Melbourne - The fact that I'm on the other side of the earth and the new moon is hung round backwards in an awesome alien sky is giving me a strange Alice In Chunderland vibe.
The mirror-image sensation is definitely augmented by the drive-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road traffic and the whirl-around-backwards bathwater. It would be way too easy in this jet-lagged condition to look the wrong way, step out into the road and get mooshed by some "hoon" ("reckless driver" in our parlance). I'd better get off automatic pilot right now, because car accidents are indeed the biggest killer of tourists here.
Fortunately, my beloved gave me a digital camera with a zoom lens before I left, and that has helped to get me spaced in and focal on the local - the very local. Vegetation, for instance. From a distance, the gum trees look familiar. They have the same shape as oaks or maples, but when you zoom in, the leaves, though apparently built on the same kind of scaffolding, are composed of entirely different stuff. There is symmetry and beauty, but it's not mine, not ours.
There are differences, too, when it comes to vocal techniques. Canadians, for instance, say "art" with particular attention to the "r" sound, curling our tongues up and back against the palate, pulling our jaws in and keeping the whole thing kind of suppressed.
The Australians open the mouth, thrust the jaw forward and belt out "at" (as in a cat) like they don't care who hears them.
But they do care. At least the poetry poets do. And that's why I'm here: to attend the Overload Poetry Festival and the Age Literary Festival of Melbourne, and then on to Perth and Sydney for more readings.
The spoken-worders here are onto something. They're really good but don't know it yet. As a result, they're not so "up on themselves" that they can't see their own shit, as they say in "Strine." All part of the global spoken-word movement that has risen up like bread wherever "the establishment" has suppressed the vitality of language too much.
Melbourne thinks of itself as a multicultural city, and it is - except for black culture, whether that of the original people or of black immigrants. There are just so few of them that I almost find myself giving the black guys the "brother's" nod when I do see them.
One of my friends explains the lack of African Australians: it's because it was the white people the British brought over here as slaves. Maybe that's why there's such an atmosphere of being on a ship here - so much "hello, mate" and "too bad, mate." Guys were "mating" me so much that I told them, "I'm not your mate. I'm married. I'm her mate now."
The lack of black, at least where I am, is also explained by the fact that urban aboriginals and whites seem to live in two utter solitudes and don't mix much socially - even, astonishingly enough, at poetry readings.
The issue of reconciliation with the native people is definitely on the agenda, but much-loathed Prime Minister John Howard, when it came time to offer an apology, refused on the grounds that he hadn't "personally" oppressed them.
So what effect does the reverse whirlpool phenomenon have on Australian spin doctoring? Is going down the drain counter-clockwise any better? There's an election coming up on October 9, and in Australia everyone has to vote - it's the law. The two leaders of the opposition and many in the media openly call the present prime minister a liar, "a habitual liar."
This actually seems quite refined if you consider how deep public outrage is over the government's kowtowing to George Bush. Addressing the issue, the leader of opposition called Howard's cabinet "a chorus line of suck-holes." There is indeed a lot of resentment over the government's commitment to the war in Iraq, for which 80 per cent of Australians did not give their approval.
The biggest stink, though, concerns something Howard said in the last election, when the admission of boat people to the country was an issue. (Refugees come overland from Afghanistan, enter Indonesia and attempt to find succour in Oz.) In an obvious attempt to stigmatize these folks, Howard stated that there was clear evidence they were throwing their own children overboard to lighten their loads.
At the time, this was backed up by other politicians and was a key issue in Howard's re-election by the notoriously xenophobic Australians. Now the story has come completely unravelled.
Despite being widely disliked in the cities, Howard is apparently headed for re-election.
Same as his buddy Bush.
Something else that spins more here is windmills.
There's a wind farm in nearby Gippsland with enough wind turbines to cut greenhouse gases by 435,000 tonnes a year. A good idea.
Australia obtains almost all of its electricity from coal-fired generators and has the largest ozone hole on the planet. They know they need to reduce, but there's still great resistance to these windmills. Why? A combination of aesthetics and economics. Some people don't like the way they look or the way they block their view of the dwindling, drought-ridden scenery. Wind, they say, has become the new oil.
I'm as far away from Toronto as one can possibly get and still be on land. There are palm trees and eucalyptus groves here. The light is entirely different, and yet, all things considered, I hardly even feel like I've left home. One wind moves many flags.