Monday, January 31, 2011

Recipe: No-Holds-Barred Tiramisu

Here's a recipe for tiramisu from our dairy-happy cordon bleu cooking teacher. It even makes native Italians happy. Holy Hootenanny!

No-Holds-Barred Tiramisu
Serves 4-6, depending

2 packets of Italian sponge fingers
375g dark chocolate
375ml cream
4 tablespoons instant coffee (the Good stuff.  No International Roast.  Don't even think about it.)
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
180 ml Irish Baileys (or cheaper equivalent - i.e. Erin Cream)
600ml cream
cocoa powder for dusting

Place the chocolate and 375ml of cream in the microwave and heat until the chocolate has melted.  Stir until it combines to form a ganache.
Place 4 tablespoons of instant coffee in a coffee-cup. Fill the cup 3/4 full with hot water, add 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir till coffee and sugar are dissolved.
Whip 600ml cream with 1 tablespoon of vanilla essence and 5 tablespoons of sugar until firm peaks form.

In a deep tray, layer:
Drizzle of chocolate ganache
Layer of sponge fingers
1/2 coffee mixture
Drizzle of chocolate ganache
1/4 bottle of liqueur
Layer of whipped cream (about 1/3 of whipped cream)

Repeat Layering. Top the confection with the remaining cream - enough to create a 'mask' over the dish - a thick firm layer that does not show the contours of the dish below.
Through a small sieve, dust the tray with cocoa powder.

Refrigerate.  Serve chilled.  If you're like me, make sure you have your Lactaid (TM) tablets in your pocket because you ARE going to get a wicked stomach ache.  Halleluiah!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Photographs of Brisbane, after the Flood

Flood Debris piled outside the front door of Dr Tabubil's apartment building:

On Wednesday Mum and I drove down to St Lucia - our long-time stomping ground, to see how the suburb had done against the flooding.
Not too well.

The University of Queensland CityCat Ferry Terminal:

The University of Queensland shovels out and keeps on going:

House on Sir Fred Schonell Drive: Note the High-water mark on the trees and buildings:

A flooded out restaurant complex on Sir Fred Schonell Drive - the carpark was an absolute mess.


The wonderful VandE, whose historical costuming blog I follow, lives on a property below the Lockyer Valley - right at the point where the water that came roaring out of there met the water being dumped out of the Wivenhoe Dam. I've been following her blog for the last week, and have been amazed - and heartened - by the grace and the humor with which she writes about living through that enormous water, and the astonishing, generous response of people - the hundreds and thousands of people who came to help her recover her life. She writes of strangers sifting through the debris of her home, searching for bits of jewellery and childrens toys, picking sodden books out of the rafters and laying the moulding pages out to dry.

You can fall in love with strangers - every single mopping, digging, shoveling one of them.

Find Part Two Here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Break in Our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: Welcome to Brisbane

Welcome to Brisbane.
It got pretty wet up here.

