Back to Bali

I have flown to Indonesia for the Ubud Readers & Writers Festival 2023 (URWF), a fascinating four days of inspirational talks with a wealth of literary talent that is held in Bali every October. The programme introduces a plethora of writers from all over the globe: novelists and screenwriters; poets and biographers; academics and political commentators; journalists, and even a song writer. I made a last-minute decision to join the fun, and it has been one of the great decisions of my life.

As I suspected, it has got a lot busier in Bali since I last dropped in, almost ten years ago. The road to Ubud is bumper to bumper traffic, all the way. The taxi driver promises it will take an hour and a half to reach Ubud from the airport. It takes three. The views across rice paddies have been submerged under endless concrete boxes: shops, hotels, houses, more shops. The motorbikes have reached plague proportions.

Before I become too despondent, my thoughtful driver pulls into a restaurant so I can visit the WC and grab a bite to eat. And I suddenly realize that the rice paddies and lush green gardens have not disappeared altogether, they are just hiding behind the phalanx of buildings hemming both sides of the narrow road. So, I order a fresh coconut and Ikan Goreng. This is a nostalgic favourite from our years in Thailand many moons ago – a whole fish, marinated and deep fried, so you can literally pick the flesh from the bones, crispy on the outside, soft in the centre.

I relax into my armchair to enjoy a peaceful moment on the terrace, overlooking those elusive rice paddies, the palm trees heavily pregnant with coconuts. I have forgotten what real humidity feels like and am immensely grateful for the breeze that dries the perspiration on my skin and gently rattles the palm fronds. Nonetheless, I am delighted when we finally reach my hotel and I can plunge under a cold shower with a gasp, as my core temperature drops twenty degrees in five seconds.

At the top end of town is Taman Baca, with one barn-like bamboo hall and a large marquee – which has air conditioning, thank heavens! Next door, at Indus Restaurant, a large terrace overlooks the valley, and is packed with chairs where eager readers gather to meet their favourite authors. At any time between 9am and 6pm all three venues are packed, while local hotels and restaurants are hosting book launches, poetry readings, dinner and discussion, art and music events, and writing masterclasses. It is impossible to get to everything – too many run concurrently, so it becomes a toss-up – but I do my best.

The URWF is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Begun in the wake of the Bali bombings, it was conceived by Australian-born Janet DeNeefe, her Balinese husband Ketut Suardana, and their daughter Laksmi DeNeefe Suardana, to tempt visitors back to this popular holiday island. Twenty years on, it has proved a resounding success, and become a renowned event on the literary circuit. In 2020 and 2021, thanks to Covid, it became a ‘virtual’ event and went online, but it is now back in the real world with a vengeance. The theme this year is ‘Past, Present & Future.’ As the program says, the festival is showcasing established and emerging writers, artists and scholars ‘who will share their vision of history, current affairs and the future of our world.’

While there are all sorts of literary options, I am justifying my presence by sitting in on every session about biography, memoir and historical fiction – all relevant to my current research. Yet, between fabulous sessions with Australian historical novelists Anna Funder and Geraldine Brooks, Kurdish journalist and poet Behrouz Boochani, and Anglo-Nigerian fiction writer Bernadine Evaristo, there is still time to mingle with poets, journalists and short story writers. There are panels talking about climate change, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and political art. There are discussions on writing children’s books and crime fiction, trauma memoirs and historical fiction. We listen to talks with the women shaping Indonesian fiction and reflect on the two decades of the URWF. There were some terrific talkers, particularly when considering this is a demographic notorious for being introverted. And there were also some excellent moderators, such as Annabel Crabb, David Sly and Kirsti Melville.

Indisputably, there is a boatload of talent here, both established and emerging, but also a bright and enthusiastic array of spectators, from myriad countries, aged 8-80 years, and every colour of the gender rainbow. Ubud is buzzing. One evening, I attend a dinner on the far side of town. ‘River of Words’ is an eclectic gathering of poets, who weave magic with their words as we sip pomelo gin cocktails and nibble on a local version of skordalia spread thickly on chunks of lightly fried bread. Behrouz Boochani and the Palestinian poet Ghayath Almadhoun are joined by indigenous Australian Susie Anderson and a young Scot, Michael Pederson, with an awe-inspiring gift of the gab. We listen, entranced, and the tears flow at Almadhoun’s poem about his devastated homeland.

For four days and beyond, the flow of words and ideas is exhilarating and absorbing, intoxicating and habit-forming. My big tip is to book a flight and a ticket for 2024 as soon as possible. My smaller tip: book an hotel with a pool near the venue, so you can always pop out for a quick dip when the heat gets too oppressive. Now I’m off to cook up some Nasi Goreng and crank up the heating, and pretend I’m still in Ubud…

PS For any Redgum fans out there, I did ride on a motorbike, but didn’t crash, no Bali belly, no tropical rash, been there, done that, I’ve been to Bali too!

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We clamber over dunes that heap sand into my shoes,
until a broad flat beach stretches before us –
west to the estuary and east to the hills –
Sky, sand, sea, space, to the end of my fingertips,
the scent of salt and seaweed gliding past my nose.

In the distance, a mirage glimmers like water,
blurring the horizon, smudging the hills.
In the foreground, a colony of crab holes
speckle the surface of the sand like pinpricks,
like tiny craters, a miniature moonscape.

A pair of oyster catchers nestle, coyly,
at the centre of the beach,
immersed in their own world,
oblivious to their vulnerability,
their beaks a crimson beacon.

Beside the surf, a handful of horses gather,
eager to gallop yet contained.
Patient with nervous young riders,
the gentle waves nipping at their hooves,
a gentle breeze tickling their manes.

A moated sandcastle – a sand city –
crowned with grey-and-gnarly driftwood,
long bleached by sun and sea,
long deserted by its small creators,
like Mont Saint Michel, adrift in sand.

Leaving shallow footprints behind us,
we wander towards the hills.
Warily, they step back and back,
never letting us too close,
till we tire of the chase and turn home.

