Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dining with Devils

Some raw footage from my recent trip to Tasmania -----

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I am falling in love with Tasmania

(You can see the photos that go with this entry on my flickr stream - just don't have time to post them here now)

The Salamanca Market

Several weeks ago I was put in contact with local sandsculptor Peter Bignell, and the plot was hatched: dump 4 tons of “brickies” sand on the periphery of one of the biggest and nicest weekend markets in all of Australia (by all accounts) and see what happens.

Fortunately, the weather takes a turn for the better, and so has my health -- my lungs are returning to a healthier state. The bad news is that something - perhaps the heavy coughing - has done a number on my back and I am walking like an old lady. I have to double over when I cough to keep from whimpering.

A whole lot of carving happens. As well as a fair amount of shopping (but you will have to wait until I get back to Texas to see what I bought.) We had official buskers licenses and the bucket of coin - my half of which comes out to something like $80 (AU). Which as is later turns out it just about the amount I will spend at the Salamanca health clinic and pharmacy...

Richmond and the Barby

It is Sunday and my hosts take me to the historic village of Richmond - site of charming cottages, the oldest bridge still in use in Tassy (maybe all of Australia?), a watermill, several sweet galleries/shops -- and a really scary old jail. Cells where women spent as many as 21 days in solitary for “insolence.”

We meet up with historian/muscian Peter McFie, who has written loads of scholarly papers on the area -- a very interesting gent who sports certain features that remind me very much of someone I used to love.

From Richmond we head to Dodges Ferry for a barbecue with other art society members. Peter shows up with his guitar and I break out the uke and we play and sing until late around the campfire. For the first time I really feel at home on this far far away island.

On the way back to Connelly’s Marsh we see three wallabees and two possums - which are actually a lot cuter than the ones we have in Texas.

Wildlife Park

I see the devils. They are cute, fuzzy and endearing in a bumbling, slightly cross-eyed way -- right up until feeding time, when they growl and tear at (thankfully unidentifiable) carcasses with their amazing jaws. They play tug o’ war with entrails and eat every last bit of what they are fed - fur and bones and all. Something like 80% of them have been wiped out by the contagious facial cancer and while isolate populations will hopefully survive, they appear to be on the path to extinction in the wild. This idea saddens me more than I expect it to. The Thylocine (aka the Tasmanian Tiger) is already extinct - the last known specimen died in captivity in 1935. The wildlife park shows a video - it looks more like a dog than a tiger and its jaws open to an alarming expanse. The narrator is convinced that they still exist in the wild, but the wild spaces are getting fewer and farther between, I think.

For now I am staying with Peter and Rachel D. They have a lovely home/studio on the water at Park Beach in Dodge’s Ferry. Their water view shoots directly south between two land masses and at times you can feel a wind coming directly from the south pole. It’s a cold one.

We turn on the TV the morning of the 21st to witness the 44th president on his parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. The Aussie commentator is excited. Ted Kennedy is down but not out and the world rejoices at the choices made by me and my countrymen/women last November. Clearly, they are as delighted (and perhaps a bit surprised) as we are by the man we have chosen to lead us

Workshop Time & Steel's Island

At last it is time for me to do what I came here to do. I get to go to work.

The day of the first sand sculpture workshop is sunny and fine. The wind stays down and the participants are plentiful and enthusiastic. They represent a wide variety of ages and skill levels, which makes my job interesting indeed. Some students have traveled far and will only be able to stay for one day, while others are local and expect to participate all four days. Peter D has created some interesting flexie forms from thick plastic fastened by snap ties which he expects to be able to slide up and over after filling. I am skeptical but willing to be pleasantly surprised.

The 2.5 hour session is somewhat chaotic but deemed a success, and after the beach is cleared I am taken to the store to pick up supplies and then (finally!) to my private accommodations at Steel’s Island.

In all of my travels, I have stayed at some wondrous places including 5-star hotels; nevertheless, this is without a doubt the most wonderfullest place I have ever called “home (for now).” A 2 BR cabin, situated right on the beach. All the comforts and no one close enough to hear me belting out ukulele tunes. Sliding glass door that opens up to my own vegetated beach path down to the water. A kukaburro laughs at me and I laugh right back. Can this be more perfect?

Of course, the only thing that could make it more so would be someone special with which to share it. And that person, in the shape of Peter McFie, shows up with his guitar and a bottle of champagne. We walk the beach at dusk, seeing not another soul. When the time comes for him to leave, he doesn't.

This place is pure magic, I tell you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Arrival in Tassy

Australia 3 - Tassy First Impressions

Finally on my way to Tasmania! The bug has settled deeply into my chest and I figure I am at about 50% lung capacity... not ideal conditions for navigating foreign airports, but watcha gonna do? Melbourne airport security turns out to be a pleasant surprise: there are no lines and the Aussie counterparts of the much-despised TSA officers are sunny and polite. My jacket stays on my shoulders, my shoes on my feet, my water bottle in its compartment in my backpack and a few big Aussie coins still jingle in my pocket. How refreshingly civilized!

