Monday, October 11, 2010

In which I succumb to the cute

Look, I wasn't coming all the way to Australia and not even seeing a damn koala or kangaroo. So even though I did avoid going to the amazing looking zoo on Wednesday, it was only because I was planning for a field trip to Featherdale.

It was Katrina who tossed me in the car that day. We'd met before, in the US, and it was great chatting with her at The Gathering. Paul, one of my hosts, had mentioned that at Featherdale Wildlife park, one can actually get up close and personal with the local versions of All Things Warm and Fuzzy, and once I learned I could actually *touch* a koala, forget it. I would have hitchhiked.

Taking the local tour was better, though. (Grin) We drove to the outlaying suburbs of Sydney and literally saw the first sign for this intimate little park about, oh, 100 yards from the entrance. It's smack in the middle of a neighborhood with single family homes and lawns and convenience stores; you can drive right by without noticing. Great Adventure, it's not!

But within three minutes of entering, I was face to face with a snoozing koala; in another ten, another one, a bit more awake, kept pulling eucalyptus leaves in front of us while Katrina tried to grab a steady photo.

OMG, the cute!! he was quite soft to touch and had dark brown eyes and, well, quite the appetite for the leaves, which I had once heard make them tipsy. This is apparently not true. But they do tend to prefer napping during a long day of entertaining tourists. They wedge themselves into the branches in what seem like occasionally unstable, if not uncomfortable positions and lord, they are dead cute. I had to be dragged away.

I mean, come on. It's not fair.

OK, then the kangaroos came over for a snack. They were also a tad blase about the tourists and could easily escape contact with toddlers and obnoxious people trying to get the right picture by merely hopping under the wooden fence understood to be their safety barrier. Of course, they could come back out again for an ice cream cone fulled with Roo-chow.

And just for you, Zil - I searched out the wombats. Here is a Southern Hairy-Nosed variety. They, like the koalas, believe the day is for napping and couldn't be bothered to pose.

Did I mention I had a blast? There were hundreds of birds, too, including the quite startling cassowary!

Featherdale was a perfect size for a nice morning outing, and it was great to get up close and personal with the various critters. We followed this visit with a nice drive up to the Blue Mountains, which several people felt obliged to apologize for, as though being an American, I naturally only appreciate giant pointy mountains with snow on top. But with views like this, I don't think there's anything to apologize for.

That's the Three Sisters formation. Pretty cool, huh?

After recovering from the vertigo, Katrina swept me off to the Paragon Cafe, a gorgeous art deco establishment in Katoomba, where I restored my energy with some tea. Sadly, the camera was dead at that point, or I'd include shots from inside the place, which was gorgeous.

Then back down the mountains we drove, with one quick stop at the roadside Ugg Boot stand - nah, didn't buy any - and made it back to the city in time for my reading. Amazingly, I hadn't bought a single souvenir all day!

So naturally, Courtney, who I'd met at the barbecue the previous night, brought me a whole BAG of great Australia keepsakes - including a stuffed koala. Obviously, I was meant to bring one home.

No, I haven't been taken by the dingos

I've just been busy! The reading/Marketplace Maven workshop in Sydney was a smashing success, largest gathering for that workshop ever. I read from The Inheritor and a bit from one of the new bonus short stories, shared the codex, pictures of the fantasy MP movie cast, and lots of insider information. Many thanks to Courtney, who brought me a whole BAG of Aussie souvenirs, including a stuffed koala, boomerang and kitchen aids. I was totally chuffed.

But before that last night of work in Sydney, I got to go on two personal tours - one led by Robin, who I've known online for many years. She picked me up in her Peugeot and ran me through some Sydney neighborhoods (stopping for coffee) where I admired the Imperial, the place where Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, was filmed.

Moment of glee on behalf of the wife, who loves that movie.

A nice zip through the middle of town got me down Oxford Street (Oh, look - a homosexual!), past a slew of tourist attractions and over the Harbour Bridge Then we took a great drive North, stopping at different towns (like Dee Why) and beaches to hike a bit, admire the views, and have a pie.

Mmmm. Pie. Upper Crust pies are worth the drive.

