Australian Pokédex awesomeness!

A very talented Australian animation artist named Paul Robertson has turned his hand to making a uniquely Aussie Pokédex… and it’s just brilliant.  I imagine non-Australians might have some trouble interpreting some of these Pokémon creations – you’ll just have to trust us that it all makes sense!

Saving here for future reference, via @probzz on Twitter.

Valparaiso Street Art and Stuff

Valparaiso was a bit of a mystery.  Other than the meagre tidbit that it is a large international sea port, I knew very little about the place, so I had booked us a tour with Patagonia Shorex – which I should probably admit, I booked so long ago, that as I got off the ship this morning, I had no recollection whatsoever as to where the tour was taking us.  So yeah, today, as a travel agent I’d probably make a good brick layer.

We were met by our lovely guide, Dixianna (Dixie for short), who was going to be showing us around.  Dixie turned out to be full of interesting information, which of course is a very desirable trait in a tour guide!  Valparaiso has been an important Chilean city throughout modern history, as it served as a major stopover point for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as they passed through the Straits of Magellan and around the Cape.  The city’s ‘golden age’ saw the area grow enormously as it attracted many European immigrants, from Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland – all of these European influences are evidence in the architecture throughout the city.

We first went north towards a township that is adjacent to Valparaiso (the city limit/s apparently run straight through the middle of a public school!), called Vina del Mar – a place where once vineyards were common, but now is a city best known as a major tourist attraction, and the town sees travellers all year round.  Dixie informed us that the area was originally populated by the Chango people, who were nomadic and primarily lived on fishing endeavours.  The first Spanish explorers (I didn’t catch the names – Amergo? Amagero? Not sure and can’t google it just now) arrived in 1536.  The Chango people originally called the Vina del Mar area, the ‘Burned Land’ which referenced the frequent bush fires that still plague the region.  Thankfully, nothing looked even remotely of recent bush fire activity, and instead we went to visit what we were told is South America’s first ‘flower clock’.  It is currently planted with red and pink flowery things (big gardener type, me).  The flowers are changed every three months apparently, and there is a tunnel beneath it for maintenance.  Personally, I don’t see the significance of such things, but I’ve stopped and taken photos of many a weirder town monument, so there it is.

As mentioned earlier, Vina del Mar is a huge tourist town, and it’s wide esplanade is usually bustling with tourists enjoying the seaside restaurants and shops.  However, this week, the ocean has been particularly rough, and the waterfront area was completely closed to pedestrian traffic. No storms or anything, just really huge waves rolling right up to the town’s edge. In recent years Vina del Mar has frequently had to close the waterfront area due to the rough ocean weather crashing onto the breakfront… This is largely due to climate change – historically this sort of weather was very rarely experienced, but it is becoming increasingly common and is causing severe erosion. The town is constantly taking measures to repair buildings and walkways that were getting damaged by these crazy high tides and the brutal onslaught of the constantly crashing waves.  Houses and buildings in lower income areas that are affected by the rough seas are generally either left derelict or repaired slowly over time, but the fancy art deco casino and the lucrative public boardwalk shopping and restaurant areas are always repaired very quickly.  It is becoming a very significant concern for local authorities, and the local constabulary will fine people that go past the barriers that are put in place for people’s safety.

Next we went to see a genuine ‘moai monument from the Easter Island that was relocated to Vina del Mar at great expense, and after much negotiating with the Chilean government and the local tribal councils on Easter Island’. I guess Dixie wasn’t to know that we have all recently just visited the island and seen hundreds of the enormous and impressive monuments in situ a few days before; she was genuinely puzzled that no one seemed particularly interested in the lonely monument that to us seemed sadly out of context, set as it is, outside the Fonck Museum.  Instead, we spied the spire of a nearby church and all wandered around the corner to see what it looked like.  The church was beautiful, with it’s gothic style architecture, select stained glass windows, mosaic tile floor and beautiful timber and gold nave, and quaint confessionals.  Again, our poor guide was puzzled at our interest in the church, and I found myself explaining that in Australia, many churches are unfortunately designed in the same style as a 1960s brick toilet block, so sandstone churches such as these are quite rare for us, whereas Dixie shrugged and said many churches in Valparaiso look similar to this one.

After the church we made a quick stop at a botanical garden that leads to a huge modern amphitheatre that was preparing for the music festival that was starting soon, and then we hit the road back to Valparaiso proper.  Along the way, I caught glimpses of some of the city’s famous street art.

As we drove along the highway that connects Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, we were informed that the port continued to be a significant centre for resupplying and supporting ships during the Californian Gold rush of the late 19thC, as well as being a huge export centre for copper and various produce.  Unfortunately for Valparaiso however,  from the 1950s onwards, there was a fairly significant socio-economic decline after the opening of the Panama Canal, which caused a serious decrease in ship traffic.  Many eminent families moved to Santiago, and the port-based economy suffered for quite a long time.  In more recent years, Valparaiso has started to stage a recovery by becoming the ‘Cultural Capital of Chile’, attracting artists, musicians, chefs, writers and culture vultures, who have reinvigorated the city’s historic districts. The city also has four major universities to attract international attention, and is constantly hosting music festivals and community street art projects.

Our first stop on our return to Valparaiso, was to Neruda House, also known as La Sebastiana.  Located high in the hills of Valparaiso, the house once belonged to Pablo Neruda, the famous poet who had taken over the unfinished house started by architect, Sebastian Collado who had died before finishing the home.  It is now a museum dedicated to the poet, and is full of Neruda’s eclectic things from the mid-20thC.  Neruda obviously had a striking sense of interior design, and the house is full of many original pieces of furniture, pictures and objects, but nothing in the house is quite so impressive as the views, visible from every window, over Valparaiso Harbour.  The house was designed to make best advantage of the sweeping panorama below and it is absolutely beautiful.  It was a twisting windy little narrow house built over five floors, and I can’t imagine living there with all those stairs, but the views would make it worth it!

After this we drove further into the historic older district of Valparaiso, with more fabulous street art and more fabulous views of the city.  Tourism now makes up a good portion of Valparaiso’s economy as people come to enjoy the cobbled alleys and maze-like streets, the colourful buildings and the creative murals and almost overwhelming amount of street art.

The city is nicknamed ‘The Jewel of the Pacific’ and its historic district was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, in particular its unusual funicular lifts.  Built onto the steep hillsides that overlook the bay, Valparaiso is a winding labyrinth of narrow streets and cobblestone alleyways, between crazy diverse architectural and cultural centres, there is system of ascensore (funicular) lifts that help the locals get around.  For 100 CHL (Chilean pesos), you can take one of these funiculars up a hillside and cut large sections off your steep uphill walks.  This beautifully kept bright yellow house (above) is at the top of one of the ascensores that take people into the historical district. There are 15 of these rickety old ascensores, that are located in different parts of the city.  Dixie also mentioned there was one other that was not for public use, but belongs to a local hospital. These funiculars are also protected by world heritage status and therefore all kept in (at least, barely) working order.  The most popular spot for tourist is to ascent to the Conecpcion and Alegre historical district, or Bellavista hill which is known as an ‘open air museum’ as it contains so much street art.

Next stop was this crazy street corner covered with its bright red paint and ceramic tile mosaics, called the Resting Corner or Resting Place, (which is a bit grave, and way less than cheerful in English!).  The Resting Place was a community street project where artists and members of the local community who are interested come together to create a space.  All of the art works are very much encouraged by the city authorities, and Dixie was saying that if you wanted to paint your house a bright colour, all you had to do was tell the council and they would provide the paint and the workers.  If you wanted a mural on your house, you had to apply to do one (presumably for design approval) and they would come paint a mural on your house, but you would be charged a little extra for mural painting.  No wonder the city is so colourful and covered in art work – it is all subsidised by the city.

The rest of our afternoon was spent walking back down the hillside, winding through the historic district and marvelling at the brightly painted buildings.  There were painted tributes to Easter Island, to penguins, elements of Chilean culture, backpacker hostels painted with bright red double decker buses, a Van Gogh tribute, stairways painted like piano keys, a rock sculpture wall, and all mixed in with beautiful views down over the city.   This liberal attitude towards painting the town is evident everywhere and while there is a LOT of graffiti covering the town, none of it is over the top of the beautiful murals.

Valparaiso is certainly a beautiful and interesting city with so many interesting pieces of street art, that I have gone totally overboard with images in this post… and these aren’t half of the pics I took!

