Three little clay pots

Mold clay into a bowl.
The empty space makes it useful.   Laozi

Three little unfired clay pots sit on my desk. They are simple, misshapen, chipped little pots but they bring me joy. They have travelled many thousands of kilometres and made it to their new home intact; which is no small feat considering how roughly bags are handled in transit.

This trio of terracotta vessels come from India, a land of contrasts and a land that has captivated my heart and mind.  I drank chia on the streets of Kolkata from these pots, one was a gift from the vendor who served my tea in a similar small pot with this one beneath to save my fingers being burnt by the heat of the fresh, steaming brew.  The taller pair I kept, instead of throwing onto the pile in the street.

Why did I keep something that is the equivalent of a disposable paper cup by western measures? They are reminders of a magical land of heat and dust, of remote villages and bustling cities, of streets thronging with people and noise and the smell of delicious street food during the day and a roaring silence at night.  As a reminder of a land where the constant presence of armed authorities, to the unaccustomed, can feel at first threatening and sinister contrasted with the gentle welcoming nature of individuals who draw you into their home, make you comfortable and make tea. It’s a land of colour, art, spirituality, incredible history and aliveness.

These pots are also a reminder of the simple and elegant beauty of life and the richness of human interactions. Someone in that massive country made these pots by hand, they were transported, sold and stacked and eventually passed across the well-stocked counter of the chai wallah’s stall.  An Aussie girl stood in a muddy lane, surrounded by early morning chia drinking men, and numerous homeless dogs at her feet, to enjoy the relative quiet before the hustle and bustle. The simple elegance of these pots, the curious looks, the numerous conversations asking where I was from and how long I would be in India, the shared appreciation of the flavours of a hot milk chai and being warmly included in a long-standing Kolkata morning routine is why I brought them home. This simple elegance of welcoming a stranger to share a daily ritual, warmed my heart.

So, three simple, misshapen, chipped, little clay pots sit on my desk and I smile as I look at them. I arrived home only an hour or so ago from my travels and was overjoyed these tiny earthen vessels survived the journey that I had to write of my joy.

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Satisfying wanderlust at home

Old Mill built 1829 by convict labour

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” ― Anatole France

My current situation does not allow for extended voyages across the sea to distant shores and yet my wanderlust must be sated.

A powerful desire to journey, to sightsee, to expand and grow saw me wandering my city on a very hot and muggy Sunday morning.  It was 33 degrees celsius and, I swear the  humidity was at 90% at 7am.  It was uncomfortable.  It would have been more sensible to stay at home in air-conditioned ease. I have been accused of being too sensible for so long now that I’m starting to resent the title and so, to spite myself, I went out to follow a trail that would take me to some of the interesting historical sites, churches and shrines in my city.

As an art lover I am as easily captivated by architecture as a painting on a gallery wall. I revel in the juxtaposition of old and new as my mind tries to make sense of history in a modern landscape.  I wonder at the skill and the talent of those who design and then build absorbing edifices.  I marvel at how function and aesthetics combine.

The trail did not take me to previously uncharted territory.  I was familiar with all the streets and lanes I found myself in, though wandering about on foot provides a different perspective from which to view the canvas. You notice things, you can take longer to appreciate the placement of structures in the environment. Being one of very few crazy people out on this particular Sunday, I had many places to myself for the majority of the walk.  What a rare treat in a busy city.

Brisbane was once noted for a particular domestic architecture dominated by timber houses, raised on high stumps with wide verandahs wrapped around the outside to catch the breeze. In contrast, many of the early public buildings were made of stone and brick; a reminder of English origins.  There has been some rapid and interesting changes in the architecture of Brisbane in the last twenty years but my focus on this particular morning was on the quaint buildings, quiet parks, and many charming churches and shrines located at the top end of the city, a hilly location, once a very fashionable residential area, that is now known for its many medical clinics.

Some of the churches were closed, others were filled with worshipers.  To avoid disrupting Mass by taking photographs, I plan to return during the week when, I was assured by church elders, I will be welcome to enjoy the space and take as many photos as I please.  En route I had a lovely conversation with a bus driver who, thinking I was lost, asked if I was visiting the city.  He was surprised to learn I had lived here for over 20 years and then revealed that he too enjoys wandering the city to take in her offerings.  He suggested a public art walk I hadn’t previously been aware of, that is now on my list of ways to satisfy wanderlust between trips.

What hidden gems would your city reveal if you had the time to wander about, on foot, with no other agenda than to absorb and notice? I’d be keen to hear how you satisfy your wanderlust when the itch arises but the timing isn’t right to travel.

Emma Miller Place