One trip EVERY month: September

I haven’t left town this month, but I have visited the National Museum which gave me plenty of opportunities to snap photos. Ours is a museum of social history.  Neither the content nor the architecture is traditional, which is obvious even before arriving at the car park:  the introduction to the building is this giant 30m high loop, part of what is called the Uluru line: Entrance NMA In the foyer there are great glass windows looking onto the lake, and an artsy window dressing which produces the best shadows. window_Nat Museum As I moved up into the galleries, Eternity caught my eye.  Arthur Stace famously wrote this single word in beautiful copperplate writing on the footpaths of Sydney between 1932 and 1967. Eternity NMA Stace described an experience in church which prompted him to write Eternity half a million times over 35 years:

John Ridley was a powerful preacher and he shouted, ‘I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.’ He repeated himself and kept shouting, ‘Eternity, Eternity’, and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write ‘Eternity’. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket, and I bent down right there and wrote it. I’ve been writing it at least 50 times a day ever since, and that’s 30 years ago … I think Eternity gets the message across, makes people stop and think. (courtesy National Museum of Australia website)

From reflecting on eternity I was taken back in time to the largest of all marsupials, the extinct Diprotodon.  After all, it wouldn’t be a museum without a skeleton.  Here’s the Diprotodon in and out of its skin:

An unmissable object in the Museum is an old windmill, its sails turning slowly and windlessly, old technology driven by new. It’s a Simplex windmill from Kenya station, north-east of Longreach in central Queensland.  The windmill provided water for stock from a shallow bore, from the 1920s until 1989, when a deeper artesian bore came into service.  It was one of two windmills on 25,000 acres!  As the windmill owner, John Seccombe, who donated it to the museum says, Australia couldn’t have survived without windmills. windmill NMA One of the saddest sights in the museum was this gate, a reminder of times when some children were raised by institutions: Boys Home NMA There were other objects like leg irons and old pistols that remind us of our darker colonial past:  and a convict bi-colour ‘magpie’ uniform, designed to deter convicts from escaping.  But imagine the situation if, in 1788 and later, the roles had been reversed, and it wasn’t the English arriving to claim this land for the crown, but the Aboriginals arriving to take the land from the whites.  Gordon Syron, an indigenous artist painted that ‘what if’ scene in The Black Bastards are Coming, 2006: Black Bastards are Coming_Gordon Syron_2006 NMA Out on the museum terrace, one of the best spots to get a quiet waterside coffee, I was contemplating eternity when a man and dog came past on a surfboard (lakeboard?).

Before I go, if you’re wondering about the header image, it’s part of Martumili Ngurra, 2009, hanging in the museum foyer, painted in acrylic on linen by six Martu women from central Western Australia.  Ngalangka Taylor, one of the artists, says:

“When you look at this painting, don’t read it like a whitefella map.  It’s a Martu map:  this is how we see the country.”

The painting shows tracks and roadways and geographical sites related to mining and pastoral activities introduced in the 19th century in their part of Australia.

More next month.  Until then, see some other monthly trips on Marianne’s East of Málaga.  She challenges us to take one trip EVERY month.

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George Sand. Heard of her?

She was a great-great granddaughter of the King of Poland, Augustus II the Strong.  Her father was the king’s great-grandson, Maurice Dupin.

Her mother, Sophie Delaborde, the daughter of a bird fancier, was, said George, of the ‘vagabond race of Bohemians’.

She was a girl with a foot in two worlds, born Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin in 1804 in Paris, raised by her aristocratic grandmother.

She did what women did in the nineteenth century:  she married at 18 and produced a child, and a few years later, after some time away from home, she produced another child.  Perhaps not by the same father…

She did what women didn’t do:  she left her husband to live as a single mother in Paris.

George Sand, Auguste Charpentier, 1838, Musée de la vie romantique, Paris
George Sand.  Auguste Charpentier, 1838.  Musée de la vie romantique, Paris

In 1831, she began mixing in artistic circles and changed her name to George Sand.

To be independent, George had to earn her living.  She took to writing, lived in attics, cropped her hair, abandoned her expensive layers of women’s drapery and donned cheaper clothing:  a redingote, trousers, vest and tie.

Dressing in men’s clothes allowed her to visit clubs and theatre-pits where she closely observed men in their public male spaces and listened in on their literary and cultural conversations.

