That place we went to on the weekend

It was hot and busy and crowded and flushed. We were outside. It was a distillery, warm with weekend, choked with visitors, and looked like this:

Waiting staff were running, running, running. Weaving and carrying triple trays, balancing, enquiring, eyes flicking from table to table reading the needs.

Families. Trooping to their tables in lines. Senior members at the front, the young people trailing, checking the exits and their phones. The correct smiles. Parents, early meetings with a son’s new partner, tense. The young woman wanting to please but already brittle.

Us. Old friends, easy.

Next to us, one long long table of a thousand women, a hundred different ages swaying toward each other.

You can tell the family groups. They all use the hand sanitizer and order drinks early. So nice to be together.

A child bounces on a chair and drops a crayon. Everyone at that table looks fondly at the child. He turns his head from side to side to side, unaware, involved with crayons, rich colours, apple green and plum purple split.

The Covid Marshal swirls in the centre of the arena and checks and counts and rotates again. He is frowning. He frowns all afternoon. His shoes are worn out.

You can tell the friends groups. They enter in hilarious clots, it’s a great day. They have many jokes. They joke about the hand sanitizer.

The family groups, the young people, have silly faces. The cousins look at each other.  Their parents are a little wooden, especially if their parents are there.   The olds have faces of resignation…what the fuck does it all matter now. The young men wear pink shirts and socks and look desperately over their shoulders and then back at their phones. The girlfriends look at each other’s dresses. Then look away again.

The waiters are puffing. The sun shines down. A long plank of icy glasses passes us at head level, the beers glowing honey, oak, ruby, wheat, sand, cream, chilled…

The recipients (on a nearby table) for the plank of beers look up, their eyes softening, their voices lifting, friendly now and liking everyone on the table.

The child bounces on his chair, colouring in. The crayon on the ground is softening.

At the table of a thousand women is a thousand colours. There are impossible heels striking the beautiful ground, jewellery swinging, hair soft, fragrant and metres long. One young woman is late and she must walk in while everyone watches, their eyes flick up and down her form as she walks in on powerful hips and meaningful heels. She is greeted by an older woman with a light frown. All the younger women pause and watch the older woman’s face, they read that face, the old face, and take in the information. The old woman and the young woman hug, they exchange cheeked kisses, five times, six times, seven times. Then everyone relaxes. They sway in and out of magnificent colours, peacock blue, gold and ruby, emerald, blood, earth, invisible shocking pink, punched silver. The long, long fragrant hair, the hot sun, the cold cups, and the phones that need to be checked. Pictures are taken. The old woman is seated. She is still, glancing here, there, slowly, not needing to know anything. She already knows. The girls totter behind her, glancing carefully.

It is hot. Hotter. We eat fabulous things. We must move our table into the shade. The waitress is anxious, she glances across the day at the Covid Marshall and he bends over his list, frowning in his worn out shoes.  

Everywhere, people in groups take photos, leaning in, drawing back, adjusting things, assessing things, frowning, showing rows of too enthusiastic teeth. Chilled white wine smiling and looking at red wine that swirls sulky and resentful in roundy glass chambers, amber ciders, gold bubbles, shouting at a table in the distance, cold water in forest brown glass jugs, a falling out on the next table, ‘Well go home then…’, and the staff sweeping bravely through the rows, the Covid Marshall frowning, and the child drawing and the blue crayon on the ground melting, a delicious soft and urgent message.

Painting by Milt Kobayashi

At Motherduck

Yelena Sidorova (2)

Walking along in Goolwa, suddenly hungry, and a little place leaps right at me; so there we eat. It is beautiful. It is warm and sunny; it feels as though summer is approaching again, but this is just a memory in the wrong place. Summer is a while away yet.

But it isn’t just me. Everyone is ambling.

Motherduck has a sign right in front of their door. We bend down to read it and puzzle it out. We can’t get in. We dither and wait. And someone comes.

‘Can we sit here (outside)?’ We can. ‘Of course you can.’ She bows us to a table right in the sun, in the warmth, in the middle of what seems everything.

The coffee is proper. A punch from a good friend.

Our food is simple and divine and gets its picture taken.

There is time to watch the passing by of the passers-by. People approach this little place with enthusiasm and bend down kindly to read the sign. Some read it, and their lips move. Some read it out loud, loudly. Only ten people allowed inside, only eight allowed outside. We apologise for any inconvenience. But there is no harm done. People turn and count. And dither, like we did. Then the kindly young waitress comes and beams everyone upright, and they are happy again.

