Thursday, December 22, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: Detritus: Darlinghurst December Daze

Tomatoes. Rich red, ripe tomatoes. I spotted these lovely, shiny, big red tomatoes at Harris Farm Markets in Kings Cross last week and I couldn't help but think of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. He loves a good tomato and the fruit features prominently in many of his films. 
I visit the cinema about once a year and it is usually to see Almodovar films. His latest, The Skin I Live In, was released last week, but I haven't seen it yet and I suppose I haven't done much of anything recently, except work, mooch around the neighbourhood and dream.

There was a sunny day earlier this month sometime: the sky was a brilliant Sydney blue, the temperature made it up into the mid-20s and I felt like jumping into the fountain at Kings Cross.
But I didn't.
I regret that now.

Also this month I spotted a flier taped to the light-pole on the corner of Craigend Street and Darlinghurst Road advertising a room available for a "working person or student" for $130 week and no bills. I fit the criteria and briefly considered moving in with Peter and saving a motza on rent, but then I changed my mind and decided I like living alone after all.

With that decision made, but also a desire to save money on rent, I thought about buying this doll-house from the Surry Hills Markets.  My grand vision was to set the house up under some bushes in the little no-name park on the corner of Nimrod and Craigend streets. 
I would plant a little garden around it and build a path made of pebbles leading to the front door. 
All I had to do was shrink myself and my belongings. 
That is when my great idea came unstuck.

Another day I saw a massive cloud of smoke outside my kitchen window and thought to myself, "for once those Darlinghurst firies have a real fire on their books". 
But I never heard any sirens. And when I looked out the window one hour later, there was no more smoke. For days afterwards I wondered who put that fire out.

On the night of the blood moon I ended up with some friends down at the East Sydney Hotel - the one with no pokies. We sat there for hours, drinking beer and staring at the moon.
There were loads of French chaps also staring at the moon and then a woman with a guitar arrived and sat down with us and started playing the instrument and we all sang along.
It was a beautiful, romantic moment until I spotted a man wearing the most bizarre triangular-shaped bag on his back. I pointed it out to my friend and asked her if she knew what the hell it was. She said she didn't know. And so I continue to wonder.

For one brief moment I had another brilliant idea: to buy a new and expensive camera so that the photographs on my blog would look half-decent. This idea came to me as I was walking past the Leica shop on Clarence Street in the CBD, so I wandered in to have a look and left about one hour later after being talked through the new Leica, the latest Canon and this sexy little Nikon. 
It was all very interesting but I decided I didn't need a new camera after all. 

I also spent about one hour perusing the shelves at the dollar shop, KX Giftland, in the Kings Cross Shopping Centre, beneath the Coca-Cola sign.
The shop is one of the most fascinating in the neighbourhood and sells everything imaginable, from silicon rings to fry eggs in, towelling hoods for drying your hair, as well as a vast range of costumes, including a "Night Before Christmas" bikini set for just $12.50.
It's a strange little stocking filler and - although I'm yet to be convinced - apparently "One size fits most".

One Tuesday night I went to the Flinders Hotel to see some bands.
They were supposed to start at 9pm, but the first act didn't go on until about 10.30pm, by which time I had consumed a quantity of beer that was not conducive to live-music listening and so I - and many others in the pub - became those annoying people who continue to have loud conversations while a poor, struggling musician tries to play their songs.
I'm still ashamed about that now.

One Sunday I walked past my favourite big fat Greek cafe, Ithaka Kafeneion at Llankelly Place, and there was a man cooking souvlaki on a barbecue out the front. For the next week I couldn't stop thinking about that souvlaki and how it might taste. 
A week later I convinced a friend to come with me to Ithaka Kafeneion, but when we arrived I realised I was pretty close to broke and the souvlaki cost $20 a plate. My friend was also broke so we decided to buy one serve and split it down the middle. 
It was delicious. The lamb was marinated and tender and lived up to my expectations. 
When I have some money I think I will go back and have a whole serve to myself.

