A Mighty Wind

Having been two weeks in Sydney and with one more week to go, Orit and I decided on a major change. We decided to move to a hotel in the city, rather than continue staying as guests of Na'ama and Barak.

The reasons for this change were many. First off, I am allergic to cats. They make my nose run and my eyes water. Now, the presence of Chat-chat and Misty, surprisingly, did not aggravate this allergy much, but still, after two weeks, I felt that enough was enough: I wanted to be able to take a deep breath without sneezing and to remember what it's like when my eyes are not dry and itchy.

Second, we were very cold there. The house has an amazing property that even when it's forty degrees outside, it's still shivering cold inside. At night, when the temperatures really dropped, we wrapped ourselves in the best blankets known to man, curled up in them individually, put on a foot-warmer (that would, ultimately, wreak havoc to the inflatable mattress we slept on), and shiver ourselves into dreamland. For Orit this was a nightmare, because any attempt to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night involved going out into the freezing cold. We would have given up on this sooner, if it wasn't that at least there was no shortage of hot water. That was a blessing. Any potential visitors to Barak and Na'ama's house, however, should be alert to the fact that the bathroom sink has two faucets: one for hot water, one for cold, so every time you want to brush your teeth you are faced with the dilemma of whether to do so with water that is boiling hot or freezing cold.

Third, Orit and I still think of ourselves as a young couple, and every one of our holidays is something of a honeymoon. This particular holiday was the longest one we ever had, and we wanted to enjoy some of it as quality time alone. (This need was additionally facilitated by the freezing cold of the apartment. You do understand that being human pigs-in-a-blanket is not something that is helpful to the sort of activities that married couples often indulge in, in their honeymoons...)

Fourth, we were beginning to feel sorry about Barak and Na'ama. You remember the old saying that a guest and a fish smell after three days. Well, we were there already for a fortnight, and enjoying the best hospitality possible. We wanted to leave before Na'ama and Barak start wanting to throw us out. We hoped to still be welcome the next time we came over for a visit.

Finally, the location of the house was such that it took ten minutes to reach a bus station. For us, who aren't very organized about that sort of thing, it took an additional ten minutes of waiting for a bus. Then, it took roughly thirty minutes to get to the city center (more than half of these spent crossing the bridge. It's a long bridge). Reaching the city, we were usually within a ten-minute walk of where we wanted to be. What all that adds up to, considering both the way there and the way back, is that roughly two hours of every day were spent just traveling to and from the apartment, not actually enjoying the city we were in. We wanted to move to a place that was central.

That we did. After some debating, we picked a hotel that was dead-center in Sydney's bull's-eye. To give you some idea of the location, when we turned on the cell-phone there, we never knew which of five different cells is going to be strongest. We were right smack in the middle between HAYMARKET, CHINATOWN, ULTIMO, GEORGE STREET and CENTRAL (called so, because of the central railway station). All these referred to items that were less than two minutes of walking away, from Hyde park to Paddy's market.

Na'ama helped us settle in to our designated hotel room, and then Orit changed rooms no less than four times, until she was happy with the size of the room. (In the end, we got a large room and paid for it the price of a small room. I thought the whole bit was a waste of time, but I was proved wrong, as you will soon see.)

So, merely four room-shifts later, we were out there, just the two of us in the big city, ready to live la vida loca.

That held for roughly two hours. After that, Orit's body temperature rose to the low forties (centigrade) and she was bed-bound for half the week. I will save you the suspense: no sooner had she begun to get better than my own body temperature started going through the roof. But first thing's first:

That afternoon, unaware of the impending doom that lay before us, Orit and I decided to spend the day in Bondi. Na'ama kept talking about Bondi in derogative terms, considering it a "Tel-Aviv that grew out of proportions", where many if not most of the inhabitants were Jewish. Orit heard this, and decided that this was a must-see site. She wanted to eat a good falafel. (Incidentally, if you ever do wish to eat a good falafel in Sydney, do yourself a favor and go to a Turkish place or, at worst, a Lebanese one.)

We never did find any Tel-Aviv feeling to Bondi, nor large Jewish crowds. Bondi itself was relatively uninteresting, except for the beach. Bondi Beach is similar to Manly Beach, but less high-class. You'll find many small restaurants, including fast-food, right on the boardwalk. The white sand is lovely, the surfer-friendly waves, too. We spent there most of the afternoon just walking about. Then we rode the bus back to the hotel and got Orit into bed for the next three-or-four days.

We felt very lucky that we decided to switch to a hotel when we did, as most of the remaining week was spent consuming ton-loads of tissue paper and frantically running to the bathroom. Had we been still in Cremorne, that would have been very bad indeed. Still, these weren't the benefits that we were planning to reap from the move...

The first day of Orit's illness was pretty busy for me. I had to take care of all sorts of things such as food for me, food for her, and proper air-conditioning to the room. Food for Orit turned out to be an interesting challenge, as she does not, in general, eat anything that they serve in Chinatown. I became very friendly with the local Indian Seven-Eleven manager, trying to find some soup that Orit can eat. This was ultimately solved when, searching the storage room behind the shop, he came up with some instant chicken noodle soup. I prepared it right there in the Seven Eleven, and made sure to peel the pictures off the package, knowing full well that Orit will never touch it if she knew what the drawing was. (I checked this later on with her, and found out that I was right on this. What Chinese people consider appetizing imagery, Orit considers pretty alarming stuff.)

On the second day, all this (including harassing the hotel employees into getting our room temperature up) became something of a routine, and I was free to do some sightseeing, albeit by myself. I went to see the Art Gallery of New South Wales, that contains an interesting collection of some rather diverse artwork, from the ancient to the contemporary. They had some modern art exhibits, some Chinese art placed right along with Japanese art, quite a few paintings from the 18th and 19th century, and a good many things (especially in the 20th century painting division) that I really liked.

Leaving the art gallery at closing time I found myself on the beginning of a path leading along the water-line on a little land-inlet into the bay. This recently reforested area is known as Mrs. Macquarie's Bushwalk, after the wife of the first governor of Sydney. It leads alongside the botanical gardens (closed at that time of the evening) right up to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, which is a little groove in a rock that, reportedly, she was fond of sitting on. When Mrs. Macquarie used to walk here, it was a eucalyptus grove, but this was since cut down. Reforestation and the bringing back of some native animal sorts are meant to bring the area back to its original state. This form of "bush-planting" is quite common in Australia's major cities, and in the National Museum of Australia they even try to convince people to plant domestic plant-sorts in their gardens, in order to create "green corridors" in the city and help the local wildlife (possums and the like) return to the area. The general concept is that Australian cities already have enough park areas in them to allow for a reasonable-sized population of animals, but they need the green corridors in order to get from park to park, otherwise the whole thing doesn't work.

All these thoughts were, at the time, very far from my mind. Perhaps it was the effect of all those 19th century might-of-nature-versus-humbleness-of-man paintings, but I was absolutely awestruck by the view that spread before me along the bushwalk, and still consider it the best landscape scene I have seen all trip. Maybe one day I will paint it, but for now let me just try to describe its major ingredients:

It is five o'clock in the evening. The sun, though above the horizon, is hidden by the eucalyptus trees on the left. These are a dark green that is almost black and appear as thin silhouetted shapes. Towards the center, where land meets see on a rock-strewn beach, the trees recline over the water. The water itself is a maze of dark blues and bright pinks, reflecting the sky. This sky is the most prominent of all that is seen. It burns in crimson and the dramatic clouds play with the light and seem to glow from within. They hang in the air, bright orange colors in stark contrast to dark blue undertones.

In the midst of all this, the island of Fort Denison is the only point the eye is drawn to. Its ancient-looking stone walls are lit by white electric lights that have just been turned on as nightfall approaches, but these lights are mere pinpricks of white against the palette of primary colors thrown in by nature.

I doubt if this description helps you any. If you wait a few years, I may draw the picture in full and then you'll see.

Reaching the end of the land inlet, I got to Mrs. Macquarie's chair. However, as soon as I was out of the sheltering eucalyptus trees a strong wind hit me head on, so I didn't want to stay there for any period of time. The chair itself was occupied, and I didn't want to wait, so I simply climbed the stone stairs around the chair to the vantage point above it. From there, one can see the Art Gallery of NSW, Fort Denison, the harbour bridge, the opera house, and, well, all of Sydney. It's a sight to see.

Unfortunately, I was fully exposed and the wind was blowing fiercely in my face, nearly knocking me off my feet, so I began making my way back. I chose to continue the walk, instead of returning from the path I came from, and resultantly I had to battle with the wind during the entire walk. It was not until later, when I talked to Na'ama, that she told me it was pure craziness to be out there that day, and the T.V. reports talked about wind velocities in excess of 100 kilometers per hour.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the next morning I woke up with 39 centigrade, and just as Orit was getting better, I was getting worse. I spent the next few days living on instant soup from the same Seven Eleven mentioned above, and hear that when we got better and stopped ordering it the shop-keeper was very alarmed by what this might mean.

Orit, by the way, did not waste the day, even though she was still shaky on her feet. She went to see Currambena school (described in the Back to School section), leaving me, shaking and sneezing, in the hotel.

One last anecdote about this week (and the best one, if you ask me) goes as follows. When Orit was ill, I kept telling her that we should go to Dr. Sim, Na'ama's family doctor, who has a practice in one of Sydney's northern suburbs. In Australia, you generally see only your family doctor when you need any medical assistance, regardless of the sort of medical assistance you need. Your family physician is a medical one-man-band. Anyway, Orit was against it, even though I believe she was taking medicine that was making her worse instead of better. When I got ill, even though it was our last day in Sydney so Dr. Sim would have had very little opportunity to do anything useful, and even though I was at that stage when getting out of bed in order to go to the bathroom is a grueling trek, so going by train out of town is akin to a trip to the moon, I nevertheless insisted that I wanted Orit to take me to Dr. Sim's practice in St. Leonard's, even if it meant paying the price of a private consultation.

What makes this an interesting anecdote is that when we got out of the good doctor's office, we came across Na'ama.

She was waiting to see Dr. Sim, too.

When we finally decided to be blunt Israelis and ask what brings her there, she stuttered a little, then spilled her beans: she came to show Dr. Sim the results of a blood test she did the day before. The results just came in, and what they stated is that Na'ama got the preggers. She was expecting a little Atzmon-Simon.

Man, talk about "being the first to know"...