January 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
So, I went to a retreat.
Shoulda seen this coming, but it was reeking with boomers. Comfortably-off boomers (just comfortable; if they were wealthy they’d be at Gwinganna) taking time out from their busy lives for some well earned pampering. I never knew such a group of soft cores, as dependent as children on how to eat and where they are and what to do. Whose idea of a personal health revolution is to eat a salad, ride a minivan to a lookout and then have a body wrap. Conversation often revolved around treatments. What treatments are you having today? What treatments are you having tomorrow? How was your treatment? This is the language of the retreat.
I met Celia from North Bondi and offered she must like the beach. No, she hates the beach. In her youth she left England and traveled on freighters, got off in Sydney, asked for (and got) a job at the ABC for the next fifteen years. That is just how it was then. Eventually she married (rather well I assume) a lawyer and lived in Vaucluse. She just loved the constantly changing views of the harbour from the house in Vaucluse. The lawyer died of smoke cancer, as people do, and Celia is seeing off her inheritance one holiday at a time.
Then there was Chris who worked in road construction, staying for 12 days. Twelve days! It better not be some kind of workers compensation deal. When in disbelief I told my partner, he said gravely “the first 12 days are the hardest”. Chris said that he had needed to “break some bad habits”. I was dying to know what the bad habits were but he didn’t elaborate. He said that he had learned some Good Strategies during his stay. I don’t think the strategies included walking because later that day he was driven the couple of hundred metres to the train station.
Which brings me to manicured and preserved Di, quintessential Third Wife, wearer of sunglasses at breakfast, finder of six-star cruise deals. Prefers to fly business class, is here for the treatments, puts ice cubes in her Sauv Blanc. In the hours that must be endured between treatments, finished her book.
In the gym where these people flex their limbs, raise their heart rates (but not over 60%) and push at machines there are (no joke) motivational posters. CHALLENGES. PERSEVERANCE. SUCCESS. The values that got boomers where they are today.
I went to the pre-breakfast stretch class and the bedtime guided meditation. I missed life coaching and Aquafit and Pilates because I was in the national park sweating away on foot and on bike. Like the kids of yesteryear, I showed up at meal times (the meals were nutritious and pretty).
Morton NP was damp, fragrant and gleaming, its escarpments and gorges like the blue mountains but with all the people removed. The forest was a catalog of our most famous natives: banksia, fern, tea tree, grass tree and several kinds of eucalypt. I had close encounters with a very vocal and demonstrative lyrebird. Deep in the valley I chittered at silvereye and yellow robin; up on top I admired a yellow tailed black cockatoo. There were grey kangaroos but also soggy, chocolate-coloured wallabies with weighty tails that looked like draught stoppers.
There are stair warnings everywhere. Steep track! Grade: Difficult. Contains steps. Take care when descending the stairs. I feel sad that it has come to this, that we are now so useless at moving that able-bodied people have to be warned about going up and down steps.
Erith Coal Mine was fascinating, Fairy Bower Falls scenic, Tooths Track treacherous. I had to turn back when, having traversed a newly fallen tree, I could no longer see the route. Alone and wary, I scrambled back uphill bashing at leeches clinging to my shoes. Fear is a good motivator.
I had a facial. This is an indulgence to which my conscience, if not my wallet, will not often stretch since it can more or less be replicated at home for free. I have never forgotten a Women’s Weekly or some such story about Princess Diana’s secret to a flawless complexion: an old fashioned scrub with a face washer. It probably wasn’t true.
Once you disrobe and arrange the towels in their strategic places, you wait. When the therapist knocks softly and enters, she adds MORE towels and blankets on top. Lying in a darkened room, eyes closed, legs together, arms by my sides, under covers up to my collar bones, I’m transformed into an olden day bride on her wedding night. Waiting.
And listening. Listening to the thread of a jar lid turning, to the rhythmic pumping of some thin liquid, the placement of mysterious instruments. Running water. A cloth being wrung out. The squelch and slap of oily hands warming and emulsifying. More pumping. More slopping. At last, the defeated puff of a cushion as she plops on a stool behind my ears and goes to work on me.
When, nearly an hour later (I have become a woman), she leaves the room so I can privately re-robe, I finally steal a look at the creams and oils and serums. They have names like Mermaid Scrub and Goddess Mask. I am very serene. On the way out, as I’m gliding across the floor like a ghost, she warns me to watch my step.
In sync with its clientele, the whole place is shutting down at the end of the week and going on retreat itself. The regulars (one is already booked in for March) understood, murmuring about how you need to take time out now and then and that they will probably do some maintenance around the place. I guess the retreat is having some retreat-ments.
January 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
I went to the pool and got these anecdotes.
I swam in lane five. On my second lap I noticed there was a spider in lane five too. It was sitting, presumed dead, in the deep end, directly underneath my path. It was, despite its furled state, an alarming size and menacingly dark colour, and appeared fully intact. Doomed to check on the spider another forty times, the thought of how it perished would at least keep me occupied.
Did it drop in the pool from the side or run out of thread and fall from the ceiling? Did it spring from an underused swimsuit (pressed into action by new year’s resolutions) only to be whacked with a thong and swept into the drink? Was this spider error or did it encounter foul play? Did it almost make it almost to the blocks before succumbing to damp and chlorine?
I don’t know.
The spider drifted back and forth on unseen currents both human and industrial, and for an uncomfortable couple of laps disappeared altogether against the black line. But in the end it stayed, like me, in lane five. At the end of my set I dived down with the intention of plucking it out, but as I stared through my goggles at it, already out of breath, I saw that I didn’t have what it takes to grab a large black spider, neither alive nor drowned, and cradle it to the surface.
In a watery grave it stays.
There was a big man sitting in the bleachers, almost as round as he was high, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, socks and shoes. I assumed he was there for some kind of physical therapy reserved for the morbidly diabetic. He heaved himself up and, with the rocking motion of those with uncooperative joints, painfully navigated the steps to the pool deck, then leaned over to bark instructions at a young man in the fast lane wearing a team USA cap.
A very long time ago, I lost my kick board and pool buoy at the pool. I say at the pool but truthfully it may have been some other place. Nevertheless, I decided to ask the pool if they had them. The pool said they would let me look in their lost property. It soon became apparent that my kick board and pool buoy were not there, but many other people’s were.
After some fruitlessly specific digging (‘Was it the 3rd of January?’ ‘I’m not sure,’ I frowned, dishonestly) the pool attendant said I might as well take anything from That Pile Over There, nudging his foot at the pile of last resort; an undated heap of motley swimming aids; the long-term unemployed. This was the outcome I had more or less expected. I pawed through the actual (as opposed to metaphorical) flotsam and selected a not-too-shabby kick board and pool buoy. Some unexplained stains on one, a negligible bite taken out of the other. It was only later, as I was proudly examining my new gear, that I realised there was a name printed on the pool buoy.
Now I will spend the rest of my days hoping Zerler never shows up and challenges me for legal ownership of my pool buoy.
Of course, if it happens in lane five I might be in a position to throw a huge spider at him and run away.
January 3, 2016 § 2 Comments
I was raised Roman Catholic and attended church more or less weekly throughout my childhood and adolescence, attended Catholic schools and took all the Catholic rites on schedule.
Like most adults, I stopped practising once I was independent, not through any violent opposition but just because going to church seemed not relevant. Whenever I returned from uni at Christmas or Easter, I felt uncomfortable being one of those ‘special occasions’ Catholics that fill the church at major anniversaries.
I will always be Catholic though.
My children are not baptised, a slightly uncomfortable decision for me but an honest one. I’m not practising religion so why collect an emblem if you aren’t planning to be a member of the community?
We did, however, sign our kids up for (optional) christian education in their state school, and they like it. A few days ago, 9yo asked if he could ‘get some of that religion thing’ I have so I said I’d take him to church.
It was…nice. We sang songs, recited time-worn phrases, sat, kneeled and stood at the appropriate times. I took Communion, showed the kid how to get a blessing. I remembered most of the words of the prayers, though strangely the language has become more, not less, flowery and brimstoney. Like the penitential rite, which I learned as
I confess to almighty God,
and to you here present,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
…and I ask the blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you here present,
to pray for me to the Lord, our God.
I’ve always quite enjoyed its rhythms. Except now instead of “I have sinned” it’s “I have greatly sinned”. And before the second paragraph they’ve added “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” with the instruction “[striking breast]”. Pshhhh.
The priest was kind but, as is mostly the case nowadays, very old and rather fragile and weary, and so was the Brother. Church music has not, I’m afraid to say, improved. There are still prayers set to illogical, unmusical tunes; such vaguely melodic chanting has never inspired me.
This artwork made an impression on me, as an example of the church’s rather depressing mixed messages. The Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel gives Mary her big assignment (being the mother of Jesus), is a major deal. But did you ever see a more downbeat messenger? Rejoice Mary!
Mary receives this news with an equally rapt demeanour. Bugger.
I feel like Alain de Botton now.
To be fair, the Annunciation has almost always been depicted with similar severity and even a sense of grief, perhaps at the gravity of all that is to come. (You’ll be homeless, on the run, and eventually your misfit son will die nailed to a cross.) It weighs on the mood in church though.
Anyway, I’m sure there are better masses and more eloquent priests and more inspiring places of worship to take a child to, but 9yo seemed pretty damn satisfied. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of it.