surely i oughta…

Honestly, I ought to go back to bed. Come to think of it, I probably ought to go upstairs and study some more. But while I might be a night owl in normal life, I can’t make myself a night owl for my college studies. Especially when I’m not one of the teeny-bopper students that I trip over all the time. 🙂 12168714_10153620567529976_1870777962_oThough I find more and more that being a “returning student” is not a completely unheard of thing, nowadays. We are not alone. Sort of.

I wasn’t asleep, but just getting comfy and then decided that I needed to check some things on my computer. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on here, hasn’t it? But while snippets of story ideas and photo opportunities come my way, at the end of the day, I don’t have any brain space left for blogging. Unlike my time in Australia, when all I had was a constant story to tell, right? Or when I was jobless before school started? Perhaps I still have that 12124494_10153625474544976_1265596368_ostory to tell… but I’m too tired to tell it, mostly. Or when I do feel like telling it, it’s usually because I’m avoiding something. You know, like going to bed or doing homework. Fall has begun, here in the South, and I’m looking forward to taking some pictures of the changing leaves… with my phone, at least, though I tell myself I really should get over to the Botanical Gardens on one of these glorious cool days. I might even do it, between books that I’m reading for my history classes. I’m taking three of them, by the way. Modern South America, Britain from 1688 til now, and Museum History. The latter was to see what’s what in the field of Public History, but I don’t really think I’m going into that field. But I have learned one thing… no matter whether you agree with a museum curator’s method of arranging 12171063_10153621803034976_751679144_otheir exhibit or not, give them due credit. They work their backsides off for next to nothing, and often, their only reward is criticism. So, be nice to the museum people, they work hard.

What else has been happening? Weddings and receptions and drooling over DIY projects on Instagram. So, of course, after every wedding, I have tons of pics of my cousins’ kids and my friends’ kids. I have to take pictures of SOMEBODY’s kids, you know, if I can’t have my own yet! If you remember my darlings from Australia, then I can’t survive for long without playing with the kiddos. Come to think of it, I really don’t have much time for that, either. No wonder I’m always tired… haven’t gotten my baby fix. I was going to try, the other week, but then SC had serious flooding along the coast and in Columbia (the capital, at the center of the state). Interstates got shut down, roads got broken up by flooding.12022006_10153581173309976_1545617657_n

If you’re into certain shows on TV, I manage to watch Dancing With the Stars and Once Upon a Time, every week… but at the moment, I’m at least a season behind on Castle. It’s very sad, but two shows is the limit for TV goof-off time. Movies? I haven’t been to the theater in eons, but we did finally watch The Avengers: Age of Ultron during my fall break. That was quite fun, and it taught me my new favorite quote.

“The elevator isn’t worthy.”

Speaking of movies, yes, I am paying close attention to all the hoopla surrounding the upcoming Star Wars movie. However, I am a serious Star Wars BOOK geek, more so than the movies. I love the movies, especially the originals, but I’ve been reading the books for 20 years of my life. So, now, they have declared most of that 20 years of book to be NON-CANON. Don’t even talk to me about it. My 12033463_10153581340084976_447329520_nbrother and I have been cringing for a long time over it. So, yes, I’m thrilled by the newest trailer, but as much as I love J.J. Abrams, ask the Star Trek fans about their last movies. I am seriously looking forward to THIS movie, and yet I’m positive they’re going to ruin it. Because the books are brilliant… at least many of them are. So, they’re not allowed to change the story, sorry. Ok, I need to stop… this subject gets me steamed.

Books…. yes, I’m always reading books. Haven’t updated my list in a while. Sorry. I’ve been bingeing on Georgette Heyer again, though I also read through some of Juliet Marillier’s books, recently. The Shadowfell series, and then rereading Wildwood D12162874_10153606713649976_1342687055_oancing and Cybele’s Secret. I was even in a Barnes & Noble, recently, and that made my week. What did I buy? Oh, right, the new Rick Riordan book. Which I enjoyed, but I’m not awake enough to go into detail. Also, a kids’ book called The Doldrums, which I’m still reading slowly, interspersed with Heyer. Because you know, Georgette Heyer remains brilliant, and I go back to them like comfort food. If I could write like she did, I’d die happy… and rich, too, probably.

I’m running out of steam. I do actually have to get up in the morning, even though my class isn’t until afternoon, because as I said, I have a math test AND I need to make an attempt at reading some pages (in German) more in depth. We’re starting to study sports in Germany, in GER 305.

11939122_10153526703864976_2017429301_oAnd blast, do you know, I just remembered I should have looked at the school website and decide on which classes to register for, for next semester? I have a meeting with my advisor this week, and really need to have my list ready to show him.

So, to close this rambling post of mine, I’m going to include some of the latest pics I’ve taken, some selfies, some kiddos, one abandoned mill that my museum professor took us to see, and proof that I’m still an honorary Aussie… I have to have my Vegemite! Especially when it’s on my mom’s homemade toast. If we have them in the house, I add avocado slices, too. Heavenly!

I hope to be rambling at you again soon. Have a great week! 🙂

the joys of a good song…

I just found out that Emmy Rossum has a new CD out. If you remember, she played Christine DaaĂ© in the movie version of The Phantom of the Opera, so she can definitely sing. Of course, with my goals for the year including noEmmy-Rossum-album-cover music or book purchases, that meant I couldn’t immediately download it. Blast. So, I went back to what I did when I was in Australia… listening to the songs on YouTube. That website is a wonderful thing for those who want good music, but are trying to be frugal.

Rossum’s Sentimental Journey seems to be a collection of oldies stretching from the 1920’s to the 1960’s, and though I haven’t even finished listening to all of them, it’s already a great listen. If you like to listen to real “oldies”, sung by an amazing “new” vocalist, this album is probably for you.

It’s interesting, finding some great new music at the same time that I’m getting back into watching The Voice Australia, which has just begun its second season. For those of you who love America’s The Voice, I’m sorry, but I’ve never been a fan. Not because of how they find the singers, I think being judged on your voice, solely, is a fantastic way of doing things. But tumblr_mhbo2cwVwR1qzoaqio1_1280while I have a liking for Blake Shelton, as a person and because he’s a country singer, the few times I’ve watched our version of The Voice, I get really annoyed with the judges.

Don’t get me wrong, they can all sing, especially Christina Aguilera, but I don’t find them very likeable, as a group, and I find CeeLo to be a bit of a perv. Maybe it’s because they all come across as being full of themselves. I will admit to never watching beyond the Blind Auditions, so maybe things improve.

But if you’ve never gone looking for The Voice Australia, online, then you don’t know what you’re missing. It was a bit disappointing when Keith Urban left the show, but thus far, Ricky Martin is doing a brilliant job of replacing him. Keith is probably a bit wasted on American Idol, amidst the crazy panel of judges, because he’s a REALLY good coach. But I hear he has some of the best constructive criticism on their panel, without attempting to steal the spotlight from the rest of the judges.

I don’t know if most Americans would be aware that Joel Madden is an amazing coach and musician, because aside from Good Charlotte, he’s a bit more famous for marrying Nicole Richie. Speaking of which, last season, Joel sang a duet with his father-in-law, Lionel Richie, and if you missed it, I just plain feel sorry for you.

Seal, who coached Karise Eden (audition, finale) to the winning spot, is 558889_452782128135558_147501053_nalso a fantastic coach. He has a way with words that makes Joel Madden refer to him as “the guru” and a “master of the Matrix”.

And until I started watching this show, I had never heard of Delta Goodrem, who is one of Australia’s biggest stars. For those of us who are accustomed to hearing Andrea Bocelli or Josh Groban sing “The Prayer” with Celine Dion, Delta has sung it with both of them, on international tours. And on top of her amazing skills as a coach and performer, she’s just plain nice! She may look slightly like Aguilera, because she’s blonde, but the two are nothing alike. Delta Goodrem is the type of person you want for your best friend, while Christina Aguilera is the type you want to keep away from dating your younger brothers (even if she CAN sing).

