Letter #9: 10 November 2014

10 November 2014

G’day Mates,

First some apologies.  I realized as the week progressed that I had totally fallen down on the job with my email last week.  I failed to give you a rundown on Halloween, Aussie-style.  We bought our bags of candy and waited for ghosts, goblins and Ellas to ring our doorbell, but alas we got zero, zilch, and nada.  There were a few groups we heard walking down the street, but since it is Spring here in the antipodes, carvable pumpkins are in rather short supply, so it was a bit difficult to signal to trick-or-treaters that 16 Ocean View was open for business.  It felt a little creepy to go out into the street to flag them down (See Emm and Melinda, even your stalker-Mom has her limits!), so we were left with 70 mini Cadbury Dairy Milk bars.

And my second failure as your Australian correspondent was my lack of reporting on your favorite soccer club, the Western Sydney Wanderers and their Asian Champions League final against Al-Hilal.  As you may recall, the Wanderers took game one of the series here in Parramatta and then traveled to Saudi Arabia for the second game on 1 November.  Despite being visitors at the 67,000 seat King Fahd stadium in Riyadh where the home team is unbeaten this season, despite laser pointers being used repeatedly to target the pupils of Wanderers goalkeeper, Covic, despite visa restrictions which allowed only 14 Australian fans to enter the country, the Wanderers held Al-Hilal to a 0-0 tie and carried the trophy home.  The trophy looked shiny enough, but the Saudi club launched a stinging tirade against the refereeing claiming “It was a looting of the right of an entire people who has been waiting for happiness and enjoyment of fair competition.”  The Japanese ref, Nishimura, might want to steer clear of the Middle East for the foreseeable future…

Whew, now that I’ve got the back stuff cleaned up, I can move on to another exciting week in Sydney.  Tuesday, the first Tuesday in November, signals Melbourne Cup, the Race that Stops a Nation.  It seems that every venue in the land was running some sort of function.  In the weeks’ run-up to the race, every Tradies, RSL, golf club, river cruise, restaurant and pub bore tantalizing signage advertising the celebration – sweeps, raffles, best-dressed contests, premium dining, bubbly and post-race drinks.  Since I hadn’t packed a fascinator and the ticket prices for many of the events were high enough to choke a [race] horse, we took the celebratory but low-key event at UWS-Bankstown.  It gave Mark a chance to show me his …. office? Um, no.  His … cubicle?  Um, no, but you’re getting warmer.  His … “hot desk”?  Bingo!  Fancy digs there for your professor in the trenches of Bankstown.  [Hey, when I arrived they tried to put me in a “cold desk.”  Tired and jet-lagged though I was, I fought back and said “No!”  A couple of other casual academics were given “crummy desks.”   I fought on, moving up from “dinky, wobbly desk,” and “moderately reasonable desk with no view” all the way to “Hot Desk #4.”  At that point, I had regained enough of my self-esteem so as to stop stuttering in class.]  I got a little campus tour, and then we joined in the festivities with some faculty and staff.  I suspect that the mere fact that these people were attending the abbreviated campus party rather than knocking off work at 11:30 or so for lunch, and drinks, and a fashion contest tells you enough about these nose-to-the-grindstone types to give you a sense that this particular party might not be one to stop a nation, but there were cheese platters and champagne and a bit of fun.  And even though there were only two hats in the entire room, when the raffle tickets were pulled, the first dozen wild and crazy winners each selected a bottle of wine as their prize and left those four boxes of chocolates for the poor souls whose tickets were drawn last.  Your correspondent’s ticket, however, was never drawn and she will have to get by with her leftover Halloween candy.  [It’s actually my leftover Halloween candy but I generally share well.]

My sister, Tori, and her husband, Steve, arrived Wednesday morning so we had much showing-around to do.  A little bit of jet lag and a lot bit of thunderstorms on Wednesday put the kibosh on much sightseeing that day, other than a twilight walk on Cronulla beach (which ain’t shabby…) but Thursday had us headed via foot and ferry to Bundeena and a walk in the Royal National Park.  We walked out to Bundeena lookout and then southward through the heath to the next access point on the rocky shelf above the coast.  We had a nice little picnic and enjoyed the stunning views. Steve&Tori

Thursday night Tori and Steve were game to have a go with my Thursday trivia posse at the golf club.  Tori wasn’t so jet-lagged that she couldn’t come up with several good answers.  She recognized Tommy James and the Shondells in three notes!  We won no mony mony but still a good time.  Tori and Steve will be away in Queensland this week and we’re off to Tassie [Tasmania] next so this was the one chance to get in a quiz night.

