Friday, January 22, 2010

Christmas/New Year with my people....

Dec 28th
Loyalties torn and divided, we sadly leave Melbourne and cousin Janey's cheerful face at breakfast after a fleeting 9 days and head to Sydney where there are more lovely friends, warm breezes, cockatoos overhead and the heavenly smells of all the Frangipani trees. Our stunning hostess Rachel Ward (she of Thornbirds fame and more lately a fabulous director) decides we should stop on the way back from the airport at the Fish Market and check out the huge whacking great barramundi and gleaming freshly caught snapper and all manner of Aussie seafood – some still alive and kicking, freshly arrived here at the wharf. Minutes later we are lunching on fantastic sushi and then we buy fresh prawns and oysters and sardines to eat the same night under the Sydney stars in her beautiful old sandstone house right on the Harbor before retiring to my own little guest house at the bottom of the garden just feet from the Harbor itself and their own jetty for speedy morning getaways by boat to nearby cafes for more lattes or a swing past the Opera House. It’s some sort of extraordinary flexible jetty that sways with the waves made by adorable little tug boats and swanky lit-up cruisers that pass all through the night. My first night in Sydney-a full moon, a Southern Hemisphere sky that is ablaze with stars and the softly-twinkling lights of the famous Harbor bridge Not too shabby.
The next morning I discover I have moronically packed just one of my weekly vitamin boxes with the anti-depressants, antibiotics and all manner of supplements to restore my immune system. Must have left the other two behind in my rush to get out of the USA to my mother country. Ah. This is dull. I’ve taken 10 days of antibiotics in Melbourne and that should do the trick, topping up the staggering amounts I’ve swallowed for four months. (Never did believe in the theory that you must finish every single course. WHY??) Anyway—no sign of infection. All seems fine down there as long as I wear baggy tops to disguise the fact that one boob is twice the size of the other. But another week with no anti-depressants? Now that could be a problem. Ever tried quitting them cold-turkey? Incredibly inadvisable due to nausea, shocking dizziness, headaches and major urges to go to bed and never get up again. But a good friend (and this is surely the definition OF a good friend) suggests she pop in to see her pals at the neighborhood chemist and get some more of her Effexor and switch to those immediately. It does the trick beautifully and soon Rachel and I and Lola and heading over to my friend Nell’s house in Longueville, a North Sydney suburb where Nicole Kidman grew up. (Rachel’s gorgeous daughter and Lola’s adored lifelong pal Matilda, 22, is editing her short film for the Tropfest- which is a film festival for short films under 7 minutes that gets hundreds of entries a year. She has written, directed and starred in it—as twins-and it is fantastic. If she gets to be one of the finalists, it will be shown at a wonderful evening under the stars in Sydney’s Domain- an inner-city park and it could jump-start her acting or directing career. There’s such a can-do spirit in some aspects of Australian life and young filmmakers are encouraged in all sorts of ways by both their peers and the government –with endless grants and tax brakes for writing and making movies that simply don’t exist in America.
We arrive at Nell’s new digs- just a teensy bit far for me from the city proper –but discover she has moved back after thirty years in New York where she acted and ran restaurants and her own wildly successful nightclub NELL’S and embraced a whole new life. The house is a true haven, backing onto gorgeously green bushland and is totally surrounded by a virtual forest of trees and kookaburras and her own pet water dragon Jimmy who appears daily now for raw carrots and any tasty leftovers. She has done a spectacular job of renovating what was a simple brick house and added verandahs, an amazing kitchen and, like a girl after my own heart, has cunningly installed all Ikea cabinets and sliding drawers and roll-out closets with custom made door fronts. And the garden is brilliant with native plants she has hauled from miles around. And so, I kept thinking over the home-made hummus and the roasted snapper and heavenly salad …why couldn’t I make a go of it in Australia ?? Why did I spend four years there and then rush back to LA ? Well, unlike Nell who has an adored mother and two sisters and a brother in Sydney, I had family in Melbourne, most of my pals in Sydney – but most importantly, my dearest daughter in LA. It made sense to return, didn’t it? My second-guessing of myself and the constant recriminations and regrets must stop soon. They must. Memo to self. Talk to LA therapist about my endless lack of feeling good about my decisions, restlessness and underlying flat-out panic about the future. Just because I’m a single mother and have no job, no prospects, no savings, no pension to look forward to and no partner...
And I keep thinking back to Mandy, my childhood best friend from our all-girls school Firbank who I’ve had fun with on every trip back home – at least thirty of them, since leaving Australia at 20. But this trip was very different. I visited her twice in Geelong, about an hour out of Melbourne and after two years of pancreatic cancer, she’s not a well girl. Every fiber of my being wishes I had the money and resources to somehow magically produce the perfect holistic team of acupuncturists, reflexologists, chefs, and yoga teachers on her doorstep, easing the need for painkillers and anti-nausea drugs and giving her a life and immune-enhancing concoction of food, drinks, meditations—and the STRENGTH to keep fighting. I’m sure the Aussie oncologists are as good as any in the world---but that basically means well-meaning folks who are trained to prescribe toxic drugs and nothing else in the way of complimentary treatments, nutrition or supplements. No one had ever even mentioned the concept of smoking or somehow ingesting pot to help with the nausea. Her weight is very low due to endless vomiting caused by the acute nausea and she should at the very least be trying out SMOKING SOME WEED !! I told her how I had been convinced by Melissa Etheridge talking on Ellen or Oprah about pot helping with it---and she seemed open to it – but in Australia no doctors can prescribe it and she said none of her friends partook of same. It’s tough to be a know-it-all bossy boots caretaking type but not live in the same country and unable to come by more often for a fab barbey(BBQ) of snags(sausages) and chops thanks to her darling hubby Graham and just two days after weepily waving goodbye to her I was far away in Sydney. But wishing her the very best in her struggle as I realize how lucky I am.
And just a few days later another year –a challenging one– was about to bite the dust. New Year’s Eve day in Sydney was a flurry of activity as the perfect hosts, Bryan Brown and wife Rachel are preparing their house for their big bash that evening on their verandah and back lawn overlooking the Harbor and thus we, the guests are thrilled to help in anticipation of yet another of their famous NYE bashes with the fantastic free view of the amazing fireworks show that Sydney puts on for it’s inhabitants each year now. It’s a bloody beauty!
There’s a lot to be done….no lolling about reading novels or watching dvd’s today…We drink lattes and as the caffeine kicks in, we rise to the occasion. Suddenly gorgeous Turkish rugs and oversized cushions are being flung onto the lawn, verandahs are swept, bushes are pruned, fabulous throws and Indian quilts are put over outdoor sofas, tables are laid, lanterns and candles placed, incense is lit and within a couple of hours we have ‘staged’ the joint beautifully. The blokes (Nick and Joe Brown being directed by the very bossy but witty Bryan Brown) have been doing bloke work—carrying boxes of grog all over the place and putting out big bins lined with trash bags to hold copious amounts of beer and wine…and now it’s time for some food prep before joining Lola and Matilda for a fun, old-fashioned massive trying-on of frocks session.
Hard to remember ever being that young and gorgeous as they inspect themselves in a full-length mirror and reject one fantastic outfit after another. I borrow a long arm and leg-covering dress from Rachel and try to not look in the mirror more than absolutely essential. And then suddenly, as the wind dies down to nothing and a stunningly warm evening presents itself as the last of 2009, we realize we have about ten minutes to get dressed as folk appear, champagne corks start popping and the party has begun against one of the best backdrops in the world. Well certainly in the Southern hemisphere. (This spot is such a hot ticket that the entire neighborhood is blocked off by police so that people wanting the view in nearby parks have to come by foot so that bedlam does not ensue).
Lola and Matilda appear looking like the exquisite young things they are – each wearing one of the other’s outfits. And it’s startling to realize they are no longer awkward or shy but totally confident and charming young women able to make small talk with the best of them and welcome guests like old hands. They no longer need us for practically any bloody thing and in fact would not even notice if all we oldies snuck out of the party right this minute. And if they did notice, they'd be deliriously happy. For a few moments there I start to wallow in the tragedy of getting old and redundant and not having a hope in hell of ayone flirting with me tonight (as if ) but try to pull myself together as an old Aussie pal I dated in London makes his way towards me and announces, very loudly, "You're alive!! I'm so pleased."
But most people downunder, though candid, are also discreet - and no one else has even alluded to the Big C. Or else they don’t care. But I think it’s the former - a natural tendency not to pry or invade anyone’s privacy which is a giant relief. Though I realize they can lie through their teeth with the best of them when they tell me how swell my stunningly dull, mouse shit brown hair looks….about an inch and a half all over and now with an unmistakable wave that it never possessed before. “Wow, it looks FANtastic“ they splutter as their eyes bulge in shock and horror. But it’s okay. The last year has cured me of pretty much all but a shred of vanity and it’s such fun to see folks I haven’t seen in well over two years…AND we get to see the fireworks TWICE…there is a 9pm show for young kids who can’t stay up- and then again of course at midnight. We’re riveted both times ---nothing like watching them from the comfort of our own party as we eat sushi and garlic prawns. At midnight a lot of us head down and watch from the jetty as the water reflects the flaming lit-up sky and suddenly lots of the young folk—led by an inspired Matilda Brown, jump into the Harbor, clothes and all. Shrieking, laughter and the roars and whistles of the fireworks. Such fun. Yes, my two leapt in too and were extremely pleased with themselves. We oldies mutter to each other about sharks but the young ‘uns are having a blast and certain daughters even have a first kiss with a very cute local right there in the harbor as the fireworks explode overhead.

But it’s funny how things can change in the space of a few days. One minute I’m thinking how cute and adorable it was to see Nick walking round the block in Melbourne to see the pals he’s known from the third grade—reverting to the childhood habits of cruising the neighborhood on bikes and then a few days later he’s a drunken oaf throwing up like a great big revolting teen who, to my horror, admits as he hangs his head over the toilet for about an hour at 3 am, that he’d downed TEN beers—apparently between midnight and 2am when I saw him heading for bed. I am shocked and very upset to think that had I not gone up to check on him – only to discover him lying in a huge pile of vomit on the pillow — he could have choked to death! It’s frightening and alarming and I berate myself for not keeping a closer eye on him but when a shitload of free beers are lying in bins all over the place waiting to be drunk, what can you do? I truly pray that it taught him a lesson and as I watch him like a hawk all night and put my hand on his back to make sure he's breathing –as he snores happily in my bed- I remind myself to tell him, about fifty times over the next few months, that shockingly, teens die of alcohol poisoning all the time.
As he happily tucks into bacon and eggs the next day at noon with the rest of us, (after a lot of hosing down outside on the lawn of the stinky sofa bed he slept on) and silly, somewhat inappropriate tales are swapped of the first time others got drunk, I know it’s a New year’s Eve he’ll remember for a very long time.

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