An Intimate Encounter

I arrive at the barber shop in an alley still dark on this winter morning. The shop is in darkness. A young woman arrives, unlocks and greets me, voice chirping, accent continental. Fair hair cropped close here, a full fall there, interesting geometry in the crosscuts, her face pink and round, cupcake cheeks slashed by straight lines of smile.

 

‘Good morning,’ she sings, ‘What is ahead of you this morning – do you have something fantastic to tell me like the story you tell me last time?’ What story did I make up last time? I can’t remember. I make no coherent response, but my barber needs none, smiling merrily at the great joke that is the life of cutting men’s hair in the centre of a large city.

 

I’ve come today to have my beard and moustache trimmed short. Johanna trims away, chatting gaily. She moves fast with smooth flowing movements. Gently she hoists a sagging jowl into the path of the oncoming mower. Deftly she mows that vulnerable Adam’s Apple region, where iron bristles have caught previous blades, making them jump and jag and cut. With swift sallies of the trimmer she shears my moustache and spares my nostrils. She darts out to the sides and mows my sideboards, somehow pulling up short of my ears which appear now suddenly larger in their emergence from the shrubbery. Sheltering beneath the nose which dominates the hairless lowlands, Johanna pounces on escapee wisps at throat and jaw.

 

Behind and above Johanna an image stares down at me from the mirror, mirror on the wall. The aircraft carrier chin, the pendulous ears, the imposing nose make a disturbing sight. Ready to take my leave I thank Johanna for her work but she is not done. No, no, she shakes her head, there is more. A swoop upon an unruly eyebrow, some quick nips in the caverns of nostril and past the tragus of ears, and now Johanna lays down her shears. Having ventured into realms of cerumen and snot she emerges with no sign of nausea. Her face registers the pleasure of being alive, of innocent intimacy. She turns from me, addressing a bottle of potion on the bench. Squirting sounds then her palms descend upon my cheeks, cool and moist. Softly she slaps cheek and jowl, cool palms cupping, caressing quickly. Now forehead, now scalp enjoys the laying on of hands.

 

The face in the mirror shines with astonished delight. Johanna croons her goodbyes. Ten dollars lighter and very young I depart in daylight the barbershop in the alley.

 

 

From the Heart 1

Warily opening the newspaper I came upon the following passage, quoted in an essay authored by Aboriginal leaders. I found it unusual.

 

“What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a real future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you. And you should take that a step further and recognise us for who we are – Aboriginal people in a modern world – and be proud of us. Acknowledge that we have survived the worst the past has thrown at us, and we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our language and our people – our full identity. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way.”

 

 

This cri de coeur from the pen of former Australian of the Year, Galarwuy Yunupingu, distils the Letter from the Heart, which is the statement of Aboriginal consensus on their future. There’s a Jewish saying, words that come out from the heart (will) enter the heart.

 

From Laurenzo Marques to Nyngan on Bogan

A man accosts me in the darkened lobby of the hospital in the small town where I’m working. ‘Shalom’, he says.
He gropes inside the front of his shirt and pulls out a silver magen david.
‘Shalom aleichem’, says I.
We swap names. For the purposes of this story, his name is Federico.
Federico looks not ancient, not brand new. He’s tall, compact, has an olive complexion and he bends forward as he speaks. His accent is not Australian-made. His English is arrhythmic.


‘What are you doing In Nyngan, Federico?’
‘I live here. Thirteen years now.’
‘Will you tell me your story?’
He does so.
 
 Before I repeat Federico’s story, allow me orient you to the remote, obscure town of Nyngan by referring you to my recent blog post (Nyngan on the Bogan).
 
Back to Federico: ‘I come from Mozambique. You know, was colony of Portugal. In 1976 Salazar dies. A bastard, Salazar. Like Franco, not a Jew-lover. Both of them, friends of Mussolini. Salazar dies, the blacks start to revolt and Portugal says, OK, we leave. They just run away, no negotiation, no transition. Then starts the war. A civil war. Massacres, the usual thing. First the Portuguese come to the coast in sixteenth century, they set up the port, Lorenzo Marques, a stopping place to their bits of empire in India. They go to India for the spices. They build their African colony by sending all their criminals, convicts. Like Australia. Like Australia, the same, those convicts become successful and they are comfortable. Portugal comes, butchers the blacks, in 1977 they go, then more massacres. Africa.
 
