Silk Road

20190904_132025Although I’ve been calling this place Kurohime, that is just the name of the railway station and the mountain; the area is properly called Kumakura, ‘Bear’s Larder’ or similar. There are bears around here; monkeys too – we saw some today on the way to the recycling plant. And last night something, probably a badger, was snuffling round under the tatami room while we were sleeping. We found footprints in fine dust beneath the house this morning. The Japanese badger is a mustelid with racoon eyes; it’s nocturnal, so heard but not often seen. Though the house is tight against the weather, sometimes you find small green frogs in the bathroom; there are larger brown ones hopping around outside; and the snakes that eat both kinds slithering through the bear bamboo. Yoshie showed me two shed skins she has collected. Shinanomachi is the name of the larger town, which includes Kumakura, Nojiriko (the caldera) and a dozen other places, all villages from ancient times. I always find directions difficult to intuit in the northern hemisphere though I’ve just about got it right now; the principles behind the disposition of the town we’re on the outskirts of continue to elude me. I’ve been to the Town Hall, to the Library, to the Hospital, to the Council Offices and still I cannot say how they sit in relation to each other or to the town as a whole. I think perhaps it is because modern infrastructure has been laid down over an old rural map where houses related to their surrounding fields, with their ubiquitous shrines, and to other houses more than they did to roads or grids or railways or whatever. Also I’ve been to the Temple and to the house of the Poet Issa, which stands on Highway 18, the Royal Road. In the Edo period gold mined on the offshore island of Sado was carried down here in wagons to the court of the Tokugawa Shogun. There’s now also a magnificent tollway which takes the same route to the coast but there’s still something about the Royal Road that makes you feel like you are breathing an older air. To the north west of town, before you go through the tunnel, heading towards Kumakura, on the left there is the Hotel Victoria. It is long and narrow, four or five storeys high, painted pink, with a balustrade along the front upon which numbers of grey-ish white neoclassic statues stand. Venuses, Putti, Atlases, Apollos, Virgins with Child and so forth. It is a love hotel, hence the colour. Not necesarily for illicit liaisons; many of the places around here (there are lots of large houses), are home to three or four or even five generations. Couples, therefore, in order to get away from the madding crowd, check into the hotel for an hour or two so they can make love in private. Teenagers, or young lovers, too, may escape parental scrutiny here. It’s about 8000 yen (= $100.00 aprox.) for an overnight stay, rather less for a ‘rest’ of a couple of hours; weekend rates are higher. On the other side of the tunnel, heading east and south on the Royal Road, there’s another hotel, standing eight storeys tall at a fork in the way. This was built by some entrepreneur, probably in the 1990s, in the expectation of a boom that never came. Though it was completed, and furnished (there are curtains in the windows), no-one has ever stayed there nor ever will. Weeds grow the height of a man outside reception, there are trees masking the lobby windows, inside, who knows, wild animals may have taken up residence in the rooms. It is as J G Ballard a sight as I have seen; although derelict dwellings, and other buildings, are everywhere. They sag back into the earth, festooned with creepers, their rooves collapsed by heavy winter snow, their windows blinded by webs and vines. If you drive on further, past the main street leading down to the station, with many of its shops shuttered (because, like in the West, most people go to supermarkets now), on the left you will see the sign that says Silk Road. It’s a Pachinko Parlour; today there were about a dozen vehicles parked in the carpark and about the same number of men, under sparkly lights, playing at machines in the enormous room. The game resembles pinball, but only vaguely. You purchase steel balls and insert them in an aperture at the top; they drop down, past various possible ‘cups’, through the playing field until (no win) they exit at the bottom. Any win gives the player more steel balls; which are thus both the bet and the prize. Gambling is illegal in Japan but Pachinko is a grey area; you can exchange your balls for tokens (‘prizes’) which may then be ‘sold’ for cash at a nearby establishment, owned and operated by the parlour where you won them – and so it goes. The Pachinko industry is said to generate more gambling revenue than Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau combined, though that seems unlikely; eighty percent of the owners are Korean, albeit domiciled in Japan. I asked the hostess who greeted me if I could photograph that strangely spangled ceiling, that cacophonous interior, but she became anxious and indicated that she would have to go and ask her boss; I said, no, don’t worry. Outside, on the facade, there are aqua camels on a yellow and orange ground; on the roof, two aqua domes and, between them, a neon sign; which, because I have not been there at night, I have not seen lit up. We went on to pick up Mayu’s new pink suitcase from the Black Cat depot, to which it had been despatched after she ordered it online in Tokyo last Saturday night; and then on into the afternoon. At the onsen the cherry trees that were bee-loud with blossom last time I was here, were now all green. Yellow daisies flowered amongst the morning glory. Swallows dived and swooped in the grey sky, from which heavy rain fell intermittently while thunder rumbled in the hills. I had a talk with a man called Hiro who is a petro-chemical engineer and has visited 153 countries. He told me about a lobster he ate, washed down with white wine, in Sydney in 1995. His skinny shanks and his humorous white-haired wife, who insisted on ringing the bell at the vacant reception desk, remain in mind. The rain is pouring down outside now in Kumakura, dinner is ready. It must be another kind of silk road I am upon, as seductive and as delusive as the one on Highway 18.

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Untoward

20190902_145523Today we went swimming in the caldera, in a bay on the northern shore where a set of orange buoys are disposed, in a rough quadrilateral, to make a place safe from boaties and fisher folk. You change in some small sheds across the road from the base of the jetty then walk out upon it until you reach a set of iron steps leading down to the water; which is a clear brown colour above a bottom of round stones, which soon gives way to soft, slightly slimy sand from which grow banks of feathery weed. It was a warm cloudy day and, once you slid into the water, warm there too. Mayu, who has been swimming here since she was a girl, has a routine which involves breast-stroking out to the buoy at the eastern corner of the rectangle then progressing back and forth upon the southern line several times before back-stroking back to the jetty. I decided to traverse the three sides of the square but in the event struck out on a diagonal from the south-western buoy back to shore. While free-styling along the southern line I saw below me a silver fish, the shape and size of a small snapper, gently fibrillating its fins as it rested in a glade of the weed forest. On another private jetty, parallel to the public one, right at the end, there is a statue of dog, perhaps cut out of sheet metal, with its head cocked and its face turned towards a derelict boatshed further round the lake. There is a placard round its neck with writing upon it but you would have to swim to it from the water to read what it says; casual access to the jetty is denied. It looks like it is waiting for the return of a fisherman who will never come again; but that may be fanciful. After our swim we drove on around the lake, down secret winding roads, through dark green cedars and pale green larch trees, in yellowy light, back to the village. Because of the book I was reading – God’s Crucible, by David Levering Lewis – I had a Bowie song in my head: ‘Prayers they hide the saddest view / believing the strangest things / loving the alien / and your prayers / they break the sky in two.’ I don’t know what that means, do you? Sounds right though. After a short rest we drove to a restaurant in Myoko for lunch and then on to a hotel where we had afternoon tea and an onsen. I had been twice before to this particular onsen but today the women’s and men’s baths had been switched around (a regular occurrence) and I was where previously Mayu and Yoshie had bathed. The water was extremely hot in the inside pool so it was difficult to stay in for any length of time; nevertheless, I could feel the heat infiltrating those aching joints – my left ankle, both knees, my left hip, my left thumb – which constitute a permanent reminder of mortality; or rather of the decrepitude that precedes mortality. The mist had come down from the mountain, shrouding everything in uncertainty, the suggestive atmos of a thriller; the cars looming out of the murk were gleaming expensive Mercs and Beamers and Lexuses; but the people you saw infrequently in the streets were just shop-keepers or artisans or farmers going about the business of life. I am no closer to inventing the noir plot I wish to elaborate as a means of writing about this place in all the evocative detail it demands; and, on the drive back home, began to wonder if I should approach the matter diaristically, with no attempt at fictional creations; like an I-novel perhaps. Invention, after all, is not my strong suit; or not on the macro level; though I am able at times to take the real towards the possible or improbable in a sentence or a paragraph. One of the words I looked up the other day is ‘untoward’. I always thought it to be a nautical term, having to do with an impedance in the progress of a vessel towards its destination; but no. Or not exactly. ‘Weard’ is the root, meaning a turning, in a certain direction, ‘towards’, ‘backwards’, or ‘onwards’. Later it was used to indicate a positive move, a willingness to learn, to contribute, or just to be. To weard, to turn, to take a propitious move. A tao or an ara. Hence the actions of those people who showed no such willingness to do so came to be described as untoward. So maybe here is the master metaphor I am looking for: could I write the diary of an untoward? A way towards a way that is not the way?

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Yokohama War Cemetery

20190830_165612When we were leaving the cemetery for the second time I went again into the house where the Visitors Book is kept. We’d both signed it the day before – Mayu wrote ‘peace’ in the comments section and I wrote ‘heiwa’. There was a plastic folder binding sheets of paper on which were written the names of the 1555 service people buried here; when I picked it up to flick through, a small, mildewed, unsealed envelope fell out. It had a name on the front: Wilfred Greaves; and, inside, a photograph of him. He was an Englishman, a minor functionary in the RAF; captured in Singapore, he died of malnutrition, beriberi and nephritis in a camp near Hiroshima in 1943. The picture was one of those colourised prints made from a black and white image. Just head and shoulders. A bluff, blond fellow with blue eyes and a wide easy smile. Dead these seventy-six years. There’s something strange about the phrase: ‘We will remember them.’ Who are ‘we’ and who is ‘them’? Who placed the pic of Fred Greaves here? Are they still alive? If not, who remembers them? And so on and so forth. The cemetery was created by the Australian War Graves Unit in 1945 and is now administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, HQ in Maidenhead, Berkshire, which is responsible for overseeing the remains of the millions (about 1.7) who died overseas in both twentieth century world wars, with reliquaries in 153 countries. Here are six immaculately kept lawn cemeteries set amongst plantings of magnificent trees, on the slope of a hill which has the effect of blocking out the surrounding cityscape of Hodogaya, west of the great seaport of Yokohama. First of all the Brits; then, to the south of them, the Aussies; further along the same path, the Kiwis and the Canadians. Then, retracing your steps and walking up the hill behind the Brits, the Indians; beyond them, a still functioning cemetery where there are the graves of another 171 who died during or after the occupation. Some of them were babes who did not survive long in this world; some were women, wives presumably; many of the servicemen died in the early 1950s, perhaps en route to, or from, the Korean War. There was an Admiral and an Air Marshall; also the grave of the man who oversaw this place from 1952 to 1986. His name was Len Harrop, MBE, and his plaque said: ‘If you seek his monument, look around you.’ He died, aged 95, in 2011. Many of those from United India (ie Pakistan and Bangladesh too) were seamen off a ship called the SS Nankin, which left Melbourne in April 1942 with a cargo of munitions as well as some civilian passengers, headed for India. She was taken by a German raider and, after several ship transfers, those aboard ended up in Yokohama, prisoners of the Germans but under the care, so-called, of the Japanese. Other lascars (sic) were off a vessel called the MV British Motorist, a British oil tanker sunk in Darwin Harbour, also in 1942; how they came to be here I cannot imagine. Later, while the raider which had taken her was moored alongside her in Yokohama Bay re-fuelling, a fire broke out and the munitions