Friday, April 17, 2015

Art Fix: The Golden Age of China

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It has been almost a year since I last attended an exhibition, so feeling in the mood to rest my eyes on beauteous objects, I sallied forth to the National Gallery of Victoria to see the new International exhibition of Chinese Art.

The paintings and objects are on loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing. The Palace Museum is housed in the old Forbidden City, where countless dynasties of Chinese Emperors resided.

One of these was Qianlong Emperor who ruled China from 1736 to 1795, and it was from his period that the objects and paintings on display were drawn.

I’m very hazy as to the history of China and couldn’t tell you when any particular dynasty of Emperors ruled, so I found the Golden Age of China exhibition to be both educational and enlightening and a feast of beauty for the eyes.

There was plenty to see, the exhibition being quite extensive with paintings, jewellery, weaponry, costumes, as well as household and religious items.

Qianlong Emperor was a cultured person with an artistic bent. He was skilled in both painting and calligraphy and a noted poet. Several paintings and scrolls contained his poetic observations.

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Qianlong Emperor on horseback in ceremonial armour – 1739 -painting by Giuseppe Castiglione

If you’re wondering at the name of Giuseppe Castiglione, he was a Jesuit Missionary with a talent for painting.  He gained access to the Imperial Court and painted the royal family in an European style, that was an influence on future generations of Chinese artists.

Pine, hawk, and lingzhi fungus by Giuseppe Castiglione

The most resplendent items in the collections were the ceremonial robes. They were gorgeous garments with elaborate decorations – works of art in their own right.

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Detail from Empress’ robe – mid 18th century

I was arrested by the following portrait of Imperial Honourable Consort Huixian. She has a striking face and is wearing a gorgeous gown.

Imperial Honourable Consort Huixian

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The Empress Xiao Yichun in ceremonial robe

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Forbidden City from a bird’s eye view – envoys from vassal states and foreign countries presenting tributes to the Emperor

The above pictures were mostly scanned from the exhibition brochure or postcards I purchased at the Gallery Shop.

Unfortunately there was no postcard of a cool Steampunk barometer in the shape of a locomotive, but I’ve found a photo of it on the internet at a Decorative Arts Flickr Group.

Locomotive shaped barometer on French origin

After looking at the wonderful objects in the Golden Age of China exhibition, I moved on to view two other smaller exhibitions, one featuring the Gallery’s collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and objects , titled Medieval Moderns - The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Exquisite Threads – English Embroidery 1600s-1900s.

Both exhibitions were pleasing to view and I  must admit the embroidery was indeed exquisite.

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Jacobean Embroidered bed hanging 1600 –99

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Waistcoat 1780 -silk, silk (thread), linen (back, lining)

The National Gallery of Victoria will be holding a major exhibition over winter featuring works of art from The Hermitage – The Legacy of Catherine the Great.

I will probably go and have a look at it some time or other when I feel like another art fix.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Time Travelling with Pokey LaFarge Again

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Pokey LaFarge live at the Corner Hotel – 9 April 2015

Proust may have had his petit madelaine  to evoke the past, but you didn’t need any memory joggers at the Pokey LaFarge concert last night to be swept back in time. The music does it from the first song, as you feel a rush of pleasure in the toe tapping syncopated rhythms of Pokey’s excellent band, playing the old time music that Pokey LaFarge specialises in.

Hell, even us senior music lovers weren’t born when this kind of music was the rage, but Pokey attracts fans of all ages and the music is apparently timeless.

The band are now a seven piece (including Pokey) with a drummer recently being added.

They are Joey Glynn on bass, Adam Hoskings on guitar, Ryan Koenig on harmonica, washboard and snare drum, T J Muller on cornet and trombone, Chloe Feoranzo on clarinet and saxophone and Matthew Meyer on drums & cymbals.

We were given a taster before the feature act with New Orleans musician Luke Winslow King playing a great opening set. He also has a vintage look about him, and his taste in music is similar to Pokey’s encompassing old time blues and jazz.

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Luke Winslow King live at the Corner Hotel – 9 April 2015

Unfortunately I didn’t note his set list nor could it be lifted from the stage, but I recall he sang Travellin’ By Myself which I have previously watched on You Tube.  He’s worth checking out as he’s an excellent guitarist and has an engaging stage presence.  Let it be said, he was a quality opening act.