One man tried to get in without waiting. His wife pulled him back. She said, ‘You can’t go in.’ He is genuinely perplexed. ‘Why?’

‘You know, it’s the virus.’

‘What, in here?’

‘Just get back, here she comes.’ The waitress approaches and gathers them in. The cross husband beams.

A couple have a table, a high one, but no chairs. A man, dining alone, gives them the chairs at his table, including his own chair. They all look at each other. They beam.

Two ladies pass that know each other. One calls out shrilly, ‘Jan!’

The other turns and scans us all. ‘Who…’

‘Jan, it’s me.’

‘God, you gave me a shock. How are you? Been ages.’

They look at each other. ‘Well, you know, with everything…’

‘I know. I’m on my way to see the grandies, two of ‘em now. Guess you haven’t any yet?’

‘Hell, yes, four now.’

They looked away from each other so there is no need to acknowledge a winner. They win. They beam.

‘Keep you busy.’

‘Yes, yes. Yes. Well.’

‘Good to see you, Jan.’

Behind them, a man was bending solicitously over the sign. ‘It says only ten people, Bridget.’

‘Just wait dad, there’s people leaving.’

We start to eat faster, feeling guilty.

The waitress flew, carrying coffees, a pepper grinder, beautiful little rounds of gentle, soft bread, burgers clasped within a shouting sourdough that wins every time. Beetroot dip in a bowl: a bowl of blended jewels.

A man sipped coffee. The waitress beamed. A couple sat on stools at a thick wooden bench, leaning over each other, melting.

We finish our food. Honoured. Give up our little table.

An older couple stop abruptly, ‘Albert…here..’

 

Art by Yelena Sidorova

 

 

When I could not eat dinner because of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

In Melbourne I went into the Readings bookshop and it was too full of possibilities to be calm and so I  purchased far too many things. But they did not have The Love Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning in 23 volumes. So I have to continue reading my borrowed copies, borrowed from the Flinders University Library and therefore Not Mine.

We went out to dinner that night, an Italian place next to that bookshop, in Carlton, called Tiamo, and inside it was small and hot and dark and magnificent. But I was thinking over the letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This library book is in my bag and under the table, heavy with red covers and cream pages and unable to be purchased by me. She wanted to go to Pisa and her father would not let her. She was 39 years old.

We ordered platefuls of pasta and rough bread. The waitresses were graceful and furious, carrying impossible armfuls of platters and glasses. One of them was shouting at the chef in a kitchen too small for the number of cooks crowded in there! There is a tray of antipasto not to her liking. The chef is looking out across the tables in astonishment.   The back door stands open, it is a hot night. I can see another chef out there, leaning against a wall, smoking in the hot twilight. He is asked to hurry it up and he turns his back, leaning on that hot brick wall, impassive.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning spends years in one room, unable to defy her parent, her father.  She wanted so much to go to Pisa, Italy, has never been anywhere. Sometimes she walks around the nearby park. But her writing, her poetry was about the whole world. Her letters to her lover were a whole world. His and her letters are vast. Her lover was Robert Browning.

There is a couple huddled together over a candle behind us. She is saying: but you never said anything. You never said anything.

The waitresses cross back and forth through the roar, they weave in and out and they never bump into a single thing, still people are crowding in, the owner is shouting and welcoming everybody from the bar. He is wearing a black apron which is covered in flour.

Behind us the young woman is crying, drooping over the fabulous risotto, as a couple they reassure a hovering waitress that everything is good.

The Barrett Browning correspondence was rich and fabulous and teeming with pain and with life.

She writes: …and where is the answer to anything except too deep down in the heart for even the pearl divers…?

There are four young men at a back table, they have rucksacks underneath and newspapers spilling out and onto the floor and they are simply bellowing their orders across the serving counter. But this is not the way to order and they get no food that way. But they don’t care; they just keep drinking the good red wine.

Right next to us, the furious waitress captures the owner and says: it’s out in the street, I told you, it’s out in the street, you can’t do it any other way. But he has seen someone enter that he knows. He lifts both hands in the air and leans back. He delivers  a superb greeting in Italian. The waitress is left with three full plates and no answer. She says: For Fuck’s Sake!

Still people are coming in. The walls are roaring and now we have our enormous food and it is good. Everything is too deep for even a pearl diver.

Then we can leave, push hard to get out into the end of the summer evening and then we are out in it and there is a cellist playing in a doorway across the road and someone is calling out Swan Lake, Swan Lake.