Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Time Travel

I am a time traveler. I am lucky. I can go back and forth and examine my history, my past.. I can travel through geography—that’s easy.  More importantly, I have maintained enough contacts to enable me to visit past relationships. All that are significant.  I am lucky.

Most of the people and the places are still around, and I have the resources to enter this portal and to interact again. 

Predictably, relationships proved the most emotive. But this time around I had an agenda.  Or an agendum, one question: What is your view of our past relationship?…and then just sit back and listen. That’s was the hard part. 

I wanted to understand the other person’s perspective. In some cases, it was the first time that I listened to the other side. It proved a mirror, reflecting an image of myself without my intervening narrative.It is not what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear.

Repeating this process, back and forth, until I covered a 35 year time span. I was ready for the answer. By touching on all significant relationships I felt that I deserved an epiphany.

But there were no epiphanies. But I still felt that I deserved one. 

My six month sabbatical is coming to an end and I wanted to tie it all together. There was a slow realization that what I needed to hear, I knew already.  And the words of the great poet Omar Khayyam entered my life again. “Alike for those who for today prepare, And those that after a tomorrow stare, A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries "Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There!" and I am left where I was, but now I know where I was. And I treasure what I had, and can still have.

I realized that relationships are the warp threads in my life. We somehow resonated together. I can live through their experiences and they can live through mine. Empathy, love, and sometimes humor.  In life there are threads that form the basis of memory, the warp threads in a weave. Warp threads are the ones that run vertical to the loom. 

The other experiences are hinged upon this thread and run parallel. The warp thread holds the weaving still while the weft threads are being woven in. The weft are the nuances: Cutting fresh bread at my parent’s home where I was born, eating a wedding ice cream wedge, sharing a bright ale in a local pub, smelling wood fires early in the morning, and geography.

What was unpredictable was the emotion attached with geography. Geography is more comfortable than with people. Geography doesn't confess hidden secrets. They loved me, I loved them, I cheated, they cheated, lies that we told each other that we now confessed. Bastard children, hidden births, abortions, lost pregnancies, failed marriages. Hidden then, and now in the safety of age, exposed. 

Geography does not lie, it is always there and you just missed it before. Geography is true, and yet, I still had to listen, I still had to look and become an active interpreter. But with geography there is no ego, there is no hurt. Running on the tow paths of the Kennet and Avon canal, despite  the cold snap in the early morning, yesterday’s rain that muddied the path staining my bright clean running shoes, I felt at home. 

Running along the narrow path, mile after mile, with vistas opening up to me at every corner it exposed me again to why I love the British countryside. The tranquil existence of canal life, calm waters, neatly contained by the canal walls, narrow boats and the ancient trees that envelope the smooth clear liquid path. This experience is what gives color to my life, the pattern.
Some writers talk about either the weft while others talk about the warp. Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia concentrates on the warp, on people, writing far less about geography than one would expect from a travel writer.

My epiphany did not come from my past relationships, but from my present ones. The realization that I will have fewer warps then wefts in my life made me think about the significant people in my life that tie my experiences together. People, and more accurately, close friends, children and family that build up my tapestry as warp threads are the lasting structures.

I am planning my next time travel hoping to strengthen my warps. Warp speed and time travel go together.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not Old Age

Thinking I just could jump in and pick up from where I left off, and after a hiatus of five months I went to a bikram yoga class. Although I have been running and hiking I have not stretched. It comes as no surprise therefore that in the second warm up exercise I pull a nerve in my sacrum and ended looking at the ceiling for the next hour, while the class came to an eventual stop.

The back pain is nothing new.  It has been a few years since I had a flair up, but I have had this problem for years. So what is different now is that nearly everyone jokes that its because I am getting old. “Don’t dare say it because I’ll scratch your car” was the goodbye salute after I crawled out of the car coming back from the yoga class. But in the loneliness of my apartment, hobbling around to do the most basic of caretaking tasks, I look at myself and my personal secret narrative repeats the obvious and simplest explanation. That I am getting old.

I was divorced seven years ago. I stood in front of the mirror and for the first time saw the old man looking back at me. That same old man that looks back at me today.  Marriage deludes you, fixes you in a time when your ideals carry you over the turbulent reality like a silent fog. A fog created by all the activity around you. Living with a wife, then kids that come fast and furious, the mortgages, the cars (plural), the pets (plural) all distract you from looking at yourself. Marriage slowly pushed me out of myself, with a blindfold consoling me.

Looking back at that old man, the blindfold came down. With the release of the blindfold came the reality of the changes that took place that I was not aware. A harsh reality that scraped the cushioning tissue off and left behind the raw, exposed senses. You never feel more close to living, but also so close to tasting your internal fear. The experience leaves you without any illusions, perhaps for the first time ever there are no distractions. It takes a derailment to appreciate the foundation of the rails.  With this reality came the realization that I have aged.

I work at staying healthy. I am determined to be conscious of my aging and not to fight it. But a chronic back pain sends all of these conscious edifices that I have erected to tumble and silently crush in the quiet of my apartment. But on reflection, when I confront the narrative, I realize that it has nothing to do with age. And then I question the process. Why it is so easy for others and then for me to assign old age as the cause. What if these negative physical events "will me" to age—make me age? Can we grow ourselves to age? How strange is that, while I lie on my back holding my laptop to type?

Can I be programming my brain incorrectly by thinking that I hurt because I am aging? This is nothing new, it is as old as Ormond college where I am in right now. In 1890, William James proposed the idea of brain programming —brain plasticity—in The Principles of Psychology. However, it was much later that the Polish neuroscientist Jerzy Konorski popularized it. One of the fundamental principles is known as synaptic pruning, where individual connections within the brain are constantly being removed or recreated, largely dependent upon how they are used. Negative plasticity, assigning wrong associations to an event, create the reality of that (negative) association. So if I think that my hurting back is caused by my aging, I create that reality — those synaptic networks — so that the next time I experience a negative event, I automatically think it is due to aging. Until I end up with only associating bad events with aging. When a bad event happens my brain will be programmed to assign my age and not the fact that I need to warm up, or that I perhaps cannot just go to a bikram class after a hiatus of 4 months. It is not aging, it is not looking after the needs of my body. So the next person that tells me its because I am getting old will get their car personalized.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Free Wine at a Winery

You expect to get free wine samples at a winery, but I was given a bottle of wine for free by the owner.  After an interlude of hilarity.  I received the bottle after going round the back of the shop with the owner where he said he wants to show me something. So on our return, when he gave me a free bottle of wine,  there were a lot of winks and nods.

