Australia

Remembering in December

My wandering field life passed the ten-year mark earlier this year. That’s ten years of finding my way into a new work environment and getting to know new colleagues once a year or so. In a more mundane way, it’s ten years worth of photo files to keep up-to-date and to try to remember to share on my blog. A cousin (thanks, Juliette!) noticed that the entries from my earliest days had lost their photos: mine was a rather early blog, and the ways of uploading photos have changed since then.  (Many of those earliest posts appear frankly so embarrassingly shallow to me now that I’m tempted to simply wave my editorial wand and have done with them…but thus far my sense for historical accuracy is controlling that temptation…) If my continued research succeeds, many of those photos will be directly restored onto the blog as I find their originals in backup hard drives and other obscure locations: ah, new year’s resolutions before the old year has even wrapped up!

In the meantime, I’m uncovering little treasures that never made it up here, while fondly remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I was recently saddened to learn that Nancy Schrom Dye, former president of Oberlin College, had passed this year. During my years of active alumni-association work I greatly appreciated her contributions to my alma mater – so I was proud to join some other colleagues in taking her for an end-of-year meal which, the digital date stamp tells me, occurred in Beijing on December 31, in 2005. Up above are also a few rediscovered December 2005 Beijing-area shots which somehow didn’t get posted at the time. (Posting photos was more challenging in those early days…)

Just below are some previously-unposted 2015 shots: early-morning moonset at my home here in Haiti; me with my brother and a colleague when I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this year; and some shots from the lovely Frick House & museum in Pittsburgh, from the same visit. And since this put me in the mood, I’ve wandered through the many countries & continents, family meals & trips & assignments on four continents that have filled the years between these two sets of photos so very fully. Assembling them’s been fun for me so I hope viewing them is fun for you too :-).

This time last year? In December 2014, I returned from Sierra Leone & later went with great friends to enjoy the Ai WeiWei exhibit on Alcatraz Island (more photos from that one in the original post….though that particular set of great friends – you know who you are! – are remarkably camera-resistant):

Where’d I spend 2013? Living in PNG, participating in meetings in Amsterdam & dive trips in Australia, then celebrating the holidays with Steve & Mom in New Zealand:

I began 2012 in the US (where I visited Washington, DC in cherry-blossom season), turned 50 in the company of Howard & Gene at Kakadu National Park in Australia, and finished the year in PNG:

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2011 was mostly Mweso, a little Lamu, a little London and a year-end back home seeing Frank Lloyd Wright homes of Pennsylvania with family:

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2010…wow, what a year. Just seeing all the continents and countries where I spent time (actually meaningful time, with friends and family and work) makes my head spin even now. The photos evoked so much for me that I just couldn’t narrow it down to three or four…so I’m giving you a lot from 2010, a mix of Manipur (start of year) and Mweso (end of year), with a sprinkling of Sweden, Berlin, Paris & California in between:

House, Valley, Hills on Hike - Pre-Monsoon Season

I entered 2009 in Tahiti, yes it’s true: during the year I took off from work to help Mom with her house, I dedicated two months to exploring Australia (and watching the Australian Open!) and New Zealand, flying in via Tahiti with a few nights in Papeete, just because I could. The year ended, of course, in Manipur and included a great trip to see excellent sites of Rajasthan with Howard & Gene:

Ngauruhoe Summit View of Lakes & Clouds

2008 started in Nigeria, and ended in Tahiti…with a lot of good work in Nigeria, a short assignment for the earthquake in China, visits in Germany with my exchange family friends there….and a good deal of time in and around NYC (Mom, aunt Judy & I enjoyed a harbor trip past Ellis Island where our own immigrant ancestors entered the country, and also a trip to our favorite sculpture park up th Husdon)…with a side trip for some hiking in Sequoia and other California adventures:
Rivers-Abia Border Boats & River

2007…I began the year based in Colombo but spend the new year’s period with Mom & Steve at  Angkor Wat, returned to Colombo to finish out an assignment, headed on for training in Paris where I also got celebrate Mom’s 71st birthday…back to the US to reorganize my life after my first two years in the field, and then off for a new assignment in Nigeria. At the time it felt big. Now it’s all fond memories:

…which will bring us back to year two of this current phase of life’s great adventure, the lovely year 2006. From Beijing & Yunnan in China, to Polonnaruwa & Sigiriya in Sri Lanka (where I was based at year’s end), with family time on Cumberland Island (Mom’s 70th birthday dinner!) and in Germany in between. With a special souvenir from Seoul, where I had the opportunity to work a bit with the young ladies pictured with their daffodils. In a small-world twist, I had dinner with one of those two young ladies just a few nights ago in Port au Prince, which she visits sometimes in her current work with the CDC. So much small world, so little time for it all. Happy end of 2015, and many good hopes for a 2016 of more peace and health to everyone, everywhere.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA


Ambling Around Canberra

Parlt House Coat HangerParlt House EntranceCanberra is one of those cities oft-mentioned but  never visited, thus far. Especially in the past two years, based as I was in the next nation north of Australia, the city came up. Like capital cities everywhere, folks love to hate it and hate to love it.  On the way out of PNG, I was fortunate enough to be welcome for some meetings with various folks who work with Australian Aid, as well as various politicians  in the capital about what we’ve been accomplishing in PNG and what the unmet needs are, etc. If you’re interested in that work aspect of the visit, I say most of what I’d write in the following radio interview, taped while I was there: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/pacific/radio/program/pacific-beat/png-family-violence-needs-local-and-overseas-attention/1281294

National Museum Lake & MtnsPalrt House to Nat Museum Pano

For those interested in a few of the sights and landscapes of this grand national capital created as a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne (which have always argued over who’s #1 in Australia…), these shots give an impression. I walked a lot. It’s a very suburban city, reminding me of the old saying “there’s no there, there.”  I suspect if you’re raising kids, it’s great; I think for a single person looking for the urban life, it would tire rapidly. As an exit-ramp from two years of hard work in PNG, it was a nice in-between station.  Here you’ll see mostly the public spaces – lots of parliament house, sculpture garden at the national gallery of art, lots of the lake and the national museum building, which is that unusual multi-colored construction by the lakeside. All the  shots have names which say what they are. Enjoy.

Nat Gallery Sculpture Garden w Frienship Mem & Nat Carillon Airborne ArtPinecone
Canberra ChurchPaul at Lake Burley Griffin Nat Gallery Sculpture 3Nat Gallery Sculpture Garden Nat Gallery Sculpture Nat Museum Sculpture Along Canberra AveOld Parlt House &  War Memorial Old Parlt House from NewPaul at Parlt HouseOld Parlt Hse & War MemorialPano Reconciliaition PlaceParlt House Flag Parlt House Side View

Recon Place & Coat Hanger Recon Place & High Court


Bidding Adieu, Closing a Chapter

Farwell CakeBlue Butterfly at Base

Like this butterfly which kept me company on my last afternoon in POM after I’d left the office & gone home to pack, I’ve spread my wings and flown away. (Ah, soooo many flights: pom->cairns->sydney->canberra where I pressed the pause button for three nights; then canberra->sydney->beijing->frankfurt->berlin where I pressed pause for one night then berlin -> amsterdam where I sit in the jetlagged early AM as I post this…) Farewells are not my strength, at least the social part of them: I tend to just get up and go, since for me belaboring the departure simply makes it more painful. I prefer, as it were, to pull the band-aid off in one painful pull rather than try to gently remove it – those staying on have the rest of their lives to get on with, and I…well, I had about a dozen flights awaiting me! And the rest of my own life, I guess. So yeah: the PNG chapter has come to a close, and as of last night when I wrapped up the debriefings I’m again a free agent in the world, unemployed and homeless but at least stranded for now on the shores of Europe where I’ll get to see lots o’ good friends and such in the coming two weeks. Yippee!

