Hear me chatting with Rod Quinn on ABC Local Radio’s Overnights on September 5, from my old bedroom in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. We talk about Europe’s refugee crisis, football and dubious Dutch coaches.
Here are the pulsing lights of Tokyo, as seen from the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku. I was in the New York Bar, which features heavily in my favourite film ever, Lost In Translation. No Suntory for me though, I went with some wine from Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard. A nice thing to see on the menu.
Once upon a time in pre-Meiji Restoration Japan, people who wanted to travel between the two important cities of Edo and Kyoto would walk or ride along one of two trails. The trail along the coast was called Tokaido, and the inland trail was called Nakasendo, or “central mountain route”. You can walk the Nakasendo today, but as the complete distance is over 500km most people only do a small section, between two villages called Magome and Tsumago. We walked it this week. A network of ever-smaller trains and buses will get you to one of these two villages and then you can trek to the other one. We decided to start in Magome.
The walk isn’t very difficult and the path takes you past classic wooden houses with wide tiled roofs, lush forests and flower gardens, bright green rice paddies and sweeping views of the Kiso Valley.
Along the way we stopped at a small “rest room” where an older gentleman served us tea and cucumbers.
We stayed in an exquisite traditional inn called Maruya, just out of Tsumago, run by a family who served us dinner and breakfast. Mats on the floor, thin sliding doors and green tea on arrival: it was the real thing.
The walk was around 8km, and we did the last 1km in the morning to get the bus from Tsumago proper. It was some of the loveliest scenery I’ve ever seen, and the adorable Shiba Inu that came to say hello was a bonus.
All you need to experience a slice of life in pre-industrial Japan is a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
I can trace my obsession with blonde men to Ashley Wilkes.
Kind, valiant Ashley doesn’t want to fight in the war because he doesn’t want to leave his darling Melanie, equally pure and saintly. But he’ll do it, for the love of the South, which is all he’s ever known. Handsome but weighed down by the horror of all of it. He’s a dreamboat; he’s the dreamboat that I’ve been falling for, in one form or another, for my whole life.
Ashley is extra magical for his ability to resist the volcanic Scarlett O’Hara, who coincidentally was my first girl crush.
I wanted to be her; deep down, I still do. She’s able to wilt a man with a single lifted brow. And for all the screaming and yelling that goes on, Scarlett has a mind for business and she’s the one who saves Tara. Also she saves her family by shooting that creepy Yankee.
Unfortunately, Ashley Wilkes is the one man that this barbed Southern Belle Scarlett can’t have. Instead, she can have tall, dark and dangerous Rhett Butler – object of lust for every other straight woman who has ever watched this film. But she doesn’t want him until it’s too late and he just can’t be f****d, or something.
Let me say this: all of the above is terrible.
It’s all so awful that I’m actually afraid to say it. Gone With The Wind is racist, sexist, and classist in that order. The world it portrays is an illusion entirely built on an imagined memory by some segment of America that is now 100% dead. The Old South was a society sustained by the forced labour of thousands of people of colour. There’s no escaping the brutality and shame that comes with that, no matter how “nice” and “happy” Big Sam is.
But as a four-year-old child, I channelled Scarlett’s temper and slapped my mother in the face. I thought that was a perfectly acceptable, albeit theatrical, way to act. (Violence corrupts children, make no mistake.) Basically, I can trace my melodramatic temperament and general pursuit of passion to Gone With The Wind.
Where can I start? It was probably the first film that I ever saw. I watched it because my grandmother watched it, and I loved it because she did.
We didn’t just watch it once. We watched it all the time. When we finished watching it, we’d rewind the video and watch it again (this is the early nineties we’re talking about – Big Ma had a well-loved and well-used double VHS box set). I remember that the tapes were so tired that the beginning was always cut off, and so first up, instead of the opening title, we’d always see Scarlett sitting on the steps flirting with her two dopey “suitors”.
Typical of an unaware non-feminist, non-inclusive child, the love story was what captivated me. My little romantic heart knew all about it, and that has never died. Amid the backdrop of war and destruction of the Old South, what I most keenly felt is Ashley rejecting Scarlett, over and over again. But of course I knew that there were something wrong with it. These beautiful white people live in a huge house and the black people who work for them don’t get paid and can’t leave…I knew that much as a child.
In the intervening two decades, I learnt that GWTW was a problematic film to associate with a regional Australian childhood. I came to understand that films are valuable products of their time, but that we should still watch them with critical eyes. I learnt about “Classical Hollywood” and the cinematic conventions of melodrama. I realised the the film’s characterisation of African-Americans was fairly unforgivable. I found feminism. This year, I read all about where Gone With The Wind stands as a cultural phenomenon, 75 years after it was made. I didn’t read the novel.
