Archive for September, 2010

Breaking Waves

I mentioned this yesterday but I thought I should give it a post of its own to boost the signal.

Breaking Waves: An Anthology for Gulf Coast Relief, edited by Tiffany Trent and Phyllis Irene Radford, has been released as an ebook by Book View Cafe. It includes stories, poems, and essays by Ursula Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Laura Anne Gilman, Brenda Cooper, Camille Alexa, Sarah Monette, Lyda Morehouse, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Rachel Carson, among others. All proceeds from the sale of this ebook will go to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund of the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

One of the stories is “A Little Song, A Little Dance,” a story I co-wrote with Andrine de la Rocha. This story started with a diary that Andrine emailed to her friends after her trip with the New Old Time Chautauqua’s “Jambalaya Vaudeville Tour” to New Orleans and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. I read her email, dripping with local color and theatrical personalities, and realized that it had everything it needed to be a fantasy story except for a fantasy element and a plot, and with her permission I added those elements. I’m glad the resulting story will continue to help the residents of the area.

To buy your copy, go to Only $4.99, in your choice of DRM-free ebook formats. You know it’s the right thing to do.

A month’s worth of writing news

While I was in Australia I didn’t write a word. (Well, I worked desultorily on the YA SF novel on the plane heading there, but nothing after that.) But when I came home I found that a lot had happened in my absence:

I also received three rejections and a rewrite request. The rejected stories have all gone back out and I’ll be starting on the rewrite shortly.

While I was in Australia I didn’t write a word, but when I came home I found that a lot had happened in my absence:

I also received three rejections and a rewrite request. The rejected stories have all gone back out and I’ll be starting on the rewrite shortly.

Yes, we are insane

Two days after returning from Australia, and still so jetlagged we feel like we’ve been run over by a mob of kangaroos, we packed up our stuff and checked into another hotel. At least we didn’t leave town. We’re at the airport Sheraton for the annual West Coast Gay & Lesbian Advanced & Challenge Square Dance Weekend, which is an event we usually wouldn’t miss, even more so this year when it’s in our home town. (It’s kind of the SMOFcon of square dancing.) So here we are. Lots of our square dance friends are here and I’ve actually found that I have enough brain for Challenge dancing, though not enough energy to do it for more than half an hour at a time.

I made all kinds of promises to myself about what I would do when I got home (eating right, going to the gym, writing) but those are all on hold until Monday. Then I will climb back on the wagon, I swear!

Home at last

For my last Australian breakfast I had Weet-Bix, passionfruit yogurt, eggs with grilled mushrooms, and a flat white. Then we boarded the plane for home.

I slept almost the whole way and was feeling quite chipper as the plane landed at LAX. I thought I saw both of our bags on the carousel as we approached, but Kate’s didn’t come back around again. We waited until all the bags were gone, but it never appeared. The baggage agent said her computer showed Kate’s bag as having been checked in again on the domestic side; also, there was a similar-looking bag left behind, so it was probably a “bag switch.” The unclaimed bag belonged to someone named Holt, who had a tight connection to Denver, so it’s plausible they might have grabbed the wrong bag and then rechecked it without ever noticing their mistake. But because Kate’s bag had a tag routing it to Portland, we could expect it to rejoin us there. What happens to Holt’s unclaimed bag? Not sure, but I bet it won’t make the tight connection; Holt will curse the airline for the lost bag and never know it was their own damn stupid mistake.

This kerfuffle put us at the back of a long Customs line; also, we had to go through the Agriculture screening because I admitted to having food in my bag (including a bag of dried apricots that I wound up carrying all the way to Australia and back without ever opening it). It’s a good thing we didn’t have a tight connection ourselves.

In fact, we had an eight-hour layover. The music at LAX is like a parody of Muzak, including “Girl from Ipanema” by the 101 Strings (literally!). I was really noticing the American accents around me, they sound so harsh and uncultured (but, as Kate points out, easy to understand). We’re also back in the land of ice in drinks, but at least the electrical outlets can be used without adapters.

I slept most of the way to Portland too. We found both our bags waiting patiently in the baggage claim area, huzzah. There was a huge pile of mail at home, of course, and I had to reboot the router to get online, but otherwise everything here is safe and sound.

According to Wolfram Alpha we traveled almost 21,000 miles in the last 28 days, for an average speed of 31 MPH. No wonder we’re tired!

Neither here nor there

When we got our international plane tickets for this trip almost a year ago, we didn’t know our in-Australia itinerary so we got tickets to and from Melbourne. Later, we found it impossible to change them, so even though we finished up our trip in Sydney, yesterday we flew to Melbourne and spent the night in the airport Hilton (and when I say “airport” I really mean it: we walked straight from the plane to our room); this morning we will fly BACK to Sydney, then on to LAX with an eight-hour layover there before finally landing in Portland.

So I woke up this morning in an airport Hilton like any other, and spent the time until Kate woke up using the fast wired Internet to shovel out my email inbox, which put my head back home even though my body’s still in the Southern Hemisphere. When Kate woke up and I went into the bathroom (a Hilton bathroom like any other) for my shower, I found that I literally could not remember what continent I was on. This Twilight Zone state of mind will almost certainly continue until we arrive at PDX and, thanks to jet lag, probably for as much as a week thereafter.

Australia as a whole is also kind of a neither-here-nor-there place. Sydney has some keen and distinctive architecture but when you’re standing at the corner of King and George streets you’d be hard-pressed to point out anything that indicates you’re not in London. Although we’re closer to Indonesia than England, the faces here are almost all white and the accents likewise. We’ve heard a lot of accents in Sydney, very few of them Australian; the waitstaff at breakfast yesterday were from England, Hawaii, and Croatia and this morning’s was from India. There are some small amusing differences in language — they really do say “mozzies” for mosquitoes, “sunnies” for sunglasses, and “brekky” for breakfast, and one recent newspaper headline read “L-Plater in Horror Smash” — but all in all we’re not getting the kind of culture shock you’d normally get from traveling so very far from home.

But what Australia does have that Europe doesn’t is its distinctive wildlife, and we’ve been experiencing as much of that as we can. I’m glad to have seen the kangaroo, and the echidna, and the whale, and the giant clam. But I’m very, very tired now and it’ll be good to be home.

taxonomic_orders_viewed = taxonomic_orders_viewed + 2;

On Friday we went on a whale-watching cruise from Hervey Bay. While waiting for the bus to the boat we were eaten alive by mosquitoes (mozzie mozzie mozzie, oy oy oy), but saw sulfur-crested cockatoos, parrots, and ibises. It was a long cold windy ride out to Platypus Bay, but then the whales did appear and quite impressive they were too. We had three separate whale encounters, the last with a group of 3 “teenagers” who spy-hopped and went under the boat; the sound of the passengers as one whale came up about 30 feet from the boat was an excited scream almost like the one in Poseidon Adventure as the ship turned over. Unfortunately during one hard roll Kate slid out of her seat and a Japanese tourist fell on her, hurting her neck. She’s improved but still quite stiff.

Then we got on a plane and flew to Sydney. Apart from lunch the only things we had to eat that day were snacks provided by various transportation companies. There was no security to speak of at tiny Hervey Bay Airport; we were on the only flight of the evening, as near as I could tell. It was the quietest I’ve ever heard an airport, the squeak of luggage wheels the loudest sound.

In Sydney we toured Susannah Place, recommended by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (unreconstructed terrace houses that were still pretty much the same in the 1970s as the 1840s, an interesting slice of living history); ate a pizza that was half kangaroo, half tandoori chicken, all tasty; climbed up the Harbor Bridge pylon for a museum of the bridge’s construction and great views; passed at least 7 wedding parties doing photos in the picturesque streets of The Rocks; were flabbergasted by a gullible talking statue of Queen Victoria’s dog, which appealed to us on behalf of deaf and blind children to toss a coin into its fountain, then said “thank you” although we had not done so; and went to the zoo.

Sydney’s zoo reminded me a lot of Disney World, and I mean that in a good way. Favorite animals included the bilby, feathertail glider, Kodiak bear, wallaby, quokka, turkeys, cassowary, peacock (seen from the back), golden pheasant, meerkats, free-range emu (which by the way is pronounced e-mew not e-moo), and of course the echidna and platypus. I love the way the echidnas move, bumbling along so industriously. The koalas were surprisingly active, the wombats unsurprisingly asleep. From there we took the aerial tram to the ferry, took the ferry back to Circular Quay, took the monorail for sightseeing loop, then a bus to Chinatown for dinner. If we’d taken the train back to our hotel from there it would have been a full house, or something.

One more full day in Sydney. Tomorrow we return to Melbourne for a single night before flying home. We’re kind of crispy around the edges but the trip has been a blast.

In which we venture beyond our comfort zone and see many interesting creatures there

We’ve literally spent the last three days on a desert island. Did we miss anything important?

We were on Lady Elliot Island, a coral atoll at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. It can only be reached by small plane — in fact, the island is owned by the airline that services it (as Kate says, “the ultimate trolley park”). Our plane had six passengers and the cheesecake for that night’s dessert. Even the laundry is flown in and out.

We arrived and were given a quick orientation by Dave-your-cruise-director, which seemed disturbingly familiar. Was it Fantasy Island that I was reminded of? No… it was Lost. We had arrived on the isolated island (by plane rather than sub; details, details) where all our needs would be met as long as we played by the rules. And as Lady Elliot is an “eco-resort,” solar-powered and with its own small desalination plant, in a federal protected area, there were a few rules to be followed. Limit water and power use; don’t feed the birds (no matter how much they cry, no matter how much they beg); and don’t take anything, not even a shell or a bit of coral, away. Kate took two small bits of coral and I think she’ll be spending a thousand years in Purgatory for each one.

