Flirting – Do the Italians get it right?

 

IMG_6622It seems impossible that three and a half decades have passed since I was last in Italy. My life has been slipping by as I have been busy living it.

This time in Italy I learned the strange fact that the Italians have found that sacred middle path when it comes to flirting.

On the recent visit the smells, sounds and sights triggered me into the past and frequently I felt like I was living in two time zones at once.

My mind switched from present time to the past and then I’m would be lost in the feelings of that younger raw me.

When I gently came back to the present I would feel so grateful that the I and the world has changed.

Has the world around me changed because I have, or is it the other way around? I don’t know the answer to this, and will probably ponder that question for eternity.

Thirty-five years ago I travelled alone to Rome and then southern Italy wandering around by train and bus passing my days in museums, art galleries, places of antiquities and the beach.

All of these experiences are caught on camera and now every-day street events are the things that trigger me back into the past.

For example; Italian tobacco has a particular fragrance and when the smoke wafts past me, the corners of my mouth involuntarily lift — I’m back in a smoky cafe or restaurant exploring for the first time the authentic regional Italian food.

Back then the streets were different for women — I remember the time when using the streets felt like more of a challenge than a right.

During that time the Italian men would make a point of jostling past and then at the last minute they would pinch my bum or fondle my breasts.

When I was fondled — if I was quick enough —I would slap or kick the men who touched me.

When the men too far way they would yell and shout their “appreciation” at me. Groups of men expressing their lust was intimidating to my young self. I noticed that when I pretended to ignore them it seems to encourage louder and more abrasive shouts. I remember steeling myself to stand tall — all of my 5 foot 4 inches — and actively seek the alpha male of the group and look him directly in the eyes, I had worked out that this would stop the escalation.

I use to dream of a time where I could walk the streets and go to clubs without any of this sort of stuff and those wishes that I could be treated equally to men and feeling safe in the streets have manifested.

Amazing when I think about it — in my 20’s it seemed as though the inequality between the sexes was endless and insurmountable. 

In Australia at that time strange men fondled your body in crowded night clubs and at the Sunday Session but not in the streets. I would force myself to be on guard in these places. I would get a good punch or slap in — if I knew who did it. Sometimes, it annoyed me so much that I simply slapped a few in the direction of the pinch for good measure.

I was super determined not to allow sexism to stop me living my life; my way. I told myself that I too was entitled to travel alone, start a business and do whatever I wanted to do. It was a constant “stress” in my life to have the same rights as the male 47% of the population.

When people tried to stop me from living my life my way I ruthlessly bullied them back — that was all I knew to do — and in retrospect I realise that this was much better than being a victim.

Reliving that hyper-vigilant angry younger me in some ways was excruciatingly jarring. All of that nervous, energy willing myself  to be strong so that I could have the rights that the men took for granted.

I felt that I had to fight for my rights. This was when I didn’t understand that the men were suffering as much as the women.

I now realise that they had to put on the show of bravado just as women were expected to be “nice and compliant.”

Nice and compliant was not my thing, and so I chose be was abrasive and dogmatic as the abusive men.

I feel both sad and proud reminiscing my youth with all of that frustration causing a driven aliveness — wonderful really.

In my opinion, the big elephant in the room of this world is not racism, transgender rights and the rest — it is sexism.

Sexism involves 100% of the population and all of those groups. When men can be men and women can be women that is the big issue for both genders. Maybe one day we will be open to accepting our differences/similarities and the energy of unfairness will fade away?

The media keeps us focusing on these other issues so that we remain blind to the real issue. Sometime the obvious is too simple to contemplate.

Recently I was listening to the ABC radio and a man from the Australian Bureau of Statistics was being interviewed. He was saying that in the last 15 years in Australia death by violence; plus all other violent acts have decreased by 50%. Stephen Pinker also confirms this for the Western World in his book “Better Angels of our Nature.”

I can feel this change in the streets, and it is reflected in the way that people behave towards each other.

Sure, we humans — men and women —  have a very long way to go. This is confirmed by the fact that in Australia two women a week are killed by their partners. That means that two men a week have been so hurt that they are incapacitated in their ability to love. They believe they have the right to kill their partners.

Both males and females in this situation are victims.

However, two deaths a week is much better than four as week as it was fifteen years ago.

Which brings me back to fifteen years ago. This was the last time I was fondled by a strange man. I was having a cup of tea at intermission at the ballet at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth. An old man who was dressed like a lawyer pinched me on the bum as he walked by. At the time I didn’t know if I should be flattered or offended. To be honest I felt a little sorry for the old bloke — such a relic.

In Australia over the last couple of decades I have not noticed a strange man look at me in the streets in “that particular way” or make an appreciative comment.

Before coming to Italy I would have said that it was a fantastic thing. However, the reason I travel is to gain perspective.

I now feel that Australia has gone from the one extreme to the other when it comes to appreciation between the sexes. That spark of appreciation or chemistry is no longer there.

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In my opinion the people of Italy have found that elusive middle path. The Italian men have honed the appreciation of women down to very fine art — most appreciated by me.

I have enjoyed being looked at as though I am the most beautiful person that a man has seen today.

IMG_6866When I am close enough to hear, I smile to myself when I hear their whispers of “Bella” or “Ella” or other such sweet nothings or even a very quiet whistle.

Believe me — the middle path is sweet.

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Love & Kindness — A Diamond in the Rough.

I am addicted to the remotely located Ningaloo coral reef at Cape Range National Park. It is the worlds longest onshore reef so you can just snorkel off the shore and you are immediately in the wonderland of coral and sea creatures.

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The best bit about this obsession is that it is only twelve hours drive away from my home.

The North West of Australia where the reef is located has a harsh climate with extremely high summer temperatures, dangerous animals, lack of water, very long distances between towns, droughts and cyclones.

The adversity of living in this part of the world can create deeply authentic people who have had to  connect to make things work.

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Advice for cycling this path. Packs of dingos are known to bite bike tyres. Stand as tall as you can, face the pack of dingos (as they circle around you?), if you are with someone stand back to back, look the dingos in the eye, stay close to children and small teenagers, etc. A person needs to be tough to live here.

Cape Range National Park has been upgraded by the Australian Government from prickly, boiling, scratchy desert so that it now has pristine drop toilets, rubbish collection and camping bays at some of the bays.

Yearly I stay at Cape Range National Park and am enthralled by the hump back whales breaching and playing off the back reef. I am delighted when swimming with whale sharks, manta rays or turtles. I enjoy paddle boarding, kaiaking, wind or kite surfing with other large marine animals such as sharks, porpoises and stingrays.

Snorkelling here is like diving into a kaleidoscope of beautiful movement and colour. Within a few minutes you may see enormous green turtles nestling quietly under the reef an arms length away or octopi in tight holes in the coral, then there are swirling schools of gigantic pelagic fish, swaying reed like sea snakes, delicate Spanish dancers plus anything else that can be seen at a tropical reef.

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A small sting ray at the shore.

Last time I visited it was inky black at night with the moon a tiny slit so that the stars jumped out, the milky way was a band of diamonds. The silence felt to me like I was cradled safely in a hole in the cosmos.

There are no more facilities than the toilet and rubbish bins, no mobile phone service, wifi, fresh water, shops or anything else. For that you have to drive an hour away to Exmouth.

