Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ghost Town

Last night Joel and I went to see the movie "Ghost Town." I haven't laughed so hard in the theatre since "Little Miss Sunshine." It was absolutely hilarious. It's sort of a take on the old Scrooge plot, but I actually had chills during the patented heartwarming redemption bit, which lasted just long enough to make a point and then back to The Funny. Ricky Gervais' dry British delivery was perfect. Totally worth the $11.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Recurring Nightmare

For the past few weeks now, I've been having this recurring nightmare that I need to write a 46-page English paper. I've had this nightmare at least six times. The assignment is always the same: 46 pages, for an English class. I'm usually sitting in a high school math class when I realize that English is next period.

The dream varies slightly at this point. Either I've a.) completely forgotten that I had an English class at all that particular semester and since I've never gone to class I'm going to fail the course UNLESS I kick ass on this 46-page paper. b.) The 46-page English paper is due the next day and I have no idea what I'm going to write about, period. c.) The 46-page English paper is due at the end of the day and I have to churn out all 46 pages in the library in one 45-minute study hall or d.) The 46-page English paper was due yesterday, and if I get it in really soon, I'll be docked points, but if it's PERFECT I'll still pass.

Oh, man. I hate this dream. It feels so real. A lot of time I wake up with a huge rush of relief that I don't actually have to do this. A lot of times in the dream, I am the adult me who is just annoyed that I have to go back to high school at all because I have so much else to do. On the other hand, I wish I could stop having this dream altogether. This morning, in my half-sleepy state but after I had the adrenaline rush of relief that it was only a dream, I actually had the thought that I should just write a, say it with me, 46-page English paper so I could stop having this dream. Sheesh.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Grumpy Grumperson Updates Her Blog with a PSA

Hi. I got rear-ended last week while sitting innocently at an intersection with my hands "at 10 and 2." Regular readers are either 1.) shaking their heads in disbelief that something like this has happened AGAIN 2.) laughing joylessly to themselves because OMG or 3.) laying their heads on their desks because CHRIST, reading about my constant my bad luck is exhausting. I'm tired of it, too. Wanna trade? no? Let's all just put our heads down and take a little nap right now, okay? ZZzzzzzzz....

Anyway, I'm not hurt. The lady whose "car slipped" (her words to explain what happened; note: it wasn't raining) is not hurt. I am beyond the point of getting angry or upset when this happens. It's really just another day, another Geico claim number at this point. My default mode after I suddenly and involuntarily jerk forward into oncoming traffic is no longer panic, nor fear. I merely reach out for the notebook and pen in my glove compartment, and listlessly- oh so listlessly- get out of the car to meet the person who has inspired the most recent Crisis Du Jour.

I yawn in the face of your destruction to my personal property. Do you hear that, world? I yawn. I YAWN at you with LISTLESSNESS and SULLENNESS.

So now I'm in a rental car. If you have not been rear-ended on four separate occasions in every car you've ever owned, please allow me to share what I have learned. If you *are* rear-ended, it is always the other driver's fault when you are hit from behind. This means your insurance does not go up. You do not have to pay a deductible, and in theory, the other insurance driver's policy pays for you to drive a rental car while your car is in the shop.

Here's the tricky part that makes this "in theory." The other driver's insurance usually pays for a compact car and covers about $30 a day. However, no matter which rental car company you contact after you've been rear-ended, every single compact car in the tri-state area will magically be Not Near You. They will all be, say, at the Grand Canyon. Unless you got rear-ended at the Grand Canyon, in which case they will all be in Guam. (Why Guam? Yeah, I don't know why I picked Guam either. Guam is fun to type. Guam. Guam. Guam. )

Right. So... $30 a day. You should know that the rental car people will always, always tell you that they simply can not rent to you for anything less than a daily rate that is at least $5 to $10 higher than when the driver-at-fault's insurance will pay for. Even though you've rented cars off Travelocity for much less and seen advertisements for rental cars at much lower daily rates, when you are rear-ended, the cost of every rental car is ALWAY $5 to $10 more than what the other guy's insurance pays for (about $30.) So you have to pay the out-of-pocket cost for the difference.

Now, the insurance company will allow you to use the rental car for up to 30 days. Then they stop paying. I guarantee you that your car will not be ready any sooner than 29 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes from the time you pick up your rental car. It's just true. Which means you, the injured party, has to cough up about $300 if you accept the bullshit that the rental car representative is feeding you with an itty, bitty silver spoon.

However, there is a KEY PHRASE that you can say in order to get the rental car company rep to allow you to leave with a rental car at the exact rate that the driver-at-fault's insurance policy will cover. Are you listening? Because this is good stuff. Here's how it will go:

Car Rental Rep: Unfortunately, all of our compact vehicles have been rented.
You: You don't have any compact or subcompact vehicles that rent for $30/day or less whatsoever?
Car Rental Rep: No, ma'am.
You: There aren't any compact or subcompact vehicles at one of your nearby locations or being returned later today?
Car Rental Rep: No. They are all in Guam. But we *can* put you in an SUV right away for the low rate of $40 a day.
You: Except that the person who hit me's policy only pays $30/day.
Car Rental Rep: It's actually $26.75.
You: Really? Because when I made my appointment to meet with the adjuster next door, Geico put in a vehicle request for a compact and said they covered $30 a day.
Car Rental Rep (conveniently skipping over the $30 vs $26.75 discrepancy) Yes, but you need to make the request 24 hours in advance.
You: Well, it's a good thing we made the request yesterday. The Geico representative said that if you can't produce a compact or subcompact vehicle in that amount of time, it becomes the rental agency's obligation to provide an available vehicle at the compact rate.
CRR: There's no date or time listed with the reservation, so I don't know for sure when it was made.
You: It's a good thing I have the rental confirmation number with me so you can look that information up!
*NOTE: Make sure you have the rental confirmation number with you.*
CRR: I can't give you an SUV for $30/day.
You: See, here's the thing. I've picked up rental vehicles at airport locations with your rental car company many times. I've booked rental cars through Travelocity for as low as $20/day AND I know that if I were to come to you with a competitor's price quote, you'd have the authority to beat their price.

