Introducing Sunday

By David Walsh

Gros Michel bananas

Gros Michel bananas

These are Gros Michel bananas. Unless you’ve carefully sampled exotic fruit varieties in Thailand, or are over seventy, you don’t know what they taste like. Gros Michel comprised the bulk of all bananas sold in the world until the 1950s, when a fungus almost wiped them out. Now we mostly eat Cavendish bananas, but they are also threatened by disease. Banana varieties are clones. A single variety has no genetic diversity, and can thus be threatened by a single disease or parasitic species.

Komodo dragon

Komodo dragon

This is a pathenogenic (‘virgin creation’) lizard, a Komodo Dragon. It is non-obligate, which means that individuals of this species can also reproduce sexually. In the short term pathenogenesis offers significant advantages. For the Dragons, who are island dwellers, it seems a great way for an individual to start a new population on its own. Obligate pathenogenic species have the significant advantage of not having to locate mates. But obligate pathenogenic species don’t last long. They suffer from the ravages of rapidly evolving parasites, and they don’t have the genetic diversity to express a sufficient range of phenotypes to respond to changing environmental conditions or inter-species competition. Asexual reproduction is a dead end. Fortunately, no man is a banana. And no little girl is a Gros Michel.

David and Kirsha

David and Kirsha

These are two examples of a mammalian species that employs only sexual reproduction (despite one or two outlier claims). Unlike obligate pathenogens they have engaged in mate location. They did that because searching for a mate is fun. It’s fun because if it wasn’t they wouldn’t do it, and they wouldn’t pair-bond and they wouldn’t breed and they wouldn’t love and they wouldn’t care enough to provide enough care, and they wouldn’t have their children grow up to love and care for their children and their species wouldn’t abide. These two individuals, having been assigned (and in one case re-assigned) names due to social convention, are known as Kirsha and David.

So Kirsha and David, each found a lover, found each-other, became bound to each-other, became mutual care-givers, and made another. And as members of a species within which individuals possess self-awareness, viewpoints can be expressed. Such viewpoints are typically congruent with biologically normative exigencies, but are expressed as if the social domain is dominant. This engenders a first-person narrative style.

Sunday

Sunday

This is our freshly minted little girl. The physical manifestation of our evolutionary drives. We think she is beautiful, but we would, wouldn’t we? Evolution sees to that. And evolution, often through concealed agency, sees to it that we express, or attempt to enhance, our social status by communicating our great good fortune at having a healthy by-product of our pair-bonding, and of our love. I could shout it from the rafters, or hand out cigars, but a blog should do the job.

Heide Museum

Heide Museum

This is Heide Museum, near Melbourne. One of the reasons Kirsha and I have experienced a productive pair-bonding is that our biologically expressed but socially mediated interests are aligned. Sharing interests allows one to select appropriate mates, but it also allows the signaling of appropriate bonding mechanisms. If I liked hotting-up cars, say Toranas, then conspicuous displays of my Torana prowess, say a donut demonstration, would reduce the amount of resource expended on testing inappropriate mates with inappropriate interests. But I like art and, using my collection and the construction of a museum, I gave off signals to which Kirsha was apparently receptive. And so I took her to Heide. I saw, in Heide, the birth-pangs of Australian modernism (presently an uncomfortable metaphor). Kirsha saw in it a kindred spirit to her art garden projects –  in New Orleans and now in Hobart. John and Sunday Reed made Heide, and thus might been inadvertently complicit in the tenuous chain making our relationship. And, of reeds – ‘Man’, said Blaise Pascal, ‘Is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed’. That may be so, but our joyful little bundle of biology is female, not yet thinking so much, but already employing her natural gifts to elicit our love, to prevail on us to preserve her from breaking in the breeze. Our reed will be called Sunday. Never shall be Sunday too far away.

What to expect

By David Walsh

Expecting
verb (used with object)

  1. to look forward to; regard as likely to happen; anticipate the occurrence or the coming of:
    I expect to read it. I expect him later. She expects that they will come.
  1. to look for with reason or justification:
    We expect obedience.
  1. Informal. to suppose or surmise; guess:
    I expect that you are tired from the trip.
  1. to anticipate the birth of (one’s child):
    Paul and Sylvia expect their second very soon.

I’ve used this strategy before, I know. Giving the game away with a dictionary definition is such a simple segue into a blog that it should be beneath me. Again, it isn’t.

We (not Paul and Sylvia) are expecting the birth of a child. The well-paid and expert expectators that we visited to view the child in utero tell us that we will have a girl on July 19th or thereabouts. Definitions 4,2 and 1 are aligned here – we have justification to look forward to the birth of our child.