It’s become a habit for me to try to photograph, as I leave a project, as many of the faces of the colleagues I’ve been working with as possible. It helps me remember the generous, kind and hard-working people who will carry on the work after I’ve left. There’s a gallery here full of those shots, and otherwise mostly the farwell pizza-party & cake lunch that I threw for the office on my last day, last week on Friday. Otherwise this entry contains only the butterfly who visited me, and one shot of the coast near Cairns…at least I’m fairly sure that’s what it is. I suppose it might be the coast near Sydney airport but I don’t think so. This is also, after all, a farewell to that entire region including Australia which I flew into and out of, or visited long or short, many times while there. The next entry should show some views of Canberra during that three-day intermezzo. Ciao, thanks, peace.

Spread Your WingsAssembling for Gruop Shot

Farewell Lunch
Last Day in OfficeGroup Shot FarewellSaying Thanks & Farewell

Coast by Cairns


Under the Waves – Outtakes Edition

So obviously I went shutter-happy under the waters of the Coral Sea a few weeks ago, and enough of my loyal friends and readers looked at and said nice things about the photos to make me think maybe at least some of you would like to see a few more, perhaps the ones I edited out only with some pain. In my most recent post I invited opinion about the outtakes edition, a director’s cut so to speak, of Paul’s excellent underwater adventure. All three votes cast were in favor of posting a few more, which I choose to call a landslide in favor. Go ahead, twist my arm. So here you are…. a few more shots illustrating how at peace I felt 20m below the waves swimming with the fishies. Hope you enjoy. Peace.

Blue Fish - Blue Fish Giant Clam in Brain Coral Angel with Long Tail Pairs Swimming Event Curious Fish The Shallow Blue Sea Swimming out of the Frame Yellow Tail & Beady Eye Aquarium Scene w Coral Blue & Yellow Yellow & Black Red Fish & Coral Discrete Coloration Speckles and A Big Eye


Eight Views of Sydney Harbor Bridge

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…And other wonders both structural and natural. In past visits to Sydney I’ve amply represented the harbor bridge and devoted substantial space to the magnificent Opera House, which you can barely make out behind a buoy in the shot above. This time I decided to do something of an homage to Hokusai and show my own set of views of the bridge, which really is huge and pops up suddenly from any number of different angles and parts of town. These are the last shots from the recent Australian dive-and-city vacation – unless I decide to dig through the underwater out-takes and pop up the director’s-cut extra features, maybe a few of the shots I was sad to leave out but omitted b/c of worry that the entry was already too big. Feel free to weigh in on that question: to post or not to post more of those underwater shots. Don’t bother being kind, either. 🙂 Hope you enjoy these. It’s back to work now in POM for several weeks til I head back for some meetings in Europe. Cheers.

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Coogee Beach panorama, above; and I just loved this insignia on the horse barracks near where Trudi lives. Thanks for being such a great host, Trudes!

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DSC02895There’s beautiful ironwork, and highly structural blossoms, everywhere one looks in Sydney. The ironwork and stonework has always been something I love about Sydney – it’s not just the bridge; if you look closely enough, it’s everywhere. And the blossoms are sooooo structural!

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That’s South Head and Watson’s Bay behind me. Above is a lovely old house I found on a walk around Vaucluse, very much not my kind of neighborhood (much, much too BelAir or Sutton Place for my taste), but which has a lovely walk path along the harbor between it and Rose Bay which I’d not previously discovered.

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Bondi, above. Rose Bay and the CBD, an Australian abbreviation that means downtown, below.
DSC02915Panorama of Manley and both North Head and South Head below….and then a few shots further below another shot looking across Manly Cove at the thin strip of Manly town before you hit the open ocean just the other side – if you look closely you can see it. That’s the north side of Sydney Harbor.
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Back Above Sea Level

Over the Ribbon Reefs 3

And now smw, slt has has enough relaxing days in Sydney to sort through the trove of aerial shots of the Great Barrier Reef and of the flora and vistas of LIzard Island and share with you some views of what life looks like above sea level out there in far northern Queensland. Naturally I’ve learned more about the GBR, which extends hundreds of miles both north and south even of the rather extended area covered on our cruise and in these aerial shots. There are dozens of what they call “Ribbon Reefs” scattered from the level of Cairns up to Lizard Island, and there are also other little reefs  here and there. Then the whole thing continues a good chunk further south, and I believe even further north. Many of the shots from underwater which I posted earlier this week were taken at Osprey Reef, which is an overnight boat trip to the north and east of Lizard Island, out in the true Coral Sea and apparently not officially considered part of the GBR. Live and learn. Hope you enjoy these shots. Cheers.

On Lizard Island

Lizard island Botany

Paul Bday AM Onboard

Lizard Island Panorama

Slopes of Lizard Island

130809 Sunset Onboard

Below, the mandatory shot of our wonderful crew, and below that a shot of the 17 passengers on the leg that I joined. The ship does a weekly circuit and 7 of the folks this time stayed for the full  out-and-back from Cairns, seven nights & six days; ten of us were on the four-night, three-day outward leg; and then more flew into Lizard Island on the planes that took us back. They + the seven who stayed will have worked their way back south toward Cairns, with dives along the ribbon reefs on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and then docked at Cairns again Thursday AM, to board a whole new group again Thursday. This experience was quite wonderful and I really do recommend it for anyone who loves to dive. Do either the 7-night or the 4-night option though – Osprey Reef was amazing and isn’t part of the return leg.

Ship Crew

Ship Passengers

Islands & Coral

Lizard Island & Sea Beyond

Last View of The Ship

Look closely at the photo below, and you will see the airstrip from which we departed Lizard Island for our one hour+ low-altitude flight back along the ribbon reefs to Cairns. Along the way we saw two different groups of minke whales from the air- a wonderful sight because you see both the whales breaching, and the shadow of their bodies under the water in a clearer way than you can from the air. Both of those occasions passed too quickly for a photo…plus they were on the left side of the plane each time, while I was seated on the right. Ah well…memories. And above is the last shot of the boat which provided such a comfy and well-fed home for a few days.

LIzard Island Airstrip 130809 Surnise Onboard Lizard Island Botany 2 Paul & Two Shadows on Lizard Island Lizard Island Pre-Dawn Lizard Island Sunrise Maritime Flag & Mini Lizard Island

Over the Ribbon Reefs 1

Over the Ribbon Reefs 2
Over the Ribbon Reefs 4 Over the Ribbon Reefs 5 Over the Ribbon Reefs 6

Shipwrecked on a Ribbon ReefOver the Ribbon Reefs 7
Paul Bday Sunset Onboard Reefs & FNQ Mainland Reefs & FNQ Mainland 2 Sailing by the CoastAt Cairns Airport 

Our charter flight ended up at a different side of the airport (literally across the runway from the commercial terminals), so I got to see this wonderful hangar and sign… 🙂Offshore Island & FNQ Mainland

Immediately below, you see the coast of Trinity Beach where I stayed in January, during the trip from which came the shots in this blog post:  https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/flora-fauna-waves-northern-queensland-beaches/

It was fun to fly right past this at the end of this current trip; the building in which I stayed is quite visible, as are the headlands and bays that gave me such pleasure on my long walks and runs back then. Cairns and its region begin to feel like an almost home-away-from-home-away-from-home for me, though deeper inside I still long to be biking along LA’s bike paths. 🙂

Trinity Beach from the Air


Neutrally Buoyant – Underwater in the Coral Sea & GBR

Cornered & Dangerous

smw, slt has learned how very much more there is to just this one little world than we’d even previously realized: though I’ve dived before, somehow this 4-night, 3-day, 11-dive live-aboard is an experience that’s likely to resonate for some time to come. It’s reminded me how multi-dimensional our world can be, and my mind is still wrapping itself around all I’ve experienced and how big a change it is from my daily life in Port Moresby. It’s roughly 36 hours since I landed at Lizard Island and left my waterborne home of the prior four days behind. Still my body has the feeling that the earth is moving, and I woke in my snuggly bed chez Trudi here in Sydney, feeling the roll of the waves. So we’ve learned Paul’s inner ear adapts well to the waterborne world but takes time to readapt; and we’ve learned seasickness doesn’t seem a worry. We’ve also learned that definitely the best way to see the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea beyond it is to do a live-aboard: what you can reach from Cairns by dayboat is simply too limited and too over-dived. I will add only captions after this and beg your forgiveness for putting so darn many photos up: I’ve never been under water with a camera before, and I wanted to let those of you who’ve wondered why I do it to get an idea of what you can see down there. These are pretty crappy photos but they’re best I can do to give you an idea; trust me, the reality is much more vibrant.

Aquarium Scene

…most of the shark photos you’ll see are from an event Mike Ball does which feels a bit hype-ish to me, but is nonetheless quite educational in the sense that it gives a more visceral meaning to feeding frenzy and law of the sea. We all dive to a certain depth in the water where there’s some dead coral and rock which makes a virtual amphitheater, and they lower a bucket (locked, at first, then released once it’s down and we’re all seated around the amphitheater (of sorts) – the bucket has tuna heads in it. There’s a scrum of sharks down below, and both that and all the other shark pics are from that event. They are magnificent creatures. These are just white tipped and grey-tipped reef sharks, nothing terribly threatening to us. By and large the dangerous wildlife doesn’t seem to know what to make of divers, but that doesn’t make the experience any less real when you’re in it.

And since I was  curious, I searched my memory and determined the only other time I’ve lived aboard a boat was 3.5 yeas ago when I spent two nights on houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala — a very different but equally rich experience documented here, should you be curious: https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/cruising-keralas-backwaters/

A Jaws Moment

Angels in Coral Garden




Angel in Coral Garden Paul the PhotographerThat’s me – all the shots of someone diving and taking pics etc. are me, taken by dive-buddy Scott. We were both learning how to work with cameras underwater. Just in case anyone wants to know what I look lke down there – yeah, that’s the camera in my  hands, taking one of these shots, perhaps…

Yellow & White

Aquaium Scene w Diver & Bubbles Aquarium Scene 2
Big Eye 1 Clam 1 Clam 2 Clam 3 Coral & Little Grey

One thing it’s very hard to do is get photos that capture some of the lively color of the underwater world, without strobe flashes and high-tech gear that’s beyond my price and capacity at this point. I love the clams because they are amazingly beautiful and sensitive, shifting and closing down significantly when they sense you near them; watching them move to close creates a shimmering array of colors on top of the colors already in their shells and bodies. Below is that feeding-frenzy scrum I mentioned.

Feeding Frenzy Giant Stride - ScottThat’s the boat, and a pic I took of my dive-buddy Scott entering the way most of us did it – it’s direct and quick, though there’s always that flutter in my stomach as I prep to dive in….Hide & SeekPaul the Photographer 2
Pleasure to Meet You Red Fish Reto Investigates

Algae on Mooring RopeThat’s not me doing the upside-down thing; it’s dive-buddy Reto but I liked how it seems he’s headstanding on the coral (he’s not, just looking at it close up). The multi-colored bit is just algae clinging to the mooring rope…actually on the way up from the shark dive, which was a heavy-current day so I clung to it so as not to have to fight too hard back to the boat…

 Sinuous

Shark - Diver - Bubbles Shark & Potato Cod Shark SilhouetteUpsdie Down 1 Well Camouflaged Yellow 2 Yellow 3


This Morning in Cairns

Cairns Sunrise 1 This morning in Cairns smw, slt went for a dawn run & a stroll along the esplanade and the boardwalk, watching the strollers stroll, seagulls wheel, and joggers jog. It’s about to be our birthday again, and we try hard not to be at work on our birthday. Since where we live & work tend, these days, to be places where  a day off just means hanging around in a gated compound and not having much fun, this usually means we leave our home-of-the-year and go somewhere far away. So yesterday I boarded the morning flight across the Coral Sea, from POM down to Cairns. I dined last night on the nicely-decorated terrace of a lovely restaurant where I ordered vegetarian laksa. Anywhere in the world, finding vegetarian laksa is a challenge. After four months in POM, that plus the late-night star-gazing stroll around the chilly quiet streets of Cairns felt like a tastes of what, for me, = paradise: freedom to roam and good food. What more could a boy (or an ageing geezer, depending on one’s p of v) ask for, around his bday?

Cairns Marina & Mountains

Well, thanks for asking. Since the ol’ bday arrives (again!!) at midnight (here in my time zone it’s already Thursday morning the 8th), and since I’ve spent the past 17 months living surrounded by some of the world’s greatest scuba diving while only getting myself below sea level ons single time (documented, you may recall, a few entries right here on this very blog), … well, I’m finally doing that live-aboard drive trip I’ve dreamed of for the past decade+. (This is true. Both that I’m doing it, and that I’ve dreamed of it.) Shortly after finishing this post, I shall re-pack my gear, drop it off at the dive office, then enjoy a free day in Cairns. At 6pm today, I shall board the boat that’ll be my home for the next four nights, out on the Great Barrier Reef. I’ll wake up tomorrow rocking on baord a ship somewhere out over those coral formations they say you can see from outer space, and do five dives – one of them a night dive. The following day, I’ll do the same thing. In between dives, I’ll be chilling and watching the sunshine glimmer on the water. On Sunday evening we’ll wind up near Lizard Island (you can google it ), roughly halfway between Cairns and Cape York. Monday morning, we will do a low-altitude flight back along the reef, from Lizard Island to Cairns. Now, does that not sound a mighty fine way to spend one’s birthday? I thought so, too. That’s why I’m doing it, and that’s why I thought I should post these now, since I hope they will soon be eclipsed by more unusual shots: I’ve no clue if theres internet on the boat (sorta doubt it)…if there is, maybe I’ll post daily pics of all the fishies and corals I’ve been viewing! If not…well, once I get to Sydney  next week, I’ll bring you all up to speed.

In the meantime, feel free to imagine the lovely flight I’ll be taking on Monday by re-visiting my Coral Sea from-the-air shots from this January – I didn’t bother taking new ones yesterday since I knew I would soon have even better views from the low-altitude flight on Monday! But here’s the last time so you have a wee sense of what your’s truly’s about to be viewing: https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/coast-highlands-coral-sea-by-land-and-by-air/

Cairns Sunrise 2 Cairns Beach AM Cairns Beach  AM2   Cairns Promenade PoolCairns Beach Breakfast

Cairns Beach AM3


Flora, Fauna, Waves – Northern Queensland Beaches

Barnacled Beach Log - Kewarra

It’s been a very quiet week here in what smw, slt has learned is sometimes called fnq: far northern Queensland. It’s been all about runs by the water in the early hours, walks by the water in the evening hours, and being a lazy schlub with tennis on tv in between. All in all a quite restorative little respite just across the ol’ Coral Sea from POM. Herewith, and without further introduction other than the occasional caption, some of the things I’ve been seeing this week. (Yes, there were philosophical moments during all those walks, but I can’t remember any of it at the moment. Aren’t you glad?!)

Sunrise - Trinity Beach

Paul - Trinity Beach Eucalypts

Colorful Coastal Trees

 

Erosion in Action - Kewarra

this is called tidal erosion made visible – above and below

Erosion and Roots - Kewarra

Coastline at Trinity Beach

Fruit Bat Migration - Trinity BeachSome flora & fauna in honor of Cate, whose dad mentioned this week that she’s enjoying seeing new members of the animal kingdom when the opportunity arises. Above: fruit bats on their morning migration back to their treetop roosts in the mountains, after a night’s foraging. Below, a gaggle of parrots and all I can say is any number of parrots creates an enormous racket. I have the impression there are lots of Australian-native species of parrot and parakeet and other such. These were the easiest to photograph here because they’re quite numerous; another white parrot was equally loud but higher in the trees and less numerous. Below that, there’s what I think is a kukaburra — stress the “think.” He was hanging out in a tree on my run this AM. 

Gaggle of Parrots

Parrot Eating

Parrot Eating 2Parrot in Tree

Kukaburra - I Think - in Trinity Beach

Crocs Sign Trinity Beach

… it would hardly be coastal  northern Australia without warnings for salties, and the occasional story of lost pets or worse. (Here, pets; in NT: occasionally the odd person, but the NT salties can beat up the FNQ salties any day.) ‘Twas awareness of the possible salties that made me extra wary when my runs and walks took me close to the mangrove areas – I felt most brave doing so. 🙂Trees in Wetlands - Kewarra Beach

Waves - Rocks - Trees

Santa Claus in Trinity Beach

Paul - Sunset Trinity Beach

Pink Sky and Islands - Trinity Beach

Flowers



Ocean and Mountain - Kewarra Palm Trees and Kewarra BeachTrees and Ocean and MountainsCloudy Morning - Trinity Beach


Kakadu, Katherine Gorge & Litchfield – Out & About in NT!

On our last morning in Kakadu National Park, we took a boat ride along the East Alligator River, which separates Kakadu National Park from Arnhem Land, all within the political boundaries of Northern Territory in the contemporary nation-state of Australia. By that point I’d seen Aboriginal rock art that’s been dated back, in some cases, as far as 20,000 or more years. I’d heard how the current estimate of how long Aboriginal cultures have lived in this part of the world is now up to about 60,000 years — as archaeologists continue their studies and dig deeper down the layers, they can carbon date and look other clues to the time of each layer, based on known climate changes or changes in what animals were in which area when.

Anyway, so here we were coasting along this river with a very personal narrative from a guy who grew up here, whose parents grew up here…whose ancestors, one presumes, have been in and around this spot of land on the planet for something like 20,000 or 60,00o years or so. I’m seeing crocodiles much like the one below — huge saltwater (estuarine) crocs that look magnificently primeval and dinosaur-esque, I’m seeing beautiful and timeless landscapes on both sides of this deep green river. I’m imagining the flow of time. I’m thinking about where my own ancestors might have been 20,000 to 60,000 years ago – times when northern Europe was under mountains of ice, so they sure as heck  still wandering somewhere else.

My most immediate thought was this: if global warming does sort of end contemporary late-capitalist civilization as we know it; if some of the movie fantasies that show up in films like Water World do come to pass…I bet the aboriginals of Australia will keep on going. So my first thought was about how these are people who have merged their culture with their land, with their fairly harsh environment surrounded by extremes, in ways that I and mine haven’t come anywhere near for millennia, if ever.

This was the relatively simplest expression of a wide range of far more complex reflections that I was having throughout my two weeks in Australia, about race and colonialism, history and society, and so on. While in Darwin after Kakadu, we saw an excellent Aboriginal & Torres Straits Islander art competition. The winner in one category (works on paper, maybe?) was drawn from a few facebook discussion groups about aboriginals, with a lot of really astoundingly racist and ill-informed or frankly ahistorical and anti-reality based comments about what Aboriginals are and represent in Australia. I had that to think about, compared with the (so far limited) experiences I’ve been having in PNG, a colonial-created modern nation, which from 40,000 years ago until about 100 years ago was hundreds of individual cultures…then went through a short phase as an Australian colony and is now working its way towards being a modern nation-state governed democratically by its own indigenous inhabitants who themselves have been around about as long as the aboriginals of Australia have. So there are interesting comparisons – Australia more like the US in that Europeans arrived and stayed, claimed primary ascendancy in governance and politics and rapidly outnumbered their predecessors; vs PNG where Australians did that for a period then left, leaving behind a created state.

There’s no way I could do a decent job of sharing the complexity of my thoughts. I have no conclusions. It worries me that humans are still tribal by nature, at a time when our technology and sheer numbers can have such global impacts. But we’re endlessly creative and problem-solving, we modern humans (meaning our species since about 100,000 years ago or something of that sort…not my field). So here’s hoping we’ll sort this out rather than continue to tear each other and our world apart.

Enough seriousness. Enjoy the pics! Northern Territory, Kakadu and so on ROCK.

What you’re seeing so far… Immediately above: Paul contemplates the impressive scariness of a termite mound at Maguk campsite in Kakadu. Above that, all shots from the various parts of Kakadu where we camped. Below, a suite of shots from Litchfield National Park (closer to Darwin – the two waterfall shots) and then Katherine Gorge (south of Kakadu).

NT is marked by extreme seasons: a very wet wet season, then a very dry dry season, called “the wet” and “the dry” by locals I believe. In the shot of Katherine Gorge below, you’ll notice many trees bending strongly in the downriver direction. This is from the wet, when half of the gorge is full of water and all the trees are deep underwater, and bent over by the force of the current. That’s when saltwater crocs can come all the way south the Katherine Gorge even though it’s hundreds of kilometers from the ocean, because there’s so much water they can easily swim in, then get stranded when the wet ends and the various bits of the gorge get more disconnected by rapids and rocky stretches as below.

…Howard & Gene enjoying a swim at Florence Falls in Litchfield, above; and the sunset at Katherine Gorge, below.

