Thursday, 29 September 2011

For all of you t-shirt fans out there…

…and I know there are a lot of you. It’s so wonderful to find a fun, fabulous t-shirt that’s a little unique.

You can’t get any more unique than these.

Made In The Now is a design project that releases a new t-shirt design every day, inspired by the news of the day. The last week has seen designs commemorating the last bull fight to be held in Spain, the appointment of a Town crier to the city of Liverpool for the fist time in 200 years and the death of a Hungarian pensioner after they won a dumpling eating competition.
It’s gorgeous and the designs are clean and fresh. If you like t-shirt or even a bit of couture satire, you should check it out.

Oh – and an added incentive – the t-shirts are only available for purchase for 24 hours. After that, there is no going back. You can’t purchase yesterday’s news, only todays.

T-shirt for 29 September 2011.

When childhood movies are just as good as you remember them.

In the last month I have watched 2 movies from my childhood that were every bit as good as I remember them.

The first was Babe. When I first saw Babe in 1995 aged 11, I LOVED it. I laughed at the mice, I cried, I got so excited in the thrills of the end competition. It was a great movie. It was nominated for Best Picture in the 1996 Oscars, if that means anything to you. Didn’t to me at the time, like the rest of the world I was just in love with the talking pig with the heart of gold.

On holiday in Vietnam recently – and yes, holiday blogs are coming – Jane and I were relaxing in our hotel room one afternoon, escaping the heat of the day and flicking through the TV channels. We’d seen some really terrible movies in our daily down time – The Jerk Theory, Post Grad – so when Babe came on we both quite excited. 45 mins in to it we were both lying on our stomachs on our beds, close up to the TV, face in hands with rapt expressions of enjoyment as Babe charmed his way to fame.

It was brilliant. It was magical. I laughed and *almost cried and we both agreed it was still a great movie.

Everything about this movie was good. Especially the mice.

The next childhood movie I watched was Jurassic Park. I have very vivid memories of the first time I watched Jurassic Park. My parents had refused to allow me to go and see it in the movies because it was too scary. So when it came out on video, the kids down the road rented it out and one Sunday afternoon we kids all got together and watched it. I remember so well sitting there on their brown carpet, clutching a pillow to my chest being scared out of my mind by the T-Rex and the car scene and then when the Raptors came along I lost it completely. Scare of my life until I saw Alien a few years later.

Then a week or so ago, I found myself sitting on a brown couch watching Jurassic Park for the first time since 1993. Even though this time around I knew that the T-Rex and the Raptors were coming, it had been so long since I’d seen the movie that I’d forgotten all but the most obvious details. I am not ashamed to admit it scared me good and proper. I might even have screamed on a few occasions when Raptor heads suddenly burst through walls. At one point I clutched a pillow to my chest in memory of that first illicit viewing, but it only made me more scared. There was a supply of wine accompanying the viewing and that a definite improvement on my 9 year old self's 1993 viewing.

If you didn't find this scene scary, you're a dirty dirty liar.

If I watched Jurassic Park again this weekend, it wouldn’t scare me so much. It’s not so terrifying really; it was only the time span that made this second viewing so potent.

Totally forgot this guy was even in the movie. It's ALL HIS FAULT.

So while there have been many occasions when I’ve gone back and watched a beloved childhood movie only to find that it’s lost the magic as I’ve aged (Men In Tights, I’m sad to say), there are some films that are good no matter what age you are and if they can make you feel the way you did when you first saw them at 8 or 10 or 11, then so much the better.

Have any of you re-watched a movie from your childhood and it’s been just as wonderful as you remember?

I might have yelled at the TV sometime around now...

Monday, 26 September 2011

Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra

I was going to write a review of this book but I now feel completely upstaged by Jane's infinitely better written review of Midnight's Children. So I'll write this instead:

Red Earth and Pouring Rain is an Indian Saga set in multiple centuries and it's huge and great and a wonderful read. But if you're only going to read one Indian novel this year, make it Midnight's Children. Read Red Earth and Pouring Rain next year, because it's still a cracker of a book.

And read Jane's review instead of mine because it's better too. Seriously, a great review.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

“I told you the truth,” I say yet again, “Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent versions of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.”

While B and I were in Vietnam, I read Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie.

(Given that we were flying Royal Brunei Airlines, which is a Muslim airline, and we had a layover in a Muslim country, this was possibly an ill-advised choice. I didn't think it through until I was already on the plane, though, and no-one seemed to notice, anyway...)

I've had this book in my collection for ages; I've loved several of Rushdie's other books, and I was sure I'd like this one. It was great to finally get around to reading it. It's won a heap of prizes - including the Booker of the Bookers - and in my opinion, deserves all of them.

As so often happens with Rushdie, summing up the plot is difficult, and I feel like I could never encapsulate the depth and richness of the story. To give it a shot, though, Midnight's Children is about Saleem Sinai, a man who was born at the moment of India's independence. It's also about his family, friends and loved ones; it's also about India, Pakistan, Kashmir, China, and the ties between them. It's a satire, an allegory, a bildungsroman, and most of all a tragedy. It's about Saleem's rise and his devastating fall.

Narrated in a colloquial, eloquent fashion by Saleem, Midnight's Children begins with him at 31, telling the story of his life because he believes he is dying. To begin, he delves into the history of his family, tracing the lives of his grandparents, his parents, and detailing their interactions, passions and mistakes. The history and politics of the country we now call India are woven in, inextricable from Saleem's family's lives. Then he is born, at the stroke of midnight, and he is heralded as a prophetic, significant child, a symbol of India as a new-born nation.

Saleem grows into a self-acknowledged "ugly kid" though - skinny, huge nose, missing some hair and part of one finger. Then, a series of accidents opens his mind to those around him; he discovers he is telepathic. He's not the only one, though, and through his telepathy he discovers the other midnight children, the children born in the first hour of India's independence. He discovers that they're all gifted like him; one girl is a witch, one boy is an avatar for war. Another child can switch gender at will, another was born so beautiful she blinded her parents and the midwife. Saleem tries to work out what their collective destiny is, but these children are still children; they argue, gossip, and cannot agree on anything, and their conference is fairly ineffective. There is also the problem of Shiva, the child born at the same moment as Saleem, who not only challenges his ideas for unity and growth, but represents a bigger, more complicated threat to Saleem's whole family.

Saleem grows, his family grows and changes. Eventually, though, at the insistence of his parents, he undergoes a sinus operation and when he wakes, his ability to connect to other minds is lost - the midnight children are lost to him. As he reaches into adolescence, his family also decamps from India to Pakistan, raising another barrier between Saleem and the other children. He has developed a new ability, though, a preternatural sense of smell that even allows him to smell emotions, and he explores this ability with mixed results in the neighbourhoods of Karachi. The move to Pakistan has other consequences for the family, disastrous ones, and the third act finds Saleem amnesiac, stripped of everything, and lost in the war between India and Pakistan.

The story continues to its fairly horrifying climax, and Saleem remains a strong, unique character throughout. While he has elements of archetype about him - while aspects of the book are defintely an allegory for India's early years of independence, or for the politics, history and social conditions of the people - Saleem's narration is so expressive and idiosyncratic, and his story so emotionally resonant and full of his own mistakes, that the allegory somehow becomes deeply, deeply personal. It's a testament to Rushdie's abilities as a storyteller; this book draws an amazingly clear picture of the time, of the culture and society of India and the people Saleem belongs to, without ever losing its emotional core.

The narration features a constant interweaving of past-Saleem and narrating-Saleem, as narrating-Saleem butts into the story to comment or foreshadow. He openly mentions the bleak ending, his belief that the destiny of the midnight children was not to save the world or run the country, but to be extinguished. And any time past-Saleem's situation even vaguely approaches a point of fulfillment, an end-of-movie tidiness, the veneer of completion is dismantled by narrating-Saleem, warning of what's to come. Rushdie, throughout the story, also dismantles other absolutes, other false veneers of perfection. He doesn't hesitate to crack apart the pillars humans tend to cling to - faith, religion, government, even family or romantic love - exposing and exploring the human fallibility and hypocrisy beneath. Despite the tragedies of Saleem's life, though, the story is also full of humour and forgiveness.

Aside from the rich layers to be found in the story itself, the other awesome thing about a book by Salman Rushdie is the style, the language he uses. Complex, unique, and, as I mentioned, full of idiosyncrasies, Rushdie is one of those authors whose sentences take a left turn you weren't expecting, who chooses words you wouldn't think would work at all, but nevertheless you know exactly what he means. It's a bit denser than your average novel, and the style can take a few pages to get used to, but I always think his books are worth the effort.

Summary/TL;DR: Midnight's Children is a great read. It's a rich, detailed story, with a satisfying, occasionally grotesque plot, and deeply human characters. Rushdie's language is amazingly vivid and full of colour, and he makes you want to go to India but worry you'll be disappointed when you get there.

Restaurant review: Esquire

I like to pretend that I’m relatively on top on new restaurants opening in Brisbane. Not because I’m that in-the-know, but because I get a few newsletters on the subject and flick through local papers regularly and the names and openings crop up. Still, until a reservation had been made for me, I hadn’t even heard of Esquire. Which shows that either I’m more out of the loop than I thought I was, or they have less-than active PR. For the moment at least. 

Esquire is the latest edition to the top-priced ranks of restaurants adorning Eagle St, there for the moneyed lawyers, accountants and miscellaneous business-people who can afford to drop $35 on a steak for lunch on any ordinary Tuesday.

With a modern interior that magazines will enjoy photographing and an overall Swedish design aesthetic that I appreciate, it’s a nice place to sit for a leisurely meal. And your meal is guaranteed to be leisurely. We – Chuck and self – went with a group of 8 others for a special Thursday night out arranged by Chuck’s foodie friend Ellery. We booked for 6 but didn’t sit until 7 because one of our party was running rather late. That gave us time to enjoy the cocktail list or get started on our bottle of Grenache Cote de Rhone Villages 2009. ($50 and there weren’t many less expensive options on the menu). So we sat at 7, ordered by 7:20 and finally got to leave at 10:30.

I knew in advance this was to be degustation. I thought the options were 7 courses for $85 or 10 courses for $110. No. In the 2 or 3 months since opening, that had changed to 9 courses for $100 or 12 courses for $140. Far. Out. They like you to pick only one size degustation for the table so people aren’t sitting around looking sad while their neighbor eats. Sneaky upsell, guys. We chose the full 12 courses.

The food itself was interesting and very modern dining in that there were elements such as Kobe dried beef, spanner crab wrapped in wafer thin slices of apple, squid pasta ribbon and freeze dried mandarin. Ellery and I picked apart every course and could usually find something to complain about. My 2 worst food complaints were that the 5 desserts they offered up were essentially exactly the same dish just with different flavours and that the smoked duck, aside from being tough, had overtones of cow manure.

My favourite 3 items of the 12 were; pineapple sorbet with salt and mountain pepper topped with crisp fried sage leaves; Calottle with horseradish and onion sauces served with a deep fried artichoke (calotte is an extremely pretentious cut of beef, by the way); and finally vanilla ice-cream served with an olive and hazelnut crumb and olive oil drizzle. Yes…interesting.

All the elements for a good night were there but what really let it down was the time. By course 8, sometime around 9:15 we were all looking at our watches and counting down how many courses until we could go home to bed. 10:30 on a Thursday was too late to be leaving when you start at 6. It was even too late for the staff, who starting vacuuming the restaurant around us.

My short review would run something like this:

The service was good, the presentation was sloppy, the price too much and the time between courses too long. If it had all taken an hour less and cost even $20 less I would have been a much happier diner.
Menu included because we weren't allowed to take photos. Yeah.
For a more accurate / critical review of Esquire, see here: Then scroll down to drool over gorgeous looking cocktails.

Esquire on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

We have returned

As you know. As so there will be Vietnam-related posts coming soon, probably including blogs entitled 'what the hell did we do for 3 weeks', 'where to go for the best wine in Vietnam' and 'Jane and B's top 5 meals in Vietnam'.

We just need to sort out our thousands of photos and then we're good to go!

Book review: Turkestan Solo by Ella Maillart

As the book jacket says, long before travel to Central Asia was fashionable Ella Maillart did it. Throughout the 1930's, she journeyed across China, from Peking to Srinagar with fellow journalist Peter Fleming; from Geneva to Kabul and reported for international newspapers from Turkey, Iran and Afganistan. During the 1930's. As a woman. We're impressed when women do this today, 80 years later. To top of her extraordinary story during the 20' she was an international skier, on the Swiss hockey team and competed in the 1924 Olympics.

As a book, it's interesting. At the beginning, it reads a little strangely. I think that's more because the voice and style are so different from what travel journals sound like nowadays. Moving on from that, you have to be impressed by what she did. She skied to the top of a mountain 5 people had climbed. Ever. She travels to places that most of us will never see, even now. She meets amazing people and chronicles what ordinary life is like on the steppes of Kazakstan in yurts eating precious potatoes.

She talks a bit about adventure, seeing places before they become something else – a country in line with those around it, a 'modern' place. The advance of Communism is coming to Central Asia and with it huge changes. She saw these amazing places when they were still places one journeyed to. As far as I'm concerned, going to Kazakstan and Bokhara and Samarkand is still an adventure, let alone by myself 80 years ago. I want to go to the last 2 cities, by the way.

Her many books and photographs are considered important historical records of a time and place and come from her unique view point as one of the first 'tourists' in the countries she visits.

If you see any of Ella Maillart's books you should pick them up and read them. She writes intimately about places we can still visit and maybe see a little of life 100 years ago even if there are traffic lights and tall buildings and progress.

Monday, 12 September 2011

I want one!

These are possibly the coolest business cards EVER. They are the most recent development by the staff at Lego. Lego is going through an amazing brand re-invention at the moment which I could wax lyrical about at length. But I won't. I'll just say that I desperately want to meet a Lego staffer so I can get one of these!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

US design company Moxy Creative House has re-imagined 10 classic movie posters (last year – I’m so behind). I think they’re just cool! You can buy them too, they’re not that expensive.

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