A more Classy type of Tourist

Soundtrack: The Sound of White
Missy Higgins

IMG_2112Today was a really good day. Starting with a walk to a Farmer’s Market, finding a Compost Club, sharing a warm drink and ideas in a stimulating space, before heading off to the Art Institute of Chicago where I became a member. So happy. On the bus on the way in I heard a somewhat pretentious man declaring his love for John Singer Sargent, the feature artist of the exhibition I was going to see. The thing this gentlemen declared as breathtaking about Sargent’s work is his use of white. I therefore made a mental note to attend to the use of white in the exhibition.

Those of you who’ve seen my posts about other exhibitions know that rather than reproducing each painting in full I mostly tend to post images of fragments of the works that speak to me. On the way in, my first taste of white was a marble where Zeus turned himself into a goose (swan, but goose works for me) to seduce this Queen of Sparta.

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Anyway goose neck distractions resisted, when I eventually entered the Sargent exhibition I aimed to capture what to me is The Sound and smell and taste of White in Sargent’s work, the richness of his palette, the fullness and emptiness of White which must be the hardest tone to paint.

 

Oh, and before we go to Sargent, one of his influences was a gentleman who should always be indulged for his atmospheric use of white and light, Merci Claude.

Monet Train

 

Like a freeze-dried rose, you will never be, 
What you were, what you were to me in memory.

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I deliberately photographed this Street in Venice from the side, adopting a position of leaning on the wall, and like the men allowing this determined young woman to walk on, her thoughts uninterrupted.

I love the strength about these women that Sargent manages to embrace.

If things get real for me down here…

This lovely child was described as an Italian or Spanish beggar girl in Paris. So exposed and real for her down there, begging dressed like a virgin, a world apart from the high class portraits he went on to complete.

And if I listen to, the sound of white, 
Sometimes I hear your smile, and breath your light. 

That clear white skin, and the incredible detail, all accentuated with tones of white. Sadly the only woman of colour in the exhibition was also the only nude: in coloniality white is pure, black skin is always licentious.

But if I listen to the dark, 
You’ll embrace me like a star
Envelope me, envelope me

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This incredibly self-possessed woman is not a Sargent, this work is by Giovanni Boldini. Love Miss Clark, Actress.

Sargent did have an en plein air phase which for my taste could be skipped over with one exception.

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And of course Claude was an influence on this phase of Sargent’s career too. Love Claude.

Thankfully Sargent returned to portraits and for a while also painted some men, where the detail in the White on White is exquisite.

At that time he also painted this stunning watercolour in Florida.

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Of course as I wandered out from Sargent’s White I discovered my favourite elephant god looking on the reflected white of the Chicago skyline, and thought my day complete.

But a trip to any excellent gallery can include an unexpected twist, and in this case I embraced the fact that no one does White like a Japanese artist.

And so coming complete circle with Missy Higgins, I found this incredible work by Japanese artist Mineo Mizuno, whose father died in WWII before the artist was born. Called Water Drop, the gouged empty centre speaks physically to the silent sound of the characters repeated over the surface that mean “null”, “void” or “nothingness”.

My silence solidifies, 
Until that hollow void erases you, 
Erases you so I can’t feel at all. 
But if I never feel again, at least that nothingness 
Will end the painful dream, of you and me. 
If things get real for me down here, promise to take me to 
Before you went away, if only for a day. 
If things get real for me down here, promise to take me back to 
The tune we played before you went away.

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And if I listen to, the sound of white,
Sometimes I hear your smile, and breath your light.
Yeah if I listen to, the sound of white
You’re my mystery. One mystery. My mystery. One mystery..

Being a Tourist

IMG_2027 edWednesday we walked and walked and eventually we went to Shedd Aquarium. Aquariums (Aquaria?) have a tough gig when Australians and Kenyans who’ve dived The Reef turn up, and yep, we were a tough audience in the Shedd. The place was crowded with otherwise happy folk, which possibly shows that we don’t know what we’re talking about. But there we were, and somewhat sullen (academic concentration V said), we will have featured in the background of many people’s holiday snaps. We all know I’m not good around hoards of children. In front of some particularly horrid looking eels I had a desire for Harry Potter to arrive and make the glass disappear so they could slide to freedom (and certain death out of the water I know, but I wanted them to be FREE). And I know that Beluga whales are endangered in the wild, but I really felt sad for the female who had been there for 27 years. The less said the better about how we felt when we saw a Dolphin staring over the edge of the infinity pool at the lake so close but so far away.

