15.04.12

I take Ella for a walk to the Ocean Baths, which is one of my favourite places in Newcastle; it always makes me think of Atlantis. Sea water, naturally, enclosed in concrete behind a deco façade which, from the back (ie the pool side) is revealed to be just what it is: a façade. There’s a wonderful set of sculpted steps, painted aqua, at the north end; behind that you can climb down in to the maw of the ocean and see big multi-coloured crabs scuttling away behind the rusty machinery of pump house and filtration plant. On the far side the pool gives onto an area of rocks, more or less tidal, where there are always sea-birds perching – silver gulls, Caspian terns, oyster catchers, perhaps a blue or a grey heron. To the south is a wide shallow circular pool where kids can safely play and someone once told me there is a map of the world, perhaps even a relief map, buried beneath the concrete and the sand. Provincial encyclopaedism again?

Ella prattles companionably as we walk up and over The Hill, which is the old part of Newcastle where there are many grand and eccentric houses, most in a fairly good state of repair. Things are not so happy once you start down the other side towards the sea: there are vast, outré residential developments, all glass and steel, crammed against each other, and more are planned; their massed windows, greedy for a view, are like the compound eyes of some bizarre, rectangular, insectivorous life-form. Newie was a steel town but when the mill closed suffered a crisis of identity. In terms of the built environment, and especially downtown, instead of conserving or restoring the old Victorian and Edwardian piles that stand beside the railway line and the river along Hunter Street, the powers that be – an unholy alliance of a Labor Council and a set of rapacious developers – left them to rot and built a whole new precinct, called Honeysuckle, of glass and concrete and steel; this too is now beginning to fall into unlovely decay. As will these blocks with their ocean views.

Anyway . . . Ella, like any child I have known, is content playing beside the sea. Even though she doesn’t actually get into the water, or not until I say she can’t have an ice-block until she does. She diverts herself studying the schools of tiny silver fish flickering through the green water and with such-like entertainments. I haven’t brought my swimmers and might not have gone in anyway . . . too cold. There aren’t many people there; among those who are is a fellow who has, I notice, a foot like an elephant. I point it out to Ella and we wonder how that can be; later he pauses near to me and we have a brief chat – how’s the water? etc. – and I see that the entire front half of that foot has been sliced off, presumably in an accident of some kind. He gets about with barely a limp however.

Maggie has meanwhile been shopping and to the video store; we meet outside Ocean Baths and, after lunch at Raj’s on Darby Street, go on to her place. Last night we watched Peter Weir’s The Way Back, which is stunning to look at but derisory as a piece of drama. He must be in his dotage, all of his characters, in extremis as they are, behave towards each other like old fashioned gentlemen (and one lady) so there is no dramatic tension, no conflict, nothing to latch on to apart from the gorgeously photographed landscapes. The Triple J reviewer writes: There is a limit to how many times one human can watch toothless, malnourished men stumble around the desert bitching about communism and the lack of borscht and another, just as apt, describes the movie as metaphysical screensaver.

Today, this arvo, we have an Indie film by Kevin Smith called Red State and it’s great . . . three college kids make a rendezvous for group sex with a woman who lives in a trailer home in the sticks but end up being kidnapped by a violent sect of Christian extremists called the Five Points Church. They are executing homosexuals and stockpiling guns while awaiting the Rapture. Events consequent upon the boys’ misadventure – all stemming from a car accident on the way to the rendezvous – lead to a rapid unravelling of just about everything in a way that is funny, tough-minded, unsentimental and just as hard on the government and the agencies as it is on the church. For once I agree with Quentin Tarantino, who said: I freakin’ LOVE this movie.

The third pic, Sebastian Kane, is watchable but forgettable, so we watch and then forget. I prefer to think about Toss on verisimilitude: To paint without an object, he wrote on 7 November, 1938 from Rise Cottage in Christchurch to Ursula Bethell,  would be like trying to paint without paint. But one paints with paint without having to imitate paint. It is the simple relation of material to the working spirit. One does not ever, in true painting, imitate objects. One paints objects, one paints paint. The question of likeness never really enters into it at all. When likeness is present it is in the nature of a veil. It may veil something beautiful, or nothing at all. Hence it may be a very impressive likeness, yet a bad picture. 

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