Listening to the Violin Concerto in D minor, Pl.47 by Jean Sibelius in the Perth Concert Hall, with my Mum breathing heavily next to me, in January 2011 I realised that this year has a special symbolic meaning for me.
The opening of the concerto is one of the most unmistakable in all music. Over the murmur of muted violins, the soloist enters immediately with an intense and brooding first subject: disaster. At this stage I was not aware of the devastating earthquakes that brings sorrow to New Zealand and Japan will soon disappear in a black tidal wave while world will watch with a horror and awe.
I was watching my Mum, who came to visit me after 20 years of silence and realised that what we talk about are little things, ‘the big things’ stay heavy, unspoken and unresolved for eternity between us. The soloist dominates the stage with his passionate and sad sounds.
“Did you know I used to play violin?” My mum suddenly turned to me: ” With your Grandfather we visited every wedding and played a fiddle for a free meal at the table.”
I said nothing but my eyes looked at her, through her thinking: There are so many things I don’t know about you Mum and I will never ask.
“Oh, you don’t care, you never been interested, I mean really interested what I want to say.” She sighed before I had a chance to reply.
The mood of the Adagio is more restrained, but the characteristic intensity remains, as does the poignancy and sense of regret.
The finale is a polonaise in all but name, and a bravura showpiece for the soloist. Sibelius noted, ‘It must be played with absolute mastery. Fast..but no faster that it can be played perfectly.’
“How is your life back home?” I ask my Mum leaving the noisy quickly emptying Concert Hall behind.
“What do you think, I don’t live in a rich country like you,” she murmured under her nose waving her hands on the crowded cafe strips and lighted up skyscrapers reaching up to stars: “Rich countries are rich enough but they just grow and consume more and more…”
“You are right there, Mum, we can’t continue with endless consumption, we are already paying for it,” I sighed: “ Do you need me to help you with something, at home?”
“What I want you can’t give me, and what are you giving me is not enough, so cut it out,” Mum snapped at me when we reached our car.
“A dangerous appetite for endless growth, that is exactly what is wrong with our world.” I laughed and reaching the freeway I speeded towards our farm at its end.
“Here is to Life…” I was singing together with Sherley Horn on the Ipod while driving down to Albany. My Mum was sitting quietly next to me, looking pale and miserable. I turned off the Ipod and glanced at her.
” I can’t stand this heat and those your wildflowers give me allergy,” she looked disapprovingly at dusty yellow Christmas bushes growing wildly around the road.
” Lucky you are not here in September when everything is covered in wildflowers, you would not survive then,” I sighed.
“I bet you can not wait I am gone,” she turned towards the window sulking.
I turned on the Ipod and Sherley’s words echoed in the car: ” All that is good gets better, here is to life, here is to love, here is to you…dreams to dreamers…”
“Do you like this song, Mum?” I asked to ‘break the ice between us.’
“Not everyone can afford to be a dreamer like you,” my Mum replied after a long pause.
“Everyone can, Mum, that is something everyone can do,” I exclaimed passionately: “I dream of better world where we can live in harmony with nature and with each other and no one can take this dream from me, not even you.”
Finally we have reached the town, where settlement of the west began on Christmas Day 1826 with arrival of Major Lockyer in the brig Amity.
“Look, Mum, at the real life copy of the Amity,” I pointed at my left while passing through Princess Royal Harbour in sheltered King George Sound.
“It looks so small,” she turned her head back unimpressed: “But these hills around look nice and so many churches…”
“That is the Church of St John the Evangelist, consecrated in 1848 and the oldest in WA,” I pointed at left again and then turned towards the closest hill.
We unpacked our bags in a small holiday cottage with a magnificent view of one of the world’s most splendid harbours. Double the size of Sydney Harbour, it made a natural starting point for settling the west of Australia.
I settled in comfortably in one of the chairs on patio and opened my favourite book: ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy.
“I know exactly how I want to celebrate my Birthday tomorrow,” I turned to Mum enthusiastically.
“I hope it’s not one of your crazy ideas like parachuting, you send me a picture of,” she exclaimed unimpressed and stretched her swollen ankles while opening the bottle of one of Albany’s famous reds.
“I have just re-read the story about the ‘Earth Woman’ and realised she is the same age as me,” I looked at my Mum dreamily: “I just think we should go there, 16 km from Albany, it is where it all started 4 600 million years ago.”
My Mum finished one glass of red and pouring another one she nodded after a long pause : “I liked that old post office with shingled clock tower, we should go there tomorrow and what about window shopping?”
I smiled sadly realising that she didn’t hear one word what I said: “It is the oldest post office in WA and it is a short walk from here you can’t get lost.”
I stood there in a forceful wind looking at the rushing water down, down below. ‘The Gap’. I stood at the end. The rugged piece of rock hanging above the Southern Ocean. The ancient continent of Gondwana was forcefully cracked open and slowly, unimaginably slowly divided into new continents.
I stood there ,at one end of a new continent. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the story of the Earth Woman:
‘History is like an old woman. She is 46 years old just now.
It took her over 45 years of her life – 4600 years of our history for ocean to part, continents to form, mountains to rise…
She was just 11 years old when the first single cell, the first organism appeared on Earth…
She was 40 year old when the first animals, the first worms appeared on Earth…
Just 5 months ago in the Earth Woman’s life dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
Just 2 hours ago in the Earth Woman’s life whole civilisation how we know it, the whole contemporary history of human beginnings and life happened…just 2 hours ago…’
I opened my eyes and looked at the unchanging rugged cliffs hanging dangerously low over the gurgling and swirling water below. With a huge crash the mighty wave appeared from nowhere in front of me and disappearing back into the deep crevices below licked the tip of my sneakers before I could blink.
I went back to my holiday cottage and greeted my Mum with a new bottle of the Albany’s famous red. We clinked our glasses while she was telling me all about her successful shopping trip.
“Here is to life with no regrets,” I smiled at her thinking about our old women’s lives: “Here is all we have and it will be gone in a blink of an eye.”
“You are just 20 years younger than me and it all went down the gurgle, in a blink of an eye, my miserable life, it is all history now, just wait you see…nothing to look forward to, believe me.” My Mum sighed giving her longest speech of my life and we emptied the bottle in a rush. Just in the case tomorrow will never come and it is our last day on Earth.
“I am not old but not young either, ‘but a viable, die-able age’ like Aurndhati Roy would say,” I finished my last glass and gave my Mum a hug. We held each other close and tight. We haven’t done it in the past 20 years and there is no chance of us doing it all again. Not in close future anyway.
What we shared that ‘Birthday night’ was not happiness, not even regret just the understanding that time passes fast and there is no time to heal the old wounds, no time to seek for understanding, no time for anything but love…
Soon we will be history, two old women in the Aurndhati Roy’s History Old House at night, with all the lamps lit and ancestors whispering inside.
To understand the history you have to go inside, but you can’t go in, you have been locked out and when you look inside all you can see are shadows of two women…
When you listen you can’t understand what they are saying…their time is gone…