Sunday, March 22, 2015

Melbourne Diary VIII

Day 8: Sunday, March 22, 2015

Another brrrrr morning.  The power went off and the main fuse re-set. Guess that happens here too.  Off to Mass.

The church was a short drive away.  Again, a very modern structure – high white walls, the floor spread wide, bright, clean and airy with pews surrounding the altar. Very neat. Very minimal.  The priest – Fr. Jose – was a Passionist Father from India!!  The Mass, while mainly familiar did differ from what I was used to.  The standing, kneeling, sitting, always, differs from congregation to congregation but what was really different for me was the recitation of the psalm, the prayers of the faithful and communion!  All common prayers – the Creed, the Our Father, the responses, for example - were projected onto a screen. After the First Reading, the lector invited us to recite the Psalm, and that’s what the congregation did: everyone recited the entire psalm, through all the verses, with the response only at the beginning and end.  No singing. The same lector did both the readings too.

At the Prayers of the Faithful, there were the usual invocations for Pope, Bishop, Priest and Nuns, and petitions local, national and international.  But the final intention was for all the dead and their names were projected on the screen.  A long quiet moment was provided to allow us to pray before the invocation was intoned and the response - a fervent ‘Lord, hear our prayer’ – raised by everyone there.

At the preparation of the bread and wine, I was amazed to see three large chalices placed on the altar in addition to the main chalice used by the priest. A large jug of wine was handed over by the server and the contents distributed between the chalices.  Amazement grew. After the elevation and before Communion was distributed, the Eucharistic Ministers stepped up to the altar, each one received Holy Ccommunion and a chalice! Here, the host was offered by the Priest and then one stepped over to the EM for a sip from the cup. Communion under both species is apparently the norm.
The singing was beautiful, here people sing soprano with the occasional tenor thrown in. No base notes! My kind of music.  Some hymns and Mass parts were familiar and so I joined in.  Heartily.  No nudges or funny looks so I guess I was on note too.  Here the ‘kiss of peace’ is a handshake and two little boys boxed each other!! The priest, still vested, greeted each one with a handshake, after Mass.

And what did the sermon say? There is a time and purpose for all things. A grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die before it bears fruit or supports life. Christ came in His time to fulfill a purpose – to glorify the Father. We too, have a purpose in our time. To be the grains of wheat that die to ourselves to support life in each other and so bear witness to our God.

And then we spent the better part of the rest of the day at the Doncaster Shopping Center – upmarket, large and great fun to explore. Had a water melon juice with ginger and sour lime just like back home except that the ginger has a much stronger tang here. Lunched at a café – smoked salmon and salad between large slices of brown bread, followed by an unusual dessert (sponge cake on the outside, a strawberry mousse on the inside, topped with raspberry jam and icing). It had an exotic name to match. Can’t remember it. Lunch was washed down with a pot of tea.

The journey home was punctuated by a visit to the largest liquor warehouse I have ever been in. Every conceivable brand of every kind of liquor. Tippler’s paradise!

Dinner at home. My cousin tried out a new recipe. Thai fried rice. Delicious.

Enjoyed a warm night under the comforter. And woke to a 22 deg morning that was cloudy and overcast!!  A funny contrast to the sunny and bright 8 degs experienced earlier in the week.

One week down.  Three to go.  So what’s Melbourne like? Clean, neat, courteous, considerate – no jumping queues, traffic rules are obeyed, toilets are left clean for the next user, staff greet and smile and apologies are answered, ‘No problem!’ The localities are so delightfully pretty with their picture postcard landscaping and greenery. Outside the city, not a single highrise. Everything is on the level – little cottages and houses in their own gardens on a tree lined street. And it’s quiet. You can hear the bellbird ring!!

The downside? What’s not to like??!!

So, there you go mate!!!!


Melbourne Diary VII

Day 7: Saturday, March 21, 2015

Woke up to a brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Melbourne morning. My moisturizer was frozen, ditto the lip balm! They were made for Indian temperatures.  Hope the day warms up. 9 deg is lovely but only when the sun comes out!!

We’re off to another day in the mountains. An area called the Dandenongs. My cousin tells me that the last time, they went up the wrong mountain and she won’t let her husband forget it.  I am intrigued!

Well we did go up the right mountain and we made good time too.  We went up a turning, twisting road lined with the greenest greenery to a Bavarian tavern called The Cuckoo! We stepped into Austria (or Bavaria) literally.  The tavern was authentic last down to the smallest detail including the pretty girls in dirndls. Live bands played popular music. There was wine and beer to be had. Pumpkin was the soup of the day. Then came the help yourself, eat as much as you want buffet: entrees, main course and dessert.  Believe me, I pigged out.  The chicken liver pate with crackers was heavenly.  The fried fish, potatoes in sour cream sauce, pasta in a creamy herby sauce went down a treat with my Liebfraumilch to wash it down and the dessert bar – a little bit of heaven – held such a wide selection I am lost for names.  Just let’s say I have had to let my belt out a few notches and dinner will have to be missed. The palate cleanser was a slice of water melon.  My cousin and her friends chose their own poison.  I stuck to mine quite happily.

The music and entertainment was superb. Our host welcomed one and all and everyone who had a birthday was greeted. We clapped and sang along and tapped our feet. There was a 90 year old lady whose family was celebrating her birthday – she was unbelievable.  Arguably the youngest 90-year old I have ever seen.  Johann Strauss must have been twitching in his grave. We sang something unusual to the Beautiful Blue Danube: to the lilt of tra la la la, la la, la la, we chorused: ‘We want more beer, ja, ja, ja, ja!!’ Our Dutch friend at the table – Rickie – also had a birthday and the band sang ‘happy birthday’ in Dutch; such a beautiful melody.  And the medley that followed included some really old favourites- Che Sera and Vaya con Dios. And straight out of the Sound of Music: Edelweiss and Doh a deer which had all the children following the singer in and out the tables.  We even had a performance with cowbells – authentic Alpine bells, made in China and played in Australia: they rang out ‘Home on the Range’!!!!!

The tavern is named The Cuckoo because it possesses the largest cuckoo clock in the world!

Melbourne Diary VI

Day 6: Friday, March 20, 2015

Today was a looooong drive. We went up to a place called Mount Eliza. It’s a beautiful little mountain top village with the loveliest houses – no high-rises, thank goodness.  On the way, checked out the landscape – very green, local flora but no fauna- a glimpse of the sea and the rising road. There were patches of wilderness in-between the development and everything blended in so well. The village had a spattering of little ‘family’ shops and, as usual, I went gaga over the two craft shops.  One had a real live ‘Mother Hubbard’ complete with crochet shawl draped over her capacious shoulders – every nook and cranny had something to discover: hooks and needles, yarn and ribbon, beads and buttons and bows. Picked up some yarn, paid my tab and received my parcel. I love the way everyone signs off with, ‘There you go, love!’

Lunched with friends at a little French bistro called Café Gourmand – I had an omelet with goat’s cheese and caramelized onions and tomatoes topped off with a custard tart. Those who had onion soup received it in an enormous soup bowl and a serving of crusty bread.  I have never seen such a large serving of soup – it was a meal and more.  Warm camaraderie and a lovely feeling of being included in the conversation – the ladies all had Indian antecedents, one from Assam, one from Bengal and of course my cousin, Anglo Indians all. They were rather amazed that I was happy to be heading home after my visit!

The journey home was ‘pretty vistas’ too.  A drive by view of Melbourne!

Melbourne Diary V

Day 5: Thursday, March 19, 2015

Attended a funeral. The church was large, airy and very modern.  Here the coffins are closed and a photo kept on top. The organist was from Sri Lanka – had a bit of a natter with her after the Mass – she played the double-keyboard and led the singing superbly.  Lovely soprano voice which came into its own during the solo ‘Ave Maria’ at Communion. The hymns were the same as back home – Here I am Lord, The Lord is my Shepherd, How Great Thou Art – so I could sing along wholeheartedly.  The congregation, just like at home, were sporadic in their responses. Most Catholics here are occasional in their observance and while respectful are not ‘congregational’!!

The celebrant led us through the Requiem Mass with a little commentary which made it very personal. The ceremony involving the Baptismal water, the stole and the Paschal candle were very unusual – for me at least – and certainly a novel experience. Meaningful, too, since the Priest explained the ‘why’. Met Fr. Matheson after the Mass.  He’s also the Parish Priest. Was disappointed to find that they do not have a communication cell, only a Bulletin which gives the Mass and service timings. They have a website run by a lady who works in the Parish Office. Must check that out.
Was glad to find that the toilets lead from the back of the Church – inside not out – and were spotlessly clean with oodles of toilet paper on roll.  It was just like being in your own home!!
Fellowship followed with the most amazing snacks. Mini club sandwiches and pastries were laid out on tables in the centre of the room, we were expected to help ourselves and we certainly did! Tea and Coffee were on offer too.

Here was the celebration of a life and not a mourning for the dead.  Certainly no tears but lots of happy memories. Perhaps a quiet moment of feeling and a murmured consolation.
Since it was a cremation, the undertaker’s uniformed pallbearers hoisted the coffin and bore it respectfully out of the church, into the hearse and away to the crematorium.  No one was expected to accompany.

After meeting the family, we took ourselves off for a masala dosa lunch at Lakshmi Vilas!!!  Yes, they have an Udipi here, with the works.  Authentically prepared too.  That was a nostalgic taste from home and the proprietress came over to have a friendly chat.  It’s amazing to find so many Indians here.  Actually, so many other nationalities – I have never overhead so many different languages spoken in a short span of time: mostly Mandarin / Cantonese (or Chinese, if you like!), German, Arabic, Lebanese, and some unidentifiable.  The Indians tend to speak English so, no, I did not hear my native tongue.

Came home and took a solo stroll around the neighbourhood.  The houses are so neat and each one has its own garden. The whole area has lawns and trees. It’s green. Though we are away from the city – quite ‘away’ from the city, in fact – there is a square surrounded by shops of every kind and the locals are well catered for. One thing I’ve not seen much of is public transport – no car, no go anywhere. Walking does not count. The distances are tremendous.

Melbourne Diary IV

Day 4: March 18, 2015: Wednesday

A delightful morning going walkabout at the zoo. Believe it or not, I got a senior citizen’s discount using my asli amchi Govt. of Maharashtra senior citizen’s id card!!!  Most of the animals were fast asleep but it was still a fascinating place – more like a wildlife park. One could roam for hours, get lost, feel adventurous, enjoy the children enjoying themselves and encounter the friendly park guides.  Or just listen to all the different languages being spoken. The ‘fish and chips’ was grand too.  The best ever.

In the evening, visited Mark and Tahlia – my cousin’s son and daughter-in-law- in their new home and then went out for dinner all together to a Pizza and Pasta place called Fire Chief possibly because it was a ‘recycled’ fire station.  Enjoyed a Rigatoni washed down by pineapple juice and topped up with the most amazing Tiramisu!

Visited a supermarket with the widest range of foodstuff imaginable – even pet food.  I could so live next door to a place like that. It was like falling asleep and waking up in food heaven.

Melbourne, I’m getting to know you!!

Melbourne Diary III

Day 3 : March 17, 2015 : Tuesday

Told my cousin that I had a spot of shopping to do and would like to get that out of the way so that the remaining time could be kept for sightseeing.  So, off to the malls we went and made a day of it.  There were escalators everywhere and we had to use them to get to the different levels.  ‘Come on, Wendy, you can do it!’ became a rather familiar refrain. I have never quaked so much.  But I am getting used to the beasts.  There are 28 more days to go and I am sure the encounters will increase. I have also never walked so much to shop.  Our conversations went like this: See anything you like? Nope! Okay, next shop!  What amazed me were the prices – everything, everywhere was discounted, even in the larger malls.  Food, too, was very affordable. And everything – or practically everything – is available in amchi asli Mumbai. Had the best fun in the 2$ shops to my cousin’s dismay and her husband’s delight.  You can pick up heaps of stuff and not feel guilty.  It only costs 2$!!!!!!! And for those who love converting currencies that’s under a hundred bucks in Indian Rupees.

Back home. Dinner. More family chat.  Getting addicted to my daily dose of Bailley’s.

Melbourne Diary II

Day 2: March 16, 2015 : Monday

Have to get used to the five and a half hour time difference. Had a really good night’s sleep and woke up to time on my mobile showing 7.30 AM. Whoops!  Way past lunch on Aussie time.  Hustled, only to find my cousin still asleep.  My mobile had automatically adjusted to local time because Vodafone was roaming!! So now my watch is on Bombay time and the mobile on local.  Then came fixing up the wifi.  Adjusted settings, entered passwords. No go.  Shrugged, left it and hoped everyone would assume that I’d arrived safely. At 2 am local time, the mobile went crazy.  The wifi had kicked in and the WhatsApp messages were pinging away. Answered all of them and then went back to sleep. Emails and Facebook are back on track. I’m connected.

My cousin’s friend had lost her husband the day I arrived, so we went on a condolence visit. That was familiar.  The world over, it seems, friends gather, chatter about memories and shared experiences.  I was the ‘new’ element and introductions were made and everyone was really friendly.  Funeral arrangements were discussed and sympathies exchanged.  Australia is a country of immigrants – everyone there had come from somewhere else.  A mini United Nations!

Picked up stuff for the house on the way back.  Discovered the $2 shop. Went a little crazy. Came home and chatted.  Exchanged family anecdotes, some new, some known and some quite startling. Wondered why I was being offered dinner so early and then realised that it was dinner time!! Got acquainted with Rikki and Peachy – the plumhead and cockatiel – my cousins much loved birds.  She really is a bird person. And she has a garden with a bushy chilli tree and curry patha. Roots, literally!

Melbourne Diary I

Day 1: March 15, 2015

So I finally packed my bags, screwed up my courage and flew solo.  Actually, it was not too bad. It’s funny how people expect you to know things like where to go and what to do next.  And the people ahead of me certainly did know!  They just marched forward from one point to the next.  Me, I asked!!  One bad experience of going round and round at Frankfurt airport is enough to last me a lifetime.  Flying Business certainly helped.  No long queues and fewer questions.  The time spent in the lounge watching aircraft taxiing and taking off in the night was breathtaking and the service was superb. And then came the boarding for the flight. I trotted off with my strolley following along – all 10 kg of it – to meet a smiling hostess and my worst enemy – the escalator.  No stairs. No lift. I froze. My guardian angel must have been having a good chuckle.  A young man came forward, ‘Do you have a problem?’ ‘YES!’ He picked up my bag, caught my hand and took me onward. Whew! After that it was plain flying.

Up to Hong Kong, life was uneventful: watched a movie on Paddington Bear (delightful), listened to some really lovely music, ate, slept a little. Transit at Hong Kong was miles of dreary corridor, and the occasional encounter with staff who directed you to go stlaight, then reft and then light and a few more words which I did not understand.  Security checked baggage twice and quite rudely too. They treated my hand sanitizer like a time bomb!

Onward to Melbourne and I slept most of the flight.  A lot of mild turbulence but the views from the window at sunrise and sunset were fabulous.  At sunset, the horizon was on fire and the serrated red glow separating earth and sky was amazing to behold. Lots of fluffy white clouds and serenity for the most part allowed for suspended reality, an experience worth the repetition.

Despite all the warnings, customs and immigration at Australia was a snap. They asked if I had anything to declare and I said, ‘Indian curry powder!’ And they said, ‘Oh, Indian Curry Powder. No problem! Welcome to Australia. Have a pleasant stay!!’ Well!!

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Beef has been banned.  Behind the dismay at interrupted dietary habits, also lies the apprehension that this will pave the way for other incursions into minority livelihoods and lifestyles.  Freedom to eat is as important as the freedom to speak, especially in a democracy, even one that appears to be morphing into a theocratic state.

My personal encounter with beef was brief and disastrous, thanks to the tapeworm that I unwittingly hosted.  Add to that the hypertension (also inherited, this time genetically) that precludes red meat and beef has been banned from my menu from as far back as I can remember.

But there are other reasons too.  Our abattoirs are not the most hygienic or humane places.  Breeding cattle in large numbers for the table releases harmful methane.  If you have ever stepped into a tabela (that’s Indian for barn) and experienced bull fart firsthand, you’ll have no doubt about the impact.  I have our collie to thank for that memory. 

And then there are the children.  We have countless numbers of them who have never known a proper meal let alone one that counted beef among the ingredients.  Simple rice, dhal and veggies would satisfy them if only they had access to food instead of starvation.  Do we accept this as normal? Do we hear the same outrage?  Are we capable of sustaining a campaign to see no child hungry?

Perhaps we could turn the tables.  If beef is no longer eaten, then bovines should not be bred. Grazing land could be reclaimed for cultivation.  And adequate nutrition for every child should be made compulsory (apply the same penalties as for the ban on beef!) as a quid pro quo.

And for the determined beefeaters, I presume the import route would still be open (the ban is on local slaughter). Then again, are we sure that ‘mad cow’ has been completely eradicated?!