Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vancouver is a Movie Set

Huh.  I wrote this back when I was blogging my North American trip, but it wound up in the drafts folder instead of being posted.

Well, I had fun that day.  I'm posting it now anyway, belatedly.


I spent this particular afternoon prowling around the lobby of the Four Season Pacific Rim Hotel.  It was raining outside, and I rather like the architecture - I think it's quite successful at what it does.  It's sufficiently monumental, and plays nicely with the aggressively angular geometry that seems to be required to give cutting-edge cred at the moment, but simultaneously it's quite cozy -which is what you WANT in a city where it mostly rains all year round.  The architects have used the asymmetry and angularity to catch a lovely balance between big public spaces and small, inhabitable nooks and niches - even crannies.  I like it.

I was mooching about on the third floor, trying to catch a glimpse inside one of the function rooms (how do you balance modern angularity with those requirements?  You don't.  You slap a nifty contempo veneer on the walls, and let Big Function Room do its thing.  Pity.) when I saw a man falling past the window.
That got my attention.

I sprang to the nearest window and saw a second man falling down after him.
And then, as I stared after him in stupefied horror, they bounced back up past my window - and  fell down again - and bounced back up - and down - and up again -

They were riding bungee cords.
I trotted downstairs and out onto the street.  Someone was borrowing the hotel's exterior to shoot a commercial.  A man clutching a steering wheel was thrown off a 15th floor balcony, then the pusher jumped out after him.  It was raining Vancouver bucket-loads, and they did it  all afternoon.

There are time when this whole city feels like one giant movie set  Every day there are streets blocked off and building lobbies blanked out, and catering trucks set up along the sides of whatever street you're walking through.  When we drove up to Cypress Mountain, we found the  entire lodge was blocked off and marooned in a sea of trailers and caravans.  Scenes for Final Destination 5 were being filmed inside.  A few days ago mum went to a downtown restaurant to book for a large lunch party.  Because it was such a large party, she was asked to come back the next day and talk to the manager.  She went back the following day, but couldn't get inside because  it looked like this:

I rather enjoy it.  Such 'scope for imagination,' as Anne Shirley would say.  When things familiar are chosen to stand in for things exotic, it adds a spark to the everyday.  A little bit of potential for the fantastic. 

Steam Engines!

On Sunday  Mr Tabubil and I, and Sarah and her husband Miles drove out to Booleroo  to spend the day at the annual Booleroo Steam and Traction Rally!
            Booleroo is a small farming town over on the other side of the Flinders Ranges, and the Booleroo Steam And Traction Society is a club for men and women devoted to steam power.  Once a year they throw a party for steam engines, steam-rollers, steam tractors, steam trucks - everything with a big rattly pulse and a plume of water vapor streaming out high and hot.
            There was a shed full of boilers, a barn full of diesel engines, and an airplane engine going full rattling bore out next to the oval.  
            And a parade of tractors, of course, all vintages.

Mr Tabubil, who rates engines (especially steam engines) somewhere up above computers on his personal scale of "WoWEEEEE!" spent the day skipping happily through paddocks and taking home videos of steam-traction-engines huffing and puffing and pulling things.  
            Two traction engines staged a plowing demonstration for us in a paddock. The setup was very simple - an engine at each end of the paddock, a traction line running between the two and a plow tied in at the middle.  The plow bit its teeth into the soil and the engines winched it swiftly back and forth between them, bumping it across the paddock on hoop-like iron wheels.
            A man with a microphone told us that back in pre-diesel times  this setup ran on a crew of twenty men -  firemen, wood-choppers, plow-operators, engine drivers - it took an army to make this monster run!

The amazing part of all this is that it is all so new - mechanization has only happened within the last few generations.  Books and magazines are full of first-hand accounts of the first time an engine came to the farm: an army of men, and a great metal monster clanking and rattling and chewing up the crops at a speed that could barely be comprehended.  It was a world changer.

In the grass behind us, a thin ribbon of quicksilver rippled across the grass.  An old man with an amen beard swooped.  
            "Snake."  He grunted.  "Brown snake.  A young one."
            Carefully he parted the grass stems to show us the stripes of red and black across the neck, just below the diamond head.
           "Pretty."  I said.  "Is it venomous yet?"
            "A full load."  He picked up a length of fence-post and drove it hard down onto the snakes head.  "But not anymore."
            Australians have no time for snakes.  Venomous ones anyway.  They're not particularly concerned about the ecology - when they see a snake they see dead dogs and dead children and they deal with it accordingly.

The men in the field unhitched the plow and hooked up a scoop - a brobdingnangian iron shovel, and ran it back and forth across a patch of soft earth.  Once upon a day they used these things to dig dams - and THAT was a world changer in it's own way in this dry country.  Before the steam arrived, dams were dug with picks and shovels.  It was mortally slow,  backbreaking work, and seeing this great iron thing shoving back and forth across the ground, swallowing an hours worth of work in one sweep -
That's something worth cheering.

My favorite machines ran on man-power.  In a small corral, an old truck was surrounded by a collection of metal frames- devices that would help a man raise a loaded sack from the ground to up to a track or wagon bed.
            They were so ELEGANT - a simple semicircular rocker, a hinged pivot, a counter-weighted elevator -lean, spare functional design without the room or time for breakdowns or critical bits going PING! when the truck needed loading.

By contrast, Mr Tabubil and Miles are engineers and they love the mechanical excesses of early steam engines -boilers bolted to a hundred gleaming cogs and arms that spin and whir and crank and do go PING, that are held together with a hundred thousand iron rivets, and shake and rattle and ooze steam and dribble water from the seams  and ash from the firebox  - they're BAROQUE.  Gaudy, almost.  And rather appealing in a workaday world of welds and vacuum-molded safety covers and matte grey rust-proof paint.

And this steam-powered truck has a wood box next to the drivers seat.

The diesels just didn't have the wow-factor - howsoever venerable their lineage.

The tractor parade was comprehensive - exhaustive, even - but the spanking painted art deco wheelhouses and modern caterpillar-treads just couldn't hold a candle to the steam engines.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hospitals in Crisis?!?

Today one of my students brought her social studies homework to her tutoring session. She had with her an article clipped from a newspaper,which she was to analyze - forensically and critically - from the dual perspectives of current affairs and journalistic bias.
First things first: 
"This is a continuation of an article from page 1."  I said.  "You only brought the second half."
She shrugged.  
            "I just cut something out of a newspaper lying around the classroom.  It's, like, two years old or something."
It was the second half of an article about last week's post-Japanese-horror bun-fight over Australia's nuclear potential.
            "Did you bring anything else?
            "Shall we give it a go, then?  See if we can figure it out?"
We read it through and I asked for first impressions.  She shrugged helplessly.  "I've no idea what they're talking about." 
            "Right."  I said.  "We've got two options.  We can plow on and see if we can work out the politics of uranium enrichment as we go, or we can walk down the street to the newsagent and buy a new paper.  What would you rather do?"

We bought a copy of the Adelaide Advertiser (which is the journalistic equivalent of Muzak, but does have the offsetting advantage of being local) and waded in. The Adelaide Crows were celebrating all over page 1.  Page 3 was a human interest photo of a cuddly Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat, but at the very bottom of page 6, we found a rather alarming article on overcrowded hospitals.  There were lots of big words like "Crisis" and "Lives at Risk."  It was so alarming that I had my student marking quotes and opinions in colored pencil, with a special bright red pencil for facts, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly that the paper had printed up a rather polemical liberal party press release, with a few conjunctions and "he saids" thrown in to make it sound as if the paper had done some independent reporting.
That bright red pencil didn't get much of a workout.
It's quite probable that we do have problems with overcrowding and high patient loads in city hospitals.  It's quite possible that this needs some rather direct and timely attention.
But is it a crisis?  Is it a scandal?  What are we really meant to do with the information?  After three readings, my student didn't have a clue.  But she did have a whole lot of questions, none of which were addressed  anywhere in the newspaper.  We would have loved to have talked about journalistic bias as per the homework specs, but the article was so clearly copy+paste that we couldn't get past the editorial laziness to find any.

So we took a slight thematic detour and had a little discussion about responsible journalism and it's relationship to the ability of a paper's readership to make informed decisions, with particular regard toward advertised editorial aspirations vs. the need for independent critical analysis - I'm afraid I said rather a lot on the subject.