aboard the Nankin blew up, taking with her the raider and a large proportion of the docks as well. There was a raggedy tree in the Indian section which may have been a tamarind; in the Australian section there were gum trees and Bangalow palms; in the place where the New Zealanders and Canadians are buried, two maple trees and a young, healthy kauri which, no matter how many times I tried, I could not get a decent shot of; though I did get some evocative close-ups of the bark. The morning was hot and humid. Cicadas stridulated. On the paths, many small spiral-shelled snails had left behind them trails of mucous then somehow stalled, perhaps when yesterday’s rain stopped. Iridescent slaters trundled to and fro. On the lawns, peaceful doves grazed; while up above the ubiquitous crows cawed. A big dark butterfly, with blue lights in its black wings, fluttered by. Dragonflies like small electric birds buzzed into the trees. In the Australian section a man with a watering can and a sponge on a handle was cleaning the plaques, one by one; as Mayu photographed them, one by one. She has done the same with the graves of Japanese war dead interred in Cowra. There are flowering plants between each grave; the lavenders laved their scent upon the morning, the crimson roses glowed in the heavy clouded air. When I see the phrase ‘Known Unto God’ I always tear up even though I know it isn’t true. Last night, in a Taiwanese restaurant that Mioko took us to in Chuka-gai, there was barn owl tethered by the leg near the register. We heard its hooded cry as we ate our food. It had a name but I have forgotten it; and two tricks: it could grasp in its beak a soft toy shaped like its own head and return it to a simulacrum of a nesting hole; and pick up a little bell and ring it; except, last night, it kept dropping the bell and so it never rang. Never send to ask . . . I did a google search for Wilfred Greaves but nothing much came up. Greaves of course recalls graves; and also grief. At the rear of the British section there was a small building within which is a black oblong metal box containing the remains of 355 Commonwealth, American and Dutch men who died as POWs in Japan and were cremated; only 284 of their names are known; the box does not look large enough to hold all those bits of ash and bone and tooth; and where are their souls? On the wall above that strange black box, in handsome carved capitals, are these words: ‘There be of them that have left a name behind them that their praises might be reported and some there be that have no memorial. But their righteousness hath not been forgotten and their glory shall not be blotted out.’ I don’t rightly understand this either though I think I know what it is trying to say. Yuenchi Park used to be a children’s playground; maybe even a fairground; which was resumed to make the cemetery. The first day there I saw a mother and her young daughter wandering down the pathways through the trees; on the second, an elderly man in a canvas hat studying the information boards. Otherwise it was just us; the two workers; and the corbies; whose barbarous cries I can still hear sounding above me here in Yoyogi as I write.

