Tag Archives: Queensland

An old man and a determined woman

A young man by the sea, France. Photo: Andreas 1985.

A young boy by the sea, France. Photo: Andreas 1985.

After enjoying Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, I decided to read the book that won him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1956 – The Old Man and the Sea. The library had it, not in English, but in Danish as a sound book. A number of cardinal sins already committed right there – a book should be read in the language in which it was written and listening clearly is a different experience from reading.

Santiago is the old man living in Cuba as a fisherman, but he is out of luck. For 85 days he has not caught anything and the boy, Manolin, is no longer allowed to go to sea with him. Santiago goes out on his own and catches a large marlin. He is dragged further out to sea by the large animal and it takes three days before it dies and Santiago can return to Cuba. He ties the fish to the skiff and raises his sail for the passat winds to blow him home, victorious. However, the blood from the dead fish attracts sharks and Santiago fights a brave fight firstly to protect his catch and secondly to protect his own life. He returns to the shore in one piece, but the marlin is reduced to its skeleton.

Much has been written about this story’s meaning – it is a much studied and analysed novella. Hemingway is quoted as saying:
No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in. … I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things.

I was mesmerised by the rhythm of Hemingway’s writing (or perhaps the reader’s voice?) The writing has a certain calm and patient quality. The story is a slow and patient battle between two proud creatures – Santiago and the marlin. While Santiago wins through his perseverance, they are both beaten by the sharks. Santiago’s time waiting on the sea brings with it lots of monologue, reflection and introspection as well as description of the natural environment in almost spiritual tones.

In one sense The Little Mermaid symbolises the helplessness of women Hemingway is proponent of. Except she made her own choice. Edvard Eriksen: Den Lille Havfrue, 1913. Photo: Mick 2015.

In one sense The Little Mermaid symbolises the helplessness of women Hemingway is proponent of. Except she made her own choice fully aware of the dire consequences. Edvard Eriksen: Den Lille Havfrue, 1913. Photo: Mick 2015.

With my friend’s warning that Hemingway was a male chauvinist ringing in my ears, I was struck by a particular view of the sea that Santiago explains. Though others might refer to the sea in male terms, especially when it shows its unrepentant fury, Santiago considers the sea a woman because like a woman the sea cannot help what happens, it just happens. No women – aside from the sea – feature in this novel. However, this way of equating the nature of the sea with the purported helplessness of a woman to determine her own destiny is an inexcusable infantalisation of women.

Perhaps this view is Hemingway’s response to the gradual liberation of women through his lifetime, which may have made his philandering and womanising more difficult. Juxtapose this with my other reading, Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own, based on a series of lectures on Women and Literature she gave in 1928 at Cambridge University. Her basic tenet is that for women to write literature she must have her own money and her own room, quite literally. And that women need access to education. This is at a time when women still largely were property of men, first their fathers, then their husbands and a time when the Oxbridge universities were entirely male dominated and largely closed to women, expect for select faculties. Yet, Woolf reflects, if one only knew women as described by men in literature, one would imagine them to be even greater than men.

A young woman jumping in a lake, Norway. Photo: Lone 1981.

A young woman jumping in a lake, Norway. Photo: Lone 1981.

At the time when Hemingway was developing a writing career in the cafés of Paris, Woolf stood up for women in the halls of Cambridge and called out the reasons why only few women were able to do what he was was.

If through the 20th century all men retained Hemingway’s ossified view of women as helpless creatures unable to determine their own destiny, then gender equality would still be a major battle in the Western world. It still is in some places – even in the Western world – but when girls are given access to education, they excel at traditional male subjects and in 70% of countries exceed the performance of boys. It is only a matter of time before this excellence and excess will show in the centres of power.

In Denmark, it seems the first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Smith, is much maligned  for being a woman, just as Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, was. Gillard famously admonished the leader of the opposition in her Misogyny speech – reflecting perhaps that we have some way to go still before women are judged for what they do, rather than their gender.

For the first time, in my home state of Queensland, a woman has taken a party from opposition to victory in a state election. She has also included a record majority of women in the Cabinet room with eight out of 14 ministers being women. Time will tell whether people will judge her on her performance or on her gender. I hope for the first, perhaps against hope?

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Home of part of the heart

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Passports – check, Credit card – check, Tickets – check, Place to stay – check, Dreams – check, Sense of adventure – check

This week, in the muggy Brisbane heat, we’ve put it all together and are very close to ready to leave for cold Copenhagen, Denmark.

At times, exhilarating, at others terrifying for the lack of a set plan. I am not particularly good at not knowing exactly what will happen next.

You see, I have planned for this for a long time. Since at least 2012, when finally I realised that the magic of sunny Queensland, Australia, could wear off. Experiencing the Brisbane floods at the beginning of the year did not at all help. It was bizarre to be in the middle of civilisation and feel so helpless against the rage of nature, the mass of water – water of life and water of destruction. And these last few week we have again seen the fury – hail the size of golf balls rained down on Brisbane inner city, and on level 16 in the office building, we felt how it shivered in fear of the furious winds that spun around like a washing machine on its final spin cycle. Cyclonic conditions in an area below the cyclone line. Nature cares little for bureaucrats’ convenient categorisations, for houses lost their rooves and windows exploded into splinters of tiny glass, spraying terrified occupants. At least no people lost their lives in the 2014 storm of Brisbane. But it is a sign of things to come, of that I am certain.

