Wednesday 28 March 2018

Beanz Meanz Heanz

This trio needs no introduction to English Speakers of a Certain Age. Among their many skits was the celebration of the humble Baked Bean in the form of spoof television advertisements for the tinned variety. Oh, how we laughed merrily, but the parody was not meant to be unkind because there cannot be an Anglo-Saxon alive who doesn't love tinned baked beans.

We, in the Pipistrello household, don't consume such things any more, for no particular reason other than we make our own versions from time to time. Mr P. travels the Appian Way with his, cooked in the pot and known simply as fagioli. It is his mother's earthy recipe, redolent with rosemary and fennel seed and done with a combination of cannellini and borlotti beans, and probably recognisable to any time-travelling Roman legionnaire. And very delicious it is, too.

Mine is a very reliable recipe, courtesy of Jill Dupleix's 1998 cookbook, Favourite Food. This is closer to Ye Olde English version, sweetened shamelessly with brown sugar and maple syrup, and balanced out with a bit of cured pork and Worcestershire Sauce. The recipe got a whirl this week as I've been impatient for cooler weather meals in spite of the persistent Indian Summer we are (truly) enjoying and really fancied a bowl of baked beans with grilled cheese on toast for dinner. Yes, sophisticated.

The only tweaks to this batch were the substitution of borlotti beans for white beans, as it was what I had to hand, and the omission of "extra" brown sugar to glaze the top after slow baking because that's just crazy talk. So is the notion of "discarding" the onion used to flavour the simmering dried beans - it's destined for the stock pot.

A rummage around the refrigerator produced the requisite porky bit in the form of the end of my first experiment with home-made bacon. To be sure, it was of an indeterminate age but it has been convincingly masquerading as pancetta for a goodly while now and it was perfect for this recipe.

As Ms. Dupleix prefaces the recipe in my well-thumbed copy of her cookbook, "Do not wake up in the morning and spontaneously decide to have this for breakfast [dinner]. Instead, wake up yesterday morning and decide to have it for breakfast [dinner] today." Good things do take a bit of time. And as the recipe feeds 6 [4], we did it all over again last night, as a meal known as a Groundhog Day Dinner in this household.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

Rose-Tinted Glasses

The latest post over at the very amusing blog Ask The Past got me wondering, whither the fashion for coloured glasses? It would seem that the jaunty man-about-town had a rainbow of colours to choose from in the 17th Century but today we are given only to choose from the drab palette of brown and black. No fun.

The Georgians fancied coloured sunglasses and the very fetching D-Spectacle was invented around the same time. Skipping forward another couple of centuries, when we are introduced to long-lost transatlantic Montdore heir, Cedric Hampton, in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, we learn that, at least fictitiously, Van Cleef & Arpels was still producing blue lenses in the Art Deco era.
Railroad or D-Spectacles

To be sure, coloured glasses would have been rather pricey in their day, but given all desirable consumer goods have become more affordable with time, you would think they'd be rather mainstream by now.  Looking around, there are plenty to be had, but it takes a particular person to don them today. Either you need a reason to wear them (and the theory of chromotherapy certainly divides the masses), be making a fashion statement or just be downright eccentric.

Monday 26 March 2018

Monday is Washing Day


When our apartment block was built in the 1930s, provision was made for maids' accommodation in the basement. This arrangement was rather short-lived as WWII came knocking soon after and single girls took themselves off to factories and the like to help with the war effort.

After the war, society had rather changed and life in most places became more egalitarian and the mere idea of having maids just fizzled out. At some point our spacious basement was converted over to The Laundry Room.

Around half of the residents in the Vertical Village in which the Pipistrellos roost have their washing machine in the communal laundry (the result is a sort of working museum of machines through the age), while the clotheslines both inside and out ensure that many of the remaining residents can be lured down to the basement to dry their washing and contribute to the atmosphere of a Chinese Laundry.

