A heat wave today. Driving into a sea of hot air and light, the horizon dusted
with the smoke of fires burning far away in the mountains. Mirrors everywhere,
reflecting from the top of cars, windows, the air sparkling as if made of
particles of ice.
We came home and closed all the windows, the doors, drew the curtains, barricaded
ourselves against the heat, then watched from inside the spectacle
this white burning stillness falling on everything.
After the heat wave, a big storm last night, shredding the trees, the wind
moving in whirlpools above the street lights. Late at night the wind subsided,
the sky suddenly clear and this brilliant, miraculous full moon above the
city, slightly off the bridge.
An article about a retrospective exhibition of Max Beckmann's works. Max Beckmann
describing colours as: "The strange and magnificent expression of the inscrutable
spectrum of Eternity."
Wieniawsky's "The Legend" over the radio, as of old. Father playing. This
intimate, mysterious music travelling across time. The documentary on European
musicians reminded me of him, all these short, compact men, with small energetic
At K's for dinner. On the terrace, the sun was setting, the sea very still,
a lake full of golden brown reflections. From the other side the sound of
Discussions about the new theories, the new discoveries, magnetic zones, a
new phenomenon that could not be measured before, the instruments not fine
At every age, the universe lends itself to us, graciously.
Touching the flowers of the bottle-brush, soft as the fur of a cat.
Hot and humid, storms during the night, the rain pelting down, the lightning,
a spectral white-blue opalescence, flashing silently in the room. The thunder
would come from far away, bursting on top of the house. Then the lightning
again, sinister, flicked in and out by an unseen hand. I woke up afraid.
Reading Stendhal's autobiography The Life of Henry Brulard, he talks
"We are all writing as if the world is attacking us, we are writing from a
centre that we try to make into a retreat from which we are going out to repulse
the advancing armies of the enemies..."
"In the presence of people I loved, I totally lost myself, my personality."
At the pictures, sitting in the dark, couples, kids, elderly people, all of
us watching this amazing intimacy shown on the screen. Before, this type of
sexual intimacy would have been in books, a one to one involvement, but now
a mass participation.
Albert Tucker in a documentary about his life, Joy Hester... "Women," he was
saying, "have an insidious power to invade the male psyche, one has to be
aware of it all the time." As if describing the enemy at the gate.
I was falling in and out of sleep, dreaming of Mother in the backyard putting
clothes on the line, talking. I helping, making myself useful. The light on
the clothes, brilliant white, peaceful, full of a live element, like the light
for the last few days, luminous.
Katherine Anne Porter: "Love, is purely a creation of the human imagination.
It is the most important example of how imagination continuously outruns the
creature it inhabits."
A beautiful autumn day, the sky, a vast resonating chamber in which the planes
are entering. Driving to our Sunday lunch, everyone in a good mood. We stopped
on the way at an Italian delicatessen full of smells of goat cheese, dry figs,
exotic Easter cakes in baroque looking boxes, tins and tins of olive oils,
pastas. We were all lost in these fields of possibilities walnuts,
coffee, mountains of bread.
Finally we made it to R's. The sea below dark blue, full of high waves and
eerie looking surfers in their black rubber suits, thin and tall, running,
as if on hot coals, down the hill, with their surf boards.
Alter lunch we went down, the street very steep, the sea beating between two
rock heads. Wild, dark, tall waves falling on the beach with a tremendous
sound, turning into foam, a continuous activity, the sound so powerful we
had to shout, and on the crest of the waves these black sea creatures.
When you look at Celan's anguish, yours becomes an affectation. But how can
one live with such anguish? One has to read him at noon, with the sun out,
friends in the house, to counteract this sort of desperation.
Bertolucci talking about films and filming. After all the preparations, when
one is filming, it is a moment in the lives of the actors, the crew... when
the scene is finished, the moment has passed for ever.
He was quoting Cocteau:
"The cinema is death at work."
V. talking as always about Hindu metaphysics stopping time, insinuating
oneself in the momentary gap, tapping into the vitality of the universe, the
potency of the cosmos. What an amazing notion. All this to be achieved through
We left Canberra early in the morning, the mist was rising like steam from
the ground. Around us the silence of the hills, the cows in the paddocks insubstantial
shapes. Driving up the little bridge we took the wrong turn. The white gums
tall and very beautiful, and suddenly in the middle of the bush this white
clay mine. A mountain of clay of a startling old marble whiteness, above it
the sky had become sharp blue.