DING DING DING DING! This is the key phrase- if I were to come to you with a competitor's price quote at this same rate, you'd have the authority to beat it. This is your mantra.

CRR: Let's go see what we have available in the lot for you today.
You: Yes, let's.

You walk all around the car with the rep. This part is very important: You MUST, MUST, MUST point out every nick, ding and scratch that currently exists on the car. They say they don't care about any scratches shorter in length than a dollar bill and dents smaller than a smallish circle (a little bigger than the circle you make with your thumb and your index finger when you make the "OK" sign). Oh, pumpkins, THEY CARE. If something is wrong with your rental car (say, the registration is expired, YES that happened to me two car accidents ago) and you need to return it, they will make you feel bad and point out every little flaw as if the dings and nicks were LESIONS upon texture of your VERY SOUL.

Make no mistake about it, Screwed-Over-Driver-Who-Got-Rearended, the rental car rep, who WILL give you the rental car at the rate covered by the guilty driver's policy if you use that key phrase (if I were to come to you with a competitor's price quote at this same rate, you'd have the authority to beat it) but the rep is GOD here, people. And he's not the friendly bearded and be-robed God of Family Circus cartoons who lets Ghost Grandpa to leave his cloud and dance with Grandma type God. OH NO! He is a mean, Jonathan Edwards "The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you" type God.

Then, after you view the vehicle, and have the rep note all the rental car's flaws on the paperwork with your initials, you both return to the office. Then you pleasantly ask something like, "What price point did we finally come to?" If you used our key phrase, the answer will be, as it was for me today, "$26.75."

Since I'm just full of advice today, whenever possible, try to be rear-ended by someone who has the same car insurance company. When this happens, the company knows they are going to pay for it one way or another, and they tend to be more cooperative overall. Therefore, if you need to stop suddenly, you should roll down a window and shout "DO YOU HAVE GEICO?!?!" before the guy behind you slams into you. You know, if you can.

And then yesterday, I lost my work cell phone. Yeah, the one St. Anthony found at the school where I did my Phantom project. I know. Again. I hate being me, too. On the plus side, the last cell phone I lost? The one I left at the hotel where the out-of-towners crashed after my bridal shower-turned-deluge? THAT one turned up about a month later. You know where it was? In the lost and found box. The lost and found box that nobody bothered to check. Ho hum.

I hate being like this. And I hate cell phones. And people who rear-end me. Yeah.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fall Fever

There is just something about fall that makes me want to cook. It's too hot up here in the third floor walkup to cook much in the summer. The kitchen is one room where we don't have an AC unit, partly because of ventilation when we DO cook and partly because the kitchen window leads to the fire escape, which is important to keep unblocked so that we don't, you know, DIE should the cooking go horribly awry.

Friday night and Saturday felt like autumn to me, shooting high school football under the lights. It was a little colder than normal. It felt more like late October than September, so today I was all motivated to make chicken corn soup, chicken macaroni casserole and pumpkin pie. It was warmer today, in the mid-70s, but I cooked and made the apartment all hot anyway.

Joel's sick, mostly flu-like symptoms with a fever, and now I can't tell if I'm feverish or just hot. I'm not running a temperature yet, and look at that! The AC is making it much more comfortable up here. Go figure.

Aside from the cooking/baking kick, I'm having trouble getting motivated to do much else. I'm sort of justifying my decision to not run errands, clean or return one of our many charming chopping/mixing/hand-blending wedding gifts to Macy's by telling myself I need to stick close to home in case Joel needs me, and burning archive DVDs of our honeymoon photos is something I needed to do anyway. In other news, I finally saw the end of "Napoleon Dynamite." Hmmm... accomplishments.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Karma bites me in the... foot?

Okay, so if you scroll down an entry or two, you'll see my smug account of Joel getting a bug bite on the bottom of his foot. Har har har, I am so witty and full of it, all, "bugs don't bother *me* at all, la la la." And can you guess what was keeping me awake at 4:30 this morning? Yup. A bug bite. On the bottom of my foot. It was very, very itchy. With itchiness, in case you weren't sure.

I stumbled around, flinging open the medicine cabinet and rooting around looking for the AfterBite stick, without success. I found Calamine lotion, but it was all runny and decidedly ineffective. I tried spraying it with manicurist's finishing spray, which was so deliciously cold on my itchy, itchy foot, but that relief ended about five seconds after I stopped spraying it.

Finally, Joel told me to just dump rubbing alcohol on it. After I hopped back to bed reeking of nail salon and summer camp infirmary, he- who had to get up in teach in about 90 minutes- declared it "No More Talking time."

Oh, Karma. I deserved your itchy comeuppance.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Tenderness We've Not Yet Known

So I feel a little bit at a loss for what to write about next. It took me nearly as long to record our honeymoon adventures as it took to live them. It was winter in Australia, and now we that we're back in our regular routine, it almost feels like we were there six months ago or something.

