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Ganked from [ profile] msss and over on YouTube. Fab animations, and really excellent sound effects - my favourite part is the Channel crossing. And I really like how the comet was done. :-)

trixtah: (bookporn)
I loathed writing book reports at school. Despite my love of reading and the English language, I detested English as a subject. Mainly because I don't like being told what to read. 7th Form English was ok because we had a teacher who let us choose our own texts (with her approval). Shame I kept bunking off because my first girlfriend was also in the same English class, and the double-English period before lunch was just too good to waste on study. I'm amazed I got Bursary English, actually. Possibly even in the high 70s for a mark, I don't quite recall. < /ramble>

I've been immersing myself in the Belle Époque these last few days, after having spent quite a bit of dosh on books while I was in Sydney, one of which being a marvellous large format 400-page glossy book on Art Nouveau. I re-read The Ladies' Almanack by Djuna Barnes (that link is to the full text, with illustrations), and I also bought Wild Girls by Diana Souhami (who wrote Gertrude and Alice).

Wild Girls is a biography-of-sorts, featuring "the lives and loves of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks". I've had a historical crush on Natalie Barney forever (she features in The Ladies' Almanack as "Evangeline Musset"), and Romaine Brooks, well, I like some of her paintings. Both Barney and Brooks were born in the US, and spent their adult lives in Europe. Natalie Barney lived in Paris for over 60 years, hosted famous artistic salons which were de rigeur for well-to-do lesbians passing through Europe,  wrote some fairly indifferent poetry (her epigrams were a bit more noteworthy) and she had affairs with scores of women, right into her 80s. My favorite quote of hers is: "People call it unnatural. All I can say is that it came quite naturally to me". Romaine Brooks got married, quickly separated, had some affairs, mainly with women, painted some quite interesting paintings, and spent most of the time angsting and espousing Fascism as a wonderful ideal. In fact her whole life can be summed up by the term emoooooooo. She and Barney had a non-monogamous relationship for over 50 years - they only lived together for 6 months during WWII.

So, the book. It gives a fairly decent view of Natalie Barney bouncily pursuing her many many loves, while Romaine Brooks glumly paints somewhere - or not - and angsts about Natalie's latest paramour, and then plays hard-to-get while Natalie begs to be allowed to spend time with her. What worked for them, I suppose. It's laboriously researched, and the author seems to have been a tad fascinated with the web as a primary source. It's useful for displaying obscure works, it must be said. It is written in a bare kind of way, like a protracted gossip session. There's a wee bit of wry humour, but I was massively put off by the author's inclusion of pretentious little vignettes from her own life at intervals. The reason:

Actual letters, paintings, houses and hillsides, prompt keener connections than this virtual reality on screen, and reading rooms with real manuscripts are a spur to application. But real people can be distracting -- the Proust scholar who chuckles oddly, the heavy-breathing medievalist. ...
Interruptions, quirky and unpredictable, merge with, or divert from, the main theme as do the brief discursions that intersperse this Sapphic idyll. These discursions disconcert me, and perhaps any reader. ... I kept taking them out, ... then putting them back because, in some uncertain way, they seemed to connect to the task at hand.
As an example of one of these "discursions" (immediately preceding the chapter that talks about Romaine and Natalie living together briefly in Italy):

When your ceiling fell in and you moved, out of convenience, into my small flat, we managed all right for many months. We were happy living together and watching carnage on television. I supposed it was like being married. I was sad when you left, but glad to have back silence, loneliness, and again to feel free to stew my own apples.
Yeah, wtfevah.  Speaking for myself, this reader isn't so much "disconcerted" as peeved. Out would have been much better than in. I take her point, about our reading matter sparking echoes in our own lives, and the distractions to our thought processes that they provoke. But frankly, I'd rather come up with my own associations than read through some complete stranger's not very interesting ones.

So I give it 3 out of 5, with a whole point off for pointless discursions. The other point is off for the clunky, repetitive style in general. Yes, Una Troubridge reckoned Barney picked up lovers in the women's restrooms in department stores. Repeating that bon mot would have been sufficient just once, not three times. And nearly all of the stupid footnotes could go. It's not all bad - the research is worth a bit, there are some nice anecdotes and the book does fill in a few gaps that you don't quite cover when reading the respective biogs.

