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New Year’s Day took us to Halifax airport, once again, for a flight to London. The wintry weather in Nova Scotia had cancelled a number of flights that week, so we considered ourselves lucky that our particular flight was still on the board when we arrived at the airport. Unfortunately, a two plus hour delay put us into the early hours of January 2. It was going to be a long day’s journey into the new year.


It has been only two years since our last stay in London during the dark months of winter, but my previous absence from the City had stretched to 43 long years, so I do have some catching up to do. My peripatetic professor spouse had found us a new place in Hampstead for this visit. Not quite as convenient as Kensington, perhaps, but far less congested with tourists and frenetic shoppers. Once again, we have been blessed with a charming flat, a good heating system, and a fine place for long walks. This time in the “lungs” of London, Hampstead Heath.


Despite our nomadic natures, it always seems to take forever to settle in. Yesterday, I finally had the feeling that we had made the transition at last to the new city in the new year. Imagine my surprise when I looked out the window this morning. Snow! It may have snowed on parts of London in 2011, but I’m fairly certain it didn’t snow in Kensington.




The enticement of Hampstead began with its mineral springs. Their alleged medicinal quality, combined with with the clean air from the heath, attracted Londoners north from the unhealthy, smoke-filled city. According to the Wikepedeans who make it their business to know such things, the word “chalybeate” is derived from the Latin word for steel, “chalybs” coming from the Greek word “khalups.” Chalybes were mythical people living on Mount Ida in north Asia Minor who invented iron working.


Early in the 17th century, chalybeate water was said to have health-giving properties and many people promoted its qualities. Dudley North, 3rd Baron North discovered the chalybeate spring at Tunbridge Wells in 1606. Dudley North’s physician claimed that the waters contained ‘vitriol’ and the waters of Tunbridge Wells could cure:

“the colic, the melancholy, and the vapours; it made the lean fat, the fat lean; it killed flat worms in the belly, loosened the clammy humours of the body, and dried the over-moist brain.”

He also apparently said, in verse:

“These waters youth in age renew
Strength to the weak and sickly add
Give the pale cheek a rosy hue
And cheerful spirits to the sad.”


Hampstead’s chalybeate springs were originally managed by trustees, but an attractive piece of land was leased to a man named John Duffield in 1701. Duffield laid out the amenities of a spa, along the southern side of a promenade, Well Walk. The chief building was the Great Room, for assemblies, with its east end partitioned off as a pump room, where a basin held the waters. Concerts and dances were advertised.


Soon afterwards there were a row of raffling shops for bets, a tavern, and Well Walk chapel. To the south were gardens, with an ornamental pond and a bowling green. Duffield’s enterprise allowed the world of fashion to combine the quests for health and pleasure. So successful was he that in 1705, the year of Beau Nash’s first visit to Bath, a comedy called Hampstead Heath was played at Drury Lane. London was shown as deserted in favour of Hampstead, where ‘the cards fly, the bowl runs, the dice rattle.’
The entertainments soon began to deteriorate, however, perhaps because rough crowds could easily make the journey from London. The music was interspersed with popular entertainments, including acrobatics and comic turns, and by 1709 there were complaints about swindlers and prostitutes.


Needless to say, the ebb and tide of Hampstead’s fortunes have changed considerably over three centuries. Fortunately, perhaps, it has not always been as prosperous as it is now. The village has been home to important writers and artists at various stages in their careers; some never became wealthy enough to live here in its current incarnation.


John Constable, John Keats, H.G. Wells, D.H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, Agatha Christie and Ian Flemming all called Hampstead home. John Harrison, the clockmaker who solved the seemingly intractable problem of longitude, and Laszlo Biro, the inventor of the ball-point pen are buried here.


We are in a little hamlet rich in history and the attractions of London are only a few tube stops away. We could hardly ask for more.


Appearances to the contrary, your author/photographer has not been in Australia for the last two months. He has been back at the old family house in Nova Scotia, Canada. I have written most of the posts about the central Australia adventure during our sojourn here. While I escaped the heat of an Australian summer, I have not been so lucky with the cold. Fall and winter in the Maritime provinces of Canada offer every kind of weather under the sun, warm and balmy one day, chilly the next, snow followed by rain followed by snow followed by freeing rain. It is the wind that matters most.


