Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Brief Primer on the Cuttlefish. With links.


The Giant Australian cuttlefish is the largest of the cuttlefish species known to man.  A member of the taxonomic class coleoida, it have a venerable lineage - stretching back almost 200 million years in time, it outlived the dinosaurs, trumpeted proudly past the mammals as they arose, and  survived to grace the waters of our present day oceans.
            The Australian giant cuttlefish is, in principle and in general, a solitary creature.  It lives its life in a race for mass and volume, spending almost 95% of its day in hiding,  pouring its metabolism into brute size, waiting for the one great event of its life.
It is a short lived creature.  It grows, it mates, and then it dies, its weakening body falling apart on the seabed.  Most male cuttlefish live solitary lives, waiting for a female to pass - and be seized and impregnated and sent on her way to lay her eggs. 
            The Giant Australian Cuttlefish plays life differently. Giant Australian Cuttlefish live their lives in quiet obscurity, eschewing company, abhorring fuss, painting themselves the color of the seabed, and sending marine biologists frantic  with curiosity.  Where?  Where do they go?  Where do they hang out?  Nobody knows.
Once a year, however, something extraordinary happens right in my backyard.  The Spencer gulf has a flat-bottomed sandy bed, and cuttlefish require rocky coasts for laying their eggs.  They attach the eggs to the under-sides of rocks, where they can mature undisturbed by predators and currents.  Sand flats don't provide much scope for growing baby cuttlefish.
            But right here, on the edge of town, there is one rocky shore.  Thin slabs of sandstone shingle tumbled together make a long, shallow, sloping seabed.  And when the temperature drops at the beginning of winter, the cuttlefish arrive.  All of them.
            Thousands of them.  This is the only place in Australia - in the world - where cuttlefish congregate in numbers like this.  They play a whopping mating game - the giant males collect harems, the females scope partners for size and skill, and the males face off, threatening each other with a sort of display that must be absolutely unique  -anywhere. 
            Cuttlefish skin is colored by pigment-filled sacs called chromatophores.  These pigment sacs are under conscious control, and the cuttlefish can change its coloration to match its environment, to reflect its mood and, and uniquely, to indicate its intentions.  The chromatophores can not only be controlled individually, but also sequentially, so that the cuttlefish becomes a floating movie screen.  The enormous males face off - streams of color rippling down their bodies, the colors become wilder and more intense, until one male will give way and retreat - or the confrontation becomes physical, and the two males fight, slashing at one another with their sharp parrot beaks.
            While the largest males are lighting up the seabed, the females in their harems are quietly getting the best of all possible  sperm-sets for their eggs.  The large males are the ones who have had two seasons to grow.  The males who come to maturity in the first season of their life are very small - too small to compete head to head with their larger compatriots. 
            Their opportunities require guile.  The same size as the small females, they adjust their color, their posture, even their behavior to match the ladies.  While the males guard their harem, these small male mimics will sidle up to them and mate with their females right under their bellies.  The females are enthusiastic and complicit - by taking a variety of partners, they can maximize the potential of their offspring - producing great bruisers as well as small, sly sneakers, and  increasing the probability that their male offspring will all mate in the next few seasons.

            Like all wonderful nature stories, the tail has a human sting.  There are plans to build a desalination plant on this coast, so that the mines up in the red center won't have to rely on Southern Australia's over-burdened sources of fresh-water.  The gulf has hundreds of miles of coastline of no particular distinction, but this short stretch of coast- this singular, extraordinary stretch - is the one that has been chosen.   By eminent domain.  A team of marine biologists is working on an environmental impact statement, and their present conclusion, based on current data and probability, is that the currents and the water densities will keep higher levels of salinity out of the breeding area, and the plant has governmental approval - but around here - we want to know why.  Why this coast?  Why not 30 kilometers  - fifty kilometers - further out of town?  Or ten kilometers out of town on the other side? 
            Murmurs of special interest - farmers and graziers playing NIMBY with the regional council - make the rounds.
            People nod knowingly.  But they're upset and bewildered, so of course they nod - and nothing is confirmed.  
            This place and this annual event is so special.  Ecosystems are fragile.  Unstable.  Full of unexpected, or mis-estimated, factors. Why push for this coast?  Why take the risk?  

Further Resources:
Or if you want to see some really extraordinary footage, check out the BBC documentary series Life (2009). Look up the episode "Creatures of the Deep" and prepare to be astounded.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Diving with the Cuttlefish: Part I


While Dr Tabubil was staying with us, she and I went diving in the cuttlefish breeding ground.

