The other night we went for a family walk,climb through the neighborhood. Usually we walk by the water and except for the steep descent to the trail and the subsequent four dozen or so steps, it is a pretty flat walk. Our neighborhood, however, is quite hilly and some of the homes in front of us and behind us enjoy some of the prettiest views in Sydney. One family, though, would like a bit of a better view as evidenced by this sign attached to a dying tree in our neighbors yard.
"We know you are poisoning our tree, and we know who you are. You will be caught."
Of course poisoning someone else's tree is wrong. But the intent is probably not purely one of malice. There is probably a fair amount of greed thrown in as well. The people that are poisoning the tree might be trying to sell their own home and that tree could be blocking a literal million dollar view across the bay.
Trees are a contentious issue here in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney.
One only need to look to the Eastern beaches (really the Southern beaches) to see why. They are a mass of brick and concrete with nary a tree in sight. Having learned the lesson of the much earlier developed Eastern Suburbs, city councils seem to keep track of every tree on every postage stamp sized property on the Northern Beaches. Once planted they are very difficult to uproot, which is why I awoke this morning to men standing atop my neighbors house pointing to various limbs they might be able to cut down on the large maple tree in their own yard so that the top story could enjoy a better view of the bay. That home is on the market and that view is worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars. I'm not sure that they'd be able to cut down the tree on their own property even if they wanted to.
All of the above offends my Texas libertarian sensibilities. My parents live on a farm and the idea of their neighbors having a say as to whether or not a tree gets cut down is outrageous. "Of course people should be able to do as they choose with their own trees on their own property." But, here I can see the difference. I enjoy the treed vistas over the neighborhoods. The purple flowers on the Jacaranda trees are beautifully set against the terracotta roofs and green foliage that blanket the Northern beaches. The Spit to Manly walk provides beautiful vistas with treed neighborhoods as well as National Parks and, well, "If everyone were allowed to cut down trees in their own yard, what would it look like?" People have moved to the Northern Beaches and paid good money to live in a place with parks, and beaches, and trees. And if you choose to live here, you have to aquiece to a government that will have a larger say on what you do with your property. It would be considered selfish to move here because you want to look across the bay and see trees, rooftops, hills, water, and then cut down every single tree on your property (and poison the neighbors tree as well) so that you may do so. After all the people living in the tiny hovel of an apartment and paying outrageous amounts in rent on the other side of the bay are wanting to see trees and beach and sea and terra- cotta roofs as well.
I talked to a woman originally from Russia that said the reason the red states were red and in general more concerned about the rights of the individual versus the rights of the collective society had to do with space. Those living in close quarters wanted a little more say in the daily ongoings of those living around them. It seems a rather simple analysis, but as I am wondering whether or not the neighbor next door might cut down the tree in their yard that blocks the hot morning sun out of my living room, well, I can at least understand another's point of view.
One sign that we read said that while the city appreciated the occasional visit from the flying foxes, they did not appreciate their setting up permanent residence. Currently they were using non-violent means to discourage the bats from roosting there. (Do bats roost?) All in all it seems as though it is wasted tax money. The bats are everywhere. And quite frankly, I've got a brother and several cousins who could probably get the job done in a fortnight if violent means were employed. Anyway, I'm not the only one taken by the bats, Erica posted about them in her blog as well. She said they can do quite a bit of damage to fruit crops in one night.
Sydney shines in the sun. It really does. The Opera house shines a glistening white. Gleaming white sailboats accent the Sydney Harbour, And the water glistens. It was a beautiful day for a walk and today without any pain at all I was able to do just that.
We walked through the outside market at The Rocks, stopped for banana bread and coffee, then headed past circular quay and the Sydney Opera House to the Botanical Gardens. On the way there several people told us to be sure to look for the bats. They said they hung from the trees in the day time. So at every tree we passed--and we passed several in the botanical gardens--I would squint up into the tree looking for bits of tree bark that might be moving. I'd seen bats before. They basically looked like tiny mice, only uglier and with wings, or so I thought. So I was not prepared for this: They looked like scorched camping lanterns hanging from the trees. They are fruit bats, but some people call them flying foxes because that sounds better than flying sewage rats. They had a wingspan of about 2.5 feet. There were at least a couple thousand hanging out above the trees that enveloped a rather nice cafe. A very quaint place where people calmly drank coffee and ate scones and remarked about the fine weather as they watched glittering sale boats criss-cross the bay while bats--the kind that make great pets! If you are a vampire--hung precariously above them.
