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Piriye Altraide: Memory in Colour

Piriye Altraide: Memory in Colour

One of our 2018 Writers-in-Residence shares their reflection on Ensemble Sacamano's musical re-telling of Edgar Allen Poe’s 'Masque of Red Death'.

Last year Melbourne Recital Centre launched its inaugural Writer-in-Residence program, welcoming Australian author and journalist Chloe Hooper who shared her thoughts and responses to a range of events at the Centre and curated in-depth interviews with artists including Paul Grabowsky and Pieter Wispelwey. This year, we are partnering with the Emerging Writers Festival and introduce three diverse female writers on the rise who are already making their mark on Australia’s literary landscape. 

Piriye Altraide is a poet and writer of hybrid non-fiction. She is interested in translating art between forms and combining spoken word poetry with the traditional academic lecture formats.

This piece also features a musical underscore. Click play on the sound bar above and start reading.

Memory in Colour

She wore red. 

The night before she finishes with four pieces of clothing and a painful dent in her bank account and the sales assistant says, “Wear this one to your concert tomorrow. Wear this one.” Pointing to the red.

Red earrings, red boots, red nail polish (shellac that tore her nails away, and they didn’t grow back for two years. Great while it lasted though), red dresses – long, short, winter, summer. Red woollen cap (winter), red jacket, red bangle (not worn near enough times. That, and the red jacket), red skivvies, red shirts, red on jumpers red red red.

She remembers the red cardy she bought in Bristol, England, all those eons ago it seems now (in 2012), from a store she could not return to (at least, not cost-effectively). And it was just perfect for everything, until she lost it that stupid New Years’ Eve back in Perth. As the earth turned into its 2014th year AD. The night where it was impossible to get a taxi. Where she followed home that pill-popping guy (so stupid now!) against all better judgement. Somewhere along that route that journey she lost it. Could never find one like it.

Ever again.

Fashion as an integral part of self. (The point was not to look like everybody else anyway.) Fashion as expressed by colour, as an expression of the inner. Colour chosen as an outward expression of the inner. The choice to consistently wear colour. Colour as a way to speak. Colour as a way to maximise blessings, gifts.

She wore red.

Red earrings from Ukraine (she continues to recount) because she wanted something to remember the beautiful country by. Red like cherries—a garland. A garland a shape of a neck; a neck on a necklace; a necklace on a neck on a necklace.

She had a favourite pair of red shoes – a suede pair purchased in Brisbane (London Rebel – she had never heard of the brand until then). She wore them all the time for work until they were properly and adequately worn-through. Sides scuffed, under-material revealed. Letting go, only at that over-loved staged. Letting go only ever at that over-loved stage. And even then it’s heartbreak.

Every item has a story. (The aim was not to be like anybody else, anyway.)

Memory as associated to items, as to the story held in the colour. Story as associated to colour. The colour as the reason why. Memory as colour, music as colour. This was a form of synaesthesia also: numbers appearing as colours. For example, the numerals of years: 1993 as yellow; 1994 as brown; 1995 as blue; 1996, green; 1997, orange; 1998 as black; 1999, gold; 2000, silver.

And then it stops, or repeats (or does it?) But no red.

Red as danger. The red-back spider with its warning red stripe. Like the first time she saw one in the backyard, just having read about them. Thinking it not to be true, and how magnificent and terrifying at the same time. The poison berries, red and bright. Animals with infrared vision, sensing heat, sensing red. These she read about and watched also. Red stop signs, red-hot fire warnings in that red, dry place. Red on red upon red.

Red dirt roads on their way up to Geraldton. Red on the tyres, on the bottom of the silver Nissan Pulsar. Red rocks as they took pictures of red in Kalbarri. (The greenest water she’d ever seen. The bluest sky.) Wondering why she’d waited so long for the north of the west of this country. For the red and the dirt.

Red as fast – the 1983 Mercedes shipped over when they first arrived in this land. The fantastic heating it had (purchased in Scotland), the non-existent air conditioning (again, purchased in Scotland). Red as emotion. Panic situations often causing her to make outlandish statements she wasn’t sure she believed. How to stop that panic button? That large round red button.

She wore red to the concert. A red death. Everybody staring. “Why are you here?”

They ask through their eyes. 

Red: the bull, seeing red, the raging bull, el toro, el toro loco, the red on the bottle of red the bull for España and red for country for all countries for blood or for life for land for red the red the sand the dust it blows on car wheels on shins on heels on red. For fury for fire for red-hot in the centre of desert central red for flaming for red, for me—is the colour is heart an organ is what I wear the colour of lips the layers above flesh fill blood vessels bleed red know human know alive when all is made … of red: the core of the earth fast ask danger questions, with eyes. When 1989 when maps still showed USSR still showed Soviet was there something there to do with red? Red curtain? Red fist? Red symbols all together red passion of few pushing fear of many what did it represent what was the red? Comprehension exercises when a teeny person, when six, in the school, comprehension exercises at primary school, international school, there would be a red herring – someone wrote about herrings and Harry Potter there was something else to do with red, the letters of Jesus in red… made the ink seem softer, made it gentler, against stark black and white and when you saw so gently with a gasp there amongst it all those letters delicately printed as red. 

Red, a blood, a sacrifice a red: a symbol of peace. (A symbol of peace.)

(Peace.) Whether eyes ask questions or not.

She wore red. 

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