Sunday, April 5, 2015

Books, Movies and Theatre - March Madness

This post is as much for me as it is for you - I believe I have read more in the first three months of 2015, than I've read in recent years (my reading list). I'm not intending to offer grand reviews, just a few reflections of my own about the books, movies and shows I've read or seen this past month or so.

Books Read

SE Hinton

Earlier this year I was talking with a friend about people who re-read books - I don't usually - and she said if you enjoyed something the first time, you might enjoy it differently the second time. So I thought about what books I have enjoyed enough to re-read. SE Hinton wrote lots of books, as a teenager, for teenagers. I remember devouring TEX and RumbleFish and the Outsiders as a kid. They might have been the first novels I actually read. So, I downloaded a couple of Kindle - and re-read them. The Outsiders, Tex, RumbleFish, Some of Tims Stories and Taming the Star Runner.  Loved them again.


Searching for something easy to read one afternoon on the train, I found Marikami's Strange Library was available for Kindle. I have to say I think this is the first of Marikami's novels that I didn't like, and wouldn't recommend. The story was just plain stupid. It was frightening, lonely, pointless. Needless to say, I am hoping that my next Marikami novel will be more to my liking. I have the Elephant Vanishes to read on my holiday later this month.


Last month we had the Newcastle Writers Festival. I couldn't go to any of the presentations, but several of my friends went. One of them went to hear Marion Halligan speak. An Australian Author who has lived in Newcastle, and writes Australian Stories. I have previously read some of Marion's books including The Fog Garden (based in Tasmania) and Valley of Grace (based in Paris), and decided to look at something available on Kindle. I found Shooting the Fox, which is a collection of short stories. Described as....'on love and loss, sex and death, food and gardening ... a new collection by Australia's most assured short-story writer', this collection of short stories were descriptive, engaging and meaningful - about women and our roles in life and relationships. Normally I don't enjoy short stories, but Marion is a clever author - not surprisingly she has many awards to her name.

The Healthy Chef
While I don't know Teresa personally, her name is spoken in my house weekly... she's my advisor and companion in the kitchen. I follow her blog, love her recipes and her food philosophy fits for me. When this book was made available for Kindle, I had to have it. She's such a sensible chef and nutritionist. Check out her website, and if you're interested in food and health, check out this easy book - describing common digestive problems, offering a common sense approach to digestive health, and providing a great collection of recipes.


James Morrison and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

My partner and I have been fans of James Morrison since we were young. He's an absolutely amazing Jazz Musician who can play an amazing collection of Brass and other instruments. To see him play with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, at the Sydney Opera House, was an extreme delight for the both of us.

Bell Shakespeare Production - As You Like It.

Many years ago I decided to go and see some Shakespeare Productions because I hated reading when I was younger, and didn't study any Shakespeare. I felt I was missing out on something - all those quotes and references people refer to and I had no idea where they came from. So I decided to go and see some of the Bell Shakespeare productions. John Bell is a brilliant director, and is retiring this year for new things. So I wanted to see something before he left. As you like it was quite different to anything else I had seen. People told me it would be lighter than most other Shakespeare pieces, and it was. Very good. I especially enjoyed the music interludes in this one.


Invited by a friend to see this show, which he said would be amazing. We went with a small group of friends to see this apparently 'burlesque - style' acrobatic performance. Loved the acrobatics, didn't necessarily enjoy the Gillionare and Penny's script. This show is apparently from Los Vegas and has been getting rave reviews here in Australia.

French Film Festival

I truly enjoyed my AFFF this year. Sadly I didn't get to some of the movies I had selected (ran out of time), but of the ones I did see here's my top favourite to least favourite.
    1. Far From Men - (Viggo Mortinson) - based on an Albert Camus novel, l'hote) this was set at the start of the Algerian War, and includes one of Cumas famous lines about himself - in France I'm Algerian, in Algera, I'm French.... the movie was suburbly crafted, and captivating. Must see! (better seen on the big screen).
    2. The Connection - About the French Police and their role in uncovering French drug lords and the exports of drugs to the USA in the 70's. Fantastic movie!
    3. Diplomacy - based on a play, this was set in one room, and it was about the role of the 'diplomat' to convince the Germans to not blow up all the Parisienne bridges and famous landmarks. Needless to say, the 'Diplomate' won.
    4. Almost Friends - Comedy
    5. Breathe - Young Adults coming of age
    6. Three Hearts - kind of a 'sliding door' movie
    7. Get Well Soon - comedy - of the makes you smile kind.
The movies I didn't get to see, but really want to - Samba, Famille Bellier and Gemma Bovary

To close, I wanted to share with you these clip from Far from Men.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Easter Reflections

Resting in one place

Taking a stroll in nature

Playing in the Garden

Watching the Sunset
Where ever you are, 
and how ever you spend this weekend,
 this Easter , 
I wish you all a special time of reflection. 

For me, Easter is a special time to reflect on 
hope and change,
new ways, and new growth,
vision and focus, 
and simply sitting in the present.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

et voila! The French Film Festival c'est fini!

 Still one of my favourite places at the end of a working week!
 Sunset at Lake Macquarie.

I knew March was going to be a month of madness for me when I signed up for 8 French Films at the Alliance Frances Film Festival, on top of already being signed up for a weekend course for my voluntary role in the State Emergency Services, and entering the Loop the Lake cycling event (90km round our lake). I said no to alot of things this past month, but perhaps not enough..

Still I made it to the end with a smile on my face. Friday night I got off the train from my week in Sydney, to be greeted with a bottle of bubbly, picnic basket and a trip to the Bay for free music in the park. Now that's what I call coming home. 

I can now report that I did very well on my bike ride, I am still pretty chuffed with my results. I like to get a PB every now and again - it makes all that training worth while. 

I can also report that I made some time for socialising during mad March too. Last weekend I hosted a Moroccan Feast with some lovely friends. I enjoy the challenge of preparing something different for presentation, and I think it all turned out pretty well. I did

So now Mad March is  settling into Autumnal April, I will post soon on my recent reading and screening adventures. This includes an epic reading adventure of SE Hinton's novels, returning to Murakami, and Marion Halligan.

Easter next weekend is planned time for personal rejuvenation, spiritual reflection and rejoining with my loved ones locally.

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's Festival Time - the Alliance Francaise Film Festival

It's the Alliance Francais Film Festival here in Sydney. This years program is amazing. I have selected 8 movies to see in the next 3 weeks, but I'm devasted I cant see more. I'm going to see..
 Do you know any of these? Have you seen any of the others on the program? should I go and see something else??

Needless to say, I'm a little distracted at the moment... will post again when I can.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Searching for Ideas

These girls are happy. They live together at the Barathi Girls Hostel (ages 13+ years) and the KGBV Primary School (ages 8 - 12 years). They are part of the the girls education strategy delivered by ODAM, the Organisation for Development, Aid and Maintenance, in Tamil Nadu  India. They are happy to be at school and love being taught. Many of the girls would not have had the opportunity to do this without the help of ODAM.

This is the charity I support. I see these girls as my girls. I am so very proud to see them growing up, moving through primary school to secondary school and some of them go on to vocational training. Check this out to hear their stories....

In Australia I am part of a group of ODAM Supporters. We undertake to raise money for the school and hostel each year. This year we're looking for some new ideas for fund raising.... We traditionally hold a very successful trivia night and have held fun and fruitful movie nights. We'll do these again I'm sure. However, we'd like to consider new ideas.... have you got any? I would love to hear your thoughts....

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Decluttering and sharing

I am conscious that I am blessed. I am also conscious that I have been supported by special friends in the past, and that I too have the capacity to support others. Last weekend I had the opportunity to help out a friend. After a divorce, and a period of boarding while she studied, my girl friend has moved into her own apartment. She hasn't had a steady income for a while, and I wanted to help her get the new abode started off a little cheaper.

