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Unfortunately, we are still here– directly across the street from ear splitting music and 50,000 fans. Cally came down with some intestinal bug and now I am feeling ill. So, we bailed out of our journey down to the National Park. Cally spent the day in bed and I took care of her as best I could, considering all she wanted was a large bottle of coke. This afternoon I went down to see an exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the National Gallery. I was very impressed with both the buildings and the art.

Unfortunately, the music is going to be going on for another four hours and then it will be another hour at least before things are quiet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t decide to deconstruct the stage and all the metal fencing after the concert. This, too, shall pass.

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KoalaYesterday was Australia Day, the day that Governor Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales in 1788. There were plenty of festivities on hand here in Melbourne, of course, but we decided to take the suggestion of an Israeli guest and go see Hanging Rock. It is to the north of us, about an hour by car. I have a little Hyundai for the weekend, which seems like a toy compared to most of those built in the USA, but it was able to keep up at the speeds people drive here. Once we slipped out of the suburbs, the landscape began to resemble what I imagined Australia to be– vast tan expanses of tan dotted with pale green trees. The area of hanging rock itself seems like an oasis; it has lots of trees and some water, although the ‘lake” in the center of the racecourse is looking pretty sad. The rock itself is an ancient volcano.

The hike up is steep, even on the asphalt path we elected to take instead of the stairs. Stephanie bounded up the stairs, of course. Near the top, the asphalt disappears and you find yourself on the uneven footing of the rock itself, which has very strange crevices and fractures that Peter Weir captured so well in the movie– “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” The atmosphere at the crest is very disorienting and it is not hard to imagine a gaggle of schoolgirls getting turned around. We were all a little uncertain about directions at the summit. Fortunately, there were hordes of other visitors and we were in no danger of getting lost. On the way up we came across a koala bear in one of the Eucalyptus trees, munching away, trying to ignore the crowd of annoying creatures below.

When we returned to the College I decided to see if we could get a copy of the movie. I found it at Blockbuster, not too far away, and we had a wonderful evening with our Israeli friends watching the mesmerizing tale of Hanging Rock. I was astonished to discover that it is 32 years old now. The film holds up remarkably well. It is an exploration of an event that supposedly happened at the turn of the century– the disappearance of three school girls and a teacher on an outing to Hanging Rock. A novel came out in 1967 based on the “event”. Peter Weir took the novel as the basis for the film. It never really happened, but it does make a fascinating story, because Weir’s focus is on everyone’s reaction to the disappearance. Visually, it is just stunning.


Soon after Cally arrived there was a week long Buddhist gathering. Even though it was a busy week for us, I was able to sit in on one course taught by a follower of Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, whose followers ended up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That is a very long story, but I do feel like I am connected to it in some way. The morning was spent in meditation and arranging objects, a very interesting exercise akin to flower arranging. We were asked to bring some objects in that could represent heaven, earth and “the man principle.” We made teams of two, selected objects and arranged them on pieces of white paper, attempting to place them so that the man principle connected heaven and earth. Then our teacher went around the room examining the arrangement. He was unequivocal in his opinion that some arrangements worked while others didn’t. It was very interesting to see and hear the interaction with the participants. He warned us ahead of time that any of us who had the artist’s ego were likely to be upset by the exercise, because his function was not to massage egos.

I took charge of selecting “heaven,” picking out a small vase that seemed to be made of marble or some other heavy stone. My partner picked a piece of bark to represent earth. II chose a CD I received from Stephanie in my Christmas stocking as the man principle. The title is O Solo Mio. There is a photo of a Venetian boatman on the cover. We were very literal in our interpretation, as were most of the other workshop participants. When the leader perused our arrangement, the placement of objects was found wanting, and my parther, Helga, immediately moved heaven a few inches to the left, just above earth. Our leader nodded and moved on. I had placed heaven in a little hollow of the bark, but i could see immediately that Helga’s move was right. The puzzle is, I have no idea why.

Staying at University College has made many things much easier than they would otherwise have been– from finding a house to feeding ourselves. The staff are wonderful and many of the people we have encountered at mealtimes have been generous and interesting. Our chief cook is an Indian who spent many years in Italy. He used to have a restaurant in Rimini. He told me that the money was much better there, but the cultural mores were not what he wanted for his children. The Italians didn’t take education seriously enough for him, so he packed up and came to Australia for the sake of the children. He could not resist bragging about his daughter’s grade-point average. The food is the best I have every had in an institution.


