2000 - Saloni M goes South
Validate and Travel is a compilation of tram tales that Yarra Trams did not want to "validate". "Your stories are funny but the characters are too ugly", they responded when the author sought sponsorship towards the book launch. "One cannot choose their tram companions, but they can choose their literary subjects." (Yarra Leader Newspaper when they interviewed the author, July '99.)
The stories depict the social diversity and the intensity of inner-city living: school girls giggling, yuppies with mobile phones, city slickers, mothers with kids, all sorts of people. On trams, one can listen to people's stories and draw their politics. Since November, Gaby Bila-Gunther has been writing stories based on her tram adventures ranging from conversations between couples, to teenagers giggling about their pubescent moments: (Do you believe in witches? No, but I know one white witch.); to racial spouts: (What are you looking at wog?) and just pure insane innocence: (Do you like music? Because I do and I have a great CD I want to give to you). "I have never seen anything so emotional!" a member of an audience complimented Gaby on her performance of this material at Café Bohemia in May '99.
"I met many interesting characters on trams: a singing busker whom I mistook for a beggar and he turned out to be a great musician; a girl who gave me an incense stick to pray for peace and freedom in East Timor; a drunk who called me mad; a guy totally oblivious that his hair was on fire. I have been performing these stories at readings around town and have been getting plenty of laughs. People like to see social history recorded inside a book about trams. I don't know why Yarra Trams found the characters ugly. They cannot ignore the fact that these people exist. They are far too conservative and want to promote a sterile image. Mostly discouraging and it feels like Censorship. Trams are a true Melbourne icon and tram travel is a genuine cultural experience. It is inner city living and the stories illustrate the social diversity of our city."
The launch (sponsored by an arts grant from City of Yarra) took place on a tram filled with invited guests, audience and "accidental commuters". Roaring performers and writers took the audience on a unforgettable journey. Through music, spoken-word and physical theatre they took everyone inside the bustle and hustle of our city. "It was a hoot", an audience member commented, and departed very contented.
The book is available from all leading book stores around Melbourne.
Follow that smell
by Gabi Bila-Gunther
This poetic narrative was performed at Saloni M goes South, September 26, 2000, and subsequently published in Overland, 2001.
Tuica alias slipovitch alias palinka, alias plum brandy alias peasant's drink, eighty two percent pure alcohol, guarantees no hangovers or your liver back. It is delicious, it is pungent, its taste may never grow on you, but it will stay with you forever. It maps out my life: moments of glory and moments of grief. As I young child I remember toothaches and bleeding gums resting underneath buds of cotton wool dipped in tuica.
Misty eyes fogged up at night.
Sweet comfort inside my mother's brace.
Switching the lights off with my eye keeping the colds at bay.
I remember a dream where we were startled into flight and heavy drumbeats surrounded into the night.
And I saw stars, and stripes and pillowcases floating in the streets.
I remember my mother's eye wishing me a warm good night and rubbing hot tuica on my heavy breathing. Stirring health back to my chest.
I remember family's Easter reunions, pigs on the roast, tuica in the barrels, gypsies bathing themselves in it while playing their fiddles, gypsy bitches telling fortunes, tying chicken wire around your middle finger, smiles on their faces, luck in your palms. I remember three days weddings where the mirele (the proud groom) drinks his tuica to lure his mireasa (the blushing pride). I remember tuica as dowries, liquid gold, "bogatia pamintului".
Cu cine the insori mai, are tuica, ma naraule, vino si bea tuica cu nasu tau.
Sa-ti traiasca mireasa si copii. Noroc sa ai!
I remember tuica used as barter to because money didn't matter. It never bought anything useful anyway. Only foreign money looked like gold in our pockets. Tuica was used to get victims out of trouble with the authorities.
Every Securitate member liked to be tipsy on the job. Their memory dipped in tuica would lapse in front of the judge. Tuica was the bribery tool to open the gates the communist haven where the more barrels one brought and consumed the higher up the party ladder they climbed. When the barrels where emptied and parched so was their careers. When their brain was sober once again so was their memory and lives were broken behind bars or working on fruitless fields, oozing for better memories.
© Gabi Bila-Gunther 2000