I’m in love. I’m reading Parrot & Olivier in America by Australian Peter Carey. I’m thinking about the book all the time, taking it to bed, and not wanting our relationship to ever end. Carey’s books have a crazy reckless energy that I associate with Australians in general (oh, my old friend Pippi Woodger!), and this one pops with the same fizz. The book follows the unlikely friendship between a late 18th century Alexis de Tocqueville-like aristocrat and his servant, Parrot, conscripted to follow his master to America to spy on him.
Parrot’s life has not been his own. Terrorized and tricked by those older and more powerful, he’s been shipped around the globe, forced to leave behind family and lovers. In this passage, Parrot recalls his time in New South Wales, where he was sent as an innocent boy on a convict ship. Home is England to him, where he left behind no one, his mother having died and his father hung for forgery.
Being a transplant myself, I’m touched by Parrot’s riff on home and thinking a lot about wasted time. So I send this out to all the other transplants. And also to those who have had to listen to transplants sing the glories of their home city/state/country.
“I had a wife, a child, a home, but for all that I did not understand it was my home. She, my wife, would not call it home either. All around us everyone was the same— soldiers, convicts, even captains with their holds stock-full of rum. Home did not mean here. That was elsewhere. When will we be in our real home at last, we asked each other. We manured the earth, she and I, and grew cabbage, and toasted the tails of kangaroo, and held each other through the entire night, breathing that perfume that lies on the skin of young boys and girls. We swam at night, bare as God made us. We gathered oysters from the rocks and shucked their living juices down our cruel and eager throats. We laughed and farted. We had fevers and were well. We were at home, while waiting to go home, while missing home. We looked up at that cobalt sky, and out at the ultramarine seas, not seeing their beauty but only the cold empty distance between us and home. And so we made our lives, pining all the while.”