Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Beatrice 'Bea' Miles (1902-1973) - Wealthy Sydney Eccentric Individualist, Bohemian and Free Thinker

Bea Miles (at 29) after a Swim at Coogee, a Sydney Ocean Suburb

'I am an atheist, a true thinker and speaker. I cannot stand or endure the priggery, caddery, snobbery, smuggery, hypocricy, lies, flattery, compliments, praise, jealousy, envy, pretense, conventional speech and behaviour upon which society is based.'
To a Sydney Morning Herald journalist, 2nd June 1965

It has been claimed that, in pre-World War One Sydney, Bea Miles was more famous than the prime minister. Her fame was as an eccentric individualist, bohemian and iconoclast.

She has always appealed to me - super big time. And yesterday I began wondering whether it was cos she was out of the mainstream, as gay guys can be. Or whether my interest was a more personal thing - cos I am or have been at times just the tiniest bit eccentric. I have the creeping feeling that this is going to be one of those posts where I reveal more about myself than I am in fact intending at this very moment!

So first let me tell you some stuff about Bea Miles. And make some parallels with my own life.

Bea held views and moved in social circles that were generally not considered those of the wealthy conservative middle class to which she belonged.

For example, she took her father's pro-aboriginal and anti-British stance.

And the pacifist position, considering 'religion was the cause of so many wars and so much misery'. At 12, she wore a non-conscription badge at a rally during the Conscription Referendum of World War One. And described the Gallipoli Campaign as a 'strategic blunder' long before this interpretation was widely adopted.

Now my family is also a pretty conservative bunch - my father was a surgeon and later Head of Medical Services for a large maternity hospital in Melbourne, nine of his uncles were doctors and all my mother's brothers and sisters were. The dreaded matriarch was an economist. All were aligned to the conservative side of politics and their platforms. The matriarch once famously complained about a trade union protest march for higher wages down one of the main streets of the city, wondering why the marchers couldn't do it in the botanical gardens where they wouldn't get in anyone's way! Kinda missed the point!

Not me! When I first went to uni, I took philosophy, English, French and Fine Art - very bad indeed. And got involved in radical sexual politics - broadcasting on 'Gaywaves' radio, writing crabby articles in dissenting faggoty journals and strenuously protest marching - much much worse!!!

Bea was the friend of artists, writers and intellectuals, at the time not necessarily thought of a suitable milieu for someone of her social standing.

As I was too. My first boyfriend/lover/whatever (what IS the right word?) was a Sicilian sculptor - I was 14. Best friends were all artists, musicians and ... drag queens and transsexuals. I remember the first drag queen's dressing room table I ever saw - strewn with more bottles of nail polish, wigs, sequins, false finger nails, bangles, rings, feathers, fishnet stockings, perfume bottles ... than you could ever imagine could possibly fit onto a 4 by 2 surface.

Bea Miles's personal eccentricity was legendary.

Though well-off and independent through an inheritance from her paternal grandmother, she lived like a bum for many years in a drain in the inner Sydney Rushcutters Bay, not far from me.

And loved riding on the bumper bars, running boards and bonnets of cabs/taxis ...

... often refusing to pay the fare. Though not from need - she did pay a taxi driver 600 pounds to take her to Perth to study wildflowers, a journey of 2500 miles. A great wad of one pound notes stuck through with a safety pin fastened to the inside of her jacket.

She was very well-known as a soapbox orator with often controversial views, such as the advocacy of free sex. And as a public reciter of 'great' literature - in a green tennis shade, tennis shoes and a scruffy greatcoat, she would walk around the streets, with a sign around her neck advertising her 'wares' and their rates ...

Bea Miles was a great patriot - enrolled in arts at the University of Sydney, but stopped after a year 'because they did not teach enough Australian stuff'. But reading was essential for her - consuming three books a day in the State Public Library ... before being banned, as you would expect.

Ok, now to a potpourri of my eccentricities.

At school I would breed white mice in my book locker - and sell the off-spring to eager classmates ... only to be discovered when large parts of my geometry book were destroyed by my furry friends in maternal nest making frenzy. I thought this exhibited the approved capitalist tendencies the school was trying to instill - the masters thought otherwise!

I filled my notebooks with drawings of naked men - mainly sucking and fucking stuff, as I recall. There was more than mild consternation when one of these explosive little volumes got into the hands of a group of school super butches.

As a teenager at the height of summer, I used to go to our yacht club dances wearing a thick white polo neck jumper, bright red jeans and white patent leather shoes - and reveled in the obvious discomfort of the startled members.

When I was 18, I inherited from my grandfather - and spent much of my twenties traveling round the world - through Asia, Russia and the Eastern Block countries, and Europe and the Middle East. The best investment I ever made in my life, and certainly the best prerequisite for university. But not the conventional route.

Later in life, Bea Miles abandoned her atheism and was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

I wonder what I'll do later on in this respect - Buddhism is more likely!

Bea Miles died in 1973. Her coffin was strewn with the Australian wildflowers she loved and, at her request, her coffin inscribed with the following quotation from Shakespeare's 'Measure for Measure' ...

Reason thus with life: If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing that none but fools would keep

I have not tried to compete in any way - it's just that Bea and I seem to be in a very similar space. Or so it seems to me. And her life is one with which I strongly empathy!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Great Urban Cakes and Madame La Guillotine

'Marie Antoinette' (2006) directed by Sofia Coppola and Starring Kirsten Dunst

I've been lying in bed, unable to sleep. And for reasons I'm sure I'd never be able to fathom, I began thinking of Marie Antoinette's famous (or rather infamous) response to hearing that the poor in C18 France had no bread to eat - 'Let them eat cake' ('Qu'ils mangent de la brioche'). Ignoring the obvious disparity between 'cake' and 'brioche', the comment was supposed to reveal her complete ignorance of the desperate conditions of the time.

Marie Antoinette by Vigee Le Brun (1783)

I had the momentary thought that the queen might have been trying to say something in English which, with her strong Austrian accent, was taken for more of her ungrammatical French - 'Le temps est que'. If read slowly with different breaks it becomes 'Let them eat cake'. Haw haw!

However, the phrase was probably a re-working of something said 100 years earlier by Marie Therese d'Autriche (1638-83), wife of Louis XIV. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau says in his autobiographical 'Confessions' (1770) 'At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, "Then let them eat pastry!". The remark would then have been appropriated by detractors to discredit the later queen.

In this context, Sofia Coppola's 2006 film about Marie Antoinette is an attempt at a sympathetic reconstruction of the life of the C18 aristocrat. The opening scene shows Kirsten Dunst, as Marie Antoinette, in very serious cake mode. And must raise more than an ironic laugh.

And makes me realize I how much more I prefer the great urban culinary myth, which gives a greater justification for Marie Antoinette's grisly encounter with 'Madame La Guillotine' in 1793.

Now if this post has touched and you need a constant reminder of it, the Archie McPhee 'Marie Antoinette Action Figure' is a must.

Complete with 'ejector head' it's the perfect way to end parties when your guests seem a bit too lingering!

But seriously, sometimes we (tho maybe it's just me) like to live with our long-held illusions and are quite resistant to their re-examination. Like a comfortable pair of old gym shoes or sneakers. Or that favorite old faded tee-shirt in which you've picked up the hottest guys you've ever slept with.

I haven't seen the Sofia Coppola film yet but will and am hoping to approach it with an open mind. Having listened to my own advice in this post.

And thinking about it, perhaps the real difficulty is letting go of a story that is soooooooooo memorable! Cos it conjures up such wicked images. Like the opening one of this post!
Traveling Round Japan

As with everyone, I've long been digital, camera and every other wise. But have a few photos from when I first traveled overseas - after I left school and before I went to uni for the first time. And been scanning them into my puter.

And I've been very struck by those I took in Japan. I still have such vivid memories of my often unexpected and unpredicted experiences. Like running from a shoe shop where I was overwhelmed by the 10,000 styles to choose from. Squeezing into tiny and crowded 20-customer bars in Shinjuku in Tokyo. And spending the night in the vast mattressed sleeping room of a gay sauna ('Senja'), to be woken in the morning by a guy standing on his head wanting me to give him a blow job - no gymnastics at all were required of me. Do you fully get the idea?! A pretty great way to start the day - I recommend it!

So with all that, I'll try not to post any of the usual 'classic' travel shots I took - but some more off-beat things.

When I arrived, I stayed in a suburb of Tokyo with a great friend in what must be one of the very last traditional wooden houses in the capital. Beyond the sliding entrance screens was a stone anti-chamber platform centred by a well - living spaces to the left and right.

Then I was off to another good friend ... in Nagoya. To find this enormous symbolic straw horse, sheltered in its bamboo stable ...

... and some Sumo wrestlers, somewhat paradoxically contexted emerging from cars parked at the base of Nagoya Castle ...

... and, less surprisingly, a traditional raked 'stone' garden.

Kyoto was next.

I loved the electric orange accents everywhere in a temple complex ...

... and the more than accent of colour at the Golden Temple.

And finally Nara, the first permanent capital of the nation, which was founded in 710 and originally known as Heijo.

I was on my own here which may explain why I took one of the prayer spoons home rather than sacrificially burn it in the temple cauldron.

Nara is small and hilly. And one morning just after dawn I went walking. And came across a temple in a valley. Where in the first courtyard was a group of around 20 seated observers listening to an orchestra accompanying a woman dancing. The photo is lousy cos I didn't want to be the ugly tourist intrusively angling to get a better one.

This photo of Koi Carp inspired me ...

... to a similar set when I was in the Philippines last year, and which I posted at the time ...

