February 25, 2007

Old School

In Moe's, surrounded by so much packaged striving for a certain unintentionally-twee visual hipness, I pick up a cheap remaindered hardback copy of Sylvia Wolf's "Ed Ruscha and Photography" (Whitney 2004). Ruscha's photography clearly charted a lot of the territory I later plodded around aimlessly; it's a shame I didn't know the map except subconsciously or by instinct.

Ruscha's photos (or at least the little I know of them) always please me, always come across as staunchly old school: they don't come off as calculating or theory-driven, just driven. Sure, you can infer a lot of coherent thought and aesthetic ideology behind the scenes, but at least they're not advertisements for a conventional and self-satisfied sort of transgressiveness or illustrated me! me! me! self-absorption. And they have the sort of droll dry humour that puts those all-too-familiar earnest academic attempts at "play" and "playfulness" to shame. All of which does it for me… so I buy the damn thing.

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February 23, 2007

Lost In Translation

Exile is translation, emigration is translation, you wake up reinterpreted in a strange language, a context of signifiers that don't mean what they say. The translation often starts early. For me it started almost before I could speak; I've emigrated four times in my life, twice as a kid, twice as an adult.


February 16, 2007


Lunchtime, on the steep slopes of Jackson between Grant and Kearny, in front of Pearl City, the Green Street Mortuary Band slowly wends its way downhill towards us, black uniforms, white shirts, hats, the low sad measured steady swing of well-played brass and drums in the sun in front of the sidewalk crowds, foot traffic stopped dead in the narrow streets, three black cars and a hearse behind the band, a dozen or more cars in the procession behind that. The band and the hearse stop in the bustle outside the Pearl, the funeral directors open the hearse's back door so we can pay respects, so the dead can see the neighbourhood again, the mourners gather around and throw yellow money up into the sunshine above the streets and the giant joss sticks and onto us. American tradition: a subdued New Orleans, a Chinatown funeral.

Minutes later, a couple of blocks away at Columbus and Broadway in front of the touristy gelato place, we watch the police escort an exuberant ten-minute-long line of vintage cars and roadsters heading along Columbus for North Beach. People cheer and wave.

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February 11, 2007

Proddies v. Catholics

The people in the Woy Woy area when I was growing up there were — by today’s Australian standards — pretty homogenous. The main division seemed to be the Prods vs. the Catholics — and that wasn’t much, since we kids tended to play together no matter what the "religion" of the others (if someone in those days asked you what your "religion" was, they were asking whether you were Catholic, Church of England, Methodist, Presbyterian, or the like). Nearly everyone was of English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish descent, mostly second or third generation. The Irish were invariably Catholic, the rest of us mostly Proddies. A few "immigrants" (often enough second or third generation themselves) lived in the area, mainly Italian, Greek, or Yugoslavian. Real immigrants were a bit exotic — even the Poms (like me). Pretty much everyone was white — there were virtually no Aboriginals or Africans at all living in the area. When Gary Sobers visited the area on a friendly cricket promotion (and played for Wyong, if I remember correctly), he was treated as a God — black or not, he was just exotic and absolutely revered as a cricketer. (Of course there were black American servicemen all the time in Sydney, but Sydney was another world to most of us…). The only Asians at that time and place were upper middle class people like doctors (in fact several were friends of my parents); they were almost all ABC’s with broad Australian accents.

Churchgoing was pretty rare and not taken terribly seriously by most people, except the ritual Christmas, Easter, and wedding (etc.) services. I really never knew anyone whose parents went to church more than once in a blue moon — and that includes people of all social classes. Religion simply played no part in public life there (except the Catholic vs. The Rest thing, which was more tribal than religious); it typically played a very minor role in private life, if at all. Lots of kids sports were played on Sunday mornings in any case, making churchgoing for us a little unlikely (until I left for Canberra, I really never went to church more than perhaps four times a year). The population was split about 60 / 40 Protestant / Catholic (I think); most Protestants were Church Of England, with a strong second going to the Methodists and Presbyterians (the Scots influence…). There were a smattering of Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., but they were almost universally regarded as a bit eccentric or off the beaten path, a little… strange (including the Lutherans). In retrospect, there were also a couple of Jewish families, but at that time I wouldn’t really have been able to tell you what "Jewish" meant (an ignorance that vanished overnight when I was sent to Canberra…).

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February 04, 2007

Sour Cynicisms

Sour cynicisms abstracted from an hour's driving: what determines whether something is right or wrong here in California is solely whether you can get away with it or not; and you're not truly Californian unless you believe that your own convenience is always — always — more important than anything else in the world, including (especially!) the conditions under which that convenience is made possible or maintained….

(Part of California).

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