I'm up here for a medical procedure, staying with my mum and sister, Dr Tabubil, in my sister's apartment on the river.
            Dr Tabubil was lucky - she and Mum rode out the floods safely on the Gold Coast. And after all those days of living the flood vicariously on the television and over the interwebs, her building in Brisbane was NOT flooded out - the residents sandbagged and watched the water lap at the door and organized bucket brigades for if and when it rose and reached the electrical junction box (housed on the ground floor, naturally!) For two days, every healthy resident was downstairs sandbagging or moving all the files and furniture in the manager's office to higher ground and the building manager, when Dr Tabubil talked to him, was quite concerned for several elderly people who shouldn't have been sandbagging but had insisted on doing so and were now having some heart trouble… But they made it through without anything more than minor palpitations.
            But the designers of the buildings to either side had the genius to site the electrical and elevator control rooms in the basement. They will be out of power for a fair while, it's reckoned.
            My aunt and Uncle spent the flood living in a fair zoo, opening their house to flooded-out friends and relatives. My ballet-mad 13 year old cousin though the flood was seventh heaven - one of the refugees was a genuine ballet dancer from the Royal Australian Ballet who'd come to town for a teaching conference - guess who ended up being the student demonstratee at the conference later in the week?
            We've heard of only one friend - so far - who went under entirely. She and her husband were given enough warning to round up friends and salvage the photographs and important papers and hump whatever furniture they could up to the second floor. They're shrugging their shoulders and saying "we'll rebuild." Nothing much else they can do.
             The daughter of a family friend raises horses on an 11 acre property in the Lockyer valley. On the day before the floods she had been rushed to the Ipswich Hospital after being kicked by a horse. She was released - after many tests - with severe bruising and a quantity of morphine for the excruciating pain. On Monday evening, she was given 25 minutes by the State Emergency Services to evacuate their home. She and her husband and twin baby sons made it to a property on a hill 2 miles away from their house and sheltered there with 15 other refugees while an 8 meter wall of water roared through the valley.
            They spent three days there, watching the water swirl past. On the first night, she ran out of morphine. I understand that it was a pretty rough three days for her. Her frantic father tried to arrange for an emergency airlift by helicopter, but the helicopters were rather more pressingly engaged picking survivors out of trees and off of submerged buildings.
            But then - hallyluyah hallyluyah!! When the waters went down they went home and found their house standing. Two houses down the road, all that's left is a foundation buried under a pile of rubble; at her place, the water came up the drive and stopped - twenty centimeters from her back door. The property at the end of her road lost 51 horses - every single one of her horses rode out the flood belly deep in a hill-paddock.

I flew up here on Monday - the flight was full of cheerful young men wearing construction boots and toting hard hats - apprentices sent up by their bosses to lend a hand wherever they were needed. Our town sent an S&R team. On the weekend ten thousand local residents turned out to sweep and scrub and tote wreckage.  And the CBD, at least, looks damned good. Mum and I took a wrong turning off of Anne St. yesterday morning on our way to the doctor and drove through the formerly flooded zone - the disaster crews have hosed down the streets, and buildings that we'd seen on the news waist deep in water were now sparkling in the sun - the only evidence of the flooding were the building lobbies cordoned off with incident tape, and the tankers trucks lining the streets - pumping out basements and sending fountains of muddy water in the street. We do all right with the mopping up, we Australians do. We're doing all right.
            Yesterday afternoon Mum and I drove into St Lucia, down by the university. I took a few photographs just before yesterday's enormous storm hit (we only felt the edge of it - no hail or trees coming down where we were, thank heavens!) Unfortunately my laptop here won't recognize my memory card - on the weekend I'll go buy a cable for it and THEN I'll post the pictures. 

Edit: the uploaded photos can be found here. And here.
St Lucia got hit HARD. Driving through the suburb, the flood stopped being vicariously awful and faintly thrilling and we just felt sad, and sick in the stomach.
            Convoys of army trucks. Convoys of cranes and fire engines. Houses that had gone under totally, weed hanging from the gutters and windows hanging from their sashes. Buildings with the flood line (and it's a very clear line) sitting well above the start of the second storey. Junked cars. A park that has been turned into a giant rubbish skip - a whole block of crumpled furniture and fixtures as people have just had to strip their whole lives out of the shells of their houses. A marquee on a corner - serving up hot-dogs to people in muddy shorts and construction boots, who stood and ate, heavy, empty eyed, and rolled their shoulders and crimped their necks and headed back into those ruined houses.

There's an electrical storm outside right now - lightning going like a disco ball. I'm turning the computer off. At least the rain will help wash off the houses.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Mum and I woke up this morning and found that during the night the mountains around Vancouver had their first snowfall.
            We jumped into the car and drove up to Cypress Mountain, one of the ski resorts on the other side of the harbor, only half an hour or so from home.  By the time we reached the resort the snow had retreated back up to the very tops of the ski runs, so instead of a snowball fight we went for a hike - very bracing and bucolic - along an alpine trail out to a small alpine lake.
            The landscape was very precise and quietly precious - almost manicured, as if a dedicated team of landscape gardeners had set themselves to a millennium of mountain-scaping, planning for the moment a group of Anglo settlers would come and build ski-runs down the mountains and plow a few trails through the forest for when the skiing palled.