It all started when I confessed that I do not like Shiraz. Justin McNamee the owner of Samuel's Gorge winery, where we were closing a day of wine tasting,  continuing to enjoy the wine he poured for his visitors,  took me around the back of the shop and showed me the old vintage equipment as a way of explaining how pure the process is.  My answer being that “that purity” might be why I do not like it. Quizzically he stopped talking and waited. 

Well the reason I do not like Shiraz has nothing to do with the quality. It is to do with the taste and texture of wine. Certain wine resonates with me as an unique experience. Whether it is because of what I was brought up with, perhaps it transports me to another more happy times. Perhaps it agrees with my constitution, makes me feel better, happier, stronger more virile. Perhaps it is what I expect a good wine to taste like. Whatever the reason, some wine does it for me. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot does it for me. Other wines, especially the pure types of Shiraz, Pinots and especially the Zinfandels, do not.

That is what Justin and I talked about in the back of his wine pressing workshop. And the same attraction applies to people. After sampling some 16 wines and a couple of bottles of wine, a delicious lunch, talking was easy and open. We discussed wines and then people until the obvious distinction become less apparent.   I  feel a resonance with clever, adventurous, confident, slightly eccentric people. I feel comfortable in their company. Not all people have these qualities, but within this group, I gravitate towards the more unique. Selecting the pure wine. This is where Justin and I shook hands and he presented me with a bottle of tempranillo wine.

There are mini reflections of the whole. The secrets of life might be too broad for our brains to comprehend, but there are mini reflections, glares that we can perceive. And it is a stretch to even suggest that wine reflects life, but it is within our comprehension to understand that our appreciation of wine (or beer, or art, or music) is based on fundamental pleasures. Pleasures that are specific and tuned to who we are as human beings. Combining all of these pleasures together; from tactile to taste to auditory to visual and you can easily see how there is a dance of the sense. A symphony.  Each appreciation reflects your essence as a person. And because of this essence, these tastes only get refined but not changed.  I have a similar resonance with people. Old close friends that show up in my life still resonate deeply within me.

Johannes Kepler was convinced that the geometrical blueprint that provided the Creator with the model for decorating the whole world was based on musical harmonies.  He attempted to explain this not with mathematics or physics, but with music. And he was not alone. The harmony of the universe had been studied by Pythagoras, Ptolemy and many others before Kepler. The central set of "harmonies" was the musica universalis or "music of the spheres."

Finding, or coming across wine, music, people that are in tune with your harmony is not often. Shiraz might be a pure tone, but it is not part of my harmony. Welcome Tempranillo.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I am a city guy. I realized this when in my second visit to Beijing, I went off on my own without even a worry or a care. I could hardly pronounce my hotel correctly, but I felt sure that I will get by, because it is a city. Cash is the oxygen line that feeds you in any pool of humanity. So, back to the present, when I was offered to stay another night at Cape Tribulation one of the most remote places on earth--because of another mishap with the tour booking (for another story)--I hesitated. I am not comfortable out of my environment, out of the city.

Cape Tribulation is a headland 68 miles north of Cairns. It has a funny, foreboding name. It was ofcourse, named by an Englishman, Captain Cook. In his land grab of 1770 his ship Endeavour was shipwrecked on a reef 12 miles off the coast of the cape. He was in such a good mood that he also named the mountain at the tip as Sorrow Mountain. Cape Tribulation and Sorrow Mountain. Located within the Daintree National Park and at the edge of the Great barrier reef, both the reef and the forest are now World Heritage areas. Cape Tribulation survives on this fame through mainly backpacking tourist. With a population of 101 in the 2006 Census, it really is a small backcountry resort.

My resort was at one end of the village. A well maintained resort but with a limited restaurant. So when I went kayaking and the tour started from another hotel with a fully exposed kitchen and two chefs working, I knew this is the place to visit for dinner. Walking there later on in the afternoon was easy. As I got out of my resort, two young brothers from Sydney stopped and gave me a lift. I should have checked on the mileage, but I had not spoken with many people lately and I was in a talkative mood. I did not see the distance nor the terrain traveled in their rented car. But I was not worried. After a few beers the Sydney brothers headed off to prowl the local scene while I stayed at the resort to wait for 6pm when (all) restaurants open up for service. And what a service. The meal was excellent...chicken breast with sun dried tomato and feta cheese wrapped in proscuito on a bed of spinach, asparagus and caramelized onions, potatoes with a hollandaise sauce. I savored the dish, not noticing the sunset. It was 7pm.

Satiated and well pleased with myself for making a good selection (both the dish and the restaurant) I headed out of the resort. It was pitch black. With the lingering refraction of light behind me I headed onto the unpaved dirt road to start walking back to my resort. It was a surprise how quickly it got dark. That kind of darkness that compels you to put your hand in front of your face to make sure that you cannot see it.

The sky was overcast and the moon was not visible. I stopped. I was still happy from my meal. I looked around and I saw nothing. I looked back and I had only traveled some 30 meters but the glow of the resort was only faint enough to outline the canopy of the forest encircling it. I stood still for a few seconds trying to will my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I looked forward. Nothing. I scuffed my boots against the dirt track to reassure myself that I was on the track. Looked back again and then headed forward away from the glimmer. No noise but my breathing.

To be engulfed by darkness is the best way of describing the total lack of visual clues of where I was. By scuffing the road I knew I was still on the path. I knew that on both sides there were ditches, in some cases leading vertically down maybe 10-15 feet into a river or a swamp.

Imagine being in space, with heavy gravity. The canopy of the trees closing upon me, yet unseen. I continued to walk on the dirt track. The road seems to undulate. Looking back I saw nothing. I was walking fairly slowly now. My initial spring in my step gave way to a more cautious stomp. My ears sensitive to the rustling noises of the forest. Rain drizzling but hardly touching me. The trees and shrubs get to it first. They are predators for water.

Then I hear a noise coming closer fast. I turn towards the noise ahead of me, but it must have bounced off the trees, I turn back and I see a light coming from behind me. Then a noise, an engine. It is loud and revving. I look at the expanding light, and then it comes around the corner. There is one light source, bright as a sun staring at me and coming straight at me. VROOOMM. What looked like a Triumph Bonneville, a cafĂ© racing bike, doing 60 miles an hour with the driver hugging the chassis of the bike and skirting the edge of the track.  Five feet from where I was. VROOOM. I am temporarily blinded by the light and then I hear another sound following. Another engine, revving, but this time the sound is more deep and sonorous. Two lights heading towards me, at the same speed as the bike. They must be racing. A bike and a diesel land cruiser. I feel like a witness to a non-event.

I see their lights become fainter and then the darkness engulfs me once more. Although temporary blinded again, my night vision eroded by the bright lights, I was more elated because I realize that at least there is traffic on the road. I continue walking into the darkness. It is drizzling still. Sometimes when I pass a section of the track where the canopy does not reach over, where there is a creek or a river, I feel the coldness of the rain, otherwise I hear the rain on the layers of vegetation from more than a hundred feet up.

I continue scuffing my shoes to ensure that I am on the dirt track. I hear rustling on the side. I tell myself that it is just the wind. And then I start thinking of the story of Rip Van Winkle, and the animated version of the story, where the tree comes alive and attempts to catch him. I laugh it off. My internal narration does not laugh. It continues to go through the story. I start burping, anything just to make a sound. I pretend that I am in charge. I start shouting. Nothing. Not even an echo. I stop dead. I listen and the only sound I hear is the rustling of the leaves and the creaking of branches. my breathing is deeper. I still cannot see anything. I check my watch which has a back light. I have been walking for ten minutes. Hmm, I start wondering how far have I walked.

(A picture of the track in the morning driving there to pick up the rest of the group )

Another ten minutes pass and no more traffic and I still have no clue where I am. I am alone in the middle of one of the oldest forests in the world.Some 260 million years. I start walking briskly. The back light from my watch gives me some company. I start looking at the time every minute. I start walking faster. I glance back and up and to the side. Nothing. Then light ahead of me. Initially I thought that it was the village, but t was moving towards me. Two lights, a car coming up ahead. This four wheel truck being driven more slowly then the last one, they pass me and then I see the brake light come on, then the white reverse light.  The truck reverses up to me, wind down their window. I can see two dark aboriginal men. “You OK?” The driver asked. I really wanted to say no please help me, but what came out of my mouth amazed me “Just heading back to my hotel, thanks for checking. Is it far?” “About ten minutes walk” the passenger softly responds. “Cheers” and the truck slowly truck moves away from me.

Why is it indigenous people are not afraid when you are in trouble. When I arrived in America and persuaded my wife at the time to go for a walk to the Hoover damn from the village of Boulder, I misread the distance. Having just came from Malta, where an inch on the map is ten paces, in Las Vegas an inch was more than 5 miles. Tired, hot and thirsty, having drank our giant slurpie, we tried to hitch our way back. My wife who was four months pregnant with our first child at the time was suffering from the heat. I tried hitching for more than 20 minutes. Nothing. Cars were zooming past us. I was getting worried. By this time the sun started to go down and although we have only been in Las Vegas for a few days, we knew that once the sun sets the temperature drops. Then an old beaten up dark green chevy impala stops. I look inside the cavernous space of these big American cars, and there in the corner was an old American Indian man. Long hair, waist coat, dark and craggy complexion. “Y’all need a lift?” “Yes please”  Yes please I should have gone AHLLELUJA, god be praised…”Yes Please” is what came out. “I was robbed last week giving a lift “ As we both settled into the front seat.  “I am Maltese, from Malta” as a way of assuring him that we are safe. He drove us to the bus station and then disappeared. Indigenous people have always come into my life and made it better.

So here I was, alone and in darkness again, transported back to when I first moved to the United States. The contact with the aboriginal men started me to reminiscence. My life started to flash in front me. As I walked deeper into the darkness, I reminisced about the past. I thought of all the changes, all the lost energies, all the trials and tribulations. And then I become aware of how utterly alone I am in the world. I stopped walking. I looked up. I could not even see the stars to define my smallness in the universe. I was simply a dark speck in a dark universe.

I was alone. If I was attacked by an over zealous dingo there would be no one to inform. No one knew who I was. In the middle of the night, at 8pm, in a dirt track in one of the oldest forests on earth, thousand of miles from anyone who knows me and could identify me,  I become aware that being able to give up everything is how you can truly release from worry and to  live. Being out of your environment, knowing that you have nothing to hold onto, you are necessarily lonely, and this is how the journey forward needs to proceed. Most of the time in darkness, most of the time alone, and most of the time slightly on edge. All the time to know that you have already given up your life in order to live it.  This is how I felt that evening. It took me another 45 minutes to get back to my resort. I missed my junction but I made it back. Sometimes running, sometimes walking, never knowing what was around me. Wet and very tired, but I had not felt so alive in a long time.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Downunder Food and Anchovies

Why have I not written about food yet? Back in San Diego I go around dissecting the menu and then the individual dishes. Here I am, 7900 miles away, in a different continent, different culture, and I do not talk about food.  And there is a reason for this.

So far I have been feeding my craving for Chinese food. Both Melbourne and Sydney have significant Chinese presence and therefore great and varied Chinese food. When there is good Chinese food, there are no other options.

But now, the anchor has been released and I am floating up the north eastern seaboard of Australia, away from the urban environment that I feel so comfortable in. And perchance I am exposed to the local cuisine. 

When I travel I make it a rule to eat one salad every day, and to try something weird every day.  The weird dishes have amounted to a tahini coconut rice ball from the marihuana capital of Australia; Nimbin. To today’s pie—Australians eat a lot of flaky pastry pies—this one was chicken and asparagus. I go in a shop, I ask the attendant, wow you have a lot of pies/items/choices what is the most unique and strangest item you have. This is likely to get me in trouble one of these days, but so far, so good. Hence the tahini ball, which I initially tired to break in half, but it resisted. I had to bite into the hard ball, like a dense rice crispy ball. A concoction of rice, desiccated coconut, tahini and something brown that I could not work out. I think it is Milo (like Ovaltine) Australians put it on ice cream here. Well that is what I hope was in it.

Which brings me to my salad. So a quick lesson on caesar salad. It was not developed by any of the Italian Caesar gods in between their acts of debauchery meddling with some lettuce and cream (oh the imagination wanders aimlessly.) Or by one of the many Caesars' grateful chefs preparing the dish of lettuce to compete against braised bull testicles and sheep brains. No.

It was developed by a restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant, who was living in San Diego but also working in Tijuana where he avoided the restrictions of Prohibition in the 1920’s.  The dressing involved (involves to this day in some continents) raw eggs, and why it must be prepared fresh. The basic recipe is romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, and black pepper.

So I ordered a chicken caesar salad in Byron Bay and the dressing is good, lettuce, crotons, and then there is a poached egg sitting atop of the bed of chicken. There is a great distrust for having lettuce overwhelm a dish. It seems like perhaps there is so much fluff on the dish and we must have more substance, more of everything but lettuce. In San Diego when I go to DZAikins I can order a salad that is 12 inches by 6 inches and that is not a family meal. So, in this salad at Byron Bay, there is maybe four roman lettuce leaves, an ample proportion of chicken breast meat, and a poached egg (perfectly done) sitting like a diamond atop of pedestal of protein.

