Steve Rodgers (Dave) and Elizabeth Nabben (Rachel) in the STC’s production of DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES.
The Sydney Theatre Company has a little gem in DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES now playing at the Wharf 2 theatre.
This play is for every bloke who tells his wife he can’t dance because of two left feet, and every wife who’s heard the excuse a thousand times. Do yourselves a favour and get your collective arses off to see DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES. It is a play where you laugh frequently, go ‘awhhh’ a lot, and are even moved to near-tears in a few scenes.
The play is a two-hander. Dave is a widow who’s a little gormless and most certainly a klutz. His body seems to move one or two beats behind the normal rhythm of life. All Dave wants to do is dance better at parties. He’d like to be able to steer a woman around the dance floor without being embarrassed. Dave wants to get a little bit of a life. The play is the journey he takes to get that and more along the way.
Steve Rodgers is Dave. His performance is subtle, breathtakingly honest and delightful. His comedic timing is perfection-on-a-stick as is his one-beat-behind dancing. This woman wanted to pop Dave into my handbag and take him home. Rodger’s Dave is very endearing.
Elizabeth Nabben plays the Latin ballroom dance teacher with such skill you’d swear she’s been doing this all her life. All the exaggerated movements of those professional ballroom dancers are on display. She too goes through an emotional journey, which is bittersweet and a joy to watch unfold.
The story line for DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES comes from director Gideon Obarzanek’s interviews with middle-aged men who were attending a dance studio.
The play’s duration is less than 90 minutes long so it doesn’t have to be a late night. The play ends 11th May.
The Dendy Quays has reintroduced their ‘Autumn Allure’ showcase of old films. Every Monday at 10am or 6pm for $9 ($7.50 for members and even cheaper if you possess a Senior’s Card) you can delight in seeing a classic.
To be able to view with an audience such films on a big screen as ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, films that you have come to know well from constant reruns on the small screen, is nothing short of the occasional revelation and always a joy. You do miss a lot of on-screen business when viewing is confined to the small screen.
Last Monday was Orson Welles’s CITIZEN KANE’s turn. It was an old film print, which snapped half-way through requiring a hasty splice and dice before the film recommenced, and with the audio snap crackle and pop of an old print.
As I sat through this film I had to keep reminding myself that it is over 70 years old. The screening reinforced why it keeps winning the greatest film lists. Every component of the film-making process is just brilliant.
Of course assisting the film’s ability to remain as fresh as a daisy and totally relevant in today’s digital instant-news media world is the film’s narrative of a man who owns and runs a media empire and who becomes totally corrupted in the process until on his deathbed he dies totally alone and with just one word on his lips – “Rosebud.”
The story of Kane’s life is told via a series of flashbacks facilitated by a journalist as he interviews those who knew Kane in an endeavour to discover who or what was ‘Rosebud’.
It’s a simple but effective technique and one that’s become a trifle clichéd. This film is why this story-telling approach is now a cliché. As so much of the story is set in a newspaper it further adds to legitimizing the technique. You never see the reporter’s face, always the back of his head and yet it is this anonymous reporter’s questions and voice-overs that drive the narrative.
The film’s themes are the big over-arching themes of power, wealth, corruption, loss, abandonment, betrayal, and the impact they have on an individual’s humanity. The acquisition of unimaginable wealth, and with that, great power and influence walking hand in hand with the temptations of personal arrogance and corruption.
The perceived betrayal of his mother when removing him from the family as a child is the catalyst for Kane’s ultimate downfall.
Kane, as a boy, leaving home with Mr Thatcher.
The family home may have been poor but there was a level of happiness, contentment and the feeling of being wanted in this simple home that Kane was never able to experience throughout the rest of his life. This loss and sense of betrayal establishes a personally disastrous and unsatisfying pattern of behavior in the way in which he engages with all those with whom he shares a part of his adult life.
The technical aspects of the film were also ground-breaking. They include the use of different lenses, the framing of individual shots, the lighting of each scene giving it a film-noir, quasi-gothic feel, how the moving camera was used with new editing techniques to make those shots work effectively, the use of wipes and soft cuts, and the uncluttered sound track.
Also of interest, with the exception of Welles himself, is the sparse, minimalist, naturalist acting style and qualities of those Mercury Players who are Kane’s cast. In contrast Welles’s chewing the scenery performance further highlights the difference between what Kane can get away with when there are no constraints on his behavior as opposed to the behavior of Joe Ordinary. For Agnes Moorhead and Joseph Cotton, CITIZEN KANE was the break for on-going stellar careers.
Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton.
There are two options that can be pursued by a first time feature film director. The first is to play it safe because you haven’t done it before. The second is to just go for it and it’ll be fine on the night.
Welles had been given a contract by RKO, which gave him total control. His ego made him comfortable with following the latter course. CITIZEN KANE was the immediate result and a revolution in film techniques then followed.
Everyone knows CITIZEN KANE was loosely based on the American media giant, William Randolph Hearst, who hated the film so much he ran a campaign against the film and relentlessly pursued Orson Welles until Hearst’s last dying breath. I still don’t understand as the subject matter of the film could have been far worse. CITIZEN KANE never deals with the Hearst scandal of the mysterious death of Thomas Ince that occurred on Hearst’s boat, the Oneida, in 1924, and which became the subject of the Peter Bogdanovich’s film, THE CAT’S MEOW (2001). One interesting fact about the Ince death scandal is that Louella Parsons walked onto that boat as a hack society writer for one of Hearst’s papers, and walked off it with a life-time contract as a syndicated columnist throughout Hearst’s empire.
Hearst’s campaign against Welles personally and his film in particular almost certainly cost CITIZEN KANE the Best Picture Oscar for 1941. ‘How Green is my Valley?’ is a great melodrama, but ‘Citizen Kane’ it isn’t.
Iconic shot from CITIZEN KANE
The film opens and closes with an ultra-extreme close-up of a mustachioed old man whispering the word “Rosebud” before dying. At the film’s end those of us in the audience have come to learn what Rosebud is as the trash of Kane’s estate is confined to the incinerator and we zoom in as a child’s sled with the faded painted name, Rosebud, is reduced to ashes.
SUPER SPOILER ALERT:
However, ancient common gossip that emerges whenever talk gets round to either CITIZEN KANE or the illicit relationship between Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies, suggests that ‘Rosebud’ was the name Hearst gave Davies’s vulva, or to put it more delicately, her private parts.
Whether it’s true or not, it offers a more logical reason for Hearst’s obsessional life-long pursuit of Welles. As the quest to find Rosebud drives the film’s narrative it just adds another layer to be enjoyed as you quietly chortle at the double-entendre offered up in one of the world’s finest films by this outrageous piece of titillating scuttlebutt.
I have often wondered why it is that local residents don’t do the touristy thing in the city they call home. When I’m in foreign cities I take great delight in visiting the homes of well-known artists and other historically important persons. My favourites are Charles Dickens house in London, Rodin’s amazing house in Paris and the home of Henry Frick in New York – all now museums. But this sense of adventure and discovering the homes of locally produced artists and persons of note seems to evaporate as soon as one arrives back to Kingsford Smith.
May Gibbs’s house, Nutcote, in Neutral Bay where she lived for 44 years.
Like the vast majority of Australians over 45 years, my sister and I grew up on the Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, the gumnut babies, written by May Gibbs. These much loved tales were then read to our children from what is now a tatty and very old compilation of these fairy stories. I continued to read the daily comic strip of ‘Bib and Bub’ well into adulthood, never failing to be delighted by the strength of the narrative and the skill of the artist. Yet, I am ashamed to say, I have never visited Nutcote, May Gibbs’s Neutral Bay home for forty-four years until her death in 1969; that is until recently.
The Gumnut Ball
For the latter part of the Victorian era until well into the 20th century children’s stories with artwork in the Art Nouveau style, quintessentially English fairies, pixies, elves and the like were created by a host of English children’s novelists and readily available in the Australian book market. This was made easy as Australia was part of the English publishing geographical foot print, a legacy of the Imperial reign as I think we still may be, but May Gibbs was among the pioneers who created children’s fairy stories using identifiable Australian flora and fauna. Her first tale was “the Gumnut Babies’ published by Angus and Robertson in 1916.
Art School in ‘Little Ragged Blossum’
I think the first published Australian children’s book was written by Ethel Pedley in 1899 who created ‘Dot and the Kangaroo’, which I always found to be as boring as batshit. Norman Lindsay wrote his wonderful ‘The Magic Pudding’, which wasn’t published until 1918, and is really intended for an older audience.