After this, it was time to head back to the ship – but not before ferreting out a fabric store to try and find some fabric for Aunty Mary’s hand sewn quilt that she has been working on.  We found two fabric stores, but weirdly could not find any material that was 100% cotton in either?!  In the end, we gave up and head for a local department store, where we found, in the men’s department, a 100% cotton shirt with a print that will do quite nicely, so we bought it to take back to the ship to cut up into little hexagons to be added to her quilt.  Everyone needs a decent project for these long sea days, there’s only so much bingo and trivia you can handle!  🙂

A Quintessenitally British Day Out

Being in London for the fourth time has been lovely… it has given me the option of doing as much or as little as I choose and I don’t feel the pressure to run around like a headless chook, playing tourist and trying to cram it all in – and there is a LOT to cram in if you want to see even half of what London has to offer. 

I wasn’t initially intending to, but on walking past the British Museum today, I saw there was a special exhibition on that piqued my interest – A Rothchild’s Rennaissance, the Waddlestone Bequest, so I had to pop in.  The Waddlestone Bequest is a collection of approximately 300 exceptionally beautiful and some iimportant objectfs from the medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as numberous 19thC copies.  The items were left to the Musuem in 1898 by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild and there were many items of Renaissance jewellery that I felt were worth popping in to have a look at.  Waddlestone, btw, is/was the family manor in Buckinghamshire, and apparently is a particularaly beautiful house.  I can just imagine old Ferdinand sitting on this enormous collection in his favourite library or smoking room, congratulating himself on having amassed such an impressive collection of objets d’art.  🙂   

I collect nail polish, travel pins and dust bunnies.   😛 

Anyway, there were some extraordinary pieces on display – some very fine and typically Renaissance items of jewellery (large gold, enamel and pearl pendants etc), some limoge enamel pieces, majolica ceramicware, some match lock and wheel lock longarms, a gorgeous medieval helmet and various reliquary items and plate etc.  It was well worth stopping in to have a look at these beauifully preserved decorative arts objects.  Just lovely.  The catalogue for this exhibition is avilable on the Book Depository if anyone is interested – GBP24.00, big heavy book full of lovely photos and delivered right to your door… if you’re guessing I didn’t buy a copy at the museum, you’re spot on! 




 And of course once one is in the British Museum, it is hard to just walk on out again.  So I whipped around and said, ‘hello’ to my old friends the Lewisham chessmen, the Sutton Hoo exhibit, the horology room, the Rosetta Stone and the winged bull from Ashurnasirpal.

Time got away from me a little and I had to run to make my afternoon tea date with KPeth down at the Brumus Bar on Haymarket.  We had decided we would got for afternoon tea or high tea somewhere nice while in London – it’s just the done thing you know – and were tossing around options on where we should go, when my friend Stephola recommended The Brumus Bar at Sulfolk Place.  Never heard of it, but Stephola’s very posh friends had remarked that it was ‘just as good as Claridge’s afternoon tea’, so with this high praise in mind, we made a booking.  And were not disappointed… our afternoon tea was delightful.  We had a lovely corner table which allowed for engaging in one of my favourite past times – people watching – and a fabulously English waiter who was extremely attentive and kept offering us more food, though we were struggling to get through the very beautifully plated items already offered.  Was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours – a glass of champagne, fancy delicate nibblies, nice tea and good company.  10/10 – would definitely go again.  🙂 

  After that I did a bit of tourist shopping – ie: bought a decent sized coffee mug to take on the ship, as I had intended to pack an old one I was happy to throw away, but in my rush to fit so many Tim Tams in my suitcase, I had completely forgotten to do so.  It is probably the one thing I do not like about the cruise lines – melamine coffee mugs everywhere except the main dining rooms.  So if you want a decent cup of tea, you need to order room service or go to the dining rooms.  I’m much happier to make one in the buffet and take it back to the room and not bother the staff.   Anyway, bought a touristy London mug (sans sparkly paint, sorry KPeth – just not my thing!), which may or may not make it home.  And then headed back to the B&B for a few hours before continuing my Quintessentially British Day Out with a show – The Book of Mormon.

Okay – have probably stretched the truth a bit on that one.  But I didn’t want to see Billy Elliot or Kinky Boots or *insert Random Shakespeare Play* to round out my Big Day O’British Stuff.  I thought I’d give The Book of Mormon a crack – which was a bit of an odd choice for me given I am not a South Park fan and generally have a less than favourable reaction to that sort of humour.  But I went in with an open mind and was not disappointed.  The show was fantastic.  Just hilarious, irreverent, surprising, unique and down right funny.



Written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, the story ‘The Book of Mormon’, follows two mismatched Mormon missionaries who, upon graduation from Missionary School, are are sent to fucking Uganda of all places to spread their religion and try and baptise locals. As you might expect, when they arrive, things are not exactly what they expect and much of what they encountered definitely wasn’t in the brochure.  It was extremely earthy and frog-fucking funny.  If it comes to Australia, and I assume it eventually will, we shall all have to line up and go see it.  Brilliant.  And while it heavily pokes fun at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints – a lot of it could just as easily apply to any organised religion.  I laughed out loud so much my cheeks were hurting.

Great way to finish my evening, even though it did’t fit into my Quintessenitally British Day Out.  🙂 

Maiko Story in Gion

Hanamachi is a Japanese geisha district. The word’s literal meaning is “flower town”. Such districts contain various okiya (geisha houses) and ochaya (teahouses).  A summer tradition around the time of the Gion Festival for the Kyoto hanimachi is to distribute personalized uchiwa (flat fans) to favoured stores the maiko and geiko frequent.  These feature a crest of the okiya on the front and the geiko’s name on the back (house name, then personal name).  Establishments in the hanamachis that have many geiko and maiko clients often accumulate many of these fans, and proudly display their fans as a sign of quality.maiko-story-gion-kyoto-8.jpgmaiko-story-gion-kyoto-6.jpg

The Mikyako Odori – Ushering in the Spring
When we begin to feel the first breath of April air, the Gion area is suddenly abuzz.
This is become the Gion, Miyako Odori, which is now intimately associated with springtime in Kyoto will soon begin. When ‘setsubun’ ends in February, the geiko (full geisha) and maiko (apprentice geisha) begin training in earnest in preparation for the four daily performances of the Miyako Odore which will be held for capacity audiences for a month from April 1 at the Gion Kubu Kaburenjo Theatre.  The annual dance performances are called the Miyako Odori and this year represented the 143rd presentations of the spring dances.

The Miyako Odori has its origins in performances held for the first Kyoto Exposition in 1872. These gorgeous and stately performances are organized around a different theme every year, and involved a huge cast of geiko and maiko and jikata (???), there will be 139 performances over the season.

As April approaches, the geiko and maiko have o-chaya send programs called ‘bangumi’ to their clients. These programs are addressed to “Mr…, danna-sama,” The more popular the client, the ore bangumi that he receives, or so it is said.
maiko-story-gion-kyoto-9.jpgThe client studies the bangumi that he receives, checking for appearances by his favorite Geiko and Maiko, fretting over issues such as what he should send as a congratulatory gift, and how he should approach the question of gratuities.
The geiko and maiko who will be presiding over the tea ceremony for each session are also decided in advance, and so he will also need to think about sending an elegant boxed lunch or temptin gsweets when his favourites will be appearing. You can be sure that popular restaurants and confectioners will be busy with arrangements.

And exactly like hanami, the parties held to enjoy cherry blossoms in spring, the partons will come with guests to admire Gion’s ‘o-hana’, or “flowers”.  In the hanamachi, when we speak of the o-hana, of course we are speaking of the geiko and maiko.

maiko-story-gion-kyoto-14.jpgMokuroku – Adding colour to celebrations in the hanamachi
Even if you are a regular visitor to the hanamachi , mokuroku are something that you won’t often have the chance to see.
On days of celebration, such as omisedashi, when a girl debuts as a maiko, and ‘erikae’, the ceremony in which a maiko becomes a geiko, poster-size sheets of noshi, or wrapping paper, brilliantly decorated with hand-painted pictures, are hung at the entrance of okiya (geisha houses) and o-chaya (tea houses) in the hanamachi. These sheets are called mokuroku.

Let’s consider the day of a maiko’s omisedahi (debut). On this day, the okami of her okiya visits the o-chaya at which the girl used to entertain customers as a minarai (an apprentice maiko). The okami offers each o-chaya a set of gifts to celebrate the minarai’s transformation into a maiko. These gifts include noshi, suehiro, matsuuo ryo, a pair of cups called shimadai, and the collar of a kimono, all of which are presented on a traditional tray called a hirobuta and wrapped in a yellow-green wrapping cloth.

In return for these gifts, the o-chaya sends gift money to the okiya, wrapping the money in noshi paper.  On the day of the celebration, patrons and geiko also send the okiya gift money, together with mokuroku.  For the patrons, the sending of mokuroku is a very stylish thing.