A nice place actually, Mozambique – for a Portuguese. But not now, not in ’77. In ’77, I know if I stay I will die. I leave my birthplace. My barmitzvah was there. In the synagogue, in Lorenzo Marques. Now I am in Portugal, a refugee, among all the refugees – from Mozambique, from Timor, from all places that Portugal runs away from. I cannot go back to Lorenzo Marques. Another Jewish refugee. History’s old story.
 
 
No-one can go to LM now. It does not exist: now the town is Maputo. And the big statue of that old colonist, Lorenzo Marques, they tear it down. Now in that square is a sculpture of a bird.   
 
 
My grand-grandfather comes from Portugal to Mozambique. Now my family, all gone, all scattered. Six brothers and sisters, some in London, some in South Africa, one sister in Norway. She was the last one of the six I have seen. She used to visit me here in Nyngan, every winter of Norway. Last time I visited her was before five years. That last time, in Norway. Family all scattered. The Jewish story. Always the same. You know.
 
 
You want to hear how I come to Australia? Things happen for a reason. There is a meaning. I study history, I research. There is a reason. I believe that. So in Portugal I am safe. My grand-grandfather was Portuguese so I have citizenship. But no future, a refugee. The Jewish story. Always the same. So I wander. I work in Vancouver, I leave, my visa has finished. I work in South Africa. Many Jewish there. I work In London, in Finchley Road. Again many Jewish. I work in Norway. In between visas I work on cruise ships. Eight years on cruise ships; you don’t need a visa. On cruise ships there are Jewish. Also Barbados, every one old, everyone rich. Some Jews there too. I work In Korea. That’s where the miracle happens that brings me to Australia.
 
 
One year before Korea in Vancouver I apply for Australia. A Mozambiquean friend in Australia advises me: be careful what you tell them when you apply in the Embassy. Don’t say the wrong thing. So the embassy woman, she asks me what I will do – she means work – in Australia. I say I have qualification. I tell her I am chef. I don’t know what answer is the right answer. I know from my friend they don’t tell you what they want and what they do not want, but if you say wrong, they close the door. I answer, I pay the application. It will take a few months, the application, she tells me. Another cruise. And another. A letter arrives from Ottawa. The letter is from Australian High Commission in Ottawa. I have immigration visa. But no money. To come to Australia I must pay. So I wander on cruises and I work and I save. And I know I will leave the ships one day and I will settle and all my friends on the ship, always they will be slaves. I pay for a flight from Korea to Australia. Maybe three hundred American dollars, I go to the airline office to pick up ticket, the day before my flight. But it is a public holiday in Korea. Office is closed. I have paid, I have visa, I have no ticket. My flight is tomorrow. Here happens the miracle. I put my face against the window. I see people inside, cleaning. I make with fingers – come here please – come to window, I must ask. They come, but no-one speak English. They find someone. I tell him I need my ticket, I point to the office where the woman sold me the ticket, they go in, bring the woman out. A miracle. A public holiday, in Korea, the office is closed but I have my ticket. Things happen for a reason, I believe it.
 
 
 
In Australia, in Sydney, I work in Bondi Junction. Again many Jewish. I am there some years. I marry there, my wife have lymphoma before we meet. Then she is cured and we marry. Have children. Since thirteen years I am in Nyngan. I come here, I come here for the peace. I work at the pub as chef. Then the manager closes the kitchen, leaves Nyngan, manages from the city. I have no job, but things happen for a reason. I believe that. I sit in this coffee shop and the manager of the biggest hotel comes in, says, Hello Federico. Come work for me.
 
 
Small town, you know, everyone knows everyone. Good people here. My wife gets a second cancer. We drive to Dubbo, we drive to Sydney, we drive, drive. Always long drives, costs hundreds of dollars petrol. And the people of Nyngan collect money for our travel. Good people in Nyngan. Nothing happens without a reason. But my son, he’s grown up, I tell him – get out of Nyngan, no future for you here, go see the world, go build your future. You know I believe.
 
 
Will you do me a favour, Howard? I want for my doorpost the Jewish sign, for the doorpost, you know. I google but I don’t just buy. Has to be real, you. Needs the writing inside, not just the box .   

Paint Me As I Am

A poet sent me this poem. It is a poem I could never write. It is the poem of a spirit stronger, freer and bolder. When a poem as true as this comes my way I feel I know the poet, I’d recognise him by the beauty of the poem. I marvel at the freedom he claims and I rejoice for him, while holding my breath as he skelters along life’s unseen edge. My timid spirit prays, ‘o let him not fall off the edge.’ 


Paint Me As I Am


Why don’t you paint me as I am?             

Running and reading, with waves and

Sand tangling in my hair.

With fire in my hands. 

Paint me as a surfer, catching opportunities like a wave.

 

Paint me without dark paint, for I am not

only shades of grey.  

Paint me somewhere else, where dew moistens leaves

and the chilly air circulating around me that

makes every fibre of my being feel alive.

 

Paint me with my wrinkles, for those are signs of me laughing.

Paint me so my tears and scars don’t show.

 

Paint me with my nightmares but most of all, paint me with my dreams.

                           – Miles, aged 11


SCOOP INTERVIEW AND BOOK REPORT:

Literary Giants Hail ‘A Threefold Cord’

 

Since the quiet release of ‘A Threefold Cord’ last week, giants of literature and history have joined a lengthening queue to sing choruses in its praise. 

Leading the push is Leo Tolstoy who confided to your reporter: ‘I wish I’d written it instead of ‘’War and Peace.’’ Another writer remarked: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a child in possession of a love of stories will much enjoy this book.’
The author penned the novel in 2013 at the age of sixty-seven years. For that somewhat flimsy reason he decided the work would consist of precisely 67 chapters. When he told his daughter-and-publicist the title was, ‘A Threefold Cord’, she replied: ‘That’s got to be a working title Dad.’ ‘No, that’s the title, darling.’ ‘No kid will buy a book with that title,’ was her crisp retort. For the pleasure of defying his firstborn the author determined the title would stay. 
From its inception the author of ‘A Threefold Cord’ has always spoken of it very highly. ‘It’s a cracker of a story’, he told your reporter. 

Intended for shared reading between a parent and an adult of eight years and above, the novel has been trialled in readings to primary school classes across Victoria. 

‘Listening to early chapters, children laughed. Upon meeting the enigmatic and sinister Dr Vandersluys they gasped. Upon hearing the testimony of Samara, sole survivor of a refugee family whose boat sank off Christmas Island, children were moved to tears. That wasn’t entirely unexpected,’ said the author. But when teachers wept I was surprised.’

I wondered whether the book was too sad for children? ‘No, not for children, but it might be too sad for grownups. Children like it because the three friends who make up the Threefold Cord are so brave, and loyal and clever and inspiring. And FUNNY.’
But Doctor Vandersluys, I wondered, ‘Is he a he or a she?’
‘I ask the same question’, said the author. ‘I hope to find out in the sequel.’
‘THE SEQUEL! Will there be a sequel?’
‘Yes, I’ve already written the first twenty-three of seventy-one chapters’, replied the 71-year old author.

As an e-book A Threefold Cord is available from:

ITUNES:

https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/a-threefold-cord/id1237456156  
AMAZON:

KOBO:

https://m.indigo.ca/product/books/a-threefold-cord/9781925281415

ADVANCE COPIES OF THE PRINT EDITION OF  A Threefold Cord ARE AVAILABLE HERE NOW 

https://www.hybridpublishers.com.au/product/a-threefold-cord/
AUTOGRAPHED COPIES MAY BE OBTAINED DIRECTLY FROM THE AUTHOR

Nyngan on the Bogan

 
 The term bogan (/ˈboʊɡən/[1]) is a derogatory Australian and New Zealand slang word used to describe a person whose speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplify values and behaviour considered unrefined or unsophisticated. Depending on the context, the term can be pejorative or self-deprecating.[2]

  – Wikipedia
 
 
I never dreamed the river would give its name to the shire. I knew only that Nyngan was built on the eastern bank of the Bogan. A friend who knows his outback towns said, ‘You’ll like Nyngan. Nyngan’s doing well.’ My friend was right. I do like Nyngan. And I like the river. But I never imagined ‘Bogan Shire.’ You drive along the main street through the shopping centre, and you come to a small rise. At its top a sign reads: GIVE WAY TO HORSES IF ON BRIDGE. And there, stretching away to your left and your right are the tranquil waters of the river. Quiet flows the Bogan; you might say it’s a river with decorum.
 
