I’d resolved to, at some point, narrate an entire day of my adventures in Australia. That day may as well be 9/11.
Tuesday is my one class-free weekday (a lot of Australians have class only two days a week) so it’s an opportune time to sleep in. I woke up close to lunchtime, put chicken in the oven, and talked to Elizabeth via skype.
After lunch, I walked to the library to print off a stack of resumes and continue the job search I’d begun the previous week. There I ran into my friend Matt, an argumentative right-wing atheist from England who I met in a class on Australian politics. We decided to head to Black Mountain Tower – a Canberra landmark – with Matt’s girlfriend that evening.
I spent the rest of the afternoon thoroughly hunting for employment. In ecological terms, I’d decided to switch from being a K-strategist to an r-strategist; rather than hassle a few prospective employers, I hit all potential targets within walking distance in the hopes that one of them would work out.
On my way back to campus, I called Matt and arranged to meet up. While Matt was talking to me, his girlfriend – also from England – was on skype in the background with some other chick from England. So there were a lot of posh accents emanating from my phone.
Black Mountain Tower overlooks the whole of Canberra and is readily visible throughout much of the city, so finding our way there was relatively easy. We walked a few blocks and took a short bus ride while Matt and I discussed Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath. Within twenty minutes, we were at the foot of Black Mountain.
Where the trails to the summit began, we happened upon a government security guard. I asked him for the best route to the tower. The guard was baffled that we intended to walk all the way to the top. “You don’t have a car?”
Although we were over halfway to our destination, the uphill walk apparently daunted Matt’s girlfriend; the guard’s bewilderment was doubtless not reassuring. While I spoke to the guard, she whispered loudly to Matt that she was exhausted from walking. When the guard had finished giving us directions, she announced that she and Matt were calling a cab to take them back to campus.
Moments after I bid my indolent companions farewell, I ran into a second security guard. “Walking to the tower? That’s a bloody long walk mate!”
(What’s with this aversion to walking? We’re bipeds, for God’s sake – we evolved for it).
It took me less than twenty minutes to reach the summit. The sun set as I walked – which meant Black Mountain Tower became increasingly impressive as it lit up like a torch in the dark.
Hiking to the tower – especially in the evening – was definitely a better experience than driving would have been. Rather than having the alien structure appear before me all at once, I discovered it with graduating awe as its detail slowly became more beautiful and its size more commanding. Walker Percy would have approved.
When I reached the ramp at the base of the tower, I was ambushed by some Australian woo girls who had never met an American before – and were drunk on absinthe. They didn’t actually call it absinthe – they used some Aussie name – but I deduced this on account of it being green and their thinking the tower was about to fall on them.
After we’d discussed the fact that people are universally unaware of their own accents, they asked me if I’d ever shot a gun. Presumably because of Australia’s strict gun laws, (which it’s very good at enforcing, for reasons I’ll go into elsewhere) it sounded like they were asking me if I’d ever used a lightsaber. I pointed out that, while Australians might not enjoy the same gun rights as Americans, the absinthe they’d just purchased from the liquor store is illegal in the United States.
Maddeningly, when one of them discovered that I’d walked from the base of Black Mountain to the summit, she looked astounded and said “What are you – a machine?”
“It was a twenty minute walk!” I replied. (At this point I’d dealt, in one hour, with five people to whom a short walk was an alarming proposal. Though I’ve noted their probable heritage in the title of this post for the sake of convenience, my theory is this has something to do with all of them living in large cities).
My new friends joined me on the elevator ride to the tower’s uppermost observation deck. The view – a 360 degree sweep of the city – was more incredible even than those offered by the St. Louis Arch, the Sydney Tower, and the Eiffel Tower in daylight; at night, the lights of Canberra stretched across the earth in every direction.
We took the elevator down to Alto – the tower’s revolving restaurant, and parted ways. Alto’s soundtrack consists of late 60s traditional pop (that to me might as well be Fallout-esque 40s stuff). The restaurant has a gently rotating floor – perfectly timed so that you’ve completed one full rotation when it’s time to pay your bill – white tablecloths, a spending minimum, and courteous waitresses who lay your napkin in your lap for you. I’d never been to a restaurant this expensive, so I don’t know if this is a rich Australian thing or just a rich people thing.
When I sat down next to the window, I abruptly felt tremendously serene. I’ve been to some fun parties since I arrived, but this was definitely my favorite moment in Australia thus far. I don’t know if it was the endless procession of lights thousands of feet beneath me – which made me feel like I was on the Citadel from Mass Effect (I’m using a lot of video game references today) – the gradually moving floor, Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” playing over the speakers, or if a modest amount of absinthe is incredibly relaxing – but I was suddenly overcome by a sense of clearness and centered-ness.
Then, when I was already perfectly content, the waitress brought me the menu. Immediately I noticed that it featured “kangaroo pithivier”. If you followed my exhausting, fruitless search for prepared kangaroo meat, you know that this discovery is the only thing that could’ve made me more euphoric. I had a black cherry tart for desert, and then took a cab from the summit back to campus.
My Indian American Australian cab driver had been compiling a list of differences between American and Australian culture – the content of which I may detail in some other post – and wanted to run them by me.
I decided to count the long walk as my daily workout and enjoyed my regular (approximate) Green Monster smoothie. I watched the latest episode of Alphas online (note to self: write a review of this addictive show for the Collegian next semester) at the library, and then concluded the day with George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows.