Archive for March, 2011


March 29, 2011

Last year, I think I was crowing about having three springs in my travels – this year I have had none: straight from English and Maine winter straight to Australian summer and back to Norwegian and Danish winter.  Even Germany in late March is still crispy and bare.

I had unusual carry-over, perhaps because my schedule is way too thick this season. Accustomed to the cheery and irreverent Australians, I started lecturing and hectoring the stolid cold-resilient Norwegians in the manner I had been joking with the warm-resilient Ozzies.  It did not go down well.  I course-corrected by the second day, taking on the somber correctness suitable to the frigid drizzle and cobbled streets of Bergen.

Somewhere over Tahiti on the plane back from Australia I developed a minor virus that makes my nose drip.  It attacks randomly, starting with an allergic itch in my right nostril that quickly turns me on like a faucet – very annoying and embarrassing when I am teaching.

Wiping and washing constantly in the middle of a bunch of healers, I have been given various pills and nostrums, all kindly of course, but I suspect they all work at cross-purposes.  Mostly these viruses just seem to have a life, so you can abate the symptoms but not the arc – at least so I find.

Most annoying are those who are self-convinced that their method will cure you.  A gentle Scandinavian giant – white haired, moustached, a tall man’s stoop – stopped me on my way to the bathroom to do his Chi-Gung work on me, pointing his sausage fingers millimeters from my face (“Can you feel that?”) and tapping points on my wrist (“Does that feel better?”).

I will be honest with these people – “No, not particularly” – so he kept on, ever more desperately trying to prove a point.  The thing with these people is that it is not so much about making you feel better as them wanting you to share their conviction that their power can heal anything.  When I continued to drip, he simply redoubled his efforts – and my break whittled away.

Finally after minutes of this, I got so annoyed that adrenalin cleared my nose and I was honestly able to tell him it felt better and he let me go.  Lord, save me from the convinced – the fool is so sure of himself, while the wise are so uncertain.

God knows I’ve been there myself in the early days, but now I know to wait for an invitation.  Leave it to The Bard: The readiness is all.



March 23, 2011

In the next few days, I must choose whether I am willing to go to Tokyo to do a series of workshops.  Apart from the Fukishima reactors, I wonder whether this is not too sad a time in Japan’s history for such a venture, but my organizers assure me everything will be back to normal within a few weeks.

However, the nuclear situation is real – this morning they are talking about increased reactivity in spinach – no oshitashi for me!

I am reminded of Bucky Fuller, when asked about the then-current, pre-Chernobyl enthusiasm for nuclear power, said (and I paraphrase, not quote), “God, in His infinite wisdom, loved  power from nuclear fission so much that it happens all over the known universe.  But also in his infinite wisdom, he placed the nearest such heating plant 93 million miles (that would be about 150,000,000 km, or 9 light minutes) away from Earth, and I think we should respect that distance.”

I love Japan’s organization, and it’s efficient and caring response to this disaster.  But placing nuclear power plants over a subtending tectonic plate is of questionable judgment.  Maybe placing nuclear power plants anywhere near this planet is of questionable judgment.  When there is so much power in the wind and sea motion, do we need to use such dangerous (and absolutely unrenewable – indeed, hard to get rid of) fuel?


March 21, 2011

It’s the warm days and cold nights of late winter that power the rising of the sap in our New England maple trees.  The expansion and contraction (plus some valves in the xylem) insure a one-way flow of slightly sweet water against gravity from root to bulging bud.  The larger trees are tapped with bungs and buckets to catch the stream, and this next weekend will be the ‘sugaring-off’, where gallons of sap are carefully cooked down to jars of syrup (40:1) or even the soft and distinctive maple sugar candy (60:1).

If this season produces a one-way flow in the trees, it has a two-way effect on the humans: we head up to spring in the sunshine, and back down into winter at night. The ‘warm’ days are maybe 45F / 9C, and the pond is still covered in ice, but any sign of warmth’s enough for those of us who froze all this extra-snowy winter.

‘Spring-cleaning’ may be simply a tradition in most of America, but for us northerners it’s a physical urge that borders on necessity.  There’s too much ice and mud out here yet for a real turf-out of the garage or the blankets the cats have been sleeping on, but the warmth of the day demands that we do something different and helpful, so one of the early spring jobs is to re-stock your woodpile.

We’ve been using wood all winter long, but we’re about done – even if we get some more snow, we won’t be lighting too many more fires.  The remaining dry wood must be brought to the front, and the wet wood outside brought in to dry out for the summer to be ready for the cold again which comes much too soon, no matter how I try to extend the sailing season.

But it feels good, like it’s cleaning something up, to throw the old dusty wood around, and lug successive armfuls of heavy beech and oak from the pile steaming in the sun to stack neatly in the shed.  It’s real work, man’s work, body work after two weeks of running seminars – which is work, sure enough, but requires so much of my feminine side.  My body revels in it, aching a little as the sinews stretch, but falling gratefully into the rhythm of a repeated task.  Slowly the shed fills with neat rows  of wound-up sunshine, which will dry and then unwind in our stove next winter. Quan and I do it together, and by the time we are finished, the chain saws and old bits of wire and the rest that has been thrown wherever it’ll go over the winter is all in order.

Stuff! It accumulates around us so easily in this Western world, and with such a big place, stuff of all kinds keeps filling in our spaces and has to be sorted and recycled.  Spring-cleaning leads to garage sales.  Going to other people’s garage sales results in more stuff.

It’s still too early for all that – not even any crocuses yet, let alone daffodils.  By nighttime the air chills down, the fat old moon rises huge (full and at a rare perigee). Our ‘sap’ changes direction and pulls down and inside to light one of those fires and eat soup that’s been simmering all day.

Tomorrow we will bring food to the fox under the barn on the hill; tomorrow we will go to the river to scope out what has to be done to be ready for summer, tomorrow I will pack for the next two weeks of teaching in Europe.  But tonight we lie together watching the fire dance, spooned in the comforting fit that only comes with a long marriage.

Australia – Tale Ends

March 18, 2011

My one regret on this trip (besides not having any time to go out bush or dive the reefs) is that, between the rain and the city lights, I never saw the Southern Cross.  The moon however was new – visible at dawn as it waned over the sea in Sydney, and another fingernail as it waxed in the early evenings over the odd skyline of Melbourne.

Yes, the water spins the other way (so, more to the point, do weather systems), but this moon thing was more of a surprise.  At home, you can tell whether the crescent moon is waxing or waning by drawing a line from point to point: if it forms a ‘d’, it’s waning (decreasing); if it forms a ‘p’, it is waxing (progressing).  The opposite is true down here; as we go out tonight for the last meal, the waxing moon over the Melbourne skyline definitely forms a ‘d’.

And everyone wants a northern exposure for their house – the opposite arc of the sun through the northern sky really threw my sense of direction off.

In Melbourne we have been wandering among the Moomba Festival in the evenings – a party for not much that I could see, culminating in my final night with fireworks over the river Yarra.  But the Aussies like a party, whatever the reason.  When Moomba was established, in the late sixties, the authorities went to the Aboriginal leaders and asked, “What would be a good name that means ‘let’s get together and have a good time?”  The aboriginals answered ‘Moomba’, and thus the festival was born.  It was only later that other aboriginal scholars pointed out that ‘moom’ is vernacular for ‘butt’, and ‘ba’ means up, so the rough translation was closer to ‘Up yours, whitey.’

I am told that ‘kimosabe’ – what Tonto called the Lone Ranger all the time in the TV of my youth – actually meant ‘horse’s ass’.  I am tickled when native cultures over-run by white man’s time and the white man’s oppression get to strike back, however secretly.

The bridges over the river are thronged.  Every style represented: hot pants and high heels, tattoos and lip rings, beachwear, eveningwear, jeans and grunge, Gothic, punk, country, and even the Aussie white socks with the khaki shorts – you name it.  No European fashion sense here; anything goes.

The Australians in a crowd are not a pretty people compared to, say, the Icelandics, the Ethiopians, the Italians, or the Vietnamese. As a bunch  Of course there are pretty girls and handsome men, but there is obesity like America’s (which you almost never see in Europe) and many a bulbous nose and large ear and imbalanced walk that needs our work.  But intrepid, funny, cheerful, practical, generous, forthright, athletic, enduring, kind, and welcoming – all these traits more than make up for any coarseness, and these are the memories I will take home.

The tallest mountain in Australia – Kosciuszko – is a mere 2200 meters (7300 ft), a morning’s run for Meissner.  It is a flat country of flat vowels.  It is a country of desert plains, and the plainness is a reflection of their frontier struggle with this unforgiving land.