At Ningaloo one morning bleary with a healthy hangover of a deep sleep in silence, I almost walked into to a kangaroo that had reached into the “dry” vegetable box that was inside a tent — he was quietly eating carrots. He had already eaten a couple of kilos of bananas so was content. He nibbled away at his ill gotten gains as I walked around him to brew an early morning coffee.

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Just as the coffee boiled two white galahs swirled into camp, and stalked around. They only left after I gave them a plate of fresh water.

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There are many beautiful and interesting bays in Cape Range National park.

In Turquoise Bay I relaxed and surrendered to the current as it swept me over the reef where I came close to a white tipped reef shark and then enormous purple lipped clams that appear to breathe the water.

Later at Oyster Stacks I almost swam into a wobbly gong shark as it sat camouflaged on top of a coral outcrop and then I shied away from a deadly cone shell as it sat on the sea floor less than an arms length away.

Exmouth is the closest town to the paradise of Cape Range National park so after days of no showers and lots of swimming I’m feeling a tad crusty, in need of some civilisation and fresh water.

I took my salt encrusted self into town to have a wash before I travelled on. My hair was standing on end and I couldn’t get a brush through it. I love not having to brush my hair but after some time well…

After days of camping my habit is to have dinner cooked for me at the restaurant in the caravan park where I stay before heading south and back home.

The last time I was there I wandered over to the Potshot pub for a pre dinner drink and quiet read before heading to the restaurant for dinner.

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The Potshot Hotel

I’m a people watcher so when I heard lots of loud talk and laughter at a near table I noticed a very tall, man who appeared to be about fifty or sixty years of age —  it was hard to tell. His hair was dark without any grey and his body was shaped like a modern day Chinese Wealth God. This man had a huge tummy swaddled in a bright blue “T” shirt. He moved lightly on his feet for such a heavy man so I imagined that imperceptibly over time he had swapped his six pack for a keg.

Mr “Blue” as I named him had large heavy framed black glasses with coke bottle lenses that slid down his nose. When he chose to see he tipped his head back and looked down from his great height. His skin was the deep red of a European who had —over the decades — been sun burnt so much that his skin had given up and was perpetually a deep red. As he laughed loudly I noticed the gap in his teeth.

Blue walked lightly and quickly but with the waddle of a heavily pregnant woman. I noticed that he was talking to a couple of young women and that the energy between them was loving, engaged and they seemed to be excited to be together. There was a pinkish glow over these people and they had easy familiarity and respect that made me curious.

I then reminded myself that it was madness to assume anything about anyone or anything in life so I went back to my book.

Later I wandered back to the caravan park and restaurant. In the dark on the excellent bike paths of Exmouth I felt safe because the paths were filled with cyclists, runners and dog walkers enjoying the cool evening air.

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Emu warning signs

The only unsafe part was the emus who are known to be aggressive at times.

Over the last couple of years I have been invited to join people at their table in this restaurant. I guess because it is too embarrassing for the locals to see a single woman eating alone? I’m not sure really.

I had forgotten this quirk in the fabric of the universe so excitedly entered the restaurant thinking about the next chapter of my book.

A backpacker waiter with a strong accent I couldn’t place hovered over me as he showed me my table. He was much taller than me and he bent over the top of me and bumped me as he gave me the menu.

I was distracted by the waiter until I was accosted by a man at the next table who was loudly calling out “Come and sit here!” 

It is the larger than life “Blue” mountain of a man from the pub and he is there with four younger people.

Resigned that this is the way of it in this restaurant in Exmouth — I do.

I notice a couple of grey nomads sitting at the table behind “Blue” and they take a lively vicarious interest in what is happening. It is easy for them to follow the theme as “Blue” is joyous, loud and open with his speech.

Upon sitting down I learn that “Blue’s” name is Walsey — this is because he comes from Wales.

He is excited to have me at the table because he had noticed me reading at the pub.

Walsey emanates smiles. He is loud and funny and seems out of place with the other occupants of the table. Yet they sit there with a sense of protection and caring.

I’m introduced; First to a German couple both slender, refined, beautiful and quiet. Their  eyes were intelligently taking in the play of words as they wash over the table. This couple chip in at times with remarks that are well thought out. I learn that they have opened an amazing business in Exmouth called Social Society where they serve delicious organic food and sustainable clothing.

At the other end of the table are a married couple. The woman is Korean with a round face an easy smile and lots of dead pan jokes. Her newly minted husband is from Ireland. These two are fun they have twinkles in their eyes and a ready humour. They work from Perth in the fly-in/fly-out mining industry. They are a joy to be around because they keep the conversation flowing no matter what Walsey says.

I am the only Australian born person at the table and I recognise that this has been the familiar experience all my life. I am constantly exposed to a soup of different cultural perspectives and ideas without having to travel overseas —I well up with the feeling of luck and gratitude.

Curious I ask what brings them together and the story unfolds.

During the boom time in Western Australia the Korean woman and German couple were in Exmouth working twelve hour shifts in hospitality. They couldn’t  afford the extremely high cost of accommodation in town, so they camped in the bush out of town. They had no facilities — no water, toilets, rubbish collection or electricity. Sort of like being at Cape Range National Park however, without the toilets, camp sites or rubbish collection.

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The bush is harsh in this part of Western Australia

The bush here is hot, dusty, full of insects that bite, plants that sting, snakes, and other poisonous creepy things. There are very few trees around Exmouth and the ones that are there are stunted and provide little shade. I imagined that their tent would have been hellish. After a twelve hour shift they would have had to cook and clean for themselves, cart in their own water, food and everything else and only God knows what they did for a toilet.

These people were from Korea and Germany where they have every facility imaginable so they probably would have been exposed to extreme culture shock.

Their story is told in snippets between jokes, rude comments and various other stories.

At one time Walsey relays that he thought that the Korean woman would never get married because he thought she was a lesbian.

At another time he says he knows that his twenty-three year old Australian daughter is a virgin — for sure.  

He then relates how he behaved when he met the only boyfriend she ever let him near. We then totally understand why he thinks that she doesn’t have boyfriends.

Then he questions me. “Where do you live?”

When I answer he loudly asks “What is the value of your home?” To which I reply; “Way more than you can imagine, I’m a purse.”

I then say to the table “I’m a total nurse and a purse — I understand this is a real turn on for men.” They look amused and then cringe a little when his next question; “What type of car do you drive?” 

I am ecstatic at this situation so in answer I slap my keys on the table. When he sees it is a Mercedes he looks happy.

The two couples wince again and then protectively try to say something to ameliorate his crash-bang queries.

I am in a place of joy, such open gall and innocence all mixed up together in a fully grown man.

At the end of the meal he whips out his credit card and pays for everyone including me.

Back to the story of why they were all together. This is how I heard their story — I am not really sure if I have it exactly right.

Walsey who was living in Exmouth with all the facilities of modern life noticed their situation.  He invited them to live with or maybe around him.

These back packers moved out of the bush and they all lived as a community protected by this big Boomer of a man and for this they love him and respect him.

At the end of the evening Walsey turns to me and much to the delight of the grey nomad couple he says; “Come back to my place.”

By this stage my love for this kind bumbling man knows no bounds — He is a fine soul and I respect him. I let him down gently. I say; “Thanks so much but I have a long drive tomorrow so — no.”

When he insists I gently say;

“Walsey, I don’t want to drink anything more tonight so thanks so much for inviting me but no.”

He has had a few too many wines so asks couple more times until he finally gets the “No” in good humour.

The grey nomads are hysterical. I am blissed out.

Kind, generous and genuine people come in many guises.

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The House of Books

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Weird things and surprises constantly occur in my life — I have often found that I know less about others than I realise and other people seem to know about me than I realise.

How does this happen? Is it because I simply jump in and talk to anyone? I have no idea.

This is a story about the synchronicity of flying to distant places with an odd story about the “THE HOUSE OF BOOKS”.

Once I was waiting in the departure lounge of the Bangkok airport for a flight to London. I noticed a man I recognised from the streets of Fremantle also waiting for the same flight.

I would often see this man his wife and children walking together around Fremantle. When ever I saw them I imagined that he was a kind supportive partner and father.

The plane was a jumbo with hundreds of seats and as life would have it — he ended up being allocated a seat next to me.

The flight was 12 hours so during that time I was able to get to know this man fairly well — particularly as he seemed extremely happy to talk about himself.

I learned that my imagination was wrong and that this man was unkind and abusive. He said things about his wife that made my thick straight hair curl.

He told me that he was leaving his wife and I could only think how lucky she and the children were to get away from him. What a lesson about my imagination!

On another flight which was to Indonesia from somewhere I was seated in the middle row of five seats.

In the first four seats were my daughter, then me, an Asian man and a blond Australian surfie who was in his 30’s. I have no idea who sat in the fifth seat.

The Asian man sat there with his coke bottle glasses, his quiet demeanour, his beautiful jet black hair that was completely in place. He was quiet and tried to keep a low profile.

The Australian Surfie had wild blond hair bleached by the sun and rarely done! It was quintessentially “surf hair”. He was happily drinking beer. He would call the air hostess as soon as one can was finished to get another one. Can after can went down the hatch.

As he drank he became happier, louder and friendlier so eventually he started trying to talk to the Asian guy.

The Asian guy was extremely shy and he kept looking away from the surfie. In doing that; he would turn towards me and then feel even more awkward. Finally he tried to not look either way and simply tried to make himself shrink back into his seat. Surrounded by Australians seemed simply too uncomfortable.

The surfie guy was oblivious to his affect on the Asian guy so he kept drinking and getting more or more “friendly.”

Finally I decided to join in—who can resist such an awkward situation?

I started quietly by asking Surfie about himself. He told me that he was a professional surfing promoter and was going surfing with his clients in the back blocks of Indonesia.

He garrulously talked about the terrible lives and conditions in the villages in that part of Indonesia.

He spoke of the health problems and about an Australian Surf Charity that he belonged to that was helping these people. Immunisations, medicines and all sorts of practical help was flowing from that charity to the people who owned the beautiful surf beaches. Rahdah, rahdah … on and on he went.

The Asian guy stopped shrinking back and started to look relieved and then finally became interested. With my chatting and the Asian guy joining in the Surfie relaxed and he proved to be a kind and good-hearted bloke who was simply a loud, chatty, friendly drunk.

Finally the Surfie started talking to me and the conversation went like this —

Surfie: “Where do you live?”

Me: “In Fremantle”

Surfie: “Where in Fremantle?”

Me: “Solomon Street.”

Surfie: “Oh, I know you. You live in the house that is raised up from the road with a view. You have a the limestone wall at the front and you go up the stairs to the front door.”

Me: “Ahhhh….”

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Surfie (oblivious to my response)

“I call your house — the house of books— Your house has books stacked everywhere… You had so many books about all subjects it was the most interesting house ever. You have so many books — yes the house of books.
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I was feeling rather strange at this stage, as he was thoroughly correct about all of this.

Me: How do you know my house?

Surfie: “I went out with Libby who lived across the road from you. She was a really great person and I still think the world of her.”

Well, Libby she was the daughter of the people who lived across the road from me and she was also a surfer.

Surfie: “When you went away once you had her looking after your house and dogs so we stayed there together.

 Yes, the house of books— I loved staying there….”

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Snakes as pets…

My father collected poisonous snakes for the Perth museums stuffed animal collection — this was back in the 1960’s when it was a preeminent thing to do. At that time most people didn’t think about extinction and animal rights. It was a time where there was still plenty of wildlife around.

There were oysters growing on the back islands at Jurien Bay that I loved to pick off with a screwdriver and eat.

There were plagues of emus piling up on the rabbit proof fence during times of drought.

Snakes were commonly seen both on our farm and at our Jurien Bay holiday home. As a child I felt connected to all that is— to all of nature and all that was natural—the human world seemed strange to me less pure, less honest.

I lived on a wheat and sheep farm that had its own petrol pump so that we had over sixty forty four gallon drums all stacked neatly up on a high platform.

On slow summer evenings the 44 gallon drums would herald the cool evening air with deep “boinging” drum like sounds as they cooled down — that was one of those sounds of my childhood…

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When they grew old some of the drums were used for BBQ’s others for foundations filled with concrete and others were used for snake “homes”.

When my father caught a snake he would remove the top from a drum and that would become the snakes home until it was time for the trip to Perth for the “freeze alive” position they would maintain in death with the help of taxidermy at the Perth Museum.

These snake homes were housed in our old garage where we fed the snakes and gazed down at them as they waited their fate.

My father didn’t only collect snakes he also collected marsupial mice, and other strange animals.

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His passion for animals exposed us to wild goats, a wild horse called Zany who was tamed and trained to be Polo cross player, mountain devils, echidnas and I remember once climbing a tree with my father, brother and the Barnes family to peer into a Wedge tale eagles nest. It was huge — all thick sticks — and a small area in the middle where the chicks would have lived.

At Jurien Bay we children would shake out seaweed rolls and collect the tiny blue ringed octopi and put them in a bucket and watch the blue become iridescent when they became overly stimulated.

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We had been told by our parents that they were deadly so we were very careful. In retrospect it must have been risky to pick up a seaweed roll to shake out.

I can only remember my parents saying that we had to put them back in the sea because they didn’t deserve to live in a bucket plus we didn’t know what to feed them.

My parents expected us to do as they told us — this was to respect wild life and respect out own lives.

My father was the animal person and my mother was a wildflower person — that is whole other story.

However, my father really had an attraction to snakes. He had learnt how to handle them and I remember that when he was catching a snake he would give us a running commentary.

First he would run after a great poisonous snake deftly lay a stick over the back of the snake’s head so that he could reach the tail without the snake striking.

He would be saying to us as though instructing us on “snake catching:”—“Put the stick close to the head then you have no chance of being bitten, now grab the tail like this!” — he would reach down to the squirming tail and adroitly grab it.

He would then release the head while saying “you have to be quick” and he would swing the snake around in a slow circle so that the momentum prevented it from reaching up to bite him.

Sometimes he would stop the swing and show us how the snake would start to bend upwards to try and strike his hand.

He would then calmly instruct us “Grab that wheat bag and open it”. Then he would bring the swinging snake over and somehow stop the swing and for a very quick moment hold it still over the opening of the sack — then drop it in the bag. The snake’s head was really close to us as we held the bag open — it was scary for us!

