Not Drowning, Waving

March 8, 2007 at 3:15 am (Uncategorized)

I come from a long line of wavers. I also come from a long line of dysfunction, so I don’t really wave to anyone I’m blood-related to anymore, but that’s another story. The waving, on the other hand, persists.

I think the origin of the wave has something to do with extending your hand to show you are not carrying a weapon, and that, by extension, you come in peace. Intuitively, that explanation makes sense to me. But I wonder why I wave, when I am never given over to brandishing weapons and defending territory… So why do I do it? I often wonder this, especially when I am waving to complete strangers. This happens a lot more often than you might think. Take the ferry wave, a personal favourite of mine. Sitting outside on just about any ferry on Sydney Harbour means seeing several other craft passing in the opposite direction during the trip. Guaranteed. And when the boats pass each other, somebody waves. Always. Now, I don’t want you to think I am the wave initiator in these circumstances. I’m not. I was born and raised in Sydney, and I’m 34 years old. I’ve been on the harbour far too many times over far too many years to go getting carried away like those endearing first-timers. But if someone on the other boat waves, I wave back.

Sometimes I hold out in order to see if someone else is going to wave from my boat. In such instances, my own wave becomes somewhat redundant, so I abstain. I sit that one out. But if it looks like no one else is going to be doing any reciprocal waving, then up my arm shoots and from side to side does my hand merrily swing. It’s almost beyond my control at that point. Something inside me just can’t bear the thought of a friendly wave going unreturned.

This made travelling around PNG last year a cinch for me. They’re very big wavers. I felt immediately at home. I confess I did go in for a bit of wave initiation after a week or so there – after all their efforts, it seemed the least I could do. And I’ll never, ever, ever forget the most singular wave of my life, which happened on that trip. We were in a van going along the rickety Boluminski Highway, travelling from Namatanai to Kavieng. We’d been on a boat for a week travelling up the coast of New Ireland, and we were tired, thirsty, and in need of a hot shower and a comfortable bed. There was a slightly menacing atmosphere in Namatanai, that very specific low hum of resentment and anger that you get in areas where people are very poor and very exploited, so once we got back on the road, it was quite moving to see the school children and women running alongside the van, waving and smiling their megawatt smiles again. For people who ostensibly don’t have a lot to smile about, boy, do they know how to grin.

So the van rattled along the mainly dirt Boluminski, and I saw a little dwelling coming up by the side of the highway. There was a wizened old man sitting on a log outside his simple home. His hair was white, his skin was sagging, his shoulders were hunched, and he was naked but for a pair of faded shorts. He looked up at the sound of the van, and gave us all a contemptuous stare. I wondered in that second what he thought of us, this “whitey” carload passing by on our way to a resort with a pool. He did not look happy by any stretch of the imagination. My face fell, and I felt that horrible sinking feeling of knowing I don’t do enough to improve anyone else’s lot in life. But then for some reason I gave him an enormous wave out the window as we went by, and I flashed my pearly whites at him the way so many Papua New Guineans had flashed theirs at me. He sat there for a second confounded, and then a big smile began to creep across his old face. He was entirely toothless, and as he waved back at me, his grin just got wider and wider. We waved at each other until he was out of sight, and his was one of the most beautiful and unexpected smiles I have ever received in my life.

So I’m very pro-waving. It makes you feel good, and it connects you to other people in a surprisingly complex and positive way. Maybe if we went back to its origins a little more often, as a means of displaying that one does not bear arms but comes in peace, this violent world would not be in the sad state it’s in.

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Viva Las Vegas

March 7, 2007 at 2:55 am (Uncategorized)

I really, really, really want to go to Vegas. I think it’s my spiritual home. Or at least it’s definitely one of them…I might need to claim a few, just to keep life interesting (and Sydney is definitely a part of me). But I’m certain – absolutely one hundred percent certain in a way I’ve never been about any other more conventional style of religion – that Vegas and I are meant for each other. I am a true Vegas believer. And my pilgrimage is long overdue.

I’ve just been having some email banter with my American friend Rosy, and she was lucky enough to go to her brother’s Vegas wedding recently.

Insert whining voice here: I WANNA GO TO A VEGAS WEDDING!!!

Talking to Rosy really makes my great American road trip seem URGENT. I really have to get this show on the road. It’s just going to be too hilarious and strange (my favourite combination of anything). Get this – Rosy’s been to a wedding officiated by Elvis. Elvis! So let me ask you this. What’s not to love about being able to choose which Elvis you want to have marry you? Do you want the GI Elvis? Or do you want the deep-fried banana and peanut butter sandwich Elvis? These are the big questions.

