miércoles, 1 de febrero de 2012

30 Days In Sydney by Peter Carey

Peter Carey’s 30 Days In Sydney claims to present a wildly distorted account of a writer’s return to a city he knows well. After ten years in New York, the author spends a month in the city he left behind and he records the experience. It’s not at all distorted, except interestingly via an essential personal perspective. It’s more than a travelogue, less than a memoir, certainly not a guidebook. The form is intriguing. It could pass as a commonplace book, the merely fleshed out notes of an individual’s visit to his own past. And the form works well.

The idea, it seems, is to communicate a feel for a place. The result is a collected experience where the personal rubs shoulders with the historical, where memory meets geography, where the past is partly lived again through recollection and the lives of others who themselves have moved on. And all of this takes place in less than sixty thousand words.

Peter Carey’s aim of using the ancient elements, fire, air, earth and water, as a thread to bind his impressions, however, simply does not work. The idea appears and then seems to be forgotten for some time. The earth is surely special in Australia, quite unlike anywhere else. And water is everywhere in Sydney, whose harbour is surely one of the world’s most beautiful places. Fire certainly formed – and continues to form – this landscape: no Australian needs to be reminded of this. Air, however, did not seem to have its own angle, apart form the author having arrived by plane. Looking back now, perhaps the thread was there, despite the fact that at the time it seemed something of a complication.

Themes apart, 30 Days In Sydney is a delightful read because of the characters that Peter Carey meets, depicts and describes, both the living and the dead, the contemporary and the historical. The mix is unique. The rawness is abrasive, but the sophistication alongside is always breathtaking.

Sydney is the kind of city where multiple cultures coexist. In that it is not unique. But it is also the largest city of a nation that has recently rediscovered an aboriginal identity that is being apologetically sanctified. It’s a city where the bar at the opera probably has a poker machine. In Manly, the multi-class seaside suburb, a beautiful person with headphones and roller blades can flash past the open door of an amusement arcade while the police swing band, live in the open air, all in uniform and wearing shades, plays a Glen Miller selection. It’s a place where you can be pushed off the sidewalk by a redneck right outside the most utterly twee of art galleries. Such contrasts are all there in Peter Carey’s book.

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