I went through the cupboards and found duplicates of items - so many duplicates. I can't imagine why I ever needed three manual orange juicers! We had a cutlery set we've never used in 20 years, sets of glasses we didn't remember we had, and multiple tea pots, cups, mugs, bowls, cake tins.....

All packed up into a couple of boxes, along with our spare microwave (who needs two of those!) and the spare bed, a couple of chairs and lamps......

You know what? I'm ashamed to say, with all of these things gone, you can hardly notice the gaps they leave.

Decluttering is mentioned in many books about the simply life, as having both a physical and mental benefit. Physically, there are alot of things in our homes we just don't ever use, need or like. These things could have a more productive life with other people. Once the house and living space is decluttered, one finds that there is more space in your mind for creativity, compassion, and genuineness. Another philosophy that promotes declutering is that of mindfulness.

I've recently read a chapter about interdependence, relationships, and community. I was reminded that in todays world, objects are used to define us - the car we drive, the shoes we wear, the handbag that matches... these objects are used by others to put us in  relatable boxes. We then build relationships with those objects because we know they help define us. So what happens if you don't have objects to relate to.... you find out more about who you are. And what if we remind ourselves that many objects are purposeful - they have a function - and that's why we have them.

The function of squeezing oranges is not improved because I had three objects, all the same, to do that with... Tea will not be incredibly different because I gave a teapot away..... in fact someone else will enjoy some tea too.

I started last year to focus more on simplicity in my life - and the challenge continues this year. I have much more decluttering to do, and some big decisions to make about purchasing items - life sofa's, a new car, bikes etc.... hopefully the principles of simplicity, community, and mindfulness will play a big part in those decisions. 

Update from the recipient: I've just been to see my friend settled into her lovely little place. She still needs a table and chairs, but she's settled in and all those unwated things from here have a new home and new jobs. (21.2.15)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Japanese Literature Challenge No 8 - Summary

 I just love this challenge and every year I find myself feeling quite proud of myself for achieving what I do. Before I started blogging, I was a very poor reader. Dyslexia. I had a wonderful friend who invited me to a book club in those early days. I really enjoyed that experience, but like with many small groups like that, things change and people move on. So I was introduced to book blogging, and enter Japanese Literature. My first love in Japanese Literature is Murakami. Every year in the challenge, I read another Murakami - this year I read Colourless Tzukuru Tazaki. My review here.
My second love in literature is Crime and Forensics - and in the Japanese literature I have really enjoyed these two this year. 
My review of Salvation of a Saint is here....

  • Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashina, was an easy and capturing story. 
Yasuko Hanaoka is a divorced, single mother who thought she had finally escaped her abusive ex-husband Togashi. When he shows up one day to extort money from her, threatening both her and her teenaged daughter Misato, the situation quickly escalates into violence and Togashi ends up dead on her apartment floor. Overhearing the commotion, Yasuko’s next door neighbor, middle-aged high school mathematics teacher Ishigami, offers his help, disposing not only of the body but plotting the cover-up step-by-step.

This book was so good - It sold more than two million copies in Keigo Higashino's native Japan, becoming what the English translation blurbs as a "national obsession".
  •   In the Miso Soup - was another crime/bizare book
This one was challenging for me.....
It is just before New Year's. Frank, an overweight American tourist, has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo's sleazy nightlife on three successive evenings. But Frank's behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion: that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It isn't until the second night, however, in a scene that will shock you and make you laugh and make you hate yourself for laughing, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.

Kenji's intimate knowledge of Tokyo's sex industry, his thoughtful observations and wisecracks about the emptiness and hypocrisy of contemporary Japan, and his insights into the shockingly widespread phenomena of "compensated dating" and "selling it" among Japanese schoolgirls, give us plenty to think about on every page. Kenji is our likable, if far from innocent, guide to the inferno of violence and evil into which he unwillingly descends-and from which only Jun, his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, can possibly save him. . . .

I found this book crossed some boundaries for me - violence, murder - pretty grotesque scenes - but again, the author kept me interested - what was Kenji going to do with all the informaiton he had? 

