By SUZANNE VISSER
There are three places I had a love affair with: Amsterdam, Tokyo and Alice Springs.
What do they have in common, I often wondered. The answer came to me today, when I was sitting at the Red Dog Café watching the world go by. The green and yellow ring-necks were stealing small bags of sugar from the tables when two policemen patrolled the Mall on dirt bikes.
They were similarly dressed, the parrots and the police. Green, yellow and black. They matched perfectly. No one else seemed to notice this. I was nursing a glass of juice that was of the brightest clearest orange against the perfect blue sky while I observed fearless and arrogant youth act as if life is eternal.
I used to be exactly so. Then two policemen, equally dressed like the parrots, rode two steaming horses through the Mall and everyone smiled, even the confident young, and one could see their insecurity shine through in that short perfect matching moment of smiles and parrots and police.
All was not well, that much was clear. Was their hairdo trendy enough? Did their dress hang casual-but-stylish enough? Did their face express enough dignity? Had they visited a sufficient number of South East Asian countries to impress? Did their recently purchased beany radiate enough nonchalance?
And most of all: Where they good enough in bed? Most males were growing beards, most females wore high boots. Almost everything they expressed was about their pending propagation: their tattoos, their clothes, their hairdos – and- don’ts, their ways of walking and talking. They checked each other out alright. All in all the atmosphere was relaxed.
A bicycle club consisting of elderly men took its sweaty break, businesswomen were having an outdoor tệte a tệte, NGO employees had another lengthy meeting, a couple of sun-eaten men in giant Akubra’s were staring blankly at it all, bare legged tradies looked for a water leak, a bewildered tourist or two were undecided what to think of the place …
It felt all so familiar and relaxed. And kind. It felt like a living room where family members wander in and out without you and them having to have a conversation or even say hello.
Very often I see people I know in the streets or malls of Alice and we do not say hello because we are preoccupied and that’s okay. There will always be that next time to have a yarn. Next week or next year.
What Alice, Amsterdam and Tokyo have in common is that housing is expensive. And everyone is busy. There’s not much time for pre-arranged get-togethers. Get-togethers often just happen on a street corner and then you might decide to ‘have one’ together at Monte’s, or not.
It used to be the same in Amsterdam and in Tokyo, places that functioned as my living room. I take my friends to that living room. The library feels like my library and the street furniture feels like my furniture. There’s art everywhere, like in my own house. I remember a visiting friend from the East Coast exclaim: “Gosh, it’s so relaxed, life seems to be half as fast here.”
I remember visiting her at the East Coast and thinking: why is everyone running? Why is everyone wearing black and grey? Why is everyone frowning? Where is the blue sky? Where are the Indigenous people? Why is everyone Caucasian here?
And why is everyone so unkind? I remember my heart leaping at the sight of the color red when I came back, so cheerful after all that wet green.
My friend recently wrote to me how much she had enjoyed it here and how she would always cherish the memory and perhaps, just perhaps, she would move here to retire. She wasn’t sure yet … I hope you come and live here, Faye.
Alice as a Living Room
By SUZANNE VISSER