Friday was a fine day with lots of walking.  Walked to Wooloware train station, train to Bondi Junction and a bus to Bronte Beach to start on the Sculpture by the Sea exhibit.  The clock was ticking on Sydneysiders’ chance to see the artworks so they were out in force, complete with prams and dogs and cameras.  Probably twice as many people as when Mark and I saw it a week and a half before.  It was lucky Mark had taken so many pictures on our first walk because it was difficult to get close to some of the works to take a picture and if you did, you’d inevitably have half a dozen tourists photo bombing you. SculptureByTheSea On our ferry to Bundeena Thursday we’d met a couple of Germans working their way around Australia doing a gap year, and their current job was working at SbtS – she was on the installation/take-down crew and he spent his shifts reminding tourists to heed the signs and keep their grubby paws off of the shiny stainless steel “wind stone – the threshold of consciousness.”  It was fun to get a bit of an insider’s perspective, and to fantasize about what it would be like to be 19 again and traveling around Australia guarding art and picking fruit and whatever random employment might come my way. MerWithSculpture

We found a café with a view over Bondi Beach for lunch and then walked the one kilometer golden sand beach teeming with volleyball players, tourists, surfers and sun worshippers.  Mark discovered that sometimes, when you’re trying to take an artsy-fartsy picture of that beautiful wave in front of that beautiful cliff, your brain has sent the impulse to your trigger finger to depress the shutter button on your camera, and there’s simply no way to stop that click, even when a leggy, bronze-skinned blonde in a teeny weeny bikini just happens to step into the frame and block your shot of the wave.  Honest.  That’s really [pretty much] exactly how it happened.

We rode a bus up to the top of the hill to Macquarie Lighthouse and walked along the cliffs, spying a dozen or so sailboats out on the ocean.  [More importantly we spotted a Kookaburra, also known as the ”Bird With The Impossibly Big Head,” sitting on a fence looking out to sea, possibly contemplating what it would do if it won the lottery.]  KookaburraOnAFenceFrom that ridge you can see the Pacific to the east, Manly Beach to the north across the opening of Port Jackson, and Sydney harbour stretching to the west, the top curve of the bridge peeking above the top of Bradley’s Head [on days when Bradley is there], and ferries criss-crossing the water.  There’s an infamous cliff, the Gap, which has the sad reputation as the preferred jumping spot for those intent on ending their lives.  There’s a memorial to a man named Don Ritchie who lived across the street and talked many would-be suicides back from the edge with a few kind words and an offer of a cup of tea.  We wound our way down through Sydney Harbour National Park to the shops, restaurants and ferry wharf where we boarded the Susie O’Neill for Circular Quay, stopping at Rose Bay and Garden Island on the way.  As we approached our destination, we watched a tug nudge the P&O cruise ship Pacific Pearl away from her berth at the international cruise terminal. PacificPearl

Let’s see, we had feet, train, bus, ferry… but wait, there’s one more conveyance we experienced, and it’s a classic.  As we boarded the tall ship Soren Larsen SorenLarsenCampbell Cove for a dinner cruise, we watched another P&O liner come from Darling Harbour, under the bridge and head out to sea.  Friday at 5:30, the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and the harbour was filled with sailboats, some kicking back after the work week, others in serious training mode.  The Sydney to Hobart race is a mere seven weeks away and crews are fine-tuning their roles and responsibilities.  Wild Oats, the 7-time champion and race record holder (1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds – pull that one out at your next pub quiz!) zipped past our starboard side.  We saw the black-sailed Perpetual Loyal and Victoire cross our paths.  I think each of us picked out what Steve calls a “lottery boat,” something to spend your winnings on when your numbers come up lucky.  I’ll take IndianSoManyShips [I failed to pick a lottery boat, opting instead for a “lottery half-ton International Harvester pickup truck.”  I hope that’s okay.]  Mark and Tori crewed a bit, helping to raise the sails as we rounded Shark Island and headed west.  AboardSorenLarsenAndrew, the same charming host on the Soren Larsen as was on her sister ship for our cruise a few weeks ago, emceed our evening but with more passengers and more sunshine he had even more stories to tell.  I wanna go again.  Can I?  Please, oh, please????  [No.  Your sailing days on the Soren Larsen and the Southern Swan are over.  You may, however, spend more time at Bondi Beach and you may wave to Andrew as, and if, he sails by.]