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Blogging 101

I went to a writing class some time ago that, in retrospect, seems a little daft. Blogging 101, after I have been writing this particular blog for over a decade? So, why did I go? You might well ask. I was hoping to pick up some tips. I have altered very little on She Gathers No Moss, since a friend first helped me set it up all those years ago. Technically, I am as illiterate as ever. Economically, it is still a labour of love. I blog because some of you are kind enough to say you enjoy reading it. I blog because it’s good exercise for the brain, and for the typing fingers (all three of them). I continue to blog based on a love of writing, as well as a love for the things I write about: food, wine, travel, history…

“Why blog? What do you want to blog about?” These were the first questions our lecturer asked. I think I already answered that. Some people blog to create business, others to promote a brand. Some – remember ‘Julie & Julia’? – are lucky/ organized/clever/committed enough to make money from it. I learned that day about all the very clever things people can do with their blogs, that I mostly don’t. I try to post regularly. Generally, with new material. Two boxes ticked anyway.

Her final advice? Do what suits you and your blog. Don’t be distracted, confused or trapped by what others are doing.

OK. Great. Then I blog as if I am writing a regular newspaper column and hope I am communicating with my audience. But I guess, at the end of the day, I blog because I enjoy it. If you enjoy it too, hip hip hooray! Bonus!

As a kid, I wanted to write whole novels, but it turns out that an essay length article is about the extent of my concentration span. When I walk into a book shop and see the space piled high with books I am yet to read, I panic about running out of time. And I wonder if I actually have anything to add to this mountain of words that hasn’t been said a million times before.

Don’t get me wrong, I love-love-love bookshops. Like a kid with a box of chocolates, there’s no way I can ever stop at one. But when there is so much writing in the world, how does anyone avoid the accusation of banality, cliché, stereotype or  platitude? Isn’t there a theory that there are only seven plots in the world?

And yet, and yet…

The imagination is such a wondrous thing and language such an infinite gift that we never seem to run out of creative ideas, or new ways of saying things that we feel are worth sharing with the rest of the world. We love to play with language. To test its boundaries and invent new words if the old ones have got a little stale. Our words weave us together. Our friends, our families, complete strangers, we become united in our common love of communicating with others, of exploring language and using it for all the things we are trying to express.

But sadly, the pendulum swings, and words are being used to drive us apart. As Australians, we are being forced to choose between yes and no, black and white, fair and unfair, past and present. Our politicians are wrangling over something that we should have dealt with years ago, and they are dragging the rest of us into an expensive bidding war.

Because, let’s be honest, this referendum will cost a bomb in our post-covid world. Remember that strange moment in time when politicians acted as if money grew on trees, and we could just close down the world for months and there would be no repercussions? What have we learned from that? What will we learn from this new upheaval? Sorry, I really don’t have the answer. But surely dividing to conquer isn’t it?

I have heard both sides of the argument. And whoever I am listening to, as long as they are being reasonable and not simply racist, I believe them. Today, the convincing argument for yes. Tomorrow, the Nos. I have four weeks to decide which box I will tick. To do or not to do. To alter the Constitution in order to recognise the First Peoples of Australia, by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, thus altering the toxic discrimination narrative of the past. (And it has been pretty damn toxic.) Or to leave it alone and avoid the toxic repercussions of an Australia divided? An us and them landscape that undermines a fundamental principle of democracy: the equality of citizenship?

Yep. I know. That concept – the equality of citizenship – hasn’t worked in the past either. Even after women and First Nations people were given the vote. We know it’s been proved time and again that our operating democracy is flawed. But how will the Voice change that?  I have heard it is better to vote yes, to open that door to improving the situation for indigenous Australians. Let’s face it, they tell me, it couldn’t be worse. Other countries have done it before without all this fuss, apparently. Look at Canada and New Zealand. So, I look. And is the situation of their indigenous people so much better for that recognition?

Point two on the proposed alteration to the constitution says that ‘the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.’ Not on matters relating to any other Australians, just to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. OK. Good. That makes sense.

But on the other hand, point three states that ‘the Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.’

So what power does the Voice actually give anyone? The Voice can advise the Parliament, but do Parliament even have to listen, never mind actually act upon that advice? And if we don’t give him the answer he wants, our wise Prime Minister is apparently promising to do it all over again tomorrow. Could that money not be better spent fixing up some of those most obvious flaws? Like Education? And the prison system?

Am I being obtuse? Probably. I swing from one side to the other like a weather-vane. I can see the good and the bad in both choices. Must I simply make the ‘less bad’ choice? Please can someone explain?

So, it seems out that today’s post is neither about food or wine, history or travel. It turns out I also blog to ponder.

With thanks to Google Images.

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Shipping Notes

There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.”  — Joseph Conrad, Polish-British Writer

Growing up in a land of droughts and water restrictions, I love the water, despite the fact that I am neither a swimmer nor a sailor. Very much NOT a sailor! I don’t mind the odd ferry, but I have never pondered much on the joys of a cruise, and heaven help anyone ever asking me on a sailing boat. I am the opposite of an albatross. Boats capsize, sails rip, anchors vanish to the bottom of the sea at the mere thought of having me on board.

Yet I do like to live near the water. The beach, a river, a lake, a large puddle. And despite my lack of sea legs, I still believe in Van Morrison’s words: “Smell the sea and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly.”

I loved Swallows and Amazons as a child. And on one long road trip years later, I read Sandy Mackinnon’s book ‘The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow’ out loud to the One & Only. It is about a mad Australian bloke sailing a mirror dinghy across the English Channel and through the European waterways to the Black Sea. He must have been loopy, I thought, to take on such a trip in something that would fit in a bottle or a snow globe.

Yet while I am not inclined to travel on the open seas, or even in a mirror dinghy, I have long dreamed of owning a canal boat and living the life of a Barge Woman. I may not want to sail solo round the globe, but I do rather like the notion of living on the water in a canal boat or barge, drifting along a river or through the Norfolk Broads. Somewhere only a few feet from land. 

As I research my family history, however, it seems I am constantly drawn to the sea, albeit reluctantly. So many pioneer ancestors braved the world’s largest oceans to reach South Australia, sailing from England on a trip that took months. Hannah Kent depicted the horrors of disease and sea sickness suffered on such a journey all too clearly in her novel, ‘Devotion’. As did my ancestor Mary Thomas, aboard the Africaine and “bound for South Australia… with ninety-nine souls on board.” While there were undoubtedly moments of merriment, Mary admitted in her diary that it was hard to keep up her spirits, when children were sick with scarlet fever and “the ship rolled about so nothing would stay in its place and during the night we were in total darkness.”