 

And now, as of the shot of me above, we’re back in Kakadu. Immediately above: rock art showing inflamed joints, interpreted traditionally as the local spirits of a bad place punishing people for being there. Modern science tells us that there’s a lot of uranium in the spots that have traditionally be identified as not good for humans, but reserved for spirits instead. About rock art: the red color can last longest, so in the very oldest paintings it’s only the red that will hold up. The yellow, white, and some of the other colors can last a few thousand years – but the red can last tens of thousands, literally. And below is our tour guide, referred to above, demonstrating how to use a spear thrower to increase the range of a spear. Below that, Paul with the spears after he picked them from the river, once we were back on the boat. Yes, the same river where we’d been seeing 5-meter-long salties. 🙂


 A car crossing from Kakadu into the fully-aboriginal-reserved Arnhem Land. Below, me in Katherine Gorge…yeah, some of these are a bit mixed up. Artistic license? 🙂

This is maguk — a waterfall, a big deep swimming hole below and a lovely set of pools above. Immediately below: how Paul spent the better part of an afternoon relaxing at the upper bit of Maguk.

 

Some views of the nature where we were. Immediately left (if this shows up as I hope once finalized), sunning itself on the sand by the side of Katherine Gorge, is a freshie – freshwater crocodile, not really a threat to swimmers etc. unless you step directly on them. A saltie (esturaine or saltwater croc) is showing off her teeth above. There are thousands of magnificent birds all over Kakadu – migrating waterbirds, parrots and singing or raucous birds of all sorts. And, of course, the ever-present agile kangaroos. And then, below, another freshie doing the crocodile rock… :-/

 The timing of this vacation was set to overlap with my 50th birthday. Howard & Gene had  a few surprises on the evening of my actual birthday at the absolutely gorgeous Maguk area – as you see below.

Below: if you wonder how I got some of the angles on water, rock, and the landscape below…that’s me the intrepid travel photographer at work.


Art, Architecture & Sydney’s Lovely Harbor

smw, slt has returned from a magnificent two-week vacation in Australia. The focus of this vacation was the Northern Territory and specifically Kakadu National Park. But since getting into and out of Port Moresby usually requires many connections and long waits in various airports, I chose to break up the trip by stopping in Sydney for a bit on the way in — where I took nearly all the shots in this particular post. In the floral section, below (yes, this blog post has different theme groups just so you can see I’m trying to keep it interesting and show a wee bit of editorial intervention…), you will see a few that were taken in Kakadu and one that was taken in Litchfield National Park…where, as Gene succinctly put it, we spent 1-1/2 hours on our way via Katherine Gorge (4 hours) to Kakadu. Where we spent four days. And could easily have spent another few without feeling bored, from my perspective. But it was a magnificent vacation, a great way to spend my birthday, and I am well  rested and delighted to be back with my colleagues here in POM this Sunday evening, with what will no doubt be a full work week ahead of me. (The work inbox, which has now been turned on, is at about 133 emails I believe – actually not a bad toll for 15 nights away from my station!) Happy end o’ northern summer to those of you in the northern hemisphere – and hope you enjoy these.

Above and in the following set of photos you see either Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbor, or in some cases art installations, or the effects of art installations in the case of the mist on a clear sunny day above, at the Sydney Biennale. The Biennale is a fantastic large art show that takes place in many venues around the city, but with a major focus on this island well west of the main city, which over its post-European-arrival lifetime has hosted a prison and shipworks, and is now publicly held and open for tourism (great lodgings there, but not very easy access to restaurants etc.)…and, as you’ll see at the bottom, perhaps the best-located tennis courts I’ve seen. I’d have loved to play there.

You will notice that it was a day of bright sunlight and even though I arrived early, many shots were taken with bright mid-day sun so I just decided to go with the sharp-edged shadow look and try my own hand at a wee bit of artistic expression here and there. Hope you enjoy. 🙂

These yellow flowers appeared in every part of Kakadu where we traveled, so they are a teaser of the Kakadu photos that you’ll be able to see a bit later. We heard many times how they’re an important season indicator for aboriginal or traditional landownders — when they are blossoming is when the freshwater crocodiles have laid their eggs and people can go to the sandy riverbanks to dig for eggs.

The shot immediately below shows the flowers in situ, at Ubirr in the north of Kakadu. There are many, many more shots of Kakadu to come – it was amazing. But I like to go about things in an orderly manner…

Having shown you my “artsy” cluster of photos and displayed yet again my fondness for flower photography, I will now show you what magnificent views I had from the window of my inbound flights on this vacation – first over the islands and reefs of the Coral Sea, above and two below (this is all basically in the area of the Barrier Reef), then of  the coast just south of Sydney airport — I started the entry today with my favorite shot from my inbound flight. Then…well, who doesn’t love the Sydney Opera House? Perhaps I’ve overdone it, I’ll readily admit…but I do find it endlessly interesting from all angles and in all weathers. Close second is the harbor bridge, and just the Sydney harbor generally which I really do think is lovely. Hope you enjoy. Cheers til next entry…


100 (or 42) Degrees in Denmark: Wonderful SW Western Australia

smw, slt is about to finish a glorious month in Australia and fly on to New Zealand. NZ will be wonderfully beautiful and exciting as well, I’m sure…but I’m feeling sad about the end of this fantastic first book of my excellent adventure. I’ve put great effort these past 48 hours or so to getting all my Australia photos sorted and quality-controlled so I can put them up here before I go take a few jillion more in New Zealand. For those who’ve been wondering what I’ve been doing with my time, perhaps these next several entries will provide you with some answers — primarily visual, but also some textual information as well. For this first Australia entry you will see, of my several days exploring SW Western Australia, text will be minimal and the pix will do the talking. THANKS are due, though, before we move on, to the real stars of this entire month: Ondrej, without whom so much would have been less clear or simply impossible and whose support and friendship remain an honor; Trudi, who’s even funnier and more wonderful to spend time with on her own home turf than in wild and wacky Port Harcourt; and of course Beth, John, Edwina and above all Sir Mikey, who gave me a good excuse to take advantage of their hospitality even longer than anyone foresaw! 🙂 Please, everyone, allow me to repay your generous hospitality in the US or somewhere else whenever I can!


Western Australia is twice the size of Texas, according to the guidebook. I saw only a tiny corner of it, though it’s reputed to be one of the prettiest corners of a varied and wonderful state. Herewith pictures of the Margaret River region, and the area between there and Denmark, and around Denmark and Mt. Lindesay. The day I arrived in Denmark it was, indeed, 42 celsius (over 100 fahrenheit) in the shade.
























Pleasant Perth

Perth, the capital of Western Australia, sits on the Indian Ocean rather closer to Indonesia than to the large eastern cities of Australia. It’s really quite far from just about anywhere else. And quite lovely, as you see!


…I loved that in the botanic gardens in Perth, plants from the rest of Australia — everything east of Western Australia, which is shown yellow here — are covered in one fairly small area, while all the different areas of Western Australia (admittedly highly varied from tropics to desert to coastal forests and so on) have individual areas.


…the war memorial in Kings Park, on a high bluff above the river-bay overlooking downtown Perth. The botanic gardens are also in Kings Park.


