fixing garden gnomes

While crashing a housemate dinner in Redfern, stories began to emerge about the crazy people who walk past the house and occasionally attempt to usurp past the front gate. Randoms come and go but none quite like the man who climbed over the gate one day for no other purpose than to repair a broken gnome in their front garden.

They called down to him from the balcony to get out, but he stayed, fixated on the task, nay mission at hand. He cooed ‘oh the little gnome is broken, oh no’ and proceeded to put the pieces of the garden gnome back together. That’s all he did. Then he left.

The housemates were impressed by the gesture claiming that ‘there are still some good people in the world’ and I agree. There are still some lone, crazy, mysterious gnome repairmen roaming the streets, helping our gnomes get their lives back together again.

Bless.

but we always forget

Like the Anzacs, I didn’t mean to go to Gallipoli. It just happened.

photo of a photo of the trenches in Gallipoli, Turkey. Don’t need instagram, it’s real lomo.

I was passing through Çanakkale, a town and seaport in Turkey on the coast of the Dardanelles. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, although I amused myself by taking long walks, perusing the markets and befriending locals. I still remember one family owned restaurant that plied me with food and coffee until the early hours of the morning, laughing and chatting about the world and how similar we all are and refusing to take any money as I came to leave.

I was travelling alone, which seemed like a mad, crazy idea for a 21-year-old female at the time. Apart from a few incidences I rarely felt unsafe and I never felt alone. I was lucky to be staying in such a hospitable, beautiful and welcoming country which stole my heart right out from under me.

The hostel I stayed at was themed almost entirely around Anzac Day. Yeah. I know. But in my defence I was limited in my accommodation choices due to a stubborn refusal to plan anything prior to travelling. I remember deliberating with myself for 10 minutes over whether  sleeping on the street was a viable option, before deciding I could deal with the rampant patriotism for a few nights. They showed the Gallipoli film on repeat, which was okay, because I liked that film the first 5 times. But by the 20th loop I was ready to go in there and shoot Mel Gibson myself.

It would be an understatement to declare I was somewhat guilt-tripped into going on their little packaged tour to visit Gallipoli and the Troy site. It must have been some kind of hidden disclaimer about staying there, that one was forced to submit to Tourist Nirvana, hanging their soul up on a rack as they left each day for their tour. Troy is three hours of my life staring at abandoned, speculative soil that I’ll never get back. I did have much respect for the giant wooden horse used in the Troy film however, displayed in the centre of town. I do like a good horse gag.

I’ll admit though, the trip to Gallipoli surprised me, rocked me a little. I relished in our Turkish tour guide and his explanations of the Turkish side of battle. I remembered the friends I had met earlier in my trip explaining to me that in Turkey, Anzac Day is a non-event. I already knew why. Why commemorate a tragedy, even if you are the victor? And then why commemorate it when you have epically failed?

I took photos of the trenches using film. I documented deep mounds of soil missing in the ground where humans hid, young boys, waiting for the slaughter. You can see the tall trees against the grainy black and white. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of a battlefield.

I like this photo of an imposing and commanding Ataturk statue. His famous speech was carved in stone. I concurred with everything Ataturk statue said (my massive crush on the blue-eyed leader should be noted. Stone cold fox. Literally).

Ataturk – stone cold fox.

I can’t remember if I felt any emotions that day. It’s likely I did, because I recall my left wing friend chastising me for selling out to cheap nationalism. There was just something in the air. An unexplainable sadness, a tiny tug in the heartstring, a little sigh asking why.

I remember a beautiful, pristine beach. I would have liked to swim there. It looked like the beaches back home. This is where they had intended to land, all those boy soldiers. As our tour guide took us further, we eventually came across a jagged cliff side of rocks. This is where they landed. That has to suck, I thought. Suddenly the air felt cold, despite being the middle of summer. I had no desire to swim here.

The graves were hauntingly beautiful, littered throughout the site. It felt wrong taking photos, so I just stared out at the sea.

