Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Reasons to be happy #336

This morning the train pulls into Auburn and I close my book reluctantly. Reluctantly because it’s a great read – Marching Powder, by Rusty Young, the true story of an English cocaine smuggler who gets busted and spends a few years in a Bolivian jail (sorry, but I refuse to use the ridiculous Australian spelling of this word). This is a prison with a difference where the inmates must pay for their cells. But if you’ve got money you can get a very nice one with ensuite bathroom, kitchen and all mod cons. When the protagonist arrives he is in deep trouble as he doesn’t have a Boliviano to his name, he’s starving (you pay for the food too) and has to sleep on the freezing cold floor in the dangerous section of the prison. Another inmate helps him out and eventually he manages to contact friends in England who wire over some $ and he gets into the position where he can “buy” his own cell. At this point the protag and his new friend chat about real estate on the inside, over a couple of joints and a supply and demand graph which they carve into the table.

I’m also reluctant to get off the train because here we go again (wehey!) another day at the office and all that ... the enthusiasm, tbh, isn’t kicking in. I go to the corner shop across from the station where you can get bargain boxes of tissues so that I can replace the empty one on my desk. I think about the little place I’ve made for that tissue box, carefully wedged between the magazines I refer to during the day and my stack of recycled paper. It makes the cubicle feel lived in. Then I wonder for a second what it would be like to have my own office, perhaps with a view, maybe with a picture on the wall.

And I know all of this has been done already in The Matrix, with much better special effects, but this morning the parallels between the two scenarios give me pause. At what point do we get lost in the game, and at what point do we get let out, or escape?

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, reasons to be happy ... I’ve been back in Sydney for 336 days, I’m tired, and in all honesty a little bit down. I know that there is a way to live here without giving in to the hunt for a better cell (and that it involves swimming) but I'm yet to find it. My friends are at Glastonbury. I'm happy for them and wish I was there.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Maid in Colombia

The latest not-new book I'm reading is Memoirs of Hadrian and at the front there's a bio on the author, Marguerite Yourcenar. Cop this:

"Her mother died shortly after her birth and she was brought up and educated by her father. She was reading Racine and Aristophanes by the age of eight and her father taught her Latin at 10 and Greek at 12."

I know what you're thinking - how could her father have left it that long to get her started on Racine?

Actually, I was wondering why I, so merely mortal, even bother. Two (2) of us are so busy picking things up that we haven't considered Greek theatre, although Santi has demonstrated a predeliction for pulling Plutarch's Lives off the bookshelf - it makes a good foundation for Lego castles y'know. But did Yourcenar's dad have the same demands on his time? Did he collect toys (or philosophy books) off the floor or do the housework, or did someone do it for him? Perhaps, he had a maid ...

We had one when we lived in Colombia. Her name was Elsa and man do I miss her (la la la la). Over there it's not just for the filthy rich hacienda dwellers either - solidly middle-class types like me get to exploit the working classes too. Of course, it never felt like that at the time, especially when we didn't have to sweep the floors, wash the clothes, scrub the toilet ... okay, you get the idea. For 20,000 pesos a day (about $10 AUD) you got it all, and she'd even prepare dinner and babysit at a pinch. You justify it by saying "it's more than she would have got if we hadn't hired her", or "it's more than the legal minimum wage", but would I able to survive on 100,000 pesos a week? Barely. And get ahead? Never.

Sure, there are plenty of consumer habits to feel guilty about: pigging out on McDonald's, guzzling Coca-Cola or just doing Nike. We get over it. Now, after almost a year back in these-are-the-rules Sydney, I look back on the halcyon days of having a maid and wonder, should I be ashamed, would I do it again, and most importantly, would it help Santi catch up on his Aristophanes? While our lives consist of an endless ritual of picking up toys (why do they all have so many pieces?) and haciendo oficio, we can't help but dream.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Over the Moon

A giant, loud-enough-to-be-heard-in-England cheer for my writing buddy Eliza Graham, whose novel Playing with the Moon came out on June 1. YAY!

When I was getting into the writing forums a few years ago, I shared some work with the very helpful Karen Dionne at writers net and she put me in touch with Elizabeth. I think we swapped a chapter or something, and I still recall her description of her character doing something very ordinary - opening the dishwasher - and it being just perfect. You know how it is when the words do exactly what they should to convey the image and the moment? Anyway, we decided to become critique partners and so over the years I've been lucky enough to read most of her work.

Her writing's always been top drawer, but sadly, that's not enough to get published, and a lot of factors (including, perhaps, the alignment of the planets) need to be in place. With all the ups and downs leading up to this moment, she may have felt at times like she was living a novel rather than writing one - it was frustrating enough for me when her earlier mss didn't get picked up, so I can only imagine what it was like for her. But now that Playing with the Moon is out, it's even more of a reason to celebrate.

She'll probably be very busy over the next couple of weeks doing readings and promotion, but I hope she gets a chance to enjoy the moment: picking the book up off the shelf in a store and holding it in her hands; seeing someone take a copy away with them. Congrats E, all the best for the coming months, and as always, for the next project.