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Monthly Archives: December 2012

It’s crazy how we define ourselves by numbers so often these days. Numbers find their way into our lives as restrictions, boundaries, descriptions and ultimatums. To be a fight attendant you must be a certain height, dieters seek a number on the scale, people are obsessed by clothing sizes and how they differ between labels, students finishing year 12 receive an ATAR score which determines what university course they get into, there are age limits for drinking, driving and most public pools have an age you must be to swim unsupervised. And these are but a few examples. In some cases, age specifics are sensible, others, maybe not. But defining one’s self by a number is, for the most part, unhelpful, especially considering that number may grow, fluctuate or change over time.

Last night, I saw Les Miserables, the story of 24601, or Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a prisoner in a pre-revolutionary France, who breaks parole but is touched by kindness and God, and spends the rest of his life doing good deeds while running from the watchful eye of police officer, Javert (Russell Crowe). The Victor Hugo novel became the one of the most watched musicals of all time, and there was much anticipation for this film production that was released in Australia on Boxing Day.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of music theatre. However, back in 2005, I saw an amateur production of Les Mis and was far from taken by the music or the story. Based on this production and my thoughts thereafter, Les Mis has always been a bit of an in joke in my family, as we laughed in awe of how such a depressing, bland musical could ever have become so popular. In retrospect, I think I was too young to see the complexities and depth of the superficially simple plot, and I suspect by the time the production I saw came to a close, it was probably a late night and I just wanted to be in bed. The show is very lengthy, as is the movie. But the screening we went to last night only started at 10:30pm, and I was most certainly kept away for the film’s full duration.

What struck me about the film were a few key decisions made by the production crew, which I’d read about before seeing the film itself. Firstly, the casting was (almost) impeccable, and was broadly international in that it was far from a Hollywood/strictly British cast. With leads from Australia, the US and the UK, the search really had gone out for the best of the best. The casts came from a range of backgrounds and experiences, with Anne Hathaway as Fantine (reprising a role her own mother played when Hathaway was a child), musical theatre-famed Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks (my personal favourite), and new faces including the superb Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, with an almost blank entry on imdb. Character actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Sir and Madame Thenardier stayed true to their roots, and the majority of the cast were able to sing in tune, with clear diction and didn’t make me want to block my ears. That’s pretty good for a blockbuster movie.

Secondly, the fact that the cast sang live, to the camera is very impressive. I’m a stickler for badly-sunk television or film, as it just takes the picture so far away from anything actually authentic being portrayed. But in Les Mis, each lead was fitted with an ear piece so that the orchestrated score was played to them as they sang. In my opinion, this made the movie. It is both thoughtful and effective, and the fact that the actors sang live on set showcases their talent and their adaptability. If the character was sobbing, their singing was disrupted, but in a good way. Things were incredibly fluid and the immediate emotions were complete and whole, like they should be – and would be, on stage.

Finally, the big budget of the film made it possible to have a really large ‘ensemble’, or cast. The opening scene where we meet Jean Valjean as a prisoner, the Work Song is sung and the choreography (if you could call it that, perhaps movement is more suitable) is performed, as well as the scenes of the barricades are vast and people-strong. I don’t know how realistic that first scene is, but it’s certainly visually spectacular.

I wasn’t expecting much from the film to be honest, so I was pleasantly surprised at the talent and the production overall. If you’re not a fan of nonstop singing, maybe it’s not your thing. See The Hobbit instead?

Now I’m just hoping for that rumoured stage revival in 2013. A new year, another number. Just wait 365 days and that will change again, too. Here’s to the last 23 hours of 2012.

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This is my first Christmas as a user of the popular smartphone app, Instagram. I refused to jump on the bandwagon for many months, making excuses that it was just another way for people to be pretentious, capturing their lives and applying filters for friends to double tap images in approval. Like many social mediums, it puts a focus on external reinforcement of your value as a person, through gaining followers and posting photos interesting enough for people to active their thumb and let you know. Props go out to those with more followers than those they follow. Pretentious – I think so.