The night before last a storm came through from the Northeast that triggered a memory of the one day while we were living in Montreal when traffic actually came to a halt. It was called the storm of the century, but that was back in the nineties before the weather gods turned into terrorists. The city was over budget for snow removal, so they simply left in the streets until Monday morning. On that memorable Sunday, traffic came to a halt. We could have cross-country skied or snow-shooed to the city centre.

The doorbell rang and we looked at each other, astonished. It was our friend, Eric. He had skied from his home, a few kilometres to the west of us, up the mountain for which the city is named. He did a tour around the top and was stopping off for a visit on his way home. He put down a backpack and we heard a little yelp. It was his new Golden Retriever puppy, along for the ride. He popped his head out, ready to melt hearts.


A more recent memory of a vicious winter wind takes me to the Alpine region of Australia, in between Melbourne and Sydney. I will never forget heading out for a snow camping adventure in a blistering blizzard. I have written it up in this blog. It is another four parter, if memory serves me well.

“Even with goggles, I could barely see the person in front of me. When it looked like I might get left behind and disappear in the storm, the friend who roped me into this adventure suggested I lead the group for awhile. I promptly put my foot wrong, plunging my ski through a snow drift and into water. We had just crossed a bridge over a reservoir, and I had missed the path.”


The snowplow had not yet made an appearance and it was already past nine when we started out on our morning walk in a bellowing wind yesterday. It was a Sunday and the storm had arrived around midnight. Our daily walk here in Grand Pre usually takes us about forty-five minutes. We head out the door and turn left, usually, but it depends on the wind direction. If we have the time we’ll head up Mitchell Hill and down again, turn right at the Sangster property and head down to the dyke road. That leads us behind the Grand Pre Historic Site, with its recreation of a church dedicated to telling the story of the Acadian expulsion.


There are often a number of bald eagles perched in a towering line of trees extending out from the Park. A few of them take flight when we pass, either spooked by our presence or checking us out as possible snacks. They make a high-pitched chatter, sounding like smaller birds. Occasionally, we’ll flush a pheasant from the underbrush. They can fly right past you, making a heart-stopping racket.


After we cross Grand Pre Road we’re really out on the dyke land, fully exposed to the wind. When it comes from the Northeast, there is nothing to stop it but our bodies. Sometimes it does the psyche good to throw your body out there, get a sense of the elements that never quite reach you in the city the way they do here. To really see the bright winter stars, to shovel great buckets of snow, to feel frozen and grateful for the sacrificial geese whose feathers made your coat. That is what winter is all about.



Thanks to an abundance of sunshine  in the Valley and a longer stay than usual, it was difficult to tear ourselves away from Nova Scotia this year.  We had guests this summer, both friends and family, in greater numbers than other years. It was a challenge, but it gave us an appreciation for some aspects of life in Grand Pre that we may have started taking for granted.  The friends just up and down Old Post Road, the amiability of the local population, the wonderful fresh produce at the farm stands, and the amazing art.  We managed to squeeze in a vacation to Newfoundland and take several long swims across Lumsden Pond, but a couple of magical moments arrived right before we left.

The first came completely out of the blue.  One of my wife’s former colleagues at McGill University arrived in the area with his wife and sons in tow to attend his niece’s wedding.  Let me be the first to say that I am not, by nature, a wedding crasher. Neither is my wife.  But when we learned that the wedding would take place out on a spur of dyke land just outside Wolfville, and that the bride would be transported to that particular spot on a wooden boat that the groom had built, well, we just had to see it.

Our friends had invited us to share a feast at the lobster restaurant in Hall’s Harbour the night before the wedding.  We drove out there in a downpour.  The ferocity of the rain, which taxed the capability of the wipers and the patience of the back seat drivers, did not bode well for a late morning, outdoor ceremony the following day.

But the next day broke with a smile.  It was Saturday, the day of the farm market in Wolfville.  We had convinced ourselves that it would be gauche to crash the wedding, but when we drove into town and looked out over its little harbour, we could see the wooden dory just getting underway.  It was too good to miss.  We joined the throng of familly and friends in their fancy clothes and braved the muddy path.  They had chosen an idyllic spot for the ceremony. When the applause subsided, we slipped quietly away.

The Bay of Fundy is part of the Atlantic, a long inlet with the highest recorded tides on earth.  It is a large, mud bathtub that fills and empties twice every 24 hours, about twenty minutes later each day.  Geographers tell us that the amount of water that runs in and out is equivalent to all the water in all the rivers on the planet.  At low tide, one third of the bottom of the Bay is exposed to the sun.

We have a tide clock in the parlour which keeps reasonably good time.  I had promised my wife that we would go for a swim in the Bay before our departure for Durham.  On the very last day, in the middle of packing and putting away any number of things, local high tide arrived at noon.  It was 1 or 1:30 before we reached Hidden Beach, a stretch of rock and mud where  semipalmated sandpipers stop to feast on mud shrimp before taking off again for their long journey to South America.

These tiny birds come in the thousands from their summer habitat in the far north. They settle in the same spot for a couple of weeks and do nothing but eat, doubling their body weight in the process.  They are spectacular in flight, synchronizing with one another, flashing alternating colours as they bank and turn, low as bats over the surface of the water.  We try not to disturb them because this is their rest period before the long flight South.  Right now, their mud shrimp are covered with salt water, and the birds are biding their time.  A handful of fishermen nearby cast their lines.

We slip into the ocean, surprised by the buoyancy of the water after a summer of freshwater swims.  It is warmer than Atlantic water has any right to be, baked by the sun over the long summer.  It will get warmer still, but we have run out of time.  The tide rocks us, massaging the water against our skin.  Occasionally, a handful of sandpipers take flight, alarmed by some danger invisible to us. They are beautiful, flicking through the air with the grace of aerial ballerinas.

We float and swim and stare at the puffy clouds, not going anywhere.  We feel strangely comfortable, at home in in the bath of the Bay.  It is natural magic.  It is the kind of day you want to last forever.

I have taken a leave of absence from life in Melbourne, Australia and from the blog.  It seems like a good time to return to the writing, even though I won’t be back “down under” for half a year.  It hardly seems worth changing the title to Up and Over to point my readers toward North America.  As I said in a previous post, my wife is on sabbatical for a semester and we are currently in Durham, North Carolina, a state that is definitely south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Our transition here was a brief visit with my son and his family in Portland, Oregon, and a two week holiday at the old place in Nova Scotia.  Grand Pre is a lovely place to spend Christmas as long as the weather doesn’t get too Canadian. Our two hundred year-old house does not have central heating and a howling North wind whips right in.

We were greeted by a cold snap that had us quite concerned for friends from Washington DC who planned to spend Christmas with us, but it warmed up to more seasonal temps by the time they arrived.  Right after they left it got very cold again.  Nova Scotia has always seemed gentler with tourists than long-term residents that way.

I have spent a number of years in hot countries, and the celebration of Christmas in such places always seemed odd.  In Hong Kong, I never got used to the neon-lit, red cloaked Buddhas driving Asian looking reindeer on skyscrapers high overhead.  The European traditions of Christmas seem singularly inappropriate when the weather is 40 degrees centigrade and everyone is heading for the beach or the barbecue.

In Canada, men dream of snow blowers at this time of year. A Muskoka man named Kai Gundt got fed up with his wimpy commercial snow blower and decided to build one with a V-8 engine.  His home-built job cleared his driveway in five minutes, throwing snow over a five story building.  The latest model has heated handlebars and a cup holder.  “I know it goes against the green initiative.  But it really works.  It takes the snow and blows it right back where it came from.”

Fortunately, we have a good stock of dry firewood and fireplaces that were built when people knew how to do it properly.  We laid in groceries and got a lovely tree that just fit into the parlour.  Our daughter did a beautiful job bringing it to life.  On Christmas Eve we went to the local church (which is about the same vintage as our house) and sat in straight back pews for the music and the sermon. It was wonderful to come home and snuggle up under the down comforter.

Today, the weather here in Durham went up to springtime temperatures.  People are out running around in T shirts.  Christmas was only three weeks ago, but our connection with the seasons has been tenuous of late;  it seems like it could have been a century ago.  This is what our village looked like then.

Every once in awhile, our local newspaper ( not known for outlandish or salacious stories) comes up with a headline that could be straight out of a supermarket tabloid.  This morning’s paper had one of those.  The mysterious “spy” apparatus that contributed to the successful rescue of Tim Holding, Water Minister for the State of Victoria, was not revealed, but it did catch one’s attention.

It has to do with some thermal imaging technology being developed for the Australian Federal Police to track fugitives. No one at any level of government would actually fess up to providing it for the search, but authorities insisted that Tim was treated no differently than any other lost citizen.  Right.  I’m sure they would have sent out a spy plane for me, too.  And I could have been there.  I’m just as foolish as the minister, maybe more so.  And nowhere near as fit.

The story began a couple of days ago, when the thirty-seven year old cabinet minister decided to go hiking.  It is still winter, here, remember, and the mountain he chose to climb is notorious for bad weather.  At 1922 meters (6306 feet) Feathertop is only  the second highest peak in Victoria, but when the weather is clear,  the views are stunning and  it is a magnet for hikers in summer and winter.


Faithful readers who followed my misadventures in the Victorian Alps last year may be wondering why I have not followed up with another snow camping expedition.  The answer can be summed up in one word– Feathertop.  My companions had decided (without consulting me) that they were going to carry nearly thirty kilos (66 pounds) of skis, boots, tents, food and gear up a steep mountain in order to camp out, melt snow for water, and hope the weather gods would give them one good, clear day.  It did, but the snow was too treacherous to summit.

Their tents were just outside Federation Hut, Tim Holding’s last abode before he disappeared.  Here are a few excerpts from Alan’s report on the trip I missed– “5 hour up, the last 2 km very hard through probably not that much steeper… needed frequent stops to get breath.  On the last day [we were there] one fit guy climbed it in 3 hr with a full pack plus two 4 ltr wine casks…. wind buffeting us as we climbed feathertop, so retreated and skied part way towards MUMC hut but stopped before getting onto NW spur ridge as intermittent whiteout, and would be steep decline on windy ridge…

“Howling gale last night but hut, tents mostly protected.  All but 7 cm snow blown off leaving icy surface in most places… When we arrive to climb feathertop we find boilerplate ice, too difficult for skis or plastic boots.  The man [they had seen earlier at the hut with his fifteen year-old son] is further up with bloodied face, frozen with fear, standing at the bush that saved his fall but afraid to move.  We kick in steps… and get him down to the saddle….”

Tim Holding set out from his car to tackle Feathertop on Saturday afternoon.  At 6:30 that evening, he sent a text message to his partner that he was at the hut, 200 meters from the summit.  Sunday morning he headed for the peak, telling other walkers that he would turn back if the weather conditions were bad.  He didn’t have snowshoes, crampons, an ice ax or an emergency beacon.  And he was alone.

“In those conditions I made good progress, made it on to the summit and in fact the summit’s not marked and I walked over the top and started walking down the other side,” he said. “When I realised I’d gone too far I turned and walked back over the summit and as I came down the other side to return to the Federation Hut I slipped on some ice and fell.

“I fell a long way, a long, long way. It wasn’t a controlled descent and I fell until I reached a small ledge, slipping and sliding on the ice and there were unbelievably three other walkers.”

The group checked to see if he was alright and asked if he wanted to join them but as they were headed towards the summit and dressed in snow shoes, he decided it would be too dangerous for him to attempt to walk along the slippery ice.  So, he headed down to lower ground, thinking he would walk in the snow and follow a creek down the mountain, find the Owens River which would lead him to the Alpine Road and safety.  That was his second major mistake.

The following day there were around eighty members of the police and volunteers out looking for him, including helicopters and the mystery plane.  He was found by a helicopter over 2.5 kms (1.5 miles) away yesterday morning.  He was cold, out of food, and a bit disoriented, but otherwise fine.  And he still had water.  He was a very lucky man.  In a TV interview, he said that he thought he was going to die.

Alan’s take on the high profile misadventure goes like this– “We turned back 3 times at the lower end of this very rise. [where Tim Holding slipped and fell] Once for extreme wind and twice because each time we judged it too slippery without crampons, especially for coming down when you can’t kick your toes in to make a grip. We obviously made the right choice.”

My fellow cyclist and avid back country skier did his very best to make the adventure up on Feathertop sound appealing, but unless he promises me my very own helicopter,  I think I’ll pass.  Life is short enough, and there’s plenty of wine down here in the plains.  And water comes right out of the tap without having to be melted.  Stay tuned.  Life is always interesting down under.

