Our Grandmother

by Peter Fraser

My children are a nasty lot. I worry if it is all my fault. Well I must have made a contribution, but I mean I won’t accept the entire blame.

I’m in a hotel room in Florence, an uncoordinated city but an ancient town that has somehow kept its past, which is why I’m here.

I am reminded. I don’t think I want to die.

But I am incredibly old.

My children satirize me. Telling me I’m in my ‘golden years.’ It irritates but I don’t show them that.

I was prepared to be a grandmother. That wasn’t a problem. I’ve got six grandkids. I like them. They’re a cheerful healthy lot. But their parents irritate. You know. They expect so much.

Ah. Do I sound a touch irritable? I don’t want to, but I think I must.

So, my answer is I have to run away. I know, juvenile, with limited problem solving skills. Leave the family home. Lock it all up, so they can’t strip the place. Get a caretaker to mow the lawns and look after the pool. It might sound harsh, even a touch mad. But I knew there was only a limited amount of time left and I decided I’d do whatever I felt like.

I apologised to my own kids. I don’t think they believed me. They didn’t think I’d carry it out. That I was all bluff. No. Definitely no. I explained to the grandkids. They scrutinised me as if it all meant something. But five minutes later they had forgotten. But not their parents. No, they were silent and irritated. Disbelieving I would do it. Unable to understand my intentions.

I showed them my ‘around the world’ ticket. They puzzled. I had insisted on a ticket, not wanting an eTicket.

We had a small lunch before I departed. Most of them came. I gave a little speech about freedom and dignity and the need to maintain a degree of independence. I studied their collective face. They had no sympathy or understanding. But there was plenty of irritation.

So, I broke the bond.

With my lunchtime ceremony.

Mother, children. Enough. I cannot be hindered with this forever, into perpetuity. There had to be respite. I apologised, I could do that but I knew they were distraught. And there would be no discussion about my absolute decision.

OK. Does it mean I’m heartless? I won’t think about it. It is one meaningless question. When I return they can all fight over my remaining assets. By then I’ll be truly exhausted. I’ll have a reclining chair and will engage with their greed and emotion. I imagine I’ll be looking towards finality by then.

But not just yet.

I wanted to survey the best museums I’d seen through my life. Oh yeah, I was ready to go back and examine my life. That was part of the equation. That notion seemed to creep into everything. By the end it was my only plan.

And my final destination of the scheme was Florence. A mid- priced hotel right in the centre, overlooking the Arno. But I did make an effort with everything else. I spent time at all the major centres and re-investigated their treasures.

The luxury of Western cultural icons is sublime. But I would say that. I’m a Westerner. One that grew out of the second world war. And the dislocation it all produced. My mother Hungarian, my father French. But I’m Australian. Born in a curious abandoned English colony. Way out in the Pacific. Just so far from anywhere, but the distance does give you perspective, even if your youth was spent on a farm. It still means you are a genuine member of this tiny globe. Anyone living in that country has to be a traveller, has to have similar feelings to Columbus. Has to acknowledge the awareness of migration and the excitement of encountering a new world. It is written on your passport.

Have you seen the best paintings in St. Petersburg?

Have you seen the collection in the Prado? Or the Reina Sofia?

Have you been to New York’s MOMA? Or their Museum of Modern Art?

Have you been to the Louvre?

Have you walked the National Gallery in London?

I went to them all. And some more. Heaps more.

But after a length of travel I settle in Italy. Returning to the Uffizi that I visited when young. I enjoy the compact rooms and concentrated displays. There is no attempt to manufacture a history of the world. You get an era with all its prejudice and imperfection. It’s all there if you are prepared to take your time.

I visit the gallery three or four times a week. The city is chock full of my targeted art. I take it at a gentle stroll. There are a lot of tourists my age. All with stylish grey hair, cool jeans and designer leather coats. You can spot them a mile off. And they see the same in me. We could be a secret society, but we’re not, there is no secret, it’s all out in the open.

The hotel wi-fi is adequate. I spend my nights fiddling with my computer, watching English entertainment, googling any confusion from the day and reading. Reading books, I’ve found in the city. There are quite a few shops with an English section. Not all of them are selling the Pope’s latest thoughts. Obviously there has been a lot of curious people before me.

I try and follow the Medici line of thought. Particularly banking information or any knowledge of who bought what art piece and for how much. And I love to find out where it was originally displayed.

And there is Simonetta Vespucci, born in Genoa and dead at twenty-two. Thirty-four years later, in 1510, Sandro had himself buried at her feet. He was a Florentine, Vasari thought him not up to the best the era produced. Which seems a bit unfair from my perspective.

But you have to love the city. There can be no other response.

I always drift into repetition. If I like my breakfast place, I stick with it. And this led to my departure. My sudden departure.

I’d usually come to the restaurant later than the rest of the tourist diners. I liked that they had gone and I could usually be on my own. The streets were engaged, yet the breakfast sites were abandoned.

I usually had the same waiter. He couldn’t speak English but could grasp what I wanted. It was only pastry and coffee. Cafe Americano. He was prompt and efficient. Just what you wanted from your waiter. Some days I left a tip, some days I didn’t.

But the day in question he brought my order and stood there with his penis exposed. Spilling out from his pants. Bare and firming. It seemed to be stretching towards a prominent obelisk. I think back and try to remember those few seconds of response. He stood without demand. Without threat. What was the correct interpretation? What did he want from me? Although, he had a silly grin on his face. I remember that.

My mind instantly constructed an answer. It was conceived from my entire life. From a childhood living on a wheat farm. If I had time to evaluate my response, I would have cast a quick doubt over the answer. But there was no time for debate. As a child I had reluctantly handled snakes. I was forced to. Our tractor shed seemed to attract them.

I knew what I could do.

In the few seconds available to me, I put my bag over my shoulder, I had no intention of losing it. Then I grabbed his member just behind the head. The boy was not sure how to interpret this. I placed the head of the thing on the edge of the table and smashed a sugar bowl over it. Destroying the glass container and then scattering sugar all over the offending penis, the table and the floor.

I was off. The boy about to howl. Tears forming in his ducts. Although the assault had knocked the life out of his member. I was at the door and peeled off some Euro’s. Too much? Although I did break the sugar bowl and assault the reproductive organ of their waiter. Then out the door. Wondering if I had left too much money. But someone would have to clean up the sugar. And the bowl was broken. Then I was on the street, mixing with to-day’s urgent wave of tourism. Joining in. Following where they were about to go. It all happened with an unexpected urgency.

That brought my holiday to an end. Sad. High end art to gloomy reality. It was a shock. Reality is always a disappointment.

I looked out over Sydney Harbour as we circled and waited in line for our turn to land. I think that was the end. No more art romance. No more exotic cities. Back home. Resume my previous responsible role. Try to remember who I really am. I know I wrote down all my grandkids birthdays. I think I’ve missed a few. But I’ll make it up to them. There’s plenty of time. And I’m without any plans. And I hope my own kids have improved.

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