So here I am in Australia. Some of you are receiving my dispatches by request. A few of you are a captive audience. Iím only travelling for three weeks, so I wonít litter your mailboxes for too long. Happy spring, by the way. I am enjoying the thrills of a new hemisphere. No, I have not been closely observing how the toilets flush. There are some things I donít need to watch.

Iím a little unsure what to write about. This trip is very different from my last one. I am not visiting a culture that is very different from my own, nor does it have a long history to immerse myself in. The language barrier is non-existent. And Iím not even going to be here for very long.

During my first week I have been visiting my friend Deb, transplanted to Perth from Seattle three months ago. Because I am staying with her, I have access to luxuries (her PC, being shuttled around in her car, my own guest suite) that I wonít have on the rest of my trip. While this is a comfortable way to travel, and it is great to spend time with an old friend, I canít really claim to be keeping my finger on the pulse of Perth, whatever that would mean.

Grape vines in the Swan Valley
Instead, we have been hitting all of the tourist high points that Deb had not gotten around to seeing yet herself. Yesterday was a tour of the wineries in nearby Swan Valley. The night before we took a two hour (!) tour of the historic jail Ė complete with things occasionally going bump in the night, a bonus we were not prepared for (but that would be the general idea). The music playing in the gift shop was ĎDonít Get Around Much Anymoreí Ė a coincidence, they swear!

Entrance to the Gaol - watch for ghosts!

The flights (and associated layovers and security checks) took 33 hours from leaving my office midday Friday to arriving Sunday afternoon. The length of time didnít bother me until around hour 31. By then I was itching to land! On all three of my flights I was blessed with great neighbors, although the 6 month old on the first flight had me initially concerned. Turns out she handled her first flight with nary a whimper. Her dad had not even noticed me deftly slipping my earplugs into a handy shirt pocket...

Within hours after landing I was at a local venue swing dancing with Deb and the locals. We were forced to do our dancing on carpet, but we still managed to have fun. Tonight is the only regular dance that I will be attending, and I look forward to getting to know all the locals. Iíve met a few at some classes I dropped in on, but nothing compares to experiencing a local dance.

One thing that surprised me (and was very moving) was the reaction to the WTC attack way over here. Just like home it is taking up pages of newspapers, and is leading most news broadcasts. Local fire fighters were collecting donations in a mall for the families of fallen FDNY fire fighters. At the American consulate there were a pile of flowers outside, and many letters inside the lobby. Deb and I both tried to not let the other see we were fighting back tears. I am deeply moved to travel this far around the world and realize how much this situation is affecting everyone.

Gateway to Fremantle
Gateway to Fremantle
Greater Perth is kind of a small town on steroids. Since it is in the middle of nowhere, its suburbs continue to sprawl. For the most part, shops tend to be mom & pop affairs specializing in one thing or another. The pace is leisurely and everyone is friendly. I went to downtown Perth one day, and while it has skyscrapers, there isnít the intense hustle and bustle youíd find in a major US city. I could learn to like this! The tradeoffs, of course, are that you canít always whip easily from point ĎAí to Point ĎBí because they are so far from each other, and that one stop shopping is still a young science, so you are going from point ĎAí to point ĎBí fairly often. I think I could learn to handle that, actually!

What is most striking to me is a certain architectural ambivalence. Laws have recently been enacted to prevent any more of the fabulously quaint historic structures from being replaced by modern structures. Considering the appearance of most of the new structures, this is a very good thing. Perth is very much a frontier town, so the houses and buildings are often simple, utilitarian and essentially identical. What makes me cringe is the hodgepodge of design elements that are tacked on almost as an afterthought to the houses: lots of tiny faux columns (Deb calls them Ďmilk bottlesí) at the top of brick walls. In some yards, it appears the statuary has been allowed to breed freely for some time. All those design elements that positively scream ď1972Ē to us? This is where they went when we moved on to other things. Shiny goldenrod panels? Got Ďem. Wrought Iron? Oh, yeah, baby, itís here too. What I donít understand is if this is new construction, where did all the tacky design elements from the eighties and nineties go? Nary a fake stone foundation to be found here. I wonít be the one to suggest them...

Fremantle's protected architecture

Of course, the focus here is on living life right, and not sweating what your house looks like as long as itís comfortable. I canít quibble. And thatís how I would describe this place Ė not by things, but by attitude. Thereís a lot our culture can learn from that.

There is far less ozone down here, so I am tanning already. Sunscreen is sold in family size vats Ė some so big they have handles to carry them with! Hats are compulsory elements of school uniforms. Sunday I fly to Alice Springs in the Outback (or, if you want to sound like a local, Iím going to the Alice in the Red Center). Weíll see if I can continue to avoid burning there!!!

And with that thought to keep you on the edge of your seats, I leave you.

Happy trails,