Loading

A Change is Gonna Come

  Great picture.  I forgot to post that the day after MONA in Hobart.  I can’t recall the artist exactly, my recollection is he was into “architectural modelism” but had no architecture training.  There were beautiful modernistic renderings of towns and town centres.   Nothing much to blog about today.  The ginormous Celebrity Constellation and hefty Holland America Noordam had both docked overnight resulting in teeming hordes of tourists around the hotel.  We had to check out of our dream room and return the rental car before 1 p.m. to avoid incurring another day’s expense.  That left us with three hours before our flight; you basically can’t fly anywhere internationally from Tasmania and if you are flying internationally you almost always have to connect overnight in Melbourne or Sydney—so we are, in Sydney.  I spent an hour of our airport time trying to download an app to use the Virgin WiFi entertainment system--unsuccessfully.  Then on board they gave me an iPad so in the end it didn't matter and I watched the very silly Borg McEnroe movie.  By the time we got to Sydney it was evening; we caught a free transfer from the domestic terminal to an airport hotel.   Hobart is a tarmac airport.  Jets were arriving, being deplaned, luggage was coming and going, fuel trucks were refuelling, it was total organized chaos and amazing how adept the Aussies were at managing it all.   Leaving Tassie.   A basic airplane meal of chicken satay; arriving in NSW; checking out the departure terminal for exercise where several young Asians were stomping on their luggage to fit more in; our super basic hotel for an airport overnight and the view towards the runway.   Nothing fancy to blog about here.  But the beauty is that tomorrow morning SS and I can walk across the street to the international terminal and check in within 10 minutes of checking out.

