Memoir

Aleksandrinke

Mapping a movement of women

SHE IS WRITTEN deep in Slovenian folklore, stuttering into existence in ballads, songs, myths, legends. A woman repeated, kept in memory by her many iterations – and here I am, reiterating her for you now.

She is beautiful. This is one fact that remains solid, fixed as a jewel in the centre of a ring. Hard, cold, opaque: such is the beauty of Vida.

Men sing to her beauty. Men launch ships in her honour. Her beauty has secured her place in our collective imagination. Beautiful, beautiful Vida, they sing, pumping their accordions, weeping copious, tuneful tears.

Men dream of beautiful Vida with her skin like the cream on top of the milk that the lesser, uglier village women pump into their pails with their strong, leathery hands. Her breasts are swollen, full and pearlescent with the nectar of life.

She is a mother, a new mother, and the men who sing and dance and dream her put their sleeping hands to those swollen globes of flesh and weigh them and paw at them and squeeze them till twin streams of milk spring forth. One milky stream falls into their dream mouths. The second pours into the body of her own, sickly, child. Because poor, beautiful Vida has birthed a child who gives her no rest. A child full of milk and screaming. A child that fails with every suck of the creamy, rich draught. Our dreaming man sucks at the nipple just to test sweet, beautiful Vida’s worth as a mother, a beautiful mother. He sucks himself stiff and still the baby grows thinner and thinner, paler and paler, sicker and sicker.

Beautiful Vida’s husband (lucky, so lucky) is an old bag of bones held together by gristle, animated by coughing. All night she lies beside him and the bed shakes and shivers with his bronchial tremors. By day it is the little sickly son who (lucky, so lucky) latches on to one (full, round, creamy) nipple. First one breast and then another, sucking between hiccups, weeping and wailing and sucking.

Poor Vida.

And amid this cacophony of coughing, weeping, wailing, a big black ship glides in over a glassy ocean. There’s barely a breath of wind and yet here is a ship, full-sailed and the captain a black man, or dark, darker than lovely Vida had ever seen. Dark like chocolate, like spice, like whispers and rumours told softly in the night.

Vida does not run at the sight of a handsome dark man, as any other chaste and devout village lass would do. Vida leans close to hear his whisper, and his breath smells of the ocean and his skin smells of olives and his hair glows in slick, dark ringlets steeped in chilli oil.

‘Step onto my ship,’ he whispers to her, ‘for I will be happy to whisk you away. We will ride the wind back to the Queen of Spain who has a little baby, fresh and sweet and healthy as the morning, and you could live in her castle and nurse the little child and enjoy all the riches of the Spanish court. And you will be free of your sickly baby, free of your rickety old husband, free of the sleepless nights and listless days. Free to be beautiful, a Madonna, a picture of selflessness – and did I say beauty already?’

Or perhaps I am hearing him wrong; perhaps the dark (shadowy, secretive, unknowable, dusky) sailor says: ‘Step onto my ship. I know where there is an incense or a root, some herbal tea, some bark, some powder or a tincture that will heal your child. Come with me (to where the Queen of Spain tires of feeding her newborn), and we will find a cure for your sickly child and/or your husband.’

Either way, beautiful Vida steps onto the ship and the man sets sail, and it is only when Vida can no longer see the land that she realises her mistake.

Behind her, out of sight, her husband wakes and finds that she has gone. Bereft, the kindly old man takes their (sickly, peaky) baby and leaves him with their poor neighbours who, one by one, set candles for him, say prayers, set up a vigil to watch the sad little boy slowly fade away.

The husband drags his old bones down to the port and spends every last dinar on hiring a ship, setting off in the wrong direction, calling ‘Vida! Vida! Beautiful, round-breasted, youthful Vida!’

All to no avail.

While Vida wrings herself out with weeping and lands in Spain looking more pale and willowy and waiflike than ever.

The Queen of Spain embraces the girl and unties the complicated lacings of Vida’s peasant dress. She lifts a single swollen breast from the harsh fabric and sets her own child to drink there.

The clothes will go – burnt in the hottest furnace, replaced by silk and fine linen.

Beautiful Vida feels the relief of a child at her breast and hums so sweetly that the wind picks up, dancing around her.

‘Wind,’ she sings, ‘swift wind, race to my village and bring back news of my baby and my husband.’

