Monday, May 27, 2013

MONACO GRAND PRIX

Monaco Grand Prix - it's the one really.

I know I usually write about entertainment here and well, if Monaco is not pure entertainment, I don't know what is!

It was Monaco that started my love of Formula One. Growing up in a car racing family, my parents loved Bathurst and went to numerous rallies there prior to getting married and having us kids. We grew up with Conrad Straight, Brockie and the like...it was second nature to us.

I also loved old movies and Grace Kelly was a favourite. She married the Prince and moved to Monaco and that was in France...well, sort of.

As a kid that was some story!

So I loved to watch bits from the Monaco race to see if I could see Princess Caroline who I thought was lovely, and Princess Stephanie who was a bit different and very cool.

From that and from observing other races my parents watched, I started to love Formula 1 racing the best, in particular Jacques Villeneuve, he was hot (he still is), but most importantly he was an awesome racer, he was more outspoken than most of the other racers, he pulled sharp moves, got himself into trouble, but was fascinating to watch, on and off track.

And so a passion was born.

Over the years I have made my way down to Melbourne numerous times to enjoy the race weekend there, always a buzz.

It's hard to explain, I suppose you need to be there, but the fast cars, the noise, the smell, the racers, the excitement and anticipation, it's awesome. Now I am not very sporting minded, this is my exception and the thing that surprises people most about me. That's ok, you can raise an eyebrow!

So, when I arrived in Monaco less than 8 months ago on the road trip part of my European Vacation with family, I - we - were beyond excited.

After checking into the amazing hotel we were staying in, we headed down the hill towards where we thought the casino was, years of watching the race had us 'on track' . But years of watching didn't really prepare you for the beauty of Monte Carlo, the magnificent mountains so very close by...now I knew this, but seeing it was altogether different. You could turn in one direction and see mountains and mist, and then the other direction and see opulent yachts on the water.
 






We wandered thru the casino area and found ourselves right on that famous hairpin bend, we couldn't take enough photos, it was incredibly exciting, the most famous bend in f1 and here we were looking right at it!!! Then we walked around the hairpin straight to the tunnel!!
 



 
Oh my, we walked through the tunnel, where so many accidents have happened - if you love F1 and Monaco you will understand our excitement.



We then we found a great cafe on the harbour for lunch, looking directly at yachts unlike you have ever seen and up at the hills of the royal palace.
 
 


The lunch of crepes, our first in France was delightful. We walked all round the harbour, taking in the yachts, cars, hotels and extravagance, and looking up to the mountains, wishing we were staying for more than one night. We then wandered to the 'swimming pool' and found the start/finish section of the track, lots of little statues etc paying homage to the race and racers, and all sorts of things Formula 1.


 




We continued to explore and made our way up the hill back to our hotel, where we changed for dinner and some night views of this fabulous city.


The following day we were leaving but not before our intrepid driver, my fabulous sister Amanda, drove us around the entire race track a few times. She was in even, we all were cheering and excited. A real thrill, and how nice to view the race last night with all of that history now. As the cars went round I followed even closer than I ever had, I knew these streets, I had been a passenger on these streets, I had walked these streets!!
 



 
It's a simple track, possibly one that would be ditched if it were elsewhere, but how can they?

It is steeped in history, royal and racing...the two go hand in hand, how I miss Monaco and those famous streets...one day I shall return!!!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

FILM FESTIVAL WEEKEND

One of my lovely tweeps, a Librarian from Melbourne, recently said I had the Life of Riley and so it would seem. Last year I was under a self imposed house arrest to save money for my fabulous European Vacation. So this year I am partaking of all the things I had to say "Non" to last year. Newcastle is buzzing with fabulous things to do, with festivals of films and writers, great cafes, music, wonderful places to walk and fabulous friends to do all of this with...yeah if that's the Life of Riley I will take it all!

And so to the weekend that caused M the Librarian to make that comment.

The Tower Cinemas in Newcastle are really upping the ante with all sorts of alternative films, documentaries, foreign films and so forth and this weekend there were not one but TWO Film Festivals showing.

The first is The French Film Festival, which I always love. I adore foreign films and French films, in fact anything French! And the second the shOUT Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. How fabulous for them to be showing simultaneously.


DAY ONE
First up was the opening night of the French Film Festival on the Friday night, with lots of French books and films to purchase, and a lovely spread of French Food, yummy croissants, quiches, wraps, cheese and patisseries...oh and wine!

A, L, M & myself mingled, ate and enjoyed the atmosphere with live French music, then headed into the cinema for the film. After a lovely fashion parade from Emma Soup and some raffles being drawn the film started.

What a delight...Camille Rewinds. Camille is 40 and about to be divorced from her husband. After passing out on the count of midnight at a NYE party she wakes up in hospital in 1985 and is 16 again. Her parents are alive, she is back at home and in high school with the awareness of her life up until 40. This is a key part of her life, where her Mum drops dead unexpectedly and she finds herself pregnant...can she prevent this turmoil, should she try to change things, can she change anything, what can she do and will she ever go back to her 'reality'...whatever that is?

Noemie Lvovsky wrote, directed and starred as Camille in this funny and poignant film. She is outstanding, capturing the awkwardness of 16 in a 40 year olds body, yet with the knowledge a 40 year old brain and soul would bring to being 16 again! Rather than using a younger actress in the 1985 scenes, having Lvovsky act the part in that way added to the pathos and was incredibly funny. The supporting cast, in particular her parents and Samir Guesmi as Eric, her husband are great. Also a superb 80s soundtrack with authentic fashion! I was 14 in 1985, and despite being set in France, it was spot on!!!

Watch the trailer, then go and find the film!!


After the film, we hit the newly opened Beer bar, The Grain Store. In the former View Factory in Newcastle East, it was buzzing with young, beautiful people. But the beer was good, plenty to choose from, great deco-ish interior, also a good looking food menu, though it was too late to eat. Fun way to end a great night...though some 80s music would have suited better!


Here is something that will forever be entwined with the film:


DAY TWO
Saturday night was our first ShOUT film, Farewell, My Queen with Diane Kruger as Marie-Antoinette. We were treated to a bit of a show beforehand!



Set at the very beginning of the French Revolution as the Bastille is to be stormed, it is about the relationship between Marie-Antoinette and her reader, Sidonie. Sidonie reads books, poety and magazine articles to Marie-Antoinette. Sidonie is advised by Madame Campan, one of Marie-Antoinette's lady in waiting (played by Noemie Lvovsky from Camille Rewinds!), what sort of mood the Queen is in and they choose books accordingly. With everything in turmoil, Marie-Antoinette is moody, stressed and upset. She is also bereft her friend, Duchess Gabrielle, is unable to spend time with her.

As the movie proceeds and the 'list' of beheadings goes round the palace things become more frantic, people trying to escape including royals and their servants. Marie-Antoinette, desperate to leave, has no choice but to stay, The Duchess decides to leave. She is in grave danger, and Marie-Antoinette has a plan to help The Duchess, but will Sidonie risk everything to help her beloved queen?

Filmed mostly in Versailles and at the castle itself, the film is rich and stunning. Having recently been there is was lovely to see some of the rooms I visited and the surrounding grounds. The costumes were divine and Diane Kruger was perfection as Marie-Antoinette. Lea Seydoux (Gabrielle in Midnight in Paris) was lovely as Sidonie, carrying the film with every look and glance. The supporting cast also great. This is a French film foremost with just a tiny inkling of a possible romance between The Queen and The Duchess. Highly enjoyable, especially for those who are history buffs.


DAY THREE
First film of the Day was Journal de France. A documentary about French photographer, Raymond Depardon. This film follows Depardon, in his 70s, as he criss crosses the French countryside taking the most stunning photos from the most ordinary things. He uses a large format 20x25 camera - the type you slide pieces in and out of. Intertwined with this are moving images and stills from his career.


And what an outstanding career he had, the footage shows him in varying situations including war, riots and getting himself arrested numerous times. He also did political exposes, filmed movie stars and regular people walking the streets. Fascinated by what I saw I have looked him up and found out he has filmed conflict in Chad, Vietnam, Biafra and Algeria - most of this was shown in the film. Haunting and up close with rebels too, his film was very confronting and obviously incredibly dangerous. I suspect he was very charming to get in and out of these situations. He co-founded Gamma, a photojournalism agency in the early 70s and received a Pulitzer Prize for his work in Chad in the late 70s.

Raymond has shot many documentaries, short and full features, most of which are very difficult to get or lost. There was one amazing sequence, from 1993, of Nelson Mandela. It was one minute of him filming Mandela looking at the camera. Depardon says he did not need to time it, Mandela was used to counting time from his time in prison! And right on the 60 seconds, Mandela moves his hands as if to say times up and gets up from his chair. Hypnotising!

There is so much more to this film, the beauty he sees in everything, the way people react to getting their photo taken or being filmed, his interesting take on his subjects, his numerous jailings for crossing the line, the stunning soundtrack of classical and modern pieces, finishing with Patti Smith over the credits.

