July 12, 2017 § 2 Comments

Other people’s words about … winter light

The sun was like a moon in this country, and in its light I felt as if I was looking at everything through a pearl. It was cold and the trees had no leaves. I had never seen a leafless tree before.

from ‘Sleeping on Jupiter
by Anuradha Roy

I love this description by Anuradha Roy of a Northern Hemisphere winter, as seen through the eyes of a young Indian woman accustomed to living in the tropics. I remember feeling the same way myself when I left Australia in my twenties to travel through Britain, Europe and North America (and, later, elsewhere). For a year I lived and worked in Germany, as I’ve mentioned once before, in a small industrial town in Nordrhein-Westfalen, not far from Dortmund and Dusseldorf. To begin with, from November through to April, before my German was fluent enough for me to find another job, I worked in a factory.

Leafless tree on Gedville Street,
between the coast and the railway station

During those winter months in Germany, I rose each day just before six o’clock and walked through the dark streets of town to the station, where I caught a train and then a bus to the factory district. My shift started at around seven-thirty, but daylight didn’t filter through the glass panels of the workshop ceiling until well after nine-thirty. I left work at four o’clock — first back on the bus and then onto the train; then back on foot through the streets towards the fourth-floor apartment I shared with a German friend. By the time I reached the door that led from the street of our apartment building into the stairwell, the sky had darkened again.

I thought, as I shuttled from home to railway station to bus to factory and then back in reverse, that I might never see broad daylight again.

Dove in leafless tree

The trees that lined the street on which I lived during those months were European trees, native to the area, and so they were deciduous. Their leafless, bare branches formed stark silhouettes against the grey apartment buildings and the grey, clouded sky. It didn’t snow, but even in the few hours of daylight we were granted, the sun stayed hidden, a faded white ball in that streak of grey sky. Everything seemed cold and grey. I, too, felt cold and grey.

Leafless tree leaning into a house near Largs Bay School

Though Australia does have a few native deciduous trees, most native vegetation is evergreen. And so, even though the winters here in South Australia can at times feel very grey, most leafless trees — like the ones I photographed to accompany today’s post, all of which grow in the neighbourhood where I live — are imports from countries like Germany: cousins of those trees that lined the streets of the town where I worked all those years ago.

Leafless tree on the school oval
on Gedville Street

I’m a home-body these days. I love the Australian sun. I love the wide arch of sky and the shifting, glittering, restless ocean. I love the grey-green leaves of eucalypts, the drooping pods of acacia trees, the red bristles of bottlebrush flowers, the golden needles of the sheoaks. I couldn’t live anywhere else now. This is home to me.

Travelling brought me a lot of joy, though, and it taught me things I could never have learned if I’d stayed at home. My love for this place is a part of what my travels taught me, I think. Those bare-branched trees were a gift. They led me back home.

Even leafless trees don’t seem leafless here
when you look at them closely!

Creating ephemera

July 8, 2017 § 1 Comment

Other people’s words about … cooking

I’ve decided I need to make things with my hands, it’s my new thing. Everything else is just so intangible and bullshit. I know that really when you get down to it, cooking produces ephemera just like all the other crap we all do … but at least for a moment there’s a thing, you know?

From ‘The Innocents
By Francesca Segal

I often wonder why food writing has become so popular in the last few years. There are so very many food blogs and cookbooks and cooking magazines. Equally, there are so very many people who read them (including me). Why?

One of the reasons, I think, is that food photography is beautiful. Food photographs make use of beautiful props, gorgeous landscapes, natural light. They woo you. Though what they ostensibly promise you is a tasty meal, underneath they promise you something else entirely. If you make this recipe, they murmur to you, you, too, will have produced something beautiful. You, too, can lead a beautiful life.

(Instagram Syndrome, anyone?)

So Segal is right, in the passage I’ve quoted above: cooking produces ephemera, essentially. And yet — and yet — it doesn’t feel that way. When you look at a food photograph; when you tell yourself you’ll make it; when you go out and buy the ingredients and come home and spend a couple of hours cooking it; when you dish it up on the table and eat it with your loved ones — when you do all this, you feel like what you have in front of you is a thing, as Segal puts it: a thing that you made.

