Nov 032016
 



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Bel

My favourite by Bel. I look like Alice in Wonderland. She took it while making the movie ‘Under the gaze’.


I’m going to marry you. This will stop you from taking off again and make you write. In two days you will be at a desk in my apartment with your exciting new manuscript. Can’t tell you how much am looking forward. Tamara

    ‘I’m getting married!’
    The apartment block’s landing is sunny on this April morning. I am perched on a stool outside my flat in order to use an electrical socket to power my netbook, and to receive internet access from a teacher across the hall who has kindly given me her password.
    The waiban has not repaired the flat’s electricity since the fuse-box exploded. They are keen to see the back of me. I am not, after all, an employee. Without you here, Bel, I am nobody. No electricity means I have no hot water for a shower, no landline, no cooker or microwave or means of making a cup of tea. The fridge-freezer is dead and defrosting onto the floor-tiles. But I don’t care; I’ve given up on food, anyway, and tomorrow is my flight. At Tamara’s I will write, write, write. The novel, then Part III of my trilogy, then the next thing, and the next…

Afternoon.
    Lily Hong shows up to help me carry seven cardboard boxes from the flat into a waiting taxi. She looks me up and down appraisingly. ‘Legs like bird legs. Break if you not careful. You need eat lot of rice.’ She leans across the small lake in which the fridge-freezer is now swimming, plucks from its door a tattered paper taped onto it, and stumblingly reads aloud my poem. It’s the one that Bel blogged about.

“The survivors”.

Stick-thin hipless bare-balconied oblong,
up top a penthouse’s smoked-glass pyramid,
at the foot topiary peacocks, a marble portico.
Its many square eyes stare down,
dark spectacles framed in chrome,
to where frogs chirrup and giggle
in a landscaped swamp among peonies,
willow, a large palm, privet cut in shapes.

On the day these blank-looking smoothed-off faces
rupture with black yowls, the day this concrete
topples into the car-parks, when girders snap
like breadsticks and cars get hammered flat,
when doors unhinge while lethal dust plumes up,

on that day these frogs will belly-flop happily
into the water pooling afresh among severed cables,
utility pipes up-ended, broken glass, detritus.
Across the trashed city these wide-lipped fat frogs
will plop goggle-eyed into water-holes, barking happily,
not squashed dead under rubble but smiling
slit-mouthed, fleshy-bottomed, belching happily
then belly-laughing in this freshly re-created world
amid the lushly-rotting corpses, succulents,
humidity, the vivid greenery.’

She finally looks across at me. ‘Not understand all words. Some words.’
    ‘You did great! Thank you. You did great. Really. Your English has really improved.’
    For once she doesn’t beam; remains pensive. A care-worn look. How old is she, in fact? Perhaps, setting aside the frills and bows, mid-thirties?
    ‘Please could you come to the post office with me, Lily Hong? I must be sure that these two boxes go to England – Yinguo – and the other five go to Antwerp, and I need a receipt.’
    ‘Of course I come with you!’ – at last she grins. ‘You help me a lot: promise find me husband!’

Ah, yes. A final issue to deal with.

Dear Cyril,
pls – a favour. Cd you meet up with Bel’s former colleague Lily Hong – that pretty girl you noticed at Trish Little’s preview? See her contact details below. She’s on Wechat. She wants to marry a foreigner and start a new life outside China. I think she likes photography. Well, selfies. Hope you hit it off. I wish you a happy return to Australia.
Suki x
PS I can’t marry you myself. Sorry. Am marrying someone else.



 

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Feb 112016
 



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Aussie Cyril

Another photo from the first Shanghai Art Nude Photographers group session. Aussie Cyril says it is apres the work of early photographer Ruth Bernhard. He has lectured in photography. He has a lot of knowledge.

I flounce up to Bel who is waiting, as arranged, on the China Art Museum steps. ‘Huh. Pompous git.’
    ‘Fei Mo Di?’ She puts out her cigarette, wheezing. ‘Your shoot didn’t go too well, then?’
    ‘He called Anaïs Nin a ‘spoiled upper-crust adulteress’. Why does she get treated with such contempt? Lee Miller doesn’t, even though her sexual conduct was just as liberated and controversial…’ I follow Bel through the museum’s entrance. ‘It’s because Anaïs Nin was a writer, that’s why. Visual imagery is infinitely ambiguous – all about the viewer’s perception – whereas the written word is a record of a thing perceived, and furthermore, is the writer’s take on it – their analysis. So the writer is laid bare, and therefore more vulnerable to personal criticism.’
    Zero response from Bel. Which is becoming usual. Does she think I talk rubbish? When a man ignores me I assume it’s coz he’s a sexist pig.
    Do I talk rubbish?
    The foyer is a huge modern space. A ruddy-faced immigrant from the countryside in cheap gaudy leggings shows Bel and I to her toddler, like pointing out cows in a field.
    ‘Maybe I talked too much.’
    Bel hands me an English-language leaflet about the current exhibition. ‘Did you? That’s interesting. When you model for artists you never utter a word.’
    ‘But with a photographer there needs to be interaction, doesn’t there? To find the poses.’
    Checking the leaflet’s map, Bel heads off. ‘What did you think of his penthouse?’
    I hurry after her. ‘Oh my god. Space-age. Shiny high-tech everything. That whole district is so pristine, glittering, brand new. All those exclusive luxury tower blocks. Was there ever anything old there?’
    ‘Shanghai isn’t old. Pudong was all paddy fields twenty years ago. You should read JG Ballard. He spent his formative years in wartime Shanghai when it was pure anarchy, which is why everything he’s ever written has an apocalyptic undercurrent. That’s Shanghai. Those towers built for the elite remind me of his novel High-Rise. They spook me.’
    Why does Bel only get animated about climate change, wars, and the end of the world? I don’t like thinking about those things.
    ‘Anyway’ – I shift the subject back – ‘I don’t think he’ll book me again. He definitely didn’t fancy me, I know that much.’
    ‘Fei Mo Di? Apart from being twenty years younger than you he’s as gay as a French horn.’

We wander through the museum. Bel’s and other visitors’ pulled-off pollution-masks dangle against their chests, like surgeons taking coffee breaks.
    I stop to field a Wechat message. ‘Hey – another one-to-one booking! Next week. That elderly Aussie, Cyril.’
    ‘Three times married.’
    ‘God, Bel, your ex-pat world is incestuous.’
    ‘He likes to submit to women. Apparently.’
    ‘How on earth do you…’ –
    – ‘One of his ex-girlfriends told me.’ We have reached the central hall where the new exhibition is installed. Some are gigantic. ‘Look! This is the fantastic stuff I wanted to show you. There’s so much photography-based art here, of a kind you don’t see in Europe.’ Bel is again animated, and this time, for once, about something positive. Her sweeping arm takes in all the works: ‘This isn’t about photographs. Photographic techniques and media are merely tools in the creation of these works. This all goes way beyond the debate on whether a photograph can be considered art.’ Her enthusiasm is a wonderful relief. ‘I’m going to bring my students,’ she declares.
    This is our best moment together since my arrival a fortnight ago: Bel actually being relaxed, enjoying something. I am so happy! I link my arm through hers. ‘So. When are you going to start your Art Nude project with me?’
    She immediately tightens a little. ‘When are you going to get out your unfinished manuscript?’


 

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