Monday, 31 March 2008

Traces of sound

The world's first sound recording was not Edison's record of "Mary had a little lamb" in 1877, but an engraving of a French folk song in soot-covered paper made by a Parisian inventor in 1860. It wasn't made to be played back, but with clever technology, sound archivists have recovered the long lost sounds. Read the full story here on the BBC.

More kakapo!

There are now 91 kakapo! That isn't very many, but it's 5 more than there were last year. Yay for DoC and all the kakapo volunteers who have looked after the breeding birds and watched over the nests. Stuff has the story here.
All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy S.)
All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy S.)

Set in 1949, this is the tale of a teenaged Texan cowboy who decides to pack up and seek his fortune in Mexico, along with a friend. They set off on horseback, leaving behind everything they know. The people and situations they meet will test them physically, emotionally and morally.

Along with the serious moral and philosophical elements of the story, there is a wealth of darkly comic dialogue and offbeat characters. And also some of the richest and most lyrical descriptions of landscape, animals and people that I have come across.

It's a book that needs to be enjoyed slowly. Although it portrays dramatic events, the style is subtle and elliptical, and it's easy to miss important details. And the lushness and lyricism of the descriptive writing requires slow savouring. Below are some samples:

"As he turned to go he heard the train. He stopped and waited for it. he could feel it under his feet. It came boring out the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in this hands in the passing ground-shudder watching till it was gone. Then he turned and went back to the house."

"They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pastureland. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The lights fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heard somewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing."

"They spread their soogans and he pulled off his boots and stood them beside him and stretched out in his blankets. The fire had burned to coals and he lay looking up at the stars in their places and the hot belt of matter that ran the chord of the dark vault overhead and he put his hands on the ground at either side of him and pressed them against the earth and in that coldly burning canopy of black he slowly turned dead center to the world, all of it taut and trembling and moving enormous and alive under his hands."

"...inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who's will and the blood pulsed and the bowels shifted in their massive blue convolutions of who's will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed in their articulations and of who's will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned."

Friday, 28 March 2008

New Zealand - A Painted Country: Contemporary New Zealand Artists Paint Their Favourite Places
New Zealand - A Painted Country: Contemporary New Zealand Artists Paint Their Favourite Places

This lovely book shows the incredible diversity of approaches within contemporary New Zealand landscape painting.

My favourites include Neil Driver (Central Otago), Nigel Wilson (Alexandra/Clutha), Susan Webb (Wellington Coast), Geoff Tune (Gisborne, East Coast), and Rachel Olsen (Coromandel).

The lives of others

In 2001, American John Freyer decided to sell everything he owned on EBay, including his furniture, clothes, rolls of undeveloped film, kitchenware, the food in his cupboards, and the personal hygiene products in his bathroom. He even sold the right to be him at his birthday party: to receive his presents, and to go out with his friends.

That wasn't the end of the story, though: having sold most of his possessions he kept in touch with all the people who had bought them, and he later went on a road trip around the US, visiting them all.

So you could say he lost his possessions but gained a lot of new friends.

You can read his story here, or buy the book All My Life for Sale.

Now a man in Australia wants to sell his whole "life package" on EBay: his house, car and possessions, and even his job, so he can walk away from painful memories, and start over. That story is here.

Update: more here. And he now has his own website, with a welcome to potential buyers from his friends!

A recycling miracle

In 2003, a 14-year old Christchurch girl won a science-fair prize for designing a composting system for disposable nappies. Her system produces mostly sterile compost plus a small amount of shredded plastic.

The idea has been taken up by a local business which hopes to eventually process up to 15,000 nappies per day! Read the story here.

Feed the giraffes

If you live in Hamilton, and need some tree pruning done, Hamilton zoo staff might come and do it for you. Really! They are looking for tasty treats for their giraffes. Read the story here.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Uncle Fred in the Springtime
Uncle Fred in the Springtime

Fans of P.G. Wodehouse will need no encouragement to read this story in which the eccentric Uncle Fred meets not only the inhabitants of Blandings Castle, but also the efficient Baxter! Sir Roderick Glossop, brain specialist, has a small cameo part.

Yes, it's Edwardian country-house nonsense, with a plot so farcical and convoluted I'd hate to have to draw a diagram, but it's also totally brilliant and hilarious.

Wodehouse's observations of his characters are inspired. Try this:

"...there entered a young man of great height but lacking the width of shoulder and ruggedness of limb which make height impressive. Nature, stretching Horace Davenport out, had forgotten to stretch him sideways, and one could have pictured Euclid, had they met, nudging a friend and saying, 'Don't look now, but this chap coming along illustrates exactly what I was telling you about a straight line having length without breadth'."

And try these, from Uncle Fred himself:

"'I seem to have a vague recollection of having met him somewhere, but I can't place him, and do not propose to institute inquires. He would probably turn out to be someone who was at school with me, though some years my junior. When you reach my age, you learn to avoid such reunions. The last man I met who was at school with me, though some years my junior, had a long white beard and no teeth. It blurred the picture I had formed of myself as a sprightly young fellow on the threshold of life.'"

"'We start out in life with more pimples than we know what to do with, and in the careless arrogance of youth think they are going to last for ever. But comes a day when we suddenly find that we are down to our last half-dozen. And then those go.'"

"'You can't compare the lorgnettes of today with the ones I used to know as a boy. I remember walking one day in Grosvenor Square with my aunt Brenda and her pug dog Jabberwocky, and a policeman came up and said that the latter ought to be wearing a muzzle. My aunt made no verbal reply. She merely whipped her lorgnette from its holster and looked at the man, who gave one choking gasp and fell back against the railings, without a mark on him but with an awful look of horror in his staring eyes, as if he had seen some dreadful sight. A doctor was sent for, and they managed to bring him round, but he was never the same again. He had to leave the Force, and eventually drifted into the grocery business. And that is how Sir Thomas Lipton got his start.'"

Sunday, 16 March 2008

A parallel universe where poetry is considered important!

Poet David Beach has won the biennial Prize in Modern Letters for his book of poems Abandoned Novel.

He says, "That a book of poems can win a $65,000 prize makes me feel as if I've stumbled into a parallel universe where poetry is considered important,".

Read all about it here.

You can buy Abandoned Novel by David Beach here.


This image by Michael Lidski is the most unusual photo of fireworks I've seen! His nature photos are also fantastic. What about this one?! Wow.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Andes - Flight of the Condor

Andes - Flight of the Condor

This is an astonishing book: a tour-de-force of photography by NZ photographer Tui de Roy. Collected over 30 years, there is a huge variety of Andean imagery here, and every photograph is compelling. Every environment found in the Andes is here: cloud forest, volcanoes, high plateaux, salt lakes, jagged peaks, windswept coast and glaciers, complete with all the unique plants and animals which are found there. A treasure of a book.



For the first few chapters I was thinking, Vonnegut is a genius...

...but what the hell?!

He's writing a book about how he tried to write a book that didn't really work?!

After that I just settled in for the wild ride.

There are bits and pieces of autobiography, fiction, and fictional biography (the life of his alter ego, writer Kilgore Trout, and others). There's even fictional fiction, if that's possible (he recounts stories written by Trout). And there are plenty of silly jokes and random observations about life and a miultitude of other things.

The randomness and lack of structure is part of Vonnegut's point here - just as his refusal to differentiate major and minor characters was in Breakfast of Champions - life is a random mixture of crazy, wonderful, and horrifying things and people. And sometimes we get to make choices and sometimes we don't, but either way we have to manage the best we can.


The Distant Future

The Distant Future

The Flight of the Conchords are so funny they won a Grammy with their debut EP.