Thursday, March 15, 2012

Who are you

Travels in my hometown...

The other week I had a very nice meal and some very very nice wine with some very very very nice friends at my new favourite very nice place 10 William St Paddington. 10 William St is a Wine Bar. And it is strictly a Wine Bar. I know it is strictly a Wine Bar because at the end of my meal and two glasses of  the nice rose I was drinking ( I forget the name. My friend Katie was drinking it when I arrived. I really should pay more  attention to these things) I asked the waiter what tea they had ( it was a school night  and I was trying to be sensible). The waiter looked at me a little aghast –  ‘ We are a wine bar – we don’t have tea’. He wasn’t being rude, he was just genuinely confused at how I could possibly be around such a great selection of wines and possibly be considering a pot of tea.

He had a point. Indeed, I felt he made such a good point that I dismissed my ‘it’s a school night sensibleness’ and promptly ordered another glass of whatever it was Katie was drinking.After the consumption of which I was tipsy enough to tell my friends what had happened to me before I arrived;

I had  had some time to kill between finishing work and meeting friends so I killed it in a cafe. I  flicked through the paper, and when I was done with that, I aimlessly scrolled through Facebook and clinked on a link a friend of mine had posted. It was an article about this woman who despite great adversity had achieved some phenomenal stuff – opening an orphanage in Indonesia and just generally being a great person.

I was tired that afternoon, and possibly stewing in a bit of self-pity, so it was the kind of story that picked me up and put my ‘first world’ worries into perspective. And don’t we all need a bit of that some times.At the end of the article there was a quote from the woman ( whose name I forget – I wonder if I can pass of my inability to pay attention to names as a literary motif?) that was something like – 'You’ve only truly lived when you have involved yourself with something bigger than yourself’.  And I really liked that idea.

Infact, I liked it so much that I decided to write it down. Except I realised that I didn’t have a pen with me. Or paper. So I decided to text myself the quote. ( Don’t ask me why I didn’t use  the notes function on my iphone, as I said, I was tired and I usually forget that it exists even on mental sharp afternoons).

So I did. I text the quote to myself.

Except I kind of hit 8 when I should have hit a 7. So I actually sent the text to somebody else.



I felt a bit stupid and sheepishly put the phone back in my bag.

By this time, it was time to meet my friends for dinner. I didn’t mention my accidental text message. I still didn’t tell them half an hour later when I had a text message in response saying – ‘who are you’.

And I still didn't mention it a half an hour later when they text again – ‘who are you’.

But after that third glass of wine that the waiter pretty much insisted that I drank, I told them about  my afternoon silliness. And we all had a giggle.There was a suggestion that I should respond.There was a suggestion I could start just randomly texting this person at monthly intervals with other snippets of wisdom.

I didn’t. I didn’t do anything.

But I thought this…

It might be that for the person who received it, it was exactly what they needed to hear at the paritcualr point in their life. Maybe my random text message spurred them on to take on a new challenge, leave a terrible relationship, or go open their own orphanage. Maybe, for them, it was like the universe  had sent them a message. Maybe in my tired Tuesday afternoon state I channelled a message from a higher source. Maybe in some small way my text message has sent them on the path to greatness.


On the other hand, it may have totally freaked them out and they have contacted their phone company to block sender on me.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Is there anything better than a rooftop bar?

It was one of the first things I noticed about Istanbul; an abundance of roof top bars. Little oases perched high above everyday life. Intimate, yet outdoors. Thea and I found ourselves on quite a nice one, complete with candles, cushions and pashminas, within hours of arriving in Sultanahmet (Old Istanbul).As we watched the late afternoon sun dance across the Bosphorus, a meze plate was placed before us. And mint tea was served.

It was a good start to a great couple of days.

          *        *        *

I had a few weeks of pure escapism in between moving out of Dublin and moving back to Sydney: sometime on the West Coast of Ireland, a quick jaunt to London for a dear friend’s thirtieth, a week in Berlin (part of it with G and part of it solo) and then my last stop - Istanbul. G had insisted I had to go there before I went back home – ‘It’s amazing’. While I love travelling alone, Istanbul was a place I really wanted to go with a friend. In particular, I wanted to go with my Kiwi-born-London-based friend Thea. I hinted once, twice, fourteen times via email that she really needed to take some time off work  and come with me, and yes, she agreed she really should - but what about the website launch? What about the show? What about the…?. For a while, I didn’t think it was going to happen. And then it did.

