Monday, 25 August 2014

Les Misérables- From Page to Stage

On my recent trip to Melbourne, I didn't have a lot of time. I did manage to eat some things.

A new production of Les Misérables has just recently reopened in Melbourne. I've never seen the stageshow, and didn't get to see it on my recent trip south of the border.

but I walked past the theatre late at night 

There is a companion exhibition called Les Misérables From Page to Stage being held at the State Library of Victoria. I snuck a couple of hours for myself one day and headed up to the library. All the ads say you can buy tickets at Ticketek. Well you can, but you can also just rock up late Saturday afternoon, buy a ticket then and there, ($15 for adults) and walk in.

You can just see the sculpture of Victor Hugo by Rodin through the entrance
Hugo refused to sit for Rodin

It's quite a large exhibition in two large sections- it aims to show the story of the novels impact on art, politics and music. I can't show you any of the first section as it was pas de photos in there. Which is such a shame- there was so much great stuff on loan from the collections of the Bibliotèque Nationale de France, Maisons de Victor Hugo in Paris and Guernsey, Musée Carnavalet, Musée Rodin and Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo. The highlight of which is Volume I of the original manuscript handwritten by Victor Hugo. It's absolutely huge.

Picture source

Victor Hugo wrote much of Les Misérables while he was in exile from France from 1851-70, and was finished while he was in the Channel Isles. He wrote on the right of the page and used the left for annotations.

Picture source

This is the first time that this volume has left Europe- it even got to fly to Australia on its own business class seat- I've never done that... Les Misérables was a hit from the outset. The two volumes were first published in 1862 and all 6,000 copies sold out in one day! Everyone read it, rich and poor, and public readings were organised when copies sold out.
The universal appeal of Hugo's creation lies in its themes: the possibility that the condemned can rise above poverty and degradation to become good and honourable, and perhaps above all the fight for freedom of body and soul. 

From June 1862 just two months after it's first publication in French, Les Misérables was published in nine languages and in serialised volumes around the world.  The first stage production came the following year in 1863. There have been at least 48 film adaptations of Les Misérables. We see some of the worlds first theatrical merchandise with beautiful Les Misérables chocolate wrappers from 1890. We also see some volumes of Les Misérables from around the world, a collection of movie posters, and some of the costumes from the recent 2012 film adaptation.

Victor Hugo was also an artist and we see some of his pen and ink drawings and paintings in the exhibition. The famous image of Cosette used for the stage show is by Émile-Antoine Bayard and comes from the second illustrated edition of Les Misérables, a picture version is included in the exhibition.

I resisted the catalogue on the day,
but do wish I'd bought it

The second room is devoted to the stage adaptations and is interactive and much more hands on than you'd expect in an exhibition like this at a library.

Cosette's wedding gown from the Australian tour 1987
first worn by Marina Prior

Stage props on display

You can take to the stage with
revolutionary zeal

You can dress up in an array of costumes

There is a themed gift shop at the end
with all manner of tshirts, books and paraphernalia

Javert's keeping an eye on you as you leave the library. 
If you can't make it to Melbourne there is an excellent exhibition website where you can see some featured objects from the exhibition.

My friend Janine at Resident Judge went to the exhibition too. You can relive my trip to Musee Victor Hugo in 2010.

Les Misérables From Page to Stage is open 18 July to 9 November 2014
10-6 daily, until 9pm on Thursdays
State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston Street

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Eat Melbourne

Recently I snuck down to Melbourne for a few days. All my time was taken up with a rather intense course, and I was sick, so I didn't arrange any social engagements as I normally would. A girl still has to eat though, or find things that she would eat if only she had the time.

Even having a quick solo meal at the restaurant at your hotel is fun. Heirloom on Bourke Street.

Heirloom Tofu
Tofu foam, orange ponzu, anchovy granola, spring onion
I suspected that tofu foam would be a mistake-
for me it was

Pitoro Gyoza
Pork and prawn dumplings with chill oil and ponzu
spicy and delicious

Aburi Salmon,
Seared salmon, witlof, snowpea, salmon caviar yuzu sesame dressing
Pastries at Laurent Patisserie for breakfast on the run

Much deliciousness left for another time

I didn't even get in the door of Le Petit Gateau
but was stopped in my tracks in the street
-next time
Buying presents for Master Wicker

It's almost impossible for me not to to order Agedashi tofu-
Edoya Russell Street

 or Sashimi and Asahi. Edoya
I was attracted by a queue on Bourke Street for The Lab Nitrogen Gelato Bar

Interesting to watch. They put a liquid into the KitchenAid and then pour in
liquid nitrogen to make the gelato on the spot.

