I liked Melbourne. And then I was on a train, and a lunatic driven by faith drove a car into a throng of people at Flinders Street. I was shaken, but managed to put it out of my mind, at least until I received a panicked call from across the Pacific after seeing the news. It is that time of the year, isn’t it? Maybe there are bonus multipliers on the number of virgins awarded during this season for defending faith in murderous ways.
Tasmania, on the next day, is a soothing faraway from all of that. The land rises from the ocean, hugging shores of white quartzite, cleaved apart by rivers many, and towering peaks and forests sprawling greet us on arrival. I am already in love, before having even stepped foot on that soil.
I have heard people speaking of Kashmir in reverent tones. I have heard them speak of the Himalayas, and even of the verdant land I come from. For me, though, this is it. This is the first time that I am so moved by soil and tree. My knowledge of geography and geology is nonexistent. For the first time in my life, I am curious to learn more about what made this land as it is. So I learn about Gondawana, about the plates, about the continental shelf deep, and I am in awe of time’s magic.
It is an up and down land, of rolling meadows and sharp cliffs falling sheer to the ocean, of placid harbors and wild winds buffeting gnarled old trees, of English countryside planted amidst native foliage. The devil is cute, and looks nothing like how I imagined it to be. Kangaroos and wallabies are curious and shy on the trails in Freycinet. I see pademelons too. The marsupials remind me of stray dogs back in my home town. I am confused when I see them all later, on a glossy menu, in a posh restaurant. Gorging myself on abalone and scallops, I look away from the kangaroo steak that the neighboring table is trying out.
There are flowers everywhere. The summer breeze is cloying and heavy, bearing the scent of roses and lavender. There is ivy crawling on the old houses. Hydrangea and daffodils peek over the white fences beside winding country roads. Weather turns at its whim, I go in search of surf, and get myself doused cold and wet for my troubles. Christmas fairs at night bring crowds and laughter. I walk around, and feel cosy and happy, removed from the world by water and rocks, far away and farther still.
Strangers are talkative. There is a sense of goodwill and camaraderie in the air, so typical of Christmas, and it makes me very happy. I sneak in and out of cafes, during the recurrent storms, and eat bites of Christmas pudding with black tea. I have resigned myself to many extra pounds from these indulgences.
A street photographer takes a photo of me at a bus-stand, at a Christmas fair, and lets me know afterwards. I am not okay with the invasiveness, but what is done is done, he apologizes prettily, and explains in earnest why he finds it important to capture unwitting subjects on the streets. His photograph has come out in an interesting way, in how it has managed to contrast skin and graffiti, broken concrete and bright Christmas colors of my cardigan, cigarette stubs and collarbones, capturing patience and alertness both. I accept his offer of coffee, chat with him, and he tells me about his voyeuristic hobby. I am not surprised when he admits that the mother of a little child he had taken a photo of had been less forgiving. It is an intrusive hobby, even if it isn’t illegal. The church bells chime out the hour, and I am running late for the bus. So I wish him a Merry Christmas and get away. It isn’t my first run with one of his ilk, trophy hunters looking for urban wildlife. I do prefer it when they ask beforehand.
I wonder, later, what it means when I write of others. It is an old discomfort, and a perpetual one. I try my best not to identify whom I write of, try to cloak the known with the unknown. It doesn’t come naturally, since I am an emotional, expressive creature. It isn’t easy, but it is necessary when others are involved; I have seen enough cases of bullying, harassment, borderline doxing, ranging from the light to the severe, to be wary of how I write of my life and those in it. I try to keep the core of my writing and music fairly separate from everything else in my life; they have been my bedrock when the rest was shaky, and it is simpler to keep that private now.
Separation, despite the best of my efforts, isn’t always practical. Donne wasn’t wrong, about islands and men. People wonder, and are curious. At times, you want people in your life to know you enough, but to still keep parts of you to yourself. Blogging streaks the border between the private and the shared, and I have found it a comfort when I feel the need to be known a bit, to those who venture over of their own volition. I care intensely when I care at all, and my words often bear that intensity and expressiveness. If I’d been given a dollar each time someone asked me to keep it light, I’d be richer thrice over. It is unpleasant to subject others to unasked for intensity in random conversations over beer or coffee and understandably most everyone barring a few find it tedious to deal with that, but it is less fraught when expressed in words on a webpage here.
Honey is my new-old craving. Tasmanian honey is delicious in its many forms. I have been eating hive crusts with bread and Kakadu preserves. It reminds me of a time long ago, of when I had been on the cusp of adolescence, when a woman had given us fresh crust from a smoked beehive. I had been wary to eat it, and I had been kissed then, and I cannot be blamed for developing a taste for the crust after that.
My neighbors at the accommodation are an elderly couple, traveling in Australia for three months. I have been shamelessly stealing their well-planned itinerary, having planned nothing myself, here as I am without an iota of deliberation and driven by pure impulse. They are here now, sweet and apologetic, asking me to please set up their wifi connection again for the umpteenth time. So I’ve got to go now. Maybe later, they’ll drag me out to the terrace for tea and pies and conversations as they did yesterday, after the rains retreat for the evening, once the bright summer sun warms the lawns outside once again, and the air turns heavy with the smell of rain-drenched soil and flowers abloom on the hills. I remind them of their grandkids, and they remind me of my grandparents. They have been well-meaning in their attempts to get me to wake up early. I have been trying my best to sort the ancient heating system of this house for them. It isn’t a Christmas with family, but it isn’t a Christmas without family either, far away on the edge of a world.
Stay safe, and be well. Happy Christmas!