Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Opa - Part 1 (re-edited 31.7)

Yesterday I paid $15 to watch my grandfather pass away. It was a shit day. The parking fee afterwards was like rubbing salt in a wound. I laughed awkwardly at the ridiculousness of it, as I imagined the machine saying, "thanks for coming, hope you enjoyed the show!"

The handsome figure above is that of Boris; son, brother, soldier, saviour, survivor, nomad, husband, father, migrant, builder, provider, grandfather, great grandfather and a truly great man. He was born in Smolensk, Russia on the 3rd of March 1922 and sadly passed away here in Melbourne, Australia on the 28th July 2009. He lived a remarkable 87 years.

My mother, pictured above centre, and below left, has asked me to write a eulogy and speak at the service as she feels she cannot. I of course agreed and am using my blog as a bit of a first draught.

Boris was one of five children and at the age of 16 he left whatever known comforts family living had offered and marched off to military school as a cadet where he spent the best part of the next two years, with the occasional visit home to see his family. At the age of 18 he marched away from the school and his family for good and marched off to fight in World War II. He never saw his parents or siblings again.

World War II ended in 1945. Fortunately my grandfather survived. Unfortunately, returning to his birthplace of Russia, was not really an option for him. Instead, he walked from Poland to Germany, where he was taken in by the Americans and declared ‘without a country’, therefore a nomad.

It was in Germany, that same year, he met my grandmother, Kate. No doubt she swept him off his feet with her good looks and flamboyant nature, just as I am sure she was smitten by his dashingly handsome features and masculine charm…. Eventually! For as I only recently found out – there is a little more to the story than the boring old ‘love at first sight’. My grandmother tells me they met at the house of the local tailor. It just so happened that one day whilst my grandmother was there, Boris walked in to have a new pair of trousers altered. Apparently he took one look at Kate and asked “who are you?” Not wasting any time, he then smugly professed that he would come back the next day and take her out!

He did come back the following day - however, Kate was nowhere to be found. Determined to win this frauline over, he managed to find out where she lived and marched on over to her house, only to be greeted by Kate’s stern, and not so impressed mother, who promptly told him to go away.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And that is exactly what Boris did. He even went as far as to place oranges that he’d purchased from the black market on Kate’s windowsill and would write on them “from Colombia”. Fortunately for Boris he had somehow already won over Kate’s father with his desirable American cigarettes, but Kate and her mother were yet to be convinced that this nomad could offer them anything of substance. Eventually however, whether it was the oranges or not I can’t say, Kate gave in and went out with this persistent man. The date can’t have gone too badly because she continued seeing him after that – with or without the oranges.

They married on April 22, 1947 in a tiny church in my grandmother’s hometown of Gunzenhausen.

In October that same year my mother was born. This makes me laugh. I imagine that alone made them somewhat rebels or non-conformists for their time. It explains a lot about the following two generations. (My guess is that they really were good oranges!) Good on them I say, for that unity of their marriage lasted an outstanding 62 years!

Two years later, in October, my grandparents and my then one year old mother boarded a ship to Australia. The journey took them one whole month, during which time the men were separated from the women and children. My mother not only had her 2nd birthday as they crossed the equator, she was also very ill whilst travelling causing my grandmother much distress. Fortunately however, the three of them arrived on Australian shores safely and in good health in November 1949.

The family were positioned, along with many other migrants of that time, at Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre, where I believe again, the men's quarters were separate from those of the women and children. The men were sent off to work in various factories like the power station and the sugar factory, without any particular trade. With a little money under his belt, he set out to find accommodation for his young family, during which time my grandmother and mother waited in anticipation at Bonegilla, for around 2 weeks, for the news of a new abode and a new beginning.

After Bonegilla, my grandfather was contracted to Newport Power Station for two years. The family moved in with an Australian fellow in somewhat of a ‘communal’ bungalow-style dwelling and continued to learn and adapt to their new culture and environment. Determined to throw everything he had into this new life, full of new opportunities, my grandfather spent his weekends laying the foundations for a new family home on the of land he had managed to buy in Altona for around 100pounds.

On April 21, 1950 my uncle Harry came into this world – one day before my grandparents 3rd wedding anniversary. This addition now completed the ‘household’. All he had to do now, was complete the house.

After many laborious weekends, he did just that, and I am proud to say, the house still stands today.

Once settled into their new family home, Boris decided to study via night time correspondance, whilst continuing to work days, with a view to becoming a draughtsman. He officially achieved that goal, which made him proud as punch, in August 1960 when he received his diploma from the British Institute of Engineering Technology. After completing his contract with the Power Station and working various factory jobs, he gained employment as a Draughtsman with a company called Gerard, where he worked for over 25 years, until he retired at the age of 65.

Each year after his retirement brought a little more gentleness to his character, though his spirit remained as strong as an Ox.

He was a loyal family man, with a dry sense of humour and a strong sense of pride. And we, his family and all those who loved him were, and still are, so very proud of him.

And in closing, four lines that he would often recite, from the novel Spring Torrents by Russian author Ivan Turgenev

Days so happy
Years so gay
Like spring torrents
Have passed away.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lady Bug

‘She was already a star in my eyes. She was manic, passionate, obsessive, miserable, even a little bit neurotic - the stuff I always believed artists were made of – the stuff I could so easily relate to. I loved her from the word go. She had a frantic energy that allowed you no other choice but to notice her and pay attention. She could also paint. Her work was great and possessed that same frenetic energy as her personality – and why wouldn’t it – it was HERS.’

I thought about her yesterday when Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones started playing on my i-pod whilst walking to the bus stop. I had a vision of her dancing in her bedroom like some kind of praying mantis-like Goddess.

I have not had a car now for 18 months – (since a man in a ute drove into the front of my car and the insurance company declared it a write off – they handed me a cheque for some measly amount but by the time it finally arrived, after all the stuffing around, the money had already been spent) – I’ve since realised just how much I took having a vehicle for granted – mostly for the simplest and closest of tasks.

I very rarely ventured too far from home even when I had a car, especially since my parents moved to the N.S.W border. My main reason for heading into the city used to be to visit them… or my Melbourne gallery, who I left last year after a six-year relationship, of which 2 or 3 were quite tumultuous. Most of my work is now exhibited interstate or overseas so I have even less reason to travel to Melbourne.

So, back to my walk yesterday. She entered my thoughts and I wanted to write about her. The words just began to arrange themselves in my head and I was so disappointed I did not have my pen and notebook with me. I used to always carry them with me but have slacked off in recent times due to a lack of inspiration. I find it so much harder to write now than say, 2 years ago… so when I do get the urge it is frustrating to not have the utensils I need to make them permanent.

I drink a lot less than I used to. I often wonder whether this plays a part in me writing less now than I did then. I pretty much wrote every day back then. Whether it was poetry, short stories, diary/blog entries, random obscure emails or just stream of consciousness, (which later got labelled psychobabble by a reader) – whatever it was I was always able to write easily and freely. Perhaps my consumption of alcohol allowed me to be less inhibited – who knows. I do know that whilst walking to the bus stop yesterday and having all these thoughts race through my head, I felt like running back home and opening a bottle of wine and Microsoft word. Instead, I went to work and lost my mojo.

It’s weird; I struggle with the same inhibitions when it comes to my painting. The first word is like the first mark on a blank canvas. Intimidating.

I paint for myself, just as I write for myself – FOR ME… and I don’t hide my work because I feel there is nothing to be ashamed of. If others choose to view or read it is their prerogative. So why do I feel this intimidation? Will I be 40 before I finally say, “I don’t give a fuck! I’m just going to do it!”? What am I really afraid of?

I’m writing this morning. On an empty stomach. No alcohol has been consumed. I had an awful, broken sleep… it’s an effort to find the words but I am determined.

‘We met in Sydney. The meeting was for business but quickly became a pleasure. We fast became ‘friends’ and I religiously travelled to Sydney for a number of her shows. I even purchased a work of hers, a self-portrait, on my second or third visit. It hangs proudly in my living room.

I stayed at her place a few times – every trip it was a different location. We’d talk about art and pain. We’d drink tea and I’d passively smoke her second-hand tobacco. She introduced me to the likes of Louise Bourgeois and we would write sad and beautiful prose whilst listening to Tom Waits. If we ventured out we would walk the streets of Paddington weaving in and out of galleries.

She had the ability to force answers out of me to questions I did not even realise existed within me – about myself, and about my art. My head would always spin after our conversations – but it was invigorating.

I was always a little bit in awe of her though I never really knew just why. She openly expressed so many things that I seemed to suppress, and I am hardly a shy or introverted person. I looked up to her, even though she was tinier than me. She was like a ladybug on speed… always feminine and always frantic. Her energy made me both happy and sad at the same time.

She would sometimes disappear. She could often never explain.

If I was her lover, I just know she would have broken my heart.

I miss her. I often look at her painting and wonder how she is. I hope she is ok.’

Perhaps I’ll write her.