Monday, December 17, 2012

Between Worlds

Melbourne, VIC

Toward the end of December I am always getting irritable.  I don’t want to have anything to do with any family gathering of any sort.  I am punishing myself for being such a stupid idiot & putting myself exactly 40,000km from the only place I’d want to be.  ....AGAIN!

This year will be my third consecutive Christmas away from home.  My third warm Christmas – I grew up where this is not a reality.  Normally, the onset of winter triggers a hormone that sends people into holiday mode.  Without this, it seems Christmas comes & goes without warning.

It’s not getting easier, but I am catching on.  Carols aren’t making me spin out & I’m not avoiding stores for a constant slap-in-the-face reminder.  Instead I’m sending out Christmas cards this week & baking shortbread.

It doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

The entirety of time spent on the road, I carry my hometown with me.  This is never more evident than from my accent.  I could shout over music at the top of my lungs ‘Fair dinkum!  Good onya!  Bonza!’ & people will still ask me where I’m from.

Not making a Christmas List is a great thing!  Not being able to sucks.  My lifestyle doesn’t allow me to crave unnecessary things.  I still want tokens of affection from the people I love, but our face-to-face yarns have long since been replaced e-coffees instead.  Just as this is written in binary rather than by hand & the music in my ears is more produced by machines than humans.  It’s an easy reality.

Last year, the only thing on my Christmas List was a pumpkin pie.  (Kiwis don’t know what real pie is.)

This year, if I were to make a List, year it would comprise of a mix of remembrances from home (Winnipeg Jets & CKUW gear, local music) & ingredients to make this one my new home (housecoat, guitar, local music).  Assembly required.
                (...and Bruce Springtseen tickets please!)

I’ve decided to hit the road during the week of the 24th.  There is no substitute for being home with the folks, & I have to stop pretending otherwise.  The past few years, Orphan Christmases have saved me where the intimate family thing failed.  It’s time to celebrate in my own way.

The 24 days of advent are a great time of the year!  Holiday parties are the best!  But the day in question is a lonely time for me.  I get to call home on Boxing Day & hear about all the fun & turkey & presents, when once again, I’m alone.

Hopefully a hike somewhere of a few days will sooth my unsettled soul.  The evergreen Aussie maple & oak trees provide a clash of culture - a pinch of Canadiana that acts as a reminder of how lucky I am to be here.

As surely as there are polar bears displayed outside the Melbourne Museum, & portraits of Neil Young in several bars downtown, I carry my hometown with me.  I am at home away from home.

Merry Christmas!  J

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Forced Entry

The first step is ‘Have a good attitude.’
I woke up every morning knowing I was about to start a job I hate.
It’s hard to get motivated after a realization like this.

There are many reasons why I should have been good at it.
Everyone in my immediate family has been in this line of work.  It should be in my blood.
All day every day I would think ‘I am using my powers for evil.’
...good thing I was particularly bad at it.

Step six is ‘Keep your good attitude.’
There’s nothing romantic about starting a relationship with the sound of a doorbell, or hearing a door close behind you.
I am officially a former door-to-door salesman.


Where did I go wrong?  Everyone in my family is a salesperson!  They could sell a fish water!

One of my best friends spit out her water in disbelief, choking back laughter.
“You are the most indecisive person in the world!  You can’t commit to anything!
People would probably talk you out of your own sale!”

She’s entirely correct.  They’d give me a good reason & I’d agree.  I couldn’t sell it, but I’d spend a good 10 minutes petting their dog & chatting about the old sailboat in their yard, about their neighbour who passed on, or the mysterious fruit tree in their yard.  This job is not about fostering relationships.  It’s about ‘walk fast, talk slow’ & ‘if it’s not buy, it’s goodbye!’

I can’t believe my own bullshit – I am the first one to laugh at myself!  Just the same, I am quick to call others on theirs.  Where it took others 2 weeks to memorize the steps, it took me 2 hours.  I couldn’t believe a word of it.

It takes more effort to be honest than to lie, cheat & steal.  It’s a slippery slope, but you already know this.
Hanging out with salespeople makes you a better salesman, but a worse person.  They could spin genocide & make it look appealing.

The math itself doesn’t add up anyway.  Even if they guarantee you can make 1,000$/week easily, which is a huge appeal, but with 11hr work days that’s only 18$/hr - on commission to boot.  Instead of sacrificing all aspects of your life (there were at least 5 steadfast ways it clashed with mine), I’d rather work at something I could enjoy, make close to that anyway & keep my life, soul & sanity intact.

Lasted two days.  At least the weather was nice!


On the flipside, I’m officially a professional published photographer!

The short story is that someone I met on the road is writing a book about her travels, & is using a picture I took of her & her husband in the islands as the cover.

The long story is that it’s the story of a tragedy in which her husband was killed.

Last I heard, she’d confronted the man responsible to obtain the real story of what happened.
We don’t know how the story ends, & the book is in German, with no current plans to print in English.

If you are German & come across the book Blauwasserleben, can you send me a spoiler?  It would take too long to get my German to a sufficient level to translate on my own.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Northcote Redbacks

Deadly: Aboriginal English,
Adjective:  fantastic, great, terrific

A couple days after shifting house, we’re unloading some boxes that had been in storage.  While my back is turned, Tamara says “Is that a Redback?”  I shot my eyes at her.  She’s joking of course, taking the piss out of my fear of Aussie spiders.  The way she approaches the box says differently.

