Sunday, April 27, 2008

For cat lovers

2 very good YouTube sites:

I got the first one from Véronique: Nora

And the second one from Brendan: Simon's Cat

Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

Gorecki's Symphony #3 has been one of my favourites for a good few years. It's one of these few classical pieces that has made it to the Top 10 of popular charts. It's a gorgeous piece that gets to your gut. No need for elaborate understanding of music to love it.

It was performed at the National Concert Hall last Friday, and we were lucky to get tickets. I booked online and thought that I had tickets at the back of the hall, but I was wrong, and we were at the very first row - right at the foot of the stage. A bit too close for comfort, and we got to see the artists' shiny shoes (first violin, first cello and conductor had the shiniest of them all!).

The first part was a Beethoven piece - quite good, but we were too close to appreciate it. The instruments at the back of the orchestra were drowned out by the cellos and violins, from which we could hear every note and murmur.

But for Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, it doesn't matter, as it's all double-bass, cello, violas, violins and soprano - pretty much all at the front of the stage. We would have enjoyed it better if we had been a few rows back, but it was fabulous all the same - the music in the first part sweeps through the stage, building up slowly through the instruments for a good 15 minutes before the soprano starts singing (it must be nerve-wracking for her - sitting at the front of the stage with nothing to do for 15 minutes). The soprano was Orla Boylan (for some reason, I thought she was Eastern European), and the orchestra the RTE NSO. All very good.

Have a look at YouTube for a very vivid rendition of the second part.

Watching a lot of Telly

We're watching a lot of telly these days. As you know, I don't particularly like reality TV programs (except Big Brother of course!), nor semi-informational programs (like "A Place in the Sun", though I do watch it more often than I'd like to admit). But there are a lot of good series on at the moment.

Reaper: in the same vein as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (now, that was a classic!), though the characters are not quite as good yet. But they'll hopefully develop over the seasons. Sam's soul was sold to the Devil by his parents before he was born, and the Devil has given Sam the job of catching escaped souls and sending them back to Hell. All of this in suburban America, where nobody seems to bat an eylid at demons walking the streets! Completely geeky - that's probably why I like it.

Desperate Housewives: I didn't particulary like Season 2, but this (Season 4?) is very entertaining, very bitchy.

Band of Brothers: OK - this one, I started watching because Brendan wanted to watch it, but it's actually very good. Co-produced by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks - same kind of vibe as Saving Private Ryan.

Dirty Sexy Money: Nick is lawyer for an ultra-rich family in New York. How all these lives are entertwined. Very good, with Donal Sutherland, as the patriarch, and Peter Krause, of Six Feet Under fame, as Nick.

Brothers and Sisters: another big family saga, and definitely strictly for girls. With plenty of well-known actors, like Calista Flockhart (from Ally McBeal), Rachel Griffiths (from Six Feet Under, one of my favourites series of all times), Rob Lowe (from the West Wing, though I have to say I never watched that series), Sally Field (who seems to be in so many movies), and Patricia Wettig (from Thirtysomething, now that's a blast from the past! I still have some of the videos I taped back in the eighties or early nineties). It's quite formulaic, and these people seem to be constantly drinking, but it's my Saturday afternoon treat. I watch in on 4OD (Channel 4 On Demand).

And Lost is starting again tomorrow. Can't wait for the next twist!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Western Australia Sky

And here is another of my little acrylics (16cmx10.5cm), inspired by the glorious skies South of Perth:

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Snakes

Every book about Australia talks about the large numbers of highly venomous and deadly snakes to be found in that country. The Lonely Planet refers to snakes as being “abundant”. A bit more balanced, a sign at the start of a cliff walk in Yallingup (WA) said that “snakes are common, but rarely seen”. That's certainly the way it felt!

Well, I’m sure we walked within a metre of dozens of venomous snakes during our trip, but we didn’t see a single one, much to Brendan’s disappointment, apart from a tiny little wriggly one at the foot of Uluru, and even that one disappeared from the path in a few seconds and it may have been a legless lizard anyway.

We asked a taxi driver in Perth about snakes in the city. He told us that most people would have said that there are none to be found in the city centre, but the whole town was shocked when an old building was pulled down to make way for a new skyscraper, and 2 or 3 tiger snakes were found.

I did get used to the idea, and I did relax my guard a bit - i.e. I didn't wear heavy boots the whole time - I wore flip flops, like most women in the city. But I did watch my step all the same, particularly in wilder areas.

If you want a simple listing of snakes in Australia, check out this website (and don't forget to read the horror story of an elderly lady who was pruning the ivy on her fence in a suburb of Melbourne and was bitten by a tiger snake!).

On the other hand, you should read this article if you are planning to travel to Australia and want some reassurance about snakes. I wish I had read it before travelling! Apparently, it's mostly men who get bitten by snakes. Clearly, women react sensibly when they see a snake - i.e. they retreat calmly rather than try to catch or kill the snake. I would add that women are more likely to ask their husband to deal with the thing, and the poor husbands get bitten! There is also sensible advice on what to do is you see a snake, and what to do if you get bitten. Definitely on my list of recommended reading! (and check out the section about saltwater crocodiles - really scary stuff there!)

Happy Birthday, Shinobu

Happy Birthday, Shinobu

One day ahead to take into account the time difference.
For you, a Western Australia Sky in acrylics:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula

One of the paintings that I saw in the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs was Tingari Men at Tjikari, by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula. He was one of the original artists at Papunya and became one of the first aboriginal artists whose art sold at auction for figures around $ 200,000, though he lived and died in poverty.

You'll find plenty on the web about Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula. I found a website that shows some of the paintings, though I have to warn you it also shows the artist himself, who died in 2001. The Aboriginals don't show pictures of the dead, at least that was the way in Uluru, where pictures of artists or national park administrators who had died were covered over. But it shows some good pictures of his paintings, which is why I decided to provide the link here. I hope this doesn't upset his family.

Here is a link to an interesting article about Aboriginal art, its origins in indigenous traditions, how it developed, and some of the main artists.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Eucalyptus bark

Dot painting is a big thing in Australia, naturally. There is a beautiful display of art from Papunya in Alice Springs' Cultural Precinct, in the Albert Namatjira Gallery. The paintings are really vibrant, in simple ochre, white, black and red. Papunya is where it all started, where a white teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, gave paints to Aboriginal men and allowed them to paint on the school's wall. While it didn't all go well for Bardon - the mural he had encouraged Aboriginals to paint was painted over by the authorities - it was thanks to him that the Aboriginal art movement got started.

I didn't want to spend the money to get a real aboriginal painting, but I was quite fascinated by the technique, so I tried my hand at it myself. A very soothing thing to do, painting with dots.

The Flies

One thing they don’t tell you about this part of the world is that the flies will pester you, sitting on your lips, your nose, your eyes, your ears even, until you’re driven demented. During our travels, Ayers Rock was the worst spot for flies. I was so glad I had bought a fly net ahead of this trip – I carried it around with me all along, but I didn’t need it until we got to Ayers Rock. Poor Brendan didn’t have a net, and had to suffer through the daily onslaught.

Count the number of flies on my back!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sailing on Lake Wanaka

I've been busy painting in watercolours and acrylics since we came back. Here is a watercolour of Lake Wanaka:

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Things you don't see - or hear - at home every day

The sweet sound of the Chiming Wedgebill

I have a WAV file of a chiming wedgebill singing its heart out in the Alice Springs Desert Park. It's the best bird song I've ever heard. It took me a while to figure out how to post a sound file. I found a piece of code from the Blogger Help, and then it took me a little while to find out that I could simply upload the file in my googlepages account (I thought that was only for creating quick websites, but there is an upload button on the right-hand-side of the screen that I had missed).

Things You Don't See at Home Every Day

Drive-in Bottleshops

There are plenty of off-licences and wine shops in Ireland, but I had never seen a drive-in bottleshop until we got to Australia. Very handy if you're getting a few cases of beer for a party on a hot summer's day, I agree. But I find the idea a bit objectionable. I don't like the idea of buying so much alcohol in one go. Probably something to do with the fact that I don't drink. (I used to drink, by the way, so don't think that I'm a prude. I used to drink pints of Guinness, neat vodka and neat whiskey. That's probably why I used to have the most awful hangovers. It's so easy for me not to drink. Just the thought of those hangover is enough to put me off.)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Things you don't see at home every day

Dead Kangaroos on the Side of the Roads

Unfortunately, we saw a lot of them. They are a real hazard for anybody driving at dawn or dusk, when they are more active. And most cars we saw in Western Australia have got big metal guards in front of the bumper, so kangaroos don't stand a chance really.

There are animal rescue centres that will take in baby kangaroos found alive in the pouch after their mothers were killed by cars.

And if you're in Alice Springs, injured wildlife can be dropped off at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre or Alice Springs Vet Clinic.

And for all reptiles, call the Snakephone (I kid you not) on 0407 983 276.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Things you don't see at home every day

Young Women Holding Stop/Go Signs at Road Works

You don't see many women on building sites here, and I've never seen one at roadworks. We saw plenty of women holding Stop/Go Signs both in Australia and New Zealand, and not ugly ones! Tall, slim, pretty, blond girls! And they seemed to be enjoying their job!

Bon Anniversaire, Papa

Avec quelques jours de retard, comme la carte, je te souhaite un très bon anniversaire.