Summer in Ellwood

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We’ve been following summer around the world for five years, and I enjoy summer in every locality. Now that we’ve been in Melbourne for a week, I’m getting a sense of what summer is like right here. Our neighborhood is Ellwood, a close-in suburb of Melbourne. For Chicagoans, it’s like living in Evanston near the lake. I can walk to the beach in ten minutes, while ten minutes the other direction takes me to the tram or the train into the city center.

The city influence means there is a good bakery just blocks away despite our street being a leafy residential zone. The cafe right at the beach does good business all day long. I see all kinds of people there, moms and small children, older couples having lunch, individuals reading on their phones. There are always at least a few people on the beach, and on the hot, hot Saturday there must have been 300 people there.

I take different routes to and from the beach, watching the construction of new houses and renovations of older ones. There seems to be a tendency to build ever higher walls along the street. I see the upper fringe of detail on a house and am unable to take a photo that does it justice because of a brick or concrete wall that covers most of the facade. Duplexes are quite common here, and halves of houses are bought and sold independently. With high walls proliferating, the best picture I have of a traditional duplex shows that sometimes one owner is more diligent at upkeep than another. Many neighborhoods of Melbourne hold lovely old houses in a variety of styles. There’s a “Southwest style” house, others with elaborate  exterior trim or fencing, and even a few Art Deco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many older houses have lovely beveled glass windows. Our front door has some. I saw a creative newspaper box on my walk, too.

Occasionally, though, duplex life produces some pretty uncomfortable architecture. The most extreme I’ve seen is a traditional house on one side, single story with a low peaked roof, with a two-story contemporary on the other half. Possibly the only original part of the newer half is the connecting wall between them. The two houses below really share a center wall.

There are lots of apartment buildings throughout Ellwood, but most are no more than two stories tall and fit into the neighborhood easily. In this way the area holds enough population to support urban services like public transportation. Melbourne’s system is easy to use, one card for bus, tram, and train.

My walk generated a moment of nostalgia when I saw a four-drawer file cabinet on the sidewalk with a couple of other items marked “free.” About 40 years ago, Jonathan rescued a similar cabinet from the sidewalk in Manhattan. It moved around the country with him. I met up with it when we got married and lived in Denver, and from there we went to Santa Fe and Chicago. We finally donated our file cabinet to Goodwill when we downsized. I hope the cabinet on the sidewalk in Ellwood gets as good a run as ours did.

One of life’s pleasures is feeling like you belong somewhere and however fleeting, I feel this way about Ellwood. I could live here happily, even though we’ll be moving on at the end of the month. Something about the settled neighborhood, the weekly market at the school at the end of the block, access to other areas of the city, and friendly neighbors makes it feel like it could realistically be home. It’s a very warm feeling that I enjoy every day.

Out of the Frying Pan….

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We left Hobart under a cloud of cold smoke, with the temperature around 60°. We arrived in Melbourne in similar weather but without the smoke. The coming days are forecast to be in the 90°s. Rolling blackouts in Melbourne last week ended with a lot of finger-pointing. I’m waiting to see what happens during our stay. Will the AC work? Will there be blackouts?

After a month in farmland, Melbourne looms as a gigantic city full of contemporary architecture. I feel like the country mouse newly arrived in the city.

Sure enough, the day after we arrived was a scorcher, and it was even hotter on Sunday. The beach was packed both days, and I didn’t go until late in the afternoon to avoid the worst of the heat (over 100°).We braved the heat in the morning when we found out that the route of the Melbourne Midsumma Pride March was relatively near us. The parade was a wholly upbeat event, mostly people with rainbow umbrellas and enthusiasm, many friends and family of LGBTQIA marching and watching. There were a few people dressed in fabulous outfits, and a few barely dressed. The mood was celebration rather than hookup, and we enjoyed it all. Why go to a pride parade? General support for the idea that people can be whoever they decide they are, and the possibility of seeing something fun and a little outrageous. We did well on both counts.

Good to Know About Tasmania

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We always learn as we go, and Tasmania was no exception.

Airbnb: Our Airbnb in Tea Tree was different. We enjoyed the view out over a vineyard, but it was a bit more rustic than we like. I didn’t mind the geese, but we did have to watch our steps.

