Friday, 30 March 2012


I'm exhausted. Bone tired. My eye lids are feeling so heavy that it's an effort to blink my eyes open.  I could easily sit here and never move again.  What a shame that I have to rise and find my way to bed.  Even the enticement of cool, white sheets that smell of sunshine are not enough to lure me from where I sit.  I feel a yawn coming on and because there's no one around, I can luxuriate in it with my mouth open, my head thrown back and my eyes squeezed shut.  I can suck in air and stretch out until I feel my fingertips and scalp tingle. My typing is slowing down. My head is lolling forward. It's lucky I can touch type. I'm exhausted. Bone tired. My eye lids are so heavy I can't keep my eyes open. I need to move. I need to surrender myself to blissful sleep.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Photo of the day - FEET

Regular readers will know that I knit lots of socks - for myself and for other people.  (Have a look on the "What I've Made" page to see them.) So it was obvious that today's subject, "FEET", would have something to do with socks.  You can see that there's only a little way to go before I have finished this pair.

(c) divacultura 2012
I'm happy that it will soon be sock wearing season.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Paved with gold and good intentions

Perth is a great city to walk around in.  It's pretty flat in the city centre and the footpaths are wide.  They are also paved with gold.

It was such a beautiful afternoon when I finished work and was delivered back to the hotel that I decided to enjoy it by going for a walk.  The afternoon escape was on and people queued for buses, made their way to the train stations or just wandered along, similarly enjoying the magnificent air.  As I crossed the road I saw something on the ground.  It seemed to be a $5 note.  I looked more closely.  It was a $5 note.

I'm always hesitant to pick up money lying in the streets.  I worry that there will be a hidden camera pointed at me and a studio audience somewhere laughing their heads off as I chase a note of small denomination that happens to be attached to a string being yanked by some producer somewhere. As I bent down to retrieve it and give it a nice warm (temporary) home in my wallet, I checked carefully for string.  I could see none, so whisked the note up and walked on.

As I write this, I'm feeling the need to justify myself.  There was no one near the note when I relocated it.  I had not seen anyone drop it.  It was just lying there, waiting for someone to pick it up and I figured that it may as well be me.

I once picked up a $50 that was just lying on the ground.  Same thing: checked for string first and when there was none, put it in my wallet.  Again, there was no one around and I had not seen anyone drop it.

Perhaps these occasions of money lying at my feet is an illustration of the universe rewarding previous good behaviour.  I've returned wallets, watches, extra change - you name it, if I can return something to their rightful owner I will.  (Just today on the Skybus, I returned a pair of really ugly sunglasses which someone had left on the luggage rack.  Maybe I won't be rewarded for that one...)

On one occasion in particular, I think my good behaviour was definitely rewarded.  I was travelling from Melbourne to Sydney.  When I arrived in Sydney I met a friend and we caught a cab out to the conference venue where we would be staying.  The plan was that I would pay for the cab.  I checked for my wallet and it was not in my handbag or briefcase or anywhere in the taxi.  That cold feeling took over.  I had quite a lot of cash in the wallet and I was now interstate without my wallet, any cash or any credit cards.  I rang the airline, the airport and anyone else I could think that I had come into contact with or used my wallet with.  No luck.

Just as I was at the point of contacting banks, I received a call on my mobile.  It was the guy who served me in one of the airport shops in Melbourne when I bought a bottle of water.  I had left my wallet on the counter when I left.  He noticed but couldn't find me.  He looked through the wallet and found my business card and called the number.  He said that he would meet my flight when I returned to Melbourne and give me the wallet back.

I planned to give him a financial reward.  He had saved me a lot of trouble and had also returned my wallet completely intact.  All the money was there, along with the cards and all the other stuff that accumulates in a wallet.  When he met me at the gate lounge he revealed that he wasn't even working that day and had travelled to the airport especially to return my wallet.

I offered him a cash reward and he looked offended.  He refused it and said that he had done only what was right and that people shouldn't be rewarded for doing the right thing.  He went on to say that Jesus would reward him later.

Perhaps the money should be lying on the road for him, instead of me!

Photo of the day - TRASH

My recycling station.
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Photo of the day - YOUR NAME

Well it's my name really.  This was yesterday's subject. I was facilitating so photographed the flip chart where I wrote my name and the name of the course.
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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Naked emergency

Weary after a restless night's sleep, I was standing in the hotel shower this morning, hoping it would work its magic.  Whenever I travel to Perth from Melbourne, I feel like the living dead.  I'm in a fog of weariness from the moment I arrive until the day after I return home.  There is a three hour time difference at the moment and it shouldn't be under estimated.  At 3:30am it feels like time to get up, but it isn't and then at 4pm you're ready for a pre dinner cocktail.

Anyway, as I was saying, I was in the shower.  Just as I was getting the hang of being upright I heard a beeping sound.  I soon realised that it was the alert tone - stage one of the hotel's evacuation system.

The alert tone means "stop what you're doing and prepare to evacuate".  In other words, be ready.  I didn't know how long I had, but I was covered in soap and exiting the shower would be more than just getting out.  I started to think through the logistics.

Firstly, the tiny towels.  Hotel towels (unless you're staying at a really expensive one) save money on towels by cutting the normal sized ones in half and pretending that it's a whole towel.  I knew that in an emergency situation like calmly walking down the fire stairs whilst dripping wet and covered in soap, the tiny towel would contribute nothing.  I needed to start drying now!

But I wasn't ready so I started to think through alternatives.  I could just get into yesterday's clothes without worrying about drying myself.  That could work, but the lack of underwear might be a problem.  I decided I could cross that bridge when I came to it.  I'd be wearing no underwear, so I'd just pray there was no one under the bridge and looking up. Or if there was that his name was George Clooney.

The beeping persisted.

I was certain that any minute I would hear the whooping of the evacuation tone.  I started to panic.  What about moisturiser?  I couldn't just leap out of the shower and then not moisturise!  I'd be like the Simpson Desert and need to use polyfiller to get my make up on later.  Speaking of which, the idea of being surrounded by half naked strangers before going through hair and makeup was not a great start to the day.

I decided to turn the shower off and start the moisturising.  At least I would be dewy on the way out!

I grabbed the tiny towel and worked it over my body with all the strength in my index finger.  I sighed and turned on the hair dryer instead.  It was quicker, but a bit uncomfortable in the tender areas and I used more body lotion that I ever have before.

The beeping stopped.  I waited for the whooping to start.  Nothing.  There was just silence.  I proceeded into hair and makeup and was ready to face the day.

Emergency averted.

It reminded me of fire drills at boarding school.  It was the only opportunity to see what the boarding house mistresses looked like in real life.  They'd be there in their dressing gowns, fumbling with a torch and a list of boarders on a windy winter's night at 3am when the temperature was about 10 degrees Celsius trying to elicit a response from contrary teenage girls assembled on the school oval in various states of undress.  But that's another story.

Have you ever been evacuated at an inconvenient moment?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Photo of the day - ANIMAL

Melbourne's lane ways have some wonderful graffiti.  I ducked down a particularly rich one today (between Little Collins Street and the Bourke Street mall) and found my animal for today's photo.
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How good are those eyes?

I'd call it a circus except a circus is fun.

Now I appreciate the work being done to upgrade our suburban rail system.  I understand that while it is happening, there will be occasions of inconvenience. I can live with that. What I don't understand is why the operators of an entire public transport system can not get communication about alternative arrangements right!

This morning I arrived at Seddon station to travel into the city.  As I was crossing over the pedestrian overpass, I  was on the phone, but managed to hear an announcement telling me that the trains were not running due to track work and that I should proceed to the stop where I could catch the replacement bus.  I'm very familiar with the drill so went straight over.

When I arrived I read the sign attached to the pole at the bus stop.  Here is the pole:

You can see the sign stuck to the pole.
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And here is the sign itself.
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So I followed the instructions and went back over the pedestrian overpass to the other side of the station to find the stop on Bellairs Avenue.  I could see no evidence of a bus stop but there was a guy there and I asked him what he knew.  He too was following the instructions on the sign and was waiting for the replacement bus in a place that seemed reasonable to wait.  I waited with him.  After waiting for about ten minutes, I heard a bus arrive.  I looked up to see the replacement bus pause at the usual stop and then continue on its way.  The guy and I were left right where we were.

My car was nearby so I drove to Footscray and gave the guy, Chris, a lift.  He told me that today was not a serial killer day, so it was all okay. Phew.  He didn't check to discover my proclivities.

On arrival at Footscray I  spoke to one of the staff about the practical joke they had set up at Seddon station.
The first woman just looked at me and shrugged.  Then a guy called someone on the two-way radio.  After some crackling and quacking, he too shrugged at me.

I called the customer feedback line.  Again.  They assured me that they were sorry for the "mix up" and that I would have a response from a customer relations person within 7 business days.  They always promise that but have never delivered.  It always requires a follow up call.  My last experience with the buses was on 13 March and I haven't heard a word.  The woman in the call centre put an "action" on that complaint as a result of my call today.

As I drove home from the station I decided to swing by the station to see if the sign was still there directing poor, obedient souls across to the other side of the station.  It was. I need to travel again tomorrow, so called customer feedback to find out where on earth I should catch the bus.

This time the person on the phone advised they had information that said the buses would pick up from the usual stop.  What about this sign?  She called Footscray and then told me that no one knew how it had got there and maybe it was someone else's sign.  That's a possibility, but it doesn't explain the announcements at the train station.

It makes me nervous that these operators (Metro Trains) can't organise one bus stop. I hope the tracks they're laying are the right gauge and going to the right place, but I can't be sure.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

"Are you a real actor?"

If you're a regular reader, then you'll know that one of the things I do on a regular basis is work as an actress in an educational context.  This means doing everything from making films and being in still photographs to playing a particular character in a scripted scenario, playing a character within a specified context, or playing a role that a course participant describes on the spot.  In this last case it is usually someone with whom they work and want to practise dealing with.

The reactions that people have to this situation vary widely and are fascinating.

Earlier in the week, I was working in a different capacity with a group of executives at an organisation I've been working with regularly.  I usually remember the faces of people I've worked with before and they certainly remember me.  I recognised a particular man when he walked in the door and he confirmed that he'd previously been in a course I had facilitated and also played a particular colleague for him in a role play.

On the last day of the course this time he came up to me and asked me if I remembered playing "a particularly difficult Turkish man".  I confessed that I didn't have a specific memory and asked whether it was useful for him.  His eyes lit up and he said that he was a bit freaked out at the time because I was spookily like the difficult Turkish man.  He wanted to tell me how useful the opportunity to practise had been; he'd had the conversation he needed to have and was much better prepared as a result of our interaction.

I felt very happy.  I'm nothing like a "difficult Turkish man".  It's quite common for people to stop in the middle of one of these simulations/role plays because what they see before them is so like the person they have in mind.  This is one of the most creative aspects of this work - creating a character out of a few key pieces of behavioural information.  I've only once had someone complain that I was nothing like the person they'd described.  I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often, given what it is that we're doing.

Tonight I was working with a group of medical professionals who have been trained overseas and are preparing to qualify here in Australia.  I had to play a woman with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.  At one point I was asked about my family and whether anything had happened and I spoke about the death of my father.  The character I was playing was still grieving and as I spoke about my fictional father, tears started to well in my eyes.  I could feel the student I was working with, and the other students who were observing, look on and wonder whether what they were seeing was real.  When the scene was over they were very concerned to see that I was all right.  Naturally, I was.

In the debrief afterwards, I was asked whether I was really crying.  This is such a hard question to answer.  Physically I was crying:  there were tears in my eyes, my heart rate and breathing changed, my facial expression changed.  What I was crying for is a much harder question to answer and is one of the great mysteries and magical things about acting.

As I left for the evening, I ran into a couple of the students outside.  They wanted to know whether I was a "real actor".  I thought that was an interesting question, given what they had just been part of.  If they saw a plumber do a great job, or another doctor do a great job, I doubt they would ask whether the person was really what they seemed to be.  I don't think it was malicious; I think that good acting is a powerful and mysterious thing when you witness it in a theatre or on screen.  Imagine its power when you witness it up close and unrehearsed!  It's wonderful that this power is now being realised to provide profound and transforming educational experiences.

