Friday, February 29, 2008

WARY OF EGGPLANTS

I've always been wary of eggplants.

They are a notoriously difficult vegetable to deal with. Sure, i've had my successes, for instance, with my famous baba ghanoush dip, which i serve with turkish bread. The baba ghanoush dip is made with tahini, greek style yoghurt, lemon, cracked pepper, and char-grilled eggplant. And if i want to get fancy, i sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds. But to get the best taste out of the baba ghanoush, the eggplant really does have to be completely blackened for that smoky, roasted eggplant flavour, and it's a messy job peeling out the flesh. Eggplants, aubergines, brinjal - call them what you will - they are problematic little buggers.

Eggplant are complex, bitter, and seedy. Just like journalists. But by slicing them thinly, covering them with salt and then rinsing them, you can remove a lot of the bitterness, and throw them straight onto the barbie plate. The eggplants, not the journalists.

The eggplant is a bit like a giant olive: it tastes awful without careful preparation. So when, cycling back along the South River Road late one afternoon, i spied an eggplant lying in the middle of the road, i was understandably cautious.

I slowed to a stop beside the elongated ovoid. It had a slight nick out of its dark purple skin, otherwise it seemed to be in excellent shape for a vegetable sitting in the middle of the road. Since i am not particularly averse to snaffling items that have fallen from the backs of trucks, i picked it up and put it in my camera bag, thinking, mmm, baba ghanoush.

When i got back to the Hacienda, Mickey T, Louis and Richard The Oyster Farmer were there, along with the ubiquitous Carton Of Corona. We cracked a few, and cooked up some scallops. And drank a few more. Richard The Oyster Farmer told us about the year he and his brother spent kayaking up the northern Queensland coast to New Guinea, navigating by the stars. Mickey T spoke about the days he spent trekking through the wilds of the Peruvian jungle, chewing wild coca leaves and making love to the native women. I told them about the hours i once spent lost in a Melbourne department store. We became collectively shemozzled. That's just how it was in those days.

The following morning i had to work. It was the Gascoyne Junction Centenary Cricket Match, and the Shire of Carnarvon community engagement officer (or Miss Carnarvon, as she was affectionately known) and her boyfriend picked me up at some ungodly hour to drive the 160km to the cricket ground. I immediately fell asleep in the back of her car. When i awoke in Gascoyne Junction, i checked my camera bag, only to find a fine specimen of solanum melongena lurking under the velcro. The eggplant. Well, that's only going to get in the way, photos, i thought, put it on the floor of the Subaru, and went out to shoot some sports photos.

I took a couple of pictures of the cricketers, drank a beer, then fell asleep under some shady trees. I woke up and hitched a ride back to Carnarvon with a bus full of The Elderly.

A day or two later i realised i had left an eggplant in the back of Miss Carnarvon's car.

This presented a serious problem. There was no doubt she would find it, and try to figure out where it came from. She would immediately narrow down the possibilities to that sleepy journalist she had in the back of her car a few days before. And she would think: why did he do that. Why did he, unbeknownst to me, hide an eggplant in the back of my car.

I have no idea what i would think if someone hid an eggplant in my car. But let there be no doubt about it: i would demand an explanation. Perhaps they could be forgiven if we had been at a growers' market and it had fallen from their bag. But Miss Carnarvon and i were going to a cricket match at Gascoyne Junction. There was no earthly reason why anyone should be harbouring an eggplant.

A call would have to be made.

"Hello?"
"Oh, hi Miss … ah, Olivia, it's Mark."
"Oh, hi Mark. What can I do for you?"
"Look, um, i'm just calling to call to let you know, um, well … i left an eggplant in the back of your car."
A pause.
"Did you say you left an eggplant in the back of my car?"
"Yes, i mean, i don't want it back or anything. I'm just letting you know that it's there."
A longer pause.
"O-kay ... "
"I didn't do it on purpose. It was an accident. Okay, bye."

Well, i thought.
That went about as well as could be expected.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

THE TYRANNY OF DISTANCE

One person ... fascinated me more than anybody i had ever known. And the fascination i experienced was probably very close to a certain kind of love.
- Andy Warhol, on Edie Sedgwick
(From A to B And Back Again: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, 1975)

I wake on a wheat conveyor belt in Binnu. It's six o'clock in the morning, still dark, and ferociously cold. There is no moon, and the stars are luminous as spilled cocaine. I take my towel from under my head, and attempt to use it as a makeshift blanket. The rubber belt is comfortable enough - certainly better than sleeping on the ground - but even in my leather jacket and boots i am shaking with cold. I roll over, curl up, and attempt to snatch another hour's sleep. The silhouette of the wheat silo blackens the heavens. Heavens to betsy. I should have stayed in the hotel room.

I left the Priory Hotel in Dongara at 2.30am, after a verbal stouche with the Muse. Arguing over politics, of all things. We'd been drinking tequila margheritas since 10am - no, that's right, we switched to vodka bloody marys at some point in the afternoon. Melinda concocted these bloody hell marys, i'm sure with equal amounts of tomato juice and tabasco sauce. My lips are still burning.

My ears are still burning too.

It's around 150 clicks to Billabong, the next roadhouse. I figure i might as well get up. By the time i get there it should be open, i can get some fuel, maybe make it to Carnarvon and my posturepedic mattress before midday. Joy. I clamber down off the wheat conveyor, stretch, and rummage through the saddlebag in search of water.

The motorbike starts first crank.

Teeth-chattering ride. Depressed. The Art Director-Muse relationship is on the rocks. It's hard working with someone a thousand kilometres away, discussing ideas on the telling-bone. But that's not the real problem. The real problem is that strange fascination that overwhelms me whenever i get near her.

Melinda Mayhem, the Muse, kept me sane right through the break-up with the Ex. Well, mostly sane. And now, without Mayhem, it seems i have nothing. I'm attached to her, at the level of the humerus, like some kind of bizarre conjoined twin.

Let's face it, i need to get out more. The past three weekends i have met up with the Muse and it's becoming a very expensive pastime. Flying to Perth for the Australia Day weekend to party with her, flying down the next weekend to eat Korean barbecue with her - and to fix the motorcycle and ride it back, of course, but Korean barbecue with Melinda was always the priority - it's like Obsessive Compulsive Melinda Disorder. Then riding down this weekend to meet with her and Nurse Nikki at the Kitestock weekend in Dongara. Like, i'm interested in kiteboarding? Kitestock is like Woodstock, but without the wood. Hmm, not entirely true - when i was photographing Melinda in her underwear -

A sudden red flash across my headlights. A fox. I shake my head to rouse myself from my reverie. Keep your eyes on the road your hands upon the handlebars.

There is no sign of sun. I close all the vents in the full-face and hunch down over the bike, vainly seeking some warmth from the 650. What with wild goats, foxes and kangaroos i sit on 90, slowing wherever i see signs of roadkill. The last thing i need is a kamikaze kangaroo. The goats, at least, have some road sense, and generally run off into the bush. But sometimes there's a straggler on the other side, who will suddenly break out after the vanishing herd, and belt across the road.

Thinking of goat i start to feel a bit peckish. They fed us well at the Kitestock. Roast dinners. Mmm. And lasagne, my favourite. Breakfast on the beach, all laid out, with fruit, muesli, Greek-style yoghurt, bacon and eggs. We pile up our bowls with goodness.

"What are these?" asks Melinda, pointing to a bowl full of condoms on another table. "Oh, i thought they were the condiments."

We are sitting on the south beach eating breakfast, watching as the buff kiteboarders are attempting to fly, falling out of the sky.

"It's raining men," says Melinda to Nurse Nikki.
Nurse Nikki needs no encouragement. "That one's cute," she says, pointing.
Melinda looks around. "There's not very many women here," she says.
"Imagine how many guys would come to an event like this, if it was girls dropping out of the sky in bikinis."