The night before last night the temperature dropped considerably and we woke to snow on the rooftops. The visual signature of snow has been in evidence for some time now in the Alps, but then it dropped in. Literally. We are living at rooftop level.

The day before yesterday was mild. We hopped on Tram number 16 with the intention of taking a good long walk up into the foothills on the other side of the Po, or in the park that runs alongside. Before we got there our attention was caught by a market that we hadn’t seen before.  It stretches along a street parallel to the Po, a thoroughfare called Madama Cristina.

There were a curious assortment of vendors on both sides of the street running for a couple kilometers, perhaps, selling everything from new knickknacks to old clothes, silver to fine linen tablecloths, pots and pans to foodstuffs. My partner came across a wool hat that suited her (which came in handy later on), and I found a place to rent a bicycle for a ride on the next nice day that comes along.

Our major purchases were three jars of delicacies that we ended up carrying the rest of the day. Turin is the new gastronomic center of Italy, in case you were thinking of heading for warmer parts of the country. Claudio, the young farmer who helped provision us, has a farm about an hour from the city. Fortunately, he spoke reasonably good English. Otherwise, our exchange would have been quite limited.

Our delicacies included: antipasto Peimontese, cogna, and crema di funghi porcini. Cogna is similar to chutney, a sweet paste that goes well with meat and cheese. It has figs, apples, pears, grape must (I’m not sure about that translation) cloves, hazel nuts, walnuts, lemon, and cinnamon. The antipasto is delicious, a specialty of the region made, in this case, from fifteen different ingredients. The cream of mushroom sauce is potent enough to put off all thoughts of winter. Porcini mushrooms, olive oil, tomatoes, celery, and more. Simply delicious on plain toasted bread.

Increasingly, this city reminds me of Montreal. There is the same dedication to food, fine clothes, cars and craftsmanship, and a nod to the ever-present obligations of family and Catholicism. Electricity seems to be cheaper than plastic, and I would bet it is for the same reason—massive amounts of hydro power. Hardly anyone bothers to pay for tickets on the old trams and buses that run with amazing regularity throughout the city. Vast areas indoors and outdoor areas are heated with abandon.

When I descended into the street from roof level to do my morning shopping, there was no snow in the street, but it was barely above freezing. A sharp wind added a chill to the actual temperature. On my market run everyone I passed was bundled up with hats, mitts and scarves.

It looks like winter in Torino has settled in for good.

When I mentioned at the end of my last post that the weather was getting back to normal, I was telling a whopper that would have made George Bush blush. I didn’t know it at the time, but our fair city was under siege from a cyclone named Pancho. Its ferocity generated 130 km an hour winds, toppled huge trees, shattered scores of yachts and killed at least two people. Two hundred housand people lost their power and some are still in the dark, four days later.

It has been reported since as an event that happens only once in a hundred years. Foolhardy as usual, yours truly took the wife for a walk right in the middle of it. I did notice that the sky was an odd, dirty yellow and there were not many pedestrians about. But we marched blithely on, cursing our lack of perspicacity only when the rain began pelting down and soaked us before we reached the car. It didn’t seem all that scary where we were, but when you read about the wind blowing over a brick wall, you know something is amiss.

The weather that has affected me most of late is a dark cloud that arrives every year, and it seems to come earlier and earlier. I used to think it was seasonal affective disorder. I did resent the dwindling amount of daylight in the Northern hemisphere as winter set in, but it finally dawned on me that my cranky mood didn’t really kick in until March. By that time, winter was almost over. It was the tax cloud.

When I was younger, taxes never bothered me. My income/outgo financial situation was not large, and moving from place to place simply meant pulling up stakes and getting a passport renewed. When your stuff can no longer be packed in a suitcase, when you begin to buy property, when you buy stocks and bonds, start small businesses, then the great black tax clouds begin to gather overwhelming force.

Your life may still be that of a nomad, but it gets very difficult to truly leave anywhere behind. We are no longer residents of Canada or the United States, but we are filing taxes there. Next year we may add another country to the list, if only as a one off. And none of the preparation is easy anymore. I would guess that many Americans over the age of twenty-five can no longer prepare their own taxes. The best government money can buy has created a tax act so convoluted that even CPA’s are bewildered.