                                      *        *        *

We stayed, pretty much like every other visitor to Istanbul, in Sultanahmet, and despite being just a wee bit touristy, why on earth wouldn’t you? The Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, The Hippodrome, the Basilica Cistern, and the Archaeology Museum are all within an easy walking distance (and I mean super easy – you stand in the middle of Sultanahmet Park and you are literally flanked by Aya Sofya and The Blue Mosque. Super-easy. Not to mention super-spectacular).

There are also lots of little places to sit down and eat pistachio-studded baklava and drink tea. Which, after a round of sightseeing, is exactly what we were doing when a man in his early forties and a young woman, probably in her mid to late twenties asked if they could join us. We said yes (What else can you say?) and they started, well, he started to tell us about their lives. He said he was Turkish but he lived in America with his wife and children and that the young woman was his cousin. They wanted to talk to us because, he explained, his cousin wanted to practise her English, which wasn’t very good. (Great, I thought to myself, I am on a break from work - as an English Language teacher - and I get to give an impromptu English lesson). 

He asked us some questions about ourselves - how long had we been in Istanbul? Not long at all, he had already guessed. What did we do? Where were we from? He had once had an English teacher years ago who had been Australian and he loved New Zealanders, he said. Were we married? He didn’t think so. The conversation proceeded and suddenly we were talking about carpets. Well, he was talking about carpets. He warned us to be careful if we were thinking about buying a carpet. Thea expressed a smidgen of interest in buying a carpet. And then – what a surprising coincidence – it turned out he was a wholesale carpet salesmen, who didn’t usually deal with tourists but would make an exception for us. The cousin piped us to tell us that he really did have fantastic carpets and that his warehouse was just around the corner and they could take us there right now.

It was at this point that I flashed a look to Thea which said ‘not-a-chance-am-I leaving-this-well-lit-café-to-walk–around-the-back-streets-to-this- alleged-carpet-factory-with this-guy-and-his-English-impaired cousin (who, by the way, was not showing any sign of struggling to understand the conversation, I, the semantic sleuth, had realised in the last 18 seconds) . Luckily, Thea was flashing me the exact same look back.

The man and his cousin soon realised a.) There was no chance we were budging from our tea and pistachio-studded baklava b.) We were not going to see his warehouse anytime soon or c.) We had no money and he left us his card and took off from the café.


                                      *        *        *

The Grand Bazarr. It’s huge. You need a plan. We had a plan. The market stores are grouped depending on the products they sell and we would first focus on the pashminas and ceramics and glassware. Then spices. We would jot down the stores we liked, find ourselves some juicy lamb shish and then go back and make our purchases. We would miss the leather and gold sections entirely. And maybe have a quick look at the carpets (Thea actually did still have a smidgen of interest).

We stuck to it. Mostly.

About twenty minutes into the Bazaar, I got distracted by a very  pretty jewellery box (‘jewellery boxes’ - not a designated stop). Thea was also distracted by something pretty, except her pretty thing had dreamy brown eyes and wanted to take her to lunch.

‘His name is Tom’, Thea sighed, showing me his card

‘A traditional Turkish name’ I commented.

But on to more important pretty things: scarves, ceramics, and cushions covers. I may not have mentioned this before but Thea is a wee little thing. Short, petite, brunette, tiny feet and cute as a button. Judging from her appearance, you would probably not guess her bargaining prowess.

‘Can I see this one, and this one and this one? What? That’s the best you can do. What about if my friend gets one?  Really? No? How about that one other there? You can do a bit a better price, if we take three? Yes? Thanks, that’s great.’


Many hours later, weary and full of Lamb shish, we had finalised our decision. No carpets. No Jewellery Boxes. Two pillowcases each (they are delightful and are currently sitting on my bed). Two glass candle holders for me. A white scarf for both of us from the sweet Uzbekistan guy. And some spices for Thea ( none for me unfortunately, I would never get them through customs in Australia)

A grand day indeed.

                                                *          *          *

There are always a few standout ‘Wow’ moments when you go travelling. In Corsica, it was a view from the top of Sant Antonino and the cheese that was in my salad in a nearby restaurant. In Italy, the coastline along Cinque Terra. And in my own country, Uluru at sunset.

 As I was surveying a collection of old carpets in the Archeology Museum, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

‘Come and have a look at this’, Thea said.

I followed Thea out into the courtyard and there it was – just the most spectacular view of the Blue Mosque. Just stunning. Although there were many pretty mosques around Istanbul, the  beauty and grandeur of the  Blue Mosque is unparalleled. Its eight white domes curve round and capture the imagination. The sheer size of the place unapologetically demands your attention and admiration. And, even though it may have been born out of vanity rather than virtue, its controversial sixth minaret is the perfect proverbial cherry on top of this Turkish architectural dish.

Thea had quickly befriended a young man (doey skin, dreamy dark eyes…you see a pattern too?)  to take our picture. The moment captured. Thea struck up a conversation with her new friend and I went back to the carpets

Thea definitely had her mojo on this city and it was great to see, it was wonderful to see. My mojo, on the other hand, had most definitely not been packed. The last few weeks had been a pretty tumultuous time for my heart and it had closely reigned my mojo in (‘You’, said my heart ‘have got us into enough trouble lately’). This particular trip I felt like more of a chaperone than a wing man. The only Turkish delights I was interested in where the ones covered in sugar.

                                      *        *        *

And Istanbul is certainly the city for culinary pleasures. One night was a particular highlight.

If Sultanahmet is the old Istanbul than Taksim Square is most definitely the new Istanbul. This is where the malls, the international labels, and the cinemas are; this is the part of this modern city which looks a bit like every other modern city (albeit, with a Turkish twist). I was simultaneously overwhelmed by its size and underwhelmed by its charm.

Until, after much turning of maps and asking of directions, we got to Nevizade Tavernas, a stretch of restaurants, bars and clubs in the side streets and laneways just off Taksim Square.

So this is where they keep the fun. Atmosphere plus. Busy, friendly restaurants whose tables spill out onto crowded streets. Where down one street you’ll find a guitarist singing Turkish songs to an audience who are far from shy when it comes to  joining in, and down another street , the duff duff music of Istanbul’s club scene hinting at yet another unexpected aspect of this diverse and dynamic city.

Thea and I sat down at one of the many tempting outdoor tables at one of the many tempting  restaurants and  ordered a few beers and on the waiters recommendation, ordered pretty much a little of everything on the menu – the clear winners being a saucy little fava bean dip and some unforgettable mackerel.

It was a fantastic night. Whenever we talk about our eyes get a bit shiny. Nevizade Tavernas is a real must if you ever go to Istanbul.

*        *        *

Speaking of Istanbul must dos, I have to say another recommendation would be to jump on one of the many boat cruises that leave from Eminonu Ferry Boat Docks and spend a day on the water.

Sailing round the  Bosphorus, the harbour which divides Istanbul and which many refer to as the border between Asia and Europe,  is an ideal way to leisurely view the many the palaces and mosques which make up this sprawling beautiful city. And the perfect place to gape at how many fishermen are hoping to make a catch on the Gibralta Bridge.

About half an hour into our cruise, we noticed that all the flags around the city were at half mast. We later found out that it was done every year on that day ( the 10th of November) in commemoration of the death of Ataturk, the much revered and respected leader of Turkey from 1923-1938, whose legacy is still felt in this city, even some 70 years after his death

                                      *        *        *

What better way to finish off a day on the water, than a night in the water. Perhaps it is an Australian thing but I never really feel like I have been on holiday unless I have been in the water. Preferably naked ( Did I just cross some writer/ reader line? If so, you might want to skip the next two paragraphs).

On our last night in Istanbul we found a beautiful, reputable and not really all that expensive Haman in Sultanahmet. And let the bathhouse ritual begin; we disrobed, we plunged into a hot bath the size of a swimming pool, we laid ourselves on heated white marble and let some gorgeous old Turkish mammas scrub our skins until they were red. And then we had a long massage followed by a refreshing cool shower.

The bliss.

The utter utter bliss.

It is just as well we left the Hamam for the last night. If we had gone there on the first night, I am not sure we would have gone anywhere else.

                             *                 *                 *

Istanbul is an impressive city.  Istanbul is a city who carries her past with her, yet holds the knowledge that to survive is to welcome change. Istanbul walks the fine line between east and west, between negotiation and defiance, between strength and surrender. And knows how to soften life with sweet delights.

And as I steadied myself for the reality of moving back to my home town, to the challenge of making my former life mine again, I took great inspiration from that.

