Thursday, December 30, 2010

Apres-Christmas Weather

Cyclones are the hurricanes of the Southern Hemisphere. They range from a bit of rain with all the force of a damp firecracker to the MOTHER of all tropical depressions.
This year Townsville had the cyclone, and we had a solid tropical storm come for dinner and stay for the weekend.
It began with spitting rain and gale force winds - hell for cycling - and hell for going to the beach because the blown sand would sandblast your skin as you crossed it on the way to the water. 
Then the rain hit. Things got wilder and wilder with rain and tree branches lancing in from every direction of the compass, so naturally we all piled into the car and went out for a drive along the Spit to the edge of the shipping channel.
Out there Mum was determined to go for a walk out in “nature in the raw!” Which was fine and beaut – until she reached into the backseat and pulled out ONE weather jacket. Her size.
Suddenly, Dad (I was exempt on account of a head cold) was a lot less enthusiastic.  Mum immediately took the initiative and pointed out that it was all his fault, because “he's a man, and if I’d asked him to bring a jacket he wouldn’t have brought one, so forgetting to bring one in the first place was just eliminating everything that would have happened if I remembered and it should have been his responsibility anyway.”
At which point Dad noted dangerously that when he left the house, he hadn’t had any idea that he’d be going out bushwhacking through a tropical depression. Mum found a small plastic bag under the backseat of the car, about four inches square, and placed it over his head as an umbrella, and right when I was really starting to enjoy the show they both suddenly stopped LOOKING at each other and stepped out into the rain.
They lasted about five minutes.
It really was damp out there.
Back in the car (Mum exhilarated and Dad dripping) we drove back down the Spit to the beach.
I sat in the car and felt it rock and shudder as if it was been played with by a very large and careless God, while Mum and Dad climbed back out into the weather and  walked down toward the maelstrom of swirling sand and water - and came back in another grand hurry, as the wind began to blast the sand through their clothes.

That night it fizzled out into a nice, normal tropical storm, and the next day, for the first time in a week, we could go riding and enjoy it because the air was so STILL.  No wind, just a small, tentative breeze every 30 seconds or so, whenever the air threatened to become muggy.  The beach had been sculpted into enormous dunes and the beaches were closed down for a few days.

There’s a certain streak of bloody and sarcastic masochism in the Australian psyche – a disdain for danger coupled with the historical inclination of thumbing the nose at authority (on principle these days, rather than because authority had just transported them to the edge of the known world in the bilge of a ship, the way it used to happen). By day two of the beach closure, people were going swimming anyway and ta'hellwith'it, so the Life Guards picked up all their  “NO SWIMMING!” "DANGER! BEACH CLOSED!"  and "DANGER!!!!!  STINGING JELLYFISH!!!!" signs (They'd been getting a bit desperate toward the end there.  I asked one of them about that last sign and she blushed.) and settled for sitting on the waters edge in en-grumpy-mass, with jet skis and banana boats and surfboards and rescue slings arranged between their enormous exasperated sulk and the water. They set up two flags, and herded us between them and sat on the beach with dangerously folded arms, their slitted eyes practically daring us to "go on, get pulled out by that massive rip just to your left… yeah, that one right there.  I’m the one who’s going to pop up on my jet ski next to your gasping, flailing body when you're REALLY far out from shore, and as I haul you aboard, I'll say I TOLD YOU SO.  Lots and lots and lots"

I've never felt quite so guilty for going swimming.

I'd like to interject that I respect and appreciate the lifeguards - most of whom are volunteers, and I sympathized entirely with their plight - they were in the right all the way, and we should absolutely have respected their superior judgement, and I would never never never have gone in if everyone else hadn't been in already.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

This is the oldest ornament on our Christmas tree. My sister made it a long time ago when she was in pre-school, and it is precious to us.
Wishing a wonderful family holiday season to everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Lorikeets have won.

The bloody lorikeets have won.
They live in the palm trees all around our building, digging holes in the trunks, and spending the early evenings peering out in colorful photogenic couples and chattering. In the early mornings they shriek and fly between the trees and perform acrobatic tricks in the treetops. They let me come close, hanging upside down from a palm frond and bouncing on one leg, and as soon as I have my camera out and focused, they sidle round the other side of the tree and scream with hilarity.

Tonight I went out for a bike ride, and I took my camera with me, and the lorikeets were waiting, hanging from the trees right above me at perfect focusing distances. They posed very prettily and very patiently, and as soon as I raised my finger on the shutter they popped up and flew at me, shrieking imprecations. As they came they ran a low, controlled bombing run over my head and editorialized right onto my bike seat - and right into my bike helmet.
Which I didn’t notice till I put the helmet on.

I’m putting the camera away.
They’ve won the point.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dressing for the Gold Coast

Glory to the Gold Coast! Sun and surf and small, brightly colored bits of clothing.
There's a whole different vibe going on up here - something fizzes in the air.
Example: Yesterday morning I came out of my room, dressed to go out. To the supermarket, for bread and yogurt.
Mum shook her head. “Far too conservative” she said. “You need to be more…flashy.”
I went back and shortened every hem, splashed on some makeup and put on a pair of enormous, dangling, sparkling… FLASHY earrings.
Mum nodded in approval. “That’s MUCH better! Now you look suitably dressed!”
I love the Gold Coast! I could go to the supermarket in a bikini and bare feet and look well-attired!