…as you can tell from this and other pictures, I really enjoy the immediate and frequent juxtaposition of fairly traditional brick colonial-style buildings with modern glass and steel skyscrapers. This is a fairly common juxtaposition in Sydney and Melbourne as well, but Perth is a bit more condenses and easy to see it all in than those two cities.


Australia Day on Federation Square

Federation Square is the recently-created center of Melbourne, home to the Ian Potter Center which houses the Australian portion of the National Gallery of Victoria — Aboriginal and European-tradition art by artists from or tied to this continent. There’s an enormous public space there where crowds hang out to watch live concerts, cultural events, and so on. During the Austrlian Open, matches were displayed live on a big screen during the afternoon hours to anyone who wanted to enjoy the crowd and the square despite the hot sun, and then in the evenings a live concert came on. The square was packed on Austrtalia Day with folks there both for the Australia Day fireworks over the Yarra River and the concerts on the public stage, and for the tennis matches broadcast before hand. Herewith some shots of the town, the stands, and some of the proud Aussies who took it all in. (The adorable and friendly guy below moved here recently from Margaret River – see above — to play rugby with the melbourne Storm rugby team. As I see it, he alone is more than sufficient reason to start watching the Melbourne Storm!)

In honor of my long Australia-Day weekend in Melbourne, the nation’s first capital (albeit provisional and temporary since Canberra was already planned, and delicately situated in between Sydney and Melbourne, both then and now rivals for top-dog status among Australia’s cities), I give you sights of the riverfront of this cultured, lovely and very enjoyable city which hosts more leading sports venues than one would imagine, and more adorably Aussie-proud sports fans per capita than even Boston can boast, most likely.

…I couldn’t help feeling it would be tacky if lots of Americans paraded our flag quite so boldly on July 4, but then we’re about 10-1/2 times the population of Australia and cast a bigger shadow economically and militarily, though ever since Vietnam they’ve shown a remarkable willingness to go along with out crazy foreign-intervention and regime-change fantasies. Somehow, it being Australia, it seems rather quaint and sweet to me. I doubt the Papuans and Indonesians would feel quite that way, but what do I know…

Melbourne started in a rather Manhattan-esque attempted land swindle around 1800, not long after the first fleet sailed into Port Jackson on January 26, 1788. (Yes, I celebrated Australia Day precisely 220 years after those first convict settlers landed on the shores of what is now Sydney to try eking out an existence under a different sun and different stars, with an ecosystem more radically different than that of the Europe they knew than they even began to understand until the late 20th Century.) Anyhoo, this guy named Batman (I’m not kidding) gave a few trinkets to some Aboriginals whose ancestors had done a great job of living with and on this land for many milennia, and figured that meant he’d somehow ‘bought’ the land from them — just like that old Chestnut about Manhattan island. And like that, Mr Batman was deluded because under English law, only royal agents could negotiate for land, and the Aboriginal inhabitants, rather understandably, didn’t see how a human could claim to ‘own’ a piece of land which would still be around long after we’ve returned to dust… Still and all, it’s from those roots that today’s gleaming skyscrapers of the modern Melbourne with its Batman Avenue sprang. Like California and Alaska, Melbourne and the newly-organized independent colony of Victoria (it was all New South Wales, at the start, but Melbournians quickly realized they were cooler and more cultured than those Sydney-siders, I guess) grew by leaps and bounds after gold was discovered nearby, and for the latter half o the 19th Century Melbourne was much bigger in population and, I deduce, relative weight within the colonies, than Sydney. Today they’re rather comparable, with Sydney a bit bigger in population and housing the more business, while Melbourne is undisputed sport and culture capital, so I understand.


Despite many similarities between the European arrival in North America and the one in Australia, one is constantly reminded here that one is very definitely NOT in Kansas, or even California, any more. Reasonably educated, cultured and even multilingual Americans (such as yours truly) often need decoders to get by in the land of Oz. To whit, from my excellent Western Australia road atlas and guidebook: “One of the most photogenic of the all the region’s mammals, the chuditch was once persecuted as a raider of chook pens.” This sentence clearly reads as English, but if I didn’t know better I might think it came from the creative mind of a fantasy or sci-fi writer, so little sense does it make to any non-Australian, perhaps even to many Australians. the chuditch is just an indigenous species here, unique to this continent which departed the super-continental mothership much earlier than most of the other continents…except, of course Antartica, which ain’t so known for its land-based flora and fauna. ‘Chook,’ on the other hand, fits into that lovely category ‘Australian Shorthand’ into which also fit such items as Brekky (you can buy, I kid you not, a carton of Brekky Juice aka Orange Juice, in the supermarket here) and Arva (tea in the arvo may not be the Queen’s English, but one does meet up on Sunday Arvo here for tea). Chook? Chicken. But how am I to know that? Is it in the OED? And to think they have the nerve, here in tiny little (population-wise) Oz, to make fun of American English! True, they SOUND more couth than we…but I don’t expect I’ll bind brekky, arvo or chook in the OED when next I check.

Consider, further, my predicament three weeks ago at a local winery on lovely Cape Naturaliste (Geographe Bay and adjacent Cape Naturaliste, for the curious, were named after the two ships in the French fleet that first mapped the region): I want to order the salad with rocket, shaved parmesan and evoo. The menu also offers delicacies like kanagroo salad and other items I can’t identify — and my culinary vocabulary is not small by most definitions. When I first saw rocket on a menu in London, around the time of the US Supreme Court’s judicial coup in favor of GW Bush (thanks so much), I wondered how my teeth would handle all that metal. Then I figured out that we were not talking about the Mars lander, but about a classically English bastardization of the French ‘Roquette,’ better known to Americans as Arugula. But evoo? In a country where common animals include the quokka and the echidna, and the emu is regularly seen sharing grazing space with the cow — both destined for the barbecue grill, I think — one simply can’t know whether evoo is a small woodland creature (I imagined those fuzzy things in ‘Return of the Jedi,’ honestly I did!), or simply … extra virgin olive oil?

Such is often my situation here in Australia: we’re speaking the same language, but things often seem a bit reversed or off-kilter. I don’t suppose this should surprise me; my situation is not unlike that of the early British colonists to arrive here, who were surprised to find trees that didn’t shed leaves, but DID shed their bark, summer in January and winter in July. One sadness in my trip south of the equator, thus far, is that all the drains – toilets, bathtubs, sinks, you name it – are too damn good: they just suck that water right out in one big whoosh, leaving no time for a whirlpool to form. This means that I cannot yet confirm or deny rumors that, when whirlpools form here south of the equator, they run counter to the direction of northern whirlpools. Can any scientists in the audience (is there an audience?) confirm whether, somehow, the laws of physics are such that down here, whirlpools run counter-clockwise (that’s anti-clockwise to the very few Aussies in the audience) rather than clockwise, as they do in the 0ld countries?

