Another Country Diary

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28 February '02

Landscape with rocks and power towerI took no 'documenting photographs' while I was in Sydney (for the usual meetings and the Animation Festival Awards night - see 27th Feb.) yet I did visit one of my favourite photographic galleries for stimulation. I couldn't get into my regular cheap accommodation (I presumed because it was the Gay Mardi Gras weekend) and ended up staying at the Novatel at Darling Harbour. I didn't mind (other than for the cost) because the Novatel doesn't have the usual 'tasteful' colour coordinated paintings on the walls, instead there is a great collection of photographs by David Moore. They're all of Australian landscapes and I love them. I feel a real empathy with the way Moore sees landscape shapes and the light. It's some kind of 'growing up in the country' residual memory that he taps. For about half an hour I took the lift up and down and walked the floors just looking at prints and finding new 'Yes! I know that sort of light' moments. So I was well primed for the trip home. 

Leaving the city a little earlier than usual, I was passing through Goulburn at about 6.00. It meant that I caught the late afternoon sunshine on a day with fast moving clouds. There were patches of light and shadow that passed over the hills in minutes. By the time I'd stopped, and was ready with camera in hand, the patterns had moved on. So I kept stopping anyway, knowing that all I could do was stand and wait, and hope for a repeat of the moment. I've put a few slightly bigger images including the one above together on a page here. David Moore they aint, but they do show 'how green is my valley'.
1 March '02
Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primrosesáby Paul CÚzanne.We opened a very strange junk mail letter today addressed to Jan from the Cancer Council of NSW. From the logo it looked like something to do with food, so I opened it. 

They were soliciting donations for research into cancer with a campaign called breakthrough. It was a very awkwardly written letter with a database mail merge of Jan's name every few paragraphs (or almost her name, it was minus the apostrophe in O'C but hey that's 'personal' databases 

Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses
by Paul CÚzanne. This painting was once owned by Claude Monet.

for you). 

The strategy behind the letter was in trying to look as if it wasn't a bulk mail mass printed piece. It had strange paragraph indents and was marked up with (unconvincing) hand drawn underlined sentences. The overall effect was fake, insulting your intelligence and it got very tedious to read. Except for a bit on the opening page. In a tortured jump from 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away', they mentioned the reason they adopted as part of their logo, one of CÚzanne's paintings of apples. Why CÚzanne? Wait for it... "Just as the Cancer Council New South Wales acts on many fronts at once against cancer, CÚzanne's apple could be seen from several different perspectives". Yeah? But the next sentence was what intrigued me. "CÚzanne said of it proudly, 'With an apple I shall astonish Paris' ". 

That was enough to send me off to Google to see if he really did say that and why. The first ' hits' talked about 'conquering Paris with an apple' but sure enough, the quote was correct and its context became clear.

It appeared first in a book on Monet by critic Gustave Geoffroy who met CÚzanne in 1894, and who said how he loved the painter's enthusiasm such as when CÚzanne proclaimed, "I will astonish Paris with an apple!" 

Quote from Claude Monet, His Life, His Times, His Works by Gustave Geffroy.

It's a great poetic notion (if you make pictures of apples) and when you look at CÚzanne's paintings of fruit from this time, you can see how he was applying the same acute attention he paid to the light and surfaces in his landscapes, to the traditional still life. These pictures still sing (this one of apples and oranges is a particular favourite) and I'm sure they astonished Paris as he planned. 

While I was reading, I found that CÚzanne was apparently obsessive about the colour of the light he painted in. In an age when you can control the colour temperature in Photoshop with a flick of the mouse wrist, I'm sure this was as much because of an emotional environment that CÚzanne wanted to paint in, as it was one that would define what actual colour palette he would use that day. For months CÚzanne was painting a portrait of art dealer Ambrose Vollard (it was never finished). CÚzanne would often use the excuse that the light was not right and cancel sittings, but...

"Sometimes, around five in the afternoon, he would stop by my place, his face glowing with happiness, and say, "Mr. Vollard, I have good news to tell you; I am so satisfied with this afternoon that if the weather tomorrow provides a pale gray light I think that our session will go well." 

Vollard goes on to say..

It was one of his principal preoccupations at day's end: what will the weather be tomorrow? Since he went to bed early, often he would wake up in the middle of the night. Always haunted by this idea, he looked out the window at the sky. Then, once decided on this important matter and before going back to bed, carrying a candle he would go and review the work in process. If he felt good about it, he would go at once to share his satisfaction with his wife. He would awaken her and afterward, to make up for having disturbed her, he would invite her to play a game of checkers before going back to bed.
From Ambrose Vollard's Paul CÚzanne (1914).

Poor Mrs. CÚzanne. But I understand the obsession, even if it's so different in this time of instant photography. Like the light yesterday, it is the unpredictable variability from day to day that I find is a constant stimulation. That's one of the nice things about living in an old house where the windows are smaller and the darkness makes the changes in light more obvious. You also notice the colour temperature of the light inside this 'camera obscura'.

