Sunday, 30 January 2011

Am I safe?

Sophie squeezed herself into the storm water drain under the railway track. She remembered being shown how to get in years ago when she used to play with the Harris kids. They always had so much fun with their Dad. He would really play with them, do exciting things like crawl through drains, or sneak into the school grounds and swing on the monkey bars, or go for long walks in the bushland close by, wading through the streams of water and doing things like kids should do. He even showed them little red-rumped parrots that fed on the ground eating grass seeds that gathered in small groups and were such a surprise to see on the school oval.
Her father wasn’t like that. He was sneaky and tried to get her alone, and touched her in-ap-pro-pri-ate-ly. She remembered the woman at school who came to talk about mo-les-ta-tion. She was seven for heavens sake, how did she understand what such words meant? She tried to talk to her Mum about it but “It’s only his way of showing he loves you” was the reply. Didn’t she understand for crying out loud.
It never stopped. She wasn’t a kid anymore. She was frightened he was really going to hurt her. If he was her father why did he touch her that way? She hated him. Everything about him screamed abuse yet no-one else could see it. She hated him more when the other girls at school started to talk about sex and boys and fantasize about romances. I could tell you about sex, she thought. “It is ugly, it hurts, it makes me feel dirty. I just can’t tell anyone about it because Mum will get all upset and deny it even though she knows nothing, and Dad will deny it and just say he perhaps had played a bit rough with me coz he didn’t have a son. Pig’s arse!"
Sophie continued to muse to herself, "Well let’s see if he likes it here down the drain. I was so lucky. He fell for all my talk about the secret place I had found. The fool even wanted to see it for himself. I didn’t think I would be able to hit him with the brick but it was so easy. OK, so I hit him several times. Now all we want is a nice drop of rain to wash him through and bash him up a bit more. Then they will find him down the creek a few weeks from now."
"I just rang Mum at work at work and asked where Dad was as he hadn’t come home. She wasn’t worried. Nor was I as it has just started raining, really hard! For the first time I feel free, better, cleaner, and safe."

Saturday, 22 January 2011

In Monet's Garden at Giverney

I wonder if I can tell you about Monique. I met her so many years ago. Where was it now? It could have been in London, Paris or even on Brighton beach but I am sure she was like so many mysterious figures in the past. They continually appear in your life and at such unexpected moments. A glance, a shy smile or even a friendly wave, that may have been meant for you or perhaps not. Such moments you recall much later on and you say to yourself, “That was the girl I saw on the ferry to Ostend or bumped into at Heathrow airport.” But you are never quite sure, are you? Is it a different girl with a twinkle in her eye? Or perhaps it is some guardian angel watching over you for all eternity?
I was travelling around France some years ago and found myself in Monet’s beautiful garden at Giverney. Like many others in the garden that day I wandered around his house and studio, side stepped the army of gardeners that seems to work constantly on the flower beds, wound my way through the arches of roses and eventually made my way through the tunnel under the road that certainly wasn’t there in Monet’s day and discovered his water lily ponds.
I already had my camera snapping at all the scenes so reminiscent of his artistic work as I desperately tried to get a shot of the pond and the arched bridge in the background. Needless to say I was not alone and was annoyed that the people on the bridge didn’t look picturesque enough for my shot. There was a gardener in the pond cleaning up the debris heading my way so I hurriedly took my picture. This was in the days before digital and it was a week or so before I finally saw the print!
There she was, I had caught her on camera! My Monique; I had finally captured her.
Now of course her name wasn’t Monique, I just made that up. But how many of you have captured your fantasy? Well I did!
Now the sad part is that once again had she teased and eluded me. If I had not been so precious about getting the picture right I could have walked around to the bridge myself, gone up to her and said. “Hello Monique, I think we have been nearly meeting for a few years now, my name is Old Egg.”
And she in her turn would smile a little impish smile. Touch her finger to her lips then place it on mine and say “I am always with you.”
That didn’t happen though and I know somehow that even though she might always see me, I will never see her again.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Where Artists Sleep

Not far from the Boulevard de Clichy at the foot of Montmartre but a short walk from the Moulin Rouge there is a place invisible to most visitors to Paris. It is a small cemetery; a magical place. It is not seen by the majority of foreigners that flock to the city each year, yet it holds for me what is the essence of that great city. It is the resting place of some of that city’s greatest artists; that made Paris such a drawcard for the world.

The main entrance is hidden down a side street, the Avenue Rachel, although you can reach it by one of Paris steep staircases from the Rue Caulaincourt Bridge which spans the south east corner of the cemetery. Once you enter, you visit a wondrous world.

Immediately the street sounds are hushed and you are confronted by a tranquil oasis where those in that corner sleep. Most of the memorials are built on a grand scale by families who pack their relatives in these stone mausoleums that dot the walkways like sentry boxes.

The first name I recognised was Emile Zola, that novelist whose heroes and heroines were influenced by the fateful blood and passions of the Rougon Macquart family. A little further on is the tomb of Hector Berlioz whose Symphony Fantastique was inspired by his love for an Irish actress who he later married.

On the same path is the elaborate tomb of the painter Jean Baptist Greuze whose social commentary paintings in the 17th century warned of a revolution that was to come.

But a few paces from there is the resting place of Jean Honoré Fragonard, a contemporary who painted the idyllic France that existed only for the elite. Who can forget his painting “The Swing” showing a young man on the ground admiring an amused girl on a swing as she reveals her petticoats as she swings above him?

