Wednesday 31 August 2011

Silly Sailors!

 During a semester break in 1991, before Russell and I went on our crazy cycling trip, we asked my dad if we could borrow his boat for a week. So ok, neither of us could actually sail but that was not about to get in our way. My very accommodating dad agreed to sail us over to Rottonest,(thats him above sailing) an island of the coast of Perth, Western Australia. We moored in Thompsons bay on a bouy, rowed to shore and put dad on the ferry back to the mainland, with instructions to return in a week and sail us back.
 We had a fantastic time. I was always running around naked because that was just what one did in those days, those of us from the more liberated and less conservative backgrounds (I'm Danish, need I say more?) and Russell thought it was all very daring. We washed in the ocean, swam, cooked on board, played games and of course every evening to the sunset Russell would play his French Horn to the other boats in the bay.
 Very early one morning, as we lay asleep in our bunks, I became aware of a bumping sound. I opened my eyes - it was still quite dark.
'Russell! Russell! What's that bumping?'
Russell was awake immediately 'I don't know, I'll go check'
We had tied the dinghy off the stern but suddenly it wasn't there , it was floating off in the distance! Luckily a another dinghy with a little motor was passing nearby and Russell managed to flag it down, get a lift and tow it back to the boat. We fastened the knots more securely this time.
 On the last morning Russell woke me up.
'Dorit! Wake up! Is this normal for the boat to be leaning?'
I noticed I was kind of tipping over in my bunk.
'Probably just the boat moving in the tide' I said and we went back to sleep.
A little while later we woke up nearly falling out of our bunks! We both flew out of bed and raced up on deck to the first rays of daylight. Horrors of horrors, the tide had gone out and because we were grounded and keeling over rapidly it meant our boat had failed to turn direction with the change of wind and was facing the completely opposite way to all the other boats!
 'Oh my god, we're going to sink and drown!' I cried. I mean really, you jump in the water and swim around all week but as soon as you're on a boat and it starts to look like it might sink you panic - what's with that?
Russell quickly got into action mode and had a rescue plan. He jumped in the dinghy, attached a rope between the boat and him and began to row as hard as he could to another bouy. Slipping the rope around the bouy he hauled and hauled and with a very slight incoming tide he was able to pull the boat off the reef slightly. We were saved! The boat wouldn't sink, we wouldn't die and my dad wouldn't kill me!
Later that day my dad came over on the ferry to sail us back. As he approached Rottonest he looked at all the boats moored in Thompsons Bay 'What the hell is the silly boat doing facing the wrong way' he thought. Then 'Oh dear! That's my boat! What have those kids done?' That's him in the picture above having a beer as we tell him the saga. That's a typical look my dad has when he just can't believe something that's happened.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Crazy Cyclists

The year I first started going out with Russell we were both Uni students. We decided that at the end of the year we would take the train across the Nullabor desert from Perth on the west coast to Sydney on the east coast. My mother was living in Melbourne at the time with a mad Egyptian so we would also go down there to visit her. We deliberated over the best was to travel between Sydney and Melbourne and decided we would train down to Canberra then, taking our bikes on the train, we would bike from Canberra to Melbourne.
We bought a lightweight tent, organised saddle bags for our clothing and supplies, rigged up water bottles with long pieces of flexible plastic tubing we could suck on at any time ( now such a thing has been marketed and is called a Camelbak). On our first day we studied our map and determined our route out of Canberra. We would take a small road through the country to avoid the main highway and big trucks. We could see there were plenty of small towns along the way to pick up supplies. We rode as far as we could before dusk and then searching for somewhere to pitch our tent came to a small country church. There was not a soul around so we figured it was probably safe to camp in the church yard as it was midweek. We pitched our tent by torchlight, cooked some dinner over a fire and went to sleep.
In the morning the churchyard was shrouded in mist. We washed from the tap in the yard - it was freezing cold - and decided to see what was on the other side of the hedge we'd pitched the tent next to. You can imagine our horror when we not only found a graveyard but TWO freshly dug graves next to each other! You've never seen two people pack up camp so fast.
Riding on up a mountain in the mist we soon noticed that we hadn't come across any of the towns marked on the map. We were getting quite hungry and had come to a vast expanse of pine forest. Luckily we spotted a ranger and showing him the map asked what had happened to all the towns.
'Oh no!' he exclaimed, 'They're not towns marked on the map, they're old homesteads  mostly abandoned now'
 We looked at him aghast. Shit! We would starve to death and it was only our second day out! Luckily he took pity on us and gave us a tin of tuna and some crackers.
That night we camped near one of the abandoned homesteads.