Last week was not one of the all-around top ten best weeks of my life. All week long, I felt mired in euphemisms that pretty much all boil down to: "Well. That sucks."

First, Brandy was "put to sleep." What the words "corporate restructuring" really mean us that even though I'm pretty much on my dream career path now, print journalism may, in fact, be an endangered species. "Getting thrown under a bus" is a metaphor I got a little too close to, though the ensuing frantic backpeddling when thrower was called out was rather amusing, if you're into schaudenfreude. "Covering Second Base" = Joel breaks a rib. Remembering "a new day of infamy" with a "united human family" = 7th Annual International Media Exploiting Sad People Day.

So I spent today cleaning, taking out trash, doing laundry, finishing thank-you notes, balancing my checkbook, making waffles, trying to braid together all the loose ends of daily life into the makings of a new and better week. ( I'm on a Tuesday through Saturday schedule this month, so this is technically the end of my weekend.)

As I try to organize, shake out, snap and fold all those euphemisms away, I keep thinking about something the priest who officiated at my sister and Tom's wedding said in his homily. He was talking about how it didn't take a trip to Massachusetts to see that they were each other's world, that they would become a new world together, and how they would someday soon find themselves using the words "husband" and "wife" with "a tenderness they've not yet known."

"'This is my husband Tom,'" the priest said, by way of example. "Do you know my wife Amanda?"

Joel and I still aren't quite used to the words "husband" and "wife" yet, but I do know, as we move ahead into a new week, a new season, and yes, a new search for blog topics, that Father Bob's words resonate with me... We ARE treating each other with a tenderness we've not yet known. So this is marriage: helping each other deflect the world's bullshit, one euphemism at a time.

Happy Tuesday, everyone.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Honeymoon: The Final Installment (probably)

We left Cairns, flew to Sydney, went to the Opera House one more time where I thought a lot of Deep Thoughts about when I was there in 1994 and how the experience helped me become the person/photographer that I am today, thoughts I might share here or possibly in other places (oooh, cryptic!) very soon.

In short, I sat on the steps of the Opera House, waiting for Joel to finish shooting, feeling like I had experienced a homecoming of sorts, saying my goodbyes to the city that shaped me, it was swell. Then Joel took a really long time, the extreme cold from the steps seeped into my pants, which was not swell, I got grouchy, Joel tried to cheer me up with Wagamama, they were closed, I was even grumpier after that and insisted we take a cab back to the hotel, dammit. We flew home, it took a long time, no major drama, The End. Then I wrote a lot of thank you notes. You're all caught up!

Here's all 10 entries (minus me getting punched in the face by a camel) in a three-minute video form. Enjoy!

(Guess what? I'm a leetle bit drunk right now! Bye!)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Honeymoon, Part 9: Where We Try Various Water Sports (and possibly prove the theories of Sigmund Freud)

You know that old saying about girls who grow up to marry guys like their dads? I don't know if I've ever mentioned it much on the blog before, but Joel and my father are so much alike that it's... a little uncanny. From career paths to interests to fears to catch phrases and even somewhat in appearance (Joel in 2008 is like Harry incarnate circa 1982), they really are very similar. I suppose it's a good thing that my dad isn't an ex-con who beats women, in that case. Heh.

Case in point....

Picture it: Cape Cod, 1988. Whale-watching boat, Gaul Family vacation. We're all doing okay until the boat leaves the "No Wake" zone. The boat beings to rock and roll. My dad turns an unpleasant shade of green. My sister sees precisely one whale. The naturalist on board tells us that the funky smell we "may have noticed is not the person next to you, it's the fish digesting in the stomach of the whale." BAM! My sister is completely nauseated. My mom, who is thoroughly enjoying the bright sunshine and open water, slips her a Dramamine, and Amanda is out for the count.

My dad, still green, is eating crackers, one at a time. Any time my mom asks him if he's okay, he says, "Don't talk to me." Everyone is starting to get seasick all around us. Now, I generally don't get seasick. I am, however, a sympathetic barfer. If I see it, hear it, smell it, I'm a goner. We do see lots of whales, but the waves are pretty intense. Meanwhile, the heads are clogged. My dad runs out of Saltines and turns an even brighter shade of green. People are upchucking over the railing. People leaning over the upper deck aren't making it to the water, and unfortunately, we're sitting on the lower deck. Doom. DOOM!

If there's a blessing to having my detailed and lengthy memory, it's that I learn from the past. I know Joel isn't so much a fan of the ocean in general. Thinking of my dad, I throw a pack of crackers in the backpack (say that three times fast) for our boat trip to Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

Joel, in his pre-green state.

We're doing okay until we leave the no wake zone. Joel turns an unpleasant shade of green. I ask him if he's okay. His answer? "Please don't talk to me."


I hand Joel the crackers. He begins to eat them slowly, one at a time. Sound familiar? Yeah.

Now, one of the things that I find so fascinating about international travel is observing different cultural norms among people of various nationalities. I don't even necessarily mean the cultural norms of the country I'm visiting, but the other tourists I encounter. Let's put it this way, not every culture considers to be seasickness an, um, private thing? The boat begins to rock and roll. We were sitting on the enclosed portion inside the lower deck. As people begin to get very publicly ill, I know I have to get out of there. I drag Joel to the upper deck.

Me: Are you any better in the fresh air?
Joel: No.
Me: Are you okay?
Joel: I don't want to talk.
Me: Eat another cracker.

