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Australia Blog 2024
Note to our readers: we will publish the latest blogs on the top now so you can tell we have written something new.
March 2024
Five years ago, our friends Bruce and Nancy regaled us with tales of their battles with the wombats. These large rodent-looking marsupials were digging warrens all over their yard in the Blue Mountains, two hours west of Sydney. They were undermining expensive plants. They left holes all over the place. Their square poop was everywhere. Since the wombats were a protected species all Bruce and Nancy could do was fill in the holes and try to frustrate the critters. Of course, I wanted to meet a wombat. The journalist in me said, "get their side of the story." Since they are nocturnal that meant going out with Nancy at night and searching the road where they were frequently seen. It was raining and, according to wombat lore, they don't like to be wet. So after a couple of runs up and down the one lane road, we retired to our shiraz.
       In March, five years later, we were back in wombat-country, aka, Wedgewood, Bruce and Nancy's Blue Mountain home.     
       I wondered where oh where would a wombat wander? Nancy guaranteed me a wombat sighting. It rained. Yes, the wombats did what any self-respecting wombat would do in the rain: stay home.  We left that weekend with Ron singing the Wombat Blues. 
       On the next trip to the Blue Mountains, Nancy and Bruce had friends over for drinks and dinner. Everyone had a wombat story: the furry animals would dart in front of the car and cause all sorts of mayhem; the wombat blocked its warren with its fat behind and frustrated the family dog.  I wondered: when I would get to meet my wombat?
       The friends called on their trip home to say they had seen scores of wombats singing and dancing. "It's a wombat world," they said.
       So Nancy and Ron went off wombat hunting yet again on Smith Road, which apparently hosts more wombats than cars. "They always party right here," said Nancy pointing to a dark area. But, no wombat party.  We were certain to see them around the bend where entire clans of wombats would wave at the cars when they drove by. But, no clan dancing that night.
       We turned around and headed the other way up Smith Road.
       Suddenly, an animal about the size of a medium-sized dog sprinted across the road. Aha, a juvenile wombat! It didn't stop for an interview.
Minutes later, a much larger specimen, a mass of gray fur, waddled in front of the car. It was in no hurry since it seemed to know Smith Road was no expressway.
And, I think it turned around and looked at me. Was it my imagination or did it really say, "Yes, Ron, there are wombats."
       Nancy was relieved. "So, we don't have to hear anything more about wombats," she said.
       Maybe. But, in the future it would be nice to score a longer interview.
Sydney is a city in love with sailboat racing. That's no surprise considering the fantastic harbor— deep water, often strong sea breezes and ultra-competitive sailors.
While we were in Sydney we heard about the SailGP Regatta which would feature extraordinarily fast catamarans that rise up on foils and quickly reach as much as 40-50 knots.  By way of comparison, SeaKap, is going fast when she hits 6.5 knots. (Early in our sailing life, we owned a catamaran that may have moved as fast as 15 knots. We thought we were flying back then. So, these boats are very quick.
The organizers tried to monetize the effort: it could cost as much as $1,000 for a ticket to watch the sailors from Shark Island, a speck of land in the harbor. If you wanted to sail your own boat to the periphery of the race it could cost a lot more.  Some friends suggested we buy tickets to watch the two-day event but we decided against spending big bucks to watch 90 minutes of sailing. Not to mention we would be sitting cheek to cheek with people we didn't know while Covid was still a factor in Sydney. So, this is a short blog about something that we didn't do.
February 28
Kirribilli, NSW
In 1969, I got drafted. Immediately after Basic Training I ended up at Fort Hood, Texas and pretty quickly after that started my military journalism stint at the Armored Sentinel, the base newspaper for the 50,000 men at the rattlesnake-and-scorpion-infested garrison.
Fairly quickly I started to hang with some of the other writers and photographers: Dave Daniel, William Crawford (aka Crawdad), and Jim Provencher. Recently Dave got in touch with me via email and hooked me up with Crawdad, Larry Woody (another Army journalist) and Jim Provencher, who moved to Australia in 1983.
I haven't talked/communicated with Jim Provencher for at least fifty-four years. But, Dave suggested I try to reach him so I sent an email to Jimmy Pro, as his ex-Army friends call him. He lives in Canberra and he called back right away.  We talked for about an hour about our crazy days writing for the base paper and our lives afterwards.
