December 2nd, 2007

Coffee Mug

Five years ago. Ten weeks ago

I was in Lorne, on Victoria's Great Ocean Road, on 12 October, 2002, the first time terrorists struck Bali. Woke up the next morning to the news; had the TV on while getting ready to check-out. That afternoon we listened to ABC Radio 774's coverage on the drive home. At the time I'd been to Bali twice, the most recent visit just the previous July.

We spent part of the fifth anniversary of the bombing listening to ABC Radio 774's commemorative broadcast while driving to Lorne. This isn't a co-incidence. A film society my parents belong to hosts a film weekend in Lorne every October and my parents always invite us (my sisters and I and our families) to join them. A weekend on the beach, exploring the Otway Ranges, a film or two, and some fine meals.

This year's weekend was very different to each of the previous Lorne weekends, and for good reason. My mother passed away on 23 September, after a long battle with lymphoma. Her absence also intensified the link I have with Lorne and Bali as both were among her most favourite places in the world. None of us were at the cinema at the time, but at one session the film society's president announced that they'd dedicated the weekend to my mother, which was both really nice and emphasised the differentness of the weekend.

Since mum's death we've been occupied with sorting through her things. I've been trying to find the appropriate word to describe one of her traits but can't locate the one that fits my need. Mum kept everything but a lot of what she kept wasn't part of a collection. But she wasn't a hoarder, since there was system to what she kept. As I'm like mum when it comes to keeping paper (just ask Wendy and our sons) I've taken on the role of going through her files and book shelves. Working though the newspaper and magazine clippings, receipts, brochures, instructions booklets, etc, I've now have another a defence against the wife and kids: at least I do a periodical cull.

It's proving to be an interesting experience. The downside is the repetitive strain from turning so many pages, the raising of the dust of disintegrating newspaper clippings and that so much of the stuff hadn't been needed for years. The upside is coming across the occasional treasure and the on-going connection with mum's interests. There was a stack of newspaper restaurant reviews and as I went through them I 'knew' that most of the reviewed places don't exist anymore and a lot would never have been visited by my parents. But then I'd come across a review of what become a regular family haunt and it was a delight to read the item that prompted that first visit.

One of the items I came across was a magazine ad for a range of slippers that my mother would never have worn. This one stopped me in my tracks, as for the first time I couldn’t see why mum would have kept it. I put it aside and kept working. Eventually I spotted what it was that took her archival interest, and went around to the others and asked them if they could see why mum had kept the ad. None could make the connection and inspired by the hard work they’d been doing just sighed or rolled their eyes at the task mum had left us. I pointed to the front room and said “It was photographed in that room.” It’s an important item, in that it helped them see something of what inspired mum.

I’ve enjoyed sorting through travel documents and pamphlets, checking out the places my parents have been to. Bali figured prominently in the stash, as she’d visited the island many times since her first visit in 1976. It took her 25 years (I held out for the longest before travelling there) but eventually she managed to convince all of us about the charms of the island.

Most of the items I tossed out, but not before noticing that once upon a time (1989) the Indonesian departure tax was 9,900 rp (just less than 10% of what it was in 2005) and that one Aussie dollar would get you 1,350 rp (compared to ~7,350 in 2005). An item I’m keeping is the guide book (Indonesia Do-It-Yourself 1976 – 1977 by Frank Palmos & Pat Price) mum took on her first Bali trip. Its Bali section occupies only about 15% of the pages, but they are full of mum’s additions and notes. Back then she liked the food at Murmi’s but not at Poppies, and was impressed by the artwork of Antonio Blanco, Han Snell and Gusti Lempad. A bemo (bus) ride from Denpasar to Ubud cost 125 rp; these days would there be enough 25 rp coins to not shortchange all those on a single trip? (My sons have souvenired every 25 rp coin we’ve come across. Two coins in four trips.)

Going though the sorting process has been a conversation with mum. The only problem is that it’s a one-way flow. Something happens which I know that she’d like to have known about, but the opportunity doesn’t exist. So far the biggest news we could have told her is that two years after it closed its doors our long-time family-favourite Chinese restaurant has re-opened. It’s been two, long years, as we’ve tried (and failed) to find that a replacement. But now we have to look no more. It’s back. The same management, the same venue, a slight change of name, a different chef and a very similar menu. We heard the news just eight days after mum died, by which time it had been open for a fortnight. So mum could have known the big news, though there was no way she would have made it there for a meal. But I know she would have been so pleased that it had re-opened and would have loved the image of a future which involves her family regularly getting together over a great meal at that restaurant. I’m happy with that image.