that’s amore

Pizza comes from Naples. Eating a pizza in Rome or in Florence and certainly in most places in Melbourne is not the same as eating it in Naples. Or at 400 Gradi in East Brunswick where Johnny Di Francesco makes Pizza Napoletana.
Pizza was born in Naples which is where the real Pizza Margherita comes from, named in honour of Queen Margherita and sporting the colours of the Italian flag: red from the tomato sauce, green from the basil and white from the fresh mozzarella.
Johnny is quick to point out that a Napoletana pizza can be an acquired taste. The dough is thicker and a little chewy. It is not crisp and hard pizza ‘biscuit’. It’s soft and light and foldable. You really need two hands or a knife and fork to eat it without the topping siding off down your front.
And Johnny should know what he is talking about. He has been making pizza since he was 12 and this year in August, he took the top honours against 600 competitors from 35 countries at the Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza (World Pizza Championships) in Parma, Italy.
Taking part in a pizza masterclass run by Johnny felt like a journey. Making pizza napoletana isn’t just a haphazard mix of flour, yeast, salt and water. Johnny talked us through the ratios and the whys for his ‘rules’ for making good pizza.
I had no idea that 00 flour comes in several different levels of protein for different types of baking. For pizza dough, flour with 11.5-12.5% protein is what you’re after. Flour is a consuming passion for Di Francesco. He sources it from a long-established mill near Padua.
The next new piece of advice was mixing the salt into the water first, then adding a little flour and then dropping a tiny knob of yeast into that mixture then continually adding flour and mixing all the time. No sugar, no letting the water and yeast mix froth before adding the flour. Too much yeast does not allow for natural fermentation. And too much yeast results in the gassy, bloated feeling sometimes experienced after eating pizzas other than those in the Napoli style.
The key to the pizzas from Naples is the crust. Once the dough has been made, it sits covered for two hours and is then formed into small 250 gram balls which are left for 24 hours to mature. The next day when it comes to making the bases, the trick is to push the gas from the yeast maturation in the dough out towards the outer edge, or cornicione.

90 seconds in a wood-fired oven or 4 minutes in a conventional oven at 400-450 will give you a light, airy and slightly blistered crust. And Johnny insists that you eat all the crust. And not because it will put hairs on your chest. The air or the fermented gases pushed to the outer edge promote digestion.

So. The next time the moon hits my eye like a big pizza pie, and the world seems to shine like I’ve had too much wine, I’ll embrace the Neapolitan love and make pizza.


To market

The latest market to appear on Melbourne’s horizon has a lot going for it. Except for its name.

Coburg’s weekend market is the result of the vision and hard work of the Chen family, notably Ethan Chen, who described the market in terms of a testament to his father, who twenty years ago, established a textiles factory on the same site and contributed a great deal to the community. Now times have changed and the Chen family are happy to celebrate a rebirth of the venue as Batman Market.

The idea behind the market is to showcase Melbourne’s multiculturalism through food, art and performance. With last week’s first market and over 100 vendors, 40 of whom were food stalls, this vision seems set to be realised.

But, as I alluded to, I’m just not sure the name, Batman, was a wise choice.

John Batman was a grazier, entrepreneur and explorer who settled in the north-east of the Van Dieman’s land colony in the late 1820s. He is of course best known for his role in the founding of the settlement on the Yarra River which became the city of Melbourne. I guess this is why the market founders chose the name, there are many nods to John Batman in this city. But John Batman was also a very controversial figure due to his dealings with aboriginal people in Victoria and Tasmania. Described as a “rogue, thief, cheat, liar and filler of blacks” by his neighbour John Glover, he was further denounced by Tasmanian Colonial Governor, George Arthur as having, “much slaughter to account for”. Not a figure who represents multiculturalism at all.

I wish the Coburg Market well, it is a wonderful concept and I loved being there. But any reference I make to it will not, as other publications have done, be making any lighthearted allusions to Batman Begins, the masked avenger or Gotham City.


It is not the critic who counts

 “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Citizen in a Republic, Theodore Roosevelt’s speech delivered at the Sorbonne, Paris, 23rdApril 1910
Making the decision to leap into the void is not one I have made easily. It has been a few years in the making. I am not a risk-taker. In fact, I once did one of those tests to see how much of a risk-taker I actually am. And no. I’m not one of those. More conservative than the Queen of Conservative Land.
So. Risk averse.
And I don’t like failing.
I have always thought that in choosing to do a PhD in Medieval French literature, that I had chosen the road less travelled. But then I became a French teacher and I have been waving my arms around and doing stand-up comedy routines in a desperate attempt to impart frenchiness to teenage girls for 15 years now. This is not a less-travelled road at all. It is a safe road. I am good at teaching French, at least most days I am good at it. And, without any wish to sound arrogant, it is easy to get French-teaching jobs when you have a PhD. People are lulled into all sorts of delirium when they see a Doctorate. So really I have never put myself in a position where I could fail.
I feel like there’s something else. As I said, I have felt like this for a while. It feels as though this something else is creative and connected and challenging. I can’t quite see exactly what it is, but it’s around writing and talking to people and making things happen.
So often it happens that when you name something…a thought, a desire…when you name it and start looking towards that thing, everywhere you look there are people or projects or really well articulated ideas that support the thing you are giving your attention to.
Last night I went to a Dumbo Feather Conversation. Dumbo Feather is a magazine that celebrates extraordinary people and shares the conversations the interviewer has with them. Their conversation series is about lifting these chats from their beautifully recycled paper pages and bringing them to life.
Last night the conversation was with Clare Bowditch. Clare is a singer, an actor and the founder of Big Hearted Business, an initiative which seeks to “support and educate big-hearted people from all walks of life in the art of making a living doing what you love, while taking care of yourself AND contributing to the world in some meaningful way”.
Clare made some valuable points in the thread of her conversation with Dumbo Feather editor, Berry Liberman. She talked about the importance of accepting that it is hard to strike out on your own and try something new and explore your talent. Our offerings will not always be accepted or appreciated. But we have to be patient and persevere and choose who we listen to. She is not the only person to have given me this advice. Someone very important to me has also taken a lot of time and care to talk me through this. It helps to hear things several times from different quarters. She also talked about surrounding ourselves with good people, people on our wavelength who will nurture and encourage, be willing to listen and if needed, offer advice. She stressed the importance of never being afraid to ask for help.
I recently read an article about Leonard Cohen who has drawn similar conclusions to Clare over the course of his very long career. Leonard Cohen is 80 years old and he has just released his thirteenth studio album. For Cohen, it seems, work ethic outweighs our notion of inspiration. He writes all the time. By no stretch of the imagination does everything that he writes make it into something that he ends up singing. He dismisses the idea that inspiration is fast and easy and that those with talent have an easy ride, and argues that we should never quit before we know what it is we are quitting.
I need to listen to the people who have been provided to me, take hold of the opportunities and possibilities which constantly present themselves, strive valiantly, dare greatly and breathe.
It’s a new adventure.