It’s not that I like gambling. Quite the opposite. I can’t even begin to tell you how crushingly dull I find the whole ritual of losing money I personally can ill afford to lose. It’s just not my scene (although having said that, every single time I see the words ‘Texas Hold ‘Em Poker,’ my eyes light up and a fire burns in my belly. What does it mean? How does it work? When can I play?). But it’s the uncanniness of the place that seduces me. It’s the super-duper-uncanny site, even leaving New York to bite its dust (and plenty of dust there is, too, from what I understand). It just doesn’t get any more uncanny than Vegas. Oh how I want to walk that strip. Oh how I want to see the inside of those chapels. Oh how I want to completely lose track of the difference between night and day in the immense pits of those casinos. Oh how I want to roll around in all that crazy kitsch until I am weak from laughter and abject fascination.

Las Vegas. My kind of town. Sigh…

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Demolition Derby

March 5, 2007 at 11:53 pm (Uncategorized)

Ah, the sweet sounds filling the morning air: waves crashing, birds tweeting, wind dancing, and… oh yes, the bulldozer grinding.

Two properties whose backyards run behind the back of our block have been completely dismantled over the course of the past two weeks. It’s been quite unnerving to watch and listen as two freestanding dwellings have been reduced to improbably modest piles of rubble in a matter of days. At first there was just one man working alone. He came and removed the first house like it was a cardboard box being flattened for recycling. It really didn’t seem to hold him up at all. In he came, and out it went. A whole house.

I was pretty excited at first, because there was a group of smackies living in the house beforehand, and their domestic disputes and unsavourary habits were all a little tiresome. The entrance to their house was on the next street to the left perpendicular to ours, and the front was always littered with avalanches of junk and broken furniture. Why aren’t drug addicts ever neat freaks? Why do they always have to live in slovenly little holes that look like drug dens? Perhaps it’s to kindly alert the general public to be on guard – I always paid particular attention stepping over their patch of street frontage, just in case a needle or some other nasty piece of used drug paraphernalia was littering my path. Nice.

So I didn’t shed any tears at the thought that they’ve been moved along. No, I’m glad they’re gone. I hated lying in bed being forced to listen to their loud arguments and inane drug babble. Good riddance. But then the second house started coming down, and I thought “Uh oh.” Yes, the land is being redeveloped. They’re two narrow blocks individually, but together they are just wide enough to be of interest to yet another infernal property developer. I might have mentioned this before, but they own and run Sydney. They seem to have permission to do just about whatever they like, wherever and whenever they like to do it. For the rest of us, well, we can just lump it.

So now instead of two backyards at the back of our backyard, we’re going to have a three or four storey block of units. Apartments are the new cane toad – an introduced species that’s destroying the environment and spreading completely out of control throughout the land. In some ways, I know this block that’s being erected behind us will be an improvement. For a start, a brand new place that close to the beach is only going to attract a certain buyer. That is, a cashed up one. These little puppies will not go cheap. In my experience, smackies who live with broken ironing boards resting against their front door for more than two years are usually just edged out of the market. This is no loss as far as I’m concerned. We might have kids in the next couple of years, and I won’t cry any tears if the neighbours aren’t drug addicts.

So it’s more a case of “here comes” rather than “there goes” the neighbourhood. That’s fine and dandy. But wow, these early morning starts are pretty full on. When major machinery gets turned on at 7 am on the dot every morning, it’s just not a happy way to ease into the day. I like a cup of tea and the paper in bed. I am not a morning person, as some of you well know, so I have to be gently persuaded to greet the morn’. Now i am being harangued and traumatised out of bed by the bulldozer each day. Right now, as I type, they’re still ripping the second building down. I know it won’t last forever, but then there’ll be the construction to contend with… It’s going to go on for months. And because I work from home (and yes, there are untold benefits to this too, I know, I know), it DOES NOT STOP. It’s my soundtrack, day in, day out. I am trying to write a book in a construction zone. Perfect.

Oddly, we were doing our own renovations, just a minor job comparatively, as I was finishing up my thesis. I was in here editing like a woman possessed, and workmen were stomping through the place and drilling and pounding and hefting. I didn’t have a choice. I just had to pretend they weren’t here and it wasn’t happening. Somehow I can sense through the relentless whine of the dozer that I might just have to dig deep, no pun intended, and find that happy, silent, special place in my mind once more….

