Sunday, September 27, 2009

the fish on Sunday


The temperature has dropped, my feet are cold, and the patch of sun has shrunk now that the days are longer and the sun is higher.
I want to curl up in the corner, where it is warm, and put my toes in the sun.

It doesnt take long for the disagreements to grow, even at this hour of morning. Hiding among the clutter, I try and ignore it. I pick up a book and try to read, just for a minute, but the words are aimed at me. 

Sporadic shouting, muttered words. Silence. I go upstairs and fold clothes. Have another sneezing attack from the layer of fine dust that has seepd into everything.

Going to the wardrobe I am unable to get in to put the clothes away for the second time this week. Shoes spill over the floor in piles, thrown haphazardly in a frenzied search for a pair. I counted forty pairs last time. My chest contracts in fury. I bend down and begin to pick them up. It seems there are hundreds and hundreds. It is impossible to stand on them, as they roll and shift beneath my feet. Some are hardly worn.

Crumpled on the floor next to the shoes is a Zegna suit which has fallen from the hanger. I pick it up, and try and push the other suits apart to put it away, but it is a hard job. Finally I cram it between Armani and Hugo Boss, and tell them all not to fight. The bar on which they hang is beginning to bend. 

I think of yesterday, when I was downstairs looking for a book on my bookshelf, and found the way barred by three stern looking suits, like man-effigies, barring my way. They are hanging on my shelf, for goodness sake, and another on the door handle.
These three very arrogant suits are standing between myself and my art texts, which  says it all, really. I had wanted to throw them on the floor, but didnt dare. 

I notice the suits have begin to creep over to my side of the wardrobe, shouldering their way across like bully boys. I note my own small row of shoes, my Russia Boots with their tops bent over  looking decidedly dusty and old.  I hurl the last of the pile of shoes in to place: the last boot I throw so hard at the back of the wardrobe that the cat comes scampering in to see what the noise is. There are still  eight pairs of shoes lined up along the staircase, waiting for their flight up here. None of them are mine.


The wind having swung around to South west has swept away the warmer  waters that have lately arrived, and the sea temperature has plummeted again. The sea and the wnd fight tirelessly: yesterday the sea put on a mighty show, rising high and bending over in huge curls at the westerly. Today the wind has flattened the sea, which glares and shifts. I am still trying to iron out the knot in my stomach from the last of the arguments as I went out the door. The one which made me shout at the children

As I had stood shivering on the edge, an english man was climbing the steps as he passed and said to me, 

"If you swam in the North Sea, you wouldnt think it cold."

I don't suppose I would, no. If I swam in the North Sea.

I dive in and the water burns me all over. It burns the top of my head.I swim for longer than I have since early July, it is so cold that the burning sensation keeps me warm. I feel all the dirt from my lungs, the dust in my head, leaving me in a cloud. The whole surface of my body is being scoured away. I swim and swim and swim, as my elbows lift they draw great swathes of windblown surf. Each kick sends up a tower of spray which arcs towards New Zealand. Below me are dark fragments of things which rock backwards and forwards as I pass above, pieces of rolling cunjevoi, swathes of darkness, the roots of kelp.

It is freezing. I pass through surfers in their wetsuits. I dive under.

After nearly half an hour, I take off my swimming cap. eyeing the sea carefully. 
I'm not having you steal another hat, I say, and tuck it into my swimmers. There is a wave coming.

Just for a moment I rise above everything, then, face down and arms out in front, the waves takes me all the way in. I have no need of breathing or seeing, I am part of the water. 
As my hands touch shore, the sea picks up all of my hair and pushes it into my eyes as best it can, knotting it around my face.
When I stand I have to fling it out, and make to walk up the sand, but something stops me.

I turn around, face back out to sea with the cold wind at my back, and begin to swim again, out to the horizon, like I am never coming back, but swimming forever,

I am swimming forever.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

in which the fish sees the end of the world

This morning when I woke, it did not look like this at all.

In fact, when I sat up in bed, I thought the world had ended.

I hope the world has returned when next I wake.

Thank you for your comments regarding the Trumpeter.
All is ok.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

a taste of honey

My father played the trumpet in a jazz band.
He learned to play it at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney.
I have never heard him play. Not once.
It was sold,that silver trumpet, and I was never told what that money was for.

I remember the house filled with trumpet music of all kinds when I was little.
Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong.
I remember when I was little the sound of Louis Armstrong singing made me scream for some reason,
Even more so when my Dad sang along. He did it to tease me.

Perhaps I might have liked  his trumpeting better than his singing.
When I was a teenager i thought jazz was so anachronistic.
Years later I love Louis Armstrong.

But if I ever wish an express ticket to babyhood, I can play this, which I found courtesy of Boynton

My dad was taken to hospital in the early hours of morning, incoherent and raving.

I would like for him to be standing on a rock in the sea playing the silver trumpet, the trumpet that I  never heard him play.

Monday, September 14, 2009

archaeology: the fish remembers

I looked forward to collazione, having grown quite fond of marmalade,
and those morning hours in the Stratographic Museum seemed, for some reason, to stretch on endlessly. 
By half ten, I would suddenly find myself thinking of marmalade, and. 

oh look, half ten, time for collazzo.

 Setting down the pen and  pencils on my table in the central courtyard of the shed-like structure  optimistically called the "strat mus",  I would  stand, push in my chair.
The big round stone on my table which had once been used perhaps 1500 years ago to grind grain,  I placed upon my papers to hold them still, hoping no fat bumblebee would shit on the uppermost page with a small citrus-coloured splat.

The lemon blossoms sent curls of fragrance into the air.

By half ten it was hot. The goat, as always, was atop the chuck-pile looking for the weeds that seemed always to grow through it. I went crunching through the mound of potsherds, some of which I secretly pocketed: bowls and cups with no chance of being reassembled, even in a drawing. I crunched past the goat, along the track, over to the long table set up beneath the bougainvillea. Last to the table.

Beneath my feet, early in the season before the heat crisped everything to brown, Camomile flowered.

I was the only Australian, the only one without a degree in Archaeology, Classics, Ancient Greek or even History. The only one who didn't go to Oxford or Cambridge, except for Vassos and Nicoletta, who went first to the Universities of Roma and Athens for their undergraduate degrees. The Head of this outpost declared once, at collazzo in fact, as I had just taken a large bite of marmalade on bread, that he had spent three years as a child in Townsville with his Airforce father.
Imagine, he said incredulously, me with an Australian accent!

I hadn't thought of myself as having much of an accent as I was considered quite well-spoken at home. As a child people used to ask my mother where I had taken elocution lessons, and she would beam.
During these years,  among  the English, among those to whom I had to speak other languages, I came to have little accent at all. I came to adopt the cadence one might use when explaining things to the very young, or very stupid. Still, if I was last to the table at Knossos, I would catch the tail end of David doing his best at an Australian accent. 
No,  David, I would say, you've still got it wrong.

One morning, finding a new face at the table, I asked 

What is your research area?

wondering if I would have more work, a new thesis to illustrate, a new drawer opened over in the strat mus.
The newcomer, James,  looked me up and down, adjusting his glasses, frowning lightly as he did.
Social stratification in the Iron Age.
he answered. 
I laughed, since he embodied the notion of social stratification itself. 
I was not sure which artefacts were  Iron Age, or if he would request some drawings.

Weeks later, crammed into a mini and sitting on James' lap with my legs out the window, I laughed at the stratification of bodies in the car as we tore down the hill to Iraklion. (Ha, ha, I'm on top)

So, James, I asked,
thinking that one must need a certain amount of passion to sustain onesself through the dark nights of research, reading, sifting through dirt encrusted fragments.
You must be passionate about that then?
James made a noise, then answered: 
Passion? I don't think passion enters into it, he said.  
and what is passion anyway?

I thought to myself how it was only ever passion that led me to do anything, but I kept quiet.
Later when Jean came, I spent hours in awe, watching her and James fighting. 
Like me, she occupied marginal space  because she was from Bristol University, had a degree in Fine Art, and was a communist. 
Oh, those fights were wonderful.
 Katie and Phillippa arrived, the Environmental Archaeologists. Katie was a sharp tongued Irishwoman, blond, blue eyed and fierce. They evened things up a bit, though I was clearly at the very bottom of any social stratification, that was evident, and certainly unfit to debate with such a scholar, so I kept my mouth tight shut.
Although I was glad of Katie and Philippa, I often had to hide from them, lest they ask for my help, which often involved searching through trays of dirt for carbonised seeds, so they could identify extinct species of plant
Oh, sorry, I would say, after my third tedious stint, I have to be getting on with the Larnaki for Nicolas.

minoan fresco fragments

I adored him. 
Dr Nicolas Coldstream. 
My favourite, my friend.

He took me into the darkened corner of the Strat Mus in the screaming heat, with cicadas blaring outside, and slid open the deep drawer of his collection.
Now, look at these, he said, expansively
These are ceremonial sarcophagi,

and went on to tell me their stories. His hands swept through the air as he spoke, smiling. He pointed to the figures on the sides and told me the stories. 
This, and this, you can draw for me, he said. That would be wonderful!
The potsherds I drew for him we called martini glasses, because that is what they looked like, with design that looked so modern.

Suddenly he would say happily:
Come on, leave that a moment, let's go walking 
And would take me to show me something new. One time the children's graveyard.
We went outside into the glare, he trotted right over the chuck pile, and I followed him along the fence. 
him waving his arms about as he spoke, smiling, almost theatrical. He delighted in showing me things, dropping his voice to tell me,
we are not sure about this graveyard, or why there were so many children in it.
He loved to hear about my life, astonishingly. 
He would clasp his hands together in genuine delight: (really?How marvellous! Splendid!)
when I told him of something: painting, swimming, the martial arts I had been learning.

Later at dinner he had a dig at the director: 
Watch out there, I may just request Fiona cut you down to size, he would say, making karate motions with his hands.

Oh, I adored Nicolas. Everybody did, because he was just wonderful.
 He came sometimes when I was drawing for one of the other professors, to look at his collection., and sit in the lemon scented heat of the courtyard.  
Eventually I was given the most wonderful task: the peak sanctuary figurines to illustrate.

I drew them, repeatedly, making mistakes on purpose, so that I could spend more time with these curious little objects. I loved them, their strange little terracotta limbs, their little faces.  Until the day I came across the Ponytail Boy, and I loved him more than all the others. 
The Boy watched me with a calm gaze, his large still eyes, his ponytail falling across the back of his head just so. I held him in my palm and spoke to him.

Practice sketches, Votive figure 

What happened? Where are you?
Even the thought of collazzo and marmalade could not conspire to make me put him down. I drew him over and over, more than all the others. I would draw them , and return to him, do it again. Rendered in ink, sketched in pencil. Reluctantly I would push in my chair, and go to the table to join the others. 
Ah, here she is, beamed Nicolas, pulling out my chair
our Australian!


I gave a paper in Venice. 
Something caught my eye in the conference schedule, a Greek Archaeologist, Anna, speaking on Cretan figurines. 
Her paper was wonderful, and had so many images of things I knew. I asked her how her research fitted into the broader context of  Cretan figures, and she asked me if I knew of the Hill sanctuary figurines of Professor P.
Yes, I answered, I illustrated them for him.
Those drawings are somewhere in the Ashmolean at Oxford. Somewhere.
Standing on the edge of the sea in Venice, I caught the hot chalky whiff  of a wind which starts in North Africa, sweeps through the mediterranean, and brushes lightly up that narrow arm of water between the coasts of Dalmacija and Italy.

Sadly, I never saw Nicolas Coldstream again. I finally found him a little too late:
"As a person Nicolas Coldstream was a delight to know. Tall and dignified, wholly unpompous, modest and ever with a gentle twinkle or a good laugh, he was, in a recent Greek tribute (and Greeks know what they mean), the archetypal English gentleman."


I kept up with some of the others. James is now the Director,  and many from my time are renowned in their field, with many highly regarded publications. A new wave of archaeologists like Anna now deconstructs the narratives put into place by the early archaeologists. 
The Ponytail Boy?
I still have him, well, his picture anyway. I kept it. I never submitted my practice sketches...

 Venice surprisingly brought back so many things, the hot air, the faint scent of the mediterranean.  Bright flowers tumbling, the stirring of blood, shafts of hot light, a loved face, a quiet gaze, sacred places.
Breakfast under flowering vines, heat, the feeling of time suspended, and the feeling that I never ever ever wanted to be
anywhere else, ever.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

the fish abroad, part four: Invisibility

When questioned, it seemed that nobody had actually seen her leave.
 Not that they could remember: they recalled certain glimpses of her, could attest to her presence there, but could not say for sure whether she had actually left.

That young man on the Vaporetto, that one with his hair pulled back like David Beckham: when asked, he had some recollection of her alighting at San Polo, holding her hat in one hand in the pale apricot light. When the canal seemed to draw its own light from the sky, luminous and silvery blue, and the crumbly surfaces of all the palazzo exhaled warm earthy tints. That liminal hour when day is about to fall into itself and night will spin quietly out of nowhere.

Yes, says the vaporetto boy,
I am sure I saw her then and there. But also I saw many people: that tall giant of a man wearing a violet singlet , his head almost touching the roof. That couple fussing around in the corner, she in her hot pink dress, so frilly, telling her husband what to do. Such a loud voice! And the french family, nervous about missing the stop for the accademia, carefully studying their map, est-il la prochaine? C'est L'Accademia? ici ou la?

Or those two, always right where I need to throw the rope.  Even when they are not looking at each other with their eyes they are looking at each other with their hearts. He puts his hand on her waist and she half closes her eyes and looks off into the distance, but her body moves closer to his, she sways in a different rhythm to the boat. They are smiling, those two, always. 
 The low sun catches in their blue eyes and on their skin. English perhaps? I never heard them speaking.

The little boys  watching the buildings slide by,  earnest, serious children with cropped hair, were merely puzzled when asked if they had seen her: both shook their heads. Even though she photographed them both as they were clambering down the wooden planks and into the vaporetto. They saw noone, staring as they were from one side of the boat to the other, straight through the people, and they recalled nobody at all.

The vaporetto boy sees all this. 
I saw her, yes, but I cannot say for certain that she left.

She was seen in the warm piazza one night eating risotto. Just near the apartment where, each night, someone has their television on so loudly that the sound blares out the open window with the shutters so wide. It sounds like a cinema. It is a hot night. 
The waitress says yes, I remember her, it was late. There were only two tables left. Yes, yes, she looked happy enough. An orange dress, yes, and unkempt hair. Yes, I remember her, says the waitress, but I cannot say for sure whether she left Venice, only that she was here. Twice she came, and one night very late. 

The waitress counts on her fingers, 
let me see.
  The large family, with the very small boy who ran around and around the fountain squealing. I think there were about ten of them, was there not?

 She checks with her father, nods her head.

 Si, many of them, all different ages, from Canada. The sky above faded from geranium pink to mauve, to blue, the white walls of the church glowed brighter and we lit the candles on the tables. There were few tables unoccupied, that couple on the edge said little, only looking up from time to time and I had to speak twice to get their attention, and when I did their eyes drifted to the sky as if they were dreaming. 

the waitress continued
the boy called to his brother as he ran around and around the fountain.
Her in the orange dress? Yes, she was here, 
but I could not tell you if she left, only that she was definitely here.

