Saturday, October 29, 2005

Looking Back

As I'm preparing to head back to the United States, I'm getting very nostalgic about the time I've spent traveling. There are, of course, a few things that I missed out on doing during this time.

- I didn't get to climb Mt. Fuji (I didn't even end up going to see it)
- Believe it or not, I haven't gone to the beach in Australia
- I missed seeing a home birth
- I still don't really have a grasp of the metric system

I have, however, gotten to do a lot of wonderful and unexpected things.

- I learned how to use a squat toilet
- I learned what it is like to be unable to read, or to speak to the people around me
- I learned how differently Japanese and American women walk
- I (accidentally) learned how to break into the Japanese subway system
- I learned what it feels like to be bigger and fatter than everyone around me
- I learned how much I didn't (and don't) know about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- I had the pleasure of spending a night in a traditional Japanese Inn
- I learned not to eat onigiri in Australia, even though it was my favorite food in Japan
- I learned how to drive on the left side of the road
- I saw a dust storm in the outback
- I learned to let the flies crawl all over me instead of constantly brushing them away
- I ate kangaroo meat
- I learned a whole lot about caring for a two-year-old who simultanously loves and is jealous of her newborn sister
- I had possibly the worst stomach flu of my life, which was brought to the house after Russell spent a week working at the Bondi Sewage Plant and the whole family came down with "the poo flu"
- I saw my first professional basketball game, my first motorcycle race, and my first netball gala day
- I saw a nest of baby birds prior to their consumption by a neighborhood snake

- I can now identify Australian money at a glance, rather than taking each bill and coin out of my wallet for close inspection
- I discovered that the "existential crisis" I've been feeling is remarkably universal, at least among people I met traveling (but maybe traveling attracts people who are feeling that way)
- I learned how fast 64 days can pass.

Hmmm. Not bad. An interesting way to look at life.

I am looking forward to seeing my friends back in Minnesota.
I am looking forward to directing the show.
And I am looking forward to my future travels.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Melbourne Framed by Food

The classic city shot.

I began and ended my stay in Melbourne with fabulous meals. The first was on Lygon Street, Melbourne's "Little Italy." As you walk down the street, the hosts stop you on the sidewalk and try to convince you to come into their restaurant. We were finally persuaded by a charismatic man who promised us complimentary bruchetta. He said he was the Legend on Lygon Street, and showed an award that his restaurant had won. He was a great salesman. Throughout the dinner, he would come out and chat with Alex in Italian, often bursting out into song with him. It was very entertaining.

When the waiter came out and I ordered my food, he looked at me for a second and said, "You're from the States. Eastern seaboard, right?"I was stunned.
"I used to live in Boston. You can tell that from my accent?" I don't think I have a Boston accent at all.
He told me that he was from Boston. His accent was not Australian, but not American either. It decided to give him a little test.
"Can you believe the Red Sox are already out of the Series?"
"Yeah, but at least the Angels beat the Yankees. That's all I care about." Hmm. Maybe he really is from Boston.

The dinner was really nice and involved five bottles of wine and lasted nearly five hours which, according to Alex, is the Italian way.

When not eating, I spent some time looking around the city. It is very clean feeling, perhaps because the sky is so bright.

Some cool looking buildings.

I spent a good portion of one day on Brunswick Street. This is the arty, alternative area (for lack of a better way to describe it) full of organic shops and funky clothing stores.

Brunswick Street

I love train stations.

There is a museum in Chinatown dealing with Chinese Australian history that I would recommend going to, if you ever get the chance. The intro was fantastic. You start of by walking down a narrow, steep, winding, dark staircase to the basement. There is only enough light to see a few feet in front of you. Once you reach the corridor, you follow a winding path that suddenly brings you to a statue of a Chinese man standing in front of a ship to Australia. His voice-over begins, and he talks about how times are very bad in China, so he is going to Australia where people say there is lots of gold to be found. He is worried about having to leave his family, and he is nervous about living among people who have been known to be violent toward the immigrants.