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Dungeons and Dragons

March 5, 2007 at 5:23 am (Uncategorized)

Or perhaps I should say dragons and dungeons, because certainly the dragon came first…

Everything started with such promise. It was a perfect morning on Saturday. I got a swim in before my jetcat, and I arrived right in time to meet Soph and Tamsin at Circular Quay. Soph was driving, and we started the trip up to the Hunter Valley for Fluff’s hen’s day. We stopped somewhere for good coffee and toasted, buttery banana bread along the way, and between Tamsin and Soph, some excellent tunes were pumping through the stereo. Between the three of us, the conversation was flowing thick and fast. Nothing like a bit of QT with the girls. It was awesome. We talked about everything from that tasty morsel Tom Williams to the height or relative lack thereof of the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Anthony Kiedis (5 ft 8.5 inches we found out today, in case you’re interested). And an awful lot of other stuff in between. By the time we arrived at the Adina Winery in Lovedale, we were perfectly tuned up for the non-stop gab fest of a hen’s day.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Bizarrely, the people at Adina had our table set up in their boardroom. It was the most charmless room I’ve ever eaten in. All that was missing was the flowchart and the budget report. I was a little bit confused, until the wine tasting started, and then it all became clear. It felt like a classroom because that’s precisely the type of experience they’re going for. The woman who conducted the wine tasting kept tsk tsk-ing at us like we were students and this was a lengthy session of detention. And we must have done some horrible, because boy, were we in trouble…

First she snapped at us that the group was late (our carload of three met the bus group there), so everything was ruined and had to be sped up. Then she snapped that because our lunches had all been ordered in advance, they’d been sitting out the back. Mmmm. Yummy. Then she said we had to keep our chatter down to… um, nil. We looked around the boardroom at each other and zipped up our traps. Clearly there was no fun to be had here. We were not there to have fun. We were there to have wine instruction. Unfortunately because the exacting mistress of wine school was running such a tight ship, there was no time to enjoy or even properly taste Adina’s wines. She glared at us if we weren’t sipping quickly enough, and tapped her foot around the table as she waited to fill our glasses with the next wine. One of my unused glasses was also nicely dirty. She didn’t care. Lunch arrived, semi-petrified in some cases. I looked up the table and felt certain I had the only edible meal there. A simple although extremely oily pasta, all but impossible to fuck up. I tried to see what Soph was eating up the other end, but it appeared at a distance to be nothing more than a rather intimidating tower of bread. She was staring at it doubtfully. I wasn’t sure what she should do either.

The dragon lady finished the tasting in a huff and stormed out. We all stared wide-eyed at the door and wondered if we were allowed to talk yet. She came back in and I asked if it would be possible to order some wine to have with the meal. “I’ll send one of the girls in,” she snapped. Fifteen of us shared ONE bottle of white. A red was still full on the table and most of us were still eating when the bus driver suddenly appeared. “I’ll go and start the bus,” he said. “Keep the engine running.” I was just bewildered beyond comprehension by this stage, and I was slow to grasp the implications until one by one the rest of the girls started standing up and grabbing their bags. Lunch was over, whether we liked it or not.

We followed the bus to next vineyard, Ivanhoe, which at least, in its favour, isn’t made up of unsightly demountable buildings and horrible angry bitches in the wrong job. It’s a very attractive vineyard nestled in a verdant valley. A very pretty place. Unfortunately we only got to see it driving into the carpark, because as we walked in we were directed down the stairs and into a little dungeon down the bottom. “Gosh, this is a bit claustrophobic,” said Ally, sitting down next to me. I would have responded but I was having difficulty breathing.

Then the teenager turned up. He was conducting the tasting, and he was pretty happy about having a captive audience. He thought he was just chock full of fascinating tales to tell. He also thought we should be quiet and listen silently to each and every one of them. He didn’t hold back telling us to shhh, be quiet, and shut up either. I was having unpleasant flashbacks to lunch. I threw back every taste of wine and started to wish I’d bought a bottle at the last place just so I could share it around, perhaps upstairs, perhaps outside, perhaps over some conversation and laughs and funny stories about the bride-to-be. But no. We were to sit down, shut up, and listen to him repeatedly tell us things we already knew, and endure several explanations of quite bizarre things we didn’t. Like how to barbeque a banana “with a Mars bar shoved in it.” At one point he said “Oldies are the worst. They’re even more fun than me and me mates,” and Fluff, the hen, hilariously muttered “Find that hard to believe…” I nearly sprayed my thimble of wine all over her. In fact, we all started to have helpless fits of giggles, which the ten year old just talked through because this was his audience and we were going to listen whether we liked it or not. The flashbacks intensified. The bus driver appeared in the door. Everyone stood up to leave.

We all seriously needed a drink.

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Brace Yourself, Mr Rudd, They’re Coming For You

March 2, 2007 at 1:30 am (Uncategorized)

Well, the honeymoon couldn’t last for Labor’s new Federal Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd. It seems the Liberals have managed to uncover some dirt. Just in the nick of time, too, given Rudd’s surging popularity in recent polls…Gosh, do you think the two are related…?

