Thursday 17 April 2003


What does this mean? That I arrive home from having my new car washed to discover that, while I was sitting in the carwash cafe, sipping a flat white and reading the last hundred pages of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, Burningbird was momentarily trapped in a carwash.

Carwash, Cleveland Street, Redfern

What an odd coincidence. I hadn’t owned a car and hadn’t been near a carwash since 1991; but last week a close friend of my mother gave me a 1990 Daihatsu Charade (you can see it in the photograph, beyond the tables—a man in a red coat is shampooing the seat covers).

I don’t really need a car, since I chose where I live very carefully: close to shops, restaurants, swimming pool, hospital, movie theaters, university library, parks. The railway station is a seven minute walk; eight different bus routes pass within five minutes of my house. Whenever I did need a car, I borrowed my mother’s or my sister’s or, most conveniently, Natsuko’s, since she’s only a twenty minute walk away. But Natsuko’s dilapidated Nissan gave up the ghost a few months ago and she’s been at me since then to split the cost of “a five thousand dollars car.”

The Daihatsu turned out to be a five hundred dollars car ($510 actually—US$314 or €287): $343 for some minor repairs, $37 to transfer the registration, $40 for a resident parking permit, and $90 for the deluxe wash, polish, and interior clean—including a “free” cup of coffee. The car seems mechanically fine, it just needed sprucing up.

Reading WG Sebald's Austerlitz at the carwashAlthough the carwash manager told me I’d only have to wait an hour, the job wound up taking twice that long. I didn’t mind. I finished Austerlitz just a few minutes before he came to tell me the car was ready. For those couple of hours I was utterly content, for it’s the last part of the book with which I identify most strongly: Austerlitz’s visit to the Theresienstadt ghetto where his mother was interned, his journey from Prague through Germany to Paris, his failed relationship with Marie de Verneuil (and their unhappy sojourn at Marienbad), his obsessive viewing of the film of Theresienstadt made by the SS, his nervous collapse after visiting the museum of veterinary medicine in the grounds of the Ecole Vétérinaire, his attempts to find in the records of the Bibliothèque Nationale a trace of his vanished father. But, most of all, his yearning for Marie de Verneuil.

WG Sebald's Austerlitz, page 378

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Presumably the nervous collapse following the Ecole Veterinaire was precipitated by realising that he'd missed a wonderful opportunity for a great career - I am one and I know! Actually, of course, you would know - isn't EVERYONE in Australia a vet - or is it just the people who come to England?

Love your website (first visit)

Posted by wembley on 28 April 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour