Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 7, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from Wolfe Island, to …

This month’s #6Degrees starts with Wolfe Island.  It’s Lucy Treloar’s stunning follow-up to her debut novel Salt Creek.  Follow the links to see why you should read them both…

I’ll take an easy leap to Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain. But although I think this novel was her best book ever, it’s not really an easy leap: I can’t go there without remembering that this was Blain’s last book before she died in 2016.  She was so young, and so brave.  Take a moment to read her obituary and the accompanying comments to see how much she meant to us all.

It’s International Women’s Day this weekend, and that leads me to courage of a different kind.  Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was a work of great courage, which while it changed so many lives, also brought ridicule in the media, and insults from men who derided her because they said she ‘couldn’t make it’.  To those women I saw featured on 7.30 this week, and the fatuous ABC producers of the segment about ‘still being sexy at 50’, I can do no better than to quote Germaine whose idea of empowerment is a very different one:

Maybe I couldn’t make it. Maybe I don’t have a pretty smile, good teeth, nice tits, long legs, a cheeky arse, a sexy voice. Maybe I don’t know how to handle men and increase my market value, so that the rewards due to the feminine will accrue to me. Then again, maybe I’m sick of the masquerade. I’m sick of pretending eternal youth. I’m sick of belying my own intelligence, my own will, my own sex. I’m sick of peering at the world through false eyelashes, so everything I see is mixed with a shadow of bought hairs; I’m sick of weighting my head with a dead mane, unable to move my neck freely, terrified of rain, of wind, of dancing too vigorously in case I sweat into my lacquered curls. I’m sick of the Powder Room. I’m sick of pretending that some fatuous male’s self-important pronouncements are the objects of my undivided attention, I’m sick of going to films and plays when someone else wants to, and sick of having no opinions of my own about either. I’m sick of being a transvestite. I refuse to be a female impersonator. I am a woman, not a castrate.

So, now, to a woman who refused to give in to a different kind of destructive force …

I am reading, oh, *sigh* so slowly and in infuriating short bursts till my eyes complain, Subhash Jaireth’s new book Spinoza’s Overcoat, Travels with Writers and Poets (Transit Lounge, 2020). I will, in due course, write a proper review of this exquisite book, (update, here’s my review) but today I want to pay tribute to Marina Tsvetaeva, who is the subject of his second chapter, ‘Tsvetaeva’s Garden’.

Marina Tsvetaeva (Wikipedia*)

Marina Tsvetaeva was a Russian Soviet poet, said by many to be the preeminent poet of 20th century Russia. Jaireth pays homage to this extraordinary woman with a pilgrimage to the house she lived in during her exile from Stalinist Russia in the 1930s. You can read about her tragic life at Wikipedia but what Jaireth brings to life is her anguishfor which she beseeches God to send her a garden:

The trying conditions in which the poem made its appearance can be imagined by reading Marina’s letters […]. ‘The house was cold because there was no gas for heating.  ‘I write with my hands trembling,’ she notes in one of the letters, and this is ‘either because I am old or perhaps it is too cold in the house.’

Here are the first four lines of the poem:

Za etot ad (For this hell)
Za etot Bred (For this delirium)
Poshli mne sad (Send me a garden)
Na straroch let (In my ageing years).

The hellish conditions of her existence are announced emphatically, but she wants to be compensated for the nightmare she has been forced to endure. She wants her God to send her a garden so that she can have some respite in her ‘old age’.

A garden as solace…

The concept of a garden as solace is one that is explored in one of the most beautiful books I have: Remembered Gardens by Holly Kerr Forsyth. She profiles women and the gardens they created, telling the stories of pioneer women creating gardens as a form of solace in their loneliness and grief, and as a creative and intellectual activity. Yes, they were often women of privilege but they endured the loss of friends and family left behind in England, and like many women of the 19th century often suffered the loss of their children as well. They had no gardening guides to tell them what would grow and what wouldn’t, so they had to use trial-and-error and experimentation with their plantings. The author tells their stories with empathy and compassion, but also with admiration for their achievements.

Gardens are not the only debt we owe to women.  In Jane Jose’s book Places Women Make, I learned about the mostly unacknowledged contributions of women to our urban landscapes.

Cities are much more than collections of buildings; they are places where people gather for art, culture and commerce.  Cultural places are places we often visit alone but where we don’t feel alone.  We share what we see and experience with others, and we feel a sense of belonging and connection, even if we don’t know or don’t talk to the others participating in the cultural event.  Cultural places fulfil a need to gather, to share, to learn and to experience something unexpected, or beautiful, or challenging.

