This week

By Vita Forest

Near Woolwich Dock, Sydney

This week or so I have been

WRITING

READING

  • We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

LISTENING to podcasts on ABC Radio

WATCHING Killing Eve on ABC iView

Woolwich Dock

WALKING around

  • Willoughby
  • the Lower North Shore
  • Hunters Hill and Woolwich

Cherry blossom in Hunters Hill

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This week

By Vita Forest

On the Two Creeks Track, Roseville

This week I have been

WRITING and REWRITING poems

READING Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman

RETURNING to school

PRACTISING

  • for our big audition for an inter-school performance at the Sydney Opera House
  • for an item at assembly
  • for an item at a school performance night

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

VISITING Hyde Park Barracks on a school excursion

ATTENDING Writers’ Circle and having a good laugh and a good chat and a good listen to some good writing

MAKING mandalas in the playground out of found materials with a bunch of Year 3 and Year 4 children

Gordon Creek, Two Creeks Track, Roseville

WALKING and TALKING with Saskia and Vastra at Roseville and Waverton

Wattle trees on the Two Creeks Track

SPENDING time out in the winter sun (it’s warmer outside than in here in Sydney)

SEEING a whole crowd of women doing Tai-chi with coloured parasols beside Chatswood Oval.

This week

By Vita Forest

Castle Cove

This week I have been

WRITING a short story, some poems, a Maths program and a bit of my novel

READING up on Japan

WATCHING a Harry Potter marathon with Lucy

Towards Castle Cove from the Harold Reid Foreshore Track, Middle Cove

EXPLORING part of Willoughby on a few sections of the Round Willoughby Walk with Lucy.  We managed 19km! and

Castlecrag

TESTING to see if some borrowed hiking shoes will do the job (they will)

Middle Cove

CLIMBING the equivalent of 110 stories as we marched up and down headlands, cliffs and hills on many many stairs and

Castlecrag from Middle Cove

ADMIRING many lovely views and

Can you see the wrecks in the bay?

SPOTTING the wrecks of old boats in Salt Pan Creek and

A lyrebird! Right there!

SEEING lots of birds – wrens, magpies, lorrikeets and other parrots and even a  lyrebird in suburban Sydney and

NOTICING many many plants – ferns, wattle and other native plants in flower

ATTENDING

  • a Poetry Workshop
  • a Weaving with Weeds Workshop with Briony and making a basket out of green waste

VISITING the Maritime Museum to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition with my parents and children

CHOREOGRAPHING a class item for next term

RIDING my bike

Everyone has problems

By Vita Forest

They listen holding breath

to a tale about a convict boy

No older than they

Crawling up a smouldering chimney

Into blackness

                                           Into nightmare

                                                          Scraping off the soot

Feet calloused and cut

Stomach growling

Eyes squinting into the

grimy yellow smog of daylight

waiting for the day

when he’ll be too big to shimmy

and crawl and worm his way through

the secret innards of other people’s houses

Til he’s stuck

til he’s sold again

til he’s out of luck

We close that book

Let out our breath

and open another

And they complain

about the tracing

and the posture

and the pain

in their fingers from holding

the pencil

Handwriting is hard

Almost as hard as being a chimney sweep in eighteenth century London? I suggest

They stare and nod

Yes.

This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING

READING

  • When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
  • The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

VISITING Balmoral Beach for some sketching on a beautiful sunny winter’s morning.

WATCHING The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 – OMG!!!!

HAVING a very interesting discussion at Writers’ Circle about how we each write and edit and generally fit writing into life.

DOING a whole bunch of yoga.

SEEING our performance through fresh eyes at the dress rehearsal in front of the whole school (it went well – phew!)

In the Temple of the Unicorn

By Vita Forest

On Saturday, after Ghost netting at The Australian Museum, I took my last visit using my unlimited season ticket to The Lady and the Unicorn exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.  Sunday being the last day before those great tapestries were rolled up again and sent back again across the seas to their home in France.

You pass under red banners decked in garlands and into a darkened chamber with spot-lit quotes by Rilke in framed gothic window silhouettes on the wall.  You walk into the dimly-lit inner hexagonal room and are immersed in the mysterious, peaceful world within it.  Each wall bearing a different tapestry.  The tapestries hang side by side, across from each other, conversing among themselves, reflecting details and differences, harmonious even as the components alter as you look harder and closer.  Visitors’ heads swivel and get lost in the world of animals  and plants and women floating on their blue islands on fields of red.

In the centre of the room is a split hexagonal bench, each side facing a different tapestry.  You can sit on both inside and outside the hexagon and look forward and also back across to the tapestries behind.

It is unknown what the real purpose of these medieval images are, allegories to the senses seems most likely, as in each tapestry you can note the Lady showing the unicorn his reflection (sight), or playing music (hearing), or feeding a bird (taste), or holding the horn of a unicorn (touch) or inhaling the scent of a flower (smell).

