Archive for December, 2008
Gough Whitlam is in the same place Ric is in, and Neville Wran was seen in the elevator the other day, so for a seventies-and-eighties ALP nerd like me it is sort of like visiting Valhalla. It’s a nice place, Lulworth House, a repurposed 19thC mansion – Patrick White’s boyfriend Manoly spent his last years there, and so did Kelso’s mum Pat. But the weird thing is that it’s right in King’s Cross, like two blocks from Big’s and Jeremy’s and my Surrey Street Aerospace and three blocks from my ex-boyfriend Phil’s apartment in the Statler.
I can’t really explain this geography in San Francisco terms, but the Cross is the red light district, all heroin and fab little street cafes and brothels and nightclubs, and Elizabeth Bay, which shoves up against it, is old old old money, where everyone’s Little Aunts used to live (squattocracy brats like our parents all had Little Aunts, left over from the Great War culling a generation of marriageable men.) So it totally makes sense to have this lovely Establishment nursing facility in Elizabeth Bay, except for the cognitive dissonance it creates in a girl who lived in Darlinghurst and Potts Point throughout her Australian would-be hipster years.
On the bright side, knowing this area like I know the inside of my own (equally shabby and incongruous) head meant that when Ric pointed to a review of a book that interested him, I knew exactly which too-cool-for-school bookshop around the corner was likely to have four copies: Ariel, and sure enough. I gave him Travelling Heroes today and we pored over the photos and read chunks to each other; he pointed out that all the Homeric heroes were very young, life spans being what they were then, and we agreed that this was a good explanation for how callow for example Achilles sometimes seems. It’s a great read and I’m going to grab a copy for myself.
Ric grew up in Girilambone, a place so small and faraway it makes my parents’ tiny Barraba seem bustling and urbane. He got himself to Sydney and trained as an architect and spent his life flitting around the world: London, Berkeley, den Haag, Easter Island. So many of my most intractable bugs – isolation, provincialism, cultural cringe, exile – he just seems to have sidestepped or routed around or floated above: a clever and accomplished man, a loyal and witty friend, a good father. Achilles without ever having been callow. I am very glad to know him.
As this year winds to its ignominious conclusion, I am defiantly focused on the things in my life that I am happy about. These include but are not limited to Claire, growing like a weed, gap-toothed, volatile, brilliant and charming; Julia, rose-lipped, wide-eyed, white-haired and implacable. Jeremy, muscular from wushu and still as funny and even-tempered as ever, continues to put up with me despite my cranky shenanigans. Australia is beautiful, my favourite beach golden and opal, the air full of sunshine and birdsong. Mangoes here smell like childhood and hope.
We still have all four of the childrens’ grandparents, and fine grandparents they are too. All siblings are likewise present and accounted for, and most are happily pair-bonded to boot. My niece and nephew Kelly and Ross are delightful and intelligent and obviously closely related to my own daughters. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a bit wet, but he’s no John Howard, and for this we are all extremely grateful. Similarly Obama, while under more pressure than any one man should have to bear, has shown an enviable track record of steely nerves, and his cabinet appointments are thoughtful and encouraging.
The world is full of books to read and films to watch, meals to make and eat, music to hear and play, science museums to explore, valleys and forests and mountains and beaches to hike and camp at and loll upon. I’m glad there is a Kiva.org and a Human Rights Watch and a Medicins Sans Frontieres, a St Luke’s Hospital and a Monroe Elementary School. The same Pacific washes Sydney and San Francisco. The same tide that washes my past away carries me forward into my childrens’ future.
We, and by we I mean Generation X, are really going to have to rethink this whole getting old thing. Retirement homes need (for example) decent coffee and non-institutional food. And for that matter, we need little cabals around to prevent the entire burden of an aging relative from falling on a single spouse. It’s the flipside of the suburban nuclear family problem. Mothers need other mothers around, if only to complain to about our delightful, uniformly above-average children.
Cicadas singing. Last night we had a tremendous thunderstorm, the cold front rolling over Bondi Junction like a rogue wave in the sky, complete with pink lightning. This morning Jeremy and I snuck out for breakfast at Bronte Beach. The Pacific Ocean was so clear and bright it looked like lime jelly (that’s lime jello, for the USonians.)
I brought all my summeriest clothes and it is overcast and a bit cool. But we had a memorably splendid Christmas. The girls were up at six and their presents were opened by seven. The clan Fitzhardinge assembled in Pymble for a bang-up lunch of cucumber soup and cold cuts and sweet chili jam and glazed carrots and potato salad and greens. Claire got yet another birthday cake, and then the sun came out and I lay on Aunty Jan’s lawn to absorb its healing rays and listen to the rosellas and the cockatoos.
The childrens’ behaviour has been delightful for days. I cannot imagine what’s gotten into them, but it’s making me beam inside.
J: There are birthday presents for Claire, and supplementary presents for Julia so she doesn’t get jealous.
R: What if Claire gets jealous of Jules not getting jealous? It’s so hard to keep it fair! What was I thinking having a baby on Christmas Day? Why didn’t anyone warn me?
