Cobargo. Saturday, 5.45pm:
SHE is a beautiful woman.
She stands in light rain in front of my tent, a traditional Asian bamboo and paper umbrella raised against a bank of grey, muscular clouds that tumble over the mountains looming behind her.
She is not young.
Her beauty isn't the unearned bounty that is heaped carelessly upon the young by the urgency of species propagation, but rather a beauty crafted from a life spent living; an elegance shaped by experience.
Despite the wind of an impending storm that has sent tents into a flap; despite the mud that is everywhere here in the Cobargo Folk Festival camping area; despite the rain that comes in unpredicatble barrages this way and that, she is untouched by weather or dirt. Only the corner of her scarf, the hem of her white dress and a lock of her hair acknolwedge the wind with occasional movement. But her clothes admit no concession to mud, dirt or rain. Incredibly, they are spotless.
She stands perfectly still. She is like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey -unmistakably, undeniably there. Except she smiles.
Her smile is from an old painting. Renaissance perhaps. It's not a sly grin or a closed laugh or a smirk, but rather a seriffed turn of the lips that is as intriguing as it is happy. Not quite Mona Lisa but closer to that than the toothy sham of a poltician, the leer of a celebrity or the beam of an advertiser.
She just stands there, listening to me talk. Maybe I have bored to her to a comatose state. That happens. I'm talking about about a percussionist I saw last night at one of the venues - a young bloke with impossibly flexible wrists. I blubber on - blah, blah, blah - because I'm distracted by her sudden emergence from the rain and wind.
She is still.
Around her is movement. Campers run about securing tent ropes and hammering pegs. Rogue pieces of plastic and paper hitch rides on the skittish winds to land on fluttering tarps, only to be snapped back into the air. A Harley chugs loudly down the dirt track with a pink-haired woman strumming a ukelele behind a bikie bloke with a rainbow-coloured beard.
Lightning tears the tableau behind her, ripping the air apart, illuminating the clouds and leaving blue blobs floating across my eyeballs. I jump - and am startled to silence.
She doesn't move.
"I play the fan," she says.
What? Have I mistaken simple mindedness for zen elegance? Is this coded sex talk? Is she a festival looney tune? (Lord knows there are some...)
From within the fold of her white silk jacket she pulls out a red fan and snaps it open with a crack that is clearly heard above the wind and brass of the storm orchestra.
Then, raising a knee (and standing there perfectly balanced on one leg), she closes the fan almost but not quite fully and plays it between her hand and leg - like she was playing the spoons. But different.
She runs the fan across her knuckles. She grabs the fan momentarily between beats. She flicks it open and closed in a syncopated flourish.
It sounds like angels' wings brushing against a wall; like chopsticks falling to ground; like fruit bat sneezes; like the shiverings of an acid trip.
With a final flourish the fan explodes open and shut and disappears back into the folds of her clothes.
In the silence that follows her performance - a deep silence unaffected by the wild storm - her eyes flash like lightning.
She starts towards the festival, gliding over the mud and hay, perhaps elevated just slighty by her umbrella so her sandals remain unmuddied.
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