Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I was going to write a story about how doing nothing is harder than it looks, and not surprisingly I’ve found that sentiment has spilt over to writing this blog during the holidays. Ideas come into my brain but slide away again without leaving much impression. To be honest it’s a lovely feeling and I’m going to enjoy it for as long as I can. It reminds me of an often-quoted Spanish proverb, “How wonderful it is to do nothing and then rest afterwards.”

So this is a very short entry today, and all I really want to do is wish you all Happy New Year and thank you for stopping by to read about my misadventures throughout 2012!

The Scottish tradition of First Footing holds that you will have good luck all year if a tall, dark haired man is the first person to cross your threshold in the new year. I'm hoping George Clooney crosses mine! 

Happy Hogmanay!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Paris through the eyes of Toulouse-Lautrec

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article that this is Christmas, not the Apocalypse. But I have to admit that Canberra between Christmas and the end of January can be so quiet it that it does look a little post-apocalyptic and desolate.

But never fear, those who haven’t absconded to Bateman’s Bay can, in the space of a single afternoon, take a trip to Paris and the Moulin Rouge of the Belle Époque period in all its vibrant glory, courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia and its excellent Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition.

Running from 14 December to 2 April, Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris & the Moulin Rouge traces the artist’s career from his earliest works to his extraordinary depictions of the Paris social scene of the late 1800s; the famous dance halls, the café-concerts, cabarets, theatres and bordellos.

For an artist who died at 36 Henri Toulouse-Lautrec had a career that spanned almost two decades. The NGA have brought together works from the Musée D’Orsay, Paris the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, Tate and the British Museum, London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York that show the breadth of his prodigious talent.

I was mainly familiar with his work from the series of Moulin Rouge posters and his works backstage at theatres and in cafes, colourful and raucous, but often showing a hint of sadness.  

Seeing his earlier Impressionist work was a revelation though as it is far removed from the more abstract work he is best known for. His portraits were so realistic that he could easily have had a lucrative career as a society painter, but he refused to flatter a sitter, and many wealthy Parisian socialites were unsettled by the ugliness of character he explored in his subjects.

Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn instead to the brothels, theatres and cafes of the working classes, finding beauty in subjects others ignored or overlooked. He would live for periods of time in the brothels and bordellos, and the intimacy and compassion he felt for the women within their walls is evident. Many of these work show the women in very private settings, asleep in the early morning, washing their faces and arranging their hair, pulling on stockings, or in states of undress getting ready for their clients.

Others are full of life, dancers kicking up their heels on stage, friends gathering in bars for a drink and a joke. One of my favorites is of a woman called Lucy Jourdan, laughing, a drink on the table in front of her, lipstick smeared over her mouth. Anyone who saw me at the HerCanberra Christmas party would be struck by the similarity in our appearances towards the end of the night!

That’s one of the things I loved about this exhibition, the feeling that these are people you could get to know. Trying to imagine what is going on in their heads is part of the fun. A friend and I stood in front of a portrait of a woman serving drinks, paused at her task, the corner of one side of her mouth upturned slightly. Most of the people around us thought it was a wistful, sad picture, of a woman beaten down by life. To my friend and I though that half smile was that of a woman looking at her friend Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, thinking, “Where’s that absinthe cocktail he promised me?”

And thanks to Toulouse-Lautrec’s great skill as an artist, I felt such a connection to her that I would have been happy to share this drink with her…

1 oz water
juice of 1

2 tsp egg white

Shake thoroughly with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stop! HAMmer Time!

I’m up uncharacteristically early on a Saturday morning. It’s in a good cause; I’m making the most of the early morning’s coolness, before the 33-degree heat sets in, to glaze the Christmas ham.

Naked hambition

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's Christmas, not the Apocalypse!

See that figure in the night sky? See the light glinting off hooves? That’s Santa and his reindeer, not the Four Horsemen. And how do I know? Because it’s Christmas not the Apocalypse!

Park it baby!

The perfect example of a ‘first world problem’ has to be a Canberran talking about parking in the Parliamentary Triangle.
The righteousness on the subject takes on a religious fervour. “Pay for parking?! What we’re being taxed on going to work now?” As far as human-rights campaigns go, I have to admit it lacks a certain urgency.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hope in a dark time

Like so many people around the world I’ve woken up to the awful news of the shooting in a Connecticut school. Children aged five to 10, the same ages as my nieces and goddaughters, have died.  This is a horrendous crime.

Last night I wrote a sweet, light, little story on my blog about singing Christmas carols in the evening rain and feeling for myself the love, joy and peace the service was built around.

Twelve hours later the world has been rocked but I don’t want to give up hope for that same love, joy and peace for the world.

In my article yesterday I mentioned my friend Angel and how she taught me the names of Santa’s reindeer. Angel lives in the US and my thoughts and love go to her family today. And I want to share another quote she found. It is by American academic and historian Howard Zinn.

“Every word you utter to another human being has an effect, but you don’t know it.  If people begin to understand that change comes about as a result of a million tiny acts that seem totally insignificant, well then, they wouldn’t hesitate to take those tiny acts.”

I’ve written before about my own experiences of unprovoked violence and grief of losing a loved one. I am not going to pretend that what I experienced is anything like the horror and overwhelming misery people in that Connecticut town are feeling. I’m not a nurse, doctor, police office or counsellor, all of whom are on the front line in an event like this and all of whom go to work each day and perform extraordinary feats. My only tools are my words and my keyboard, both of which seem so inadequate today.

All I want to do today is share my hope that people will perform those tiny acts of kindness Zinn refers to. We might feel our sphere of influence is limited, but just by being kind and courteous we may be helping someone or even diffusing a situation without knowing it.

Today I walked my dog around my neighbourhood. It is quiet today, partly because of the light rain that falls intermittently and partly because people are watching the news. Every time I saw someone though we smiled at each other and wished each other good morning. It might not seem much but I believe that letting people know you see them and that they matter might just give them hope when they are going through their own dark time.

I most sincerely wish you all peace.