Quickly closing the bag the job would be done — another snake captured.

Other times he would lay the stick against the back of a snake’s head and then simply grasp the snake there. The snake would then wrap itself around his arm so that he had a sort of tourniquet around his lower arm. This was no problem with smaller snakes as they weren’t strong enough.

One day at Wubin Rocks he caught a huge black tiger snake and did the grab behind the head thing. The snake started to wrap around his arm and he realised that the snake was too strong so he squeezed the “throat” of the snake so hard that it died. I remember the limp and flaccid snake after this had occurred and thinking how quickly life could be completely erased.

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I have been around snakes since I was really young, and I remember an incident at home when I was a very young child.

Our farmhouse had a well-watered bright green lawn enclosed with a brick fence and this was a “safe” place for us to play. When I was about three years old and my brother Kim was about one a big black tiger snake came thought the opening in the fence onto the lawn we were playing on. I remember that we were both dressed the same — simply in a pair of underpants — Kim was curious and started to toddle over to the snake. I remember calmly leading him away. I called and my mother came out from the kitchen. She asked us to go inside and stay there. We went inside but could see her and the snake from the windows.

Mum got an axe and a stick and tried to whip it with the stick to break its back and then axe the head off.

I was really disappointed that I couldn’t be out there with her having all that action and excitement. She was balancing on top of the low verandah wall with her axe and stick as she tried to kill it.

We were calling out “Please can we come out now—we can’t see!” She was screaming “No!” I felt incensed that she would not let us out — it seems so unfair at the time.

Once she had killed it and removed the head we were allowed to play with the body to feel what a snake felt like, it was cool and smooth beyond imagining. When we asked my parents if we could play with its head my father did the commentary thing.; “Never play with a dead snakehead. The teeth could still release poison or have poison on them even although it is dead.

When I was in Grade one at Wubin primary school I took a whip snake in for show and tell. I had caught the whip snake on the verandah and put it in a glass jar with holes in the lid.

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A whip snake I had been informed by my father was poisonous but not enough to kill a child. This obviously made the snake “safe” enough to catch and I know that my parents would have helped me with the holes in the lid of the jar so they must have supported my show and tell snake.

A fellow school student reminded me of my show and tell snake in my adulthood and until that moment I had not realized how unusual it was for a five-year-old child to take a poisonous snake in a glass jar on the school bus.

My parents simply trusted their children to follow their strict rules for the handling of snakes, guns and cars and we did.

After show and tell the objects were placed on a shelf in the classroom until the end of the day when they were taken home (again on the school bus).

The whip snake sat there on the shelf until a curious class mate opened the jar and it got out and started to slither around the classroom of thirty-two young students aged between five and seven.

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I remember being a tad confused about what to do. This was because there was an adult in the room and adults usually did the “catch the snake” thing. I had only caught the whip snake when the adults weren’t present. I then noticed that my teacher — Miss Irvine — a 22-year-old Perth girl didn’t know what to do!

I caught it and put it back in the jar. I thought nothing of it until I was reminded of this much later in my life.

This story is actually about a special snake called George and a teacher and the feeling of unrequited revenge.

When I was about eight years old we were off on one of our yearly Christmas school holiday trips to Jurien Bay.

We had the second house ever built in Jurien Bay and went there for the whole of the Christmas holidays, Easter and often at other times. It was our second home away from the farm.

The drive was long because the roads were gravel and on the last couple of sand hills the road was a sandy track and we sometimes got bogged.

On a gravel road somewhere out from Eneabba where the trees and bushes were crowding in on the road a large snake slithered across in front of our car leaving that sinusoidal track behind it. Dad came to a quick halt jumped out of the car and chased it — grabbing a stick on the way. This was a “normal” occurrence when we spotted a snake or unusual animal.

He did the “trap head thing” then the “grab tail thing” and then the “swinging snake thing” and then came to a complete conundrum, as we didn’t have a wheat bag in which to put the snake.

My parents loved holidays — the longer the better — so they had picked us up directly from school. My plastic school bag was the next best thing to a hessian wheat bag.

We emptied out the uneaten rotting school lunches, schoolbooks, used tissues and other detritus that I had kept in it for the whole year.

Dad then dropped the six-foot long snake into the bag. Zipping it up was a tad tricky but it was managed.

So, the school bag with snake was on my lap for the rest of the long trip.

By the time we got to Jurien Bay we had named the snake George, and he needed a much better home than my school bag.

A very large glass jar was found and he was coiled into that and that is where he lived for the time he was “on holidays” with us. The metal lid had breathing holes punched in it.

He had been carsick in my school bag. I remember being a really upset because my school bag already had a disgusting smell — this was why I couldn’t eat my school lunches and now it was even worse. Maybe he was car sick because of the smell?

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George lived in his jar in the middle of the dining room table of our beach house for the whole of the school holidays. My father informed us that snakes respond to vibration so to keep him happy we talked and sang to him and we figured the more thumping of cards the better. “Snap”, “Galloping demons” and “Whist” were his daily entertainment. This was a time when playing cards, reading books and cooking were the things to do when not at the beach or riding our bikes.

We had an ancient dancing doll music box from my mother’s mother and we would wind it up and play it him endlessly.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 09.46.05We would introduce him to the friends who came to visit and wonder why they seemed a bit put out.

My father didn’t know what sort of snake he was so when we did the yearly Perth trip, George came along to be identified.

The Perth museum staff let us know that he was a non-poisonous Children’s Python. They didn’t need another specimen so George’s life was saved. With that information my father decided that he would become our new pet. While in Perth he purchased a breeding pair of mice and a home for them so that we could feed him. We then all went back from Perth to Jurien Bay.

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George displayed supreme patience in his glass jar. He really had no choice — for the rest of the holidays he continued to be entertained with our card, music, talking “vibrations”.

My father would take him out and play with him. He was tame by this time and would slither around my father and easily go back into the jar.

At the end of the holidays we all went home with George and he was given a beautiful snake home — a large box and the front glass was one half of a windscreen from a 1950’s car from our prolific rubbish dump that had many ancient harvesters, trucks and cars.

George became a part of our normal life.

On one occasion George slithered up a chair and then balanced on his tail up the side of a doorframe. He then poked around at the top of the door slowly manipulating it until it opened. He went over the top and dropped himself into the next room. If I hadn’t seen this with my own eyes I would have thought it impossible. I became to believe that snakes are very intelligent and able to sneak into the most difficult places.

Once a year in the August school holidays we would go to Carnarvon to visit our family from the Quan Sing clan. On the way home we would drop in to friends in places like Geraldton and Northampton. One family we visited had photographs of a little girl of about four all over the walls. We were later told that the farmhouse had a sleep-out where the four children slept. One night the young daughter had a temperature and was crying — she started to be really ill so they rushed her to the Doctor. She died without them knowing why. When they came back home they stripped the bed and there was a poisonous snake still in the bed. Only then did they find the tiny bite marks on her legs. The snake had managed to get into the sleep-out.

Infrequently we fed George baby mice and watched as he swallowed them alive and whole. We played with him and daily enjoyed his company—he was our pet.

