Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tasmania: A Childhood Memory

Beneath the high ceiling of the downstairs apartment in Battery Point, she sat quietly on their last morning in Hobart and meandered through memories of the past week. This had been their second flight to Tasmania. Two years ago they had flown into north-western Tassie to Cradle Mountain where they spent two days trekking through the button grass wilderness. Late autumn 2008 they had returned, this time to Hobart for a celebration of his 60th birthday.

After the two and a half hours flight from Brisbane, they landed eighteen kilometres north of this island capitol city and wrapped themselves in jumpers and rain gear.

Dick and Tricia, friends from years of film making who now lived in Hobart, materialized about ten minutes later as the Brisbane tourists awaited their luggage.

As always she was a bit trepidacious about meeting these two people who were always coiffed perfectly, whose soft earth tones coordinated with the streaks of blond in lovely beige slightly poofed hair. The first comment from these folks who wore the right shoes and light woollen slacks was, 'Dorothy, here you are, our backpacker!'

Immediately taking minor offence at being so identified, she glanced down at her clunky hiking boots. They were simply too heavy to smash into a suitcase.

All of the Australian's friends, even the artistic ones, had Tourettes. Whatever they were thinking they said.

And at the same time they were obviously delighted at the arrival of friends. Kisses all round with compliments on Graham's new titanium glasses and small talk about all the tourist possibilities filled the few moments until the baggage stumbled off the conveyor belt. She had not seen him for at least a year and she instantly noted changes in his appearance

'That's mine. The one with the maple leaf tag. I travel most times as a Canadian,' Dorothy bragged. 'Safer that way.'

'Oh yes,' replied dick. 'Canadians are still well loved.'

Here they were with millionaires , riding in a tiny Honda about to embark on their maiden voyage to Hobart. Good on em.

Not only were Dick and Tricia accommodating, they were generous, far more generous than she expected. From the back seat of their little Honda the tour commenced of the brick and sandstone city on the Pictin River. Arranged around the long inlet, the city stood on the south shore protected from the cold westerlies storming in from the Antarctic Ocean by Mt. Wellington, a massive ridgeline running the entire north south border of the city.

As they exited the airport where Tasmanian police were busily giving tickets to airport drivers who had exceeded the 40kph speed limit around the new construction. All four shook their heads and continued on at a very slow pace.

Reaching the highway, the Honda flashed along at 100 kph towards Hobart. Very green gumtree forests covered the lower vales near the highway while ridgelines showed the effects of the timber industry in what was once a temperate rain forest.

She had expected to see some of the tall trees of the western side of Tasmania, the ones through which they had driven on their trip to Cradle Mountain. No. land clearing had been going on here in the east for the past 200 years. Whatever was left in terms of forestation was fortunate indeed and probably very young.

The city across the inlet sat like a jewel with a surprise. In the middle of the bay docked on the south side was a huge red vessel. The Arctic Voyager, an icebreaker, became her focal point. Whenever she saw it, she knew she was headed to her home away from home. Later an American battleship, overwhelmed in size by the Artic Voyager docked nearby. Imagine! An Australian environmental research vessel bigger than an American battleship.

Soon it became obvious that the city streets were arranged as a series of one-way grids. Unlike Brisbane, Hobart seemed to have been settled by military personnel who had a sense of order. Not all streets fit the grid, but generally they rotated around a wheel with Salamanca Square, dockside at the centre of radiating spokes. It would be difficult to lose oneself in Hobart.

They drove past the Arctic Voyager and up the hill to Battery Point, the spot from which the early military commanders built gun defences to protect the colony from what was feared might be marauding invaders – the Spanish and the French. However, neither committed the folly of attacking, which seemed well for the British since by all accounts those shore batteries could not have defended the city. She supposed, as in modern times, it was not the defensive nature of the guns, but the imagination of the residents that allowed them to feel safe.

As they drove past the wide streets of Salamanca Square, Dick pointed out 'the best noodle shop in town, the finest fresh vegetables and fruit shops, and finally, the best deli, 'The Worst House', all located near their vacation abode.

They parked their little conveyance on the narrow alleyway of Humbolt Street and in a light sprinkling of rain walked to the Bakery where they would eat three of the five mornings we were on vacation. As always, the smell of yeast rising, of warm sour dough accentuated her appetite.

They sat in ice cream parlour chairs at round black tables and enjoyed a superb cuppa. A flat white was not hard to make, but an excellent flat white – piquant, sharply awakening taste buds, was not easily found. This cafe bakery never failed them.

'Flat white in a mug?"

' Sorry we have only cups' rather smugly.

'Ok, then, a flat white in a cup, please,' echoed three times. Taste buds titillated by the fragrances resonating from the old brick walls of the 1830s building stimulated appetites.

'I'll have the rabbit, mushroom, tart with the Greek cheese and hazelnuts,' said she.

'And I will have the scrambled eggs with the Tasmanian salmon crust,' said Trish. 'Please don't make the salmon hot. I prefer it at room temperature.'

Food was the delight of her life. Good food accented any situation. It formed the plate from, which she tasted new territory. Hobart currently seemed the culinary delight of all of Australia thanks to the little bakery and to the amazing food at Stanwell House, home of Tricia and Dick.

After their light lunch, they were dropped off at the lovely space that would be their home for the next five days. The old house, a half block from the bay, less than a kilometre from where the Artic Explorer was docked, only a block away from the Bakery, had recently been sold. As seemed to be true throughout Hobart, the garden flourished with blossoms still budding even though they were far into autumn. The daily rain showers probably had something to do with the health of all that greenery.