In the Ludoteca, on the Calle Garibaldi they definitely knew her. 
She came twice
said the girl there, sitting at her desk in the chapel facing the Sean and Claire installation.
the first day was the day of the workers strike. We talked.
The second time she came she was not alone, said she was showing off the Australians, and she laughed so hard she almost fell down. I'm not sure what she was laughing at, exactly, but she almost collapsed helplessly onto the floor, shaking.
said the girl. 
it was definitely her, but I could not tell you when she left, or if she left at all.

Installation, Claire healy and Sean Cordeiro, Ludoteca, Biennale di Venezia

An old man was found, out on the Lido beach, who strode to the edge of the water and after bellowing something in Italian, resorted to giving the surface of the sea two resounding smacks with a large fat stick. 
Mare, dov'e la donna, la pesca donna con capelli biondi?

Then turns and says: The sea says yes, she was here, but this lazy vain sea just lolled about and watched her play.
But she has gone, said the sea to me, the sea says she has gone.

Someone must have seen her leave.


lido di venezia

The Lido looks different in midsummer, that is for certain. 
The water sits still, a molten blue, and the shore is a constant motion of people. 
In the distance, huge ocean liners  the size of Manhattan Island slide through the lagoon, impossibly high. Sitting just beyond the horizon I sense the Dalmatian coast, its hard lavender grey cliffs and orange tiled roofs, just there.

Around my ankles the sea is a surprising bath, so warm.  Leaping in, slicing through a meniscus into the cloudy water, I hold my arms out ahead, in case it is shallow. It is not. 

Hello, I say.

I stand waist deep, the sea inert around me. I wait. There is no answer, no sound, no sly tossing of water or tugging at my hair as I dive under. I float.

Hello. Do you not speak English here? 

The sea remained silent. I dived under again, and swam a bit. I floated and looked at the sky, and all the other people swimming. All of them in pairs. A husband and wife, she holding onto an inflatable beach ball, just in case. A young pair, who seem to be tossing a pair of bikini pants to each other for a game. 
When I look away, they disappear and I can only assume they are making love underwater. 

Two youths, each on blow-up air mats, paddle determinedly out to sea, past where I float, paddling their bendy beds it seems all the way to Dubrovnik. They almost disappear.

smile: tourists on the beach, lido di venezia

The water is the colour and opacity of marble, and as warm as a bath. the sea combs through my hair, but remains as just quiet as a slab of marble. I wish suddenly that I had someone to play with. Not even a wave to greet or duck.

I look back at the shore. I have no idea at which point I entered the sea: suddenly the beach looks unrecognisable, the light is low, and I can't see the point where I left land. I search, and then I see. 

The soft breezes here point out invisible maps of my past geographies: I can smell the hot rocky chasms of Crete, the impossible chaos of Croatia, the infinite wandering blue of all the oceans here that meander round and round and round. I used to live here.

But from here, from this point, I see these things as if I am someone new, as if I was only born a week before. Love spins around me, entangling me, its  threads wrapping me all the way from here to there, all I need do is hold my palms out. The me that was, the me that is.

It is so very hot. 
Light shines from every surface. Water rolls and shifts soft and restless, the colour of marble, the colour of limestone. Water and light and being.

A garden, iridescent pink leaves, yellow walls, Giorgione, a memory of bare branches and icy green almost impossible to think of. The piazzas exhale heat at night, the moon eventually, sighs in relief.



Somebody gently knocks on the door before entering, calling softly, here I am, and puts her brushes into an empty jar on the table. Water shines through an ornate metal grid. There is a bowl of peaches  on the table.


Somebody stands in the Pacific Ocean, calling softly, here I am, and gets no answer.


Someone, surely, saw her leave.