Even if, in the end, all you do is read the damn recipe and look at the damn photographs — still, that promise gusts through you. You might make this recipe. You might produce something beautiful. You might just make something.

I’ve spoken about my love of baking before. I’m sure I’m as sucked in by the ephemera industry as anyone else, but still, I keep going back for more. There’s always another cake to make, right? And the next one you make might even turn out to look as beautiful as it did in the photograph you spent so many hours drooling and dreaming over …

My own food photographs, as the pictures in this post amply illustrate, lack all the qualities that good food photographs require. Still, in case you should want to join the ephemera celebration, here’s a list of some of my (current) favourite food blogs:

delightful crumb
(for thoughtful words and beautiful recipes from Stacy in California)
oh, ladycakes
(for meticulously photographed vegan baking from Ashlae in Denver, Colorado)
ruby & cake
(for food with a lovely and quirky slant from Ruby in the Blue Mountains, Australia)
what should I eat for breakfast today
(for simple breakfast recipes from the wonderful, drily humorous Marta)
three little halves
(for gorgeous photos and illustrations from Aleksandra in New York)
Brooklyn supper
(from Elizabeth and Brian in New York)
eat in my kitchen
(for simple, stylish recipes from Mieke in Berlin)
the alimental sage
(for sporadic but lovely recipes from Camilla in Melbourne, Australia)
(for tasty recipes and hilarious commentary
from my French, bench-loving friend Anne in Perth)

Happy cooking (and dreaming), everyone! Rebecca xo

A certain light

July 1, 2017 § 3 Comments

Other people’s words about … vanity (etc.)

Matt’s mother had the bluest of eyes and still wore her hair long, adding henna to soften the appearance of white strands in the black. One of her friends trimmed it for her. ‘Now that you’re forty, maybe you should think of cutting it short.’

His mother looked stricken. ‘I will one day. But not yet. Not yet.’

Her hair was her only vanity. She wore no make-up, and dressed always in shorts or jeans and men’s shirts she bought at op-shops. Even at work she got away with a tidy variation of her uniform, as she called it.

She said that lipstick rotted your brain.

from ‘Mahalia
by Joanne Horniman

Like Matt’s mother in the passage above, I don’t wear any kind of make-up, a habit that stems partly from choice and principle, and partly — honestly? — from laziness and ineptitude. (Which came first — not knowing how to wear make-up, or not wanting to be bothered with it? I can’t say for sure.) I don’t colour or style my hair, either, though I did recently re-introduce myself to a hairdryer after decades of simply washing my hair and letting it dry naturally (or just tying it up, still wet, in a ponytail or a straggly bun in an effort to forget about it).

‘I think you are a rebel, Rebecca,’ an Italian hairdresser said to me wryly, years ago, when I insisted he just wash my hair and trim it and — shock, horror — just leave it at that.

And I thought — I truly thought, with the arrogance of youth — that he meant it as a compliment, though now I’m not so sure.

You used to tell yourself that your hair, with its grey, sometimes made you look blond in certain light or from a distance, but now it really looks as grey as a sad cloudy day, as bleak as crows calling in a fallow field on a sad cloudy day, as miserable as cold rain beginning to fall on that sad cloudy day in that fallow field with the crows wheeling overhead, calling their faraway call that reaches into your heart and splays it open.

from ‘This is the Water
by Yannick Murphy

There is a joy in Horniman’s mother, a joy in the way she views her own appearance, that is entirely absent in the middle-aged narrator in Murphy’s novel: that woman with the fallow, splayed-open heart. Still, depending on my mood, I can feel affinity with either of them at any particular given time. And I wonder, how can that be, when the two women seem so far apart?

The truth is, like Horniman and Murphy, I’m not really talking about vanity here anymore. There’s a fine line between being proud of yourself just the way you are, ‘naturally’, and being filled with futile despair about the havoc that the ageing process and life in general have begun to wreak on you, inside and out. I find myself treading back and forth over that line all the time. Is that a part of ageing? Or of being a woman? Or of something else entirely? I don’t know.

What I do know is this: sometimes the sky is sad and bleak and cloudy, as Murphy describes it, and sometimes it is clear, but it is always wide and high and open. And what keeps it that way is the light that shines behind and through …

Snatched phrases on … the weather

June 21, 2017 § 2 Comments

‘Someone once told me it was bad blogging and boring writing
to wax lyrical about the weather but I can’t help it.
And I am not sorry.’

from Ruby and Cake blog,

Well, as you may have guessed by now, I’m with Ruby on this. I love waxing lyrical about the weather, and have been doing so, on and off, ever since I began writing this blog, back in April 2014.

And when I’m not waxing lyrical about the weather, I’m taking photographs in celebration of it instead. So, to continue the weather celebrations, here are some photos from one of my latest saunters out and about.

This particular jaunt through the Aldinga Wetlands took place in early June, a time of year when we expect rain and clouds and wind here in South Australia. But, as I’ve mentioned several times before recently, in my usual waxing-lyrical-about-the-weather mode, that’s not the weather we’ve had at all this June. This day was just one of a number lately that began cold, crisp and clear, and progressed into soft, still sunniness.

If I were to say anything more here about how clear and true the sun shone as I wandered through the wetlands that day, or about how the sunshine filled me with joy, I’d be venturing into waxing-purple territory. (That, I believe, is the stage that follows the waxing-lyrical stage.) So I’ll leave you to enjoy these photos without further ado.

Although PS Like Ruby, as far as talking about the weather goes, I’m. Just. Not. Sorry.

Out and about … but still reading!

June 16, 2017 § 4 Comments

I don’t have a quote for you today: just a link to a post by the lovely Sophie of Wholehearted Eats, whose healthy-cooking blog I often drop in and read. In her post, Sophie, someone who has experienced anxiety all her life, suggests creating an anxiety toolbox — a kit you can (metaphorically) carry around with you at all times, full of techniques and strategies you can use when and if you need to. I’ve often toyed with the idea of sharing some of the techniques that I’ve learned over the years to cope with anxiety, she writes, but never got around to it.

Till now, that is.

Vineyards on Thomas Street

Head on over and see what you think. Perhaps you, like me, will find some of Sophie’s techniques helpful.

Meanwhile, as for me, I’ve been out and about a lot on my bike recently, exercise being one of the greatest feel-good strategies I know and keep in my own toolbox. The gorgeous sunny weather we’ve been having this autumn and winter has added to the joy I’ve felt getting on my bike and pedalling away from home.

Eucalypt and vines

The different shades of autumn in the vineyard (Branson Road)

The photos in today’s post all come from one of my recent bike rides, this time around the Aldinga/McLaren Vale area. It was a still, sunny day, and every moment of that ride was uplifting.

At the top of Branson Road

Sheoaks in golden bloom, vineyards and … my bike (of course)

I hope these photos leave you feeling uplifted, too.

A beautiful thing

June 12, 2017 § 3 Comments

Other people’s words about … appetite

To say that I ‘lost’ my appetite during those years would be a joke. On the contrary, I ate, slept, and breathed appetite. I thought about food constantly, pored over food magazines and restaurant reviews like a teenage boy with a pile of porn, copied down recipes on index cards: breads, cakes, chocolate desserts, pies with the richest fillings, things I longed for and wouldn’t let myself have. In truth, I had appetites the size of Mack trucks — driving and insistent longings for food and connection and bodily pleasure — but I found their very power too daunting and fearsome to contend with, and so I split the world into the most rigid place of black and white, yes and no.

from ‘Appetites
by Caroline Knapp

Appetite is a strange, fickle creature. I remember feeling, years ago, when I first read Caroline Knapp’s words in the passage I’ve quoted today, an overwhelming sense of recognition and kinship. I have always had a strong, keen appetite, and back then, when I read Knapp’s book, I felt ashamed of this fact; I fought my driving and insistent longings for food and connection and bodily pleasure.

