Category Archives: personal

On girls and bikes

Picture this: Turkish island of Heybeliada. Beautiful name, big blue sky, people sitting in cafes by the sea. An older woman, in her fifties, dressed entirely in turquoise, is helping a girl that could be ten years of age to get on a much bigger bike. They succeed; the girl rides off, the woman sits down with two women in a cafe, both younger (early thirties). The turquoise woman has a headscarf, but is otherwise in plain clothes. The young women are dressed non-religiously, as is the girl, who comes back, gets off the bike, and joins them at the table.

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A note on violence

13 June

As I’m writing this, the first gay pride parade in Split (second biggest city in Croatia, biggest coastal, smack-bang in the middle of the area that was heavily bombed during the war, therefore, somewhat predictably, somewhat right-leaning) resulted in a violent riot, as the parade (of 200 mainly non-gay people – activists, intellectuals, supporters) was met by a rock-hurling counter-protest (of about 10,000 by the police estimate). Croatian media are exploding with commentary, all condemning the violence in the harshest possible terms. This is great improvement since the LGBT issue was first raised, only about 12 years ago, when no one spoke about it, and the general opinion was not far from an assumption that there are no homosexuals in Croatia. But, in a very strongly masculine culture, homosexuality is, of course, destabilising for a whole series of cultural paradigms. As one journalist wrote: Continue reading “A note on violence” »

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I moved to Venice at the end of 2003, into what was, by Venetian standards, a modern apartment, dating circa 1930s. There were four of us divided evenly between two rooms, but the common area was unusually large, open in plan between the small kitchen area at one end, a living room on the other, and a table with four chairs in the middle. Occupying this table was a daily dance of tolerance and care, a quality one always finds in cultures with small homes: dinners, homework, friends and drinks rotated and intersected, usually amicably. At exam time some we made space for exams, around exam time we made space for boys and bottles of wine. Continue reading “Kitchens” »

Cities, or the missing vision for ’em in Australia

Dear reader, I have been busy beyond description. I have had no time to tweet, let alone post considered long-form writing on this blog, which is still incredibly dear to me. Instead, I have placeholders in my mind, things I think about when I’m running up and down Melbourne (literally, physically running), and things I can list here as a sort of physical placeholder:

– criticism as judgement and as philology;
– the role of the audience, and critic as an audience member;
– short taxonomy of live art;
– on Christoph Schlingensief (I have recently submitted by interview with Anna Teresa Scheer on the book she has edited with Tara Forrest on Schlingensief, of which I am tremendously proud – I will re-post here when RealTime publishes it, but I was going to write a few other things too).

However, I’ve been also itching to write more about cities. I’ve realised I don’t publicise the other half of my life enough – many people don’t know that I have spent 14,600 hours (I calculated tonight) studying and working on cities, which makes me at least fluent in urbanism. I am a geographer, there’s about half of an urban planner in me, and I’m also being trained in urban design. I research, I design, and I write about urban problems to almost the same degree as I write about theatre. And it was only recently, when I realised that my ex-boyfriend had somehow managed to sell himself to the world as the theatre and urbanism expert who just happened to be going out with me, that I started wondering about whether I am perhaps too reticent about these things. I mean, I do have this whole other area of interest, if not exactly expertise.

So, I’ve spent the best part of this semester completely engulfed in urban design (when I wasn’t completely engulfed in the break-up with the said ex-boyfriend) – urban design which, in Anglophone countries, has been detached from urban planning since about the 1960s, which has resulted in some important problems. I’ve been grappling with those problems, as well as learning to master the expectations, the tasks, the problems and the opportunities of the design-based teaching process. It has been absolutely hectic, but extraordinarily rewarding so far. I am very fond of the design teaching process, which is studio-based, which is to say problem-solving and creatively oriented, but at the same time homework-driven and hugely demanding of the student. It seems to me that almost any discipline or area of knowledge could be taught that way, and that the practical component (the having to make something and present it in class twice a week) enhances one’s knowledge in a fairly significant way.

