See this post for a brief description of my 500 People challenge.
I had a terrific conversation in the sauna this week ranging over the relative merits of cows and goats, Buddhism and Christianity, the gym we were in and the one at Annette Kellerman, and other matters. When I was about to head for the showers I told the other chap my name, and he said, ‘I know, we’ve met before.’ So I couldn’t include the conversation as part of the Challenge – though it does confirm that at least some of these encounters have follow-ups. He may have been Number 7 in Week 14.
1. Sunday 21 November. Usually when I visit an art gallery I wouldn’t dream of initiating a conversation with an artist. Today in Articulate, a small gallery on Parramatta Road, with my 500 People challenge in mind, I did just that. The artist seemed delighted to engage. The works on exhibition were collaborative drawings, and her description of the collaborative process was fascinating. At one stage, saying, ‘I can do this because I’m the artist,’ she lifted a corner of a large hanging to show me and my two companions who had joined us the reverse side of the richly textured paper.
2. Monday, I went out early to buy some celery. At the checkout, a young woman asked from behind her mask, ‘Do you make celery juice?’ When I said I did, she told me about her own celery-and-lemon-juice routine, and how it had improved her health and ‘even’ her skin (her skin looked fine to me). I said I had mine mixed with carrot, beetroot, apple and ginger juice. And we were away – luckily there was no one else in the queue. Her most memorable line was, ‘I used to have mine with carrot juice but I stopped because it was like soup.’
3. Tuesday. There’s a Matisse exhibition on at the Art Gallery of NSW. I had a free ticket thanks to a son’s excellent gift of Gallery membership. I was intrigued by the 1944 painting Still life with magnolia, displayed alongside six preparatory sketches. I turned to a woman who was also looking at it and remarked how interesting it was to see the painting along with the sketches. Luckily she was no more of a connoisseur than I am, and pretty much finished my sentence for me. We chatted a little and then went our separate ways.
4. Sunday 28 November. I called to make an appointment to see a podiatrist (don’t ask!). Miraculously an appointment was possible the next day. As the receptionist was taking down my details, she asked how to spell my name. I told her, and thanked her for asking. She said she knew what it was like as her name is Isabel. I told her that both my mother and my quasi mother-in-law had that as a second name, spelled Isabel and Isobel respectively. (I discovered the next day when I asked after her that she goes by Izzy.)
5. Monday. At the podiatrist’s, I decided to have an actual conversation while she was attending to my feet. It wasn’t hard as she seems to have worked out that life goes better if you connect with people. In response to my asking how she got into podiatry, she told a sweet story. We talked about other things as well … Then, as I was going down the stairs, I heard her greet the next client: ‘I always look forward to your visits.’ ‘Me too,’ he answered.
6. Monday. I had a brief interaction with that man (‘the next client’) before going to the stairs. I saw that he was intensely focused on the Target Word in the Sydney Morning Herald. I contemplated telling him the day’s nine-letter word, but realised that would have been purely mischievous. I did, however, say truthfully, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen someone else doing that.’ He laughed, and told me he usually does the Quick Crossword, but he’d finished it and had time to fill.
7. Wednesday 8 December. I include this as representative of maybe a score of tiny, courteous-to-warm interactions that I haven’t noted. This morning in the pool, the slow lane was uncomfortably crowded. At one stage, I paused at the end of a lap to make way for the woman a couple of body-lengths behind me, who was swimming faster than me and would have had to pass me if I’d kept going. She took a moment to acknowledge the courtesy with a nod and a smile and a ‘Thanks’, and I reciprocated.
8. Thursday afternoon, driving down Addison Road in Marrickville, we passed an ambulance and police car dealing with someone who looked as if they’d been hit crossing the street. The traffic going in the opposite direction to us was banked up for blocks. When we came to our next set of lights, I gestured to the driver of the car closest to me and when she wound down her window I told her what the hold-up was. She thanked me. I know this is almost nothing as far as human contact goes, but the next time we stopped, I made the same gesture to a driver who was about the same distance from me. I could tell that this one saw me, but they (I genuinely don’t remember their gender) studiously refused the overture.
9 & 10. Saturday 11 December. We went on a long walk – from Cowan Station to Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury/Dyarubbin. We passed very few people, but had a pleasant chat at one encounter. We had been walking up a stretch that was classified as hard, and feeling it, when we met a family – a woman, a man and a teenaged girl – coming down. We exchanged politenesses. Then, inspired by Joe Keohane’s book The Power of Strangers (blog post to come soon), I admired their walking sticks, and asked if they were Nordic style. They weren’t, but both parents were happy to talk about the sticks, which led to an exchange of stories about walking various parts of the Camino/Caminho/Camiño di Compostella, past and possibly future.
Running total is now 262, but bloody Joe Keohane (see above) has ade me realise that I’ve set my bar pretty low in this challenge – most if not all the encounters I have listed are opportunistic, in the sense that these are people I meet anyhow, and many of them aren’t much more than hit-and-runs. I’ll (try to) do better.