Air



Air. Its an airfortless word. Breezy. Clean. Essential. Whispy and light. Yet I've said you could cut it with a machete. That it came down on me like a brick wall. Sat on me. Thumped me on the forehead.

Air. Oxygen. So precious. Life itself, some would say. Even water, so essential to life, relied on it.

Continually, sometimes forcibly and under duress, I'm reminded of its purity, a sanctity, worship, nearing addiction. To pure, crisp molecules, snorted downward and inward. My lungs heaving and welcoming to every last millilitre of air.

I stare at the air. I'm unaware.The dry stench of cigarette smoke seemed such an affront. An invasion. And I dreamed of repraisals, of tortures similar to that which they afflicted upon me. My space, my lungs, my freedom to breathe. As if it wasn't enough to mire and purge through De La Thanh street, that surreal street leading to the conservatory. As if it were set for a part in some Mad Max movie and inserted into outer suburbs Hanoi. Dark and devoid De La Thanh, so full of heavy metals and fogs of unknown dust, that is when rain hadn't turned it all to mud. And then a rare car visitor decides to do a U-turn, blocking all oncoming traffic, and so rounding up a thousand motor cycles into an instant cake mix. Of fumes and frustration. I decide to lead a silent choir of abstainers, turning off my bike, my fumigation machine. Everybody else is bleating out like frightened lambs to the slaughter, some focussed plumes of exhaust fumes squirt directly at my face, my nose, my throat, and eventually my lungs. Maybe I'll explode with a loud shout, but I regress the instant I realise that I can't say `turn them off' in Vietnamese. Anyway, they'd just look at me, glancing sideways momentarily, then throttle onwards, inching steadily towards sardinedom. A state of compactness where fumes cemented everyone together. Where nowhere to go seemed the perfect stimulus for standstill throttling.

One such retort against such personal lung transgressions involved my worst flatulation. I think it would have to be the Peru of 1983 vintage. The fish I ate at the roadside stall had never been a great idea, and resulted in turning my innards into some nasty chemical and gas concoction.

I was, of course, willing to walk away, move to another table, even forgo a ride in a bus. It seemed that in Hanoi that everyone smoked or drove a fumigation machine. I started to immagine my fruit salad being served in some restauarnt, a face carved into a whole pear, a fag drooping lazily out of its sculptured mouth. And one year old children with cigars and wry smiles, puffing great smothering billows into my personal space.

I was also reminded of similar invasions in other places, at other points of my life, and became ecstatic that Australia had taken steps towards afflicting real freedom for all breathers. Viva la breath space.

Little did I know what was in store for my olfactory space, when one month later, I arrived to start the SWAPCO project in Cape Town. But thats another story.