Saturday, 10 July 2010

The vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended

This year, Sara FINALLY came to visit me over Easter! Which was mega-exciting, and also meant I got to try out her super-fancy-look-at-me-I'm-a-professional-photographer SLR. See if you can pick which were taken on my humble point and shoot (a beautiful, bright pink, Canon IXUS) and Sara's Nikon D90(?).

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just 'on spec', addressed as follows, 'Clancy, of The Overflow'.

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
'Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are.'

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving 'down the Cooper' where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their voices kindly greet him,
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars.

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the 'buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal --
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of 'The Overflow'.

-Clancy of the Overflow, by A.B 'Banjo' Patterson -- one of my very favourite poems about the bush, not least because I love the country-envy - "For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know." That fourth stanza is just so beautiful, and captures so many of the things I love about where I live.


Thursday, 8 July 2010

More Than a Feeling

This time last year I was in the US, searching for the American Dream. Sigh. Was it ever AMAZING. Pretty sure there aren't enough adjectives to accurately describe how much fun it was.

Our first stop was Boston, which I adored, and it remains one of my favourite American cities, a must-return-to destination. Here are extracts from the journal I kept along the way (as part of my assessment.)

It rained THE WHOLE TIME we were in Boston. Well, not entirely. But it did rain for about 5/6 days, cats and dogs. It was still lovely though, and still warm enough (a nice change from the miserable Melbourne we’d come from!) Thankfully it cleared up to beautiful sunshine on the last day, our free day.

DAY 1 – Arrive, Swan boats, JFK Museum

My first glimpse of Boston – literally seconds before we landed, descending through cloud that promised to lift around midday but instead stuck around – was of these lovely little formal looking houses right on the ocean (quite like Sydney) and they encapsulate the little of Boston I have discovered thus far; quaint, historic, contained, polite, beautiful. Professor H put it best when he said history is embedded in Boston – there’s a story – not to mention a monument! – around every corner. And the Common! It is symbolic of Boston’s community spirit, and that in and of itself is impressive. It’s hard to imagine – nay, comprehend – that some 400 years ago it was shared grazing ground, and that they had the incredible foresight to protect it for future generations to enjoy (as we did, and did! Rather puts South Lawn to shame...) Bostonians can and should be proud of their history and heritage, and it is clear that they are by the glorious upkeep of this almost vintage – but never outdated – city.

[...] Boston is more of an urban city that a bustling metropolis – much more neighbourly and freidnly (or so I’ve found so far!). The Common itself might as well be Eden in the summertime =)

At the JFK Museum:

There was a brilliant JFK quote: “A man may die, many nations rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” And it occurred to me that in this way JFK somewhat represents what the American Dream is all about; achieving your potential; his being never fully realised makes him almost a hero in America’s eyes, though his politics – and his personal life (eg his womanising ways) – may have left much to be desired...He further demonstrated that great American HOPE AND OPTIMISM that Obama is reigniting (JFK and Johnson reminded me of Obama and Biden), that inspired man to land on the moon, that makes Americans believe they can rise above their class and status.

DAY 2 – Harvard and meeting with Alice Peisch, House of Reps

Walked past a homeless shelter yesterday and several figures camped in doorways or huddled on park benches today, a stark and discomforting reminder of the flipside of the Dream – failure, hopelessness, incapacitated. What does this suggestion about the nature of the dream? It is, without a doubt, confronting. When walking along the Charles River, I saw what appeared to be blankets and a mattress over some steam (?) vents, and I realised they were drying from the rain, and probably belong to the man lying on the bench by the river. We are, perhaps, none of us immune from losing it all, for whatever reason.

Mass. State House

DAY 3 – Salem

This town (what could almost be called a village!) capitalises on their witching history (however horrible), far more than I had expected (or thought possible!) It is, with little doubt, the main source of income for the town, not to mention (only?) attraction, and they definitely make the most of it! The re-enactment of the [witch] trial was hugely amusing – really enjoyed it – but also made you think about the nature of superstition and how it begins.

