46 Great Opening Lines: 13

The men of the twenty-ninth century live in a perpetual fairyland, though they do not seem to realise it.

Opening line, In the Twenty-Ninth Century, by Michel and Jules Verne, 1889, translated by I.O. Evans, 1965

The full title of this short story which is mostly the work of Jules Verne’s son, Michel, is In the Twenty-Ninth Century. The day of an American journalist in the year 2889. The story was originally written in English by an uncredited translator working with Michel Verne, and was later improved by Jules and published in French. (Michel’s English was too poor to write a publishable story.) It appeared in a New York periodical, The Forum, in 1889, a thousand years before the events depicted.

I had an ‘Ah!’ moment when I recently read the story in a Jules Verne collection. Near the end, a scientist tries to hibernate for 100 years, for pure love of science, by exposing himself to a cold of 172 deg Centigrade and then being shut up in a tomb. On the appointed day for his resurrection, the coffin is opened and the body is still mummified. Nothing brings it back to life. It’s concluded that the method ‘still needs to be perfected’.

But I had already suspected that Verne had written something about the dead returning to life because of this postcard I bought at his house (now a Jules Verne museum) in Amiens earlier this year, which was definitely more interesting than any tomb. As you see, he’s bursting up out of his grave, alive again, though only in a sculpture that was added two years after his death in 1905.

Tomb of Jules Verne, Amiens, France

An amusing foresight in the story is the phonotelephotic apparatus used by the characters Francis and Edith Bennett, who like to have lunch while in two separate places, talking to each other on the screen while eating. A video phone, we might call it. It’s a part of the fairyland mentioned in the opening line, but it’s also a good prediction on the part of Jules’ son Michel.

And it’s elements like these in old science fiction that make the stories fun to read, picking out what has actually come to pass and what is yet to be ‘perfected’.

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46 Great Opening Lines: 10

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, where the right way was lost.

Opening line of Canto 1, “Hell”, The Divine Comedy, Dante, completed 1320, translated by Charles Eliot Norton.

 

Dante has lost the “right way” and hopes to find it before he grows old. But he begins his work “Midway upon the journey of our life”, that is, when he was about 43, though it was not midway for him; he died at 56.

Many of us live long past 56, though some old people seem to be still in the dark wood that comes with weariness and a tired mind, a thought that occurred to me this week in the National Gallery of Australia where thirteen old men in electric wheelchairs are rolling around a room aimlessly, dozing, sleeping, or staring into space. They’re not real. They’re an exhibit by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, “Old People’s Home”, part of the Hyper Real sculpture exhibition.

Unlike Dante I’m not in a dark wood turning over thoughts of hell, purgatory and heaven. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to purgatory, but I’m not so certain I won’t end up in its earthly counterpart as a model for the two Beijing artists when they create the female version of Old People’s Home.

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46 Great Opening Lines: 6

In Montmartre, on the third floor of 75b Rue d’Orchampt, there lived an excellent gentleman called Dutilleul, who possessed the singular gift of passing through walls without any trouble at all.

From The Man Who Walked Through Walls, 1941, Marcel Aymé, translated by Sophie Lewis

In my previous post about a great opening line I introduced the French author, Marcel Aymé, and his short story, The Wolf, written for children albeit with a pretty scary moral. Aymé also wrote fantasy for adults, and is possibly most famous for his tale about a man who walked through walls. There are several English translations around, but this one (above) is the best I could lay my hands on.

Man in the Wall, tribute to Marcel Aymé, photo courtesy of www.briansolis.com

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Weekly photo challenge: Unusual

Back in May I blogged about a new sculpture that was set in place on Anzac Parade in Canberra as a memorial for the Boer War in South Africa (1899 – 1902). Before the official opening, the sculpture was covered in black plastic, or rather the sculptures, all four of them. It was a weird sight, especially at dusk and in the evening. The sculptures were covered for a couple of weeks, and looked like this:

Is it unusual to cover a sculpture in black plastic before a big reveal?

At last at the end of May the plastic was removed and now we have this magnificent arrangement to admire as we drive or walk past:

The sculptor, Louis Laumen, created four bronze riders and horses that for all the world appear to actually be riding out from the gum trees and down the slope towards the road. From a distance they look life-size but they’re actually larger than life. A short path at the back lets us walk around the entire group and touch the horses and riders.

Thanks to Lignum Draco for posting this photo challenge on WordPress.

Changing Seasons: June (Munich)

June in Munich. It’s hot, surprisingly hot. Two months ago it was still cold and even snowing a bit. Now, after the long winter, the population of Munich has come outside. Large numbers of people are running and cycling in the streets and exercising in the parks. In the Englischer Garten they even surf!

A small man-made river, the Eisbach, flows through the Garden with a current so forceful that the ducks don’t need to paddle. In one section near a bridge, a standing wave has been created, and though swimming in the river is not allowed, the rule is bent for surfers (München rules generally seem made to be broken), with the exception, noted on a sign, that the wave is only for experienced and skilled surfers.

The surfers are out every morning, but on Sunday morning in the Englischer Garten there were people not just surfing, or strolling like me; others were boxing, studying, cuddling, meditating, photographing, dog-walking, or doing a little yoga:

Nearby, at the end of Prinzregentenstrasse where I went to gaze on a golden angel, the Friedensengel, I found a photographer with models, exercising of course. The stone angel babies almost seem to be joining in the whole Munich exercise trend.

I’ve seen the seasons change in a few cities this month, starting with Canberra, then Singapore, and now Munich. Cardinal Guzman likes to see seasons change and prompted me to do the same.

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Weekly photo challenge: Mirror

Cones. Bert Flugelman (1923-2013) created them, and the National Gallery put them out under the blue Australian sky in the Sculpture Garden. Flugelman produced a number of stainless steel sculptures in Australia (where he lived), not to be confused with Austria (where he was born).

‘Cones’ in spring, Sculpture Garden, NGA

Children and adults alike love the 20 metres of image-distorting steel forms. You can be as thin, fat, short or tall as you want. Cones is a paradox, a totally unembellished minimalist artwork yet filled with detailed images. The seven iconic conic sculptures reflect this little bit of Australia, the sky and trees and flowers and dry sandy ground. And anyone standing around.

Today I was fortunate to find myself alone in this corner of the Garden to snap some photos sans visitors. My camera’s eye caught me in the stainless steel mirror, and my mind made a link to the nearby Portrait Gallery where I had just spent an hour, where I had seen a self-portrait of Bert Flugelman (it’s a sculpture), and now here he gives me my own self-portrait, an image of no one in particular. Indeed, it’s better (in my humble opinion) than the self-portraits by Ken Done and Sidney Nolan that really do look like no one in particular!

Self-portrait with wattle
Self-portrait with wattle

Thanks to the WordPress photo challenge, I was prompted to get my camera out today as I was passing through the Sculpture Garden.

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Weekly photo challenge: Face

If you’re looking for some mild amusement, and you have an Apple computer, check out the Faces option in the ‘Apple Photos’ application. It collects images of faces, that is, anything that resembles two human eyes above a nose above a mouth. It doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes it finds sculpted faces, though they can look real enough, like these resting on top of the pond in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery, faces that produce a physical reaction in passers-by:

Heads National Gallery Sculpture Garden
Dadang Christanto, ‘Heads from the North’ 2004, Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Australia

It’s not just 3D images it finds; even 2D painted faces are thrown into the collection with photos of real faces. Here it places two faces from For of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven by Frank Bramley (1891) hanging in the Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand, next to my beautiful daughters-in-law:

Beautiful girls painted and real

How about this image of a sun sinking into the sea? I do love a good sunset, but if I’m looking for the reassurance of a human face, I prefer my son, not the sun!

Sunset and handsome boy

But even more mysterious, curious and ridiculous, a photo of a kangaroo’s tail and back legs, sideways. I’ve looked at this circle with my glasses on and glasses off. I can’t see any face. But it’s good for a laugh!

Kangaroo tail, sideways

It was truly surprising to see all the faces (recognised by Apple) from my photos. There were even some I had previously ignored for being too small or blurry in the background of another subject. As I was scrolling through them all, another son walked into the room and exclaimed his delight at all the faces of our family and friends appearing in a long stream across my screen. It was a bit of fun, and was fit fodder for the photo challenge this week.

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Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo

In the 1800s, the town of Helwan was Egypt’s winter resort for the wealthy.  During the Second World War, British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers were resident in the area and visited these gardens constructed in 1917 by the architect Zulfiqar Pasha, who gave them a Japanese theme with about forty Buddha statues, elephants, a Japanese-style bridge and pagodas.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, c1941

After the 1952 revolution the gardens were neglected and Helwan became an industrial area.  However, about a decade ago, with help from the Japanese Embassy, they were restored as a Japanese Garden.  Once more it has become a desirable escape from the crowds of Cairo.  It’s not just tourists who enjoy the space;  most Muslim locals also love it as a green oasis amid decrepit concrete buildings, even accepting the novelty of Buddha statues in a Japanese garden, the only one in the Middle East.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, 1941
Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, c1941

In an earlier blog post, I had previously posted the photo of the seated Buddha on a lotus flower and the three elephants, but I deleted it.  However, I’m posting it again, because today I was reminded of the value of photos.

