Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane

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Nihongo o hanashite kudasai

We hear much these days about the wonders of brain plasticity. Researchers believe the capacity of our grey matter to develop new neural pathways could be one way for those of us in our senior years to hang onto our marbles for a bit longer.

Learning a second language is recommended for developing these neural pathways. With that in mind I decided to attempt to reconnect to pathways set up decades ago when I first studied Japanese. My choice of language – a toss up with equally ancient French – was reinforced by having a Japanese daughter-in-law whose parents speak little English. So each week I join a group of similarly-aged optimists under the tutelage of an extremely patient Japanese sensei who luckily has a great sense of humour.

日本語  kanji for Japanese language (Nihongo)

As with everything the digital revolution has transformed the teaching of languages. Apps have streamlined the learning of the phonetic hiragana and katakana scripts, and the Chinese-character-based kanji symbols, with the new technology incorporating audio, for pronunciation, and animation to show all-important stroke order. So my iPhone is like a classroom in the palm of my hand. No excuse now to waste time on public transport or in waiting rooms. I’m not sure where in my brain my residual Japanese is stored but, as I struggle to put together sentences, I sure wish a search engine was available to locate it .


My iPhone to the rescue.

kanaA classroom in the palm of my hand.


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Blue skies smilin’ on me


The Kurilpa Point Bridge, voted the world’s best transport project at the World Architectural Awards in Barcelona last year, contrasts against blue winter skies.

BRISBANE’S winter weather used to be beautiful one day, perfect the next. But in recent times it has been showery one day and pouring the next.

So how wonderful it has been this week to see OUR weather back. Blue skies.  Clear mornings. Crisp air. A light westerly. Sharp edges etched against azure, or even cobalt. The sort of days that demand you go outside and do something. Just being under that blue, blue canopy and the trees, buildings, bridges and clouds contrasted against it, makes you happy. It’s the winter weather we always used to boast about. But with drought not yet a distant memory I won’t invoke that final line of  the Willie Nelson lyrics…”Nothin’ but blue skies from now on”.

Even skyscrapers are look better in blue.

2013-06-18 09.57.41Art Gallery sculpture in stark relief.

2013-06-17 15.11.00The elegant lines of the Eleanor Schonell Bridge.

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Build MONA, they will come

TASSIE, the Apple Isle? No way!

In the grand tradition of “build it, they will come” Tasmania is enjoying a MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)-led surge in tourism popularity which has seen the state leap into international rankings as a destination. The latest and greatest confirmation of this comes from Hobart being named in Lonely Planet’s 2013 top ten city destinations in the world. According to Lonely Planet, Hobart’s allure has always been its natural beauty “… but the arrival of the world-class MONA museum has the waters rippling, hip tourists flocking and Hobart rousing from its slumber”.

MONA opened its doors in January 2011 and last year won the 2012 Australian Tourism Award for best new development. It is Tasmania’s single-most-visited attraction and in its first 18 months drew 600,000 visitors. A friend and I added to that number last month joining the ranks of the gob-smacked, amazed and exhilarated. In keeping with its reputation for being “different” MONA is built underground. Sixty thousand tonnes of earth and sandstone were removed before the building could begin and lining the interior walls took 3 kilometres of rock sawing, 1.5 kilometres of drilling for rock bolts to maintain the rock face and 5500 cubic metres of concrete to fill the ensuing hole.
MONA sits on a promontory jutting into the Derwent River, 30-minutes ride from Hobart’s famous harbour area in a camouflage-patterned trimaran ferry from which patrons can enjoy the passing riparian scenery sipping a flat white from the well appointed coffee shop-lounge. MONA’s quirky entrance is reminiscent of a fun parlour’s hall of mirrors. The current exhibition – not for the faint-hearted – features works by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, including X-rays of people having sex, a close-up movie of a pimple being squeezed, a gothic concrete truck, tattooed pig skins and a tattooed man, Tim Steiner, who has been sold as a piece of art.

While many mainland and international tourists go to Tasmania specifically to see MONA, the island’s rapidly growing reputation for fine food and wine, especially since The Gourmet Farmer TV series on SBS, adds pulling power when combined with Hobart’s traditional charms of  a vibrant, historic port, outstanding colonial architecture and the famous Saturday Salamanca Market. Added to this are the natural heritage of treasures likes the Freycinet Peninsula, the majestic coastlines of the Tasman Peninsula and Bruny Island, and pristine environments like the Tarkine preserved (so far) by the efforts of dedicated “greenies”. I was particularly impressed by the respect shown by Hobartians to their colonial heritage and the proactive TLC injected into saving old buildings. Coming from a city where the penchant seems more for “knockin’ ‘em down” than preserving, I was jealous!

