Monday, 31 December 2007

Brekkie at the Del

We all went here for breakfast this morning. Isn't she beautiful? She's the Hotel del Coronado, and we have heard (though haven't verified) that she is the biggest wooden building in the world. She looked truly splendid this morning, with her flags fluttering in the breeze and everything spruce and ship-shape.

The Del, as she is known, is right on the beach on Coronado Island — a peninsula, really — just a short drive from downtown. You can see the island in the background in this pic I took from one of the highest hotels downtown, looking almost directly south.

The pic also shows the famous Coronado Bridge, which swings across the San Diego Bay in a wide arc. Apparently, if the bridge was a certain length, the city could attract federal funds to help pay for it, so the designer put a big bend in it to be sure it qualified! It is also incredibly high — so aircraft carriers can pass beneath it — and you can see south into Mexico from up there. It's only a few minutes to the border from downtown.

The Del is one of our favourite places to take visitors to San Diego, as much for the excellence of the $20 all-you-can-eat buffet brekkie as for its spectacular look. At this time of the year, there's an ice-skating rink out on the beach in front of the hotel. Imagine! You can skate on ice in the bright Southern Californian sunshine while the waves crash on to the sandy shore right in front of you.

This is a picture I took here last year, with Max and Halina, who were here with their parents, Dace and Konrad, for most of December. I thought of you guys this morning, as I crunched on my bacon!
:: In between sightseeing, parties, dinners at the Bondi (above), and reading and snoozing in this blissful post-Christmas week, Lily has been playing lots with Devon's double-screen mini-Nintendo.
When they were kids, living next door to each other, they'd spend days in the holidays playing Zelda on the big Nintendo, plugged into the telly. I think Lily has been reliving this all week, playing another Zelda game and calling Dev over to help her when she needs a new heart, or a new sword, or to beat someone ...

:: Yesterday and today, we've been cooking up a storm, getting ready for our sojourn in the snow, at Big Bear. We're making big helpings of meals and freezing them to take with us, so we have as little to do as possible while we are on holiday.
Yesterday, I made chili con carne for twenty, and a sticky-date pudding. David made a massive double serving of bolognese sauce for spaghetti — one half of which we had for dinner. Today, Lily has added a pot full of very spicy mulligatawny, and a wonderful chickpea curry, which is so delicious that I have persuaded her to let us have half for tonight's dinner, with roast chicken and couscous.

:: Tomorrow, the last day of the year, is Lily's last day at home. She'll drive back to Olympia with James and Dev from Big Bear. I'm already sorry at the thought of her return to college. I so love having her home with us and it's all gone so quickly.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Some of our best Australian writers

Dove Grey Reader, writer of a respected and well-read UK book blog, is wondering about authors from our part of the world, so I thought I'd list some of our many great writers.
And please, Aussie book-loving friends, do add some names here in your comments. I've been out of the country for a couple of years, so there are bound to be some names I haven't come across yet.
There'll also be names I've forgotten in the rush to assure anyone thinking about Australian literature that there is more to read — so much more — than Patrick White. Yes. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1973, died in 1990, and is still revered. But please don't stop there.
I've put this list of authors, with a few notable titles, in alphabetical order, for easy access.

