Tuesday 24 April 2018

Foxing With A Problem

Giuseppe Crespi, 1725

Mmm, books ... My little vice. It's a very common problem so nice to know I have company with my weakness. My special interest: Old Books. Sub-category: Reprints by Small Publishers such as Pushkin Press and Persephone Press (with their delicious little catalogue), and of course The Folio Society. The complication: Lack of Space. And no limitless $$. Like the Wardrobe Situation, each new arrival must, theoretically, be matched by the sad departure of another. We do live in a closed system, after all, so hard choices must be made.

Solution #1: The obvious, of course, is a library membership.

While my heart does beat fast at all the shelved possibilities (even in spite of the turning over of local libraries to catch-all community centres, meaning a lot less books and Old Books giving way to Current Bestsellers), my preference is always for Ownership.

Solution #2 : Stay Out of second-hand bookshops and Stay Off Abebooks and his kith and kin.

Hahahaha ... never happening in a Month of Sundays. Recognising the utter futility of this so-called Solution, I offer up a proviso, viz., only buy an Old Book that's on My List.

My List is actually many lists of books I would Like To Read (and therefore own), Old & New, and indeed some lists are so old that the New books on them can only now be found in my restricted premises. They creep down pages of little notebooks and scraps of paper that litter my world. They are found in handbags (just in case!), in bedside cabinets and in other storage receptacles around the traps. A lot of time has been spent trying to rationalise and transpose the lists over the years, as the notebooks become shabby and the endless desire to have an alphabetical resource eludes me; time that could be well spent in the act of reading. I know ...

Thus, it is only on a very rare occasion that I might both have an intelligible and navigable list on me and find a love-match when I'm caught in the act of illicitly browsing. In fact, I can remember precisely the last occasion: finding Fitzroy Maclean's Eastern Approaches in our local second-hand bookshop only a mere few weeks after putting it onto the current list living in my handbag, and a nice 1951 reprint it is too ... more than two years ago!

I will allow one exception to this self-imposed embargo on purchasing more Old Books and it is a pleasure all of its own; I subscribe to Slightly Foxed.

The Latest Edition

If you've never heard of this quarterly journal, published for many years out of a lovely London bookshop but now essentially a small publishing house, do investigate. It's a literary journal with a twist; the books reviewed are typically Old Books, unfashionable books, forgotten books or books rarely reviewed by newspapers and the Big Names in bookselling, but just beloved by the reviewer, who will write so lovingly about their Special Interest that you cannot help but be swept up by their enthusiasm.

When each luscious little edition arrives in the post, all other reading is suspended and this becomes the Bedtime Read. Invariably, every second review is flagged for entry into My List, or on occasion is one I may have read so gets flagged for Rereading. While my book-purchasing vice is somewhat mollified by reading about the books I may like to read one of these days, My List is ever growing.

Sunday 22 April 2018

A Touch Of Juniper

Aromatic Nuggets

The juniper berries in the pantry are getting a workout at the moment. It's not that the Pipistrello household has started bootlegging gin to Make Life Interesting, and neither are we endorsing Pliny the Elder's contraceptive use for them (that's crazy talk); there's a little bit of home-curing going on.

First up was another batch of bacon. The instructions (it's hardly cooking!) come from a great little cookbook by Arabella Forge, Frugavore. A sprinkling of juniper berries are included in the mix and the pork belly is now curing in the refrigerator. My first batch was a bit of a winner and lasted simply ages (read, ahem, months), although it will really be better described and utilised as pancetta once it gets forgotten about and kicks around in the fridge for a bit.

Next up was my first go at bresaola. The instructions here came from Ross O'Meara, a contributor to the cookbook, Deli Book. More juniper berries were employed in the red wine marinade and the beef is also now drying out in the fridge. It will be a few weeks yet before we can give it a verdict although I do hold high hopes and have already promised a chunk to our lovely neighbours, the Country Mice, whose fridge I borrowed for the marinating while they were busy off tending to The Land.

While it would be lovely to have a cool larder within which to hang these delicacies to mature, the real world of a kitchen the size of a pocket hankie and an ambient household temperature disposing critters of the six-legged variety to believe they Own the Place means the trusty refrigerator is the repository for these curing bits and pieces. Not as romantic, but neither does the decor of this Art Deco apartment lend itself to such rustic accessorising.