The manicured appearance of the trails was deceptive - when we left the open ground and entered the forest Mum handed me two bells.
            "Bear bells?"  I asked warily.
            "Bear bells."  She said.
Readers might remember that Mum has a certain ambivalence about the ursine residents of these here mountains.
            "Don't laugh. " Mum said flatly. "We were up here a month ago with your aunt and uncle, and we saw a bear and two babies as close to us as that tree over there is to you right now."
I turned and looked at the tree in question.  It's lowest branches were brushing my hair.
            "Truly?"  I said.
            "You just keep ringing those bells."  She said.  "No rhythm.  Keep it irregular."  She turned on her heel and marched away down the trail, jingling as she went.
            "Are we warning them off or ringing a lunch bell?"  I wondered, and started off after her.

Hiking through an alpine forest in an alpine forest with jingle-bells on each thumb is monotonous.  The mystery and magic of the moment is utterly lost - jingle jingle jingle - you can't think thoughts - jingle jingle - and you catch yourself falling into a rhythm to match your footsteps - jingle  jin-jingle! Jing! jingle jingle - and pulling out of pace pulls your footsteps out of kilter and you stumble on the rocks and the bells ring CLANG jingle JAG CLANG jingle -
            Hikers coming the other way stare at you, and all in all, reaching the lake comes as something of a relief. 
The lake waters were still and quiet and wide and the path turned into a clearing that Mum judged as sufficiently broad to prevent bears from sneaking up on us unawares. 
            "Your uncle said that he saw one from here - over on the opposite shore."  Mum whispered.
            "So this side's safe?"  I said, and stripped the bells from my fingers and dropped them on a picnic table.
She shot me an indecipherable look.  
            "Keep them near you at all times."  She said.  "You could need them at any moment.  And if they don't work, I have a backup."  She patted her hip pocket.  "I left the flare gun in the car, but my pepper spray is right here in my pocket."

For seasoning, I presume.  We made it back -unchewed - to the carpark, jingling all the way.  The bears must have all been up at the tops of the ski-runs, having snowball fights.  If I  were a bear, I'd've had a napkin round my neck and been staking out the dinner party.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Inner-City Waterfalls

Downtown Vancouver is full of small green squares and water-parks.
This one, on Burrard and Dunsmuir, is one of my favorites.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Feeding the Beasts

Mum and Dad live five minutes by bicycle from Stanley Park.  Stanley Park is a 400 hectare peninsula on the north-western tip of the city.  It has forest and woodland, with lakes and beaver ponds (and beavers) and open parkland.  The Vancouver aquarium is located there, (currently mired in a controversy over the housing of two beluga whales.)and outside the aquarium, there are beavers and deer and coyotes and raccoons... Boy, does the park have raccoons.
            Just on dusk, Dad would take me cycling with him in the park.  Vancouver has a highly particular cycling etiquette.  The city's trails are double-barreled.  One lane for cyclists and other wheeled travelers and one for pedestrians, with a concrete divider down the center, so that we obstreperous cyclists don't get any wrong ideas and try to take out a pedestrian.
            Not for their want of trying - the road rules are clear and simple and rigid.  Cyclists and skateboards and roller blades stay in their lane.  Pedestrians walk anywhere they darned well feel like.  Often with their eyes closed.
            "Let's check out the Raccoons!" Dad shouted one night.  We were bowling along the shoes of Lost Lagoon, merrily dodging jaywalkers out for their evening constitutional.  He swung sideways and slewed off the bike track onto a narrow dirt trail that led off into the brush.  "They'll be out about now!"
            I skidded into the turn behind him.  The track was damp and muddy, pressed in on both sides by low-hanging undergrowth.  Four beams of light shone from the bush on my left.
            "That's two!" I called out.
            "Yep!"  Dad shouted back. "Keep going!"
            We barreled down the trail, skidding around the turns and throwing up a wake of gravel and muddy water. 
            Dad braked to a sudden stop.  "There!"
            A small stream made a break in the undergrowth, and in a clearing on the bank were eight fat raccoons.
            They looked up at us indifferently, then turned back to whatever had been absorbing them before we arrived - heaps of crushed dog kibble that someone had laid in a row all the way across the clearing.  With unbecoming delicacy, the animals picked at the food with their slender, almost-human-like hands, and proceeded to stuff their faces.
The whole lot of them were overweight - those delicate paws rested on  noticeably rounded stomachs, and as, one by one they yawned and burped and left the piles of food half-finished on the verge and headed with an asthmatic waddle back toward the stream, low-slug bellies swung ponderously back and forth sideways.
            Ten meters further down the trail we found another gang of overfed creatures, and then another - all told, we saw seventeen well-rounded raccoons while travelling slightly less than thirty meters of parkland.