The Australian Museum (natural history) has a wonderful story and craft time on Thursdays at 10:30 and 11:15. At 9:30 when the museum opened we went up to the kids area on the second floor, reserved a spot for story time then had morning tea in the cafe downstairs.
As the kids ate their banana bread and I drank my cappuccino, which I minds well get because the closest thing they have to regular coffee is just as expensive, I realized that I will miss living in the center of the city.
The museum really is a wonderful place for kids. Actually, Australia does a great job with all museums. This one in particular has lots of stuffed (as in by a taxidermist) animals that kids can see and touch. It also has lots of buttons. There is a direct correlation between the number of buttons Caleb can press and his satisfaction rating of any museum. The children's area has plenty to climb, touch, manipulate. Caleb's favorite place was a sunken ship that he could hunker down in and grab at peoples ankles that happened by.
The story time was about rain because this is one of the wettest winters anyone can remember. Since Australia is suffering from drought this would seem to be wonderful news, but apparently they located the catchment areas in the middle of deserts and have received very little rain where it matters.
Anyway, Rain. The teacher read an Eric Carle book called Little Cloud. If you don't know the story here it is: Little Cloud forms himself into different shapes. Riveting. But I love Eric Carle books because of the pictures and they really do seem to inspire art. After reading, the children donned little aprons and painted their own white clouds into whatever shape they wanted. They also had the option of tearing up tissue paper and sticking it to construction paper to make a cloud. Or they could watercolor a rainbow. Elise loved painting with the color red and Caleb loved painting a very wet painting of a cloud that I ended up attempting to dry with the hand dryer in the women's bathroom.
Right now most of our books are in a shipping container on a dock somewhere near the sydney harbor. We look forward to seeing them again. Meanwhile, I've been meaning to put a list of favorite books for children, and I'd love it if you would list your favorites in my opinion section.
I don't have much to say. But Mom still wants to see the kids, so here are the pictures. Caleb is trying to imitate the statue of the stork on his left.
Here we are listening to a Blues Brother's rendition during Sydney's Blues Festival.
It was odd to see everyone in sweaters and coats just hanging out on the beach watching the surfers. Elise was adamant about not allowing her feet to touch the sand. But Eric peeled her off of him long enough for me to get this shot. I hope she gets over her squeamishness regarding the sand--it could be a problem.
Friday we visited the Taronga Zoo. Much of the zoo seems to be under construction. The elephants were not there. And we never could find the open entrance to the Orangutans. But it is a beautiful zoo. They have a great Australia Wild section that features lots of interactives for kids. One of the zoo keepers let Caleb feed live grasshoppers to the snake-necked turtle. This was loads of fun--for Caleb and the turtle anyway.
We were able to purchase tickets at Circular Quay which is basically the hub for all the ferries. It cost A$32.00 for a Zoo ticket, but you can for a mere A$37.00 (about $27.00) purchase a ticket that includes the ferry, the gondola ride to the top of the zoo, the zoo ticket and all returns. The zoo itself is about as good as the Fort Worth zoo, but it is in a spectacular setting. We had lunch at a place with a view across the harbour while the lorikeets, there at the zoo by there own volition, looked on. I think that is pretty cool.
Sunday Eric and I drove a car for the first time in Australia.
And (obviously) we lived to tell about it.
They drive on the wrong opposite side of the road here. So Eric--in my opinion--an opinion I gasped through clinched teeth on more than one occasion kept driving too far to the left. There were a few times when I thought the yellow caution signs might take off the side review mirror.
Not that I was any better. I was constantly signaling my intent to turn right to the drivers behind me by turning on the windshield wipers. The way that I remember which way to turn is simply to remember the following: Right--turn tight. Left is loose, now do the opposite of that.
I waited until we were way out of town. In fact we were in Ku-ring-gai Chase national park before I would get behind the wheel. The park had a great little Visitors Center. We went on an easy half hour (at the most) walk where we saw cockatoos, lorikeets, wallabies, kangaroos, Australian magpies, and ducks all in their natural setting. It also provided a nice vista of the park and the river below. The greatest part about this was that on Sunday this is about a half hour drive from the center of the city.
Now, driving back we went down the coast and I caught my first glimpse of the coastline. We also drove through several of the neighborhoods in the area we have looked for housing. It is packed. Houses look like they sit atop one another and in the case of apartments they do.
Anyway, we drove into Manly to look at one of the places we could afford. Unfortunately, the place we wanted to see was blocked off. We found out later that the road the home was on was the only way to an old church that currently houses a tourism college. Nicole and Keith got married at it last night. In fact we saw the two white cars (I assume that she was just in one) that carried her up to the church. I was outside the Coles after buying some snacks for the kids and there they went. That is probably one of my nearer brushes with fame. Actually, come to think about it, that is probably my only.
Elise ran a temperature and seems to have begun a full-on ("full-on" is a very Aussie expression) teething process, so we stayed in on Thursday and Friday. Plus it was raining. Needless to say the apartment got very small. Just when we were about to make an attempt to go out on Friday, Caleb got so excited he ran around the corner, down the hallway, tripped on a box and kept himself from falling straight to the floor by using his forehead to sort of catch himself on the door jam. I've recorded the results, but the photo really doesn't do it justice.
But with Saturday came the sun! And a sunny day in Sydney just seems more, well, sunny--the sky and water competing to see which can be a deeper shade of blue. So today we loaded up Elise's stroller with our jackets and diapers and toys and pacifiers and umbrellas and, oh yes, Elise, and after only one false start we were off.
First we went to the Powerhouse Museum. What a great place! It used to be the powerhouse for the Sydney trams and you can still see some of the track going across the outdoor cafe, but now it functions as a four level museum housing among a myriad of other things the helicopter that flew around the world and to both poles (not on the same trip), An eco house that features the same shower head that Eric has complained about since we moved here, and a pullout underneath the sink that can house four garbage areas for trash and recycling (I thought that was cool). Frankly, I found myself fascinated by the strides scientist have made in the eco-friendly arena. For example, having caught on that most people don't need the plastic surrounding their chocolate Easter bunnies to last a lifetime, Cadbury now uses a plastic made from plant materials that biodegrades after a period of time. This was good news to me. We are now friends of the Aquarium and just after observing the cute little blue fairy penguins frolic about on the sand and rock and surf of the glassed in aquarium we read on a display wall about the life cycle of a plastic bag carelessly tossed into the bay by a group of drunken tourist. The bag tours the world murdering no less than six animals including a cute little blue fairy penguin like the one pictured here before finally washing ashore to be collected by a responsible young Aussie lad in a school uniform attending a beach cleanup day.
Another captivating exhibit was in the robotics hall very close to the Replica of the robot from Lost in Space. (Is there an award for number of pics and useless links in a post?) This particular robotic arm would pick up a particular prop and use it while it danced to the music. For Beastie Boys Fight for your Right it picked up an industrial style mop head that made it look very much the part of a hard rocker as it swung its "head" back and forth in head banger fashion. To the ten year old boy who kept pressing all the buttons it held up a sign that basically said, I've had enough of your childish games, go away.
On the tour I was surprised to learn that this porcelain piece is among its most valuable. It is bust of the court jester Schmiedel for Augustus the Strong of Poland. Schmeidel liked to do tricks with mice coming out of his mouth and the king thought this was so hilarious he commissioned a porcelain bust of the guy in 1739. August the Strong's son was very much into porcelain. He had his alchemist work out the formula, evidently the Chinese would not share, then he built a factory and went broke making items like this bust. There are only three known to exist and one turned up in Sydney (of all places) in 1949. So here it sits in the powerhouse museum next to a three story steam engine used to power a brewery in London from 1785-1885. The engine only produced about as much energy as our car engines do, but then how many of our cars last a hundred years?
The Powerhouse Museum could be best described as a Smithsonian that can be conquered. It has a little bit of everything and Caleb enjoyed it because lots of the exhibits had buttons to press. This seems to be his sole requirement of any museum we attend.
Oh, one more thing, as we walked from the Powerhouse museum today we passed some terrace homes. Terrace houses look like shoe boxes turned on their sides. But outside one we saw a couple of lorikeets, just sitting there on the window sill. They were the first ones I'd seen. Then we looked above our heads and like we used to see Grackles in Sundance Square in Fort Worth, we saw a flock of lorikeets. It was really amazing.
Caleb, Elise and I went to Hyde Park today. We took the train even though a couple days before we had walked to a place nearby. I thought it would save us a little bit of energy.
But I learned that not all stations have lifts. And also learned that they print a list of the ones that do. As I sorted the best possible way for me to "roll" the stroller containing Elise and all the gear she requires up the stairs, someone (the first person that happened by) offered to help me carry stroller and all up to the top. This happened at every stairway we encountered. The first person that walked by always offered a hand and I always very gratefully accepted. We are fortunate to be in such a friendly place.
Here are a few pics. In the background is St. Mary's Cathedral. In the latter picture, I must confess that is about as close as I could get to a picture of Elise. She is constantly on the move.