The following day we worked out the shortest route to the next real town and began cycling. It was not very long before we realised that we probably should have purchased a topographical map. The short route was turning out to be a long route of very steep mountains we had to walk up.
We finally made it to Bega - yes where the cheese comes from - though I got a flat tyre and ended up having to get a lift in the back of a ute. We were really stuffed by the time we reached Bega and said, stuff it, we'll stay in a hotel tonight.

There was one old historic two storey hotel so we parked our bikes outside and went in to the lobby. The place appeared to be deserted. Eventually an old spinster came out.
'What do you want?' she asked.
'Ummm, a room?'
'I'll have to check!'
She shuffled off and came back with two of her equally elderly sisters.
'You can have room 13 up the stairs, bathrooms down the hall, don't be late for breakfast' one of them said.
We went up to our room. It turned out we were the only ones staying there. There was a long hallway of creaky floorboards and only the area outside our room was lit. To go to the bathroom we had to take a torch.
'Let's escape the three creepy sisters and go out for dinner and maybe there's a movie on at the old cinema down the road,' Russell said.
Guess what the one and only movie showing in town was? 'Freddies Dead' in 3D - no joke!

We didn't sleep well that night and that's probably why first daughter was conceived in Bega! We celebrated our escape from horror town the next night with champagne, feeling lucky to be alive.
By the way we eventually made it to Melbourne but had to train the last section because I just kept feeling too exhausted and strange - pregnancy does that!

Friday 26 August 2011

Tunisian Trouble

Back in '84 I travelled with my mother to Tunisia. We flew in from Germany to Sousse on the east coast. Mother managed to locate a hotel for $2/day. We weren't sure if it was the hotel we had booked and this required a French painter, a school teacher and eventually another gentleman, Toufik, to help with the translations.He was a Tunisian who had emigrated to Sicicly but had returned to help the widow of  the recently deceased hotel owner, who had died falling into the feature well he had been constructing in the hotel. Toufik took an instant fancy to mother and offered to drive us around all of Tunisia.

We drove south to Sfax and then into the Sahara to Gabes where we found Toufiks police friend we were to visit had thrown himself of a balcony. This required plan B which was to stay with Jewish friends of Toufiks. He was a marble millionaire and everything in the house was made of marble, even the toilet! We had couscous for dinner and mother proceded with her usual tact to tell the joke about a Jew and two Arabs on a cruise ship (Toufik was an arab).  This jewish guy, Mosha, has saved up for a meditteranean cruise and goes and sits in a deck chair and suddenly the sun is blocked by two Arabs who proceed to sit down on either side of him. One Arab says to Mosha
'Hey Jew boy, get me an orange juice and leave your left shoe here'
So he thinks, well you know we all have a right to be here and it's a wonderful cruise so he goes along with it and goes and gets the orange juice. When he comes back with the orange juice he puts his foot in the shoe and it is wet. Then after a while the other Arab nudges him and says
'Jew boy, get me an orange juice!' and Mosha says
'I suppose you want me to leave my right shoe here?'
'That's right' replies the second Arab.
Mosha goes and brings back an orange juice and putting his shoe back on finds that it too is wet. He sits down and after a little while when the Arabs have finished their orange juice he says
'Tut, tut, tut, isn't it terrible! Here we all are on this wonderful Meditteranean cruise and what happens? Arabs piss in Jews shoes and Jews piss in Arabs orange juice!'
There was dead silence at the dinner table.

From there we sailed over to Gerba and went to a club med in the evening. It looked ike a mental assylum with everyone running around in  white versions of the local usually black kaftans.
We drove further south into the desert to Douz and the further south we got Toufik insisted we cover ourselves up completely so we wouldn't get 'stolen' for camels he said. Apparently we were worth a lot of camels. In Tozeur we went to the zoo and cuddled a lion.

We stayed with a school teacher friend and slept in a traditional bed set into an alcoved wall that belonged to the mother (I think she ended up on the floor!)
Toufik then decided that I was lonely and he picked up a relative, a handsome young pharmacist who continued the journey with us.

In Kairouan we discovered a ruined coloseum from the Carthagians.Whenever we saw yellow  headlights as we got further north towards Tabarka near the Libyan border Toufik would yell out
'Ah! Bloody Libyans' The Tusians had white headlights.