Back down into the city, we detoured around to the Taronga Zoo, not to go, but to admire the views of Sydney Harbour from the ferry dock. And, I was forced to admire the sunburns on tourists who did not cover up appropriately under the fierce Australian sun. I will go back to the zoo one of these days, but since I had plans to go see wildlife the next day, we instead went back into the downtown area, where I got to have a glass of wine at the Opera House Bar. There, we met up with Jacq, who floated in to join us wearing a bright summer cocktail dress.

Did I mention great views at the Harbour area? Terrific views!

From there, I was kidnapped to Angela's for a barbecue of yummy things and the company of a bunch of wild local women. I got to admire a collection of dictionaries and relax and not be on stage for an evening, which was a much needed respite, actually. After I ran out of steam, my hostess pressed a beautiful piece of original art on me, which I am delighted to bring home.

A terrific day, so much nicer than my usual day in another city! (grin) And best of all, I had yet another day of relaxing planned before I was due back on stage. Sheer luxury.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Recovery day catch up

Whew! The Gathering came to a wonderful, happy conclusion, and I have a few days of liberty time to recover and see a bit more of my surroundings.

Much to my shock, about 100 people showed up Monday morning for bacon sandwiches and my closing address. I had to throw out my original speech, and for the first time, delivered one almost entirely off the cuff. Oddly, no one seemed to notice or care - note to self. Hmmm.

I got back to my host home yesterday afternoon, sat in the sun with coffee and had some quiet chatting time, napped, then went out for a solitary walk down Norton Street in the evening. I stopped in at Shearer's Bookstore and picked up Colleen McCullough's Song of Troy, which I've wanted for a while. Then they surprised me by giving me a free book! Apparently there is a program called Get Reading! that provides these books in order to promote reading and Australian authors. Although the program ended on September 30, apparently some stores still had some of the promotional give-away volume and I lucked out by getting 10 Short Stories You Must read in 2010. And damn if it isn't a fine collection! What a nice treat. I read a bit while enjoying a coffee in the bookstore cafe. Ahh, quiet time.

Naturally I collapsed last night after I got back and slept deeply. Four classes, a speech, a party and a lot of book signing does take a bit of energy. Today is laundry, reading, making this post, doing QUIET things.

But tomorrow, I am being whisked off on a tour from an online buddy of longtime acquaintance. And a barbecue!! Yay! Thursday is another little bit of a trip, so I can pet the local critters and take a peek at the Blue Mountain area. Then we'll run back to a city area gay bar to my reading and MP Maven discussion at 7PM. I know the Uber page says Tuesday. But it's Thursday, and only ten bucks for people who attended The Gathering. Of course there will be more books there for sale.

Friday, Dee and I take off for Melbourne! I wish I could stay longer, but for this trip, a quick weekend will have to do. I'm thrilled to be able to stop by Chains and meet the lovely people there, and will be giving FIVE, count 'em, FIVE classes in two days. And that includes two I have never given before! We'll have books, yadda-yadda. And then when I get back to Sydney, I will have a few more days to poke about and maybe connect with more friendly natives.

Then, wow, I am going to New Zealand. Sadly, the conference scheduled had to be postponed because of the earthquake that hit Christchurch. But I will be doing a much scaled down appearance, and taking advantage of just being here. I mean, this is a long way to travel without even taking a PEEK at NZ. I am looking forward to down time, maybe some writing time. And sheep. I understand I might see a sheep or two...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Summer in Australia, my arse

Since I've gotten here, I have been pretty much chilled. The week before leaving, the weather in Sydney was beautiful - sunny, warm, the advent of summer! Right now, I am gazing out the window at pouring rain and pondering purchasing a wool sweater. Ahh, well! At least I don't feel like such an idiot for leaving the bathing suit at home...

So far, The Gathering has been a phenomenal success. With upwards of 200 people flocking in for the vendor night, the full weekend registration option or the VERY clever and should-be-copied-in-the-US availability to purchase just four classes out of the weekend - a sort of do-it-yourself mini-conference - this has become, or will soon become with tonight's big play party, the largest non-gay fetish event Australia has ever had. Miss Dee, the organizer and my host for this trip, deserves massive kudos for bringing it all together with the help of a dedicated and delightful staff.

But numbers don't say it all, of course - there are huge events where I feel like on the whole I'd rather be home reorganizing my spice shelf. The vibe here has been truly excellent - warm and friendly, interesting and energizing. It's not that often I feel like hanging out between my gigs and chatting with the attendees - I am better known for escaping to my hotel room for quiet time and Advil. This...has truly been fun.

