Saturday, November 17, 2007

Party time

The final morning in Melbourne before heading to Tasmania, happened to be the day of the Melbourne Marathon and our hotel was smack in the middle of the course, the streets were blocked off and most café’s were packed to the hilt. After countless attempts at crossing the street, being “protected” by very eager traffic controllers I finally managed to cross the street and was lucky to find a café with an outside seat as hunger was now getting the better of me. If there were as many police/traffic personnel on a normal day, there’d be no traffic accidents at all, as people would choose to stay at home out of sheer frustration. Enjoying a flat white, I suddenly noticed a long queue of cars and thought myself lucky to have found a place to sit, obviously being in one of the more popular viewing areas. As it turned out, this was just another example of how the Aussie’s do things. After having waited for about 15 minutes, very patiently, the driver of the first car decided to sneak across the roadblock. He had barely moved a few feet, when he was stopped by the traffic controllers. The ensuing conversation brought tears to my eyes. The driver was instructed to turn around and leave the neighborhood by one of the side roads further down. Exasperated he very politely, but firmly explained to the event personnel, that he had lived in the area for 23 years, knew every street and had just driven around for 45 minutes trying to get out of his neighborhood. All roads were blocked as the marathon course ran in a circle around the area! At least they were thorough when it came to the runners’ safety.
Most Australians will tell you that you can tell how inbred the Tasmanians are by the scar they all have on their necks from when their second head was removed. Every country has one part of their population they make fun of, but never have I experienced this in such an erroneous manner! Not that two months in Australia makes any one, much less me, an expert in beauty, but I would like to go on record (now that I am sitting in New Zealand) to say that the Tasmanians are much better looking and seem much less inbred than their northern relatives.
Launceston our first of two stops, reminded me a bit of a small Danish provincial town, which on first looks may seem to be very country bumpkin, but where there is a real theatre and people are actually wearing shoes when they leave their houses! The climate may have colored my opinion a bit too, as the fresh cold sea air was also reminiscent of both SF and Copenhagen.
We were only there for a night, so the morning after the show I got up at the crack of dawn to go to a gorge just on the outskirt of the town. The crisp (freezing cold) morning air was like an ice bath, and I might have taken a more leisurely pace had I been adequately prepared clothing wise. (I should quickly note here, that we were all advised to only bring very little on this tour and that warm clothing was not necessary, except maybe a sweater.) But it was beautiful and a great way to start a new year as I was to celebrate my birthday that night in Hobart. After the show in Launceston, as we were having dinner, Vladamir, a very funny, quirky Brazilian, who does an amazing Tina Turner impersonation, announced with a Cheshire Cat grin: “Tomorrow your birthday, we must have party-then we give you many drinks and when you fall asleep…kisskiss!!” Giovanni (Colombian) turned in his seat with the most incredulous look on his face and reprimanded: “Nooo! It should be present for him…not you!”
Well, the present turned out to come from someone else entirely! I had decided to take everyone out for a drink and had spread the word on the trip to Hobart, reminding everyone during the show on the day of as it is notoriously difficult to round up groups of people, especially dancers. So after the show we all went back to the hotel, around the corner, to freshen up and go celebrate. I waited in my room, called a few of them to make sure they weren’t skipping out and got no answer! Manolo and Victor thought we should just go, but since we hadn’t picked a place, but was going to find one, I decided to wait a bit longer. Finally I had had it and exclaimed that if the “girls” didn’t want a drink on my bill, then that was fine with me and we headed out. In the lobby Victor went down to the hotel bar suggesting we went there. You have probably guessed it already, but I hadn’t so the surprise was total and complete when I entered the bar area and the entire company and the crew screamed: Happy Birthday! Behind my back, Susan had arranged cake, champagne and the whole shebang! Eddy, our sound guy, told me that the best part had been trying to keep a straight face as I was almost panicking trying to round everybody up, making sure they would come out with me. It was the party of parties, lasting until 7:30 in the morning and numerous bottles of champagne. Luckily we were staying in an old wool storage building with very thick brick walls and had the day off the next day to regain what little we had left of our senses. When I awoke, I was startled to see that not only was Victor missing, but everything had shrunk, the beds, the room and the windows. It took me a while to realize that I was not in my room (the absence of Victor should have made that clear from the moment I opened my eyes. He never leaves the room unless forced to), but had apparently chosen the first available bed and passed out while a handful of the “girls” were perfecting a “step, ball-change, ball-change” to the tunes of Tina Turner all the while doing household chores such as vacuuming, pouring tea etc. Though I had been given a video camera (also by Susan) I had been in no state to immortalize this unique and exciting dance.
The theatre in Hobart is the oldest in the country, dating from 1834 and appropriately called the “Princess Theatre”. It is a darling of a doll box romantic theatre, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less in a city like Hobart. It instantly became my favorite city we had been to (now it is one of two cities that I can see myself re-visiting here). Along the harbor were numerous little cafes, each with an interesting menu, making it difficult to choose, so I café hopped a bit, before coming across a wonderful bookshop that damaged my bank account greatly and made me wish I didn’t have to carry my own suitcase when we had to leave this beautiful little island. The only thing I never saw was the local devils, but then again, if you make a diva mad there’s plenty of devil to go around.