Just the other night, the day before pay day, my friend invited me to his birthday drinks at Love Tilly Devine, hidden down Crown Lane in the Darlinghurst flatlands. 
It was quite a balmy evening so I put on an ankle-length summer frock and some ridiculously stupid heels and walked down the hill from home. 
It took a long time because the heels were kind of clunky. 
When I finally arrived, it felt good to see my friend on his birthday but he is a wine buff so the waitress kept on recommending bottles from France that cost about $85 each. 
It was a bit expensive for me. Also, in the back of my mind was the pinata I had promised to make for Christmas Day. I knew that if I didn't go home and behave myself and make some glue there would be no bloody pinata, so I bid farewell after just two glasses and set off home to get stuck into some paper mache magic. 

On the way home I spotted the cat that hangs about my street, Ralf, loitering on the corner of Nimrod Street, quite a distance - in cat terms - from his home. 
I called his name and unexpectedly, he followed me all the way down the street to my front door, inside, up the stairs and into my apartment. 
Once inside, he ran straight for the refrigerator and started making really loud meowing noises that I had never heard him make before. 
I went over to him and he looked at me, meowed, looked at the fridge and meowed again. 
It didn't take a genius to realise what he wanted. 
I haven't done much food shopping recently. 
I always have coffee and porridge but I had a feeling human breakfast food wouldn't go down for old Ralfie. He's not a dog.
So I opened the fridge door and Ralf tried to climb into it - I had to hold him back with one hand while I rustled about inside with the other. 
I found some cold meat that was only about three days old and as I pulled it out of the fridge and out of its wrapping, Ralf meowed like a mad cat.
I put the meat down on the floor on top of some paper towel, so he wouldn't make a mess, and he set to work while I cleaned my teeth and prepared for bed. I was too exhausted for pinata.
When I walked back into the kitchen Ralf was gone and so was the meat. 
I went back into the main room and there was Ralf, standing at the front door, ready to leave.
I walked him back outside and bid farewell, but he just ran off into the street and didn't even acknowledge me. 

The following night I turned down all offers of drinks and dutifully went home to make the pinata. Making the glue was the easy bit. I then had to blow up a balloon and make cones out of cardboard, which I sticky-taped to the balloon to create a star. 
On the first attempt, the balloon popped. 
I blew a smaller balloon for the second attempt.
I ran some newspaper strips through the glue and smoothed them all over the balloon and cardboard cones in lots of layers.
It has now been 24 hours since I covered the balloon and it shows no signs of drying. 
I fear the pinata will not be ready for Christmas Day and will instead hang around in a quiet corner of my apartment for the next two months until I decide I really must do something with it and the only thing for a pinata is a South American-style party. 
I will probably think about that idea for a week or so and perhaps even plan a Mexican-inspired menu. But then it will all just become too hard, I suppose. 
The margaritas would be easy, but I don't really like the idea of making mini-burritos and -tacos for finger food. That would take forever.
Instead, for now, I will just concentrate on Christmas Day and try and come up with some kind of invention, which I will call a pinata, but which won't really be a pinata because the real pinata never dried on time. 
I'm thinking of just filling balloons with lollies, hanging them from a tree and letting the blind-folded family children loose with sticks. 
If they have blind-folds on, they'll never know the difference.
I hope it's a success and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas Day too, surrounded by friends, family and a good, cheap beer. 
Warmest wishes, Violet. xxx

