Thursday, May 31

The Luxuriance of Language

Last night I decided to reward myself for my hard work and finished assignments with a night off.  One of the simple pleasures I indulged in was taking a book in with me for a hot bath.  Because my collection of Sherlock Holmes stories is much too heavy to take into the bath (it's like a brick), I toyed with the idea of taking my much perused collection of English Romantic Poetry in, but wasn't sure whether Keats was quite the person I had in mind to share my evening with.  But it's so nice to be in a hot bath and just indulge in the beauty of language, and so I decided on The Streets of Crocodiles.  It seems every time I open that book, I am immediately lost in words, lost in images that I don't expect, atmospheres exotic and luxurious.  Bruno Schulz manipulates his vocabulary so cleverly and emotionally to bring out the beauty of every phrase until it feels like your own language has become strange and wonderful to you.  Here is an excerpt about a young boy's garden.  
The whole of this jungle was soaked in the gentle air and filled with blue breezes.  When you lay in the grass you were under the azure map of clouds and sailing continents, you inhaled the whole geography of the sky.  From that communion with the air, the leaves and blades became covered with delicate hair, with a soft layer of down, a rough bristle of hooks made, it seemed to grasp and hold the waves of oxygen.  That delicate and whitish layer related the vegetation to the atmosphere, gave it the silvery grayish tint of the air, of shadowy silences between two glimpses of the sun.  And one of the plants, yellow, inflated with air, its pale stems full of milky juice, brought forth from its empty shoots only pure air, pure down in the shape of fluffy dandelion balls scattered by the wind to dissolve noiselessly into the blue silence. 

The garden was vast with a number of extensions, and had various zones and climates.  From one side it was open to the sky and air, and there it offered the softest, most delicate bed of fluffy green.  But where the ground extended into a low-lying isthmus and dropped into the shadow of the back wall of a deserted soda factory, it became grimmer, overgrown and wild with neglect, untidy, fierce with thistles, bristling with nettles, covered with a rash of weeds, until, at the very end between the walls, in an open rectangular bay, it lost all moderation and became insane.  There, it was an orchard no more, but a paroxysm or madness, an outbreak of fury, of cynical shamelessness and lust.  There, bestially liberated, giving full rein to their passion ruled the empty, overgrown, cabbage heads of burs - enormous witches, shedding their voluminous skirts in broad daylight, throwing them down, one by one, until their swollen, rustling, hole-riddled rags buried the whole quarrelsome bastard breed under their crazy expanse.  And still the skirts swelled and pushed, piling up one on top of another, spreading and growing all the time - a mass of tinny leaves reaching up to the low eaves of a shed.  
The Streets of Crocodiles.  "Pan".  By Bruno Schulz, first published 1977.

I adore the passion and ferocity of these words, tangling up weeds and wrecking havoc in the nature in your imagination so that things you thought were ordinary are incredible as if brand new.

Is it not one of the most luxurious indulgences known to man, to revel in the beauty of these words?

Tuesday, May 29


The past four days, my life has been completely consumed by my drama directing task.  This weekend I woke up, worked on the assignment, ate lunch, worked on the assignment, ate dinner, worked on the assignment, went to bed, woke up, worked on the assignment, ate lunch, worked on the assignment, ate dinner, worked on the assignment, and went to bed.  It was exhausting.  Last night at 11:30 pm, the end result was a forty page port folio, and a bag full of props.  I am relieved to have it finished save for the presentation, which I have resigned to fate.  

However, I brought this up because the nature of the assignment itself was very interesting.  The task was to direct a scene from Bertolt Brecht's Epic Theatre play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, using Brechtian techniques to foreground a theme.  

A major element of the assignment is a written director's port folio, which includes an introduction to Brecht and Epic Theatre.  Have a read.  

Bertolt Brecht was a German playwright who lived 1898 to 1956.  Brecht saw the potential in theatre for inspiring social change in an audience.  German director, Erwin Piscator worked with Brecht to originate the concept of Epic Theatre.  A bold contrast to Konstantin Stanislavsky’s methods of Realism, Epic Theatre focused on avoiding the illusion and emotions of reality and instead urge the audience to reflect on the social comparisons made onstage.  Brecht suggested that by blocking the audience’s empathy and other emotional responses to the characters, viewers would think objectively about the ideas of the play.  This technique is known as Verfrumdungseffekt or ‘alienation’.