Then I went to Tasmania with the One & Only, and I finally began to understand the passion that others have for boats. And not just a Wind in the Willows ‘ messing-about-in-boats’ rowboat, but really beautiful specimens, made from Huon or Oregon Pine, Blackwood or Western Red Cedar.

John & Ruth Young set up The Wooden Boat Building School on the banks of the Huon River, at Franklin thirty years ago. Using the best woods available, they have invested time, money and a lot of skill into reinvigorating Tasmania’s proud shipbuilding heritage, as they work to preserve the skills of building boats from wood. A quote on the wall by master boat builder Athol Walter said: “God doesn’t make fibreglass trees”.

We arrived in time for a tour, to find volunteers and students working on the final touches of boats to be exhibited at Hobart’s Wooden Boat Festival that was just days away.

This biennial festival, which began in 1994, celebrates the rich heritage, craftsmanship, and culture associated with wooden boats. The largest boat festival in the southern hemisphere, enthusiasts pour into Hobart from all over the world.

When it began, it was a modest affair, when 180 beautiful wooden boats were moored in Constitution Dock. This past summer, 11 historic tall ships, 290 classic yachts and traditional fishing boats filled the docks beside Salamanca market., while onshore, there were a further 120 ashore boats and literally hundreds of smaller boats.

Back at base, the WBBS offers a  one year shipwright course and a variety of shorter courses that will provide students with the hands on experience to build boats, both  traditional and modern.

Apparently, Vikings making boats like these 1000 years ago using iron nails or wooden pegs to hold it together. Now, you can do a 12–13-week course to build a clinker dinghy – the tinny of its time. It is, or was, a dying trade, where timber was mostly used just for the interiors. Here at WBBS, they are trying to preserve the skills of wooden boat building, that include a clinker style method – like weatherboard – of overlapping planks. Then there is a process called caulking that provides a waterproof filler and sealant with rope of cotton or hemp ‘oakum’. A steam box is used to soften the wood so it’s more flexible, but you have to move fast to shape and fix it.

And in the meantime, I remember the joys of ‘Three Men and a Boat’ and ‘Wind in the Willows’, and dream of floating down the Thames towards Windsor with the ducks and white swans, while humming a favourite tune, Christy Moore’s ‘Voyage’:

I am a sailor, you’re my first mate
We signed on together, we coupled our fate
Hauled up our anchor, determined not to fail
For the hearts treasure, together we set sail

With no maps to guide us we steered our own course
Rode out the storms when the winds were gale force
Sat out the doldrums in patience and hope
Working together we learned how to cope

Life is an ocean and love is a boat
In troubled water that keeps us afloat
When we started the voyage, there was just me and you
Now gathered round us, we have our own crew…

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The Many Faces of the Adelaide Parklands

“Though I have lived in London for longish periods at various times in my life, I have never been a Londoner, so that its associations to me are more literary and historic than personal. Every time I visit it, I am saddened by seeing changes for the worse: the growing inelegance; the loss of character; the disappearance of landmarks and their replacement by flat and faceless glass houses.” ~  Don’t Tell Alfred, by Nancy Mitford

Nancy Mitford wrote these words in the late 1950s. How much more would she feel had changed for the worse in the seven decades since? Yet much has also changed for the better. Wondrous modern structures like the Shard now loom on the horizon, and vacant bomb sites have been filled. Rationing had only recently ended. The Thames is a much a cleaner river, and so is the air. Between 1948 and 1962 the smog could get so bad that smoke concentrations were 56 times higher than the normal level and visibility was so bad that people could not see where they were walking.

As I crystallize into a grumpy old woman bemoaning the horrors of the modern world, I find my own thoughts echoing Nancy Mitford’s, when walking through Adelaide. Once a flat, open plain between sea and hills, inhabited only by the Kaurna and dotted with emus, wallabies and kangaroos, by the late nineteenth century there were 160,000 European settlers living in the new built town of Adelaide with its broad streets, green parks and Victorian buildings of stone and red brick, decorated with finials and furbelows, and none more than three stories high. Our first ‘skyscraper’ was the Vercoe Building on North Terrace, built six stories high in 1912. Today, our tallest building – Frome Central Tower One – has 37 floors.

Back in 1900, the city’s trams were pulled by horses. The electric trams that followed have come and gone and come again. The Town Hall and the Post Office building remain – although no longer a post office – but many of the older, shorter buildings have long been replaced by high rises of startling sobriety and unloveliness.

And yet, the wide belt of parkland that encircles our city and North Adelaide – for all that we keep encroaching upon it – is still a wondrous memorial to the foresight of our forefathers, as Kerryn Goldsworthy remarks in her little book ‘Adelaide.’  “Despite the best efforts of developers… the city has somehow managed to retain most of the original green belt…” wrapping the CBD and north Adelaide in its protective hug.

In 1837, William Light proposed that the ‘park grounds’ include 700 acres south of the River Torrens and 342 acres north of the river. He also included 46 acres of city squares in his plan: Hindmarsh, Hurtle, Light, Whitmore and Wellington and Victoria. Originally, the parklands consisted of more 2,300 acres.

Once filled with an abundance of wildlife, this changed rapidly as the population of the city grew. First settled in 1836, less than two decades later much of the parkland had been cleared of trees for building and firewood, scarred by clay and lime pits, over-grazed by cattle, goats and sheep, covered in rubbish dumps and emptied of native animals.  As native vegetation was removed, settlers introduced many foreign species to create a more European style landscape. The river was soon polluted by tanneries, logging and chemical plants.

Sadly, in the early days, the indigenous Kaurna people were deemed a nuisance and pushed to the fringes of the new town, their nudity a horror to the English women, their corroborees described as “discordant orgies.” All too soon their numbers dwindled, and the Kaurna faded from the scene. According to one observer, “the introduction of civilised habits seems to be fatal to their continued existence, independently of the vices and disease we have brought among them, to our disgrace, which have hastened their destruction.”

