Archive for January, 2008|Monthly archive page

New research question – early thinking

How do students at the Language School perceive the music program?

This is a very open question. Initially I had hoped to set up a research project that would discover what impact, if any, the music program was having on students’ learning, in particular in literacy. I was also interested to explore the idea of ideal learning environments for these students, and wondered if an arts-rich environment would prove to be the preferred.

However, establishing the controls that would allow me to isolate the effects of the music program are proving difficult. The students in the primary classes work together in age groups. There are three classes, and all three take part in the music program. It isn’t possible to split the classes for the sake of the research – nor is it desirable! I also thought about creating a new group just for this project, hand-selecting the students, going into the school a separate day, designing a program specifically. There are considerable issues within school protocols about timetabling, accomodation and supervision with this idea.

My supervisor N also offered the caution that this is only a 20,000 word thesis, so the project needs to be quite contained, or at least containable. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am quite verbose… I don’t need a lot of data to write a lot of words (my biggest issue is usually cutting them down, once I have made sense of them).

So we came to the idea of exploring and discovering something, rather than trying to demonstrate something. How the students perceive the music program is anyone’s guess, really. They obviously enjoy it, but what do they make of it? Why do they think they are doing it? What do they think they get from it? What meaning does it have for them? The children I work with are young – aged between 5 and 13, and they are new arrivals. Some have never been to school before. All have an experience of musical culture from somewhere else, that they bring with them here. These questions would be difficult for an older person to answer, probably, let alone young people in the middle of an enormous transition period in their lives, grappling with a new language, new place, new culture…

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Getting back into the swing of things here. I have a few projects in my head now:

  • Upcoming 2-day course for teachers that I am co-leading for the Song Room with Sarah Young, drama and story specialist, who is also an early years specialist. Two days of creative work and music.  Today we had a planning session and brainstorm, and left feeling very energised and buzzy about our ideas.
  • Prison project. In about a month, we will finally start the Orchestra’s composition project with prisoners in one of Melbourne’s prisons. This project has been in the planning for more than two years. It is a real ‘first’ for the Orchestra. At the moment I am putting together a CD of reference music for the musicians and I, to give some ideas about the kinds of things we might create. There is a whole range of stuff on it, from Topology (Brisbane-based ensemble, very interesting), Steve Reich, Jacques Brel, Komitas (Armenian composer). I am yet to start planning the workshop sessions, but building up a picture in my head.
  • Language School 08 – I am meeting with the teachers tomorrow to talk through ideas. One thought I have had is to continue with the project I started last year, building music pieces from text. But I am also keen to sit down with the teachers, look through the full range of previous projects, and get their thoughts on what the strongest ones were.
  • Performing – my performing ambitions are to the fore once more. I have some Brel songs I want to learn (in French), and some Bosnian sevdah (in Bosnian). There is also a song by the Modena City Ramblers (Irish music in style, but sung in Italian – crazy!) that I think will work well. I want to figure out accompaniments that I could play on the accordion. They will have to be easy, because I can’t really play accordion. But I want to sing the songs.
  • Plus, I am now in Masters-land again. Need to put my Ethics application in asap. Which means defining my research question and how I will approach it. More on that later, as a separate post.

So, finally, this blog is Back On-Topic. Thanks to all those who stayed with me through the travel.

Recommendations – food and accommodation

I know that some people are finding these blog entries through the ‘travel’ tag, so here is a quick list of places I stayed, and where I ate, that I would recommend.


I stayed with friends, so no accommodation recommendations, although I heard very good things about the trio of M.I.J.E hostels/hotels, all in Le Marais, in old-style buildings, very picturesque and atmostpheric. One is right by the beautiful St Gervais church.

I ate several times at La Salle a Manger, at the bottom of Rue Mouffetarde (a good place too, to shop for food). Sunday brunch is a big deal in Paris, lots of places offer special menus. At La Salle a Manger, they have a three-course meal of breads and spreads, pate and smoked salmon, with scrambled eggs, salad, yoghurt, wine or cold drink, coffee or hot chocolate or tea. We ate at 3pm, so it is an all-day thing. 20 euros.