Yesterday, I did manage to get out of the hotel for a little while, though, and wandered down to the Market City, which is a few blocks away. I was curious about what was UNDER the building though - a giant flea market/vending space called Paddy's, which was exactly the sort of vibe I was looking for. Individual stalls with everything from wonderfully cheap and tacky souvenirs to some pretty decent bargains on life's essentials like socks and batteries. I am sure I saw fifth of the place? I was rushing through to look at warm layering items and a certain special present for someone at home. I fully intend to go back, though. I was able to get some lovely chicken satay on a stick while browsing and came back to the event feeling energized. Is this me? Social, shopping and energized?? Very weird. Apparently, Sydney agrees with me.

In addition to hanging out and chatting with the locals, I've managed to snag a few local dates to see more of the area, including a trip to a wildlife park - Featherdale. I totally want to hold a koala bear. Sue me. You know you'd want to, too.

File Under:
Things that remind me I am on another continent -the slang. I mean, of course, the local accents, duh. But the slang and idioms sometimes throw me and make me grin like a maniac. A jimmy hat? Love it.
Things that are the same - cheap Chinese food in Chinatown is always better than anything in a mall.
Something I didn't think I would need but would have proved useful - knowing how to use one of those damn international phone cards, the kind you buy at convenience stores. I spent at least 20 minutes looking at the rules and guidelines and restrictions and instructions on at least a dozen different cards, carefully chose the one I thought would work for what I wanted and keep getting a "this call cannot be connected" message. Makes me feel like an idiot. I mean, how hard should this be?
Cheap souvenir of the day - I decline to mention.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Doing what I came here for

 Note - some links in this post are not safe for work and shy people. More tourist level things will come later!

I wrote this now from the Mercure Hotel in Sydney, where I have a room overlooking the Central bus station and the balcony on which many festive Gathering folks relaxed and schmoozed during what can only be called a very successful opening.

How nice to see so many new faces, and to wander a vendor market stocked with items I've never seen! I was really impressed with the quality of items for sale and display and loved the friendly folks from MaxxxBlack, Sydney's big fetish/sex shop. Naturally, the one thing I decided I liked was $150. *sigh* It's something to add to the wish list, I suppose...

 No, you can't know what it is, unless you want to buy me a present.

Anyway, I got to spend the evening with the lovely Madison Young, of the Femina Potens Gallery in San Francisco. What most of my readers don't know - yet - is that Madison was the art director for the new cover for The Marketplace, gathering some of her friends and models over at the Armory, home of, where I was honored to attend the opening of their Upper Floor.

The full story on the photo shoots will still come, but in the mean time, I will go once again to the City By The Bay and do some appearances with Madison, both at and teach some classes at the gallery in November! The full schedule will be posted soon at my main website and the usual areas, including here.

But in the mean time, we schmoozed and chatted and met some fabulous folks from the Sydney and various outlying areas  including a few we'd both met before, in the States. Well, sure, that was bound to happen! But the best part was just seeing so many brand new faces. Really, I love my peeps back home, but we see each other all the time. Fresh blood is nice!

After an evening selling and signing books and making dates to see koala bears (more on that later, too) I wandered out into the local Chinatown, because I was starving! Luckily, living in Flushing, I am completely comfortable shoving past the numbed tourists into the hole-in-the-wall joint with the best smells, pointing at what I want and grabbing the tray to get out of their way. Tasty crispy chicken with lemon, mmmm.

Today, I am teaching two classes, one at the impossible hour of 9:30. I woke early, panicking that no one would like me - why yes, sometimes that does happen, ego or not - and am almost back to my normal self.  I hope to get out to do some walking around today and tomorrow, since I am conveniently in the downtown area. Yesterday was mostly orienting myself and doing a little shopping.

File Under:
Things that remind me I am on another continent - the "look to the right" reminders painted on the street to help people like me look at where the actual moving traffic will come from.
Things that are the same - McDonalds - my first sighting! Although they do have a Big Mac with FOUR beef patties on it. Also, KFC, Seven-11, K-Mart and Target.
Something I didn't think I would need but would have proved useful - more long sleeves. I'm freaking freezing.
Cheap souvenir of the day - Calvin Klein boxers, 2 for 8 bucks. Eeee!!