Canada used to be relatively simple, but more and more it seems to take its cues from the U.S. I nominate this country as the best of the bunch. Our filing in Australia last year was straight-forward enough that I could actually do it myself online. But we don’t own a house, a business, or any investments here, so I’m not in a position to judge how we might fare in different circumstances. It does seem more like an honor system than any other jurisdiction we have lived in. I like that. It shows a remarkable faith in the essential honesty and decency of the people.

Of all the places we have lived, Hong Kong was the best by far from the tax point of view. A flat fifteen per cent of income. You could do your return in fifteen minutes. It was heavenly. If only we had their tax regime available in a more livable location, say Melbourne.  If only you didn’t have to put up with Hong Kong’s terrible air pollution, exorbitant rents, rudeness and spitting, not to mention the tornadoes….

If only….. Never mind. I’ll keep my mouth shut. Get out the calculator, buckle down and just do them.

This was the week the clouds broke. Following what seemed like weeks of gray, the sun emerged, gracing Melbourne with blue skies and light. September 1st was the first day of Spring. North American readers will have a hard time with that. It is a bizarre notion for me and I’ve had some time to get used to the idea.

The writers came to town for the Writer’s Festival. There were luminaries like J.M. Coetzee and Dave Eggers as well as charmers like Alexander McCall Smith and John Lanchester.  I got a handful of tickets and enjoyed a feast of wordsmiths talking about subjects from family secrets to the impact of a materialistic culture on spiritual life.

I came home with books, of course. More for the stack on the bookshelf, the pile by the bed, the coffee tables. I learned that I am a rare bird, a male reader. Apparently, anyone who plows through anything thicker than magazines is a woman, almost by definition.

I am the odd man out, currently reading “Fiasco” by Thomas Ricks, the “True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Carey, “Pegasus Descending” by James Lee Burke and “A Commonwealth of Thieves: the Improbable Birth of Australia” by Thomas Keneally.

And now, of course, I can listen to books, a wonderful way to fill up hours at the gym, on the tram or bike path. I just shook off the magical spell of “The Emporer’s Children,” by Claire Messud, followed by the powerful and depressing “The World Without Us,” by Alan Weisman. As an antidote, I am deep into the charming tale of “Balzac and the Little Seamstress” by Dai Sijie.

The one time I attempted to ask a question at the Writer’s Festival, my tongue simply refused to get itself around my thoughts and the two eloquent writers at the front of the room found themselves completely baffled. I am often incoherent in the public forum and I don’t know why I expected to be able to express myself well this time.

With a blog you get a second chance. The panelists were Marcella Polain, an Australian writer who has a novel out based on her Armenian family history, and Nancy Huston, a well-known, Canadian-born writer who lives in Paris and usually writes in French. The discussion subject was triggered by Tolstoy’s famous line about families.

My question was intended to be: since family forms the template for all later relationships in life, from the worker in a company to the citizen in a country, are differences in social structures around the world reflecting differing family dynamics? When JFK said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can you do for your country,” was he really just saying, “Grow up.”  You are welcome to fill in the gap with comments.

There was a big hole in my schedule on Friday so I walked across the river to see the Immigration Museum. It was fascinating. I loved the televised mock interview, where I was able to assess various candidates. The interviews were supposed to take place when this country took in great numbers of immigrants, Brits, of course, Chinese, Greeks, Italians, Somalians, Sudanese.

I loved the Greek sponge fisherman’s wife, who didn’t speak a word of English and kept up a constant stream of chatter while her husband did his best to listen to the questions and squeeze out appropriate answers.  With our fluency in English and my wife’s job offer, we would be considered  “champagne immigrants,” but I can still identify with that fisherman.

One of the wonders of imagination. One of the benefits of growing up in a world of books.  Everybody I saw in the interview booth got thumbs up.  Welcome to Australia, I said, in my head.  May the blessings of this land make you grow strong and be happy.

My wife woke up worried about the basil. It was chilly last night, and she was afraid the potted plant might be shivering out on the patio. We have come back to a different country. The heat wave that greeted our discombobulated senses in January is long gone. It is winter and the temps are in their teens (centigrade), thirties and forties (Fahrenheit). There is rain and wind. Clouds skittering across the sky almost every day.

One of my fellow recumbent riders in Melbourne is a weatherman. Such an easy job, I tell him, whatever you predict is bound to come up during this city’s climate lottery on any given day. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs? You got it. To demonstrate his perversity in the face of the elements this time of year, Alan heads for the snow in upper elevations. This weekend he is winter camping.

The political climate has changed as well. Premier Bracks stepped down on the very day I landed. Citing personal matters. It seems that he is having trouble with his children. Having endured more teenage turmoil than he is ever likely to witness, I commiserate. John Brumby, the treasury secretary has taken on the task, launching a scathing attack on Prime Minister John Howard. There’s an election coming up.

Aside from the time zones and the complete change of seasons, the change has included a geographic shift from an old colonial home in the rural farm country of Nova Scotia to an eccentric, modern house in a muliticultural, vibrant city in Australia. Slow to fast. Right now, the Royal Shakespeare Company is in town; a film festival is in full swing, a lively poetry festival has just started and the luminaries attending the Melbourne Writer’s Festival will hit the City in two weeks.

My transition between these two worlds was San Francisco. I parachuted in for a brief visit with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. They tucked me into their busy, young parent lives on their last weekend of normalcy. While I was there, Dolan got an offer from an up-and-coming software company in Portland. It will be a big change after six years at Cisco. Like the weather, it will all take some getting used to.

By the way, Eric and his companions sailed into safe harbor in County Clare, Ireland on July 26. I’m sure the weather there was sunny and fine. Trust the Irish to plug it into their deal with the EU. No more bad food, no more rain. Stay tuned.

Here’s an update I promised back in the post about our river trip in Quebec – 48 48N 38 07W. These are the current coordinates of our friend Eric, who is sailing across the Atlantic ocean in the boat named Charlie 1.

If you plug those numbers into Google Earth, zoom out until you are 1400 miles or so above the planet, you’ll see that he and his mates are due east of Labrador, heading on a collision course with a volcano (just kidding, but what is that unnamed geographic feature out there?) I’ll keep you posted.

Summer has finally arrived in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. All of June and the first half of July were leading up to this moment, this intense sunshine that makes you think of going to the beach or taking to the hammock. It is actually hot right now. And what am I doing? I’m gearing up to return to Melbourne. My days of sun are numbered. Yesterday it was colder there than it has been in nine years. The temperature hovered around 6 degrees. It is wet, cold and dark. Serves me right, you say? Well, at least I tasted fresh strawberries.

Not so long ago I used to come here every summer for four months and spin my spider web for tourists. I went into the B&B business to subsidize the substantial upkeep of a 220 year old house. It started out as a very casual thing. Some days I would take off for a long bike ride, leaving a note on the door that I would be back about three o’clock. Over the years, tourism got more regulated and professional. The expectations of tourists increased accordingly, especially those of my countrymen, the Yanks.

From muffins and coffee, I progressed to fruit salad, blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs with feta cheese, along with any number of variations. I would get up at 6 AM to get breakfast on the table by 8. We bought new mattresses, put in bathrooms for every bedroom, invested in a brand new kitchen.

I flew back from Hong Kong every year we lived there (even missing the Handover.) I got a cell phone and fax machine, religiously forwarded calls whenever I left the house. Even then, it never generated a significant amount of income. It was little more than a contribution to the upkeep of the house my wife inherited and I so casually suggested she keep. Old houses, like boats, are simply holes in which one pours money.

The best part was the talk show. Every morning I got to be Oprah, orchestrating the conversation of complete strangers. Drawing out the introverts, occasionally changing a touchy subject or a dead end monologue. Inviting them to learn a little bit of history, learning what was on their minds. My favorite guest was a character actress who had been an ingenue with Alec Guiness in London. She was loud, opinionated and wonderful.

There were disasters, of course. The time my wife decided to water the garden during breakfast and drained the holding tank while a guest was still lathered up in the shower; a general who got himself so worked up over a misunderstanding that he left in the middle of the night, banging his suitcase all the way down the stairs; the occasional double booking; the overflowing coffee machine; the waffles sticking like glue to the waffle iron, the wet bed.

Some of the guests got to be regulars, a few still come to dinner (see the last post). We hung on to this old house despite our peripatetic lives. Every now and then I get to rattle around with the ghosts and shake up things. This summer we have renovated the only untouched bathroom in the house. It has good bones, the Stewart House, and when the sun stretches out long shadows across the grass, when the Bay of Fundy shimmers, when there’s a glass of wine to enjoy on the front lawn, it comes damn close to paradise.

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