Enchanted by the girl’s beauty and her obvious charms, the wind whips across the ocean, over the wrecked sails and bleached bones of her husband, carrying the last breath of her child on its wings and circling back to poor (beautiful) Vida.

My husband?

Dead from a wave that swept up and capsized his boat.

My child?

Just a corpse surrounded by candles and the prayers of good, devout, stay-at-home neighbours.

My father?

Setting out on a treacherous sea to find his lost daughter. My friend the ocean is preparing a grave for him even now.

Poor Vida. Poor, beautiful Vida. A queen’s child at her breast, jewels in her hair, perfumes on her skin and her eyes always damp with tears. She has swallowed a stone of regret and it weighs on her every waking moment.

Oh, if only she could have her time over. She would do things so differently. Of this one thing she is sure.

This one story has been told a dozen ways, over and over, in the villages of the Primorska region, the south-west part of Slovenia – these same villages that groan with hunger, shudder with the knowledge that there is no work for the men. But still, they have women rich with song. Women and babies, but each new mewling mouth is a reminder that in 1916, the year of my grandmother’s birth, people are starving. No work for the men who begin to disappear one by one, some to the mines in Argentina, some to the army, some to drink and to despair.

But don’t despair. Feel the heat on the wind, the sweet spice, the smell of the Orient. The shameful, unchaste Orient, a-glint with gold.

The women pack their lives into a suitcase, kiss their hungry children, and, one by one, they sail away to a strange and sensual land.

Whispers of opium. Whispers of prostitution. Whispers of the devil, of the black men, of the wild dervish dances, of the sensual heat and sand.

There is work for Slovene women in Egypt. There is work in Alexandria. They board the boats, some of the women ripe with milk, their newborn babies wailing in the arms of fathers, aunts, grandmothers, nuns. The wind from the desert dries their tears with its scorching heat.

In the villages, the surrogate mothers soothe the changeling babies with their traditional songs. Beautiful Vida. Beautiful, beautiful Vida. Could you blame the children, the fathers, the husbands for making the inevitable connection?

Where has my mother gone? the children ask.

Off to nurse some other man’s baby. Replacing her thick sack dress for silks and satin from Paris and jewels from Spain. Your beautiful mother. Beautiful, beautiful mother. See how she has gone?

 

WE DIG. IT is just my beautiful love, Anthony, and I. Forty-degree heat. Out in the dust and dry and spear grass. It is just us with our car full of pots of flowering plants. They will need water. They will die.

Perhaps this is why my mother and my aunt refuse to join us for this burial. They know that it is futile. The garden will return to weeds soon enough. It is a fancy, this digging.

I dig and it hurts to dig and I am sweating through my thin dress. I dig and I can’t get enough water to hydrate me. I am dizzy with the heat, the thirst.

‘It will look so good when it is done,’ I say to Anthony, knowing this is a lie. It will look good for a few days and then it will die and no one will ever visit this spot again.

‘It will look great,’ Anthony tells me. ‘She would have been so happy to know you are doing this.’

Which isn’t exactly true. My grandmother hated flowers. She said they reminded her of death. She wouldn’t let us bring cut flowers into her house. We would have to sneak them in, hide them in our rooms, or better still obey our grandmother and leave them on the plants where they belonged.

All through her life she told me she would never die. She was magic, born into a long line of witches, immortal. And by the time she was old, she said, technology would be so advanced that people would keep her alive inside a computer.

I didn’t believe her.

But I did.

Exhausted, smelling of sweat and dirt, covered in some kind of rash – from the heat? from a plant? – that spreads out across my skin from my chin down through my torso, we dig the final hole.

We pause in front of it. We have put a little white picket fence around our flowering plants. At least when they all die we will be able to find this spot again, hidden among the speargrass and lantana.

‘You should say something for Lotty,’ Anthony suggests.

I haven’t prepared a speech. I open the container that the funeral home has given me. The weight of it. Heavy, but not nearly heavy enough.

‘I love you, I’ll miss you,’ I say, and begin to tip the container. It isn’t enough, not nearly enough, but I will spend the rest of my life finding the words for how I feel now. There is time to find the right eulogy for her. There is half a lifetime ahead of me now.

I tip most of the ashes into the grave, but I want to keep her with me. I can’t let everything sink into the hot, dry ground.

‘I’ll keep some,’ I say to Anthony, and even though it sounds a bit macabre, he doesn’t protest. He knows what my grandmother means to me. He knows she is a knot in my gut of love and fear and regret and complications.

