Archive for May, 2006

the dead heart

Mark Pesce is annoyed with me, again, this time for extrapolating from Double Bay’s empty storefronts to a malaise in the Australian economy. And in fact he got three things exactly right, much righter than my muddled attempts to express them:

1. Australia had no industrial revolution, and its frontier economy is still based around mining, pastoralism and agriculture, with a huge service sector.

2. Those storefronts are empty because the gigantic new mall up in Bondi Junction has sucked all the oxygen out of Double Bay.

3. I can’t stop being Australian any more than I can stop being Anglican; therefore, I am judgmental, and I whinge a lot.

The point I was trying to make, impeded by rugrats and jetlag, revolves around the first: a frontier-and-service economy doesn’t suit my temperament. I wanted to write and to do a startup. Australia has many more writers than it can possibly employ – too much education, not enough population – and many more entrepreneurs than opportunities for startups – no angel investors, no critical mass in the potential customer base.

The fundamental difference between America and Australia? In America, the mountains are on the left. The Sierras and Rockies kick up the jet stream off the ocean, and the air drops its water as snow and rain. The deep black prarie earth is the grainbasket of the world – well, actually it’s the government-subsidized corn and soy monoculture of the world, but that’s matter for another blogpost.

America started with minerals and farming too, but America has had time to build a secondary economy around them: a giant financial center in New York to rival London and Tokyo; enormous defense and aerospace industries to employ the graduates of technical universities filled with the Jewish physicists Germany didn’t want. The Silicon Valley software industry is the lovechild of the Wall Street banks and the death labs (Argonne, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Sandia and so on.)

In Australia the mountains are on the right. The jet stream carries the clouds over the desert, and dumps its rain on the green and fertile Eastern seaboard. My Dad dreamed of towing icebergs from the Antarctic to farm the Nullarbor, but Tim Flannery makes the excellent point that there’s not enough topsoil. Desert breeds desert. Australia has no prairies, and no New York, and no Lockheed Martin. The CSIRO has done some extraordinary things – my beloved Uncle Ron did several of them – but it hasn’t had a child like Sili Valley. And if you want to be an enterprise software analyst, which it turns out I really, really do, a Sili Valley is what you need.

Conversely, if you want to be a futurist, as Mark does, Australia is a near-optimal place to ply your trade.

The above is all objective and fine, and it’s not what Mark was reacting to in my post. What hurts him – and not only him – is the particular fury with which I shake that red dust off my feet, as if because Australia isn’t the right place for me right now, it’s not the right place for anyone, ever. I do this a lot, and I owe an explanation which assigns blame to the guilty and exonerates the people who have done nothing wrong.

I am still angry – incandescently, heart-racingly angry, even as I write this. I am more disgusted than I can say with Victor Roland Cole, the former minister of St Davids Anglican Church in Forestville. I am still more outraged by the Sydney Anglican Church that lied and lied and lied to protect Vic from the woman he raped. I know intellectually that this kind of pathetic, wilfully cruel incompetence and abuse of power can happen anywhere, has happened everywhere, is happening as we speak; but my heart is not rational, and all it knows is that in Sydney, it happened to me.

Jeremy says – and Jeremy is annoyingly wise about this kind of thing – that places themselves aren’t good or bad: “Australia is what it is.” He’s right. What I need to work on for the next little while is separating my righteous anger from the circumstances that surround it. It’s not the country that is innately wicked, or the city, or even the church or the man himself. Evil is an action, or a decision not to act. He chose violence.

Now I choose peace.


I just walked around Angel Island and boy are my feet tired. Boom-tish!

Django and the Fitzchalmers were stranded there when our ferry pulled up at the pontoon. Luckily the Gopalan-Walshes and their friends Kevin and Harry had been similarly cast away. We set out on foot, alarmed by the colorful natives and their drum circles.

I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to hike five-and-a-half miles in a little over two hours. We ended up sprinting down to the ferry. Also, Fisherman’s Wharf should be razed. We had a soothing late-lunch at Herbivore instead.