We started at the dive shop, getting kitted out.  The rig was the same as last year - neoprene socks and undersuits, booties, balaclava, gloves and tight-fitting neoprene wetsuits, half an inch thick.
Marlene, who runs the shop with her dive-master husband Tony, squinted at the two of us, posing in our one-piece under-suits with the front zippers zipped up JUST far enough, in our very best Bond Girl style, and handed me a wetsuit to try on.
            "It’s tight."  She warned.  "Just see if you can get it up to your hips to start."
            "I remember how tight they are." I laughed.  "Amazingly, last year my friend Sarah managed to get her leg all the way up the arm of her suit."  
            "We remember that."  Marlene said.  Her voice went warm with awe.  "You know, she's not the first person to have made that mistake, but what we can't believe is how she got it so far up there!"
            Indeed.  It took the three of us almost ten minutes to get her out of it.  Remind me to let Sarah know that these days she's a local byword.  She'll be enchanted.

The wetsuit was tight.  The glamorous Bond girl dissolved into a mess of heaving and grunting and tight little bunny hops as I forced that thick neoprene up past my thighs, as per spec.  Huuurggghh!
            The water of the gulf gets extremely cold in winter.  The theory behind the multiple layers and tight fit is that while you can't keep the cold water out of your suits, once it's inside, you can stop it circulating, and use it to build up a nice cushion of near-body temperature water that will isolate you from the chill.  As a technique, it's extremely effective.  Last year when we went snorkeling with the cuttlefish, the water temperature was about 12  degrees Celsius.  I stayed in the water for almost an hour, and came out because I was tired, not because I was chilled.  Once out of the water, it was another story.  Unpeeling ourselves from our neoprene skins in the cold winter wind, our core temperatures dropped like stones.  We stripped and wrapped ourselves in layers of flannel pajamas and wool sweaters and drank gallons of hot tea. 
            And it was magnificent - every chilled, shivering moment of it.  For another half-hour with those cuttlefish, chilled as I was, I'd have climbed back into that clammy, flabbish wetsuit and done it all again.
            And this year I am doing it again, but this year, I'm not going snorkeling.  My sister has her PADI open-water certification, but I am an asthmatic, and have spent my life on the surface, looking down and wishing wistfully.  But because the cuttlefish mating ground is at such shallow depth - barely 4 meters at its lowest points, the risk of the dive to my asthmatic lungs is effectively nil.  If I can keep the cold - and my temperature-triggered wheezes - at bay, I will go down on what's known as a resort dive, with Diver Tony holding my hand the whole way.  I'm so excited I'm ecstatic!  The anticipation is almost indecent!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Skipping Rocks



The day after we met the dolphins dark and low and overcast, but the air was still calm and the water flat and glassy, and I took Dr Tabubil out to Port Lowly to skip rocks.
            Point Lowly, twenty minutes out of town, is where the gulf narrows into a funnel  and pushes its water up to Port Augusta at its tip.  On the points narrow nose there is a lighthouse on a shingle beach, with a small sheltered cove tucked in below it under the brow of a hill.  The shore is flat, loose, sandstone slabs, tangled and stumbly, but the floor of the little cove is clear white sand, knee-deep at mid-tide, designed approximately and precisely for paddling with small children on hot summer afternoons.
            In that hot summer weather the water sparkles like gold and sapphires, and the rocks are full of blue-tongue and shingle-back lizards, but the air is a solid block of black flies. 
            We don’t go there very much in summer.
            In winter, however, the flies clear out and although the water is too cold for wading, the little cove is always still, and the flat stones are most excellent for skipping on the water. Dr Tabubil had a fine time.   Me, I make a good splash, but I throw lousy.  In thirty years of trying hard, Dad never did manage to teach me to throw.   He used to take me out of town to a good creek and explain the finer points of aim and pitch and windup, and we'd chuck rocks onto the concrete apron below the culvert and in thirty years, I never got any good. 

A man and two young boys were fishing on the other side of the point.  I looked away from a particularly good splash and saw them holding a cuttlefish high in the air and waving at us.   


I walked around the bay to meet them, my feet crunching and sliding enjoyably on the shingle.
            "You missed a pod of dolphins coming through" the man said.  He nodded at the turbid rapids of the rip current, running north ten meters out from the shore.  "Ten of them.  Jumping.  That was a sight!"
            The boys, both about ten years old, grinned amiably at me. The man cleared his throat and reached into a bucket.   "Couple of cuttlefish do for you, then?"
            "How do you do them?"  I said. "I've never cooked one before."
            A crunching of stones announced the arrival of Dr Tabubil, following on behind me.
          "Ah."  The man said.  "Two of you.  You ever seen one of these out of the water?"
            He scraped the bucket forward and we peered inside.  It was  full of ink, with shining, green-lipped backs rising out of the murky water, and eyes - big eyes, huge and thick and clouded, staring out at us through the murk.


The man showed us how to catch them, casting his line right out into the rip and dragging the lure across the surface of the water back in toward the shore.  Once he'd caught one, mottled and brown and many-tentacled, he showed us how to hold it, grasping it behind the wide vanes of the head and using our thumb and forefinger to empty the siphon below its throat.
            I grasped carefully.
            "Oi!  Stop that!" He shouted in alarm."Point the thing some other way!  It hasn't dumped its ink yet!"
            The boys shouted with laughterHastily, I turned the cuttlefish toward the bucket,  feeling the animal emptying itself under my hands, its slick, solid body growing soft and flaccid as the water streamed out of it.  An empty sack. 


Behind me, Dr Tabubil's  face was set.  She looked miserable.
            "It looks cruel," the man said"but the ones we catch are already dying." He swept his hand out across the water.  "See the rip?  The mating ground is on the other side of the lighthouse.  No fishing there.  Cuttlefish mate once, and then they're spent.  They die.  As they get weaker, they're swept out into the current and come around this side of the point.  I was out there on a  boat last week and the current was full of dead cuttlefish and cuttlefish bones, floating on the water.
            "Mind how you hold it" he told me.  He held up a fishing lure; the wood was scratched and pitted.  "This was done by a cuttlefish beak earlier this afternoon.  They’ve got serious beaks.  You see that long thing -" he pointed into the bucket where a long, slender pseudopod floated free on the surface.  "- Don't let a cuttlefish snag you with that.  It flings that tentacle out and snares a fish or a crab, and it hangs on tight.  If it gets your finger back to it's beak with that thing, you'll have one hell of a nasty bite."
            I looked at the pale, empty thing in my hands and wondered.
            "Put him down on the rock!" One of the boys said.  "Watch him change color!"  I put the mottled brown cuttlefish down on a white rock, and in seconds it was as pale as the rock, rimmed with green and blue strings of luminescence.  Even dying, it glowed.
            "We won't eat this one."  The man said.  "It's a little male, I reckon.  A mimic.  I'll use it for bait for catching snapper.  Snapper love cuttlefish.  See that patch of still water out past the tip of the point?  That's because three currents meet If you go out there in a boat, you can practically pull the snapper in with a hand-net.  They hang around waiting for the dying cuttlefish to be swept out of the spawning ground and around the point." 
            We put the little cuttlefish into the bucket with his kin.  The man stood and stretched, and the boys ran whooping into the water, splashing and kicking up the spray.


"Where are you from?"  The man said.  We told him.
            "Huh."  He said.  "I thought you'd be American.  You've got the accent. Hey! Maybe you can tell me.  All the Americans I've met are absolutely obsessed with kangaroos!  Americans and the Japanese both.  Why is that?"
            I shrugged.  "They're exotic.  They live far away, they're tall as people, have huge hind legs, go boinging across the landscape - what's not to fascinate?"
            "I bet" Dr Tabubil said, " that you're fascinated by grizzly bears."
            "Bears-" The man shoo his head.  "Huge things. Terrifying.  One of these days - " he broke off, laughing. "I reckon you've got a point.  I used to live down on the Murray Riverland, and I'd take Americans out on safari, hunting for galahs and emus and kangaroos.  Last year I took a Japanese girl. There was an American with her and they both wanted emus. Big haystack things on legs, but I suppose they don't have anything like that where they come from.
            So I took them out into the bush - we drove and drove and the girls got restless. 
            'Why aren't we seeing any emus?' They said.
            'Because we can't catch up with them!' I said.  I was driving a big old jeep and I put my foot on the accelerator, and pretty soon we found an emus - pacing alongside the road.  The girls shrieked at me to stop and let them look.
            'You girls stay quiet and sit on those cameras!' I said. "You see, if you see one emu, you know you've got a lot of emus.  So I drove like mad and the emu started to run, and soon there were five, and then there were ten of them, pounding along the road, those big dinosaur feet going flat out.  I swung the wheel and swerved off the road into the scrub.  The gils were screaming at me to stop and trying to point their cameras through the windows, but I just  plowed through the scrub and I got ahead of them, you see?  Then I bounced back onto the road, spun the car around to face the herd and I stopped  the car dead and turned off the motor.
            'There.' I told them.  'Get your cameras out now.'  And as I said it, fifteen emus came thundering right at us, parting around the car like those dinosaurs in that movie Jurassic Park and thundering away up the road in a cloud of dust.  They got photos like they'd never get anywhere else."
            He smiled away across the gulf.  "Big as haystacks, but by God, they're impressive when they're moving."