"This is nothing." Dad sighed.  "One evening last week I saw thirty three."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Back In Vancouver

Back in Vancouver, Mr Tabubil and I did absolutely nothing of consequence. When we were hungry, we ate. When we were bored, we wandered around the apartment, or out along the seawall, and when we were tired we slept. We didn't talk. Travelling is wonderful. Seeing much-loved friends and family is wonderful, but after three weeks of talking and visiting, we needed a little time to decompress.
Mr Tabubil's leave was up, and he flew home to Australia, but I was able to stay on for a while, and spend three more weeks visiting with Mum and Dad. Life is good like that sometimes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Altogether More Charming Rant

Tabubilgirl was obliged to fly with United Airlines, and the experience did not leave her happy At All.

Other people say it better and wittier.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: A Rant in Three Acts

The last time we met I was in DC, watching my SIL marry my new BIL.  Today I'm flying back to Vancouver.  On United.
            What is it about a fully booked flight that reduces passengers and crew to bumbling physical ineptitude?  
            In an aisle seat on a half-empty flight you can snooze from takeoff to landing, unbothered and unbumped.  In the same seat on a full plane, people known coast-to-coast for their dexterity and grace will fall against your shoulders, drop bags on your head, step on your feet and drive beverage carts into your elbows.             I'm convinced it's a run-on effectA run-on effect of the comprehensive, system-wide incoherence that effects the entire bloody airline industry every time a plane is full.
            First of all, the airline charges for checked baggage.  Through the nose.  (Even for international connections, the stinkers.)
            Being charged for the privilege of clean underwear at your destination is enough to rattle anyone.  Discombobulated and lighter of pocket, you have to check your expensive suitcase yourself via a ticket machine,  a system which neither saves time nor confusion - certainly not once you learn that you've still got to queue up to leave your bag - and not with a person who has training and experience in checking bags and making up tickets, because she has been dumped in favor of a person with no understanding of the very concepts of  'bag' and 'connection' - which is an awful shame, because she's the only chance you have of trouble-shooting your multiple-connection ticket after the machine rejected it, firmly and emphatically, three times in a row and the wandering airline rep pretended he couldn't see you any more.
            Then you have to go through security.  I won't even mention that.  It's not the airline's fault.
            On the other side of security, you are tired and cross and want to find your gate so that you can sit down and close your eyes for a few moments, but instead, you need to got and and buy a sandwich before your flight boards; once you're airborne and captive, you'll be charged $7 for a straw filled with hummus, three dorito crackers and a fun-size packet of freeze-dried chickpeas.  Only payable by your credit card, which is no fun at all if you're traveling on an Australian card - the fees are worth more than the hummus. (Which has congealed in unexpected and un-hummus-like ways on the cardboard box your snak-pak came in, and is giving you disturbing second thoughts about your digestion.)
            But the fun really starts at the boarding gate.  The airline's policy of charging for baggage has been met by an not-entirely unpredictable response - passengers lug on board 'hand-luggage' the size and weight of compact European cars.  Strangely, this logical re-alignment of the situation seems to have left the airlines flummoxed.  There is no enforcement of hand-carry size limits, and if you have a seat near the back of the plane you're in real trouble.  The flight boards from the front (please don't ask) and by the time the plane is half boarded the flight attendants are on the intercom, utterly failing to be apologetic, and grumpily announcing that everyone at the back needs to check their hand luggage at the gate because all the overhead slots are full!
            And then there's the legroom issue.  Thanks to the to newly minted concept of Economy Plus class, if you're over five feet two inches tall, you seriously have to consider paying through the nose for the sort of space that used to be industry standard - and still is industry standard, I imagine, in a universe where we're expected to be able to evacuate the plane in less than an hour.             On board this particular flight, we'd used up all our budget on our suitcases and were flying curled up in the fetal position.  The seat pockets in the seats pressing my knees into my chest were stuffed with fliers announcing an upcoming merger between United and Delta.  Smiling white men with sober and reliable ties told us that the future was beer and skittles and flying cream-cakes and pillows of glory.
            And at this point, one gets faintly cross.  These same sober and reliable ties have recently re-cast as paid privelages my luggage, fun-size dorito packs, legroom, and any day now, I expect, the emergency oxygen. 
            I don’t know why they're wasting PR dollars on the merger.  The only thing you can be sure about is that it won't result in anything even vaguely of benefit to the paying passenger.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Caltrop

