Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chocolate and Stingrays

My mother has just spent a wonderful week-long visit with us, and I am noticing its effect on my waistline. Mum brought so much good chocolate with her- and bought so much more chocolate while she was here, that I'm suffering some sort of theobroma hangover.  It's a very pleasant and buzzy sort of hangover, but in place of regular meals I'd be happy to enjoy some solitary meditation over the next week or two.
Mum's visit went like this:  during a drive through some seriously pretty red-and-olive painted desert, she told me gravely that if I was serious about having children in the near future I needed- right now and no later- to focus on my diet.  
            "Eat only natural foods, avoid anything processed or containing artificial additives; stay away from fish with a high mercury content and above all, avoid sugar.  Cut it out completely.  I know that this last stricture will be very difficult for you, but you must have WILL POWER and - Ooh- speaking of sugar, is there anything left of that kit-kat I bought at the service station?  Pull it out of my bag and we'll split the last two bars!"

Mum takes her chocolate seriously. My aunt still speaks wonderingly about the visit she spent with Mum and Dad ten years ago in Northern Chile. 
            "They took us through the most empty desert you can imagine, and your Mum pulled out a cooler and - oh my dear Tabubilgirl, I've never seen so much chocolate in one place in my whole life!"
            That's my mama!

It was a wonderful visit. We talked and talked and talked, and then we talked some more, and then we sat down and really talked.  In between conversations we drove her up to Port Lincoln, which was as utterly lovely as the previous week (like a small Queensland town dropped down in coastal Victoria) and on to Coffin Bay which was even lovelier, because the sun was out this weekend.  Mr Tabubil went gaga over the oysters again and the grumpy restaurant staff had turned into a group of young ladies sweet as sugar and butter-pie.  We had missed the regular lunch hour and were deep into the Oyster-and-Coffee hour, but on account of how Mum is phenomenally allergic to oysters, they thought as how they might be able to scrounge something simple for us in the kitchen. That "something" turned out to be a massive platter of the freshest, most delicately seasoned (cumin was prominent) tuna steaks I've ever met in my life.  There really is no substitute for seriously fresh seafood.
            We've changed our minds. Go and eat at the Osyterbeds Good Food House, 61 Esplanade, Coffin Bay, (08) 8685 4000.

Back home, Mum spent the rest of the week driving our little silver Celica around town, ten or twenty kilometers under the speed limit, "just to be safe."  I took her down to the Marina to walk out along our lovely fishing jetty. The water was clear as glass and we could see every stone and stand of sea grass on the bottom. Boys were crabbing. We hung over the rail to look down at their crab pot and we saw a great piece of shadow lift itself up from the bottom and swarm up and over the pot. It was an enormous black stingray, at least five feet across. The boy in charge of the pot yelled and grabbed for the rope and tried to shake the monster loose; the monster flattened itself around the pot and hung on, then the boy began to haul the rope upward and the stingray loosed its hold and slipped away under the jetty.
            That evening I was tutoring maths, and when I arrived at the office I boasted to Simon (my boss) all about it. He nodded, blandly unimpressed, and told me that under the rock wall of the marina only a few hundred meters away from the jetty lives a stingray that is nine inches thick across the middle - it weighs about 350 kilos and is the size of a room. Very popular with scuba divers. My student clattered through the door and nodded confirmation. On the weekend, she said, she had been snorkeling on the sand-flat at high tide and had found herself face to face with a four-foot-wide-er.
            "You really cannot imagine - I absolutely froze.  My Dad called to me and told me it was only a manta ray, and I backed away really carefully and then I swam back to the beach - I've never swam so fast in my life and then, when I was back at the beach he told me it was really a stingray and I was so scared I nearly died!"
            We did less maths than usual that day, because Simon sat us both down and told us stingray stories.
            Simon's sea stories are the best - because they're all true. When he tells you the most hair-raising ones, he finishes with the words "and would you like to see the photographs?"
            And then he shows them to you.

Simon's Stingray Story:
"Last year, coming in from a fishing trip at a bay that's out past the lighthouse, I was powering in toward shore, moving pretty fast, and I saw a dark shadow across the sea ahead of me. I thought it was a patch of sea grass so I gunned the throttle to get through it - and the strangest thing happened. As I passed through the sea grass, the water right in front of the boat was white - I was looking at the sea bottom - a path of white sand cutting right through the dark. Well that threw me. I slowed down and came around wide and circled back to where the weed started and I tell you two girls - it wasn't sea grass at all, it was about a thousand stingrays, all pressed together, all on top of each other, and as I came toward them they moved aside, just as if I were was Moses, making a path through the Red Sea."

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