We’re planning to do seven summits with Django. Here are our achievements to date:

Mt Diablo – peak not scaled: 0
Angel Island / Mt Livermore – peak not scaled: 0
Summits to date: 0

We are undaunted, however. Future plans include:

Twin Peaks – peaks: 2
Dias Ridge – peaks: 10

…bringing us to twelve. So we’ll do some valleys – Noe, Silicon – canyons – Wildcat, Glen – and a gulch – Green. With a peak count of -1 per, this should even things out.

Other highlights of Mem-day weekend: in the Arts and Crafts exhibition at the De Young, an escritoire made by Lady Anne Blunt for her sister-in-law Mary; dim sum and Washington Square Park with Carole, Jamey and Rowan; Salome got a new text-capable phone, so we have been writing haiku to each other; and Carnavale with strawberry daiquiris and Fogo na Roupa providing the most kick-ass Brazilian drum parade imaginable.


“I can’t help it Claire! THE DRUMS!”

highlight of the monday night supper club

Claire and Rowan, running up and down the hall bellowing like walruses: I’M DELICATE! I’M FRAGILE!


This morning I was so eager to kiss Julia’s fat pink cheeks, I couldn’t even wait for her to wake up. As I smooched her, she grinned in her sleep.

I haven’t written much about her, essentially because happiness writes white. She is heaven. She cries rarely, and only for clear and well-supported reasons. Mostly she smiles and giggles, or sleeps beatifically. Her hair is a cloud of spun gold. Her blue eyes have dark edges, like Hoag’s object. She tolerates Claire with admirable fortitude. She adores the cat. When Bebe jumps on my lap, Julia does whole-body-wiggles and laughs with incredulous joy. She grabs handfuls of fur in her fat fists, and pulls them out.

Get this: Bebe purrs.

happy birthday to you

Nearly seven years ago I answered an ad on the Bay Area Equestrian Network. I was looking for a magnificent white stallion that I hoped to call Binky. The advertiser and I arranged to meet at a farm in Orinda. I took Bryan along as well as Jeremy, just in case the advertiser was an axe murderer.

It was Salome. She assumed the boys were a gay couple and that I was a dyke, like her. She had a shockingly beautiful Swedish Warmblood gelding named Noah. We shared him for the next two years, and now we are both married – to men – and raising our kids on the same block in Bernal.

She’s crazy beautiful and funny and tenacious and smart and stubborn. She’s an inspiring teacher and an inspired writer and filmmaker. I can’t imagine that I would have stayed in America if I hadn’t met her; sometimes she’s the only person who can understand what I am trying to say, and often she is the only person kind enough to laugh at my jokes. Also, she thinks I am a pathological liar, so this post is really going to mess with her head.

Some random coincidences: Salome was born on 21 May 1967; my best friend in high school, Wendy, died on 21 May 1985. Oh, and Noah actually is gay. His boyfriend, in the next stall along, was a white stallion called Binky.

soup’s up

This is the first day in over a month when we’ve had nothing planned, and no reason to hustle the little girls out of the house. As soon as we got back from Australia, JavaOne began and Garfield, Olga and Madeline arrived from Russia.

Garfield and I were the fierce twin Noam Chomskyites of the 1993 English honours class at Sydney Uni. We argued (successfully!) for Vietnam-inflected readings of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. We drank gallons of espresso at the Craven, watched 24-hour science fiction marathons at the Valhalla and kept Gleebooks in business with nothing but the power of our righteous convictions. Garfield was on his way to visit me in Dublin, stopped over in Russia and has lived there ever since. Has yet to set foot in Ireland.

Younger readers, consider the power of irony: Garfield and I, furious post-colonialists born and raised at the utmost fringe of the West; our children, native-born Americans and Muscovites. Never say never.

What with one thing and another, we had dinner with a different set of friends every night this week. Yesterday was tower and flowers: the top of the De Young Museum and the Japanese Tea Gardens. We had a farewell lunch at Lovejoy’s, and then the Reynoldses flew back to Moscow and I gave in to jetlag and tiredness and went to bed until 7pm.

Claire already misses Madeline. They approached one another very warily, Madeline shy of using her excellent English, Claire bewildered by the appearance of yet another foreign language. By Friday, they were flying hand in hand around Golden Gate Park, looking exactly like sisters. Oh, and a checkout girl at Good Life flattered me VERY MUCH by assuming that Olga and I were the sisters. MY CHEEKBONES ARE COMPARABLE TO THOSE OF A RUSSIAN WOMAN. Hurrah!

