31 December 2009

looks like christmas morning


I'll write how I am. Sitting by the sea, a thousand voices having traipsed the boardwalk already this morning. Woke up with two drunks at home, ate cereal standing in the kitchen. Someone was asleep on the lounge and I couldn't turn on the light to read in our tiny place. I had to leave for a bit. I forgot my sunglasses. It's bright and cool by the sea. Tiny frequent waves are white maned horses in a Pushkin fairytale, their riders- or the wind, roar softly, familiar. Two men rub sunscreen into each other's balding heads, they look like genderless newborn twins.
I take my time with things. Forgotten how to write this.
I wrap a scarf around my head, wrap my arms around my middle. Watch the cargo ships from the pier.

23 December 2009

Tea and biscuits




We pretended to be grown up. Wake up at eleven, shake ash and cat fur off our clothes and put it on the French news on SBS. Or was it Telediario? Language was always a sticky point, we'd paste over many subtleties to communicate in the only language we both shared. Romain understood the riots in Algerian neighbourhoods, picket lines and art students holed up in school buildings. Once I told him how to make tea to soothe a sore throat and he put the lemon in after the milk. Did he think I was a yurt-dwelling, curdled milk drinker? He called me on the telephone, spluttering, "Milk and lemon? What? It doesn't go very well."  I forgot that in some countries, even ours, they drink tea with milk. I still over-pour milk into tea. "A dash! A dash!"

The house was pokey. We joked that our bedrooms at our family homes were bigger. Inside it, sometimes I'd grow frightened at how perfectly isolated we were, a brown old continent straddling the world's most formidable ocean. I'd imagine getting a rare disease and having to be airlifted to the nearest country like Vanuatu or New Zealand.  I'd eat toast and sniff organic unhomogenised milk in his less than pristine fridge and appraise half rotted groceries that he bought on his dad's Amex. Then it'd dawn on me that we lived in a civilized country that had ATMs and ERs with defibrillators and catheters. He'd clean out the fridge and try to start again. We could only buy food to last us the day ever and forget about the leftovers. He smoked Marlboros and maybe roll the first joint of the morning as he explained like a grown up, all these things on the TV. It'd be cold out so I'd take his woollen scarf and wrap it around my throat to walk to school. He'd walk me and we'd stop for coffee and then maybe I'd have a cigarette too. I'd watch an old lady with an Ashkenazi nose and tattered hippy clothes scrape cigarette ash after smoking and it made me shake, like she was digging through the remains of her relatives. I'd remember mama and that I wasn't supposed to be here.

15 December 2009

Balaclava noon

They sit on the bench, early afternoon, under a tree that somehow reminds them of home. The street is hot and smells of coffee grinds, slightly rotting garbage and brake fluid. A sea breeze wafts it all clean. One man is old, grey and slim with an aqualine nose. He sits cross-legged, face in profile, reminding me of a pedigree cat or a French aristocrat. The other man is new school, body mass slightly having outgrown his frame, a tee shirt that could have cost $300 or come as a care parcel via St Vinnies when he received permanent resident status. New man takes out a maroon jeweller's pouch, glances around and empties it into his hand like a crack dealer. An elegant gold band catches the hot sun.
"All original stones," he says in a language that I speak but in a tone of voice I do not understand.

14 December 2009

morning at the medical clinic

Like most ethnics, I will travel across the city to visit a doctor with a family connection. Mine is the super clinic. Not only is my mother the medical receptionist there, one of the doctors is an honourary aunt and super-diagnostician who saved my life. Apparently she was born in a Turkish prison as her parents were fleeing the Union during WW2. Her parents moved to Western Australia from Europe where her mother was promptly widowed after a mining accident. The miners' wives, mostly non-English speaking women, were piled into a ute and taken to the site to identify their dead husbands. She was widowed with five children in a foreign land. And W.A isn't cool like Melbourne or Sydney. You don't live there, you do time. (Note: The story goes something like that. Forgive me if I've got it wrong.)
Naturally, she always makes me feel like my problems are miniscule. "I also had haemoglobin of 7 and I was running up and down ten flights of stairs doing 100 hour weeks as a med student." Having a hb of 7 feels like you're on the verge of a heart attack or a coma and it is very dangerous. Every time I run into her she inevitably brings up my drama and her part in rescuing me.
"You came in wanting to be treated for pimples." (Actually, a staph infection that turned my whole ear into a blister).
"I have table cloths which are less white than you that day." (Turns out, I'm not naturally alabaster).
"I asked you if you had been a languid child and you said that everyone just assumed you were lazy, poor girl." (At least it got me staying indoors more and I got good at drawing and reading).

This medical clinic is located in a rather well-to-do inner city suburb frequented by many university students from the neighbouring Melbourne Uni campus. My mother likes to case potential husband material for her youngest daughter in between answering phone calls and explaining medicare rebates. I'll be reading a Vogue in the waiting room when she'll pipe up in Russian over some unsuspecting boy's shoulder, "Varia, see this boy here? He is uncommonly polite and well-mannered for his age. He is Czech. Maybe he will suit Nina." I want to say, "Mama if he is Czech he can probably understand 40% of this conversation." Instead I snort a laugh into the well-thumbed April 2008 Vogue or at least snot onto a photo of a picture-perfect polo family in Tattler. Then she'll flick her bobbed hair to the direction of her sullen co-worker sitting on a stool like a hysteric Victorian lady in a dusty portrait. Again in Russian, "That woman is enervating me. Look at her. It's like she ate lemons for breakfast."

13 December 2009

Sparrow Hills



Left to right - Tatiana, Anastasia, Olga, Marie. Centre: Alexei


Evenings: cicada calls across browning Christmas lawns. In pyjamas and freshly washed hair we'd crowd around the icons in the lounge room for evening prayers. Mama taught us to pray for the living and the departed. The names of the dead seemed to ring and rhyme (nearly everything does in Russian after a while).. Angelina, Nina, Zoya, Kapitalina, Galya, Galina, Evgeniya, Venyamin, Venedikt, Sofia, Elena, Otrok Sergiy (otrok meaning youth)...

What's in a name? Do you live up to the etymology of your name? Do the vowel sounds and the syllables shape your character in strength and weakness, femininity and masculinity? Is it the biggest gift you can give to your child?

03 December 2009

Kolpakovs



what dinner at home sounds like.
we have four guitarists in the family

I don't wear lipstick

Returned from a pilgrimage to suburbia. My parents live 25 kms away and I haven't been to their house in a month. The rain has been good for lawns out there, it's like walking into some kind of overgrown tropical Gondwana. I came by the morning train and walked into the house feeling slightly overgrown myself. Is it possible that I am growing taller in my mid twenties?
 *            *                     *                    *
жди меня и я вернусь
только очень жди
              *                     *                     *
I tumbled into my sister's car, she was going to the hospital for a night shift and I walked through the cool 9 pm still bright summer streets. Past Carlton gardens with its romantic Victorian street lamps dotting the elms. Through the theatre precinct, the chink chink of glasses at the Windsor Hotel and the Princess Theatre. Past Ermenegildo Zegna, louis V, Hermès, Gucci and Chanel. Home home home home. Skip the main streets by zig zagging through cobbled side lanes and staircases behind cathedrals my worn out black summer dress puffing up in a breeze, my brother's borrowed woollen jumper over it .Through crowds of school kids leaving vespers at Saint Paul's with happy smiling parents, huddling, bubbling, chatting excitedly. "'Scuse me. 'Scuse ME," I shout at their brace-happy faces, (dentally-conscious middle income parents). My teeth, vampirishly sharp and slightly crooked as I do yell, half serious. I have three minutes to catch my train and two streets to cross and a station to jog through. I don't wear lipstick. Except when I think I look too tired-eyed.

* *  * * * * * * * ****          *         ****                 ***        *morse code*** * * * *        ***
Speaking of pilgrimage and cathedrals. In the Holy Land, cobbled, curved Jerusalem streets with pastel green window shutters I fell asleep at the Holy Sepulchre during a midnight liturgy. I sat down on the worn, thousand year old slanted marble floor, slid into a sort of trance amid incense and chants and slept without dreams. My aunt found me and I had communion at Christ's tomb, blinking awake, shivering slightly against the cool marble sleep.


* * * ****          ****         ****         **** **********

IIII IIIIIIIII I I I I IIIII I III I I I I I II

Am not sure if it is a Russian malady, not sure what it is. Someone please help me. But I could not give a damn for things right now. I don't want anything.
пфу! всю эту дрянь