Damn you, Burley-Griffin!

A fair bit has changed since I last wrote anything here. Perhaps most importantly, I now live in Canberra (at least temporarily).

Canberra isn’t as bad as I thought (or had been told) it would be, but I think I’ll be glad to get back to Melbourne.

For now, here are some thoughts on how Canberra compares to my other Australian home cities, Adelaide and Melbourne (Den Haag will have to sit this one out):

1. Urban planning

Canberra is beautifully planned, which is good, except that it’s beautifully planned in such a way that it’s almost impossible to get anywhere without getting lost and going around in circles (Burley-Griffin apparently had a thing for circles).

Melbourne and Adelaide were also planned, but with sensible straight lines instead of never-ending circles. And Adelaide had the advantage of planning that went beyond the city centre, with good north-south and east-west roads (unlike Melbourne, where driving to the other side of the city is a half-day expedition).

As such, I think I can safely say that Light (Adelaide) > Hoddle (Melbourne) > Burley-Griffin (Canberra).

2. Small talk opening gambit

The standard small talk opening gambit pretty much everywhere is ‘What do you do?’ – but if you pay attention, you’ll notice there are common regional variations.

Adelaide being as small as it is, the main thing people seem to want to know about someone they’ve never met is who they know in common. While there are many ways to figure this out, probably the most common starting point is ‘What school did you go to?’

In Melbourne, the easiest way to pigeonhole someone is vis the northside/southside divide. The lack of decent north-south connecting roads (see above) contributes in part to a clear north/south division in Melbourne (with Richmond in a bit of a grey area). Will recently explained the distinction as follows:

If you see a guy with a hipster moustache and a tea cosy on his head, you’re on the northside. If you see a guy holding a protein shake and wearing a wifebeater, you’re on the southside.

As such, the question everyone wants answered in Melbourne is ‘Where do you live?’

In Canberra, it seems as though less than 10% of the people who live here are actually from here. Pretty much everyone is imported. So the most common question I’ve come across in Canberra is ‘Where are you from?’

3. Hayfever

Over the course of many years living in Adelaide, I think I managed to build up a tolerance to Adelaide pollen. I’d always had terrible hayfever in Melbourne as a kid, and that came back with a vengeance when I moved back to Melbourne.

I’d like to think that if I was in Melbourne this spring, I’d have built up at least a small tolerance to Melbourne pollen. I spent basically all winter telling myself that running would help.

Sadly, though, being in Canberra this spring, I’ve been unable to test my theory. And Canberra has decided to give me the same pollen-induced grief that Melbourne gave me last year. I think it’s because half of this town is still just paddock (with random suburbs and national monuments scattered in between).



In the end, I thought I’d go with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? first, mainly because I knew the least about it.

I’m still not entirely sure I could tell you what it was all about.

I can see why it still gets talked about today, and why it was nominated for so many Oscars. If nothing else, it certainly grips you the whole way through – mainly (I think) because it’s so completely unsettling. None of the four characters behaves quite like you’d expect a real person to behave. Yes, it’s already 2.00am when the film starts; and, yes, the characters are all drunk for most of the movie – but I don’t think that explains it completely. I think they’re all just a bit mad.

Would I recommend it?

Probably not above other films.

Do I regret having seen it?

No. Definitely not.

There’s brilliance in there among the madness – particularly when you think about it as a play to read rather than a movie to watch. There’s a lot of very clever dialogue that doesn’t always sound quite right spoken out loud, but which reads really well on paper. And even as a movie, it has a lot of charm. George (Richard Burton) in particular definitely grew on me, and I think the exchanges between him and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) were the highlights of the film.

George: I’m very impressed.
Martha: You’re damn right.
George: I said I was impressed. I’m beside myself with jealousy. What do you want me to do, throw up?

Martha: [derogatorily, to George] Hey, swamp! Hey swampy!
George: Yes, Martha? Can I get you something?
Martha: Ah, well, sure. You can, um, light my cigarette, if you’re of a mind to.
George: No. There are limits. I mean, a man can put up with only so much without he descends a rung or two on the old evolutionary ladder, which is up your line. Now, I will hold your hand when it’s dark and you’re afraid of the boogeyman and I will tote your gin bottles out after midnight so no one can see but I will not light your cigarette. And that, as they say, is that.
Martha: Jesus.

I’m sure if I’d actually read the play I’d have a lot more to say about the state of George and Martha’s marriage (and Nick and Honey’s), but I’m not big on digging through layers of meaning when I’m not required to write an English paper. In that sense, I’ve come away from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? feeling a bit like I did when I finished The Bell Jar – I know there’s something deep and meaningful in there, but I’m too lazy right now to puzzle it out.

With that in mind, I think I’ll go watch True Blood.

The line is actually ‘a centre for ants’

Earlier this week, I made the mistake of asking someone what they meant when they described a friend’s apartment as a ‘school for ants’.  I thought it was a pretty innocent question.

I had no idea so many people would take a failure to spot a Zoolander reference so personally.

I have actually seen the movie, by the way. ‘They’re breakdance fighting!’ remains one of my favourite film lines of all time. But I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a gaping hole in my pop culture knowledge where a whole lot of classic films should be.

I’ve made attempts to fix the problem in the past, including a brief period around 2004 where I watched a whole series of films (Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, A Fish Called Wanda, Snatch) that I still count among my favourites.

At Bec’s insistence, I’ve decided to have another shot. I started with The Shawshank Redemption (1994) a few weeks ago, and absolutely loved it. Moving backwards a decade with each film, I’ve chosen these as the next four:

1. Withnail & I (1987)
2. Chinatown (1974)
3. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
4. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

I’m sure I’ll have something to say about each of them as I make my way through.

If this isn’t nice, what is?

I recently read Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut’s final novel.

It’s an interesting book – part memoir, part scrapbook, and (like everything Vonnegut) part brilliant nonsense. In many ways, it’s an excellent recipe for a blog.

Far and away my favourite part of the book was this, originally delivered by Abraham Lincoln in February 1861 as he departed Springfield, Illinois for his inauguration in Washington, DC and the beginning of the Civil War:

Perhaps we have come home to the dreadful day of awakening, and the dream is ended. If so, I am afraid it must be ended forever. I cannot believe that ever again will men have the opportunity we have had. Perhaps we should admit that, and concede that our ideals of liberty and equality are decadent and doomed. I have heard of an eastern monarch who once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence which would be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, ‘And this too shall pass away.’

That is a comforting thought in time of affliction – ‘And this too shall pass away.’ And yet – let us believe that it is not true! Let us live to prove that we can cultivate the natural world that is about us, and the intellectual and moral world that is within us, so that we may secure an individual, social and political prosperity, whose course shall be forward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away…

Beautiful. Certainly puts our current politicians to shame.

Anyway, I plan for this blog to function as a bit of a personal Timequake – part memoir, part scrapbook, part nonsense.

I hope you enjoy it.