Saturday, August 01, 2009

Marine Museum and a Missed Flight.

Every hostel stay seems to have it's moments, and that night was no exception.

I turned in around 11, and walked into my dorm room to find a very undressed (she was left in pants and a camisole) English bird standing in the center of our room. Sometimes a little bit of curmudgeonly behaviour is rewarded by a glimpse of beauty along the way for no particular reason, and this was one of those moments. I tried not to raise my eyebrows too highly and instead gathered my things for rituals of tooth brushing and preparations for bed. It turned out she and her traveling companion (whose names I forget) had just arrived from Cannes a few minutes before.

Mark and Dominic, two fellows who were staying in (Dominic because he didn't feel like going out and Mark because he was hugely jet lagged from having just arrived from the UK 24 hours earlier and going out to the pub the night before) turned in shortly thereafter, and the five of us chatted for twenty minutes or so before we all decided that we were invested in the sleep aspect of things.

Of course, we were awakened by the returning revelers around 3AM, most specifically a fellow who had apparently been pranked by having a fridge put in his bed (?!). Of course, when you're that hammered everything is as serious as the afterlife and he stood in the hallway and bawled bloody murder for probably ten minutes while his friends tried to calm him down and get him to bed.

After an hour of tossing and turning I fell back asleep and woke up around 9.

Dominic and I finished off most of the remaining breakfast ingredients I alluded to earlier, and the resulting mushroom and onion omelet and hash browns were damn tasty.

I did laundry, repacked my things and dropped them in the storage room, then headed for downtown. I had one last day and the wildlife exhibit and marine museum had my curiosity.

I wandered down the wharf and passed the wildlife exhibit with only a pause to confirm that it was about $32 AU and I hadn't little interest in paying that to go to a miniature zoo, even a neat one. So it was that I didn't see a Koala or (live) Kangaroo during my time in Australia, but that just means there's more reason for me to come back, I suppose.

However, I crossed over the Darling Harbour bridge and discovered a gem in Australia's National Marine Museum.

It was a mammoth building with it's own docks outside, with decommissioned battleships and submarines and a replica of the Endeavour (Captain Cook's ship). For a price, you could tour the ships outside, but the museum itself was free. I threw $3 AU in the donation box and wound up spending nearly 5 hours there, I felt like I should have gone back and donated more before I left.

Among the many permanent exhibits of Australian Sailing and Longshoreman history, there were several really fascinating displays and a couple of great temporary exhibits as well. One of the cool things in the extensive exhibit on the history of the Australian Navy, and how it's evolved over time largely independent of the British Navy which was content to withdraw when it had business elsewhere and leave the colony to shift for itself, which made the Australians naturally uncomfortable, and so they basically hand-built their own fleet.

In fact, the government of Australia actually invited The Great White Fleet--Teddy Roosevelt's personal "Fuck you" to Japan--to come visit and tour Sydney harbour, and the government made a huge celebration out of the visit, and used it to drum up public support for their own Naval ambitions, which they would proudly tour through the same harbour themselves five years later, and which would prove invaluable during the first world war just a few years after that.

One of the intriguing visiting exhibits was "Exposed--the History of Swimwear" which I have a twofold interest in. On the one hand, I swam quasi-competitively as youngster, and rather enjoyed the experience, and find the current "Fastskin" controversy intriguing. On the other hand, I'm also a human male over the age of 12, so a fitting bathing suit on an attractive woman will always be a visual I appreciate. To quote Garrison Keillor (who was quoted in the exhibit) "A girl in a bikini is like having a loaded pistol on your coffee table - There's nothing wrong with them, but it's hard to stop thinking about it."

I was surprised and impressed to note that the human body factored into the exhibit to the extent that they included the iconic William Claxton photograph of Peggy Moffitt modeling Rudi Gernreich's famous "monokini" of which 3,000 were sold and only a handful ever worn. I was to realize later in the other exhibitions on swimming that the female breast is apparently not something that the museum felt should be avoided if it factored into an exhibit, and spotted several other images (mostly Australian beach-and-swimming-related-art) that also had nipples a plenty. I've dutifully reprinted a low quality image of the monokini photo (which is a fantastic photograph from a technical and asthetic POV as well) here to voice my support for this mentality. What I've come to realize is that I think nudity and alcohol are in the same category here. If they are treated with respect, but also with a casual admission that they are facts of life and not to be considered shameful or unhealthy, we'll probably be a lot better off as a society.

Other intriguing displays included the Darwin Exhibit ("Journeys and Theories" or somesuch) which was a really fascinating overview of Darwin's travels around the world aboard the HMS Beagle. One thing I found fascinating was that the captain of the ship for that voyage would go on to become one of the first proponents of using barometers to predict the weather, and to advocate their use by ships at sea.

There is a "United States of America" gallery that contains a bunch of gifts from the Smithsonian, most interesting of which is a display of journal excerpts and photographs from a 19 year old Yankee that sailed to Australia from New York on one of the last tall ships near the turn of the 20th century. His photography is remarkable (though occasionally out of focus) and his writing is blunt, simple, and fascinating, and these materials provide a compelling view backwards into a world now long gone.

There is also a boat built out of beer cans, which is seaworthy. Turns out that Darwin runs a beer boat competition every year, and it's encouraged some really remarkable creativity over the years.

I finally left the museum around 4:30, took a train back through town, swung by Harries for another delicious meat pie, this time with mashed potatoes AND mashed peas, and the collected my bags and headed to the airport.

I walked up to the Virgin Blue counter around 6:15 and told the lady I was checking in for the flight to Perth. She had my passport by then and said it was odd that she wasn't finding me on the passenger manifest. I asked what day it was (that always being my biggest fear) and she laughed and said the 1st. Ok then, I wasn't completely wrong. She said the flight was at 7:55 though, and tha concerned me, because I thought I remembered it being at 7:30. Finally she searched for my flight details and found my original booking, and discovered that I'd been on the 5:30 flight (now, of cours, long gone).

"Oh, shit" I thought to myself. "Really?" I said, trying to play the innocent passenger card while I wracked my brain for how I'd managed that one.

Then I hit upon it. Throughout this trip I've been drilling my use of Military time, which has served me very well throughout, but in this case it had sunk me. The flight I'd thought was at 7:30 (and had converted in my head to 19:30) was actually at 17:30, and I'd simply misread the booking. I'd made an assumption based on the duration of the flight and the time changes and the fact that I knew when I landed, and assumed that 7:30 made perfect sense. In fact the flight time was two hours longer than I expected. My face fell but the very helpful girl pointed across the concourse to a customer service desk and said I'd be able to change my ticket there for a $50AU fee.

Well, $40 US wasn't too bad, and in fact was easily absorbed by my budget, so I schlepped across to the desk and explained my plight to the girl there.

She pulled up my flight details and looked concerned. "oh, actually. . .the kind of booking you had can't be exchanged once you miss the flight. . ." (OH SHIT. RED ALERT.) "I mean, if you'd been here but not had time to make it to the gate. . ." she trailed off, not wanting to say "you're about to have to buy a new $250 (or god knows how much more) ticket if you want to fly tonight".

I played the innocent traveler card again and pointed back at the check in desk from which I'd just been sent. "Oh, I didn't realize. I mean, I just talked to her and she had said that I'd be able to transfer to this flight for a $50 fee since there were open seats. . ."

They played phone tag, waving at each other across the concourse and talking briefly and the customer service girl (who obviously wanted not to charge me an arm and a leg) confirmed that I was some TLA that basically meant "was here on time but couldn't make it" (a complete fabrication they were both happy to maintain for my sake, thank the maker). As a result, I was on the next flight to Perth with very little economical pain or inconvenience.

I phoned Geoff to explain and he laughed at me. "How the hell did ya manage that?" and I told him briefly and said I'd call when I landed to find out if he was still at work or back at the house.

While I waited for my next flight, I sampled a local treat: Arnott's. The big seller are "Tim Tams"--a chocolate coated cookie that is the common companion of tea. In this case though, it was a mint cookie not unlike if a Devil's Food Cake cookie and a York peppermint patty had mated. Imagine a grown-up version of a Girlscouts' thin mint and you've got the idea. They were great. I ate the entire package before I reached Perth.

When I landed, I found him at home. We sat and talked and drank for a bit, then went to sleep with plans to spend a little bit of the next day at least sharing technique, doing a mini-Knoxville-fest, both knowing we'd be frustrated by the experience since it's been so long since either of us trained, but wanting to get the chance to convey at least the vague outline of what had, once upon a time, been conveyed to us.

No comments: