seen this movie or read this book? If not, all I can say is you really must do yourself a favour and get hold of one or the other. Having watched Joe speak throughout the doco, I have no doubt his writing would be as compelling as having someone reconstructing his experience manages to be on film.

I had actually been meaning to watch the film since it was released in 2003 (is that right?), but for some reason it just didn’t happen until last night. We were talking about it only last week – I have no idea why – and then as I browsed the ‘staff recommendations’ at the DVD store last night, there it was. The only thing that left me feeling totally dissatisfied was the lack of special features, because if ever there was a DVD that should have included reams and reams of bonus material, it was this one.

I can’t tell you how affecting Joe Simpson’s clarity of expression is – you really have to hear or read his descriptions for yourself. In the film, he has a very spare, unadorned form of articulation that has the effect of bringing the viewer right into the eye of his terror and humanity as he battles to stay alive and descend the treacherous, always deadly mountain – alone and with a shattered leg – over a period of 5 days (after 2 days spent on the ascent). His frank storytelling is incredibly evocative and powerful.

The bit I lay awake thinking about all night last night I don’t want to tell you about simply because I don’t want to ruin it for you. I hadn’t known it was coming and I still can’t get over his response to the situation he found himself in. He took a decision that undoubtedly helped save his life, but it’s one of those totally unthinkable decisions where you really can’t imagine what kind of crazy courage was required for him to make it. Gob-smacked is the understatement of the year – I was (and I am not easily) awed. Absolutely awestruck.

I won’t ruin it for you by telling you more, I’ll simply say that Joe Simpson’s manner of telling his story is just as affecting as the story he tells. It’s a combination that gave me a serious bout of insomnia last night as I replayed the whole thing in my by then utterly fevered mind.

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Ouch.

July 2, 2007 at 4:50 am (Uncategorized)

Man, am I tired today. My brain is all fuzzy and my eyes are drooping out of my head (I accidentally wrote ‘bed’ first off, which just goes to show what I’ve got on the brain). The weekend was not exactly of the moderate variety, and I am too old for this kind of tomfoolery. Sleeeeeepy…

Friday Matt was down in Sydney from Port Moresby. This is always dangerous, but we were surprisingly civilised this time around. Llew, Matt and I had a couple of drinks upstairs at Shore Club, a really cool Manly watering hole overlooking the ocean and the Norfolk pines. Then we wandered home with a couple of bottles of wine for dinner, including Matt’s too-generous contribution of a Wolf Blass reserve the guys in the bottle shop were comparing to Grange. I’d made my own variation of Jamie Oliver’s fish pie for dinner, which I served with roasted vegetables, and the three of us had a lovely night in catching up. We only went through two bottles of wine between three – nothing – but that Wolf Blass hit me like an absolute tonne of bricks. I’m not sure if it was the effects of the full moon or some kind of preservative in the wine, but after Matt went home, it suddenly occurred to me that both Llew and I were absolutely wasted like a pair of unsupervised teens. Wiped out. I actually had to send Llew to bed. And despite drinking lots of water in an attempt to ward off the full effects of the stuff, the next morning I awoke parched out of my skull and with a RAGING hangover. I thought expensive wine was an antidote to the dreaded hangover, but apparently not. I felt like a collapsed scrum.

Yes, that was my not-so-subtle segue to my Saturday night watching the Wallabies win against the All Blacks. An excellent and altogether surprising result. I hadn’t even remotely expected us to win. We set up the big screen in a corner of the courtyard and fired up the barbie, and a dozen of us hung out at our place for the game and a bit of a catch up. It was an all-Aussie rugby menu: french onion dip (easiest recipe in the known universe), BBQ Shapes, pies, sausage rolls, and a sausage sizzle. Oh and Sarah brought over a slab of Wagyu beef that Llew turned into melt-in-the-mouth wasabi skewers. Incredible. And we had chocolate cake and coconut slice from Flic and Mirella to complete the greedy guts picture. Once it was all over, a scene of utter carnage lay before us, and Llew and I thought we’d better have another bottle of wine whilst we contemplated the clean-up. Somehow, that pushed our evening out to 3 am. Like I said, ouch.

Jumping in the surf Saturday and Sunday helped tame the tyrant, so by the time Llew’s parents turned up with yum cha for lunch, I allowed myself to think I might get away with a glass of wine at lunch. Just to be sociable. You understand. Just one little glass of wine. Except then we thought we’d better have more. And more. And after Katie and Peter wisely made their escape, Llew and I continued to feel very thirsty indeed.

Now my thirst is of a very different variety. I need water. Lots and lots of precious, life-giving water. And I need a pillow. And a darkened room. Unfortunately I have a client meeting in town this afternoon, so bed will have to wait. What were we thinking?! One night of drinking is mad enough. Two is just asking for trouble. Three is certifiable, and I’m pretty sure I have new grey hairs on my head that weren’t there when the weekend began. The good news is we’ve now polished off all the alcohol in the house, so we might actually get some sleep tonight.

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