All posts by V. Hansmann

LONDON CALLING – Monday, 11 February 2010

We land at Heathrow the following day, of course. Nobody sleeps very well and the ‘meals’ have not been too pleasant. It’s a l-o-n-g walk through the place to get to that other place where passports become stamped and bags retrieved. We wave at Julie on another line and connect briefly with her and her husband, Matt Fraser, once we have emigrated successfully. Bags in hand we line up for a taxi. It has jump seats, like the old Checker cabs in NYC. 

Our destination is a Mailboxes Etc. where, for a fee, we can park our luggage for a couple hours until the four-bedroom apt. is ‘ready’. This cockamamie procedure involves the digital manipulation of my mobile device. In the interest of efficiency, I relinquish it to Joss. Then we duck into a nearby coffee shop for caffeine and actual digestible food. Flat whites! Killing time is best accomplished by walking toward a destination. We aim for a patisserie called Maison Bertaux. It’s not far and its croissants are huge. Breakfast tomorrow has aligned. Next door to the pastry shop is a store dedicated solely to printed Harry Potter memorabilia. The people who created all the HP graphics have their own store. It’s actually cool and I purchase some un-HP greeting cards, e.g. A Movement of Moles. Time lingers, refusing to die. More coffee only aggravates the need for a WC. We recover our baggage from the Mailboxes and proceed to 4 Broad Court, where our residence will be. We roll past a market where some busker is coercing a youngster to limbo. We roll past the Apple Store, which brings back memories of fried hard drives in Western Australia. 

Our rooms are ready. Schlepping my ponderous suitcase up three flights requires balance and stamina. Ha! There’s a moldy smell coming from one of the baths, but the layout, split between two floors, has four bedrooms and three baths, plus kitchen and living room . I think we’ll manage. Ali and Kif retire immediately. I prevail on Jocelyn to join me in a search for a superdupermarket. There’s a Sainsbury’s nearby. Beverages and snacks are required in order to sustain life. She then retires. I putter lamely. 

At six o’clock we assemble to walk to Veeraswamy, a highly recommended Indian restaurant. The meal’s delicious, but I practically nod out in my mulligatawny. The return stroll to Broad Court takes us back through Leicester Square, a hubbub and a half. Tsunamis of high school groups present navigational obstacles that nimble New Yorkers should be able to take in their stride; semi-comatose ones, not so much. London is ablaze with light and activity. We aren’t. Back at Broad Court we discover that all the baseboard electric outlets have ceased to provide juice. Bummer. 

LONDON CALLING – Sunday, 10 February 2019

Alice and I spend much of the day bandying pitiless non sequiturs and rude noises back and forth in preparation for this evening’s flight to London. Kiffi and Jocelyn will meet us at Terminal Four. Family Adventure Time!

The nonpareils I bought yesterday are gone. How? Plus, I need a pair of dress trousers, I decide at the last minute. Banana, maybe. Will they accommodate a chunky-ass fellow like me? Let’s find out. Yeah, the waist works, but the cuffs pool at my ankles. I buy ‘em anyway. If I wear my chacha heels, I might pull it off. At Li-Lac, I score another box of dark chocolate Valentine-inflected nonpareils. In the entire history of candy these are the best candies. On the way back to 54 Bleecker Street, I poke around the superdupermarket with the idea that we may want a light something to tide us over before the flight to London, which departs at 11pm. Tomato soup and cheese.

I’m packed. Ali’s packed. So, we futz. Ali reads a book, of course, while I perform nontasks of complex inutility on my reluctant computer. At a quarter to eight we prepare for departure, just like a flight crew. We sit down. 

Then we get up, bundle into our winter coats, and drag our suitcases to the elevator. A cab appears. The driver gets out to help with our luggage. The taxi’s trunk does not open fully. I smack it closed, catching the cabbie’s index finger. Blood. He has a roll of paper towel for occasions just like this. There’s no real traffic.

And there’s Kif. In minutes, there’s Joss, all leopard print and black Converse hi-tops. At the ticket agent, our bags are weighed. My little guy tips the Toledos at 33 pounds. This provokes snickers from the women, whose dainty valises barely register 20. Security offers no resistance. We must kill time, so, if we can locate the Sky Lab Lounge; perhaps they’ll let us all in. Snacking on cheese cubes and party mix, we babble in the animated pre-exhausted way of un-embarked travelers. Nosh. Nosh. Nosh. Joss looks up and remarks, “That’s my friend, Julie,” and off she goes. Soon enough she returns with Julie, one of her performer colleagues. Julie lives part-time in London and is returning to attend the second wedding of her sister-in-law. We board.


Our trip will come to an end tomorrow. Share the ambivalence. It’s been magnificent, but both of us are feeling the tug of home. Enough with the brave adventures; it’s time to admit to bone-weariness. We take a morning flight to Sydney and the convenience of an airport hotel. My friend, Amanda, wasn’t able to catch up with us during our official stay in Sydney, so we’ve plotted to get together for dinner with her and her husband, Kevin, on our final night in Australia.

Kevin meets us at our hotel. He’d just gotten off the plane from Melbourne and had a car service pick him up. This car of his is the plushest Holden we’ve ever seen. Though it’s dark when we pull into their drive, I deduce that their house must be on a hill or slope overlooking Bondi Beach, because it’s inverted, bedrooms downstairs. Kevin proudly shows off his art collection, which is characterized by large, weird paintings, some of which keep moving about the house in search of rooms that will tolerate them.

We chatter amiably over delicious Asian food. Amanda and Kevin drive us back to our hotel. We’re already hurtling across the Pacific.


The Wineglass Bay tour boat will pick us up at 9:45. The day is overcast. The sea is glassy. A smart-looking catamaran docks and we board. A party of eleven, possibly celebrating something, gets the top deck all to itself. Our trip will take us around the Freycinet Peninsula, stopping for lunch in Wineglass Bay. The garrulous guide points out seals and blowholes and rocky islets as we motor south. The coast feels like Maine under this burden of clouds. As we approach Little Lemon Island a pod of dolphins takes to swimming with (under) the boat, sort of playing peek-a-boo. This is glorious, but being buffeted by the wind in the bow is bone-chilling so we reluctantly retreat.

Wineglass Bay opens like a fan into a splendid, sheltered lagoon, at its head an arcing, unpopulated white sand beach that’s considered one of the best in the world. The boat anchors and we nosh on bento boxes of snack-ish food. The galley serves a different (and inferior) brand of ginger beer than the Bundaberg we’ve become accustomed to. Although Wineglass Bay does resemble a goblet, it got its name in the 19thcentury from the wholesale and bloody massacre of whales. The entire bay would turn crimson, like claret. We head back the way we came, which promotes the notion of napping.

Somehow, we get shunted onto a different route back to Hobart than the one we took north. We’re the only car among sheep. When motoring in New Zealand with Jocelyn, the other daughter, honking at herds of sheep was a game we never tired of. The herd would turn as one and bound away. Ali does not find the sonic manipulation of farm animals to be a pastime worthy of our energies. The countryside passes mellow and empty. Our entry into Hobart is accomplished with ease and even aplomb. We return to the Henry Jones Art Hotel for one last night. This time we each get duplexes in the new section of the hotel. This time, the design displays an ignorance of nocturnal needs. The beds are above and the baths below. I think Henry ought to stick to making marmalade.

I made a reservation at the restaurant Templo several months ago. It rated highly in a couple guidebooks and sounded like the ideal place to spend our last night in Tassie. The food is truly wonderful. You can order a la carte if you want to, but their custom is a five-course tasting menu. We are seated family-style around a large round table, with five other couples. There are a handful of smaller tables. Once the meal begins, we relax into the experience and the awkwardness of the common table subsides, though no crosstalk occurs.


THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Saturday, 7 April

Launceston is blessed with a city park called the Cataract Gorge Reserve. Before we leave we must go, the guidebooks insist. With take-away coffee and toast to start our engines, we pack the car. The Gorge is a slow reveal. It begins with a deceptive theme park element, a chair lift ride from one side of the Gorge to the other. It’s a giddy trip, a double chair. The sun is shining bright and there’s an inkling of autumn in the air. We pass above the aquamarine rectangle of an Olympic-size swimming pool, full of water but not people. Lightly, we skip off the chair into a Victorian-era park with pavilions, peacocks, specimen trees, and tended paths. The terrain is rocky and challenging, especially if you’re a Victorian lady, such as I am, despite my misplaced parasol.

We follow a path along the stream that tumbles at the bottom of steep and wooded cliffs. Striking vistas open at every turn. Ahead of us, a group of moronic tourists dances self-consciously to silence while waving selfie-sticks. Grudgingly, we forgive them. Heeding the call of lunch, we retrace our steps. A peacock perches in the tree above the only available table. Standing like a fool holding a cafeteria tray is one of my least favorite poses. An all-business-type woman gestures with her arm, offering us her table. “I was just leaving.” Bad sandwiches. To return to the car park without dangling above the Gorge involves a walk that takes us across a bouncy, tourist-clotted suspension bridge.

Now we’ve officially begun our trip to Freycinet National Park on Tasmania’s east coast. Midway, we make a pitstop in Campbelltown again, detouring for an unsatisfactory browse at an antique shop. Through hills and pastures, forests and grassland we hurtle as the space adventures of the Rocinante unspool. At last, at the park entrance, we purchase the entry required and heed signs to the Lodge. Ah, The Lodge. It is a semi-grand edifice with acres of windows looking out at the great ocean, a regal staircase providing one with a suitable entrance at dinnertime, and an immense four-sided fireplace. Very National Park.

We’re assigned a two-bedroom cabin in the woods. Rolling our goddamn suitcases over sloping boardwalks makes for an awful racket, punctuated by curses and cries. Once we have settled in and poked at all the idiosyncracies of the place, we decide to go for a short hike to Sleepy Bay. The name is enough to merit a walk. The sun is setting, exaggerating the rose-gold glow of the granite shore. The trail offers a number of opportunities for a snapshot. Immovable groups of tourists clot the pathway, taking the same picture over and over. We attain the pebbly beach, a cup in a saucer of hollowed-out boulders. It reminds me of Maine, except Maine is more gray and Cubist.

Dinner is hugely disappointing in a who-gives-a-shit kinda way. The chef certainly does not. I deal with a gristly chunk of lamb and we both order a dessert called Petit Fours, which turns out to be a demented medley of bullshit sweets on a plate.


An early start is imperative because we have a 2pm tour at Platypus House in the town of Beauty Point all the way across the island on the north coast. We take the main highway which tracks through green grazing land and wooded hills, a landscape unlike anything we encountered on the mainland. More water here in Tasmania, that’s obvious. Midway, in a town called Campbelltown, we stop for a lunch of excellence. For once, we’re not going to eat on the fly. We pass through Launceston, where we’ll sleep eventually, and make it to Beauty Point with fifteen minutes to spare. Platypus House and its companion, Seahorse World, are two former fish processing plants occupying a wharf on the wide Tamar River, which drains into the Bass Strait (Cape Otway Lightstation lies directly across the Bass Strait from here). We are doubly ‘in’ because we have printouts and our names are on the list.

Platypuses and echidnas are monotremes (‘single opening’ in Greek). Simply put, they have a single duct through which all their waste travels and, in females, this tract also serves a reproductive function. In this respect, they resemble reptiles. Males have a simple penis that doesn’t serve any excretory purpose. But, most intriguingly, they are the world’s only egg-laying mammals; little, leathery, grape-sized eggs. These creatures are preposterous and found exclusively in Australia; rarely, if ever, in captivity. Platypuses are nearly invisible in the wild due to the watery environment and the nocturnal hours they favor, while echidnas are more common, visible, and adaptable. Neither species is threatened.

We have a guide, Ben, a large young man with an enthusiastic, open demeanor. First, he lets us handle taxidermied specimens of both echidnas and platypuses. God, that’s creepy, but we do get a sense of their coats. Our initiation to the platypuses is in the room of the tanks of the females. It is damp and burbling. One tank belongs to Dawn, the girlfriend of the male in the tank in the next room, while the neighboring tank belongs to four rejected females. Jupiter, the alpha (only) male merits his own room, where his tank has a bridge/tunnel connecting with Dawn’s tank for that occasional conjugal visit. In the wild, males tend to have multiple honeys. In Platypus House, not so much. Ali and I are wide-eyed.

These platypuses are rescue monotremes, as are the echidnas. None of the animals had been plucked from the wild for our amusement. The platypuses of Platypus House subsist on a diet of kibble and worms. Their physical weirdness is uncontestable. Those bills. Those tails. But watch out for the males, though, for they possess a venomous spur on their hind legs. The poison, rarely fatal, is extraordinarily painful and long-lasting. No anti-venom is possible because each individual’s poison is chemically different. Stay away from the guys: you could end up in a world of hurt.

Here come the echidnas. Words will just have to suffice. Ben asks our group of ten to stand in a circle and he places three bowls of insect parts in chicken broth at three points on the floor. Enter Thomas (a male) and Eddie (a female). They wobble slowly and distractedly inside the circle, but when they discover the yummy bug feast, their impossibly slender, four-inch, pink tongues go crazy. There’s a third echidna, but where is she? Where’s Edwina? Ah, there she is. Always late for dinner, eh, Edwina. And, just so you know, male echidnas have a four-headed penis. Should you wish more detailed information, I suggest Google. Also, echidna young are called puggles.

