I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. Don’t feel sorry for me. It’s entirely self‑inflicted. I’ve been saying yes to everything because I want to, but as usual this end of the year seems to be on fast-forward and all the things are happening at once.
A friend and I went to the Afghan film festival and saw three incredible films. I can’t stop thinking about them. If we’d known about it earlier, we would have gone to ALL the films. We saw a documentary from the Pamir region and were so lucky to be able to talk to the director about it: people hanging on to their culture, no longer allowed to roam across three countries, living 4,000 metres above sea level with no trees, no fruit and vegetables, and poor access to medical care. It took the director a week to get there from Kabul, through dust and mountains and snow. “How did you manage to trek in there in winter?” someone asked. “That was summer,” he said.
We saw The Patience Stone, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen. Every detail was fascinating. Kabul surprised me: houses built into the hillside, like Italy’s Cinque Terre except with snow-topped mountains rearing up behind them. The third film, Jirga, was Australian, and my expectations were low. “It’ll be clumsy,” I thought, “overacted,” but it turned out to be my favourite. Subtle, moving and beautiful, the scenes keep playing over and over in my mind.
The dust and smoke haze that’s been smothering most of eastern Australia finally hit Canberra on Friday. I was driving south that day, across the Monaro plains and down the mountain to the Bega Valley. Usually that’s my favourite drive in the universe but on Friday it seemed hot and never ending. A dust storm hit when I was crossing the Monaro, making it seem not unlike Mars. Or Afghanistan.
I stopped for a coffee in Nimmitabel, which you might know from an earlier post is a quirky little place with a concrete elephant. In the café the nattily dressed owner was making savoury muffins while Perry Como crooned In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it in the background. Somehow the dust storm had swirled me into another era. As I went to leave, I realised that there was writing on my chair:
Sam Neill! Swoon! My rump and his have shared a chair! I’ve been wondering ever since how many degrees of separation that is.
On the other side of Nimmitabel the temperature dropped ten degrees and I was finally able to open the windows without getting char-grilled. Even in the cool of the valley everything looked dry. I wish it would rain. I mean rain and rain for days, then a little each night for several months. That’s what we need.
But at the end of the dusty drive was a surprisingly cool and ever so slightly green place: a farm in Tilba Tilba, at the foot of Gulaga. I spent the weekend mostly drinking tea on the verandah and watching clouds drape themselves over that mountain, and I realised that somewhere in the past few years I’d made a choice. Like the mountains in the Afghan movies, like the mountains I see from my windows at home, like the mountains I passed on the drive down to Tilba, Gulaga held my attention, settled me. For years I wavered, shuttling between mountains and sea, unsure about where I really wanted to live. But now I know. There have to be mountains.