Monday, February 23, 2009

Ant Fact Monday: Special Edition

Today's Ant Fact Monday features special guest Molly.


On the weekend, by sheer happenstance, I read a theory that catnip works as a repellant for ants. Since I have a catnip bush (Bush? Bushell? Shrub? Plantation? Manufactory? Infestation? Threnody? Articulation? Quidnunc? Moire? Exegesis?) I decided to put this hypothesis to the test. At the time I hadn't planned to use the word happenstance, and I already regret the error.


Here are a few pieces of catnip. I began by sourcing a few local ants who looked unemployed (hence their colloquial title as "the actors of the insect world") and came upon this little character whose headshot does her no justice. But I suppose justice is a precious commodity in these troubled times.


I began by placing a leaf of catnip near Leonard and she scurried off in an erratic manner. This certainly confirmed the notion of "repulsion". Science is hardly made by such simple observations, however, and so I expanded the experiment by placing several leaves in an area around Leonard, forming a kind of obstacle course or episode of the television show "Wipeout" which she would then negotiate. Once again, Leonard confirmed our early postulate by heading away from the catnip on all sides and hurriedly finding a space through which to escape this maze of greenery.

Adhering to proper procedure, I created a control group by replicating the obstacle course for other ants using dried leaves as the barriers. They did not respond in an overly excited fashion, unlike Leonard, who was acting like she had ants in her pants, which is an inappropriate metaphor when applied to an actual ant.

And so it seems that ants really are turned off by catnip, which Molly describes as "freakin heaven on a mulch 'nother shot ta gubby".

On the other paw, a few minutes later I noticed another ant walking all over a catnip leaf which totally screwed everything up.

The only thing of which I can be sure: Molly is (probably) not an ant.

What a stunning sky we had this evening.

"... we talk all the time about the end of the world, but it is much easier for us to imagine the end of the world than a small change in the political system. Life on earth maybe will end, but somehow capitalism will go on." --Slavoj Zizek

Friday, February 06, 2009


This is a sad story. It’s not a happy or funny story (sad stories can be funny, too). But it’s true which might count for something, though it rarely does around here.

Mrs B. used to be a model, a pretty successful one I think, but when I knew her she was maybe in her 50s or late 40s. I was 17 or 18 and knew her through her daughter, whom I went out with for a long time. I really liked both of them. They were very fierce and argumentative and astute.

Mrs B. had three dogs, I think. I only really remember two – a huge black shaggy thing with a kind face and a smaller mutt whose back legs had been twisted and ruined at some point, and who dragged herself around happily using her front paws. She would follow the other dogs as they ran through the dark house, her useless back legs always keeping her well behind, but not seeming to dampen her enthusiasm.

Mrs B. lived in a long, narrow terrace in Elsternwick. The front two rooms were bedrooms but she slept on a couch in the big lounge room at the house’s rear. I remember that room pretty well. There was a big 4- or 5-foot fishtank filled with tropical fish. There were lots of couches and a messy adjoining kitchen where Mrs B. would sometimes have a huge vat of soup on the boil for days at a time, flavours filling the house. Mrs B. was an artist, I should mention, and her home reflected that. She was also an √©migr√© from Europe somewhere, maybe Germany, and had maybe even fled World War II. I think she had.

In that big, low, shadowy back room my girlfriend and I once spent a Christmas Eve with Mrs B and some of her friends. One was a red-faced old contrarian whose first words as I entered the room were “you’re a commie pinko!” This was confusing but he then drunkenly fell backwards off his chair into a Christmas tree’s embrace and was unable to extricate himself for a good ten minutes.

Mrs B. had a strange collection of friends like that, young and old, sometimes utterly at odds with her personality and lifestyle. She might have been the only person I’ve ever met who really fit the label Bohemian, which doesn’t have much currency any more.

Once there was a fire in my girlfriend’s bedroom after a blanket was kicked onto a bar heater. No real damage was done, but Mrs B. thought it was pretty funny.

There was another fire, later. Mrs B. woke on her couch in the back room to find herself surrounded by flames licking up the walls and curling around the curtains. Smoke was everywhere and she, half-asleep, managed to fight her way down the long corridor to the front door, which was locked. She threw herself through the front bedroom window and ran, soot-stained and half-dressed, to a neighbour’s house. It took a while for anyone to respond to her screaming.

I walked through the charred house the next day. The glass of the fishtank had evaporated, as if it had never existed. Parts of walls would fall off as I passed.

I saw the photo albums of Mrs B’s friends past and present. The albums survived but each image had become streaked and warped from the heat so that faces dripped down the page like Francis Bacon images. Nobody’s image survived the fire.

And the dogs. The two big dogs managed to leap the front window sill and emerge from the heat, but the little chubby cripple was trapped inside by the locked door and her ragged legs. The other dogs howled for her escape but she never made it.

Anyway, that’s all there is to that story. Like I said, it’s not a happy or funny story.

I saw Malthouse Theatre’s Woyzeck the other night. It’s neither happy nor funny. Tim Rodgers is compelling to watch and Bojana Novakovic comes closest to producing real emotion in the piece. Socratis Otto really underwhelmed me – I’ve never seen him before and he didn’t really make much of an impression (unlike Rodgers, who had a showman’s panache and a wild, intuitive acting style). The music, too, is some of the best I’ve seen in a theatrical context. Novakovic’s “Don’t Look At Me” number was the high point of the thing.

