Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How I feel about the Opera House now that I've seen it

Sydney Opera House.

For the past 30 years or so, it's been this iconic photograph for me. Not quite representative of my notions of Australia as a nation but accepted as a "National Symbol" nonetheless.

SOH is a postcard; a marker of Aussie superiority in all things just a "little-bit-out-there". It has appeared to be an aloof, austere and stand-offish kind of place reserved for those with money and elitist sensibilities.

For me, it was always two dimensional and tiny in photos. Sure! There was a sense of the building being "big" but in photos you never quite know "how big" do you? It was of course, a thing of beauty but sort of unearthly and unreal (in the not real sense of that term).

This Easter I got to see Sydney Harbour and the Opera House up close and personal for the very first time. Describing my reaction to and sense of this place though is somewhat difficult. Initially, I was more excited by the Harbour Bridge than I was about the Grand Old Dame across the harbour.

Still, seeing SOH for the first time "live" from across the harbour, on the lawn under the bridge at twilight was pretty awesome and inspirational to say the least. Sydney was lighting up before my eyes as the night sky grew darker. The awesome and mystical spectacle of the birds soaring above the bridge, under-lit by the bridge lights, making them appear like bobbing embers; surreal, strange. startling was what mainly drew my attention. But, the Grand Old Dame was furnishing her sails with lovely lights and soon appeared like a holographic postcard of Sydney at night - all that alluring etherealness. A life-size postcard to me even then though, but I stood there watching her with a growing sense of wonderment of the beauty of the building and a pull in the soul to go be there, to be under the sails and inside 'her' precinct.

Visiting SOH on the Saturday afternoon in the drizzling rain was again a different experience to what I expected. After romantic notions of her elusiveness and beauty ebbed, seeing this iconic building up close took on industrial sensibilities. It felt like it was still "Under Construction", the granite walls and forecourts all seemed very prosaic, practical and understated now. Perhaps it was the grey skies and interminable drizzle, but she felt like she was just piles of cement, bathroom tiles and textured pink granite. Quixotic, given her propensity to be so... so... billowy in photos

The grand sails, majestic as they are in photos, seemed somehow slightly "ordinary" as if the SOH was something understated and utilitarian rather than out of reach and elitist. There was something earthy about the place, a sense of more proletariat than bourgeoisie; a fecund, prosaic and down-to-earth grandeur rather than ethereal and sublime.

Being up close to the Opera House was quite, quite different to the sense I had of her in photos. In photos and on television, she glows like a spectre of transcendence, gloriously lit and wondrous. Standing on her steps, she seemed rather understated, like a stately and dignified dowager Aunt. I'd always imagined her being so much more an elusive "Prima Donna" than an approachable "Dowager" myself!

She is admirable though.

Superbly, wonderfully admirable.

My friend, MT and I did the basic tour. My legs and feet were pretty much killing me by now given the steps and hills I'm so not used to traversing on a regular basis. The tour of the Opera House included many, many more steps but we got a sneak peak at both the majestic concert hall and the understated impressiveness of the Opera Theatre.

There are other arena's too which we saw and admired.

The purple carpet was overwhelming.

The reflection of the harbour underneath her flared skirts of glass was divinely artistic.

But the thing that really got under my skin and made me love this building was how much she is about and for People. This is a building for The People. Regardless of age, colour, gender, race, religion or hairstyle, this building is a performing arts centre for the masses - however the masses choose to be or become. And there is pride in this fact. The SOH is yours, mine, ours, theirs and beyond. It is a building that epitomises the egalitarian values of artistic expression and accessibility to the theatres of every day life.

That we nearly "missed out" on achieving this building is a story all of its own. I am, however, remarkably satisfied by the experience of being there - and astonished that I found this building to be so much more....available...than I ever imagined.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


There is a never-ending supply of information. It is neither static or fluid. Information resides. I don't think it does anything more than that. Resides.

It does change of course. Information is a collection of data. It's words, symbols, images, numeric scales. It's news I guess, in a sort of transient way. That transience is cached of course, so it isn't as transient and temporary as we might like to assume. Still, Information on the World Wide Web (WWW) has the smell of the ephemeral about it, sort of part elusive and mostly forgettable.

We talk of there being an Information Overload. A total bombardment to our psyches of bytes and bits of data that compresses and explodes our minds in simultaneous fashion. We are supposedly changing humanities neural perceptions of thought, thinking and doing through the use of our Informational tools - maybe!

David Allen of Getting Things Done fame, doesn't believe in Information Overloads. He is right I think. No one ever dies upon walking into a library which is replete with information.

The information we get from the web is not quite like books, however. Books usually have editors. This gives the information contained within a book a certain quality of credibility that is difficult for non-editors to refute.

Books on a shelf are also encapsulated. They're physical. They have boundaries. The information in them is emphatic and embodied.

Information from the WWW is jangling on the psyche. We pick at information from the web like a baboon picks at ticks. We seek, surf, scrutinise, taste or discard. We don't so much as read information as scan it for further scrutiny. There's no definition to it. There's links to links to new links to new Information

Knowing how to discern the nature of Information is becoming the skill de rigueur! To know how to tell if what's been purported has merit: to know how to sift through what is a possible truth and what is out and out fiction. This is the skill that is required of readers today. To just read without discernment is foolish and gullible. To read with an acute awareness for the potential veracity or none in what one is reading is becoming a requisite device in the cognitive toolkit.

Thought and opinion are as much on the readers bookshelf as is encyclopaedia. What one now needs to understand is that there still is no overload of Information - just that there is a plethora of crap through which to wade in order to find what it is you're looking for!

This probably happened in the past too - people were bombarded with leaflets and essays at the beginning of mass literacy! Many gullibly accepted what they read regardless too! That happens with the web even now.

It took nearly 10 years before I finally convinced people that sending me emails about some scandalous virus doing the rounds were an inefficient waste of my time - and theirs! Learning HOW to find out if those emails were indeed "true" is the key to utilising Information from the web in a useful way.

So reading isn't the same as it used to be. To read a book, it's sort of orderly; you read page 1, then page 2 and the thoughts all flow in sequential order pretty much! Reading and absorbing Information from the web is quite different. There's a sort of subconscious Occam's Razor in play within the psyche. If its boring, seems unintelligible, sounds crazy, isn't able to be verified, seems "wrong" somehow - it'll most likely go viral and thousands will accept it as the undeniable "truth".

If the Information on the web is indeed astutely edited, peer-reviewed, collectively agreed to, open to argument and discussion, it's likely going to just sit there on the web, cached for eternity, resembling a cyber version of my Dad's old Encyclopaedia Brittanica's on the bookshelf. Useful but decidedly prosaic and utilitarian, hardly likely to be anything but scanned when necessary by those who are looking for answers.

Hardly overload. Hardly transient.