A rabbit goes a marketting

By Vita Forest


I sat on Katrina’s special collapsible portable stool, that weighed almost nothing and folded to fit in her backpack.  I sat in the shade and looked out at the sunny side, the side of the building, the side with the sunbakers, the coffee takers, the side with the arched windows and metal pipes and picturesque bricks and the old boiler that could have been part of Howl’s moving castle.  Maybe it had broken off on one of his jaunts and he hadn’t noticed it yet with all that creaking and banging and carry on.  Perhaps it had found this spot in the sun by the railway track and decided to take a rest til he came back.  There was plenty to see here after all.


There was a small boy wearing a milk crate on his head and a woman in a floral silk robe belted about her waist  that billowed behind her as she strode along in her fluffy magenta slippers.  There were dogs of all sizes pulling their owners along by their straining leashes and children making trains of upside-down milk crates lined up in a row.  There was music drifting outside from inside the huge metal shed where a man on a cello stroked its strings with a long bow as the shoppers wandered by, their bags full of watercress and tomatoes and home-made pasta sauce.  There was the smell of coffee and sourdough bread and the patina of flaking paint on the sturdy old brick walls.


I sat on my friend’s stool, placed just so, right across from the boiler, in the shade not the sun, against the rippling corrugated iron wall, not as sketchable as the sunny side, not as warm either, truth be told, but sometimes you gotta suffer for your art.  I sat and flicked a blade across the tip of my pencil, sharpening that graphite to a point (how I love a sharp pencil to work with) and my knife slid down the pencil and my eyes slid across the tracks and the pavement to the boiler and I thought about how I could draw it (all the while aware of the blade of the knife of course, all the while taking care not to cut away a finger or a thumb).  And I sketched out the composition, the segments of the cylinder, how it would fit on the page.  And I sketched in the milk crate seats in front of it and I noticed that someone had just sat down on one of those milk crate seats and had set down a few items on a milk crate table and looked like she was there to sit awhile so I started to sketch her in too.  And as I quickly drew in the angle of her head and the slope of her shoulders I noticed her place a clump of green on the ground for her dog I presumed, her dog on a lead, there were so many dogs, but a dog eating greens?  I looked again and saw that the animal with its harness and leash and thick brown fur was not a dog, not a dog in the slightest, but a large, placid rabbit sitting in the sun at the market and eating its morning tea while its human ate hers.

I have never seen a rabbit out for a walk on a leash.  I have never seen a rabbit relaxing in the sunshine as dogs sauntered by, not seeing, not sensing, not bothered by the rabbit nibbling fennel fronds on the concrete.  Perhaps they knew each other, saw each other every week, here at the market, doin a bitta shopping, hanging out in the sun.  I didn’t notice any animal greetings but I noticed passing children doing double takes and stopping to crouch and look and gently stroke the rabbit and one sat quietly and was rewarded by having the rabbit carefully lifted and placed on her lap to pat and whisper to and scratch behind its long velvet ears.

I mapped out the girl and the rabbit then sidled back to Katrina (very subtly of course) and brought to her attention the furry friend that was Not A Dog.  She had not yet noticed the rabbit, she was drawing the boiler and the roof and the windows and wasn’t up to adding any people, not yet, that would come later.  Then I sidled back and kept on drawing and delighting in the nonchalant girl who sat there self-contained but not self-conscious in the sunshine with her juice and her pastry and her rabbit on a leash.

Had they walked far? I wondered as I scribbled in her boots.  Had they hopped all the way? (while I shaded her cardigan).  Was this a regular excursion on a Saturday morning in September?  Did she have a favourite stall for her nibbly greenery or did they try the rocket from the Hawksbury one week and the radish leaves from down south the next?  Would I draw her looking up or looking down at the rabbit, stroking its head, or holding her drink, or leaning on her elbow?  People always move so you have to work fast, adjust, approximate, make it up.  She sat and sipped her juice and I scribbled and drew and tried to get it down before she up and left with her bunny and her bags.

Nell strolled by with a coffee and her photogenic stalk of broccoli and a bunch of lavender and peered over my shoulder.  She hadn’t yet decided on a setting for her sketching, on a subject, on a place to sit awhile.  I brought the bunny to her notice and she laughed out loud and leaned against the wall and watched the girl with her bunny sitting under the boiler and said, “There’s a story in that.” And maybe there is and maybe this is it or maybe there’s something more to come.

So Nell wandered off to find her own sketchable moment and I drew in the milk crates and the drink and the table and the shadows and the sunglasses, but before I could go and ask if I could pat her rabbit and what its name was and how they came to be at the market that day and did they come often and a million other questions, before I could ask all that, she picked up her rabbit and her rubbish and put them both carefully in her calico tote bag and walked away.

So I sat and drew rivets and rust instead of rabbits and shivered in the shadows while drawing what was in the sun.

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This week

By Vita Forest

Festival of the Winds, Bondi 2017


This week I have been

WRITING Cold Call

READING Big Magic By Elizabeth Gilbert (loved it!)