They had a large veranda looking out towards the bay. They entered into a hallway on the left side of which was the lounge/kitchen, the right side of which was a huge bedroom complete with queen sized comforter-covered bed and almost floor to ceiling windows. The bathroom with washer, dryer, bathtub and shower, was located at the end of the hall.

This entire scenario sounded almost too perfect. And so it was until their last night on this southern most island state of Australia when it was necessary for Graham and Dick to complete business concerning their long years of coordinating lights and cameras to produce some of the most effective commercials screened on Australian television. Dorothy was invited to join the former business partners that evening. Although Tricia was out at Spanish lessons that late afternoon, Dorothy could have gone along and entertained herself with a good story while the two men talked.

However, she preferred to spend that last afternoon in the art shops of Salamanca Square, shops she had not had the time to investigate earlier in the week.

'If you drop me off at the Square, I'll window shop and then pick up some Vietnamese take away for dinner. I'll meet you here in the apartment when you're finished. I suspect I'll be home before you. Would you mind if I took the key?'

'Of course not. Here you go.' Graham finagled the house key off the car key ring, handed it to her, bent to give her a kiss and opened the front door as they headed off to the car.

'You sure you don't want to come along?' he queried as he unlocked the car.

'No, I've wanted to look around those shops. This is a fine opportunity. I'll see you here in a couple of hours.'

And so they drove off around Arthur's Circle to Salamanca Square, where she kissed her driver and stepped onto the cobblestones.

Graham drove off as she wandered across the street to decide which shop to visit first. The glassware caught her attention, brilliantly colourful in the late afternoon greyness. It was 4:30 and in so southern a climate, the sun was reaching for the western horizon behind the huge precipice of Mt. Wellington.

She loved jewellery. She had very little, but she loved to window shop. These pieces were larger than life. Huge silver squares connected to make a most unusual chain upon which rested a brilliant blue/glass square bead. It would take someone with a rare personality to wear them.

In another corner were brilliant red/blue woolen sweaters, avant-garde, unusual, made for only the very slender, but beautifully crafted with buttons to set off their angular cut. It was hard to call them jumpers; they were fashion pieces made for only the most dramatic women to wear.

The next shop was rife with wood; bowls, cutting boards, placemats, knives, and leather belts and more woven goods, woollen scarves resplendent in designer colours and shapes and berets to keep one warm in the far south.

Rather suddenly, she was awakened from her artistic window shopping. It was always an unexpected surprise to find that Australians really do go home for afternoon tea, that their marketing gene was not as strong as that of Americans who would never close the doors of a shop if there were a shopper present.

Politely, window shades were drawn and keys jangled mildly in the shop owner's hands. Time for her to exit. Much sooner than she expected. There were still had two hours before the Australian would return from his meeting.

Nonetheless, she exited and headed for the market to purchase milk for morning tea, some island cheese and winter pears for their dessert on her way to the Vietnamese Noodle shop where she debated on their order.

Finally, she decided on green curry and vegetarian rice paper rolls.

Valhalla Ice Cream from King Island was also on sale.

'Do you have these flavours in bulk?'

'We have cones, and paper cups. We have no tops for the cups.'

'That's ok. Please, may I have a double dip of mango and a double dip of macadamia nut in the cups?'

Placing the ice cream gingerly in the corners of her plastic bag, she began the kilometre walk up hill to their apartment. The sun was low on the horizon, well below Mt. Wellington. Cool air from the bay surrounded her as she climbed the steps up from the square to the high ground of Battery Point.

Arriving home, she put the ice cream in the little freezer and the noodles into the apartment refrigerator. She sat down on the lounge, took out her pencil and her sodoku while she waited for Graham's arrival.

As she finished a puzzle, she looked out the huge windows eastward toward the bay. Darkness had settled quietly all round. Unbidden, a great angst caught her breath and carried it away. Nervous tension replaced her relaxed demeanour. Nervous, she set down her pencil and book and began to pace the room, moving out into the hallway. Opening the door, she paced out to the veranda. Tears began to form. Shaking, she re-entered the hallway, closed the door and found herself sobbing.

Her mind echoed. 'You know where he is. He will be here shortly. He loves you. Stop this. Calm down.'

And as the words moved through her consciousness, her muscles trembled, the tears flowed, and short sharp cries of pain reverberated across the apartment. 'Oh, no. I can't do this. I can't stand to feel this way. Help me. Oh, help me.'

She sat upon the queen sized bed, threw herself onto the pillows, rolled over and slid to the ground, sitting with her back against the bed crying uncontrollably.

There was a knock. In some part of her consciousness, she had heard him walk cross the cement veranda. She had to go to the door. There was no way for him to get in unless she unlocked the door. And so trembling, wiping her nose with her fist, she ran to the door, undid the lock, opened the door, and apologizing, ran back into the bedroom.

Still crying, she rolled onto the bed, facing the wall. Curling up into the smallest ball possible, she tried to calm herself.

Several minutes later, her tears drying, her sobbing diminished, she blew her nose and walked into the lounge room where Graham was sitting alone staring off into space.

'I am sorry. I had an anxiety attack. It is not your fault. I thought I could handle myself. I am sorry.'

'You have no idea how hard this is for me. I can't go anywhere. I cannot leave you alone. I never know what I will come home to find.'

'I apologize. It is not your fault. Abandonment overwhelmed me. I was so utterly alone. I couldn't stand it. I don't know what to do.'

And there they were; their birthday celebration ending in anguish, anxiety. Once more, she had lost control.