A space to call home
I HAVE been cleaning my office in preparation for a move and consigning books to a charity sale. Muchloved guides are going to good new homes, luscious tomes filled with delectable pictures of Tuscan villas and French chateaux and rangy cats roaming whitewashed walls in Greece will take pride of place on unknown coffee-tables. I am mourning their loss.
The books I refuse to part with are well-read narratives by the likes of Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer, Marta Gellhorn, Jan Morris, Colin Thubron, Colm Toibin and, especially, the madly funny Tahir Shah. I would like to be buried with a book by Shah because I reckon I will really be in need of a laugh by then.
A colleague told me recently my snug little office looks like an oriental bazaar and all I would need to complete the image are price-tags on my international ornaments and a discreet cash register. She was being a smarty trousers but I don’t care — like all committed travellers, I love being surrounded by trophies of my trips. Every odd little thing on my desk, atop the cabinets and along the window sill is a special reminder.
I have a strange papier-mache lady with a wobbling head from Colombo next to my computer and when I look at her I see the so-called gang of five — Terri, Helen, Christine, Stephen and me— haring around Colombo in auto-rickshaws on ‘‘drive-by shopping’’ missions, laughing like loons, bags flying, having the best time ever on our most recent of annual jaunts.
We five were in Kenya once as well, which is why I can’t cast aside my Swahili phrasebook. Helen and I practised for days before we could demand, quite unflinchingly, ‘‘Nataka kuweka katika gareji usiku.’’ Which means we need to garage our car for the night — always a wise move in Nairobi. Helen, being the most diligent of our team, learnt other phrases as well and we had to rely on her to ask if our car could be lubricated before sunset or if we could borrow a jack and, horrifyingly, dig a ditch.
At random, other ornaments of note include a dainty wooden bird carved and painted by Sepik River villagers and a Murano glass tumbler patterned with Miro-style swirls that my friend Laura gave to me in Venice one summer — filled with Campari and ice at the time, but it must be admitted not for long.
I will be moving to share an office space with The Australian’s congenial arts editor Ashleigh Wilson and restraint will be required lest I swamp him with my bric a brac. I have worked out where to hang the framed Mark Rothko print and my collection of Berthe Morisot postcards from Musee Marmottan in Paris and in which position to drape my NRL and AFL team scarves (red-andgreen and navy-and-white respectively, since of course you’d want to know) and organise suitable seating for the demurely kneeling Javanese wedding dolls.
Hey, Helen, what’s Swahili for ‘‘space invader’’? Check The Australian today for details of our Questions of Perception travel and lifestyle giveaways, including an overseas holiday for two.