Ultimo end: Observation Notes 74-75

Observation Note 74: Farewelling Ultimo. Despite having finished my PhD in February, I had not gone in to my university to clear my research desk until today. I think that deep down in my mind, I was hoping that there would be a chance that I could carry on there. Maybe find a few hours of teaching, retain some connection not only to the university where I had spent the last eight and a half years, but to retain a connection to the suburb of Ultimo and the council area of the City of Sydney. I have spent the last 16 years either working or studying in Ultimo and it is a wrench to remove myself from my favourite suburb in Sydney. It is not a touristy suburb, or a glamorous suburb, but it is a suburb which has one of the warmest and loveliest communities I have ever had the privilege to work (and study) in. I loved working at Ultimo library (Sydney’s best kept secret library – no pizzazz, all heart), and I loved studying/teaching/researching at the University of Technology Sydney in Ultimo.

Observation Note 75: Ultimate Ultimo. My exit from Ultimo is gradual. The most sudden separation occurred last year with the pandemic lockdown. However, I loved that my research space was retained. I had packed the majority of my work and brought it home last year. However, I still had bits and pieces to go. 4 boxes worth all now sitting in the boot of my car. I am quite saddened. The research room is empty. No-one is here to farewell me. So I call my son and he comes and helps me carry everything to the car. It is an ultimo end.

I post here a photograph from my first desk at the university and packing up my desk today.

My first desk on Level 8.
My second desk on Level 5.
My 3rd and last desk on Level 5. Time to pack up.
My boxes and bags are packed.
Empty. The ultimo goodbye.

Home and writing: Observation note 73

Observation Note 73: Home writing. I am too tired to write about my reading today. So instead, I am posting a favourite photo of my view when I sit outside to write. I have a small table and chairs that a friend gave me. My dogs sit on old chairs I hate, and the greenery shades my dirty white Greek milk bottle columns. I love how the afternoon sun hits my corner where I sit, and makes the Sydney sandstone bricks a warm honey yellow. I’m fortunate to have this space. During the pandemic lockdown, my husband and I ate most of our lunches here, sometimes with our sons and sometimes alone. It is a lovely spot.

A sandstone brick home with a front verandah. 2 dogs sitting on a seat. Greenery. Black security door ajar.

Book with one word title!!!!

I’m taking a break from my notes today so that I can take part in Wendy The Super Librarian’s TBR challenge – and she is Super. I know because I have met her. Anyway, I usually don’t even look at the monthly challenge until the day due for posting as I like being relaxed and not feeling any pressure to read in a specific way. This usually works for me as there is either a close link or a tenuous link. However, this month’s challenge is to read a Book With One Word Title. There is no way that I could find a book or even essay I had read this month with a One Word Title.

So I thought, how hard could this be. I’ll just quickly read an ebook.

I go to my library cards, I search for romance books and firstly there were slim pickings. I mean SLIM. The statewide system seemed to have only 80 titles under the keyword search for “romance”. There were about 5 one word titles but they were only 500 pages. Yeah but nah.

I got agitated. So I moved on. I went to my local library. There were a lot more books but once again, there were few with only one word titles, and absolutely none with a low word count.

I got agitated. So I moved on. I thought I’d check the YA books. I found a few with one word titles but they were all ALL overly long. 400 pages plus. Publishers – take note. Teenagers and young adults are ALL studying. Who has time for 400 page novels. I say bring back the Sweet Dream length teen romances. Bring back the Paul Zindel, S E Hinton, Judy Blume teen novels of the late 20th century. Short and fast. Easy and quick. Over and done with in an afternoon so you can pass them around to your friends in a short week. None of these ridiculous doorstopper tomes.

I got agitated and moved to my bookshelves. I found all my Charlotte Lambs with One Word Titles. Desire. Heartbreaker. Temptation. Crescendo. Fever. I chose to read Scandalous. It’s only 180 pages. I can do this. However, I was starting at 6pm and interruptions and dinner time and phone calls kept me from progressing beyond a chapter.

I got agitated and gave up. I ate my dinner and my son suggested we watch Superstore.

Superstore. One Word Title!

Sure. I’m far behind as I only started watching the series a month ago. I’m halfway through Season 2. TBR tick!!!

We start watching the episode we were up to and it is the Valentine’s episode! JACKPOT!

For those that don’t know, the show is like a Walmart but it is called Cloud 9. The premise of the episode was that the main characters Amy (a staffer played by America Ferrera), Jonah (another staffer played by Ben Fledman who looks like he is the love child of Scott Baio and Scott Baio) and Glenn (the store manager played by Mark McKinney) get so caught up with Valentine’s Day fever they accidently overstep boundaries. Nothing romantic between the main characters so I guess it is going against the Valentine’s Day Trope that says that “characters face romantic challenges or break new ground on episodes that revolve around Valentine’s Day”. There was a sweet moment between character Mateo and his (secret) boyfriend Jeff. And there was the end of day destruction of all the Valentine’s merchandise by Amy and Ben who smash all the hearts and eat all the chocolates. Even though Amy is married (though her marriage is on the rocks), it is totally obvious that she and Jonah will be getting it on at some point in the series. The spark is there. They are fun to watch together. Visually, they are just like Joanie Loves Chachi but WAY BETTER.

I really enjoy this show

Urban Bliss, Odd and a Response: Observation Notes 71-72 and Reading Note 31.

Observation Note 71: Response. Keira Soleore from Cogitations and Meditations poses the question (on Reading Note 29) “Don’t you find having to constantly dodge pedestrians and wait for traffic lights a nuisance on city walks as opposed to nature or along the harbor/bay/ocean?”

I actually get a thrill from walking amongst pedestrians. There is a sense of collective human movement that occurs as you walk through city streets, where people seem to fall into a rhythm with each other. There are so many stories around you when you are in a city. From the buskers, the office workers, the retailers, the customers and the tourists. It is no longer discernible who is a local and who is the traveller. The cameras and bumbags have disappeared as the ubiquitous telephone carries all your travellers needs.

Reading Note 31: Odd. Vivian Gornick in The Odd Woman and the City writes “My mind flashes on all who crossed my path today. I hear their voices, I see their gestures, I start filling in lives for them. Soon they are company, great company. I think to myself, I’d rather be here with you tonight than with anyone else I know.” This is how I feel about the people I walk amongst. I imagine their lives, their reasons for being in my path, their ideas and their circumstances. They aren’t as much in my way as I am part of their day.

Observation Note 72: Urban bliss. Sydney is a highly walkable city. It has been designed in such a way that if you know your streets, malls and tunnels well enough, you can avoid traffic lights. For instance, on Sunday, we walked for over four hours yet we probably encountered only 5 sets of lights. The city is an open air museum so I really don’t mind having to move around people who are looking up, admiring the urban space, those wonderful details on old and new buildings. 

Occasionally, there will be dawdlers, or people who lack the understanding of the time of day – this is invariably a tourist or someone that rarely ventures into the city. Fran Lebowitz shouts “Pretend it’s a City” in her eponymously titled series, she is agitated and wants people to move out of her way. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the series, and at times can concur with the frustration of a dawdler when I am trying to get somewhere, I relish the feeling of being amongst many people, feeling safer amongst the hundreds than I do when I am alone on a street, or even just with two or three of us on a bush walk where I mentally am keeping track of how far I am from civilisation, how far I am from emergency assistance, how long it would take to raise an alarm from the moment that a brown snake bites me to the moment that the paramedics find my flailing twitching-in-its-death-throes body evident in the scattered twigs, dirt and leaves left strewn about like a demented dirt angel, my head landing in a green-head ant nest eliciting their ire as they bite bite bite me, leaving welts rising upon my face and completing the work of the snake that has slithered away, and my screaming agony will be unheard as it will be at one with the screeching dinosaur birds that circle overhead in that final moment.

I’ll take my chances in the city.

Struggle, Long Lost Acquaintances and Immature Side-eye: Observation Notes 69-70 and Reading Note 30

Observation Note 69: Immature side-eye. Dammit! This could have been such an obvious funny post but instead I have been reading navel-gazing memoirs and angst-filled sexless books for months on end. *shakes fist* *then giggles*.

Obviously, I continue to be a teenager.