We rented our apartment through Hyur Guest Service, and they seemed to offer a good range of services for visitors. They also took us to and from the airport. The apartment was very spacious, and right in the heart of the city.

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Here are some quick highlights and noteworthy moments:

  • Paris brunch (with Caroline) at La Salle a Manger, at the bottom of Rue Mouffetarde. Also the hot chocolate I had there when CP took me, my first day in Paris.
  • All my afternoon hot chocolates in Paris. What a nice way to insert a marker into a day!
  • Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido. Exquisite space, beautiful setting, and heavenly scents. Treat yourself… how often are any of us in Paris?
  • The garret flat. Regular readers of this blog will know how charmed I was by that place.
  • Geghard Monastery, in Armenia. A cave church, carved into the rock face, and the palpable sense of the ancient, and the sacred, that I felt there. Anna’s singing, which made me hold my breath in its beauty.
  • My first sight of the Old Bridge in Mostar, now restored to its graceful arching limestone glory. Crossing Tito Bridge ( in my day a rickety wooden death trap) and catching a glimpse of the house I used to live in and the view of the Neretva river I had known so well, brought me to tears.
  • Returning to Blagaj (near Mostar), to sit in the peaceful, nurturing ambience of the Sufi House and drink pomegranate juice.
  • The soundtrack of the holiday – particularly the last part, with SB. Video killed the Radio Star is the first to come to mind. We heard it on the car radio the day went to Montenegro. It stayed as our ‘cleanser’ song for the rest of the holiday. But who can forget Oriental Man, the song that won my heart? Or the myriad of ditties we composed, such as Disfunctional Man? A fine soundtrack indeed, a complement to my laboratory of language recordings. On a more serious note, the soundtrack started right at the beginning, with the music CP and I prepared for our concert in Armenia. Khachaturian. Spohr. Komitas. And Komitas went on to stay in my head and heart forever after. Then in Bosnia, the sevdah. When I heard Teo perform on the Friday night, my last night in Mostar, singing songs I had been part of just a few days earlier with K and his family in Sarajevo, my heart swelled.
  • Speaking ‘Armenian’ with CP, periodically collapsing into giggle; continuing the ridiculousness with K and K in Bosnia, where they took great delight in filling their excellent English with overuse of continuous verbs and a complete lack of definite articles, hoping others around them would take them for Russians with beginners’ English. Continuing the game even further with SB, where it became our lingua franca.
  • Constant vigilance in Naples, where SB and I played the righteous tourists to perfection. A kind of ‘gonzo tourism’, suggested SB, where, rather than trying to integrate into the local culture, we imposed our own onto the locals most blatantly. When I regaled friends with these stories back at home, they were acutely ashamed of us, and embarrassed to know us. However, in the context of where we were, and who we were encountering, and the entertainment we provided, I think everybody won, really.
  • There were many memorable meals, both for the food that was eaten and the company that was kept. Meals that we ate in Morgy’s home, with her mother and sister, in Yerevan. The meal CP and I ate in the Georgian restaurant in Yerevan, where we ordered too much and they wrapped the remaining hadjipurri up for us in tin foil to take home and eat for breakfast in the morning. Our last night in Yerevan, where the four of us went out for traditional Armenian BBQ, drank wine, laughed, told stories, and felt as if ten years had disappeared on us. The afore-mentioned Sunday brunch with Caroline in Paris. The dinner SB and I ate our second night in Dubrovnik, where the waiter cut our fish up for us most expertly, and made elaborate, impressive show of making sure we did not miss the delicacy of the cheek. Also the excellent 1-litre bottle of Hercegovinan wine that we had with that meal, and the general fine ambiance. And meals made by K’s mother in Sarajevo, because they were made with such love.
  • Most bright and blessed days: our weekend in Armenia when we made our excursions to Garni, Geghard and Echmiadzin. “It’s for you,” Morgy told us in all seriousness. And the sunny day SB and I traveled into Bosnia and Montenegro by car over newly-opened borders and crazy mountain roads. And Christmas Day in Sarajevo when it started to snow, and everything sparkled and the landscape was transformed into high-relief black and white.
  • Most hair-raising moment: definitely that horrid narrow road I drove to get to the Kotor ferry, in darkness, when I was tired and feeling uncertain about how much room I really had on that side of the car. I was feeling the burden of being Designated Driver at that time and would have gladly swapped the reins!

