Sometimes in 2009 I attended my first ever writing class. I was 44 years old. The class was thought by an American writer; Diane Comer who later became my friend. Diane thought me that one has to first write for one self … even when is scary, so scary that is paralyzing; especially then. To face oneself on the sheet of white paper is the scariest things of all … there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. She also put Anne Lamott’s book ‘Bird by Bird’ in my hands; the book that explains what a ‘shitty first draft’ is … and many other books, such as Ha Jin’s ‘The Writer as Migrant’, but that is a whole other topic and it deserves the special attention.
It was largely thanks to Diane, and all those wonderful people who attended our class in 2009, that I mustered the courage to write in English … despite the excruciating fear of inadequacy. The fear is both real and realistic, because to those whose hearts and minds require written words to make sense of their world, there is nothing more terrible, more harrowing, than giving birth to feeble expressions, sentences that fail to show true shades of one’s soul. In my years of learning English out of necessity, I often asked myself whether it is indeed possible to have any feelings, any thoughts at all if one cannot name them, cannot describe them. How does one recognize its world, and find one’s place in it if one cannot name it, ask for it, call for it, curse for it?
Despite my never ending agonizing about writing, Diane managed to somehow teach me about dangerous of perfectionism (‘Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.’A. Lammot), about my childish fear of making spelling and grammar mistakes (‘this is why God invented proof readers’), and over and above all about the braves things of all; to be one self … imperfect, feeble, fellable … human.
In a memory of those teachings and as a thank you, below is the first ever piece of writing I produced in English language during Diane’s writing class in March 2009:
At the centre of the main square there is a stern looking sculpture. The bronze horseman, clad in long forgotten military regalia, with his sword permanently heaved towards the distance.
Under the sword a city roles slowly over the cobbled streets, with sleepy blue carriages of electric trams and early commuters. The mild evenings of early autumn would bring flocks of city girls, congregating under the sword and giggling unstoppably while checking each other’s attires. Their eyes would dance over the golden leaves that swirl across the roof’s red tiles. Later in the autumn, when the first snowflakes rest briefly on the swordsman’s shoulder, the street seller would offer roasted chestnuts wrapped in an old newspaper. I remember clasping my hands over the warmth of the newspaper and inhaling the smoky scent of chestnuts.
Behind the bronze horseman along the curve of the square, there is a long set of stairs arising slowly from the street with the small cable gondola next to it. Both the stairs and the gondola would take you to the city’s medieval birth-place known as the Upper City. I remember taking the gondola, when the air was washed with rain so I can see all the way across the high buildings and down to the river where the new settlements were gluing themselves to the city. Climbing the stairs would always leave me slightly breathless from the smells and aromas of the city’s market that bursts open at the top of the stairs like a suddenly dropped watermelon.
The town’s belly lies wide open under the hundreds of red umbrellas and parasols.
The stalls wilting under the heaviness of the rich produce, sweet, honey coloured grapes next to the rich ripe tomatoes. The first row of stalls belongs to cheese sellers. They have white protective sleeves over their working garments and sometimes caps with short rims that hang on the back of their hair. Their stalls are covered with white or yellow cloths on which cheeses are arranged with care, on plates or still in their original moulds. There is a white cottage cheese wobbling like a jelly perched on top of the blue ceramic plate. A young woman with rose coloured cheeks offers me a broad smile and a small slice of cheese to taste. I smile back. The next stall exhibits row of round cheeses in various shades of brown, from pale gold to deep chocolate. A slice is missing from one leaving its dusty texture exposed through the crack. Those are hard, aged cheeses sold by a man with serious, deeply set eyes.
The next set of stalls carries baskets loaded with crisp looking vegetables, the milky heart of cauliflower next to the deep green leaves of silver beet still glittering with dew, and dry wild mushrooms impregnating the air with the sharp scent of woods.
Moving slowly amongst the stalls feels like swimming in the fragrant sea of vibrant colours and sounds. The stall owners loudly praise their offerings and negotiate prices with their customers in high pitched voices. The passerby’s chatter and chuckle while small children play tag under the stalls, amongst the large straw baskets.
The fresh fish is arranged between the sheets of ice with their cold, still eyes and glossy bodies. The seller would cut the glossy body open in front of you and clean the fish’s insides in one skilful move of knife. After splashing it with cold water, the cavity opens pale pink and empty. A woman with a long hair and full breasts places the fish, wrapped in a clean sheet of white paper in her shopping bag next to the bunch of celery and pale green carnations.
After the fish stalls the narrow cobbled path turns left towards the taverns with carved wooden doors just a few steps below the street. They serve grilled minced meat fingers inside the hot bread in a shape of a full moon. In summer when the heat makes the air shimmer and the wooden doors are left wide open, sounds of strong male voices would rush over the cobbles. After the day of hard work they would stand together in small circles drinking heartily from plain glass jugs, moving their strong hands with the rhythm of speech. Passing by I often wondered how would it feel to bury my face into those wide chests and inhale the odour of a male.
There are only a few red umbrellas left after the taverns. I am looking for a small stall just before the end of the market where painted gingerbread hearts are offered for sale. They are spread in a neat order across the clean tablecloth. Some are hanging from the wire stretched from one end of the stall to the other. They are painted deep red with white and yellow sugary ornaments adorning the ages. Sometimes they are more luxuries with small looking glass placed in their centre or a special message written in white sugar and carefully wrapped in transparent shiny paper tide with the bow. If you have a sweetheart, he will give you a painted gingerbread heart before church on Sunday.
Many years later I would carefully place a red gingerbread heart amongst the blouses in my suitcase before leaving the city with the market under the red umbrellas.