Wednesday 29 February 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 29/2/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

This weeks words come from two newspaper articles on art.

The first two from a review of the new biography of Vincent van Gogh, which I would be tempted to look at if I was the sort of reader to ever make it through a 912 page biography of an artist. 

1. Tenebrous (adjective)

When van Gogh finally gets to Paris in the spring of 1886, he has only one significant painting to his credit, the tenebrous The Potato Eaters.

Picture credit
Gloomy, shadowy, dark. The Free Dictionary. 

2. Pointillism (Noun)

It marked the ascendency of pointillism as the leading edge of contemporary art. 

The technique of painting elaborated from impressionism, in which dots of unmixed colour are juxtaposed on a white ground so that from a distance they fuse in the viewer's eye into appropriate intermediate tones. The Free Dictionary. 

Is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat developed the technique in 1886, branching from Impressionism. The term Pointillism was first coined by art critics in the late 1880s to ridicule the works of these artists, and is now used without its earlier mocking connotation. Wiki

My last word comes from my local small town paper, and an article about the Archibald exhibition at our local art gallery. 

3. Panjandrum (Noun)

Like it or not, this is the grand panjandrum with the little red button on top of Australian art exhibitions. 

i) An important or self-important person. 
ii) A pompous, self-important official or person of rank.
iii) Designation for a pompous official, taken from a story by Samuel Foote (1775). The Free Dictionary.

 The Samuel Foote story is The Great Panjandrum Himself. 

Picture credit
Somehow, The Great Panjandrum become a massive, rocket-propelled, explosive-laden cart designed by the British military during World War II.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

The Little Refugee

I was very excited to find a copy of this book sitting on the top of the shelf at my library. I'd been meaning to read the adult version of this book (The Happiest Refugee) since it was published in 2010. But, well, I haven't. And I probably won't get to it anytime soon, though I would still like to. So I set my aims slightly lower- I'd read the picture book version. Junior versions of adult books is quite a big phenomenon. There's been a lot recently- Mao's Last Dancer was an adult biography, that turned into a beautiful picture book. Several of Tim Flannery's books have morphed into junior nonfiction books too- albeit aimed a bit higher than the picture book set. 

Anh Do is a well known Australian comedian. His family journeyed to Australia as boat people after the Vietnam War. The early sections of the story- in Vietnam, about the war, and the family's perilous voyage in a smelly fishing boat are all illustrated in somber tones- mainly sepia, with occasional page a murky, dull grey/green.

The arrival of the Do family in Australia is signified by a change to vibrant colour. There are of course still obstacles to overcome- poverty, settling in to school in a strange country in an unfamiliar language. But ultimately it's about optimism and hope, and fitting in to a new society or school, even if your uniform isn't right to start with, and your English isn't great.

Which is an important message when the arrival of every new boat of asylum seekers is announced repeatedly in the media, and provokes a certain amount of hysteria and frenzy. Boat people are still a big political issue in Australia.

An Illustrated Year is hosted by An Abundance of Books.

Monday 27 February 2012

From the Mixed Up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler

I didn't know much about this book before I started reading it. Even the title seemed mystifying. I'm not sure that it was ever hugely popular in Australia. It certainly seems to have been in America- a Newbery winner, one of the 100 books that shaped the 20th century for  School Library Journal.

But I just fell in love with the premise of this book. Claudia Kincaid knew that she didn't want to run away, she wanted to run to something. The first paragraph is wonderful and pulled me in straight away.

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not just be running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

After spending a few days immersed in the museum, I felt like I too had lived there with Claudia and Jamie, and am very keen to visit. Until I get to New York again, I can visit it via the Mixed Up Files Issue of Museum Kids, which has a great article about E.L Konigsburg's inspirations for writing this story. It's extraordinary what the sight of one solitary piece of popcorn sitting on an antique chair in a museum can do. Claudia planned her escape all so meticulously, and was so sensible in her approach. Yet still childlike and naive at times. It was wonderful sharing her adventures in a pre-CCTV world. It's sad to think that a modern day Claudia wouldn't be able to repeat this wonderful escapade.

She's rebelling against the injustice of her terrible life. She has to empty the dishwasher and set the table on the same night, because she is the oldest girl, and yet her younger brothers get away with doing nothing again and again. She wants to teach her family a lesson in "Claudia appreciation". Claudia lived in quite an affluent world in 1967 Greenwich, even though she got the smallest pocket money of anyone in her class. And after all her parents only had a cleaning lady twice a week, and not the full time maid of her classmates.

I found it interesting that Claudia really gave no thought whatsoever to her family after she and Jamie left. There is occasional reference made to the newspaper articles about their disappearance, but Claudia didn't look for them, or see them when she was reading the New York Times to find out more about Angel, the mysterious statue possibly by Michelangelo that is causing a sensation at the time of her residence. Interesting too, that Claudia really pushed herself and Jamie to learn things during their adventure, they researched topics of interest and followed school groups to listen in to their tours. 

I had no idea what the title of the book meant, but I really liked our narrator, Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. A very clever use of an omniscient narrator. To have a rather crotchety old lady wearing pearls and lab coats tucked away in her house far from the action central to the story. She even waxes a bit philosophical at times. 

Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little 
corner that keeps flapping around.

I ended up loving this book, for which I am very glad, as I really wanted to love it after I'd read the back cover. I read it in just a few days. Now I'm scanning my library's shelves for more books by Mrs Konigsburg. They all sound intriguing, but I think that The Second Mrs Gioconda sounds like it should be up next. 

Sunday 26 February 2012

Horrible Histories

Recently my son and I have taken to watching Horrible Histories on ABC 3. I've been surprised at how much both of us like it. We love it actually. And both of us learn stuff.

Like the Kings of England. 

What Alfred Nobel was really famous for. And why he created the Nobel Prize. 

They even take off my other favourite shows.

It's quite a fascinating show actually. Entertaining, educational and best of all- laugh out loud funny. And now there's a whole series of books for me to check out too. The books have been coming thick and fast since 1993, so there's plenty to choose from.

Saturday 25 February 2012

A Night at the Gallery- Archibald Prize

I was very excited to attend the opening of the travelling Archibald Prize at my local gallery a few weeks ago. The Archibald Prize is perhaps Australia's most famous prize for portraiture. First awarded in 1921, this 2011 exhibition marked the 90th year. It always makes an interesting outing, and I've often seen the full exhibition in The Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney. Each year a number of works are selected to tour the regional galleries of NSW- on show are the finalists of the 2011 Prize. And the people are grateful- the opening was packed! Some were Truly Awful, but I've not chosen to feature those here. I've chosen the paintings that I liked most.

I think this one is possibly my favourite. Del Kathryn Barton's portrait of Cate Blanchett and her three boys, Mother (a portrait of Cate).

It's really big, and I could never get it without light reflections

While it isn't possibly the most warm or comforting family portrait, it is rather mesmerising. The beauty is in the detail:

This one drew me in from across the room. It has a beautiful burnished glow. I love the budgie cage thorax and the cat shadow. Not that I'm sure what it means.

Cassandra Golds by Sonia Kretschmar
On my second visit to the exhibition the first thing I did was to read the blurb next to the painting. And I discovered that Cassandra Golds is an Australian author (which explains the background being covered in handwritten text) and that the portrait was inspired by a passage from her recent book The Three Loves of Persimmon (and hasn't that just shot up my TBR? I was vaguely aware of it before)

“Persimmon gazed at him. For a moment she had the strangest feeling that there was a bird trapped inside her ribcage, as if her bones were its prison and it was flapping frantically against them, trying to get out. She opened her mouth, but could find no words.”

An interesting portrait of our Governer General Quentin Bryce. She is always so immaculately turned out. If you look closely you can see that there are three canvases here. The outer layers are rough and drippy, the central one is refined and precise to portray her as she is now. It's a very clever technique and makes a great painting.
Quentin Bryce by Barbara Tyson

I love the oriental feel of this one.

