Saturday, 18 February 2017

Versailles Treasures From the Palace

I've visited the Palace of Versailles quite a number of times. On my first trip to France in 1998 we loved Versailles so much that we went back several times. At that time the fountains only ran on a Sunday afternoon so we had to go back to see them in operation. We even spent our last night in France staying in Versailles, the town, not the palace sadly, and had a magnificent dinner at a restaurant overlooking the palace gardens.

I returned to Versailles in 2010 and again in 2013. But Versailles is so vast that there are still areas I haven't been to as yet, and it's a magnificent spectacle each time. Each visit is equally memorable and  there's always something different, and I'd still like to go back to see more.

So last year as soon as I saw an ad for Versailles Treasures From The Palace at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, I did a sharp intake of air and knew that I would be going. What I didn't realise then was that it would turn into a family road trip to celebrate a special birthday, but I'm so glad that it did. Most of us had been to Versailles before in 2010 and 2013 and so it was special for all of us. The exhibition is magnificent and we had a great weekend of celebrations as well.

It's a beautiful exhibition. Breathtaking from the very first things you see. 

A 17th century gate
Gilded iron

Bust of Louis XIV 1665-66
Jean Varin or Warin

This was an amazing rug from the passage way between The Louvre (back when it was a royal palace) and The Tuileries (back when it was a palace). Huge and spectacular, this was just one rug of 93 carpets made to line the Grand Galerie linking the two palaces. They were never used though and remain in beautiful condition.

Carpet from the Grand Galerie du Louvre c 1682
wool and hemp
Charles le Brun designer
Atelier de la Veuve Lourdet, weavers, Paris

The French love a reliquary. 
Queen Marie-Thérèse's reliquary, 1665-74
gilded bronze, silver, paint on vellum

Vase with boars and Janus heads 1665
There were even sections of parquetry from Versailles! Who would think of ripping up the floor boards?

Armchair for Madame de Pompadour's residence at Crécy c 1745
Desk of the dauphin, son of Louis XV 1745

Even functional household objects got the Versailles treatment. 

Barometer 1773-75

There are several rooms that celebrate the magnificent gardens of Versailles. The engineering and plumbing innovations that had to be done to create the fountains that are still unrivalled anywhere else in the world with 17th century equipment and knowledge is incredible. There is a interesting short video displayed as well as artefacts, paintings and recreations of the gardens and fountains- it's an innovative and beautifully displayed. 

I've long held the notion that anything can be art if it's displayed just so.

Keys for turning on the fountains
late 17th-early 18th century, forged steel
I saw these in use in 1998!

One of my favourite part of the exhibition was a recreation of The Labyrinth that was installed in the gardens in the 17th century. I'd never heard of the labyrinth before, perhaps not surprisingly as it was taken down in 1774 and replaced with the Queen's Garden. 

Originally conceived by André Le Nôtre in 1665 as an undecorated maze, the crossroads of each path were furnished in the 1670s with 39 fountains decorated with 330 painted lead animals illustrating classical parables. These new additions were inspired by the publication of Jean de La Fontain's Fables 1668, dedicated to Louis XIV's six-year-old heir. 
 Only 35 animals have survived, and there were four or five presented here in a reimagined maze.

Etienne and Jacques Blanchard
(Fable XI)
The Monkey and his little ones

Much was made in the press before the exhibition about the inclusion of this magnificent sculpture. And rightly so, just getting Latona and her children to Australia was a tremendous undertaking. The statue had to be broken up for transport. But then to see it in place in the exhibition was astonishing. It was surrounded by a gorgeous audiovisual experience to recreate the experience of seeing the fountains at Versailles. It certainly did. I was moved to tears and sat watching it for some time. 

Latona and her children 1668-70
There was so much fascinating detail and objects that you don't see on a visit to Versailles.

Marie Antoinette's Harp 1775
A register of the menus served to the king in 1751
I was particularly keen on this trio of jam pots. 

Three jam pots and platter 1784
Royal Porcelain Factory of Sèvres

Versailles Treasures From the Palace is on at the National Gallery of Australia until April 17.
I might just go back. And as a member of NGA I already have my golden ticket... If for no other reason than that I totally missed the orange blossom perfume

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly
now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Hating Alison Ashley

Hating Alison Ashley is an iconic Australian childrens book. Released in 1984 I've only been aware of it for the past few years I guess. Erica Yurken is in Year Six at Barringa East Primary School. She's witty and a bit of a hypochondriac. 

