Thursday, October 26, 2017

Visit to Ohio and Australia

Last week, C and I had back-to-back weddings and excitement. 

It started late Friday evening. We found our way to a conspicuously ultra-baseline economy flight, settled in behind an actual dog, and took the red eye direct to Columbus, Ohio. There, we met C's mother's new cat and celebrated the delightful marriage of E and G, whose subsequent honeymoon was, we hear, rather exciting!

I ate a belated birthday cake and then we flew back west once more, passing over spectacular canyon scenery, various faults, a Hyperloop prototype, and the Ivanpah solar thermal plant on the California-Nevada border. Back in LA the sky was a bruised colour from numerous fires, and we found our way to a lounge in the international terminal. 

Later that evening, we boarded a flight to Sydney. I read a few books, watched the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film, and tried to understand system properties of urban planning in space. On the ground, we were unexpectedly collected at the airport by my parents B&A, and whisked off to our rental apartment. We had planned relatively little for the first few days so that essential tasks like finding suits could be taken care of. I squeezed myself into a sharp blue number, while finding time for a few hikes, avocado toasts, and admiring the luxury cat home my parents transformed their flat into.

All too soon it was time to dress up and help my brother M into a matrimonial state. The wedding went off without a hitch. Or rather, only one hitch! We had readings from Song of Solomon and sang Jerusalem, and I didn't burst into flames. Then out to the harbour foreshore for photos, then the golf club for a fabulous dinner reception. Once again I was required to engage in some gentle brotherly ribbing as I gave a mercifully short speech welcoming my new favourite sister (sorry A) into the family.

C and my wedding in August was conducted on a remote island, so it was fortuitous that M was able to assemble the entire family in one place for C and my convenience so soon after. I enjoyed catching up with all the rellies, recharging my accent, and doing some sneaky research into my family's more mysterious origins on the continent. This will be the subject of a future blog post!

Well, we breathed a huge sigh of relief, borrowed dad's car, and set off on a road trip to see a bit more of Australia than we had on prior trips. Australian roads are good but the speed limits are horribly low and the drive thus extremely boring. We did see a good variety of wildlife though. 

First stop was the NSW central coast, where we gatecrashed my grandmother's choir rehearsal, investigated the giant pelicans, went for a hike, and attempted to avoid being dive bombed by seagulls while rowing around the bay. C and I cooked a huge dinner for my grandparents which was well received. One of the parts were potato latkes, which seem to me to be a lot of work to get out something which is basically a baked potato. 

After a couple of days we set out once more, traveling via Norah Head Lighthouse, where we got the best Australian accent lesson ever, to Buttai, a remote corner of the Hunter Valley where my great grandfather used to "go off the leash" with his brothers in semi retirement, reliving their incredibly poverty stricken childhood. Sooner or later the entire area will be strip mined, so good to check it out while I have the chance. 

We continued up the road, turning off on the Bylong Valley Way, a picturesque route through the Wollemi National Park, and also soon to be strip mined. At the town, we enjoyed a quick snack in the general store and explored a nearby graveyard. Almost all the graves dated from around Australia's regional grazing boom (1870-1930) but there were two fresh graves from 2015 in which a 97 year old couple had been (post mortem) interred.

Nearly there. We arrived in the late afternoon at my aunt G's farm outside Rylstone, finding noone but a lot of dogs and a half-cooked dinner. Perfect for exploration, so we found the new house site, the folly (a whimsical shed to contain us) and, eventually, living humans. 

There was much excitement in town because it was the start of the semi-annual international chainsaw large scale wood sculpture symposium. Later, we met a local who was involved in making a horror film documentary, so all things considered it was an ideal time to spend a few days sleeping in an isolated shed with no electricity, running water, phone service, or much but trees and kangaroos around. 

We enjoyed meeting the sculptors and seeing the incredible art being installed everywhere. We found a lot of large spiders, not all of them still alive. The biggest by far was Mr Tiny, a 4" wide huntsman spider who kept a few eyes on us while we took a shower. Later he refused to stand still so we took him outside. 

Overnight it began to rain, so the next day we suited up and went for a quiet walk down the main ridge of the property. This part of the world has some incredible "beehive" sedimentary rock formations. I have long had a secret ambition to hollow one of them out and build a cozy house inside. Once, I stayed in hollow rocks in central Turkey. It might be easier to build the house and then clad it in rock-like material. Getting useful windows that are invisible from outside would also require some finesse. 

All too soon it was time to head back to the city. We drove south and east via the Three Sisters near Katoomba, then spent a few hours at my old school talking to students about careers in STEM fields. That evening we gathered a few friends and gatecrashed my sister's house for an amazing dinner of purple risotto and music. The following day we relaxed with family, hung out with my old neighbours whose house is full of Antarctic art, and then flew back to the US. About an hour after taking off I looked out the window and saw Lord Howe Island cruising by! It's also a pretty cool place to visit, some time.

Recently it has seemed as though I make it to Australia about once a year. It's odd to see evidence of how much time has passed, but I'm sure the experience is similar for Australian residents who rarely see me! I have a few more years before my grey hairs become overwhelmingly obvious, I think.


  1. What recipe did you use for the latkes? They should not be like baked potato! Cook's Illustrated's recipe is very good.

  2. By this I mean we started with a tri-axial ellipsoid of starch, performed a whole lot of work, and finished with a tri-axial ellipsoid of starch. Hard to write that out without breaking the narrative flow! But I look forward to trying them again.

  3. Haha, that's an accurate description, though it also gains a substantial quantity of oil during the transformation :)


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