But the Advertiser is our source for state news.  Better she hear it all now than after she's swallowed a paper-full of adversarial nyah-nyah written to inflame and unseat rather than inform.
And you've always got photographs of wombats.  They look like sofa cushions and they're cute.  That's why they rate Page 3.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Yesterday I reached a milestone - the very first time that I colored my hair because I had to, instead of because I wanted to.  It felt grim, but not as grim as eyeing up the steadily increasing number of white hairs in my hairbrush every morning.  When the proportions flipped and went critical, I surrendered - and made an appointment with a salon.
            My hair is generously described as brownish.  In places it's blondeish, in others it's almost reddish.  All of it is curl-ish.  You can do just about anything from platinum to chestnut and it will suit me down to the ground.  
            Toward the end of my year at fashion school in Italy, I developed a hankering for blonde, and went to a salon that was being recommended around the school.  The stylist and I settled on a warm honey tone - Kate Moss rather than Marilyn Monroe.  She was all smiles and I was all smiles as she pasted on the color and left me with a copy of Italian Vogue while the color set in, then she towed me off to a wash basin and rinsed me off, lathered me up and gave me a truly HEAVENLY head massage, and when she had me blissed out and crooning and no longer even noticing that my neck was developing an S-bend against the curve of the wash-basin rim, she propped me up vertical and handed me a mirror.
            And the buzz pretty much dropped off right there.  My hair was ORANGE - the exact same shade as the inside of a cantaloupe.  An irradiated cantaloupe.  It GLOWED.
The stylist smiled at me, waiting.
            "This isn't blonde." I croaked.
            "This is orange."
She gave me that specifically vague smile that Telecom Italia receptionists reserve for when they're about to tell you that they never received your application to have your telephone line connected.
            "You're unhappy with your blonde hair?  Is there a problem?"
            "PROBLEM?  Dio Mio - this is ORANGE!"
            "It looks blonde to me, Signora.  You asked for blonde, you got blonde.  If you're going to make a fuss -"
She shrugged eloquently, and I was late for class, so muttering a curse under my breath, I jammed a hat over my radioactive mop and ran for the bus.

When I walked into draping class that afternoon, conversations stopped dead.  Mouths opened.  Chins dropped.  Thessy, our draping teacher, slowly put down her scissors and walked carefully over to me as I stood shamefaced by the door.  As one treats a person who has suffered a terrible shock or injury, she took me gingerly by the arm.
           "Cara…"  She said gently.   "You have to go BACK there."
So I did. 
"This is NEVER blonde!"
            "Looks blonde to me.  Hey, Claudio - does this look blonde to you?"
            "Looks blonde to me, Sofia.
            "Would you kindly hand me the color swatch book?"
            "I can't see any need.  I wouldn't even know where to find it -"
            "It's on that ledge over there!  Give me that - Ha!  Is this or is this not the color we agreed on?"
            "I'm not arguing."
            "And is this even vaguely related to the color on my head?"
            "One hundred PERECENT,  Signora."  The manager looked at me sourly. "And we are very BUSY this afternoon and I do NOT have the time to sit around and argue with you -"
And that was that.
Right, I thought.  There's nothing else for it.  I'm going to have to throw a tantrum.
I'm no good at tantrums.  Australians are never any good at 'em.   We're raised to be polite in public situations - tears and raised voices get you uncomfortable disapproval, a total absence of cooperation, and eventually, they get you thrown out.  It's all very British.
But Italy works differently.
I breathed deeply in and out through my nose to work up a decent head of steam, and then -
            "THIS is INSANE!"  I shouted.   And brought my hand down hard on the counter.
            "THIS IS ALL WRONG!"  I closed my eyes and began to cry.  "I'm going to be seeing my BOYFRIEND in TWO DAYS and I look like a CARROT and you have all been so, so  -"
            "Che Cosa?"  The manager cried in horror.  "BOYFRIEND?  A BOYFRIEND is going to see you like this?  Looking like THIS?!  Madonna Mia!  Madonna MIA.  Dio MIO, no, NO, NO -"
Tutting and soothing, she led me to a chair.
            "Sit down, sit down.  We will fix, I will fix - Dio mio, dio MIO..." And she ran for the dye cupboard.
So they fixed.  To the best of their debatable skills, which mostly consisted of bleaching the hell out of it and dying it yellow, so that instead of a nuclear furnace on my head, my hair was the color and consistency of dried straw, with a weird verdigris tinge along the edges.  It balled and ratted and frizzed and stuck out sideways from my head - and when my dark roots started to come in... Madonna MIA.
            Mum came to spend the last couple of weeks of term with me in Florence.  Our reunion at the train station wasn't QUITE joyful.  
            "Tabubilgirl" she said tentatively  "I love you very much and I've missed you awfully, but would you be willing to wear a hat on the plane home?  Just in case we run into anyone I know in the airport in Santiago?"
We compromised on a hairdresser PDQ after landing, and within one hour of being home, I was in a barbers chair in the Parque Arauco mall, with a plastic cape tied around my throat.  The senior stylist pushed my head forward and flipped my hair up over my head to bare my neck.  And for a moment, stood very very still.
            "Attention!"  He bellowed.  "I want ALL of the apprentices over here right NOW!"
Laying down their clippers and their scissors, they rushed to form a circle around my chair, and with eight interested people breathing down my neck, the stylist began:
            "Do you see this?"  He said, and tugged at a lock of hair.
There was an impressed "Oooooh" sort of sound from behind me.
            "And this? And this?  And THIS?  Can anybody tell me what went wrong HERE?"
 I was Exhibit A of an impromptu demonstration of everything (and I understood it to be EVERYTHING)  a colorist should never ever do, while a circle of increasingly impressed apprentices tutted and moaned and gasped "No, no, ABSOLUTELY!"  whenever appropriate - which was about every other minute.
It was quite the catalogue of Don'ts.
At the end of it I was told there was nothing that could be done.  My head was a write-off.  They could match the roots for me, but touch the rest and I'd lose the lot.  
So  I chopped off as much as possible and went around parti-colored until the ends fell off, and resolutely didn't touch it again - for years.  For me, color came in extensions, not dye tubes - until yesterday.
             Yesterday, my hairdresser and I settled on a full head of foils - a warm honey-ish blonde and a sort of strawberry blonde-ish auburn.  Just like me before the grays came in, only more so. 
             And when the towel came off - the blonde was a livid, liverish white, as if my own white hairs had multiplied,  lined up in military ranks , and gone on a joyous forage march across the top of my head.  And the auburn -
I winced. 
Over my entire head, there's a nimbus - a My Little Pony shade of pink.
It'd be cute if I were Cindy Lauper, but even she would have had the decency to go neon.  

We're rescheduling for Friday.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fresh Roses

Mr Tabubil trades computer assistance for the use of a lawnmower to trim our little lawn.  Yesterday the lawnmower arrived with an armful of cut roses.  Our yard runs to frangipani and great big tropical lilly-ish things.  I love frangipani- the scent and the spare stark white of the flowers, but there's something special - something splendidly grandiose - about roses!
They turn any room into a party!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Smell of Mint Leaves

Home is home and full of Mr Tabubil and therefore wonderful.  And I've been so busy - it's amazing how many tasks and trivialities pile up over six weeks - and turn into monsters while you're away, as if they've spent the time stewing and swelling instead of sitting decently  meek and quiescent-like on your desk.  And dining table.  And kitchen ledges.  And sewing machine.  And in your bedside drawers and ironing basket and washing pile and stuffed behind paperbacks on your bookshelves and - ugh!

