This week

By Vita Forest

 

This week I have been

WRITING School saga

READING Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (I haven’t seen the mini-series yet, any good?  I will write more about this one soon).

WATCHING

  • Beginners (a gorgeous movie by Mike Mills)
  • Beauty and the Beast with Lucy and her friend (which other “Disney princess” could Emma Watson play but the book-reading Belle?)

HOLDING a class-worth of parent-teacher interviews (see School saga) phew!

MISSING my usual classes at the gym to hold the parent-teacher interviews and therefore

FEELING stiff and stressed.

PICNICKING near the river on Saturday on a rare sunny day.  We have had an extremely wet March, may April be drier…

 

Distracted

By Vita Forest

 

Did he have water?  Had he put sunscreen on?  Was he at least taking a little bit of food?  I was distracted by Max getting ready, Max who had forgotten to take a water bottle on the previous scorching day, that stinker, that heatwave, and had managed by slurping from various taps and bubblers but had come home parched, lips cracked, cheeks red.

I had been distracted by Max, checking his phone, throwing back a glass of milk, checking his phone, cleaning his teeth, checking his phone.  We were leaving early to drop him at the other train station where he was to meet his friends before I went up north for some Zumba with my favourite Latino instructor, the one I scour the timetable for, who I travel for, who brings a smile to my face with his high-energy antics.  But I was distracted by Max, so I slid my feet into my slip-on shoes, the wrong shoes, the unsuitable shoes, but I was distracted.  We got into the car, Max – cap jammed on his head, skateboard jammed by his legs, idly spinning its wheels with his right pointer.

“They’re already there,” he updated me, checking his phone.

These school holidays Max has become a true teenager, preferring his friends to his family, taking his opal card and flying all about the city on trains, buses and boards, following rumours of skate-parks, cheap food and branded shoes.

“Do you remember when I hated teenagers?” he asked as we waited to pass the local roadworks.

I saw him again, hunched in the corner of a bus seat on a ride from Lucca to Barga in Italy, glaring when the aisles suddenly filled with loud local teens, shouting, laughing, full of joy and private jokes, delirious that school had ended for the day, unconcerned with the ears of other passengers like Max, who found them obnoxious and unbelievable.  Their mindless chatter, their supreme confidence, their lack of consideration.

“I hate teenagers,” he had announced, all of eight years old.

“Huh!  Now we are probably like that…” and I could imagine Max’s gang up the back of the bus, shouting over each other, one-upping each other, skateboards flipped up beside their too-large bodies.

I was distracted by watching Max as if through a stranger’s eyes, jumping out of the car at the kerb and sloping up to the traffic lights, waiting for green, then running, running off to meet his friends so they could make the next bus to the beach.  I was remembering how at Pilates the day before, I was chatting to an old acquaintance, catching up on news, when I became aware of a woman standing beside her waiting.  And then was introduced to her daughter, Max’s age, who I remembered as a curly-headed pre-schooler, all grown-up now (or looking that way).

As I lost sight of Max, I turned on the radio and became distracted by the story of a man in Noosa telling an appreciative crowd about his three angels – his adoptive mother, his adoptive grandmother and his birth mother.  How they watched over him when he couldn’t cope and how they led him to meet an unknown brother who was there in the crowd today!  (I blinked away tears – items on Radio National always get me in the guts).

Then I was distracted by Ted Hughes reading his poems at the Adelaide Festival years ago.  The Thought Fox, which we had done at school and Song for a Phallus, which he almost sang, and struck by the violence and brutality and passion of Lovesong.  I was distracted by learning that after the break, he had actually met up with Sylvia to discuss her Ariel poems – they were not new to him at her death.  I was distracted by remembering reading Ariel for the first time in the cool quiet of the library of UNSW, my lecturer warning that “it will be an experience”.  She was right.

And so I sat in the car, listening and thinking, then distractedly turned off the engine when it was time and walked into the gym thinking of Sylvia, Ted, Max, that pre-schooler now woman.  Then I looked down at my feet and gasped – the wrong shoes!  No Zumba today.

 

 

Southerly Buster

By Vita Forest

 

In the pool at dusk

shafts of sun break diagonal

through glitter-edged clouds hunkering in from the west.

I float in the pool and note how

Max swims like he talks

thrashing and splashing

dives designed to disturb the peace

with the biggest amount of bluster.

Lucy examines blue-shelled snails

strolling on slick black rock at water’s edge

peels one off and peers at its secret inside suction system

puts it back and it trundles on.

We burrow our fingers in the soft swaying strands of moss

green and warm from the sun

Alive.

 

The clouds rear over the hills and rain falls hard.

You almost can’t believe the change

The downpour

The ‘steady drum of rain’

Bucketing, pouring, pelting, crashing, smashing,

as I sit safe on the balcony

cocooned in my cage

a cage barred with falling water.

 

Then it’s over.

As quick as it began.

The world smells fresh and green

and I watch a man climb out of his car and

perform a magic trick

whipping off his boardies

in public

under a tucked-in towel

slinging them in the boot and

driving away.