  It's kind of amazing we all didn't get court-martialed. Dave suggested that we not waste our time writing about real events—such as promotions or rattlesnake barbeques. Instead, we started a contest to see who could write the best ARM-FAB, something fictional that sounded true to the "Colonel Downstairs" who censored the stories. I recall creating an Outdoor Club that would meet at off-base locations. Someone else wrote about a bocce ball contest that was outside Division Headquarters once you figured out the coordinates. The winner—don't recall who wrote this one—was about a "lying contest," that took place on the base. Of course, the whole thing was a …lie. Anyway, it was kind of like working for Mad Magazine while wearing a uniform. A fraternity of draftees trying to cope with the pressures of working on a base where you could get orders to Vietnam at any time. (Assuming you hadn't already been there like Crawdad and Woody, both of them in combat units.)
What I find kind of amazing is that this small group of military misfits ended up as …writers and photographers after Ft. Hood. Dave is widely published and still writes for literary outlets; Jimmy Pro wrote books and poetry that got published; Crawdad is still publishing his photos; and Woody has several novels under his Tennessee belt. Did our Army experience have anything to do with our writing efforts? Hard to say but maybe making up those stories a long time ago may have opened some hidden channel in our brains.
Back to Jimmy Pro.
We arranged to meet for lunch: The Australian government subsidizes train fares for seniors, so for $2.50 he could take a train to Sydney for about what it cost for a senior subway fare in New York. Won't bore anyone with the conversation but it was remarkable to get together and exchange yarns with someone I knew 54 years ago. I think I'll just consider this renewing a lost friendship.
 January 8
Margaret River, Western Australia
Would your family like to go for a swim at Prevelly beach in Margaret River?
First you might want to read the warnings:
Strong Rips
Large Waves
Slippery Rocks
Submerged Rocks and Sandbars
Cliff Risk Areas
No Lifeguard on Patrol
Let's see what did we leave out?
Snakes on the path to the beach?  Lethal spiders?
No worries, mate. She'll be right.
The Margaret River beach is a beehive of activity: wind surfers on foiling boards and kite surfers skimming over the waves. On this particular day the wind was coming in off the water which flattened the waves out—so no wave surfers.
We can't surf (and we don't anyway), so we went to a vineyard called Walsh & Sons. We buy their Felix Syrah in New York and enjoy it. But, like many vineyards, they have lots more to offer. So, we tasted their Rieslings, Albarinos, sauvignon blanc semillons, two different chardonnays, a Rose, a Syrah blend, the Syrah we buy in New York and a cabernet.  While we sip, the wine shop manager entertains us with wine tales and descriptions of how they produced what we were sipping. It feels like a party. He assures us that the total amount of alcohol he poured will not put us over the limit for driving. We drink to that.
Yes, welcome to Margaret River.
Then, it was on to lunch at Olio Bello, a beautiful outdoor garden.  Garlic pizza, margarita pizza with prosciutto, pesto with house made tagliatelle, and another pasta with pork ragu.
Anyone for a nap?
And, the beauty of Margaret River: we get to do this again the next day.
January 10
There are lots of farm to table restaurants. But, we just finished a meal at a table in the farm.
About 40 minutes south of Margaret River is Glenarty Road, a combination of vineyard and rural life, hosted by a farmer with a real flair for food.  Before we get to the repast which takes two and a half hours, let's set the scene.
On the drive into Glenarty we pass by a flock of sheep contentedly chewing on the dried-out ground forage. Then, we saw row after row of vines. Not too far away were olive and macadamia trees. Walking from the parking area to the rustic restaurant, we walk past rows of vine ripening tomatoes, various types of basil and pecks of pepper, kale (just for Taylor's wife Kaitlyn), and ten foot high sunflowers absorbing the bright sunshine. Somewhere on the farm were avocado trees, mulberry bushes and horseradish plants. Almost everything we just mentioned ended up on our plates.
But first, we had some sips of their wines:
A crisp sparkling; some fizzy Pet Nat, a vermentino, a Semillon Sauvagion Blanc Semillon; a Chardonnay; a Savagnin (the vineyard originally thought they had planted Alberino); a pinot, a Syrah and a Cabernet. Did I leave anything out? We didn't try the stickies (fortified wines) because they were not available for tasting.
Forty-five minutes later, we were seated at our table which had a small vase of freshly-picked roses.
