Friday, May 19, 2017

MY MYSTERIOUS ONKEL MAX, an unexpected discovery


As you’ll have seen in my previous family posts on this blog, there are a couple of nasty lacunae in my otherwise pretty well covered family-tree.

The biggest and most disappointing one is the failure to find out anything concerning great-grandfather Adolf Gánsl before he turned up in Vienna in the 1870s with his new wife, Julianna. He is said on his death registration to have been born 1844 in Mór, Hungary. And that’s all I know of his early life.

The other mystery is ‘whatever happened to Max’. Max was the middle one of the three sons of Adolf. Pepi, my grandfather, Max, Fritz. So he really was my great-uncle. But it was a long time before we even knew of his existence. Because, what had happened in Vienna stayed in Vienna as far as father was concerned. He had wiped Austria and Hungary from, if not his mind, certainly from his children’s. As he had wiped our Jewish heritage. When my mother related to 12 year-old me how a local social climber had hissed at her ‘Nancy how does it feel being married to a Jew’, I thought how silly, how would she know?

Anyway, Pepi died in 1936, and father left Austria for England and ultimately New Zealand soon after. He was an only child, with one cousin, Tom Stern (not Jewish?) who, with his parents, ended up in Australia. I don’t know when he died, but John and I were told that we were the only live twigs on the family tree. Humph! The only offspring of those three Gánsl sons.
Onkel Fritz. He married a ‘less than charming’ lady called Bertha and they lived their lives in London childless. But Max? I asked. Oh he moved to Hungary and worked in the wine business… Never anything more. I began to suspect I might have had a gay uncle.

Well, I found out today that I didn’t. Another Gánsl, Petra, from Toronto, got in touch, through the Jewish Genealogy Portal, thinking she might have found the missing Adolf. Alas, the name was right, the area was right, but he was twenty years too young. Shame.

 But Petra pursued her Hungarian Adolfing and came up with … a wedding certificate for a Miksa Gánsl. It was Max. 1911 Budapest. Terezia Fuchs.

 And then a second. 1919. Budapest. Gizella Waldmann.

And Lord love me, a third. 1937 Budapest. Erzsébet Brody.

 He was 54 by that stage. And do you know what? I reckon he survived the war and into old age. Because one day, when I was in my twenties, I distinctly heard my grandmother say, à propos of goodness knows what, ‘Oh I must tell Max’. Max, if he were alive, would have been by this stage in his eighties. There was a hush round the room … had nana gone gaga, I thought? I think not. Just a little more garrulous with age (‘of course you have Jewish blood, my husband was a Jew’).

So do John and I have more, close family we weren’t allowed to know about? Anyone have a father or grandfather in Budapest named Miksa Gánsl with a wife called Terezia, Gizella or Ersébet?

Anyway, Petra and I are convinced we are related and she even speaks Hungarian so … go for it, girl!

And then Adolf. Watch this space!

Postscriptum; Well, its not Adolf. Its Miksa again. Ive just found a grave for Giza Miksane Waldmann Gansl 1884-1937 at the Kozma Street Jewish Cemetery, Budapest. I wonder if her husband (who remarried pretty smartly!) is buried there too!

Thursday, May 11, 2017



This little dish of soup must be the most famous facebook food of the week. It has been developed by a team of expert chefs from three hemispheres, compiled by means of worldwide web communications and actually cooked by a wholly inexperienced and untalented cook at the Australian seaside.

Yes, me. And it all happened via … tah-dah! facebook.

Prologue. Scene one: a brisk Wednesday morning. 6am. Wednesday is farmer’s market day, so up and down the hill and home with two baskets of lovely local produce.
Prologue: Scene two: morning chat with Wendy back home at Gerolstein. Much colder there. ‘It’s a soup day’ she said. Yesssssss!

Act I: I got some splendid potatoes at the market. Potato soup. Love it. Milchsuppe. Assemble ingredients. Potato, kumara, onion, garlic, salt-free stock cubes, bacon, parsley and spring onion from my wee garden… and let the chopping begin! Hiccup one. THAT’s not a kumara! Completely different texture!

 Now what? Cry for help! And help he came. England and Germany were asleep, but America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia were awake… and buzzing … my facebook positively sizzled with advice and instructions. And my fake kumara was identified as a Hawaiian Sweet Potato. Oh well, too late!

Act II: Begin. My corned-beef pot seems the right size. In with three big rashers of chopped bacon …

 Add onion and garlic and brown (I refuse to say caramelise, who invented that euphemism?).  Add four rather ancient looking veggie stock cubes melted in 2 litres of water. And then my two lots of potato ..

