Sydney, Philly

In the bathroom of Sydney airport, I heard ABBA's "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do." Good omen!

The city was beautiful. Our hotel was on Hyde Park. Lunch at Darling Harbor, a walk towards Circular Quay with great views of the bridge and the opera house. We browsed the market at The Rocks. I learned that opal is the national gem. We got an afternoon buzz at the Lowenbrau beer garden, then took the ferry to Manly Beach. Paella and sangria for dinner.

In Sydney the people don't wear their names on their shirts during the marathon. I went down to the quay to cheer runners on, and only a handful of runners labeled their jerseys. I cheered for a good hour, clapping, yelling, thinking the locals near me thought I was crazy because I was so much louder than their "Well done, good job"s. We were standing at mile 18 or 20. There weren't many spectators.

On Sunday night I went to the church near the hotel. I don't go to Mass often (sidenote: should Mass be capitalized or not? the Internet hasn't helped much), but 1) I wanted to see the inside and 2) maybe it satisfies a longing for the familiar when you are in a foreign place. I figure I eat McDonald's at least once when I'm abroad (even if not for work reasons), because I miss what I know. Mass is like that but with ritual. The gospel was a weird and confusing parable about an unjust steward(?) who is going to lose his job and goes around slashing debts owed to his master in an effort to secure a good name for himself(?). It contains the famous line about not being able to be a servant of two masters, money and God, but the rest of the story confused me. The priest acknowledged that it was a "controversial" parable because the guy is seemingly praised for dishonesty, but then he noted that most parables have characters that are not all good or all bad, e.g. the Prodigal Son. The priest took the story to mean (in part) that in difficult circumstances we shouldn't sit around feeling sorry for ourselves but rather think creatively about how to get out of our bad situation. I liked that. (When I was trying to find this parable, I came across this random page that applies the lesson as "we need to make the most of the resources that God has given us to our best advantage." I like that, too.)

I climbed the Harbour Bridge on my vacation day. In groups of 12 or so, you ascend the arch and get a phenomenal view of the city. (Note to Jenn: they supply the sweatshirt in case it gets cold. Also, because everything you carry with you must be attached to your body, it is a sweatshirt that is stored in a fanny pack hooked onto your harness, and on top of that, part of the hem is sewn in to the fanny pack so that the shirt can't fly away from you if you happen to remove it. A sweatshirt attached to a fanny pack attached to you. Amazing.) My climbing group included a Bulgarian, a friendly guy from San Bruno (in the news recently for the explosion by SFO), an American family, an Australian couple celebrating 47 years of marriage, a mother and son, and honeymooners from Japan. I marveled that our climb leader memorized everyone's name. The mother, Nell, had actually done the climb years before, but she was taking her son, who was about 12 or 13 years old. I imagined that my mom would have been up there with me in the same situation, and that made me happy.

After the climb, I saw the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Our Town. Funny seeing the quintessential American play in another country. It was a good production, and they made clever use of sound effects to go along with the propless actions on stage: a newspaper being thrown, cowbells clanked, coffee being stirred. The actors performed with American accents.

Do human beings ever realize life while they live it--every minute? No. That is why we try to write. Not sure if the writing hurts or helps in the end.

(My favorite part is at the end of Act One when George's sister (Rebecca!) talks about a letter her friend got addressed to: "Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America…Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the mind of God." It made me want to send a postcard right then addressed the same way.)

The day I left, I had a great latte at a cafe in the street behind the hotel. It was the beginning of the work day and sharply dressed regulars filed through. A lady in a denim jacket with long brown hair and bangs complimented the barista on looking nice that day. She smiled. "That color really brings out your eyes." He was wearing a black shirt, a uniform with the cafe's name (Chrysler) on it. I fell in love with her.

I quickly wandered the Royal Botanic Garden. Again I thought of Mom, how it would be something she would like. There were beautiful cacti, crazy of shape. There was wisteria, an orange bloom I didn't see a name for, and rhododendron. That made me smile because Mike and I talked in San Francisco about how we didn't know what it was. (Rabbit tends to that woman's garden in Rabbit, Run.)

The whole Asia trip was great. I visited places I never imagined I would go, literally on the other side of the world. (To get from Chicago to Shanghai, we flew over the North Pole.) There was again a sadness about things I would never know, that there is too much to know. I will never be an evolutionary biologist or botanist. There's not time to be all the things you want to be. There's not time to know all the names of flowers in the world and the geography of China. You look at Sydney or Shanghai on a map and see they are just specks of a larger country you may never see! It's a mix of gratitude and inadequacy.


Finally, I'm back in a place I know. The parking lot. Of a Wawa. Outside Philadelphia. I'm sitting in a rental car, a gleaming red Dodge Charger. The sun is low over Route 291 West. Marlboros are being advertised at $5.59 a pack--LOWEST PRICE ALLOWED BY LAW. It is humid, the way Eastern summer always is. I ordered a sandwich and took a picture of a Tastykake display and made the executive decision that "Tastykake" is the only word where a "k" like that is acceptable. Killing time while waiting for JP's flight to arrive. (I calculated whether there was time enough to get to Pat's and back but did not want to chance traffic.) I texted Leslie.

When I came out to my parents, when I came back from the shore, Mom told me I was always a happy kid, and then later in high school I seemed to change and didn't talk to her anymore. I want to tell her today: don't worry. Not everything is great, but I'm happy. I'm writing in a Wawa parking lot on the side of a road to the Philadelphia airport, but I like where I am.


jm said...

I was about to leave something sniffly, but then got distracted by IMPRESSIVE LIMOS MAKE SURE YOU CHECK YOUR LUGGAGE. This lead to checking out who Impressive Limos is and wondering if that might be a cool job to have because you meet so many different people and I forgot the seemingly brilliant thought I had about 'happiness fleeting, steadiness good'...so yeah. Thanks a lot, Impressive Limos.

Brian K said...

Bri - I like this post a lot, but sorry, Impressive Limos steals the show on this one