There will be more highlights that are not coming to mind right now. SB, KB and CP, my dear fellow travellers and conspirators, please do add your comments, adjustments, and own personal highlights! G x

Halfway around the world

I am halfway home. In Hong Kong Airport, awaiting flight to Melbourne. Leaving Rome was strange, I never quite got it into my head that I was about to get on a long-haul flight. I lingered for ages in the departure hall, and ended up being the second-last person to board the flight. Disapproving glances as I beamed at everyone at the gate.

I felt a surge of something like surprise when I saw the television in the back of the seat. That’s right, I thought. I am going to Australia – you get a TV for that kind of flight. It took a moment to sink in.

This whole trip has been everything I wanted it to be. Everything I needed it to be. Paris nurtured me and got me breathing again. Seeing my friends there, meeting their friends, slowing down and sleeping and drinking wine and tea and hot chocolate, and eating fresh bread and pain au chocolat… wandering the streets without really knowing where I was going. All perfect and exactly what I needed.

Armenia was inspiring. Music as a powerful way of reconnecting with friends again, and of sharing with people. This theme continued in Bosnia, where I also started to get a sense of who I am when I am away from home, the way that I engage with people, the things I contribute and what other people give me. I had big emotional swings in Mostar: the huge rush of just seeing the city again, of seeing the restored Old Bridge and remembering the shape of the city; a sense of sadness then, at the things that did not seem to have changed so much; and then starting to look beyond these, to see what has changed for people, the difference that stability can bring, even if that is still often mixed with frustration. Again, seeing old friends was the focus and was definitely worth the journey. And Christmas in Sarajevo with K and his family was a definite, moving, humbling highlight. They made me so welcome.

Then, I was no longer with old friends but travelling with a new friend, and that was tremendous fun. I am not sure I have travelled with anyone (apart from my mum or other family) for that long before. It was great. And we saw lots and took ourselves to new places and made spontaneous and impulsive decisions and all the things that you want yourself to do when you are away.

I have been really stimulated by the challenge of using my language skills and improving these. I get such a buzz out of being able to have even the most rudimentary conversations with people in their own language. I spoke four languages other than English on this trip – French, Russian, Bosnian (Serbo-Croatian), and Italian. I prepared for each one, listening most diligently to the relevant language lab recordings I had acquired prior to departure, before entering each country. My greatest linguistic satisfactions were with Bosnian/Croatian and Italian, as I improved so quickly with these two in particular. I was surprised by how much Bosnian came back to me in the time that I was there. By the time I was in Dubrovnik many people commented on it, and asked why it was I could speak their language as much as I could. And in Italian, well… it was the language I automatically used in every interaction. I found myself thinking in the last two days about doing things in Melbourne, like taking my coat to be drycleaned, or resetting my membership at the pool, and mentally going over how I would appraoch these interactions in Italian, what I would say, etc. Then it would occur to me that I would be able to do these in English. I also bought the final Harry Potter book in translation while I was in Naples, and have been reading that slowly ever since. All good for my language skills.

And even the length of the holiday was right. While I am sad to leave the travelling mode, in many way I am looking forward to home. I am looking forward to being back in my flat and seeing my family and friends and finding out what everyone has been up to, as it feels I have been away for ages. I’m looking forward to wearing some different clothes and beng able to finally unpack my big bag, and I am looking forward to a couple of months of summer. I love the winter in many ways, but the Fitzroy Pool beckons for my morning swims, Carlton Gardens for my runs, my bicycle for my general commuting and transport, the Vic Market for groceries, coffee, crossword and good company.

So I am coming home feeling pretty refreshed, I guess. I don’t yet feel like going back to work, but I know I’ll be happy once I am there – there is lots to get stuck into. I’ll also be able to resume my Masters reading, and I am looking forward to that. 2008 is the year of Masters. It will be my main focus and ambition.

International guide to crossing roads

I think I cross roads like a pro now. Paris was a cinch. There are traffic lights and signs, and things work pretty much the way they are supposed to.