Check with the facebook panel at each move. Taste. Oh. There’s a great deal of taste. I didn’t expect that. Is it SALT!? I suppose there’s salt in the bacon. Anyway, it’s a deal too tart and almost, well, vinegary … Oh well, push ahead. Bubble, bubble …
Dip into the cooking sherry. Add a handful of parsley and I THINK its spring onion. Add a good dollop of milk. And, of course, a nice pinch of cumin …

There! Taste. Ah. The milk has calmed the salt-n-vinegar tang.

There’s only one thing wrong. In the hours it has taken to compile this ‘dish’, I have consumed the entire bottle of cooking sherry and picked away, and the sun has come out, and it’s no longer a soup day and I’m no longer hungry… ah well, it’ll keep. Wendy says soup is always better on day two…

Act III:  As facebookers, all round the world, wait with hearts awash with soup, to hear the results, I unwrap Renée’s stick blender. My panel ignored my repeated queries: zap or no zap? So I zapped half.

Thursday 11.30am chimes. At last the famous facebook soup is ready! The tasting is nigh. And …

It’s jolly good. It’s not what I expected when I set out to make potato soup, and its nothing like Milchsuppe, though the added milk was a grand touch. The vinegary thing I didn’t like has gone. The Hawaiian potato is indistinguishable from the Australian. But where did all that flavour come from? Ah, well, ask not!

Act IV: Bit of excitement in the family today. ‘Nephew’ Darby got his US visa and is off to America to study and play gridiron. Celebration dinner is in order. Which restaurant? But hey. I’ve been to the market. I’ve got Dorpfer Lamb Patties. And I’ve got Facebook Soup. We’ll eat ‘in’!

Noise at the door. Oh, it isn’t Darboy, it’s the man staying next door. Do I like king prawns? Do I what! For me? Bless him!

So we had a feast fit for a footballer. And the soup? I think he must have liked it. There’s just enough left out of the 2 litres for me to have a wee bowl for breakfast…

I think Facebook Soup has to be accounted a success. I might have to make another gallon. It’s looking a little grey outside ..

Monday, May 1, 2017

When you come to the 'end' of a working day

Started at 6.15am. Etelka Gerster. German, Italian, French, American ... head's ringing.

Come 3pm. Eyes screen tired. Sun shining. Out the front door

Across the road

Down the path




Little wave

Bigger wave

Wet trousers.
via sand

to dusktime office

Ready for evening session

Hang on. Something's missing

That's better. OK Mrs Gerster. Here we go again. Refreshed and refuelled ...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Eastertide Blessing

My Austrian Dad loved Easter. I'm not quite sure why he affectioned it so. It certainly had nothing to do with the apparently religious aspects of the season. Or the 'holiday' which it has, for some reason, in these days, become.

Easter means just one thing to me. Fourteen years ago, when I had not been for long the Graf von Gerolstein, a stray mother cat laid a brood in a hollow tree on our river bank. One by one, Wendy and I caught the wee ones and took them to the vet's speying-and-homing unit at Rangiora. Finally, we caught poor, raped mother, too, and 'saved' her from a life of sin. But one, few-weeks old, kitten evaded us. Oh, well. We'd tried.

Easter Sunday 2003. I suppose we had left the back door open. Anyway, this walked right in to our living room and simply sat down.

'Haha' she said 'it's Easter, and the vet is closed'. And, of course, by the time Easter was over ... she wasn't going anywhere.

Now it's Easter 2017. Minnie has epilepsy and an arthritic leg, she's given us a few worries and cost us more than I can count ... but she is an adored part of our family ...

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 14, 2017

HATS, or the relegation of the Turkish beanie


 Big hats, small hats, picture hats, straw hats, cloche hats, cloth caps … Some people look great in them. Any of them. All of them. And then there are those of us who don’t. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a hat. I’ve owned a few – I was proud to wear dad’s old mountaineering hat when I was a child. I tried a beret and a tweed cap in my twenties. And when Bomac gave away free hats with horse feed, I accepted one. I wore it twice. When various racing clubs gave members advertising caps, I tried them. I just don’t like caps. Tight around the forehead. In the last years, my only head covering (in the cold) has been Johnny’s Turkish beanie and Veronica’s home-made woolly. In the heat, a piratical silk scarf.

But. At the age of seventy plus, my life has changed. I have come to live in glorious Yamba. And I have somehow, somewhen, mislaid my hair. The temperatures in Yamba this year have ranged from 44 degrees down. Not far down, either. And the Yambanic sun, pounding on my pate … there was nothing for it, I needed some sort of protection before I got sunstroke.

Turkish beanie, hmm. Rod’s golfing hat. Hahahaha! I looked and felt like a dessicated mushroom. Hanky knotted at the corners? Well, at least that’s comfy. Silk scarf? At 70? I’d look like an antique Joanna Depp. So I just shoved the whole thing in the too-complicated basket.

Friday 14 April. 11.30, lovely massage (ow!!!!) from the impeccable Amanda. Then a gangly 12.30 lunch at the Beachwood Café with Renée, Rachel and Harry. Harry went off to save lives on Pippi Beach, and the girls went to have a wander round the shops. So I went too. Rachel wanted a new sunhat. She didn’t find one. But, while she was looking, I waited by the hat stand. And idly picked one up and put it on. Well, blow me down. I quite liked it…

And it was comfy. And … what! $50? After massage and lunch, the wallet was kinda leaky. Eftpos? I’ll have it. Rachel immortalised the moment on camera.

So I am now the owner of A Hat. Perhaps I shall wear it to this year’s Grafton Cup. Mostly, I think, I will wear it when the sun shines at its superbest. If I can get the habit after half a century.

Sunday, April 9, 2017



Sunday 9 April and, at last, nearly two weeks in, a perfect Yamba autumn day. Blue skies, half-horsepower sunshine (17 rising to 25), the sea mostly blue, except where the storms have ruffled the sea bed, and lovely big white-toothed waves crashing on to the beach. Perfect.

 Why perfect? Well, it’s grand to look at, but today was An Occasion. The Yamba Surf Lifesaving Club was holding its senior championships and our Harry was coming down to take part. So I got rid of breakfast, the mail etcetera and, at 10.45, I waddled the 50 metres down the hill to Main Beach. The beach was practically empty a week ago, now it was thronged with people and surfboards and body boards and cricket players. Something like the dream beach of a century ago. With hardly a knotted hanky or a scarlet woman bulging out of a one-piece anywhere.  Children playing, running … dream children … no screams and tantrums, just little ones having a fine time.

Lesson (1) buy a hat. I was the only person with no hair without one. I had to retire to the shady shelter of the surf club: only to find I’d plonked myself right in front of the board room.

Surprise (1) ‘Senior’ in surfing is 18 and over. So Harry was competing against … Big Joe! His Dad! Who seems to have trimmed marvellously since last year.

Lesson and surprise (2) Watching surf competition live, even from the clubhouse, is sooooo much more enjoyable and exciting than watching it on telly. I guess that’s the truth for most sports.

 So: on to the racing. Heat One: the board. Out past the breakers round two buoys and back. Easy? Oh no. Predictable? Far from it! For safety reasons, the whole field wears the same cerise jacket, which is hell for picking out who’s leading, but three swimmers passed the buoy together.  Joe seemed to have gone er … slightly wide. The three entered the home waves together, and one took the right wave. Come on Harry, 2nd! But disaster! The leader got into the shallows and splat! And while Joe was steaming home out wide, Harry mastered his remaining rival in the run up the beach: Harry1st, Joe fourth.

Next heat: 'ski'. Same course, this time with canoe paddles. The waves won this one. Joe capsised once, Harry twice. Some folk were still trying to get OUT through the breakers when the leaders were coming back.
Trying to identify the boys from their hairdos … I think Harry was second.

Third heat, another variation on the theme. Thrills and spills all over the place … and this time Joe waved the Fahey flag with a smooth second…

 Finally, the fourth heat. The whole lot in succession. This was a race won at the start. Mr Whiteboard skittled straight over the outgoing waves and opened up a vast lead before his opponents had cleared the turbulent water. In the conditions, keeping to the rules was hard work, and there were a couple of DSQs, but our Harry, in spite of inevitable mishaps, made up much ground for 3rd. And Joe … oh, heck, where was Captain Joe? Well, blow me down, there he was holding the finish banner. I thought we had been one short at the start!

And to top it all, Harry took out the beach sprint and something called a ’snake race’. It was all such plain, unvarnished glorious fun!

A delicious and delightful two hours (Mia brought me a plastic chair, which added greatly to the grandstand comfort), I’m just sad that the Yamba Surf Carnival only takes place once a year. And I’m glad I saw it this year, in today’s conditions of sea, sun, wild surf and Sunday.