Photo of the day - KITCHEN SINK

Some work to do this morning:

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Where do you stand in a conflict?

Flicking television stations last night, I caught a snippet of The Simpsons.  The Pastor and his wife were going through a rocky patch.  The Pastor asked his wife why they were always arguing lately.  She replied by saying they weren't arguing - arguing would mean they were speaking to each other.

I often find that one of The Simpsons (usually Lisa) has something to say which supports my work in various organisations.  Recently I was working with a group of leaders in one of Australia's oldest companies.  We were talking about the role of conversation in relationships with their teams and what happens when the conversation is a tough one.

The preparedness to have a difficult conversation implies an investment in the relationship.  If something at the heart of a relationship is wrong, unwillingness or avoidance to talk about it, suggests that the relationship is disposable. The Pastor's wife was almost saying that arguing would be healthier than the absence of talking at all.

One of the things I love most about my work is that I meet so many people every week.  Even though I am leading the learning, I always learn something from them.  Recently, I picked up the idea of "leaning into the conflict".  The person who told me about this said that usually when conflict arises, or there is a hard conversation to had, many people withdraw and won't engage because they don't like conflict.  As a result the conflict often goes on for longer than everyone would like.  He said he liked the idea of "leaning" into conflict because it was a gentle movement, rather than a startling, confrontational one.  How thoughtful!

On reflection, I discover some further ideas that flow from this idea: leaning also requires balance and consciousness about placement of one's body.  Leaning suggests to me a level of flexibility and the ability to shift position.  I love this idea as it provides a physical and visual queue or anchor - useful to hang onto when the adrenalin kicks in when we're in the middle of conflict.

I also have an opposite image for when I'm sitting in the role of mediator in conflict.  As someone who loves to problem solve and negotiate, I have to work consciously to let go of attachment to control of the conversation that occurs in a mediation.  One of the experienced mediators I learnt a lot from suggested I "feel the back of my chair" in those moments when I was tempted to intervene (or perhaps lean into the conflict!).  I now apply this idea when I'm facilitating a group. "Feeling the back of the chair" means leaning out, rather than in, removing oneself from the centre but still being present.

How to reconcile these two ideas? When I am a leader and have responsibility for people, or am in a relationship (any kind of relationship) where something isn't right, I need to decide whether the relationship and the people matter.  If they do, then leaning into the conflict is a helpful queue.  When I'm an outsider and working in the service of other people ( as a facilitator or mediator), then knowing when to feel the back of the chair can create ownership of the problem for the people who are having the problem.

Both of these stances are non-threatening and if done mindfully and genuinely in alignment with thoughts and feelings can have a powerful effect.

When it comes to conflict, where do you stand?

Photo of the day - DELICIOUS

(c) 2012 divacultura
My favourite with strong blue cheese and a cracker!  Mmmmmm.

Photo of the day - BEFORE AND AFTER

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Left hand side was taken before I'd had a shower and done my makeup.  You could also say, it was taken just after I woke up.
The right hand side was taken after I'd had a shower and been in hair and makeup.  It is also after I left home but before the train arrived, just after the sun had risen.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Photo of the day - FUNNY

I've had a very serious day.  I've been preparing some people to participate in a mediation to resolve a long standing conflict.  I knew it wouldn't be a very funny day and I considered the possibility that I would have nothing to photograph for today's photo of the day challenge.

Then it happened.  I saw a sign.  I knew it was the one.  Then I realised that it was stuck to an automatic sliding door and this would pose its own challenges as I tried to photograph it.  Every time I lined everything up, someone would activate the doors and the sign would move.  Then I'd line it all up again and take a second too long and the doors would slide closed! I found that bit funny too. As a result the photo is a little blurry.

Here's the sign:
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How's that?

This sign is stuck to the door of the waiting room inside the coach terminal at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne.

I took a look at the seats in there.  They are long bench seats with metal arms sticking out at regular intervals to create three separate seats along the bench.  How anyone could lie there is beyond me!

I wonder what happens if you're caught endangering your own life by lying down in this waiting room?  Imagine being arrested for lying down!

Have you ever done something you shouldn't?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Photo of the day - A CORNER OF YOUR HOME

The theme for today's photo is "a corner of your home".  As soon as I saw this, I knew exactly what I would photograph.
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This is a corner I look at all the time.  It makes me happy.  It's the top of my very special stepped book case and houses a small collection of special things.

The hands are hand carved sandalwood.  I bought them when I was in India.  They were very expensive and I shouldn't really have been buying them, but I had never seen anything like them.  I kept going back to look at them and knew that I just had to have them.  They are so intricate!  The scent of sandalwood has faded over time, but I am so happy that I decided to buy them.

Next is a very fine porcelain tealight holder.  It glows red with a lit candle inside.  It's so fine it's almost translucent. It is a recent purchase from a gift store in Seddon.

The wooden carved candle stick came from the Eumundi markets in Queensland many years ago.  I love the curves of the wood.  It makes me think of a whale tale.

Sitting on the base of the candle stick holder is a tiny enamel bell given to me as a birthday gift many years ago by a very dear friend.

Next is a carved granite Buddha's head.  I also purchased this in India from a boy who took me around the streets of his village in the south.   He was attending a school and learning to carve.  He came up to me in the street and asked me where I was from.  As soon as he discovered I was from Australia he wanted to know if I was friends with Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne!

Lastly there's a pyramid of zebra rock which another friend brought me from the Northern Territory.

Observing this corner of my home makes me happy.  By candlelight it is even better.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

These shoes got sole!

As I walked off stage from singing at the Get Vocal festival today, a woman came up to me and said how much she and her friends had enjoyed listening to my group (Living Out Loud).  I thanked her for coming and said how pleased I was that she enjoyed our set.

Then she said:  "I also really need to tell you how much we love your shoes.  The singing was great, but those shoes are gorgeous!"
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Was our performance upstaged by our shoes?  I hope not.

I was wearing my beautiful red John Fluevogs.  These are the kind of shoes that complete strangers in the street will come and give some shoe love.  Whenever I'm wearing them, I feel strangers flirting with my feet.  It's a beautiful thing.

Best of all, these shoes have a secret.  Inside and out, they have musical references built in.

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Way down to the bottom of the sole!
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la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la!

Photo of the day - GREEN

How could I resist these beautiful green leaves?
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Photo of the day - SUNGLASSES

This is what the world looks like through my prescription sunglasses.
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Friday, 16 March 2012

Gang of 6 + one more.

There has been some action to contemplate on the platform of my local train station over the last couple of days. Some kind of serious digging is occurring.  The digging is some of the most serious that I have ever seen.  It is so serious that it requires six men, plus a spare.  

These six men all wear orange high visibility vests, hard hats, safety glasses and ear muffs.  They also carry some nifty accessories.  The must have is the broom.  It must be tall enough to lean one's chin on, comfortably, without stooping.  Building stamina for this task must take some work.  They do it for very long periods.  Three of the six carry one of these.  Two other men stand a bit aside from the action, but their concentration never wavers from the deep scrutiny under which they place the broom-leaners.  

The main guy, the king pin, the boss man, he doesn't lean on no broom!  No! He has a jack hammer! He's in the middle of the action, vibrating away.  He has uncanny timing too, only starting up the jack hammer when you've pressed the information button to find out about the next train's arrival.  As soon as the information has been given, he stops.  You press the button again, he starts with the jack hammering again.  This morning I was convinced that the green button on the information box was actually his start button.  

He's heavily protected by the broom men so you wouldn't want to take him  by surprise.  So far, I have witnessed no sweeping.  My theory is that they are like dental assistants: they have to be at the ready with their cleaning implement which may or may not be called for by the person wielding the drill.

The spare man, also wears an orange vest, but his is more formal.  It has a different logo.  He also has ear plugs sticking out of his ears, rather than ear muffs.  His job is very different from the other men's, so it makes sense.  His job is to stand on the platform with his hands behind his back.  I saw someone try to ask him something but it didn't work because he was wearing the very effective ear plugs and couldn't hear them. The ear plugs I buy are never that effective.  I can hear everything, plus my heart beating and my breathing. This guy must have them stuck in his ears with glue or something because he doesn't seem to be able to remove them.  Or he's a clone that has been specially designed for these kinds of conditions on assignment.

The two men who don't have any accessories and stand well outside the action occasionally provide support and encouragement to the man with the jack hammer and his friends with the brooms.  They say things like "we'll have to pack up at 2:30" and "no, keep going".

After two days, they have made a very symmetrical rectangular hole in the platform.  I don't know what it's for. It's quite deep and quite long.  It's too narrow to be a grave. 

I wonder whether one of the broom-leaners would come and sweep at my house.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Photo of the day - CAR

I still remember my first car.  I'm still driving it.  Bought new in 1994, I have just clicked over 82 783km.  I only drive when I need to.
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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

I smell like...

Last night I went to a concert.  I went to the concert by myself.  The concert started at 7pm and I thought I would be able to get from Yarraville to South Yarra in under an hour, find a park, buy a drink at the bar and then enjoy the concert.  With ten minutes to go, I still had not reached my destination!

The venue's tiny car park was full when I arrived, so I drove on, looking for street parking or any other place that was suitable for me to abandon my car and find it still there when I returned after the concert.  The street was narrow.  There was a car a little way in front of me.  I was driving at about 45km per hour. A cranky looking woman in a gigantic four wheel drive, loomed up behind me.  Then I heard a horn.  I wasn't sure where it was coming from and didn't think I was doing anything to warrant it.

I kept looking for a park.  I heard the horn again.  I caught a glimpse of the woman in the rear vision mirror.  It was her.  She was honking at me.  I slowed right down.  Steam started to come out of her ears.  I stopped all together and waited for her to pass me.  She zoomed past me, shaking her head.  I resumed my quest for a park.  It all seemed a bit unnecessary really.

As I walked into the foyer the doors to the concert I was attending opened and I walked straight in.  A woman and a man came and sat in the two seats next to me.  I was happily sitting and soaking up the scene; watching people and listening to conversations.  The woman was chatty - what was I here for? Had I been before? etc.

Then she said:  "Sorry if my husband and I smell like dinner."

Thank goodness!  I wasn't at all sure what was going to come after the word "like" in that sentence.  Which probably is a good indication that they didn't smell like anything.  Some of the ideas running through my mind in that moment were: "armpits"; "feet"; "bums"; "last month's macaroni cheese"; "Great Aunt Mabel"; "belly button lint"; "death" and "sewerage workers".  If you and your husband did turn up at a concert smelling like one of these things, then it probably is worth mentioning.  But when you don't smell like anything at all, what's the point of mentioning it?

After a shake of my head the woman went on to explain that they'd eaten noodles for dinner.  The husband leaned forward, into the conversation, nodding support and agreement to underline what his wife was saying.  I leant back.  It was instinctive.  I thought they were going to breathe on me.

The lights went down and the music started.  No more conversation required. But I may have suffered an aromatic hallucination for the rest of the evening.

What do strangers say to you in public places?

Photo of the day - CLOUDS

A good day in Melbourne for today's photo.  There was nothing but cloud!
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Photo of the day - SIGN

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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The one where the call centre guy tells the truth. Twice.

It's not very often that I find myself confronted with breathtaking honesty and in that moment wish that the person had said something different!  I was in that situation today.

As I arrived at the train station to travel into the city for a lunch meeting an announcement came over the public address system advising that all trains were cancelled until further notice because of an unspecified problem somewhere else on the line.  With no staff to assist or answer questions, the disembodied voice directed us to the stop for the replacement bus. We obeyed.  I was on a tight schedule today and needed more information so I could decide whether to attend the meeting or reschedule.  I called Metlink.  They provide information about travelling on public transport.  It seemed like they should be able to handle it.

