Tag Archives: Catholic

Midnight With “The Secret Wife”.

If you go digging through my archives, you’ll notice that despite being a self-confessed book addict, I rarely write book reviews. That’s because I’m unfortunately more of a book collector than a voracious book reader. Of course, I have good intentions, and get carried away on the wings of fancy, but all too often the rubber doesn’t hit the road.

Anyway, today I’m breaking with tradition because I’ve just finished reading Mark Lamprell’s: The Secret Wife, and I’m too excited to keep it to myself. I absolutely loved it, and thought you might love it too. I rarely read non-fiction, and despite my best intentions, have often failed to finish even novels I love. So, the fact I was sticking matchsticks in my eyes to stay awake and finish this book, is a very strong endorsement. Indeed, to quote Australian music legend Molly Meldrum: “Do yourself a favour”, and read this book.

So, what was so good about it?

For me personally, I’m Australian and I enjoy stories from my own backyard, as well as reading foreign literature. Indeed, I suspect each of us likes to see our own world reflected back to us through the arts, as much as we also appreciate a more cosmopolitan diet. Yet, at the same time, it wasn’t consciously Australian and would easily translate elsewhere.

Secondly, I really appreciated the highly developed characterisation with his profound understanding of human nature. The storyline hinges on the friendship of two very different women, Edith and Frankie, their husbands and children and is mostly set in the 1960’s. Naturally, as characters in a novel, they go through many ups and downs, dramas, catastrophes and successes. Lacking in self-confidence myself too often, I related very strongly to Edith even though I’m a born extrovert and would’ve loved to be Frankie in my dreams.

I also really appreciated how Lamprell handled the interaction of this wily cast with the finely-tuned precision of a symphony conductor, yet with casual realism. There were times the characters became people I know, but I also felt Mark knew me like the back of his hand. I’m sure I got goose bumps more than once.

Another point I greatly appreciated about the book was Mark’s dynamic and complex vocabulary. Not all writers appreciate words, but I love words with a passion and am quick to take my hat off to those who make the effort (or even flourish). My kids have told me off for writing in books, but I always read books with a pen in hand, and my pen was very busy throughout (which is a great sign, btw.) I even jotted a few words in the back.

It is also worth noting that The Secret Wife is a historical novel. I was touched and impressed by Lamprell’s eye for detail and accuracy. It’s so easy to Google these things now, that there’s no excuse for getting them wrong. There is just enough detail to add flavour and authenticity, but not too much to bog you down.

All of that makes me sound intensely critical and punctilious (to steal a word from Mark). However, what we’re all looking for is a gripping story. A tale which draws us in and keeps throwing us bait until we’re caught hook, line and sinker. Where we can’t put the book down, yet we don’t want the book to end either. That is certainly true of The Secret Wife. The plot is also refreshingly unpredictable. He leads us up one path, and then we are taken somewhere else entirely, although not left alone lost in the dark either.

I know I’m saying a lot without saying much at all about this book. That’s because I know how much I hate spoilers. I just want a “yay” or a “nay”, and something to back it up. Yet, I’m busting to talk to someone about it.

However, I’m also into biography. So, once I like a book, or fancy an author, I want to delve into their head, their heart, their past, present…the works. (Indeed, I’ve been doing just that with author Ethel Turner over at my other blog Tea With Ethel Turner.) So this leaves me asking: “Who is Mark Lamprell?” and I suppose you might be wondering the same thing, and why I read: The Secret Wife, especially when I could’ve been reading your blog posts and works of fiction instead…

Mark Lamprell – Photo Ian Erick

Well, the official answer is: “Mark Lamprell is an (Australian) writer of novels and children’s books published in sixteen countries and twelve languages, including the novels The Full Ridiculous and A Lover’s Guide to Rome. He also works internationally as a writer and director in film, with movie credits including Babe Pig in the City, My Mother Frank, Goddess, A Few Less Men and Never Too Late.

There’s a more complex answer here, where Booktopia asked him Ten Terrifying Questions: https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2022/04/21/ten-terrifying-questions-with-mark-lamprell/?fbclid=IwAR10IScuXeqzO3eEluwWUtZb9ICn93sRAXkHBCS8JUqbAwLBQxZpsZ6Kwwk

However, for me, Mark Lamprell was also my uncle’s school friend. My dad was one of seven, and being the eldest grandchild, I was only ten and eleven years younger than my youngest uncles. So, it wasn’t unusual for me to be down at the house when their friends were around. Moreover, their house was a sprawling Californian bungalow. None of the doors were ever locked, and people simply came and went. Oftentimes, we’d be gathered around the kitchen table philosophising. One would be having breakfast, another lunch and someone else having a snack. It was definitely laissez-faire, although there were still non-negotiables like my grandfather wanting my uncle to get his hair cut.

My grandmother in a professional capacity. This was for the BBC around 1938.

Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandmother was Eunice Gardiner, an international concert pianist, music critic and later professor piano at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. In the loungeroom, there was her Bechstein grand piano, and after my grandfather passed away, it was joined by a large concert-sized Steinway grand, which she’d brought out from England. Having two large grand pianos in your lounge room, certainly makes a statement.

My Great Grandmother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara) was in some ways Edith to my grandmother’s Frankie. Both of them stood their ground at times, and were still their own people. I look at this photo now with Ruby looking across and even deferring to her daughter as though she’s not expecting to be in the shot. Hadn’t picked up on that before.

So, the house had this sort of dichotomy, and that fits in very well with Frankie’s world in The Secret Wife. Moreover, like Frankie, there was so much we didn’t know about my grandmother’s career, and who she was. Indeed, I venture to suggest that everyone probably has their secrets. Things even our nearest and dearest know nothing about.

While The Secret Wife and I were obviously a very good fit, I ended up reading it because the publisher sent me a copy to review. I was attending a novel writing workshop with Graeme Simsion (author of The Rosie Project who I’ve reviewed before). I mentioned that I’d attended a similar workshop with Mark Lamprell at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and the publicist said she’d send me a copy of his new book. I was delighted, and mentioned he was a family friend. The book duly arrived, and I thought I’d better read it tout de suite to honour the deal. No forgetting to read this book. By this time, I picked up an extra 38 “friends” at the Pearl Beach Book Sale. So, it wasn’t that The Secret Wife was without competition. I clearly needed to get reading.

Family Press Photo 1960 around the time of the TV interview.

However, reading The Secret Wife now was mind-blowing timing. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by historian, Ann Curthoys, who let me know that back in 1960 my grandmother had appeared on an ABC TV panel interviewing Paul Robeson, an African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist and soon of a former slave when he toured Australia in November 1960. The interview covered racism, equality and freedom and was recorded on the 5th November, 1960. Three days later, JF Kennedy defeated Nixon in the US presidential election, and it was broadcast on the 13th November, 1960. It was just under three years before Dr Martin Luther King’s famous  “I Have a Dream” speech, which followed a march by over 200,000 people on Washington on the 28th August, 1963. I was able to order a copy of the interview, and have been working on a transcript. I am gobsmacked.

A media shot – my grandmother with the eldest boys at the piano around 1942.

So, reading: The Secret Wife which is set in this similar social context, was an incredible fusion. However, my grandmother was leading a different life to anyone really what with her prodigious talent and being married with seven children and still pursuing her career. But I think she just had this trajectory in her mind and it just kept going. She probably knew nothing else.

As for my grandfather, there was a miniature grand piano on their wedding cake. So, I doubt he had any illusions. My grandmother, her piano and her career were a package deal. There was never any suggestion she was going to stop.

Wow! There’s been so much to think about, and more to come. For now, I’m going to let the book settle. I really want to talk it over, and share it with someone (something I obviously can’t do in a review.) Maybe, I’ll start talking to myself.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

PS One thing I didn’t mention was that my grandfather was the consummate book collector and my grandparents’ house was overflowing out the back and under the house with boxes, and boxes of books. Indeed, when my grandparents first got married, my grandfather’s mother sent over his books to their new home, and they apparently arrived even before the furniture.

Don’t you just love family stories?!!

Featured image: Geoff Newton. Thank you Zac the dog for posing for the camera. Since he spends much of his life sleeping underneath my keyboard and while I was reading the book, it seemed appropriate for him to appear in the photo.

The Sacrifice- Friday Fictioneers: 21st April, 2022.

Breastfeeding their first-born son in a derelict squat, Maria thought of Our Lady giving birth to baby Jesus in a stable. Things were grim, but not without hope. If love was enough, baby Thomas could soar to the moon and back. Be invincible.

Then, the crucifying doubts set in.

“Who am I kiddin’? If I can’t save meself, what hope does me baby have?”

She wrapped him up in her only blanket, and kissed him goodbye.

“There’s no greater love, than heart-wrenching sacrifice,” they said.

Now, twenty years later, she’d received a letter.

Her precious baby had become a man.

….

100 words PHOTO PROMPT © Carole Erdman-Grant

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields: https://rochellewisoff.com/

My contributions of late have all been rather serious, so I’m thinking I might have to find a bit of humour next week.

By the way, in case you’re wondering about the photo I used for this week’s link-up, I went to a local book sale on the weekend and these are my new friend…all 38 of them. I am in heaven.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Rowena

Je suis Notre Dame…

“To know her, is to love her!”

The Beatles

Thank goodness, this isn’t a eulogy and has become more of an appreciation of our beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. Indeed, these words are the outpourings of a heart which almost broke yesterday, as the blazing orange flames all but consumed her like a savage beast.  Yet, we’re not grieving her death, but are now grateful that she miraculously survived.

Like so many of us who have survived horrendous infernos of this magnitude, Notre Dame is still standing, yet all but destroyed.  I am a survivor myself and know that seemingly bottomless grief. Indeed, I have asked these very same questions myself…How did this happen? What has been lost? What is left? What can be done? I have also known that very same, fierce determination to get back on my feet and overcome like so many survivors. We will rebuild. Yet, it still hurts and the pain feels like it has no end. However, somehow you suddenly reach the other end of the rainbow and your ordeal seems like a bad dream, although the scars remain.

Personally, Notre Dame has never just been somewhere I went in Paris. Indeed, our connection has always been personal and it wasn’t just about the building either. No doubt, it’s the same for millions around the world and throughout history and we each have our own story to tell. Indeed, in a strange way and no doubt encouraged by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she’s almost come to life.  We can almost feel her pulse, her heartbeat and believe she knows and understands us in ways beyond human understanding. Indeed, as I watched those infernal flames blaze with such fury, I could hear her gasping for breath unable to discern whether she wanted to live or to die.

Of course, by now I was also walking through the streets of Paris crying and singing the words of the Hail Mary in solidarity with the people, although I didn’t know the words in French or in English. I didn’t need to. Notre Dame was in my heart. As Notre Dame burned, Paris might have been one of the largest cities in the world, but she was a village once again.

However, who was I kidding? I wasn’t out on the streets with the people of Paris. Rather, I was still stuck here on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same sense of anguish you feel when a loved one is dying and you can’t get back. When you desperately want to hold their hand and say your “I love yous” and goodbyes and miss out. Yet, I still felt the need to vent. Respond. Do something.

So, I did what I could.

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Yesterday, on the way to the Art Gallery of NSW with my daughter, we detoured via Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to pay our respects to the smouldering remains of Notre Dame and her extended global community. Indeed, I needed to pray and being there was the closest I could get to being near Notre Dame.

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Our daughter sitting on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday. Not quite the same effect as Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal but there’s promise. 

 

Back when my husband first told me the news, I jumped straight out of bed and switched on the TV expecting some kind of mistake. Yet, there she was right before my very eyes…a blazing, orange inferno. Brutal, cruel and almost evil, she was trapped in the flames with no way out. Yet, the valiant fire fighters of Paris, just like those of New York on 9/11, were there fighting to put out the flames and save her from eternal destruction.

Notre Dame! The name says it all, even for me as an Australian.

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My backpack and I just before I left. 

On the 13th July, 1992 I arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord with my backpack and I found my way to the Hotel Henri IV in Rue Saint Jacques only five minutes’ walk from Notre Dame. I stayed there with friends for a few weeks, exploring the city of light and romantic turmoil, while Notre Dame stood seemingly unmoved and her bells chimed.

Being immersed in all that history and architectural grandeur, was an incredible experience for a young Australian experiencing Europe for the first time. We had nothing like it. Unfortunately, the City of Love also turned out to be the City of Heartbreak and despair. Indeed, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many philosophers, writers and artists have gathered there. I definitely sensed a dark undercurrent to Paris, and perhaps in this context, Notre Dame needed to be the light.

Rowena Notre Dame

My parents met up with me in Paris and we not only went to Notre Dame, my father and I also had our portraits sketched out the front. While I don’t particularly remember the interior, I still remember going inside and experiencing the most incredible sense of peace…the peace which surpasses human understanding. I also remember feeling it was much cooler inside with a distinct temperature drop. Being July, it was boiling hot outside and perhaps it was a few degrees cooler inside the cathedral. I don’t know. However, this combined with the stained glass windows and subdued lighting did create an ambiance.

Yet, quite aside from that, I could really sense the comforting presence of God. Only a few weeks’ beforehand, my mother’s aunt had passed away. She and Mum were particularly close and brought closer still by Mum’s strict upbringing. So, although we’re not Catholic, we lit a candle for her. Lighting that wick, has always been special. However, it’s felt even sacred since the fire. It was such an incredibly poignant moment. I think we also lit a candle for Mum’s younger sister, Lyn, who’d suddenly been ripped away from us at 36 with double pneumonia. Lyn’s death was one of those wounds which never seemed to heal. Lyn was beautiful, vivacious and so young. Naturally, her death rocked everyone who knew her. It didn’t make sense and we just had to get used to living with our grief.

No doubt, over the last 856 years, millions have also had such moments where they’ve been  touched by God’s love and this indescribable peace at Notre Dame. Of course, I know this experience isn’t unique to us, although it certainly felt that way. People have prayed for the living, cried for the dead and wrestled with everything in between and Notre Dame has stood as solid as a rock through the French Revolution, two world wars, and hoards of visitors. Indeed, even that blazing infernal couldn’t destroy her completely, but it’s been too close a call.

Yet, she has also suffered terrible neglect, which has taken its toll. As Victor Hugo wrote in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

 “(I)t is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.”

So why was it so difficult to raise the money to restore and maintain this stunning, historic and sacred cathedral, which has always been at the very heart of Paris? It is hard to understand.

However, as we move forward as a global community, we now have the chance to show her the love we’ve always felt, but haven’t sufficiently expressed. She has given us so much, and now it’s our turn to give back in whatever way we can. For some of us, that will be in words or paint while others have been financially blessed.

Notre Dame needs to be that phoenix rising out of the ashes. We need to see that you can rise up from near total destruction, and start over not only as a building but also as individuals and communities. We can get better. Moreover, we also need to restore Notre Dame for future generations who will also be reaching out for God’s love and the peace which surpasses human understanding in an imperfect and often turbulent world.

Have you been to Notre Dame and would like to share your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Thursday Doors – St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.

This week, we’re heading off to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Somehow, St Mary’s has managed to remain a striking architectural and spiritual beacon, despite the urban jungle’s concerted efforts to smother and suffocate architectural relics beneath  with its towering canopy.

 

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My grandparents on the steps of St Mary’s on their wedding day.

With my usual propensity for ending up in seemingly random places, I ended up at St Mary’s on Tuesday afternoon when it became the central point for me to meet up with my Mum and her brother and sister. Mum’s sister was visiting from Fremantle in Western Australia and for a brief moment in time there, all our roads led to St Mary’s Cathedral.

This was strangely more in keeping with my Dad’s family who is Catholic and his parents actually got married there in 1940 during WWII and the first Curtin to arrive in Australia from Cork, County Cork got married in the original St Mary’s Cathedral in 1855. My Great Grandfather’s funeral was also held at St Mary’s in 1936.

However, we are Christian and as far as we’re concerned, those old boundaries don’t matter anymore. We have one faith and being inside St Mary’s Cathedral with it’s incredible stained glass windows and reverence to God, was incredibly spiritual. Of course, you don’t need all of that to hear and talk to God, but it can be like putting on a beautiful dress. It doesn’t change who you are, but it lifts you up.

Our visit to St Mary’s was more of a time of reflective prayer and gratitude, than being there to do the touristy or photographic thing and admire all the architectural details. I did that a few years ago and am currently cursing my photo filing system, because I can’t find the photos anywhere and I wanted to share them with you.

However, what I did find, was the aerial perspective above which was taken from Centrepoint Tower.If you look carefully out the front of St Mary’s you’ll see a funeral cortege and I was reminded that the State funeral for Australia’s most successful and iconic horse trainer, Bart Cummings, was in progress at the time. Our daughter was auditioning for a role as one of the young Von Trapp children in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Sound of Music in Sydney that day, and I took her up Centrepoint Tower afterwards as a treat. For better or worse, she didn’t make it into the next round but even getting to the audition stage was an experience of a lifetime.

Map Showing Location of St Mary’s Cathedral

By the way, before we move inside the Cathedral and I do understand that I’m supposed to be showing off a few doors, and not just giving you the grand tour of everything but. However, I’d also like to point out that Sydney’s famous Hyde Park is in the foreground of that photo, and you can also see the striking Archibald Fountain by French sculptor Francois Sicard, which commemorates the association between Australia and France in World War I.

We all arrived in the city a bit early. So, I ended up meeting Mum and my aunt at the Archibald Fountain. We are all renowned for running late, and just when we thought we might be able to sneak in a quick coffee and raspberry tart at a French Cafe at St James Church in Macquarie Street, my uncle was also early and those ambitions were put on hold.

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St Mary’s Cathedral.

As the Cathedral’s web site explains:

“Today St Mary’s Cathedral is one of Australia’s most beautiful and significant buildings but it did not happen overnight. The Cathedral evolved through a long and patient timeline following a fire which destroyed the first St Mary’s Cathedral in 1865. As Australia’s largest Cathedral building, this English-style Gothic revival building constructed of honey-coloured Sydney sandstone, is regarded as the Mother Church for Australian Catholics. Its central Sydney location ensures a strong and visual presence of the church in Australia’s largest city. Architect William Wardell was commissioned by Archbishop John Polding to design a new St Mary’s following the devastating fire in 1865 razed the original Cathedral. According to Archbishop Polding to Wardell in a letter dated 10 October, 1865: “Any plan, any style, anything that is beautiful and grand. I leave all to you and your own inspiration”. Despite the building’s European origins, Wardell used Australian native flora throughout as a decorative element to ground the Cathedral in its local setting. It took close to 100 years to finally complete St Marys with the first stage constructed between 1866 and 1900 and stage two between 1912 and 1928. However, the original Wardell design was only finally completed in June 2000 when the metal frames of the imposing Southern Spires were lowered into place by helicopter and then sheathed in Gosford sandstone. According to the former Archbishop of Sydney George Pell: “This beautiful Cathedral Church is many things: a historic building, an architectural wonder, a monument to the role which Christianity and especially the Catholic faith has played in Australian life from the first days of European settlement and a magnificent tribute to the faith and commitment of generations of Catholics.” Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, the Cathedral will celebrate its Sesquicentenary in 2018, 150 years since the laying of the foundation stone of the new Cathedral by Archbishop Polding.”

 

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Door St Mary’s Cathedral.

While we were visiting St Mary’s on Tuesday, I spotted the ancient-looking doors to the cathedral and thought they’d make a very respectable contribution to Thursday Doors. Moreover, with only five sleeps til Christmas, it’s quite apt to visit a Church this week and in addition to the Cathedral’s doors, I also wanted to share the nativity scenes and other Christmas decorations.

Side door St Marys

I also spotted these doors for confession:

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I couldn’t help wondering what was being concealed behind this door. It looked rather mysterious.

Before we leave St Mary’s, I would like to share both the indoor and outdoor nativity scenes out of interest, but also to give our visit a touch of the Christmas spirit.

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Lastly, when it comes to Churches, I also think it’s important to talk about them having their doors open and welcoming people in, as well as them being closed for whatever reason. When I was a child, the doors to Catholic Churches were always open. However, that is no longer the case. The doors to St Mary’s Cathedral are open from 6.30am to 6.30pm and longer around Christmas.

For those of you interested in the musical side of things at St Mary’s, here’s a few links:

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to St Mary’s Cathedral. This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Before I head off, I’d like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonder-filled and happy New Year.

Best wishes,

Rowena