Don't Try This At Home

In the meantime, there's nothing to be done but wait ...

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Toes Galore

Best Foot Forward

A handsome foot is a physical feature to be much admired. I readily admit to being a bit of a foot fancier; we Pisceans often are. My checklist: fine lines, elegant toes, strong and grounded whilst still conveying fleetness and lightness, and impeccable grooming. I'm even very fair on the Question of Hair. If a man-about-town's foot sports such desirable characteristics, by all means put all or part of it on display. In the perpetual summer of Classical Art, we rightly see a lot of the elegant foot, either bare or in a fancy sandal.

In the perpetual summer that it seems to be in this neck of the woods, we're seeing instead rather a lot of this:

And, typically, these Hobbit Feet are barely disguised by a slim chevron of rubber in the form of a flip flop (a.k.a. "thong" around these parts). Calling them Havaianas and charging $30 for them does not, in my book, qualify thongs to be considered shoes*. The sole purpose of the rubber thong is to insulate against hot sand at the beach or communicable skin diseases at the public pool ... Even the Romans knew that.

Salvom Lavisse: Thongs Required

The visibility of feet rather waxes and wanes in the Urban Society. It was once only the privilege of the Hermit or the Saint to go unshod. I do feel, though, we've hit Peak Feet now. The suburbs are saturated with Mani-Pedi emporiums, where the dollars you save not buying proper shoes can be diverted to making the perpetually exposed foot a bit more palatable to the eye ... Or not, as in spite of this, heels and toes of all qualities and states of grooming are flaunted on men, women and children, throughout the year and as accessory to every situation and pastime. Around here, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was The Law.

As I'm rather like fotherington-tomas, ("Hullo clouds, hullo flowers"), when I go about my day, my inbuilt fascination with feet means the overabundance of toes makes it hard to look away. This prolonged and deliberate eschewing of shoes has, sadly, turned this connoisseur right off the publicly exposed foot, ("Hullo hooves, hullo talons"). There was a time when I would have laughed rather heartily at the suggestion of adding socks to either sandals or thongs, but I now understand there is more than just practicality or warmth at play when one looks at the ancient marvel of the split sock, favoured by many sandal-wearing cultures in the past. If our present state of affairs is all a gesture of convention-flaunting, it is no longer subversive or edgy; surely we must be about ready for the Trend-Setters to declare the Hidden Toe to be the New Thing and start to give the bare foot a bit of mystery again.

Safely Under Wraps

* Disclaimer: I will don them to scoot down to the Communal Laundry in warmer weather, but they are never worn beyond the grounds of the Pipistrello condominio.

Sunday 8 April 2018

Cucumber-Cool Canadian

James Ehnes
Relaxing with Ex-Marsick

Another glorious Sunday afternoon in the Utzon Room at the Opera House, in the company of another incredible Canadian artist, (the second in less than a month - is it this perpetual sunshine that's luring them down here like migratory swallows?), this time in the form of 1715 Stradivarius-wielding violinist, James Ehnes!

Our programme today: three of the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin by Pipistrello's absolute favourite Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, viz., Partita No.3 in E major, Sonata No. 3 in C major and Partita No. 2 in D minor. O Happy Day! (sung to to the tune of O Canada!)

J.S. Bach
Unruffled in Leipzig

Nary even a frown of concentration shadowed Mr Ehnes' unruffled demeanour as he took us on a virtuosic tour, bookended by the delightful and much-favoured Preludio in the first suite and the stupendous Ciaccona of the last. Goodness, gracious, he is one cool cucumber ...

These 3pm concerts do enter the realm of dangerous territory for the performer: either there is the heavy harbour traffic attracting the eye of the recital-goer as all manner of pleasure and utility craft bustle past the windows - and oh! look! a cormorant! - or the combination of a glass of wine and soothing music colliding with Nanna-Nap Time can mean a few lolling heads on the more Senior of the music lovers. All par for the course for these professionals, I'm sure, while for the audience members, we are delighted, enlightened and sometimes refreshed.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Nature Notes


Contrary to popular mythology, in the heart of this city we may not have kangaroos hopping down our roads but we do live with all manner of other wildlife. Mr Pipistrello and I chanced upon this local media star, Sealvester, while out for an early evening passegiato in our local harbour-front park the other day. As I have been under a fairly determined (and entirely self-imposed) news blackout for a goodly while now, it was a bit of a surprise for us to see this seal lolling about where we intended to stroll.

