Friday 30 July 2010

Expo, Expo! Read All About It!

A few weeks ago, I was in China. You may have forgotten – I’ve nearly forgotten. But it is so. I spent one of my four days in Shanghai at the Shanghai Expo. This was my first time at an Expo and it was fascinating. It’s an odd mixture of 19th century thinking – the expo’s roots are in the World Fairs (like in Meet Me in St Louis) that became popular after the Great Exhibition of 1851 – and cutting edge architecture and design. Fairly cutting edge, anyway – you could see the effects of the recession here and there.
The Expo presents the world in miniature, like a commercial version of Legoland. Almost every country in the world has a pavilion that supposedly represents its essence. Or convinces the Chinese to do business with it. Whichever works. There are also pavilions representing NGOs and international entities like the UN. You could spend days there and not see everything, not least because (unless you’re a VIP) the queues are pretty crazy. Apparently people were queuing for up to nine hours to go into the Saudi Arabian pavilion. The big draw there was meeting a sheikh. I passed.
With so much to see, how to decide which pavilions to visit? One arbitrary route is as good as another, I guess. In the end, I chose to go to the pavilions of countries I had visited or was planning to visit on my Grand Tour.
So, first up: Ireland. Ireland is all about grass, seemingly.

After lunch in Italy, I went to South Africa (wine, football)

and Zimbabwe. There is something painfully symbolic about the movie on pause, the empty showcase and the image of a scratched ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ sign.

Next was Argentina. I probably won’t make it to Buenos Aires this trip, but this was a coin-in-a-fountain kind of gesture. If the gods are smiling I will make it to Argentina before long. Argentina smelled of steak (great idea!), had a tribute to Evita (stupido idea) and lots of flashing lights.

Canada’s exhibition design came courtesy of Cirque du Soleil. Very razzle-dazzle.

I made my way to Asia via the raised footpath, where I took photos of Russia,

and Denmark. I liked the Danish pavilion very much, essentially one long, looped bike path. But I was told that the concept ran into some trouble because the locals aren’t in the habit of using brakes when they cycle…. Oops.


We had to queue in the rain, but I amused myself by taking photos of the umbrellas.

I liked the fact that the displays were upside down on the ceiling…

Singapore … pretty boring really.

New Zealand was delightful, with a rain forest on the roof.

And then – well, then, I was going to go to Japan but I ran out of steam. And I rationalised that I would be in Japan in a couple of days, so…. And I didn’t need to visit the Chinese pavilion because I was actually in China.

For the most part, the exterior design of the pavilions was far superior to the interiors. The theme of the Expo was ‘Better City, Better Life’, but references to same were very sketchy. I guess that’s not really what it’s about though: it’s really for countries to strut their stuff in front of the world. What is interesting is that the pavilions do reflect, I think, a sense of nationality - though not necessarily in the ways intended.

I saw the following I sign on my way out. It made me pause - are many extra-terrestrials visiting the Shanghai Expo? I guess it's the next logical step.

(If you can't see the writing clearly, the signs say 'Entrance for Regular Visitors of Urban Planet'.)

Thursday 29 July 2010

Guest Blog: Cathedrale d'Images Revisited

My mama has been spending time in France and sent me this guest post about the Cathedrale d'Images. See here for my account. Hers is below and, really, I think perhaps I should retire and get her to write all my posts in future. (All photos are taken from the Cathedrale d'Images website.)


July in Aix en Provence is hot, and exploring the town and countryside was giving rise to too many cups of coffee, glasses of Rosé, orange pressé so LT’s Aged Parent scrolled down through the blog to find some other recommendations. Back in September LT went to St Remy and Les Baux, places I have visited before and really had no desire to experience, crowded with tourists on a hot July day. But when I read that LT gave Cathédrale d’Images the ultimate accolade, I looked to see how to get there. Initial disappointment that the show based on Picasso was over, was replaced by a conviction that a visit was essential – check and see what jumps out.

For readers without internet access, the theme this year is Australia.

Arriving at Les Baux I steered through the thousands of cars, bikes and pedestrians and found parking (non-payant) at the cathédrale site, paid my money and went into the cavern which was distinctly ‘blessed coolness in the heat’. As I walked in I could hear fireworks reverberating to the sound of Waltzing Mathilda and see giant images of the explosions over Sydney Opera House projected on the near wall, clearly the end of the show. It looked magnificent. As LT described, I walked further into the cavernous space and the show began again. On the walls, ceiling and floor images were projected of life forms originating, pulsating shapes gradually giving way to plants, fish, flowers and animals. The pictures are repeated on different planes, the same but different, some still and some moving. You see a landscape, distant on one wall, close up on another and simultaneously all around you. A kangaroo is pictured lying peacefully in the sun, a still image until one ear flicks away a fly; a koala crouches in the fork of a tree just asking to be picked up and cuddled, but mind the fleas.

Jean Charbonneau and Dong Wei, who put the show together, wanted to pay homage to the Aboriginal history, which they do magnificently. Images taken from cave and body paintings kaleidoscoped through the cavern, foreshadowing Matisse, Miro, Kandinsky, and transformed by camera/computer technique from reality to pointilliste or impressionist paintings and back again. Vibrant colours and patterns all around, up and down, ever changing. Far from being intrusive, the spectators walking around, coming and going on different levels, were part of the landscape and the pictures, the flash of cameras, pinpoints of light adding depth to the landscapes. One man lay down on the groung and let the colours play on his face and body. Aboriginal music, pipes and didgeridoo, echoed in the vast space.

The portrayal of the white settlers was less sympathetic – they came (inexorably, wave after wave) saw and set out to change and conquer, importing sheep to clothe the nakedness which they thought immoral, subduing what they could of the vast continent by violence, gunpowder and eventually motorised power. A telling detail on the monument erected to Captain James Cook, was that it was presented to the nation by BP. Another was the reduction of the native animals to yellow road signs on the Northern Territory Highway, as you travel 500 miles where no fuel is available.

I watched twice through, enthralled and found the fireworks of less interest each time. My only quibble with LT is that she didn’t mention that one needs an extra layer in the cathédrale, otherwise one begins to freeze.

So if you are in Provence, don’t miss this experience which is a definite ‘VLD’. If you are in Australia, look for some of what Jean Charbonneau found as indicated on website.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Christmas in July

A few months ago I wrote about my problems as a Northern-Hemispherer adjusting to the idea of Christmas in the sun. Christmas just didn’t feel like Christmas in warm weather.

Now I’m experiencing the reverse (or inverse?) problem.

The weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful, la la la la la la lah, Christmas must be just around the corner.

I’m wearing scarves. There’s a faint scent of woodsmoke, cinnamon and scented candles everywhere (or maybe just scented candles.) And people are doing this:

Where's the Baby Jesus? Where's Santa? Not for another five months, you say? Waaaaaah.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Convent, Coffee, Cows

The title of today’s post more or less sums up my Sunday afternoon. (What are we on now? Tuesday? This is practically liveblogging by HTLT’s standards!) Sunday was a beautiful late winter’s day (almost early spring but not quite). The sun was shining, the air was crisp and I went with Georgie and Stu and Sunday (last seen in Greece) to Abbotsford Convent.

(Me with my friend Sunday.)

I can’t seem to escape convents. I’ve worked on five – yes, five – convent exhibition projects (also one monastery) and spent a lot of my professional life thinking about how convents and former convents can be repurposed. I spent most of the first fortnight I was in Melbourne staying in a former convent, now a hostel/guesthouse – so that’s one idea. Another is to do what they’ve done with Abbotsford Convent, just a few kilometres outside Melbourne’s CBD, and throw the buildings open to artists and arts organisations.

There are studios and workshops for artists, a bandstand for musicians to practise in, a bakery, a bar, lots of lovely outside space to wander around. And butting on to the convent grounds is Collingwood Children’s Farm.

There’s a great café – outdoor seating only but they supply you with big blankets should you need them.

There was a small calf, just two months old (if I’ve worked it out right, that’s the equivalent of an Irish cow being born in November, which just seems wrong) and very sweet.

There were chickens (I can’t call them chooks, I just … no.)

There was a peacock hiding in a wheelbarrow.

There were pigs living in very stylish pig condos. This is Greta.

There were horses, of course. And everything feels so much like being in the countryside that it's a shock to see the skyscrapers on the horizon.

There was another peacock on the compost heap, eating peppers. (I can’t call them capsicums. See above.)

The calf and I spent some quality time together. He was missing his mammy. I know what that’s like. See! Our hair is almost the same colour.

I wouldn’t mind being a nun if they let me drink coffee in the sunshine and play with baby cows all day.

Monday 26 July 2010

While I Think Of It...

First of all, in response to a suggestion from Alma, I have added an option for you to tick a box that lets me know you like a particular post. If no one ever ticks the box, I will have to remove the option for the sake of my fragile self-esteem. (Now that, there, was an example of a massive Hint from a Lady Traveller.)

Second of all, the Masterchef final was much more exciting than the political debate (I know, you were dying to ask, but too polite to mention it.) Julia Gillard edged a win in the latter, while Adam beat Callum in the former.

Picture Dictionary: Flat White

Prompted by rattdl’s innocent question last week (she wanted to know what budgie smugglers are) I’m reintroducing the picture dictionary feature I started in South Africa.

Today’s phrase is one with which some readers may already be familiar since I think it’s slowly infiltrating coffee shops in Ireland and Britain.

Flat white [flæt waɪt]


Espresso-based drink served with hot milk. Similar to cappuccino but with less foam and no chocolate. Cf Café au lait. Often seen on lists that include ‘long black’, ‘short black’ etc. HTLT's favourite.

Friday 23 July 2010

State Library of Victoria

It’s time for a hint!

The State Library of Victoria has a great café (Mr Tulk’s), interesting exhibitions, very comfortable chairs, free wireless and an excellent selection of books, journals, magazines and newspapers.

Anyone can join (although you don’t need to join to use the internet or browse their open access collections) and it’s free. Free!

The hint is very straightforward: if you’re in Melbourne, visit the State Library.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Masterchef Australia

I’ve been in Australia for just over two weeks. Long enough to become addicted to the tv show everyone here is talking about: Masterchef. This is the truth I am telling you.

For anyone who watched the original, British, version of the same (which I love) the Australian version throws up some surprises. It takes the basic format (passionate amateur cooks who want to make a career in food have to cook their way through a series of heats) and mixes it with a blend of Survivor, Big Brother and Ready, Steady, Cook. The cooks have to live together (Big Brother), employ stealth and cunning (Survivor) and often cook the contents of a Mystery Box (Ready, Steady, Cook.)

This week is Finals Week with the big, grand final happening due to take place on Sunday evening. Do you know what else was meant to be happening on Sunday evening? A televised debate between the leaders of the two main political parties, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. Guess which of these two television events had to be moved?

You have to love a country whose most popular tv programme (featuring duelling chefs) forces politicians to change their schedules.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Lunch With a View

After I had done a few of the twenty hundred* things on my to-do list today, I wandered down Brunswick St in Fitzroy (the rather charming part of Melbourne where I'm staying) to find some lunch and a post office.

I had a late lunch at Madame Sousou, which offers a reasonable Prix Fixe: two courses and a glass of wine for $32. It is a very French establishment and almost everybody except me was talking in French.

Lunch (a beetroot and goat curd salad, followed by biftek and onion rings) was excellent. But even better was the show.

