Paris, 1 December.
The streets smell of pine trees and revolution.
This year the snow came early and the rain has come late, so the streets are slick and grey but the temperatures have climbed back into the mild double digits. The lights have been hung and lit; in the Place de la Contrescarpe a canopy of gold and silver is reflected in the surrounding windows. Outside florists and supermarkets, squat Christmas trees line up neatly in height order, dusting the wet concrete in pungent needles.
On the Champs-Elysées, the flickering of December lights is more orange than usual, bright against the smoke. In the Place de la Bastille they’ve built windrows out of felled lampposts.
Little Manu, such a star performer on the international stage, has graduated at home from simmering suspicion to violent disgust. The head of state, it seems, did not bother to wipe the cake crumbs from his chin before raising the price of bread, and outside his palace the people are baying for his blood.
When it started, when those first high-vis vests began to block roads, I did not look too closely. I’ve become accustomed to the regularity of protests here but for the most part they still bemuse me, a cacophonous reminder of the distance between this culture and mine. After the last violence, in May, I had become more dubious of the value of manifestations that could be co-opted by the casseurs, those cause agnostics who capitalise on any opportunity to smash, and to burn, and to destroy.
A fuel tax? I thought from the smug comfort of my inner-city flat and my walking commute. That might be a good idea.
And then as I read, and listened, and the gilets jaunes bore down on the Arc de Triomphe, the whole frustrated, unequal, complex camel beneath the straw came into focus.
It was fuel that started the fire, but it was not what made it burn.
Queensland, 2 December.
My mother packs photo albums into her car, just in case.
Water bombers make throaty passes overhead en route to the bushfire that is bearing south towards the village and its surrounds. It’s 35 degrees and wind is stirring. Months without rain have sucked dry holes in the creek and slowly starved the earth and everything on it. A bolt of lightning started the fire, weeks ago, but it’s not the lightning that makes it snap hungrily at trees and fencelines.
My mother promises to keep me updated and I hang up the phone, wash last night’s mascara off my cheeks, walk to work through the quiet city listening to ABC Local Radio via the internet to hear the half-hourly warning updates. During a Board meeting I robotically write down everything that’s said because I know I’m retaining none of it. Every few minutes, on the Emergency Services website, I refresh the list of active warnings and have to scroll, and scroll, and scroll, before I find the one that worries me.
Mid-morning Paris time, the wind changes and the warning is downgraded. Fight is winning; flight is, for now at least, no longer advised.
Paris, 3 December.
Eight days into eleven straight days of work, a poorly worded email makes me cry.
It’s been an intense year, urgent, unrelenting, punctuated with more than my share of genuine highs. But it’s been tough, too, particularly professionally, and I’m bone tired.
I’ve learnt a lot this year, not about who I am but about why. About how I got to where I am and just how far I still am from where I long to be. There have been no life-changing events in 2018 but I feel fundamentally altered, all the same. I’m worn out from digging, and uncovering, in search of bedrock on which to build.
I’m going home, soon, for a month. Home to my charred country, to my family, to a place where I look and sound unremarkable, to the straightforwardness I once fled and now, exhausted, crave. To the chirping of the bush and the sighing of the Pacific and the comforting murmur of Test match coverage. To rekindle my energy.
I’m looking forward to taking everything I’ve learned this year and laying it out under the sun. Letting it dry out. Seeing what happens.