Attempts were made to curtail the damage in 1850. Squatters and aboriginals were unceremoniously removed from the parklands, and the area fenced. Yet the misuse continued. In 1880, the City Council requested a plan for the beautification of the Park Lands. Although the report was presented later that year, it was not acted upon for almost two decades. Finally, in 1899, progress was made in planting and landscaping the parklands.

Despite attempts to contain the damage, in 1936, it was reported that more than 25% of the total area had been leased for other purposes. A survey in 2003 noted that originally the parklands were designated community land that could not be sold, yet much had been alienated for State and Federal Government purposes. By 2018, the Adelaide Parklands Preservation Society claimed that 570 acres have been misappropriated from the original parcel of land designated as parklands for the people of Adelaide.

On the south side of the Torrens, the linear park maintains a narrow strip of public walking paths between the river and the elegant nineteenth century public buildings along North Terrace. These buildings include the Railway Station, Parliament Houses (old and new), Government House, the museum, the South Australian State Library and Art Gallery, and two universities.

Unfortunately, post-war expansion “took place amid a welter of bad taste and expediency’ and in a spirit of ‘architectural self-mutilation,” as Derek Whitelock describes it in his book ‘Adelaide from Colony to Jubilee: a sense of difference.’  The beautiful Victorian Exhibition Building at the end of Pulteney Street was demolished in 1962 to make way for the incredibly unattractive Napier Tower, to house the University of Adelaide’s arts students. (This photo from the State Library archives c. 1887). And many tasteful buildings on the south side of North Terrace were knocked down to make way for modern carparks with no eye-appeal whatsoever.

 The Festival Centre, built in the 1970s, stood out like a sore thumb on the riverbank for decades, contrasting dramatically with those older buildings on North Terrace. The passing years have made it more familiar and much loved, but its odd, iconic angles have long been overshadowed by newer, larger and taller constructions such as the gold and glittering Casino, the Convention Centre’s vast hangars and the pink Intercontinental Hotel. While these undoubtedly set a somewhat discordant tone, they are still more attractive than the latest eyesore on the Festival Plaza, which blocks out views of both the Festival Centre and our neoclassical Parliament House, standing grimly ungracious like a huge black tombstone to the memory of a more elegant age.

While I am undoubtedly morphing into a crabby old woman who decries all modern development, am I wrong in denouncing this ugly commercial building and its inappropriate construction on a prime position of public land above the Torrens? After all, in 1882, as a Mr. Twopenny wrote “the conception of this belt of verdure, on which none but public buildings may be erected… has always seemed to me a masterpiece of wisdom in city planning, and hardly less admirable are the five open reserves in the city which serve as its lungs.” Such wisdom seems to have been sadly neglected and over-ridden since the seventies, as commercial buildings have crept in along that once graceful boulevard, North Terrace.

But enough whinging. I will move on to the leafier parts of the parklands and introduce a more positive note.

In 1997, recognising Kaurna heritage, and the prior occupation of this land by the Kaurna people, the Adelaide City Council drew up a Reconciliation Vision Statement and committed to a dual naming project of all the squares within the city centre and to each of the  parks throughout the parklands. Working closely with Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi (KWP), Kaurna Elders and Council’s Reconciliation Committee, the Adelaide City Council has assigned both a Kaurna and an English name to every park and square. Thus, Victoria Square is also signed Tarntanyangga, and the River Torrens also bears the name Karrawirra Parri.

And while the parklands have been trimmed to widen roads – or to build that ridiculous tunnel for the O-bahn buses – the parklands still offer Adelaideans a great expanse of free space and sports grounds. They are also much cleaner and better cared for than they have been in the past. Today, while native animals are still scarce, there is a plethora of birds: the galahs feed on the ovals at twilight; the ducks bob about in the wetlands and along the river; the magpies chortle in the gum trees, and a vast colony of fruit bats chitter in the trees on the edge of Botanic Park.

As a child, I remember playing on the pirate ship climbing frame in the west parklands at Bonython Park/ Tulya Wardli. This park was also where the circus set up when it came to town, although the lions frightened me away at an early age. Popeye – a green riverboat – took sightseers from the weir to the Festival Centre and on to the zoo for almost fifty years. Named after the cartoon character, the first Popeye was built of jarrah and launched in 1935, and could hold up to twenty people. Four more, slightly larger Popeyes soon followed. These operated until 1982, when the iconic green wooden boats were replaced by three blue, fibreglass passenger ferries that can seat eighty passengers each. A sign on the Lounder’s Boathouse claims that “Adelaide wouldn’t swap this miniature waterway and fleet for the Grand Canal and all the gondolas of Venice.” Today, there are also paddle boats and two, round BBQ boats for hire along the banks of the Torrens.

On the eastern side of the parklands, dog walkers still do laps of the old Victoria Park Racecourse aka Pakapakanthi. Home of the Adelaide Racing Club until 2010, when the horses were moved to Morphettville, Victoria Park/Pakapakanthi is better known these days for its Supercar races. And for a decade (1985-95) it was also the venue for the Australian Grand Prix. Today, keen cricketers bring their families for a day of play and picnics.

In the North Adelaide parklands below LeFevre terrace, you can still see horses – a long tradition that has been maintained since the times when local delivery men kept their cart horses here. Scattered throughout the parklands are sports fields, tennis courts, an archery club, boatsheds, a golf course, a swimming pool, and of course the iconic Adelaide Oval.

There is a zoo, a botanic gardens and a couple of public high schools. There are dog parks, playgrounds and barbecues. An old olive grove still stands on parklands beside East Terrace, another in the north parklands near Melbourne Street. And, quite recently, the wetlands established in the southeast corner have added a new dimension to the walking paths around the old racecourse. Cycle paths allow riders to dodge the city bound traffic, and eucalypts, once replaced by shady English trees, are gradually returning. Although you can still find the remains of an old carriageway lined with elm trees in the south parklands near St Andrew’s Hospital.

During the Adelaide Fringe Festival in February and March, Rymill/Murlawirrapurka Park, (the name of a Kaurna Elder early colonists referred to as King John), has become the home of Gluttony, while neighbouring Rundle/Kadlitpina Park (named after another Kaurna elder at the time of British settlement) hosts the Garden of Unearthly Delights. For weeks, these parks are packed with people, tents, food and performing artists of all kinds.

