Athenapallas's Blog

December 20, 2011

THREE WISE WOMEN- a Christmas Story

Filed under: Modern Athenas — athenapallas @ 9:56 am
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Leith was fed up. It did not matter how careful she was Olga always found something wrong. As if it mattered the bandages were folded incorrectly.  They barely had enough so often they had to tear them in half to make them last.

Yesterday they ran out of clean syringes so they had no choice  

 but to re-use the ones they would normally have discarded.

It was scary to think that in curing one disease

they were also spreading another even more deadly one.

Helen told her yesterday that it would be a miracle

if a child were born in the camp free of HIV.

She liked Helen even though she was not exactly Einstein. She knew Helen had lied about her qualifications to get this job. But the HELP Foundation did not care. Most nurses with those fancy new degrees would not want to work here. No high desks to hide behind. No endless notes to write just the choking dust, the putrid atmosphere and worse the unrelenting despair. Helen just accepted it like it was nothing out of the ordinary to be surrounded by all this pain, dirt and fear.

 Olga on the other hand refused to face the fact that there was little they could do. Provided they followed her stupid routines she was happy. How she hated Olga’s scrubbed pink skin and straw-like hair pulled back severely into a roll at the back of her head. She had insisted Leith cover her curly red hair the one thing she liked about herself. Her mother used to say it was her crowning glory which was just as well as her skin was freckled, her limbs too long and her breasts hardly more than a pair of nipples.                                                  

Helen somehow managed to look pretty even here.

Her short punk hair framed a perfect oval of a face and

her skin was milky like a healthy baby. She was tiny too.

 Not fat like Olga or awkward like her.

You hardly even noticed that one leg was shorter than the other.

Olga came bustling into the tent. ‘We have another birth in Sector 4. I’ll get there later if I can. You know the routine. Let’s see if we can save this one.’    She wanted to scream at her, ‘All of the babies in Sector 4 who have survived have developed AIDS. What is the point of saving a child for that?’

 But she did not. She was a coward and as the youngest aide in the camp no-one ever expected her to have an opinion on anything. She had attended deliveries here already. They mostly did little except ensure the baby was not strangled by its cord or by the mother or someone else. All the women here had been infected with the AIDS virus because they had been forced into prostitution by their parents in exchange for food. They knew that if they were ever allowed to return to their villages they could not take a sick child with them.

 Not like the time back home when she had assisted in  the maternity ward of the district hospital.

There all the mothers were from the local town and

even the single ones and those who had undergone

 the most gruesome labour greeted their babies with delight.

They were so proud of their achievement, feted and celebrated by family and friends.

 Leith walked slowly towards the tent. No one would greet this child with joy.

Their death would be a relief, their life a painful burden.

 She could hear whimpering sounds from within. Not full-bodied screams like you would expect.

 Just a low-grade, simmering sob. She reluctantly bent down to enter and was shocked at what she saw.

 The mother was hardly more than a child herself. She was alone except for the baby, which she cradled in her arms.

She had delivered it herself. 

 Gently Leith checked that she was not still bleeding, took the baby from her

and went about the post-natal routine she had been taught.Carefully cleaning the wound where the cord had been bitten off, and freeing the baby’s face from the membranes, which hid it.

The child on the ground rocked back and forth crying quietly.

Leith tried to put the baby girl back in her arms but instead she grabbed hold of Leith and hid her face in her chest.

 When Helen and Olga peered inside the tent they saw three children.

Leith was sitting on the ground nursing the mother and the baby.

Mother and baby made the same whimpering sound.

Leith’s tears bathed them equally.

 Olga was about to speak when Helen shook her head to stop her. 

They sat down beside Leith, dried her tears,

 then uncurled the  tiny fingers that clasped hers so tightly

and began to wash the little body.

 (This story is a work of fiction originally published in the 2001 Spring edition of Gowanus, the award-winning literary journal)


January 20, 2011


 Athena has retreated to her cave at Santorini ( see 2010 August 27 )   and has asked me  to do a guest post .

Recently I was visiting ‘my home away from home’, the serene women’s pool at Coogee. In the change room is a reading corner where swimmers leave books for others to read.

This time I picked up a book entitled wrack and it was this word that grabbed me. Intrigued I read the extracts from the reviews on the back and realised that the author’s name, James Bradley, was familiar but I was sure I had not read any of his work. The reviews used words like ambitious, intelligent, provocative, ingenuous, sensuous, erudite, and the short précis sounded enticing.