A Break in Our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: We'll be back after Christmas

If there's anything nicer than bowling along a sidewalk on a bicycle at the Gold Coast, I have no idea what it is - and I am disinclined to find out.
Rainbow lorikeets were swinging upside down from the palm trees.  Thunderclouds stood like serried ranks of dragons on the horizon.  The breeze was cool and smelled of sea-salt and frangipani.
The sun beamed down benignly on everything.
 Life is good.
And I'm up here until Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Good Wedding

My sister in law was married in Washington DC today.

Any wedding where two people look that happy with each other and with the universe is a very good wedding!
When the bride walked into the church, the groom smiled so hard that the entire church was bathed in a bright golden light.
Mr Tabubil turned to me and said dreamily "that's how I felt when I saw you coming down the beach."
He squeezed my hand tightly, and the whole day turned into sunshine.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Washington DC

Washington is a nice looking town. By statute, we were told, no buildings may be taller than the dome on the capitol, so the city is low rise and generously spread.  I didn’t see very much of it, but what I saw was pleasant and mostly neighborly, and the people in the streets were mostly smiling.

The DC subway is an acid trip and a half. The stations, classic 1960s space-age modern designed by architect Harry Weese, are vast and dimly lit. The dark side of the psychedelic TWA terminal at JFK.
The stations are long, dark descending shafts, paneled with lozenge shaped concrete block work panel, ovals cut into ovals. Staircases and elevators rise up on cylindrical pods, vanishing into the gloom 15 feet above the platform. The place needs a throbbing soundtrack ("Down once MORE to the Dungeon of my BLACK DESPAIR!' with a little pipe organ on the side) and vinyl miniskirts and ray guns: Flash Gordon runs from Ming the Merciless through a post apocalyptic city, circa 1984.
I adored it passionately, but I wouldn't want to have to go down there very often.

The last time I was in DC I was 11. Dad had booked a hotel across the street from what must have the town's busiest fire-station and most of my memories are of lying awake in the dark and listening to the sirens – and then of catching up on my sleep in the sun on the Washington mall in the middle of the afternoon.  One could do a lot worse.  It's a pretty place for a nap.

One afternoon on that first visit we drove into the suburbs of Maryland to visit a friend who lived in a deep green world of hummocks and hollows, the houses all built beneath the canopies of tall and twisted trees. Everything was bathed in a deep green underwater light. When I was 11 and reading Narnia and Tolkein, suburban Washington was an enchanted place.  My SIL lives in a neighborhood just like that one, in a highrise apartment building (taller buildings are permitted outside the actual District of Columbia) halfway down a hollow. From her window you can see the tree canopy spreading thick and green and impermeable all around her.

We didn't stay in the forest - Mr and Mrs Tabubil-in-law rented an enormous old Victorian house in the city and filled it up with Dutch family – it was a huge and jolly house-party. Mr Tabubil and I shared a room right at the top of the house filled with big and squashy Edwardian furniture – from up in our room you could hear the shouts and the laughter echoing up through the walls.

The day after we arrived, while the rest of the Dutch contingent went to visit Georgetown, Mr Tabubil took me to the Smithsonian to visit the Air and Space Museum.
THIS place I remembered from my last visit, all right.  Can you imagine - could you ever have imagined that it would be less than 50 years from Kitty Hawk to supersonic flight - and less than 70 years from Kitty Hawk to the moon landing?
It's a museum - a monument - to human ingenuity, and packed full of dreams.  Who DOESN’T imagine climbing into the cockpit of the Bell X-1 and blasting out through the walls of the museum for a gentle tootle around Maryland, West Virginia and New Jersey?

And as a footnote to our visit: to Mr Tabubil’s VERY evident satisfaction, and with the assistance of every single model and diagram of a jet engine in the whole museum, he finally got me to understand how they work.
Amazing things, aren’t they?!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Standing ovations. Really?

The Melbourne audience stood and cheered for Mary Poppins. Why on earth would they have done that? 
            I've been told that the American passion for double-handed acclaim first arouse in classical concert halls. The Origin Story I have heard goes as following: ye suburban mid-century concert-goer in town from the suburbs for a night's dose of High Culture felt a crippling social anxiety during performances.  When the performance ended, feeling entirely out of his (or her) depth, and terrified of being viewed as some sort of Barbarian Invader crashing about in a Temple of Culture, he (or she) applauded wildly at everything. Just in case.
            And because everyone was – and is - at heart, afraid of being Found Out (Someone was applauding!  What do they know that I don't?!), everyone else began to join in, until as a matter of routine the whole damn audience clapped like maniacs.
            And now, more often than is pretty, instead of one’s lack of classic education being exposed through hesitance and confusion, the moment one stands up to bellow 'Brava!' one is exposing oneself as a clod. 
              There's no intimidating classical baggage around Disney music, darlings. If people will howl and bay and stamp their feet for this, one can only imagine what goes on in the New York Philharmonic. One presumes you get three curtain calls and a ticker-tape parade for showing up on stage in an evening suit with a cello.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mary Poppins

Broadway in New York:

We'd hoped to see Mama Mia, because Kay has never listened to Abba (she can recite the plot of every original Star Trek episode, but she’s never listened to Abba. Go figure.) but it was Mama Mia's night off.   We couldn't get any cheap tickets for Fela.  I wanted to see A Little Night Music because Bernadette Peters was in it. Mr Tabubil and Kay wanted to see A History of The Theater because Patrick Stewart was in it, and in one of those compromises where nobody quite gets what they want, somehow we ended up with tickets to Mary Poppins. The movie was so much fun, how could we go wrong - right?