I have expected children before. I have also been married before. But I have not, hitherto, held these desirable states simultaneously. I am, inadvertently, upholding Catholic family values for the first time. Nevertheless, there is compounded joy in having many things go well. And I like joy.

Kirsha is also joyful about expecting a baby. She thought it would take a while for her to ‘fall’ pregnant. It didn’t. About a billion generations of our ancestors also fell pregnant, so how could she doubt the efficacy of our evolution-given efficient reproductive engines? Of course, many potential ancestors of many potential sexual organisms failed to get laid, or failed to get knocked up, or didn’t produce fertile offspring. That’s the very thing that honed the engine.

Not all kids are planned. My first two wonderful children (one of whom is now a wonderful adult) were, in part, the result of my natural capacity to defer the consideration of consequences while simultaneously seeking pleasure. I can’t really admire the ineffable subtlety of evolution entraining biologically useful behaviours in me by making them pleasurable. That would be similar to commending thermodynamics, or extolling the virtues of the law of gravity (which is a pretty bloody good law, actually).

That this kid, this homunculus-human, this proto-girl was planned is, however, a joyful joining of our biological nature and our human capacity to make choices. I can make a decision on behalf of my genes but also through the ‘me’ that they engender, to propagate them. They exert their influence by contributing to my state of mind. In fact, they elegantly exert their pressure by enabling me – I am conscious because of their inadvertent motivations. This process is all the more exquisite because it produces its outcome without any semblance of goal seeking.

As I said, I can make choices. Delia, my advisor on delicate public matters, delicately advised me to produce a blog confirming the rumour that I have herein clearly confirmed. Initially I resisted. And then I thought of a potential time to come when that rumour is an adult, and that adult wonders what those whose wills and drives produced her all those years before had on their minds at the time. This blog, then, is my answer.

This contrivance that induces in me my desire to pump out children, and words, also enables me to be aware of, but not enslaved by, the mid-term repercussions of my actions. A quick glance at definition 3 reminds me: I expect to be very tired from this trip.

David and Kirsha's Wedding

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett (image has been cropped from the original).

In New Orleans

– By David Walsh

I’m in New Orleans and, right now, I’m missing my kids and my cat. Kirsha is off organizing her gun buy-back, so I thought I’d write a travelogue, because I’m contemplating the contradictory nature of a city that seems to be all underbellies and beguilements, but is desperately in need of the sort of intervention that Kirsha is planning.

New Orleans is Vegas without the bling, or Hobart without the dull. A stroll on the street can be an adventure, with beggars and spruikers and buskers and drunks competing for my attention. Being distracted is dangerous – the footpaths are a minefield of deep pits and overturned concrete, a consequence of the interplay of sub-tropical growth, subsidence, and a cavalier attitude to maintenance. Last night I heard a tale of a community effort to fix up the roads and sidewalks (never footpaths). This effort was inadvertently overturned by a letter to the local paper from a tourist who ‘would never return to New Orleans while the roads are in their present state’. The community response? Solidarity. They’re our roads, this is how they are, and this is how they’ll stay.

The flip side: last night we were able to attend a performance in a warehouse under a freeway featuring a giant machine that makes music. It was part of a series of music boxes that I first encountered a couple of years ago. This one made ethereal, theremin sounds, accompanied by voice and banjo. And then, an hour later, just around the corner from the music box, we heard a twenty-piece jazz orchestra playing elegant, original compositions with astonishing dexterity. There is plenty to do. Even the tourist traps are often worth being caught in.

Just as the state of the roads is accepted, and almost revered, so corrupt governance is taken for granted. When Kirsha first moved to Hobart she was surprised that traffic infringements couldn’t be ‘dealt with’. In New Orleans, getting a permit to build something is pretty easy; everything can be ‘fast tracked’. And, once permission is received, construction costs are low, since wages are off the books and illegal immigrants will work effectively and hard for just a few dollars an hour. The grey economy is thriving, except it isn’t grey: it is black, or Mexican.

Fatalism is rampant, and decadence driven by the certain knowledge of impending disaster – either the next big storm or a bullet in the bum (Kirsha has two friends who were shot in the bottom bicycling away from robbers). And don’t ask, ‘Why would anyone build a city in such a flood-prone region?’ A city that can’t fix a sidewalk won’t spend money building a levy that might thwart a flood in the future. And, after all, a decent-sized storm is a great opportunity for looters. The city remains as unprepared as it was in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy struck. The Mayor, Vic Schiro, in a forlorn effort to prevent panic, told TV and radio audiences: ‘Don’t believe any false rumours, unless you hear them from me’. The mayor at the time of Katrina, Ray Nagin, is in jail and will be for quite some time, as a result of his profiteering from that unfortunate event. There is a joke that highlights the level of corruption among these upstanding citizens. ‘Mayors should be limited to two terms. One in office. One in jail’.

