Annabelle comes to visit.
She calls in every now and then. Usually at short notice, often unexpectedly. She is buxom and gorgeous and fills the room with her personality. Always bearing gifts of focussed thoughtfulness and appropriate application. Not expensive, often hand made, and by her own fair hand at that. A beautiful creative spirit. She lets herself in. She has her own key.
We awake in the morning to find her car in the garden. She emerges late for breakfast. She arrived quite late. It was a long drive here from where-ever she has been previously. She sits down at the kitchen table and starts to tell me her meaningful dreams. How they inspire her art works and keep her endlessly entertained. She has learned over her lifetime to be able to control her dreams and make them conform to her desires and deepest wishes. I ask her how she does this, but she doesn’t know. It’s something that she can just do. It happens, just like shit happens, only in this case, in the reverse sort of way, and a much better outcome. It’s a great skill to have and she really enjoys exercising it.
It has inspired her latest series of drawings. She’s putting together a show, this time of drawings, so different from the last one of welded, re-cycled metal junk sculptures. She starts to tell me all about the drawings in detail, but stops. Gets up and loads the stove top espresso machine and then starts to tell me more. This is interrupted by her trip to the loo, but she is right back and picks up mid sentence where she was with her pet black cat sitting on her windowsill and wanting to come in or out, whichever she isn’t at the time, while her lover caresses her and adores her. There is a ‘bleeped-out,’ deleted-scene here as the coffee machine hisses and gurgles to its orgasmic conclusion and she ends her tale of fulfilment with a sigh.
Bringing the percolator over to the kitchen table, she places it down and continues. It’s a long story of her younger life on the high seas circumnavigating the Pacific in a small hand made sailing boat. After she ran away from home, over summering in Rarotonga to avoid the hurricane season. The Cook Island girls are the best hula dancers in the world apparently. With special gifts of hip rotation at high speed, mesmerising and hypnotic, if not erotic.
There is a brief interlude where the story of the wild Pacific is intertwined with her other life with a publican in an Irish pub two decades apart. The smell of burning peat and the thick black velvety Guinness and Porter, so ideally matched to the cool damp weather and an entire village of characters that flow in and out of this period of her life. The tale so involved and convoluted, that it images the wild growth of the jungle on the Pacific Island where she slept on the beach and lived for a season on fruits and by beach-fishing, where drift wood was burnt instead of peat.
There is a rapid segue into Sydney in the seventies after leaving her post with the Embassy on that hot humid archipelago with all the stuffed-up Expats and their prim and proper wives who’s only conversation was their children and what they would do when they got back to Canberra. How she loved the native children and how they laughed all the time and how everyone in the villages walked just sooo slowly. There was always plenty of time for everything, no one had any money and everyone ‘made-do’. And keeping the wild Pacific Island theme of head hunting and being sought out and ‘head-hunted’ herself by a big advertising firm in the city, which wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. All internal turmoil and not pacific at all. But it brought her obliquely into the world of fine art, and then craftsmanship, where she settled after jumping ship in New Zealand and learned pottery making in Nelson. A beautiful time in her life where everyone was on the same page and working together in a big loosely bonded creative community. There she also learnt spinning and weaving and as she spins her tale I’m woven into the filigree of her life’s fabric.
She swears that we met, when I taught her ceramics at the National Art School in Sydney where I worked for 25 years, or was it at Mackie college, where I briefly taught trainee art teachers, but I never taught an Annabelle Sloujetté that I’m aware of, there was a girl of Dutch heritage whose parents came out after the war and settled here, but I can still remember who that was and it wasn’t Annabelle. Is Sloujetté a Dutch name? Perhaps Belgian? She knows an awful lot about good chocolate and how to work and cook with it.
However, there is something very familiar about that huge flowing mane of thick black locks, lightly tinted with henna. I’m trying to place her in my memory of over 2,000 student that flowed through the place during my time there. I was only casual, working one day a week, teaching ceramic technology. Not all the students came to my classes regularly. Mine was the least popular subject in an Art School where everyone came to be fabulously creative, and to express themselves artistically. I was asked to teach technology and set on a Friday afternoon, when the students returned from a long lunch at the pub. Not every student paid full attention. Some preferring to sit up the back and play air guitar instead of concentrating on the maths and physics of ceramic chemistry. I think that I only got the job, because nobody else wanted to teach it in that time slot.
