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Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Guarding His Eyes

July 13, 2016 | by

The current issue of The Paris Review features an excerpt from Gerald Murnane’s novel Border Districts. It opens with a remarkable sentence:

Two months ago, when I first arrived in this township just short of the border, I resolved to guard my eyes and I could not think of going on with this piece of writing unless I were to explain how I came by that odd expression.

What makes this sentence remarkable may not be immediately apparent. It touches on many of Murnane’s main preoccupations: seeing, the peculiar specificities of language, the outer reaches of a landscape. But the phrase “to guard my eyes” also reminded me of a peculiar moment I’d shared with the author when I interviewed him in 2012. Read More »

Seven Sensational Party Spaces

March 11, 2013 | by

color-change-mardi-gras-maskThe night before Sydney’s world-famous Mardi Gras parade (“I think it is the largest gay parade in the world,” a young German woman would shout behind me at the actual event, as if her sequined cowboy hat didn’t explain it all), I’m in a three-level bar in Darlinghurst. Which, as the name suggests, is an absolute darling of a hurst. It’s also where the gay people who want to live in the gayest part of Sydney live.

I’m a few hours off the airplane. I’m having a good time. But the crowd, even squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder, comes off a little chilly. By the time I’ve had a couple drinks and the Justin Bieber song “Beauty and a Beat” comes on—which, to my surprise, and delight, sends at least several of the hundred or so men around me into a celebratory sing-along—it dawns on me how out of place I may actually appear. The men, though they surely must have flocked here from all corners for Mardi Gras, are clean-cut to a personne, reeking of meal replacement powder and Romanian deadlifts. Meanwhile I’m sporting a beard born of two months’ neglect, a pair of sneakers that I may as well have grabbed from the top of the nearest Sri Lankan landfill judging from the looks they’re getting, and whichever of my sad ensembles of neutral rags wasn’t crying out for a beautiful laundrette at the dressing hour. I look like a suburban dad who stopped shaving after an unexpected lay-off and wandered out of his house in the middle of a nervous breakdown.

In any case, it seems to be putting people off. The whole night I move from one floor to another, trying to cruise to music that sounds like it was produced inside of a crystal meth molecule, trying to decide which floor is right for me when clearly none of the floors are right for me. Not one to dwell, being thirty now and basically on a high-speed honeymoon with myself, I set my discomfort aside and get to dancing up on that third floor. Just as I’m getting into a splendid imitation of a gay man having fun in a club, some young thing wearing a T-shirt with more graphic design information on it than I can process tugs at my beard with both hands and screams, “Is this real?”

A question for the ages, barely heard over Ke$ha’s “Die Young” played at tinnitus-inducing volume. Read More »


Fake Paintings; Perfume Tester

October 4, 2011 | by

Jean-Francois Millet, Peasant Spreading Manure (detail), 1855, oil on canvas.


Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.

M. J. Hyland: From the age of eighteen to twenty-one, I worked any job I could get my hands on. One of these jobs was selling fake paintings door-to-door. There were four of us in the crew. We were taken out each night in the company car—a white minivan—and dropped on suburban street corners with black folio bags. I’d been instructed to pretend I was the artist.

My first night was the one I remember best. The suburb was a newly built estate, each house a mirror of its neighbor. The grass hadn’t grown on the front lawns yet, and there were cars in all the newly paved driveways—not flashy cars, but not beat-up Holdens either. I walked to the door of a house and knocked.

“Sorry to bother you at teatime,” I said, “but my name’s Marcia Bradshaw and I’m an art student at university. I’m going from door to door to see if I can sell some of my work.” I unzipped the bag and took out a painting. “I need to raise some money so I can finish my degree,” I said. “My parents have no money and my scholarship only lasted two years.”

Life is ruthless, and its bestowal of fortune arbitrary and capricious. I’d been born to morons and mine was a shabby life. I stood on this woman’s doorstep and told the lie about the paintings as easily as I did because, although it was a lie, it was also true. I believed my own lies and told them well. I wanted money, and, like my criminal father, I wanted it the easy way. Read More »


A Week in Culture: Jesse Moss, Filmmaker

September 8, 2010 | by

DAY ONE, Solomon Islands

I’m on a flight from Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to Brisbane, going home after a week long shoot for the World Health Organization. I’m finishing James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, which my mother gave me just before I left. It’s a surprisingly good companion, and I return to it every night in my hotel room. On the nightstand next to me is an industrial sized can of Raid bug-spray that comes complimentary with every room in the hotel. They’ve just had elections here, and downstairs by the hotel pool, local pols are as plentiful as the bugs, drinking SolBeer and plotting the political future of the country.

A storm came through the night before, and when I stepped out on my balcony in the morning, I could see, for the first time, an island in the distance. It’s Tulaghi. And the body of water that separates us is called Iron Bottom Sound. It’s the gravesite of a huge number of American and Japanese warships. My wife’s grandfather was in the First Marine Division when they fought here, on Guadalcanal, in 1943. So I feel a strange and distant personal connection to the place.

Filming in the jungle, I see a man with a machete on a forty-foot pole. Jesus Christ. He’s cutting Betel Nut, and chewing it. He smiles at me, a mouthful of stained red teeth. I’m reminded of Michener’s Bloody Mary. I stand under the tree with my camera and pray a betel nut doesn’t fall on my head.

Michener’s book was the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which I’ve never seen. I ask my colleague Elsie, a native islander, where Bali H’ai is and she gives me a blank look. I feel like a fool for asking. I stare at the map of the island chain in her office, hoping it will materialize magically, like Tulaghi, while a mechanic tries to repair our rental car. Later, while photographing the boat harbor in Honiara, I suppress a strong urge to book one-way passage on a local freighter to the remote islands of the Western Province. Read More »