23rd Apr – Offered two guests a cup of tea and both of them asked for a cup of hot water.
24th Apr – Tonight I was reading another blogger’s long, long post written in white print on a black background. My husband came to my desk and when I looked up at his face I saw it veiled in white print for several seconds.
25th Apr – At the Anzac Day Services in Canberra (the first one at 5.30 am (4 deg C, brrrrrrrr), there were 40,000 people. That’s 5,000 more than last year. The further we get from the First World War, the more patriotic we are becoming.
26th Apr – A man down the road has a pet black sheep. Farmers didn’t want her because she’s the black sheep of white-woolled parents.
27th Apr – Sat beside a full-length stained-glass window, the sun beating through from the other side. Large pieces of red glass reflected red patches onto my red bag.
The photo I chose for the ‘Together’ challenge shows soldiers far from home, undoubtedly lonely for family and not wanting to isolate themselves from the local people.
It reminded me of the concluding words of George Sand (pen name of Mme Aurore Dudevant) after spending a couple of months in a deserted monastery in Majorca, separated from almost everyone except her family and her lover, Frédéric Chopin. Two paragraphs express her need, not for solitude, but for companionship:
“In the stormy days of youth, we imagine that solitude is the great refuge against attacks, the great remedy for battle wounds. This is a grave error. Life experience teaches us that when we cannot live in peace with our fellow man, no poetic admiration or pleasures of art are capable of filling the abyss that forms in the depth of our soul.
I had always dreamt of living in the desert, and any simple dreamer will admit he has had the same fantasy. But believe me, my brothers, we have hearts too loving to get by without each other; and the best thing left for us to do is tolerate each other, for we are like children of the same womb who tease, fight and even hit each other, and yet cannot part.”
George Sand, A Winter in Majorca, 1855 (My translation)
In Australia, 25th April is Anzac Day. Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. On this day, in both those countries, we remember all those who have fought to defend their people and to retain the freedom and peace we love, through all the wars we have been involved in and those we are currently fighting in.
I’ve been submitting photos to this blog from my father’s war album, from his time in North Africa in 1941 and 1942. He wrote a few poems during that time, including one about the Anzacs. It’s several verses long but here I’ll give you the first and last pages. There are some spelling errors and other slips in his handwriting; my transcription following the images will correct them.
This camp’s getting stale, You could hear the boys say, Wish they’d make up their minds And bung us away. They wonder why we won’t stay in, Why we try to dodge the parades, You could see them taking the old French leave, Not one, but bloody brigades.
Then came one bright Sunday, One chocked full of surprise. “Move out tomorrow,” the Captain said, Then did the gleam come to their eyes. So, as you strolled past all the tents, You could hear them chat Of women, the race horses, This, the other, and that.
For those gallant sons are Aussies And they’ve ne’er been known to flinch, It’s just the stuff they’re made of, They’re soldiers, every inch. They’ll fight for King and Country, Protect the friends they know, They’ll even fight for the weaklings That are afraid to go.
Let’s hope and pray It won’t be long Before they are returned, To carry on, just like before, With the freedom they have earned. They’ll go back to their jobs again, Some may prefer the track, But they’ve upheld the name of The great and glorious A.N.Z.A.C.
18th Apr – Read some speeches by Desmond Tutu about the concept, ubuntu, and couldn’t remember where I’d seen that word, until logging off my computer and the word appeared on the screen. It’s the name of my operating system! Ubuntu means “A person is a person through other persons.”
19th Apr – Read that Chopin composed some of his best pieces in an abandoned Carthusian monastery, once occupied by ascetic monks who denied themselves musical instruments.
20th Apr – This morning the rubbish truck had a female mannequin’s head sitting on the dashboard, looking out of the windscreen.
21st Apr – Found out that the word Wikipedia is derived from a Hawaiian word, wiki, meaning quick.
22nd Apr – Visited my son and his new wife, and she put a record on! An LP, on an old wooden stereo. Sounded great!
I found this photo of the early morning sun over the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, probably Port Said which faces east. It was taken during the war, in 1941 or 1942.
I selected it because of the sunrays bursting out below darkish clouds. I love the silhouette of the lamppost and the large tent, but what I love even more is what appears on an image like this, one that I’ve looked at for the past fifty years as a Kodak 4″ x 3″ photo in an album, when I brighten it with an image editor and all the detail of the tents, the lamppost, the fence and the man in white becomes evident. The scene was captured by a Brownie box camera, but no one back in Australia knew what was below that morning sky, until now. It’s an exquisite pleasure to draw details from a black and white photo which have hidden there all these years. See a photo I submitted during the February photo challenge, where some words I had ignored, because barely visible on a tiny photo, became plain as day with a bit of image tweaking.
Here’s the photo for the Sun challenge, as it looks in the album:
And below is the photo with adjusted curves. For me, someone with bad night vision, this is what I imagine it’s like to see in the dark.
8th April – My son is on a camping holiday for four nights at the Folk Festival, fifteen minutes from home.
9th April – The 100th day of this year. A guest brought us some Hot Cross Buns from a Vegan bakery. On the packet it says ‘cruelty free’. How much cruelty is there in producing a sweet bun in a traditional bakery? (Each of the six buns was wrapped in cling wrap.)
10th April – A hairdresser washed my hair, then massaged my head for minutes and minutes and minutes. She seemed to be luxuriously filling in spare time.
11th April – In a book of short stories I found that the Q is the Queen of Capital Letters with an attention-seeking train.
12th April – Survey results today show the greatest editorial barrier to publishing literary translations is the ‘cost of paying translators’. I’ll push on with my novel translation anyway, for the love of it.
13th April – Went to my son’s wedding rehearsal in the forest. The bride’s father was mowing a path, an aisle, for her to enter along.
14th April – The wedding day; the most unusual wedding I’ve ever been to. The bride played a ukulele (which she has just learnt) and sang, in the sweetest voice I’ve heard, a song by Ingrid Michaelson, You and I. (Note the chair – refer to my ‘unusual thing’ for 5th Feb; note the table – she found it at a flea market and painted it this week; note the bunting – she made it.)
15th April – At dinner with my son and his bride, she was still wearing her wedding shoes which she bought online from Sweden. (See photo above)
16th April – Years ago I opened a long-term investment account at the bank with $500, and tried to do it again today. The minimum they now take is $5,000.
17th April – Watched a documentary about an Australian man who gave up a wealthy Hollywood life to establish schools for kids from the rubbish dumps of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. He started the Cambodian Children’s Fund: http://www.cambodianchildrensfund.org/
The subject of this photo is clearly the architecture. But then, I can’t stop looking at its left edge. The photo is one of many in my father’s World War II album, from the months when he was in the Middle East, mostly Egypt. He entitled it “Temple”, though I’m pretty sure the photo was taken in a mosque.
I have a carpet on my floor closely resembling those on the “temple” floor, which makes me feel the 70 years which have passed since the war are nothing in the history of Oriental carpet designs, and nothing in the history of geometrical forms covered in stylised vines and wreaths, all of it hinting at the perfection of God. The written messages fascinate me, all the more because I can’t read them.
The photo I submitted for this week’s photo challenge, Journey, reminded me of a poem in my father’s poetry book about the hats in the photo: The Old Slouch Hat. The name of the hat reflects the way it is worn ‘slouching’ on one side while the other side is often pinned against the crown to allow a rifle to be slung over the shoulder. It was worn by Australian soldiers in the Boer War and World War I, then again in World War II, and every war since.
The handwriting is my father’s but the words are by a ‘soldier in Tobruk’, Libya. My transcription follows these images.
The old slouch hat,
It’s not exactly glamorous,
The old slouch hat,
It’s not exactly chic.
But there’s something more than beauty,
A glorious tradition,
In the old slouch hat
That will ever to it stick.
The old slouch hat,
It’s not exactly elegant,
The old slouch hat,
It might be rather plain.
But it showed the world the stuff
That Aus. sons were made of,
Did the old slouch hat,
And it’s doing it again.
3rd Apr – Went to the home of a Muslim woman to teach her English, but she wanted me to explain Christianity and to tell her what I know about Islam.
4th Apr – Just read that the woman who found Moses in the bulrushes, and then raised him as her own, was one of Pharaoh’s 59 daughters.
5th Apr – Another Muslim student is going to Saudi Arabia, where she’ll write a draft essay and send it to me in Australia to check before she sends it to her teacher. The essay is on The Metamorphosis by Kafka.
6th Apr – I’m halfway through The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, about a girl preparing for a family wedding; she buys special clothes and wears them for some time in the story. Today I’m preparing my special clothes for my son’s marriage next week when I will be a member of the wedding.
7th Apr – A blog article about a French Catholic church, written by a blogger I follow, was used as a sermon by a Presbyterian minister. Imagine! Your blog words spoken in public by someone you’ve never met! See Dennis Aubrey’s article about the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine,Vézelay, France: Elle chante, Père.
When I chose this photo of soldiers on-board a ship on its way to or from the Middle East in 1941 or 1942, I noticed, for the first time, the hat shadow. And then I thought about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and The Little Prince. Perhaps Saint-Exupéry had seen soldiers’ hats when he was in North Africa in the 1930s. If the on-board photo is flipped horizontally, the shadow looks just like the Little Prince’s “drawing Number One”:
If you’ve never read his story, you won’t know that the Little Prince showed the grown-ups his masterpiece and asked them if his drawing scared them. “Why be scared of a hat?” they asked. But he tells us, “My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.”
But back to the photo challenge: these soldiers are going on (or have been on) a journey that most of them will regret. Yet they look pretty relaxed here. Actually, pretty hot. They were probably travelling close to the equator. My father wrote some poetic lines about the boredom and wretchedness of being on-board a troop ship for weeks at a time. When you’re 20 years old and volunteer to go abroad to defend your country, it probably feels adventurous. And then you sail off, no turning back.