Down in New Orleans when it was a French colony, when “The French Quarter” was all there was and when French was the spoken language, a talented barman worked for a popular hotel which is still standing today. The barman became famous for inventing a new style of drink, which he made using an eggcup (“coquetier” in French) for exact measures of alcohol, mixed in a variety of ways. This style of drink became known as the “coquetier”.

Napolean sold Louisanna to the United States in the early 1800s and with the gradual anglicisation of the city of New Orleans, the coquetier became known as the cocktail.

All I can say is, thank goodness they didn’t go for the direct translation!

At Patrick O’Brians in New Orleans last Saturday night I was with a group of young researchers from Canada who I had met during the conference I was attending. Upon their recommendation I tried a cocktail known as “The Hurricane”. It was tall and red. It tasted benignly like fruit punch.

The New Orleans French Quarter Festival had been in full swing. As I learnt from the young Canadians, people had been trading strings of beads for a kiss or a show of flesh. Many of the young researchers in my group that night had multiple sets of beads. We joked about how they had obtained them. As the night wore on the photos we took of our group became interlaced with beads hanging over our faces from person to person. Beads were swapped. I started with none, possessed five strings at one point, and ended the night with one set. The girls in the group took multiple photos. I haven’t seen the images, but I’m sure they would accurately document our deterioration.

Two hurricanes later, I discovered that they contained four shots of rum each. By this time the room was spinning and I became acutely aware that the fun night I had had had come to an end. A kind professor in the group escorted me home. I was unwell. I woke the next morning unable to attend the breakfast meeting I had planned to attend. Unfortunately also that morning I was scheduled to present my research.

I struggled to the conference venue and held it together to deliver my paper. The audience were none-the-wiser. However, I had been excited to have been programmed on with someone who’s work I had read and wanted dearly to meet. Unfortunately, with my stomach churning, I was unable to stick around. I stayed for the duration of the session (mine and four other papers) and received thoughtful and helpful feedback from the session’s discussant before quietly venturing back to the security of my hotel room. There I slept for four hours before the hurricanes released their grip.

As luck would have it, through sheer good fortune and general worldly randomness, I bumped into this researcher the following night. We happened to be dining at the same restaurant and were re-introduced by a mutual acquaintance. She smiled broadly and I said,”You look familiar!”

We placed each other after a moment or two as having presented in the same session. It was then that I admitted I had been “under the weather” on that day. Surprisingly she said, “Oh, me too!”

That day I had been on a walking tour of the French Quarter where I learnt the story about the “coquetier”. It was fresh on my mind and our topic of dangerous drinking prompted me to retell the story. Together with her colleagues with whom she was dining, we enjoyed the absurdity of putting on a little black eggcup dress. After that we discussed our research pursuits. She asked to read my conference paper and I am pleased that she will be sending me an article she is working on. I have a lot of respect for the kind of work she does and am very pleased to have made her acquaintance.

Pat O’Brians, famous for Hurricanes.

A taste of The French Quarter Festival – swing dancing in the street.

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Recently I was concerned with my responsibility for the cultural education of my children, only to discover that my children were equally capable of educating me. The use of the word ‘peeps’ in the title is another example of their influence. I was first introduced to the expression “peeps” or “peep-gang” as a modern alternative to the word ‘people’ through the lyrics of ‘Sammy The Salmon’, a song that we enjoy on long car rides, thanks to the technology of the ipod including it’s little connect-y cable that plugs into the supplied sound system of my people mover, my peep-gang mover, that allows my children to hook their own ipods up for the rest of the family’s enjoyment (or not).

The other part of the title, ‘New Orleans’, refers to the location of the conference that I will be attending in about a weeks time.

For the first time I’ll be heading off to the annual U.S. conference without my peep-gang from Melbourne.

Usually before even leaving Melbourne for an overseas conference, someone in the peep-gang takes care of restaurant bookings. I usually receive an email detailing the venues for dinner each night. Because of my peeps, I have fine dined in restaurants in Chicago, New York, Amsterdam and Helsinki. The other thing that someone in my peep-gang usually does is invite me to cocktail parties hosted by publishing houses and social events organised by academic faculties. Once I was even invited to a private party in Chicago in a roof-top condo, where I was educated on tequila varieties and listened to the host play harmonica in front of an open fire while it snowed outside. With my peeps, I’ve tasted some night life – blues clubs in Chicago, jazz clubs on Bleaker Street in New York, live music at the concert hall in Amsterdam and at a street festival in Helsinki.

But this time there will be no one to set up dinners before we go, and no one I can rely on for the impromptu things.

Its a little bit daunting, but also a little bit of an adventure.

I have put some measures in place for meeting new people. On the first night I will attend a dinner for international collaboration amongst a selection of participating universities and with the same group I have two breakfast engagements as well. I have signed up for a Mentor Luncheon with people interested in similar things to me. In addition, there are two receptions that I am eligible to attend and I have booked in for a walking tour of New Orleans’ French Quarter. This leaves still a couple of nights unaccounted for. My main aim in all of these opportunities for networking is to find some new peeps with whom I can experience some live music in New Orleans!

I have also bought a little travel pocket book about New Orleans that I intend to read some time during the 19 hours of travel. Any suggestions of must do and see things in New Orleans would also be greatly appreciated 🙂

(Of course, this is in addition to trying to do a good job presenting my paper and going to the sessions of interest to me. Work is the focus, yes sir!).

Dirty Dancing

March 21, 2011

My daughters and I settled in to our home cinema to continue our Patrick Swayzee marathon. The Patrick Swayzee marathon began for the purpose of their cultural education, and in particular to rectify their ignorance concerning references to Patrick Swayzee’s ghost (made by the comedian Ross Nobel in an hilarious send-up of the movie Ghost), and the origins of “Time of My Life (dirty bits)” by the Black Eyed Peas.

It’s an entertaining exercise to ponder over the re-emergence of retro-, popular film and television, and the shape that the re-emergence takes. Why do some scenes in movies become iconic? Is it possible to tell which scenes from modern cinema will become iconic in their turn? Isn’t it funny that children use lines from movies that have become iconic without having experienced the original scene! I think Bakhtin had something to say about the propensity of language to re-emerge with new meaning. One does not have to have seen Dirty Harry before being entitled to use the phrase, “Make my day!” It has been appropriated within modern vernacular. A speaker who appropriates the phrase, “Make my day”, will notice its social force upon the listener, and in turn the effect upon him or herself. The phrase has a cultural “weight”. The speaker is signified  as cool or in control or somehow cleverer than the person it is addressed to because its iconic (and because there is no come-back!)

I hadn’t seen Dirty Dancing since it came out in the eighties and was sceptical as to whether it would measure up to my children’s exacting standards. My children are now 18, 16, 14 and 11. To my delight, they and I enjoyed the movie. My daughters thought Jennifer Grey played a delightful ‘Baby’.

“Oh she is soooo sweet”, they crooned.

Baby is very cute when she first enters the dirty dancing room carrying a watermelon, when she rehearses the dance steps by herself all day and when she stands up to her father. Patrick is hot! and the older girls appreciated that. There was enough of a build up throughout the movie, to be absolutely blown away by the final dance. It’s totally a feel-good movie!

It affected Rosie (my 16 year old) the most. She has downloaded the original sound track and wants her own copy of the movie to show all of her girlfriends. Her favorite scene was the “Baby, Oh Baby” song when they are rehearsing together and miming to each other. I’d forgotten this bit. It’s girly fantasy in its essence and Rosie is at the right age to dream.

Emma (the 14 year old) identified another cultural reference to add to my growing list of points towards their cultural education:

Patrick’s character said, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”

“OMG”, said Emma, “That’s something you say! I never knew where it came from”. Emma was delighted to have been enlightened (and also thoroughly amused that she had heard the phrase often without knowing its origins). She laughed.

I hadn’t heard the phase used in a modern context. In a reciprocal sense, Emma was educating me.

Another reverse-educative consequence of the whole project has been my appreciation of The Black Eyed Pea’s version of the song. Since my children have understood and appreciated its origins there was no need for me to stay on my high horse. Now occasionally Rosie appropriates my kitchen ipod speakers and plays the original sound track; Sally plays her Black Eyed peas album including the cover version; and we dance and sing around the kitchen to both. (Sally has a particular skill in doing hilarious moves to the rap bits. She has us all in stitches!)

