October 2007


I arrived at my hotel in Washington at 3pm today after leaving my
motel in Erie at 6am. Spent some time entertaining the daughter of a
Somalian woman while we waited for our luggage.

After checking in I walked through town, past the Washington monument
and the White House and through a small art gallery and had dinner at
a small German delicatessen/konditorei (cake shop)/bar/restaurant.
Then I took a night tour of Washington, past all the major buildings
and stopping at the Roosevelt memorial, the Marine memorial (at
Arlington – based on the photo of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima)
and at the Lincoln/Korean war/Vietnam memorials.

The Korean war memorial was one of the eeriest things I have seen –
faintly ghost-lit white statues of soldiers stalking through a
jungle/garden. In the dark and the wind and the rain, their clothes
almost seemed to move in the breeze. The wall behind is etched with
faces.

It is strange being on my own now. All the other travelers are in groups.

I was hoping to walk along the lonely lake shore again today, with its high slate cliffs and smooth lake stones, but it is raining. The lake is grey and the grapevines are tossing in the rain and I can’t smell the grapes.

Yesterday was a windy day and standing by the veranda door I could smell concord grapes on the breeze – a sweet strange smell, the smell of grape candy (which I always thought was fake).

When we drove to North East, I walked to the railway museum (it was closed) and on that side of town the smell of grapes from the Welches factory was unmistakeable.

Concords are fat, black, sweet grapes that split when you pick them. You eat them by sucking the flesh out and swallowing it and then spitting the thick, tough skin back into the grass.

Aunt Kathy made grape cobbler on the weekend. It was very good, but I ate a great deal and my teeth turned blue.

We have been talking a lot. In Australia, this would normally be accompanied by much tea. In America, it is accompanied by food. My mother lost her voice for several days, so she would say “…” and I would have to interpret. This was an excellent system until she started expecting me to interpret while she was in the front seat of the car and I was behind her with a mouth full of chocolate chip cookie.

Things I have learned run in my family:

  1. winking
  2. carrying babies in unconventional receptacles
  3. navigating/cooking/planning by committee
  4. travelling in circles
  5. a need to talk

Things I have learned about my family:

  1. my grandmother once made a gooseberry pie and didn’t take the stems out
  2. while my great-grandmother was on the way to the hospital to give birth to my great-aunt, my great-grandfather overturned the sleigh
  3. a great-relative was probably murdered by her husband but no-one had proof
  4. my grandfather would arrange the containers that cream servings (for coffee) come in into daisies and give them to waitresses
  5. an uncle, returning from a visit to our property in Australia, told people it was like visiting the set of Little House on the Prairie

Things about Americans and tea (I try to do as the romans do but I do like some tea when I can get it – it aids the digestive process and as when we are not talking we are eating, I like this):

  1. you cannot find Twinings for love or money and they just don’t quite manage scones
  2. the tea Americans drink is either Liptons or endlessly fancy (just plain tea, please?)
  3. the smallest section in Wallmart is the tea section
  4. all the kettles we have seen are the sort you put on the stove (I am pleased to report we are ahead of America in the technology stakes in this respect) and one aunt puts a teapot in the microwave
  5. they don’t boil the kettle – they warm the water and say, ‘the water should be warm enough by now’ instead of letting the kettle boil and whistle and THEREBY FULFILL ITS FUNCTION but it would be rude to say so

In America. And may I just say that 2 hours sleep the night before you fly is an excellent preemptive treatment for jet lag. After that little sleep and that long a flight, you will believe any time anyone tells you it is.

My mother, Genevieve and I flew Brisbane – Sydney – LA – NY with very little delay at any point. We felt processed. We spent Thursday night in New York City, and on Friday afternoon my mother and I took the train to Connecticut.

Things we have learned:

  1. American airlines staff treat passengers as if they make their job more difficult.
  2. There are bellhops in real life!
  3. Times Square actually looks like that. 
  4.  New York really does have background music.
  5. The serving sizes really are that large.
  6. We really should have worn coats.
  7. All the songs are true.
  8. The World Trade Centre went a long way down.
  9. Everyone tells you how to calculate tips, no-one tells you how to actually pay them.
  10. Everyone is friendly except the taxi drivers (the ones we had, at least).
  11. New England houses really do look like Victorian Dolls Houses.
  12. They have storm cellars!
  13. The fall really looks like that.
  14. So do the pumpkins.
  15. They also have candy pumpkins. 
  16. Yale is gorgeous.
  17. We know the names of most of the stores.
  18. We do not know the names of any of the trees.


Pumpkins

Originally uploaded by tanaudel

We are spending a lot of time saying sentences beginning with “They really…”

In this case, after seeing the pumpkins outside a grocery store, “They really are that colour!”

It has been weather for moths and lightning. Oppressive spring days burn scarlet with bougainvillea, gold with silky-oak, and rise in a haze of blue and purple smoke as the jacarandas put out their pale, leafless canopies. The nights are still and humid, or restless with a wind that is warm as blood and carries no relief, only a note of rising panic. The house, a cage of wooden openwork, fills with moths – sober desert camouflage moths, moths like lace, like cigarette dust, horned gothic fantasies, dusky rose plush – fluttering and clinging and blowing across the floor.
Storms come swiftly and inevitably. First the heavy, slow, warm rain, then pure white lightening which lights the night pale blue, then the insistent hail.

MOTH

moth is consummate couturier
pays all attention to detail
such subtelty such understatement

moth makes an entrance effortless
is past punctuality travels by day
to arrive prompt as thought to evening

moth is civil no noise no sudden movement
panic itself is velvet edged
and if asked politely will move aside

moth is old fashioned brown printed corduroy
pink velour the sensibility of shag pile
muted hooked rugs and macrame owls

moth is self effacing yet glamorous
will gamble all on the glint of gold
leave at the last a trail of silver dust upon a sleeve

Blurred vision
Slurred speech
Burning back
Multiple used teabags
Estranged housemates
Muesli for dinner
Matchmaking taxi drivers

…and, sometimes, screaming at security guards.

Next Page »