Canadian Convicts, Tasmanian Devils and an Old Brew

I neglected to write about our ferry trip yesterday (vis-à-vis BCF).  There was one ferry employee at the island on departure (it’s a pay on the mainland free return like Salt Spring Crofton).  There was one deckhand directing traffic on the ferry; the captain helped (the captain helped load traffic!).  The captain ran into a foot passenger who was an old friend so they went up to the helm together.  We were first in line so could see it all and, as they roped open the door to the steering room for a breeze virtually anyone could have walked in and piloted the ship by force.  They chatted the whole way, which was amusing that sixty cars and minibuses were put at risk while the captain did “two things” at once…  When we arrived the one deckhand put down the ramp on his own, no terminal staff, he even walked down the ramp and opened the gate.  The foot passengers were not clear when we drove off.  And the amazing thing about it all was that they do that every half hour every day and no one gets run over, drowns or is maimed.  Plus they ran on time.   This morning was another beautiful day.  Freakishly perfect in fact with not even a whisper of cloud cover.  The bay (which is essentially the River Derwent basin) was like glass.  It eventually reached 25, so our hottest day in Tassie too.  We decided to stay in town.  The island looks small and everything looks close but in fact as with all things Australian distance is often deceiving and I was ready for a day on legs not a bucket seat.   The top shot shows our hotel and working pier taken from the southwest.  The pic below it if you can squint and see my crappy picture, is of an historical photo of the same wharf about 100 years ago.   Curated pulp fiction. Old signage.   We spent the morning wandering the Salamanca/Battery Point neck of the woods which initially served as a fortress against, e.g., French and American whaling ships, then became a rather tony enclave of homes, and is now a mostly gentrified inner city hood with quaint shops and colonial era inns.   SS commented that if you were to remove a few bits of flora (and the ad hoc remnant of wallaby poop) you pretty much have a British village.   Did you know that in 1837-8 in Canada (in what is now Ontario) there were political rebellions which led to “radicals” being sentenced to death and over 90 political prisoners being sent to (what is now) Tasmania?  I thought all the convicts came from the UK.  Not so.  This very crappy picture (the worst pictures are taken on the most beautiful days) is one of a couple Hobart memorials to the Canadians.   I spent some time at the local museum, where SS had dropped in a few days ago, to see their Tasmanian Devil exhibit.  Not a canine, not a feline, a marsupial of course.  Much maligned and misunderstood (I, for one, grew up on Tas, the ludicrous Loony Toons concept animal), and considered a vile predator by many early settlers and farmers.    The TD is in fact a social carnivore, particularly useful in an eco system where they can live off dead prey and the weakest of the flock; nowadays a farmer is more likely to leave a maimed (dead) animal out in the field for the TDs to feast on then set a trap to eradicate the lot.  Their bared teeth actually indicate a stress yawn and their feverish tiger like growls are in fact not aggressive but in satisfaction, say eating a fresh kill.    I’ve reposted a sign I took a pic of and posted last week with the “historical” devil sign.  Amazing the difference.  Until 2010 the TD signs portrayed the animals as vicious and a menace; it was common to take potshots at the signs.  Once they revised the signs to make the animals look social and acceptable attitudes changed overnight.   We took a late breakfast on the harbour then a cab to the Cascade brewery.  I didn’t even know Cascade existed until the time we took the train Sydney to Perth and it was served in the bar car.  But it is in fact Australia’s second oldest continually operating business (a bank, of course, is the oldest).   The enterprise began in the 1800s by an English settler who convinced the local government to cede him 2,000 acres above Hobart where a stream ran through a valley; the plan was to open a logging mill, use the water to provide energy, and the local forest as fodder for his enterprise.  While he did in fact open a logging mill, the used water flowing from it, followed by the contributions from a tannery further downstream, led to some fetid results and a lack of clean water for Hobart residents.  Instead, he transitioned his mill to a brewery and, I guess, the result is history.   The building looks like the front to a sanitarium in a gothic novel.  It is an architectural hodge podge.  The first few floors were built by convicts from sandstone quarries, made into local brick, and cobbled together in piecemeal fashion.  When the mill converted to brewing and needed more space for vats, they added on floors with another type of brick.  Then, over time, the back of the brewery was expanded and modified to accommodate modernization.  It really is like a film lot, with an historical front and bits and bobs out back.   Beautiful beer garden; forget the tour and just go for lunch.   Spanish chestnut, poplar, cedar, fir, oak, cherry, eucalyptus.  What country am I in?   The tour was fine, more anecdotes than information, and of course afterwards there was free drinks in their really lovely beer garden, literally a garden with beer, not simply picnic tables on paving stones.  Cascade beer fun fact: The only brewery in Australia using mountain water; all the rest are on mains.  In the collage above two pics are the bottling plant; the lower right is the original entrance crafted from sandstone by convicts.  In order to keep the horse drawn carriages then, and lorries now, from eroding the gate pillars, you'll see a small piece of black steel as a guide.  There are two actually, one on both side, both cannons from war ships that ended up in the scrap heap in the 1820s, still remaining today as guideposts.   Invalid stout: loaded up with iron for the expectant mum! The one historical factoid that is really worth repeating is the brewery tradition of providing workers with free beer.  The bell rang five times a day: start of workday, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, end of day.  Each break workers were given the opportunity for free beer.  Grab a mug and drink away, then return to work.  That old custom remained in place for many years.  Until when?  The turn of the 20th century?  WWI?  Maybe American prohibition or WWII or the 1950s perhaps when the infamous Aussie “six o’clock swill” was repealed through longer bar hours?  No.  It remained in place until 1993 when Carlton bought the family enterprise and corporate poohbahs couldn’t believe the tradition of drinking on the job.  (But they still give workers free beer on payday and, get this: every Friday at quitting time employees can drink draft at the tasting room for two full hours on the company’s dime.)  As SS put it, there is a Newfoundland streak in the Tassies; self-deprecating but also staunchly independent and not prone to radical change.   We walked back to the centre on a public path which followed the “rivulet” that passes through the brewery.  You pass the “female factory” which is a UNESCO site where female convicts were conscripted to a workhouse.  Then you wend your way back into the CBD. Some of the local architecture along the rivulet, as per the pic above, is interesting if quirky.   We spent some time in the marina area before returning to the hotel and taking dinner in the hotel restaurant, which looks out from the wharf across the bay.   For dinner we just went downstairs to the hotel’s “Wharf” restaurant.  The collage shows their lounge, some seared kingfish and a delectable eggplant main.  It was modern Australian and very good but not necessarily as refined as some of the outposts we’d made an effort to book over the last week.  The deuce beside us were two older bejewelled dames, one wealthy ex-pat from Hobart who has spent the last 40 years living in Palm Beach, Florida, and regaled me with tales of famous colleagues and fine hotels and investments gone awry; her Cartier jewelry was only mildly distracting but her nail polish told another story altogether.  SS did his best to talk to her childhood friend Jean, well pearled from a successful career in real estate and only modestly compromised by two hearing aids and a walker.  There was, I think fortunately, no expectation for a waltz.  We made our excuses shortly after nine.  

Goin’ South

We did art Sunday so it was only suitable to do nature Monday.  And we did nature as far south as, I guess, we'll ever be.   Antarctica isn’t on the bucket list.  Although we’ve done Argentina and Chile we took a pass on Patagonia.  So, short of an exile, I think we’ve gone about as far south as either of us will ever go in our lives.  I mean, when it comes to any land mass at this latitude, if you exempt the ice to the south there’s only Tasmania and Patagonia.   We started the day by driving about 35 kms south to Kettering for the ferry; you know the place—you pass Margate, the Electrona Industrial Park then Snug (and Lower Snug).  Easy.  In the summer the ferry leaves every half hour; one is called Mirambeema and the other, wait for it, the Bowen.  Except for all the eucalypts, it wasn’t much different than arriving at Pender Island.   Bruny Island is a sort of tourist slash foodie slash day-tripper slash camper van off the grid sort getaway.  We had a preconceived notion of Salt Spring but in fact while the land mass is the size of Singapore, and there is a distillery, a cider works, a brewery, a vineyard, a cheesemaker, a berry farm, and a substantial national park, only 650 people live on the island.  It was really like Salt Spring Island 40 years ago.   We drove north first, to the furthest point on the “Iron Pot” called Dennes Point.  There was a nice café and we had breakfast, fabulous flat whites, and a bit of a poke.  I thought of Brent when I saw the interior wood pile.   Views of Bull Bay, a beach on the east.  After breakfast we drove south past Bull Bay, Great Bay, the Isthmus Bay, and deep into the southernmost reaches of the South Bruny National Park.   Trumpeter Bay.  It’s after Bull Bay but before Great Bay.  Remember, there’s a quiz at the end.   As we approached the southernmost point, I shot a couple of pics of the sensational views.   After a very long and arduous drive we pulled into the tiny lot at the south end of the island.  Here we hiked up to the Cape Bruny Lighthouse with its spectacular views over Standaway Bay and beyond to the Southern Ocean.   After a long, awesome break here, we headed back on the unmarked roads.  Can you tell which direction is which?  Just remember to keep to the left; the left, by the way, is not the right side, the right side in Australia is the left side…   Just to emphasize how far south we went, Telus sent me a text at lunch “welcoming” me back to Australia!    On our route back you pass the Cloudy Bay Lagoon.  The lagoon on, say, Gilligan’s Island, always sounded so safe and glamorous, but in reality a lagoon is a bit of a septic system for the ocean, still, buggy, smelly and just a saltwater bog.   We stopped at the local vineyard for lunch.  We both had burgers.  What you see is a local lamb and wallaby burger.  The local brewery made an absolutely superb hoppy malty ale with 2.8% alcohol, positively a dream for a DD.  We had a very relaxing nosh.   After lunch we headed back into another part of the national park on the east side of the island, where the waters are turquoise, the sand white, and the views reminded us of the British Virgin Islands.   This shot is of Adventure Bay, from a distance, which lies on the east side of the isthmus, which they call The Neck.  Keeping track?   When we got to the other part of the park we did a hike past where Captain Cook landed.   This hike looked back over Adventure Bay, Cool Point and Blighs Rocks, gorgeous spots all.   Someone’s been busy.  Faux inuksuk beach.   We caught a late afternoon ferry back, waded through rush hour traffic, then walked up to a tiny little highly rated resto called Templo.  As you know I am not a fan of a chef’s menu but given this was a temple to pasta we went all in.   There were some particularly good dishes including a wood smoked carrots on buttermilk with cumin and hazelnuts, ling cod with pine nuts, and a (not photographable) sensational mini gnocchi with pork ragu.  Four deuces, a communal table for ten, and the bar; teensy.  Two sittings.  That’s sorted.   There is free guest laundry at the hotel; time to get back to the room!  