From the actors’ portrayals of 1600s perspectives, it becomes apparent that they should not be stereotyped or dismissed as simple-minded. Superstition is rooted in pre-existing prejudices and fear and, ultimately, what seems to be a desire innate within humans to explain that which they do not understand. As Professor H pointed out, they had much to be suspicious of and there were large gaps in their knowledge. Especially when you consider how, lacking electricity, the night would seem particularly daunting, being so dark. Once you understand this mindset, coupled with their deep-seated revere of God and fear of the Devil, neighbourly disputes/grudges plus a desire to explain the incomprehensible, it is not altogether difficult to see why they ‘believed’ in witchcraft – it was simply a scapegoat (Like Communism and terrorism). And as with these, if you aren’t a vocal accuser, you appear suspicious, and so mass hysteria develops.

DAY 4 – Transit Police and Christian Science Monitor

(Details on our discussion with the Monitor to come.)

Met my great Aunt (who is actually my grandmother’s cousin – details, details) for dinner tonight for the first time. Had an absolutely terrific time!! Was worried I wouldn’t recognise her when I walked into the Four Seasons, but spotted her straight away, a diminutive little figure. Gosh, she is so, so lovely. And she sounds just like my grandmother sometimes when she speaks. We chatted for 2.5 hours without noticing, on everything from publishing (my future aspiration), family, traveling, the Great Depression, to Australian Aborigines and climate change! It was a lot of fun, and I hope she realises I really did enjoy it. She did flatter me so =) I hope we’ll be able to meet again (I would so love to come back to Boston), but if not, I think we’ll keep in touch.

DAY 5 – Trial, Dudley St Neighbourhood Initiative, Food Project

(Thoughts about the trial to be posted separately.)


Boston as a city is like that – ornate but polite. Historical, impressive, but not showy or overwhelming. As the one city on this trip I hadn’t visited before, I expected it to be somewhat more humble than NY and D.C. and quite a historical little town, but I don’t think I expected it to be quite so grand, stately, and above all, lovely. Boston is cultured and refined, but not snobby about it in the least. On the contrary, Bostonians are friendly people who take immense pride in their city without being vain or proud (I should point out they are not, though I may make them sound, perfect =)) I have had an absolutely marvellous time in Boston, I have loved every minute, rain or shine. =) =)

The absolute HIGHLIGHT of the day (and the trip so far?) was FENWAY PARK!! We’d travelled out there a few days ago to do a tour but missed them and so intended to do one before the game. Alas, they were SOLD OUT when we got there! After much angst, and meeting up with [4 other friends on the trip], the 5 of us decided to wait in line for tickets, and soon ran into [3 other friends] who joined us. We waited for an hour and a bit, but it was SO WORTH IT!!! We got some great tickets for $50 each up in the grandstand [between home base and first]. Excellent view. And WHAT a game! The atmosphere itself was incredible. The crowd was in tremendous spirits, and seemed to act as one, roaring their approval or otherwise (there may have been only 2 Mariners fans in the whole house.) The mood was almost delirious. Music was pumping between almost every play, and at one stage began to bare Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” with the chorus being softened so the crowd could sing instead. As the song died so play could resume, the crowd kept singing, loud and in unison. =) At ½ way through the 7th inning, we “stretched” and sang “Take Me Down to the Ball Game.” When the game went into overtime (tied 5 all!) we stood and clapped and cheered, exhilarated, to an Irish dance jig. It all felt a bi surreal. But perhaps most powerful was when the National Anthem was played (and half sung by the crowd) and as all stood, hats off, hands on our hearts, cheering the little brass band at the end. Americans are very patriotic; this much is clear in their pride in their baseball teams, their states, their flags hanging everywhere. Australia doesn’t have this so much, perhaps because we are a younger country, because we’ve never united to defend ourselves...Is this what makes the American Dream just that – American? Is it so different to the Australian Dream? What is the Australian Dream? More of a lifestyle, I suppose; one of success tempered by leisure, comfort/security, family. Contentedness plays a large part too, I think. The America Dream, though, is more about getting ahead – in times past (Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller) this was in terms of the individual, but these days as community groups. It’s about (self) improvement, and in that sense perhaps more aggressive (slightly).

It struck me while at the game that the Red Sox embody the American Dream to an e in their recent winning of the World Series (04 and 07) after some 80 years. Their determination and underdog position are what Americans love and admire. And central to the American Dream is the hope – nay, conviction – that one day, we will overcome class, family, race, etc and we will succeed.

In any case, the Red Sox lost – it was so close, one run, came down to 11 innings – but a tremendous experience nonetheless. =)



PS: the college we stayed at - Emerson - was really nice, right opposite the Common and super close to the city.