7/7/11 Update:  It has since been explained to me by reliable authorities that the theory of 'dying cuttlefish being washed around the point where we can catch 'em without guilt' is - to put it very politely - a complete and utter load of tosh.
            Tony at the dive shop goes one step further: "It's a very low season, and one of the hypotheses being tossed around is that because the weather put the cuttlefish six weeks late, they had six more weeks out at sea in the face of predators.  The local fishermen have been beefing up their fishing as well.  I don't know how much of an effect the fishermen are having, but considering the fact that the cuttlefish population has only recently bounced back from the edge, and that the season is as low as it is, they're acting with pretty poor spirit. And if they're making up stories like that to make themselves feel better about what they're doing - !"

Friday, June 24, 2011

Poor Darlings and Dolphins

Dr Tabubil came to spend a week with us in her Time Off between night and day shifts.  She flew down straight off her last night shift and stumbled off the plane looking like the prototypical walking zombie, and largely slept her way through the next week.  Poor Darling.
            Between restorative naps and fourteen fabulously uninterrupted hours a night, she and I spent our time down at the water.   The very first evening, after she'd "Not been asleep, really, I swear!" for an hour and forty-five minutes on the sofa underneath two quilts and a sleeping bag (I may have mentioned that she's a Queenslander.  She's never felt much affection for winter weather,  Poor Darling.) I dragged her out of the house and down to the foreshore to look for dolphins. 
            It was an evening worth getting out of bed for. After two weeks of stiff north winds the air was still and the water was as smooth and clear as a pane of glass.  We walked out onto the jetty and leaned over the rail and watched the big red cuttlefish jetting across the sandy seafloor between the fields of sea grass. 
            We'd hoped for dolphins at the boat ramp where the sports fishermen come in, but there were no boats - and so no dolphins.  On an evening like this one, everyone with a boat was out at sea.  So we hung on the jetty rails, counting cuttlefish and counting clouds.  A laconic fisherman with a hand line caught our eyes and nodded out toward the bay - and there they were,  a fully grown female and an mostly grown  baby, standing on their tails in the water underneath the jetty and begging for fish.

            Or not begging for fish - fishermen tossed them freshly caught whiting, but the dolphins ignored the offerings - they bowed to the fishermen and  stood up higher on their tails and let the fish sink past them into the deep water, while the baby swam in rings around its mother and played keep-away with her tail.  They were simply being sociable, killing time until the boats started to come in.


And soon enough, one did.  The dolphins rolled onto their bellies and dove deep.  A minute later we heard the sound of an outboard motor, far away, and soon it came into sight - shining chrome and fresh white paint, with the rest of our local dolphin pod surfing on its wake.


Dr Tabubil and I followed the boat through the marina to the boat ramp.  The whole pod was there for the party, five adult females and three babies, two so small and new that they were still working out the whole complicated swimming thing - they thought it was marvelous, but hadn't quite nailed down all the technicalities and lost momentum in their curvettes and their loops.
            From a dolphin's perspective, it wasn't much of a speedboat.  Three small whiting, offered over the side, and that was it.  The aunties nosed over to the pontoon ramp and gazed  up at us, eye to eye, and then, bored with the extremely limited entertainment, rolled sideways and headed back out into the open water.


The two smallest babies weren't half way done.  They thought that the marina was fine.  They were puppies, roughhousing and wrestling, playing chase and keep-away around and around and around the marina.  An auntie stayed behind to mind them - or rather, to mind US up on the pontoon, in case we had designs upon the babies.  She lay on the water at the side of the pontoon, with one calm eye staring into mine, breathing deep dolphin breath onto my face.


The babes became terribly bored with wrestling, every three minutes or so, and ran sprints between the pontoons, ending when they tried a loop and became stuck there, half-in and half out of the water.  One great sideways waggle and they were back in motion, but the moment was lost and it was time to sit on each other and give terrible, squeaky batterings with fin and nose and tail.  Gradually, their rumbistications drifted outward toward the open water, and with one last deep fishy breath, the auntie dropped under the surface of the water and moved to follow them out to sea. 