There is a fervour that sweeps us up; cradles and comforts us, like a thick string of emotive nationalism connecting us, if only we could just hold on. But we are not perfectly aligned or defined so easily and we did not land on a beautiful beach. We are jagged rocks leading up to a sharp cliff’s edge. War, or senseless murder, is what happens when we as a collective nation allow ourselves to be thrown off the cliff into the dark waters of war below. We shouldn’t forget what happened, this is true. But as we rode back to the main town, I could only think of words etched out on a brochure and echoed across the sea.

‘The toll in human destruction was high, yet the Gallipoli campaign ended up mattering little in the overall breadth of World War I.’

Human destruction – this alone is our greatest enemy, and we don’t need to travel back in time or across continents to find it, although I’m glad I did.

day of the rose

el dia de la rosa

As a young little thing living in Barcelona at the tender age of 21, I recall waking up excitedly on the 23rd of April and heading to the markets. I picked out a variety of seafood, wine, cheese and a fresh loaf of bread to prepare a meal at home. It was one of the most significant, important and loveliest days of the year and I wanted to pay tribute to it. At every stall I was handed a red rose and a smile. The day was Sant Jordi or el dia de la rosa, the day of the rose.

Naomi and her rose

In contrast to the rather dull, cringeworthy and commercial holiday known in the Western world as Valentine’s Day, the patron saint day celebrated throughout Catalonia is a day of real, unvanquishable love, shown most potently via the exchange of the world’s most precious gift – books. Gifts are exchanged between sweethearts, loved ones and people you respect. Traditionally men gave women roses while the women gave their men a book. ‘A rose for love and a book forever’. These days both men and women gift books in a gesture of equality.

Bookstores across the city are filled with people in the days leading up to and on the day itself. The festival adopted the element of books as part of a yearly event organised by UNESCO to promote reading, publishing and copyright, and is known as International Day of the Book. It is also Spain’s way of honouring Miguel de Cervantes who died on that day. It is also said to be the anniversary of the birth and death of this dude William Shakespeare, you might know him.

It is no surprise that Barcelona brings together love and literacy in such a spectacularly romantic fashion.

Thousands of rose stands and makeshift bookstalls litter the city just for the occasion. In just one day, some four million roses and 800,000 books are sold. Half of the total yearly book sales in Catalonia take place on this day. It’s also the only day of the year when the Palau de la Generalitat (Barcelona’s magnificent main government building in the centre) is open to the public.

On this day three years ago, I was gifted the 20 love poems of Pablo Neruda and Mario Benedetti, a bouquet of roses and individual roses too. I rode around the city on a bicycle and drank coffee over a glass of ice in a small, hidden square in the old city. At the end of the day I found this poem written in a book I had kept throughout the year, where people left me messages that I was only allowed to read on the plane trip home exactly one year later (or as I like to call it the PLANE TRIP OF TEARS).

Cultivo una rosa blanca
en junio como enero
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazón con que vivo,
cardo ni ortiga cultivo;
cultivo la rosa blanca.

– José Martí

Felic Sant Jordi to all. I wish you an abundance of roses and books wherever you are in the world.

happy days

As a writer, it’s phenomenally easy to struggle. The words don’t come. The block becomes a post code. Your head is filled with negativity. You start to lose the essence of who you are.

The words don’t come. It’s all you think about. My best friend (who guest stars in many of these posts) declared that my recent writing rut was caused primarily by an unexpected bout of happiness. Being happy is a terrible condition for a writer. It’s true. We thrive off the anguish, the heartache, the soul destroying mundaneness of life. I’ve been drinking less lately as well because my happiness has curbed this routine somewhat.

Some of my best material was born from tipsy nights, walking home after a few glasses of whisky.

‘OH THAT’S GOOD, I’LL WRITE THAT DOWN!’
‘Sheree, that’s the pavement, not a notebook! And you can’t write with that tree branch!’