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Notional Ekphrasis

Window 1The old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words, is of course ambiguous. Its source is usually said to have been an instructional talk given by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane to the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club in March 1911, as reported in the Syracuse Post-Standard: Use a picture, Brisbane said, it’s worth a thousand words. Later, after the war, when various advertisers (Printer’s Ink; the San Antonio Light) took it up, the adage was alleged to have been adapted from a Chinese proverb: Hearing something a hundred times isn’t as good as seeing it once. Leonardo da Vinci (a poet would be dragged to sleep or dead of hunger before being able to describe in words what a painter can show in an instant), Napoleon Bonaparte (Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours) and Ivan Turgenev (a drawing shows me at a glance what it takes a book ten pages to say) have also been quoted as sources or else just as people who at some point said something similar. The ambiguity lies in the fact that the sentence may also be read to mean it is worth writing a thousand words about a picture; which is the modus operandi I am following here. This is not ekphrasis however; or not exactly; for that would mean claiming that random snaps taken on my Samsung Galaxy 5 are works of art; which they are not. Or are they? Whatever the case may be, I make no such claim: what I am interested in is the image and especially the suggestiveness of the image. Indeed its ambiguity. Take the silver sheen on the glass of the four square sash window frame above: what does that suggest? Something inchoate, possibly generative? It was the late afternoon light pouring into the room which I was trying to capture; but that is not what the picture shows; or not exactly. Yes, there is that bar of light on the table top; and highlights on the collar of my leather jacket, slung over the back of the chair in the immediate foreground; but the subject of the picture is not what it shows but what it does not show. That silver sheen, or screen, becomes a seductive blank upon which any fantasy you like might be projected. Or look at the panel directly to the left of the main one: you would not know, unless you came here and looked (a look is worth a thousand words), that the dark presence at the far left is a wooden carving of unknown provenance which I have affixed with blu tack to the middle frame of the triptych of windows. It is probably from somewhere in New Guinea and shows a highly abstracted human figure—legs, torso, head, headdress—in a pose that suggests worship or perhaps abjection. Again, at the base of the upper right hand panel, there is a shape which resembles a bird with an elongated neck in the act of bending to feed or to drink. This is not what it seems. Some time ago, last year perhaps, the state government passed a law which instructed that all windows in all apartment blocks must be fitted with safety catches so that (when they are in use) the window in question cannot open far enough for a child to fall out of it. That bird’s head is in fact a piece of metal on a wire inclining towards a slot in which it may lock; not that I have ever done so, for no children live here and even when they did, my sons were never going to do something as stupid as falling out a window. The literature on ekphrasis (to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name) is, as you might expect, vast and confusing and goes back to the Ancient Greeks: to Plato’s theory of forms, for instance. Or, even further, to Homer’s description of the Shield of Achilles in The Iliad. More interesting to me in the discussions I have read is the concept of notional ekphrasis: mental processes such as dreams, thoughts, flights of fancy. Or the description of a work which is in an embryonic state, still forming in the mind. Or an account of the origin of some other work of art, how it came to be made, the circumstance of its creation. Or even an outline of an imaginary, a non-existent work, represented as though it did actually exist. If you look closely at the picture above, for example, you may see in it, as if in a mirror, the ghost of a traffic sign across the road; the ghost of the white fence of the former early childhood centre, which the Pilipino topiarist has made into a formal garden; the foliage of the trees outside, in this case a tallowood, which has been mentioned before, and a skinny palm whose botanical name, nor even its common name, I do not know. So if, as I said above, the subject of this picture is what it does not show, what is it that it does not show? What notional ekphrasis is depicted here? These are real questions but there are no real answers to them. David Mackenzie wrote to me to say that he was fascinated by the patina on those window panes. I wrote back and said it was probably the result of tree pollen, blown over decades against the glass outside, congealing and hardening to make a kind of membrane; but that does not explain anything either. I look at that silvery patina and see nothing I can put a name to: as if the act of looking, and of seeing, were an end in itself. As perhaps it is. So the pleasures of looking, and of seeing, may be the subject of this picture; that is what it shows and at the same time does not show. I could go on but I will not. I have reached my limit: a thousand words.

