These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You

My little brother died in 2011, but I think of him every day.

One of the reasons for that is because a strange, and, sometimes, seemingly random range of commonplace items can remind me of him, out of the blue. Here are some of them:

A pair of boots I own – because he was with me when I purchased them. He had stayed at our house overnight, it was a Saturday morning, and I had planned to buy some boots. In his typical easy-going fashion, John accompanied me by bus into town, and to go shoe shopping. He hung around patiently while I deliberated over boots, probably had a cigarette out the front of the shop, and even bought himself a cheap pair of black sneakers (trainers – his signature shoe) for work while he was waiting for me.

We hear that men are not big on shopping, and even less keen on accompanying a woman when she shops for clothing. Surely there are not too many guys who voluntarily go clothes shopping with their sister, but I also have a skirt that was purchased while shopping with John on a separate occasion, so it seems his good-natured personality allowed him to be unfussed about roaming with interest around a shop and then amusing himself as he waited outside and watched the world go by.

An old, dark green couch, that was ours, now given away to my youngest brother. This was a gift from my parents many years ago, and the purchase was organised by John, who held his first job, in a furniture shop, at the time. He was probably about 19 when I visited him at the shop and poured over the fabric samples, before selecting one for our couch.

A receipt, found amongst old papers, for removal truck hire – John drove it for us. From the time he held a licence until he died, I don’t think any member of our family ever moved houses without enlisting his help, usually to drive a truck for them, since he had a licence to do so, and was always so happy to help out.

The storage facility on a main road near our house. John drove our stuff to, and from, this facility, and helped us stack and unstack items into and out of it at the appropriate times. Perhaps because of his early career in a furniture shop, he seemed to be particularly skilled at judging spaces and shapes and knowing exactly how to manouvre a piece of furniture through a door or into a tight space without any mishaps.

My new nephew and niece.* That’s because, of all my siblings, John was the one who spent the most time hanging out with my daughter, his niece. His first job at the furniture shop had come to an end when the owner, an elderly man, had passed away and the business closed, and after that, there was a period where he found it hard to get any long-term employment, so he went from one short-term contract to another, working on jobs ranging from telephone linesman to doing maintenance on railway lines. This might not have seemed like an ideal situation for him then, but in hindsight, there was an upside for us, which was, that in between contracts he often spent time staying with us for a few nights at a time, and hanging out with his god-daughter.

A particular hoodie jacket I have, with holes in the sleeve, because John notoriously wore the same brown hoodie everywhere despite the state that the well-worn sleeves were in.

Other things that make me think of John:

Turning on the air-conditioning in the car – because I remember he had some theory about how to maximise the efficiency by opening the car windows first.

Hedgehog slice (he ate a lot of it)

Pear cake (he was so impressed with my pear cake that he learned how to make it – the sincerest form of flattery)

Satay chicken (his signature dish)

Sonic Youth (his favourite band)

Massive Attack (a band we both liked and should have seen together but fate intervened and I had to give my ticket away.)

Certain men, usually younger than me, both in real life and in films, can at times remind me of him.

and

My other brothers, for obvious reasons.*

 

*

*not commonplace items.

 

With or Without you (Ode to a thumb)

A fully functional thumb is a thing of beauty, said some really mediocre poet.

 

See the liner smudged on my eyes

See the zip undone on my side

I’ll wait for you

 

Slip of hand and twist of waist

on a picnic rug, fell all my weight

Now I wait, without you

 

With or without you

With or without you

 

Through the storm we reach the shore

Washing my hair is not easy any more

And I’m waiting for you

 

With or without you

With or without you

I can’t live, with or without you

 

And you give yourself away

And you got bent the wrong way

And you’re bandaged like a lump of clay

And you shouldn’t really look that way

 

My hand is tied, my thumb is bruised

You left me with a bandaged wrist

and not much I can do

 

And you give yourself away

And you’re kind of the wrong shape

And I don’t know what else to say

And typing this has taken all day

 

 

Summertime

Setting: A suburban back garden, a Summer* evening, Melbourne, Australia

Time: 8pm – approximately the time of sunset at this time of year in Melbourne

Temperature: warm

Wind: none discernible

Set:

  • a back garden, comprising of pot plants on a door step, cobblestones, and greenery around two sides of the perimeter, created by some trees growing too close together, a small hedge, and some climbing roses on the lattice on the back wall. The garden is neat but not abundant. In the centre is an area that used to be a small patch of lawn but is now just a patch of dirt, with a scattering of recently mowed weeds.
  • The back of the house faces onto the back garden, and we can see through the windows into the kitchen, and, as indicated by a flickering light beyond the kitchen, a room with a TV on.

Lighting: 

  • the sky, and the light generally, a sort of twilight: first, pale and almost no colour, then changing slowly to grey as the sky darkens
  • a slight pink flush across the lower part of the horizon, that also fades and disappears into the descending grey
  • warm, yellow, electric light glowing from the windows of the kitchen that faces onto the garden

Special Effects:

  • water arching out from a hose and onto some lush greenery, as our protagonist takes the opportunity to enjoy the warm, balmy evening by taking her gin and tonic outside with her while she waters the garden

Props:

  • a hose is required

Sound:

  • the swishing and trickling of water, as the hose rains water down on plants and the excess runs away on cobblestones
  • the hum of crickets. (Director’s Note: Usually the sound made by crickets is described by default as a chirp but that suggests a staccato sound, with a crisp beginning and end. This sound, the sound that epitomises all the warm summer nights in our protagonist’s memory, just goes on and on, so she thinks of it as a hum.) It’s a soft, low hum, telling us that it’s a warm, balmy night.
  • the distant sounds of football players calling out, their voices carried on the breeze. The setting is about half a kilometre from the local suburban football ground, and we can gather, from the sounds travelling very clearly in the still night air, that the local suburban football team must be doing some pre-season training tonight. If our protagonist hadn’t damaged her hearing by attending bands playing at outrageously loud noise levels, she’d probably be able to hear what they were actually saying, but as it is, her best creative interpretation is a cacophony of voices all calling out over one another, with urgency “come on, come on, come on, come on!”
  • the soft swoosh of traffic on the nearby highway
  • from the house, the sounds of high-pitched voices coming from the TV, indicating melodrama on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
  • occasionally from the house next door, the pounding of footsteps as a small child runs from one end of the house to the other
  • occasionally from the trees, a rustling of leaves and the weird, high-pitched screech of possums

Smell:

  • the smell of wet, freshly drenched dirt, and of water dripping off greenery

Characters:

  • the main protagonist, a 40-something woman with a gin and tonic in one hand and a hose in the other
  • a cat, whereabouts unknown as Act 1 begins
  • about 1000 worms, in a worm farm under one of the trees
  • a teenager, hidden deep in the depths of a teenage bedroom. She does not emerge during Act 1.
  • a male adult, absent from the house for the duration of Act 1 as his Italian lesson conflicted with the rehearsal schedule.

Synopsis:

Officially, it’s now Autumn in Melbourne (since the beginning of March is officially the designated change of the seasons), but due to the absolutely glorious weather Melbourne has had over the past fortnight, our protagonist has decided to remain in denial about this, and just keep pretending that it’s still Summer. She is determined to try to make the most of every remaining beautiful sunny morning, and every remaining delightfully balmy evening. In her mind, this means making the effort to go outside, where one can more fully appreciate the warmth and light, wherever and whenever possible, and, when not possible, (for example on the days when she is working in her office job) to at least open a window, and take the time to appreciate the sunny morning outside.

Director’s Note: It’s a simple story but simple things can bring a lot of pleasure if you take the time to notice them.

 

Sunset in the suburbs, Summer, Melbourne 2016 (no filter! – I wouldn’t know how!)