Annabelle continues her living dream. She put herself through Art School by calling on her old skills and pulling beers in a pub, but this time without the smell of peat, just sticky nylon carpet, stale hops and cigarette smoke. She starts to tell me about the guy who lived upstairs and who was seriously weird and suddenly there are feral Greenies, Black Cats, White Witches, Blues musicians down at the cross-roads at midnight. He said that he would teach her music, but she wouldn’t have a bar of him, he was far too crotchety. His bass nature scared her, but then there’s a brief mention of a fling with a guitar maker during her time in California on the eastern leg of her Pacific odyssey and how she once met Neil Young at a party up laurel Canyon, He was funny, quite dry, and very cryptic. Then she’s off to Haight Ashbury, but doesn’t find any love there. She completely misses Woodstock because she doesn’t believe that it will be any good, and then regrets it, but not for too long.
Always a restless spirit, her story moves on to Swinging London and the Emergence of the School of the Masters of Wine, her admin duties and all the left-over tastings that she got to take home. It was the only way to keep warm in that little, expensive and very cramped bed-sit through the winter. Never seeing the sun, working indoors all day under fluoros and leaving for work and returning from it in the dark. Of being SAD and longing for something more than just a wage packet and a place to sleep. There always had to be some art. That’s what has always kept her going.
She pauses and looks around for the coffee. Apparently it’s still too hot. I’m trying to focus and maintain my attention, but I’m concerned about the coffee, I get up to fetch her a cup, which she refuses, and I miss the bit about the drawing teacher at the Slade School of Art and something that happened there, which is a pity as I really was interested. But there is no going back and her story moves on to the south of France, sunshine and Vineyards, the vendange, so much work to be had everywhere at this time, the money is very poor, but the food is fantastic.
She wants to be involved in the wine making but has no skills, she gets to see the plunging of the cap and the big old basket press at work. She works hard and they like her. The old man asks to see her hands, he can see straight away that she is a hard worker. Without much of the language, she understands that they will keep her on. Her new job is to help spread the spent ‘must’ from the early white grapes back onto the vines. The hillside is steep and the stony ground makes for difficult foot holds. She collapses into bed at the end of each day.
She has been sleeping on the ground next to her scooter, wrapped in a make-do swag, but now they warm to her and let her sleep in the old tobacco curing shed, it has no walls, but there is straw and it is much better than being outside, as the weather is starting to turn now.
She gets to see the conversion of the red ‘pomace’ into cheap spirit brandy by soaking the red spent must skins in water, adding beet sugar and re-fermenting the resulting liqueur into alcohol and then distilling it into spirit. This old farm doesn’t have its own still, so the 2nd ferment of the ‘must’ is sent away for the distillation. When it comes back as spirit, it’s stored in two huge old wine barrels. Strictly for family use – no tax to pay here. These peasants are canny and frugal. She finishes up washing, rinsing and filling the new wine into the red/brown wine-stained wooden barrels.
She loved France, there was glorious food, handsome men and a stint in a ‘very good’ restaurant where she learnt so much, not as a cook, but as a kitchen hand. Always with an eye to improve herself and make the best of any situation, she observes everything and makes careful notes when she gets back to her little Gité where she over-winters.
From wine to food and her time Cheffing back in London, in that little restaurant where they tried so hard, but her partner drank all the profits. She explains her method of making the best soufflé in the world and now it’s time for me to get out my notebook, but there isn’t time. This international woman of mystery reappears in an artists squat in a densely urbanised city, a living space crammed with little romantic lane-ways, medieval in their narrowness, stuffed with small bars, artists studios, brothels and pimps. Everyone is making some sort living here doing what they can do. She doesn’t intend to stay long but falls in love with a certain man and this place, where everyone speaks with a lisp, just like the King. There is live music every night and dancing. She finds out that he is already married and isn’t interested in any kind of commitment and neither is she, so she’s gone.
She’s with another artist now, a tough macho guy, but he’s a hollow man. He mistreats her and he is floored for his inappropriate behaviour. She walks out on him after having held a knife to his throat and seeing all the colour drain from his face, his swarthy complexion turns absolutely white and beads of sweat start to form on his brow. He sees the anger burning in her eyes, and he knows she means it. She sees the terror in his eyes, and knows that he now really knows her, and that she does mean it. It’s a fair exchange, she’s satisfied, but he wont get another chance. She slams the door on him and dumps all his stuff out the window into the street. This is one woman not to be messed with, but she knows that he has friends and that this is his city, so she’s moving on. Fully tanked with life skills now, she knows her way around and this time, it’s time to go, NOW!
While day-labouring on a farm, she finds an old antique BMW tourer in the barn and buys it from the farmer. He doesn’t want to sell it, not to her or anyone, but she wins him over with her soufflé, or so she says. Then sets off overland to return to the Lucky Country, but the bike gets re-stolen in Italy and so she swaps to a big old Lambretta tourer, which she rides across into the middle East. She sleeps on the steps of the synagogue and wakes with a heavy Dew on her.
“I don’t believe that for a minute”….
but she doesn’t stop. She knows that she has got a laugh out of me, and that’s all that counts. I fell for it.
She smokes hashish with the border guards crossing into Afghanistan and bribes her way through Pakistan and into India by trading the last of her instant coffee and razor blades. She does things that she’s not proud of, but makes do as means must.
She always wanted to go to Tibet, but never managed to make the detour. “There’ll be another time”, but there wasn’t.
The story then slithers into The Territory and venomous snakes, cane toads, lay lines and her aunty’s secret woman’s business that I can’t know about, but it doesn’t matter, because I don’t need to know. I’m momentarily mesmerised by her aboriginal connections. Her work with them as a teacher, and how she learnt as much as she taught. Her love of their art and the strong linear motifs in their dot paintings. There is a reference to the similarities of tying ropes on the boat and the tying of fish hooks for beach fishing. The convoluted loops of this story morph into a story of Maori fish hooks and how they were traditionally tied without a hole in the bone. This story of knots and how to tie them is so amazing that I can hardly follow it. When the first white settlers arrived on the scene, The Maori learned to steal the galvanized steel staples out of the fence posts and use these as fish hooks! So adaptive and clever. She tells me of the woven fibre fish traps she saw while working in New Guinea, so simple and effective. She reels me in with a tale of cooking fresh fish on the beach over an open fire, skewered on sticks and later baking the bigger ones packed in potters clay in among the fading coals and ash.
I’m starting to think that her coffee will be way too cold if she doesn’t pour it soon. But I’m reluctant to try and slide a word in edgewise into her flowing narrative, in case it breaks the spell. I’m enjoying this torrent of language and the associated images of a rich, full life. When I look, I think that I can see some Maori influence in her amazing long black hair, so thick, dense and rich with a beautiful sheen. But Sloujetté isn’t any Maori name that I’m aware of. I think it’s Dutch? There hasn’t been any mention of a Mr Sloujetté in the story so far. I’m wondering if she really is of Pacific or Maori decent? If she has any secret hidden ‘tatoos’? But I’m too scarred to ask her to ‘Show us yer tats!’.
She just might!
She has perfected the art of removing her bra while sitting at table without adjusting any of her other clothing. She unclips it at the back and removes each shoulder strap from under her tea shirt, one at a time, while still talking, and without mentioning what she is in fact doing. Slowly, effortlessly, without drawing any attention to herself. Suddenly, the under-garment is in her lap and she sighs in relief as her marvellous breasts fall free. Later, she flips around to make a point and I have to duck, lest I loose an eye from one of those free swinging nipples under her T shirt, bouncing around like a sack full of puppies.
There was a brief episode in a Buddhist retreat and a quiet reflective mood comes over her. She reflects on her love of drawing and the inner calm of mindfulness and its relationship to good draftsmanship. There are deep connections to be followed through with, but she digresses with a few bars of her life with a jazz and blues musician and the few bars that they frequented together in their time. Drunken nights and lost days. Blue notes and a miss-placed G string.
Her story then remembers a summer of lovemaking in an apple orchard. The season is heading into summer and the giving is easy. She kneels to please him, But one swallow doesn’t make a summer. She’s living with the orchardists son in a little batch up-back. The orchardist’s bee-keeping neighbour went on to conquer the tallest summit and got a step named after him, while the tall orchardist father stayed home, because he couldn’t leave the farm, his ageing parents or even raise enough money to make the trip. Her very tall orchardist, so tall that he didn’t use a ladder to pick the fruit, most of the time, loves her for loving him and wants her to stay, She recalls all the hard work and the sore muscles, long soaking baths in a big wooden tub out in the field with an amazing view down over the valley. A wood fired, cast iron stove, fired on the prunings and apple cobblers after dinner with Edmonds agar custard. She stayed on after the summer for the harvest, but couldn’t stand the cold and cut free before the winter pruning, she leaves and follows the sun. Later, she eventually ends up walking to base camp as a right of passage. Maybe she could have gone further if the times had been different, but that was then and those were the times.
As her story rises to its conclusion, she decides that the coffee is now just the right temperature and picks up the espresso machine, flips the lid open and drinks the straight short black directly from the percolator. Then, satisfied that I’ve taken it all in, she wanders back to bed to catch up on her sleep. “To sleep, perchance to dream, and there’s the rub, for in that sleep, what dreams may come?”
When I return from work, she is gone. The spell is broken and the only reminder of her ever having been here are the scorch marks on our lawn, where she did a bit of circle work with her ute before leaving.
It’s amazing how one visitor can fill your week.
Fond regards from the ever so boring ‘stay at home Steve’