*        *        *

 Show Off 

( Image thanks to Google)

Sunday, January 29, 2012


This is a  joint 'blogject' that my dear friend (and fellow hunter-of-words) Danne and I decided to embark on together.  A year of gratis. A year of taking note, or taking a picture, of all the things we are grateful for.

Check it out.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dublin Words - Part Two

No, it was most definitely not just the ones in the books, on the stage or in the exhibitions. For the most part, it was the turns of phrase I heard from new friends (which had the warmth of old ones), taxi drivers and the occasional random on the street that really endeared me to this town.

Not that they didn’t cause me some confusion at times.

Your man

 ‘I saw your man Andrew on the weekend’

Lorna innocently dropped this into the conversation one Monday morning in the staffroom, not long after I arrived in Dublin. Lorna and I had recently become friends one night after work over a bottle of Merlot. After the shop talk and the obligatory questions about the number of siblings we both had, we discussed men. (In my experience, swapping stories about men is how women galvanise new friendships. I am not alone in thinking this. After my friend G confided in me who she had a crush on for the very first time, she commented - ‘I just told you who I have a crush on. We are proper friends now’). It turned out that Lorna and I both had an ‘Andrew’ in our lives,  but I was fairly sure mine was deeply ensconced in academic pursuits in a country far far away.

So the above comment came as quite a surprise to me.

‘What?’ I inquired eloquently.

‘Your man Andrew, I saw him on the weekend’ she repeated.

WHAT, I raged to myself, had he been in town and not seen me? Geeze,I knew things weren't great between us but seriously. How did Lorna know it was him? Did she randomly meet him? How on earth had she figured out it was my Andrew? What are the odds? What on earth was he doing here? What is she not telling me? What is HE not telling me?

It is amazing how many thoughts can actually fit into 0.00045 of a second.

This fleet of successive thoughts were interrupted as Lorna continued with her story, and as I soon gathered that we were not talking about my Andrew, but hers.

I had forgotten about it until a few days later when a similar thing occurred.

‘Your man in the café does a good coffee’ my boss commented.

‘Oh no, he’s not mine. I barely even know him’ I explained.

Blank look from my boss.

It was at about that time that I realised that ‘Your one over there…’,or  ‘Your man in the café…’ was the same as saying ‘That person over there..., ‘That man in the café…’  and when Lorna had said ‘I saw your man Andrew last weekend’ she had just meant that she had seen the Andrew she had been talking over the third glass of Merlot .

No possession, ownership or previous attachment to me required.

Your one over here finally got it.


 ‘How are you?’

‘Grand thanks’.

Grand is an obvious charmer.

It is my humble opinion that if the rest of the English speaking world adopted ‘Grand’ as their response to ‘How are you?’ instead of ‘Fine’ or ‘Not bad thanks’,  the general state of world wide happiness would increase by at least 7 per cent.

Despite my instant admiration for ‘Grand’, I didn’t use it when I first arrived. It annoys me when visitors to a new country pick up the jargon (or in some cases, the accent) within a few days. It jars my sensibilities and sets off my bullshit radar. Over an extended period of time, you can’t help but pick up the phrases you hear around you and acquire a bit of lilt in your intonation but it certainly does not happen over a weekend.

So, it was quite a nice surprise, one afternoon (after I had been in Dublin for a few months) when, after  G had offered to do my photocopying for my next class, a little’ That would be grand’ popped out of my mouth in response.

My first authentic little grand. Grand.


Knackers was another phrase that I liked (although their matching grey tracksuits I was not so fond of).
Knackers are bogans or trailer trash (as in "The music festival was great, even though they it was full of knackers').


 Of course, the verb ‘rob’ is not particular to the Irish but their use of it is. They use ‘rob’ in they same way I use ‘steal’ and most people use ‘borrow’, for example ‘Can I rob your  pen for a minute? Tanks’. (NB, ‘tanks’ is not a spelling mistake. Just my attempt at phonetic realism as the whole ‘th’ sound is not so popular in Dublin).


'Good crack’ was another phrase I liked, though I could never make it my own. I did resist the urge to comment that while good crack means a good time in Dublin, where I come from it means good heroin.


My all time favourite. Langers means drunk. As in ‘I was absolutely langers on Friday night’.

As in ‘I do miss getting a little bit langers with my ones in Dublin’. And I do.

How is it possible to get a pang, no an ache, in my heart of homesickness for a place that was only home for six months?

(This one’s for you G. Proper friends now.) 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dublin Words - Part One

Dublin Words – Part One

‘ You know I thought you were really boring when we first met’   Sam,  Circa 1996

My very dear friend Sam and I have known each other since we were sixteen and I am fairly sure we will know each other when we are a hundred and sixteen. She made the above comment to me when we had only known each other a few months.  I took it as a compliment but it wasn’t until I moved to Dublin in 2009 that I knew exactly what she had meant.

While London had me at a hello, Dublin took her own good sweet time to work her charm on me. It's pretty Dublin but you need to work a little, or rather to walk a little, to uncover her gems. The parks are a good place to start; secret cosy Georgian parks are dotted all over the city. Merrion Square is opposite the National Gallery, St Stephens Green is smack bang by Grafton St and Phoenix Park takes up a good chunk of the North. The grounds round the Modern Art Gallery, a little way out from the centre, also have some remarkably impressive grounds in which you can stretch your legs.

But, for the record, my favourite park is tucked away in behind a performing arts venue. It has a name but I prefer to refer to it as 'the secret garden'.  It is cosy and intimate, complete with a fountain and maze and bordered by a significantly high stone fence. It is full of nooks and crannies and the perfect place to have a few sneaky (and illegal) wines on a sunny Sunday afternoon. And once a year  it hosts a comedy festival where I had the pleasure of introducing my best Irish gal friend to Tim Minchin and ,in return, was introduced to the funny gorgeousness of Des Bishop.

 I am not going to tell you where my secret park is because I do not want to spoil the pleasure you’ll get from discovering it yourself. Here is a hint - it’s a stone’s throw from Harcourt St.

And when the weather was too wet ( and it regularly was) for parks, I soon discovered indoor gems like the Chester BeattyLibrary (a delightful and extensive collection of manuscripts, books and nicknacks. A stationery nerd’s heaven) and the Project Arts Centre to feed and nourish the mind and imagination. And the bars and cafés along and around Aungier St and Camden St to keep the physical body as equally pleased – Shebeen chic  was a particular favourite. And many thanks to the antipode baristas around my favourite part of town for knowing what a flat white is.

However, when I look back on my slow-cook romance with Dublin, I realised it was not so much what I saw but rather what I heard (or read) that really made me fall in love with Dublin. For me, Dublin is not about the pictures, but the stories.

This is a town of storytellers. And the Irish have certainly produced a few:

Bram Stoker, James Joyce (who spent most of his adult life in Paris, but solely wrote about Dublin), Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, J.M Synge, Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Flan O’Brien, Claire Keegan, Colm Toibin

The lists goes on…

 The first real spark Dublin and I shared was at the very pretty National Library. My first few weeks in Dublin were spent in the pursuit of a home and a job and a quick visit to the library was a way of distracting myself from the sobering reality of trying to find work in a post-Celtic-Tiger-mid- GFC Dublin. There was a Yeats exhibition on and part of the exhibition included  a collection of recordings of Yeats reading his work. You could just sit there and listen to him eloquently recount his unrequited love for that 'passionate woman' Maud Gonne and stories of the young revolutionaries that were executed by the British in The Easter Rising in 1916 -

           ' Now and in time to be /  Wherever green is worn / Are changed, changed utterly/ A terribly beauty is born'

(And my love of good Irish storytellers continues, I recently saw a production of Terminus at the Sydney Opera House. Geez, the Irish can write.)

It was also in Dublin visiting the Book of Kells that I came across this little poem - 
    ' I and Pangur Ban my cat / Tis a like task we are at / Hunting mice is his delight /  Hunting Words I sit all night'

And one evening after attending a reading of a woman whose name I wish I had made note of I scribbled this down in my notebook - 'all day I resented the rain, I especially resented the rain as I walk down O'Connell St to see the reading, my umbrella turned inside out. Again. I resented everything when I realised the reading had actually started at 6pm, not 6.30. But then as I was listening to the reading, the landscapes came to me through words and the language took me out of myself, out of my mood and my resentment and straight into the present of craggy mountains, and sentences, and stone women waiting for love to return them to flesh. And in the background of all these stories was the rain, falling on the roof like magic and  it all turned me, into a better me. '

Yes, it was the words that did it for me.
And not just the ones in the books...

Maud ( who just wanted to be friends)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Phoenix Park, Dublin -2009

In 2009 I lived in Dublin for six months and one day I went for walk.

