“I hate travelling and explorers.”
These words, the opening words of Levi-Strauss’ Triste Tropiques have been lying in wait; now they leap out and ambush me, mockingly as I think about journeys, travel, detours and interruptions.
I am on a tram from the city, heading out to Northcote. Behind me two academics are discussing grants, who gets them and who doesn’t, how to pitch a project. One of them is disgruntled, kvetching about a colleague who suddenly has started embracing their Jewishness, excavating family history and writing about the holocaust. He says “I’m a good Jew as Jews go not religious mind you but gotta track record, been doing this stuff for years, and they knocked me back. Again.” “Suck it up Sunshine” says the other bloke. During this exchange a man shuffles into the seat next to me, talking as he comes, talking as he goes. Torture, he says, on the other hand what about torture, in and out of the hospital, that’s me in and out, schizophrenic they say, they say it’s a diagnosis, well maybe who’s to say but that’s no excuse to torture a person, they’ll use any excuse the government, any excuse, on the other hand who’s to say I’m not Australian, whose business is it, don’t have to tell the world where you come from, they’ll get it out of you in the end, what about the camps, detention camps they call them, well what’s legal if it comes to that, what’s a holocaust, tell me about diagnosis me mum they diagnosed her as leukemia they got into her bones they said things in her bones, on the other hand how can you save a person when it’s in the bones, and there’s no flesh there’s no fat skin and bones, they say I’m a bob short you can say a slice short of a sandwich but that’s no reason to torture a person the government they want to get into yer head, want to put everyone in camps so they can say things in peoples’ heads but on the other hand where are you going to find food skin and bones it’s a good day today sun shining well I hope you have a nice evening and look out for yerself, yeh it’s a nice evening.
I have turned my head to look at him during some of the speech, he is addressing a point in space, seemingly unaware of my presence. I turn back. We sit next to each other each looking straight ahead. Nice evening, I assume, is simply part of a stream of consciousness, which will last the entire tram ride. But as it turns out “look out for yerself” is in fact the termination of a speech at once public and private. Yerself is me. I turn to look at him, to reciprocate, but a fraction too late, just as he himself turns away, gets up and lopes off the tram.