Archive for June, 2010

Spies: Just Like in the Movies

Russian spies are back in vogue, it seems. The question is, has anything changed?

Last week, Yours Truly was treated to the Brisbane preview of the gripping French spy thriller, “Farewell”. This week, it was almost as if life were imitating art, with the dramatic arrests of alleged Russian spies or sleeper agents, on American soil: Russian Spy Ring.

“Farewell” is an engaging and intelligent film, which is easy to watch and hard to forget. It even pokes fun at the French, which makes it laugh-out-loud funny in places (early in the film). The chilling realism of that era in Communist Russia, however, is deeply unsettling. Anyone who’s feeling apathetic about democracy should see the film.

The movie is based on fact (Google: “The Farewell Dossier”) and gives viewers an eye-opening understanding of the why and how of the Soviet Union’s rapid collapse at the end of the Cold War. For more detail, see Farewell Movie review. Please note that the scriptwriters took some liberties with the characterization of the hero (Vladimir Vetrov, who is Grigoriev in the movie), making him much nicer than he probably was.The film ignores that he likely stabbed his mistress to death (in the car scene) while intoxicated and that his imprisonment related to this rather than to the much nobler reason presented in the film. Still, as far as anyone can tell, before being imprisoned for murder, he did leak the information to the French and Americans, which in turn helped unhinge the Soviet Union. The reason the world had the opportunity to find out the truth or approximate truth about this point in history, may have a lot to do with the hero’s bragging in prison. After all, what’s success, when nobody else can admire you for it? But then, how can we ever know for sure when the lives of spies are built lie upon lie and oppressive regimes are lies grown large?

The agents who were arrested in America this week, had been embedded in communities and working towards a singular goal for about a decade – that the government admits to knowing of, anyway. In the context of having seen “Farewell” and read some of the historical background to the film, I’ll admit to feeling a tad nervous about this new turn of events. I’ll also confess to feeling some concern about the timing of the arrests. Was it a case of QUICK LOOK OVER THERE!? while the flailing Obama administration tries to look tough and pull itself together on other unpopular domestic disasters? After all, these agents were under observation for about a decade. Why the sudden rush to make it public (not that I’m suggesting America starts arresting people in cognito)? Maybe Obama needed a clear excuse to back away from the difficult relationship between the countries, which was compromising America’s moral authority as well as its geo-political supremacy. Handing olive branch after olive branch to a big bear is going to get you eaten, eventually, even if the big bear seems a thin shadow of its former self. On the back of Russia’s growing mineral wealth and strategic alliances, the Putin bear is bulking up again…

Politicians know there’s nothing like a well-timed, stage-managed crisis to get the public behind them. But how could I say such a thing? Of course, Mr Obama just had hamburgers with the Russian Premier this week. Maybe it was Obama’s sense of humour as well as his sense of timing, in offering his visitor what is known as a “Hell Dog” or “Hell Burger” (because of the chillies) only days before busting this spy ring in the open. Mr Obama, the Hell Burgers will go down a treat in the film adaptation of your presidency. I’ll buy popcorn for that one…

I guess the world can only hope that Mr Obama knows what he’s doing and that he’s getting better advice than Hillary did when she gave the Russians a box with a red button in it and a dodgy translation. “Reset” indeed. It’s certainly starting to feel cold again….

The Meaning of Stuff

June 29, 2010 1 comment

Life seems to be preoccupied with stuff – the yearning for it, the pursuit of it, the acquisition, maintenance and the disposal of it.

If I were a bleached Brit rather than an Aussie, I might’ve called this piece, “The Joys and Sorrows of Possessions”, or “Possession Anxiety” and written 60,000 words to prove it. However, being the hardened pragmatist from the far-flung colonies, I shall persevere with “The Meaning of Stuff” and keep it short enough to read with coffee and several biscuits.

“Domestic Goddess”, “Spotless” and “No More Clutter” were but three of the most necessary but overlooked books rediscovered during our most recent house move. Their mere reappearance at that moment known as TOO LATE screamed F for fail. Did I think that the books would do the work for me? Perhaps. These self-help books related to the most challenging phase of possession obsession, namely the maintenance phase. Upon reflection, I was hot for the love of the chase in terms of possession relations, but unequivocally cool about what followed. Given the number of self-help books available, I was certain that I wasn’t alone in this guilt.

I’d had a week from the contract going unconditional to when it settled – a week to reorganise life from living big to living decidedly smaller. Being reminded of the old adage of Position Position Position was no comfort at all when not even half of our stuff would fit into the new-old place with views.

Fortunately, we’d had help galore from the long-suffering team known simply as “family”. They’d moved us that many times that really, we should all be good at it by now.

On a night when we could do no more and the new address was unbearably tight with boxes and stacked furniture, family stuck around and the great-grandmothers came to inspect and trip on things. All we needed was another four chickens inside (thanks to Miss Six), the six-kilo cat inside (thanks to Miss Nine) and the poodle-cross (or cross-poodle) to come home from grand-dad’s for a parole visit (after killing the last chicks) – thanks to the Auntie Who Thinks Of Everything. To use the choice vocabulary of last week’s Prime Minister (Mr Rudd), the place looked like it had been hit by a major shit-storm. Put another way, the moment was memorably execrable.

Once the elders who couldn’t hold their grog had left the building, we pulled out the champagne for the younger help, to see if it made us feel any better. One bottle at a time was opened, with nary a *pop*. Our pre-emptive celebrations were being thwarted and we should’ve taken it as an omen. Undeterred, we left the fourth bottle of champers in the fridge (we couldn’t take any more disappointment in one day), passed on the expired desserts and drank wine instead. We went to bed telling each other that things would surely be better tomorrow.

However, the next day manifested more angst, carrying on about how much stuff there was to move and how little time was left, particularly as the buyers were insisting on partially moving in before settlement. By the afternoon, the lone, brave and completely pissed off family member who remained with me through thick and thin (while Hubby and others returned to work), tied up the last trailer load for the day. We drove in a slow caravan of two 4WDs towing trailers. Nanna walked to bingo faster. Yet, it happened…. The big brown cargo bag (the type that gets tied to roof-racks) slipped off the second trailer and within the half an hour that it took us to realise, someone had picked it up. To this day, it is gone – four days and counting.

Out of everything that could’ve gone missing (and in 8 house moves in 15 years, nothing ever had), it had to be the bag with all the irreplaceable stuff – the pre-digital age wedding albums, baby albums from 1972 onwards, school photos from 1978 onwards, personal memorabilia, the original framed poem Rupert McCall wrote for me as a prize (which I’d had dedicated to my parents), childhood diaries… The things that had been protected for so many years, were gone.

Ringing the police every day and driving the route with eyes wide open scored nothing. It was when Hubby and I were tying up LOST signs on street poles and bus stops on what was the coldest night of winter, that I realised that I would’ve preferred to have lost something more tangible – a fridge, a couch – pretty much anything but the contents of that bag. While couches and fridges conjure up memories of how and when they were acquired, that miserable brown bag contained our whole family history – it was a recollection and celebration of our memories for when our memories fail us.

But then, while stringing up those signs with rigidly cold fingers, I had a thought about families who’d had to post LOST signs, in search of missing relatives, presuming they were dead, but hoping that they were not. With that sort of perspective, a person can pretty much let go of anything and still feel lucky.

So, in what was a physically and emotionally harrowing week, I learned something very important. In short, asset management is everything – otherwise the stuff we go to so much effort to accumulate becomes meaningless. We need good people around us to share the moments to attach significance to the stuff and as noted with the flat champagne times three episode, we can’t wait too long to share it – otherwise, all we’re left with is… stuff all ….