Observation Note 70: Long lost acquaintances. I had dinner at a friend’s place last night and my host (in her mid-50s) was describing the moment that a few weeks earlier she had contact with an old high school friend as something that was astounding and incredible as no-one had heard from her since school had ended early in the 1980s. The question arose, would there be anyone who I would be shocked to the point of loud exclamations if I saw her again. Without a thought I remembered the exact person (who I will not give their real name here for obvious reasons) – let me call her “Helen”. When we were all about 15 years old, “Helen” got her first boyfriend. “Helen’s” parents found out and totally freaked out, over-reacted, pulled her out of school and sent her to their village in Greece to live with her grandmother to ensure she had “good Greek girl” values instilled in her. A year later, her parents went to Greece to visit their daughter and to bring her back to Australia, just to find that she was going out, had a boyfriend, and was loving life in her Greek village. She absolutely refused to come back to her oppressive life in Australia. I have never heard from or about “Helen” since that last update. But what really stood strong in my mind was that the Greece that my migrant parents spoke about must be incredibly different to the one that “Helen” travelled to, and I was to find out from my own travels that this was an absolutely true perception of a country whose mores had changed with the times.

Reading Note 30: Struggle. (Just a heads up that there will be a spoiler in this note). In March, I read Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X. It is a coming-of-age verse novel about (X)iomara’s struggle with her migrant parents, her mother’s religion and their very different responses to life. Xiomara is coming to terms with her changing body, her twin and his introversion and as per the usual YA novel, there is the necessary inspirational teacher who mentors and directs here in her time of troubles. Xiomara had complex teen problems that she was grappling with especially when it came to pushing back against parental expectations. This YA novel took me a while to get immersed into, however, once the rhythm of the writing took hold, I flew through the book. There was a small section later in the book involving Xiomara’s mother’s inability to reconcile herself to her daughter’s American lifestyle and interests, especially including Xiomara having a boyfriend. This felt over-wrought and simplistic for me especially in light of how the issues were resolved optimistically which to me felt unlikely. Over-wrought parents don’t just easily accept a new normal. I felt uncomfortable with the book’s ending. Perhaps this is due to my own personal experiences in my youth, especially in light of “Helen” not having understanding parents, whose parents became over-wrought sent her to another country rather than accept her having a boyfriend. “Helen” was not the only friend whose migrant parents had similar cultural difficulties , and who had similar reactions to X’s mother, this made it much harder to ignore my feelings and accept the author’s story. It was too close to home and all that. My own personal experiences aside, the story was powerful and strong and I loved the application of slam poetry as the narrative tool for understanding X. It was a very good read which gave me lots to consider.

A Walking Day: Reading Note 29

Reading Note 29: A Walking Day. I’ve been reading Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman in the City – her life and observations living in New York City. I decided to live the text (without actually flying to NYC) by going in to my favourite Sydney places and spending a good part of the day walking everywhere. I was with my husband and oldest son (our younger son was at his football game).

We met at the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park, walked down to and through Pitt St Mall over to Angel Place. We caught the light rail a couple of stops down to the harbour where we got a bite to eat at The Rocks Market and ended up having a quick drink and listening to Irish music at The Mercantile. It was a sparkling day 💖

My husband in his blue and white striped long sleeved T-shirt (so French!) with me sitting on the grass in Hyde Park.
Archibald Fountain is a water fountain in Sudney. The focus is on a young Apollo with green trees as a backdrop with a bright blue sky.
An image of the novel The Odd Woman and the City. Text only cover.
A lovely photograph of my husband and son. The backdrop is of The Rocks Market.
A bright blue sky with the tips of trees at the top of the photograph. I took this photo lying down.

Best laid plans and Nature: Observation Note 68 and Reading Note 28

Observation note 68: The best laid plans of mice and men. Today, I ended up returning three books to the library that I had borrowed twice, each time for a three month period (this is inclusive of two automatic renewals). I managed to read Vivian Gornick’s Unfinished Business (see Reading Notes 17-21), however I returned Gornick’s Fierce Attachments as well as Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking without even starting them. I still have an overdue book – I am half way through Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman in the City and I am going to try to finish it tonight and return it tomorrow. Thankfully, my library system doesn’t have overdue fines and to allay any worry warts, if the book had been recalled for a reservation I would return it unfinished. However, it is overdue only because time has run out. It is just going to sit on the shelf until I feel a decent amount of time has passed and I can reborrow it. Though I am enjoying Vivian Gornick’s writing so much that I might even go out and buy a copy instead. As for Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, I kept it on hold as I was trying to finish all three Gornick books before I started it. I had seen Solnit’s name pop up here and there over the years – from Twitter mentions to mansplaining stories to Goodreads listing as well as references in other books.