Car: We rented a Kia Rio through Budget and though we had no problems, the car was underpowered. It’s a good thing there aren’t any real mountain passes in Tasmania.

Cost of Living: A recent TV report put Tasmania as the fourth most active economy of the Australian states. Tourism is climbing and the cost of housing is not falling as it is elsewhere in Australia. Food costs are comparable to Chicago and food purchased at a farmer’s market usually costs more than the grocery store. Most of the seafood that is consumed is farmed locally. Fresh oysters, shrimp, lobster, and salmon are available and delicious. We found few other choices and almost no whole fresh fish. Having lived in Peru for a while, we are used to looking at the eyes and gills of a fish to asses freshness–you can’t do that with a plastic wrapped fillet.

National Parks: Every state in Australia make their own rules for National Parks, so you can’t buy a pass to use all around Australia. If you are staying in the Hobart area for a few weeks, you can purchase a $40 month long pass and use it to visit three beautiful places, Fortescue Bay in Tasman National Park; Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park; and Mount Field National Park. Though each of these parks merits a longer visit they can be reached by car as a day trip from Hobart. Individually, they cost $24 per car (up to 8 passengers), thus the month long pass is economical.

In the summer, these parks are very popular. The road in to Fortescue Bay is 14 km of bumpy dirt. There is a sign 2 km in letting visitors know if there are already no vacant campsites, so that visitors don’t bump all the way in just to find out there is no space to stay overnight. When we arrived, the ranger asked us why we weren’t staying for five days! She really likes it there. We met two couples who had just emerged from a hike they called both short and family friendly, the new Three Capes trail–a four day three night hike. (Australians are outdoorsy.)

People: Everyone has been friendly and helpful. We’ve chatted with people who have visited many places in the US, though mostly California. I’ve been promoting Chicago as a tourist destination–just not in the winter.

Phone: We bought Optus SIM cards and service that costs between $20 and $30 per month per phone. This plan has worked well and we had enough data to find directions and look up random facts all month. We’ll keep these the entire six months of our visit.

Weather: I cannot recall any place we’ve visited where the weather changed so dramatically from one day to the next. Several times the temperature has soared to well over 90°, and the next day the high has been closer to 60°. Occasionally it’s been even more extreme. We have clothing for all weathers, and have used it all in a single week. It takes some getting used to.

Wine: We learned a lot about Tasmanian wines by visiting the “cellar door” at wineries and tasting wine, lots of tasty whites and pinot noirs. Most tastings cost $5, waived if you purchase a bottle. We found that few producers export wine beyond the Australian mainland, though they can ship cases of wine to the US. Tasmanian wine is not produced on a massive scale yet, and a number of wineries don’t own their own wine-making equipment. Frogmore Creek Vineyards makes wine for several labels. Inexpensive wine comes from Australia. Most Tasmanian wine starts at about $20 (AU) per bottle. Not expensive, but there is no Two Buck Chuck.

High Noon Birdwatching Society, Tasman Division

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We knew the birds would be different in Australia, but we didn’t realize how quickly we would see them. On one of our first afternoons in Tasmania, driving home across dry, sandy colored farmland, we swerved to a halt to see a flock of cockatoos! If you haven’t been to Australia you will never see this because cockatoos are really big and even zoos usually have two or maybe four of these birds. To see eight or a dozen big white birds land in the branches of a tree, pop up their yellow topknots, and start squawking causes us childish delight. Look! We can see them! It’s just like the pictures!

One day we saw a flock of around 100 cockatoos swirling over our heads. It was amazing. The specks are cockatoos, and this photo is by Jonathan.

We carry our binoculars everywhere because you never know what you will see. While making a U-turn,  a frequent activity of ours, Jonathan spotting something moving and we pulled over and got a look. It was a Superb Fairy Wren. What a name! What a bird! Who wouldn’t want one of these in the yard? It turns out that these lovely little birds are not uncommon in Tasmania, it’s seeing one for the first time that is such a treat.

We’ve seen other delightful and interesting birds, including native hens (a bit like the gallinules of New Zealand), hawks, and falcons, but the birds with bright colors are the ones that amaze me most.

