Bread and Circus

By Pavle Radonic

Briefly on Orchard picking up Paul olive & pomidoro, two small croissants with the dahl from Wadi fixing two vegetarian suppers. Up/down the escalators at Takashimaya, omitting Kinokuniya’s coloured piles, piped music and antiseptic. That could be left for another day. Crossing for Paragon, where virtue and honour immediately infused passing across the threshold. (Wondrous dizzying all-overcoming gumption. You smile through your teeth.) Muji third floor, essential oil shelves middle row by the cashier, door-girl having deserted her post making it easier. No surprise the ylang ylang was still not replaced; no-one was checking. Bummer. Ten days/two weeks now. Japanese Cypress gave a fine taste of the forest, but today the choice would fall on Rosemary, that would do just fine. Staunch, loyal ruzmarin, always good to find you there among the crowd; in the preparation for Greece more than fitting. Early days Bab had planted three or four shrubs and for the house down the road we added them in the garden beds front & rear. On the recent trip back down a couple of the older Yugo visitors had bent outside the Studio door to rub and savour the scent. Svjeta bilka, holy bush, both Orthodox and Catholics agreed. Perhaps two/three mil. the length of both forearms, right the way from elbows to wrists. In order to manage properly the bread needed to be placed on a lower shelf. There were no cameras and staff was busy. It would be embarrassing to be lectured by the manager and escorted from the premises; not that there was any illegality involved. Samples were for sampling, your Honour, right? . . . Even quality oils retained their scents not much more than an hour here—liberal lashings were needed. Escalators down past the shopping bags, the hand-holders and bored spoilt children, on the street clinging to the walls for cover. With the bread held on an imaginary tray a figure for those watching the panama pass along the walkway. Time was now arrived for lightening of spirits, granting levity and abandon rule! . . . In the right mood just a few metres on toward the bus-stop the festival of the street could be joined here in one’s own fashion. Particular days there was a juggler down at the lower level, fountains, vetted buskers, pretty maids outfitted by their madams. Some few steps on, Voila! The canny French musketeer’s creation on the upper concourse out front of Mui Mui toward the first service lane. It was impossible to pass through that section of Orchard without pausing for a moment’s appreciation, a brief delectation like patting a pretty poodle newly emerged from its grooming. Atop the black marble plinth the silver and pink globes took their customary couple of elegant loops that failed the link of the heart. Missed by a whisker. An admiring passer-by drew the link oneself here in the act of affirmation the sculptor had allowed his audience, the lovers, shoppers and the infirm pushed in their chairs, the businessmen en route to their deals and escorts their clients. The proportions were judged right; affairs of the heart should not  clamour too loudly. With children along the path too increasing the size here brought risks that the planners had anticipated. (Some of the playgrounds and exercise yards at the base of the HDBs included not dissimilar structures, in like colours in fact, if not the very tones.) Fairy floss and the fairground was strongly evoked; the lightness of Youth’s free abandon. Pulsing emotion coursed through those prongs like electric current and set spirits afloat for the challenging journey onward. $180k+ was the reported commission won by the French galant. Brilliant coup, the man should be credited. Materials, colour, proportion, the appraisal of the client and site, all judiciously weighed. The chap had pieces in either the Palace of Versailles, or the Gardens and grounds. Numerous artwork ran the length of the strip here right up to the embassy quarter at the top end, all approved by the same committee of management—street sculptures, ceramic installations, novelty items, the wheelchair keyboard uncle who performed one side of the road and the new guitarist on the other delivering muted R&B gospel. Award-winning Orchard Road was a great magnet for the Indo, the Malaysian, the Thai and Chinese political and military class, the industrial and agri barons who furnished their homes from the showrooms of Ikon, Tangs and Paragon. Orchard mixed it with Bond Street, Champs  Élysées and Times Square. Up the top end the street-art was spaced 25 – 30m. It was only at the stop awaiting the bus for the return, picking at the bread and chewing the cud, that the street banners fluttering high along the roadway either side were noticed. What did we have here, a circus was it really coming to town? Did the eyes deceive? It needed a moment to confirm and another to digest. A circus. Truly. Here in the midst of the cleanliness, the void decks, the garden beds and the hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres of sheltered walkways? A ground-breaking centre of malls, digitisation, innovation and automation was bringing a circus to their town. It could only be the traditional affair under a proper big top, with trapeze artists, fire-breathers, strongmen and clowns. Elephants and galloping horses in a sandy ring perchance. Certainly there would be a ringmaster in his top-hat and tails. Remarkable. Who would have thought. How would parents and teachers explain such sights in the days ahead to the children? There were still open fields on the island where tents could be erected, even around the Orchard precinct where the audience for this circus could be found. Community, religious and political events were common under canvas in SG. We were not done yet either. Hang on a cottonpickin’ minute. No! There was more still coming this way. On a closer look alternating with the circus banners were others telling of the old favourite sing-a-long EVITA soon to open on these shores, the popular opera featuring the hit song. Similar colour in the advertising made it difficult to distinguish between the banners at first. Old Juan’s lovely, tragic Evita in her radiant skin and curls. The Singaporeans would be able to manage the lyrics. Political packaging that was perfectly suited for the local market—the costuming, trilling tunes, the stage-set raised high. Domestic and tourist markets both with the very same stone. Weekends the crush on Orchard was said to be something to behold, filling even the great forecourt at the base of Takashimaya that always looked problematic weekdays and recalled the European rallies of the 30s.

Singapore 2011 – 2019


Australian by birth and Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic has lived in Southeast Asia for seven years. His previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals and magazines, most recently Entropy, Map Literary, Ambit, Big Bridge, Linnet’s Wings, Anti-Languorous Project, Citron Review and Orca Journal.

Image: Jean-Michel Othoniel‘s “Noeud Rouge,” Paragon, Singapore, photograph by Pavle Radonic.