In the vibrant metro of Paris, you hear her. Mumbled notes are suspended in the stairwell as you descend closer to the platform until finally, you perceive each note just as distinctly as you see her player who sways and squeezes in that same old dance.
In Sarajevo, she arrived at my table, anchored by the pluck of contrabass, and echoing the tears of the singer weeping Sevdalinka.*
Her sound has bombarded passengers on many rusted trams in Sofia. Clasped in an old man’s hand, he maneuvers her and teases her, summoning the old folk modes and beckoning for a coin or two. You’re saddened if the player alights before you reach the centre . It’s a shame for the show to end before your destination is reached. Needless to say, you step into the main boulevard with an extra buoyancy and the barista is as baffled by your jocund conversation as much as your quirky attempts to order an espresso in Bulgarian.
She’s followed me, all over the world. In my travels she weaves in and out and in a pitter patter of fingers on keys I’m transported immediately, on wings of sentiment, pathos and romance.
That old box of acoustic wonders squeezes, tugs and begs you to waltz like the Bohemians, tarantella like the Italians and tango like the Argentinians. Play on accordion, play on. Dance on my friends. Dance on.
*A traditional genre of music developed in Bosnia Herzegovina that is known for it’s slow, lilting melodies set to poetic text that is typically of a sombre, mournful or poetic nature and rendered with a passionate and emotive vocal tone.
Nick the Greek
Sometimes childhood recollection seems stronger than present experience. I know this sounds all very Proustian, only for me today, it is not the smell of steaming madeleines, but rather the tart astringency of my mother’s yoghurt. Mum learnt it from the Greeks. At 25 she was on a ship to Athens via North Africa. Fortunately she turned down the marriage proposal of Nick, the Greek soccer player she met on her way or else this story, as much as its author, would never have come into fruition.
I learnt how to prepare it, and also how the Greeks prepared it. Apparently, every household had a pot that was left at the front doorstep overnight. In the early hours of the morning the milk man would come past each door and fill the pot. By breakfast time, it would be ready for the family to haul into the kitchen from the hot Mediterranean sun.
I could tell by Mum’s tone that she wished we had a milk man to fill our yoghurt pot, as in Greece. I guess she made her own yoghurt out of a frustration with the gelatinous farce that was 1980’s shop bought Australian yoghurt.
I’d drag one of the wooden chairs, with intricate wood carvings in recession, across the wooden floor to the kitchen bench top that overlooked our jungly garden. Climbing the chair to add to my 5 year old height, I’d soon be by Mum’s side as she prepared the milk. She would boil, mix and finally pour it into her brown earthenware yoghurt pot.
In the scorched summer mornings Mum would place the pot, brimming with milk, out on a wooden chair under the sun, wrapped in a tea-towel, to incubate. By dinner time, after a few hours of refrigeration, we would cup our own cool bowl filled with it, scooping it into our mouths as it swum in the mahogany juice of home stewed plums.
Today, I echoed my mother’s frustrations for shop bought yoghurt. It’s sitting by my window garden now, waiting to incubate while I write at the library. Though ironically, given the Melbourne weather, it’s started to rain.
Oh! For a Mediterranean sun!
El Griego Nick
Se que esto puede sonar muy Prusiano, pero algunas veces los recuerdos de la infancia parecen más fuertes que las experiencias del presente. Para mi, hoy no estuvo presente el aroma de las magdalenas al vapor, pero si la fragancia de la tarta astringente del yogurt de mi madre. Ella lo aprendio de los griegos cuando tenia 25 años de edad y mientras viajaba por barco desde Africa del Norte rumbo a Atenas. Afortunadamente rechazό la propuesta de matrimonio de Nick; el futbolista griego que conocio durante su trayecto, de lo contrario esta historia junto con su autora nunca hubiesen sido posibles.
Aprendi a como prepararlo y tambien como los griegos lo preparaban: Aparentemente cada hogar dejaba un recipiente en la entrada de la casa durante la noche, que luego muy temprano en la mañana, el lechero pasaba de puerta en puerta llenandos. A la hora del desayuno, el Yogurt ya estaba al punto debido al calor mediterraneo, asi que esta vasija podia ser arrastratrada hacia la cocina para la familia.
Por el tono de mi madre deducì que ella deseaba que nuestro yogurt fuese como en Grecia. Y creo que apartir de su frustracion por la gelatina artificial disponible en las tiendas de los 80’s que dio origen al yogurt australiano, ella empezo a preparar su propio yogurt.
Yo arrastraba una silla de madera, con grabados intrincados en el espaldar, atravez del piso tambien hecho de madera, para ubicarla junto al meson de la cosina que tenía vista hacia nuestro jardin selvatico, al treparme a esta silla ganaba más altura de la normal a mis 5 años de edad, de esta manera podia estar a su lado mientras preparaba nuestro yogurt. En el proceso ella hervia, mesclaba y finalmente vaciaba la leche en una olla de terracota oscura destinada para el yogurt.
