a hybrid affair

The launch of Journeys in Canberra on 16 July was a hybrid event – pandemic style – live and via zoom. Not a fortunate coupling without adequate technical support, but “we’re all in this together” and “we are constantly having to adapt”. Those of us on zoom could see the speakers, and hear those with louder voices. At times the camera turned to the audience and from zoom we saw them and heard fragments of their questions / comments.

Photo: Manon Saur, Ruth Adler, Remo Moretta, Caroline Schuster

The Australian Ambassador to Mexico, Remo Moretta, spoke about elements the two countries have in common, one of these being indigenous populations and history. It’s not all about trade and money, he said, we could grow and learn by sharing indigenous experience, past and present.

At least that’s what I think he said, I was a bit distracted because a dear friend and colleague was urging me in the chat room to put my hand up and say something. She tried several times, and finally wrote “think of your mother” (founding force behind Riverton Press). So I did, and I remembered something about her that related to one of the questions, about the book’s cover image. In the end I didn’t get a chance to speak, so I’ll tell you here.

Manon Saur’s painting for the cover has a skeleton in it, why is that? someone asked (I think). Obviously both the question and the skeleton are pointers to speak about the annual major happening in Mexico that is the Day of the Dead. Manon was one of the launch speakers, so she related some of her experiences of el día de los Muertos. Thanks to Penny’s urging, I remembered when my mother Nita visited Mexico and we went to Oaxaca.

We didn’t particularly plan it that way, but it was THAT time of year. Oaxaca was dressed for the occasion and the streets were full of performers dressed as skeletons. I found it a bit mono-thematic, given that Oaxaca is so rich in history, art and social currents. Of course, we visited the archaeological sites of Monte Alban and Mitla, were gold-struck in the church of Santo Domingo, tried the mezcal and ate the mole, but each evening we were pursued by noisy and colourful skeletons. I think Mother was a bit frightened, she had asked if it was safe to go out at night.

At the end of the weekend her comment was, I was chased by death, I was nearly grabbed by death, and when I got back to the hotel, death was waiting for me (in the form of miniature you-know-what on the dresser). I’m still alive, hurrah!

Later when she talked about what she liked of Mexico, she would say that she loved that it was not a materialist society in the way of money-loving, real-estate-hugging Australia. She admired Mexicans for having the spirit to look death in the face, play games about death, and not hide it away. Nita appreciated that in Mexico there was space for magic.