Alienation was achieved through a variety of techniques that affected virtually every aspect of the play.  The aim was to make it clear that it was a performance, and not an attempt at realism.  Examples of alienation include: scene or costume change s made in full visibility of the audience, the insertion of songs in the middle of scenes to interrupt the action, the use of signs, sound effects, mime, projections, captions, and Gestus – the physical portrayal of a character or scene’s core attitude.  Bertolt Brecht instructed his actors to avoid connection with their characters and never hide the fact that they were acting. 
Brecht wrote the play The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1944.  It explores themes of power, justice, and sacrifice.  A key theme to the play is nature versus nurture, explored when the biological mother of abandoned child, Michael, fights to get him back from the peasant women who raised him in order to inherit his fortune.  
 When experienced, these techniques create raw and beautiful scene.  It feels like the play grows into something more and becomes so challenging.  When executed correctly, Brechtian techniques have immense power to stir you to think.  I decided to share this because it was so different and exciting for me, that I hoped you might wonder too.  

Thursday, May 24

Towel Day Tomorrow!

Tomorrow, the 25th of May is Towel Day, a celebration of Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  All that you need to do to participate is "know where your towel is".  I'm going to be carrying my favourite Caloundra Surf Club beach towel around with me tomorrow, and I just thought I'd let you all know in time for you to join me!

Tuesday, May 22

Happy Birthday to Conan Doyle

It seems that my re-indulgence into the Sherlock Holmes stories has come coincidentally in the same week as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday.  

Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the 22nd of May, 1856.  He worked as a physician and a writer, bringing to life the glorious persons of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson, as well as the less known  Professor Challenger.  He produced many novels, historical novels, plays, short stories, and non-fiction works.  He has been credited for not only providing the unchallenged standard for crime fiction, but also some of the best adventure/science fiction literature of all times with his Challenger novels.  He was knighted in 1902 and died 1930 from a heart attack.  

I feel that I have spoken often enough about Conan Doyle's glory as a writer for you to know that little has to be said.  So I would like to say thankyou instead, I think, for the people you introduced us to.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Monday, May 21

The Secret Alcoves of Books' Souls

Both the first time I read them and now, in my first re-read or many, I am enjoying the allusions to Latin and French phrases in the Sherlock Holmes short stories.  It is just like me to get excited about little titbits of cultural and literary references.  I immediately embark on the quest for a translation, rushing to the computer, searching for the hidden meaning behind those suggestive syllables.  And when you finally get the hint, understand his thoughts, it's like a secret alcove in the writing is opened to you.  

A Study in Scarlet concludes with the Latin quotation from Horace, Book 1, Satire 1: Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo.  Ipse domi simul ac nummos contemplar in arca, which means "the public hisses at me, but I applaud myself in my own house, and simultaneously contemplate the money in my chest."  

The Red-Headed League ends with Holmes' mispronunciation of a Gustave Flaubert quote "l'Homme ne'est Rein l'Oeuvre Tout" - "the man is nothing, the work is everything".  After he explains a train of his deductions, his client wonders at the obviousness of something that seemed wondrous, states  omne ignotum pro magnifico - "all things unknown seem grand".

Other phrases such as tour de force (an impressive performance or achievement that has been accomplished or managed with great skill) and magnum opus (an important work of art or literature), are dotted throughout.  

I try to get better acquainted to every new word I meet.  I bookmark my places with pieces of white paper so that every time I come across a new word, or phrase, Latin or English, I write it down, look it up in my twenty-year-old dictionary (so old that it has neither a front cover or a spine, so that its very identity as an edition, as a year, as the product of a publisher is lost forever to the years of past searching fingers).

It's so tempting to skip over words that you don't know - to imagine to yourself that you know well enough what the sentence means, what the image is.  But I am often so delighted by my discovery when I    look up these words, and unlock the secrets and glories of the whole passage.  It's the difference between moods, subtle subtexts, colours and fragrances, times of day, weather, emotions, and connections.  

