In Civic with that antler girl

The American tourists at The Bus Interchange said that Canberra City, our funny old funny new Civic, was a bit quiet. Well, maybe. Why do I even begin this post with them? We so often want the outside observer to validate us. I wish them well and that they find something special here, and I know they will. They already found something pretty special when they bumped into the The Walking Tour with a Difference yesterday.

The walking tour continues past McMuck and The Bus Interchange, led by the antler girl on stilts

Walking past McMuck at The Bus Interchange. We all remember waiting here and missing buses and lots more!

I’ve thought about this seeming quietness of Civic often. I’ve also thought about the seeming quietness of Newtown and Kings Cross in Sydney, on the first days when I came back from India. Where are all the people, I thought? Is it after all just about contrasts, our perception of the character of a place.

The top hatted guide is drumming up the next stories from passersby and the walking tour mob. The mimes are ready. BOOM.

The antler girl, bird people, the mimes, and the top hatted guide on the patchwork of life, just outside Centrepoint.

What of the ever present rumble of stories here, their burble and surprise? They are never quiet, wherever we are, even on the moon. There are stories in this peace, this quietness, this loneliness and community, this everyday, the fragments we shape to place us, and that then make a place for us, and the stories we tell each other and to strangers when we are asked or have a chance.

The mimes and the antler girl and our top hatted guide at the end of the walking tour, back where we began at the Canberra Times Fountain

At the end of the walking tour, phew we’re thirsty, and you can see an antler girl in the background too

We looped Civic, starting at the Canberra Times Fountain. (Whoops, I didn’t even know that was its name until yesterday. It’s just that fountain kids jump in when it’s too hot, where we decide to meet, that sprays us on windy days as we walk past with our shopping, that we missed when it was turned off in the drought.) Civic of African dances and nightclubs and fundraising, sprawling sheep and protests, riding the elephant on the carousel, ravaged art and watching drug exchanges, ice-rinks, stolen poems, gelato, remainder bookstores and Gus’ – double shot espresso.

Antler girl's dress is blowing up in the wind, the saxophone player and mimes help tether it

Shadows and breezes, outside Gus’s gathering stories

What do we say? What do we know and remember? For me it was the terror of those art bastards The Doug Anthony Allstars, and hiding behind a pillar so to hear their last gig. I stumbled across them while finishing the Christmas shopping and listened to their golden choir voices – I heard it through the grapevine! Sprinting across town to get to the SECOND movie – to The Blair Witch Project! Chasing a runaway toddler, screaming his name as he careened towards the road. My Civic is chaotic, loud and physical. Schmoozing at Spiegeltent Empire and following the banana pulp volley, chewed and spat and caught from mouth to mouth (then trying it), watching a child’s first experience of characters on a stage and the stillness of his deep response. We all had stories. These are some of mine. There were plenty of others, from the participants of the Walking Tour with a Difference and from passersby. I hope to go on a Walking Tour with a Difference again soon.

Public places are also our private places, our quiet city, our secrets, our stories here. Thanks Changing Places and antler girl.

Spiegeltent Empire! Canberra!

Bubbles

Bubbles

In the Spiegeltent we greeted, kissed, hugged, breathed, stretched, jiggled, wondered, watched, gasped, laughed, screamed, whooped, clapped, stamped, whistled, heard, whispered, listened, whispered, shouted, laughed, screamed, balanced, spun.

Feat to feat

Feat to feat

Love is in the Spiegeltent, surprise, song, mood on mood, romance, friendship, skill, training, we perform ourselves, ourselves lost and found in mirrors.

Roller skates

Roller skates

Our bodies all so close, in the Spiegeltent. We all laugh about Fuuu – uucking! Oh! Fu…u…u..cking … In the Spiegeltent we are strong and together.

Crazy anime circle spin

Crazy anime circle spin

(All the links to ‘Spiegeltent’ are different in this post,leading to different pieces of information. It is a stunning tradition, check it out.) Newcastle – you’re next!

Old City, New City

Anemone Stone, detail from a building in The Rocks, Sydney, taken at about shin height

Anemone Stone, detail from a building in The Rocks, Sydney, taken at about shin height

Cities are such stimulating places to be. I have lived in old cities like Mumbai (then called Bombay) and Ahmedabad. I’ve toured Old Delhi and New Delhi a number of times (old and new co-existing) and visited the magnificent ‘City of Victory’ Fatepur Sikri, which has only an ‘ephemeral existence.’ And I’m very fond of the old parts of Sydney, as you can see from my photo that begins this post. I grew up in Sydney.

I live in Canberra now. I came here in 1987, and experienced the initial shock of living in a relatively new and designed city, and I’m still here and I love it. I’m smiling as I remember (back around 1983) standing in Connaught Place in New Delhi and feeling transported back to Australia for a moment as I looked around the arches and pilllars and dark corners which so reminded me of Canberra’s Melbourne and Sydney buildings. The only difference in the frame of my view were the red paan stains splattered on the white walls.

I’m looking forward to the coming exhibition Shaping Canberra: the lived experience of a changing landscape, at the School of Art Gallery, 17 September – 19 October 2013, and especially Jenni Kemarre Martiniello and Lea Collins and Mary Hutchinson’s works. Cities are always stimulating, being in them, thinking about them and interpreting them. I’m looking forward to the associated conference too and especially Cathy Hope,       Bethaney Turner and Sandra Burr’s papers on The Interface Between the Urban and the Rural.  I’ll be tweeting about the exhibition and conference @SSTVW.

I want to share a piece of writing on the subject of cities that has been published on-line before, but is now archived. Old City was first published on the ABC’s Pool under one of my pseudonyms – Hebe. It was part of a project called City Nights. I remember my need to be part of this project and the sense of accomplishment I felt as I uploaded my story.  I took the image for this post in The Rocks, which is part of the old city of Sydney, and the story was inspired by that beautiful old suburb, Glebe.

Old City

You stand at the stop light on the corner of St John’s Rd. It’s here you caught twenty dollars with your foot, stamping it down as the bitumen bit your bare sole. You can see it. You ate your luck; calamari and bread, pistachio and lemon gelato, and then drank it with verdicchio from a fish shaped bottle. The lights change and you cross the road. A man opens his coat, his grey cock pokes out. A baby pukes on its mother’s shoulder.

The old city is just the same. Thieves scatter their syringes in the night soil lanes. Keys enter locks on screen doors, on windows, and cars. Deadlocks shoot home. A woman does not let a lover enter her. He only touches her skin, she holds him outside. Barred windows. But some houses are open with parties that flow for years from weekend to weekend, friends and strangers in the front yard, and on the street. A man asks every woman at a party for a screw, figures he’s got a chance. Jesus opens his robe, his heart encased by thorns, in the picture in the hall.

You see yourself catching the bus at night, and walking home in the middle of the road in the street light. A young guy recognised you and offered you a “charge,” bottle outstretched, shifting his cardboard blanket. Bags heavy with old books, you wore second hand clothes, and slept in the front room. At night trucks sped down Bridge Road. You woke to the sweeping feet of the street sleepers, moving on, only a wall between you and them. Tree roots cracked footpaths. Tired gardens were heavy with blooms. You had gravestone sex, brushed away broken glass, the inscription pressed into your back. Pissing burnt as you squatted in the gutter. A poetry reading continued in the background, its best rhythm the clean click of billiards from a back room. You followed storytellers from cafe to cafe, and drank cheap bottomless cups.

Today you stand at the window of a shop that sells the mysticisms of the world, a woman with more than twenty dollars to spend by chance. As you lean against the cool glass of your reflection, the eyes of the girl who wandered the old city, watch you.

 

Venus on Northbourne Avenue, 1.32 pm, 24 January, 2012.

A woman walking through the trees, her skin flashing naked, dappled. Was she in her swimming costume, I thought, and just walking to the pool the long way? I slowed in my car. No-one else on the road. No-one else walking. Her nudity was confirmed by the tucked line of her buttocks. She was either pregnant or big, filled with a child, or just full. She was a madwoman or Venus. Or maybe I am, seeing such things. She seemed happy, seemed to just be going for a walk, not wanting help, or distressed. I wished her a good journey and drove on.