We all got started in martial arts as a favour to Ronnie Vardy. His teacher had moved from Kfar Saba to Sydney and Ronnie told us to support him so a bunch of utterly unfit, utterly uninterested in fighting, schnitzel obsessed middle aged stamp collectors ambled in to join with our Israeli Navy seal, olympic level martial arts teacher Oded. And we became addicted. The question I asked over and over again was how do you go from complete chicken who’s never fought in his life to actually being able or a bit able. And this is where Budokan Karate comes in. You need a great teacher and a bit of danger. The moment of transformation comes from necessity, when the only way to avoid being walloped is to use what you’ve been taught. At Budokan Karate at the University of NSW there’s plenty of avoiding being walloped, safety, they’re mainly nice future doctors and engineers from UNSW, plus a workout that will leave you staggering. It’s the best place I know to practice and practice hard.
One more of Dad’s sayings that I remembered. When I was about to do something perilous he’d say in Yiddish and then translate just in case I missed the message, Remember, it’s good to walk on hot coals, …pause..with someone else’s feet, or, it’s good to ride a wild horse, with someone else’s tuchas, or, it’s good to sign cheques, with someone else’s hand. And you know what? 90% of the time I should have used someone else’s feet, tuchas or hand. He had a way of being smarter that his son the genius, did Dad.
Almost everyone agrees that Messina Gelato in Darlinghurst is the best, but I’m not so sure. There’s a place in Tambourine Mountain up behind Surfers Paradise that sells the most astonishing, dazzling ice cream ever made, Lick ice cream. The story was that a local chef’s wife had gotten sick and he stayed home for months to nurse her and while at home he created Lick ice cream. It’s well worth the plane trip and drive to those mountains.
And while you’re wandering around the art galleries and rain forrest tracks of Mt Tambourine you’ll come across Granny Mac’s Fudge. In Queensland every second shop is a fudgerie but don’t be fooled, this is definitely the one, the best I’ve ever tasted after years and years of painstaking research.
For cakes the research of this blog goes worldwide. On a backpacking trip instead of cathedrals we walked the beaches of Normandy from one end to the other. There are three things in Normandy, seaside villages, d day relics and apple pies. When you sleep in a farmhouse it’s apple pie, in the shops, the hotels and on the streets everywhere it’s fresh, just out of the oven, apple pie. And you never get sick of them, this is homemade French cooking, presented to you with pride and enthusiasm and they’re great. When we got back I thought I’d try the local French apple pie just to see, at the Paris Cake shop in Bondi Rd and as an international expert on the subject I can say Bondi Rd was maybe better than Normandy. I was doing a wedding for French people and was telling them this story and before I came up with the name they boomed out, Paris Cake Shop. They told me the French owner goes back to France to lecture the locals in baking. Not bad eh. There’s a few more cake shops I’d put right up there with the Paris Cake Shop. Christopher’s for Greek cakes, Wellington for unbeatable Kugelhoff, Kurtosh for Hungarian, Pasticceria Papa in Haberfield for Italian, Dinky Die for pies and of course The Gelato Bar for strudel. And the local Chinese/Japanese, 85 degrees in Kingsford. Try getting out of there with just one or two cakes.
Now, for a little refinement. on to cheese. I’m a Bega man or I thought I was. A friend took me into Ocello in Bourke St near Taylor Square which is definitely in the upper, imported masterpieces end of the market. He engaged in witty cheese banter discussing goats, sheep and burying your gruyere in ash because he’d had a childhood on the farm in Germany. My childhood consisted of being trained to run for the door when I see $180 per kilo on a price tag (Holy Goat was the $180 cheese and Holy Goat was what I said). I handed over my inheritance and we got our cheese and left the shop with a nice range and some wine and then I discovered my inner gourmet. It was great. I can’t say I can ever remember savouring or in other words, eating slowly, anything. Well, this was my moment in savouring sunshine, it takes a bit of getting used to but it’s worth it.
Finally coffee. Cafe Hernandez opened nearby renamed as Cafe Corona and it’s great. We’ve got Grounds, Kitchen by Mike, Danks St and Grandma’s Little Bakery all around the corner so we’re spoiled for choice. But I reckon the standout is this little burger and coffee shop in Kangaroo Valley called Jack’s. We’ve been going there for years because it’s the kids favourite milkshake and vegiburger place. We’ve been there, many many times and the coffee just stands out. I can barely tell the difference between Pablo and the hand picked by virgins coffee from The Himalayas but this is noticeably special. Finally after all these years I thought I’d tell the owner how much we like the place. We were there with three other families and when he started talking all our ears pricked up at the sound of that familiar South African accent. What else could we do? We all joined hands, broke into a hora and danced around the counter with him.
The idea to do this blog came from Suzie’s brilliantly named http://swimmingsydneythemrsgspot.wordpress.com blog.
One read and straight down to Bronte ocean baths in my size 46s I went frightening the locals and maybe the sea life too. Now I’m an addict. Another addiction I have is my father. Basking in his love as a child, constantly having people tell me how wonderful he was and listening to his jokes wasn’t a bad way to grow up. Here’s a few.
Dad’s delivery was the looking around, aw shucks, maybe I can help you with my little suggestion, style.
The only place to shop for clothes for the stylish teenager in the late 60’s was John and Merivale. I came home with my canary yellow, Napoleon collared, safari suit and Dad felt the material and nodded. Ahh yes, tachrichim. I said what’s that and Dad replied, shroud material, see, they only need every third stitch, who’ll notice?
Mick and I were baking bread because some 60’s spiritual hippie group had told us it was good for our souls making things from basics. Dad came in and said what are you up to? Mick explained the idea and Dad said to Mum, Good news! We’ve got house bricks. Then Mick poured himself a glass of water Dad said, Michael, what’s wrong with you? Go up the back and sink a bore.
Every Sunday morning Dad would go down to Starks, the Jewish delicatessen. One Sunday morning I drove up and parked as he was coming out of the house. I had a sticker on the back of my car saying ‘Save the Elephant, don’t buy ivory’ and Dad came over, took a look and said, lucky you’re here, I was just about to buy ivory, I’ll get smoked salmon and bagels instead.
Gil, my brother, and I worked in Dad’s shoe shop on Saturday mornings and Gil’s idea of work was more to the leisurely end of the spectrum. Dad came out looking for Gil when he was nowhere to be found, certainly nowhere near the work and he said, Alright, where’s the Stakhanovite? Stakhanovitch was a Soviet worker who put in so many extra hours labour they named a medal after him and awarded it to the record breaking workers.
Gil was off to London and he’d cunningly disguised a pretty heavy metal coat of arms in this zipped up suit protector. Dad picked it up and said, Nu, what’s this? And Gil said, It’s my suit protector, saves on the ironing bills. Dad said, yes, $2 for ironing and 5000 for the hernia operation.
After the war a lot of Jewish people decided that being Jewish was too dangerous and they brought their kids up as anything but Jewish. The kids, for some reason had no idea but to us it was obvious. One guy looked more like Woody Allen than Woody Allen and ended up in Hong Kong with only Jewish business partners. I asked him about Jewish life in Hong Kong and he said something to the effect of why would I be interested, I’m not Jewish. I said OK but what were your parents who escaped from Germany in 1938? He told me they were Free Thinkers and I said, of course, Free Thinkers getting out of Germany was a big thing in 1938.
I’d just done a wedding for some of these Free Thinkers in an Anglican church in Watson’s Bay and I got home and Dad said how was it? I said it was funny. The bride was Jewish, the groom was Jewish, all the guests were Jewish. The only one who wasn’t Jewish was the priest. And Dad said, How do you know the priest wasn’t Jewish?
You never know where it’s going to come from. The other day I’m sitting in Hungry Jack’s with the sweet little, just down from Queensland father of the bride. What can you do but ask, Nu, what do you do? Well I’m glad I asked. This humble, easy going, let me get you a milkshake kind of guy is the retired 2nd in charge of the Queensland police and his insights into crime and handling it were unforgettable. Unforgettable in part because no one talks to him about it and you just know that he’s a very smart, but hidden, cookie. How many very smart, but hidden, cookies are there out there wandering around getting people milkshakes? The other day I photographed a Holocaust survivor, Auschwitz no less, baking her Slovakian cherry cake. Same thing, only cake instead of milkshake, a mountain of wisdom and a wonderful woman to say the least.
What’s the message? Two things. The nobody in front of you may be Mahatma Ghandi out for a walk. And the other thing is it may be worth remembering the wisdom they drop at your feet. It can come in handy.
Here’s some of the ones I’ve remembered. Firstly from the greatest, kindest and definitely funniest man I’ve met, Dad.
1)Gring ist pischen im Bod.
What this piece of poetry says, in Yiddish, is that it’s easy to pish in a warm bath, everything else is hard. This was Dad telling me that the good things take effort and if anything be thankful for difficulty, it’s the only door to the great things.
2)The Truth is the Best Lie.
Dad was a joke a minute, loved by all kind of guy and his delivery style was giving the bad news as if it was good news. And people loved it. I remember someone was trying to sell him wine from Germany. This was selling wine to someone who wouldn’t touch Maraschino cherries because of the 1% alcohol content. The sales guy asked if Dad had any questions and Dad said yes, I do, How do I get rid of you? What I learnt from Dad is that if something is important it’s better to spell it out and almost invariably, the listener will appreciate it. And a ton of later trouble is avoided.
3)Bikes and drugs
I was in Living Valley Springs, last hope for the fat, health resort in Kin Kin near Noosa. Pausing for a break between enemas and the celery whip I was sitting with an old lady who the day before I’d seen chase a snake up a hill, kill it and then wander back down without raising a breath. In this place it wasn’t remarkable, there was an 80 year old guy who used to run into the Noosa waves with his surfboard and there was no such thing as an infirm fading old person. And they all had voices like opera singers and a no old age for me attitude. Well, I was sitting next to the snake killer and I told her I had no idea how to keep my kids off drug in their teens. She looked at me the same way she looked at the snake and said, One, teach them the meaning of the word no. When they’re teenagers and difficult times start to happen if they’ve only known instant gratification they’ll be be more likely to reach for instant gratification in the form of drugs. ‘No’ will prepare them. 2)Always welcome their friends into your house. Later when your kids aren’t telling you anything you can get to them through their friends who will probably like you. 3)Encourage sporting activities. Teenagers who play sport are marginally less likely to take drugs.
This all sounded really smart to me so I said do you have any idea how to keep them off motorcycles and she said, Simple! Buy them a car.
4)Prepare your hobbies
In the same place there was a suspiciously happy looking older guy and I asked him what it was. He said to me how often do you do what you have to do and how often to you do what you want to do? I said 95% what I have to do. He told me old age was the opposite. It’s 95% what you want to do and make very, very sure you really have something pre-prepared, something that makes you leap out of bed with anticipation after you’ve finished your working years. This may seem obvious but I’ve seen inactivity after retiring or inheriting, inactivity that was looked forward to as life’s greatest goal, make people utterly miserable. And they hang on to believing that inactivity is a blessing. Well, as Mr Kin Kin told me, it’s not.
5) The cure for a bad time is a good time
In our thirties one of our friends was known as The Shri Baba Ghanouj. This was a combination of Sai Baba an Indian seer, just like this guy and baba ghanouj, a Lebanese dish which he was prone to consume by the bucket. The Shri Baba Ghanouj would solve all our problems usually with some variation on the cure for a bad time is a good time. What it meant was that if you’re up to your neck in problems, no love, no job, no joy, no matter what, pick yourself up, go and have a good time or at least try and have a good time and then go back to the problem and something helpful will just pop up. A lot of the time there will be no need for a solution because the problem just disappears anyway. And TSBG was right. He said, You can spend a hundred hours a week at $200 an hour on the psychiatrist’s couch or you can say the mantra 10,000 times and it won’t make you happy. The thing that will make you happy is getting out there. And in the middle of troubles it may not be easy to get out there and look for fun but refer to #1 ‘Gring ist pischen im Bod’
6)You don’t get nostalgic for what you’ve done, you get nostalgic for what you haven’t done.