So this morning we slept in. It was fantastic. After a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w morning I dropped Jeremy and the kids on Cortland at noon and tootled down to the Alemany Farmers’ Market to buy the very last of the fresh produce. With all the Fitzhardinges down for naps, I made puree of garnet yam for Julia and a potage parmentier and roasted carrots and pain perdu for the rest of us. Now the house smells deliciously of leeks, and Bebe has curled up to go to sleep on my left hand.

Julia stirs. I must away!

winding up

Over hash browns at Cafe Otto:

Tash: So you need a new hot water heater?

R: Yep.

Moira: Are you getting a continuous system?

R: We are, and it’s a tankless task. Thank you very much! I’ve been waiting weeks to use that joke.

By the miracle of the International Date Line, we’ll be back in San Francisco tomorrow a couple of hours before we leave.

general impressions


Go west, paradise is there, you’ll have all that you can eat of milk and honey over there. As San Francisco’s produce is fresher and better prepared than New York’s, so Sydney’s surpasses San Francisco’s. A word on cafes may be necessary for my American readers. Good cafes are everywhere. We just walked up Glebe Point Road, where they sit cheek-by-jowl for about five blocks. The average standard of coffee equals the excellence of Ritual Roasters; a really good cafe, like Big’s new favourite Single Origin, has no comparison in America at all. Cafes serve hot, savoury meals as well as sweets: breakfast fry-ups, subtle pastries, wonderful sandwiches, maybe a bowl of pasta. Chai is not out of a box. It’s made with boiled milk, black tea, sugar and spices, by someone who has tasted real chai and liked it. Tables are tiny. You may be sitting on the footpath (sidewalk), breathing exhaust. Sydney cafes are slaves to fashion. On Thursday a particular treat will appear in one – I remember the birth of foccacia, the friand, the Portuguese custard tart – and by Tuesday every cafe in the greater Metropolitan area will serve it.

real estate

I always forget this. Sydney is incredibly, gobsmackingly beautiful. You can’t even imagine. Glimpses of the sapphire-and-emerald harbour through buttressed Moreton Bay fig trees. The smell of the sea at Bronte, salty-sweet. My childhood. On Monday, driving home from the Zoo, warm torrential rain pouring from a butter-yellow sky. Long roads lined with liquid amber trees, their autumn leaves turned to flame. Thussy plans to build an eco-friendly house on her incalculably valuable Northern Suburbs farm with its sea view. Our friends move out and out in search of affordable mortgages: Newington, North Ryde, Cheltenham. Owning a home and having children means leaving programming and development for enterprise architecture and management.


I think the economy here is in trouble. Unemployment is up, expensive storefronts in Double Bay lie empty, the vendors of luxury goods being unable to afford the rent. Technical people tend to work for huge companies – Bankers Trust, Optus, Oracle. It’s not particularly good fun. The exceptions are Bill, who seems to be relishing the responsibility for the billing system at his telecommunications giant, and Big, whose dot-com may be very well positioned for the return of Stupid. It’s hard to imagine what, if anything, Jeremy and I would do if we moved back here. We daydream about bootstrapping an angel fund that would help talented programmers make connections in Sili Valley. I could keep horses in Centennial Park and ride after close of business on the West Coast.

recurring themes

The Sydney Morning Herald is truly awful. (On the trapped miners: “The earth beneath Beaconsfield is hard and greedy. It does not want to give up its prizes.”) Politicians are still(!) talking about mateship. Apparently John Howard is popular because he is “a good money manager”. Not caring about money is seen as immature. Even so, plenty don’t. As in San Francisco, we-and-everyone-we-know are liberal and progressive, but the country as a whole is bewilderingly, self-defeatingly reactionary. Cars are ridiculously expensive. (Practically all manufactured goods are, because they’re imported. Oh, and you can’t buy music from the American iTunes store, only the Australian one, because the music publishers are still milking the regions for all they’re worth.) Drivers have become very rude. Girls can be tough and sensitive now, but boys are still bullied unmercifully. The Anglican church is as good as established, and is run like the large and profitable business it is. I pointed out St Barnabas to Jeremy: “That’s where the horrible archbishop started out.” Someone burned the church down that night. To Jeremy, guiltily: “It wasn’t me.” My friends here are awesomely gifted: Mark D and Jamie have books out, Neal’s latest is apparently wonderful, Mel is going to be a fantastic doula and how great would it be to learn cooking and design from Rachel H? My friends’ children are all delightful. Graham Greene is the best and least appreciated novelist of the 20th century: discuss.

scattered notes

1. telephone conversation with purported “best” “friend” “in california”

R: Out of sight, out of mind.

