Napoli brews fire; its main commodity. Napoli is an eruption that hasn’t happened yet. Napoli is not quite walking in a straight line and giant, wild hand gestures, swinging personalities, trust in the right neighbourhood, dodgy, shifty manoeuvres in the wrong one, shady characters and a warm hospitality, an unexpected embrace. It’s your Airbnb host making you fresh coffee and explaining how the Napoli coffee pot differs to the moka one. It’s drinking a 1 euro plastic cup of prosecco on a narrow dark street while you wait for the famous pizzeria that has Bill Clinton’s face on the menu from that one time he went there. It’s taxi drivers gathering together to loudly instruct and argue with your taxi driver over the best route to take you where you need to go, that same taxi driver calling his mate for directions and still needing to ask his “colleague” (a random taxi driver on the street) who responds with a series of emphatic gestures and him finally driving you towards the little street but he can’t drive through it so he’s pointing in the direction so you don’t get lost but has no qualms about almost running a woman with a pram over to get there. It’s making sure they always give you the right change, even if it’s 10 euro cents and being delighted when you laugh and leave it as a tip. Napoli is casually finding out you’re staying in a beautiful 17th century building where writer Goethe once lived. It’s periodic strikes of lightning lighting up the dark sky. Everything is the most Italian thing ever; cliches but if cliches were pumping out from a wild manic heartbeat. I’ve never been so enthralled by a place before, so unequivocally taken in. A waiter in Amalfi told me I have “the face of a Napoli woman, the most beautiful women in the world” so naturally I’m now acting like a kingpin local around the joint, downing espressos while standing at the bar, nodding knowingly, hobbling along the cobblestones with my aching calves, hoping I’ll see the ghost of Sophia Loren around every corner whispering “benvenuto a casa” even though she’s still alive and I might have already tried to find her house.
I overheard my boyfriend in the lounge room of the small apartment we’re renting in Amsterdam, the one with the lone bright yellow wall.
“Siri, what’s the weather like today?”
I don’t hear the answer.
Later he tells me she said “some rain” which incidentally does not describe the “code red” storm that was coming for us. It was not the day to be meandering aimlessly through the canal-lined streets. But that’s what we were doing when the gusts of wind and sleets of rain smashed us around like fragile figurines.
The day started innocuously enough. We stumbled into the first cute café we saw and devoured coffee, oven-toasted croissants filled with ham and cheese and Greek yoghurt with honey and a random assortment of fruits like apricots, banana and apples.
We continued to wander until we found the main city centre. Despite the rain, we thought we could keep going, keep checking in to cafes for coffee with a side of free wifi, and figure out our next move. The city was uncharacteristically quiet for a Saturday. Shops were randomly shut.
Half of my mouth was lined with giant ulcers that had grown in Greece and refused to heal. We searched for a chemist. Most were shut. Eventually we found a health food shop who joked that they were a kind of chemist. I did not know what this meant. The guy wore a crazy assortment of coloured pants and an entirely mismatched coloured jumper. He along with another store worker and a customer, attempted to diagnose my problem in Dutch and help me track down the right place for my mouth.
We eventually found some antiseptic mouthwash. The chemist told us the reason for the quiet was that a code red storm was coming. Kyle said that maybe in Dutch code red isn’t all that bad. That maybe “code clog” was the one you wanted to watch out for. I laughed hysterically. Code clog became our new way of identifying when something was really beyond the pale.
She recommended we go into a café to gargle. I pointed to the one across the road and she nodded. The café was called Jimmy’s coffee shop. It was not a café with coffee. It was a tiny marijuana joint. I wondered about the chemist’s sanity.
“Oh no!” I cried. “This is not the time for this, people!” before rushing out again. Kyle laughed and said that we looked like prudes who disapproved of freely available marijuana. I did not disapprove of it. I was considering it for medicinal purposes. But the café did not have anywhere I could gargle.
My mouth was on fire.
The sleets of rain hammered down harder than ever, blinding us, and the many crazy people still riding their bicycles through the rain. A crazed looking man walked past and announced to the tourists beside us that the trams were no longer running. I did not believe him. A local woman nearby confirmed this fact and I was sorry for not believing the crazed loner. She informed us that our only options were to find a taxi (which was expensive) or to walk. She shrugged. She was walking.
I was not wearing adequate shoes or clothing. We were already so soaked. The wind was throwing me around. We sought shelter in a nearby Starbux. Kyle offered to wait outside to hail a taxi but quickly ran inside when a giant tree fell a few doors down from us, and then we watched as another giant tree fell directly opposite us. I ran around the Starbux trying to ascertain the place least likely to expose us to falling trees. The staff tried to help us but couldn’t direct us anywhere that was safe and the roads were cut off and the taxis weren’t answering their phones.
“Look, you did say on this trip that as long as we’re together, everything will be okay,” Kyle reminded me.
“That was before a giant tree fell over right in front of us!”
Falling trees changed everything.
We ordered two “regular” coffees that were literally bigger than my head.
It was either flee or spend out our last days in this Starbux. Eventually we decided to make a run for it.
This is madness.
“Let’s walk” I declared. Kyle continued trying to hail a taxi to no avail. I waited in the doorway of someone’s home. I passed time by helping a woman carry a pram up some stairs, “don’t worry there is no baby” she said. Great, I’m not even saving Dutch babies with golden tufts. Nothing made sense. There were no free taxis in the entire city.
So we walked. Google maps helped us walk 1.7km in the maddening rain, wind and cold. I saw millions of bikes piled up along the streets.
“I think the time has come for us to finally steal a bike.” I announced.
“Cut to Sheree summoning the strength to break open a steely lock” Kyle laughed.
But I wasn’t kidding and I continued to look for the unlocked bikes. Frankly those scantily clad unlocked bikes were asking for it. Oh my god I am victim blaming the bikes.
We discovered a part of Amsterdam we might not have otherwise with quaint houses, quiet streets, less wind, subsiding rain. It felt better in this area.
I was growing restless. Kyle was unabashedly positive. He always is. I wanted to get mad at him for it. I wanted to tell him this wasn’t the time and that his jokes and cheeriness irritated me and he wasn’t helping and I felt moody and uncomfortable. But then I remembered how he held me at the metro stop, partially covering me with his perfect Swedish raincoat in an effort to keep me warm and sheltered, whispering “I’ll keep you safe, I won’t let anything happen to you”.
Remembered how he kept offering to wait in the rain to find us a way home. How he held my feet in his lap, covered in a cardigan to keep me warm. How he shared his tea and soup with me. How he navigated for us and took charge. I watched him in front of me and saw that he looked like a little boy in the rain, sweetly trying to find his way home, not for himself but for me, his only priority. I couldn’t cry but the rain made it feel like I was anyway.
I felt a sadness run so deep inside of me.
“I wanted to get mad at you for being so positive” I wailed at him. “But I can’t! You’re my everything!”
I ran to catch up with him and he made some more jokes. I put my face up to the dark clouds and laughed at the rain. Between the rain and me, I knew I was still the bigger person, maybe the only person, for rain is not a person, but precipitation. Rain is water.
“Do you know how much water we have in our bodies?” Rebecca said to me, while wading in the corner of the pool in our hotel in Patmos, Greece.
“80%?” I offered up, thinking I knew where this was going, feeling helpless all the same.
“Our bodies are 70% water. I want you to get in the pool if you can and I want you to imagine that your body is water and there is no barrier between you and the water. That only your skin and bones feel the pain of this experience of an awful man trying to hurt you, but the skins and bones don’t exist in here. In here you are only water. Nothing can hurt you”
So I did. I got up from my paralysis of fear and I waded in, fully submerged, feeling the salt water run through me. The tarot card that I picked out that same day from the Cuban goddess Mayra was the one for “tranquility” and it told me to submerge myself in salt water. So I did.
The rain still beat down on us as we trudged along the Amsterdam alleyways, only now we were invincible. Smashed apricots, apples, peaches and oranges littered the street as the wind blew the cart over. The fruits were so beautifully massacred and sacrificed on the road, a kaleidoscope of colours. Somebody would miss the fruit in their lives. We dodged each one. We were almost home.
I love these stairs, I cried out as we climbed the narrow steps up to the second floor of our borrowed home.
I saw him, the love of my life, still somehow miraculously and boundlessly positive, as he shook off the wet clothes.
“That could not have gone worse,” he declared with a huge grin on his face.
It was not the stairs that I loved, or the sanctuary of a room and a roof, or the unknown thrill of travel and its tribulations, although I loved all these things. I loved the warm body that held me under the falling water, promising to keep me safe.
By: Miriam Succar
Miriam Succar shares a traditional Good Friday soup recipe, brought to you all the way from a mountainous village in the north of Lebanon via a south-west Sydney kitchen.
I have a recipe with a story.
Not only is this dish delicious, but I’m also pretty sure it’s the only thing my grandmother has eaten on Good Friday for a solid 70-plus years (always after attending mid-morning Mass and fasting, of course).
It’s called Kibbet Raahib (Monk’s Soup is the common English translation, thanks Google) – a hearty, lemony bean soup, which has delicious burghul balls floating around in it, traditionally eaten on Good Friday. And it’s a soup with a throwback to the man of the hour himself: Jesus.
As my mother explained to me for many years, the lemony nature of the soup (brought on, in fact, by the abundance of sumac in the soup…
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«“Por amor” aguantamos insultos, violencia, desprecio. Somos capaces de humillarnos “por amor”, y a la vez de presumir de nuestra intensa capacidad de amar. “Por amor” nos sacrificamos, nos dejamos anular, perdemos nuestra libertad, perdemos nuestras redes sociales y afectivas. “Por amor” abandonamos nuestros sueños y metas, “por amor” competimos con otras mujeres y nos enemistamos para siempre, “por amor” lo dejamos todo… Por eso este “amor” no es amor. Es dependencia, es necesidad, es miedo a la soledad, es masoquismo, es fantasía mitificada, pero no es amor».
(Coral Herrera Gómez)
Last week I went on a 72-hour hunger strike to draw attention to the plight of refugees in Australia. You can read more about my reasons for taking part here.
But more importantly, we need urgent action. We need to flood our members with letters opposing this brutal treatment of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Here is an example of my a letter my boyfriend sent to Peter Dutton’s office. If you are moved to do the same in contacting your local members as well as Dutton, please let us know by posting your letters in the comments below.
Dear Minister Dutton,
I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Australia’s polices towards refugees.
No policy objective can justify the terrible conditions in which we are detaining men, women and children. Every day I read another publication detailing instances of abuse and neglect in the detention centres we set up, we run and we have control over. These are no longer isolated cases, they are systematic to the whole way we handle refugees. I’ve seen and read first-hand accounts of how the contractors and staff that we pay for are the ones perpetuating this abuse. Our policies place people in detention for months and without recourse. The hopelessness this creates is the direct cause of the high rates of mental illness, self-harm, attempted-suicide and the ongoing hunger strikes I see reports on almost daily. You cannot convince me that a system that leads to such desperate behaviour could ever come close to meeting our human rights obligations. This is compounded by the large numbers of children also being stuck in the middle of all this. How can we justify treating vulnerable people in this way? Regardless your party’s policy how can you feel comfortable with this? There has to be another option.
I’m a 26 year old professional working in Sydney and I’m growing more and more disengaged with the type of nation we are becoming. We have placed vulnerable people in a hopeless and powerless position and our handling of their care is leading to abuse. I don’t want that done under my name. I don’t want my tax dollars paying for peoples’ abuse. This is as important as an issue can get.
Minister Dutton, I’m asking you to please take my concerns sincerely. I honestly feel this issue goes beyond your obligations to represent your party’s policies. As immigration minister you have a huge influence over the treatment of these vulnerable people. No policy of determent can justify how poorly we are treating people in our care. I ask for immediate efforts to be made to improve the conditions at detention centres, for more transparency and for an approach to refugee policy that honours our obligations to human rights and doesn’t leave these people in a hopeless limbo.
Yes, yes all the yes.
This is not the story of your life. This is not your version of the best-selling novel everyone’s talking about. This is that one tangle of somewhat imagined, somewhat overheard, somewhat experienced events your spirit relates to with authority. Of all the stories you could tell, it’s the weird one. The one whose emotional terrain can bring you to tears. The one that keeps you awake at night scared that maybe, if it were published under your name, so-and-so might get upset and speak ill of you.
- We need help from Humanitarian nation, we are Human. We came here for peace and safety not being in the Cage.
- We are Human like you.
- 19 Months process not fair.
- We believe on God, on you. (On their Shirts written)
- Awaiting for your help. (On their Shirts written)
- Freedom, Freedom
- Will I be free one day. (On their Shirts written)
Warm and best wishes for you.
Hazara Afghan Asylum seeker,
Darwin, NORTH-I, Detention Centre, Australia, January 25, 2011
I have not eaten in 50 hours and I have a quiet fury raging inside of me, deep in the space where sustenance usually lives.
Fury sustains me.
It is unreal, perplexing, rage-inducing how utterly wild people get when you tell them you’re doing a hunger strike for refugees. So many of these holier-than-thou smug dude bros emerge with their opinions. ‘What’s the point’, they decry, ‘like what is it even going to change right this second immediately because of your actions’ they say, from their smug, privileged lives where they have never had to know suffering, never had to question themselves before leaving the house at night simply because of what is between their legs, how society is completely conditioned around the premise of devaluing you as a human being, to never think twice and try to determine if the person in front of you is a racist scumbag who would do you harm and wish that you and your family had never stepped foot in a country that does not belong to them.
No, no, no, why would you put yourself in such an uncomfortable position when it won’t change anything! They say, smugly, self-assured, always right, never wrong. Look at how they literally whitewash every narrative. ‘Manus will close because the boats have stopped!’
The White Australia Policy never died, White Australia never died, it lives in these people.
They’re so incredibly buoyed down by their own egos and the bodies that carry them. As though their body is paramount to all things and all life! Proof that they are alive! It rules all! Their bodies are everything, because in their minds they are everything. The physical body puts them into a world of such incredibly intense privilege and they hold onto it with a despicable desperation.
But the body is nothing more than a vessel. And if you have no power over your mind, if you cannot discipline yourself for a brief moment in time in an effort to help others, if you cannot grasp the fact that we are so fucking insignificant, then it is only you who has everything to lose. And those who can rise above the body, the ego and the mind – we have a world to gain.
These people lack the discipline to rise above their egos, to transcend those egos and realise that there are some things worth fighting for in however way you are fit and able to fight. Some people opt for non-violent forms of protest. Some would argue, Gandhi among them, that this is the most courageous path. But Gandhi also said that if people are invading you, if they are coming for you and your family, then you have every right to fight back and fight back hard. It is that powerful, non-Hollywood version of Gandhi that I aspire to.
Maybe they think it’s all for nothing (‘I don’t believe that Joseph’s week of hunger strike means anything. I don’t know if this achieves anything. It is barely better than sitting down and typing into a thread on the subject). A man is about to die and this wise guy thinks that his ‘comment in a thread on the subject’ is on par with someone denying themselves food for 72 hours, someone who actually has multiple platforms with which to express herself. They have had power all their lives, that they cannot recognise when someone else takes that power from them and fucking runs with it.
Let me make this absolutely clear. If you can make only one person – just one person – think differently about this situation — well that is one more person than there was previously. For me that is everything. For you? I don’t care care what it is. Because it is not about you. It is not about me. It is about them, this is their narrative.
This non-violent form of protesting is not just about change or changing the powerful. It is to mobilise action in the ordinary citizens, to raise people’s moral conscience, so we can act quickly. It is to not let this man’s death be in vain. It allows those without power to reclaim the narrative. My actions are not even a fraction of an echo of that, but if it means you are reading this right now, then that is better than doing and saying nothing.
No more of this, Australia. Rise the fuck up.
I have not eaten in 50 hours and I am fucking livid, wild with rage.
For the next 3 days my brother and I will be joining the hunger strike in solidarity with the Darwin protesters (our friend is one of them). A few people seem perplexed that I’m doing this and I will write about my reasons soon enough in a longer piece. A journalist in Darwin has already contacted us about it.
But mostly we need immediate action for the Iranian asylum seeker on the brink of death. He has been on an extended hunger strike for more than 89 days. He is wheelchair bound. He has lost 40% of his body weight and his organs are eating his body. He has been in detention for four years now and he has given up all hope. Whenever I hear about his case, I think of my friend and how he is now 9 days into the hunger strike and how similar their cases are. I think about how much he wishes for his freedom and how much he regrets ever coming to Australia, save for the fact that he got to know ‘so many kind Australian people, the best people in the world’.
I know the precarious mental state these men are in and I know the callousness, the cruelty and the depths to which this government can sink. And I can’t live with that. I don’t want to know anyone who can. I am so deeply ashamed of my country.
When the world and future generations ask what we did to stop these atrocities, our answer should be ‘everything’.
You can support me in a number of ways – by donating to one of the tireless organisations in support of asylum seekers and refugees. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) would be an excellent start. You can write letters. You can post about what’s happening. You can make some noise. I would greatly appreciate any and all efforts.