Murray Bail Eucalyptus 1998; Holden's Performance '02
Lily Brett Too Many Men '02, You Gotta Have Balls '06
Peter Carey Bliss '81, Illywhacker '85, etc. Bookers in '88 for Oscar and Lucinda and '01 for The True History of the Kelly Gang.
Peter Corris Doyen of Australian crime fiction. Cliff Hardy, his detective, appears in novels and short stories, including The Undertow '06
Bryce Courtenay Prolific, S. African-Australian. The Power of One '97, The Persimmon Tree '07
Robert Dessaix Essayist, novelist, journalist, well-known literary interviewer and commentator, Night Letters '96, Corfu '01, Travels with Turgenev '04 — see also this post by Ex Libris
Robert Drewe The Bodysurfers '83, The Drowner '97, The Shark Net '00
Nick Earls Fiction for adults and young adults. Zigzag Street '90s, Bachelor Kisses '90s, Perfect Skin '01, After Summer '05, Monica Bloom '06
Helen Garner Essayist, feature journalist, fiction and non-fiction writer. Monkey Grip '77, The Children's Bach '84, Cosmo Cosmolino '92, The First Stone '95
Kate Grenville Lilian's Story '85, Dark Places '94, The Idea of Perfection '99
Shirley Hazzard Bay of Noon '70, The Transit of Venus '80, The Great Fire '03
Thomas Keneally Playwright, screenwriter, author, made the Booker shortlist four times before winning in '82 for Schindler's Ark; also wrote The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith '72, An Angel in Australia 02, A Widow and Her Hero '07
David Malouf Poems, short stories, plays, novels. An Imaginary Life '78, Remembering Babylon '93, The Conversations at Curlow Creek '96
John Marsden One of the most popular Australian writers for children and young adults. So Much to Tell You '87, Tomorrow When the War Began '93 and the other six books in the series, to '97
Drusilla Modjeska Poppy '90, The Orchard '94, Stravinsky's Lunch '99, Timepieces '02
Sally Morgan Painter and writer. My Place '87
Craig Silvey Fabulous young Western Australian writer, whose first novel, Rhubarb, '04, was named WA's One Book for the 2005 Perth International Arts Festival
Randolph Stow Reclusive but wonderful Western Australian writer and poet. To the Islands '58, Tourmaline '63, The Merry-go-round in the Sea '65
Tim Winton Much-acclaimed and loved WA writer of novels, children's books, short stories and non-fiction. That Eye the Sky '86, Cloudstreet '91 etc. Shortlisted for the Booker in '95 for The Riders, and in '02 for Dirt Music.
Sue Woolfe Screenwriter, documentary writer and author. Painted Woman '89, Leaning Towards Infinity '96, The Secret Cure '03

Australia has some prestigious literature prizes. The Miles Franklin Award is given annually, for novels, while The Australian/Vogel Award is for younger writers (under 26, I think) who are very often the names to watch in future years. Then there are the Premier's Book Awards in each state.

Edited Dec 28.
This list is very light on in terms of older and classic Australian lit. I haven't mentioned Henry Handel Richardson, for example, or Marcus Clarke, Christina Stead, or Neville Shute ... I apologise!

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

We're missing the big skies and great colours of an Australian Chrissie, but looking forward to a fantastic day! There's a massive pile under the tree, there's a feast to come, and, later, friends to visit.
There'll also be one or two Aussie cricket fans in this house trying with all their might to get to watch, or at the very least, listen to, the Boxing Day Test match between Australia and India. No comment ...

As Dave and I got up just over an hour ago, it had just passed midnight in Perth, and our thoughts turned to all our family and friends back home as their Big Day ended. We'd had a great afternoon yesterday talking to everyone as they got together for lunch and prezzies, sheltering from another festive sweltering: 41C (105.8F).
The weather will be much more amenable here in sunny Cal today; we've got the heater on at the moment, but it will soon warm up to a gorgeous 20C (68F). It couldn't be better!
Merry Christmas, everyone. Have a wonderful day.

* The lovely pic of one of our native Western Australian wildflowers, Eucalyptus rhodantha, at the top of the page, was taken by photographer Jen Grey Wilson, and I hope she won't mind my pinching it today — just had to have some local WA colour!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Booking through Thursday
Happy Christmas to all the BTT mob!
This week's question:
  1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?
    (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
  2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?
    (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
  3. And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?
Oh dear — another week when I have very little to say in answer to the question. Apart from the Harry, and Alan Bennett's 'An Uncommon Reader', I don't seem to have read anything that was published this year. Several slightly older books, but nothing really brand-spanking new.

Best-of lists don't have much of an impact. I am frequently amazed at some of the dross included; but then they're usually all about sales.
I prefer to peruse titles recommended in the reading blogs I enjoy, and they invariably lead on to other things.

* I didn't answer last week's question, about online cataloguing, as I have only a few books here in the US; my collection (or what's left of it, after I culled it to move out of our house) is in storage in Australia. I am bereft!
* And I didn't answer the week before, about favourite books that are out of print, as I really don't have any I can think of.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Rainy day
I just love it when it rains — which is not very often — and I hope it means there'll be lots of snow when we go to Big Bear on New Year's Day.These birds of paradise, ruffling their plumage in the rain beside the pool, look as though they'll be perfect for the Christmas table, though the world is full of potted poinsettia at the moment. There was even an eight-metre-tall Christmas tree downtown yesterday, made entirely of potted poinsettia. They are obviously de rigueur for holiday decor.
I remember Mum trying so hard to grow a tiny poinsettia in Norwich, treating it so tenderly, making sure it was near the radiators and warm, and willing the red bracts to appear.
Then in Subiaco, I had one as tall as I am growing like a weed behind the lemon tree, up against Dev's fence. No effort at all on my part!
The bird of paradise, Strelitzia reginae, is the official flower of Los Angeles, and though Perth gardeners turn their noses up at them (too scruffy, too short a flowering season, too 1970s), I've always had a soft spot for them. I grew them in my garden at Subiaco, and they were the first flowers I painted when I moved into my studio space at Claremont Art School, inspired by Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder's fabulous paintings, like this one (below), a magazine picture of which I've had in my visual diary for almost ten years.
:: David — ever the rock historian — called me from the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco today. The travellers are spending one more night in San Francisco and plan to get up tomorrow, breakfast and be on the road early to drive straight through to San Diego. It's about an eight or nine-hour drive, so they should arrive in time for home-made minestrone.
(It'll be lovely to have some more women in the house ...)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Perfect guests
This is Devon, making some stars for the dining room mantelpiece yesterday morning, after he'd vacuumed the stairs and the upstairs hallway. I kid you not. And he and James took the dogs for a walk later, which always leaves them so well-behaved (below)!
:: News from Nanook of the North — they are in beautiful, beautiful Mendocino, on the northern coast of California. David rang me this morning to rave about how gorgeous it was, and how unbelievable the redwoods were ... and how very glad he was to get out of the mountains and out of the snow!

:: I took Dev and James downtown today while Will was at school. We went to Borders and the chili sauce shop in Horton Plaza, where James bought some chili sauce called 'Mega-Death' which apparently is several hundred times 'hotter' than tabasco and came with a free skull key ring. You get the picture.
After lunch at the Bondi, we drove along the Embarcadero and got as far as the massive aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, before the guys yelled for me to stop. They spent an hour and a half on board — it's now permanently docked and a museum — while I walked along the bay and returned to the car to sit in the sunshine and read bits from my new books from Borders.

:: Tonight the three guys are making their own burgers for dinner. I shall have a bowl of soup, watch the DVD of All Passion Spent, which Netflix delivered this morning, and go to bed with a hottie.

Monday, 17 December 2007

From Gloster Street to Main Street

I'm not quite sure what James and Dev expected of Disneyland. In fact, I think they only agreed to come along on Friday because I was clearly excited to take them. Anyway, they had such a brilliant time, as I knew they would.

The place looked wonderful, with all its decorations for Christmas. There was snow on Snow White's castle, and had we stayed late enough, there was going to be snow falling in California Adventure.

The guys had two rides on this ...

... and even if I'd made myself as limp as a jellyfish, and told myself that whatever happened I would not die, I still wouldn't have the courage to get on this thing. It begins (below) with a rocket-like thrust that has to be powerful enough to blast the carts from stationary to the top of the near-vertical rise and the start of the ride.
There's a huge crest in the middle, as you can see behind the Mickey Mouse ears, and towards the end it does a 360-degree spin around Mickey's face that would probably leave me in a coma.
After all, it isn't called this for nothing ...
After a ride on this thing ...

... which hurtles groups of sixteen people up into near-space and then drops them, twice, the guys raced off for two tours on Space Mountain, while I sat sedately and had my lunch. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride impressed Dev so much that he kept on talking about how he wished he could be a kid again.
But I just loved the atmosphere, and, as the sun started to sink, all the lights ...

:: On Saturday, Will and a friend took James to see a Queens of the Stone Age concert at the campus of the University of California in San Diego, and Dev went out partying with another of Will's friends. I think they're loving it so far ... and there's so much more to come!

:: Dave called a half-hour ago to say Oregon had been hit by bad storms, and they'd slid off the road from Crater Lake in a blizzard and landed in a snow drift up to the car door handles. Fortunately, no-one was hurt and, with some help, they were able to dig the car out, undamaged, and get to a hotel for the night. But Lily said she'd had to tell poor snow-virgin David to calm down and put away the flares ... I think he's very, very glad to have his thermals and gloves.
Earlier he'd been raving to me about Portland, where he'd found an independent bookstore that took up a whole city block and was three storeys high. Lily always says Portland is her favourite American city so far. All I've seen of it is the interstate 5 freeway - I can't wait to explore.
A visitor from Georgia

This is the snowman I received from Cathy, of Georgia, in the snowman swap — isn't he great, with his carrot nose and his ear-muffs? We all love him to bits. He's hanging with one of the gold and silver glass birds that Mum and Dad sent me from home. Cathy also sent me a snow-cone full of chocolate snowballs (only a few left now, Cathy!) and a print of one of her watercolours. Thanks, Cathy, and merry Christmas!
A complete fruitcake

I don't usually make a Christmas cake. In Australia, it's too hot for a rich, heavy cake. But here, it's winter and a spicy, fruity cake with afternoon tea seemed in order. So that's where my Saturday morning went. I had Pandora playing its new classical station on my computer — Scarlatti and Vivaldi resonating through the kitchen and dining room — and I set to with the makings and my trusty Australian Woman's Weekly 'Cakes and Slices' cookbook.
I decided on a boiled fruit cake, as it's simply a matter of weighing everything, boiling up the fruit in brandy and butter, and then stirring in the eggs and flour. Easy peasy.

Everything is so wonderfully convenient here in America! Look at how neatly packaged the dark-brown sugar is — that little plastic portion (under the pan handle) is exactly a cup — that's how it comes. And the butter comes in cute little four-ounce sticks. I had to do a bit of maths to translate the metric recipe to the imperial, and then allow for the fact that an Australian cup isn't the same as an American one, but what the hey! In it all went.
It was a little disconcerting to discover that what I thought was mixed peel, called 'citron glace', had no flavour whatsoever. The recipe also called for glace cherries and glace pineapple, and these, too, had absolutely no discernable flavour. And when you can't tell a piece of pineapple from a piece of citrus peel ... well. I substituted some of that for dried apricots, much more tangy.

I enjoyed the boiling part - the smell of the brandy, fruit and butter was out of this world!

And the result was pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. It took hours and hours for it to cool, and if I can find marzipan, I shall make some royal icing and have even more fun.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Friends for Christmas

I've posted this pic before—it's of Lily and Will (at the top of the tree), with Devon (left) and James, their childhood friends from Subiaco. This was taken last July, while they were all up an oak tree on the farm in the South-West of Western Australia. These four kids grew up together in the same street, in houses numbered from 26 to 38.
Now James is the only one still living in the street. Devon's studying psychology at Curtin uni, James is studying aviation at Edith Cowan uni, Will's in his senior high school year here in San Diego, and Lily's at The Evergreen State College up in Washington. But they're still great mates, despite being scattered, and on Monday, Dev and James arrived at LA airport after a lengthy flight from Perth that included Kuala Lumpur and Taipei — and Melbourne as well for Dev — and we're thrilled to have them with us for a couple of months.

:: David left this morning for a week in the frozen north. We went shopping at Marshall's and bought him thermals, thick socks, boots, gloves and a fleecy jumper; and he's borrowed a ski jacket from a friend. This will be his first experience of snow! Real snow, I mean, as in falling-from-the-sky snow. He's seen a bit on the ground, in Italy and Japan, and here at Big Bear on the very last Sunday of the snow season, in March, when the remnants of 'snow' were muddy and yucky; and this week there's snow visible on the mountains in the distance (so beautiful), but he's never really been in it and living in it, so I can't wait to hear all about it!
David has never seen Lily's new hometown, or her campus, so she's very excited to have her dad up there to show him the sights.
And after a couple of days in Olympia, he'll be driving back to San Diego with her, her old MLC school friend Lauren (who's on her way back to Australia for Christmas), and her boyfriend Nick, who will get to San Diego, stay with us a day or two and then fly back home to Seattle.
they are going to take five or six days to drive south, stopping at such amazing places as Portland, Crater Lake .....
... Mendocino, Yosemite, San Francisco. The above pic is of Simon at Crater Lake in January this year, while he, Marnie and Mack were in the US for Christmas. And here's a pic of Lily at the same spot ...

... taken this time last year, when she did the scenic drive south with her mates from Perth, Halina (Dace and Konrad's daughter), Jo and Pelham.
Will and I will have to do the trip next, I'm dying to see all those great places!