 These animals are fantastic and fantastically appealing. Formerly called Spiny Anteaters, they’re tops on the adorability spectrum, yet near the bottom of the IQ scale. About the size of a quokka (semi-deflated basketball), they have a coat of fur and quills / spines and a nozzle-like proboscis. Their rear feet attach backwards, which explains the loopy gait, but this adaptation enables them to bury themselves in the sand in fifteen seconds should they perceive a threat. We have been beguiled by monotremes.

After scouring the gift shop of non-bogus items, we cross over to Seahorse World. It’s necessary to wait twenty minutes for the next seahorse experience. The World of Seahorses is the source for many of the world’s aquarium seahorses. The building contains many, many tanks of these creatures at various stages of seahorse existence, from ovoid to grandpa. Compared to the monotremes, they’re dull and we depart midway through the tour.

It’s a short drive back to Launceston. On the way, we pass a sign pointing to two neighboring villages, Flowery Gully and Winkleigh. I can offer no photographic documentation, but, trust me, I can’t make this up. We find lodging in Cap’n Stirling’s House, a two-bedroom cottage and cozy. At dusk, we amble a quarter mile to Stillwater, a lovely restaurant on the river. Tasting menu once again. So fuckin’ good.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Thursday, 5 April

We are going to MONA today – the Museum of Old and New Art. A ferry will deliver us hence. The first boat leaves at 9:30 and the next at 11. Let’s take it slow; after breakfast I want (need) to get a haircut. The two of us will then meet at the ferry terminal for the eleven o’clock. I walk to a barbershop on Liverpool Street and am given the works. I had been shaggy and ill-kempt, but now I am crisp and dignified, the very personification of Old and New Art.

Ali comes strolling down the esplanade. I have tickets in hand, and we board the ferry, sparing no minutes. The 25-minute trip up the wide Derwent River offers breezes and mountainsides and a gargantuan zinc refinery. It’s a brilliant day, sun and clouds and dazzle on the river. We disembark at what seems to be an island and ascend a very long staircase, at the top of which are many terraces dotted with strange artifacts and potentially irreconcilable choices.

Lovely vistas of the river and the hills open everywhere, but, hey look, over there’s a trampoline that will ring a pair of huge bells if bounced on hard enough. And over THERE is 70% life-size cement mixer made of a delicate filigree of ¼” corten steel. It’s transparent and ephemeral and silly. An incomprehensible site map only confuses matters more. We are on an un-urgent mission to find Cloaca, a mechanical digestive tract that the two of us had seen on its visit to the New Museum in the early 90s. We wander through tunnels and vast underground spaces. The conceptual art feels lame and sexual art is limp. Whoa. Smell that? Yeah, gross. This is the reek of every human digestive process in combination. The young woman guard sitting just outside the exhibit appears keenly aware of her pitiable occupation. “Dad, the old Cloaca didn’t smell so bad.” “Yeah, I guess they finally got it right.”

Despite the beauty of the day and splendors of the building, I’m beginning to feel like I’m at the mercy of an asshole – a man with infinite resources, but no critical sense and no sense of humor. The work on display is art simply because somebody has bought it and said so, not because it’s beautiful or resonates with meaning. Pfeh. Ali takes great pleasure in how pissy I’ve become. Or says she does. Give me the Justins any day.

The Henry Jones Art Hotel, though right on Hobart’s sparkling waterfront, is precious in much the same way. Henry Jones had been a self-made marmalade magnate in the 19th century and in this building they made his IXL-brand jams. Our rooms are in the restored office section of the building, richly paneled rooms with pyramidal ceilings. My bathroom was designed by someone with no knowledge of or experience with the elemental nature of water. The shower and sink just spew everywhere. No matter. We score a terrific Indian meal and retire.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Wednesday, 4 April

Submitted for your approval: a grueling travel day – Gladstone to Brisbane to Melbourne to Hobart. Tasmania’s the terminus of nine hours of up-and-down. Lots of airport bickering. Both of us are out of sorts. This has been an arduous trip and our final week is beginning. Five nights in Tasmania. We manage to scribble a dozen final postcards while being amused, irritated, and bored by our fellow travelers.

We land in Hobart at 8:30 at night, so we must drive into the city in the dark. It has rained, so there’s reflective confetti everywhere. Ali navigates gracefully. I stop cursing. The Henry Jones Art Hotel is our destination. It’s on the wharf, I believe.