I preferred to go around smelling things. 
          I hadn't done that before.  As far back as I can remember, I never did.   I could smell things just fine - as I stood in them, or with my nose stuffed deep inside them.  I was fine with cooking - if I took the lid off of the saucepan and inhaled deeply for half an hour or so, and I could certainly smell the eucalyptus blossoms when the trees burst forth and paint the town golden-yellow - if I crossed the road and cut a sprig and pressed my nose to the honey-scented blossoms, but there was a whole four-dimensional olfactory world all around me and I was deaf and blind and dumb.
            One week ago - three weeks post-nasal-surgery, I woke up in the morning with an extra sense.  The water from the Murray River pipeline that I drank with my breakfast tasted different: earthy, and faintly grassy, and I realized that I was tasting it with my nose, as well as my tongue. 
That evening I had my first cooking class of the new year.  We were making a curry, and I stood on my toes in the classroom, ardently sniffing the steam from the saucepans that wafted across the room and curled around our noses -
             - I could smell the coriander root - soft and blonde, like the taste of fenugreek seeds.  The cumin was dry and powdery - even as an odor, it tickled. The ginger was high and sweet and prickly and the  cardamom pods floated lower than the rest of the ingredients, deep and brown and humming slightly.
            The next morning I smelled the dry cereal as I poured it into a breakfast bowl.  Unsurprisingly, it smelled like cardboard.  I ate sour Greek yogurt and sweet oranges instead.
            And I've been making lists.  Yesterday I smelled:
The chickens next door - soft and faintly earthy.  The pungent, peppery smell of mustard weed, crushed under my feet.  Potatoes roasting in the oven - just like they taste, rounded and mealy and late-at-night-in-midwinter.  The hot, sharp smell of freshly ironed cotton.  A raft of jasmine flowers, pulling me up out of my sandals from the other side of the street.   Garlic like I've never known it before - an olfactory wallop that almost drove me clean outside into the garden.   And the mint!  The gorgeous, heady, HEAVENLY scent of fresh growing mint leaves.
            Our next door neighbor (he of the chickens) keeps a vegetable patch.  Yesterday he took me into his back yard and loaded me down with a basket of grapes (sugary and sickly-sour) and capsicums (damp and sweet) and spring onions (high and spiky) and mint, ripped by the armful from a border garden.
            Growing up in PNG, the rain was so heavy that we had to cut irrigation ditches across our grass lawns.  Mint grew wild along the edges of the ditches - thick and tall - we ripped it out and threw it away when it got too high, and when we ran we trampled it under our feet and everywhere the rich smell of it rose so strong and high and sweet and singing that you could get drunk on it.
            Last night I dreamed that I was back in high school writing an essay for an exam.  The topic was "Happiness is:" and I wrote three pages on"Happiness is the smell of mint leaves." 
            This morning I woke up and went straight to the refrigerator.  I opened the door and buried my face in a cloud of mint and just stood there, breathing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mr Tabubil and Australia

Mr Tabubil really isn't liking the Australian fauna very much.  We have a few screened windows, but insects DO get in at night.   The mesh is a rather large weave, and the smaller ones come right through the screens.  I found him gibbering a week ago - terrified of the "horrible monster beetle" in the middle of the carpet.  It clocked in at one centimeter - including the feelers.  

Not long after he arrived in Australia, Mr Tabubil had a Moment. 
We were eating tea - far too late in the evening - and the light above our head started to strobe.  We looked up and there were a few winged things bouncing off the light housing.  A moment later, there were HUNDREDS - little winged ants that blundered into the light and onto the table and into our shirts and Mr Tabubil - Mr Tabubil very quietly lost his mental equilibrium.  In vain did I point out that they were 
a) sting-less
b) not mosquitoes
c) short lived
d) silent and 
e) not mosquitoes
(Mr Tabubil had not yet recovered from the mosquito bombardier four nights past.  His sensitive ear can detect a mosquito in the most rumbly and purr-y of electric motors.  Our air-con, our fridge and the generator from the squash courts down the street all apparently have wings and a sting.)

Looking out of the window, the halo from every streetlight was hazed and dancing with millions on millions of tiny bodies.  It was like the footage you see taken three miles down in the abyssal trenches - a rain of glowing, glittering particles.  It was a phenomenon.
It was a termite swarm - on the first hot day of summer, the winged ones take flight by the hundreds of million - harmless fliers that drop their wings and wriggle down your shirt and die promptly, and neither eat you nor settle in your house. 
This phenomenon of nature left the Canadian unmoved.
"Please let me go home to Canada now" he whimpered, staring out the window at the opaque night.