Armenia was a steep learning curve. There, there are traffic lights and signs, and nothing works the way it is supposed to. To cross a road, you monitor the traffic carefully, all the while stepping out into the road and skirting aroudn the cars as they speed past you.

One time in Yerevan, as CP and I waited to cross (or to build up the courage to cross) a man came up behind us, strode out in front of a speeding car, held up his hand and yelled, “Stop!”, in English. He then turned to us and gestured for us to cross, then finished his own passage across and continued on his way. He was just some passer-by.

In general, our friends appraoched crossing roads with an air of panic. “Come, come,” they would beckon, all the while beating a forearm downwards, repeatedly, very fast. In general, this seemed to CP and I to be in the face of oncoming traffic. But what did we know, in those early days?

In Sarajevo there wasn’t so much traffic, but I think K was a little horrified at how bold I was, in stepping out into the road whenever I wanted to cross. He would pull me back and urge me to wait for the lights.

In Mostar there wasn’t a lot of traffic either.

In Dubrovnik, the Old Town is pretty much car free, we no problems there either. I worried I would lose my new skills if I didn’t practise them.

Lecce was very civilised in terms of traffic. SB and I did venutre out into traffic at non-crossing points, but it was all without incident or story to tell.

Then we got to Naples. Here I was in my element.  All my Armenian skills came straight to the fore and we crossed every chaotic, rain-spattered road with great confidence. Only once were we graced with a hurled Neapolitan curse by an irritated driver.

Now I am in Rome and I have no idea what the rules are (in Naples I just assumed there weren’t any). There are lots of zebra crossing lines painted on the roads. Hardly any are accompanied by traffic lights. I have watched the locals closely, and I think I now understand. The rule is, wait at the side of the road to clear it of any immediately threatening or speeding traffic. But don’t wait too long. Start to walk across the road, make eye contact with the driver (I keep looking on the wrong side of the car, making eye contact with the passenger side and wondering why they are always shaking their heads of gesticulating at me. No, not really,. Like I said, I am a pro). Keep walking. Buses tend to be good at stopping. But keep an eye on everyone.

Hopefully when I get back to Melbourne my more civilised habits will kick in. Melbourne is, after all, the place where my sister and I got fined for jay-walking across Maroondah Highway near Ringwood Station. These things are taken seriously there. Be warned, it could happen to you (and it is kind of embarassing when it does).

Storms, movies, rain… La Dolce Vita in Rome

Today a storm passed over Rome. Lightning, thunder, and lots of rain. Great. (Except that I wasn’t closeted away in some nice sheltered spot, I was out in the street, trying to be a Good Tourist.

My umbrella (the latest effort) of course turned scared at the first sign of serious rain. Spokes started to wrench themselves from their pathetic cotton confines (needlework attaching them to the waterproof fabric). The fabric started to show signs of strain. The whole thing kept turning inside out, and is now kind of warped. Odd, isn’t it. Seems like a design fault. The umbrella doesn’t cope well with rain.

So I did what any smart tourist would do, I headed for the nearest cinema that shows films in the original language, and spent the early part of the evening watching a movie.

Not a lot of choice, of course. Some of the films screening looked interesting, but their Original Language wasn’t English. I’d probably be okay with the Italian subtitles, but it would be a lot more work.

I watched… Leoni per agnelli (Lions for Lambs). Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise. Bit of an anti-war, preachy movie that was very, very talky. Tom Cruise plays a highly unlikeable Senator determined to provide a new strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan. He asks things like, “Do you want to win the war on terror? Simple question. Yes or No.” In his loud American, preppy voice. Typecasting. I can’t bear Tom Cruise.

Meryle Streep plays a fluttery, yet apparently hard-hitting journalist, who has been invited to the meeting by Cruise who wants her to write an article about his new strategy. An exclusive. Basically, the article would be government propaganda. Streep remembers the heady, idealistic days of journalism in the 1960s and the time of the Vietnam War. She carries a huge guilt burden about the way her network has sold out to ratings, and the way her profession has also sold out in order to stay in favour with people in power.

Robert Redford plays an earnest professor type, trying to inspire one of his brightest students to stop being an apathetic dick and BE SOMETHING. His whole part in the film consists of a meeting taking place between him and the student, who is a smart-alek, over-privileged, highly-annoying young man, filled with smart-arse cynicism about politics and government. This is all highly emotive stuff, this meeting. Incredibly earnest and do-goody and preachy.

All of this is interspersed with scenes about two of Redford’s former brightest students, who enlisted in the army and are now taking part in Cruise’s big new strategy, which is clearly a disaster waiting to unfold.

Didn’t catch who wrote the soundtrack but it was horribly cliched and cheesy. At one point Redford says to his student (in a moment of passionate appeal), ” Rome is burning, son”, and while he says it we hear a growing string tremolo in the background, gradually increasing in volume. Good Lord deliver us, please, from such cinematic banality.

You are probably getting the impression that I didn’t like this film. You would be right. I thought it was horribly base in the way it delivered its messages, it was in a way its own kind of light-weight propaganda, it felt like it was someone’s baby (Redford’s?) that they personally had pushed to get made. Maybe, in the mid-West of America, and in an America heading towards an election, there need to be films like this, maybe it is this kind of film that gets people thinking a bit more about the decisions our leaders make about things like going to war.

But for me, it was cliched, heavy-handed, earnest and preachy, laid on way too thick, with a trowel or a blunt instrument (cricket bat?). I couldn’t help but compare it to Sophie Scholl, the last similarly talk-heavy movie I saw. That film was vastly superior. It was mind-blowing, in fact. She was mind-blowing. The clarity and poise and intelligence with which she responded to her interviewer was utterly compelling.

Perhaps Lions for Lambs could have been similarly compelling. Maybe however, that is not the film it is supposed to be, nor the audience it is intended for. I would say that I am definitely not part of the target demographic.

Anyway, back to Rome. Tomorrow I will go to Porta Portese, the street market that stretches as far as the eye can see in all directions, that is held every Sunday. Hopefully the weather will be kinder and calmer. And SB returns tomorrow – yay!

Day after that, I am definitely on the plane. Homeward bound, I shall be.

The good tourist

Today I have been an excellent tourist. In my Roman Holiday afternoon I:

  •  Caught the Metro to the Colliseum, and walked its circumference.
  • Walked through the Roman Forum (amazing. Extraordinary. Up there with Baalbek in Lebanon)
  • Made my way to the Pantheon and did the AudioGuide tour, learning much about this incredible architectural wonder.
  • Walked to Piazza Navona and then along interesting shopping streets, lots of little boutiques with clothes by independent designers and small labels, and some vintage gear.
  • Photographed myself at the Trevi Fountain. Tried to snap photos of people kissing, but none of them kissed for long enough. Only got one. There were loads of people there – at first I thought there must have been a concert going on, but no, it is just the cool place to  be. I heard the fountain long before I saw it. A nice way to approach a landmark, with your ears.
  • Walked on to the Piazza di Spagna – the Spanish steps. They remind me of the steps in Dubrovnik. I photographed myself against this backdrop too.
  • Caught the Metro back to the most excellent Beehive hostel that I am staying in, in time to receive my incoming phone call. All things good today.

Had more fun with Italian trains today. Did I mention that our train from Napoli to Pisa was incredibly delayed? We set off on time, but then proceeded to lose two and a half hours in the journey time, much of it spent sitting in and between stations just a few km out of Napoli. That, along with the ‘soppresso’ train to Taranto from Lecce, and today’s effort of a 50 minute delay for my Eurostar (ie. expensive) train from Florence to Rome, means that all does not seem to be well with the Italian train system. But I wasn’t in a hurry today. And I like catching trains. I hung around the main hall of the station, taking photos of the space, of people staring at information boards, of myself. Digital is great like that. The train eventually arrived and my seat request for ‘un posto isolato’ was also realised, so I had a little seat all to myself, just me and the window. No-one beside me. In general feeling much chirpier today than I have for the last couple of days.

