peteg's blog

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I figured I'd test out the bike today by riding from ANU to the Royal Australian Mint, following the western edge of the lake, and then back across the Commonwealth Avenue bridge:

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I had lunch on Black Mountain Peninsula, which is full of picnic facilities and carparks. Canberra is over-tamed. After that I rode a long way west and south, around Government House and what must have been a golf course. I didn't end up making it to the Royal Australian Mint as I missed the turn off, which was presumably one of the several marked "Woden". I stumbled upon the Oaks Brasserie that I'd been to with Pete R. and Loan, and had a snack there (pricey but a nice ambience). As you can see on the map, they've screwed up the bike path around Alexandrina Drive, presumably so the Toorak Tractors in exile save $0.01 on their fuel bills when they go to visit the GG. Even so it was an easy and relatively quick ride back to ANU on the mainstream commuter route. The weather was pretty much perfect the whole time.

The bike goes OK after I futzed with the quick release stuff and the front brake, but the gears need adjustment; I'm operating on roughly eight when I expect there is 12. Ben also reckons the brake pads need replacing, and doubtlessly the tyres need to be pumped up. It's easy to ride on the flat, but a bit creaky powering up hills. I've added a rack to it and Steve H has gifted me some panniers that will do the job.

The Last Detail

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An early 1970s Jack Nicholson behaving badly. Perhaps he sums it up best:

Welcome to the wonderful world of pussy, kid. The basin is yours.

Thunderbirds are GO

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Quaint futurology from the mid-1960s, a 2pm school holiday special at National Film and Sound Archive where everyone got in for $5. They certainly overestimated the attention spans of twenty-first century children, and just how weak a plot a movie can get away with; I guess that the years immediately preceding the moon landing were a time when the theme of space flight was bankable. The all-American entanglement with the Martians is risible: the intrepid spacemen go there, blow one of them up and wonder why they get the crap shot out of them. At least the Russkies shoot first.

By far the best part is the modelling. That just might be timeless. Perhaps I'll have to trawl IMDB's Supermarionation category.

Vũ Trọng Phụng: Lục Xì: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi

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Translated by Shaun Kingsley Malarney, University of Hawai‘i Press.

I borrowed this from the ANU library on the strength of earlier Vũ Trọng Phụng reportage in translation. The topic (prostitution in colonial Hà Nội in the 1930s) is a bit far from what I'm interested in; Hà Nội had a special status in those days, as French jurisdiction stopped at the municipal limits, and so the Girls Squad, Dispensary, etc. were hamstrung. In contrast Sài Gòn and greater Cochinchina was under the full-blown control of the colonialists, and it seems that there is almost nothing in translation from the region in that era. I'm also more curious about the status of women from an indigenous (traditional) perspective and how it changed when exposed to Europeanization, for courtesans cast a long shadow over Vietnamese literature and yet it is held that there is no place for that sort of thing in traditional Vietnamese society.

Malarney is certainly across his stuff, which one might expect from a professor in gender studies. His translation is excellent and his introduction certainly worth reading both before and after the main text. The interviews with the various players (two prostitutes, the director of the Dispensary, etc.) are intriguing. It dovetails well with Vũ Trọng Phụng's earlier account of the industrialists. I like it that the best account of what "lục xì" means is a Vietnamese rendition of the English "look see".

I can only add that "chicken" (gà) is slang for prostitute, at least in Sài Gòn.

One of the lovely librarians at the Menzies Library at ANU dredged this out of the new book processing pipeline for me. I can't get over the irony of the Menzies building being full of Asian materials, nor how helpful the library staff are. If this is inefficiency, let's have more of it.

Salman Rushdie: Luka and the Fire of Life

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I read Haroun and the Sea of Stories a long time ago and was charmed by Rushdie's foray into children's stories. He is well-placed to do this sort of thing, being broadly educated and (historically) playful and irreverent.

Here, however, we get a rewarming of the the aged/obsolete pantheistic god routine that Douglas Adams carried off so well, albeit with godship incorporating Sonic and Mario. Adams was funnier and more inventive; this reads like Rushdie trying to make the classics appealing to the video game generation, and exhausting the theological referents he dug up, yielding a Frankenovel (but not Frankenstein). Fair enough maybe, but all "puzzles" are resolved by deus ex machina, a boring and unambitious metaphysics that does not get better with repetition. For these reasons and more it lacks a moral dimension and falls far short of the classics, such as those by the famously immoral Oscar Wilde.

Some of this reads like an essay pleading for continued attention to imagination, reflecting but not really extending his earlier arguments for liberalism that I am susceptible to, but these are far more abstract than Wilde's concepts of commonwealth, and so unlikely to make much of an impact on a child. The Guardian review has the money quote:

"Magic is fading from the universe," one character warns. "We aren't needed any more, or that's what you all think, with your High Definitions and low expectations. One of these days you'll wake up and we'll be gone, and then you'll find out what it's like to live without even the idea of Magic."

The cheapness of thrills is pernicious, yes, but I fear it takes experience to develop notions of value, not fairy stories. Don't believe anyone who says this is Rushdie at his best/worst/most creative/most irritating or any other damm thing; this book merely reinforces my feeling that Rushdie's best days are behind him, and maybe this should have been called Prometheus Wept.

I borrowed this from the ANU library.

ACT Brumbies versus Western Force

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I figured I'd risk going to see another rugby match at the ground; it's getting on to three years since I last went, and this game reminded me why: it was complete rubbish.

The game itself can be dispensed with quickly. The Brumbies had a few more ideas in attack but their defence fell to bits in the final quarter, resulting in a come-from-behind scoreline of 25 — 17 to the Force. Giteau (for the Brumbies) was mostly jeered (when he kicked for goal from anywhere and everywhere), and cheered only when he kicked a penalty out just before half time. (The Brumbies proceeded to fumble that attacking opportunity.) Ashley-Cooper came on in the last twenty minutes or so and did nothing much.

The afternoon cost me $43, consisting of $37.95 ($33 for a student ticket and $4.95 for the pleasure of booking it with the nice lady at the ANU Ticketek office) and $5 for parking. This is too much for a game of this quality; I've avoided seeing better rugby at Coogee Oval because they charge $20. My seat was in the "inner bowl" on the eastern side of Canberra Stadium (previously Bruce Stadium), so I was staring into the sun (but warm) until the final quarter, when it got cold, dark and bad for the Brumbies all at once. That spot would have been OK if the game had grabbed the crowd, but as it was there were many people standing around aimlessly, blocking the view.

There is no doubt the club realises it has problems when only 13,500 supporters turn up for a likely win (which wasn't). Long gone are the glory days of Gregan and Larkham, and now even George Smith. I'm certainly not likely to go back. The pick of the games this year will presumably be the Reds versus the Waratahs, provided the Tahs field a full-strength team and bring their pride. It strikes me that Australian rugby stretches to support three decent teams in the Super Rugby competition, let alone five. We're going the way of South Africa. One can only hope that the Wallabies will play entertaining rugby before they exit the world cup in the first elimination round.

Prizzi's Honor (1985)

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Directed by John Huston. Adapted from a book by Richard Condon. I guess Jack Nicholson had to have a go at playing a mafioso though I'd be surprised if he had two goes at it. (His character in The Departed is an Irish hood.) William Hickey steals it from him with his mesmerising performance as the skeletal Don Corrado Prizzi who appears to have not a single red blood cell in his body. The opening is far too reminiscent of The Godfather with an Italian wedding and sideline shenanigans. Kathleen Turner is not totally credible as the hot-shot hot assassin and Jack's love interest. Not bad but not anything particularly great either.

My Name is Nobody

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... and this is the fag-end of the spaghetti westerns. I don't know why Henry Fonda is in this, five years after the far superior Once Upon A Time In The West. Presented by Leone is a long way from being directed by Leone, try as hard as this mob does, and even Morricone seems half-hearted here. I didn't really follow the plot (why did the Wild Bunch load up on explosives?) nor get into the characters. The clichés are tedious.

Bi, Don't Be Afraid

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A French/Vietnamese/German production screened by National Film and Sound Archive as part of their Regional Intersections program. I went to the one and only session at 2pm with my new housemate Amanda, after lunch with her and Tom and his brother, in Canberra for a buck's night, at dear old Café Essen.

This is a series of impressionistic snapshots of urban generational life in Hà Nội, and there is little in the way of plot. What we were sold:

Six year old Bi’s extended family lives near the neighbourhood ice factory. In a steaming Hanoi summer, ice seems to represent each family member’s desires, whether as a playground and tasty treat for Bi, pain relief for his aging grandfather or the inner sexual frustrations of his spinster aunt. The first feature by the writer of Adrift (featured in Regional Intersections 2010) is "... a thoughtful cinematic exploration of inchoate longing, the messy consequences of physical decline and encroaching death, and confirmation that sex and youthful exuberance spring eternal" (Screendaily).

I was surprised at the number of sex scenes in this thing, as I thought this was a Vietnamese production, where traditional allusion typically dominates prurience. It would have been more satisfying if there was more development of the disconnection between father and eldest son, his wife and her sister, and just maybe the mores of the coming generation. Gratuitous the sex is, perhaps an artefact of European involvement rather than indigenous expression. There was some depiction of om culture when Bi's father went to the hair-cut masseuse, albeit with the top-shelf extra being a bottle of water (La Vie).

The copyright read 2008, so it has taken ages to get distribution in the west.

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

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Richard Burton, World War II action hero? Why, how things have changed. Clint Eastwood is reduced to playing second fiddle (unaccountably as this postdates The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and the whole thing reeks of English triumphalism, of milking the Nazi cow when it was already horizontal. The pre-CGI stunts look well-done in brain-off mode.

Incidentally, vale Sidney Lumet. I didn't realise just how many of his movies I saw and enjoyed.

Vũ Trọng Phụng: The Industry of Marrying Europeans (Kỹ Nghệ Lấy Tây)

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Translated by Thúy Tranviet, Cornell University, 2006.

I extracted this from the shelves of the Menzies library at ANU, or more precisely, one of the lovely librarians managed to find it after my (plus-and-minus a non-Dewey decimal) search yielded nothing. I wouldn't be surprised if it hasn't been out of the library for many a year.

This is reporter/culture critic Vũ Trọng Phụng exploring the om culture of northern Việt Nam in the 1930s. Specifically he satirises the entanglements of the local ladies with the French Foreign Legion, giving a wide berth to those enmeshed in the politically thin-skinned colonial administration. He skirts the fine line between (mostly) serial marriages (for money) and outright prostitution, albeit with enough nods and winks for us to know that it is playing on his mind (cf the more-recent translation of Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi which I also borrowed). He also spends some time pondering the plight of the Eurasian children who are stuck between the two cultures.

The translation is so-so, and certainly not as good as Nguyễn Nguyệt Cầm and Peter Zinoman's Dumb Luck.

Again, the introduction would have been better as an afterword. It contains too much lit-crit for my taste; to simply situate the work against the times and culture, and even better, how it played in Việt Nam since it was published would have been far more useful.

The spy who came in from the cold

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Richard Burton. Very cynical. A nice not-too-twisty Le Carre. 1965. Not too tense as the plot unwound fairly predictably. Burton reminds me (anachronistically) of Paul Darrow, the voice and delivery.