Wagga means "place of crow" in Aboriginal. Since they have no plural form, they add the same word again to, so the real name of the city Wagga Wagga means "place of crows". I am slowly becoming more fascinated with this people, who are so completely under the radar that they are actually off it.
I went to the theatre early with the crew, to have a walk around the town, which seemed bigger than some of the other small places we've been. Here I counted 4 lively places when we arrived the night before, so there must be something to do.
Right behind the theatre was the local museum and after reading Bryson and how much he encounters in these small town museums I decided to go in for a look. It consisted of the local city council chambers that I was welcome to walk through the lady at the counter kindly told me, and then there were two rooms behind the chambers with the actual exhibitions. Well, a council chamber might be of interest to some, but I didn't quite feel I missed something of great importance after a brief look at the generic office/boardroom chairs and the heavy blue drapery, so I went instead to learn about this place of crows.
The two rooms mentioned absolutely nothing about the city, it's history or crows for that matter. Instead it was wholly devoted to a very extensive and informative exhibit on various types of drugs. After gleaning the prices of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and a few other useful facts in case I was on the prowl for hallucinogenics (as if I need help hallucinating after travelling with 17 "girls" for this long) I thought that maybe the towns history was so tedious and boring that its inhabitants had turned to drugs, or that this museum was the main information point for druggies coming to Australia. Turning to Duncan, our trusted driver with an encyclopedic knowledge of his country, I was proven halfway right. The area of Wagga Wagga and Griffith, which was one of our first stops (don't excpet me to explain in logical terms why it has taken us 5 weeks to play two cities an hour or so from each other) were the main centers of marihuana growing back in the day. Why Griffith has chosen to keep a low profile of its local history and "attractions" and Wagga has chosen not to, made me wonder exactly how far back “back in the day” meant.

Wagga is also the hometown of a sporadic crew member of ours, Tiana. As she was no longer going to be touring with us, a few of us went out for a drink at one of the establishments on the main street, where I finally felt that I really met, and got a taste of the Australian hospitality and joy of life. The place was packed, live music was happening in a corner, while a couple of crusty guys played pool, completely unawares of the hubbub around them. It seemed like everyone knew each other and I hoped to chat someone up. That was thwarted by some of the largest V&T's I have had. Asking for mine in a larger glass (i.e. a double) the bartender, whom Tiana had befriended the day before, swiftly pulls out a pint glass and poured me a handsomely strong drink, even for me. Not that one drink, even that large, would stop me from mingling, but somehow when I put the glass down it had an automatic refill feature and within a short time I had had three of these tubs of V&T and the patrons had grown up all of the sudden. When we arrived it was full of twenty-something’s in jeans and skimpy dresses with hair that looked like it was still in bed, and when I looked up after number two amphora, they were in their forties and wearing tuxedo's and gowns. What an amazing place! We did have to leave sadly as the place closed, so we headed across the street (per bartender recommendation) and here I got my first real glimpse at how warm these people are. As I sidled up to the bar (to steady myself, though the sticky carpet would have kept a kangaroo from jumping) a bloke turns to me extends his hand and yells: "How you going? wanna drink?" I declined as I already had one (not sure how), but he wouldn't take no for an answer, especially amongst friends. "You are a dancer? he asked and I expected the standard American reaction to my profession, of taking a step back and acting real macho, but was surprised to see his face turn in to a giant grin and hear him call out to his friends: "you gotta meet my new friend Peter, he's a dancer! - can you teach me some moves mate?" he said turning to me. When I told him that I did ballet and mostly did lifting of girls, he said, "that's alright, I'm not that heavy, 69 kg, lift me and show me some moves. Though some of them looked big and burly and something you wouldn't normally want to meet in a dark alley, they all joined in and soon we were all introduced around the bar and had rounds of shots. Being a guest in their town I was not allowed to buy them a single drink, no way mate! And when Marlon commented on one of theirs' footy socks, he promptly took his shoes of and gave them to Marlon. Maybe being given dirty socks is the universal sign of friendliness in Wagga Wagga, the place of crows and their feet?


Jean-Louis said...

i like your blog, its funny & thoughtful, although i think you're a little hard on us here down under... lol, we're not that backwards are we?

TB said...

Your blog is hilarious, you absolutely must write a book!! Old school bus touring leaves one with the most wonderful memories...stays where you at's, they come where's you to.

Jay said...

Happy Birthday!!! I'm loving your blog Peter!- Shelby