‘The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’ were fabulous stories so beautifully rich in heroes and very scary villains. Who didn’t have nightmares involving the wicked Banksia men? Like most fairy stories Gibbs writes morality tales with lessons to be learnt for, and hopefully remembered by, young children, but there is also substance to her characters and a complexity in her stories. This is why they endure and why adults take as much pleasure from reading them as do children.
The wicked Banksia Man
His Nibs, when we were planting a garden at our Jervis Bay beach hut, wanted a banksia tree. I didn’t. He won. To this day I cannot look at our banksia tree without thinking of the wicked banksia men who kidnap naughty Gumnut and Gumblossum babies. What a brilliant use of a bush flower as a character in a fairy story. Might I add when we get bush fires at JB you should see the banksia trees. They go up like a packet of crackers, which was the main reason why I didn’t want to plant one near our house in the first place. We pick the dried banksia cones as they are the best fire starters for our open fireplace.
There’s a wonderful book on May Gibbs entitled ‘More than a Fairy Tale – an Artistic Life’, written by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt, and published by Hardie Grant (2011). It could be easily dismissed as a coffee table book because of the most extraordinarily beautiful reproduction of so many of May Gibb’s illustrations but that would be a serious error.
‘More than a Fairy Tale. An Artistic Life’ by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt
This book concentrates on May Gibb’s early life and the influences that would play a part in her creation of the Gumnut baby adventures. From the backwater that was Perth in the latter part of the 19th century, a precocious talent was given ‘a voice’. Early examples of her talent and skill as a prepubescent teenage artist are shown here, some for the first time publicly, others have not been published for nearly a century. Just for the range and variety of May Gibbs’s work alone this book is a must.
You should see her Christmas card to a friend, which she drew when she was only 9 years old.
May Gibbs was first published in the Christmas Edition of the WA Bulletin in 1889 when she was twelve years old. There are a series of socially satirical cartoons published in Perth’s ‘Spectator’ from 1903, which I especially love.
‘More Than A Fairy Tale’ takes you on her journey until the publication of the stories that we have come to know and love. It deals with her return to England to attend various art schools and colleges to perfect her technique, her connections and friendships with members of and involvement with the suffragette movement.
In addition there are examples of her work used as part of the war effort.
Attempts to create for herself a career meant having to escape the claustrophobia from an overly protective family so typical of late Victorian and Edwardian times, which she did by moving to Sydney.
One of a series of satirical cartoons drawn by May Gibbs under the pseudonym of Blob. This one was published in 1903 in the WA Spectator
All are dealt with in an illuminating story resulting in examining the essential elements required in the artist’s struggle to find an environment in which an artist can work freely.
The problem for the two historians who wrote this book is that Gibbs didn’t keep a diary, nor did she seem a regular letter-writer; or if she was, most of her correspondence has been destroyed. What she did do to chronicle her experiences was draw. Her diaries are the sketches, water-colours, pastels, cartoons she left behind.
One example of the exhibits painted by May Gibbs sent to the Paris Exhibition in 1900
There is the occasional assumption drawn by the authors. The major example with which I have an issue is the chapter on the Paris Exhibition. There’s no evidence she attended the Paris Exhibition of 1900 even though some examples of her work were on display in the WA Court and were very well received. There are no sketches of the Paris Exhibition at all. Yet the authors, understandably, can’t believe she wouldn’t have gone so they make the assumption that she did. I know I’m being picky, but the story is then why isn’t there evidence either one way or the other.
Gumnuts – a rear view.
However, despite this lapse they conclude with a brief comparison of the lives of Gibbs and English children’s author, Beatrix Potter. One I found fascinating and for which I’m grateful as I wasn’t aware of the similarities in their lives.
The lives of May Gibbs and Beatrix Potter seem to be totally in sync being lived out at the opposite ends of the planet. Both were precocious talents. Both had progressive political ideas involving conservation and the rights of women. Both were suffocated by the protective constraints of their immediate family (although Gibbs was always given support by her parents when it came to pursuing her artistic dreams unlike Potter). Both women left home to escape parental control. Both were married very, very late in life. Both women became the leading children’s novelists of their time in their respective countries. Both women have, long after their deaths, continued to be beloved by all. Against all odds, they became uncompromising, successful women of independent means whose fairy tales still resonate with the very young and delight the rest of us.
Nutcote, Neutral Bay.
Do yourself a favour and visit Nutcote where so much of May Gibbs’s work is on display. The house is on the harbour with absolutely stunning views that can be enjoyed as you have a Devonshire tea. A lot of her work is here and there are two fascinating little videos, one being her last recorded interview.
The house is an interesting mixture of style. It’s a three-bedroom cottage. The exterior is a Californian bungalow style with Mediterranean finishes. The inside is a good example of the English Arts and Crafts Movement. (A lot of her drawings reflect that in their style in my view). There’s an elegant simplicity in each of the rooms allowing in light as well as the views of either the Harbour or her much loved English garden.
As with any Arts and Crafts house the use of wood in all things dominates the space and is gorgeous. Jarrah wood for all the floors had to be shipped in from the West Australia and, despite their age, look as fresh as a daisy. Beams, skirting boards, picture rails and fireplaces, built in cupboards, all made from cedar. A lot of the furniture on display belonged to Gibbs. Of particular interest is her work desk, and the room she chose as her studio. There is a kitchen with a Kooka stove and a sink and not much else. How they cooked huge meals in those days is a total mystery to me and the other tourists who were visiting. It became a lengthy discussion about what can be achieved in no or little space without kitchen appliances to help. My view is that men didn’t cook in those days so the kitchen was deemed unimportant. But I do remember my grandmothers’ kitchens and they were similarly tiny and inadequate.
Nutcote dining room.
If you are ever in Chicago go to the University of Chicago and visit the Frank Lloyd-Wright house on campus. As brilliant a designer as he was, his kitchens are hopeless. If he had been a hobbyist cook he would have got stuck in to designing brilliant kitchens and kitchen appliances.
So Sydneysiders as we move towards celebrating 100 years of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie support the good work done by the volunteers at Nutcote and pay this lovely historic house a visit. There is a great collection of memorabilia you can also purchase. It’s bookmarks, coasters and linen tea towels for me. A girl can never have too many linen tea towels especially when they have the cute derrieres of gumnut babies on them.
For those with a slightly warped political bent. Guess who these two are pretending to be Bib and Bub.
This is a statue of a sleeping Maenid found on the southern side of the Athenian Acropolis. Circa AD117-138. Photo by JE
The National Archaeological Museum in Athens was my favourite museum of all those we visited. It was serendipitous that we visited this museum and were able to see the Antikythera Exhibition.
This is a statue of a kouros made in Naxian marble and found in Souniaon at the Temple of Poseidon. Circa 600BC. Photo by JE
I hadn’t known where this extraordinary exhibition was when scheduling our trip and it is one I’ve longed to see. It did not disappoint.
Notice the difference in the detail between the two kouros statues despite the mere seventy or so years between their creation.
This is a statue of a kouros in Parian marble. It was removed from the grave of Kroisis and liberated from France in 1934. Circa 530BC. Photo by JE
The inscription on the memorial to this young man reads as follows:
“Stop and mourn at the grave of dead Kroisis whom the raging Ares destroyed when he fought among the defenders.”
This museum had been renovated for 2004, and it is fantastic. There is a chronological logic to the way the permanent exhibits are now displayed.
Part of a sculpture from the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina Island. circa 500BC. Photo by JE
The written history to each item – where it was found, what its purpose was and its significance to the people at that time – is always informative and often insightful.
A bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon found in the sea off Cape Artemision. circa 460BC. My money is on Zeus. Photo by JE
So many of the archaeological sites we visited had signs stating that the items discovered were now on display at this museum.
The figures depict the leads in the story of Troy. It was used as a funerary urn and painted by Polygnotos in circa 430-420BC Photo by JE
3D comes to Ancient Greece with this funerary relief / statue found near Piraeus. He was Alexos, son of Stratokles of Sounion. Circa 320BC. Photo by JE
We were able to catch up with artefacts from the Temples of Aphaid and Apollo, Aegina Island, the ancient city of Corinth, the Temples of Poseidon and Zeus, archaeological digs on Santorini and Rhodes, sites whose stories were now so familiar to us.