However I was at first sceptical, jaundiced from the struggle with my own writing and the glut of both popular and literary books that tumble off the shelves and disappear into oblivion.

With nothing else to read while I lay in the shade between swims I panicked, hoping this book might live up to its marketing hype. It was after all by an Australian writer with a peculiarly Australian story emanating from the controversial maps of the journeys of Portuguese explorers to Australia nearly two hundred years before the discoveries of Cook and Banks.

I couldn’t help wondering about the journey of this book from its no doubt proud display in a major bookshop in 1992 to some second-hand bookshop or exchange where it was sold for $2.95, maybe to the person who had left it here, and now it came free of charge to me, perhaps not the first women’s pool reader.

No wonder writers struggle to make a living just from their writing.

As a writer and would be novelist now happily blogging, writing songs, and little books, I thought of all the energy and emotion I had put into my several unpublished novels, so I approached this novel with both trepidation and humility.

This was James Bradley’s first novel published in 1992 when he was already a published  poet and editor of an anthology of Australian writing, so the inside cover told me.

I had left my iPhone at home but even if I’d had it with me I would not have googled him.

I wanted to see if indeed I had happened upon a treasure and I didn’t want to be influenced by anything else but my own reading here and now in January 2011.

As I turned the first two pages I liked what I saw, a dedication to the memory of his grandfather and an extract from the shorter Oxford dictionary with seven meanings for the word wrack some of which I didn’t know, and in reading those definitions I started to feel a sense of excitement as to what was to follow.

Then I was delighted to find a list of Maps that were included in the book as well as a table of Contents including Acknowledgements which I quickly scanned. So far so good. But it got better.

A Prologue headed by a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream was followed by an extract from the journals of a William Townshend the Surgeon aboard His Majesty’s Vessel Berkeley written on the 17th August 1794 telling of the discovery of a shipwreck believed to be of Portuguese or Spanish origin witha  ship design not seen for over 200 years. And amongst the debris a box containing papers with the name De Cueva and the date 1519.

 No comment was made by the author about this extract except to follow it with a page from Mathew Flinder’s Voyage to Terra Australis 1814 alluding to a French chart that showed an extensive country south of the Moluccas called Great Java which agreed with the extent and position of Terra Australis and could have been the result, wrote Flinders, of observations of the Portuguese on their voyages from India before and after 1540.

Then someone asked the question, How to tell this story, where to begin?

When I first read this page and half I was not sure who was asking this question of me, the reader, using both the first person plural we and second person you.  Not knowing was good. Here was the theme and that was also good. 

Perhaps it begins in a storm…..or there are patterns we can detect in the motion of the sand…..symbols which might trace out a story of love and death. About loving and dying…..emotions moving like tides like rivers deep within the sand…feeling stealing across the years like shifting hills slowly inexorably burying all that lies before them……

The poet was speaking here and then suddenly we were into the story with the introduction of one of the main characters, David, the present day Archaeologist who was supervising a dig for what we already knew would be related to that ship and that name and those maps.

 The short first chapter headed Discovery was not just about this, it was the start of a complex, compelling historical murder mystery linked to the present by archaeological secrets, rivalries and obsessions, and including two beautiful, terrifyingly real love stories.

I couldn’t finish this book at the pool, I had to dive in and swim to come up for air so immersed was I in its pages, so I took it home to devour it over the next week. I was fascinated and sometimes annoyed by the structure but full of admiration as to how the writer almost managed to pull it off.

It didn’t matter if I found some of the transitions from present tense to past, or changes in narrator or lack of punctuation or the interjection of succinct essays on the political history of European expansion challenging, since I had experimented with all such devices in my own writing and I knew how well this writer was handling these.

And above all, the story, the characters and the clear but lyrical prose carried me into worlds that I knew and didn’t know, the familiar and the strange interwoven in a book that doesn’t quite fit any genre,  resulting in a reading experience rivalling some of my best.

Original, exciting, seriously scary in parts and oh so erotic with a sometimes perverse edge, are some more epithets I would add.  And hurrah for a man who can write erotic scenes so well!

I googled James to find out more and I remembered why his name was familiar, his blog  had been recommended in Newswrite the journal of the NSW  Writers’ Centre, and  he’d had gone on to win further acclaim with his next two novels. His blog is generously full of ideas, information, provocative essays, comments, videos, cartoons,  and the longest blog roll I’ve ever seen. Well worth a visit particularly his video interview about his book The Resurrectionist.

However there is nothing like the experience of reading a great novel, lying in the sun overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean in this land we now call Australia or the map calls Great Java.

Wrack will stay with me a long time, it is already in my psyche burrowing away and prodding my wretched muse to do its work. I don’t want to part with this book yet but eventually I will take it back to the pool and let someone else have the joy of Discovery of this treasure. And I will buy  a copy of The Resurrectionist.

December 20, 2010


Filed under: Athena's musings,Modern Athenas,Who am I? — athenapallas @ 8:47 am
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Our Lucky Land

How can I write anything meaningful about Christmas when thirty desperate people have lost their lives trying to come to our  so-called lucky  land.

A land that unlike most places that these people have escaped from is peaceful, prosperous and supposedly welcoming and inclusive.

How have we so easily forgotten that we all came to this country as refugees or even prisoners and occasionally free settlers but usually escaping from persecution, or class hatred or poverty or the harsh winters of Britain or Europe in which our babies died.

As I walk along my street in Leichhardt I often pass a woman on her way back from  the shops. She walks lopsided, gripping plastic shopping bags and I notice her unsuitable shoes, her sad eyes, her dropped face and her thinning dyed black hair, and I wonder about her.

I usually try to make eye contact and say Hello, but mostly she does not see me, or if she does she gives a hardly perceptible nod of her head.

A part of my professional mind thinks she must be depressed, another part of me gets annoyed at her avoidance and concerned that she doesn’t seem to know how to look after herself, or as I think she should, by using a trolley, or wearing a hat and more suitable shoes for her shopping trip.

Last week I looked towards her house to see if she was coming down the street.

I could see her outside her gate because she was wearing a bright orange pants suit so different from her usual dark attire. As I approached her, I smiled and said, ‘I love your orange pants suit, the colour really suits you.’

Her face lit up like she was a young woman again, standing in the moonlight with her sweetheart, and she smiled at me.

 ‘I bought it at Millers. I buy all my clothes cheap.. my daughter buys me other things not necessary…

And so she started to talk and tell me her story.                                         

‘ We came here from Italy in the 50’s,  a village north of  Roma,                        

my husband he was a good man, he worked for the big builders

in the city, he built Australia Square, we had a good life here,

then he has the head thing and he nearly died, he was only 45,

I nursed him for ten years but he was good man,

and the neighbours here very kind people, I have lived here 50 years, 

I have two daughters they work in the city they do well,

we very lucky, I have been robbed three times in this street,

once they knocked me down and took my bag,

and I fell on my leg, I’m ok now, I have a 26 year old grandson,                                                      Village in Italy

I say to him you can put me in the place in Marion St but he says no,

you don’t need that, Nona, I’m lucky I know people here,

the woman in your house was my friend she died of  cancer long time ago….’

 The rain is starting to spot her lovely orange jacket but still she continues to talk.

So much history and so much to be thankful for despite all she has gone through.

No wonder some days she looks grim and does not see me. Now, however she will see me, I know her name and I  have welcomed her into my world without judgment.  And we can at last be true neighbours.

What a pity we don’t do this more often.

My Bella in Tuscan Village

September 28, 2010

Melting Aphrodite, Eros and Growing Old Disgracefully.

Filed under: Athena's musings,Modern Athenas — athenapallas @ 10:02 pm
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Athena stared at  the  melting statue of Aphrodite in horror 

 Only half of her face remained intact an arched brow,

a high forehead and the end of a once handsome nose.

 Her mouth sank into oblivion as did her chin,

and rough tears scarred her cheeks.

The drape of her gown covered fallen breasts

which had once been proud and firm.

Her waist was no more and her hips slid down to her legs

hardly more than a fusion of whatever material the sculptor had used to fashion his creation,

a cruel mirror image of what happens to  even the most perfect female body. 

When this excerpt  was read to a group of older women writers it provoked a discussion

which revealed the full extent of the grief and anger women can  feel as they age.

 It is not simply the grief of vain frustrated women  but of  intelligent vibrant older women living in a society

that puts so much store by how women must look to be attractive and successful.  

As a result older women walk along the street like invisible ghosts.

If a male is coming towards you they do not make eye contact unless they are under six years of age and mostly they do not move over to their side of the pavement, so you do, lest there is a collision.

Older women flock to book clubs, singing groups and ballroom dancing where even an ordinary boring little man can be feted as a hero. In the choir if a male turns up, even if he has curly nose hairs the ladies clap him in.