The voice-over stops. The only ways out of this darkened room are the entrance you just came through and a burlap curtain. When you pass through the curtain you find yourself in the belly of a ship. It is crowded with bunks on either side, and it is musty. The ship creaks and moans. There is another curtain ahead of you. Through this is the deck of the ship, with the sounds of seagulls.

After this, it turns into basically every other museum. But man, that introduction was brilliant. It actually makes you feel some of the uncertainty and trepidation they must have felt embarking on this unknown voyage (a much smaller scale, of course).

Many Chinese people came to Australia in search of gold during the mid-1800s. These immigrants met with a great deal of prejudice (which seems to happen a lot in these situations). There was a section of the museum that had some drawings run in newspapers during that time:

The insert in the lower right-hand corner has a sifter that says, "The Law" and these serpent people are slipping through.

"Multiply and replenish the earth and divide it among you."

After this I went to the Immigration Museum which was actually quite similar, but bigger and more polished. It also dealt with why people came to Australia, and how they were treated throughout history. One very interesting and dark (no pun intended) portion of Australian history began in 1901 when they brought in the Immigration Restriciton Act, better known as the White Australia Policy. Under this law, immigrants had to pass a dictation test. They gave an example of it at the museum, and it was pretty ludicrous. The examiner would read several sentances in English and the immigrant had to write them. I found the sentances themselves somewhat confusing and strangely worded, and English is my first language. The most ridiculous part about the test is that they could choose what language you had to write it in, cycling through as many as they liked until the immigrant failed. There was a story about a man who spoke several languages fluently, and eventually failed the test when asked to write in Gaelic.

The museum had tons of information and I wish I had had more time to spend there. As it was, I just got an overview and couldn't read everything as I like to (I'm a bit obsessive in museums).

On my last night in Melbourne Kerensa, Max (another friend of Raf's) and I went out to dinner in Chinatown. It was another great meal, and Kerensa and I spent some time recounting family stories. She told me one that I had never heard before:

Our ancestor was a guard for the Emperor (this I knew). One day when he was on guard, a vandal came onto the property. Our ancestor could tell by the way he tied his belt that he was an excellent martial artist. The vandal approached and attacked him. It was a close fight, but the vandal made a few errors, and our ancestor was able to get the upper hand and defeat him.

Months later, he gets an anonymous invitation to a party. When he arrives, he realizes it is the vandal that he fought months ago. He turns to leave, but the vandal stops him, saying that this dinner is a peace offering. "Since you are such a great fighter, you must also be a great healer." (When studying martial arts you also had to learn Chinese medicine along with it.) He went on, "The injuries you inflicted upon me will not heal. Only you know how to help me."

That's all Kerensa remembers of the story. I don't know how much of it is true, but it is a pretty grandiose story.

For part of our dinner we ordered a fish which they bring with the head still attached in Chinese restaurants. Kerensa asked if my family ate the head, and I said that I remembered as a kid being told that the eyes have lots of nutrients and would make me smart. Neither she nor I had eaten this in our memories, so we decided in honor of our Chinese blood we should continue that tradition. It was pretty good, and the eye was remarkably crunchy and fairly dry.

I liked Melbourne, it was a decent city, but to be honest there was nothing about it that really stood out and made it unique. Brunswick Street was cool, and it reminded me a lot of Hawthorn Street in Portland, OR. The Victoria Markets were fun, basically an outdoor market with a variety of clothes and food for sale, and it was a lot like the Waterlooplein in Amsterdam. Chinatown was, you know, Chinatown, like the one in Boston but without the seedy underbelly feeling. Are you sensing a trend? I think I'm just burnt out on cities. There was one cool thing that stood out, though, and that was this kid who busks outside the Flinders Street Station. He looks like he's about 13, and he strums random chords on his guitar while screaming really inflamatory things about John Howard and the government in general. I really enjoyed seeing that.

Exciting News

Attention! Attention! I'm interrupting my Melbourne Recap to make this very important announcement. Jaida Elizabeth was born at 5:09 pm on Monday, October 17th.

