Wednesday, October 31, 2007

From Port to Port with some wine thrown in

Next after Port Pirie, were two very short and uneventful stops.
Port Lincoln is the city with the most fish and millionaires in Australia and home to some great restaurants due to the fish and the millionaires. For those that have followed these haphazard chronicles it will come as no surprise that we did not get to experience any of the restaurants, but had veal scallopine (cold and somewhat tougher than I remember veal scallopine to be) in plastic containers en route to Whyalla.
Whyalla…the first part of the name says it all. There was really nothing to do. When we arrived at the motel, the surrounding houses looked deserted and there was almost no traffic on the street. When we got back to the hotel, the houses were still dark, with curtains drawn. Either there was no one there or they prefer their homes dark around here. Walking in the dark to a service station to get something to eat (yes there was no supermarket within sight nor driving distance), I wondered aloud what people do in places this quiet, to which one of the other dancers replied: “drink”, he paused and added as an afterthought: “it’s also places like this where they go nuts and become mass murderers.” Suddenly the road to the service station seemed longer. Trying to change the topic I noted the peculiar scent in the air and was immediately answered by the same guy, that it was probably the smell of rotting human flesh. It did have the perfect setting for a horror movie, but as I am writing this now, you can all breathe easy again, we all arrived intact (physically at least) from our service station trip, where the attendant was even friendlier, than most Australians. Must be a lonely job in a town where no one seems to leave their houses and I wondered if maybe he lived there behind the cigarette stand and only got to talk to involuntary visitors like us.
If the veal in Port Lincoln was a bit tough, the roast beef in Whyalla brought back childhood memories of watching Charlie Chaplin in “Gold Rush” and finding out that our motel who supplied us with our dinner was the best restaurant in town, it made sense why no one was out in town - their shoes had been commandeered for the roastbeef.

Germans are not usually known for their emphasis on making things cozy, but the Barossa Valley town of Tanunda was very cozy and founded by Germans. It is of course a fact of life that wherever there is wine, there’s good food and good times! And frankly I sometimes feel a bit too old to be fed my meals every day, without having a choice in what or when I am served, so I skipped out on the after show meal and took a handful of the dancers with me to a great place in town for dinner. Never has the clinking of glasses and cutlery scraping porcelain sounded so good. Many of the other guests had been to the show and were delighted to be able to express how much they’d enjoyed themselves. One family, where 3 out of 4 kids danced, made us a sign their napkin and returned with their own napkin memento for us. I have always felt that the connection with the audience extends beyond the stage, and living as we have in our own little bubble (eating behind stage, getting on a bus and taking off) can make it a sad, lonely existence, out of touch with the rest of the world. Some of my dearest friends are people I have met via my work on stage but outside my stage persona and it was a delightful reminder, that life still exist as I know it.
We were literally in and out of Tanunda as well, but driving through it is like driving through Napa, which a Mercedes club seemed to think too, making a quaint little town even quainter by filling the streets with beautifully restored classic 1930’s-60’s cars. How nice would it not have been to go to Adelaide in a two-seater cabriolet hooting the horn to get the geese off the road? Okay that was a bit much to ask for maybe, so forget about the geese. Of course at this point anything beats a bus, even with the memory of some truly delicious wines still on my palate.
Speaking of bus, I mustn’t forget a true treat: Duncan, our driver. Not only is he an excellent chauffeur, but a living encyclopedia on Australian history, its nature, people and politics. He has made the painful rides a bit more interesting by keeping us informed of all the places we pass by and don’t get to see. What is particularly amusing to me, is to observe the "girls'" reactions. Like most dancers, they tend to not pay particular attention to voices on intercoms, so Duncan will be talking away and throw in the occasional magic word that gets their heads to start popping up from their seats, confused looks around with that expression of: “what-kangaroo-where?”. So even though the landscape doesn’t change drastically, the view from my seat on the bus is never one of monotony.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Running behind

We are now on the Gold Coast and I am way behind on these updates, for which I apologise. I was meant to get back on track during the week we stayed in Sydney (last week) where we had 2 days off. I ended up being rotated out of a show so I had 3 days. Complete luxury! But instead of sitting in my room writing, I ran around Sydney, meeting with friends of friends.