S: Hello? Who is this? I think you have a wrong number.

R: You’ve made a new best friend haven’t you! It’s wossname isn’t it.

S (patiently): No, I am a MOTHER.

R: You love Milo more than me.

S: Now now, don’t be silly.

2. three coincidences established, via cellphone, while sitting under Thussy’s jacaranda tree this morning

  • Vivienne Lander, my Australian riding instructor from the 1980s, is a friend of David Murdoch, my Californian riding trainer from the 2000s
  • Illy, the Arab boarding with Thussy, looks incredibly familiar to me because he is the son of Ralvon Job, full brother to Ralvon Ilk who I used to ride
  • Cass, Illy’s owner, works with a club promoter and knows Claire’s godfather the international DJ of mystery Big Daddy G

…and in fact the reason I talked to Vivienne in the first place was to tell her that I married the nephew of her friend Jan. Because apparently there are only TWENTY NINE PEOPLE in ALL OF AUSTRALIA. Boggle.

3. two events that make me feel a certain way

Jamey got 100% in her second physics exam, which makes me very happy. Leonard’s mother has died, which makes me very sad.

brief recap

Brekkie at Single Origin with Mark Pesce and “favourite Uncle Big”.

“Do you ever see Tim and Neal here? Their house is just around the corner.”

“No, never.”

Ten minutes later, guess who turned up?

Playgroup with Sam and Korbin in Newington, dinner at a cafe in Bronte with Big and Mark Bennett.

C: “I’m not a person, I’m a girl!”

“Is Daddy a person?”


“Is Uncle Big a person?”


“Is Mummy a person?”


“Is Julia a person?”

“No! She’s a girl!”

Brekkie at Cafe Otto with Kay, Kelso and Peter the Rocket Scientist, James Craig and the Endeavour at the Maritime Museum with Skud, dinner at home with Uncles Rob and Barney. Brekkie at home and a long play in the park, lunch with the Rachels and their respective entourages.

Me: “We need a flow chart of who’s talking to who.”

Much laughter.

Rach Honnery: “Big was going to draw one up!”

Big: “Yeah, and you were on it.”

Me: “Oh, I like everyone. Except wossname.”


This morning Claire finally reacted to sleeping in three cities in as many nights by turning into Veruca Salt on angel dust. This will sound odd, but my parents aren’t really kid people, so her relentless klaxxon was a bit wearing on their nerves.

“You might want to watch that show Supernanny,” said my dad gently. “Not criticism, just a bit of friendly advice.”

I expect they were well relieved to leave us in the rear-view mirror, but I miss them already.

We hiked (bushwalked) down to the Pool of Siloam under Gordon Falls. It’s the most insanely beautiful spot, a little golden sandy beach in a rainforest with a fifty-foot waterfall trickling into the clear shallow pool. It wasn’t exactly tranquil, though, as there were two National Parks rangers working on the trail (track?) One had a leafblower.

“A leafblower?”

“You bet! If I had to sweep it, I’d be here for donkey’s years!”

“…I guess.”

He said that thirty years ago the pool had been so deep, you couldn’t swim to the bottom. The golden sand is all sediment from the human settlement up in Leura.

An uncomplicated drive home. Jules woke up as we drove up Bellevue Road, and bleated in a professional manner.

“She’s drawing up a request for milk. She’s a growing concern, and needs venture lactation.”

“The investment is earmarked for cells and marketing.”

Two more stories about various brilliant children. I asked Kelly if she believed in God, and she said:

“It all seems a bit far-fetched.”

And Julia, after carefully examining the cat Kashmir’s white paw, laid it down carefully and picked up for the purposes of comparison her own fat pink foot.

southern stars

Oh, how busy we have been. Yesterday we dropped in to see my awesome Auntie Barb and Uncle Ron; they’ve renovated their house and it’s now beautiful and sleekly modern with hardwood louvres and a Balinese porch and automated sunshades and a garage door that slides sideways.