So it is, then, The Laundry is one of the excellent spots in our Village to catch up with neighbours and exchange a bit of gossip, rather like housewives - and husbands - of the past who would hang over the back fence on wash day to have a good yak.

While in this respect our inner city oasis has captured the spirit of suburbia, there are no Hills Hoists here, alas. The few children in the building will have to seek out these iconic clotheslines elsewhere to experience the pleasure of swinging on them.

I stood by the window of a train once, gazing out at the silent film footage of suburbia as we rolled by, and had the great delight of witnessing a small dog, in an otherwise empty backyard, clamped by its teeth to the bottom of a towel pegged to a Hills Hoist, sailing out and around, enjoying its own carnival ride.


Saturday 24 March 2018


Freed of London Pointe Shoes

The Australian Ballet's 2018 season has started. The Merry Widow is coming up in about a month, which I haven't seen before, and a lavish production is promised. We do like a bit of ballet in this household, especially the storybook variety, and over-the-top costumes and sets are always welcomed.

While the Pipistrellos are considering their pursestrings, there's plenty of viewing pleasure for the balletomane to be had on the interweb, including a beautiful 10-minute documentary about the relationship between the dancer and their shoe maker, an artist in their own right: The Perfect Fit.

Friday 23 March 2018

There's A Bear In There

It was her irregular gait that caught my eye. When I passed one of our Local Characters today, I realised her dance was to ensure that her feet were landing on the cracks between the pavement blocks with each step.

"Hang on now," I wanted to say, "you're doing it wrong - there are bears in there!"

The reality is, there is no place for superstition in the Pipistrello household; a tricky starting proposition given Mr P's heritage, as Italians are notoriously superstitious. He does me proud, though. However, I was never always so coolly rational.

While I may not have been described as a dim-witted child, for much of my childhood I do remember the anxiety over stepping on cracks in the pavement for fear of the bears. The empirical evidence to the contrary was there to see as there were numerous occasions when it was impossible to avoid the cracks, as it did for the population at large, yet the fear simmered below the surface always.

There was also the issue of the perils of eating watermelon seeds. Apparently pumpkin trees would grow out of your ears when you were foolish enough to bolt them down ... What was that all about??

Putting the obvious disconnect between the two branches of the cucurbitaceae family to one side, I already knew that pumpkins didn't grow on trees, thanks to the backyard vegetable patch, but somehow the seed was planted (which avuncular joker was responsible, I now wonder?) and I'm pleased to say I successfully avoided any auricular embarrassment through my diligence.

Thursday 22 March 2018

ens representans

Still Life with Flowers on a Marble Tabletop, 1716
Rachel Ruysch
The still lifes were my absolute favourite paintings at the recent summer exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Rembrandt & the Dutch golden age: Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum. The room entitled "Arrangements of life and death" contained exquisite examples covering the floral, the breakfast piece, the ostentatious still life - all is vanitas!

Still Life with Fruit, Oysters, and a Porcelain Bowl, 1660-1679
Abraham Mignon

Mr Pipistrello and I spent an afternoon lingering in the company of our splendid audio guide Miriam Margolyes and lush Dutch baroque music. Glorious art, entertaining insights by a favoured actress and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra make for a hat-trick of pleasures, in my book. Plus, we were saved a trip to Amsterdam, which was a nice economical bonus.

Praedia of Julia Felix, Pompeii

Mosaic, Pompeii
Still lifes throughout the ages are a particular interest of mine. Low-brow, according to the theory of the hierarchy of art, but never really out of fashion. From the Roman frescoes and mosaics in Pompeii to the Australian modernist Margaret Preston and the photographs of Bas Meeuws, I love them all.

Implement blue, 1927
Margaret Preston

Still life (detail), 1927
Margaret Preston
Still Life (#67), 2012
Bas Meeuws
However, there is something about the works by Dutch golden age artists that takes my breath away. It is more than the composition or incredible detail and skill involved; neither am I so interested in the symbolism, where the "reading" of which needs to be spelt out to most modern viewers (my hand is up!). These paintings speak to me at a more basic level. And more than a month later, I'm still thinking about them.

A few days ago, I came across Arthur Danto's philosophy that humans are essentially beings that represent our world, ens representans. This has had me thinking that this may be reason for the enduring appeal of this style of art. We may no longer, in the main, read firstly the symbolism of such artwork; it's an assemblage of familiar and fanciful, commonplace and idealised which instead resonates and draws us in. When you don't know much about art, but you know what you like, perhaps this is why?

Sunday 18 March 2018

Measha Brueggergosman!

It was a frizzling 38 degrees in Sydney today, and yet only a couple of sleeps off the autumnal equinox (madness!), when we went to hear the incredible Canadian soprano, Measha Brueggergosman, at the Sydney Opera House.

Intimate Sunday afternoon recitals in the Utzon Room are a bit of a special treat for Mr Pipistrello and I. A couple of hours in a lovely, light-filled room with picture windows looking over the harbour, a glass of vino, and a surprising variety of talent handpicked by the enthusiastic curator Yarmila Alfonzetti has given us an up-close introduction to some amazing international performers.

Barefoot, in glamorous floor length frocks (yes, there was a costume change!), and sporting a new bleached and cropped 'do, the multilingual Ms B. interspersed folk songs with witty précis, accompanied by Australian pianist Ian Munro.

For the record, my favourite was one of Ravel's Cinq mélodies populaires greques, 'Tout gai!', and perfect for the singer in the shower. Even for a monolinguist such as myself, the lyrics are a snip:

Tout gai! Tout gai! Tout gai! <a few times>
La la la la la la <a few more times>

Thursday 15 March 2018

Zero Sum Game

Large Magellanic Cloud
Putting aside the rather tricky question of the the shape and size of the universe, and whether it is expanding or contracting, it is mostly to be agreed that there is a finite amount of matter and energy in the universe. I like to think that even in our infinitesimally small corner of it, we operate in a closed system and matter doesn't go away, it's just transformed.

I also like to have My Theories confirmed by the wider community, as I lean toward the Rather Opinionated end of the spectrum, so it was with great interest that I read today what I already suspected to be true about what happens to our extra kilograms when we lose weight. It seems the metamorphoses are carbon dioxide and water, in the main, and it's your breath, sweat and pee that whisk it all away.

Taking this a step further, as is my want, My Theory that there is a finite amount of fat in the world and thus for every kilo gained or lost, someone else has to balance the scales, has been confirmed. I'm sure I can demonstrate with a sheet of cardboard and some coloured arrows and fancy lettering how the Carbon Cycle and Water Cycle can turn one man's carbon dioxide and water into the shortbread biscuits that will ultimately settle around his wife's thighs.

Science is a doddle!

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Bookish Wiles

It was coveting a copy of Peter Pan and Wendy, owned by two sisters around the corner from where I lived as a child, that inspired me to become the neighbourhood's librarian.

Theirs was a glorious blue-bound hardcover with numerous colour plates and line drawings by Mabel Lucie Attwell, however the sisters didn't seem to find it as enchanting as I did. We had books galore at home growing up, but not a copy of J.M. Barrie's classic tale.

In order to have a legitimate reason for spiriting it away, I came up with a Cunning Plan: I suggested that we should play Libraries. Memory doesn't reliably tell me how enthusiastic the little local gang members were with this rather pedestrian new game, however I do recall setting about and cataloguing the children's books across our several homes, making everyone's little library cards and borrowing slips, then imperiously informing the neighbourhood children that I was now Their Librarian.

My love for books made this the perfect prospective pastime. I envisaged I would oversee the whole operation, make borrowing recommendations for reluctant readers based upon my possession of the Catalogue, enforce any late fines with our imaginary money and, of course, innocently borrow my prize on a slightly more permanent basis.

