Monday, September 18, 2017
A pause. A breath. Deep. Every few pages. Sometimes there are no pauses between segments, but only ever a short, limited number of pages manageable. Poetry needed to be read like that; yet here the language was simple, direct and straightforward. The witnesses and participants have of course seen remarkable, astounding events through the course of the war, and a large part of the effect comes from that burden. But then the way the story forms in the telling, dredged up from so many years before, reveals a great deal of natural artistry. Reading segments to a friend from Secondhand Time a few weeks ago there was understandable suspicion. This was oral history?... No mediated hidden hand of the author lurking?... One who had worked in the field and listened to old storytellers had complete confidence. The example of the Nurse Aide wheeling a barrow of bread and discovering the nature of her own heart is a good case in point. The final fragment in the section titled “Grow Up, Girls…. You’re Still Green….”
NB. Svetlana Alexievich, Unwomanly Face of War pp. 68-9
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Incredible! That was a familiar voice in the café. What? No, it couldn’t be. An East African political commentator for Al Jazeerah perhaps, or otherwise diplomatic corp. It did sound like a wind-up set piece. Lots of Oxbridge old boys in those parts too, sons of the forerunners, the political elite. Highly unusual in the café where there were no screens, either large or small. None blaring certainly. Sometimes the men were concentrated on their hand-phones but not often. They came to the café to meet their own, to drink coffee and talk. At the evident curiosity the chap in the tall hat that momentarily looked like a Russian fur motioned to come over. With some more rolled phrases it did need a quick look. Swinging up out of the chair, three paces. The first screen shot caught the audience in their chairs – the white crown of the bantam Tony Tan, the retiring president, who as a patrician type had recently been contrasted unfavourably with the incoming. OMG! What in the holly blazes? Why was there an ear for that propaganda here in this place?... ‘S not propaganda, the chap in the beret holding the phone horizontally declared. –….Madam President…. must remain impartial…. Blimey me. Too right. The voice of the Singaporean PM had not been heard more than two or three times on odd occasions. Some of the other lads had been informed a couple of weeks ago of the upcoming investiture. A Muslim attaining the post of President in a notable Western democracy. Pleased as punch the chap in the beret and wouldn’t hear a word against. ‘S all propaganda. Everywhere…. He was going to enjoy it and didn’t care.
Friday, September 15, 2017
Life-giving the milk with ginger and honey at Abdulrazak’s, a second shortly after the first. Something rather more profitable than the café for AR – one guesses that was the calculation in the stony visage when the follow-up order was made. (The other possibility was Abdulrazak’s fixation on the virgin he was pursuing in Vietnam, a very pretty gal to be sure. Abdulrazak had brought her over for an introduction during a skype a few weeks before.) Anh Nhi the waitress commented that in Vietnam the beverage was taken “for the blood” – broad smiles suggesting an aphrodisiac perhaps.
On a cool, overcast day after a light lunch an appropriate choice reading another volume of Svetlana, the fourth now during the current calendar year. Her introduction thus far to Unwomanly Face of War explaining and defending herself, her quest and method. She was writing a history of feeling and spirit, in this case women’s during the course of WWII.
From her journals on the book in the introduction a leader of a small Red Army unit recalls executing two German captives. After some days of familiarity with the men the younger teen members of the party could not be given the task. (Coming under fire on dangerous ground the men could not be taken along.) Another fragment from the journals delivered a young woman serving in a hospital who had been unable to grant a dying soldier’s wish to show her breast. The man had not been so long with his wife, he explained. To date the woman had never been kissed and had been unable to oblige and when she returned to the bed an hour later the man was dead.
Honeyed milk with ginger just the thing on a march through a forest with danger threatening all round.
A woman had survived Stalin’s Ukrainian famine eating horse dung, which many could not stomach. Dried or better still frozen was more manageable.
Small, so-called common people often became heroes through their suffering, Alexievich suggested. Another slow reading with pencil and shortly carting on the plane to Bali.
The day after these first pages of Unwomanly Face the Ukrainian plumber Mihail returned the earlier volume Secondhand Time that had been lent a month ago. Mick had read every word, he said, two hour sessions every morning. During a visit to his house the book had been found mounted on a reading stand with a large clip employed. Mick started his plumbing apprenticeship at fourteen. Something of a reader, his library at home ran to over fifty books, he guessed.
The point had been made of Alexievich: like Tolstoy, the rare case of powerful language that was quite direct and straightforward.
The night of Mihail’s visit too an impulsive mail to Zlatko, who had bought Secondhand Time on recommendation. (Zlatko the engineer is a great Slavophile, having read almost the whole of Dostojevsky and now married to a woman with a Russian heritage – some connection to royal Tzarist circles what’s more.):
Samo da ti kazem Zlace: kad se cita ova Alekievich covjeh je ponosan s svojim Slavenima.
S punim srcom se njene paragrafe citaju.
Sad naceo Unwomanly Face of War.
Today my Ukrainian plumber Mihail, near 80, returned Secondhand Time. Borrowed a month ago and just finished, reading 2 hours mornings. Your dad met him a while back.
Just to tell you Zlace: when Alexievich is read a man is proud of one’s Slavs.
With a full heart one reads her paragraphs.
Now started on Unwomanly Face….
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
hmmm. chero - from cherubim? love darts and stuff maybe? would be interested in the etymology. a made-up i reckon, slightest reference in the specialist literature, Latin or otherwise. you think the romans an greeks were scared of happiness? wary of any fixation of course, and tragedy the whole box and dice for them. but fear? nah. bullshit. a walk through the top end of the city grid this arvo, hill of content to pick up a couple volumes (alexievich just released new translation & an old LA hollywood gal by the name of eve babitz who laid lottsa big names). very easy to see why the advertising, most liveable &etc. beautiful physical fabric, old stone adjacent cannily designed towers, some beauties in the mix catching the light. green patches strung below blue and some crimson overhead – the park at the lower end of Latrobe looked mouthwatering with a solo yoga chap arms akimbo. little traffic, some slow walkers on the Sunday paths, trees might have been in bud. if only there was some kinda meeting and channeling betw, some kinda coming together, to a point. meaning. pellegrini's 6 yrs later the same fella serving the cakes and fruit cups. even he had been to bali, the beach was bewdiful. $14 for the shallow-plated ministre now and add 4 for cafe. nearly fell offa the stool. poor blinking junkie gal walked into the side window by the machine made you wince – after singapore you can magine. poor darling. you remember mat arnold in that famous essay? while such-and-such expires like that in this city let no man pronounce us content or happy. can't recall the phrasing now. so many asians strolling about in the wonderland like they were at a majestic stage-set invited by the studio head, some not even taking pics only looking. there had been a row of trees in blossom somewhere, maybe nth melb cutting through, the churches on victoria near the market chosen as settings, esp the closed entry doors. had not been to the top end in these almost 6 months. the salvos opp. pellegrini's was hard to judge, refurbished for another bar it looked like initially. but the beauty was sizeable after all.
Saturday, September 9, 2017
A dramatic day in how many acts today with the sun in and out? – mostly the latter. While the Viet lumberjack was sawing down the seven or eight trunks that needed to be left for the bigger blades, cutting across came two distinct skids, as Arthur terms those sudden showers. At the first Arthur had quickly ducked indoors. While a cap was fetched from the shed the Viet had kept on quite unaffected. On the second occasion Arth. took refuge under the low eucalypt that had sprouted beside the compost bin against his side fence. (On the other side of the bin three of the elm trunks had sprouted and five or six against the back fence too.) The first shower had fairly pelted, slanting over nor’ nor’west on drifts of wind that were not noticeable on the ground. Beneath a cap and four upper layers the work had continued on our side raising the pile of handsome logs against the garden shed. From the sawing with Arthur’s antique Woodpecker of the week before a pile of slender branch cuttings had been raised against the iron fence opposite, thus creating a fine seating square for the truer springtime ahead.
At lunch at Huong the chief waiter came over to tell his tale of woe at the owner’s abrupt manner with him a couple of days previous. As usual on full moons the place had been very busy and tempers shortened. Tears had subsequently followed from the boss, good contrition and apology for her intemperate words. The dignified young fellow had made clear he would not endure the like a second time.
Finally at Fausi’s after another skid that had not been noticed through the window of the café there arrived a fine rainbow of four distinct colours, pointed out by the Dinka with the injured hand at the front table. Announced in the man’s quiet way it had proved worth the inspection.
The usual wishy-washy early September that was more exciting than usual after six years on the unrelievedly grey equator. People of those middle parts who were unable to afford air travel could never believe the blues of picture postcards.
The Dinka man had spent twelve years in Kenya en route to Australia. We spoke of the stolen election and the man spoke of Kenyatta’s killings, which he said one day would rebound on him. Earlier Kenyatta’s father had done the same, the Dinka reported.
A week before the NYRB had cautiously soft-pedaled the US involvement in the matter, John Kerry featuring stoutly defending the regime.
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Biker Kath last night at the Willy café telling of her plot for Monday. A girl from Trentham an hour out of town, where she had settled with her husband. The pair had married in their teens and remained together ever since. Pete was stout and heavily tattooed, a daunting figure on the street; some kind of eye condition that needed sunglasses even at night made Pete more daunting still. Out at Shepparton in teen years Pete had been a footballer who had rebuffed the attentions of League scouts; the big league in Melbourne had never held any attraction for Pete. Bikes and then Kath were stronger lures – Pete had introduced the former to the latter. Always zipped in her weatherproofs, Kath kept any bodily artwork out of sight; she was far more outward and forceful in opinion. The strong antipathy against the Muslims had almost certainly started with Kath and Pete following. Pete did not follow Kath in her enthusiasm for Collingwood; when Kath went to watch games on the Willy screens Pete let her go alone and waited for her return at the end of the match. For the Monday plot at Trentham Pete would have no option but to support his wife. What exactly set Kath so strongly against the Muslims was not difficult to fathom. Kath had a lot of time for the mentally disturbed street people in Willy; for the Koorie people too. Little Paul on his tricycle won Kath’s compassion and support; beggars, drunks and even users might have been tolerated; gays perhaps. Migrants might be different and Muslims certainly were another category entirely. The way the last set themselves apart riled Kath. There might have been a mosque in Trentham, or at least one on the way out there. There was one makeshift one in Newport where Kath had spent her youth and been schooled; a second large one was almost finished nearby, designed by some hot-shot architect who had somehow become palsy with the Muslims. Pauline Hanson had recently worn a burqa in federal parliament, a form of dress that was every bit as offensive in Kath’s eyes. The burqa set the Muslims apart and was a slap in the face to Australian culture. The Muslims thought they were special; there was the spate of terrorist attacks, then the earlier horrendous beheadings. At Trentham Kath knew women in the bank who were forced to serve intimidating burqa-clad women who would not remove their cover. How were the tellers supposed to know what was hidden beneath that drapery? It was an appalling state of affairs condoned by the authorities. Monday seven of the bikers would enter the Trentham bank with their helmets and demand to receive equal treatment; nothing less would be acceptable. (Because Kath was brought up right she herself would raise her visor at the bank; if she was wearing sunglasses and had an encounter Kath would also remove the shades out of politeness.) It was easy to understand Kath and Pauline Hanson, the politicians in the US, the UK, France and elsewhere. The set of circumstances were straightforward; the politics of power blocks, the process of history and empire, was a complex and challenging study understood better by victims and the dispossessed. Good onya Kath many here would think, good show.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Hello Readers all
A UK lit. journal has recently published a short of mine titled "Wives and Devotions" – another tale from Geylang Serai, Singapore.
Orbis #180 (Summer 2017)
Mail order is available from the publisher; otherwise I will re-post it on the blog after a decent interval.
Cheers & pozdravs