Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Molti Cose--Many Things of the Heart and Body

How do I sort out all I want to say--thank you for still being there if you are--it has been over a month. I do not know anymore how to use writing to mark the days, the whirlings of this world, the adventures of the body and the mind. Let me begin by grounding us in the weather of Melbourne, a torrential spilling of the clouds, sheets of rain, like a waterfall crashing to earth, hailstones throwing themselves at windows, heads, frightened dogs. Flooding in the North--slowly now the dry river beds of the flat middle are filling up, slowly the overflows make their way down into dry basins and people rush out to welcome the returning water, wading in the gift, with pants rolled up and big grins on their faces. The lives of whole river systems depend on this return of fresh water--the Murray-Darling river basin, desperately trying to survive the rising tide of sea water at its Southern end, waiting, waiting for its rescue. Once I knew the Hudson, walked along its tamed shores in Manhattan, always aware of the power of its floes, never doubting its hold on its own way of being--the cliffs of the Palisades reminders of earlier days when other peoples looked down upon its currents, searching for food, for dangers. Now I have in my mind's eye, the red river gums, standing dry footed in their river places, holding on, holding on, until once again water flows. This is a land of extremities and it is my home.

I am too dramatic, I know that. I will work on it. I have said that when I do not write for a while, it is because my body is having another conversation and such is the case this month. I have a growth in my uterus that needs to come out--this feels almost too personal to write--but on the day of the surgery, I woke up shaking all over. At the hospital, the admitting nurse discovered I had a high fever and matching blood pressure so all decided something was going on and no surgery--now I start the consulting with oncologist and others to find out. But something else--yesterday I went out to take a look at the construction work that is being done in our backyard and tripped over a piece of wood, falling heavily on my good knee. It is this falling, the third fall I have had in the last year, that most tumbles me, into the shock of the unexpected, the ground coming up so fast, into the moment of wonder when the fall is over, what is still working and finally the refuge of the bed, where all is still. Cosa ci posso fare? I am living in deep appreciation of daily life now, my books, my darling, my Cello,my friends, a roof over our heads that holds off the torrents, hard and soft and for me, the delight of the little television at the end of my bed that brings me the wonders of the Olympics, the lunging broad shoulders of the cross country skiers; the bent over, noses to the ice, gentle touching of the buttocks in front of the short track speed skaters; the swelling thighs, the swinging arms and arrow like heads of the long distant skaters--always carrying Hans Christian Anderson with them, I think--the quirky slides and shouts of the curlers and the youth, flying into the night air, flipping turning and landing on their feet. I who fear the ground beneath me at times, almost 70, lie still and glory in these athletes. Through that little window at the end of my bed, I peer into snow covered hill trails, I see into the heaving lungs of bodies throwing themselves into exertion, into exultation, their breaths puffs of ongoing glorious life.

Questi giorni, studio Italiano con tutto il mio cuore. Ogni giovedi, vaddo con mia amica, Patrizia, a Centro Studi Italiani a Carlton. These days, I study Italian with all my heart. Every Thursday, I go with my friend Pattie to the Center for Italian Studies in Carlton. Studiamo con la Professoressa Nancy, una brava insegnante, `e bellissima! How I love this language, its heart, its fullness of vowels, its world view--di bella. I turn to its folklore, Collodi's Le avventure di Pinocchio nel livello B for beginning readers and it is all here.

C'era una volta...

--Un re!--direte subito. No, ragazzi. C'era una volta un pezzo di legno. Un semplice pezzo di legno di quelli che d'inverno si usano per accendere il fuoco.

Once upon a time--"A story about a king!, the children shout. No, children. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood, a simple piece of wood like the kind we use to feed our fires that keep us warm in winter.

A simple piece of wood, un semplice pezzo di legno, we are all--until touched by the imagination, said Professoressa Nancy--with all the ugliness of the world, with all the assumptions of who should die and who is enemy, with war like eating, every day, war as a way of life, a simple piece of wood says in una voce piccoloa piccoloa, 'Non farmi male!'--a little, little voice says, 'do not harm me." And Maestro Ciliega heard and stopped. A child was born. (Please feel free to correct my Italian. That is how I will learn.)
Books, always books, my food of life. I have decided that I must know more about the Jewish diaspora, Jewish resistance in other forms besides Zionism, besides exclusive nationalisms. In an issue of The New York Times Book Review that I tracked down in the Carlton bookshop here, Readings, I was caught by a review of four books growing out of the French resistance movement and one Jewish French woman's experience of occupation--the Journal of Helene Berr, newly translated into English in 2009.... I have been turning her pages over and over, looking at her face again, into her eyes, looking at her words that I underlined, the connections I made--her love of books, amidst it all, the words of Keats or Shelley, her love of love. At times, in the beginning, one cannot tell which dread is haunting her, the loss of a young boy who feels like the center of her life, or the narrowing world around her, tight with hatred. In the two years Helene Berr gives us, 1942-44, romance, fraught with longing and loss, slowly fades from view and a dread entire, the Nazi plan for the French Jews, changes the pastel colors into horrors of inhumanity, but always at the center is a young yearning woman whose circle of love grows larger as her world shrinks. Some call Berr's diary a Holocaust book--and of course it is, the story of a young woman who loved life so much, who adored her Paris, her studies, her Mozart, her laughing university friends, her father, the first of the family to be interned in a Nazi holding camp in the center of Paris, her adoration for the beauty of the night sky, for a rain freshened garden, for her own possibilities of the imagination--"I'm not afraid for myself but for something beautiful that might have been"--the gift each of us can be to the human world, a human world still able to respect the possibilities of each individual life. But I am afraid that genre labeling makes the reader think they know what they will find--In these pages that stand for a life, Berr gives us her thoughts about resistance, about shame, about the nature of the past and the present,about normality, a word that appears on almost every page as the normal changes its meaning before our eyes, day by day, about the ethics of conscience, about what being Jewish means to her, about her place in the diaspora, about the nature of human evil--her thoughts which a whole army tried to erase. "The destruction of personal thought and of the response of individual consciences is Nazism's first step (February 14, 1944)...how quickly morality and the respect for humanity disappear once a certain boundary has been breached! (Friday, December 31, 1943) In these pages, she asks us to see, to be responsible for knowing, what is happening in the name of nation states, to see the connection between art and politics, to always be aware of what is causing pain, "if only people knew what ruins are in my heart."( November 1943)
Tomorrow I shall have to get off the metro at Pere-Lachaise [one of the first edicts passed against the Jews of Paris was forbidding them to ride in all carriages or lines of the Metro] That was where I first had a proper conversation with Mme Schwartz, about a year ago, around 5:00 p.m., with trains passing by all the time; we sat on the platform bench and talked. I told her about Jean, because I could not hide it from people to whom I had given my heart. Now I don't have to make that effort or that confession, since all the people I loved have vanished. I can still hear her, her eyes shining with affection (her eyes were always so bright with love):
'A girl like you is such a lovely thing!'
A scheine madel
Everything I write about Palestine/Israel, about the diaspora and its possibilities of hope, will be touched by this woman and what she asks us to do from the depths of her extremity.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Yes, we are still with you Joan. Be well. Warmest wishes- xo, Stephanie