memory

The old box

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Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia, Bulgaria

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 / El Griego Nick

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yog2

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

The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway and little 8 year old me…

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Hemingway
Hemingway

Hemingway’s prose puts little anchors in my soul that gently tug and coax at it and sometimes thrust at it so strongly that tears quell up in my eyes and my throat crackles.

I’m re-reading The Old Man and the Sea for the first time since I first turned the brittle leaves of my Dad’s paperback copy as an eight year old outgrowing the bookshelf contents faster than my school shoes.

I first read The Old Man and the Sea in a cottage surrounded by more books than money and it did not take long to reach the top shelves where mum placed the heavier literature. One afternoon my Mum’s book suggestions were exhausted so instead I tugged on my dad’s shoulder and asked him for an offering.

“Hemingway”, he mumbled when my prompting urged him to name his favorite author as he sat in his chair wearing his navy woolen rib jumper.

And so it was that my mum took the wooden ebony stained chair into the lounge room to begin the arduous ritual of uncovering this time a slim dark blue coloured paperback with pages that smelt of dust and memories and even a few scattered pencil markings and annotations. She found the book, even though she and Dad thought it would perhaps be too advanced for my ken. And so I read Hemingway at 8. This is not a statement I make to be lauded but rather something that now places me in a unique vantage point for I seldom have ever re-read books (except for the Scarlet Pimpernel, I evade returning to even my beloved favorites for isn’t life too brief for that with its endless sea of unread prose waiting to break at the shore?) Now I am reading my father’s favourite once more I find myself catching ripples of memory of reading it as a kid and it feels like I’m 8 all over again except there is an undercurrent of appreciation for the author that my 8 year old mind never noticed. The imagination was strong in those days and unhampered by the necessities of survival such that I saw no line between the writer’s bait and hook and my imagination, the “great strong fish” caught by Hemingway.

“Fish,” he said softly, aloud, “I’ll stay with you until I’m dead”

The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway.