Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bondi Dawn Chorus

crowd assembles pre 5.30am

I'm quite accustomed to waking up to Munson's dawn chorus of chirps and whimpers that signify he's rolled under the bed again and can't get purchase on the floorboards to scramble out … but this is not a post about Bondi (the malamute either).

This morning was the last of a series of free beach-side concerts held in Sydney, with the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs performing a 45 minute program of:

O Virtus Sapientiae - Hildegard von Bingen
Dawn Desiderata - Raffaele Marcellino*
Shore - Iain Grandage*
Totus Tuus - Henryk Gorecki
The Pool - Dan Walker*
O Magnum Mysterium - Morten Lauridsen
Sailing for the Sun - John Peterson*
Song for Athene - John Tavener
O-re-mi - Nigerian song

*new work  commissioned for Dawn Chorus

This morning the concert began a little after 5.30am in front of the Pavilion at Bondi Beach, with I guess about 5000 people crowding around. I was about 20m from the choir and must confess that about 75% of the program was inaudible. Even without chatterers, mobile-phones, drunken singers, and camera shutters the choir needs amplification to make the most of the venue and audience.

 Conductor Brett Weymark stands over the 120-strong choir.

I've heard the von Bingen and Gorecki pieces before, but the musical drawcard for me was Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium   [MP3 excerpt] (thankfully the most audible part of the concert). I first heard it in December 2000 during a week-long stay in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. I was wandering around the cloisters of the Church of the Immaculate Conception looking for a room noted for the David Alfaro Siqueiros mural on its ceiling. I could hear a choir in action, and stumbled into said room to find about a dozen people standing in a circle performing this beautiful piece. The acoustics were amazing and I - the sole audience - could see tears trickling down the cheeks of some of the choristers as they sang.

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Within minutes of the Bondi concert ending I was in the water for about 45 minutes of body-surfing. Water temperature was great and the waves built up nicely as the sun broke out across the edge of the continent.

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Bronte Beach 7am

I joined some guys I bumped into at Bondi for more body-surfing at Bronte Beach and then breakfast at one of the cafes along the facing street.  Home again by 9.30am with temperature already sitting at 29C.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Prairie-dog home companion

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I'm watching the 30th anniversary show of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. It's radio on TV, but still with the capacity to create intimacy with the large theatre audience in the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, gigantic radio listenership and those of us catching up on the missed pleasure of weekend afternoons in Seattle.

Bondi is passed out on the bathroom tiles, so Munson is using this opportunity to gain exclusive access to me. He's a master manipulator when it comes to back scratches and belly rubs. On the bed or sofa, he wriggles into a position where my hand has no more freedom of movement than is necessary to scratch his lower back.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Playboy of the Inner Western World

Munson, the Old Fish Shop Cafe

When I returned from my week in New Zealand, the first thing I noticed about Munson was that he had subtly shifted his frame into a more adult dog proportion. At 9 months, he's still a goofball but remarkably compliant in most circumstances. In off-leash areas he has a number of favoured playmates, mostly young female staffies that are quick to roll him over and take control. I'm very pleased to say that in all this time there has never been the hint of aggression between him and another creature. Even quite tiny dogs quickly sense he's no threat and will tone down his quite vigorous playing style to suit. Bondi and Dougal were also adept at letting the other dog set the tempo for play.

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Seen above, in addition to a skilled Staffie playmate, a beautiful young Great Dane happily takes him on.

Munson and Mishka (an 8mo husky) inspect Moby the pug.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hummingbird

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Inspired by the story of the "I do what I can" hummingbird,  I had this image tattooed on my right calf today by Ness at Diablo Art. This photo is taken only a few minutes after I got home, so yes that is blood leaking down under the plastic wrap.

I'm still working on the Bondi tattoo. My friend Muz lent me an excellent little book on Indian art of the Northwest Coast that shows some of the typical renderings of different animal totems. I've sketched out one image already, but will try a few more before I get a more skilled artist to clean one up for me.

Air tragedies

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I just learnt that veteran aerobatic pilot Tom Moon died this morning in a plane crash at Temora Airport this morning. Tom was a friend of my Dad (who died in Temora 10 years ago this month).

Temora - Graham with aero friends

Dad (first on left), Tom (3rd from left). 1995

Temora Airport was used as RAAF flying school during the 1940s. My father, a great aviation enthusiast, organised a huge reunion event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the school. In these later years, Temora Airport became a favoured spot for aviation and aerobatic enthusiasts to hold events, and Dad became an integral part of the activities that led to Tom Moon and David Lowy setting up the Temora Aviation Museum on the airfield.

Dad tragically died of a heart-attack at the beginning of 1999 ahead of the opening of the museum and of his much-anticipated 6oth birthday holiday in America. At his funeral, David Lowy made an aerial overpass and honour roll as we exited the church.

GAW Park dedication - Grant, Kylie, Michael, Stacey

In September 2001, a park was named for my father at the airport. A large contingent of the family were on hand for the dedication ceremony.

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That week was extremely eventful for me. I was living in Seattle at the time and flew back for the occasion, and was due to fly back on September 12 … I think you can see where this is going.

With all planes grounded following the events of 9/11 - and it being already 9/12 in Australia as it unfolded, I remember sitting in a cafe in Darlinghurst trying to work out how and when I was going to get back to Seattle. I struck up a conversation with a man at the next table, an American also "stranded" by events. In the course of our chat he asked how my studies had led me to working for Microsoft in Seattle. I mentioned that I'd completed a Masters degree in Cognitive Science some years before - he raised an eyebrow at this and then formally introduced himself as Elkhonen Goldberg, student of Alexander Nuria and (as I learnt later) a substantial figure in the world of cognitive neuropsychology.

I finally got back to the US on the 16th in all the mess of airport security tightening that was shocked into being that week. I remember queuing up at Sydney Airport and having my toenail clippers and other sharpish instruments confiscated, and then sitting down on my United Airways jet and being given metal knives and forks for our meals!

When I got into work the next morning, the first person I spotted was Larry Engel, general manager of our division. He was incredibly shocked to see me mounting the stairs . As I recall, Larry was a New Yorker and had been hit hard by the recent events. "What are you doing back here? If I was you I would have stayed in Sydney and had my house packed up and sent back … I've been up all night looking for a job in Australia!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Driving in an Elvish Paradise

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Team America decided to go jet-boating on the Dart River today, but that's not exactly my thing ( the kayak back down the Dart would have been, but it requires jetting there first), so I opted for one of the half-day 4WD expeditions to some of the sites used in The Lord of the Rings.

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We drove along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy, and then out onto unsealed roads through the farmlands of Paradise. I caught a last pair of road signs stating "Paradise / No Exit" as we passed into the realm of Lothlorien and Isengard. During some shooting periods, a dozen buses full of extras might be brought in each day to enact various crowd, battle or massing scenes.

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Just about here I had my first experience with an (unmarked) electric fence. I was using a wooden fence-post as a tripod to get some panoramic shots, and as I knelt to check the view-finder, got a jolt up through my left elbow. It wasn't painful; I was more mystified as to where I'd come into contact with the fence-wire.

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These are manuka flowers, known mostly for being the source of Manuka Honey. Found also in Australia, it's related to the melaleuca (tea tree) - both have well-documented anti-microbial properties. The Waikato Honey Research Unit has studied honey as a wound-dressing and for various treatments of tinea, acne, streptococcal infections…

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The most remote point of our journey was to this spot beside the Dart River. Just after I got there, this jetboat came screaming past, Team America lashed into the rear seats.

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The sand-flies came out to feast as we stopped for a tea break - my first notice being that I had blood running down my left arm. That limb was getting the worst of it today.

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Below is my final shot of Team America, gathered down at Queenstown dock. L-R: Bryan, Charles, Marni, Matthew, June, Glenn, Pug.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Joe's Garage

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Today was all about our discovery of Joe's Garage, a fantastic diner-style cafe hidden off the main pedestrian mall. We gots ourselves lotsa java-loving from there. mmmmmm

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Sound of Milford

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At 7am, one member of Team America's two-car fleet stopped to collect me from the B&B for the long drive to Milford Sound, New Zealand's most famous fjord. Although it's not far as the crow flies and is actually north of Queenstown, the geography of the island requires a 4 hour long drive south and then a loop back to the north west. We were booked on a lunchtime boat, and gave ourselves plenty of buffer time.

