“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”


DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)


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18 November 2014

LIVING WITH THE FRINGE: SENECA KNOWS

'Twas a busy decade, but enjoyable, living in the attic of the Botanic Hotel through the 'nineties ... until The Fringe arrived and put an end to slumber ... this is the author serving fizz on the Widow's Walk ... photo Leo Davis

The qualities of various rackets:
industry is one thing, but the
din of vagrant artists will kill you
by PHILIP WHITE

Handling the noisy agri-industrial nature of life in Adelaide's East End in the glory days of the Wholesale Market was one thing, but sleep became totally elusive 24/7 when The Fringe arrived ... so DRINKSTER sought counsel from Seneca, who learned all this cool inner-city apartment living stuff 2,000 years back. 

Village life. Chitter-chat. This spat the Lord Mayor-elect is having with the inFringistas before he even gets the friggin chain around his neck is like remembering an ingrown toenail from forty years back.

Dude, might as well make that 2000 years. We never learn.

My insistence on loving East End life in Adelaide's main street inevitably brought me to read the stoics in my final decade living there. Eventually, I inFringed myself right outa the precinct when I got to the last paragraph of Lucius Annæus Seneca's fifty-sixth letter to his secret friend in Epistulæ Morales ad Lucilium. 

It was really fucking noisy living in Rundle Street in the 'seventies and early 'eighties. The wholesale fruitaveg market rattled with vendors' shouts and whistles and the metallic buzz of huge diesel engines all night three times a week. Without strong drugs, sleep was impossible. The streets were blocked by refrigerated pantechnicons idling and forklifts and barrow men trundling until the buzzer rang when the sun was up so the prices were set, everything was packed, and off they roared into Australia. Bugger Woolworths: this was fresh stuff.

Before they replaced the East End Market with housing, The Exeter would open at 4AM to make breakfast for the market workers ... nowdays, it's more likely to be closing at 4AM ... Adelaide-built Valiant photographed by  Philip White

So, in dribs and drabs, the entire East End enclave of artists, architects, painters, chefs, sophists, designers, writers and musicians would migrate to the West End, spend our money getting fried and boogied to death in that Gilded Palace of Sin called Hindley Street, to then stumble back east into the rising sun at breakfast time. We'd pick up our free fruit and vegetables from the leftovers bins, climb upstairs and hit the sack, to be washed asleep by the swish of normal daytime traffic.

'The Earth is the Lord's, and the Fullness Thereof" - so reads one of the surviving facades on the old East End Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market

When a writer visited from the northern hemisphere I'd mystify 'em by insisting on meeting for a coffee at 4AM and then showing them that beautiful market in purpose-built facilities in our main street. They'd be dumbstruck - their Old World had lost all its central wholesale suppliers of fresh produce. Then we'd walk around to the retail Central Market for breakfast and more coffee with a grappa and man they'd be dazzled for life.

Now that East End Market is a set of modest apartment towers and the Central Market has a dangerous rash of cake shops and coffee bars replacing its, er, fresh food stalls.


Seneca's letter LVI - On quiet and study discusses his apartment life upstairs in a noisy precinct, and how the better mind should overcome the racket of humanity and think straight on through. I discovered it when I lived in The Botanic Hotel and that inFringement thing devoured the park around the Australian Light Horse Memorial. 

The Stag Hotel and East Terrace in 1903, looking straight past my joint in The Botanic Hotel at the end on the left into the Adelaide Botanic Gardens
 
Seneca writes about how his superior capacity for serene contemplation helps him ignore the grunts of the gymnasium and bath house, the street minstrels, the bark of the hawkers, and the shouts and squawks that follow a roisterer up the street. His stoicism appears outrageously sanctimonious, but enviable nevertheless.

Well worth learning.

There atop that lacy wedding cake rockhouse I grew used to living beside 50,000 vehicles a day. I could sleep through diesel buses, force-fed Subies and open-froat Harleys, the shrieks and roars of drunks all night and even when the State Rescue chopper visited the roof of the hospital just across the street I rested happy in the knowledge that one hurtin' unit was in the very best of care and fell straight back to sleep. If ever anything on the East Terrace side woke me, it would be the muffled clip-clop of uniformed men on their Walers, emu feathers in their hats, gathering for a dawn remembrance of the Light Horse.

 photo courtesy ABC

Then the inFringement hit that east side. Some nights I could count four bands playing at once in the park just across the street. Well into the morning. Straight at my windows. To make matters worse the late pre-hipster with the bar downstairs installed a doof box so he could feel his preferred thump and I found myself in the position of a man who had to crank his own music up to destruction numbers in order to drink himself to sleep.

Even bohemia must sleep.

This is what happens when you suddenly put everything noisy in one spot. That inFringement goes on for weeks and weeks every year in Rundle Park. Any resident who dares to complain gets shunned with hisses about spoilsports and how whingers hating the arts should stay out of the city.

The Producers' Hotel: another early opener.  This is about 4PM, at the start of the rush hour (!) on a wintry day. It would be mixed grills and a few schooners of stout before heading back for the price setting buzzer around  sunrise and then the clearing of the streets ... Like other streets around the East End Markets, this vast expanse of Grenfell Street would be blocked with idling semis and pantechnicons three nights a week ... 1974 photo Philip White

Not that I totally lack form in the arts. I attempted to edit the Fringe newspaper when the headquarters and bar were in a polite secluded hall on Kintore Avenue. Once I saw the whole damn thing as a bi-annual race to attract more and more acts and innocent hopefuls regardless of your incapacity as organiser to keep your publicity promises and guarantees of technical stage assistance with lights, kit, crew and audience, I quit, leaving the job to the lugubrious Christopher Pearson, who delighted in the access it provided to keen young performers.

This chookfight all hackled up over the Fringe's annexation of Victoria Square has fizzed out a lot of chatter about such things. Like virtual wineries, the flimsy pop-up nature of the event gives the shits to many full-time vendors of fine music and vittles who actually bother to pay their rates and rent or buy real buildings made out of stone and build magnificent kitchens; folks who really try to look after their staff and their customers all year round.

In response to Fletcher Doherty's telling InDaily piece on this yesterday, a sage called Nicko reminded everybody that between inFringista invasions of Rundle Park and Victoria Square 10,000 people a day would not be attending their regular haunts for over a month.

If this arts racket was spread out amongst extant hospitality professionals, it would also spread and dilute the din these frolics generate. Better buzz.

But then, in Victoria Square's favour, if you must assemble such a noisy concentration of creatives and middle-distance pissheads, you might as well do it on Australia's most expensive traffic island.

The author visits the Mines Department, Rundle Street, East End, 1973. The Hungry Jack carpark on the corner of Pulteney and Rundle replaced the lovely, fusty old Department and Geological Survey, which was the decaying Foys department store of five storeys built around two light wells later converted to inexpensive offices populated 100% by incredible nerds and rockdoctors ... when I eventually went to work there, it felt like we lived in a Raymond Chandler special ... photo Chris Langman, daubed by Maire 'Mizzo' Mannik (left)

Perhaps because readers remain dumbstruck by his closing twist, few people who don't suffer it seem to notice Seneca blithely describing our post-traumatic stress disorder as he spins out, paraphrasing Virgil:

"... fearing for his own concerns, he pales at every sound; any cry is taken for the battle-shout and overthrows him; the slightest disturbance renders him breathless with fear. It is the load that makes him afraid."

This is no excuse for the immorality of laying claim to a groovy inner-city apartment and then complaining about the noise of the arts of inner-city living, the old boy says. For those with the wit and ken to eventually overcome sonic intrusion he concludes

"You may therefore be sure that you are at peace with yourself, when no noise readies you, when no word shakes you out of yourself, whether it be of flattery or of threat, or merely an empty sound buzzing about you with unmeaning din."

Then he takes a shock turn which leaves the smug and pious high and dry.

 " 'What then?' you say, 'is it not sometimes a simpler matter just to avoid the uproar?' I admit this. Accordingly, I shall change from my present quarters. I merely wished to test myself and to give myself practice. Why need I be tormented any longer, when Ulysses found so simple a cure for his comrades even against the songs of the Sirens? Farewell."

Once I'd read that, I fled to the country, where I happily stay. As in Rome, one can simply piss off.

When the paranoid Nero eventually ordered Seneca to suicide, the old man climbed into a hot bath and opened a vein. His wife, Paulina attempted to go out in sympathy, but survived even against her own determined will. Seneca's suicide succeeded. I don't recommend this.

1 comment:

Philip White said...

Jane Lomax-Smith ‏@DrJaneLS

Brilliantly said @whiteswine InFringement brouhaha is nothing new » InDaily | Adelaide News http://indaily.com.au/food-and-wine/2014/11/18/infringement-brouhaha-nothing-new/ …

‏@whiteswine @DrJaneLS

We remember, eh Doc?

@DrJaneLS @whiteswine

as the German saying says. "The Devil doesn't know everything because he's the devil but because he's been around a long time"x

@DrJaneLS @whiteswine

New Orleans Jazz Fest has interesting model, as runs 11am-7pm but of course then everybody fills bars/clubs/restaurants in town

‏@whiteswine @DrJaneLS

That's better! The quality of the din is also a little more refined and musical.