You Are Sitting On It




Francesca Battista

 
© Copyright 2020 by Francisca Battista




Photo of the river at Melborne.

This is a moment I shared with a lovely old couple of German immigrants during my solo trip across Australia. The memory of their house in the outskirts of Melbourne and their love story brings me a smile even after years. The facts are real, the name of the people have been changed.

You are sitting on it!” said the old lady, and they all instantaneously laughed, breaking the quietness of a sunny Melbourne day.

When Francesca got back from the walk she took after a big lunch, Barbara, her host, announced that next Wednesday they were all invited to have an afternoon tea at the neighbors’ place. It had already been some weeks since Francesca was staying at Barbara and Jordan’s house. Jordan was her father’s cousin. When she decided to travel solo across Australia for a couple of months, she thought it could be fun to share a bit of time with this side of the family she never got to know. This is how, along with Barbara and Jordan, Francesca also got to know their neighbors: Deborah and Boris. Tall, wide-shouldered Germans. Immigrated separately in Australia during their ‘-teens, living together in Australia during their ‘-ities. She could speak very good English while he still had a strong accent making him offer a ‘trink’ to drink when he had guests. Boris was a quiet, little brown eyed man, with gentle manners. Deborah had curly hair and green vivid eyes standing as peacock feathers above a pink lipstick that was always finding the way to spill into the wrinkles around her mouth. Impossible not to stare at it.

As soon as she entered their house, Francesca regretted not having a camera with her. The house was…long. Yes…long. A long, long house. A sequence of rectangular rooms. The first living room and then the second living room. Come back. A big kitchen and then a whitish corridor interrupted only by brown round handles at the doors of several rooms. Left and right. Left bedroom, right toilet, bathroom, left bedroom, right bedroom, right bedroom, their bedroom, wardrobe, toilet and bathroom again. Televisions…everywhere. And Boris was proudly pointing at each of them.

Everything was…so…kitsch. And indeed ‘kitsch’ is a German word. Wikipedia states: ‘Kitsch (/ˈkɪtʃ/; loanword from German, also called cheesiness and tackiness) is a low-brow style of mass-produced art or design using popular or cultural icons.’ And, it was way more than that. The first living room had a light gray fitted carpeting covering the floor and, on the top of it, another brown carpet. The black leather sofa was the biggest object in the room, but despite its dimension, it could not compete in catching the visitor’s attention with all the Asian/Indonesian/Chinese pseudo-art works. Far-east young Buddhas were sitting on the floor, while smaller Indonesian Buddhas were decorating the coffee table against the left wall. The left wall had some Asian drawing, but Francesca could not recall, after leaving the house, which ones. A vase was displaying fake plastic red Asiatic flowers sticking out from black plastic branches. On the right, close to the entrance, a wooden German cuckoo clock, One of those that make you think immediately about snow and hot chocolate, was triumphantly dominating the wall as an invader in a new conquered territory.

The second living room, even more than the first one, deserved an accurate exploration, that Boris provided very proudly. As soon as they entered, Francesca truly, deeply felt in love with the old jukebox standing on the right corner by the door window. It was still working. Boris, who saw the sparkle in her eyes, switched it on for her, and she selected a couple of songs. The lights on the vertical front part of the jukebox were blinking, illuminating a representation of the Champs Élysée from the sixties. Yellow, red, and blue. On the bottom right spot there was a writing: ‘Concorde’. The vinyl inside the box started to spin around and the sound of an old rock and roll round deep voice got released by the stereo system. She was amazed. ‘Tis,’ he tapped on the pool table, ‘I madte by myself’. It was a cool, green pool table, made of wood and covered with aluminum. It was a shiny block standing in the middle of the room. The walls of that space were simply amazingly tacky. Four Elvis Presley-shaped pendulum clocks were hanging above the jukebox, with the lower part of Elvis’ body oscillating at every second. On the next corner, there was a big white fridge, probably from the nineties. Turning on the right, a collection of five traditional Bavarian cuckoos were nailed on two levels in a very precise German alternate way. Up, down, up, down, up. Tick tack tick tack. At the opposite side of the room, on the floor, a 50 cm tall statue representing a zebra. The material dominating the last wall was glass. Glass in shape of shot glasses or liquors bottles or shelves holding the glasses and the bottle. It must have had more than a hundred shot glasses. The corner on the side was taken by a tiger mask in ceramic. But the real masterpiece, was hanging on her head, nailed at the piece of wall hosting the entrance: an 80×120 cm oil portrait of Beau, their black poodle. The dog was pictured with a diamond collar on an orange landscape. Boris explained proudly, the painting was made in Thailand using a picture their daughter had. That explanation was the crowning moment of kitsch, the definition of it.

Deborah offered her guests a glass of some alcoholic sparkling yellowish drink. Probably a kind of champagne, and right afterwards (they were not done with their glasses) tea and muffins with cream and sandwiches with ham and cheese and pickle asparagus and chips. All served on blue and white ceramic cups and plates with golden cutlery. Each spoon had a rose as a handle decoration. The napkins were paper napkins with pink roses printed on them. Francesca was amazed by the fact that someone could still have that kind of taste. And she loved it.

After the tea, Boris took her for a tour of the garden. While going to the backyard they stopped to look at some pictures she did not notice when she first stepped into the first living room. One was a black and white photo-souvenir of a nineteen years old Boris superposed on a colored drawing of the ship that brought him to the land down-under in 1959. He arrived in Australia on his own, with no English knowledge but with a two-years contract to work in the outback. After that, he decided to stay. He kept on working and in his twenties, he met Deborah. Deborah arrived in Australia at the age of sixteen, together with her mum and her sister. He worked as a carpenter and as a miner across Australia and New Zealand, being often away from Deborah. His kindness and commitment with his job conquered Deborah's mum's heart first, and, then, Deborah’s one. He was away when they got engaged, and he sent her the money to buy the engagement ring. Deborah told the story to Francesca and Barbara a few days earlier, at the gathering during the Australian day. The old German lady explained that, back then, her family was quite poor, so she decided to buy, with the ring money, a table, and some chairs. When Boris came back after some time, he asked Deborah to show him the ring, “You are sitting on it!”, she replied.

Francesca Battista was born in Modena, Italy, on Christmas day in 1983. After her Master’s in Physics at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in 2008, she has completed her Ph.D. in Quantum Physics at the University of Lund, Sweden. In 2013 she worked as a post-doc researcher at RWTH-Aachen in Germany and from 2014 to 2016 at the Physics Department of the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She taught for three years Physics and Mathematics at international high schools in the province of Buenos Aires. In 2018 she completed the Master’s in Public Communication of Science and Technology at the University of Buenos Aires. In 2019, with Ediciones en Danza, published the book of poems La mujer in-visible.

She recently moved to the United States to pursue her doctoral studies at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Tech.




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