Friday, June 29, 2007

98 Reasons For Blogging: 15

Today, for only the second time since I began blogging, I met someone who previously I had only known through the medium of the blogosphere. I've been reading about Lucy's exploits at 'Prestigious U' in the US on her blog Always Listen to Your Pig Puppet since we were introduced by another Lucy, aka Mz Tartan, when she tagged us both with a meme about strange habits.

Gradually, over a period of time, from her comments on my posts, which featured photographs of geckoes and the Queen Street Mall, and others, which discussed the severity of the drought in South East Queensland, I realised that Lucy was from my part of the world. So, when I read on her blog that she was going home to 'Commonwealth Land' for a holiday, it occurred to me that she could be coming to Brisbane.

I wasn't too sure if she would want to meet up while (if) she was in town, so I sent her a tentative email suggesting the possibility. It turns out that she was in town and had been having similar hesitant thoughts about getting in contact with me.

What struck me about the process of arranging to meet one another was that we both knew exactly what university we were arranging to meet at, but I'm sure, when she spoke of visiting her 'old lab', and having a coffee hot chocolate with me, that she didn't ever mention the university or campus by name. It was only belatedly that I thought, 'Oh, I'd better check'.

I think I'm trying to say, somewhat awkwardly, something about the nature of getting to 'know' someone mainly through blogging, followed by the experience of meeting them in person. Sometimes you know things about the other person that you think you couldn't possibly have known. I suppose, they're the kinds of things that are never revealed in any one post, but which are accrued over a period of time. Often they're things that you probably wouldn't reveal upon first meeting anyone--it's an odd thing to sit across from someone and try to recount every dark secret you've let slip to an understanding 'stranger' and wonder if you should suddenly be mortified because now you could recognise her in a crowd. Of course, all of this is dependent on how personal a blog is. The thing is my blog has been quite personal on occasion and Lucy's is often personal too.

At first, I wasn't sure whether to ask questions which were informed by things I had read on Lucy's blog, but then I thought, 'Why not?', and so I did, and I think that was okay. For my part, I enjoyed being able to learn more about Lucy's foray into photography and her Doctoral research and to 'revisit' conversations about the cuteness of squirrels and the evils of corn syrup. And afterwards, while reflecting on our conversation, I settled upon 'charming' to describe Lucy, because she is, thoroughly; I enjoyed her company immensely.

And then there are the things that happened over coffee and a pistachio biscuit (me) and macadamia slice (Lucy): a kookaburra swooped low over my head with its bounty of potato chips before landing in the nearby garden to feast, making for a perfect photo opportunity for Lucy to capture with her camera.

Before we parted we took a photograph together, me with my mobile, Lucy with her proper camera. At first she was going to take a picture of my shoes and I was going to capture the collar of her cardigan, but then the sun came out, and there we were:

Lucy and Kirsty: Shadow Bloggers

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Gastropod: Lasagne

It's been a while since I've done a Gastropod post--for the uninitiated, that's a post about what I've been cooking and eating lately (it's as exciting as watching a snail move)--but since it's undeniably lasagne weather in Brisbane at the moment, a bit of extra-effort cooking has been underway at Chez Galaxy.

I've been craving lasagne all week. The vegetarians amongst my readers will be pleased to know it's vegetarian lasagne, in particular, that I've been salivating over.

I'm afraid I can't claim any ethical highground though, because any wish for meat has been well and truly satisfied by another dish I've been eating throughout the week. It's also been soup weather in this part of the world, so on Monday or Tuesday I made myself a big pot of rice noodle soup with bits of pork mince, sliced chicken, dried shrimp and fried tofu in a chicken broth with fish sauce and lime juice served with various bits of sliced green vegetables and a few slices of chilli and fried garlic that I've added to the mix for each meal.

Suffice to say that recent blood tests reveal my iron levels are sufficient.

Anyway, because I will eat soup no matter what the weather, even in the middle of summer, the rice noodle soup is a less significant culinary occasion for me than any that has me buying lasagne sheets.

Remember when lasagne was just about the fanciest thing you could serve at a dinner party? It was mainly because of all the effort involved, I think. It might have been some variation on that Middle Eastern entertaining principle: if people can see you've spent a lot of time cooking for them, it means they're valued guests.

Throughout the week, I thought various times about making lasagne. The first time I didn't have any flour. Shocking, I know. What kind of Gastropod am I? Well, I threw out the last lot because it was weevil infested; they wouldn't have gone down too well in the bechamel sauce.

On my next lasagne attempt, I got distracted by looking at recipes for the range of possible fillings I could make with various ingredients including mushrooms and capsicum. I bought an eggplant and some zucchini at one stage, imagining they would make excellent fillings. Alas, the eggplant could not be resisted and was grilled before some made its way onto a pizza, while the remainder was eaten on crackers for lunch one day.

