Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Break in Our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: Happy December!

It is December 1st, the first day that by law and fiat and righteousness, one may lawfully play Christmas carols, string eco-friendly LEDs about their premises and decorate a Christmas tree!
Sing Hosanna!

I love me some good walllowy holiday music, and my collection of Christmas carols is set on autoplay for the duration. There's only one fly in the jingle-bell ointment: Mr Tabubil has an unnatural abhorrence for lyrics involving:
a) Sleigh rides
b) holly jolly snowmen
c) Walking in winter wonderlands
And (I quote)
d) Any juvenile musicians who can't keep a proper control over their drumsticks and go pa-rum-pa-pum-pum all day and all night.
e) Particularly when sung by those smug, pre-pubescent sopranos of the Vienna Boys Choir.
f) Can we listen to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Album now?

During this holly jolly Christmas season, Mr Tabubil is cordially invited to keep his curmudgeonly opinions to himself. However, compromise being the cornerstone of all successful endeavors, Mr Tabubil is allowed one hour of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Wizards of Winter on repeat every evening.

As for Christmas trees and mistletoe - At present our own collection of holiday odd-job-ery is small, discreet and tasteful. It's a start. I have upwardly mobile aspirations and hope in the fullness of time, to work up to a real, American style Christmas Wonderland.

In the holly jolly holiday spirit, here are a few classic and timeless Anglo-Christian holiday ornaments to get you started:

A Pink Tinsel Christmas Tree:

A Singing and Dancing Anamatronic Lump of  Christmas Coal:

Mobile Mistletoe:

Reindeer Toilet Seat Cover and Antler Set:

And if smug pre-pubescent sopranos just aren't doing it for you, here is the Regretsy collection of regrettable holiday Mp3s.

And if you're reading this, Mr Tabubil, remember that what a girl really wants for Christmas is a pink lawn flamingo.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sydney in Half a Day

We had half a day in Sydney before our flight across the Pacific. Neither of us had been to Sydney for years, and it felt like an auspicious beginning for our Big International Holiday - a chance to mooch a little around a city that is practically (if not geographically) speaking, right in our backyard.
            We left our bags at the Sydney Central YHA Hostel (wonderful place, would do it every time) and hopped a bus down to Circular Quay. Where we immediately took lots of photographs of ourselves with the Opera House right behind our shoulders to send back to the office at home on Mr. Tabubil's iphone. Sometimes you just have to be heartless.
            We had a good solid mooch around the Rocks. There were a lot of Halloween-y advertisements for ghost tours, but we didn't see any haunts. It must have been the wrong time of day. The Rocks is one of Sydney's oldest neighborhoods- the warehouses and flophouses and tenements of the old town, built all snug and tight against the rock cliff walls of the harbor. The buildings are sandstone, and caught about by narrow wynds and closes, now re-vamped with brick and steel and clever little water-courses.

Today the old buildings are mostly filled up with art galleries and Italian restaurants and DFX duty-free palaces, but coming around corners, you meet unexpected lanes that have been retrofitted for habitation, with washing lines and Volvos and banana trees squeezed into corners of the rock.

We wandered along the harbor wall under the big bridge. So many rivets. That's what you notice. The hundreds of thousands of millions of rivets that hold it together. There's a big fold-out picture book in the school library about the construction of the bridge; it’s an important revisionist history that focuses mostly on the advantages taken of the workforce, the institutionalized injustices and the apathy - and antagonism - of the government. There is much discussion of the terrible safety conditions and the hair-raising ways the men working on the bridge met their deaths. There were no safety line in the 1930s - a man who slipped and fell was drilled vertically into the mud, and pulled out with his clothes all ripped and shredded up about his ears.
            It's an important story,but even the most aggrieved and burning union man must have looked up at that bridge and seen something great - not in spite of the manner in which it was built, but because of it. A measure of the achievement of man, built one rivet at a time.
          Under the bridge, we climbed back up the hill into the Rocks again. The air shivered and we heard a horn.  The sound was so loud that the bridge and the hill blurred and furred and our sight grew thin and stretched around the edges. We turned back toward the water and saw a whole city block sailing past us. An absolutely massive cruise ship was sliding under the bridge and blocking out the sun. On the decks, people waved and shouted, their mouths moving soundlessly under the weight of the great sound. We waved and shouted and screamed back at them and exhilarated, we galloped up the hill and stood on a wall to watch the ship glide out past the Opera House on its way out of the harbor.
            When it was out of sight, we walked back down the hill and out along the Quay to the Opera House, and I got rather cross.
Who can't love the opera house? Light airy shells, swoopy curves - conceived and built architectural ages before the advent of computer-generated swoopy things, and done with the discipline and rigor that comes from the need to pull against the limits of traditional construction methods and calculate all the engineering yourself - no software or space age material shortcuts.
            What I loathe hate and abhor is the ghastly mid-century-brutalist plinth it sits on.
I mean, look at it:

I mean, Seriously.

This horrible pebble-brushed mountain is one of those misguided mid-century experiments in urban engineering, designed in a fashion so ghastly that you wonder if some future meta-architects were reaching back into a particular impressionable period of history to find out how swiftly you can divide and depopulate a cityscape.  Perhaps for a futuristic undergraduate seminar in Post-Apocalyptica.
            It's a fact that the bright shells can house only a fraction of the Opera House complex, but there's no straightforward plot from there to this - burying them out of sight under a gravel-washed nightmare.  Even the grand portico for arriving swishily in expensive cars on first nights is a dark and dingy underpass squashed underneath the horrible staircase.
            That staircase - purity of architectural line, my bottom. It's mid-century poverty of spirit. Sterilization kills more than germs.

 We climbed the stairs (me harrumphing and hephalumping all the way to the top) and found pretty seashells lying on a rather bare and uninteresting shore.

We went inside to look for the ticket office, and were directed down into the bowels of what looked like the locker-room and men's-toilets level of an Italian municipal bus terminal.
           And I got cross again.
            Raw concrete is a valid and rewarding medium of architectural expression, but there is a huge and aesthetically significant difference between raw concrete as a choice and "We haven’t got anything left in the budget so let's snake the electrical wires over the bare form-work and pretend we meant to do it like that. If we blow out a few light bulbs, no-one will even notice."
            "I love it when you fulminate like that." Mr Tabubil said breathily, and swooned across a rack of postcards.

We bought tickets to the evening's performance of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and went to find dinner. We didn't have very much time before the performance, so we wandered further into the bowels and popped out at a little bistro down at the waterline. We ate our dinner on the least interesting waterfront promenade in history, but nobody in Sydney had a better view for watching the sun set over the city.
They couldn’t find a way to mess with that.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Off We Go!

A week ago I got back from six weeks of holidays and I feel like blogging all about it.  

It's taken me a week to unpack and sort myself out - so let's pretend we're setting off - today.

Let's go.

The doors are locked, the gas turned off, the bedside lamps set on timers, the medical insurance is checked - we are off!

My sister-in-law is being married in DC, and we’re taking a holiday - we'll visit my parents in Vancouver, travel through Toronto and New York visiting friends there, and wind up in Washington DC for the big family wedding party!

Viva vacaciones!!

Happy Birthday, Mr Tabubil!

In honor of the birthday of my very own Best Beloved Mr Tabubil, here is one of my two favorite Mr Tabubil stories. This one dates back about four years, to when we were living in Toronto.

When Mr Tabubil Came Home Tired Last Night
12 October 06

He turned the key in the lock and by the time the door was open, she was there in front of him, beaming happily, bouncing on her toes. At the sight of his drawn face, her smile slid into a lower, more concerned register and she draw him into a hug.
"Long commute today?"
He slumped against her shoulders and she deftly slipped of his coat and drew him toward the sofa.
"Shall I start dinner?  D'you want to help?  Just sit?  You sit."

He trudged off to the bedroom to change.Tugging on an old T-shirt he heard a terrific clanging chaos break out in the kitchen. Galvanized, he stood frozen with the t-shirt half over his head and listened to a metal waterfall hammer and jangle its way out of a cupboard and onto the floor.
The din petered out into the nyoing-nyoing-nyoing of a lone spinning saucepan lid and then, into the silence, he heard a small voice say:
"Oh BUGGER.  I forgot that I set that up for YOU."

His evening brightened dramatically.

