Category Archives: Travel

A fortnight in verse 4

The first stanza is a true travel story. The second just went where it wanted to go.

A fortnight away (part four)
We found it still warm from its owner’s bum
in Monkey Forest Road, a wallet–phone
with cards ID and cash. Good luck! His name
was not John Smith. We tracked him down
on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram,
mailed his office, messaged, left no stone
unturned. He tweeted back. The lost was found.
We met – old friends, it felt – he bought a round.

What do tourists really want? Why would you
leave your land, your home, your friends, your kin?
For taksi, transport, massage, drink or food? You
must want more. The waft against your skin
of other gods? Ganesha’s charm has wooed you?
Some ads say ‘paradise’; some hint at sin.
Could you be here for Violet DNA,
the cure for everything? Or eat, love, pray?

A fortnight in verse 3

It’s raining, so I get to add to my holiday verses. Part of the second stanza paraphrases a quote recalled from Michelle De Kretser’s The Hamilton Case:

The coloniser returns as a tourist, you see. And he is mad for difference. That is the luxury commodity we now supply, as we once kept him in cinnamon and sapphires.

The first stanza is the only example I witnessed of a tourist behaving really badly. Here goes:

A fortnight away (part three)
‘I’m not paying,’ he said, ‘for my beef
rendang. It came lukewarm. I took it out
and asked the cook to heat it up. Good grief!
“Cook it yourself,” he said. I didn’t shout,
but I was firm: “No, you. I’m not the chef!”
I think he might have pissed in it, the lout.
I didn’t eat it. He was rude to me.
So I won’t pay.’ Three-fifty AUD.

As colonisers first we came for spice
and now we’re back as tourists keen to see
your difference commodified. So nice
the offerings, incense, ‘selamat pagi‘,
the off-leash dogs, the terraced fields of rice
(your photogenic toil), your artistry
in wood and stone and ink and cloth and food.
We bring our cash. Forgive us when we’re rude.

A fortnight in verse 2

Still in Bali, nowhere near meeting the goal of a stanza a day, but here’s a second instalment.

A fortnight away (part two)
On Saturday to Gunung Sari Legong:
a temple dance, dances of courtship, war,
a gender-fluid Kebyar Terompong,
the gamelan that carries us like straw
on water; last, spectacular Barong
and whirling Rangda red in tooth and claw.
Speaking fingers, doll-like lips and eyes,
all human, but in otherworldly guise.

In Ubud, signs say ‘Uber dilarang’,
‘Monkey Crossing Take Care of Your Stuff’
‘Italian Resto – Pizza, Nasi Goreng’
‘Coffee! Beer! Too much is not enough!’
‘Tourists’ top choice farma’. Yin to yang:
sweet trampled offerings. But the culture’s tough.
Small boys with kite on Monkey Forest Road.
Ganesha’s tusk is snapped. He’s still a god.

A fortnight in verse 1

We’re in Bali for a couple of weeks. Rather than write home about it in prose, I’m taking the opportunity to practice rhyming. Here’s a first instalment.

A fortnight away
We booked our trip online (oh please, no blame –
I know the globe is warming, but our gnarly
joints have given gip since winter came
so we bought pain relief: two weeks in Bali).
We hit a snag. When I’d typed in my name
it wasn’t what my passport said. Bizarrely,
it cost two hundred dollars to set right.
But phew! We got it changed, and made the flight.

A pair who honeymooned there thirty years
ago, said, ‘Stay away from tourists. That’s
what spoils it now.’ A woman close to tears
saves wildlife: monkeys, an iguana, cats
and dogs. The water’s free, they charge for beers
and food (it’s Virgin). Nearby inflight  chats
are few – devices rule. In Denpasar
an hour in imigrasi, two by car

to Puri Suksma, Ubud. Every Wayan,
every Made, Nyoman, Ketut is
on the road, and this greenhorn Austrayan
has knuckles turning white as endless scooters
brush past on every side. I’m only sayin’
it looks and sounds like chaos, but a toot is
just to say, ‘I’m here.’ No rage, no lanes
keep order, just calm interactive brains.