While we were walking around the cemetery we had this feeling of being watched. We rested on our climb up the steep paths and slowly when these were cleared of visitors the true residents of the cemetery emerged. From behind the tombs, from out of openings came the owners of that patch of Paris. Quietly we observed the cats of Paris emerge from hiding to stalk and play and rest in the weak October sunshine. As we rose again to walk on they just as quickly disappeared not wishing to have contact with us.

At the cemetery’s high point close to boundary wall there is a massive family crypt; it bears the name “de Gas”. On it is affixed a medallion showing a man with a long nose wearing a floppy hat. Here lies Edgar Degas, impressionist painter and master draughtsman who is ever immortalised by his paintings & crayon sketches of ballet dancers. His hands were able to create the movement and expression of their every action, capturing on canvas all the excitement of the dance, the stage and the swirl of muslin.

Seeing the tombs of these heroes of France is a most moving experience and our rest stops were many. The names went on; Leo Delibes and the Flower duet from Lakme, Jacques Offenbach and his music of “Gaité Parisienne’ echoing the nightlife down the road and now here is Stendhal and his novels “The Charterhouse of Parma” and “Scarlet and Black”.

We were approaching the overpass bridge again and the sound of traffic could be heard once more. To our right was a box like tomb some steps from the path. It was that of the family “Du Plessis.” Interred here was Alphonsine du Plessis a beautiful but tragic heroine. She was Dumas’s Lady of the Camellias, and Marguerite in Verdi’s “La Traviata”. She was real!

As we left the cemetery I felt we had seen more than a collection of graves, we had been in touch with the artistic spirit of France.

On looking back down over the cemetery from the Rue Caulaincourt which wends its way around the back of Montmartre like a comforting arm, I saw the cats emerge again to reclaim their territory.

Illustration "The Swing" by Fragonard

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A walk in the park

I often walk in the park, I walk to the park and I sit down on a bench and I think and observe and occasionally if I remember, I might feed the birds with a crust. When I am breaking it up and throwing it to the urban bird life that really have no right to be there getting free pickings, I often think that the crusts would do me more good than the spongy moist bread that is in the slices that I do eat.
Today as on most days I see the usual park dwellers like me; the walkers and the joggers; the skateboarders and mothers with babies or toddlers. I don’t wave or say hello to them or they to me they are but the natural makeup of the park, just like the seats and the kiddies’ corner and the fountain and the gardens and the grass and the trees. That is all except Maisie. I am sure that is not her name, it is just the name I have given her. She dresses down for the park. She looks permanently cross and she holds an unbent wire coat hanger in one hand and drags a large trolley with the other. The trolley is filled with reusable bags half filled with an assortment of bottles and cans and plastic containers all of which can be redeemed for 10c a piece at the recycling depot. We have little such debris littering our street and parks and waterways, it is just too valuable. Even if you don’t want the 10c Maisie does and hundreds like her. There is an army of scavenger ants in Adelaide clearing the city and suburbs of this waste.
As I sit there unnoticed Maisie will approach the waste bin near me and using her improvised tool will fossick for treasures in the garbage. I however notice her. She has dressed especially for this task. She has dressed down. I don’t think her best friends would recognise her, if she had any friends. She wears a hat that shields her face and protects her from the sun and it is held on by a chiffon scarf of doubtful cleanliness tied with knot under her chin. Her clothes are ones Opportunity shops would throw out. They are foul and her shoes are of course sneakers of a size that would probably fit me!
At first I would ignore her and she me. One day something allowed me to study her more closely. Hiding behind her façade was a very sweet face that appeared when her grimace was relaxed. In that fleeting second I saw a different Maisie, I saw a young girl thrilled at receiving her first kiss, I saw a blushing bride proudly gazing into a young man’s eyes, and I saw her with tears in her eyes as she cradled her baby. It was at that moment I looked at Maisie in a different light. In doing so I got up off the park bench and stopped feeling sorry for myself and took a walk in the park.

Sunday, 2 January 2011


“Do you know what I hate?” Mel asked. He, puzzled for a moment, somehow had to think of a good response, just in case she was about to criticise something he had done or not done, said or even thought. She knew him so well.

Luckily she went on before he opened his mouth, with the real risk of saying the wrong thing. “Thank Heavens!” John thought, “It’s is a rhetorical question.”

“What I really hate is progress.” She finally uttered.

“Is that it?” he thought “Or is there more to come?”

“Haven’t you ever thought that for every wondrous advancement, every fantastic achievement and for some every super must have gadget, device or whatever that comes on the market we actually lose something too?”

She took a deep breath and went on.
“The things that we lose are things that we will remember in times to come and regret their passing and wonder why we were such fools to let them go.”

As Melanie prattled on, John looked at her and loved her even more. He saw her lips move and wanted to kiss them. He wanted to touch her face and run his fingers down her neck and hold her tight. He wanted to lie down with her and feel her warmth against him, to hold on to her bare calves, and to count her toes and to kiss her soft tummy and feel secure with her as she wrapped him in her arms and hugged him tight and rocked him, while he breathed in the scent of her body. She loved him drawing pictures on her back and having to guess what they were.

“Don’t you think so too?” she asked.

John, awoken from his reverie, looked back at Melanie’s face. She was smiling and said, “You haven’t heard a word I said, have you?”

“Mel, my darling, precious little flower, you are absolutely right, but everyday of our lives some things change. I think we are tricked into believing that some of the changes are in fact progress. Some however are inevitable. The important thing is to be able to share your life with someone who you can trust, to talk to, to play with and to laugh with, and all the rest? What does it matter as long as we have each other?”

Mel had a tiny smile on her face when she considered all that.

“You are only saying that because you want to go back to bed, aren’t you?”

“Yes” John replied.