Melbourne, Day 5: Trip Report
This is my last day of vacation; this evening, the conference starts. I'll move my things to the conference hotel, start keeping track of my receipts (since my department is covering a good chunk of the conference portion of this visit), attend the evening opening reception and readings, and then review and prepare a bit more for the panel I'm chairing tomorrow morning. I'm in pretty good shape, I think; I initiated a conversation with my panelists via e-mail a few weeks ago, and I think we have a good game plan for the structure of the panel. Some of them, at least, will be meeting me for breakfast tomorrow (reminder: must choose breakfast place near conference and send them a note) before our panel, and we can refine our plan a bit then. But I think we're all well-prepared at this point, and should be able to give good panel. :-)
Karina is, of course, devastated that she has not managed to show me EVERYTHING that Melbourne has to offer. We're going to cram in as much more as we can today before the conference starts, and if there's a free evening or meal in the next few days that other conference folks might want to join her for, that would be swell. (She keeps talking about some Thursday-night-only dessert place that's supposed to be amazatonishing. Writers like dessert, right?) But I suspect we won't be able to fit much of that in; once the conference starts, I want to be pretty firmly in conference mode. There are going to be a lot of Australian writers here whom I'm not familiar with, and this is a great opportunity to learn a LOT more about Australian nonfiction writing in a short space of time. Also, of course, I wouldn't weep if I ran into a respectable small press editor who wanted to hear about my memoir and possibly have me send it along for hir to look at after the conference ends�
Well, we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I have certainly been well-touristed, although in mostly unconventional and non-touristy ways. Yesterday was particularly lovely because it combined a lot of socializing with a lot of serenity. We walked through Fitzroy Gardens, visiting Captain Cook's cottage (okay, that bit was exceedingly touristy, but still fun), the Fairy Tree, and the model Tudor village. Why is there a model Tudor village there? I have no idea. The real question is why do they have it barricaded off, so that I can't stomp through it like Godzilla?? (Um, I may have answered my own question there.) The gardens are very pleasant and peaceful, with a cool breeze blowing through the avenues of tall, shady elm trees. (Imported, I assume because native Australian trees are not shaped the same way, and wouldn't offer as much leafy shade as the designers wanted?)
We had a quick snack at the Treasury Caf�, and then met up (after a bit of scheduling confusion and some more walking around) with three of Karina's good friends from work for lunch (Rachel and Emma and Kee). Karina works as a Hansard reporter for Australian Parliament, a job she got into after finishing her Philosophy degree because she's a bit obsessed with politics. That means that she gets to sit in the room with Parliament when they're in session, taking notes, and then takes the notes and the recording of their speeches back to her office to transcribe them into something coherent. It's a complex and stressful process, with several layers of checks to make sure the Members' words are accurately presented (but also sound coherent), and nonetheless they manage to get the internet version up within four hours of Parliament ending the session. Impressive. Karina's been working there for ten years now, so she knows Parliament inside and out at this point. Neat.
Lunch at Cumulus was delicious, and the conversation ditto. Then off for a very impressive personal tour of Parliament (photos of all this soon, I promise); we even got our photo taken (blurrily) by a retired Member. Funfun. Then off to the Fairfield Boathouse, to meet Karina's sister Katie and her son Kirra. (Not sure I'm spelling his name right; hope so). Fairfield Boathouse is insanely beautiful and peaceful -- HIGHLY recommended. We walked down through a beautiful stone amphiteatre to the caf�, where we ate scones piled high with jam and clotted cream, with tea, of course. Karina and Kirra had spiders too, which is what we'd call a float -- soda and ice cream. (I can sort of see where they get spider as a term, but float makes more sense, I think, and is less creepy.) The caf� has balcony seating that overlooks the gorge the Yarra river flows through, with a high bridge arcing through the trees beyond. We sat and talked for hours, and it was awesome. If it had been a little less hot, we might have hired a rowboat and paddled around on the Yarra, but yesterday was a bit blazing, and we were tired. Another time, another visit. Clearly, I must come back.
Afterwards, we were having such a good time talking to Katie, we dragged her to dinner with us. (Yes, there was a lot of eating yesterday. Lots of small meals.) Sri Lankan dinner at Sigiri, which was tasty (egg hoppers, stringhoppers, potato curry, lentil curry, sambol), and my only complaint was that it was all really mild, despite our asking for it spicy. I guess they're afraid of scaring the Australians? They should take a lesson from Everest, which is not afraid to pile on the heat and has stayed in business for twenty-five years�
It was just awesome talking to Katie. I traded her dinner for a drawing lesson, and she covered something like five chapters of a how-to-draw book in an efficient twenty minutes. So helpful. (I have no aspirations to be a serious artist, but I would really like to be able to draw a recognizable object, person, animal, etc. An elephant, perhaps. One that doesn't look like a giant stepped on it and squished it would be nice.) Katie is a REALLY GOOD fine artist; I saw some of her work at Karina's house, and more on some materials their mother had from Katie's most recent exhibit. She needs a better website (http://yarraart.blogspot.com.au/), and a university really ought to hire her to teach their art classes, stat, in my humble opinion. Most of her time currently is spent on her own art and on a gallery she helps to run. But keep an eye out -- Katie Roberts. Lots of fabulous work focused on the Yarra River. I love rivers.
And then we tore ourselves away from her, most reluctantly because she is smart and funny (not surprising, really, considering Karina, and Jill -- the whole family is pretty awesome; did I mention that Kirra is doing a circus certificate? how cool is that?), but we had an appointment with fairy penguins.
Yes, you heard me right -- fairy! penguins! We raced out to St. Kilda Pier, met up with Kee again, and walked out to the rocks to search for the fairy penguins who come out at dusk. We thought we'd missed them, because we were almost too late, but there were guides with flashlights sending beams into the rocks, and in the end, I saw two fairy! penguins! and they were tiny and friggin' adorable. We also saw one rakali, an Australian water-rat, swimming sleek and fast through the darkening water. It was incredibly gorgeous out there, and we sat on the pier and chatted and watched the sun go down and the cloud-streaked sky go dark for a long time. So peaceful. (If you are ever in Australia and wanting to take someone on a date, this would be an awesome one. :-)
And that was the end of Day Four; we tottered home and I collapsed into bed. Just lovely.