The statue of Poseidon was found on Milos. He is missing his trident but has his trusty helper, the dolphin, next to his right leg. Circa 125-100BC Photo by JE
I hope the many photographs give you the feeling of wandering through galleries filled with the wonders of Greece.
This bronze head of a boxer was found at Olympia. He was a champion and they, the museum powers that be, believe that it belonged to Satyros of Elis, who was the Muhammad Ali of his day. The sculptor was Silanion. Circa 330-320BC. Photo by an impressed JE.
Portrait of a head with speculation as to the identity of the man it portrays. Some say an unnamed poet, others believe it is Attalos II from Pergamon who ruled from 159-139BC. Does he have the face of a poet or a ruler? This was my favourite piece among the main body of the museum as I spent hours trying to decide. His face is so ‘modern’, if that makes any sense. The jury is still out. Photo by JE.
Bronze of the Emperor Augustus (29BC-AD14). This bronze was found in the Aegean Sea between the islands of Euboea and Agios. It is thought to have been cast between 12-10BC. Photo by JE
This extraordinary bronze statue was retrieved from a shipwreck off Cape Artemision in Euboea. It is called the Artemision Jockey and is circa 140BC. Photo by JE
Pan is, as usual, making a pest of himself to Aphrodite with Eros helping her out. Made from Parian marble. Circa 100BC. Photo by JE who was laughing at the scene as she took the photo. Be impressed it came out at all.
This is the famous Gold Mycenean death mask known as the Mask of Agamemnon. Circa 16th century BC. Photo by JE.
More from the Mycenean Age. Circa 16th century BC. Photo by JE.
However, what made our visit to this museum a knock-out was the Antikythera Exhibition.
A depiction of the Cousteau’s 1976 retrieval of the Antikythera shipwreck and its artefacts from the bottom of the sea. Photo by JE.
In 1900 a sunken shipwreck chokka-block full of Ancient Greek artefacts and destined for Rome in approx 60-50BC was found off the coast of Antikythera. Many of the relics from this over-laden ship lay scattered on the sea floor.
This is the head from a bronze statue that is now known as the Antikythera Philosopher. Circa 230BC. Photo be JE.
Some of the artefacts were recovered especially bronze statues, glass bowls and ceramics, and clay pottery. Archaeologists knew they didn’t have the equipment to recover most artefacts, especially anything carved in marble as well as parts of the boat itself.
The Antikythera Youth, as it now famously known, is a bronze statue that experts date specifically to 340-330BC. There is so much speculation as to the identity of who it may be that I prefer he remains a mystery with a six-pack. Photo by JE.
In an act of blissful disregard for the bottom line, they left the vast majority of the artefacts at the bottom of the sea until they were able to recover them without causing further damage and further loss of life. A number of the deep sea divers succumbed to the bends.
This is an amazing bowl as it is so stylised with multi-leaved olive branches over the entire surface of the bowl. Photo by JE
Glass Bowl from the second quarter 1st Century BC. Photo by JE.
After more than 70 years since its discovery, Jacques Cousteau was asked in 1976 by the Greek Government to lead a team to finally bring this precious find to the surface.
The exhibits are displayed well and the story of their recovery is well told. The bronze statues are undamaged.
This is the largest of the glass vessels found in the shipwreck. It is from the first half of the first century BC. I wish I had something to use as a yardstick to indicate how large this bowl is. They didn’t include the dimensions unfortunately. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Photo by JE who nearly chewing gummed her phone on the glass to give it some perspective but refrained.
However, beautiful marble statues have been disfigured by the 2000 years spent underwater.
This statue of a boy is made from Parian marble and is dated in the early part of the first century BC. It is what I call one of the Jekyll and Hyde statues. The boy’s left side has been corroded by the sea organisms while the right side, buried in the sediment of the sea floor, has been preserved and is almost perfect. They are fascinating. Photo by JE.
Those parts of the statues covered by the silt of the sea floor stayed in pristine condition, while those parts remaining uncovered had been under continual attack from salt and marine life, and are damaged beyond repair. These Jekyll and Hyde statues become compelling viewing.
This statue of Hermes is disfigured almost completely except for that part of his face and head that was covered by sediment. It is dated from the early part of the first century BC. Photo by JE.
Glass bowls, jewelry and the minutiae of daily life are also on view. Some in such remarkable condition you stare in wonder.