It wasn't quite 'Lord of the Rings: The Musical' awful (although the actress who played the titular Mary had actually played Galadrial in THAT hot mess.*) but all things considered, it was pretty damned ghastly.
            Rather than slavishly following the movie, the Broadway stage show had drawn a great deal of its source material from the original books.  In the abstract, this wasn't an entirely bad idea, but they’d have done better to have stuck with the tried and the tested.  The delightful tunes from the movie had been replaced by new numbers that were... well, they certainly weren't memorable, except when it was for all the wrong reasons.  And worse, the few songs they’d hung onto from the last cinematic go-around had been mauled and muted beyond recognition and relevance.  They’d even made up a whole new set of lyrics for Supercalafragalisticexpialadocious that weren’t half as clever as the originals – or even vaguely related to the plot.
            Which was the other problem. There wasn’t a plot. Or rather, there were several. Six or seven, at least.
            The two children, Jane and Michael Banks, had apparently never been told about the on-stage microphones  – they confused acting with hollering and mugging, and needed a good shot of valium. Preferably in the sort of doses you give to horses.
          Not nearly soon enough, Mary Poppins arrived via Umbrella post, looking smug and showing off a lovely singing voice, and in short order she whisked the revolting children off for a walk in the park.  There, instead of jumping into chalk drawings and riding painted horses, she hewed to the books and brought the park statues to life to play with the little brats.
            Or rather, a very naked man in a very tight silver body suit leaped, spraddle-legged, off a pedestal and performed VERY disturbing balletic choreography all over the stage. If only he'd been wearing just a body suit – things might have been manageable. But some genius in costuming had placed a very very large and very wobbly silver fig leaf right over his gentleman's region. He was so very naked and the fig leaf was so very large - and he made such very wide jumps....
           At some considerable length he was joined by a trio of young bronze ladies with three fig leafs in strategic lady places, and while Bert the chimney sweep warbled in presentable American cockney about how "it's a jolly holiday with Mary" two satyrs in silver paint and sheepskins tore onstage bellowing "Baaaa!!!" and pushed the two children around the stage in gigantic baby's carriages.
            In the middle of the maelstrom, Mary tap-danced and simpered.  Next to me, Vee sat straight-backed and rigid, her lips pursed as she stared expressionlessly at the stage.  I snuck a look down the row at Mr Tabubil - his shoulders were bowed, and his head was in his hands.  His shoulders were shaking.

At intermission, Mr Tabubil gave it to me straight from the shoulder.
 "This show is psychotic."
            Kay nodded.  And nodded some more. "Can we leave now?  Please?”
            I looked sideways at Vee. Vee pressed her lips together.  "I can't say" she said "what I just texted my sister.  It's accurate, but it's not very nice.  I'm sorry."
            "Tell us."
            "Fine.  This show sucks donkey balls, okay?  Big hairy ones."
And suddenly we were laughing. So we stayed around for the second half after all. It was an improvement on the first half, which is a highly relative statement, but we were suffering together this time and all the horrible singing and dancing and plot derailments and non-existent character relationships became an absolute hoot.
            The show was a character study of a father who'd lost his ideals – and all hope. It was the post-feminist anguish of a career woman who'd married and given up her identity to tend an obsessive-compulsive tyrant.  The vertigo of a marriage in free-fall. Two children traumatized by, and worse- sung at, by giant dolls (that musical number had all four of us hiding under the seats and we were sitting half-way back to the balcony.  God know what it was like on stage with the awful things) because they didn't treat their toys with suitable respect and consideration.  (A commentary on the ongoing train-wreck in the grown up bedroom downstairs?)
            And - worst of all, the obsessive need for everyone to sing about everything in tones of syrup and sunbeams.  During one low point, when two sub-plots collided head on (think of two submarines off of the Jervis banks) I thought Vee was going to pop an aneurysm.  But she cheered up right quick when Mr Banks began his great second-act solo number - he stared into a teacup and sang three verses that began with "Before the mortar of your zeal has a chance to congeal- !"
            I don't remember the rest. Vee was laughing to hard for me to hear a word of it.

And then, at long last, the show ended.

And ended again.

Then it ended.

And then it ended again.

And then the lights came on and the cast took their bows and we tried to sneak out in the confusion of applause (the majority of the audience were apparently, astonishingly, enthusiastic about this atrocious twaddle) but the orchestra powered up one more time and the whole cast went three more rounds of Supercalafragalisticixpialadocious (with the most extraordinary hand gestures) before we could get away.
            We still don't quite believe that it happened. Or that most of the audience could have actually liked the ghastly stuff.
            Based on a sample size of exactly one, Vee’s right. Broadway has gone to pot.

