Sunday 29 December 2019

Perambulations With Eoghan

It is nothing new to hear, Dear Reader, that while our continent is ancient, Australia is new. The Aboriginal Songlines* which mapped out this country so effectively for tens of thousands of years remain a mystery to the non-indigenous, yet it is still possible to unwittingly travel along one ghostly Songline in our city of Sydney today - courtesy of the 333 bus, no less. According to Eoghan, the enthusiastic guide (and self-described raconteur and flâneur) on our most recent Sydney Architectural Walk, the 333 bus essentially follows a ten-thousand-year old Aboriginal walking trail from present-day Circular Quay to Bondi Beach. It is, by extension, arguably the oldest bus route in the world.

Francois Peron Sydney Map, 1802
Sans Bus Stops
A cursory glance at an early map of Sydney shows a distinct lack of urban planning. When the Georgian-era First Fleeters first pitched their tents here 200-odd years ago, they discovered, like the Aboriginal people had, the quickest and easiest way to get from A to B was to follow the topographical ridges. Hence the routes of our first roads followed these worn paths. Thence the valleys between were filled in. Eventually wiser heads stepped in and declared grid plans for the rest. But some of these early Aboriginal paths formed the foundation of many major Sydney streets.

Sydney's Milestone Obelisk
With Bushfire Haze
This delightful nugget was just one of the many fascinating by-ways discussed as Mr. P & I perambulated around a pocket of Sydney Harbour's foreshore last week with the Effervescent R & A. This was our second walk guided by Eoghan, themed "Harbourings" - our first focussed on architect Jorn Utzon and the Sydney Opera House - and both cannot be recommended more highly by us if architecture, history, urban design, factoids, or just strolling with purpose are of any interest.

Something Old Getting More Than A Facelift
Something New On The Horizon
Although we struck out at a leisurely pace, and a true old-fashioned flâneuse should really Make an Effort, these are modern times and dressing on this anticipated hot day was capital-c casual and indeed my heavy-duty sunhat and precautionary mask against the pall of bushfire smoke made for the most remarkable look I've managed to put together for all of 2019 - #ootd. But I digress ...

Saint Brendan's Largely Unreported Maritime Landing On A Whale, 1621
Our starting point was a discussion of the shape of the present city as seen in the 3-D architectural model under the entrance floor of Customs House. I love these versions of the Map (Game of Thrones opening credits, anyone?) Indeed all old maps hold an irresistible pull for me. From the charmingly drawn Village Map inside the covers of my childhood Milly-Molly-Mandy books to the glorious antiquarian maps (which I blessedly do not collect - $$$!) with their sea-monsters and vague borders of the Unknown World. Old city maps give me a sense of place in the world and a glimpse into what came before the often dramatic transformations of the urban landscape.

Eoghan On Terrazzo
We stopped at another relief map nearby of Sydney Cove in 1808, rendered in terrazzo with a bronze shadow line of the foreshore in 1988, for some more history behind the evolving shoreline. My News Blackout and evident failure to Get the Memo saw me puzzling over the casual gathering of uniformed police to one side of us and then some surprisingly youthful Trotskyists and Marxists arrived with sandwich boards and folding tables and started to gather at another.

Harbour Bridge On A Marxist-Free Day
The philosopher and Marxist Walter Benjamin, who had a thing or two to say about the Art of the Flâneur, would have been heartened to see that Marxism is still a Thing in this neck of the woods, but we had no time for the megaphones and growing numbers of protest marchers who, it transpired, eventually walked across the Harbour Bridge.

A Feng Shui-ed Doorway On A Wharf
It was under the Bridge for us, via an amble around The Rocks and a couple of (surprisingly) deserted public parks to finish at the timber wharves of Walsh Bay, while the discussion meandered around:

The Tank Stream, 1822
the chance discovery of Sydney Harbour in the search for fresh water for the convict arrivals and their soldier guards in 1788;

this later-named freshwater Tank Stream not only dictating the shape of the settlement but defining the social and economic divide of this fledgling Georgian outpost and what it means even today;

the chance arrival of the French a few days later under the doomed command of the comte de Lapérouse leading to the fortification of Sydney Harbour against, ahem, anticipated French invasion**;

successive governments and their impact on the architecture around the harbour (always controversy corner!);

social housing in the city;

the contribution to the world of Architecture Sydney has made with the international competition model for projects in the City;

differing alcohol licensing laws between Sydney and Melbourne and how this impacted each city;

the various merits of the new skyscrapers around our skyline;

the design of the wooden finger wharves at Walsh Bay and their heritage significance;

feng shui ... and more!

