Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

The period post Italy but pre- Finland. (Auto-biography)

June 27, 2015
Dolomites

Dolomites

The walk from Bressanone rail-station uphill to Bernard’s chalet must have been steep and long. Did I ask for a map or directions? I cannot remember. Consider that in those years suitcases on wheels were yet to be discovered nor were back-packs as progressive as they are now! Today I see young women with such towering back-packs getting from airports to taxi almost to the point of other bystanders ready to give an ovation.  Mind you, even back-packs are now on wheels as well.

I must have had a rough idea and perhaps asked a local for the address. This area was pre-dominantly German-speaking and I was fluent in that language. Bressanone, even though now Italian, used to be part of Austria and still today pre-dominantly Austrian in culture and population. The area is South Tirol.

I do remember reaching the chalet and my friend coming out greeting me. It was definitely sunny. The view was breath-taking with Bressanone nestling down in the valley and at the back of the chalet the towering Dolomites climbing forever upwards, glistening with their limestone faces. The chalet was a small and solid white washed adobe house with ornately carved gables,  window and door architraves, of which that area is famous for, and really an extension of the same architecture of  the medieval town in East Tirol of Lienz were I had spent time skiing during the winter and were I had met the girl with the beautiful eyes from Finland. It was at Lienz where I also had a ski fall and broke my glasses, as well as meeting my future wife. ( while dabbing my bleeding proboscis).

It was all such a liberating event. Liberated from the suburban ennui back in Australia with my family and Frank.  A liberation from wanting to work while wearing a suit hoping for recognition, admiration or at least something of achievement. A kind of something that young people are supposed to work towards. A career that would cement a solid future and  distinguish one from failure. All those things are not always so clearly defined but yet one grows up with as an obligation to fulfil to parents. As those early years passed by I did have a skill to earn some money and that stood me in good stead. However, the making of money is pretty boring unless compensated or alleviated  by an all encompassing and absorbing activity for  soul, spirit or psyche.

There are often moments of great significance that are recognised as such at a much later time. The meeting up with Bernard Durrant was one of those chances that on hindsight proved to be of great influence.  At the time in Italy we met for the second time. I had known Bernard in Australia. It was through him I took to chess playing and reading books and visiting State library.  He gave the advice to run your hand over the back of books at a library and pick the dustiest books! ‘They are often the best’, he said, especially in Australia! Reading in the early fifties was somewhat frowned upon. It was much healthier to play rugby or cricket, spear-tackle opponents. Libraries  visits by young men were rare.

I give you here a very short and copied biography of Bernard from a website by one of his friends.

“Already serving in the Army, Bernard was recruited by British Intelligence on the eve of the Second World War and was smuggled into Germany, but was soon discovered by the Nazis due to an inadequate cover story. Offered the choice of switching sides or death, he was posted to Alexandria, Egypt, where his brief was to spy on Allied shipping in the Mediterranean.When he arrived in Egypt, he escaped his German paymasters, and eventually made it back to the British Consul in the country.By this time he was considered tainted goods and was shipped back to Britain.

Once back on English soil he was promptly imprisoned in the Isle of Man under the Defence Regulation Section 18b, which was used by the Government to lock up more than 1,000 suspected traitors during the course of the war”. ( end of quote)

Girl with the 'Beautiful eyes' at Ankeriasjarvi, Suomi.

Girl with the’Beautiful eyes’ at Ankeriasjarvi, Suomi.

Bernard become the lifebuoy that saved me from going the normal way of career, block of own land and a house in the suburbs. I came so close to it. He got me to accept and understand that life ought to be inclusive of beauty and art. He went further and told me that life is all about exploration and finding what would give the greatest of joy and satisfaction. It all gelled and came together and I finally felt that my search for the essential would have to come through expressing what I felt strongest about. It might also relieve me from having to worry about career and job. It was so helpful that there were people like Bernard who had also travelled that same path and had found that creativity and expressing it was as much a ‘normal’ part of someone’s life as becoming a cigar smoking bank manager. Apart from all that we would continue to play chess high up the Tirol mountains.  I started to paint while Bernard already was writing poetry, some of which he managed to get published here and there. He had contacts and spoke both German and Italian which for an Englishman was somewhat unique.