I believe my point is now, even though it wasn't to begin with, that you should take the time to delve deeper into the words and enjoy the relationship that they bring.

Sunday, May 20

Lest We Forget About Sherlock Holmes

In December 1893, The Strand announced the sudden death of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so tired of Holmes, had chosen the glorious Reichenbach Falls of the northern Swiss Alps as a worthy resting place, and accordingly ended his life there in The Adventure of the Final Problem.  

Twenty thousand Londoners cancelled their subscription to The Strand magazine and hundreds made a public display of their mourning by wearing black armbands.

Conan Doyle imagined Holmes was "destined to be quickly forgotten".  He could never have foreseen how important the one man would become both in the history of literature and in the hearts of millions of readers over three centuries.  

Today, I re-watched the final episode of Sherlock Season Two.  It portrays The Final Problem and ends with Holmes' 'death'.  I was shocked at the emotion it carried for me, even the second time round.  It was so sickening, so burning and searing, stomach tightening, full of hot tears flowing over a quivering face wet against my hand.  It is so rare that things hurt so much.  And they hurt so much because you really care, and really love.  

Towards the end of Conan Doyle's life, he brooded a sickly aversion to Holmes.  A good half of the stories he wrote of him were written with distaste and regret, and yet, I have never become conscious of any feeling against him in the writing.  

Sherlock Holmes did not live again after Doyle's attempt to finish them.  To Conan Doyle, he died at Reichenbach - a character lost to the rushing torrents of literature.  His resurrection, performed superficially by Conan Doyle's hand, was made real by the passion of the people who read it.  Sherlock Holmes does not live because Conan Doyle continued writing.  He lives because readers continued loving.  It is a truth that dictates the classics, the characters that new generations learn about.  He is immortal, until the last person on earth forgets.  

Friday, May 18


I'm not sure if everyone in the world is like this, but I have a habit of falling really hard for something all of a sudden.  Sometimes this passion is paired with a slow dissent from care into apathy.  

It seems like Sherlock Holmes is a passion that I don't get tired of, no matter how many times the passion flares up in me over it.  I am currently in the middle of a burning enthusiasm and delight over it.  

I am an immense lover of the BBC series, Sherlock, justifying my adoration by the breathtakingly accurate character portrayal and development, and witty references to all 64 works of literature, for which I have the deepest level of patriotism and respect.  

I think it is close to two years now that I've been close friends with Holmes and Watson.  I can truthfully say that throughout my reading life, these two people have been some of the most, if not the most wonderful companions I've had.  Through all 4 novels and 60 short stories, I have been a participator in one of the grandest adventures ever.  

I decided, impulsively, romantically, to re-read the books.  So last night at 10:30, with my electric blanket on the highest setting, I snuggled in to tiptoe back in through the front door of 221B Baker Street.  

It was an incredible, almost surreal experience for me.  To go back to the very beginning - where it all started for me, this glorious journey that teased new emotions from me, and made me laugh, cry, gasp, and shiver with fear and delight...  It can be best described as actively reminiscing.  

I was surprised to recall my original feelings at meeting Holmes for the first time.  I remember it clearly.  The time of day was almost exactly the same, and I remember laughing because I was instantly in love with him.  Looking back at that first meeting, I'm so shocked at how little I knew of him then, what a mystery, how simple in comparison to the beautifully complex, vulnerable, and ingenuous being that I now know him to be, as one of his greatest friends.  I feel like Watson.  So much affection for him,  so much wonder, and frustration with his selfish eccentricities.  

I'm revelling in the loveliness of returning to the comparatively uncomplicated books after Sherlock.  Sherlock gave us an emotional, vulnerable, heartfelt, gut-wrenching side of Holmes.  Going back to the basics with all the knowledge from my deep relationship with him is exciting.  I read it now with a new tone of voice in my head, new pauses and inflections; I visualise new expressions; that laugh and smile is so tangible.  

The thrill of discovery and remembering motivates every breath in me.

The game is afoot, and I hope it will never end.

