Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An early morning phone call. Or, Why it might be inadvisable to flirt with policemen at three in the morning.

Dr Tabubil has finished with Obs and Gobs and is working the ER.
            She doesn't much like Saturday nights.  They live  up to all the chaotic, drunken reputations they've earned on daytime television dramas.  And at about 3 am, things start to get slightly surreal.
            Later, around 8 am, my telephone rings:
            "Hey Tabubilgirl."
            "Hey Dr Tabubil."
            "Talk about puppies to me for five minutes will you?  I need to hear something nice."
            "What happened?"
            She sighs. "So.  It's about three in the morning and I'm stitching up a girl who's been glassed by her own mother -"
            "Did you call child services?"
            I can hear her shrug  "She was over 18.  What was I supposed to do?  You should have seen what she did to her mother.  Anyway - I'm stitching up this girl and a cop comes in with a drunk in handcuffs that he needs to have sewn up where he fell into a mailbox. 
            And I'm really tired.  And the cop is really, really cute.  He's wearing leather gloves so I can't tell if he's wearing a wedding ring or not, but he smiles at me, this totally gorgeous smile - and have I mentioned that I'm really really tired?  And that I haven't eaten for about ten hours because it's been too busy for me to sit down long enough to even eat a biscuit?  So maybe my reasoning abilities aren't quite at their best, okay - so do you know what I do?
            I look at him, and I say in my very best throaty flirty voice:  Is that a taser in your pocket?"
            "Or are you just happy to see me?!?"  I snickered.
            "Oh my God, no!  I wasn’t that far gone.  But he looked at me and smiled again - this really long, slow, sexy smile, and stood just a little bit taller and said 'Why yes.  Yes it is.'
            And then I said - oh my god, I purred - and I think I even fluttered my eyelashes a bit - I said - 'You know.  There's something I've always wanted to know.  Is it true that when you policemen learn how to use tasers, you have to practice on each other?'
            And he smiled even wider and cocked his eyebrows at me and said 'And I always volunteer.'
And -BAM.  Just like that.  My crush was gone.  I mean, the policeman was nuts. So I turned back to my drunk and finished stitching up his head.  And then I went and found a biscuit."
            "Do you think maybe you could carry biscuits around the ward with you in your pocket?  You know, to stop you getting into emergency situations like that?"
            A sigh.  "Could you just talk to me about puppies for about five minutes,  before I go to bed?  And then I'm going to sleep and I'm not going to talk to another policeman for at least a month. And male cops shouldn't be allowed to wear gloves. It's all his fault. If he'd been married and I'd been able to see a wedding ring, this would never have happened in the first place."

Thursday, July 21, 2011


So we're off.  Bags checked, hand-luggage shell games played in the airport terminal, boarding passes in hand - Goodbye.  It's been a hell of a ride.  Thank You.

We're off to Melbourne.  And Perth.  And Darwin, and Brisbane, and Vancouver, and Toronto, and then, eventually - Santiago, Chile.

They were Good Sunsets.

Today we turned the house over to the landlords.
I'm seriously going to miss our backyard.  Neither of us are gardeners, and if we managed to keep the lawn trimmed and the caltrop in check, we regarded ourselves as geniuses, but that back yard gave us some wonderful sunsets.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Temporary Lodgings and Toothbrushes

I am still Mr Tabubil's favorite person in the world, but last night (VERY early in the morning), the margin between myself and the next-ranked-contender narrowed considerably.
Dragging myself from the computer (far too late) I loaded up my toothbrush and dragged myself into the shower, and blitzed out under the flow.
Some time later, I turned off the shower and - abruptly -  the most horrible noise started up - the hunk-hunk-hank-PAaaH of a pipe choked with air, overlaid with the thang-thang-brrrrrm-pp-p of a motor that is about to start smoking.  The walls rattled.
It didn't STOP - it was very worrying - inasmuch as I could BE worried, at that point of the night. 
Even so - "Mr Tabubil" I whispered, shaking him awake. "There's a very angry noise in the bathroom."
Mr Tabubil was worried himself.  We turned the water off at the main.  We prodded in the hot water tank.  The sound thump-ed and whined, but didn't stop.  It was coming from the ceiling;  we stood and listened to the room vibrate.
It was a very BODING sound.
The responsible thing to do would be to wake the neighbors upstairs and find out if - and when - the water column was going to give way.
I was getting sleepier and sleepier.  "They'll hear it in the morning, anyway."  I pointed out.  "When it first  started, it was a very imminent noise, but nothing HAS happened yet."
            "They could be six feet deep in water up there by morning."  Mr Tabubil noted uneasily.
At that point, i don't think I'd have cared unless water had started coming through the ceiling on top of me.  
            "If it's still going tomorrow, I'll go talk to the manager person, okay?"
I promptly went to sleep and let Mr Tabubil sit up and worry about whether the mother of all tidal bores was about to land in our laps.
At three in the morning, Mr Tabubil made the decision to wake up the upstairs neighbors, and made one last check of the bathroom.
He shook me awake.
            "I've found it."  He said grimly.  "It was your bloody toothbrush."
I KNEW I was dreaming.  I went back to sleep.
            "I SAID" he said, shaking me again "It was your bloody TOOTHBRUSH."

My toothbrush has a limited charge electric vibrator built in.  It has no vim whatsoever.  It has all the shaking power of a gnat in a sugar bowl.  But after I brushed my teeth, I slipped it onto the hanging shower shelf, and when I turned the faucet to stop the water flow, it slipped between a bottle of shampoo and the wall and somehow, turned itself on and shook the bathroom till the wall-tiles rattled.

We fizzed with shocked laughter.

Mr Tabubil came back to bed, at which point a very large mosquito started making bombadier runs into his right ear.  He moved out to the sofa - so did the mosquito - and they both got back to sleep somewhere around five in the morning.

In the morning, I tested the vibrate function on my toothbrush.  After almost two hours of steady rumbling, it was still going strong.  I'm considering writing Colgate a testimonial letter - along with the recommendation of a safety catch.

Really Good Lightning!

This evening we had a deep orange sunset, with streaks of rain-shadow being blown across the face of the sun.  Then the lightning started, and as the storm blew toward us the lightning grew more fierce and then the storm hit and the skies opened and it RAINED.  We turned off all the lights in the flat and unplugged the appliances and stood at the window for an hour and a half while Mr Tabubil took photographs of the lightning.  Eventually the storm blew past us and we came inside and turned the lights on and plugged the computers back in and a spear of hard white light flashed from the sky to the earth and the whole world went momently blank and simultaneously a screaming roll of thunder hit so hard that the floor shook and the glasses in the cupboard jittered against each other.  The bolt had hit about two blocks west of us.  We unplugged everything and turned the lights out again and went back to the window for another hour.
It was reasonably spectacular.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Peke with a Powerful Strong Will.

Today and tomorrow we have the movers in our house. Wrapping, boxing, shifting, sorting.  I follow behind them, wielding a washcloth and a bucket of faintly soapy water.
Tonight we move into an apartment - until Friday, when we fly out of town.

On the way to the shops this evening,  I passed a Pekingese with a powerful strong will. 
He was tied up outside a clothing store, and was hugely unhappy about it.  He cowered, pitifully miserable, ears and eyes and tail tucked underneath till he looked like a chestnut-colored ottoman.  Nobody emerged from the store.  He dashed to the end of his leash, throwing himself against the restraining cord.  He whimpered in crescendo, casting meaningful looks into the store as the pitch rose.  None of it worked - his human was heartless.  And as I drew level with him his face settled into an expression of disturbing determination.  Abandoning all histrionics, he planted himself square in the middle of the pavement and committed an act of serious civil disobedience.  Then he sat up, assumed an demeanor of grim satisfaction and ostentatiously turned his back.

Good lord.  If that is how the dog reacts to being left outside a store for 8 minutes, I really hate to imagine the fights over dinner and sofa privileges.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blue. And Pink. And, Unfortunately, Inky, Inky Black.

Having been thrown headfirst into the world of unnatural colors, I'm raising the stakes and I am exploring the wonderful world of Manic Panic hair dye.  Magenta and Electric Blue.
            I'm hopeless at hair, so I had it done in a salon while I was down in Adelaide last month.  
The hairdresser was on board with the stripes, but wanted to darken the rest of my hair as well.
            "It will play off the colors better, and, frankly, the shade you currently wear makes you look rather pasty."
            "You do know that the shade I'm wearing is my natural color, right?"
He sniffed. "It still makes you look pasty."
I shrugged.  "Fine.  But not too dark.  No trainee goths.  No trainee emos.  We're going bright and bubbly here, okay?  No angst."
            He looked horrified and said "No no no!"  and showed me a swatch of a lovely chestnut hue, and we agreed that it was good. 