For a while there was a mild flurry of borrowing and lending, and then other more playful divertissements called. Not before time, as I realised rather ungenerously that I didn't enjoy my own books being in the hands of others, as I couldn't be sure if they would receive the same reverence I had for them. It was quite a price to pay to be able to pore over the charming art deco-era illustrations of Neverland at my leisure.

It was many months later that I returned this by-now very "overdue" book to its rightful owners as they were moving away to Melbourne. Fortunately, none of we children actually received any pocket money, as my late fine would have cleaned me out!

Friday 9 March 2018

Flights of Fancy

Speculation about the remains of Amelia Earhart has been in the news again, reminding us of the bravery and determination of the pioneers of aviation. Despite the perilous prospect of leaving the safety of terra firma, imaginations ran wild with possibilities in The Olden Days.

Something rather more prosaic is where we have ultimately ended up but along the way there was a short-lived glamorous interlude that existed between what was the stuff of fantasy and what is today's reality.

Mr Pipistrello and I had a delightful champagne lunch with friends J & P, celebrating P's birthday, at the Empire Lounge, on the water at Rose Bay in Sydney and so-named for the 1938 Empire Class Flying Boats that plied the Kangaroo Route between Sydney and London.

Covering thirty stops over 10 days and at a speed of 150mph, the Flying Boats carried fifteen passengers on a silver service experience akin to the Orient Express. It was the height of glamour!

The cafe and cocktail lounge is both terminal for today's tourist sea planes and a compact museum celebrating this Golden Age of flight. There are fantastic images of life on board and menu cards and other memorabilia left by the rarified few who flew this route at the princely cost of around a working man's annual wage.

Citrus Tidings

A lemon tree of one's own is a luxury ... I realise this now that I don't have one.

Those heady days of plucking one from a surprisingly abundant one metre-square Meyer lemon tree are long gone, so when Harry's Farm had a netted bag of 10 for $7 recently, I did what any penny-watching urbanite did and took a bag home to see how far it could be stretched.

Freezing the juice was obvious and easy. Paring the scrubbed skin for bagging up in the freezer was also easy. What to do with the pithy shells? Peregrinations along the by-ways of the world wide web led me to a simple recipe for lemon syrup.

I popped the lemon trimmings and shells into a bowl with a few palm sugar discs I had languishing in the pantry, covered it with cling film and let the sugar work its magic on the kitchen bench overnight. The next morning I squeezed as much as I could from the soggy lemons and strained the syrup into a little glass bottle and lo! a very refreshing lemon cordial, reminiscent of old-fashioned bitter lemon.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Out of Date

I suspect the old fear of a Grim Demise is at work with the modern obsession with the Use By Date. Stickers festoon our comestibles and means of toilette and exhort us to discard sometimes perfectly acceptable goods, with the hint but not promise of miasma about to seep into our fragrant lives.

There is a more optimistic attitude to these cautionary stickers at work in the Pipistrello household, with the employment of the Sniff Test and Sensible Judgement. It is only with a heavy heart that I will throw things in the bin, and thus it happens rarely.

Some whispers of doom I flagrantly ignored most recently have been on a packet of soup mix, a kilogram of plain flour found in my freezer, an unopened packet of dried yeast and on a barely used pot of shea butter.

Admittedly, the soup mix didn't end up in the pot but I'm sure that even though it was, ahem, several years past its suggested date of expiration, some long and vigorous boiling would have resurrected the legumes. They are perfectly happy now supporting the kitchen knives and will do so for a very long time, I suspect.

Both the yeast and flour were nearly a year past it and were turned into successful loaves of five-minute bread. It has been a very easy, if not lazy, introduction to the world of breadmaking and has led to thrice-weekly loaves being baked in this neck of the woods.

The shea butter, whose own sticker suggests it to be dead, is being fashioned a teaspoon at a time into a very effective deodorant, along with equal parts bicarb soda and a dash of also-dead glycerin for viscosity. The result works a treat at pacifying the pits, and so passes the Sniff Test for me.