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: People: Carmen

The area lost one of its most friendly and best-dressed residents this week when Carmen died at St Vincent's Hospital on Thursday morning. I used to love seeing Carmen around the neighbourhood and will really miss those brief and colourful encounters.
I first came across her in the late 1990s when she was standing outside the Legion taxi base on Foveaux Street in Surry Hills chatting away to some of the drivers. It was early in the morning and Carmen was dressed in a bright figure-hugging gown that showed off her curves while her long, dark hair was pinned with art flowers. She was the epitome of old fashioned film star glamour.
I was so enchanted by her and over the years would see her everywhere: always on Foveaux Street and often outside the taxi base; up on Riley Street, outside her home; over on Elizabeth Street near the Downing Centre courts building; and around Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. 
More recently she would be cruising along in her colourful frocks on a motorised scooter, its front basket festooned with the same flowers that graced her hair, her fingernails immaculately painted, lipstick in place. 
I had taken to smiling and waving at her when she went by and this was always returned with a smile so warm; she seemed to be the most carefree and content person in the world. 
Then I heard recently that she had been ill and was at St Vincent's Hospice; she wasn't expected to make it I was told.
But then, at the opening of the new Wayside Chapel building in July, there she was, glowing with good health and looking as fabulous and meticulously groomed as ever.
For the first time, I decided to introduce myself and tell her I was glad to see that she was well again and that her presence on the streets had been missed. She happily posed for a photograph (above) and you cannot miss the warmth in that smile. 
But Carmen's battle wasn't over and she died of kidney failure this week, aged 75.
It is only since then, that I have learnt what an amazingly strong character she was.
Born in New Zealand as Trevor Rupe, she worked in the army before joining the sex industry in Australia in the 1950s where she became the country's first Maori drag queen, taking her name from the title character in the 1954 Otto Preminger musical, Carmen Jones.
She worked at Les Girls in the Cross and Tabu, and according to this Sydney Morning Herald article, (third item down),  was a regular at Sydney's first gay bar, The Purple Onion, and mates with underworld figure, Abe Saffron.
The Stations of the X video history project interviewed Carmen and she discussed this era: how she made her name dancing with snakes and how the police would regularly raid the clubs and brutally beat the drag queens.
In the 1960s, she returned to New Zealand and opened a number of businesses in Wellington, including a "notorious massage parlour", TVNZ reports, which was frequented by politicians and businessmen.

"Despite homosexuality being illegal in NZ at the time, sexual liaisons could be organised at Carmen's," TVNZ writes.
"Interested patrons would arrange their coffee cups in particular ways to show what kind of liaison they wanted: a heterosexual, gay, transsexual, or drag queen encounter.
"In the event of a police raid, Carmen had created an elaborate system of doors and stairways that offered patrons various escape routes."
In a 2001 interview, Carmen said: "We had a secret door so you'd never know who was going up there . . . we had plenty of famous people but I'm terrible with names - although I always remember sizes."

In the mid-1970s Carmen was forced to give evidence before New Zealand parliament's privilege's committee for apparently hinting that a number of politicians were gay. 
And in 1977, she unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of Wellington, pushing for abortion and homosexual acts to be decriminalised and the drinking age to be lowered to 18 - all which are now part of legislation in New Zealand.
In Sydney, she was treated as royalty in the community and in 2002 led the Decade of Divas float at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.
Her funeral will be held at midday on Tuesday at the Church of Te Wairua Tapu, 587 Elizabeth Street, Redfern, followed by burial at Rookwood Cemetery, at Lidcombe, in Sydney's west.

Carmen Tione Rupe
10/10/1936 - 15/12/2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: Street of the Week: Palmer Lane

Palmer Lane must be the cutest street in Darlinghurst. I only discovered it last week while dawdling through the flatlands with my old chum, Ruby Molteno. We were walking to her apartment and she insisted we take a detour off Bourke Street, down Berwick Lane and then along Palmer Lane. And I was so glad we did. 

It was another one of those balmy Sydney days where the air was thick and warm and we felt so drunk on life as we breathed in the rich heady fragrance of flowering plants with just the softest whisper of wind falling across our faces and bare arms. 
When the weather is like that I feel like the happiest person in the world and any thoughts of blackness disappear. 
In fact I was so content I felt like lying down in the middle of the street on the hot bitumen and singing loudly.