:: It's been very quiet here for a few days. I had to get all the Christmas shopping done early, as almost all of it had to be posted to Australia before December 4. So I've never had a Christmas like this - with nothing to panic about, nothing to stress about, and time to indulge in a little pre-Christmas cooking and decorating. I'm loving it!
I've been making stars for the dining room mantelpiece. This is the project so far ...

... with some painted, some paper ones, and a few little stuffed felt ones. There's a pen-and-ink one still to be completed, and I'm going to get the boys to fold me some five-pointed stars to put up here. (The three Aboriginal paintings, by the way, are a series of bush potato/yams, by Jeannie Mills from Utopia, Northern Territory.)
I've also done a few more little samplers, like this one (another wonky bird) ...

... which are perfect little projects for cold nights.

:: It's brilliantly sunny here by day - no need for the heater after about 9.30am, and washing dries outside in the sunshine beautifully. But it's dark by 5.30pm, and the moment the sun starts to get low, around 3.45pm, it gets really chilly. We're expecting a maximum today of 14 C (58F) and a minimum of 5 (41). Olympia, on the other hand, is expecting three or four days of rain and today a maximum of 5 and a minimum of 1 (34).

:: Now the boys are here, there'll be plenty of sightseeing and driving about. We're off to Disneyland on Friday - I've given Will the day off school, sssh! The plan is to stay all day, right until the parade! Yay! Can't wait to see the Christmas decorations there ... and to test out the advice about re-l-a-x-ing on the roller-coasters. Well, we'll see!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Looking good

The Golden Compass has started here, and will follow in Australia very soon. Click here for the NY Times' review. The link will take you to a NY Times page with the review from where you can also look at trailers and other info.
It's reassuring to note that this is just the first of three movies to be made of the Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials. I was wondering what the filmmakers had done to the story of Lyra and Will's relationship, as there seems little of it in the trailers. For me, it was one of the most poignant elements of the books, especially at the end, which I won't talk about in the hope that if you haven't read them, you may do so.

:: The NYT page will also connect you to other reviews, and it's sad to see Atonement not scoring very highly. But then again, Keira Knightley's in it, and I don't find her particulalry impressive.

:: Chapter III's having a change of colours ... I spoke to my parents in Australia last night and they told me that they were having to buy lots of colour cartridges for their printer because they print all my posts out, and all the blue type, plus the pics, meant a big drain on printing resources. So plain black from now on!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Some needlework
Enjoying, as always, the feel of needle, thread and soft cotton in my hand, I just made these two little somethings. I'm leaning heavily on English textile artist Janet Bolton's technique and example, I admit. There's something really satisfying in making these little pictures that are small enough to do in a couple of hours, and I've got a few more in mind before the attention wanders on to the next project. Some of them may find themselves in Christmas packages, too.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

I love Christmas
I love everything about it - the sparkly, silly and even tacky and tasteless aspects of it, and the lovely warm family get-together bits.
I had 16 Christmases in winter, and 35 in summer, and now I'm back to wintry ones. They're all fabulous. The kids have known nothing but summery Christmases: a few presents when they wake up, a swim in the Indian Ocean at Cottesloe, with an aunty, an uncle and a grandad — and maybe even dad— and then presents before lunch with the whole family.
We have a very relaxed Christmas schedule. A few weeks before the Big Day, there's a draw to see who gives whom a present. The kids get presents from everyone, but the adults get only one present each and the giver's identity remains a secret until at least Chrissie lunch!
Around this time, it's decided who will have Christmas lunch at their place, and who will bring what food — everyone contributes, with the hosts providing the main dish.
Several days before the event, every year, without fail, Grandad Lloyd would ring around to ensure someone had done a reccy to establish where ice could be bought on the day. For the beer, of course!
Now Lloyd is not so well, and we'll miss his presence at Christmas: his jokes, his absolute thrill in every minute of the day, his love of presents, his enjoyment at seeing the pile of presents under the tree, his insistence that every present is unwrapped one at a time so he could see everything ... and the mock-panicky phone calls about the ice!

If it was a hot forecast (0ver 90 degrees F), we'd usually have lunch indoors at Gloster Street with Dave outside at the barbecue (swordfish a specialty) and the air-con on in the big room.
If a mild day was forecast, we'd go to Heather and Peter's for lunch under the thatched pergola. Peter is a dab-hand at the Weber, and we've had some great Christmas turkey there.