[As usual, most of my bird photos come from the internet. Thanks, internet! If you’d like to see fabulous bird photos look on Instagram at awbirder for the photos of professional bird guide Andy Walker.]

Tasmania high and low (temperature)

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I started to summarize our month in Tasmania and couldn’t remember anything but this week’s weather. One day the temperature is in the 90s, the next day the high 60s, changing more than 30° (F.) in twelve hours. Yesterday, I swam in the ocean, today’s forecast is 54° with smoke. Yo-yo temperatures and huge fires have distracted us. We check the internet often to make sure a fire alert hasn’t been issued for our area, only to find that we are miles from the nearest fire despite the smoke.

Forest fires have been been burning the entire month but the smoke has only become a statewide issue in the last few days. We are fortunate that it is just an inconvenience for us. More than 300 people in towns south of Hobart have been evacuated for several days, living in a local gymnasium. We are on our way to Melbourne shortly, where it will still be hot, though perhaps not as smoky.

In Tasmania we focused on nature, walking miles of beaches, admiring the changing landscape and marveling at the features that are similar to other places we’ve been. There are steep rocky hills, towering forests, dry rolling hills, and beaches one Australian we met called “Caribbean without palm trees.”

Though we stuck close to nature in Tasmania, we took in some entertaining and quirky places. Our evening of heavily revised Shakespeare at the Pooley Winery was one highlight,

The Spiky Bridge, outside Swansea, and the Tessellated Pavement, on the Tasman Peninsula are other interesting places we visited. Some of them come from the website Atlas Obscura. It’s a way to look up curiosities near where you happen to be. You can join and add sites you find, too.   https://www.atlasobscura.com/. The Tesselated Pavement is a geological feature, even though it looks like flooring or paving squares.

Fossil Cove held layers of fossil imprints.

Our month here was delightful. No wonder Tasmania is Australia’s favorite vacation spot.

Hot Day in Hot Country

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More than fifty fires are burning in Tasmania. With the forecast for temperatures in the mid-90s on Friday, we decided to go to the east coast. It was a sunny morning, but when we opened the door of our house to load the car, we were shocked to find the breeze was already hot as midday in Tucson. The fire danger is high in our region north of Hobart though there were no fires burning near us. As we drove north and east, a red-edged smoky cloud filled our rearview mirror. We outran the cloud somewhere northeast of Campbelltown.

Friday, 100°

We made it to Binalong Beach, the southern end of the Bay of Fires, named after rocks that can appear flame-red in the setting sun–no burning involved. The beach is postcard perfect blue-green water. Waves crash against soft white sand. The outdoor temperature was over 100° at that point. Our sunglasses weren’t enough to keep us from squinting. We retreated to eat lunch indoors at Lichen, a very good restaurant overlooking the beach. We took our time in the heat but eventually had to leave and decided to go for a swim.

The white sand of Binalong Beach doesn’t get scorching hot the way darker sand does, and we scuffed through the sand in the blinding sun and superheated air until we had to get wet or shrivel up and blow away. The water was cool and refreshing, though the  return walk to the car dried us thoroughly. Jonathan had double-checked to make sure we had an air-conditioned motel room, and it was a good thing, as initially we seem to have booked a room with broken AC. That being fixed in advance, we had a smooth arrival at Blue Seas Holiday Villas in Scamander. A week ago, we thought we’d go to Launceston for the weekend and found there were no rooms. It was MONA-FOMA, a massive art and music festival. We postponed our trip and opted for the east coast this weekend, not realizing that THIS weekend includes Australia Day, a major holiday, but we prevailed. The hotel was fine and the manager gave us good advice on where to eat, Fearless Freddie’s Cafe.

It was a good day to be on the road, at the beach, in air conditioned restaurants, and air conditioned motel rooms. The air was hot, the breeze was hot, everything we touched was hot. We have been in weather as hot as this in the US southwest, when the temperature edged up over 100 while we were doing archaeological field work. It’s still a pretty rare condition for us, though it sounds like we may experience more days like this during our coming month in Melbourne. Tasmania isn’t usually like this. It’s where mainlanders come to escape the heat–usually.

