Thursday, 1 September 2022

Tokyo Atmosphere & Style Notes, 1992

Japan on the new accurate and compleat terrestrial globe by Gabriel Wright and William Barden, provided free as a promotional strategy to encourage subscriptions to The Geographical Magazine, 1783, published by Harrison & Co., London, mounted in mahogany stand
Let us away, Dear Reader!

To Japan. Home of delicious foodstuffs, cellotape-free origami packaging, Astro Boy and Monkey, and fashion swinging wildly between kimono sophistication and Kawaii odd-ball cutesy. Just to pluck only a few things from the welter of rich cultural offerings by this tiny but intriguing country. 

A sampling from a box of Japanese ephemera

It was also the first country to which Your Correspondent travelled, age twenty-five, as a "stop off" en route to London. As you do when the journey is long and flies over so many tantalising countries along the way. For no other reason, Japan was the result of a spin of the globe, plus an offer to visit an expatriate friend in Tokyo with whom to soak up some atmosphere made it irresistible.

Hatsushika Hokusai circa 1830 polychrome woodblock print from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Morning after the snow at Koishikawa in Edo, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Lo! Mount Fuji after snow!
Ditto as seen from the window of a speeding bullet train

This trip was a herald for many firsts: snow, an earthquake (5.7 on the Richter Scale for the oh so curious), bullet train travel, karaoke - save for snow, each never yet to be repeated, mind. The sights, sounds and experiences all understandably thrilling. 

George Wolfe Plank fashion illustration, Vogue, Winter 1927
Would that my Winter travel attire was once so fine!

And while Pipistrello in the early 90s would never be held as an exemplar of good fashion sense*, this green and uncultivated sense did yet twitch appreciatively at the delicious otherness of Japan.

A kimono for 'round the casa

There were kimonos galore: upon the young sumo wrestling stars being (respectfully) mobbed for autographs in the street at the tail of their January season; adorning Minnie Mouse at Disneyland (how could one not go?!) and beautiful young women shopping and temple-hopping in Kamakura; on the sweet nanna hostess at the ryokan in Nikko and the actors in the samurai movie being filmed in the garden of the shogun's castle in Kyoto. So much style!

Central Hall, Mitsukoshi department store, Tokyo, c. 1930
Glorious department stores to dress the diminutive
But accessories are one size fits all!

Pilgrimage was made to the boutiques and divine department stores around Shinjuku, Mitsukoshi and Isetan both earthly paradises, whereupon I did quest to try for myself the Tokyo street fashion subset which turned my head and heart so. But I failed abjectly to find twirly miniskirts and thigh-high black suede cavalier boots to fit my giantess proportions. Handbags and exquisite wood and ceramic bibelots proved the longer-lived and ultimately more stylish booby prize.

Under the dazzle of millions of lumens of ugly-beautiful neon light was a night life proving no less otherworldly to explore. After the heady delights of busy little restaurants each serving their specialty, where might one turn before piling back into the sardine-tin-subway to head home? Perhaps a strangely seedy path takes in constantly chiming and chinking pachinko parlours or the multi-storey bookshops filled with salarymen pouring over X-rated manga, waiting for the trains to come back on line after an earthquake. 

Or one could climb a wooden staircase, slide back a bamboo door and step through a hand-printed curtain to find oneself in a six-foot square bar where you are welcomed by enthusiastic and tipsy karaoke singers occupying the four other bar stools. One really cannot back through the curtain now, so after a bit of, ahem, spirited fortification, you might find the menu pushed along the bar to you, for it is only polite to contribute. The last page of the laminated book is entitled English Songs but the offerings are listed in Japanese, so you find to your blushing terror you are about to launch into "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - who knew there were so many verses?! - the seasoned patrons joining in to cover up your halting caterwauling.

These girls know all the hot places in town
Yamakawa Shūhō, Three Sisters, painted screen, 1936

Or,  shall we seek a music experience of a different kind, guided by a friend who has nosed out such hidden treasures before. Here you step off the busy, icy street into a nondescript building, take the rattly metal lift up to a corridor of small businesses shut for the evening, into a space where the perforated ceiling panels, partition walls and fluorescent lights indicate it must once have been maybe an accountancy office. But the squashy sofas, moody table lights and smokey ambience tell you it is a jazz bar. Solemn music aficionados sit finger-clicking and nodding along to the band, the musicians all seriousness, looking like they are Japan's answer to The Style Council. Their frontman, however, more akin to Iggy Pop, is writhing on the bland carpet tiles, his skinny stockinged legs sticking out from a bubble-shaped yellow and black bumblebee costume, antennae quivering atop his head as he screeches into the microphone. 

Of course, by now you are taking Tokyo's style in your stride but you still, sensibly, won't be coveting this cooler-than-school look for yourself.

