So I’m on my way from Melbourne to Sydney, ruminating on the global-lit journey that has brought me back to these two major Australian cities after 32 years.
Here are two reasons:
You’ve met Robin in my blog before—we’re counting the places in the world we’ve had a drink together. The list grows longer with each passing moon cycle. Robin is the reason that I’m in Australia, and teach creative writing, and have this second parallel university career with my writing life after 18 years in international marketing & management.
A decade ago, we met at the Hong Kong literary festival and had our first drink together. Hey you’ve got a MFA, he said. Why? I asked. Want to teach at Vermont? He meant Vermont College’s low residency MFA, to which I responded, low-residency, what’s that? Since then, I’ve become an avid proponent of low-residency MFA’s. This from the writer who never wanted to teach creative writing (never say never).
As for Des, we met even longer ago in New York City when his first novel, The Chivalry of Crime, had just been released. Here was a Welshman, writing about Jesse James in New York, who had lived, variously, in Italy and Tibet and who has, more recently, collaborated with Uruguayan photographer Diego Vidart to produce The Falkland Diaries.
All of which makes this globally characterized life of mine a little less lonely.
* * *
SYDNEY at last. The airport, I hear, may be moving as far away as Melbourne’s is from its city center and the $50 taxi ride could eventually match Melbourne’s $75. In that respect at least, Australia is not yet quite Asia (except, perhaps, Japan).
Where to begin? Naturally, the Opera House but what blocked the mind’s eye was this “overcrowded” vista.
Walking to the Opera House,
A sliver of sky behind me,
I could be in Geneva (or Singapore, or Vancouver).
I fled to the dock on the opposite shore to contemplate history, reimagined.
Captain James Cook (1728-1779) is one reason why Australia aspires to be a part of Asia today, and Sydney is a 21st Century city.
* * *
Didn’t there used to be an open vista, I asked Frank Moorhouse, somewhat rhetorically, over lunch the next day. We were at his club, The Royal Automobile Club, established around a century ago but which, from its inception, admitted women as members.
It was the club Edith Campbell Berry recalled whilst dining at a lesser establishment in the desolate world of Canberra before it was the country’s capitol, as she preferred to say.
Who is Edith, you ask—read Cold Light, Moorhouse’s final volume in a trilogy of highly acclaimed novels that began at the time of the formation of the League of Nations. Edith was a smart, ambitious, but still naïve, young woman headed on her first long journey out of Australia for Switzerland and the grand world of diplomacy, politics and sexual intrigue, where grand days and reversals of fortunes await her, and now, in Cold Light, it’s 1950, she’s middle-aged, happily (more or less) married, and back “home,” for awhile, in Canberra.
As a girl, I very much wanted to live an Edith life, but not properly “belonging” to any nation made that career choice difficult.
Which is why we need literature.
Frank Moorhouse is a master of the art of conversation, as readers know from his books. I was fortunate enough to first meet him in Hong Kong years earlier at the literary festival. He is also a gracious host and mixes a mean martini, as I subsequently learned in New York at one of his famous martini soirées. Reason enough to straddle those two cities if your lit, lit life keeps you away from Sydney for 32 years.
Moorhouse was supposed to be in Beijing last year, but he boycotted the festival to protest Liu Xiaobo’s incarceration.
Liu was the author of Charter ’08, an important and beautifully written document of hope. If only the Chinese Government would give it a chance.
* * *
Meanwhile, the Clubhouse.
The library where Moorhouse wrote many mornings.
“Powder room” of an earlier era.
Outside, the 21st century intrudes.
* * *
After lunch, I wander the Botanic Gardens, mulling over our conversation about Australia as Asia. Immigration in Australia, Moorhouse says, lacks a clear political vision. “Global” and “multicultural” may be PC, but implementation is easier said than done.
At the entrance to the gardens is evidence of the un-Asia-ness of this laid back culture.
In more than one Asian country, you might be locked up if you obeyed.
Asian influence is financing. Global giant HSBC’s (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) contribution:
It’s one way to win friends and influence folk.
But where Asia really meets Australia is far more basic.
* * *
Before I leave this sunny paradise, regained, a nod to the festive season down by the harbor.
The “installation” wasn’t quite done, though, because when you’re down under, life’s always a beach.
One last traveler’s tip – the best view of the Sydney Opera House is from the top floor café of this building:
Its collection is well worth the visit.
* * *
See you one last posting on December 13 from Guangzhou and my current “home” Hong Kong.
Till then, 再 見 Zai Jian！Have you considered submitting to Ploughshares?