So you would think that I would know what to expect next time. Forward two days and I am in a local pub in Harvey Bay. “Would you like anchovies?” With my salad? Only to recover quickly and say “Sure.” What have I ordered now. Again the dressing is good, a few lettuce leaves at the bottom, but two very prominent lettuce leaves sticking out of the bowl like rabbit ears waiting to be shot down. Tenderloin chicken in ample proportions, crotons, and quartered boiled egg, slivers of ham, and, true to the order, a few lines of anchovies. 

Before I go on  about the adherence to the true recipe, the addition of anchovies tasted really really good. Again I would prefer more lettuce. Vegetarians must get a bum deal here since to be a vegetarian you have to eat twice as much in volume to make up for the less dense matter. To survive and make up for all the protein and nutrient you need to consume twice the volume of a carnivore. Back to the anchovies. They tasted really good on the salad but why? This is where the bible of all bibles in cooking comes in…On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. Worchester sauce, one of the main ingredients of the caesar sauce,  is made from anchovies. So the idea of combining the dressing with its main ingredient is not that alien.
Every Caesar salad so far has been different, with something new added. The last one involved a cold fried egg, which we will not dwell on. But who would have thought of combining anchovies with salad. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Heart of Australia

Its huge. A steel mill in Wollongong, touted as the largest manufacturing factory in the Southern Hemisphere. Bluescope. It has to be huge. This is the economic heart of Australia. It drives all the other economic parts and its heartbeat is the health of the economy. From it comes one of the most adaptable products on earth, steel. It takes iron ore, coke/coal, limestone and other elements--in most cases, from all parts of Australia--and in an enormous cauldron fuses them together to produce this commodity that drives the real economy. This is not the Wall Street smoke and mirror money, this is production. This is the basis of all economy. Not google, not facebook, not twitter. We have moved so far away from the means of production that we forget that all of the derivates, futures, all the stock market empires are based on this simple outcome...production. It is an inverted pyramid built on production. And you cannot get more basic production than steel (perhaps agriculture.) Standing 30 feet above the hot slabs coming off the line (picture) , even at that height, the intensity of the heat is unbearable. The shear size and the constant production (24/7) is a true analogy of the heart. The rhythm, the heat, the flow. How small seemingly inconsequential event have big impacts. Smoking and heart disease, and in the economy, exchange rates and the export of steel.

So it came as a surprise last week when talking with one of their workers at a BBQ that the local steel mill is closing one of its two furnaces. The exchange rate is so high that it is making steel too expensive to buy. SO they are shutting down their export side of production. Although Switzerland who faced similar export issues (not with steel) devalued their currency so that they stayed competitive, Australia remains with a very high exchange rate. But visiting the mill yesterday and seeing this enterprise in such a scale, I felt for the first time while being here, a sign of arrhythmia in the economy of Australia.

It's All Good

On my travel from Melbourne to Sydney I took a bus tour that took us to the southern most point of Wilson's Premonitory and to the roof of Australia Mount Kosciusko. We experienced beaches, tropical rainforest  deserts and blizzard, all in one day. Out guide's frequent descriptions would end with the phrase "It's all good" and despite the annoyance of the catch phrase, it is an appropriate metaphor for life and an excellent coat hanger for my thoughts today.

Because Australia is so far away, expensive and entails spending a large chunk of time, coming to Australia is a radical move. No one says, "Oh, I am going to Australia for the weekend, or to do some shopping or to go to a concert." Coming to Australia is radical.

Everyone on the tour had their stories. From the recently bereaved young man who lost his mother to cancer, to the mature nurse starkly adapting to her changing world. Some escaping, others embracing. I am always--without exceptions--encouraged when I meet people. There is so much energy and truth in what we do. Sitting at home constructing our reality inevitably leads to negative interpretations because we tend to remember negative events better than positive ones. We have more words for negative emotions than positive ones. But in real life, the life of people interacting, there is mostly positive energy. We are truly social beings and anything that impedes our ability to interact socially is cancerous. It's all Good.

People's Narrative

There is a story line running through my consciousness. A narrative of my life being played in many languages. Constant interpretation of events, regurgitating past ones, and predicting new ones. Choosing a language (or a word in most cases) for the occasion. Always narrating. Always there. I was first made to noticed this when I went to yoga the first time. The master said to listen to the voice but to accept that it is separate,  it is not you. Not me? my narrator goes? WTF. My narrator talks to itself a lot. Sometimes they (I do not know how many) do a comedy sketch for me and I end up laughing. Nowadays that is about the only time I do laugh. I would be walking and the narration starts a little joke. I think they know that there time is up, they are being nice. They know what makes me tick. So my narrator tells me that this is what you get paying for middle class yoga at upper class La Jolla, California.

As I sat there, slightly uncomfortable in the yoga class, I noticed that I was aware of my narrative. And it--my narrator--was frightened. I know it was frightened because it stopped for a brief brief second.

Yoga has been a salvation in many ways, but the best lesson is being able to separate the narrative from me. And you do this quite simply by observing and forgetting who you think you are, whatever that means, and observing everything around you. Your breathing, your narrator, your little pains, but not let them encompass your being there. It has not been that easy.

Like any healthy man I thought I could conquer yoga relatively quickly. I am active and strong, so I thought it would be a mater of practice. This attitude worked well for me going to beginner classes for six months. Until I went to the wrong class. That is when I realized that there is more to yoga than just strength or willfulness, there has to be release.

I am an early riser, so I decided to go to the dawn class at my regular yoga place. I must have misread the  level because by the time I got settled into the class people were warming up doing one-hand stands and lotus position handstands. I should have known I was in deep dodo when the instructor came in looking like a scandinavian Bruce Lee and, with a distinctly German accent, introduced himself as Schroeder. Oh shit.

I looked around and the faces around me expressed blissful smiles and quiet anticipation. How bad can it be?  It was a cool morning that only the affluent coastal regions can experience this late in the summer. So it was invigorating to start off with some allegro sun salutations. I quickly warmed up. The morning chill already a faint and distant memory.

I normally go to the beginner yoga. And although I feel accomplished and masterful in these classes, I did not realize that it was very gentle yoga that I mastered. My false sense of accomplishment was to be exposed. This wasn't gentle. The quick five sets of sun salutations quickly expired my repertoire of moves and energy. Standing in the tree pose I realized I had to be creative to survive. And that is what it was all about. I fucked up, got in the wrong class, and there is no way, no way I am going to give up and walk out to be the recipient of pitiful glances, glances I myself have punished others less competent. So I started sneaking a breath through my mouth. Like a whale gulping millions of plankton, I was stealing oxygen from the air through my mouth. This was war.

From tree position we did some downward facing dog. I normally do this for a few seconds and then go to the next position. Here, at first I thought I went deaf. No call to change. IAs much as I could through the film of perspiration clouding my eyes, I looked around and everyone was still in position. Shroeder comes around, reminding all of us that this potion is a relaxing position. My shoulder were burning with pain. Shroeder came closer. I tried to rotate my arms to alleviate the pain, but the pain just moved into my wrists. I was about to fall on my face when everyone came up into warrior one. I must have gone deaf. The bussing in my ear only more disconcerting than the pain that was moving like a pinball machine up and down my arms, buzzing at the shoulder.

And then came pigeon. Anyone who runs, or cycles knows that the pigeon position, which is where you lie down with one of your legs crossed infront, and the other straight behind you, and then you fold yourself onto your front crossed leg--is like sticking a hot needle into your gluteus maximus. This is when Shreoder came to gently press on my back, which would now be a very comfortable release of energy, but then it was excruciating. Encouraging me, "good good that is kundalini breathing." he compliments. I could not reply, I had involuntary tears streaking down my inverted face and I think my lower limbs went numb and my hips burned with pain. I was breathing hard. This was not kundalini breathing I was whimpering and breathing hard trying not to pass out. My hips felt like they were on fire and the burning had singed my testicles. I prayed to god to release me. To send a lightening and frizzle me away. I wanted nothing to exist.

Coming out of pigeon, looking up towards the ceiling, trying to keep the tears from becoming a cry, I went into the same position for the other leg. For the next hour there was a lot of pain. But there was also an acknowledgment that I am going to survive.

By the time the 1 hour 15 minutes and 23 seconds passed, I could not walk properly, and there was a funny buzzing sound in my ears, but there was no pain, and for the first time no narration. That is when I learned that yoga is not about strength but about release. And the first thing to release is your narration.

So it comes as a surprise, that while visiting friends in Australia, staying with them--I normally do not stay with friends when I travel, since when we meet with with friends it is for an evening, or an event--I noticed that not only do other people have a narratives, but some vocalize theirs. Some do it when they drive. They narrate everything about what they are thinking. By now you, the reader, can appreciate how much I treasure my lesson with Shroeder. Being able to switch off my narration and releasing. So I have another lesson now, to release myself from other peoples' narrative.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How to grow and develop as a country

The recent mayhem in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool; the continuing collapse of the stock markets in America, Europe, and now Australiathe daily news of disasters and personal predictions of a larger collapse coming to reality; the looming black economic hole that is sucking in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain (the “PIIGS”) now threatening France and with it directly, Germany, the final harbor in Europe's turbulence; the overwhelming and encroaching power of China; and sitting in Melbourne, in my apartment at Ormond College, I feel somewhat insulated.

Can the riots happen here?  I ask.

Not not here, But in 2005 there were the Cronulla riots, New South Wales and spreading, over the next few nights, to additional Sydney suburbs.  By 4 December 2005, a group of volunteer surf lifesavers were assaulted by a group of young Lebanese men, widely reported and commented on in Sydney media.. A large number of arrests were made over the subsequent months, from both the initial riot on 11 December and the retaliatory riots held over the subsequent nights. The incidents tarnished Australia's international image. But here in Melbourne, unlikely. The Master of Ormond College, Rufus Black, was confident that such riots would be unlikely in Melbourne


That was last month.

As I travel from Melbourne to Sydney, I ponder the real question of how to deal with the cause of this endemic malaise and economic cancer. I know what the cause is, but a practical solution has evaded me till today. Up to now I had a tentative idea about what is happening at my place of employment:
and the economic disaster evolving in US with the every increasing debt and accounting privileges of Congress:

The problem is the ever evolving bureaucracy that is answerable to no-one. My attempts at dealing with this is to propose to decentralize control to smaller units, to departments. But I could not find a practical and viable example until I stopped looking.

When I was at Ormond College, before I left, I asked Rufus how he deals with administration at the University. I had to ask twice because I thought I misheard. He does not. The college is an independent unit, he controls how he spends his own budget. And the penny dropped. That is why this college "works". Not just that it looks good, and it feels privileged, but it works. People talk to each other. There is a sense of right and wrong and not because of rules or regulations, but because there is an obligation, they are responsible how the college runs. If there is a problem they are vocal. There is a sense of belonging, a sense of control over your actions.

When Hilary Clinton in 1996 published a book "It Takes a Family to Raise a Child" a title which is attributed to an African proverb originating from the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb "Ora na azu nwa" which means it takes the community/village to raise a child. She forgot that she needed to also adopt the Igbo's name for their children "Nwa ora" which means child of the community. The community needs to have responsibility and control.

The control part is the pivotal aspect that we are missing. We have relinquished control over most of what we do. With ever increasing responsibilities.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A surfeit of joy and other depressing experiences

As I was preparing to go to sleep, in bed, quiet, I had one of those transcendental moments.

I was happy.

How strange to be so separated from everyone and yet in a flash of insight I felt pure pleasure. Pleasure that whelms from within that is as hot and bright as a scorching sun and yet it was nourishing. Tangible as music is, and permanent as heat. There was nothing that brought it forth, it was (is) there always. What happens is that  we layer silt on top of it. Sometimes the silt gets scraped off by an event, or a friend does something loving, a good dinner, or an emotive opera, and we assign the pleasure that comes from within, to the thing that scrapped the silt off, rather than to the pleasure exposed.

Then I thought, how much silt do I have? Where do I get it from?


Eight thousand miles separate me from San Diego, but there is a schism that cannot be measured by miles. But the distance is not between two geographies. The distance is the broader, deeper, and indelible...residing within. A detachment that happened years ago, and has continued. Sometimes becoming immured in distractions of my own making, to realize the distance being created. But the break was there. Permanent and growing.
When I was at graduate school we used to refer to these as our monsters. Not that they were tangible or actual beings, but because these were the things that kept us awake at night. Circling and nipping at our conscious, but never quite perceptible enough to tackle. My fear makes these monsters invisible. When I look at it head on it moves around in my head and disperses into tiny fragments. Fragments that I have learnt to deal with and having done so, I do not learn how to deal with the entirety of this monster. It is elusive, clever and totally transparent when I want to address it. What I have learned after layers of procrastinations is to address the fear when is presents itself.  Even, as is always the case, it is not the right time.
It is "not the right time", is the time to make things right. If I feel it, now is the time. Because by the time you allow the monsters to invade you, then it will disappear. Now is the time. Be prepared. The monsters want to be slaughtered. They are unhappy creatures. They want you to make them mortal. If you feed them with thought they disappear. As I switch on the monitor, a blank screen faces me, and I start the combat.

