Archive for the ‘In Sydney’ Category


January 14, 2008

Sometimes I anticipate the cold like I’m anticipating a slap. At other times I feel eager for it, thinking the surprise will be good for me. Often it seems unreal, as I sit at my desk, in a sleeveless dress, listening to the slap-slap-slap of the thongs of the people going past, or crack ice cubes out of the tray, or walk out onto my street in the morning and the houses seem hyper-real because the sun is so bright. I cannot imagine that it is winter anywhere. Summer feels endless, I can only imagine that it will follow me wherever I go. Not so, Vanessa, you are powerful in some ways, but not that powerful.

 Everyone who I have told I am going to Germany has made a comment about the cold, so much so that I feel as if I am about to go into battle. Will the callow Australian be frozen to death on the zero degree streets? I must collect armour. I have been offered a number of coats:

  1. Rachael’s black Berlin coat, tested in the city itself.
  2. Uncle John’s green woolen coat, which he bought in the 60s, in London.
  3. Mother’s grey Japan mountains in winter coat.

At the moment, I think I’ll go with Uncle John because it is closest to my aesthetic. I have been led to believe that all vanity will be abandoned once I actually feel this cold, but surely it is possible to be stylish and warm? I have even resorted to looking at street fashion blogs  as research. I have been turning my room upside down looking for my thick Russian hat with the flaps. I bought this ten or so years ago and have never had a proper reason to wear it, except as an affectation, and now that it is necessary can I find it?

 Sewing new buttons onto Uncle John’s coat, I can hardly bear to have it over my legs. It’s 35 degrees outside, just looking at the road outside makes the soles of my feet tingle. When all the buttons are secure and I try on the coat, I feel like I am suffocating in cloth. It is strange to think that what now is unbearable will be indispensable in only a few weeks. Not very long at all. I wrote out the days to go before I leave, and drew messy squares around each of them. Seventeen melting fudge square days, for me to use to sort things out, to buy things like stockings and power adapters, and photocopy February and March in my Texta Queen calendar, so I can put it up on the walls of the rooms I stay in, and it will be a piece of my room, transplanted.

 I only know that things will be different to how I imagine them to be. I’m a fan of anticipation, images branch out in my head when I try and think of myself doing even the most banal things, sitting on my bed at night, writing in my journal, standing in a kitchen, flipping a switch on the kettle, I am flipping through a photo album of guesses. While I like it, anticipation can be maddening. There’s some part of me that wants to walk out into the freezing cold street now, so I finally know what it feels like.


Jule und die Seeräuber

January 9, 2008

I found Jule und die Seeräuber by Astrid Lindgren in the book section of Chatswood Salvos. The first thing I did was try and guess what a Seeräuber was. It sounded good, a nice, round word, but I could not guess who, or what, it was. The pictures in the book didn’t help, although I saw that I would be in for a rollicking adventure.


The world’s slowest rollicking adventure, as it has taken me weeks to progress to the second page. Of course I am doing many other things as well as translating Jule und die Seeräuber, like going on bike-riding errands and reading Kelly Link stories and writing about knitting machines and being interviewed about “living the 70s”.

The first thing I did was look up Seeräuber, and found out that it meant “pirate”. It was going to be one of those stories where a little girl meets a pirate, perhaps even outsmarts a pirate. I know such stories well, I grew up reading stories about smart girls. In the books I had as a child, girls were either plucky and adventurous, or invalids. Both seemed equally as appealing, and both were subsumed into my identity.
But Jule looks a bit too young to outsmart a pirate, and I have a long way to go until I get into the story. I encountered a confusing patch on the first page, which involved Großvater, and this discouraged me. I could not work out what he was doing – surely he wasn’t, as my dictionary suggested, falling off the roof over and over to amuse Jule, whenever she said “Jetzt!” (“Now!”). My frustrations settled into a dislike of Großvater himself. He was the one making the translation so difficult. I was pleased when I translated the sentence about him hitting his thumb with the hammer:
“…und er haut sich mit dem Hammer auf den Daumen, sobald er versucht, einen Nagel einzuschlagen”. Take that Großvater!
With Großvater punished, I closed the book and put it beside my bed, in between “the Armstrong Book of Interior Decoration” and “The Discovery of Animal Behaviour”. I left it there for weeks, but pirates started entering my dreams. I shut my eyes and saw feathers falling down the inside of my eyelids. Today I could stand it no longer, and picked up the book again. I am now on to page two. Jule has an uncle who is ten years old. I agree, es is ungewöhnlich!

The Worm

December 24, 2007

            When I open the English half of my Pocket German Dictionary, more often than not it falls open on the page with “worm’s eye view” as the index word in the top right corner. In German, this is “Froschperspektive”. I am yet to learn much German, and the words are still delightfully strange. They give me strong associations, “Frosch” makes me think of an ice cream on a hot day, and “perspektive”, of a spiky fence.

            I spend a lot of time looking through my bright yellow dictionary. I rarely purchase new objects, but this was an exception. Anticipating my handling of it, I thought it would be interesting to see how it degraded through use, accumulating my fingerprints, dints, preferential openings. The cover, thankfully, is wipe clean plastic. I’ve already managed to grime it up, forever the kid who returns home covered in smears of dirt and chocolate, mouth orange from sucking on a texta.

            Often I feel like my life is ruled by mess and chance, and it is my job to create order. When deciding on a name for this blog, I opened the dictionary on “Froschperspektive”, and this became it. I chose it without much thought, but soon the associations started twinkling: this was the perfect name.

            In February I will be going to Berlin, to learn German at the Goethe-Institut, then in March to Leipzig, to be a writer in residence at the university there. This is an exchange program between the writing departments of UTS, where I studied, and the DLL at the University of Leipzig. Telling people about it, many have asked what a writer in residence does. Apart from my duties, classes and readings and so forth, I tell people that I am there to observe. This is where the worm comes in.

            The worm’s eye view is the perspective of the tiny thing looking up at something vast. How else will I feel, suddenly placed in Berlin’s vast streets, a city that’s shed its skin over and over, trying to take in as much as an outsider can? Whatever I know of it now is nothing compared to having lived there. There’s something in the particular everyday life of places that shapes its inhabitants, gets into their blood. The way I feel swinging around Sydney, like it’s my playground, like the city and I have a conspiracy, feels as deep and personal as a close human relationship. In Sydney, I am the bird, soaring over the grid. In other cities, I am the worm.

            The worm’s eye view is also humble, and this is how I feel learning a new language. Despite my lexical pleasure in seeking out words in the dictionary, learning the grammar is difficult, and making the small, baby sentences a beginner like me has the limited means to create, is both fun and frustrating. For so many people, these German words that I am struggling even to pronounce feel inbuilt, they come as easily as English does to me. In English I have the confidence to say whatever I want to. In my best moods, I feel like I can describe anything. With German, only have a very limited vocabulary can be a great relief, knowing that there is a limit to what I can express. At other times, the amount I still have to learn is a bottomless ocean.

            Watching insects, humans gain pleasure from their negotiations with the ‘giant’ obstacles that come across their path. Clothes pegs, blades of grass, our feet: they crawl their way over these things in what looks to be an aimless pattern. Their journeys are all about encounters. Now, suddenly learning German and preparing to go to Berlin, I feel that I have encountered one of these large, strange objects, and am crawling over it, exploring it. I will report on what I find, here.