To my surprise the children and I enjoyed Ghost. I had forgotten that it was full of intrigue, suspense and comedy!

The highlight of the movie for my children was overwhelmingly Whoopie Goldberg’s performance. Watching it through their eyes and experiencing their reactions made me appreciate Whoopie more than I did when I watched it way back on its release. My memory of her in Ghost had been scant, and condensed into the scene when Patrick commands her body. I had awkwardly been anticipating this scene but it was pulled off as credible in the context of the movie.

Another highlight for my children was the pottery scene before his death.

“OMG”, said Kat, “they do that scene on Family Guy!” Apparently on Family Guy there is a scene where Peter gets a massage by Demi and Patrick and his back turns into pottery…

“Very good”, said I feeling as though I was adequately performing my parental role as custodian of cultural knowledge, “more cultural references that you now understand!” I added Peter’s pottery massage to the comedian Ross Noble’s on-stage encounter with Patrick Swayzee’s ghost on my growing list of points towards their cultural education. The next one had to be an appreciation of the original sound track ahead of the cover version of Time of My Life.

Before discussing their reactions to Dirty Dancing, I would like to reflect a little more on Ghost, and in particular, the young Demi Moore. My reaction to seeing young Demi on the home screen was of instant familiarity. Not only did I remember loving her in the movie the first time I saw it, but I also remembered having my hair short back in the day, wearing baggy high-waisted trousers and vests, and being relatively flat chested. Demi in that movie represented a femininity of the eighties: independent, without make-up, without breast enhancement, creative, spontaneous. She represented the young eighties woman’s psyche, and I had lived it. It was slightly confronting, suddenly facing the caricature of my young-self’s aspirations. As well as shocking me with familiarity, and provoking reflexive consideration of who I was back then, I was confronted with the immediate capacity to compare my teenage world to the world offered as iconic to my own and other teenaged girls today. How different is young Demi in Ghost to modern representations of girl-power!

Whether movie characters reflect or set societal trends, young Demi’s influence on me (or her reflection of the world I inhabited as a teenager) was inescapable evidence of the power of the trend. I was not as individual as I thought I was! Messages filtering into my daughters’ psyches about what it means to be a girl differ greatly from those of my youth, but we have all been subjected to them. I sympathised with my daughters. Living up to the world’s expectations these days would be tough.

To be continued (next up, Dirty Dancing)…

Inspired when my daughters all sang along to the Black-Eyed Pea’s ‘Time of My Life (dirty bit)” on the car radio, I hired “Dirty Dancing” on DVD. And thus began our Patrick Swayzee marathon.

I came home from the Video shop with weekly-hire copies of Dirty Dancing and Ghost. The kids chose Ghost to watch first. I think the reason for their choice was curiosity. I’d taken them to see Ross Nobel (the comedian) live at the Palace Theatre in St. Kilda during Melbourne’s Comedy Festival last year. One of Ross’ themes during his act was Patrick Swayzee’s ghost and I remember laughing but also feeling slightly guilty. It’s not that the scene on Ghost doesn’t need to be sent up, and that Ross’ miming of on-stage affection with Patrick’s ghost was not the perfect way to do it… it’s just that poor Patrick himself is now really a ghost, and that’s a sad thing in any individual’s life.  Thus my laughter was tempered. It was also tempered by the thought that my children would not have understood the references. The question on all of their lips was, Who is Patrick Swayzee? And the question on the younger one’s lips could possibly have been, Why is Ross gyrating?

As we set up Ghost on our home cinema and lay back in our red recliner chairs I was sceptical as to whether a movie from the eighties (which I could hardly remember) would entertain these children of mine, born into the modern era. They have high expectations. They don’t like films that moralize (when I grew up I had no choice). They are fussy about special effects and general cinematography (such as appropriate camera angles and whether the director has panned or zoomed in appropriately). They don’t like cheesy. They do like ‘random’ (as in ‘Hot Rod’). They do like suspense. And they do like genuinely sentimental (such as in ‘Up’).

If you haven’t seen Ghost in awhile, I’ll give you the opportunity to view it for yourself before I continue with their reactions and my reflections…

(To be continued).