Soon I’ll venture out to meet Kirsha for lunch. I’ll walk through the French Quarter, and I’m sure to hear some jazz, and it will be good enough to present on stage at Mona. It might be played by itinerants, or by Japanese visitors (who also dominate the bluegrass scene). I’ll see the colonial architecture, French, then Spanish, then French again. The Quarter has been falling down for over two hundred years, and I strongly suspect it will be falling down for the next two hundred. It is ‘elegantly wasted’, in a Keith Richards sort of way. And I’ll wander through the Marigny to the Bywater, names that reference the majestic but malevolent Mississippi, past the train crossing where the bullets bit into the bums. I’ll walk from there in the middle of the road, because the sidewalks, as I’ve said already, are barely traversable. And as I’ve also said, the roads aren’t much better, but that just slows cars down and thus makes it safe to walk among the traffic. I’ll pass a sign that says ‘Open seven days, Monday till Saturday’, and another that says, ‘Sorry, we are open’. If I walk quickly behind any young ladies, they will cross the road, harbouring suspicions that I might be a mugger (or a bum plugger). And I’ll get to our rendezvous point, a hippy cafe on a hippy street, and I’ll have a pear and brie sandwich, and it will be one of the tastiest sandwiches I’ve ever had. And the birds will chirp, and the bees will buzz, and the sun will shine, and I will ponder the wonder that is New Orleans, and will revel in the joy that wells up in me, as I notice that it isn’t such a small world, after all.

Me boss’ missus

By Elizabeth Pearce

Me boss and his missus are on their honeymoon in Istanbul. Which reminds me: I told me boss’ missus I was planning to write a blog about their wedding, which I attended in March. Here it is.

Kirsha hasn’t changed her surname to ‘Walsh’, but has kept it as Kaechele (KASH-el-a).1 This is not for feminist reasons. She didn’t like the harsh repetition of consonants: KirSHA WalSH. Her august mate, David, was against Kirsha changing her name, but for more politically motivated reasons: apparently patriarchal re-naming is perniciously retrograde. My own view is that our cultural lives are rich in retrograde gestures, especially where ceremony is concerned. The etymology of the word ‘woman’ is itself profoundly sexist: from the Old English wimman, meaning ‘woman-man’. In other words, ‘man’ is the neutral designation, the standard human, and everything else is an add on, an exception. (‘Wimman’ also seems to be an alteration of wifman, meaning female servant. Even worse.) To call ourselves ‘womyn’, as some feminists advocate, is a token gesture, and token gestures are worse than nothing, the noise in the machine that doesn’t disrupt its operations. Ross Chambers argues that empty oppositional gestures actually strengthen inequality – contribute to the machine’s smooth running – by fooling us into thinking we’ve made a real difference, and hence falsely satisfying our sense of social responsibility. (And he said that before the advent of Facebook ‘share if you agree’ campaigns.) I feel the same way about those bullshit ‘I just want to acknowledge the traditional owners of this parking lot/cinema/primary school…’ that accompany civic ceremony. If you really want to acknowledge the traditional ownership of the land, get off it and give it back. I am comfortable to call myself by my husband’s name (getting married is in itself ludicrously old-fashioned) because I know in my heart and in my behaviour I am womyn, through and through. I haven’t asked Kirsha, but I suspect she feels the same way. For her, though, aesthetics wins the day.

Enough of that. I think what Kirsha would really like (I’d like to write something nice for her. I like her, she’s my friend. And my patron’s mistress, let’s not forget) (I mean ‘mistress’ to mean ‘a woman in a position of authority or control’ rather than a participant in adultery)… What I think she would like is a description of the lascivious and licentious – positively salubrious – succession of ceremonies and celebrations that accompanied their exchange of ‘I do’s. This is not mere sentiment: Kirsha is what she calls a ‘life artist’, which means that she practices a sort of boundless aestheticism that gathers around acts of personal and social significance. In more practical terms: she turns events like dinners and parties, as well as more modest community-based gatherings, into living installation art, as well as bringing together art, architecture, commerce and ecology in projects such as the Heavy Metals campaign and, of course, the Moma Market.