We finally made it up to Tunis (the capital) where we had to go for a 'promenade' every evening. On the final night mother and I found we were expect to return the favour of being taken around Tunisia, if you know what I mean. It was a completely ridiculous extract from Pink Panther, involving people (us) running between rooms,  erroneous phone calls, and an over eager virgin (not me - my escort!)

Thursday 25 August 2011

Standard Police Procedure!

As mother is visiting with us at the moment and recounting some of her wild stories I feel inclined to share some of them with you. As I mentioned in a previous post mother lives for most of the year up in Aceh. She is an internationally exhibited artist representing Indonesia, painting under the 'nom de brush' Nurlisa. (Click on the link to see her paintings) Her promotion of Indonesia has earned her a documentary by National Indonesian television about her life up there.
Anyways, whenever mother returns in to Aceh it is standard procedure to report to the police station governing her district. On one particular occasion, back in the early days she reported in to the police station at Taratung, where by the way they happen to have the worlds best pineapples. They also happen to have a hospital where all the hospital waste flows directly into the river so if you ever go there remember not to swim in the river! That's her above.
As this particular town is some distance from her abode she was staying the night and decided to walk to a bar which surprisingly played karaoke. It was mainly full of police and army guys (this was during the occupation of Aceh by the Indonesian army).
She got talking to a very nice detective and they decided to retire outside  for a quick one standing up but unfortunately, mother lamented, he was too short - the logistics were imposssible. Back inside she was summoned over to the table where the Provost sat. This is a term left over from the Dutch occupation meaning the person in charge of all the police and who keeps order in the police station. He looked like a Russian KGB agent - big, scarred and generally scary. When he proceeded to go up and sing karaoke songs to her, mother decided it was time to leave. Some of the nice police guys organised a soldier to escort her back to her hotel. As they reached the hotel he asked
"Could I possibly come up to your room?"
"No" mother replied "You cannot possibly come up to my room!"
Later in her upstairs room she heard someone calling her name and banging on doors. Eventually the mysterious name-caller reached her door and she thought 'well the only way I'm going to find out who it is is to open the door' - it was the Provost! She went out to talk to him and he slipped into her room. How was she going to get him out of her room?  She ran down stairs to call the police but then realised he was head of the police! As she was running back up the staircase he was  down the other staircase at the end of the hall looking for her. She dashed into her room and locked the door. When he finally came back to her door he started crying and saying he loved her (men - after two micro seconds!) and he couldn't go home to his wife until six in the morning. When she didn't reply he started yelling all these words at her that she didn't recognise, so as he's yelling at her she's sitting on the bed looking them up in her dictionary and thinking 'What? He just called me THAT! well I'm definitely not letting him in now!' Eventually he went away and funnily enough she never did have to report in to that police station again.

Tuesday 23 August 2011


If we are completely honest with ourselves we would admit that we are all of us addicted to something to a a greater or lesser extent. When I was I was a child I was (and still am) addicted to marzipan. The mere mention of marzipan makes me salivate, tingly sensations run through me and every good feeling associated with eating marzipan is resurrected. Usually marzipan was a treat reserved for Christmas Eve - the Danish Jule Aften - along with the occasional Princess cake(a Swedish cake covered in green coloured marzipan) served with afternoon coffee at the Kristensens house, Swedish friends of the family.