Back in November, when the spiders and the flies came out of hibernation, we faced something of a problem.  My dearest Canadian Mr Tabubil does not appreciate juvenile hunstman spiders dropping off the ceiling onto his head, or fully grown redback spiders nesting underneath the door handle.  Even the little jumping spiders that used the sofa cushions for springboards at night when he watched television were absolutely unacceptable. 
            So I called the town weed-and-pest disposal man to come and spray the outside walls of the house, and take care of the spiders for another season.  Mr Pest Control and his assistant walked through our house and into our backyard and without a word, dropped to their and knees and began yanking plants out of the verge.
            There's a mildly annoying flowering creeper that sprouts quickly and spreads even faster.  And our backyard is mostly full of it. We thought we were staying on top of it and not letting it get TOO high, but it didn't seem too troublesome and the yellow flowers were pretty - but Mr Pest Control, between grabbing fistfuls of the stuff, explained that it is actually a noxious invasive weed called CALTROP

Presenting Photo One: 
            Ye basic baby vine, two days old.

It looks sweet, but go do a Wikipedia search and pay close attention to the nasty medieval weapon it was named after.  The seeds can take out bicycle tires.  And feet.  And rubber shoes  - after Mr Pest Control led me out into the backyard for a tour of inspection I spent two hours pulling centimeter-long spines out of my flip-flops and went and bought a pair with leather soles.  He told me that a good Caltrop infestation can take years to clear up.  Looking around our yard, he said that at a conservative estimate, we'd be walking barefoot out here no earlier than two years from now.  If we weeded twice a week.  Every week.  All year round.
            What makes Caltrop so impressive is the speed with which it grows.  Mr Tabubil flew up to the Gold Coast on Christmas eve, after weeding that yard down to bedrock.  By the time we flew back just after the new year, the yard was just plain carpeted.  While our grass and climbing plants were dying in the heat, the caltrop vines were spreading out - each one twenty four and thirty six inches across.

Presenting Photos Two and Three: 
            Ye basic "Ooops, how'd I miss this one?  We're in trouble now!" Caltrop plant at 5 and 7 days old.

Note how the plant in photo three (taken in the vacant lot next door) is already flowering.  By the time the plant flowers it is already growing seeds (I have no idea how that works, biologically speaking.)
            The trick is to catch the plant before the seeds mature and fall off (2-3 days later) which means that if you've missed that first weeding session of the week, you can be playing catch up for months;  I have seen vines flower at three days of age - two inches across and sprouting seeds half an inch in size. These seeds are vicious -twisted, knobbly, tortuous lumpen things that blend into the soil and lie, always, with their spines pointing up. 
            Sprays (environmentally friendly sprays that dissolve into chemical inertness upon contact with water, I swear.) are wonderful, but they take 5-7 days to kill the plant dead, and in the meantime the thing is going right on flowering and seeding and contaminating your yard.
            Weeding is the only solid way to get at 'em.   On Mr Pest Control's advice I spent an afternoon in jeans and leather boots and work gloves  lifting plants away from the ground and dumping them whole into the rubbish bin, but  the entire exercise was accompanied by the soft pitter-patter of seeds falling away from the plant and melting into the dirt. 
            So here we are.  Weeding remorselessly, flailing away at the vacant lot next door, and doing our level best to make this yard habitable one day in the unimaginable future.

