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Despite the taboo against bringing foreign pests into Australia, I managed to get a nasty one past the sniffer dog.  It was a cold virus, and it seemed determined to hang on as long as possible.  I was into my second round of antibiotics when it struck me that this was never going away.  I simply had to get out of the house and stop letting it have the upper hand.

For a couple of weeks, I had been considering an invitation to join a group of cyclists intent on doing the High Country and Myrtleford Trails. Tempted but not committed, I booked a couple of cottages.  I would wait until the last minute to see if I would be well enough to do it.  My wife was not encouraging.   VICHPV rides are not  fast, but they can be long and taxing.  I finally decided that if my body wasn’t ready,  I could always hang out in the caravan park and read a book, swim or something.   At least it would be a change of scene.

The idea was to ride most of the length of two rail trails, both located in Victoria pretty much due north of Melbourne.  The High Country Trail begins 300 kms from here in the town of Wondonga (on the border with New South Wales along  the Murray River).  Its sister town across the river in NSW is called Albury.  The trail traverses farmland and forest and skirts a man-made lake called Lake Hume.  It is supposed to end at the town of Old Tallangatta, about 55 kms away.  There is the minor issue of a missing bridge.

Robert W. has been organizing rides for VICHPV (Victoria human powered vehicles– recumbent two wheelers and trikes) for awhile now.  He has recently taken on organizing some over 50’s rides for Bicycle Victoria.  For the week away, he extended an open invitation to both groups.  The Labour Day holiday provided for a long weekend, at least.

A group of seven assembled in Wodonga in the caravan park at the civilized hour of 10 AM, then rode several kilometers across town.  It would prove to be a long day.  A short section through the woods was lovely, but later, the trail deteriorated into something approaching a landslide.  We saw no one else on the trail and it was not hard to figure out why.  It was barely suitable for mountain bikes.  On a 60 km ride in the hot sun, riding on scree is not fun.  We came back along the highway.

Fortunately for the group, there was a good place to dine within walking distance of the Caravan Park.  With a little imagination, you can fool yourself into believing that you have worked off enough calories to eat just about anything.  The wine and beer nudged our tongues loose, and our evenings at the restaurant got longer and longer.

The next day another couple of riders joined the group.  This time we drove to our starting point, just the other side of Sandy Creek.  Our destination was Old Talangatta, a town that had been partially dismantled and moved in order to flood the valley. We biked across a bridge that is was still in place and there was water below in the Mitta River, but with the drought, Lake Hume itself is receding, almost disappearing.

A highlight stop on the return to Wodonga was a visit to Bonegilla Migrant Camp, Block 19, a heritage site.  Over 300,000 European migrants passed through this place between 1947 and 1971.  Conditions were pretty primitive, according to John, a Dutch-born volunteer guide who told us about his family’s stay in the camp.  Fortunately, his father knew how to milk cows, so the family was able to move after only six weeks in the camp.  They had mutton for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  No heat in winter and no fans in summer.  In the sixties, some Italian migrants got so frustrated they tried to burn down the place.

On Labour Day, the over 50’s couples returned to Melbourne to work.  The rest of us drove to Myrtleford, our home base for the Murray to the Mountains trail.  It is the best known (and maintained) rail trail in Victoria.  Most of its surface is covered with bitumen (pavement) and it rolls through some lovely country.  Michael had already suffered so many flats on the other trail that he had replaced both tires with Armadillos, tires that looked virtually impervious to punctures.

In the morning, Roger and I discovered flats before we started riding.  After fixing mine, I discovered that I had bunged up my derailleur.  This required a trip to the bike shop.  Fortunately, it was across the street from a very good, Italian coffee shop.  Almost as soon as got underway again, I picked up a thorn in the same tire.  I didn’t want to change it, so I nursed the slow leak by pumping up my rear tire every twenty minutes or so.  Right before our destination, Michael got two more punctures in his Armadillos.  It was another long day.  The evening made up for it with socializing, beer, wine and food.

During the Warm many Italian prisoners of war were off-loaded in Mytleford as there was a P.O.W. camp nearby.  They were used as forced farm labour.  After the war, some came back into the area as immigrants and brought their families.   They started farms, wineries and other businesses in the area.

Our last day was dedicated to a short,gradual uphill ride from Everton to Beechworth.  I had done this before with my wife on the tandem.  Despite the fact that it is all uphill (in one direction, anyway) it is one of my favourite rides.  Much of it through woods. It was spitting rain when we got to the top.  Curiously, we were met by one of our regular trike riders, who had come from Melbourne the previous night and ridden the trail before we were done eating breakfast.

While we lunched at Beechworth’s famous bakery, the rain began in earnest.  Our lightweight rain gear was not going to do it in this downpour.  Roger and I headed for an “op shop” (a second-hand charity clothing place) in search of rain gear.  The owner took one look at me and said:  “Dearie, I haven’t seen this kinda rain in five months.”  Luckily, I found a plastic poncho at a chemist (drug store.)

It was a short, wet ride downhill to Everton and a long drive home.  And a good week.  Thanks to Robert and Jana, Roger and Michael, the rest of my fellow cyclists,  two bike shops and my trusty recumbent.  The cold is gone.  Miracolo. My recipe for getting rid of a bad bug and bronchitis– take a week off, go cycling under a blistering sun between the hours of 10 and 4 PM.  Use plenty of sunscreen.  Eat large amounts of fried food for dinner and wash it down with lots of beer, wine, or both.  Let me know how it goes.

Check back in a week or so for a post about the trains that led to these trails.

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My regular readers (and I like to think of you as regular readers) may be feeling deprived of new material.  The problem is that I have been too busy doing things to actually sit down and write.  I fantasize about a contingent of readers waiting for the new post to land on the electronic version of a doorstep. When I don’t generate some  thick word work within a respectable interval, I feel anxious, guilty even.  For no good reason I can think of.  I was being virtuous, in fact, out getting healthy, cycling.

A group of us from Melbourne drove North, trying out two rail-trails.  More about that later.  Upon my return, I had a day to do laundry, placate my wife for all the household things left undone, then I took the tram down to St Kilda.  I had signed up for a writing workshop in an old mansion that had been donated to the city.  The weather and the house were  dark and gloomy, but the workshop was fascinating.  It was the first one I’ve done here.

The subject was–  The Journeying Self:  Travel and Identity.   If you know anything about my background, the attraction to this particular material should be evident.  I am a nomad.  I have been wrestling with it as a person and as a writer since I was twelve years old.  Part of a poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez captures it very well.

I am like a distracted child/Whom they drag by the hand/Through the fiesta of the world/My eyes cling sadly, to things… /And what misery when they tear me away from them!

Our teacher was a Malaysian writer by the name of Beth Yahp.  Despite her jet lag (she was just off the plane from her homeland) she took charge of the dozen of us who had chosen to join her and eased the magic carpet off the floor.  We landed for tea and coffee, for lunch and occasionally for intense workouts with the pen and paper.  Otherwise, we were flying.

We were on a carpet woven of words and ideas, propelled by readings and provocative questions.  Some were unanswerable; others generated so many answers that they soon became meaningless.  We were asked to look at the three dimensional world around us and fasten it to paper with words.  Nail it down by engaging the senses, the brain, or disengaging the brain so that the the hand can just write.

Sunday morning we became mute ethnographers, exploring the neighborhood and bringing it back, packed up inside as sights, sounds, noises, snatches of conversation, smells, tastes and touch.  We unpacked it all on paper, then listened to each other in amazement.  We learned to give our neighbours the benefit of the doubt, to offer criticism that would help, not hinder the fragile work in progress.  We learned to read aloud without apology.

We burrowed in, finally forcing ourselves to bring up something emotional, something that touched us, something true.   Before we went home after the long, exhausting and exhilarating weekend, we made an attempt to keep in touch.  That effort may bring some of those who were in the workshop to this blog.   I have tried to think of how a new reader might make sense of this blog.  Going backwards, I suppose, sampling posts based on categories or tags.  I got those two things mixed up in the beginning and have yet to go back and make corrections.   So, I’ll make it simple. Give my new explorers a few pointers that may help deciphering these scribblings.

