Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Return to Oz

Okay, the Royal Wedding (sorry, had to interrupt for a lunch break with mom at the new restaurant in Irving Park- Remix. if you are in Chicago, please check out this place. It is CHEAP, there are delicious crepes, the owner is super nice, and it is the only cute new restaurant in this neighborhood. Help it out!) 

The evening of the Royal Wedding (LIVE coverage began at 5pm in Australia), Ben and I decided to leave our hotel bar and head down the street to the recommended restaurant in town. We figured we could catch up on the wedding when we got back later. Little did we know, the wedding, even in Australia, was HUGE. We walked into The Austral, a cute historic building that had a refurnished bar and restaurant, to find just about every resident and visitor of Quorn that night. If they weren't there when we arrived, they arrived shortly thereafter, and at one point it was standing room only. Two big screen TVs were tuned to ABC, for all of the glorious red carpet coverage one could handle. Most people had dressed up for the occasion, but, unfortunately, no one was wearing any hats. People do love hats in Australia too, by the way. Horse races are still the biggest festivities of the year. 

We ordered our dinner, which we were thrilled about because I ordered beef cheeks and Ben ordered kangaroo (and it was not pb&j for once), and found a little table in the corner near two 40-something couples at the bar. They had begun their evening of drinking and revelry long before arriving at The Austral, and their wedding commentary pretty much made our night. Like most Aussies, they were quick to befriend us, and quick to start rolling out the comedy. Perhaps the wedding to Aussies was perfectly summed up by one of the women: "You know, we hate this [wedding]. We don't want to be part of this stupid republic. But it's like a car crash. You really don't want to watch it, but some sick part of you wants to." 

And so, the canary-like queen, the dagger-laden Victoria Beckham, and the bow-tied Princess Beatrice were all mocked, the British anthems were drowned out by raucous, drunken Aussie anthems, and, of course, all the Quornians still adored Kate in her dress. As the oaths of marriage were being made, the pudgy, middle-aged barmaid cracked the silence that had fallen with, "Is this a bad time to mention that I slept with William?!" All anyone could do was crack up. 

The remainder of our time in Australia was spent at the Grampians National Park, where we scrambled over boulders up the inaccurately named Mt. Difficult (not so difficult at all) and spent chilly nights around the campfire roasting sausages and playing with the resident wallaby. It was over a campfire in the Grampians that we learned of the death of Osama Bin Laden, from a French traveler we had met that night. It reminded me of the night I heard that Michael Jackson died, when I was at Charlie's, the only bar in Babb, Montana. The instances were equally surreal, as though I was looking and thinking about the world from the outside. I guess that is what happens when you are out of mass media coverage for long periods of time. 

My last night in Oz was spent in Lorne, where we began our journey. Because the tourist season is over now, as it is well into Fall, we were able to rent a whole cabin to ourselves! We cooked dinner, watched some of that mass-media-coverage we had been missing (but not necessarily missing, if you get my drift), and drank some great micro-brews. Up until that point, we hadn't found a really good beer the entire time we had been Down Under. Considering how much Aussies and Kiwis like to drink, we thought it a travesty. I guess they just drink to drink, and not for quality. Or, they haven't discovered the art of the micro-brew yet. Well, some have, and we managed to taste a couple! 

The next morning we headed for Melbourne, where I would fly to Sydney, and where Ben would decide what to do with the remaining few days he had in Australia. Though I was only there for about two weeks, I saw so much it felt like it must have been longer. I loved Australia, and I will definitely go back. If anyone has ever seen any Aussie movies (particularly musicals) from the last thirty years, there is usually at least one scene where people break out in song in a pub. Thus, it is the night in Quorn that stands out in my mind as the most typically Australian moment that we had, and we ate it up. I mean, they actually broke out in song. It reminded me of family gatherings at my parents' house. Generally, after everyone has eaten, and there is that lull when digestion takes precedence over conversation, my father and my godfather burst out in song. No one ever knows what they are singing or where it came from, but somehow they both know it and are belting it out across the turkey and cranberry sauce. So I think we must be siblings, us Americans and Aussies, because despite everything that may stress us out, we sure as hell love a good time. 


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