A watery romance

Adapted from the best-selling novel by Sara Gruen,Water for Elephants, the movie is a Hollywood-style feel-good romantic love story set against the gritty background of 1930s circus life during the Depression in America.

Hollywood heart-throb actor, Robert Pattinson, is Jacob, the naive young veterinary student run-away,  who joins the circus run by Oscar winner, a dangerous Christoph Waltz as August and falls for his wife, Marlena played by Reese Witherspoon. and then there is the real circus performer, Rosie, the elephant, who almost upstages them all and a host of strange circus characters.

Director Frances Lawrence has used the backdrop of a travelling circus with the train a pivotal setting for the plot, written by screenwriter Richard La Gravenese. Pattison’s character, Jacob is the narrator, who tells her “You’re a beautiful woman who deserves a beautiful life’’. Yet, while succeeding in portaying himself as an animal lover, he fails in acting the heart-throb with Marlena. Christoph Waltz portrays August’s character to perfection – the charming circus owner yet the dangerous cruel husband the next, with his rubbery expressions deftly changing roles in an instant. Witherspoon captures the vulnerability and the dependence of  her character in the 30s, balancing it with a courage and tenderness for animals which endears her to the audience.

However, her portrayal of Marlena lacks the element of pure passion. That magic ingredient called “lust’’ is sadly missing from both Jacob and Marlena and so the movie fails to emit the passionate intensity needed to give Water for Elephants real integrity as a true epic film. Yet, the film still delivers an enjoyable, satisfying story presented in a rich, evocative manner.   It is well packaged with a talented elder actor, Hal Holbrook playing the 80-year-old Jacob to begin the story and round it off in a believable manner.

Some people will be upset by the cruelty to Rosie and the other circus animals, others will be annoyed that scriptwriters went soft on portraying the harsh reality of circus life in the 1930s.  But many – after the anticipation built up through the storyline – will be disappointed by the mediocre love-making scenes. It is a little shallow and fails to follow through with unpleasant consequences at several dramatic points of the storyline.

That leads us to the flashbacks at the end, which were pure Hollywood drivle and detracted from the movie-going experience. Yes, it is entertaining, but a little too shallow.


French chanteuse a classic Femme Fatale

French chanteuse Caroline Nin is set to deliver a fabulous dose of  Parisian Cabaret chic in her award-winning show “Scarlet Stories’’ at the Vanguard, in Sydney July 30/31. It will follow her performance as the classic Femme Fatale in June at the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall and her Sydney Opera House appearance in the Late Night lounge 12 months ago..

The sultry brunette, entices her audience into the dark charms of red light districts in Paris,
New York and Berlin the domain of les filles du joie work. And her alluring songs are of the pain of illicit loves, passion, lost men, tears and laughters of ladies of the night. Caroline’s smoky, sultry voice captures the decadence that embodies the seductive nature of love and sex which is paid for.

Returning to Australia after a sell-out show at The Lido in Paris, she says “it’s an honour to return to the Vanguard, a truly amazing venue with all the charms of Cabaret’’. However, she will also travel south to the Melbourne Recital Centre a few days later to sing “Caroline Nin: Songs and Stories of the Paris Lido’’ in The Salon on August 2 and 3 and on Saturday, August 6 from 8pm.

Her chansons from the legendary theatre on the Champs-Elysees,  ooze with the colour and excitement of feather-filled dressing rooms and showgirls, specialty acrobats and the world’s pedigree performers, les chanteuses, Marlene Dietrich
and Edith Piaf .

For further information about Caroline, visit www.carolinenin.com.




John Herbig’s harrowing China story

It is one of those harrowing travellers’ tales which bolts one to an armchair instead of flying to explore exotic places. Mt Pleasant man, John Herbig and his wife Sandra, wanted one more overseas trip before he retired from his managerial job at the Barossa Valley Council – and it was to be China.

“I wanted  to walk on the Great Wall of China,’’ recalls John of the trip which almost cost him his life. And he did walk the Wall with his fellow tourists in the Bunnicks Tour group, before they flew to a remote part of China, a town called Durban to  xplore the lower reaches of the Himalayas.

It was on the open chairlift  for the two of them that John began to experience what he thought was indigestion – a feeling which lasted the 25 minutes the chairlift took to reach the station way up the mountain side. “I mentioned to our tour guide that I had these pains in my chest which wouldn’t go away,’’ recalls John. “She promptly packed us both back into the chairlift and sent us down the mountainside again; another 25 minutes.’’

The guide followed and John, by this time in serious pain, was bundled back onto the bus which rushed through the streets of Durban until the streets were too narrow and a taxi took John the rest of the way to a military hospital. Military doctors immediately discovered he was having a heart attack, but language problems and the general state of the hospital meant that, although Sandra, understood the word “stent’’, she thought John would get a serious infection in that hospital.

Although they administered heart drugs to save his life, Sandra refused to give permission for a stent. Instead, she contacted their Australian travel insurance company who spent a few days checking out if John’s heart attack was a pre-existing  condition. “They rang his GP and luckily there was no record of any prior problems,’’ says Sandra. “The insurers then sent a Lear jet to pick up John and fly him to Hong Kong – 1600 kilometres away – where he was admitted to St Theresa’ Hospital.’’

If anyone wants a reference for never leaving our shores until the travel insurance is stitched up, needs to read on.

John was in hospital for eight days while arrangements were made for him to fly back to Adelaide with an accompanying heart specialist. Meanwhile, their daughter (my daughter-in-law) Vanessa, flew to Hong Kong in the wake of the harrowing drama, to support her father and her mother. John continued to make progress, but unfortunately he lost a third of the capacity
of his heart muscle. ‘That part of the heart muscle  died,’’ says John. ”But I still have 61 per cent functioning and according to doctors, the heart is compensating well.’’