At quieter times of year, the parklands provide a wide variety of walking paths. While I have done sections of the linear park along the Torrens – a 30km hike from the hills to the sea – I have yet to walk the Adelaide Park Lands Trail. This 19.5km loop around the city, takes walkers and cyclists through every aspect of the parklands. And unlike those dreadful smogs in London, the air is as clear as Sesame Street! Maybe, when spring has finally sprung, I will go a-wandering…

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Silo Art

Many years ago, we drove across the central plains of Canada, following the railway in an almost straight line from the rim of Shoal Lake to the Rocky Mountains. For almost two thousand kilometres, through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, much of the landscape is as flat as a pancake, apart from the occasional grain silo standing like a beacon beside the railway line.

In country Australia, similar silos are being used to promote rural towns by inviting local and international artists to paint them. Giant murals of native birds, our unique Australian mammals, farm animals and local heroes, these vast and vivid displays are attracting tourists to many out-of-the way, off-the-beaten track, middle-of-nowhere, beyond-the-black-stump kind of towns.

While the One & Only was walking the Heysen Trail, we came across a beauty in Wirrabara. Painted by Sam Bates – aka SMUG – this contemporary, Australian-born street artist, now based in Scotland, came home to create some amazingly realistic murals with cans of spray paint. This one, in the mid-north, just west of Peterborough, features Tumby Bay farmer, Dion LeBrun, a pair of Red-capped robins and eucalypts – what else? – in the background.

There are currently more than sixty painted silos across New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, and they are growing in popularity.

The One & Only took our youngest on a road trip a couple of years ago to find silos in north-western Victoria, which started at Patchewollock and included those at Sheep Hills. Here Victorian artist and ‘street culture kid’ Matt Adnate has told the story of Indigenous Australians on six enormous silos in loud, strong colours that stand out like sore thumbs from the dusty paddocks surrounding them. The faces of two Elders, one man, one woman, and symbols of the ancestral past, look in towards their youth and their future, Curtly and Savannah. After a stint in Spain, Adnate went on to paint huge murals in inner city Melbourne suburbs. His reputation grew and he has often been invited to countries where he became fascinated by other First Nation cultures.

Last week, we were meandering along a back road towards Melbourne and found a short trail in north-eastern Victoria: Tungamah, St James, Devenish and Goorambat. Artists, both local and international, are getting creative on these vast canvases. No artist myself, I’m guessing that it can’t be easy to get the perspective right on a curved surface, not to mention painting on such a huge scale. Cherry pickers can help, but it is still an enormous undertaking.

The first one we came to was at Tungamah, on the banks of Boosey Creek. Apparently, these silo paintings, commissioned in 2018, were the first to be completed in north-eastern Victoria. And having set such a fine an example, three more towns along the same railway line heading south soon followed suit. These first three at Tungamah, depicting native birds, were painted by Western Australia street artist Sobrane Simcock, our first female silo artist. On the two taller concrete silos, there are dancing Brolgas, almost 30m high. The shorter silo has been decorated with a collection of our favourite birds: a Kookaburra, a Galah, a kingfisher, a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, blue wrens and a white Ibis hiding in the long grass.

In St James, Tim Bowtell has painted murals to the memory of GJ Coles of the supermarket chain, who was born here in 1885. He has also painted images of the huge cart horses who pulled the wagons carrying bags of wheat to the railway sidings from the 1880s. Bowtell, a street artist from the area, has painted murals on silos and water-tanks, shipping containers and old RSL buildings.

At Devenish, the silos have been painted to memorialise the men and women from the area who enlisted during and since World War One. On the two concrete silos there is a modern female army medic beside a WWI nurse, both standing knee-deep in poppies. These were officially unveiled on Anzac Day in 2018, a tribute to the 100-year centenary of the end of the First World War. On the shorter silo, unveiled a year later on Anzac Day 2019, there is a tribute to the Australian Light Horse: a WWI cavalry soldier stands beside his horse.

The mural artist is Cam Scale, who specializes in these large scale figures, which he paints using aerosol, oil and acrylic.

Our final stop was Goorambat. Here, in 2018, Jimmy Dvate began by painting a barking Owl on the tall concrete silo in 2018. His model, Milli, lives at the Healesville Sanctuary in Badger Creek, Victoria. Now an endangered species, locals hope Milli’s huge presence on the silo will help to save these beautiful birds from extinction. The two shorter silos were painted in honour of the local farming community. Three local Clydesdales and multiple award winners – Clem, Sam and Banjo – trot three abreast on one silo. On the other is a scene of an old farmhouse in a paddock, framed by a towering gum tree in the foreground.

Dvate has created many larger-than-life murals of flora and fauna on grain silos, water tanks and large walls, very often working with conservation groups to specifically target endangered species. Formally trained in graphic design and visual arts at Monash University, Dvate has become renowned for his Melbourne street art and graffiti.

Wouldn’t such art have enlivened our drive across Canada? Twenty five years later, and a team of artists from Montreal began turning huge silos in eastern Ontario into similar works of art. Called ‘Popsilos’ the craze began to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. Maybe it’s time to return and see if anyone has picked up the idea farther west…

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Winter Frost & Saperavi

‘For we are the new nomads, the twentieth century, who wander the earth with trailing roots, our possessions portable, our dwellings temporary.’ ~ Charmian Clift

And lo! We are finally on the road again, aboard our trusty VW Camper, Barney.

Since I last wrote of Barney, he has been holed up with a mechanic by the sea, facing numerous organ transplants. Unhappy with his first engine, then his second, we ordered a third, brand new one from Germany, transported, we think, by dinghy, given the time we have waited for its arrival. Numerous other parts have also been replaced, too many to go into detail. He has been made over to such an extent, however, that we wondered if perhaps he wasn’t happy as a boy. So, we have also given he/him a sex change. She/her is now Virginia. Aka Ginny, the Gin Bin. Or perhaps the Tranny Van??We are even considering dusting her in pink paint or covering her in frangipani stickers to complete the transformation.

Anyway, happier she undoubtedly is, in her new form, and she/her has taken us merrily along the roads – gravely potholed though they are – all the way to Beechworth and beyond, via Strathalbyn and Buninyong, Tooberac and Euroa.