© The Antipodean Blatherer 2016

 

Dream baby

Sure, I recall my dreams most mornings, as they are usually quite vivid, and not infrequently amusing, but I usually refrain from sharing them here.  I’m really on a roll this week, though, as I’ve already had two dreams that have made me laugh when I recalled them, and it’s only Tuesday! So I thought I’d share, as I know if there’s anything we all need to hear more of, it’s other people’s dreams.

Excellent. With that in mind, here they are.

The first is short and sharp. In this dream, a few nights ago, the actor Alan Rickman, in character as a kind of evil mixture of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Snape,  but in modern-day (or “Muggle”) garb, rudely confiscated my phone, (I can not recall why) but then with a sneer, from the seat of the sports car he was suddenly driving, tossed it back to me, deliberately missing me by a mile so that it landed on the road in front of me, where he promptly (and deliberately) drove over it!

alan-rickman- mobile phone

Alan Rickman, not a fan of mobile phones. (in my dream).

I believe the message in this dream is clear: the universe is telling me it’s time to upgrade my iPhone 5 because I’m constantly running out of storage, no matter how many photos I delete off my phone. I am not the ideal Apple customer because I refuse to upgrade a phone that is working perfectly, except that I can’t download any new apps because of lack of storage space. Is it possible that Apple have devised technology that somehow infiltrates the dreams of anyone with an Apple device, planting subliminal messages about upgrading their products? It doesn’t seem too implausible to me at this stage.

In the second dream, which was on the weekend just gone by, I sneaked into our neighbour’s house to see if their fence was fixed.

I should explain that in real life, we recently had to get the fence between our property and this neighbour’s property fixed, and I did all the helpful stuff like get the quotes and book the tradies, and pay them for the work, and then afterwards the neighbour complained that their side was left with some issues they would have to follow up with the tradies. I was a bit stressed about this for a day or so, as he was hinting that he wouldn’t cover his half of the cost because of these “issues.” But in a happy ending – for us at least – he did pay his half after all, so there was really nothing left to be stressed about, although it was left a bit unresolved, as I don’t know if he got the issues fixed or not, but it’s out of my hands now – there’s nothing I can do about it. He should have opted to be there on the day the work was being done, if he wanted to closely project manage his side of the fence, I guess. So I’m happy to consider the matter closed.

Anyway, this dream occurred a few nights after the matter was “closed.” In the dream, as I said, I sneaked into his house to check that the fence was fixed properly. The way to check that the fence was fixed properly, apparently, was to tip a can of tuna down his kitchen sink. Clearly this was standard procedure and common knowledge, because I came armed with a can of tuna for this purpose. When I got to his sink, however, I could see he had already performed the tuna-test, because the plug hole of his sink was clogged up with still-warm, cooked tuna. Cooked tuna took things to a whole other level and indicated that my neighbour had gone to a lot of effort to ensure a highly accurate reading on the status of the fence (of course, everyone knows that when it comes to assessing the success of a fence repair job, cooking the tuna before you tip it down the sink will guarantee a more accurate result every time) so there was nothing to be gained from me attempting an inferior reading with my tin of tuna (in oil, mind you, not that stuff in brine!)

So I turned away and prepared to leave, but (of course, I’m sure you could see this coming) just then the neighbour walked in! Or perhaps rattled the door handle, indicating that his entry to the room would be imminent within a micro-second. Some dream-like sequence of events occurred anyway, that led to me hiding on a strange little inexplicable platform, (perhaps it was a broom cupboard built on a mezzanine level?) that suddenly appeared – or suddenly became apparent, as things do in dreams – and seemed like as good a hiding place as any. Apparently I got onto this little balcony with ease, even though it was at head height in the room.