I'm not allowed to tell the other story.
It involves a heavily jet-lagged Mr Tabubil, and the calculated deployment of a dinner of Liver and Onions and a pair of saggy nylon granny panties.
I will say only this: it was possibly the most impressively successful Valentine's Day in history.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The 21st Century Jigglebelt

Did I tell you the deep dark abominable secret I learned about my husband last weekend at the Whyalla Show?
            I shouldn't've been surprised - his unnatural enthusiasm for dragging me into the Home and Garden pavilions at the Toronto Ex ought to have given me a clue.  So should the way he bookmarks late-night highlight reels from the home shopping network on youtube.
            Mr Tabubil is mad about home maintenance product demonstrations.  He watches them all the way through, standing right up at the front of the crowd, where he grins and nods and laughs at every single half-hearted home-improvement joke - 
            and then - 
            He Buys The Products.
            Seven minutes after we hit the Home and Garden Hall at the Whyalla Show, he owned four blue shammy cloths.  He sighed worshipfully over the Home Workshop in a Closet, rubbed his hands together - in real glee! - over the Magical Sliding Workbench from Melbourne - and then he found a real live demonstration by a real live German Expert of Europe's Number One Window Cleaning Sponge and he was lost.
            And this is when the dark character of his mania became apparent:
            The product was actually very good -and he didn't buy it.
            We stopped to watch a patented Power Jigsaw  in action (drills through anything - concrete, steel, glass, corrugated iron), skated right by a spectacularly efficient and adaptable set of table clamps, only to come to a halt at the whirlpool spa display (the 20' long, 10' deep at the centre, seats 12 in royal comfort prestige model was truly worth a goggle).  We moved on again, past the Tasmanian Leather Sofa Suites (I bruised my bottom sitting down - they're concrete under that Antipodean cowhide) and finally came to a dead stop in front of the Temple to Jiggle Your Cares Away.  It was a magnificent sight - a dozen bronzed gods and goddesses stood on a dozen vibrating platforms, holding tightly to the sturdy guard rails as their avoirdupois literally melted away.             A young god stepped down from his machine and smiling tenderly, extended me a hand.  I took it, and rose to stand next to him upon the platform - and was vibrated into the middle of next week.  A howling rattling gale shook the veneers loose from my teeth and untied my shoelaces.  My inner ear went of vacation, leaving no forwarding address.  Dimly I heard the god shouting something about efficient firming of the abdominals - my abdominals were a bowl full of jelly and my 20-year-old appendix scar was coming unstitched.
            Risking life and limb, I released one hand and groped for the off switch.  As the machine shuddered to a halt, the horrible man informed me - in condescending tones - that fifteen minutes a day on this appalling apparatus would bring me more benefit than an hour of daily minutes of intensive muscle training.  He flexed a pectoral and waited for my admiration, but I my gaze was listing twenty degrees abeam, and without even a polite leer I sloped off after it, trailed by a vastly impressed Mr Tabubil.
            We made it almost all the way to the end of the pavilion before we hit the demonstration of The Only Broom You Will Ever Need (Buy One Get One Free)
            Guess how many we bought.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pleasures of Renting

There was a knock on the door.
            "I've been told to come and look at your insulation." The man said. "What's wrong with it?"
            "We don't have any." I said. 
            He looked at me and blinked. "Yeah. Right. What's wrong with it?"
            "We don't have any." I said again.  "That's the problem."
            The inspector actually took a step backward. "What?" He said, shocked. "No insulation in your roof? None at all?"
            "None at all."
            "But it's 37 degrees outside!"
            "And you've got a black tile roof!"
            He looked at me in horror. "Why the hell did you do that for, then?"
            "We didn't." I said. "We're renting. After we moved in, let's say that certain... deficiencies in the building have become rather apparent. The insulation's written into the lease. The owners just won't install it."
            "You can't possibly have nothing up there." He said furiously. "Where's your access?"
            I pointed down the hall to the access hatch above the study door. "We don't have a ladder, but I can offer you a chair, if you like."
            He snorted and, grabbing the edges of the hole, chinned himself up for a look around.  His legs waggled furiously.
            "There really is nothing up there!" He said, chinning himself back down. He shook his head and whistled. "And look at that that." He said. "The front door frame's sloping sideways. How old is this place?"
            "About a year." I said, grinning.
He staggered again. " Who's your landlord? Who built this place? How the hell did the council even pass it?"

I was, in a quiet way, thoroughly enjoying myself. After we moved in and discovered just how badly our house had been built, the hot-weather contingency clauses we'd insisted in adding to our lease became rather important - or would have been, if our landlords had shown any intention of honoring the contract. We've been trying to have the insulation put in for six months now. And to have the flyscreens put in the windows - something more than critical here in the blowfly belt, at least if you plan on enjoying through-ventilation. The landlord's latest desperate avoidance tactic has been to go on holidays in Thailand, where they can't hear our bi-weekly pleas and imprecations. A tactic which makes his claims of being budget-strapped less than convincing.  The only reason we're even having an inspector come round is that the real-estate agent took advantage of the landlord being away and ordered it herself.
            The inspector looked around thoughtfully. "Where's your air-conditioning?"
            "Over there." I pointed.
He stomped over to the wall and squinted at the unit. "Half a kilowatt? Bloody hell! You're trying to cool a whole house with that?"
            "Oh, not all of it." I said. "Just all of it except the living room.  The living room's got a 2 kilowatt unit in the corner. It just doesn't reach any further than the living room door. The one you're looking at? We can't measure any effect farther than 8 feet away. We're sort of camping out in there under the big unit, mostly.  You see the mattress leaning against the wall there?"
He shook his head.
            "I need to come back with a ladder and have a proper look at this." He muttered and stomped back down the hall toward the sloping front door. "And I'm calling the council to find out who built this place. I'll be back."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hot heat is hot!

It was 37 degrees outside yesterday, with a baking hot north wind to go with it.
It was about the same inside when I came home (without the hot north wind - we've not got flyscreens on the sliding doors, so we don't have much through-ventilation.)

It's hard to keep a house cool - especially when you've got a black tile roof, no insulation, and your landlords have gone on holidays to Thailand instead of putting it in!

The Show

Back in August,  the day that we hired our neoprene suits to go swimming with the cuttlefish, we spent the afternoon at the Show.
            People describe the local show this way:  "It's just like the Adelaide Show, they say, and then they snort.  "Just like it - about 2% of it."
             Our show might be empirically smaller;  as measured in irrelevancies such as square footage and numbers of tents and rollercoasters and hucksters in the Home and Garden tent, our show might not look like very much.  But by any meaningful definition of the term - it's enormous. 
            It's Ours.

Take the cooking competition in the handicrafts hall, which is where we started.  The prep students at Miles Patterson had all entered the Decorated Biscuit competition in the cooking division, and a tenth-grade boy from my cooking class won a blue ribbon for his gingerbread castle.  And a co-worker of a friend enters an Orange Loaf cake every year (Baked in a Tin Division) - and she wins.

Decorated Biscuits, Grades 1 and 2

Our favorite Mr Potato Head

Kids Collections - Pet Rock Division

We stopped to say hello to the ladies running the stall for the Quilting Guild - and to the ladies running the stall for the Machine Embroidery Club - and even to the booth for the ladies who who Quilt And Also Machine Embroider (but very carefully - the schism over the use of the Quilting Guild Hall on Tuesdays by the Quilters who Also Machine Embroider has rocked the quilting guild to its foundations.)

 A professional florist won all of the flower-arranging classes.  Not very sporting.

The names on the cages of the prize-winning homing pigeons and chickens and flower arrangements are names we see on mailboxes and hear and in the office, and read in the community interest supplement of our local newspaper.  Three days before the show a taxi driver mourned to me - all the way across town - about how she'd been one day too late with her entry form to enter her prize duck in the poultry competition. 

Prize-winning Blondinette pigeons in the Poultry Shed.

Emo Chicken.

Noble Quackers.

No comment on this one. It tried to eat me.

We found Mr Tabubil's boss hammering pig iron in a living history display, red-faced with frustration and mired in a long, wrangling argument with his fellow renactors over an ahistorical but exponentially more efficient mechanical method for blowing the bellows:  "Well okay.  Deriving from a purely factual perspective, maybe they didn't, but if they'd known that they could, they would have, wouldn't they?!"
            We ate hot cinnamon donuts from the high school refreshment stand, watched Saul, our cooking instructor, show us how to turn lamb chops into sweet-and-sour summer heaven, then went out and found enough sideshow games and spinning teacup rides and ghastly plastic junk to blow the pocket money of every kid in town between the ages of nine and seventeen.

It was plenty big enough for us.

But can you find the pink plastic beer stein shaped like a cowboy boot?

Came over on the boats after the potato famine, presumably.

Monday, November 22, 2010


The desert is blooming right now – wildflowers are springing up out of the verges all over town.
Someone at work told Mr Tabubil that the flowers were particularly lovely out around Cleve - so we climbed in the car and headed out to have a look.
Cleve is 90 minutes drive away - you head south and west down the coast toward Cowell (best Fish and Chips in 200 kilometers) then turn inland. We live on the leading edge of the deep red desert, on land so poor you can’t even run scrub cattle here, but half way to Cowell you top a small scrub hill and stop, briefly, in surprise, because on the far side of the hill the sad scrubby little mulga trees are suddenly taller and thicker - and there are wheat fields everywhere.
Inland from Cowell, the road runs through rolling hills of pasture and cropland – tall feathery crops greener than Irish Whiskey adds, and thick pastures dotted with fat white sheep - real white sheep - none of the skinny half-feral red-tinted creature you EXPECT of Australian sheep.
And get, around our place.

