Intercities - Stefan Hertmans
Russell Degnan

I had planned to start this review with a description of what this book was about, and yet, having now revisited it I realise it isn't about anything. It just is; a collection of essays, most of them vaguely related to the city in the title, but only because he places himself there, rather than because they are about the city, or indeed anything at all.

Using a collection of anecdotes, history, literature and philosophy, Hertmans describes the city and its inhabitants both as he sees them, and as they see themselves.

Not that he is always successful in this. His opening chapter on Sydney and Australians collapses the Australian identity into the Sydney one in a way that he'd never think to do for his native Belgium, while simultaneously failing to find that same identity in its relationship with Aboriginal culture and its convict past.

But while that rang untrue, he could probably find no better place for an existentialist crisis than Adelaide:

It was February and 40 degrees. I looked outside through the full-sized smokey balcony: an abandoned fruit market, scorching tarmac, not a soul in the street, empty vague buildings and above them, a mercilessly still sky, meltingly grey-blue. It took my breath away. I could not cope with this, this emptiness without a sense of time or a feeling of space to give a meaningful framework to waht I saw. [...] There too it was Sunday afternoon, about four o'clock, and I thought that something would snap in my head and start bleeding and make me crazy forever, so confused and empty and without meaning did I feel.

Other chapters are similarly searching, some finding their mark, such as Trieste, caught between Italy, Austria and Slovenia, or Dresden with its Baroque past, and others not.

Not suprisingly though, the best chapter is closest to home; in his description of his life as a Flemish citizen in Amsterdam, and a long-term resident of Amsterdam in Brussels. Here, personal reflections on loving a resident and living in a city mingle with reflections on the differences between the two low countries capitals:

Brussels makes at least one thing immediately clear: that there are two kinds of Dutch-speakers: about sixteen million who belong to the Germanic sphere, and six million who belong to the Latin sphere.

The rift he describes affects all aspects of life, from fashion, to architecture, to the newspapers and television stations available, to the works of literature, and intellectuals admired. But also the difference between two capitals, Amsterdam as the unifier of a nation of one people and one language, and Brussels "the capital without a country, and hence a city without responsibility or morality"

Taken as a whole the book is a diverse and interesting look at the way a city shapes its citizens who shape the culture which shapes a city. That this wasn't always disentangled merely makes it an interesting read.

Finer Things 31st December, 2005 03:43:42   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CII, December 2005
Russell Degnan

I love Boxing Day, it brings out the best in Australian culture: drunk bogans in wife-beaters skulling beer, leering on and cheering lascivious women, and hurling abuse at the players, authority figures and each other.

Melbourne Town 29th December, 2005 01:02:16   [#] [2 comments] 

The Overture and the Underscore - Sarah Blasko
Russell Degnan

It really is a travesty that I am only coming to review this CD now, well over a year since I purchased it, but as 2005 closes, so I should finish going over CDs really released in 2004. My first impressions of Sarah Blasko was that she was Angie Hart reincarnated, with her childishly sweet voice, her simple well-wrought melodies, and gamine features. If anything that has only become stronger in the past year, where she shown her penchant for an outstanding cover, and while watching her perform on Live at the Chapel. I am not sure if this has biased me in favour of her album, but it is certainly a fine one, with few weaknesses.

There is a strange disjointedness when listening to the album though. On the one hand, the layered melodies, the heavy syncopation and Blasko's vocal skills reward close listening, particularly on tracks like Counting Sheep. On the other, those melodies are terribly simple and repetitive, making me prefer to sit back and let the tune flow over -- whereby the syncopation disrupts my thoughts. The album rewards you best when you can train yourself to do both.

Track Highlights
Don't You Ever - The most radio friendly chorus, inside a well constructed upbeat song.
Counting Sheep - The best song, built on the simplest of guitar riffs.
Perfect Now - A smooth song, of guitars and strings.
Remorse - The closing track; quieter, like the ones preceding it, but with a nice finish. The bonus track after it is better again.

