Showing posts with label nostalgia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nostalgia. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Black labrador

I've acquired the latest version of Photoshop Elements. Bewildered by its amazing visual gimmicks, I'll need to get used to employing this tool in place of my archaic existing software. Here's a start.

The dog comes through quite clearly, in spite of my massive filtering. A splendid black labrador with a red collar. His owner in pink and white was another affair. Did I take this photo because I was charmed by the dog, or rather by his lovely mistress? Or maybe both? The Bourne at Pont-en-Royans has always been Sophia's summer Riviera.

Sophia discovered the black dog, and they frolicked around in the water. Then the mistress (whom I had not noticed) emerged slowly from the river, like Ondine, nymph of the waters. She didn't seem to see me. She gazed solely upon the black labrador. This was normal. She had no reason to acknowledge my presence, whereas the black labrador was her dog. This lady was superbly beautiful in her aquatic pink and white simplicity, with her feet lost in the stony sands of the shallow Bourne.

I recalled this kind of shock, many moons ago, in a similar setting, on the banks of the Dordogne, in the region of our Cro-Magnon ancestors. Having arrived in France a few months previously, I was on my first hitchhiking excursion. And a juvenile Ondine emerged from the ancient river—like all self-respecting water nymphs—when I was least expecting a vision. In fact, I wasn't expecting anything much at all, since I had just sat down in the hot air to gnawl at a sandwich.

Nymphean visions are rare and precious, as Vladimir Nabokov explains elegantly in his Lolita. These days, unfortunately, sentiments of this kind tend to get churned up crudely in the meat-mincer labeled pedophilia… particularly in my native Australia, where they don't refrain (until the censor moves in) from exhibiting stupid little bum-twitching girls on TV variety shows.

Personally, my life has been dominated (the word is not too strong) by a nymphean vision that overcame me when I was an 11-year-old boy in South Grafton. Half a century later, when I was revisiting my home town, I hastened to take a photo of all that remained: the pair of quaint houses in Spring Street, just opposite the Catholic school, where I had once glimpsed, for a few minutes, the girl in the fawn dress.

I've never known anything about her beyond the fact that her uniform identified her as a pupil at the Catholic school. In my eyes, she was divinely glorious, for reasons I never understood… and still don't. In a way, she was a sunburnt version of the lady in blue seen at Lourdes by Bernadette Soubirous. Visions are visions, and we can't hope to analyze them. Nymphs are nymphs.

The black labrador in the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans would understand me. His mistress stared at him, motionlessly. Her simple presence demanded obedience. Her boyish haircut evoked Joan of Arc… but the only flames were in my feverish regard. She was so lovely, staring at her dog (with never a glace at me, the photographer), that I felt like a voyeur… which I certainly was. But that mild sentiment of shame didn't prevent me from adjusting the frame and pressing the button of my Nikon. Her small breasts were held tight by a cross-over garment that rose behind her slender neck. She was wearing white cotton thigh-length trousers that accentuated her Venus-like thighs. Above all, her simple pose was strangely passive, as if she were awaiting a reaction from the black labrador. She was the dog's mistress, certainly, but it was the black labrador who would dictate her next move. Against the green background of the Bourne, it was a poem in black, white and pink, built upon a dog and a water nymph.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First fire

In my tiny world, it's a momentous evening. I've just lit up the first fire in the chimney to herald in the approaching cold season. Sophia's eyes have turned green, miraculously or, rather, photographically. It will be the final winter of my 60s. Next year, I'll be an old man in his 70s. Let me be truthful: an older man... like every other man, for that matter, who has ever spent an instant in the Cosmos. So, there's nothing special about me.