So how my hair came out a deep inky absolute black  I've got no idea.  But if a hairdresser thought that I looked pasty before  now there's a whole world of people who are willing to agree.  A deep winter pallor on a girl so naturally pale she makes redheads look ruddy does not rock the emo look. 
            The stripes, though  - big bold splashes of deep blue and purple swinging out from underneath the black - the stripes were fantastic.  Beautiful, like a sunset.  But the color washed out in half a week, leaving me looking like Cruella de Ville between color treatments, or like a rather emotionally depressive skunk.
            The online store I ordered replacement color from turned out to be a scam, and by the time I'd worked it out and gone elsewhere, elsewhere was out of stock.  After several very boring etceteras two jars of Directions Hair Dye arrived in my mailbox early this week. This morning I had a friend paint the stripes back into my hair and I left it to bake for the requisite number of hours. And frankly, I can't stand it.

The black has faded to a faintly more flattering shade and the stripes look spiffing.   However, while the color-setting with vinegar over the bathtub amused Mr Tabubil no end (even while he was complaining that the bathroom smelled like a fish and chips shop) the rinsing with cold water took forever and was, in a nutshell, cold.
            Really really cold.
            Mr Tabubil turned the hot water up far enough that I wouldn't get chilblains on my ears and repaired to the heated living room and left me to it. I've decided that  this color thing is very much a summer pursuit. More pertinently - I've established that I'm not nearly high maintenance enough to keep this up.  This dye really doesn’t last very long, and I'm a hair-wash-every-day sort of girl, or we're talking permanent and unbecoming bed-head. 
            In summer I could happily rock a whole-head treatment every couple of weeks, but these stripes need a full day  and a whole bottle of vinegar, and not to put too fine a point on it, we're about to embark on a very long holiday where I won't have the option.  And I'm damned if I'll spend the holiday looking like a Disney cartoon.  
            I've just been sent some photos of last week's cuttlefish dive, and with the wind blowing I look about ready to skin a whole coat's worth of puppies.  So I have a plan.  (Mr Tabubil has the sniggers, but that's his problem.)  I am going to go back to the hair salon and have my whole head dyed auburn with a dye that will last.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Photo Club

Mr Tabubil is a member of the Whyalla photo club.  They have a dozen members, ranging in ability from two men whose work wins national photography prizes to a woman who has only been taking photographs for a few months and specializes in close-ups of butterflies and stobie poles
            I went with him to last week's meeting.  An elderly woman has been nominated to the new post of club librarian - a club member had passed away a few weeks before and had donated his photography library to the club. 
            "Men's books."  The lady said darkly, shooting an opaque look at the club leader.  "All about technique, I'm sure." And she made swooping motions in the air with her hands that indicated, in general terms, generous amounts of female curvature.  The club leader cleared his throat and glanced at her from under his eyelashes. 
            "I have a book here" he said cautiously "a lovely book, titled The Female Nude.  Some of its images might be considered to fall on the Erotic Side of the spectrum, but I assure you all that they are very Good Photographs, technically, and Beautiful Images, all of them.  Anyone who wishes to borrow ANY of these books until the next meeting is more than welcome."" He placed the book in question on the table and thumped the cover solidly. 
            Mr Tabubil and I, cosmopolitan city slickers down to our Puma trainers, hid grins and nudged each other under the table. 
            Later in the evening, during a blind photo crit session, I was placed in a seat at the front of the room, right next to The Book of Nudes.  Idly, I opened it to a page about half way through - and froze, my face burning.  Casual and sophisticated, I thought desperately.  That's me, and I hastily composed an expression of disinterested appreciation while I calculated how long a cool, casual and sophisticated viewer would keep the book open in polite company without losing all street cred.
            You know the famous definition - that you know it when you see it?
Every photograph in that book was exquisitely lit and delicately composed, but every single one left mere eroticism squirming in the dust.  Tied up in a harness with a spoon gag.  
            Heavy bondage?  Okay, no harm, no foul, but there were... also... anatomical closeups, and... accessories and....intent.
            Buckets of intent.
            There was a lovely study of a woman's legs reaching up into the air - gauzily lit, etched in silver, but between the legs there was a hand, and a mechanical object and - um -
To be quite honest, the photograph was exquisite and I adored it, but I was more than mortified to be looking at it while sitting next to a seventeen year old girl and a sixty seven year old grandma and a forty five year old father of two.
            Rural prudery, my bottom! I can't think of many cosmopolitan libraries that would have that book placed in general circulation.  My eyebrows raise and my hat goes off to the Whyalla Photo Club.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tabubilgirl has the flu, so she is fulminating. Because it beats sniffling.

