We Came, We Saw, We Travelled At Home

Festival Jes Suis PAris So Frenchy So Chic Melbourne Werribee 2016 Travel at Home Many Cha Cha

This summer, we embarked on as many adventures as time and energy would allow. We have attended festivals, viewed parades and danced to live music. We’ve absorbed culture, experienced diversity and had a blast!

It’s only now, as the weather seems to be cooling (I think?) and we are settling into our new kindergarten routines, that we are slowing down a bit. So I thought I would do a bit of a photographic round-up of some “travel at home” adventures from our past few months.

So Frenchy So Chic Melbourne 2016 Many Cha Cha France Travel at Home Festival

In January the “So Frenchy So Chic” festival entered my radar and I didn’t think too much of it until the day of the event, when I woke up with the burning need to attend. It was a risky proposition (and pricey, let’s be honest), because Husband was working and I wasn’t sure if the kids would have the patience or stamina for a full day of Francophilia.

I needn’t have worried. Who could possibly resist the allure of lawn crocquet, gigantic bubbles, delicious delicacies and chic company, all to the live soundtrack of the best that French music has to offer (pictured above  on stage is Lou Doillon, who was great; insert pun about rocking cool jeans and genes). I was very grateful that the stage was audible (and just visible) from the face-painting queue, because that is where we spent a great deal of our time!

So Frenchy Je Suis Paris Melbourne 2016 French Festival France Travel at Home Kids

During February, Multicultural Arts Victoria held a series of concerts in the Fairfield Amphitheatre and we got along to a couple of them. They were a wonderful chance to spend time with friends and inspiring for the kids, who played instruments with one of the bands and danced to music from a variety of cultures.

Festival Multicultural Arts Victoria Thornbury Amphitheatre Concert Music Travel at Home 2016

We celebrated Lunar New Year in a number of ways. Chinatown in Melbourne thronged with people, lions and dragons, and the local Chinese community offered numerous activities for children.

Chinese Lunar New Year of the Monkey 2016 Chinatown Parade Melbourne Festival Travel at Home

And Melbourne Zoo took the opportunity to highlight its monkeys and decorate enclosures with bright red lanterns for the Year of the Monkey.

Melbourne Zoo Chinese New Lunar Year of the Monkey Travel at Home

Melbourne’s Moomba Festival has fallen in and out of favour over the years, but since I grew up with it I have a soft spot for the parade. Luckily, it was just our kind of thing; filled with fantastic music and dancing by local communities representing the world. My kids loved it.

Moomba Melbourne Multicultural Arts Culture Parade India Indonesia Travel at Home

Finally, last weekend we drove in the opposite direction, to Bendigo, to experience its Festival of Cultures.

Bendigo Multicultural Arts Culture Festival Travel at Home

We watched Karen people from Burma weaving cloth on simple looms, ate a fantastic lunch (including masala chips, YUM) from the Dhaba Truck, and enjoyed the live-mixing and layered vocals of Geoffrey Williams (pictured below).

This festival seemed to suffer from a slight lack of participation, which I’m sure is partly because there was another arts event on nearby and the huge annual Easter Festival planned for next weekend.

But it was a reminder: if we expect to have access to brilliant cultural events, live music, international artists and fun family festivals, then we need to get up and GO.

Festival of Bendigo Multicultural Arts Cultures Victoria Geoffrey Williams Concert Music



Beetroots in Ukrainian

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes Book

It’s a very welcome side-effect of writing this blog that my friends and family often suggest activities with an international flavour and on occasion proffer gifts that might inject some culture into our lives.

I was particularly delighted by this choice of birthday present from my very close friend, Karma: a book called “Mamushka; Recipes from Ukraine and Beyond” by Olia Hercules. Apart from what I might have gleaned from reading the amusing novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, I didn’t know much about Ukraine at all. Plus, Mamushka is full of fascinating recipes and ingredients that look delicious and unfamiliar (in an enticing way).

One ingredient that I am familiar with, and which I chose to use as my first attempt at some Ukrainian cuisine, is beetroot. We have grown it in the past –the beauties in the pictures are some we grew in Tasmania– but I bought some plump beets from our local farmers market for my foray into the former Soviet Union.

Ukrainian Beetroot Beet Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes

It turns out that beetroot is a particularly nutritious vegetable, which I’m thrilled to learn because it is a very popular one in our household. I grew up on tinned stuff, which is fine but basically tastes of vinegar. Now we like it fresh, and roasted until it caramelises. We eat so much that we laugh about our pink wee. (Don’t forget I have four-year-old boys…).

Ukraine Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Book

I didn’t start with Cold Beetroot Soup, although I gather it is a classic of the region. Instead I went with a very simple salad that combined intriguing flavours with the beets; balsamic and sour cream dressing with walnuts, prunes and a scattering of coriander.

Ukrainian Beetroot Walnut Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe

I served the salad with quinoa and it was dinner– very delicious and I found it really satisfying. Next time I would reduce the amount of balsamic and add more prunes because they were unexpectedly wonderful in this mix!

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Prunes

I have since done a little research into the culture of Ukraine (this blog gives some excellent insights) and I look forward to trying more recipes from this lovely book. Now, just to decide what clever “beet” pun to use for the title of this post…

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Beet

To and Fro On Cinco De Mayo

Sometimes things are not what they appear, and traditions that may seem to have obvious origins may be deceptive. A closer look at the ostensibly Mexican festival of Cinco De Mayo provided me with a number of examples of traditions that have travelled.

My knowledge of Cinco De Mayo (Fifth of May) came from a Ween song that I enjoyed, back in the day. I figured it must be a Mexican holiday of some importance, given the “gravity” of the lyrics about murder and revenge (I think the delivery is less serious). The song popped into my head as the date approached and I wondered what the occasion was about, so I engaged the usual internet search machine.

Hang on a minute, Cinco De Mayo is barely a minor holiday in Mexico, and only in one area of the country. So what’s with all the drinking and street parties across America, Japan and increasingly, here in Australia?

It may have started as the patriotic response of expat Mexicans, who first celebrated the (unexpected) Mexican defeat of a French invasion that took place on May 5, the true origin of the celebratory date. It may have gained popularity because it took place at a convenient time of year for Mexican agriculture workers in the USA, who enjoyed the chance to partake of a fiesta but didn’t want to seem disloyal by partying too hard on Mexico’s official Independence Day, which is on September 16. And it seems to have spread because it seemed like another good opportunity to commercialise a holiday.

So Cinco De Mayo has become a sort of catch-all celebration of Mexican-ness. Which is what I thought I was doing (celebrating Mexico) when I made churros with chocolate-chilli sauce for a picnic in our yard.

But no, churros are Spanish, which I should have guessed. Possibly from a recipe brought back from China by the Portugese, just to complicate the story. They are named after an attractive and hardy variety of sheep — also from the Iberian Peninsula– because their curly, ridged forms are reminiscent of the rams’ horns. I was interested to discover that these sheep were imported to the Americas to feed and clothe the conquistadors and have been farmed there ever since.

So our colourful Mexican yo-yos shall provide our authentic link to Mexico, I thought, and we pulled them out for a play. They have “Mexico” stamped on them! But it seems that yo-yos have become a “traditional” toy only since the 1920s or so, partly because they are easily handmade. Yo-yos may have originated in ancient Greece or China, it’s not clear, but their popularity on the American continent can be attributed to the innovations of Filipino entrepreneur, Pedro Flores. He opened the first yo-yo factory in California in 1928 and the craze quickly spread south of the border.

Well. We added some craft to the mix for our celebration of Mexican culture, and I think we nailed it in the end (although the Internet offers few reliable sources of information in regards to “Eye of God” weavings so perhaps further research is required). Many of us have made paddle-pop-stick versions of these “Ojo De Dios” at kindergarten, without learning much about the customs behind them. Ojo De Dios weavings are apparently ancient, spiritual objects important to cultures indigenous to the Americas, including Mexico. They have various meanings and uses but I particularly love the idea of a father adding a new coloured band to the “eye” for each year of a child’s life, like the rings of a tree trunk.

We enjoyed a small Mexican picnic, and it was influenced by Spain, Portugal, perhaps China, Greece and the Phillipines. Our picnic marked an occasion that is barely a blip on Mexico’s radar but is huge in the USA and beyond.

Isn’t it incredible to discover, as you travel, how far cultures have travelled too.

ANZAC Day:  An Australian National Tradition

As a somewhat recent British colony which is fairly secular, Australia has come to view ANZAC Day as an almost sacred occasion on which to commemorate its citizens (and those of New Zealand) who have served and died in wartime.

It is not without controversy, and since it has outgrown its original purpose of memorialising the disastrous battle at Gallipoli during the First World War, it has become almost a mythology. The ANZAC story often forgets to include the indigenous Australians and immigrants who fought under the flag, and regularly ignores the role of women in conflict (at the front and at home). Those who question the myth are generally not tolerated, as this eloquent satirical cartoon by First Dog on The Moon illustrates. 

I am not without reservation when it comes to thinking about how the ANZAC legend has shaped the way that Australia, as a nation, sees itself. However, I think it is still possible to observe ANZAC Day traditions in a respectful way and to quietly reflect upon the realities of war and how it affects individuals, families and communities.

Thus, we have begun a tradition of attending a local march and ceremony (last year it was a particularly lovely one in Hobart). The children and I took a walk around the nearby cenotaph and talked about what it means to remember the soldiers, and together we made ANZAC biscuits to mark the solemn occasion.

In the absence of grand religious rituals or observed cultural customs, I think it’s worthwhile to observe Australia’s national day of remembrance, whilst also ignoring the hoopla that has developed around it and making a concerted effort to remain inclusive.

I also believe that “Lest We Forget” has lot more meaning and depth than it is often given credit for, and is a phrase that deserves a lot of thought.

The Spirit of Armenia Endures and Endures

Some things are just too difficult to write about. Human suffering, great tragedy, tumultuous emotion; these are perhaps best left for poets to explore through allegory and metaphor. Armenia and its story features notable examples of all these things; it seems to be a nation of tragedy and poetry.

Some things are too difficult to write about but they must be addressed.

Upon learning of the unspeakable atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, the centenary of which will be marked tomorrow, I wondered what I knew of Armenia at all. I couldn’t summons a picture in my mind’s eye of national garb or a location on a map. I couldn’t name a foodstuff or a famous export.

I looked at online maps and reflected upon the notion of this group of Christians, the earliest nation to adopt the religion, living at the “cultural crossroads” between Europe and Asia. Maps in my old books at home also revealed that Armenians have long lived near shifting borders, and have therefore been governed by different nations at different times; notably the Ottomans (who orchestrated the genocide), and more recently the Soviet Union.

But even my old anthologies of National Geographic Magazine did not help me to visualise an identity for Armenia; none of my 1920s or 1930s copies feature an article or colour photo spread. Armenian people were mentioned only in passing as an “amusing” story in a 1926 article by Melville Chater about the region. The writer described tens of thousands of Armenian refugees from “an hour of political insecurity” who had set up camp in Syrian marshland and were living on “boiled mice”. Hilarity ensued upon Melville realising that this group was not experiencing famine, just homelessness and strong accents: the Armenian refugees were in fact eating boiled maize (corn).

The internet assured me that descendants of Armenians now assume prominent positions in global, public life. One is a minister in Australia’s parliament with an anglicised name; another is guitar virtuoso, Slava Grigorian; while others are known simply as The Kardashians. (Admirably, the most famous of these visited Armenia with her Blue-Steel-faced family and a hefty entourage last week).

But what of the original Armenian culture? Its art has a rich tradition, the national costume is sumptuously decorated, and the area features incredible archeology including ancient structures and the world’s oldest cathedrals and monasteries.

Discovering these things reminded me that I was familiar with the work of an Armenian artist. A thoroughly striking way to experience a hit of Armenian culture is to view the extraordinary 1969 film, The Colour of Pomegranates, by film maker, Sergei Parajanov. I watched it again yesterday– I’d forgotten I had the DVD– and was newly mind-blown by a fresh reading of its stunning symbols (pomegranates being a key example; they are the national emblem of Armenia).

The Colour of Pomegranates is a painting in motion, a poem on film.

It ostensibly shows the life of Armenian poet Sayat Nova, and seems also to give some autobiographical insight into the film maker himself (who suffered greatly for his art under the Soviet regime). It features Christian imagery, repetition of bold motifs such as books and blood, moody traditional music. I was particularly struck by the words in one of the final frames:

This film artefact encapsulates some things I have been thinking and feeling, but have not been able to write, since I learned about the Armenian Genocide. Witness the visual beauty that prevails despite the violence of this film, take note of the unique artistry and the brave tenacity of the film maker.

I can’t eloquently use words to say what Sergei Parajanov and his powerful, poetic images show: the Armenian spirit endures, 100 years later.