By Alex Miller
Edited by Sophie Cunningham
So I get on the train and sit beside the writer Carmel Bird and we talk. Talking, we get around to favourite authors. I tell Carmel when I’m reading the works of the Polish writer Hanna Krall I know why I write and when I stop reading her I slip back into my usual state of uncertainty and doubt. I’ve been trying to contact Hanna Krall for a couple of years, I say. I’ve written to her English publishers and to people in Warsaw and the States. They have all been very polite but no help. I went to Poland to research the youth of a dear friend whose life I wish to celebrate. Poland, I say, resisted me. It remained closed to my efforts. ‘I feel as if I’ll never find someone who knows Hanna Krall.’
Carmel says, I know someone who knows Hanna Krall. I’ll send him an email. (I’m speechless).
The following day I get an email from Carmel giving me Stefan Ehrenkreutz’s phone number. I call Stefan. He asks me, so what is it you want to do? I tell him, I’m going to write a book celebrating the life of my old friend Max Blatt. Max, I say, was a German Jewish Socialist intellectual who lived in Breslau and resisted the Nazis. I tell him I’m going to Breslau – which is now Wroclaw and is in Poland these days and is no longer in Germany. I say I would also like to contact the Polish author Hanna Krall. I ask if he has heard of her. Stefan is enthusiastic about the project and says at once he will give me an introduction to people in Poland who know Hanna and who will talk to me when I get to Wroclaw in May. I say to him, This is amazing for me, Stefan. Poland has stayed closed to me, even when I visited. Well, he says, there is a time when these things open for us, Alex. I say, that time is now, Stefan, this moment, talking to you. Poland is opening for me!
On Saturday I’m out shopping with my wife Stephanie and we run into the author Robyn Annear and her partner David Bannear.
We’re outside Fig cafe so we decide to go in and have a coffee. Robyn tells me about a video she has made for Carmel Bird’s web page. So of course I spill the beans and tell Robyn how Carmel has connected me to Poland and to Hanna Krall in a way I could not have imagined. Oh yes, Robyn says, Carmel is the magical connector.
Living in Castlemaine this is what happens. It’s typical of this town. I search the world unsuccessfully for a connection then by pure chance I sit next to Carmel on the 9.47 to Melbourne on a Tuesday morning and she calmly connects me. As if this is what she does. When I tell her two days later I have received a lovely warm response from Hanna Krall to my email, she tells me she is moved by this. These connections forming the bonds of friendship! Robyn is right. It is magical. It is Castlemaine. It is community. I have never known it so richly as I know it here.
Of course there is also another side to Castlemaine, as there it to the Moon, the dark side. I may speak of that dark side later, here we’re on the sunny side.