Archive for the ‘friendship’ Tag

Words about friends

With the Middle Primary children at Language School this term, we are creating music about friendship. Today, after getting the feel-good vibes working with a rendition of Bob Marley’s One Love, and discussing the general characteristics of friends and friendships, I asked the students to draw a picture of themselves and their friend, or friends. It could show their friendships here in Australia, or depict a friendship from their country of origin.

When they finished their drawing I engaged each child in conversation, asking about their picture and about their friends. I wrote down all their words – their phrases and sentences will go on to form the core lyrics for our class composition.

Their descriptions were vivid, and often poignant:

This is me in Honduras, at the beach that I like the most. I am with my brother and sisters and lots of friends. One is my best friend. We share things, we give things to each other, we play together, we sleep in each other’s houses. We read books, we like almost the same things. I don’t have a friend like this in Australia. Not yet.

This is me and my friend in Ethiopia. She comes to my house to play. Then in school-time, she gives me a flower, and I give to her a flower – a flower from Ethiopia.

In Australia, all in the school are my friends, but my sister is my good friend. The school here gives us good friends, and I’m not speaking my language, they are not speaking their language. We all talk in English.

This is my friend – he is Australian but he knows Vietnamese language. He gives me a hug when I am sad and sitting under a tree. Sometimes I give him a flower. Now some leaves in the tree are falling down but the sun is shining.

In Australia and in Ethiopia, my sister is my best friend. We go to school together, we [are] eating together, playing together, going everywhere together. She is my two times friend – she is my sister and my friend!

In Syria we can only go to school. No places to play. In school we can just sit and talk. Or play in the street hide and seek. I miss my friends in Syria. I have best friend, Yusef. He taught me to read Arabic, and now I know how to read and write.

Friends who share things, help each other, and – quite frequently – give each other flowers as an expression of friendship. Four of the eleven children I spoke to mentioned giving a flower to their friend, including one boy. There is a sweet innocence about this that I find very touching indeed.

Celebration at long last

I handed in my Masters thesis on July 23rd, but Saturday night just past was the night of my celebratory ‘handing-in’ party. It was Tiny who held things up – this was his first gig-free Saturday night since I handed the thesis in.

Parties are the best way I know for gathering all your dearest and most interesting friends together in a room. I have such a fabulous group of friends, all interesting and engaging in different ways. Lots of arty folks, lots of teachers, lots like me who straddle the two worlds. Family came along as well, and friends from my Italian classes, who I see every week and am therefore more up to date with than the friends I have known for years!

Tiny very kindly agreed to hold the party in his groovy bachelor pad-warehouse apartment just down the road from my little shoebox apartment. Saturday night was one balmy night, so everyone was there in the summer clothes and it really felt like winter has shifted along and spring has truly started.

Thanks to everyone who came along for making it such a fun night. A couple of people brought me flowers which now adorn my living room, along with an ‘award’ for my fine achievement in completing my Masters – here is a photo.

party flowers

After the fires

On Sunday I went to visit my dear friend Pip, who lives in one of the areas devastated by firestorm 4 weeks ago, on what is now known as Black Saturday. She was lucky – her house survived, quite miraculously. Most other houses in the area were destroyed. The devastation was awful – it rendered us speechless. It was also surprising – as we drove up the mountain there seemed little evidence of what had happened there, but then all of a sudden, there were crashed, burnt out  cars at the side of the road, and remains of houses – just rubble, really. And black trees, black ground.

after fire 1

This bushland is on Pip’s block. There used to be thick undergrowth.

pip's house

Here you can see the miracle of Pip’s house – the fire surrounded it. You can see from the scars the way it burned around and around… but the house didn’t catch fire. Pip had already evacuated.


log pile

This is what’s left of the log pile. The scattered cinders on the ground were logs for the wood stove. The five charred stumps are the logs that were too hard and dense to be split by the guy who split all the other firewood.


This isn’t a great photo… if you look carefully though, you’ll see a kangaroo behind the trees on the left hand side. This was the first ‘roo we saw on Sunday. He was on his own. Pip said the kangaroos had slowly been returning. Later that day I saw a gang of about six, all hopping through the bush. They stopped when they saw me and went back the other way. So much wildlife was killed too. That some are around, and now returning, is good.

There are other signs of the land recovering. We ate tomatoes that had grown in Pip’s vegetable garden since the fires. The rose bushes, black and charred, have small green shots emerging from their bases. Baby steps. But all of this is exceptional. So much has been lost and destroyed. For every miracle, there is much to mourn.

Our politicians so often disappoint us. I found this article by Leunig, from last weekend’s Age, stirring, and to the point. With friends that evening we discussed it, and read passages aloud. It resonated very strongly with us, and that is not always typical of Leunig – he can polarise views. This one is worth reading.

Also from Saturday’s Age, Chloe Hooper wrote this very moving article about the injured wildlife and the healing efforts that are part of the recovery.

Annual stocktake, looking forward… plus a bit of nostalgia

I saw in the New Year with friends down in Queenscliff, a pretty town situated on one of the two peninsulas that guard Port Phillip Bay. We cooked a feast, lit two sets of ornate candelabras*, and did a kind of ‘stocktake’ on the year that was. Questions included:

  • Film of the year
  • Soundtrack of your year (either the music you listened to, or the music that best depicts or describes your year)
  • Item of clothing acquired this year and worn most often (we all had something to nominate here, no hesitation)
  • Favourite recipe of the year
  • Happiest moment (for me this was SB returning to Rome for a further 22 romantic hours with me, back in January, after I managed to get myself on a flight leaving one day later. Oh, the joy!)
  • Biggest surprise or unexpected outcome (responses here included Obama’s win – would any of us have predicted that, two years ago? – and Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generation. We wouldn’t have predicted that in the Howard years either…)
  • Word/phrase/expression of the year (in the media or from your own mouth)
  • Words that sum up your year (we all seemed to offer words like ‘challenging’ and ‘crap’)
  • Biggest lesson learned

There were more… these are the ones I can think of now. Perhaps it is the research frame of mind that makes me enjoy looking back over things in this way and trying to put them in context. Or perhaps it is my determination to put all of the frustration and sadness that marked much of 2008 for me away once and for all. I am designating 2009 as my Year of Plenty. Plenty of what, I am not sure yet. Hopefully plenty of good things. That is the plan, anyway. Yee-ha!

But I can’t resist looking back either. This time last year… that is my current favourite phrase, because this time last year I was travelling, and having the most wonderful time. This time last year I was in Italy, in Lecce to be exact, the beautiful ornate Baroque city in Puglia in the heel of the boot that is Italia. Before that, I ‘d caught up with old friends from the European Mozart Academy in Paris, we’d given a concert in Armenia, I’d been back to Bosnia for the first time in nine years and celebrated a genuine White Christmas there. It seems longer than a year ago. It seems like another life ago. A different person almost.

But that’s the person I want to get back again. We are all at our best when we are travelling, perhaps. Nothing really troubles you.

So here are a couple of photos from this time last year. And if you visit the posts in the ‘Travel’ category you’ll find many more.



* We sang Neil Diamond songs too. It was the only CD anyone had remembered to bring. We worked out ‘Solitary Man’ on the guitar (me) and bass guitar (Nina). And sang away without shame. Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong decade. At least we sang with a sense of irony.

Christmas spirit

Last night friends and I gathered together to sing carols. This has become a tradition of mine – every year (except last year, when I was travelling in December and January) I hold a Christmas Carols party. It is no doubt a very daggy event (in the eyes of many), but the people who come tend to be the people who don’t hold this prejudice – they come because they love to sing, I guess, and love the old songs that tell us that Christmas is upon us.

