Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Getting Involved

Years ago, one hot July day in Vienna we - me, plus husband, kids and ageing relatives - straggled sweatily through the sweltering Lainzer Tiergarten, (not many people seem to realise that, if you want guaranteed sun and heat, Vienna and Budapest are ideal summer destinations - with Budapest coming out best of the two, because of the city's numerous beautiful thermal pools for cooling off), to one of the houses the Empress-consort commonly known as Sisi used to hide from her husband in.

At my husband's suggestion, we were going to see an exhibition in the Hermes Villa. The exhibition was called something like 'Beethoven's Hair Clippings' or possibly 'Chopin's Toothpick'. Actually, it may have had some subtler name, something that referred obliquely to the various displays and the one thing that connected them - which was the fact that they were all detritus, (nail clippings, cigarette butts, sneezed-in handkerchieves, plus, of course, the aforementioned bits of hair and toothpick, [my husband now tells me he thinks it was Schubert's toothpick - if only I'd known, I'd have looked at it more closely, hem hem]), carelessly scattered in the wake of famous men, (and yes, as I remember it, the exhibits were almost exclusively the droppings of the male sex [men, eh?])

Anyway, I found the thing unforgettably intriguing. What odd combination of foresight and nuttiness could have led anyone to preserve these objects? Surely plaque-coated toothpicks and snot-encrusted handkerchieves lack significance regardless of their provenance? Was it possible that by virtue of the plaque having once clung to Schubert's molars and the snot having originally emerged from Karl Marx's horrible hairy nose, (sorry, I know I'm being too subjective, but in the immortally damning phrase of someone in my family, Karl Marx is 'not one of my favourite people' - leaving aside the political consequences of his theories, read Francis Wheen's book on him, and I'm sure you will begin to dislike him on a personal level too).

The only experience of my own that seemed even faintly analogous was the impulse that gripped me as a small child one dusty afternoon, stuck in a traffic jam on the road that ran along the edge of Runnymede. Staring out at the rather unexciting stretch of grassland, I made the decision to return in adulthood and walk over the whole of it, putting my feet one in front of the other, heel and toe meeting exactly, each and every time, until I had made absolutely certain that I had stepped on every single inch of the place. At that point, I'd be sure I'd stood exactly where King John had stood when forced to sign the Magna Carta. It seemed a way of directly touching the past, creating some kind of bond with major historical figures. I have to admit I haven't yet carried out my plan - laziness, in this as in so much else, seems to have intervened, (or sanity).

Anyway, today I went to the shoemender, and while I was there I think I glimpsed a new way of looking at the celebrity-rubbish-preservation phenomenon. The shoemender I go to, like many shoemenders in Canberra, hails originally from Greece. Thus, rather unsurprisingly, this morning he was feeling pretty proud. As not merely a Canberran but a Canberra Greek he was thrilled by the astonishing win notched up last night by Canberra's Nick Kyrgios against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.

But, he explained, there was something more, something that gave him a very special and particular involvement in the Kyrgios victory. As it turns out, the Kyrgios family are among the shoemender's customers. In fact, not long ago they brought in a bag for the man to mend. And, lo and behold, when Kyrgios emerged onto Centre Court yesterday afternoon (UK time),  what was Kyrgios carrying? Yes, you guessed it, the very same bag my Greek shoemending friend had worked on. Of course, he went wild with excitement. 'I looked at it,' he told me, 'and I thought, "I know that bag - that's the bag I worked on. That bag is there on Centre Court with Nick, because of me."'

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