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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.

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