The best of both worlds

There are days lately when I suffer strong yearnings for the climate of my childhood, and its associated sensations - sub-tropical Australia in all its glory. Of course, I'm talking about the heat. Not just any heat: not dry, scorching Melbourne heat, but the humid, sticky muffled heat that is Brisbane in summer. All the windows and doors of the house open to let in the breeze, and the deafening nighttime sound of cicadas in the bush as darkness decsends. Waking up in the morning and going outside in your pyjamas and bare feet, and feeling the day heating up again, feeling the sun on your skin, and sensing the whole humming jungle around you "revving up" for the extreme temperatures of the day to come. When it does rain it buckets down, with big, warm drops and thunder and lightning, making little rivers on the dirt and mini-craters on the surface of the pool in the back yard. Just that little bit, I'm longing for the concrete that burns the soles of your feet as you scurry over the carpark to the shops, the smell of melting bitumen, and the lazy afternoons as you wait for darkness and possibly, a bit of cool relief. Dodging the cane toads (yes! even the cane toads) when you go out at night, the sound of the sprinkler on the lawn. The blady grass that grows like mad after rain and you wonder how anyone could ever tame its enthusiasm for taking over the garden. The jacaranda flowers and frangipani flowers that you string together into squidgy necklaces during lunchbreak at school.

That is what I remember of Brisbane when I was little. Moisture and humidity and succulent forest. For some reason (and I'm not going into speculation about global warming here), my adult years saw a great deal of heat with not enough rainfall, and Brisbane seemed to turn into a drier, more barren landscape, of which I remember getting caught barefoot in lawns full of bindi princkles, and brown, crunchy, drought-like terrain. A fight for survival in the garden, where no amount of watering can save the wilting plants. This shift in my memories of the sensations of living in Brisbane could be something about idealizing childhood, I guess, or the fact that we moved house when I started Uni, from a gully to a hilltop locale, which although was very scenic, was basically built on rock, and not good for developing luscious landscapes.

These childhood sensations come as flashbacks to me now. I wake up in the night and long for those cicada sounds; the humming bush; the fluid, enveloping humidity. My wishing for these sensations is getting stronger lately, I think partly because we haven't been in Oz for over two years, but mainly because of the extreme cold affecting this part of the world. We have spent the last 3 months in sub-zero wintery conditions, and the last few weeks with an outdoor temperature of minus 15, give or take. Whenever you go outside you are restricted by layers and layers, and you scuttle from one location to another without stopping to let your toes freeze. Indoors the central heating is working overtime and dries out the air, so that everyone is parched and static, with cracked lips and drying sinuses. So I find myself lying awake , scheming about somehow getting plane flights to the other side of the world, just so that I can feel that moist air, put on a light dress, and go through the screen door onto the brick patio barefoot, to watch the gathering electrical storm of an afternoon.

I also find myself pondering how important it is for my kids to feel and associate with these same climate-related sensations. And have realised that they will have a totally different suite of feelings they associate with their childhood, and which they could feel homesick for, if they end up living in some tropical climate as adults. Because they are children of Northern Europe. They will remember the brisk air as they come out of the house, snap-freezing nose hairs and the cold like needles on their cheeks; the puddles of ice and water they traipse into the corridor when they come home. Awe and excitement when they wake up in the morning and look outside and see fat snowflakes slowly sliding downward. The crunch of the snow beneath their boots, and the way that you can take a run up and slide along the pavement when it's iced over. The absolute silence and solitude of Kūgures when you trudge over the snow and into fields by yourself - everything soft and white and muffled for miles. Breaking off icicles for "snow shashliks", and making snow angels, and the cosiness of coming into the house with the fire in the grate. The feeling of gratitude and joy of seeing the springtime approaching, and the wonder of finding the first small green shoots and snowbells peeking out from under dry, crackly leaves... their sensations will be different, but surely just as powerful, and just as strongly feel like "home": and I realise that it's all good. Different place, different time.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Mamma M says:

    Yeah, funny huh...the hot Australian Christmas might be as foreign to them as it is to me! It just doesn't quite feel like Christmas when it's not snowing... :) (even for as much as I don't generally like it...)

    This was a very nice piece, Marianna. :)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Our winters are not as extreme as yours, but oh, how I hear you. Different time, different place... but I'd still like spring to be here. Kimberley

  3. Madeleine says:

    I think a lot about this very topic, Mook. I have found that even after two decades in Aus, a warm Christmas is still not what feels right to me - even though my northern hemisphere childhood was Californian, and thus was just cold (by Calif standards!) but not snowy. It is childhood tastes and smells which I connect with most when I'm back in the States. It doesn't matter that Aus food is most often better than American food, and that Aus air is cleaner... the fact remains that when I smell the smog and taste the food I grew up eating, I'm transported in time. It's sometimes overwhelming: the last time I was back, I actually wept a little. :-)

  4. Fifee says:

    U look just like mikus in that photo, very cute.

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