Cathay Pacific flew John back home in business class together with the Chinese doctor, responsible for his safe travel. He was met by ambulance at the Adelaide Airport and transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital cardiac unit where he stayed for another few days until discharge. While his damaged heart will demand adjustments to lifestyle, – and John has no returned
to work – he can expect many more years of life, but he will be on medication from now on.

“Sandra has  the right idea when she said, “Let’s buy a caravan and see our own country.’’ Had they not taken out travel experience, the medical care John received wouldhave cost them thousands of Australian dollars, even before one thinks (shock, horror!) of the cost of the Lear Jet.

No wonder we not only celebrated Olivier’s birthday at our grand dinner party, we also celebrated John’s safe return after his life-threatening experience.





Fromages for Olivier

The Cheese platter for Olivier’s birthday – presented with  quince paste:

Before we tuck into the top selection of cheeses listed below, John Herbig recalls how the Quast family, who lived in Punthari, between Cambrai and Mannum would make the simplest of cheeses – quark.

“They would take a bucket of full-cream milk and put something in it to thicken it up. I think it was some kind of tablet.  When it thickened it resembled  junket, but it was actually home-make quark. They would then hang I t up until the whey drained away and then they would add caraway seed.  That was the tastiest cheese.’’

Then he led the charge to the cheese platter before us:

South Cape Brie – a soft goat cheese coated in ashes; Saltbush goat cheese;  D’Affinois, French double brie; Wooded blue goat cheese;  Roquefort,the King of French cheeses.

Flowers at the Intercontinental Hotel

Ever wondered who is the talented florist creating the beautiful floral arrangements
at the InterContinental Hotel, formerly the Hyatt Regency on North Terrace, Adelaide. Her name is Kerryn McLeod, floral design manager and she is busily arranging the hotel’s foyer masterpiece with her assistant Mandy Verity when I arrive for my French lesson this week. (French teacher, Elsa Rozannes and I have afternoon tea once a week at the stylish
hotel which only seems to become more gracious with age.)

“I have been working at the Hyatt for the last 20 years, permanently here for the past 15 years and Mandy has been here for just over a year,’’ says Kerryn, as she continues to work on her floral artpiece. She explains that the fanlike  base of the striking tall arrangement is Byfield fern, while Singapore Orchids form the pretty skirt.  Malacca Balm is the light green foliage   thrusting up in the centre and  Hanging Heliconius (similar to Strelitzia) and Monsteria leaves complete an exquisite display.

“We are also responsible for the floral art in the Riverside Café, for all the functions, our weddings and in the guests rooms,’’ says Kerryn. “It’s a full-time job for both of us.’’

Thankyou to the InterContinental hotel management for maintaining the gorgeous statement of  floral style introduced by the Hyatt Regency so many years ago.  Congratulations Kerryn (right) for your magnificent floral art over all those years.




“The Kids” vote the “old fella” into fame

He calls his wife, Turtle, recycles jokes told in shearing sheds 30 years ago and  loves to berate himself as “the old fella’’.

However, at 68 years of age, retired Yorke  Peninsula farmer, Rod Gregory, has reinvented himself as a stand-up comic, who will perform in the finals of Australia’s Got Talent on Channel 7 on Tuesday week, July 19 at 7.30 pm. And no-one is more surprised than the “old fella’’ himself. “I am in the top 18,’’ says Rod on the telephone from Maitland, Yorke Peninsula this
week. “I am quite mesmerised..I really have the tiger by the tail. “This has all happened because of the young people, a demographic who are voting for me that I would never have imagined. “I got through on telephone calls, y’know – that’s why the whole demographics of it is so amazing!’’

Rod rabbits on in an awed manner about “the kids’’ who have started a Facebook page called “turtle’’, using his on-stage
affectionate name for his wife to drum up voting support for him. “These kids have set it up to vote for me. Their SMSs got me over the line.’’ “It was always my thought that I won’t go far (as a comedian) because my age group doesn’t text messages. “I was a farmer all my life until two years ago…And the old farmers that I am tied to, don’t text.’’

His success on Australia’s Got Talent which sees him performing on television on July 19 to get through to the grand final is a
big turn-around from dismal audience numbers at The Fridge earlier this year. At one southern suburbs performance, only
12 people saw Rod perform – and half of them were family. “I really have no idea why I am popular now,’’ says the old country boy. “All I am doing is the old fashioned stand up knock-em down comedy. “It’s the jokes of a comedy routine and some people will recognise them as off the internet, but most are the same jokes we were telling around the shearing shed floor in the 60s.’’

Which begs the question is laconic Rod rising up as another Paul Hogan? Because Rod, with his touch of the Aussie larrikin has tapped into an iconic Aussie brand of humour which we all recognise and can identify with, whatever our age. And wasn’t that was Hogan’s claim to fame, too.

Rod’s revolution began when he retired from mixed farming and he took a comedian course with Adelaide’s renowned comedian Dave Flanagan, who owns the Comedy Cellars in  Adelaide. “I wouldn’t be on stage if it wasn’t for Dave. He is one of the few comedians who bothers to teach you how to do it.’’    The course includes one on-stage appearance before the live audience at the Comedy Cellars. “I did my first gig there not quite two years ago,’’ says Rod, still chugged by his television success.  “All I like to do is to be funny.’’

Life hasn’t always been funny, though for Rod, who tells how he has had three back operations and has just recovered from
painful surgery to fix  chronic pain in his  thumb.

He has two adult children and four grand-children, two of whom have autism. More on www.theoldfella.com.au.