It appears that this rather large and seemingly healthy male seal has been "resting" in the park since before Easter and, despite the attempts by rangers to discourage him from taking up permanent residence, he is still here. He seems utterly unfazed by the attention from pedestrians and the temporary fences erected around his tidy bedroom-cum-living-area are keeping the dogs in the park at bay, so I guess he has decided this is a perfectly satisfying place to take a holiday. Indeed, we completely understand as the Pipistrello's think this is a grand neighbourhood to live in, too.

There are times when one may be forgiven for forgetting we do live in the middle of a very busy and bustling 'hood. The resident (and migratory) birdlife*, for example, can be astounding, and the critters you normally associate with "the country" are plentiful. I speak mainly of spiders-and-snakes, but the less said about that the better ... However, in the warm-blooded department, we have many small residents and visitors to these parts, some welcome, some not (and I'm looking at you, Rattus rattus). To see any kangaroos, though, we must get into an automobile** and drive to the fringes of our city and beyond, to where they and their marsupial brethren abound.

A visitor to Ye Olde Pipistrello Garden at the Seaside

On the other hand, if you were to live in Our Nation's Capital, you will not need to travel far as they are everywhere.

Government House

Growing up in The Olden Days we, like many children around the world, feasted upon a television diet of talented, anthropomorphised animals. Our home-grown variety went by the name of Skippy. In reality, kangaroos are not the clever creatures so portrayed in TV-land, viz.: the closeups of Skippy's paw operating 2-way radios and the like were shot with a stunt-double in the form of a souvenir kangaroo-paw bottle-opener, and indeed many Skippys were needed to shoot the series. Until quite recently, there was a nature park on the outskirts of Sydney where Skippy & Co. went to retire, and where many locals and tourists liked to go for adorable photo opportunities. I believe there even exists a photograph of a very small version of me (Pipistrellina, if you will) chatting to her there in her dotage.

What's that, Skip?
Tchk, tchk, tchk...***

This particular television series has had an extraordinary reach into the non-English speaking world. I was holidaying in an Ancient Land sans Mr Pipistrello a few years ago and was accosted by a big-smiling spruiker for a carpet shop. He was of a similar vintage to me and rightly deduced that English was the language to approach me with.

"Hullo, where are you from?", he politely enquired.

"Hullo, I'm from Australia," I replied, wondering if any further explanation was required.

"Australia ... ?"

He paused and looked thoughtful, then said very solemnly, "It was a very sad day when Ed Devereaux died."

And for that exceptional cultural reference, yes, I just had to go straight to his carpet store and buy something!

Ed Devereaux

* See sidebar for Our Favourite Bird.

** Gino, our Fiat 500, has like Skippy been put out to pasture, so marsupial spotting is off the agenda for now.

*** Not Pipistrellina but Garry Pankhurst, a.k.a. Sonny Hammond.

Sad Coda: I have just read today that the seal was actually unwell and has died. 

Monday 2 April 2018

Hot Cross Buns and More

To start the day

This Easter saw a bit of yeast action in the form of Hot Cross Buns. The crosses betray a hand that cannot ice neatly but no one really noticed. The requisite fruity bits came courtesy of a pantry rummage, so their unique assortment made the delicious flavour all my own devising: Persian barberries, crystallised ginger and dates. I baulked at the suggestion of nearly 200g of fruit and used half that amount but next time will go a bit mad and use a heavier hand.

A small gathering of the Pipistrello colony for Sunday dinner was held at my Brother's city apartment where we beheld March's blue moon still impressing for April Fool's. The colour, of course, was far from blue and indeed was an even deeper orange when it rose.

A bit fuzzy but not bad for just zooming with the camera
We then proceeded to have a bit of a feast: home-made spring rolls, sticky ribs, Asian greens and rice.

These are called Snacks around at my Brother's place
It was entirely unnecessary but we did finish with a sliver each of this baked beauty:

Baked cheesecake gratefully lifted from
Faux Fuchsia
As I say, entirely unnecessary.

Bats In The Belfry