Culture can nurture us, and the women who give us cultural places to share art and ideas change the lives of others. (p.131)

As I said in my review:

Philanthropic women have made a huge contribution to the nation’s cultural life.  Notable examples of women whose interest in the arts has prompted the development of galleries and cultural spaces include Janet Holmes à Court, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Dame Roma Mitchell and Yasuko Myer.  Perhaps less well-known are Goldie Sternberg who donated her collection of Chinese art to the Art Gallery of NSW; and Ulrike Klein whose foundation funded a purpose-built concert space for chamber music just outside Adelaide.  Women in administration who have made a difference include Kate Brennan, the first CEO of Melbourne’s Federation Square; and Joan Masterman who was the driving force of the Freycinet Walks and Friendly Beaches Lodge on the stunning east coast of Tasmania.  And then there’s Tess Brady who was a key driver for the creation of Australia’s first book town: Clunes Booktown; and Stephanie Alexander who has been a huge influence on the community and school gardens movement.

That brings me nicely to concluding with one of the books from our cookbook collection: Cooking and Travelling in South-West France by Stephanie Alexander. Not just a woman who has transformed domestic cooking but also an inspirational writer as well, Alexander is also the author of The Cook’s Companion.  Our guests never cease to compliment the home-made ice-cream I serve, which comes from the section on lemons.  It is so easy, and so delicious, and adaptable when the limes are in season too.  No photo can convey how scrumptious this ice-cream is, you just have to make it yourself, and then you will never buy store-bought ice-cream again.

Citrus syrup cakes served with lime ice cream and a choc-orange garnish

 

*Image credit:

So that’s my #6Degrees: from a dystopian novel about climate change, to a cookbook that celebrates the simple pleasure of cooking well.

Next month’s book is Anna Funder’s ‘classic on tyranny and resistance’ – Stasiland. And yes, I’ve read it!! (If you haven’t, and IMO every thinking adult should, Fishpond has a second-hand copy today for $15: Stasiland).

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)

 


Responses

  1. A fascinating set of connections as always Lisa!

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    • I bet you like the last one best of all, yes? Though I can’t always comment, I follow your adventures in cooking on your blog, and am very impressed by the cakes.

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      • Well yes, France and cooking. What’s not to like.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent connections Lisa. I went the opposite way this time and mine was VERY short.

    I clearly missed that 7.30 Report episode but I do struggle with modern feminism and its acceptance of the youth and beauty focus. I really can’t buy it, but I’ve learnt to back off because my generation was different and so affected by Greer. However, she STILL makes sense to me. I haven’t worn make-up (except very rarely some lipstick) since my twenties; I don’t and never have coloured my hair even though I started going grey in my early 40s; I have never owned a pair of stilettos; and so on. I am sorry to see so much time and money spent on appearance – and to so much angst still about looking old.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s just how I feel. I mean, of course, we all want to look nice, but the importance that is attached to that, and the money and time that it consumes, especially on plastic surgery &c is really sad IMO. Also, I really feel for people who don’t fit those ideas of what is attractive, whether from disability or accident or just unlucky genes.
      Women in their 50s should have grown out of that adolescent preoccupation with appearance, and be role models for younger women that it’s who you are and what you do that’s important, not to mention that all that money adds up to a huge amount which should be used to invest in a woman’s secure financial future, with or without a companion by her side.
      PS That program: the producers should have asked themselves, would they have run the same program about men? Of course they wouldn’t…

      Liked by 2 people

      • It’s sad how appearance-focused we’ve become – as you say particularly for those who don’t meet the current standards of attractiveness.

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        • We should have moved on, and instead we’ve gone backwards.

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          • Yes. I know. I think that’s something I’ve learnt with age, ie that history does seem to repeat itself, or that we seem to go in circles (maybe spirals that edge forwards slowly?) than progress in a linear way. I’ve also learnt that what I thought was bleeding obviously the “right” way to go, others don’t agree with!!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Delighted to see the quote from Germaine. She gets it so right time and time again. Everytime I see a group of young girls all dolled up in Instagram-ready make up and clothing I think of Germaine.

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  4. Lovely chain Lisa. Spinoza’s Overcoat sounds amazing!

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    • I am just writing the review now, it’s such a gorgeous book, I already know which of my readers will love it. I will try to find out what availability will be for overseas readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your review of Places Women Make reminds me of a famous woman and the city she resided in and loved: Jane Jacobs. Indeed, women contribute substantially in the urban landscape and as you mentioned, gardens and landscapes as well.

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    • This lady? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Jacobs
      The things women achieved in grassroots campaigns in the 60s and 70s are astonishing…

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      • Yes, very famous writer/thinker/activist in N. America. We had to study her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities as text at university. (When I majored in urban sociology, back in the old, old days) :)

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        • LOL We know we’re getting old when our youth is the olden days…

          Liked by 1 person

  6. […] Marina Tsvetaeva (who featured in my most recent #6Degrees); […]

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  7. A thoughtful and empowering chain, thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oddly, I didn’t think of Between a Wolf and a Dog as a first link (although I LOVED that book and it was one of my favourites the year I read it… and it proves that truth is stranger than fiction).

    Now I’m off to check out that ice cream recipe. I use that book so often (including the section on lemons) but have never made the ice cream (the lemon curd is made regularly, as is the orange cake using whole oranges).

    Like

    • Is that the one where you boil the oranges first? That’s a favourite here too.

      Like

  9. Two chains now with IWD chains! Cool!

    Like


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