Big cat in the city

By Vita Forest

A giant cat lounging on the grass beneath the jacaranda trees, the train clattering over the elevated tracks behind it.

I’ve been pacing up and down, forward and back, looking at the tiger from every angle, judging the view and judging the heat of the sun, the amount of shade, the location of seats and weighing up whether I will be able to sit there and draw comfortably.  But I want to focus on the tiger’s head, I want to look right into its eyes, so I choose this place, beneath this tree in front of the MCA on the lawn.  The ground is slightly damp, so I look in my backpack and find a scarf.  I drizzle it into a puddle of fabric and it falls from my hand in layers and layers, a spiral on the damp grass.  I sit cross-legged on my fabric seat in the shade of the tree and look across at the tiger.

I remember Quentin’s sketch of this same cat, his use of watercolour, how he caught the vibrant golden yellow.  But I have not brought my paints today.  I will have to catch it another way.  I rummage through my pencil case and find my graphite pencil, 6B – capable of the darkest blacks at the press of my fingers.  I decide to use that.

I map out the figure on my page, lightly drawing in the bulk of the body, the angle of the head.  The tiger’s toes are often obscured by children bouncing on its limbs (before its keeper in an official high-vis vest tells them off) and adults stepping boldly between the tiger’s paws to smile at a camera, to catch the encounter forever, though they have hardly stopped to look, hardly paused to stare up into the eyes of the tiger.

I stroke its face with my pencil and it seems to like that, it rocks back and forth as if dancing, as if moving in time to the clashing cymbals accompanying the lion dancing somewhere out of sight in The Rocks.  Its eyes emerge on my paper, its stripes, the shadows that I notice when the sun bursts through the clouds in a brilliant dazzle.  Is it watching me from those deep streaked eyes, or is it looking over my head to the ferries, or across the bay to the pink gridded pig snuffling beneath the sails of the Opera House?

Does it welcome the rain that splatters my paper, that sends us all running and huddling for a few brief minutes beneath the deep overhand at the entrance to the MCA, that leaves watercolour fireworks, a happy accident amongst Lara’s bright sketch of fighting cockerels?  Perhaps it is a longed-for respite, those fat drops that pit its tight yellow skin, that staccato drumming across its shoulders.

The rain stops as quickly as it starts and I return to stand beneath the shade beneath the tree, the ground too wet to sit on now.  I cradle my sketchbook in my arm and continue to breathe life into the outline on my page.  It’s strange what your mind notices in these moments – the colours of the tiger’s stripes are also found in the carriages and doors of the trains that streak beneath the Cahill Expressway and onto Circular Quay.

And after I have met up with the other sketchers, after we have admired each other’s work and told our stories and taken our photos and said our farewells, after I have caught the train home and made a cup of tea and lain down to rest on the couch, one of my own cats, my Isaboe, casually walks along the length of my body before settling, purring, like a sphinx on my chest, weight on her forelegs, in a pose that mirrors that of the big cat in the city.

See the train in the background?

 

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Holiday watchlist

By Vita Forest

Last week on holildays in Kiama, we took some DVDs to watch each night.  Here is what we chose…  A bit of nostalgia, a bit of fun, a few classics…  All recommended!

  • The Hundred Foot Journey (2014 ) Lasse Hallstrom’s feel-good film about what happens when a family of Indian immigrants buys a run-down restaurant across the road from a Michelin-star winning restaurant in a picturesque French village.  Rivalry, racism, love and food!
  • The Goonies (1985) A bunch of kids set out on an adventure in a last ditch attempt to save their town from unscrupulous developers.  Treasure maps, pirates, legends, and lots of screaming.  Features some familiar faces from the 1980s.
  • Rosalie Blum (2015) – An alligator, a peeing thief, and a dog masquerading as a lion… all appear in this French film about three lonely people whose lives intersect in unexpected, hilarious and heart-warming ways.
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – a thirteen year old boy who’s a ‘real bad egg’ and a surly loner  go on the run from the authorities in the New Zealand bush.  Taika Waititi’s classic.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – an animated film directed by Hayao Miyazaki and based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.  As always from Studio Ghibli, it features superb animation, complex characters who are never truly good or evil and mouth-watering scenes of food.
  • Strictly Ballroom (1992) – Baz Luhrman and his team’s first film and my favourite of all of them!  The battle between the new and the old set in the world of ballroom dancing – and featuring some familiar Sydney locations.  A magic  blend of music, humour and visual delights.  The perfect pick me up when you’re feeling down.
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – the classic Hollywood musical set in the 1920s with fabulous songs, dancing and a winning story.  Just heaven!

We also picked up a couple of other titles while browsing op shops etc.  These were

  • The Sound of Music
  • The Matrix

What have you been watching?

From the balcony

By Vita Forest

In the early morning

There are joggers and cyclists

Dark silhouettes against the pearly sky

And the band of bootcampers

Swinging bells and balls

As they squat and straighten

On the soft green grass

 

I sit sipping tea

As they walk beneath the balcony

We’ve come to show you their hair,

the mother says to the white-haired neighbour watching the sea

And the girls turn obligingly to show

the twisted plaits

That start at their temples

And ring their skulls

Like crowns

 

The father in the singlet shepherds his kids across the carpark

She, riding a tiny white horse

Rolling on plastic wheels that grind on the asphalt

He, a blue grown-up scooter that

glides smooth with every press of his foot

while a car waits and lets them pass

engine idling

 

The black-clad teenager pulls in below

beneath the long flickering fingers of the pine

Sits a moment

Not yet time to start his shift

At the restaurant across the way

Just time enough to listen to one more song

As the engine ticks and cools

 

Happy New Year and Recommended Reads

By Vita Forest

Happy New Year everyone!  I thought I’d start the year with a list of new books I read last year and would recommend.  Some are not so very new but I discovered them in 2018.  As always, these were interspersed with lots of rereading of old favourites.  Happy Reading!

  • Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman (you will laugh and you will cry at this warm-hearted book).
  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (a sensational story set during WW2).
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (I know, it’s not new at all, but how fantastic to be able to read it voraciously all the way through and not have to wait for the next  book in the series.  A fantasy classic).
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (another gem from one of my absolute favourite authors.  Another WW2 story, this seemed to be a bit of a theme this year).
  • The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore (my daughter Lucy put me on to this YA tale of forbidden love.  One of her friends put her onto it, comparing it to Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus… enough said).
  • Tom Appleby: Convict Boy by Jackie French (we read this excellent book at school.  The kids loved it and so did I).
  • The Dry by Jane Harper (Australian Bush noir with a killer prologue).
  • Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman (amongst all the gloom comes this guidebook to create a better world.  One of the few non-fiction books on my list).
  • We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (expertly written with a major twist that changes everything).
  • Nevermoor: the trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (another book my class enjoyed.  It promised to be a successor to Harry Potter and guess what?  It is!)
  • Men explain things to me by Rebecca Solnit (beautifully written, passionate feminism).
  • A year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman (how great to discover this wonderful author.  Another novel with a WW2 setting).

What did you enjoy reading last year?

A Sydney Christmas

By Vita Forest

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  This is how I spent the day…

  • Woke to a chorus of brightly coloured lorrikeets outside my window.
  • Polished and tinkered and tested new synonyms for my novel’s logline and synopsis (the hardest 300 words I have written).
  • Swam my first kilometre of the summer at Balmoral Beach.
  • Enjoyed the coolness of the water as the weather heated up.
  • Watched children testing out their new Christmas presents – surfboards, balls, blow-up rings under a clear blue summer sky.
  • Cut up fragrant mint and parsley leaves for a salad.
  • Spoke to my children, off in Tasmania with their father.
  • Drove my parents to my sister Molly’s house for a family Christmas where I was
  • Greeted by a young Jedi brandishing his new light sabre.
  • Drank champagne and lashings of cold water to stay cool.
  • Sat under a ceiling fan and ate cold meats, cheese, dips, bruschetta, crackers, crusty bread, olives and lots of different salads (a fab cold Christmas lunch on such a hot day).
  • Wore silly hats after pulling Christmas crackers.
  • Watched my niece and nephew squealing and hurling themselves down their new blow-up waterslide and paddling pool that just fits into their little inner-city backyard.
  • Read books about dinosaurs with the young Jedi.
  • Promised my niece some holiday sketching outings.
  • Discussed possible names for the new bubbas about to arrive in the family.
  • Chatted to my sister as we cleaned up the kitchen.
  • Opened presents brought to us by the Christmas elves (my niece and nephew).
  • Arrived home feeling pooped.
  • Lay on the couch and binged on Das Boot on SBS On Demand (recommended).

I like to look at beautiful things

By Vita Forest

Yesterday I saw

  • From the train – mauve jacaranda blossoms rubbing shoulders with swathes of magenta bouganvillea blooms.  The sight of it momentarily silenced the woman behind me on the train in mid-sentence.
  • The headland of Barangaroo on the approach from Wynyard.  Noticing how the lush terraces of Sydney trees are now obscuring the paths along the hillside.
  • The splendid sight of all those beautiful clay vessels at the Clay Canoe stall at the Finders Keepers Market at Barangaroo.  All those layers and lines of vases and sculptures, as if a bunch of drawings from Shaun Tan’s books had come to life and were congregating together.  I mentioned this to one of the owners – apparently I was not the first to make such a comparison.  They did not know Shaun Tan’s work and were going to have to look it up…
  • A gorgeous gal from my class who noticed me as I stood lounging in the shade of the entrance of The Cutaway sketching the Stoop Bros’homemade, steam punk airstream trailer.  Kids are always amazed to discover I don’t actually live at school…
  • Sketchers perched in shadowy spaces under trees on the terraced steps on the hills of Barangaroo.  After a week of crazy, unpredictable weather, it was hot and sunny.
  • A family paddling barefoot in the water lapping over the sandstone slabs at Nawi Cove, Barangaroo.
  • A nifty paint palette made by one of the sketching gang from a tiny fishing tackle case.
  • The smiles on the faces of the Stroop brothers as we surprised them by holding up our sketches of their stall.

I chatted to one of the potter-extraordinaires from Clay Canoe as I stood admiring their wares.  I explained that I was not in the market for another of their vases just at that current moment (having already bought one very recently).  ‘So you just like looking at beautiful things?’ she remarked.

Indeed.  Indeed I do like to look at beautiful things.

View from the bridge

By Vita Forest

Sepia scene

holding Max’s hand as he kicked along

in bright red raincoat

exclaiming at trains and pylons and ferries and puddles

everything washed new and clean and bright

Little fireman

out for a stroll in the rain

Film footage

sweeping across the span by leaps and bounds

rehearsing dance steps

barefoot exhilaration

A swan escaped from the lake

free enough to feel that

Anything was possible

Zoom into frame

The descent on the narrow staircase

Singing show tunes and

Finding that pair of abandoned heels

(Cinderella realising she may as well lose

Two if she was letting go of one)

Trying on those glass slippers and discovering

they were just my size

Walking through city streets

In someone else’s shoes