I left Warsaw at 6.25 in the afternoon on a chilly day, after weeks of warmth. I had no seat choice: only middle of the row left. I slept all the way to Heathrow, head sagging, mouth open, sleep my familiar, a defence against misery.
The Heathrow turnaround was short and by the time I reached the departure gate via bus, train and brisk walk my flight was already boarding. On the way to my seat – 35D: the same one that brought me to London 7 weeks ago – I picked up a New York Times, international edition. I settled down for the 13 hour flight, pulling on my pressure stockings, creating a playlist of 40 pieces of music, and folding the broadsheet into manageable segments.
Unexpectedly, an article contained a summons back to my Australian life, the life in which geology featured large. An article recounting the ice-age origins of the New York landscape and although I have no knowledge of New York, it offered a template of desire: I want such an account of city landscapes I know.
I dozed on the London – Singapore leg, and somehow managed to lose my headphones. I only listened to two things on my playlist- Beethoven and Steve Reich’s Music for pieces of wood. The rest of my waking time I edited, discarded and collaged photos, and read junk on my kindle.
In Singapore there was barely time to get off the plane and back on for the final 7 hours. I watched a very atmospheric Murder on the Orient Express, with Kenneth Branagh as Poirot.
Just as I was ready to doze off we crossed into Australia somewhere near Port Headland, and I was riveted by the landscape on the flight path screen. That beautiful landscape of home: pale blue, green, ochre, darker green, khaki: the sinuous bends of the Shaw River, and the low contour lines: Mt Edgar, 373 metres; Mt Madley 534m; Mt Beadell 530m; Scamp Hill 594m; Mt Talbot 623m; Mt Rawlinson 605m. There were other waterways – rivers, creeks, lagoons, washes and lakes – and a few deserts: Little Sandy Desert and Gibson Desert. An intriguing large blue patch turned out to be Lake Disappointment, hinting at the travails of European explorers. There was even a trace of Polish footsteps in a name: Lake Gruszka. This is my country, but I’ve never been west, so for half the continental journey places named were as alien as Turda, Cluj-Napoca, Zalau, Alesed.
Bland Creek gave me pause for thought. Is that what my life will be back home, without the endless colour and delight of twins?
Suddenly we’re skirting the southern edge of the continent – Smoky Bay, Denial Bay, Saint Peter Island, Point Brown, Streaky Bay, St Francis Islands, Nuyt’s Archipelago. Place names become more familiar: Port Augusta, Whyalla, Murray River, Darling River (weekend camping when I was in Broken Hill, and a holiday with the family on a houseboat); Mildura (where I behaved very badly), Lachlan River (where once we were attacked by squadrons of mosquitoes); Murrumbidgee River (followed on a road trip after floods); Griffith (where J picked oranges the year our youngest son finished high school, and I began cementing my friendship with Annette); Wagga Wagga (where my first flight ever had to turn back and where I bought my Noritake dinner service in the late 1960s.)
By now the height of mountains is increasing: Mt Minjary 762m, Sugarloaf Mtn 774m, Mt McAlister 1033m, Yumatbulla Mtn 1485m, Bimberi Peak 1912m, although not so neatly sequential.
As the mountains get higher, the plane begins it’s descent, and soon we’re taxiing at Kingsford Smith airport. I activate my phone. While I wait at the carousel for my bag I text family to let them know I’ve arrived. And guess what? All messages are delivered.
It’s a cold Sydney pre-dawn. As the sky lightens I sit on Wolli Creek station after a friendly encounter with the guard on the airport train. I’m inadequately clad and the cold attacks my bottom in stripes through the metal slats of the seat. I’m tired now, and doze as the train heads south: sombre bush spins past and grey ocean heaves gently. A grimy man gets on and surrounds himself with his plastic bags and ripped backpack. He pulls out a mobile and I eavesdrop: he’s off to spend time with a friend who’s lonely.
Finally we pull in at Bomaderry, and there’s J rugged up in beanie and Warsaw jacket. I kiss him through the train window, and we make our entwined way to the car.
By the time we reach Moruya I’m dropping in and out of sleep. At home I greet son and dog, spread a piece of Australian bread with peanut butter, and fall into bed, freshly made by H who has a horror of spiders taking up residence in unused bedclothes. I sleep round the clock and then some, with a brief awakening to talk to my Australian daughter and eat satay chicken: my son knows my favourite food. He’s also stocked the frig with all my necessities: soy milk, orange juice, grapes, frozen yoghurt.
I went to Warsaw with the hope that I’d change the pattern of my days, establish a new routine, and come back virtuous in every way. I’d forgotten the lesson of Cavafy
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
My hope for the tripartite tourist day was forlorn, as was my determination to wean myself off my addictions to blogging and Netflix. My energy was limited. I was happiest when I was being entertained which is why the visit was one of museums rather than explorations.
What did change was the depth of grandparental delight and my relationship with twins who are no longer kidlets. Forget museums and failures. Remember only chatter, mischief and little hands in mine.
I relive the seven weeks as I skim my blog and process my diary chronicle. I glue a few odds and ends into my commonplace book, and contac the notebook Maja covered with stickers so they don’t peel off.
I read the latest edition of The monthly: a profile of Helen Garner, challenging as everything to do with her is; and an article by former Greens Senator Scott Ludlum about Rohingya refugees and the Australian government’s indifference. I’m back in the perplexities and horrors of the real world beyond the euphoria of travel.
At night I hear the continuo of the ocean and the flop of the dog at the end of my bed, and know that I am indeed home.
I’m linking this to Cathy’s wanderessence blog in response to July’s invitation to write about returning home.