Prensenting Photo Four: 
            All hope lost, basically.  This patch in the vacant lit next door is knee deep.


We're home, and it's hot.  Our lawn is a scorched strip of yellow straw and our climbing jasmine vines have been baked a deep-rust red and on our very first evening home we gave up on it all and went down to the beach.
But we turned the sprinklers on first.  We're not complete sadists.
            There was a low tide and stiff wind and the kite-surfers were out.  The water made a shallow lagoon between the shore and the sandbar, and we waded out through it and stood on the sandbar next to a man with a camera and a rather large lens and watched the kite-surfers showing off.
They grabbed air, mostly.  Got up a good head of speed, bit their boards into the water, bent their knees and suddenly they were thirty feet up above us, hanging there - floating there, like they were taking an evening walk across the sky.
            The smarter riders played these games on the edge of the bay where the water was running deep.  The more foolish ran their stunts right in front of the camera and when you come down hard and don't land quite right, six inches of water don't provide much of a cushion for a full-body sand-plant. 
            We winced in sympathy and twisted our own shoulders upside down and sideways, to make sure they were still working.
            There was only one novice out there.  He stuck to speed-runs out into the bay and back, and we could see the muscles in his arms flexing and clenching as he wrenched at the control bar of his harness, trying to keep the kite in the wind and not take him out into the gulf and half-way to Adelaide.  The kids, on the other hand, were like noodles: their hands resting lightly on the bar, managing the pitch and yaw of the kite with the pressure of an index finger.

When the lagoon got about knee deep we headed in (it can come in pretty fast and suddenly you're up past your waist and battling a current).  Slogging back across the lagoon, the riders used us for posts in speed-runs of their own, cutting close against our shins and leaving us sloshing in their wake.  One took a hard, fast jump right over our heads - we looked up and saw him floating in the sky right above us.  That was all right.
            One young man took a run right in to shore.  As he hit the beach he lofted himself into the air and, six feet above the beach, reached down to remove his board from his feet and tucked it calmly under his arm, then landed lightly on the sand on both bare feet.
He must have practiced that move for weeks.   We gave him a slow clap to show that we couldn't be bought that Easily, but the cheers gave it away.

Being home is orrite, eh?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Completely Typical Day at the Beach

It is HOT as Hades here at the Gold Coast!  Aproximately 1000 degrees in the shade and 99.9 percent humidity.
            We're all feeling it, and we're all tired of feeling it, so we went to the beach.  We slathered ourselves in nasty white goo (that is, Dr Tabubil and I slathered ourselves and Dad sat still with a "Just what did I ever do?" expression on his face while we slathered him) but I guess we were in the water just long enough for the stuff to wash off and for us to get nicely roasted.
           Dr Tabubil is very red.  She looks like a glass Christmas ornament.  Very… reflective.

It was a strange day at the beach today.
It was a high tide, with the water right up against the dunes. The water was reasonably deep -  not much surf to speak of, but a huge northward rip and a powerful undertow that got stronger as you moved out, so that you couldn't go out very far.  Just bob around in the water and holler a lot. What turned an extremely crowded scene into an anthill was the extreme vigilance -  and attendant chaos -  of the ENTIRE Southport Surf Lifesaving Club ("Home of the Fried Egg!) because Channel 9 was filming a documentary on Australian Life-Saving.  You have never seen such a scrum. 
            Lifeguards were everywhere, scanning the surf from a mobile tower, bounding into the water to deliver timely warnings and friendly advice, or popping up beside you from underneath in their red and yellow hats for more of the same.  To the south of us, the club zodiac and waverunner were making dramatic dashes out to sea over the heaving surf for the benefit of the cameras - and coming back in to do it over and dramatically over again.

