Sunday, June 7, 2009
Alice Springs: Three Tubes Later
6/8/09 6:48 am, Alice Springs
My trip began on BART. My sweetheart dropped me off at the Lafayette station after a long, hard week of preparations. I was feeling pretty ready last week, but then a severe allergy attack and an onerous mental health grant at work interfered. I thus arrived on tube number one with my two bags, a brick of a carryon full of electronics, and a vast selection of anti-allergy pills and tissues. Hard to say an affectionate good bye when one is full of snot and dizzy. Hearts were present.
Paul joined me a few stations down the track. We compared our latest gadgets on the hour long ride to SFO. By counting camera lenses I have the quantitative edge. Nice day to leave home, a beautiful early Bay Area evening – I’m always sad and excited as the tube progresses through the same series of stations – Rockridge, West Oakland, City Center, Daly City, San Bruno, and finally SFO, where tube number two awaited.
Into the SFO international terminal, Louis was already waiting for us at Qantas. Check-in had commenced, but I still managed an exit row middle seat. Dinner, boarding at bedtime. I lugged by wad of electronics down the aisle and plopped onto Seat 58B: near the back of the tube.
Late departure, something fussy in the cockpit. Long slow takeoff roll, then over the Pacific. I thought, good, there must be enough jet fuel on board. Eat, sleep, watch movies, stretch, take drugs, drink fluids, talk to row mates. They were both Aussies returning home. Intelligent but necessarily insular views of the US. Typically curious about me and my opinions about Australia. Neither of them had been to the Pilbara: no surprise there. Leg room good.
The tube was an aging 747-400. This turned into a plus as my right hand row mate’s entertainment system failed to function. As compensation, the steward brought her a duty-free bottle of champagne (Charles Krug), and gave all three of us first class toilet kits, express customs passes, and energy drinks before landing.
Sydney at 6:20 am, about on time. Pre-dawn. Express customs was handy, although my rock hammer proved of interest for the first time ever. We stumbled to the domestic terminal, in search of tube number three.
A mocha and a doughnut later, we boarded a 737-800 to Alice Springs. I chose a window seat. I entered the jet lag zone. The adrenalin of landing in Australia and passing customs had faded. I forced myself to stay awake and watch the new and unknown landscapes pass under the plane. Lots and lots of red linear sand dunes, punctuated by dry lakes. Must have been horrible country on foot or horseback for the 19th century explorers, although the aboriginals thrived there for tens of thousands of years. I’m sure the current Murray River Basin drought made the land redder and drier than normal.
My travel karma continued. I had requested vegetarian meals when I made my Qantas booking. When handing out lunch, the flight attendant said, that’s a small sandwich for such a big guy, have another.
Onto the tarmac at Alice Springs just after midday. I am done with long aluminum tubes for a while. Or at least for a week. I’m looking forward to getting the truck and going into the country tomorrow.
Yesterday before dinner, in an effort to stay awake, went to aboriginal art galleries. Paul was game to purchase some new pieces. He’s thorough so I had time to look at many works in detail. Through the jet lag, saw a broader range of painting than I’ve seen in earlier years. The gallery staff was glad to chat, so I learned a couple interesting things. First, the art movement burgeoned here in Central Australia because it was about the last part of the country where Aboriginals were contacted and culturally influenced by whites, that is, they were less screwed over and disacculturated. Some of the first missionaries hooked them up with painting, and the art movement took off. This seems to explain the lack of art in the Pilbara; most of the natives there were disturbed many decades ago (I think). We saw some powerful works by a guy about my age who came out of the bush after meeting his first white man in 1984. Amazing; this was only one year before my first trip to Australia.. Second, contemporary aboriginal art is getting more colorful and abstract, instead of earth-hued and pointillistic. Also less overtly Dreamtime-related. Most of this is change is driven by women; the men seem to stick to traditional methods so far. Not sure why this is so. I’ll see what else I can learn.