Textures of Sam’s island

Textures of Sam’s island

Just off the coast of Dampier, Western Australia, a castle of red stone, coral and seashells perches on a tiny island. This was the home of Sam Ostojic, who settled here in the 1960s and lived alone with his cat Tiger for company. After Sam's death in 2005, the building started to crumble until a [...]

Suburban dreaming: a haiku sketchbook

Suburban dreaming: a haiku sketchbook

Last year I visited the Brooklyn Art Library, home of a brilliant public art project, The Sketchbook Library. Over 41,000 5"x7" sketchbooks from 130 countries can be viewed in person, on tour and online. I was inspired to bring home my own sketchbook, which I've now almost completed. My sketchbook combines pen and watercolour drawings [...]

Church of Peace in Świdnica

Church of Peace in Świdnica

The Church of Peace in Świdnica, Poland, is the largest wooden church in Europe. It was built in 1657 following the end of the 30 Years' War between Catholic and Protestants across Europe. As part of the peace treaty, the Catholic Habsburgs were required to allow Lutherans in Silesia (the south-west of modern Poland) to [...]

Gnomes of Wrocław

Gnomes of Wrocław

I'm in Wrocław, Poland. Gnomes are everywhere. Foot-high bronze gnomes leaning against walls, standing on doorsteps and sitting on window sills. There are hundreds of them. The first was Papa Gnome, commissioned in 2001 as a tribute to the Orange Alternative movement, an anti-communist protest movement that arose during the political upheaval of the 1980s. [...]

What we value: first days in Wrocław

What we value: first days in Wrocław

It's August, which means it's time for my annual pilgrimage to the World Library and Information Congress run by the International Federation of Library Associations. These trips are a blessing because they get me out of my little pond and into the great big world of different experiences and perspectives. This year we're in Wrocław [...]

Museum of Modern Art, NY

Museum of Modern Art, NY

In New York trying to cram in as much as I can in 5 days. This is a quick record of yesterday's visit to MOMA. Temporary exhibits on the lower floors, all of which I enjoyed: A maze of cardboard walls made visitors slow down to contemplate the small photographs and installations.     Videos of [...]

School of the road

School of the road

My daughter Ling turned 13 this month. She's a sponge for new information at the moment, discovering gaps in her knowledge which it's a pleasure to help her fill. We have a lot of conversations along the lines of: "Who's Marilyn Monroe?" "Oh my god, you need to watch Some Like it Hot immediately". To [...]

!kun drawings from the Lloyd Collection

!kun drawings from the Lloyd Collection

I wanted to share a find which made a profound impression on me. At the National Library of South Africa, tucked away on the balcony above the domed reading room, was an extraordinary exhibition, not fully installed yet, drawn from the Bleek and Lloyd Collection. In the mid-nineteen century the San people (Bushmen) were being [...]

Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens

Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens

The last stop on my day trip down the Cape Peninsula took me to Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, the world's first indigenous botanic garden. We arrived at 5pm, an hour before closing time, after the sun had dropped behind the mountain. The gardens were lush and peaceful.          In the cycad garden, life-sized fibreglass [...]

Good Hope

Good Hope

On my final day in South Africa I travelled down the peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, the south-western edge of the African continent where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. First up: a quick stop at Camps Bay, a beachside suburb.   The mountain peaks behind are called The Twelves [...]

Khayelitsha township

Khayelitsha township

Yesterday I left the city centre to visit public libraries in outer Cape Town. We drove into the Khayelitsha township on the south-eastern outskirts of the city, one of the newest and largest townships in Cape Town. The area has both formal housing (concrete-block 2-bedroom homes) and informal settlements (shanty towns). Townships were created during [...]

Cape Town fragments

Cape Town fragments

I'm in Cape Town, the Mother City of South Africa, for the International Federation of Library Associations conference. I experience fragments of this layered city... Jetlagged at dawn, the call to prayer in Bo-Kaap, former home to freed Indonesian slaves. The charming, tough-as-nails guesthouse owner who tells me "Don't go round smiling at everyone like [...]

Return to Japan

Return to Japan

My first overseas trip, at the age of 19, was to Tokyo, accompanying my Japanese boyfriend while he sought treatment for cancer. I spent mornings at intensive language classes, afternoons sitting on the end of his bed at the National Cancer Centre, and evenings teaching English or getting drunk in Roppongi bars. I lived with [...]

Are French council gardeners horticultural geniuses?

Are French council gardeners horticultural geniuses?

Wine, cheese, fashion, architecture. I was expecting these. But no one told me about the street plantings! I associate French gardens with formality, symmetry, topiary, parterres. I thought Monet's garden at Giverny was the exception, not the rule. Yet wherever I went in France, the streets and parks were planted with dramatic foliage and intensely [...]

Paris – my mind is blown

Paris – my mind is blown

Ah, Paris. It was my first visit, and after Lyon, Strasbourg and Reims, the culmination of our French library tour. I confess I didn't experience the fabled, unequivocal "falling in love with Paris" in the four short days I was there. It's a city of 12 million people, plus what feels like a million tourists [...]

Art Deco and Gothic masterpieces in Reims

Art Deco and Gothic masterpieces in Reims

I'm back from my Great Library Tour, jetlagged and awake since 2am. Time to get back into blogging. (Ten days into my three week trip, I reached Paris and gave up on blogging as I went. Too much to see and no time for sitting round in the hotel connected to wifi). Before Paris, we [...]

Old meets new at Médiathèque André Malraux

Old meets new at Médiathèque André Malraux

Médiathèque André Malraux is the main public library in Strasbourg. Like Lyon Public Library, it is part of France's network of municipal libraries which were modernised in the 1970s and 1980s, opening up to the community and throwing off their previous image as staid guardians of old books. Some changed their name to 'mediathèque' to [...]

Looking German in Bergheim and Haut-Koenigsbourg

Looking German in Bergheim and Haut-Koenigsbourg

Having spent the morning in Colmar, the travelling librarians visited the medieval town of Bergheim. The gate tower was built in 1300. People in the Alsace region traditionally spoke Alsatian, a German dialect, and like Strasbourg and Colmer, the German influence is evident in Bergheim. I have a kind of curiosity about German culture simply [...]

Ridiculously good-looking Colmar

Ridiculously good-looking Colmar

On Sunday, the travelling librarians headed out of Strasbourg for a day trip to the historic towns of Colmar and Bergheim and Haut-Koenigsbourg castle. We hit the road with Rudolphe the bus driver and Yves the tour guide. Yves had taken us on a walking tour of Strasbourg the previous day and I could fill [...]

Treasures from the Strasbourg market

Treasures from the Strasbourg market

In a popular tourist destination like Strasbourg, the best way to avoid the crowds is to go out early in the morning or in the evening. On Saturday, before our scheduled library visit, a few of my group headed out at 8am to the antique and secondhand goods market. We had arranged to meet Priscilla, [...]