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Category Archives: Travel & World Cultures

El Cuervo Cantina in Newtown

Day of the Dead

Shop door decorations for Day of the Dead

Window Decor in Newtown

Day of the Dead was a great opportunity for the Mexican community in Newtown to shine with colorful decorations on the shop doors and windows.

There are several Mexican restaurants in Newtown of varying repute from ones that are frequent ambulence stops to white cloth table ones with swanky ambiance.

El Cuervo on Enmore Road is somewhere in the middle of the range of Mexican cuisine in Newtown. The small cantina promises the authentic Mexican experience. The dining space is simple with a small stage. For Day of the Dead, live music and special banquet menu was advertised however, there was neither live music nor a special menu. The menu was traditional Mexican fare with enchiladas, black bean sides and cheese and guacomole dips.

We tried the house specialty chocolate sauce on the enchiladas and that was a mistake. If you can imagine salty chocolate flavoured sauce with runny consistency in brown colour, and this does not seem appealing to you, best to avoid.

Service was forgetful. The restaurant was full house and the waiters refused to write down the orders so we ended up with wrong appetisers but they also forgot to charge us so in the end we were happy.

Over all, it was a disappointing experience. I have yet to find Mexican cuisine that’s good in Sydney.

Autumn Time is for Remembrance of Souls

Beginning of November also marks the beginning of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.  Autumn is a time when nature prepares to go to winter sleep before it’s revived again in Spring.  The cycle of life and death with the Winter and Spring has impacted the cultures in all parts of the world.  Totally isolated and dissimilar cultures have celebrations and observations that relate to the passage of seasons.

In Autumn, when the earth prepares to hibernate under the white blankets and sheets of snow, humans are reminiscent of their dead ancestors.  Thoughts turn to death as the light of day becomes scarce.  On October 31st, the Pagan holiday All-Hallow’s Eve is celebrated.  It’s said that on the eve of October 31st, the spirits of the dead can walk the earth for a brief time between dusk until dawn.

Catholic Religion has chosen to honour the Pagan celebration by adapting holidays around All-Hallow’s Eve.  November 1st is All Saints Day and November 2nd is All Souls Day.  Spirits of Saints and dead ancestors are remembered on these dates respectively.

In the Latin Americas, predominantly in Mexico, November 1st and 2nd are Day of the Dead.  Colorful skeleton and dead paintings adorn every shop window, wall and mural to remind the living of the dead.

Similar celebrations are observed in Spring to celebrate coming back to life.  Jesus is said to have arisen from the dead on Easter.  Easter always falls in Spring in the Northern Hemisphere and is a time of revival for all species.  Birds’ eggs hatch, animals give birth and life has again reclaimed dominance.

In the Balkans Hidrellez is a celebration of Spring and in the Middle East Newrooz is very similarly celebrated.  However, they are celebrated a few weeks apart as the season of Spring hits during different times due to geographical location and Earth’s tilt.

Nature and seasons have been an integral part of life and to this day they play an important role in our motivations, moods and behaviours.  No matter what language, religion or cultural background, we are all influenced by seasonal variations.

Midnight in Paris

The Dendy Cinemas in Newtown is a good outlet for artsy and independent films as well as a healthy mix of blockbuster hits and guy movies thrown  in to suit the tastes of Newtownies.

The theatre space is small but comfortable and the popcorn and drinks not overpriced.  Though I must admit that the popcorn is of inferior quality with plenty un-popped ones in the bucket.

As for the feature presentation, I must thank Woody Allen or whoever the casting director is for choosing Owen Wilson for the role of the lead.  Owen Wilson as the lead definitely helped make the chick-flickishly titled ‘Midnight in Paris’ an easy sell to my boyfriend.  What’s more, Rachel McAdams, who was with Owen Wilson in the Wedding Crashers, is in the role of the fiancee of Owen Wilson’s character Gil.  In the beginning of the film I told my boyfriend to assume this was the sequel to “Wedding Crashers”.  This worked well until we got to the point with the artist/thinker/painter/director name-dropping.