 
 
It was not always thus. In April 1990 unusually heavy rains fell in the catchment areas upstream. The Bogan rose and threatened the town’s modest levee banks. The local populace built a frenzied barrier of sandbags but the levee was breached and the town was flooded. The townspeople had to be airlifted out. The airfield being under water the only effective aircraft were helicopters. Everyone was helicoptered out, some on army choppers, on others owned by private individuals, and aboard yet others belonging to TV stations. The populace of an entire town was hoisted away into the air. One of the military choppers, a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, returned and stayed. It stands just off the main road as a reminder. Meanwhile the levee bank is now a full two metres higher than the 1990 level.
 
 
 
You must not think there’s been no news in Nyngan since 1990. On the contrary, the town supports a number of newspapers; just how many is hard to work out. I paid my one dollar and eighty cents for The Nyngan Observer and read it from cover to … well no, not to the opposite cover, because on the way I found a second newspaper, The Daily Liberal. And I was ploughing through the Liberal when I found myself engrossed in the pages of The Western. And all three papers, locked in amorous embrace, are chockers with news. Through The Observer I learned that students from the tiny school in Hermidale starred at the Dubbo Eisteddfod. (I’ve never previously had to actually write ‘eisteddfod’. Once you’ve written it down, you scratch your head. The written word looks too short. The word feels longer. But there it is. Life in Nyngan is like that – a thrill a minute.)
 
 
The editorial in the Daily Liberal pulls no punches. Beneath a photograph of the (Liberal) premier and a headline: PREMIER STANDS UP TO POLITICAL CORRUPTION, the editor boldly asks: Do ‘you think the convicted criminal and former NSW government minister Eddie Obeid should receive a generous parliamentary pension on the taxpayer’s dime?’ On the facing page Senator Derryn Hinch has no time for pedophiles. I mean he does not award them the right to privacy. The headline reads: RENEWED PUSH TO KNOW WHERE SEX OFFENDERS LIVE. The following pages are drenched with culture. Photo after photo of little girls in tutus, all younger than six, participating in the Dubbo Eisteddfod. The pictures were taken by the wonderfully named Orlander Ruming. They show innocence in sequins and scarlet lipstick. (I hope Derryn’s bad people live far, far away. And they don’t take the Liberal.) The Liberal believes in small business. On page 16 three female businesswomen, Haley, Jacqueline and Georgia are listed under ‘Adult Services’. So adult in fact that one of the three is described as ‘mature.’
 
 

Nyngan Observer


 
Encouraging fact: FIGURES FOR SEX ASSAULT REDUCE. Incidents of malicious damage, fraud and sexual assault have all fallen dramatically in the Bogan Shire (Nyngan Observer). It was only this weekend that ‘The Australian’ smacked its lips, announcing the RISE in crime in Victoria. Wouldn’t you know it – those soft-on-crime socialists? Back at The Liberal we read how Dubbo is a mecca for dole bludgers, ‘ranking eighth for people who fail to attend job interviews, miss appointments and turn down employment offers.’ That’s Dubbo, two hours drive to the east. Dubbo, Bogan City.
 
 
 
But back to the Bogan. The Bogan arises near Parkes from whence it flows 617 kilometres downhill into the Little Bogan River to form the Darling River, near Bourke. The term Bogan is Aboriginal. It refers to ‘the birthplace of a notable person, a headman of a local tribe.’ The local tribe happens to be the Wiradjuri. I’m a Wiradjuri boy; that is I hail from Leeton, which is a long, long way downstream of the Bogan, but it’s still Wiradjuri country. We – Nyngan, the Bogan and I – happen to be in the centre of New South Wales, a state larger than most countries in Europe. From the bridge over the Bogan the road stretches far west to Broken Hill. That’s the Barrier Highway. To the north lies Bourke. I have to confess to a boyish feeling of excitement. Here in Nyngan, in Bogan Shire, I’m surrounded by places and streams of legend: I’m front of Bourke, upstream from the Darling, staring at Broken Hill. Only an hour or two from Parkes (Parkes! You know Parkes? The Dish? Never mind…)
 
 
 
I find myself here in Nyngan, on the Bogan and I find myself happy.
 
 
CULTURAL FOOTNOTES:
 
1. Fifty kilometres south of Nyngan you’ll find a sculpture of Thurman The Dog. I have been unable to learn more than the name and the location. If you find out please let me know.
2. This Tuesday June 20 a visiting author will read from ’A Threefold Cord’, the exciting, hilarious, suspenseful, uplifting and all-around good novel by Howard Goldenberg. Howard will read to the grades four, five and six of the Nyngan Public School. Don’t miss it!

Traralgon Marathon Report

Given the event took place over a week ago this report is pretty tardy. The truth is I have nothing to report.
If you’d asked me for my report thirty-nine years ago, I’d have leaped into print. Likewise had you enquired in June 1990, I’d have been bursting with news. In 2000 I reported on my run with Fidel. Even though he rode much of the way in my car, Fidel was awarded a Finisher’s medal as First Dog across the line. And in 2007 there was news of a different order.

But in 2017 I have nothing to report.

The Traralgon Marathon is Australia’s senior event. This year marks its fiftieth running. As well as being our first marathon, Traralgon is Victoria’s Country Marathon Championship. All in all a pretty lustrous affair. Competing under his nomme des jambs of Pheidipides, Howard Goldenberg ran his maiden marathon at Traralgon thirty-nine years ago. That year 181 runners started and 141 finished. I still have the official printout of the results. At the foot of the second of two roneoed sheets of paper (this report antedated the internet), you’d read: In 141st place, Pheidipides Goldenberg; time: 4 hours, 31 minutes, 31 seconds.

Every time I run a marathon I write one. That simple passage through time and space, so simple, so elemental, you mightn’t credit it worthy of remark. But every running feels remarkable to the runner. In the marathon the runner encounters the sole self, discovering some things that are unwelcome and others that make the runner feel a little proud. In a marathon, as Zatopek remarked, we all die a little. The event is charged with significance for this runner because the essentially solitary passage through time and space always involves encounters with others. It is the comradeship, the fellow feeling, the respect that elevate our experience. In that sense the marathon is a metaphor for our lives.

A watcher of the Barcelona Olympic Marathon might have caught images of the leading bunch of five as they passed their drink stop with seven kilometres to go. They had, running in intense humidity and heat, slowly outpaced a score of household names from Kenya and Tanzania and Korea and Japan and Australia. These five were the bravest of the brave on that particular day. One of these five, one only, would become immortal. Four of the five grabbed their special drinks at the 35 KM mark. The fifth grabbed and missed. And ran on, turning back being out of the question. The four drank and ran and drank again. One of those four passed his unfinished drink to the fifth. I do not recall whether the drink-giver won the event – I fancy he did not – but in that moment he joined the Immortals. In such small moments we see the glory of the marathon.
All this reads a bit portentously. Most running – and all of mine – is more comedic or shambolic than deep. In the field of my third Traralgon I sighted at the Start the esteemed and beloved Cliff Young, Australia’s most famous potato farmer, a previous winner of the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon. Cliffy used to go on his training runs wearing his hobnail work boots. If he needed a haircut he’d trot the thirty kilometres from his farm to Colac, then run back home again. That day in Traralgon I wondered if I’d manage to get close to him. Around the three KM mark my legs became over-excited and accelerated and I hauled him in. Running a couple of paces behind Cliff I admired the light lacework of his tracksuit material. I drew closer. The lacework was in fact the work of a legion of hungry moths. Through the mothholes I could see and admire the pale skin of those spindly old legs.
‘Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot/But he’ll remember with advantages/What feats he did that day.’ Thus Shakespeare. It was in Traralgon that I ran my best marathon time. In those better years I’d usually finish in three and a half hours – not flash but respectable. Around 1990, everything went well. By the twenty km mark the field was well strung out, each runner alone with his thoughts and his hopes and his faltering strength. Somehow on this day only my shoelace faltered. I heard a slap, slap, slap – one slap at every second stride. I looked down; my right shoelace had untied itself. I stopped, resting my foot on the lower timber of a little footbridge. I tied the lace and cursed myself for the loss rhythm. 

Where strength falters it is rhythm that lulls the unthinking legs with metre that beguiles like music or poetry. I straightened and placed one foot forward, then the second, now the first, now the second. And here, quickly, rhythm returned. I ran on and on. I passed a browsing cow. She looked up and gazed at me, ruminating. I passed a lonely church. I counted cars parked on the verge, calculating numbers of worshippers.


Approaching Traralgon on the return loop I saw the smoking chimneys of the power station blackening the winter blue with coal smoke. Crossing the river I was welcomed by a pelican gliding overhead in his landing approach. I blessed the bird of good augury. After that I think I thought of nothing. At forty kilometres I felt weary and I cursed the distance remaining. I slowed, realising I was about to ruin everything. I never recovered my pace. I cursed my feeble will.

A short time later that felt like a long time I crossed the Line. My time of three hours and fifteen minutes and thirteen seconds was to be my best ever.

Four weeks before this year’s Traralgon I ran a brisk 6.2 kilometres on unforgiving concrete. I thrashed along, full of surprised pleasure in my pace. Later, when I checked the elapsed time (35 minutes) I was reminded how, nowadays, mediocrity is beyond me. After the encounter with the concrete my right knee started to hurt. The after-pain of running always reminds me of the achievement that brought it about. Pain always passes but while it lasts I smile with small pride.

In 2007 my elder brother Dennis, always thirsty for my company, offered to come along with me to Traralgon. With him Dennis brought a hitch-hiker, his flatmate and devoted companion, Sahara the Hound. Sahara was a dog I never managed to like. In this I came closer than most. For Sahara was a raucous, snapping, yelping creature, anti-social, sociopathic in fact. Sahara yapped and snarled her way into the rear of the car, lay down on the seat, growled a bit and fell into silence, then into sleep. For the duration of the two-hour drive Dennis and I spoke as brothers do, of nothing and of everything. We arrived, I registered and showed Dennis the Finish Line. ‘I estimate I’ll get here in four to four-and–half hours,’ I told him. My estimate was incorrect; I crossed the line in 3 hours, 45 minutes, beating the only other sixty-plus-year old male by a handy margin. In disbelief I checked and rechecked my time.

As ever, Dennis swelled with pride at the achievement of his younger brother. Here I was, 2007 Traralgon and Victorian Country Marathon champion (male, sixty-plus). I duly added the achievement to my Resume.

During the drive home, Sahara slept again. Again Dennis and I chatted. Dennis told me of a question he’d been mulling: ‘ I’ve decided: I’m going to have the operation, Doff. I’ll lose weight and I’ll be able to exercise. I’ll have more energy because I won’t have sleep apnoea anymore. The doctor says I’ll be cured of my diabetes.’ I misgave but said nothing. ‘Doff, I know you’re super-cautious. I’m the opposite. I’ll have the operation and I’ll get my life back!’ I hoped he would. Dennis went on: he’d complete his MBA in a month or so, he’d graduate then he’d have the surgery. After recovering from the operation Dennis said he’d revive his business.

Two months later Dennis graduated at the head of his class, with High Distinction. In September he underwent bariatric surgery. Fourteen days later he died of complications. Every June the Traralgon Marathon comes around and I remember.

In 2017 my training was the best for years. I entered, paid, arranged to travel with a support team comprised of a friend and his 11-year-old son. We booked overnight accommodation in Traralgon and I saw my physio about the oddly persistent knee ache. My physio, a gifted and devoted torturer, rubbed and pressed and stretched me. She prescribed exercises, with which – to our mutual surprise – I complied. And my knee hurt more. I had an x-ray that showed a pristine joint and a panel of four physios gathered in conclave before the light-box to advise me. I rested the knee as they suggested. I took the dicey non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication that threatened my remaining kidney function. My physio taped my knee. I rested further and lost fitness. Two days before race day I could not walk to the toilet without pain. We cancelled the accommodation. The good people at Traralgon Harriers gave me a rain check to 2018.   

In 2017 I have nothing to report.
 
 
 
Footnote (kneenote, really): my knee feels better every day.