When I went searching online for current images of these statues, I found that my photo had been copied before I deleted it, and then it was used to illustrate a couple of stories about the demise of the statues. The Buddha has been beheaded and the elephants de-trunked.  What a horrifying discovery!  A couple of web sites have stories or brief notes about the destruction, and the authors of these sites have used my photo to show the statues as they were in the 1940s.

My father’s collection of wartime photos is a valuable historical resource, and I’m pleased to be able to share them through this blog.  However, it’s disappointing that I received no credit as owner of the photo.  Take a look at this Twitter post, for example, and a news site, here, which has put its own name across the bottom of the photo.  Please, if you wish to use my photos in your stories, ask me before copying them, and give me credit.  Thanks.

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A moment in time

Today there’s a prompt to show and tell:  show the last photo I’ve taken, and tell the story behind that moment in time.

Yesterday I was passing the Civic library where I’ve worked casually as a tutor for a couple of years.  There’s something in there that I’ve often wanted to photograph, but when I’m working I’m too busy for such an indulgence, though I sit gazing up at it while my student is busy with his writing exercises.  Yesterday it wasn’t a work day, I had my camera, and I had time.

Here it is, my last photo.  It’s of an artwork suspended from the library ceiling, a stripped down Vietnamese boat.  The oars are long golden arms and hands pushing through the air, while a pair of eyes on the prow watches where the boat is going.  The artist, Nerine Martini of Sydney, created the work during an artist residency in Vietnam in 2006 and has exhibited it in Vietnam on a lake (on a stand in the water) and at outdoor sculpture exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne.  The design of the Civic library is ideal for hanging a long object in the high-ceilinged space above the ground floor, up there at the mezzanine level where we can lean over the railing and look into the boat.  The golden hands, each with a different gesture, reach out to the viewer;  it was tempting to reach my own hand out to touch one.  I didn’t.

Lifeboat: Thuyen Cuu Roi by Nerine Martini
Lifeboat: Thuyen Cuu Roi by Nerine Martini

It was an odd moment finally seeing the boat up close, as pleasurable as I expected it to be.  But up on the mezzanine level where I took an earlier photo (see my header), as I leaned over the rail I was aware of a tutor at a table behind me teaching four students.  I knew her.  She was enjoying the interaction with her group, so I studied the boat for some moments and then I turned to her and quietly said “Hi, Jenny”.  Although I have known her for five years, she looked at me blankly.  I most uncomfortably interrupted her class to explain our connection as tutors.  “Your face looks vaguely familiar,” she said.

I left the library feeling fulfilled but forgettable.   Not so the rugged beauty of the Lifeboat.

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Weekly photo challenge: Texture

Judy Watson, an indigenous artist, created this sculpture, Fire and Water.  It’s textural…

Fire and Water, Judy Watson, Reconciliation Place, Canberra
Fire and Water, Judy Watson, Reconciliation Place, Canberra

You’ll find it in Reconciliation Place, Canberra, where there are a number of sculptures by Aboriginal artists.  Since this particular artwork is called Fire and Water, I’d always thought the grey object amid the fiery reeds represented a seal or dugong.  But on closer inspection today, I saw it’s not an animal, but a stone.  A gathering stone.  Muted sounds are constantly playing through small holes all over it, representing bogong moths flying in on their annual migration and people gathering to feast on them.  Michael Hewes designed the sound.

Looking between the two stands of rusty reeds, we see the National Library, one of my favourite haunts.  In this wintry season, the reeds echo the hibernating poplars in the library forecourt.  At the moment I took this photo, two jets in the fountain were working.  That was just luck;  the fountain is not always turned on.  The elements in the photo are a great example of symmetry in this city of many symmetries.

National Library of Australia and "Fire and Water" sculpture by Judy Watson
National Library of Australia and “Fire and Water” sculpture by Judy Watson

Bogong moths pass through Canberra every year in about September.  Last year they were in plague proportions, congregating on many of the national institutions in the parliamentary triangle, and particularly in Parliament House.  At night they’re attracted to the powerfully lit flagpole on top of the House.  We all had moths flying and dying in our homes, which was annoying for those of us who don’t eat them.

Since we’re thinking of texture for this week’s photo challenge, take a look at this image from another Canberra photographer, Donald Hobern, of a bogong with its fluffy head and carpet-like wings.  When they land on tree bark they’re well camouflaged.  But I can tell you, while one individual moth might look beautiful in a close-up, a crowd of brown, fluttering moths resting up in a corner of your room is not attractive.  But thanks to Judy Watson’s sculpture, I learnt that they’re edible, and even delicious, and I was reminded once again that nothing is completely ugly or useless.

Photo of  bogong moth courtesy of Donald Hobern, Canberra, Creative Commons
Photo of bogong moth (Agrotis infusa) courtesy of Donald Hobern, Canberra, Wikimedia

Take a look at more textures on the WordPress photo challenge page for this week.