Saturday morning early here, January 27. Our lives now seem to be driven by the dinner bell. We are in residence at a real college, and meals are available three times a day. It is astonishing how quickly one’s stomach takes over the brain when meals get regular and there is social interaction at every meal. I noticed that this summer when I attended a writer’s retreat/workshop in North Carolina at a place called Wildacres. It is summer here, so there are very few students around, but the apartments and even some of the rooms are leased to visiting professors who are doing summer programs or are on sabatical. At the moment, the college is hosting fifty or sixty pharmaceutical students who are attending a conference. They wear T shirts around with slogans about how their mothers told them not to do drugs, so now they sell them.

Shortly after Stephanie and I arrived people began trickling in for a course in Permaculture. I learned a little about it from the doyen of the program one afternoon at lunch. It seems to cover a number of different areas, includiing agriculture, hydrology, soil analysis, banking, law and political science. Permaculture people go into “developing” countries with some expertise in all these areas to set up environmentally friendly programs for the poorest people on the planet. Their motto seems to be identical to the physician’s– first, do no harm.


StephanieI am picking this up again after a hiatus of a few days. The construction work on the road is over, but University College had its own construction project in the works that began in earnest the day before yesterday. They are adding an entire wing to the main building, which will join the ends of both wings, turning the rose garden into an enclosure. This will take a good part of a year to complete. Right now we are living adjacent to the action. It is nearly noon now. Stephanie crawled from her bed into ours around eight this morning, since her bedroom is even noisy than ours. She’s sleeping peacefully now, even through the peircing punctuation of the backup alarms and the rattle of the treads on the giant earthmoving equipment. Amazing. Across the road, Princes Park now resembles a medieval city, complete with moat (chain link fencing) and giant white tents that resemble canvas castles. This tent city has been constructed for the Big Day Out, which we will now miss because I have booked us into a cottage on Sunday night about three hours south of here. We’ll be staying near Wilson’s Promontory, a National Park that is reputed to be beautiful. We should have some peace and quiet for at least one night before we move. I’m renting a car for this excursion, but we have some money down on a Subaru Forester. So, we are ready for the Outback.


The wings that brought us here were made of steel, but the fuel that drove the engines came from the decomposed remains of plants and animals millions of years old. I dreaded the long flight, since it followed on the heels of a long drive from Gainesville, Florida to Nova Scotia, then two flights from Halifax that took us to San Francisco. The flight from DC to San Francisco seemed particularly long. Fortunately, my son, Dolan was there to meet us and we were able to spend two days doting on my grandson, Lucas Alexander.

We boarded the flight about 11 PM, and finally took off an hour later. I was well prepared, with a very long novel by William Boyd called “Any Human Heart” and several books on an MP3 player. The one I listened to on the way over was called “Holy Cow!” I hadn’t really taken notice when I downloaded it that the author was a woman journalist from Melbourne. It was a fascinating account of a year she spent in India. It was a trip she made for love. The first time she went through India she hated it, but her boyfriend (soon to become her fiancee) was stationed in New Delhi as a reporter in the region. Thanks to Dolan, I had an excellent set of noise reduction headphones that helped reduce the engine throb considerably. In addition to what I had with me, Quantas was pretty generous with it’s media selection. I watched most of “The Illusionist” and an intense Aussie psychological thriller called “The Last Train to Freo.” Stephanie and I slept and watched movies and time passed remarkably quickly. Even eighteen hours.

We landed in Sydney and changed planes for Melbourne without having to go through customs or immigration. I was very grateful for that, since it meant we didn’t have to manhandle our luggage twice. Fortunately, we were met at the airport by a hired driver who brought us to where we are staying now– at University College, one of eleven colleges on the campus at the University of Melbourne. Cally has stayed here before, and thought it would be a good transitional home for us. We have an apartment to ourselves with a kitchen, but all three meals are available in the dining hall. These apartments are generally used by visiting professors. Since Cally is an incoming professor, it was considered appropriate. Until last night, we were very comfortable here. That is when the road work began.

The road work, which started just as we were going to bed and apparently went on all night, was on Cemetery Road, which is just across from the gravel parking lot directly outside our window. We are situated at the top of the University campus, at the very bottom of a large, irregular oval favored by runners and soccer players and dog owners–Princes Park. This coming weekend the park is going to be the site of one of the largest musical events in the country– The Big Day Out. That seems to be the reason they are repairing the road. Lucky us. Rumor has it that ticket prices are somewhere around $100 Australian. I have no doubt that we are going to be able to hear if for free. Unless we make a break for it.

So far, our excursions have been limited. Stephanie and I went to the zoo, which is walking distance from where we are staying. Stephanie has been to St. Kilda beach (twice), and we have been out to an animal preserve about an hour from here called Healesville Sanctuary. It was not much different from the zoo, really, but all the animals there are from Australia and the setting is pretty. It is located in a hilly region to the Southwest of Melbourne called the Dandenongs. The area was formed by volcanic activity, originally, but it looks very tame and mellow now. There are some excellent vineyards in the area that we are planning to explore later.

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