Thursday, August 4, 2011
Day 24. Dancing in the Meadow at Midnight
Weaving along a cracked concrete path into forest, I felt as if there were rifle butts puckered up against my sternum, sucking me forward.
Though, the shooters were subconscious: a messed-up mental ambush I had prepared for myself, in order to send me off to work on a day I least delighted to.
So skipping out into the woods, externally a Little Red Riding Hood in his little yellow laced boots, internally the Big, Bad Rotten Old Wolf, he was radiating work ethic, off to meet the grandmother of all stories, hiding somewhere out between the wildberries.
Well, not such a charming fairytale as all that.
The metaphor of the rifle butts was succinct for this ominous occasion.
In this spot where I was walking, seventy years odd prior (for history’s sake, between the nineteen hundred years of 39 and 44) in this exact gloomy garden where I was gallivanting, 100,000 Jews were marched in rows, no doubt spurred not by rifles, but machine guns adhering to their shoulders, to their deaths.
The Ponary Massacre in Lithuania was one of the worst Jewish genocides of World War Two.
Staring at the faces of the families hanging on the tumble-down walls of the feat of drunken architecture which was the Ponary Massacre Memorial Museum, you could not help but wonder why it once all turned so sour, out here in little Litho-land.
But to get to the massacre memorial site, the forest, where weeds protrude like grappling hands through the concrete pathways, one must first trek to the edge of Paneriai.
Paneriai is a village of wooden sheds, jovial direction givers, and nasty scowls from unwed Russian milk-maids.
Out here, practically zooming through the heat, privately unhappy about a recent hacksaw haircut, I was tracing the path of 100 thousand murdered, burnt, and secretly disposed of humans.
During Nazi occupation, 95 percent of Lithuanian Jews were deleted from existence. The forest shivering on the edge of Paneriai silently swallowed many of these bodies.
The lives of doctors, jewellers, lovers, children, were ripped apart out here by bullets then fire, as if they were but an end season sugar cane crop, which would grow again after the traditionally post-harvest burning.
The air tasted bitter around the graniteblock statues of the Ponary Massacre Monument, as if it was fetid with the guilt and the shame of the crime’s accessories.
Lithuanian people were involved in the dirty work of Ponary, alongside the Nazis. Feelings of resentment, jealousy, (as ex-PM Bob Hawke once put it, “hatred and envy are the most corrosive elements in life”) thrust Lithuanians to corrode and kill their own countrymen.
People with the Star of David apparently tattooed upon their souls were denied participation in the world of the day.
And the sick fact is: some of the countrymen living today deny it ever happened.
What I was out here looking for, was to photograph a recent slur on the Semites.
Red spraypaint apparently vomited over one of the monuments, in Russian cyrillics, proclaiming, “Hitler Was Right” underneath a swastika.
Ok, but I think you’ll find you were wrong there buddy… though I won’t be the one to tell you in person, as I don’t want to end up number 100,001 of bodies deposited in the Paneriai forest.
So as you skipped along this twisted pathway, craning around this forest of ghosts in search of unintelligible Russian skulduggery, something to call a story with a pretty little photo of an anti-Semitic slur in a cemetery, who else would you happen to run into, but...
“Labas!” I spat out a greeting in order to gauge a local for directions.
“Sorry, I only speak English!” came the unarguably antipodean response.
Her head cocked sideways, a flush of dehydration in her cheeks, and she wore the pilgrim’s star of many massacre sites, strung boldly in the valleys of her throat.
“Hey! That’s good, me too.” I wheedled over and stood like a lamp. “Have you seen any graffiti around? I’m looking for this vandalised stone.”
“What? Nah, I didn’t see it! I’ve been here for two hours, and didn’t geta glimpse!” Aha. Revealed through the telltale shortening of speech.
“You’re an Aussie?”
“Out here in the backwoods of Panarai?”
Her eyes moved in an awkward eclipse around the scenery, as if it had just dawned she’d been teleported from Gloria Jeans in Gosford.
“Guess so!” came the half-mock reply. “And you are too I guess,” she slammed it, as if her mind’s alarms were blasting, “CAN’T ESCAPE ‘EM! CAN’T ESCAPE ‘EM!”
As for me, I hadn’t seen a wild random Austral in months, and this was the luck of the wicked playing LoveSick Sally for my senses.
“Yeh, for sure. From Sydney! Balmain.”
“Oh yeh?” She laughed through her nose (a typically Sydneysider response), “I’m from Bondi!”
I too scanned the vista around, as if I had been teleported back to Bondi, for a quick surf and a lark instead of trudging into a Holocaust massacre scene.
We shared some homecooked wordplays, reminiscing of Sydney this and that, then swam about our separate ways, myself, searching for the story that never was, she to take her chances on the cannonball run known as the district rail service.
We departed from each other, and I went back into Holocaust grumbling mode for two slivers of a second.
While ascending the steps of a dugout, a cylindrical manmade hole apparently for disposing of wasted lives, I suddenly decided I was feeling faded.
The realities of the scenery far surpassed my unnerved response to my hacked up hair job, and I needed to sit and not think about burned bodies.
I slumped against the neat Hebrew carvings middling a massacre memorial stone, and drifted out into a heatstricken memory montage.
…Her hair was matted, a lack of showering, and she bade me to hush by placing a palm over my mouth. Nothing subtle. Her eyes were electrified, perhaps out of her own personal craziness, or the adrenaline of the situation. I wore no rubber boots, and so her electrical pulse ran through me as she grabbed my hand. We were ready to bolt. And out we dashed, two white rabbits, running across the meadow, doing our best not to be spotted from the homestead. The living room lights were still on and spitting out between the cricks of the Victorian veranda. It was midnight, or surpassing it into the wee hours, and the two lives ran skipping through the sprinklers, out into the irrigation paddock on her father’s farm.
As if it were procedure, once the dirt amassed between their toes, they dropped their dacks and began dancing through the droplets, under a moon shaped and sharing light like a disco ball, and twenty million barroom crystals shaking and staring down from around it.
Bare to their birthmarks and howling as the freezing droplets slapped against their skins, their back-foot boogying blasted each other in a bounty of mud.
Then I drifted, back to the friend I had just made in the forest, and her falsified teleportation temptation back to Bondi…
I thought of diving underneath the moss slimed pontoon skirting the wall of Dawn Fraser’s saltwater pool in Sydney harbour…blood drawing from a heel against a barnacle siding a rockpool in Coogee… a beach shower which turns to steam as soon as it hits the eggfrying heat of the midsummer asphalt.
And I reopened my eyes to the crop circle death pit in front of me. A shudder spiralled like a tadpole down my spine. All those poor people…
The modern histories of Europe are as important to world life as mint to a Mohito…
But thank all the bloody deities for letting this one begin in 1980s Australia.
I absconded back up the cracked old concrete path and out of there, without a story to sell.