It has been jolly cold however, so we have relied on friends and relations to provide sleeping quarters, rather than roughing it in the Great Outdoors. Red wine helps of course, and we did bring an assorted box of liquid refreshment to share along the way.

One we love, but rarely indulge in, is Hugh Hamilton’s ‘The Oddball, made from saperavi grapes. Although a relatively new variety in Australia, saperavi is, nonetheless, an ancient grape that has been popular in the regions around the Caucasus Mountains for 6,000 years or more. Indigenous to Georgia, which lies between the Black and the Caspian Seas, it has also become well known in neighbouring countries such as Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Its name may change depending on the local language, but it will always present as an inky blue/black grape that produces really deep red wines that are great for cellaring. What makes saperavi unusual is that the flesh of the grape is also dark red or purple, unlike most red wine grapes, which have a clear or white pulp. Then, it is the skins, left in the wine juice during fermentation, that provide the colour. With saperavi, the grape juice is red, too, and therefore, when combined with the skins, the juice becomes even darker in colour.

Hardy at high altitude and in extreme cold, saperavi creates a full-bodied wine with an earthy aroma and a taste redolent of cabernet sauvignon. A mouthful roles over the tongue with suggestions of spice and autumn fruits – cherry, blackberry and black plum – but also with savoury notes of liquorice and coffee, leather and tobacco. High in tannin, it can be a good idea to decant it before serving.

Beyond the Caucasus Mountains, only a few wineries are cultivating saperavi. There are a handful in New York and Pennsylvania, and a few more in Australia, but it is still largely unfamiliar to most western wine drinkers. Once made in clay pots or amphorae, the Georgians – who call it a quevri, would line the jug with beeswax, and fill it with unfiltered wine. Buried in the ground, with only its neck exposed, the mouth of the amphorae would then be covered with a lid made of wood or stone, and sealed with clay, and the wine left to ferment naturally. Of course, modern wine makers – particularly those in Australia and America – prefer to use glass bottles and filter the wine before sealing the bottle with a cork. This makes the outcome rather more predictable than the more traditional method.

In McLaren Vale, this traditionally Georgian grape seems to be thriving, although so far from home.  Hugh Hamilton was introduced to it by an old Georgian friend. And he followed a hunch that this unique and ancient grape might just blend rather well with the gutsy McLaren Vale Shiraz. The creation of ‘Black Ops’ (70% shiraz to 30% saperavi) was a somewhat clandestine operation, but the result has had a big impact, and has long been a favourite with Hamilton’s Black Sheep Club members.  And while a few are seen to flinch at the unusual, unfamiliar flavour of the pure saperavi (The Oddball), others are delighted to discover something a bit different. That difference has been highlighted by the unique saperavi labels. Of typically Georgian design, Hugh’s famous black sheep sits proudly in the centre.

And meanwhile we wander on through country Victoria. There are plenty of wineries around here too, but I’ll get on to them another day. Now, its time to pour a sundowner and crank up the heater before the frost sets in.

*I have borrowed the image of ‘The Oddball’ from Hugh Hamilton’s website. Hope that’s OK, Mary?

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Arthur Boyd: The Life of St. Francis

Last weekend, we spent a damp but utterly undreary weekend wandering through North Adelaide, dodging the odd shower, exploring blue plaques on the front gates of 19th century and early 20th century homes, dipping into quirky coffee shops, strolling along tiny back streets, peeking into a basketful of churches, some converted into art galleries.

Then we came across an art gallery at the western end of Melbourne Street – not in a church – that houses The David Roche Collection. David J Roche AM (1930–2013), collected art for almost sixty years and includes paintings, furniture, sculptures, ceramics, and clocks from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1999 he established the David Roche Foundation to house and preserve his collection for future generations, at Fermoy House.

This year, the gallery is also hosting a magnificent Arthur Boyd exhibition: The Life of Saint Francis. The poster caught my eye as we walked down Melbourne Street, bringing up memories of Boyd’s tapestry of trees in Parliament House in Canberra. Commissioned in 1983 for the new Parliament House, it was completed in 1988. Boyd painted a bush scene in the Shoalhaven River area in southern New South Wales, from which the weavers designed a vast tapestry. Nine metres high and almost twenty metres wide, it is awe inspiring. I remember gazing rapturously upon the stand of enormous eucalypts that took fourteen weavers two years to create.

More recently, I became reacquainted with Arthur Boyd through a sketch that belongs to our Lyceum Club, which depicts St Francis blowing one of his companions, Brother Masseo, into the air. And, as it turns out, this sketch is part of his Saint Francis series. Boyd’s tapestry of the scene shows the two naked men, stripped of worldly accoutrements, floating heavenwards.

For my non-Australian readers, Arthur Boyd was an Australian artist from an overly achieving family of artists. His grandfather, parents, brother, wife, and children have all painted. Boyd himself, was a painter, potter and printmaker. The Art Gallery of New South Wales describes him thus:

He painted lyrical and emotive allegories on universal themes of love, loss and shame, often located in the Australian bush… Boyd had a strong social conscience, and his paintings engage deeply with humanitarian issues.

Despite spending a dozen years in London, Boyd often painted Australian landscapes. But he also drew heavily on mythology and religion, and this is apparent in this unusual exhibition in North Adelaide. Borrowed from the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, the exhibition consists of a selection of rarely seen tapestries, lithographs, pastels, and sketches depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assis. In 1975, Boyd left more than 2000 works of art to the NGA and the people of Australia. That same year, the NGA acquired the St Francis tapestries at cost price.

This particular series arose from a trip to Assisi and Gubbio in Italy in 1964. Arthur Boyd created a plethora of drawings in crayon and ink, to capture his initial ideas about St Francis and the stories that particularly piqued his imagination. The drawings became paintings in pastel, and the paintings were used to design twenty tapestries at the Tapeçarias de Portalegre atelier in Portugal. Under Boyd’s direction, weavers then created the St Francis suite over four years.

Each tapestry is 2.5 x 3 metres – and I am looking at my own 2×3 m rugs as I write this and comparing the large wall space needed to hang even one of these stunning creations. According to the gallery notes, there are 2500 stitches per square metre – which is beyond my capacity to imagine – and the collection ‘explores the universal human conditions of love and pain, sacrifice, and compassion through the artist’s highly original interpretation of the legend of the medieval Italian saint.’