This garden built for her won’t last. But does it need to? I have this memory now, this burial. I have this place in which to locate her, in her chosen home.

We stand for a moment in front of this garden grave. Perhaps it looks like we are praying. But inside I have gone blank. I am empty. I don’t know what I should say or do. We pack up our shovels and fertiliser and coil up the garden hose.

And I walk away with some of her tucked into my handbag.

In the glorious air-conditioning of the motel room, I open the jar that houses my grandmother’s earthly remains. I stick my finger in and pull it out, coated in powdery grey. I put my finger in my mouth. I swallow.

She tastes of ashes. And that seems right to me. Burnt and dry and emptied out.

 

I’M NOT SURE what I can do to fill the gaping hole that her death has opened up in my world.

Throughout her life she was tight-lipped about her background. I could glean only fragments of her history. She was born in Slovenia. When she was just a child, she was put on a train. She was travelling alone. Somehow, she ended up in Egypt.

No. We had no relatives outside the small cluster of immediate family.

No. We had no history.

Look forward, she told me. Never look back.

Now I gaze into the plastic container of ashes.

I look back. I am trying to catch a glimpse of my grandmother sitting on the train that took her away from her home in Slovenia. A stuttering light and shade of tantalising scraps.

She had forbidden me from asking for stories about her past. She had forbidden me from setting out on my own quest to find a homeland.

Now that she is dead I feel like a caged bird, waking one day to find the cage door open as I stand safely inside, looking out, afraid to spread my wings and fly.

 

THE WOMAN BEHIND the counter at the Knjigarna Azil in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is short, thin, dressed practically in a casual skirt and a crumpled shirt.

‘I’m looking for books for my research.’

‘What area is your research?’

‘It’s a bit complicated. I’ve come from Australia to find out about my family history, things you can discover even when you have very little information. Maybe fairytales or food culture or genetics. The things that shape you as a person.’

‘Probably the bigger bookshop not far from here. They have more science. And a cooking section.’

‘Do you have anything about Egypt?’

‘What sort of thing? History?’

‘Maybe. My grandmother moved from Slovenia to Egypt when she was young.’

‘Oh – she was an Aleksandrinke.’

It is an unfamiliar word.

Aleksandrinke.

‘You don’t know this? The movement of women,’ she says, ‘from the Goriškan region in Slovenia. To Alexandria?’

‘A movement of women?’

‘Where did your grandmother come from?’

‘Miren.’

‘Yes. That’s in the region. Your grandmother. She was Aleksandrinke.’

My grandmother was Aleksandrinke. I feel like something is falling. I try to open myself so that I might catch it. My grandmother was something other than just her own little island. She was a part of something, something with a name, Aleksandrinke, a strange and wonderful word.

This woman, she seems so sure of this.

Not just my grandmother, that lone child sent away from her homeland to Egypt, but a movement of women. A whole movement of women with a name attached.

And then she hands me a book.

‘I don’t read Slovene.’

‘This one is in English translation.’

I pay for the book and clutch it to my chest.

I stand in the café next door and it looks the same, as if nothing has changed. And yet everything, everything has changed.

I order a coffee.

Aleksandrinke.

I open the book.

Faces. Women’s faces. I find myself looking closely at all the women on the page. Aleksandrinke. The Goriškan ladies.

Is one of these women my grandmother? I feel certain that I have found her. That she is here with me, sitting by me, nodding casually.

My grandmother shrugs now, deep and hot in my belly. Oh yes, didn’t I tell you? I’m an Aleksandrinke. That’s what they call us. How come you didn’t know?

 

ALL STORIES ARE lessons; they are tools for social cohesion. The moral imperatives hidden at the heart of the narrative help us to police each other.

We tell our children stories about good children who marry princes or save their grandmothers, or bad children who set their hair on fire or kill their sisters with axes. Well, maybe other people’s grandmothers don’t tell their children these stories, but my grandmother did.

She distributed lessons about bravery and cowardice as other people’s grandmothers gave out lollies: candy-coloured, sweet on the tongue. Even the bitter medicine was served with a sugar coating or a dollop of honey.

In 1932, the first fictional story to feature an Aleksandrinke was published. Žerjavi or Cranes by France Bevk began with a quote from the folk song ‘Beautiful Vida’. In 1932 my grandmother would have been sixteen years old, an avid reader, her imagination still developing dreams of her future. She might have even read Cranes.

