Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Adelaide Film Festival

There it was, the mysterious manifestation of the "festival atmosphere". The bar-cum-coffee lounge materialised in the courtyard of the cinema complex. The tables and chairs and stools, ashtrays and program guides and the assorted members of the cinema cognoscenti, resting and reflecting between screenings or sipping wine or coffee and waiting for friends. Then there were the long queues of ticketholders snaking into the cinemas, the staff with their dangling IDs, the conference delegates also with dangling IDs. They were at the documentary film conference and I was in to see and review a documentary - world premiere of Dennis O'Rourke's "Landmines - A Love Story". A very intimate portrait of the human aftermath in Kabul. A landmine-disabled woman beggar. Her life. Why a person is begging in the streets. Where she goes when she goes home. Her domestic life with a doting husband also crippled by landmines, but in his case, landmines he, as a Mujahideen, also had planted. Their quest for government help - overwhelmed officials and piles of crumpled paperwork, signed with thumbprints. George Bush trumpeting American compassion. Children in the schoolroom parroting not tables but the names of landmines and the distances of their impacts. Everywhere people with prostheses, limping, learning, trying to get on with life. A wise, sensitive and revelatory documentary.

Afterwards, with two colleagues, I sat in the street and ate good Lebanese food as a stranger regaled us with his madness. He asked to sit with us and, all three of us being curious journalists, we assented and listened fascinated as he played the clever word games of the bi-polar and listed the dreams he harboured of living in his headspace. He was a clean and fit young man, a former bodybuilding champ who fell into a hole, he said. I did not finish the vast plate of food I was served. He said he would not see it go to waste as he gladhanded us farewell. It was another little slice-of-life documentary in its way, that encounter. O'Rourke would have done wonders with our gentle madman.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Fleeing the city

It has become rare to spend a Friday night in town. But a Chinese New Year dinner with the family was the loveliest reason to do so. A particularly happy and memorable night. Tapering off at home with two young men and their mother having a geeky session on their iBooks - three faces illuminated by screens, showing off and swapping applications. The family that Macs together...
Ah, but it is lovely to hit the road early on a Saturday morning, humming along with uncomplicated traffic, out into the vales of vineyards, each with their borders of red roses. Willunga Farmers' Market was incredibly crowded - bubbling with bourgeoisie and fresh produce. I stocked up on fresh orange blossom honey, goat curd, kipfler potatoes, fresh beets and goodies, had a couple of chats, and hummed off on the road again to my friends Merry and Grant's Blueberry Patch to buy blueberries and raspberries. Those utterly divine rabbiteye blueberries are in season now. My favourite. Merry sent me away heavily loaded.
Back by the sea, it is all tranquility. Easy, mild weather. The magpies were glad to see me, coming to the balcony for their mincemeat treats. Amazingly, there seem to be two new young ones. I am wondering how many clutches of young these birds can manage in a season. I make this three. A flock of galahs came to graze on the back lawn today, too. They seem to have discovered the birdbath and they took it in turns to drink while the others strutted about looking for seedy things in the grass. The magpies left them alone.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Royals

Good onto The Independent for its headline of "two boring old gits get engaged". The media effusion over this event is downright tragic. I don't wish them ill. In fact I quite approve of Camilla's well-worn, middle-aged body frocked up in those ghastly gowns. No one has succeeded in grooming her into a half-starved body beautiful. She is unimpressed by narcissistic values and clearly depends on a vibrant personality to which the public never has been exposed. However, the Royal double-standards on divorce and morality in general are all a bit repugnant. And, I am sick of hearing the Royalists bleat that "they are only human". They are, but the are also the most privileged humans on earth. If the Queen is the Head of the Church of England etc, they really need to set better standards. Altogether, they've been a pretty sordid mob.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Cherie Blair

The controversy surrounding the Cherie Blair speaking tour is not unreasonable, one concludes after attending one of her sessions. Basically the British Prime Minister's QC wife is on a book tour - usually a promotional activity sponsored by publishers for the purpose of generating book sales. Mrs Blair's book, The Goldfish Bowl, was prominently on sale for $50. And her 50-minute speech, late in an extended evening of padding, was an illustrated synopsis of that book, with some added commentary on why she wrote it and a few comments on Tony Blair's early years living here in Adelaide. She also answered four pre-submitted and carefully-chosen questions - on how she copes with work and children and living in the public eye, what she thinks of the glass ceiling in the law... It was an entirely uncontroversial evening and there was no mention of human rights or any of the issues in which we had been led to believe she had some interest. Instead, we learned about the families who had occupied No 10 Downing St during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. I found myself dropping off to sleep.
The tour's big issue in the media has been the allocation of the money raised. The tour is heavily branded as a charity fund-raiser and the media has been irate to discover that Ms Blair is being paid some $250,000 for her role, the promoter/organiser some $20,000 and I daresay the entertainer and MC also are paid. The MC was swimmer Kieran Perkins, a piece of beefcake in a suit. He was inept as an MC. The entertainer was a competent comedian, Vince Sorrenti, who delivered some well-honed schtick. The SA Police Band performed. Very surprising but so bizarre and unexpected at a dinner that it was perhaps the highlight. The charity, a Sydney-based Childhood Cancer Institute, was extremely prominent with extended speeches from both the professor and the associate professor, along with a promotional film and a heavy-handed pitch for on-the-spot contributions. It was the hardest sell I have ever encouontered for charity donations. Adelaideans sat on their hands and failed to give. They had paid $195 to be there and had already spent big bucks at an auction. Even the raffle tickets were $20 each. The silent auction was a complete disaster. Many of the objects failed to receive so much as a single bid. So the charity will not have fared too well, since these corollary dollars are the only funds going in its direction. Well, "profits" is what we have been reading - and one can't imagine, with the cost of the event, that there will be much profit. Especially since only 400 people turned up - and one hears that some of them were paper. Media was banned. Seems silly, but one doesn't want it to get out that the Prime Minister's wife's speaking tour is really just plugging a book.
Ironic that there was so much security. We had to queue outside and go into the Entertainment Centre singly - going through full security checks as at an airport.
Ms Blair does have a very pleasant speaking voice and, although she has a strangely giraffe-like build, she is a much more handsome woman than her many published photos would indicate.
She is not, however, a particularly interesting or amusing woman. Basically, she gave us nothing. Except perhaps the contempt of making us pay for a book promotion appearance.
She gave the charity nothing, either. Only a hook on which to hang an appeal. And, oddly, she had trouble saying the word "cancer", pronouncing it "cantster".
When I think about, I realise that the biggest fund-raiser of the evening was the State Premier. His offer of hosting two dinners for six raised a healthy $10,000 dollars. Isn't that interesting. Adelaideans will spend big to dine with one of their own but will walk straight past an unsigned Chagall print without a single bid.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Remembering Laconia

Bikers dream of the wind in their hair and the sun on their skin.
So they don't wear helmets or riding gear in the American state of New
Hampshire because they don't have to. Instead, their numberplates defiantly
proclaim the State motto: "Live Free Or Die".
And, once a year, bikers from all around the USA come to join them on the
roads of freedom and gather for a 10-day bikers' festival - a mind-boggling
convergence of up some 300,000 bikes on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.
It is one of the biggest biker events in America - and in the world.
And it has been going for more than 80 years.

