Saturday, 4 July 2015

Cleaning Place Vendôme

Place Vendôme is a fabulous place to visit in Paris. Smack bang in the middle of the luxury shopping area in the First, it is loaded with exclusive outlets of the worlds top brands. You can't walk around quickly as the window displays are too enticing. Place Vendôme is also home to the Ritz Paris, which has been closed for several years now for a major refurbishment. I enjoyed a particularly lovely lunch there in 1998. 

On a visit in 2013 there was preservation work taking place on the iconic Vendôme Column (Colonne de la Grande Armée). This column has a fascinating history of its own- commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, it is said to be made from captured cannons. When we were in Paris in 2013 they were cleaning the column. 

Hand cleaning it with paintbrushes!

I don't know how long it took to clean such a huge column with a set of paintbrushes. That same visit I also saw them cleaning the gorgeous Pont Alexandre III with a paintbrush.

Paris in July
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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Looking for Alibrandi

I'm a bit sad that I left Looking for Alibrandi for so long. It's not like it wasn't famous enough. It was. I think I've even seen the movie at some stage. So I knew a bit about it already. Looking for Alibrandi was Melina Marchetta's debut novel, all the way back in 1992, so long ago that Ansett was still flying our skies and is referenced in the book. Since then Melina Marchetta has established herself as one of the big names in Australian YA, and I know this won't be the last time I'll be reading her work. 

Looking for Alibrandi is a classic coming of age novel. Josie Alibrandi is 17 and living in Sydney's inner west (in a suburb that I lived in for many years, so I felt an immediate connection).  It’s always a thrill to recognise locations, street names etc- Glebe Point Road, St Johns Road are all well known to me. I’ve walked down them many, many times. I think I’ve even been to the McDonalds that Josie works at, although it would have been a long time ago. So long ago that Josie could have served me. 

Glebe has two facades. One is of beautiful tree-lined streets with gorgeous old homes, and the other, which is supposed to be trendy, has old terraces with views of outhouses and clothes-lines. I belong to the latter. 

I did too. Our story here is about three generations of women, one widowed, one never married, one still single, a schoolgirl still, but starting to spread her wings. This will create conflict in any family, but particularly in a strong- minded Italian matriarchy. Josie lives with her mother and is in her final year of schooling. She is about to start a tumultuous year.

The seventeen that Janis Ian sang about where one learns the truth.

I liked the reference to Janis Ian’s At Seventeen, but wondered if teenage readers in the 90s or now would get the reference? I guess they can Google it now if they're that interested. But it's important to remember that this book was written in the 80s and published in the 90s- nearly ancient history now in terms of YA. 

I think though that Looking for Alibrandi was one of the first big selling Australian YA books, and certainly one of the first to deal with characters from diverse cultural backgrounds. Josie's Italian heritage is important to her character, and vital to the story. Looking for Alibrandi deals with lots of big issues- our multicultural society, cultural identity, family secrets, youth suicide, school, first love and friendship, and so it's easy to see why it is still being taught to high school students in Australia. But it's not just issue driven book, it's a story told with humour and warmth. 


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

I really enjoyed The Ghost of Thomas Kempe even though I wasn't expecting to. I let a daggy old mid 1970s cover put me off I guess ... I should have known better. Penelope Lively is known as both a writer for adults and children. I've read her most famous adult book Moon Tiger, and remember liking it but not much more than that.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe is indeed a ghost story- perhaps the subject matter put me off a little too? I kind of outgrew ghost stories a few decades ago. But this is a delightful, well written ghost story with a delightful English village setting with marvellous village characters.

Ten year old James Harrison and his family have just moved to Ledsham in Oxfordshire, and into an old house.

It was a very old place, half way between a village and a small town, and had, somehow, the air of being dwarfed by the present. New housing estates were mushrooming now on two sides of it, but the centre remained as it must always have been with the houses and streets a size smaller than the houses and streets of a modern town. 

James' parents have converted the disused, locked attic into a bedroom for young James. And this is where the trouble starts. There is a wonderful sense of spookiness and foreboding from the start.

In the room, there was a gathering of air: it bunched and compressed into little winds that nosed the mounds of wallpaper, rustled them, and set the windows faintly rattling. Then it subsided, and the room was quiet: empty. 

But The Ghost of Thomas Kempe has much more substance than a mere ghost story. It is a wonderful contemplation of family, community, time and memory. James has just moved to a new town, he doesn't always get along with his sister, his mother makes cauliflower cheese for dinner and he is forever getting into trouble and despairs of ever receiving dessert or pocket money again. And apparently it's quite difficult to get anyone to believe that your house and village are inhabited by a note writing poltergeist.

'If you think I've made it all up,' said James icily, 'you've got another think coming. Who wants all their pocket money stopped and no pudding and everybody getting in a bad temper with you?'

Penelope Lively is a wonderful writer. While on the face of it she seems a most English of writers, she was born in Egypt to English expat parents and did not attend any sort of school until she was 12. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe was her first big success. It won the Carnegie Medal in 1973.


Friday, 26 June 2015

29 Books Australians Grew Up Reading

Another great recent buzzfeed list. I'm way too old to have grown up with many of these books, but you can always make up for lost opportunities.

