Monday, August 23, 2010

The Passion of the Shells, Back to Perth

We woke up to a lovely day. This is always a bit unpleasant after you have driven miles and miles to a nature spot to be rained upon. Nevertheless, we soldiered on.

And now, some art appreciation, as brought to you by the wife and decorator of our cozy little weekend cottage. Ahem.

The mirror reflects our appearance, but the sea-shells reflect our origins. Here, Mindy has attempted to convey the incredible stretch of evolutionary time. Gastropod shells confront homo sapiens here; this is what we have come from, and this is where we are going.

Yellow is a color not commonly associated with the sea, but it is associated with the rise - and set - of the sun. Has Mindy's arrangement of shells here an expression of her own trepidation about the aging process? Does she seek solace in the eternal, physically perfect shape of the nautilus at the center, as a poignant reminder of what she has lost, and what she must face in the near future?

Here Mindy expresses her opinion on the essential emptiness of life, the vast void that is the Indian ocean - a stretch of sea, leading to nowhere in particular. Kalbarri leans out to the wind, and so does Mindy's soul - she wishes to explore, to step across the oceans into the mysterious and perfumed lands of Asia, Indonesia (beyond the churning waters) , but yet her responsibility and her culture holds her back. The sea grasses wave at her, as if they are saying goodbye to someone who has no intention of actually going. Will she plunge into the sea, someday? Is that what this masterwork is attempting to convey?

Oysters are closeted, closed-up creatures, and this floral-style arrangement produced from their shells is a profound expression of the ennui and sexual dissatisfaction of the Australian married woman. They are clamped up and dry, now, but once were moist and....oh god i can't go on make it stop make it stop oh god oh god

We stopped to chat with our proprietor in the driveway as we packed our stuff up. He was attempting to control his son's recalcitrant and violently adorable Lhaso Apso puppy, with little to no success. "So what does your son do?" I asked. He had mentioned the other day that his son was, rather ambigously, in the "outback." Whatever that meant.

"Oh, he works in the mines, way up north, for Rio Tinto. He's a chemical engineer. Pulling down plenty of money. My other son does that too. Five weeks on, make a pretty penny and store er' up, head on back. I did that too when I was starting out."

I had envisioned Working in the Mines as something involving hard hats and impoverished West Virginians with missing teeth, so this was a bit of a surprise to me. "Good lord, maybe I should work in a mine," I said.

Lyn chimed in to mention that even clerical workers In the Mines make somewhat ungodly amounts of money. Apparently there is a vast Australian mining secret that has been hitherto unrevealed to my American brethern.

"They've got five mines just about to open up near here, along the coast," he added. "Geraldton and Kalbarri are just going to explode, you'll see about that. Smart young people should go on up to the mines for three years or so, save er' all up, and buy real estate. I bought this spread for 200,000 and now I can turn it over for 500,000 - yes, real estate's the way to go in WA, one hundred percent. Won't ever go down, but up, and up, and up. The kids these days just want to buy a fancy car and a fancy house, but they should just invest, invest in real estate.."

I internally boggled, as I seemed to recall everyone in the state of California making the exact same claim about two years and then regretting it about as much as anyone has regretted anything. I asked Lyn about it in the car, as we headed to the sea cliffs, and she filled me in. "Western Austalians all seem to believe real estate is incapable of going down."

"Do they ever watch the news? Did they somehow manage to overlook that whole real estate bubble kerfuffle?" I said, all agog. (Great word).

The ocean goes on a bit out here.

Then I remembered: they're Australian. They don't have to pay a lick of attention to our USA affairs if they don't particularly care to do so. Just like us, Aussies take extreme pride in their self reliance, independence, and personal ability to make a dollar or two, particularly in the form of turning over houses.

We turned off to the sea cliffs, which were behaving wonderfully in the absence of driving rain and wind. The cliffs are indeed astoundingly beautiful, and I've never been to a place where one experienced such a visceral sense of being at the literal edge of the earth, the place where land stops and segues (for a terribly long distance) into sea. The sea far below had turned glass clear again, and little brown Australian kestrels wheeled below the outlook. There were no whales. The lighting was fantastic: the sight of the cliffs in the morning made all the rain and ennui of the day before entirely worth it.

"I'm going to invest in real estate," I told Lyn, pointing to the top of the natural bridge. "Going to open a Hungry Jack's and a drive-in motel right there. Make a bazillion dollars and die inordinately happy."