We used to go to actor’s parties because one of the guys was an actor. We certainly impressed those actors friends of his, us three, the Bar Mitzvah photographer, the pet vitamin pill mixer and the electrolux salesman. Yes we did. At one of the parties I was telling Angela Punch McGregor’s husband how I always got choked up when I watched the movie Hair even though all I did during the hippie times was watch from a safe distance and he told me you don’t get nostalgic for what you’ve done, you get nostalgic for what you haven’t done. What I gleaned from it is that if life presents you with something and you decline it you can spend a long, long time regretting it. Save time, jump in.
7)Don’t trust group emotions
The actor’s father was a Holocaust surviving, fighting in the forests as a partisan, incredibly charming, good looking, larger than life hero type. He was like Count Dracula but wise, fascinating and not interested in your blood. I used to sit and listen to him because he had war stories that would curl your hair, straighten it and then curl it over again. He’d tell us about the leadership of the Czech Communist Party a lot of whom he knew extremely well and murderous SS men he’d been pre-war friends with who showed a kind side. Stories like that, nothing expected. The end of each story always finished with how normal nice people will change when they get swept up in a group and watch out for that change. Definitely worth knowing that one on a personal, career and political level.
8)The apple rarely falls far from the tree
From an American photographer. If you need to make a snap judgement about someone, whether you can trust them or something like that, look at their parents or their kids. If their parents or the kids are reliable, or kind or trustworthy then it’s very likely they are too.
9)Left, Right, it matters much less than smart
From my brother. Gil says that in politics there should be someone with a big sign pointing to world’s best practice. Where things work brilliantly and ideology comes second to brains. He has dozens of examples where healthcare works, retirement incomes are ensured, people are prosperous because some politician was smart and quite often borrowed from the other side’s playbook. Gil’s been on about this for years and it looks like a good idea.
10)How to choose your career.
From Mr McLaren head of The London School of Economic Science responding to a question from David Mane. He said look at people who are successful in the area you’re considering and who are 65 years old. Look at what they’ve got and that is the fruit of all their labour. Who knows with career? Things change, sometimes totally and you change too and sometimes the process is more important than the result. Photography may not be about a wheelbarrow full of money but it certainly is one enjoyable profession. It’s just that it’s an extremely good idea to have an idea about what’s at he end of the tunnel and adjust accordingly.
11) Love is power
Back in the hippie days I was introduced to a Burmese priest who was a wanderer around the Burmese jungle. He’d look you up and down and then do Kali Ma from Raiders of the Lost Ark by examining your heart. He took a look at me and told me I was onto something with the way I’d joke my way out of trouble. He said that in Burma the jungle is full of crocodiles, snakes and spiders and your wandering priest would be lucky to remain alive for 5 minutes without protection. I assumed he meant a Sherman tank but no, he said that if you loved the crocodiles, snakes and spiders they would stop considering you as pâté because they loved you back. He said that basically kindness is disarming to those who are out to get you. It’s not as simple as grabbing your best joke book and tossing out the good ones while the hoodlum is chasing you down the street. It’s more about ignoring the small jabs because you’d rather get on with what you love and I’ve found the Burmese priest was right. Not easy but again see #1.
When you’ve got daughters you’ll spend the first 10 years of their lives seeing the the same movies over and over and over again. They’ll come from a category called tweenie movies, films made for pre-adolescent girls and their fathers and it comes as a bit of a shock to find out that the guys down at the gym haven’t seen Parent Trap 6 times. Not even once. Well, they’ve missed out, some of these films are great. Yes, there’s definitely an element of I love my kid the way this guy on the screen loves his but if you want to see something good that you’d never normally watch try these. I like them all but if you want to try one on for size give What A Girl Wants a go. If this mixture of comedy and sentimentality appeals to you try Parent Trap but don’t tell anyone. Their laughter will cut too deep. Here’s the list.
She’s The Man
What a Girl Wants
Parent Trap 2
10 things I Hate About You
As the girls grow up, around the age of 9, romance movies will kick in and you’ll be watching Sweet Home Alabama or something like it at least once a week. Here’s what we matured into after the tweenie period.
Sweet Home Alabama
A Guy Thing
A Lot Like Love
There would come a moment when I’d ask each bride if there was something, some small thing she didn’t like about herself, nose, smile, chin, that sort of thing. It’s a good thing to know when you’re shooting. Then like a rumble before a volcano, there’d be a pause coming from a deep place, the groom and I would hold on and then it would start. A river, and a deep one, of self criticism from the bride with a look of relief as though at last the world will know. Most of the self criticisms I just couldn’t see no matter how hard I tried and no matter how expertly the bride would point them out. But I sat there and nodded sagely and said I’d take care of it. To myself and the groom it was a complete mystery. He’d be thanking God that his glorious wife to be was too distracted to look over and see his defects and he knew that she just loved with some agenda that was way beyond him, something deeply non-masculine and impenetrable. Well guys here’s relief. After 30 years of listening to why they love and I can say that it’s complicated but there’s a system to it, it’s just not the way a man would think.
Women want seven things from a man and they want them equally so if one or two are missing in you then good news, you still might have a chance with the other five or six.
So, the seven things that women want in a man and want equally. Number one is looks but be not afraid, if you look like the backside of a cow don’t worry the other six things are just as important as looks and she may love you for them. Number two is prosperity, can you provide, can you look after her and the kids? Number three is a sense of humour and how you talk to her. Is life going to be interesting in thirty years time when the two of you are chatting away? Number four is how much you love her. To women it’s often just as important how much the guy loves them as how much they love him. Number five is how you treat you mother and small dogs. Do you have a kind heart under all that charm? Number six is where you are in your social group, are you a bit of a man, a somebody out there in life. Number seven is the elusive secret one, the one women don’t talk about but just ask them and they’ll know all about it. Each woman has her own individual, hidden little thing that turns them on and it’s usually obscure and nothing you’d associate with being turned on, things like the books he reads, the tone of a voice, his dress sense, smell or creativity.
So there you are, if God forgot to make you Brad Pitt’s twin you still have a chance. Another thing to remember is that women will eye good looking single men above the age of thirty suspiciously. They’ll be wondering if they’ve just used those looks to cut some girl’s heart out and if they’re being sized up for the next position on the conveyor belt. Nope, if you’re funny, doing OK, you’ve got a bit of a life and you happen to really care about her give it a go. You may have more than you think.
This is the mystical, secret internal powers, little girls throwing big guys across the room martial art. Sadly it takes brains to grasp this stuff, firstly to understand it because it is mind-bendingly counter-intuitive and then to apply it. It works for the young, the female, the weak, the fat and the old and will quite often leave the gorillas, the real men announcing that it’s absolute malarky. But it’s not. I’ve seen the 11 year old girl throw the big guy across the room and the old frail Chevra Kadisha-ready guy do the same to someone young and fit and edgy. It’s the empty hand, effortless, feel the force Sherman type of thing and John Daly, the most laid-back martial arts instructor in the known universe is the guy to go to. He’s the Maroubra branch of http://www.wingchun.edu.au and what is whispered around the room in Maroubra is that it takes years in the other schools before they reveal the hidden internal powers stuff but not our John. He’s onto it as soon as you walk in the door and his love of it is infectious. It’s certainly infected the other senior instructors there too all of whom, to a man are brilliant at picking just what you need to know to find that power. Yvan, Steve, Helio, Yaren, Nirmal, the nicest bunch of guides to your secret strength you’ll find in a day’s march. I’m 59 years old and the fellows my age at Budokan Karate stand around with moist eyes talking about the good times when they could kick you in the head just before their tendons went. At Wing Chun when some harmless frail old guy comes in the room it’s Step back, the Killer is here. That’s who I want to be in the Montefiore Home.
Instructor Yvan has his own classes. He’s a bit edgier, harder and gentler at the same time and he 100% looks like a martial artist just like Brutus in Popeye. Plus he’s a great guy, I’ll get the link.