The epigraph of the book is about unhappy homes causing cranes to fly away over the ocean. But the folksong about beautiful Vida misunderstands the Aleksandrinke and their imperative for migration.

Cranes in eastern Europe take a path that is called the Western flyway. They travel from Hungary through Germany and France and end up in Spain. There are set places along the route where they stop, gathering in such numbers that whole festivals have sprung up in some countries to celebrate the arrival of these birds.

Storks are another Hungarian migratory bird. Most Hungarian storks migrate to central Africa, although some fly to Israel or the Middle East.

Only last weekend we took a trip from Ljubljana to Hungary. My friend James was driving, his Slovene girlfriend Ana sitting beside him; Anthony and I were in the back of the rental car. James had begun to say something about how storks were protected in this village when he turned sharply off the road, pulling to a stop under an electricity pole.

We opened the doors and there was the most extraordinary stench. Perhaps it was just a general farm smell, the scent of shit and fertiliser and rotting food, but then James pointed up to the top of the pole and there was a nest, as big as a crib for a baby. That stench, and the vision of sticks and grass so intimately entwined, became inextricably linked.

Running up a nearby hill, we could see the storks in the nest, two adults and two babies.

The four of us grew very still and quiet. We crouched among the bracken and watched the huge, graceful birds tending to their babies.

If cranes in unhappy homes flee over the ocean to Spain, then the moral of the folk song ‘Beautiful Vida’ is clear. It is a warning to stick with the family, to keep the home together, to keep the traditional familial roles intact.

In a backstreet in a small town in Hungary, watching this happy family of storks, I knew that these birds would also embark on the arduous migration to Africa in the winter months. Happy or sad, these birds would eventually take wing. It was a practical necessity to avoid the scarcity that winter brings, the hardships of living in a country without ready access to an abundance of food.

 

BACK THEN, BACK in the time of my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my great-great-grandmother, village families in regional Slovenia had just one knife for each household. The knife was for the father, a symbol of his office. The father was the king of his tiny kingdom and the house-knife was his sceptre. No one but the father could wield the knife, which was handed down from father to son when the time for succession came.

The father made the rules and the prosciut.

In my grandmother’s village, Miren, there is the bora, the strong wind that sweeps across the karst, ripping the roof tiles off houses and scouring the dry mountain passes. But with every hardship comes a blessing, and the bora brings the perfect weather for drying prosciut. The sausages and prosciut from my grandmother’s village are prized for their wind-dried sweetness. Every father has a cellar hung with the finest meats in the land.

Of course, during the harsh years there were no pigs to slaughter. Borders in that area of the ethnically Slovene territory had always been fluid. The border of the Habsburg Empire, which took in all of Slovenia, stretched out past Nova Gorica before World War I, taking in all of Trst and beyond. In the bloody battles along the Soča River between 1915 and 1917, Italy slowly but surely claimed tiny ethnically Slovene villages for itself.

Along with the prosciut, language became a luxury that the villagers under Italian rule could no longer afford. Slovene was whispered in the privacy of the home, but Italian was the language spoken in schools, in businesses, on farms. Speaking Slovene in public could lead to torture or death.

The fathers still wielded their house-knives until the men were taken away to be soldiers. The knives were passed down too quickly. Younger and younger sons were left to carve what little meat they had. Because of the ever-shifting borders, the men could never be too sure which army would co-opt them. One man might be called up to fight for Italy while his neighbour was being signed up to the Habsburg army.

There was no work for the Slovene men who stayed with their families. No meat to carve, no crops to sell, no land left to plough. Some of the men took off for South America; promises were left behind with their kisses. They would send money; they would send home gold and jewels.

Most of those men, including my great-grandfather, forgot about their families. Their new jobs in South America were hard labour. Some of the men found new hope in second wives and more children, never following through with their promises to send money home.

Back where they had come from, the children starved. The women starved. The old and the sick all starved.

But a strange phenomenon was beginning to occur. Some of the Slovene women had taken up positions as nannies with rich Italians. Some of these Italians had started businesses in Egypt, making the most of the cotton boom, which was beginning to support cosmopolitan Alexandria’s position as the cultural capital of the world.

The Slovene women were notably good nannies. They spoke several languages, including perfect Italian, and were quick to learn others. They were Catholics, which was important to the rich Italian mothers. They were hardworking and they were kind.

