Saturday, June 27, 2015

You mean you don't have lorikeets?

As I walked to shul on Saturday morning, a thick, cloying fog enveloped Canberra. Visibility was poor, and crossing the bridges gave the impression of complete nothingness on either side, as if one was as likely to emerge into Asgard as the Parliamentary Quarter.
Once off the bridge, I detected motion to either side of me. This was notable, because Canberra is generally empty and still. Like neutron bomb empty. By 8 pm, the sidewalks are clear, the traffic lights change for empty intersections. There are no police. There are no homeless. There are no drunks or celebrants stumbling home from the bars and clubs. There is no litter blowing in the breeze. It is still like death.
So detecting any motion was a surprise. I saw birds feeding in the grass on either side of the sidewalk. Rather than the gray, awkward pigeons with vacant eyes that populate most cities I'm familiar with, these were parrots. Legit parrots, colorful feathers, brilliant red heads, little curved beaks, eating by the side of the road as if they were unaware that they were supposed to be starring in an advertisement for a tropical vacation. Sure enough as my walk progressed, I saw cockatiels in the trees and parrots in regal greens and blues hopping on the light posts, squawking and taking advantage of the city which had obviously been abandoned for their enjoyment.
Remarking on this point to another American later, she recounted a conversation with an Australian in which she tried to describe that all the birds at home are brown and grey. The Australian responded, with amazement in place of irony, "you mean you don't have lorikeets?" Enough already with the made up words. Every bus I passed that evening was going to Tuggeranong. Just... enough.
The small Jewish community consists of a single building which hosts both an orthodox and a progressive community under the same roof, echoes of Hillel. Though we fell just short of a minyan on Friday night, every single person in the room was warm and welcoming. I had dinner with a lovely couple who had brought their accents with when they left Glasgow decades ago, so our hours of lovely, lively conversation sounded like a Mike Myers skit. Shabbat morning included a few younger representatives of the community, and a more robust attendance, with the welcome surprise of more women than men. Hearing the blessing for "Elizabeth, Queen of Australia" is still completely dissonant for me, but I'm in their house, so I hold my tongue. The Rabbi was a young, energetic, eloquent and warm scholar from whom we will doubtless hear more in the future. His young daughter clung to his leg, eyeing me as if I was about to steal all the lollipops. Each of my attempts at peekaboo were cause for her to bury her face deeper in her father's tallis. Little did she know though that I was invited for lunch as well! By the time we were past kiddush, we were already on the floor planning a Disney princess matching game, and shortly after lunch we were building and destroying Duplo towers, and reading books on the sofa. I still got it. Her adorableness was multiplied by her heavy accent which her father insisted was a New Zealand affect, not that atrocious Australian whine. (Naturally, I cannot distinguish the two, but he was quite insistent.)
I've followed my typical modus operandi for encountering a new city, which is simply to walk, get lost, and find an alternative way home to see as much as I can. My pedometer is more fond of this than my feet are, but they have yet to truly protest, despite my walking more than twenty miles over the past three days. Canberra has some cool looking stuff, and I've now been to the majority of sites ringing Lake Burley Griffen, as well as the old and new Parliament buildings, but unfortunately have few pictures to share. Since the sun is down before 5 pm, I'm either viewing these sites in the pitch black, or it's Shabbat. I've include some of the nighttime ones here, but they don't do it justice.
I'm planning Sunday in Sydney, so hopefully I'll have some more visuals to share after that.
Shavua tov!

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