It really was the perfect day to wander down Palmer Lane as the flowers of the purple Jacarandas, brilliant white Star Jasmine and crimson Bougainvillea had just exploded open and were at their peak.

There was also loads of interesting window boxes: the residents seem to be plant nuts. If you have 30 minutes spare this weekend, pop down to Palmer Lane for a little exploration along this very sweet street.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: Detritus: Secret Tunnel Part III

Is this the secret tunnel that we have been searching for? 
Perhaps my detective skills failed and I gave up too early on the hunt for the secret tunnels, which a young Stephen Hickmott and other boys from the old Marist Brothers College used to explore in the 1960s. 
But that hasn't stopped other history detectives from going on the hunt for the mysterious tunnel that led from Ye Olde Darlinghurst Gaol, beneath Burton and Liverpool streets to the Alexandra Flats on the corner of Darley Street. 
Yesterday I received these sensational and intriguing photographs, which show a tunnel beneath the former jail site, now a technical college.

If you are late on the hunt for the tunnels, see the stories here and here and then come back to this post.

The student who sent me the photographs said there was an excavation contractor working at the technical college this week fixing a sewer main about 5m underground, close to the entrance on Forbes Street . . .

"As they got about 3m down they apparently started to hit the side of some very large lime and sandstone boulders,'' she writes.
"The excavation man said he noticed that they had been carved and wondered why they were so far down.
"It wasn't until later when one of the plumbers was standing in the 5m deep hole that he noticed a gap in the sandstone blocks that were now at his eye level, just big enough to fit your fist threw (above).
"The contractors must have moved one out of place with their digging machine, which then revealed a long tunnel.
"From where I was standing I could see in and I saw exactly what you described about the tunnels: 3 foot-wide limestone walls as far as the torch would shine, going off in to parts which could be those cells you were also talking about."

It certainly looks like the tunnel that Stephen Hickmott described. But until someone crawls inside them and follows them all the way, we might never know where they go.
The student has invited me to go and have a sticky beak TODAY from behind the work-fence, but I am stuck in the office and would never be able to get there. 
Is there anyone who can go and have a look? Perhaps you could distract the workers somehow and then slip into the tunnel when they are not looking and just crawl for dear life.
But just imagine if they filled in the hole while you were inside and you became trapped in there forever, until you died of thirst and starvation.
I could not in good conscience encourage this kind of dangerous behaviour, but if you can go for a sticky from behind the safety of the work-fence, please do and report back with details. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: Street of the Week: Thomson Street North

I'm starting a new occasional series today called Street of the Week. Nominate your favourite now! 
I came up with the idea after a ramble through the Darlinghurst flatlands one muggy day last week when all the colours of the neighbourhood seemed to have intensified in the heat. 

I was dawdling along Bourke Street when I noticed this vibrant Jacaranda (above left), like a violet firecracker bursting with flowers. I followed its branches up the Liverpool Street hill and along a paved area until I arrived at the northern end of Thomson Street. 
Houses ran along the east side of the street, to my right, while a fence ran down the western side protecting pedestrians from falling down a sheer sandstone-brick wall, that dropped down to a dunny lane at the back of homes on Bourke Street. The view across the city was amazing. Go and see for yourself.

And the row of houses were among the sweetest - and most enormous - I have seen. 
It seemed all the residents took great pride in their homes and street.

That neighbourhood pride was most evident right at the end of the street where one resident has set up an urban garden idyll with benches, planter boxes, hanging baskets and mirrors.