J: There should be books. Although the obvious authority is useless.
R: “I did what it said in the Bible!”
You walk out of the airport terminal and into the fragrant miasma of perfectly reasonable expectations you had of yourself, that you never lived up to. The climate of Australia is determined by all the things you said and did that you can never live down, even if no one else remembers or cares. The continental land mass is made up of the smugness of expatriatism which is a very thin layer of topsoil over exile. The bottom line about this harsh, gorgeous environment is that if you hadn’t been such a gigantic asshole, you could have stayed.
- AIDS/abstinence/other (yawn)
- a pony (strong, fast, loyal)
- a baby (obsessively attached, uncanny)
- the baby Jesus (loyal, uncanny)
- the Bilderberg Group (warning: this list item not thought through)
“And the star guided three wise men from the East to where the baby was lying there in the hay.”
“MAMA I KNOW THIS STORY ALREADY.” *eyeroll*
“I don’t think you know all of it. The three wise men were called Sandy, Pigsy and the Monkey King. Sandy was a fish god, a god of the ocean and death. Pigsy was a god of earth and appetite. And the Monkey King was the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven. He was an air spirit.”
“What’s an air spirit?”
“Listen. The three kings brought three gifts for the baby. Pigsy brought gold, which is a gift of earth and the body. Monkey brought frankincense, which is a gift of air and spirit. And Sandy brought myrrh, which is a gift of water and death.”
“These are the gifts we give the people we love. We look after their bodies and their spirits, and we then take care of them when they die.”
“Oh. Okay.” Long, pensive silence. “Daddy? Did you fart?”
What I wrote at the time: “When my brilliant and beloved mother-in-law discovered to her astonishment that I hadn’t already read Pat Barker’s WW1 novels, she promptly gave me all three for my birthday. I started reading them on the flight back from Australia and about three sentences in, made myself slow down so that the experience of reading these books for the first time would last longer.”
What I think now: How could I have possibly missed these books for so long? I just started rereading Regeneration and am blown away afresh by its precision and compassion. Siegfried Sassoon and anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers face off over the War to End All War (spoiler: not so much). A great-souled, elegiac novel.
What I wrote at the time: “Why didn’t you all tell me about Cassandra at the Wedding? Which bit did you think I wouldn’t like?”
What I think now: Another great-souled and elegiac novel and one with a brilliant twist. Maybe the richest evocation of California I have read all year, with the stories of Alice Adams coming in a close second.
What I wrote at the time: “…Our Horses In Egypt with its lovely breathless vernacular prose style rather like Mitford. I was especially pleased that author Rosalind Bulben credited the Anzacs with taking Damascus, and not that idiot Lawrence. Fighting words! But you know it’s true!”
What I think now: Well, obviously, horses, you know. But so many overlapping themes with the Regeneration novels; such gorgeous evocation of time and place and class; such a vivid and authentic voice. I must dig up everything else Rosalind Bulben has written.
What I wrote at the time: Nothin’.
What I think now: In a year when I read heaps of great graphic novels – Laika, Too Cool To Be Forgotten – this was really the best. Sunderland, in which I had never previously had the slightest interest, remains as alive and present to me now as David Simon’s Baltimore. The urge to capture one’s home town and preserve it in amber seems to me one of the most understandable neuroses in all writing.
What I wrote at the time: “It was very odd reading Melusine between and around the Pierce books. They share a lot of stock European fantasy tropes and themes, and there’s even some overlap in the namespace. Where Keladry’s values are basically decent and wholesome, though, the narrators of Melusine are a clever but socially inferior thief and a psychotic wizard. There is teh gaysex and it is all very dark. My opinion of Felix remained low throughout the (long) novel, but I did come to love Mildmay the thief.”
What I think now: Tamora who? I have come to love Felix as dearly as Mildmay and Mehitabel, and to more or less worship Sarah Monette. I borrowed the trilogy from the library and as soon as I had finished it, bought it and read it again. I’m a bit spellbound, trying to figure out how she pulls off what I can only describe as architectural thaumaturgy. I want me some of those 733t ski77z.
What I wrote at the time: “Temeraire POV! Lawrence angst! Subversive dragon independence movements! Transportation! ALL SO VERY GOOD.”
What I think now: What she said.
What I wrote at the time: “Little thrills me more than cracking the spine of a new book about a Victorian liberal. Because I am an old coot.”
What I think now: I moved in with Rosebery for the duration. What an amazing place this was to live. Stormy, snobby Rosebery comes across as a more modern and human person than his better-known betes noire, Gladstone and Disraeli – more, indeed, like a less-driven Churchill, but with much sounder instincts for foreign policy.
Conclusions: My name is Miss Rach and I am a history-inhaling, Anglo-obsessive, high-realist addict.
