Will it rain?
From time to time the sunshine spreads itself on the grass by the viaduct, then withdraws, leaving a muted emerald carpet. How do painters, as for instance Georges Seurat, render two adjacent areas of the same colour, one sunlit, the other in shadow? In school I tried a transparent grey wash. My teacher praised other things in the painting but did not mention that. Much nearer in time and space – at this edge of the park just outside my glass doors, a brown plane tree leaf drops into view, and though brittle with death, floats, pinwheels, wavers, spins and flutters, not rapidly, out into the road. Here, inside my new flat, Don Cherry’s pocket trumpet seems to be sniping it, with measured yet unpredictable pauses, bright stabs and brief staccato fire – an effect heightened by the leaf’s ragged edges. Now it lies just there on the concrete, its brief course ended. Across the park a hill rises, elevating the near edge of the city. The Centrepoint tower and others, including a couple of cranes, reach above the hill from near the CBD beyond and watch me calmly. Actually two of the cranes rise out of the near side of the hill from a hidden street among the buildings.
So this is where I am now. Will it rain?
Does it feel like home?
Things have gone that I would rather not think about, but here is Billy Strayhorn’s Rain Check. Strayhorn was Duke Ellington’s co-composer and arranger. This was written while he was indeed looking out the window at the rain, probably in New York. It is not programmatic like Ellington’s train masterpieces. The rain is not mimicked. If anything it is about the feeling an observer might have looking out a window on rain. The music is whimsical and happy, with streaming paths of harmony, flares and collisions of brass, but it also tragic at this time. We all will die and never hear this again. If you should take the A Train you will think of Billie Strayhorn. Many things come back. In Queens I thought of my uncle Charles Valentino. He would never have heard of Billy Strayhorn.
This is about looking at a region not far from where I lived, which is yet unfamiliar, though the postcode is the same. Is it becoming home?
I used to glide down from Glebe Point Road, turn left along the concrete road outside the front doors and beyond the steel grille I now watch through, turn right along the water, by the fish market, rise beneath the overpass and turn right again, then glide down once more, skirting China Town, and rise again into the city, turning left along Kent Street and right once more up to the cycle path on the western side of the Harbour Bridge. After the fire I did not think I would have a decent sound system again. I thought Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Debussy, J S Bach, Miles, Louis and John Coltrane, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Bartok and all the rest were gone. All will be revealed. The brilliant presence of instruments and voices in this smaller place is heightened by the flat green vacancy of the park out there – empty today of footballers.
It darkens again.
Will it rain?
The glide down from Glebe Point Road is now eliminated. The right turn into Bridge Road is a stone’s throw from where I sit. I have been round there and up over the Bridge three times since I moved here. People ask how I am settling in. Does it feel like home? Well, I miss living opposite Sydney University and round the corner from Glebe Point Road with its cafes that I rarely visit now, its cycle shop, three bookshops and many people moving whom I no longer know (though I can see and feel their complex energy).It seems odd to be living down at sea level. I can’t see the water until I ride around that corner and fly along on the other side of the viaduct, past a cement works, the cables of the Anzac Bridge; by maritime glimpses: of boats, wharves and cranes, and alleys of flat water between these. Then up under the overpass, the fish market on my left, back up and down into the city, skirting China Town, and on up to Kent Street, turn right and up to the cycle path on the western side of the Harbour Bridge. We’ve just been here but I couldn’t resist another dash over the course. I have been over twice since I moved here, stopping at Milson’s Point to eat a smoked salmon roll and read part of the paper, then on to Careening Cove, and back by Kirribilli House near where a spinster aunt lived in a flat above the harbour. Then back, this time through China Town and the gilded tree in memory of the Chinese on the gold fields.
Last night I heard one of the regular barrages of fireworks here. Twice a week I am told. That was the second time and on that occasion I stepped out onto my narrow front veranda and watched. Big yellow stars rose, expanding in size and drifting and spreading in a slow explosion toward me, then floating down against the buildings of the hillside across the park. It is hard to tell whence they have been fired. They rise but little before falling. A brief display but a delicate rather than a spectacular one. In the night a thin curved pipe of fine blue neon rises above the buildings of the hill, part of a sign otherwise invisible. It would feel – my life would feel – much emptier if many of the records and books in the second room of my old place had not escaped the full blast in the front room, which rained debris on everything it did not annihilate. Furthermore, people have been ridiculously kind. My friend Nick Zaharias and his wife Therese have given me a little device called a Disc Man to play CDs and the sound from the tiny pyramid speakers is surprisingly good. Bruce Viles, who started the Basement club, and his wife Karen have given me a TV, and a chap I barely know has given me an old Marantz amplifier, a JVC turntable and UBL speakers. Not in the class of my old system but much, much better than I thought I would have again.
Looking out across the park now, the calm abstract feeling of the viaduct’s low arches curving across the far end of the park, the back of the gargantuan greyhound racing grandstand – sculptural and widely spaced as against the textural swarm of Glebe Point Road – is beginning to enter my bloodstream. Silent, tranquil yet metropolitan. Most cities have their silent obscure places, often by water.
Billy Strayhorn’s ashes were committed to the Hudson in such a place, by members of the band. A patrolling cop told them he had seen someone come here and stand for a while some minutes ago. They all looked up and along the river, and there was Duke Ellington himself (whom they all called the phoney Duke) walking away, getting smaller then disappearing around a bend. They would see him soon enough, in rehearsal or concert. Billy Strayhorn never again
It darkens once more.
Will it rain? The abstract symmetry of those arcs of the viaduct is somewhat marred I notice by a group of people living beneath them – because some have no choice and it is also a protest against the disdain for housing problems shown by the government. Twice in my life I have lived rough and gone hungry for a significant period. Once when I ran away from home at 14. Then again when I starved in Cooktown and finally found a job on a fishing boat out of Cairns. Hunger screened the desire for possessions and cultural stimulation. My first meal was in Queanbeyan Jail, prepared by the sergeant’s wife as was the practice in country towns. Hunger has not been the problem since the firebombing of my flat In fact there is now no real problem My two bikes were in the hall and in the laundry, unharmed. A forgotten but clean green copy of Ulysses was under the sink! A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu likewise. Who could complain?
There are no shops along the road, but wholesale meat works, and further along the concrete road an elegantly designed beauty care establishment. Beauty care holds no interest but my heart sings when the girls come out late in the afternoon, laughing and laughing. Many are middle class white Australians and there are Chinese Australians and Muslims with head scarves, all laughing together. I would like to be one of them, but am not keen at all to have sex with a man. Girls, you don’t have to do it!
There is late sun in the clouds now
Will it rain tomorrow?
Last night a tremendous crack of thunder hurled me thousands of metres into the night sky. I left my body and looked down on it dropping spread-eagled on the city at colossal speed. I think it took about a second to wake up, warm and dry in my bed. At that point the rain began to roar and gurgle in the trees and scrub of the hillside where the light rail runs out onto the viaduct. It crashed on the galvanised iron awning and hissed with a rushing horrible vindictive sound on the concrete road out the front. It held this fierce freezing crescendo for days perhaps. You may have seen it and the damage on TV. The heaviest rain in New South Wales this century. Rain, it seemed, could rain no harder. I could hear it trying. You will have seen that and the earthquake in Nepal. No comparison. People have real troubles out there. Some are losing their heads, literally; their food and their homes. Thanks to television it all seems to be happening at once.