On trips to visit the grandparents in Copenhagen and Berlin I would often be given my own special stash of marzipan. On one such journey I stuffed a one kilo block of the heavenly manna into my satchel to take back to Australia. My mother and I were travelling home via Malaysia and we had some days in Kuala Lumpur. We stayed at the iconic old Railway Station hotel with its old fashioned key locks and languidly rotating ceiling fans. We were brought coffee served in a teapot when we arrived and mother being a coffee addict took her first mouthful.
"Mum, don't smile" I said - her teeth were black!
Later mother went down to the bar and I lay on the bed listening to my new walkman (I was 14) and promptly fell asleep, only I had locked the door and couldn't hear mother banging when she later returned. She had to get reception to summon up a handyman to break in.
Waking on the second morning I spied a hole the size of  a golf ball chewed into the back of my satchel. What the hell! I opened the satchel and something had eaten some of MY marzipan.
"Mum! Mum quick! something horribly awfully terrible has happened. MUM!" I called out.
Mother came sauntering in.
"Somethings eaten my marzipan!"
Hmmm. Later that night as we lay in our beds writing in our journals a sudden movement caught my peripheral vision. A bloody rat the size of a house cat crept along the far wall toward my satchel! The hour of the Rat had arrived.
"Mum look, it's the bloody marzipan stealing rat. Quick, get rid of it!"
Mother tossed a well aimed shoe at the treacherous rat, but rat was quicker. Mother leapt off the bed and pursued rat but alas rat escaped into a rat hole in the bathroom.
Mother offered to get the hotel people to set a trap or put down poison but she so vividly described the agony and rat squealings that would accompany either of these alternatives that we decided that rat could have its hour. The satchel was strung up from the ceiling fan to prevent further marzipan stealing in the night.
Now what made me think of this was the A5M(Antiageing Medicine) conference I attended with Russell on the weekend. One of the lecturers was recounting a scientific experiment that had been conducted in which the researchers had gotten rats addicted to cocaine. They then tried every type of drug, remedy and conceivable alternative to get the rats off the cocaine but to no avail, except when they gave them high fructose corn syrup - then the rats actually preferred this to the cocaine! Do you realise how many foods and drinks high fructose corn syrup is in? It's the new cocaine - how's your addiction going?

Friday 19 August 2011

Name Your Poison!

Today I attended a pre-conference workshop on alternative cancer therapies. I rendezvoused last night with Russell in Melbourne. He flew in from Western Australia and I flew the coup down from Cairns, leaving the kids and mother to their own devices. After Russell's favourite Beef massaman we ended up at The Emerald Peacock, a hip little bar with a bartender who fancied he was Tom Cruise in 'Cocktail'. He shook up a lethal combination for us. As we walked(?) back to our hotel the light display on a high rise building became unusually mesmerising.(see photo below)

The fact that our hotel had a dedicated martini bar (Bond fans unite!) AND it served chocolate and turkish delight martinis seemed suddenly both inspired and prophetic!
Waking the next morning Russell suddenly seemed to be suffering from CRAFT syndrome - can't remember a f****** thing. I can't imagine why! Anyways, moving right along speaking of other types of poison, the days workshop passed in a slight haze, but what did stand out was the limited efficacy of chemotherapy on all but a few cancers (testicular, Hodgkins disease, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and to a much, much lesser degree - 8% - ovarian cancer). The speaker, Dr. Mark A. Rosenberg, (see Dr Rosenbergs review of his cancer protocol) interesting point was made repeatedly about the farcical suppression of these facts by major governing authorities like the FDA.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Midsummer Madness In The Arctic Circle

Remember the two mad Tango dancing Finns from our medieval wedding? Well I met them at the end of my Himalayan trek. We were stranded in Jomson together, bad weather kept us waiting for a prop engine plane to airlift us out of the range for three days. It was freezing up near the Tibetan plane but fortunately the one and only guesthouse had wooden tables suspended over sitting pits in which were placed bowls of hot coals to keep the feet warm. I met Ritva and Jouko over a game of cards and a few drinks and they invited my pothead friends and I to visit them in Helsinki should we ever venture that far north. In reality the likelihood of anyone  travelling to Finland is actually quite low, so you can imagine their surprise when I rang them from my grandmothers (mormor) in Copenhagen some months later and asked if it would be ok to come visit them on the next available ferry.
'Sure!' Ritva said as she was thinking 'Do I even remember this girl?'
'You can come with us to the Midsummers Film Festival in Sodankyla, up in the Artic circle'
As I stepped off the ferry which had carried me through the Swedish archipelago to Helsinki, wearing an orange parker (dammit they didn't have any red ones!) and nothing but a full body catsuit and red lipstick, Ritva and Jouko were there to greet me waving enthusiastically.
Jouko was a presenter for the Finnish satirical version of 60minutes and his trademark was sunglasses that he always wore whenever he presented a segment. Ritva was the band manager for the legendary  Leningrad Cowboys so I got to meet lots of interesting people. Ritva was also very aware of the interior architecture movement in Helsinki which was great because I was enrolling in Interior Architecture the following year at uni (a degree that would take me 10 years to finish because all these unexpected bloody children kept arriving on the scene!)

Later in the week we set off Sodankyla up in the arctic circle. Snow still dotted the ground even though it was midsummer. The Midsummer Film Festival is an annual five-day film festival in Sodankylä, Finland. The festival usually takes place in the second week of June. One of the main themes of the festival is to show films without a break all day and night long, while the sun keeps on shining.
The Midnight Sun Film Festival is non-competitive. The program consists mostly from the films of the main guests, 20–30 modern movies from all parts of the world, contemporary Finnish films and cinema classics, some of which are usually presented as "master classes" by various film theory experts. Typically the festival introduces 4–5 directors from the younger generation who are also guests at the festival.That year the well known Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki that my friend knew was there showing that years film, The Match Factory Girl.
We arrived at the tiny airport and drove to the town, passing reindeer along the way (Santa lives here), eventually our destination of the local pub. The Finns are terrific drinkers, in fact its a national pastime that almost rivals the ferocity of the Vodka drinking Russians! Ritva and I were sequestered to a table whilst Jouko went in search of floorspace to sleep on. Three large, hairy locals came and plonked themselves down at our table and upon learning that I was from Australia and no, my multi-lingualism didn't unfortunately stretch to Finnish, proceeded to say the only thing they knew in english - 'Kanga-roo' accommpanied by little hopping actions and rolling around on the floor in fits of hysteria. Jouko finally came and rescued us and took us to the school hall (see photo above) where we could claim a piece of floor, and 'basin-wash' in the girls toilets.
The film festival was amazing and the most amazing thing was it never got dark so at three in the morning people would be wondering in and out of films and it would still be broad daylight. It was quite disorientating and by the end of the third day we didn't really know which part of the day or night we were in - it was like being down the rabbit hole.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Cuban Cigars?

Cuba had long held a mystique and fascination for me as a somewhat 'forbidden' place. The hype that still lingered about the Bay of Pigs invasion, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara intrigued me. I pushed for our little family (of six) to visit there in February of this year. For those of you that don't know The Bay of Pigs invasion had been an unsuccessful action by a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba, with support and encouragement from the US government, in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The invasion was launched in April 1961, less than three months after JFK assumed the presidency in the United States. The Cuban armed forces, trained and equipped by their communist allies, defeated the invading combatants within three days. It was an embarrassment to the U.S. that they've never forgotten or forgiven.
The main invasion landing took place at a beach named Playa Girón, located at the mouth of the bay. The invasion is named after the Bay of Pigs, although that is only a modern translation of the Spanish Bahía de Cochinos. In Latin America, the conflict is often known as La Batalla de Girón, or just Playa Girón.
We stayed with a lovely family in their home and went out each day exploring Havana. Havana is kind of like being in Tarsems Film The Fall - kaleidoscopic. The effect was enhanced by a case of too many Mojitos are never enough - we held up the famous bars which had been frequented by Ernest Hemmingway (who wrote Old Man and the Sea in Havana) and enjoyed the colourful sights of the city.

Now as you probably know, Cuba is famous for its cigars. Explorer Christopher Columbus is generally credited with the introduction of tobacco to Europe. Two of Columbus's crewmen during his 1492 journey,  are said to have encountered tobacco for the first time on the island of Hispaniola, when natives presented them with dry leaves that spread a peculiar fragrance. They  encountered it again in Cuba where Columbus and his men had settled. His sailors reported that the Tainos (locals) on the island of Cuba smoked a primitive form of cigar, with twisted, dried tobacco leaves rolled in other leaves such as palm or plantain.
After that it found it's way into western history. King Edward VII enjoyed smoking cigars, much to the chagrin of his mother,Queen Victoria.  After her death, legend has it, King Edward said to his male guests at the end of a dinner party, "Gentlemen, you may smoke."