Raspberry and Nutella Tart. $6
A bit style over substance I thought.
Perhaps the other varieties are better?
My one meal out with company, we tried a new dumpling house. Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House on Russell Street. Fabulous.
We were stuffed with delicious house made dumplings,
three sorts for under $30 for 2. 
Walking through alleys we came upon Prix Fixe who are doing a fabulous English Midwinter menu inspired by The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. 

What a fab idea!

The door was even made over as a wardrobe
I wanted a nice pudding this night, and didn't want to go back for more nitrogelato. A quick google and I was off to OmNom at the Adelphi in Flinders Lane, where I was introduced to the concept of a Dessert Degustation! OMG. All desserts should be degustations... $55 for 3 courses. 

Basil Garden
Dark chocolate, vanilla, olive oil, honey, basil, lime,
white chocolate and meringue
Interesting, but my least favourite of my 3

Mont Blanc
Meringue, dark chocolate, chestnut, vanilla, blackberry, feuilletine
Hello. I've died and gone to heaven.
This was AMAZING.
Tarte tatin.
Granny smith apple, 5 spice, chantilly, vanilla, lemongrass and ginger
Which was nice, really nice, but I was yearning for more Mont Blanc. 

Puppy Cakes spied at BreadTop on my last morning. 
There are many reasons why I love visiting Melbourne. The food is just one of them. Melbourne was recently voted the world's friendliest city.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at BethFishReads

Friday, 22 August 2014

Bronasbooks's War Book List

The recent centenary of the start of World War One has been felt and remembered around the world. Reading the stories of war is a perfect way to remember the sacrifices made by those who fought and died. 

There have been many, many books written about war and wars for both children and adults. Recently my friend Brona at Bronasbooks suggested a great list of war books intended for children. I've slightly modified it here.

As always the books I've read are in red.

World War One

A Day To Remember - Jackie French and Mark Wilson (see my review)

A Rose For the ANZAC Boys - Jackie French
ANZAC Biscuits - Phil Cummings & Owen Swan
An ANZAC Tale - Ruth Starke & Mark Holfeld
Biggles series - Captain WE Johns (next up for me)
The Bombing of Darwin - Alan Tucker
Dont Forget Australia
 - Sally Murphy
Evan's Gallipoli - Kerry Greenwood
Fromelles - Carole Wilkinson
Gallipoli - Alan Tucker
In Flanders Field - Norman Jorgensen
Jack's Bugle - Krista Bell
Light Horse Boy - Dianne Wolfer

Light House Girl - Dianne Wolfer

Loyal Creatures - Morris Gleitzman (see my review)
Memorial - Gary Crew
My Father's War - Sophie Masson
My Mother's Eyes - Mark Wilson

Private Peaceful - Michael Morpurgo (see my review)
Simpson and His Donkey - Mark Greenwood & Frané Lessac
Soldier Boy The True Story of Jim Martin the Youngest ANZAC - Anthony Hill

Stay Where You Are and then Leave - John Boyne
Tank Boys - Stephen Dando-Collins

The Red Poppy - David Hill & Fifi Colston
The Silver Donkey - Sonya Hartnett
War Games - James Riordan
War Horse - Michael Morpurgo (see my review)
When We Were Two - Robert Newton

World War Two

Angels of Kokoda - David Mulligan
Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne 
Children of the King - Sonya Hartnett 
(see my review)
Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank (see my review)
Forgotten Pearl - Belinda Murrell
Goodnight Mister Tom - Michelle Magorian
Hero on a Bicycle - Shirley Hughes

Heroes of Tobruk - David Mulligan
Hitler's Daughter - Jackie French (see my review)
I Am David - Ann Holm
Kokoda - Alan Tucker
Once, Then, Now, After - Morris Gleitzman
Pennies for Hitler - Jackie French
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
The Silver Sword - Ian Serralier
The Wrong Boy - Suzy Zail

Other Wars

Amina - J L Powers
Caesar The War Dog - Stephen Dando-Collins
Emilio - Sophie Masson
Naveed - John Heffernan
Shahana - Roseanne Hawke
Vietnam Diary - Mark Wilson

Clearly war books is a vast topic, even those written for children. It is hard to keep up. This year the Children's Book Council of Australia published Mud and Blood and Tears. An Annotated List of Children's Books about War and Conflict. 