WATCHING The Good Fight

SKETCHING at Carriageworks, Redfern

Farmers market at Carriageworks, Redfern


WALKING the labyrinths to live drumming and didgeridoos at the Labyrinth Dreaming Festival in Centennial Park where we were

The Pilgrim Labyrinth


WISHING the Sydney Labyrinth a Happy Third Birthday and

Sydney Labyrinth, Centennial Park


JOURNEYING into and out of a number of labyrinths including a Pilgrim Labyrinth where you were

The Pilgrim Labyrinth (see the stones?)


CHOOSING a river stone and carrying it into the labyrinth then pausing and

LAYING down your burden by placing the stone somewhere along the path on your way out

PICNICKING beside the festivities then

VISITING Bondi Beach and

We touched that dragon’s tail!


MARVELING at the show in the sky at the Festival of the Winds


 

Betty 4 Bob

By Vita Forest


This Saturday we are looking forward to a new chapter in one of our school’s very own fairy tales (I borrowed that line from a student). This Saturday will mark the start of a marriage between two staff members.
Betty and Bob have known each other for years. They are both divorcees, both coming from relationships that didn’t work out. Betty has lived for the last few years with her young-adult children, making a new home for them, creating a little sanctuary in her own unique style. This included a fabulous wall of Betty’s cross-stitches, her Four Season plates displayed proudly in her kitchen, and of course, her secret, special paint colour – full strength in this room, half strength in another (the name of the colour was only shared with you if you were very lucky).
She was growing used to being single and enjoyed a full social life with book clubs, stitching groups, movies, mini-breaks, old friends, her large extended family and even a First Wives Club… Betty had made peace with this new life, this life she did not expect to be living, but a life she was finding to be thrilling and satisfying and good.
But one day at school, she was feeling a little sad… One day at school, in her empty classroom she had shed a tear…
This did not often happen, but this day she was feeling a little lonely, a bit down. She went about her day, teaching the children, marking the homework, going out on playground duty.
She stood, as she always did at that time of the week, under the COLA on lunch duty. Opening children’s yoghurt packets and drink bottles and lunch boxes, talking to tiny people in large hats, not knowing that the next chapter of her life was about to begin…
Bob had been working at the school for a number of years, quietly watching Betty, waiting and hoping. He started working there the same month that Betty’s first marriage had really fallen apart (they discovered later) when she was consumed by its crisis, when she was distracted by the end of her life as she knew it. He waited and watched and offered her a kindness here and there in his gentle way.
They were friends, they were colleagues, but Bob hoped they might be something more one day. He watched as Betty ploughed through the divorce, the upheavals and came out the other side renewed and resilient. He watched and waited until that day, that day at lunch, when, hidden in plain sight, he asked Betty if she would like to go to a party with him…
And the rest, as they say, is history… text messaging each other across the staff room, going on road trips in the school holidays, watching The Bridge in matching t-shirts… Keeping their relationship a secret at school for… not very long, but behaving impeccably and professionally at all times.
We were all delighted when during one of their road trips, they got engaged to each other. Happy news indeed! The months have passed, the wedding preparations have been made, the honeymoon planned. Last week, Betty showed me a lovely book her current crop of Year 1s made for her. It included musings and advice on marriage, including when you find the right person to marry, you should play Lego with them, and you should marry someone who is kind to you (wise words indeed).
The happy couple left school on Tuesday, allowing a few days to get the last of the wedding jobs completed. The school threw them a “special assembly” at which they walked down the aisle together, where they received “Bride of 2017” and “Groom of 2017” medallions, where the school captains (all of twelve years old) offered them advice on what makes a successful marriage, and the children serenaded them with “Going to the Chapel”.
All that is left to do now is to wish them a “happily ever after…”

Hanami in Auburn

By Vita Forest

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On a Saturday full of wind and bluster, we journeyed out to the Auburn Botanical Gardens for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  On Friday the winds had been so strong that powerlines had been blown down, a fence at the local tennis club toppled, and at sport, the kids had thrown their hats in the air to see how far they would fly before they landed.

I feared the blossoms would have been blasted from the branches, scattered like pink confetti over a suburb or two, but when we arrived, we could see them, still firmly clinging to the trees.

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We went by train, my daughter Lucy and her friend Bianca, and a bunch of sketchers, backpacks full of paper and pencils and paint and ideas.  We talked expeditions past and future, we made plans, we swapped stories.

When we arrived at the garden, the wind was blowing and the pink flags were flying.  Pink was the colour of the day – pink blossoms, pink flags, some pink hair, even the volunteers wore fluoro pink vests instead of the more usual yellow.

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Even the volunteers were in pink.

I was remembering my last trip to the gardens a couple of years ago with a busload of Year 1 children – here is where we did origami, here is where we took a photo – on a bridge over the water – and not one child got wet.  Here is where Marvin barrelled across the stepping stones without knocking anyone over.