I have, previously, expounded upon on the subject (or piffle) of contemporary archi-speak.
            Having been out of the professional loop for the past year and a half, I've been rather under-exposed to the vernacular. I try to remain au-courant, but up here in Rural South Australia, people only drop their tenses when they talk, instead of their common sense, and I have unfortunately regained a sense of perspective.
            Stuff like THIS is the sort of reason that I get cheesed off.  Bldgblog's content is exciting and moody and thought-provoking and the more-philosophical-than-thou "WE-invented-the-wheel" (or rather "WE generated a primary conceptualization of the multi-modular implementation of a demi-discoid meta-form") presentation gives me the terminal twitches. 
            The author of this blog is clearly a man of passion, with a wholly catholic appreciation of designed space in every medium and manifestation imaginable. (see?!) My current, sniffle-soaked cranky-flu problem is with the way the contributors learned to talk about it. An architect can't even clear a building site without getting so excited they need to go and lie down. Seriously - 
            "For their project Log Chop Bench (2011), the Canadian design firm The Practice of Everyday Design used 'a logger's brute strength and surgical precision to carve out seats on a reclaimed log.''

This verbal bloat reminds me of what happened after they put the lid on the new Convention Center in Vancouver.  It has a marvelous green roof - a meadow that spills down the side of the building to be crossed and re-crossed by a series of terraced walking tracks.  It's bright green and gorgeous and ecologically ambitious and there's a plaque riveted to the concrete verge of one of the walking tracks that spells out the biological, climatological, agro-historical, socio-philosophical and epistemological metaphysics behind every board, sheet, nail, rivet and grass stem in the project.
            It reads as if the competition for the prokect had been rather stiff, and as if the competition board was composed of city council members rather more interested in culturally-sensitive point-scoring than the merits of the actual designs, and as if the lead architects for this particular project had gotten rather desperate, and the night before the presentation, over a few stiff drinks, had hammered out the galloping mother of all architectural expositions, and then, rather unexpectedly, found out that they'd won.
            With one small caveat.  The competition board was so absolutely enchanted with everything they'd said that they insisted it be written down and place it somewhere prominent so that posterity would be fully appraised of how deeply sensitive the city had been in its choice of Convention Center.
            I like to imagine that somewhere, there is a small group of architects deeply embarrassed about that.

One can excuse the form when one is playing to a panel. The etiquette is rigid.  But that delightful little log bench on Bldgblog also reminds me of every visit I've ever made to the marvelous circular Guggenheim Museum in New York.  One walks out of the place with a mind packed full of visions of dry white pages of small black-typed philosophy - the curators and artists appear to have spent more time working out their arcane vocabularies than they have on creating the art.
            It's the exquisite Kandisky explosions in the permanent collection - sold as is, sans speech-bubbles, that stick. You have to work them out yourself. 

Show, don't tell.

Just for a week.
I dare you.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Victor Harbor, or, Our Lady of the Torch

Mr Tabubil and I took a long weekend and drove down to Victor Harbor. Victor Harbor is on the south side of the Flerurieu Peninsula, about an hour and a half drive south of Adelaide.  The town is popular in winter for whale-watching,  when the Southern Wright whales mate and calve in the waters around the long shallow bay. (We didn't see any.)  Victor Harbor is also known for its dynamic pink and orange sunsets. (These we did see. They were very pink and very orange, just as advertised.)  

At one end of the long bay stands Granite Island - a grand lump of granite rock, green and steep and windswept.  

           A walking track ranges around the edge of the island - mostly scrambling up and down rocky cliff faces, gently sloping and turf-covered on the mainland side, tall and grand and crashing into the ocean.  Mr Tabubil thought he might have seen a whale in the far distance; we squinted through the wind out into the heaving seas, but we saw nothing that couldn't have been spume on some large-scale waves.
             We weren't despondent. We hadn't come here for whales.  We'd come for the penguins.

Granite Island is a breeding ground for Little Penguins - also known as fairy penguins, and at dusk they come trooping out of the sea and head inland to their burrows. The guides use orange torches – penguin eyes have six times our own sensitivity to light, but the red-spectrum flashlights don’t seem to bother them even slightly. Perhaps they don’t even notice; after being micro chipped as soon as they emerge from their burrows as brand new chicks, blinking at the starlight for the very first time, being a nightly floor show might not seem very much of an invasion.

