May 2008


…at or before 12.30pm today, it flew over the Heathley building at about 12.33pm and, after some indecision in front of the cathedral, touched down in Market street at approximately 12.35pm.

There are roadworks and barriers there, and it did not cause a traffic accident.

—End Public Service Announcement—

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The restaurant is not spotless, but cleaner than its Milton Road branch. Its colourful and cosy interior create a comforting and welcoming atmosphere (the almost equally ubiquitous Kentucky chain has to its own misfortune chosen a predominantly blue scheme, which is chilly and unappetising). Although the restaurant is oddly empty for the time of evening (perhaps due to the downturn while people recover between bouts of State of Origin), the staff are friendly and helpful and when asked whether I would like a meal, I change my initial plans and say yes. This prompts me to muse on what makes a meal a meal, but that may be left for another time.

Service is prompt. Although I take my own drink and side to the table, the waitstaff deliver the burger within minutes. The orange juice is somewhat too sweet and warm, the insipidity of a recent refill, but it is consistent with previous experiences. The fries are unfortunately somewhat limp. Though acceptable and even surpassing other restaurants’ forays into this field, they are not the slender threads of saffron crispness that I am fond of and have come to expect, and I can enjoy them only as counterpoints to that memory, as symbols of potential.

But it is the centrepiece of the meal that must command attention, for it is the newest offering of this venerable establishment – veritably debutante – and like the mayfly, short-lived. In a fortnight it will be gone, and I confess I am surprised that curious gourmands have not beaten a path to the automatic doors and fluorescent-lit cashier to savour it on this, its opening night.

Grandly christened “The McEurope” (in a coy reference to recent accusations of the owner’s cultural imperialist tendencies), it is proudly presented in a themed wrapping – a cheap gimmick perhaps, but one which does not antagonise by being difficult to negotiate. It is hinged on ancient principles and, indeed, may be considered a nod to the paper wrappings used to steam foods in many cuisines and increasingly popular in fusion styles, a nice nod to the internationality of the event it is created to honour. Inside, the burger rests in a cushioning of shredded lettuce.

I cannot pretend to justify the title of “The McEurope” except to the extent that America itself may be held up as the defining characteristic of “The West”. Those influences not native to the common or garden burger seem to be drawn primarily from the Mediterranean region and what are popularly considered to be the keynote flavours of Italy. The signature meat is chicken, crisply crumbed and fried, but this is topped with napolitana sauce and parmesan. Pleasingly, the parmesan is shaved, not shredded or powdered, though it lacks some of the piquancy of true and truly fresh parmesan. The chef has chosen a stereotypical napolitana sauce, perhaps to avoid detracting from the desired impression with flights of culinary fancy. It is, perhaps, a little too stereotypical however, as it is less reminiscent of Italia than of bottled supermarket sauces.

The lettuce, I confess, puzzles me, particularly in such a “limited edition” dish as this where, untrammelled by the restrictions inherent in dishes which form the backbone of the menu (consistent and sustainable), I might have thought the chef would risk using the somewhat more diner-friendly leaf lettuce. I do not think it would have made the dish too divergent from the balance of the menu. Oddly, the lettuce was not mentioned on the menu itself. Ordinarily this would not surprise me, but as all the other ingredients were listed, it seems this too should have been included, for although frequently included in burgers lettuce is arguably not essential to their make-up in the way bread is.

Ultimately, the dish doesn’t quite gel for me. The individual ingredients – perhaps further hampered by the sheer quantity of shredded iceberg lettuce – never become a single “McEurope” but remain isolated in flavour, as listed on the menu, an ensemble performance of capable and solid (if uninspired) actors whose director fails to bring them together into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Nevertheless, I am intrigued by the experiment and will return with some curiousity for the next fornight’s instalment in this serial drama of food not as sustenance or flavour or even convenience, but as novelty, gimmick and idea.