And I wonder

could I manage that manoeuvre?

 

The blue is peering down through the grey again

at the black dog racing along the beach

kicking up clods of yellow sand as it goes.

Gargoyle

By Vita Forest


And Uriel says No, the man over there was not who we were waiting for.  A definitive NO, he was not a sketcher, he was full of rage and swearing and a moment ago, before we arrived, he had been shirtless, not a sensitive arty type, not one for contemplation.  No.  He was NOT part of the group.

Katerina sets up her stool smack in front of her subject.  She doesn’t look for a convenient corner or ledge or wall to lean against.  She doesn’t need a wall at her back to give her power, to give her anonymity, to blend into.  Katerina plants herself right in the middle of the stream, an island the curious will have to circle around it.  She owns it.

Who knew a stool could do that?

I crane up at a stone gargoyle gripping the wall with its six clenched toes.  It could be an owl, a bat, a creature from a nightmare.  Its toes are straining anyway, gripping that wall, about to launch, about to take off.  And a woman from over the sea, from another land, wants to capture me as I capture the gargoyle.  I am trapped on the ground with my sketchbook, mid-sketch, as it is trapped on the wall, about to take flight.  With gestures she makes her request and at my wry nod, comes to stand beside me, to embrace me, to drape her arm around me, as her friend takes the photo (quicker than my sketch), before she too, comes inside the camera’s view finder to stand with me and save the encounter for posterity.  What will they say about this moment?  My friend…  An artist… An Australian…  Will the caption and the tales told last longer than the time it took to take the photo, to construct this story of intimacy and relationship?  Was I like a wild animal momentarily tamed?  How brave to touch the now anaesthetized form of the king of the jungle.

I move to get a fresh perspective, and hear Tomas giving Winona a lesson in perspective.  He tells us that to be expressive, you don’t need to worry too much about perspective.  That’s lucky.  Buildings are hard for me, scare me a little.  I decide to scare myself and sit on the stone floor with the comforting bricks of sandstone at my back and look through an archway to my subject beyond.  My spot is cool and shady but people can and do stroll by, some nonchalantly glancing down at my sketch, surreptitious, furtive, curious without wanting to disturb or invade, playing it cool except for the small girl who peers down, leaning her hands on her knees unabashed and we smile at each other before she runs off, footfalls ringing on stone.

Around us, bells sing and chime.  Up in the tower, someone plays their song and sends it out over the rooftops, over the hills, how far?  The notes tumble and ring against the tiles and the glass and the stone, trickling down to the green green grass, emerald in its brightness, a stage we all face where tourists sprawl before drifting off again, before the heat of the sun becomes too much.

We skulk around the edges, in the shadows, looking in, looking up, looking through, looking past and measuring, recording, watching, the whisper of pencil on paper, the clench of finger muscles, the crick in the neck.  The buildings are at once intimidating and playful, orderly and rambunctious, authoritarian and welcoming.

This is where I came to see my friend’s choir, where I came for a lecture, where Josie Alibrandi raced John Barton in that movie (as Lucy reminded me), where students for years and years meet, and Tomas came in the past with his family on silent Saturdays and abandoned Sundays when they were the only ones around, and this is the place where brides and their entourages visit for the atmospheric backdrops to the beaded and brocaded.  And now we sit, facing in, around the periphery and study and record and express.

We draw.

Worried

By Vita Forest

img_15001

It is the end of the calendar year, and in Australia, the end of the school year too.  The last week or so has been filled with lots of “special” and “fun” events.  But these occasions have also been felt as changes to routine and the end of predictable patterns that a lot of children hold dear.  Some children reverted to behaviour that I thought we were past, interesting quirks returned and lots of kids were tired and emotional.  I chatted to some colleagues about it – my class was not unique.

Believe it or not, some kids like school.  They crave the stability, predictability, the safe environment, that for some of them, unfortunately, is only to be found at school.  The idea of long summer holidays, away from their classmates, teachers and school community, fills them with nothing short of dread.

After a particularly exasperating morning, I called a class meeting.

“How is everyone feeling?” I asked, “Hands up if you worried about anything.”

A few hands went up.  Then a few more.

“What are you worried about?”

Then it all came out.

Next year.  What if I’m not with my friends?  Who’ll be in my class?  Who will my teacher be?  Homework!  Naplan! (Is this really what eight year olds should be thinking about?)  What if my teacher doesn’t know about me? (Special chair, special sticker chart, special chats, special expectations).  What if I can’t do the work?  Who are you teaching?  Will we have you again?

I told them teachers were feeling the same way too.  Who will be in my class!  (They laughed at that).  What grade will I be teaching?  And for some – Do I have a job?

Then we remembered how we felt at the beginning of this year and how things have changed since then.  The friends we have made.  The things that seemed so hard that now seem easy.  How if we weren’t with our friends from our last class we could still play with them at lunchtime.  And we still saw our old teachers around the playground.  And we could still talk to them.  And the work wasn’t so hard we couldn’t do it.  And how we all got used to each other and what we needed.

Then we all took a deep breath and felt a little less worried.

 

 

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

READING

  • Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta (a bit of comfort reading…)
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

EATING Tapas with my book buddies

PRACTICING for our secret teacher flash mob…

CELEBRATING our Year 6’s Farewell dinner (in a beautifully decorated hall).  The two school captains cut the huge multi-level cake up on stage under fairy lights like a bride and groom…

MAKING a cushion cover for my niece Pippi to decorate her new reading nook.

VISITING the Finders Keepers Market with my parents

FILLING nine plastic crates with dance costumes

STRIPPING artwork from my classroom walls and sending it home

LAUGHING at my class’s reaction to cassette tapes.  They were so fascinated by those ancient artefacts I found in the back of my storeroom that I distributed them by lucky dip rather than throwing them out. (They needed lessons in how to open the cases however).

A tale of two brides

By Vita Forest

From a hill in The Rocks

From a hill in The Rocks

After meeting my sketching pals near the quay, we dispersed to go our separate ways, to find our own preferred subjects, to see what would catch our attention, to do our own drawings, before we would meet up again later.  Some of the group gravitate towards architecture, some to street scenes, others hone in on individual plants – leaves, petals, stamens.  Some like landscapes, others tiny-crafted details – door knockers, statues, gates, while I seem captivated by people and plants (an aversion to straight lines?)  We use different media too – coloured paper, textured paper, tiny, discreet, hand-held sketchbooks, larger pieces of paper clamped onto boards, cheap cardboard and thick watercolour paper on wooden easels.  We use pastels, ink, paint, varying lead pencils through the range of “B”s, waterproof permanent pens, watercolour crayons and graphite.  Though we sketch at the same time and vaguely in the same place, it is exhilarating to see the diversity of styles, subjects and media.  And even though we might not see each other again until the end of the session, we offer each other some kind of moral support.

I walked up the hill and headed to the historical area of The Rocks.  There were historic buildings, there were tourists at cafes, there were market stalls.  I could sit on a step outside a shop, or on the ground in a park, or on a café chair, or stand against a wall.  There were endless possibilities.

I wandered through the crowded markets hearing gentle melodies wafting through the air and headed through a cool, narrow alleyway.  I climbed metal stairs, stone stairs and found a shady park against a cliff, overlooking rooftops.  There were benches beneath jacaranda trees, strewn with purple.  There were rusted silhouettes of household items set incongruously in the stony ruins of a house built up a hill.  There was shade (shade is a priority for sketchers as the weather gets warmer).  There was a gnarled and twisted pepper tree with delicate sheets of fish-scale leaves swaying in the breeze.  There was a pepper tree…

I swept purple blossoms off a wooden seat, flicked open my sketch book, chose my favourite lead pencil and began to draw the pepper tree.  As I drew, mauve bells sprinkled down from the jacaranda tree above, tourists wandered through the outdoor rooms snapping selfies on their phones, and a bride and her posse clanged down the metal stairs in high heels, cameras swaying from shoulders, the train of her skirt held high by a friend.

img_13291

I finished my sketch and walked down to the market place.  There was a busker on one side whose music I did not like, and another couple further on that I did.  (Music and other ambient noise is another consideration when sketching).  I found a discreet table by the side of the plaza and sat and looked at the scene – the busker with jaunty hat strumming his guitar and singing a mellow tune, the onlookers relaxing at circular tables, the trees and plants framing the scene.  The people staying still.  (This is an issue for my drawings – sometimes my figures become an amalgam of a bunch of different people if the subject moves on too fast).  I pulled out my pad and drew again, conscious of people peering over my shoulder, but continuing nonetheless.

The Busker

The Busker

What kind of sketcher are you?  Do you announce you are an “artiste” setting yourself up squarely with your equipment spread out about you? Or are you incognito, hidden in plain view, a recorder of the scene without being a performer?  There are added difficulties if you draw people.  It might be fine to have onlookers scrutinize a scene of the harbour, but it is a little disconcerting to have your subjects break down that “third wall” and come and look at how they have been portrayed…  And yet, I understand that if someone is drawing, you want to see what it is that they are working on.

There was still a little time left, so I strolled back to the harbour and tried to scribble a few quick portraits while I waited.  But the people were not cooperative, kept moving, kept rushing on, not waiting for longer than it took for a quick selfie before striding away.

Then I saw the bride.  Hobbling along in her high heels, train held off the ground by a photographer’s lackey, her groom on his phone chatting.  (It was very romantic).  The photographer had scouted out a good spot with a view of the Opera House in the background and so they stopped.  Perhaps if I was quick…  I stood under a palm tree and scribbled it down – the assistant adjusting the veil, the proprietorial black stripe of the groom’s arm around her waist, the tight fists of roses in the bouquet, the skirt billowing in the breeze.  And they held their position for just long enough.

img_13231

The photographer was happy and so was I.