Let me say that again: I'm at the Customs House at Circular Quay in Sydney! My heart is beating with excitement and a big smile keeps crossing my face, an involuntary rictus.
Let me tell you about breakfast this morning, my first in Australia.
I'm staying at a small b&b that is a restored Victorian prototypical Sydney House in Newtown, an inner western suburb -- but an old suburb, as it is the home of the University and was a town in its own right before the spreading of Sydney took it over. The high ceilings are ornamented, the windows are stained glass, the iron balconies are ornate. The layout is townhouse Victorian, but nothing quite like anything I've seen before. I have a lovely room at the top of the stairs, with my own iron balcony. I am transported in time and distance. I am in a BBC production about the Colonies.
Breakfast is just delicious, as Declan (of Peter and Declan, my hosts at the Ardmore House) is a stupendous cook. Breakfast is also massive. But I haven't eaten since yesterday early afternoon, so thrown off was I by two days of time-free travel when I seemed to eat a full meal every three or four hours. So I easily devour the food of a trencherman, along with my first coffee in a week. Declan insisted that it would be brought to me in my bed when I awakened, but I had to outsmart him by getting up at dawn and taking a walk around the astounding neighborhood on this beautiful warm day and greeting him on his morning descent down the steep stairs.
The other guest in this two-guestroom house is Angela, in town on business from Yorkshire in England. She is sharp and funny and very quick and she tells wonderfully cutting stories about her trip to Atlanta and the appalling amusement park mansions she saw there ("I'd like Italian Villa please, made of pasteboard.") She is equally funny about London ("dirty heartless London, where I go once a week"). Peter, the former "International Opera Singer", is somewhat prolix as he tells all manner of stories about his life (starting as the pampered son of privilege in New Zealand), and it is like listening to a charming relative with a rich history. Declan claims to be the one who doesn't say much, but I get him to tell me of his childhood in Kildare Ireland and his emigration to Australia when he was in his late twenties. The magnificently restored house was actually Declan's, the loving project of his and his ex. He and Peter have been together for ten years, and the bed and breakfast idea was their retirement project.
We sit and sip our beverages and eat our food with animation and joy, in this theatrical setting, on this, my first morning.
But can I tell you about last night?
A deep afternoon nap shortly after my arrival revived me enough to have a full and alert evening. Les Farnell of the Sydney Homotones, the gay and lesbian community band, picked me up. He was with his partner Graham, whom we dropped off at a pub (or "hotel" as they call them here) near the rehearsal space. Graham is retired, and this is an evening out for him when Les is at practice. The Sydney band is somewhat small, but their conductor Karen is a font of energy and focus and joy. I played auxiliary percussion, scrambling about all evening to find the various percussion toys. They were all so kind, telling me what a pleasure it was to have these little accents in the pieces played. I actually knew nearly every piece we played, although it's the mallet part that I've played for them all.
What fun. What a perfect first night. I'll be coming to the band's performance at a neighborhood festival when I'm back in two weeks.
Les and I joined Graham at the pub for a couple of beers, and I got their life stories. Graham was "born and bred" in Sydney, as he said several times, and he has much love for and interest in Sydney history and architecture. He, like Peter, is a prolix man of many stories -- he describes himself as a depression baby, and at one point he was a high government official in the education department. He tells you over and over what a genius Les is -- mathematical research is Les's field. Les likely is a mathematical geniuis, from what I've seen on his webpage, but most prominently he is an absolute gentleman.
When I got back to the b&b Peter and Declan were drinking red wine and watching an old MGM musical that starred Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel and Ann Miller and Red Skelton. Peter sang along with every song, and talked over the dialog with tales of his boyhood singing on the radio in New Zealand, with his own weekly show. This story followed from his recollections of his mother wearing gowns such as we were seeing in the film, magnificent confections with yards and yards of tulle.
I had joined the boys, of course, and they offered me wine and I noted that it felt awkward, having them treat me like an actual guest like that. I wanted to point out that they'd never make a go of their business if they insisted on giving their guests wine. "But we want people to feel as if they are guests in our home," they said. This led to the argument about bringing me coffee or tea in bed in the morning. I lost the argument, but, as noted, I won the battle.
Their dog is quite the attention whore. She snuggles up to me on the sofa and gives me a look. When I ignore her she places her paw delicately on my knee, until I start to rub her neck. That's what she wanted. She closes her eyes as I pet her. I think she's asleep so I stop, at which point she puts her paw back on my knee (without opening her eyes). I test this out: She will do this the second I stop, then remove the paw when I start up again. This morning I learned that if I stand still she will come up to me and lean her head into my crotch, with a blissful look. I don't use the word "whore" lightly here.
I want to tell of my long long journey here, and my four hours in the Fiji airport, and the joy that gripped my heart when I saw the Sydney Harbour Bridge out the window of the plane (I've seen so many pictures that the reality was startling, as if I had walked right into a book), but it's time for me to begin my sightseeing day here at the historic heart of Sydney.
Can you believe it?