A Rufus fantail pip-pip-pips in the garden. I watch it skitter along the central rib of a palm frond, which in an act of biomimicry, is also fantail shaped. The bird doesn’t stay long in one place. It swoops between frond and treetrunk, pausing to unfurl its flashy tail, dancing from side to side. The bird is as fleet of foot as it is of wing. Two bounces and he’s off, taking his provocative self-advertisement elsewhere.
I’ve seen the Lewin’s honeyeater already this morning. I assume it’s the same bird I saw yesterday but it might not be. There are loads of them about. The Lewin’s has a liking, I’ve noticed, for the creamy two-inch trumpet-shaped flowers hanging in clusters from the drooping green stems of the male papaya tree. The birds have a knack for reaching their beaks right up inside the flowers, probing for nectar. The plundered flowers fall to the ground where they lie concentrated in piles beneath the Lewin’s favourite perches. The pattern they make on the soil a reflection of the Lewin’s desire.
I watch out the window of my studio as another creamy trumpet flower floats to the ground. The soil it lands upon is dark, rich and wet. It’s not like Richie and I to leave soil exposed: big permaculture no-no! But it’s something we’re trialling. What we’re doing is waiting for the rows of miniature broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kailarn and kale that we sewed directly late last month to get a wriggle on: once their heads are a few inches above the soil we’ll lay on thick mulch, tucking them in to enjoy a slow season of growth and productivity. We’d never try it in summer. Too hot.
Looking again at the soil I imagine it smells sweetly of hummus, microbes and mycelium.
Like Richie and the papaya tree, the soil isn’t native to this place. It’s a ring-in. It landed here on the end of mine and Richie’s spades, gathered in wheelbarrows from the mountain of shit towering in the back of the ute: rotted cow manure from a dairy ten clicks down the road. Good Obi Obi cow shit. Continue reading
People’s Park dancers, Chengdu
After spending 83 hours on a bus to get there, I was prepared to love Chengdu. Gratefully, it wasn’t a hard task. The city was eminently likeable, not least the Tibetan enclave where we found lodgings at the auspiciously named Holly Hostel.
Growing up on a diet of leanly-timed rain-water showers I felt appropriately guilty as I treated myself to an inordinately long judicious scrub in the hostel shower room.
Sleeping was another matter. After an average of three to four broken half-hour sleeps per day, for four consecutive nights, seated above the rear-axle of a dilapidated Xinjiang bus, I was stymied! My body clearly did not recall how to respond to tender treatment: a bed and clean linen. Horizontality was anathema. My head swam and my legs twitched. There were only two things for it: a walk and a Sichuan hotpot.
Sichuan hotpot (huŏguō), the ultimate food experience
Not to touch the earth,
Not to see the sun.
Nothing left to do but
Run, run, run.
– ‘Not to Touch the Earth’, Jim Morrison –
The dispersing of students after the PDC brought us to the steady conclusion that it was high time to make tracks. With our new recruit, Sam, we packed bags and gathered our strength. Let’s go! “To the East, to meet the Czar…”
The train tracks ate up the miles. Shades of KLF Chillout Album as ambient sounds, lights and the sporadic music of doors opening and closing rippled through the carriage. Lying prone on the grimy floor of the 2nd class carriage. Smudgy faces through compartment windows, cigarette smoke from the toilet. Night tasting like ash and Sal, or was it Dean Moriarty, whispering in my ear… “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
With inertia overcome the road became our only goal. East, ever east.
Train-bus-train-bus-bus. In 31 hours we unravelled the 1,200km from Malin to Istanbul. 2 borders in 12 hours.
4am Istanbul. Nothing to do. Dark. A mist of rain. Find bearings. Coffee. Wait for the train station to open. Train tracks under construction. Change of plan. A bus. Otogar. Ankara. Peak hour traffic. Miss our stop. Run. Sweat, sweat… the Dogŭ Express. Made it! “Let this be a lesson to us,” Richie warns, “you always need longer than you think!”
Our third night since leaving Malin, our first bed: 4-berth carriage aboard the Dogŭ Express. Clean sheets and a pillow. Luxury!
One of the things I miss most when I’m on the road is spending time in the kitchen with Mum. For me, cooking with Mum is one of the ‘constants’ linking my infancy to adolescence, and my teens to early adulthood. It sustained me when I was low, and relaxed me when I was taut enough to snap. It gave Mum and I the opportunity to talk things over: with hands busily chopping and whipping our mouths could speak our minds, and before we knew it we were pulling freshly baked ideas and perspectives out of the oven.
My first memory of cooking with Mum is being allowed to lick cake batter from the wooden spoon – chocolate cake was my favourite. Mum was never fussy about hygiene. Fingers had as much of a place in the mixing bowl as whisks, forks and spoons. As long as you helped clean up afterwards you could make as much mess as you wanted.
From beating cake batter it progressed to poking cloves into sandy-coloured batches of kourambiethes and collecting fistfuls of mint and parsley from the garden for tabbouleh. Fiddly repetitive jobs were my favourite. Helping to peel and core apples for stewing, and chopping walnuts for Mum’s coveted baclava were two of my favourite jobs.
Later I became adept at more complicated tasks like judging the correct amount of nutmeg to incorporate into the sienna cake, and ascertaining when the bechamel sauce was adequately thickened.
Nothing was ever measured in my mother’s kitchen. We had a set of measuring cups and spoons that lived at the back of the cupboard where they were rarely, if ever, thought about let alone used. Instead, Mum preferred to use a heavy squat ceramic mug to do her measuring. Trust Mum to invent her own standard measure!