366 unusual things: days 329 – 333

24th Nov – A beautiful dark-haired girl in a brief flowery skirt and briefer white t-shirt was scooping raspberry ice cream while I waited for her to serve me;  my eyes were fixed on her scooping arm and its six inch high tattoo of a skull and crossbones.

25th Nov – A very unusual day.  Went to Sydney to meet a German couple who have been my penpals for a couple of years.

We sat on the grass for a while in the cool of the afternoon, which for my German friends was unusual.  Where they live, it is forbidden.

Next to us was this work of art by Fiona Hall, A Folly for Mrs Macquarie. Mrs Macquarie was the wife of Lachlan Macquarie, an Australian governor from 1810 to 1821.  On his tomb is written “Father of Australia”.

At the apex of the quasi-Gothic folly is the raised arm and clasped dagger of the Macquarie crest. The barbed wire is a symbol of the white man’s act of dividing the land. The axe and scythe represent implements brought to Sydney by the First Fleet for clearing land for farming.

‘A Folly for Mrs Macquarie’, Fiona Hall, Sydney

The ceiling is decorated with sculptures of bones from native animals that once lived in this part of Sydney;  see below:

Ceiling, ‘A Folly for Mrs Macquarie’, Fiona Hall, Sydney

26th Nov – My dog was so excited when we returned from Sydney that he tore around a corner, spun out and blew a leg.  Now he walks on three.  It’s permanent.  🙁

27th Nov – Learnt from a radio program that one muscle exists only for smiling, the zygomaticus major.  It draws the angle of the mouth superiorly and posteriorly.  🙂

28th Nov – In the library, a pudgy, sweaty guy sprayed himself with deodorant around his neck, down the front of his shirt and over his head.

366 unusual things: days 324 – 328

19th Nov – Spoke to a new migrant to Canberra, Australia’s capital, who ardently believes the capital should be on the coast.  His opinion shows the movement of priorities for Westerners:  in 1908 the inland capital site was chosen for its fertility and adequate water supply, but in 2012 the pleasure of seaside living is more important.

20th Nov – Tried on shoes in a shop but they were too tight.  Was given a stocking and told the shoes would feel looser with it on.  If I add a layer, won’t the shoes be tighter?  No, as it turns out, they did indeed stop pinching.  Did the stocking elastic push my foot flesh up my ankle?

21st Nov – The bathroom ceiling, painted a few months ago with unsuitable paint, is peeling in white flakes that float down before my face as I clean my teeth.

22nd Nov – I teach a few continental Europeans who tell me stories of very effectively demanding and receiving money they are owed.  They like the statement, ‘This is not negotiable.’

23rd Nov – Made a hot chocolate from a product which recommends organic non-dairy milk alternative.  But I used chemical, antibiotic and hormone-infused non-organic dairy milk.  Full cream.

366 unusual things: days 319 – 323

14th Nov – Someone from the Ancestry site sent me an obituary of my great-grandfather.  The phrase ‘engaged in suppressing the slave trade’ leapt off the page.  It’s given me hope.

15th Nov – In a car park, a young African immigrant was trying a car door and peering in the window.  Then he walked over to another car as I watched suspiciously.  I heard an electronic beep and he opened the door of a car identical to the first one he’d tried to unlock.

16th Nov – A very butch butcher, tattooed and pierced, prickly asymmetrical haircut, a woman in men’s clothes, sold me some meat and asked for my shopping bag to put it in.  Taking my small orange carry bag, she squealed “Oh that’s such a cute bag!  So cute!” as only a girl can.

17th Nov – A chicken pizza recipe found quickly online included no pizza base in its ingredients.  Instead, chicken breasts are pounded flat and round until they resemble a base, on which you put all the toppings.  Pffft.  As if that’s a pizza.

18th Nov – My son lost his mobile phone last night and today the city police station called to say someone had handed it in.

366 unusual things: days 314 – 318

9th Nov – Accidentally gave my dog three lamb chops I’d bought for dinner.  For us.

10th Nov – A penpal from Germany phoned me today from Central Australia.  Our first conversation after two years of handwritten letters.

11th Nov – When I give a student the writing prompt, “Heaven is like this…”, I often doubt we could imagine it.  Earlier this evening, in the garden lit by filtered sunset and perfumed by jasmine and roses, the street beyond quiet, all neighbours and dogs at peace, I imagined it.

12th Nov – Making up a bed, I threw a clean fitted sheet over the mattress, and a small bird’s nest fell out of one of the elasticised corners.

13th Nov – Hands are constantly visible when tutoring.  I notice nails growing, each day a fraction longer.

366 unusual things: days 309 – 313

4th Nov –  Heard recently that Jack London’s books are great to read when learning to write fiction.  I wouldn’t have picked him for inspiration.  But today, my husband and I were reading White Fang aloud and I was all ears listening to London’s masterful use of short, active, common words.  Here’s a pretty good paragraph:

“White Fang”, Jack London, Chap. 7

5th Nov – Three and a half years ago I applied for work with a tutoring company.  This week they’ve offered me a temporary job.

6th Nov – A strange building, a strange lift, a stranger, mop in one hand, cleaning bucket in the other.  As we moved from the 5th floor to the ground she established from my basket of teaching materials that I could help her son learn to read, and took my number.

7th Nov – Every week for the past six months, my neighbour has put a vase of fresh flowers in her kitchen window (which is happily opposite my own).  She’s trying to sell her house, but hasn’t.  It seems buyers aren’t swayed by flowers.

8th Nov – In two shops this morning, Norah Jones was singing Come away with me. Must be the ultimate music for relaxing a shopper’s grip on her purse.

366 unusual things: days 304 – 308

30th Oct – I’ve watched every 7 Up episode since I was 7, and today I watched the latest, 56 Up.  Michael Apted didn’t plan it this way in the beginning, but thanks to his perseverance, every 7 years I catch up with people I’ve known since I was a child.

31st Oct – There’s a Halloween party for 20 children under way next door.  This is unusual where I live.

1st Nov – Tutoring a student in a college library, we were asked to leave for recess.  The library closed for 15 minutes.  Who made up that rule?

2nd Nov – A tutoring agency asked me to fill in my details on a page entitled “Teachers Backend”.

3rd Nov – In the last two years my neighbour in the Housing flats has had two babies.  The father has taken them away to another town.  She accepts it;  she has no money to get them back or even to go and see them.  Her life is so different from mine.

366 unusual things: days 299 – 303

25th Oct – When I turn my computer on it grunts like a quietly spoken pig.

26th Oct – At the post office, the woman in front of me was paying her bills in cash.  They totalled $2,100.  It was a long wait while the clerk counted the notes.

27th Oct – Spent two hours researching and writing a blog post of about 400 words.  When I submitted it I received a ‘like’ a literal half-second later.  Not enough time to read even one word.

28th Oct – During the silent prayer time in church, a strange voice called out, ‘WHAT THE…’.  It was an irreverent ring tone on an unsilenced mobile phone.

29th Oct – One of my young students living on a large property has trouble sleeping.  Herds of kangaroos hop right up to his window and snort in the darkness.

Weekly photo challenge: Foreign and Spooky

When I saw the themes for this week’s photo challenges, Foreign (WordPress weekly challenge) and Spooky (Ailsa’s travel photo challenge), I knew exactly which photos I wanted to submit. They’ve given me the creeps since I was a child paging through my father’s war album from the Middle East.  While I’d linger over photos of pyramids, camels and Arabs, I’d glance quickly at these two, shiver, and turn the page.

The Foreign theme:  The photos are owned by me, an Australian, and it depicts a palace built in Egypt in Hindu-style architecture designed by a Frenchman for a Belgian, Baron Empain.  The architect, Alexandre Marcel, was inspired by the temples of Orissa in India and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  The palace’s sculptures of Hindu divinities, mythical creatures and erotic French maidens are so out of place in this Muslim country that they attract the attention of looters and vandals.  The palace is in Heliopolis, now a suburb of Cairo, but at the time of building, between 1907 and 1911, it was a town apart, designed by the Baron out of a stretch of desert he bought from the British colonial government.  The Baron is buried under the Catholic basilica in Heliopolis, also commissioned by him, which you can see in a previous post.

The Spooky theme:  Where do I begin?  Both the interior and exterior of this reinforced concrete structure are crumbling and graffitied.  Once decorated by Georges-Louis Claude in the French style, it had frescoes, parquet floors, gilded ceilings, gold-plated doorknobs, Belgian mirrors, and a spiral staircase in a tower sitting on a revolving base.  It must have been beautiful.  Now it’s bare, the only inhabitants bats and stray dogs.  And ghosts.  Not only is the palace said to be haunted, but some say Satanic rituals are practised there and that some of the mirrors are stained with blood.   The Baron’s sister died when she fell from the tower and his psychologically disturbed daughter died in one of the basement chambers.

Its dark history has kept the palace closed to the public.  Since 2005 it has been owned by the Egyptian government which has made a few attempts to find restorers, but plans have always come to nothing.  This year, however, the government announced a definite restoration project to transform the palace into a cultural centre…

Baron Empain palace gates, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Baron Empain palace, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

More photos of the palace exterior in its present decrepit state can be found here.

And Ailsa’s spooky photos can be found here.

366 unusual things: days 294 – 298

20th Oct – On someone else’s computer I saw, for the first time, an advertisement on my blog.  It’s for an expensive car.  My husband reckons the car maker chose my blog for its readers.

21st Oct – Some kangaroos love the beach as much as I do.

Kangaroos, Murramarang Resort, Murramarang National Park, NSW

22nd Oct – A man I know who was from childhood a practising atheist, and who in recent years became a Protestant, has recently been baptised as a Catholic.  A coincidence for me – I’ve just translated a story about a character who did exactly that.

23rd Oct – 30th wedding anniversary today.

24th Oct – A female politician (the PM) has loudly accused a male politician (L of the O) of being a misogynist and sexist.  Yet I heard today that he cycles long distances every year to raise buckets of money for good causes including breast cancer research, a women’s shelter and Carers Australia.

366 unusual things: days 289 – 293

15th Oct – Thought it would be easy to change my blog header, but, searching for a new photo to suit the long rectangle form, I found only one that had an interesting horizontal slice.  Still, it’s now in place and reminding me of a very good day I once spent in Collioure, France.

16th Oct – Today I was pleased to see high up in my spruce tree an adult magpie and its fluffy-chested baby.  It was some consolation to know she had one left after my dog killed her other chick last week.  Bad dog.

17th Oct – At a student’s house today, her spoodle, a good dog, was sitting in a leather armchair like a person, its elbow leaning on the arm of the chair.

18th Oct – On the ancestry site today I found photos of my great-grandparents!

19th Oct – Asked a 12-year old student, a new migrant, to invent a bug and name it with a made-up name.  She called it Justin Bieber.