Saturday we headed westward up into the Blue Mountains.  Oh wait, I mean the World Heritage Listed Blue Mountains.  Eucalyptus fill the valleys between rocky cliffs, the oil droplets from their leaves filling the air, giving it a distinctive blue haze, hence the name.  Waterfalls tumble here and there down to the valley floor below.  There are classic viewing spots at Wentworth Falls, Leura Falls and Echo Point, which of course means there are hordes of camera-toting tourists (CTTs) all looking for a parking spot and an unobstructed view.  [Hey, I resemble that remark!]  Good luck with that.  But patience and time generally prevail so we got some of the obligatory shots.  The two sisters went to the Three Sisters but we missed our sister, Diane, back home.

Imagine Diane under the hat!

Imagine Diane under the hat!

We took a bit of a walk-through and had lunch in Leura.  Some charming shops, perhaps a bit like Jacksonville, Oregon or Kinsale in County Cork.  [or Chula Vista, CA.  Wait…]

We went to Scenic World in Katoomba which seems to have grown exponentially since last we visited the Blue Mountains with my brother, Dick and his wife Suzanne in 2005.  All Mark and I could recollect was bit-rickety very, very steep railway.  The railway is still there, though the cars would do Mr. Disney proud (and they come complete with the Indiana Jones soundtrack.)  But joining the rail cars is the Scenic Cableway, descending to the rainforest of the Jamison Valley, where you can walk on the Scenic Walkway back to the Scenic Railway which you might ride up to Scenic World Top Station where you can catch the Scenic Skyway (complete with a glass floor!) across the valley.  As you might guess, it’s a scenic area.  Lest you think this is your run-of-the-mill ordinary Scenic World, I’ll have you know that the Scenic Railway is the steepest passenger train in the world (52 degree incline), the Scenic Skyway is the highest cable car in Australia (270 metres), the Scenic Cableway is Australia’s biggest cable car (84 passengers) and the Scenic Walkway is the longest elevated boardwalk in Australia (2.4 kms).  Truly superlative, as you can tell.

I suspect most CTTs end their westward journey at Katoomba and return again to the big city to find more famous camera worthy sites, but we continued onto Blackheath, in search of the ever-elusive kangaroo, who remained elusive.  We did, however find the Evans lookout with nary a CTT in sight.  OK, maybe one, but they left before we did so we had the whole view to ourselves.  The geologic features in the Blue Mountains are so striking we wished Mark’s astrogeologist father was still with us to share some knowledge.  I guess we could go home and read Wikipedia but it just isn’t the same.  We stumbled up a great Indian restaurant in the village of Kurrajong, out in the back of the beyond before heading home to Wooloware.

Sunday we took the train to Circular Quay and one of the world’s most famous buildings out on Bennelong Point, the World Heritage listed Sydney Opera House where we saw Bell Shakespeare’s presentation of Henry V.  (https://www.bellshakespeare.com.au/whats-on/henry-v/).  The director based his production on the true story of a group of boys stuck in a bomb shelter for 71 days straight in 1941 in London during the Blitz.  On Thursday nights they would gather the other people in the bomb shelter and present a play they’d rehearsed for the previous six nights.  On this “Thursday” we were their audience, tasked by the Chorus in the prologue, “Think when we talk of horses, that you see them, Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth; For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings…” This few, this happy few, this band of brothers brought Shakespeare’s history to life and left me wanting more.  I was so glad to be able to see a production there – the only place in the world where you can leave the theatre for the interval, walk out the door onto the plaza and gaze over the harbour, the bridge, the ferries and up at the white roof of that magnificent icon. Mer and Tori at Opera house [Which icon, hath sprung from the mind of Jørn Utzon, who ate an orange and did to the rind appeal (oh lowly chortle) for inspiration.  Note thee well, had not that fruit been fare for fair Dane we might have watched the play played in a pasture or a mixed-use building and had no tale to send as we do now to distant shores for your digestion.  So in all and with the world content, have a care when next you do spy the lowly orange and move toward it, if move you must, with pigeon steps and with your shield like a sail set to savor the wind, nay the very zephyrous gale that bears you on toward those perilous shores whence came the valorous bears and forebears before thee and who now afford thee but a dim and noxious light.  For in the seeds of the fruit shall you find a succulent and voracious marvel, and that which means much and ever more ‘een beyond the rim of our simple stage.] Tori and Steve at Henry V billboard

I’ll sign off here [and I’ll go back to reading Henry V] and try to send this.  I’ve got to spend a bit of time rehearsing my next talk for Botany Bay Family History Society, which I’ll be giving tomorrow night.

Until next week,

Mary [and Mark]

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