Pokey LaFarge and band didn’t waste any time getting the crowd up and dancing (where space permitted) and singing along. As I noted at last year’s Pokey LaFarge concert at the same venue, Pokey establishes an instant rapport with the audience that is amazing to experience.  He’s a consummate showman of rare talent and dresses the part.

This time he wore a stylish blue denim suit over a blue shirt, with a flashy diamante studded bow tie and cool black shoes, and I noticed that he was wearing bright red socks underneath it all to match the red and white checked handkerchief poking from his breast pocket..

Pokey has just released a new record entitled Something In The Water and the band kicked off their set with the lively closing track, Knockin’ The Dust Off The Rustbelt Tonight following that with another new one, Underground.  Most of the songs on the set list were in fact drawn from the new album, but they played many old favourites as well, like Bowlegged Woman, Devil Ain’t Lazy, La La Blues for instance.

Pokey and Chloe share the mike in a duet.

As mentioned previously there was a lot of audience participation, executed with great enthusiasm I might add, with sing-alongs to many songs and muted dancing. As it was a stand up gig, there wasn’t much room for dancing, though the young out of it thing next to me thought she was dancing in time, but alas was not. I was seriously considering giving her the elbow when she kept stumbling into me. Thankfully she moved elsewhere and annoyed someone else.

Pokey and band played for 1½ hours and returned for a three song encore, finishing with the old Ray Charles song Let’s Get Stoned.

It was a superb concert, even better than the one last year. You emerge from a Pokey LaFarge concert as if from a dream time – a Golden Age so to speak - of the pre war American Mid West expressed through its music. Listening to Pokey’s CDs does not have the same impact as seeing him live, so catch him if you can.

The guy standing next to me was some kind of music journalist who enthused to me that he’d just discovered his new favourite band.

He kindly allowed me to steal the set list from the stage.

Pokey LaFarge Set List – Corner Hotel – 9 April 2015

  1. Knockin’ The Dust Off The Rust Belt Tonight
  2. Underground
  3. Bowlegged Woman
  4. City Summer Blues
  5. Wanna Be Your Man
  6. Actin’ A Fool
  7. Goodbye Barcelona
  8. The Spark
  9. Something In The Water
  10. All Night Long
  11. Let’s Get Lost
  12. Devil Ain’t Lazy
  13. La La Blues
  14. When Did You Leave Heaven
  15. Close The Door
  16. Drinkin’ Whisky Tonight
  17. Central Time

He also sang a few other songs not mentioned on the official set list as I distinctly remember Hard Times Come And Go was sung at one point.


  1. Far Away
  2. What’s The Matter With The Mill (Muddy Waters cover)
  3. Let’s Get Stoned

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Sydney Cup Day–The Championships Week 2

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Contributer – Emirates Stakes Day 2014

Another big day of racing is coming up this Saturday with the second race meeting of the The Championships at Randwick. That is of course if they’re not cancelled by the atrocious Sydney weather.

There are another four Group 1 races on the program, and exceptionally good fields contesting them.

First to kick off is the Australian Oaks, for staying fillies, run over 2400 metres. Top pick is Fenway, who won the Vinery Stud Stakes at her last start, beating First Seal and Thunder Lady. First Seal will be contesting the Queen of the Turf Stakes, but Thunder Lady is a contestant in the Oaks and a viable chance.  New Zealand Oaks winner Savaria  is also worth consideration as she won that race on soft going at the distance. along with Candelara who won the Group 3 Adrian Knox Stakes (2000 metres) on Monday.

The splendid Catkins will be having another bash at winning her first Group 1 – which she surely deserves - in the Group 1 Queen of the Turf Stakes (1600 metres). Heavy tracks don’t worry this girl, so it might be her best chance yet for Group 1 glory.  Her competition is formidable with Group 1 winning mares Cosmic Endeavour, Diamond Drille, Bonaria, Amicus, Diademe (NZ Group 1) and filly First Seal in the field. But my heart will be with the game little grey mare.

Run over the same distance (3200 metres) as the Melbourne Cup, the Sydney Cup offers $1 million to the winner, so is worthwhile for International racehorses to contest. Can Protectionist win the Melbourne/Sydney Cups double? His build up form has been indifferent, but his form over the distance is unquestionable and could well be his forte. English import Hartnell is the top pick. His current form is excellent with two consecutive wins, the last being the Group 1 BMW and he also has won a race over 3200 metres. He has a 6kg weight advantage over Protectionist

Who Shot Thebarman ran third in last year’s Melbourne Cup and is the great white hope for locally(Australia/NZ)  bred horses in this race – there are only two - the other one being NZ bred Don Doremo.  Others with a chance are Renew who won the Sandown Cup over the distance, and Hong Kong stayer Dominant who has Joao Moreira in the saddle.

As racing fields go, the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000 metres) is quality with a capital Q.

Sydney’s answer to the Cox Plate, it is the richest 2000 metre race in Australia – the Cox Plate winner gets $1,800,000, but the QE Stakes winner earns a handsome purse of $2,400.000.

It will be a fascinating race to watch, and the most exciting horse in the field is last year’s Cox Plate winner Adelaide. Who could forget his stunning long run down the outside in the Plate to grab the prize on the line. He hasn’t raced since then, so he faces a field of fitness hardened veterans, most notably Contributer who has won his last three starts, including the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes and Ranvet Stakes.

Also in the field are Japanese stars To The World and Tosen Stardom who are surely not to be dismissed out of hand, and popular old stayer Red Cadeaux who could easily run a place.

Of the locally bred runners, Criterion has a good chance as he was only beaten by a nose in the George Ryder Stakes by Japanese horse Real Impact who was beaten by Kermadec last Monday in the Doncaster.  

I’d like to think that the only two mares in the race – Royal Descent and Lucia Valentina – could feature in the finish, but would be surprised if either won. Like wise with other locals Happy Trails and Fiveandhalfstar – they’re probably outclassed by the Internationals and the Imports, though NZ stallion It’s A Dundeel won this race last year, beating Sacred Falls and the Queen’s horse Carlton House, so anything could happen.

In Melbourne, Flemington has a low key meeting that I am not tempted to attend, so I’ll be staying home watching the Sydney action on my computer or the TV.

Update: Sunday afternoon

The track at Randwick was heavy and the results of the Group 1 races threw up long shots in most cases.

Who could have picked Gust of Wind winning the Australian Oaks? she paid over $20.00 for the win. Winx finished second and Candelara ran third. Early favourite  Fenway was scratched from the race early on Saturday morning.

Another 20/1 shot Amanpour won the Queen of the Turf Stakes, and denied Catkins, who ran her usual honest race, group 1 glory. Noble Protector finished third.

The Sydney Cup result was also taken out by 40/1 shot Grand Marshall pipping Who Shot Thebarman on the line. Hartnell led for most of the race, but was unable to keep up with the swoopers and finished fourth, and Protectionist failed to feature at all. Like A Carousel finished third.

Locally bred Criterion beat a crack field in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, winning by 2½ lengths from old trooper Red Cadeaux with the ever reliable Royal Descent taking third place. Contributor was scratched early Saturday, so who knows what would have resulted had he run.  The Japanese horses failed to handle the heavy track, as did Adelaide who finished in eighth place.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Sunny Melbourne, Rainy Sydney

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Sertorius – winner of the Easter Cup – in his stall

Sydney experienced a downpour on Saturday that resulted in the cancellation (or postponement) of the Group 1 race meeting at Randwick. It is being run today instead.

By contrast, Melbourne on Saturday was mild and sunny and the track at Caulfield was good and speedy.  It was perfect weather for spending an afternoon trackside, despite the hordes of children in attendance hyped to eyeballs by chocolate treats. There was even an Easter egg hunt for the junior racegoers.

I took my time getting to Caulfield as the races I was most interested in watching were scheduled for mid to late afternoon. So I arrived just after 2.00pm in time for race 4, the Jack Elliott Handicap, an open race over 1400 metres. It was won by Bel Rhythm.

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Race 4 – down the straight – Bel Rhythm (no. 8) is about to overtake the leaders

My main reason for going to Caulfield was to see The Cleaner, Disposition and Prince Harada and the only one of the three that won was Prince Harada, having his first start for a year. The break and his gelding obviously did him good, for though he only won by a short margin he looked good doing it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Race 5 was the Geoff Murphy Handicap for three year old fillies over 1400 metres.  I observed the contenders in the mounting yard.

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Japhils who ran second

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Sea Spray – ran third

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Samartested – the winner

Samartested is a half sister to the 2012 Blue Diamond winner Samaready though she has not shown the same talent as her big sister so far.

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Race 5 down the straight – Samartested is about to overtake Japhils

Prince Harada’s race was next on the card, over 1100 metres.  He was the short priced favourite and as reported before he won narrowly from early leader Boomwaa with Agent running third.

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Prince Harada being difficult in the mounting yard

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Boomwaa on his way to the barriers

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Agent on his way to the barriers

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Race 6 – down the straight – Boomwaa leads with Prince Harada zooming down the outside.

As expected, The Cleaner took the lead in the Easter Cup, but he couldn’t maintain the pace and was overtaken by Escado, Sertorius and Shoreham. Sertorius ended up the winner, finally scoring some cred for himself after trying and failing in harder races.

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The Cleaner in the mounting yard

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Sertorius in the mounting yard

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Race 7  finish – Escado leads with Sertorius in hot pursuit

I felt tempted to go home after the Easter Cup, but decided to stay for race 8, the Victoria Handicap, a Group 3 race over 1400 metres. I was interested in seeing how Disposition would perform. Ironically a fellow Western Australian horse, Waterman’s Bay, won the prize from The Peak and Sistine Demon. Disposition ended up finishing fourth.

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Waterman’s Bay in the mounting yard.

Whilst I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been intermittently watching the races in Sydney. The track was heavy, but the results of the  Group 1 races were not all that surprising.

Pride of Dubai won the Sires from outsiders Odyssey Moon and Rageese who dead heated for second.

The Derby was won by New Zealand Derby winner Mongolian Khan with Hauraki splitting him and fellow New Zealander Volkstok’n’barrell.

Lankan Rupee, though given every chance was unable to feature in the finish of the TJ Smith. Chautauqua won by a nose from Lord of the Sky with Terravista running third.

And the Doncaster was won by three year old colt Kermadec from Japanese horse Real Impact with Royal Descent finishing in third place.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Donny-Derby Day–The first day of The Championships

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Sacred Falls at Caulfield 11 October 2014 – Can he win his third Doncaster?

Easter Saturday used to be known by racing fans as Doncaster- Derby day, but the two races in question have, for the past ten years or so,  been run on different days. This year they return on the same day, along with two other Group 1 races at Randwick on Saturday.

It’s the first day of Sydney’s pompously named The Championships, which continues over the following two weekends, culminating with the All Aged Stakes Day on 18 April.

You have to admit that this first day of The Championships offers a fabulous line up of races with top class fields. Unfortunately the track will be most likely rain affected, but you kind of expect that during the Sydney autumn racing carnival.

The first of the Group 1 races is the Inglis Sires, a race for two year olds over 1400 metres.  It has attracted a cracking field that includes Blue Diamond Stakes winner Pride of Dubai, Golden Slipper runner up English, Melbourne filly Pasadena Girl who has won her only two starts and Always Allison, who looked very promising in her first two starts before going amiss in her last start. She does however have  “Magic Man” Joao Moreira  in the saddle, which gives her a distinct advantage.

The Sires is followed by the Australian Derby, a 2400 metres race for three year olds. The New Zealand pair Mongolian Khan and Volkstok’n’barrell look the top picks, along with Victorian Derby winner Preferment, who finished second to Volkstok’n’barrell in the Rosehill Guineas. Also in with a chance is Hauraki who won the Tulloch Stakes (2000 metres) by 2.5 lengths. He’s part of the Godolphin team who have been very successful of late, winning most of the races last Saturday.

Lankan Rupee, Chautauqua and Terravista meet again in the Group 1 T J Smith Stakes, a sprint over 1200 metres. Lankan Rupee won this race last year on a heavy track, so I’ll be hoping he can do it for a second time and finally get the better of his two classy rivals. Sweet Idea is also likely to be in the finish, and with a 2kg weight advantage, could well beat the boys. 

