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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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.
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.
…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.