I suspect that this list is meant to be Australian. Certainly at least Hairy Maclary is not. But then what would an Australian list be without something borrowed from New Zealand?

1. Possum Magic - Mem Fox

2. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie - May Gibbs

3. The Magic Pudding - Norman Lindsay (see my review)

4. Diary of a Wombat - Jackie French, Bruce Whatley

5. Imagine - Alison Lester

6. The Muddle-Headed Wombat - Ruth Park

7. Hairy Maclary - Lynley Dodd

8. Grug - Ted Prior

9. The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill - Dorothy Wall

10. Wombat Stew - Marcia K Vaughan, Pamela Lofts

11. Where the Forest Meets the Sea - Jeannie Baker

12. Animalia - Graeme Base

13. Who Sank the Boat? - Pamela Allen

14. When the Wind Changed - Ruth Park

15. Seven Little Australians - Ethel Turner

16. Where is the Green Sheep? - Mem Fox, Judy Horacek

17. Magic Beach - Alison Lester

18. The Lost Thing - Shaun Tan (see my review)

19. Bamboozled - David Legge

20. Hating Alison Ashley - Robin Klein

21. Playing Beatie Bow - Ruth Park (see my review)

22. Adults Only - Morris Gleitzman

23. The Day My Bum Went Psycho - Andy Griffiths

24. Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden 

25. Thunderwith - Libby Hathorn

26. The Burnt Stick - Anthony Hill, Mark Sofilas (see my review)

27. Deltora Quest - Emily Rodda

28. The Gizmo - Paul Jennings

29. Wicked! - Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings


I find the inclusion of three Ruth Park titles interesting and possibly rather odd.

And still there's always a book you've never heard of- here it's Bamboozled for me.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

One Minute's Silence

I was very keen to read One Minute's Silence because it appeared on the CBCA Shortlist this year, not just once- but three times! It made the shortlist for Picture Book of the Year and New Illustrator of the Year, and is a Notable Book for the Eve Pownall Award. That has to be an achievement in itself.

One Minute's Silence is a powerful picture book. A picture book for older thinking children, not a book for the fun of a noisy bedtime reading session or to calm toddlers for bed. One Minute's Silence asks us to imagine the unimaginable when we observe the minute silence to remember those killed in war. It focuses on the Gallipoli campaign, but One Minute's Silence asks us to imagine the war from both sides- from the view of both the young Anzacs rushing the beach in the predawn light and the young Turks who stood at the top protecting that beach and their country.

Michael Camilleri's illustrations are magnificent simple line drawings. He shows us a class of bored Australian school children about to observe their own minute's silence. Camilleri takes these same high school kids to those steep rocky beaches at Gallipoli, to see the conflict, the death, the hardship all round. To see the humanity of both sides, as they see the beach, the battle and the war from both perspectives.

It's a poignant moment in a sobering book.

Teacher's Notes for One Minute's Silence are available from Allen & Unwin.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Art in the Grounds of Versailles

I've been to Versailles quite a few times now. We loved it so much the first time we went back several more times, and arranged a night in the town. Then again on two more trips to France. It's vast of course, and I still haven't seen it all, but there is always something new each time.

My last visit was back in 2013, and they had some great artworks in the grounds. The mix of modern horticultural pieces was interesting in the refined formal garden of wonderment that form the grounds of the Chateau.

I love this photo for some reason. 
 It's a view down the inside of these trees:

I was reminded of this day because there is a new outdoor art installation in the grounds of Versailles this summer. It is somewhat controversial, and in dubious taste really I feel. It has already been vandalised

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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Grim Tuesday

Grim Tuesday is the second rather amazing fantasy story in Garth Nix's The Keys of the Kingdom series that started with Mister Monday (see my review). I really enjoyed the imaginative tale of Mister Monday and somewhat unusually for me embarked on my own quest to listen to the rest of the series.

Grim Tuesday of course finds Arthur Penhaligon, our rather unlikely, asthmatic hero back in The House sooner than he expected. Indeed on Tuesday morning, only hours after his adventures of the Monday Arthur is called to return. Things are getting out of hand in The House and they need Arthur's help. In the first story Arthur enters The House with part of the First Key already, here Arthur enters The House barehanded.

Garth Nix has once again created a highly imaginative story. It is similar in some ways to Mister Monday of course, there is Arthur, the second part of the Will, and the second set of keys, but Grim Tuesday's domain is another part of The House entirely and rather different to the Lower House of Mister Monday. Grim Tuesday's domain is the Far Reaches, a type of mine fired by his greed. Garth Nix is tremendous at creating monsters- my favourite this time is Grim Tuesday's disembodied eyebrow that has taken on a life of its own! But using Nothing as a threat is impressive too.

Rather unusually I thought Grim Tuesday himself doesn't enter the story until quite near the end, at the end of the 5th of the 6 audio CDs. He is of course a malevolent threat up until them, but we don't actually meet him until quite late in the story.

My library has the first three books of The Keys to the Kingdom available on audiobook, I will certainly continue on, and hope to listen to all of these wonderful, imaginative, complex stories.