Weight: 3.8 kg
Length: 53 cm

Here is the birth announcement:

"Born safely at home into her daddy's hands, surrounded by her family. A precious gift."

Here she is at four days old. She's really cute, and spends most of her time sleeping.

Here she is flexing her muscles.

Jaida as Superman.

Welcome to the family, Jaida!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Melbourne Arts Festival

I happened to be in Melbourne during the annual International Arts Festival. There were events throughout the city, both indoors and out, and most of them were free. Here are the ones I went to see. I've included their press info in italics, just because I think it is interesting to see how artists promote themselves (I might get a bit theater-geeky here, so beware).

Ride-in Movies
The days of the old Drive-In Movies may be all but gone, but the nights of the Ride-In Movies are about to begin! Put on your best pair of walking shoes, jump on your bike, catch a train, tram, bus, and join us at Federation Square every evening from 6pm to 7pm. Ride-In Movies features nightly screenings from the home movie collections of notable Australians from around Victoria, as well as the home-made, hand-spun movie-making enthusiasts, auteur hobbyists and backyard directors of the ACMI Archives.

Each day had a different theme. Here's the one for the night I went:

Soap Operatics
Social training films from the 1950s are given shiny new narratives by some great Melbourne writers.

The setting was really cool, with a projection onto the side of a building in Federation Square, right downtown. Beneath the screen was a small stage where the host and the people reading the voice-overs stood. There were folding chairs set up, plus the Square is nice and open with steps all over the place that people were sitting on.

It was a device that I had seen before, where they show one of those old films (this one was about how to find the right man to marry) and people record a new soundtrack. The films were pretty funny, though I was annoyed by the lack of precision with the voice-overs. Sometimes they would have the character keep talking when a new one on the screen had started, or they would have very long lines when visually the charater only said a few words. It threw the comic timing off and made the whole thing feel sloppy. There were some funny moments, but overall it was pretty mediocre.

Lone Twin
UK performance duo Lone Twin make work dealing playfully with ideas of travel, place, endurance, human interaction and kindness. Since 1997 Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters have worked across contemporary theatrical, live art and dance contexts to make generous, entertaining and publicly accessible work. They are now set to take Melbourne by storm.For the first time ever, four works by Lone Twin can be seen in the one place as this performance pair settle in for a Festival residency sure to be remembered. You might see them in the street, on their bikes or by the Yarra, but to really understand what Lone Twin are up to, come and share in their four incredible unique performance works.

Here's the one I saw:

To the Dogs

Armed only with two small folding bikes Lone Twin will cycle around town by day and return each evening at 7.30pm to deliver a performance-dispatch of the day’s events.

An interesting note about this is that the first night it was seven minutes long, then each subsequent night they add another seven minutes so by the end of the week of shows they have a 49 minute production. I saw it on the second to last night.

This one was also in Federation Square, and the audience sat on a staircase with the two performers at the bottom. It was getting dark when their show began, so it was lit mostly by the surrounding lights of the city, plus they were wearing reflective bicycle outfits. They looked pretty funny, but the writing was weak and they were not at all theatrical. It was a lot like two guys standing there talking about stuff they had seen that day. This photo shows the the most movement they did during the piece. Since I have a total bias toward movement and physicality on stage, this bugged me. The audience seemed to enjoy it, but I wonder if it wasn't just fun to sit out on the steps and watch something, regardless of the quality.

Theatre for One
The Late Great Libido: Rock Opera

Come inside the custom-built Theatre for One to experience a unique and very clever video-based piece performed just for you. Behind the red velvet curtain inside this single-seater theatre you can be the sole audience member for the 20-minute theatrical installation The Late Great Libido: Rock Opera. This multimedia presentation from creator Justin Harris incorporates elements of music, video and sculpture in an intimate and creative representation of a live concert.

I was totally intrigued by this idea. It some ways, it seems entirely contrary to the idea of theater since it isolates the audience member and removes the communal experience of seeing a show.

I loved the set-up, which was essentially a booth in the plaza area in front of a building. Behind that red curtain (see the picture above) is the single seat where you watch the show.

When I went around the corner to pay my $2 entry fee, I was very disappointed to discover that it was sold out. But it got me thinking, if only one person at a time can see your 20-minute show, you're really not going to reach many people. Again, what a weird thing to do for theater. I talked to the ticket guy about this, and he said that there was major corporate funding for the festival, so there wasn't a concern or even a real attempt to make any money on this. He also said that the artist was more focused on the rock opera, and that the Theatre for One idea was sort of an afterthought to get people interested in hearing his music. Well I guess it worked, since it was sold out. I think it is a cool idea, but kinda feels like you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Xu Zhen
The last few mosquitoes
From inside the body
For the Festival, Chinese artist provocateur Xu Zhen brings two installations to Spacement: The last few mosquitoes and From the body.

Finding this place was a challenge, and I actually walked past it and had to go back searching for it. The Spacement building is at the end of this alley, and around the corner to the left. Can you see the sign that says Spacement? No, me neither.

Once I finally found the building, there was a steep, dark staircase into a warehouse-style basement. On the left was a large room painted all white. When you look closely you can see several mosquitoes on the wall, about two inches long. Upon closer inspection, you discover that their bellies consist of a thin glass tube that rhythmically fills with red fluid, then drains out again. I'm guessing this was the installation called "The last few mosquitoes." It looked kinda cool, but didn't do much for me.

Next to this is another empty room. There is a wide, white wall, onto which three images are projected. Each camera is aimed at a brown couch, all identical. A man enters the left screen at the same time that a woman enters the right. The center couch remains empty. The man and woman each sit and remove their shoes and socks. As they are doing this, they start to notice a smell. It builds slowly, with just a distracted sniff as they untie their shoes, but gradually they become obsessed with finding the source of this smell. (To the theater geeks out there: it is basically a Lecoq-style minimum to maximum scene.) As they are searching for the smell, they sniff all over the room and all over themselves, removing much of their clothing in the process (they keep on tank tops and underwear).

They eventually wander off toward the center screen, and a few moments later enter and sit on the center couch together. They are being polite, but are clearly distracted by their desire to find the source of this smell. This again builds until they are climbing all over each other, sniffing and searching. (If there are any Rough & Tumblers reading this, it reminded me of the scene we did with Kristin and Michael trying to sit on the chair.)

Overall, I really liked this piece. The man was particularly good at playing the low levels, and his subtlety made it really funny. The woman had a bit of the "gosh, what is that smell?" look to her, which was annoying at times (for the Dell'Artians out there, I think Ronlin called it "playing at the thing"). My main criticism is that it built to nothing. Both endings just fizzled out (when the two left their individual screens and when they left the center screen). I kept thinking "Where is the white moment?" Or for the non-theater-geeks, "When do you realize yourself and what you are doing?" Even if they didn't go with the white moment that I've come to expect from all that wacky physical theater training, they needed some sort of completion to their journey. The build was great, but ultimately it felt like it built to nothing.

In spite of this, I really liked the piece. It was odd and kept my attention, and it is not every day that I get to sit in a dark room watching people frantically sniffing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A MotoGP Primer

I spent a few days visiting my cousin Kerensa, who is originally from New Zealand but now lives in Melbourne. When I was planning the visit with her, she said that she and her boyfriend Raf (Rafaele) and his friend Alex (Alexandro) from back home in Italy would be going away for the weekend, and that I was welcome to join them. I was telling Rachele and family about this:

"While I'm in Melbourne I'll be going down to Phillip Island to see some race or something."
Russell stares at me. "You mean the Australian Grand Prix on Phillip Island?" Russell is a huge motorbike fan.
"Uh, yeah, I think that sounds right. Alex knows someone who is involved with the race or something."

I had no clue what I was in for.

