Monday, November 05, 2007

You know it's the first Monday in November in Melbourne when ...

... there is a big parade through the city streets, the day before the Melbourne Cup, and even though there are no horses in the city this year, because of the dreaded equine influenza, there are still thirty thousand people there to watch the jockeys and the trainers pass by. Heaven knows what the madness will be like at Flemington tomorrow.

It's "Cup Eve", and yet it's been a quiet day in our little corner of Fitzroy. I've finished writing up the second seminar paper in a week to submit for publication, and am just about all written out. But not quite.

Time, still, to speculate on the relationship between the Melbourne Cup and the medieval tournament.

From the weekend Age:

IN THE opulent corner of Flemington's Birdcage that houses the nearly completed four-level Venetian palace of Emirates, the top names in tents reach heavenward in the corporate game of "mine is bigger than yours".

Emirates yesterday fitted a century-old gate complete with authentic floodwater rust from a palazzo in Venice.

Moet has flown chef Shannon Bennett to France for inspiration for its finger food. Lexus will adorn its two-storey chandelier with 1000 flowers. And Saab has trucked in six tonnes of ice to carve a frozen bar.

The race that stops a nation has spawned a week of unashamed hedonism in the Birdcage's ever-growing palaces of pleasure.


This time tomorrow, there'll be hundreds of photos of silly hats, horses and excess of all kinds. People are already complaining that race-day fashions more nearly resemble nightclub wear than the stylish elegance of Ascot. There'll be people drunkenly staggering around in high heels and fantastic and fun constumes. Let's hope no horses get injured or distressed tomorrow, as they so often do.

Tim Costello, head of World Vision, in the same article valiantly tried to suggest that race-day excess was ... excessive.

World Vision chief executive Tim Costello yesterday condemned the lavish marquee scene as a sad indictment on society. "I think the marquees are the outward sign of great wealth and self-indulgence, but not necessarily the sign of great generosity and strength of spirit," he said.

Mr Costello, who returned from a trip to Africa for World Vision yesterday, said he was appalled that a marquee invitation was regarded as a sign of having "made it" in Melbourne.

"It's a sad aspiration for young people to being invited to an exclusive marquee, and if that is held up as having made it, then that is a fairly shallow, sad way to make it," he said.


It's hard not to agree with his assessment, but also hard not to see the similarities between the races and the tournament. Think of the elaborate jousts built at Smithfield and the Round Table at Windsor; think of the danger of the joust itself; and the chroniclers' complaints about the dreadful clothes of women, and their scandalous behaviour. Think of the pleasures, shared equally by both forms, of dressing up, in fancy jockeys' silks, high fashion, or silly, carnivalesque costumes; or, as in medieval times, knights disguising themselves as the Pope and his cardinals, or as Tartars, or cross-dressing. The Melbourne Cup is not just for the rich, either, any more than the tournaments were. Everyone gets a holiday (except the university), and most schools had today off as well. It is licensed mayhem.

I think my favourite detail about the Emirates tent, though, is the "century-old gate complete with authentic floodwater rust from a palazzo in Venice". The most extravagant and fantastic hoop-la still wants a touch of the historical real.

2 comments:

David Thornby said...

A very neat observation!

The whole shebang leaves me a bit conflicted. I see nothing wrong (and indeed something very much right) with 'a week of unashamed hedonism' for all; Lord knows we could do with one. However, the juxtaposition of Rev Costello's recently completed trip to Africa with the six tonnes of ice trucked in to make a frozen bar out of, made me more than a little uncomfortable (which I suppose is the point).

A socialist voice whispers to me that one of the reasons that the Melbourne Cup is a class-wide event is because it's not enough to have 'made it' and to have an enormous party of ridiculous extravagance; one must be seen to have made it and to be enjoying said ridiculous extravagances, by those on the other side of the fence. Am I being fanciful (or indeed unfair) when I ascribe this sort of thinking to Lilian Frank but not to cross-dressing medieval knights?

Pavlov's Cat said...

Lovely connection to be making. I envision ladies in medieval headdresses heading unsteadily for the Portaloos like Kath and Kim -- 'You've got a bit of carrot in your fascinator.'

The first thing I thought of when I read this post was the Palio.