Ooh-la-la Easter Monday
How fresh the air, how scenic the landscape, how free my spirit feels.
Am I lost for words? Almost but not quite. So I’ll use this final blog about being quarantined to celebrate life itself – our blessed lives – even within the restrictions of self-isolation that most people in the world are now experiencing to greater or lesser degree, or soon will be. To celebrate each other, to celebrate those who are dedicated to caring for others, and to honour life in the face of death for so many.
Following on from my last blog in which I was quite overcome by the literary charms of a French writer, I want to reflect here on another French novelist, Georges Perec, who may be considered to have had an impact on global writing to rival that of de Maistre.
Perec’s best-known novel, Life A User’s Manual, or in the original La Vie mode d'emploi, comprises many stories about residents of an apartment block in Paris, told from alternating perspectives. So much of Perec’s novel and essay writing involves experimental wordplay and lists and, coloured by melancholy, inevitably raises questions of identity. Perec encouraged looking at the familiar, whether that be the space of the home or the larger world. Questions of where home is, and what it means, which go beyond its monetary value, point towards a major question facing many in the 21st century: nationalism vs globalisation.
Similarly, in 12 Edmondstone Street, Australian writer David Malouf explored how geography and its landmarks form our sense of self. 'Malouf begins by describing, in loving, evocative detail, the house in which he was born and grew up in Brisbane, moving from room to room, always relating the smallest items in it to the life he remembers and his widening perception of the world at large.’
But this blog is not primarily a guide to stories about familiar rooms and foreign countries but more a reflection on how we view ourselves within a confined and unfamiliar space, namely a hotel room that you can’t get out of. Until you can. Until you’re given permission by the police after a health check and then a wrist tag. And since my liberation this morning, I now view my identity in a reversal of perspective as being about small mercies and graces, rather than small spaces. And specifically, to remember the role they play in my life. Not just giving them a tick – ‘Yes, I feel grateful that I’m alive, da-dum,’ but ‘It’s a tiny miracle within a great universe that I was born, lived a happy childhood and then so long as an adult, given the global odds of any individual being born into such a benign culture and economy – and most of this has not been my own achievement but gained through the small mercies and graces shown by so many others towards me’.
It’s still the case today – here in a society where the great majority of people have agreed to the emphatic carrot-and-stick self-isolation proposal by our freely elected leaders – for virtually all of us, except those in essential services, to recognise the need to close down business and stay in our homes for an indefinite period. Sure, most people are angry about one aspect or another: e.g. all share fear of death; many, physical restriction; scarcity of food; lack of an income. But we’ve all agreed that we have no choice if we’re to weather this coronavirus storm with as few lives lost as possible. By the grace and mercy not necessarily of a ‘God’ – for those who may not believe in that concept – but by mutual support and cooperation, the humanist understanding in the lyrics, ‘We’re all in this together’. And those at the forefront in caring for coronavirus patients – health workers, cleaners and waste collectors – are the bravest and most honoured among us. We owe them so much.
Both dangers and opportunities can arise in life, and I feel fortunate that the timing turned out to be exquisitely, finely tempered for my travel and its repercussions: to leave Australia before advice was given not to travel overseas; to experience the birth of a grandson in Peru; to go into lockdown there before finding a flight back home; to book and pay for the ticket before being told I’d be safe in compulsory quarantine for 14 days; and to be so relieved to have the chance to be in my home place again.
Yes, from my viewpoint today, the unintended adventure, as it evolved, was experienced by me as if I was a disembodied particle of energy driven by love – on a journey made up of many small mercies and graces by people on two continents either side of the Pacific Ocean, and in a metal tube being flown there and back, across that vast sea. It was the least I could do to put up with a comfortable though confined room for a fortnight, without being able to step out into the corridor … and I kept reminding myself of that.
So how long will I remember the good fortune? As long as I can appreciate the world around me (hotel den or open space) and not have my thoughts overtaken by an incessant inner voice. As Krishnamurti advises, ‘the word is not the thing’. The word ‘tree' is not a tree. Nor is a photo, which is merely a reminder of the actual. A tree is the living being which is nurtured by the earth – just as we are. Our true home is hewn in nature's space of animals, plants, and clean air and water.
After all, we’re all made of the same stuff – predominantly hydrogen, and in the animal world, heart, mind, breath – with just a touch or a flourish of one tint or tone different in each one of us.
And with that riff on identity, travel, enclosure and freedom, I’ll bid you au revoir – until we meet again soon online.
All packed up - including laundry ...
... and police protection ended.
This blog, written during compulsory quarantine, has been my connection to a humdrum world we all used to share but didn’t appreciate. One wayward traveller’s opportunity to emote via her daily diary ... Copyright Christine Williams.
My thanks to the Travelodge Hotel, Wentworth Avenue, Sydney for the generous assistance of management and staff throughout the 2-week stay. I’m also grateful to the many friends, old and new, who contacted me by phone, text or email to bolster my spirits from time to time, lessening any sense of isolation I may have felt. ‘We are one but we are many …’
1. ‘Life A User’s Manual’ Georges Perec, Hachette Livre Paris (1978).
2. Review of David Malouf memoir-novel, ‘12 Edmondstone Street’ Penguin (1985) from http://australian-cultural-atlas.info/CAA/listing.php?id=46 .
3. ‘We’re all in this together’– Matthew Gerrard; Robbie Nevil, (2006).
4. ‘I Am Australian’ (1987) song lyrics – Bruce Woodley (The Seekers) & Dobe Newton (The Bushwackers).