I’m a Tourist Here

So many novel things here, Nearly everything here different, odd, fresh, unexpected.

Seated in the tram I can see a leaf, pea-green, curving across the right rear of the neck of a young man. Beneath the leaf’s stem a scarlet circle the size of a florin encloses a second red circle, the size of a shilling. The man’s bronze skin is tight around his skeleton. On his bony chin curling black whiskers struggle for a quorum.

People on the tram wear small ear appliances as for the deaf. The hearing aids connect by fine white wires to shallow cuboids of steel or of plastic. Some travellers’ fingers tap the flat upper surface of the flat cuboids, some speak to the appliance, some nod and sway as to music. Is this tram a conveyance for the deaf? Or for devotees of some religion which is new to me in this place where I travel as a visitor?

Few are those who read books or newspapers. Few converse with a neighbour. I hear Mandarin, Spanish, German, Japanese. English too is heard. Most of the speakers address unseen interlocutors. Strange, very strange to me, the ways of this place.

From the open front of a young woman’s blouse two breasts swell and fall as she leans forward to tap a plastic card against device attached to the tram’s interior. No-one looks, no-one remarks, no-one warns the lady of her deshabille. Many are those who tap plastic cards against the fixture. Truly and devoutly observed are the rituals of the tram ride.

The headline on the discarded newspaper reads: GEN Y SHORT ATTENTION SPAN. This message, written in lettering I recognize, refers to nothing I know. Elsewhere I read of GEN X. Another hieroglyph: is there an alphabet of GENs?

Legs, arms, faces everywhere, inked in black, sienna, greens, pinks, yellows and magenta. Skin with calligraphy, with illustrations, with In Memoriams. Human integument as art gallery.

Springtime, announced by recognisable blossoms, by my itching eyes and my sneezing, yet confuses me. One day cold, bleak, blustery with rain, the next day hot. Really hot. Exposed breasts greet the sun. The weather changes mood with a violence new to me.

People pass me in the street but few eyes meet mine. Instead the eyes regard those same flat rectangular devices that the hearing-assisted cultists watched on the tram. People pass in haste. Few smile. Haste and flat devices deprive me – deprive all of us – of communion. In this springtime, the flower of community fails.

So much new, strange, odd. Fast, brief, solipsic. The new poverty. In my own country I ride and I pass, fascinated, a tourist.

John Bracks Collins St 5pm

Lights off in the City of Churches

We are driving along a principal Adelaide artery. Dusk has fallen and passed. It is dark now. This main road carries a lot of traffic along its numerous parallel lanes. Unfamiliar with Adelaide and totally devoid of any sense of direction, I pay close heed to my guide, Georgie, a native of the city.

 
‘Merge left,’ commands Georgie. I obey. On my right a larger car swoops close, overtaking me. Studiously attentive to my own lane, I concentrate on the road ahead.
 
Georgie explodes. Pablo guffaws. They point: ‘Look! Look! Look over there!’ I look over there. Over there is the car that swooped by a few seconds ago. Indistinct movement from the roof of the car. Lines of cars in our many lanes slow now to take a bend and we close on the vehicle of interest. I sneak another look. There is movement: a head and torso project up through a sunroof.
 
Straightening up now, I resume driving as Pablo and Georgie shriek ever louder: ‘Look! Look!’ I do look. The moving torso has arms. The arms wave frantically. The face appears to be female. The torso is manifestly female: with every wave of her arms the waver causes her breasts to wobble wildly. I know all this because the waving woman is naked from the waist up. What is more, the waving lady seems to be performing specifically for us.
 
This is puzzling. Unfamiliar with local road culture, I wonder whether we are witnessing a species of road rage. In fact the waving and the wobbling – and quite likely the undressing – are all the opposite of road rage: road love, in fact.
 
Jumping and wobbling and waving in the cold of this winter night the woman mouths words in our direction. We cannot hear. Quite frantic now the dancing mime of The Great Northern Road redoubles her tempo. Surely we will notice her, surely we must hear.
 
The traffic lights turn red and all cars come to rest. The swooping car has swapped lanes, drawing directly alongside us so the terpsichorean gesticulator can make herself heard. She makes a winding movement with her right hand. She mouths her message. Windows slide downward in the car on our right. We lower our own. Voices are heard, a chorus from our neighbours: ‘Your lights! Turn on your lights!’
 
We turn on our lights, smile, wave and mouth our thanks. The lights turn green, the dancer disappears from the sunroof and we drive our ways.