It was a marvellous morning to perambulate with Eoghan and if you should find yourself with a birthday treat of a voucher for Sydney Architecture Walks, run, don't walk!

Mr. P & I thank you, again, E. R. & A!

* Bruce Chatwin's Songlines is a magical read to discover more about the ancient art of mapping and navigating a country in pre-literate times.

** It endlessly amuses us to know that the French aerospace company Thales Group is firmly ensconced in our local naval base and numerous French families live and work here. Mission accomplished!

Image credits: Google - 1; Wikimedia Commons - 5; Dictionary of Sydney - 9; Flying With Hands - all others

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Merry Christmas!

John Bauer illustration "Yule Goat, 1917"

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Safe and Prosperous New Year, Dear Reader!

Thursday 28 November 2019

Scylla & Charybdis

Solomon Islands commemorative silver coin of Strait of Scylla and Charybdis, 2018
Odysseus navigates through the Strait of Messina
Solomon Islands commemorative coin, 2018

Sometimes, Dear Reader, I feel as though an unseen hand gets in the way of any original thoughts that might otherwise circulate around our civilisation. I don't mean this in the dystopian 1984 sense, where the Thought Police are enforcing Newspeak; rather in the feeling sometimes that a Memo has been sent round that I only intuit by chance. Take the expression, "Between Scylla and Charybdis" - I think a Memo has gone round that it's the now the preferred idiom as the metaphor for a Dilemma.

Italian fresco by Alessandro Allori, "Charybdis and Scylla", 1575
Five men down but Odysseus soldiers on
Allesandro Allori, 1575

For a goodly while now, our as-yet unread copy of Homer's Odyssey has been sitting in one of the book piles about the place, so my rather unlettered self had not yet met within the sea monsters Scylla (the many-headed terror on one side of the narrow Strait of Messina) and Charybdis (the whirlpool-creating malevolence on the other) who gave Odysseus so much grief, nor had I chanced upon them as a variant on the expression "between a rock and a hard place" in my day-to-day life.
I know ... Where have I been?

William Bromley print after Henry Fuseli in Pope's translation of  "Odyssey", entitled "Odysseus between Scylla and Charybdis", 1806
Odysseus has a close shave with Charybdis' whirlpool
William Bromley print in Pope's translation, 1806

However, would three recent encounters in disparate references make you sit up and take notice? It did me, and although I've no idea who sends out these memos and how you receive them, I am tipping my hat in acknowledgement and dutifully entitling this post Scylla & Charybdis, even though I'm not caught between the devil & the deep blue sea about anything, really. So, job done.

Encounter 1:

Photo of book cover of "Unsheltered" by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara got the memo in 2018

The best thing I can say about the much-anticipated Barbara Kingsolver book Unsheltered is that it features the hounds named Scylla & Charybdis that sent me on a quest to brush up on the literary reference. And to double check the pronunciation while I was at it. (Silla and Ka-ribdis, which of course you already knew). The glory that is The Poisonwood Bible is one of the absolute favourite modern books of both Mum and I, so she thought she'd made an excellent choice in Unsheltered as a birthday present this year, and I put it aside for the Winter reading with much anticipation. But, sadly, it was hard going. While the parallel world of the 19th Century residents of the house the story is set in was the better half for me, the contemporary issues many modern-day Americans are enduring are slathered on too thickly in the balancing and interwoven side and just makes for dismal reading.

I'm all for realism in literature but I like it dished up with sepia tones. Anthony Trollope is a fine Victorian example for me, writing mostly on the issues of the day in minute detail, but read through the lens of time his books are both an accurate window onto the past and still cracking good reads. Would Unsheltered stand up to the same sort of treatment? I can't imagine it, except as some grim litany of the ills of the 21st Century. Sorry, Barbara, but I'll have to reread The Poisonwood Bible in order to put you back on your pedestal and let's just forget your latest one all together.