Thursday, May 10

The Life and Legacy of Augustine, Accordion

It all started with this foreign film.  I got it out to watch late at night with Dad.  Bread and Tulips, it's called, or Pane e Tulipani in Italian.  It's about a busy mother who is accidentally left behind by her family during a road trip in Rome.  She impulsively decides to take the opportunity to do something she had always dreamed of - visit Venice.  While there, she ends up working in a florist, sharing a room with an old man whom she falls in love with, and becoming best friends with her neighbour, a holistic masseuse.  

At one point, she finds an old accordion and rekindles her childhood passion for playing it.  There is a beautiful scene in which she plays it.  

The love and feeling that goes into the action of playing this instrument was so beautiful that I was moved to watch more videos of accordions.  Before long, it was obvious that I couldn't last much longer before finding one myself.  There is something so deeply attractive about an instrument that you pump breath into and hold so closely as an extension of yourself.  As a pianist and cellist, it seemed a perfect merging of these two - a keyboard and a stroking sweeping arm movement that controlled volume and life.  

So I spent some time researching and speaking to a music teacher who has contacts in the accordion-playing world.  He recommended me to buy a Hohner accordion, with 120 bass.  I have had my finger on the pulse of eBay and Gumtree for a couple of months now, watching the listings with an eagle eye, looking out for something older, cheaper.  

And this is what I found.

Hohner Verdi III Piano Accordion

Hohner Verdi III Piano Accordion
This Hohner Verdi III piano accordion was made in Germany in the 1940s.  Her bellows are made of cardboard, gloved in leather and capped with metal.  Her keys are ivory, and her body is covered in an authentic mother-of-pearl veneer.  She comes in her original case.

Seeing her for the first time last night was an amazing experience.  I had never seen a piano accordion in real life before, and was surprised by the sheer weight.  The stretching of the bellows, which I thought would be a jaunty, fast action, is a slow and elephantine exhalation of lungs.  

Each of the 120 bass buttons provide a chord - a beautiful, hearty, resonating sound that immediately transports you to France, and then all of a sudden, to Italy, and then - no - I'm in Poland.  It has an unmistakable fog of atmosphere that drenches you in droplets from a dozen cultures.

And what is almost more magical than all of this, is the sense of memory and story behind her.  She is 72 years old.  She has been all around the world.  She came to Australia in a migrant ship and ended up in an antique store where the man I purchased her from stumbled upon her quite by accident.  

She has had a life before me, and just as she begins the prologue of a new adventure in my life, I have added another chapter in hers.  What a legacy, and what a beautiful thing to become a part of.  

I named her Augustine, after the last survivor of Trachimbrod, from Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated.  It would be so wonderful if I could write to story of Augustine's life, for what a life that  must be!

Monday, May 7

Trickle your Mind

A tangled thicket of grasses, weeds, and thistles crackled in the fire of the afternoon.  The sleeping garden was resonant with flies.  The golden field of stubble shouted in the sun like a tawny cloud of locusts; in the thick rain of fire the crickets screamed; seed pods exploded softly like grasshoppers, 
And over the fence the sheepskin of grass lifted in a hump, as if the garden had turned over in its sleep, its broad, peasant back rising and falling as it breathed on the stillness of the earth.  There the untidy, feminine ripeness of August had expanded into enormous impenetrable clumps of burdocks spreading their sheets of leafy tin, their luxuriant tongues of fleshy greenery.  These, those protuberant bur clumps spread themselves, like resting peasant women, half enveloped in their own swirling skirts.  
Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles, published 1963.

There isn't much for me to say, is there?  If you are not trembling now, your heart climaxing into little flutters of panic that something so beautiful exists and no one else knows, then you definitely need to read it again.  This book, as I've said before, is the sort of book that you read slowly and savouringly, and trickle your mind over every word and image.  

I feel that it couldn't possibly get any more wonderful, and then I read another sentence and am prove wrong.  


Sunday, May 6

Creeping Goose-Flesh

The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north.  Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory.  Wintriness responded to wintriness.  The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber.  The light was frozen, dead, a ghost.  Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables.
Brave New World, Chapter One, Aldous Huxley.

