Thursday, March 28, 2013

A tale of two trips: Hobart and Eltham

The view from MONA, Hobart, Tasmania
Last weekend we tripped to Hobart for the Tasmanian Writers Festival.

Long ago, before the Cambrian era, Ruth and I wanted to move to Hobart. This trip reminded us: we still want to move to Hobart. (See Ruth's blog post, almost three years to the day.)

The fresh air; the small city cradled between mountains and the waters; the abundant produce; the excellent museums and galleries (MONA and TMAG); and the schmick cafes (like Retro, in Salamanca) -- it's all very inviting. Oh, and cheap houses (to go with the serious socio-economic divide).

On Friday we arrived, and went straight to MONA. It is a very powerful museum: 'theatrical' is the best word. Overall, it stresses the macabre, visceral and shocking -- a narrow but nonetheless memorable vision of the human condition. (Including some fantastic Greek and Egyptian antiquities, but also some shit.)

Saturday saw me on two panels.

Me, Matt Evans and Peter 
The first was 'Philosophy in the Garden', with author Peter Timms (who also reviewed my book) and food writer/broadcaster Matthew Evans, and chaired by poet Tim Thorne. I read from Philosophy in the Garden's chapter on Nikos Kazantzakis, 'Raking Stones'.

There was little time left for questions, but we did touch on the relationship between children and gardens -- and the danger of kids missing out on the virtues and pleasures of parks and yards, particularly in poor suburbs. (I've written about this here.)

Rebecca, me, Tony, Matt Lamb, Anne
The second was 'Embracing the Digital', with novelist Tony Birch, editor Matt Lamb and journalist Rebecca Fitzgibbon, chaired by Anne Summers.

It was a lively talk, with one chief message -- if I remember correctly -- being writerly virtues: patience, concentration, judgement. If the digital can encourage haste and false readiness, we have to be as careful with words as the best writers have always been.

 (Not) ice, ice baby
I also had a great conversation with Matt Lamb over tea and fudge, and Anita Heiss (briefly) saw that I am real, and not just an internet fantasy.

On Sunday we went 'ice' skating at Mawson Skate, at the Hobart docks. Both kids did brilliantly, but honorable mention goes to Sophia, who fell over almost as often as she got back up. Hard on the knees, but good for the spirit. (Meant in the most secular way.)

Monday took us to the newly-renovated Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which was excellent. A varied collection of natural history and art, it had some aesthetic doozies alongside the scientific exhibits.

Split ends or forked tongues?
One outstanding work was Franklin Simmons' 'Medusa': not as the usual snake-haired monster, but as the beautiful girl she was. Simmons captures the moment when she sees her hair changing -- quite moving, instead of the usual mood of horror or conquest.

Between talks, walks and art, there was plenty of eating: at Salamanca Market, Retro, the MONA restaurant/bar, a floating dockside fish and chips joint, the home of friends, TMAG and elsewhere.

And, as in Perth, we also visited the local comics/pop culture/nerd shop: Area 52.

All in all, a corker of a weekend: rambling, chatting, eating and breathing.


Rocky: the Adams garden pool
Last night I spoke with the Eltham philosophy club at a 'Philosophy in the Garden' evening, commemorating the late Gwen Ford.

We spoke in the Adams garden, designed by Gwen's husband Gordon. This was next door to what was the Eltham Garden Retreat, a mud brick house, study and bed 'n' breakfast with a big native garden by Ford. (The property was recently sold.)

Alongside neighbours, artists, teachers and other curious minds, guests included Professors Brian Ellis and John Bigelow, who were very generous with me and my book.

Philosophy al fresco (with Hulk)
It was a civilised night of talk, home-made food and pinot noir, in honour of one of Eltham's most well-known and beloved residents.

I was genuinely touched to be invited.

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