As peculiar as any aspect of our day in the fiery furnace was how quickly it ended. On  islands the weather can change rapidly, but I’ve never felt the changes like Tasmania. With temperatures over 100 on Friday afternoon, the wind picked up, a front blew through, and Saturday was completely changed, with temperatures in the high 70s-lower 80s. I was the casualty of this change, with a bad headache most of the morning from the change in pressure. We spent the cooler day visiting spots along the shore between Scamander and Swansea, including a visit onto the Freycinet peninsula.

Saturday, 78°

Sat. 6 pm. 65°

We didn’t make the walk to Wineglass Bay, 90 minutes each way up and down between the hills in this photo. “Everyone” goes to see Wineglass Bay, but there are many gorgeous beaches that don’t require such a hike. Even on one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year, beaches were uncrowded.

Late Saturday afternoon we arrived in Swansea. The day had cooled even further, the wind was up, and I was back in my hoodie and rain jacket to stay warm enough to take a walk along the shore. The cool spell was as brief as other weather phenomena and Sunday dawned bright and beautiful.

On on way back to Tea Tree on Sunday we stopped at   Bolton’s Beach for a last dip, where we had only a couple of surfers for company. There are houses and a campground nearby, and it was glorious weather, yet we were the only people on the beach. We went home happy.

Crepuscular Marsupials = kangaroos

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Crepuscular: Active at twilight or before sunrise.

We started our day late, arriving at the Bonarong Wildlife Sanctuary when the day was already hot. Failing to learn the lesson of our visit to the albatross sanctuary on a similarly bright day, we entered to find that most of the animals are not very happy when it’s hot outside. The many Forester kangaroos that have the run of the place sprawled on the ground. Most couldn’t be bothered to approach the visitors eagerly holding out handfuls of kangaroo food that each person is given on entering. We saw a couple of kangaroos licking crumbs of oatmeal and kangaroo chow (?) off the ground from a largely prone position. It was pretty funny.

The listless kangaroos were a harbinger of what all the other animals were up to, resting in the shade. That meant that we couldn’t see the wombat, or any quolls–they were all deep in their burrows or clumps of tall grass avoiding the sun. We did see echidnas and a variety of birds. The koala was very cooperative because all they ever do is sit on a tree branch. We saw a Tasmanian devil. They look like little chubby puppies apart from their prominent toothy mouth.

We made the best of our visit, and even spotted a new bird, the noisy miner. Following the intelligent lead of the animals, we lay low for the rest of the very warm afternoon, catching up on writing. It turns out there are many different hopping pouched animals, including tree kangaroos, rat kangaroos, wallabies, quokkas, pademelons, wallaroos, euros, potoroos, and bettongs. I had never heard of most of these.

We ate dinner on the deck, looking across the valley, where two nights ago Jonathan spotted a flock of cockatoos roosting in trees at the far end of the valley. We decided that if they came again we’d try to find them. They were out again, almost 50 big white birds clustered on four or five trees. It was 8:30 pm, the sun was about to set, but there was still time to drive a mile. We turned off the highway onto a dirt road that wound into the hills toward the stand of trees covered with cockatoos. As we worked our way along, it became apparent that the trees were not accessible by road. We continued, hoping the road would turn again, when we were distracted by three wallabies hopping across the road. One stopped long enough for me to get its photo.

We moved on slowly to avoid spooking the animals, which is impossible. The reason there are so many dead wallabies and kangaroos by the roadside is because their instinct is to jump, which puts them in the middle of the highway on the first leap, often too late to take another. We kept going because we kept seeing wallabies. The road curved upward and we looked across fields full of wallabies. Our photos are “hidden pictures”. Find the six or seven wallabies staring at us.We never did find the trees full of cockatoos, but we saw fifty wallabies, maybe more. We got so good at recognizing wallabies that we knew we’d spotted something different on our way home. A bit of research showed we saw a pair of pademelons, a smaller pouched marsupial. We wondered whether these “crepuscular marsupials” settle down when it is really dark. Is all the roadkill a phenomenon of the hour after sunset and before sunrise? The wallabies we saw are safely tucked away in a sparsely populated rural area, but every time we go out in the car we see the remains of others. Evening speed limits don’t seem to help.