I have also been offered to teach studio-based subjects, which is humbling and incredibly exciting at the same time. I am getting interested, very interested, in combining performance training practices with design practices, in one way or the other (in performance exercises being used to generate design, or design exercises being used to generate performance). And when I say design, I really do not mean buildings, but solutions.

You see, the divorce between urban planning and urban design in the Anglophone countries has resulted in a peculiar state in which neither the left nor the right hand have the tools to effect change, and are, on top, working in mutual hostility. Urban design has gone the way of architecture (on which I will say only: I am yet to meet an architect who isn’t incredibly ignorant of most of the world, yet smugly convinced of the superiority of his discipline over all others – other than my friend Pouria, who doesn’t count because he’s Iranian). Urban planning has gone into public policy. The result is that urban design is only interested in shapes from bird’s eye perspective, and urban planning in equitable processes of consultation, and policies. The latter has no interest in Really Existing urban conditions, not as far as I can see. The former, while it has an appreciation for Really Existing urban conditions, has no understanding of the social processes that form and perpetuate such conditions – which makes it essentially unable to replicate them through design. The result is the deep stasis we see in Australian cities, a failure of imagination and governance.

Dan Hill has recently published an extraordinary article on this failure of imagination and governance in Architecture Australia, and re-published it on his excellent blog, City of Sound. I recommend the article even if you never cared about a city in your life: it’s very thought-provoking. Dan makes a point that governance isn’t simply management, that it needs a vision for the future (which is what design could give urban planning); but also that ocularcentric (pretty-pictures) design, of which we currently have bucketfuls, cannot give us the solution. This is why I previously made a distinction between designing an object and designing a solution: the latter can be invisible, yet it has to work. At the same time, paradoxically, it is urban planning in Australia that has the ‘strategic’ epithet in front of it, the long-term thinking and acting. Design is short-term and product-oriented, while strategic planning is without vision. No wonder we’re fucked.

In another, recent blog post, Dan also addresses this, somewhat obliquely:

Strategic Design is, to me, potentially the most interesting recent development in design. It’s neatly defined at the Helsinki Design Lab site:

“Helsinki Design Lab helps government leaders see the “architecture of problems.” We assist decision-makers to view challenges from a big-picture perspective, and provide guidance toward more complete solutions that consider all aspects of a problem. Our mission is to advance this way of working—we call it strategic design.”

It feels (and is) quite different to design thinking, which is a term and way of thinking I think will fade quite rapidly, for some good reasons (the incorporation of its basic tenets into everyday processes) and bad reasons (the lack of rigor, awareness and responsibility on the part of many who have been actively pushing it in recent years). Either way, strategic design feels like something else, and its careful, integrated and thoughtful focus on meaningful, systemic challenges like health care, education, and climate change is particularly relevant. It’s also sketched out well here.

I have seen ‘design thinking’ appear in many places recently, even creeping into the world of theatre (through people such as Esther Anatolitis and Ming-Zhu Hii, who are very interested in design). I am quite wary of the term, because I am under no illusion that designers have the general knowledge needed to find solutions to problems. I work with designers, and I can attest to the inordinate focus they place on packaging, as opposed to function. But what design disciplines do have is a method of ploughing through a problem – a process.

What is needed, however, is greater emphasis on learning how a city works, what a city needs, how a city changes – in an abstract, non-targeted way – before a designer has actually gained enough knowledge to put their drawing skills to good use. See, for example, the eminently reasonable curriculum offered at Delft university (the Dutch are particularly good at teaching this stuff right). (ADDENDUM: I didn’t want to be mean when I original wrote this, but now I think it may make sense to compare this to the similar curriculum at Melbourne University. As you can see, the design subjects are strongly focused on design methods, such as digital modelling; while the planning subjects are mainly concerned with legislation. The focus on actual processes shaping the city is just about negligible.)

On a related note, I saw Timothy Morton give a lecture last week, at Melbourne University. The gist of it seemed to be that the age of theory is over, and the age of doing has begun. This is a peculiar thing, coming from a theorist, who in the question time admitted that all he knows how to do is sit in libraries and think, and that there must be a place for such activity too. Of course, yes. But I’m finding it interesting that this sort of thinking has been creeping into humanities and philosophy: a sort of glorification of the doing, of labour, of the physical, unthinking world, over abstract synthesizing of the world. The problem is that it very easily slips into glorification, precisely because it comes from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Similarly, there has long been an interest among designers in philosophy; but this is always in the most utilitarian, de-abstracted terms: ‘let’s design smooth and striated space, as theorised by Deleuze and Guattari’.

It seems to me that neither of the two is particularly smart as an approach, and that the trouble comes from a certain lack of general knowledge, or specific knowledge, on both ends. There is a place in this world for abstract thought, and for creative problem-solving. They can be immensely useful to each other. But it is only in their non-compromised forms that they are actually what they are, and only as such can they be useful to each other…

On iPhones and belonging

I never quite realised that getting an iPhone would mean not so much getting a new phone, as getting an entire new life; the normal-phoned Jana has sort of handed the torched to iPhoned Jana – an entirely new person who sends emails from cafes, tweets overheard oddities, and can find out that elusive address whilst on her way (the previous strategy involved calling friends with smart phones). The new Jana is self-sufficient to an unprecedented degree. A kind of cyborg, really, in the most literal sense. I have weather reports, stock markets and international contacts at my fingertips. But that’s not all.

After ten years of having the oldest possible phones, I am suddenly up with the trends. I can participate in collective behavioural fads – play those games that people (in the sense of ‘society’) play. Then also: people (in the sense of ‘society’) make software (‘apps’) for people like me. Whatever service I have thought of so far (lyrics to songs, wardrobe organisers, on-the-go radio), it all exists. I say ‘uhm’, and they give it to me. Someone anticipates my needs.

This is actually quite interesting, because it’s very unusual for me. And it’s unusual, I think, because I’m so used to being a minority. And being a minority, I realise, it’s an experience largely defined by the frustration of seeing your needs not being taken into account. Or met, but that comes without saying. And, since even before being an immigrant of non-English-speaking background (an outsider’s outsider) in Australia, I was already female, poor and left-handed, I think being a minority really shaped my rapport with the world.

I can be literal and explain, since it so far may sound like whining. Left-handedness is pretty straight-forward: whenever an item has been designed with a modicum of thought (as opposed to just put out there, like a pole or a pinboard, exempli gratia), chances are it is not suited for a left-handed person. Typical and well-known examples: can openers, knives, male clothing (female clothing buttons up left-hand-friendly by a historical accident: it is not meant to be self-buttoned at all, but done by a maid), computer mice. Lesser-known examples: pasta makers, coffee machines, cars in most countries, entire writing systems (try doing Japanese caligraphy with a left hand!), most instruments (even supposedly balanced ones, like piano, are more difficult), every set of knitting instructions in the world. Being left-handed means constantly translating activities into something you can do.

But then take poverty – poverty not in its absolute, global sense, but in the relative sense of earning significantly less than the median income. This is poverty that registers in one’s experience as a feeling (of being poor), and that is by definition a state of minority (being relatively poor means deviating from the average, defined by the majority). In one’s experience, being poor registers as the perpetual state of not having access to the solution which has been provided to your problem, because you can’t afford it. It means not being able to get somewhere, because the only means of transport is too expensive. It means forgoing medical treatments, because you can’t afford them. It means having to do things the long way, because the short way isn’t your short way.

And then being a woman – this is a whole other story, involving, for example, the medical treatment of childbirth, maternity leave provisions, and is a long and tiresome story that plenty of literature has covered already. But there it is again – everyone’s short way isn’t your short way. This notion of the problem being one of provision, but also navigation, was repeated very nicely early this year in an interview German Labor minister, Ursula von der Leyen, gave in regards to the need to have business quotas for women:

I understand the position of young woman [sic] who say that we don’t need quotas. Many of these women have had the experience that they have no trouble in school, at the university and early in their careers. They haven’t yet learned that there are two career paths: the one for men with well-marked streets; and the one for women on unpaved roads that not even the navigation device knows. Most of the women who’ve made it into top management positions say that although they also used to be against quotas themselves, they now believe that women can’t get by without them. I was the same. I used to sing the praises of the right to choose. But I’ve now learned that you sometimes need a law as a catalyst for change. For decades, there was absolutely no change in the number of men taking paternity leave. But within two years of making men eligible to receive state funds while taking paternity leave, the figure has increased six fold.

Navigation, of course, is very easy with a smart phone. But my accidental discovery here is that one kind of empowerment negates another kind of disempowerment. Having an iPhone (which puts me, simply, into the category of ‘majority consumer’, as opposed to a sub-culture, a minority lifestyle which favours old phones) mitigates against being left-handed. Having money mitigates against being a woman. And so on.

To return to the notion of people (in the sense of ‘society’): what’s interesting is that, although one principle of exclusion (of me, from society) may be as functioning as ever, I can beat it with another principle that I do conform to. Hell, it even makes it much sweeter: I’m enjoying my iPhone like the world will end when I stop. But, of course, this is exactly the same principle that drives the poor to side with white supremacism, drives men to dispute women’s rights to things, and even, I would cautiously suggest, drives women to excel at school and then go into humanities. I reckon one gets just as great a sense of belonging to people (in the sense of ‘society’) from being one among a million players of Angry Birds, as one gets from making Shakespeare in-jokes. In a certain sense, both are diametrically opposed to hysteria.



So I finally got a small stack of the famed old Scripsi (quod scripsi scripsi), a balanced selection of, and it made me very sad. It made me sad, I suppose, because after all the talk of ‘the best literary journal Australia ever had’, also ‘punching above its weight’ and ‘world-class’, it had grown in my imagination. I had a vague idea of something that was, put simply, not just an ordinary literary journal, of the kind that I’ve read tons of, with mild interest, when I was in high school, the kinds every literary department at every university tries to produce as a vanity project. It is alright; it is good; it is miles ahead of the dross that we see published around town these days, featuring writers from the local pub, rubbing together same old sticks of ‘how is Australia faring today?, oh but let’s not compare it in absolute or international terms, because then we would be harsh, mean and Eurocentric’; it does not feature articles about the importance of Twitter on poetry written by the token eighteen-year-old – these are all good things. But, by being good in such an ordinary way – as opposed to stratospherically extraordinary – it made me sad. Suddenly it put in perspective the fact that a literary magazine in Australia right now seems to be an impossible feat to accomplish; that writings by very young people, semi-literate and bloggy and always topical (how young people think that Facebook will solve climate change), or middle-class, middle-aged, male and pretentious in that small-minded, colonial, my-Shakespeare-is-bigger-than-yours way (why Umberto Eco is too encyclopedic to really enjoy, except by pretentious academics – this was an actual review from Scripsi), are the best we want to do here. Even worse, that someone somewhere has managed to convince us all that no literary magazine can be unless at least one person in it writes about Harry Potter fanfiction, but from the insider’s perspective. The smallness, insularity, and above all lack of ambition of this country’s culture, which I had somehow not quite grasped until this point, too busy having literate lunches and playing haute scrabble with friends, feeling inadequate for not having read E. M. Forster and whatnot, opened its double doors to me and said a very loud hello.

Australians of a certain sort exhibit a morbid sort of joy over criticism of this kind, but I wonder if they – if you, rather, readers – understand what a gesture of defeat it is. I have been in this country for a long time now, I belong to it a little bit, in education, passport, friends I’ve made, time and energy I’ve invested, experiences I’ve had, opportunities I have made for myself here and forfeited somewhere else. I wanted to believe it a good place. I have a great deal of interest vested here, a different kind of interest than someone born and bred Australian, but an interest nonetheless, because I could have stayed at home, I could have had a different couple of years, but instead I chose to come here hoping it would make things better for me. A little bit better it was always going to be, in the immediate and relative sense, but there’s a great happiness in finding out that a place is better than expected, that one is enjoying it even more than expected, that it is opening life up.

The other thing that is often lost in translation is what a limited choice this is. I encountered this notion of choice for the first time when I was in Italy – still blogging. Someone somewhere found it pertinent to admonish me for my criticism of Italy, and that was the first time in my life I was told that if I don’t like it here, I can go back where I’ve come from. At that moment, I couldn’t go back where I had come from – my home in Croatia had disappeared for reasons that were beyond my control, and I had to stay in Italy and be unhappy. And when I came to Australia and wasn’t happy, I couldn’t go home to Croatia either, for reasons beyond my control. This silly image of a shopping migrant, weighing up one place against another, is not how it works – not even for those with lots of money and not a care in the world. We come to places for complex reasons, and we are sometimes genuinely disappointed; our decisions sometimes hurt us, our choices turn out to be wrong.

I’m not in Italy anymore – I left for a number of reasons, all related to those initial dislikes – and now it strikes me particularly incongruent that someone would honestly think that those flaws of Italy would somehow be neutralized by the fact of my living there; or that I shouldn’t complain. There is a bullying logic to it, according to which, analogically, no woman should consider her violent husband a problem while she stays with him – disregarding the complicated reasons for which we sometimes have to do things we don’t like, stay where we don’t want to be. But how is a woman to make the decision to leave, if she cannot reach the conclusion that the violence is a problem first? Perhaps this all sounds pop and simplistic, but I think about it a lot, because I have often been miserable in places and often been told that I may not be miserable – that my liking of this (or that) place is a duty, a responsibility, a courtesy or a sign of maturity, whichever.

But then, let me show you the paradox: for me there was no choice. This or that place, however terrible, was not necessarily worse than home. Home was, potentially, the worst of all, but there was always a certain heavy equivalence between shit here and shit there, the foreign and the familiar. And let’s imagine home now, in whatever facet you prefer: widespread corruption?, endemic violence (war, but also domestic)?, a reasonable assumption that I would not get anywhere without a few bribes or connections or, connections missing due to my family’s poor networking, sucking cock. Which one of you would now say: if you’re staying there, you have no right to complain? Sucking cock and all that, would it be fine if I was still there?

It takes time, money and energy to leave. It breaks your heart – it occurred to me that there is really no pay-off, ever, for leaving hometown and old friends; no money or fame or recognition can patch the hole that it leaves in you. Between leaving, and getting to a comfortable situation where one can write a balanced blog about one’s migrating experiences, is a wide gap consisting of years of loneliness, poverty, stress, illness, soul-searching, limited space for manouvring either forward or back, everything being fifteen times harder than strictly necessary, a great strain on one’s body and psyche – even if you come from money and choice, but particularly if you don’t.

I don’t know that I have the energy for another round of that. The reason why we can’t just leave if we don’t like it in places is that it takes a lot to even arrive. One can’t shop between places without getting all chipped and scarred in the process; and, as I said, being here means not being somewhere else, it means forfeiting other lives. I have been ill, fatigued and so sad that at times I almost expected my heart to break like a toy – and so, when I say that Scripsi would have had to be twenty times more extraordinary than it is, I hope you see that I’m not saying it out of arrogance, but because such an extraordinary Scripsi, even if now defunct, would have given some sense to those years. We all hate failed investments. This is why we say, at the end, “I wouldn’t change a thing about my life”.


Personal #44

Back when I had a home, Sunday lunches were the thing; kids running in and out through open doors, lots of reading of newspapers at the table and slapping of full bellies over long coffee. Where I come from all houses are summer houses, in the sense of not being out of place in summer, in the sense of being quite fine with good weather, to contrast with a detached faux-Tudor. Back when home was stripping off faster than I could pull it back up, a tight succession of extraordinary Sunday lunches followed nonetheless, like an elegy or in jest: Lisbon, Umbria, Istria, Rijeka, and even Paris, atop skyscrapers, in gardens, on footpaths, orange and full-mouthed and in counterpoint (multiple voices, independent in contour and rhythm, interdependent harmonically, you know it when you hear it). I took photos of the kids that were still running in and out, to memorise and to recreate (or at least to not forget and not lose) but of course I did not memorise and did not recreate even though I did not forget and did not lose. Life was Sundayless and lunchless with devastating meticulousness until today another one happened, all of its own accord. Like a thaw.

