Saturday, January 29, 2005

...sometimes in passing in front of the block of flats I remembered the rainy days when I took my editor there on pilgrimage. But I remembered them without the melancholy that I then thought I should savour one day in the sentiment of not loving her anymore. Because this melancholy, which I similarly projected in advance of the coming indifference, was my love. And this love was no more...

Marcel Proust

Friday, January 28, 2005

At last, I was liberated for one whole hour! With any luck, Janine will see something she likes and 'not notice the time tick away'.

I chose my favourite 'kantina' - "Costa's Jungle Bar" - overlooking the esplanade. It was quiet this time of day. Just a few 'pooch chariots' from the rich villas on the hill. I sat outside, facing the water, ordered a "Chocoholicos" (Cyclops-size) and pulled-out my notebook.

"Summers in the Med" by Wallington Dunstable III

This was it. This was going to be my film about a retired World War II veteran from North Africa filling his days writing travel books.

There, beneath the Aegean sun... He writes travel books. He does this all day... This is what this very highly decorated war hero, adjutant to Monty, does... His golden Greek twilight years. Buoyed by lucrative annuities (mustn't forget the underlying economics). Suddenly, here he is, at the typewriter up in the villa: the memories, the pack drill, after roughing it with the resistance in Southern France... He sits at his desk. His moustache slightly waxed, but positively twitching with ideas... He is composing a book on travel...

I licked away my retsina and chocolate moustache. Somehow, I had to drive the narrative a little further.


Agapi Carides sold plastic Burmese-child-slave-labour-manufactured hoola-hoops on the marina in Heraklion. Her son, Thurswald, painted the traditional blue eye on their rims to ward off evil.

(OK! Now we're getting somewhere.) Wallington Dunstable III has returned to the bay in Heraklion...

... on the marina, it's the seventies (an unexploited decade in flashback movies). The old soldier. Odysseus in a safari suit. Greying temples. On the water, downhill from the vacation homes of German tourists. He beat Gerry once (... no, better leave that). He had already been here before, just after the war. With Monty (need to check that). He was already married then. With Geraldine. They lived in Tunbridge Wells. But, well, 'if you can't be with the one you love, etc, etc'. He was lonely, the balmy nights and bouzouki music. There, in the foreign evening heat, the battle-scarred young Eton-chap met Agapi, a fisherman's daughter. A ravishing beauty in olive skin and a muslin skirt tied-up like Sophia Loren in 'Boy on a Dolphin'... and so on and so forth ...

And now, thirty years later ... but, no, NO! It can't be! Agapi! After all these years! Her glaucoma eyes (from staring at the shiny sea, touting hoola-hoops to the mooring yachts of rich Swiss and Saudis) peer inquisitively at this strange tall fuzzy British bloke whose voice sounds darkly familiar. That voice. Something awakens within her. She grabs Thurswald just as he completes a row of lashes. She stands up (on a crutch?). She reaches out and ...

'George, you forgot to give me the Mastercard'

... he strikes her down with one Karate slice of his ash-wood cane and unceremoniously dumps her writhing corpse into the oily waters...


'Oh, sorry darling. Here it is. Have you seen anything you like yet?'

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Pass me my pantaloon, valet!"

"Your what?"

My French still wasn't too good. And besides, I was beginning to get a little hungry. It was the second time this month I slipped back to the 17th century; in fact, back to the court of Louis XIV of France: the Sun King! This time I was standing in the bedroom of the monarch.

Last week I ended up in the palace kitchen stuffing jugged pigeons into the onion-wine marinated stomach of a wild boar. When I got back home, my wife - who is a vegan - refused to let me back into bed.

The time travel always occurred at meal times. That's why I was now standing next to the naked king with a kitchen towel stuffed in my shirt and a can of 7Up in my hand. I was about to have dinner.

"How dare you address your king in the familiar form!"

"Sorry, your kingliness! But I am a new personage at your country and are extremely strange to the language," I struggled with my broken school-boy French.

"Just pass me my pantaloon - the crimson one on the settee next to my gold pinafore. I am late for my rendezvous with Madame de Maintenon in the garden"

"Yes, your highness" I took a quick sip from my can.

"What are you doing? Give me that!"

"Sure... I mean, of course, Sire"

I handed him the can of 7Up.

"What manner of fruit is this?" He shook the can and sprayed lemonade all over his wig and down his pink royal paunch.

"In God's name! ..."

He patted the sticky fizzy liquid on his chest and put his finger in his mouth. "Mmmmmmm. This is good. What is it?"

"It is a fruit from my country. It is called le sevenup. An extremely juicy fruit. An explosive fruit"

"And where is your country? In the New World? You don't look like an Indian."

"Errrrr... No, I come from the Kingdom of Parramatta. It is a small country. It lies .. um... east of Russia", I muddled on.

"Oh! I have never heard of it." He looks at me askance. "That scarf... is it also from your land? It looks like a nun's head piece. Is it a religious accoutrement?"

"Well, no. It is a kitchen-towel, highness. Let me use it to clean you"

I gave the king a quick rub down and handed him his crimson pantaloon.

"Valet of Parramatta, I should like to offer a piece of sevenup to Madame de Maintenon. Do you have another? I am meeting her anon"

"I apologize, sire. It was my last".

But I recalled that I happened to have a packet of Tic Tacs on me, so I gave those to the king instead.

"Here, sire. These should pique the interest of your beloved. They are called Tic Tacs. They are the eggs of the Menthol beetle. A native insect of my land. They refresh the mouth and clear the nose"

"I would be glad for that!"

"Does your highness suffer from bad breath, if I may ask?"

"Not at all, valet! It's just that I always meet with Madame de Maintenon after she has dined. And today I know she is having boiled horse intestines seasoned with garlic and radish. Her favourite."

I slipped back to the visit the Sun King two weeks later. My son, who did well in history at school, had told me that Louis XIV suffered from a terrible gout. So I spent the next two weeks holding on to a tube of foot cream before having dinner.

"Ah, valet, where had you got to? I haven't seen you at Versailles for this last fourteen-night"

"Sorry, highness. I have been busy with the Football Season. It is a great and holy festival in Parramatta. It requires a long vigil of meditation before the Shining Stone. Each adult male is required to forego the world of society once a year for this ritual."

"I respect a religious man! It demonstrates principle and steadfastness"

"Thank you, sire"

I gave him the "foot ointment", which he appreciated. I told him, when he inquired, that it was prepared by the great Parramatta shaman "Tom's Pharmacy".

"tommesfamassy? A curious language you have in Parramatta, valet. It sounds not unlike the tongue of the perfidious Anglois. Have you heard of them?"

"Of course, highness. We call them bloody poms in Parramatta. In fact, they often visit our land. From time to time, some of my countrymen set to torturing them. They strip them to their breeches and force them to lie before the ocean until they turn red."

"You are a savage yet inventive people, you parramattani! We French, au contraire, hang the bloodypumms first before we roast them. It is more humane"

"But where's the fun in that, sire?"

The Sun King popped another Tic Tac.

"Mmmmm", he reflected.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Head

A child's world is often peopled with monsters. When I was three, I lived with my parents above the grocery store they owned in North Sydney. We had a large backyard with an old swing and, although we lived in the city, there was an outdoor toilet. It was housed in a small shed standing near the back fence. I don't know why, but I was convinced that it was packed with all sorts of terrifying animals.

They slept in there during the day, I thought, and at night they would come out to re-take the yard. I could hear them from my bedroom window as I lay in bed: scratching, meowing, scampering up the drain-pipe, rustling through the bushes, squeaking the swing. Mortified, I pulled the cover over my head and curled up into a ball, trying to make myself smaller until I fell asleep.

During the day, I was thankful that the sleeping animals tolerated my visits to the toilet because either one of my parents always accompanied me when I had to go, making it quite crowded in the small shed. It was cool and quiet in there except for the diminutive hiss of the flush tank continually refilling. Amazingly, the animals didn't rise up in a bestial insurgency from these regular human invasions, as you would expect. In fact, they were not visible at all. I believed they must have hunkered down like I did at night, scared of the strange sounds.

Except of course for the head.

The head appeared one day on the floor of the shed. I was looking down, automatically searching for potentially threatening creatures, knowing that there wouldn't be any, when suddenly a placid stare quietly returned my gaze. I got a start and I ran into my mother's legs (I was still pretty small). The next day, I tentatively entered the toilet, and there it was again. The peaceful beaming face seemed happy to see me. This time I didn't scare so much, and I began to smile back and relax. Eventually, I looked forward to going to the toilet to meet my new friend.

In fact, I started to ask my parents to take me to the toilet more and more often. And when I got there, I would spend more time than usual. Of course, my parents became concerned, and took me to the doctor for a check-up. Naturally, he found nothing wrong with me, but still recommended a good purgative for good measure.

I can’t remember what happened after that, but I eventually grew out of the fear of the nocturnal toilet animals, and the even forgot my friend, the head. We moved out of the shop into a suburban home (with indoor bathroom), and I left the memory of my childhood apparition behind.

A few months ago, when I had to go to an outhouse on a farm-stay weekend in the Netherlands, the head came back to me, figuratively I mean. When I told my wife about it in bed that night, she suggested that what I had encountered was my own reflection in the toilet bowl. A young impressionable mind, in need of re-assurance, could easily have concocted an alter ego from such a simple phenomenon. So that was it. Duly explained.