And so the muck-raking begins. Here’s how this thing is going to play. The Libs will start a concerted campaign of character assassination against the Ruddster. They’ll cling to this Burke thing like refugees to a raft, hoping, hoping against hope, to hit pay dirt (or the Australian coastline) in the hearts and minds of the Australian people. Mr Rudd did something wrong by associating on three occasions with a man with a shadowy and criminal past. Did he know or have any idea Burke was engaged in potentially corrupt activity whilst they were sipping lattes and contemplating sharing a brioche? I seriously doubt it. Do you know why I seriously doubt it? Common sense. Llew and I have been watching Kevin Rudd’s ascension through the Labor Party since well before these meetings took place in 2005. He is no fool. I just don’t believe he would have knowingly jeopardised his leadership chances for anything, and certainly not for three dates with Burke. The meetings were facilitated by a mutual friend. You do favours for friends, and sometimes those favours have unforeseen negative consequences. This, I believe, is one of those times.

But what I find so galling, so utterly fantastic in the true sense of the word, is that anyone in the Liberal Party sees fit to lecture Mr Rudd on honesty or to question the man’s integrity. Sorry, come again????? How dare they? After Tampa, after WMD, after AWB, after David Hicks, after the ABC, after the IR reforms, after everything they have done to silence dissent and cover their own arses and just tell bald-faced lies until people simply give up asking questions, defeated, HOW can they still have the stunning audacity to question anyone else’s truth telling?

We all assume these days, I think, that politicians lie and hide all sorts of mangy skeletons in their oak-panelled closets. I don’t think anyone is going to read about this Burke incident and gasp in shock and outrage, but that won’t stop the Libs from trying to make it seem like a war crime. Ho hum. They’ll have to do better than that. Did Kevin Rudd break any laws? No. Has he taken responsibility for doing the wrong thing? Yes. Oh look, he’s ahead of the Government on those two counts already.

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Here’s Why I Love Americans:

March 1, 2007 at 4:00 am (Uncategorized)

They have a goofy kind of optimism that sometimes gets really improbable things off the ground. I like this quality a lot. In the wrong hands, it can be too evangelical, punishing to be around, even king-hit worthy as your mind screams “Die, happy clapper, die…,” but just as often you just have to plain marvel at their moxy.

After reading this article on http://www.smh.com.au, I was intrigued enough to go and look at the site that’s managed to create all the fuss. Everyone’s all Google-eyed over Aaron’s show of initiative, and I have to say, top marks for capturing the popular imagination in a cynical, misanthropic, Fuck Thy Neighbour kind of time. I’m going to add Aaron’s blog to my Blogroll, over there on the right hand side of this web page, so I can monitor his progress. How will it end?! I have the feeling that whatever happens with Google, this guy’s future is made. Good luck to him.

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“Anyway, more about me…”

March 1, 2007 at 2:13 am (Uncategorized)

I was having a lovely hot chocolate at a cafe around the corner yesterday, watching the rain and writing to young Timothy, my ex-office mate who is currently carving up the corridors in the academic wilds of West Chester, USA, when two men sat down at the table next to mine. They did a synchronised, textbook double-take – people can’t seem to quite believe their eyes when they come across a letter writer these days – and then turned to each other and started talking.

Loudly. Really loudly. The one sitting next to me, in particular, was being much louder than necessary. He seemed to think he was the Personality Man of the pair, laughing at his own jokes, cutting across his companion with a variety of stunning witticisms that just couldn’t wait, adjusting his position every couple of seconds so we could all admire him from every angle. Yes, he was quite the show pony. His companion seemed more…actuarial , definitely not a limelight kind of guy. He seemed very concerned about some kind of liability insurance, and responded to The Life of the Party’s constant stream of unfunny comedic riffs with tight, calmly indulgent smiles. You know the ones – mothers get them all the time when their children do something mind-numbing for the millionth time and turn around looking for a fresh round of applause.

Mr Loud Mouth made sure he announced several times, very early on, that he was a freelance cameraman, and he seemed absolutely desperate for everyone in the cafe to know about it. He works in – gasp! – TV. Yes, TV. Talk about impressive. I was hoping for an autograph, but I just couldn’t bring myself to ask. All that TV talk was just too intimidating. Gosh, chasing ambulances? You legend. Gee, first on the scene? What a star.

Everyone’s got a job to do, I understand that. The man has to make a living somehow (but why not call the bingo…? His voice projects so wonderfully well…). Still, talk about blah-blah-me-me-blah-me-blah-me-me. A true man of his times, wouldn’t you say?

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