Sunday, February 23, 2014

BACK FROM THE LAND DOWN UNDER

Blue Mountains
                                           

On Thursday, we returned from our visit to Australia and one of the consequences of traveling across date lines, miles and seasons is that I am now wide awake at 3:15 am.  No point calculating what time my body thinks it is though, because I have the impulse to share my impressions.  I learned a lot on my wonderful visit - but bear in mind we went only to Sydney and Melbourne.

 IT'S FURTHER THAN YOU THINK
 Though your plane is zooming for hours at 875 mph, the journey itself is an actual place. You board a plane at Dulles and the season is deep winter. You fly for six hours to LAX -and transfer to Auckland - a trip which takes eleven hours.  You read and doze and watch endless films and you are on a journey that may last forever. Don't bother to figure out what time of day you think it is.  Go with the flow.   Because after Auckland, which you thought was basically next door - it's another three plus hours to Sydney - and yet another time change. You skip one day entirely.   But it's no longer winter when you arrive in woolies like a wooly mammoth.  Your beloved son Alex will greet you at the airport in shorts and flip flops. That's how long it takes to get there.

 SYDNEY LOOKS LIKE CALIFORNIA. BUT ISN'T
The hills of Sydney are reminiscent of San Francisco, and the views of San Francisco Bay from Sausalito. But when you stroll round Sydney Harbor down the many wonderful paths, there's more than a whiff of Captain Cook. The harbor's massive.  And wild. And dangerous looking in places. You get the sense that some of this will never be tamed.  But the shops are smaller and the houses are smaller  and their awnings make it quaint.  The charming houses with wrought iron balconies, and rubber plants in front gardens remind you this is a different place with different priorities.  It's warmer than San Francisco, and the people dress more casually.  There are a lot of white people who are very tanned. It's a city with a beach and radio culture. 

NO WORRIES
The ethos is different - the impression more innocent and old fashioned.  The people we met were absolutely without pretension. There's no stressing - no hurry. "No worries," they say. It takes a lot longer to order restaurant food and get served -but nobody except you cares or notices. They're too busy sipping flat whites and chatting amiably. They seem so casual and warm and they love nicknames.  Every word is shortened to a nickname. It makes you feel loved.

FOOD IS DELICIOUS
We had hamburgers with beetroot and fruit salads with muesli and passion fruit and berries and yogurt, and exotic Thai curries, and delicious pastas. We had buckets of prawns at a beachside cafe, dinner with Ed and Marine at their beautiful apartment overlooking Sydney Harbor - ribs with Anna and Selwyn in Melbourne underneath the trees, dumplings in bamboo steamers in the heart of Sydney. I ate dishes of yogurt for breakfast with honey made from the bees in the garden where we stayed.  I had flat whites at the cafe where they were invented, and icy cocktails in tall glasses, and fresh bread and all of it was fresh and delicious.  Oh, they also have a strange seasoning known as 'chicken salt'.  Huh?

THEY HAVE ENORMOUS BATS AND STRANGE EXOTIC BIRDS
There's one bird whose song my son Elliot described as like Jerry Lewis being punched in the stomach slow motion.  Then there are others with waffling, seemingly random songs of several notes duration, and kookaburras which up until now had only been a WORD in a song I learned as a child.  And they have these weird crane like birds walking round the park - with tiny thin legs and little hooked beaks.  Those are like pigeons to them. Also they have these huge bats which are actually flying foxes. They circle over the park like hawks on speed.  It's more fascinating than creepy though.  I promise. And just so foreign.   Oh, and the parrots.  Cockatoos take off from the treetops squawking as they pass. Didn't see a single kangaroo.

AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL IS BETTER THAN AMERICAN FOOTBALL
One of Alex's lovely friends works for the Sydney Swans and he invited us to watch a game.  I told my guys that I'd rather watch this than American Football, which still eludes me. I don't understand why American football keeps stopping and starting and I'm not interested in the players because I can't see them through all their helmets and shoulder pads.  But this game has fluidity, and more running. It's a game punctuated by whistles which keep blowing -a whistle is evidently a good thing.  Also you can see the players because they're dressed in shorts.  It seems more friendly and tackle free. They made the game up when someone was tossing a football around the cricket pitch about a hundred and fifty years ago.  It feels more human to me.  Of course, Ben tells me I only liked it because I can be sure that I won't have to watch it, ever, back home!

IT'S WICKEDLY EXPENSIVE  The Australian dollar is worth a bit less than US dollars but even so you go through them like WATER.  A simple lunch of sandwiches and cold drinks might run $40.  You have to pay for carts at the airport. You have to pay for the transfer bus from one terminal to another - and I'm talking 20 bucks.  A bottle of ordinary Australian wine costs more there than it does here. A six pack of beer costs what a case costs here. But oh well, you're on holiday!

DOGS AREN'T ALLOWED BUT PEDESTRIANS ARE Funny, but being a dog lover I noticed that there were many places dogs were not allowed.  Not allowed on trails on the Blue Mountains. Not allowed on beaches.  Maybe they aren't allowed on beaches here, either - Maybe it was only that I missed my dogs back home. But I didn't like those signs of dogs with a thick red line struck through them.  On the other hand, the sign for pedestrian crossing was a hoot: two sides of a triangle - simulating trousers, with little shoes on the end.

NATURE RULES
There are dolphins in the harbor and birds in the air and the overgrowth and undergrowth in the Blue Mountains looked like that film Avatar.  When our friend who lives in Melbourne walks to work - flocks of parrots fly out from the trees as he passes by.  It's as though Nature is saying to you - if you want to live here, you'll have to deal with ME.  I've never seen such beautiful beaches - miles of yellow sand and pounding waves with hardly any people.  And those walks along the cliff edge! And the size of their ordinary spiders! And the rock formations! The smell of eucalyptus and its blue mist over the mountains.  And dipping your feet in a stream of beautiful waters on your hike.  Heaven.



ENERGY
The culture I observed in our brief visit was a culture of enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is energy and energy is life. But now I'm back here at my desk in Virginia and it's now 4:30 am and I'm winding  down.  One last word about energy though: Bikram yoga helps with that considerably.  I practiced twice in Sydney with my son and his girlfriend - and that practice was identical to the one I do here. It was like family and that for me was the cherry on top.




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