AWOL apologies

I’ve briefly emerged from my frenzy of teaching/writing/moving-house-yet-again, and realised I missed the whole Fringe. In itself, that’s not too tragic, but I also missed – completely, thoroughly, systematically – to reply to, even to read, any of the invitations to Fringe shows. Some of them were very, very nicely phrased, and I my conclusion has to be that I don’t deserve the well-spokenness and the good manners. I bow to the ground, and apologise to all of you lovely publicists and theatre-makers. All that effort was completely wasted on me, and I’m very sorry.

Sometimes I want to turn this into a craft blog…

…and I wonder how far I could stretch the concept of guerrilla semiotics.

But no, seriously: I’ve spent the evening googling ‘effortless style’, doubtlessly the result of having slept only 3 hours last night, and of being a bit fatigued and under-dressed, in that academic way which unmistakably points out to 15,000-word projects and afternoons of interpretative phenomenology. I’ll be sounding like a broken record, but oh I’ll say it once again: I’m in thesis hell, health purgatory and have had a 12-hour fight with a Trojan on Tuesday. All my clothes are unwashed, I have had an unbroken spell of 3 months without cooking a meal, and bronchitis. I owe a number of reviews, all of very good shows, to a number of very good people, but oh there is the non-theatre side of life too, and it’s taken over.

What I’m about to reveal here, what only a few people have hitherto known (ie, Ian), is that I can run on Heidegger and Peggy Phelan for months, peut-etre, but every so often that lifestyle stops working for me, and then I go on stupid binges (ie, binges of stupid): playing Stardoll dress-ups, or scrolling up and down lookbook, or buying furniture. Also, more auspiciously, cooking or arranging flowers or hand-washing cashmere cardigans – these at least are calming activities. Which brings me to my point: this blog wouldn’t suffer so much neglect if I felt free to post the results of my dress-up games or pictures of my flower arrangements or, godforgive, cake. What if this specialisation was an over-, and a mistake?!


One thing, for example, that I’ve been dying to share with the world in the most unashamedly bloggy way was my fight with my eating habits; they’re niche habits, so stay with me.

You see, despite being almost-Australian, I’ve spent all of my 5 years in this country trying to re-create some kind of Croatian eating routine. Now, we’re not a particularly foodie nation, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as ‘Croatian food routine’ before I left the place. But oh there is!, and it is completely un-Australian. Where here one has a huge breakfast (allegedly; I’ve never seen a breakfast that wasn’t, deep inside, brunch), a sandwich for lunch, and then barely survives until the abundant 6 o’clock dinner, feeling guilty for wanting to snack in between (I know I’m caricaturing, but), in Croatia we eat the whole time. Croatian eating day consists of 5 meals: breakfast, snack, lunch, cake, dinner. The importance and time of each also differs: the eating peaks at lunch, around 1pm, and falls off on both ends. While breakfast can be anything, the 11am snack (which keeps you going until lunch) is usually a sandwich or spanakopita or donut or some such caloric thing. And cake, at 5 or 6pm, with coffee or tea, does half of the dinner’s job, leaving you with only small things to eat at 8pm – bread and cold meats, or soup.

Now, as a person who has never learned to eat breakfast, this worked very well for me, because I had plenty of opportunity to re-fuel, and lunch happened so soon anyway. But in Australia my eating routine immediately collapsed (this due to us Europeans being social eaters, unlike you funny Anglos – without company, I simply skipped all meals) into an unhealthy starving until 6pm, when I had to eat for the whole day, go to bed feeling unwell, and repeat. And imagine my confusion at the idea of having a sandwich (a snack in my books) have to stretch over a whole lunch! And at 12pm too, a time which was neither snack nor lunch, and which I was expected to do alone, in 30 minutes – very different from the big-deal-meal I was used to, with multiple courses and table conversation and plans for the afternoon (people don’t work afternoons in the post-socialist Europe).