* And for which, blessedly, hardly any photographs exist. Shall I, ahem, say something withering about the embrace by the present yoof of the daggy 80s (un)fashion in a much more well-documented way?

Image credits: 1, 2, 5: Flying With Hands; 3, 7: Wikimedia Commons; 4: via Gods & Foolish Grandeur; 6: via Old Tokyo

Sunday, 21 August 2022

The Fanfarona's Coda


Behold the source of my recent mischief! It is Giovanni Boldini's portrait of Marchesa Luisa Casati with a greyhound, painted in 1908.

Although this image is in the public domain and lives on innocently on the Wikimedia Commons, it seems this is the controversial image that put a spotlight on Your Correspondent's hitherto well-concealed Rake-shame ways and drew the ire of a Pinterest peruser. 

For why? Who knows?! Maybe it was the Marchesa's notoriety during the life she lived so extravagantly? Or the lavish accessorising in feather and fur?

We will never discover the source of the affront; it seems I was a mere Fanfarona in bragging to you, Dear Reader, that I lived my own life as a sordid and salacious libertine! The Pinterest Police have loosed the shackles on my wrists saying they have reviewed my appeal and apologise for their mistake. No explanation was given and the image was put back.

Although a reminder was given to review the guidelines on, ahem, "what is and isn't allowed on Pinterest", Pipistrello is back to being a rather pedestrian hausfrau. Oh, well, È meglio così, as we say around here - It's better this way. I'm rather too lazy to be a busy Rakehell.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 18 August 2022

Outed: Pipistrello The Rake-shame!

Art Nouveau door hardware in Brussels
A letter came last night

Well, Pipistrello had an unexpected fillip to her self-regard last night, Dear Reader, coming from an unlikely quarter. It seems the good people at the quaint and innocent pastime known as Pinterest have me in their sights and sent a stern letter saying I was in violation of their "Community Guidelines on adult content", no less, and had removed an offending image from my collection! Does this mean your usually rather starchy and sometimes censorious Correspondent is due a rebranding, having been outed as a Rake-shame?* 

René Lalique Peacock pendant, 1901
Avert your gaze from this shameless beauty

As to which among the items on my Art Nouveau board cluttered with Gallé glassware, Archibald Knox pewterware, Lalique jewels, Alphonse Mucha posters and whatnots could be classed as either "Fetish imagery, Vivid sexual descriptions, Graphic depictions of sexual activity or Images of nudity where the poses, camera angles or props suggest pornographic intent", I am unable to judge as the image offered up for my review had been fuzzed out in a considerate act of censorship. Too scandalous and blush-worthy for even my own eyes, evidently, let alone as salacious material for your feasting upon here. So I offer up instead similar companion pieces that rubbed shoulders with the disgraced item. Trigger Alert: NSFW**

Jules August Habert-Dys silver and enamel caviar server, 1905
Covet not this scandalous caviar server

Should you expect missives in future to be rejoicing in dissipation and licentiousness? At this juncture, I cannot say what may even constitute such branding, so perhaps just watch this space. 

Alphonse Mucha unused Pavilion decoration for the 1900 Paris World Fair, Le Vent Qui Passe, 1899, as a poster
Hide your blushes behind this fan design

Meanwhile, I await with curiosity as to the outcome of the appeal I submitted. How the Pinterest Police shall adjudicate over my entitlement to gather to my virtual bosom an image I'm not allowed to see is rather mysterious. I have also been told to busy myself with tidying up my boards and removing any further violating images of delicious Art Deco jewellery, incroyable tiaras, stunning bonsais, adorable tiny houses and kitchens and glamorous b&w fashion plates before they take "additional action on my account". This Rake-shame has been warned!!

First Paris Air Show, 1909
I may yet scoop up all my lovely images and
Take flight with them from future scandal

* OED: A disreputable or dissolute person; a rogue. Common in the 17th century and due for a refresh in 2022. In the event of a rebranding, I may need to modify my Blogger profile accordingly, lest any innocents stumble into these pages.

** Not Safe For Work. A bit of internet slang I did look up.

Image credits: via Pipistrello's Art Nouveau Pinterest Board

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Comings & Goings


Train wreck at Montparnasse Station in 1895 by Studio Lévy and Sons
Was this announced as an Arrival or Departure?

There's been nary a murmur about these pages for simply ages, so Your Correspondent thought to plug the void with a lazy On This Day-kind of entertainment as a little something to be getting on with before a flurry of anticipated bloggish activity evolves beyond the Draft Department: In order to smooth the Comings and Goings of people through history, on this day in 1888 the revolving door was patented by Theophilus Van Kannel.

From Van Kannel's patented door specs

For thems who may be unfamiliar with this revolutionary idea, (hem hem), I have furnished an extract of the technical drawing for United States Patent number US387571A, (expired on this day in 1905, obv.) above. So with this handy image in mind, Dear Reader, let us put it to good use in a Flying With Hands take on Hatches and Dispatches:

Mata Hari
Isaac Israël, 1916

In the Comings Department, on this day in 1876, the mysterious and infamous Dutchwoman Margeretha Geertruida Zelle, a.k.a. Mata Hari, was born. Were she to dress, or, ahem, undress herself in raiments woven in complicated and luxurious brocade, she may have appreciated the endeavours of one man who made possible the mass production of such sumptuous fabric, for her life was a relatively short one and the axiom that good things come to those who wait couldn't thus apply in her case.

The Lyonaise manufacturer Didier, Petit et Cie ordered this silk version of the 1831 commissioned portrait by Claude Bonnefond
J. M. Jacquard silk portrait,
Woven on a programmable loom of his name by
Michel-Marie Carquillat, 1839

I speak, of course, of inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard, who, in the Goings Department, died on this day in 1834. The Jacquard Loom is quite the fixture in the both the Industrial Revolution and the Computer Revolution, where its punch cards found a temporary home and give fond memories to Computer Scientists of a particular vintage.

English polymath and inventor Charles Babbage, the so-called Father of the Digital Computer, owned a copy of this woven silk portrait of Jacquard. He was mightily interested in this loom and the notion of punch cards and freely adopted their use in the development of his Analytical Engine. 

Charles Babbage's Brain

As a little aside, and as befits the output of this monstrous brain (which, as he donated it to Science, can be read about here), amongst his many written contributions to the world of science and society is an entrancing 1864 pamphlet extract from his work Passages in the Life of a Philosopher*, entitled A Chapter on Street Nuisances, wherein he rails against the noise pollution of London by the incessant street music. 

He lists the "Instruments of torture permitted by the Government to be in daily and nightly use in the streets of London" (viz. brass bands, harpsichords, hurdie-gurdies, drums, bagpipes, psalm singing &c. &c.) and singles out for public shaming the many "Encouragers of Street Music" (viz. tavern-keepers, coffee-shoppes, servants, children, country visitors, sometimes even the occasional titled lady - "but these are almost invariably of recent elevation, and deficient in that taste which their sex usually possesses" - &c. &c.) 

He points also to "ladies of elastic virtue and cosmopolitan tendencies, to whom it affords a decent excuse for displaying their fascinations at their own open window" as also being great supporters of this reviled music, so it was fortunate he did not live to witness the "fascinations" of Mata Hari, for he would surely have had a thing or two to add to her reputation.

By the way, Ada Lovelace, (daughter of bad boy Romantic poet Lord Byron) herself the so-called Prophetess of the Computer Age, said in 1843 of her collaborator and friend Charles Babbage's invention, "The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves." 

Anyhoo, for thems who did not take the quaint subject Textiles & Design in school in the 70s or 80s and study in minute detail the whys and wherefores, I am furnishing a picture below of the invention in question (the Jacquard loom not the Analytical Engine, obv.):

1850 Portable Version of the Jacquard Loom

And for thems who did not work at Big Blue, a.k.a. IBM, or his kith and kin around the same time, I am furnishing a picture below of the thrilling computer punch card complete with bonus tape drives and is that the germ of a regulation comb-over?

The questions and the answers to
Life's Mysteries - and just Getting Stuff Done -
Once beheld in humble punched cardboard

And, before it's all but gone, that's about it for the 7th of August!

* Prefaced thus: 

Some men write their lives to save themselves from ennui, careless of the amount they inflict on their readers.

Others write their personal history, lest some kind friend should survive them, and, in showing off his own talent, unwittingly show them up.

Others, again, write their own life from a different motive - from fear that the vampires of literature might make it their prey.

Image credits: 1-4: Wikimedia Commons; 5: via Internet Archive; 6: Flying With Hands; 7: Sotheby's; 8: via Google

Sunday, 26 June 2022

A Riddle

'What is the Answer?' F. E. Outerbridge cover design for the magazine 'Judge', Volume LXVII, 11th July, 1914
This week I did in jest wonder aloud about a theme I am eminently unqualified to speak over at the home of sidebar resident and Comments Department habitué, Britta, viz. Cultural Appropriation and whether embracing Biedermeier furniture to one's heart when one is neither German nor living in the early nineteenth century is such a Crime? Can Cultural Appropriation be also applied to Home Furnishings, or, when you're hauled before the bench, will your criminal barrister be only probing into your hobbies, dress, hairstyles and penchant for parleying in patois when you've had too much rum punch? As I say, Your Correspondent is merely talking out of her (cloche) hat if allowed to expound on such subjects and will thereby desist but, instead, leave you with a Riddle:

What mysterious form of denounced cultural appropriation, marked [?] below, lies in the path of the latest instance of competitive offendedness?

To some extent, the denunciation of [?] is simply a function of the culture of competitive offendedness that plays so large a role in the culture of the well-to-do these days.  One of the best ways to outflank your fellow members of the comfortable classes, whether the rivalry is merely everyday one-upsmanship or aims at higher stakes, is to show that you’re more easily offended by invisible injustices than anyone else*. 

Answer: Tarot cards!

* From Archdruid John Michael Greer's Ecosophia blogpost, "Rice and Beans in the Outer Darkness".

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 13 June 2022

Public Enemies Series: Darling v Wentworth

He is the kind of opponent who would stab you in front of your face and then stab you in the chest when your back is turned.

Sir Boyle Roche, C18th Irish Bull Perpetrator & MP

Nota bene: A Lesson follows, Dear Reader, so avert your gaze if your Queen's Birthday public holiday is typically free from such chores! 

Is there not something strangely appealing about eavesdropping on a public spat between two people you don't know? Be they politicians, for it is/was Election Time in this neck o' the woods*, or other figures of fun, with The Press aiding & abetting, it's a peculiar pastime. From the sidelines, complete strangers' perceived merits and faults are chewed over, sides are taken and relish is had in this chewing over of tidbits; there's always a warm welcome in the Court of Public Opinion! 

Never let it be said Your Correspondent, too, can't oblige to furnish you with a salacious anecdote or two about warring men from history's stage or, in this case today, just how far one will go in his condemnation of another. But, as I'd teased you with this promise of more shenanigans after glimpsing the raw emotion betwixt Colonial Australian Bigwigs and Public Enemies viz. Darling v Wentworth what, more than a year ago? [For shame!], you must feel ol' Pipistrello is herself behaving like a common politician with these unfulfilled promises promises ... 

Enough of the twittering and let's off to pick over the carcass!

General Sir Ralph Darling watercolour miniature, Henry Edridge, circa 1805
Miniature view of Tyrant Darling in his Youth,
Determinedly looking one way ...

A handy reminder of our Lesson 18-months ago: In one corner we have the British Sir Ralph Darling, who had from 1825 been the Tory-appointed Governor of the fledging New South Wales colony for a term. He swept through like a new broom, tidying up the Augean stables of corruption and bristled with Christian dourness and military humourlessness and other such kinds of disagreeableness, and thus earned through his martinet ways the moniker Tyrant.

William Charles Wentworth bronze bust by Terrance Plowright adorning Wentworth Falls railway station
... Bronze bust of Hero Wentworth in his Prime,
Looking t'other.

In the other corner we have first-generation Australian William Charles Wentworth, in a sense a Renaissance Man, with his bow stringed with such titles as explorer, barrister, newspaper founder and free-speaking champion of the emancipist and whatnot. Wentworth loathed Darling and constantly pilloried and derided him through his press and attempted to have him impeached. Naturally enough, this earned Wentworth the adoration of the grottier end of town and he was proclaimed Hero**. 

The Hooghley, circa 1840

And so it went for six years. Wentworth and his cronies chafed loudly and stridently through the press, whilst Darling fought back with endless libel cases, gave no concessions to the radicals and chided them with preferencing instead the upright citizenry. Eventually, Darling's so-called Reign of Terror was over, although not quite as a disgraceful recall as the pro-Wentworth camp liked to depict, and he was due to sail back to England onboard the Hooghley on the 22nd of October, 1831. 

The Hobart Town Courier opined of Wentworth & Chums in the fortnight prior, "Now that the General is really going they might we think allow him to take his departure peaceably and quietly and not harass him to the last like a parcel of yelping curs at the heels of a horseman." Alas, spoiler alert!, not to be.

Vaucluse Bay, painting by George Edwards Peacock, circa 1846-50
Vaucluse Bay, circa 1840s
The Gothic Revival Vaucluse House then sat on 515 acres.
Plenty big enough to host the Fête Champêtre of the Decade!

Imagine the glee of the "smutched crew" known as the Rabble of Sydney-town, as The Sydney Gazette and N.S.W. Advertiser - alleged peddler of inane twaddle and fulsome flattery of Government officials - so quaintly put it, upon perusing The Sydney Monitor, their scurrilous and polemical newspaper of choice, on the Wednesday morn prior when their eyes seize upon an open invitation that very day to a mighty Fête Champêtre at Vaucluse, the house of the people's Hero, to celebrate the departure of the outgoing Tyrant, whose good ship Hooghley was lying in Watson's Bay at the foot of Hero's mansion house, awaiting Saturday's fair winds.

The Fête Champêtre by Dirck Hals, 1627
How one might picture a civilised Garden Party at Vaucluse to look.

An ox, which had with great anticipatory fanfare been processed through the streets of Sydney the day before decked with ribbons, and a further half-a-dozen sheep were promised for roasting, as were "copious libations", entertainments galore and fireworks at this joyful event and with the p.s. that they must pack their own knives and tumblers and horse tethers if so lucky to own such transport, all decide (someone else's) wild horses could not keep them from this stupendous event and so clear the diary for the day and set about hoofing it out to Vaucluse with a ribbon in their hat, as per instructions.