Friday, August 26, 2011

From Pariah to Parrhiases

"Apollo and Marsyas" 1637 by Jusepe de Ribera

Last week I think I was complimented. The organizer of the symposium that I just presented at called me a parrhesiastes. This was before we hit the whiskey and caronas, but after 9 bottles of wine. I was primed. I was after a "discussion." I love to argue and discuss and disagree and talk. But this stumped me. My first thought went to my common retort....I would insult you but you would not understand.

The next morning I received a paper from the interlocutor, Shaun Ewen, that provided a definition of parrhesia.

The Greek definition of parrhesia is the possession of certain moral qualities, and innate proof that they know and speak the truth. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous---different from what the majority believes--is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes. The parrhesiastes is always less powerful than the one with whom he or she speaks. The parrhesia comes from "below", as it were, and is directed towards "above".

Only two months ago I was a pariah an outcast and here I was a parrhesiastes. Assuming the duality of life, good and bad, black and white, I thought how variable life is.

Only while writing this blog that it dawned on me that the two terms are inseparable, and not extremes of a continuum. You have to be a pariah to be a parrhesiastes. You cannot be part of the system.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You do not have a Buckleys' chance with the Shielas.

Before I left the United States, Dixon Arentt and his wife Wende Chan hosted a party that some 50 close and wonderful people attended. At this party Dixon as an introduction to the land down-under, wrote and read an ode to me leaving for the land of Oz.
One of the phrases, which characteristically stuck in my mind, was the phrase "And you do not have a Buckleys' chance with the  Shieilas."

I did not know the phrase Buckley's chance. But I forgot about this phrase until I took bus tour to the Great Ocean Road and heard about Buckley's chance again. But the real tour was in researching William Buckley.

File:William Buckley.jpg

In 1803 William Buckley was convicted of knowingly receiving a bolt of stolen cloth. He was sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for 14 years. When they arrived in Port Phillip near Melbourne, Buckley and several other convicts cut loose a boat and made their escape. They quickly split up and Buckley travelling around Port Phillip Bay on his own found an aboriginal grave. He took a spear used to mark this grave which he used as a walking stick. When he came across some Wathaurung women who  believing him to be the returned spirit of the former buried tribesman, he was joyfully welcomed and adopted by the group.

For the next thirty-two years, he continued to live among the Wathaurung people on the Bellarine Peninsula. He had at least two Aboriginal wives, and almost certainly a daughter by one of them.Then in 1835 William Buckley appeared at a British camp site with a party of Aboriginal people. That same year, he was granted a pardon and given the position of Interpreter to the natives. By late 1837, Buckley had become disenchanted with his new way of life—and the people around him—and left for Van Diemen's Land. He remained there, married again, for the next nineteen years, until his death in 1856.

In my mind Buckley had a charmed life. He survived three wives, imprisonment, hunger and one of the most dangerous natural environments on earth. He was a lucky guy.

So my question to Australians is why use the term Buckleys chance to mean you "do not have a chance" when in fact Buckley was a very lucky and fortunate man. It changes the meaning of my friend's parting ode  "And you do not have a Buckelys' chance with the  Shielas." But in reality the original meaning still holds true.

Shielas just Love Old Balding Men on a Bicycle

I might have a Buckley's Chance with the Shielas indeed.

Which brings me to my bicycle. I have been walking everywhere in Melbourne. And it is not because the public transportation is inadequate or expensive, but because I have lived in America for so long that I am uncomfortable using it. Strange that we become so reliant on having control over our transportation that I"d rather walk rather than rely on the tram and bus system that carpets the city. This insight also makes me realize how true it is when I write about older adults wanting control of transportation. I understand now how unique we are in the United States.

After a few failed attempts trying to get a call back from people selling their bike on, I eventually got someone who responded. He set a time to come and I agreed. I should have realized there would be a problem when I could not find the area of Oakleigh on the tram map. But I put that down to me being uncomfortable with the transportation system. I did not think much of it. Only when I boarded the v line train did I realize that this was not a tram but a long distance train. I asked for directions from the guard, and boarded the train I was suppose to on the platform that I was told. The train went around the city and then was heading west rather than south east. After 15 minutes I deluded myself that I was on the wrong train. I jumped off, only to realize that this was infact the right train, but the doors quickly closed and I was resigned to waiting ages for the next train. But I only had to wait another 8 minutes. This is a very efficient system.
Passing a number of stations and then out into the suburbs,I was again happy that I was sure that I am on the right train. Looking back,  I could not see the tall skyline of the city. I started to think about what I was doing. How far out of the city am I going? I have to cycle back. My buttocks twitched. Yeah, your turn to suffer.

A long way. When I got there I borrowed a spanner to raise the seat, paid him, and put on my dorky helmet. Put the end of my trousers in my sock, and rode off to the farewell of "good on ya' mate.".  I felt like Cadel. Speed master himself.

The bike worked well and I felt strong. My bum quickly informed me however that I have not ridden for more than 6 months, but I knew that it was only warm-up pains. Once it goes numb I would not feel anything.

I thought the easiest and most scenic way was to head towards the port to the east and then ride north alongside the port heading to Melbourne city. I realize when I hit the first major road that the port at Brighton was 15 kilometers away, and then another 18 kms to Melbourne city or in the local lingo CBD (city central business district.) However I was enjoying the ride. Pedestrians looking at me and waving. I thought yeah baby...speed master. Faster and harder I pedaled.

Once I tackled the busy North Road into Brighton I was rewarded by the beautiful vista of Brighton and Port Philip. Once there I forgot about the urgency of making it back to Ormond College before dark. I had no lights. The bike trial that meanders north through Brighton and St Kilda is peaceful and tranquil.A multipurpose trial shared with skaters and walkers, all obeying their designated side (left). An elderly woman in her 70's overtook me and gave me a smile. I thought yeah lucky lady I was enjoying the vista, speed master is resting.

It was getting dark fast. The vista was changing, as I was slowly making my way up towards the city skyline. It was enchanting but with the ebbing light the air cooled down significantly and I slowly started thinking about options. The worse case scenario is I have a puncture and I have to walk back.  I thought about walking the grand canyon from the north rim to the south, 26 miles. So I could walk the bike home. Once I realized this I relaxed again.

People waved, and I thought I must look a sight. Pedaling like crazy with a grin on my face. How happy can $25 make you? Buy a cheap bike and ride. By the time I made it to the City it was quite dark. The slight incline of the wide avenue going up to the University slowed my pace. I was thinking of a hot shower and dinner. Perhaps they will have a roast today. Pedaling past pedestrians waiting to cross the road, they waved. I wish I could wave back, but I was busy pedaling and maintaining momentum. Yeah speed master coming through.

By the time I reached Parkville, where I am staying, I had cycled over 30 kilometers. The road inclined steeper. As I came across a busy junction, shooting a furtive look around for Trams--which still confused me--a pedestrian stepped off the curb and shouted..."you can do it mate!"

Perhaps I did not look like a speed master but you should have seen me when I first started.

Pastizzi are calling me

Last week I joined my academic host--Shaun Ewen--for a drive up to Shepparton to meet with a couple of people working with the Rumbalara indigenous community there.  Just before leaving Shaun stopped for a coffee and in the shop I saw a tray of fresh pastizzi. Now there is nothing that says comfort food more than pastizzi. These are filo pastry wrapped around ricotta cheese with parsley. Some are made with mushy peas in a slightly curried sauce. So I asked where they got them from, and later I googled the name, I found that the shop is in Sunshine, Melbourne.

The latest  Australian Census in 2006 recorded 43,700 Malta-born people in Australia,  a  decrease  of 7.0 per  cent  from the 2001 Census. The 2006 distribution  by state and territory showed Victoria had the largest number with 20,850, followed by New South Wales (16,980),  Queensland (2,780) and South Australia (1,630). Within Victoria, Melbourne is home to more Maltese than anywhere else in Australia. By 1981, the suburbs most popular for the Maltese in Melbourne were: Sunshine, Keilor, Broadmeadows, Altona, Whittlesea, Preston, Springvale, Coburg, Melbourne city (CBD), and Footscray with concentrations ranging from 505 to 6,895. In some areas Maltese make up to 7.3% of the total population. Keilor has 30.2% of its population born overseas with Italy, Malta and Yugoslavia being the main ethnic groups. In Sunshine, 33.3% of the population was born overseas of which the main ethnic groups are Maltese, Yugoslavs and Italian.

So today, armed with my recently purchased bike I headed to Sunshine.A cold but thankfully dry day. Eight miles of fairly industrialized vista and armed with my inability to read maps --and therefore I do not carry one-- I felt like an intrepid and extremely unqualified explorer.

I managed to find the shop on the first go. It was closed with no times posted. Not dampening my spirits, having survived another excursions without a map, I toured the small busy town center. A  lively shopping precinct primarily populated with Vietnamese bakeries and restaurants. Not what I expected from the census. There was no mention of a Vietnamese wave of immigrants, but then again, it is always different experiencing something directly, rather than googling it. Now if I can experience some pastizzi.

Friday, August 5, 2011


My world is upside down. This is truly the land downunder. I have begun to do things in reverse.

At the cafeteria where I eat my meals, I eat my hot dinner first--so that it does not get cold--and then I have my salad. Every time I do this I remember all the arguments that I had, while working in China. When I asked for a salad with my meal the waiters always brought my salad after I finished my main dish. I constantly argued with them--despite the echo of my father’s insistence in the back of my mind to never argue with someone who has control over what you put in your mouth.

Another reverse has been my running. In San Diego I used to get up before dawn and off I go for my run around La Mesa. Getting back home as the sun is rising. Here the last time I did that the freezing air quickly sent me back to my room. So now I run in the early evening.

I am further reminded of this topsiturvy world when I open a door. To unlock a door I turn the key clockwise and anticlockwise to lock. I have to relearn this simple behavior every time.

This week I went to the Maltese Community Council of Victoria center. I have been to a few community centers in my lifetime. All of them, without exception, are the same. So not much news there. At this particular one I was met by a couple, Marilyn and John. I was enthusiastically anticipating speaking Maltese. John responded in English and Marilyn in Maltese. Only to learn that John is Maltese, and his wife Marilyn is Australian and learnt to speak Maltese (and therefore happy to practice her newly acquired language).Topsiturvy.

Did mention they we drive on the left here.

Friday, July 29, 2011


At fifteen, after spending two years away from malta, I travelled back to spend two glorious summer months. I ofcourse expected everyone to remain as I had left them. I kept them alive in my memory--in a state of suspended animation--waiting for me. And Lo and Behold everyone changed. I felt so peripheral at that instant when I realized that everyone changed. But from this experience I learned a valuable lesson that life goes on regardless.

It was also a portal that I passed through that helped me growing up. Loosing the egocentric view of the world on the way.

Now, nearly forty years later, although I intellectually always know that the rest of the world is changing while I myself change, it hits me when I experience dissonance in how I preserved events in my memory.

Change. Today while I was running I got thinking about this again. Old girlfriends with new boyfriends. My children struggling with life without me. Friends back in San Diego and New Mexico moving on with their lives. People dying (no births yet).

My running route starts in Princes Park which adjoins the cemetery. Running past solid granite tombstones is exhilarating. I feel and look very much alive. I pump my chest and run a bit faster than my normal pace. The biting wind, deep into my lungs. Existential morphine. Then I settle down and I start thinking what the future holds.

Eventually I know I have to confront my death. But it is the messy bit in between that frightens me. However much I attempt to bring some lucidity to explore this stage of decline, I always react strongly against it. Perhaps there is nothing I can do when that happens--a stroke, a heart attack--all I can do is delay it by staying fit.

I am always intrigued by runners. They come in all shapes and sizes and running gaits. Runners here do not acknowledge each other. In San Diego I have to stop my wheezing to attempt a "Hi". Here there is no salutation. Which is strange because most Australians are cordial. But they must take running seriously. But it allows me to ignore everything around me and concentrate on my thoughts.

Last week at the north side of the park I ran across the main thoroughfare joined the Royal Park circuit. A much larger park, circumventing the zoo. A beautiful park that ends at the Royal Children's Hospital. And then back again at Princess Park. I was getting tired, but the sun was shining. Close to Ormond College, home and a hot shower.

I realize that I have not come to any conclusion on change. The only thing that I can do is to stay healthy. Then I start coming close to the cemetery again. I pump my chest and run a bit faster than my normal pace. The biting wind, deep into my lungs. Existential morphine. I look ahead. Passing Ormond College on my right, and I go round the park again. Halfway round, the thought enters my head that one option I have not entertained is that I might give myself a heart attack running.

