Yes. I’ve been in Australia.
What? You don’t believe me? I’m offended.
OK. Maybe you’re right. I haven’t actually been physically in Australia. However, I have spent most of this month in an Australia state of mind.
Our kids’ high school hosts a group of Australian high school students every January. They come to California for three weeks. A few days in Southern California, a few days in San Francisco, and 10-11 days with a host family in Elk Grove. We’ve done this three times, with Zac being our 2014 Australian visitor. It’s always interesting learning about other countries. Here are a few things I learned this year. Food in Australia is typically at least twice as expensive as it is in America and the portions, particularly at restaurants are significantly smaller. Their salaries, however, are significantly higher. A welder making six figures. A teacher making $85K.
Zac lives near Cairns, which is in the Northeast part of Australia. He has never seen snow. Why? Because it would require a three day drive, uninterrupted, to get to where snow falls in Australia. This just amazes me. A three day drive would take a person almost entirely across America. So, one of the days the students are here, they go to a ski resort. Although California is in the middle of a massive drought (more on this below) and there has been hardly any snow or rain the past couple of months, for a few minutes, as the students were getting on their bus to come back to Elk Grove, snow fell for them.
Here are a few things I’ve known since we had our first Australian student. There is no such thing as a free refill in Australia. There are no Hostess products. Can you imagine a world without Twinkies and Ho-Hos? There are almost no Mexican restaurants. Gasp! Shock!! Dismay!!!
What there are, however, are people who are good, decent, and fun-loving. Zac left, and the next day, we started the second part of our January in Australia. The first Australian student we had was Nick. He was an incredibly engaging and inquisitive kid who wanted to know everything about us and do whatever he could to experience America. It was an incredible experience getting to know him and showing him our lives.
Through an odd coincidence, his father had a brick pizza oven in his back yard, but didn’t use it very much because he wasn’t very happy with the dough he used. (Purchased from the grocery store — and speaking of which — in Australia, they don’t have stores where you can buy everything like ours. You have to go do different stories to get food and alcohol and flowers.) So, I emailed Ian, Nick’s father, my pizza dough recipe. And now he makes pizza all the time, hosting pizza parties for ten or twenty people, printing menus with pictures and everything.
Ever since, Ian and I have maintained an email correspondence about pizza, food, life and our families. Ian and his family spent five weeks in the United States, at the end of which they came to town. We spent a couple of days here with them (yes, I made them pizza) and then went to Mammoth Lakes for more food and fun. It is truly amazing how two families from so far apart, from different countries, can be so alike. It helps, of course, that we are all right around the same age, with kids the same ages as well. But, there was something more. Ian and his family were so open and enjoyable.
The interesting thing is that while we were in Mammoth we kept meeting other Australians. Our first night there, we all had dinner together and two gentlemen from Australia joined us. We spent a couple of hours together as though we were old friends catching up. It was a remarkable evening.
So, as of Monday of this week, I’d spent almost the last three weeks with Aussies. I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with them. Great fun and good times.
My Aussie month isn’t quite over yet.
On Monday, I drove my oldest back to college in Southern California. By the time we got to Long Beach, I had covered vast amounts of California, some I don’t think I’d ever been in. The drive from Mammoth to Long Beach goes along the Eastern Sierra Nevada and then down through the Mojave Desert.
Mort importantly, though is the drive from Sacramento to Mammoth. Normally, this time of year we would be driving through mountains covered with snow. The roads would be lined with walls of snow. This year? Not so much. There is hardly any snow in the Sierra Nevadas. They say the snow pack is at 17% of normal. 2013 was the driest year in the recorded history of California and it hasn’t rained a drop so far in January — what is usually the wettest month of the year. I was driving on the first leg of the trip so I couldn’t take pictures, but when we left Mammoth, I let my son drive the first couple of hours.
That picture is of the Eastern Sierras south of Mammoth. Normally, those mountains would be nothing other than white. The area in the foreground would likely be blanketed with snow as well. But, there isn’t any. There just is no snow in the mountains and it’s the snow pack that provides water for the rest of California the rest of the year.
After I dropped my son off, I drove up the coast to Arroyo Grande to spend a couple of days at my sister’s house. Mostly so I could sit on a beach and watch the waves. My first night there, we started watching Klondike, a three part movie about the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush. By my second night, through the magic of a DVR, we had watched all three parts. The movie was based on real people and real events, even including Jack London in it.
Belinda Mulrooney was a real person. She made, and lost, her fortune providing supplies to gold miners. More importantly for purposes of this post, the actress who played her in the movie was Abbie Cornish.
She’s from Australia.
So, that’s where I’ve been. At least mentally.
(By the way — today, I drove home through the Central Valley — where there are hundreds of thousands of acres of agriculture that feed California and the nation. It is absolutely bone dry. At a time of year, when it the entire area would be wet, muddy, and cold — the sun was out, the temperature was almost 70, and everything is brown and dry, dry, dry. I’ve lived here since I was one — there was a big drought back in the late 70’s, when I was a teenager. I don’t remember exactly how bad it was, but after seeing so much of California in the past week and just how dry it all is, I’m worried about what the rest of 2014 has in store for us.)