The Safari suit.

April 12, 2015
Balmain cottage downstairs room

Balmain cottage downstairs room

We are now going back to a period when our children numbered just two. It was a long time ago. We were living in our second house on Sydney’s Balmain harbour peninsula after having lived in a 1 bedroom apartment in a somewhat  bohemian area called Pott’s Point which is next or part of Kings Cross, Sydney. It was an area of artists, crooks,  prostitutes with sandaled souteneurs, and priests. There were also many delicatessen where one could buy real coffee , prosciutto, cheeses not named ‘tasty’ and books. If I remember correctly there was also special dispensation given to some  Euro-continental shops allowing to stay open after 6pm. It was still frowned upon as decadent by some who tried desperate to uphold decent ‘peace and quiet’ Anglo closed up traditions. This all during the  sixties when our marriage was so young, sprightly and sprouting  first babies.

The one bedroom apartment was soon crowded out with birth of our second daughter. We bought a very old and rickety weather board cottage that just had one large sitting-kitchen-dining-bathroom downstairs and two small bedrooms upstairs. The downstairs would  originally have had rooms but the previous architect owner had taken all walls out leaving just one spacious room that looked out over a glorious and vibrant harbour. In those day it was always sunny.

That the bathroom was part of our sitting area could not have worried architect nor did it us. In the middle of this room was a round wood burning cast- iron heater with the name ‘Broadway’ on it. It was  lined with stone on the inside and as chimney had a large galvanised pipe going through the ceiling and upstairs bedrooms ending finally through both levels  on top of the roof. It was capped by a china- man’s hat to keep out rain.  It heated the whole house during winter with cut up old wooden rail sleepers.The cottage had a waxed wooden floor downstairs and upstairs I painted the floors white. This was a typical workman’s cottage that might have housed some years back, a family with three or four children with a husband who could well have been employed in the stevedoring industry. He might  have smelled of tar, salt and rope each time he arrived home with his wife making tea and his children playing outside.

The harbour in front of this cottage was less than 100 metres away and always busy with towing of large boats of which the house would vibrate each time the propellers reversed. We made own furniture and made do with little.  Milk came in glass bottles and bread by baker doing the rounds announced by barking dogs. Even roosters were still around. We could afford the luxury of a nappy service and had a second hand washing machine of which the only drawback was that the pump had packed it up.  No worries, we sucked on the hose to get the gravity of flow going and let it run into our court yard. That is how it was. Not anymore now.

And at Christmas we had parties and fondues with friends and family sitting on planks suspended between paint drums while listening to the Beatles’ Sargent Pepper or Peter, Paul & Mary  thumping out from home made giant speaker boxes with 12 inch woofers, tweeters and cross-overs. Did we not also drink cheap headache wine squeezed out of bladders but yet into nice fluted glasses?. We would meet and compare the tie dyes. Wives sometimes dressed in pantsuits, men with hair the longer the better,  jeans dangerously flared. The enormous shoulder pads were yet to come, waiting in the wings.  They were the best years but aren’t all years of past the best?

 In Athens

In Athens

During that time when things had settled and some money coming in Helvi decided to visit her family in Finland taking our two young children with her. Our youngest daughter would be carried in a papoose while her sister was old enough to walk at airports  during change- overs while helpful in carrying her own little bag. It was quite a trip from Sydney with another plane to catch in Finland to the closest airport where her family lived. Finland is a huge country,  greater than the UK.

It  was going to be a six weeks holiday and I would be on my own. I could hardly wait for their return but had to do with receiving letters for the time being and the rare phone call. It was a lonely time and I missed my family.

It is then I made a choice that till this day I am still haunted, remembered and reminded of. I bought a wine-red knitted Safari suit. It had flared pants and a double breasted jacket held together with brass gold buttons and a belt of same material above my hips but below armpits with large gold coloured ostentatious looking  buckle. The pants were held up with its own wine red belt made of same knitted material.I also bought  something resembling shoes that were from Egypt and made of rope that was coiled around the toe  and heel  part above the sole with in between the rope arrangement  a  cream leather-like material and  a buckle on top. I completed the whole outfit with a modest gold chain worn unobtrusively but magnificently opulent, around my neck.  My idea was to look a new man or at least a reborn man.  A proud prince of unsurpassed passion and vibrant vitality. I wanted to impress my Helvi. I looked of course a one hit pop star failure, but at the time wasn’t aware of this, blinded as usual by foolish folly.

