Vive L’Australie!

Patriotic fervour courses through the veins of the joyful populace of L’Australie on this annual day of celebration.

The tricolore informs the aesthetic from La Perouse to Vaucluse as loyal subjects commemorate the arrival of Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de Laperouse at Kamay, just days before Englishman Arthur Phillip on January 24, 1788.

The famed national colours adorn everything from the fleet of modern submarines in the bay to the delicious macarons baked so eagerly in honour of the visiting president, whose cavalcade rolls proudly along Route Anglais towards Crique Anglais.

A president who defers to his high school Art teacher, and not his high school sweetheart, on matters of liberte, egalite, fraternite, and rules without interference from an irrelevant monarch in distant lands. A leader as flawed as any Australien, but more than the mere puppet of a media mogul dismantling democracy throughout the world.

Joie de vivre permeates every beating heart after victory over the old enemy in the most recent football World Cup, which was celebrated with endless renditions of a truly rousing national anthem, and not with a dour hymn girt by confusion, nor with a smelly, sweaty shoe full of the nation’s harmful addiction. Instead, proud fans raised glasses full of local wine, blissfully unaware that one of our great export industries could have been significantly bruised if the prime ministerial puppet (born and bred in the East) had attacked our biggest trading partner to score a few cheap political points. Sacre bleu!

Alas, not every citizen shares the collective gaiety on this momentous day. Informed citizens raised on daily political discourse campaign passionately to change the date from January 24, and temper festivities with reminders of the genocide initiated at Kamay and perpetuated throughout a land that was never ceded.

They offer a firm critique of rising exclusive nationalism and dwindling media diversity, as well as the existential crisis facing native animals, and the wide brown land, incomprehensible even to the likes of Descartes or De Beauvoir. They take consolation in the fact that the French at least turned the cane toad infestation into haute cuisine.

Meanwhile, local surfers decry the British pronunciation of ‘Bronnie’ as they order tourists to chase barrels in the Coogee shore dump, and the nation’s terrible English literacy is attributed to language one interference.

On this warm, blue-sky day, children lob tennis balls at friends who present a flat bat and stand front-on with sandy feet pegged together. Nearby, the elegant elite sip cocktails at Bondi’s exclusive private beach club, and savour the heavenly combination of unrivalled culinary expertise and rich natural ingredients which could never have culminated in good ol’ meat and 3 veg.

Vive L’Australie!

Image: Eleni Stefanovski

First published in The Beast magazine, February 2022.

Lennie.

A substance thick as honey ran down Lennie’s shirtfront. It was one of the many he had spilt, smeared, dribbled or dropped on his person over the last few hours, during which the general frivolity had afforded him a degree of freedom. But soon his mother caught him.

“I gave him that shirt just this morning,” she bemoaned, as she wiped away the stains and her maternal guilt.

“Leave it,” said a voice of similar vintage, and Lennie recognised the delicate perfume of his aunty Suzie.

 “Charlie was exactly the same when he reached that age.”

As his mother and aunty mourned the loss of their baby boys, Lennie wrestled himself from their attention and set off in search of another prize. He’d spotted the red heart-shaped delicacies the moment he arrived, but had been obstructed by the customary platitudes and gushing sentiments from friends and relatives as they’d arrived one after another.

Now he stumbled to his feet and bumped his way through the blur of bodies surrounding the food table. Countless guests insisted on kissing him and smothering him with affection, but Lennie was obsessed with other matters of the heart. He thrust his hands into the bowl and clawed as many little hearts as possible, before plonking himself on the floor. Nearby guests simply laughed and shuffled away to avoid stepping on him, and Lennie focussed his entire concentration and limited dexterity on extricating the chocolates from their wrappers, before gorging himself on mouthfuls of pure pleasure.

Lennie was then captivated by the golden glow of the beer fridges. Had such a wondrous sight ever existed? From his vantage point on the plush but soggy carpet, Lennie gazed up enraptured at the two towers of temptation gleaming with hitherto undiscovered flavours.

Lennie will one day hear a theory that alcohol labelling is deliberately designed to evoke associations with positive childhood memories of certain shapes, colours and images. Well, it was working today, and he reached for a bottle containing a pleasure he had not yet known. Just as he touched the ice-cold bottle, a strong and dominant hand pulled his away.

“Bit too early for that Lennie,” the owner admonished light-heartedly.

“Already going for the imported stuff,” another voice joked.

“Maybe another day my boy!” and the men enjoyed a concomitant chuckle as they downed the bottles they were holding.

A clink on a glass and the room fell silent and still.  

Lennie was ushered to the stage, and his eyes lit up with wonderment yet again on this fantastical evening. A giant cake covered in thick, luscious, colourful icing sat before him. His hands extended instinctually, and simultaneously his father swooped to snatch the razor-sharp knife that lay beside the cake.

Lennie smashed through the icing and plunged his forearms into the soft and doughy interior of the cake. He swam unabashed in the innocent, creamy, sensual pleasure until his mother’s voice pierced his reverie:

“Happy 40th Lennie!”

Image: Jess Bailey

God bless my Taxi.

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We craned our necks for the source of the excitement. We could hear it but we couldn’t see it.

What was it?

Horns blaring, engines roaring, people shouting, music blaring, bells ringing.

From atop the hill we had a great vantage point over Zacatecas and its surrounds, yet we still couldn’t determine the source of the noise.

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Was it a protest, was it a celebration, a festival, a fiesta, a beauty contest, a football game…?

It’s often hard to tell in Mexico, as any event seems to be a perfect pretext to become boisterous. Any day, any time.

The origin of the pandemonium eventually revealed itself. A fleet of brightly decorated taxis rounded the bend and climbed the hill in a convoy of commotion. Vehicles were draped in streamers, covered in balloons and painted or wrapped in the national flag. Red, white and green dominated the scene as more and more taxis wound their way up the hill to the church.

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Why?

To be blessed, of course.

On this particular day, the taxis of Zacatecas were receiving their annual blessing from the priest and, through him, the almighty. They were asking for protection and, no doubt, many lucrative fairs for the next 12 months.

Patriotically-adorned taxis and motorised mayhem lined up outside the church and the noise eventually subsided as the drivers and their family and friends waited for the priest to bless every vehicle in turn.

While the event certainly surprised me, it was not entirely unexpected. Sure, I’d never seen taxis blessed in my own country, but I had noticed during my time travelling in Latin America that taxi drivers would bless themselves every time they drove past a house of worship.

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The procession of taxis had interrupted our quiet inspection of La Quemada archaeological ruins, so we decided to return to the city. With tired legs and the burden of history upon us, we realised the best way to return to the city safely, and saintly, was by taxi.

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