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Other blogs I'm reading: Christine Allen's // Gordon Price's // Sarah Jane's photo site

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August 28, 2007:
just sitting here watching the lunar eclipse, which began around 7 pm and became total just before 8. It's the best one, they say, since just before the 2000 Olympics. It's impossible to photograph with our toy camera, but it looks like this -- the blood moon -- a copper-coloured glow like a red rubber ball in the eastern sky;

-I read on the Vancouver Sun site that Mayor Sam Sullivan's staff has been editing (purging) his Wikipedia entry. Aussie bureaucrats, including ones in the department of defence, have also been editing the Wikipedia entries relating to Australia, including one which repeated the nickname of treasurer Peter Costello, "Captain Smirk." They've been told by their political masters that they have better things to do.

-The August 19 entry mentioned the sudden revelation that the opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, had gotten blotto at a lap-dancing club in New York 4 years ago. As a political story, it was a one-day wonder, and it actually backfired on the Coalition, who probably leaked it. About 80% of citizens in polls said they thought it made Rudd seem like a normal bloke. An indication of the Aussie attitude toward politicians was the "Kevin Look-Alike Contest" launched by a Sydney strip club late last week (photograph from the Australian).

-There was a weird piece on the Channel 7 news last night about the balloon crash in the Hazelmere in South Surrey near Vancouver. The presenter launched into the film of the balloon launch and fire without saying where it was; the item continued through a 30 second piece of interviews and film talking about what had happened. We were sitting there watching, thinking, "why don't they say where this is?" The item closed with a reporter saying, "reporting from the United States, this is so-and-so."  It made it seem incredibly remote, part of a vague world of news/tragedy as entertainment.

-and finally, one of the local kookaburras on the roadsign in front of our house.

August 23, 2007: This evening on the TV news, for the first time, I heard a story about identity theft. I don't think the theft of personal information from, for example, recycling bins, has been a big issue until now. It always takes a while for us to catch up with North America.

-After months of saying that health care wasn't a political issue here, and wondering why, I have to confess to all Canadians waiting in lines at emergency wards that health care has become a political issue. It started a couple of weeks ago with the federal government buying a public hospital from Tasmania; it was quickly noted that the hospital, which had been in an administrative mess, was in a marginal government seat. Then, in the ongoing flu season, during which several children and previously healthy adults have died, there have been many news stories about people waiting hours in emergency wards. And today, the leader of the opposition (and PM in waiting, as it were), announced that he would ensure a complete overhaul of Australian medical care, to eliminate duplication, waste, inequities between the States, and constant fights between the States and the federal government. Included in his package would be the purchase of all the public (State-owned) hospitals in the country. Sound familiar? This is in a country which has minimal (but free) medicare, a lot of private hospitals, and private health plans to top up the minimums the government provides. I will write more about this as I find out more -- we're currently shopping for a private extended medical plan, which will probably cost the same as the compulsory user-fee for BC medicare we used to pay.

-Our normal rainfall in August is 80 mm. It's supposed to be the driest month of the year. After 2+ dry, sunny weeks, we got our monthly average in a day, and it's continued so that the current total is nearly double the average. Ditto for Sydney. Meanwhile, 3/4 of New South Wales, everything west, south and north of the coastal belt we're part of, has slipped back into drought. Sounds like climate change.

-And, Kath & Kim. We watched the first show of the new season of this iconic Aussie TV comedy, whose characters and their pronouncements have entered the language. The verdict: two thumbs down. Most of its attempts at humour were of the "dumb and dumber" variety, interspersed with lots of laughs at the expense of fat, clumsy people. It reminded me too much of Canadian TV humour, like most of the stuff that used to come out of Newf and the Maritimes, where stupid suburban people are presented as funny. It was interesting that the public network, the ABC, lost interest in it last year, allowing the show to migrate to a commercial network: the stoush (i.e. fight) was presented to the fans as one over creative freedom, when the stars wanted to stage a show at a Queensland beach resort, and the ABC said it violated their "commercial branding" policy. Maybe ABC just got tired of the vulgarity? Apparently Kath & Kim are popular in the USA, and in England.

-And furthermore, just as the news reaches us that Camembert will no longer be made from unpasteurized Normandy milk, there was a note in the paper of a cocktail party at the French embassy to celebrate the return of Roquefort, which had been banned from Australia due to the unpasteurized milk used to make it.

August 19, 2007: The house just down the block from us -- the 1911 Federation one -- is for sale, so we looky-looed our way through it at the open house yesterday. From the upstairs widow's walk, built to take advantage of the view all the way to the Jamison Valley, now obscured by the huge Monterey pines, I snapped a view back to our house, with our little Toyota parked in front of Flat 1.

Then I realized there were still photos on the camera that I took out the window of the plane as we approached San Franciso airport in July. It was a beautiful day, the most beautiful approach to that beloved city in all the flights in all the years since I lived there 33 years ago.

Over Marin County, with Golden Gate, San Francisco and the bay in the distance.

Crossing Golden Gate, with Alcatraz and Treasure Island, and the Bay Bridge, in the middle distance.

And passing right over the city. I highlighted my old neighbourhood, North Beach, in the shadow of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.
In my next lifetime I will be either a pilot or a bird.