A woman trudged down the boat ramp with a plastic bag full of frozen bait fish.
            "Do you think the dolphins would eat them?"  She asked us.
            We held out the fish popsicles, but the dolphins were entirely disinterested, heading out for open water and accelerating.
            A pelican on the next pontoon over was all interest.  He shifted from one great blue foot to the other, and spread his wings and opened his great beak and shook out his enormous crop - that pelican thought we were the greatest things on land or sea. 
            Dr Tabubil and I headed for dry land.  We didn't know what it would feel like to find your crop fill of cold frozen fish, but we didn't want to be around when he found out.  Pelicans can have nasty tempers.  And very sharp beaks.  And carry grudges.  Poor Darlings.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Pleasures of Renting Part II

In the previous installment, an insulation expert was declaiming in horror over the built state of our house.
            It's taken some serious time, but the owners have finally acknowledged the general decrepitude of their two-year-old rental property, and all of a sudden (now that summer is over and we are no longer screaming for window screens and roof insulation on a bi-weekly basis) they are absolutely horrified, and have been galvanizing the original contractors to action right, left and center.   
            The front door frame is slumping sideways and skirting boards are popping loose from the walls all over the house and there's a hollow spot in the concrete pad under the living room floor and wardrobe frames are peeling off the bedroom walls and splitting apart the drywall (that was last Tuesday) - and as none of it is relevant to the comfort of the tenants, something must be done!

A man from the building firm came up last Thursday.  To my profound regret, I was in Adelaide during his visitation and had to deputize his supervision to the rental agent.
            I called her Thursday afternoon for a recap.
            "Oh it's fine."  She said breezily.  "Everything's fixed."
            "Ehnh?"
            "Oh yeah.  The front door just didn't have enough nails in it, that's all, and the skirting boards -  that's all just cosmetic. The builders hadn't used strong enough glue.  He back-filled the cavities with silicone and now it looks fine."
            "But some of those skirting boards were standing out almost half an inch!  That's not cosmetic - that's shifting.  Subsistence.  Something wrong with the foundations!"
            "Yeah, okay, fine."  She heaved a sigh.  " Basically, what's happened is that when they put in the foundations, they didn't drain the ground around them properly and now they're drying out and making the house move.  After I talk to you I have to talk to the owners about putting in a drip-feed system all around the outside of the house to keep the concrete at a constant humidity.  They really need to get on to that."
            I would give money to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.  And for the subsequent high-volume arguement that our landlord is going to be having with the construction firm's regional representative. What goes around comes around. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

As I live and breath - Charity?

