Archive for January, 2007

innocent fruit

I resort to a terse and unsatisfying summary of the notable events. Julia, completely recovered, is having to be re-weaned, and this has sparked impressive temper tantrums. Claire rode Bellboy and trotted. Last night she woke up crying.

R: What’s wrong my honey?

C: I want to live with Thussy on the farm.

Sarcastor’s apartment is completely amazing! The balcony looks out on the Bat Superhighway, the Harbour Bridge and the end of the Mardi Gras parade. We went out for tapas. Bats flew from fig to fig.

C: What do bats eat?

R: The blood of the innocent.

Rach Honnery: Don’t listen to your mother! They’re fruit bats. They eat fruit.

R: Innocent fruit.

This morning I slept horrifically late. We had twenty minutes to get to Summer Hill, which used to take almost an hour, but which now, thanks to the reviled Cross-City Tunnel, takes… twenty minutes. Sydneysiders have been wondering what the expensive and under-utilized tunnel was even built for. Now we know. It’s for Claire to have playdates with Patrick.

brief update

Julia greatly improved: thanks to everyone who pinged. J and I snuck out yesterday for treats: Pan’s Labyrinth and new books by old friends Kate Crawford and Neal Drinnan!

sick baby

Julia’s turn for the tummy bug. High fever made me take her to the GP. The GP was worried about her rash, and mentioned meningococcus. She told me to take her to hospital if she got any worse – vomiting, for example.

At the chemist, filling the prescription, she threw up all over me. I put her back in the car and drove straight to Emergency.

Nothing reorganizes your priorities like pure terror.

The staff at Sydney Childrens’ could not have been any kinder or more helpful. Julia enjoyed being examined, biting on the tongue depressers until I held her nose and made her open her mouth. The verdict is: weird viral thingy with vomiting, fever and rash. Almost certainly not meningococcus because the rash blanches when you rub it, and the Tylenol brings her fever down.

I was relieved to bring her home, but too frazzled to mount an organized campaign to get everyone to sleep. Bedtime last night dragged on till 1am, and there were tantrums and screaming and the kids didn’t behave well either. But this morning Jeremy tiptoed out to the American consulate, organized his visa and came back to wake me with a glass of orange juice. It was the first decent sleep I’d had since Friday. I feel almost human again.

Julia is still snoring, sprawled on the bed, pale and cool.

tummy bug

Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, headache, insomnia, emotional volatility, sense of impending doom and utter despair.

the storm

I dreamed I was walking back to the house on Eugenia Avenue, which faced a seawalled cove rather like La Paz or Howth. But the house wasn’t where it should have been. I stared from landmark to landmark in confusion before I realized that the village had been destroyed by a storm and saw my own books half-buried in the debris…

…and woke in an unfamiliar bed, thinking What time is it? And what country is this?

There was a TV show here I never saw, called Sea Change, about moving from the city to a remote beach. The title has entered the vernacular, so that the Herald’s real estate pages this week were all about “sea-changing.”

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

It’s very appropriate that Australians should… um… appropriate… Shakespeare’s description of a father’s corpse for real-estate marketing jargon. In other great Sydney property news, a prophecy of mine has been fulfilled, and developers are trying to flog luxury condos at Little Bay, right next to Long Bay Gaol.

my education continues

The girls were champions on the fifteen hour flight over, although I noticed as the sun rose over the Pacific that Julia had cut a new tooth. She screamed her head off in customs and immigration until a kind official lady took pity on us and sent us through a back door, skipping at least forty minutes of queuing. Thank you for ever, kind official lady.

Sydney is as beautiful and imponderable as ever. I woke before dawn and listened to cicadas, currawongs, crows, kookaburras and rosellas singing in the trees outside. What would my life have been like if I had never left? What would it be like if we came back? LP Hartley said “The past is a foreign country;” for expats this is the literal truth, and the longer you stay away, the more foreign your homeland becomes.