Doom. DOOM!

Joel was a lot better once he was on land, and I was a lot better once I was away from the vomiting masses. We got all set up and did a practice snorkeling session on the life-guarded section of the beach. It wasn't coral reef, so there were a few fish and a lot of kelp. To put it mildly, Joel wasn't keen on this activity. (He's much more of a desert kind of guy.) He felt kind of suffocated by the mask at first, because he couldn't stop breathing through his nose.

I told him, "I'm sorry, but we're 200 yards from one of the Seven Great Wonders of the Natural World. I will stop pushing this once you let the life preserver do the floating and try breathing through your mouth." AND HE DID IT! And it was awesome! And then we took a break and he said, "I thought it would be more life-changing."

Me: Uh, well... we're not exactly doing it yet.
Him: What do you mean?
Me: Well, the reef part where all the cool stuff is? That's out there, where there aren't any lifeguards.

Cricket, cricket. Cricket, cricket.

We had lunch, walked around the rain forest paths a little bit, and then we snorkled on the reef. Joel was awesome. He did great.

We snorkeled for about two hours until the wind picked up.

We walked on the beach, found some amazing tide pools and slept the whole ride back to Cairns. After our boat trip, we decided to wander down to the beach about five minutes from our hotel.

Now, the other thing about my Dad is that he is a mosquito magnet. If there's a biting insect within a three-mile radius, it will find and bite my father. My mom, on the other hand, could probably go on Fear Factor and climb into one of those creepy plexiglass rectangles full of insects and emerge without a single bug bite.

We were about 100 feet down the path to the beach when Joel got a bug bite on the bottom of his foot. I'm sure that was really annoying, but the mosquitos weren't bothering me at all. Oh, hi! We're the Harry and Judy Show! Hi, everyone! (My parents just celebrated their 35th anniversary, so it's not a bad thing. It's just that sometimes? The similarities boggle the mind.)

We decided to walk along the beach. It was pitch black, just a few lights in the distance and the Southern Cross above us. We took off our shoes and ambled along past the signs indicating where the "stinger nets" are. The beaches have long nets that are supposed to keep the deadly man-of-war and/or "not deadly, but so painful that you might beg for death" jellyfish out of the swimming area or from washing up on the beach.

Joel: Maybe we shouldn't walk on the sand in the dark.
Me: Why not?
Joel: So we don't step on deadly jellyfish?
Me: That.. is very good point, actually.
Joel: I think I see one that washed up.

Me: (screaming unintelligibly- was I the only one traumatized by that episode of Baywatch with the Man-of-War??) Where?!?!
Joel: It's next to the giant kangaroo with the glowing red eyes.
Me: Oh, shut up.

We cracked up and went to a restaurant for dinner. I had spaghetti bolognese. Jeez, this part is boring. We spent the next day relaxing at the resort and doing the things honeymooners do... this part isn't boring, actually, but moving right along... la la la... We did go back down to the beach for drinks that night, and we had one of the best times of our entire trip. We ended up at beach bar populated almost solely by locals. There was drinking and singing and juggling fire. At some point there was a didgeridoo. We had an absolute blast.

The fire juggling thing was just a couple people who do fire poi as a hobby. It's a basic baton with two rags dipped in kerosene on either end. The principles are essentially the same as baton-twirling. I took a crack at it. It was pretty fun, actually. This is one of the few times on the trip that Joel and I left the cameras behind, so there's no evidence proving I did this.

Me: (handing the baton back to its owner so he could dip it in more kerosene.) "Did you know I used to take baton-twirling when I was little?"
Joel: NO.
Me: I never told you about that?
Joel: Uh, no.
Me: I can't believe I never mentioned that. You've never heard me use the words "Strut 'n Stuff'?
Joel: Do I even want to know what that is?
Me: It was a majorette troop. I was, like, 7. I was pretty bad at it.

Mmmm, you don't say. Still, the basic principles of fire-twirling are the same as baton basics: figure eights, figure eights across the body, hand-to-hands, finger rolls. My mom- head majorette BMHS 1969- would have been so proud. The only proof of this is the permanent singe mark on my pants. Also, Joel says I almost singed my hair, but I think he's exaggerating. Probably.

The next day we decided to try our hand at cable-skiing, which is like water-skiing except you're pulled around the lake by a pulley system instead of a boat. Now, remember when Joel and I went to Jackson Hole? And we booked a lesson with a ski instructor at Teton Village? And I had an amazing day on the slopes, advancing quickly from Mighty Mite to the intermediate slope? And Joel was miserable? Yeah. This was the exact opposite of that.

Joel got a kneeboard, grabbed the rope and off he went. Yeah, this is his first lap around the lake. One-handed. Show off.

I think this series speaks for itself, don't you?

Maybe this time I'll get it?

I got it! I-

I got it! I- don't got it.


I was like that girl on the episode of MTV's Made where she wants to be a wake-boarder and the mean kids sneak onto her farm and spray paint her beloved pet lamb the night before her first lesson. THAT WAS SO ME.

I did do it, though!

There I go, desperately trying to avoid all the fancypants ramps...

But still... I JUGGLED FIRE.

After our morning at the lake, we took a cab back to the hotel, swapped our flip flops and shorts for winter gear and flew back to Sydney for one more night where we... wait for it... went back to the Opera House to take another crack at night-shooting. I know. You're going to have a heart attack and DIE from the surprise. But this time we had tripods! Final installment coming up...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Safe Passage to the Rainbow Bridge, Brandy

One of the things that sold me on Joel's eHarmony profile three years ago were "the things [he] couldn't live without." His camera and his dog were in the top five. Brandy is his technically parents' dog.

He just got back from the vet's office. He went with his mom and dad to say goodbye.

Brandy came to them when she was 6, a rescue from the Sound Shore Animal League. Her puppyhood wasn't easy, but she learned to trust her new family and loved them unconditionally. She was a little aloof with strangers, but for me, she came around and let me love on her, too.

Her health was never ideal, with a little breed-related hip trouble and a kidney disorder that was pretty easily managed with diet and medication. She was plucky and energetic, though. She never whined or seemed to be in pain, though she really started slowing down after her 15th birthday. She was fading, very slowly, and for those who saw her every day, it wasn't immediately obvious that her time was almost upon us.

Joel hadn't seen Brandy for over three weeks between the wedding and the honeymoon, and when he saw her again recently, it was a painful revelation. She's been such a good girl for so long, but the last three days have been so hard. She started standing like a tripod lately, refusing to put weight on one of her front legs. The vet diagnosed her with bone cancer in the middle of last week, and at the age of almost 16, putting her through the required amputation would have been really, really selfish.

She had a wonderful decade with Joel's family, and they wanted to keep her comfortable for as long as they could. In the last 72 hours, Brandy did everything she could to tell us it was her time to go. This afternoon, they let her fly. We're hunkered down at home on a rainy Saturday with Bella, Fred and Ollie sticking close to Joel, like furry little grief magnets.

The pet-lovers here have probably all heard the saying, "I will try to be the person my dog thinks I am."

Please honor Brandy by giving Gunner, Jackson, Esme, Maggie Magoo, Zoe, Molly, Joey, Sally, Tyrone, Sampson, Casper, Butters, Rosalita, Teenie, Beaumont, Ivy, Hani, Harley and the Zseller feline duo a little extra lovin' this weekend. Our animal companions give us everything they have, all of their trust for their whole lives. Trust was hard for Brandy, but she gave it to me willingly. Today, for her, I will try to be the person she thought I was.

Safe passage to the Rainbow Bridge, Brandy. We will miss you.

Honeymoon, Part Eight: Where One of Us Gets Punched in the Face by a Camel

Okay, so I don't want to suggest that Joel and I didn't have fun on our honeymoon. We did. We totally did.

Here are two photos from our helicopter flight over Uluru.

We rode camels at sunrise.

Early British explorers imported camels from Afghanistan because horses weren't able survive in the Outback, which has little or no water. Once the railroad was built across the Northern and Western territories, (ironically, it was built by workers who used camels) the cameleers lost their jobs and the camels were turned loose in the bush.

The camels look really sweet and goofy don't they?

I was shooting tons of photos of them eating, as well as the birds that kept taking off and landing in the surrounding trees in huge, colorful flocks of awesomeness.

And some more in your face wide angle lens shots...

Look at that face! How cute is that! Except.... It turns out camels really don't like when you get in your face with a camera so much.

I was too close and focused on my shooting. Joel might have been able to predict what was about to happen. This guy doesn't look too happy... and...wait for it, wait for it....

WHAM! Yup, I was punched in a face by a camel. I totally deserved it, too. I know better. Sigh... But I was fine. The camera took the brunt of the love bite. My 20D was also fine. Is that an endorsement for Canon or what?

The Canon 20D SLR professional camera body, now with an automatic camel defense system!

After the helicopter flight, the hikes, the sunrise/sunset shoots, the visit to the cultural center, the campfires, the Sounds of Silence Dinner, the 800km roundtrip road trip to Coober Pedy with National Geographic style shooting, we took off for the Great Barrier Reef. From here on out, the honeymoon resembled a more traditional, um, honeymoon. We slept late, relaxed by the pool in the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in, went out to dinner, drank mango daquiris and got a loong massage (actually those two were all me), and yes, we walked hand in hand on the beach.

Have no fear, we didn't, like, morph into regular people for whom things unfold like clockwork or anything. There's still a little hilarity ahead. (SPOILER: I tried to juggle FIRE. True story!)

Friday, September 05, 2008

HM, Pt. 7.5: The Rest of the Long Rant

We went back to the campground, packed up the rest of our gear and got on the road to Coober Pedy, the opal-mining town where we would meet Stuart, the man who made my engagement ring and provided the opal for my wedding ring. The drive is surreal. There's a gas station about every 150 km, and you fill up at each one.

There are hundreds, and I mean, HUNDREDS of dead kangaroos on the road. The dingos and the raptors pick them clean. There's no need to remove the carcasses. Every single skeleton (among fresher examples) made me sad. After, like, the 50th dead kangaroo, Joel was like, "Really? EVERY single one makes you sad?" Yes. They do. Each and every one. Leave me alone.

Now, to say that relations between miners and the indigenous people in the region are tense is an understatement. The name of the town Coober Pedy comes from the aboringal phrase "kupa-piti," which means "white man in a hole." We knew the miner wasn't the most liberal guy in the world because he made a somewhat disparaging remark in an email about how Ayers Rock is NOT called Uluru.

Oh, my, were we in for an interesting ride. To be fair, the miner doesn't like a lot of things. The high price of water. The way his wife drives. The way all women drive. Most Yanks and "the Hungarian" who runs the B&B where we were staying with "that Canadian." He was a lovely gentleman from Serbia, not Hungary, and "That Canadian" is A., the awesome innkeeper who is an expat Yank, actually. But Stuart really, really hates "aboriginals."