My family keeps wondering what I’m laughing at, when I’m watching The Voice Australia, because it sounds like I’m watching a funny movie or a Castle episode. But no, it’s because the judges can be so hilarious! They tease each other like a family, not with subtle/painful digs that make you think they’re having cat fights behind the scenes. They genuinely enjoy each other and are searching for performers that they can work with, in order to give back to the next generation.

And the talent? If you’ve never heard of Rachael Leahcar, Karise Eden, Darren Percival, Lakyn Heperi, and the rest, you need to look them up. Already, Season 2‘s lineup is stacking up to outmatch them, though it’s hard to believe. Look up The Voice Australia: Season 2 on YouTube, and watch Harrison Craig, Chris Sheehy, Kaity Dunstan, and Luke Kennedy. Phenomenal.

I think every person that likes to sing will watch a show like this, or American Idol and The X Factor, and wonder if they could do that. Could they get up on stage and become the next Kelly Clarkson or Susan Boyle? Of course, if you think you have a decent voice, you also wonder if you’d be slammedDelta Goodrem by Simon Cowell, if you got up there (the less humble “singers”, for some reason, never expect this). But after watching The Voice Australia, and seeing how hard these fledgling musicians have worked in order to get where they are, I can see that you need to want music more than anything, to put it all on the line, like they do. Plenty of people will go up and make idiots of themselves, because their families mistakenly think they can sing, but the true singers and performers will never give up until they succeed.

So, while I enjoyed singing my head off while cleaning the shower (no, I don’t sing when I’m IN the shower), I know that even if my voice was good enough for the stage, I wouldn’t go on those shows. I wouldn’t like being in the public eye, I don’t like following directions when it comes to my voice (hence, I avoided ever taking any chorus classes in school), and I wouldn’t like having to do gigs all over the place. These singers thrive on it! I would shrivel up. I’m a writer who likes to sing, not a singer that likes to write.

But while I don’t have anymore “lullaby the baby” posts for you (no bubs to sing to, lately), I can still belt out the Broadway, with or without my headphones on. Maybe it’s because cleaning can be dull, if you don’t try to keep things entertaining. I spent five years of my life, cleaning the campgrounds from top to bottom, and I sang my heart out, the whole way. I still wonder if the walls soak it up, to spill out in some future era.

In case you were wondering, my Broadway cleaning songs come from some of my favorite musicals (the stage musicals, NOT the movies!), from Beauty & the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Les Miserables, Wicked, and Jane Eyre, to The Music Man, Oliver!, Cats, JaneeyrecoverSouth Pacific, and My Fair Lady. I know some of you, who haven’t heard me talk about musicals before, are already preparing to argue with me that The Little Mermaid and Jane Eyre are movies, not musicals. Well, you would be wrong, and I wish I could have seen them on the stage. Want to know where Sierra Boggess got her Broadway start, before progressing to Love Never Dies (the nightmare Phantom sequel)? The answer is The Little Mermaid: The Musical. And, of course, Marla Schaffel and James Barbour were beyond fantastic in Jane Eyre: The Musical.

So, I had to get some music ramblings out of my system, so forgive me if I jumped all over the place. And now, I’m looking forward to the Blind Auditions on The Voice Australia, this week. Especially because an acquaintance from Emerald, QLD, will be performing. And if any of my Aussie friends tell me the results, beforehand, I will be VERY upset with them!  : )

international festivities at clemson…

A year ago, if I had walked onto Bowman Field during the International Festival, I wouldn’t have known a single person there. Of course, a year ago, no one would have told me about it, and even if they had, I’d have been too chicken to go amongst all the college students, by myself. And probably, some smart aleck is going to tell me that this discussion is moot, because one year ago, I was still in Australia. Let’s not be picky, whoever you are. But since you mentioned it, there wasn’t an Aussie table at this festival, so I didn’t get any pavlova. Le sigh.DSC_0147

DSC_0148But this year has been different. I know quite a number of Clemson grad students who are from a range of countries, and one of them was nice enough to tell me about this festival, and suggest that I come. After that, several other students told me about it, and I figured it was a good weekend to attend two festivals, one in Pendleton (Spring Jubilee), and one in Clemson. And it was a gorgeous weekend for both!DSC_0149

When I first arrived, I did quite a bit of wandering, checking to see what countries were represented, but not really sure what I should try. Eventually, my problem was solved when I started running into people that I knew. After asking for a recommendation, my first friend suggested that I try something that he made, called dhal vadai. Yes, I made sure I took pictures of the descriptions, as well as the foods, because you can be sure that I would never remember their names, later.DSC_0111

DSC_0110After Duminda promised me it wasn’t spicy (I still looked at him askance, because my siblings and I don’t agree on what counts as “spicy”), I tried one. And I’ve been looking up all these foods on Wikipedia (just so you know), to make sure I don’t say anything COMPLETELY ridiculous about them. This one was savory and shaped like a fritter, and really good. If the paper hadn’t listed lentils as an ingredient, I would have guessed it had corn in it. And he didn’t lead me on, it wasn’t overly spicy, so I survived (don’t laugh, ask me some other time about how Indonesian spices and I got along, many years ago).DSC_0113

DSC_0114I did stop to look at the Libya booth, but didn’t see my acquaintance from there, so I kept wandering. And found several people I knew at the Nepalese booth. Naresh promptly asked me if I wanted to try something with peppers in it, and I demurred, so he suggested that I try a samosa dumpling, and then for dessert, lal mohan.DSC_0118

DSC_0115While I was eating the dumpling, I talked to another friend and tried to make small talk with her toddler, but he just frowned at me. Too bad we didn’t have more time, toddlers and I usually get along really well. I think it was past his naptime. I wish I had taken a picture, though, he was too cute.

I told Sabina that the samosa tasted a bit like chick peas, but I hadn’t recollected that the sign didn’t have chick peas (garbanzo beans) listed on it. It had a flavor like the white chili my family makes, which has cumin in it. I should’ve asked if they put any in it. But maybe the cilantro combined with the peanuts tricked me into thinking there were chick peas in it, because it did have a bit of crunch to it, and a great flavor.DSC_0116

DSC_0117The lal mohan looked a bit like a doughnut hole, and IS made of a deep fried dough (different type of dough, or so I’ve read), and soaked in a sugary syrup. It might have had cardamom in the syrup, as I think it had some spice to it. I love cardamom in my tea and fruitcake, so this is a good spice for me.  : )  It was VERY sweet, but a nice contrast after the dumpling.DSC_0119

DSC_0120There was a mile-long line for the kabobs at the Turkish tent, and though I would eventually come back to the dessert, for the time being, I kept going. I found someone else I knew at the next table, where they offered me a beef burek. This was a meat-filled pastry, and tasted wonderful. I should’ve gone back for another. But when I remembered to take a picture of the label, one of the guys commented on how I should have pictures of people, and not just the food. I asked if he wanted me to take one of them, and he backpedaled.DSC_0121

But as I walked away, I took one anyway. I’m just not very good at making people pose for pictures, especially if I don’t know them very well. I think he saw me do it, though his buddies didn’t notice. I think it came out well, because this booth didn’t have a tent over it. The rest of the tents didn’t let in a lot of light, so you couldn’t really see anyone at work over the food or their pots and grills. Wonderful sunshine-y day, great for photos… have I mentioned that yet?DSC_0122

Oh, I couldn’t figure out which country this booth was for, because they didn’t have a sign. Somebody suggested it might be Bosnia, but I wasn’t sure. But you know what? Photos are wonderful things. While going through them, I discovered that their table had a flag on the front of it (two pictures above this). Just have to match the flag, and that would make this the table representing Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This was a day for figuring out where several other acquaintances of mine were from, for the first time. Some of them were surprised to find I didn’t know they were from Sri Lanka or Nepal. But even if I know most of their names, I still don’t immediately ask for their country of origin. That would be nosy and/or unnecessary. They might as well ask me the same question, and then I can tell them my cousin’s rigmarole about a German pirate and an Irish chick. Or was it an Irish pirate and a German chick? I’ll have to ask him.DSC_0124

DSC_0123Back to the Turkish tent, I was confronted by four or five dessert choices, and had no idea what to choose. I didn’t think I needed excessive amounts of dessert, so I just picked one. So, I received a small plate of semolina pudding. Now, while it resembled apple sauce (though it was too thick for that), and the coloring of it looked like it could be just solid brown sugar, it wasn’t like either of those.DSC_0125

DSC_0126Semolina is a wheat byproduct, from milling durum wheat, which has a texture similar to American grits. I can attest to that, because I had expected something softer, but semolina gives you more to chew on (as does grits). In a good way, before any of you remember my opinion on grits.  : )  This was very sweet and rich… and I was stuffed, when I had finished it. As much as I would have loved to try some more food, I didn’t have any room left, so I didn’t end up using all my tickets.DSC_0127

DSC_0128At this point, some of the dancing began. Some of my acquaintances among the grad students are from Nepal, so they were all front and center to watch their friends do a Nepalese dance. I missed the introduction to this one, so I can’t be more specific than that. It just looked like a lot of fun, and both the dancers and the viewers were really enjoying themselves.DSC_0129

DSC_0130DSC_0131By the way, I really did try to cut back on the dancing photos, but I liked so many of them! They were having such fun, and despite that pole being in my way, I think a lot of them turned out well. Such a sunny day meant I could take dancing photos with no blur! Hooray!DSC_0132

DSC_0133DSC_0134When the first dances were done, I went a-wandering for a while, and checked out the flags that were planted all along the side of Bowman Field. I did go even further than that, going into the Carillon Garden, but those pictures can wait for another time.DSC_0141

DSC_0142DSC_0144While waiting for the next group of drummers and dancers, I spotted a little girl happily banging away on a drum that was as big as she was. She was just precious, and really enjoying herself.DSC_0167

DSC_0169When the African Dance and Drum Troupe (I can’t remember the correct name of the group, sorry!) began to play, a little blonde boy (look for him in the green shirt, overalls, and bucket hat) kept running up to examine the drums… and then he would get intimidated by all the close-range drumming, and run back to his parents. But later, when audience participation was requested, and everyone began to clap, he joined in, and did a great job of it.DSC_0170

DSC_0172DSC_0173The drumming went on for quite a time before the dancers joined in, and then they really got things moving. I saw any number of people in the audience, from all different countries, that couldn’t stand still, because of the music. These all seemed to be countries where lively cultural dances seem to be the norm. I wouldn’t call American dancing particularly cultural, you know. And I’m mostly Pennsylvania Dutch, so I don’t think we have much of a rhythm gene.  : )DSC_0178

DSC_0175DSC_0176But before long, one of the audience members couldn’t bear to sit out the dancing, any longer, and joined in with gusto! I’m not sure exactly where he’s from, nor do I know who he is… but I know who he was sitting with and talking to, so I’m going to find out. This gentleman brought the house down, and it was a joy to watch.DSC_0180

DSC_0181And boy, did those drummers enjoy having another dancer up there. The girls were out in the audience, trying to search out volunteers. They even tried to drag one of the grad students up there, but he wasn’t having any of it.  : )   They found some others, before long, though. Until then, they joined in with the gentleman dancer, and had a high old time of it.DSC_0182

DSC_0183After the dancing was over for a while, some more people went up to try out the drums, some of whom I know. It was a beautiful day and everyone was having a great time. There were a few other small dances, with music from other countries, but I didn’t take any more pictures of them.DSC_0185

DSC_0186DSC_0187For a multicultural festival, this was a fun one, even if I didn’t have a group of friends to wander around with, this time. The last one I attended was in Australia, so I’ll try not to think about it, or I’ll get homesick. But there is something to be said for having some acquaintances on campus, to make you feel like you belong (somewhat). I suppose it’s another step towards getting to know the Clemson campus better than I ever did when I was growing up around here.DSC_0189

DSC_0191I keep finding the new (to me) and interesting side of things at Clemson, and sometimes, others help me to see it. So, I’m glad someone told me about it, and that I got to attend Clemson’s International Festival!DSC_0194

DSC_0195P.S. If any international blog readers or Clemson students notice anything incorrect that I’ve said about the dancing, the people, or the food, please feel free to correct me! I don’t want to leave any really obvious inaccuracies on here, you know.  : )DSC_0211

Sydney Opera House, by way of Circular Quay…

Monday, April 2

I tried to not take too many pictures, really I did, but it was nigh unto impossible. Because of this “problem”, some of my days will have to be divided into multiple posts. So, my five days in Sydney may take twice as long to write about on my blog. I know, I feel your pain. You’ll just have to suffer.

Monday morning didn’t start too early for me, and I almost got sidetracked by helping Rachael’s friends do a crossword in the dining room, at breakfast. I was particularly pleased over figuring out the word “prescient”, for one of the clues, and I think my tablemates were impressed.  : )

I made my way to the bus stop, and though the bus sign said “Circular Quay”, I still thought I was supposed to get off at Central Station. Considering I was headed to Circular Quay (that’s pronounced “key”, if you weren’t sure), this probably should’ve caught my attention, but it didn’t. In retrospect, I only noticed the bus sign out of the corner of my eye, so that may explain it. Fascinated by all the city scenery that was going by, which reminded me a lot of NYC, I missed the stop for Central Station. The bus driver told me we were at the Circular Quay stop, and though I felt a bit dumb, I smiled at him, knowing this was where I’d been headed.

Just on a random note, I’ve wished several times that I could look as trendy and stylish as some of the people around me. But then I wonder how you can wander all over the city, comfortably, when you’re dressed like some of them (short dresses, high heels). And I’m sure that my hat marks me as just down from the country, but I remembered that I am a tourist, so if I look like one, so be it.

If I had just come to Australia, a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t be aware of how badly you can get fried in the Aussie sun. I don’t particularly like wearing hats, as I like to get a tan on my face. I look stupid in baseball caps, too. But knowing what I do about that brutal sun, I wear my Akubra, and ignore any looks that might suggest people think I look like a hillbilly. Yes, I know my imagination is probably running away with me, but I think it quite possible that some city mice feel superior to the country mice that come along in their Akubras. Or just the tourists. I took comfort in knowing that my hat was the real deal, instead of like the fake ones that I saw in most of the souvenir shops.

Now, I just had to find the waterfront. I walked downhill towards a piece of sky with no buildings blocking it, and found myself at the Circular Quay Wharf and Train Station. Under the train station are plenty of touristy shops, in front of it are all the ferries, and to the left and right, the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

I only got a slight glimpse of the above marvels, as I went to an information booth to ask about what was my best ticket for the buses, trains, and ferries. Then, I went and got an iVenture pass, which would allow me to get a good price on 5 main attractions in Sydney.

Taronga Zoo was not included in those five, but I was planning (originally) to visit WILDLIFE Sydney, the Sydney Aquarium, the Opera House, and two other interest spots. I thought climbing up the Harbour Bridge Pylon would be fun, getting to hear the history of the bridge, and take some pictures of it from a different angle. I could also go to the Maritime Museum, tour The Rocks district, or a few other places that I’ve forgotten.

Because it was there, and I wanted to see it right away, I began to walk towards the Opera House, stopping to listen to someone playing the didgeridoo, on the way. Of course, I took way too many pictures of the Harbour Bridge, on the way to the Opera House, but I tried to restrain myself.

By the way, if you look at my pictures of the Bridge, you might think they’re actually blurry, but they aren’t. If you’re looking at the roadway of the bridge, the “blurry” part is the curved fencing that will keep someone from climbing onto the road (or off the bridge). But if you look closely at the arch of the bridge, you can see the criss-cross design, and my later posts will show this better. So, acquit me of taking bad photos, please. I deleted between 50-100 photos, every evening, so I aimed to keep only the best.

On approaching that uniquely designed building, the Opera House, I found that a huge area in front of it was under construction. They’re building an access tunnel of sorts, in order that the stage crews can get their stuff into the building, much more easily.

Taking self-portraits can be a bit awkward, when you’re using a (not small) Nikon camera, but I’ve figured out how to do it. But while I was taking these pictures, a young man came up to me, seeing that we were in the same boat. He suggested we trade, he’d take some pictures with my camera, and I could take some with his. It seemed a fair swap, so we each have nice pictures of ourselves, with the Bridge in the background, as you’ll see.

It wasn’t until he walked off, that I realized he might’ve been American. Not that it really matters, but that’s how bad I’ve become at hearing the accents around me. I barely hear the Aussie accents, half the time, unless I’m really paying attention.

After taking a kajillion more pictures of the outside of the House, I finally figured out where to hand over my iVenture card, in order to get my ticket for the tour. After that, a visit to the restroom, and I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the bathroom.  : )

Thankfully, no one else was in there, so it didn’t get awkward with me taking those pics. But the sinks were so rippley, and they weren’t even “sinks”, exactly. And even the doors to the stalls were all rippley. As for the hand-washing area, they wouldn’t be the only sinks I saw of that type. Talk about easy to clean, with just a smooth or slightly wavy slab to clean! Sorry, former housekeeper speaking here.

While we waited for our tour guide, a lady took our pictures in front of a green screen, which were later turned into a package of photos, with me standing in front of various locations in and around the Opera House. I bought that package, as in some of those places, we hadn’t been able to take pictures inside.

When Dan, our guide, arrived, we were given headsets, so that he wouldn’t have to shout to be heard. We went in and out of the House, climbed tons of stairs, and were generally amazed by all the views. And the architecture, too, of course.

We got to watch a small video about the competition for best plans for the Opera House, and the decision to locate it on Bennelong Point. When Jørn Utzon’s plans were chosen, the original estimate was that it would take 3 years to build, and cost about 7.5 million dollars. I knew that it had taken longer and cost more, but I couldn’t recall the numbers.

Photos could be taken anywhere in the Opera House, except for in the theatres, because of copyright issues over any production that was on stage. We didn’t get to see the ballet/opera stage at all, because they were having dress rehearsals for La Traviata. Which is why I posted my tour photo of myself in the theatre, though I was only “green-screened” into it. But they told us that we get the copyright to our own pics, when we get the package.

In case anyone needs reminding, I haven’t forgotten how to spell, just because I’ve been in Sydney. In Australia, they spell the words “theatre” and “harbour”, instead of the Americanized “theater” and “harbor”. So, since I’m here, I try and use their spelling, though I’m sure I slip up now and then. But if it’s a title, as in the “Harbour Bridge”, I will always aim to spell it correctly, just like I hope everyone spells my name correctly. We don’t compromise on names, whether it’s a person or an object.

The second small theatre we went into was where they were performing MacBeth. Actually, Dan told us that they were having a production of a show that “begins with M, and ends with -acBeth”. Then, he went on to explain the curse of MacBeth, and how actors are very superstitious over saying that name in a theatre, before the show begins. I don’t believe in this curse, but Dan did point out that the show had been delayed for several days, because four of the lead actors had gotten food poisoning. So, you can decide for yourself, whether it’s true or not.

In the chamber orchestra theatre, we got a glimpse of one of the largest (if not THE largest) pipe organs in the world. I think he said it has 10,000 pipes, and it took ten years to put it together, and three years to tune. And if you remember the original estimate for how long the building would take to put together, then I can also tell you that the organ took at least half of the original budget, as well.

You’ll notice that I have a few pictures of people working industriously, cleaning the windows of the Opera House. That takes quite a while, I’m sure. But our tour guide explained to us how the roof tiles are a self-cleaning variety, so that when it rains, all the dirt just slides off easily. There are no gutters on the building, though, so if you happen to be in “Hurricane Alley” (as you can see, I’m taking the pic from between the “shells”, just above), or “the Cleavage”, as it’s also called, you’ll get just about drowned.

And the granite slabs that we walked around on, they have a little space between each of them, so the water just drains between the slabs, and back out into the ocean. Rather nifty, wouldn’t you say? Also, you may notice the photo of the roof tiles, with a bar at the top? They use that to rappel down, to replace fallen tiles, as well as setting off some of the fireworks, on New Year’s Eve. I don’t see how there’s room to put fireworks up there, but that’s what Dan told us.

There’s one photo that you may find confusing, with a panel that looks like you’re staring through it, down to the water, and yet you can see a clear delineation of the sky, a sharply cut edge to the “picture”, above that. I’m actually take that picture straight up, and the water reflection is coming off of a glass panel. If you look closely, you’ll see the roof of one of the “shells” above it. I thought it fascinating, but found the photo wasn’t exactly self-explanatory.

The final short video told us about how long it took to figure out how to build the Opera House, and the difficulties in the logistics of making it even possible to put those shells up. I won’t even attempt to explain it. I just know that Jørn Utzon was bloody brilliant. But sadly, things didn’t end well for him.

The government became upset with him, and how long the building was taken, so he ended up resigning. When, after it took sixteen years to finish, the Opera House was complete, Utzon never returned to see the completed building.

However, Dan assured us there was a happy ending, and he took us to the Utzon Room to show it to us. Though Utz0n never returned, thirty years after it was built, a new government invited Jørn Utzon to do some more design work for them. He was at least 80 years old, by then, so he did his designing from Denmark, and sent his son to oversee the work.

So, though he never saw the completed building, in person, Utzon’s mark was made, again and again, as several more of his designs were used inside the Opera House, and his son saw them put into place. Utzon died in 2008, but you could say that his honor had been restored to him, and we got to see the Utzon Room, which was one of his final works.

Also, the ongoing construction, outside, was also partly his design, so even if they keep to their budget and timetable, Utzon’s hand will continue to be felt in, and seen, all around the Sydney Opera House, for many years to come.

~

And now, I will stop, and you’ll have to come back tomorrow, to read about the rest of my first day in Sydney.

the time has come…

As I’m way behind on my vacation updates, I better get cracking. It’s been over a week since we went to see Outback Spectacular, and I’m finally on the mend, and able to write. I won’t bore you with the details of how unwell I’ve been, let’s just say I’ve been really out of it for the last week and a half. And though I promised you some posts about trips to Montville and the Australian Zoo, I’m afraid I was sick enough to opt out of going, and flew back to Emerald, instead. But I have hope that not only will I be able to visit Sydney for Easter vacation, maybe I’ll manage a stop-off in Brisbane, too. It would help make up for missing out, this time around.

When Imogen and I made plans to go see Australian Outback Spectacular!, it was going to be my second visit in several months, and I was actually expecting it to be the same show. Well, that’s what happens when your friend buys the tickets and you never go and look up any details. The first time I went, if you remember, I saw a show dedicated to the Australian Light Horse, and learned about the cavalry charge at the Battle of Beersheba.

I didn’t bring any extra cash with me to the show, figuring the only thing I’d need it for would be to buy a program, and as I had my program from the last show, I wouldn’t need another. But as we walked up to the entrance, I noticed that there was a picture of a horse on the program, far different from the look of the previous program. And yes, as you’ll see, I took a picture of the sign on the walkway, but I didn’t take the time to read it. Come to think of it, last time I was there, it was dark upon arrival. What a difference a few months will make! It took until I’d stepped inside and saw the biggest sign yet, to realize that I had come to see Spirit of the Horse, with a Tribute to Phar Lap.

Before anyone gets on my case, let me remind you that I know very little about horses, except for the ones I’ve read about in books or seen in movies. So, I’m familiar with all the ones that Marguerite Henry wrote about, as well as Black Beauty and the Black Stallion. I know about Man O’War and Seabiscuit, but only because I’ve read about them.

Also, I haven’t figured out if all Aussies follow horse racing, but I think it likely that they pay more attention to it than Americans do. At home, the only time we notice the Kentucky Derby is happening, is if there’s a serious contender for the Triple Crown. And though I just looked it up, I still don’t know which race occurs first, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes. But here in town, we have a race course, and on a local race day or a national race day, even the employees in the grocery stores will be wearing fancy hats and fascinators with their uniforms! Do they do this anywhere in the U.S., besides Kentucky? Honestly, I don’t know, but they don’t in South Carolina.

I’m just trying to point out that though I’ve heard the name Phar Lap, somewhere in the history of my lifetime, I really never knew anything about this horse, and I’ve had no reason to do so. I don’t want to seem like a complete ignoramus to any Aussies, but I’m just pointing out that my lifestyle only takes on horse knowledge from the books I read.

Phar Lap is a huge deal to Australians and Kiwis (he was born in New Zealand, but raced in Australia), and they hold his memory dear to their hearts. In the 1920’s, with the Great Depression hanging over their heads, everyone latched on excitedly to the thrill of watching Phar Lap win race after race.

Ok, back to the Spectacular. We turned in our tickets, and I was pleased to find that we were wearing yellow on our hats, signifying that we would sit in Bunya Downs. Last time, I had a red hat and sat in the Warrego Station section, so now I have both hats to take home with me. We found ourselves there early enough that the gift shop wasn’t crazily crowded, so we had a good time picking up a few souvenirs for ourselves and friends (also, we got programs).

Coming into the big entrance room, with it’s chandeliers made from wagon wheels and mason jars, I realized that since we had scheduled our visit right after Christmas, we still were able to enjoy the Christmas decorations. From the greenery in the chandeliers to the tall tree with it’s fake cockatoos perched at the top, it was all lovely and homey.

As the crowd hadn’t gotten very large yet and our entrance to Bunya Downs was on the left side of the room, we were able to get a better look at the horses than I had last time. Jane, I wished you could’ve been there, because you’d have loved the horses, and I can’t tell you a thing about them except that they were beautiful. And brown.  : P

There was a lady singing from the stage, and then she introduced Bluey, who does his best to get everyone into the spirit of things. We get to practice our “coo-ee!” and our outback stomp (what you do instead of clapping, when you’re eating). He didn’t make us do the kookaburra call, this time. Of course, the usual reminder that cameras are not allowed inside the auditorium. Sigh. But ask me, when I get home, and I’ll happily show off the beautiful programs from both shows. Is taking pictures of the program allowed? Ok, I’m too lazy to do that right now. I’m still on the mend, you know.

I had just gone off my first round of antibiotics that morning, so by the time we sat down in our seats, and started looking at the food in front of us, I was praying my system would allow me to eat most of my food and not have to excuse myself at any point during the show. The starter course was a spinach and ricotta tart with a decoration around it of capsicum (red pepper) and tomato chutney and pesto. That ricotta tart would’ve been delicious anyway, but I’d been living on bread and butter for a week. It was so delicious that I have no more words for it.

After watching Bluey play with dynamite on the main ground, and set off some explosions, we were off to a great start with some glorious Australian footage on the big movie wall backdrop. This wall was part of the set for some performances, allowing a person to ride off the “stage” and their figure would continue into the movie. Or it would enhance a particular show, with just background scenery. Or you could listen to a recital of poetry, with it illustrated on the movie screen. So many options, and though I don’t know the dimensions, it maybe bigger than an IMAX screen.

The big screen took us through the history of the horse in Australia (The Horse That Built Our Nation), from the First Fleet to Cobb & Co to the Great Australian Cattle Drive. But as the big screen showed us… well, the big picture, mail coaches, cattle, sheep, road bandits, and many more characters would pour onto the “stage” to give us an idea of what it was like.

Then, we met the Johnson family and the battle of Bunya Downs and Warrego Station began. Johnno Johnson, the head honcho of Warrego, was my favorite last time, and I was a bit disappointed to find that he was played by a different guy this time. Mind, the new guy (Brad Lee, I think) did a great job, too. In checking my program, I’m guessing maybe Graham Moore needs a night off from the lead, every now and then, allowing someone else to get some time in the limelight. Because Moore was in the supporting cast that night, so he wasn’t sick. If you read my post about this show, last time, this was the guy who sang a glorious rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”. No wonder I fell for his performance. And before any of you teases get started, he’s too old for me and wears a wedding ring. So, shut up.  : P

The awesome performance of “Boys From the Bush” came onto the screen and the speakers, and we again got to watch the horses and their riders dance to the music. It looks like such fun, it just seems like the horses should be smiling, too. Maybe they do, inside.  : )  More stunt riders show off their skills, between Bunya Downs and Warrego, followed by some singing and teasing of Bluey, and then the main course arrived.

They feed at least a thousand guests at this time, and everyone has their food within fifteen minutes, and it’s still hot and tastes wonderful. It’s amazing how they manage it. A juicy steak, with mashed potatoes and vegetables. I was able to eat almost all of my steak and potatoes, but had to make myself stop. Didn’t want to overdo. While we ate, Johnno and his wife sang a duet to each other, and then Bluey declaimed “The Man from Snowy River”.  My only disappointment was that we never did get a rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”. Sigh.

With the beginning of Act 2, we started in on the history of Phar Lap, from the American David Davis buying the horse, and then disliking the sight of him, through to his training with Harry Telford, and finally becoming a champion under the gentler guidance of his strapper (handler), Tommy Woodcock. Phar Lap was a pretty lazy horse, and Telford believed that only a hard training regimen would break him of this, so we watched video footage of a horse running up and down sand dunes. Ouch. But Woodcock, who referred to Phar Lap as Bobby had a different method, and eventually taught Phar Lap how to win.

While still in training, Phar Lap lost his first race and didn’t place in the next following, but finally he won a race, and things took off from there. After his first win, he would win 32 of 35 races, giving Australians something to cheer for, when everything else in their lives was in a downward spiral. Some people didn’t like this winning streak, and in 1930, some criminals attempted to shoot Phar Lap, the morning of the Melbourne Stakes. They failed in their attempt, and Phar Lap won the race. Several days later, he won the Melbourne Cup.

With handicap weights in danger of crippling their horse, American owner Davis decided to bring Phar Lap overseas to race in North America. Phar Lap’s only race there was in Tijuana, Mexico, for one of the biggest winning purses ever offered. He won, and had circumstances been different, he would have probably gone on a racing tour of the U.S.  But on April 5, 1932, Phar Lap died of mysterious causes.

And it seems that ever since, scientists have been debating over the cause of his death. Some say it was gastroenteritis, after doing tests of his remains. But from what I’ve read online, the results continue to change. Back then, some thought Phar Lap had been poisoned, and in recent years, evidence sometimes supports this. Arsenic was used more commonly back then, in tonics, so it could have been accidental or a build-up over time. But some think, now, that Phar Lap was giving a large dose of arsenic in his last hours. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the exact truth.

Australians and New Zealanders continue to honor the memory of this great racing horse, including songs dedicated to him, such as “Phar Lap, Farewell to You”, which one of the performers sang for us in the show.

On further reading, it seems that Phar Lap’s heart is preserved in one museum, his hide stuffed and on display in another, and I think his skeleton is somewhere else. Sounds kind of unrestful. Even if his heart was abnormally large, I find the idea of a heart display kind of gross.

Alright, back to the show. Somewhere in there, we were served our dessert of pavlova, and it was wonderful. This is not ready-made from the store, or anything of that sort. All soft, scrumptious, delicious. For that many people, they could’ve scrimped on something, but they don’t. I don’t know how they manage to pull it off.

Some audience members get pulled into some competitions, some for children, some for adults, with ponies and beer barrels (not at the same time). Then, we get to see who can run an obstacle course faster, horses and riders, or riders on Honda ATVs. Yeah, the horses win, every time. And just when it looks like Warrego has an easy win, Bluey throws a sly stick into the works, and it’s time for a tie-breaker. The audience gets to pass a hat, row by row, and when you get the hat, you’re supposed to say “coo-ee!” and pass it on. Not everybody remembers to say it, but just passes it. I remembered to say it this time, though. I must say, the race was so close this time, I don’t know how Bunya Downs pulled it off. I think it came down to one hat on each side, and a few seconds difference. So, that was kind of fun, being on the winning side, each time I’ve visited Outback Spectacular.

With one final performance, the riders come out in uniform, carrying flags, and puts through a glorious performance to thrill your heart, with a stirring score by composer Bruce Rowland (The Man From Snowy River, Return to Snowy River) playing throughout. You felt like the whole thing was lifting you up and carrying you away, and I wasn’t even watching my own flag. If I’d seen a show like that with the American flag in it, I’d probably have cried. This country has a lot of history to be proud of, and these performers do their best to show us that. Bravo.

Unfortunately, the show had to end, and we walked out, wishing we could go watch it again, instead. On the way out, we stopped at the gift shop again, and I picked up a book about Phar Lap to read up on, and then outside we went. Last time, Johnno (of the glorious “Waltzing Matilda” voice) was sitting on his horse, Mystery, waving to people. This time, the character of Tommy Woodcock was astride Mystery, with Phar Lap beside him, and the area was uncrowded enough to get some nice pictures. A nice finish to a wonderful night.

I can only say that after I go home, I plan to come out here for a visit, every few years, and when I do, anybody who wants to come is welcome. Brisbane will have to be on the trip itinerary, as my friends from home have to see this most fabulous show. And if you’re an Aussie, you need to see it as well. This is no “cheesy” show for tourists. Every Australian I know who’s seen it, loved it. It’s a show to make you proud of who you are and of those who built your nation.

a slice of dinner theatre…

I haven’t been to the Emerald Little Theatre since May, when I’d been in Australia for only three weeks. I had one or two acquaintances, at the time, and one of them had invited me to the show. It was a lot of fun, but I was still trying to take it all in, the accents, the presence of a bar in the back of the theatre, and just about everything else.

In May, I didn’t know that I was going to become friends with one of the lead actors in the play, as back home, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever run into any of the local actors, as I live in a large university town. Run across five actors among thousands of college students? Get real. Here in Australia, I met the guy who played Inspector Drake, just a few days later. This happens in small towns, you know.

Now, here in November, I went to see “Dying to Meet You” with a group of friends (Inspector Drake among them), and I felt like I was on my home turf. Knowing people, understanding the accents, and being able to go to the bar and get a lemon lime and bitters… these things are all normal, now.

In the play, a couple is adjusting to being empty nesters, but really needs some help with paying the mortgage, so they take on some boarders. One boarder is an assistant funeral director, which creates some chaos, as the man of the house tries to keep his wife from learning this. The gyrations he goes through to prevent her discovering the truth, well, you can imagine how the story takes it. The other boarder is from Italy, speaks dreadful English, with plenty of hilarious misunderstandings, and is believed to have an uncle in the mafia.

At the end, to prevent the “mafia” uncle from taking out his niece, they dress their neighbor, Tom, up as a girl, and pretend “she” died, in order to get Uncle Luciano to leave them alone. Of course, things all work out hilariously. During the finale, though, I found that the guy playing Uncle Luciano looked very like an older version of my cousin Casey, so I kept expecting him to wink at me, from the stage. A little more bouffant hairstyle, some grey streaks, and a mustache, and Casey could easily pull that off. So, I was taken a little bit out of the story, at the end. Even when Luciano was so emotional over being reunited with his beloved Clara.

Just like last time, the Emerald High School served the food for us, and it was really great. A lovely platter to snack on while we waited, lasagna for a main course, and several choices of dessert, during the intermission between the acts. I was so hungry, though, that I forgot to take a picture of the lasagna. I know, terrible, aren’t I?   : )   I still can’t decide if it was a pastry crust on top, or if it was combined with cheese, because it wasn’t your usual pasta on top. Really good, though.

It was fun, being on the front row, again, and being there with friends. I should really see if they have something like it, when I get back home. It’d be a good idea for me to break out of my shell a bit more, when I get back to the U.S..

oh yes, it takes a woman…

I borrowed two movies from the library, but since I wasn’t in the mood for Pride & Prejudice, I popped Hello, Dolly! into the DVD player. Not that P&P doesn’t have its funny parts, but I was looking for something jolly, not very long, and best of all, something I hadn’t seen in a while. That definitely qualifies, because I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for years, but haven’t seen the movie in… oh, 10 years? I forget.

You really can’t go wrong with a musical that was directed by Gene Kelly, you know. Some of the dialogue is absolutely hilarious, though some of it is incredibly sappy. But you’ve gotta love a musical that makes you laugh out loud. And Barnaby only has to open his mouth to make me burst out laughing.

Vandergelder: “I am bringing home a mistress.”

Barnaby: “But sir, I’m too young!”

But then, Barnaby Tucker has always reminded me of Barney Rubble, from The Flintstones, so I think you expect these kinds of things from him and his counterpart, Minnie Fay. And speaking of ridiculousness, you can’t get away from it when the young Michael Crawford (who plays Cornelius) is involved.

Yes, this is the man that grew up to play the original Phantom on Broadway. I even remember a rumor I heard about 15 years ago, that Crawford’s voice had been accidentally altered by some routine surgery he had. Yes, it’s only a rumor, but just think, it shows what a HUGE difference in his voice, over the years! Because if you’ve watched this movie, or seen Condorman, you’d never believe him capable of singing as the Phantom. And in this movie, he was cast by Gene Kelly, because he wanted a “handsome idiot” for the part. Kelly’s wife thought Crawford was handsome, and Kelly thought he was an idiot.

For the younger set, if you’ve seen Wall-E, then you’ve seen or heard bits of Hello, Dolly!. The song during the starting credits of Wall-E are from the song Put On Your Sunday Clothes, which is a favorite song of mine. I have to admit to singing along, the first time I ever saw Wall-E. Of course, they probably didn’t have room or couldn’t get approval from Barbra Streisand, so the only parts of the song you will hear has Michael Crawford singing solo.

Later on, when you watch Wall-E watch a video, longingly, and hoping to be able to hold EVE’s hand, that’s a clip from It Only Takes a Moment, from later in Hello, Dolly!. Quite frankly, I regularly skip that song, because I think it’s sappy and stupid. “It only takes a moment to love a whole life through.” What a load of crock! However, if Crawford ever sings it in his Phantom voice, I’ll give it another try.

I love the introduction to Vandergelder, bellowing at his niece’s would-be fiancĂ©, and you wonder if he (the would-be fiancĂ©) is really supposed to be that tall. When Walter Matthau’s character proceeds to call the guy a “seven foot nincompoop”, you realize he probably is pretty tall. According to IMDb, he’s 6ft 6.5in. And I’m pretty sure the girl cast as Ermengarde was 5ft tall… or less, to create an interesting contrast. I read that Tommy Tune (who plays the tall Ambrose) is the tallest dancer on Broadway, and they played that to their advantage. Watching him dance with a girl that barely reaches his waist. Oh, it’s funny.

She didn't wear this in the movie, I'm positive.

Now, I’ve never seen a performance with Carol Channing as Dolly, but I’m glad they cast Streisand in this role. I’m sorry, I’ve never been a fan of Channing, and I don’t like her singing voice. Oh, yes, I’ve heard it, and I’ve seen her in Thoroughly Modern Millie, too. I think they’re call to cast Streisand was a good one, even if she and Matthau fought like cats and dogs. He could not STAND her, even to the point of faking the kiss, at the end of the movie, rather than having to touch his lips to hers.

You can’t watch the beginning of the movie without watching that horror to feminists’ hearts (that must be why I enjoy it so much), the number It Takes a Woman. Oh, you can’t beat those lyrics.

“It takes a woman all powdered and pink to joyously clean out the drain in the sink…”

“The frail young maiden who’s constantly there for washing and blueing and shoeing the mare…”

And last, but not least…

“So she’ll work until infinity. Three cheers for femininity!”

This was the last movie that Louis Armstrong acted in (he died two years later), though his music has obviously been in hundreds of other movies since then. I love to listen to it, but it’s even greater to watch him interact with Barbra Streisand. Such a huge smile, such joy in his singing and what he’s doing. You can’t not smile, when you’re watching. If you watch nothing else from this movie, you should watch this scene.

I haven’t covered some of the other great songs and dance numbers, but who needs to. The master himself, Gene Kelly, was at the helm of this movie. No, it isn’t perfect, but the choreography was worthy of the best that Kelly could give. But someday, maybe in heaven, I’m going to give a piece of my mind to the person who designed Irene Malloy’s costumes. I cringed every time she changed clothes, with the exception of the Ribbons Down My Back hat.

I’ve rambled enough. I had a lovely evening, so now I need to go have a snack and take some more antibiotics.

Australian Outback Spectacular!

I wish I could show you more pictures of this amazing show, but they told us at the start that flash photography wasn’t allowed inside the main arena. I really would have liked to take pictures of the food, too, but how are they going to judge what you’re taking a picture of? The flash could still startle the horses. Of course, I realized that I could take a picture without the flash, but I immediately realized that there are other lights on the camera, and they’d be extremely visible in the dark… especially with servers coming around regularly. Le sigh. And so, my pictures are only of the outside area, and if you want to see what it was like, you’ll either have to go see the show… or come visit me. I still have my program. Yes, the $10 program that I wouldn’t dream of buying at any show, when I’m at home. Shows like The Phantom of the Opera and Beauty & the Beast, I mean. But for a show in Australia? Ten bucks is nothing.

The weather turned quite chilly on Thursday evening, so I wore my Adidas jacket, instead of my leather jacket, because it’s warmer. It still wasn’t warm enough, when I arrived… but maybe that’s because I had showered recently, and my hair was still wet. But we had to stand in line, outside, for a while, and I was trying to keep from shivering. When we got inside, the large number of people warmed things up immediately. We had our tickets scanned, were told which section we’d be sitting in, and received a hat. If you were in Section B, you’re part of Warrego Station, and your hat had a red band. If you were in Section A, you were part of Bunya Downs, and got a yellow band on your hat. We were part of Warrego.

The Australian Outback Spectacular is a bit like a dinner-theatre, and yet it’s much, much more than that. With cavalry charges, cattle herding, helicopters flying through, amazing “movies” of the Outback on the big wall, music composed by Bruce Rowland (The Man from Snowy River), and plenty of audience participation, there’s never a dull moment.

We found our way to our seats, where covered plates were already waiting for us, with our salad. According to the menu, this was a Queensland-style salad, with mango dressing. I wouldn’t have known that it was considered a salad, if not for the menu, because it looked like a wrap. But the menu says it’s wrapped in a flat bread swag. So there you have it. Bushman’s Swag salad. It was really good, by the way. And it was the only part of our meal that you were able to see clearly, because the lights were still on, at this point. After the show got started, the main lights were turned off, and you could only see your food dimly. But it didn’t matter, all the food was excellent.

The intro involved glorious movie shots of the Outback, played on the back wall, which when it wasn’t being used for a movie screen, was the backdrop to all the entertainment sets. It had doors that opened to let in all the riders and livestock, as well as a rotating section for a house to spin around for some of the show.

The main actors were Johnno, a stalwart rider on his white horse, who was the boss of Warrego Station. The resident cook, Bluey, was a wiry man with an argumentative bent to his nature, often “barracking” for Bunya Downs. Johnno had a beautiful voice and sang us a slow rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”, at some point during the show. And while Bluey could argue with the best (and worst) of them, as well as grilling on the barbie, on the back of his truck, he could also give us a stirring deliver of the poem “The Man from Snowy River”. And as he spoke, a movie played on the back wall (though not the actors from the original movie), showing the action, as it went, and Bluey speaking for each character. Now, I’ve read the poem, and it seems to me that it had an interesting… meter, I guess, but Bluey gave the oration as if it were as natural as breathing. But then, he’s been doing it for years, now.

After the introductions, the main riders came in, riding those beautiful horses all over the arena, and then after that, the trick riding girls came in. There was a competition between stations, with the women hanging off their saddles, upside-down, practically dragging on the ground, and other marvelous feats.

And with the arrival of the main course, along came the music. The beautiful song, “Waltzing Matilda”, as I’ve never heard it sung before. It’s been a long time since I even heard it, but it was an unforgettable performance. For those interested, the closest I could get to this, on YouTube, is the version by John Williamson, which was used for a tribute to Steve Irwin. This one is a lot slower than most versions of “Waltizing Matilda”, and I’m working hard at committing the song and tune to memory, ever since hearing it.

Dinner was served, as I said. A delicious steak with gravy, veggies, and “damper” (the menu says that’s bushman’s bread). Oh, and during the entire show, the servers go around offering lemonade, wine, or beer. That was included in the meal, I mean. And the meals were all served at the same time, for around 1,000 people. Think about that. They announced dinner’s served, the servers come out, and within 10 minutes, everyone’s eating. And the food is still warm. Amazing.

Then, the tale of the heroes of the Australian Light horse began. It started off with telling us how the men in the bush roped wild brumbies and broke them, followed by Bluey’s Ride. This was supposed to be Bluey’s grandpa, who was desperate to go with the Light Horsemen to war, but knew next to nothing about horses. So, you watch as he attempts to climb onto the horse’s back, and then slides off when the horse sits down. How he climbs on backwards, and falls off. How the (unsaddled) horse lays down and pins him, as he was attempting to climb up. And finally climbs triumphantly onto the back of his horse. The entire performance was marvelous, as anybody knows that one misstep, and he could’ve been sat on or crushed. And something about the performance and Brett Welsh himself (Assistant Horse Master of the AOS team, who played Bluey’s Granddad) reminded me strongly of Donald O’Connor in Singin’ in the Rain, when he was performing “Make ‘Em Laugh”.

A little back story for those who have never heard of the Australian Light Horse Brigade. During World War I, the Light Horse were volunteer brigade of mounted infantry, rather than cavalry. Meaning, they usually fought on foot, but used their horses to carry their gear around. But there were exceptions to this rule, as you will see. Some of the men took their own horses overseas, and there were few horses or riders like them. Considered lax in discipline by the British, and yet they soon proved themselves with their riding abilities. Known for the “kangaroo feathers” (actually, emu feathers) in their hats, they were a very distinctive crew.

Then came Beersheba. The Allies had been unable to break through the Ottomans’ defenses, and the Light Horse Brigade (and others) were there, and had no water. The wells of Beersheba were within their grasp, but they could not fight their way through. Then, one of their commanders had a brilliant, or crazy (depending on how you looked at it) plan. The Light Horse Brigade were not cavalry, they were mounted infantry, but they could still be used like cavalry. He ordered the 4th Light Horse Brigade to charge the Ottoman defenses.

The Ottomans were not expecting a cavalry charge, so they lined up their weaponry for mounted infantry. When the Light Horse charged, they expected them to dismount at any moment. When they realized the truth, they didn’t have time to adjust properly, and the Brigade was coming too fast. For modern day readers, picture the charge of the Rohirrim, in The Return of the King. The Australians descended on the Ottomans, at full speed, and screaming like banshees, with the horses buoyed on by the smell of the water from the wells of Beersheba. The Ottomans didn’t put up much of a struggle after that charge, and of the 800 men of the Light Horse, only 36 died in the charge. An amazing true story, and what courage those men showed!

Ok, my rendition of the tale probably stunk, but I did try my best to relate what I remembered, with some double-checking on the history. For any historians out there, please forgive my pitiful telling of the tale, but please believe that I find it a story that everyone should hear about and remember.

And so, the AOS horsemen performed the whole thing, from training and breaking the horses, to galloping in uniform, and explosions going off in the arena, startling all of the audience members. You really felt like you were there. And intermittently, they left the battle scene, to remind you of the families that were left behind, when their boys went off to war, and how some of them never returned. A sobering reminder, between uplifting scenes of the men in uniform.

Back to the mundane… at the end of Act II, dessert was served, followed by coffee or “billy tea”, for those who wanted it. That finally explained to me why the coffee cup was painted silver, and a bit beat up. It was supposed to look like a tin cup you’d use when you went “waltzing matilda”.

Remember how I mentioned eating in the dim lighting? Dessert arrived, and I was completely uncertain of what I was eating. It looked white and round and fluffy, with something darker in the middle. When I took a spoonful, the feel to the texture made me think meringue, but it didn’t taste quite like meringue. Very sweet, a little crunchier on the outside, with something fruity in the middle. After the lights came up, later, I could see that the menu said it was a traditional Pavlova, with berry sauce and cream. Ok. All that told me was that I needed to look it up online, when I got home. Because I had no idea what a Pavlova was.

Apparently, a Pavlova is a traditional dessert in Australia and New Zealand, though they argue about who invented it first. It was created in honor of the dancer, Anna Pavlova, when she visited this corner of the world. I’ve heard that the defining feature to a Pavlova recipe, what makes it different from meringue, is the addition of cornstarch. Something to do with the cornstarch causes it to have the crusty outer layer, and a marshmallowy interior.

And it was very good, don’t get me wrong! But I do have to say that trying food, in the dark, is a very interesting experiment, because you have no idea what you’re eating. And you pay more attention to textures and tastes, rather than to looks and coloring.

Act III involved several races, with audience participation. Some children chased pigs across the arena, some adults had “boat races”, and such. And then the trick riders returned, with several ATVs, where it was a race to see who could complete the course the fastest. It turns out that the horse & rider teams beat the ATV riders by several seconds.

And finally, a patriotic conclusion, with the return of the Australian Light Horse Brigade, carrying the Australian flag, and riding in an amazing big of showmanship. A very worthy conclusion to a fabulous show!

So, if you’re ever in the Brisbane area, make sure you go to see this fantastic show. And that recommendation will be echoed by Australians that have seen it, as it shows them some of their own history (some of them not knowing the tale of the Light Horsemen), and reminds them what a splendid country they live in. My friends from Adelaide have seen it more than once, and would second my suggestion. Go see it!

of theatre, coffee, & gardens…

Let’s just see how this goes, shall we? I actually slept in until 8am, today, so I shouldn’t be quite this tired… but my body isn’t listening. I’m waiting for a Skype call from some Seabrook pals of mine, after they’ve finished their scrambled eggs and grits, which is likely what the chef served them for breakfast. And, oh, I do believe they’re online.

Wow, I just skyped with my friends in SC, right after they finished breakfast. And they didn’t have grits. How sad.

So, where was I? Last night, I went to the Emerald Little Theatre to see a performance of Inspector Drake and the Black Widow. But as it was dinner-theatre… you guessed it, they served us dinner, first. Well, technically, they served us a platter of appetizers, then we could go to the bar and order whatever we wanted to drink (Chardonnay? Coke? Water?), and then they brought our meal. Some got chicken, and some got steak, but it was all very good. Then, dessert would be served during the intermission.

Inspector Drake and the Black Widow is a play with only three people acting in it. Two guys play Drake and his sidekick, Sergeant Plod. The girl plays all the female parts, which is itself one of the gags of the play, including trying to play triplets. After the initial murder of a man dressed like a woman, more and more of the suspects die off, as Drake and Plod try to unravel the mystery (accidentally, and sometimes purposefully, killing off suspects). I don’t know how Drake is supposed to be played in other performances, but in this one, he’s a highly fidgety man, the type that just can’t seem to stand still. So, he was constantly moving about, up on his toes, and in constant motion. I bet it was exhausting. The girl’s characters covered a range of accents, while the guys were playing British, the whole time. As they were Aussie actors, it was pretty interesting, in the accent department. During the intermission, we were served chocolate mousse or cheesecake, and it was all very good. The show ended, literally, with a bang, a song, and a Darth Vader fight (not necessarily in that order). Quite good fun.

I rolled out of bed at 8am this morning, in order to get to a couple of the shops on the main street, before meeting a friend at Theo’s for coffee. First up was the outdoor store, where I picked up a mosquito net for my bed, queen-sized, so that now it will reach the floor, with room to spare. The previous one provided was white (my new one is green) and intended for a single bed, so I always seemed to be tangled in it, when I woke up.

Then, I wandered into Blossom’s, a coffee and book shop, which I’d like to spend more time in. All the gorgeous photo books of Australia… I don’t know where to start, or how much I’m going to spend on postage to bring everything home, if I’m not careful. I did buy a locally printed book about the recent flooding, which proceeds go to help with flood recovery. I want to read up on what they went through, since you don’t see much sign of the damage, at least from the outside of the homes.

At Theo’s, I met up with my friend and her daughter, and another lady from our chapel. Some of us ordered caramel macchiatos and such, while others ordered food and smoothies. Quite a selection, and that was before I got a glimpse of the dessert case by the cash register. If I’m not careful, I’m going to blow up like a blimp, what with all Australia’s meals, desserts, and smokos between those. We had some great talks, covering everything from sports to marriage to politics. I think they may be able to help me find out what local teams play, and when.

I headed home, to get some lunch (a sandwich, and a piece of bread spread with Vegemite CheesyBite), and then to follow them to Target. Their regular Target building was flooded last year, as it’s right near the Nogoa River, and they hope to open up again in July. But until then, they’ve set up in a large building… like a giant storage shed, on the outskirts of town. If I hadn’t followed Mrs. B in my car (we were headed two different directions, after), I’d never have found it. Most of the large surrounding buildings were for anything but shopping.

Finally, I drove to find the Botanic Gardens, and after a few wrong turns, I found it. The entrance is preside over by a giant windmill that feeds water into a lily pond behind it. Many postcards for Emerald will have pictures of that windmill on it. I walked quite a ways in both directions, but had no idea, at first, of the real scale of the place. I’d been warned to be careful that people were around, to be cautious, being a woman alone. And there were definitely some empty spots, and the rainforest area was kind of dark, so I figured I’d save it for when I went there with someone.

Still I wandered down to the river, which wasn’t very impressive, and very muddy looking, but the idea that all this was under flood waters until just recently was strange to think of. There was a Celestial Garden (well, that’s what it was called, that I wandered into, and it was like a simple maze. But they’re supposed to have a better maze at the other end of the Gardens. But that can wait for another day, I think.

It was extremely warm out (80’s) today, so I came back to recover from a headache, and curl up under my mosquito netting. Besides, I needed to get a little extra sleep, in order to be awake for my skype call. Good night!