I don’t feel that way now; my life is on a different keel. In fact, the periodic bouts of nausea I experience lead me to feel the very opposite. During these bouts of sickness, I would give anything — anything at all — to feel hungry.

Part of what I miss when my appetite is gone is the sense of anticipation that I, like all of us, experience with regards to food: the sense of looking forward to something I know will be pleasurable — whether we’re talking solitary pleasures here (sitting on the porch in the sunshine with a plate of cake on my knee and a pot of tea at my feet) or shared pleasures (a meal with family or friends). Anticipation, I realise now, is a pleasure in and of itself. Strip away anticipation and you strip away, with it, a great source of pleasure from your life.

Still, what I have learned is that there are other pleasures to anticipate, apart from food; other things to look forward to; other things, in a way, to hunger for, and then — finally — to savour. These days, the moment I start to feel a little better after a bout of sickness, the moment the nausea begins to fade, I make a big effort to stop languishing inside my house. I take a deep breath and then start seeking out, immediately, the things I know will bring me pleasure.

A while back, I quoted some words from Sarah Wilson about managing anxiety by (to paraphrase) simply doing it, leaving it, and moving on. Wilson’s words, I see, apply here, too. Anxiety, after all, is only one source of anguish: sickness is another. By not dwelling on our anguish, by actively making ourselves move on from it, we allow a sense of anticipation and pleasure to return to our lives.

We allow our appetite for life to flourish once again.

If I could go back in time and give my younger self advice now, I would counsel her to cherish her appetite rather than to be daunted by it (Knapp’s word). I would tell her that hunger and appetite are vital to life. I would tell her that hunger, like appetite, is a beautiful thing. And I would tell her to look up, out and around at the world. To savour the things she sees and experiences. To savour all the pleasures life has to offer.

I took the photos you see in today’s post on a recent bike ride around the Aldinga Beach/Port Willunga area. I had not been feeling particularly well in the days prior to this; I had slept poorly as a result; and I cycled slowly on that ride, feeling tired and not terribly fit.

Still, it was good to be out there. I had looked forward to that ride, and I enjoyed it. It felt good to be alive.

But no-one was awake

June 6, 2017 § 2 Comments

Other people’s words about … the sound of the sea

Sometime after midnight the rain and the wind stopped. The room filled with the sound and smell of the ocean, both amplified somehow, as if it were about to pour through the windows, full of storm debris — ground up shells, rotting wood, seaweed, the husks of marine animals, endless other fragments suspended in the salt water, all of it caught in the roar of the waves. But by then there was no one awake to hear.

from ‘The Restorer
by Michael Sala

Living as I do between two houses close to the sea, I’ve noticed how the smell that drifts towards each house from the beach differs not just from day to day, but also from house to house. Our house at Taperoo is pretty much at sea level, and though it stands several streets back from the beach, on days when the wind is westerly, blowing straight off the ocean, the air that drifts into our yard is rank with the smell of salt and damp sand and rotting seaweed.

The sea is shallow at Taperoo, too; you can wade out for quite some distance from the shore, heading towards the horizon, without the water rising much above waist level. You can see this, I hope, in the photos illustrating this post, all of which I took a few weeks ago on one of my early-autumn strolls along the beach.

But it’s the sound of the sea I’m thinking of right now, rather than the scents or the sights. Tonight I’m in the house at Taperoo; as I write, it’s three o’clock in the morning and — unlike in Michael Sala’s description, quoted above — I am awake to hear the roar of the waves.

I’ve always been a light sleeper, and, sensibly, my partner long since gave up trying to share the night-time hours with me. I can hear him now in the room next door, rolling over in his sleep, the springs of his mattress creaking, the bedpost knocking against the wall. At the other end of the house, on his blanket in the laundry, our dog sleeps, too, sighing and licking his chops, letting out a little snore.

So I’m the only one awake right now. Somehow, the sound of the sea through the window comforts me in my sleeplessness, connecting me to something outside myself, outside my house, outside this long, dark, lonely night.

In the morning, the sea will sound different — more distant, somehow, less intimate. But morning isn’t here yet.

Not yet.

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