We had a very silly guide. She was very small and very round and talked with a smile and an engaging lisp – and she loved to talk about penguins. But what she didn't love so much was showing us the penguins she was talking about.

             As we followed her along the shoreline, we would twist around to see other groups and other flashlights in the distance, circles of orange light bouncing around the rocks, illuminating little birds, while our guide stood in the center of the boardwalk and lectured us on penguin mating habits with her flashlight pointed firmly at her feet.

             She was no ivory-towered academic – she had a keen understanding of what was going on around her. If we made, tentatively, to wander towards the lights and birds in the distance, sharp calls of “Attention please!!!” would catch us as we slunk and she would remain pointedly silent until she had her whole flock safely back with her again.
             All around us, little penguins huddled in tremulous bundles of feathers, preening, chirping, hummocking, and tiptoe-ing gingerly through the sand grass.

             They moved in clusters - huddling at the edge of water, until they were in small clusters of three or four, and then they head off inland towards their burrows, moving like comic opera robbers and night watchmen. Furtive and bumbling.

             They nest high in the cliffs – using their flippers as wedges to climb the rocks! This we didn’t see, because our guide was standing silently with her torch off because Mr Tabubil and I had tried to do a runner, but we did see the burrows when she briefly mislaid her light and shone it twenty meters up a cliff!
             Penguins are intrinsically exotic, but here they are prosaically everywhere – stuffed into the rocks that shore up shipping containers, nesting underneath wooden cafĂ© decks, wedged into the base of a jetty and halfway up a seawall. Our silly guide found us an entrancing family group (two parents plus two chicks), and then abruptly deserted them for a dissertation on the markings and behavior of the common brush possum.
             Stopping under under a tree, she pulled a penguin pelt from a satchel. She switched her orange torch for a white one, nicely ruining our light vision (we suspected deliberate intent) and talked about penguin feathers, with many digressions and assurances that pelts for demonstration purposes came exclusively from birds that were found dead of natural causes, or washed up on shore, or found floating adrift  - dead of natural causes all.
             Behind her, a penguin waddled out from behind a rock, inflated his chest, rumbled a long ascending bass note, waggled his wings, wriggled his bottom, and howled out a falsetto shriek.
             The guide’s reluctant audience defected in a rush. The bird basked modestly in the applause, then threw back his head and gave three encores.
             Exhaling heavily through her nose, our stomped over to where we were swooning and pointed her torch at our faced.
            “He does this every time – ruins my talk. I keep hoping he just won’t be here one day and let me do my talking in peace for once. Oh for heavens sake – would everybody please come away and leave him alone? If he doesn’t get attention he’ll stop showing off like that.”
             The group utterly failed to pay attention.
            “I said, would everybody come here now? He’s just showing off and doesn’t need encouraging. I am doing – for you- a talk about penguins.”
             Pointing up at the tree, she expounded lengthily to an audience of absolutely no one upon the tree’s geographical range and the place of Granite Island within that extraordinary and biologically entrancing range... and stopped, and looked back at where we were still a rapt and appreciative audience for the showboating bird.
            “Stay with the group." She said icily, "Or we are done.  I'll take you right back to the visitors centre this minute." 
             Mr Tabubil and I made an executive decision and defected to a group coming up at our rear, making a swift dash through the darkness between flashlight cones.
             This new guide spoke little, murmuring softly as she swung her torch from penguin to penguin, while ahead of us, in the distance, we saw Our Lady of the Torch, illuminating another possum.

Understandably, we don't have any photos of the penguins.  So here's a dynamic pink and orange sunset instead.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

French Onion Soup Redux.

Last night's french onion soup was sheer heaven on a plate, but I do not recommend that you make it for yourself.

This morning, Mr Tabubil and I stink
Everything we wore to cooking class last night smells heavily of onions.
Everything we put on last night after we got home from cooking class reeks of onion flatus.  Deep and complex and rich and layered and green.
As does our hair. 
And our skin.
And our bed - oh lord - I snuggled down next to Mr Tabubil this morning and as the covers shifted, I just about fainted.  I rolled over to tell him so and he almost passed out from the fart-and-sulpher miasma that beat the words past my tonsils.

We are doing a lot of washing this morning and we are deep-six-ing all of the leftovers.  I shed tears as I watched the croutons slid into the rubbish bin, but we both have to go to work today - and we both care to keep our jobs.

The soup was delicious, but ultimately, not worth the cost. Unless you live alone, somewhere out on a desert atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  In which case - go ahead.  I bear no responsibility for what your off-gassing is going to be doing to the reef.

Recipe: French Onion Soup!

This evening in cooking class, we made french onion soup!
            It was the real thing: two kilograms of onions, a liter of beef broth born from scorched beef bones and simmered for 12 hours in a stock pot the size of an oil drum, and a block of ancient gruyere cheese that smelled like your very best vintage toe-jam.  It’s a  recipe for the ages - requires no particular technique, but the payoff is enormous; for every scrape of your wooden spoon across the enamel bottom of your cast iron pot, the flavor - and the afterburn - are massive.

It goes like this:

Peel two kilograms of onions (my partner and I had to do this in shifts on account of the tears) and put them through a food processor.  (Ye old traditional chefs can chop them by hand if they like.  We didn't bring along our swimming goggles.) 
            Take a deep, solid, cast-iron pot, chuck in the sliced onions along with 100g of butter and a pinch of pepper and salt (one pinch each), pop the lid on the pot and let the onions steam over high heat.
            Stir occasionally, and as the onions start to ooze and caramelize, stir more often, and after an hour or so, when you have a pot of dark, brown, odorous onions, add a liter of beef stock (in half-cup portions, so that you don't cool the pot down with a great one-liter liquid dumping) and a bouquet garni (parsley stems, thyme sprigs and a bay leaf, all tied together with string so that the woody stems don't get lost in the soup and end up between somebody's teeth), season it with more salt and pepper, and stir and stir and stir until the onion has disintegrated and the liquid has become thick and gelatinously brown and and you have one incredibly fragrant onion stew.
            But don't stop there!  Decant the stew into bowls, and top with a thick layer of gruyere cheese that your partner has grated while you've been stirring the onion pot.  Top the cheese with a layer of king-size croutons (take one baguette, a tureen of melted butter and a paintbrush - slice, paint and bake) and more cheese, and pop under the grill till the cheese is bubbly and you're about to lose your mind from all the incredibly redolent smells swirling through the air.  Eeek!

Now eat.

I adore me some gruyere cheese.  When Saul reached the cheese part of the cooking demo, reverently unwrapping a wedge of gruyere , inhaling deeply of the odor of mouldering socks and pubescent male bedrooms, and passing the block of cheese around the class for our own personal moments of reverence, the Nurse who Will Not made her Great Pronouncement of the evening:  
          "Oh, that stuff."  She said.  "You know, Coles (a supermarket chain) sells a version of this.  It's called Gruyere, too.  It doesn't look anything like what you've got there, and it doesn't taste anything like it, and it's all waxy and slippery, but it also doesn't smell like that stuff there (urgh!) - and that's the main thing."
             Saul didn’t even try.  He merely breathed deeply and tossed an extra pinch of salt into his onions.
            With malice forethought.
            The squeamish hospital nurses are a something of a bewilderment to Saul.  There are three of them this term, and he's not entirely sure what they're doing here.  They appear to be cooking under sufferance,  they emit screams (with hands clapped to mouths and pointing fingers of horror)  whenever Saul adds salt to a frying pan, they quote heart-health statistics at him whenever he cooks with butter, and most deplorable to his French-trained soul, they refuse to cook animal flesh to a state that is anything less than black and leathery - and then they slice and pan-fry the leather to make certain that there's absolutely nothing organic left in it.  The things those three women found it in them to do to a Chateaubriand two weeks ago had Saul almost in tears. 
            He recovered - and rebounded - last week when he brought in a tray of plucked ducks for duck l'orange:  these women don't enjoy handling raw meat, and when he lifted one from the tray and it dripped, they gagged and had to turn their faces to the wall, and all evening it was clear on his face that the intermittently squeamish noises of maternity ward nurses suffering a crisis of nerves when faced with a raw duck was pure music on his ears.  One hopes that this class will broaden a few horizons, but at present they're refusing to join us on the main range for cooking.  They prefer to work with the slow domestic gas stoves on the back wall - this way they don't have to worry about somebody (read Saul) accidentally (read More Malice Forethought) dropping a pinch of salt into their pot as he passes.