I was sitting in a corner, at the front, with a view out of two of the full length windows.

Brunswick St is full of interesting shops, cafes and people and I passed a very pleasant time watching them all. I can tell you that extreme tights are in at the moment. I spotted a pair that were flesh coloured at the front and black at the back; a pair that had one leg black and the other white; and a pair that had cut outs over the knees.

And the sun was shining.

Restored, refreshed, I set out for the Post Office and discovered that sending things out of Australia is no simple task. Here’s a Hint to Travellers Sending Parcels from Australia: fill in the green customs declaration first. Otherwise you will be letting yourself in for a world of pain. Oh, and don’t forget to bring ID.

A bientot, HTLT xxx

*Twenty hundred is a phrase coined by my sister Róisín to represent a number that is so much bigger than twenty it is almost unimaginable. She came up with it in Australia about twenty hundred years ago, so it seems fitting to use it here.

Tuesday 20 July 2010


Well, here I am in Australia and it seems I’ve landed in the middle of Exciting Times. A general election has been called for the 21st August and the two main protagonists are two people I’d never heard of two weeks ago. Lots of people offer you the insider’s take on politics. Here’s the outsider’s take.

On the one hand there’s Julia Gillard, current prime minister, head of the Australian Labor Party. (The first thing I noticed is that they spell Labor without a ‘u’ even though they spell everything else English-style and not American-style. Is there a hidden meaning in that?)

Things I Know About Julia Gillard: she is the first female Australian prime minister. She has red hair. She is the first Australian red-haired prime minister. She was born in Wales. She may or may not have knifed her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, to take his job. There’s a lot of comment on her hairstyle, partly because she’s a woman and partly because her partner is a hairdresser. She looks a bit like one of the main characters from McLeod’s Daughters, a show set in the Outback that I became addicted to a few years ago.

On the other hand there’s Tony Abbott who looks like someone I’m sure I’ve seen but I can’t remember who, which tells you a lot, really.

Things I Know About Tony Abbott: he is famous for wearing budgie smugglers. He, also, may or may not have knifed his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull. His party is responsible for perhaps the worst election campaign ad I have ever seen.

Even he doesn’t look excited and the singers who have to sing ‘Stand up for Australia’ sound like they would rather have their fingernails pulled out than sing any more.

In the interests of fairness, I will add that Labor’s jingle(s) may well be just as bad, I just haven’t encountered one yet.

The final thing I have learned is that voting is compulsory. Well, in the sense that you have to be on the register, you have to turn up at the polling station and take a ballot. If you choose to put a blank piece of paper in the box, or scribble obscene messages, that’s up to you.

There. Don't you feel better informed now?

EDITED TO ADD: I've just realised that half the film frame is cut off. I've tried to fix it, but for some reason it's only available in widescreen, and this is not a widescreen blog. You're not missing much though.

Monday 19 July 2010

Lady Bay

I have almost caught up with myself and soon, SOON, I promise I will be posting the news as-it-happens from Melbourne.


On my last day in Sydney, Simon and I went for a walk by the seaside: Camp Cove and Lady Bay, to be exact. This is the furthest tip of the city’s Eastern Suburbs, where the well-heeled Sydneysider hangs out.

This is Camp Cove, and if anybody out there would like to donate one of the houses overlooking this beach to Hints to Lady Travellers, I assure you I would be properly grateful. No?

As we walked, we saw dozens of yachts sailing round the bay.

Everything was very green and fresh, more autumnal than wintry. We got to Lady Bay Beach which, you'll see if you click on the photo, is actually a nudist beach. And yes, there were people swimming butt naked. And yes I did take a photo of one of them (rear view). And yes, he turned at an inopportune time which is why I won't be posting the photo. This is not that kind of website.

Here's me on the edge of the world:

And here's Simon, my neighbour from Oxford days, at Hornby Lighthouse. Next stop - well, New Zealand I suppose. Or maybe Tasmania.