I've done this before.  I should know from my experience that it is futile, but it has been a while and I have faith that the organisations serving the public improve over time.  All I wanted was a rough idea of how far away the replacement bus was...15 minutes or 50 minutes?  Fifteen minutes I could just live with; fifty required rescheduling.  Other people who were waiting were trying to get to work or the airport to catch flights, so their need was more critical than mine.  

From the beginning the man who answered the phone caused my eyes to roll.  I explained what stop I was at and where I wanted to go.  It soon became apparent that I also needed to give him information about what was happening and educate him about the stations on Melbourne's train lines.

The problem was a signal fault at Newport.  It was the second one for the day and each time it happens, transport in the south western suburbs screeches to a halt.  

The answer to my question about the bus was, "I have no information about that."  This was followed by a partial explanation about the complexity of the relationship between the train operators and the owners of the buses.  Not that I care.  while it might be an interesting subject for a hard hitting documentary or sit-com one day, it wasn't relevant to me at that time.

I tried again, asking just for an idea if the bus was even on its way.  This time I received the breathtakingly honest answer:  "I have no idea."

I asked if anyone had any idea.  He asked if he could put me on hold.  I said yes.  

He came back and said:  "No one here has any idea where the bus is or when it will arrive.  Ma'am."

After a beat of silence he added, "Would you like me to put you through to the feedback line?"

What a terrific idea!  Smooth operator.  

After sitting on hold for almost ten minutes, my call was answered.  As I was explaining the situation, a train approached the station.  People started to run from the stop where the fictional replacement bus allegedly arrives, to the train platform in the hope that they wouldn't miss the train.  The guy on the other end of the phone couldn't believe it.  "Is it going to stop?" he asked.

The next part of our conversation took place from the comfort of the almost empty train.  He said there should have been an announcement then realised that none of us were on the platform to hear it - we were all over at the replacement-bus stop.  No announcements reach that wilderness.  

I suggested circus music should be playing.  The guy on the other end of the phone hummed a few bars.  

Say no more.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Photo of the day - FORK

(c) 2012 divacultura
This is one of my everyday forks.  Inherited from my grandparents. It's resting on a salad of puy lentils.  I cooked them with a bay leaf and thyme sprigs, added some braised onions and dressed it with verjuice.  Then I spread some homemade beetroot relish on some pumpkin sourdough bread, lightly toasted, spooned some of the lentils over it.  Sprinkled some fetta and chopped flat leaf parsley over the lot.  Salt and pepper.  YUM!

In the flow

I've spent most of my waking hours today sharing lunch with a friend of mine.  My friend asked if she could buy me lunch and pick my brains.  Naturally, I said yes.

Over some great food and coffee in one of my favourite Yarraville cafes (the Corner Shop) we spent a few hours talking about our skills and our experiences finding our way in the world as freelance multi-taskers. It's a compliment to be thought of as someone who has something worth sharing and is of value to another person on a similar path. The sharing flows both ways in a conversation like this.

I always find myself thinking about what I've done from a different angle as a result of one of these conversations.  Best of all, it helps me refine my thinking.  I usually know exactly why I've made particular decisions but being asked to articulate this can help sharpen the thinking and gain a different perspective on something.  All of this happened today - and more!

It's great to be in the flow.  You know, when things arise as you need them.  Introductions happen easily. Clients pay on time and refer you to other people. New opportunities land right in your lap. It feels like the ideas come to you.  After some turbulence a couple of weeks ago it feels great to be in the flow again.  Being out of the flow means getting bumped into, wearing a frown and feeling nervous about things.  This is not happy territory and therefore it isn't sustainable.

During the course of our conversation we turned to the subject of our blogs and social media presence.  We each had recommendations for the other to look up.  We both have been conscious about our online presence for a while, so we share a common language.  At one point we both realised we'd been talking about social media contacts as though they are real people...oh, hang on, they ARE real people.  So are we! Even if we've never met each other, there's still an awareness of who they are and what they know.

Yesterday I met a woman who had joined facebook last week.  We pondered this, imagining how different our freelance lives would be without platforms like our blogs, twitter accounts, linked in profiles and facebook pages.  And that's before we even start thinking about our websites and domain names.

There's a lot of discussion about the value of social media and whether it's helpful, healthy or a time waster.  The very strong theme of the discussion I had with my friend today was the notion of "reciprocity".  Here are my top reciprocity tips for creating "flow":

1. My personal practice with every referral I receive from a contact, is to take time to personally thank the person who made the referral - even if nothing concrete comes of it.  And if someone is taking time to forward your material on, say thank you! Appreciation costs nothing and builds goodwill.  Goodwill is another way to think of "the flow".

2. Find out about people in your networks.  Ask them what they offer.  You might not need their services, but someone who approaches you might be looking.  You'll be in a position to give them a referral.

3. Ask for testimonials after you've completed a piece of work.  Linked In makes this really easy to do.  Ask for permission to also publish the testimonial on your website.  People want to know that you can deliver.

4. Don't stand on the sidelines.  I have lots of conversations with people who tell me they don't understand Twitter.  I tell them the best way to learn about Twitter (or any social media) is to participate.  I usually hear that they've joined Twitter, but then they don't say anything - they want to "watch" for a while. Soon they close the account proclaiming that they don't get it and wonder what all the fuss is about. Social media is not for voyeurs.

If you're at the start of this journey, talk to people who are already doing it.  It's worth thinking strategically before you set everything up.  (I LOVE talking to people.)  And I'd love to hear your ideas!

How do you build goodwill and keep it flowing?

*My friend is a whizz at helping people (especially artists) maximise their web presence.  You can pay her a visit over at  Her "Top Tool Tuesday" posts are very handy.  Don't forget to tell her I sent you!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Photo of the day - SOMEONE I TALKED TO TODAY

I delivered an order of my hand knitted "egg noggins" to Anna at her wonderful shop, Curious Grace today.  We had a really interesting conversation about art, colour, twitter and things.

(c) divacultura 2012

*I used the Brannan filter on Instagram.

Vocal exploration - a capella

Next Saturday afternoon, the vocal group I sing with is performing at an a capella festival.  I've been letting people know about it and discovered that not everyone knows what the term "a capella" means and not everyone has discovered its beauty, joy and versatility.  It means singing that is unaccompanied by any instrument and I have loved it for as long as I can remember.

I've performed all sorts of vocal music in choirs of various configurations.  I was first introduced to madrigals as part of the small choral group at high school.  The fun and fluff of lots of fa-la-la's was very exciting when everyone in the group arrived at the right place at the same time - especially in the ones with a fast tempo!  My favourite madrigal of all time is "All Creatures are Merry Minded", written in the 1500's by John Bennett.

I was hooked on the idea of people being able to come together and make music with nothing more than their bodies:  voices providing melody and hands, fingers and feet often providing rhythm.

For a while I sang in a small professional a capella group which specialised in early church music.  There were only 16 of us and we sang some sublime music.  One of  my favourites from that time was the "Miserere" by Allegri.  Written in the early 1600's, it would have originally been sung only by male voices.  The Company of Voices sang in cathedrals to take advantage of the glorious acoustics.

I remember performing a piece by Palestrina (I think) that was quite complex and in about 12 parts.  We knew the piece very well and so also knew very quickly that something had gone terribly wrong.  It was sounding different and it felt like we were somehow all in different places.  Fear can easily take hold in this situation but we managed to find a resting point within the music.  The conductor mouthed the page number and we took off again, made it through to the end intact and managed to smile in relief as the fear left our eyes.  There was power in the energy of the group and our ability to communicate through eye contact that saved us.  Still, I wouldn't want to be in that position again!

We also sang music by twentieth century composers in that group.  Things like "Hymn to St Cecilia" by Benjamin Britten.  The tonality is completely different from the older music and it is thrilling to sing for the different feeling it evokes.

Since that time, I've explored black gospel music and African music in various groups.  Listening to many of the old recordings of quartets and bigger groups, I love the energy and precision they bring to their singing.  Every word can be heard and their rhythm is tight!  Even many of the slower songs can suddenly pick up pace and go from solemn to joyous!

I learnt about black South African music not long after the end of apartheid when people were coming out to tell their stories of suppression.  Their songs held their history.  One particular artist with whom I worked in Brisbane had been in prison and suffered a lot.  Despite this, there was always singing.  In his culture singing was done by anyone who had a voice, not just musicians.

Many modern songs have also benefited from a capella arrangements.  Check out "Call your Girlfriend" by a female vocal trio called Erato.  The harmonies are bliss and I love their funky rhythms played on the kitchen table with empty margarine containers!

Paul Kelly's song "Come and Meet Me in the Middle of the Air" is sung a capella by Melbourne comic vocal trio Tripod and Eddie Perfect in this version.

I believe that human beings have a need to make and appreciate music and there is nothing better than the human voice joining with other human voices - the possibilities are endless.  Have a look and a listen to the Voca People - 8 people who sound like everything from an orchestra to a rock band!

These days you don't even need to be in the same place as other singers.  Eric Whitacre has created the ultimate virtual a capella choir.  Singers from around the world record their parts at home and submit the file digitally.  It's all then mixed to create a masterpiece like "Sleep".

If you're yet to experience the spine tingling joy of hearing the human voice singing with other human voices, the Get Vocal Festival is a great place to begin.  Tripod is performing at the opening night concert this Tuesday.  My group, Living Out Loud, is performing at the Saturday Matinee Showcase along with Mint 26, The Ice haloes, Key Change and Corisande.

Why not sample something different next weekend and support local music!

*Quote promotional code "Sue Johnson/Living Out Loud" when booking tickets to any event.*

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Photo of the day - LOUD

How to photograph a sound?

*I used the Inkwell filter on instagram.

Photo of the day - RED

Photo theme for 9 March is RED.  Here's my collection of red lipstick!
(c) divacultura 2012
*I used the Valencia filter on instagram.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Photo of the day - SOMETHING YOU WORE

I bought this heptagram ( 7 pointed star) on ebay a few years ago for fifty cents.  I love it and wear it all the time.

(c) divacultura 2012

Photo of the day - WINDOW

(c) divacultura 2012
Art deco windows in the Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne.

Behaving badly

Over the last two days, I've witnessed examples of behaviour that shows no regard for other people.

Flying home to Melbourne from Perth yesterday, I arrived at my seat to find the young woman sitting in the seat beside me had her bag and shoes and books and hat and water bottle sitting on my seat.  I arrived, said hello and excuse me and waited.  I was greeted with a huff and a pout.  Oh well, I put that aside, sat down, plugged in my earphones and opened my book.

For the duration of the four hour flight, this woman did not sit still and took up as much space as she possibly could.  She had bright yellow platform shoes on which were obviously uncomfortable, as she shifted her legs and rearranged them in various crosses and uncrosses for the duration of the the flight.

At the moment we received the instruction that the aircraft was about to commence descent and all electronic devices needed to be switched off, she whipped out her iphone, switched it on and started to send text messages.

I waited.

I noticed when the flight attendants walked past, she would hide the phone.

Eventually I said to her: "You really need to switch that off."

She shrugged and huffed and pouted again.

I said: "Seriously, you need to switch that off."

She replied: "I need to get someone to pick me up!"

"Well you'll need to get someone to pick us all up.  From the crash site. Switch it off."

And she did.  Honestly.

Travelling home in peak hour after work today, the train was very crowded and even when I embarked at the beginning of the journey I had to stand.  At the next station, a heavily pregnant woman arrived. I moved along to make way for the next wave of passengers.  The pregnant woman was standing right near the bank of seats that are to be given up for anyone with special needs.  The sign specifically lists pregnancy.  

There were three women sitting in the bank of four and the man was virtually looking straight at the woman's belly.  I was about to ask someone to give their seat to this woman, when one of the seated women announced that she was getting off at the next stop.  She made no move to get up early to provide a seat for this woman.  The other two women looked directly at the pregnant woman and made no move to assist.  Then the man offered his seat, but the woman who was getting off at the next station shook her head and told him that she was getting off at the next stop.  The man sat down!

When the pregnant woman did have the opportunity to sit down, she looked very relieved.  

International Women's Day and a pregnant woman can't even rely on another woman to show her consideration.