I think the show itself doesn’t work on certain affective levels. I didn’t care at all for the journey of Woyzeck and thought that the production’s spectacular elements worked against its central character’s struggles rather than in concert with them. But I don’t mind all of this too much. It’s director Michael Kantor perhaps doing best what he tries to do – this isn’t a show for students of classical realism but is an interpretation which will be most appealing to those who are familiar with the play, its history and its position within a canon. It doesn’t make the piece relevant to our times, or extract an essential core which makes the play “timeless”. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have a core at all. Kantor’s aesthetic seems to me centrifugal rather than centripetal (which is how I would characterise Bell Shakespeare, for instance). Kantor pushes outwards from a work’s centre, rather than spiralling in. This creates an energy that is about constant release, no arrival, only escape.

Some theatregoers want to find a home, others to leave it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Poor Men

Often at night I lie awake thinking of the ways I have squandered what little I once possessed by way of “potential”. What happened to that bright-eyed and shiny child I once was, whose stolen dreams for the future he gripped tightly with both hands? Have I become nothing but a dispenser of ant-related facts, when all I wanted was to make a difference? Now, on those dark evenings, it sometimes seems I can actually hear my failures and regrets scraping and snuffling at my bedroom door, begging admittance, also meowing. I put them out of my mind.

But it is without regret that I can recommend Jean Claude Van Damme’s new film JCVD. It’s not a fantastic flick by any means but Van Damme puts in a performance I would throw an Oscar at in a second. I was even moved to tears at one point (you’ll know which if you see the film). It’s the kind of flick you’re best heading into without any knowledge, except to say that it’s about JCVD himself and his position as a former B-grade movie superstar who fell from grace – hard – through drug addiction, numerous divorces, tax evasion and simply ending up the kind of joke that most action heroes become. Here we finally see him as the broken, confused, proud and desperate human he probably is. There’s a six minute monologue at the film’s heart which sees him assessing his life, and it’s one of the finest moments in cinema in recent history. The film is part self-parody, part self-valorisation and wholly redemptive. Check it out – like I say, not brilliant overall but JCVD is unforgettable. He’s either a brilliant actor or just brilliantly honest. Maybe both.

On the other hand, MTC’s Poor Boy is so mixed up and jumbled that I wouldn’t recommend it for much beyond the beautiful theatre it launched (the Sumner at the MTC’s new home). I agree with most of the reviews so far – the music has little to do with the drama, and the drama itself is often forced or awkward. But beyond that, what really got my ghostly goat was the incredibly earnest level of Importance to the whole thing. The metaphors and symbolic connections sailed gently through plotholes the size of a yacht, and genuine emotion was sacrificed for join-the-dots allusions. For instance, a character named Sol (almost everyone’s name seemed laden with significance) lost his boat the Neptune (God of water and horses, right) seven years ago (which is also when his son was born and another guy died on a zebra crossing wearing a zebra mask). Now, every time he appears on stage he is tying knots in a length of rope. Ok, I’m all for actors having their Bits of Business to liven up a scene. But it wasn’t just the fact that Sol’s entire life seemed to be taken up by tying knots. As a friend pointed out later, he didn’t even have a boat! But beyond all this was the problem that tying knots was so obviously a metaphor for the knots in his soul or something. Yes.

Anyway, it wasn’t a terrible play but it was made up of plot elements we’ve seen before shoved together in a way that didn’t gel. The soundtrack didn’t fit, the magical elements were at odds with the realism, and the overall design overshadowed the piece itself. It’s like those places that promote Kranskys filled with mozzarella and stuff, which makes me wonder who really wants a pile of cheese crud lumping up their weiner. There are probably a few different good shows in Poor Boy, but they need to stop hanging out together so much.

I should say, though, that I really liked Guy Pearce's singing voice.

Monday, February 02, 2009


ALRIGHT YOU CURS. Since your inexplicable need for ant-related facts cannot be sated through recourse to other avenues of investigation I will do my best to quell the fires of your burning curiosity. Quell them good.


But I have found that the clip above puts me into a state of hypnogogia, the transitional phase between waking and sleeping, and conjures up many thoughts on the position of ants in relation to us. By speeding up a baby's play it kind of ends up looking like an ant does to me. I don't really get what it's doing but it seems to follow some kind of animal logic that I would try to explain through chaos theory if I thought you would understand and also if I knew what that was.

Anyway, nobody really knows how ants work or exactly why they do things the way they do. They know a lot about them, but not the whole story. They're as mysterious as any other form of life (or non-life I suppose) when you get down to brass tacks.

Here are some other anty tidbits:

If ants bother you, you can put some sugar outside and they'll hang out there. It's like building a wine bar in an increasingly gentrified neighbourhood - it won't eliminate the pests but will give them somewhere to congregate away from you. The sugar is cheaper though.

Some ants can't bite or sting but can spray a certain kind of acid. Birds will place these ants in their feathers so that the acid will repel parasites.

Ants aren't like flies or bees - they're not particularly annoying. The only annoying thing about them is their tenacity. They don't give up and you generally can't stop them. The other potentially annoying thing is that if you stare at them, they can appear very confusing since their motives are hard to define. See the baby above.

Some kinds of ants are used as living pantries by the members of their colony. They're fed with honeydew and beefed up until they can't move. Then they just store the stuff for others to feed from. This is very creepy.


Which is powered by this week's theme: the fundamental wonder and mystery of existence and how good it is that it is this way.

Also: Why is this handrail so small?

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