Worry

Another scratchboard image. On Saturday I finished reading Pride and Prejudice to my father (his choice) and we started Sense and Sensibility. The last third of P&P is so full of anxiously-awaited letters that it seemed an eligible choice for this week’s Illustration Friday topic: Worry.

Our edition has very handsome woodcut illustrations, so I tried to echo some of those techniques in this picture and while I couldn’t manage anything approaching the level of detail and control in those, I think it is a lot better than my first scratchboard attempt.

I used upholstery needles for scratching, cross-hatched the background and scraped away the excess with a pocket knife which was ideal.

I showed this to my father and he said, “Oh. A granny reading a newspaper.” So I can handle honest opinions.

Then:

Self as a Teenager

(Larger jpg here).

Twelve years on: A lot less eyebrow. A little more dignity, a lot less caring about whether or not I’m embarrassed. More comfortable with how I weigh which is, incidentally, now only a little bit less than then. No cringing around the place in case I do something idiotic or clumsy (neither out of the realm of daily possibility). No braces. I run for pleasure, if not very far. I have no comfy uniform to hide in. I have heard of music after 1970 and used the internet more than twice. I know where they keep the computers. I don’t write poetry as much (whether inspired by JRRT or Banjo Patterson). I’m not in a choir any more. No time wasted in classrooms anymore! If anyone asks you what the biggest difference between distance education and boarding school is, that’s it: classrooms are so inefficient!

Started somewhere near Dave Valeza’s blog. I may try again, with more picture and fewer words.

Horton Hears a Who – Not good. It was full of pop-culture allusions and while I really, really like heavily allusive works (from Pratchett to T. S. Eliot to Brothers Grimm), these were so pointless it felt as if the movie existed to enhance the allusions and not the other way around (also, it didn’t enhance them and did more disservice to the things alluded to – alludees? – than it did to Horton). Except for the Emo-Who, which still cracks me up. It was ugly and ungainly (especially the kangaroo who freaked me out) and pretty much ignored anyone potentially interesting (the kids, Morton, the Mayor’s 99 daughters). Oh yes, and only boys can save the world. Things I liked: Morton, the character design of JoJo, the bits Shaun Tan did. Something I found written in my notebook later: Was Men In Black a reworking of Horton Hears a Who? Think it over.*

Supanova – First time. Had fun. Jewel Stait was interesting and amusing, Michael Winslow was very funny and had a polished performance with amazing vocal sound effects. Some great costumes (heavy on the anime repeats, but the less-replicated steampunk pieces were very cool, as was the individual in Star Wars camouflage hiding in the bushes). I might dress up next year but most fun was drawing the other attendees.

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Spiderwick (twice) – Not perfect, but not bad. I liked the flawed characters, the actors, and Mallory, the overbearing, strong-minded, sword-wielding older sister was pretty cool. Unfortunately it did get a little too sentimental at times (out of keeping with the rest of the film) and was another victim of the inexplicable genre of wanton destruction of beautiful houses.

One Man Star Wars – Fun for the nostalgia** and to watch anyone do this. It was a bit pricey for what it was, but too long to have been a comedy club act, so I won’t complain. It is certainly worth seeing and I hope he tours One Man Lord of the Rings here.

The Other Boleyn Girl – Pretty, pretty dresses. Pretty scenes. Pretty light. Pretty much a tudor-inspired soap opera. And very, very heavy on the foreshadowing (oh please – is this the third chicken we have seen having its head chopped off in preparation for dinner while the King arrives, in case we didn’t get it the first time?)***. Still, Deb and I had gone on purpose to mock and we didn’t much, so it was better than we expected. Highlight: In the first scene in the King’s chambers Deb started singing “Love shack” and at the end of the credits that was the song which came over the cinema radio!