We found a couple spiders in & among the contents of that move.  All the identities were unconfirmed post-mortem.

When I tell my Aussie mates about this, they shrug it off & say “Redbacks aren’t so bad.  At least they don’t jump.”

My reaction of course is:  There are ones that jump?!?

General consensus has it that Redbacks (Black Widows) aren’t very deadly at all, except if you are very young, sick or elderly.  They don’t stray very far from their nest, & will only bite if you touch them, which is fairly easy because they tend to be in places tucked away, under countertops & the lot.  Don’t play with the woodpile without gloves.  But even then, they will probably just make you sick.

Here’s a list of things I’ve learned about how to live in Australia, despite all the deadly things:

    - Stepping on a snake is BAD.  If you make lots of noise in the brush, & stomp your feet, they will feel your vibrations through the ground & get out of the way.

Of my time in the bush, I haven’t come across a snake yet.  I’ve never been known as Quiet.

    - Australian snakes don’t have long teeth, unlike the fangs you might imagine.  Wearing heavy pants & shoes can be enough to protect your ankles, & ultimately, your life.

Typical procedure is to keep on the way we do – barefoot.  Have you ever seen an Australian wear anything other than thongs & boardies?  (Flipflops & shorts.)  Our compromise is to stomp through the bush barefoot.

    - Treat every snake like it will kill you.

Somehow we still end up chasing down tiger snakes if there’s a sighting down the trail, & approaching mysterious striped snakes even when they rear up at us – albeit with a wide berth.

Classic crazy Australian

I still treat spiders like they will kill me.  There’s something unsettling about intelligent insects.  Snake stories don’t shock me as much as when I hear of spiders rearing on their hind legs & hissing, or fighting a cat.

Snakes mind their own business.  A spider with a face on it screams BACK OFF.

Golden Orb Spider - harmless

Huntsman - harmless

After setting up our tents in an open grassy area, we seemed to be surrounded by sparkles in the grass.  I realized each sparkle the light reflected off the eyes of a spider.  There were SO MANY!  It took 20 seconds to get over it.  My demise starts the moment I become desensitized to Aussie spiders.

    - Always ALWAYS close your tent.  NEVER LEAVE YOUR TENT OPEN.  NEVER.

The caretaker who told me this added that they had found a 3m brown snake the year before at the site. 

    - More people die from drowning than from shark attacks.  An average of one person a year gets chomped & they have a high survival rate.

They have technology that warns lifeguards when a shark that’s been tagged approaches a swimming beach.  They get evacuated pretty regularly.

    - Most sharks read impulses.  If you’re nervous & agitated, a shark will read your heartbeat as prey.

....I don’t think I’ve swam in the ocean since I’ve been in Australia, for awareness of the white-pointers (Great Whites) in the South, & the jellyfish & crocs up North.  If I have to pick my battles in this country, I’ll stick to the inland.

Crocodile tears:  Stories about the North

Crocodiles were almost wiped out of Australia, so they put a hunting ban on them.  They are still protected, but now there are more crocodiles in the Northern Territory than people.  It’s a conservation issue.

They are scary creatures.  Real dinosaurs with that have evolved perfectly.  They don’t chase; they ambush.  They do not move unless going for a feed.

    - In the north, people carry hefty walking sticks because when a croc attacks, it latches on to the first thing, & doing this could save you a leg or your life.

Sounds logical, but nobody does this.  They’re not popping out of bushes while you’re walking down the street.  ...well, they sometimes might, but that would be irregular.

    - Everybody has dogs in the north because if they go missing, it’s a warning that there’s a croc in the area.

This is true.  Better a dog than a kid.

    - Freshies (freshwater crocodiles) are found in most waterholes, but they are generally shy & non-confrontational.  They can grow up to 3m.
    - Salties (saltwater crocodiles) only move inland during Wet Season when the roads are 2m underwater & they can access new territory.  They are BIG & will EAT YOU.  The signs show the difference in severity of the change in tone.

Ways to tell if there’s a saltie in a swimming hole:

    - Walk around it looking for slip marks on the banks
    - Wait until dark & shine a light on the water.  They come to the surface & hang out on the rocks at night when it’s cooler & the light reflects off their eyes.

If you know what to look for there are always signs; they are too big to be covert.

    - Never be the last one in the water.  Apparently they’ll always pick off the last one in the herd.

Unconfirmed, but this sounds like reasonable hunting instincts.  Last or not, I never swim alone just to improve my odds.  (This is a lie.  I have swam alone, but not for long.  Paranoia is infectious.)

In some risky areas there are big cage traps in place, presumably baited with something fleshy.  When the cage remains open, the rangers say ‘We are safe – see?  The cage is empty.’  I hope I am not the only one who sees the flaw in this.

Taken from in the water.....

Bears are my game.  In terms of people in Australia, I have ‘Bear Experience’.  My stories are true, which doesn’t mean they are not embellished with gestures & indifference.  ‘Yep, gotta hang your camp food in a tree or bears will attack & eat you.  Yep.’  *shrugs*

Every wild animal has potential to be dangerous, whether it’s a deer, a bear, a koala, a whale or an elephant.

Bad things happen because people are idiots.  Take care, & Darwin will smile upon you.