Thursday, 4 June 2009

Winter in a cool climate


Monday morning the fog came in as we watched. Every other day it’s cleared; the damp dissipates and the sky is suddenly a piercing blue. Rog and I stood upstairs in the ochre-yellow, north-facing room and watched the rooftops disappear. We used to be able to see all the way up to Fitzroy from there – my philosophical dentist John Gilheany once mused on the fact that Brunswick Street was bookended by churches – but the city’s closing in now and today’s vista is made up of rooftops, balconies, angles and palms. Then there’s the ubiquitous TV antennae and further away, the ever-present cranes punctuating the horizon.
Routines are there to be changed, so any morning holds exciting choices. Stay home or go out? It’s usually the latter in this vibrant metropolis, so a couch-potato sojourn is a treat.
As Monday nights are special movie night, sometimes I meet a sister or niece at Trotters in Carlton for a glass of fizz and a feed. Trotters is one of those Melbourne cafés with good Italian-based food, fast service, attentive, warm staff – what’s not to like there? Some concentrated browsing at Readings, an ice cream and a movie and there you go, we’ve pushed the week off gently and it’s rolling. Rog is starting to get hooked now, and we slotted Gomorra in for this week.
Last week Samson and Delilah knocked our socks off – strong and sad were words I thought of. It took an Aboriginal filmmaker to say it, and I guess it’s how change has to happen to bring happier times in this Age of Aquarius – through the Aboriginal people themselves, not through us and our doomed solutions. Every theme resonated way too deeply with what we saw in our time in the Kimberley. The women who cop all the disasters yet somehow, miraculously, come out stronger; the men who take a crack at being leaders and fall short; the brutality to one another that swells the desolation; the art scene that feeds off the isolation of artists; the irony of hunter-gatherers who have lost their connection with country.
During the week, Snow Falling on Cedars resonated more gently but just as deeply. Set in 1954 on a fictional island off Washington State, it follows the murder trial of a Japanese-American man in the wake of the death of a fellow fisherman. In the film, the effect of Japanese exile camps during the Second World War on the island’s residents is as important a theme as the interracial love story. The gradual exposing of the underbelly of racism following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor led me to think about what might have been, here. So much suffering for our people in the Pacific War. I will never forget talking to a 90-year-old POW incarcerated in Changi who wept, just at the mention of his time there. My uncle never could speak of his time in New Guinea. And that was meant to be the war that ended all wars.
Full of gore and violence, Gomorra was not a film to enjoy. I guess I’d call it a sickening exposé of the stranglehold of the Camorra gangsters over the citizens of Naples.
It segued perfectly into last night’s panel discussion of true crime writing at Victorian Writers’ Centre. Our fascination for turning over the darkest acts of humans, one to another – could it be a quest to understand where the good ends and evil starts? Or simply to solve the puzzles?
Anyway, things aren’t all grim. I discovered Making Modern Melbourne, by my thesis supervisor and all-round mastermind Jenny Lee, and caught her talk to the Coburg Historical Society a few weeks ago. I found her take on our history looking from the western and northern suburbs – as opposed to the usual eastern slant – enthralling. I’m enjoying Lisa Lang’s E.W. Cole: Chasing the Rainbow now, and recalling Cole’s Funny Picture Book. What an extraordinary, visionary, eccentric man – my ideal dinner companion. This is one of the titles in small and perfectly formed A6 format, all printed on recycled paper by Arcade Publications. Lots of illustrations, immaculate research and immensely readable – a quirky take on Melbourne history.