Though the real reason for the plans is nothing to do with the climate. It is simply: a part of my heart is somewhere else, back in my mother country, where people I love live. Like my sister, two brothers and their partners and children. Like university friends and school friends. Like aunts and uncles and cousins and their families. I want to reconnect with my culture and the Denmark that exists today. No doubt it is a very different Denmark from the country I left in 1991, but then I am a different person to the 24 year old that immigrated to Australia in 1991. I look forward to seeing how the me of today will fit into Denmark of today.

It helps that my most excellent man is excited and supportive of the venture, too. He has been admitted to study at Københavns Universitet and has applied to study Danish Cinema and European Art Film as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts he is working toward here in Brisbane. He will attend a three weeks Danish course and perhaps finally be able to converse in my language.

Will I miss Brisbane? Yes of course. Not just will I miss the climate and familiarity, I will miss my adorable, lovely, great boys, who will stay in our home while we are off. Thank heavens for skype and social media.

I hope to write about my experience, right here on this blog. A reverse migrant experience, I guess. I hope you will join me on the journey.

Stuff and memory

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

There is only so much you can fit into the luggage limit of airline carriers. When you are packing your bags for a year-long sabbatical in Denmark you have to make harsh choices. Luckily we’ve secured a furnished apartment just outside the lakes in Copenhagen. This does reduce the amount of stuff we need to bring or acquire.

For years we have been trying to get rid of stuff – to declutter our lives. Somehow stuff just seems to accumulate and fill every surface, like dust whirling up in the swoosh of movement or encouraged by south easterly winds – and settling in the corners and on the skirtingboards until it is disturbed again.

I find that I hang on to stuff because it has a meaning for me. It may be a present given to me by someone I love. It may be something someone was made especially for me. Or it may be something useful one of us bought. The best stuff is stuff that is designed well and used often. These are the objects that last and also bring lasting memories.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Each time I sit in one of the Børge Mogensen Spanish Chairs I am thankful that these beautiful chairs ended up in our house in Brisbane. My parents bought these chairs in the 1970s when we moved to Gjellerup. They sat in the tiled lounge room in the middle of the brand new house, together with the clunky, soft and deep modular couch. Like a casual prop in photos of my grandmother comfortably sitting at a family party. When we moved to the next house in Gjellerup on top of the hill, the chairs were incorporated into the combined kitchen and tv room – much more frequently used, but less elegant because they could not sit side by side in the space. Finally in my father’s last house in Herning they sat in the corner of the swimming pool room together with the buffalo leather couches, inviting one to perch a cup of coffee on the wide arm rests and pick up a book from the overflowing coffee table while listening to music blaring from the Bang&Olufsen sound system installed to fill the large room.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

Now, in the early hours of the morning, the chairs let me catch the weak rays of morning sun before they gain power and blaze onto the solar panels on the roof. The chairs sit with the cedar coffee table that Mick created from the beams left-over when we built the house on the hill in Bunya in the early 2000s. Inspired by a large, rustic coffee table from my childhood home, it is a robust table that is both functional and beautiful. On the other side of the table is one of the green Natussi leather couches we bought, one at a time, as a present from my parents when our boys were born. Those couches have been tough enough for babies, toddlers and teenagers, finally giving in to the direct sunlight on the deck, causing the leather to crack.

Over the table hangs a PH lamp – the classic lamp that was a wedding present from my parents’ business partners. It was second hand then, surplus to requirements, when they decorated the ground floor flat of the home that also housed the publishing business and my family. On the table sits a small dish that Mick wove out of tie wire during his first year of the fine arts degree. It accumulates stuff: ear phones, coins, a card. On the wall hangs Mick’s Takemine guitar, so often picked up by our younger son to strum a few chords or pick a few Spanish notes. It hangs next to a painting by artist Joanna Underhill, ‘Cellular Intelligence’. Following a bout of cancer, she studied cancer cells during a residence at the Brain Institute. The result is a series of work that explores the structure of cells which provides inspiration for quite intricate imagery and colour.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

On the other side hangs a piece my older son did in Year 12 Visual Art, ‘Waiting for skating’. Three skate boards form the canvas and three faces in various states of patience adorn them. Clearly, my son is not particularly patient. One day he screwed the wheels back on to one of the boards: he wanted to skate. When I realised, I promptly bought him a fresh board and the piece was restored to the wall. He promised to touch up the scratched board. However, in the intervening period I have grown quite fond of the authenticity of the green and pink paint that shines through and the edges that are worn down to the timber core of the board. Besides, it is a good story.

None of this stuff will fit in my suitcase. And this is part of the point. These objects are integral to the life world I have created in Brisbane with my family. This life is part of me, but only one part. With the chairs and the lamp – and many other objects – I have integrated my Danishness into my Australianness in physical manifestations. I have invented a self that combines my experiences, language and memories. One reason for going back is to refresh and reconnect with the Danish part. Together we will find new inspiration and create new memories for the next period of our lives, which integrates more of my Danish heritage.

My self is indivisible and when we are away, there will no doubt be things that I miss from this sunny part of the world. Stuff that I have grown used to.