It turns out that the person Alex knows is none other than world champion Valentino Rossi. Some argue that Valentino is the best athlete in the world, as he is the only person to win the top competition in his sport 7 times. Of course, I knew none of this as we headed down to Phillip Island.

We had a little problem when we arrived at the race since only Raf and Alex had passes to get in. Alex was sure he could get more for me and Kerensa, but had to talk to Rossi to do this. Therefore, we had to be a little "creative" about getting into the race the first day.

The backdrop for the race was amazing. I thought to myself that even though I wasn't very excited about seeing a motorcycle race, at least I got to spend a day on a beautiful beach.

Apparently this race is a really big deal. There were two days of qualifiers then the big race and people camp there for the whole weekend, making a little tent city.

As the qualifiers began, I was amazed by three things:

1. The bikes are REALLY REALLY loud. Not just, "gosh, that's noisy" loud, but the kind of loud where you can feel the vibrations in your head.

2. It may sound obvious, but they go really fast. I kept trying to photograph them but they would pass by before I could click the shutter.

3. Are you aware how close their knee gets to the ground as they turn a corner? I had no idea. The first time I saw them turn a corner I had to stop myself from screaming, "Oh my God! Watch out for your knee!"

As we were watching the qualifiers, I realized that every time a specific motorcycle went by, Alex would yell, "Vale! Vale!" I started listening to the sports announcer and noticed that he kept talking about this Valentino Rossi person. I looked around and saw hundreds of shirts with "Valentino!" and "The Doctor - #46!" on them. I opened the program and it was filled with pictures of this Rossi fellow, including a feature article that referred to him as the "Italian genius." I started to piece things together.

The passes that Raf and Alex had allowed them into where the riders had their trailers. They went back to talk to Valentino and see if he could get Kerensa and I passes. When the guys returned, they handed us the passes and showed off their new track-access passes that said, "Special Guest of V. Rossi."

The next day we watched the warm-ups then headed back to the paddock so that Kerensa and I could meet Valentino. He wasn't in his trailer so we chatted with Uche, his personal assistant and best friend since childhood. We wandered around the paddock for a while, and Raf and Alex were really enjoying watching the models who parade around in bikinis and short skirts advertising the bikes. Raf handed Kerensa his camera and asked her to take his picture with the models. He walked up to them and posed with an arm draped over a model on each side.

Kerensa gave me a sly grin then focused the camera and took their picture. As Raf was thanking the models, Kerensa whispered to me, "I just did a close up of their boobs. That's what he wanted, right?" She giggled. "You can't even tell that he's in the picture!" Hah, he's gonna be mad when that roll gets developed.

We headed back to the stands to watch the race. The energy of the crowd was so exciting. An annoying group of people came and stood right in front of us, blocking the view for our whole section. The people around us all started muttering angrily about this. Someone yelled for them to sit down. Nothing happened. Several people started yelling at them. Still nothing. Then someone threw a water bottle and it hit one of them on the back. He turned around, but then just ignored it. Suddenly, there was a shower of water bottles, wrappers, and various other items flying at these people. Finally, they sat down and we enjoyed the rest of the race.

It was really exciting. I always thought that watching people drive around and around would be incredibly tedious, but I read the program and started to get invested in the characters and it turned into a whole show. At one point, Hayden passed Valentino and I got really worried. What if he breaks Valentino's winning streak? After a few laps with Hayden in the lead, Valentino took off and tore to the front, gaining a good lead and winning the race.

#46 - Valentino Rossi

After the race, everyone climbed over the fence and walked across the track to the award stand. It was so cool seeing thousands of people storming the track.

After the award ceremony, we went back to the paddock to see Valentino. When we got to his trailer, there was a big crowd in front of his door. Things didn't look good for getting in to see him. Alex tried to sneak through the crowd and see if he could talk to him, and the rest of us waited at the back of the crowd. While we were waiting, a drunk Mister-Know-It-All came over and said, "I know how to get in. All you have to do is yell 'Rossi Rossi Rossi! Oi Oi Oi!' and he will come out. Really! No, do it. That's the way you can get him to come out!" Raf politely thanked him for his help.

