Many years ago I struggled over French philosophers and terms like ‘metonym’. The example to explain it was always something about fleets and ships and I would get lost in images of looming grey warships parked at Garden Island, their war navigation technology twirling and twisting over their decks. Correct me if I’m still wrong, but my understanding of metonym is that it is where you use one word to represent something to which it is related. Two images vie in my mind for metonym of the week. One is the sight of cockatoos in a bottlebrush, systematically, wilfully, wastefully stripping the tree of its luxuriant flowers, nipping off each branch and letting the flowers drop to a blood-red mass on the road below. The other – and maybe it is in essence saying the same thing in its metonymy – is the Opera House.
It has been a week of outrage over the pimping of the Opera House to the horse racing industry and Alan Jones. It may be seen as a drama worthy of an opera house, but is so much more distressing than entertaining, from the current prime minister proclaiming the Opera House ‘Sydney’s biggest billboard’ to Alan Jones, a radio commentator, suggesting he can ask the premier to sack a public servant – and everything in between.
The silver lining in this cloud is the avalanche of letters to the Sydney Morning Herald. Apart from the couple in support – parroting the parrots with their ‘take a chill pill’ line – a quieter form of bullying that dismisses an opposing opinion by implying the speaker is hysterical – many of the rest point out the differences between this current use of the sails and previous uses. I’ve seen it blue, and pink; covered in paisley patterns and butterflies; I’ve seen it with ‘No War’ gallantly painted on its sails, the red paint dripping. I came to my first viewing of the projections for Vivid unwittingly, sitting at the Opera Bar after a film, startled to see swirling colours where I was used to seeing white.
I’ve seen the Opera House as the backdrop to an opera (walking along dark paths overhung with trees, our way lit by fairy lights, the Botanic Gardens as I’ve never seen them before, I emerge into a clearing with an amphitheatre of seats, the set out in the cove and beyond, the Opera House, ready to dissolve into the background as Egypt is conjured on the stage and the fruit bats flap lazily overhead); I’ve sat in the opera hall for opera and the concert hall for concerts (these days we have the seats at the front, so close you can see the conductor’s baton and singers’ sweat – our approach is navigated, along the smooth path in the forecourt that becomes evident within the more gappy, bumpy pavers, up the lift then through the green room, where people uncostumed eat meat pies and chicken wraps); I’ve sat on those steps and watched concerts and ‘events’ (a car, smashed by a boulder; a bath filled with milk; Tim Minchin’s mad energy); I see it dissolving in rain or glistening with sun every time I take the ferry. Its sails tell me where I am on the harbour. It has, without me realising, become a part of my life.
But back to metonyms. My favourite letter was the shortest, from Barbara Simmons of Mirador. It reads in full, ‘Oh Sydney: all fur coat and no knickers.’