Rubbish in Naples and other news stories…

I am finding that Italians from other cities are intrigued to hear my thoughts on Naples, and to know what it was like. People seem unanimous in their thoughts of the beauty of the city – it is beautiful. But they are more divided on how they feel when they visit the city. Furbi (sneaky) was one way that the people were described (this in response to my story about the unfilled panino). Another person said that whenever he is in Naples, he is always happy to leave, after 2 or 3 days. He doesn’t feel comfortable there. I said I found the people less open to visitors than I was used to finding in other Italian cities, but people were surprised by this, saying that the Neapolitani had the reputation for being far more open that other Italians. So open that they tend to move into your personal space, for example. Anyway, all this makes me even more intrigued and determined to visit again, for longer next time. I always say that, about everywhere I go!

Naples is in the news at the moment here. All that rubbish we saw… (I mentioned it in an earlier post)… Apparently that was evidence of a growing crisis about rubbish in Naples.

Now that I am eating on my own, people tend to chat with me in restaurants. They ask about my travels, mostly. My second night in Pisa, two young guys sitting near me started up a conversation. On mention of Naples, their eyes widened, and they said, “Ah, yes, there is a big problem with the spazzaturra [ie.rubbish … isn’t that a great word?] in Naples right now.” Sure, sure, I said, thinking still that what we had seen had in fact been kind of normal.

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Aint no sunshine when he’s gone…

It has been cloudy and rainy for the last two days, ever since SB left. Yesterday I succombed and bought myself another umbrella. Hopefully this one (costing all of 2 euros) will last better than the expensive Parisian one that lasted 5 days. What a piece of merde that was!

I write this post from Florence, cradle of the Renaissance. It is beautiful as ever. I am staying with my ex, M, and his new partner M, who together shall hereby be known as M&M. They are as sweet as chocolate too, so it is an appropriate moniker.

I arrived here last night on the train from Lucca. Dumped my bags at the Left Luggage office and wandered off to see what I could remember of the layout of the city. In my mind’s eye, very little of Florence is in focus, or any kind of detail. But as I walk, things come back to me, and I turn corners and suddenly remember where to go next.

Last night I started by walking from the station to Piazza Santa Maria Novella (right next door). From the Piazza I continued walking in more or less a straight line, and found myself by the river. At that point I remembered walking on the other side of the river – Oltrarno – with my mother 12 years ago, and finding a wonderful place to eat. I figured I could find it again. I walked along a street that runs parallel to the river. I walked until I reached the big Porta San Frediano. Then I turned and walked away from the river, found myself at a major intersection with directions to Siena and other places outside of Florence, and continued walking a little further without crossing the main road. EventuallyI found myself in a piazza with grass and trees in its centre, and there, its name lit up in neon cursive script, was Il Tramvai – the place Mum and I ate at so many years ago, when we were the first people to tell them they were featured in the current Lonely Planet guidebook for Italy. On that night, the waitress borrowed our book to take it back into the kitchen to show all the staff.

I ate a great meal, traditional Tuscan fare, washed down with Chianti from a fiasco (a fiasco is one of those bottles that make great candlesticks – once empty – in Bohemian cafes, with straw cladding on the bottom half of the bottle). Then walked back to the station to meet M&M and came by car to their place.

Today I have just been wandering. I found my way back to my favourite bakery over in Campo dei Ciompi, (or is it di Ciompo? I can’t remember. Apologies if I have got it wrong) where I hoped to find an amazing chocolate tart I had bought there on my visit here in 2002. No such luck, they didn’t have any kind of tart like that on display. Instead I bought a piece of castagnaccio (sweet cake made with chestnut flower, rosemary and pine nuts) but this wasn’t anything like as tasty and special as the castagnaccio I sometimes treat myself to at the Queen Victoria Market. (I don’t think it is my favourite bakery anymore). There is a sweet little antiques market in the square. I browsed awhile, looking at silver teapots and milk jugs.

Now I am at M’s school, where he is working away in the office and I am typing away in the foyer. Next I shall have a cup of tea, and hit the shops, once they open again for afternoon shopping. The second week of January is Sale Time in Italy, there are serious discounts going on. SB bought himself a very funky pilot jacket in Pisa. I bought myself a winter dress today. And yesterday, in a street market in Pisa, I found a flouncy, flimsy little sun dress for 5 euros that should do very nicely for those scorching hot weekend days in Melbourne when there is no need to wear much at all.