One time when my father and we three children playing with him on the lawn a cat came close. Cats kill snakes so George had every reason to be scared and he was acting jumpy. I touched his tail and he must have thought that I was a cat — he flipped most of his body around and stuck at me. I did a summersault backwards and luckily missed a bite.

George had been scared before and had bitten my father. While my father was prizing George off this arm he did the commentary thing to educate us. He explained calmly that a snakes teeth angle backwards so that in order to get George off this arm he had to push his head towards his arm and then lift him off taking the angle of the teeth into account. I am guessing that he told us this just incase we ever needed to do that when he was not there.

George and my father became great friends to the point where George would slither into my father’s shirt and fall asleep around his waist and my father would forget that he was there.

I have come to believe that a kind and caring bond between people and animals is part of the evolution of the both parties. It seems to me that when animals are bonded to people who are loving both parties are uplifted and this is what I believe happened with George and my father.

Wubin at the time had this schoolteacher called Mr. Flynn. He had red hair and a famous temper.

He caned both the boys and the girls and even caned the child called Gordon who we had been told was spastic (Cerebral Palsy). Of course the cane would stimulate Gordon into a frenzy of spasm — such cruelty. Humans in the “good old days” were often not kind — it was the culture to not mention abuse or not act when abuse was noticed.

I remember the huge purple welts I would get when he caned my lower legs for being too loud when emptying the bins…

I was helping and I got the cane!

My parents dismissed my welts by saying I must have deserved it.

These were parents who didn’t hit their children, and yet they allowed this teacher to cane me. Like I said; abuse was not acknowledged for what it was.

I could never figure out adults when I was a child. Although my parents were intelligent and stimulating they seemed so devoid of joy and understanding. I still can’t figure most of them out — most seem to just be like robots doing what everyone is brainwashed to do, on their march towards the grave.

Mr. Flynn was a cruel man; yet it seemed to me that my parents were oblivious to his cruelty. I am guessing that when he first arrived he was OK but his cruelty built up over time?

When he went over to the teacher’s house for lunch we would often hear him shouting at his children and wife.

My parents would invite him and his poor bullied family out for dinner a couple of times a year and on one of these occasions the men needed more beer.

My father got into our Studebaker car and Mr. Flynn got into the passenger seat. I was in the back seat.

George was asleep inside my father’s shirt and as my father leaned back in the seat George woke up — by this stage the car was doing 60 miles per hour that is 110 kilometres per hour in today’s language.

George popped his head with his flickering tongue out between the button- holes of my father’s shirt and then started to look left and right as more of him came out.

The fantastic bit of this story for my nine-year-old self was that Mr. Flynn was petrified!

He opened the door to jump out of the car — it was a gravel road and the noise when a car door is opened at that speed was really something!

Dust; gravel, loud rattling noise; teacher panicking; me delighted!  Inside my head I was praying that he would jump!

Such is the mind of a child.

Unfortunately that was not to be because my father casually grabbed George and moved him away from Mr. Flynn and drove on.

The Doctor who confused arms with legs!

It was 3.15 am and I was in a taxi speeding towards my daughters home in Melbourne.

I had been in Melbourne for a couple of days catching up with Kia and had a wonderful time with her showing me around her favourite spots.

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I had seen Victoria night markets,

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seen quirky fashion and even bought a real 1960’s pair of bathers for summer. We had eaten interesting food seen crazy dogs

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and people plus enjoyed streets of cafes and bars and even Daiso!

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Back to the taxi ride, the taxi driver was asking me about what I was doing so early in the morning. I told him my 21 year old daughter Kia had moved from WA to Melbourne a few months ago and I was visiting. I told him how she had just phoned saying that she had been vomiting without stop since 10pm and needed help. Lucky I was in the city really…

The Sirian taxi driver told me that all his children stayed at home until they were married, some at 34 and one as late as 39 years old. He had five sons and a daughter. He wasn’t judgmental that my daughter had left home so early — just observing difference. He said that he couldn’t understand why a person would leave a loving family to move in with strangers.

I was wondering about our Western need to have independent young adults. I had left home at twelve for boarding school and was living with a girlfriend from school at seventeen. I thought nothing of the fact that Kia was off in the great wide world living life at twenty-one.

A small part of me just wanted to protect her and keep her close and make sure she was safe —my heart remembers her as the vulnerable baby and toddler. In times of stress my heart retreats to the past to those wonderful times— reminiscing the time where I could fix most things for her easily.

The taxi sped the wrong way down Kia’s empty one-way street where she was waiting at the door with a large bowl. After a “U’ie” we were whisked off to the famous St Vincent’s hospital emergency department.

It was really quiet in there with two people in the waiting room—both were sleeping on the chairs and one was snoring loudly.

We booked in and waited, Kia noisily vomiting every few seconds, and crying in pain so much so that she awoke the other two “waiters” in the waiting room.

After half an hour she was given an injection to stop the stomach cramps and she too lay down on the seats getting up every five to ten minutes for another spasmodic emptying.

By 5.30am all three of the emergency patients were still in place in the waiting room. Apparently they had been busy with severely injured ambulance clients.

Kia decided that she had been there long enough and wanted to go home. She got up went outside and I followed. She then had a semi collapse in the street—so back to the waiting room. By this time the drug had worn off so she crying in pain and vomiting her heart out.

At about 6.30am she was shown a bed and after half an hour the nurse gave her some medication and things settled down a bit.

Again she was left until the medication wore off. At this stage she was making such a noise retching and crying in pain that a Doctor finally came to see her.

At about 8.30 am a smiling rounded young Doctor came and in his lilting accent asked her to move her arms straight whilst grabbing her legs and pushing down on them.

Kia was a bit confused and straightened her arms but he insisted that she moved her arms straight and again pushed down on her legs.

Kia asked; “Do you mean my legs?” He responded; “Yes, your arms” and pushed some more. When she straightened her legs he said; “That’s right”.

Now this Doctor who didn’t know the difference between arms and legs was a bit of a worry!

He seemed to know his drugs—even if he didn’t know her body parts!

He gave her some morphine and when that didn’t really work — some more morphine. Finally the pattern of spasm, pain and vomiting stopped. He ordered a battery of blood tests, ultrasound and lots of poking and prodding. He seemed to know that bit of his work and I found out that his accent was Romanian so forgave his ever so slight misdemeanour about arms and legs after a frantic night for him in ED.

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At about 2pm she was discharged with more drugs and no diagnosis. All is quiet finally.

Unofficial Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb in the mid 80’s

In the 1980’s life was a little more simple. Perhaps it was that I was more relaxed and less fearful of doing silly things?

I was in Sydney visiting a friend who I will call Harry. We were sitting around in Ugg boots and Lycra having dinner at his house in Paddington.

I spent the whole of the 1980’s in designer Lycra. I hand spray painted and had elaborate designs stitched onto my tracksuits and other stretchy exercise clothing that I wore all the time. I remember once voting in Cottesloe in a pair of bikinis as though that was the most normal thing to do. My memories of the 1980’s was that it was a chilled time of extreme exercise and physically comfortable clothing.

Just as we were finishing dinner he said to me “Would you like to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge?”

Well… as a very fit and healthy person I was up for any fun so said “Yes”.

There was no official bridge climb at that time. The bridge climb came almost a decade and a half later in 1998. In the 1980’s the only people who climbed the bridge were people who looked after it in some way — or people like Harry and myself.

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Harry had been told how to access the bridge to climb it, so we jumped into his car and drove to the area at the base of the pylons. On the picture above it is that area where there are the upright brick structures. Harry had bought some carpet along so that we could climb over the barbed wire fence.

Once we got there I found out that before the barbed wire bit was a bit of an obstacle course. First we had to scale a very steep wall with the carpet. On the top of the wall was a six foot high fence and on the top of the fence was the barbed wire.

Being athletic and strong that was the least of our problems. The first problem was to find a time span between the security vehicles so that we would not be caught. We waited in the car until a police car came and just as it left around a corner we got into action. We quickly scaled the wall and then the fence, immediately pulling the carpet into the opening at the side of the brick structure where we could enter the bridge struts. Adrenaline pumping stuff! We were both panting and sweating by the time we were secreted way in the dark of the entrance to the bridge.

We went up some stairs and eventually we found the opening where you could climb within the metal spans. Each metal span seemed a bit wider than I was and higher than it was wider.

Here is an old photograph showing a span that we climbed within.

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An old photograph showing one of the spans. We climbed within one of the upper spans.

The slope upwards was really steep and there were large smooth bolts and metal lips at very regular intervals all the way up. It was like climbing within a slippery metal cave. We climbed and at intervals there were openings in the top where you could push back a metal plate and look out.

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The bridge is covered in smooth metal bolts.

My main problem was the Ugg boots as they were not the least bit useful for gripping on to the smooth iron base of the column. After some time we came to the place where it flattened out where we were going to  look out at the very top. As far as we could tell it was the top because there is little slope at the top. To our great disappointment the lookout slot had been fixed shut. I am guessing that this was because the bridge people wanted to dissuade people like ourselves from climbing.

We then retraced our steps slipping and sliding our way downwards again to get to the bottom and back to our piece of carpet. Anxiously we waited for ages for the next security patrol and when it left we quickly threw the carpet over the barbed wire, scaled the fence and then thundered down the sloped wall to be back in the car again after our adventure.

In 2010 I was in Sydney and decided to climb the bridge the official way.

It was such a let down — the original climb was so much more interesting and fun — and it was free. I don’t mean free in cost as the cost was reasonable, I mean free in spirit.

The official bridge climb required enough equipment —the cost of which would probably to keep a whole third world family in food and education for a year. It was slooowwwwww… as slow as the most unfit of humanity.  So slow I could have fallen asleep at any time during the climb. I couldn’t help thinking “Wendy you are spending your life one moment at a time. Is this experience worth it?”

However I have to admit the views were much better.

How I got a thief to give me his money.

One of the great things about being a parent is that you get to meet the local people who have children at the same school. Fremantle has a quirky demographic so there were some true gems and then we had the opposite — those people who have a sense of entitlement.

When my daugher was young some of the school parents would turn up at my home in pain and expect me to park her in front of TV while I treated them for free. Interestingly enough I noticed all of these people either had government jobs or were on benefits!

Some of these people —not all of course— are use to being supported with all of those entitlements that are not common in the private sector. Things such as a permanent position no matter how useless they are, endless clients who are not paying who have no choice but to deal with you.

A very small percentage of these “workers/receivers of government money” can be rude, obnoxious or even worse take forever to do the smallest thing—all the time knowing that they are wielding huge power of the lives of the poor public. They know that no matter how they behave their income and entitlements are secure. That sense of entitlement makes them depressed unhappy and takes away their zest for life.

Of course, some government people work hard and do really fantastic things with a high standard of care, even although they have all of those entitlements.

This story is about my brush with some people with that sense of entitlement.

That whole co dependent scene where I was asked to work outside working hours for free was simply not my style I couldn’t for the life of me understand these people.

To sort this situation I simply opened up a room in Fremantle and got rid of the couch at home. I then advertised this fact in fairly firm terms and Voila! The problem was solved.

I now understand that these people did me a favor, as I am not sure I would have opened the Fremantle clinic if I hadn’t been forced. It was not intentionally a “business” but over time it become very successful.

At the time of this story one of my clients was a chief from up north. She had been involved in a motor vehicle accident where the car she was traveling in had hit a bull.

This woman was a large woman in more ways than one—a real character. When the car hit the bull her knees had smashed into the dashboard and they were shattered. Due to a number of medical reasons she was unable to have knee replacements, so she was unable to walk for more than a few steps. She would arrive on her “gofer” and park it in the middle of the waiting room so that the whole room was practically filled.

She would then use some sticks to struggle painfully the few steps to the treatment couch in the closest room.

One fine sunny day I was in the room treating her when I heard a sound in the waiting room. I went out and found a man behind the front desk looking through the drawers.

Of course you never know what your response would be when something like this happens and I was rather surprised by mine.

I started yelling at the top of my voice “Thief! Call the Police! – Thief! Call the police!” and without any thought I rushed over to the front door and slammed the heavy bolt shut.

Only then did I realize that I had just bolted myself in with a maybe (?) a violent man.

I tried to step back from the door but had nowhere to go as the gofer was in the way.

The thief rushed to the front door looking frantic and stricken. I was in his way so he shoved me so hard that I fell to the floor. Luckily I bounce so I bounced back up and moved away from him wondering how I had got myself in such a silly situation.

He was so nervous and upset that he had difficulty in unbolting the simple bolt! His hands and whole body were visibly shaking.

During the whole time I kept up my screaming “Thief! Call the police!!!”

My poor client was immobilized on the coach listening to it all. We had quiet a chuckle about it afterwards!

Eventually after some fumbling he managed to unbolt the front door and he ran outside. Well, much to my surprise — I ran after him and this is where my early childhood training of practicing wolf whistles with the Crayfishermen at Jurien Bay paid off. I have the loudest wolf whistle of anyone I know.  Logically, I started with my piercing whistle and then I would yell “Thief! Call the police!!!” as I ran after him.

He realized that with me carrying on like that he was likely to get caught. So, he turned and faced me and gave me his bum bag. He said that he had not taken any money from me and he was simply going to use the toilet in my rooms. I guess he was practiced at lying his way out of trouble. I grabbed his bag and marched back inside with him following meekly behind.

I opened his bag and inside there were three wallets. I took no notice of this, as my brain was still a tad discombobulated by the experience. All I noticed was that my money pouch was not there.

As he stood quietly on the other side of the desk I checked my money and found that he had not had enough time to find where it was hidden. I then gave him back his bum bag and dismissed him.

Only afterwards did I think: “Why would he have three wallets?”

So, I rang the police.

One of my lawyer friends once told me that the only difference between the Police and the criminals is which side they are on and my conversation with them on this occasion suggested that he could be right.

I was told that if I reported this event they could charge me for deprivation of liberty for bolting the door. Not much joy there.

Fremantle is a small community so I would see “my special thief” sitting on a bench and I would go over and sit next to him.  I would tell him that he could do things differently and not be someone who goes around doing the silly things that he does. This was not an uncomfortable conversation. He would not make eye contact however he would sit there in a relaxed way.

A couple of years later I noticed my “special thief” waiting at a bus stop in central Fremantle in florescent workers clothing with what looked like a packed lunch. This was on my 5.30 am runs, I would run past every day and here would be there.