It also means that her own identity, on a day-to-day basis, is often shot through with performance. One of my favourite memories of her (that sounds weird, like she’s dead, but I’m not sure how else to phrase it): in Versace, Fifth Avenue, on a work trip to New York when we were supposed to be looking at the Whitney Biennial. (We did later and it was horrid. I hate art.) Kirsha put on a stellar performance of the spoiled rich man’s wife, throwing a pretend tantrum (although the sale’s assistant was none the wiser) because David would only agree to buy her one dress, not two. ‘This is abusive!’ she squealed, stomping her stiletto. ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this to me!’ Another time, at the Birdcage Bar at Wrest Point Casino, Kirsha and her super hot Yankee friends were playing dumb for a large group of drooling, dorky conference scientists. ‘Tell me, Michael’ (batt, batt, batt go the lashes): ‘what exactly is surface chemistry?’ Somehow, someone ended up flashing a nipple. Not sure how it happened. Next thing, we were being thrown out, the whole hot-Yankee contingent, for improper exposure (it really was just a lonesome hot-Yankee nipple, nothing more); in protest, Kirsha and her friends did a full Spring-Break style topless parade around the bar and back before being manhandled out onto Sandy Bay Road. It was gold. I’ll wager that not a day goes by without those surface chemists thinking of it.

Here are some photos of the wedding (I’ve never been much good at descriptive writing). Have a nice life, Mr. and Mrs. Kaechele.

Kirsha Kaechele and David Walsh Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Kirsha Kaechele and David Walsh
Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Kirsha Kaechele

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Bridesmaids and bride.

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Kirsha Kaechele Image credit:  Jonathan Wherrett

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David Walsh and Kirsha Kaechele's wedding.

Vows.
Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David and Kirsha's Wedding.

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David and Kirsha: the reception.

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David and Kirsha's Wedding.

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Party. Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David and Kirsha's Wedding Party

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Kirsha Kaechele

Mrs Kaechele.
Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

1Later she corrects me: KE-sha-la. Basically I have no idea to pronounce her last name. Or her first, let’s be honest.

Protest

By David Walsh

There is a lot to protest in Turkey. Injustice is rife, with crony capitalism at its heart. Geza Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in European Istanbul, was earmarked to be sacrificed for a shopping centre, and the company awarded the contract has links to the government. And then there was the mining disaster, which happened shortly after the opposition party complained that safety standards were being flouted.

So last night tens of thousands of people marched up Istiklal St, towards Taksim Square and Geza Park. Kirsha and I were there too. We had gone, not to check out the action, but to find a dress for Kirsha that is Islam friendly, not a feature of her regular wardrobe. We arrived before the protestors marched. There were armoured vehicles and police everywhere.

After a drink at in a rooftop bar we returned to the street. By then the chanting crowd was moving up the street, making an enormous racket. Many were wearing mining hats and gas masks, a reference, I assumed, to the dead miners. It was all rather exciting. I asked an English-speaking onlooker what it was all about. He told me it was ‘political’.

Kirsha wanted to go further up the street to Taksim Square, the obvious centre of the action. I thought that unwise. While we were arguing a young lady told Kirsha to cover her mouth, since the police had started using tear gas. I found a raised vantage point, and I could see the water cannons further up the street. The crowd careened down the hill. We soon felt the water cannons, and saw the sparks and heard the snare drum crack of the tear gas canisters being fired. Moments later we tasted the canister’s rather unpleasant contents. So we became part of stampede. We tried to hide down a side street, but it proved to be a dead end. As we returned to the main thoroughfare the surreality of our predicament was both underlined and alleviated when a taxi disgorged a passenger on the corner. It must have battled up the hill against the human tide, the driver doing his job as always, facing yet another of the apparently surmountable obstacles that the Istanbul streets presented.

So we got in the taxi. The driver headed down the street at the same speed as the panicked protestors, and even though the tear gas was choking us he (nonchalant as the best taxi drivers around the world always are) drove with his window down, down the hill to safety. As we crossed the Golden Horn, the gas in the air dispersed until, halfway across the bridge, the protestors gave way to elderly fisherman casting their lines into the Bosphorus hopeful of reeling in their dinner, while history passed them by, as it always has.

Beautiful Silence

By David Walsh

Forty years ago I remember waking up in recovery, and squealing like a child (which causes no shame, for I was a child) to be taken back to the ward. What the dismal, antiseptic-smelling, chicken pox-inducing children’s ward of The Royal Hobart Hospital had to offer is not clear to me, all these years later, but that was where I wanted to be. They took me back there, as they always intended when I awoke. I can’t remember if I was satisfied. I had appendicitis then, resolved with professional disinterest, but with sufficient credibility to maintain my childlike faith in intervention, which fed, through the intervening time, my scientific soul’s confidence in evidence-based medicine.

But forty years later, or two days ago, I remember the recovery room only because the orderlies pointed it out to me as they wheeled me through to theatre. A long, empty room, but not empty of all things; empty of the beds which obviously should fill it. I was on one of those beds later, wheeled in after my disk replacement, but I don’t remember.

This ward, the ward of two days ago, was worth shouting for. A single room with a door outside, into the garden. The most desired room at Calvary, the hospital manager told me. My room, because I was lucky, or more probably, because I was getting very special treatment.

The day after the operation I went through the door into the garden, already feeling ok, the tour of the garden in no way diminished by the noise of the traffic on Augusta Road, nor by the waft of stale cigarette butts flicked into the garden by those too sick or lazy to use the bin. I loved the garden then, one day ago, and even more when I stepped through the door into the garden today to leave the hospital. I loved it because it was there and I could see it, and walk around it, not perfectly steadily I admit, but I could walk around it without pain.

I went to the hospital to have my neck operated on, because my shoulder hurt. The MRI, taken on my wedding day two weeks and a few days ago, showed my disk was exactly where it should be but the rest of me about half a centimetre off, to the left. My shoulder hurt like fuck, and Mr Hunn concluded, with the aid of the MRI and my demonstrable weakness, that my spine was misplaced. Mr Hunn offered to fix it, to replace the displaced disk with a mechanical contrivance, an M6c, an American device not yet approved for sale in America, and therefore exported to the antipodes, to be implanted in me. I accepted his offer.

It worked, and I can walk in gardens only fifty-two hours after the operation. Nineteen days after my wedding I am married, all of me, not just the part of me that said yes, or I do, but all of me. Now no part of me is incessantly screaming ‘I’m in pain’ into my right ear, drowning out bewitching words from Kirsha, and allowing only bewildered words from me.

Again, I have no pain now, and there is nothing to prevent me smelling the pungent shouts of the show-off flowers, nor hearing the beautiful silence of the written word.

Atmosphere

By David Walsh

Merriam-Webster defines ‘engaged’ as:

1. Involved in activity: occupied, busy
2. Pledged to be married: betrothed
3. Greatly interested: committed
4. Involved especially in a hostile encounter
5. Partly embedded in a wall (an engaged column)
6. Being in gear: meshed

I am engaged. I refer to the above definition and engage 2 and 3 particularly, and also 1 and 6, but also occasionally 4.

If you happened to have read an earlier post you will be aware that I was in the US when my younger daughter had an accident. I glossed over my purpose for travelling. Now, with Grace recovering, I think I can reveal that (and I may have already given the game away) I was in the US to propose to Kirsha. Kirsha is American, and she gave up a great deal to move to Tasmania to be with me. So it seemed fair to take her home while I got down on the proverbial bended knee. As the context may also have implied, she said yes. Yay!

David and Kirsha

The deed was done in New York, where Kirsha has lots of friends. I also, to her satisfying stupefaction, secretly imported a few from elsewhere. We had a celebratory dinner afterwards. Several of Kirsha’s best friends collaborated on the dinner, the highlight of which was a table crafted from blocks of ice. This proved to be apropos; New York was in the midst of a heat wave.

A few weeks before, while planning our somewhat one-sided rendezvous, I was preparing a quasi-contract for our mooted marriage on this very iPad in the middle of the night when Kirsha awoke, a rare event indeed, and asked me what I was writing. As a diversion I started writing a poem, and it turned out better than I had any right to expect, given its improbable genesis. I later got local musical polymath Dean Stevenson to turn it into a song.

Atmosphere

Most nights I listen to the soft susurrus
As you draw in and process atmosphere
Making it your own and owning me
As I’m surrounded by your exhale.

I breathe for you and your odour
More rich by the nighttime heat
The night chill comforts me
But I sneak some warmth to enhance your ripeness
And then pick you and prick you
Inflate your balloon with my sticky air

I don’t see you except as my mind sees you
I don’t need to see you
I am invigorated by the darkness
And the darkness within me
I feel you like hot plastic or cold comfort
I feel you and though I am spent
Another deposit wells within me
And burdens me with uncertainty

Sometimes I make a strategic withdrawal
For fear of taking too much
But you need my lust for love and ego
And you tell me so
And I know it to be so
But doubt lingers a little
Not often at all

Sometimes, not often (at all)
I awake, not knowing I slept
And I feel you caressing
My back and kissing
Just as you were
Before sleep overcame me
And made me a victim
Of your relentless
Passion and redeeming

And I am not whole
But I am all I need be
And you are not all
But you are all that I need