In the book club the sole male can dominate the conversation while other more interesting contributors are ignored.

At the RSL  dance time older men, even those who need walkers to get into the building,  can take their pick from the many women of all ages who love to dance. Older women who are great dancers can find themselves as fading wall flowers,  a  uniquely harrowing experience for women who were great lookers in their youth.

So how can older women come in contact with good male energy, when the pool  of unattached men gets smaller and smaller as you age,  and  where can older women  find male companionship or even an occasional roll in the hay?

You can widen the pool by going younger but if you do you run the risk of being stigmatised as one of those awful coogars as well as catching all those nasty modern sexual bugs.

Your young lovers can be the men that younger women have rejected as not being suitable husband material

 not good-looking,intelligent,successful, sensitive,erotic etc etc enough .

If you are into educational makeovers then you could take on one of these younger men

and have some fun but beware you can never be seen in public

and eventually he will go to younger and  more fertile pastures.

You could steal another woman’s husband, partner or lover,

after all many men love to play the field and are turned on

by what they think will be a

desperate erotically charged older woman.

Keeping up this mirage can be exhausting and there will be some nights

when it is all too  much and all you want is to don your flannies and  sink alone into your large snuggly comfortable bed complete with chocolate, fluffy dog or soft toys, I-phone music, and books books books!!

And if by chance you mange to meet a  randy widower at his wife’s funeral who comes on to you(don’t laugh it’s happened) beware you may find out  you need to make up for all the deficiencies of the first model as well emulate her great virtues. And if you survive this late life coupling you may find yourself caring for an older man who does not age as gracefully as you and whose grown up children are absolutely delighted they don’t have to worry about poor grumpy old dad anymore as long as you sign an agreement not to take their inheritance.

So for attractive, intelligent, agile, warm-blooded  older women

what is the answer to the disappearance of male energy from your life?

Withdraw thankfully from the futile chase and accept and celebrate who and where you are.

Surely not you say!                         YES I DO!                                                                                                 

Fill your life with family, friends, travel, some form of exercise 

such as yoga, pilates, tai chi  (avoid lawn bowls at all costs)

but climbing this mountain in Meteora Greece may be too ambitious;

creative and/or educational pursuits like writing, painting,

learning a language, ecstatic dancing, 

or sculpturing your own version of Aphrodite;

good works and/or political action, like feeding the homeless, greening your neighbourhood, becoming a mentor to troubled young women, signing petitions, attending council meetings;

and  last but not least some form of spirituality that honours you and your life path.

THEN watch yourself blossom even as you face the inevitable crises that life/death will throw your way

(don’t take to reading the Obituary columns).

And as you love yourself more and value the sisterhood of women some positive male energy will be attracted to you. It may be in new and better relationships with a brother, cousin, son, son-in-law, grandson,neighbour, blogger, fellow walker or it may be with a stranger with whom you stop to talk (preferably not the local bikie gang chief)  or the person you meet in your charitable activities, (but remember charity does not mean taking him home).

And all of this will enrich your life so that eventually you will wonder


how so much of your time in the past was given over to

the imaginary other who is no more.

And DON’T PANIC if you still can’t give up the fantasy

 of the perfect  male lover/companion

you won’t find him in the monastry at Meteora but

you just may find him hiding under a toadstool in the bottom of your garden!

After writing this post I was walking my dog singing all the gospel songs I sing with the Acapella Group, Jonah and the Wailers. Suddenly a man  stopped  as I was passing, his face transformed by the most beautiful smile as he looked at me. Nothing was said. But it was a moment when his maleness met  my femaleness and it felt so good to be alive and well in this great city of ours.

My dear twin brother would say ‘that silly man smiled at you because he thought you were stark raving bonkers’.

And maybe he’s right.

May 21, 2010


Filed under: Athena's musings — athenapallas @ 2:00 pm
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How is it that a short ageing man, his black t-shirt bulging over his far too tight belt,

his sparse hair limply falling over his face, his bristly cheeks undisguised, 

can engage the attention of a 21st century Aphrodite.

Tall and oh so slim, extravagant streaked hair  casually held in place with an unseen clip behind her head revealing the the face of a goddess, exquisite neck and shoulders smooth and creamy as alabaster, breasts hidded discreetly under a ribbed and scooped white top, her long body and legs underneath a floral skirt that swished alluringly as she walked between the tables in her soft grey leather boots.

