Deers in Nara Park

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Many cities in Japan were, at one time or another, the capital. Nara is one of those. It’s about 40 minutes away from Kyoto on the train and its big drawcards are its antique temples and its huge park full of deer. These deer were once considered sacred due to a visit from a mythical god who was riding a deer. Today, they’re only “national treasures” but in any case they seem to have a good time interacting with all the humans and trying to steal their stuff.

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There’s more to see in the park. Beautiful ponds and pagodas, for example.

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The highlight is the astonishing Todai-ji palace, which is apparently the largest wooden structure in the world.

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And of course the giant buddha, which is a wonder to behold, although my photos could never do it justice.

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A successful day trip, even though it’s hot and sticky beyond belief right now in Japan!

Go By Train: Toyama to Takayama and back

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Train travel in Japan is really wonderful. You can reach almost any place and the trains are fast and clean. We used bullet trains (shinkansen) and the regular local services to go from Toyama, near the coast, to a little city further south called Takayama. Hopefully these photos convey just some of how lush, green and lovely the scenery was, winding over rivers and past mountain villages with little gardens, all impossibly bright in the hot sun.

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Takayama itself is quaint and friendly with plenty of streets and buildings just as they were centuries ago. We stayed in a traditional hotel called a minshuku, with sliding doors and mats on the floor.

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On the way back, I got the view from the other side of the train. Lucky me.

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At the Owl Café, Tokyo: Fukuro no Mise

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I’m in Tokyo with my mother. I would not have known that such a thing as an owl café existed if it was not for my friend Chelsea. Apparently there is more than one owl café but this is the one that I was able to find directions to online. It’s called Fukuro no Mise just across from Exit 10 at Tsukishima Station. I dragged Mum along early in the morning, only to find that it opened at 2pm, only to find THEN that we had to make a reservation, pay 2000 yen each and come back 2 hours later. BUT IT WAS WORTH IT.

There’s really nothing to explain. For the price of entry you get to spend time with calm and mysterious owls for an hour, and have one drink, although beer is an extra 200 yen. The owls can sit on your hand, head or shoulder and you can pat them on their little heads too.

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baby owls in a box

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owl party

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these two were getting along well

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in the next one you can see how the one on the right moved to be with its friend so they could pose for a photo

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these ones had the softest feathers

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in a flap

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managed to sneak this photo as I was being pushed out the door, asahi still in hand

 

About half of these photos were taken by my mother Isobel. She didn’t want an owl on her arm so she was happy to be the photographer.

Here’s more info about the Fukuro no Mise owl café.
 

Condobolin, NSW, November 2014

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I took the train to Condobolin for a few days. It was a calming experience. The train leaves from Central Station in Sydney and goes all the way to Broken Hill. I ate a finger bun and drank some instant coffee. I felt in touch with the Australia of my childhood.

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When I got to Condobolin it was all regal buildings, wide streets, sun, silence and a big Australian sky.

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On Mount Tilga

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Gum Bend Lake

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Utes In The Paddock! It’s a big, evolving public art project.

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“The only thing that lasts” – Film, Memory and Gone With The Wind

I can trace my obsession with blonde men to Ashley Wilkes.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Home and Hosed

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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.

Goodbye to North America

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I took this photo today at the Santa Monica Pier. I rode there and back from Hermosa and it was hot and sunny and blazing. Afterwards I jumped into the sea, and then lay down on the sand and listened to the waves and chatter. This is the last piece of sky that I’ll see in North America, for now.

Five months ago I took off by myself hoping to discover new places. I have. Some of them I’d go back to and stay forever, some I was happy to leave behind, all of them I’m glad to have seen. I know that I’ll have an ongoing relationship with this whole continent and a solo trip wasn’t a bad first date.

There have been plenty of ups and not too many downs. I haven’t been lonely. People everywhere are interesting and interested. The thrill of getting onto a long-distance train armed with only a backpack will, unsurprisingly, never dull for me.

There’s probably much more I could say about it. Meeting people on the road, independence, culture shock, solitude, top ten places to visit in Canada, etc. But the reason I came here again to California, my first love, was to switch all of that off. Just the sea and the sun and, weirdly enough for Los Angeles, the peace.

I’m fine with coming home. See you soon, Sydney.