Category Archives: Travel

Hearts in London, 2

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Part of the installation of Hearts at Circular Quay in December 2016

Hearts in London continued
Part 1 here.

On the Tube from Arsenal to Elephant
and Castle, a boy frowns over buttons,
dials and switches on a tiny cube. A woman
flashes me a warning smile, ‘He’s my son, and
I see you looking.’ So I ask him what it is. ‘A thing

for people who have restless hands.’
His father adds with what may be
a Dutch accent, ‘It’s called a Fidget Cube.’
We’ve spent the afternoon with Sue and David
wedging clay (like kneading dough, but thumpier)

at Clay Time in N5 where Jawad our host
told migration stories to rival the worst
of Australia’s (well, not quite up
to Manus and Nauru standards, but bad),
and Brexit as a vicious assault on so many.

That’s Thursday. Friday we meet again to shape
clay into hearts – with aorta, vena cava and
sundry pipes – in six easy steps, in a windowless
room in labyrinthine King’s College London:
forty-three hearts in a tray by half past four,

then on to the launch of a new iteration
of Penny’s Connecting Hearts Project
which is, after all, why we’re here.
Nibbles and drinks and meet-and-greet chat
in a room that till 4 had been a student caff,

then Anna Professor and Jim Academic
and Emily from the Museum of Migration
spoke of the project’s UK context, and
conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant
(don’t worry about the Latin, it’s just a little joke):

Penny spoke. Two years ago, as she tells it,
she woke from a dream of a heart being ripped
and stabbed and, not knowing why, she began
to shape in clay what she hoped was a humanish
heart. And the clay gave her hands an idea.

By the end of the year, more than four hundred people
had learned to shape humanish hearts
in clay, and had made one for each person
who’d come to Australia for refuge and been detained
with small hope of release on Manus Island or Nauru.

Among the early heartmakers were Rohingya
women who first drew barbed wire in the clay
and then wrote words: ‘I want my husband
in Manus.’ Long-ago refugees from Croatia
sang old songs and shed big tears.

Immigrants, children of immigrants, refugees,
activists, people of faith, artists,
even ceramicists sat at her tables and sweated
their DNA into the clay as they shaped it,
took up a stylus and made their marks.

Weirdly contorted, like arthritic hands
or slaughtered wild creatures, no two the same,
each one an oddity, they grew to an army
inanimate, cool, waiting for the breath
of life. She filmed them in a field like

casualties of war. She laid them in a circle
wrapped in muslin, and invited people
to unwrap them, to write on the cloth
(‘I’m sorry’ ‘I am ashamed’ ‘I will not
forget that you are there’). In December

a vast spiral (‘So many lives in limbo’)
at Circular Quay: a thousand passersby
entered, walked the meditative shape,
took a moment from the endless noise
and let it sink in (‘So many lives’). A fence

became a fluttering message wall.

(More to come)

Hearts in London, 1

hearts.jpg

Hearts and a woman I’ll sing, but first a word
about another woman. I forget her name.
She had progressive aphasia. When I knew her
she hadn’t lost speech altogether
but would sing instead in a rough plainchant.

I thought she was being cute, but it was terminal.
She came to mind as I tried to write about Penny’s
Connecting Hearts project. My prose wouldn’t rise
to the task. So I invoke my late friend
(whose name may have been Joyce) and try again

in rough improvised verse. On Valentine’s Day
(also Ash Wednesday) Penny and I flew out
with thirty clay hearts in our carry-on. Hearts
are no problem for Border Force (I’d worried
theymight look like grenades) and soon

we were in Singapore, wearing red
to usher in the Year of the Dog and reading
our horoscopes writ large: Penny’s a Rabbit
and will reap what she sows in her travels.
I’m a Pig and should be mindful of my words.

I was reading some Amitav Ghosh, his
cultural mishmash perfect for the place.
We saw Monet and Manet, CornBread and Banksy,
Anish Kapoor and a durian iceblock,
noodles and pratas, hot pots, kopi and heat.

Then with our hearts back into the sky
for fourteen uncomfortable hours
silent spectacular screens on all sides (I can’t
or won’t use earphones on a plane), to reach
London SE17 at half past one a. m.

weary and jetlagged and wondering what
we were here for. That was Sunday.
On Wednesday, we had our first meetings
with Anna and Jim and Vinya and Olla
and Jawad, and we were at work.

[In the next episode, the back story.]

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.