“This is an awesome lair for a supervillain,” I said to Uncle Ron.

“It all works beautifully, as long as my passenger pushes the garage door button at the right time,” he said.

“I’m the passenger!” said Auntie Barb.

“You’re the henchman,” I said.

As we were boarding the flight to Sydney, Mark D. popped up and gave me a kiss. See, this is the sort of thing that makes Americans think Australia has a population of sixteen. There are maybe three people I particularly wanted to bump into here, out of a population of twenty million, and Mark was one of them. (Psyke and Mel, mail me please!)

Monday night’s dinner was glorious – Auntie Jan came over, and Uncles Rob and Barnaby, and both girls fell asleep so I had a free hand for my wineglass and Richard served a white Peter Lehmann Stonewell wine, to bookend that amazing Shiraz of Max’s. Auntie Jan and I gossiped at length about horsepeople; it turns out that my wonderful jumping instructor Vivienne Lander is an old friend of hers. I think Auntie Jan met most of the important people in my life before I did.

Rob and Barnes told us how they met.

Rob: “I thought, what the hell, I’ll go to this ridiculous party, and he was the only person there I hadn’t already met.”

Barnes: “And there was chemistry, so we swapped phone numbers – but somehow we each managed to go home with our own phone number!”

Rob: “So we both called the friend who’d thrown the party, to ask for the other one’s number.”

Barnes: “At the same time.”

By noon on Tuesday we were packed and pulling out of Cooper Park Road; we reached Katoomba in a record two hours. The girls slept all the way, waking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on arrival. Claire bought some pretty flowers for her Gemma, and there was a great exchange of hugs and presents when my parents arrived. I’d been very worried that Mum wouldn’t approve of the hotel I’d booked, but it turns out she and her friend Joy had stayed here twenty years ago! Score.

Dinner at Chez Amis, a nice French place in a church across the road. Salome, forgive me, I had the pork and trotters, and it was amazingly good. Dad bought a couple of bottles of a French Syrah called Aimery, which was our third great wine in as many nights.

The girls slept through the night! And the hotel provided a hot breakfast! This is a recipe for great cheeriness on my part. The buffet is under a painted-on proscenium arch, which lent the meal a merrily theatrical air. The Goop server was down when I tried to get mail this morning, but as we were finishing our bacon and eggs Jeremy answered his phone and walked Salome through rebooting the server.

“Don’t you have a remote reboot?” asked Dad.

“Sure,” said Jeremy. “I get a friend to walk over and hit the button.”

“And you don’t even have to call them!” said Dad, impressed. “They call you!”

We drove down to Echo Point, and Jeremy and Claire walked down to the Three Sisters while Mum and Dad and I had coffee and chatted and admired the view. The grandparents bought the girls matching hoodies with kangaroo ears, in which they look mightily adorable.

It’s very windy, so we decided to visit the Toy and Train Museum. As we drove there, Mum told me about a house she and Joy had visited. It was the childhood home of Doc Evatt, and it had reminded her very much of her own childhood home, Victoria House in Warrington.

We pulled up at the Museum. It’s the same house.

Mum was a little disappointed that the toy museum made the house feel less like her own home, but you can press buttons to make the trains go, so Claire had no complaints whatsoever. And the gardens were just right for rambling around, all pines and lawns and fountains, like the gardens at Withycombe where Jeremy and I stayed on our honeymoon.

Have I mentioned how many happy memories I have of the Blue Mountains? Dad grew up in Hazelbrook, the next town over. Back when I was a sullen teen, Mum and I had a great weekend here. This is where Jeremy and I met, and where we came after the wedding. And now we’re sharing it with the girls.

Rachel Honnery couldn’t get us a table at Solitary for the big lunch on Sunday, so we went there today. It was so delicious we stayed past Claire’s nap time. There was a tremendous meltdown, but both girls are now asleep at opposite ends of the child’s bed, in their matching kangaroo hoodies. Jeremy took a picture.

Oh, and did I mention how beautiful the stars were as we staggered back to the hotel last night? The sparkling Southern Hemisphere constellations, brilliant against an inky sky.