Peasants Carousing, painting by Jan Miense Molenaer, 1662
But carousing peasants might better fit the picture?

Of an immigrant population then of 51,155, an estimated 4,000 carousers trudged and rode in every possible conveyance along the South Head-road to and fro Mr. Wentworth's house from morning till night, the last revellers straggling home the following dawn. While the select group of VIPs supped and imbibed within the sanctuary of the house, on the lawns the Rabble set upon the roasted beasts with their knives after elbowing aside the appointed carvers, devoured thousands of loaves, and drank generously from the bung-hole of the supplied Cooper's gin-cask and Wright's strong beer***. 

Drunk Monkeys peel & stick wallpaper can be yours to purchase from Astek Home
Some party stragglers, perhaps,
Thinking up a bit more fun?

Replete, lubricated and high-spirited, the crowd hoisted aloft and processed about the grounds the Hero and other grandees, lofty speeches were made and cheered, a band played and songs were sung, rustic sports and games played and a jolly good time was had by all. Later, bonfires were lit on the hill above and illuminations struck bearing the slogans "God Save The King" and "Down With The Tyrant" were reputed to be seen from across the town through the night. It was a splendid affair and Mr. Wentworth could not have planned a better party to tap into the sentiments of the victory camp in the battle of wills between the two adversaries.

The following night more illuminations were struck in the windows of partisan establishments and elaborate painted and lamp-lit transparencies depicting Darling in derogatory and degrading tones, shall we say, entertained passersby with their busy satirical details. But Sydney-town was also abuzz with a titillating coda to Mr. Wentworth's Fête: a small band of tippled youthful revellers absconded with the beribboned skull from the roasted ox and rowed out on one of the party boats moored in the bay at Vaucluse to the Hooghley, brandished it aloft at the sailors on duty and cheering lustily, "Down with the Tyrant!" tossed the skull into the bay with a harumph. And rowed away with much merriment.

Unbeknownst to the youths, the good Mrs. Darling and a Miss Darling were below deck on the Hooghley, inspecting their quarters before sailing on Saturday, and although apparently not direct witness to the insult to their Loved One, a great feast was subsequently made in the warring presses over the Incident. One camp cried, "Heinous Crime!", the other, "Innocent Exuberance!" &c. &c.

When Governor Darling quit Government House for the last time with a solemn gathering of Good Citizens lining his passage to the jetty and following his tender to the Hooghley, the pro-Wentworth opinion pieces declared the showing to be merely a reluctant and desultory populace who mistakenly felt they needed to repair any wounded feelings of the Darling Ladies, and if it weren't for the high-jinks of the Youths, of which No Apology Was Necessary, no soul beyond any Darling sycophant would have turned out to witness his departure. And then went to great lengths to "advise" the incoming Governor that the Press can make or break a ruler, having now drummed Darling out of town, and if he wanted their support he would need to operate from a sanctioned playbook.

The Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser, by contrast, in summing up with glowing terms the respectable and warm send off after the "Vaucluse farce" and "dastardly insults" earlier in the week, sympathised with Darling as having descended from his unenviable post as Governor, "without sufficient to remind him that Botany Bay has not yet entirely lost the peculiarities of its character." Unfortunately, the fair winds of Saturday failed to materialise so it took two hours to tow the Hooghley through Sydney Harbour out to open water, thus the Darlings had, as their last view of Sydney, the indignity of a long and lingering close look at Vaucluse.

More illuminations that evening with "Away Ye Despot!", "He's Off!", "Liberty to the Press Unfettered by the Darling Necklace!", & "Thank God!" &c. &c. echoed the jubilation as the Hooghley and Governor Darling receded over the horizon and away from these shores forever.

Naturally, the gleeful taking of sides continued as the fallout from Darling v Wentworth spread years later. In February 1836, upon news from England that Darling had all the Wentworth-promoted charges cleared against his name as both a Governor and a Gentleman, a Correspondent to The Sydney Herald remarked, 

The result of the appointment of a committee of the House of Commons [and a Whig committee, to boot], to enquire into the charges preferred against that much calumniated officer - General Darling - although it is merely confirmatory of the anticipations of the friends of good government in this Colony, must be felt as a stunning blow by the Convict faction who have for years continued to heap obloquy on the name of the only Governor since the foundation of the Colony, who had firmness enough to keep them in their proper places, and to condemn the popularity which could only be acquired by truckling to the very dregs of society.

And reinforced this, ahem, temperate view with the charge,

... the 'acclamations', of which so much has been said and written, [and here sit I, 200 years later, guilty as charged!] were confined to a mere handful of the scum of Sydney, whose exultation at His Excellency's embarkation for Europe ought to be viewed as one of the very strongest manifestations that could be afforded of the fitness of the measures adopted by him for the coercive government of the villainous class to which they belong.