Each mokuroku is adorned with beautifully painted pictures in gorgeous colours which symbolize the celebration and add colour and decoration to the event. Pictures of auspicious motifs including treasure ships, red sea bream, bells (which serve as lucky charms), sake cups for toasting, otafuku, and uchide-no-kkozuchi, or lucky mallets, add colour to the entrance of the okiya and o-chaya, setting the mood for the celebration.

Tradition is highly valued in the hanamachi, and the use of mokuroku has therefore been passed down over the years as a traditional way of expressing congratulations.

Unfortunately, today Gion’s okami are apparently worried about the decline in the number of craftsmen who can paint mokuroku, putting this tradition in danger.

Omisedash – Debut as a maiko.
There was a time when Gion faced a shortage of maiko, causing concern for the future. More recently however, the number of maiko has been increasing year by year probably refelcting the influence of movies and novels.

A girl who comes to Gion seeking to become a maiko will enter a house called an ‘okiya’, where she will live and be taken care of in every aspect of her life.

These okiya may differ from each other in aspects such as their specific traditions and conventions but they all become the homes of the girls who enter them.

A prospective maiko, is initially called a ‘shikomi-san’. As a shikomi-san, she will begin by following the senior geiko, geiko and maiko around. She will also do the household chores for her okiya, and at the same time attend dance lessons and learn how to powder her face and how to put on a kimono. In this way, she will gradually familiarise herself with the hanamachi.

After spending about a year as a shikomi-san, she will finally begin wearing a special costume, and will be allowed to entertain customers at a zashiki as a minarai-san. After completing a period as a minarai-san, she arrives at her omisedashi – the day when she makes her debut as a makio.
On the day of her omisedashi, the new makio wears a black formal kimono and attends a ceremony at which she and her seniors drink a cup of sake in turn as a way of giving thanks and congratulations. This ceremony is characterized by a a sense of both tension and celebration that is difficult to describe.

Colourful hand painted posters, mokuroku, are hung up at the entrance to the okiya, adding vibrant decorations to the celebration. These posters are offered by o-chaya, patrons and others to congratulation the maiko on her omisedashi.
The new makio’s very frist job on her first day is to make courtesy visits to o-chaya. Looking exquisite, she makes her way around the hanamachi, visiting the -chaya in turn and offering graceful greetings at each one.

The tension she feels on her first day, combined with the traditional etiquette which her training has made an essential part of her, adds a sense of dignified elegance to her freshness and innocence.


Erikae – Graduation to full Geiko.
The transition from maiko to geiko is called erikae, which literally means ‘replacement of the collar’.
Although there are a number of theories as to the origin of this term, it seems most likely that the advancement to geiko states is called erikae becaue the maiko repaces her red collar with a white one make of Chinese brocade when she becomes a geiko.

Having spent the latter half o her teens as a makio, when a girl passes the ago of 20, it is time for her erikae.
When she has her erikae, the young girl is transformed from a cute maiko into an adult, fully-fledged geiko with all the changes in style and appearance that this implies. But these changes do not take place in a single day. The day of a maiko’s erikae is scheduled in advance and in her remaining days as a maiko, she will wear a special hairstyle called ‘sakkou’, and appear at zashiki in a black kimono. Maiko from some okiya also paint their teeth black, a custome called o-haguro. The maiko usually performs a dance entitled ‘Kurokami” (Black Hair) in this period.

When the maiko finally becomes a geiko, her own hair will be covered by a traditional Shimada wig. She will wear kimono with sleeves of normal length, shorter than the sleeves of a maiko’s kimono, and will no longer wear the darari no obi, the long obi belt which is unique to maiko. She will no longer use the obi clips called pocchiri which will be replaced by decorative cord for holding her obi belt in place. She will also stop wearing the tall sandals called okobo.

In the evening of her last day as a maiko, she returns to her yakata and performs ‘Kurokami’ for her regular customers and other people in the house, saying goodbye to her days as a mako. In her very last moments as a maiko, her chignon is cut with a blade in order to let down her hair. The okami of the yakata where she has been taken care of, as well as her seniors and juniors from the same okiya, join in this ritual giving her thanks for all the efforts she has made. In some cases her regular customers will be invited to witness the ritual, but this is rare.

The new geiko has endured hard training which began in her mid-teens and she is now finally becoming an adult. She sheds tears of happiness, but tempered with a certain feeling of sadness. In her last moments as a maiko she is lovely, but the sight is also a moving one because her days as a maiko are gone forever.

To be a geiko is to be judged as a moving work of art.