Wandering and wondering through Phoenix Park

You can rent bikes at the entrance. I canvass the idea but decide against it. Maybe another day, especially as today I am solo, even the battery in my ipod has died. So there is nothing but the sounds of the park and my own thoughts for company.

Chesterfield Avenue is the main road through the park and I am following it, ignoring the walking tracks and enticing paths that fall off to either side. I am all for the road less travelled (indeed, I think I’ll end up building a house on it) but not without a map, especially as this park is huge (1752 acres). Not only is the park huge it is also the site for the infamous Phoenix Park murders. Granted that was in 1882. And some would argue they were political assignations. You can’t avoid the politics and history of Ireland, even when taking a walk around the park.

The first sight to see is Wellington Monument. I don’t mind it, but on it’s completion in 1861 it was described as being ‘in defiance of all rules of art and taste’. It was apparently meant to be taller and flanked by lions but public funds ran out.

And a little further up the Avenue is the Presidents of Ireland’s residence. It’s called Aras an Uachtarain in Gaelic and for the umpteenth time in the last few weeks I wish I knew how to pronounce Gaelic. I don’t go in today. You can, there’s even a tour but today is for walking, for greenery and for some quiet time.

I keep wandering along Chesterfield Avenue, passed the first main big intersection, passed the Corinthian column with a phoenix bursting out of it the top of it. Passed the manicured flower beds, the sports fields, further into the heart of this greenery.

And the word for the day is green.

A friend from back home in Australia recently wrote to taunt me with news that in 2007 Dublin had only two days when it didn’t rain. I don’t think 2009 will be much different. Today is first day I have left the house without my red umbrella. But I can’t help thinking that all the rain is a small price to pay for all the green that surrounds me now. It’s startling. Green, Green, Green. The trees and the grass are alert with it, turgid with it, bursting with it, saturated with it.

Further up the avenue an older couple and their granddaughter tumble out of a horse and carriage. The driver thanks the woman earnestly and gives her a quick peck on the cheek as she pays him for the ride. He then reminds the little girls to make sure she says goodbye to the horse. There is such a rapport between them I wonder if they have known each other for years or if they have just met.

My reverie and rhythm is interrupted by the sound of circus music blasting from a dark blue van advertising, funnily enough, a circus. The Forsett Circus. I spot their tent a little further up. I detour off the avenue to the tent. A man wearing a red jacket with gold coloured plastic buttons smiles at me, I smile back but keep walking. Just passed the circus some people stop in their car and ask me if this is the way to the Visitors Centre. I tell them I don’t know but I think it may be further down the road. They drive off and I follow the road, curious to see if my directions are correct.

I am. Approaching the Visitors Centre there is a walled garden, which looks like something out of an Enid Blyton story. Once inside I see that half of the garden is under restoration and the other half is covered with rows and rows of different plants. I wonder what their names are and wish my sister was here.She’d know.
What are these?

OK, this I know.

But what about this rebellious little bugger? Does he have a name?

What is it with humans and our desire to give everything a name?

Walter Benjamin held that naming was the ‘quintessential human activity’. I agree. I marvel at our fascination, compulsion and ability to name, to categorise, to know. I remember I felt relieved when I heard that the international economic turmoil that the world was experiencing was called The Global Financial Crisis.Relief. It’s named. The GFC. Surely if we can give something an acronym, it must somehow be knowable, fixable, under our control. Right?

How clever we humans are. How quaint. How deluded.

But right now, surrounded by some recognizable flowers and even more unknown trees, I am glad for both the chaos and order.

Ashton Castle is just around the corner from the Walled Garden. It has been round since the 16th century but has undergone various restorations since then. The last one was in 1996.It is super cute and super small and looks out on a childrens’ play area.

Just passed the castle is tree with a large reclining horizontal branch. A perfect place for lovers or, as happens a few moments later, a young boy of about nine to have a good sit and think. I walk passed the boy, lost in his own thoughts. And then I walk passed his younger brother who has picked up a handful of stones and is now proudly presenting them to his mother.

It starts to rain and I duck into the Visitors’ Centre, thinking about my little red umbrella sitting far far away on my bed. The staff in the Visitors’ Centre look bored but I am entertained by the section of the exhibit entitled - Drunkenness in the Park.

Apparently there was a meeting in 1792 to ban drinking in the park on Sundays.

‘All who are in favour of this resolution for sobriety, order and religion will say “aye” and those who wish to vote for the bar parlour, the tap room and they sin and disgrace of the country will say “no” ‘.