Mr Tabubil is working a project that doesn't leave him time for cooking classes at the moment, but he stopped by on his way home from work, and stayed for dinner.  He wasn't given much of a choice.  Saul fell upon him with a delighted cry of "Maaaattteeee!" and fussed around him like the old proverbial mother hen, filching everybody's croutons and dipping spoons into everybody's soup and generally "feeding him up". 
            "You're looking thin, mate.  Isn't she feeding you?  What sort of hours are they working you?  Don't they leave you any time for meals?  Here, have a beer. Red wine?  White wine? Another slice of bread?"
            Even after the filched snacks, Mr Tabubil was hungry- Saul caught him slicing the end off a baguette and brushing it with the melted butter, and disappeared into the walk-in fridge.  He reappeared a few minutes later with a club sandwich three inches tall, and sat Mr Tabubil down at a work-bench and watched delightedly as he ate the whole thing.
            Mr Tabubil still had room for most of a big bowl of soup afterward, which might be why tonight, as I sat on the sofa gently off-gassing, he was sitting upright in bed complaining of a terrible stomach ache and belching like a bull moose.
            This soup is an amazing recipe, but don't try it if you have to be around people for fourteen or fifteen hours afterward.

Seriously.  We were a cautionary tale for the ages.

(Bonus quote for the day:
            The Nurse that Will Not: "How do you tell when the caramelization process is completely finished?"
            Saul : "The onions are completely black and have turned into briquettes.  Any other questions?"
            The moral of the story being - don't attempt to mollify a French chef by suggesting that he "top his French onion soup with Coons Tasty Cheese (TM) to stop it smelling funny."*)

*Translation for non-Australians:  in our supermarkets, domestic cheese comes two ways:  Mild and Tasty.  That funny foreign stuff is for gourmet wierdos who shop the deli section. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Diving with the Cuttlefish Part 3: Tabubilgirl and Dr Tabubil Go all the Way.

Last year we went snorkeling in the tail of the cuttlefish mating season.  It was late July.  The water was extremely cold.  And only a few, solitary giants were left, cruising for last-come, last-served egg-laying spots under the rocks. 
            It's a different situation this year.  In most years the water temperature begins to drop in late May and it  drops steadily, a few degrees a week, until it reaches it's winter plateau of 11  or 12 degrees Celsius.
            This year the water temperature dropped more slowly than usual, and then plateau at 17 degrees for several weeks.  The cuttlefish were confused by the uncharacteristic variation, and have arrived slowly, in very small numbers -the smaller, first-season cuttlefish first arriving.  The numbers are beginning to rise now, if very gradually, but the cuttlefish that have come are still few and small - a team of marine biologists spoke quietly in the corner of Tony's dive shop that morning, while we waited for a phone call with the morning dive report - a census update from the dawn divers telling us where on the coast there were numbers enough to be worth a dive.  
            The crew of a Japanese nature television show was in town to film the cuttlefish.  They were diving three times a day, every day, in all weathers.  Two men, one young, one middle aged, sat silently on a sofa at the back of the dive shop, mainlining mugs of hot coffee and bags of jelly sweets with the grim expressions of men who spend far too much of their time shrugging in and out of cold, clammy wetsuits in dark weather and really, seriously need the calories.
            After half an hour, the call came in - and we headed out to Black Point - a outcropping of shingle coast few kilometers in toward from the lighthouse at Point Lowly
            The sun was out, the breeze was stiff, the rough parking lot at the Point was a sun-trap thirty feet above a rocky shore.  We kitted up and sat in the sun, drowsy as cats, stiff as neoprene mummies in our rented suits.  Don't try this without a spotter.  If you fall over you're not going to get up without someone to hoist and heave and unhook and unlatch and unseam -
            Getting down to the water was equally involved - we three penguin-analogues  in full scuba kit humping flippers and masks and tanks and weight belts down a narrow path across the cliff face, and then scrambling for several hundred slippery, stumbling meters across the same sort of unstable, rocky shore we'd skipped rocks across a few days earlier. 
            Our entry point was a small cove in the lee of a point of rock.  We sat on its sun-side, recovering ourselves and then - breathing.  Breath, you asthmatic aspiring- scuba-diver you!  Long, slow, breaths!  Slowly in, slowly out, in and out, in and out, make a smooth, even rhythm and let  it lead you, step by step, out into the water.
            And fall down.  I'm an original Australian water baby, Bondi-born and Gold Coast-bred, but with a regulator in my mouth and a tank on my back my center of balance was all off.  It was disorienting and helpless-feeling.   Tony took me in slowly.  Rocking and stumbling as the waves hit, fighting back instead of rolling. 
            Two years ago, in the Cook Islands,  I tried a shallow reef dive.  Nobody warned me beforehand that when I used a regulator I'd have to draw hard to take a breath.  When you're asthmatic, having to pull hard for a breath is a warning sign that you're starting an asthma attack.  You spend your life working to avoid exactly that.  Underwater, my reflexes never stopped red-lining and they never had to - the reef was so shallow that if I had a problem, all I had to do was unbend my knees and stand up.  So I never tried.
            Tony was gentle as a man with an newborn baby.  Slowly - waist deep - put the mask on.  Chest deep - put your face into the water.  Breathe.  Breath was pressure on my lungs - I fought  - I couldn't get enough air!  I lifted my face out of the water and spat out my regulator and took a deep breath - and breathed just the same as I'd breathed underwater.  Hah.  Tony was right.  It's psychosomatic, you dill.  Breathe and keep that CO2 moving and you're right as houses.  I popped the regulator back in and Tony took me by the hand and led me out into the gulf.  We stepped underneath the water and his hand was so strong and secure on my own that fear was impossible.  And there was so much to see.

