One time I went to the other side of the world
Where it was bright green and freezing
Not dusty yellow – hot as casserole
We all went in the van
Until the bitumen ended-
Strangers related by blood
As though we’d all met years ago
And kilometres, in their thousands,
Had not been a part of our story
There were wild roses that my grandmother planted
Now pink and rambling
Surging from their domestic plots
Wild as the country they sprung from
I wish I’d met her.
She would have been mine,
and I would have been hers.
Everything was green as I followed my blood-
Aunty, cousin, uncle, second cousins.
We came to the crumbled walls.
I saw Mum.
I thought of her back then,
As I looked at the shrubbery
sprouting out through the living room
I thought of her beside the fire,
drying her dark brown hair
Blue eyes bright,
letting nobody tell her what she was capable of
Dreaming perhaps of her wedding day
The places she might go
Speaking Gaelic to her Mam
As she laboured over homework
Teasing her sisters and ignoring her brother
Her sense of humour quirky –
Temper and passion sharp as ever
“Your Mam and her sisters would sit there so.”
“Combing their brilliant long hair.”
Something surged deep in my stomach –
Where I most feel my heart
“They always had kittens,” Mary said.
“And I always wanted hair so long when I grew up.”
My stomach-heart hung drops on my lashes
I squeezed Mary’s hand in thanks
Thank you cousin
For showing me where I came from.
I have always admired nudity in public, particularly as it’s not usually the good-looking people who seem to lead the way.
Look at every streaker to ever grace a sporting field: white ass blazing and skin slapping.
While in San Fran we had a stroke of luck. The annual Bay to Breakers Race was on….kicking off about two blocks from our hotel.
Everyone dresses up for it and there are skill levels from the Kenyans, who do the long distance as a sprint, right down to the fraternity kids who have been drinking since daybreak.
We got in position and let the chaos unfold around us. It was sensational.
San Francisco brought out its best.
There were of course the typical annoying drunk people, young kids who think being loud equals being the most drunk. Just like me ten years ago!
A guy pissed on the street and we moved positions.
The bad-ass San Fran cops cleared the streets and the buzzer sounded. We didn’t really know what we were in for.
The African runners led, naturally, their long limbs eating the bitumen with grace and ease. The metre-eaters as my friend would say.
Then, in the pack of serious runners close behind, we spotted our first naked people.
The man was starkers and the woman (being liberated but not irrational) wore a sports bra. If you’re in it to win it the bounce factor is not an option.
Everyone got excited and a guy running past yelled out “What? Haven’t you ever seen a naked person before?”
Well if you hadn’t, today was your day! We stopped counting at 50.
All sorts of bodies came by completely bare. There was a great contingent of proud older men, most with penis rings or decorated headwear. There was a definite salute to San Fran’s gay community and gay and lesbian rights movement.
There were rainbow flags, groups of 15 people joined as caterpillars by ropes, a guy dressed as a soccer goal -who people kept tripping over, a bunch of men dressed as cheerleaders, some face-painted terrorists in camouflage underpants, a set of tetris blocks, bedazzled breasts and beaded chests, President Obama, a guy juggling as he ran, Spongebob Squarepants, lots of burgers, skeletons, zombies, a giant upside down letter R, the Goldengate Bridge, and…my favourite, a strip of bacon and his mate holding a pancake pourer, as shake and bake.
It was a parade of the weird and wonderful, and made me love the city more.
Every now and then a serious runner would pass; eyes straight ahead, dodging naked butts and Mr Potato Heads.
Good on all who bared all. That is what living in a liberal city is all about.
On the train I talked to two San Fran cops to get the measure of the place. I’d heard the cops here were pretty violent, but these two were exceptionally nice.
“We don’t have much trouble on the Breakers day,” the male cop told me.
“Usually we just ask people to put their clothes back on afterwards, but it’s not really a problem.”
He was from New York City and told me it had changed a lot since the 9/11 attack, with cameras virtually everywhere in the centre.
“What are the cops in Australia like?” they asked me.
Hmm…how to answer that one!
On the whole good, I told them. Some have power trips like bouncers, but in my experience mostly good.