This year, way over here, we won't have any other Zampattis for lunch, and our son Simon, daughter-in-law Marnie and grandson Mack won't be with us. I think this will be the first Christmas Simon and I have spent apart.

But we'll have two of the kids' old friends from Gloster Street, who arrive next Monday for a couple of months. And there are at least a couple of orphans at the Bondi whom we'll have adopted for the day, so we'll have plenty of fun and a big table.

We put up the Christmas tree yesterday. A smaller affair this year, though. But another proper, live tree — it smells so good!
I was a bit teary when I opened the box of decorations — the little animals were chosen specially for Mack, then three, and he loved seeing his loyon and toyger on the tree.
And then there are the decorations that I brought over with us, the ones I just couldn't leave behind:

Simon and I chose this Mother Goose one before the younger kids were born — must be at least twenty years old. It's a bit faded now, but always gets a place.

Will made this one in kindy (he's about to turn eighteen) ...

... and this (below) was him yesterday after reaching up to put the star on top of the tree (blurry pic because he was a reluctant subject and I got only one shot at it) ...

Lily made this little purple tree, out of one of those styrofoam meat trays. She's twenty now.

The Santa and snowman candle (below) was given to Lily by her teacher in Year 2, so she would have been seven. They've been lit a couple of times, and look like they've had one hot Christmas too many, so they'll enjoy the cool.

Lily also made this star, staring to curl at the corners ...

And this little sugar-frosted house (or it could be a church), was among the very first things Simon and I picked for the tree in 1982, when he was six. It's lost its hanger, and I keep meaning to glue on one, but it's probably enjoying a much steadier life on the mantelpiece.
This is a pretty special Christmas ornament, though nowhere hear as old. It's a gorgeous Wedgwood ball, which Heather gave me last year when she was here. It came with a message signed by Lord Wedgwood himself!

Now I'm off to get my cards in the mail and do some shopping. See ya!

Friday, 30 November 2007

I did it!

I got to 50,00 words and a few over, and I haven't finished my tale yet! So I'll have to keep going now. And the chance to slow down and practise some judicious editing is so tempting.

I can't believe it's over - it's been SO much fun. I've loved every frantic minute of it. There are two big TGIO (thank God it's over) parties on the weekend for all the San Diego Nano writers. There are about 700 of us. What an amazing organisation!
Booking through Thursday

This week's question:

Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on? I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that… Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors…

I have done that, especially when I find an author whose work I really like. Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Maggie O'Farrell, Jhumpa Lahiri, Carol Shields are some recent series I remember. I had to spread out the Ian Rankins — sometimes they were so gritty and bleak that after three or four I yearned for a little light in between.

I turned my good friend Susan in Melbourne on to Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey novels many years ago, and she in turn introduced me to Margery Allingham's Albert Campion. We both read them all, straight through. Years earlier it had been Agatha Christie, and the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters. Those authors tended to be prolific, and consistent, and once I enjoyed one, I was hungry for the rest — and oh! what joy to discover there were lots of them!

I've also enjoyed one non-author series: the Jhumpa Lahiri* books led me to read anything dealing with the Indian migrant experience in the US and the UK, and I read many wonderful novels on that theme, which remains a favourite. And in turn, that has led to choosing novels dealing with any kind of migration/re-location ... it's been great.

*Is JL's 'The Namesake' a good movie? I'm so scared it won't be ...

Thursday, 29 November 2007

The biology lesson

‘The flower makes pollen in the anthers, do you see?’ Massimo pulled the petals open, gently widening the flower, revealing the delicate strands of the filaments bearing the heavy, ripe anthers, drenched in their golden pollen.
He pointed with the pointy end of the brush. ‘This is the male part,’ he said, stroking the filament from its base up to the anther. ‘You see, Julia? Drawn in by the scent of her nectar, the unsuspecting insect cannot resist, and drugged with desire, he flies in to find the source of this great attraction and drink it in.
'I his helpless state, he brushes against the anthers, and they release the pollen, so …’ and he stroked the tip of the anther with the tip of his brush, which came away with a dusting of the yellow pollen. ‘Are you with me so far, signora?’

‘Oh yes,’ she whispered. ‘Please, keep going.’
He leaned in closer to her, the flower still wide open in his hand. ‘The anther and the filament are the male parts of the flower, but now we come to the female parts.’ He met her eye to eye, and she bit her lower lip as she looked up at him.
‘Please ... don’t stop,’ she whispered a little breathily, for effect.
‘The stigma, and the style,’ he pointed to each in turn, ‘are female parts. The style holds the stigma erect, out of the way of the ovary, here.’
He looked straight into her eyes again. ‘The stigma, when it ready to receive the pollen become sticky, so you see how it glistens? It is ready, and I just have to tickle it lightly, like so …’ and he brushed the pollen-laden brush delicately against the swollen, moist nub of the stigma.

At which point the whole air became so charged with tension, and the symbolism so overdrawn, that he and Julia collapsed against each other in fits of helpless laughter.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Today's NaNoWriMo tally ...
... is 41,200 words. So I've got slightly fewer than 3000 a day to finish - phew!
It's a powerful thing, this fiction-writing stuff. I fancy my hero like crazy! Massimo's not too bad either ...
Okay ... off to the Bondi quiz night and some healthy reality.

Monday, 26 November 2007

On ya, Maxine!

Maxine McKew, a former Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist, stood for election as a Labor (ALP) candidate in the seat of seat of Bennelong, New South Wales. This seat has been held for 33 years by John Howard (Liberal), our prime minister for the past 11 years. But Maxine has ended all that!
Howard I hold responsible for Australia's international reputation as a racist nation. I also hold him and his government responsible for the gradual incursion into the national and local political scene of harmful right-wing Christian fundamentalists. I can't tell you how happy I am he has gone!
Costello will not run for Opposition leader, and we have to see if the trumped-up schoolboy Malcolm Turnbull will have a go. Let's hope so! Labor will win the next election as well, and with any luck we can be rid of Turnbull too by then!
The only shame is that the ghastly Alexander Downer didn't lose his seat. I heard him interviewed about his ambitions after being in federal government, and he was aked whether he would attempt to run for state parliament. "Oh no!' he winced. 'Look! You can't possibly be foreign minister for 11 years and then stoop so low as to enter state parliament, for goodness' sake!' I'm paraphrasing, but I'm not far short of what he actually said, the tosser. He never got it, did he?
Good riddance to the lot of them.
Australia can proudly reflect on the fact that it doesn't have a Liberal government anywhere! Yay!

:: While I'm in celebratory mood, here's a silly little soupcon for you from The Novel, so you can have a giggle. The scene: Massimo and Julia are having an evening picnic in the ancient olive grove beside The Big House. They've been prowling round each other for a few days now, and the sexual tension is stringing them tight. Now read on ...

‘We start with bread and oil,’ he said, holding the loaf to his chest and cutting off a thick slice for her.
‘This oil?’ she asked, reaching for her bottle.
‘Yes.’ He cut off the wax seal with his knife, drew out the cork, then poured the green-gold oil into a bowl for them to dip their bread.
A thick stream of oil slid down Massimo’s wrist as he held his bread to his mouth.
Without thinking about what she was doing, Julia reached over, took hold of his wrist and pulled it to her mouth, licking the oil over the base of his thumb and up into his palm. She did not look at him, but could hear his breathing deepen.
‘Waste not want not,’ she laughed slowly, his hand still in hers. Now, looking straight into his eyes, she took each of his oily fingertips softly, silently, just inside her mouth, one by one, well aware that this time she had stopped his breathing altogether.

Okay - there's a lot more that happens with those two and the olive oil on the picnic rug, but that's all I'm letting you know about for now!
I'm at 32,500 words or so, so I'll be romping across the finish line by Friday, I think!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

A new page, a new era: HOWARD HAS GONE! Woo-hoo! Wish I was home right now!

Friday, 23 November 2007

Booking through Thursday

This meme takes a different tack this week, linking to this blog post, whose author, Joanna, and co-contributor Brad are asking about “connecting words,” and they don’t mean conjunctions like “and” or “but.” No, what they’re looking for are unique, or treasured words that we’ve found out and about in our daily travels, words that might not be common usage, or often heard, but which struck a chord for some reason.

