Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Body in the Garden: Adelaide

The scene of the crime (Photo: Richard Aitken)
Last weekend we travelled to Adelaide for the inaugural 'Body in the Garden' festival: Australia's first literary festival dedicated to crime and garden books.

I was there because of Philosophy in the Garden, rather than for my fashion (or literary) transgressions.

On Friday, we took Nikos and Sophia to the Adelaide Zoo. Highlights included the pandas, tigers, sea lions and -- for me, at least -- red-billed fire finches, which were like sparrows in a Flash costume. (But zoos always leave me melancholy.)

Richard Aitken, DY, Stephen Forbes
Later I attended a mayoral reception for the festival, hosted by Adelaide's Lord Mayor. There I met fellow MUP author Richard Aitken, and the director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, Stephen Forbes, who gave a brief but memorable talk in celebration of photosynthesis.

On Saturday I was on a panel with UK garden historian Toby Musgrave and author Charles Elliot: 'The Philosophy of Mud'. Our chair was Trevor Nottle.

Charles Elliot, Toby Musgrave, DY and Trevor Nottle
(Photo: Richard Aitken)
I outlined the Austen, Nietzsche, Orwell and Proust chapters of Philosophy in the Garden. Toby deftly sketched the history and psychology of gardens, and Charles spoke eloquently about time in the garden. Charles's use of Karel Čapek's 'Gardener's Prayer' prompted knowing laughs from the audience.

After this, Ruth, the kids and I looked around the Botanic Gardens, including the greenhouse, which humidifies the giant Victoria amazonica water-lilies.

An Egyptian blue lotus, with Victoria amazonica
 in the background
The pads, with their spiked lips, are tethered to the middle by thick rope-like stems. And right in the centre is a bright white flower, in which pollinating beetles copulate.

It resembles a miniature aquatic sex city, with radiating avenues surrounding a decorative orgy palace.

After the horticultural red light district, we all decamped to Adelaide's comic shops, to pick up some high art.

On Sunday another panel: 'On Edge', with Swedish crime writer Håkan Nesser, Australian crime writer Barry Maitland and gardener Myles Baldwin. Our chair was lawyer and broadcaster Alex Ward.

I spoke first, talking about James Bond, Nietzsche and the savagery of nature. Then Barry Maitland spoke about gardens in his books -- and the murders that happened in them. Myles recalled some anecdotes about the garden's safety and dangers (including discovering a man hanged in Sydney's Botanic Gardens), then Håkan reflected on literary panels, and having little to say. (Very entertainingly.)

Two excellent questions stand out. One on trees in myth, which I answered with clumsy enthusiasm, noting the ambivalence of trees in Judaeo-Christian and Norse myth. (Hårkan corrected my memory of the Voluspa.) Another on the symbolism of Eden, which I answered, noting the way in which evil is already in the garden (the snake), but also introduced by humans. This was drawing on Ricoeur's work in The Symbolism of Evil.

After this, I signed some more books -- almost sold out, which was nice -- and then we tramped off to Adelaide's art gallery, which was outstanding. The themed rooms -- seduction, death, gender -- work brilliantly.

All in all, a very busy weekend, with -- as far as I know -- no casualties except bank balances.

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