Matchbox 20 (with Thirsty Merc supporting) – My sister lent me her Matchbox 20 CDs a while ago and to my surprise I knew every song on them. In order. Turns out they were big when I was at boarding school and, along with Sarah McLachlan were part of my first exposure to popular music****. And since they have some memorable, iconic, singable songs and I knew the words (which usually makes concerts better) I enjoyed it very much. My favourite part was when they covered ‘Under the Milky Way Tonight’. Thirsty Merc opened and they were… oh, I like their sound and their hair, both of which is a bit old-rock, but most of their songs are just too sentimental. Also, we were near the front and drinks and finger food at the bar were included in our tickets and we drew pictures of each other, so it was a pretty good night all up. Thanks for the tickets, M&J, sorry you had to go on a cruise:)

The TruthBrisbane Arts Theatre’s annual play based on a Pratchett Novel. This year it was The Truth^. Otto Chriek stole the scene hands-down. Although so did Sacharissa and Otto (“Please! Not to breath like that!”) and Gaspode and Foul Ole Ron… and I fell for William^^ just a little bit. The theatre is small and the sets are basic (well, they were. Now the one set is quite elaborate). Yes there is a person dressed as a dog with a cigarette in his mouth and, at one point, a tutu. Yes, the opening music was ‘Good News Week’. And it rocked and was hilarious and caught the book brilliantly. Moveable type is now my new hero^^^, maybe even up there with the Rule of Law. I did wonder if they would cut Otto Chriek’s periodic evaporations (he is a vampire photographer with an unfortunate reaction to bright lights) but they changed it for the stage and his histrionics were effective and regularly startling. And Pratchett Does Allusions Well.

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*And while you do, check out these reviews for some interesting angles on the movie: Gender inequity in Whoville, and Horton hears a racist.

**Even if mine doesn’t go back that far. In year 11 I had a weekly “gifted and talented” class. The teacher asked me what I wanted to do and I said (1) use the internet and (2) “Watch Star Wars”, so she showed me how to use the computer in the library, and borrowed the original trilogy from the video store. I got to watch them back at the boarding house because it was, technically, homework :) Unfortunately, she borrowed the last two out of order.^^^^

***Confession: I had to ask Deb which number this queen was just to double-check her fate. I can’t remember the names, just the fates: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”. It’s a bit like Dubček. I could never remember his name, so I used to walk around in year 12 saying “How much dub could a dubček ček ček if a dubček could ček dub,” and now that’s all I remember about him.

****Also Pauline Pantsdown. Oh, and Alannis Morissette, but that was a really, really bad first experience and took me a long time to get over.

^… shall make you fret.

^^William: “Hold on, hold on, there must be a law against killing lawyers.”
Goodmountain: “Are you sure?”
William: “There’re still some around, aren’t there?”

^^^There was a BBC documentary on this with Stephen Fry, one hour, all on You-tube, but it’s gone now. If you get the chance, watch it, if only for seeing how a wooden counterthread for a screw is carved by hand and Stephen Fry behaving like a complete fanboy over the reconstructed press (“a most satisfactory object”).

^^^^Han shot first.

Instead of showing you the rather nasty slice I took out of my hand on the desk at work, here is this week’s Illustration Friday entry:

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It is a wide angled view of people on the hill at Musgrave Park for Paniyiri yesterday. (I ate far too much but that was the general idea and happily I dropped half of my violently-blue-iced ouzo cupcake because it would probably have done me in. Also, I almost walked into Effi). A wide angled view is a novelty for me, since I usually put many little pictures on each page of my sketchbooks. The style changed both for the sake of experiment and because I drew the left page and then decided to continue on to the right.

This is a bit further removed from the theme than usual, because the piece I was planning (of Anne Shirley and her puffed sleeves) was also my first scratchboard picture and while parts of it turned out very well, others didn’t:

Puffs

I’ve edited it by neatening the white background. Next time I try scratchboard I will:
(a) work larger (this is slightly larger than the original);
(b) plan more;
(c) not give her a moustache;
(d) not put in such large areas of white (or else use white scratchboard);
(e) wear a dust mask; and
(f) not work in my bedroom.

The Mean Seasons: Fables Vol. 5 – Willingham et. al. I am enjoying this graphic novel series so much. I spent an evening sitting in a cafe composing a post on the awesomeness of one of the main characters. The series is not unproblematic, but it’s better than a lot and it is fairytales not retold but… matured? continued? and thrown into a difficult situation they have to deal with or perish. Snow continues to be amazing, Bigby to be difficult, everyone has their own agendas and jealousies, and they are beginning to be under threat not only from the old world but from elements of the new and from their own rules. Will the triumph of democracy be a deathblow for Fabletown? Will investigative journalists expose the secret at the heart of 21st century New York? Will true love triumph? And will anyone ever cut Snow a break? I wish comics weren’t so expensive. I’m trying to not buy more than one volume of this a month, but I bought vol. 6 a week after this one.

Batman – A Death in the Family . My first actual Batman encounter other than the movies and The Daily Batman, so while I enjoyed reading it (and found the idea of readers “voting Robin off”) I don’t really have any framework within which to review it. But seeing the Joker so much gave me a jawache.

Assorted short comics acquired at Supanova – these were out of context for me, both in terms of the continuing stories and the sort of comics they are, so I won’t review them. Also, I was disconcerted by the artwork being so much weaker than what I am used to seeing and so much better than mine.

Labyrinths – Borges. Finally. And yes, he is gorgeous. He reminds me of Umberto Eco, but perhaps took himself a little more seriously. His short stories, essays and poems tread between fantasy (sometimes reminding me of Lovecraft) and philosophy, theology, impossible hypotheticals, all short enough that they leave you room to go off on thoughts of your own. I would sit on the bus pondering the relationship between his examination of ‘The Argentine Writer and Tradition’ and the cultural cringe and the landscape in Australian speculative fiction until I began to suspect the reason I was having trouble concentrating at work that week was because I was thinking too much outside it. The final poem in the collection was ‘Elegy’ which contained the very lovely line: “to have grown old in so many mirrors” which reminded me of Elliot but is both more beautiful and just as tragic.

The Game – Diana Wynne Jones. As lively and convoluted (plot and story and characters all) as any of her stories, but in other ways just as reserved. The story of the paths of the mythosphere, the interconnectedness of families and stories and myths and legends (the Sysiphus strand which reaches out to the legend of Sysiphus at one end, but closer to home is office workers dealing with never-empty in-trays), the whirling wheeling stars (which reminded me of P. L. Travers at her best) are so rich and ripe and vivid and yet DWJ holds back so much, telling only the barest part of the story and leaving the reader wanting so very much more. Not that the story is untold, but she has shown and hinted at wonders and worlds just over the edge of it and then pared back to only the core of her tale. It is incredibly frustrating. I wrote to the DWJ list that “DWJ is very good at giving the impression that there are stories spilling over the edge of the one you are reading, that there are worlds and events and tales that you can’t quite turn the page to read although you *want* to, and that she probably won’t tell you ever because they aren’t necessary to the (quite wonderful) story at hand. Lately, however, she seems to be developing this to a very fine pitch – as if she has worked out the bare minimum she needs to actually tell to convey the story she wants to tell you, while hinting at an even more voluminous universe. The story she is telling works and is very very good, but as a reader I am convinced that there is *so much more out there* that it becomes a kind of exquisite torture.” The worst part is that I know from experience that even if she does write a sequel, it will probably be about an extremely peripheral character and is unlikely to take place in the same universe.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks. If you ever saw Awakenings with Robin Williams, Williams played Sacks. This is a series of case studies of patients with various neurological anomalies – twin savants, a ‘disembodied’ woman, a musician who ceases to recognise faces (not just the faces of certain individuals but human faces at all), people whose lives are held together with music or who can only walk upright by means of a spirit level attached to their spectacles, who recognise expression but not words or words but not expression. It is fascinating and alarming but most interesting because he treats his patients less as fascinating cases than as interesting, complicated people, whose ‘problems’ may not be problems at all, or part of a continuum of human experience. I was glad I read this after Borges, for Sacks referred to him (and particularly his story ‘The Mnemonist’) several times.

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