This charmingly-put critique of the character of the colourful class was followed by a further Correspondent who quoted the good moralist Samuel Johnson's words on confusing Patriotism with Populism and set the new Governor Bourke to task for promoting Wentworth to the magistracy on the very same day as his persecutee was exonerated from the dastardly charges!

Darling thusly retired from the scene and since History is always written by the Victors, especially when they influence the Press, he is much maligned in the pages of Australia's Colonial History, notwithstanding his name peppering our maps. Wentworth, meanwhile, went to further and greater heights as a statesman and Man of Influence among the new breed of Australian-born citizens, and was arguably the most famous man in the country at the time of his death and was afforded the Colony's first State Funeral. He even looms large today in the lives of the Pipistrellos, as we reside in the Electorate of Wentworth. In the final wash up of public enemies Darling v Wentworth, it would appear that there was indeed no limit to how far one man would go.

And so endeth The Lesson.

* Not to mention, of course, Mr. P, as a dual Italian-Australian citizen living in the electorate of, ahem, 'Africa Asia Oceania & Antarctica', this week also performed his civic duty and voted in the thrilling Italian referendum with regard to the Severino Law! For the oh so curious, there are merely 2 elected representatives in this wholly manageable and Romanesquely-diverse electorate, one each in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic, both of whom presently are dual Australian citizens. Somehow this situation smacks of electoral shenanigans to me.

** Obv., there is much more to this story but, like a modern-era history lesson, you'll only be getting the barest of headlines and, anyways, I've taken sides in this story, as is proper, and I'm in the Darling camp and this tale is thus duly censored.

*** Extract from a poem in The Sydney Gazette and N.S.W. Advertiser, 21st September, 1830:
Hark'ee, friend, leave off that moan,
Persuading us you're all alone!!!
Brush up your hair, smooth down your chin,
Then take a vack of Cooper's gin!!
If for your purse that is too dear,
Then sip of Wright's Australian beer.


Image credits: 1, 3: Flying With Hands; 2: Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences; 4: State Library, South Australia 5: Vaucluse House Collection, 5: Rijksmuseum; 6: Museum of Fine Art, Boston 7: Astek Home Wallpaper

Friday, 6 May 2022

Kunstkamer: An Extravaganza

De Rariteitkamer van Levinus Vincent, Gerrit Rademaker drawing 1680 - 1711
The stage is set for a Cabinet of Curiosities

I can tell you how I felt, Dear Reader, about our night out this week at the Sydney Opera House to watch The Australian Ballet's performance of Kunstkamer. Overwhelmed. Stunned. Captivated. When I thought at one point it was finishing I was bereft it was nearly over. Then I was overjoyed when it kept going. And we joined in rapturous applause with the rest of the audience when it did finish.

But how does one go about describing the sensory extravaganza that is the treasured gem of Nederlands Dans Theater? Others have described it as "monumental", "a beautiful monster", "an experience of dance on another frequency", "an expression of the endless possibilities that exist at the intersection of art and science." 

Geboorte van Christus sculptures (anon.), c. 1850-1900
Flights of fancy

To start somewhere is to say that its eighteen component parts are the brainchildren of four renowned choreographers whose imaginations have taken flight - Sol León, Paul Lightfoot, Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke. But that's no help. 

Portrait of Albertus Seba, Jacob Houbraken, after Jan Maurits Quinkhard, engraving 1731 - 1780
Albertus Seba considers his Curiosities
and inspires a Ballet

Next, that the whole, Kunstkamer, literally Art Room, is inspired by the 18th-century book by Albertus Seba, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, and Maria Sybilla Merian's C18th scientific illustrations of the natural world, and is reflected in the stage set of a dark grey contemporaneous gallery space wherein these images and objets might have once been housed by eccentric collectors. Again, you are none the wiser.

Bloemenrand met insecten, Maria Sibylla Merian etching 1657 - 1717
O, the Natural World as seen by Maria Sybilla Merian

How about enumerating the roll call of composers from whose works were plucked extracts from operas, symphonies, polkas, even recordings: Ludwig von Beethoven to Ólafur Arnalds, via Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten, Christoph W. Gluck and Joby Talbot, Johann Strauss Jr and Arvo Pärt, Franz Schubert and ... Janis Joplin.

It then needs to be said that showcased against the luscious backdrop of the gorgeous music, which includes piano, violin and tambourine (!) solos, is contemporary dance exquisitely and precisely executed, gracefully and movingly alongside spoken words, singing (!!) and even film, with costumes elegant and sleek.