It was strange to be a human down there.  Tony had me at slightly negative buoyancy, and I spent my time bouncing across the bottom on my belly, sliding over seagrass and, initially alarming, big black sea urchins - but it put me at eye level with the cuttlefish.  They were small, but they were everywhere.  If this was nothing, small potatoes, low season - my god. 
            It was a busy world.  The water was cloudy and the same color as the seagrass, and the cuttlefish emerged, dreamlike, from the shadows as we came upon them - grass taking form into cuttlefish, rather than the other way round.  They drifted across the bottom and I drifted after them, their colors shifting and sliding from green to brown to purple into red, blue iridescence shining along the rims of their mantles.
            Two giants were facing off, hanging broadside to each other, their mantles flared, their bodies shifting through a repertoire of color - their heads were red, their rims were green, and across the flat screen of their mantles ribbons of color pulsed and flared. 

We hung there, drifting in space, watching them. I was so enthralled I lost the rhythm of my breathing.  I inhaled too much and found myself gently rising from the sea floor and tipping inexorably upside down, and hung there, stranded, with my hair brushing the seafloor and my flippers pointed at the distant, sun-spangled surface 4 meters above.
            Dr Tabubil cleared her ears to regularize her pressure and in her own distraction shot the bubbles down the front of her suit.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw her shooting toward the surface like a bottle rocket.  I imagined that I heard her giggling.
            I got twisted around down there -  the top of my oxygen bottle had slid up against the back of my head and I had no forward or upward vision.  I was restricted to seeing straight ahead and sideways.  It was limiting, claustrophobic even, but Tony's hand was firm on mine and, somehow, my limited field of view enhanced the otherworldliness of the experience.  A limited view was right and proper, and matched my limited understanding and my slender awareness of myself in this place, where I was so strange and clumsy and out of joint.
            Bouncing back along the bottom again, I found myself eye to eye with a foot-long female cuttlefish squeezed into a crevice under a rock.  She was laying eggs, her color reduced to a pearly blue-white pallor.  A male rushed to guard her.  I  stood my ground and hung nose to nose with him until she emerged and slanted color-wise into purple and then to sandy green, and lifted her tentacles and squirted sideways away into the grass.
            Tony squeezed my hand and moved off. I  was completely lost down there - I figured we'd surface where we were and paddle back to shore above water, but he was leading  me steadily up an incline and the grass shaded into bare rock and we were up. Out.
            We had been underwater for almost forty minutes.  It felt as if it had been ten.  Barely.  I wasn't cold.  Just dazed.  Amazed. 
            We lay on the rocks in the sun, smiling foolishly at each other.  Then we humped our gear back up the cliff, and stripped and changed into warm flannel pajamas, and ate sweet imperial mandarins and blocks of chocolate and drank our way through thermoses of hot tea.
           And i did all right - no asthma. Tony is all fired up to take me out again.  When the numbers climb, and we can watch 'em by the hundreds.

Photographs and Video (and if you do ONE thing - watch the video.):

Dr Tabubil reclining (gingerly) above Black Point.

Finding my balance underwater.

A cuttlefish emerges from the seagrass - notice how his front half is red with rage (pushy humans!) while his back half is still the color of the grass.

For every one we see, there is at least one more hiding in the grass.  Probably more!  See how the one on the right holds his tentacles to mimic the tangled shape of the grass.

And closer.

And - gone!


Two Huge Males Face Off.

Video footage of the giant male displaying: