Now the 1st Weinachtstag dilemma. Which shiraz to have with the duck? The choice is a bit more complex. One from the Barossa Valley, the capital of Shiraz. And two from McLaren Vale, the grape's spiritual home.
Let's start with the McLaren Vale shiraz. D'Arenberg wine is dear to my heart, from the days when my pals and I would skive off lectures at the nearby University of Adelaide to go wine drinking tasting.
There's an art to university drinking. The undergrad imbiber must calculate, usually on the run, how to squeeze maximum merriment from minimum dough.
In most parts of the world the math is easy—beer wins. Especially so 'round these parts; beer is the Poland Spring of Bavaria. Those poor students in England must resort to cider when skint, and I pity them.
In the South Australia of my youth—home to about 60% of Australia's viticulture—the most cost-efficient booze was wine. When wineries finished their run of bottling proper wine, they would often find some left over. They decanted the leftovers into three-litre bottles, known as flagons or 'goons for short, and sold it cheap to the likes of us. Depending on the luck of the draw, one's palate could become quite spoiled.
Our 'goons of choice came form D'Arenberg, and to boot, their tasting room showed great tolerance of freeloaders. D'Arrys curls up in a special corner of my heart. The wine on the table today bears the name of a highly successful racehorse owned by the founder of the winery. Historians credit Footbolt as the first true backer of the business.
The Barossa Valley, though big and tempting, lay a little bit too far from city for convenient wine-hookey. But the Barossa shiraz shows promise.
The Burge Family Draycott Shiraz comes from another long-established family winery. It contains about 30% Grenache, a light, sweet fruity grape that doesn't age so well. That makes it front-runner for tonight's cork-pop, since we must drink it urgently. The last bottle of this we opened was corked, so there will be tension in the air as we plunge in the screw.
The Beresford Shiraz—well, the winery is a comparative newcomer, established in 1985 in Langhorne Creek. I've not tasted any of their wines before. A dark horse, but if the blogosphere/twittersphere/facebookworms tell us to drink it, drink it we shall. And happily.
Can you remember the last time you touched the earth?
I can't. Maybe it was tending plants in a window box. Maybe it was picking up a dropped fork at a backyard barbeque. Maybe it was lying on the grass in the English Garden. We live only a block from this urban miracle, yet the last time I set foot there, it was upon a layer of snow.
There are places where the earth asserts itself; where soil is part of the soul. Two artists of my acquaintance are celebrating this in a unique way.
One is Peter Adams. He and I once collaborated on commericals and film projects (some of which we have wisely chosen to forget). But he has returned to his first love and (arguably) greatest talent, telling stories through photography.
He recently produced a book about Hill End, 80 km west of Broken Hill in outback New South Wales. The town cannot forget its relationship to the earth. It is the source of its greatest wealth and riches: the largest gold nugget in the world, at the time, came from there. In its heyday, it boasted 8000 residents. Now, barely eighty live there.
Peter has documented the lives and beliefs of those eighty people. They show a keen awareness of, and attachment to, the earth which surrounds them. "It's not 'til you're buried here that you can be called a local" said one. Only when the earth claims you, do you truly belong.
His book, Ore What?, is an extraordinatily rich and lucid document, which in many ways sums up some of the things I treasure about life in Australia. A love of place, a solid forbearance; and a melancholy that resists cheapening by sentiment.
Another artist I know makes the earth a theme, in a wholly different way. But more about that in a later post.
Take last year. I was enjoying a glass or three of Wolfie's highly quaffable Eaglehawk Semi, alfresco, outside the Arab Steed pub in Adelaide. A splendid bicycle club called The Boneshakers pulled up for a cleanser on their way to a Halloween picnic. In spite of the fact that there's no real tradition of dressing up for the holiday, they did seem to get rather into the spirit.
After the lads and ladies had left, we noticed the group's lone unicyclist riding past. Never thought about it, but I guess a unicycle is a lot slower than a two wheeler. Notice the jockey's helmet and horsewhip.
If you're celebrating Halloween, may you be afraid. May you be very afraid. And pedal very fast.
As he inspected my papers on Sunday afternoon, the immigration cop wanted to fake me out. They often try.
Germany, at the crossroads of Europe, sees a lot of suspicious characters passing through. I'm sure the police get trained in how to make casual chat with a departing traveller, to reveal inconsistent stories which might bear a closer look.
My Australian passport invites suspicion. It was issued in Tokyo, and says that I was born in the USA. Living now in Germany, but speaking atrocious German...well, it adds to a history of flaky national allegiances.
The cop made a play. Also, wer gewinnt das Spiel? he asked. So who's going to win the game?
Hmm...it's June 13, 2010, and a German asks an Australian about a game. He stumped me for a minute. Maybe it's that pesky World Cup? When flags appear on cars, you know something's afoot.
In der Weltmeisterschaft?.
Ja, he sniggered.
Mein Hertz bleibt in Australien, aber ich gebe eine Wette auf Deutschland ab, was my clumsy reply. My heart stays with Australia, but I'm betting on Germany.
(Australians, let's look on the bright side. The Socceroos kept Germany to a mere four-point margin. If we were playing Aussie Rules, that'd be a cliffhanger. In many ways, Monday's game was a triumph!)
The cop wasn't satisfied with my answer. He noticed the destination on my boarding pass, and raised an eyebrow.
Why on earth would anyone want to go there?
Well may he ask. I had a perfectly good reason, but like all perfectly good reasons, it sounds preposterous.
Master Right and I are attending a sports event. A big sporting event. A world championship, in fact.
Yes, that's right. We—two prissy, middle-aged, unathletic fops—spent the last few days boning up on the finer points of weightlifting. Before you crack a predictable joke, note that we'll attend the women's finals, so that's the last boning up you'll see. Yes, you'll find us in the bleachers, there to cheer for our national team.
Our national team? A multicultural couple such as us often can't decide which of our several nations demands the most support. (Master Right, for example, regarded himself as an honorary Australian until the whaling suit. ) But this time, we had a mission. For the next several days, our team is Japan. A 60 x90 cm Hinomaru flag sits, neatly folded, in my husband's carry-on.
I tried to explain this to the cop.
Wir besuchen die Weltmeisterschaft... Dumb move. In German, the World Cup is simply known as the World Championship, or Weltmeisterschaft. After football, there are few other world champions which Germans want to become. Since Boris and Steffi retired, nobody watches tennis. Leave skiing to the Austrians. Champions are football champions, period.
...die Weltmeisterschaft auf...fuck! What's the German word for weightlifting? I fumbled for a second or two.
In this pause, the cop quietly suggested that if I were attending the Weltmeisterschaft, I should change my ticket to Johannesburg.
German speakers will point out, in an instant, that the word is Gewichtheben. A simple, direct translation of the English.
I think I said it. Then again, I think I might have said something like Gesichtheben, which means, um, lifting your face.
Of course, we could switch to English at any time—d'oh!—except that might create even more confusion.
German has borrowed the word lifting, you see. Das Lifting means a facelift, which Master Right discovered when he followed Brigitte Nielsen's makeover on local reality TV. Using the word would confrm that I was trolling Eastern Europe for cheap plastic surgery.
So, I took a time-honoured route, the last resort when a foreign language stumps you. I mimed it.
Think about the challenge. Just putting your hands in the air and moving them up and down really doesn't tell the story. You have to do the facial expressions and sound effects. Right?
That's when the cop dropped his Hans Landa routine and waved me through. Not because he understood what I was talking about, I suspect. Rather, he decided that anyone who stands in a public place drawing attention to himself wouldn't be engaged in crime on the sly.
Master Right waited on the other side of immigration—they hadn't hassled him at all, as usual—and we were off.
To where? You'll need to wait for the next installment to find out. But the sign above hides a subtle clue.
EDIT. The destination was Bulgaria. The word in the starburst is written Cyrillic. It Roman letters, it reads NOVO, or new.
I’m about to witness a major social gaffe.An etiquette atrocity.A crime against the peace, order and good government provisions of the Australian Constitution .Proof that the universe is imploding.A herald of the Rapture.
It's like this. Our dear Betty is the Angelina Jolie of fag hags.She will adopt any nancy boy with a sob story.If you've been orphaned by your fag hag when she got a cat/hobby/boyfriend/life, call Betty. She'll let you cry big, manly tears on her shoulder.
I much prefer crying into her bosom, actually, since her bosom is supremely comfortable. Yours Truly is the only man, apart from her beloved, to whom she grants pillowing priveleges.
Betty often remarked that for a gay chap, I am oddly fond of a good tit.Then she met my mother, and recognized that two of the moons of Jupiter nursed me. She has since supplied her chesty charity in many moments of need.
The Wedding Dress. *sigh*
The problem has to do with her bachelorette party, you see. (In Australia, they call it a hen's night.) Thanks to a heady mix of Facebook and Renmano Sauvignon Blanc, Betty invited all her gay buddies. Ever the generous soul, she imagined they might enjoy the...um, entertainment.