I found the film online, no subtitles though, so will be difficult to get context, however you will see his visuals and that is what the film is about!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeD3Svqrjq4

We had some time to kill before Film 2, so headed into the newly opened 'Soul Foods' on the corner of Brown and Hunter Streets, in the old bank (previously a kfc). What a stunning location for this lovely cafe. Amazing food and wares. Plenty of healthy alternatives for vegetarians and those that like a little meat in their meals. Coffee, tea, smoothies, gelato, lots of amazing breads. The cafe has everything. L & I had little butter chicken pies topped with sweet potato mash and a delightful side salad including pear and caramelised (or candied?) walnuts...oh my!



After a walk though the mall to stretch our legs before the next lot of films, we headed back to meet A for La Vie d'une Autre (Another Woman's Life).

The brilliant Juliette Binoche stars as Marie, young and carefree and falling in love with Paul on her 30th birthday. The next morning she wakes up in a strange house and finds herself at 40, with a young child and in the midst of divorce to Paul. Where has the time gone and what has happened?

Similar in subject matter to the film Friday night, yet moving in the opposite direction. It is funny and sad as we watch Marie at 40 act like her younger self, but realising she had indeed been very different, changed, and possibly not at all nice. Binoche shines in this role, reacting as her 30 year old self against her life, playing with her young son, and not exactly wowing them in the boardroom. Can she save her life and make amends, when she doesn't even know what she did? Why is she in this state? Thoroughly enjoyable and set right in the heart of Paris, right next to The Eiffel Tower no less. Another gem from the festival and Binoche, who rarely takes a misstep.


Film 3, Toast - part of the shOUT Festival - was proceeded by a lovely afternoon tea from Euro Patisserie. Exquisite! Best mini Banoffee Pie!


Toast is about the childhood of chef and food writer, Nigel Slater. It is a bittersweet tale of his early life with his beloved mother and tough father. His mother could not cook and was unwell, and after her passing, was 'replaced' by the cleaner, rough as nails but a superb cook, played with tongue firmly placed in cheek, by Helena Bonham Carter. Teen Nigel, played by Freddie Highmore, and Mrs Potter (cleaner come step mother) don't get on and once Freddie's love of cooking takes off, they get into a serious 'bake off' for the attention of Nigel's father, with serious consequences. Incredibly funny and rather camp, the film also has moment of melancholy with a great supporting Dusty Springfield soundtrack. And then there's the food, you will walk away from Toast wanting Lemon Meringue Pie like your life depends on it!


I had intended to round out my weekend of Films by heading straight into Film Society, but was worn out so had to give it a miss. Whilst the atmosphere at The Towers is outstanding, the seating still needs a little work. We were both a little twisted and contorted by the end of it all.

What a fabulous weekend though, thanks to L for sharing the fun, and to A & M for joining us for some of it. The travelling Sydney Film Festival is coming up in a month! Can't wait!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

April Round Up

Instead of making New Years resolutions I would undoubtedly break, I made a list of 42 things to do while I am 42.


At the end of each month I have been blogging about how I am going with the 42 Things and adding any other fun things I've been doing.

A diary for me, and maybe of interest to you.

So, what 42 Things did I manage in April?

3. Have one night a week where I turn off all electronics and read
Finally got to this one, mostly out of necessity as I was reading Anna Karenina for Book Club (more on that next month). I do want to set the same night each week aside for this, but have been too busy thus far. However, it is relaxing to have complete silence with no other distractions, just me and a book and more often than not a glass of something something!

4. Walk more and explore my own surroundings
Continuing to do this and making the most of the still warm early evenings. Mostly at Warners Bay, Belmont and Swansea, but as you can see there is much to see. It also got cool enough to reinstate lunch time walks to the lake at Swansea.






5. Read more of my own books
I've only really been reading Anna Karenina this month and it is my own, albeit a second hand copy. Very much enjoying it, but it's long (800 pages) and very detailed. But oh so beautifully written. I have bought a LOT of books this month, went a little crazy in fact! So will need to work on this thing in months to come

20. Get through my list of local restaurants and cafes
I finally had lunch at La Petit Deux and it was magnificent. My friend L and I had Le Plat du Jour, which was steak frites and a glass of wine. Then we had to have dessert, I had Creme Brulee, L had a French style Eton Mess. All of it was wonderful and along with the wonderful cafe setting, transported us both back to Paris.




I've also been to two of my faves during the month, Caves Beach Hotel for lunch and The Royal Inn at Waratah. Not sure if I've mentioned The Royal Inn before, growing up in Waratah, it was not a place to go, pretty feral to be honest. I still remember how mortified I was that my school reunion was held there. And the pub pretty much is as it was, but you don't need to go into it, just bypass and go out the back to the bistro and it has an impressive menu including the best Pork Belly I've ever had. They serve it with scallops in honey and a rocket and parmesan salad. Bliss!

26. Go to the Farmers Markets more regularly
Yes, went to both at Speers Point this month. Scored all sorts of amazing food and wares. Highly recommend going and I always love my Gozleme for breakfast!

 

31. Have fun and laugh more at work
Well we've been having a lot of fun at work as we have a 3D printer. Bought for the entire Library system and will be shared around all the branches. Swansea got it first and we have been making lots of cool things to add to a Star Wars display.


32. Live up to my Librarian of Leisure handle
I was lucky to have a few extra days off over the Anzac Day long weekend, and really got back into being a Librarian of Leisure. Lots of long walks, sitting around watching the world go by, reading, daydreaming, eating out, going to the movies and a family dinner. Good for the soul people!

33. Go to lots of fun, social events
Pretty packed month with The Writers Festival weekend, the first of my Film Society's French Fridays (complete with a French market) and the Silent Film Festival. Plus lunches and dinners out with fabulous family and friends.
 
You can read about the Writers Festival here:

34. Make sure those that mean the most to me know they do
April wasn't all joy and excitement unfortunately. We mourned the unexpected loss of the father of my close friend J. Such things are always sad and gives you pause to reflect on life and those around you. My friend is doing ok, all things considered, but I cannot even imagine her grief. My bil had the first round of serious operations to prepare him for a new, improved prosthetic leg. He is doing marvelously, but it's a long, tiring road. My sister's magnificence in supporting him and her family is shining through, and we of course are supporting them all. A few other friends are having 'moments' in their lives...we all do, don't we? So, all we can do - those of us lucky enough to be traveling trouble free at the moment - is to support them, love them, lend a shoulder, and let them know we are here and how much they mean to us.

36. Take time to do nothing and daydream more often
I have been walking to lovely destinations, finding a nice sunny spot, and plonking myself down to watch the passing parade! Love doing that, do not do it often enough, even if it is only 10-15mins I find it is the perfect recharge. I spent a few hours on the Sunday afternoon of the Anzac Day weekend at King Edward Park. I used to do this all the time when I lived on The Hill in Newcastle. I didn't realise how much I missed it and will endeavour to get back again more regularly. I had my blanket, some supplies and Anna Karenina, but there was so much going on around me, I only read about 10 pages. Weddings, interesting cars, birds, music, it was fabulous. My grandparents always took us there as kids, the place is one of my touchstones, I highly recommend a leisurely outing there, it is the perfect spot to daydream.

 

So what else have I crammed into April?

Books
I was reading Anna Karenina for my Book Club and am about halfway through. Thoroughly enjoying the writing, it is beautiful prose and slow paced like most Russian writing from that era. But in this fast paced world, it is difficult to read, you do need to have a few hours at a time to set aside to thoroughly synch with the pace. And at 800 pages with teeny, tiny writing, and a bazillion long yet very similar Russian named characters concentration is key. When I only had a few moments and was busy I struggled, but when I put aside longer periods of time (very difficult to do!) and was more relaxed I found it meditative and moving.

One a completely other angle, I have read Andrew McCarthy's first book. Yes, Andrew McCarthy, Pretty in Pink, Weekend at Bernie's and all those 80s classics. So in love with him back then...sigh. So, whilst he still acts occasionally (and directs too, he directed a lot of Gossip Girl...how appropriate!) he is now a travel writer, mostly for National Geographic! How surprising, and you know what, he is really very good. The book, The Longest Way Home, is mostly travel writing with a bit of memoir within. It is a great insight into his complex character, never comfortable with acting (which I believe comes across a little in his chosen roles), and mostly a loner who prefers his own company, he has always traveled and started writing articles a while back, he has won awards for his travel writing and is quite revered in the industry!

His style is laid back, detached and peaceful. He is very observant of character and details, and paints a picture of places and people so much so you feel you are right there with him. In the book, he is engaged but a bit afraid of commitment, so while his poor fiancĂ© is trying to organise a wedding, he keeps taking assignments to crazy places like The Amazon, Patagonia and so forth. He details his inner thoughts and does a lot of soul searching on these trips. The travel detail is stunning, these fast paced places are full of adventure and wildness, yet he describes them in this calming, peaceful way that hypnotises the reader. He really is excellent, I highly recommend the book, and yes, I still have a huge crush on him!

I have also been listening to David Sedaris reading his own books in the car. He is one of my very favourite writers, having first discovered him on Letterman years ago, he is so funny and yet also so moving at the same time. His observation and wit is second to none, if you haven't read him, you must! He writes short essays/memoirs, that are about his life, family and other observations, though wildly exaggerated. He is a sort of hybrid Fiction/Non Fiction writer. Reading the books is one thing, listening to him read his books is another thing all together, lovely to revisit these favourites as read by the master himself. Start with the Santaland Diaries, his hilarious depiction of being an elf at Macys when he was younger. It's funniest thing I have ever read! His new book has just been released, and is the next Book Club title, more on it next month!

DVDs
Finally watched the latest Curb Your Enthusiasm series. Fans of Seinfeld know Larry David is superb, and this long running series is testament to that. Always highly inappropriate, and often unPC, yet you can't help but love the bastardised version he plays of himself. Newly divorced, Larry is dating again in this series...oh my! And from a long, crazy mix of Larryisms, he finds himself moving from LA to New York and living in the same apartment complex as Michael J. Fox. Hilarious!

Parks and Recreations, Series 3 and 4. What can I say? This is my favourite new comedy. Series 1 was ok, but it found it's step towards the end of series 2. Amy Poehler is superb; funny and sweet at the same time. The supporting cast is perfection with stand outs being Rob Lowe's (beautifully stupid) Chris Treager and my personal favourite Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson. I love the cast interaction, the silliness, and the often spot-on take of local government.

I had missed most of the last season of Doctor Who due to being O/S, so caught up on it before the latest season aired, wow, stunning and perfect, but so incredibly sad. So now The Doctor is back with a new companion, I am liking this series, but really missing Amy, Rory and River Song. Unsure where the story is going, something is not quite right...I guess in typical Doctor Who style we will find out soon enough.

I also watched an amazing doco on Anton Corbijn. Such a talent, including interviews with Musicians and actors who have starred in his music videos and Films.

Saw The Dark Knight Rises, which was excellent, should have seen it on the big screen though.

Movies
As part of my Film Society subscription this year, the Society has partnered with Alliance Française de Newcastle to provide additional films scattered throughout the year known as French Fridays.

I took along D and met L with her parents for the first one. There was a French 'market' set up in the foyer of The Towers, with food, wine and wares. The film itself, Tout ce qui brille (All that glitters) was about two young girls living in the gritty parts of outer Paris. Besties, they want to move closer into town, but find that doing so does not bring them closer together. A modern film, shot in Paris, I found it frustrating and annoying at times. The girls were not pleasant and did some silly things to supposedly get a better 'break' in life. The music was English rather than French, distracting and disjointed. I didn't dislike it, just didn't love it. But the evening was a lovely experience, so I look forward to the next one.

S & I went along to the Silent Film Festival held at The Towers. How fabulous are The Towers to be playing all these varied and wonderful films? I love silent films and have come to know Ronnie and Sharon who organise and promote the traveling festival which hits town 2-3 times a year. This time it was The Battle of the Somme and The Circus.
 
The Battle of the Somme is a silent documentary from 1916 and extremely powerful. It was very popular, selling over 20 million tickets in it's day. It was beautifully cleaned and given live accompaniment by the impeccable Greg Smith. The footage in it was remarkable and surreal. At first, so used to seeing fictional accounts of war on the big screen, you just take it in, but then it hits home that it is real, awful, and simply sad. These poor young men giving their lives willingly and the horror they... had to endure...it's heartbreaking.
 
The Circus is one of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp films and from 1928. He had begun to compose for his films and the score for this is stunning, including him singing a song at the very beginning...what a treat! The Circus is the usual tramp meets girl, but girl in love with someone else story. A circus is the perfect backdrop for the romance, adding hilarity and incredible stunts. I loved the high-wire sequences complete with monkeys, and a fabulous scene with a lion...all without too many special effects! What a privilege to see these wonderful old films, in my element I tell you!!

Finally, I saw a lovely doco on Manet during the Anzac day long weekend. A series of Art docos for the big screen, Manet was the first. A behind the scenes look at an exhibition of his portraits being put together for a London showing. Fascinating stories, history and stunning art. The next one will be Munch, can't wait.

Music
Been listening to the new David Bowie...finally. I really love it, I feel he sounds really good, though not as good as I have heard him. I love the selection of songs, the show his range and sensibilities. I often think when older artists release albums these days they fit into the middle of the road style of songs. But this is not the case here, Bowie shows a modern range that holds up against the music of now, possibly even shows them up!

So, that's it from April. A third of the year gone, I had hoped this year would be loads of fun and so far, so good!!