Thursday, January 29, 2009

in which the fish rides the rip

I noticed the Frangipani when I was stuck in traffic in the middle of Manly. Clouds of it, the pink one, rather than the white.
I wasn't entirely thrilled to be studying it so closely, since for goodness sake, it was Saturday and this is Manly, what’s with all the traffic? Of course I had just remembered the Boy needed his new school blazer from the tailor, which was about to close.
I jumped from the car and ran barefoot through the traffic like a crazy woman, the road already molten on what was shaping up to be the hottest day of the year. As I waited on the kerb, blazer in hand, a man riding a unicycle wobbled past me.

Hot westerlies began to stir: the sea looked glazed. Returning home along the beachfront, I realised every Surf club in the universe was competing at the carnival at Manly. I read the tents as I passed: Dixon Park, Bronte, Umina, Swansea-Belmont, Whale Beach, Cronulla, on and on they go. I am treated to more viewings of Frangipani as I wait for a surf boat from Palm Beach to back out across the road, the flowering clumps are so prolific on the trees. Must have been the early summer rain, I have never noticed such a blooming. It’s beautiful. I try to think of the latin suffix for much flowers: abundiflora?
I leave the blazer on the back seat when I pull up at home: just looking at it is beginning to cause the first inklings of heatstroke.

Looking out to the horizon before flinging myself in, I feel just a bit sorry for the sea.  Always a battle to be had, and a hot westerly wind is quite some opponent. The sea is dark green, and oily smooth, with tightly curled waves and huge plumes of spray. The sea fighting to break over the force of the wind.
I line myself up at the rip: it’s a handy way to reach the deep end of the ocean. I stand deliberately, so the lifeguards see me and don’t rush over and shoo me over to the flags. I put on my little hat and goggles, and throw myself into the rush.

This is my rip. Right there, underneath the words saying "The Rip", where there are no waves breaking, the dark bit. It's my beach, my dark current, my little bit of sea, right there, on that there book cover.

(ok, dead low tide in midsummer looks a little different to high tide in winter...and there were too many freaking cars in the way)

The sea, silent and preoccupied with maintaining some sense of equilibrium, deposits me way out in the dark green, almost past the spray which billows like a fountain for meters after each wave.
There are hundreds of surfers, like spangles on the edge of a cake. I swim along past them, looking at their dangly legs. At one point the sea lifts me to the summit of a high wave and I am suspended above them all: they are all facing up. I continue along the edge of them.

The sea is curiously layered: at the bottom it is icy jade, cold and strange.
Nearer to the surface it is merely cold, but in patches there are warm pools. These are the colour of old glass.
I swim by a bunch of girl surfers in bikinis. They all look beautiful, but are concentrating very hard, looking at the horizon for bumps of swell.

When I am alone I turn a somersault, a trick. Start on your back: draw a perfect circle backward, head first, and finish in the same position. Don't bend your knees.
The sandy floor is way below, even at the bottom of the circle. There is a name for this trick, but I have long forgotten both it and the degree of difficulty given it by some long forgotten institution of water-tricks.

I do another one of those. Because I feel like it.

After about a mile, I become aware of a strange sensation.
 I Breathe bilaterally, alternating each side for a breath. When I breathe on  the beach side, my face is blasted with air so hot, that in the space of one breath it is almost snap-dried. Breathing on the left, my face is cool. Face down, cold again.
The wind is so hot, blowing all the way from the outback, yet so fragrant, like coconut, like..

Every hot breath is so full of the aroma, the coconut-pink scent of Frangipani that its almost delirium. I'm dipping my head in and out of dark green ice and into hot pink frangipani clouds. The smell of all those raucously blooming bouquets are carried on the diabolical wind, all the way out here, where the sight of land rocks in and out of view.

I swim to the far headland rising up and above the ocean: the waves are smaller here, and I cruise in and around before turning back to head back to my own headland. I sing to myself a bit, and daydream about standing around in the National Gallery in London. What it might be like if it suddenly filled with seawater and I swam around to see the paintings. The greenish tinge which might be given to all those marble fleshed nudes.
I could swim a circle around any Titian I cared to.

I look again at the hundreds of people all clustered at the edges of the sea: everyone is so happy,  so pleased to be in my sea, so pleased at these pluming waves and the offshore breeze, which the sea is doing its best not to be flattened by. All of them, happy and floating and smiling into the blue air, rocking up and down.

It’s just over a mile back now, my hands are dipping into the colder layer, my face blown in the same frangipani rhythym: hot, dark, pink breaths. I reach the south end again and take my place at the outer reaches of the rip.