We followed a brilliant double rainbow south, stopping for some excellent coffee at Five Rivers, and then at the final petrol outlet  at Te Anau, southern gateway to New Zealand's fiordland. After here is the slowest part of the journey, but it covers amazingly diverse and scenic terrain, especially as we ascended into cooler mountainous climes, where we find the world's only alpine parrot, the kea, hanging out at roadside turnouts to cadge food from motorists and coach passengers.

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The last phase of the journey is marked by the Homer tunnel, completed just over 50 years ago. Prior to that, access to the fjord was either by foot or by sea. Exiting the tunnel we crossed the Gulliver and Donne Rivers, which led me to surmise a literary thread in the geographic naming. Looking into this now, it seems this may be coincidental as the tunnel is named for William Homer, one of the discoverers of the saddle it penetrates. It's worth noting that the novel Erewhon, satirising a utopian society, and frequently compared to Swift's Gulliver's Travels,was authored by one-time South Island resident, Samuel Butler.

Nothing of this region stirs a connection with John Donne, save maybe the small exploratory traces of the twin compasses in A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, or more cheekily:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,

So begins his poem The Flea, which if written in Fiordland would be titled The Sand Fly. Merely cracking the window of the car at one of our rest-stops was sufficient to invite a brace of these little monsters to sup on any exposed skin.

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I took this photo around midday, the scene eerily reminding me of the setting for another Peter Jackson film: King Kong. I printed this picture back in Queenstown, and the store proprietor said that she'd seen this scene shot a thousand times, but never looking so monochromatic.

Milford Sound was named by a Welsh sealer after Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, a place I now know reasonably well after visiting(1) with(2) cousin Alison back in January 2007.

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It started raining heavily before our cruise started and only ever cleared up intermittently. As we approached the sea-entrance, the wind gusted at 200kph (120mph) with visibility along the tops of the fjord severely curtailed by swirling mist and low cloud. The rain fed a furious flow into the countless waterfalls covering the fiord's slopes like veins in black marble, with many of them blown back up into the air before completing their final descent into the sea.

After our 2 hour outing, the remaining boats for the day were cancelled due to the difficulty of operating under these weather conditions.

For a comparison with a Norwegian fjord experience, see my entry on Gerainger.

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Evening view over a calmer Lake Wakatipu back in Queenstown.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Deer Park Heights

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Shared a breakfast table with a family from Acton, not far from my West London stamping grounds. Rejoined Team America downtown and found that Bryan and Pug had booked in for a bungy jump, June and Glenn had disappeared into wine-country, and I was left with the mad combination of Charles, Matthew and Marni for lunch and an otherwise empty afternoon.

The manager of a local camera store suggested nearby Deer Park Heights was worth a visit, and so with last night's rain out of the way we didn't delay.   You could think of it as Queenstown's version of Taronga Park Zoo with fine views back down over the town and lake.

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Paying $20 for our car to proceed up the steeply winding road to the twin summit, we stopped a number of times to check out the donkeys, llamas, alpacas, fallow deer, pigs and thar, while on the way back down a diversion took us through the bison, highland cattle and elk. We picked up a tin of feed pellets, and quickly learnt that the slightest noise of shifting pellets in the car would bring alpacas, ponies , donkeys or elk over to the window for a hand out.

For some reason large hairy creatures like looming over me in the hope of treats and a scratch….

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I christened this fellow Chopper, as in Deer-Park Chopper.

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Towards the end of our circuit I realised that I was allergic to some of the animals or vegetation. Charles suggested that I get some medication from "pillbilly" June, but I was already kitted out with potions of my own.  Over the coming days it did seem that I was allergic to the local vegetation - grasses I guess - as my eyes began to feel the effects by early evening and I usually had to have an early night.

Apparently Deer Park Heights was the setting for a number of scenes in The Lord of the Rings and also for the upcoming Wolverine.


Bryan, Charles, Michael

We met up with the other two parties for dinner, while I tried to find a term for the bungy jumpers. Bryan liked bungistadors while I favoured the fallen.

A few of us took an after dinner walk around Queenstown Park, a small peninsula into the lake, whose perimeter path reminded me a little of Seward Park in Seattle.

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Flickr slideshow