Pademelon; Bennett’s (Red-necked) Wallaby; Forester (Eastern Gray) Kangaroo

 

Vineyard Breezes

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This month our home is a small vineyard outside Hobart, Tasmania. Though the property itself is only a few hectares, it is surrounded by hills of grazing land and it feels like we are in the center of a huge farm. Our house is the only dwelling, the owners live elsewhere. The owner and her two workers come and go, and a couple of repurposed shipping containers are the farm outbuildings. It is a small operation.

For me, this is the best of farm life, the beauty and the comfort of country routines like opening and closing the gate, watching the ducks, geese, sheep, cattle, horses, yet without any of the chores. Across the fence is the water for the geese and ducks. They drift over to the water, then out among the vines to nibble, then back again, all day long. Ten short “baby doll” sheep spend some days browsing among the vines. They are intended to keep the grass down between the rows, though we do see them chewing the vines. I don’t have to feed or water any of the animals, and when the geese all escaped and began browsing along the road, I didn’t have to round them up, put them back in their pen and fix the gap in the fence.

I lean on the gate while Jonathan chats with our host and one of her workmen. The breeze is cool and comfortable and I soak up the sun and the gentle swish of the wind. When we return from our trip to the beach, I hang the laundry out to dry on a rotating clothesline like we used when I was a kid. The scene takes me back to those days, helping my mom hang clothes on the line, and the delicious smell of sheets dried outdoors. Firewood sits in a heap on one side of the yard. I don’t need to think about starting a fire because it is the middle of summer; the pile shelters a family of bunnies that run in and out.

I walked to the top of the hill beyond us one afternoon, following the fenceline past the cattle. Looking over the hill, then back on our house, I see other small farms with their flocks of sheep, horses, and a pasture holding a single ostrich. The stillness and permanence of the landscape in the fading sunlight impresses me with the vastness of the land next to one person. That unchanging presence of the land compared to my tiny being makes me want to see what is just beyond the horizon. There I am in a nutshell. I’ve always wanted to see what’s just around the corner, the next bend in the shoreline, over the next hill, and I always will. The illusion that I am alone meditating on life in a great still silence lasts until the next car passes, and the train pulling its daily load of timber chugs by. I head for home.

The View from Mt. Wellington

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What a week! We visited beaches as beautiful as you can imagine, saw wallabies jumping across a rural road, parrots only found in Tasmania, and flocks of cockatoos landing in the trees! We ended the week with a visit to the Sunday farmer’s market in Hobart–Tasmania has excellent celery, among other things. Then a stop at the flea market at the Hobart Showgrounds, and it was barely noon. We decided to head to the top of Mt. Wellington, and as promised, the view was stunning.We used our visit as a giant atlas, reviewing some of the places we’ve been and spotting new ones. Southeast Tasmania around Hobart has a very long coastline because of the many peninsulas. Each one provides is laced with walking trails, beaches, and vantage points. We are going to visit as much of the coast as we can.

Sunday Farmer’s Market, Hobart: This is also called the Farm Gate market, or Bathurst market, as it’s on Bathurst St. between Elizabeth and Murray Sts. Not large, but with  produce, cheese, meat, and baked goods that are really excellent. One stand had a long line the entire time we were there. They make donuts with exotic cream fillings (e.g. saffron ginger). Another stand makes really delicious cinnamon rolls and croissants. There are no bargains here, it’s all top quality at a corresponding price. We parked in a nearby parking structure–first two hours free!

Flea Market, Hobart Show Grounds: This is a large spread of vendors. There’s lots to look at both indoors and out. Outdoor vendors were thinking about packing up early on the day we visited because the sun was so hot! No admission or parking fee.

About Mt. Wellington: This all-ages destination has a road to the very summit, free parking, paths (with stairs) to different viewing spots, and fabulous views. It is up to 10° (C) cooler than Hobart, so take a sweater, even on a sunny day.

MONA: The Museum of Old and New Art

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MONA is a new phenomenon just outside Hobart, a huge museum meandering up and down over three floors built into the side of a hill. Visitors arrive via ferry from the city, getting a great view of the Derwent River and the MONA facade as they arrive. Drivers walk down a path beside a band shell and lawn, past a barbecue restaurant and bar, the entrance to the Moorilla winery that is part of the property, and if they’re not lost yet, descend a zig-zag set of stairs and ramps to arrive at the front door of the museum. Clad in mirror-finish brass, it’s a bit disorienting, but that seems to be the point.