For a bit of resistance training, a pathetic attempt to elevate my heart rate, I usually swim back through this rip. It’s quite hard, and I am aware that there are a lot of people here today to whom this act might set a bad example, but I like the challenge.
Given that it’s a bit wild, I take off my little hat and goggles, since the sea rather likes to remove them for me at this point and not give them back. So despite the potential for the sea to capture me in a headlock, or seize me by the hair, I decide that I wish to bare my head and I tuck my things safely away. I look around me and begin to swim, head down. Long strokes, fingers apart.

Above the roar of the sea, I hear a noise but I’m a long way out, and it sounds tinny and strange. Fragmented shouting over a loudspeaker, then the siren. I look towards shore and see the little surf club, tiny and far. I watch the boardriders all take off on the next wave.
It's the shark alarm.


I’m not scared of sharks.
Even if I am alone, way out the back, at the back end of the rip, where I can't catch a wave like everybody else.
Even if the sea grabs all my hair and stuffs it into my mouth.
But unfortunately, my body will take control and shut my brain off if I don't react. 

I look up again: now there are masses of people lining the shore, and each and every one of them is watching me come in. It is a very strange thing to see, and I am sure they are all watching to see the red cloud appear in the foam and my bitten off limbs flying into the air.
I sprint the rest of the way,  damned if I’m going to have them send the boat out for me. 

I walk up the wet sand and wonder aloud to the clubbie holding the loudspeaker if she just set the alarm off just to frighten me.
Pfft, says the one next to her. As if you’d be scared.

The lifeguards head out to sea in the boat, to drive off the shark. There was a very big one not too far away a few weeks ago, but I imagine this sighting was just one of the local whaler sharks, who, if they intend stalking you, will ensure that they remain unseen. People continue to stand in clumps on the shore, gazing anxiously out to sea, blow dried by the hot wind, suspended between the heat and the shark, deciding.

I head up the hill, and look down at the rip: I am not the only fish in this sea, off the rock shelf the kids are screaming and playing in the backwash: shooting skyward. The sea is playing with them: 
It looks like ballet.  
The whole world smells like frangipani.
It’s the hottest day of the year.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In which the Fish goes to the wilderness

Sometimes this place bleaches all thought from my brain.

So empty and vast,
The sun blinding.

The distances immense.

my shower very scenic

and not one sea eagle to cross my sky

but altogether five at the same time

at the bottom of the
Landrover, lying unseen beneath sandy surfing feet,
something I had thought I'd taken into the house weeks ago,
but no doubt hidden beneath the many strange and varied objects that live in my car, now crumpled and crushed.
From the Musee Rodin in Paris, many years ago,
where I fell in love with this sculpture
the moment I set eyes upon it.

The name of the sculpture is The Kiss,
but Rodin named it originally
Francesca of
after Dante's poem:
Francesca fell in love with Paolo
the moment she set eyes upon him.

Such a strange thought to enter my empty head: the coldness of P
aris in Winter, the white marble,
here in the dazzling heat.
Francesca and Paolo, trampled by many sandy little feet.

Monday, January 12, 2009

the fish and the indigo sea

It was dark and quiet as I cycled home from the studio, looking at all the darkened houses, pedalling through puddles of shadow through streets emptied of cars. The light in the park at the end of the street is still flickering: it flicks on as I ride by. Everything is still and quiet.

I arrived home and realised that it was after midnight. I was covered in paint, floating in another world.

The studio at the moment is like a birthing room of sorts. There is a vat of indigo dye waiting to transform Miss Boat’s woven silk, the Threads of Infinity. She is weaving a silk cloak, to be worn in a desert, and it will be dyed with the indigo.

My indigo paint is less romantic in origin, but I hope that the images it reveals are transportive also. Last year during holy week I was using indigo pigment which stained my hands and floated into my lungs. I remember also the heat and the sound of cockatoos, the purple night sky and Miserere flowing into the night.

So I parked my bike. I fell into bed at 1am, blue and tired.

In the morning I woke. It was the day of the Avalon Ocean swim. I like to swim with other fish, the solidarity of the pack, the roar of the water as we thunder out onto the open sea. I love the rush from pushing myself, of racing. Of going fast.

I have never missed an Avalon race. I rang around to see if someone would pick me up, and found some kind friends to collect me. I hadn’t eaten, I threw some things in a bag, and off we went. Up the peninsula, into the morning.

Typical Sydney summer day: the nor’easter was causing the ocean no small worry, its surface ruffled with the threat of stingers. Bluebottles. The day before I had walked along the edge of the sea and noted with disgust at leat four fish hurled by the sea onto the sand. A trigger fish, sunken in its jacket of black velvet, lay there gawking blindly among scraps of ribbon weed.

I hate when you do that, I said to the sea.
Be nice.

The sea hissed and growled, so I swam in the rockpool where nasty fingers of brine couldn’t cause me a mischief: the sea rocked and muttered beyond the wall. This day it seemed in no better a mood, dark and ruffled.