Last night was, unexpectedly, a delight. My mother and father came to dinner, so the girls feasted with both parents and all four grandparents. I quaffed champagne and was reminded, again, that it is a grave mistake to underestimate my mother. I confessed that I’d only just learned that Dad’s old rocking chair was a classic of mid-century design and that all their teak furniture, which I despised because it wasn’t ornate Victorian, was chosen with excellent taste.

Mum said: “What I really wanted was one of those fantastic project homes – you know the ones -”

Richard: “Pettit and Sevitt.”

“Exactly,” said Mum. “I loved those.”

“Well of course,” said Richard, “they were absolutely wonderful houses.”

For USonians, the parallel is with the gorgeous Eichlers. Let the record show that my mother has always been awesome, and that in the years when I thought otherwise I was an idiot.

jeremy has the best frickin toys

I’m blogging from the airport, on his laptop, with its cell modem and wireless mouse. Yeesh. My husband lives in the future.

Sydneysiders might wanna bookmark Open Day. USonians, don’t call me on my cell, because I left it on the hall table. I will be checking mail.

…get a new plan?

C: Daddy daddy daddy! Bebe nearly bit me.

J: Really? Why is that?

C: Because I was chasing her.

J: So what do you think we should do?

C: …get a new cat?

Claire seems to be phasing out her long afternoon nap, which is more than somewhat alarming, as the long afternoon nap is what’s kept us sane lo these many years. On the other hand, it’s ten to nine and both girls are in bed. A reliable earlier bedtime would be a heckuva tradeoff, in the non-ironic, pre-Katrina sense of heckuva.

I had a run of good books in La Paz. Sky Coyote instantly became my favourite Kage Baker, because while I find her time-travel series engrossing, her usual protagonist annoys me. Mendoza, alas, is a Mary Sue. Everyone loves her, for no discernable reason. However idiotically she behaves, she always turns out to be right. She’s just like Harry Potter. I want to slap them both.

Sky Coyote is narrated by the series equivalent of Hermoine Grainger, and since I’m a sardonic supporting character myself, I find Joseph’s point of view much more to my taste. The book also has a wonderful double structure. Joseph is infiltrating a Chumash village in the Ventana wilderness with the goal of rescuing its material culture and inhabitants from the arrival of the Europeans. At the same time, the immortal operatives of the Dr Zeus company are studying the motives of their mortal masters from the future. Time travel, of course, is just another species of colonialism, just as any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. This was a good book to read on my first trip to Mexico.

So was Transmission, which is also deeply concerned with the interplay of economics and human migration, and very funny. To my delight and Jeremy’s it is set in what is recognizeably our California and tech industry; author Hari Kunzru did his homework, nails the Valley and thanks Danny in the acknowledgements. One sardonic supporting character shares many of her good qualities with Quinn. Next came Black Swan Green, a genuinely beautiful literary retelling of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

Right now I’m reading two books at once: Salome’s first edition of The Lathe of Heaven, with its accurately globally-warmed Mt Hood, and Quinn’s copy of The Years of Rice and Salt. It took me a while to get stuck into the latter but now I’m hooked on its clear-eyed unsentimentality, its inexorable tides of good fortune and tragedy. It’s not exactly escapist but it does help dispel some of my anxiety. The rest of it will not be dispelled. Bush is another Mary Sue. The USA has already lost the war in Iraq and this troop surge will only make matters worse.

mexico pics are up

Playa el Comitan

Originally uploaded by yatima.

The camera-that-got-lost-on-the-train is lovely. San Francisco is freezing cold. Claire and I want to go back to La Paz. “I like bumpy roads,” she says.


Sacrificial day was great. Bahia de los Muertos, the bay of the dead, is now Bahia de los Sueños, the bay of dreams. It was the most beautiful of all the gorgeous Baja beaches we visited, remote and pristine, filled with pelicans, herons and fishing eagles, yet with a restaurant serving decent piña coladas. Naturally developers are planning a championship golf course; hence the switch to a catchier name. Welcome to late capitalism.