On cool momentous evenings like this, I hardly need to point out that I'm an inveterate Internet user. And I find myself in contact with various layers of communicators. There are those—like close members of my family, my adolescent friend Bruce Hudson in Australia, or more recent friends such as Natacha and Corina, just to name a few—who appear to be tuned in regularly to what I write in my Antipodes blog, be it serious or silly, or somewhere in between. That's normal, because this blog is intended, first and foremost, as a vector of personal communication. Let's not forget that I only started it, in 2007, because an Aussie bushwhacker ISP [Internet service provider] named Big Pond refused to deliver emails to my dear aunt Nancy in Sydney, alleging that anything coming out of France was probably evil. Then there are other layers of communication, less personal, more global, even universal...

In the context of my Internet contacts, there's a breakdown between global matters and things that concern only me. For example, when my aunt evokes the question of whether or not there's a dot between lucky and pierre in their curious email address [a problem that I haven't yet solved], that's strictly in the personal domain. But, when I write about President Obama getting a big prize, and Prince Jean getting a big job, we're obviously in a bigger communications domain.

I'm often amazed and amused by the apparent speed at which things move forwards (a fuzzy concept, I admit) in these two domains... in parallel, as it were. I often have the spooky impression that my blog is in fact advancing with giant's steps whereas the rest of the Obama/Sarkozy universe, as reflected in the media news, is almost stationary... like those expert track cyclists who can stand still for long minutes, in a balancing act, on a curved timber surface, before dashing forth in a startling burst of energy. Normally, one would consider that, at every instant, there should be a million more things happening in the outside world than in my private universe. But I'm rarely struck by overpowering evidence to this effect. On the contrary...

Often, I feel that all my personal energy references revert to bikes, just as all my personal literary references revert to Rainer Maria Rilke, and my song references to Jacques Brel. The Internet gives me the impression that I'm still evolving, but the first fire of winter reminds me that I've never really gone beyond bikes, Brigge, Brel and all that ancient stuff, with a little bit of computing thrown in as spices.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Radio voice of my childhood

A month before I was born, on 24 September 1940, the Nazis had started to bomb British factories, aerodromes and communication links. Then they got around to daily raids on cities such as Liverpool and London. As a young child at Waterview in South Grafton, I must have been immersed in the wartime radio broadcasts, because the voice of Vera Lynn and the words and music of her songs are as vivid in my mind today as if I had just been lulled for the first time by their soft tones and rhythms.

It's amazing for me to learn that the grand old lady is alive and well today. On March 20, she'll be 92.

Maybe it's because of the following song that countless Australians of my generation learned that the English Channel was bordered by tall white chalk cliffs. Those of us who have problems in trying to imagine blue-feathered birds in the English sky must understand that Vera Lynn's symbolic "bluebirds" above the English Channel were in fact Spitfire fighter aircraft.

The haunting refrain of Vera Lynn's following song—no doubt her greatest success—was a prayer for the safe return of soldiers:

The great English cities were blacked out at night so that Nazi bombers would not be able to find them. The bombs, too, must have cut off the electricity in many places. So, the image of awaiting the return of the lights is both a metaphor of peace and a reality.

I'm surprised at times to realize that, although I was a child out in the Antipodes, the events and the spirit of this harsh period appear to have marked me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

French families

An association named Familles de France [Families of France] and a group of family associations in the rural département of Ardèche [not far from where I live] recently used the law court in Paris in an attempt to gag the US Internet website called Second Life. More precisely, they wanted the editor of this famous website, named Linden Research, to introduce some kind of filtering device (?) that would prevent the under-age youth of France from viewing stuff they described as "pornographic, scatological and zoophilic". They also declared that the website contained publicity for tobacco, liquor and drugs.

In France, there's a time-honored profession of huissier. Such individuals—who might be designated in old-fashioned English as bailiffs or sheriff's officers—perform legal tasks such as notifying people who are pursued by the law, and making official circumstantial recordings of various situations, to be used as evidence in future legal affairs. Well, the above-mentioned associations hired such a huissier to produce evidence backing up their charges against Second Life. Intrigued by this task, I'm trying to imagine how a little bespectacled and balding man in a gray suit [that's how I imagine a huissier: much like myself when I'm dressed up for mass of a Sunday morning] would go about the challenge of demonstrating that Second Life displays stuff that's pornographic, scatological and zoophilic. Obviously, he would need to be an expert in the art of screen captures. But how would he then go on to prove that the captured screen shots had been corrupting the moral fiber of French youth? That challenge reminds me of one of the greatest texts of all time, Plato's Apology of Socrates.