To be continued

Sonnet No 11

A dependable source of pleasure when travelling is the frequent micro-moments of disorientation: for me in the US they include glimpses of cars in traffic with empty space where I expect a driver, ‘Shaw’ and ‘shore’ not rhyming, entrée as a main course. Most of these moments pass almost subliminally. I doubt if I would have noticed the one that set this poem going if I hadn’t been reading an essay on Australia’s convict period on the plane home. Speaking of micro-disorientation, I don’t suppose many of my readers – Catholic or otherwise – will know the hymn to the Immaculate Conception the poem quotes: it should be enough to know that it exists.

Sonnet No11: Let’s not call the whole thing off
We say ‘transport’, you say ‘transportation’.
At school I sang, ‘My soul today is heav’n
on earth, oh could the transport last!’ Elation,
I parsed the hymn to say when I was sev’n,
could be reached on a bus (shades of Totoro!),
a bus that might not run again tomorrow.
A moment’s puzzlement for little Shaw,
not so much pun as latent metaphor.
But ‘transportation’ told a different story:
Endeavour led to exile, chains, the lash,
a First Fleet weighed down with old England’s trash,
invasion, dispossession, death, no glory.
No wonder my town shuns the longer word,
prefers to leave those murky depths unstirred.

Sonnet No 10: At LAX

This one is self-explanatory.

Sonnet No 10: At LAX
We caught the shuttle at nine thirty
for our ten to midnight flight.
No surprise that we were shirty
when at ten to ten the bright
Los Angelene who took our cases
said, ‘Flight’s delayed till two.’ Our faces
dropped. Our bodies still on New
York time, knew two meant five, knew too
we had four hours to cool our heels in.
So here I sit in vacuum time.
I yearn for sleep and try to rhyme.
A quiet collective stupor steals in.
We read, snooze, stare, hit keys with thumbs.
The exterminating angel comes.

And I’m uploading it now courtesy of LAX’s free wifi, 4 minutes before boarding is meant to start. With any luck we’ll be home in 17 hours or so.

Sonnet No 8: A tale from New York City

I’m writing this on my iPad in flight mode from New York. This is a true story, only genders and localities have been changed to fit the demands of the Onegin stanza. Both the curator who told us the story and the villager were women, and the conversation happened in an out of the way part of Oaxaca in Mexico.

Sonnet No 8: A tale from New York City
A New York Gallery curator
in search of warmth, and needing rest,
found more than both near the Equator.
A villager (perhaps in jest)
revealed to him her tribe’s tradition
(one day out in the jungle, fishin’)
that all that’s living, all that is
(forget about your Genesis
sprang forth from just one source, a river.
‘What river?’ the curator cried.
‘what else but this one?’ she replied.
The art man’s spine went all a-shiver.
He said, ‘That’s not such crazy talk.
We think the same way in New York.’

Travelling with the Art Student Part 2

This isn’t an account of our travels. It’s just a slightly shell-shocked continuation of the list of artists whose work we’ve seen in New York, Los Angeles and briefly Philadelphia.

First of all, the omissions from the list in part 1: Picasso and George Segal as mentioned in a comment on the earlier post; Object Matter, a big exhibition of Robert Heineken’s photographic work, including a very entertaining talk on his The S. S. Copyright Project: ‘On Photography; two different collections that included paintings from the late 19th and early 20th century big names; a vast exhibition of romantic photographs of nature and people who live close to nature, by Sebastião Salgado; street sculptures by Keith Haring.

And since my last post:

  • Lorraine O’Grady: Art Is …, in which she took picture frames to an African-American celebration in 1983 and photographed people and places being ‘framed’
  • Samara Golden: The Flat Side of the Knife, a huge, disorientating installation of an Escherish house with a mirrored floor that makes it seem to go down and down
  • Zero Tolerance: a huge exhibition at MoMA PS1 in Queens, that Deborah Kelly, met by chance, recommend to us. It included a poster for one of her works, Tank Man Tango. The participating artists are too many to name but they came from all over the world and taken in the aggregate presented an overwhelming image of a world in turmoil: extraordinary footage from just after Ceaucescu’s overthrow in Romania, horrific responses to a heroic Gay Rights demonstration in Romania, a cacophonous room called Democracies, with 20 video screens by Artur Żmijewski showing places of apparently intractable conflict.
  • big rooms full of David Hockney and Pablo Picasso in the same gallery – different sections
  • Ursula von Rydingsvard: Great towering works carved from cedar with a chain saw – new ones in a Chelsea gallery and an older one, in bronze, at a Brooklyn train station
  • Lorenzo Vitturi: photographs, that at first glance look like PhotoShop fantasies, but are actually of sculptures made from leftover fruit from a market in London
  • El Anatsui: a Ghanaian who makes huge, stunning tapestries from the neck-foils of discarded wine bottles – our tour guide was impressed that he started doing this because he couldn’t afford to buy materials and now sells his pieces for 7 figure sums and can employ people to scrounge the foils for him. We saw another of his pieces at the Metropolitam Museum
  • Kay Hassan: big images, mostly portraits but one landscape with football-playing figures which I loved, made by collage from paper scrounged from street posters
  • Eve Hild: lovely stonework ceramics
  • William Wegman: an photographic exhibition called ‘Cubism and other -Isms’ which featured Wegman’s very photogenic and athletic dog posed among and on top of primary colours and mainly stark geometric shapes
  • A number of women ‘sculpting animism’ at the Cavin-Morris Gallery, which quoted Doreen Kartinyeri in its handout (though sadly, no Australians, Indigenous or otherwise, were represented in the stunning ceramics and weaving on display

We went to the Met, where we were so sated we skipped the El Greco, and MoMA for the Matisse cut-outs, where the student fell in love with Cezanne. A trip to Philadelphia with US friends for the Barnes and Philadelphia Museums (more than $100 each in train fares at a Seniors discount, compared to $2.50 each from Sydney to Newcastle and back at home!) included much more Cezanne, far too much Renoir, never enough Monet. We had a fabulous visit with the same friends to the Frick Collection. We trawled once more through the galleries of Chelsea and oh my God I forgot to mention Adrián Villar Rojas’ The Evolution of God and other sculptures on the High Line … so now I’ll stop.

Sonnet No 5: Regulations

One thing about visiting New York is the interesting conversations you have with very brief acquaintances. Today’s exercise in rhyme started out from one of them, and got distracted by the BIG signs in places that serve alcohol advising, among other things, that pregnant women should not drink alcohol, and ubiquitous illustrated instructions in the Heimlich manoeuvre. (After I’d done the first draft I realised that a wall poster in a Pain Quotidien showing how to eat a tartine was possibly meant as a parody of the mandatory Heimlich poster: I’m not alone in seeing a gleam of absurdity, even while recognising that lives may be saved by the posters.)

Sonnet No 5: Regulations
When young he drove a horse and carriage
in Central Park. They were good times,
long before the current barrage
of regulation. Now it’s a crime
to take a horse out into traffic.
Though he don’t claim they were seraphic
no one would have done that then
– the horse would suffer! They were men
who didn’t need to the law to tell ’em
right from wrong. Now everywhere
signs say Must Not, Should, No, Beware.
From Bowling Green to outer Pelham
each cafe, subway, park and lawn
will soon instruct us how to yawn.

Brooklyn Yawp, November poem No 4

Last night – 10 November here – I took the Subway to Brooklyn for an event that had caught my eye in Time Out New York: the Brooklyn Poets Yawp. (For the benefit of those who know even less about poetry than I do, Walt Whitman referred to his poetry as his ‘barbaric yawp’.)

The first hour of the Yawp is a poetry workshop led by Jason Koo, poet and poetry teacher who must be doing it for love because he only charges $5 at the door and various categories aren’t asked to pay at all. The second hour is an open mic.

Typically I piked on the open mic, but I stayed for the whole thing and had a great time.

In the workshop Jason invited us to try our hands at seduction poems. We read poems by Marvell, Donne and two modern ports, listened to a number of versions of ‘My Funny Valentine’ and scribbled for 15 minutes. Even though what I wrote wasn’t a sonnet, and believe it or not my November sonnets generally take a lot longer than 15 minutes to write, I was quite pleased with my seduction poem and now will inflict it on you.

But first, I ought to acknowledge how much I enjoyed the open mic hour, not least for the family feeling among the 30 or so people there and Jason’s smooth, genial, kind but not too kind MCing. Not necessarily the best poem but the most daring was a verbatim reading of the text of a Viagra ad currently showing on New York TV.

No 4: Seduction Poem
When did it happen,
this line on your face,
This deep straight line down your cheek?
Did it just appear one day when we weren’t watching?
Is it a line from some future poem?
An elegy?
Let me trace it with a finger
and my lips.
So much has happened when we weren’t watching,
so many messages from after all.
Lips now thinner, hair turned grey,
and where did the thin me go?

What will have happened next?

But should we care?
How does it happen that each time we touch
it’s all new?