Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A Colour of Mourning

My Grandfather passed away two weeks ago and as the news was published in the newspaper and Facebook, the sympathy cards and flowers slowly started arriving.
Each and every one was beautiful from close friends and family, and family we had never heard of on the other side of the country. What intrigued me most though was that each bouquet of flowers (including the potted rose bush) comprised of white flowers, not a medley of cheerful coloured ones, just white.

I'm not complaining.
In fact I'm strangely pleased.
I mean, I know Black is the official colour of mourning (still) and black flowers are virtually impossible to get. And white is the next neutral, black-related colour that is most easily available in flowers.

But though lesser known, White is also a colour for mourning, and has been for a long time.

White was used for children and unmarried women (virgins?), a symbol of their unblemished reputation and social virtue. It's not in the slightest bit relevant to my grandfather, and I doubt he would have appreciated this lesser known historical tradition. But still...
As illustrated through the rings below, the iconography remained the same, but the colour of the enamel differed. Both rings date to the 1780s. As an aside, the illustrations under glass on each ring were likely draw using the hair of the deceased.

Historically, white has also been the colour of deepest mourning among Medieval European Queens. Louise of Lorraine, wife of Henri III of France wore white after the assassination of her husband, and became known as Reine Blanche (The White Queen).

Louise's sister-in-law Mary Queen of Scots is pictured above dressed in the white mourning expected of a French Queen. She had been Queen of France for 17 months and was mourning the death of her husband Francis II, in addition to her father-in-law Henri II and her mother Mary of Guise.
This custom in France influenced the Queen Mother's wardrobe several centuries later when she made a State visit to France whilst still mourning the death of her mother.
It was a tradition at the Spanish courts until the end of the fifteenth century.
Juliana of the Netherland's daughters wore white to their mother's funeral.

Though the flowers were not ordered with me in mind, I appreciate the historical elements they unintentionally depict.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Easter treat (Bombolotti)

I'm in the process of scanning in old recipes, ones found carefully folded and sealed in plastic in a drawer of my grandfather's kitchen. Some recipes look illegible, some are illegible, being in Italian, one even is just a list of ingredients without a method.  However in amongst the pages are a few recipes that are recognisable, one of which stirs up memories of Easter.

In bygone years, Easter was a major family affair. Mum's extended family gathered for a long lunch while the kids played four square around the hills hoist. The main meal was okay; a vegetarian feast of falafels, fish, ful and a bevy of salads. We picked at it, primarily because we knew what dessert was.


Bombolotti are a little hard to describe. They're possibly a little like hollow doughnut balls, but more like the Greek Loukoumades, deep fried hollow balls of pastry, drenched in syrup, icing sugar and cinnamon.

I've watched Uncle Tony make them at least once, before trying them myself to resounding success. It's a strange recipe, a very very yeasty batter that subsequently smells horrendous. To create the balls, you grab the gloopy batter by the fistful, squeezing to create a balloon between the thumb and forefinger that is then dropped into the boiling oil.

To eat, you enjoy them by the bowlful, drowned in a light sugar syrup with a sprinkle of icing sugar and cinnamon.

1 lb Plain Flour
1 oz Fresh Yeast
1 tsp Sugar
[Warm Water]
[Frying Oil]

[To Serve:]
[Sugar syrup]
[Icing sugar]

Mix well yeast [and sugar]  with a bit of warm water. 
Then add water and flour. The consistency not too liquidy (custard)
Mix the lot very well until it bubbles
Cover Overnight
Next day, beat very well the mixture by hand until it bubbles again
Deep Fry [They will puff up like a balloon. Cook until golden brown then remove from the oil, let stand on a paper towel before placing in the serving bowl.]
[Serve with a light sugar syrup, icing sugar and cinnamon]. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

20 Minutes Out (Whistlepipe Gully)

Family friends are disappearing off to Germany for a sabbatical and so last weekend they dragged us on a bushwalk to Whistlepipe gully. Located this side of the hills, barely 20 minutes out of Perth, Mundy Regional Park/Whistlepipe Gully with the requisite water course for J (the 9 year old), rocks to ramble over for those who eschew the beaten track, and native flowers for the photographers.

Despite the reaction of the garden to this beautiful weather, we naturally assumed that the native flowers would not yet be out. So imagine our delight to be able to point out a collection to rival those in Mum's back yard.
Thankful that I had brought my camera, I quickly trailed behind the others (including J who was in search of water and a lunch spot), but was glad to catch the quirkiness of the native flowers in the sunshine.

Crawling up an embankment to photograph a pseudo Scottish thistle (this one not a Dryandra I'm told)...

... and the view back down the valley...

I stumbled upon an outcrop of Donkey Orchids which I think sent a cry of delight though our group and directed our eyes towards finding more for the duration of the day. 

While this spot had the water J was after, it  was scarcely two minutes from the car, and so did not qualify as a suitable lunch spot. 

Following the gully upstream we often had the roar of a waterfall or gurgle of the stream, or on one particular occasion the joy of being five billy goats gruff tramping over the bridge of a J troll ready to hurl mud pies at each and every one of us. 

Wandering off the beaten track and away from the onslaught of waves of dogs, we discovered more wonders, many of which I was visually familiar with, even if I had no clue as to the plant's name or family.
Often, the raw and striking beauty and sharp colour, a flash in an otherwise dusky landscape, were enough to catch my interest.

Something that almost looks like an edelwiess orchid with every petal covered in a downy white fur.

Something cool and alien-like

More donkey orchids though these looked bigger and slightly different from the ones we had encountered earlier.

A kangaroo paw (or relative) illuminated in the sunlight.

A colour combination I always refer to as Eggs & Bacon, but possibly a different plant. 

A Hovea (known simply because Mum kept pointing it out)

Something delicate

As is typical of the Australian bush, there were fallen trees and branches throughout the scrub, some big, some small, some beautifully decorated by nature, the presence of termites being the only thing keeping us from contemplating carrying it home.

In other places the scars of an old forest fire still remained. 

A sea of green and gold the spiky wattle carpeting a small corner of the valley.

A miniature world on the side of logs, along the length of cracks, or dipping down the side of granite boulders.

Looking down onto the Perth plain with the city in the distance.

I forget we have such beautiful places on out doorstep. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Missing Manners

Otherwise known as 'Crude Men Who Need to be Removed from the Gene Pool'.

No I'm not being feminist, or pessimistic, or whatever else you want to call it, other than opinionated and brutally honest. I just get fed up of having to deal first hand with the objectification of women me. And I'm not being over dramatic, or egotistically in hoping that this male attention is directed at me.

I know it is. They make it obvious enough, possibly because they think it a compliment.

Let me describe myself; I'm intelligent, witty, I can hold lengthy conversations that go beyond 'small talk' and actually discuss matters of interest and importance. I am not lacking a sense of humour and can talk absurdities for hours on end with good friends. I have many talents, many skills, and many hobbies, with a healthy streak of creativity.

However, I am tall, attractive, neither overweight nor underweight, with a penchant for wearing 4inch heels and clothes that skim my hour glass figure.  And I have a naturally large set of breasts.

Unfortunately, this second description can all too easily overshadow the former and result in some horrible situations that I shouldn't have to be skilled at dealing with.

Situation 1: It's a Friday night and we're at my Grandfather's wake, at the Leopold Hotel where he had once worked as the accountant. The entire family is there celebrating his life, and mourning his death. We have just come from his burial and a traumatic week before that organising his funeral. I walk up to the bar to get drinks for myself and my mother, and a comment is directed at me:
"You have a great pair of tits." 
As though this is a great statement to pick me up. As though this is a suitable statement to make at any time or in any place, in this day and age.
It's not a fact he's verbalising, for he did not say 'you have a big pair of tits' (fact, but no more acceptable, might I add). He provided his opinion with regards to my body and then verbalised it... in my ear.
Standing at a bar, regardless of what I am wearing, regardless of what I am drinking, or how many drinks I have already had, I should not have to hear such a comment directed at me or any other person in the room. I should not have to not register shock at what I have heard and I should definitely not have had to learn how to ignore such comments.

Situation 2: Mum and I are walking through Naples in the middle of summer. As a result we are dressed for the heat. I was not in a skimpy top and hot pants, just short shorts and a loose-fitting summer top that covered my shoulders and my bust (I am modest, and prepared for crude comments). Walking down the main street back to the train stations, we pass by groups of men who make very suggestive comments towards me or about my appearance. Some are touting for customers for the restaurant at which they waited. Others are just hanging around. When they get no response from their sleazy comments said in Italian, they switch to other languages including English hoping that I might be able to understand some of the filth they are uttering.
Mum is freaked out as she could understand everything they were saying or suggesting about her daughter. I think she is also freaked out because I didn't bat an eyelid for the entire duration of the walk. Nor did I say a word. I had simply experienced enough of it over the years to be able to turn a blind eye to it all. I had enough experience to be about to act as though I had not understood a single word they had uttered and had no idea of the sexist filth they were saying.

Unfortunately it was filth they can get away with saying because there were no recriminations. I (probably like most women) have not the strength to deal with it physically and so simply ignore it completely. As a result, they continue their disgusting behaviour and I become more comfortable with the idea of remaining a Spinster Aunt.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Violet's Songbook

Mum has memories of her mother listening to songs on the radio and writing the lyrics into her song book. Then she would use this book to sing to her children. Some songs are in English, some in French, some possibly even in Italian (I've focussed on the English ones for the time being). Some are timeless, some have definitely aged (though this may be due to the singer on the version I heard on youtube). 

Years later, her younger daughter (who had no memory of her mother's hobby) did the same thing, listening to her own favourite songs over and over again in order to copy out the words herself. 

Here's a small selection of Violet's songs. I've scanned in some that are familiar, though I don't know if the youtube version I've attached would have been familiar to Violet. 

Fossicking around on Youtube finding the songs I would say that evidence seems to point to her starting her song book in 1941 when she was 12. 

I hope you enjoy this taster. 

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