Thursday, December 22, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: Detritus: Darlinghurst December Daze

Tomatoes. Rich red, ripe tomatoes. I spotted these lovely, shiny, big red tomatoes at Harris Farm Markets in Kings Cross last week and I couldn't help but think of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. He loves a good tomato and the fruit features prominently in many of his films. 
I visit the cinema about once a year and it is usually to see Almodovar films. His latest, The Skin I Live In, was released last week, but I haven't seen it yet and I suppose I haven't done much of anything recently, except work, mooch around the neighbourhood and dream.

There was a sunny day earlier this month sometime: the sky was a brilliant Sydney blue, the temperature made it up into the mid-20s and I felt like jumping into the fountain at Kings Cross.
But I didn't.
I regret that now.

Also this month I spotted a flier taped to the light-pole on the corner of Craigend Street and Darlinghurst Road advertising a room available for a "working person or student" for $130 week and no bills. I fit the criteria and briefly considered moving in with Peter and saving a motza on rent, but then I changed my mind and decided I like living alone after all.

With that decision made, but also a desire to save money on rent, I thought about buying this doll-house from the Surry Hills Markets.  My grand vision was to set the house up under some bushes in the little no-name park on the corner of Nimrod and Craigend streets. 
I would plant a little garden around it and build a path made of pebbles leading to the front door. 
All I had to do was shrink myself and my belongings. 
That is when my great idea came unstuck.

Another day I saw a massive cloud of smoke outside my kitchen window and thought to myself, "for once those Darlinghurst firies have a real fire on their books". 
But I never heard any sirens. And when I looked out the window one hour later, there was no more smoke. For days afterwards I wondered who put that fire out.

On the night of the blood moon I ended up with some friends down at the East Sydney Hotel - the one with no pokies. We sat there for hours, drinking beer and staring at the moon.
There were loads of French chaps also staring at the moon and then a woman with a guitar arrived and sat down with us and started playing the instrument and we all sang along.
It was a beautiful, romantic moment until I spotted a man wearing the most bizarre triangular-shaped bag on his back. I pointed it out to my friend and asked her if she knew what the hell it was. She said she didn't know. And so I continue to wonder.

For one brief moment I had another brilliant idea: to buy a new and expensive camera so that the photographs on my blog would look half-decent. This idea came to me as I was walking past the Leica shop on Clarence Street in the CBD, so I wandered in to have a look and left about one hour later after being talked through the new Leica, the latest Canon and this sexy little Nikon. 
It was all very interesting but I decided I didn't need a new camera after all. 

I also spent about one hour perusing the shelves at the dollar shop, KX Giftland, in the Kings Cross Shopping Centre, beneath the Coca-Cola sign.
The shop is one of the most fascinating in the neighbourhood and sells everything imaginable, from silicon rings to fry eggs in, towelling hoods for drying your hair, as well as a vast range of costumes, including a "Night Before Christmas" bikini set for just $12.50.
It's a strange little stocking filler and - although I'm yet to be convinced - apparently "One size fits most".

One Tuesday night I went to the Flinders Hotel to see some bands.
They were supposed to start at 9pm, but the first act didn't go on until about 10.30pm, by which time I had consumed a quantity of beer that was not conducive to live-music listening and so I - and many others in the pub - became those annoying people who continue to have loud conversations while a poor, struggling musician tries to play their songs.
I'm still ashamed about that now.

One Sunday I walked past my favourite big fat Greek cafe, Ithaka Kafeneion at Llankelly Place, and there was a man cooking souvlaki on a barbecue out the front. For the next week I couldn't stop thinking about that souvlaki and how it might taste. 
A week later I convinced a friend to come with me to Ithaka Kafeneion, but when we arrived I realised I was pretty close to broke and the souvlaki cost $20 a plate. My friend was also broke so we decided to buy one serve and split it down the middle. 
It was delicious. The lamb was marinated and tender and lived up to my expectations. 
When I have some money I think I will go back and have a whole serve to myself.

