This is a form of 2016 retrospective, with a verbal nod to Paula’s last Thursday’s Special for 2016. May 2017 harmonise with your desires, and thank you for spending time with me in the year now gone.
Sometimes the quiet of deep night is smashed by the amplified booming of heavy metal from a car stopping for a red light, or in summer the impossibly loud scream of a motorbike. Sometimes as winter approaches an old lady, rugged up in a down jacket, a scarf, a knitted hat, stands outside the minimarket selling strings of dried mushrooms. Sometimes I mutter “dzień dobry” when I mean “dziękeuje”, but only, these days, when I’m very tired or flustered. Sometimes I dare a bit of Polish for simple transactions and I’m invariably answered in English. Sometimes twenty five seagulls perch on the hoarding advertising cheap loans, or a troll movie, or handcream, or chocolate. Sometimes I catch a tram to nowhere in particular, just to see what’s there. Sometimes, but not very often, I lose my calm demeanour with the twins and just wish they’d HURRY UP. Sometimes, and more frequently lately, I long for the bush, the beach, the river, the ocean, a winding dirt track, even a blazing sun. Sometimes I want someone to take charge of me so I don’t have to think for myself, but always I know I’d resent it straight away. Sometimes I realise how lucky I am to be living somewhere else for a year and to spend so much time with my Polish grandchildren. Sometimes (make that often) I develop an addiction – for photographing reflection in puddles or the patterns in bird shit, for Netflix, for sushi, for Harry Bosch novels, for booking online – but rarely for housekeeping or for knitting the jumper I’ve been making for my son for three years. Sometimes the three taxi drivers in the street below the apartment stand around at daybreak, hands wrapped around steaming coffee. Sometimes an old man shuffles through the park, collecting cans from rubbish bins and crushing them before he puts them in his tattered plastic bag. Sometimes (all the time) people come up behind me talking avidly, once a sign of madness, now mere attachment to a mobile phone. Sometimes (once, anyway) an ageing woman dozes through Solomon’s song in “Mother Courage” even though she’s been waiting especially to hear it. Sometimes a mother and her elegant daughter, now as old as she once was more than half a lifetime ago, settle down together in Mozaika or Regeneracja for lunch and a yarn. Sometimes a dog trots through the parkland with a collar luminous in the dusk or wearing a jacket with a hood, or playing with a stick or a ball or a frisbee, or harbouring a sinister intention to steal a ham bun. Sometimes a crow stands in the middle of the road with a nut in its beak, trying to crack it on the hard surface, or cunningly leaving it there for a passing car to break open. Sometimes a woman steps down onto the tram tracks repeatedly to see if the tram is coming. Sometimes the traffic lights on ul Puławska get out of synch, and you can no longer cross three segments in one go. Sometimes it snows and the twins catch snowflakes on their noses and tongues, and recognise dog tracks, and make their own. Sometimes when bad things happen to friends I wish prayer was something I believed in. Sometimes I am so tired the alarm goes off intermittently for forty five minutes before I hear it. Sometimes I meet my daughter’s friends who make award-winning films; trek in Peru; climb walls in winter; come from Siberia to study in Poland; work as film therapists. Sometimes serendipity strikes: receptionist, doctor and injectionist all speak English; inspiration descends when the twins are being recalcitrant; a tractor comes through a grand courtyard entrance just as I take a photo. Sometimes everyone’s on the landing outside the apartment at the same time: I unlocking the door; a workman carrying three long planks; the cleaner with two buckets and a mop; the upstairs neighbour with a pizza; the twins doing a preliminary disrobe. Sometimes my son in law asks me questions that take me aback and have me rethinking many things.
Sometimes (always) I feel completely overwhelmed by love for my family.
You might be wondering why I’m writing like this. There’s a whole chapter in Orhan Pamuk’s The museum of innocence written this way, as he encapsulates a vision of his character’s 1980s Istanbul: the city and the emotional landscape. I know he’s a Nobel prize winner and I’m a humble blogger from Potato Point, but something about the impact of this way of creating a city and a person in that city tickled my fancy, and I decided to give it a go. First thing I notice is that it’s not as easy as it looks. How do I sequence my “sometimes”? What exactly are the salient details? How do I create a rhythm from detail to detail? If I’m after random how do I prevent thematic links?
I write my draft longhand in a gap between flu injection and “Deep blue sea” sitting in the glitzy foyer of the Multikino at Złote Tarasy. It’s a while since I’ve written longhand and I enjoy the feel of a new 0.2 felt tip. I raise my eyes to the red walls and the lights, both real and reflected, between each sentence with that spacey feeling that is both thoughtful and observing. As I type it up a few weeks later, I’m thinking about its structure and it’s then all the above questions occur to me.
Here’s an extract from “The museum of innocence” so you can get a sense of what I was aiming at. Füsun is the object of the narrator’s fixation.
Sometimes Tarık Bey and I would discuss the vagaries of the economic situation, man to man, and in low voices that suggested conspiracies, deceptions, and dirty tricks. Sometimes Füsun would go upstairs and linger, which was upsetting. Sometimes the phone would ring, and it would be a wrong number. Sometimes Aunt Nesibe would say, “Next Tuesday I’m going to make candied squash.” Sometimes a gang of three or four men would hurtle down the hill, yelling and singing football songs as they continued in the direction of Tophane. Sometimes I would help Füsun pour coal into the stove. Sometimes I would see a cockroach scurrying across the kitchen floor. Sometimes I would sense that Füsun had taken off her slipper underneath the table. Sometimes the watchman would blow his whistle right in front of the door. Sometimes Füsun would get up to tear off the forgotten pages of the Saatlı Maarif Takvimi one by one, and sometimes I would. Sometimes, when no one was looking, I would take another spoonful of semolina helva. Sometimes the picture on the television would go fuzzy, and Tarık Bey would say, “Could you see what you can do, my girl?” and Füsun would fiddle with a button on the back of the set, while I watched the back of her.