At first he would not make eye contact even although he would acknowledge me with a nod. I thought the lack of eye contact thing was cultural so just accepted it.

After a few months he started to look up look me directly in the eyes and smile as I ran past.

He is now working and appears happy and unhindered by his previously crippling sense of entitlement. Who knows?

Ora Banda Pub — A dalliance on the way to Lake Ballard

 

So many huge metropolises in the outback of Western Australia are now just broken glass, a bit of tin and some shrubs. Ora Banda has been a bit more fortunate and in its current manifestation it is a beautiful stone building that is operating as a pub.

A pub in the middle of nowhere as it is a one hour 40 minute drive from Coolgardie and Coolgardie is in the nearly at the end of the Earth.

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Coolgardie streets were made wide enough to turn a camel train.


I was there on my way to the desert sculptures at Lake Ballard. This is a sculpture installation by Antony Gormley and consists of fifty one sculptures over an area of ten square kilometres. I wanted to “run the sculptures and this is what I eventually did.

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Running the Sculptures in the salt

I will explain how I got to Ora Banda and what happened. 

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Distant Sculpture on Lake Ballard

Around the Coolgardie area there are many tourist attractions but they are spread over 1,000’s of desert miles.

The locals know the way to these places because that is part of their being, the places of their childhood holidays and memories.

They have not looked at their signage in a way that makes the slightest bit of sense to a visitor.

I thought that I was on my way to Lake Ballard and I was doing my best to go via Rowlands Lagoon, however with many a side road unmarked I ended up in Ora Banda.

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Ora Banda Pub where an unsolved bikie murder occurred in 2000. I’m guessing that it must be a good place for a murder as it is isolated.

I stopped at the pub because I decided to ask a local if I was on the right road to get to Lake Ballard.

I was planning to take the gravel road that didn’t take me via Menzies.

I like the isolation of dirt roads — the lack of traffic. I revel in the feeling of the slippery-slidey roll under the tyres as they spin and slide against the round stones so that if you don’t correct extremely gently you will be flipped and the car will simply spin, career out of control or tip over and slide on the roof for a while.

Meditation and focus at its best — a little slice of heaven.

Ora Banda pub is a beautiful stone building and as I walked towards it I wondered how it would smell. It didn’t disappoint because it smelt of alcohol and dust.

It didn’t have that terrible chemical smell of Perth hotels where they have used a bucket load of “products” that results in them smelling like public toilets.

The Ora Banda pub had that honest smell of sweat, dust and plonk.

It was dark inside in the way that old buildings are and it took some time for my eyes to adjust, and then I noticed that it was decorated with ancient photographs and quaint bits of history.

At the bar was a young man who looked Maori — and when I asked about the roads he said that he didn’t know a thing about the area and he motioned to the two women who were sitting at the far end of the long bar.

They only two patrons of the place at 11.30 AM — he said that they would know.

I walked down the bar to these women and I immediately had eye contact with a woman in her 30’s who had those sorts of 1980’s “Ita Buttrose” eyebrows that had been shaped so that she looked constantly surprised by life. She also had bottled jet-black hair with very pale skin. I started to ask her which road was the unsealed one that went directly to Lake Ballard.

The woman next to her simply took over—the surprised looking, black haired woman didn’t get a chance to speak.

This other woman was large in a brick shit house sort of way, not fat but huge — all muscle and tone. Her manner was butch and she walked over to me and hovered over me with a presence that seems to block out the rest of the world.

To me it was as though she had decided that I was someone who needed to be protected from my “delusional city slicker ideas “ and that I should not worry my “pretty little head” about driving on a gravel road.

Every query I had was answered with a protective “go to the left, there is bitumen” answer.

She had beautiful clear blue eyes and she eye balled me and twinkled them so that I knew that she was interested in protecting me.

Attraction energy has a sort of buzz and she was buzzing me with full force.

She kept telling me that the way that I wanted to go was simply too difficult, too many wash-a-ways, too much trouble for me. She even said that maybe my car would not make the journey!

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My trusty “Landy” in Coolgardie – it loves the outback roads.

My heart was smiling at this situation and with that feeling I quietly said that my car was designed to drive down roads…

I decided to retreat as I had learned that the gravel road I thought was the right way would get me to Lake Ballard.

I moved over towards the door and she followed me and hovered that huge energy over me and it felt that she was trying to trap my will to leave.

Her presence was so huge and overbearingly protective that I could have felt small and dependant.

Yes, I am small but I don’t ever feel small except when I can’t reach a top cupboard. I only feel small when it is a bonus such as sleeping in the back of my car.

I don’t feel small around people — that’s not an option.

As I was leaving she followed me and at the door were tourist maps on the wall.

She took a few of them out and explained to me the best way —which was the way I didn’t want to go— and as she did this her alcoholic breath made me a tad dizzy.

At this stage the black haired woman decided to eke her way back in to the conversation — she agreed with her friend.

I thanked them both and left and took the “wrong” gravel road and had a wonderful trip to Lake Ballard.

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The sunlight reflected on the salt with a distant sculpture that was quite a run away. I didn’t get to run all fifty one it was way too hot.

 

 

Harlem – New York

Some places have a vibe and others are more worldly and therefore average. For example much of Manhattan is just like other places in the world – cute bars, restaurants, boutique businesses plus grunge places being upgraded with plants. I am sure that many of these ideas probably came from places like New York, however, we have this sort of thing in Perth.

This world of ours is a global place and we are getting more and more homogenous in ways.

Manhattan – New York— unlike other Western cities I have seen — appeared to me to be a mixture of first world and  third world  scenes. There are neon screens in Times Square along with lots of beggars. There are piles of rubbish on the streets and the majority of vehicles driving past are expensive. The large number of poverty stricken street people are juxtaposed by the people rushing past them who are wearing Rolex watches, Armani or holding Gucci bags.

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Rubbish collection New York style. This man was on a bike at Central Park.

Other places are just unashamedly themselves and one of these places is Harlem. Harlem does grunge and cool better than any other place I have noticed on this planet so far.

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Harlem street shops on a usual day.

It is a mish-mash of races mostly of the brownish variety as there seems to be a fair amount of “great big melting pot” stuff happening. The major race is African American however there are Hispanic, Asian, Caucasians, Jamaicans, African/Africans and all the rest socialising and doing commerce together. I felt that everyone was casually OK to be hanging out in the streets I would recommend Harlem as the place to stay when in New York. Providing that you don’t frequent the streets too much late at night.

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Most people wear hats so there are lots of hat shops

I have to be racist here — and to be racist is not a popular thing — However, it appeared to me that the African and African American people are the people who make this place great, cool and give it the vibe of difference and aliveness.

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Blue on blue

For starters many of these young women are statuesque with braided hair that went below their tiny waists. They are elegantly thin and strong looking. Their elongated bodies not only have petite waists but this is enhanced by rounded butts that sway along with their braided hair when they walk — all very alluring. To make the whole look even more appealing they wear long tight dresses that hug every curve and it appears that there is little underwear worn as there are not bra or pant line to be seen.

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“Out there” braids and florals for all and sundry, Harlem has its’ own style.

Many of the young men are pristine, coiffured within an inch of their lives and their clothing — no matter what their style — is exact and they look like they have just come from a modelling job.

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Mens style – they actually buy and wear this sort of clothing.

Their fit healthy strong bodies are shown off to perfection. Drool…

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A typical young mum…

Then there are the children — most of the little African American girls have their hair braided in cornrow braids, with colourful beads on the end so that when they walk they make a soft sound as they clank together. Others have ribbons or other random stuff stuck amongst the cacophony of their hair styles.

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The children are beautifully dressed with braided hair.
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Close up of the hair and clothing

Every day the parents here can be seen walking their children home after school holding their hands. The children have to run at times to keep up with their tall strong healthy looking “cool” parents.

The little boys also have their hair styled — they are like mini adults with beautifully exact shaved stars, stripes or other shapes. Or they have elaborately stylised shapes on top of their heads. Only African hair could take this sort of styling. The rest of the world of hair would simply flop!

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Kindy kids and their hair

Now I will speak of the elderly — these people are the coolest of the lot. They wear whatever they like. Some of the men wear suits with matching shoes, tie, shirt and hat. The suit could be say cream and the shoes, tie shirt and hat could be green or yellow or orange —the whole outfit is wondrous to behold.

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All ages have their own style.

The more casual look is jeans “T” shirt and shoes all one colour. I have seen white, orange, brown, black, blue and green so far.

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Even the shoes are red.

When I say green here I am talking about lime green, and when I say yellow it is canary yellow. Orange is bright iridescent orange. Pink is of the lollie pink variety. Clothing here is always the brightest colour of the pallet.

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Canary Yellow!

Then there are the African people both the men and women who were born in Africa. They wear those wonderful African clothes with the bright geometrically designed flowing floor length dresses with wrapped turban, shawl and all the rest … Brightening up the street for as far as the eye can see.

The Caucasians, Asians and Hispanic people are pale and bland and difficult to notice even although they are there.

The other thing about Harlem is the fact that the Avenues are very wide with wide footpaths and in summer the people bring out their chairs and tables and sit on the street in the sun.

cool dood in suit
Street life, look at the old guys clothing!

Discussing life at full volume — intimate details — at super loud volume, with comments like “this is so personal” “I don’t tell anyone but you this…” Not only do they discuss amongst themselves they call out to people walking along. I have been told : You are in great shape Miss” and that “I love your hat”. It is all very friendly and neighbourly this street hanging out.

dresses for sale
Primary colours for clothing

Just as every culture has some sides that are not so easy to be around Harlem is the same.

Some of the people also have their domestic tiffs right out loud in the street in front of everyone including their children. Here it is not “behind closed doors” it is in your face right out loud and open to the world, sort of dysfunctionally and unconsciously honest when I think about it.

The liquor stores where you can buy wine are like glass boxes where the wine and shop assistants are encased in a glass box. You point at your wine and the assistant gets it for you and then you play using a box where you deposit the money and ID and swing the thing around. They put the wine and change on it and swing it back.

lock the liquor
Wine and spirits lock down!
2014-06-23 18.33.42
How to get your purchase and pay. You need ID.

Personally I don’t actually understand this system because you can actually buy wine and beer at the local deli and supermarket.

I am sure that many of the churches here are wonderful places that are inclusive etc. However, they also have the opposite who seem to find difference and inclusion WRONG.

toxic church words
It reads; “WE WILL TAKE HARLEM BACK FROM THE PINCH NOSE NEGROS AND THE DEMONIC HOMOS NEXT MEETING 23RD JUNE 2014”. I’m not sure that this would be allowed in Australia it would probably break our discrimination laws.

Then there are the parks. In one travel advisor site it said to visit Marcus Garvey park so I did. What I found was the trees and grass fenced in. Large piles of human faeces on the stairs on the walk up the the summit of the hill. There is so little open space in Harlem so I was shocked to see it so neglected.

Locking the trees in
They fence in the trees and grass at the main park in Harem.

There are also some ideas that are so fantastic such as the solar mobile phone charging stations in the park.

phone chargng in park
Solar iPad and mobile phone charging station in the park. It included all the cables required so that you didn’t even need your own cable.

Then there was the man who was using the traffic island and traffic lights as his gym.

Street gym - you don't need money to get buff in Harlem
This man was exercising on a traffic island – He was using the signage as his gym. He was really buff, proves you don’t need money to look fantastic!

One afternoon as group of about 20 or 30 “bikies” were doing wheelies up and down the street I was living on. They were so loud you couldn’t continue a conversation. The children of the area would wait at the traffic lights and join in with the motor bikes as they went past so there were kids doing wheelies on bicycles and all types of motor bikes doing wheelies with them.  Some of the bikies had four wheel bikes with two people standing on them as they went along on the two back wheels.

Lastly there was the gun shots at night on the street to which I simply retired to the back room of the apartment and went to bed.

I loved Harlem and so when you come to New York don’t miss it!

Officious Officials USA style

Every country has a different way of handling officialdom.

In some Asian countries the officials have the power to do whatever they like — some are corrupt — so I have learned to keep a low profile so that I am not singled out.

I remember last time I was in Malaysia. I was going through customs in transit and an official simply stole my toothpaste — a new unopened tube of expensive stuff. Immediately a hawker kept badgering me to buy some from her — I repeat — this was in the customs hall during transit! The customs official seemed to be OK with the hawker — perhaps he took a commission? It took me some time to work out what was happening and to keep myself safe.

In northern Europe the officials I have encountered are simply like another human — they don’t seem to have any need to do the “power” thing, they talk to you like another intelligent adult and seem to allow a smooth easy flow of information.

Most Australian officials are friendly and helpful however when we get an ornery one they are passive aggressive. They simply make things difficult without saying much. I have learned to get around them with syrupy sweetness so they don’t affect me too much.

In the USA the officials such as customs, train conductors, or anyone working in an official way are like something out of a bad sitcom. My daughter streams those American sitcoms where they scream abuse at each other and it is meant to be funny I think that the officials are like that but due to the power they hold over you it is simply not funny.

They speak really loudly using commands — to put it plainly — they talk down to you. They command to see ID, command people to do things a particular way and their demeanor is as though they are the parent and you are their slightly dim whited child.

This takes some getting use to.

I have tried to be polite to them but they don’t crack a smile or show any sign of friendliness—they just keep on LOUDLY telling me and others what to do.

I tried to crack the code of how to respond but maybe there is no code and we civilians simply need to move along as commanded?

I found customs in Dallas particularly amusing as they officials “told off” person after person for not being able to guess the next step of a complicated security procedure. You are expected to know the procedure and if you don’t guess it right you get ridiculed or told off!

Kansas City Amtrak station
Kansas City Amtrak station — simply beautiful architecture

When I was in Kansas City Amtrak station they called for people to board the train 30 minutes before leaving time.

There were crowds of people around the exit towards the train. I thought they were queuing for that train.

Anyway to make sure I was doing the right thing I showed my ticket to the official there. He loudly laughed at me and made a joke about how stupid I was for not going directly to the train as requested by the intercom. All the people queuing around joined in with the joke laughing at his words…

Silly me!

No need to be polite here and queue!

Just get on that dang train ASAP as you have been commanded and all will be well.