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We had learned about Hanami – the festival celebrating the viewing of the cherry blossoms and here we were experiencing it ourselves in Sydney.  It is all about being in the right place at the right time – the trees only bloom for two weeks or so, blink and you’ll miss it.  In Japan they give updates on the progress of the blossoms on the nightly news (“buds opening”, “flowers starting to appear” etc) and even display weather maps charting the display of colour.  It is about being in the moment, that ephemeral moment when the blossoms open and world turns pink.  Strange then to see so many visitors at Auburn with their selfie-sticks and iPhones – as if they will only see it all later after they have posted it on Instagram.  I was not immune to capturing the moment myself – look at all these photos…

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An abundance of selfie-sticks

We walked over an arched bridge and watched as a volunteer sprinkled bread from a bucket.  The water was full of the open mouths of carp fighting for what the geese didn’t get first.  We strolled along the cherry blossom avenue noting the way the sun shone through the blossoms and a few happy bees trundling over the flowers.

The sketchers peeled off, finding places by the lake, by a zig-zag bridge, near the moon gate, so close to a cherry tree she could hold a twigful of it to study and draw and protect from the wind.  The wind!  The wind that followed us around the lake, climbing the rocky steps to a lookout, ruffling the undulating hedges that resembled the sinuous body of a dragon, splaying the fringing needles of a conifer into star bursts.

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There be dragons…

I sat on a hill, a little removed from the cherry blossoms and watched the world go by with my sketchbook.  I noticed the way the wind sent the bundles of pine needles flicking and sparkling.  I noticed how the magnolia flowers swayed majestically on their strong vertical branches, I noticed a sweet looking toddler with two fountaining pig-tales stumbling about the slope, under the careful eye of her father.

I drew trees and saw how the base of each pine tree was set in a tiny pool of mulch.  I drew a line of cherry blossoms, noticing how the trunks were gnarled and twisted before the tips of the branches thinned and reached skyward.  I drew mounds of grass, thickly planted and arranged in tight, round clumps.

And then I drew people – people with their selfie sticks, people with their iPhones, occasionally people just chilling under the trees, seeing life in real time with their own eyes.  It was the perfect time to be in the moment to feel the wind and the sunshine, watch the flocks of birds wheel over the lake, hear the throb of the Taiko drums in another part of the garden.

So much in “the zone” was I, I did not see Lucy and Bianca sneak up behind me, was not aware of them until Lucy leapt at me, causing an unplanned scribble on my page.  They danced on the hillside behind me, did walkovers, stole snacks from my backpack.  They had visited the tiny zoo and had seen a peacock, an albino wallaby, an emu, but not the wombat.  The wombats were hiding away in their cosy burrow out of the light and the wind.  When the girls had eaten all the snacks, they were off again.  Off to catch the sumo wrestling just about to start in another part of the garden.  Later they explained the rules to me and demonstrated the hand motions of the winners and the bowing etiquette before a match started.

We regrouped and shared our sketches; pages of blossoms and lakes and bridges and trees.  And after a lunch of gyoza dumplings by the lake, our little visit to Japan in Sydney was over.  It’s fun being a tourist in your own town.

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This week

By Vita Forest

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This week I have been

READING

  • When Rosie met Jim by Melina Marchetta
  • Ferragost by Melina Marchetta

ATTENDING a school art show (those Kindy artists are amazing)

CLIMBING down stone stairs and a metal ladder and rock scrambling to go

SKETCHING at the level of the harbour at Cremorne Point and

FEELING the worries of the week wash away in the sun and the wind and the sound of the waves

WATCHING

  • Rice by Michelle Lee at Griffin Theatre (intriguing theatre – go and see it!)
  • some great teaching at my school during Teacher Observation sessions

PICNICKING on a crunchy baguette and goats cheese in the local park with Lucy

 

This week

By Vita Forest

From Castle Cove towards Middle Cove

This week I have been

WRITING Everyday more geckos

READING The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (just delightful!)

GETTING to school early for our performance group’s big audition (you may be interested to know that we had Ivan of Will you take the risk?  fame read half the introduction (the other girl reader was back too) – so they both got their moment of “Fame and Glory” and both did a fabulous job!)

FINDING out later in the week that we were successful and will be performing at the Sydney Opera House later in the year!

The Succulent Garden with the Sydney skyline behind

SKETCHING in the sunshine in the Succulent Garden in the Royal Botanical Gardens

The Succulent Garden, Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney

WALKING in the bush of Castle Cove with Saskia and Rowdy as we continue our exploration of this beautiful part of Sydney

A fallen bird’s nest amongst the ferns, Castle Cove

Everyday more geckos

By Vita Forest

For the last two weeks

A strange phenomena

A gang of geckos in my classroom.

They march up the walls

Keeping watch over the rubbish bin.

They peer at the whiteboard

Their sticky toes hugging the frame.

Some particularly curious ones watch me work at my computer

They must tell their friends –

Everyday more geckos.

And on the back wall by a Boy table and under the Indigenous language map

An army has appeared

Everyday more geckos

One clings to the clock and listens to its tock

They crawl up the windows

Every size, every colour, every pattern

When will it end?

Everyday more geckos.