July 2008 Archives

Summer Baseball

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Tod settles into the game as the sun sets on Jingu Stadium.

The home team, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, had a cheering section right behind us. They are chanting to encourage Aoki at bat, but in the end, he strikes out.

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They were enthusiastic and hopeful, but in the slowly unfolding contest (here you can see that it's bottom of the 5th and almost 2 hours into the game), their team were behind most of the time. We left at 8:30 for dinner, and just missed a tremendous thunderstorm that halted the game in the 8th inning.

Before the rain started, the Hanshin Tigers' fans had a trick up their sleeve.

Slippery Eels

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I stepped off the plane to a morning that felt like swimming in my own blood. The air in the city smells vaguely of chlorine like walking into the lobby of an indoor pool. I ought to enjoy it because I know it won't be long before I catch a whiff of the stinky sewers.

The heat and humidity really knocked me out after Adelaide's winter chilliness, so at lunch Tod took me out for eel to increase our summer stamina. Today is 土用丑の日 (one of two this year), considered to be the height of summer. Fatty grilled eel fends off summer blah and weight loss, though the tradition of eating it on this day started as a marketing gimmick 200 years ago.

Despite the dreadful weather, I am happy to be back in the city and at home.

Hooping before leaving

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Hoop dancing is all the rage these days, and Jo ordered herself a nice hoop to play with, which we did before hopping in the car to the airport. I wasn't very good at hula hoops when I was a kid and I haven't magically improved with age, but it sure was fun to get out in the yard and try.

For much more impressive and skillful hoop dancing, see these videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6PEsM3rQpI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQAbJERbWAY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4ggKdyJf7k

Big Brother is Definitely Watching

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As Jo & I walked home from dinner at a nice Greek restaurant last night, we saw a golden retriever sniffing along the street at the parking entrance to one of the city court buildings. He was unattended but wearing a collar with a tag. I gave him a pat, then read Toby's phone number off the tag to Jo, who rang the owner.

But as I chatted with the dog and Jo waited for the phone to answer, a loud authoritative voice called out to us. "That dog belongs to the dance studio next door. He's a regular here, it's OK."

I turned to face the speaker, who was a large, black dome mounted on the side of the parking garage. "Oh, OK. We thought he might be lost. Thanks," I called up at the wall and smiled at the unseen watcher behind the security camera.

Although I realise that I pass the watchful eyes of scores of security cameras every day, this is the first time I've ever been addressed by a faceless voice coming from one. (Video doorbells not included. )

In Prison

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Yesterday I spent a few hours in the Yatala Labour Prison. I was volunteering in the canteen with Jo and her boss, Jeff.

I'd never been in a prison before, but it was similar to what I have seen in movies and on TV. We signed in then walked through two controlled doors to reach the visit room where the canteen operates on weekends. After a quick preparation for sales, we heard the doors clunk open and visitors arrived, buying snacks and drinks in a flurry.

Prisoners, dressed in dark green, navy, or pale blue sweatshirts and trousers, sat in chairs marked "P" across low round tables from their visitors. All the furniture was bolted to the floor so nobody could get too cozy. Despite that, there were plenty of kids running about and getting hugs from their fathers, and a few prisoners greeting partners with a kiss or two. I saw a lot of awkward smiles and tense conversations, too. I imagine those 40 minutes are packed with a lot of information to be shared - both good and bad.

In the canteen, we microwaved dozens of pizza slices, sold out the entire inventory of Farmer's Union Iced Coffee, and bagged up many mixed lollies for the kids. I did my best to serve people quickly, but it was challenging since I didn't know all of the products for sale (for example, I know what an ice lolly is, but I didn't know the brand name) and my handling of change is slower than it could be. But I smiled and was friendly and I hope I did a fair job.

(On a similar topic of volunteering while vacationing, I donated blood last week for the first time in more than a decade. I was happy to learn that my iron levels were high!)

Visiting the Barossa and Clare Valleys

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Examining wine at Penfolds

I spent two days touring the wine country near Adelaide with Barossa Epicurean Tours. What a great time! It was just me and Tom, my driver and guide, whose knowledge of wine, local history, geology, botany and current events made the trip exceptional.

The first day we spent in the Barossa driving around to cellar doors and trying local produce. At Penfolds I had a tour of the enormous operation (they are owned by Fosters) and then played at blending my own wine. Tasting wine before lunch made me tipsy, so we stopped at a well-known purveyor of dried fruit and nuts, Angas Park, and the Barossa Valley Cheese Company, where I picked up a delicious goat's brie. We had lunch at Kaesler, and did a bit of tasting and shopping at Rockford and the gorgeous cellar door cum gallery, Kabminye. We ended with a coffee and chocolate at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop and then I went to my B&B, the beautiful Marble Lodge in Angaston.

The next morning, Tom toured me through the Clare Valley. At Annie's Lane, I tasted the striking difference between grapes grown in clay and those grown in slate soils. Same grapes, completely different wines. They tasted like like farming and mining. We stopped in at the oldest winery in the area, Sevenhill Cellars, founded by Jesuits in 1851. More cellar door tastings at Pikes Wines and Tim Adams, a superb coffee at Wild Safron in Clare, then a delicious ploughman's platter lunch complete with homemade pickles and chutney at Penna Lane Wines. We ended with a tour of the local landmark mansion, Martindale Hall, before returning to Adelaide.

I am leaving out all of the fascinating history I learned, the stunning views I saw, and tasty wild plants that I experienced because those are things you will have to do for yourself. Get in touch with Tom; he's an excellent tour guide and when he is doing the driving, you can taste to your heart's content without worry of driving off the road.

Ice Halo Around the Sun

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My hand blocks the sun to reveal the ice halo

As we drove to lunch in Glenelg yesterday, Jo spotted a rare phenomenon - an ice halo around the sun. We had just been talking about them. APOD posted a spectacular photo and good explanation of the phenomenon recently.

I put a digitally enhanced view from another angle up on Flickr.

Garage Sailing

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Last night, Jo asked me "How long will it take you to get ready?" because we were getting up early to go garage sailing with her father. "Seven minutes," I replied and when I got up at 6:30, I timed myself. It was six minutes from eyes opened to clothes on, plus 90 seconds to make the bed. I took a few more minutes to have a coffee for a final touch to waking up.

Ray/Dad pulled up at the corner in his big blue station wagon with Grant in the front seat and Naomi in the back. We piled in and were on our way to the first garage sale, slated to start at 7:30.

Grant is the navigator and mans the well-marked newspaper ads. He and Ray have been going out to garage sales together for a long time, usually without Ray's wife, Naomi. Once Naomi observed the way people were interacting with the two and concluded that everyone thinks they are gay. They are cute together so I can see why people might make assumptions.

The first garage sale was not too far away and we were there before the stated time. So were the usual early morning garage sailors: the Bad Greek, Lego Man, the Dealer. We saw them and some of the other, unnamed regulars off and on throughout the morning.

The house was a beautiful one story brick and stone cottage decorated with iron lace around the wooden roof of the red tiled porch. The doors and windows had green, bronze and red Edwardian patterned stained glass sections. Peeking through the window, I saw fireplaces and high ceilings, though what interested everyone else were old wood furnishings and the few piles of "stuff" laying about.

The owner drove up at 7:25, let himself in while politely but firmly deferring a barrage of "How much do you want for...?" questions. A few minutes later, he opened the door and the crowd, no numbering a dozen or more, barged in, banging the door against something sitting behind it. A free-for-all ensued and I believe the major pieces were sold within 10 minutes.

Most of the other sales we attended were less frantic, but there was always a sense of urgency to get there quickly and avoid missing anything exceptional. There really wasn't much great today, apparently, though we all walked away with something. Dad & Naomi picked up an old cell phone and a keyboard for their foster child to play with. Grant, who is a painter, bought a few frames and a black Bakelite elephant pen holder that I wish I had seen first. Jo got some videos and a rattan corner stand for her apartment. I bought a paperback history of the Australian kitchen.

When we'd exhausted the list of interesting sales, we stopped for morning tea at Pat-a-Cake in Malvern. I had a slice of Apricot Jubilee, a homemade white cake with dried apricots and coconut frosting. We had a long talk about cakes and Grant suggested I try Australian classics Hummingbird (pineapple, banana, and coconut( and Lumberjack (apples and dates). Sounds like a terrible assignment, but I will choke them down before next Saturday when we go garage sailing again.

Twin Tub

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Jo's washing machine is a twin tub. I've seen them before but never used one until now. Jo had to explain how it works, because it is a little more complicated than chucking the clothes in and pressing Start.

First you fill the left side with water and soap. This wash water can be used multiple times until it is too dirty to wash with again, as shown in the photo. In a drought-stricken country, that is a big savings in water. Dials and buttons allow you to choose agitation strength and duration so away you go, washing.

The right side is the spinner basket. After the wash cycle, you take the clothes from the water (they are thoroughly twisted and tangled together), balance them in the basket, close the lids and spin them out for a minute or so.

Then they go into some clear rinse water you have arranged in the laundry sink off to the side and you let them rinse a bit, agitating with your hands or the laundry stick to loosen the tangles, and then you return them to the spin basket for a longer go before putting them into the dryer.

