Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sounds of Music

Dear loved ones,

I'm writing today from the zen retreat of my bedroom in Sydney, where the sky itself is pouring down rain in hysterical fits and making me feel quite fortunate indeed that I don't actually have to leave the house today. Instead, I could--in entirely good conscience--spend the entire day drinking homemade chai (kitchen success #1 of our trip so far), watching The Newsroom (has anyone else seen this new HBO show? It's like a TV version of Good Night and Good Luck, or like The Daily Show, only you get to stick your nose into the fictional production team's love triangles. The pilot episode alone is worth watching), reading my third Barbara Kingsolver novel this week (Lacuna and Poisonwood Bible were both excellent), and only then contemplating French verb structures or Middle Eastern politics.

This rain is a soothing response to the fact that last night was the worst ever, thanks to the plethora of Australian flying/biting/stinging/crawling creatures and all of the noises that they make. In fact, the noises of Australian nature are such a part of our daily lives that I've been meaning to write an entire blog post about them. The fact that they were responsible for me sleeping only 4 hours last night makes me ravenous for revenge.

Our lives in Newtown are marked by noisiness. All sorts of noises. A veritable cacophony through our windows, and not the usual urban noise of police sirens and night life that you might expect. Then again, Newtown is never what you expect: last week I saw a man with a 6" blonde mohawk street luging on a skateboard down the sidewalk with a snake around his shoulders. When I told H. about it, he shrugged and said, "Oh ya, that's Dan. You'll see him around sometimes."

But the real source of the noise comes from the fact that we live next to a park. Living next to a park is generally great, in that there are these hundred-year-old fig trees shading the house and lots of natural light flowing in through our windows. What's not great about it: 1) the flocks of noisy birds that take residence there and 2) the random people that sometimes stroll through.

But so here's roughly how the last week progressed:

Saturday morning, 6:30 am: a man in the park holds a private concert for an audience of himself and all the neighbors within earshot. On the set list: Ke$ha, Beyonce, and Nicki Manaj. To be fair, he had a great voice. "Ha ha," I thought. "What a charming quirk of Newtown life!" and tried to ignore the fact that it was 6:30 in the morning, and that he sang for an entire hour.

Sunday morning, 4:45 am: Kookaburras. Really loud Kookaburras. A huge flock of them up in the trees, clamoring away for twenty minutes before mysteriously falling silent again. Actually, they do this every day, twice a day: at 4:45 am, and again at 6:30 pm. When they get started in the evening, it actually becomes so loud that I can't do any work until they're finished. If you think I'm exaggerating, listen to what they sound like and then multiply that by 200 Kookaburras. It's intense.

Monday morning 6:30 am: Ke$ha man is back for another hour-long set, picking up right where the Kookaburras left off. Today he tries out some new numbers, including some Ella Fitzgerald and Lady Gaga. "Oh boy," I think. "I hope he doesn't plan to come back every single morning." Still, I whistle along a little bit.

Tuesday morning, 6:00 am: Ke$ha is back.

Wednesday morning, 6:30: Ke$ha is still there. "Go the &*#@ away," I grumble.

Thursday morning, 7:00 am: Cockatoos! Loads of Cockatoos up in the trees, making a sound like a screaming toddler. Now, I used to be among those many Americans who think that Cockatoos would be charming pets. "So pretty!" I thought. "How exotic!" In Sydney, wild Cockatoos exist in abundance  and are about as charming as the crows that get into your garbage bins and strew empty bags of chips around your yard. In fact, Cockatoos often get into the trash themselves. They are still very pretty, I admit, but I think I've definitely scratched them off of my List of Future Pets. (Still on that list: potbelly pig, teacup pig, boxer dog, lovebirds, a persian cat, koi fish, beta fish, a wombat (does anyone know if they can be domesticated?), and a chinchilla.)

Friday morning, 7:30 am: I forgot to mention that we also live beneath the flight path to Sydney's Airport, and that the city mows the lawn of the park every Friday morning at dawn. Guess I'm awake now!

But all of these noises, with the exception of Ke$ha's repeated performances beneath our window, are pretty charming for the sheer fact that we get to wake up to sounds of nature. Not the neighbor's stereo system, not ambulances, not the sound of screaming children (only Cockatoos imitating the sound of screaming children, which on second thought, I'm not sure is a big step up).

But last night it was nature that kept us up all night. Now, Australians feel pretty comfortable living in a little closer proximity to nature than most Americans I know. In Sydney, most stores and houses don't have any air conditioning or central heat. If it's warm, you open a window. If it's cold, close them again. I have to say that I'm really growing to appreciate this. There's nothing more uncomfortable in Washington, DC summers than sweltering on your 100 degree morning commute, being plunged into sub-arctic temperatures at your desk, and then entering back into the jungle swamp heat on your return home. Wool sweaters and tank tops should not occupy the same part of my closet, but it becomes a necessity with all of that artificial air conditioning.

But the other quirk is that while we rely on the breeze through the open window to keep us cool, very few windows seem to have screens on them. So leaves and flies and spiders and mosquitos come and go as they please, keeping the house just a bit more intimately tied to the natural world around them. At first, we cowered in fear of nightly mosquito attacks. But summer is slowly fading into fall, and there seem to be fewer mosquitos around than when we first arrived. Also, they invented this amazing plug-in device here that sends out odorless, magical "Mosquito, Be Gone!" vibes into the air. I've never seen these in the U.S., so I can only assume that they're horribly cancerous. But we've actually grown so cocky about the lack of mosquitos in the house lately that we decided to give our lung cancer a break and go without its magical protection.

How foolish we were. So our downfall last night began with a single mosquito, hoping for a midnight snack and a chance to get out of the rain. Now, I really don't mind a few mosquito bites. No big deal. It's the fact that mosquitos seem to love hovering right in your ear for no good reason at all than to torture you and leave you thrashing around in your blankets, swinging punches in the air and vowing that you will stop at nothing to kill that mosquito, so help you God. This is how we spent our time from approximately midnight until 2:30 in the morning, dozing off to sleep in brief moments of retreat, only to jump back into battle as soon as that high-pitched whine tickled our ears once more.

It was just then, waiting in the dark for the moquito to return, when I heard it: a distinct rustling sound inside the trashcan, which is next to my bed, which is mere inches from my head. I felt my stomach drop. The rustling returned, the papers inside the trashcan shifting around as something unmistakably animal moved inside. There was only one possible candidate, something so large that it would make that kind of noise: a Huntsman Spider.

I froze and dove to the other side of the bed, as far from the rustling trashcan as possible. I cowered, pulling the sheet over my head and suffocating in the heat because I had heard an Aussie joke before that the only time Huntsman Spiders are really creepy is when they run across your face at night. They were probably only trying to scare me, but I wasn't taking any chances. I looked to Nod for some assistance, but he had just managed to fall asleep after a long war with the mosquito (now probably too full from snacking on us to be bothered again), and he had to wake up at 5am for a long shift at work.

It was an hour before I heard any more sounds from the trashcan, but by then, I was prepared: I constructed an entire pillow fort barrier between me and the spider, a downy Great Wall of China that would serve as a first line of defense should the spider sense my fear and come lurking my way. I carefully checked to make sure that my toes and head were completely tucked inside the shroud of the sheet, leaving no opportunity for attack on a different front. Not surprisingly, it was really uncomfortable to sleep in this position, but the dangers were too great. I was even starting to doze off a bit when Nod lifted his head to point out that 1) I was pushing him off the bed and 2) making everything 1,000 degrees by trapping myself beneath the sheets. I pled my case--there must be a Huntsmen in there!--to which he simply rolled over and went back to sleep. I was on my own. Advancing back toward the trashcan with one pillow before me like a shield, I crept back as close as I could dare and fell back to sleep, exhausted. Until Ke$ha, the Kookaburras, lawn mowers and airplanes all greeted me with a joyful chorus only two hours later. The mighty Wazi's, brought low by a single malicious mosquito and one rustling trashcan!

In other news, life is going well: we had our first official sushi-making night with Huub and H. last night, celebrated Valentine's Day in French class with our teacher giving David a big kiss on his bald head ("Why do you think they call it French kissing?" she asks. "It's our national pastime!"), and made plans to go to the beach again this weekend. Our home in Newtown is absolutely wonderful, and we love living with Ms. A and her son H. Last Friday, for instance, Ms. A. and I split a bottle of wine while laughing and talking at her kitchen table for nearly five hours, and last night, Huub and Nod played a few hours of Wii with H. after eating our sushi feast together. It's homey and lovely and warm, and I couldn't be happier about it.

Until next time-

No comments:

Post a Comment