Monday, September 28, 2009

Heading Home from the Gold Coast

I'm starting this post in the Auckland airport, this time at dusk ... six in the evening ... finishing it as we take off over the dark South Pacific heading home to San Francisco. The bright modern architecture of Auckland's new international area is suffused with low sunlight. There are four big goofy teenage boys in some kind of all black uniform at the next table, giggling and glancing at me as I have obviously noticed them, as hard as I try to pretend I have not. New Zealander youth, from my brief experience, seem to wear a lot of black. These black T-shirts are emblazoned with "Oceania Penrith 2009" on the back and New Zealand Canoe Polo on one sleeve, and i-4 on the other. The good life.

Sad moments as we said our several goodbye's earlier in the Brisbane airport. Not just the departure from family half a world away from everyday life. But the underlying tragedy that struck us a month ago; see my post xxx for those details.

But life moves on. Mother's 80th birthday is tomorrow, and that was the proximate cause of this trip. My sister brought mother here as a birthday present, and I decided it was the ideal time to make my first pilgrimage to the country my sister adopted as her own three decades ago. Life has always been too packed with immediacy to spur me to make the trip before and, besides, I saw her every couple of years in Ontario. I feel bad about that, the more so because of how much I enjoyed Australia.

Except for the one day in Brisbane, I spent the entire time on the Gold Coast and its immediate hinterland in the Great Barrier Range. Again, not the plan, but the great dust storm had its way. I spent all of every day except one with sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, and also visiting mother.

The Gold Coast where my sister's family has lived for nearly two decades is decidedly new. Explosively new. Not just the skyscrapers of Surfers' Paradise, but the sprawling suburbs that wrap around the canals and manmade lakes. That said, it really does feel like the good life ... the sun, the g-day mates, the broad visible happy middle class, the lack of any discernible poverty or misery. A tiny slice of the land down under, mind you, and the failed trip to Sydney is the more unsettling because the slice is broader and bigger and more troubling there, I am quite sure.

But this thing slice of the good life kept me thinking about my own good life. The pros and the cons. I'm not going to go through a laundry list, and indeed I have not been going through a laundry list. I've just been thinking that this is the time in life when I need to husband the pros and nudge the cons out of view. As those immediacies become less inistent, the broad generals need more attention.

Early in the week, we visited Tamborine Mountain, and I have been humming Hey Mr. Tambourine man, sing a song for me ever since. The Bob Dylan version is a song from my youth, when there was a lot of immediacy to everything, where every tiny slight or setback felt like an avalanche in my face. Notwithstanding that, and notwithstanding that I was a decided hothead politically and intellectually, I thought of myself as on some level cool, and music was the locus of the cool. So it was ironic to be humming Mr. Tambourine Man as an old guy who cannot help but be a lot cooler than he ever was if only by reason of how much energy it takes to get worked up. Not that I don't get worked up; I just don't like it any more.

The trip was very Mr. Tambourine Man, laidback, contemplative, sing-a-song-for-me, in the warm embrace of famly that endures and hugs.

I always want to learn something when I travel, and that's what I learned ... sing a song for me. I thought of it as tearful mother disappeared up the ramp in Brisbane ... a day shy of 80, hardly a gray hair on her head, remarkably spry and sharp. I thought of it as I hugged my sister and brother-in-law goodbye, feeling the pain of their loss, and vowing that our ancient connection needs all the attention it deserves, vowing to sing a song for each other, warm and laidback.

What else to make of Australia? I watched a couple of "footie" games, a Rugby League semi-final and the Grand Final of Australian Rules Football. In both cases the team that we were rooting for lost. In neither case do I remember the name of a single player. Both were excellent games, but the AFL Grand Final was gripping. It's a great sport ... wide-open, fast, athletic, spectacular men, both speed and pure force. A lot like hockey in that the game just keeps going, although the coaches have even less direct control over the actual game than hockey. I love AFL, and I wish we could see more of it in the States

But isn't it curious that the Australians have invented two complete games pretty much just for themselves, their own version of rugby and AFL? They call them, as well as Rugby Union which is rugby played by the universal rules, "footie." I'm a footie fan! And footie, it seems to me, expresses something about Australia ... old games made new.

Australia is a new land built on the most ancient continent facing the new challenges for which the known answers will not be enough. Even so, they enjoy the surf and sun, they dig the footie, they groove to their own language.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, what I learned from travel in Australia is that my own life is a new life, insofar as I have marched to my own drummer, but yet it is still built on those ancient dynamics of surviving and finessing the challenges for which no known answer can be ultimately enough as time drones on. I kept thinking about how isolated Australia seems when one is not there, and yet it is fully "here" and not at all isolated when you are there. Just like one's own life. Just like wherever you happen to be. So as I ruminated on the good life ... and that in the context of the personal pain we felt at our family tragedy ... the easy life amid the universal dross, I vowed to redouble my own commitment to those parts of my life that are good.

One more point, and then I'll put this computer away and lean back into the enjoyment of a 12-hour flight ... no sarcasm there at all ... and my current re-re-read of the Persian Wars. My nephew just came back to Australia after a half-year trip around the world, including to family in Canada. Aussies travel. But when they come back home, they settle into where they belong, back to the good life of the special secret Aussie joke on the rst of the world ... the one we all know about but don't quite grok.

Again ... we all have a little secret conspiracy, and the world doesn't quite get it. We smirk back at the world, knowingly, laughing, hoping that in some way our personal conspiracy is funny enough to carry us on in some kind of comfort and personal joy.

How odd. From this trip, from my communing with the Aussies, I found again a new urging to the quiet joys that are available to me, that are there for simply basking in them, sunning myself. Not what I expected; not what was on the agenda. But that was good.

Photos by Arod.

1 comment:

min said...

I enjoyed seeing Gold coast photos in SF blog. I am heading to GC for Christmas!!!!