IMG_2876Hall of mirrors? No, it the entrance to MONA reflecting parts of the museum and mountains behind Hobart.

IMG_2874MONA – enter at your own risk (of being shocked and exhilarated).

IMG_2877The museum is impressively situated on a promontory jutting into the Derwent River.

IMG_2872Rock bolts maintain the rock face of this underground repository of the audacious.

IMG_2870Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s concrete truck, the least contentious of his works.

IMG_2867Sit back and relax with your latte as you cruise up the Derwent on the camouflage-painted MONA ROMA ferry.

IMG_2736Hobart’s famous Salamanca Market is the place to find examples of gourmet Tassie fare, such as Bruny Island cheese. 

IMG_2738Pizza made on the spot is the perfect snack on a cold winter’s day visit to Salamanca Market.

IMG_2731The vegetable-growing skills of Hmong refugees add colour at the Salamanca markets.

IMG_2914Hobart’s historic waterfront has long been a tourist drawcard.

IMG_2858How to maintain a city’s essence…treasure its heritage.

IMG_2860It will be interesting to see the finished product.

IMG_2804Horseshoe Bay, Freycinet Peninsula…named as one of Australia’s top five beaches by Channel Nine’s Getaway Program.

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In need of olive branches

THE olive branch has long been associated with peace.

I heard recently an explanation: an olive tree needs many years to grow and mature and this can only be achieved in a prolonged peace. Driving from Turkey into Syria a couple of years ago our tour bus passed through grove upon grove of thick-and-gnarled-trunked olive trees, obviously specimens that had been around for some centuries. Ironic given the current tragic situation in Syria.

As each new atrocity, air strike, ambush or assassination is daily revealed I wonder who among the charming and hospitable people who welcomed us to their hotels, restaurants, showed us invaluable treasures their nation is guardian to, or served us in shops and markets, has been victim to this violence. The human toll has been staggering – at a recent count 20,000.

What about our delightful guide Ihad with the long, sleek black hair drawn back casually in a ponytail?  We had asked him what he thought of Bashar al-Assad and his reply had been positive.  Ihad was Druse so may have enjoyed the pro-Shiite Assad regime’s tolerance of religious minorities. What would happen if the rebels were infiltrated by Sunni extremists who would show little tolerance for the many strands of Islam, and other religions?

Syria is home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites all of which have reportedly been damaged. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city is one. Located at the crossroads of several trade routes since the second millennium BC, Aleppo was ruled successively by the Hittites, Assyrians, Akkadians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mameluks and Ottomans. Dwarfing other structures in Aleppo is the monumental Citadel. The Citadel and the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Aleppo have suffered damage as have other antiquities elsewhere in Syria including the Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers, and the ancient town of Apamea dating back to the third century BC, while fears are held for important sites in the old Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

CitadelAleppoAleppo’s Citadel, one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, dating back to the middle of the second millenium BC.

Citadel&GuideIhad, our delightful guide.

04e14-sidewalkrestaurantaleppoSidewalk restaurant opposite the Citadel, Aleppo. Is it still welcoming guests?

IMG_0980Roman chariot wheel tracks in flagstones, Apamea. Safe from looters?

IMG_1055Ancient Palmyra, a trading crossroads ruled by Queen Zenobia in the third century BC, an important and luxurious city.

IMG_1011World’s greatest Crusader fortress, Krak des Chevaliers, another war victim.

IMG_1002Historic decorative noria, or waterwheel, at Hama.

DamascusSoukEntrance to Souk in Damascus which is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

CourtyardOldDamascusHouseRestored Damascene House with intricate internal courtyard converted to a hotel.

And if what is happening in Syria is not enough trouble is brewing in the magical city of Istanbul in neighbouring Turkey, another treasure trove of the ancient world. My main memory of Taksim Square in Istanbul is one of flower stalls offering an abundant array of colourful blooms, including blue roses, not of riot police dispensing tear gas attacking demonstrators seeking to save trees from the bulldozers of a developer.

TaksimSqFlowerSellerFlowers – including blue roses – for sale in Taksim Square, Istanbul.