Of course more detailed notes will follow, but I do wish to keep the chronological order intact, hence this interlude.
I have been close to calling it off as we have had so many mishaps and poor organisation, making an already hard tour getting close to becoming unacceptably hard. The days off did help of course, but one does really need rest and food to do 104 shows with the travel involved. But I am still here and still finding lots to enjoy, as you will see as soon as I post from where I left off. Here's what you have in store: a basketfull of small towns, Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney and more small towns. Sound familiar?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mining and memorials

So I’ve picked up Bill Bryson’s Down Under which converges with my own recollections straight away as he passes through the mining town Broken Hill, as I myself have reached that town in my recollections. Through Bryson I am now also getting a bit more background information about the country and its sights, but fear not, I shall not fill these pages with his observations, only recommend it to anyone, particularly to those who feel in need of some abdominal workout.
I do have to briefly veer off my journey’s track and dispel a rumor that has reached me here on the other side of the world. Apparently it was reported that I have been married and am traveling around Australia with my wife, when in fact I am not married and traveling around Australia with my 17 “girlfriends”! And after 52 days the honeymoon is still in full bloom…everyday I carry some of them over new thresholds, of pain that is, neck, back, knees etc..
Getting to Broken Hills from Mildura took us over the Darling River and into dry and arid country. All water around the town of Broken Hill is used for the mining, so not much grows here. And though small towns all look alike after awhile, it gives you a different sense of what makes a country function. Kalgoorlie, with the world’s largest goldmine and Broken Hill, which is still the home of the world’s largest mining company are both unassuming towns, sans frills, that help carry the country. Judging from the look of its inhabitants, Broken Hill could be the place where the freaks from the traveling circuses retire to; I have never seen a more eclectic group of characters and faces assembled in one place. Maybe it’s the lack of water, as most water is used in the mines? At any rate, it tasted very strange coming out of the tap, a bit like when you are in a spa in the hot mineral pool with a chili-sage-celery mask on and swallow a bit of the water as you doze off and slide down submerging your face under the water.
My lunch lady looked like she had done that a few times too many, and was moving with utmost caution in case she should lose consciousness again. Wearing an acrylic hounds tooth sweater, pulled down and belted to make a dress and possibly show the cleavage that she had had made when she left her policeman/drug dealer husband, at the age of 60. According to two guys we met, she had never been a looker in that way. If she had her head turned sideways you had to look at her feet to tell which was front on her, she used her (her ex’s?) money on a front, but was still single. Between buttering slices of bread for our sandwiches, she would shuffle around, wiping sporadically on any surface that came within reach. She preferred to keep her hands to herself, so the wiping didn’t venture far on said surfaces. Meanwhile her 4 employees stood silently, waiting for her to come back to make the sandwiches. Apparently they were not trained yet to do it themselves.
The above-mentioned guys were a rare blessing on the trip. After the show, we met them as we were looking for a place to have a drink. (Yes, so far nothing is ever open when we are around). They invited us home to their place, and I felt a pang of fear, images of gay bashing or gang rape passed through my head. Yes we were 5, but at least 4 of us would not even be able to swat a fly. In the end I was finally exposed to the Australian hospitality that I had heard about from friends at home. Admiring a print on the wall, I asked Ryan our host about it and it turned out to be a Norman Lindsay print. I had only a few days before on a coffee break from the bus, stumbled upon a book of this Australian artist’s work of fauns, satyrs, voluptuous ladies and fairy tale creatures and was ecstatic at seeing one in real life. Over some good wine and some bad wine we had a wonderful conversation about art, artists and I was surprised (happily so) to encounter a 20-something year old living in such a small town, far from big cities, that were as culturally minded as this guy was. My surprise only grew, when his roommate told us that he had never left Broken Hill. That turned out not to be true as Ryan assured us, he had moved to Sydney for 3 months once, so a complete country bumpkin he was not!
But we did have to leave Broken Hill, so after a fun evening, we parted ways, wondering if our paths will ever cross again. I sadly doubt I will be in Broken Hill anytime soon, or later for that matter.
The next morning as we tried to get comfortable on the bus, Duncan our bus driver and sometimes tour guide, suggested we took a look out the left windows. “If you look closely”, he said, “you will see nothing. If you look to the right, you will see more of nothing and that is what it will be like for the next 2000km if we keep going straight”. Luckily we didn’t have to go that far, only to Port Pirie, about 4 hours or so.
One of Port Pirie’s claims to fame is its war memorials. Where many towns have memorials to their fallen servicemen, Port Pirie was particularly devastated. In World War I, the town’s population was around 4000, of which they lost 234 young men. A beautiful park was laid out with various monuments, the strongest being a plaque listing fallen names, with only a very few surnames occurring only once. In a relatively short time, entire families were denied growth.
Another striking part of Port Pirie, was their gaming lounges, which is not rooms in which one hunt game, but merely wastes one’s money in the slot machines. Having coffee one morning at a café across from one of these hotel/casinos, I noticed a sign in the window advertising their happy hour. Now there’s usually nothing uncommon about a sign advertising happy hour, except this sign was right next to a street sign depicting a 24 hour ban on bottles on the block (much like a no parking sign). Made me wonder how they get their deliveries?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The way the fly flies

Criss-crossing the continent the way we have done so far in a seemingly random manner, has made me wonder if our itinerary is following or based on the aboriginal songlines. These are “paths” that cross the country, which the ancient gods walked and sang everything they saw in to existence, and which aborigines still will set out on. But since the white man can’t really see them I then I got to think that maybe our presenter had merely employed a smaller size child with a crayon to draw connect-the dots on a map of Australia. At any rate we have now made it to the South part of Australia in the most round about way and are going to and fro.
Coming back to the East coast to the hotel in Melbourne was the closest we get to coming “home’. We stay at the same place every time we go through there, even if it is only for 6 or so hours.
If a 14hour bus ride seemed long, it was a mere moment compared to the 17 hour travel day from Kalgoorlie to Perth (wait in airport) to arrive completely drained at “home” around 1:30 am. I thought of taking a hot bath as most of the motels only have showers, but with about 6 hours to go before we were to head out for Warnambool and the southern part of Australia I opted for some sleep instead.
We seemed to have brought the rain with us from the west, for as we arrived in Warnambool with the rain pouring, they did not seem to be aware of it there. At least the radio kept forecasting a chance of showers in the area, leading me to believe that they might not have windows in the radio station there. Maybe kangaroos bounce through them at night on the way to the roadways?
Much to my surprise, I was given the show off here. Needless to say I was in two minds about it. It was, on the one hand, nice to be able to rest, but in the rain? And in a tiny town, where everything was closing down and our motel was not within walking distance of anything but a lot of big beautiful trees. I pondered for a moment about going by the radio’s weather forecast and take a walk or listen to my instincts, or rather the sound of the rain outside. In the end I went with the group to the venue and decided to watch the show. Taking advantage of a bit of clearing up in the sky, I took a brief look around town, all 4 round abouts of it. Though I am a sucker for theatre atmosphere I have ceased to spend too much time on the theatres; there’s only so much character you can cram into a community assembly hall and 400 folding chairs. This was a real theatre though but not much to speak of, so I went to look for a place that might still be open for dinner. So far everything closes during the day around the time we arrive into a town and open up as we are getting ready to do the show. Yet not 40 paces from the stage door was a very quaint restaurant, that seemed strangely out of place in this little town with its extensive wine list and the lack of deep-fried food on the menu. I missed the first part of the show as I was enjoying the most delicious meal I had had so far. It cost a bloody fortune too, but well worth it after a month of fried, greasy, or overcooked take-away food. Sometimes it’s actually easier to cut the plastic plate than the meat with the children’s safety plastic utensils we are given, so the sound of real flatware hitting real porcelain made this dinner even sweeter. I did make it back to watch Swan Lake and was surprised to see that quite a few of our jokes seem to require more of a background knowledge that many people in these small towns have. I doubt the Australian Ballet go to these places even. I also made a mental note to self to try to steer away from too many “insider” jokes, the kind where we are rolling with laughter in the wings, but the audience may not.
