Wednesday, April 06, 2016

That In Aleppo Once or Twice...

E@L's father was a damn good cricketer. E@L's No1 son is a damn good cricketer when his back and his knee don't take him down. E@L was a damned cricketer, and a laughing stock on occasion (wrong shoes for turf, slipped over when delivering the first ball, etc...).

For the 1952-53 season, E@L's dad won the batting averages for the PMG (Post-Master General, now split into Australia Post and Telecom) cricket team in a town in country Victoria. No doubt a social level competition. But hey. E@L's son has more information on his cricketing prowess. On one particularly splendid day he bowled out the other team almost single-handedly, and then won the match with his batting - 106 not out!

They gave a him book, called Dust On My Shoes, by Peter Pinney. It was published in 1948 by the great Australian house of Angus and Robertson (still going on) and purchased at a salubrious bookstore named Cowans Newsagent in the lakeside town of Colac. (Where E@L was born.) The story is of a young Australian man, something of a rake E@L gathers, making his way, single-handed, across the Middle East and South Asia, from Greece to Burma just after the end of WWII. E@L hasn't read the book, though as a child he always wondered at in his mother's small library (the remnants of his father's, he presumes, plus some childhood books for E@L's sister) and was particularly entranced by the photos. His late father-in-law had read it, and given it the thumbs up. How it got to his place is unknown. No1 son?)

Opposite the title page of his dad's prize copy is a photograph of Pinney looking from a window in the Great Citadel of Aleppo, in Syria, a view that show a minaret, the large dome of a mosque, five smaller domes on the structure next to it, and the city in the distance. It looks dusty, and E@L bets it was.


Interestingly, the photograph of Pinney in the window has been reversed, presumably for symmetry's sake. The actual view from a vantage similar to that window is this:


Aleppo is having the crap bombed out of it during the current Syrian civil[sic] war. E@L thought the view might be different now, for obvious reasons so he did the G thing, (search "Aleppo bombing" - there's no need for E@L to show them here). He saw photos of destroyed houses, dead babies, men screaming, rubble on the streets from smashed houses, terrified children running, massive bursts of earth, fire, and stone from bombs caught at the instant of exploding, grieving fathers holding their dead children on their laps, blood-stained cobbled streets, burnt-out vehicles, exhausted refugees squatting with stacks of their belongings at the side of the road. Humans in the midst of a modern tragedy, the weapons of mass and individual destruction built and supplied by our countries of course. Horrifying, heart-breaking, unnecessary, and completely avoidable. We are a fucked species.


Anyway, he found this:

Wondering if this is indeed the same mosque - those smaller domes smashed, the minaret luckily intact - and thinking he should read that book is



I used to love sitting here, settled in my comfy home-office-chair, banging away, letting the words flow as my ideas, like the soft inflated things they are, bounced off walls and down along strange dark pathways I might once have had the wisdom to not take. Before blogging.

Now, there never seems to be the time to blog. Hours have evaporated as I've distracted myself with FB and disgraced myself with porn and ended up lost in a labyrinth of click-on and click-backs, and I am eye-fuzzy and brain-glazed, yet fighting valiantly/foolishly against the call of the sleep faeries and a very very comfortable bed. And a very quiet CPAP machine.

Has the therapeutic catharsis which maybe fuelled them, departed from those confessions and musings? Let's see.


When I am back in Australia, I try to follow my regime of, every other day at least, taking my cardiologist's strong recommendation for a one hour, or longer, walk. I go in the morning there (everyone else is still asleep, even if I set off at 9). Despite listening to podcasts or music, my mind looks for observations and reflections that might make me feel like I am not brain dead, that might sound good in, say, a blog. Walserian note-taking: of the way roses on a bush wilt here, yet bloom there, the way a large black dog tugs on the leash and pulls its small female walker to one side of the path and her scarf billows up.

I question myself, but on trivial things these days. Where will I end up? Where will I retire, should I live that long? The brooding navel-gazing of the man who nearly died three years ago has lightened somewhat - the soundtrack of my blog would no longer be Bjork's Anchor Song. Or would it?


In the time when I used to set off from my mother's house, I would take part of the route that brought me home from my primary school (imagine letting an 8 year old walk 2 miles home by themselves these days). And I walk up past the town's main cemetery and the stone-masons, and look for name I recognise in their windows. The past, in those paddocks (now low-rent housing estates - Commission Homes) where a friend saw a stallion with an erection and wouldn't stop talking about it for weeks. The past, in these houses nearer to school which are weatherboard, tiny, with knee-height steel bar and mesh fences, houses that never will be worthy of gentrification, house where school-friends, enemies, and bullies, liars, cheats and other genuinely bad people - both children and adults - once lived, perhaps still do, tragically trapped in small minds and small rooms. The past, now at the war-memorial in the middle of the roundabout, where up float thoughts of my father, a soldier in WWII, who served in Borneo, who died 58 years ago, allegedly from war-related malarial heart damage. I follow my shadow to the breakfast cafe, shut on Sundays, and enjoy toast and coffee when I can. That was a more sentimental journey.


Instead, now that mum's house has been sold, she and I stay in my sister's house in slightly a more rural environment (still there are paddocks of massive penises in nearby agistment properties), and my walks have no memories attached - I avoid the street where an ex-girlfriend lived. I pluck at one or two stiff leaves from various types of native trees that loom over the footpaths and snap them horizontally at small intervals. I smell them absently. I order a flat white from the cafe near the Coles supermarket, where two pleasant ladies serve me and we joke a bit, or from the McDonalds McCafe, where I am just a number to the busy, underpaid young girls who don't know that a Medium flat white is the same size as a Venti (and does not contain 20oz), if the other is closed.

I walk past the fading white fences of the horse farms and past the For Sale sign on a fire engine, mysteriously in an otherwise empty paddock, sipping away. Others are out walking. Many are overweight, some as big as me. They might have "heart conditions", too. They might be walking their dogs. They might be wearing annotated jerseys and be on bikes. I wonder at how many paces distant will the other morning walkers lift their head and greet me - a nod, a grimace-like smile, a barely audible "'Ning", or "'Day". FYI, it measures out fairly consistently at ten paces. Twelve paces seems like you're looking at them too observantly for comfort. Eight paces, and it's like you were thinking of ignoring them, or vice versa, with a sudden decision to recognise their humanity at the last minute.

Many other thoughts. Many other observations. Wind, clouds, trees, dogs, bitumen snakes that writhe in repaired cracks of the asphalt walking path that is the old Queenscliff railway cutting. Life, death, and other minor distractions. I buy the newspaper at the Chinese-run small supermarket - I'm almost back home now. We all read different papers - local, right-wing, left-wing. 谢谢, I try to say, but the owner never seems to hear or understand.

Eighteen years living in Chinese-speaking Asian countries and I can't even say "thank you."



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