One such plainswoman with large expressive eyes in one of those broad faces made an extraordinary gift to me during my hip course: an adult male kangaroo pelvis.  Shy and retiring, she made little of the gift and doesn’t want to be named, but I was deeply moved, and treasured it immediately.  A grey kangaroo, an older male, probably ‘boxed’ out of his ‘mob’, dead this 20 years.  I packed the dry but ungainly shape in the middle of my suitcase, supported all around.  When I was sent down the second screening line at American customs in LAX, I thought sure I would lose it, but I put one my most hearty, “Welcome to look, nothing but dirty clothes” and even that special agent waved me through unopened.

So now, standing under the moonlight (the same moon, of course, but restored to its waxing ‘p’) with the memento mori – pelves always look like masks to me –in my hands in the utter silence outside my woodsy home.  I have been in the city, in the constant noise, questions, obligations, just noise, for two weeks now, and now I am back in my element: silence.  I drink in the silence to my plane-irradiated bones, I drink in the ‘track’ this kangaroo left via his pelvis.

This pelvis is one of those objects removed out of its element – this air is cold and damp, the geology glacial, the culture New Englandy, where this desert creature will join my other bones from all over – the skull from the Portobello Road, the cat skull from Europe, the deer bones from New Hampshire.

Bones feed on smoke, the old shaman told me – blow some smoke over your bones from time to time or they’ll steal your spirit.  So I do – burn the sweet grass, and blow smoke up its nostrils.  Seems to keep them happy.

Aussie Rules Football

March 12, 2011

Brad (shaved-head, sharp-eyed, explosive mover, running-addicted, funny as hell) was the only one among all the folks at the seminar (including all my graduate assistants) to see my exhaustion and lie me down on the table for ‘a bit of a shake out’ after all the students left.  His knowing sports-fix-it hands immediately softened, doing a bit of gentle massage, the kind that none of us long-term specialists ever do any more.  He ended by whacking me a few times on the sacrum with a sandbag hand, which had me cocking an eyebrow, but when I stood up I had to admit it was effective in resetting me down into counter-nutation.  It takes some understanding and chutzpah to work on the visiting ‘master’, and this one was grateful.

He might have been trying to wake me up for his night out: his irresistible insistence that I must see a game of Aussie Rules Football.  I went back to the hotel room to change (and was shocked by the images of the Japanese tsunami carrying boats, cars, and buildings inland in a wall of dirty water), and off we were.

I went to a Red Sox game with Misty some months ago, as I was working with their rehab team, but mostly regard spectator sports as a waste of time.  You could see the jerseys with the team colors – red and black or black and white – becoming more prevalent as we approached the stadium; clearly a bunch of rabid supporters, though I never saw or felt any of the over-the-top yobbo violence that would keep me away from a European football game.  But enthusiastic they are – 45,000 people for a pre-season game that counted for nothing.

Brad was determined that I get that full experience, so we had flat warm stadium beer in a plastic cup and a meat pie in a plastic wrap.  A baseball hot dog is bad enough, but this was no excuse for food.  That meat pie was undoubtedly the most foul thing I have eaten in years – a lardy crust enclosing a liquid meat somewhere well south of Dinty Moore or corned beef hash – I was discreetly pulling pieces of cartilage from my mouth and dropping them between the seats.  It tasted indigestible, and I rather hope it isn’t, as I don’t want any of it to become part of my body.  Geoff’s wife, up from Sydney, looked at it dubiously and said “Crikey, coming to Melbourne, I was expecting a splash of red wine and some good Italian” – Accordo!

There were more bathrooms than anything behind the bleachers, insuring a steady flow of processed beer into the sewers of Melbourne.  Honestly, I said as I availed myself, what is the point?  Above us, seagulls wheeled around the top of the open state-of-the-art stadium, picking off the thousands of bugs that milled around the night lights.

The game itself, however, was great – no use trying to explain it, I barely understood myself – but it is played on a huge oval field nearly twice as long and much wider than an American football field.  We had great seats, but no matter where you sat, it was hard to see what was happening when play was at the other end of the field, but exciting as hell when it was right under you.