Finally, that The Australian Ballet is the first dance company to be entrusted with staging it outside of The Netherlands goes some way to indicate how rare a treat it is to have seen it, with pieces danced variously by the full ensemble, solos and pas de deux, and David Hallberg taking to the stage for the first time since becoming Artistic Director to dance the rôle of the spirit or caretaker, or ghost, of the Kunstkamer.

Rariteitenkabinet, Jacob van der Schley etching 1725 - 1779
Oddities and wonders in order

While none of this can even hint at what kind of ballet should be expected, it does indicate its extraordinary ambition. And, like a Cabinet of Curiosities, Kunstkamer's discrete and disparate choreographies are each beautiful and sometimes strange, hinting at art and science and nature and all belonging together. And altogether rather mysterious. And fabulous.

The Phoenix, Cornelis Troost oil on canvas 1720 - 1750
A fabulous Phoenix

So what did see? 

Glimpsed through the kaleidoscope I saw Mandelbrot sets and fractals emerging from the chaos; DNA strands zipping and unzipping; swimmers in a pool; murmurations of starlings; tableaux vivants à la Delacroix's Liberty; Courtly dancing; puppets and paper cutout animation; moths and butterflies, both fluttering and pinned in their collection drawers; the slightly fast-motion of early silent film; preening and courting birds, and maybe even a phoenix.

But that's just me.

I see Murmurating Starlings
Merlyn Chesterman woodcut

Image credits: 1-6: Rijksmuseum; 7:

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Many Impertinent Questions & A Dozen Mere Trifles

Even NASA must have looked for answers to impertinent questions.

Have you ever wondered, Dear Reader, if you may have crossed paths with Your Correspondent?  How could you know?

Maybe we stood on the same train platform at Frankfurt airport, you en route to Milan, me waiting for the following train to Prague, perhaps? 

Or did we bob about on foam noodles in the same swimming pool of a timeshare apartment complex on the Big Island of Hawai'i? 

Or perhaps we just passed on the escalators in David Jones department store in Sydney, me on the way up to Haberdashery, you on the way down to Small Electricals. 

Or, more likely, you overheard me Carrying On about a pet topic on the adjacent bench in a park, anywhere really. Stranger things have happened. 

Is it not time, then, to acknowledge that we've known each other long enough now for me to come out of my customary shell, cosy as it is, and so shed some anonymity? 

A flyer advertising long-haired women, to be sure.
But how to tell whom here is Pipistrello?

Forthwith, I shall provide you with some trifles (beyond the unhelpful description of tall, slim, greying long brown hair, spectacles & presently clocking in at age 56) that may help to identify me in the wild, so to speak:

  • I do not drive a car: The woman [insert unhelpful description above] shaking her fist at you as you sail through a pedestrian crossing without stopping could be me**.
  • I have a peculiar sense of humour: The only person (read: woman) laughing in the darkened cinema at odd times could be me.
  • I am allergic to horses: If you own a harras of horses and it is rustled in the night, it won't be me.
  • I was once expelled from a packed lecture hall in front of the other First Year Pure Mathematics students for the mistaken Crime of Flirting (!!): If you recite Miss Ann Elk's Theory on Brontosauruses, with emphasis on the throat clearing, at a woman who then weeps with uncontrollable laughter such that she needs to be removed from a 1000-seat public forum, that could be me. Nota bene: I have more recently discovered Mr. Frank Key (dec.), formerly of Hooting Yard, and believe the same result would have occurred if the interwebs had been at our disposal in 1984.
  • I have convict ancestry: If you have as a skeleton in your family's closet an Anthony Steel or a Margaret Irwin, themselves expelled from Ireland in the early 1800s for Crimes requiring Transportation, we are probably related.
  • I have Swedish ancestry: If you have in your family tree one Augustus Lindberg AB, who may have jumped ship from the barque Choice in Sydney in 1879 (sailing from the Port of Takis in Lithuania, bien sûr), we, too, are probably related.
  • I once travelled on the Concorde: The woman weeping silently behind you on a long and tedious subsonic aeroplane journey could be me.
  • I have never been rescued from a crisis except in the medical sense: If you are a fireman and you carry a woman fireman-wise down a ladder during a conflagration and she perhaps babbles to you that on a scale of 1 to 10 she is not sure if the titanium in her head will set off a metal detector, it could me me.
  • I might occasionally make things up: The woman overheard at the table next to you in a café reminiscing about the time she kissed a (Lesser European) Prince, might make you pause to wonder both if it could be me and is this is one of those occasions? (How will you ever know? ...)
  • I am law-abiding to a fault: The woman who flashes a fake Sheriff's badge at you after having first shaken her fist at you as you sail through a pedestrian crossing without stopping could be me.
  • I believe exceptions always prove the rule: viz.:
  • I once (accidentally) travelled from England to Holland and back without a passport: If you work for Interpol, I shall not divulge my home address.