I totally posted this, then I remembered that all craft blogs
have lots of pictures: hereby I attach an additional image of
cake. When I say ‘cake’, you see, I mean something as big
as 4 macarons, not some huge sticky date slice or one of
those atrocities called ‘mars bar cake’. Ew.

Anyway, earlier this year I’ve started having cake again. It just so happened. Around 5ish or 6ish, I’ve been finishing work and getting a biscuit or hedgehog slice or tartlet with tea, to re-fuel on my way to cooking dinner (this was before I went on cooking strike). And I’ve realised that cake is my favourite meal of the day. It makes perfect sense exactly where and how it is: you’ve already digested lunch, you’re a bit hungry and a bit tired, work is over, you need an indulgence, you may be doing all kinds of things in the evening, for which you need energy, but it’s not quite the time for a big meal. Ta-daan: have a hedgehog slice! Life immediately improves by a factor of 10.

So I started making time for the 5pm cake. It will sound terribly melodramatic when I say it changed my life, but, look: multi-tasking perfectionists like me spend not inconsiderable energy identifying habits that improve their well-being, and this was definitely one. My dinners became light and dispensable: I could eat before the theater, or after. I could graze on finger food for dinner, and it no longer mattered. I would wake up hungry, and so I started eating breakfast (or a snack, technically). Even lunches started happening, somehow! After 5 years of misery and undesired weight loss due to starvation, I could live happily again.

The only drawback is that this is all still hellishly difficult to explain to Australians. First, people think it’s immoral to plan to eat cake. Late at night, alone in the kitchen, stealthily, with much guilt, sure. But make a decision to eat cake every day! God forbid. So cake remains a lonely meal. The only equivalent after-work meal that Australians practice is called ‘beer’, but unfortunately there’s no way to reconcile cake and beer, not in Australia where establishments inevitably specialise in only one out of the two. And beer is much healthier (?).

Then, the whole business of eating so many times a day: certainly it’s fattening and unhealthy and spoils appetite. Yes, well, it does! That’s the point! It keeps you sated, but it also timetables what would otherwise be disorderly snacking. In 2006 or so, when I was googling food blogs, trying to figure out how to have lunch in Melbourne, I kept finding forums in which people discussed something called ‘4 o’clock slump‘. In my world, that’s your body telling you to finish work, sit down and have a slice of cake. In the world of Australian foodie blogs, ‘4 o’clock slump’ was a chance to starve your body and then feel frustrated, but virtuous. It was not allowed to happen, and they were not going to feed it. Ah, but if you only have a sandwich for lunch..? What else are you going to feel at 4pm if not hunger?

But the rest has been reasonably OK. Big lunch, small dinner, and what I call a snack is generally nobody’s business. Being borderline underweight, people generally don’t give me shit for eating things they think are unhealthy (butter, bread, whatever). I have even come up with a working day that allows a big lunch, from 1 till 3 o’clock. It gives me an hour less to work, but I would have been slumping for an hour anyway…

I do find it remarkable, though, that something as simple as cake at 6pm can result in so much happiness, structure, and overall wellbeing. By which I mean, I’ve spent years trying to restructure my Australian daily life. It took an accident to realise that this one piece of cake was the key to it all.

Ahem, hello.

I was in Lisbon, Berlin and Zagreb this summer/winter; some horrible things happened in the family, and it was an animated trip, but not a nice one. I didn’t want to go: the only reason why I left was that a ticket had been booked, back at a time when I knew the reason why. When the time came to return to Australia, I didn’t want to go back. I couldn’t remember a single reason why I had ever wanted to live here. They are two different worlds, I suppose, the upsides of one incomparable with the downsides of the other.

Now I have an expensive haircut, and a beautiful boyfriend who plays French chançons in the morning, and treats me so well I have plenty of time to think about going back to Berlin, Zagreb, Lisbon. All the rest is as usual. Oh. And I won $20,000. C’est bon, c’est bon.