They had even built this lattice screen to create their garden enclave:

There were so many lovely things to see:

And even as I left the street and slipped up Shorter Lane to Forbes Street, there was this last lovely glimpse at the backs of homes down the gated Thomson Lane:

What's your favourite street?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Darlinghurst Blog: Food: Boca Argentinian Grill

My friend Sapphire Tenzing and I always seem to eat at the same cafes and restaurants and go to the same pubs. 
It's not that we are completely unadventurous. It just seems easier to meet up at the usual haunts because if we have a craving for a particular dish, we know where to find it. 
Or if we are running short of cash, we know where to eat on the cheap. And it's always best to play it safe when we're broke. 
That's why it's always the Darlo Bar ($12 Pad Thai for two), the Kings Cross Hotel ($12 steaks) or the Fountain Cafe (longest happy hour in the district). 
But after a recent trip to the cinema to see Woody Allen's latest, Midnight in Paris, we began musing on life, dreams and romanticism and decided that we should have dinner somewhere we had never eaten before.
And that's how we ended up at Boca Argentinian Grill.

Boca opened about 18 months ago at 310 Liverpool Street, on the corner of Victoria Street, and it was hard not to notice its arrival at this bustling intersection. 
The building was once home to a Pasta Pantry eat-in/take-out place and was looking a little faded. 
The owners of Boca completely revamped the building, painting the exterior in a pale pink, with punchy yellow window frames and woodwork, as well as bright blue veranda railings. 
Colourful lights were hung from the awnings, footpath chairs and tables were added and the building suddenly had a new, lively and more welcoming presence on the street. 
From the outside, passersby could also look through the large windows into the barbecue or parilla style kitchen and see large chunks of meat hanging from hooks and all kinds of cuts being seared on the grill.  

Prior to the Pasta Pantry and long before Boca, the building - which I can trace back to the 1880s - was home to another foodie joint owned by a Maltese family, the Abelas. 

Joseph and Phyllis Abela lived in the upstairs of the building in the late 1940s and 50s and on the ground floor operated a corner shop delicatessen.
In March, 1950, Phyllis died at the Royal Women's Hospital in Paddington, leaving Joseph as sole carer of their six children - Deirdre, Carmen, Lena, Victor, Josie and Mary.
Two years later, in September 1952, the Abela's shop was robbed by an armed man who threatened young Deirdre with a pistol.

A man early last night held up a young Maltese girl at pistol point in her father's mixed goods shop at the corner of Liverpool Street and Victoria Road, Darlinghurst, and stole 15 Pounds from the till.
The man threatened to shoot the girl, Deirdre Abela, 17, if she screamed.
He then snatched the money, ran out to the street and apparently escaped in a car.
Miss Abela said she was alone in the shop about 8 o'clock when the man walked in.
He asked for a drink and paid for it.
''He seemed very nervous," Miss Abela said.
''He had the drink and asked for a packet of cigarettes.
"I put the cigarettes on the counter and asked him for the money.
''He pulled a grey looking pistol from his pocket and said, 'Don't you scream or I'll shoot you'.''
''I started to say, 'You . . . ' and he said 'You shut up', waving the pistol at me.
''I didn't scream because I didn't want to get shot.
''He reached over the counter, snatched two Five Pound notes and five One Pound notes and then ran out the door.
''I ran around the counter and into the street and saw a car pulling away at high speed.''
Miss Abela rang her father, Mr Joe Abela, who was visiting some relatives.
Mr Abela rang the police.
Police in wireless cars searched the area but found no trace of the man or a possible accomplice.
Miss Abela told the police the man spoke with a foreign accent and was of foreign appearance.
She said he was about 26 years, 5ft 5in tall and appeared to have one black eye.

I can find no record of whether the police ever caught the pistol-packing, thieving foreigner and I don't know what happened to the Abelas. I hope Deirdre wasn't too disturbed by the experience. She seemed fine enough to speak to the Sydney Morning Herald's crime reporter, so I imagine she wasn't too scarred. The counter where she was robbed would have been where there is a long eating bar at Boca (above).

The interior of Boca is even more colourful than the outside, with rich red walls on the ground floor, while the collection of rooms on the first floor are covered in hyper-coloured blue and yellow stripes. 

There's also an excellent open air area on the first floor, which would be a great place for a work party or large group of friends, because you could take over the whole space.

A lot of care has gone into the look and feel of the restaurant and that same thoughtfulness comes across from the waitstaff too. We had about four staff waiting on our table and they were really friendly and super efficient. 

Saph and I grabbed a table outside so we could watch the passing parade of people in Halloween costumes and within minutes a waiter was pouring us glasses of the house-wine from a penguin-shaped carafe, called a pinguino ($23). 

The pinguino was the cutest thing we had seen all day and had us in stitches as I would never think to associate penguins with Argentina. We asked the waiter what on earth the penguin meant, but he just shrugged and laughed and had no explanation. 
The only clue I could find while googling was that serving wine from penguin-shaped jugs was popular with working class Argentinians in the 1930s and that most elderly Argentinian still have them in their cupboards.
Then I also learned that the Argentinian coastline is a breeding ground for the migratory Magellanic Penguin and six other species of the water bird, including the Macaroni, Chinstrap and Rockhopper penguins. 
I didn't know there was such a thing as a Macaroni Penguin either. 
But now I know that the Macaroni Penguin - which has a rather extravagant yellow crest - takes its name from the 18th century British term macaroni, used to describe a flamboyant fashion style such as that worn by the character, Yankee Doodle. 
"Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni."
Anyway, there's no macaroni on the menu at Boca, just loads and loads of meat.

Saph and I skipped the entrades, such as the empanadas (two for $11), South American pastries with savoury fillings; the torta frita, an Argentinian cheese bread ($3); and the picada, a sharing plate of cured meats, pickled veal tongue and rolled flank steak stuffed with vegetables, olives and pickled yellow peppers ($23). 
Instead we went straight for the parrillada pampa main meat platter (above, $60), which featured lamb leg, rump steak and chicken thigh, all marinated and sizzling away on a mini table-top barbecue with sides of chimichurri sauce and salsa criolla
The platter came with our salad of choice, ensalada del berro, which was the tiniest bowl of watercress, spanish onions and capers in lemon dressing. 
We also ordered another side, papas estralladas ($10), or crushed potatoes pan fried with garlic and olive oil, which was also rather small for the price.
We didn't mind too much though, because by then we were already on to our second pinguino and were so full that we were struggling to get through the large selection of meat on the grill. There was enough meat for four people and only enough salad for one.
When we could eat no more, the waiter vanished with our leftover meat and returned with it in two fashion boutique-style paper bags - no one would have any idea we were carrying home large quantities of meat.

You would think by now we would have been wise to call it quits, but then some sweet treats arrived on the neighbouring table and we couldn't help but be envious. 
We had already spent most of the night watching the endless array of food being brought to the table of three men who seemed to know the Boca owner. The final dish they were served was a rectangular plate carrying three 1cm-thick chocolate coated circles and they looked delicious. 
A waiter told us they were a traditional layered sweet pastry called alfajores, and that each Argentinian province had their own unique varieties, which come with different pastries, fillings or coatings.
The Boca plate of three alfajores, which variously include jam or caramel fillings, costs $29, or they are $12 each. 
We decided against an alfajor as we had already eaten too much, but then the waiter returned with an alfajor on a plate and said it was complimentary. He was so sweet.
We chopped it into four and realised we could manage to squeeze a bit more food in after all. 
It was the most amazing thing, kind of like a gourmet wagon wheel, with biscuit and caramel covered in crisp chocolate.

As we walked home we reflected on how friendly the waitstaff were, especially the young man who brought us the alfajor. Then while we were discussing how inexpensive all that food was, we realised they hadn't charged us for the second pinguino either.
This hospitality wasn't wasted, as both of us can't wait to return for a rooftop night with endless pinguinos and alfajors - and it could become one of our regular haunts.

Boca Argentinian Grill
310 Liverpool Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9332 3373