This dozen mere bagatelles should be enough to be getting on with as a handy taxonomic guide to identifying Pipistrello when out and about. So, if you think you have spotted me, don't be shy and do say Hullo!

* These so-called little known facts are quite likely to have been spoken of before around these pages, or will sometime in the future.

** Both you and I know this is a mere fiction for that would never happen when you are behind the wheel.

Image credits: 1: via: Mr. P but long forgotten and thus unattributable, possibly NASA; 2: Nathaniel Russell's Fake Fliers

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Easter Tidings ...


... of the fantastic sort, Dear Reader.

Pipistrello x

Image credit: Hybridizer

Friday, 1 April 2022

April Fooled

Have you ever been done like a dinner on April Fools' Day, Dear Reader? Both Mr. P & I fell one year hook, line and sinker for a very amusing spoof magazine feature on a Nordic ice cream tycoon and his family. But hunting the interwebs for delicious evidence to share has left me empty-handed and now wondering if I dreamt the whole thing. Perhaps this is the key to being properly April Fooled?

Despite spending an unseemly amount of time today perusing archived 1990s trashy magazine covers seeking editions around the beginning of April and only becoming reacquainted with the likes of Claudia Schiffer (so many times) and Jane Seymour (so many children) and 90s-headlining royal covergirls in their prime, Mr. P reassures me that he, too, can visualise the whole glorious thing. So we can't have imagined the magazine spread. But it does seem to have suspiciously vanished from said archives.

We've all pored over the occasional Exclamatory(!) guilty-pleasure magazine in the dentist's waiting room (and, ahem, purchased the occasional copy with an alluring cover) so you can picture for yourself the glossy images splashed across several pages with their breathless yet almost tongue-in-cheek captions:

The Family Portrait comprises a handsome middle-aged tycoon with a nonsense Nordic name posing in his lavish mansion, his sullen and beautiful blonde adolescent scions from a first marriage surrounding his baronial throne, his 20-something sultry and beautiful blonde second wife at his side and at their feet their sweetly blonde twins.

Subsequent Home Interior photos have the trophy wife draped provocatively across furniture, pouting at the camera in a new ensemble for each shot, the sulky adolescents glowering at the camera in the background. The accompanying editorial sings the praises of the brilliant tycoon, gushes admiringly over his beauteous family, the exquisite taste of the home, the furnishings, the fashion labels. It was all so utterly convincing and a brilliant parody of the typical spread found within their pages any other week.

And we fell for it. For an embarrassingly long time. Maybe even for weeks. I can't remember when the penny dropped but it finally did. But in the meantime, I did even tell people, sensible adults, that the Scandinavian millionaire founder of an ice-cream empire had wittily named his twins Ben & Jerry.  

Image credit: via Google

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Rain Check

There's a little bit of this* going on again today. So Anna and I are taking a rain check on our fair-weather companionable sit in the park. But this is what you might otherwise see of us on a fine day, Dear Reader:

Anna & I

It's not that Your Correspondent is a mere lotus eater. There's also been a bit of this around here:

Progress at my window, eh? The Sound of Sydney.

Speaking of Lotus, this is what's turning heads at our local park:

Everyone stops to look at it,

And photograph it,

By the stone bridge,

Getting the koi terribly excited as you step closer.

This is, of course, the Fish Park by Elizabeth Bay House.

So you may remember this view?

Which can distract one from Anna's company - but I'm getting along nicely.

And in the Random Department:

There are no Beach visits to show for there is none of that nonsense.
Ol' Pipistrello's colouring rather resembles a Guinea Fowl these days!

The Hydrangeas are past their best now,
But this was the recent Glory about the Condominio.

And it's now Crepe Myrtle season

In a rather big way.

Of course the native Eucalypts are just as showy.

What can I say? I Covet this window display of Cos.

Favourite Summer Fruit at the moment.

Favourite Bird. Always.

Street Fair with Bonus Battered Bicycle [& Tattooed Lady].

Finally, when did you last see a sky writer? On Valentines' Day Your Correspondent noticed this:

I waited until he was finished - but it was just Sky Scribble in the end.

It looked like the obvious I 💜 YOU was in play. Not to be! But let's pretend it was so and I'll finish on that happy note!

* Our year of La Niña is making merry with the eastern seaboard of this country. None of the hideous summer bushfires that the Kingdom of Western Australia is enduring have arrived to these shores, which is a welcome change, and the rain rain rain has made our land uncharacteristically green for this time of year. La Niña ordinarily means a cool, wet summer for us, but it's been hot and humid instead. So sultry, as my dear father-in-law used to say.

PS: For the oh so curious, around 105mm was clocked up about the casa for the day, or just over 4 inches in old money. Some parts of the city were graced with nearly half as much again. Of course, the Bureau of Meteorology promises plenty more where that came from in the week ahead. Joy.

Photo credits: Flying With Hands

Bats In The Belfry