I have to tell you this. I may never see it again. It is the time of the jacaranda. The sun seems to be at the right distance from earth, exactly. It has been tuned to the right volume. The light is even and so rich you might call it an effulgence. Not gold but certainly yellow. Faces around me are minimally expanded by this light. It is even. There is no glare at this time. I am walking in the university campus uphill slightly, with and through a throng. That is to say some are going our way, some opposing whom we thread through, others are a cross current and others are standing still or sitting to one side like tableaux as an advancing movie camera would see them: looking at us then, no, looking beyond us. All are strangers. All in the light of mid-afternoon in early summer. They pass, they pass, looking not at us (those going my way) but beyond. They pass into the very past. Some of that past I remember. A youthful kiss looms, goes out of focus and passes behind, just as in the movies.
Everyone is young, except me and, ah, over there is a grey-haired professor greedily inhaling the fragrance of youth, as in a rich suburb you might inhale the strangely sweet effluvium of money. Oh, happy prof. Young faces. Young faces. Of all races. The biggest jacaranda trees are in Brisbane I think. Here in Sydney we are not shamed. There is a famous one in the north east corner of the quadrangle, on the lawn, against the sandstone cloisters and the gargoyles above. It has been dying slowly for many years. But right now I am approaching the quad uphill and looking out from the university over the suburbs. Over the roofs there are two jacarandas against the sky, their colour a species of the genus purple called mauve I would say, amongst the roofs and the trees whose foliage is all plain dark or pale green. That mauve makes a strange dissonance against the blue. Kings Blue I believe. A subtle dissonance. A bright mauve, almost purple proper in the shade, but here unearthly mauve in the sun. The foliage is like tree fern – a fine ferny green. I learn, through reading Raymond Chandler (The Little Sister), that the jacaranda also grows in California.
The Bank Building is on my right with its huge sandstone Corinthian columns (the suburbs ranked beyond Parramatta Road are on my left). This building was moved in sections from Barrack Street in the city. ‘Vhy?’ you ask. Well, I ask you ‘Vhy a duct?’ Hmm. I pass the hall of the Pharmacy department on my right. It is open and dim within through the arched doorway under its coloured lead-light glass. It is a hallway of great charm.
Now I turn into a tiny courtyard of some complexity. It is the Vice Chancellor’s Courtyard. Two paths go through to the quad, one straight ahead, the other curving through the trees which crowd this space and through which another jacaranda sprays its mauve, or purple if you prefer. At the curve toward the quad stands winged Mercury, his winged ankle around eye level, his winged helmet and winged pointing arm up among the trees. I pass through an archway, through the cloisters and emerge from shade within a gathering of Chinese tourists who are photographing each other, the carillon tower and the jacaranda in the far corner. One lady almost backs into me with her camera and I skip around her, apologising and smiling. The one who was about to have been photographed smiles too at my reflexes and speed. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ I say. I am glad that they are as amused by me as I am by them. We are all smiling at each other. Some are waving. They don’t often respond to a greeting. I think some are afraid of being mugged.
We hear of people returning from the dead, or from beyond the time when they should have died, having walked in the fields of paradise with the Virgin Mary, Einstein, Buddha and other figures of myth and popular imagination. Personally I do not wish for anything better than this: walking in this light anonymously amongst the young, the venerable and the Chinese in Sydney University.
I know now, through many re-readings of Raymond Chandler (The Lady In The Lake is my favourite) that he is not perfect, that he is not free from obstructions to pleasure, that it is not immaculate entertainment. I’m talking about the times when the detective Marlowe declines sex with a ravishing beauty because it would be too ‘easy’. We’ll leave that. There is a macho agenda in short. And possible – very possible – racism). Over the city which is down there beyond the point where Broadway becomes George Street (having been Parramatta Road for many kilometres) two giant bands of cloud cross in a condensed italic X. These I would say are stratus. One is moving fast, but for a while I can’t tell which, the higher or the lower. The upper band has a shape at the front that is like a giant prawn or shrimp. It fans out right across the sky into the tail of a crayfish, over Redfern or beyond.