And dressing in men’s clothes brought her valuable attention as a new author.  It helped her books to sell so she and her two children could eat.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ef/Liszt_at_the_Piano.JPG
Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano.  Joseph Danhauser, 1840.  George Sand is seated on her red cloak.  An imagined gathering of musicians and writers (and Liszt’s mistress).  Image courtesy Wikipedia

In her writing career she considered herself an equal among her male peers, and her works were widely read.

By the end of the nineteenth century, her works were out of fashion.

Some of her best writings have been translated into English in recent years.  After I read her Gothic novel, Spiridion, (in French), about 3 years and 3 months ago, I had an idea that English-language readers would find it intriguing.  When I’d finished reading it, I started translating it.  Now SUNY Press is publishing my translation of Spiridion, and will have it ready in May 2015.

George wrote it in 1838/39 while keeping company with Frédéric Chopin, several years her junior.  When Frédéric, George and her children sojourned in Majorca for the winter of 1838, she finished Spiridion to the sounds of Chopin composing his Preludes.

But in 1842 George revised the novel’s ending, and it’s this one you’ll read in the English translation.

In Spiridion the audacious George wrote of an exclusively male microcosm where not one female plays a part, a world impossible for her to experience but not impossible to imagine:  a monastery where goodness is punished, corruption is encouraged, love is discouraged, and real and unreal demons haunt the cloisters and the crypt.

It was a harsh critique of the rigid dogmas of a monastery and its authorities.  “I allowed myself to challenge purely human institutions,” she said, and, for that, some declared her to be “without principles.”  Her response:  “Should it bother me?”.

Some readers will learn a lesson and find hope in this story.  Others will read a mystery based on the evil tendencies of humans confined in an institution, with a positive suggestion or two for living peaceably with our fellow monks.

‘Spiridion’, cover

In May next year, if you’re looking for a Gothic novel with a philosophical turn, keep your eye out for this cover.

George became one of the rare women of the nineteenth century able to earn enough to be financially independent.  She was still writing when she died at 71.

Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon), photographer (French, 1820 - 1910) George Sand, about 1865, Albumen silver print Image: 24.1 x 18.3 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.) Mount: 30.5 x 21.4 cm (12 x 8 7/16 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
George Sand, photograph by Nadar, about 1865, Albumen silver print, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 *****

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Voice Work

On Thursday, the WordPress writing prompt was “Voice Work”:  who would you like to do a voice recording of your blog?

It got me thinking about audio books, a book pleasure I enjoy from time to time.  The delight of this kind of ‘reading’ is in the hearing.  The voice of the reader combined with an excellent novel is the best kind of one-sided conversation.  Usually an actor is chosen as the reader, but hearing him read is streets ahead of seeing and hearing actors interpret a novel as film (well, for me it is).

Take, as an example of a highly-recommended audio book, Dances with Wolves read by its author, Michael Blake.  My husband and I listened to it on a long drive and often found we didn’t want to get out of the car.

danceswithwolves

Then there was The Collector, written by John Fowles, narrated by James Wilby.  Creepy story.  A butterfly collector decides to collect something less morally acceptable.  The reader played the part so well that I don’t think I could trust him in real life.

The Collector | [John Fowles]

And recently, on another long drive interstate and back again, we listened to The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by Gerard Basil Edwards, a story about a long life on the island of Guernsey, written by a Guernsey man, and read by Guernsey-born Roy Dotrice.  It was so good that we’ve replayed parts of it just to hear the narrator’s voice and the quirky dialogue, where verbs aren’t always conjugated and h’s are dropped when they exist and added when they don’t.The Book of Ebenezer le Page | [G. B. Edwards]

I tried to imagine someone (not me) reading my blog posts, but I drew a blank.  But something else sprang to mind: a book I’ve translated which will be available next year.  That is something I’d like to hear read aloud.  The story, Spiridion, is set in an 18th-century monastery where goodness is punished and females play no part.  So my reader would have to be male, for the only female in this book is the author, though she’s a writer with a man’s name:  George Sand.  She wrote in French, but for my English translation I would choose, perhaps, an eloquent Englishman.  Or Australian, because I’m Australian.  But then, perhaps not, since there are no 18th-century monasteries here;  an Australian accent might not be credible.  I’d need someone who sounds like he could have lived in the 18th century, from a country where monasteries have been around for a millennium.  How about an actor I’ve seen in a film of the same genre?  Say, Sean Connery.  Hmmm.  Did you see him in The Name of the Rose?  Yes, he’s the one.  I’d pick him.

*****

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