* For the record, Mr Tabubil and I only went to see LOTR: The Musical when it was clear it was terminal and the tickets were being thrown at the audience in a desperate last stand. We stuck it out – all three acts, but we had friends who walked out - before the first act ended. They felt it necessary to make the point.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Obligatory photo of the Empire State Building But by night, in the rain, this time. Great photo, eh?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Zen Palate - New York's Finest Vegetarian Cuisine

We met Vee and Kay in our room at the New York Dreams Hostel. Our room is cozy – just long enough for a door and two sets of bunk beds set end to end, and just wide enough that we don’t have to walk past ‘em sideways.
            And no bed bugs. Not that we’re not taking precautions. Kay brought bed bugs back with her from Europe last month and was bitten 87 times; now we have suitcases full of plastic bags – everything we wear and touch goes straight into a bag – ready for a hot-wash the next time we find a washing machine. It’s not a perfect system – our room is so small that our bags have to sit on the floor, but it’s the best we can arrange. And the place looks clean. For whatever that’s worth.

New York is a great place to be a tourist – even when it’s raining, and even if you’re not being particularly discerning about your tourism. It’s a city that rewards the aimless ramble; just walk around with your eyes aimed upward. The view’s marvelous.  Here is a photograph of a painted truck behind a tree.

And just the painted truck.  Because I like painted trucks.

We took the subway down to 5th Avenue so Kay and Mr Tabubil could visit the fabled NYC Apple Store (hallowed ground for techies) then we ambled down 5th to Rockefeller Center and eventually (with several strategic layovers in cupcake shops) Times Square, where we walked into into an enormous Toys R Us, with a ferris wheel on the ground floor and an animatronic tyrannosaurus rex upstairs. We all gawked. Very yokel of us, I’m sure, but this town works so hard at going over the top, it'd be a shame not to appreciate it as it asks to be!
            And briefly - too briefly - the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I showed Mr Tabubil the Egyptian Temple and the Hall of Armor, then dragged him into the Dutch Masters Galleries and burbled happily at him for 20 minutes about light and color and reflection until we were kicked out at closing time.
And then we had dinner.  Which is what this blog entry is really about.

Vee is a vegetarian, and came to NYC equipped with a double-barreled fold-out city map that she’d marked up with every single veggie, vegan and veggie-friendly restaurant on the island.
            There weren't as many as you'd expect there to be, considering the size of the town. Which perhaps explained why we were hiking sideways across midtown, heading for the Zen Palate – a neo-Asian-fusion joint with pretensions toward the gourmet. Or oily purple slabs of Seitan and Tofu pretending to be plates of avant-garde meaty cuisine.
            They were vast and they were greasy and they wallowed.

Don’t even ask what they did to the brown rice. Ask this instead: if you can't handle the starch with any manner of competence, what are you going to do to the protein?
            Blast it out of the stratosphere on a crown of fire, that’s what. You could have powered half the US Air force with the food - on our table alone there was enough raw chili to keep a whole squadron of F1-Tomcats riding on afterburners for weeks.
            Possibly out of guilt, Vee promised us hamburgers the following night. Real ones. There was a veggie-friendly burger joint near Times Square - - bursting into grateful tears, we begged her to spare us the details. The promise was enough. We burped hugely and sipped gingerly at our rice bowls (don't ask) and fled, leaving most of the vile stuff on the plates, quivering gelatinously.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Break in our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: Alligator Gorge

At his photo club meeting this week, Mr Tabubil heard about a place called Alligator Gorge up in the Flinders Ranges.  Terrifically photogenic, still running with water this late in the year, and only an hour away by car.   Today we decided to go and see it for ourselves.  We took lots and lots of photos, and not one of them comes even close to showing the magnitude and raw beauty of this place. 

To get to Alligator Gorge, we crossed the head of the gulf and after Port Augusta, turned inland and crossed into the ranges through Horrocks Pass.  The ranges looked as if they were made of old golden velvet - slubbed and worn and rubbed against the grain.
We stopped on the road to watch them.

Just past the small town of Wilmington on the other side of the Flinders, with only a small detour up an old farm road to find a lookout over the gulf, we turned back into the hills and twelve crazy adrenalin junk-esque roller coaster kilometers later, bumped to a stop in a small and rather random parking lot on the top of a hill.

The gorge was directly below us - the ranges are rolling up-and-down farming hills, and through them, Alligator gorge slices like a gash.
We climbed into the gorge down a flight of steps sliced straight into the rock. We stopped often to listen. Bird Calls. Wind through tall trees. The sound of grass spilling down over the rock walls. And silence. Silence that grew deeper and heavier as we climbed down.

At the bottom, a shaft of sunlight slid down the wall and lit on a pool of water in front of us, and sound returned - a narrow creek trickled and burbled along a stream bed,  not much of it - recent flood marks on the walls stood  a good three feet above our heads, but today there was only a thin trickle that vanished into the stream bed at our feet, appearing further along the gorge to make puddles for tadpoles. The water was full of tadpoles - thick with them.  Every frog in South Australia had come here, to this last piece of running water of the summer.
I felt about six years old. I wished I had a dipping net.

Red walls rose straight and high around us. To our right, the gorge narrowed. A sign pointed toward 'The Terraces' - we followed a path that ran along the bottom of the gorge.  We turned a corner - the floor underneath us rose and the walls narrowed and sloped down to meet it and made a shallow, narrow canyon floored with wide slabs of flat stone. The water trickled down the terraced slabs, gurgling and chuckling and making its own path across the rock.
The air was warm. Bellbirds called. I lay down on the stone and closed my eyes.
Mr Tabubil roamed up and down the canyon with his camera.  I slept.

Back at the rock stairway, a sign pointed left to the 'Narrow Gorge.'  We walked that way, picking our way carefully along a loose, rocky stream bed. We turned a corner and felt ourselves become weightless -
"It's a CATHEDRAL."  I breathed.  Vast rock walls stretched out of sight, the sky was a pale smudged blur far above us.  Instead of columns, trees stretched up and reached their arms out like the stone ribs of an old Gothic cathedral -
We smiled, helplessly, at each other, and set off down the aisle between the trees. 
The whole length of the gorge can be walked. It is a seven hour hike through to the other end.  We didn't try to go that far.  We pottered aimlessly, stopping every five meters or so, it seemed, to point, and look, and stare up the arms of the trees to the rim of the canyon and grin euphorically at each other.

Every twist in the canyon was a lure- something new would be on the other side and we stumbled and picked our way between the rocks and tadpole pools - faster and faster - to the next one, and the next -
"Have you ever been so HAPPY" I blurted "That it HURTS?"
Mr Tabubil turned to me and smiled.
But we had to go back, slowly and stumbling on the loose stones of the creek bed -  back to the trail crossing, and back up the steps in the wall.
Every step upward was like a change in air pressure - the sound grew thicker and heavier until we were just below the lip of the canyon- lorikeets screeched, galahs rasped, small birds called and twittered, and and we could hear the whole forest, rushing and thrashing in a wind.   It was daylight at the top. Completely prosaic.  I want to go back down into the canyon in winter, when the creek is running full- and see what we can see.
Here are our utterly inadequate photographs:

The Cathedral:

High Rock Walls - how small we are:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Break in Our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: Congratulations Dr. Tabubil!

Today my sister graduated from medical school.  She received her diploma from the dean, declaimed the Hippocratic Oath, and marched out of the hall to the rather strained strains of Gaudeamus Igitur, and is now officially reckoned fit to be let loose in the halls and wards of Australia's Hospitals.
            Congratulations, Doctor Tabubil.
            We are very VERY proud of you!

Two  huge projector screens flanked the dais in the University hall, and as the almost-Doctors marched in, the screens showed the procession, all up close and personal.  When my sister appeared on the screen, we rose from our seats like sprinters on a starting gun and lunged toward the screen, waving madly and screaming "Hi Tabubilsister!" at the tops of our voices.  When she entered the hall in person, twenty seconds later, we were back in our seats staring in other directions entirely and pretending to be somebody else, and we completely failed to notice her.
            We weren't the only guests to lose their heads like that, but we felt very very silly.  We made it up by hooting and hollering like highly charge loons whenever someone we knew was made a doctor- it was that sort of happy day.

In the evening we sailed off to the Gala Medical Ball - the grand affair to which Dr Tabubil's triumvirate has dedicated all of their free time (and all their other time too, just in case) for the past year.  I can say without fear or favor that it was one hell of a party.  It does something rather bouncy for the ego to walk into a banquet hall the size of Kentucky and see one's own artwork splashed all over the tickets, the programs, and two enormous projector screens five or six stories tall (give or take a meter.)  But beyond that rather pleasant fillip of "Me!  I am!  Lookit there, eh?" (Not that I would say that.  I am modest as a church mouse) it was one splendid - and smooth running - shindig.
Congratulations  all over again.
            At the tail end of the evening, after the band had run out of steam and the DJ was spinning the best of the oldest party songs, the sound system turned itself up and let loose with the original version of Crocodile Rock - and half of the young men on the floor dropped their trousers and danced in their y-fronts with their pants around their ankles.
We stared. 
            "What on earth are they doing that for?"
            A fully-pantsed young doctor was staring at the dance floor, looking aggrieved. "It's what you DO, apparently.  When this song's playing." He glared at us, as if he was suspecting us of indecent designs upon his fly buttons, and gave his belt buckle a reassuring pat.
           I crept onto the dance floor with my camera - I wanted a photo of this huge mass of pantless young men, as they shuffled widdershins around the floor and belted out old rock and roll, but there was a queue. All women with cameras.
            But when the song ended and they all bent down - en mass and en unison - to pull up their trousers, I was treated to one sweet full-rim moon shot.
            But not for the camera.
            There are some moments you just can't share.

Ontario in the Fall

Five minutes drive from Sophie and the Engineer's house there is a large park.
We all went for a hike, and found a river where we could throw stale bread at the Canada Geese.  Baby Pascal thought it was hilarious.

Mr Tabubil took photographs.

Pretty, non?

Tomorrow Mr Tabubil and I fly to New York to meet Vee and Kay who are taking the Chinatown bus up from Boston to meet us.  Vee is my college roommate.  She is an infinite repository of knowledge about 80's music, 80s animated television shows (Rainbow Bright! Transformers! Gem and the Holograms! You can keep your Dora Explorer. We had the Care Bear stare!) and Broadway musicals. If you have 48 hours in New York, I can’t think of anyone better to be a tourist with, can you?
Kay would keep the race awfully tight. She talks Sailor Moon and Star Trek like Vee knows Gem and the Holograms. It’s scary.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Happy First Anniversary, Mr Tabubil!

Mr Tabubil's greatest phobia in the entire world is glitter. He hates the stuff.  Hates the way it drifts, hates the way it silts, hates the way it clings to your clothing and hair and filters down the neck of your shirt to make your back all itchy, he hates the way it works itself into the fibers of the rug in your car and the carpet in your house and, in general and in brief, he hates the way one good glitter project can keep on giving for about ten years.
            Baby Pascal is heading toward the toddler-craft years, and Mr Tabubil made a show of peering into dark corners with a deeply hunted expression on his face, looking to see if Sophie had started stocking up.
            There is only one reasonable way to respond to a phobia like that. Sophie took me to a craft store and bought me a pack of glitter pens and sparkly stickers and the most glittery piece of cardboard, probably in the whole western hemisphere, and we made him an anniversary card.

It was pink and sparkly and said "Eww-ins Heart Nicey Bikkit" on it. There's no point doing things by halves.
            (He is Eeww-ins and I am Nicey Bikkit. Given enough years together, a couple can dredge up some really repulsive pet names. I had originally wanted to have this particular slogan engraved on the inside of my wedding ring, but Mr Tabubil talked me out of it.
            "Will you REALLY want to read that in fifty years?" He asked, wincing horribly.
But I bowed to the pressure. Does this make me a bad feminist?)

Here is our Anniversary card 24 hours after our wedding anniversary.

 Mr Tabubil and the Engineer built a bonfire in the backyard:
            "So that this expression of our love can rise up with the smoke and live forever among the stars." Mr Tabubil said innocently. "What do you THINK I'm doing?"
            He put on a wounded expression and roasted marshmallows over the ashes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


We are in Toronto with our friends Sophie and the Engineer and their baby son Pascal.

The Engineer met us at the airport.  He and Mr Tabubil couldn't stop grinning - they hugged so hard they lifted each other off their feet. The Engineer is what I can only describe as a Cahoot.  As in - that's what he and Mr Tabubil were mostly in while we lived in Toronto.  And they've managed to stay that way ever since we left.
            When we left Toronto two and a half years ago, Sophie and the Engineer were living in a teeny-tiny one bedroom apartment in the city so small that when I borrowed their kitchen to make cookies and the mix-master chewed a tea-towel into the mix, I splattered all four walls with cookie dough. The walls of the living room.
            Now they're living in a comfy house on a generously-sized wooded lot in a small farming town outside of Guelph. The rural life seems to suit them. The engineer has built a planetarium in the backyard, and they grow raspberries in the front.
            We last saw them a year ago - almost exactly a year ago - in the Cook Islands for our wedding.  Pascal was six months old, smiling hugely, and just starting to grow a couple of teeth. Now he's a year older, adores big shiny cars and babbles perpetually in a private patois that we're not clever enough to understand.
            He's a very sunny child. When he was teething in Rarotonga, he expressed his displeasure by screwing up his face and howling - for exactly 28 minutes and 45 seconds, after which he accepted the situation with an equanimity that generally takes another eighty years or so to master, and went back to smiling again.
            "Tabubilgirl" my mother said to me one day, after a whole afternoon's exposure to the baby: "I have something important to tell you. It's not a pleasant thing to have to say, but it has to be said. This is a very special child, a one in a million baby.  Your babies are never going to be like this one."
I couldn't argue with her.  It was patently true.
            At 18 months, he's heading - precociously as always, into an early case of the terrible twos.  His tantrums are masterworks - screwing up his face into something terrible, he flings up his arms and launches himself backward into space.  Flat on his back on the floor, he drums his heels and screams, red-faced and utterly, utterly furious.
            And almost exactly three minutes later, he stops drumming, essays a giggle, and gets back up again, perfectly cheerful.
            Eight minutes later, he slumps heavily against the wall and sighs heartrendingly - the tantrum didn't help any, so precocious as always, he's trying out teen angst.
            Sophie giggles.  Pascal shoots her a look of utter disdain, then shrugs and tries smiling again.
Rinse.  Wash.  Repeat.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Granville Island

Yesterday Mum shoo’d  us out of the apartment and sent us off to visit the Granville Island Markets.      
            “You’re from Adelaide.”  She said.  “You need to see it.  You’ll understand why when you get there.” 
Mr Tabubil and I walked across the city to False Creek ferry and took the ferry across.  I don't know the nautical terminology for this class of ship, but the False Creek ferries are the most fun I've had since I played with fisher-price toys in my bathtub.  The ferries are round little boats with a row of portholes and a tall seat in the middle for the driver, who steers by peering out through a turret in the roof. In stiff seas the distance between the gunwales and the waterline is mostly negative, and waves slop sideways through the door, and the engine goes with a marvelous chug - a deep ch-ch-ch throbbing sound. 

Granville Island, on the far side of False Creek, is a neighborhood of old warehouses and chandleries- re-purposed for a farmer's market and colonized by artists. 
The Market Hall is wonderful place - very much like our Most Beloved Central Market in Adelaide, filled to the roof in glowing primary colors with heaped piles of blueberries and raspberries and gooseberries and strawberries and grapes and  figs and kumquats and cherries. Baskets of mushrooms and asparagus, ropes of  garlic and onions and barrels of potatoes, still dusted with soil.  Wheels of cheese - Bries and Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, tubs of feta and bocconcini.  Ropes of smoked sausages - wursts and salamis and chorizos and kielbasas and thing we'd never heard of before.  Bakeries, with shelves of enormous, flour dusted french loves, and cabinets of small, glowing, glazed fruit tarts. Beds of crushed ice with salmon and halibut and mullet and rainbow trout and Dungeness crab. Chocolate makers.  Fudge makers.  Fresh local honey. Don't eat the buckwheat honey.  It tastes like a barnyard.
We trailed lightly up and down the aisles, feeling faintly homesick, and feeling very much at home.  

We soothed ourselves with bags of maple-smoked salmon.  Vancouver-ites take their salmon seriously and eat it every way imaginable - and in one way I'd never considered.  They dice it into bite-size nuggets and baste it with maple syrup and smoke it and serve it in little paper bags like gumballs.
It’s very good.

Outside the market, the neighborhood is made up of art galleries and artists studios.  We saw a totem pole being carved from the inside out, then we walked down the sidewalk to peer into a glass-blowing studio.  A few doors down a woman was weaving a tapestry on a big wooden loom - and every other storefront seemed to be selling hand-spun silk yarn in iridescent colors - Mr Tabubil had to drag me away.  The yarn caught on the rough nicks and scuffs on my dry hands, and promised me scarves and shawls that lay like lace and clouds on my fingers - Mr Tabubil, in pained tones, reminded me that at that moment, my facility with knitting needles was limited to half of one lumpy doll scarf, and a lot of knotted wool.  He let me buy two skeins of rainbow-striped silk, craftily promising to let me use them as a graduation project, along with the title of 'Real Knitter', if I get the dolly scarf done - this year.  That silk yarn is in my sewing cupboard, Mr Tabubil - and eight weeks on, the dolly project is almost finished.  I'll be knitting that silk scarf yet!    

We found a workshop that builds scale architectural models.  It was extremely satisfying - and gratifying - to watch them through the window making 1:100 buildings SLOWLY.  Carefully.  Measuredly.  Consideredly.  There were no tantrums.  Nobody was slamming the sides of the laser-cutter and weeping with impatience because the CAD templates hadn't scaled and there was no more chipboard to be had at any price.  Nobody would be gluing their hands to each other with superglue, and then tearing their fingers loose and smearing blood across their models– and then showing off the mess as a mark of pride and aggressive dedication to their purpose.  I wouldn't mind that sort of job.  Without the screaming pressure and the midnight deadlines, it'd probably be thoroughly satisfying.

I wandered into a print workshop watch two artists roll a plate through a lithographic press.  Mr Tabubil stayed outside to eat maple candy in the sunshine – and was joined on his bench by an elderly couple who blinked at him amiably and introduced themselves; they were from Adelaide, in South Australia and they were visiting their daughter here in Vancouver.  She had sent them to visit the Granville Market.  She told them they’d understand why.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Break in Our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: Kite Surfing Festival!

Yesterday our town hosted a kite-surfing festival!  
             We're known for our kite surfing; we have a long, shallow, sheltered bay, brisk regular winds and our weather is consistently sunny all summer long.  People came from as far away as Adelaide for this competition -  thousands of dollars in prizes were at stake!
           And it was a washout.  Yesterday, of all possible days, our steady summer weather went bust.  The heat rose, a sluggish rain oozed in, the organizers had somehow failed to check the tidal plats and scheduled the main competition for low tide, and then the wind died. 
            Imagine forty degree heat, a bay that's turned into a tidal mud flat, a seawall full of surfers, and no wind - no wind at all. It was a sight to break the stoniest heart.
            We oozed our own way down to the beach about half past three. The car park was full of sunburned men sitting in their combi vans and 4x4s, drinking beer, staring out at the tidal flats and looking depressed.
            The gamer ones were mustering down on the sand. The MC was organizing a footrace across the sand flats into the shallow water and back to the seawall - carrying kites, of course. 
            "Off they go!"  The bullhorn crackled.  "They're away!  It's not easy carrying a kite in dead wind! Give it up for them battling it out down there on the beach! They're heading for the marker out there, yattatattatta whaddallawhaddallawhaddala, there they go, Mike Brady's out in front, must be dog tired by now but still going strong, yattatattattawaddatta yaddala - Hell with it.  A hundred bucks to the first one past the marker."  The bullhorn abruptly shut off.
            The rain oozed, just enough to turn the steaming air into a swamp.  Mr Tabubil and I lolled and dribbled our way along the foreshore to the cafe and collapsed into chairs outside the door. 
            Paul, a friend, and the roving photographer for the local paper, wheezed into view with his long-lens camera.
            "Hey, Paul!"  Mr Tabubil gave him a friendly wave from the shade, and patted the seat next to him. "Want a seat?"  Nodding his thanks, Paul tottered towards us across the steaming flagstones.  He sank into the seat and wiped a large handkerchief across his forehead. We sat together in companionable silence, watching the runners below us pounding across the sand, their kites clutched to their chests.
            "Poor bastards."  Paul shook his head sadly.  "Hell of a comedown, isn't it?"
            "Don't lose heart."  Mr Tabubil told him cheerfully.  "After they finish this one, they've got half an hour to refresh themselves for the the tug-of -war. The afternoon could be salvaged yet!"