Dr Tabubil was disdainful.  "This isn't a documentary!  This is reality TV!  They're never like this just for us regular drowning swimmers!"
            To their credit, they had picked a great day for it; the rip and the undertow were awful.  And we had the privelege of observing a dramatic staged rescue – our lifeguards at their best and brightest, complete with waterproof video cameras out in the middle of the action.
            First, one of the women bobbing on her floatie cushion began to bounce and point, then swam swiftly out beyond the surf line.  One of the men posing in his speedos froze theatrically and  threw himself down the dunes into the water, flinging his sunglasses into the sand as he went past.  Another quartet of bronzed gods, trailed by a cameraman with a waterproof camera, headed out behind him.  Two more lifeguards passed us with a floating stretcher.  Then a kayak went by in a tangle of thudding feet.  The zodiac arrived in an impressive shower of spray and everyone formed up in a floating huddle out beyond the break – presumably sorting out camera angles - and soon the Rescue Helicopter came low and fast and took up station thirty feet above the action.

It was pretty neat stuff.  We waited eagerly for someone to plummet out of the helicopter, but it held steady above the water, and eventually the cavalcade paddled back to shore and we lost interest and went back into the water. 
            Except that it turned out to have been a real rescue.  Salty and sandy and crimson where our sunblock had washed off, we lay about drying ourselves off on our towels, and we noticed a very very tired swimmer being helped by the photogenic gaggle toward the first-aid station.
            We recognized him. Because of the northward rip, we had kept our own swimming close in to the shore, as near to the southern flag as possible (you get yanked northward pretty fast in one or two waves, and on a day like that, the whole "swimming" process is a fight to stay as south as possible.)  A big, burly man with a thick black beard had been swimming next to us – and it was this same man who had been hauled out under the eyes of the cameras – far out beyond the breakers and way north of the flags. 
            He was absolutely done in.  He could barely stand. He'd tried to fight the water. The first lesson you learn as a kid on the beach is that you - don't – do - that! You don't fight! You let the water carry you, you stay on top of it and you signal like mad.  Because the guards are there for you-  even if you aren't swimming on a day that'll get you ten lifeguards and a helicopter, there will be someone there watching!
            And if there isn't, you stay on top of the water and you ride the rip out and eventually, you'll pass out of it and can swim back to shore.  Don't fight the water- save your strength for that swim back in.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Phosphorescent Jellyfish

A flotilla (a fleet? a swim?) of jellyfish washed up on the beach last night. They are perfectly translucent hemispheres - almost clear enough to act as magnifiers - as if water had a fourth state of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and suspended as jellyfish.
            Dad and I went walking on the beach at dusk and found that if you press along their edges, a ring of green phosphorescence lights up. Very beautiful.

Also, if you step directly on their centers, the resulting gooey mess tends to squirt all the way up your leg. Phosphorescent squelch.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cyclone Horrors.

Yesterday  I heard the most purely tragic story about last week's storm. A friend of a friend of ours had recently bought herself a new kitten - she'd only had it for a month. This woman has an apartment in an older building in Main Beach, and in every sort of weather she leaves the kitchen window open - just a little, to let the breeze through.  On the night of the biggest rain, the little cat jumped up onto the counter - and was instantly airborne, sucked right out through the window.    Whoosh!
            “How high up was she?” I said hollowly.
            Our friend shook her head slowly. “Twenty-nine stories.”