So the neighbour was stepping through the door, and I was trying to make myself invisible, on a small mezzanine level in his kitchen, optimistically hoping not to be seen the way a baby does when they put their hands in front of their face and think you can’t see them. As it turns out, since it was almost opposite the door, at his eye-level, and was totally open, this ‘platform’ really was NOT as good a hiding place as any. My neighbour probably had to go to a great deal of trouble to pretend NOT to see me the second he walked in the door, but eventually he gave in and indicated gruffly that he could see me crouching there in his split-level, open-plan broom cupboard, clutching my can of tuna, and enquired as to what on earth I was doing there.

It feels as if the dream faded out here (or perhaps my alarm went off at that moment), as I can’t recall what happened, but I don’t think it ended badly. My feeling is that, in this parallel universe, it was acceptable that I’d bring my own tuna over and sneak into his house with the intention of checking that his fence was fixed properly, so I don’t think we left on bad terms.

Now I must say, in regards to the meanings of dreams, I’m a little flummoxed at this one. I do think that the delightful mish-mash of weird things in our dreams is our brain trying to put some ideas together. That’s because I once read, of dreams, that our subconscious works to try and solve problems that are bothering us, and dreams are those attempts to solve those problems, but as the dream can’t speak directly to us, it uses the tools at its disposal: imagery and a narrative, to creatively present a ‘solution’ that comes to us like a clue in a cryptic crossword. That’s bad news for me, unfortunately, as I have never yet managed to understand a single clue in a cryptic crossword.

Nevertheless, I find that idea about the subconscious and its processes fairly believable. So occasionally, when it feels as if a dream is so, well, kind of mundane but weird at the same time, I try to think of a phrase that summarises the dream. It didn’t take long with this one – when I thought about the dream the next day, pondering what it could possibly mean, the phrase that instantly came to my mind was “tuna down the drain.”

So if any readers are good at cryptic crosswords, maybe they are able to make some sense out of that phrase, and let me know their interpretation.

Otherwise my take on it is…..the universe telling me that I should get more Omega 3 oils into my diet??

On nerds, and dams, and good writing

It is a very pleasing thing to find that a great writer is a bit of a nerd.

On second thoughts, maybe it’s not at all surprising that a great writer is a bit of a nerd.

After all, for all the fist-fights, heavy drinking and multiple wives of your Ernest Hemingways, and Norman Mailer types, there are probably just as many introverted Emily Dickinsons or John Keats –  quiet, thoughtful, observant, intuitive souls; scribbling away at beautiful works carefully constructed from a love of words.

When I pulled Joan Didion’s famous collection of essays from the 1960s, The White Album from my bookshelves a few weeks ago, quotes on the back such as ‘Our quintessential essayist’,  and the byline, Scintillating reflections on contemporary America, prepared me for sizzling descriptions and analyses of the social and political climate of America in the 1960s.

The essays do range across events like the student uprisings, the Charles Manson murders, the music and the atmosphere of the 1960s, but what I wasn’t prepared for in this book were essays about the LA Operations Centre of CALTRANS (Bureaucrats), about suffering from Migraine, (In Bed), about Mall design (On the Mall), about Glasshouse orchids (Quiet Days in Malibu), and last but by no means least, not one but two essays about dams (Holy Water, and At The Dam). Subjects I did not expect from a collection of scintillating reflections on contemporary America – but I had forgotten that I was reading Didion.

There is certainly what doctors call a ‘migraine personality,’ and that personality tends to be ambitious, inward, intolerant of error, rather rigidly organised, perfectionist. “You don’t look like a migraine personality,” a doctor once said to me. “Your hair’s messy. But I suppose you’re a compulsive housekeeper.” 

In one paragraph on a piece about Migraine, Didion has conveyed to me what it was like to be a woman in the 1960s, visiting a doctor, who was most likely male. Simultaneously she also conveys something of what it was, and is, like to be Joan Didion, that is consistent with the picture of her that I’ve built up through all the reading I’ve done of her: someone who always feels less-than-perfect, almost as if she has failed in the roles of woman/wife/mother/human being. She immediately goes on to reveal more about herself:

Actually my house is kept even more negligently than my hair, but the doctor was right nonetheless: perfectionism can also take the form of spending most of a week writing and rewriting and not writing a single paragraph.

These little reveals are endearing but it was in her writing about Dams that I really loved her, because she is unable to contain her deep sense of pleasure and awe at the movement of all that water;  and it’s her ability to convey her – some might say nerdy – obsession that allows us to also be moved by the technical prowess and the poetic majesty contained in the movement of these huge bodies of water.

Perhaps it’s the mark of a great writer, that even when writing about something as specific and discrete as the Hoover Dam, her essay displays that famous ability to expose things about herself as well as capture the time, and the psychological and physical environment around her with extraordinary clarity. Here is the opening to her piece about visiting the Hoover dam in 1967, (written in 1970), entitled At The Dam.

Since the afternoon of 1967 when I first saw Hoover Dam, its image has never been entirely absent from my inner eye. I will be talking to someone in Los Angeles, say, or in New York, and suddenly the dam will materialize, its pristine concave face gleaming white against the harsh rust and taupes and mauves of that rock canyon hundreds or thousands of miles from where I am. I will be driving down Sunset Boulevard, or about to enter a freeway, and abruptly those power transmission towers will appear before me, canted vertiginously over the tailrace. Sometimes I am confronted by the intakes and sometimes by the shadow of the heavy cable that spans the canyon(…….) Quite often I hear the turbines. Frequently I wonder what is happening at the dam this instant, at this precise intersection of time and space, how much water is being released to fill downstream orders and what lights are flashing and which generators are in full use and which just spinning free. 

This is a short piece, only three pages long, but in that space, Didion describes walking beneath the operation centre of the dam where visitors do not generally go.

…on the whole we spent the afternoon in a world so alien, so complete and so beautiful unto itself that it was scarcely necessary to speak at all. We saw almost no one. Cranes moved above us as if under their own volition. Generators roared. Transformers hummed…. 

She ends that piece by imagining the dam existing long after human beings have died out,

….a dynamo finally free of man, splendid at last in its absolute isolation, transmitting power and releasing water to a world there no one is. 

Didion clearly fostered a love of dams, because another essay in the collection, Holy Water, written in 1977, describes a visit to the Operations Centre for the California State Water Project. Again, the piece begins by revealing her own fascination with water, or more specifically, as she explains in this piece, her fascination with the movement of water.

The water I will drink tonight in a restaurant in Hollywood is by now well down the Los Angeles Aqueduct from the Owens River, and I also think about exactly where that water is: I particularly like to imagine it as it cascades down the 45-degree stone steps(…..) As it happens, my own reverence for water has always taken the form of this constant meditation upon where the water is, of an obsessive interest not in the politics of water but in the waterworks themselves, in the movements of water through aqueducts and siphons and pumps and forebays and afterbays and weirs and drains, in plumbing on the grand scale. I know the data on water projects I will never see (….) I can put myself to sleep imagining the water dropping a thousand feet into the turbines at Churchill Falls in Labrador.

She describes in detail the logistics of water movement around California – agencies call the Operations Centre headquarters by 9am to tell dispatchers how much water is needed by its local water contractors, a schedule is made, and the gates are opened and closed according to the schedule. Walking through the Operations Centre headquarters, she notices a reference in the communications log to Draining Quail, a reservoir in Los Angeles with a gross capacity of 1,636,018,000 gallons.

I knew at that moment I had missed the only vocation for which I had any instinctive affinity: I wanted to drain Quail myself.

The idea of this diminutive writer draining Quail myself strikes me as funny, but while I’m smiling, in those six words she has conveyed to me the strength of her passion for the topic, as keenly as if she’d slapped me around the face.