Encounter 2:

Photo of book cover of "Jeeves and the Wedding Bells" by Sebastian Faulks
So did Sebastian

Now that I can recognise Scylla & Charybdis from one hundred yards as being the mythic monsters who so terrified the Grecian sandals off Odysseus and his sailors, I understand immediately that Bertie Wooster would have been alarmed when he encounters two varieties of Aunt flanking a doorway and has described them thus. But I was not reading this in a book penned by one Pelham Grenville Wodehouse's fair hand, for whom a solid grounding in Classics was a given, but Sebastian Faulks in his 2018 authorised homage to P.G.W., Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.

While I did indeed read a "Blandings" as the fast-acting antidote to the heavy wallowing in the slough of despond that B.K. dragged me through, as a fan of the Wodehouse œuvre I was a little sceptical when I saw this book innocently sitting in the informal book exchange of our condominio. But being curious,  I looked left and then right and saw no-one lurking nearby and so spirited it away to have a read. And I can say that I thought it not half bad! There are a couple of mostly plot quibbles, including the spoiler that Bertie and Jeeves both Pop the Question (not to each other!), when one of the most amusing aspects to Bertie is his close shaves with losing his perpetual bachelorhood. But in terms of catching the tone, S.F. made a good fist of it and while I didn't laugh out loud, I was amused.

Encounter 3:

Surrealist painting by Ithell Colquhoun, "Scylla, 1938"
Scylla, 1938
Ithell Colquhoun

Lo! Look what dropped into my email inbox last month and caught my eye. A short essay on the Surrealist artist Ithell Colquoun was adorned with her painting Scylla, 1938 which now lives in the Tate in London. I.C. seems unlikely to be the type to have taken direction from anyone, so her Classical reference is a mere coincidence to the topic at hand, in my opinion, and anyways predates my other random encounters by eighty years. But that I should read about it now surely suggests that she's become rather more fashionable, now that she's posthumously adhering to the Memo.

Image credits: Google - 1; Wikimedia Commons - 2, 3; Flying With Hands - 4, 5; Tate - 6

Thursday 21 November 2019

Sylvia - The Birthday Treat

Pre-performance photo of Sylvia at the Sydney Opera House with programme
Waiting for the lights to dim for
Sylvia at the Sydney Opera House

Over in the Pipistrello household, we realised the Ballet Season for this year was practically done and dusted and, for one reason or another, we'd not yet seen one performance. For shame! Luckily, the Scorpio-in-the-home had his birthday fall right about the time that Stanton Welch's Sylvia came to town so, Dear Reader, some last-minute tickets were bought and off we trundled to the Opera House. Fittingly, for a ballet featuring the cast of the Greek Pantheon, our seats were up with the gods!

Illustration of Rita Sangalli as imagined as Sylvia at the premiere of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1876
Italian ballerina Rita Sangalli - The Original Sylvia
As imagined at the Paris Opera Ballet's 1876 premiere

This seldom seen ballet has had a vigorous reworking since the days of Margot Fonteyn dancing the lead in Frederick Ashton's adaptation, and is a co-production between the Houston Ballet and The Australian Ballet. Australian choreographer Stanton Welch is artistic director of the HB these days and the Sydney season features two of its principals plus Misty Copeland but our performance starred all the home grown dancers*. Costumes and sets by Jérôme Kaplan have gone all Grecian for this production and are as minimal and muscular as we have come to expect from his modern hand.

Russian ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya as Sylvia in 1901
Russian ballerina Olga Preobrajenska as Sylvia in 1901
The lady means business!

The eponymous nymph-warrior Sylvia has in fact been joined by two other female leads in this version and I shall not even attempt to explain the Very Complicated plot. We were well-primed by the ballet's advance publicity for the dominating presence of the female roles, what with their sword wielding, lethal bows and general smiting, and proactiveness in the romance department. However, we are no stranger to cranky Swans or sinister Wilis so are generally unfazed by girls Dishing it Out on the stage but, armoured up, the Sylvia dancers were a striking bunch. Bosoms & six-packs galore!

