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.


Regulus said...

Astonishing entry. One of your best. I sometimes think you truly live on another world than the one I do, and it seems a better world. I like it. It's alien in many ways, but just familiar enough, and being at the periphery of an expansive ocean is such a vital part of it. I want to experience this world, even if just for a few days.

The only part I didn't understand was where you apparently jumped out of your car in a traffic jam and ran to a tailor shop.

Anonymous said...

Hey! On my last day in Adelaide I nearly got run over by a dude on a unicycle! True story.

Also, you are as gorgeous as ever, fifi.

fifi said...

I did pull over before I leaped out...

hey adelaide, do you think he has ridden to Sydney to get away from the heat? no doubt he has.

Jellyhead said...

As usual, I'm living the wild ocean life vicariously, through you fifi. What a fabulous ride it is, too! I read this post from go to whoa in one intense reading, unable to tear my eyes away. Pure poetry of prose.

Fusion said...

The first time I went to Manly I saw a unicyclist, wonder if...

Wonderfully written fifi, bought back some nice memories of my time there...

My dad used to tell me how he would ride the rip currents out to sea in southern California when he was young too.

Mary said...

Like Jellyhead I read this in one breath - only exhaling at the end.

Your stories of the sea often have an undercurrent (!) of danger and potential loss...

In springtime, when I would cross the harbour by ferry , the breezes would blow the scent of jasmine over me..

Anonymous said...

I always feel as though I am floating right there beside you when I am reading your posts. I too love to swim but seldomly get to do it.

The shark part scared me a bit so I totally jumped out before you did :)

Pam said...

Yes, I too read this as completely alien (though beautiful). I have no idea what frangipani smells like. I have never seen sea that colour (sea's grey, isn't it?). I would be terrified to swim more than twenty feet from the shore and anyway it would be too cold.

You're a wonder.

jane said...

I agree. One of your best. I was swimming beside you all the way (or perhaps a little bit in front of you...heh heh...)

fifi said...


gloat away my love, while you can.... :-)

I wish I could take all of you for a lovely spin out to sea one day. Even you, isabelle.

(Especially you, Isabelle. and how am I ever going to show you the smell of Frangipani?

Ulrike said...

Beautiful writing. Loved it.

The blazer...I think just looking at it would give me heatstroke too at the moment.

And you sound like you MUST be part fish.

Anonymous said...

I've read and re-read this post several times now. It's completely many gorgeous images and smells and sensations.

For a moment there, I thought I was the one doing back flips in the ocean. Now I find I'm day-dreaming of swimming through the National Gallery in London.

Once I heard the shark alarm go off, though...I was alert and back to my senses.

Sharks = Nein, danke.

LOVE your blog. I've enjoyed reading it over the last few months. Now I'm glad to finally be telling you how wonderful your writing truly is.

fifi said...

How nice is this? I love your blogs too, Ulrike and Eurolush, Thanks for swimming with me.

Anonymous said...

I am imagining bobbing around in the National Gallery and diving down every so often to admire the Ucellos.

Wonderful piece of writing.

Anonymous said...

Gosh those frangis are gorgeous. I just LOVE all the colours and varieties. I have a deep red one here, I must post an image. Fancy you finding the same book cover spot!

Anonymous said...

Ooo--your post is so Sydney with the fragrances and sensations.I can almost smell the sunscreen on the beach dwellers...funny how many sunscreens these days try to incorporate an artificial sickly smell that they market as frangipani.Just smells like ya basic sunscreen with a yucky smell! I agree with others- one of your best posts, but then I like them all. (I never did master those somersaults in the water by the way -alway ended up floundering sideways like a sick fish!).

Ampersand Duck said...

Wow. That was awesome. Thanks you.

You really have to listen to the Katrina Olsen link I blogged today. It's the best gift I can think of giving you. She's playing in Tempe tomorrow.

Red Hen (dette) said...

Ahhhh!!! God fifi this would be my nightmare! You forgot to take your shark distractor with you. Frangipanis are very pretty. I keep driving past a sign advertising mature frangipanis for sale down the street from me I think I might just have to get another one. (I've got a couple off the side of the road but they are a bit small and scraggly. Maybe they need to be watered!)

molly said...

That last picture of your frangipani is gorgeous! And how creative to imagine the London gallery under water and swimming around to see everything! If you are part fish, then I'm part chicken----If I was in the same patch of water as a shark---any shark---You'd be able to hear me squawking all the way down there. Lovely piece of writing Miss Fifi.....

Suse said...

Ouch Fifi, you scare me. ("I'm not scared of sharks").

Lovely post though. The scent of frangipani is so heady it makes me giddy.

Oh. Maybe, prolififlora?

fifi said...

prolifilflora? is that it? :-)

rhubarb,Yes i hate that fake frangi-scent, just like you can't replicate jasmine, neither can frangipani be imitated either. I would love a red one.

molly I have been thinking about the gallery a lot lately...
ganching the thought of wetting the uccellos did make me think twice...

hen, they seem to like some water early in the season.

&duck I saved the link, thanks ever so. I listened to half: to hot to go over to Tempe today...

pam: I lost your address: it was the cat. She erased half my bookmark addresses so now have found you again.

Anonymous said...

One day I will visit you, and enjoy all these wondrous things about which you write.
I agree with Regulus....your writing is transportational.

Anonymous said...

Oooh well I was scared even if you weren't! Reading that successfully elevated my heart-rate so maybe I don't need to bother going for my run this evening.

I don't actually know what frangipani smells like but maybe I will soon.

My son rides a unicycle - he taught himself a year or two back. People always stare and ask about it if he goes out on it.

Catastrophe Waitress said...

i love the cover image on that book by Robert Drewe "the rip" with all those cold, cold blues, blasted by that shot of orange from the car.

i just adore the way you write, Fifi.

meggie said...

Reading this, I can smell that heavy, pink, perfume, that coconut-icey scent, that drenches the senses.
I love your writing as much as your painting.

meli said...

Oh, sunshine!

I can smell the frangipani. Good enough to eat.

Only because I have a dear cousin in Sydney whom I used to visit.

In Adelaide, the only frangipani I knew were the marshmallow ones on top of a cake in the Women's Weekly birthday cake book.

Regulus said...

Hi Fifi, How are you doing? I hope all is well. Again, I want to reiterate what a nice entry this was you wrote.

fifi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fifi said...

Thank you, that is very kind Reg. I'm very well, very hot, very grimy.

Meli I never knew Adelaide was a place free of Frangipani? How odd.

Rb, you're here! how wonderful!
Ben_ I look forward to seeing you.

Projectivist, thanks. That's nice...:-)