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Long live all maidens

easy and beautiful !

Long live mature women also,

Tender and loveable and full of good labor. 

Gaudeamus Igitur

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The Beach That Was


A quick aside about Francis (forgot to include it in the Hedgehog email)...
Every time I have a little contact, like even the few minutes at the Rising Artist Cafe (but with the exception of Art Square's magical moments), I feel something elusive. Focusing on the present is difficult because there is no present with us. I try recreating the past, which I can't seem to do very well either. There is accumulated baggage with both of us and we're coming from different places.
My realization: the accumulated baggage is much easier to accept when two people have made that journey together, the one from honeymoon picture on the beach to urology waiting room in large city hospital.
Ach! We'll talk.

P.S. Here’s what I didn’t get to read yesterday. At first I found it strange to have to write in the second person, but as I got deeper into the piece I found it actually became easier to express myself, almost as if what was happening to me was like a film I was creating, and then watching, about myself. How did it strike you to write from that point of view? 

So here’s another bit of my ongoing Dutch memoir then, about our journey by ship (I mentioned the Zuiderkruis to you before) to the New World – warning – not exactly Pollyana-ish in content!):


Be Careful!      

You balance yourself between the steel railings and grip them more tightly with the ship’s swaying motions. You didn’t think it would be this difficult to manoeuvre the narrow steps that take you down to the toilets on the lower deck  .

“Hold the rails, sweetheart” a woman entreats you. She is well dressed in her white linen suit and is, what our family would call, classy. She shows you how to grip the railing firmly, how to inch your way down step by step. She tells you that there’s a thin film of oil all over the deck, especially where a load of salty water has just splashed over the side. 

“Watch out! “She calls after you. “It’s slippery.”

You’re off the coast of Newfoundland and have just sighted icebergs for the first time in your nine-year-old life. For eight long days you’ve been cooped up on this ship, sailing all the way from Rotterdam, a famous European port, so your father told you. But right now your bladder is bursting. You are searching for the closest bathroom. You dread a recurrence of last summer’s embarrassing incident when your old neighbour, Annie, refused to open up her house, no matter how long and loudly you had banged on her door. Deflated, you lost your pride then, and allowed the warm liquid to run down the sides of your legs in the heat of that summer afternoon: orange poppies and bright butterflies, witnesses to your shame. Maybe people in Canada will be nicer you hope.

You ignore the men sloshing water over the wooden floorboards and continue purposefully on your mission. Turning a corner, you slam your hands to the sides of your head and clamp them firmly over your ears. This has to be the engine room, you realize, as an enormous roaring drowns out all other sounds of ship life. Early this morning, with the gusting winds and after the gales had calmed, you were ecstatic about the albatross you spotted hovering in the cleared sky. Its huge mandibles made those amazing snapping sounds. 
“Look … look up Emma, near the stern!” your father had shouted. 

Those were true ocean sounds, the sounds of adventure, you told yourself. 

The sickening sweet smell of oil penetrates your nostrils. Jesus, Mary, Joseph. You pray because you are now lost. Up above you the lifeboats swing back and forth to the numbing rhythm of the ocean’s waves. Ropes dangle carelessly. Ahead, a canvas unfurls in swaths. 

Great relief as finally you glimpse the whites of washroom glaze and the mottled partitions that separate each stall. And then you spot the man in the orange fez. It’s Amat, one of the ship’s servants. Usually he is clearing tables in the dining area. He continues to mop up puddles of water but at the same time he looks sideways at you in your pale blue silken dress. You always feel special in it and the ruffled layers make you feel pretty. Everyone smiles at you whenever you wear it but this man from Java is looking at you in a different, strange sort of way. 

“Don’t stare back at people when they look at you”, your mom’s words sound in your head. Your ears are beginning to burn.

“Don’t attract attention”. The words repeat themselves.

“ Modesty is a virtue”, the nuns at school would drill. You are confused. Not sure what to do.
And so you keep your eyes glued to the floor. Still, from the corner of your eye you can see him, watching. You continue walking, edging closer, as if you are going for one of the stalls. But as you pass the first sink there is a momentary brushing of skins, his arm against your arm. He drops his mop. He does not budge to let you by and neither do you dare to move away. 

In the stifling silence of the room Amat presses you hard against the sink. His hot spicy breath is certain to suffocate you. His little brown hand pushes against the cool wall for leverage. His nails are white and pointy. You focus on the tassel of his orange fez, swinging back and forth like a ticking metronome. You are helpless there, pinned beneath his arm with no voice and the need to pee long forgotten.     

But like some heroic super figure, you suddenly rip yourself away from the scene. You surprise yourself by the speed of your movements. Amat goes limp. His arms collapse easily under the pressure of your eight-year-old limbs.

You run past people throwing up in paper bags at the wooden railings, past people moving their deckchairs, getting comfortable in the weak light of the late afternoon sun that sanitizes the floorboards after the recent storm. A couple is drinking from long stemmed glasses that reflect the shimmering blue-black waves of an endless ocean. Your heart is pounding madly. You clamber crazily up metal steps that echo behind you as you stomp your way back to the top, to air. You are panting like a dog.

On the main deck, in the Palm Court, the musicians are gathered round: a violinist, a singer wrapped in shining gold like a mermaid. Someone seats himself behind a black grand piano. A waltz starts up. You recognize the melody. It’s from the Parade of Hits. Yes. “Que Sera, Sera. Whatever will be, will be … the future’s not ours to see …”

“Please sir, may I have some crackers and an apple?” you ask a Javanese waiter.

“ I’m feeling a little seasick”.

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