There was some mild drama (and a panicked, pounding heart) at the start of the trip, when my 6:30 flight was nowhere to be found on arrival at O'Hare, but apparently it had merely been changed to a 7:07 flight, and my reservation transferred to that. I'm sure they sent a notice at some point, which I just missed. But once I was on the plane everything went smoothly.
And yes, it's much easier travelling on a U.S. passport than a Sri Lankan one; given that Australia is apparently turning away a lot of Sri Lankan asylum seekers right now (because, since nominally the war is over, they don't qualify as refugees, although the desperate people willing to take boats across the vast oceans might disagree with that assessment), I might have had to deal with some suspicious immigration officials if I'd shown up with a Sri Lankan passport. Hm.
I did manage to sleep on the plane (all thanks the praise to NyQuil, which I was taking for my cold, and which let me fall back into sleep quickly every hour or so when the uncomfortable position caused enough muscle pain to wake me), for almost a ten-hour stretch, which is kind of amazing. I'd also had a bad night the night before and slept only three hours (travel anxiety, last-minute packing, etc. among other things), which may have contributed. I think I woke up around something like 2 a.m. Melbourne time, and settled in for a long day.
I managed to use up all my tech on the flight, which is sort of funny. I read two novels before my Kindle ran out of charge, listened to music until my iPhone ran out of charge, and took notes on a new novel idea until my laptop ran out of charge. Thankfully, at that point there was only about an hour of wakefulness left, and I spent it reading a paper book I'd picked up at the airport, the charming YA fantasy Wildwood, which I mostly chose because of the beautiful cover, interior illustrations, and rough-cut pages. More and more, I think print books have to function as beautiful objects in order to stay competitive with digital versions. It is immensely comforting having fifty or so books with me on this trip on my Kindle (now that it's recharged), and my back thanks me that I don't have to lug all the print copies.
I did also look at the window quite a bit. We changed planes in Sydney, and the view was lovely -- lots of reddish roofs on low buildings sweeping in. And the Australian sky seems to have a different quality of light, though I'd be hard put to define the difference. If we get a chance, Karina will try to show me the night sky with stars, so I can see Orion upside-down.
After emerging from Customs (having dutifully declared my food (a Kind powerbar) and commercial goods (ten copies of Bodies in Motion brought for potential sale at the conference), I saw an older woman waiting who looked vaguely familiar. I should have realized, but luckily she did, and came up to ask if I was Mary Anne. It was, of course, Karina's mother Jill, who had very kindly driven her to the airport. (Note for those new to these adventures -- Karina is my and Kevin's ex; we were in a threesome with her for three years, quite seriously, when we were in our early 20s. It ended about fifteen years ago, but we have remained excellent friends, and I was very excited to finally meet Jill, after hearing about her for so many years.)
Jill found Karina for me, who promptly presented me with a bouqet of gorgeous Australian native flowers picked from Jill's garden. I can't remember all the names right now, but I may come back and fill them in later. Bottlebrush, definitely, and I want to say gum leaves? Something like that. Something with tiny white flowers too -- oh, this is hopeless. I'll come back. Just lovely. And then, once we were settled in the car, Jill, like a magician, produced a wicker basket full of goodies. Tons of fruit, coconut water to ease travel dehydration (badly needed), assorted nuts, and homemade coconut cookies (of a type I'm also forgetting the name of). If only every traveller could be met with such joyous and thoughtful hospitality! The world would be a happier place.
She came in with us to Karina and Joe's charming home (full of gorgeous art by Karina's artist sister and Jill herself), made me excellent chai (from her homemade mix), and stayed while Karina opened her much-belated birthday presents from me, which added to the fun. And then she was off, to allow us to continue on with our rather complex plans.
LUNCH AND A WALKABOUT:
We plugged in all my electronics (thank you, Joe), and then Joe was starving, so despite the hugely-packed basket of goodies, we decided to go out. It turns out that they live just a few blocks from a busy shopping district (very similar in feel, actually, to Lake Street in Oak Park, though longer and more developed). It's a similar placement to our home, funnily enough, though they have the advantage of walking through a nature preserve / creek trail on the way to get there. (Mills Park, which we pass from our house, is lovely, but cannot compare to a thin bridge suspended several feet over a large and cheerful creek. I am envious.)
Lunch for me was a coddled egg with silverbeet (similar to chard), potato, and I believe sesame seeds, all served with some interesting buttered multigrain bread. I am blanking on the name of the caf� (and since my phone was still charging, I had no camera and no photos of any of this, apologies), but it was very pleasant, airy and open and full of interesting food. I admit to a little bit of sticker shock at the prices; they were perhaps a third again what they might be at a similar place near us, and that's even before factoring in the unfavorable current exchange rate. Ah well. One must eat, and when the food is so delicious, it's hard to quibble over a few dollars (American OR Australian) here or there.
We ducked into a few local shops, charming, but not for long, because we really had to hurry back to get ready for our next event. What! you say? Another event, when you have just stepped off a transpacific flight and are still half in another time zone or several? Why did you permit your hosts to drag you hither and yon? Well, I wouldn't have if it were mere tourist-ing they had in mind, but instead, they had asked for my permission (and received it) to take me to a�.
Yes, I went to a real Australian wedding. And I admit, it would have been tempting for Joe and Karina to claim that this was a typical Australian wedding, just to see how gullible the foolish American really was. But I think the stuffed teddy bears sewn ALL OVER the best man's pants might have given it away, if I hadn't figured it out from the bride's lovely and quite pregnant form in a green sequinned mermaid dress complete with mismatched opera gloves, the groom's short bright red hair with a myriad of stars shaved into it, or their request that guests show up dressed in nothing new, but still fancy, however they chose to define that. I wore my blue sari, which fit in nicely, but was not quite as creative as some of the other selections out there! Maybe if I'd added my steampunk goggles (which I did pack, but chickened out of wearing, as they had seemed too costumey -- hah!)�
Joe was striking in a purple pinstriped suit with accompanying electric blue hair, and Karina coordinated beautifully in deep blue velvet elven gown, with matching silvery elven ears. I loaned her a sparkly silver headband which looked quite coronet-like, esp. with a slender braid cascading down her long blonde hair. My own Galadriel.
There were some awesome political statements about the couple's dubiousness re: the institution of marriage and their decision to do civili registration instead, and there was an abundance of food (guests were requested to bring a dish to share, and let that stand for their gift), and much laughter and shared music and song, and only a few overlong speeches. It felt like a cross between an awesome SF convention and a wedding, and even though Kev and I have no plans to get actually married, especially at this late date, twenty years in, it is impossible to attend something like this and not start thinking of fun ideas if you were throwing one of your own. (Don't worry, dearest, I'll have forgotten them all by the time I get home.)
We left the wedding at 8:30, which was scandalously early, before the dancing even started, but I was thankful that Joe was getting work calls he wanted to take, because while I COULD have stayed up and danced, it was definitely the better part of valor to take an early taxi home. I did a fast e-mail check, dealt with two urgent matters, and then barely managed to clear all the detritus of dressing in a hurry off the bed before collapsing into it. And then sleep, blessed sleep. I think I was out before Karina even managed to turn off the light and close the door.
And thus endith the o'er-long tale of Day One.
Minor side note from the morning of Day Two: I just heard a baby crying from a neighbor's house, and while I miss my monkeys a little bit, I am also rather desperately relieved that that is not my baby to deal with. I am looking forward to exploring Melbourne with my two native guides, but I am also looking forward to catching up on some desperately needed sleep!