The St Francis lithographic suite (25 editions of 21 lithographs) is deceptively simple, the contrast between black and white reflecting the constant battle between good and evil in the life of St Francis. But the vast tapestries – copied from Boyd’s pastel illustrations for Tom Boase’s book about St Francis – use strong, rich colours. Gold, red, orange and splashes of bright blue ‘illustrate… the fire of faith burning bright, a theme that explicitly infuses the legends of St Francis.’

The tapestries are huge, and I was enthralled by the range of the colours used when I peer closely. There is a huge temptation to run ones fingers over the vibrant threads, but I obediently follow instructions and, if somewhat regretfully, kept my hands firmly behind my back.

These glorious tapestries have rarely seen the light of day. In 2009, they escaped briefly from the vaults of National Gallery of Australia, where they had been stored for over thirty years, to be exhibited at the Newman College chapel at Melbourne University. Presumably they went back into the vaults after their short burst of freedom. Until now. Only eight would fit in the wee Newman College chapel. At Fitzroy House, it is possible to immerse oneself in twelve of them, as well as a selection of the drawings, pastels and lithographs from Boyd’s series on St Francis.

The tapestries tell the story of the wealthy childhood of St Francis and his subsequent rejection of his family and a lavish lifestyle, in order to live in poverty as an itinerant preacher. In the past, he has been painted dressed in the simple robes of the Franciscan friar. Boyd mostly draws him naked, often continuing to struggle against temptations of the mind, body and spirit.

Of the dozen on display, I had three or four favourites, and as is my wont, preferred those using the strongest colours. In the tapestry entitled St Francis being beaten by his father, Boyd uses vibrant colours to reflect the heightened emotion in the scene, as St Francis’ father attempts to force his wayward son into submission.  Infuriated by his son’s desire to join the church, the father imprisons Francis and beats him.  In this tapestry, the father is clothed in deep red, leaning over his son in rage, a long stick in his hand, his hair streaming behind him (Boyd uses hair a lot to portray emotion), while Francis cowers at his feet.  The stick divides the figures of father and son and points up to the family gold glittering in the arched window above them, illustrating the father’s love of material possessions above the love of his son and the church. It is the moment when all familial bonds were severed between father and son.

The tapestries are incredibly moving, and the colours used – red, gold, white, black and blue – have special religious significance: black for sin, darkness and death; white for purity, kindness and repentance; red for judgement or Christ’s blood; blue to represent mercy and the spirit of baptism; green for the cycle of life and resurrection, and gold or amber for the glory of God and eternal life. And suddenly, the meaning behind the images go even deeper…

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Comfort Food

“Eating is the only thing that consoles me.” ~ Oscar Wilde, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’

Here in South Australia, winter has brought with it a deluge of rain and some unexpectedly chilly weather. As we shiver and quake through these damp days, the mind turns eagerly to comfort food: pies and puddings, thick soups and gravies. Once known as ‘nursery food’, the Victorians considered it good for the soul – well, for the souls of their children anyway – to be fed on plain, monotonous, starch-ridden food, where meat and vegetables were boiled to oblivion, and yet another rice pudding was enough to send Mary Jane into hysterics (see A.A. Milne’s poem ‘Rice Pudding’).  

Admittedly, poorly cooked nursery food was unpalatable to the extreme, but the thought of hearty, well-cooked meals, be they ever so starchy, is a comfort to the stomach in mid-winter. And the best place I know to find such food is in the cosy confines of a good, old fashioned pub; that English staple that has happily transferred its affections to our own far distant shores.

Last weekend, we spent a couple of nostalgic days roaming through North Adelaide, where English style pubs are plentiful. If not quite on every corner, they compete fiercely for being almost as numerous as those religious sanctuaries that earned us the sobriquet City of Churches. We counted a dozen scattered around this particular postcode, many baptised with suitably Anglicized names: The British, The Kentish, the Queen’s Head, the Royal Oak, the Oxford, the Lion.

Although we no longer indulge in the pub crawls of our student days, we nonetheless found our way to a different pub both nights for dinner and were thoroughly impressed with the traditional menus we found there, filled with schnitzels and steaks, shepherds’ pies and sticky date puddings. Perfect for a wet, wintry night. And, happily, the quality was much better than our poor little Victorian antecedents might once have been forced to eat.

On Friday, we strolled around the corner to an old favourite: The Kentish Arms at the lower end of Stanley Street, where it has stood for a hundred and seventy five years. Built in 1848, it opened only a dozen years after the first ships landed at Port Adelaide.

As children, our grandmother would take us to the beer garden, known as The Birdcage, where we were encouraged to cook our own meat on the outdoor barbecue. These days, the courtyard has been covered and renamed. The Wine Shed is open and airy, but well heated on this rather nippy evening. The walls are lined with shelves of empty wine bottles, and the only thing I would complain about – a common complaint I have about many casual eateries in South Australia – is whether it is absolutely necessary to have giant screens televising the current sports matches in the dining room. In the front bar, sure, where punters like to gather round the bar to watch the footy, but is it really necessary in a family oriented, sociable space like the Wine Shed, where they simply serve to distract us from jovial conversation?

Apart from that mild complaint, however, I have nothing negative to say about our evening at the Kentish. Our waiters were smiling and friendly, and never far away. The food came promptly, and there was plenty of it. The veggies were not overcooked, and the steaks came just as we had ordered them. My father loved his ‘Herb Crusted Lamb Rack.’ Mum was more than happy with her ‘Plum Glazed Crispy Pork Belly.’ Our slight variations to the menu were cheerfully adopted – ‘May I please have these vegetables with the steak instead?’ ‘Of course!’ – and all at a reasonable price. And while there is definitely a splash or two of glamour on the menu (Vietnamese chicken or vegetarian nachos), one of the staples is Bangers and Mash. The pub was busy and noisy, obviously popular with locals, and oh, the joy of only having a short walk back to our hotel, after emptying a couple of bottles of smooth South Australian red wine.