The Australian Ballet's principal artist Ako Kondo as Sylvia with fauns attending, Jeff Busby photo credit
AB's Ako Kondo as Sylvia today
Fussed over by  frolicsome fauns in furry ra-ra pants

We had three love stories: Sylvia and The Shepherd (Ako Kondo and Kevin Jackson for our performance), Artemis and Orion (Dimity Azoury and Nathan Brook) and Psyche and Eros (Benedicte Bemet and Marcus Morelli); some nasty sibling rivalry between Artemis and Apollo; an army of nymphs and some attendant slaughtering; some typical Olympic jealousies, betrayals, avengings, kidnappings and rescues. Plus some lighter moments with frolicking fauns, an unfolding Arcadian family tree and Happy Endings all around - save for all those smote earlier. And all set to the utterly delightful score by Léo Delibes.

Bronze plaque of Léo Delibes, c. 1870
Composer Léo Delibes c. 1870

Frankly, it was all very, very complicated and in spite of the handy colour-coding of the principals, we were baffled by the storyline. The first Act was particularly confusing and not made any easier by the lauded "chiaroscuro effects" with the lighting. Chasing dancers around the stage with spotlights didn't work so well from our lofty seats, and I must admit that ol' Pipistrello has reached the age when a pair of opera glasses would have been handy to make out what was going on in the shadows.

So essential when sitting up with the gods
... Next time

But one does not go the ballet to immerse oneself in the plot or learn a lesson or two, rather to be dazzled by the bravura of a most excellent ballet company and wallow in the beautiful music. Which we had in spades! It was athletic and for the leads, particularly, complex and executed brilliantly. So for a Remembrance Day evening out, we were memorably entertained and delighted.

* And a nice little coda: Dimity Azoury and Benedicte Bemet were both promoted to Principal Artist this week. Congratulations on this fine achievement for a couple of well deserving, fabulous dancers!

Image credits: Flying With Hands - 1; Wikimedia Commons - 2, 3, 5; Jeff Busby via Google - 4; Flickr - 6

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Craft Queen came to visit us from America and went home last week. It had been a full twenty years since she was here last and it felt like it was only yesterday. Dear Reader, where does the time go??

Photo of Egor Zegura sculptures for Sydney's Sculpture by the Sea exhibition 2019
Yes, we too, have frayed a bit at the seams! 
Kore That Awakening & Colossus That Awakens 
Egor Zegura's contributions to Sculpture by the Sea this year

Needless to say, we had plenty to catch up on, so there was ample lounging about done and cups of tea drunk but CQ & The Pipistrellos still fairly packed in some impressive mileage as we marched hither and thither about our fine city, taking in the sights, soaking up the atmosphere & chasing Art.

Photo of Egor Zegura's sculptures on Sydney's Bondi to Bronte cliff walk, 2019 Sculpture by the Sea
A smoky haze on the horizon from bushfires hundreds of kms away
An ominous start to the season, sadly

One doesn't travel to Australia to have a Halloween Holiday, it's not really something we do, (notwithstanding the half-hearted attempts by some to get into the spirit of things). And yet without intending it, a Spooky artistic theme seemed to hang over this Sydney Sojourn.

Photo of Shen Lieyi's sculpture 'Rain, 2017' at Sculpture By The Sea, 2019
Hypnotic Granite Inkiness
Shen Lieyi, Rain, 2017

Alongside the Sculptures by the Sea (peppering the Bondi to Bronte cliff walk with a veritable glad bag of sculptural offerings), we tramped to the White Rabbit Gallery, where shows some rather diverse Chinese contemporary art from Judith Neilson's private collection. The current exhibition, Then, is work from the first ten years of this century and covers everything from joyful and exuberant to grim and shocking and various members of the Pipistrello colony who've seen the exhibition recently have given it Mixed Reviews (move along now, nothing to see, rubbish photos by Pipistrello only).

Photo of birdcages hanging at the White Rabbit Tearoom in Chippendale, Sydney
White Rabbit Tearoom

What holds universal appeal, however, is the Chinese tea and dumpling selection at the Tea House, whereupon CQ & I discovered the nearby Japan Foundation Gallery was having a manga exhibition. So off we trundled to Retro Horror - Supernatural and the Occult in Postwar Japanese Manga. The vintage genga drawings of classic, Japanese horror featured monsters, zombies, and the usual graphic dismembering of innocents who stupidly wander into lonely mansions in isolated places.

Photo of lethal axe genga drawing at the Japan Foundation Sydney exhibition of Retro Horror Manga
There was lots of attendant blood & gore in the exhibition -
So this is all the imagery you need to get the drift

The manga exhibition is held in parallel with the Summer Exhibition at the AGNSW: Japan Supernatural: ghosts, goblins and monsters, 1700s to now. A goodly poke about this latter exhibition was squeezed into a 17,000-step day for CQ's penultimate day in Sydney (those pedometers in our Smart(alec)phones have been rather compulsive viewing lately!).

Photo of the mural by Kentaro Yoshida, Night procession of the hundred demons, 2019, AGNSW
Kentaro Yoshida's mural
Night Procession of the Hundred Demons, 2019
Wreaking havoc on my beloved gallery

Woodblock prints, hand painted scrolls and netsuke from the Edo and Meiji periods depicting popular demons, paranormal beings and shapeshifters rubbed shoulders with their contemporary kith & kin in a very popular exhibition. As a refreshing change, This Correspondent went to the Opening Day and can actually report back the sights and smells from the Summer Exhibition before the paint is even dry!

Photo of detail from Itaya Hiroharu's 'Night procession of the hundred demons, c. 1860', AGNSW
Hand painted scroll detail of some curious haunted objects marauding through Kyoto at night
Itaya Hiroharu's 6 metre fantasy, c. 1860

For the Japanese, they've a suite of legends and characters as familiar to them as, say, those from the Brothers Grimm are to we Occidentals. Many dozens come from a legend of a nightly parade of yōkai, or supernatural beings, who frolic along the streets of Kyoto and vanish with the daylight. While I'm not sure what the pink blob above is supposed to be, my favourite is the instantly recognisable Umbrella. This little fellow is a type of tsukumogami - a haunted household object that comes to life at its 100th year, often seeking revenge upon humans who've been careless with them. A very early eco-message with a bit of a sting, to be sure!

Photo of Ryukei wooden netsuke of a demon sleeping on an umbrella
A tiny reminder to keep good care of your things!
C19th boxwood netsuke of a demon (oni) sleeping on an umbrella

While I sadly appear to have no photos of the many versions of the quaintly-named Hell Courtesan, I do hope you may enjoy some of the rich variety of delights on offer of the Superstitious Kind:

Photo of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi woodblock print 'Vanquishing the badger', 1860
The warrior Kusunoki Tamonmaru vanquishing Old Badger monster -
With his buddy helpfully holding the lantern and conveniently illuminating some yōkai hiding in the shadows
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi woodblock print, 1860

Photo of woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 'Snow: Onoe Baikö V as Iwakura Sögen, 1890'
Unlucky in love, a disrobed priest will of course starve himself to death in a forest
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi woodblock print, Snow: Onoe Baikö V as Iwakura Sögen, 1890

Photo of woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai, The ghost of Oiwa, c1831-32
When a wife haunts her husband, she'll pop up anywhere
Katsushika Hokusai woodblock print, The ghost of Oiwa, c.1831

Photo of Katsushika Hokusai woodblock print, 'The ghost of Kohada Koheiji', c. 1832-32
Master-class for when unsuccessful actors commit suicide and they need to zombie haunt their wives
Katsushika Hokusai woodblock print, The ghost of Kohada Koheiji, c. 1831-32

Hokusai's ghostly woodblock prints then inspired sweetly sentient beings to populate cemeteries as a pleasant change
Chiho Aoshima watercolour and pencil, Tree With Blue Bucket, 2009

Woodblock print by Mizuki Shigeru, '53 stations of the Yōkaidō, Odawara', 2008
Manga artist Mizuki Shigeru adding, ahem, menacing yōkai to the Odawara landscape
Woodblock print from the series, Fifty-three Stations of the Yōkaidō, 2008
Photo of Takashi Murakami's sculpture 'Embodiment of Um', 2014
Umm, a demonic channelling of Josephine Baker?
Takashi Murakami's Embodiment of Um, 2014

Detail from Takashi Murakami mural 'In the land of the dead, stepping on the tail of a rainbow', 2014
Detail from the 25-metre long Takashi Murakami mural
In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow, 2014

To end your tour of the exhibition is a still from a mesmerising and strangely beautiful video installation by Fuyuko Matsui, starring a blind Borzoi with an incredible tail, my favourite selection of the Moderns:

Video still from 'Regeneration of a breached thought', 2012 by Fuyuko Matsui
A serene and dignified finish
Video still from Fuyuko Matsui's Regeneration of a breached thought, 2012

We loved having you visit, Craft Queen!

