Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W.H. Auden

Monday, March 28, 2011

Beautiful and strange

In his blue gardens, [they] came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars...
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It's hard to believe that Alexander McQueen died over a year ago. His label continues without him, and Sarah Burton, who has taken over from him having worked closely with him for years, seems to have been able to capture exactly what it is that made his designs so unusual: this dress, for example, is beautifully cut and deceptively simple, but as always there's a sting in the tail. At the back, there's a graceful dip of cowl neck:

 Look at it again. There's something unsettling, almost disturbing about the pattern, which seems to contain elements of delicate pale clamshell, but there's also a Rorschach quality to the print, and something insectile, and mothlike, about the pattern.

Alexander McQueen dress, from Net-a-porter. Undeniably expensive, but it's a work of art.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's not dark yet

Despite the fact that I grew up with Bob Dylan's music in the background and it holds very good, and/or sometimes sad, memories for me, I confess I've been a bit suspicious of Bob Dylan's more recent releases (as I am, in callow fashion, of the contemporary output of many a superannuated, still-touring, only-in-it-for-the money rock band who should have hung up their guitars years ago - step forward The Rolling Stones; hang your heads in shame, the Sex Pistols). This ambivalence was not helped by having had the misfortune to hear Dylan's ill-advised Christmas record: I know it's for charity, but that's no excuse. If it's a joke, it's a terrible one, and all of us have to suffer for it.

I've been watching Deadwood, which my sister long ago recommended, and at the end of the first episode of Season 2, a recent Dylan song, It's Not Dark Yet, played over the credits. It was so lovely that I forgave him all the Christmas insults. And Deadwood is wonderful.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A certain slant of light

Wandering home after work through my adopted city today, at a certain moment I looked right up and thought "I live in a beautiful place". I love cities, and have lived in a few (Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Hong Kong and Sydney) but this one still catches me by surprise (double click on the photograph above for the full glory of the vista).

As we are approaching winter here, this view made me think of the first two lines of the Emily Dickinson poem, although none of the rest of it seems to fit:

There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Veil of ignorance

Growing up in 1970s Scotland, I was a rather greedy, forever-hungry child. Hungry as I was, often the food adults liked, and took pleasure in eating, baffled me; my parents would describe something spicy, or bitter, or strong as “an acquired taste”, which seemed to be synonymous with “vile”; olives, whisky, cumin, beetroot, coriander or aubergines. On the contrary, I loved bland food, and dreamed of being given a jar of peanut butter for my birthday. As well as being highly suspect, adult food seemed impossibly exotic to me; on the (fairly infrequent) occasions when someone was coming for dinner, and children were to be sent to bed early, I took a very keen interest in what was being prepared.

My mum seemed to have two key dishes which were her dinner party staples: moussaka, and Danish Peasant Girl with Veil. The latter was based on a recipe of my grandmother’s, and was essentially a dish of stewed apple and bread topped with cream and grated chocolate (recipe here). I remember peeking into the fridge as the Danish Peasant Girl sat there in splendour, cooling for the evening; I can’t guarantee that I didn’t sometimes stick a greedy finger in it to steal some for myself, justifying it with righteous indignation at being excluded from the festivities.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


From a Sydney local newspaper, a tragic, yet also rather comical tale:

Two men and a woman were charged in relation to an alleged break-in at a derelict hotel in Pyrmont early Saturday morning. About 1.30am, police ... found three intoxicated people - two men and a woman. One of the men sustained a minor injury after falling while attempting to climb a small wall.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Eye of the spider

I'm not someone who's ever been frightened of spiders - chief among their many qualities, for instance, is the fact that they like to eat my mortal enemy, the mosquito. Since arriving in Australia, I've had to accustom myself to the fact that spiders here are a whole lot bigger than the ones I'm used to - and are also potentially more dangerous than the skittery old daddy-long-legs I did battle with as a child at night (although as yet I have never met anything poisonous, and I've shared living space with one or two large huntsmen spiders which seem benign enough). Despite slightly depressing advice to avoid spiders altogether, occasionally I will be stopped in my tracks by a beautiful creature at the centre of a large web, constructed without fear or favour in a little bush in the street: like the one above, encountered in Myrtle Street, which is an orb-weaver (even the name is magical).

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I am curious orange

I've commented before about having a sneaking suspicion that fashion is a massive joke perpetrated on the gullible – or words to that effect – of whom I am clearly sometimes one. It passed me by in January when it first appeared on the catwalk (how "on-trend" am I? Not very), but this Jil Sander plastic bag (or, to give it its full title, "acetate market bag") is surely another cruel facet of the joke. It's a bag, a plastic bag, and it retails at $150 (if you don't believe me, here it is on Net-a-Porter). I looked, but it doesn't have "I Am A Plastic Bag" written on it.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

I spy

Dresses at V. Lotus

Manic Mannequins at Doug Up On Bourke

Rings from I Ran the Wrong Way

Breakfast at Little Marionette
When I first moved to Sydney, I had some time off before going back to work and so I started the blog A Place A Day. It's quite labour-intensive: I identify a place that is of interest, take around 40 photographs there, distill them down to 20 or so, and write a short paragraph about what I found interesting. Often I would end up covering the place where I had lunch. I put pressure on myself to do it almost every day; and now I'm back at work it's impossible to keep up, so it's more of a place a week (or less) and the title has proved to be fraudulent.
What I learned in doing this was that one of my favourite aspects of the process, apart from photographing and then eating food, was talking to the people who owned the place. Inspired by my friend Davey's Shot by Shooter blog (hands down the best, and most interesting, street fashion blog in operation), I decided to take my camera to work with me and shoot people who catch my eye in the street for Sydney Spy.

Sometimes people say no (older women are often very reluctant, and I lost a beautiful girl in a jewel-coloured gown who said she felt she looked terrible today); sometimes they say yes, then affect an attitude (the only photographs I haven't used so far are of someone who posed petulantly then said "are you done yet?" – why not just say no?). I'm drawn, not to obviously dressed-up or self-important people, but to people who are just quietly going about their day with their own style, and by definition this often means that they're camera-shy.

Someone said to me they'd be too shy to go up to people in the street, but I enjoy the interaction, particularly the pleasure on their faces when I tell them how good I think they look, and I like the idea that they go away feeling good about themselves.

What I've also discovered is that fashion bloggers are very different from food bloggers: for one thing they are almost all women, many of whom photograph themselves and not others: obsessively cataloguing their outfits every day. I'm far happier behind a camera than in front of it.