Saturday, April 26, 2008

New York stories

I just ‘SMSd’ a couple of New York food and drink tips to a friend who heads off on a world-wind trip on Tuesday. Phew, it made me envious I have to say. That city had an impact on me and I find my mind jetting back there in the most unlikely moments. I can be washing the dishes and, all of a sudden, be back at the jewellery counter at Lord & Taylor.

I think my dirty Martini at the Blue Bar at the Algonquin will remain one of my best grown up girl memories ever. I went there alone, after a solo visit to the New York Public Library (the smell of that place … all books!), and watched the staff and the people around me and felt like I was inside the pages of the myriad books and magazines I’d read about the big apple over the decades. I was particularly chuffed to explain to a fellow drinker the significance of the Algonquin as a writers’ haunt in the 1920s while, I admit it, I looked down my nose at him for having the cash to stay there but not the wit to know why it was so revered. God I can be a wanker.

Anyway, to check my tips for the fellow traveller this morning I had to go back to my 'Cavallini Papers & Co' New York New York notebook that I’d kept my notes in from October. A gal pal gave me the book and it sits on the window behind my desk in my office as a reminder of what’s possible if you save some dough and book a ticket. You’ll know the Cavallini look if you see it; vintage style travel images, botanical images, great papers. Divine! But then, I am a stationery junkie.

Anyhoo, just to keep the buzz alive, the recommendations were Del Posto restaurant and Buddakan and, of course, The Blue Bar. Buddakan was so hip that even the toilets were black. You could barely see yourself in the smoky mirrors in the bathroom. To me it said, ‘If you have to check your appearance in this mirror then you really shouldn’t be here’. I will jot down my Austin tips in this same book and take it with me when I go to the USA again this October. What a gorgeous little ritual to get happening.

The pics above show - left to right - Blue Bar, Budda, Del Post

No thinking please

It’s been a long weekend by which I mean it’s been a three day affair because of Anzac Day as opposed to a long weekend that drags on because it's taken up with garden weeding and domestic squabbles. My big priority this weekend has been to not think; not such a challenge for me some smartie pants might say but I know what I mean. Hence the Dear Diary element to this post. I can’t be shagged tackling any real ‘writerly’ issues even though a lot of topics have been bubbling in the past week.

One observation I will make is about a cook book I dived into yesterday and from which I made probably two of the most successful dishes in my cooking career. One was called Ginger Chicken and the other a Never Fail Cake. They are both from Mrs Harvey's Sister-in-Law and Other Tasty Dishes. I am going to steal from Amazon to tell you that this book is by Mrs Margaret Dunn, a historian, diplomat's wife and hostess, who “has travelled the world with her handmade recipe journal, and it is brought to life in this beautifully presented recipe book”. That in no way goes to explain what has enthralled me about this book. It was written originally for Dunn’s daughters and granddaughters and is a throw back to a time before white minimalist table settings, the chef as a fashion icon and slavish attempts to recreate a Donna Hay world of kids who never spill anything on their designer clothes and parties that are ‘thrown together’ on a marina where we all wear Collette Dinnigan and eat sardines on sourdough.

Dunn tells stories about who passed on the recipes to her and how she liked to use them in her own home. She throws in a few lines about letting the ingredients of a potato salad "get to know each other" for a while before you serve it and she features no photos. You often have to adjust things to taste and – God forbid – use your own instincts. As an infamous instinctual cook (meaning I look at the photos normally and then just wing it) this book has been a bolt from the blue. And, maybe I’m at the sensitive point in the month, but its genuine tidbits about friendship and family love have had me a bit weepy at times. It has reminded me of a collection of recipes Mrs T has from her late mother … so very very special.

Creative input abounds

While not thinking about things (yeah, right) I have been exposed, as always, to the astounding creativity of so many people in the past few days. First and foremost, of course, were the Foo Fighters at Rod Laver Arena on Friday night. Could Dave Grohl be any hotter? (Sorry, I was channelling my 15-year-old self then.) That band and their young following give a girl hope. And the drummer, Taylor Hawkins, is a one-man powerhouse. When I die I want to come back as a drummer.

I also watched Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium while cooking yesterday. In the tradition of the The Tao of Pooh, I will just list these lines:

“We must face tomorrow, whatever it may bring, with determination, joy and bravery,” says Magorium.

“Your life is an occasion; rise to it.”