So... okay. I had promised Joel I wouldn't have a psychadelic freakout during dinner and call the man a racist. I spent most of the meal talking to his wife who told me 10 minutes into the meal that they no longer speak to their oldest son. Um, okay? Anyone want the last piece of bread? No? SOMEBODY. HELP. ME.

Meanwhile, we couldn't get him off the topic of "aboriginals" and welfare and how "they're only 20 years of of the Stone Age". Now, here's the thing. He kept saying, "You're just visitors. You don't know."

What could I say to that? "Well, sir. You may have been living the last 45 years of your life in the Australian Outback interacting directly with this community of which you speak so rudely, but I read a book that I got at the Cultural Centre bookstore yesterday that cited the Western Australian Aborigines Act of 1905 with one of its stated claims being to 'ease the passing of the Aborigine into extinction.' How is that not GENOCIDE, good sir?!?! NOW PASS ME THE BUTTER!"

We DID try, gently, to pose a different viewpoint by talking about Native American history. "Well, Native Americans," he said, "I feel bad for them. At least they have some pride! These drunks are a waste of space!" And then we really tried, not so gently, AGAIN to change the subject. The Olympics? Dead kangaroos? 9/11? Anyone?

His wife asked him to get off the subject when Joel got up to go to the bathroom. "It's a bit of a sore subject with us," she apologized. "Oh, you disagree?" I asked, with more hope than I should have had for this fragile, weepy woman. "No," she said, but she turned to her husband. "Enough."

When we got back to the B&B that night, we had a long talk with A., the owner. She is a progressive Unitarian liberal who- were she not running a bed and breakfast in the Outback- could easily pass for a women's studies professor at the major liberal arts college of your choice. We had a long talk. She wanted to know if we confronted him on his racism. We wanted to know if the disenfranchisement and racism government acts oppressing the aboriginal people compared to her understanding of Native American history.

She didn't think so, actually. She described her transition as a "very concerned" expat who strongly advocated for the indigenous people to a somewhat skeptical Australian who sees a lot of government money has been spent to ease the issues of poverty, lack of education, and addiction with little change. It's not working, and it's heartbreaking.

I told her about another book I had read by Donna Meehan, a member of the "stolen generation" who was taken from her large aboriginal family without warning (or her mothers consent) and adopted by a loving white family in Newcastle. "There were what? Like 100,000 children who were taken from their families as recently as when? 1971? Isn't that horrible? "

She told us that after 1971, the knee-jerk reaction led the policy that NO children of aboriginal descent should be taken from their families, and she can't deny the fact that sometimes children DO need to be taken into foster care when there are real issues of addiction, food insecurity and sexual abuse. Apparently, in run up to the 2007 election, Prime Minister John Howard proposed a dramatic intervention and "compulsory health checks for all Aboriginal children." It's seen as a good thing, but also as a political stunt. Aboriginal leaders decried the intervention as racist and- wait for it- threatened to refuse to let tourists climb Ayers Rock. Howard was voted out of office.

We told her about the women we met in the stranded vehicle. She was stricken. She told us that lots of tourists have ended up in" very, very bad situations" when they've encountered hostile men on aboriginal land. Some of these very, very bad situations began with a allegedly broken down car. It all left me feeling confused, uncertain and sad in that way that all bleeding heart liberals feel sad about such things.

The next day Joel went down into the opal mines, as planned, while I walked around town shooting. Let me say here that Coober Pedy is unlike anywhere I've ever been. It's a small mining town, with a ton of "character" if by character you mean, "there's something really cool, but really unnerving about this place." That's actually exactly how I feel about Coney Island, come to think of it.

Let me show you some pictures.

And then, sitting outside the liquor store, I saw the people Stuart told us about. There was such an air of devastation about them, sitting in front of a crumbling mural depicting an idyllic rendition of THEIR LAND- splashed with an ad for opals and internet access- that I couldn't *not* shoot it.

I decided to approach them, this time with a pack of cigarettes as a gesture of goodwill. It went over well with the women, but one man became pretty aggressive. He demanded money. Then he demanded liquor. I told him I wouldn't buy hiim alcohol, but I would spring for lunch. What were they hungry for? Pizza, he said. No, two pizzas. Coke. No, two cokes.

Then he wanted to follow me to my car.

I told him, "No, absolutely not." I told him I am from New York, and women there don't let men they don't know follow them to their cars. He got agitated, again, and two of the women jumped to my defense. That was a real surprise, actually. They got in his face on my behalf. I went to order the pizza. I was told I could pick it up in 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I went back to deliver the Coke.

The police had shown up to move them along for loitering.

One man refused to surrender his bottle of alcohol, and they arrested him.

The others just moved down the street to the gas station, past the cheery multicultural center, which was neither cheery nor multicultural.

We bonded over their dog.

His name was "Old Man."

I me up with Joel, who was back from the opal mine. We delivered their pizza. They said thank you, and we got back in the car. We drove all the way back to Ayers Rock, the home of their ancestors, their holiest of holy sights, four and a half hours away, a place they will probably never have the money, ability or reliable transportation to see.

We drove for hours. All along the way, we talked about what we had seen in Coober Pedy, as well as the women we met by the side of the road the day before that. We wondered if the broken down car was the kind of scam that the B&B owner said leads to so many crimes, if we nearly escaped something really bad. We couldn't help but feel the those women and children really did need help. We wondered if they were still out there, waiting for the park ranger.