The following evening, wandering back from the city, we passed The British Hotel on Finniss Street. This sandstone pub is even older than The Kentish, having first opened its doors in 1838. Again, the giant screens in the dining area, but again, a terrific menu, lovely staff, and prompt service. We strolled in without a booking on a busy Saturday night but were lucky enough to find a table for two just waiting for us. Seated in another enclosed beer garden, we found the space homely, warm and welcoming.

As always, Tripadvisor reviews give it a mixed reception, but considering how busy they were – with huge tables full of guests obviously celebrating major birthdays – we couldn’t fault them. The One & Only was delighted with his extra crispy chips to accompany his favourite beef schnitzel, and my pork and fennel meatballs with linguine were hot and delicious.

One of the particularly joyful things about these old pubs is the heartwarming, bone-warming and atmospheric delight of an open fire. And the British Hotel’s signature dish is true comfort food: beef and mushroom pie with pea mash, tomato chutney and red wine jus.

Both these historic watering holes are what I would consider classic English pubs, with an added dab of polish and a pinch of international cuisine that makes them both cosy and comforting for couples, families, and friends to gather. And on top of all the delights of a quality menu, both have good wine lists, boutique beers. The nineties introduced the term ‘gastropub’ which may have become a tad overused and possibly outdated, but as we sadly watch so many pubs close down or lose their edge to smarter, more modern restaurants, I was thrilled to rediscover a couple of those cosy, happy, hospitable pubs that focus not only great beer, but top notch food to satisfy my cravings for comfort food. Cheers!

*With thanks to Google Images for the photos.

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The Sound of Music

Now we are back in South Australia and in the depths of a damp winter, it is hard to believe that only a few weeks ago we were wandering through Rome, immersed in spring. Early in the tourist season, the crowds were already building around the more famous sites, but we happily meandered through deserted back streets lined with blossom, soaking up the atmosphere, and coming across a few surprising secrets.

One such secret was the National Museum of Musical Instruments. This fabulous museum is not widely advertised, but it does rate a mention in the Lonely Planet Guide to Rome. When we realized it was only a ten minute walk from our B&B, we thought it might be worth a visit. After a coffee in the park, overlooking the old city walls, we went in search of this hidden gem. And hidden it certainly was: tucked behind the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, in what was once the Palazzina Samoggia. The Museum was established in 1974 and filled with the substantial remnants of a private collection belonging to Evangelista Gennaro Gorga, an Italian lyric tenor born in 1865. He gave up a successful career at the age of thirty four, presumably to focus on his collecting habit. Intent on creating an encyclopaedical collection of musical instruments from archaic to the present day, Gorga would collect
more than 150,000 antiques, that included not only musical instruments but toys, pottery, and ancient weapons. Although he came from a wealthy Italian family, he would spend an entire fortune on this vast collection. Eventually, up to his ears in debt, he was forced to sell many pieces during the Depression, and eventually, he gifted the rest – mostly musical instruments – to the government, to allay his debts. These pieces were eventually collected from various storage facilities across Rome and now make up a large portion of the current Museum collection. There are also some wonderful paintings that feature musicians through the ages.

So, what did I learn about the history of musical instruments? Or more to the point, what do I now remember? (If you already know all there is to know on the subject, feel free to skip the rest of the story. For those of you prepared to read on, I will try not to waffle for too long.

The museum holds a fascinating collection of more than 800 rare and ancient instruments from Italy and Europe, from the sacred Egyptian sistrum, used in dances and religious ceremonies (it sounds like one of those wooden rattles used at football matches) to the 19th century zither. The zither probably originated in Persia, and has appeared in many cultures in various forms, particularly in the Far East. The earliest known surviving instrument of the zither family dates from 433 B.C. It is a Chinese guqin, found in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng.

Signposting around the museum explains that bowed string instruments evolved from the hunting bows of central Asia, their popularity spreading westwards, finally arriving in Italy and Spain in the 10th century. By the end of the 15th century, the invention of the arched bridge to support the strings, and a casing made from separate pieces of wood helped to produce a much more sophisticated sound, and eventually led to the invention of the violin. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the violin would evolve further, as orchestras playing in large concert halls required a bigger sound.

Percussion instruments were first used in Persia and Turkey. As the instruments of the Muslim Menace, they were banned in Europe for centuries. Then, when finally deemed acceptable, these instruments (drums, cymbals, tambourines) were used by military bands. By the end of the eighteenth century, they had also begun to appear in western orchestral music.

Instruments can be divided into three categories based on how they produce sounds: string, wind, and percussion. The piano is a string instrument (think of all those vibrating wires under the lid) and it’s ancestry can be traced back to the clavichord, harpsichord, spinet, virginal and dulcimer. Aren’t they lovely, musical words? The museum has a beautiful assortment of early pianos in many different shapes and sizes, as their creators experimented with shape and sound and volume.

The dulcimer dates back to circa 500BCE, and was used in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and China. It reached Europe in the 11th century. A simple resonating box with strings stretched on top of it, there is a small hammer to hit the strings, just like the piano. Then, around 1500, the harpsichord was created in Italy. and would travel north to France, Germany, and Great Britain. Its system of strings and soundboard, and the overall structure of the instrument resemble those that can be found in a modern piano.

The piano is also part of the keyboard family. Keyboards originated in Ancient Greece, where the organ was invented, sending bursts of air through hollow pipes to make sound. Fourteenth century craftsmen improved upon the organ to develop the clavichord.

The first piano was invented by an Italian, Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) in Florence, for the Medici Family, who were great patrons of the arts and music. Cristofori, unhappy with the lack of control over the volume level of the harpsichord, swapped the plucking mechanism with a hammer to create the piano as we know it today. Originally, it was known as the “clavicembalo col piano e forte“. Literally, this means a harpsichord that can play soft and loud noises. A complicated name even for Italians to say, it was soon shortened ‘piano.’ The museum owns one such piano. Built by Cristofori in 1722, it is one of only three to survive, and apparently the best preserved of the three.

We also came across the oldest German harpsichord in the world, and the famous ‘Harp Barberini.’ What was especially nice at the museum, was that audio-visual displays allowed you to listen to the sound these instruments would make when played. Many of these instruments have been beautifully decorated and painted, and would look equally splendid in an art gallery. Next time, we will try and time our visit for one of the musical reviews or concerts that take place at the museum.

*Photos care of the One & Only

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