Stand By Me

March 12, 2011

March 11th 2011 (yesterday) was my first post for a year! My eldest daughter has had anorexia. She is stable now. She passed her final year at high school with flying colours and has begun an arts course at university. She still has not fully recovered but is in recovery. Its been a tough road but together we’re getting through it. I’ve learnt that to survive your child’s mental illness its best to forget your dreams, your guilt, and love the child before you, illness and all. I’ve also seen how much my four daughters care for each other. Family therapy has been a large factor in her recovery.

During 2010 I worked full time on my dissertation, taking leave to look after Kat. I published my first article in a professional journal and met some new and interesting colleagues in Helsinki. This year I have changed my tenure to part time, and already I’ve experienced less pressure and more creativity.

For one year I have not blogged, read a novel or convened our book club. Finally I’ve picked up a novel (Stieg Laarson’s first, and looking for the second. Although I have started on Dorris Lessing’s The Cleft, until I find it), reconvened book club and have conferences in the pipeline: April in New Orleans, July in Adelaide, August in Exeter, September in Lyon, December in Hobart. I’m looking forward to charging up my camera and posting on my travels. It feels good to be back 🙂

I find cycling good for my soul. I’ve recently developed the habit of shuffling the songs on my iphone as I ride to and from work. I’ve been trying to do that (ride to work) at least twice a week. I need to train.

I have the Otway Classic coming up. It’s a scenic 145km ride taking in our famous Great Ocean Road. This year will be the second year I’ve entered it. I’m feeling more bike-fit than I did last year. Hopefully, I’ll ride it more easily and faster than last year.

One thing in my favour is my new bike! It’s carbon. I bought it for a pretty good price, but I’ve been unimpressed with the after-sales service I’ve received. Instead of taking the bike in for its free first check at the place of sale, I took it in to the guy at the cycle shop at uni this week.

I’ve blogged about the guy at the uni cycle shop numerous times. I visit the shop once a year, usually before Around The Bay to have my bike serviced. He always tells me off for something and gives me a cycling tip in a sort of fatherly way. I find this amusing because we may be of similar ages. However, I always feel dutifully admonished and suitably thank him for his tips, invariably returning to my familiar ways soon after. For example, he told me one year I must begin riding without knickers under my knicks (it’s the done thing). This I tried only to find it unsuitable to my anatomy (the friction on the towelling of the knicks was excruciating after 100km! and on that occasion I had another 110 to go). Another time he told me how to wash my bike after every ride. I nodded, I promised, but I am yet to develop the habit.

This year it was the way my new bike had been set up that gave him cause to tutt tutt. They’d not put the de-railer on tightly (one turn only – about to fall off, he said), the seat was too far back and on the wrong angle, as well as that the knicks I had on weren’t padded enough for the long rides. (Tell me about it, I said, After the last ‘Around The Bay’ I ended up with two circular bruises on each sit bone that stayed visible for over three weeks!). He’s ordered me some super duper knicks from Canada! He attached a pump to the new bike, replaced the tubes in my repair kit with two fresh ones (I’d used the spare tube that day to repair a flat) and he tried to fit a second water bottle holder for me with no success. I’ll have to wait until a special order arrives next week from Queensland for that!

All-in-all, he spent quite a bit of time on my bike. I’d left it with him for the day. I came to pick it up before he’d fitted the pump. I bought a couple of coffees and we drank them while he worked. The conversation went like this:

“Don’t carry a repair kit, carry two spare tubes instead”, he said as he accessed my little below-the-seat bag especially designed for repair kit items and sundry.

“Ah, um, careful, um, there’s actually also a tampon in there… sorry, um, just so you don’t get a surprise opening that”.

“Oh don’t worry, I have three sisters”, he said as he casually took out my repair kit, tampon and sundry items and replaced the lot with two tubes. Only the tyre levers went back in.

“Have you?” I enquired politely as to his family situation, and added, “I have four daughters”. He expressed surprise and I asked him if he had children.

“Yes one daughter”, and after a pause added, “and four grandchildren!”

Since he seemed to be only around 50 (at the most) I expressed surprise. As we talked his story unfolded:

Only six months ago, he found out he had a thirty-one year-old daughter. She contacted him via facebook. At that time, his daughter had found out that the person she had thought was her mother was actually her grandmother, and the person who she thought was her sister, was her mother.