And, of course, it helps when the family is starring!

Sunset celebrations at Fusion on the Hill …

Monday, April 3, 2017



It's ten days since I arrived in Yamba, at my Winter Palace, for the season. A long, lazy, relaxing season, just writing, eating, drinking, pottering and eating lotuses … as elderly, retired gentleman do.

Well, it’s been rather more dramatic, so far, than that! Mostly on account of a termagant by the name of Debbie…

 I flew into Coolangatta on Air New Zealand. It’s a flight of less than three hours, but it is not very comfortable. I guess I’ve got used to travelling Business Class to Europe by Emirates and Etihad. Air NZ’s idea of what they call ‘The Works’ is to give you two seats at the front of the plane with airline food and a drink. At twice the price of one seat. So I decided to suffer, and spend the money saved on Wendy’s Birthday!

For yes, this time Wendy was travelling with me, for a week’s holiday and a glimpse at the Winter Palace, and her birthday. Sister-in-law, Rose, made up our little team, and the girls were to be installed in my new acquisition, a two-bedroom flat of charming proportions, overlooking Yamba’s main beach. Right across the courtyard from me.

‘Nephew’ Harry picked us up at Coolangatta airport and transported us to Yamba in steaming, muggy heat (30degrees, 96% humidity).

Michael and Angela, the new managers, had left the keys and carried my two roller boxes of personal possessions up to the Palace …the next days were spent finding all my bits and pieces and remembering how things worked .. in between dips in the pool, the sea, strolls up and down the hill to the High Street for this and that and especially a reunion brunch at the wonderful Beachwood Café.

Tuesday we had a grand, sunny boat trip to Iluka, with Rod and Veronica, ate the best fish n chips I know beside the Clarence River, tossed down a pint of Toohey’s Old … and the heat and the humidity didn’t waver, although there were nasty stories of a cyclone further north.

Wednesday was Wendy’s birthday, and we celebrated with a splendid massage apiece, chez my favourite masseuse, Amanda, and dinner at my favourite restaurant, Fusion on the Hill …

And Thursday, Cyclone Debbie decided she was bored with Queensland and decided to attack New South Wales. In 24 hours, Yamba had nearly 400mls of driving rain. Then the winds struck. Actually, sitting dry inside, it was quite spectacular, but there was one big worry. The storms had closed the roads. Everyone’s plans were disrupted. How would the girls get back to the airport!

Well, to cut a long story of ‘on again, off again’ short, the gallant Greyhound Bus made it through the flood waters by the skin of its tyres, and Wendy and Rose duly flew off (pursued by Debbie, who now wants to play tourism in New Zealand) to Christchurch, as Yamba move back to more sort-of-temperate weather.

 While Wendy and Rose were struggling north, my Yamba pal Robert and his friend Ben were struggling south. Last season, Robert and I had a standing date for Friday lunch at the beloved Beachwood Cafe, but family reasons have led to his selling up and returning to Sydney. Now he is back for a few days visit, so even though it wasn’t Friday, we naturally headed straight to Beachwood. 

And then (for Robert has a car) to Cole’s supermarket: 32 bottles of sparkling water, 32 bottles of Le Petit Rosé and, lastly, the final thing needed to get the Palace all set up and homely, 32 pansy plants for my little garden.

Considering the burning summer they’ve had here, the garden has survived quite well. Last year’s flowers, of course, are gone, but some of my herbs are still going and growing, and amazingly, the avocado stones which sprouted into 15cm treelets are re-sprouting … did I eat THAT many avocados … Cousin Natalie came by and prised the pansies from their plastic holders (my useless hand can’t do things like that) and, in between tropical showers, this morning, I planted them. Soon, there will be colour!

Last evening, rather than restauranting, the Winter Palace hosted it’s first dinner party. Ben (chef) and Robert (sous chef) descended from next door with a load of Yambirical delicacies and invaded my almost virgin kitchen. The results were breath-taking. I felt as if I were in an episode of Masterchef.

We brought the table indoors (Debbie was still wagging her tail) and sat down to dine on the most delicious prawn-tomato dish

Followed by oysters. Followed by fillet steak from Sean the Yamba butcher, undercooked to perfection, accompanied by a superb mash

All washed by a little chilled rosé….

So the Palace has had it’s inaugural feast … and, hurrah! The first birds, the little mynahs and the honeyeaters, are back …

Let the season begin! Pass me a lotus, someone …