Reading Note 28: Nature. I have very little interest in going walking/trekking/rambling through the bush/countryside/forest/[insert here your environmental Nirvana]. I embrace my love for city walking and the urban environment. I’m of the opinion that for the environment to stay intact, we should keep far far far away from it. I don’t need to experience nature myself to value it and my endeavour to preserve it is by not setting foot int it. Treading lightly by not treading at all. That said, I do love reading about environmental adventures. Perhaps it is born out of my childhood reading of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi and L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I happily read about other people’s travels through nature’s best which is what makes Kathryn Aalto’s collection of women in nature biographies so great. Kathryn Aalto includes Rebecca Solnit in her book Writing Wild: Women poets, ramblers, and mavericks who shape how we see the natural world. This is an excellent book of essays focusing on women who have written about nature over the past couple of centuries and their unique perspectives. 25 essays of about 6-8 pages focusing on each woman’s oeuvre was written in such an engaging way that I found myself going down rabbit holes to search online maps and animal and flower names, further researching each author, either finding the 19th century author’s work either on Project Gutenberg, the Poetry Foundation, or simply reserving library copies of the contemporary authors’ works (hello Rebecca Solnit!!!!). This book serves as a gateway to further explorations of the body of women scientists, novelists, conservationists, poets and more all writing about nature, the changes that have occurred over the centuries, the ecological impact of the industrial and modern ages, and the engagement with the urban and rural landscape. I just loved this book.Though I borrowed this book from the library, I will definitely be buying my own copy. It is a keeper.

Environment, eavesdropping and quiet: Observation Notes 65-67

Observation note 65: Environmental Coffee. In October of 2019, I saw a short news snippet on how Italy’s coffee culture differs from Australia in that it doesn’t create as much rubbish. This is because people sit down for their coffee rather than have take-aways. So I have made a concerted effort ever since to make time to sit down for my coffee. Since then, I have only bought three take-away coffees. If I can’t make time to sit down, I just don’t bother. I know that keep cups are an option but I can taste the plastic in them. I also like the sit down. 10-15 minutes a day forcing me to think about my next step, my next action, my next read or my next piece of writing. Of course, considering that the majority of 2020 was spent in lockdown, I really missed having cafe coffee. It does differ from home coffee even if you have invested in a $400 coffee machine to make excellent coffees at home. My lockdown, homemade coffees were wonderful, of course. I was grateful for all of them especially as they were all made for me by my husband. We got into the habit of taking our coffees onto our front verandah even if it was mostly quiet with sparse foot traffic going past. Occasionally, we’d chat with friends or neighbours, or my sister would walk past and we would have a very loud, socially distanced conversation.

Observation note 66: Eavesdropping. One of the benefits of only sitting down in a coffee shop is being able to listen in to other people’s conversations. The other day, as I was quietly sipping my coffee, pretending to be writing on my laptop, I could hear two young men having a catch up. One of them was talking about his break up with his girlfriend and he said that he was “a conscious narcissist” and that he didn’t want to spend any time pandering to a woman’s needs when he just wanted someone to take care of his needs. Suffice to say, he was a total bore, even if he did effusively appreciate the delicate blue-flowered teapot his chai was served up in. At another table, a group of women were busy planning archive acquisitions for their workplace. Only one was taking notes as the other two discussed dates and possible collaborators for projects. The day before, while I tucked into my bulgar wheat crepe with rose water poached pears, the woman next to me was discussing the merits of the picture books she was reading with the barista who was taking a break from his work. Ahead of me, a couple were working out their child’s pick up schedule. All this was done in hushed tones. No-one was particularly talking loudly (dammit!). I had to strain to listen in. It was a task to overhear their conversations over the buzz of the coffee grinder and the staff seeing to other people’s needs.

Observation note 67: What is quiet. The other day, while I sheltering from the cold at the library (see Observation Note 63), I found the “Quiet” room to read my book. There were a few other people in the room and everyone was totally quiet. However, just like the coffee shop, there was ambient noise. Primarily from staff who were answering their users questions. When I was working as a librarian, I was always keenly aware of how contradictory librarians were to their library “brand” (I really hate that word). The quiet room’s door was propped open, so the staff discussion could be heard, the children’s storytime cheers were carrying from the other end of the room, and the sitar player sitting outside of the library was clearly audible. What was lacking though, were conversations between people that I could listen in on, trying to get a glimpse into their life. The elderly gentlemen in search of the Choice magazine so he could read up on washing machine reviews was disappointingly boring. So I left. I went back to the coffee shop. I needed to overhear more stories.