I began this blog when we arrived in Melbourne in January, 2007.  My wife is a University professor and it was a job offer at the University of Melbourne that brought us here.   We moved here from Florida, but we have an old house in Nova Scotia, Canada.  We return there as often as possible.  In October of last year, we had an opportunity to go to Turin, Italy, for three and a half months.  It was a short-term teaching gig at a new University.  We have only recently returned.  We went to the house in Grand Pre, NS for Christmas with family in December.

My initial idea was to write about whatever I found strange in Australia, before it had worked itself into my psyche and become normal.  I like taking pictures, so I plugged them in as well.  Many more pics are available if you click on one.  It will take you to my Flickr account, red flier.  Lately, I’ve started thinking about trying to turn the good parts of this into the beginning of a book.   I would love to see a lot more of this fascinating country and write about it.  Getting an advance to do so would be absolutely fabulous.  Advances welcome.

Basta, as the Italians say.  Comments and suggestions are much appreciated.  Fire away!


It seems to be very hard to shake off the cold I acquired in Italy, but I’m working on it.  Fortunately, the memories will linger longer than the virus, and I still have a thousand photos to sort through.  A comment from one of the ice climbers  who was in Valnontey the day of the accident came in yesterday, taking me to task for my interpretation of events.  If I got it wrong, I apologize.  I did not mean to imply that any one was at fault for climbing when the weather was warming up.

From what little information I was able to find on the internet, I suspect ice climbers may find it difficult to get reliable, up-to-date  information about conditions in Cogne or elsewhere in Italy.  That, in itself, is dangerous.

There are three stories that caught my attention in Turin but never made it into this blog.  One was about pro- Mafia Facebook groups.  When it was discovered that more than 2,000 people had joined a group hailing Salvatore Riina, the so-called “boss of bosses”, Senator Gianpiero D’Alia, a member of the anti-Mafia commission called for a government investigation, saying:  “We can’t accept in virtual reality what we don’t accept in real reality.”  A new group (159,000 strong) calling itself “Mafia Off Facebook”  held a one-day Facebook blackout.  An on-line  petition was circulated to close Facebook in Italy.  That may have made Zuckerbeg sit up and take notice, but probably not the Mafia.

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Luca Marchio, a native of Como, decided that it would be a good time to visit Iraq, so he caught a bus from the Turkish border to Baghdad, then checked into the Coral Palace.  The hotel has not seen a casual Western visitor since the U.S. invasion.  Despite the manager’s  qualms about hosting the foreigner, he agreed to arrange a tour of the city for Luca for an extra $40.

The following day, Luca set off for Falluja on a public bus.  The police found him sitting next to a woman selling milk.  They contacted local journalists, the U.S. marines and the Italian Embassy.  Even though it was determined that Luca was not a risk to anyone but himself, he was put on a plane home.   He lived to  tell the tale. So much for the Darwin Awards.

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In 1987, a Korean immigrant named Yongman Kim opened a movie rental store in the East Village, New York City.  Begun as a sideline to his dry-cleaning business, the store quickly became a local institution.  Before long, Kim had staff traveling the world in search of obscure films that would eventually result in a one-of-a-kind collection of 55,000 videos and DVDs.  Then Netflix and the internet came along.

Last September, Kim issued a challenge, promising to donate the collection to anyone who would keep it intact, continue to update it and make is accessible to Kim’s members and others.  Offers poured in, but all failed the test one way or the other.  All except one.  A 42 year old Italian graphic designer was intrigued enough to pursue the dream.

What she had in mind was a town in Sicily that was going through a major upheaval.  Salemi’s efforts to reverse long-term neglect had led its citizens to invite prominent artists and intellectuals to take over the government.  An art critic was elected Mayor;  a prince was put in charge of town planning.   A provocative Italian photographer was appointed the town’s Alderman of Creativity. Houses were being offered up for one euro in exchange for promises to restore the buildings within two years.

A serendipitous meeting led Franca Pauli to come up with a proposal that looks like it will actually happen.  “It was almost like falling in love with this thing, and I was trying not to,” she said.  “We generally start projects from an idea, but then we have to calculate a budget and planning and timing and meetings….. This was the opposite.  It was all friends and phone calls and meeting people in a bar.”

What a great story.  So Italian.  I’m going to miss it.  Arrivederci, Italy.  Next stop, rail trails in Australia.

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