Makati, Manila, The Philippines

... and again to further shots in Sydney, recently.

Billyard House, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney

Strange, the far-reaching influences of travel!!!

Friday, April 18, 2008

In-Between Moments

It's Friday night - about eight-thirty. The TV is prattling - comfortingly - in the background. As dinner is bubbling contentedly on the stove - a chicken in a reduced broth. I've just filled the teapot from the kettle - the boiling water seemed to chatter volubly on a rising intonation as it made its way to the level of the spout. Inanimate things going on seem to have taken on a human character tonight.

When I was kid of 6 or 7 - no, this is not a Sophie Tucker joke and there is a connection with what I've just said - I craved a ventriloquist doll. I'd seen Ron Blaskett and his Gerry Gee on television ...

Ventriloquist Ron Blaskett and his doll Gerry Gee

I think I wanted a (captive, eternal and totally compliant) friend. 'The parents' had severely restricted our access to other kids - the intricacies of such connections would get in the way of big careers. I'd even infused my potential new doll-friend with a tailor-made-for-me character - nothing remained of the cantankerous, daffy and argumentative persona of Gerry Gee! But sadly this 'soul-mate' was never realized. And I had to make do with some of the other boys at school.

Now the connection between the two sets of ideas I mentioned is that I still obviously fail to make the necessary distinction between the animate and inanimate worlds!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Escaping Danger!

The Situation

You are driving in a car at a constant speed.

On your left side is a 'drop off' - the ground is 18-20 inches below the level you are traveling on.

And on your right side is a fire engine traveling at the same speed as you.

In front of you is a galloping horse, which is the same size as your car and you can't overtake it.

Behind you is a galloping zebra.

Both the horse and the zebra are traveling at the same speed as you.

What must you do to safely get out of this highly dangerous situation?

The Solution

Get off the merry-go-round - you are pissed!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944) - Humourist, Painter, Book Illustrator and 'Gadget King'

JM and I were having lunch today. The chat moved from global warming to our dependence on fossil fuels and then to renewable resources. And finally to fanciful ways of conserving energy, such as lifts where descending passengers were the 'motor' for ascending ones.

And I remembered W. Heath Robinson. Whose drawings of fanciful highly elaborate mechanical gadgets captured my imagination as a kid. I think it was my grandmother introduced me to his work - I have the vaguest memory of an old and tattered book.

I particularly remember Heath Robinson's useful household gadgets for making pancakes and pealing potatoes ...

... to his most effective ways of keeping dry in wet weather and of improving posture ...

I really love his approach to 'weapons' of war and non-mass destruction, cartooned during the First World War ...

... and those devised for general public service, such as the discarded bubble gum collector.

Finally, there are machines for I-don't-know-what.

But I realize my life is incomplete not having one of each of these about the house!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Papyrus of Ani

Panorama of the Papyrus of Ani - Weighing the Heart in the Afterlife Judgment

The Papyrus of Ani is a famous Egyptian scroll of paintings and cursive hieroglyphs. It was produced in the 19th dynasty of the New Kingdom - 1295 - 1186 BC. And is an example of the genre, Book of the Dead. One was made for each person on their death. Such scrolls contain declarations and spells for use by the person in their afterlife. This particular example was made for Ani, a scribe from Thebes. It was purchased for the British Museum in 1888 by Sir E A Wallis Budge, who cut the 78 foot papyrus into 37 panels.

Funeral Procession of Ani - The Mummy on a Boat-Shaped Hearse Drawn by Oxen beside whom is the Mourning Wife

Ani and his wife Tutu drinking water from the Celestial Nile

This is a short visual-orientated post. I didn't to say too much about ancient Egyptian papyri, their iconography, hieroglyphic stylistics and so on - just let you enjoy the exquisite beauty of the paintings and script.

Above ten gods sitting in judgement. Below is the Psychostasia or weighing of the conscience.

The God Heru-Netsch-Atef leads Lady Anhai a singer in the choir of Amen-Ra at Thebes into the presence of some gods

The God Ptah-Socharis-Osiris within a shrine. Behind him Isis and Nephthys.

Isis and Nephthys the sisters of Osiris adoring on the right and left of the Tat a Symbol of Osiris.

If you want to read more about the Papyrus of Ani, check out this website:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Michail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland - Coda from 'Don Quixote'

Hey guys. I've just changed the YouTube video feed on the right hand column of my blog - under the photo of Paris and the chat 'Cbox'.

It used to be Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn doing the 'Le Corsaire' pas de deux.

And it's now Michail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland in the Coda from 'Don Quixote'.

Baryshnikov could be the best dancer ever - certainly the best legs and basket and butt in ballet! In my opinion.

And this is most certainly the best dancing of the pas de deux - ever! It's be mad not to check it out!
Something Interesting with Food Going on at the Australian Museum

There's more going on in each image than you initially think.