Gare du Nord, Paris

May 26, 2013

We arrived in Paris at midday. We’d woken at 4am and hot-footed it through the cold, pre-dawn London streets to make the early Eurostar, and the journey had left us feeling nervy and dried out.

Paris was the city M wanted to visit more than anywhere in the world.  We stepped off the train into the great hall of Gare du Nord Station.  The high arched roof was made up of squares of black iron and opaque glass that filtered the light into a white glare.  I clutched our print-outs from Air B’n’B and Google Maps, and hoped that our giant rucksacks didn’t make us look like easy marks.

We made our way to the station map.  The print-out told me which bus I needed to catch, and as I looked for the right exit a girl appeared in front of me.  She was young, maybe fourteen or fifteen, with olive skin and dyed-brown hair pulled back in a pony tail.  She was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a baggy hoody.  She was holding a piece of brown cardboard with a sheet of paper attached to it, upon which was printed a table with three columns with some names scribbled in the first few rows.

‘Sign the petition?’ she said in accented English.

I stared at the paper dumbly.

A large arm shot over my shoulder and grabbed at the piece of cardboard.  The girl twisted away and trotted off, grinning in a way that was both playful and corrupt, like it was a game she’d played a thousand times before.

‘Be careful,’ said the security guard.

We found the right exit and headed for our bus.

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A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

May 8, 2012

Me at Shakespeare and Company, Paris

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of his early days in Paris and his friendships with literary figures such as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It presents a romantic image of a starving artist, unable to afford wood for heating, gambling on horse racing to escape the bread line, but working everyday with great dedication to perfect his craft.

Hemingway’s portrayal of his first wife, Hadley, is full of affection and regret.  “[W]e were very poor and very happy”.  This contrasts with how he depicts his more famous relationships.  His Stein is a semi-tyrannical gossip lacking discipline towards her work.  Scott Fitzegerald was a neurotic alcoholic.  Zelda Fitzgerald was a manipulative and promiscuous harpy.  Only Ezra Pound completely escapes his vitriol.  The book is both a cautionary tale on the trappings of riches and success, and a surprisingly bitchy tell-all. Read the rest of this entry »


Colonel Santa and the Red and White Song Battle, or My New Year’s in Japan

January 20, 2012

2011-12-27 16.02.46

Yoyogi Park

25 December 2011

On the Narita Express (N’Ex!) to Tokyo.  It’s a clear winter day.  Bare trees raise their feathery branches towards the sky.  Rice paddy fields, their harvest exhausted for the year, give way to neat little houses, then uniform apartment blocks that crowd either side of the tracks, so that when we cross a bridge we are surprised by the sudden horizon, the clouds, a river, and a wheat-coloured baseball field where kids are doing early morning sprints.

M asks if I thought it was ugly the first time I saw it.  I say I don’t remember.  It’s not ugly now.  I’m comfortably numb from the wear of the flight.  There aren’t many people in the streets and the traffic still eases along.

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Tokyo from Aoyama-I-Chome

26 December 2011

You’re never alone on the streets of Tokyo.  Even on the latest drunken stumble home, you always happen upon someone on their own night errands.  Now, I’m sitting in the sun on another clear winter day, at a cafe on a side-street t-junction, watching the steady stream of people.  They speak in quiet, regular tones, moving around each other and the slow intermittent cars.  They are impeccably dressed.  There are many beautiful looking people.  In groups, the women laugh and chat in high clear voices.  The men are mostly alone, but even in groups they barely talk. Read the rest of this entry »


The World From Islam – George Negus

May 15, 2011

The world in 2003 was a very different place.  Bush was in the White House, Osama bin Laden was alive, the Iraq War had only just begun, the Arab Spring, or Jasmine Revolution, was still in the realm of fantasy, and the West’s Islamophobia was perhaps more fevered, if less entrenched.  It was this last point that inspired George Negus, one of Australia’s most respected and recognisable journalists, to write The World From Islam, aiming to fill the void of balanced, informed depictions of Islam.

As Negus concedes in the foreword, The World From Islam is not an exhaustive, authoritative guide to the religion.  Instead, it is a journal of anecdotes, interviews and reflections from the veteran foreign correspondent’s experiences in the Middle-East, focusing on contentious topics or misconceptions that came about as a result of 9/11. Read the rest of this entry »


Congo Journey – Redmond O’Hanlon

November 8, 2009

review by Gabriel

Congo Journey by Redmond O'Hanlon

Before I get to the review of Congo Journey, I should probably make a disclaimer.  I’m not the biggest fan of travel writing.  To me, even the best of the genre seems like sloppy fiction – undeveloped characters, half-explored themes, loose structure and self-indulgent story telling.  People may argue that travel writing is non-fiction, and that these issues come about because the author is recounting actual events in a factual way.  But as travel writing is clearly stylised, edited and framed, I think most travel writers would benefit from working into their narratives more elements of fiction, which, after all, have become institutionalised because they make for good story telling.  On to the review.

While Congo Journey shares the (perceived) flaws of its genre, it’s a good read.  O’Hanlon recounts his journey into the heart of the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo, searching for a long-rumoured dinosaur that dwells in the remote Lake Tele.  Read the rest of this entry »