But perhaps not. I dimly remember that, after my meetings with the head, I began hearing another nocturnal sound when I lay in bed; a sound different from the usual chorus. Through the scratching, the meowing, the scampering up the drain-pipe, the rustling through the bushes, and the squeaking of the swing, I thought I heard a distant gargling sound, coming from somewhere, out there, in the night.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Amstel Station, 8.13PM

Dans le port d'Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui dansent
En se frottant la panse
Sur la panse des femmes
Et ils tournent et ils dansent
Comme des soleils crachés
Dans le son déchiré
D'un accordéon rance
Ils se tordent le cou
Pour mieux s'entendre rire
Jusqu'à ce que tout à coup
L'accordéon expire
Alors le geste grave
Alors le regard fier
Ils ramènent leur batave
Jusqu'en pleine lumière

my translation:

In the port of Amsterdam
The sailors dance
Belly to girl’s belly
They spin and they dance
Like a hurtling sun
In the broken melody
Of a rancid accordion
They crane their necks
To better hear themselves laugh
Until, just as suddenly
The accordion dies
But there’s a solemn motion
Then a proud look
And they bring back their women
Into the glare of the lights

from Amsterdam by Jacques Brel

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Yukio Mishima

Ah, Sun-Flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done:

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

William Blake

Monday, January 10, 2005

Hotel Barocco

Santa Maria Novella

We'll cut the flitting air and soar above
The monster's head, and in the noblest seats
Of those blest shades quench and renew our heats.
There shall the queens of love and innocence,
Beauty and Nature, banish all offence
From our close ivy-twines ; there I'll behold
Thy bared snow and thy unbraided gold ;
There my enfranchised hand on every side
Shall o'er thy naked polish'd ivory slide.

from A Rapture by Thomas Carew [1594 - 1640]

Sunday, January 09, 2005


La Galerie des Glaces, Versailles

Un auteur quelquefois, trop plein de son objet,
Jamais sans l'épuiser n'abandonne un sujet.
S'il rencontre un palais, il m'en dépeint la face ;
Il me promène après de terrasse en terrasse ;
Ici s'offre un perron; là règne un corridor ;
Là ce balcon s'enferme en un balustre d'or.
Il compte des plafonds les ronds et les ovales ;
« Ce ne sont que festons, ce ne sont qu'astragales. »
Je saute vingt feuillets pour en trouver la fin,
Et je me sauve à peine au travers du jardin.
Fuyez de ces auteurs l'abondance stérile,
Et ne vous chargez point d'un détail inutile.
Tout ce qu'on dit de trop est fade et rebutant ;
L'esprit rassasié le rejette à l'instant.
Qui ne sait se borner ne sut jamais écrire.

my translation:

Sometimes an author, obsessed by what he is writing about,
Never abandons his subject without completely exhausting all possibilities.
If he comes up against a palace, he will describe for me its façade;
And after, he will guide me from terrace to terrace;
He will show me a lawn, and then a dominating corridor;
And then a balcony wreathed by a gilded balustrade.
He will enumerate the ceilings, the sculpted ovals and circles;
"But they are just festoons, they are just astragals".
And I skip twenty pages to reach the end,
Just managing to escape across the garden.
Keep clear of those authors of such overwrought sterility,
And don't get caught up in their useless detail.
All that is overstated is padded waffle;
The captured soul rejects it instantaneously.
He who can't edit will never write.

from L'Art poétique by Nicolas Boileau [1636- 1711]

Friday, January 07, 2005


RAYMOND. Sunday morning. She's playing
with the videotape. 'The Misfits'. Ouch! I mean
she edits. Gaylord and Perce are mustanging through
the ding-bat bar when the tub-thumper fortuitously
leans them into a slow decline. Now she spoon feeds
what's left
of their entrails
through a sieve of exuberant clutter.

And their prim forbearance settles
into a cabal
of sobering associations:
The Amalgamated Translators and Collectors
Union, or The Federation of Liberal Abetments.
Here's a leading salesman carousing through
the reject saloon. And here's a thoughtless word
ruining the negotiation.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

South Country

After the whey-faced anonymity
Of river-gums and scribbly-gums and bush,
After the rubbing and the hit of brush,
You come to the South Country
As if the argument of trees were done,
The doubts and quarrelling, the plots and pains,
All ended by these clear and gliding planes
Like an abrupt solution.

And over the flat earth of empty farms
The monstrous continent of air floats back
Coloured with rotting sunlight and the black,
Bruised flesh of thunderstorms:

Air arched, enormous, pounding the bony ridge,
Ditches and hutches, with a drench of light,
So huge, from such infinities of height,
You walk on the sky's beach

While even the dwindled hills are small and bare,
As if, rebellious, buried, pitiful,
Something below pushed up a knob of skull,
Feeling its way to air.

Kenneth Slessor

Monday, January 03, 2005


Through all ages - when the pavement was grass, when it was swamp, through the age of tusk and mammoth, through the age of silent sunrise, the battered woman stood singing of love - love which has lasted a million years, she sang, love which prevails, and millions of years ago, her lover, who had been dead these centuries, had walked, and when at last she laid her head on the earth, now become a mere cinder of ice, she implored the Gods to lay by her side a bunch of purple-heather, there on her high burial place which the last rays of the last sun caressed; for then the pageant of the universe would be over.

from Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Beach

A vagueness comes over everything,
as though proving color and contour
alike dispensable: the lighthouse
extinct, the islands' spruce-tips
drunk up like milk in the
universal emulsion; houses
reverting into the lost
and forgotten; granite
subsumed, a rumor
in a mumble of ocean.

from 'Fog' by Amy Clampitt

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