The flight to Hobart is very short, (45 minutes) nevertheless we are served a full breakfast. Makes me think about that 3 hr flight to to LA where we were served a cup of water and a bag o’ pretzels for dinner....

I am met at the airport by Chris Cowles and his parter Di McPherson. Chris is the one who spent long hours and a lot of effort writing up the grant that brought me here. He is a small, neat gent in his 60’s, a designer and an educator prone to scholarly attire and precise language. She is a large, fit, warmly no-nonsense woman whose area of expertise is textiles - specifically, dying. Their home is a work-in-progress in Connelly’s Marsh - about an hour’s drive from Hobart. I will be staying in their cozy guest room for the first few days of my Taz stay and it is the perfect spot to curl up with ‘Son of a Witch” (the sequel to “Wicked”, purchased at the airport) and recover as quickly as possible. The water views are wide and thrilling -- I almost feel as though (given enough time) I could write a novel here. Or something.

The house itself is a feast for the senses with original artworks everywhere as well as shelves and shelves of books on a wide variety of topics. (The first one I pick up is Germaine Greer’s tome on “The Change,” the second a photo book of Tasmanian creatures.) The house’s surroundings - and Tasmanian landscape in general - is just plain dramatic. The colors are muted shades of greens and browns - it is a dry climate that is in drought - with wide expanses of rolling, scruffy hills. The trees are tortured-looking: stunted and twisted with strips of bark hanging about -- almost as though giant cats had been using them as scratching posts. The weather is mostly cool and breezy. I am told the occasionally icy wind is being sucked right up from Antarctica by a busy cyclone season off the coast of Queensland.

There is no municipal water system in this area, so my hosts get theirs from a tank that collects whatever rain falls, supplemented by the occasional purchase. Water is dear and treated like the valuable commodity it is. Showers are short and sweet. While waiting for it to turn hot, one is careful to collect flowing water in jugs for later use.

Good practice for us all, perhaps?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Australia II - The Great Ocean Road Tour

Great Ocean Road

A day trip on the Great Ocean Road was my Melbourne splurge. I feel lousy, but reason I would still feel so regardless of whether or not I was sitting in a bus seeing interesting scenery. The touring company is and the tour guide is Ryan, a high school teacher earning a few extra bucks by spending the summer holiday leading tours. The other 20 tourees hailed from England, San Francisco, China, Italy and probably other parts of the world and were mostly younger -- 20’s and 30’s I would guess.

I don’t consider myself the touring kind of traveler and indeed cannot recall ever signing up for something like this, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Ryan is a riot and I enjoy several long chats with him. He is a just exactly the handsome, strapping young Aussie kinda guy you would expect to find teaching Outdoor Studies, which include surfing, hiking camping, environmental impact and sustainability, as I understand it. (How cool is that? How did the Aussies get so far ahead of us in educating their kids in real-life skills as opposed to stuff that is merely supposed to help them make money someday?)

HIghlights: the didgeridoo player at the aborigine culture center (gotta practice that circular breathing thing which the speaker swears helped her brother with his asthma problem); the twisty windy road itself, which sometimes reminded me of Italy’s Amalfi Coast or California round about Big Sur; spending 20 minutes building a sweet little sandcastle during our lunch stop in Apollo Bay and leaving it for the crowd of cell-phone photographers enjoying a day on the beach.

What I would have liked to do, but couldn’t because I was on a tour: Enjoyed a picnic lunch with my ukulele (and - as long as we are dreaming - an interesting man) on one of the deserted beaches you could see from the road.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

feet's adventures in oz pt 1

Jan. 13

Finally found WiFi (free!) at Mickey D's of all places....

The flight from houston to LAX is fairly awful. The guy directly behind me is doused in cologne and sounds like he is trying to cough up a lung -- I want to turn around and accuse him of deliberately setting out to destroy my trip to the land down under by infecting me with whatever nasty bug he is carrying. I spend the next three hours attempting to breathe through a bevnap. As it turns out, this proves to be a largely ineffective means of protection...

The 15-hr flight to Melbourne isn’t bad at all. I have a window seat and no one in the seat next to me. The food is decent and the entertainment center has some good movies - I sleep a while, watch “The Duchess” and read about half of the book I picked up in LA (“Wicked” - which I really enjoyed, BTW and highly recommend.)

Arrival: Catch a cab to the apartment of Robert - my couchsurfing host. He is funny, chatty and a blast to be around -- just as his profile suggested. We deposit my luggage in his flat and head out for a stroll in his hood - inner city Melbourne -- a surprisingly un-innercity-like area featuring loads of open green space and formal English gardens. I had read that the drought here is extreme, but you sure wouldn’t know it by the gardens.

Dropped in to Federal square and the visitors center where I got some tour info. Had a beer and then walked some more. Cook’s cottage. More gardens. Another beer...

