An ordinary word in your ear

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
A lockdown habit I’ve kept, as I walk along the lake track each day, is to take a camera snap of the expanse of beach at the start and the turning point, and send it to extraordinary friends in exotic places - Luggate, Wellington, Melbourne, writes columnist Liz Breslin.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

At the start, and/or at the end, I stand to the right of a parking bay and capture the mountains and the lake without people or trees, and at the turning point I stand by Emma’s sister’s stone bench and snap.

This week I learned a new word while walking and snapping. It came to me in a circuitous kind of way, via Oakland, Melbourne and Paris, as I listened to a podcast, as I walked, headphones in, because we’re back, now, on track, to cars louder than birds.

Sticking to the tracks is sometimes a thing. Following the orange Doc arrows can be a source of comfort, of measurement, of progress, and it’s easy to get into the same grooves on a home walk. Also, it’s boggy as muck when I try to make the lake-side way home.

It’s easy, convenient, to stay in line and tell a story. To stay on track and snap.

As I walked, headphones in, Jenny Odell described for the Melbourne Writers Festival how Georges Perec sat outside a different cafe for three days in a row in Paris’ Place Saint-Sulpice, noting the minutia of the everyday that may have been otherwise unremarkable and unremarked. It’s what he called infraordinary.

I have been dreaming since of the infraordinary pleasures of Paris as I know it. Double sugar cubes wrapped next to a tiny espresso cup. The look and the crush and the clank of feet on the holed metal steps of the Eiffel Tower. Gum marks tiny on wide avenues.

Dreaming makes me miss things, and miss things. Thinking about the infraordinary over a few days and a few walks, this happened. I started taking photos of other parts of my walk. A lawn with shadows and lake steam. A toetoe in the dusk. A black rock, a pink hill. None of them hero shots. I sent them to Luggate, Wellington, Melbourne. It’s all connected and I want to connect.

I snapped at blackbirds, gravel flashes, accidental driftwood bridges. And then I put my phone away.

This might have had something to do with something Jenny Odell said about not only noticing that it is all connected, but noticing how it’s all connected. Though I’m not sure I noticed this point properly in my ears, being distracted by a dog and their jogger and how they both ran the same.

I like the way this new word, this new thing, the infraordinary, works against the exhortations of the Dead Poets and Living Wellness Societies of seizing all the days and making everything extraordinary and extraordinarily broadcasted. I like the way the word ordinary itself is connected to the double wrapped sugar by the fact that they both have French roots. The ordinary is the regulatory. The extra- is the currency of making it all count. The infra-, then, is some kind of sliding under the radar of rule, some kind of redirection of attention at the base of it all.

I have not read, yet, Jenny Odell’s book about How to Do Nothing, because I have been unbusier and unbusier doing more of nothing, but I notice, now, how something is nothing is everything as I walk. And the irony, that it takes a voice via Oakland, Paris and Melbourne, that it takes the reach of all the socials of media, to remind myself to notice the infra-ordinary, is as delicious as the laughter of ducks.


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