First course:  the garden we just observed has now appeared on our plates. A piece of smoked goat cheese sits on top of some thinly sliced zebra and green tomatoes. Basil and purple basil drifts through the salad like the seaweed on the shoreline; small mulberries add some piquancy; the entire salad has a drizzle of avocado dressing, referred to as green goddess by the Northern Ireland waiter. We use a freshly-baked sourdough roll (perfect stretch) to help guide the food to the fork.
Second course: about thirty minutes later, a pork and macadamia terrine en croute arrives. The slab is surrounded by pickles and brined onions. We dab some whole grain mustard on the terrine after we nibble on the leaf from a horseradish plant.
Third Course: about an hour later, the main course arrives: we look down on a lamb shank and two generous pieces of shoulder, both in a salsa verde sauce. On the side are cucumber, ricotta and pea shoots. On a second plate is macadamia hummus providing a blanket for grilled turnips and radishes.
Fourth Course: Ha! We can barely walk. We're glad there was NO Fourth Course. In fact there are enough left-overs for dinner the next day. Maybe that's the Fourth Course.
Could there be more great meals in our future? Probably but it will be hard to top Glenarty.
January 11
We've tasted lots of wines at vineyards; we've eaten meals at vineyards. But, we've never watched a movie at a vineyard.  But, tonight we will
Cape Mentelle Vineyard has taken the drive-in movie to a new level: after you park your car, you walk to a large open area with a very large screen at one end. Bean bag beds are laid out facing the screen. We brought our own chairs but the idea is the same. You can't watch a movie without a bottle of wine, right? So, we buy a bottle of Cape Mentelle zinfandel, and visit a food truck to munch on gua bao buns (buns stuffed with pork belly in hoisin sauce) and prawn toast bites from the Little Hand Dumplings food truck. Then, we settled in to watch Stop Making Sense, a remastered movie about two Talking Heads LA concerts in 1983. Lots of energy.  I keep bouncing into Kathy—partly to help keep her warm; and, to keep me warm too. Then, someone from Cape Mantelle arrives with blankets.
While the music is playing, we lean back in our seats and see stars…lots of stars. Yes, it's definitely, a new take on a drive-in theater.
January 17
The male fairy wren, feathers an electric blue, is checking out our backyard. He looks left, looks right. He darts and hops. His tail flicks side to side. Suddenly, he issues a high pitched call and within seconds his entire brood, probably six or eight other tail flickers arrive. They only spend seconds looking for whatever is in the grass and then just as quickly as they arrived, they dart off.
Welcome to Number 4 St. Alouarns, easily one of the most beautiful houses we've ever rented. The background for the living area is the Indian Ocean, far enough away to merely hint at oceanic depths and mysteries. The foreground is the Margaret River, wide enough to entice paddle boarders to slowly push against the current. A green ridge separates the two bodies of water.  We can't see the beach, but we know it's there.
Our avian friends are non-stop sound machines. The Ring Neck Parrots squawk and cry; flocks of Rosellas are even louder as they claim roosting rights in a gum tree. Occasionally, kookaburras get into a loud—make that very loud—battle for territory. The black and white magpies land as a confident group warning other birds to stay away with a distinct high- pitched cry. We've seen the night heron but haven't heard him yet. We watched him catch a fish in the pond just outside the front yard. A trio of ducks did not seem concerned about the big bird. That's part of our view from the house. And, did we mention that almost every night we can watch the Indian Ocean swallow the sun—all while we're drinking a glass of local, delicious wine?
January 22
What do you call a shy kangaroo?
Yes, this is a naming contest.
But, first a little bit of inside poop on the roo. Actually, it's outside poop…that's how we knew he/she was hanging around the house. Then, one evening we looked out and there was a brown creature slowly munching on some very brown grass. Munch. Look up. Munch move a few inches. Munch.  There was a fairy wren on the roo's back enjoying the ride.
Suddenly last evening, the roo moved from the backyard to the front lawn—about 10 feet away from the entrance to the house. Maybe the grass seemed greener, or there was less of a human presence. Whatever, there it was—just begging to get photographed. The long tail, like a stabilizer, hanging off the animal's rear. The twitchy ears pointed forward. The haunches taut and ready to spring off. But, then something caught its attention: it moved to some bottle brush bushes and reclined. Just lay on its side as if posing for a Manet painting. Kathy thought she saw a small roo—a Joey—bounding up the hill earlier. Ron never saw junior but maybe this was mom. Just waiting for her offspring to come out and play. We waited and waited. But, it was kangaroo time and it was also dark now. So, to be continued. The important thing was that it was OUR roo. Was she Patience as in the lion outside the NY Public Library? Or, maybe just Brown? Or, Bobbie as in Bobbie Brown?
Brown or Bobbie or whatever is not the only four-legged visitor. The owners of River Blue, our interim residence, have a red-haired dog, Bear, who comes over to say hello at least once a day. She arrives tail swinging back and forth. "Please pet me," she seems to be saying. Or, maybe, "please pet me before my mom sees I'm here." She may cozy-up between the two of us. She may just sit next to Ron. A few pets and rubs and she's off. She knows we're not long term and so her visit is short term as well. She often walks around the grass where the roo has been. We think she knows more about this shy animal than we do…
January 23
There are ocean waves and then there are Margaret River ocean waves.
       Ron and Kathy decided it was a good day for another afternoon visit to the Indian Ocean. We drove out to the beach at the mouth of the Margaret River.
       The first wave, maybe about six inches, knocked Ron right off his feet. Some teenagers were trying to body- surf the waves which rushed towards the shore and broke quickly. Dumpers. The kids thought it was a lark. Ron just tried to dive under the waves which seemed more like those giant waves off Hawaii. Dive. Smotch. Dive. Smotch.
       Officially, the lifeguard stand said the waves were 1 meter or about three feet. Could be. But, the shape of the bay gave the waves a lot of power. And, all that power was concentrated where the lifeguards marked as the place to swim. Seems very Australian to try to fight nature.
       How were those 76 year-old legs feeling?
       I think you can guess. Can't wait to go back.
January 25
We don't write about our meals unless they are really exceptional.
       Here's exceptional:
Fishbone, a winery and restaurant with a Japanese-inspired menu in a Margaret River paddock
Fresh Tasmanian Salmon sashimi with pickled ginger, lemon and wasabi was a delicious start.  The fish was fatty and succulent, and foretells more great meals upcoming in Tasmania.  Kap drank a Fishbone Estate Rose and Ron their Vermentino.
Beef Tataki featured seared Margaret River Wagyu filet, served with sauteed onions, crispy shallots and ponzu.  The onions and shallots were the perfect accompaniment to the beef and ponzu sauce – sweet and crispy.
Miso Dengaku was the BIG surprise, and the dish we will remember and crave for a very long time.  The eggplant was dusted in potato starch (according to our server) and set to rest and firm before lightly deep-frying the bite-sized clouds of aubergine.  Tender and crispy and topped with caramelized miso sauce served on top of a vegetable-filled seasonal garden salad.  I do not know how our attempts to replicate the Umami will go from home, although we will try.
January 29
0530 hours
An army is descending on Perth Airport.
Their uniforms: yellow, orange and other brightly colored coats with reflective horizontal stripes on their sleeves and pant legs.  They carry small bags or backpacks. While we're heading for Melbourne this morning in our sneakers, they are in work boots going to places we've never heard of like Karratha, Paraburdoo and Newman.
       We've never seen anything like it: young men and women as well as middle aged and even older men dressed in identical uniforms at a large international airport. A migration of some sort?
       I asked a woman what was going on. She told me the swarms of workers were headed to the mining areas to get there in time for the night shift; for most it will be the start of their "rotation," which could last two weeks. They could be operating heavy equipment moving iron ore or providing support services before some more time off to get back to their fishing boats or barbeques outside their pools at housing developments built north of Perth.  Most Australians have never seen this migration. They should: there are important ramifications.
       (Pardon my journalistic bent here. But, once a journalist....)
       As is clear from the scene at Perth International, mining provides a lot of jobs, and presumably, a lot of tax revenue. And, the iron ore is heading for smelters that will make the steel for the world's SUVs.
       Observing the workers heading off to the mining areas brings to mind "Red Dog," a movie we watched in Margaret River at the Cape Mentelle outdoor theater. While that movie deals with other issues, such as loyalty and mateship, the backdrop is Dampier, a fly-ridden mining town similar to where the Perth travelers are heading. (In the movie one of the characters rants that the town should not erect a statue of Lord Dampier. To paraphrase: Dampier came for five minutes, turned around and said, "too many flies." Instead they erect a statue of the red dog, their mate and fellow union member.)
       Both Red Dog and the airport shuffle are reminders that Australia is more than just vineyards, good restaurants and beautiful beaches. We're glad for the reminder but we're not going to Dampier.