Photo credits: Flying With Hands

Sunday 20 October 2019

Did You Put On Your Jaegers, Henry?

ADA: Chilly enough I imagine. I hope you put on your jaegers ... Did you put on your jaegers, Henry?

HENRY: What happened was this, I put them on and then I took them off again and then I put them on again and then I took them again off and then I took them on again and then I ...

ADA: Have you them on now?

HENRY: I don't know.

Samuel Beckett, Embers

It is gratifying to know that there are other wives out there who also have the Badge for Unsolicited Advice. Ada, in Samuel Beckett's 1957 radio play Embersis a woman after my own heart. Solicitous (yet dogged) in the face of some Manly Absentmindedness. Never to be confused, of course, with nagging, Dear Reader. 

Up until very recently, my familiarity with the fashion label Jaeger extended only as far as the enjoyment of my vintage 1970s black, woollen, sunray pleated skirt, the only garment of theirs I've ever owned as back in the day I considered the label a tad Matronly. However, chasing an unrelated rabbit down an interweb hole led to the chance discovery that, lo!, Jaeger was in fact named for Dr. Gustav Jaeger, the German professor of Zoology and Physiology, and Dress Reformer.

Gustav Jäger exuding rude good health

Dress reform was quite a thing in the late 19th Century. In the Underwear Department, long johns / combinations / union suits were becoming popular and available in a variety of fabrics and qualities. Where Jaeger set himself apart was in his adherence to animal fibres, with an emphasis on wool, and on his Scientific Theory behind skin and sweat and his Scientific Proof that his Undies had health-giving properties: viz, sweating was important to removing the noxious vapours exhaled from the body.

Further investigation into the translation of Dr. Gustave Jaeger's 1880 "Essays on Health Culture", (I just couldn't resist), wherein he Scientifically Proves over the course of 200-odd pages his Hygienic Discovery, provided:

The conclusion which I draw as regards my Sanitary Wool System is as follows:-- Whoever, like the Wool-wearer, is proof against flies is also cholera-proof, and this is in complete agreement with the popular practice everywhere and at all times to have recourse to wool in cases of cholera.

Those who know my Sanitary System, and have tried it in their own persons, are aware that it first deodorises the body, i.e., expels from it mal-odorous perspiration, and afterwards hinders a fresh accumulation of mal-odorous matters. Now these last are precisely the matters which constitute the force of attraction for flies, and the adequate instinct matter for the germs of disease, especially for those of cholera.

In England, Lewis Tomalin secured the licence to be sole trader of the various Wonder Undies throughout the Empire, translated the work into English in 1884 and took the very 21st Century bold step of frenzied marketing of Dr Jaeger's Sanitary Woollen Clothing & Bedding System to the masses. Dr Jaegar became an instant celebrity. And his long johns went viral.

Ernest Shackleton photograph
This Henry - Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton -
 would certainly know all about it if his jaegers weren't on

Before you knew it, Jaeger woollens were off to Antarctica with both Scott and Shackleton; off to Africa with Livingston; and off to the Front as part of the uniform for the troops (by which time the brand was considered British not German).

The Underwear range included corsets, balaclavas, toed-stockings, babies colic belts &c. &c., as well as two-piece long johns. The idea was to cover every part of the skin with wool, alongside some other Lifestyle Tips like open windows and fresh air in your bedroom, to secure a healthy constitution. Dr. J. cleverly maintained that wearing his pricey garments wouldn't entirely stave off disease, but if some of the pesky germs caught up with you, the impact was lessened. In the pre-antibiotic days, any suggestions for maintaining good health were always going to find a receptive audience.

Jaeger woollen long johns advertisement 1940s
Putting the jaegers through their paces in the 1940s
All in the name of National Health

Well before the decade was out, the Jaeger System was cropping up in fiction. Without any effort, I found a short story printed in a newspaper in 1888, entitled "Our Spare Room" [much like a blog today, you could just about publish anything once with a catchy title like this!] and was delighted to read:

"It would be horrible", she went on. "I should feel that the next thing would be I should have to wear divided skirts and stockings with toes to them."