Hats off to them I reckon. I wouldn’t have the patience.
We got off at Castro , a neighbourhood with a large gay community and great cafes. A guy returning home from the morning’s race walked past completely starkers and a bum yelled at him.
A bum yelling at a bum.
The subway station had a plaque dedicated to Harvey Milk, the famous gay politician who had secured important rights in San Francisco. An enormous rainbow flag flew against the blue sky, and well-dressed people walking niche breeds of dogs stopped to chat on their door stoops or at shop fronts.
The next day, and this simply must be included, we saw some shit go down. Literally.
We were waiting with the business crowd to catch a morning bus. Everyone was respectable, freshly scrubbed and in their day’s attire. My friend was telling me a story when over her shoulder I caught sight of….
A homeless woman had dropped her pants and was leaning her bum up against what looked like a bus stop. It was actually a donga that housed a flower shop, which had not yet opened for the morning. The poor florist when she arrived for work that day!
To my disgust she began to urinate. She dropped a tissue in it and picked it up. A man stopped walking, leaned on his walking stick and stared in disgust at the event.
Then she defecated. It made me feel sick.
She was clearly living on the streets, and when she had finished a homeless man wandered over and urinated in the same spot.
It was unexpected, gross and confronting.
As always though it was a pointed reminded about the seeming class gap in the city.
To get to the point that you would do that without a care in the middle of the morning peak hour, I don’t know if many of us can appreciate her circumstances til we’ve been there.
See my earlier post for a link to a great article written on San Fran’s homeless population and attitudes towards it.
The middle class people and I boarded the bus.
I wondered if she had some cardboard to block the cold sidewalk from seeping into her bones that night.
I stood naked in the bathroom and looked at my body.
I liked it. Finally.
I reckon every person has a strained relationship with their body at various points throughout their lives.
When I was in high school I longed for the flat bums of the other girls. There was mine, round as a plum. Totally unmissable in my jeans.
Now I love my plump badoonka.
Which brings me to today’s topic; body appreciation day.
Firstly you must realise perfection is not real (unless you are Giselle or Miranda Kerr, who get paid for looking flawless.)
Next you must learn to laugh at your body, or at least the bits you cannot love.
Sprinting the 100 metres I can feel my bum swinging violently up and down as though it will hit me in the back and knock me over. It always makes me laugh, usually at the 80m mark when my stamina is running out and it’s vital I don’t laugh.
When I trek my short legs come into their own on the hills. I put my head down and feel the power coming from my thighs, chunky from playing soccer. Even if I wanted to stop walking I couldn’t -my thighs powering away in autopilot.
When I lie down to read a book, stretched in the sun like a leopard, my breasts sigh to each side of my sternum, reprieved from standing to attention. Natural and soft, the way breasts should be.
Each time I epilate my legs I laugh as I run over the hair that sprouts on my toes.
Little hobitses, I think.
In certain profile photos my teeth leap out like a manic beak, to announce their imperfect presence in threatening silhouette.
At these things I laugh, because I refuse to change them. In years to come I don’t want a child of mine saying “Mum you look so beautiful,” only for me to reply “well honey that’s because I got surgery- and one day you should feel that you need it too.”
Plastic surgery is an individual choice, and I don’t judge anyone else who gets it. I simply wouldn’t for looks alone.
There are reasons other than aesthetics to consider also.
I do find it saddening however this obsession with bettering ourselves. More steps to creating a fake reality. More young people thinking they have fallen short of the mark with their natural assets.
I stepped into the shower barefoot. I was sick of being cautious of tinier, and this hostel was fantastically clean.
I rubbed soap over my whole body, and took the time to appreciate it.
I had all my limbs and no extras. I could run. One knee clicked from an old soccer injury and one shoulder was higher than the other from an old motorbike injury. But my muscles felt young and toned and my skin always answered the sun by turning brown.
Hey body. I love you.
If nobody else will, I always will. Even if you shrivel up and only crave green tea and cat food when you’re 90.
Huge drops gathered on my lashes and I blinked them away luxuriously.
The hot water died without warning and I hurried to wash the shampoo out of my spiked mop.
Damn you hostel living. Damn you!