Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Welcome

In the late nineties, I lived for a couple of years in Buenos Aires. The time remains a bonus in my life because, like most people, I would probably have stopped only briefly in the city before moving on to the more publicised wonders of Argentina. I would have missed the rich melting-pot that is El Capitol.

Buenos Aires prides itself on its European ambience. Its architectural grandeur and cafĂ© culture have led to it being known as the ‘Paris of the South’. However, the insouciance of  the French capital has failed to translate across the Atlantic. In every Buenos Aires barrio, there are myriad cafes, gyms, restaurants, nightclubs and shopping-centre extravaganzas. All are are packed with bodies well into the night. The Buenos Aires resident lives at a frenzied pace—shopping, eating out, exercising, or meeting friends at parties or asados (barbeques).  There is much swapping of besos—always two, one for each cheek. The population does not waste time on sleep. Portenos live large, with an enthusiasm that exhilarates even as it exhausts the newly-arrived.

Ironically, my first experience of the Argentine psyche came before I even touched the country’s soil. I was on the national airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, flying from Auckland to Buenos Aires. This is the longest flight in the world over continuous ocean, and it swings very close to the South Pole. On a clear day, it is not uncommon to see icebergs far below.

I had the good fortune to be in business class, and had spent the flight intrigued by the antics of the woman seated in front of me. Extremely well-dressed, she had been given very special attention by the plane stewards. Quite a few of them had taken the opportunity during the flight to plop into the empty seat beside her and chat animatedly. Of course, it would be months before my Spanish would be good enough to understand even a fraction of what they were saying. As the plane readied for landing, the passengers began righting their seats and packing away their Walkmans and newspapers. A burst of Spanish came over the loudspeaker and the woman in front of me shouted “bravo” repeatedly. The staff beamed at her. She must be keen to get off, I thought.

The plane descended rapidly—a little too much so, I thought—but I relaxed as the runway appeared under my window. The landing gear came down and I prepared mentally for the bump of the wheels on the runway. I was startled when, seconds from touching the ground, the thrusters roared, and the plane went up again at speed. I gripped my armrest tightly as I felt my stomach falling away.

The plane tilted crazily, then began rocking from side to side. The angle was so extreme that one moment I was looking directly down at the city passing below, and the next there was nothing but sky. The woman in front of me roared something in Spanish that I interpreted as “we are all going to die”. The plane lurched drunkenly over the Rio de la Plate and possibily the wing-tips got wet. Buenos Aires tilted up and down. My stomach began heading north. This was it, I thought. The end.

The runway approached again. This time we bumped and stayed down. I wilted in my seat as everyone around me erupted into wild cheering and clapping. The woman in front stood and took a bow as the plane slowly taxied to the terminal.

The cabin began to empty, people pushing past. As the steward helped me with my things in the overhead locker, I shakily asked him “What was that about? Was there some kind of problem with the landing gear?” He gave a snort of laughter and explained in beautifully accented English that it was the pilot’s final flight before retiring, and that it was an Aerolineas custom to do a flyover of the city ‘waving’ goodbye. He gestured to the woman who had been sitting in front of me and who was now shrugging herself into a mink coat. “This is his wife. She came to celebrate with him.”

I went on to many other adventures in Argentina: riding with gauchos, getting a drenching at the great falls at Iguacu, and hiking the treacherous glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park. However, nothing, before or since, has raised my blood pressure as high as that Aerolineas pilot did.

Buenos Aires is a vibrant, colourful, and culturally rich city. Go there, right now. You’ll have a wonderful time and learn a great deal—the least being to always fly Qantas.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mrs Catch cooks


I went to a Tupperware party at my friend Gina's place the other evening. There are plans afoot to organise the alternative universe that is my pantry. Some crisply new and functional plasticware will add the final stylish touch. Well, at least until the Catch clan begin to handle it.

But I have to confess. The best thing I got that night was a recipe that I shall share with you now. Please don't panic about its complexity or number of ingredients. You may not have my superior cooking skills*, but I'm sure you can manage it.


Ingredients:


**


      +





Method:
'Smoosh' the mixture in a largish bowl.
Pour and drink.


Welcome to champagne slushies! Just when you thought it could get no better.
Onto it people!

Bubbles of love from
Mrs Catch (hic)
xxxx

* Anyone who chokes at this will be skewered.
** For those international readers who are unable to access the Weis' brand...you have my condolences. You now have one more reason to visit Australia.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A Happy Story

He’s not really a friend, but his face is very familiar. I have seen him at least once a week, often twice, for a couple of years now. He is the man who loads my groceries into my car at the supermarket.

What makes him memorable is his invariable happiness. Not just a pleasant demeanour. I’m talking full-blown ecstasy. Sometimes, he even does a little dance while loading the bags. A soft-shoe shuffle that ends with a big ta-daaa’ of the hands. He sings a lot too. Mostly just a little humming noise, but occasionally, he breaks out, operatic style, startling passers-by.

There are no other customers in the pick-up queue this particular Wednesday, so I take the opportunity to askhim.

“How do you manage to be so cheerful all the time?”

He pauses his packing and looks up at me, startled. As if it is incomprehensible to him that not everyone lives in such a state of euphoria. Then he shakes his head, making his badly cut hair fall forward on to his face.