January 4
View from the balcony: teal water along the beach. Darker blotches where the seaweed provides hiding places for the fish. And, then the deeper blue of the Indian Ocean. But, before your eyes see the water there are the Norfolk pines providing some shade from the warm sun. And, in front of the pines: a public parking lot where Australians jockey for places so they can enjoy the public beaches.
         For us, the Cottesloe Beach Hotel is only a short walk across the road to the white sand beach.
The water is surprisingly warm. Ron spent an hour in the ocean yesterday which helped keep him awake since we had just arrived at 1 AM from our long flights (Newark to Singapore; Singapore to Perth). Kathy stood at the end of the beach making sure Ron wasn't surprised by a shark. She obviously did a good job. Then, back to the hotel for Aperol Spritzes and an early dinner. No feeling of jet lag since we arrived at night and had a good night's sleep at our airport hotel.
Actually, one thing that was kind of amusing in an Australian-kind of way: we decided to take a cab from the airport to our hotel. But, the cabbie decided the hotel was too close and wouldn't take us. Then, the cabbies in back of him said, "it's the law, you have to take them." The driver said he had been waiting for 3 ½ hours for passengers and was not going to take us for what turned out to be $32. Anyway the other drivers almost got into fisticuffs. We found a young cabbie who agreed to take us and we gave him a good tip: so all's well that ends well. But, labor issues are a big deal here.
We took an Uber from our hotel to pick up our rental car and again the driver was unhappy: he had driven out from Perth to drive us and thought Uber should have gotten a car from the airport for the short run. He kept telling us how picking us up had put him a bad mood. Again, it's a matter of labor shortages.  So far, Ron has managed to stay on the correct side of the road. Fingers crossed…a lot more driving ahead.
Tomorrow, our friends, Bruce Arnold and Nancy Fox, arrive from Sydney. We'll pick them up the airport and spend a few more days at this little slice of paradise before heading for the more adult area of Margaret River.
       February 6
We knew we were in a different kind of restaurant when Kathy sat down and discovered two plush teal blue cushions next to her banquette seat.
       "I don't think I'll need these," I heard…and then a few minutes later, "Ahhh."
       It was a nice way to start off at Mudbar, which sits on the shore of the North Esk (estuary). And, during low tide everyone gets to look out at lots of boats floating/nesting in the ooze.
       A short aside: a sign along the docks says, "Please Fix the Mud," a reference to a proposal to dredge the river and deposit the mud at the mouth. "They take the mud down the river, leave their invoice and six months later it's back," said one local citing the strong incoming tides.  That proposal died once Tasmainians realized the mud would win in the long term.
       Back to Mudbar. Our server Ethan arrived with wonton noodles and dipping sauce even before we ordered.  Ethan suggested a bottle of Utzinger Pinot Noir, which he let us sample. Then, Kathy and I decided on three entrees and a side dish: Entrée number one: the Sashimi plate, lime soy dressing, nahm jim, pickled daikon.
As we consumed this raw yellowtail tuna and salmon delight, the restaurant started to fill-up. Generally, the women were fashionably dressed; the men wore shorts and casual tops. But, it's Australia: no dress code.
By now we were on to entrée number two:
sticky soy pork belly, sesame gnocchi and black vinegar dressing. And, entrée number three: soft lamb dumplings, Thai galangal, green chilli/pickled papaya coriander. As we ate these delectable dishes, we worked on some cauliflower that was sprinkled with dukkah in a coconut miso butter sauce.
Yes, all over the top and delicious.
We're not certain why but we ordered the salted caramel semi-freddo with Van Houten chocolate mousse and salted popcorn praline (yes, it was caramel popcorn).
We're glad we overindulged.
So the next time we see a boat stranded on a mudbar, we'll think about all the sophisticated food we ate at Mudbar, the excellent service and the good times.
Reflections on Launceston
My main memory of this city is a horrible night spent in a hotel with broken screens; mosquitoes buzzing in my ears all night long. We couldn't leave fast enough.
But, that was circa 1991; this time our hotel was a grain silo that has been converted into a luxury hotel. From our balcony we looked out on the muddy Tamar River where the tides were about 12 feet each day. On the far shore were boats aground on the muck during low tide. We could see a sailboat that had sunk and the cabin was only visible during low tide. We could see the radar dome off the stern. Can't think it works anymore.
But, Tasmainians appeared to love their river: we saw sculls practicing; one day a sailboat with muddy sails scooted through the water; rafts of people practiced paddling on a Dragon boat; when we took a boat tour to the Cataract Gorge several teenagers had been jumping off the rocks to swim. Just outside of our hotel (the Silo), was Riverbend Park, a huge playground designed for young children – one like Bluey might have. The parents frequently landed in our hotel lobby for coffees with their crying children.
Only a twenty minute walk from the hotel we found City Park, which had a fabulous dahlia garden. The dahlias reminded us of our trip to Hobart with Ken and Sue: the front page of the local paper proclaimed DAHLIA QUEEN NAMED. Page two noted that 1 million men were set to square off in Desert Storm. Priorities.
Just in back of the dahlias was the Conservatory filled with colorful blooms. The city seemed to be full of hydrangeas, roses and tiger lilies.
Kathy also found a gallery of Tasmanian-made objects. The island is full of forests (we would see big trucks loaded with timber moving through the heart of the city) so it's not surprising many of the objects were made of huon pine or myrtle.
In our visit to Philadelphia last year, we went to two museums that were private collections. We found the same thing in Launceston: an individual's private collection of Salvadore Dali. Seeing the Dadaist art reminded us of our first date: part of the time was spent at a Dadaist exhibit.
       And, I'm happy to report we were never attacked by mosquitoes (mozzies as they are called in Australia).
February 26
We are writing this from the lobby of the Crown Sydney in Barangaroo, a new upscale waterfront section of Sydney. When Kathy and I worked here, the area was occupied by commercial docks where everything from cars to shipping containers were unloaded.  Now, it's full of upscale restaurants and shops. The development shows how Sydney is reinventing itself, a lot like New York.
But, what makes the Crown Sydney significant is that this is where Taylor Swift is staying during her four day sold-out Sydney Eras Tour.  (As I write this a TV news crew is filming a young girl with her mom and brother as they check into the hotel.) We haven't seen Swift—in person—nor have we been looking. But, we have seen scores of girls and young women wearing their Eras tee-shirts and friendship bracelets. In the evening, we've seen giggling excited throngs of girls in their glittery bathing suits. Almost all of our friends—with law degrees and heaps of sophistication—think Swift has been a positive force for Australia and the world's youth. She projects a positive image and sings about self-reliance. Could we sing any of her lyrics? No. But, we get the message when we hear them.
       While we didn't participate in Taylor Swift's performance art, we did find lots of art we could enjoy in Sydney: one day we joined some Australian friends to visit the Art Gallery of NSW where we enjoyed a significant exhibition of Wassilly Kandinsky. The exhibit seemed especially timely: after the Russian revolution, his abstract paintings were denounced by the Communists and he suddenly found himself an artist without a country - a reminder that not a lot has changed in Russia. It was an exhibit we could have spent a lot more time viewing and trying to understand his symbolism.
       On another day, we visited an international exhibition Ramses and the Gold of the Pharaohs at the Australian Museum.  Again, we learned that not a lot has changed politically since 2000 BC: Ramses, who had a long reign as monarch, was a master at self-promotion. Temples covered with hieroglyphics around ancient Egypt reminded his subjects of his military victories and public works. But we also learned that he was "way ahead of his time" by considering his queen, Nefertari, his equal (at least when she appeared with him in sculptures). The exhibit which had already been in Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Paris, did a fabulous job of using artists' illustrations to show what the burial places and temples must have looked like thousands of years ago.  Again, an exhibit that probably requires multiple visits to absorb all the nuances and life lessons.

Sydney Mates

New South Wales Part V
         One part of Sydney that has not changed is the natural generosity of its people, some of them our long-time friends.
         We can't talk about friends without a conversation about our two newest friends: Jasper and Shadow. They are Jasper, the dog, and Shadow, the cat. Both reside with Nancy and Bruce.
         Shadow, a black cat with white fur on her chest, was a stray that allowed our friends into her life in return for food, water and place to nap in the sun. When N&B were away, we fed Shadow, which usually entailed pulling a can of tuna or sardines out of the fridge combined with some dry cat mix. There was a musical choreography to this event.
         Meow, meow, meow.
         Yes, Shadow, I see you and hear you.
         Meow, meow.
         Kathy, I have your glass of wine.
         Meow, Meow, Meow.
         Shadow would then get in the way, just in case I didn't get the message.
         Once she had eaten, she would silently glide to where I was seated and sit on my foot. I had never known such a friendly cat. Even Kathy, who is usually allergic to cats, would say "Hello, Kitty, Kitty."
         Since Shadow is pretty old by cat standards, I assumed she was deaf. But, Kathy was convinced the cat responded to her name to tell us she was locked in the garage and would like to be released.  Who knows?
         Jasper definitely knew his name. And, Jasper, a schnauzer, knew when someone was going to take him for a walk. He would leap in the air and sprint to the front door. Maybe because Ron went on some of those walks, he started to recognize Ron's voice. Recognize, but not necessarily respond.
         "Jasper, Jasper, come here."
         No Jasper.
         "Jasper, Jasper, Jasper."
         No Jasper.
         Bruce: "Jasper the pup, Jasper the pup."
         Usually, the charcoal-colored curly-haired dog responded. And, on we marched.
         On our next to the last night, Jasper sensed we were leaving – he knew the omen of suitcases coming out. He curled up outside our room as we went to bed. He was there again in the morning.
         As we moved our bags to the front door staging area, both Jasper and Shadow appeared and sat down. The dog, I get. The cat: somehow we connected with her.
         We looked down at them and gave Jasper a rub. Shadow allowed Ron to stroke her coat.
         "Did we hear them say something like "we'll miss you"?
         I know we'll miss them.
         Of course we have more than four-legged friends in Sydney.
         We had emailed our buddies in Sydney that we were in town for a month and would love to see them. The response was fabulous.
          Our good friend, Janine Perrett, invited us to Cafe Sydney, perched on the top of the Custom House above the tourist scrum and dash for the ferries in Circular Quay. While we enjoyed the harbor views, Janine entertained us with Sydney news.  We ate gnocchi with pumpkin cream, grilled flathead with mussels and Ora king salmon with potatoes, peas and curry spices.
         Janine must have missed our New York accents because she invited us to lunch a second time at Catalina, which reigns over the beach at Rose Bay. To get to the restaurant, we grabbed the ferry from Mosman to Circular Quay, where we caught another ferry to Rose Bay - one of Sydney's Eastern suburbs. There is nothing quite like some time on the water. We wish New York did a better job with its ferries and waterways.
         Catalina's stucco white building perched on stilts above the beach could just as easily have been on one of the Greek isles. Our table was just inside the patio giving us the illusion of eating outside but without having to deal with the sea breeze and pelicans.
         Janine was in full journo-mode: an investigative journalism team from El Jazzera had caught the leaders of a Queensland political party asking the US National Rifle Association for money so it could attempt to overturn Australia's strict anti-automatic weapons laws. We were lucky that Janine stayed for her toothfish with mushroom dumplings and dashi consomme. Ron enjoyed the yellow fin tuna with wild rice and compressed watermelon, and Kathy had the sphagettini with mushrooms. Then, we hopped the ferries back to Mosman.
         Our good friend Nicola Wakefield Evans invited us to dinner at China Doll, on the wharf at Woolmooloo with her four sons. Since we had not seen most of the lads for many years, it was great fun to catch-up. Nicola had actually been to New York while we were in Sydney and was heading back again in a week. Don't ask. We caught up with Nic's husband Kym (with youngest son, Riley) about two weeks later once he sailed their newly- purchased 36-foot sailboat from Melbourne to Sydney. It sounded like an exciting and daunting trip: gales on the Bass Strait and wind on the nose all the way up the coast.
         When Kathy worked at Citibank in Sydney we became friends with John Needham and his wife, Jenny. Last year we were pleasantly surprised to get a call from Elise, their younger daughter who was on holiday in New York. We went to dinner and enjoyed her company. But, we hadn't seen Elise's older sister Clare since she was quite young.
         John and Jen invited us to spend the night with the family in their cottage in Manly. Jen, who has a certain yoga-like calmness, cooked a fabulous dinner, which seven of us consumed at a long table built for a festive occasion.
         Clare has grown up and is now a trader at Citi. She loves to play tennis, fantasizing that she would be invited to play in the US and be beaten by Serena Williams.
         Elise is making discoveries in the science lab while working on her PhD. Any spare time she spends with her boyfriend who is studying to be doctor. We got a chance to meet James after Elise gave us a tour of Sydney's inner West – including the White Rabbit, a Chinese museum filled with art that would not be available on the mainland. Elise told Kathy she hoped she would return to Sydney for her wedding. Fine with us.
         Back in Manly we felt like part of the family. In the morning, we went to a local bakery for savories and sweets before John left for work. Kathy and Ron changed into swimsuits and walked through Manly with Jen, checking out many houses Jen and John had bid on. Ron spent half an hour diving under the waves at Queenscliff beach (the north side of Manly).  The little sojourn reminded us of all the times we hopped in the car and drove to the northern beaches for a few hours of beach fun.
         We enjoyed Manly so much we returned later. John and Clare rode their bicycles down to the beach and we walked to Shelly Beach (south Manly).  The water felt like the temperature we have in Oyster Bay in early July - brisk but not freezing. Then, Ron got a few more minutes diving under the waves at North Steyne beach.
         As you could tell from our sailing adventure with the McCanns, we had a fabulous time with Kate, Matthew and their daughter Sarah. They were generous with their time and toys. We especially enjoyed a trip out to Castlecrag where they live.
         Castlecrag is a beautiful little suburb on a peninsula sticking out into the harbor. On either side of Edinburgh Road, Sydneysiders have built beautiful homes.
         The McCanns once owned one of those abodes. But when neighbors put their house up for sale, the McCanns realized a new owner could potentially build on land that would block their harbor view. They decided to sell their home, which looked like a Frank Lloyd Wright design - a low-slung house (almost all glass windows looking out at the cove below). They bought the house next door and are now designing their new digs. We're hoping to see the new house on the next trip. But, probably not in time for Elise's wedding....
         Then there were our friends Nancy and Bruce, whose hospitality was over-the-top.
         N&B literally gave us the keys to their house so we could come and go as we wanted. To help us traverse the city, they gave us fare cards that automatically deducted our fares from their bank accounts. Do you want to visit the zoo? Here are passes, good for a reduced rate.
         Bruce, the oenophile, would dig through his wine collection looking for old bottles of wine.
         "Here's a 1992 Elderton Command Shiraz we should drink at dinner tonight....I thought we should try this bottle of Pinot Noir with our salmon tonight...Do you remember when we visited this vineyard...this bottle of Greenock Creek is not too shabby."
         Yes, anybody who shares his collection of old wines with you is your friend, your really, really good friend. A really, really good friend who shares his birthday celebration with you at a fabulous Sydney restaurant, NOMAD.
         Yes, a night at NOMAD where we started the feast with: Cannellini Bean Hummus & sourdough, and housemade NOMAD Charcuterie.  The shared plates included Burrata, caramelized onions, and zucchini flowers with Pecorino truffle honey; Grilled Eggplant, black garlic, pickled chile and Jersey yoghurt; Godiva Pipis with okra saffron butter; Wood roasted Rainbow Trout with agradolce eggplant; and BBQ Lamb Rump with sugar loaf cabbage and bagna cauda.  Before we were finished we shared the Olive Oil Parfait and Turkish Coffee Tiramisu. To celebrate, we toasted with a sparkling Daosa Natural Reserve from Picadilly Valley, SA; a Pinot Noir from Place of Changing Winds "Between Two Mountains"; and an Aniquarian Barossa Shiraz. Quite a gastronomic adventure in Surry Hills, where NOMAD centers around the large open kitchen and bar situated in a turn of the century warehouse.
         Nancy knew we were interested in pearls. (No jokes please about pearls before swine after NOMAD!) After we reported a less than satisfactory visit to one major pearl jeweler, Nancy suggested we meet with her supplier of beautiful pearls. This led us to David Benn, which led us to some gorgeous Australian pearls. We're sure some of you will see them on Kathy in the future.
         Both Nancy and Bruce were more than perfect hostess and host. We got to see how they generously donate their time and lives to other people. Bruce has early breakfast meetings with members of their church. He works on the church's finances. And, in his teaching at University of Technology Sydney, he set a goal of helping his students get the highest marks on their exams.
         We couldn't even keep track of all the different ways Nancy helps other people. Just a few items: in Mt. Wilson she helped establish a visitors' center, which included Nancy donating her time. She and Bruce are both involved with the Mt. Wilson fire brigade. She is actively mentoring young business-women. And, she actively supports members of her family in their time of need.
         In short, they are not just good friends but they are also good people.
         So, when anyone asks us what we enjoyed the most about Australia, we tell them "the people." Throughout our trip we made new friends and reconnected with old mates. They all helped to make our trip special. Thank you!
Xo Xo
Kathy and Ron

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