Monday, April 30, 2012

Reflecting on ponds

Mike, on reflection

I’ve been feeling rather subdued since Legend’s premature loss, so accustomed am I to him following respectfully with rather mournful eyes, eyes which belie the rapidity with which he could twitch away, usually to follow Munson’s offer of a stick or promise of an excitingly malodorous piece of dung.

A brief break in the clouds gave us a chance to cheer ourselves with a walk on the farm perimeter, Munson tearing up and down beside us like a freshly oiled zipper. After four weeks of April showers the ground cannot hold any more water, and as we approach the gullies at the bottom of sloping fields, is so spongy that it seems barely capable of securing the grassy tufts and wavering thistles floating above. One frequently hears an intestinal gurgle as subterranean fluid is about to be ejected through mole-holes and cracks in the recently tilled soil.

Munson in the Sargasso pond (3)
The highlight of the rear boundary walk is the Sargasso pond, bigger than ever and black-tipped reedy grasses taking over while tadpoles continue to swell towards adolescence. Gustav continues to find that batrachianism is a most rewarding pastime, perhaps having missed his calling as a freshwater marine biologist.

1982 - Wesley College turtle pond - Michael-1 Wesley College 1982 -002

My own pond career lasted for a few months in my fresher year at Wesley College thirty years ago. One of my jobs was to clean the turtle pond in the central courtyard each week, which often made people think I was the elected (or rather designated) Turtle Sec(retary), a position given to another first year student. Putting the general turtle welfare in the hands of someone like that was like handing over the World Wildlife Fund to someone on the basis of their frequently waking up from a binge in a Panda-strewn bamboo forest. At any rate, my scum-clearing talents soon had me moved up to scouring pans in the college kitchen for a few years. But while I’ve never been fazed by washing up for 200 people, I’ve never had a chance to resume my pond maintenance skills till moving to France.

Munson in the Sargasso pond (2)  Munson in the Sargasso pond (1)

Back in the Sargasso, Munson circles and criss-crosses the pond, usually in a brisk wallow, but often punctuated by bounding skips and leaps.

   Munson - drying off Munson checks out the boar cave Gustav and his dirty hoe
As we left the pond, a raucous chorus of frogs started mouthing off. They are so loud you would think there was some sort of duck war going on in the bushes, but it’s all down to the little green fellas.
   a bend in the road

Just around the corner on the service road between farms is a little bend that I find very picturesque. If I were more adept with pen or brush I’d be rendering it in oils..

 Munson - not quite a panda  slightlier drier path home

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The passing of Legend

Legend & Munson - last photo together

We had some sad news today that Munson’s great buddy Legend was found dead this morning. It seems that he encountered some sharp object that punctured his abdomen. He sometimes goes off by himself for a while, although he generally senses when Munson is available for play and comes bounding out of nowhere to run and wrestle as long as they have time and energy.

Munson looked for him a couple of times yesterday, and it’s possible that he found Legend as early as midday in the back of the hay barn. Munson had run in there after we returned from the market, but I called him out so that he wouldn’t disturb the one cow being kept in an adjoining stall.

Legend was a few weeks past his first birthday and was such a fantastic play companion for Munson from the time he arrived last June. He’d often sit across the yard in such a way as to have direct line of sight to where Munson was sitting on our terrace. During a brief respite from the rain two days ago, I took them out into one of the fields for a good run while I whacked a few thistles about. They romped and sniffed around, rarely more than a body length to separate them.

Pyreneans – or patous as they’re known locally – are not “people” dogs, but boy was Legend a dog’s dog!  Tosca and Munson have each lost a huge part of their world now that he’s gone. This is the third companion that Munson has lost in as many years, not counting being removed from his park playmates in Sydney: Scout, Buddy, Tilly, Bob, Wilma …

Legend’s scent will linger in the yard as an extra reminder for Munson; maybe it is best that there is more rain to dull that memory trace, to wash away an absence that cannot be explained.
Legend collage

Friday, April 27, 2012

The rain demain is mainly the same

 2012-04-19 2012-04-27

Standing on the terrace has become like looking over the bow of a ship – water, water everywhere. The sun flashes through occasionally – usually for no longer than it takes to reach the window and look for some clear sky.

On your left, Exhibit A – the weather forecast just over a week ago; and then Exhibit B - today’s forecast.

Up until a few days ago, I would have said that the best thing about the rain was that it kept my hayfever at bay. Since then, the pollen has pushed through so now the entire household is sniffling and sneezing – and for me, somewhat drowsy as that’s what hayfever does to my system. Gustav now knows that he needs to head much further south from Sweden to find spring weather this year. I just hope that it settles down before we drive Malmö-wards in three weeks.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Munson is 4

Munson @ 4

And as usual, a collage of his activities over the last year in France, Germany, Sweden and the UK.

Munson's 4th year

Monday, April 16, 2012


Last week Gustav and I watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up. Its images of swinging London evoke a near nostalgic sense of what was happening half a world away when I was a young boy. I haven’t seen this film since some inevitably cropped and colour-sapped screening on TV (cf. Borsalino) when I was not much older, yet my earliest memories are completely bathed in the colours and noises of that time.

In 2005 I wrote:

I’ve had many old memories bubbling up, many more than usual, but all seem to be from the time I was between 4 and 8. Some are mainly sensory, a quality of light, colour combinations; others are flashes of events, which may or may not coalesce into a ‘definite’ memory. I suppose that is the time at which I was becoming conscious of the scope of the world, and I feel great longings for that time – but not to be that age again – more to be of the age, and understand what it was to be full of and engaged in that time. There’s a different quality to my subsequent memories, and feel like I’m building a bridge backwards in time, perhaps to find another path that would have continued from that era.

That well-spring of memory continues to feed into my consciousness as if all parts of my life endure as tributaries even as the main torrent of water has continued on towards a future sprawling delta.
Hugh O'Keefe
My friend Hugh O’Keefe, staying with me for a few days as he tours from Spain northwards to Amsterdam was living and teaching in London as the swinging 60s turned into the glam of the early 70s. Hugh has been sharing some of his memoirs with me online over the last year, each chapter adding considerable detail to his portrait of that era.

When we first met back in the late 80s, Hugh was pursuing his other career as a bar pianist, usually surrounded by a group of raucous singers in the cocktail bar of the Albury Hotel on Sydney’s Oxford Street. His prior life in parts of London – such as Barnes and Richmond – which I came to frequent three decades later was not known to me.

The Albury Hotel closed down in the 90s but I occasionally bumped into Hugh through a circle of mutual friends and acquaintances. Most memorably for both of us, I was staying in Los Angeles briefly on a business trip in 1996 when my host Scott suggested we dine at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Granita in Malibu.
This coral-decorated pizza joint was quite the place for celebrity spotting: adjacent to our small central table for two, Robert Altman and Larry Hagman were sharing a quiet meal, but on the other side, a larger group were making considerably more noise. Staring wide-eyed at one in their company I inquired  in a loud low voice “Hugh. O. Keefe. Is that you?”

  Los Angeles - Michael & Hugh O'Keefe @ Granita
I tell you there is nothing that will stir the flames of curiosity more in a crowd of stars and starstruck than two unknown Australians noisily recognising each other in their midst. Hugh had returned from playing piano at a party in Cuba, but was not even known to all at his table. This quickly changed when it was established that he was a recognisable face at Granita. So there was much whispering and pointing at both of us through the rest of the evening.

Now meeting up on a third continent, we’ve only got Hugh for a shade under two days, and he’s missing the best of Gascon spring weather as rain clouds continue to scud overhead, propelled by what is frankly quite an icy wind. With most of France still in drought, we’re very grateful for the long drenching; it’s just not well-timed for this visit. Gustav and I took him on a quick tour of the central belt of the farm, but then retreated to the villa’s warmth. An hour of Hugh on the piano at least took me back to the 80s, if not to the heyday of Carnaby Street.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cheesecake seconds

Gustav's birthday cheesecakeAdvancing age did not prevent Gustav from creaking into the kitchen this afternoon to enjoy his birthday cheesecake and champagne.

Joining us from the big house were milord’n’lady along with their heirs the Munsoneers. Ritual noise and rapid demolition of the cake ensued.
Gustav, Jean & Munsoneers
Minty, separated at birth  Munson tries for Brent's crumbs
Seconds!  Refugee

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Roasted Strawberry Ginger Cheesecake

Strawberry selection with MunsonFor Gustav’s birthday tomorrow I’m preparing Roasted Strawberry Ginger Cheesecake,  inspired by an Australian TV program Kitchen Cabinet where political journalist Annabel Crabb visits politicians in their homes, bringing a specially prepared dish each time. 

The recipe is quite simple, and there’s also a video version on YouTube for those who can’t view the Australian video.

I spotted a luscious tray of Spanish strawberries at the market last week and set aside about 600g for this recipe. I had to hunt around a bit at the supermarket to find mascarpone cheese, which must be one of the few non-domestic cheeses other than Parmesan available outside specialist stores in France.

biscuit base of ginger nut and digestive biscuits

The last important ingredient is ginger nut biscuits which are an old favourite in Australia, here used to create a biscuit base for the cake. I found them on one of the British shelves at the supermarket, although of course at about five times the usual price, grumble grumble. They’re not quite the “durable little buggers” as described in the recipe which need “lamming the hell out of them with a hammer” to reduce them to crumbs. These ones fell apart as easy as the digestive biscuits they’re blended with.

strawberries baked in maple syrup, waiting to be added to base
cheesecake out of ovenI think I over-whipped the cheese mixture as it was much more liquid than what I saw being spooned onto the base in Annabel’s video – in fact I just poured the strawberry cheese mixture in.

Although the recipe doesn’t call for it, I suspended my mix in a bath of water for its oven time, as I did with my pumpkin cheesecake last year.  The top surface wasn’t fully browned when I removed it from the oven, but I thought the lunar appearance quite appealing, not so much moon of green cheese, as of red cheesecake.

After cooling down, it’s off to a holding cell in the fridge overnight before execution in front of a hungry squad in the afternoon.

Fish spotting

2012-04-09 16.15.00 carp
There have been too many days of false fish alerts in the pond – all suspiciously like a Loch Ness effort to drive up local pond tourism. So I hang out at the sunny end with camera in hand to spot the wily carpalupaguses. Days of wind and rain have shaken out so many leaves and twigs from the overhanging trees that it’s like playing aquatic Where’s Waldo? More often than not any creature I spot under water is part of the flourishing population of frogs and frogs-in-waiting.

At last I spot a large pair of carp drifting backwards in the sunlit shallows. I’ve christened one Twyla, and invite suggestions for naming the other(s). Since my Swedish ancestors in Australia ran a very successful chain of upmarket seafood restaurants, I’m going to explore carp recipes as well.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Lilacs and tadpoles

tadpoles & lilacs

The Sargasso pond at the rear of the farm is teeming with tadpoles, or as the French say les têtards - a mass of little heads (têtes) swimming about. As we waded around in our wellies,  Gustav recovered an ex-crayfish – bringing to mind the lobster-sized ones I used to see in the storm water drains around my town as a kid. During rainy periods those drains were well-populated with large carp which have been seen here recently. It seems I’m the only person who hasn’t seen any in our villa-side pond, despite the hours I’ve stood in it to extract tree trunks and rebuild the banks. Everyone else has to just glance at it and they report a few large carp – or in Otto’s case, a “manta-ray”!

Neighbour's cows reflected in the Sargasso pond
Gustav and the lilacsThe most notable efflorescence of spring has been the flowers and pollen. My hayfever arrived promptly on the first of the month, a cruel poisson d’Avril in lieu of any carp sightings. Luckily I got the year’s first lawn mowing out of the way during the preceding two days, not just ahead of spring growth, but a forecast week of rain.

I’ll be restricting my time outside for a while, especially morning and evening when pollen levels are highest. Thankfully my little air-purifier still works well to alleviate the symptoms.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Borsalino: an adventure for locos and lobos

I had a dream in which the music for the 1970 French-Italian gangster film Borsalino was sitting open on my piano. I don’t know what current in my dreaming mind tossed this up as I haven’t heard the tune for years – in fact since it appeared on the radio on the first day of my European circumnavigation with Bondi in 2007.

BorsalinoI remember watching it on TV with my father back in the 70s but it’s never appeared on DVD with subtitles (unlike its sequel Borsalino & Co). The 1930s setting of two handsome well-dressed cons accompanied by ragtime theme music was surely an inspiration for The Sting which appeared three years later.

Although I didn’t see The Sting until about ten years after its release ( no cinemas in my part of rural Australia ), the ubiquitous Scott Joplin music of the mid 70s was another impetus for me to get piano lessons at the time. I’ve never lost my affection for that genre and so when I woke from my dream, I didn’t waste much time in locating the sheet music of the Borsalino title track by French jazz pianist Claude Bolling.

It hadn’t occurred to me that there might be lyrics, but I was quite amused by Pierre Delanoë’s opening lines as rendered below.


L'aventure / c'est pour les loups / c'est pas pour toi / Ça n'est pas pour nous

C'est pour les fous / Qui n'ont de goût / Que pour la peur au ventre / Et qui se foutent de tout

or, pardoning my French:

Adventure is for the wolves. It’s not for you. It’s not for us
It’s for madmen who only have taste for fear in their belly, and care not for anything

More pointedly, in Spanish it’s all about the locos and the lobos.