We ride through the streets, under the arch of Moreton Bay figs, raiding the opshop and the secondhand bookshop. Deciding the fruit and muesli didn't quite cut it, we order pancakes with maple syrup and lashings of fresh coffee. Back at the hotel, we drink the last of the margheritas, and immediately switch to tequila and orange, wandering the old Priory, finding a covered walkway with its green frosted glass, an old chapel. I crank rolls and rolls of film through the twin lens Rolleiflex as Melinda and i have ourselves a fat time, shooting in the rambling old hotel, with its stained glass and wide boards, Melinda resplendent in her $5 opshop dress.

We ride back out across the Irwin River and up the hill to the old police station where Melinda climbs into a gnarled pepper tree, and even into a set of stocks, locking herself in by the wrists and neck. She wants me to tie her to the railway track for a photograph, so we pull down some rope from a tree and cut it into suitable lengths. But the rails are too hot in the midday sun - she would be seared like a rare steak - so it's back onto the motorbike and up the coastal highway to run amok at a ruined homestead with bones, Gigeresque agricultural equipment, and burlesque underwear.

Sitting on the verandah of the Priory at sunset, with the bloody hell marys, there is suddenly the most remarkable sight. The eucalyptus tree in front of us lights up, sparkling with gold. I'm thinking someone has left Christmas decorations in it, golden tinsel, but it is the light of the sunset reflecting off the leaves. Just on this one tree. I've never seen anything like it before in my life, it is spectacular and surreal. And we aren't even smoking DMT.

Billabong. I've made it 228km without switching to reserve. Lucky; last time it ran out of fuel at 210. It's the cooler air. More compression, more power, more legs. I stretch mine. I can't eat the bain marie food. I fuel up and ride the 200km to Wooramel for a bacon and egg toasted sandwich and a cup of instant coffee. Tired. With the daylight, i put the passenger pegs down and with my legs behind me i lie down low, pushing along with the wind at 120. I make the last 125km to Carnarvon in just over an hour, shower, and collapse in bed.

She calls me in the afternoon from the phone box in Cataby. The Greyhound has stopped for a rest break. "Just checking you're not dead on the side of the road," she says.

I grunt.

"You were behaving like a jealous girlfriend," she says. "I mean, boyfriend."

Why does she always confuse me with a woman? It's so emasculating.

You were being unfriendly, i say. I was hurt, and christ knows why we were arguing about politics. Sorry it had to end like this.

It is then that i realise that it has come to an end. The Art Director and Mayhem - those twinned stars, those paired electrons - will electify no more. Suddenly i am faced with the cold reality of total artistic isolation.

Later that night i get a text.

"It was a magical sunset. The trees lit up like diamonds, a salute to a time of infinite possibilities and realms of creative splendor." She's on the DMT, i think. "Neva a shame to end on a golden high, what lastd an instant extends in2 our lives. Il miss u but i do undastand and i respect ur need 2 cut this friendship loose. Goodbye 4 now, ur muse x"

I never did get to tie her to the train tracks in her underwear.

I'm so depressed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

SLOWLY TURNING TO STONE

"Life is a cosmic hills hoist."
- The Art Director

I've been turning up to events in a one-off t-shirt i designed on the Foghorn website. It says, simply "Carnarvon Style." Understandably, people here want to buy them, because they are funky, beautiful, and far more socially acceptable than my Mother Teresa range of garments.

But the t-shirt is a one off, and i lack the entrepreneurial drive to produce more than one. Honestly, i'm worse than the French. Was it George Bush who said the problem with the French is they don't have a word for entrepreneur? The chance to design my very own t-shirt was a freebie procured by Mz Mayhem, on some kind of bizarre media t-shirt junket frenzy. Cool bananas. If i can do it over the internet, especially for free, and have it mailed to me, then the bananas are cool. Everything in Carnarvon - apart from the aforementioned bananas - every single thing, every small dose of sanity, is delivered to us by plane, mail order. Melinda Mayhem included. The Mail Order Muse.

But i digress. People just love the Carnarvon Style t-shirt, which i designed to honour a particular episode of The Nerve, which in turn is named after the ab fab Gascoyne Performing Arts production of Dancing With The Stars: Carnarvon Style, which my flatmate Mickey T won. It all gets a little postmodern and self-reflexive, doesn't it? Like riding a Tasmanian merry-go-round, things can quite quickly become incestuous. I mean, take the blue guitar. Can you believe it? I'm now playing lead guitar in CJ's band, the very same band i ruthlessly took the piss out of a scant few months ago in Bullies Of The Food Chain. Like the cosmic hills hoist, what goes around comes around.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, poor Art Director is starting to calcify. Another month or so in these flatlands and that will be it. The end of me. They will find me two million years from now, fossilized like some paleolithic caveman under a solidified strata of community newspapers.

Don't get me wrong. I love Carnarvon. It is a fabulous place to dry your washing, no doubt about it. But therein lies the problem. The dreaded comfort zone. When did that ever get anyone anywhere? Ten years can easily slip by, and the hills hoist will still be there, mute - and yet somehow accusing.

Example. An Organsiation with some acronym or other rings me and says - they all have to have an acronym, don't they? - and says, Mrs Doover has just retired after 40 years with ACRO, and this really is worthy of a story in your newspaper. Uh huh, i say. A story about what, precisely? What would be a good angle here? A riveting tale of one woman's doomed yet heroic struggle against her overwhelming lack of motivation? A feature article on the incredible forces of inertia, which have somehow combined to keep her rooted to the spot like a stunned merino? Sure. What time shall i come over?

Why devote decades of your life to an Organisation? These days, that is not a display of loyalty: it is a simple lack of ambition. And even if the organisation does good works, well, let's face it, we're not fucking Mother Teresa.

Meanwhile, the Muse, Melinda Mayhem - also no motherfucking Teresa - has long since packed up her troubles in a cardboard box and hit the road. Mz Mayhem is now back in Perth looking after the animals, just as she was doing in the first episode of The Nerve, Spinifex. Just as she does at the end of every page, peering out from the bottom of the blog alongside Princess the Leopard. I worry about the Muse. Going back to veterinary work just seems so retrograde. I'm hoping the Muse will get off the animal tranquilizers long enough to come to her senses and come with me to Dubai. That's where it's at. Fuck Albany, as they say in the classics.

"Always thinking, aren't you?" says Mickey T.
I'm unloading the shopping from the Pajero, and placing it in a large plastic storage container. That way we only have to make one trip to the kitchen with the groceries, instead of several. I emptied out a fresh pile of laundry just so i could use the box, grabbing my mail on the way through the house and stuffing it into my mouth so i could carry it. It's true, i say through clenched lips. I'm always thinking.
Mickey T laughs. "Mm almmws thmmkn," he says. "But you don't think maybe to put your mail in your pocket."

I carry the groceries inside, take the envelopes out of my mouth, and start frying the chicken. In sesame oil, with pepitas. Served with chunks of watermelon and feta, covered with fresh lime juice, sea salt and cracked pepper. Carnarvon Style.

The problem is, Mick, i say, it's just too damn expensive to fly anywhere from here. Ive got to pay nearly three hundred dollars to fly to Perth next weekend to pick up my motorcycle. When the Germans were here they said they could fly from Berlin to Amsterdam, or London, or Paris, for fifty bucks.
I spear some watermelon and feta.
Fifty bucks! I repeat.
"Yeah, well," says Mickey T. "They have the turnover. Carnarvon's not Amsterdam."
He pushes aside his empty plate and begins to roll a joint.
"Although people who visit us here could be forgiven for thinking otherwise."