The Compulsion to Create

We took breakfast at a really authentic bakery (in the Jim Lahey style ) called Pigeon where they made the most delicious Eccles cakes.  We passed a restaurant on the pier playing contemporary jazz to keep the boarders and ne’er do wells away, and, hand on God, witnessed a seagull doing the moonwalk.  Then, more or less, first thing, to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, a relatively new complex on the river Derwent quite a clip outside of town.  It’s pretty much top of the list for Tassie tourists and locals alike, bursting at the seams by the time we left early aft.   You could take a ferry from the pier where our hotel is, to a dock seventy steps down from the museum, but we drove.    Surrounded by vineyards and bordered by water on one side you would expect the best, but the exterior was not inviting in any respect.    In fact, the entrance, pictured above (a mirrored wall) was of a "considered dissonance" to put it kindly, and more of an affront than a welcome.   Inside, however, it was a different experience altogether.  Much of the museum lies underground or wedged into the rocky outcrop; you traverse spiral staircases, tunneled walkways and a mish-mash of rooms that are disorienting and not afar from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.  A beautiful lounge with a tapas bar extended out onto a rocky beach.   But the work speaks volumes.  The old and new aspects are sometimes metaphorical but sometimes, as in the above two pictures, literal, where you have ritual figures of antiquity from Auvergne next to early 20th century American armless carvings.   As you descend to the main galleries you pass a room with a mummified tomb of Pausirus (100 BCE).  Cleverly (or not) the tomb is set on a concrete walkway surrounded by water, so only a couple of people are permitted in the room a time; here SS traverses the paving stones around the pool to the tomb.   Another massive installation adorns a wall over two floors, 1600 individual drawings in collage.   When you reach the bottom level there was a water installation called Bit Pop by Julius Fall that spanned nearly three levels. My pictures may not do it justice, but as the water fell it formed words, ad hoc, and then trickled into space; it was powerful and ephemeral in one breath and weirdly hypnotizing.   Another unusual and captivating piece was called Bounty by Patrick Hall which was a construction of real bones representing the ocean.   The current exhibit at the museum has a theme of lesser known or unrecognized artists.  Naifs, hermits, ex-soldiers, stone forgers, pastors, priests, beauticians, collectors, obsessives, free hand artists, typographers, cartoonists, inventors, politicos.  In short, people compelled to be artists, not just names.  In this vein:   Two rooms focused on pastors and their biblical art; these “preaching plates” from 1958.   An artist, Morton Bartlett, obsessed with young mannequins.   Andre Robillard’s 23 guns and rocket launchers.   Hans-Jorg Georgi’s 24 cardboard airplanes.   At one point we queued for “an experience” in a room called Event Horizon by an artist called James Turrell.  Basically, about seven of us took off our shoes, surrendered our devices, put on white sockettes, and then entered a large room of rounded white walls and various lighting coordinates, where there was a staff person in a white smock who looked at the ground and ensured we didn’t touch the walls or sit, and there we stood for 16 or so minutes, as the lights changed colour and, on occasion, strobes went off.  It was a little bit Woody Allen’s Sleeper and a little bit Kubrick's 2001.  Ho hum on the hallucinatory experience but en route, you pass through a light hallway, pictured above, which was (for me) totally disorienting and weirdly uncomfortable.  The pic doesn’t do the size justice, as it was about 10 feet wide and 16 high.   I can’t remember the details, but a Russian ex-soldier focused on recreating historical soldiers, to the tune of an army of nearly 2,000.   Was everything great?  No.  No, no, no. Lot’s but not all.  Take, e.g., this collage:   The skeletons, well, let’s just say they speak for themselves.  The hanging devices, Cloaca, by “radical” Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye, is essentially a poop machine which, when provided with food at one end will, on a daily basis (at 2 p.m. to be exact) produce some fecal matter.  I am not kidding.  And as for the tea cart, that was a bit twee: When you exit the basement you go through a screen door into what elsewhere would be a standard museum shop but here has an older woman (your mum) offering to serve you tea.  For free.  Hmmmm.   But the good far outweighed the crap.  The crap.  Geddit?   One of my absolute favorites were 12 exquisite, intricate and inexplicable “doodles” by an artist who drew them while working at a call centre.     That's the wall outside the tea shop...  We had lunch on the grounds at a café at a picnic table in the shade; salmon on greens and Spanish omelette.  Then we drove back the hotel, dropped off the car, and walked into north Hobart.   Can you tell what city you’re in?  Bristol?  Newcastle?  Milton Keynes?   We ran into an old guy who had a 1910 FN (Fabrique Nationale) motorbike who had driven it across Asia and Europe, from Nepal to the UK, not dissimilar to what I did in 1985 except he skipped Africa (!), but of course we were in a reconditioned Bedford.  No Room for Watermelons was his published diary.     In the evening we headed out to another “hot” Hobart restaurant, Dier Makr.  They do a degustation menu, not really my thing, but on Sunday it’s simpler and a la carte.  We ate a sensational small dinner for not very much. For starters, pictured, buratta, rhubarb chutney and pickled cucumber, and anchovies in lemon.  We sat at the kitchen so to speak; the chef knew the chef at Farmer's Apprentice, two blocks from my office.  Small world.  

Grapes, Oranges, Walnuts. Who Says Wall Tackle?

 

Gorgeous morning.  Spectacular.  Low 20s, light warm wind, just heavenly.  Pic above is view from the living room deck.  We had some breakfast then walked the beach barefoot for about an hour.  I was going to take a full on swim but having seen blue bottles (small blue jellyfish) on the beach, did more of a tot getting soaked in the inflatable dunk, and called it a day.  We checked out from our beach house just after 10.

 

  

 

The drive south was mainly on the A3, a two lane highway with exceptional views of the coast, very northern California.

 

 

Not far out of Swansea is an old stone bridge called Spiky Bridge; it was part of a track laid down by convicts in the early 1800s.  Why the bridge has spikes no one knows, but it did keep cattle from jumping/falling off.  Cool relic of the old Australia.

 

 

Some of the signage along the way was, while not baffling, deserving of a second take.  For example: "Stop.  Revive.  Survive.”  Or, e.g., Alert?  Stay alive.”  And, “Secure Your Load.  Penalties apply.”  Oh yes, finally, “Bush Watch.”  That is not to mention the odd place names that brought a second take (e.g., Break Me Neck Hill and Bust Me Gall Hill; Wye River – because it’s bigger than a rivulet--and even so I am leaving out The Nut).

 

 

SS read a factoid from a travel piece today: Tasmania has the highest road kill per capita of anywhere in the world.  I believe it.  You should have seen the death toll on the drive today.

 

 

We got into Hobart midday and took lunch at a market pier on the shore.  After that we were able to get early check-in.

 

 

The hotel we’re staying at is both a design statement and a heritage marker.  On the one hand, it’s the most interesting reno/new build in the central business district, situated on a working pier.  On the other, it’s a testament to all the heritage of Hobart (in fact, you can take a tour that explains each and every character enshrined on the guest room doors; pic above is a mural of them all). Carnival cruise monstrosity left mid-afternoon.  Wow was that a big ship.

 

Our door/room is dedicated to Patsy Maher, a boisterous Cockney who worked his way up from selling fruits from a donkey cart (“the orse”) to selling at the Theatre Royal; his story is enshrined on the entrance to the room. Who says wall tackle was one of his lines, apparently.

 

History aside (and as you can see, the common areas are brim full with local artifacts), this is a phenomenal hotel which I would give full marks to, and we’ve stayed at some swanky digs over the years.  We started by looking at Air BnB but found them expensive, not central, and most didn’t include parking.  So we went the hotel route for Hobart and wow was that a great decision.  Ideally, a hotel offers comfort, convenience and spacious digs; this delivers in spades, modern, well-designed, cool, and in the thick of it all.  Complimentary valet.  Ever even heard of that?  You could fit a couple of bowling alleys down the corridor.  Nespresso, check.  Blue tooth Bose, check.  Whisper quiet at night.  As for the historical narrative that comes up in the elevator ("you will need to develop a manly chest if you want to compete with all the best") it's, um, er, quirky.

 

 

We had arrived early enough to catch the weekly market in the CBD, Salamanca; a fair representation of local artisans, foodies, farmers, antique dealers and kitsch peddlers.  A lot of fun.  Also, surprisingly, were a large numbers of indie brewers and distillers.  I had to refrain from taste testing the guy selling vodka and gin made from distilled sheep’s whey—that’s a recipe for what they call digestive upset.

 

We spent most of the glorious afternoon wandering around the CBD.

 

 

Our dinner was something of an event at a local outpost that rates as one of Australia’s best restaurants: Franklin.  You know the kind of place: Reservations open up 45 days in advance and then disappear immediately.  And, yes, we reserved 45 days ago.  (Walk-ins get a stool at the bar, space permitting, and how cruel is a stool without a back?)

 

We had a pretty delectable meal without the touch of tweezers, foam or aimless drizzle, which passes for haute cuisine.

 

 

In this collage I have some mediocre pics of, clockwise, pickled kohlrabi on a delectable spiced tahini; wood smoked zucchini with a walnut pesto and lovage; a potato galette with ricotta; a delectable melt in your mouth buttery lamb which turned out to be a spit roast rump; and not one but two desserts.  Yes two!  The pics don’t tell the taste story, but the first is a deconstructed cherry sundae with a cherry granita mixed in with marinated cherries (in season here), chocolate sorbet on top of a macaroon; and next to that a very strange dessert, paper thin potatoes crisped to a wafer, then sandwiched between brown butter mousse and a drizzle of salted caramel.  Hugely satisfying and not at all neurotically dissected nouveau-ish.  Sweetest part of all, no tipping in Tassie. 

Each room has a display case with a themed exhibit.