In Cleve, the green didn't stop with the farmland – the roadside verges were thick with grass, and there was MOSS - thick lumps of jungle moss – clumped between the roots. There were no flowers anywhere - too MUCH rain, I reckon, but it was a much of a muchness - the whole town was such a joy to our desert eyes.

Cleve is a small and solid farming town, the regional center for agricultural suppliers, with an avenue of agricultural barns and equipment suppliers on the edge of town, a double-wide main street (wide enough to turn a double team of oxen once, but they've put in a median strip), a golf course running along the edge of main street, and streets of small perfect cottage houses with blooming cottage gardens.
It was deserted. Two pm on a Sunday isn’t precisely tourist season. Not a sight or a sound or a wandering dog - just a light aircraft practicing takeoffs and landings on an airfield somewhere on the edge of hearing. Mr Tabubil and I went for a stroll, clopping down empty sidewalks past shuttered shops - and heard a shout- and found the entire male population of Cleve out on the golf course. Stacked three deep on the greens.

At the end of main street we turned toward the sound of the airfield and found one store front busy with spinners and racks of clothing and old rocking horses - the Cleve Christian Light Book and Op Shop was open for business! Sort of - three ladies had brought in their sewing machine and commandeered the floor of the shop for sewing baby clothes.
They let us in anyway - it was a general hallmark card-ery with a solid non-denominational book selection, but in the back - a door opened into a huge (cavernous, even!) warren of op-shoppery HEAVEN.

Biscuit tins and jam jars and bread makers and lamps without wires and radios with the insides missing, shelves and bins and bushel baskets of sheets and towels and tablecloths and facecloths and mattress protectors – the lives of Cleve's deceased grandparents, their estates divided between the auction house and the op shop.
Aisles of books. Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys and Seven Little Australians and a Christian Traveler's Guide to the Grand Canyon. The Road to the Messiah, explained in seven volumes.
And Mr Tabubils’ great find - the Hallelujah! Food Show!
8 episodes on VHS! the Hallelujah! Baby's diet. The Hallelujah! Daily Eating. The Hallelujah! Diet for Traveling - Sensible daily diets for the growing family – and sanctioned by scripture, too!

We drove out of Cleve by the back road and set a course on the GPS that would get us home some time after midnight. We took strange roads - red farm lanes that corkscrewed along the spines of twisted hills, the switchbacks graded smooth as city streets and wide enough for two big harvester machines to pass abreast.
After the first few kilometers we ran out of farmsteads, and for the next 60 km, we saw only two houses – just kilometers and kilometers of empty fields and those wide red roads.

We’d had rain a few days before, and trucks had dug deep ridges over the grading in the bottoms of the tightest curves. One switchback was a gully filled with silt – we took it at 30kph and spun out wide – fishtailing back and forth across the road and stopping – with a thump – on top of the grader's spill pile at the side of the road.
After another hour of switchbacks and spinning red dirt we passed a 4x4 - they gave us curious looks in our little Celica, and we dipped back onto the Lincoln Highway and came home the direct way.

And cooked fresh prawns for dinner. Yum.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Follow-up guest post from Almost-Doctor Tabubil

Super hot male doctors should not be gynecologists for the following reasons:

1. It's distracting for young female medical students.
2. It's disappointing to find out they are married. There should be laws about visible wedding rings.
3. The look on the faces of young female patients when they walk on the door: "O YEAH, today is my lucky day!"
4. Followed immediately by "Nooooooo, not for my GYNAE problems of all things!!!"
5. The female medical student trying not to laugh as she thinks "Ha! And I get to spend the rest of the day doing this with him!"


My sister is on her last rotation before graduation - “Obs and Gobs” – as Australians – ever so delicately* – refer to Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is in love with her resident: 
            “Tall, no wedding ring, and the most lovely eyelashes.”
            “Lovely eyelashes?”
            “It’s the only part of him I can see over his surgical mask.” She sighed. Beatifically.

*This week I’ve learned that Spaghetti Bolognese is only for stuck up toffee noses from the city – real Australians eat Spag Bog. The sparrows in your backyard are Spoggies – and should be shot, the lot of them, they eat your garden, mark my words, you’ll be down to stubble by midsummer.   Magpies are Moggies – but so are cats, and if you think spag bog sounds dodgy, wait till you're offered a dog's eye with mushy peas, mystery bags and a dead horse.

It's enough to drive you berko.