Faster and Faster.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Very High Dinner

An intimate and formal dinner for 360 students, and a handful of masters.

All in their gowns, some, like me, borrowed for the evening as my gold edged bright red gown with a beefeater hat was in a storage unit in La Mesa. I have attended a few of these ceremonies before as a graduate in England. The last one, I am happy to tell anyone who would listen, ended up with the young female vicar telling stories of past misdeeds. The port passing slowly as everyone was enjoying sharing their seemingly illicit taste of honesty. Stories that proved common, despite our attempt to preserve their uniqueness in our memory, until that day.

This was to be another kind of an affair. The din of reverberating voices was ear shattering and a harbinger that this will not be a quiet passing of the port event.

Up on the high table were the top GPA students. Normally the high table is the exclusive domain of the masters. But here at Ormond they are more egalitarian and they invited the top students to join the masters. I was flanked by four such students, Mathew and Iliza on my left--my bad ear--and Elisa and Brad on my right. Average age 19, not including me in the algorithm.

By shouting questions across the table we developed a rudimentary method of communicating. I was interesting in the surreal nature of this evening. Everyone in their finery, like how I would visualize an 18th century European court. Bow ties for the men and frilly shiny dresses for the women. Followed (or preceded) by cleavage and strutting.

Do you feel privileged?

That is what I asked and they all said YES. It is important at a school that costs $48,000 a year to feel that you are privileged and unique and special. And such occasions make you appreciate that fact. I kept thinking about what happens back home, in the United States. We even stopped having snacks after graduation to save $500. By stopping such rituals we are explicitly saying to students "You are not worth it." So it is right that these students feel special because we make the effort to make them feel that way. It is something that will carry them throughout their career. The feeling that someone invested more than money to make their academic passage important. Back at SDSU we rarely acknowledge the students while they are with us.

But that is not the question that made me sit at my desk to write this entry. What made me ponder, and discuss with my small goup of colleagues, throughout this week was the response to my second question. And it is one that originated with me when Obama was elected president of the United States three years ago, and one that I have been waiting for answer since then. And that is that I thought (and wrongly predicted) that racial issues will be openly discussed. So I asked this question to my dinner neighbors.

Do you discuss race, are you aware of it?

And the answer I got was not what I expected (again.) Enough so that I asked each of my four neighbors the same question separately with the hope that I will get a more textured answer. But no. The answer was monotonously consistent. Race is not discussed and it is not an issue.

It took me a few days to combine the two questions together. It seems that feeling privileged allows you to view other people as unique and speical as you. To look beyond the obvious. Ofcourse race is not an issue when you feel that you--and your colleagues--are so lucky to be here. Regardless of background, race or gender. The feeling that all of you are beyond common evaluation. So I dwell on this for a few days, and ofcourse the next minute I think about the obverse. What if you feel that you are not unique, that you are unappreciated, degraded. Is that what causes us to derogate others? That is another question. But it might be an answer to the questions I have been asking.

Architecture and Cuisine, Second Week

The smell of caramelized onions, roasted coffee and pastry holds me fast. Where does it take me. Smell is a strange sense in that it transports me directly to a place that I associate with it.

Roasted coffee is always Seattle. The cold and wet weather further enhances the Seattle connection. The drab, dark clothing, sometimes broken by an occasional red tinged hairdo or bright orange shoes. Men in suits. Pointy leather shoes, and drain pipe trousers. Others in bright safety vest and hard hats, milling around the numerous construction sites. Women in dresses/jeans and coats. Sturdy high heels, or boots. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except I know better. Despite the similarities, Australia has developed its own culture. Visitors come and go. They take what they interpret back with them. But the culture is uniquely their own. So the Seattle connection is tenuous. And what brought on this great insight? Caramelized onions take me to a bakery shop buying pastizzi in Malta.

Unconsciously I try and make this place familiar, mine. I bring my experiences to transform what is a unique culture into a familiar one. The caramelized onions was a dead give away. I felt a familiar twinge. A place where I have experienced warmth, simplicity, and a sense of belonging. But it is not here, not yet. The architecture was a clue that I am in a different place. The sheer audacity of angles, the size, and most ostentatious of all, the colors. This was an alien experience that I was unconsciously trying to own, but I cannot. I should not. I need to allow it to overwhelm and for me to refrain from analyzing, interpreting and trying to own it.

But I am fighting against a current. The smell of baked pastries tells me I am home. And home is where pastry is being baked.
The enduring feeling is baffling at first. Why pastry and why home. I stopped writing at the time, I did not know why I should so strongly associate the smell of pastry with home, more so than the smell of pastizzi (or caramelized onions).

During this week, I further savored the city and forgot about the question until today. What happened today is that I saw our pastry chef preparing brunch. Despite the fact that we had cold cereal for breakfast, he was at the kitchen, early, preparing (what I learned afterwards to be) scones. Baking requires planning. Sometimes it requires that the dough is prepared the day before. It is a chemistry test, as well as a test of patience. But more importantly, it signals that you have all the different ingredients, the different baking tools and the time that could only mean that you are home. I never bake when I am traveling. I tried to understand this and from the initial excuses of not having the right pans, all the small ingredients, and not trusting the temperature of the oven, it is infact simpler than that. I just did not feel at home to invest my time into all the details. But that is home. The little things that we surround ourselves with that are so hard to discard when we move. And all of these little things that I have shed myself of in the last few weeks. Pastry is rightfully the smell of home, wherever I smell it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

First Day In Melbourne and Eaten by Introspection

I had been going through a cache of old photographs on my computer. I rarely do this. I rarely look back. But to kill away some time while waiting for my flight connections from San Diego to Los Angeles, then to Sydney and finally Melbourne I fell into the trap. Started off looking at photos of my kids when they were competing in taekwondo competitions. Then there grew an interest in the past...past friends, past loves, past homes, past events. Just past. And it is fortuitous that here I am diving head first into the future--in a place I have no attachments, no firends--and yet I voyeuristically began attaching myself to the past. My kids are especially evocative of my past.
The end result is that I am oscillating. I am in a new place, that I have never experienced before. And yet, I have. I relate Melbourne to a cross between London and Seattle. Could it be that my future is a combination of my past experiences? Or will I limit experiencing "new" events only an amalgam of past experience. Nothing is new. Hence my kids, and the emotions that they evoke. Will they determine what I will feel in the future. Have I really ploughed myself a new path, or simply changed the scenery?

The cold weather does not help with this introspection. Tomorrow I will take some photos of the contrasting old and new architecture that make up the University of Melbourne.