One of the strengths in her writing, it seems to me, comes from those glimpses of her own fascinations, obsessions, and flaws, as she tells a story. I’ve read other essays and books by Didion and throughout them all I put together my own impression of her personality: I imagine a very clever and quick witted, reserved, serious, careful, analytical, possibly nervous, or nervy, person. Capable of taking obsessive interest in things others might think “nerdy” – such as the movement of water. She is not a humorist, and does not write a piece like Holy Water primarily in order to be funny, but occasionally uses self-deprecating humour at her own obsessions or weaknesses very effectively, to convey that passion, or, on other occasions, that sense of vulnerability. Another example: right after the startling revelation – to herself as well as to the reader – that she wanted to drain Quail herself, Didion open the next paragraph with,

Not many people I know carry their end of the conversation when I want to talk about water deliveries, even when I stress that these deliveries affect their lives, indirectly, every day. 

Here’s her final, climactic paragraph from the essay, Holy Water.

If I had wanted to drain Quail at 10:15 that morning, I wanted, by early afternoon, to do a great deal more. I wanted to open and close the Clifton Court Forebay intake gate. I wanted to produce some power down at the San Luis Dam. I wanted to pick a pool at random on the Aqueduct and pull it down and then refill it, watching for the hydraulic jump.(….)

I stayed as long as I could and watched the system work on the big board with the lighted checkpoints. The Delta salinity report was coming in on one of the teletypes behind me. The Delta tidal report was coming in on another. The earthquake board, which has been desensitized to sound its alarm…only for those earthquakes which register at least 3.0 on the Richter Scale, was silent. I had no further business in the room and yet I wanted to stay the day. I wanted to be the one, that day, who was shining the olives, filling the gardens and flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile. I want it still.

*

All quotes above taken from The White Album, Penguin Books, 1981

That’s Not My Name

I’ve always felt as if the first name I was given by my parents does not fit me properly.

As far back as I know of, (unfortunately only a few generations) my cultural heritage is 3/4 Irish, 1/4 English, but this did not stop my parents from burdening me with a very Spanish-sounding name. I use the term burdened only because, in appearance, if not in disposition, I’m the antithesis of Mediterranean, so my name and I have never been a logical match.

Here I am, an Aussie, with golden (some say strawberry) blonde hair, and white, pinkish-tinted, freckled skin. I can’t go out on even a mildly sunny day without smothering myself in thick white 30+ sunscreen, a scarf and a hat – consequently if it’s hot outside, I’d rather stay inside, thanks all the same. I’m so far from Mediterranean that a holiday that involved lying on a banana lounge all day long on a beach, at a pool or on the deck of a cruise ship, would be hell for me.

You can see why I’ve never really felt as if my name suits me. If I was to change my name I’d choose something that, in my imagination at least, is better suited to my colouring and personality – something that sounds vaguely English or Celtic. Emma – the name of a great aunt. Angela, Colleen, Eileen, Bridget, or Therese – all names of cousins. Nora or Mary, my grandmothers. Catherine, Kathleen, or Kate – variations on the name have been given to many women in my family.

Others also instinctively feel that the name doesn’t suit me – or at least, that’s how I choose to interpret the fact that when I’m newly introduced, people commonly have trouble remembering my name, or incorrectly call me one of its Celtic variations instead. In circumstances where it doesn’t really matter (eg making a booking at a restaurant) I’ll usually just let them do that, because it feels silly to make a fuss about the fact that my name is a letter or two different to the name they are pronouncing, when clearly the more anglicised name suits me better.

But despite the mismatch, perhaps it’s because of my Spanish-sounding name that, on discovering a book on Spain in my parents’ bookshelves at home when I was a kid (searching for resources for a school project – this was well before Google), the thought occurred that I’d like to learn the language. Maybe I felt as if my name entitled me to feel some affinity with Spanish culture. Maybe some elements of Spanish language and culture felt comfortably familiar in the midst of my otherwise all-white, country town Australian childhood because I grew up watching Sesame Street on TV, which brought Maria and Luis, two friendly Hispanic Americans, and occasionally even some Spanish language, into my lounge room every week day.

*

As a child, it appeared as if the U.S. was more diverse, and therefore interesting, than Australia. I probably gained this impression largely because of Sesame Street, since, during the time that I watched it, I seem to recall an even mix of people of white, Hispanic, and African American backgrounds on the show, and later Asian Americans as well. Proportionally, I did not encounter equivalent levels of diversity living in country town Australia, or even in Melbourne when I moved there in the late 1980s. As an adult, I still believe that the U.S. is more culturally diverse than Australia, however all the way over here, I don’t hear much in the media to suggest that the U.S. embraces that diversity.

I started this post a few days ago, and wrote about the incongruity of my Spanish-sounding name, going down quite a different path with the direction I took. It was going to be a post about all the things I regret not doing – learning Spanish being one of those. I came back today and changed tactic, remembering that book, and Sesame Street, and how, as a child, I had wanted to find something to relate to, in this other culture that seemed both interestingly different to my own, while also comfortingly approachable and familiar because of characters very deliberately placed into Sesame Street. Maybe the reason my writing and thought process took me down that path today was because I had read earlier today of the Whitehouse taking down the Spanish version of their internet site.

Even as an Aussie on the other side of the world, I can understand what a significant gesture that is. It makes me feel sad. I concede that the Whitehouse has very deliberately not stated that the page is removed for good, so hopefully it will be reinstated – but it seems significant that the initial removal happened along with the removal of other pages supporting policies such as GLBTIQ rights and climate change, policies that the Trump Administration are openly against. I’m horrified about the removal of those pages too, but unsurprised. There is much that I could rail against, but I’ll just stick with this issue because it probably shows my naivety that I actually felt surprise, reading today that Trump has previously criticised people for speaking Spanish in the U.S.

Really? How sad.

What Trump doesn’t realise is that to those of us outside of the U.S, Spanish-speaking language and culture forms part of the culture that, in our eyes, is particular to the U.S; just like elements of Jewish language and culture do.

The first place I ever went to, upon arriving in the U.S. for the first time, was a little store on a hill in San Fransisco, with two or three tables, where we ordered a Mexican beer and ate burritos. The store was not particularly Mexican themed, whereas even in the late 1990s you’d have had to go to a themed “Mexican Restaurant” in Australia to get a burrito. To us, it was the perfect start to an overseas trip – getting something novel like a burrito and a Mexican beer from what looked like a little take-away joint with a few tables. From that, we immediately got that exciting sense of being somewhere else, somewhere different to Australia, where it was apparent that the influence of Hispanic culture and food was assimilated into the mainstream culture.

If he wants to wipe out the speaking of the language, will Trump also require all other Hispanic elements are wiped out of U.S. culture too – the Mexican beer, the churros, tacos, burritos, and all Spanish-Mission style architecture knocked down?

Enough on the U.S. I’m sure that there are other commentators out there who will analyse the Trump government’s actions to discourage Spanish speaking, far more eloquently and with more right to speak about the topic than I have.

I’ll just go back to thinking about how because of, or despite, my ambivalent attitude to my Spanish-sounding name, which doesn’t suit my Anglo-Celtic coloring at all, I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish. Perhaps now is the time to start.

 

Some velvet morning

The start of a new day can be a quiet, beautiful thing.

This morning: a start that was unusual. Beautiful, but only in a quiet and unassuming way. It would mean nothing to anyone else.

I left my brother’s house at 8am this morning to drive to work.

Already, this is out of the ordinary, as my brother lives an 85 minute drive from where I live, and also, as it happens, about an 85 minute drive from where I work, which, from his place, is in an entirely different direction from where I live. So it was the first time in my life I’ve got up on a work day, set off from a country town, to drive about 100 kilometres to work, on an unfamiliar route I’ve never taken before.

A sense of novelty gave the morning a particular gleam, but the golden sunlight streaming through the window at 7am was also a culprit in creating this effect. Without both things, I may have been feeling a little sorry for myself at having to rise at 7am, after a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gig the night before, to go to work.

But as it was, it was a glorious summer morning, and I was in the country! On a workday!

I was woken by the sounds of birds singing right outside my bedroom window. I feel obliged to comment on how lovely this was, and yet, I should also note here, for anti-city skeptics like my country-loving father (in case he ever reads this blog) that we do have birds in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, where I live; in fact, they regularly chirp noisily in the tree close to my window. (I can hear at least three different varieties chirping away as I write this).

But – blow me down if birds singing outside your window first thing in the morning, in the country, doesn’t somehow just feel so much more….countrified!

So the Country Birds Community Choir did their duty, and I ate my vegemite toast with extra enjoyment as a consequence of their efforts. Being in close proximity to my gorgeous 21-month-old nephew while I ate breakfast added another layer of joy to the morning that would have applied regardless of the location, weather, or presence of a choir, whether human or bird variety.

Breakfast over and goodbyes said, I stepped out the front door of my brother’s house at 8am. The sun was already shining  brightly, with a forecast temperature of 30 degrees (Celsius) expected for the day. The sunlight felt warm, but the breeze was still cool, making it a delightful morning to be heading off on what almost felt like an adventure – if I ignored the fact that work lay at the end of it.

After only two minutes of driving, I was on the freeway doing 110m. I’ve heard there have been increases in the number of people commuting from regional towns to work in the city these days, so I was expecting something like in Melbourne, where, at peak hour, there are lights at the freeway entry ramps, which flash green for a split second every 20 seconds or so, to indicate that the next 3 lanes of stationery cars may accelerate and enter the freeway, but the numbers of commuters in the country have obviously not taken off quite as much as I had imagined. A lone car overtook me just after I joined the freeway, and after that, I and the small handful of other vehicles on the freeway that morning shared our personal space out pretty evenly. There was no need to crowd in.

Before my dad retired, he drove country roads all over the state in a truck for a living. This morning, I could see why he chose this occupation over the factory work that he started and quickly discarded. Beginning a journey on a glorious sunny morning in the country is an entirely different experience to starting out on the busy city roads I normally drive on. Your view is not filled with buildings and other cars – instead you can see more of the sky. Trees grow close to the side of the roads, causing a pattern of dappled light and shadow to fall across the road at that time of morning, and you have almost the whole freeway to yourself.

On a morning like that, in the country, it feels like an hour or so of driving is something to look forward to.

The drive turned out to be just as enjoyable as was promised by the golden sunlight and light breeze I encountered when I first stepped out the door. After about twenty minutes of trundling along the freeway, I turned off onto a country road, the C141. The Ballan-Daylesford Road was empty. A sign told me I had 73 kilometres to go, and for the next 45 minutes of driving, I passed one truck, and one other car passed me, and disappeared swiftly into the undulating curves of the road ahead.

2015-paddocks-from-geelong-train

 

Pic: © The Antipodean Blatherer

I drove through the countryside, with paddocks on both sides of me. There were sheep grazing in dry, yellow fields, right up close to the road, and in yet another paddock, bales of hay, piled up into what looked like small straw-colored cubby houses. I rounded a steep downward bend with eucalyptus trees on each side, to see a cool green dam spread out only a few feet away from the road.  Browns, golds, and yellows everywhere I looked. In some cases, the color signalled a crop, but in most cases, the beiges and light browns spread out before me were just the dry landscape in this part of the state. That’s just the color of the grass. Everything was just part of the ordinary, Australian countryside, yet all these things seemed quite wonderful, in a way, on such a lovely morning.

The slight sense of wonder stayed with me for the whole trip. Here I was, a lone vehicle driving through a landscape I’d never driven in before, way out in the countryside on narrow country roads, at 8.30am in the morning, and yet at the end of this strange and unfamiliar trip, I’d be at work, just like on any other work day.

It was the sunlight, it was the morning, it was the countryside, and it was the unfamiliarity of the trip.

I think it is a worthwhile exercise to take a different route to work occasionally.

 

 

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