Finland, just married.

Finland, just married.

I went to the airport on the day of my family’s return to Sydney. All good things come to an end. As my little family passed through customs and into the  arrival hall I spotted them first. The look on my wife’s face was of utter disbelief soon followed by a scowling disapproval. ‘What are you wearing now?’ she said. My daughters too looked frightened. Of course we drove home all excited to be together again but Helvi kept on looking at my suit and shaking her head. I never wore the suit again nor ever shopped for clothes without Helvi having an input. I am fashion blind.

The shoes went into the slow combustion Broadway.

Unchain Kids and Headstone buffing at the cemetery.

February 23, 2013

Django Unchained movie still 

Unchain the Kids and Headstone buffing at the Cemetery

So many kids are confused with their attention being drawn to so many things, it’s a wonder they can put socks on.
Our movie watching today includes accepting that at a cinema most viewers are now multitasking and divided into part watching, part eating pop corn or masticating on something, slurping slushies, and full-on texting on cell phones including taking photos of the movie they are watching and forwarding it onto the their texting friends whom they have probably never even met.
It all very mysterious.
I think I’ll visit my cemetery plot at Rook-wood and buff up the headstone a bit, for a week-end of reflection and serenity restoration.

We decided to go and see ‘Django Unchained’.  We have always liked Tarantino’s movies and read enough of the movie to take the risk knowing we would be subjected to the usual habit of so many that don’t seem to be able to take a couple of hours off without risking expiring from  lack of sugar ,salt and fatty substances.

We were not disappointed. As soon as the movie started, there were those familiar rising halos of smells with chewing, swallowing and ingestion noises of the patrons. Why can’t the movie theatres introduce a special room for those that want to eat and swallow? I mean, IKEA have rooms with cubbies and slippery dips and lots of balls and balloons when mum and dad go for a new flat pack kitchen or 100 number tea-lights. Most pubs and hotels cater for eating hordes away from those that like peace and quiet. Why not do the same for those that can’t seem to get away from ingesting food. A special room for munchers, lickers and slushy slurping. Cinemas would make a fortune

After the movie, we decided to visit a brother at Dungog in combination with a drive- by and stay with friends at Ettalong. Next day we went for a walk along the waterfront promenade and perhaps also look for a place to enjoy a meal, all in the one hit. Right on the beach and just fifty centimeters above sea level we found the right place.

imagesettalong

Actually, the place found us. The building towers over everything at Ettalong. It’s the Eiffel Tower of the Central Coast. The building is huge and painted a shimmering white. The front of the building facing the sea and bay is a huge RSL club (returned soldiers league club). When we were there we didn’t see any uniformed soldiers having returned from wars, world-wide riots, revolutions or other disturbances. What we did see were many couples including their children going for a ‘Nosh-up’ which at the time we were there, had a mouth watering menu of many dishes at $9.- a plate, including a fifty percent discount on the first drink.

The curious tradition of non- club members having to sign-in still exists and it still gets up my gander/dander. Do non members steal the cutlery, perhaps secreting the forks and knives up their sleeves? I still don’t get the reason for this oddity,no matter how often it gets explained. A bit like cricket, I suppose. I can understand ‘members only’ or ‘members AND the public’, but why this ritual of signing up when they allow anyone to go and visit and then having to identify and give name and address? I would think foreign tourists would be loath to give information of that kind for just wanting to have a meal or dance the night away. What next, an FBI agent or rendition to Egypt, water-boarding?  Helvi would sorely miss me, for sure.

The fifty percent discount when ordering a meal applies to the first drink only. Fair enough, I thought and ordered a bottle of Lindeman’s merlot with utter confidence. It was very lovely to drink, unctuously rich Dutch cigar box with hints of Sunday school prune and ambitious towards the fruit loaded Pavlova on the middle palate.

I thought it better to wait for the 50% discount on the glass of wine after depletion of the bottle settled in. I dutifully went to the bar again, which there now was a long queue of 50% discount patrons waiting in a line which had a rope strung along a few stainless steel barriers. That 50 % must have really been a good business move, I thought. As I shuffled forward and it became my turn I asked for the three glasses of merlot with the discount.

The barmaid asked for my meal tickets as proof of having ordered three meals I did not have the receipts, but… and here comes the good bit. She said…”oh, you look like a NICE OLD Gentleman”, “don’t worry sir,” she added ever so kind and friendly. I was feeling a strange mixture of elation and mortification. I am now ‘nice and old’. A new era has heralded itself.

I think I might just leave the buffing of my headstone for a while yet. Too spooky!

China Town

March 28, 2012

‘Most impressive’ is what I thought of last Monday’s ABC’s 4 Corners program on how China is transforming itself from a rural backwater into one of the world’s most formidable economies. It is estimated that it will be the world’s number one soon.  How do they do it?

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2012/03/22/3461200.htm

Is it education or has China always been a country of forward looking people? I mean, those hidden terracotta warriors and their horses were not there just by accident. It gave us a pretty good indication of an amazingly creative culture even at 200BC. Fancy, having the modesty to bury them. In Australia all we have managed so far is to have kept Phar Lap’s heart inside a bottle of alcohol. If it wasn’t for the Danish Vikings, our Opera House would never have been built either.

It’s no mean feat to build one city of 200.000 within seven years, let alone dozens of them. I have trouble getting my car’s pink slip done within the eight week time limit, or much worse, forgetting to do my zipper up after I have used the local men’s on the stroll to Aldi’s with a shopping list firmly clutched in my hands. “Don’t forget the toilet paper”, still ringing in my ears.

Slothfulness is not in the Chinese psyche. Meetings were held whereby the farmers were told by the village elder to change their thinking. Instead of hand ploughing the land and growing pigs they must develop a mindset of ‘business’ for the future and educate the children.

The children were seen root learning very diligently. Grandparents were shown to pick the youngsters up from school. Dad had foregone the hand-ploughing altogether and was working in Shanghai earning in one week what the wife would earn in one year ploughing and fattening pigs.

It was amazing to see, that despite the poverty, many still brought a mouthwatering arrangement of foods on the table, especially heralding in the Chinese New Year. When I see footage of the overfed but undernourished poor in Australia, slurping from Coke bottles and eating packets of chips, I get feelings of cultural doom and despair.

I could also not believe the leanness of the villagers. Was it a result of hunger and hard work or was it also their diet which seemed very much based on eating many greens. Everyone seemed well dressed. I mean, very clean and there was no rubbish lying about. I always wondered on how so many hundreds of millions lived, how did they survive?  How come they seem to be forever smiling and laughing?

The hacking away at the clay with a hand held hoe and the lure of earning big money didn’t prevent one husband from wanting to return to his farm. The wife refused, became stroppy and told her husband to keep earning money in the big city. The kids have to go to school, she added. There was more than a hint of marital whiplash about in that couple.

The one thing that seemed to shine through was their connection to each other and family and an indomitable will to make the best and succeed. Money making was the way to the future but so was their love of kinship and family.

Now back to those Terracotta soldiers. The facts are amazing. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over eight thousand soldiers, one hundred and thirty chariots with five hundred and twenty horses and one hundred and fifty cavalry horses, the majority still buried in the pits. Then there are musicians, comedians and other non-military figures. All are life-size.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army

We are always dazzled by the art of the ancient Egyptians and the influence of the Greek civilization on our western world… but the Pyramids and Parthenon seem to be somewhat insignificant compared with the history of the Chinese. Perhaps both are almost unfathomable in how it was possible to achieve such enormous heights during that time.

I wonder what will be dug up from our times, a large intact veneered Mac Mansion with Caesar-stone bench tops and tangled heaps of zinc alume, Chocó boxes, Apple tablets, and many leaf blowers with pebble-crete lawn edgers…