ETA: The Amazon page has quoted a very apt review from Publishers Weekly, and the two user comments there are also pretty spot-on.

But here's another good Barney quote to finish up on:

I am a lesbian. One need not hide it, nor boast of it, though being other than normal is a perilous advantage.
trixtah: (Default)
...or anyone interested in ships or conservation.

The Guardian has an interesting interactive guide on the conservation work needed to preserve the Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

The ship's been sitting in dry dock for years, but its iron frame is corroding for interesting chemical reasons, which are explained in the guide. One of things that got me is that they've been using salt to de-ice the deck. Salt + rain + iron is not a good mix, as any 5th Form chemistry student can tell you.

Also, the weight of the ship against the dock has caused deformation of the hull, and they've come up with an interesting proposal to support the ship with a kevlar framework in the dock, which should cause less wear-and-tear. I'm just wondering whether allowing the ship to be a floating museum and putting it into dry dock for maintenance when needed might be a better solution. The ship is designed to float, after all. I suppose it depends how much the hull is degraded (assuming the remedial works to the framework get it back to spec).
trixtah: (Tattoo)
The Auckland Museum - formerly known as the Auckland War Memorial Museum - has the best Maori and Pacific collection I've seen (unsurprisingly), and it is also a huge repository of stuff related to all the wars New Zealand has fought in. It's not on the scale of the Imperial War Museum, but it's pretty awe-inspiring. It was the first place I learned about the sickeningness of war.

Most of the war collection is on the top floor, which is huge. There is a marble lined room with the names of the people killed during various conflicts, with two members of my family listed, one for the First World War, the other in the Second. It seems that recently the museum has collated a database on war casulties, based on the Commonweath War Graves Commission DB, it appears.

But the nice thing is that the museum database is being expanded with data from relatives. It's a fantastic idea, gathering up the stories that are oral history to individual families, and making them a resource for all to share. I looked up my family members, and sure enough, it seems that my uncle has provided a good deal of information about my great-uncle Arthur, who was killed in WWII. More family history has been appended to the bare facts of date killed and service number. There are pictures.

I never met the man (obviously), but those photos and information made me cry. My grandfather (who is shown in the pics) was extremely close to him, and was shattered by his death. The image of him putting the floral tribute from my great-grandmother on the grave epitomises to me the waste of the war. As a result of my great-uncle's death, and the horrific PoW conditions my grandfather later endured in Italy and Germany, he became a bitter, closed, arrogant man, who had very little time for his family, who treated my Irish grandmother abominally, and who spent as much time as possible on overseas postings (he was a career officer all his life - but he could have taken shorter o/s tours, if any, due to his being a family man).

I see the grave in the picture - the waste of one life. My grandfather's image represents the blighting of other lives - his and my family's - due to the emotional fallout of the war. We, my family, still deal with the crap that is his legacy today, although our relationships have vastly improved over the last 20 years. So, one can think of the deaths, but it is not only the deaths that are the consequences of war.
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Canada's new Governor General seems like teh cool.

NZ's one isn't being replaced until August next year, because we're shortly going to have an election - 17th of September. Despite my reservations about the Labour Party, they're much better than the alternative. It'll be interesting to see what kind of GG we have after the dust settles. Personally, I'd vote (not that we get to vote for the GG, but you know what I mean) for Georgina Beyer - she says she's going to retire from Parliament this year. A leftie Maori transexual woman - that would really position NZ appropriately in the world's view. hee.

And it would vastly mitigate my disgruntlement about the petition to change the NZ flag not gathering enough signatures to force a referendum. There was some muddying of the waters with the non-existant issue (in NZ) of republicanism. Some of the discussion bandied about implied that those who "fought for the flag" in various wars were not willing to let it (meaning the Union Jack) go. Leaving aside all scorn for the notion of fighting for a piece of cloth, rather than the safety of one's home, I don't think that the fact that NZ was so willing to let Britain dictate its military endeavours is something to be particularly proud of. We should have learned that at Gallipoli. In WWII, the NZ forces were busy running around North Africa and being evacuated from places like Crete, while the Australians were brought back home to fight in the Pacific war, which is where our forces should have been. Willingness to help out is one thing (I have no problem with kiwis being sent off as UN peacekeepers); being sucked into battles that are not our own is something else (I think we'll leave out discussion on the Korean and Vietnam wars).

Since the early 1970s, when Britain joined the EEC, we have not been treated any differently than any other ally/Commonwealth member. Sure, a significant proportion of our population is descended from the British, but we are not British any more; I don't believe that even the most jingoistic New Zealander would want to be British. So why have their bloody Union Jack on our flag? We'll sic Georgina Beyer onto all those old farts who drink the cheap piss at the Returned Services clubs and who reminisce about the "good old days", when the flag was the flag, there were no uppity Maori and queers to unsettle things, and we tugged our caps when Britain summoned us.
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There's an exhibition on at the Jewish Museum in New York: The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons. From the introduction:
The salon was an important and radical vehicle for the "democratization of the public sphere," providing a context in which nobility, artists and thinkers exchanged ideas across barriers of class, gender, nationality, economic standing, and religion, while society was rigidly defined along these lines. Salons enabled women and Jews — whose participation in official public life was restricted — to play a prominent role.

I've always been fascinated by the concept of salons, since reading about Madame de Staël, Natalie Barney and co in that era. It was an interesting exercise of a kind of power by individuals who were members of marginalised groups: women, women of "ill repute", Jewish women, lesbian women.

As well as the delightful clothes and witty conversation one associates with salons, the salon environment nurtured the arts and intellectual discussion in a way that would hardly have been possible in any other mileu at the time, in terms of salons breaking many social boundaries. And was certain women who were able to surround themselves with the interesting, intelligent and creative types of the time. While these women perpetuated plenty of prejudices themselves (Natalie Barney was fairly keen on some Fascist ideas before WWII), they provided a place where a fairly wide variety of people - including women - could meet and exchange ideas. And gossip, of course. There were plenty of male "social lions" who deprecated the salon setup, but who were launched on their way or had their careers enhanced nonetheless.

There is a pretty good round up of the exhibition in the Guardian Arts pages, with a wider discussion of the phenomenon as well. The exhibition's own site is interesting, with a virtual stroll through the gallery and some interesting info on some of the characters concerned.

Another quote from the Guardian:
[Fanny] Hensel's case [as a musician and composer who was woman and a Jew, last century] explains why all salons were run by women: women could not vote, were not economically independent, nor regarded as being capable of intellectual reflection or artistic creation. No wonder, then, that some of them withdrew into their domestic spaces and created there simulacra of better societies, ones where people of different economic standings, religions, rank and nationality could exchange ideas and be recognised both as individuals and as part of common humanity. Even if it meant having to listen to men witter incessantly about their sexual insecurities and career goals.

I love dinner parties and the like where you end up having those fascinating discussions with your friends and their friends; how liberating (in the fundamental sense) it must have been to be able to experience that kind of cross-fertilisation in those times.

Arguably, even if salons are overdue for a revival, it would no longer be necessary for women to preside over them. Unless, that is, you believe that the desirable qualities for a salon host - agreeableness, tolerance and indulgence - are not just stereotypically female ones but really so.

A revival would be good, but the whole aim of it is to encourage that exchange of ideas across boundaries. We think of salons as middle-class and up groups of people, but in its day, of course, it was fairly radical having the aristocracy mixing with the commons, not to mention the mixture of sexes and religion. How would we achieve that kind of cross-fertilisation today?
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was yesterday. No post, as I was dying of PMTness. So, yes, Emma Goldman, anarchist, feminist and bloody interesting all-round person. Someone I would love to have at my dinner table in some alternate universe. She was famous for saying "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution". Great sentiment, even if she didn't exactly say that.

But this was something I read of hers early on, which got me on the anarchy-convert path: Rather would I have the love songs of romantic ages, rather Don Juan and Madame Venus, rather an elopement by ladder and rope on a moonlight night, followed by the father's curse, mother's moans, and the moral comments of neighbors, than correctness and propriety measured by yardsticks.

That so holds true for me even now, twenty years after first reading it.

On a more political note, this is still vastly applicable as well: There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another, This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and means become identical.

This was a dig at Russian communism in particular, but it is still relevant for many political activities. Unfortunately.
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And the Guardian have done a cool interactive guide, which is essentially the Battle of Trafalgar in 17 clicks (requires Flash). Certainly helped me visualise who was sailing and bombarding where.