Just am, he mumbles. My drawing attention to his cheer seems to pop a bubble somewhere in him. He looks down and keeps packing. It dawns on me that a previous customer may have given him a hard time about his service style. Now, he thinks I’m about to do the same.

I apologise, and explain that I love his cheerfulness. I add that I don’t know how he does it with so many harried, cranky, customers. He brightens at this.

“Well, you see, it’s part of the job. Making them have a little smile, or a laugh. If someone comes in, all down, it’s great to send them out laughing. Makes you feel great.”

“Is your whole family like this?” I enquire. He gives a hoot of laughter. “Not likely.”  Something in his tone is bitter, but he’s not about to tell that story to me, a complete stranger. I tell him he does a great job and that they should be proud of him. He puffs up.

As he walks away, finished, I tell him that I’m going to write a story about him—the happiest grocery-packing man in Australia. He turns to me with a huge grin, and gives me a thumbs-up.

I took it as permission.


Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Why do you write?


Last week, I was in a mad rush. trying to stuff all life's disparate elements into the small box of available time. My greatest difficulty was getting my girls to do their homework, which is due every Tuesday. I know if it gets left to the weekend they are not going to make the deadline. But they resist. Every. single. week. I have to put on my cranky pants to get the job done.

This particular afternoon, I had pinned one child to the study desk (figuratively, dear readers), and was in search of the other. I found her lying on the floor, surrounded by pencils and paper. She was writing about sea creatures, illustrating her words with mysterious, psychedelic fish shapes. It was pages and pages long, and very complicated.

After watching her for a minute, I sighed. And slunk quietly away. She was setting down things that she was fantastically interested in. It was like interrupting David Attenborough just to ask the time. 

This semester, my fantastical interest is a creative non-fiction course. It's journalism, but with bling bits. The weekly reading, by Lee Gutkind, was like a little pot of gold for me. It narrowed creative non-fiction to five essential elements.

1. research
2. reflection
3. real-life truth
4. reading (of which you must do much)
5. 'riting (the craft)

This reading also introduced me to Annie Dillard. Wow.
“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, "Simba!” ― Annie DillardThe Writing Life
In another reading, a frustrated teacher bellowed at his students "What are you doing here? Why do you write?" There was deathly silence in the room. Someone finally piped up timidly "To leave a record."

That's my reason too. I've never felt motivated to have anything published. Once the piece is written, the tension releases. I'm a busy person, and working to get published is a whole other job. One that takes time away from writing.

I use words to 'catch' meaningful moments.  In contrast, my daughter writes to catalogue the oceans.

Why do you write?

Mrs Catch
xx

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

On knottiness

I have spent the last couple of hours working on my novel. It's why I'm not putting blog posts up so regularly right now. There is only so much time each day that I can dedicate to writing, and at this point, long-form is the chosen child.

Novel-writing is different to blogging.  I write most blog posts in a single sitting, then leave the words to ferment. A couple of days later,  I tweak words, rearrange phrases and correct typos. Occasionally, it is necessary to heave the post, in its entirety, into the trash, as it is a pile of steaming, stinking manure. Mostly, however, I can retrieve crumbs of substance, work on it a bit and create something relatively presentable.

Novels, however, are a different breed. After this morning's effort, the best analogy I can find is a Gordian Knot. A twisted, winding-back-on-itself mess of strings.


Novels involve a lot of retrospective writing.  Words are added or deleted, details enlarged orsimplified. The process goes back and forth, and round and round. All in the name of a cohesive whole.

A novel should be a Gordian Knot. There should be depth, and dark, unseen interiors. Characters need to be as complex as people are in real life.  Imaginary worlds need to be solid, non-slip and defy unravelling. A plot full of twisting and turning is imperative, or the story becomes... *yawns*.

The first Gordian Knot is said to have been tied by an early king of Phyrgia (part of Macedonia) who unexpectedly became king merely by driving his ox cart through the town gates. He celebrated his good fortune by erecting a shrine. The centrepiece of the shrine was his ox cart, tied to a pole with a complex knot that seemed to have no beginning or end. Hundreds of tightly interwoven thongs of cornel-bark made the knot very impressive. There it remained as an important symbol for the Phrygians.

Year after year, the bark hardened, and stories grew up about the shrine. People speculated as to its purpose. Most regarded it as a curious puzzle. Eventually, an oracle foretold that whoever untied the Gordian Knot would lord over the whole of Asia. The lore grew and grew.

Over the years, the puzzle relic became quite a tourist attraction. Residents considered it the duty of every wanderer to visit their shrine and attempt to solve their puzzle. They regarded it as extremely unlucky for visitors to leave their city without trying to untie the knot.

No one knows how many visitors attempted the puzzle of the Gordian Knot, but we do know who solved it. We call him Alexander The Great. Some say he cut the knot in half, others maintain that he took out the pole yoke, which exposed the ends of the knot, and enabled him to unravel it. The legend, however, became true; he did go on to conquer the world and rule all of Asia.

Today, to say that someone cut the Gordian Knot, means the person made a quick, decisive move or took drastic action.

And now that I've wasted a huge hunk of time, scouting the internet to find all that, I had better get back to twirling my own strings...

Yours in knottiness
Mrs Catch
xx