But as we all know, in this business you are never allowed to be too comfortable. Having enjoyed a glorious meal and a night off, we headed to Hamilton where we passed the South Sea (4th ocean) and where my neck went out of whack. This last bit was only exasperated further by the fact that the heating blanket in my bed only warmed down by the feet. Feeling the stiffness get worse I tried in the middle of the night to turn myself upside down, to get heat on my neck. I recently read that Giorgio Armani is a stickler for perfectly made beds; well he would have loved the maid who did mine. The sheets were tucked in so tight that I couldn’t loosen them with my feet and my arms were totally worthless because of the pain in my neck. I almost suffocated trying to maneuver myself, like a seal down to the foot end of the bed, ending up with my head lodged between the mattress and the sheets. But there was heat from the electric blanket!
So I did two shows on the tiniest stage the next day in Frankston with a bum neck, where I in my past life of luxurious treatment in a big company could have taken the night off and gotten massage. In the end, the neck’s fine and it is a wonderful feeling of going out there night after night. The pain lifts with the curtain every time.
I had read about Bendigo, our next stop, in the airline magazine and was looking forward to this town of art galleries, bookshops, and cafés, but our bus broke down in the morning before we had to leave, so we were delayed for a few hours in Melbourne and thus missed most of the sights in Bendigo. I did take a photo of a signpost directing visitors to the sights. It was a very cute town and one that I hope to re-visit one day, even though the wine bar across the street from the theatre ran out of limes after making Emanuel and myself an after show drink each…
The next stop was the Robert Helpmann theatre in Mt. Gambier, named after the city’s famous son. Here I did my first ever Prince in Swan Lake, not exactly how I in my early eager days of dancing had envisioned it to be, at least in choice of partner…but it fit me well to do it this way the first time. Again I play it straight, while Victor, my “queen” is the main comedic element, complete with foot-long eyelashes, ancient-looking wig and turns that make him look like a bent pencil, to quote his usual partner.
I have know come to a part in my notebook, where more notes are about the hellishness of busrides and the many last minute changes, that it reminds me of a similar tour I did to Russia many years ago, where every morning the first thing out of our director’s mouth was: [Imagine heavy Russian accent] “Guys, we hrhave small problem”. Not to say we have problems, except for the trunkloads we have all brought with us ourselves, but let’s just say that I have a book with our schedule that I choose not to refer to anymore.
On the road to our next stop (Renmark cancelled) Mildurah, it suddenly struck me what has been strangely missing when I look out of the windows of the bus. I was listening to Art Tatum’s fingers racing across his keyboard, not sure if we were trying to keep up with him or if he was trying to race us, whilst reading Patrick Leigh Fermors memoirs ‘The Wind and the Water” where he recounts meeting shepherds in the hills of Hungary. Where are the shepherds gone? There are plenty of sheep here, but the romantic, idyllic picture of a slightly musky smelling lonesome being who runs around keeping the sheep rounded up, while his master sits under a tree, telling stories to the traveling passer-by and offering him his jug of (insert: beverage of choice) or his pibe is sadly missing.
Mildurah, a hot town full of red dust and flies. The name comes from the aboriginals, and means, sore eyes. I heard two versions of the origin, one was due to the dust getting in the eyes, the other was that flies get in them. I only experienced the latter, so in my memory that’s the version that sticks. Having the show in Renmark cancelled (I suspect to give us all a bit of a rest, though the reason we were given were lack of ticket sales), we all found ourselves with almost an entire day to lounge by the pool in the sun, luxury I say though not so relaxing considering the number of times you have to wave flies away to not get that pock-marked looking tan. The locals are of course used to them and go about their lives as normal people do. We must have looked like a group of lunatics on a field trip, walking down the street waving our arms frantically in all directions. Maybe that’s why all the shops are closed when we come into town?