Indigenous Storytelling from the Suburbs – Fitzroy

I am working on a short film project, The Good Deed, which seeks to share one of the many stories of the indigenous people of Victoria. My role is a PR one, writing about the background and the process of telling this story. I wasn’t sure where to start. I asked for help in meeting the people I needed to talk to. My friend, Ben, put me in touch with the Collingwood Police Station’s Senior Sergeant who works with the indigenous community in that area. I was invited to a social meeting with some community workers down on Smith Street. When I mentioned the project to them and name-dropped one of the writers, they all said, Robbie Thorpe?! He’s the best one to talk to. And with that, in perfect synchronicity, Robbie got off a tram and was there and inviting me to walk and talk.
Robbie Thorpe is from the Krautungalung people of the Gunnai Nation, the traditional owners of Lake Tyers. He has been active in initiating indigenous solutions and, in particular, has been a strong advocate for ‘Pay the Rent’, an indigenous initiative which would provide an independent economic resource for Aboriginal peoples. Robbie has initiated a number of legal actions, where he has argued that crimes of genocide have been committed against Aboriginal peoples throughout the history of the colonisation of Australia.
Robbie, with Eugene E-NRG and Ray Edgar, has written Fire Boy, a feature length film, and the short film, The Good Deed.
For Robbie, The Good Deed has been pulled out of a bigger picture, and he is quick to explain that Fire Boy will explain the issues in more depth.
Robbie says that he is not a film person. He is new at this. When I point out that he is a storyteller though, he agrees and we decide that filmmaking is a good way to tell a story. He does go on to qualify that everything is a story. He tells me that his daughter works for NITV and she asked him why there aren’t any stories coming out of Victoria. Robbie decided it was time that some did.
As we walk down Smith Street and into Gertrude Street, Robbie tells me about Fitzroy and how important it is to his community. The history of Fitzroy is very similar to Redfern. Robbie says that Fitzroy was built out of a ghetto. The community who lived in Fitzroy back in the thirties, his grandmother and his mother’s generations, lived where the Atherton Garden commission flats are now, with no running water or electricity. The CBD was off limits to aboriginal people. So they were finding their way from the reserves and ending up in Redfern and Fitzroy. There, they found some solidarity. Robbie credits much of this to the ability of the aboriginal women. They created organisations and instigated gatherings. Robbie’s mother, Alma Thorpe, was instrumental in building community-run health and social services for the aboriginal community, including the Funeral Service Committee which raised money to give proper burials to those who might otherwise end up in ‘pauper’ graves. Alma has recently been awarded for her many contributions to the community.
Up until the nineties, Fitzroy had aboriginally run Health, Housing and Social Services, as well as the Melbourne Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation centre on Gertrude Street. All of these buildings have now been taken over by other businesses or are empty, with only a plaque to commemorate the persistence, energy and hard work of the people who established and ran them.
When Robbie was growing up he enjoyed his community and the work his mother and others were doing. He thought they were going to be free doing all of that. The aboriginal community in Fitzroy inspired other communities, such as the Vietnamese community in Richmond, who went on to establish similar health services to those in Fitzroy. Prevention is the best cure and the land is the only medicine, was a well-known saying at the time.
This all changed when the only way to get funding from the government was to adhere to the Australian, rather than aboriginal system. With these constraints, many people, including Robbie walked away.
Robbie prefers to be independent and not get caught up in the system. He sighs when he tells me that the indigenous people are forced to educate the oppressor. He explains that aboriginal people see the land as their mother. That’s how sacred it is. And you don’t destroy your mother. Robbie describes the stark contrast to the ecocide he now sees by telling me: “We used to fish out the river. There were birds everywhere. You don’t even hear a kookaburra laugh now. It’s not a good sign.”
What he wants is a treaty. He wants the Australian government to acknowledge the past, create a proper legal foundation, leading to a constitution; a constitution for the people, by the people and based on a treaty of peace.
Stories like The Good Deed and the larger Fire Boy tell the story Robbie wants people to hear. But for him, life is a stage and it’s happening every day. He says he doesn’t have time to be creative and he leaves that up to Eugene and Ray. For Robbie, this is the act here and now.
For Robbie, winning is holding our head up and looking people in the eye. The weapon he carries is the weapon of mass destruction, the truth. He says he tries to be as truthful as he can possibly be. Nothing can stand up to the truth and he laughs, “It’s a very cheap weapon too.”
As we arrive back at the corner of Smith and Stanley Streets, Robbie leaves me with this: “I get energy from keeping truthful. I’m fighting ecocide and genocide and racism. I think that’s important. That’s what I do. I have a great life. I wish everyone was as free as me.”