"I thought stockings always had toes", I said, but Margaret vouchsafed me no reply, not condescending to inform me that she referred to Dr. Jaeger's new system, where the toes of the stockings are separated like the fingers in a glove.

By 1932, when the saucy, comic writer Thorne Smith had penned The Bishop's Jaegers, the brand name was already a household noun.

Book cover photograph for "The Bishop's Jaegers" by Thorne Smith
Says it all!

The combination of quackery and pseudo-science met fashion head first after the Great War, and the Jaeger stores worldwide phased out underwear for outerwear. The dubious claims set out in the Woollen System were passed over while its catchier phrase "Wool, Cool in Summer, Warm in Winter" stuck like a burr. However, Dr Jaeger would be gratified that his humble woollen long john has been refashioned and embraced now by the açai-munching set as High Performance Base Layers!

TREWgear lightweight wool bottoms advertisement

Putting the modern Base Layers through their paces
All in the name of Personal Development

So I had skimmed some of Dr Jaeger's treatise Health Culture. I had chuckled over samples of the many thousands of advertisements and editorials published in Australia alone from around 1886, when lecturers in halls around the country evangelised to Ladies' Sanitary Associations and the like on the prevention of "Colds and their evil effects" &c. by wearing only Woollen Underwear. I marvelled at how Dr Jaeger's Sanitary Woollen Clothing & Bedding System spread around the world faster than any modern day fashion trend ... And yet in spite of my new-found respect for this old wisdom, I find myself guilty of not heeding my own good counsel, playing Henry instead of Ada, and so my failure to don these miraculous garments sees me this weekend nursing a Cold. 

Monday 14 October 2019

Modern Skills

Move over Reading, Writing & 'Rithmetic! It seems there are more useful Modern Skills to be taught. Ronald Searle, a Pipistrello-favoured artist, enlightens us thus:

Ronald Searle illustration from Down With Skool! - A Gaul and a Roman passing each other in the Alps

Ronald Searle illustration Frontispiece Nicely Mounted from Slightly Foxed But Still Desirable

Ronald Searle Christmas Card illustration of a reindeer hoisting Santa up a chimney
Heightsmanship ... a.k.a. Abseiling

Who would have thought that in the 21st Century, gainful employment could be had from a demonstrated proficiency in any or all of these old-fashioned and rather Manly Hobbies? Careers advisors of yore never foretold the arrival of either:

a) the Boxed-Set TV Costume Drama necessitating all Actors to be on a horse and/or wielding a sword every episode, or

b) the abseiling Window-Washer dangling down the skyscrapers of our cities.

However, judging by the staggering numbers of extras these days littering our screens*, riding hither and thither and masterfully making minced meat of one another, and the be-girdled window washers manfully loitering between their Spiderman jobs in the cafes about town, I have been wondering where these skilled hordes learnt these necessities of modern life? Upon hearing last week that 9-year old M is a champion fencer for his skool, I suspect that the more traditional curriculum has finally been thrown over for these more bankable skills.

* We're still catching up with Poldark, Game of Thrones, Vanity Fair, Gentleman Jack etc. etc. Slowly, slowly ...

Saturday 5 October 2019

Li Ziqi Treads Lightly

Behind-the-scenes black & white photograph of Julia Child filming her cooking show
Julia Child at work in her kitchen

Modern cooking shows have become a tad artificial in my opinion - these days it's all flame-throwing, gadget-wielding, high intensity with thousands of kilowatt hours required to bang and crash out meals under the intense spotlight of judges. How did they get so overwrought and frantic in such a short lifetime of existence? They are variously billed as serious, fun or inspiring, or designed to "get you back" in the kitchen and cooking "honest food" (what's that when it's at home?). Frankly, all this energy is quite exhausting to watch.

Over in a quiet corner of YouTube there is the antidote to all this palaver and it's inhabited by a serene Chinese beauty of indeterminate age who seems to come from a part of the world where no one contemplates "leaving" their kitchen ... or far less even adding running water or electricity to it. Ten minutes in the company of Li Ziqi is like cooling your brain in rose-scented water, distilled apparently by her own skilled hand, no less.