Talk about a leading question.

After it stops raining, I leave the Visitors Centre armed with a map. I decide to abandon Chesterfield Avenue and go left, slowing heading back to the Parkgate entrance. I walk away from the garden and the children and the unnamed plants and really stretch my legs, letting the oxygen get into my system. Letting my breath quicken a bit, moving my focus away from my thoughts and into my body, into moving. Filling myself with green green green.

It seems quieter on the other side of the park. A few couples enjoying a stroll, a man in his fifties taking his black Scottie dog for a walk. In the thick of the park it feels wilder, a contrast to the manicured flower beds and the clipped grass of the sporting fields that surround you as you enter.

Unfortunately I am yet to see any of the 300 fallow deer that are said to roam about the park. (Little fact I picked up in the Visitors’ Centre about the social hierarchy of the deers; the top five bucks account for 60 per cent of the matings. Most males are destined to never mate at all.)

Although I have no idea what the time is, and little inclination to find out, my legs are telling me I have been walking a while, and yet, as I pass the back of the Dublin Zoo’s emergency access signs I am reminded of how little of the park I have actually seen. But I keep going past the Zoo (the fourth oldest in Europe with over 700 different species), and the hospital, and the Guarda Headquarters. And eventually, and a little reluctantly, I spot some familiar manicured flower beds and the children coming back from their weekend sports games, so I know I must be coming to back to the entrance, which is now my exit.

And there is Parkgate entrance, where people are now returning the bikes they have rented. Glancing back at the map I still haven’t seen Ratra House, the War Memorial Gardens or Magazine Fort. And not one deer, not even a lonely virginal stag. Perhaps next time. And with someone to share a tandem bike with (10 euro for an hour, 20 for three).

Any takers?

Did I mention the green?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

art (with a little a)

As a child I was completely uninterested in colouring in or painting or crafts or sewing or drawing. You know what I thought was fun; keeping notes on the comings and goings of my family and lining up my soft toys in front of my mini blackboard and teaching them the alphabet.

But arts and crafts? Just not my thing.

Now, when I look back on my early years of artistic disinterest, I wonder if I missed something fundamental and if some basic part of my visual brain just never got activated. To this day I have neither the inclination nor the ability to pick up a paintbrush or design a frock or draw a convincing stick figure self portrait. The only time I can ever imagine throwing a pot is in a heated argument. Yet, somewhat ironically, one of my most favourite things to do is potter around galleries. And some of my favourite travelling memories involve doing just that.

One of my first memories of London was my friend Kyle taking me, in my jetlag haze, to the Tate Modern and to The Rothko Room - a whole room of reds and purples and blacks and oranges, almost imperceptivity seeping into each other. It’s mesmerizing. There is just something so soothing and contemplative about Rothko’s work. It feels familiar, yet unknown, like an idea that defies articulation.

However, listening to an amateur like me describe Rothko is probably like listening to your brother’s new girlfriend telling you about the dream she had last night (BOR-ING). Let’s just say Rothko’s work is visceral, which means that it is better experienced than read about. So I’ll stop now and just recommend you check it out yourself.

Visiting The Rothko Room became a bit of a ritual for me. The perfect antidote to a busy London week and a busy head. Bliss.

London has arguably some of the world’s most impressive galleries - and most of them are free. The great thing about free galleries is that you can just pop in and visit when you are in the neighbourhood. Just stop off for a quick hello to the Turners at the Tate, the reclining nudes at the National Gallery, the portraits of Henry the 8th wives at the Portrait Gallery, pre-decapitation.

After work and on the weekends, gallery hopping became a bit of an obsession for me. I would charge myself up on coffee, sink into a pair of headsets and listen to the headset man or woman comment on Turner’s revolutionary use of colour (- hmmmm) or how Granach’s representation of Venus differs so greatly from Botticelli’s (- so true) or how Lapis Lazu was made from ultramarine and very expensive (- why thank you head set man, I did not know that).

You also have to love the pulling power of big cities like London when it comes to attracting major exhibitions. Well, love them when you are living in a big city, and feel a little resentful when you are not. Henry Moore at Kew Gardens, From Russia at the Academy, Antony Gormley at The Hayward and a humble little collection of Edward Hopper sketches at the British Museum were particular joys.