I expect that this list (which does not attempt to be exhaustive) will inevitably grow with time. Certainly there has been a flurry of books about WWI this year, and they will keep coming with the centenary of Anzac Day next year. I know that Jackie French and Bruce Whatley have a new book coming out in November- The Beach They Called Gallipoli. It's important that we remember their stories, and do not forget. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

War Horse

I enjoyed the opportunity to read War Horse recently. I knew that it was one of my 1001 books, and so I'd avoided the play (which was possibly dumb) and the movie, so that I could keep the experience of the story for my first reading of the book. I'm glad that I did, but I'll be keen to see the movie now, and hope to see the play sometime too. 

I think it was a stroke of genius from Michael Morpurgo to tell a war story from the first person narrative of a horse. Joey becomes a trojan horse of sorts (pun definitely intended). We see the misery of war for the English, the Germans and the occupied French through Joey's eyes. I now love this current cover even more- the reflection of the line of soldiers in Joey's eye.

War Horse has a strong beginning, with young Joey, a foal, "not yet six months old, a gangling, leggy colt who had never been further than a few feet from his mother" sold at auction to a mean, drunk farmer. Joey bonds with Albert, the farmer's son. We feel rather sorry for Albert and his early life- with his miserable unhappy father, drunk every week on market day. One day Joey is sold to the army and sent to fight in the muddy fields of western France.

Morpurgo doesn't spare his young readers from the awful truth of war.

The wounded were everywhere- on stretchers, on crutches, in open ambulances, and etched on every man was the look of wretched misery and pain. 

I had seen the same grey faces looking out from under their helmets somewhere before. All that was different were the uniforms - they were grey now with red piping, and the helmets were no longer round with a broad brim. 

And yet Morpurgo gives us some hope, with a meeting of opposing forces in the desolation of No Man's Land, and the toss of a coin. 

We have shown them haven't we? We have shown them that any problem can be solved between two people if only they can trust each other. That is all it needs, no?

I enjoyed War Horse, and was very moved by some sections, and cried at times (tricky on a plane), but it wasn't the kick in the guts experience that I got from reading Private Peaceful (see my review)- one of my first Morpurgo reads which is possibly going to live on as my favourite. Still it's an appropriate month to read War Horse with the 100th anniversary commemorations of the start of WW1 this month, we do still live in a world that needs us to remember their stories.

War Horse was something of a sleeper hit. Originally published back in 1982, it came to prominence in 2007 when the National Theatre in Britain staged War Horse as a play with groundbreaking life-size puppets that went on to become a worldwide hit and made the book famous. A Spielberg movie version doesn't hurt either.

Morris Gleitzman's moving Loyal Creatures (see my review) is an Australian response to War Horse.


Monday, 18 August 2014

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

I expected to love 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. After all this was my second excursion with Jules Verne, not counting the lunches. I read his Journey to the Centre of the Earth back in 2012, and really loved it. I expected the same joy once again. Sadly it wasn't to be. 

Mind you, I did like the story itself, which is an exciting tale. A mysterious monster is attacking shipping in many places around the globe. Speculation mounts as to what it can be- a giant narwhal? French expert, Associate Professor Pierre Aronnax is sent on a mission with his trusty servant, the Belgian, Conseil, to capture the monster. Pierre Aronnax, Conseil, and Canadian harpooner Ned Land come to be trapped on the Nautilus with the rather enigmatic Captain Nemo.