Waking in bed in the morning, if it's sunny, the window light throws distorted patterns from the old glass panes in an arc around the room that we've come to know well. Today, the first day of autumn, and not that far from the solstice, it was shining on the back of the bedroom door. It ends up shining in our faces in mid winter. The temperature had dropped to 5 degrees overnight and it was still that at 9.00am. It's still too warm for a frost but I think I should check the weather in the middle of the night tonight, just in case. Hey, Jan...

Both excerpts are pulled from an online page promoting - Conversations with CÚzanne. Edited by Michael Doran, University of California Press.

2 March '02
A bowl of traffic light tomatoesTraffic light tomatoes, all of them small. I don't know what happened to the, I thought at least one, Grosse Lisse we planted, but everything seems to be a small variety. We've got plenty of Roma, cherry reds, the tear shaped yellow, and the green striped ones. We're picking a bowl like the photo every day now, and can't eat them all. Although we sometimes grab one as we pass the bowl and eat it like a piece of fruit, so that's one advantage of the smaller ones.

I had so many of the yellow ones, that when I made up a few bottles of Tomato Sauce (again from the Women's Weekly Preserving book, mild sauce recipe) I added a kilo. The sauce tastes good but the colour is almost pink, most unconventional. It'll be hard to get the family to swap the shop bought for the home made, just on aesthetic grounds.

My strategy for saving/preserving has been to consider what we eat normally and try and substitute home made/grown for that. There was no point making green tomato pickle because it's still there three years later (I just re-used the jars) and more than a few pots of jam is too much for our use. That sounds rational until I do something silly and plant beetroot (see 18th Feb). They're not baby beet any more, and there's still a tin of beetroot that has been in the pantry for two years (at least I reckon). I'll grate a few into a dip next time we have a Greek or salad night but other than putting them into borscht which I've never made, that's my beetroot repertoire done for.

It's funny when buying cookbooks becomes produce surplus driven, rather than for coffee-table interest. Justifying the cost is slightly easier too. Slightly.
3 March '02
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! clickI was on the roof installing (finally) a vent for the clothes dryer and I wasn't happy. Jig-sawing  holes, punching through old masonite layers under the new plaster, and cutting through corrugated iron, I spent a lot of time up there. It did have a few compensations. I saw the climbing rosebush by the old shed/dunny from on top, and saw a mass of white old fashioned ragged blooms that you don't see from the ground. And above the bushes, I clearly heard the guns.

That's guns as in the one above. Six-guns. You know. The sort cow boys use. The ones that go Bang! Bang! Bang! and Pichow! when they ricochet of the rocks. The battle was full on and the fire was exchanged by three or four voices. And it was all make believe and I haven't remembered hearing that since I was a kid. I'm sure they weren't being cow boys and indians as in my day, those movie influences are long gone, I wondered if maybe they were at war, there's been a lot of that around lately. I don't think it was cops and robbers (goodies and baddies?) because one of the kids can mimic an uncannily accurate police siren and he didn't wail at all. (He sits in his back yard and plays with some toy, making this siren noise for hours, it even has Doppler Shift 'traveling from a distance' and 'pull over driver' effects.)

It was just a lot of chasing, shouting and Bang!-ing with plastic guns and it made me feel good. I'd watched my girls slowly lose that ability to fantasy play and become too sophisticated to make believe. The youngest is 16 and she still has a talent for 'imagining' but finds it hard to get friends involved (she enjoys baby sitting younger kids and they love her playing at their level). I contemplated getting the video out and recording it but knew that would have intruded. So I just enjoyed the sounds of the sunny afternoon and was a lot happier and a bit sunburned.

4 March '02
Semi-dried tomatoesI've wasted a valuable day of the drier time. Last year I tried to dry some of the little yellow tomatoes but they were too chewy. This time I thought that they might semi dry ok. Luckily I topped the two last trays off with some of the small round ones and some Romas. Well, the red ones are fine but the little yellow ones have too much skin and look like midget condoms. They taste ok, but are still very chewy and look most unappetising. 

We've dried quite a few tomatoes over the last couple of years. The ones we liked best used oil and seasoning from a store bought jar, so we've been trying to duplicate it. It's got some chilli flakes, some garlic, pepper and 'herbs' as the label so helpfully explains. Getting the quantity right for the size jar and leaving them in it long enough to add flavour but not enough to rot is the trick. Be careful though..

"Low acid foods such as herbs, mushrooms, peppers and garlic can support the growth of bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum which grows without air (oil makes anaerobic conditions) and produces toxin at room temperature." says

Tomatoes have some acid in them so it's not so bad but it's safer to keep the semi-dried ones in the fridge. The properly dried ones last much better, and there are still some from last season that I'll now use up on a pizza to make room for the new crop.
Fred Harden
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