Language, Photoessays και να γεμίζει το μάτι: Observation 64, Reading note 27 and my first Greek Note.

Observation Note 64: Language. I made a decision at the tail end of my thesis studies that when I had finished I would re-engage in reading in Greek again. I attained my First Lyceum certificate (first year of senior high for those in the US, Year 10 for those in Oz) and then I stupidly stopped studying Greek. Though I am fluent in Greek, my reading flow has diminished over many decades. So in my aim to become proficient again, I read a travel photoessay. The text is a reworking of the Instagram post I wrote upon finishing reading the book a while back. I am well aware that my written expression is rudimentary and on par with a primary school student but I don’t care. I am rebuilding a skill lost here!

Reading Note 27: Photoessay. Nikos Desyllas’s Epirus: an aesthetic wander through a Greek region is a beautiful bilingual photoessay travelling through the state of Epirus in the far North West of Greece where the Pindus Mountains meet the Ionian Sea. The photographs of places such as Ioannina, Zagoria, Metsovo (which I have visited 3 times) and all the in-between mountains and gorges, lakes and rivers to the sea are presented alongside quotes and stanzas from Ancient Greek tales of Odysseus to folkloric songs similar to those my mother (who is not from Epirus but from nearby on the Eastern side of the Pindus) would sing. I deeply enjoyed reading this book and I really hope I can find more of Desyllas’s books.

Greek Note 1: Γεμίζει το μάτι. Τού Νίκο Δεσύλλας το βιβλίο Ήπειρος: αισθητικη περιπλανηση στο χωρο μου άρεσε πάρα πολύ. Είναι μία φωτογραφική έκθεση για το νομό της Ήπειρος. Ειναι δίγλωσσων στα Ελληνικά και στα Αγγλικά με στοίχοι απο αρχαάα μυθιστορήματα του Οδυσσέα και διαλεγμένα δημοτικά τραγούδια που μου θυμίζουν τα τραγούδια της μαμάς μου (που δεν είναι απο την Ήπειρος όμως κατάγεται από κοντά στην Ανατολική πλευρά του Πίνδος με την Ήπειρος στην Δυση. Ελπίζω να βρω κι’άλλα βιβλία του Νίκος Δεσύλλας.

Cold, browsing and cults: Observation Notes 62-63 and Reading Note 26

Observation note 62: Brrrrr. I was not dressed for the frigid cold today. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was clad. I had thick cotton tights, a long sleeve top, a tunic, a jacket, socks, shoes and a thick scarf. However, today called for fleece lined tights, wool-lined boots, a thick, triple layered long coat and perhaps a woollen hat with those droopy ear coverings. As I had none of these items, instead of walking around Newcastle, I spent a large part of my day eavesdropping into conversations in coffee shops, admiring the current exhibitions at the art gallery and finding the warmest and quietest corner in the library.

Observation Note 63: Browsing. As I knew that I was only going to be in the library for a few hours, I browsed the shelves looking for something short to read. This is despite carrying in my backpack my current book on the go – the storytelling is always greener on the other side. I am convinced that this is behaviour typical of avid readers. I went by the thickness of book spines and found that I rejected nearly all the books in the library as being too long to read. I couldn’t find any poetry that appealed to me, I had read all the interior design books on offer, and there weren’t any 2021 Mills & Boons on the shelf. As an aside, the library’s non-fiction section is genrefied and I found Susan Orlean’s The Library Book in True Crime which surprised me. True Crime??? I mean, Orleans is investigating a fire but I would have gone with History myself. I like the surprise of other people’s categorisations.

After a short librarianlicious while, I finally found the graphic novel section. Jackpot!

Reading Note 26: Cult. I ended up spending the morning reading Marianne Boucher’s Talking to Strangers: A memoir of my escape from a cult . This is the story of how, in 1980, while she was only 18, Boucher became a member of a religious cult in Los Angeles. Boucher’s retelling of the brainwashing she was subjected to, her mother’s measured and calm response in safely extricating her daughter from the cult, and Boucher’s continued struggle with her sense of herself, her terrifying experiences and her responses to other people was steeped with intensity. Graphic novel memoirs are one of my favourite (sub)genres and this one certainly was a gripping read.