Not so long ago I was involved in a local history project to recreate an example of a bathing box – once commonly seen on the foreshore. The boxes were removed in the 1960s, yet some remained in the neighbourhood until quite recently. After all these years none now survived, and that is why we began our project. If only we had had the skill and foresight of the Chinese architect Wang Shu we could have made something wonderful.
The difference between the town of Ningbo and Torquay are unalike, yet similar. Both places are victims of modern growth programs. For sometime the Chinese government has overseen a massive modernisation of the country. When they decide to modernise, whole districts are bulldozed. Everything in the path of development is removed and the people are rehoused in new multi-storey apartments. Here farmland is sold off, roads are formed, and much needed single story housing is built “out of ticky-tachy and they all look the same” like it says in the words of the song.
In China Wang Shu reclaimed the materials from the villages dismantled to make way for the new. In so doing he demonstrated architectural leadership because he planned and built the Ningbo History Museum from the repurposed material. He used an old Chinese technique of Wa Pan to do this.
He didn’t just recreate something old. From his imagination he materialised something new.
The former villagers now have something to remind them of the 3,000 year old village, and the people, that once lived there.
The museum is substantial. It is a building of some 30,000 sq metres. Wa Pan has been employed by builders throughout the ages. It means to repurpose existing material and to reuse it in a new way. As I say, in the western world, Romans used the same rocks as the Greeks had in ancient times. Here in Ningbo Wang Shu did the same thing where he could, but he didn’t just re use bricks from the Ming dynasty he used lots of concrete. However the concrete he used was given a unique Chinese treatment. Bamboo, a traditional building material, was used to create the formwork for the concrete. The textural shape of the bamboo became a new building texture found on the walls. The walls are not solid though because they contain fragments of old tiles and other ancient matter in their fabric.
The skills once needed to build with traditional materials was lost to the new age builders. This meant that in order for the work’s creation the tradespeople had to be taught how to use old methods to build this new museum. These new skills have proved valuable to the employees engaged.
The building created in the Yiazhou province is much more substantial than the little bathing box I was involved in recreating. In our case our little project had to meet a set of regulations that did not exist when the original beach lovers built their humble shacks from found materials. All our building has is a familiar silhouette in a garden a long way from the beach. The people of Ningbo live in a city that did not exist a few years ago yet they have examples of ancient materials and forgotten skills as a constant reminder of their lost village.
Age is considered good for cheese and wine. Drinkers prefer to nibble on aged cheese and drink mature wine. Beaujolais and cottage cheese have their place. But for something special cheese aficionados prefer an aged Gruyere or Cheddar to Mascarpone. The same applies to wine. If you can afford it kudos comes from drinking an aged French chateau wine.
We struggle with old people. The walking stick, the dribble, the befuddled mind, are the archetypes that spring to mind. We have reached the period in this State even young people feel old. This is our fifth lockdown and people are fragile. It needn’t be so.
If I am, I am unaware of how you see me. The cover you see above is of a book of my recent writing. I plan to give to my grandchildren at my birthday party (if lockdown rules allow) later this month.
Finally, as an early 80th birthday present for myself I have enrolled in the course below. This should take care of lockdown ennui.
Tom and his mate Tahlia were spending 2021 traveling around Australia, taking the long route. They were moving clockwise, using the outside of the road. Tahlia had just celebrated her 21st birthday, as had Tom. By now they understood this a vast land. You can drive for a thousand kilometres in this land and the highlight of your day is the chance to fill the fuel tank of your vehicle at a service centre. Most of these serve very unappetising fried food and little else. As, a vegan traveller, Tahlia must have gagged every time she entered one of these outposts.
Correctly, after crossing the Nullabour they turned left when they reached Norseman. And they drove their converted delivery van, now a smart camper wagon, to the beautiful city of Esperance. After days spent looking at scenery, that barely changed hours after hour crossing the continent, the water views of the seaside town are remarkably restful. Being more venturesome than this old fellow, they learned the islands offshore were easy to get to by ferry. As a result, they had a merry time at an off-shore bar where they could share travel stories with other young folk, and learned something about the mysterious road ahead.
The trip from Esperance to the capital of Western Australia one need not hurry. So they took their time visiting the wine area of Margaret River and swimming at wild ocean beaches. The great Jarrah and Karri forests, and the distant remnants of the whaling industry of Albany are only some joys one finds south of Perth. The long seaward protrusion of the Busselton Jetty was another place they visited. But the distant voices from home reminded Tahlia others would like to celebrate the significance of her twenty-first birthday back in Melbourne. A day away on the other side of the continent if you fly. So they called in favours to park “Van Morrison” in Perth and headed back home by air.
What should have been a happy home-coming break held a COVID-19 twist. Their plane had barely landed when health authorities announced Victoria had a new virulent community outbreak of the virus after over three months of being infection free. The State authority announced it would again enter lockdown that evening.
Just home, the young couple drove immediately back to the airport with a view to escape the Lockdown and resume their circumnavigation of the continent. They made phone calls to Western Australia health officials to find out if they could avoid fourteen days of enforced quarantine, as they had not been near the areas known to be infected, they simply wanted to return to their mobile home. Officialdom, being what it is, deliberated to the point of the plane’s departure time and came down with a judgement. Their home had no fixed address and the only way they could reenter the state was to do as all other Victorians must. That is it required them to enter quarantine. They sat out the Lockdown.
The reality was hard, too few in the population had been inoculated, the seven-day lockdown was extended and interstate travel banned. The outcome for Tom and Tahlia? Viruses are true egotists and they infect whomever they can.
We live life one day at a time. However we live each day it is just part of the patchwork of activity people live. Today I can think of nothing better than celebrating humankind as it is recorded in the 2021 film Life In A Day.
He sat squarely on the piano stool. The boy reached out and opened Aunt Clara’s piano and spontaneously played. The lad played it so well his father bought him a baby grand piano at age 10 and reluctantly agreed he could at last take music lessons. At 13, young Louis played at his own Bar Mitzvah. By the time his influence entered my world he was a noted maestro and a chain smoking conductor his friends called Lenny.
By 1960 his modern opera, a rework of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had reached the Princess Theatre Melbourne. The music by Leonard Bernstein with a libretto by Stephen Sondheim tells of a gang war between Puerto Ricans and the Whites ( or the Jets and Sharks). At that stage Bernstein was thirty-two. Sixty years ago the 33 year old reached new critical acclaim when this musical was released as film by the same name. A few years latter the film reached Melbourne and Jennie and I went to see it. I was so enthralled by it we bought a 12 inch LP ( Long Play) recording of the cast performance.
Our Pye, three-in-one player: (TV, Radio, and Turn-Table), was never put to use before it was stolen from our home. However, the record stayed and was a regular hit with us. The tracks; “I Feel Pretty”, “Tonight”, “America”, and “Somewhere”, have entered the canon of America’s greatest works. Fortunately, Stephen Sondheim lives on, Lenny died from the after effects of an addiction to tobacco, and his friend, American composer, Arron Copeland has also died. Clearly the world is poorer without their talent.
When we bought the West Side Story record, the best recorded music was found on 12 inch L P’s. We bought several. Most came from a group trading as The World Record Club and they were recordings of classical music. The records ran for 60 minutes, but the user could only hear the last 30 minutes by stopping the player and turning the recording to hear the reverse side. Fortunately, a 12 inch vinyl record was a big improvement on previous records. The extra time recorded on each disc was achieved by reducing the speed of the turntable to 33 revolutions per minute and adding width to it.
With the 33 rpm turntable also offered the listener other speed choices. A 45 rpm disc was the record used at the time by pop song promoters. The record had two sides and two songs. It was common for the promoter to advertise one of the two songs on each record. The A side was supposed to be better than the B side. Frequently they got it wrong, in the ears of the listeners, and the more popular song was on the reverse.
The first recording I ever bought was of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It was written in 1880 to commemorate the Battle of Borodino where Tsar Alexander 1’s forces routed Napoleon in 1812. As my student allowance money was scarce my copy was a 45 vinyl disc. The overture only lasts about 16 minutes. To my annoyance half way through the performance the record had to be flipped over to hear the remainder. It was certainly a performance Tchaikovsky had not written, even though it was performed with actual canons.
The gramophone of the 1960’s replaced the model my uncle Paul had graduated to just a few years before. He had a passion for the popular music recorded before WW11. Performer’s names included favourites such as: Chick Corea, Al Bowlly, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Ross Colombo, and the catalogue ran on with the names of band leaders such as Chick Webb, Artie Shaw and the Dorsey brothers. The records were 78 rpm. Each side ran for about 3 minutes. I have retained one I have altered to a clock face. It is a Decca recording, of Bing Crosby singing, On the Sunny Side Of The Street.
Paul was fanatical about his collection. Each record had a matching file card. The card mentioned the name of the song: where and when it was recorded, who the musicians were. (The cards may have had other information I have no idea. But he did). For thirty years he ran an old time music program on, not one, but two community radio stations. He based each program on the notes he had made at the time of purchase.
When he started to collect these tunes they were sold in a brown paper sleeves. When he played a recording he would wipe any dust that might have fallen on it. Originally the first tunes he played was on a gramophone he had to wind up. The record was placed on a felt disc and the pickup was lowered onto the disc from the outside edge. The pick up was a steel needle. To protect his collection he would use a new needle for every recording he played.
The shellac recordings were brittle and easily damaged. The sound was reproduced by a needle running in the groove made when the sound was recorded. The trouble with such a system is the damage caused by the friction made playing the music.
Paul’s was not the first wind up machine. That role goes to the phonograph. Our neighbours, the Coverdale’s, had an original model. It played music recorded on cylinders. The recording method was similar in that used to make 78s. In that a grove was cut into the cylinder using a mechanism that converted the sound waves into energy that did the inscribing. The pickup followed the scratch to reproduce the singers voice.
Over the course of my life. We have used tape recorders, compact discs, and down loaded LPs to digital programs so they can be reproduced from the computer. I was ever so impressed when Ben and Nina introduced me to the first iPlayer. I found it hard to believe such a tiny recorder could hold so much music and be reproduced so easily.
Years ago I downloaded my entire record collection to my mobile phone, and I have listened to it amplified by wifi and Bluetooth. I have even used Spotify but I have found the range of classical music limited so when in doubt or in need of a switch-up I turn to an app on my phone and I can get worldwide coverage of classical music programs any time of day.
Aficionados, like to explain the 3mp copy excludes much of the pure sound a vinyl recording gives. They may be right but to my creaky old ears it sounds ok and it plays without the need to jump up and turn a record on the turntable. It is even better than the “clunk” you got when one record dropped onto the other when records were stacked one upon the other on a multi-player.
Any A, B or Z musician would be proud to be enjoyed so easily today. Bernstein, Beethoven, Brahms, or Borodin — music is great. That you can listen to any-type of music anywhere from the phone in your pocket is something the boys and girls of West Side Story could never have imagined