-back to reality, the squeaky clean, teflon-coated, professed Christian humanist Kevin Rudd,  leader of the Opposition Labour Party and (probably) soon-to-be prime minister, is defending his complete memory loss after the publicizing, three years after, of a drunken night at a New York lap-dancing club called Scores. Most of the citizens interviewed in "streeters" said "Good on 'im -- shows he's human." The bookies are betting on a federal election about October 20th, before the Reserve Bank can put up interest rates again.

-and tonight is the debut (pronounced "day-boo" here) of the new season of Kath & Kim, a comedy of suburban manners or the lack thereof. The show's characters and pronouncements have entered into the language. We will watch and post a review.

-and it would have been my mum's 91st birthday today.
August 16, 2007:

-as I struggle to get back to regular writing, I am thinking about Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, whom I was talking to at a party in BC a month ago. Alex is an inveterate blogger, and claimed he hadn't missed a daily entry for yonks. How does he do it?

-it's just important events that make me take laptop in hand. Widely celebrated even on the cerebral ABC radio, Elvis's 30th death anniversary prompted an outpouring of wild stories from the blue-suede-shoes set. The travel editor for the Australian, Susan Kurosawa, wrote a wonderful piece last weekend describing her coming of age in the Australia of 45 or so years ago. "One good eyeful of those tight strides and high school girls were no longer going to be content with clam bakes and cheerleading," she wrote. According to her father, "Elvis was a threat to common decency," and she described herself as "marooned in my early teens between a too-strict household and fearfully conservative ladies college, [where] Elvis continued to represent an almost attainable rebellion."

The question is: "Where were you when you heard Elvis was dead?" August 16, 1977, I was driving across the Second Narrows Bridge to a North Vancouver party at Veronica's place, or maybe it was a friend of hers.  She and Peter got back together that night, but it didn't last.

-and then Bobby's here, too! How good is that? It's been six or seven years since Bob Dylan toured the Antipodes -- he was performing in Sydney when he got the Academy Award for his song 'Things Have Changed' -- and the ABC is giving a lot of time to commentary and his music. Curiously, some of his biggest fans include the conservative political columnists for Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper. One has diverted her attention, twice in this election year, to rhapsodize about her recent discovery of His Bobness.

-another cultural event involved artist David Hockney, the only real successor to Picasso in our generation. His brother John lives in the Blue Mountains, and gave a lecture in the ballroom of the Carrington Hotel, a 10-minute walk from here, this evening. Although it was a little short on "art-crit" analysis and left out much in the way of references to some of his great works, including the LA Pool pictures, it was a charming portrait of a great artist from a brother's loving point of view. John Hockney told a number of charming stories, among which was the one of David painting high up in the mountains above Malibu ("aerial paintings," as it were, something I can really identify with) accompanied by Wagner blaring from a car stereo.

August 9, 2007: A few thoughts after five weeks spent in BC and 10 days to adjust:

-we spent most of the time in Condoland, i.e. the inner west side of Vancouver, and I quickly developed the feeling that although the city was getting bigger it was never going to be a big city. A Big City has huge investments in cultural and commercial infrastructure, and Vancouver seems to be in never-neverland on that matter. It really has the same cultural draws it had in the 1970s, when it had yet to emerge from its long sleep. The office centre looks as small as always, and many of the good downtown sites have already filled up with condos. Wonderful lifestyle, but ....

-I had ten day roadtrip through the Interior, up to the Cariboo, down to the Okanagan, then back to the Lower Mainland on the Coquihalla. Loved it loved it! The Cariboo corridor and the area around Wells seemed especially quirky and interesting, and the two days I spent drawing in the Fraser and Thompson canyons were excellent in spite of the heat. Lytton, where I stayed at the superb Totem Motel, hit 41. But, sadly, I couldn't rekindle much enthusiasm for my once-beloved Okanagan, where the ugliness is creeping over every hillside and destroying the light and the landscape. I even couldn't tell where to turn to find my long-ago landlady's farmhouse on the southern edge of Westbank (it's still there, on a knoll, the last of its era). We didn't go south of the connector interchange, and figure that from Peachland south it's probably not quite so blighted.


9:30 pm July 11th, temperature still about 38 degrees, but dry as dust: the Totem Motel in Lytton. Why doesn't Australia have anything this deluxe?
-and then just a 25-hour trip via San Francisco and Auckland to get back! How good is that? Bring on the new 777's with their non-stops from Vancouver to Sydney.

Just in case I thought I'd come to Oz to become an author, an item on the ABC morning radio program would have made me think twice. Angus & Robertson, the largest book chain in the country, has demanded up-front payments from the publishers whose books have demonstrated "insufficient profitability." Letters of demand have been sent to about 70% of the members of the Australian Publishers Association containing invoices for sums ranging from $1,500 to $30,000. A rep of the APA said that it's classic supermarket tactics -- pay up front to get display space -- and wondered whether it was an attempt by A&R bean-counters to plump up its balance sheet in anticipation of the sale of the company. The policy is only for the "company stores" -- apparently the A&R franchisees are appalled by the tactic, as of course are the independent booksellers. Signed-up authors are probably considering whether to write ... anything at all.

Return to home page
Read June 2007 blog
Read May 2007 blog Read April 2007 blog  Read March 2007 blog
 Read February 2007 blog Read January 2007 blog Read December 2006 blog

Go to my 2001-2 Australia travel book