Back to Rob’s for a little telly and my first (and last) taste of vegemite - (glad I got that out of the way early!) Sleep for almost 12 hours on Rob’s “couch” (fully-dressed foam pad mattress in his computer room.)

Next morning we take off in his car stopping at a friend’s beach house where we meet up with a couple mates - let's call them Dan and Karen. The four of us take a nice long beach stroll to a waterfront restaurant for breakfast and I get to watch the local “Nippers” club in action. I gather the nippers is some sort of rite-of-passage beach kiddie thing. All the participants wear matching bathing caps though most of them don’t go anywhere near the water but engage in beach relays, etc.

We say our goodbyes and continue on to Frankston - about an hour’s drive from Rob’s - to see the “DinoStory” sculpture display that so many of my friends worked on. I get to meet Natasha, the Russian sculptor (now a Melbourne resident) who is giving workshops on site. She is really a delight and talented to boot.

We take a different route back to the city through a hilly and heavily-forested area where a musician friend of Rob’s and his bandmates are just finishing up a rehearsal. This guy has a music room with a life-size cardboard cutout of Jimmy Vaughn (making me feel right at home!) and tons of guitars and even a ukulele -- so I treat them to the quick version of the unlitter song (lucky blokes!;-) Lots of music talk on the shady outside deck - Kirk would have loved this crew - and then our host pops a CD into the outdoor music system and I can’t believe I am listening to none other than Robert Earl Keene who apparently has an Australian fanbase (wonder if he knows that?)

Back on the road we pull over at the Trestles bridge for a chance encounter with “Puffing Billy” - a famous steam engine (well, famous if you are a trainspotter, anyway.) Robert informs me that a “friend” is coming over that evening if I don’t mind and I assure him I can disappear no problem. At this point I am starting to feel like I am coming down with that nasty bug and want nothing more than to crawl in bed with my book and contemplate my immediate future and how being sick might affect it...

As it turns out, Stephania - another couchsurfer from Italy - is something more than just a “friend.” She in fact enjoyed her recent couchsurfing experience with Robert so much that she has unexpectedly returned - surprise! - to tell him he is the man for her. She plans to file for a visa so that she can marry him and bear his children. Fortunately Rob, who has struck me a someone fairly happy with his bachelorhood, doesn’t seem too put out by the idea. I wonder how I fit into this picture as clearly these two need some alone time and so offer to move to a motel if he can point me in the right direction. But he/they will have none of it. Has a mate with a spare room that he assures me I will be welcomed to use. Stephania and I spend a happy afternoon drowsing in the sunny park then we all head over for a pasta/tiramasu dinner at Theo’s place, where I am typing up this blog entry.

He has gone off to work leaving me with a cup of coffee, a set of keys and instructions to the nearest tram stop. I think I will see what St. Kilda's is like but the heat of the day hits me like a ton of bricks and I end up reading on the banks of the river Yarra under this tree until it just gets too hot... 37 = 100+!

God I feel lousy.

Tomorrow I have booked a day tour of the Great Ocean Road - a bit spendy but something I am convinced I would always regret missing. And then the day after that I fly to Tasmania. Where it will likely be cooler if nothing else.

Random observations: things are expensive here, even with the favorable exchange rate. Cold medicine I would have expected to pay $6.00 for in the US is $13 at the local IGA. The birds I have seen! Big white-crested cockatoos are considered pests. Having a devil of a time finding wifi even though I would happily pay for it. Broadband users are few and far between from my experience. I am so happy I can do simple email on my iPhone though I am not sure that the 20 mb of data I signed up for is going to get me through this trip. Twitter is a blessing and a local tweeter even helped me solve the vexing annoyance of an iPhone that refused to budge from California time. Am so happy to be using couchsurfing as it has enabled me to meet the nicest and most generous people you can imagine. If I could just shake this stupid cold I would be a very happy camper.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

resolved: be happy in 2009

I am well aware that happiness is a hit or miss proposition. You don’t earn it or deserve it and you sure can’t buy it at wallyworld. You can search for it and attempt to sneak up on it, but it will elude you. You can’t force it but you can invite it to drop by for a beer sometime -- though it will probably get your address wrong and end up at the neighbors’ house instead. You can coax it into your parlor, feed it milk and cookies and listen to it purr but just when you think you have it cornered, it slips between your legs and out the door.

Because I am healthy, live in a beautiful place and get paid to do what I love, happiness for me is a a natural state -- How lucky is that? And I have found I can maintain this natural state by systematically eliminating the things that make me unhappy. One by one. Some are easier to eliminate than others. For example, I sure wish I could bullet-proof my teeth so I would never have to go to the dentist again -- but no can do. On the other hand, the ugly, unhappy people feeding each others’ paranoia at spiforum are easy to eliminate from my life. All I have to do is stop going there. That’s it!

So. I choose happiness.
That is all.