Still with my head in the indigo place, speaking seemed strange and foreign. Sentences got stuck in my mouth, reminding me of this week’s solitude and labour. I idly reminded myself that I was just here to swim. That no, I had not prepared, and hadn’t seriously trained. A large group of State Age champions stood nearby, with their pale bendy legs and silvered pool-hair, talking about their times. Friends stood around and I did my best to fool them into thinking I was normal. I stretched a bit, stiff from the cycling and standing endlessly at my easel. The large canvases make my arms ache after a while.
Suddenly the wind stops, and I notice a dark bruise of weather trying to make its way north east. It is still: a standoff between the sea and the storm. Light floods in. The surface of the sea becomes calm. Shoulders of swell gleam in the light.

The race begins: below me a swarm of tiny whiting wriggle and dart. I am thick amongst bodies, the surface of the sea white and boiling, and head for the depths, careful to surface away from thrashing limbs. I daydream. I am careful not to go too hard, because it is a long race, and I am not prepared.

The pack drags you along: it is an exciting, exhilarating feeling to be in a pack, all of us together. Close by is a girl in fuschia pink swimmers, which flicker and sparkle. I concentrate on my pull-through, on my body rotation, on becoming a fish. First my tail, then my fins, and then I am flying out in the open sea, straight as a whiting, slick as a seal, over the shark nets, past the headland.

I turn the first marker. Something strange is happening.
I’m out in the indigo, and the strange swell is heaving and rolling, there is no ocean floor. Nets of silver air flutter up and hover on the underside of my body. The sea sings like a cello, and lifts me up. Propels me.

The sea lifts me. The sea is carrying me.
It is singing, deep notes, and I am flying past all the others. I’m so high in the water that the rolling swell throws me forwards, and I am something today I’ve never been, some dark and effortless fish with headful of beautiful thoughts. The sea is with me, a quiet sensation of the world telling me, everything is good. I continue to dream.
The sea tells me: love as much as you can. I promise it I will, and we swim on together, the sea and I.

I finish the long reach, here is the last turning point. The girl in pink is still nearby, and I am seized an overwhelming desire to absolutely sprint the last 800 meters, to let go of everything, to go as fast as I have ever gone. My hands are pulling , all fish tricks are brought into play as my face begins to burn. The girl in pink disappears, I am full speed, no longer floating, but entirely in my body, and I am roaring.

The sea, with uncharacteristic grace, places me back upon land gently. I burst from the water and sprint up the sand.
I’ve medalled. Broken my times: two minutes faster.
In the land of swimming, two minutes is rather a long time. I’m not even tired.

I have been competing in these Ocean swims for seventeen years, and have a basket full of medals to which I will add this one. But never before have I experienced such a state of…of what?
A state of being? Of belovedness? I am still trying to articulate the strangeness and wonder of it all.
Of strange indigo swells carrying me? Of peacefulness, of strength, of effortless exhilaration? That everything will be alright?

I return to the studio.
I resume painting, and the late light slopes in the door. When I turn to look, a thunderstorm is approaching and I watch it, leaning on the doorframe with my brush in hand. I wonder idly if the sea will still love me tomorrow. I smell the coming rain and think about love, and blue, and poetry and light. I feel blessed.

I return to the canvas then, and spread indigo across it with my brush. Fat raindrops are just beginning to fall.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fish Music

Yesterday I listened to Bach and Scarlatti.
Today I took out some music and sat at the piano. My fingers are stiff, the keyboard dusty, the patterns barely remembered.
First one hand, then the other. left hand right hand both together.

Slow motion. Imperceptible motion, just a bunch of notes, a pile of sticks.
(You would have no such trouble, I imagine, just that would have to bribe you to play. One day I will listen to you play, but i will stand behind you where you won't see me)

After that I went into the sea, which has been doing its best to disguise itself, to shift its shape. Today it was fretful and wrinkled with the hint of a frown from an impertinent breeze. I passed over clouds of whiting like I was a bird in the sky and they were below. A moving vein of swarming bream, a handful or so of tip-tailed tailor. Clouds of sand puffed and blew as the fish moved through them.

A new year: the promise of wonder and so much goodness. A bright and shining year ahead. I have started it with Mozart and champagne, I have looked into the sky and seen fountains of coloured light. Strange and beautiful things await me.
At the turning of the universe I took your hand and pulled you through with me.

Here is the sanctuary for the fairy penguins on New Years Eve. They had lots of space to play, safely sheltered from revellers.

And this is the last sunset upon 2008. Such a strange year, but so full of unexpected gifts among the wild, out of control carnival ride which is my life.

My little family survives. My head is largely intact. I have let go of something huge. At the very end, I was given something lovely.

This year? I welcome all it has to give me. In turn, I have much to give.

Happy New Year.