I sit on the bench looking inwards and across.  From here I can see three tapestries easily.  Can search the upper reaches of each one for the heron and the eagle.  I overhear a lady wearing a unicorn brooch tell her friend that she has an eagle in her life too.  An eagle she has watched plummet and dive to catch and kill another more fragile bird.  She talks about the satisfaction of finally getting here, to this room, to this place, after all this time, on the day before the exhibition closes.  She talks about ordering the catalogue weeks ago, how it arrived in the mail, how she will go home and read it through and through.

And I remember Fleur who made a special pilgrimage to this gallery to the see this exhibition as a way of celebrating her birthday.  How lovely to sit there amongst the blossoms and the frolicking animals and breathe in the peace on her special day.

I look up at the rabbits, at the foxes, at the dogs, at the goats, at the monkeys that remind me of Mrs Coulter from His Dark Materials (even though they are not yellow).  I wonder if the unicorn is the Lady’s daemon?  If he has to stay near her, attached by an invisible pull so strong that to break it would make them both ill.  (As I sit and write this,  I have my own little white daemon cat sitting beside me lounging against my thigh and nuzzling my hand).

I listen to a very interesting conversation behind me between an elderly couple and a not so elderly woman.  The oldest woman remarks that the unicorn has cloven hoofs like a goat, and a beard like that animal too, is it closer to a goat than the horse it is often compared to?  She tells the story of how her horse once broke a mirror when it saw its reflection for the first time.  It saw her with another horse and wasn’t happy about it.  She points out that the unicorn seems to know it is looking at itself in the mirror.  Seems to know what it sees.  I think that mirror is safe from hoofs, cloven or otherwise.

I watch two children with their pencils and worksheets squatting down in front of a tapestry, pointing up at the weaving and tallying up the numbers of different animals they see, recording their results in neat handwriting on the page.  I watch families stand in front of their favourite image and turn away from it to grin into the lens of a camera, their bodies enveloped in the soft red landscape behind them.

I think that these scenes somehow remind me of Totoro, that neighbour of Satsuki and Mei from that movie, the scenes of forest spirits and children, perfectly comfortable in each other’s presence, Mei falling asleep lying on the belly of the biggest Totoro as butterflies dance and plants sway in the shaded hollow under the tree where they rest.  Perhaps it is the peace, perhaps it is the magic, perhaps it is the sense of everything being just how it should be.

And I wonder if the Pre-Raphaelites saw these same tapestries, and remember that room in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where I used to sit, all those years ago, that quiet hushed room with the similar dim light and peaceful atmosphere, where full-lipped maidens walked barefoot among equally detailed, recognisable trees, under trellises of roses, pomegranates and oranges.

And I think about the biggest tapestry – To My One Desire, and wonder what that was?  To simply be, in this place, with these animals and plants and women, where everything is safe and calm and timeless and as it should be.

 

On Ghost Nets

By Vita Forest

Ghost nets – that’s what they call the lost and abandoned fishing nets that float the ocean, moving with the tides, travelling large distances and trapping fish and birds and dolphins, sharks and turtles.  At the Australian Museum, there is a display of Ghost Net Art, made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to raise awareness of this problem and to turn something destructive into something wonderful.

I visit the museum with a bunch of sketchers, fanning out through the rooms armed with sketchpads and pencils and watercolours and brushes.  I am attracted to texture, to roughness, to coarse surfaces, woven rope, splintered wood, twisted wire.  And so I find myself among the ghost nets, read the stories, read how these massive artworks came to find themselves suspended from the ceiling and crawling up the walls of the Australian Museum.

I stand in front of a giant crab, a huge disc of netting and woven spirals and multi-coloured ribbing stretched over wire.  I sketch out the outline and begin to map out its limbs and scribble and hatch the barnacles of its body as it hangs breathless against the wall.  I stand in front of it, where the light haze dims and brightens in time to the story on the screen beside me that starts up again and again at the touch of a child’s finger.  Across the way, a projection of Bangarra dancers twist and contort, and children shriek and try to catch the slippery bodies of fish made of light that dart beneath their feet across the floor.

And when I finish my scribbly, gnarled, ancient crab, I sit on the floorboards, too tired to stand now, not wanting the bench, the angle is just not right for the fish, the cod, floating high above our heads.  So I sit on the floor, out of the way, but still visible to the boy who slides down beside me to peer at my paper as his mother reads about the crocodile spirits, about the men who could hitch a ride on the back of a crocodile without fear.

‘That’s good,’ he whispers when it’s time to go, when he is called to stand up, to climb up and follow her away.

And I think about the legend of the cod and the crab who watched each other and fell in love.  And I think about the people combing those northern beaches for nets not shells.  And I think about them stretching and cutting and twisting the nylon into new shapes, new stories.  And how I am taking the ghost nets and stretching them out in a new way on my page.  And wondering if we could make something this shape, this size at school out of other thrown-away things.

And I think about the ghost net that caught me this week, floating unaware beneath the surface of everyday life, waiting, hovering beneath the flow of it.  And how I was gutted and let down, thrashing in my net, struggling to take a breath, to remember the good, until I was cut out in time, set free to slither out into the clear, warm water again.

And I think in the end, that’s all we can do – scoop up the ghost nets whenever we find them and take them out of the water so they won’t catch anyone else and try to turn them into something beautiful.