In this time I also lost my grandmother. It had never occurred to me that she would ever die, and then she did, after being ill for hardly any time at all. I spent every afternoon with her until I was a teenager, or at least I remember it that way. She seemed to have been everywhere, know everything and everyone (this was actually true), and find everything I ever said to be the most interesting thing in the world (not always). I always knew that I was lucky to have my grandma Ethel. I still wear her jewellery all the time.
So when, at the end of my five months alone overseas, I found GWTW on my list of in-flight movies, it seemed like the right time to watch it. I was leaving all my adventures to go home to the familiar, and gulping back tears every few minutes anyway, so I thought I may as well. Nobody was going to see me cry.
I had not seen the film all the way through since I was in primary school. This time, I watched it under a blanket and seatbelt while everyone else was asleep. The staff kept refilling my wine, which was nice. The film’s gorgeous theme made my heart jump.
And now, I hate Rhett Butler. His relationship with Scarlett is violent from the start. He belittles, controls and humiliates her, while professing to “really know” what she wants and what is best for her. He straight-out admits that he wants her to be as a powerless child that he can dote on. His jealousy is extreme.
Rhett rapes Scarlett. Yes, that is really what happens. This scene is apparently so “sexy”, Scarlett’s red dress falling off her luscious shoulders, that it is the most enduring image of the film, immortalised on every poster and DVD cover .
So, we can add all of this to the film’s multitude of sins. But I still don’t hate the film. Because so many things go into making us.
Me, as a little girl loving GWTW because my grandmother did, that’s something worth remembering. The scenes themselves are so beautiful, have so much of everything that a classic film should have. It’s almost as if somewhere in the dreamy technicolor fields of Tara or the grandeur of Rhett and Scarlett’s mansion, I’ll see my small self sitting on the carpet in my grandmother’s living room, the smoke from her Longbeach cigarettes floating up to the ceiling.
On the plane, I didn’t even get to the end. It’s so long. But what I saw was enough to trigger all of this. We remember how films make us feel, and so familiar was this film to my childhood years that Scarlett at the barbecue and little me eating my banana cake may as well have been happening in the same room.
I decided then that I’ll keep watching Gone With The Wind. Each time, I’ll see something new, and remember something old. It is a masterpiece, after all.
Cold mornings, warm sun and the scent of jasmine on every corner – that’s what I’ll remember from the first new days in Sydney. Everything, and everyone, seems more beautiful than before. I was in Kangaroo Valley on the weekend for an old friend’s wedding and the landscape and colours really dazzled me. Everyone must have thought that I had been rendered mildly insane from jetlag, which is not untrue. I’m drinking strong, expensive coffee, and I made a banana cake and watched #qanda on a real television. No matter how I feel about our current government, or what I’m meant to be doing with my life now that I’m home, or how much I’ll come to miss Downtown Toronto in the weeks to come, Sydney is gorgeous.
Before I start on all the gorgeous things that were waiting for me in Sydney, let’s relive my favourite show with The God No!s – August 30 at the strangely neon and cosy Hawaii Bar on Dovercourt Road in Toronto.
This is the only photo I will be posting of my time in New York City. It shows me with my hair going everywhere due to the wind on the Brooklyn Bridge. If you want to see what New York City looks like, it should be easy enough to figure out. Every square metre of this city has been photographed, filmed, analysed, blogged and turned into its own web series. So yes, I’m eating bagels and drinking cawfee and walking around Williamsburg and riding the subway and all of that. I went to MoMa and saw some stand-up in the Village. Lots to do! But that’s all I’m going to say about it.
Have a nice day!
These songs are necessarily amazing but I’ll be listening to them forever, because they’ll always take me back to particular times and places and highs and lows.
What songs remind you of places that you’ve travelled?
This was in my headphones when I was bouncing around the harbour in San Diego, at the very start of a solo Californian adventure.
This, alternating with economics lectures from Audible, was what I heard while navigating the streets and subway system of Mexico City.
Climbing hills on a hot day in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, wishing I didn’t wear stockings.
The aftermath of a fling
in with San Francisco. Walking around hungover and sad in Portland.
The waterfront in Seattle – blue skies, tall buildings, sleepless nights, facing the long road ahead of me.
Have a guess!
Stressed and wandering in my first weeks in Toronto.
Learning French in a little room on Bloor St.
Thinking of my home and life (and community radio station) in Sydney. Also, I am convinced that this is as perfect as a pop song can ever be. Every note, every strum, every distant lyric, all falls right into place.
Berlin after 3 years, and Nachtdigital – dancing on a Sunday morning.
And finally, the song that will always remind me of my colourful and wonderful summer in Toronto: