05 January 2006

Greetings From Soggy, Grey Australia

"It is not enough that we succeed," Gore Vidal is supposed to have famously opined, "Others must also fail." Similarly, there's a part of us that is not content merely to be happy ourselves; we must know that somewhere others are miserable.

Or at least that's the only explanation I can come up with for my not being satisfied with lying on a sunny beach in Sydney while most people I know are struggling through a cold, snowy, Northern Hemisphere winter. Well, actually, I am rather satisfied; the only problem comes when I see they're having a warm (as in rising more than a few degrees above freezing) up in New York or London. Then I get almost indignant, as if to say, "What's the point of making the effort and spending the money to come down here if those people back home are lounging around in only two or three layers of clothing instead of shivering inside their fur-lined mukluks and mushing teams of huskies through the permafrost streets?"

Very churlish of me, I admit, and those of you unable to forgive such attitudes will be pleased to know that for two days now Sydney has been blanketed under a sodden mass of cloud that occasionally unleashes, well, not quite proper rain, but enough moisture to make walking unpleasant and the playing of cricket (the international Test match between Australia and South Africa is presently unfolding, or, not, as the case happens, at the Sydney Cricket Ground) impossible.

And it's chilly, too, a mere 22 degrees Celsius (72F), which is not exactly igloo weather, but not quite the best of beach weather, either. Nevertheless, we went to the beach yesterday anyway, not, as it turned out, to swim. This was a proper ocean beach, not a wussy Harbour beach, and the waves were bigger than I was. What's more, there was a chilly wind blowing from the general direction of Antarctica. The water temperature was actually warmer than the air temperature, and all the little children happily jumped right in, but I also remembered that when we were here on this same beach last year, not five minutes after I revealed my concern about shark attacks and was loudly pooh-poohed for it, a siren sounded a shark alert, everyone came running out of the water, and the lifeguards went charging out in their little rubber boats to chsse the sharks away. Why the sharks didn't simply bite holes in the boats was never explained to me.

Ah well, it was a beautiful day at the beach anyway, and at least I didn't get sunburned. We had lunch (yes, a barbecue, though I haven't yet heard anyone refer to it as a barbie) on the deck overlooking the ocean, and I photographed some rainbow-coloured parrots or somesuch that were just kind of lounging around on the railing, though I can't post the pictures here until I work out some technical difficulties. And we had a good chat about Australian politics, which unless you move in certain circles, is rare, since most Australians seem to know - or care - even less about Australian politics than I do. However, this was one of those certain circles, and I heard loads of excellent gossip and inside information, none of which, unfortunately, I'm free to post here. Good thing that about 99% of you couldn't care less anyway.

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