Li Ziqi image from youtube account 李子柒
Li Ziqi at work in her kitchen

Her videos are utterly transfixing and almost impossible to believe, yet are very beautifully filmed, quiet demonstrations of one woman preparing classical Chinese dishes (and shoes and paper and furniture and wine and ...) in the most basic of a kitchen with minimal utensils and no fuss. It does help to have the knife skills of a Kung Fu master, a home-made Panda wood oven (you can find a delightful video of her building it, here!) and access to verdant fields in misty mountains to harvest ingredients as you go, and lots of time.

However, if you've never seen the visual poetry of Li Ziqi before, the preparation of a Chinese New Year dinner for two (plus Nonna) is a lovely introduction to marvel at a bona fide DIY-er treading lightly on the Earth.

ps: Thank you to the YouTube channel 李子柒 for the subtitles on these gorgeous videos!

[Dear Reader, if this seems curiously familiar, it is. This is a reposting of my thoughts last year about Li Ziqi. I took this post down after Xmas as it was attracting an inordinate amount of traffic and I became a bit alarmed by it. Who wants their blog to be on the first page of a Google search about a famous vlogger?!?! A few weeks ago she did a rare interview with people more comfortable with the Google spotlight so I feel it's safe to repost this into the vastly noisier commentary about this Youtube superstar.]

Tuesday 1 October 2019

A is for ...

Letter A from Libellus Novus Elementorum Latinorum by Jeremias Falck after Johann Christian Bierpfaf, c. 1650, Rijksmuseum Collection
... is for

If you are of an inquisitive nature, Dear Reader, and have been having a rummage around my blog lately, you may have noticed a new addition to my sidebar. I have started a subsidiary blog dedicated to My Commonplace Book: entitled, obv, "Pipistrello's Commonplace Book".

There you may find, in due course, all manner of quotes and passages; ephemera, really, that take my fancy. The emphasis, as ever, is on the whimsical and absurd but occasionally a bit of high-mindedness may creep in. There are a dozen or so entries already and as it's of a white and restful nature, in contrast to the more colourful "Flying With Hands", I'm quite enjoying the space and will no doubt be busier there than here as posts there are merely handfuls of words on the page.

Are you settled comfortably while I regale you with a little Anecdote
from the Pipistrello Archive?

A is for also for Anecdote:

For a short while, Mr P. and I rented a house when we were newly courting and had gone to America together for an Adventure. It was north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in a funny little suburb of early-to-bedders and rather impressive trees of the Sequoia variety, and with a surprisingly large number of people who supported the local cottage industry of fandom (a.k.a. Deadheads) of a band I'd never heard of until arriving in the area, The Grateful Dead.

We had discovered through our landlords that our next-door neighbour in the shared cul-de-sac was a retired musician. I don't remember that he was actually a member of this rather admired band but that he had indeed made his Fortune as a supporting musician of them of some description. He was living out his retirement in relative comfort and it was expected that his youthful (and middle-aged) overindulgences of the Heady Days of his past necessitated this somewhat Quieter Life.

Monsieur Rockstar and his Wife and the Pipistrello's only met once. We were trundling off down our driveway one day, heading out for a walk in the fabled local Redwoods, when MR's chauffeur-driven limousine pulled up alongside us. A tinted window lowered and a warm greeting was uttered by the dark-spectacled MR and his Wife who were comfortably sitting in the back.

Some small introductions were made, and MR drawlingly enquired upon hearing Mr P.'s name,

"So, you're Italian, right?"

"Yes ..."

"And you're an Aussie?"

"Yes ..."

"... So that makes you ... A Dingo Dago!"

With a tinkling laugh, his Wife said proudly,

"He thought that up all by himself!"

And with a merry wave goodbye, the tinted window was raised and the limousine continued up their driveway.

And this one's for Unsolicited Advice

Finally, A is for Advice: If you are tempted to wash your hair with Clay, you can take it from me that it's not worth it ... Unless you want a shortcut to a Gibson Girl updo that doesn't require more than one hairpin (like our chatty Miss on the 'phone, above) then by all means, go for it.

Bats In The Belfry