U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant smoked cigars heavily, up to 12 a day. Freud smoked 20 cigars a day, and because of his frequent references to phallic symbolism, colleagues challenged on the "phallic" shape of the cigar. Freud is supposed to have replied "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Initially concealing a cancerous growth in his mouth in 1923, Freud was eventually diagnosed with the same cancer as Grant's. Despite over 30 surgeries, and complications ranging from intense pain to insects infesting dead skin cells around the cancer, Freud smoked cigars until his life ended. Freud died at age 83 in a morphine-induced coma to relieve the pain from his cancer. Winston Churchill who has been credited with the practice of dunking a cigar in port or brandy, was rarely seen without a cigar during his time as Britain's wartime leader,
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were often seen smoking a cigar during the early days of the Cuban revolution.
So with all this history we naturally wanted to visit the famous cigar factory and buy some cigars. As we made our way through the town square an attractive young woman and her male companion approached us chatting about our visit. They led us up to a run down restaurant (well most places in Havana are run down so nothing new there) and said this was a famous wall to sign our signatures on for good luck. Russell and I looked at each other and thought 'Let's get out of here'. We said we had to go now to the cigar factory and bundled the kids back outside. 
"oh you want to buy cigars? We have cigars - we can sell them to you for much cheaper than the cigar factory. There you pay $500 for a box with us it is much, much cheaper" - it was the second 'much' that hooked us and the next thing we new we were hustled into a seedy looking apartment building and into a shoebox room with a claustrophobically low ceiling. There was a stained sofa and some armchairs we were 'persuaded' to sit in. Then in walked 3 three big Cubans, and I mean big and you could hear us collectively swallowing. They showed us several boxes of cigars which we dutifully appeared to examine carefully. They encouraged us to try them so young son and second daughter lost  no time lighting up (see photos below). Russell leaned over and whispered to me 'This doesn't look good, lets just buy the frickin' cigars and get the hell out of here' We were both thinking OMG, what have we got our kids into? We were thinking movie style shootings for the sake of a few American dollars.

Russell handed them the money and we hurried the kids down the road to the cigar factory feeling relieved to have escaped in one piece. The cigar factory was fascinating. A gorgeous old building (see photo below) staffed by many rollers sitting at wooden benches. They apprentice in the art of cigar rolling for years before they attain the status of experienced rollers. They are paid some of the best wages in Cuba ($25/week) and it's a highly sort after but back breaking job. An experienced cigar-roller can hand roll hundreds of very good, nearly identical, cigars per day. The rollers keep the tobacco moist — especially the wrapper — and use specially designed crescent-shaped knives, called chavetas, to form the filler and wrapper leaves quickly and accurately. Each roller is allowed to take three cigars home at the end of each day - their worst rolls - and its these that they sell on the black market to people like us.

Tuesday 16 August 2011


Last week when I took third twin daughter (twin with young son) to singing lessons I came across one of those toilet philosophy sheets. Normally I'm more of a Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan sort of girl and I have a sunny, accommodating disposition, but on this day I was feeling bizarrely pessimistic, woeful and generally sorry for myself. I had been re-reading through Dawkins 'The God Delusion' helping second daughter with a philosophy paper on whether knowledge is really attainable despite bias and selection, so my mind was in an intense place. This little bit of paper with it's words admonishing us to be grateful for what we actually do have in our lives pierced through the intellectual intensity and dispelled my fog. You may have read it before but I thought I might share it with you just in case you haven't(I'll leave Dawkins for another day):

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness,
You are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week.
If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment,
the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation,
You are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
If you can attend a Church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death,
You are more blessed than 3 billion people in the world.
If you have food in the fridge, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep,
You are richer than 75% of the world.
If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change in a dish somewhere,
You are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy.
If your parents are still alive and married,
You are rare, even in Australia.
If you can read this,
You are more blessed than over 2 billion people in the world who cannot read at all.

What goes around comes around...
Work like you don't need the money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
Dance like no one's watching,
Sing like no one's listening,
Live like it's heaven on Earth!

Monday 15 August 2011

Four Weddings No Funeral

How many people do you know who have been married four times - to the same person? Only eccentrics! In 1992 Russell and I caught the train across the Nullabor to Sydney and then down to Canberra. From Canberra we cycled over misty mountains and along beautiful coastlines to Melbourne where we decided to get married. We planned an eccentric medieval wedding but unbeknowns to us we'd managed to get pregnant with first daughter. How does a medical student not do family planning? That question followed us through all four children, each one an equal surprise 'OMG we're pregnant again - how did that happen?' Well if you have sex every single night of your life it's bound to really isn't it!
This unexpected occurrence meant that at five months we had to high tail it to the registry. That's us above.

Another year of uni later when first daughter was 5 months old, we had our second wedding. Everyone dressed up in medieval costume - the Grim Reaper interrupted our vows by thumping his sickle on the floor of the little old wooden church, and then commanded 'Now you may kiss the bride!' Friends flew in from Finland and so we gave them the honour of the first wedding dance - a tango!(see below) Being Danish it's traditional to serve tiny glasses of akvavit (kind of like schnapps but way better)  say 'Skol' and throw them back quickly with each course. At 60% proof we managed to have most of the guests under the table by the time the Kranzekage wedding cake came out.

 In '98 we became members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and duly had our third wedding - a sealing in the newly constructed temple in Perth not just for time but eternity.  This was an interesting social experiment in bias and prejudice versus acceptance. One of my dear friends said he would of been less shocked if I'd joined a witches coven! Not long after we moved to Queensland and were invited to attend a wedding in India - it was the brother of one of the doctors Russell worked with and a group of us went along for an intense fortnight of all things Indian weddingish- mainly a lot of scotch drinking, dancing, henna handpainting and more scotch drinking.

 I think this rather put ideas in Russell's head because then the proposals started coming thick and fast. It was 2004 on the Great Wall of China. The kids had run off along the wall and into the distance, no where to be seen and Russell says to me: 'I just need to get something out of my backpack' and he kneels down, pulls out a massive pearl necklace and asks me to marry him - again.
A Chinese couple had stopped near us to watch and when I finally, quite overwhelmed, said 'Yes' they started cheering, clapping and saying 'Vely good, vely good!'
 Several years later we were in Las Vegas together at a mesotherapy conference and he slips me a piece of paper across the table.
It reads 'You look nice today'
I write back 'Thanks'
Then he passes it again 'What are you doing later?'
I frown at him thinking what a weird question. He passes the paper again:
'Wanna get married?' He'd organised everything.
A limo picked us up with champagne and carried us off to the Chapel of Love where we were duly married - again, for the fourth time. The minister was gay, an absolute scream and then afterwards tried to get us on board with his multi-level marketing of Noni juice. Nothing like marrying people and signing them up as well!

 In 2008 we had the most incredible journey down the Nile and to the pyramids. As we're about to get on our camels to ride toward the pyramids Russell drops down on one knee and proposes - again.
 This year we travelled to New York, Bahamas, Cuba and then Orlando. We went to the Kennedy Space Centre and guess what - he proposed -again! Enough with the proposals already - when is the next wedding?

Saturday 13 August 2011

Painting the Berlin Wall!

 As a young punk rocker who didn't give a shit about what anyone else thought (yes that is me with the black dyed hair and Doc Martins) I hit the Berlin Art Scene with a vengance. My Omi lived in Berlin and my aunt, Tante Gisela, lived on the other side of The Wall in what was then East Germany (DDR). West Berlin was an modern art lovers paradise with lots of raw paintings being exhibited in seemingly every nook and crany. The eyeball painting above is from a college exhibition of artworks commenting on supression and torture by the Stasi (East German secret police) across The Wall. Note the deliberate installation of a bare light bulb.
Besides the progressive art scene, Berlin was also the go-to point for any alternative music live bands. We saw Killing Joke live as well as many German bands that were outrageously avant garde and good.
I visited the famous Checkpoint Charlie where diplomats could drive through to East side and the small museum dedicated to the hundreds of people who had tried to escape across The Wall since it's completion. My dad and Omi had themselves fled to West Berlin in  1958 when it became obvious that Berlin would be sectioned off. They had tried to persuade my aunt to go with them but she had a respected job, home and husband in the eastern sector and didn't want to leave all that behind. I think at times she may have regretted it, especially when supplies ran short of essentials, like toilet paper which we were always schlepping across with us whenever we went to visit.
I went to visit my aunt for a week, schlepping the mandatory rolls of loo paper, oranges which they hadn't had in centuries, and various other goods like non-East German money use to make purchases on the black market. Entering was no problem, they were happy to have anyone as long as you don't belong to a long list that includes fascists, radicals, terrorists, authors or other such dangerous people. However, when I came to leave - well I had black hair didn't I and my passport said I was blonde! After holding up the line with intense scrutiny and questioning at the booth, two stern and matronly looking Brunhildes in standard issues East German army green uniform came and escorted me away. Into an interrogation room I went - it was actually marked with those words - and I was strip search and questioned for an hour. When I finally gave in and began to cry, wondering whether I should just admit to really being an East German citizen trying to escape, one of the Brunhildes grabbed my hair, examined the roots and exclaimed -
'It's dyed! Ok you are who you say you are but next time come into the DDR with your real hair - DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME? You have caused us a lot of trouble!'
I was then allowed to take my fake hair across the border and back into West Berlin where more mischief awaited me.
One day shortly after this incident, my partner in crime and I decided that we would go and graffiti the Berlin Wall - that's what I'm doing in the photos above. Police would regularly patrol the wall, technically it was illegal, but if they didn't see you .... We cased out the particular section of wall we had in mind for several days to learn the routine patrol times and we timed our defacing accordingly. Armed with tins of paint and brushes we set about creating our controversial statements of art. We were no sooner finished than a patrol car came prowling around the corner - we'd taken longer than we realised. We ditched the evidence and ran for the nearest lane, sirens following us, and fell into the first available cafe.
The bartender, whose name was probably Kurt the kruncher and  built like a brick shithouse as my dad would say, took one look us and said (in German): "Looks like you two have been up to no good! Better have a coffee then!" and gave us two cups of strong black coffee with a smirk.
I explained to him in my best German that we had been 'decorating' the wall and he replied in English (don't you hate that) "Ve are not having too many tourists doing zis naughty business, normally just ze jung idioten from around here," and gestured to several other occupants of the cafe.

Tiger Upriver!

Three years ago we decided we would traipse off with our little family of six to visit my mother. Mother lives in Aceh, North Sumatra in Air Dingin, a small village on the coast. Air Dingin means cold water, and is given this name because of the beautiful waterfall which cascades toward the beach. My mother's built a semi-traditional style wooden house set against the jungle and lives with a local girl, Faridah.
 Young son and Russell were invited (being males) to witness the slaughter of a Buffalo for the ceremony celebrating Abraham's sacrifice of his son. The photo above was taken by Russell with young son looking on and just slightly pale. It took a while for the offering to expire, with much writhing on the ground and moaning. After a few weeks of living just such a relaxed village lifestyle, my mother decided she would take us 'upriver' to 'friends'.
With second daughter vomiting most of the jeep ride to the start of the river junction where the longboats left from, we were exhausted before the journey had even begun. Up river are a number of small villages dotted along the way and the one we were visiting was the very last one - a fact for which we were later very grateful. We waited several hours for our particular boats to come and young son got to hold a real machine gun or two. Police and soldiers still patrol Aceh even after the tsunami supposedly dispelled insurrection and martial law. The eight of us were finally divided between two boats. We jammed our knees up against the sides of the low wooden boat and hung on to the seats, our few possessions and our food supplies. The journey again took several hours before we reached our destination.
People greeted us as we pulled in to the river bank and a gaggle of children took us into the village and the chiefs house. The village consisted of about a dozen wooden huts scattered around a central open social area. One family had graciously vacated their hut for us to sleep in for the  nights we were there and that night we lay squashed against each other like sardines wrapped in our sarongs. After a night spent retiring early due to there being no electricity in this remote village we felt revived from the days long journey.
The next morning we were shown which section of the river we could go to to bath and which section we should go to to pooh. Poohing in the bushes was definitely not on - it was frowned upon - and that's why we were VERY grateful we were the last village upriver! Did I mention the river was also the water supply for drinking?
My husband, Russell, is a doctor and that news brought everybody who was in any way ill to our door the next morning. With limited supplies he quickly dispatched all the outpatients - they couldn't fit in the hut, so out they definitely were - and we were free to bath and explore in peace.
That night as we were retiring Russell asked me to go for a walk with him.
'What an odd time - you know it's dark outside, don't you honey?' I asked.
'Yes,yes but I just really need you to come for a walk with me', he replied.
Ok then - grabbing a torch we headed out the door and into the jungle.
"Where are we going?' I asked.
'Down to the river'  he said.
'Oh, I see, you have to pooh - can't it wait till the morning?'
'No definitely not!!'
We wound our way down to the river and I held the torch and his trousers while he immersed. As we were climbing back up the bank and into the jungle I heard a low grumbling sound.
"Did you hear that?' I asked.
"That grumbly-growly sort of sound. Can you even find the way back? I can't see the path" I whispered.
"No, I didn't hear anything!" he whispered back, "But lets hurry" and he raced off ahead of me with the torch and I was hot on his heels to avoid being left in the pitch dark.
The next morning when we  recounted the nocturnal expedition to Faridah in my halting Indonesian with the villagers,  there was a flurry of excitement and wide eyes. Apparently it was the tiger whose territory encompassed the village that I'd heard giving the low growl!
What do the villagers do if they see the tiger?we asked. Oh, they just run into their huts and lock the doors until it passes, came the nonchalant reply-  but, we were admonished, they NEVER go down to the river at night!