When Mister-Know-It-All heard Raf's accent, he said "Oh, are you Italian? How do you say 'hello' in Italian?"

"You say it 'ciao'."

"No, that's goodbye." He repeated himself slowly, as Raf clearly hadn't understood the question. "HOW DO YOU SAY HELLO IN ITALIAN?"

"They are the same. You say 'ciao' for hello and goodbye."

Mister-Know-It-All refused to believe him. While they were arguing, Uche stuck his head out the door of the trailer and gestured to us. The crowd parted and the four of us walked in. It was great watching Mister-Know-It-All's jaw drop when this happened.

Valentino was very nice and remarkably chill, despite the fact that he had just done a huge race. Oh how I wish I spoke Italian, as everyone in there except for me and Kerensa were Italian so I understood very little of what they said.

Here's me and Valentino.

When we got to the car, I sent Rachele a text.
"I just met V Rossi."
A few seconds later, my phone rings. I pick it up and hear my nephew Michael.
"You just met Valentino Rossi?!?"
"Yeah" I casually reply.
"But . . . but . . . but he's the best motorbike racer in the world!"
"Yeah, I know. I just saw him win the Grand Prix."
"But . . . . "
"And he kissed me."
"(on the cheek)"

It was pretty great.

I was the driver for the ride home while the others dozed in the car. It was a pleasant drive, listening to Alex's Italian house music and looking at the nearly-full moon. I went through a dense patch of fog and was grateful that I learned how to drive in Minnesota since it was a lot like driving through a blizzard. Once the fog cleared I started to get a little bored, so I pretened I was Valentino Rossi and would speed up really fast to pass people and lean back and forth with the wheel when I would have to turn. I was having a great time until Kerensa was startled awake, gave me an odd look and said, "Uh, are you doing okay?" I was a little embarassed, so I drove like a regular person the rest of the way back to Melbourne. What a weekend.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

During the past month and a half I have traveled via several modes of transportation: airplanes, subways, trams, Shinkansen (bullet train in Japan - my favorite), 4WD tour vehicle, car, and boat. Therefore, while planning my trip into Melbourne I decided to do something more interesting than just fly. I chose to take a bus down (15 hour trip) and a train back (11 hour trip). I didn't really know what to expect of either, and was particularly worried that I got very spoiled by the Shinkansen. Seriously, that is one fantastic train system. The seats are huge and recline to a very comfortable angle, the people selling snacks on the train are so charming, and the ride is fast and smooth. The whole experience is so posh, and I've only been in the cheap seats. Trains to each city depart every hour or so, meaning that even if you miss your train another will be along shortly. An amazing system.

Rachele and family took me to the bus station at 5:30 pm and waved me off as the bus pulled away. In retrospect, it would have made a great picture: Russell was carrying little Lucy, Rachele (very pregnant) had Michael beside her and Caleb was seated on a step in the middle of all of them. They all waved together as the bus pulled away. It was quite sweet.

As I began my journey, I quickly remembered how much I love road trips. I snuggled down in my seat (the coach seats were fairly comfortable) and cranked up some Neutral Milk Hotel on my ipod. We drove through dozens on small towns, and the changing landscape was really nice. After about an hour it started to get dark and the driver put on a movie. Who knew they played movies on bus trips? It was "School of Rock", which I had seen on an airplane. Funny coincidence. When the movie finished, we had a food stop at a little roadside diner in Moruya. Then it was back on the bus where I ate several packets of Chicken flavored Twisties and mused that chicken salt might be the greatest thing in Australia next to Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe. Sometime after this I must have fallen asleep, as my memories consist of me waking up in all sorts of strange positions in the two seats I was using (the bus was fairly empty). The next thing I knew it was 3:30 AM and we were stopping at a petrol station to refuel and use the toilets. While we were waiting in line, the woman next to me smiled and asked "Where are you headed?" I stared at her blankly, just blinking. I was completely spacey with sleep and totally disoriented. Blink. Blink. Blink. Hey, this feels just like when people asked me questions in Japan and it took 3-5 blinks for me to understand what they were saying. Japan. Oh yeah, I went to Japan. Then Australia. I'm in Australia. I'm on a bus to . . . "Melbourne. I'm going to Melbourne."
"Yes dear, I know."
Right, we are on a bus marked "Melbourne."
"What are you doing in Melbourne?"
I tried to explain that I was visiting my cousin, but I don't think I made any sense. The woman told me something about how she and a friend had traveled around in the 70s or something and that she is from Scotland, but really I don't know how much of this is true and how much I dreamed. Too bad, I like hearing people's stories.

