Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Nighttime antics

Coming home at midnight one weekend night, there was something sitting in the middle of the road. With no streetlights, you couldn't tell what it was. It was simply a dark lump on the crest of the road. Closer you could see pointed ears. Was it a large hare or a wallaby or something else? Then there it was, clearly a wallaby -- very small and watching the headlights approaching.

It's not an easy hill on which to stop. Actually, it's easy to stop but hard to restart on the angled gravel. But we stopped to see what the wallaby would do. It shuffled off to the left and Mr Blithe let out the handbrake and started. Then suddenly it bounded across the front of the car, small enough that it was hard to see over the bonnet. Where was it going? Was there any way to avoid hitting it? What about all the neighbourhood dogs?

There was a zig then a zag then it saw the way clear. Straight down the centre of the road.

We followed slowly, its dark marked hind legs comical in their gait as it bobbed down the road ahead of us. Past one neighbour then our driveway. It could keep going and we'd turn. We thought it had escaped but no, it veered onto the dark ribbon of tarmac leading up our hill. We hadn't taken the incline so slowly since getting the driveway sealed. What would the wallaby do? Would it head right over the gardens, through a fence and into the freedom of the back paddocks? Would it chuck a u-turn and head downhill for the road and the more distant fields? What about the lush paddock to the immediate left? It offered shelter and safety.

But no, it led us right up the driveway and paused next to our pitiful attempt at a bottlebrush hedge. We stopped the car and cautiously unloaded sleeping children. Would it want to come home with us? No. It waited just beyond the circle of light cast by the front light. Teeth were brushed, sleepy children tucked into bed and we ourselves staggered towards bed. Hopefully the wallaby did too.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Talking to myself (again)

Before going to Marburg I wondered what the chances were of the area immediately around the Elizabethkirke having shops and specifically bakeries. Not that these HAD to exist, but I like my fiction not to be too improbable. And people always pick up things like that.

"There's no way there could be a bakery there." "What a load of bollocks. This writer , whatever her name is, has no idea what she's doing," I hear people saying. Don't worry -- I often hear conversations in my head. Sometimes in a houseful of kids it's the only way of having an adult conversation.

I am pleased therefore to report that there was not just one bakery near the church, but three in the immediate vicinity. The bakery pictured -- excuse the gloomy photo as it was after 4pm on a winter's afternoon and my trigger finger may have had frostbite -- was immediately opposite the church. The photo was taken in the intervals between a steady flow of traffic which seemed to mainly be buses, streaming between the footpath in front of the church and the bakery. Crossing the road to the steep hill going into the old town, I passed two other bakeries.

The Jaeckels must have had good business acumen. And I can now think up narky responses to those voices in my head.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Please close the door

My mother used to tell me to close the door behind me. I am here to tell you that it is a good idea. It has nothing to do with keeping out draughts, or politeness, or anything like that. It has to do with history and discovery and excitement.

Here's the door:

It's the front door of the Elizabethkirke in Marburg: the much fought over, many times realigned, sometimes Protestant, sometimes Roman Catholic, always religious and political church anchoring the bottom of the hill in the old town of Marburg.

The door doesn't look so imposing does it? Here it is close up.

And here is what you see when you remember your manners and close the door behind yourself:

It's the Prussian crest emblazoned on the back of the door. Remember that the Prussians made Marburg their administrative seat in 1866? Clearly they wanted to set their mark on the town and this was a pretty impressive show of what...arrogance, pride, authority? God and Prussia overlaid. It adds a layer of understanding to how it would have felt to be a resident of Marburg in the 1860s when the Prussians were asserting their authority and their idea of German nationhood.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Changing my mind

As a writer I always privileged imagination over experience. That is, I thought that you didn't have to really know a place or thing to write about it. As I think more about my writing, I've realised that the best, the most evocative, the most immediate writing for me does come out of my own experience.

A brave and good friend read my manuscript recently and commented that the section on Marburg was dry compared to my description of Batavia. She could see and feel the jungle and the islands, but Marburg didn't leap off the page. Even though I had been to Marburg in Germany, I hadn't been attentive at that time to the atmosphere and place. Hey give me a break. I was a fairly newly wed graduate student on her first trip to Europe, meeting many newly acquired relatives, none of whom spoke English. I was simply overwhelmed.

My writing about Asia on the other hand came from the experience of living there, smelling the decaying jungle, feeling the sweat, tasting the food -- real life.

This time when we went to Marburg, I went to taste and smell, look and experience so that I can write in a more immediate real way about the Jaeckels and their life. I walked from the castle to the church. I sat on the steps of the church feeling the cold stone and eating hot bratwurst. I noticed the contrast between the freezing air and the hot food, my warm hands and my cold face. I listened to the river rushing past the town in full spate. I walked alongside the river detouring where the path was closed due to high water. I wandered through the Christmas market that flowed right up to the walls of Elizabethkirke. I smelt the almonds roasting, the dead leaves and the damp cold. I noticed the contrast between the dark, cold early nights and the bright lights of the shops. I pressed against the windows of bakeries to look at the piles of Christmas goodies and everyday loaves. I watched the shopkeepers and how they talked with customers. I saw the icicles hanging off the statues and the fountains boarded up for winter. I drank in all the everyday details.

And I hope that this will reflect in my writing and rewriting and writing again.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

A tentative sigh of relief

I've spent so much time moaning recently about my computer woes that I have become boring. Years of using Macs had left me blase and immune to the computer woes of others. Then fate turned and bit me. All those years of importing information from various computers and piling new software on top of old information caught up with me.

Some kind of internal conflict meant crashing programmes. Even Firefox abandoned me. Anything requiring intensive graphics ended up in kernel crashes. I was not happy. I couldn't run Gimp or even Preview. I couldn't do anything with our trip photos. Some days I couldn't even get an email message written before Firefox bid me farewell. The computer became an expensive stereo. Apparently nothing can kill iTunes.

It's early days yet but Mr Blithe may have ridden to the rescue. He's run a diagnostic programme that identifies and fixes software conflicts and issues with preferences. So far so good. You may even see some photos soon. Or see me cheerful. Try not to be too shocked.