It was also a bit like being on “Mars,” in that we were isolated and always had to keep an eye on our resource use. It was a bit like summer camp in that the food was only okay, but plentiful, and we had young and perky counselors to lead us on nature hikes and other educational activities. It was a bit like a cruise ship in that we couldn’t get off the boat island except under specific, supervised circumstances, we and the staff saw a lot of each other, and there were plenty of tropical activities.

The tropical activities included ping-pong, volleyball, and bird watching (several species of birds make the island their home, and the white-capped noddies came flocking in their squawking thousands each day at sunset — again with the watching birds commute), but the big one is diving and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. We’d never done any such thing before, and in fact neither of us is much of a swimmer, so although we really wanted to try it we were both kind of freaked out at the prospect. It didn’t help that there was a large board in the education center with pictures of all the things on the reef that could kill you.

We started out easy with a reef walk, for which all you need is a pair of crummy shoes (crummy shoes are provided, because no matter how crummy the shoes you brought you don’t want to get them cut up by walking on coral) and a pole for balancing as you slosh through knee-deep water. (One of the rules is that you do not use the pole for poking at sea creatures, or smacking your sister with.) Most of what we saw was slug-like sea cucumbers of various types, but we also saw small fish (and one big one) and a bunch of hermit crabs.

Next came an introductory snorkel lesson, conducted in a concrete pool with a life-size (3-meter-wide) manta ray painted on bottom. It was very weird to breathe and see underwater (thanks to corrective goggles borrowed from the resort) but also very cool. Kate had some trouble at first but eventually got the hang of it.

Then we went for a for-real snorkel in the “fish pool,” which is a section of reef right off the beach where they feed the fish every day at 3:00 so they are extremely friendly. Gosh wow! So amazing, many interesting fish. I caught a glimpse of a 6-foot cowtail ray. After lunch, which we ate overlooking a perfect scene like something from some ad, we went for another snorkel, this one in the east lagoon. I had some problems with water leaking into my mask, because of the mustache, but refused to shave it off.

In the evening of the second day we went for another reef walk, this one at night, led by Dave-your-cruise-director. We saw a bunch of critters who don’t come out during the day, including spiny anemones, chitons, crabs, and a big snaky sea cucumber, but we found ourselves a lot farther from shore and a lot deeper in the water than we were comfortable with, especially after Kate’s flashlight died.

On the last morning we capped off our island adventure with a glass-bottomed boat tour. This began with quite a wade through cold water to the boat, which had a front gate that came down like a landing ship from Omaha Beach. On the way out to the reef we saw a couple of small sea turtles on the surface, and several mantas on the surface and under the boat. Then it was over the side and into the deep water with us! I had a lot of trouble nerving myself up to dive into water over my head, but I had a pool noodle for flotation and a buoyed rope to hold onto, so in I went. And how cool it was! I saw many colorful fish of sizes up to a couple feet long. I peered peering down the wall of the abyss into the shadowy deeps. I floated over coral reefs and observed giant clams and an old anchor on the bottom. Other people saw turtles and mantas but we, sticking close to the boat, did not; despite that, and the cold water, it was still magical and we want to do it again.

Now we are in Hervey Bay (pronounced “Harvey”), “the whale capital of Australia.” We saw whales from the plane and from the beach but tomorrow we’ll be heading out in a small boat in hopes of seeing some up close. Then it’s on to Sydney, our last port of call before returning home.

Some more observations about Australia:

Every single hotel we’ve stayed in in this sunburnt country provides tea makings in the room, including a small container of cold milk handed to you as you check in, and tonight (feeling a little crispy around the edges after all this adventurous travel) I had a nice cuppa. Aah.

I’ll say this for the Australians, they always put a bottle of tap water on the table as soon as you sit down. They do love arugula (which they call “rocket”) though, putting it on damn near everything. They are also very fond of pumpkin.

Sliding doors are more prevalent here than in the US, sometimes automatic (and often hard to spot, you need to look for the twin arrow decals) and sometimes manual. Not sure why, there’s no lack of space, and in fact cities here sprawl in a way that could teach lessons to Los Angeles.

Toilets here always have high- and low-water flush options but I must say that on every toilet I’ve used here even the high-water option does a crap (sorry) job of clearing the bowl; the Japanese-made Toto we have at home is much better.

And now, pictures!

When life makes you addled, make Adelaide

We’ve been taking it rather easy, for us. Adelaide is a pleasant smallish city, quite walkable. The tram (there’s only one tram line) is free in the center city and when you pass out of the free area a conductor comes around selling tickets from a little machine at his waist. How quaint. We commented on how long it had been since we’d seen a human conductor and he admitted that he was an android. (No, really, he actually said that.)

There are flocks and flocks of colorful parrots here, squawking and chirping in the trees. I’m not used to parrots as street birds. It’s like encountering a herd of poodles, in full show trim, in the wild.

We have encountered a few Australianisms in the wild as well (as opposed to terms like “fair dinkum” which are on the postcards and such but I haven’t heard anyone actually say it): “hooning about” (meaning to act like a male teenager and/or drive too fast), “spruiker” (meaning huckster, hawker, or tout), and “no worries” (a generalized politeness noise, meaning sorry or excuse me or thank you or you’re welcome). And yes, they do say “g’day.” The Australian accent does not seem to involve the parting of the teeth or lips, which has been described as “speaking as though a million flies were trying to get into your mouth.” We’ve been told that “Americans enunciate so well” (!?).

The sun comes in from the north, of course (one sees real estate ads bragging about northern exposure) and having the traffic on the wrong side of the road is subtly disquieting. Kate noticed yesterday that looking at the street’s reflection in a shop window was calming. When crossing the street, it’s important to meet the “passenger’s” eyes to avoid being run over. Also disquieting: the crescent moon lying flat on its back. This is apparently a result of our low latitude (35 degrees) rather than being south of the equator.

The day before yesterday we went to the Royal Adelaide Show, which was very much like a state fair. One difference is the presence of “showbags,” bags of assorted goods sold out of booths in an enormous hall. I `still don’t quite “get” the whole showbag thing but I can see intellectually how it evolved over decades from “free goodie bags” to “nominal charge for a bag of samples” to “great value for this bag of merchandise” to an annual ritual of “Daddy, Daddy, it’s the showbag catalog, I want this one and this one and this one.” Many of them involved large quantities of candy and/or licensed characters (Spongebob and the Simpsons were popular). We joked about the Louis Vuitton showbag ($1500, it’s empty). We did wind up buying one showbag: a bag of assorted chocolates to take to a party.

Sheep are, of course, an important part of the show. We went to a sheep-shearing demo, which used an old-fashioned steam-powered shearing machine just like the one we’d seen at Mungo. The shearer was very methodical, the sheep remarkably calm about being wrestled to the ground and forcibly shaved. At the end of the shearing the sheep is gently punted down a chute. The fleece comes off in a single huge sheet (mostly) which is surprisingly white and clean on the underside. We also visited the goat and alpaca barn and petted some very cute kids (which I described as looking like “goat puppies”).

Another Royal Adelaide Show tradition is the “Blooming Marvelous” show: a parade of women dressed as flowering plants, with a strong South Australian emphasis; we were strongly reminded of the Honky Tonk Queen contest. I could barely contain my snerking.

Most of the rest of the stuff we saw was pretty much the same as what you might find at a state fair back home: the hall of decorated cakes, knitting, quilting, historical costumes, baked goods, etc.; the wood chopping competition (amazing how involved we all got in whether or not each competitor would beat the previous ones’ number of blows to chop a log in half; behold the power of story); the flyball championships (dog relay hurdles, tons of fun to watch); the exhibitor/vendor hall with mop demos and samples of vindaloo.

That evening we took the tram to Damien Warman and Juliette Woods’ lovely home for a party in honor of GUFF delegate James Shields from Ireland. In addition to a passel of Australians we saw American fans Tom & Spike and Karen & Mike and Brits Mark & Claire. We talked about Big Things (giant objects found at roadsides, such as the giant artichoke in Castroville and Australia’s extremely scary Big Prawn) and whether a full-size dinosaur or Ayers Rock restaurant is a Big Thing or not.

Yesterday I was rather groggy and out of sorts all day, though Kate was feeling much better. We visited the Rundle Street Sunday market, the old Adelaide Arcade, and the Rundle Street mall with its street sculptures and buskers. The South Australia Museum is quite impressive, with a big display of whale and dolphin skeletons; opalized fossils of ammonites and ichthyosaurs; fossil prints of pre-Cambrian soft-bodied creatures, including the first trilobite and first chordate; an informative gallery of Australian animals and birds, including thylacines and other extinct ones; Australian meteorites, opals, other interesting rocks; a cloud chamber showing traces of cosmic rays (apparently the only one on public display); a Russian space suit in the mineral exhibit (why??); and an extensive exhibit on Arctic explorer Mowett (he got around). After all that I was completely pooped and fell over around 9:30.

Last day in Adelaide today. Tomorrow we have a 6:00 AM flight which (after several plane changes and some juggling of luggage) will end with us on an island in the Great Barrier Reef.

No pictures today, connectivity at this cafe is crap.