This year the wonderful Simon and Victoria hosted the party in their home in Alphington, and suggested that once we had sung through our favourite carols, we hit the streets, and raise some money for Oxfam.

It was such a lovely evening! We were about twelve people in total. And in general, we had very positive reactions from the people we called on. The only exception was the woman who yelled at us ferociously, “Don’t come in! There’s a dying dog in here!” And when we apologised, backing away as fast as possible, she replied by telling us to “f*** off!”.

But that was an exceptional response.

Others were delighted, and brought out members of the family who had gone to bed, or who were watching TV. We sang until about 9pm, I think, by which time the air was getting cool. For Victoria, this brought to mind The Sound of Music, and Maria sternly telling the Nazi captain that

This night air is not good for the children’s voices.

Certainly we were getting tired towards the end.

We had guitar (Nico), clarinet (me) and violin (Rose) to accompany our efforts. We decided we sounded pretty fine indeed. We raised $150 for Oxfam, and we plan to make it an annual event.


I think for me, Christmas feels like Christmas when the ‘markers’ start to appear – the events and things that you do each year, that become traditions, so that when they happen, you know you are in the midst of the festive season. I guess for some people this is things like the Myer Christmas windows… in fact, these used to be a marker in our family when we were little, but so much of the way Christmas is marked in the general public is so commercial these days that it is bereft of any genuine Christmas spirit at all.

Instead for me, it is things like going to hear The Messiah being performed (which I couldn’t go to this year, but missed just the same), or playing for a friend’s carol service the Sunday before Christmas ( a new tradition of the last few years). My own carols party has become one of these markers, and because the same people come every year, we look forward to laughing at the same jokes every year (substituting the word ‘thong’ for ‘throng’ in While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks for example, and collapsing helplessly into giggles as a result, unable to complete the verse). Other people bake traditional biscuits and share them with friends. Or start the Christmas pudding mix and make sure everyone in the family has a turn at mixing it, and making a wish. Or baking dozens of mince pies. Perhaps these kinds of markers are so effective because they hark back to earlier days, when we didn’t just buy all the things we needed. We made our own music, made our own sweets, and made an event out of the activity so as to share it with many.

Last year I didn’t really celebrate Christmas. I enjoyed that too – it was nice not to have all the shopping to do, to be able to avoid the bombardment of messages (generally exhorting one to ‘buy! buy! buy!’) through all forms of media. I was in Sarajevo, where people wished me sretan bozic because they could see I was foreign (and therefore probably celebrating Christmas rather than the Muslim holiday of Bajrom, which they had all just finished celebrating).

But interestingly, tellingly, I still found myself singing. On the eve of Christmas Day, after spending much of that snowy day wandering around the ancient centre of Sarajevo, in and out of artisan shops and stalls, I got home to my friend’s mother’s house where I was staying, relatives came around and we ended up singing Bosnian sevdah the whole evening. (You can read about that night here). It was a beautifully moving evening, and like last night, shows music to be perhaps the most precious of gifts that we can share with others, and use to gather people together.

Here is a final photo from last night’s carols – one house we visited had just as entertaining a show on their front porch as we provided!


This week’s flowers

Yellow roses… lovely! I love having flowers in the house. They are beautiful to focus on when I raise my gaze away from my qualitative data analysis books to think for a moment.

They were a gift. Lucky me…


What does this weekend hold? I went to my Italian class this morning – the first Saturday class I have been able to get to all term, and it was lots of fun. The teacher and I chatted about the Shonberg Ensemble’s concert, at which I glimpsed him, across the foyer. He loved the concert too.

Then home to do some clearing up – clearing the way for a weekend of study and data analysis (in case you hadn’t guessed… I don’t read those tomes for fun). But soon this afternoon I shall head off to the wonderful Mr Franzke’s Prahran studio to do some playing for him. He needs some clarinet tones, so I shall happily oblige. Nice to play… it’s for a film project I think.

Weekend away – with photos

I spent the weekend with friends in the north of the state, in the very dry Wimmera region, not far from Dimboola.

I was probably only away about 28 hours, but even after that short a time I felt rested and refreshed. They have the most beautiful farm house, filled with unique and beautiful pieces of furniture and keepsakes, and quite an extraordinary landscape of sand hills, native pine forests, scrublands, and pastures. It was my first visit to their place but I feel a special connection with it – by chance I was at their home for dinner the night they needed to sign the sale papers, and I witnessed their signatures.

Their property sits very close to Lake Hindmarsh – now completely dry for its seventh year. The drought has hit this part of Victoria very hard indeed. We drove to the middle of the dried-out lake, which is 20km wide. This is a view looking towards the horizon. The skies out there had me captivated – I took photo after photo and couldn’t get enough of the changing cloud formations and colours.

Beautiful ancient eucalypts. These are landmark trees – you can see them clearly on the horizon as you approach the town, as they are perched on a sand hill, higher ground than the surrounding farm land.

We decided I should plant a tree (or three) in honour of my visit. There are now three ‘memorial’ trees near the entrance to the property that are ‘mine’ (although it will be up to them to water them). This is me in planting mode – note the very glamorous fly net I borrowed from my hosts.

tree planting

tree planting

Here is another view of the sky. One of my many attempts to capture it.

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.

Vigilance in Napoli

Things are moving quickly now. Naples has been and gone, and I am writing this in Pisa. I have just checked into the most perfect Italian pensione – four-poster bed, white damask coverlet, shutters on the windows… I think when I wash my hair in the morning I will sit on the window sill while I wait for it to dry and pretend I am Helena Bonham-Carter in A Room with a View.

Backtrack a moment however. Ah, Naples! What a crazy place that is! It is beautiful, with many grand buildings kind of layered upon each other – a kind of grandeur lessened not by fading but by grime. There definitely seems to be a bit of an issue with rubbish in Naples. There are piles of it everywhere, in every street. Including a particularly impressive pile on the street in front of the hotel we stayed in.

Naples challenged my long-held impression of fun-loving, playful, joyous Italians who are great company and always ready for an exchange of some kind. At first glance the Neapolitans seem quite surly. Hard eyes, staring faces. SB commented quite early on that we were attracting even more attention here than we anywhere else., people watching us for long periods of time, for no apparent reason(ie. we weren’t doing anything in particular).

(This ‘staring’  observation is getting to be a bit of a theme, isn’t it? I hope I don’t sound like I think people are looking at me all the time… but it certainly seems like they are. Maybe it is because of my gorgeous Elkha coat, these days now covered in its own layer of grime, despite a visit to the dry cleaners before I left Paris).

Three days is a totally unreasonable amount of time to build some kind of description of a population, but I did so anyway… I loved the kind of defiant, don’t-care,  determinedly individual and uncompromising energy of the people and the way they interacted with each other. There was a kind of arrogance towards visitors that surprised me. Prices that were so obviously inflated. Sandwiches displayed that contained a reasonable spread of salad and cheese, but when opened proved to only contain a modicum of one and none of the other. (They had been selected from the back of the display case by the salesman – perhaps only the ones at the front have the full fillings, and the others at the back have been made more skimpily… who knows? Strange anyway, it seemed to us, not to take more pride in what you are offering to people).

Constant vigilance! we declared, jokingly. But it was interesting to realise, as I sat on the train to Pisa today, that on every day we were in Naples, I challenged someone on something, or questioned a bill. It gave my Italian skills an excellent boost!

Yesterday we spent the day at Pompeii. It rained… but I am used to that now, after my Parisian drenchings. What a place that it! Of course lots of it was closed (not sure why… after a while we began to wonder if the main office knew how much had not been opened! The burly guys who seemed in charge of unlocking gates in the site seemed more interested in gathering together undercover to talk about the local football team, than unlocking doors. This is the cynic in me talking.)

It was interesting to see and compare with the Roman ruins I saw in the Middle East. In the Middle East we saw temples, amphitheatres, citadels… but Pompeii shows us everyday life. It looked a fine life, too.

I remember years ago, when I was small and the Pompeii exhibition came to Melbourne, seeing a picture of one of the plaster casts of people killed in the eruption of Vesuvius, a young girl, who had been running away but was cowering on the ground when the lava fell on her. It gave me terrible nightmares, and for months and months I harboured a deep fear of a volcano erupting and killing me. Eventually I confided in my father and I can remember him explaining to me about areas where volcanos tend to erupt (Melbourne isn’t one of them), and how before Vesuvius erupted there had been warnings, and how many people had actually managed to escape. I refused to be comforted at first, just thinking how it still might happen, so then I remember him pointing out that it was about as likely as a car driving in through the front window of the house and killing me. Less likely than that, even. So eventually I was able to let it go.

I have to say I liked Naples a lot. It has a mighty spirit. It seems like a difficult place to penetrate. It is in the shadow of Vevius. There are fine sweeping views across the bay. We didn’t get to Amalfi Coast, running out of time after the extra day in Lecce. But also we felt like we had seen enough amazing coastlines in winter after Croatia and Montenegro. There doesn’t tend to be much to do in such places when you can’t just laze around in the sun, so I figure I will save Amalfi for another visit, another year, in a warmer season, when I can share the driving with someone and swim in the sea without freezing.

SB leaves tomorrow. For the first time in this trip I will be on my own. Oddly for an independent soul like me, I am not looking forward to it. I think I am almost ready to come home now. I feel like I have been away ages.

Oh! Small drama today. Leaving the Hotel Zara in Naples I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my calf. I am hobbling around on it, looking a bit pathetic and putting all sorts of strain on my other leg. Yep. Must be almost time to go home, or to stop moving about for a while.

Think I will stay a couple of nights here in Pisa. It is pretty. Feels very chilled. Then make my way to Rome in time for my flight out on Saturday.

Hanging out in Dubrovnik

I caught the bus from Mostar to Dubrovnik. This city is as beautiful as ever… perhaps a little too beautiful, as I do love the grit of more flawed places. There’s not as much to do here at this time of year, when you can’t swim. I am here with SB, who I know through friends from Melbourne. We were planning to head directly to Montenegro today, but plans have been thwarted by British Airways, who managed to lose SB’s luggage, and were not able to return it until 5pm today. So we spent the day wandering, kind of killing time, really. It’s not that it is not lovely here – it is! But there is not a lot to do. Oh well. Nema veze, as they say here. No big deal. We are on holiday after all.

Tomorrow, we have decided to hire a car. We will drive into Bosnia, to Trebinje, and then to Montenegro, to Kotor, and its apparently stunning fjords  of the Mediterranean. Cool! We have been told we will be able to fit both places easily into a day, and driving ourselves will give us lots of flexibility to stop when and where we want. However, I have read some horror stories of corrupt, bribe-hungry Montenegren police stopping cars with foreign plates, claiming various unfounded misdemeanours, and demanding cash on-the-spot fines. I hope this doesn’t happen too often. We are thinking of keeping a few low Euro bank notes on hand, just in case. (Montengegro’s official currency is the Euro).

I have discoved SB shares my daggy love for constant singing – finding a song for every occasion. So today we played ‘Tags’, the game where one person sings a line from a song, and the next person needs to follow that with a line starting with the first letter of the last word of the line just sung. Bonus points if the next line starts with the last word of the previous line. Hours of hilarity and loud singing of dodgy pop songs of the eighties. We must apologise to the neighbours, I think.

SB is also vastly talented at ‘speaking Armenian’ (CP knows what I am talking about here). So we spend most of our conversations speaking in Armenian, and sometimes Russian, and sometimes even Irish. Our versions, of course.