Galleries, for me, are everything that they are supposed to be; educational, inspirational and at times disturbing. In terms of the education, I am forever in debt to the galleries of London (and Europe) for my knowledge of the following words; diptych, exhume, pieta, sable, flanked. In terms of the inspiration, please refer to my previous rant on Rothko. And in terms of the disturbing, I remember a grey day in Berlin walking back to the hostel in 4 degree temperature after seeing a Thomas Demand exhibition at the Nationalgalerie. A dark and cold day for me. Both literally and metaphorically. Let’s talk about something else.

But, for me, more than being educational, or inspiring, or disturbing, galleries are just kind of fun. A playground. An intimate space where the imagination can cuddle up. I feel like I am both entirely at pleasure’s mercy and in the middle of a really good conversation. And maybe because I am so very bad at art (and crafts and design), I am in such awe of it. And because I have not even the mildest of hopes or aspirations to create any art myself, I can turn the inner critic off. And just enjoy it.

I met a guy once who plans his trips around great rock climbs and I know a couple whose holidays are all about the food. And, although it was not my intention, I think gallery hopping has become a bit of a travel theme for me.

Berlin, I’ve already mentioned, the Berliners know not only know how to put good art in their galleries but also in their bars and playgrounds and on the footpaths (ich liebe Berlin). I have also been to some amazing galleries in places I didn’t quite expect; I spent Christmas Day at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland and set the alarm of getting up close looking at brushstrokes and returned at Easter and visited the Tinguely Museum (Tinguely makes these huge rattling machine sculptures which are the size of trucks and just as noisy. They are great. ) And then there was a great weekend spent in Prague during the Biennale. And an amazing Arts and Craft exhibition in Edinburgh during the festival. And a sneaky few days of work to go to Melbourne to see the Tim Burton exhibition. ( Ok - I’ll stop. I am just showing off).

But I guess when it comes to those big impressive European galleries you just can’t beat Paris. Oh Paris. Try as I did not to be seduced by your accent, your little metro signs and your lingerie store owners who can pick your bra size even while you still have on your winter coat, I was impressed, I am impressed. Oh Paris- you had me at bonjour.

The first time I went to Paris it was the beginning of January. I went to Musee Rodin and saw his statues silhouette against grey skies and bare trees. The weather was grey and cold but I felt the exact opposite. The kissing, the thinking… But let’s get back to the art.

Six months later, I returned. Paris was warm and sunny and in the midst of Euro Cup fever. I only had a few days and was determined to see as much art as possible. I literally dropped off my bags at the hotel and set off to the Pompidou Centre. And straight up the bubble-wrap like escalator to Level Five. And there they were…a line up of the who’s who of 2Oth art– Matisse – Wow, Marden- Wow, Derain- WOW. And then there was this one piece of sculpture that just took my breath away. I love it with my whole being and to tell you the truth I can’t explain why, which is how I know it is true love. Pompidou said of the artist ‘he overcomes the coldness and rigidity of metal to endow it with an unexpected lightness, suppleness and immateriality’. Well said Mr Pompidou.

The next day I went to the Musee D’orsay, which made quite an impression (Pardon my dreadful art puns). I saw the world’s best collection of paintings and sketches by Monet and Manet and Degas and all the rest of the gang. I love all those paintings, and remembering that before they became calendars and jigsaw puzzles, they were controversial and ground breaking. I have a particular soft spot for Van Gough, although (or maybe because) his paintings remind me of blinding and unbearable loneliness.

And then the next day I visited the Musee de l’orangerie on recommendation from my friend Beth. The ‘Sistine Chapel of Impressionism’ it houses Monet’s Waterlilies Series. And it is beautiful. Monet seems like he was the sanest out of all those painters, I suspect it must have had something to do with the fresh air.

I also did a token quick loop of the Louvre ( Mona Lisa –Tick Venus de Milio –fifty million American tourist –tick) on the last day and exhausted and saturated with art got the train back to Switzerland.

That night, wrapped up in warm arms, I dreamt of museum spaces and rows and rows colourful artworks. Happy Dreams. Happy Times.

And here is the thing -while my photos are still remarkably average, and I remain completely uninterested in doing a life drawing class, there is something a little different about me. I have ditched my black wallet for a purple and pink one. I take a little bit more care when arranging flowers and aligning the postcards on the back of my wardrobe. My range of eye shadow colours have broadened.

And I wonder if a little part of my visual brain, which has lain dormant throughout the best of the last thirty odd years, is beginning to rumble.

Happy Colouring People.

True Love