If you wanted a strict nanny who would be feared by your children, you hired a British nanny. If you wanted a nanny your children would grow to love, you chose a Slovene.

In Egypt, having a Slovene nanny became a symbol of a certain elevated social status. Rich women from all cultures in Alexandria began to seek them out. Word was carried home by aunts and cousins coming back to visit their families for feast days: there was work for young Slovene women in Egypt, and it was good, profitable work. All you had to do was leave your family, your community, your culture behind. All you had to do was take a leap of faith across the ocean and your family would be saved from the hardship of extreme poverty.

Many women leapt.

 

IT IS A relief to be free of the car in the narrow one-way streets of Trst, which is now called by the Italian name, Trieste. We walk down towards the water. Everything here leads downwards to the bay, as if the whole landscape is poised to leave. The sweep of Trst is just one long farewell.

I walk towards the pier. It juts a long way out into water that is steely grey and as calm as if it is sleeping. We walk along its old, marked surface, my feet in my grandmother’s footprints, lock step.

This is where the boats pulled in, the huge ships, bound for Egypt. My grandmother was a child, maybe ten, maybe younger. She had been put onto a train, heading for the coast, alone.

I feel my eyes begin to prick with tears. How would it feel to say farewell like this? Farewell to all you have known.

She would never return.

I have the container in my handbag, a screw-top plastic vial for carrying pills. I have some of my grandmother’s ashes in it. It weighs heavy as I walk towards the end of the pier.

There is a monument, a circle like a compass with each point reaching out to a new place in the world. I touch it. There are words in the centre and for a moment I am moved to think that the monument is for all the lost souls who have set sail from here.

 

‘TRST.’ MY GRANDMOTHER’S eyes soften when she says the word. Two words have this effect on her: Trst and Paris. I have spent weeks trying to interview her for a documentary I am making, and she has been combative and evasive the whole time. I have hundreds of hours of video footage, all of it similar. She is tight-lipped; beside her, my aunt sits with a sneer, delighting in the fact that I am getting nothing useful for my documentary. My grandmother speaks in riddles or outright lies. ‘I am a storyteller,’ she says, ‘and storytellers can lie. It’s not a lie. It is a…untruth.’

‘A fable,’ my aunt adds.

‘A fable.’ The two of them finishing each other’s sentences, supporting each other in my derailment.

Looking back through the footage of those interviews frustrates me. Here is my grandmother, our family history locked behind those pursed lips, those heavy-lidded eyes, resisting my questions till the end.

‘None of your business,’ says my aunt when I ask about her own childhood in Egypt. She is puffing on a cigarette, using her long cigarette holder. But it is my business; I want to tell her this. If it is anyone’s business it is mine because her story, my mother’s story, my grandmother’s story – all these stories are fundamental to my own.

People who know their origins are grounded in their past. I feel adrift. My own family have left me floating without an origin story to anchor me.

In the stretch of footage I will only see a few moments of honesty. Here is one: My grandmother is looking at her wedding photos. In these black, white and sepia squares of imprinted memory she is beautiful, tiny. She is so short they had to get her to stand up on a box next to my grandfather. She taps the photograph with her finger. I think she is about to dismiss it as she has dismissed everything before this, but instead her eyes seem to glaze over. She looks almost teary as she stares through the decades to a gentler time.

‘That dress came from Paris.’ Tap tap goes her finger. ‘Paris…’ She is lost to her thoughts. I can’t know what she is thinking, but I do know that she is remembering something important. Her connection to the dress, her connection to Paris: the idea of something as grand as a wedding dress that had been imported for the occasion.

Here, this second moment.

Trst-e…’ She puts a little inflection on the end of the word as if there is more to say, but she is putting a stop to it. Perhaps she is remembering her last moments in Europe. Perhaps she is replaying the moment she stepped onto the boat, the loss of her homeland, her family, everything that was familiar, the leap into the unknown taken stoically if reluctantly. She was just a child. A child travelling alone, from Trst to Egypt.

 

I WANTED TO bring my grandmother back to the homeland and, with her ashes in my pocket, I have, but I haven’t been able to find the place where she might comfortably lie. Perhaps I should scatter some of my grandmother’s ashes here, from this pier, the place she last stood before setting off on her adventure that would take her through the rest of her life.

I open a translation app on my phone and hold it above the words engraved on the monument.

I arrive at this pier, the first ship with the banner of Italy.

I put the container of ashes back in my bag.

We are not in Slovenia now. We are on Italian soil, the people who suppressed my grandmother’s language. The people who taxed the Slovenes so harshly. This is a liminal place. She was here, but only briefly. Trst, for my grandmother, was just a place between worlds, just as it has been for so many others throughout the ages.

For most of the Aleksandrinke there was an end to a life of luxury. In 1954, a process of Egyptian nationalisation began. The wealth, which had been mostly in the hands of expat Italians, Greeks, Jews and the British, was redistributed to Arabs over a period of years.

The rich employers of the Slovene women began to leave, to take what they could out of the country, cut their losses and head back to the places they had once called home.

But some of them – like my grandmother, who had married an Egyptian-born man with a British passport – moved on to other countries, and a few who had married local men stayed in Egypt with their new families.

Those Aleksandrinke who went home, like my great-aunt and great-grandmother, brought very little back with them, perhaps a steamer trunk full of beautiful dresses they could never wear in the poor villages. The dresses were considered obscene and garish for the devout Catholic communities in Slovenia. The women swapped their silks for homespun brown woollen clothes.

They did, however, bring knives and forks home with them. And so knives were doled out to everyone in the family; no longer was there just one single knife to be wielded by the patriarch. Women and children could cut their own food.

It was a blow to the men of the villages, a small symbol of change. The power had shifted subtly out of their hands. Clean hands now too, because the women also brought with them soap and the habit of handwashing before every meal.

Manners were among the riches that were trafficked from Egypt back to Slovenia; manners and more sanitary eating conditions. Perhaps this even led to a reduction in the rate of mortality due to diseases. Who is to say? None of this has been recorded or studied in any great detail.

On the whole, these changes were incremental and small. Occasionally the women would bring home sweets from Egypt. Halva was a particular favourite of the Slovene children and many of them, old now, still remember the sweetness of the treat melting on their tongues.

These women were the embodiment of their husbands’ failures. For a whole generation, maybe two, they had been the absent providers. Their men and children – sometimes their whole village – relied on the money these women sent home.

This was a blight on the Primorska region, a time that must be hidden and forgotten.

And so the women left their steamer trunks full of fine, exotic dresses up in their attics, where eventually the mice or the moths would find them and fill them with faeces and holes.

 

HERE, IN A corner of a park in Nova Gorica, fifty kilometres from Trst and only nine kilometres from my grandmother’s village, ankle-deep in mud and close to the busy main road, there is another statue. This one is carved in wood, a totem-pole–like climb of figures. A man and two male children help to lift a woman who is wearing rustic clothes. The woman in turn lifts another small boy.

This must be the monument to the Aleksandrinke that we are here to see. I look around, but there is no plaque.

The sight of the monument silences us. I don’t know what to make of it, a monument to women, and yet there are four men in the statue and just the one woman.

‘I suppose this appeases the men who felt like the natural order had been displaced,’ says Anthony. ‘This man and the other boys doing most of the heavy lifting. Then the men taking over again in future generations.’

I have read about the unveiling of this monument. There was a small ceremony and then an all-male panel gathered to discuss it in the city hall.

I feel deflated. I was hoping that finally I would feel like I belonged to something, a movement of women, the Aleksandrinke. And yes, I do. I am a descendant of these women and yet it is a part of history that has been hidden. Shameful. It is a word that comes up again and again as I talk to local villagers and historians and read the scant literature about these women.

My grandmother was part of something bigger than herself, something shared by so many women, and yet this is one of the only monuments to acknowledge their sacrifices for the people of Slovenia: men lifting a woman, lifting a boy.

Never look back, she said to me, never never look back.

When the nest is unhappy, the cranes will fly away across the sea to Spain.

 

THEY SING OF it, a folksong. A dark-skinned man sailed in on a ship, sails billowing when there was no wind. A magic ship. A ship smelling of spices, like the Orient:

Come sail away with me to the Queen of Spain. Leave your babies, your husband, your sickly families behind.

And the Queen of Spain will dress you in silk. She will dress you in gold and jewels and satins and set her beautiful baby on your breast.

Come beautiful Vida. All you beautiful Vidas.

Come sail away with me.

The research for this project was supported by the Australian Council for the Arts.

Griffith Review