Having driven, now, roughly 800km on the roads, I can confirm that it is possible to adjust to left-side driving. My parallel parking leaves much to be desired (at home I’m so proud of being able to park well on both sides of the street; but here, the trouble is more understanding how the whole car relates to me when I’m behind the steering wheel on the right-hand side of the car. I find that ultimately, this difference is far weightier than which side of the road I’m driving on — it’s just that everything is reversed: after three days of driving, I’m now proud to say I only turn on the wind shield wipers 50% of the time, rather than 95% of the time, when I go for the turn signal. (Different side of the steering column, of course.) And when Howard and Gene – with whom I eagerly anticipate spending two glorious weeks in New Zealand next month – told me I had to rent an automatic, rather than manual, car, I inwardly sniffed; if it were up to me, my inner devil suggested, I’d save the extra cost of automatic and put it to more bottles of Canterbury Sauvignon Blanc. Thank goodness their wiser heads prevailed, and I did the same when I hired (that’s Australian for ‘rent’)this car in Perth. Even with the automatic, I am still pretty well all thumbs: my left hand and arm simply are not used to being quite that responsible. Heck, they can’t even brush me teeth, and now I’m entrusting them with my life? Possible avenue for scientific inquiry: do right-handed people growing up in left-side drive countries develop a greater level of ambidexterity than most of their counterparts in right-side drive countries? I do find it interesting how very clumsy I feel behind the wheel, though by now I’m generally confident and not so terrified of simply ending up on the wrong side of the road, flat out, as I was to begin with.


Victoria’s Great Ocean Road

Coastal Victoria, south and west of Melbourne, was home in the late 1800s and early 1900s to many isolated farmsteads, all more or less cut off from each other and from Melbourne or regional hubs like Geelong by the ruggedness of the coastline and the lack of any good connecting road along the coast. Farmers near the coast rode north/inland, then along the main road, then back down to the coast to visit their neighbors. In the wake of World War I, in many of whose most brutal battles young men from Australia and New Zealand suffered extremely heavy losses on the front lines struggling to defend British-controlled positions (non-Aussie/Kiwis who haven’t seen the great movie Gallipoli should absolutely rent it to learn more of this aspect of history), there were strong feelings that the returning soldiers deserved both honor and jobs in a newly down global economy (we’re talking about the 1920s, not 2009), and that a good coastal road in Victoria would stimulate the local economy by increasing regional tourism and developing more interconnection between coastal farms. A private initiative was formed to provide the jobs only to returning veterans and build the Great Ocean Road both in honor and in support of those veterans of what was then still simply The Great War. In the 1930s the road was acquired by the government and stopped being a private toll road, and now it’s one of the key tourist attractions in Victoria, with views and drive-feel rather similar to California Highway 1 through the Big Sur coastline. On my day’s bus trip along this route, I saw koalas in the trees, a koala running by the side of the road at high noon (no joke — poor thing must have been very freaked out), and a lot of gorgeous coastal views.


Ahhhh the Australian Open

Which brings us to tennis. The original idea of this extended vacation in Australia started with a fantasy of watching the Australian Open in person, which idea sprang from comments heard over the years from players and commentators that the Australian is the most relaxed, friendly, and open (and easy-to-get-good-tickets) of the Grand Slam tournaments. (As the common stereotypes go, Wimbledon is the most grand and traditional; Roland Garros is also grand and full of tradition, with the added element of being highly unpredictable and unusually hard-fought due to the red-clay surface, and highly emotional because, well, it’s in France; the US Open is loud, brash and very New York.) The fantasy took on more potential for reality when my current life with MSF made it possible for me to take extended breaks between assignments, without some corporate bigwig thinking I’d lost my mind and will to work — after all, it’s hard to lose a career when you no longer have one! 🙂 What pushed the idea over the line into true reality was realizing how many friends I’d met in recent years who live here, and who might welcome a visit – which made it both more appealing, and more feasible since I’ve taken shameless and very enjoyable advantage of the hospitality of three wonderful hosts/host families here in Australia.


…Aussie fans are so much fun, especially in the first week when there are still Aussies in the draws for whom they can get drunk, paint themselves in the national colors (officially the flag, but yellow and green for sport), and shout out “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” endlessly during changeovers.
But getting back to tennis. It’s now Monday AM in Melbourne, I’ve only a few more days in Australia before moving on, last night I sat in row JJ to watchRafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in the first five-set men’s final here for more than 20 years, and I feel like posting some of the tennis pictures I’ve taken over the past two weeks and indulging myself in some of the thoughts I’ve had while watching all this tennis. I was treated, two nights ago, to the best match I’ve ever watched in person and one of the best I’ve seen even on TV — Nadal/Verdasco in the second men’s semi-final; a five-set match that will likely live long in history and is already the longest match in Australian Open history (last night’s final was excellent, but since Roger was clearly not playing his very best, it didn’t feel quite so satisfying to me). I’ve never seen two players so consistently come up one extraordinary shot after another, and one extraordinary return after another. The entire stadium was in awe as the match unfolded, wondering if Verdasco would ever have a Cinderella moment of realizing how out of this world he was playing, against one of the true all time greats, and fold…but indeed, it was literally not until Nadal had actually won the match in the fifth set that one knew that would be the result.

An advantage to being in the stadium is you get to see all the matches, including doubles which TV usually short-changes, because the audience usually short-changes it. We moved down to excellent courtside seats for most of the men’s doubles final which followed Serena’s demolition of Dinara, which the Bryans Brothers from Southern California won in three sets. I was close enough to get Bob’s left shoe, when he threw it into the crowd! Now if only I could figure out what to do with it…

…Venus serving to Dinara, above and below, during the women’s final.
I was quite chagrined, Saturday night, to see Dinara Safina live down to the worst fears of her possible underperformance in the underwhelming women’s final, rather than living up to the clearly tremendous game she is capable of. Trudi, in the stands with me before the match, asked why there were so many empty seats; I told her a) that it would fill up more by match start and b) that frankly the women’s matches at this year’s AO have usually been either lopsided, or see-saw matches where first one player then the other goes off her game — not battles of will with two players consistently producing their best tennis over multiple sets. (E.g. Verdasco-Nadal.) And anyone who loves tennis has to be asking themselves some hard questions about competition in the women’s game. When we demand money for women’s matches and so on, fans have the right to expect more of the women’s tour than we’ve seen in this tournament. Men’s matches are best of five sets to begin with, so they’re frankly working harder throughout the tournament; but what lover of good tennis would prefer to watch Serena wipe the floor with Dinara in less than one hour, rather than the 4-1/2 hour epic which confirmed Rafa in his place at the top of the game, and told us we’re likely to have another year of tremendous rivalry as Roger tweaks his game to show Nadal he can still be #1?

…I saw several of Venus & Serena’s doubles matches, including this quarter-final trouncing of a Chinese team on an outer court where I had the pleasure of sitting in the very front row.

Serena gamely tried to make it sound like she ‘had’ to go for broke becuase Dinara hit the ball so hard, but let’s be real — Serena worked far less hard in the final of this year’s first grand slam, than she would in a casual practice during one of her off days this week. Like most fans, I was charmed by Ana Ivanova’s ready smile and great game at last year’s French Open final — and I wonder what the heck has happened to her since then?! What the DEVIL is wrong with the women’s game? Why is women’s tennis beset by women who can’t come up with the goods when the pressure is on? Where are the long hard-fought matches between Graf and Seles, or Navratilova and Graf or Evert? The game is crying out for some great new players to emerge and really claim their place — to challenge Serena in a meaninful way. Dinara can do it, but she’s gonna have to believe she can and develop some consistency; and until she and a few others raise the bar and contend consistently for the top spot, I for one am going to find women’s tennis boring and very secondary to the current excitement on the men’s side.

…the first week, I had literally courtside seats on Hisense Arena, the second-largest arena, as well as being able to see any match I wanted on the rest of the courts. That’s where I got these really close up shots of Venus – good thing I saw her in singles action during the first round, which she won; and of Andy, below.

…this being one of those smaller, outer courts, on which I watched Ernests Gulbis in the first round. One of many lovely things about the AO is that Melbourne Park is literally in the heart of the city, so sitting in the stands you’re seeing the skyscrapers of downtown right there, plus of course it’s easier to get to.

By far the most interesting women’s matches I watched were doubles matches featuring Ai Sugiyama and Daniela Hantuchova. Ai Sugiyama has to be the most polite player ever to grace a tennis court. Not only does she play her big heart out on the court, which is always great to watch, but she literally holds out her hand in semi-apology every time she hits a winning volley at the feet an opponent or between two opponents at the net. The message, it seems, is ‘I’m so sorry that in order to win I have to beat you.’ Probably the best women’s match for me was Hantuchova/Sugiyama’s three-set thriller over Black/Huber, a match whose final outcome wasn’t evident until the last point had gone down in the third-set tie-break.

Gulbis (a Latvian) is a supremely talented quite young player, and wonderful to look at for both his shots and his looks; I’m not alone, I think, in hoping that his mental game can mature to match his skill level.

Close runner-up to Sugiyama in the Outstanding On-Court Demeanor awards is Elena Dementieva. This player, who can smack the crap out of the ball from the baseline with the best of them (her semi-final against Serena was far better than the final with Dinara, though she too choked on key points), took balls from the ballkid to hit over the net during serve warmup, so Serena wouldn’t have to wait to keep warming up her serve (when all the balls had ended up at her end of the court, because Serena was booming so many practice serves). She waited with great concern to make sure Serena was really OK after Serena fell in returning one of Elena’s great shots. During her service games, when every other player man or woman would take a few balls, and then just toss the unwanted ones backwards behind them as they head to the service line, for the ballkids to more or less scramble after, what does Elena do? She looks at the ballkid, asks for a ball; once the ballkid has tossed out the new ball, Elena throws the old one directly back to the ballkid, so it looks rather like some child’s game with both of them tossing balls through the air — but what it really is is Elena taking the ball kids seriously and making it easier for them to do their job, rather than harder…

…since I love his backhand and his game in general, and never mind looking at him, I caught all Richard Gasquet’s early matches and cheered loudly in French for all the good points. Even enjoyed seeing him hatless – which never happens in a match – at a practice session.

…Which brings up a contemplation of politeness vs winning toughness and confidence, selfishness and boorishness vs focus and determination. Most fans would agree, I think, that among the many things that make Federer, Nadal, and Serena unique and special among great players of the game is that they not only bring absolute commitment and determination – utter lack of doubt or fear, essentially – to every point along with their great skill. They are single-mindedly focused on their games, yet they also never act up or behave rudely or nastily – I’ve seen them all wait patiently while an opponent threw a tantrum or the fans behaved badly; I’ve seen them all give gracious post-match interviews whether they won or lost. Roger, of course, is the unequaled leader in being both tremendous gentlemen and deadly predator on court (last night’s loss notwithstanding…though Rafa really is getting ever closer to Roger’s greatness, and is also truly a well-behaved and well-spoken player). It’s that combination that, to me, makes these players among the true greats of all time. So do Elena and Dinara need to just get more selfish – perhaps even more boorish? During the women’s dubs final between Venus/Serena and Hantuchova/Sugiyama, Venus and Serena were never rude on court, but they also generally didn’t seem to take account of their opponents except when a ball was coming off one of their rackets — their opponents existed only as obstacles en route to another trophy. As a player myself, I long for that focus and know I’ve almost never brought it to the court — I like my opponents usually, sometimes I don’t, but for me the social aspect of tennis is usually as enjoyable as the competition, and I appreciate their great shots as much as mine. But I’m a duffer, and no one’s ever paying to watch me play. Dinara, much as I love her – and however adorable her apology to Australians for having to beat their lone remaining singles player – owes us a better match than she gave us last night – especially when we all know she can deliver if she just gets over her mental block.
It is, indeed, their humanity that allows us to welcome these players into our hearts the way many of us do. But ultimately, what we want from them is great tennis – not charm or apologies or good manners on court. Even I, who loathed John McEnroe’s on-court behavior, would far rather watch McEnroe play any day, even at his racket-throwing ballboy-and-umpire-abusing worst, than see another set of Dinara double-faulting away games. (I also think McEnroe was often right on the points he wanted to argue – he had and has among the best eyes in the game and is now one of the very best and trenchant commentators on TV.) So: give us more Federer from here to eternity: grace and lyricism on court, killer instinct with gentlemanly behavior and never a moment’s doubt of his ability to win. And let more of the women emulate him, Serena and Nadal — yes, sometimes Nadal’s intensity can be scary, but the boy leaves his heart out there, and always behaves well on court and toward his opponents. Onward and upward, dear game of tennis.

Seeing Sydney

It’s frightfully early Sunday morning, 1st February, in Melbourne. The worst of this week’s heat wave seems to have passed, and coming back from the tennis this evening it was actually rather pleasant. I’ve been traveling again for more than a month now; a month that, as always when one’s having tons of new experiences all the time, and regularly seeing new places, learning new things, and meeting new people, has passed far faster than seems really possible. I know full well that, before I even really know it, I’ll be back at what’s become my regular life in the US. During my absence, the US has undergone further change — we’ve ushered in a new president, ushered out probably the most destructive president we’ve ever had as well as a frightfully corrupt major-state governor, lost many thousands more jobs, and entered a new year.

All I have to offer, for now, are some photos of Sydney, where I spent several days in early January with my good friend and former Nigeria colleague Trudi. She’s with me here in Melbourne now for the finals of the Australian Open; about that, about politics and my thoughts on Australian flora, fauna, history, culture and landscapes — more later. For now, no thoughts to offer other than thanks for staying tuned, and I hope to show you more of Australia — Western Australia, Victoria’s coastline, Melbourne — soon enough.


…Trudi went a little shutter-happy on our boat trip to Taronga Zoo from Circular Quay in downtown Sydney, and I’ve saved some of the better or sillier shots of me with the famous Opera House and Harbor Bridge in the background. Also above and below are shots of the skyline as seen from Lady’s Bay east of downtown, views of the South Head lighthouse (at the south entrance to Sydney Harbor aka, I believe, Port Jackson), and of North Head seen from South Head; and views of the Pittwater and me flexing what might pass for something vaguely six-pack-ish, at Palm Beach on the ocean side of the peninsula that creates that Pittwater. (Oh, look it up on google maps if you need to — north of Sydney.) Love you, mean it.








…oh yeah, and the old Government House (read: governor’s mansion) in Paramatta, inland or upriver from the main part of Sydney Harbor a bit — important for early Australian colonial history because the land there was more fertile and allowed the colonial settlements to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on boatloads of supplies from Britain. Australian colonial/european history is short, even compared to American colonial/european history — this first main residence of the colonial governor was only built around the first decade of the 1800s, I think. Lovely little house, though.