Following my first two loves in literature, I like to challenge myself to read something different, a new author, an award winning novel or something noted for it's style. This year I read
  • After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima

NYTimes reports: Twelve novels and fourteen years ago Yukio Mishima was a boy wonder in the Japanese literary world. Now, at the age of 38, he counts as an established international genius. Few writers boast so intense a readership--near-idolatrous in the home country and ardent and zealous, if smaller, abroad. With "After the Banquet," in master-translator Donald Keene's translucent English, Mishima cinches his champion's belt. 

Kazu, the flawed heroine, owns a fashionable restaurant frequented by high-ranking officials of the government. She is 50 and sworn to a voluntary and uneasy lovelessness. Her strength and efficiency carry her. Noguchi, an ex-cabinet minister, full of quiet and intelligence, attends a banquet of older men where ambassadors and gentlemen of politics recall the past. When Noguchi finally speaks, it is only this: "Why don't we drop all this talk about the old days? We're still young after all." Kazu is caught by the statement, for Noguchi can express difficult sentiments with grace. 

In this world of elegance and quality, where a touch of the hand between man and woman can seem "shallow in a lover and profanatory in a friend," Kazu and Noguchi reach depths in each other. Kazu and Noguchi marry for reasons which sew seeds of inner and inter-destruction.

My thoughts - loved this story - it was a great insight into the older Japanese women, experienced politicians, Japanese culture and it's influence on decisions. Kazu was primarily motivated to marry Noguchi for a grave site. It was a great study into relationships, decisions, and motivations.

  • Hotel Iris - another bizarre Japanese read... 

"Hotel Iris" is a short but very compelling first person novel. I think that its distinctive voice makes it so good - lonely, overworked and generally neglected teenager Mari whose widow mother uses as unpaid labor to run their hotel Iris in a Japanese holiday resort by the sea. [Good Reads]

So not only was Mari forced to drop out of school a few years back, but she basically has very little time or money for herself and while her mother likes to groom her - after all an attractive face behind the counter brings is better for business than an ugly or unkempt one - she otherwise treats Mari mostly as "property". 

In a crumbling seaside hotel on the coast of Japan, quiet seventeen-year-old Mari works the front desk as her mother tends to the off-season customers.  When one night they are forced to expel a middle-aged man and a prostitute from their room, Mari finds herself drawn to the man's voice, in what will become the first gesture of a single long seduction. In spite of her provincial surroundings, and her cool but controlling mother, Mari is a sophisticated observer of human desire, and she sees in this man something she has long been looking for. The man is a proud if threadbare translator living on an island off the coast. A widower, there are whispers around town that he may have murdered his wife.  Mari begins to visit him on his island, and he soon initiates her into a dark realm of both pain and pleasure, a place in which she finds herself more at ease even than the translator. [another blogger wrote this]

My thoughts - difficult to read coming from my past social workers eyes... child protection policies are very much challenged here. This was also a bit more 'risque' than my usual read - so I had to close my eyes as I moved through this story. Still, the author wrote the personalities in a captivating style that kept me intrigued. I was brave to continue reading this, and I'm glad I did.

My unfinished read this year was 'The Sound of the Mountain' by Kawabata. I choose this one because Kawabata won a Nobel Prize. I didn't finish this book because I didn't want to rush it - not because I couldn't stand it. In fact I love it. It's poetic, and again, a wonderful study of human character, and..... it provides insight into Japanese Culture.

Our Japanese Literature Challenge Host, Dolce Bellezza also read this one - her review is here. I thought DB's quote was quite telling....
In a way I have come to expect from Japanese novels, there is no resolution at the last page. We come into his life in the middle of his 60’s, we leave many years later, not seeing anything change in Shingo’s family. We are left with the impression that life will carry on as it always has for them: troubled, ineffective, ungrounded.
So that's it from me for Japanese Literature Challenge no 8! I am again, proud to have read all these books in the past few months, and I'm more aware of the Japanese culture, and how it embues in the stories Japanese Authors write. Thanks DB for hosting this great experience again!