Sacred Falls won the Doncaster Mile in both 2013 and 2014 and will be trying to create history by becoming the first horse to win three times consecutively. He has to carry top weight 58kg and beat a full field of 20 runners to do so.  One thing in his favour is that he performs well on soft ground, after all he won both the 2013 and 2014 Doncaster on bog tracks. He’ll be starting at pretty good odds too, as he has not inspired confidence with his runs so far this autumn.

One of the favourites will probably be the Japanese horse Real Impact, who so impressively won the George Ryder Stakes a fortnight ago, and there is a lot of support for three year old Hallowed Crown who has a light weight advantage, though has drawn the outside barrier. There’s also a bit of hype on French import Pornichet who won a Group 3 race last Saturday at Rosehill.

I reckon Royal Descent and Cosmic Endeavour both have a good chance of taking out the race for the fair sex, the former with her excellent form on heavy tracks and the services of Joao Moreira as her jockey, whilst Cosmic Endeavour , despite her poor performance in the Ryder Stakes, is too good to overlook.  There’s also Melbourne mare Suavito who is currently on a run of wins in her home state that included the Group 1 Futurity Stakes.

In Melbourne Caulfield’s Easter Saturday meeting looks interesting enough to attend, with the popular front runner The Cleaner being one of the attractions. He’ll be running in the Easter Cup, a much easier race than the last few he’s contested, so will most likely be the winner. He’s also had a change of gear – blinkers off, visor on, so that he can see other horses overtaking him, which apparently spurs him on.

Also racing at Caulfield on Saturday is Western Australian star three year old, Disposition, last seen finishing second to Wandjina in the C S Hayes Stakes in February.  He’s entered in the Group 3 Victoria Handicap.

I’m also keen to set eyes again on Prince Harada who has been out of action for over a year and was gelded in the interim.  He’s entered in a 1100 metre sprint, which is probably a little short for him.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A Literary Smorgasbord–The Wheeler Centre 10 Days in May

I’m excited!

In the past I have been disappointed in missing several writers I should have liked to see in person at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre but heard about the events too late or not at all.

One of the authors I missed whom I would dearly love to meet was Karen Joy Fowler, author of the wonderful We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and The Jane Austen Book Club among other fine novels. The event was not advertised and I heard later that it was not well attended, so I figured that if I was to get news  of such events I should sign up for the Wheeler Centre newsletter if they had such a service.

I signed up a few months ago and it paid off handsomely the other evening when I received the Wheeler Centre newsletter with details of their Ten Days In May mini festival -  a spill over of International writers from the concurrent Sydney Writer’s Festival. 

Among them are two of my favourite authors – Jonathan Lethem and David Mitchell.

david_mitchell 007David Mitchell is famous, a modern literary lion adored by his reader fans for his clever books and beautiful prose style.  I did have the pleasure of seeing David Mitchell live several years ago and got my copy of his book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet signed. This time I’ll be taking along a few more of his books including his latest, The Bone Clocks, to be signed.

Jonathan Lethem photographed on the campus of Pomona College.Jonathan Lethem on the other hand  is not all that well known in Australia, except perhaps in Science Fiction circles.  He actually doesn’t write science fiction, but his books often contain fantastic elements. In my opinion his masterwork is Motherless Brooklyn, a sort of detective mystery whose narrator suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome.

I have been following Jonathan Lethem’s career from his first book titled Gun with Occasional Music, a hard boiled detective satire set in a bizarre future.  His second novel Amnesia Moon was just as strange – described on the cover as an amazing road noir novel of the fractal future. I have yet to read his latest novel Dissident Gardens, but intend to do so before his appearance in Melbourne.

I’ve booked for both of the above authors who will be at the Atrium, Federation Square on 19 May, one after the other.

It seems I have inclination to soak up  culture at the moment, for I’ve also booked tickets for Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn who will be at the Wheeler Centre on 14 May, also as part of the mini festival. 

Claire Tomalin is a notable journalist and writer of several biographies of historical figures- Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, to name a few. I have her biography of Mary Wollstoncraft in hard cover, which I purchased way back in 1975, so I’ll certainly be taking it along to be signed.

She is married to Michael Frayn who is known for his clever satirical novels. I have only one in my collection – his first novel,  The Tin Men, in a 1974 paperback.

I notice Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk , a book I greatly enjoyed reading last year, is a guest at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. I’m disappointed that she will not be seen in Melbourne during that time, unless she comes later.