I spent my Adelaide Saturday thrift-store-hunting with Zoe and the Architect.  Zoe is the queen of second-hand-stores: she knows every single one of them between Kapunda and Port Adelaide, and she spends her Saturday mornings in the over-stuffed back rooms of church halls across the Barossa valley. 
            We began in a little store on the edge of Tea-Tree Gulley.  It was the best possible sort of second hand shop.  From the outside,  it was small and nondescript, just a door and a window stuffed with raveled sweaters, a box of distressed paperback romances, and a hanging rack of geriatric car dashboard mats outside on the pavement. Only inside the shop revealed its true self - nested geometries stuffed full of books and vintage evening gowns and baby clothes and antique ski-suits, light-bulbs and crockery and wooly winter beanies and scarves and ties and handbags and shoes and dinner dresses -
            Oh, the dinner dresses... all of them all glittery and spangled and most of them desperately, eye-searingly, shoulder-paddingly pleated, sequined, studded and vintage nineteen eighties.
If my suitcase were as five-dimensional as the shop, I'd have taken home an armful.
            The hats were another kettle of feathers.  A door-frame behind the cash-register, approached at the right angle, unfolded into a long shelf of aerodynamical Adelaide Cup hats, trimmed with feathers and flowers and bunches of glass cherries and crab-apples.  I picked up a fetching black Merry-Widow wide-brim trimmed with most of a  white  feather boa and admired.
            A tiny old woman with white hair piled high on her head appeared from  behind the edge of a dust-mote.
            "She used to do amateur theatricals."  She said to me, fingering the feathers.  "The owner of the hat.  When she retired her husband insisted that she give away SOME of the costumes and she gave all the hats to us.  It's nice, isn't it?"
            "How much is it?"
            "I don't rightly know.  The others are between two and three dollars, but that one's scarcely dented - it could be as much as five.  Do you see a price tag on there?"
At length, and after some difficulty, I found a tag buried in the feathers of the boa.
            "TEN dollars."  The lady read.  "That's a bit much. Clara!"  She called out to another elderly lady  - this one was presiding over the cash register. "Do you think that we could give this nice young lady a discount?"
The lady behind the cash register looked up and I noticed that she had a firmer jaw than the white-haired darling, and that her hair was cropped firmly about her neck in a stiff, no-nonsense bob.  
            "You want me to give you a DISCOUNT?"  She said to me.  "Here?  In this shop?"  Stepping out from behind the cash register, she advanced on me with a contemptuous twist to her lips.
             "What sort of person asks for a DISCOUNT in a CHARITY shop?"  She said, pitching her voice to be heard through the whole room. 
            "It's  the Royal Society for the BLIND giving you that discount.   It's Children with CANCER giving you that discount- you know that, I suppose? Is THEIR money worth that much to you?"
She sneered at me.  "Don't you BELIEVE in CHARITY?"
Elderly women were popping into existence between hats and winter coats and  peg-boards of costume jewelry.  They all stared at me, open mouthed, their heads shaking, their hands rising up and boney, arthritic index fingers raised up to point-
I fled through a door into another room, where Zoe was rummaging through a bin of wooden block toys.  Shuddering and shaking, I  poured out the whole incredible story.  Zoe let out a shout of laughter.            
            "REALLY?" She squealed. "I don't believe a word of it!"
With epic narrative timing, a third elderly lady emerged from a shoe-box behind the toy bin.  She pointed a long index finger at my midriff.  Following the finger, I saw that I was still holding the hat - tightly, in both hands.
            "What were your intentions with this hat?"  She asked coolly.  "The original owner was a noted actress in our local theatrical community.  What were YOU intending to do with it? A birthday party, perhaps?"
She flicked the hat lightly with her finger and looked at me from beneath a raised eyebrow.  Very much beneath.
Stammering slightly, I said something about a past history of fashion school, and a consuming interest in historical costumes and how this hat would make a fabulous accessory for a late-Edwardian merry widow ensemble - I don't know what had gotten into me.  My brief admiration had run its course in front of the cash register.  I wouldn't have wanted the thing if you'd paid me.
The lady considered.
            "Yee-eesss…." She breathed critically.  "That would be acceptable.  But what you have to REMEMBER" she said, pinning me with a stern look and that long index finger "Is the ORIGINAL value of the hat.  Don't you THINK that you're doing rather nicely as it is?"
She turned on her heel and swept out to the cash register.
            "Here."  I said, thrusting the hat to Zoe with shaking hands.  "Put it back for me.  I don't want them to see me do it.  I don't want to be the lady who tried to cheat the charity shop - and surrendered."
Zoe shook her head to clear it, and girding her loins, sailed defiantly into the front room, where a three-way argument was going on.
            "I saw Water for Elephants last night and I thought it was LOVELY."  The white haired darling was saying firmly.
            "But what about the CRUELTY?" The woman with the long index finger said.  "The terrible things they did to that elephant - I wept!  I would hardly have called that film lovely!  I'd never have seen it if I'd known -"
The firm-jawed lady snorted with impatience.  "It's ACTING."  She cried.  "For heavens sake!  I can't believe you were both taken in by a crew of acting animals!  They're perfectly happy!  They probably loved every minute of it!  Really, if we cried about EVERYTHING we saw up on a movie screen - you two bleeding hearts - "
Zoe must have had her jaw hanging somewhere about the level of the floor because the woman with the index finger looked at her sharply and said "Are you all right - dear?" 
Zoe picked up her jaw to answer, but a young man entering the shop behind her though that the question was meant for him and spoke first.
            "Just fine." He said.  "Thanks.  Just looking around."
            "Ooooh!"  The lady with the index finger squealed joyously.  "Isn't he HANDSOME?   And what LOVELY manners!  It's been such a LONG time since a handsome young man flirted with ME!"
Her shoulders shaking,  Zoe turned and precipitously fled from the shop into the sunshine, closely followed by the young man, scarlet faced and steaming.

There must have been something in the water.

We fled into the hills and ate lunch sitting on a verandah that commanded a view of an entire valley- olive groves and acres of vines, with fig and sweet apple trees tangling in our hair and fresh autumn winds to drive cobwebs - and white marabou feathers on black hats  - out of our heads.
Unreal.