I have video footage of him vacuuming the poor termites out of the air.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Welcomed Home by Eight Legs or More (And a Canadian)

We had some mild excitement my first night home.  Around bedtime, when we were yawning on the sofa and stretching our arms and discussing the pleasing prospect of fresh sheets and pillows under our heads, Mr Tabubil let out a hell of a yell -  and we saw a gigantic cockroach sauntering merrily across the living room floor.  Quite two inches in length, it was. I dropped a book on it and took the remains outside - taking due care and diligence as I cross the threshold.  We have hit summer cockroach season, the time where if we step outside we have to do it FAST and watch the door frame to catch 'em scuttling in.  Where they will create monster colonies of monstrous cockroaches that will chew holes in our underwear and breed in our socks.  
            The horror bug dispatched, Mr Tabubil climbed down from the arm of the sofa and went off to the bathroom to brush his teeth.  In a fit of misdirection he stuck his head into the laundry instead- and bellowed loud enough to wake the peaceful dead.  This time I ended up on the arm of the sofa.  (My adrenalin was up.  So there.)
            A huge and hairy huntsman spider had dropped off the ceiling right next to his head and into our stack of re-usable shopping bags.  (South Australia is very pro-active on the plastic shopping bag issue.  Our state's attitude gives one fits of the superior-minded smuggeries when one is up in Queensland and being handed cart-loads of plastic bags whenever one visits the supermarket.)
Mr Tabubil bellowed, dancing from toe to toe.
            "It was enormous!"
             "How enormous?" I asked.  
            "This enormous!" he said spreading his fingers wider than the width of my own hand.
            I was skeptial.  Huntsmen just don't get that big up here.
            "Fine." He chuckled nervously.  He moved his fingers toward each other by two centimeters.  "This big, okay?  And hairy."
            Lovely.  First an enormous cockroach, now a full size, out of season huntsman.
            "The first thing" I said, "is to move all the other stuff out of here."
            "Brilliant!"  Mr Tabubil said, from outside in the corridor.  From over on the other side of the house in the kitchen, actually.
            Gingerly, I began to clear the room, and found that, courtesy of a damp kitchen towel, the  laundry basket had turned into a space-habitat for ants. Bravely, Mr Tabubil steeled himself enter the chamber of horrors and run a hot wash in the washing machine, and I carried the rest of the laundry out into the corridor.  He yelled again.
            "It's coming right up the side of a supermarket bag!  Can you see it?  Can you see it?  It's right there!  It's right there!!!" 
            I came running. Oh.  Oh yeah.  There it was, all right. The big scary monster. A little quarter-scale South Australia huntsman spider.  No fur.  Barely two inches across.
            "Do I have to kill it?" I sighed.
So I squashed the poor thing between two shoes.  And gave Mr Tabubil a very VERY fishy stink-eye.
            "Bigger than my hand, huh?  The poor baby."

Two night ago we found another two-inch huntsman in the bedroom - scuttling out of my pajama pants as I picked them up to put them on.  Mr Tabubil is still smarting from the indignities of last week - this one made it outside alive in a drinking glass.
            However.  My Aunt and Uncle A came to stay with us over the long weekend, and Auntie A told me that the things live in pairs.  And as much as I choose to believe in a live and let live philosophy of life, I draw the line at sharing my pajama bottoms with eight other legs. 
The hunt is seriously on.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fast Tides

Today was HOT.  Hot enough to keep the house a Scandinavian sauna bath, and the walls of the rooms that don't have aircon to reflect the furnace heat of a thousand suns.

Around 8 in the evening, Mr Tabubil and I decided we decided that the heat MUST have gone down when the sun did and drove down to the beach for a walk.  We were partly right - the sun had gone down a little in the sky - which meant we were walking directly toward a ball of pulsing flame that hovered right at eye level.

But the water was cool - and the tide was coming in.  Visibly.  When we parked on the harbor wall, there was a sand flat half-way out to the end of the jetty.  When we'd clambered down to the sand, we decided we'd been caught up in some sort of heat-haze illusion because the kids digging holes to China all over the sand flat were actually playing on islands.  We walked out across the sand flat and stopped at the waterline to look out toward the islands and noticed that a few of the holes had gone under and the children were paddling, and we stopped and actually LOOKED at the waterline.  It was creeping toward us at walking pace; we turned around - and WE were on an island, and sprinted back to shore before it was knee-deep!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I'm back home! And receiving hugs and cuddles and mmmm....  It's nice to be back. 

As a farewell to Brisbane of sorts - here are a few photos of the Newmarket Farmers Market - taken last Saturday on an outing with my sister and a few friends.  Five weeks ago this land was underwater.  Today it's the best place in Brisbane to buy your fruits and vegetables. 

Our friends did their bread-and-butter shopping, but it was a first visit for Dr Tabubil and I, and we ran around like mad things, drunk on sunshine and German sausage and home-churned butter, dodging terriers on leashes and babies in strollers and came away with our arms full of total non-essentials:

A kilo of ripe lychees
Lime and Grapefruit Cordials
Loaves of French Bread
Fresh Haloumi Cheese
Great bunches of damp mint leaves
Fresh-roasted macadamia nuts
Dukkah and zaa'tar made with aniseed and walnuts and pomegranate seeds
Portobello mushrooms the size of dinner plates

For dinner that night we baked the mushrooms and ate them like steaks.  We fried the haloumi with lime juice and ate it with slices of fresh valencia oranges. And we buried our noses into the arm-loads of mint between courses.

Baked Portobello Mushrooms
4 large portobollo mushrooms, cleaned
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Fresh or dried herbs (I used basil, because it was what I had in the pantry.  It tasted fabulous)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With a sharp knife, score a cross-hatch pattern in the mushroom caps.  Score an X in the base of the stem.
Whisk other ingredients together in a bowl.
Lay a sheet of baking paper in a shallow baking dish and lay the mushrooms gill-side down on the paper.  Brush the oil-and-vinegar mixture over the mushrooms, covering the entire surface.  Bake for 30 minutes or until tender.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How to Make a Public Spectacle of Yourself in Seven Easy Steps

1) Locate a nice sunny day and go for a walk through it.

2) Wearing a comfortable t-shirt and a tight, knee-length skirt, sit down on a patch of grass underneath a shady tree overlooking a river.

3) While listening to the rotary flopping sounds of a duck trying to take off from a mud wallow, idly brush away the the large black ants that appear to be crawling over your skirt and t-shirt.

4) The ants may be biting, so swat briskly.  Avoid howling; this indicates to the ants that you are impressed.

5)  Sharp, sudden pain will draw your attention to the ants that are now marching, in formal ranks, up the insides of your thighs, biting as they go.  Remove them without drawing the attention of every jogger and sunbather on the riverbank.  Remember that your skirt is long and tight and you will really have to reach.

6) With solemn dignity (insofar as possible), rise to your feet and indicate to the ants that the lawn is now entirely theirs.  Walk away slowly.

7) Wait until you are bracketed by three gentlemen with briefcases and a pack of cyclists, and discover that one of the ants made it past your defenses and has just bitten you right between your legs.
Almost exactly right betwee- 
Attempt to resolve the situation without drawing undue attention to your discomfort.

He's not letting go, is he?



7a) Walk away as briskly as politeness allows, reflecting with gratitude upon the charity of those who have chosen not to make a citizen's arrest for public indecency.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Logistical Hazards

It's tricky taking the car out of the garage at my aunt's place.
            "Er.... Auntie H.  There's a technical issue in the garage."
            "Oh dear."
            "Can't you just pick him off for me?"
            "Um.  Usually your cousin does the job with a broomstick..."
            And some sort of moral suasion, clearly.  Ollie the cat didn't do squat when Auntie H prodded at him with the swiffer mop.  Yawned merely.  And eventually moved to the other end of the car and went back to sleep.  And then, eventually, back to the front of the car.  And with amazing self-control, completely refused to get upset about it.
            Eventually he accidentally shimmied just a little too close to my uncle's side and the jig was up.  He was carried (cantankerously) into their bedroom and the door was shut in his face.  Aunt H said goodbye to me with some speed- "because there's a cat in there deciding what to shred right now!"


Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Yesterday afternoon, Mum watched the movie Stealth.  It's a dreadful waste of celluloid, but she seemed to genuinely enjoy it - enough to rent it after she saw most of it on TV this weekend.
She spent the rest of the weekend saying things like "Those swallows look like stealth fighters!" as they swooped across the park or, "Those seagulls are like stealth fighters" as they hovered overhead, and by Sunday afternoon "Everything is like a stealth fighter!  Isn't life great?"

She watched the movie on Tuesday because Tuesday is "One Dollar One Rental - Any movie for a dollar!" day at the local video shop.
We meant to rent only Stealth, but when I went to the counter to pay my dollar, the dude winced and, looking at me warily, said "Are you aware of our rental policy on Tuesdays?"
            "Sure am!" I said cheerily, thrusting the video toward him in an "ante up" sort of maneuver.
            "Yeah." he said lugubriously.  "We've had to change it a little.  We advertised one dollar rentals on Tuesday, and people started coming in and renting movies.  Lots of movies.   Lots of people.   We lost MONEY on it.  People are just - "  He glared at me, representative of the great horde of rapacious Tuesday opportunists.
            "Anyway.  Now you have to spend at least five dollars on Tuesdays or you can't rent anything."
            "How MUCH" Mum asked "would this movie cost on any other day of the week?"
            "Four ninety five."  He said, somewhat smugly, under the circumstances.  "You want four more movies or d'y'wanna buy a few chocolate bars?"

On the other hand, we DID get five movies for the same price it would have cost to rent one under normal circumstances.  On the OTHER other hand, all but one (the one no one else would have rented in a fit) of the weekly rentals I was interested in had gone ("Geez, I'm sorry.  That one went out the door half an hour ago.... Geez.  That one too.  Just bad luck, I guess.") and we wound up with a pile of overnighters and three-day rentals  that we've been hard-pressed to do justice to.  In fact, it would probably have made more sense just to rent that one movie and pay the five dollar charge and  -  hmmm.... say... d'you think?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

14 Days Out

Yesterday I went for my 14 day checkup with the surgeon.  It went rather better than my 7 day checkup last Monday. That one was not such a success.  Without discussion or ado, the surgeon laid me on a couch in an examination room, squirted my nasal passages full of anesthetic, then went in with a camera and a hosepipe and proceeded to aspirate the living snot out of me with an air hose.
            I had, up until that moment, never really felt the vast depth and richness of the metaphor - "to 'x' the living snot out of something." The stuff that came out of there - the huge, enormous quantities of stuff
            I didn't react too well, I have to tell you.  For the past week my nose had been a serious no-go horror area, and now there were spouts being stuck down there.  All due thanks to the anesthetic, it didn't actually hurt, but I hyperventilated and clenched my fists and clawed at my chest and generally had 2/3 of a decent panic attack anyway.
            Eventually, I found my voice and asked the doctor weakly "Is everyone as bad as me?"
            "Oh no."  He said with feeling.  "You're particularly paranoid."
            We glared at each other - me around the spouts, he over his mask.
            "Look."  He said sweetly.  "I'm not actually doing any damage here.  Do you think you can handle the pain for a few more minutes?"  
            "Yup."  I said meekly.  "Don't mind me.  I'll just hyperventilate away quietly.  Nothing to see down here."
            But after all that aspiration I had to go right back onto the sofa for a few more days so that I didn't spring a hemorrhage.  And I was without the codeine this time, and by god it was boring.  But I could breathe through my nose, which was enough of a novelty to make up for the enforced inactivity. Except that I couldn't.  I had a gauze pad taped across, expressly to stop me doing exactly that.
            "Although I'm not sure it's a good idea, in your case."
            "Why's that, Doctor?"
            "Well, you're so paranoid I'm afraid that if I don't let you you'll forget how to breath through your nose.  Is there any chance of that?"
            Owtch!!!  Message quite received, my good Doctor!  Next time he can try going under and bleeding out unexpectedly and having a Center of Horror on your face that you were absolutely Not Allowed to Touch on Pain of Hemorrhage and then having someone stick a tube down into it and suck!?!?!?!

Today's 14 day checkup, on the other hand, involved both of us seated in chairs across a desk, compos mentis and entirely civilized.  The only uninvited party was a stethoscope.  Which was  disappointing.  I'd been girding my loins all week and was ready for a second run.
            On the positive side, the stethoscope declared me hale and healthy and healing on track - and ready to go home!  Huzzah!