Her mother was my bike-repair-guy’s girlfriend when he was sixteen. He had no idea she had become pregnant. His efforts to contact her in the continuation of their friendship were returned by her relatives at the time with, leave her alone, you are better off without her, she’s no good, type-messages.

The daughter had always wondered why she was the only one in her family group with red hair. When her grandmother on her death-bed told her she was not her mother, she pestered her aunties until they divulged her father’s name (aka my bike-repair guy). When she searched him on facebook she firstly found his sisters’ profiles. Suddenly suspecting her genetic heritage, she emailed them enquiring if they were related to ‘his name’ and the reason for her enquiry. His sisters subsequently contacted my bike-repair guy to say, Hey, you have to check this out! In my bike-repair guy’s words, “She’s identical to my sisters at that age! And all her kids look like my sister’s kids”.

But that’s not the end of the story! As I said, he was discovered by her six months ago. Since then, he has brought her down from Queensland where she had just experienced a difficult divorce, bought her a car, a home, furnished the home and now has a lot to do with her and her children. He smiled as he said, “Yes, she completely ruined my peaceful lifestyle. I’d never intended to be a family-type-of-guy”.

He’d inherited an instant family even though he’d consciously decided not to have one.

“Well, for a non-family-type, you’ve pretty well embraced the responsibility”, I said.

“The way I see it, I had no choice”, he laughed.

“Four grandkids… wow!” I contemplated his situation. I admired his response to that news of only six months ago.

We laughed.

Both Sides Now

March 8, 2010

I’m going through a Joni Mitchell phase. I bought one of her albums on CD and it has been my doing-everything-by music since the start of the year. I hadn’t realised ‘Yellow Taxi’ had an excellent percussion backing until I listened to it through my ipod earphones one evening whilst running. I came home from my run, played the song through speakers and picked up my djembe trying to emulate the background beat.

I cried when I listened to ‘Both Sides Now’ the first few times and printed off the words from the internet to learn them. I also left them around the kitchen bench hoping to inspire my daughters to sing to it. (They have lovely voices).

I blue-toothed ‘Both Sides Now’ to my mobile phone and made it my ringtone. The only problem with this is that I enjoy listening to the song so much that I have missed a few calls, subconsciously choosing to hear the song over pressing the answer key.

I’ve been cooking to Joni at dinner time, cycling and running and driving with Joni. I have now gained an appreciation for the songs I didn’t know before, like ‘Woodstock’, and ‘Carey’. The kids are getting used to Joni as background music. Can I borrow your Joni CD mum? Asked Kat, my 17 year old. Sure! Do you like her music? Yeah, it’s really relaxing and she has great lyrics.

I was pleased that Kat was enjoying Joni’s music too. And Kat was right, her lyrics are great. Not only that, Joni sings them with compelling emotion. She is a genius!

Last night I drove down to our holiday house for the Labor Day Long Weekend. We arrived in a rain storm that was relief from the warm humidity of the preceding day. The streets around our place had been flooded slightly with the downpour although the rain had eased as we approached our seaside neighbourhood. In the headlights of the car I saw little frogs leaping in tens across the road – tiny little frogs no more than 2-3cm in length. They were recognisable as little frogs because of the way they leapt. It was too late for me to slow down. I just prayed I hadn’t run any over.  I alerted Emma and Sally to the strange phenomenon. They were sitting in the car listening to music from their ipods. They pulled off their headphones and stared out of the window hoping to see what I had seen. They had missed the frog-crossing enmasse, but as we rounded another corner a solitary frog hopped into the beam of my headlights. Emma saw it and I slowed. Sally didn’t see it straight away but I slowed to stopping so we could point it out. She wanted to get out of the car for a closer look and I encouraged her to do so. She laughed as she tried to catch it and it hopped randomly to avoid her. Eventually she succeeded. She held it for a short time before releasing it to continue its journey. We spotted another solitary frog just before we crossed into our drive way. It seems that the rain had brought them all out. More frogs than I had ever seen were all out looking for a mate or a place to lay their eggs now that conditions were right. Today I drove back to where I’d seen them. I couldn’t see any signs of flattened frogs on the road and I breathed a sigh of relief.