What a year, eh? I have resolved to stop whining and start Counting My Blessings again, which should as a happy side-effect help repopulate this somewhat neglected blog. So! The kids are shiny. Claire has been promoted to first-in-line in her wushu class – a Chinese martial art, think weaponized tai chi – and is onto her second book in piano. Julia got the memo about turning three and is stubborn and stormy, yet still irresistibly kissable. Even the cat is mellow, it being the season where she views me as a heat source as well as potential food. Jeremy is 38 and thus officially the oldest dude I have ever got happy with. We had a spectacular meal at La Ciccia to celebrate, all the lovelier in that we got to walk home afterwards.
I’m nervous about going back to Australia because it always throws me into tailspins about What Might Have Been; but I’m also looking forward to some summer and beach and proper mangos and coffee and such. And I can’t wait to see everyone and wear my brand-new rock star sunglasses. And then when I come back we’ll have a new preznit, one you won’t necessarily want to throw your shoe at. Pacific gyre and methane clathrate gun and we’re all so doomed aside, as they say here in California, it’s all good.
The Pogues, Fairytale of New York
The Pretenders, 2000 Miles
Jonathan Coulton, Chiron Beta Prime
Ben Folds Five, Brick
Sufjan Stevens, That Was The Worst Christmas Ever (or, indeed, anything by Sufjan Stevens. Come, beautiful young man, sit by me and sing me your songs of emo. I will listen all year.)
Spent the morning in meetings in conference rooms with huge glass walls that looked out on the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, Coit Tower, Alcatraz and Angel Islands. Hard to concentrate. San Francisco is gobsmackingly beautiful.
Choosing new glasses isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. Where are the frames that say all three of “unreformed Mission hipster-nerd”, “corporate bitch” and “PTA mom, but in a Sandra Tsing Loh way, not a Sarah Palin way”?
From Prada and Kate Spade, as it turns out.
My former arch-nemesis having retired the field, I have decided that my new arch-nemeses – plural – are Time and Space. Many factors influenced this choice, including but not limited to: my father-in-law’s illness; my own parents’ advancing age, not to mention that of my appalling but much-loved cat; the cost of flights from San Francisco to Sydney; and weirdly enough, the 20th high school reunion that, like the tenth, I didn’t attend.
I will say I have a cool cohort. Last time around, mainstream media produced Romy and Michelle’s and Grosse Pointe Blank to coincide with my first decade outta school. This time it’s Liz Lemon in 30 Rock. She approached the event with the same nerdy trepidation I feel. High school was awful! Everyone was mean to me! Why would I want to go back? What Liz discovers is that her wicked comebacks scarred all her enemies for life. At this point I was falling off the sofa, laughing so hard there were tears in my eyes. For me, that would be something of a dream come true.
I have nothing but goodwill for all of the people who just friended me on Facebook in the wake of the Forest High School’s 20th, and several of whom I can almost recall. One, Steve Mackay – quite possibly the curly-haired Christian boy I pretended to have a crush on, to conceal the fact that my sexy dreams were all about girls – put it best when he asked: “What are you doing in America? You missed an awesome reunion!”
It’s not an easy question to answer. As a kid with no money for a plane ticket, how I loathed Germaine Greer and Clive James and their casual assumption of expat superiority. As a twenty-something grad student and then geek migrant, how casually I assumed expat superiority myself. Turns out it makes no difference whether you stay or go.
In superficial ways, sure – you leave one set of people behind, make new friends where you arrive. But I think about how my life and Jeremy’s would have turned out if we’d stayed – look at the friends in Sydney we are most like, and how things turned out for them – and I am forced to conclude it is a wash. Our Australianness asserted itself here, just as our not-Australianness would have asserted itself there. Wherever I go, there I am. Serves me right.
As it is, I miss my mum. I love San Francisco. I wish I could hang out more with my friends in London. I’m still trying to get lead remediation finished on the house. I have a frantic couple of weeks of work left before the end of the year. Claire finished her first piano book and started on her second. Julia got the memo about turning three, and has become a tiny, adorable banshee. Jeremy is as delicious as ever.
As for you, space-time continuum: you are On Notice.
Harvey answers the phone and it’s some gay kid from Minnesota. The kid is thinking of killing himself. Harvey’s distracted but tries to focus: “No, no, don’t do that. Get on a bus. Go to the nearest big city. Go to Minneapolis or New York or LA. It doesn’t matter what anyone says. You’re not sick. You’re not wrong. God doesn’t hate you.”
It’s true what they’re saying: Sean Penn is incredible. I’m a Milk completist and I had to concentrate, hard, to see that it was Penn in the role, so absolutely does he disappear into Milk. It’s Gus Van Sant’s masterpiece, the film he was born to make. It’s painful, of course, and some parts of it were very hard to watch: Prop 6 so neatly prefiguring Prop 8, but without the wrenching end; the murderer walking through the City Hall where my dear friends married last month. The candlelit march down Market.
But it was at “Get on the bus” that I started crying. GLBT history doesn’t matter only to GLBT people. It matters to all the fellow travellers, to anyone who likes opera or books better than football or stock car racing, to anyone who even just doesn’t want people like us dead. Weird kids, misfits, outsiders. “Get on the bus”; where would I be now, if no one had said it to me? “Get to the nearest big city. You’re not wrong. God doesn’t hate you.”