Saturday, February 28, 2009

Last Aussie Days

Remember Tony and Ceal, from my first time around in Sydney? They were kind and generous enough to offer to put me up for a couple of nights when I came back, en route to New Zealand. Ceal was with her daughter north of the city for the first night, so Tony picked me up from the airport when I flew in from Cairns. He was his usual dry, funny self. We ate eye-watering curry for dinner, and then I asked him about the local pub. In response, he offered to take me for a drive around Paddington, the suburb of Sydney in which he and his wife live. We ended in Five Ways (named for the five way intersection), a charming place, with several little twinkly restaurants and bars. It was mercifully cool and lovely weather, especially after the humidity of Cairns.

On a whim, I asked Tony to let me off at Five Ways, and I spent a pleasant hour outside a tapas place drinking sangria on the sidewalk, then walked back relishing the comfortable air. I briefly found myself lost, and Debbie, a very drunk but friendly Aussie, offered to help me find my way. She was very happy to meet an American, and I wondered fleetingly if she was going to murder me as she led me through a shortcut in her apartment building's basement. Instead she drunkenly kissed my cheek by the sign for Roylston Street, and I made it safely home.

In the morning, Tony took me to The Gap, a stunning area at the mouth of Sydney harbor which is unfortunately also a common suicide point. We admired the scenery, and then he dropped me at the New South Wales art gallery, a great museum filled with interesting Australian and other art and an especially good exhibit on Aborigine art.

The Gap

An interesting piece at the gallery. It depicts Lake Wakatipu, which is a beautiful lake I've been to on the south island of New Zealand

At 3 I walked through the intensely green, steamy Botanical Garden to meet a friend-of-a-friend, Naomi, who was a Wesleyan grad a few years before me. So far away, out in the Real World on another continent, it would seem that graduating from the same school and knowing someone in common is enough reason to meet. And it worked out excellently.

The following tidbit says something about just how much Aussies drink. Naomi went on a lunch date with an Aussie guy that afternoon directly before she met me. He took her to a very chic bar and bought a bottle of wine, then proceed to drink four beers while she drank the wine. Neither of them ate anything. Naomi texted me apologetically all afternoon as she got tipsier and tipsier. When she came to meet me, the Aussie guy went back to work!

Alcohol or none, we got along great. It was really refreshing to be able to talk America, to be able to discuss Wesleyan related topics--professors we'd both had, campus politics, social theory. We chatted all the way through a scenic ferry ride around the harbor to Balmain, which I had heard was a charming village with good cafes. This ferry didn't stop at our desired stop, unfortunately, so we were forced to walk up an enormous hill in the intense afternoon sun to get to central Balmain. We finally gave in to thirst as we passed the London Hotel, a beautiful old hotel pub out that looks, as many Australian pubs do, like something out of the Old West. Damian (remember him from my first stop in Sydney? He treated me to Spanish chocolate and showed me around Glebe?) met us there, and we drank and chatted with some middle aged Aussie men who wanted to know about life in America. Naomi, who is black, told me she gets a lot of attention for her skin color there. Well, she's also gorgeous, so that might help as well.

Eventually we did strike up the rest of the hill to get Damian coffee and find Naomi some food to take the edge of the remnants of her lunch wine. We found a delicious Thai restaurant, eating with Damian's friend, Jacqui. She was sassy and salty, he nerdy and clever, and we drank wine (even Naomi) and enjoyed each other's company greatly.

Eventually, we all repaired to a pub for a celebratory "wedges with sweet chili" (a traditional Aussie snack, which is basically fat french fries with spiced mango salsa) and a couple of drinks. It was a festive, suitable way to finish off the first chapter of my round-the-world trip: after Naomi generously showed me how to take the the bus back to Paddington, I chatted with Ceal, packed my bags-- and in the morning I was off to the airport again. It only took a few hours to deliver me to my next destination, a fresh culture and a month ready to be filled with adventures. After a few years away, I was ready to rediscover New Zealand.

Naomi, Damian, and Jacqui at my Australian Last Supper

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