Tuesday 6 March 2018

Autumn's Autograph

I had a pair of trousers,
A jolly shade of green.
I wore them in the summertime
And kept them bright and clean.

Now autumn is upon us,`
My pants are turning gold,
And soon they'll fall and blow away
And leave me bare and cold.

In the 1970s, autograph books were all the rage in my primary school.

The idea of getting an autograph from a famous person was furthest from our mind; autograph books were for passing around the playground. The intention was to leave a pithy little "Roses are red ..."-style verse on a pristine coloured page of our choosing before the next child could get their grubby mitts on it. Priceless were the last first and last pages.

My verse of choice was the one above. These were possibly the first opportunities to practice what was to become your Signature.

Whatever may be said about the education of the late Princess Diana, she had a gorgeous hand. Her signature is confident and obviously from an era when good handwriting was an admired accomplishment.

Mum, too, has lovely handwriting but I tend toward a scrappiness of style, more in keeping with the 1970s educational nonchalance toward such things. It took many adolescent years for my signature to develop the swirls and flourish I hoped for.

liked my signature. Not for me were the classroom doodles where feckless schoolgirls tried out new names reflecting the latest pimply love-interest. Mine settled into my life and became my travelling companion. Keeping a cheque book throughout adulthood ensured that it never descended into a seldom-used chicken scratching when pen and paper became more and more obsolete in the electronic age.

Mr Pipistrello was fine about me keeping my maiden name for many aspects of my life. However, I did decide to renew my passport in my married name soon after the happy day and did so at the first opportunity. I didn't think to first stop and practise my new signature, though.

The new initials didn't lend themselves to the arabesques of my former and something more angular was required to give the composition some flow. With pen poised over the bureaucratic submission, I had to commit to something on the spot ...

Hmmm ... Something rather like an altitude profile for a mountain stage in Le Tour de France is what I saddled myself with. And is that a hot air balloon thrown in for good measure?

This year heralded a perfumed air of change in the Pipistrello household. Our family's annus horribilis was behind us and fresh fields were on the horizon. The time had arrived to address the fraternal twins of my signature. And besides, my singular attitude of refusing to see the point in learning to drive, which bewilders all public servants who see the possession of a driver's licence as akin to owning a face, was making it harder to navigate the slightly dystopian, regulated landscape known as Modern Life.

So off I trundled to various corporations and agencies to "fix" my errant ways, by explaining that I was now married and wished to change my surname. For those who never lift their noses out of their iWhatevers to engage with the world at large, a visit to a Government Shopfront might be a quaint or archaic experience. For some, such as myself, these places are where we go to do our Business.

More recently, the Grocer's Shopfront known as Medicare has been swallowed up by the Supermarket Chain known as myGov, a nerve-jangling place where you are cut off in the marble foyer by a tablet-wielding traffic director (in this instance a very pregnant lady in work-appropriate sneakers who bravely put on a perky front while desperately shuffling from aching foot to foot in her own personal Circle of Hell), and encouraged to take the Self-Service option (a misnomer, really, as the greatest number of the staff on duty were standing beside frazzled individuals who couldn't fathom the touchscreens) or give over your first name and the nature of your Business and take a seat to await assistance from a teller.

Now the joy of going to the old Grocery known as Medicare was the ability to watch the other customers attending to their Business, glare at them when it seemed like they were hogging the many attendants with with their overly-long transactions, pinch a few paperclips from the counter at the entrance and then finally get a fistful of dollars when you had the pleasure of sitting down with the attendant who called your number.

Not so at the myGov Discount Emporium! Here the chairs are lined up turned away from the few tellers on duty, facing a wall of giant television screens with rolling video and audio footage promoting all manner of aspects of our Modern Life.

Eventually, I got my chance to transact my Business with a very pleasant woman and it was all done quite quickly. She finished by saying, "Well, that's it ... I guess it just leaves me to congratulate you?"

"Thank you," I replied. "Actually, I've only just decided to change my name over. I was married twenty years ago."

Bats In The Belfry