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August 25th, 2010

Sydney 1

We've been in Sydney a day and a half, more or less.  It's perfect sucker spring weather--bright, warm in the sun, clear as a crystal bell, with a few fluffy white clouds on the horizon, just so you don't get bored with a perfect blue sky.  We're staying at a friend's flat in Surrey Hills, which represents the best of both worlds.  We get to stay in an old and charming part of town, on a street lined with tiny two-story row houses, each with a pressed-ironwork balcony.  And we get to look, from the flat's all-window living room, out over the glass towers of downtown.  Flocks of lorikeets fly by at irregular intervals, and there's a window over the bathtub, so we can look out over all this splendidness as we bathe.

When we hit a town, especially after a 15 hour flight, we don't tend to hit it running.  We like to settle in, buy a pint of fruit juice and something for breakfast, check through the travel literature Ellen inevitably acquires at the airport, eat some food--generally acclimatize ourselves, in fact.  Once we'd been shown the ropes by our friend's parents, who kindly collected us at the airport, we indulged in some maki at a wonderful sushi restaurant on Crown Street, then walked over to Elizabeth Street to catch the free bus from the train station to Circular Quai. When we got there, we discovered that the Manly ferry would be leaving in 5 minutes, bought a ticket, and ran for it, on the theory that sitting on a boat and watching Sydney go by for 30 minutes was just about our speed.  The theory was a good one.  We chugged right past The Opera House (I think it looks like nested pecan shells; Ellen thinks it looks like armadillos), the Harbor Bridge (with people climbing up its arch like ants at a picnic, each one of them much braver than both of us put together), Luna Park (a restored amusement park we very well may visit), and Fort Denison (a castle-like island mid-harbor that was once an open-air prison).

Like Finland, it reminded me of places I've been before without actually being much like them.  In this case, I was reminded of San Francisco or Monterey--Northern California, anyway, with hills going right up to the water, then just stopping with a small cliff that reveals all the layers of rock, with the occasional sandy cove sloping down to the water, just for variety's sake.  And all of it stacked and terraced with apartments and houses--most only a few stories high, with occasional high-rises poking up here and there like tree-trunks in a meadow.  That's what Many looked like, too, once we got there.  As far as I can deduce, it's a bedroom community for Sydney grafted on an old resort, with a couple of streets dedicated to separating day-trippers and surfers from their money, surrounded by high-rises for people who want to live near the ocean and commute to work on a ferry.  Corso Street is the main drag.  You walk down a pedestrian mall set with ground-level fountains and palm trees and pastel-painted buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the you come to a boardwalk and a broad, pale, long beach dotted with small children and tourists, a handful of hardy surfers, the low, curling waves they're trying to ride, and beyond them all, the Pacific Ocean.  We sat on the beach steps in the sun and wind and watched the shadows lengthen and the beach turn gold.  Then we turned around and walked back to the ferry and sunset and a city bus which we rode (after some consultation with the driver) to a stop fairly near a Thai restaurant we remembered from the morning, which did take-out.  And very good take-out, too.  Those Australian friends who have bragged that Aussie Thai restaurants are superior to all other Thai restaurants everywhere except Bankok are not wrong.

As we ate our chicken with mushrooms in young ginger sauce and tofu-pumpkin curry, we discussed plans and decided that the perfect second day enterprise would be the Taronga Zoo.

And so it was. 

We like zoos.  I very much wish we lived in a world where conservation and captive-breeding programs were not necessary to keep certain species of animals from becoming extinct, but we don't.  And the Sydney Zoo has been very active in breeding pygmy hippos and Asian elephants and wombats and Tasmanian devils and tiny yellow frogs whose name escapes me.  All of which we saw (except the pygmy hippos--we flaked out before we got to them) this afternoon.  Also hopping mice and wombats and New Zealand fur seals and red kangaroos and a wallaby with a joey peeping out of her pocket and emus and a baby lamb that tried to nurse off Ellen's thumb (I have a picture, which I will post--promise) and penguins.  No platypus--they were asleep in their burrows.  No koalas, either.  You had to pay to get your picture taken with one even to get anywhere near.  It's only our second day.  There will be other koalas.  My favorite part (after Ellen's love-in with the lamb) was watching the elephants play with their keepers. They leapt about on rocks (for some alternate value of "leapt"), dragged logs around, fitted tires on tree branches like doughnuts on sticks, and generally seemed to enjoy themselves.  I've seen elephants in other zoos, face into the corner, rocking.  They looked miserable.  These looked genuinely happy.

The other big thing we did today was go to a charity event for the Indigenous Literacy Project, which is dedicated to getting books to kids living in the bush.  Garth Nix mc'd and Shaun Tan drew a one-eyed creature reading while we watched in charcoal and pastels--a truly wonderful process to watch.  Even though he was drawing characters he'd done before, you could see him making decisions about composition and color and where the light was coming from (up and to the right, I think, as if it were 3pm) as he went.  We left before the auction.  I hope the ILC made a lot of money on it.  It's an extremely worthy cause.

I still haven't figured out how to get individual pictures off Flickr and into my LJ, btw.  If anybody wants to write me at my email address with advice, I'll put up pictures happily.  I'm not ready to open the whole photostream to the public gaze just yet.

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