Finer Things 29th December, 2005 00:36:44   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CI, December 2005
Russell Degnan

Melbourne is a stretch, but it is a too nice a picture to skip. At the intersection of Donnybrook Road and the Hume Highway. Taken November 2005

Melbourne Town 22nd December, 2005 13:21:05   [#] [1 comment] 

A Modest Proposal
Russell Degnan

Having had time while in Canberra to take in Parliament on a couple of occasions, I had to admit my dissapointment. The lack of any actual policy debate was compounded with indifference, posturing, shouting, and heckling; even divisions produce foregone conclusions as everyone troops in to stand around making jokes for a few minutes before dispersing. All in all it is quite boring, and so, I humbly offer up a few suggestions to reinvigorate Australian democracy.

Answers in question time have to be yes or no only.
No more tedious answers to dorothy-dixes, no long-winded diatribes on the previous government and the failures of the opposition; nothing but punch. "Mr Treasurer, will the budget be in surplus this year? Yes", "Mr. Prime Minister, did children actually get thrown overboard? Ah... No", "Minister, have you stopped beating your wife?..."

Allow members to be dragged across the floor during a division.
Forget the balance of power, now it is all the weight of your factional heavies. Sure, parliament becomes little more than a pub brawl, but what an entertaining one. Think of the match-ups: Vanstone v Ray, Ruddock v Garrett, Downer v Kate Ellis (I'm tipping Ellis).

Replace the governor-general with a heinous beast.
Expand the reserve powers to include scratching, biting, and mauling; and replace Yarrallumla with a gladiatorial arena. The final hurdle to pass legislation will now involve hand-to-hand combat against lions, tigers and gorillas with the Prime Minister armed with nothing more dangerous than a mandate from the Australian people. Should do wonders for Costello's leadership aspirations.

More houses.
Sure, we've got the House of the people and the State's House, but it hasn't been enough to stop bad laws being passed. I propose a few more: the House of Fun, the House of Pain, the House of Cards, the House of Ill-repute, and the Little House on the Prairie. And the good thing is, Canberra has most of these already.

Misleading parliament should be met by a formal challenge.
Noone ever admits to lying in parliament, "I'm sure if you examine Hansard you'll note that I said nothing at all". But under this new system, who cares? Nothing says you misled the House like a glove on the chamber floor, and two feet of steel in the gullet.

Not that any of these improve the quality of legislation of course, but if they are going to act like bogans we, the Australian public, should at least see a little blood on the floor.

Passing Fancy 22nd December, 2005 13:15:14   [#] [3 comments] 

Ratings - December 2005
Russell Degnan

Very late, but I've been away

Australia v West Indies
Opening Ratings: Aus: 1342.10 WI: 816.39
1st Test: Australia by 379 runs
2nd Test: Australia by 9 wickets
3rd Test: Australia by 7 wickets
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1345.82 WI: 812.23

Downgraded to a series of just three tests, the West Indies were charmingly erratic but ineffectual against an Australian side that can still bully sides when they want to. Bravo was the find of the series, contributing with bat and ball, but apart from a typically majestic knock by Lara in Adelaide, and some tight bowling by Collymore in Brisbane there wasn't much worth noting. For Australia, the best news was Brett Lee, who (mostly) bowled with control and topped the wicket tally. Bracken, Hussey of the freakish average in both forms of the game, and Hodge all showed something. Gilchrist's form is more of a concern. It is conceivable he will give up the gloves if the slump continues. No ratings change, no contest.

Pakistan v England
Opening Ratings: Pak: 1046.49 Eng: 1252.93
1st Test: Pakistan by 22 runs
2nd Test: Drawn
3rd Test: Pakistan by an innings and 100 runs
Closing Ratings: Pak: 1127.04 Eng: 1204.38

Why have one ineffective spinner when you can have two? Despite having a decade or more of failures in this area behind them, England went bits-and-pieces-all-rounder crazy in Pakistan. Giles, Udal, Collingwood and Plunkett are all in possession of ordinary first-class records, and they all performed as expected on tour, dragging a tiring Flintoff down with them. Pakistan are still inconsistent, and but for one player they would probably have lost easily; however, Inzaman (with good support from Butt) provided them with just enough runs to sneak a win in Multan, and a sniff in Faisalabad with Shoaib provided the firepower to run through a poor English batting lineup. In the third test Yousuf and Akmal scored heavily and the rout was on. For England, Bell and Trescothick made runs, but Pietersen remains an enigma when they need someone solid.

Forthcoming Series:

India (1151.25) v Sri Lanka (1089.47) - 3 Tests.

It seems kind of pointless talking about a series that is half over, but it is worth seeing what the ratings have to say. And that is that, despite a drop in the past year, India are a better side than Sri Lanka, particularly at home, and especially given Sri Lanka's poor away record.

Australia (1345.82) v South Africa (1127.19) - 3 Tests.

Despite the Ashes loss, Australia at home is still a difficult proposition. South Africa have been losing ground slowly over the past few years, and despite he fierce rivalry between the two sides it will be a suprise if they challenge. More intriguing is the influx of new blood into the Australian side as they look to next summer against England.

New Zealand (7th) 1051.26
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 610.86

Idle Summers 15th December, 2005 20:53:06   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: C, December 2005
Russell Degnan

The hundredth, like the first. The Yarra River from Federation Square. Taken August 2005

Melbourne Town 13th December, 2005 23:27:27   [#] [0 comments] 

Somewhat belated
Russell Degnan

Now that various commitments are behind me, I've found my way to Canberra, and this gentleman's couch. Next week I'll be in Sydney on the couch of a non-blogger (luddite). Till then blogging will be either light or heavy, depending on circumstance.

Notes (mostly art-related) from the trip up:

- A microsleep will kill you, but a powernap save lives.

- Dark roads with lots of gnarled, over-hanging, gum-trees and not much else are very Bill Henson.

- The heavy rains through north-east Victoria have caused a rare outbreak of green in the gum trees as they store up water. Very John Glover.

- It is amazing how quickly the roads deteriorate once you enter New South Wales. And how much better they get when you start pointing the car towards our nation's capital.

- The Kosciuszko National Park's attempts to stop rocks from falling on visitors through the widespread use of chicken wire are very Christo.

- Dark clouds, a little mist and some dead burnt out trees made the trip out of Thredbo somewhat eerie.

- There was an equally cool view of rain coming out of the mountains across Lake Jindabyne. Unfortunately, no lookout, and no photo.

Days Spent Away 2nd December, 2005 17:27:31   [#] [4 comments] 

Gastronomic Pub Crawl: Euroa Edition
Russell Degnan

Seven Creeks Hotel
Hume Hwy, Euroa

Seeing as we were outside North Melbourne on Tuesday, dinner was to be had elsewhere, and as convenient. Fortunately, within Euroa, convenient is an old-fashioned countrypub with more quirks than an off-spin bowler. The interiors show signs of renovation at different times, but along with the assorted sporting memorabilia from the 1960s, the bones, the Tom Roberts prints, the chairs from the 1920s, the basket of lemons, the old pool table, and everything else besides, it is clear that renovations don't necessarily mean change. The pub itself is huge, two front bars, a side room, a restaurant out the back and apparently a beer garden. Enough surely for all of Euroa if required.

The patrons are unsuprisingly, and necessarily locals, some of whom rolled in well after meals were finished to cajole their way into some fish. It was all very friendly as they bantered away. What was suprising was the beers on offer. You'd expect the place to be strictly Carlton, but Belgian beer has permeated much further than a few inner suburban places nowadays. The food on offer was good pub fare, but cooked outstandingly well. I had the fish and chips, that along with other meals came with a side salad to leave more room on the plate. A much better option than the McDonalds at Glenrowan.

The short: For travellers and locals.

Next week: Still away...

Melbourne Town 2nd December, 2005 17:26:49   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XCIX, November 2005
Russell Degnan

The Botanic Gardens. Taken November 2005

Melbourne Town 2nd December, 2005 17:23:49   [#] [1 comment]