Half a century ago, I had the privilege of studying this momentous text under the great Scottish-born professor of philosophy John Anderson at the University of Sydney. Socrates had been accused of corrupting the youth of Athens [in much the same way that Anderson himself would be accused, two millennia later on, of corrupting the youth of Sydney... like me in 1957]. Today, I look back with nostalgia to my sitting in that Sydney lecture theater [whose walls were adorned with classical frescos] and listening to the aging professor talking about Socrates and his alleged crimes. During that year, the boy named Billy from South Grafton became an adult... and a philosopher.

Let's get back to Second Life. A wise French judge threw out the whole affair, and demanded that the plaintiffs foot the legal bill. Will this judgment discourage other antiquated French moralists from trying to attack the Internet? Surely, as they say in French... at roughly the same time that hens start to be born with teeth.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Flight symbols

In my previous post, My old passports [display], I mentioned that, in May 1962, I flew out of Paris, for London, from the airport at Le Bourget. Charles Lindbergh had landed here in the Spirit of Saint Louis, 35 years previously, after crossing the Atlantic.

Today, few flights use this quaint old airport, but Le Bourget has become internationally renowned as the site of the biennial Paris Air Show, which started in 1909.

For me personally, Le Bourget was a symbol of my flight to London in 1962 to obtain a long-overdue French visa, regularizing my de facto status as an employee of IBM in Paris. Much later, Le Bourget was also a symbol of my "flight" from Paris to the provinces, in that I attended the Paris Air Show with my daughter in 1993 on the eve of my departure. I recall every moment of that delightful sunny day, during which we watched acrobatic flyers, and had our ears pounded by the latest Dassault jets. The day ended at a Moroccan restaurant in the Marais quarter of Paris, not far from where we lived. My daughter, on the other hand, retains a quite different symbol of my departure from Paris: an antiquated crammed red Renault, which I had just purchased from a friend in the Marais, which had to be pushed manually to get me started on my route to the south. Not at all "Paris Air Show".

Le Bourget is an airport of the past, overtaken first by Orly and then Roissy (Charles de Gaulle). Today, as the one-week 47th Paris Air Show was drawing to a close, with a record-breaking attendance of 480,000 visitors, French TV presented the new installations at Roissy for forthcoming flights of the Airbus A380. Gigantic, like the aircraft itself!

My old passports

Pages in an old passport can have a similar nostalgic value to old letters or photos. Even the covers can tell a story.

In the old model, there was a crown on the cover, above the word Australia, and the expression British passport appeared beneath our coat of arms. Inside, to describe the bearer's nationality, complicated verbiage was required: Australian citizen and a British subject. Then, in the '80s, for reasons I never bothered to try to understand, we Australian expatriates residing in the Old World suddenly found ourselves queuing up with Eskimos and Americans to get into Britain, while the British queues were full of people wearing turbans and djellabas, and speaking among themselves in exotic languages. Personally, I had become so accustomed to thinking of Britain as the ancestral motherland of Australians that I never quite got over the shock of being considered there as an alien. And I'm still irritated when I find Australian dignitaries groveling in front of members of Britain's royal family.

The following page of my first passport has traces of my first sea, land and air voyages outside of Australia:

And here's my first French visa, delivered in London, enabling me to work officially in France:

Today, one has the impression that 4,000 French francs was a hell of a lot of money to pay for a visa. They were, of course, so-called "old francs". In present-day monetary terms, my visa wasn't particularly expensive: a few dozen euros.

While I'm aware that it's rather silly to remain attached to obsolete passports, these documents symbolize precious moments in my early life. They're a modern equivalent of the old family bibles in which our ancestors recorded dates of baptisms and first communions.