Cheryl Barker by Apple Xiu Yin

This one won the People's Choice Award from the Sydney exhibition. Again, it draws you toward it from across the room. 

John Coetzee (known as JM Coetzee to readers) by Adam Chang,
winner of the People's Choice Award
This one is particularly striking, and more so when you realise that it's a "portrait" without a face. Tim Storrier's self portrait Moon Boy.

I did have to cheat and copy this one from the website,
it has a gold frame and my shots were awful

The winning portrait of Margaret Olley by Ben Quilty. It resides in pride of place as you enter the exhibition. The technique is pretty amazing. The white of the skin on her face is actually blank canvas, and the paint is slathered on. Up close it looks like a child splopped thick paint on a canvas, but step back a few paces and Margaret's face takes shape. It's very clever. A deserved winner I think.

Margaret's mouth up close

Textures of paint

Thankfully Margaret got to see Ben Quilty win the Archibald Prize in April 2011, beating over 800 other entries. Margaret was one of Australia's most loved and praised artists herself, she sadly died a few months later. 

I got to go to the exhibition three times. Once on the super crowded opening night. Once on a quiet day time visit. The third time a school group was visiting and it was interesting to see the kids reactions to particular paintings. 

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Thursday 23 February 2012

Feeling Sad

Another picture book that lept into my hands at the library. I do enjoy European picture books, and I thought that Verroken sounded European. How right I was! But I did get confused along the way. Sarah Verroken is Belgian, but lived in New Zealand for a while, and is now back in Belgium it seems. The book was originally written in Dutch and published in Belgium, so that makes it European enough for me. 

Duck is feeling sad. Her world is black and white and full of despair. She is in the meadow with her little red toy, Dudley. 

But the voice of reason comes from a tiny frog, "Cheer up Duck, The clouds will pass, you must look ahead." And so Duck starts looking for the sun. And her world starts to colour.

I love the illustration style here. Black and white illustrations are always strong and appealing, and then the use of colour. 

An Illustrated Year is hosted by An Abundance of Books.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 22/2/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

I read The Wind in the Willows recently for the first time. One of the things I particularly loved about it was the wonderful, extensive vocabulary. Some of which was familiar, and evocative, some of which was new. 

1. Wager-boat (Noun)

'Toad's out, for one,' replied the Otter. 'In his brand-new wager-boat; new togs, new everything!'

The newest, top racing boat. These boats were raced when bets were on the line. Rowing History.

2. Morocco

The 'Poop-poop' rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment's glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its  pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and entrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more. 

A soft fine leather of goatskin tanned with sumac, used for book bindings and shoes. The Free Dictionary.

And car interiors it seems. 

Josephine's prayer book

3. Vouchsafed (Verb)

Me complain of that beautiful, that heavenly vision that has been vouchsafed me!

To condescend to grant or bestow (a privilege, for emaple); deign. The Free Dictionary. 

4. Purple loosestrife (Noun)

Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge of the mirrro whence its own face laughed back at it. 

A flowering plant belonging to the family Lythraceae, native to Europe, Asia, northwest Africa and southeastern Australia. Wiki. 

Picture credit

5. Freshet (Noun)

Leaf-mould rose and obliterated, streams in their winter freshets brought sand and soil to clog and to cover, and in course of time our home was ready for us again, and we moved in. 

i) A sudden overflow of a stream resulting from a heavy rain or a thaw.
ii) A stream of fresh water that empties into a body of salt water. The Free Dictionary. 

6. Appurtenance (Noun)

Close against the white blind hung a birdcage, clearly silhouetted, every wire, perch and appurtenance distinct and recognisable, even to yesterday's dull-edged lump of sugar. 

i) Something added to another, more important thing; an appendange.
ii) Equipment such as clothing, tools, or instruments, used for a specific purpose or task; gear. 
iii) Law. A right, privilege, or property that is considered incident to the principal property for purposes such as passage of title, conveyance, or inheritance. The Free Dictionary. 

7. Expatiate (Verb)

His spirits finally quite restored, he must needs go and caress his possessions, and take a lamp and show off their points to his visitor and expatiate on them, quite forgetful of the supper they both so much needed; Rat, who was desperately hungry but strove to conceal it, nodding seriously, examining with a puckered brow, and saying 'wonderful', and 'most remarkable' at intervals, when the chance for an observation was given him. 

i) To speak or write at length
ii) To wander freely. The Free Dictionary

8. Benison (Noun)

For ere on half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison-

A blessing, a benediction. The Free Dictionary.


Handwritten is an extraordinary exhibition at the National Library of Australia (only until March 18 2012, so you need to be quick). It's extraordinary because it's an amazing collection of manuscripts, letters, books (old bibles and prayer books) and music scores on loan from Berlin State Library. It's extraordinary because it's free.

I'm so glad that I got to go.

The whole exhibition was very interesting, but a few special items really caught my attention. Each artefact had a short blurb about the life of the author and how the object was relevant to their life. There were many extraordinary tales.

The first was a  letter written in Braille format, by Louis Braille, printed by a raphigraphe machine. A sort of early Braille typewriter. Louis Braille, was blinded in a childhood accident, and worked on his system of writing for the blind from age 12. He was to only live a short life, succumbing to TB at 43.

His letter was particularly beautiful. Naturally, it was written in French, and the raphigrapher printed a sort of embossed print, so that the letter just looked like embossed French, not the series of mysterious bumps that is modern Braille. So as long as my French was good enough I could read it.

There was a letter written by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, the German physicist who took the worlds first xrays, of his wife's hand, and would later win the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901. They had reproduced one of his early xrays, and it was fascinating to see that it would be seen as a bad xray these days. It's bad form to leave the rings on! I think I had seen these xrays before, but had forgotten about it. 

Picture credit

Albert Einstein's piece was interesting. Half of it was crossed out in rather exuberant crosses. A sign of a brilliant, quick, but slightly disordered mind?

Albert Nobel was represented in the exhibition. Actually, he's been coming up for me a bit lately. You'll see why in another post soon. His letter was about one of the frequent litigations he was involved in. 

Herman Hesse (who I haven't read, I've been much too chicken) renounced his German citizenship, but continued to write in his native language. He wrote and illustrated Pictor's Metamorphoses in lovely watercolours. 

Not the page I saw, but you get the idea

We also learn about the "father of chemotherapy", of crocodiles and tsetse flies, and poor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor and member of the German resistance who was "strangled with a wire 3 weeks before the German capitulation."

The display of the music manuscripts was a particularly amazing experience. Each manuscript was opened out within a protective glass case. At each case you could hear the particular piece of music. So, Beethoven's 5th was playing at the case where his original score lay open (not that I can read music at all). And somehow this didn't make a cacophony of sound (well, in the occasional spot, but generally you could just hear one of them). It's still amazing to see these pieces as they were written, and a novel way to display them. 

Handwritten has been a very popular exhibit at the National Library. And it's great that that is so. You can prebook your free tickets, and if you're planning to go at what would be a busy time like the weekend, then it's probably a good idea. We hadn't prebooked, and couldn't get in on the Sunday afternoon we tried to go, but easily got tickets for the 10am session the next morning. It's still a bit crowded though even with timed tickets. Make sure that you leave time to visit the adjoining exhibition Treasures of the National Library (also free entry, and with a fabulous free ipod audio tour available at the bookshop). It's well worth a look too. So much so I think I'll give it it's own post. 

For those unlucky enough not to be able to go, you can get a quick taste here, or watch an ABC news video here.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

I'd seen the badge for this challenge around the blog world a few times of late, but hadn't really looked at it until the other day. Then I read my friend Janine's post on Otherland by Maria Tumarkin.  Now I realise that 289 bloggers have signed up for this challenge! What have I been missing? Suddenly I paid attention.

As I should. I like Aussie Women Writers. I read Aussie Women Writers. Sometimes I blog about them. I did a few last year. Only one so far this year. Margaret Wild's The Dream of the Thylacine. Which I shall retrospectively label as being for this challenge. I certainly mean to read more. I'm hopeful that this challenge will keep me mindful of my commitment.

I have a number of books that immediately spring to mind. I want to read more Jackie French this year. I so loved Nanberry last year. I won Deb Fitzpatrick's Have You Seen Ally Queen recently. And I've come across Cassandra Golds and must read her soon.

Plenty to get on with. Are you reading some Australian Women Writers this year?


I finished a book on Marie Antoinette this week. It was quite fascinating. And I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing a blog post about it. I used some of my photos from my visit to Versailles in 2010 for the post. The photos got me looking through my Paris photos again, which always makes me a bit unsettled. So I thought I would put up some more Versailles photos for my Saturday Snapshot(s). 

A visit to Versailles is always special

The French love a bit of gilt paint, it had been newly painted since our last visit in 1998

Ground floor view of the Chapel

Upstairs view of the Chapel

The architecture at Versailles is astonishing, and perhaps one of my favourite aspects,
a bit like the Louvre, I look at the architecture more than framed paintings

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Friday 17 February 2012

Marie Antoinette

I've read a couple of these books now. Titanic, which was ok. And Pompei, which didn't inspire me enough to actually blog about it. But you can check out the Wondrous Words it inspired. Twice. Neither of those was a Royal story, and of course I'm quite interested in France, so was interested to try Marie Antoinette. Although of course, Marie Antoinette was actually Austrian, not French.

We meet Marie Antoinette as a 13 year old Austrian Archduchess, Maria Antonia, about to become engaged to Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin of France, who was to become Louis XVI. It's rather astonishing to realise that one of the most famous women in history. One of the most famous queens in history was married at 14.

The descriptions of her preparations to travel to France, the journey and her early days in Versailles make captivating reading. Maria Antonia becomes engaged to a man that she has never met, has never seen, and doesn't really know anything about. She waits anxiously for months for a miniature portrait of Louis-Auguste to be sent to her, and a painter comes from France to paint a portrait of her to be sent to Versailles.  Through the marvels of Wikipedia we too can see her likeness.

Very hard to believe that she is 13

Dolls were sent to her in Australia to model potential dress designs for her to choose. Rather ingenious really. Her journey to France as described is extraordinary. Coaches with chandeliers! What a rattle they must have made. She was then forced to strip naked to step onto French soil on an island in the Rhine River, as a symbolic rebirth as a future French Queen leaving behind her Austrian self.

The descriptions of court life at Versailles are also extraordinary. The family dine in public several times per week, with hundreds of people watching them eat. Three times a week everyone is required to attend the Grand Levee (Rising of the King), where the king goes through a reenactment of getting up and dressed. Every action is strictly controlled by etiquette, but there aren't enough toilets in Versailles, so visitors frequently void up against the walls or in the corners, and so the palace smelled like a urinal! Marie Antoinette's wedding procession passed through the Hall of Mirrors on the way to the Chapel. The book suggests her dress was encrusted with 4,000 diamonds. Certainly, it was a lavish affair, which would put modern day celebrity weddings to shame.

It's amazing to think that now just anyone, even Aussie tourists can wander the halls

and look at the same amazing sights that Marie Antoinette did

Even royal births are public spectacles. Over 150 people crushed into Marie Antionette's bedchamber to witness the birth of her first child, Princess Marie Therese, who sadly was to die before her first birthday. For such a rarified, privileged society this all seems truly bizarre. And this is before we start considering the behaviours involving official mistresses.

I hope she at least had some bed curtains to hide behind
The epilogue and historical note at the end of the book outline the rest of her tragic life. She had 4 children only one of whom was to survive into adulthood. And there goes my notions that one day my excursions into family history will turn up Marie Antoinette as a distant cousin.

In reading fictionalised history it's always difficult to know what's true. Certainly the facts of her life are true. Married at 14 to a 15 year old future king. The diary only covers the period from 1769 to 1771. But it's a fascinating glimpse into this period of world history, and a blessed relief from monsters stalking the streets of Paris.