Captain Nemo is a very famous character in fiction, whose reputation preceded him somewhat of course- but he wasn't what I expected at all. He remains rather enigmatic throughout the entire book. Why is he so enraged? Why is he so misanthropic? Sadly we don't really find out. We learn that his wife and children have been killed in disturbing circumstance, but not really any more details. And yet Nemo is a learned man, an unrecognised scientist, a gentleman scholar, but he can also be barbaric, and yet is often kind, even philanthropic, a Robin Hood character. Apparently much more detail about Captain Nemo is forthcoming in The Mysterious Island, a sequel of sorts to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

My lovely illustrated Harper Collins Books of Wonder version tells me that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is "Considered by many to be his greatest work, it has never been out of print in French or in English", and yet it's really a bit of a hard slog to read. Incredibly detailed, over detailed really, it is more a textbook than a novel at times. Historical fiction when Verne wrote it, is also one of the first books of the science fiction genre. A tale of an electric powered submarine criss-crossing the worlds oceans before readers of the book had electric light in their streets and houses must have indeed been quite fantastical.

There is so much detail about explorers, geography, history, oceanography and more. Many pages list species of fish, or seaweed, or shipping disasters. Not just a list of two or three example- paragraphs, pages of it. Dear god, if there was another mention of the taxonomy and classification of fish I thought I would go quite insane. It all got in the way of the story (which is actually exciting and well written), rather like the long swathes about Russian peasants got in the way of the story of Anna Karenina (which I never was able to finish). Rather incredibly there is a whole chapter about the disappearance of Monsieur La Perouse. Happily I have quite a fascination with the disappearance of Monsieur La Perouse, so I didn't really mind, indeed I quite enjoyed Verne's explication of events. But if I wasn't particularly interested in the exploits of French explorers of the 18th century then that chapter too would have been quite dull. For me there wasn't quite the same level of humour and fun that I found in Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Although there were moments that brought a wry smile.

There are some interesting perspectives reading this book from the distance of the 21st century. Written as the Steller's Sea Cow was being hunted to extinction, environmental messages are balanced by a hunting/eat everything you see mentality.

"And do you know," I added, "what has happened since man has almost completely destroyed these useful creatures? Rotting plants have fouled the air, and it is this foul air which has produced the yellow fever laying wast to these remarkable lands. Poisonous vegetation has increased beneath these warm seas, and this disease has spread unchecked from the mouth of the Rio Plata to Florida!"

I was rather excited though at a random mention of the giant clam shells at Saint Sulpice in Paris.

This shell, furnished by the largest of acephalous mollusks, measured about thirty-three feet around its delicately scalloped rim. It was even larger than those lovely giant clams given to Francis I by the Republic of Venice, and which the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris has made into two huge holy-water basins. 

It rang a faint bell. Yes- I have a slightly blurry photo of one- taken in my church going frenzy in Paris last year.

I'll have to go back and pay more attention!

I also read the introduction to the Oxford World's Classics edition by William Butcher, who is very critical of prior translations of Verne's works.

The poor style often associated with his name is not his. 

Butcher tells us that "The books were generally chopped by about 20 percent. The translators, frequently anonymous, often did not understand the French, and so mistranslated it." He gives such examples as the Badlands of Nebraska being mistranslated as the 'disagreeable territories of Nebraska'. 20,000 Leagues would be a challenge to any translator with the many species names and scientific descriptors.

So while I didn't enjoy my whole journey aboard the Nautilus (much like Pierre Arronax, Conseil and Ned Land) I am glad to have made it.

Books on France, a great 2014 challenge
 from Emma at 
Words and Peace

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

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Birds of Rottnest Island

A few weeks ago I showed you some photos of our all too brief visit to Rottnest Island in Western Australia. Another reason Rottnest was so special is that I saw many really cool birds, many new to me.

Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides)
The female has a white eye ring and is sitting here

They have such beautiful burnished colours

Darting in and about the rocks on the shore of the salt lakes was a
White-fronted chat (Epithanura albifrons)

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

Juvenile black-winged stilts

This one was very far away, I believe it is a
Red-capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

The eagle eyes of Master Wicker spotted this amazing robin for me
Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii)

But he couldn't see the Osprey nest!
Even with a sign….

An Osprey in action (Pandion cristatus)

Crested terns (Thalasseus bergii)

Some more familiar ducks
Grey teal (Anas gracilis)

And one of my favourite birds
Our Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
I bought a copy of the local bird guide so I can check
the ones that got away
and why I need to go back soon.
Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by