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Study Window

dust 2In cities there are places which become lost in time; they disappear and remain invisible until someone happens upon them; they are usually lost again soon afterwards. They are both portals and dead ends; the most reliable indication of their presence, or nearness, is their anonymity. I saw quite a few of them when I was a taxi driver, usually in the buttery late afternoon light falling on sandstone down the end of some forgotten street; or in a stark black and white-lit cul-de-sac on a dark night. They would appear and open and wait and then they would be gone again. I remember one in the warehouse district in Zetland. It was late and after I dropped off, and was turning the car around to go back to the CBD, my headlights illuminated a painted sign fading from a brick wall. It showed a pair of 1940s style red high heels; with the legend Gay Shoes inscribed below. Another time I was dropping off in Fig Tree Lane, which runs beneath the west wall of the Waverley Cemetery in Bronte. The wall is made of massive oblong sandstone blocks which, on the night in question, seemed to be oozing gore from the massed graves above. Henry Lawson is buried there; so is Henry Kendall; and Dorothea Mackellar, who wrote I love a sunburnt country and was admired by Joseph Conrad (for her person, not the poem). Again the visitation, or vastation, happened as I turned the car around. My headlights shone into a garage where a fantastical pair, a man as tall as the wind, a child a quarter his height, both dressed in white, with white faces, turned from their work to look at me. They were taking down, or hanging up, white masks, white puppets, white marionettes, from hooks along the interior walls; and looked like motile theatrical props themselves. I know there must have been some rational explanation for this uncanny sight but I have never been able to figure out what it was: because of the fear that gripped me, because of the baleful way they looked at me, because, it seemed, they were custodians of the ghosts of the many dead—more than eighty thousand—buried up above. The third example is more mundane than either of those two and yet, for that very reason, more resonant. I have one out the window of my study. One of those dead ends, I mean, one of those portals. It’s the chimney of M’s terrace house, made of pale brick with carved zig zag ornaments, a sober crown, and three semi-circular ceramics, like parallel pipes, instead of chimney pots along the top. It’s only on certain afternoons that this portal opens, when the westering sun catches on the brick and lights up a path into the time, more than a century ago now, when the terrace was built. When this was a street of boot-makers and grocers, of undertakers and florists, of carpenters and plumbers and stone masons. Of course I like to visit the past as much as anyone else; but there is something even stranger beyond, something unaccountable. It has to do with the clay the bricks are made from; the sandstone that has been carved to make the ornament. The portal opens, courtesy of those grains of sand, of the quartz, the oxides and the organic matter in the clay of the bricks, into an inconceivably ancient time when all of the land upon the earth was gathered in two great masses: the Old Red Sandstone Continent, sometimes called Laurasia, and our place, Gondwanaland. There the great Agathis stands; there the flightless Cagou bird roams; there the lizards walk upright upon their hind legs; there croaks the parrot half the height of a man; and the eagle large enough to carry off any walking bird flies. I see all of this, more like a vision than a dream, on late afternoons when I swing my chair around and look out the window. There are the heads of two palms behind, a Bangalow and a Tharawal, side by side, green-gold against the glowing sky; and the red tiles of the roof of the apartment building opposite, which is a kind of mirror of this one, with a Juliet balcony made of the same white pillars as my Abba balcony is. Of what use are these portals? Are they not also dead ends? Did I not say so myself? Yes, that’s true; but it’s also the case that the prism I have hung in front of the cruciform window captures images streaming from this portal and refracts them into the room where I sit, day after day, tapping out words just like these ones which you see before you now. And words themselves, as everyone knows, are portals too: not just to the past but into the future as well. Do you not believe me? Take tallowood, which is the common name for the eucalypt that grows outside the window. Tallow is an ancient word, from Proto-Indo-European *del which means flow. In Middle Irish this becomes delt, dew; in Old Armenian, a word for rain. The tallowood, when milled, is greasy to the touch; it is one of the trees upon whose leaves the koala feed; not that there are any of them around here now. One more thing: M, along with other residents, fifteen years ago persuaded Council to plant the row of tallowoods that stretches the length of the street. M whose chimney opens into the infinite. M who no longer speaks to me in the street and may not know about the portal on his roof; nor of the flows of time which enter my window and direct my fingers towards the composition of fantasias like this one, of a future, no less than a past, that we make up as we go along. How else are we going to do it?

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If you live alone, as I do, you spend quite a bit of time at the sink. Several spells a day, anyway. Making juice and tea in the morning, breakfast, coffee, lunch, the dishes, wine, dinner. Mine has a window above it that looks out at the brick wall of the two storey Deco apartment building next door; you can see the sitting room windows of the top floor flat and also the rippled glass of the bathroom window. I  have a green gauze curtain over my window, which gives the exterior a blurred, hazy, out of focus look, as in a painting by Clarice Beckett. Sometimes I see a bent over figure behind the stippled glass of the bathroom window; my neighbour at her ablutions. I try not to look too much into the sitting room; it’s none of my business. And yet however hard you try, or don’t try, you still end up knowing things about your neighbours. The ones before the woman who lives there now, with her young daughter Alice, were a couple about my own age. She knew I was a writer and was effusive if we met in the street; while he glowered and spoke not a single solitary word. They were something in the arts. Theatre perhaps. There would always be expensive flowers in a vase on a dresser by their bedroom window, which they usually kept open. If I ever went out onto the balcony to smoke, a moment or two after I lit up the sash window would come crashing down. And yet, not long before they left, I found out that he was a heavy smoker himself and that accounted for his miserable demeanour and drained grey pallor. Neighbourhood dynamics are complex and largely unspoken. There’s another couple, with children, who live two doors up. Wealthy, they’ve been renovating for the last two years and have just put in a pool for the kids. When I used to meet her in the street she would always smile and say hello. So would I. So would he. But if I met the two of them together, they ignored me. Was I a secret they each kept from the other? God knows. A Sparky owns the next door building, the son of Greek immigrants. The old man still shows up now and again with a small electric saw with which to trim the hedges. It’s annoying and goes on for hours. Otherwise, Sparky does all of the maintenance on the building himself. It’s his pride and joy and he has it in pretty good order. He’s a pleasant friendly fellow but you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him in a fight. Proprietorial too. Bobbie told me that, when she and Elayne lived there, Sparky, whenever he wanted to do something in their flat, would just walk in. I had a Greek landlord like that once, he would let himself in when we weren’t there and sit in the sitting room reading the newspaper. I know this because he did it one Saturday morning when I’d gone out and my girlfriend was still in bed. She stayed there until he left. The woman and her daughter go off each weekday morning on a bicycle, the woman peddling and Alice sitting up behind in her green helmet with her arms around her mother’s waist. Perhaps she goes to Summer Hill Pimary; and then her mother goes on to work after that. A couple of months ago I saw them in the street one day with grazes and scratches and bandages after a cycling accident. The mother’s wounds were worse than the daughter’s. When they first moved in I used to leave gifts by the letter box for Alice. I was having a clean-out at the time, getting rid of old things. I never knew if she received them or not; or, if she did, if she knew where they came from. I didn’t mind; I wanted them to be like magic presents; and perhaps they were. I sometimes wonder who her father might be—she’s young, only six or seven years old—because I’ve never seen anyone who might fit that description around here. When people see a shot of a lighted window at night, through gauze, and with a suggestion of something going on behind white lace curtains, they think of Alfred Hitchcock; but at the sink I’m always reminded of the opening scenes of Louis Malle’s Atlantic City, with Susan Sarandon and Burt Reynolds. He watches her after work ritual—she serves in a fish shop at a casino—washing her naked torso with lemon juice at the sink under the kitchen window in her apartment; later they become involved in a cocaine deal gone wrong. It isn’t so much that you watch as that you notice; and then you might watch. Living so close together, you become, almost involuntarily, intimate strangers. Of course I am under the same scrutiny, there must be people around here who have worked out my habits by now. Michael, for instance, writer, theatre technician, handyman, who lives over the road. He and his wife Pleasance moved up to the Blue Mountains a few years ago and left the house to their kids. But Michael is back now, looking older and frailer and more determined, while Pleasance is still in the mountains. She visits sometimes and looks more or less as he does, only even more determined. The reason I’m thinking about Michael is because he seems to have decided not to have any more chats with me in the street. A friendly hello and a wave, but no more talks. How have I offended? He’s a Christian; god knows. And sometimes I am aloof. I was on the deck the other day when the woman and her daughter came home on their bicycle and she looked up with a sweetly whimsical, almost hopeful look upon her face; but I don’t think she saw me.

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Notes to self re : unpublished works  

the-printers-devilLion & Virgin should never be published – rather, destroyed. But I can’t do it just yet.

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Terminus Motel missed its moment – those puritans at Titus. It’s alright but nothing special.

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White City too studied to convince; may still have its moments. Should be re-titled Posthumous Life.

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You Must Remember This may be salvageable but how? The best parts are already in print.

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Mortal Things needs illustration and that is expensive. Plus, ‘it lacks the materials out of which biographies are usually made’. Tho that lack was a premise of the writing.

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The Road to Entepfuhl has too much I did this I did that. Boring travel narrations. And it’s been eviscerated anyway for the essays in Living in the Everywhen.

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Marlow’s Dream may be worth another look.

 

23.07.19

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