Just the other night, the day before pay day, my friend invited me to his birthday drinks at Love Tilly Devine, hidden down Crown Lane in the Darlinghurst flatlands. 
It was quite a balmy evening so I put on an ankle-length summer frock and some ridiculously stupid heels and walked down the hill from home. 
It took a long time because the heels were kind of clunky. 
When I finally arrived, it felt good to see my friend on his birthday but he is a wine buff so the waitress kept on recommending bottles from France that cost about $85 each. 
It was a bit expensive for me. Also, in the back of my mind was the pinata I had promised to make for Christmas Day. I knew that if I didn't go home and behave myself and make some glue there would be no bloody pinata, so I bid farewell after just two glasses and set off home to get stuck into some paper mache magic. 

On the way home I spotted the cat that hangs about my street, Ralf, loitering on the corner of Nimrod Street, quite a distance - in cat terms - from his home. 
I called his name and unexpectedly, he followed me all the way down the street to my front door, inside, up the stairs and into my apartment. 
Once inside, he ran straight for the refrigerator and started making really loud meowing noises that I had never heard him make before. 
I went over to him and he looked at me, meowed, looked at the fridge and meowed again. 
It didn't take a genius to realise what he wanted. 
I haven't done much food shopping recently. 
I always have coffee and porridge but I had a feeling human breakfast food wouldn't go down for old Ralfie. He's not a dog.
So I opened the fridge door and Ralf tried to climb into it - I had to hold him back with one hand while I rustled about inside with the other. 
I found some cold meat that was only about three days old and as I pulled it out of the fridge and out of its wrapping, Ralf meowed like a mad cat.
I put the meat down on the floor on top of some paper towel, so he wouldn't make a mess, and he set to work while I cleaned my teeth and prepared for bed. I was too exhausted for pinata.
When I walked back into the kitchen Ralf was gone and so was the meat. 
I went back into the main room and there was Ralf, standing at the front door, ready to leave.
I walked him back outside and bid farewell, but he just ran off into the street and didn't even acknowledge me. 

The following night I turned down all offers of drinks and dutifully went home to make the pinata. Making the glue was the easy bit. I then had to blow up a balloon and make cones out of cardboard, which I sticky-taped to the balloon to create a star. 
On the first attempt, the balloon popped. 
I blew a smaller balloon for the second attempt.
I ran some newspaper strips through the glue and smoothed them all over the balloon and cardboard cones in lots of layers.
It has now been 24 hours since I covered the balloon and it shows no signs of drying. 
I fear the pinata will not be ready for Christmas Day and will instead hang around in a quiet corner of my apartment for the next two months until I decide I really must do something with it and the only thing for a pinata is a South American-style party. 
I will probably think about that idea for a week or so and perhaps even plan a Mexican-inspired menu. But then it will all just become too hard, I suppose. 
The margaritas would be easy, but I don't really like the idea of making mini-burritos and -tacos for finger food. That would take forever.
Instead, for now, I will just concentrate on Christmas Day and try and come up with some kind of invention, which I will call a pinata, but which won't really be a pinata because the real pinata never dried on time. 
I'm thinking of just filling balloons with lollies, hanging them from a tree and letting the blind-folded family children loose with sticks. 
If they have blind-folds on, they'll never know the difference.
I hope it's a success and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas Day too, surrounded by friends, family and a good, cheap beer. 
Warmest wishes, Violet. xxx

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: People: Carmen

The area lost one of its most friendly and best-dressed residents this week when Carmen died at St Vincent's Hospital on Thursday morning. I used to love seeing Carmen around the neighbourhood and will really miss those brief and colourful encounters.
I first came across her in the late 1990s when she was standing outside the Legion taxi base on Foveaux Street in Surry Hills chatting away to some of the drivers. It was early in the morning and Carmen was dressed in a bright figure-hugging gown that showed off her curves while her long, dark hair was pinned with art flowers. She was the epitome of old fashioned film star glamour.
I was so enchanted by her and over the years would see her everywhere: always on Foveaux Street and often outside the taxi base; up on Riley Street, outside her home; over on Elizabeth Street near the Downing Centre courts building; and around Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. 
More recently she would be cruising along in her colourful frocks on a motorised scooter, its front basket festooned with the same flowers that graced her hair, her fingernails immaculately painted, lipstick in place. 
I had taken to smiling and waving at her when she went by and this was always returned with a smile so warm; she seemed to be the most carefree and content person in the world. 
Then I heard recently that she had been ill and was at St Vincent's Hospice; she wasn't expected to make it I was told.
But then, at the opening of the new Wayside Chapel building in July, there she was, glowing with good health and looking as fabulous and meticulously groomed as ever.
For the first time, I decided to introduce myself and tell her I was glad to see that she was well again and that her presence on the streets had been missed. She happily posed for a photograph (above) and you cannot miss the warmth in that smile. 
But Carmen's battle wasn't over and she died of kidney failure this week, aged 75.
It is only since then, that I have learnt what an amazingly strong character she was.
Born in New Zealand as Trevor Rupe, she worked in the army before joining the sex industry in Australia in the 1950s where she became the country's first Maori drag queen, taking her name from the title character in the 1954 Otto Preminger musical, Carmen Jones.
She worked at Les Girls in the Cross and Tabu, and according to this Sydney Morning Herald article, (third item down),  was a regular at Sydney's first gay bar, The Purple Onion, and mates with underworld figure, Abe Saffron.
The Stations of the X video history project interviewed Carmen and she discussed this era: how she made her name dancing with snakes and how the police would regularly raid the clubs and brutally beat the drag queens.
In the 1960s, she returned to New Zealand and opened a number of businesses in Wellington, including a "notorious massage parlour", TVNZ reports, which was frequented by politicians and businessmen.

"Despite homosexuality being illegal in NZ at the time, sexual liaisons could be organised at Carmen's," TVNZ writes.
"Interested patrons would arrange their coffee cups in particular ways to show what kind of liaison they wanted: a heterosexual, gay, transsexual, or drag queen encounter.
"In the event of a police raid, Carmen had created an elaborate system of doors and stairways that offered patrons various escape routes."
In a 2001 interview, Carmen said: "We had a secret door so you'd never know who was going up there . . . we had plenty of famous people but I'm terrible with names - although I always remember sizes."

In the mid-1970s Carmen was forced to give evidence before New Zealand parliament's privilege's committee for apparently hinting that a number of politicians were gay. 
And in 1977, she unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of Wellington, pushing for abortion and homosexual acts to be decriminalised and the drinking age to be lowered to 18 - all which are now part of legislation in New Zealand.
In Sydney, she was treated as royalty in the community and in 2002 led the Decade of Divas float at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.
Her funeral will be held at midday on Tuesday at the Church of Te Wairua Tapu, 587 Elizabeth Street, Redfern, followed by burial at Rookwood Cemetery, at Lidcombe, in Sydney's west.

Carmen Tione Rupe
10/10/1936 - 15/12/2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: Street of the Week: Palmer Lane

Palmer Lane must be the cutest street in Darlinghurst. I only discovered it last week while dawdling through the flatlands with my old chum, Ruby Molteno. We were walking to her apartment and she insisted we take a detour off Bourke Street, down Berwick Lane and then along Palmer Lane. And I was so glad we did. 

It was another one of those balmy Sydney days where the air was thick and warm and we felt so drunk on life as we breathed in the rich heady fragrance of flowering plants with just the softest whisper of wind falling across our faces and bare arms. 
When the weather is like that I feel like the happiest person in the world and any thoughts of blackness disappear. 
In fact I was so content I felt like lying down in the middle of the street on the hot bitumen and singing loudly.

It really was the perfect day to wander down Palmer Lane as the flowers of the purple Jacarandas, brilliant white Star Jasmine and crimson Bougainvillea had just exploded open and were at their peak.

There was also loads of interesting window boxes: the residents seem to be plant nuts. If you have 30 minutes spare this weekend, pop down to Palmer Lane for a little exploration along this very sweet street.