We came out, walked around it, climbed it. The ground had been cut into a
large opening with serrated walls, filled now with rain water, a small lake
that reflected the sky, transforming it into a giant boulder opal, turquoise
We became very excited, took photos. The forest full of large gums, their
bark marked by a cuneiform script. An ancient hand or some cardiac machine
that had left its mark?
On the way back, we stopped in Goulburn, at the Paragon Café, for some
When the ambulance went past, the dog next door started to howl, a human howl,
as if it had released in him some deep anguish, a sound of mourning, of deep
weeping, his head tilted upwards, matching his voice to that of the ambulance.
Re-reading Chamfort, his acid wit, his aphorisms, his despair at the terrible
transformations of the French Revolution, his tragic end. His quote, that
we used in the office and that Dr C. liked very much:
"When my friends are one eyed, I try to see them in profile."
A review of the latest book of the well known writer, full of admiration,
describing him as:
"...a protean figure, the international literary superhero, Bard of the bush
and champion of rural Australia, a polilingual translator, someone solemn,
grand, eclectic..." and so on, then quoting a politician who referred to him
"The Ayers Rock of Australian literature, central, vast, immovable, contentious
and yet changing with the colours of the day..."
Admiration always sounds so absolute, so totalitarian.
Afternoon visit to Mrs C. She was on the balcony with her straw hat, but complaining
that she had lost again her front teeth. She was very pleased to see me. She
kept looking at me with her still, aquamarine eyes.
From the balcony we watched the city and the new bridge. The milky light falling
on the park, the garden next door, the lemon tree heaving under the weight
I asked her if Linda Williams had come to see her. "Linda Williams", she said,
the name was familiar, but she could not remember her. So many names that
one had to place.
We seem to be slowly disconnecting from everything, things are receding further
and further away, till we lose even the memory of something we can't place,
the loss remembered vaguely at the beginning, later only a faint feeling about
it, a light shadow absorbed by the everyday.
Discussions over the radio about Liszt and his career as a concert pianist.
His impact on audiences was spectacular, on women, of course, but it was reported
at the time, that after listening to him:
"Even strong men became incoherent."
I rather liked that.
Coming out of the Opera House, the city was rising lighted in the mist, weightless,
the massive shapes of the buildings floating above the ground.
Discussing with I. the idea of size in literature. I felt that it has something
to do with the physical space of the country, as in America too, people trying
to cover it by inflating all things oversized cars, buildings, novels, instead
of concentrating them as in populated countries.
But the whole scene, it seems to me, quite impoverished, an age of salespeople,
men and women, constantly tailoring their minds to one goal, how to sell and
sell more, as if life, reality, growing up, dying, have anything to do with
These are forces outside the framework of these merchants, a melancholy kingdom
totally sealed off and constantly giving itself prizes, more and more of them,
in need of constant reassurance that they are the best, measure up against
all the past masters, which they are simplifying for easy consumption, at
any rate. Lists of past giants are constantly being prepared, for comparison.
"Like all nervous people I talk a lot. When I talk I confide in the person
I am with and prevent them from attacking me. Some people use speech like
gas to silence their victims and thwart their intentions, they use talk as
a weapon for attack. I use it as a means of self-defence."
I had arrived too early. The new building a huge bunker, everything aluminium
coloured, the walls, the furniture, people at the far end going up the escalator,
puppets disappearing into the vast glass ceiling.
The convention hall was full of tables laid out with flowers and candles.
In the semi-darkness an army of waiters in black with white gloves moved about.
They slowly began to arrive, the large black curtain wall parting as they
came in. Then P.R. came to sit at the same table. He was astonished to see
me there, looked at me as if an interloper in his familiar world. He proceeded
to tell me of his involvement with the "ethnics", obviously the only topic
of conversation with me. For the rest of the night he sat on the other side
of the table, small and rather discoloured, stunned in his own unease, smiling
an embarrassed smile to the air, convinced that his success could not be that
great if people like me were part of it.
Then the journalist approached, introduced himself, he seemed in a permanent
hurry, a minor official at court, running with the excitement of some dreadful
catastrophe befalling an important personage. He asked me in a breathless
voice how was D.
As far as I knew he was overseas having a good time. "No, no", he said, he
is back, had had a stroke and lost his eyesight. "Imagine", he said, "incapable
I was stunned, looked around to see if I could find him, black clad figures
were coming in, moving through the catacombian darkness, voices that were
laughing, telling stories. Then the curtain parted and there was D. Tall,
walking on the arm of his wile, holding himself erect with dignity. Later
I went to say hello, he apologised for the dark glasses he was wearing, the
lights bothered him.
We went on, seated now, to eat our entrees, objects with little taste, difficult
to define their origins, and drink the next round of wine to the deafening
sound of the slide presentation that had started.
When the second course arrived on the large white plates, a piece of chicken
that had been forced into a perfect round form to appear as a rose in the
middle of the potatoes, I asked my neighbour laughing:
"Don't you think that we eat and drink too much for intellectuals?"
She cut me down immediately in a sharp voice:
"This is a thirties idea."
Then the proceedings began, the Master of Ceremonies totally in control, but
at ease. They all seemed very pleased with themselves, their products, their
style, the sales, a mutual admiration society. The language was as if of beef
exports, rising curves of sales, local and overseas markets, exhaustive thanks
to the sponsors, anecdotes of meetings with the great, defined as sportsmen
Patrick White would have been very displeased with us, he would have quoted
again his Amazonian proverb:
"Nothing is lacking, only what is missing."
The very large audience clapped enthusiastically from the darkness, as the
heroes mounted the podium. Behind them on the giant screen, crudely coloured
books floated in a yellow red liquid. I was looking at D. tall and sombre
with his silver hair, in the light of the candles, seemingly watching the
scene behind his dark glasses.
Was he seeing anything?
At the cemetery, the sky empty, only a plane painted on the surface of the
blue, suspended above the monuments on the hill. No one about but some Greeks.
The same woman selling flowers in the shop, slightly older now.
In the Saturday papers discussion about the major publishing house up for
sale, everyone lamenting its possible demise, the loss of major imprints etc.
But the management described the sale in the new terminologies as:
"Where I was born and where and how I lived is unimportant. It is what I have
done with where I have been that should be of interest."
Listening to the singer, I thought of that amazing sweetness that I discovered
in Spain, an unimagined sweetness, that is yet not too much, the absolute,
refined sweetness that still maintains a backbone, that travels from cakes,
to oranges, to language, to the light and back again.
I went with Y. to the official opening. Inside the clean lines of the gallery,
waiters in white gloves were serving champagne, holding the bottles at the
right angle, like exotic fruit they were handling carefully, pouring out the
The place was full already, everyone in black, with de rigueur hair
cuts, in heavy black shoes, bending under the weight of aesthetic problems,
but with a rather vacant look on their faces.
The officials, in dark, blue/grey suits, spoke of culture and excellence.
Only R.H. was getting slightly drunk, complaining mockingly about the changes
in the gallery. "Where was the magnificent 'David and Bathsheba'? Or 'The
Charge of the Light Brigade'? Everything had been replaced by a bronze nude
with breasts held up by tape to stand forward in such an unnatural manner."
When we left, he was sitting on the bench outside, in the misty yellow air,
between the Greek columns, smoking. He opened a last eye on us, as we passed,
mischievous and ironic.
The Andrej Wajda interview Polish nationalism and symbols. Listening
to him you were in Polishness, all the concerns, the approach, the silent
irony, the burden of nationalism, Catholicism, all inter-related.
He was at home, at night, by the fire, with a cat hovering in the background,
and around him one felt the darkness. A sad, sombre face.
Defining his fundamental aim "trying to have an affinity with the reality
around him and with tradition."
Very hot on the terrace, in the sun, as if summer, a haze over the city, everything
blooming already, the orange tree heavy with blossoms and scent, and bees
coming and going.
S. was coming down Martin Place, slightly thinner after his heart attack,
paler. He was overwhelmed at seeing me, kissed my hands, kissed me on both
cheeks, went into his usual little performance, how well I looked, "Unchanged,
unchanged," he kept saying, "like the Acropolis." "I agree, I agree," I said
laughing, "a ruin."
Here we were pretending as of old, he a debonair young man flirting with a
beautiful woman, but he had to stop and draw breath often, as if a heart attack
We talked of the old countries. "The club empty now," he said, "all his friends
at Rookwood." His eyes a faded brown, and his face longer and sadder under
the elegant straw hat.
We went to see P. in a small role in the play, falling down effortlessly as
Dame Maud, who had one glass too many between acts. She alone sustaining the
essence of the play, amusing oddities of stage life, she seemed to have a
past, quirky opinions which seemed related to experience, despite the rather
And that amazing ability, that she had always had, to convince one that she
is floating on stage.
Raining and a slight wind, the trees moving as if shaking themselves under
Looking out of the window at the back lane, there was the small utility carrying
away Mrs C.'s meagre furniture, the round table, the two cupboards, the small
bedside table. It seemed such an impoverished ending, sad and vulnerable.
Three months and everything has gone, the house sold, and all these strangers
moving in, with their furniture, their presence in her rooms, looking out
of her windows, sitting on her balcony. One is stunned to see them there,
taking over her property, her home, her place of refuge till the end.
Nothing remains, as we know intellectually, but to feel the process itself,
when it happens, a terrible realisation.
The dinner in honour of the Australian journalist who lives in New York. A
tall, glossy woman with red painted nails and a warm skin, eating well, in
between running down the local scene. Sydney, boring galleries, little to
see, in NY you can go and see a masterpiece any time you want.
Ah! I thought, these people who recognise masterpieces and are constantly
looking at them.
She was full of an attacking energy, entertaining, constantly on the look-out
for "politically correct victims", public money spent on useless projects,
artists travelling to NY, an amplitude about her idea of money that she was
bringing from NY, not realising the paucity of the arts money here.
Then on to cooking... and how good Toklas and her cookbook were, but Gertrude,
that heavy, stupid woman in the background... I was listening to all this,
could not find my way out of the maze of her perceptions.
The lady across the street is receiving visitors, an older woman holding a
very small child. They are both bending over it, as if flowers in the wind.
The child seems interested in the new surroundings, looking with curiosity
at the garden, the street, the houses on the other side.
They both speak in babyish tones, one can almost hear them from the position
of their bodies, their hands. They touch his fine hair, delicately.
In the film on Magritte, he was quoted as saying:
"In my pictures, the spectator recognises his isolation and listens to the
silence of the world."
And later, commenting on his portrait with four hands:
"The maniacs of movement and the maniacs of stillness will be equally disappointed."
Hot and humid this morning, last night a terrible electric storm. I waited
for a long time for it to pass. The house hit constantly by blue, undulating
lights, followed by a terrible cracking of the sky, as if the sky was made
of heavy glass that was breaking on all fronts, on and on, the horizon lighting
up with the flare of pale fires, ghostly fires.
Aboriginal story telling, the landscape in the north populated with myths,
the mountains, the rivers, the old woman saying:
Through the singing we keep everything alive...
Through the singing the spirits keep us alive...
Art too is constantly trying to sing the world alive.
Seferis writing to a friend:
"The truth is one seeks not to get away from a place, not to travel, not to
see again the people one loves, not even to create something. At bottom, one
is seeking to get out of oneself, and perhaps the criterion of man's worth
is the way he manages to get out of himself."
We walked down the empty, deserted streets, in the dusk, the cars passing
down fast with a swishing sound. Most shops closed, only the delicatessen
glowing in the night. We bought smoked herrings in Father's memory, remembered
how he loved to prepare them, searing them on the flame, so that the skin
became alive with a copper, golden glow.
In a review by Helen Vendler of Steven Axelrod's Robert Lowell Life and
"...there was a degree of controversy about the recent Mary Cassatt exhibition...
the show juxtaposed domestic objects with paintings of the same objects
a tea set, a silver service... The good intentions of the exhibition, to bring
art closer to biography and thereby closer to the viewer, begged, once again,
the central question: What had the data become in the picture, Cezanne's bottles,
cherub and skulls, stand untransfigured now in his studio, all light fled
from them... Lowell's domestic and public data, his mother's Risorgimento
coffin, etc, would not only not be art, they would also not be 'experience'.
We cannot go behind art. The illusion that we can is of course, art's most
Last night watching a TV performance of Handel's Messiah in Dublin.
All these young women violinists in the orchestra, in their rich blue-green
evening gowns, looking as if Mary's sisters. The same light brown hair, shoulders,
but especially her elbows and hands. Rather naive, young and awkward elbows,
diffident, but attacking Handel with vigour.
Published in print in HEAT 12.