There was however an art exhibition on around the aquarium that excited our environmental sensibilities. The See Art to Save the Sea exhibition featured marine life made from items that have been salvaged from the sea. I’m often a cynic and I did wonder how the colors could be so clear and the pieces so pristine when they’d been flotsam with someone’s jetsam for so long, but I’m ready to believe the website that says that over 20 tons of trash have been collected from Oregon beaches and made into 70 works of art. Brilliant premise – force people to see an immediate connection between sea creatures and trash (sorry, rubbish). Love it: create art that evokes ocean creatures using the medium of the very rubbish that is making the marine environment uninhabitable for such creatures. Inspired concept and it’s cleaning beaches. Anyway, we walked the full aquarium looking for the art, (wishing it had been better curated so that the purple fish above wasn’t hidden behind a bar selling wine in plastic cups) and otherwise trying to avoid children and the entrapped animal life.

The exhibits just stood there, signage understated. You could assume they had no voice and thoughtlessly disregard them as untidy decorations, but there they stood nonetheless, wordlessly declaring the reckless abuse of this planet by human thoughtlessness. They were the most important things in the building.

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I love the idea of making jellyfish that stick and cling and scare and sting humans, out of the plastics that humans recklessly discard and which then strangle so much marine life.

Grumpy Nemo is very angry about plastic water bottles – be Grumpy Nemo and don’t buy plastic bottles.

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Chicago, and so the blog begins

Ah dear, after three days pushing myself to the extreme to get settled into Chicago, today the Goddess decided to remind me who’s in charge. Sigh, laugh, take a bite of berry cheesecake from the recently discovered patisserie. Yes, a food related reward for retaining my sense of humour, humility, heat. Dripping hot heat.

Pretty much everything’s going really well. It is so hot! I arrived as did all my luggage and we were all intact: bonus. My apartment was here, the keys mine. It’s smaller than memory exaggerated, but it’s lovely. The building is called The Piccadilly and was constructed 1926-27 as a cinema with a hotel above: the hotel is now converted student accommodation. It looks scrappy from the outside and in the common areas, but there’s a development application for a roof top area with lake views that will make it divine. So there’s no picture of my scrappy building (those shown are in my street), but the view of the lake is from my roof top. My apartment’s exactly what I need. And yes there are Emergency alert buttons on every corner for our safety.

 

Days 1 to 3 were a total bustle, rushing about with my new friend V in the hot weather. We scoured the paltry local shops, finding or not finding household necessities, making multiple trips because really who would think shower curtains would come with shower hooks? Or that there would be no knives available in any stores? Forks yes, Spoons yes, but no knives. Generally doing tens of thousands of steps, laughing a lot and spending a lot of money, because really if you’re only going to have one piece of furniture until your ship comes in, then it should be a modern designer chair (Gus) with a triumvirate of ottomans. I bought that one morning before meeting V, and had to get chair and ottomans 3 ½ blocks home and into the freight elevator on a borrowed wonky trolley. It was a hoot, people laughing along with me laughing at myself, and two lovely gentlemen offering to help. It was only after everything fell off the trolley for a second time that I regretted my independence and thought that maybe fish do need bicycles.

 

But today nearly brought me undone. Up at 830 for delivery of my bed between 9 and 12. YES I finally have a bed and won’t be sleeping on the floor any longer. Praise deity, that counts as a big tick for the day. While I’d been waiting for the delivery men I’d given up on local shopping and resorted to online, but that big company named for Wonder Woman’s matrilineality didn’t play nicely with my Aussie cards. After the bed delivery dudes left I dashed back down to 53rd to the internet company who assured me that I have the correct cables and “just” need to connect my modem to a hidden optical cable outlet. Mam there is one, the previous tenant had a connection through us. Mmm. Exhibiting unusual faith I left, and V and I decided to walk to the stationery outlet. Did I mention it’s hot? Yay, I was in heaven, biggest post-its you’ve ever seen, and yes Miss B they have color pens too, and staplers and tape. As I was trying to choose a printer my local phone rang, yep I got one yesterday, big tick. A perfectly innocent delivery man was trying to reach me as he had a delivery at my building for me. No I said, I’m not expecting a delivery today. Oh I re-joined, is it from Australia? I was thinking of the 40 kg I posted myself when I couldn’t close my 3 suitcases. No it’s from right here in the ‘hood, Innocent delivery man said, can you be here by 3? So, dumping printer decisions and dealing with a call from a collection agency looking for the previous holder of my new phone number and a very rude register-person, my post-its, color pens and I dashed into a U-car and raced home. While waiting for Innocent delivery man I re-joined my battle with the modem and the connection in the cupboard. Nope. Modem two, Wendy nil. After 1 hour on the phone to support, thank goodness for that local phone and it’s calls and sms alerts for Kimberley, they’re sending a man. I guess at that time, like a fish with a bicycle, I’ll be sorted.

Some hours after 3, Innocent delivery man had girded his loins and returned with a beautiful floral arrangement for Miss Wendy. I’ve long abjured Miss Wendy as an appellation, but from the mouth of an African American Gentleman of a certain generation exuding calm and bearing flowers it is redeemed. Ah flowers. Thanks Cuz.

 

Feeling it was safe to leave my apartment I ventured to the building’s laundry. I had spent the time post-modem pre-flowers downloading the relevant laundry app, creating an account and loading it with money to do my washing. The two above photos showing lighting and cornice detail – yep, my laundry circa 1927. Two loads of new sheets and towels on, then my next error, I combined the two wash loads in one drier load.

img_1882Naively leaving my damp clothes to tumble intermingled I decided on a walk around the ‘hood. Exercise, air, a quick pop into Bonne Santé for face wash, buy dinner (I’d forgotten lunch and coffee in my rush) then back to close out the evening. Good plan. Exercise, tick. Air, tick. Dinner, tick, a very nice chicken pita 350 cal. I then experimented with a different route home, hmm new patisserie and berry cheesecake, and a (thankfully closed) bagel shop. I returned to my room, had half my cheesecake and decided it was time for bed. Mrs J will have realised the bedding was still in the drier and that I hadn’t thought of that until I was on my way into my nightie. She will have already giggled because this is a regular occurrence for us both, but sadly tonight my drier is on the 2nd floor and I’m on the 11th. Throwing myself back into public clothes I headed for the elevator. Hello again, I said to my neighbour who lives between me and the elevator and that I’ve bumped into at least half a dozen times since moving in. Are you stalking me, he asked? Really? Last time I saw you, you were trailing a snotty child, I thought silently. Really? So I’m back in the laundry to retrieve my blue sheets and cream towels… and you guessed it the towels have lost their new fluff and it’s all over my blue sheets. Really!

While I was failing to buy my face wash, I saw to my total astonishment a box of my favourite incense. I last bought it over 10 years ago and only have one box left which is on my slow boat. I hope my boat’s not being further delayed by hurricanes. Sigh. Yet here in a health food shop in Chicago at the end of a day of chaos, is another full box of Darshan. I stopped in the laundry hugging fluff covered sheets and thanked the Goddess in whom I don’t really believe. I’m reminded by another Goddess that I don’t have to do everything in one day. And besides, who can say it was a bad day when I got a bed, flowers, incense and have a vacuum coming that will get its first work out collecting towel fluff.

Muddled space for new beginnings

I could promise that my next blog post will be less introspective, but you wouldn’t believe me anyway. Do please listen to Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody as you read.

I’ve sold so much stuff, thrown out or recycled loads more. I have three near-empty rooms here waiting for items to be collected and then the rooms will be cleaned. I feel a bit like those three rooms: old purpose gone, most contents removed, repainted but not yet quite time for the new to come in and fill with emergent lifeways. People keep asking if I’m excited and it’s hard to keep saying No. It’s not that I’m not excited, it’s just that I’m still emptying, still making space. Still ending not yet beginning, echoing but not empty.

Soundtrack: This Land is Mine
Paul Kelly & Kev Carmody, 2001

This post has been a while in the writing, it’s been in my head, in the soil, it simply couldn’t seem to find my keyboard. It’s four months since I visited Chicago and it’s less than 3 weeks until I leave Brisbane. Everything’s been going smoothly with my relocation organisation. I keep thinking that if I believed in fate or deities I would be declaring that this was meant to be. But being me I’m just incredulously crediting the harmonies of string theory alignment and while I’m emotionally befuddled I’m taking the good while it lasts.

I’ve been listening to Ana Tsing on YouT talks and the audiobook of her book The Mushroom at the End of the World. Her work resonates, I certainly feel tangled, muddled and interrupted! The book’s not actually about the end of the world as we know it, more about the End of the Idea of the World as progress promised it would be. It’s more about finding meaning and value when the world didn’t work out the way everyone told you it would naturally evolve. It’s about the end of believing in enlightenment notions of linear ordered progress and evolutionary certainty.  It’s about realising that things that don’t belong together are together, sometimes contaminating each other and creating diverse and unexpected muddles, sometimes just being. Things that don’t belong together are both apart and together, Chicago and Brisbane, distinct yet interdependent, muddled in me.

Mixed.

Last week I had to go to Melbourne. A long planned trip to drive down some boxes for garaging. Eighteen hours drive time each way. Then suddenly the trip encompassed a tragic loss and funeral, tears. The ending of a life and unlived dreams that belief had somehow promised yet reality had stolen away. For me the timing was painfully exquisite: terrifyingly synergistic as instead of linearly storing for posterity I was part of a maelstrom of letting go, of endings and uncertain futures. There are reasons why fairy tales end without describing the promised but deluded happily ever after. Reasons of muddled fragments, patchworks of things that don’t belong together but are together: oppositions, messy twists, muddled emotions, unexpected tragedy and joy. Joy at unexpected reunions with beloved family, incommensurate with but utterly a part of anguish and grief and loss. Inseparable.

The drive itself didn’t really seem to belong in one linear journey either, at every stage my navigator seemed committed to taking me through torturous mixed up routes. Routes that diverged and paralleled main roads, taking me through side ways green and lush, where hungry cows relished the green verges. Some other routes determinedly directed me down cramped old inner-city industrial back-ways, roads I’d travelled often thirty or more years ago and not seen since. Smaller now, grimey. A different industrial to the industry of cows and sheep and grain. Mixed up tangled routes that had nothing more in common than that my navigator had inexplicably directed me that way, and I had inexplicably followed. Different but the same I drove through both in both times. I felt strangely, temporally violated and completed.

This land is mine, yeah I signed on the dotted line…

This land is me, from generations past to infinity…

People keep asking me what I’ll do, where I’ll go after graduate study and then seem befuddled when I, befuddled by their question, say that I have no idea. I recall tangentially that a muddler is a kind of pestle for bruising and mixing different ingredients into cocktails: to the trembling strawberry it’s a phallic wooden baton for violent smashing and disordering.

They won’t take it away

Even though I’m home now I still feel mixed up. Mixed up like the country I drove through. Hundreds of kilometres, drought stricken, dead. So much death. Dead kangaroos by the side of the road. Dead sheep in fields. Dead dry paddocks where the only living thing was the stone, the only movement the dust. Tragic loss erupted in tears as I passed a convoy of trucks, farmer families paused on their drive north, their mission of hope bringing bales of feed to drought stricken farmers and starving stock. I think about the recipients of that feed, powerless to make it rain, watching stock die. Hopeless. To place hope in rain and green paddocks is a cruel and futile delusion. Is hope contingent? Did the fairy tales lie? Is it too simplistic or even grossly egotistical to muse that when we gaze skyward in longing for progress’s happily ever after we miss entangled outbreaks of a longed for redemption borne in the small gifts of human resilience? That would be as cruel as attributing heart-break to some deity’s capricious plan.

img_1720What this picture doesn’t show is the farmer who, as I pulled over, was dragging dead sheep into a pile by that fallen tree over the fence line. Presumably he’ll burn them later. Heartbroken or resigned? How could he be glad that redemption in the form of a convoy of hay was on its way?

This land is mine all the way to the old fence line
Every break of day I’m working hard just to make it pay

Despite the coming hay, there was so much mourning on that road: incommensurable contrast. Unethical contrast. I sped down through patchworks of stony grief, occasional dry burnt forest and then offensively lush irrigated green. I drove back up through the irrigation belt in the dark, I couldn’t bare to see it again all verdant with water bought and sprayed, a price more than dollars being paid by parched others downstream. Everything felt fragmented by death, tangled by roads littered with death: dead roos, dead sheep, dead loved-ones, dead dreams. I thought about the so-called dead heart of Australia.

I’ve discovered audiobooks and so I drove listening while Bruce Pascoe described a pre-invasion Australia that was far from dead, that lived and was life giving, tended for millennia by Indigenous Australians. Tended. Tended a verb with all the emotional layering of tender care, respect and custodianship. Today’s farmers too are tending their flocks, respecting the seasons, emotions and bodies aching with every dry acre.

img_1742Same, same, but different.

Tsing’s eruptions of incommensurability exploded as Pascoe described Bourke and Wills dying of starvation, exhaustion and dysentery in a land of plenty managed and farmed by Aboriginal Australians. Stories collected in saddlebags of hardship and endurance. Tales of eruptions, multiple crossed timelines, missed assemblages, sunburn, drought and flooding rain. The drover’s boy. Mourning and death, so much death surrounded, inculcated by seeds of unexpected, quiet hope. Indigenous hope, tended farmed hope. Hope not in timelines of progress or possession, but in resilient, creative timeless stewardship of what is treasured as most precious and dear. Hope when it’s not the time to speak of hope. But is it still called hope, that which allows you to grind out depths of endurance when there is no hope?

img_1733I realised why so many cultures see time as cyclical not linear: if you live with the land, with the seasons, then time is a cycle, the great cycle of life, living and dying, birth and death. We are all star dust. What enlightenment scholar decided that linear time and inevitable progress toward evolution of superior beings was such a grand way to see the world? What inconceivable side tracks of accidental beauty and quiet courage were trammelled by such a polarised and blinkered view. Can we be brave enough to leave behind the analgesic of it’s promised happily ever after?

For me at home tonight, grief and parting are contaminated by excitement. In linear progress terms the next two and a half weeks will fly and I’m afraid that I won’t get everything done. But that thinking will lead me to miss the precious moments of harmony in uncertainty. The bittersweet of parting. The joy of holding tight and refusing to let go. I’m truly muddled. I must stop and tremble under the muddler’s gaze. All is change, life is rupture and contamination and flux. Like my three rooms here, I too am cleared of a lot of accumulated stuff. I feel somehow simpler. Today te three rooms I’m moving into in Chicago are empty, waiting, soon to be contaminated by Australian stuff, tangled by video calls and chat and snail mail with all manner of corners of the world. It’s almost time for new lifeways to emerge. Almost.

This land is me
Rock, water, animal, tree
They are my song
My being’s here where I belong
This land owns me
From generations past to infinity
We’re all but woman and man
You only fear what you don’t understand
They won’t take it away
They won’t take it away
They won’t take it away from me
Kev Carmody

Wendy in So Fi Zine Ed 3

Really excited to have had a second piece published in So Fi Zine – She Speaks, that Woman he called Pandora. I’ve always thought that having her story recounted by white, western men gave Pandora no chance to speak for herself. So I thought I’d have a go on her behalf. It starts on page 17, but why not read some of the other pieces?

If you missed my first content in So Fi Zine then you can read it at Wendy in So Fi Zine . I’m so excited to be writing fiction, so inspired to be thinking of what to write for the next So Fi Zine edition. Watch these spaces.

Who will I be?

Do I believe something different can happen?

I started writing this in Chicago a month ago, it’s taken me till now to realise why I’m hesitating to finish it.

Chicago April 12, 2018

I’ve introduced myself at least 30 times this week, it feels like 300. Like everyone, I always start with my name, give them a label for the box they’ll use to file their experience of me. But even before I’ve said my name, as soon as it’s my turn, they look at me and their eyes tell them I’m female, older than most of them. Their expectations start to go into my box based on presumptions. Their ears tell them I’m outsider, even before my second statement, “I’m Australian.” More assumptions flood the box they now know is a foreigner called Wendy.

It was cold in winter

A Wendy box is relocating to Chicago in search of things that will be “more.” More what? I think about the new things I imagine might go into this box. I wonder would anything change if I put a different name on the outside? What if I spiral out from Wendy like I’m spiralling away from everything I know? What would be the same? Would I be a first impression to me too?

Spirals
Time
DNA branches
Space
bend bars of
a Fence

I’m moving continent. Breathe, I carry the DNA of women who’ve done that before me. Jane, wife of a Master Mariner and her daughter Ella, a teenager who would grow up to be my great-great-grandmother. Relocated from Devon in it’s green cold wetness, the smell of the sea, the bustling harbour town. The high clear air of the moors where Grandma Jane lived with Aunt Elizabeth for years after they’d gone. Those women couldn’t have imagined the dry, dust of Victoria. The heat and emotion of running a pub in the Australian gold-fields. But maybe a retired Master Mariner with his pipe and a  redoubtable wife were ideal publicans. I like Jane.

Ella was seventeen when she stepped onto the dock in Victoria. Married at 18 she moved on to New Zealand and a life of sheep and bearing children. A few years later they moved back to Melbourne. Why did they return, forsaking farm and sea to live in a city? Was New Zealand one sea too far? After her Mariner died Jane moved in with Ella. Did they reminisce about English skies? Tell women’s stories of earth and sky and sea and blood? Did their DNA yearn for the green they’d left behind?

Mary Ann, my great-great-great grandmother, wife of a wanderer with his eyes fixed on fortune, she migrated from Gloucester. That husband took their eldest son to the Californian gold rush in 1849, left her in the poorhouse where she trained as a nurse and midwife. I imagine everyone told her she’d seen the last of him! But somehow Mary Ann and the small children, her husband the their eldest, all arrived in Victoria, again following the smell of gold.

Apricot Rose

Mary’s another who moved her brood around the world. Another of my great-great-great grandmothers Mary was born on the Isle of Skye and mothered 13 children who all survived. But aged 62 and after the death of her husband, with the Scottish potato famine and Clearances underway, she and at least five of her children migrated to Melbourne: did they move or were they forced?  There’s a letter from a grandson born in India that suggests she moved voluntarily. My ancestors sure did travel, no wonder why I wander.

img_0661.jpgMy DNA remembers these women, hears them dreaming. My genes carry their senses, memories, strength and commitment. Were they excited? I’m excited. Were they filled with trepidation? I’m flat out scared some days. To move continent, to fundamentally re-shape the life that is your box. What to take? What to leave? What was too precious to these women to leave behind? What, or rather, who did it break their hearts to leave? The touch of whose skin did they mourn? Were they fearful about whether they would know themselves in a new land?

Wendy
Ella
Jane
Mary Ann
Mary

Brisbane 14th May, 2018

I’ve felt lost ever since I came back from my recon trip. I’m back home for 20 weeks to pack and move, sell and release. Who am I? What will I take of me to Chicago? What will I find inside that’s new? What will be left behind? What is too precious, too painful? Why have I drifted inside since I found out I’m definitely going? How is it possible to be so excited and so terrified, so full of organisational plans and yet so in denial as to the cost? The emotional cost. I smiled all the time I was in Chicago but now I’m burying my fears in a flurry or organisational chaos. Sort, sell, pack, don’t think. But, I deserve this, I’ve worked for this. I want it, but it’s so hard. Will I find my gold? Who will I become? Will you know my name when I return?

 

 

Fly be free