The Antikythera Mechanism. Its rear view. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Antikythera Mechanism. Discovered in 1901. It was a mystery for decades but is now called the world’s first computer. It is over 2,000 years old. Photo from Wikipedia (bless ’em).
But then you come to the Antikythera Mechanism, described as the world’s first analogue computer. It is an astrolabe. This amazing piece of technology, more than 2000 years old, is what sets the saliva going.
An astrolabe is a mechanical device which calculates astronomical positions. The Antikythera mechanism is ancient and has been dated to approximately 80BC . It is made up of a number of interlocking bronze gears causing the main mechanism to rotate resulting in the desired astronomical information. There are theories that it was designed and built on Rhodes which was the centre of studies in astronomy, engineering and the sciences at the time. All inscriptions on the device are in Greek.
This is a model designed by Ioannis Theophanidis in the 1930’s. Photo by JE.
To underscore the significance of this one single find, the exhibition also includes a whole section on astrolabes.
Price’s Model of the mechanism was designed by Pro Derek de Solla Price and constructed in R. Deroski in the late 1970’s. Photo by JE.
Models of early astrolabes, including Ptolemy’s, are there for the benefit of those who are intrigued by technology and not confronted by being constantly reminded that technology isn’t a modern phenomenon. Reproductions of the Antikythera Mechanism recreated by modern day nerds underscore how extraordinary this one piece is.
The academic responsible for the definitive analysis of the Antikythera Mechanism is recognised as Pro Derek de Solla Price. The mechanism had been put away with little real understanding of what it did until Pro Solla Price first looked at it in the 1950’s. He published a number of papers but in 1959 he released a major publication called ‘An Ancient Greek Computer’. In 1974 he also published ‘Gears from the Greeks: the Antikythera Mechanism – a calendar computer from circa 80BC’. To demonstrate how he believed the mechanism worked he designed a model which he subsequently donated to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. (see photo above).
Modern replica of what is believed to be Ptolemy’s Astrolabe. Photo by JE.
You can spend an entire day in this one museum especially with the Antikythera Exhibition, which remains there until April, 2013.
Mark Colvin @colvinius kindly referred me to two short videos whose links I hope are below and successfully work. Now you know why I’ve been delaying including them in this blog post. Sometimes technology is a little overwhelming. Not, apparently, for the Ancient Greeks. Please watch these short films. They are fascinating.
This is NATURE’s video on Antikythera Mechanism Part 1
This link is to Nature’s video on the Antikythera Mechanism Part 2.
The view of the Acropolis from the New Acropolis Museum. Photo by author.
I cannot begin to tell just how bloody hot it was. Athens in the middle of summer can be challenging at best. We approached our summer Athens stay by scheduling outside activities in the morning, and air conditioned splendour found in all museums and galleries in the afternoon.
Work on the Parthenon, Acropolis. Photo by Me.
Visiting the Acropolis was seen as yet another of those challenges. It was so tempting not to revisit. We had been there 29 years ago, and how much could an ancient place full of temple remains have changed in that time? We decided not to be wimpish. The idea was to climb to the top of the acropolis in the morning, have lunch and wander around the New Acropolis Museum thus occupying the remainder of the day. It was a Monday. Of course, the New Acropolis Museum is not open on a Monday. So much for the 10,000 tourists who arrived that morning on boats and whose first stop was going to be the Acropolis, and thank God for the National Archaeological Museum which opens on a Monday afternoon.
A renovated column. Photo by author.
So armed with a gigalitre of water we walked to the top of the Acropolis. What I found fascinating was watching the workers involved in the restoration of the whole site. So many of the statues and other bibs and bobs still being discovered on the site have been taken down to the new museum for restoration and permanent display. Large section of the columns, plinths and mantles are being restored, replaced and cleaned in all the temples. In some instances sections of the columns are being replaced. Stone masons with skills thought long gone, chisel and sand large blocks of stone with the precision required for the finished piece to seamlessly sit in its new home, underpinning vital parts of the ancient structure.
When we came down from the top the temperature was 40C and we had drunk the gigalitre of water. We were bitterly disappointed at the closure of the museum that would have expanded and explained so much of what we had seen that morning. So we found a tavern with a canopy of dense grape ivy, and huge fans that spit water all over you. Bliss. An early light lunch helped heal the wounds. The tavern’s proprietor, via the help of google in Greek and three waiters all talking simultaneously over a lap top screen, gave us the directions to the National Archaeological Museum to visit instead. But that’s another story.
Aerial of New Acropolis Museum. Photo by Nikos Danillidis
Undeterred the following morning we returned to the base of the Acropolis to visit this amazing new museum. The cabbie who took us there vented his dislike of the new building. It’s just glass and cement was his dismissive description of the building. That is a bit like saying that the Sydney Opera House is curved with tiles everywhere. In his view it should have reflected the buildings of the Acropolis, with a heap of marble and ionic columns. Thank God he wasn’t on the selection committee. This building is as
The Parthenon Gallery, New Acropolis Museum. Photo Peter Mauss/Esto
important to Athens as the Opera House was and is to Sydney. It is modern and makes no apology for reflecting the era in which it was conceived and built. The glass provides large shafts of natural light and the most amazing views of the Acropolis. On the top floor it seems so close you have the feeling you can almost reach out and touch it. The Museum is a building that allows the exhibits to be displayed well and with innovation. The visitor can easily walk through the history of this site and the way the artifacts are placed mean a logical and understandable meander.
The thing that pissed me off was not being able to take photographs, even without the flash. There is so much natural light a flash isn’t necessary. The only place you can take pics is on the top floor where the residue detritus of the Elgin (though don’t call them that when in Greece) Marbles are placed in the midst of reproductions of those exhibits now taking pride of place at the British Museum. You are constantly reminded of what is missing, especially when there are glass walls showing you a remarkable vista of the home from where they’ve come ‘or’ (been stolen) ‘or’ (been relocated).
Walking on glass. The entrance to the New Acropolis Museum. Photo by author.
The museum’s entrance is placed well back from the road. As interesting as the museum is, what I personally found mesmerizing is what is happening under the building. Actually, it is what is happening under the whole footprint of the museum’s site. While excavating for the foundations of the building an entire suburb of ancient Athens was uncovered. There was a major kerfuffle as to what should be done with the cottages, homes, streets of shops, bath houses, water systems, the whole kit and caboodle, all in a reasonable condition, given that they have been covered for more than 2000 years.
Real concern was expressed at placing foundations amidst this archaeological wonder. Great care, design changes and postponed deadlines resulted in excavation continuing around and under the building. As well as huge open wells, vast glass inserts in the entrance and on the ground floor of the museum’s foyer allow the visitor to stand on and look down at the work in progress and work completed. Their intention is to allow visitors to walk through the site after excavations are finished. I did ask when they thought that would be. The answer was always ‘soon’, which I think is Greek for ‘how long is a piece of string?’
A view down below at the excavations seen through glass. Photo by author.
Be warned. If you suffer from vertigo you would be best advised not to walk on the glass floors, rather skirting them at the edges. They are an unexpected distance from what is happening down below. His Nibs suffers from vertigo and he estimated he was
A work in progress. Excavations under the New Acropolis Museum, Athens. Photo by author.
20-30 feet off the deck. He persevered, but it did make him feel slightly nauseous. It didn’t worry me a jot so I wasn’t conscious of how far down I was looking. I was too busy working out floor plans and exclaiming over drainage systems.
The large open well showing excavations in progress under the New Acropolis Museum, Athens. Photo by me.
Lunch was on the 4th floor cafeteria with a huge outside area which looks at the Acropolis and the surrounding and seemingly very ritzy residential area. The food is adequate, the coffee excellent, the view worth it. If you are a fan of Museum Shops prepared to be be disappointed, although they did have a impressive reproduction of a bust of Sappho.
Because I was unable to take photos of the exhibits in situ I have included some photos from the official Museum site and Wikipedia (bless ’em).
Part of the original Parthenon Marbles, New Acropolis Museum, Athens. Photo by author.
This is the link to the official site of the New Acropolis Museum. What this link does is show you the plan of how best to walk through the Museum. It’s laid out in galleries and makes it easy.
Do yourself a favour and look at the slideshow of 16 amazing photos of the New Acropolis Museum as published in the New York Times.
NB: The New York Times link I can’t activate on my blog but it works. Copy or cut and paste the bloody thing. There are 16 of the most magnificent photographs presented in a slide show. Once you’ve seen them you’ll understand why I compared the importance of this building for the cultural soul of Athens and the on-going campaign for the return of the Elgin Marbles, to the Sydney Opera House.
This is a link to Christopher Hitchen’s piece on the New Acropolis Museum. He wrote this article for for Vanity Fair not long after the museum opened. I’ve included it because he makes a case for the return of the Elgin Marbles far more eloquently than I ever could. His reaction is intellectual, mine far more physical.
There are two bellwether dishes that if cooked well mean there is a bloody good chef in a bloody good kitchen – squid and zucchini flowers. My sister is the squid connoisseur, and I can never go past zucchini flowers.
It was two years ago when we first tried one of the local restaurants, and discovered it had both as entrees. After the first mouthful PYRAMA came to be our favourite local restaurant.
It is owned and run by a young and enthusiastic couple, Jim, in the kitchen and Karen, front of house. They have a wonderful, reasonably priced restaurant where the food is excellent, the wine list interesting, and the ambience just what I want when I go out to eat.
As part of the extraordinary Pyrmont Wine and Food Festival it was only natural that we would visit PYRAMA for a special night of food and wine.
His Nibs and I could have spent an entire week going from one restaurant to another during this festival, consigning our sporadic diet to parts unknown. Our schedules, however, wouldn’t permit such indulgence, but we have already penciled in May next year in the hope that the Festival is repeated. And so it was that Sister Ruth and friends joined us at Pyrama for a four-course meal with pre-selected wines that were to match.
The food was great. I am a permanently designated driver so I don’t drink, but will inform you of what family and friends thought of the wine that came with each course.
For starters we had a Petuna salmon tartare with lemon crème fraiche, potato and capers. Additional ingredients identified included shallots, red onion, crushed coriander seeds, roe and topped with deep fried onion (for crunch). The salmon was made up of two kinds, natural and cured. It was delicious, light and just right as a starter. It was a nice mixture of flavours that go pop in your mouth at different stages as each ingredient follows its own choreographed time line.
The wine served with the tartare was a Mudgee 2010 Miramar Fume Blanc. The drinkers at our table were split evenly between those who predominantly drink white, and those whose preference is a red. The method of making the wine is different for a fume (apparently), and results in an oaky taste to the wine. Everyone liked the wine, and said that it went well with the dish.
The entrée was worth starting world war 3 over. It was a twice-baked gruyere soufflé with mushroom jus. Gruyere is such an overpowering cheese, and I am so heavy handed with ingredients I’m never game to include it. The flavour was strong but delicate, if that makes any sense at all. The balance was just right. Words to describe the entrée included gorgeous and fabulous. I didn’t use any words but rather grunted my way through the entrée, and then had to be restrained from licking the plate.
The wine that went with this soufflé was a 2009 Miramar Unwooded Chardonnay, which had a “lovely after-taste”. His Nibs is very fond of a chardie, and stated that this was one of the better ones he had tasted in a long time. For me, this is high praise indeed.
A roast dry-aged fillet of beef with root vegetable & thyme gratin, creamed spinach & red wine jus was the main course. The beef was a great piece of meat cooked to perfection, crisply seared on the outside, and red and moist on the in; the root vegetables, layers of potato and sweet potato, were to die for, and the meal was enhanced with a big, big, some said huge, red.
The red was a 2009 Quilty Black Thimble Shiraz, and was described by our red drinkers as ‘stunning’. It was agreed that it could only be drunk with red meat because it was so ‘big’. Order forms were taken by those at our table to purchase this wine.
The choice of wine by the wine-maker made the chef’s job difficult for the dessert. The wine was a 2009 Quilty Stitch Cabernet Sauvignon, which was smooth as silk, with a slight berry driven sweetness, and a hint of oak. The wine was an absolute winner on its own, and had our red drinkers reaching for the order forms. I was reliably informed that this is a red wine you can have as a stand-alone requiring no food to enhance its quality.
The dessert was a chocolate heaven: a French chocolate & praline pots de crème. Smooth, rich without being cloying, and a perfect end to a perfect meal. The wine as good as it was, however, did not match the dessert. His Nibs said that a glass of Tokay would have been just the ticket for this great dessert.
$85 per head was the cost of the evening for four courses and very healthy servings of fine wine.
We rolled down the hill to get the necessary transport home after a very satisfactory evening. PYRAMA is worth a visit.