"Yeah, you do that," she said.

Here, have some informative signs. Don't say I never did nothing for you.

We made a last-ditch attempt to catch the pelican feeding that supposedly occurs every morning at exactly 8:45 on Kalbarri beach. There was an older man, doubtless a member of the Old Bastards club, holding a bucket of herring. There were lots of families standing around the Pelican Feeding Official Viewing Ground, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the 5 foot tall winged beasties.

You think you're so great, seagull. I bet you do.

Except the pelicans didn't show, the jerks. You'd think free fish would be enough to do it. As it was, we spent about five minutes dejectedly watching silver gulls squabble over fish, straining our eyes for the sight of a big white pelican soaring over the horizon. Nada mas.

"Back to Perth, then?" Lyn said.

"Seems that way," I said. We headed out of town.

I drove for a short while, which was all right actually, mainly because there was no one on the road who I could demonstrate my tenous grasp on left-right dynamics to. I kept on turning on the windshield wiper instead of the blinker. Stupid down under. The ride back to Geraldton was fairly benign: we passed by the Pink Lake again, which had not declined in pinkness one iota, and the trees were still bent over, and the green pleasantness of spring was still in the air. I went in to buy a Diet Coke at the Northampton roadhouse and was flirted with somewhat pathetically by the counter boy.

"Are you from around here?" he said, hopefully. Perhaps he was imagining a romantic date at the Fish BBQ, or something.

"No, no, I'm afraid not," I replied. No one is, you poor, dear sod, I thought, as I walked out the door.

We stopped at the Dome in Geraldton for lunch, in lieu of paying an inordinate amount of money for nouveau lunch Cuisine.

Dome really deserves its own paragraph, as it is Australia's exact equivalant to Starbucks. For the zoology types, Dome has successfully filled Starbucks ecological niche - Starbucks was unable to make it in Australia, despite the company's doubtless dogged attempts to put down roots in Oz. And Dome is indeed nice. The shops are attractively designed, with a lot of wood and a distinctly Gallic gilded interior. The coffee is good and plentiful, once you figure out how to negotiate Australia's bizarrely obtuse method of ordering. Insofar as I could ever work out, a Flat White is coffee with some milk in it. Don't ask me how this differs from a latte.

The food is all right, cooked to order, and will do in a pinch, which is more then one can say about anything edible Starbucks dishes out. Finally, Dome's parent company possesses the inordinate wealth required to plonk down shop's in exceptionally primo real estate. Geraldton's branch was situated right on the beach, where we could watch the breakers thump in benath a sparkling blue sky.

I had a perfectly serviceable Greek salad....

And Lyn had some microwave-quality cannelloni. Well, you're always in dangerous territory with cannelloni, says I. They're not to be trusted, as Italian foodstuffs go.

We drove on to a nice little beach outside town, con lighthouse. It is the only steel British made lighthouse of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Thought you might care to know. The sigh on the beach warned of rip tides, man eating sharks, deadly jellyfish, and sea snakes, in case you might consider taking a little dip. Oh, Australia.

Geraldton has some big ass cargo ships comin' through. The guidebook said this is in fact one of the primary attractions for locals on weekends. Everybody turn out to see the big ass boat come in! Bring the little nippers! Well, okay, then.

The ride from then on back was through fairly featureless outback, punctuated by the occasional kangaroo corpse and unspeakably terrifying Road Train. Road trains, if you don't know, are pretty much exactly what they sound like. As we got within spitting distance of Perth, in the Swan River Valley, we discovered that it had got quite cold in our absence. It's always a bit of a cognitive dissonance thing when you're indisputably in Australia, yet still freezing your butt off. We entered the bizarrely American style suburbs, and were pretty much home free.


Another moment of cognitive dissonance for American tourists here. Australians, especially in WA, love freeways, suburbs, and big box megastores just as much as we do, and construct them in pretty much the same way and in the same locations. This leads you to moments of dozing off in the car or whatever, looking out the window and thinking, "Oh, San Jose! There's the Ikea!" then being confronted by a dead kangaroo or a roundabout or someone in an unspeakable school uniform to jar you back to your senses. It's weird, is what I'm saying.

For dinner, Mike had thoughtfully picked up some uber-delicious Aussie lamb chops. He served this with an equally delicious mustard-shallot-honey sauce, which I need to have the recipe for post haste. I hope you're reading this, Mike.

And we had some asparagus wrapped in CUSTOM MADE bacon. Yum.

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