The ball is somewhat oblong, and there are uprights at each end, but here all similarity with American football ends.  The players are dressed as if for soccer, no pansy padding.  The refs (they need four, and they run, I am told, between 15-20 km / game) wham the ball down on the centerpoint of the oval, and like a basketball toss-up, the teams vie for possession from the bounce.

There are no touchdowns (we derive that from rugby); the goal is to kick the ball through the uprights.  No downs, no yard markers, just ongoing chaos.  Brad, whose family has played the game for four generations, was feeding me expert commentary when he wasn’t yelling himself hoarse. No point in trying to explain the game when I don’t understand it myself.

But if you get tackled, you actually lose the ball to the other team, so there is constant passing and kicking with no offsides, and the only time the game stops even for a second is when someone catches a kick of more than 15 meters, in which case he gets to kick it again unimpeded.  If someone gets a goal, the ump does a bounce up in the middle of the field again, and off it goes at full speed.

‘Our’ side was a green team, lots of first-year players, whereas the other side was highly-experienced premiership material.  The creamed us in the first half, but in the third quarter Essenden made a comeback, getting to within a few points of parity.  The crowd was on its feet for our boys, but in the last quarter, the more experienced team reasserted itself, and the final score was 102-79.  Lot of goals, plenty of action, great game.  Superb athletes, playing a rough but clean game with no protection, I really got into it and am hoarse myself this morning.

A New City

March 11, 2011

I imagine that the comparison of Sydney as LA to Melbourne’s NY has been made before.  In Sydney, I could sleep with the doors to my balcony wide open, the breezes blowing in the endless sound of the surf.  In Melbourne, hotel windows are sealed shut, but still the squeals of trains from the marvelous Flinders Street Station pierce through.

Sydney is actually a delightful combination of LA (cars, beach, zing), New Orleans (gardens, wrought iron, Mardi Gras), and Seattle (water visible every time you come over a hill, god coffee, and great sailing).  Melbourne feels like a combination of NY (culture abounds), Montreal (a city of the young and tattooed, unusual architecture to the point of self-consciousness), and Pittsburgh (sports mad, and a river runs through it).  I can see three stadia across the Yarra from my window, one of which is a series of conjoined geodesic domes – fun!

In Sydney, people seem to be just walking.  In Melbourne, people are walking somewhere.  The seminar audience in Sydney was jokey and sportive; here they are seriously trying to break the records.  I had good food in Sydney, but here it is a point of pride – and I have not been disappointed yet.  Both places are easygoing compared to American or European cities, but Melbourne has more in common with Europe than my city comparison would suggest.  You can see that it’s first rise and expansion was during the Edwardian Era – the Victorian station, heavy monuments, and British-designed bridges – with the new wave of twisty skyscrapers coming in the last twenty years.

I have been trying to transliterate the Australian pronunciation of Melbourne.  If you say it as written, you will sound as touristy as saying ‘Eddinburg’ when you visit ‘Ed’nburra’.  It’s somewhere between ‘Mao-bun’ and ‘Mew-bin’.  My course is at the ‘Uni’ where students gather outside for a ‘smoko’ before going upstairs for a ‘rego’ – meaning registering in for a course.  Like the Japanese, they prefer a vowel ending.  Unlike the Japanese, they don’t take themselves too seriously, except maybe in this sports thing.


March 8, 2011

The extraordinary, unexpected popular uprisings across North Africa and into the Middle East are a heartening reminder of the aspirations of people everywhere to breathe free.  This cliché of both Bush and Obama finally finds expression, with no help from either the American government or the oil companies who have trickled off some money to these governments as they siphoned off the yolk of this planet for themselves and our comfort.  (See Syriana, where an oil official insists: “It’s corruption that keeps us warm!”)

Try if you will to portray these movements as pro- or anti-West – and both have been done in our auto-centric media – but they really have nothing to do with us.  These uprisings have come against our staunch allies like Mubarak and Bahrain, our ‘enemies’ like Gaddafi and Iran, and several in between we’ve never heard of.  It is not because of the war in Iraq and our policies, but despite them.  It is not against the oil companies, though they have maintained the dictators.  This is simple, endemic, essentially non-violent revolution.

Although a dictator can maintain control for some time through intimidation and pitting one part of a people against another, in the end the strong yang revolves into the yin, as the Taoist I Ching teaches us.  This is what we are seeing.

The rebels are certainly making use of the new technologies, but is this the Facebook revolution? While we cannot ignore traditional issues like unemployment and high food prices (and if we could look more closely, we would probably find venal power-grabs at the inside top of some of these movements) as motivators, cell phones and the internet certainly gave the ‘people power’ a different set of tools and options and sources to get information in and out.  But it was still real people, soft, warm animal bodies in the streets.

This was such a joy to watch in Egypt, and so painful now in Libya.  News coverage and internet is limited in my Melbourne hotel, but as I write, Gaddafi tanks and planes are rolling over the rebels who took Zawiyah.  Gaddafi has probably always been crazy, though he got a few props from me for thumbing his nose at the West back in the day.  Blowing innocents out of the sky over Lockerbie – however he was involved – was a bad move. To come in from that cold, Gaddafi had to knuckle under to the oil interests and be a good boy to keep the money flowing his way, however much he tried to maintain the image of terrorist-in-chief.

But in turning his armaments on his own people, he has totally lost what little legitimacy he could claim in any arena.  We cannot know how this will turn out.  The rebels are unorganized, chaotic, and don’t know which end of the surface-to-air missiles to point at the marauding jets.  The bombs themselves are not accurate, as the pilots are probably inexperienced.  On TV, it plays as the Keystone cops on both sides, but the Libyan people underneath are dying or being destroyed, and Gaddafi and his family are clearly delusional as well as corrupt.

What is the reason that our governments are so paralyzed?  Do neither Bush nor Obama nor the UN have any integrity behind their fine words? Can we not issue and enforce a no-fly zone?  Why is this not the time to give democracy a level playing field and declare our interests to be with the people of Libya?


March 8, 2011

I love boating of all kinds, but dislike yacht clubs.  The desperate smell of needing to be ‘cooler than thou’ is so rife in these places, which also tend to be filled with the idle rich parasitized by feckless youth.  Nevertheless, through a friend I had an intro at the Sydney Yacht Club, and this was the only way I was going to get out onto the water in anything larger than a surfboard – so I am grateful.

The CYCA has the pleasant, slightly brutal informality of the Aussies, but still has that competitive tinge to the air.  I am sure if I knew anything about boat classes, racing rigs, ocean passages and the like, I would be as insufferable as anyone, but the fact is I sail my boat, often alone or with a friend, and the watch comes off as I step on board.  I don’t really know what anything is called, settle for adequate rather than cinching everything down for maximum speed – it’s a holiday and a hobby, not a job or a sport.

I did my best to keep up with the yachties over a beer, but ended up wandering down the walkways between the slips in the forest of masts.  Mostly sugar-scoop sterns and racing machines with names like Rodd & Gunn and Wot Eva, though there was one sweet classic sloop named Samien – a rose among the thorns, as far as I was concerned, in this sea of frozen spit and aluminium.  Out on the ends were the ocean races that cross the Pacific, or at least The Ditch between here and New Zealand.  Signs – For Sale or ‘Crew needed bound for Tahiti” – spoke of the romance of the Pacific yachting life I once considered but was not destined to know.

After a bit of palaver, I was welcomed aboard the Cyrene with Bill and Mark and Sandy and Garda and Elena and Tim.  About the size of Tycha, but a racing machine, with the composite sails and ropes running everywhere through jam cleats.  They lent me a pair of those fingerless gloves and off we were.

The spirit of the Monday night race was cheerful but intent.  I took a station at the winch, which I know how to grind.  Where I am very reluctant to go to the trouble of changing headsails (they take up so much room), these guys had a surfeit for every wind and sea condition.  Of course on this evening, we were within Sydney Harbor, with a light to moderate breeze – hardly seagoing conditions.

We got everything up and shipshape, and maneuvered around the warning guns to be on the starting line as the seconds counted down and twenty boats argued for prime position.  We were pushed up (legally, but nastily) so that we had to turn around and run the line late.  We were soon settled, with the crew on the windward rail, and I could enjoy the view of the Opera House, the bridge I climbed (was it only last week?), and the Sydney skyline (that’s ‘skoyloin’).

There seemed to be about three captains among the older men, and a lot of lines, sheets, and halyards to control, with contrary orders stepping on top of each other.  Once we made the upwind mark, out flew the spinnaker (which I have never even used on Tycha – you need a crew of at least three to fly one, and for the race we were all fully engaged – topping lift, brace, two sheets, and the halyard, pole – arms and legs flying everywhere.  I tried to watch while helping, as I would like to add this to my sailing repertoire.

It was twice around the course, so it was jib to spinnaker to jib to spinnaker – we all got our exercise.  The sun set behind the Opera House and bridge in spectacular fashion, and it was deep dark before we cracked a beer back at the slip.  They were all very nice, and said kind things, but I slipped away myself not to invade on their dinnertime.  Churlish of me to be reverse snobby about yacht clubs when they so kindly took me on, but I prefer my leisurely approach to the Maine coast than tear-assing around a harbor in search of a sic transit gloria.

Surf’s Up

March 6, 2011

When in Oz, do as the Australians.  The alarm went off in the dark, and I wished I could have a bit of a lie-in after seven days straight of teaching.  But it’s my early morning surfing lesson.  Just across the street on the beach Mark was lifting the garage door on his surf shop in the little cement building under the palms. My “G’day” is getting less self-conscious.

Mark is about my age – at least he’s been hanging on this Cronulla beach for over forty years. Tan, but lined and a little gone to paunch, he looks more like an executive than an overgrown teenager (Masa, the guy I had the other disastrous day when I couldn’t even find a place to get a lesson, fit that bill).  Mark’s gone from surfer to surf board shop owner to surfboard designer to runner of surf programs for local schools, youth-at-risk – turning surfing into good works.  Doing a private lesson like this is a little money on the side – with a heart operation and an ear problem behind him, he’s semi-retired and has nothing to prove.

He kitted me out in a wet suit and a long board, and we walked in the dawn gloom across the sand to the break.  Time after time he set me in motion in front of the waves.  Patiently he got me to make haste slowly in turning getting up on the board into a single balanced motion.

I’m proud to say that after an hour, I was actually up on the board and, as Mark said, “You’re riding the board now – next comes riding the wave.”  Not much of an accomplishment for anyone who knows surfing, I know, but after falling off and wiping out any number of times in an hour, it was great to be up there, feeling the board as a boat.  The same moment happens when a wind-surfer stops being an enemy and starts becoming a tool, and I see the same relaxation when someone gets the ‘feel’ of my sailboat.  I would need a lot more time at it that I am not likely to find, but it was good to feel the wave under me.  I was muscle-tired by the end, and falling because of weakness and lack of neurotransmitters rather than ineptitude.

We stopped for a few minutes on the way back, squinting into the now-risen sun.  We watched the surfers already out in the green waves, and he analyzed their techniques.  But more fun was watching him read the water.  I prompted him on this, and soon I could see the rips and the rivers where the rip heads back to see (the easiest way to get out there), and the waves breaking on either side of these outgoing currents.  He can tell what will happen to a wave before I can even see it forming, and I felt as much awe of him as others feel when I start bodyreading.

I came back to the hotel and had that unheard of luxury, usually physiologically impossible for me – the mid-morning nap.


March 5, 2011

I was too tired last night to take a cab to downtown Sydney from my suburb or Cronulla for the Mardi Gras parade, but that Sydney has a large and strong gay community is certainly a change from when I was here before in 1988.  There is an Australian word – ocker – that describes the old Australian male ethos.  On the one hand it is strong, self-deprecating, blunt, plain-speaking, and unpretentious, with a ready humor.  On the other, it also implies sexist, homophobe, coarse, pig-headed, provincial, and as anti-intellectual as any Tea Party ‘keep your government hands off my Medicare’ American.

Some original settlers here really did hunt the aboriginals for sport (see Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines for an amazing journey through the unique and complex Aboriginal culture – it is so sad that such a writer should die so early).  Later, well-meaning British colonial officials decimated the culture by taking the children away and teaching them English, as we did with many of our originals.  The situation is still tragic and egregious in both our countries.

Paul Hogan shows up a bit of Australian ocker attitude in the beginning of Crocodile Dundee, but he is well-tamed into feminist sensitivity by the end.  Australia has likewise abandoned the ocker culture to allow in the gay, the feminine, the foreign, and the sensitive.  Like America’s Wild West, it is easier to be nostalgic about it now that it is gone than it was to live through at the time.

Fortunately, the best part – the easy, blunt, sarcastic, self-deprecating humor – remains, and I am really enjoying  Australia an Australians.