Sunday, July 30, 2006

Weekend Update

The museum was (as we were warned) too much to take in on a single day. There's just too much history. What a harsh country this was -- the Aborigines have managed to make a life here for 50,000 years, a time in which the European presence has been momentary by comparison. The First Fleet arrived in 1788, which means that the Aborigines were by themselves for over 99.5% of Australia's populated history. For the first English convicts sent under the transportation policy, it must have been beyond the end of the world.

In the afternoon, we visited a small winery about an hour out of town. The kids didn't want to go -- what are they going to do at a winery? -- but the owners turned out to have dogs, cats, and:

Funniest looking kangaroos we've ever seen, and they couldn't hop worth a damn. But the ladies were a big hit with the children.

Peter and Peter (below, on the right; I haven't mastered photo formatting on blogger just yet) own the Taemas Winery. Mark Darby, the Fulbright executive director, is behind Susan. The Peters, both semi retired, run the winery and farm as a labor of love, and turn out some highly regarded varietals; they don't bottle much (their upcoming run will be about 1600 bottles).

The vinyard and countryside were, as we've come to expect, beautiful

Bought two bottles of 2004 Shiraz for $15 each (they retail at about $25).

On Sunday, we went to the AFL game. Canberra isn't big enough to sustain its own pro team, so for years the North Melbourne Kangaroos came to town to play a couple of home games. This was to be the last one, since the Canberra stadium is too small for the trip

You can't get afeel for of the game by studying the written rules, but it makes a lot of sense on the field. Lot's of running around on a huge field -- an oval, 150 meters by 110 meters, or so -- but a clearly identifiable flow and strategy. These pictures, both shot toward one set of goal posts, gives you a sense of the field's size. The tree at left center in the first is also visible in the second above the yellow section of stands:

The Kangaroos jumped out to a quick 18-0 lead, and the heckling was hilarious; no drunken New Yorkers shrieking vitriol at the players and umps. Mildly inebriated and quite funny, along the lines of "well, it's a good thing he kicks poorly, or else his lousy hands would really stand out.

Roos up by 38 at the half, when kids get to play. The youngest and cutest played by us

the Roos won in convincing manner, 80-53, hurting the Cats' playoff hopes. We travel up a mountain on the South side of town for another perspective on Canberra.

A view of the capitol and beyond from the South:

The hard to see building in the upper right is the ANZAC War Memorial, and next door to our oldest's high school.

Oh, my, isn't this a beautiful place?

Photo credits: Susan D.L.Mayer, all rights reserved.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

No Joy in Mudville

Australia loses a heartbreaker, 13-9.

I have no idea what happened.

Eating the National Symbols

One thing that makes Australia special: its coat of arms has an emu and a kangaroo.

Another: you can eat both of them.

We bought kangaroo and emu prosciutto today. The kangaroo was very salty, and tasted like gamey beef jerkey. We got one thunbs up, and one thumbs down (pictures to come). Haven't had the courage to try the emu yet.


Australia plays New Zealand in an international rugby match tonight. The New Zealand national team does a warm up dance before each game, called a "haka." It's baasd on traditional Maori dances, and some versions include a throat slashing gesture. The routines are designed to be intimidating, and they are pretty powerful.

New Zealand's team is considered one the best in the world (it is 10-0 over the past 2 years), and the players look like they would be at home in the NFL as linebackers and safeties: massive shoulders, no necks, huge biceps, no waists, whippet fast.

You know when people criticize football, claiming that it's just a bunch of guys running around? That's what rugby looks like to me. Except that it's a bunch of guys running around pounding the crap out of each outher and jumping into huge piles. No, wait. I guess it is just like football.

Friday, July 28, 2006


These are:

The Parliament Building

A view of Canberra, taken from the Telstra Tower.

The kids and me on the tower, with John Hart, a professor at ANU and our host here.

The kids on their first day of school, in uniform, outside our apartment on the ANU campus.

Yes, Adam is taller than I am.

Weekend Plans

We finished our first week! The kids had a good couple of days in school, making friends and getting adjusted to new routines. Susan drove on her own today, and said it was just like learning to drive for the first time. She did better than I did (with 50% fewer curb bangs).

Tomorrow morning, we will walk to the National Museum of Australia. In the afternoon, we travel to a vinyard outside of town, with the Executive Director of the Australian-American Fulbright Commission.

On Sunday, we dive in head first, with tickets to an Australian Football League match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Geelong Cats. This is, we are told, something like a Packers-Vikings game, only between kangaroos and cats.

And no pads.

At some point, I suppose I'll have to get some work done.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Australian Rules Football

The rules, from Wikipedia:

"Both the ball and the field of play are oval in shape. No more than 18 players of each team are permitted to be on the field at any time. Up to four interchange (reserve) players may be swapped for those on the field at any time during the game. There is no offside rule nor are there set positions in the rules—unlike many other forms of football—players from both teams disperse across the whole field before the start of play.

Games are officiated by umpires. Unlike other forms of football, Australian football begins similarly to basketball. After the first siren, the umpire bounces the ball on the ground, and the two ruckmen (typically the tallest man from each team), battle for the ball in the air on its way back down. . . "

Full rules here

OK, quiz time:
(1) How would you explain the rules of baseball in the same number of words? Could you?
(2) Are the rules of American football more sensible compared to this, or less? Explain your answer.

First Day on the Job

Had a reception in the department this afternoon, where we met people from around the University, the head of the Australian American Fulbright Commission, the University Vice-Chancellor (who is really the head), and some staff from the U.S Embassy. The Fulbright folks have scheduled me to give talks in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, and Sydney. Everyone was completely friendly and charming.

We may even get to watch the New Year's fireworks from the U.S. Consulate in Sydney, on the 57th floor of one of the tallest buildings in the city.

Report from the First Day of School

Thumbs up. Way up. The kids got all kinds of questions from their Australian classmates. The best:

Where is Madison? (Don't laugh. Do you know where Toowoomba is?)
Have you ever been robbed at gunpoint?
Are there hobos on every street corner?
What about New York? There must be hobos there.
Have you ever been shot? (this was the same person who asked about being robbed, who has apparently learned that the entire country was actually the set for Scarface)
Do you like Vegemite? (apologies to our Australian friends, but it is, um, an acquired taste)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Kids in School, Plus Australian Slang

Got the kids enrolled in school today. They're nervous, but the teachers and principals were welcoming, assuring the kids that they would have no trouble fitting in. The principal at the high school said that within a day they would be "happy as Larry." Huh? Who's Larry? Turns out, nobody knows. But Larry is, apparently, one very happy guy.

The older is taking math (called "maths" here), English, ancient Greek and Roman history, astronomy, chemistry, baking (called "brilliant baking"), and a wilderness course that ends up with a three day camping trip. The younger starts out with a unit on Australian history, and takes Japanese. Both schools have uniforms, which sounds to us like a great idea.

I'm getting used to left-hand driving. It's not as hard as I thought it would be, and there isn't much traffic around town. Speed limits are pretty low, which is fine with me.

I start work in earnest tomorrow (Wed.). So far, so good.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Made It!

We made it, safe and sound. The flight was long, but the service on QANTAS was unbelievable, reminding us of what air travel used to be. The flight crew was friendly and efficient, the seats were comfortable, the entertainment system amazing (over 60 movies and 15 TV shows) and the food was good.

The jet lag is a killer - on our second day our internal clocks were so screwed up that we didn't know if it was Tuesday at 3AM or Saturday lunchtime. It was very disorienting.

Our apartment is small, but quite nice, and within walking distance of the town center. Parrots and Cockatiels are everywhere, and we walked up to a mob of wild kangaroos in a nearby park.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Hazards of Air Travel

Report from the first leg of our trip:

We saw Ted Danson in the LA airport baggage claim. Could this get any better?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ready to Roll

What a frantic week it's been, making last minute arrangements to cancel cable a few days before we leave (NOOOOOOO!!!!), newspapers, long distance phone service. We leave on Monday the 17, with more suitcases that the airline will let us take.

I'm amazed at the ease of maintaining communications contact. In addition to email, online banking, instant messaging, and global transmission of documents, we have signed up for skype, an internet ph0ne company. For a nominal cost, we can call, and receive calls from, any phone anywhere in the workd. It seems to work (although our tests have so far involved callng the family room from the kitchen). Our kids will do better from the other side of the world than I did at summer camp two hours away.