Visiting the lakeside township of Laconia at the height of rally and race
week, it was hard to imagine how an added 100,000 people let alone bikes
could have squeezed in. It was wall-to-wall bikes.
Bikes were parked tightly to line the roads - not just parked, but
perfectly parked in complete symmetry like a communal work of art. One
could stand at one end of the street and look down an endless row of
saddles and handlebars.
Chrome dazzled in all directions. Every bike was very seriously polished to
a degree of shimmering overkill which could shame Mr Sheen. And while
there were many of the same models of bikes, no two bikes were the
identical. Each was an expressions of personality and lifestyle. Some were
art in its purest form. Delicate hand-paintings adorned tanks - some
heroic, some demonic, some patriotic and some even Biblical. Some bikes had
designer seats. Some were as sumptuous as leather lounges. One had a
genuine horse saddle, complete with fringes on the handlebars and stirrups.
Some bikes had tooled leather offices attached to the handlebars. Some had
spirit-of-the-road slogans in metallic calligraphy on the rears - and some
had numberplates declaring "speed" or "free".
If anything betrayed the cliched image of the biker, it was the image of
these massed bikers and their bikes. Yes, of course there were burly
tattooed Hell's Angels. Lots of them. And lots of Viet Vet bikers with
their grey beards and pot bellies. But amid a massed cross-section of the
biker world, they were but a part of the throng. There were glamorous
girlie bikers and sedate Mama bikers. Even sinewy granny bikers. There were
obese bikers whose lardy forms splayed across the seats. There were smart
bikers - well-groomed upmarket professionals for whom biking is a weekender
passion. There were bikers who rode with their dogs as passengers. Others
who had teddy bears or soft toys on board. Hardly what one expected of the
studded leather brigade. And even the tattoos were often surprising. One
woman biker proudly flourished a Betty Boop tattoo on her shoulder which
mirrored the Betty Boop cartoon on her bike.
Between the dense fringes of parked bikes yet more bikes drove slowly up
and down the roadways all day long - a constant stream of throaty roars, a
showcase of styles and colors. Sometimes it was simply traffic jams of
bikes. But it mattered not. No one was in a hurry. It was all about seeing
and being seen.
Footpaths thronged with bikers promenading and shopping at the rows of
sidewalks stalls selling everything from mufflers to keyrings, not to
mention chrome polish, insurance policies, Harley bikinis, chainmail
jewellery, leather and denim gear, t-shirts and of course, wholesome
nourishment such as fries, coke, BBQ ribs and fried dough.
State Troopers in their Yogi bear hats, along with SWAT heavies from
Boston, crossed their arms and watched the crowds - just in case of rough
moments, which have not been unknown at other biker events.
After some fierce controversy, local authorities had relented at the 11th
hour on their threats to withhold liquor licences for the Hell's Angels and
the Hell's Angels were happily sucking on their Budweisers in the drenching
heat of New England summer. Against all the biker hype and reputations for
violence, the Bikers Week had a good-natured spirit to it - not quite a
church picnic, but a celebratory diversity of peers.
Rally activities had drawn teams with pantechnicons and big support fields
of mechie-techie activities. These, also, became promenade grounds with yet
more stalls and cheerful consumerism.
Even into the evenings when parties converged in the campgrounds and at
pubs with names like Roadhog Saloon, troubles were few and only three
arrests had been reported at the height of the gathering.
Instead, restaurants and diners for miles around revelled in bumper
business as the thousands of bikers, lights, hair flying on and goatee's
riven in the wind, hummed around the highways and byways seeking all-day
all-you-can-eat breakfasts. And 10 days of monumental bikie extravaganza
came and went - leaving little behind but dollars.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

tempis fugit

Months have flown without the passive time for a spot of blogging. Now the old routine returns and I resume. A morning quiet except for the bursts of birdsong - assorted parrots out there visiting the old pine trees to gnaw upon their cones. Now a strident clamour of corellas. Sometimes a shriek of black cockatoos. The lorikeets are more melodic in sound. They are visiting another tree for blossom. And the dear magpies, of course, are carolling and occasionally squawking a spot of territorial indignation as some outsider ventures too close.
It is a soft, grey morning. The sea has settled from the storms. The breeze is light. Such a beautiful world.
I lie abed and read with coffee at my side. It's a bliss of sorts. Almost.