We were still talking about it when we stopped for gas at the crossroads between the only two highways. The campground and national park were still 200 km away. I got out to stretch my legs, saying I just hoped the stranded motorists were okay. As I closed the door to the rental car, a little dog ran up to me and sat down. "Joel," I said. "I think they're here."

Joel: "Who?"
Me: "The women and children."
Joel: "What?"
Me: "I think... I think this is Little One."

With that, they all walked out of the convenience store part of the service station. We greeted them like old friends. "Hi! You made it!" They smiled at us. They were surprised as we were and introduced us to their brother, who had driven out from Adeleide to pick them up. They no longer had their van. Their brother thanked us for taking care of his family, and we shook hands.

We drove away, feeling like we just experienced a miracle.

Meanwhile, the sun had set. We drove off into the night, dodging ten kangaroos (they reminded us of deer, coming out at night, but they run out in front of your car like squirrels, frantically changing direction) one enormous cow and an imaginary moose that turned out to be some tire tracks and a trick of the headlights. I insisted Joel take a break from driving after that, and we laid back across the hood of the car to look at the night sky.

There were no lights of any kind, no cars for hundreds of miles. We stared up at thousands of stars, and one long freckled arm of the Milky Way. The moon had not yet risen, but we could see each other. "Where is this light coming from?" Joel asked me. "There's no moon."

We were illuminated by starlight. Starlight, and only starlight. It was life-changing.

Then I heard a weird noise, which turned out to be the car cooling down under the hood, but Joel said, "It's a huge kangaroo with glowing red eyes right behind you," and I screamed and dove back in the car. He teased me about that for the rest of the trip.

HM, Pt 7: Why We Didn't Climb (The Long Rant About Aboriginal Rights)

I suppose the best way to start this particular entry is to aswer the question my mom left in the comments. "Do people climb Ayers Rock?" Yes. They do. The traditional owners- who call Ayers Rock "Uluru" and refer to themselves as the "Anangu" (as opposed to "aborigines")- really, really wish that people wouldn't climb it.

Uluru is a tremendously sacred landmark that is integral to the indigenous people of Central Australia's creation story. Uluru is to the Anangu people as the Garden of Eden is to Christians. They believe the deep grooves were carved in the rock by the Ancestors during the Dreaming, or time of creation.

There is a chain fence that people hang onto as they go up the only climbable slope. According to the Anangu, their ancestors, the Mala, took this same path when they first came to Uluru. They themselves never climb out of respect for its spiritual significance, and they all but beg visitors not to. Lots of people do it anyway. Even though the Anangu were technically given back stewardship of the land in 1985, they had to accept- as a condition of the land grant that gave back what was theirs in the first place- that the climb remain open.

I knew that the indigenous people of Australia had been oppressed after colonization in the 1900s. I knew it was a sad and bloody story, as such conflicts almost always are, and I knew there was a huge movement to reclaim this land. I had no idea how bad it was, how deeply desolate the poverty is, or how unabashed the racism is. I just didn't know. I'm not sure I even really know now.

Yes, Mom. There are caves. But a lot of them don't have happy stories associated with them.

Joel and I took a helicopter flight around the National Park our second day there. We were wondering if there was any way to connect with the people of Mutitjulu, which is the name of the community where the traditional owners live in the National Park. We asked our pilot about that, and he said, "You'd have to stay here for years." In addition to flying tourists and photographers, the pilot, Houman, also flies search and rescue missions. He's met quite a few people who live in Mutitjulu through his work. "They're very suspicious of outsiders," he said.

There is a cultural center in the National Park, which has been developed by the Anangu in cooperation with the National Park Service, to tell their stories in their own words. All of the art that Joel and I purchased was created by local women who were not only paid to create it, but also received 60% of the sales. Considering gas was $8 a gallon and a gallon of milk costs $8.75, there's no doubt in my mind that they live in poverty, despite the fact that they reside in the shadow of the most spiritually and culturally rich place in their country.

The only grocery store in a hundred mile readius is in the overpriced resort complex. We had to throw down a Visa card for three days worth of meals we could cook in the cabin. Simple things, like hot dogs we could cook over a firepit (rentable for $5 a day with a $20 deposit), a loaf of bread, peanut butter, canned soup, cereal, and milk cost a small fortune, but nowhere near the $14.95 we paid for a shared cheeseburger at the snack bar.

We sighed at the fact that we'd been spending money like rock stars since the day before the wedding, but we knew we'd be home soon and back to our careful budget. The Anangu woman and her three kids trying to pay for groceries in front of us had no such relief to look forward to. We felt bad, in that privileged white people way, so we picked up as much litter as we could when we were out gathering firewood.

Had we not been driving out to photograph the sunrise over Kata-Tjuta, or the Olgas, we might never have delved any deeper than that. As I said before, we were driving along the only road shortly before dawn. There was a car on the shoulder with its blinkers on. Someone whistled as we drove past; Joel said, "Oh shit! What'd I do?"

"You're on the correct side of the road," I said. "I think they need help."

We turned back and met three woman, three children, and a dog. Joel looked under the car, under the hood and tried to start the engine. I played with "Little One," their dog, and tried to figure out what happened. English wasn't their best thing, and while I think, but I'm not sure, that they were speaking Pitjantjatjara, it was obvious that they were freaked outr.

They told us they'd been out all night. They were trying to get to Alice Springs originally, but the car started breaking down. They tried to get to the single mechanic at the resort's service station. They were about 2km away when their van died for good. None of them were wearing shoes. One of the woman said, "We have no tucker."

We gave them all the food we had, our blanket and our matches. They walked right into the bush and started a campfire. We checked the map, and the closest emergency phone was at the trailhead were going to shoot from. Joel and I drove to the phone, which was broken. He left me there with the cameras and drove back to the rangers station. When he drove past the women, two of them asked to ride with him. He dropped them off again at their broken down car- their transmission was shot- and picked me up at the trailhead.

We checked on them once more time. They invited us to sit by their campfire. Two of the women were sisters, traveling with their aunt. They had three young children with them who looked to be between the ages of 8-12. The sisters were probably only about 40, but they looked almost 70. They were all widows.

Two of the kids were playing in the car, laughing. "Oh, they laugh now. They won't be laughing if we're stuck out here another night," one woman said. Could that be right? Would the park rangers really leave woman and children out here alone? They asked us for more food. I only had another bottle of water, but I got it anyway. While I was at the car, the women were cheering and laughing and waving. "You want the kids to come out of the car?" I asked, pointing to their car.

"No! You! Come here!" They laughed. They asked me if I had any cigarettes. We said no and promised to stop at the ranger station to find out what the delay was. I told them I was a photographer, that I shoot pictures of people, not as a tourist, but as an artist. I asked permission to photograph them; I had to. They said no. Their hair wasn't done.

It wasn't. There was an unkempt nature to their appearance that exceeded the long trip, the long night in the broken down car in the desert. In short, it was bad. The car still needed to have the windows down after the first trip to the ranger's station 90 minutes earlier. "You go in," Joel said. "I've already been that pushy Yank asking for a tow truck once today."

I waited patiently for the dispatcher to finish her conversation with the ranger going out in the all-terrain vehicle. They were talking about a lot of things, but the women and children in distress weren't something they discussed. "Are they still out there?!?" the dispatcher asked me. "Okay, I'll hurry them along," she said, reaching for her walkie-talkie. The ranger drove away without a word.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Honeymoon, Part Six: Single Serving Friends

Here's the thing about Ayers Rock. It's a sandstone formation in the middle of the country, the vestiges of what was once a vast ocean in the, um, Plesiolithijurassion Period. Or something.

It's really out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, I thought I had been through the middle of nowhere before, but I was wrong. I thought the trip through the desert to Sedona AZ was really desolate, but I had no idea.

I had been to Australia once before when I was 15, but our trip didn't take us to the Red Centre. I wish that had been on the itinerary, but it just wasn't practical, I guess, for our tour group of high schoolers and chaperones to schlep all the way out there.

Even before Joel and I met in person, we talked about our mutual desire to go there. Ayers Rock is called Uluru by its traditional owners, the Anangu people of Central Australia. It's a sacrosanct place for them that's integral to their religious beliefs and creation story.

I have much to say about the disenfranchisement of the traditional owners, and I will in an upcoming entry. Just know that Joel and I treated this holy place with the utmost of care and respect. We shot these pictures of each other, two people fulfilling a lifelong dream...

(Also, it was COLD, much colder than we expected. Hence the emergency cold weather purchase of a winter hat from the gift shop.)

Barfy (but true) cliches about dreams come true aside, we spent our first evening in Uluru Kaja Tjuta National Park at the Sounds of Silence Dinner. This is a tourist booking, as almost all things are here, but it really was special. In short, you have dinner out under the stars. They serve kangaroo, barramundi, and emu, and there's a star talk and storytelling.

There's a scene in the movie Fight Club where Brad Pitt's character explains the concept of "single serving friends" to Ed Norton's character. They're on the plane where they "meet" and Brad Pitt is derisive and bitter about the single-serving airplane meal (bet they didn't give him a free Fudgsicle.) Anyway, this notion of single-serving friends is something that really stuck with me.

I've had a very colorful parade of "single serving friends," people I've met while backpacking through Europe or on my solo trip to Denmark and Norway. They're generally people I met by chance and spent a few hours or a day with. You each tell your stories and experience something together, and then you part ways.

I've gotten the occasional email after the fact, even hung out some folks again. It's kind of wonderful, in its own way, and Joel and I had a fantastic time with an Australian guy named Scott, his American expat girlfriend Rachelle, and her younger sister who was visiting before starting college. We met because they're the silhouette-providing folks in this sunset shot, and they were like, "Uh, who are you?" after they saw me taking their picture, a.k.a. shooting in their general direction.

We had a great evening before crashing in the terrifying expensive and completely overrated "affordable" hotel there. Our room came with free bug spray! We only booked one night there because our flight landed too late for us to check into the campground that afternoon. The next day we moved into a cabin in the campground. If anyone ever goes there (Hi, Cara!) I can not overemphasize how much we loved the cabin compared to the hotel. Holy cow.

Anyway, as I said before, I have a lot to say about the fragility of the indigenous people, the exploitation of the tourist industry, and the next group of single-serving friends we met- a broken-down vanload of Anangu women, their children and small dog whom we encountered by the side of the road as we were on our way to photograph the Olgas (a different but nearby sandstone formation) one morning before sunrise. They were stuck out there all night before they flagged us down, and of course, being us- within five minutes I was cuddling their dog and Joel was looking under their car with his Special Geologist Head Lamp.

For now, though, I have to try to share the magic and spirituality of this place. I have to show you the pictures.

There are more photographs here.