I am going to HAVE to find out more about the young director of this film, Zach Helm. In the meantime, I must now “rise to” writing a small article on the history of the photograph and doing the dishes before Mr U gets back from Sydney.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cracking along


I confess I subscribe to Architectural Digest. I don't know why I term it a confession, I suppose because this magazine is really a tome dedicated to all that is over-the-top, lavish and, in the minds of many, completely unnecessary in the world we live. For instance, the Airbus A380-800 on page 281 of the May 08 issue which includes a 14-person conference-cum-dining table and teak walls in the lounge area. This thing is owned by ONE person.

Still AD, with its fair share of colour riot USA interior styles and ads for properties selling in the Hawaii for US$7.996 million, also provides a fascinating insight into the minds of people who create internal and external physical spaces that even the poorest of us will live around, if never within.

To me it's intriguing to hear the way a designer's mind works, what they're trying to communicate through their work and how they marry a client's vision with their own and with practicalities. AD represents the unique madness of humanity; our belief - perhaps misguided - that we can have some permanency in this world. And the visions of the designers, set loose amidst an array of obstacles, is something I admire. You see it in so many areas of life ... people who set themselves a challenge and then overcome huge obstacles just to meet it. Amazing!

The other thing, of course, about AD is that it is so well written and there is always a crowd of articles celebrating or investigating design of yesteryear. This month you can read about the work couturiers Christian Dior, Paul Poiret and Elsa Schiaparelli did when designing wallpapers in the 1930s. I mean it is astounding. And there are certain witches in my life who will love the witchy inspired fabrics concocted by Cecil Beaton. As is a constant theme with me, stories like this seem to hark back to a time when the world knew how to stop at 5pm for a martini and witty conversation did not centre around 'Dancing with the Stars' but that, of course, is just my imagination. Humans have always been humans. In the 1930s the drink trolleys were just a little more sexy.


Well the travel agent is hard at it now working out the itinerary for us for October - Nashville, New Orleans and Austin. Is this part of travel almost as much fun as the experience itself? I certainly like to make a career out of it. (Note to self: Never be my travel agent.) I think it's the realm of possibilities that present themself in the planning phase of a trip, plus the fantasy element of the places one might stay ... until the realities of budgets set in.

New Orleans is what I see as the 'glam' part of the trip. Hence I have travel Genie looking at W New Orleans - French Quarter, Royal Sonesta and Hotel Le Cirque. Sonesta is truly, obsenely decadent. Love it! You wouldn't think I went to Internally Displaced Persons Camps in Uganda last year. Clearly the experience has had NO impact on me and I will go to hell in a hand cart!!!!!!

In Austin I like the look of the San Jose (all the musicians stay there apparently - but they'll let me in too) but Mrs P, who is already living over there, said to check out the Austin Motel which also looks good.

The odd link:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

You can dance on a chair

“You can dance on a chair” – I just heard venerable UK actress, Vanessa Redgrave, say that during an interview about her performance in the New York production of ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’. If I was a biography writer I’d contact her and tell her she’s just coined the title of her next memoir.

Of course, she was actually referring to the fact that most of her ninety minute performance is spent seated, with her talking directly to the audience. Despite this, she says she actually moves her body a lot. The week before last I was supposed to get up to Sydney for the day to see the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of this play. I loved Joan Didion’s book, a memoir of the period where her husband died and her daughter, in an unconnected series of events, slipped into a coma that eventually led to her death.

I know it sounds SO depressing but this woman is such a wonderful writer that I found myself enthralled, despite occasional tears. Years ago I remember reading Paula by Isabel Allende, once again a book written by an accomplished author, about the loss of her daughter. Maybe because I was going through a familial loss around the same time I just couldn’t get into that book but I think it’s more because I prefer Didion’s writing. This is the woman of Play It As It Lays, a book that inspired me to to do a few writing exercises to mimic her tone which manages to be both laid back and searing at the same time: difficult to define.

Anyhoo, I didn’t get to Sydney because of work commitments but my mother-in-law (God bless her) stepped into the breach for me so the ticket didn’t go to waste. I regret not seeing it, though I have heard Didion do a live reading just from the book and that was special enough for me for now.

Redgrave, in the same interview, also spoke about a film she made recently, directed by her son, called 'The Fever' (script by Wallace Shawn). Once again this work involved much direct-to-camera acting from Redgrave. Shawn would be familiar to pop culture buffs for roles in films like ‘Clueless’ but he has a hefty theatre and ‘serious’ dramatic background and, interestingly, has written a number of very heavy plays. My ears pricked up when I heard his name because his father was William Shawn one of the New Yorker’s most famous editors for more than 30 years. I once read a book called Remembering Mr Shawn – about the “invisible art of editing” as its subtitle says - which absolutely intrigued me. Shawn was the epitome of the civilised, artistic, visionary man of letters that seem thin of the ground these days. He nurtured the careers of writers like J D Salinger and Truman Capote and was famous for allowing various individuals to keep offices in the New Yorker’s HQ even though they didn’t seem to be producing anything. The book was full of tales of sophisticated cocktail parties in New York apartments and behind-the-scenes remembrances of influential writers and thinkers. Ah, another time, another world!

The odd link:


She picked up a piece of the chocolate cake and pressed it hard against his closed mouth.

"I hope you fucking choke on it," she said.

"You're a nasty piece of work Hannah. You better get out of here before I fucking belt you. You've gone too far this time."

In another room, the phone rang. He went to it.

"Matt speaking" she heard him say as she grabbed her keys and handbag. Her hands shook as she started the car. The radio and the aircon were blaring from her last drive. Where was she going?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My etsy story in The Age today

The social baton - the OTHER relay race

Overall it was a great evening but more ‘cause of the company than the place. A table companion who is quite the seamstress herself regaled us with the tale of her visit to Nick Cave’s book signing. She got his tome signed, hung back in the crowd berating herself for harbouring a desire to have a photo taken with the rock poet, until a staff member from the Arts Centre where the scene was playing out, came out and shoved her forward and told her she’d regret it if she didn’t , a very Nike way, “just do it”. Now she has the book, which he signed with ‘love’ and a photo on her phone to boot to remind herself of the adventure.

Seamstress has a great bar up a very UNgreat flight of wooden stars. Is it just me or do cocktails and neckbraces come to your mind too?

Our pre-booked table took a year to become vacant so we weren’t ordering til 10pm or so … I was pretty chuffed to be in a restaurant at that point and not in pyjamas in front of the TV and some hideous medical travesty story.

Nearby four young urban professionals were in their squash gear, having clearly had a mid week game and then popped into this new groove-Asian eatery for a bit. Seeing this this week and seeing masses of young ones out for dinner at a St Kilda joint (Banf) last Wednesday reminds me of how the phases of our lives just shift on and on. My girlfriends and I were once the midnight eaters, the drinks after work crowd, the spontaneous ‘let’s go to the Mask of China after the movies’ people and now the baton gets passed on. I love eating out, investigating new bars, people watching etc and Mr Underhill and I regularly have a bar hopping date in the city so we can get trashed (okay, that’s more my part of the evening) and annoy bar staff with 8000 questions and make up stories about fellow diners and drinkers but, even more regularly, we’re at home getting over excited about the bounty we’ve just picked up from a Dan Murphy trip and the rib eye we’re going to experiment with on the new ‘Beefeater’ (seriously, that’s the brand but I think you are allowed to cook other stuff than beef) barbecue. I’m not sad about the baton hand over but I just can’t quite pin point the moment when it happened. Guess because my process didn’t involve pro Tibet protestors or little Chinese men in black tracksuits swarming out of people movers.

Wine update

I heard from the very kind Julian Castagna from Castagna vineyard at 88 Ressom Lane, Beechworth (Vic). He says their wines are mostly sold in restaurants and (bugger) he doubts the existing stockists would have any of the Castagna 2004 La Chiave left. “Ufortunately we have none left here … you may find the Castagna 2005 Un Segreto is a similar wine.” Believe me, I will find out. Vic stockists are The Prince Stores, City Wine Shop, Boccacio Cellars, King & Godfree, Gertrude St Enoteca, Randalls, Vin Café, Armadale Cellars and Rathdowne Cellars.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

World without borders

So I was listening to Martha Wainwright on the Conversation Hour on 774 ABC radio yesterday and she started talking about an online TV show that Peter Townsend (The Who) has called In the Attic ( Apparently it’s just two cameras set up in his lounge room so his girlfriend can have her own show. Love it! I like people who use their obscene amounts of money to do things a little more out of the box. I think if I had Townsend type moula I’d do a Wayne’s World kind of scenario with a TV chat show going on in the basement. ‘Course I’d have to get the basement first.

I think you can get podcasts from Pete and Rachel, his partner. I’ll have to check it out. Always looking for something new to listen to while I’m walking. I know a lot of people like high energy music so it keeps them speeding along but I just love listening to ideas and stories as I trundle. Recently I listened to author Ian Rankin (he of Inspector Rebus fame) lead a journo on a descriptive walking tour through the streets of his Edinburgh. I mean, it was amazing. Here I was doing five laps around the local footy oval whilst, flowing between my ears, were wonderful descriptions of the Scottish Museum and the Café Royal. Rankin is in love with his city and, in fact, on his website you can dip into a map of Rebus’ Edinburgh and find out more about the places written about in the novels. See, to me that sounds like fun. To others … probably sounds sad.
Two other people on the Conversation Hour were Michael Hohnen and Geoffrey Gurrumul. Hohnen was with the Killjoys. Now he’s really into indigenous music and, seriously, the number he did with this guy, Gurrumul, has to be heard to be believed. Gurrumul’s got the voice of an angel and it is incredible to hear Aboriginal language coming out of the radio. It’s not exactly something we hear a lot of. Hope these guys really have some success. Gurrumul is so shy he does not even talk. Hohnen has to speak on his behalf. But when he sings – joisos – am going off to order his CD now!

I am delighted to say I received an email from Howard Sherman from the American Theatre Wing. Tres delightful! He let me know that, beyond the podcasts, they’re also doing video podcasts of the TV show, ‘Working in the Theatre’. He says it’s “more a thematic panel approach than the one-on-one (or two-on-one) format of Downstage Center” which is the program I listen to. I’ll be checking it out with interest. Howard also gave me some theatre leads for Austin when I am there in October; will have to pass on to Mrs P while she’s living there. What a great world we live in!

Talking about this world … how about the Oprah/Eckhart tolle ‘web event’ that’s been going on? Luck would have it that I have been listening to Tolle’s book, A New Earth, in the car. Don’t switch off if you think this is too new age. It’s too early for me to pass judgment but his voice alone, which is kind of whacky, is enough to calm me down in the traffic. I’m just at the point where he’s on about body awareness and the effect that being aware of the life-force flowing through your limbs can have on your consciousness. Anyone who’s studied yoga would be completely au fai with this. Regardless, the amazing thing, media wise, is the fact that Oprah and he are hosting classes based on the book. I saw her on telly on a March episode (b/c we’re way behind) saying 90,000 people had already signed up at that point to be part of the classes. If you dare you can look at - - not that Ms Winfrey needs my help in the publicity stakes. I am the kind of freak that will take a peek at one of these ‘airings’ just to see what the hell it’s all about. Anything that can attract this much attention demands my attention. I use the same argument when telling people they should keep across really bad tabloid television, radio and news – even if it is like having teeth pulled out by a blind grizzly bear with pliers. To me it’s simple madness to remain ignorant about what the masses are consuming information wise. The masses are running your world.

Anyway – ranting now. Very unattractive.

Dinner tonight is at Seamstress - - a newish apparently hip Cantonese place in Lonsdale Street. I happen to know it’s getting written up in Time Magazine, along with my old fave, Cicciolina but that’s not why I’m going. I work for a bloody craft magazine. The restaurant’s called Seamstress. Get it?

Look forward to trying it out.

Photos: Rebus inspired Edinburgh and Howard Sherman (on the right I believe)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Parpadelle with chicken livers and lardons. Okay, it's not for everyone but it's what I downed last night and man was it delicious. Kicked off proceedings with a glass of Stefano Lubiana Riesling which was pleasant but didn't blow my socks off. The red we went on to was a killer though ... Castagna La Chiave Sangiovese 2004 (from Beechworth, no less. So excited b/c I will be able to go there). Got to get my hands on some more of that.

Out walking and listening to a podcast yesterday, I was intrigued to hear Tom Stoppard talking about his approach to play writing. If you haven't downloaded interviews from the American Theatre Wing it is well worth a visit. The chaps there (and it is two chaps who bring us the interviews) get access to amazing theatre folk and they know the biz inside out so the conversations are fabulously broad ranging. They got some great stuff out of Nathan Lane recently, although that makes it sound like they bled him with leeches.

Anyhoo - see - Stoppard was asked if his plays hit the rehearsal room fully formed or does that stage just signal the beginning of much refinement? He explained how he sees a play as 100 pages and writes a page a day. When you've never tackled something like this you can easily wonder how the hell it takes you a day to write one page; especially when you're used to churning stuff out daily in the commercial world (not that I do that, of course!!!!!).

Stoppard said there was no way his plays were unfinished by the time they got to the actor read-through sessions. This is because, page one might go through 20 drafts before he considers it done. However, as the story unfolds and the play takes on a life of its own, it gets quicker until, as he put it, "the last page can only go one way". Isn't that interesting? I love listening to people like this who have chipped away at their craft for so long they completely understand what they'll face when they begin a new project. The idea of the play, eventually, writing itself, of there only being one way it can end up, fascinates me.

Hmmm - wonder if that thought can be turned to life too? Hope not. But, consider that, as a youngster, you can take so many different paths, start over with things, change tack half way, but, as you get older, the pages begin to write themselves more and more. Spooky, huh? I am not going further with that thought pattern. I want to believe it is NOT true and we can keep taking off on fresh tangents right until the toes curl up and the door of the wooden box closes down.

Today I am interviewing an artist called Tracey Potts who works in textiles. I’ll attend the photoshoot where her work will be captured and then we’ll head off for a coffee. I have an intern working alongside me at the moment and suggested she come along for the ride. Having someone looking on while you interview and so forth is a weird one but I figure this is as good experience for her as it is for me. It’s interesting to see how newbie’s minds work and what their attitudes are. So far this gal is very competent and, seemingly, confident. I don’t remember having it as together as many of the 19 to 25-year-olds seem to these days. Then again, I don’t have it together now and I am coming up for my 93rd birthday. Just kidding!

NB: The pic is of Tracey Potts work

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Day one and 40,000 words down

Alrighty then, it’s been a long time since I dipped keystrokes into blogland. I had an earlier bash at blogging but was using it for experiments in writing and, frankly, I lost interest. Now, facing the reality that I like to make a buck from my writing as much as I like to take the muse out and give her a good flogging on the local jogging track, I am taking a different tack … looking to hook up with other writers, find inspiration, find work, advertise my wares and basically bang on ….

Today I have just pushed the SEND button on 40,000 words of a corporate history. What a truly mammoth job. There have been days when I thought it was going to be the undoing of me.

This task, agreed to before Christmas and now the swallower of the first third of the year, is what I am calling my GET ME TO AUSTIN (GMTA) fundraiser. Mr Underhill and I will head off there in October to spend time with our besties who have recently, temporarily, moved there.

Ben Peters is our talented mate’s name. He’s playing around Austin, Texas. Check out his myspace at: You will not be disappointed. Try and find his wife in the crowd. She has a ‘B’ tattooed on her wedding finger. Shoosh!

I am looking forward to October when I plan on walking in the door of Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin and knocking back a vodka with Mrs B and seeing Dale Watson and others in the flesh. Sublime!

I will be looking for story ideas in Austin. If you’re out there and know of Australian folk (especially Melburnians) who might be appropriate for profiling in places like GET CREATIVE magazine ( or THE AGE newspaper then holler.

Huge writing jobs, like this corporate history/book are like complicated puzzles. Hours of interviews, backgrounders and previous research must be massaged between links, entertaining writing and egos to get to the final product. The wild thing about writing for a living is that, while you may think you’ve completed a job, the client might hate it. I am now officially at the precipice of that adventure. I think I’ve finished it. Do they? Of course there will be much toing and froing now to get it all edited and acceptable to the people behind the scenes with this project but I see that as the final titivating you do to the house before the guests arrived. I mean, the roast is at least in the oven!

Okay, I am off for a walk. Am getting a bad case of mouse arm – meaning the right hand that does all the mouse work is not moving too well after contributing to the 40,000 words. I must respect the mouse arm. I depend on it.

Tonight I have dinner at Cicciolina in Acland Street, St Kilda (Melbourne) with one of the most polished journos around – Marion Hume from the UK. If you’ve never read her stuff, get your hands on it. Her fashion reports are more like witty anthropological studies. Cicciolina is one of Melbourne’s most reliable, fabulous restaurants – and that’s in a town known for its restaurants. Get yourself into the back bar soon for a G&T.

PS Mr Underhill has just announced he’s buying the following flicks: Zulu, The Good Thief, History of Rock n Roll and Fandango - all for Aus$25 from EasyDVD. So you know what I’ll be watching … when not caught up with Will & Grace episodes.