Thursday, August 4, 2011

ad altiora natus

uploaded by hugwildlife

For a time I harboured an ambition to supplement my income with some freelance writing. Finding something to write about, or even writing the writing, were never a problem. The problem was not being able to take even one decent photo.
Quite a few years before Mary McKillop was canonised, I bought my way into a pilgrimage to Mary McKillop’s tomb. I loaded up the trusty 35mm with good colour film and clambered onto a bus. As the only non-Italian pilgrim on board it really was the ultimate fly-on-the-wall experience. All the way from Melbourne to Sydney and back again I took what I hoped were some passable photos, even being careful to log the details in a notebook.
The journey began at a standard sized inner suburban house where a full, church sized statue of St Anthony, on rotation amongst families belonging to a prayer group, filled the lounge room.
As the bus made its way north, we alternated between recitations of the Rosary and viewings of Christian videos rated Gee! We stopped at a couple of shrines along the way where miracles were said to have occurred. Now when you drive along a road or street in Ireland you expect to see shrines and, when you do, they look like shrines. But in Australia?

We stopped for an open air Mass at some monastery I did not know existed, and then, on the road again, said the Rosary once more in Italian. Well, perhaps I should say I listened to the Rosary again.
Lest you think I was spying for the enemy, I was not looking down my nose at these people; there are times when I envy people their faith. Besides, Italians are used to submarine Catholics who only emerge a few times a year, though this was neither Easter nor Christmas. And they had a very ecumenical approach to religion, because on the way home we stopped at a Greek Orthodox Church where one of the icons has been continuously weeping a holy oil for years.

I returned feeling rather spiritual and purged as well as confident about selling this story, but when I went to get the film developed discovered it had not wound on to the opposite spool properly. Every time the meter advanced telling me how many pictures I had taken, it had been lying to me.

Other opportunities, other times, but never a decent photo. Not once.
Here is my seventh attempt [out of seven] to take a picture of a pelargonium in our front yard.
Beginning to get the picture?

I envy those who can take photos, deriving little comfort from the warning of my old school motto, that I was born for 'higher' things...
Just before the first [northbound] Euroa exit on the Hume Hwy there is a tree which keeled over some years ago, and has defiantly sprouted thriving, new limbs. I know there are other trees like this in other places but this was like an old friend reminding me, personally and repeatedly, that nothing in the world succeeds like persistence. So I persisted.
On the way through, I always pulled over to take photos, but usually the grass was too long, or the cows wouldn’t get out of the way. One day, everything seemed just right and I felt quite confident I’d managed a good shot of this motivational marvel but, sadly, when I loaded it onto my PC it looked like crap.
Now that I’m a blog junkie, every day I look eagerly for new posts – with fantastic photos or links to fantastic photos - from these people:

Red’s Australian Roundup – from landscapes to outback buildings

Highriser – features of buildings that make Melbourne marvellous

If I had Oprah’s bank balance and my own current level of insignificance, the place I would most love to live is Florence. While I was there I bought some postcards.
The only real missed photo opportunity I regret came just after The Other commented that we had never seen any buskers in Italy. We rounded a corner into the Piazza del Duomo and there was a Gypsy, kneeling in an attitude of prayer, a votive candle and a picture of a handicapped son? between her and the Basilica, along with a little polystyrene cup for donations.
Our first busker! But of course if I’d attempted a photo I might have had my head smacked in by one of her minders, so I uploaded the image directly to my own personal memory, bypassing the camera stage, and moved on.
Footage of the Vatican Museum should be compulsory viewing for any Occupational Health and Safety or Emergency Planning course. For a short while I feared The Other might give into her sense of fun and shout “Fire” but I think even she realised that only someone with a death wish would try it.
The ceilings were impressive. When one is my height [for want of a better word] there is not much to see in a crowded building except ceilings. I managed two ceiling shots before the guy whose job it is to cry “No flash” in broken English at intervals of 10 seconds let me know he had his eye on me.
I bought a poster of the Sistine Chapel ceiling but it doesn’t do justice to the vibrant colours which emerged after it was painstakingly cleaned and restored.
After hours queuing outside the museum in a steamy tropical downpour it didn’t matter that there are no toilets in Rome, because I already had that “uh oh, too late’ feeling. As we shuffled like Chinese sardines with bound feet past all the ‘stuff’, I began to appreciate just how much pillaging and looting the Church had managed to do in two short millennia. But finally, just before the exit I saw something magical: An unfinished masterpiece that showed what it is like to see something in a piece of stone waiting to get out. I’ve no idea whose work it is but, for me, the snap is a photographic marvel.


Ecclesiastical tailors display their wares along the Via dei Cestari in Rome. I tried valiantly to take a photo of the nuns’ knickers in one window, the price as obscenely large as the knickers themselves, but could not work out how to turn the flash off.  No postcards available of that shot.

Once it was clear to me The Other would not, under any circumstances, visit any more churches in this lifetime, we planned to set out in search of the Trevi Fountain. Making our way through the maze of narrow streets and lanes of Rome we emerged a tiny piazza in which stood the biggest mofo of a fountain I have ever seen. 
Over time, buildings have invaded its personal space so much that there was barely room for the 9,999,997 tourists who’d had the very same idea that very day. It took me half an hour to stop laughing.

The Other is so frugal that she not only balked at the idea of throwing a coin into the fountain, when she finally agreed to it she pulled a one cent piece out of her purse – 16 years after they had been withdrawn from circulation. The people who pull around 3,000 euros a day from the fountain must have been scratching their heads.

And so back to one of my favourite spots in Melbourne. For most of my early years I lived in the inner suburbs and, for many years, my brother and I would often walk to the zoo on weekends, clutching sandwiches in a brown paper bag.
The most tragic part of the zoo, 40 plus years ago, was a row of cages where the big cats were trapped, with only enough room to take one and a half paces before turning around. We avoided that part of the zoo, and usually spent the day watching the orang-utans.
Despite the ‘flat cat’ now occupying the enclosure, this was where the orang utans lived in the 1960s.

Just a few days ago, the head of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council accused the Melbourne Zoo of cruelty, saying the orang-utans should not be living in this sort of climate.
Whether it is cruel or not to keep animals out of their natural environment, zoos do a heck of a positive job. Their breeding programs help ensure that no matter how their natural habitat is destroyed – for example, by the Palm Oil Industry – a species is less likely to die out. They help children bond with animals and develop a sense that animals are important, and they provide opportunities for conservationists and vets to learn more about animals in order to help them.

And the Melbourne Zoo has come a long way in my lifetime.

uploaded by manicmidwife


  1. While some zoos are not great, Australian zoos tend to give their captives a pretty good life. It might not be quite natural, but they are pretty comfortable.