Across the room an older woman, her greying hair cut short to disguise its texture, her large breasts covered by a cleverly draped black cardigan, was talking earnestly to  a modern Adonis.

He was not tall, but perfectly formed with skin that if she were to touch it would feel like the soft skin of her grandson. His dark eyes under darker eyebrows creased above a shortened Grecian nose,  his wet black hair carelessly caressed as he spoke. His red shirt was starting to open  in her presence and if she dared to look down she would have noticed the bulge in his, oh so tight, denim leggins.

He saw the older and the younger woman in her face. He saw her straight fair hair reaching all the way to her waist, the curve of her perfect breasts and her strong body standing firmly on shaped legs.  He saw her desire and her joy dancing with his energy as she talked with him. He wondered if she could ever believe in their coupling unmarred by stereotype and expectation……

He looked across the room at the pearly Aphrodite and smiled at her.

She smiled back as she gave the ageing Adonis his bill.

May 10, 2010

Beware of love messages scratched on old columns

Filed under: Athena's musings,Athena's ragings — athenapallas @ 5:47 pm
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My lost love returned today to tell me he loved another goddess.

How does Athena the virgin warrior goddess have a lost love?

The centuries are littered with Adonai who favoured her from time to time.

There was one God who won her heart.

He was  a son of  Apollo and  Aphrodite, who had caught him

gazing at her naked before she was about to couple with Adonis.

In punishment he was smitten with blindness, and when I met him

I swore one day he would see me clearly and love me forever.

I have watched over him for decades, mending his broken heart when others hurt him, whispering love words in his ear, stroking his tired limbs and making up special potions to help him believe that one day he would see.

Sometimes his rages would be so great or his grief so deep that I could not reach him.

So I went to other places where I was needed and I could do battle and win.

In all this time despite what I would say or think about him,  I loved him. He was not the most beautiful God I had known nor even the most powerful. When he loved me, my heart would melt and I would become like a child of Eros longing for undying devotion and erotic entanglement forever.

I thought I had  been cured of this malady of mine. However,when I read the message he had scratched on the column outside my temple, my heart lept and I ordered him to meet me.

He came and I hardly recognised him.

His head was bare, his eyes were open and it was not me he was seeing, it was the other.

Now he was no longer angry, now he could see clearly and now he no longer loved me.

I wanted to tear my aegis into a thousand pieces and throw cruel spikes in front of him where ever he walked. I wanted to rip off my helmet and my robe, utter the most heart rending cries ever heard across the universe or the centuries.

But I did nothing. I listened to his story and gave my version with a numb heart.

It was later that my heart opened enough to start to feel the relief and the freedom.

And when that happened real compassion for both of us started to emerge. 

What to do with that compassion has become my next mission.

April 16, 2010

Ancient Virtue or How a Bikie Taught Me a Hard Lesson

Filed under: Athena's musings — athenapallas @ 6:04 pm
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I have been searching for ancient beauty and virtue where ever I find myself and yet the essence of it eludes me.  I was leaving Temple of Zeus in despair  when I saw a chariot, with a silver helmet casually hanging on its post. Then  he was standing beside me, his face and stature like a Renaissance copy of one of our ancient sculptures. I thought  I knew this young man well, and many a nymph and goddess had recognised his beauty and talent.It was only in this moment that I knew who he truly was-  a  modern Adonis- conceived and born in love but raised in turmoil, he’d wandered the planet questioning and searching in the nether regions between Elysium and Erebus.

I’d been on journeys of my own through the decades since my own famous temple was built and a city was named after me. And in this time I’d lost him. I didn’t know him as a man or as a god. To me he was mine and mine alone and I was the one to counsel him and tell him what to do.. Now it was his turn:

‘Stop your ragings and your musings and listen to me, show me the respect that I show you.

Do not take advantage of my devotion to you because of who you are and what you have done for me.’

These stern words hurt me and pricked my pride.

Athena, the Warrior Goddess, the daughter of the mighty Zeus, Athena who was supposed to have the best of her father’s wisdom. I wanted to rage around the Universe and tell all its gods, beings and spirits how unfair it was.

I stood there with tears springing from my eyes and I knew he was right.

I needed to recognise his power, to see him clearly as he really was, the man I had raised and championed,

and who was not only my protege but so much more. A wise and compassionate man, a  god to be reckoned with, respected and consulted.

Ancient beauty and virtue,  I have found you at last.

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