Saturday, 25 February 2017

Versailles Treasures From The Palace Gift Shop

Last week I showed you my recent visit to the magnificent Versailles Treausres From the Palace exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. Every major exhibition has its own gift shop and of course Versailles is no exception. Except what a gift shop. Best. Gift shop. Ever. I totally wanted to move in. 

And why not? It has everything a girl needs. 

Something to drink. 

I do love some bubbles.
Especially a whole wall. 

I also love Lillet, but they didn't have any rouge.
Lots of other untried tipples too...
I could drink out of pretty cups.

There's plenty to wear. 

And there's heaps to do while I lounge about in tulle and tiaras. 
Some jigsaws. 
Naturally there's lots to read. 

I wouldn't go hungry either.

 I could burn some Lacroix candles and indulge in some luscious soaps and perfumes.

And dash off some notes on the OTT Lacroix cards.
When I did need to do something else I could pop down to NGA Play, where I can have some Versailles themed fun. 

The NGA had remodelled quite a bit since my last visit with lots of new features. I really do want to move in.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly
now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  

Thursday, 23 February 2017

A Year in Books 2016

Yes, yes, I know that's it's nearly half way through 2017 already, but I haven't had a chance to look back at my 2016 reading just yet.

I had a bad reading year last year. I only read 79 books. 11, 075 pages. Almost half the 20, 061 pages I read in 2015.

And I was really bad at rating the books I actually did read on goodreads last year too. If I'd done more ratings I think there'd be more books here. Still I managed to give 7 books 5 stars.

Reckoning. An extraordinary memoir from Magda Szubanski.

The Minpins. A re-read of one of my very favourite Dahls.

Cyclone. Jackie French's retelling of Cyclone Tracy for a new generation.

The Anti-Cool Girl. Is actually a cool book.

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. A powerful anti-war ballad.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old. Oh so naughty grandparents in a Dutch nursing home.

Charlie and the War against the Grannies. A silly, funny debut from Alan Brough.

7 out of my 79 reads were five stars.

3 Aussie books

3 Adults reads

3 Picture books

2 Nonfiction/memoir

3 Female authors

4 Male authors

5 New to me authors

Rather predictable to have Roald Dahl and Jackie French make an appearance I suppose. Lets hope it's a better reading this year, although I'm already 8 books behind my goodreads target! And it's still February...

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Versailles Treasures From the Palace

I've visited the Palace of Versailles quite a number of times. On my first trip to France in 1998 we loved Versailles so much that we went back several times. At that time the fountains only ran on a Sunday afternoon so we had to go back to see them in operation. We even spent our last night in France staying in Versailles, the town, not the palace sadly, and had a magnificent dinner at a restaurant overlooking the palace gardens.

I returned to Versailles in 2010 and again in 2013. But Versailles is so vast that there are still areas I haven't been to as yet, and it's a magnificent spectacle each time. Each visit is equally memorable and  there's always something different, and I'd still like to go back to see more.

So last year as soon as I saw an ad for Versailles Treasures From The Palace at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, I did a sharp intake of air and knew that I would be going. What I didn't realise then was that it would turn into a family road trip to celebrate a special birthday, but I'm so glad that it did. Most of us had been to Versailles before in 2010 and 2013 and so it was special for all of us. The exhibition is magnificent and we had a great weekend of celebrations as well.

It's a beautiful exhibition. Breathtaking from the very first things you see. 

A 17th century gate
Gilded iron

Bust of Louis XIV 1665-66
Jean Varin or Warin

This was an amazing rug from the passage way between The Louvre (back when it was a royal palace) and The Tuileries (back when it was a palace). Huge and spectacular, this was just one rug of 93 carpets made to line the Grand Galerie linking the two palaces. They were never used though and remain in beautiful condition.

Carpet from the Grand Galerie du Louvre c 1682
wool and hemp
Charles le Brun designer
Atelier de la Veuve Lourdet, weavers, Paris

The French love a reliquary. 
Queen Marie-Thérèse's reliquary, 1665-74
gilded bronze, silver, paint on vellum

Vase with boars and Janus heads 1665
There were even sections of parquetry from Versailles! Who would think of ripping up the floor boards?

Armchair for Madame de Pompadour's residence at Crécy c 1745
Desk of the dauphin, son of Louis XV 1745

Even functional household objects got the Versailles treatment. 

Barometer 1773-75

There are several rooms that celebrate the magnificent gardens of Versailles. The engineering and plumbing innovations that had to be done to create the fountains that are still unrivalled anywhere else in the world with 17th century equipment and knowledge is incredible. There is a interesting short video displayed as well as artefacts, paintings and recreations of the gardens and fountains- it's an innovative and beautifully displayed. 

I've long held the notion that anything can be art if it's displayed just so.

Keys for turning on the fountains
late 17th-early 18th century, forged steel
I saw these in use in 1998!

One of my favourite part of the exhibition was a recreation of The Labyrinth that was installed in the gardens in the 17th century. I'd never heard of the labyrinth before, perhaps not surprisingly as it was taken down in 1774 and replaced with the Queen's Garden. 

Originally conceived by André Le Nôtre in 1665 as an undecorated maze, the crossroads of each path were furnished in the 1670s with 39 fountains decorated with 330 painted lead animals illustrating classical parables. These new additions were inspired by the publication of Jean de La Fontain's Fables 1668, dedicated to Louis XIV's six-year-old heir. 
 Only 35 animals have survived, and there were four or five presented here in a reimagined maze.

Etienne and Jacques Blanchard
(Fable XI)
The Monkey and his little ones

Much was made in the press before the exhibition about the inclusion of this magnificent sculpture. And rightly so, just getting Latona and her children to Australia was a tremendous undertaking. The statue had to be broken up for transport. But then to see it in place in the exhibition was astonishing. It was surrounded by a gorgeous audiovisual experience to recreate the experience of seeing the fountains at Versailles. It certainly did. I was moved to tears and sat watching it for some time. 

Latona and her children 1668-70
There was so much fascinating detail and objects that you don't see on a visit to Versailles.

Marie Antoinette's Harp 1775
A register of the menus served to the king in 1751
I was particularly keen on this trio of jam pots. 

Three jam pots and platter 1784
Royal Porcelain Factory of Sèvres

Versailles Treasures From the Palace is on at the National Gallery of Australia until April 17.
I might just go back. And as a member of NGA I already have my golden ticket... If for no other reason than that I totally missed the orange blossom perfume

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly
now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Hating Alison Ashley

Hating Alison Ashley is an iconic Australian childrens book. Released in 1984 I've only been aware of it for the past few years I guess. Erica Yurken is in Year Six at Barringa East Primary School. She's witty and a bit of a hypochondriac. 

The sick bay was my favourite place at school. It was exciting to lie hunched up and pretend that your appendix had burst when kids stickybeaked in through the window. And also, it was the best place in the school for gaining classified information. 

Barringa East is a disadvantaged area in suburban Melbourne.  So it's a bit of a surprise when Alison Ashley shows up one day because of a change in school zoning. Alison Ashley is a bit too perfect, and she's perfectly easy to hate. 

She was wearing this soft blue skirt, and a shirt the colour of cream, with not a crease or a wrinkle nor a loose thread anywhere. Expensive-looking plaited leather sandals. Long, pale gold hair caught back with a filigree clasp, and tiny gold roses, the size of shirt buttons, in her ears. Her skin was tanned and each cheek had a deep, soft dimple. Huge navy blue eyes, the colour of ink, fringed with dark curly lashes. She was the most beautiful, graceful, elegant thing you ever saw in your life. 
So easy to hate. Then she opens her mouth.

She turned out to have a reading age of 14.6 years. She knew all the rivers of northern New South Wales in perfect order. 
Erica is used to feeling pretty superior at Barringa East, and she doesn't like the feelings that Alison Ashley stirs in her. 

My feelings of inferiority swelled into dislike, and the dislike into absolute loathing. 

All by lunchtime! Hating Alison Ashley is just as funny as when it was written more than 30 years ago. It's truly deserving of classic status. I believe that Hating Alison Ashley is still taught in Australia high schools, which is a bit of a shame, not that it shouldn't be still taught, it should. But I think it's much more suitable to kids in upper primary. 

I'm really glad to have read Hating Alison Ashley at long last. Sure, some of the references may be a little dated now, but it's really very few, and over thirty years down the track but the characters are timeless- we all went to school with Barry Hollis, the school bully, and with Alison Ashley. We might even have been Erica Yurken.

Shortlisted CBCA Book of the Year 1985

There are play and movie versions of Hating Alison Ashley- I haven't seen either. 


Monday, 30 January 2017

Mademoiselle C

I'm really not sure why I've become so interested in Fashion in recent times. Or even fashion documentaries. It's not my world. Although perhaps that's part of the attraction. I taped Mademoiselle C a few months ago, and recently got to watch it on an exciting Saturday night at home. 

I'd never heard of Carine Roitfeld before. She was born in Paris to wealthy parents. She was editor of French Vogue for 10 years from 2001 to 2011. After she left she set up her own magazine CR Fashion Book in New York. Mademoiselle C documents the process leading up to the launch of the first edition.  It's a fascinating glimpse into the world of fashion, celebrity and money. Helicopters and private ballet lessons- she is mighty impressive actually, this grandmother is very flexible.

It never ceases to amaze me that the behind the scenes fashion types generally wear black all the time. And they never change their hairstyle from one decade to the next. They're very much a do what I say not do what I do group of people. 

A visual bonus for any fashion doco that has anything to do with France are the obligatory glimpses of Paris during Fashion Week - Palais Garner, Grand Palais and the Colonne Vendome. 

A month after CR Fashion Book launched in 2012 Carine Roitfeld accepted a position as Global Fashion Director for Harpers Bazaar. She still publishes CR Fashion Book twice a year as her own "personal laboratory of ideas".

Karl Lagerfeld is in it a lot
they collaborate quite a bit

Some interesting Carine Roitfeld links
"I’d used the same perfume for 20 years, so just for me to change that was very difficult." Maybe this really is a French thing. Those gals in How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are (see my review) advised us not to change our perfume for 30 years. Carine Roitfeld was to launch a range of seven perfumes in 2016 but I can't find that it exists yet. 

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  

Sunday, 29 January 2017


I'd heard a little bit about Mechanica, enough to be intrigued. The cover is entrancing. I knew it was a picture book but for older kids, so I ordered a copy and sent it to a nephew, and then used some of my time during the Christmas break to read it.

The copy I'd seen didn't have the subtitle a beginner's field guide, otherwise I might have been expecting a field guide format, instead of a more straight forward narrative. Mechanica has a great concept. It is the 23rd century. The worlds environment has been destroyed by our own stupidity and Mechanica have been created by man- robotic life-forms created by humans to replace extinct species- butterflies, bats, birds, snakes, spiders, bees. The illustrations are beautiful and totally cool. 

Mechanics were originally displayed in zoos and small sanctuaries for public enjoyment, but soon they began to escape their enclosures and cross-breed with damaged drones. As a child Liberty Crisp saw one of the last butterflies in existence, she was to become fascinated by Mechanica.

Mechanica is a field guide from the future. There will be lots more to come from the very imaginative Lance Balchin. A second picture book called Aquatica will be published in March, and a series of novels- The Mechanica Chronicles, detailing the voyages of Liberty Crisp on her ship the HMS Beagle is on the way. It will be a fascinating journey.

There is a great Mechanica website giving a glimpse of how Lance Balchin creates his amazing illustrations. Be sure to watch the videos.

Betterreading have a fascinating interview with Lance where he talks about his many inspirations.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Midnight Gang

I'm always pleased to see a new Walliams' title hit the bookstores. The Midnight Gang came out in late 2016, and I've just got to it now. I'd just spent three weeks reading Ballet Shoes (see my review) and as a consequence I was already one book behind on my Goodreads Challenge for the year, so that I knew I needed a lightning fast read. The Midnight Gang it was. Although it's getting harder to blitz through Walliams books- they are indeed getting longer each year. The Midnight Gang is a chunky 478 pages. 

The Midnight Gang is set in the Children's Ward of Lord Funt Hospital in London. Naturally it is no cozy, mural painted kids ward. The Children's Ward of Lord Funt Hospital is on the 44th floor of the building, right at the very top, and it is presided over by a mean, callous, child-hating Matron. Naturally it is peopled with great characters, like Raj the Newsagent, and Nurse Meese.

A large older lady in a blur-and-white uniform with a hat leaned over and examined the boy's head. Dark circles framed her bloodshot eyes. Grey wiry hair squatted on her head. Her face was red raw, as if she had scrubbed it with a cheese grater.

Tom Charper has just been admitted to the Children's Ward of Lord Funt Hospital after a tragic cricket accident. He has been hit on the head by the ball, concussed, and left with rather a large bump.  Tom is a lonely boy at his boarding school. His parents never contact him, and he is on the outer with the kids. Not in the rugby team, not in the cool gang of kids, but he finds firm friends in the other children in the ward.

Each night at midnight the children leave their beds for a series of adventures in the nooks and crannies of the hospital. Naturally Tom wants to join them in their exploits. Like all of David Walliams books there is a beautiful heart at the centre of The Midnight Gang. Readers learn that they shouldn't judge someone by their looks and that 

"life is precious. Every moment is precious. We should be kind to each other. While there is still time."

I just love that David Walliams did publicity for the book in his pyjamas!

Fascinating to see that David Walliams based Porter on one of his favourite childhood characters, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's obvious when you know.