Being Australians in the US, almost everything we say seems to make people laugh, or scratch their heads. Our vernacular uses a lot of irony, is broad and nuanced, and hard to explain to non-Australians. We use colourful expressions that need translating occasionally, such as 'beaut', 'chuck a yewie (make a U-turn)', and 'it's my shout, mate (it's my turn to buy you a drink, buddy)'. And we get into trouble occasionally with words like 'pissed', which here means cross and in Australia means drunk; and 'root', which is something Americans do for their teams and in Australia is having sex (not very nicely).

One of the best Australian words, and one which is so useful and charged with meaning back home, is dag/daggy. Nerds in stretch pants and cardigans are daggy. Daggy means naff, unfashionable, unstylish. The literal definition of a dag is a matted piece of wool, usually flyblown and dirty, that hangs off a sheep's rear end.

:: At a weekly suburban paper I used to work for, we had a vocabulary of our own on production day. For example, if a story was a fraction short (or long) for its allotted space, it was 'a poofteenth out'; and a really strong headline was 'a grunter', or 'an overhead dick-dick'.

:: My family is originally from Norfolk, in the UK, and my grandmother, who was born in 1896, had some wonderful old expressions, which we still use at home. If the weather looked stormy, she would look at the sky and say, dramatically, 'It's dark over Will's mother's'.
If, as a child, I was curious and asked 'What's that?' or something of that nature, the answer would always be 'K-O-Y-H raspberries, and you're the first.' We still don't know what she meant!

:: Added later: My mother, who was from Southampton, would look at a stormy sky and say 'It's as black as Nooka's knocker.' Which may be some reference to the door of hell — we don't know.

:: PS: I'm adding this the next morning, as I forgot to mention how amused we were when we realised that many of the Americans here in Southern California had never heard of a fortnight, and couldn't even begin to guess its meaning. Such a common English word that we use without thinking.
:: I also use the exclamation 'struth!' a lot, which even makes Australians laugh. It is an old Australian expression that you don't hear much, except around me! I use it because it's also an old English expression — 'a contraction of God's truth' — and my Norfolk grandmother said it often. I think it was the strongest word in her vocabulary.
Another of her favourite expressions, of surprise, was 'Well, stone the crows and chase the cows!'
I miss her and her colourful turn of phrase.
I swear a lot, and my grandmother would be horrified. It also shocks Americans, I was very surprised to discover, so I quickly learned to tone it down, hence the usefulness of a well-placed struth!
Go mad!

I'm at 20,781 words this morning, but I'm stopping for a long lunch. See you later ...

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Sea-legging it
Last night, David and I were invited to a reception on board the Australian Navy ship, HMAS Sydney (pic above pinched from the RAN website - sorry, guys!). It was a fab little affair, with drinks and canapes and a great and very funny welcoming speech by the commanding officer in whch he equated his ship - a 134-metre-long guided missile frigate with a crew of about 220 - to a sort of blokey souped-up ute with a great big engine and some really fun weaponry.
The officers were all in their formal blues, having left their hats here ...

... which fascinated me. I guess that left both hands free to hold their beers! There were lots of women officers, which was good to see, and the CO explained that the ship was supposed to come with two helicopters, and he'd asked for them, but the navy had given them a band instead. So they put on a special ceremony just for us ...

... with swords, marching, drumrolls and a gun salute, to strike the White Ensign and announce sunset. Then we all sang Advance Australia Fair, with tears in our eyes, followed by the US anthem. The diminutive woman standing at the microphone on the far right of the pic above is the Sydney's gunnery officer - you can just see (if you click for a bigger image) all the gold on the end of her sleeves.
I found a young officer to show me where the loo was, and he took me halfway to the pointy end of the ship, led me inside the washroom and showed me the actual cubicle. I almost expected him to put the seat down for me. Then, once I emerged, he cheerfully led me back to the party. Such a gent!

:: It was all over at 8pm, so David and I hastened back to the Bondi to join our regular team, the Space Bars, for the quiz night. And one of our team members was a very polite young lad from Ohio, Daniel, who is a enlisted man on the USS Princeton ...

... (pic pinched from the US Navy website - sorry guys!). This is a slightly bigger (40 m or so) ship than the Sydney, a guided missile cruiser with about 600 on board. Daniel has been with our team for two weeks, but the Princeton sails soon, so we'll have to wait for him to get back to San Diego.

:: Thanksgiving tomorrow!