Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Gloria mundi

Yes, yes, I knew all about it. Little black planet looping around the sun. See it now — or eight years ago — and never see it again. Though the 'seeing' would be so heavily mediated you may as well watch it on TV or a computer animation.

Still, once invited to a Transit of Venus party/fundraiser with readings and music, I started to take a bit more interest, not least because Joel would be on the performers' list.

I worked at home this morning, one eye on the sunny sky out the window; the other on the ipad streaming a shimmering image from the ABC science website. The camera angle adjusted occasionally, so it felt quite real, or at least, happening in real time, as the white numbers flickered and turned over. The sun appeared surprisingly solid, and the planet surprisingly determined as it made its way across.

At lunchtime I ran along the river, thinking about the insignificance of the little email worries and all the messy tangled business of our lives as the planets and stars wheeled above and around us. It clouded over as I went upstairs to change, and I listened to the radio. Someone said what I had heard a hundred times before, that the planet would not pass this way again in our lifetime, and I couldn't help give out a little sob. Suddenly, the whole momentousness of the occasion got the better of me.

I arrived at the party in the middle of a talk about the transit, but because it was sunny I was directed over the road to the little park opposite where there were a couple of big telescopes, binoculars and sun-watching glasses, all set up for safe transit-watching. I looked through them all, and could see the small black dot moving, this time against a chill white background. What colour is the sun, really? Molten lava or white hot?

Back in the house, I settled down in the front room for a sequence of readings: the Age columnist reading about the way that cats have changed her sense of self in the world; the poet performing and singing poems of love in honour of Venus; the singer singing of bodies, private and public; the music teacher and composer playing beautiful compositions, built around an urban, and then a coastal landscape. Then Joel introduced and played his version of Talking Heads' 'Once in A Lifetime,' moving in and around its familiar chant refrain with his own rhythms and flights. Last night he'd played this and Miles Davis' 'Solar', and the beginning of his own Transit composition for us at home, but today he just played this one piece. He is full of plans for the future, this year. What form will his jazz studies take next? For him, the future stretches out brightly. He may not see the transit of Venus again, but there will be no shortage of other transits and transitions.

As I sat and listened to everyone, the sun was streaming into the front room of the house, an old corner shop. Normally the blinds are down, as people walk along both sides of the house, but the room had that open, raw, clean feel when you take down the blinds and curtains that normally filter light. From my cosy chair I could look across the park to see people still huddled in coats peering into telescopes, and passers-by lining up to ask for a look, too, and putting in money to the jar for the Greens local government campaign, the International Women's Development Agency and Solaraid (solar panels for Africa). The wind lifted people's hair and the sun threw white light around the falling leaves and the yellowing winter grasses.

But inside, in the safety and warmth of the front room, the little glasshouse on the corner, when the clouds moved on, the black dot of Venus had no power to stop the flood of warmth and light into the room. Facing west in the afternoon sun, as Venus slipped off the sun and back into daylight invisibility, it was easy to close our eyes and basked in the beauty of words and music, friendship and community. Sic transit...

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