Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mr. Steak

For evening meals, I have been going a bit lately to a cafe called "Mr. Steak" -- located  opposite the PA hospital.  For a while I went there for breakfast too.  His big breakfast really deserved the name.  It did however have a discernible effect on my waistline so I no longer do that.

Anyway, Mr. Steak himself is, rather surprisingly, a very jolly Chinese man.  Yet he has no Chinese food on his menu.  It is all traditional Australian food.  But he sure knows how to cook it. He advertises himself as a former chef at a 5-star hotel so he has something to live up to. But he does.

His steakburgers are the best I have had.  The fat and gristle that one normally encounters in a steakburger are a bit of a bugbear to me but I don't get that to any extent from Mr. Steak.  He advertises that he uses quality steak and it seems he does.  It is minute steak he puts on his burgers -- cooked medium to medium rare.

And his pork sausages taste unusually good too.  He must use a secret sauce with lots of "umami" in it, I think.  And a lot of his customers are Chinese, even though he does not serve Chinese food!  There must be a lesson there somewhere.

I took Joe and Kate there a week ago for a very congenial dinner and they were favourably impressed with the food too.  The setting is humble but it is the food that counts.  And although I eat a lot of ethnic food, I still like my ethnic Australian food.

I even think his coffee is pretty good, though I am no coffee connoisseur.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Australia's national cheese

Nobody that I know seems to have realized it but Australia has a national cheese.  We all know and love our national toast and sandwich spread -- Vegemite -- but we are, if anything, even more focused on one type of cheese.

The French would of course think of us as insane and the Brits too might be a bit scornful -- except for the fact that they too have a well-acknowledged national cheese of their own: Cheddar.

But our national cheese is far more pervasive than Cheddar. When I go into the dairy aisle of my local Woolworths supermarket there are yards of shelf space devoted to it, with other types of cheese almost totally absent.  On the very top shelf there are very small quantities of a few "foreign" cheeses: Jarlsberg, Romano, Havarti, Mascarpone etc.

So what is this remarkable cheese?  It is -- most unimaginatively -- called "Tasty". And it certainly is tasty.  Various dairies make it under their own brand but it is always identified as "Tasty".  And I for one cannot tell the product of one dairy from another.  It really is the same cheese that they are all making.  You can get it in various sized packs and you can even get it grated but Tasty it is.

When I first started work as a NSW public servant in central Sydney in 1968, I worked in a building that had a cafeteria in the basement.  We all went there to order our sandwiches, pies, Chester cakes et.

I was saddened when I visited Chester in England in 1977 and asked for a Chester cake.  I was told: "No.  We only do those on Wednesday".  They did them every day in Sydney.

Chester cakes

And if you ordered any type of a cheese sandwich from the basement cafeteria, the sandwich lady would say: "Mild or Tasty"? and point to the two trays of sliced cheese in front of her.  Even at that stage, I was surprised at the limited offering but it now seems to have become even more extreme.  Packs of "Mild" have to be searched for.  Sometimes there is only one there.

The only other offering from more than one dairy that you see is  "Colby".  That is a smoother and milder product than Tasty. After many years of eating Tasty, I am now a Colby man.  You also see "Coon" cheese but it tastes the same as a "Tasty" to me.  Perhaps I should do a blind tasting sometime.

There was at one stage a claim that "Coon" was a naughty word -- politically incorrect.  But it seems to have survived that onslaught.

And then there is the sliced cheese section.  Again Tasty dominates but a surprising thing is that the "Home Brand" stuff is unlike any of the block cheese.  It is a very mild, Cheddar-type cheese.  So if you like Cheddar cheese you have to buy it pre-sliced!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Die Dollarprinzessin

The scene above is of Alice dictating typing to Freddy

The story

The show is about America imagined from Austria of the late Belle Époque era.  First performed in 1907. My version is a cinematic performance from 1971 with Kurt Graunke and his merry band. Critics tend to pan these "made for TV" performances but beggars can't be choosers.  They are the only way of accessing some operettas these days.

It's an amusing fantasy of an American billionaire who entertains himself by employing impoverished European aristocrats as servants.

He also has a good looking daughter ("Alice", played by Gabriele Jacoby) with rather feminist views.  So can a handsome European man (Gerhart Lippert as "Freddy") subdue her independence and get her to pursue and marry him?  Of course.  This is operetta!

Her initial role was as a cynical woman who thought that money alone mattered and that women should rule the roost.  Her attitudes were in fact much like what I hear about JAPs (Jewish American Princesses).  The JAPs are basically a sad lot as the actually available Irvings and Sheldons can rarely satisfy them.  Alice, however, has a weak spot for good looks and falls in love with "Freddy" (Gerhart Lippert) a handsome man who is also a strong character.

So she ends up vowing subservience!  She gives her life to him!  ("Ich geb' mein Leben dir allein")! Then she joins him in singing that in their togetherness, each Haelt alles Glueck der Welt ("holds all the happiness of the world"!).  And when she discovers that he is rich after all, she says "Ich liebe dich trotzdem" ("I love you anyway").

Fabulously romantic but feminists would be ill about it!

And the rich paterfamilias is also won over by "Olga", a shapely European circus lady who pretends to be an aristocrat. And in the end all the parties are happy with their loved partners!

There is even a third theme (with "Daisy") where another challenged couple end up married too.  A true Viennese operetta!  THREE happy couples!

The Dollarprinzessin title comes from Freddy's big aria in the middle of the show -- where he refuses to marry Alice as  merely a business transaction.  In true operetta style he loves her and both of them know it but difficulties have to be overcome! He accuses the various young women from rich families who are present at the engagement ball as being "dollar princesses" who are basically spoilt, think money can buy everything and have poor taste:  A superb way of getting a confident lady really interested in him. It works!

But it is also of course a typical European view of America -- as tasteless money-worshippers.  That view survives to this day.  We also see it in Die Herzogin von Chicago by Kalman. Dollarprinzessin was however 20 years earlier.

The cast

Imposing German singer Tatjana Iwanow was very convincing as the seductive Olga.  She was a fine figure of a woman and good looking generally.  She looked in the prime of life but sadly, died only 9 years later of cancer at the age of 54. In life she married 3 times so her looks were obviously appreciated outside the show.  Her father was a Russian Czarist army officer, hence the Russian name.

"Olga" in the centre;  "Miss Mibbs" to the left

The Austrian Gabriele Jacoby as Alice was also a fine figure of a woman  -- a clever lady with both a beautiful face and good "architecture", as they say in operetta.

She also had striking blue eyes and an expressive way of using them. Sopranos vary a lot in the way they use their eyes for expressive purposes and they use their eyes in quite different ways too.  Jacoby is the champion of the sideways glance, which she used to good humorous effect.  Other singers must use that glance too but I can't recall noticing it.  The star who uses her eyes most expressively would have to be Ingeborg Hallstein, followed closely by Dagmar Schellenberger.  And I would put Jacoby third after them. She is definitely worth watching!
An unusual feature of her looks is that she has a pronounced "strong" chin, one that would normally be seen on a man only.  Women tend to have receding chins, which is why men with receding chins are often seen as "weak".

The mediating factor leading to a strong chin is almost certainly a high testosterone level in utero and that should continue at least in part into later life.  And one thing we know is that testosterone gives women a strong sex drive, often strong enough to survive the "change of life".  A big proportion of women lose their sex drive entirely after menopause, being barely able to remember "what that was all about".  Not so women with good testosterone levels.  So I will speculate, with no hopes of ever finding out, that Jacoby was pretty good in bed, as well as all her other admirable attributes.  She apparently didn't marry until she was 44, which could mean many things.

She was born in 1944 so was 27 at the time of the show so youthful looks helped too. She is the daughter of Dritte Reich  superstar Marika Rökk, a Hungarian.  Her father was a prominent  director of stage and film for many years and was a Nazi party member in that era.  So she is not Jewish, even though "Jacoby" is sometimes a Jewish surname.  See her below with her billionaire "father" (Horst Niendorf) and then at her initial meeting with "Freddy". Finally as she is today, still a fine-looking woman.

Miss Mibbs was well and amusingly played by Kaete Jaenicke and Dora the Saloon proprietress played by Ingrid van Bergen was quite a character, singing in a very Marlene Dietrich sort of way. Her rather extreme makeup as she prepared her cabaret  amused me.  She would have been 40 at the time of the show. A youthful picture of her below.

And may I mention that the Austrian view of blue eyes as treu is honored.  Freddy, Alice and Olga all have pretty blue eyes.  I have not figured out exactly why  but Jacoby has really remarkable blue eyes.  I do not discount stage makeup and I do see  her false eyelashes but that cannot be a major part of it.

Other details

The singing in the show was cabaret style rather than operatic. That was pleasant and amusing enough but I did rather miss the excitement of real operatic singing.  There are some wonderful operatic arias in other operettas -- Wiener Blut, Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum etc.

And the show does to an extent reflect the time in which it was recorded rather than the time in which it was composed. At the end, for instance, "Freddy" gets his lady to go upstairs with him by just a wink.  I remember something of that myself in the party days of the '60s and '70s.

There are frequent references in the show to "Gotha" so I thought it might be worthwhile to mention that the reference is to "The Almanach de Gotha", a directory of Europe's royalty and higher nobility, from a German perspective. It gave  genealogical, biographical and titulary details of Europe's highest level of aristocracy.

A speculation:  Why is the billionaire's surname given as "Couder"?  Names in operetta are often allusory. Many of the names in Lustige Witwe refer to Montenegrin dignitaries, for instance, thus identifying "Pontevedrin" as Montenegro. "Couder" is mainly a French name but not a particularly distinguished one. It is also a rather rude piece of modern English slang. "Kauder" in German means to talk gibberish but it is hard to see a connection with that.

At the risk of being too clever altogether, I have another idea.  The Dutch cheese known as "Gouda" is pronounced by the Dutch very similarly to the way "Couder" is pronounced in the show.  And a big boss is often referred to in American slang as "The big cheese". Did Leo Fall or one of his librettists know some Dutch?  I suspect so.

Sex roles and tradition

One should not look for serious themes in operetta but Leo Fall and his librettists clearly had one in mind in creating this show.  He pushes it in both the "Alice" and "Daisy" story.  And I think he is right! What he implies is that female assertiveness is inimical to love.  The ladies of course get their way in the end but they have to be nice about it!

Feminists would hate it but this is in fact a celebration of traditional sex roles.  Accepting such differences and working within them is needed for good male/female relationships.  It's only modern madness that would claim otherwise.  Most  women HATE to have a man they can push around. They want a man with a mind of his own. "Daisy" says that explicitly and I have certainly seen it  in life. And equality is a snark.

Some good excerpts here.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A celebration of birthdays

July is birthday month in the family so we had lots of joint celebrations of that.  A final celebration was tonight, with a particular focus on celebrating Nanna's 91st.  She is in remarkable health for her age and to the rest of us seems just the same as she has always been.  But birthdays in the 90s become increasingly rare so each must be celebrated with particular appreciation.

At Nanna's request we went to a nearby Chinese restaurant that she likes.  We had 9 adults and two kiddies at a spacious round table and a great variety of excellent food arrived on it. Because he was away for four years it is always appreciated when Joe can join us at dinners and this time he brought his fair lady along.  She is VERY fair, with brilliant blue eyes but unpredictable hair colour.  And my brother and his wife came along this time too. There are lots of July birthdays among his nearest and dearest -- including his daughter -- so celebrating July birthdays seemed apt to him.

Suz, Russell and the kids were good to see there too. A family occasion would not be the same without kids, IMHO. And two lots of the relevant kids live far away these days -- at opposite ends of the earth, in fact.  Paul, Von and respective families were of course remembered, with particular interest in Paul being a new Basil Fawlty -- but a competent one.  Jenny updated us all with how Paul and Co. were going.  She Skypes a lot with her distant  children.

I brought along both a bottle of Seaview champagne and a bottle of Barossa Pearl so that helped the deliberations a bit.  Despite being vastly unprestigious, Barossa Pearl always goes down well.  I am glad its makers have revived it.

At one stage I was urging Joe to try it -- which he did -- when his mother told him to watch his drinking while he was driving. Joe was unimpressed with that advice and I remarked to him that he had just seen the difference between mothers and fathers before him:  With his father urging him to drink up and his mother telling him not to! Other than that, I can't for the life of me remember what we all talked about.  Just family things, I guess.

Jenny assisted me with the ordering and stood guard while I was paying the bill.  She knows the restaurant well --  as it is "gluten-free" -- and I am a bit vague and deaf in my old age, so assistance with daily tasks is always helpful.

After the dinner we adjourned to Jenny's place for tea, coffee and a Shingle Inn cake.  The only discussion I can remember from then is one about croup.  Joe didn't know what croup was but he has a cough at the moment so I assured him that he had croup.  The mothers present politely refrained from disagreeing.

Somebody asked me how my birthday went but, in my usual form, I could not remember straight off.  As he has done before, however, Joe assured everyone that I had got a card. I am not sure if everyone realized he was talking about a new card he had installed in my computer.  It enables me to run my computer off a modern TV.