Back on the bus, then the next thing I know the bus has stopped and everyone is gathering their things and exiting. It is bright outside.

"Are we in Melbourne?"

Sure enough, we are.

The return trip was quite different, in large part because it was light out. I caught the train out of Melbourne at 8:30 am and was pleased to see that the seats were not unlike those on the Shinkansen. The ride was really comfortable, and the buffet car had decent food.

I sat next to a retired gentleman who was returning from visiting a friend in Melbourne. During the trip we chatted a bit, and when I said how much I loved the outback he agreed and told me about a trip he took 40 years ago. It was a four-week camping trip from the western part of New South Wales down to Adelaide, up through Alice Springs, then onto Darwin, finally ending back in NSW. And this was before the roads were paved. My god. That sounds fantastic.

He also told me about his cousin who works on a wildlife reserve out in the bush. She spends a lot of time rescuing baby joeys from their mother's pouch when the kangaroo get hurt (typically hit by a car). She has a room in her house that is full of sacks she has made for the joeys to replicate the pouches they are accostomed to. She raises them and has about 60 living out behind her house. As this gentleman said, "She's real bush."

The changing scenery was quite nice on this trip, and I saw wild cockatoos, galaas, and a group of kangaroos hopping around. Much cooler than seeing them in a zoo, if you ask me.

Hey - this is my first post without pictures! Don't worry, there are plenty of pictures and stories about my time in Melbourne coming soon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


I just made a belly cast for my 9-month pregnant sister Rachele. It was a lot like making a plaster face mask, but on a stomach. Part way through she had a contraction, and by that time the plaster around her belly was mostly dry so you could see her stomach pull away from the mold and change shape as she was standing there. How cool is that? I very quickly got over the "intimacy" of the project as I slipped into Tori-as-artist mode, and she became a series of curves and lines instead of my sister standing naked in the living room.

Her midwife came around for a check-up today and she had me feel where the baby's foot was pushing against Rachele's side. Totally amazing. Rachele doesn't really look pregnant from behind, so sometimes I forget then freak out when she turns around and has this big stomach.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Day in the Life of Little Lucy

I spent the day watching my niece Lucy, a charming and precocious two year old. Rachele and I took her down to Kiama to wander around the shops while Rachele had an appointment.

Here is Lucy in the morning, all tidy and nicely dressed to go out.

Here she is eating an ice cream cone. She chose a pink one - she loves the color pink. Notice how her hair is already disheveled.

I tried to tidy her up, then we sat outside the shops watching a lizard climb around in a flower pot.

Here is Lucy after her second ice cream of the day (it is great being an aunt).

I took her home and gave her a bath. She is clean and dressed. Let's see how long that lasts.

Now she is taking care of dolly.

Within the hour, she had taken out all of her hairclips and changed her pants. She loves changing her clothes. Notice how she is wearing pink from head to toe - she's such a girly-girl.

While I'm on the subject of my delightful nieces and nephews, I should tell you a Caleb anecdote. I took him to see "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" a few days ago. Before the movie, we spent close to an hour looking around the shops for the perfect candy bar to eat while watching that movie. I completely agreed with Caleb that a box of chocolates or a bag of gummy worms simply would not work. We eventually each picked out just the right candy bars and went into the movie. We both loved it (it was my third time seeing the movie). It was great listening to Caleb giggle at all the jokes, and his running commentary was pretty cute (that boy never stops talking). When the movie finished, we stood up and were about to walk out of the theater when we noticed a big, gooey brown mess on Caleb's chair. A look of horror crossed his face. He carefully reached out his hand and tentatively scooped some up with his finger and brought it up to his nose. He smiled and let out a big sigh of relief. "Don't worry, it's just chocolate."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Back in Time

Of all the places I saw in the outback, Watarrka National Park was my favorite. It contains the George Gill Range and Kings Canyon.

Here is a picture of the range from a distance.

Here it is close up.

This place was totally fascinating (and beautiful of course). The rocks are sandstone, and hold the very limited water like a sponge. Vegetation grows out of the stone, sending its roots deep into the cracks and crevices.

The strangest thing was that where the rocks had broken apart, you could see that they were made up of the white sand that covers Australian beaches. They think that millions of years ago there was a sea in the center of Australia (where the outback is now), then as the global climate changed it turned into tropical rainforests. Today, those rainforests are now only in the northern parts of Australia. The center still has remnants from those days, such as the palm trees and what they speculate could be an old coral reef (see the picture below).

They call that place "Lilliput." I kept imagining, thousands of years from now people walking around on the Great Barrier Reef with a guide explaining how this used to all be under the ocean. Crazy.

Supposedly during the wet season, one of the cliffs turns into a waterfall. (I definitely need to see that to believe it). The water runs down into the canyon and there is enough moisture that it maintains a waterhole all year round. It is quite green and lush in that area, so it has gotten the nickname "The Garden of Eden."

It was a magnificent place. We began our hike up to the rim of the canyon at sunrise, which is really a good thing since it gets very hot by midday. The hike began with a steep climb up the side - surprisingly nice despite having just woken up. The air was so clear and even a bit cold. I like that about the desert. No matter how hot it gets during the day, it always cools off once the sun goes down.

During the five hour drive back to Alice Springs I sat up front by our guide and asked him a gazillion questions about the area and what life is like there. It sounds like such a strange mix of people. One fourth are aboriginal, and from what I understand they hold most of the land rights now (sounds a bit like in Fiji). Another quarter are Americans involved in the Pine Gap project. I didn't know what Kevin (our guide) was talking about and I felt too ignorant to ask, but I just googled it and it is some sort of military base that is run primarily by CIA agents. Woah. The rest are Australians, plus lots of tourists passing through, with the largest groups being German and Japanese.

Add all of this into some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen, and it becomes clear that Alice Springs is a town that I must get to know better.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Monoliths and More

While in the outback, we spent time at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The land there was beautiful, with that rich red soil and very flat land. Kata Tjuta, also called the Olgas, is a series of large roundish rocks that rise up out of nowhere.

Kata-Tjuta is a sacred site to the Anangu Aboriginal men, and as such a lot of the cultural significance of the area is not know and not accessible to the public.

A close-up picture of the rocks.

Here is the famous monolith, Uluru (aka Ayers Rock).

I had seen many pictures of this place before going there, and to be honest I never knew what the big deal was. When you see it in person, though, it is amazing. The size alone is hard to comprehend, and only 1/3 of it is visible above the land. The surrounding area is completely flat, making it even more mysterious trying to understand what this is and how it got there.

The walk around Uluru is great with caves and waterholes appearing as you round each curve. It took about three hours for us to circle the rock, about 10k total.

It has become a big tourist attraction to climb to the top of Uluru. Despite notices everywhere from the Aboriginal landholders asking people not to do this because Uluru is sacred to them, people continue to do it.

It is a tough climb, too, and several people have died of heart failure on the trip to the top.

The sunset at Uluru was really cool. It began as a bright orange-red. Then, as the sun started to go down, it developed a purple hue. As the purple faded, the shadows got really sharp. Eventually, it faded into a dusty brown. We tried to document this transition in photographs.