The sick bay was my favourite place at school. It was exciting to lie hunched up and pretend that your appendix had burst when kids stickybeaked in through the window. And also, it was the best place in the school for gaining classified information. 

Barringa East is a disadvantaged area in suburban Melbourne.  So it's a bit of a surprise when Alison Ashley shows up one day because of a change in school zoning. Alison Ashley is a bit too perfect, and she's perfectly easy to hate. 

She was wearing this soft blue skirt, and a shirt the colour of cream, with not a crease or a wrinkle nor a loose thread anywhere. Expensive-looking plaited leather sandals. Long, pale gold hair caught back with a filigree clasp, and tiny gold roses, the size of shirt buttons, in her ears. Her skin was tanned and each cheek had a deep, soft dimple. Huge navy blue eyes, the colour of ink, fringed with dark curly lashes. She was the most beautiful, graceful, elegant thing you ever saw in your life. 
So easy to hate. Then she opens her mouth.

She turned out to have a reading age of 14.6 years. She knew all the rivers of northern New South Wales in perfect order. 
Erica is used to feeling pretty superior at Barringa East, and she doesn't like the feelings that Alison Ashley stirs in her. 

My feelings of inferiority swelled into dislike, and the dislike into absolute loathing. 

All by lunchtime! Hating Alison Ashley is just as funny as when it was written more than 30 years ago. It's truly deserving of classic status. I believe that Hating Alison Ashley is still taught in Australia high schools, which is a bit of a shame, not that it shouldn't be still taught, it should. But I think it's much more suitable to kids in upper primary. 

I'm really glad to have read Hating Alison Ashley at long last. Sure, some of the references may be a little dated now, but it's really very few, and over thirty years down the track but the characters are timeless- we all went to school with Barry Hollis, the school bully, and with Alison Ashley. We might even have been Erica Yurken.

Shortlisted CBCA Book of the Year 1985

There are play and movie versions of Hating Alison Ashley- I haven't seen either. 


Monday, 30 January 2017

Mademoiselle C

I'm really not sure why I've become so interested in Fashion in recent times. Or even fashion documentaries. It's not my world. Although perhaps that's part of the attraction. I taped Mademoiselle C a few months ago, and recently got to watch it on an exciting Saturday night at home. 

I'd never heard of Carine Roitfeld before. She was born in Paris to wealthy parents. She was editor of French Vogue for 10 years from 2001 to 2011. After she left she set up her own magazine CR Fashion Book in New York. Mademoiselle C documents the process leading up to the launch of the first edition.  It's a fascinating glimpse into the world of fashion, celebrity and money. Helicopters and private ballet lessons- she is mighty impressive actually, this grandmother is very flexible.

It never ceases to amaze me that the behind the scenes fashion types generally wear black all the time. And they never change their hairstyle from one decade to the next. They're very much a do what I say not do what I do group of people. 

A visual bonus for any fashion doco that has anything to do with France are the obligatory glimpses of Paris during Fashion Week - Palais Garner, Grand Palais and the Colonne Vendome. 

A month after CR Fashion Book launched in 2012 Carine Roitfeld accepted a position as Global Fashion Director for Harpers Bazaar. She still publishes CR Fashion Book twice a year as her own "personal laboratory of ideas".

Karl Lagerfeld is in it a lot
they collaborate quite a bit

Some interesting Carine Roitfeld links
"I’d used the same perfume for 20 years, so just for me to change that was very difficult." Maybe this really is a French thing. Those gals in How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are (see my review) advised us not to change our perfume for 30 years. Carine Roitfeld was to launch a range of seven perfumes in 2016 but I can't find that it exists yet. 

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  

Sunday, 29 January 2017


I'd heard a little bit about Mechanica, enough to be intrigued. The cover is entrancing. I knew it was a picture book but for older kids, so I ordered a copy and sent it to a nephew, and then used some of my time during the Christmas break to read it.

The copy I'd seen didn't have the subtitle a beginner's field guide, otherwise I might have been expecting a field guide format, instead of a more straight forward narrative. Mechanica has a great concept. It is the 23rd century. The worlds environment has been destroyed by our own stupidity and Mechanica have been created by man- robotic life-forms created by humans to replace extinct species- butterflies, bats, birds, snakes, spiders, bees. The illustrations are beautiful and totally cool. 

Mechanics were originally displayed in zoos and small sanctuaries for public enjoyment, but soon they began to escape their enclosures and cross-breed with damaged drones. As a child Liberty Crisp saw one of the last butterflies in existence, she was to become fascinated by Mechanica.

Mechanica is a field guide from the future. There will be lots more to come from the very imaginative Lance Balchin. A second picture book called Aquatica will be published in March, and a series of novels- The Mechanica Chronicles, detailing the voyages of Liberty Crisp on her ship the HMS Beagle is on the way. It will be a fascinating journey.

There is a great Mechanica website giving a glimpse of how Lance Balchin creates his amazing illustrations. Be sure to watch the videos.

Betterreading have a fascinating interview with Lance where he talks about his many inspirations.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Midnight Gang

I'm always pleased to see a new Walliams' title hit the bookstores. The Midnight Gang came out in late 2016, and I've just got to it now. I'd just spent three weeks reading Ballet Shoes (see my review) and as a consequence I was already one book behind on my Goodreads Challenge for the year, so that I knew I needed a lightning fast read. The Midnight Gang it was. Although it's getting harder to blitz through Walliams books- they are indeed getting longer each year. The Midnight Gang is a chunky 478 pages. 

The Midnight Gang is set in the Children's Ward of Lord Funt Hospital in London. Naturally it is no cozy, mural painted kids ward. The Children's Ward of Lord Funt Hospital is on the 44th floor of the building, right at the very top, and it is presided over by a mean, callous, child-hating Matron. Naturally it is peopled with great characters, like Raj the Newsagent, and Nurse Meese.

A large older lady in a blur-and-white uniform with a hat leaned over and examined the boy's head. Dark circles framed her bloodshot eyes. Grey wiry hair squatted on her head. Her face was red raw, as if she had scrubbed it with a cheese grater.

Tom Charper has just been admitted to the Children's Ward of Lord Funt Hospital after a tragic cricket accident. He has been hit on the head by the ball, concussed, and left with rather a large bump.  Tom is a lonely boy at his boarding school. His parents never contact him, and he is on the outer with the kids. Not in the rugby team, not in the cool gang of kids, but he finds firm friends in the other children in the ward.

Each night at midnight the children leave their beds for a series of adventures in the nooks and crannies of the hospital. Naturally Tom wants to join them in their exploits. Like all of David Walliams books there is a beautiful heart at the centre of The Midnight Gang. Readers learn that they shouldn't judge someone by their looks and that 

"life is precious. Every moment is precious. We should be kind to each other. While there is still time."

I just love that David Walliams did publicity for the book in his pyjamas!

Fascinating to see that David Walliams based Porter on one of his favourite childhood characters, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's obvious when you know. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

Ballet Shoes

I'd been looking forward to reading Ballet Shoes for some time, and presumed that I would love it. For some reason I thought I would find it a bit like The Secret Garden i.e. just delightful (see my review). Noel Streatfeild wrote one of my favourite books of my childhood- The Children of Primrose Lane- still one of my earliest memories of reading. I remember reading it over and over again. I don't remember the story all now, but I remember the book itself. Indeed, my original copy has survived my childhood and still sits on my bookshelves. I've been meaning to reread it after I fell in love with Ballet Shoes, but now I'm a bit worried that it might spoil the memories.

You see I didn't really like Ballet Shoes. 

I found it boring. It was a bit of a slog to get through. I found the tone so passive that I had to push myself to spend any time at all reading it and I was constantly eyeing off other books that I could have been reading, and enjoying, instead. 

Ballet Shoes tells the story of three orphaned girls found in remote parts of the world and brought back to London by their benefactor and guardian, Great-Uncle Matthew, or Gum as the girls call him. Gum is a fossil collector and explorer who has a large house "at the far end of the longest road in London" where he deposits the girls and leaves them in the care of his great-niece Sylvia and Nana, her nurse. 

Gum had been a very important person. He had collected some of the finest fossils in the world, and though to many people fossils may not seem to be very interesting things to collect, there are others who find them as absorbing as sensible collections, such as stamps. 

The girls are brought up by Sylvia and Nana as Gum, whilst beloved by all, has left them alone without the funds to go on. It's the 1930s and things are tight. Although they go to Harrods for a new dress when needed, but spend much of their time walking to the Victoria and Albert and back. The V&A was mentioned a lot and each time made me think of my visit there in 2013. 

I did find some historical aspects rather interesting. The girls all attend Madame Fidolia's Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training and much of the book is taken up of rather intricate detail of the practicalities of their lessons. But as each girl turns 12 they are allowed to work in the theatre, and they must apply for a Licence to do so from the city of London. This seemed a highly regulated process, and there was even a copy of the Application for Licence included, which seemed an unusual feature for a book originally published in 1936.

Also intersting was that the death of a king (King George V in January 1936) could have a profound effect on how long a show would run. The populace of London were so saddened by his death that "Nobody felt in the mood for pantomimes." It's hard to imagine that now. 

All three girls contract whooping cough one year. 

Whooping cough is a miserable disease, but if you must have it, the worst place is the Cromwell Road; it is so far from the Parks and any place where you can whoop nicely in private. They spent the first part of having it in bed, but after a bit they got well enough to get up, and then it was most dressing. The weather was ghastly- very cold, with those sort of winds which cut your legs and face, and often it rained and sometimes half snowed, and they whooped too much to go on an underground, or a bus, and they were all cross, and they got tireder and tireder of walking to the Victoria and Albert and back. 

I did find Ballet Shoes disappointing overall in the end. There just wasn’t enough hook into the story for me I think. And I was never that interested in the girls story, which is surprising as it started out so well- 3 orphans in quick succession in the first chapter! 

And can Kathleen Kelly have been wrong all these years? 

The particular scene isn’t in that montage, but at one stage in You’ve Got Mail Kathleen Kelly says:

“I'd start with Ballet Shoes, it's my favorite; although Skating Shoes is completely wonderful.” 

I'm not so sure. 


Thursday, 12 January 2017


It's January 12 and I've finally finished my first book of 2017! Which is also my last book of 2016 because I actually started it way back on Dec 23. Yes, it took me three weeks to read a 362 middle grade book. Which is not the books fault at all, not at all, it's mine. At 21 days to read a mere 362 pages it's a paltry average of 17 pages a day- which is a pretty dismal effort on my part, and sadly my reading of the book suffered for it. I'm not in a reading slump so much as having too much non-reading to do, and only being able to sneak in a few pages before I fall asleep each night.

Cogheart is the debut book from Peter Bunzl, filmmaker and author. I think I heard about it on twitter over the past few months, and then I saw it available in my local bookshop in December and I had to buy it immediately, and then it leapt to the top of my reading pile and I chose it for my Sydney Christmas read. Well that was the intention. 

Thirteen year old Lily Grantham is a student at Miss Octavia Scrimshaw's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies in a "wild corner of England" in 1906. Her mother had died a number of years earlier and her father had "chosen to send her to the school after she'd frustrated a number of governesses".

Lily had long ago noticed the other girls never read in posture class. It seemed thinking and walking simultaneously was too difficult for them. She doubted if a single important thought ever floated through their minds. 
Her father is also an inventor of some note and a recluse. He goes missing in an airship accident at the very start of the book, and Lily falls under the guardianship of her father's French housekeeper Madame Verdigris. Naturally I quite liked the sprinkling of French phrases scattered throughout her dialogue, although I always wonder what kids make of this, if they just skim over it, or they infer some meaning from context.

"Ça suffit!" Madame grabbed her arms and pressed them against her chest. Her long nails dug into Lily's wrists and get teardrop earrings swung wildly as she dragged Lily away from the door and threw her down on her bed.

I don't think that I've ever read anything that might possibly be considered steampunk before, and I was a bit nervous about whether I would like it as a style. I don't know why now. I just loved the mix of Victorian London, zeppelins, windup mechanimals (who wouldn't love a windup fox like Malkin?) and villainous hybrid chaps with silver eyes. It's interesting that Peter Bunzl is a filmmaker I think Cogheart would make a fabulous animated movie. There are some terrific action scenes and Peter Bunzl doesn't shy away from scaring the kids a bit. 

A shudder ran through her as his broken face surfaced in her memory, like a corpse floating from the depths of a glinting pond. 

At times Cogeheart stirred memories of Asimov's Laws of Robotics from decades ago when I read much more science fiction than I do now. 
'It's the first rule of mechanics, Robert: a mech cannot kill a human or seriously harm them."
I briefly wondered what it would be like to reread Asimov now, but I don't have the time. 

The sequel to Cogheart, Moonlocket will be out sometime this year. I'll be looking forward to it.