 The imagery of this passage was so vivid for me that I felt it just had to be shared.  This is the second paragraph of the book, and by this time I was already excited by hideous success of Huxley's writing.  It gives me creeping flesh.

Thursday, May 3

A Brave New World of Horror

Our new English text for study this term is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.  I was so excited when I found out we were going to be reading it, because ever since reading George Orwell's, 1984, I was very conscious of the fact that the two go hand in hand, and it is equally important to read both.  Both are constantly compared for their perspectives on society and government, and each dystopian world focusses on an opposite ideal.  

However, within the first chapter of Brave New World, I quickly realised that it was easily the more shocking.  I adore Orwell for what he wrote, but looking back, 1984 seems to be more of an allegory of what happened in the past with Nazi Germany, the brainwashing of the children, the loss of freedoms etcetera etcetera, than something that is likely to happen again.  War is Peace.  Freedom is Slavery.  Ignorance is Strength.  

What Brave New World shows is our current priorities, community, identity and stability, taking over.  Things the government focusses on in planning for the future.  How to look after the community.  How to look after the individual.  How to make these goals sustainable for long term achievements.  Huxley shows that the world has deteriorated into a dystopia in a way that seems not a huge stretch from our current path of advancement.  It seems incredibly possible, and even likely that this is how Earth will end up.  It makes so much sense.  Too much sense.  It is scary, and horrifying, and absolutely necessary to know about.  

I can't fix the size of this comic strip, but I thought it was incredibly important to look at this analysis of the differences in the two dystopian books.  

This is going to be a wild read.

Wednesday, May 2

Psychotic Campers

I have been on my first... albeit, last, school camp ever.  It was a music camp, and as a cellist, not to mention music committee president, I had to go.  

There are several great aspects to the music camp.  Everyone was telling me for weeks before hand all about the fun things they got up to on  previous camps - the traditional talent show, wake-up calls, cabin inspection, and awards.  

Playing in the talent show is compulsory, but playing with talent is entirely optional.  Most of the acts are tongue in cheek, and rustled together with a few awkward props the same morning.  That is how my act came about.  The grade eleven girls with whom I shared a cabin, decided it would be nice to all do something together. So with my ukulele, we spent an hour preparing the viral YouTube song, blatantly known as The Duck Song to present.  It went very well at the show, and being such a catchy, repetitive and annoying song, we had, and continue to have everyone on camp humming the tune, and muttering "waddle waddle".  

Each morning the music committee was in charge of the wake-up call.  On the first morning, our vice president played his trumpet up and down the corridors at the top of his lungs.  On the second morning, however, we decided a grand finale was in order, so in the wee hours of the morning (5:30am) we slipped out into the dark, frosty cold and set up tom-toms, gongs and cymbals.  In a furious tribal call-and-answer pattern, we shattered early morning dreams and rose hordes of groaning teenagers from their cabins.  

The cabin inspection is an age old tradition of the music camp.  Each cabin brings along something with which to decorate their cabins on the last day of the camp.  Each cabin is then inspected by a "judging panel" of teachers and they award a most creative cabin.  Our original plan for our cabin was 'Heaven'. So we all brought white sheets with which to adorn the walls.  But this morning as we prepared to decorate, it occurred to us that it was incredibly lame, and no one would even be able to tell what we were trying to do.  

A flash of genius struck when I suggested we line the walls and floor of the front room of the cabin with   all of the mattresses, and acted like psychiatric patients in a padded ward.  Our plan was brilliant.  We managed to completely line the small front room with mattresses and with our the sleeves of our jumpers turned inside out, we sat around pretending to wear straight-jackets, as our "warden" introduced us each in turn.  Apparently "the experience of my first camp was so traumatising that I had receded into the dark depths of my soul and remained unresponsive to all communication."  

Finally, the awards.  Our cabin tied for most creative, the teachers being most impressed by our "accurate" self-diagnosis.  Our performance of The Duck Song at the talent show won us the award of Best Prepared Act, ironically enough.  And I won the award for Being the Most Cruisy Person at Camp.  

All in all, my first and last camp experience was hugely enjoyable, and memorable.