Finally, today, I whipped up a bechamel sauce. I sliced some zucchini and sauteed it with butter, olive oil, garlic, parsley and oregano, then I mixed the two together (reserving some plain bechamel for the bottom of the lasagne dish), and added grated fontina--must have eaten all the parmesan--and some freshly grated nutmeg. I put the reserved bechamel on the bottom of the cooking dish, then began the layering process: pasta, zucchini bechamel, pasta, zucchini bechamel, etc. I finished the top layer with a grating of the fontina and put it in the oven for 20mins on 200°C. VoilĂ :

Sorry about the blurry shot; it's the camera phone--it looked in focus when I pressed the shutter button.

Here's another blurry photo. This one's of the salad I ate with the lasagne:

While the lasagne wasn't that cheesy, I decided I needed the tomatoes and onions for their anti-cholesterol properties. Can you tell I've been watching anatomy documentaries again? On the heart smart premise, I also had a glass of red wine. Now I might have some chocolate. 70%, of course.

What I suffer for my heart health.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I’m going to another book club meeting this weekend. Did I mention that last time I went, no one but me had read the book? Everyone looked at me pityingly and one person actually said that I clearly hadn’t worked out that the book club was a front for drinking wine and gossiping. Oh.

Well, I have nothing against imbibing alcohol and dishing dirt so I relaxed and joined right in…

To be fair, I had already read the book at the time when it was first proposed—in fact it was my suggestion to read it—and everyone else had experienced some difficulty getting it from the library, so there were circumstances beyond people’s control. Anyway, I had only briefly revisited the book in anticipation of the discussion, so perhaps, on this occasion, I needed a bit more time too.

You see, in this new book club-going endeavour, I had found myself in the all too rare position, in my life, of actually being ahead of the game. I had already completed the task at hand—reading White Earth by Andrew McGahan—and so in an effort to maintain my enjoyment of this unusual state of being I began to read the next proposed book, The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst.

I’ve finished that now too, and I’ve started reading another of the upcoming books, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I wonder whether I should stop reading the Niffenegger to re-read the McGahan lest I forget the finer details of that by the time this book club gets around to discussing it? As it is, I feel I will have to take some notes about The Line of Beauty.

I have decided to make a concerted effort to work on my memory for books since I know this is part of the art of reading well that I have never fully mastered, but, meanwhile, I hope you will indulge me by allowing me to jot a few thoughts down here about the Hollinghurst.

During the period that I was reading The Line of Beauty I woke up in the middle of the night with an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. The timing did coincide with the day I set up my new desk in the Forgan Smith Tower, but in the middle of the night, sitting up, consumed with worry, it dawned on me that I was channelling Nick Guest, the central character of Hollinghurst’s novel.

Nick is a lodger in his old Oxford friend, Toby’s family home in Notting Hill. Toby’s father is an MP in Thatcher’s government and so Nick, the son of an antique furniture dealer is afforded an entry into high society. The back cover of the book suggests that Nick relishes this position since it allows him to experience the kinds of beautiful things that power and money can, respectively, attract and buy, everything from lovers, to cars and employment.

I’m not sure I got a sense that Nick was enjoying himself so much—perhaps sporadically, superficially. It all felt unutterably sad to me; while Nick was a reliable source of information for his landlords and their social circle about the objects of beauty to which he had nominal access, he was effectively unable to enter into reciprocal relationships with Toby’s family and their friends. Nick longs for love and it seems no-one in his adopted family, and not even his two lovers, Leo and Wani, can share his feelings.

I’m usually quite hesitant about declaring whether a book is ‘good’ or not; I think my quandary arises from an insecurity about matters of cultural value and judgement, as if I will inadvertently reveal something untoward and common about myself if I don’t like a work of commonly agreed upon genius or, conversely, if I love something that everyone else thinks is trash. But at the same time I don’t want to be disingenuous about the fact that I do, like everyone, make such value judgements.

I wasn’t sure about The Line of Beauty at first, but after waking up in the night because of the thoughts and emotions it stirred in me, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a ‘good’ book—although since it won the Booker in 2004, probably no one really needed my endorsement.

I do want to say that I also really enjoyed Hollinghurst’s seemingly effortless prose. I mention this only because I have not long read one of the worst descriptions ever in The Time Traveler’s Wife: “I now have an erection that is probably tall enough to ride some of the scarier rides at Great America without a parent.”

And, now, having typed that here, to add insult to injury, I’ll probably start attracting a lot of freaky pawn hits.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Signs Of The Times

Apropos of Laura’s post this weekend at Larvatus Prodeo where she asked if anyone had seen any crimes against grammar in the great world of advertising, I thought I’d share this picture that I took with my camera phone earlier this week.

Okay, it’s not advertising or even a grammatical faux pas, but this Post-It Note was on a lift door in a University building housing the offices of Humanities and Social Science scholars. Is it deliberate? At first I thought not, then I thought because of the context it had to be, now I can’t decide.

At any rate, I was wondering whether, with a few judicious insertions of some punctuation and an extra letter, it might become the universal sign for signalling that you’re taking a rest from blogging?:

Out; Off Other[s].

Speaking of judicious changes to signage.

Do you remember my post about the glorious artwork on the old Ice Works at Paddington in Brisbane? The building has long been knocked down and work has begun on some ‘exclusive’ apartments. Here’s the banner that currently graces the fence to the building site:

The positioning of the sun in this photo is fortuitous, because I couldn’t see the picture I was taking at all, but it seems appropriate to me that ‘all’ includes the sun.

Anyway, if I were more of a risk-taking social activist, rather than of the arm-chair variety, I would have gone out and bought myself a can of spray paint and inscribed the following on the banner:

As you can see, in keeping with the manner of arm-chair activists everywhere, I’ve used Paint, a Microsoft program to communicate my disapproval of the sentiment expressed by the developers.

I don’t know that I want to live so close to people who feel entitled to demand ‘everything’. There’s so much that’s wrong with this attitude, I can’t begin. Well, maybe I can: we live in a world of finite resources people; this kind of in your face consumption is socially irresponsible; why don’t developers devote more of their resources to ‘inclusive’ housing, especially in these times of exorbitant rents?

All I can say to the future owners is that I hope you demand top-of-the-range sound proofing and security too, because living down from Caxton Street and across the road from Suncorp Stadium, amid the detritus left every weekend and after every football game by the alcohol fuelled mobs is not going to be quite the experience that the marketing promises.

Here’s a far more pleasing example of bill posting:

I found this example of stencil art on Melbourne Street at South Bank whilst walking between the Cultural Centre Bus Station and past the Convention Centre; it was on the same side as The Fox Hotel.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Home Movies

I tried to go to the cinema last weekend. I hadn’t been for a while, so I looked online to see what was showing at my preferred cinema. I navigated my way to view the proffered screenings at other venues, but nothing was particularly appealing or showing at a suitable time. Perhaps I didn’t really want to go out. I do want to see Noise.

At the forefront of my mind, I suppose, was the hours of films I have recorded on my DVR, hours that I haven’t watched. The weekend before I had sat down and watched one of these films: Igby Goes Down. I recorded it at the time it was broadcast because I know it’s one of the films a colleague is writing about in her doctoral thesis on American ‘Smart’ Cinema (See Jeffrey Sconce, “Irony, nihilism and the new American ‘smart’ film”, Screen, vol. 43, no. 4, Winter, 2002, pp. 349-369.)

Since, as I have mentioned in a previous post, the DVR hard disk is almost constantly at full capacity these days, I thought my lack of enthusiasm for a more social movie-going experience could be turned into an opportunity to clear some space on said hard disk.

That sounds as though I might as well be going to the supermarket—such an absence of affect in my expression; as if watching films is an uninspiring experience.

I ended up watching three films: Focus, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, and Song For Martin. Spoiler warnings apply.

The first was an American film, Focus. It starred William H. Macy and Laura Dern, each of whom is enough reason alone to see a film. Focus is set during the Second World War, after America has entered the war. Macy’s character is a human resources man, whose new glasses apparently make him look Jewish. His appearance is enough reason for his boss to demote him to a back office, a move which prompts Macy’s character to resign. He finds it difficult to get work anywhere, until he seeks employment with firms whose principals have Jewish-sounding names. It’s at one of these firms that he re-encounters a woman (Dern) whom—under pressure from his boss—he refused employment in his old position, because she had a Jewish-sounding name. Macy’s character’s Jewish-ness attracts negative attention from his neighbour, who is a member of a Christian, white supremacist group, ostensibly a labour group, and after he marries Dern’s character, the harassment escalates.

What was intriguing for me about Focus was the way Macy’s character wasn’t politicised by the injustice of his treatment at the hands of the religious bigots. He developed no allegiance with the local Jewish newsagent who was similarly persecuted. Indeed, it was the Jewish man who rescued Macy’s character when he and Dern’s character were approached on a dark night by a gang of the white supremacists. He was basically a weak man trying to survive the situation. Describing him as weak is perhaps a bit harsh, because I wonder if he isn’t like most of us, just trying to avoid trouble.

The second film was an Australian classic, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. I hadn’t seen this film before, and it’s one that I wish I could have seen on the big screen, since it was cinematic in its sweep of the Australian landscape, as well as in the more detailed depiction of flora and fauna.

Whenever you watch an Australian film from the 70s, it’s always a case of spotting the current day soap star. Who ever imagined that Alf from Home and Away was once so fresh-faced? It’s probably quite telling that you can’t do the same thing with the Aboriginal actors who are the stars of this film.

It’s appropriate that I watched The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith during Reconciliation Week. It’s the story of Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) a ‘half-caste’ aboriginal boy who is taken in by the local religious minister and his wife and provided with an English education. The minister has high hopes for Jimmie—he is apparently redeemable because of his partial whiteness. Jimmie is bright and he excels in his education, and this is part of his downfall, since he’s more literate than many he encounters. When he leaves the minister’s home to find work, his aboriginality is a problem for white employers, who either won’t hire him or if they do, it’s for back-breaking physical work, such as fence-building on vast properties. For a brief time he is employed as a trooper, until he’s asked to dole out ‘justice’ to his aboriginal community. Jimmie is constantly being cheated by dishonest white men who refuse to pay him for completed work, even when they know he has no food; they constantly change the employment agreement offering only the most baseless reasons, if any; and they manipulate his white wife and the child he loves as his own to leave him for their own good. Naturally all of this mistreatment and injustice eventually gets to Jimmie and he metes out his own horrific form of justice, killing the families of many of his former employers.

The third film was Danish. Song for Martin is about an affair between a concert composer and the woman who is his first violin, Barbara. They bond over a suggestion she makes for one of his compositions during a rehearsal. They both leave their marriages for one another and embark on a life together. As the days unfold, it becomes increasingly apparent that there is something wrong with the composer, Martin. It turns out that Barbara's identification of the anomaly in Martin’s composition was the first evidence of his eventual diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease. We witness Martin’s deterioration and Barbara’s struggle as she witnesses the man she loves forget their relationship and become unable to control his behaviour.

So, that’s three down; only twenty-two to go. I might not have to go out for a while.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Dear Self

There are some days when you would be well-advised to simply accept the warning signs that present themselves to you at the beginning of the day and just stay in bed.

Yes, it may well be the day you are planning for your thesis writing to get back on track, but that is immaterial.

You may have wrangled yourself a new desk, in a much quieter place, with lovely coffee-making facilities, and so intend to start the week as you mean to go on, determined to achieve a level a productivity that will make your supervisor proud (or at least give him something to read).

Ho hum.

You may think that your confident new nail polish, ‘Vixen’, will carry you through the calamity of petty grievances that the day ahead will be.

Think again.

You had plenty of notice that you weren’t functioning at your best . What do you think ‘please make an appointment to discuss thyroid results’ means?

Well, it means that you haven’t been apathetic and unfocussed and irritable and needing to sleep unreasonable and excessive hours for any reason within your control. That’s the good news.

Still you didn’t heed the warnings did you?

First of all you sliced your finger on the ‘very sharp’ ceramic blade of your new mandolin slicer. You did this at around 8am when you were cutting tomato for your breakfast sandwich. You thought you had better hand-eye coordination than the product label warning, to ‘always’ use the slice guard, seemed to suggest.

You went out anyway—probably emboldened by having a single band-aid in the bathroom cabinet.

Really, the day wasn’t too bad. There was a moment of relief when you were leaving your old office. The new space has heaps of natural light. You still felt unaccountably tired, but you managed to read more about Foucault.

It was on the way home, when you decided to drop into the supermarket that things went awry. You really should avoid supermarkets in rush hour; it’s not as if you don’t know that you get unreasonably irritated when people navigate the aisles as if they’re the only ones in the entire shop. I know, you’re convinced you’re invisible sometimes. Or maybe you just look like the kind of person who can be walked over.

You were punished for not heeding the earlier warnings when a very young child pushed a supermarket trolley into the back of your foot. It stung slightly, but you were more shocked and, then, annoyed. Shame on you for pretending it hurt more than it did. His mother was embarrassed and wouldn’t let him push the trolley anymore. You know you ruined his fun. Don’t think reassuring him that you knew it was an accident made up for anything.

He might feel better if he knew you missed your bus and had to catch a cab, because you would have gone completely crazy if you’d had to wait 35 minutes for the next bus—during peak hour!

You wondered if it was a case of karma that you got a surly cab driver who kicked you out of his car when you asked why he was heading for Coronation Drive during peak hour, rather than the more free-flowing route along Milton Road? You may not have wanted to pay for sitting in the car park that forms every evening on Coronation Drive, but surely you weren’t suggesting he didn’t know his job?

Oh, you think he had it in for you from the very beginning when he didn’t register your greeting of ‘Hello’? Then he made you repeat your address after you’d already given it to him, and he proceeded to correct you—or at the very least suggested, via his tone, that you should have just given him your suburb and not your street name at that stage?

Boo. Hoo.

Anyway, let your child-upsetting, transport-thwarted self be a lesson to you next time you think about ignoring letters advising you of plummeting hormone levels; standing abandoned in the street with two bags of groceries and a 5mm slice of skin missing from your middle finger will be the least of your troubles.

Yours smugly,