And lo - as the roars from the tug-of-war subsided behind the refreshments tent, the wind kicked up and the tide began to pour in across the sandbar.  In a quarter of an hour it was knee deep; the surfers galloped down onto the sand and pumped up their kites and got the heck out onto the water and proceeded to cut loose as only a crowd of moderately sozzled kite-surfers can do.  (It mostly seems to happen thirty feet up in in the air and upside down.)
            Mr Tabubil and I joined them - we waded out a couple of hundred meters and stood knee deep in the water, watching them flying up and down the bay. The surfers seemed to reckon that Mr Tabubil with his camera was someone official, and set their runs to stop right in front of us. Quite a view.
            After half an hour of mostly sensible shenanigans the organizers reckoned that the wind was here to stay and set up the markers for a downwind speed race.  Half the riders returned to the shore to switch their kites, the whole lot of them assembled behind the starting buoy - and the wind died.  Spectacularly.  Half the kites fell out of the sky like lead bricks - en masse and en unison - and hit the water with an almighty cracking sound.  The rest were drooping sluggishly toward the water, aiming to catch up with the first lot.  One gallant soul managed to stay aloft - but the only way he seemed to be able to grab any air was on a heading straight out sideways into the gulf.
            "Abandon your boards!"  The MC screamed through his bullhorn.  "Get down to that line anyway you can!  Body-drag if you have to!"
            And so began the slowest race in speed-trial history.  They crawled, they dribbled, they lolloped and floated and oozed- on their bellies mostly, as their sad and sluggish sails towed them at a tortoise's pace down the bay.  It was quite the heck of  a thing to watch - they moved down toward the marker like they were mired in deep slow-time, but the riders were strung like violins - they kept the kites spinning in small, tight tight figures of eight - doing everything but call down black magic to keep grabbing air and staying in the sky.
            "That's some incredible skill you're watching, guys!"  The MC hollered at us.  "That they're moving at all takes skills like you've never seen!"  Overwhelmed, he began calling the race, but there's not much you can do with "The blue one on the end has grabbed two yards of bay, guys!  The three in the middle are still in the air -!"  So he started on about Denise again.
            We'd been hearing about Denise all afternoon.  The MC had a thing for her. "That's Denise out there with that blue kite.  Denise is Amazing.  Denise's the most athletic woman this town has ever seen.  She's a fabulous flier, guys.  Denise is hot!"
            By the time of the downwind speed race, his MC-ing had devolved to a sort of Denise-based shorthand of "That Denise - she's hot!  No, seriously guys, she's actuallly got some sky! Callan Morris has some sky as well!  Dylan Cater has three yards on Callan!  Denise is hot!"
            One unfortunate surfer, heading out into international shipping waters managed to wrangle his board back to the starting line and, somewhere around tea-time, headed properly off down the course.  It was a game changer - the race had a competitor who was actually standing up.  Inch by remorseless inch he gained ground.  The MC woke up and started hollering again: "Denise is hot but it's Colin, Colin Delworthy, standing up!  He's out ahead!  He's...still... out ahead.  Go Colin!  Denise, you're still hot, girl, but I think we've got a front runner here!" 
            It was a proud moment for the man.  He had the privilege of announcing that the race had a winner.  The rest of the kites arrived as well, eventually, but by then the tide had gone out again.
            "That's it then, guys."  The MC crackled tiredly.  "Great race.  great race.  How about a round of applause?"
There was an obscene - and muffled - shout from the competitors tent.
            "Fair enough.  I reckon there's some beer left in the judges marquee."  And the bullhorn shut off again.

Of course, as soon as they'd all gone ashore, the wind kicked up again.  It was uncanny.
The riders shot back out for another shot at the freestyle prizes, but we'd had enough.  We'd been standing in the water for an hour and a half, the water was almost up to our waists, and we were done in.
            Our cars were parked on the other side of the competitors field.  We wandered back past the combi vans and listened to the MC spouting gems like "That's Douglas Donnan out there with the helmet.  He's been knocked unconscious five times out on the water and ended up in the hospital - how many times was it?  Five times as well, there you go.  My word.  So he wears the helmet now.  He's been drinking pretty steadily all afternoon, so we're looking forward to some interesting riding out there, eh Douglas?"
Douglas grinned and popped the MC a big thumbs up.

We went home.

The Footrace

The field - swampish and gusty!

Up close and personal, no zoom necessary - the best sort of view.


Grabbing some air

And the moment they all fell out of the sky.