But nonetheless, I have grown particularly fond of my Instagram account, as is commonplace with its millions of users. Last week, Instagram (owned by Facebook) issued a new set of Terms and Conditions to come into effect in January, 2013. The new set of agreements stated that any images on a public profile could potentially be used by the company for their own advertising purposes, without making payment to the image’s original owner. However, Sky News has reported, “Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don’t own your photos, you do.” Love a good bit of backlash to get regain our rights, huh?

Anyhow, on any given day I might log into Instagram a couple of times an hour, when I’m bored, when I have reception, or when I have an image to upload, myself. My usage of the app varies, but not a day goes by where I am completely sans Instagram. I am a product of my generation, but I feel my (over?)use of the program is not unusual amongst my peers. I follow friends predominantly, but also models, musicians and photographers from around the world, whose accounts I find are often updated from ‘a place I’d rather be’ (thanks, Corona).

So today I expected an increase in Instagram use due to the fact that it is Christmas Day (read my last post for my thoughts and wishes here), but what was once a platform where I may get one or two updates an hour, has been utterly transformed into an almost literal constant photo feed of celebrations, meals (Instagram – forever a foodie’s heaven), Christmas trees, dinning room tables adorned with Christmas crackers, champagne glasses, extended family clans, a multitude of presents, dressed up animals (with a variety of expressions), alcohol, scenic views, and brothers and sisters putting on a smile for the family photo.

So many photos, so little time one would think, on a day where it is important to be physically present and enjoying the company of those around you. But that’s the digital age for you, one where we are constantly connected, forever updating our profiles, our cyber existence, our Data Maps.

Regardless, I’ve enjoyed captured moments of Christmas from around the world, and for that, I have Instagram to thank. We had many funny moments here at our family Christmas, including my grandfather giving my dad a stack of presents most likely meant for my mum or me – a beautiful set of genuine Milano pearls as a multi-tiered necklace, a purse, bags and more, and he himself joining the digital age at 90, with a new mobile phone. Christmas is definitely something special.

You can follow me on Instagram at @elevfen.

And I recommend you follow these users too for your daily dose of viewing pleasure: Lynette Scott – @nett35, Doina Ciobanu – @goldendiamonds, Kristina Bazan – @kristina_bazan, @interiorinspiration, Charmaine Olivia – @charmaineolivia, @homes_, and Rumi Neely – @rumineely.

I’ve just got home from a run/walk around my local area and although I had no doubts, Christmas is definitely on its way. People are celebrating the holidays by decorating their shop windows, homes, and streets, and citizens dress up and don their cars with antlers.

It got me thinking about the Christmas tradition as I’ve experienced it living in Australia, and how this may differ to other parts of the world. As I jogged past homes I smelled the beginnings of a Christmas feast wafting through windows and onto the footpath. One house smelt particularly – and peculiarly – of salt and vinegar chips, while many others held the smell of barbecued meats, an Australian tradition, through and through. At my house tomorrow, a turkey will be served along with a Christmas pudding and treats that are commonplace in the northern hemisphere.

I live near a street that celebrates Christmas each year by putting on a show of lights, drawing crows of thousands over the 10 or so days leading up to the 25th. I ran down this street and noted the blown up Santas and their sleighs juxtaposed against the Streets ice-cream van and the makeshift coffee stand. While Australian and especially Melbourne weather can be unpredictable and ever changing, it would be fairly safe to assume that in Australia, your Christmas day is going to be warm, if not hot and sunny. It’s funny then, that the holiday has been transposed to our climate and infused with Australian culture, yet we still maintain the traditional elements of the holiday that make much more sense in an environment ravaged by snow and freezing temperatures.

Four years ago, I spent Christmas in Berlin, where it was indeed cold, and Christmas lunch was spent with good friends, a roast, and time by the burning fire. Everything about Christmas screamed warmth and joy, with carols sung as a hearty way of recognising the brutal but beautiful conditions outside the walls of one’s home. Here at home, I find that while many of these traditions are commonplace, it fails to fit our climate, and Carols by Candlelight has turned into a pop concert, rather than a true celebration of the holiday.

However, I guess you could interpret this as our way of acclimatising the holiday to our culture. And I suppose that’s what has occurred over time. But what would happen if we decided as a nation, or it happened that those in the southern hemisphere, or in warmer climates during this end of year period, that we should change our celebration of Christmas to July? I know that religiously, this doesn’t make sense. But so much of Christmas these days is just about shopping, presents and getting together as a family to celebrate each other, rather than the birth of Christ some 2000 years ago. And it’s not unheard of for people or workplaces to celebrate Christmas in July as a holiday in its own right, either. Then a roast lunch or dinner would be more fitting, as would all the reindeers and the chimney’s Santa uses as his entry and exit point to deliver his gifts.

The very fact that Santa lives in the North Pole and uses a sleigh to travel the night skies seems quite odd when you’ve had a 39 degree day on the 23rd of December, and are expecting to sweat your way through another Christmas.

The front page of The Age newspaper today showed a picture of Santa at a popular shopping centre, being fanned by one of his faithful elves, as he did swelter his way through yesterday’s heat. Maybe Australian Santas should decide to wear a more weather-appropriate suit, and ditch the hat for sunnies and stripes of zinc across their faces. Then they’d be promoting sensible sun exposure, too. Of course, I am writing this with a grain of salt (or a few), but I believe they are interesting points to consider.

The other part of the front page story was the tremendous increase of seafood sales over the Christmas period. People were stocking up on crayfish, prawns and lobster for their special day, which is an impressive adaptation as Australian’s may choose to feast on salads and pavlova, saving their turkey, chicken or ham for a cooler day.

In addition, the traditional colours of Christmas are red and green, which no doubt stand out spectacularly against the white snow of Europe and the United States. In Australia, however, they seem to blend in with the local flora, and with the drought now a thing of the past, at least momentarily, pretty much everything outside is some shade of green. Colour is incredibly symbolic across all holidays, countries and situations, and the green and red shades that dominate Christmas are ingrained into us as young children. Interestingly enough though, I can remember being in Venice in the lead up to Christmas in 2009, and what stood out most was the Italians use of white, or yellow lights to celebrate the holiday. There was little use of red or green as opposed to clear, bright globes to bring in the festivities.

Nonetheless, Christmas would not be the same without its traditions, whether they be obviously fitting or not. Colour is incredibly powerful. Take for example, the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shootings last week, and the way in which tribute pages across Facebook promoted wearing the school’s colours in remembrance of those killed. At first, on some accounts, the wrong colours were spread, but it was soon identified that the real colours to be worn in commemoration were green and white. On YouTube and in person, many people wore those colours to send their condolences and commemorate those lives. Similarly, at the one of the victim’s funeral, people were asked to dress in purple, in memory of her life and a person taken too soon. Last month, the family and friends of Melbourne woman, Sarah Cafferkey said goodbye to their loved one sporting the brightest of pinks, Cafferkey’s favourite colour. It is amazing that something so simple can penetrate a wonderful strength and a visible sense of community.

I also think of the people who, at this time of year, as caught in the depths of ill health, or find themselves without a family to go to on Christmas day. It is soothing to know that numerous charities, local groups and hospitals offer their residents a Christmas lunch, as no one should be alone during a time when it is so important to be surround by those who love and care for you. This is true for people of all religions. Even if you are Jewish, Muslim, an atheist, or of a different faith, Christmas falls near the close of another year, where we remember the year that was, and look forward to the year that is to be.

Today, the 24th of December, also happens to be my dad’s birthday, so today we are celebrating him, as well as preparing for tomorrow and all the days that follow.

Christmas time will bring unique experiences for each family, and individual circumstances will have an impact upon how you celebrate Christmas this year. But for all those celebrating, whether it be a birthday (of Christ or of someone dear to you), a public holiday, the end of a busy year in which the world did not end, or in fact, Christmas itself, I wish you good cheer and many happy 25th of Decembers to come.