A birthday on the ward

January 7, 2010

Kat spent her seventeenth birthday in hospital. Christmas time was her undoing. We had established a routine at home since her previous admission. She was eating each meal and staying out of the bathroom for thirty minutes afterwards and putting on tiny amounts of weight each week.

Our family’s tradition is to head for the beach for Christmas. Our beach house has a reputation as a place where people can drop in anytime and join in with whatever activity our family is up to, whether it be sailing, surfing, beach combing, snorkeling, cooking, barbecuing, watching a movie… This Christmas was no exception. My brother-in-law and his family rented the place next door as they did last year. Cousins were often in our kitchen before anyone was up for breakfast. Tents were erected on our back lawn in preparation for New Years Eve, where we planned to do the usual – open house barbeque and a walk in along the beach to watch the fireworks on the pier. We accumulated a loose group of around 25 children and 15 or so adults. We decorated the children in glow sticks so we could find them on the beach walk in the dark. We counted down and danced after midnight.

This we have done every year for a decade. A decade ago leading up to New Year’s Eve the media worried us about the Y2K bug, Sally was three months old and Kat was six going on seven. This New Years Eve, Sally was ten and three months and Kat was sixteen going on seventeen – her birthday is on the 2nd of January.

The chaos of our life at the beach left Kat anxious and unable to maintain her health. Too many people and too much food. She lost two and a half kilos in the week beginning on Christmas eve. Her blood pressure dropped. Her heart rate soared. She ended up back in hospital on December 30th.

Rosie and I drove back to Melbourne to visit Kat in hospital for her birthday. We had given Kat her birthday present early – a pandora charm bracelet. All the relatives knew this and by the end of christmas and her birthday she had eight charms. With nothing to give her on the day, Rosie and I decided to buy some helium balloons.

We went to the party shop on the morning of Kat’s birthday. Hung above the entry to the shop were dozens of brightly coloured pinatas.

“Oh a pinata!” exclaimed Rosie.

“Yeah. Good idea”, I immediately agreed. Memories of stringing up pinatas for our children over the years flashed through my head and it felt like the right thing to buy. Something fun. Something a bit ‘out there’ for a hospital ward. “You choose which one”.

Rosie chose the orange stegasaurus:

We ordered seventeen helium balloons as well. I paid for the pinata and the balloons. For the balloons we had to wait half an hour.

“Hey we need to buy lollies to go in the pinata!” Rosie exclaimed.

“Oh yeah!” I said, “I forgot about that but there’s a supermarket just up the hill. Lets go while we’re waiting”.

“Good idea”.

Taking the pinata out of the shop to put it in the car, I queried the need to buy lollies because I couldn’t see a hole to put them through. I enlisted Rosie’s help. It had been so long since we’d had a pinata I could hardly remember.

“There’s a hole at the top” said Rosie confidently. Together Rosie and I located the hole. I was reassured that it was indeed empty and that lollies were needed.

“We need the type that come individually wrapped”, Rosie added.

“Yeah. I do remember now. And maybe lollipops”.

We schemed as we walked to the supermarket, charged with the excitement of giving and fun of surprising. We were halfway up the hill and in mid conversation before we both suddenly stopped, looked at eachother and in a moment of realisation, almost unspoken, but I think one of us did say something like “Oh god, hang on. Its a ward of anorexics”, but both of us began to laugh and laugh on the street almost doubling over with tears of mirth springing into my eyes. “What were we thinking!” A pinata for anorexics! It was suddenly the most absurd idea in the world and the more we thought about it, the more we laughed. Partly at the idea we laughed, and partly at ourselves for not thinking it through earlier.

In the end we found one packet of low joule sweets, two boxes of confetti and some novelty erasers. We kept the sweets packet so Kat and the other anorexic teenagers could check the contents and calorific value if they had the need to do so.

Kat adored her pinata! She adored her balloons. She peeked into the hole which we had roughly covered over to see confetti ready to burst underneath and with a laugh decided not to crack it in hospital. She was only in hospital for a week. I picked her up yesterday and she is doing well. Yesterday evening she said, “I didn’t mind having my birthday in hospital. I felt happy and we had fun anyway”.