I’m sitting in Zensaki, a restaurant in downtown Perth, watching little plates of sushi, sashimi, maki, and food-I-can’t-identify pass me by on a conveyer belt that circles around the room. You grab the plates you desire—it’s the 3.95 per plate lunchtime special. They all look delicious, but I’m afraid that in my eagerness I’ll reach for an ikra and dislodge the other plates from their moorings. There will be sushi all over the tables and the floor and I’ll be thrown out of Zensaki forever. So I order from the menu and realize how long it’s been since I’ve used chopsticks. Or had sushi. Marty’s not a sushi lover, and we live in Charleston, Illinois. Enough said.
There are sushi places everywhere. Five on this stretch of Barrack Street alone. There are Korean B-B-Qs and Dim Sum Cafes and Filipino eateries and Indian restaurants. (Only one McDonalds, as far as I can tell.) The stereotype of Australia I’d taken with me—a land of beefy rugby playing and crocodile-wrestling mates—has been quickly replaced by an image of a place with almost as many Asian Australians as (stereotypically) husky white Aussies. What we term “interracial couples” back home are so common here that the term loses its meaning. At least in Perth. I have to be careful not to generalize. We go to Melbourne next and maybe everyone will look Icelandic.
I pay for my bento and decide to go to the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Museums are free, as are the city buses that take you to the museums. There is free universal access to healthcare. The minimum wage is high; you don’t tip in restaurants because of this. Oh, the horrors of social democracy. But don’t you worry. Capitalism is alive and well—there are more self-made millionaires in Perth, for example, than in any other city in the world. There’s a Prada and Ferrari and Mont Blanc and lots of fancy fresh juice places. I’m sure there’s an underclass—I suspect it’s the Aborigines—but everyone I’ve seen in my ten days seems content and sober and very tanned.
Speaking of tanned. I put sunblock on my face and arms and wore sunglasses and a stupid-looking hat in order not to get burned. I overlooked my neck. My neck is now red while my face is pasty white. I am now a redneck.
The Art Gallery of Western Australia is housed in an unassuming building near several other museums. Inside—gleaming wooden floors, comfortable yet edgy black leather benches, huge rooms. Most of the paintings are huge as well: sweeping landscapes, oversized human bodies, large abstract canvasses by Aboriginal artists. There’s an interesting/disturbing Lucian Freud, Naked Man with Rat, that’s in the same room where some kind of performance art is taking place. At least I think it’s performance art. There’s a table with chairs in the middle of the room. Two women are talking very loudly about sex. There are three wigs on the table—blonde, red, and dark brown. In a corner of the room there’s a man sitting on a metal folding chair. Above him a sign reads Sex Talk. I hurry out—I’m anxiousI’ll somehow be pulled into this unsettling tableau. Who knows what might happen?
I decide I need coffee. There are as many coffee shops as there are sushi bars. Apparently the idea of having sushi and then a big cup of coffee to wash it down with strikes Perthians as perfectly normal. No Starbucks here–it’s great to be in a country where many different coffee shops vie for customers. I’ve fallen in love with a type of coffee called Flat White. It’s coffee with pretty white foam on top, but there’s more coffee than foam so it’s not really a cappuccino.
I get a coffee to go and then walk back to the hotel along the banks of the Swan River, once called the Black Swan River because of the black swans found here. I prefer the kookaburras because they’re less pretentious, having no ambitions to the ballet. I walk slowly. I am no ballet dancer. A few days ago I tripped while walking down Adelaide Terrace, holding a cup of Flat White. I landed on my hands and knees–the minimal dog pose in yoga, I think they call it. Several construction workers ran to my aid, helped me up, asked whether I needed an ambulance. Okay, maybe they didn’t ask whether I needed an ambulance, but that’s what I told Marty. During Scrabble tournaments I can’t get his attention and must resort to various fairly minor falsehoods. I told him there were deadly spider sightings at the Scrabble tournament venue, but he just ignored me.
Deadly spiders (and snakes and jellyfish) aside, the nature here is phenomenal. King’s Park and Botanical Garden is phenomenal. The sun here is phenomenal, better than the sun we have back home. The Indian Ocean is phenomenal. I went whale watching. I was dubious at first about the whaling company’s 98% percent success rate in sighting whales, as was Marty. “They probably send out big wooden planks into the ocean every morning,” he said. “And then point them out as whales.” I’m pretty sure what I saw were not wooden planks, unless they were wooden planks capable of jumping out of the water. I tried to take pictures, but I’m a lousy photographer and I kept missing the leaping whales (or planks.) So what I’m going to do is buy some postcards of breaching whales at the airport—no, wait, that’s a dangling modifier or some kind of bad grammatical thing: I’m going to buy postcards at the airport of whales breaching. I’m going to cut out the Welcome to Perth headings and then impress my friends with my “photographs.”
I could have gone swimming with dolphins. Wild dolphins, not those poor creatures in Florida that are kept in dolphinariums and have to endure tourists pawing over them and taking selfies. The brochures here stated you can’t feed or touch the dolphins, just swim side by side with them. I was fearful I might get one of those (rightfully) resentful dolphins sick and tired of people swimming in their territory. Also, the price for the swim was 200 dollars. Also, the tour operators make you wear a wetsuit. I was afraid I couldn’t get into the wetsuit or, worse, get out of the wetsuit. I’d have to waddle back to the hotel looking like a giant drunk penguin.
Since this is a Scrabble blog, I have to come up with something Scrabble-related, I suppose. Oh, Marty played ECHIDNA for lots of points! This is what I remember about ECHIDNAS from high school biology. Most people aren’t aware of my photogenic memory: Echidnas /ɨˈkɪdnə/, sometimes known as spiny anteaters, belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals. The four extant species, together with the platypus, are the only surviving members of the Monotremata order and are the only extant mammals that lay eggs. Their diet consists of ants and termites, but they are not closely related to the true anteaters of the Americas. Echidnas live in Australia and New Guinea. Echidnas evidently evolved between 20 and 50 million years ago, descending from a platypus-like monotreme. This ancestor was aquatic, but echidnas adapted to being terrestrial so they could live life on land.