When happy, there’s just no time for those crazy periodic know-the-bartender drinking sessions. Unless it’s a glass of wine with a meal, in between holding hands and smiling. Love heals some wounds but stops the wounds that give birth to words. It’s a tricky little guy. I’ll have to have a word with him. BUT I CAN’T FIND THE WORD!

And then sometimes we sit down and force our fingers to make contact with the keys on our keyboard and we do what feels natural, answering that innate, primal urge. It doesn’t matter what emotions are coursing through your veins. We write because we were born to tell these stories. It is our duty. It is our privilege. Happiness can be a trigger.

I wish you a happy day of writing.

fado

Currently listening to Fado (traditional Portuguese music). The music has a strange hypnotic effect and takes me back to the wild days I spent in Portugal with my best friend.

Lisboa – one of my favourite cities. Not content with merely walking down the rickety cobblestone streets, instead you glided along them in a trance, taking everything in around you. From professional street acts to old men playing guitars, fresh bakeries on every corner, old homes fashioned into restaurants, aromatic coffee, alternative stores with hair salons out back and eccentric Brazilian hairdressers. The Feira Da Ladra flea market on the outskirts of town or ‘thieves market’. How beer costs 1 euro and the way people spilled out into the streets with their drinks to take advantage of the mild spring air. Every alleyway was a party. Every tiny bar dark lit and secretive, with an unofficial night of tango. I recall being chosen from the onlookers, swept up into the arms of an instructor, clumsily crossing the floor, passion and heat emanating from the moving bodies around me, fear emanating out of mine, then exhilaration when the music stops, catch your breath. The best coffee of my life in a nondescript cafe, topped with just enough whipped cream to make it sinful. Finally travelling two hours to sample the most incredible Portuguese custard tarts or pastel de natas in the country, before falling asleep in a park to the soothing caresses of the mediterranean sun.

Porto. We searched high and low for ‘Portuguese chicken’ ala ‘Oporto’ (something we discovered in hindsight to be an Australian immigrant creation). But in Porto we came close to finding it with greasy, delicious chicken accompanied by a variety of hot sauces. An array of mustard yellow, terracotta red and muted white houses clung to one side of the cascading city, as you crossed the bridge and over the river to the other side with port and wine tastings. The whole city is perched on a vertical hill and you’re always out of breath, climbing the steep streets and tripping on dangerously placed stones. We found a bookstore designed like a cathedral; it felt enchanted. We worshipped the books. That night we accidentally crashed a birthday party full of Cuban immigrants, where we danced and ate cake, port and chocolate. Drinking fancy green wine with a fancy cheese platter. We sometimes tried to speak Spanish in the misguided attempt to satisfy locals with a familiar sounding tongue, but they wouldn’t have a bar of it. They all wanted to speak English. The bus trip home to Spain felt like traversing forward in time, to a whole other world. I stared behind me the whole way.

But the music always takes us back.

contribute your blood to literature

Vladimir Nabokov:

‘Literature, real literature, must not be gulped down like some potion which may be good for the heart or good for the brain, the brain, that stomach of the soul. Literature must be taken and broken into bits, pulled apart, squashed, then its lovely reek will be smelt in the hollow of the palm, it will be munched and rolled upon the tongue with relish; then, and only then, its rare flavour will be appreciated at its true worth, and the broken and crushed parts will again come together in your mind and disclose the beauty of a unity to which you have contributed something of your own blood’.

banana?

I couldn’t find this banana I wanted to eat.

I was looking for it everywhere. At some point in the afternoon I spotted a banana peel in my bin. My face scrunched up as I tried to recall how it got there. Background crime scene investigation music in my head before bursting into what can only be described as an uncontrollable laughter stroke at the realisation that I had…WAIT FOR IT…blanked out while eating the aforementioned banana and had no recollection of said banana consumption.

It has finally happened. I have gone bananas. Stay tuned for the sequel ‘Sleep Walkin’ Hot Dogs’ coming to a blog post near you.