Alternative title considered for this post: “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to DREAM.”

claire meets the man of her dreams

C (at breakfast): I told Frankie my dreams, and he told me his dreams.

even better day

We had French toast for breakfast.

R: My resolutions are as follows. One, yoga. Two, a chapter of the damn novel, every month.

J: How long do you think before you break them?

R: I won’t.

J: You always do. You should make sacrificial resolutions, so you can break those.

R: You should be more supportive.

J: I was going to be, but it turned out that was one of my sacrificial resolutions.

We trundled out to Playa Tesoro, a beach named for the pirate treasure supposedly found there. Trucks roar their air brakes down the highway behind it, and every now and then a giant silent ferry leaves the terminal around the headland, but between these two proofs of modernity lies a sheltered cove with shallow azure waters and white coral sand.

There’s a decent restaurant, its tables sheltered beneath individual palapas (a palapa is a sort of umbrella made of palm leaves) where we had pina colada and the by-now-obligatory tacos de pescado. While Julia played in the sand and Claire and Jeremy kayaked, I wandered on the rocks and looked up to find myself not twenty feet from an unperturbed Great Blue Heron. It craned its neck (hahaha) to look at me, then returned its attention to the water. I do not remember when I have ever seen anything so elegant. Its mate flew with slow wingbeats over the water near the kayakers.

We’re back at the Hacienda. After the sun set in pillows of peach and purple, a full moon rose. We’ve been having tremendous communal meals: t-bone steak, fish Frankie and Shaun caught at the beach a hundred feet away. Tonight is crab pasta. My New Years Eve apple pie met with great acclaim so I am making two more. Tomorrow is our last full day here, but there is no way it can top today, so I will regard it as a sacrificial day.

unfinished buildings

Cait points out that in Greece you don’t have to pay property taxes on unfinished buildings, so no one ever bothers to finish them. Seems eminently reasonable to assume that the same effect is at work in Turkey and Mexico. How did travel writers ever get anything right, before blogs and wikiality?

Other factoids I wanted to write down somewhere: 80% of visitors to La Paz are domestic, and only 20% international. Our silvery girls are slightly exotic oddities, and every little Leo and Sebastian on the Malecon wants to come and play with them, so we’ve had tons of very amicable near-conversations with the other parents in their decent English and our bad Spanish.

That’s about to change, with Alaska and Delta flying direct to the microaeropuerto and with remote Playa Tecolote slated for development into the new Los Cabos. Come and see La Paz now, while it’s still middle-class and Mexican! That way you too can be the agents of change, transforming the very unspoiledness you came to admire.

We’re not the only ones. Per Wikipedia, average wages in La Paz are in the US$27 per day range, compared with $4 or less elsewhere in Mexico. People come here to work and remit money to their families, so population growth is stratospheric – I’ve seen estimates up to 25%, and nothing less than 10% (yes, that’s per annum, thank you Dad.) There’s a severe labor housing shortage. Unskilled workers build tar-paper shacks, but skilled workers can’t rent the rooms that property owners want to let to tourists. So planners are breaking ground on satellite cities. Yeah, in a desert on a faultline.

But what if it works, what if the satellite cities are dense green hives rather than awful sprawl, what if we find some way to live amicably alongside the tarantulas and whales? Mexico is nothing like as poor as I’d feared; in some ways it’s doing better than San Francisco. We need to put all these people somewhere. What if there’s a way to think about the future where change isn’t automatically for the worse?

As I get older I feel more and more like a redwood tree (or a saguaro cactus, for that matter): my children flicker around my feet like timelapse photography of ants eating fruit, and I am acutely conscious of the waves eating the cliffs away one grain of sand at a time. The city of peace and I are works in progress. This is a postcard from the unfinished building of Baja.