Thursday, December 06, 2007
Intimacy is one of the great human paradoxes, an elemental whisper that seems to possess both body and soul; colour, light shadow, smell, touch, taste. And yet it is really no more than a suspicion that the external world may not be quite so hostile after all. That we have brushed against Other and that perhaps (forgive me, Ezra Pound) there may be commerce between us.
There is simply no way of arguing intimacy with anyone. Colours range, intimacy doesn't. Poets consider it theirs now, all others having left the field. The tender trail of a finger down a lover's forearm, the muffled plea of that lone sock in the corridor. The milky spill of the stars over your sagging wind-blown camp. The clutch of events in the ears of the resolute.
We bury intimacy along with our names, to paraphrase Cicero.
Poetry is, of course, eternally charged by intimacy much as the asteroid is eternally charged and dismayed by the vacuum of space. It is the poet impatient of the intimate who will tutor you on form in the small hours and yet will not hear a word read in its defence or anyone else's. I may lack a certain homely charm, but hours spent in a small room with such people are short on the cosy and long on the intimate.
So what, then, do I mean by "the intimate"?
I will spare you the John Donne bedroom conceits, fleas, etc. This post is neither about the frail edges of life or its long, nagging shadows. It is about the happenstance, the life discovered as it is lived, the union of time and space that is the miracle of all sentient beings. The nooks and crannies. The life we surrender from ourselves everyday for the good of all of us. A habit formed over millenia that those millenia seem designed to shatter every day for the last 3650000 days, or so. And yet here we are, just.
As I write this I am watching a cricket match. She of the indelible nooks and crannies. That should be a surprise to no-one. I am an Australian and that is what we do here - quaff wine and agonise over a game that is about as divorced from our sunny, fervent nature as any game could possibly be. So why the enduring fascination across centuries and tribes of this most ponderous and challenging of contact sports?
It is intimacy, of course. In all the most celebrated portraits of the game in this country (with the stark exception of Drysdale, whose iconic painting had more to do with how this country had been bled dry to the point of serial ghost towns, ie with the cricketer's themselves than with the cricket), the players stand focused, mirroring some point between time passed and the world at hand, florid with potential.
I had the great fortune to be privy to two fascinating Test matches recently, one in Kolkata where more than 300,000 witnessed the match, the other in Kandy smack bang in the highlands of Sri Lanka, where less than a tenth as many cheered their team to victory on the fifth day from what seemed an impossible position on the second day, especially after the dog crossed the field for the first time. To the uninitiated, a Test match is so-called because it extends over 5 days, ie 30 hours of playing time, which is often not enough to get a result at that level. Dogs do not usually factor in the equation. But Kandy is that sort of ground.
I have only recently got cable. Cable TV was never a matter of great concern to me and I still can't quite explain why I have it now except that I am older and more settled with my leases, and well, let's face it, free-to-air is getting a little light weight.
I am not, I promise you, a conduit for pay TV. I have a point here. Intimacy. The happenstance of us. Cricket. The smiling old dog who stopped a match between two proud nations every day at 3.05 pm on her way home from somewhere to somewhere. No-one cared or dared to stop her and ask - not the cricketers, not the managers, not the groundsmen, not the police, not the cameramen, not the producers. They all just stood and waited while she waddled and grinned wide through their moment. Not once. Not twice, but every day of that Test (5 days) there she came smiling and strutting from one end of the ground to the other.
I cannot think of another sport played at this level where such quirks of fate would be tolerated, but then we are talking about a sport with its own mad aunt vocabulary - "silly mid-on", "googly", etc - and its own mad aunt obsession with food and drink (there are two meal breaks - the first at 1pm, the second at 3.40pm, as well as a brief drinks break every hour). Ian Botham, England's greatest cricketer and now a wise and personable commentator, tipped the dog would be back at the same time the next day "it just has that look about it, going about her(?) business", by which time the English were batting and the Sri Lankans were hugging the boundary rope in a vain attempt to staunch the early flow of runs. A gentle murmur around the ground and there she was picked up by the cameras trotting diagonally through the game from third man to the long off rope. It was obvious one or two of the Sri Lankan players were more than a little discomfited by this grinning quadraped making free with their bread and butter, but then the camera panned back to Muttiah Muralitharan, the champion spinner, grinning from ear to ear, and suddenly the dog was swallowed up by the crowd.
I switched to the Kolkata Test between India and Pakistan, the roar of the 70,000-strong crowd in that enormous stadium so deafening I had to turn down the volume in order to make out what the commentators were saying. No dogs crossing here, the perimeter ringed with barbed wire and truncheon-yielding police. And yet the crowd were happy, vibrant, attentive. They seemed to be clustered into precincts - the face-painting crowd, the flag-waving crowd, the mullah-crowd, the shy, pretty girls and the young couples seeming to savour every moment together before marriage and children. Indian crowds, it doesn't take a genius to realise, are there with one eye on the camera, erupting like a field of wheat at the slightest shift in focus. They spend all night on their quirky placards and all day waving them around upside down for the cameras. "Sachan is such a one" and so on. But as a crowd the Kolkata mob is second to none for intelligence and good breeding. They cheered the roof off, of course, when a Pakistani wicket fell, but they also offered generous applause in recognition of opposition feats.
The match, after all, did end in a draw, even after five days, and with no trotting dogs or wasp clouds. I am working up to the wasps, patient reader. It was a tense contest, one of those engaging Test matches where even from 8,000kms away I felt as though I were eavesdropping on someone's difficult first dinner date. At times in cricket the action turns inward away from the spectator, and you either make that leap to become a participant as one would at the theatre or you give up and go home. It can be an exasperating experience for the uninitiated, or it can be the window to understanding a most profound and intimate game.
So, while one umpire fainted and another was summoned, I switched back to Kandy, where Sri Lanka were supposed to be batting their way out of trouble and into the cool highland evening. What I found was fifteen grown men (11 fielders, 2 batsmen and 2 umpires) lying face down where they had stood only a moment before. For a moment I assumed the worst, but then one or two players raised their heads and squinted as though into a very strong wind, and it was only then I noticed the white occlusion between camera and game. A swarm of wasps had, like the grinning dog, decided this was the quickest route home.
Posted by Justin Lowe at 9:18 pm