376,000 Footsteps in the Sisterhood of Man

It was the running of the Jews. Not in Khazakstan but at Melbourne’stan.

Historically, you only saw a bunch of Jews running if there was a fire or a pogrom. But yesterday hundreds of Jews were afoot, an infrequent event since the original Fun Run across the Red Sea. (On that occasion all the Israelites crossed the line. The Egyptians failed to finish.)

We Jews were not alone at the Tan: joining us were Africans from the Horn and from Mandela country; a pair of Iranians, a smiling Swiss, sundry Catholic Australians; the odd Chinese, a couple of Argentines and their Australian born progeny. And my wife and my not-very-old oldest grandchild.

If a kilometre is one thousand metres and the average human pace is one metre, and the circumference of the ‘Tan’ is 3.76 kilometres, then a single lap represents 3760 paces. Yesterday saw 376000 paces in the sisterhood of man.

My team, “Queue Jumpers”, named in honour of those disgraceful individuals who do not go through the correct channels, raised about 1800 dollars. The entire event raised in excess of $20,000, to be spent in two struggling Aboriginal communities in far north NSW and in a Community Centre for queue jumpers from Darfur.

Over coffee, before the event Akbar the Persian storyteller told a story. Akbar has elevated my runs over 25 years – ‘one quarter of a century’, he observes – with folktales from his homeland. Yesterday’s story: The revolution was coming in Iran. We knew people, Bahai, whose houses were burnt by militants. A friend said to us – do not stay in your house. It is not safe. They will burn your house next.

We decided to leave. We went to a cousin’s house. But another warned – ‘this house will be burned tonight.’

We had to leave. We all ran from the house but a man with a big automatic weapon stood outside. He said: ‘Do not go. They will burn this house only when my body is dead.’

That man was Savak. Secret Police. But we did not wait. Instead we ran. We ran to the house of the parents of this young woman…

Akbar here indicated his niece, Paloma. It turns out that Paloma -‘dove’ in Spanish – speaks Spanish fluently. This dove was born in Bristol. She takes up the story: My father was in America. He bought a red Ford Mustang. I sat in the back; there were only two doors. He brought the Ford Mustang to Bristol and he drove us, Mother and me and Father, to France, then all across Europe, all the way to Iran. I was four when we left Bristol, but I remember the red car, I remember I sat in the back.

Akbar takes up the story: We ran to the house of Paloma’s father and mother, all of us – myself, my parents and my cousin. Paloma’s family took us in and we stayed. We stayed in their house for nine months and we were safe.

And then we came to Australia.

Akbar smiled. He said it was time for a real Persian story. He told a folk story, of Mullah Nasruddin. Akbar’s story took us to a different age, a different place. We sat in the sunshine and watched and listened to the genial teller of tales as he smiled and talked.

Then we arose and ran, we Aussies, we Jews, we Muslims; we Africans and Catholics; we old and wrinkled ones, we new and sprightly ones; we arose and ran 376,000 footsteps in the Sisterhood of Man.

 

Spring is Here – Get Ready for Summer

Great Britain, April, 2013.

There is news of a sighting. More precisely, there’s a report that someone in Bristol claims a sighting. It might even be true – perhaps the someone did sight the sun in Bristol, briefly, the day before yesterday. The day before I arrived.

In Whiteladies Road, Bristol, a sandwich board is full of sunny optimism: SPRING IS HERE, it sings, GET READY FOR SUMMER. The advice that follows makes alarming reading:

FULL LEG 10 pounds

BIKINI 15 pounds

BRAZILIAN 18 pounds

No-one in Bristol should shed nature’s protective fur. For that matter, no-one anywhere in Britain ought to follow that advice.

***

Gippsland Lakes, Victoria, Australia, March, 1990.

A lady, middle-aged, bellows across the water from the deck of her rented yacht. She projects her fruity English accents in the direction of Dad’s boat. My aged uncle sits on Dad’s deck, enjoying the day’s end.

The early evening has turned decidedly cool. Dad and his crew shelter below decks, while Uncle sits above, nodding pleasantly from time to time in the English lady’s direction. As dusk descends, Uncle, who is deaf, drinks in the peace.

The English lady and Uncle have not been introduced. The lady is pleased to share her life story with Uncle. She tells him about her travels and her maritime experiences.

Visiting the daughter, actually. Lives here in Orstraliah. Married here, what?

Uncle nods, smiles.

Always enjoyed boating, all of us. Cowes Regatta, what not. Husband’s vice commodore there.

Another nod.

Cool evening. Reminds one of a coolish time at Cowes. Husband and I went for a quiet evening sail. Left the club, tooled around till dark, turned for home. Monster squall blew up. Caught us unawares – below decks taking cocktails. As one might – moon above the yardarm, what?

Uncle – watching a pelican gracefully spilling air, gliding, teasing his sight in slow, elegant inevitability – misses his cue, fails to nod.

His locutor raises her voice helpfully.

Nasty Squall. Tipped the bally boat over. Husband and I took to the dinghy. Squall passed. Squalls do. Boat out of sight, had to row to land.

Uncle, enjoying the first stars behind the lady, looks attentive. From time to time, as her jaws come to rest, Uncle obliges with another nod.

Rowed all night. Dashed cool by morning. Rowed right up to the jetty at the Club, there’s Reginald, Club Commodore, strolling along the pier. Calls out to us: “Lovely morning for an early row.”

One had to explain: ”Not rowing for fun, Reggie. Bally shipwrecked. Learned something from the experience, though: never knew the purpose of hairs on one’s pussy, Reggie – keep one warm in a shipwreck.”

Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 7 April, 2013

What I Have Been Doing With Your Donated (and Undonated) Monies

Late Training Notes from the Bristol Downs.

I promised to report on your Unusual Investment. (If, as you read this, you don’t know about that Investment, please visit these links http://hopkintonrespite.com or
http://www.youtube.com/user/HopkintonRespiteTV
It is not too late for your dollars to join the nearly-four thousand dollars that preceded yours, whose donor investors will never see them again.)
Since I first wrote to you the grass has not grown beneath my feet. A certain amount of tinea has, but this is inevitable: I have been training hard. The Boston Marathon will be run on Monday 15 April and investors in my little Scheme are helping the Michael Lisson Memorial Respite Centre.
Michael’s mother, who created the Centre, wrote one week ago, reminding me that Michael died on the day of the 100th running. I ran that day, unknowing. Now I know and marathon running feels like a small matter.

They ought to call the Downs the Ups, these vast, everlasting, uptwisting hills. Or the Steeps. From one end of the Downs you can’t see the other for distance. And even if you could, you couldn’t – because of the mists. In spring, season of mists and frosts.

My father, not a lewd man nor crude, told few risqué jokes. However this semi-liquid air brings to mind one of Dad’s one-liners: Did you hear about the man who took his girlfriend out into the night air and mist?

Enough complaining. Hilly Bristol, like coastal Israel, is terrific training ground for Monday’s Boston Marathon. We’ll run up the Newton Hills between miles 18 and 21, hills famous for breaking hearts, but the Bristol Ups, like the long, high dunes of Herzliyah, have toughened mine.

This is my race preview. I have trained long and hard, six days a week, resting only on the Sabbath. Each run feels easier than the last. Gone is the sense of labour in a run of a mere hour’s duration. My legs feel wonderful, muscular and light. There is the little matter of the creaking discomfort in the left knee – my good knee – a new sensation. The knee hurts only when it bears weight. Best ignored.

With the exception of a 3.5 hour run in the Jerusalem Forest all my training runs have been solitary. This is not of my choosing: running with a friend is four times easier than running alone. This is true for all runs, over all distances. I know: I have done the maths. However all my friends have stopped running; they have heard the call and they have gone inside for dinner or for breakfast or to their homework or to dull duty. So I run alone.

In Bristol Alfred Lord Tennyson has kept me company. Some fluke or inadvertence has selected the poems of Tennyson on my i-phone. Useless here in the UK for telephony, my i-phone has become the perfect companion. Deaf and mute to the world outside my earbuds, my Apple sings the songs of my choosing, or in this case, the poems of my non-choosing.

He was keen on death, was Lord Alfred. From ‘Ulysses’, where he found romantic allure in Death, the Adventure; to the dying of King Arthur; to the demise of the Lady of Shallott; through lyric after lyric, the Laureate spoke to me, morning after morning, of death. Last Sunday he spoke to me at great length of the loss of his friend Arthur Hallam.
Endless his grieving, dark his spirits, Tennyson’s mood finds its echoes on these misty Downs.

That day found me running near the railing that kept me from stepping out into air and falling hundreds of feet in near-dark to the river, tirra lira, below. A blaze of red in the gloom, patches of white at shoulder height; what are these? A brief breather is permitted. The patches of white turn out to be cards, handwritten by members of a local junior cricket team and a junior football team, in memoriam to a teammate. The blaze of red is a football club scarf inscribed in black marking pen: Russell Simmons # 14.
Fresh posies of daffodil and another, paler flower, bloom from the railings.

No-one else in sight. No-one to ask or tell. No-one else to lament. My head bends, defeated. A sudden roar, a cry of raw sorrow bursts from my throat. My voice thickens, my eyes are wet.

Running is an easy thing, marathon training now trivial.

Shaking my head, shaking it to shed reality, I look up once more. There are more words to be read on that blood-red scarf: You’ll never walk alone.

Postscript: Afterwards I Googled Russell Simmons, deceased Bristol sportsman, and felt still sadder.

Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 10 April, 2013

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