Jun. 2nd, 2005 08:57 pm
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Here I am in Melbourne, gaily escorting around my mother and sister. Since we don't share many interests, this process has been challenging, but we're getting there. If my mother could only shut up with her bloody stupid racist remarks - you know, that all the woes of NZ (fuck all, if you ask me) are all due to the Maaaaries. She should fucking live here in Oz if she doesn't want to be bothered by uppity natives (so long as she stays in the nicely homogonised areas, like, say, Canberra).

'Scuse my rant, my patience is wearing thin.

But we had an interesting time visiting the old Melbourne Gaol, where Ned Kelly was executed. Interesting that even so early on in the piece, the scaffolding was (and indeed, still is) indoors. They'd certainly got hanging down to a fine art by that stage. No cumbersome knots, a brass loop to thread the rope through to make a noose, and leather sheathing on the rope near the action end, to facilitate it slipping through the loop, and so as not to bruise the neck of the condemned. Bizarre, that.

There were death masks of some of the more notable prisoners. Fascinating. And some momentos relating to some of the prisoners. One guy, who had apparently murdered several people, wrote a final letter to his parents in the most impeccable copperplate writing. Completely legible and perfectly spelled, each immaculately horizonal line as if it had been aligned on a ruler. Amazing.

Women had been housed there as well, the majority of them for prostitution, baby-farming (not the baby-farming per se, but the hastened deaths of babies so farmed) and illegal abortions. One woman had been imprisoned for the latter dozens of times, but there was a huge reluctance to actually try her for murder, so she kept being released. Thank god we're not in those days still.

They didn't show the instruments used to carry out abortions in that era, but they are utterly vile (as were many of the ones used by surgeons for childbirth) -- I cannot contemplate the desperation that women must have had to resort to those procedures then, with not just the risk of infection to be borne, but also the horror of the procedure itself. Which is, of course, why there was such a thing as baby-farming, for all those women who could not face the operation, but who could not be a parent to a child. What it must have been like, to give up your child to such a woman as those? There were murderous and neglectful baby-farmers everywhere in the 19th Century - there were significant baby-farmer murder cases during those times here, the US, NZ and England. So, for all those people who bitch about social welfare in this day and age, there's your alternative.

All in all, it was a sobering and fascinating visit. While our modern era isn't perfect, the idea of being a woman in any other era frankly horrifies me.

One minor frustration was ascertaining what internet access is available here. I'm staying in a hotel on the edge of the CBD in Melbourne (the corner of Spencer and La Trobe Streets). I asked the reception here whether there was any access available and they said no. So I twiddled my thumbs the last couple of days before actually plugging in my wireless card on the off chance. Lo and behold, I got Telstra 802.11G at 11Mbps, with a signal strength of 54%. After a bit of fumbling about trying to locate a sign-on page, and then opening up Internet Exploder (pain in the butt, since my default browser is Firefox. Lucky I tried IE before giving up, I couldn't even get to the Telstra site via FF), I was promptly directed to their payment page, and, upon plonking $14 on my Visa, here I am for an hour.

Thanks so much for the info, hotel reception!
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Here's a cool blog from Tse Ming Mok's New Zealand Asian perspective on Anzac Day and WWII:
Here is a meaningless coincidence that has yet to be mentioned on the inflamed talkboards I've seen.

The Rape of Nanjing:
Death toll: 200,000-300,000 civilians (still disputed)
Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
Death toll: 200,000-300,000 civilians (still disputed)

Sure, try to weigh it up, look to and fro from hand to hand and you'll find you're just shaking your head at the pointlessness of experiments in moral equivalency, rebuttal, and revenge.

I just remember them.

She also has an interesting pointer to 'Everything you ever wanted to know about the New Zealand National Front but were too doubled over in laughter to ask', written by a Maori Australian, Darp Hau. The "NF" in NZ mainly consists of a certain family and their associates, and they're only taken seriously by themselves. The applicable quote from that entry:"The day turned into the usual rout with the thirty Nazis being hounded out of town by two thousand protesters. A few of them also copped a solid caning as they tried to leave the city on the trains. " What a shame, eh?

Darp Hau also does an amusing riff on the marvellous spelling used by the "NF" (I just can't leave out the quote marks) in their promotional materials, such as "forigners (Yeess, forigners like Lou Ferigno!) " and "Transtasmin (Possible Kiwi Phonetics)". The latter made me laugh out loud, but obviously the head NFer can't spell kiwi either; it should be "Trenstesmin". He should really practise a bit, because they're trying to expand into Australia, whose NF groups are equally effective and well-organised (not).

The disturbing stuff is a bit further down the page, where they're evidently recruiting school pupils. You know, for kids like the one discussed, who evidently have nothing better to do than do Nazi salutes outside of synagogues? For that, and since the supposedly adult NF contingent were apparently considering attending the Anzac services, but chickened out (wise move, what were they on?), I think they would suit the draft. Your Nazi salutes won't get you very far, and you can't have your skinhead in the NZ Army -- shortest haircut permitted is a No. 2. Again, what a shame.

Anzac Day

Apr. 25th, 2005 12:25 pm
trixtah: (Default)
So, today is Anzac Day, commemorating the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in Turkey during WWI, where the soldiers were mown down in their thousands. It is now a commemoration of all the soldiers who have lost their lives in war, much like Remembrance Day in the US. In recent years, more and more people have been attending the Dawn Service, people around my age and younger. From my perspective, the rise is due to the fact that there is less talk about duty and nobility, but more about the waste that these wars caused. We are experiencing grief at the loss of these young men, many of them half the age I am now, and grief for the families at the time who had to endure that loss. We are standing there, literally and metaphorically, thanking whatever deity we believe in that we as a nation do not have to engage in that kind of sacrifice, and earnestly praying that we, and no-one else, need do so. At least we have that luxury.

When I was in my teens, I had no patience at all with the old codgers who prated on about the "glory of war", when, as far as I could tell, most of those who talked about "glories" were those who never got within shot of the front line. I didn't (and still don't) buy commemorative poppies, whose main function seemed to be providing the funds to keep the beer flowing at Returned Services clubs (actually, they did a lot of charity work, but the beer was definitely a component). Particularly since the ones selling the poppies were often going on about the "state of youth today" and that if they had their way, they'd bring in the draft.

My respect for old soldiers was given to those who said "I was in the war", and would say nothing more. There would be a lot of nose-blowing during any commemorative service, and then a quiet drink after. No bollocks about "it made men of us", which it undoubtedly did. No crap about "the best days of my life", although the camaraderie and devotion the men showed each other must have been sadly missed in civvie life. Just that deep sadness.

My family lost sons in both world wars. My great-great uncle was killed in the trenches of Northern France in WWI. My eldest great-uncle was also killed in France, during the final push into Germany in WWII. My grandfather had been captured in Northern Africa, after unfortunately outrunning the rest of his battalion in the move into Italian-held territory. He then spent the remainder of the war being shunted around Italian prisoner-of-war camps, finally being imprisoned in Germany, as the Allies fought their way up the Italian peninsula. Before the Germans were overrun, he and other PoWs were marched across Germany in the dead of winter, with few rations to speak of. Here's the story of another soldier who took part in the same march. After being released by the Americans, my grandfather found that his admired older brother had been killed, only a few months before. None of my family knew any of this until the day of his funeral. It explains in so many ways why he was so emotionally crippled, which had huge impacts on his marriage and his children. That is another one of the costs of war that isn't much discussed.

So, today, I will remember them. All the lives that were lost, directly and indirectly.
trixtah: (Default)
...gang aft agley (mangled quotation of the day).

Well, after writing earlier about Sir George Gipps, I was going to unpack my thoughts on colonial vs settler societies, and how we compare and contrast to the "old world".

This has been rumbling around my mind for 6 or so years, since I started living in England, had full-on culture shock, and started to pick apart the whys and wherefores of that. I've also gone on at numbers of my friends, some of whom have done the big OE thing, and know what I'm talking about.

But the nice thing about L/J is that I can at least get it down in writing (in my very lay and uneducated way). Also, I've been getting inspiration... it's all HER ([ profile] damned_colonial's) fault! :-)

But despite my good intentions, I had a killer of a workout at the gym, which completely knackered me, I'm starving and my dinner is now cooked. So I won't do it tonight, but I hope to do so sometime this week (which is why I'm writing this now, as a promise to myself).
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On George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales and New Zealand.

Hopefully I haven't got too much wrong...

And yes, a big swodge of it is from the NZ perspective, but I can't help that.


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