The film is about Gil, Hollywood screenwriter who’s ready to give it all up to produce literary genius.  Gil is a Francophil, who’s on the left-wing of the American political spectrum whereas, his fiancée, Inez’s people are comfortably situated on the right side.  There’s already tension with Inez’s parents and Gil and what’s more Inez wants Gil to continue on doing what he’s comfortable with so they can live in that house in Malibu.  Gil is having an existential crises and he wants to leave a more substantial legacy than sure-fire Hollywood hits.

One night when Inez offers to go dancing with her friends Paul, a pseudo-intellectual, and his wife Carol, Gil declines saying he’s too drunk.  As he tries to walk back to the hotel, he gets lost.  At the strike of midnight an old Model T car picks him up and takes him to a party where he meets Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald.

The Fitzgeralds take him to meet Ernest Hemingway, who agrees to show his book to Gertrude Stein.

In his journeys to the past during the next few nights Gil has Gertrude Stein critiquing his novel and he works on making the changes she suggests.  He also meets Picasso and Picasso’s alluring mistress, Adriana, a student of couture from Bordeaux.

There are glistening and plentiful sprinkles of colourful pop culture references and cameo roles by Carla Bruni, French president Sarkozy’s wife topping this cupcake of a movie.

The major theme running throughout is that our present is never satisfying because it is all too real.  No matter when we lived, we are all a little disenchanted with our present.  Even if we did live in the Gilded age, the roaring 20’s, if that’s our reality and present we may want to take a leap back in time to say the 1890s.   At one point Adriana is taken back to the Maxim of 1890s with Gil and she states how much more exciting the 1890s are and that that’s the era she wants to live in.  Gil has a hard time understanding this, after all in the 1920s there are such pivotal figures as Bunuel, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds.  But to Adriana, that’s everyday life.

Owen Wilson in the lead is a good touch.  Instantly we have someone likable to identify with.  Sure he’s smart but he’s not a jerk about it.  As with Woody Allen’s later films, the visual ogling of the European city is plentiful and I for one felt the magic of a night in Paris right in Newtown, a spot that couldn’t be geographically and culturally further from our reference point.  Visually and intellectually the film works well.  What’s more, my boyfriend liked it and that’s success.

That Old African Feeling

There’s a fairly large African community in Newtown, though I hardly see Africans out and about, I know this because there are 3 African restaurants and 2 hair dressers and grocer’s that service the African community within a 4 km radius.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the restaurants in Newtown spring to life with belly dancing in the Lebanese, Turkish and otherwise Arabic restaurants, African drumming in African restaurants, and presumably other attractions in restaurants of more demure cultures.

When we went to African Feeling (one of the three, with Cafe Lat Dior and Kilimanjaro being the other two African cuisine locales) it was 9 pm on Saturday and we had missed the African drumming.  This may have been fortunate and I’m seeing reviews online saying that the drumming gets so loud that the enjoyment of food is noticeably diminished.

For entrees, we went on a food safari and ordered the appetiser plate with kpoff kpoff, which was like plain fried donuts, African cigars, which was spicy minced beef wrapped in flaky dough and the vegetarian triangles, which had spiced lentils with herbs wrapped in pastry.  The entrees were delicious as anything encased in dough would be.  They were nothing special or unique.  Every culture has its version of the quintessential ‘curry puff’.

For the main we had the chicken breast in coconut sauce “kuku na nazi” and the ‘lamb tangine’, which was the Moroccan spiced lamb stew with raisins. These dishes were served in wooden bowls and the portions were generous.  The spices took away from the flavour of the meat and the way they were prepared we couldn’t even tell the lamb apart from the chicken.

The service was friendly and attentive.  It was disappointing that we couldn’t sample the karkadeh, the traditional hibiscus drink of the African continent as they’d run out.  Also missing on the menu was injerah, the flat bread of Ethiopia.  Injerah is a yeast-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. Traditionally made out of teff (a species of lovegrass indigenous to Northern Africa) flour.

African Feeling gets 4 stars out of a possible 5 for the whole experience.

A Weekend in Spring

Spring is making it pleasent again to be outdoors.  Outdoor markets near Sydney (Eveleigh and Glebe) are attracting onlookers and participants.  They make for a colourful scenes and backdrops for Newtown’s well-groomed people to showcase themselves with their poodles.  The 1950s style is the newest trend with denizens of Newtown.  Everyone is very meticulous with their clothes and accessories to reflect an authentic vision of the 50s.  Poodles are the purebreeds of choice but all sorts of toy dogs are highly cherished displayed in public with pride.  Living in Newtown is a very unique experience.

Walking around in Newtown, it’s not unusual to run into homes turned into art galleries.  Homes of artists also function as showing galleries as they try to sell their paintings to pay for refurbishments and renovations that reflect the discriminating taste of the owners.  The houses all have a distinct charm.  They’re British with touches of exotic South Pacific islands with Palm trees adding that extra touch of the tropics.  Below are some impressions from weekend walks around Newtown.

Eveleigh Carriageworks

 

Musician Performing against a Pneumatic Hammer

Clever Recycling of old Luggages

Notes on The Art Scene Down Under

To give some background on what Archibald and Sulman Prizes are and what they mean to the Australian art world, please bear with me as I run through a condensed history of the affair. 

The Archibald Prize was named after J.F. Archibald, the editor of the Bulletin who bequested that a portrait competition be held to award ‘the best portrait, preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics, painted by an artist resident in Australia during the twelve months preceding the date fixed by the Trustees for sending in the pictures’.  The first Archibald Prize was given in 1921, 2 years after J.F. Archibald’s passing away.  The money prize was 400 Pounds in 1921, today it is $50,000.00 AUD.

The Sulman Prize is also one of the longest running art competitions in Australia, having started in 1936.  The Prize is named after Sir John Sulman, who was one of the most celebrated and productive architects to have built on virgin soil of Australia.  The Sulman Prize is awarded to ‘the best subject/genre painting and/or murals/mural project executed during the two years preceding the [closing] date”, and as of 2008 is valued at $20,000. Media may be acrylic, oil, watercolour or mixed media, and applicants must have been resident in Australia for five years.

This year’s winner of the Archibald portrait prize painted the late Margaret Olley.  Another portrait of Margaret Olley by a different artist had won the portrait contest in 1948.  This illustrates what a long-spanning career Margaret Olley has had and how influential she was to the art world in Australia.  She passed away at the age of 94 on 26 July, 2011.

This year’s  winner of the Archibald Prize, a portrait of the famous late painter Margaret Olley:

Noteworthy to me is the portrait of Jessica Watson, the youngest person, at the time 13, to circumnavigate the world.

Jess’s life like portrait by Thomas McBeth

And below is the winner of the Sulman Prize with “The Artist’s Fate”


This painting criticizes the art world harshly, almost as harshly as the art world criticizes its artists.  The artist is blinded by his own brush, perhaps like all of us blinded by love, his passion for his work blinds and handicaps him.  The scavengers and opportunists (could it be the agents and gallery managers behind those cherubic masks?) expose his frailties and feed his guts to the hungry dogs (venomous art critics?).  I feel the artist’s pain.  He’s done well in irony winning a mainstream contest with a rebellious piece.

The Wonderland on Alice

I’ve often felt like a slightly darker and less Anglo-Saxon Alice living amidst a frenzy of colourful characters in a wonderful pocket of a neighbourhood in Sydney called Newtown.  Logic and proportion seize to exist in Newtown and the colours, sounds and smells are another blog all together.

The cafe, Wonderland on Alice offers an enjoyable side of avocado, cottage cheese, dill and rye toast breakfast with cappuccino served in a steady stream atmosphere comprised of artsy, DYI, vintage crowd that define the best of Newtown residents.

The decor, with the many doilies scattered liberally on tables, pillows, etc. along with 70s style Scandanavian furniture, and National Geographics from yesteryears, does as Tony put it, make you feel like you’re at a grandparents’ summer home.