I started our visit by sitting on a stool held up by a gloved “Mickey Mouse” hand.

We rambled along the suggested route, from the lowest level upward, then took a break to go off-site for a picnic lunch break. Tickets are good for multiple entries on a single day, and no one paid much attention to our in and out. Musicians were playing in the band shell from around noon until after we left. We didn’t like the music much, but it was entertainment, and people were sitting on the lawn listening.

I enjoyed the moments of participation. We arrived in one room during the period when visitors are allowed to add to a pile of broken glass piled against a section of white wall within the dark room. If you hit the wall with the bottle given to you, a bright light goes off.

Another installation is a recreated studio of Vermeer with a discussion of whether artists of his period used lenses to project images to enhance the accuracy of their painting. I sat before a blank page with an inverted image pasted on the wall and a lens angled in such a way that I could draw the image on the blank page as if I was tracing it. I did a pretty good job if I do say so.

An ingenious piece emits water droplets in patterns that create words out of the falling water. I listened to an interview with the artist who revealed that as soon as he presented his piece he was besieged with requests to use it for advertising. He refused, and someone promptly worked out how he did it, creating a similar device to be used for advertising. It is already in use, with the artist gaining neither credit or money for it.

There was one piece that impressed me as a work of art and a commentary on life and art. This machine was created by Jean Tinguely  (1925-1991) as a commentary on the machine age as it runs constantly and does nothing but wear down. The intent was that eventually it would destroy itself. It was created long before Steampunk–I consider Tinguely the grandfather of Steampunk. Watch a very short video of the contraption working:

Jean Tinguely metamechanics sculpture at MONA

Outdoors was a life-size sculpture of a semi trailer carrying a cement mixer. The strange difference was the fact the entire piece was created from gothic style arches cut into steel.

Whether or not visitors like the art is beside the point. MONA provides all visitors with an “O” device that works easily and well, providing text about all the pieces. Press the button and O reveals what is nearest to you, click on the photo to read a basic description, then on other icons for more extensive comments. Sometimes there is a music or video link, though these are underutilized. The device was an excellent way for the museum to avoid labels and allows them to move things around at any time. The device elicits a “love”, “hate” reaction to each piece, and allows viewers to comment. I liked it better than an audio guide.

With the O device in hand, a visitor could easily spend many hours viewing and commenting on the pieces. But why? The pieces are sometimes boring, like the white table filled with random bits, or the Porsche covered with fiberglass, aka, the “Fat Car.”

Later, I looked at the MONA web page that shows some of the items in the collection. Most of them were items that I did not see during our visit. It looks like they do rotate material frequently. The web page doesn’t exactly keep up. That is probably intentional. MONA intends to do everything differently, for good or bad. Museum staff are numerous, friendly, and helpful. For example, they ask you not to take in water bottles, and provide water at all the bars/restaurants. There are many opportunities to purchase food and drink, souvenirs or “enhanced visits.” I opted not pay extra to go inside the white sphere. For another opinion of MONA, here is Jonathan’s review of MONA from TripAdvisor:

MONA is a difficult institution to review.  Is it a museum, as implied by the name?  Not really.  It is mostly a money-making entertainment venue.  The next big question is: is it art?  Well, kind of.  It is a bizarre collection made by the wealthy owner with no real focus except “sex and death”.  Much of it seems deliberately designed to shock or stymy the visitor and it does succeed at both of those.  Does it inspire a greater understanding of anything?  Not that I can see.  We spent four hours wandering around the dark tunnels and “exhibit” spaces.  It’s hard to get really lost, but you do wind up backtracking a lot.  My wife and I were reminded of the Dali Theatre-Museum in Spain, where the visitor is invited to put aside traditional pathways and explore the Museum as you wish. The difference is that Dali was a creative genius and the curators of his museum do a stunning job of displaying Dali’s art (and related artists).  Mona on the other hand has depressingly little of creative genius and the curators do a particularly bad job of presenting mediocre fare.  Go, have a good time, but don’t expect to be enlightened.