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fruit Cake Redux

We're still eating our way through my Christmas fruitcake - the one I baked down in South Australia several months ago, and just before Christmas, had carried up to the Gold Coast as almost our entire cabin-baggage allowance.
            Our town is serviced by one independent airline that takes advantage of its monopoly over the rural district by enforcing - to the half-gram - punitive levies on luggage limits exactly half the size of the weight limits of anyone's connecting flights.  Fruitcakes with the density of plutonium require a certain amount of sleight of hand, involving sympathetic friends and hand-offs in the gentleman's john after weigh-in at the check-in counter.
            The Tabubil family fruitcake network is no small matter. When I was in graduate school in North America, Mum was in charge of fruitcake production.  Every Christmas she would bake me a cake of my very own.  Every year about October, she found somebody heading over in my direction and proceed to lay the sympathy trip of the millennium on the poor sod.
            "O Sir," She'd say, clasping her hands before her. "My very own eldest daughter is alone and away from home for Christmas.  Would you, could you, carry to her this small token of love - hand-baked - across the thousands of cold, cruel miles that lie between myself and her lonely heart?"
            Touched, and weeping lightly, the unsuspecting traveler would pledge his honor and his passage.  Every time.
            "So very kind!"  Mum would purrWhipping a small wheelie suitcase out from behind her back she'd say  "Here's the bag.  It's heavy enough that it has to travel separately, you know. I do hope you didn't plan for any hand-luggage of your own."

My mother may be underhand, but she is honorable in the greater matters, and the next Christmas, last year's victim would receive a fruitcake of his very own, which might necessarily involve shanghaiing someone else to take it to him- until we reached the point where we now stand - at the centre of a fruitcake network that spans three continents.

They are very very good fruitcakes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
What are your resolutions for 2011?
I'm going to resolve to stay up till midnight on New Year 2012, that's what. Yesterday we all drove up to Brisbane to spend the afternoon with family, and it was so bubbly and convivial that we were back home and tuckered out and asleep by eleven.
We're not particularly good at New Years Eve parties, the Tabubil family.

December 31st has never been a busy day for air travel, and traditionally my family has used the day to travel down (or up, depending) to the Gold Coast for a New Year Holiday. Around six or seven in the evening, after a good twelve hours or so sitting in planes and airport lounges, we stagger into the apartment and Mum and Dad collapse and go to bed. Dr Tabubil and I sit at the computer playing solitaire, willing ourselves to stay awake - just until the fireworks - which we can see out on the beach behind SeaWorld, if we hang out of Dr Tabubil's bedroom window and look to the left.

At 12:02, the first fireworks go up in a flare of red and green and bronze stars.
At 12:03, the first ambulance of the New Year goes screaming across the bridge over the Nerang River, closely followed by the year's first police cruiser.
At 12:06, the man on the 18th floor fires a flare gun off his balcony and sets the palm tree next to the swimming pool on fire.
We watch the flare burning this year's holes in the palm fronds, and wait until the damp leaves begin to smoke themselves out.

On better years, we dress up and go to the beach. Loud music and spangled dresses and technicolor cocktails aren't our scene much - particularly not here at the Gold Coast, where the rather desperate flesh-pots of Surfers are more wince-worthy than alluring.
Instead, we wait for the New Years Eves that coincide with low tides and big moons and we go down to the water. We walk out onto the sand-flats among the families having midnight picnics and gangs of kids running in circles, shouting and waving sparklers, and packs of boys playing cricket under the moon. The air is CHARGED - golden with sparklers and laced with salt and beer, and sozzled young men run footraces on the sand, stark naked. The moon hangs low over the breakers that roar and boom hollowly, far out beyond the party.

Who the hell'd choose a nightclub in Surfers Paradise over that?  Especially once the fireworks get going. Around here, it's an interactive show.  The New Year's performance is best out on the sand spit, between the ocean and the broadwater. The broadwater is full of sailboats and pleasure cruisers, whose crews are more thoroughly potted than the naked athletes down on the sand, and when they see the fireworks go off, they all want to come out and play.  So the flare guns come out, shot off at extremely low angles of inclination, and on shore we watch and say "Ooooh. Aaaaah - DUCK!!!!!" And flatten out on the sand as a flare goes streaming over our heads at an inclination of 15 degrees against the horizontal.  And then the first police patrol boat of the new year heaves into view and hauls the shooter out of the drink.

And we go home and go to bed, very pleased with our small place in the universe.