Monday, 5 March 2012

$30 worth of wisdom

The taxi driver's phone was ringing when I got into the back seat.  At least I think it was ringing.  It played what sounded like the soundtrack to a cartoon.  It played for about a minute.  He made no move to answer it.  For this I was grateful.  Blaring out of the speakers behind me was 1950's music, all sung tales of love gone wrong. 

The taxi driver was chatty, but muffled.  He was competing with lost love, shoo-bop-du-wop and had a big Tom Selleck moustache dampening all sound coming from his mouth.

It was 37 degrees Celsius when I arrived in Perth.  It was a nice change from the freezing conditions I'd just endured on Qantas flight 777 from Melbourne. I shared the story with the driver when he enquired about my flight.

"I asked the attendant for a blanket.  You know what he said?"

"No.  What did he say?"

"There are no blankets.  And then his offsider chimed in with the statement, 'we're all hot!'"

The driver wisely replied, "Well, they're probably hot because they're running around fetching blankets for everyone!  You'd think they'd work out what's going on if they've run out of blankets!  People are cold!  Turn up the heat!  That's all they need to do!  Then the stewards can stop running around with blankets and they wouldn't be too hot!  Everyone's happy!"

"You're right, " I said.

"Which airline?"


"Perhaps it's part of their new advertising campaign."  He paused dramatically.  "Fly Qantas.  We're cool."

"Yeah, or 'Fly Qantas.  The fridge in the sky.'"

He thought that was so funny he slapped the steering wheel.

A female singer's sorrowful voice dramatically declared, "You don't love me anymore - I'll step down."

I laughed.  What was she, chariman of the board?  Prime Minister?

"That's dramatic," I said.

"It's what happens now.  With all the horses, " he replied.

What do horses have to do with it?  Maybe it was some obscure reference to the name of the group doing the backing vocals. 

"What do you mean?"

"One in three marriages end with the horses.  You could say they step down."

Was he talking about dressage?  The horses are stepping now?

"Sorry?  Horses?"

"Divorces...divorces.  You know..."

"Oh, divorces.  I thought you said 'the horses'...never mind."

I felt like I was in a scene with Peter Sellers.  They should tell them the moustache is hazardous to conversational comprehension. 

He went on:  "85 per cent of men play up, you know."

"And the other 15 per cent are lying?" I quipped.

"Well you can't be loving one woman when you're in love with another one.  She needs to step down."

"Or the man could step up."

He fell silent. 

Then: "You are a very smart woman."

Is this how he picks up women?  I wondered.

He then explained his opposition to daylight saving and his theory that it's a conspiracy of fast food chains because it's too hot to cook.

"Daylight saving doesn't change the temperature, " I pointed out.

He shook his head.  Clearly I wasn't that smart anymore.

We arrived at my hotel just in time to spare him from further disappointment about my dwindling intellect.

"Enjoy your stay while you're here," he said as he handed me my bag from the boot of the car.

When else would I enjoy it? While I'm somewhere else?

All that wisdom and entertainment for just under $30 too.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


Contemplating my photo for today (bedside), I'm looking at the pile of books.  There's always a pile of books on my bedside table.  You should see the one on the other side - it has an even taller stack.  And my bed head has a secret compartment and above that there's space to put even more books.  Then there's the stacks of books against walls and lying two deep in book shelves.  It has always been so.

The stack of books beside the bed may look the same for months on end, but that does not mean I'm not reading.  There is never a time when I am not reading at least one book.  I borrow books from the library.  My strategy to reduce the number of books coming in to my house is to reserve the ones I want to read and then pick them up when they're ready.  That's one of the reasons the pile may not move much.

Where I can't borrow the book from the library and there is some reason for me to own my own copy, I try first to buy it as an ebook for my Sony ereader.  At least then there's not another physical presence taking floorspace.

When that doesn't work, I will buy the book and it will be added to the pile.  If it's not the kind of book I need to hang onto, I'll turn it over at my local second hand bookstore.  The discipline when I go there is to not come home with more books than I took in.

All my friends and family know that I love to read so they tend to give me books for birthdays and Christmas.  I love them for it.  I think they are brave imagining they can choose something that I have not read or do not already own.  There are two friends whom I recall getting sucked into a hell loop as they delivered my birthday gift.  It was a book I had read.  They asked me to tell them if I had read the book already, so I did.  They took it back and exchanged it for another title which on presentation was discovered to be yet another title I had already read. In one of the cases they returned with a cute pair of socks instead.  In the case of the other friend, she went back and forth about five times and then it became embarrassing and frustrating for both of us.  I can't remember what happened in the end.  Maybe I lied.

In these days of blogs and apps like "we read" on facebook or websites like librarything it's possible to tell the world what you're reading, what you've read and what you'd like to read.  Maybe that will minimise the risk of needing to settle for socks.  I took it as a good sign that both of my friends had a very good idea of what I like to read.

I have to take a longish flight tomorrow and am looking forward to some uninterrupted reading time.  I'll be taking a couple of books because I know I'll finish one on both legs of the journey.  On the way over it will be "American Journeys" by former Prime Minister Paul Keating's speech writer Don Watson.  (So far I've visited New Orleans post hurricane Katrina and now I'm in Birmingham, Alabama.)  I am yet to make my selection for the return journey.  Something light I think.

Photo of the day - BEDSIDE

* I used the Sierra filter on instagram.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Sounds of silence

I spent today's choir rehearsal in silence. I've been nursing a sore throat over the last couple of days and woke up this morning with hardly any voice.  My voice is my main tool for my work (except my writing) so I really can't afford to lose it.  Literally.

My vocal group has a gig coming up and I decided that even though I couldn't sing, it was still important to be at the rehearsal.  I'm so glad I went.  I sat out the front and was able to hear things and gain perspectives that just aren't possible when you're singing a part in the middle of the group.  It was so exciting!

Being in the world in silence is an interesting thing to do every now and then.  Especially when you're an extrovert like me.  It's still possible for dialogue to occur and connections with others can be made.  Exchanges become about conveying everything physically.  And people are also amazingly good lip readers.   (This makes me think about the film "The Artist" which I wrote about here and how easy it was to "hear" the conversation in a silent film.)

Losing my voice is not new to me.    It used to happen all the time and was usually not related to a physical cause.  When I was at university I lost my voice for three whole weeks!  I was living on campus in a residential college too, so it was pretty challenging.  This was the first instance of being unable to speak and not having an underlying physical cause.  Apparently it is quite common.

I tried everything.  I tried to unblock my chakras.  I breathed the colour blue.  I saw a speech pathologist.  I even just tried to speak, but it just didn't work.  So I decided that I just had to ride it out.

I carried a little notebook and fellow college residents and friends became well-practised in this new style of conversation. They would wait patiently for me to write my side of the dialogue in the notebook. A few years ago I found the notebook when I was cleaning some stuff out.  I remember being struck by how mundane my bits of direct speech were.  It was all a bit "pass the salt".  Surely I had something profound to say!  I was studying journalism and literature and history and drama and music! What a shame I didn't think to write myself some really fabulous dialogue!

One morning I woke up and my voice was back. Just like that.  No announcement or precursor.  It was an anti-climax in many ways.  Suddenly I was normal again and all the attention and solicitation I had enjoyed as friends eased my way in the world, was gone.  I was just another voice in the crowd.

As I had become so practised at being silent, my friends and I decided to go out one night with me pretending to be mute.  In a crowded pub or nightclub it hardly makes any difference and in many ways it is easier to just not talk.  Men would ask my friends about my history and how it was that I came to be mute.  All kinds of things were made up and for the most part they seemed to be believed.  Or perhaps it was wishful thinking on the part of these young men (imagine that!  a woman who can't speak!).

Apart from my voice being my living, it's also a big part of who I am in the world.  I verbally joust and usually have a witty comment at the ready and enjoy making people laugh.  Today, I noticed people taking the opportunity to poke me a little bit (in fun) because they knew they would be safe from my comeback.

At the supermarket buying food after rehearsal the girl at the checkout said hello and asked me how I was.  I indicated that I had no voice.  She was sympathetic and then gave me the following prescription: drink hot water with honey and lemon.

I nodded and mouthed, "And brandy!"

So here I am, silent and sipping the spirits left over from Christmas cooking.  The brandy burns on the way down, but it sure feels good.

Have you ever lost your voice?  How did you cope?

Photo of the day - YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD

Here's the main street of Yarraville on a very grey, rainy day.
(c) divacultura 2012

* I used the Lo-fi filter and tilt focus on instagram.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The voice behind the door

Three of us were sprinkled along the city bound platform of the local train station.  It was late morning when apparently only the jobless or freelancers are travelling.  

I heard banging.  I looked to see its source, but only saw two other people staring into space. I decided it must have been the wind whipping up the noise somewhere.  I walked to find shelter from the wind and heard the banging again.  It was too regular to be the wind.  Someone banging, but I couldn't see anyone.  

Then I heard a man's voice: "Is anyone out there?"

There was someone, somewhere!  No one else looked up. I walked in the direction of the voice.  This station is unstaffed but there are lots of doors.  They are all locked. There is no one there to open them.  I wonder what is behind them?

Having followed the voice, I found myself face to face with one of these doors.  I don't think I had ever noticed it before.  

"Yes?" I responded.

"Thank god!" the man said.  "Can you unlock the lock on the bottom of this door please?"

"Sure."  I look down and could see that the bolt had slid down and locked into place.  It was no effort at all to flick it up again - for me, on the outside of whatever was on the other side of this never-before-seen door.

The door opened inwards and there was a man, looking very relieved in his high-vis vest.

"Thank you. Thank you, mate.  I was starting to panic. You see, my phone..." he patted his pockets to demonstrate their emptiness,  "...couldn't call my offsider, you know...realised my phone is sitting on the front seat of the vehicle! So couldn't even call him!"  He shook his head and gave me a wide smile.

"No worries," I replied.  "What's in there?"  I had not had a chance to get a good look when the door opened.  All I could see was a very happy man in front of darkness and some bricks.

"Yeah. Anyway, don't know what I would've done if you hadn't come along! Thanks again." And off he went, ignoring my question.

I suppose he was meant to be in there.  My personal theory is that if you have a clipboard and a sense of purpose you can go just about anywhere without anyone questioning you.  Perhaps a high-vis vest and a sense of urgency has the same effect.  

Photo of the day - FRUIT

(c) divacultura 2012

Capsicum is so a fruit.  I checked!

*I used the Kelvin filter on instagram

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sneaking off

Sneaking off to the movies in the middle of the day during the week is one of the pleasures that my freelance working patterns affords me.  I did it today.  This week has been spent mainly at my desk (apart from yesterday when I was in a film.)  I decided that I needed to get OUT of the house.  I had some errands to run and even thought the weather was windy and rainy, the lure of the movies dragged me out.

Because I had some stuff to do in the city, I thought I'd just see what was playing when I turned up at the Kino.  Martha Marcy May Marlene was on at the perfect time and I bought my ticket.

Here's the first benefit of seeing a film at 12:20pm on a week day - there's no queue.  You just walk on up to the box office and buy your ticket.

The second thing is choosing to sit wherever you like.  I like to sit with no one in front of me.  It creates the illusion of being in my own private cinema.

There were four other people in the cinema today.  No one rustled chip packets, crunched popcorn or talked on their mobile phone.  I don't think there was even a cough registering the presence of anyone else.  None of them was sitting too close to me.  None of them was too tall in front of me, wearing a distracting hairstyle or hat.

Just me and the big screen.  It's one of my great pleasures in life, to lose myself at the cinema.  Even better when everyone else is working!

The challenge begins

You might remember that I've taken up the challenge to participate in "photo a day" during March.

So far - on day one! - I'm really enjoying it.  In any creative activity it's interesting to have an exercise to complete.  

Today's word is "UP".  I walked around the city looking up and saw lots of things I'd never before noticed.  It was actually hard to narrow my selection to just one!

Here it is.  Do you like it?  Also find divacultura on instagram.

(c) divacultura 2012

* I used the Hudson filter.