Now, Betty's Matron of Humour is the splendid Arizaphale, who's crafted a loving tribute to the bride. She has written heartfelt toasts, assembled mementos of their shared youth, and concocted amusing parlour games which would reveal how much each guest knows about Betty's past. She thought up several witty puns about hens. But it soon became apparent that she had arranged no...um, entertainment.
Oh my god. Oh. My. God. Oh! My! God!
When confronted with her faux pas, Arizaphale pleaded ennui. "We good ole girls aren't exactly spring chickens," she wrote, warming to the hen's night theme. "We've seen enough cock to last us a lifetime, and therefore are less than impressed with it anymore."
I can make neither head nor tail of that sentence. Surely, the phrase "enough cock" is logically impossible.
The question is, Abby, should we gay boys take matters into our own hands? (And if we're lucky, mouths?)
Is it best to be subtle? Perhaps a hired hunk might stroll past and casually drop trou, maintaining it was a coincidence that he was overcome by a heat rash on his buttocks at that very moment?
Should we damn the torpedoes and get the guy in the cop uniform to do the whole who's-been-a-naughty-girl routine, even if handcuffs cost extra?
Or ought we do the job ourselves, arriving naked to ensure there are some ornamental genitalia on display?
Further, the couple's beloved dog will act as ring bearer. Technically, she's a member of the bridal party, too. Should we rent a Great Dane or something?
Anxiously awaiting your advice. The party is tonight, and the wedding approaches!
Where is he gay today?A Qantas lounge, somewhere on Earth
We're sick of telling you how to eat Vegemite. Every tourist who gets breakfast on a Qantas plane opens the little pack of Vegemite, scoops up a mouthful, tastes it, and gags.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! Vegemite must be eaten as carefully as the fugu fish!
So, for the last time:
Vegemite cannot be eaten on its own. You must spread it on something. Most Australians prefer buttered toast, but Vegemite has dressed everything from an avocado to a well-done steak. That's Australian cuisine for you.
Be sure you butter your toast. Vegemite loves oily or fatty foods. Without lubrication, it will adhere to any surface: teeth, tongue, or throat. Melted cheese is also popular.
By the way, the manufacturers recently introduced a version of Vegemite with the cheese already in it. It caused a national uproar, mainly because it had such a dumb name—iSnack 2.0.
To make this clear for Americans, it would be like Oscar Mayer calling a hot dog iMeat 2.0 with integrated ketchup. For Brits, the equivalent would be iFish 2.0 with inbuilt chips. So they had a contest to choose a new name.
The winner? Vegemite Cheesybite. "None of the above" came a close second, we understand.
Spread VegemiteTHINLYon your buttered toast. Vegemite is powerful. You only need a little.
The combination of the melted butter, the salty, nutty flavour of the Vegemite, and the bulk of the toast makes the perfect hangover cure for those with a queasy stomach.
Mothers also make Vegemite sandwiches with cheese as a kiddie snack, because of the high calcium and vitamin B content. It might be partly responsible for our national addiction to salty, cheesy snack foods. If you're lucky, we'll let you have a Cheezel.
Morton Gould was a soul in anguish. He couldn't work out if he wanted to be Charles Ives or Nelson Riddle.
Like most American composers of his day, Gould paid the bills through pop music—he was the first musical director for Radio City Music Hall—but also conducted every major American orchestra, often in his own compositions.
It was his mainstream musicianship that made Master Right swoon, as you can read in Part One. Gould's version of Cole Porter'sSo in Love signed off the Sunday Night Western Movie Theater across Japan for much of the Showa emperor's reign. My husband, and many like him, grew to treasure this musical piece, many thinking that it was penned by, say, a Russian impressionist.
It caused such a fog of nostalgia to settle on Master Right's head, we had to track it down. We managed to find some downloadable copies, but most of the sources smelled a bit shifty. And even now, when everything is e-biquitous, it was harder to find in hard-copy than you'd think.
A man of prolific brilliance, Gould was a bit of an oddball among mid-century American composers. George Gershwin, Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein put the energy and innocent optimism of a young nation into melody. Gould..well, good vibes weren't his strong suit.
As I type this, an album plays in the background. It contains Gould's Fall River Legend.
In Fall River Legend, Gould composed a ballet around Lizzie Borden, who put the term axe murderer into the vernacular. Other well-known pieces are Ghost Walzes and the Jekyll and Hyde Variations. The centrepiece of his most successful broadway musical, Billion Dollar Baby, is a funeral procession.
So when this album arrived in the post, it didn't surprise me to discover Gould dressed a little like an undertaker.
Ah...words like Living Stereo and High Fidelity take me back to a childhood soundtracked by my mother's collection of Dean Martin, Henry Mancini and the lightest of classics, etched into those lazy new LPs which took almost two full seconds to make a complete turn. (Of course, all the really interesting music of that era, like Elvis and the Beatles, spun much faster on the turntable, mostly in Lo-Fi mono).
Our family coughed for a 1968 Magnavox Astro Sonic specifically to play such albums. Fresh from elementary school science class, I joked about the badge which read Solid State. "What? Do other stereos play with gas?"
I didn't know how misinformed that joke was. Record players had, unitil then, used an absence of gas, in the form of a vacuum tube. The handsome cabinets you see to the left were largely empty, save for a small chip full of pills on prongs. I looked.
Few of us realised the radical change it meant for sound quality.
Gould experimented with the many different forms of sound that a record could now reproduce, mainly through pizzacato that bordered on violin torture. In his version of I Get A Kick Out Of You, Gould uses that pointless technique where you bounce the bow off the strings. Glorious Hi-Fi makes it sound like a choir of castanets.
Missing the obvious.
Now, you'd think that anyone who is putting together a greatest hits album for Cole Porter would include his masterpiece, So in Love. Wouldn't you?
Bozo here forgot to check the track list. WTF? A Cole Porter tribute that doesn't cover So in Love?
So we were back to square one.
We googled until our cache was sore, but we couldn't find a copy of Morton Gould's arrangement of So in Love from Curtain Time. Neither on CD nor vinyl. But one source held hope.
To be Frank.
Frank Bristow holds a vast knowledge of music in his head. I'm not sure how he accumulated his collection of Music from the Past, but it's a treasure-trove of mid-century song. His father was a Captain in the entertainment section of the Australian army, and the teenaged Frank got plenty of scarce vinyl on the sly during the War. After his own discharge from the RAAF, Frank continued to collect.
As the century progressed, he grew frustrated by record companies who refused to re-release these gems of popular culture, and began to do it himself. He netwoked extensively with music lovers at home and abroad, and became an authority of some standing. For many years, he consulted for both Ivan Hutchinson and Bill Collins, two Australian celebrities who held much the same role as movie-critic/national treasure which Yodogawa filled in Japan.
(An aside: Collins is such a film authority that other Australian Bill Collinses have had to take great steps to disambiguate their web presence).
The disc art included a suitably gloomy caricature of the distinguished composer. We couldn't wait to play it.
The Husbands were trite and as gay as a daisy in May as we set ol' Mort aspin on the digital whirligig. But it didn't take long for Master Right's smile to go south.
"That's not it," he said.
"What do you mean that's not it?" I sputtered, aghast. "Frank Bristow, Melbourne's Mr. Mid-Century Music, assures us that this is, undisputably, the one-and-only Morton Gould and his fucking orchestra, fiddling a lushly-stringed So in Love, just for us!"
OK, Morton Gould recorded more than one version. We were back to square one.
The Vinyl Route
Square one felt quite familiar, by now. What to do?
The internet proper didn'r seem much help. Odd, since I thought the internet knew everything. But like most people with full heads, the internet forgets. Or at least it has things shoved into a corner and forgotten.
Cached copies seem to sink to the bottom of a million-strong list of hits, and we ignore them. Sometimes, Google doesn't keep up with pages that appear and disappear in a short time. (Well that's my theory). So you can hit gold if you go straight to the source.
We found this curiosity for sale. Odd, since it was clearly labelled not for sale.
It seems that poor old Curtain Time was chained up in syndication hell. Why? Here's my theory.
As lush strings made way for mellow rock on stereos across the planet, Gould's back catalogue would have tanked. This calls for sales psychology.
If something costs a buck and it doesn't sell, what do you do? Drop the price to fifty cents, or sell three for $2.00? Perversely, the latter works better.
So the sixties and seventies gave rise to direct marketing schemes and record clubs that promised vast amounts of music, offered personally and exclusively to astute collectors. You would get the offer because you were a member of a elite group of who appreciated such things—like, say, subscribers to the Reader's Digest.
My parents were two such highbrows. Here are two of the boxed sets that our home music library wouldn't be complete without.
Curtain Time had been reduced to a gift-with-purchase. Columbia also renamed it, and I'm not surprised.
That's neither here nor there. While googling the track titles individually didn't yield much, googling track list did. We found many of the tracks on Curtain Time scattered across a number of syndicated collections, skipping from record vault to record vault, reissued in a number of guises.
And it lurked here. On a used CD, available online.
My favourite spot? It's the north-eastern corner of my deck.
Many glasses—nay, bottles—of wine have been consumed on this very spot.
Living on the other side of the world, I don't get to enjoy the view much. The house is in Merrijig, a small town about two-and-a-half hours from Melbourne, in Australia's Great Dividing Range. The peak on the right is Mt. Buller, Australia's busiest ski resort. Fans of Australian film may like to know that The Man From Snowy River movies were made nearby. Old sets dot the district.
The view is better than the house. I have yet to build the garage underneath, so it looks kind of odd.
A mob of kangaroos lives on the hill. Every morning, they climb to the top, in order to graze in the sunshine. At dusk, they take shelter in the valley below. That means they hop through my back yard twice a day.
If you count a mob of kangaroos as pals, you don't need a lawn mower. But one must take care with trees.
The boxing kangaroo is no myth. Young males spar with each other in dominance play, like stags locking antlers. For practice, the bouncing boys turn any handy sapling into a punching bag. Most native Australian trees can stand such treatment; the pines and poplars I planted can't. In the top picture, if you look closely, you'll see a young pine tree yoked to a stake with barbed wire. They forced me into S&M gardening.
My favourite spot doesn't really look or feel like Australia, in many ways. It comes as a surprise to find our friends, the kangaroos, frolicking in the snow.
The pictures look lush, but the land dries out quickly come summer. Merrijig narrowly escaped fire at the end of 2006. Throughout December, a blaze burned out of control in the nearby national park, and lapped at our doors. Christmas Eve, miraculously, brought a downpour which saved the community.
May 17 is the International Day against Homophobia, or IDAHO. Originally a Canadian initaitive, it's been embraced around the world. IDAHO commmemorates 17 May 1992, the day on which the World Health Organisation de-listed homosexuality as a disease. The movement has gained momentum since the Canadian Fondation Emergence declared it in 2003 , and this year a number of European governments join NGOs in Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong, Costa Rica and the UK in recognising the day.
Besides not being homophobic for 24 hours, what can you do? IDAHO UK has a list of events (registration required), as does the international site. But one of the most intriguing and accessible ideas comes from Sydney.
The AIDS Council of New South Wales and the web-zine Same Same have joined with many other government, private and community organisations to launch a site calledThis is Oz. On it, you may upload a portrait of yourself in which you hold a printed or hand-written message which promotes acceptance and diversity. It also links to initiatives in other Australian states, such as Victoria and South Australia. I am sure that international messages of support would be welcomed.
I have a cerebral crush on retired High Court JusticeMichael Kirby. With his public statements, his legal judgements, and his work with United Nations bodies, he's become one of the world's great authorities on the intersection of law and ethics. In so doing, he acted as a natural supporter of gay rights, placing them in the context of broader human rights, and thus making a stronger case. He chaired the World Health Organisation task force on HIV and AIDS in the early nineties, and was instrumental in the WHO's decision to de-pathologise homosexuality--the event which IDAHO commemorates.
Everything he says or writes is a masterpeice of clarity and reason. Only after he makes the rational case, does he close with a compelling picture of the personal dignity a such fairness can enable.
I once heard him address a gay charity event in Melbourne in the mid-nineties, shortly before he came out. He spoke in his usual calm, measured tones about the AIDS crisis. Was it a gay disease, brought about by sexual practices many found distasteful, he asked? Or was it a tragedy which robbed the world of men with immense talent and energy? In his argument (for it was, in truth, an argument) he skillfully affirmed the worth and humanity of those whom so many despised.
He came out in quite a matter-matter-of-fact way, simply declaring newsagent Johann Van Vlouten as his partner of (then) 30 years in Who's Who 1999. "Johann is my official escort to all public events," Kirby once said, "He and the Queen got along famously."
May 17th is a Sunday. From how many pulpits will we hear a message against homophobia? Just asking.
Photo Credits: Portraits of Michael Kirby, Julie McCrossin and Matthew Mitcham come from thisisoz.com.au.
EDIT: I'll relax my anonymity policy just this once. Here's me. And by way of beautiful coincidence, the theme for Photo Friday this week happens to be Self Portrait, 2009.