Each load of laundry requires your attention and some focus as the phases end, but it is not difficult and takes less time than the fancy electronic washer/dryer I have in Tokyo. I really like the twin tub.

The Elusive James

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James and Jo

Last night, Jo & I paid a visit to her brother, James, on his jobsite. He is installing glass panelled railings at an upscale Rundle Mall property and told us we could drop by. So after dinner, we took a walk up through town and did just that.

When we got to the place, we peeked in and saw two blokes working, but they weren't James. He was hidden high up on some scaffolding, but his mates waved at us rather cheekily and the guard opened up the gate and let us in with a wink (also cheekily, goodness knows what he thought we were up to).

So now I have met James and he is no longer elusive. In fact, we all had lunch together today and did a bit of post-lunch shopping, made tentative plans for a TV night to introduce me to all the Australian shows I ought to know, and we have firm plans for a family party on Sunday. I like knowing my friends' siblings and am glad to have James counted among the ones I know.

Kangaroo Island

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Rainbow after a storm

Jo arranged a trip to Kangaroo Island, just off the South Australia coast, a two hour drive and 45 minute ferry trip from Adelaide. For Jo, it was a chance to do a lot of longer distance driving, and her first ever trip as The Driver. There was lots of driving every day because Kangaroo Island is quite large. It took us two hours to get from one end to the other on the sealed roads. We hoped to avoid the dirt roads in the Blitz Buggy, a 25 year old Colt, and selected our inland explorations carefully.

Kangaroo Island was the first white-settled part of South Australia with a ship landing in July 1837. The ruins of the first settlement are now a park at Kingscote. We wandered through the cemetery and Jo picked out the names that are still common locally.

There are numerous nature reserves and natural parks. We visited a rock formation that is similar in geology to Uluru, but fractured and weathered from sitting on the edge of a seaside cliff. It is called Remarkable Rocks and they are.

KI is good farming land and there is a sheep dairy called Island Pure that makes delicious sheep milk cheeses. We also dug into the island's fresh water crayfish called marron, the local Ligurian honey, and free range eggs. And we enjoyed the local wines, which I tasted and selected at the cellar doors, as Jo is allowed zero blood alcohol in her first two years of driving.

The weather was surprisingly clear and beautiful, though chilly. Three of four nights we stargazed - the lights of Adelaide were a dim orange glow in the distance that couldn't match the bright white glow of the Milky Way. The southern hemisphere Milky Way is fractured and branching and so very full of stars. I was happy.

On the last day, it rained like mad off and on through the whole day but every time we got out of the car to look at the sights, the sky cleared for a little while. We even had a hailstorm but we were sheltered at eating lunch at Kingscote when it happened.

And after each rain, the rainbows came. I saw four yesterday and one the day before. Almost like Ireland.

We saw a lot of what the island had to offer, but there were still places that we missed this time and I am looking forward to returning to see them someday. There are some photos up on Flickr if you'd like to see the highlights.

Jo's Place

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The apartment block where Jo lives

I am in awe of Jo's neighborhood. She lives in the central business district of Adelaide, within walking distance of everything interesting. 15 minutes gets you to the Central Market, where I will be spending too much time and money in the next few weeks. 15 in a different direction takes you to Rundle Mall, a street turned into a shopping and dining arcade. This neighborhood is the ideal location for a walker like me.

I am specifically in love with her block of apartments. They are two facing rows of two story buildings with a swath of lawn and trees between them and walkways leading from one end to the other. It is low and comfortable with lots of green. Truly charming.

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At the fence

Jo's apartment is on the first floor, so she has a garden and small courtyard. It is winter now, so the plants aren't as lush as they would be in summer, but it is still green and pretty. Sunlight filters into the house through the garden and it is very appealing.

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Jo's courtyard

Although her apartment is not large, the courtyard & garden offer an additional room about equal in size to her living area - maybe 4 x 4 meters. It is partially covered, protected with walls on two sides, and furnished with a table and benches. It feels simultaneously cosy and spacious and seems to be an ideal mix of private and public space, as you can sit at the table and watch people passing by, but be shielded from them at bit by the garden.

I think I will put that to the test and take a cup of tea outside and read until it is time to make lunch.

My Suitcase is Too Small

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Some of the goods at Goodies and Grains

I just arrived in Adelaide this morning and am already in deep trouble. The Adelaide Central Market is food heaven! There are so many amazing grains, flours and other locally sourced whole foods. I am considering moving here just for the organic produce.

The trouble is that everything I'd like to buy won't fit in my suitcase, plus my luggage allowance is only 20 kg. What to do, what to do? I am planning to cook a lot while I am here, but I want to share the wholesome treats with Tod & my Tokyo friends.

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