Today, Ryan’s booked us a daytrip to Lady Musgrave Island, one of the southernmost atolls of the Great Barrier Reef. Seven of us are supposed to go on this nautical adventure that will depart from the town named 1770, after the year Captain Cook sighted it. However… There’s been a storm, a cyclone perhaps, down the east coast, resulting in swells consequential enough to cancel the trip. No more snorkeling for us two, I guess. Bullet Dodged or Grievous Disappointment – You be the judge. Instead, we will take two cars and head north to Rockhampton and the Koorona Crocodile Farm. We drive separately thanks to the magic of GPS and by the time we reached Rockhampton, we’ve caught up with them. Hey! It’s their red Kia ahead of us; that’s Kalarney waving through the sun-roof.

The Crocodile Farm lies at the end of an unsealed road. We’re each given a colorful wristband that identifies us as food. After a short instructional video we are led outside to a series of fenced-in ponds, each home to a croc clan – one croc dude and maybe ten females. Our guide, whose accent is nearly impenetrable, rouses the formidable creatures by whacking on the water with a stick and yelling, “Whoa.” Ripples, eyes, and snouts. Primordial crashing and splashing occurs when he tosses a feathery, leg-inclusive, bloodless chicken quadrant in the general direction of the reptiles that either snap their jaws or diss the meal with lizard-y scorn. The beasts all have names and attributes that don’t humanize them one fucking bit. At the end of the tour, we’re offered an opportunity to hold a youthful specimen in our hands. This is met with trepidation and joy. The yard-long creature’s jaws have been taped shut, but still. Photographic evidence exists of this site-specific foolhardiness. Ali and I buy swag, because we are fearsome this way. As we’re leaving the six of us photobomb a crocodile named Stumpy.

This experience ended at noontime, yet we chose not to dine here with its unappealing farm-to-table menu. Instead, Ryan and his girls have a mission at the big mall in Rockhampton. It’s a big honkin’ mall all right with food court opportunities galore. Kalarney’s unsuccessful in finding whatever righteous accessory she required, and we depart for the Rockhampton Zoo and Garden.

This is a lovely place with shady trees and flowerbeds and military monuments and a delightful zoo full of native critters. The wombats live in an oubliette. One of the girls knows how, with a smart phone, to gaze through the inky darkness and render the furry lumpkin visible. This is a mysterious technological procedure known only to tweens. We bear witness to nature in captivity – a koala in a tree that slowly turns to face us and then shits, emus that emit a bizarre drum-like resonance at the instigation of one of Ryan’s youngsters, and truly hideous cassowaries we can throw grapes at. We bear witness to a toddler dropping his bottle into the cassowary enclosure, which is the cause of apocalyptic wailing.

Back at the motel, Ali and I contemplate the wonders of repose, then rejoin the Elys for a spectacular food truck fish & chips meal. Here’s where I tell Ryan how much our reunion has meant to me. A lot. He kinda gets it. God Bless him.


We claim morning chores (laundry, haircut, bullshit), but it being Easter Monday a lot of establishments are closed, like coffeehouses and barbers. We do manage to get some serious wash done in a nearby laundromat, which possesses a scary huge library of softer-than-Harlequin romance fiction, e.g, A Wish Fulfilled and/or Good Doctor, Good Lover, Good Dad. I remain uncaffeinated and unshorn, yet my day begins.

We rendezvous at the house on Pier Street and Ryan shepherds us to a café high overlooking Gladstone harbor. Gladstone is the spigot through which all the natural resources of Queensland and the Northern Territory pass – coal, bauxite, timber, calcite, grain, electricity, LNG, crocodiles. Ships load and unload piles and stacks and containers and tanks and silos. After lunch, he gives us a tour of Gladstone’s industrial infrastructure. Ryan works at a plant on the outskirts that makes ammonium nitrate. It has a blast radius. If it goes up, it’ll take the whole of Gladstone with it. Most impressive is QAL – Queensland Alumina, Ltd., perhaps the largest plant of its kind in the world, dedicated to the refining of bauxite ore into alumina, the first step in the making of aluminum. It is a monstrous thing; a rust-colored Emerald City twice the size of the entire Magic Kingdom. From a hilltop, we ask lots of questions, all the while snapping photos that do not accurately portray its mass or menace. Ryan explains other such sights and we are guest-curious.

He drops us back at the motel so we can pull ourselves together before our dinner engagement with his mom, step-dad, and kids at the Hog’s Breath Café. The Hog’s Breath is a chain of nouveau saloons with American signage and state license plates serving as décor. Ryan’s parents are engaging; she wears an eye-patch that goes unremarked upon. Belinda is crook, apparently, so she won’t be joining us. The waitstaff woman who takes our group photo bears the nametag – Strawberry.