Durante las mañanas calurosas de verano, mi madre sacaba al sol este recipiente rebosante de leche, previamente envuelto en un paño y sobre una silla de madera para que se aliñara. A la hora de la cena y despues de algunas horas de refrigeracion, ya podiamos llenar nuestras tazas con el producto final, el cual lo degustabamos al mezclarlo con el jugo caoba de los duraznos guisados en casa.
Hoy repreti la frustracion de mi madre por el yogurt comprado en la tienda. Por eso ahora mi propio producto esta reposando en el jardin de la ventana para que se aliñe, mientras estoy en la biblioteca escriendo. Ironicamente pienso en el clima de Melbourne porque ya empezo a llover.
Opa! Por un sol mediterraneo!
Translated by Fabian Rodriguez
Jimmy Nelson has travailed the globe, snapping images of remote tribal life. Here are his reindeer herders. Just one voyage to capture an archaic way of life. See his website: http://www.beforethey.com for scintillating imagery and cameos of a seemingly ethereal, mystical and utopian life.
Nelson has embarked on 13 journeys to date, roaming through Ethiopia, Indonesia & Papua, Kenya & Tanzania, Mongolia, Siberia, Nepal, China, Vanuatu, Argentina & Ecuador, Namibia and India in search of the tribal mystique that may soon be wiped off the map.
Jimmy Nelson ha viajado por todo el mundo para tomar fotos acerca de la vida en tribus remotas. Aquí podemos observar a los pastores de renos.
Solamente es un viaje para plasmar una forma arcaica de vivir. Visite su página de internet: http://www.beforethey.com para apreciar las imagenes asombrosas y camafeos de una forma de vivir que nos puede parecer etèrea, mística y utόpica.
Hasta la fecha; Nelson se ha embarcado en 13 travesias; atravesando por Ethiopia, Indonesia & Papua, Kenia y Tanzania, Mongolia, Siberia, Nepal, China, Vanuatu, Argentina & Ecuador, Namibia & India en busca de tribus misteriosas que muy pronto pueden desaparfecer del mapa.
Translation: Fabian Rodriguez
-Sorry, I thought you were awake as I saw you had seen my message on facebook at 8am….Oh, right. Yeah, me too. Actually I wake up at 8 and go to the toilet then have a coffee and cigarette, then back to sleep for a few hours. Yeah… It’s amazing that the coffee doesn’t keep me awake.
The platinum bobbed lady in her white linen flicks the pages of her Vogue. The tips of her smile lengthen and she winks elegantly at me.
The young guy on his phone continues
-Yeah, I’m just like so stressed about this t-shirt. Like, when can I get it from you? … I know, I was going to speak to her but she’s really bipolar sometimes, you know?
The bob jiggles as the elderly lady giggles, this time aloud.
-What a stressful and fascinating life he leads,
she muses to me.
I grin back, sheepishly observing the lines of her face – creases of life long vivacity, I suspect.
I slip my phone back into my bag and we start to chat. About Vogue, about travel, about Brighton and the leafy streets of Surrey Hills all the way to Flinders Street. Her sapphire eyes glint with wisdom and humor. Is it loneliness I see too?
Yesterday, I attended the latest offering from the National Gallery of Victoria- Melbourne Now. I entered a curtained exhibit coined “The Gallery of Air”. In a small space, assembled like a thrift shop, the artist, Patrick Pound, draws the the viewer into a semantic game. Contained behind the curtain are objects collated from NGV’s permanent collection that allude to the idea of air- a quirky print from Goya (nothing unusual for Goya) titled, “Blow”, a whoopee cushion, a barometer, a pipe; even the finest porcelain urns depicting winged celestial beings silhouetted in relief against duck-egg blue. This morning I was wondering, what would I assemble if I were to create my own “Gallery of Air”. I’d be at a loss to create it however, for I’d need to place this moment on the train in there and no curtained room can contain the dynamic exchange of heartfelt conversation, that flows un-stifled like a current, from an elderly lady, unhampered by the trappings of technology.
I have in my possession a little tin jar whose contents, once opened, storm the senses whilst weaving and dancing through my cuisine with the stamp of smoky feet. It burns the floor red and bites the tongue. This little tin receptacle contains pimentón dulce (sweet, spicy paprika) first sourced from a Spanish Vendor in Borough Markets London. I’d spotted it while meandering past the dry and fleshy jamones as they slid and fell into hefty mounds, trophies of the cheeky butchers that carved them in constant secession.
I’ve learnt that where your pimentón dulce hails from is important. In fact there are even Denominations of Origin for paprika the most esteemed being the southeastern Spanish coastal province of Murcia.
My little tin is old worldly labelled Bolero and boasts a dancing couple posturing with the whisper of ruffling crimson and petticoats. It sits beside me as I write. Admiring its label, I pick it up and with clumsy fingers, drop the tin with a clunk to the floor. Cursing my fate and tendency to drop and break whatever dainty article comes my way, I instead look to my lap and below and there it lies, like vermillion ochre, coating my seat and painting the floor like in ceremonious ritual. I can’t help but breathe deeper, inhaling through my nose as the air grows in dimension- sweet and smoky. I am reminded of paellas and the sizzle of chorizo that claims my husband’s breath after huevos rancheros. There allover the hard wood floor of our little art deco apartment here in Melbourne, lies the earth of Murcia, the ochre of Murcia.
The keys of the bandeon pitter and patter. Tones of Spanish text fuelled with passion, tears and blood vocalise through a breath. The dancers fuse and glide. Closer and apart. Streamlined limbs, muscles ripple, curves sculpt. Winding in the beat my breath catches, my veins pulsate. Suspended in beauty, I sit. My last balmy night in Sofia. Summer nights. Piazza nights. Tango nights. The fountain behind me gurgles and sprays it’s dewy mist lightly onto my summer frock. Flanked by the vermilion facade of the Ivan Vazov National Theatre the bronze ballerina positions her arabesque. This is Sofia in all her beauty. I shall miss her.
If I had a sea container- I could fill it.
Next to the gilded orbs of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral I meandered. There is a thrift and artists market. In the square garden you can find anything you never imagined being able to find. In fact you can even find things you never wanted to find (Old Swastika emblazoned Nazi Knives, Postcards scrawled in Cyrillic with Stalin’s big head on the front, the worst model of ushanka you ever thought possible- more on that next time).
Oh, but the things you will find!
I stop at a stall and a woman points at every brooch she has pinned on a square board- “This one from Czechia, lady, this one from Bulgaria, 1950, this silver, this Bohemia and this, ah, I think this Hung-AH-rian.” She insists in calling me lady- possible a direct translation of dama, I don’t know… I peer at the brooches and the skeptic in me wonders if those diamantes really are from France. But how much nicer is it to imagine they are and if so, how much more interesting to ponder, how on earth did they get to Sofia? There’s definitely a story there.
Another stall is filled with vintage cameras, the oldest date from the 1920′s. They sit in rows on a little card table- their concertina forms so beguiling, especially at 30$ Australian, on average. I ask the stall seller hundreds of questions and get to try out some old mechanical Soviet and Czech box cameras.
The stall seller informs me that the “Flexaret is the BMW of cameras over the Lubitel 2,” except he says BMV like a good European. As I peer into the cameras and focus, they manipulate the dimensions before me. Oh, I could fill a sea container with these, open a store and sell them for a song.
I’ve had the most derogatory comments from people about the fact I live here.
-As if I’ll visit you in Bulgaria…,
-What on earth would you want to do there? ,
-Trust YOU to choose some crazy place like that,
What has suprised me is that many comments have come from people who consider themselves to be artists. This city may have a dysfunctional economy, corrupt politicians, decaying infrastructure, but after living here for 2 years I can’t deny that there is charm. There is architecture. There is history. There is Art. There is a story.
What happened to Wanderlust?
I think many of my peers are losing a sense of adventure. Do we all really just want to travel to places that are just as comfortable as our home? If so, perhaps a trip to the shopping mall shall suffice. Can we, in the West, really not find the beauty if a city is built on cracked pavements and worse still, why mock such a place? Why not go there first?
When I first moved to Sofia, I thought the city was not so spectacular. Maybe because my head was always inclined to the ground, so as to watch my step. I would gorge myself on paintings over my morning coffee before I left my apartment, in the belief that nothing on the decrepit dusty bus to my destination, nothing in the streets of Soviet block style apartments and nothing aside from Yellow Paves (the old quarter of downtown Sofia) would inspire me aesthetically. I began to look deeper for the beauty, only to realise, it’s right there. Right at the surface. There is a beauty in Soviet style apartments- the coziest apartments I’ve entered were this style, they usually have old parchetry floors that bear a history like the palm of your own hands, until you’ve seen them, or better, lived in one, don’t assume that because they are ugly on the outside by your standards, they lack charm. Most likely they are filled with Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Pushkin that has been read and no one watches Master Chef or the Voice there.
If I had a sea container- I could fill it. I’d fill it with treasures found in antique shops: coral brooches, diamante hat pins, old fragrant books in Kirilica trimmed with gold leaf, flowers from old street sellers, the fast moving chatter of the coffee clubs, the slow laboured strides of the old bread seller- who always gives me a smile. I’d fill it with values too. The value for literature and the arts. I’d fill it with knowledge- the knowledge of more than one language, the general knowledge of a tram driver who studied at least 17 subjects in secondary school and can recite poems, the talent of the actors, the insight of the musicians. Oh I’d fill it. But would you appreciate its contents?