Last month I received a fine for not having a valid ticket to travel on Melbourne’s controversial public transport system. This is my letter to the Department, seeking a review of my case. The fine is a hefty $207. Have you ever received a fine like this? Would you pardon my case? 

 

22 December, 2012

To Whom It May Concern:

 

My name is Esther and I am writing to the Case Review Area of the Transport Infringement Administration in regards to a Ticket Infringement Notice I received on the 17th of November 2012.

 

On the 19th of October 2012, I ‘Fail[ed] to produce [a] valid ticket’ at Flinders Street Railway Station. The time of the offence was approximately 9:38am.

 

I strongly believe this Infringement Notice should be reviewed under the grounds (c) stated on the Infringement Notice – the conduct for which the infringement notice was served should be excused having regard to any exceptional circumstances relating to the infringement offence.

 

I am a student, and at all times carry my Concession card and my Myki card. I presented both to the officer on said date. The reason for my offence on this particular date was a combination of my respect for punctuality, misunderstanding and a one-off error. I boarded the train at ***** Station at 9:10am. I had an important appointment for which I could not be late beginning at 10am. It was crucial I board this train so that I could catch a connecting tram in order to meet my schedule.

 

I got to ***** Station just as the train arrived at the station and ran for the train. I thought I had touched on successfully and heard the Myki reader beep, but did not look at the machine to check my balance. As it happens, I was then travelling on a negative balance. However, this is the first and only time I have done so, and I always carry money in order to top up my card. The only reason this did not occur was simply due to a lack of time.

 

As soon as I arrived at Flinders Street Station I was going to check and top up my Myki. However, the officer at the exit gate got to me first. I told her I had every intention of topping up, as I did, and explained to her the unfortunate circumstances of my rookie offence.

 

Consequently, I received this Infringement Notice, which I believe should be excused. Since this date, I have never travelled on a negative balance, have made sure I leave more time to sufficiently top up or check my Myki balance, and continue to carry my Concession card and Myki at all times when using Melbourne’s public transport system.

 

I am currently without an income and in the event of having to meet this fine, would go into debt. It is under these circumstances that I hope you will review my case and my respect for the public transport ticketing system, carefully. I have no other offences to my name and have all intentions to never make this same mistake again.

 

The Infringement Number is *******.

 

Sincerely,

 

Esther

One might not have sensed a change

As they woke to the sun this morning

But switch on the radio, the TV, go online

And grief for a horror came pouring

The 10am news held the story for me

Of the tragedy telling many lives lost

Young children, their carers, responsible souls

A toll with too high a cost

When hearing, reading or speaking the truth

It’s fatality holds ever strong

Impossible to comprehend the trauma

That struck a nation, a globe, in one

Little feet, little toes, little toenails, perished

By a madman with motives unknown

Hearts have been shot and families torn

By weapons found too close to home

Dreams that will never be heard

And songs that will never be sung

Future presidents, musicians and educators gone

No more air passing through their lungs

As the world mourns the dead and speaks of their love

For those lost, those still here and those in care

Pray for the weeping, the blackened, the broken

At Christmas time, a family affair

No more jolly, holly or reindeers with bells

For the poor who have lost their beloved

This year, the next and for all those to come

December holds something better undiscovered

Nobody should lose their child, their sister

Their brother, to a rifle, a gun

Held and triggered by an unknowing hand

Whose mission, too easily done

Whether the law, the people or the state

Should stand up for change and for good

The sadness and fear to be curbed and cut

And justice be done as it should

The world needs peace, needs love and needs hope

A community battered and bruised

And sadly today we move farther and farther

From a place where such peace will be used

So it is my wish, my plea and my trust

That as people we will make it known

That the shot of a gun has no place near our children

Near our families, our friends and our homes

Reparation will never be paid

Not enough to those gone, not forgotten

The sinking, drowning, unforgivable truth

The lives on whom have been trodden

The unthinkable wails heard in Newtown today

Will reverberate around the world

For days, and weeks and years to come

Their lives will be remembered, uncurled

I pay my respects to those who lost today

Their daughters, their sons and their friends

And hold in my heart hope for a better world

In their honour. Please, godsend.

Thoughts are with those struck by the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Gone too soon. Love and Hope.

The Victorian Premier Ted Ballieu announced today that from December 2014, solarium beds will be banned in Victoria. This brings the state in line with New South Wales and South Australia, and will increase the push for a national stance against the use, manufacture and importation of tanning beds.

Victoria’s Better Health Channel stresses that “Sunbeds and solariums do not provide a safe tan.” This  year, over 300 Australian’s will die of Melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers. And medical professionals are adamant that the use of solariums are contributing immensely to this figure. Why should we become statistics when we could be happy (and alive) in our own skin? It is common to experience the societal yearning for a tan that is present all year round, but as summertime comes, many tan before they’ve even made it outside.

Australia is The Sunburnt Country. We’re all taught to recite this Dorothea Mackellar poem in primary school – for me it was in grade six. But just because the stereotypical Australian, as portrayed on American sitcoms and cartoons such as The Simpsons, is a jolly swagman in a cork hat, jumping around with kangaroos, or a surfer living miraculously without financial, family or relationship pressures that are part of everyone’s lives, doesn’t mean these projections are accurate. And in the same respect, just because our land is sunburnt does’t mean we should have to experience our own skin reddening, stinging and for some, peeling, to feel at home here.

My skin is just about as fair as you can get. I burn within 10 minutes walking in the sun and summers without sunscreen always end badly for me. On school days I hated putting on sunscreen because of the smell, and the fear that others would know I was indeed looking after my skin while they were able to go about their days cream-free. For some reason, I was embarrassed about being fair, about being responsible, and that isn’t right. This ideal of a tanned Australian has been instilled in me from a young age, and I’ve put up with extreme burning to edge my way closer to that prize.

Unfortunately, I never got there. I always freckle, burn and peel. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tan. So of course, I turned to fake tan. When I was in year nine, I was literally the queen of fake tanning – not a position I am proud of today. But looking back, it was pretty funny. I didn’t use a solarium, I haven’t and I never will. But I applied cream, after spray, after can of fake tan. Johnsons, Dove, Sally Hansen, Le Tan in a Can, the list goes on. And it was the norm, at least to some extent.

I do believe people with a tan look healthy. But that doesn’t mean being fair (or pale – which has become somewhat derogatory), is a bad thing. If you are naturally tanned, summer is your time, evidently. But those with fair skin shouldn’t be seen as ill or unattractive just because they were handed less melanin through their genetics.

Getting a salon spray tan is fun. I have and will continue to indulge myself for special events. But spending hundreds of dollars to maintain a tan all year round is expensive and should not be necessary. We should accept that the pigments in one’s skin responds to sunlight, and to varying degrees. While I would endorse spray tans over solarium use, neither should be essential.

The banning of solariums in Victoria will bring with it some controversy, no doubt. Small businesses will suffer and jobs will be inevitably lost. I am not saying it won’t him some, hard. But I believe it is ultimately a good thing. In 2007, Clare Oliver lost her battle with cancer. Towards the end of her life, she campaigned for the banning of solariums, and started to educate Australian’s about the dangers of UV, whether natural or falsely generated. In her honour, the Clare Oliver Melanoma Fund exists to further and continue her message.

The banning of solariums will not cure skin cancer, nor will it prevent deaths in Victoria from Melanoma and related diseases. It will, however, help prevent large numbers of avoidable morbidity in Victorians, and will create dialogue between health professionals, the community and businesses in the fight against terminal and preventable disease.

Dolls and oys are seen broken in a kindergarten hit by a Palestinian Grad missile fired from Gaza Strip

Operation Pillar of Defense occurred last month from 14-21 of November. Gili Yarri and his photographic lens captured moments of horror on one side of the ugly battle. A photojournalist who seeks peace for all and works with a social conscience, Yarri’s life in the Hefer Valley, just north of Tel Aviv, with his wife and three children is always under threat. To find out Yarri’s professional perspective on the Fight for Freedom and to read the interview, click here.