I don’t wake up in a hotel in Lisbon, as I half thought (half-hoped?) I might but in my own bed. The day is fine, cool, a blustery wind from the south-east. Perfect drying weather so I do the washing. Clean up the flat, make the beds, I have guests tonight. Over the weekend a friend in Christchurch asked me if she could give my contacts to another friend of hers and, today, there’s an email from him. He has a three month residency at a studio in Sydney later in the year, is interested while he’s here in retracing McCahon’s (notional) footsteps while he was lost in 1984 – for some kind of art work. I write back and invite him to take the walk with me sometime . . . it’s not until August.
Also decide to get in touch with Deb in Puerto Rico to see if she knows any more about the revenant burger puppet. I use Facebook because that’s our point of contact, I’m only on the damned thing because she invited me . . . she is characteristically scathing about any sentiment I or anyone else might try to attach to these objects from the past and that makes me smile. She also suggests – ‘since everyone thinks we’re dead’ – an online project where various undead old Moles might discuss what we’re doing now. It’s not a bad idea, those of us who remain seem still to be infected by the manic energy of that early association and we’re all over the world. I say I’d be into that then there’s this exchange (Deb first and last and the ellipses marking a change of speaker):
. . . crispy kind of thing . . . at the apex of the arrow of time . . . indeed . . . if time is an arrow . . . or a dung beetle / incubating its present by walking backwards / so easy to get egyptian – here . . . & here – still have the Anubis mask from Ghost Rite – I wear it sometimes – verdad – but only at moments of great extremity or great joy . . . that’s the Anubis way . . .
I decide to make a chicken curry for dinner using a recipe I copied down off a cooking program on SBS way back in the 1980s – before the age of celebrity chefs, when an ethnic presenter would earnestly outline the plain stages of the preparation of a meal. No doubt my version has morphed a long way away from whatever the original was but I still remember, like a mantra, the seven spices: black pepper, garlic, ginger; cardamon, coriander, cumin, fenugreek. I check if I have them all in the cupboard or the fridge and I do, except for ginger, which I go out to get then forget to buy. Then there’s onion, chili (sambal oelek), coconut milk and, which might be my own addition, sweet potato chopped into largish chunks.
While I’m out I run into Josh, who used to be my next door neighbour until evicted when the building was sold a few months ago. I haven’t seen her since but know she’s ok because I drive past her shop, Bravado, every night as I come home from work and always check out the window display – she makes stylish clothes for women. Anyway, here she is sitting with her friend beside the fountain eating fish and chips, wearing a smart trilby hat and with new hair: wavy auburn rather than the black curls it used to be. She says they’re in Trashy Ashie i.e. Ashfield, a big house in Queen Road, happy, but they miss Summer Hill. She’s giving classes at the new shop that’s opened where the art gallery used to be. Couture? I say. Nah, she says. Sewing.
I go home and start playing Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour (I have the whole 78 hours or whataver it is, on DVD; burned from a set of five Nigel got cheap off a mate). Smoking cheroots has ruined my palate, I can’t tell if the curry’s good or not and the wine has no taste at all, just a residual sourness – but I like smoking and I also like the odd little exchanges I have with Tom and Tina, the Vietnamese who run the corner store, when I buy them – you can buy them individually which for me acts as a way of limiting consumption. Tom sometimes wears a shirt that says I have the body of a god and then below, in very small letters, unfortunately the god is buddha.
Anyway, after re-reading The Waste Land, several times, both online and in a book (which I remember I stole from the Huntly College library in 1967 or 8), I drive to Central Station to meet the XPT from Canberra, which is late . . . in that vast echoing hall the solemn announcements of train arrivals and departures sound like someone experimenting with voice art, so much so that I actually go up to see if it’s some high end avant busker but it’s not, it’s just Cityrail – tho’ I still reckon the guy is being deliberately weird. Every few minutes a train arrives from Olympic Park, disgorging mostly Asian couples, the women all carrying huge, outre soft toys bought, or won, at the Easter Show.
I watch the clock, the big hand trembling slightly before it lurches drunkenly on to the next minute, exactly the way Cees Nooteboom describes it in The Following Story. Then perambulate all through the station and out to the tram stop at the front, noting the homeless bedding down for the night in their alcoves and on their ledges. It’s cold, the wind from the south is bitter and there’s a queue a mile long at the taxi rank, which upsets me, since I know that the city below will be full of empty taxis and melancholy drivers wondering how to make their pay-in on one of the quietest nights of the year.
When the train finally arrives Ella comes running down the platform, all pink in the face, to give me a hug; Maggie and Graham are assembling the gargantuan pile of luggage, hardly any of which, it turns out, belongs to him. He’s going straight up to Newcastle tonight because he has a job interview tomorrow. Have you heard from Henry Klang lately? he asks, with a sardonic smile, before sloping off, hollow-eyed, into the night. (That’s another reference to Luca Antara and means he’s either finished reading it or nearly so.)
We go back home where Maggie insists upon telling me in detail about all the suitors she attracted down in Canberra, the boys and the girls, until I tell her to stop . . . one of them – he literally called himself a secret admirer – left her a present on the last morning and she doesn’t want it so gives it to me. It’s a real treasure – a CD of the soundtrack to the movie The Harder They Come. Curiously, when I was listening to Theme Time Radio Hour earlier in the evening, Bob played The Melodians doing Rivers of Babylon . . . so I play it again. Loud. So let the words of our mouths / and the meditations of our hearts / be acceptable in thy sight / here tonight . . .