I know I’ve been promising you an article about Nauru, but hold your horses. I’m getting there. I’m still recovering from my flight. First class just isn’t what it used to be.
Archive for March, 2010
Imagine yourself hovering over a vast land, an island continent in the Pacific. Its dry landscape belies the happiness that bubbles in its people. One day - one day soon - it would become one of the most important wine exporters. There is just one itsy, bitsy problem. It has no grapes.
I am thankful that Australia solved this oversight before my flight landed. After all, it’s kind of hard to tour wine country if there is no…well, wine. Problem solved when grapes were shipped off to Australia in the 1800’s. So Australia eventually had both grapes and prisoners. I wonder if the prisoners took some comfort in the thought.
Here I am, on my recuperative stay in Australia before I head for Nauru. (Airline travel is so exhausting). And the name of the game is wineries.
This might be a good time to mention my book The Bathtub Winery. I’m writing a book by that title. Feel free to buy a copy when it comes out. Or two copies. Or more.
I’ve decided to visit the Mudgee region in New South Wales. It’s a bit of a trek from Sydney, where my plane landed, but the region caught my attention. Why? you ask. Was it the fruity reds? The nurturing effect of clay earth on grapes? The lush hills?
No, I just like the name. Mudgee. Kind of like budgie, but funnier.
Likewise I chose Frog Rock Wines because I like the name. Its shows a sense of humor. People think wine is supposed to be stuffy. It‘s not. It’s supposed to bring us joy.
So how does a connoisseur like moi approach wine tasting?
Let’s just say I really get into it.
I stand off a bit while my group starts tasting wine. Once I see they are getting a bit looser, happier and less observant, I get right above the first open bottle I can find. I tuck in my wings and my muscular legs and…
Wheeeeeeeee! Down I plummet into the bottle. The key then is to lean forward a few degrees so that my lips are face down. Once I get close enough, out pop my wings and I hover over the wine like a parachutist whose parachute has stopped his fall. The I take a sip.
Aaaaah! How refreshing. I dive bomb from bottle to bottle, shrieking “wheeeeeee!” every time because it’s just so much fun to hear how the “wheeeeeee!” sounds different depending on the density of glass, the fullness of the bottle, and how much wine I have plugging up my ears.
Although I try to stay as dry as possible until my last dive so that the wines don’t mix. Then, once I’ve tasted from all the bottles, I let myself do a flying forward one-and-a-half somersaults, pike position, into the wine.
Once I did a belly flop in a Romane Conti 2001. That was fun.
The other part about wine tasting that I love is that as I bounce from bottle to bottle, I get to see the looks on my fellow wine tasters’ faces. The good thing is that at Rock Frog Wines, the wine tasters were mostly fun-loving Australians. Which meant I could let my guard down. They seemed to enjoy watching a mosquito “wheeeeeeee!” from bottle to bottle. I think they maybe even wanted to join in.
Not like that time in Paris when…well, that’s another story. Why whine about the past?
I’m afraid I let Australia’s laid-back attitude sink in too much, though. As I was floating in Rock Frog’s Cabernet Merlot (only $15 a bottle!), I felt the hints of red currant and black cherry tip beneath me as - oh, no! - the bottle was pouring me out into someone’s glass. Down I went on a vibrant red wave with purple hues!
“Hey, look! There’s that mosquito swimming in my wine,” I hear a lady say. I think it might be the cute redhead.
I never flew faster out of a glass of wine in my life. I looked the lady in her bright green eyes and gave her my most charming smile and winked.
I swear she winked back.
The other day I was catching the Greyhound bus from La Crosse, Wisconsin, to my next destination when a very talkative woman eased herself into the seat next to me. In ten minutes she had given me every small detail of her life, how old all of her seventeen grandchildren were (along with photographs of them drawn from her handbag), related her three divorces, and otherwise told me far too much about her rather colourless self. Including the fact that she was an erstwhile self-published author and “artist.”
Then came the inevitable, very American question: ‘So, I looooooove your accent. What do you do?’
‘I’m a travel writer’, I told her.
‘Oh, really!’ she shrieked. ‘What is your favorite part of the world?’
‘As a point of fact, madam’, I said, struggling to remain civil, ‘I just returned from Paris’.
At this, her eyes took on a dreamy artistic hue. ’Ah, Pareeeeee’, she cooed, affecting a French accent and sounding more the glottal German in the process. ’I just love that city. Tell me about the food. What did you have? Where did you eat? Did you take in some five-star restaurants’?
Opening a packet of crisps, I slipped the corner of one into my mouth and bit slowly. I was going to drag this one out a bit. ’Actually, I mostly ate at McDonald’s and Burger King.’
‘Oh’, she said, and dismissed me. Just like that, I was able to retreat from the conversation and be back alone with my thoughts, with the music from my iPod, and my anonymity.
Nothing, I have found, nothing in this world will deflect attention from one faster than claiming that one is a bloody pillock when it comes to gourmet food. When one is knackered of questions about the native foods of the areas one visits, it will shut one’s auditors right up. So perhaps I had gone a bit far. Yes, I do in fact sample many of the native foods along the way. But that is a sidelight to the main show, and I don’t care for food enough to talk about it.
Take for example the time I spent in South America. I am glad to have found that video clip below, because it taught me how to say the one thing I needed most to say whenever I went to a roadside stand and someone did a bodge job of my food.
But ultimately, what is so wrong with traveling for the fun of the trip, with being less than adventurous with the foods one encounters? Why risk bloody indigestion and who knows what else when there is a handy Subway along the way? We live in a world far too enamoured with the new, the different, the exotic, in my opinion. But if the plain and simple were not after all the best, why have all the American fast food companies taken over the world? They have made it very easy for one to eat well no matter where one is. And as for me, food is my last thought. I rarely eat more than once a day, if at all. I find eating to be a colossal bore.
It puts me in mind of the Internet and writing, as these travel musings often do. One of my very favorite websites in the world is The Dullest Blog in the World. This site bears no presumptions, makes no claim to be more than what it is. I believe that we had just better have it out right now, admitting that most of us do in fact live plain lives in which ‘A window was slightly open. I decided that I did not need it to continue to be so. I closed it and securing it using the window handles.’ That entry alone garnered 146 comments so far. So do not tell me that I am the only person living in this world with a philosphy of life so coloured.
In short, I travel for the love of it. But since I am travelling for the love of the move and not for the love of the food, I prefer to restrict my comestible perenigrations to the occasional noshing on normal food.
One of my favorite ways to choose my next adventure is to hover over a map of the world, whirl around like Julie Andrews in the opening scene of The Sound of Music till I’m dizzy, then travel wherever I happen to go “splat.”
There are some disadvantages to this method.
Like the time someone almost closed the atlas on me while I was trying to find my way out of the Amazon with the whole mappemonde spinning beneath me.
Or like when I throw up from the dizzies. Good thing I always carry Altoids Minis.
This time, my stomach seemed to be holding. I opened up one eye in anticipation. Where would I go next? Would it be Monaco? Would it be the Champagne region of France? Would it be to the wilds of Kenya?
I peek down. Newark Airport.
Okay, so it didn’t work so well this time. No problemo. If at first you don’t succeed, spin, spin again.
Which I do, several times. Fifth time is the charm, and this time, when I open my eyes, I see the word Pacific. Splendid! The Pacific!
Then I throw up. Like I said. Altoids Minis.
When the world stops spinning, I squint. The letters are so small, I can barely see them. I lean in closer.
Nauru. The smallest republic in the world.
Small, just like me. How’s that for interesting?
It’s only eight square miles. It’s an atoll, as in “Atoll you so.” Ha ha. Sometimes I kill myself.
Then I throw up again.
After some soothing chamomile tea from my favorite tea shop, I’m back to my travel plans. The best way to handle this adventure is to go first class to Australia, spend a few days recovering in their wine country, then proceed on my own wings and a prayer to Nauru.
I look forward to this trip, not just because of the wine I’ll get to taste in Australia either. Nauru is a study in the what wheel of fate that blesses us one day and takes all away the next. It depended for years on its phosphate mining. It exported this compound for use as fertilizer and became the Saudi Arabia of the Pacific, it was so rich.
Then the phosphate started to run out, and fate left Nauru hanging.
Okay, so maybe it was poor planning too. But fate sounds so much more dramatic.
Cripplingly poor, Nauru has a 90% unemployment rate and 40% of its population is plagued with diabetes. Phosphate mining racked up the ka-hing for years, but it also destroyed the land. According to CIA.gov, Nauru is 0% arable. 0%. Nauruans import their food, and it tends to be canned, high in preservatives, sugar, you name it.
Yet Nauruans have a rep for being hospitable, polite people. I’ve heard that if you see someone on Nauru driving around in your car, no one stole it. Someone just borrowed it.
So I’m set to go, even if I must subject myself to canned sludge for a week. And imported Australian beer. But that’s the burden we adventurers bear. So the next time you hear from me, it will be from Nauru.
And anyway, I can’t possibly go “splat” again on the map. I think I already sprained my wing.