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Illuminations Tour

Monday, March 24, 2003

We arrived before we left, of course. My plane arrived in LA a good hour before it left Canberra. I do love time zone changes! I didn't realise that the plane would make such very good time that the poor souls in Customs had to open everything for us. We were the first plane to land. It certainly cuts down queuing time.

I had been expecting strip searches and confiscation of all my worldy goods and other disasters, both on leaving Australia and on my US leg of the Canberra-Houston journey, but they did not eventuate. Contrary to popular rumour, all the security people were unfailingly polite and charming and uninvasive. Which is just as well, because I managed to stress myself to smithereens at Sydney airport. I didn't get lost once. I got lost three times. I am beginning to understand why Tamara thinks I need nursemaiding through the States. It isn't the USA that is the problem - it is me.

I celebrated my arrival at LAX with a giant coffee. Because of the early arrival I had hours to kill before David whisked me to lunch (for the record, a pastrami on rye and a Russian choc chip and coffee cake at Canter's - I needed the cake to keep awake at that stage - 4 cups of coffee just did not do the trick). My giant coffee and my daily writing lasted about 45 minutes, then the newsagent opened and I bought a phonecard and let Tamara know I was safe. She almost fainted with relief, I believe. I was going to work more then, but I was just tired enough to airport watch instead. Which is just as well, because it would have been very sad to have missed the announcement: "You are not required to give money to solicitors. This airport does not support their activities." I wonder if LAX is against all lawyers, or only solicitors....

Tamara picked me up at Houston and we talked till one am. This was maybe not a good way of dealing with time differences, but it was fun. The next day we went window shopping in the Galleria. We bought lunch and chocolates there, just so that we can say we have shopped. But most of the time we marvelled at local styles. Southern Belles dress quite, quite differently to their Aussie counterparts, I have to say. More frills, more embroidery, and *much* bigger jewellery.

I am afraid I slept in the car on the way back and missed several important sights, especially the big US flags that are going up everywhere. I have seen one that is one storey high, but Tamara says there was a bigger one still. I love flag-spotting!! And I adore these local accents. In my next life I will sound Texan or Louisianan. Very beautiful accents - much softer then I expected.

I had my first gumbo last night. I could become seriously addicted to pork-free, fish/seafood free gumbo. I am going to hunt out recipes when I get home. I know the ingredients will be different though. This is because we explored the Rice Market (a kind of upmarket supermarket) yesterday - yummy stuff, but a lot of the local produce has ingredients unavailable in Oz (file might be a tad hard to get hold of, for instace) or was just plain *different*. The list of ingredients on so many packets!!!! I was quite stunned by yoghourt with 6 lines of component parts. And even the vegetables have slightly different flavours, I found out. I am going to collect recipes, but when I make them back home it will be a real challenge to get them to taste the same! This sort of thing is food-addiction heaven.

We were admiring a display of Australian wine (heavily Jacob's Creek and Lindeman's) when we started a conversation with another shopper. Australian wine must be some sort of magnet, because it turned out that she was an ex-pat and had been to Melbourne Unviersity. What are the chances that two graduates from "the Shop" would start chatting next to an Australian wine display in Houston, TX and discover their affiliation? I bet if we had talked longer we would have both had the same lecturers or something. Why do I not think of photographs at moments like this? Life is full of really cute coincidences.

When we finish the work part of the day, Tamara plans to take me round Lake Charles. Which is going to be shopper's heaven for me. I love town shops - they tell you so much about the place. I plan to take the camera in case we are still out at sunset. They have a gorgeous sunset down here. The refineries stop looking industrial and put on a shadowed air and the sky glows mysteriously behind them. The water turns steel grey and the horizon expands.

Posted by Gillian @ 08:59 PM CST

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Today is a quiet sort-things-out kind of day. I am getting my first real experience of a Louisiana thunderstorm tonight (oh joys!), and tasting chicory coffee in about five minutes, but apart from that, there is nothing reportable. Except that my publisher has a really good grasp of curiously bad language when the occasion demands.

And I am beginning to understand what is meant by the term Southern belle. I had quite different image in my mind - a much smaller, prissier one, perhaps. I have started to wonder if Southern belles would be comfortable at a B&S ball.

Posted by Gillian @ 10:37 PM CST

This afternoon I discovered lots more about Southerners and US flags. What looked like an extraordinary act of patriotism, with flags appearing all-over, was much more reasonable. People are still patriotic - this is a country at war. But they are using a culturally normative way of expressing it. Australians only show flags in formal circumstances. People in this region have flags on their houses most of the time. I saw a Snoopy Easter one today, and a gorgeous multicoloured rag flag. Tamara has a flower flag stored away in her attic, waiting for a flagpole to put it on. Most houses we saw today and yesterday had US flags, and shops are selling everything from US bandanas to US handbags, but it is a show of country-love that fits well - sort of like someone back home shouting "On yer mate!" to Ricky Ponting as he gets off the plane. This is a demonstrative country and the flags are part of that culture.

Also part of that culture is shopping. I had my first shopping expedition today, and it was a hoot. Tamara and the shop people all agreed that Aussie money is only play money and that bills have to all look the same to be real. And, for a miracle, everyone understood me!

We visited discount stores today. I have found a birthday present for my mother, and we both found gifts for US friends. We got very tangled over what counted as a thong and where one wears it. Tamara wants me to buy a twinset - apparently they are dead fashionable here. So are Chinese style embroidered things. In fact, all sorts of embroidery. I find the embroidery a tad more ornate than I am used to (not always garish, but there were certainly some garish pieces) and I really do associate twinsets with the twinset and pearls worn by typing teachers in the 1960s, so I managed to resist most temptation. It also helped that I had to multiply everything by nearly two to sort out its cost in Aussie dollars.

Clothing styles are very different here. Many more are for larger women, or women with waistlines like mine. It is so *strange* to be a normal size on a massed rack. The colour ranges were different too, and the amount of decoration.

I found it extraordinary that there was an enormous amount of linen and not much cotton, since the South is famous for its cotton and not its linen. But the linen was well-made and cheap. Shame I don't wear it.

I was eyeing off wine charms and wondering what they do to the wine they hang around. And looking at bright tennis shoes and dreaming of wearing them and being mistaken for a US citizen. It was so easy to look at the tack and think "this is the US I have heard about." But then my eye caught other things and I realised that the US we have heard about is such a tiny part of a very complex whole. Some things were extraordinarily bright and flashy, true, but others were elegant and truly scrumptious. I aim to do a lot more windowshopping when I have time!!

Posted by Gillian @ 04:01 AM CST

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

This is my last moment of peace, and all I can do is yawn. The thunderstorm arrived last night and it was not big or spectacular or anything to be scared of, but it certainly was long and noisy. Finally, it faded after 5 am and we got some sleep. So if the interviewer today writes about the jet-lagged Australian who just cannot stop yawning, it is the thunderstorm catching up with me. And the fact that I have no right foot left. It is hard to focus on the world when cat and dog take it in turns to pretend my foot is a chocolate icecream. If I am not sunbronzed I can blame the bushfire summer, but it might be easier to invest in some fake tan.

Today's plan is a lunch, an interview, hopefully another shopping trip (let me explain, defensively, that there *are* some shops in Lake Charles that I have not yet explored and besides, we are out of tequila and I have not even tried one local drinkyet!) and then I am taking Trivium Publishing to the Outback Steakhouse as a thank you for everything. We thought it might be very amusing, to have an Aussie lead an excursion to the Outback Steakhouse. I will let you know how it goes.

Posted by Gillian @ 03:20 PM CST

Gillian has now been here for a few days, and I am finding that the most amazing thing about her is that she insists on being useful as often in person as she does on email! That, and the fact that my pets find her utterly irresistable. My normally secretive kitty seems to have spent most of last night scratching at the door to the room where Gillian was sleeping.

Another interesting thing is that Gillian brought two small cases as her luggage. This might not seem unusual except that the larger of them was stuffed with the most bizarre collection of oddities imaginable! And gifts for everyone. Lots of gifts: trinkets, scarves, and just now, a small wood ladybug with sticky tape on its back which is now gracing my monitor as decoration.

Posted by Tamara @ 03:13 PM CST

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Yesterday was highly amusing in almost every way it could have been. Gillian had her first 'real' margarita at lunch, which was at a nice local restaurant called the Pujo Street Cafe. She didn't seem affected by it at first, but she got *much* sillier later, and though she claimed it was the sugar, I remain unconvinced.

Our interview with the local business reporter seemed to go very well. Gillian was quite surprised that I was able to string two marginally intelligent words together when called upon to do so.

There were two other highlights of the day. The first was watching Gillian in the local flea market. I can only say: Wow! We came away with *lots* of stuff, including two brown paper 'surprise' bags that cost $1 each for unknown contents. These turned out to be great as some of our friends may soon discover.

The other highlight was the Outback Steakhouse, where Gillian utterly fascinated the waiter with her accent. He sat next to her for a bit and asked her questions and we decided later that he might have been trying to learn her accent so he could impress his friends.

We are on to Austin today to get ready for BookPeople and to meet Lara.

Posted by Tamara @ 03:03 PM CST

I have eaten too much. Now don't laugh, because it was all in a good cause. A series of good causes, in fact. With a series of nice people.

Lunch was with a lovely lady called Jay, and included my first real Southern margarita. They pack somewhat more of a punch than the Aussie version and are also more than double the size. It was a very relaxed lunch.

Jay is a joy and a delight to lunch with. She is not only interesting, but full of enthusiasm for the book. She gave away her personal little bookcard (Tamara has made the most gorgeous business cards with the cover of the book on) to the owner of the restaurant. Her sheer delight in the whole venture was catching - I didn't realise how scared I had been until she bolstered my confidence by telling us how interested her friends in Tulsa would be. Jay is a friend of Tamara's so this is real interest, and not the sort you get when you pay a publicity person. Jay made such a big difference to my nerves - I didn't realise just how terrified I was under the calm surface, until she made a chunk of that fear dissipate.

After lunch we had our first interview. The American press is going to do an article next week. Tamara was cool as a cucumber - I more resembled a jumping bean. At least when the journalist asked how I liked Louisiana I was able to answer very honestly that I loved it. Louisiana is being very good to me, how could I help but love it?

When Tamara and I did more window shopping to celebrate the interview (junk shops this time) the lady at the counter was so full of merriment and chat that I felt very welcomed. I have to admit that Tamara laughed non-stop at me during all but the American Press interview (when she was the perfect publisher) and that I exacerbated things. Some of the exacerbation was unintentional - I am falling in love with those flags and have bought myself one that says "Spring". Other things are quite, quite intentional. Mike and Tamara are being so very good for me, I took them to dinner. At the Outback Steakhouse. Yep, we ate the US concept of Aussie food. It was a hoot. Not Australian, but perfectly nice food, in amazingly large portions. I was curious about *everything* from "Kookaburra wings" to the "Prime Minister's Prime Rib". The waiter and I made bad puns about Howard. And we all giggled more than somewhat. Naturally I pointed Tamara towards the Vegemite ads. Tamara adores vegemite... as long as she doesn't have to eat it.

And now, happy little Vegemite that I am, I really should start on all the things that have to be done before we actually hit the road, tomorrow. Texas, here I come!

Posted by Gillian @ 03:25 AM CST

Friday, March 28, 2003

Dinner last night with Lara was lovely, though we took the *scenic* route getting there. (Note to self: When Gillian looks at a map and says she knows how to get somewhere, it does not mean that she can relate the actual ROADS to the map.)

Gillian is now reviewing a tour book to decide what sights we are going to see in the brief time we have here in Austin. Unfortunately, the brochure from museum which advertises "moving seats", "flashing lights", and "a reproduction of a Texas oil gusher" says it will take too long. So far, it sounds like the leading candidates are the O. Henry museum, the University of Texas clock tower (but only that), the State Capitol and the Governor's Mansion. And a kitchen. (I seem to have missed the commentary about that last one.)

All in all, an utterly joyous day. So far...

Posted by Tamara @ 05:33 PM CST

We were slow to get started today. There was just so much to do. We don't just need clothes for this, but papers and samples and presentation and presents. We don't have everything, but we have a carful of stuff.

it was a great drive. We went from floodplains and great bridges in Louisiana through the outskirts of Houston and to the wondrously rich pasture of Texas. I kept wanting to stop and see the wildflowers, but the highway didn't allow of it. There were blue bonnets and queen anne's lace, we think, as can best be determined from the window of a red Mustang. But I could not make the identification, not having seen any of these before. let me here admit a sad, sad truth: the only thing I could successfully identify was the common daisy. I am obviously a common soul.

The country was so young-looking and fresh and green. We saw all the Houston hobby farms dressed in their Spring best. And in their flags. One farm had 20 small flags staged along the fence, others had large single flags. And the truck stop where we got coffee had flag souvenirs in every variety known to man. The most memorable to my mind was not a flag one (though Tamara noted a key ring with a US flag sourrounded by yellow Texan roses) - it was a keyring with an alligator claw dangling. I did not buy either of these to take home. My apologies to all my friends and family for this grave neglect.

Tonight we met Lara at a really friendly Austin restaurant. I have now officially tasted fried green tomatoes with ranch sauce, chicken and dumplings, turnip greens, corn bread and a top shelf margarita. I may never eat again. it was yummy - but totally filling. Everyone was surprised I liked the turnip greens. Apparently most *Texans* don't like them. Maybe I have strange tastebuds. Maybe I am just strange.

Our table had loud laughter most of the way through dinner. Tamara and I have prepared a series of very strange presents for our friends who meet us en route and Lara was the much-amused recipient of the first satchel. I am not sure that pink Barbie lipstick is quite what she would have chosen for herself....


Posted by Gillian @ 05:05 AM CST

Sunday, March 30, 2003

It is 11.20 pm after two amazing and hectic days. I have so much to say and not much time to talk (since sleep has been light on recently - I suspect I just *like* staying awake during both the day here and the Aussie daytime) so I will do partial entry now, and try to finish up tomorrow.

Tamara and I were so tired yesterday and had so much ordinary offfice stuff to do that we did not magically turn into tourists. So I have not seen the French legation kitchen or other crucial sites, and will have to return to Austin someday. This is not as arduous as it sounds - Austin is a great city. especially BookPeople. Nice people. Amazing shop. I think they should open a branch in Canberra NOW. So that it is open when I get back.

This total adoration of the shop can be attested by everyone who was round me when I entered. My eyes went all googly at the books and the fun book-related things. I feel it is necessary to say this cos BookPeople had my name lit up outside two entrances, and I feel it really needs to be clear that having my name in lights does not make me partial. The books in BookPeople make me partial. Also their motto "Keep Austin Wierd."

bookpeople_marquis (78k image)

Since this shop obviously has a sense of humour and since we were given a rather nice room for the signing, I got most of my audience to play around with the indoors boomerang as a kind of warm up. Everyone was amused by my antics (and Tamara has given me a rare compliment and called it inspired) which made the whole event just wonderfully comfortable. People asked all sorts of questions and I gave a reading, and we played boomerangs again, and people bought books. Very simple. I can't tell you all the deep secrets I told the audience, cos some of them came a long way to winkle them out of me. Besides, I can't remember. We went to a very trendy 6th Street restaurant and everyone tried to get me drunk on margaritas.

I was taught about the whole phenomenon of US men watching basketball - you can say anything without them noticing during play, but they pay a tad more attention to the outside world when the band is on. Both times, their eyes are glazed and their jaws a little open. Margaritas return them to humanity.

I will let Tamara tell you all about rubber chickens. it was a fun meal, but not terribly sane.

Posted by Gillian @ 05:31 AM CST

Monday, March 31, 2003

Austin turned out to be quite wonderful, in spite of getting such a late start that the only site we really got to see was Wal-Mart. In fact, the visit to Wal-Mart allowed us to buy a special present for my friend Robert, who along with his wife, Liz, came from Houston to see Gillian at BookPeople. The special present was, of course, a rubber chicken.

Between Lara practicing with the indoor boomerang and Robert making chicken noises during Gillian's presentation, I expect the BookPeople staff thought it was a tiny bit.unusual. Gillian handled it with aplomb anyway though.

Afterwards, we went to dinner with my friends and had more margaritas (we are making sure Gillian gets to try all the different varieties). The best part of the evening was the part where we threw the chicken back and forth in the parking lot.

rubber_chickensmall (57k image)

We didn't get back to the hotel until nearly 1:00 am, which wouldn't have been bad except that I had to get up at 4:30 am. Gillian flew to make sure she would arrive in time, but I had to drive and everyone told me it was going to take 9 or 10 hours. I can't think why since it only took me 7 hours.

Apparently, Gillian and Mike had a bit of trouble finding the airport, but she made it to Little Rock on time. This was fortunate since the newspaper printed the start time as 2:00 pm instead of 3:00 as we had specified. My Aunt Nan picked Gillian up at the airport and I met up with them at the shop just after 2:00. My family was very nice to come in and make up numbers and we stood around and clogged the aisles for a long time.

Wordsworth wasn't formal at all, but Gillian sat at a table and chatted with everyone as they approached. She signed books and taught lots and lots of people how to throw a boomerang. Gillian will have to tell you more about it because nearly 8 hours of driving on top of margaritas and 3 hours of sleep left me unable to do much more than nod, smile vacantly, and shake hands with people.

wordsworth_gilliansmall (65k image)

When we finally got to leave (nearly an hour later than originally planned), I managed to get us lost in Little Rock and we drove over the bridge to the Arkansas River about 6 times.

Posted by Tamara @ 12:23 AM CST

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Little Rock is not mythical. I came here fully expecting it to be, because everyone in Australia seemed to think it was. I would list where I was going and they would say "Oh, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" or, in Canberra, "Oh, Bill Clinton." Well, the whole of Arkansas seems to be a bit Clintonish - I have added Clinton's Arkansas to my list of lesser known US icons, along with razorbacks. But Little Rock is not mythical. In fact, it has some similarity with Melbourne. Architecturally, mainly, since Little Rock is about the size of Canberra and is inland to boot. No Port Phillip Bay and no fairy penguins. I have to admit, I do prefer fairy penguins to razorbacks. This might be because I am in great fear of being given a hog hat.

So I do love Little Rock, because it has some of my favourite housing styles. And a very cool Capitol. And good music. And a totally nice family taking care of me. I was picked up at the airport with aplomb, and have not looked back.

Not looking back includes enjoying classy Easter decorations in someone's house, creating a riot in Wordsworth the bookstore (nice people! even the owner got persuaded to throw my little indoor boomerang and create a bit of havoc), eating really home-cooked Southern Fried chicken (made by a superb cook - everyone's first taste of it should be as scrumptious as this), eating real home baked cornbread and a whole bunch of another traditional southern foods. And, in between them, relaxing with a pot of tea with Tamara's wonderful aunt. Tea is the world's most soothing drink. And Tamara's family is a joy to be round. I have come almost down from my tension-heights and am totally enjoying myself again. I didn't realise how stressed I had been about those appearances till I sat round the table drinking tea and talking about different customs.

Wordsworth bookstore

Today we did tourism stuff with a twist. Instead of going to big tourist sites or doing anything bookish, I got a driving tour of South-Central Arkansas. We visited two old cemeteries and I realised just how important religion and military service both are to people in this region, and possibly to the US as a whole. They are not shouted-out values, but quite accepted parts of life, and death. There were Confederate flags and markers on some graves, and the US flag on others. And on many of them the actual dates and types of service were marked.

small_tull_memorial_1 (65k image)

My favourite story was of a little child. His father built a hut over his tomb in 1890, so that he would never get rained on. It was so sad and sweet. What was also sweet was Tamara remembering peering into the hut, as a child, because it was so mysterious.

I was so lucky to be given this tour of small towns by her, because her family comes from this neck of the woods. And the woods were very pretty too. So pretty they are slowly being swallowed up by suburbia. Gently hilled terrain with pretty woods not too far from major cities are fated to this, alas.

Another highlight of today was paying pilgrimage to a key centre for shaped note singing. Tull is famous for having quite a different tradition to anywhere else - I missed the actual singing by a few weeks, but I enjoyed seeing the church and also the monument to the singing in the churchyard. And Tamara's family has given me the hymnbook!! In fact, they gave it to me last night, and Tamara and I sang our way through it as far as we could. It was so much fun. And even more fun to see the home of some of the singing today.

small_tull_church_2 (60k image)

From Tull we went to Hot Springs. We were going to do a driving tour of this tourist resort, but we only got as far as seeing a few of the more monumental buildings before I diverted us in such a drastic way we came back late to dinner.

I saw a shop. It claimed all sorts of wondrous things, from aura photography to Indian artefacts. It is called Ish'na and was really fun. I discovered how arrow heads are made, and how spears balance and feathers work on different weapons. I know now how weapons can be distinguished one from the other and how to tell a child's turkey spear from an adult buffalo one. Tamara explored other aspects of the shop and talked to other people, but I was fascinated by this side of it. There was a lot to explore and we could both easily have spent more time talking. The shop was kind of American Indian meets new Age meets health spa - but so much fun. And the people were super nice. They had just shut shop when we walked past, and opened it specially for us, and they spent ages with us, talking about bunches of things of mutual interest. And yes, we spent so much time there we were very late back to Little Rock.

My last note today (apart from a note that my foot is being rubbed by the world's most beautiful cat -a Maine coon grey beauty called, appropriately, Belle) is that Wordsworth and I exchanged book borrowing notices. I gave them my late medieval one, and they gave me this:

"For him that stealest or borroweth and returneth not his book from its owner, let it change to a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy and all his members be blasted. Let him languish in pain crying alooud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sink into dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever." This is apparently from the Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona, as quoted in "A Small Book of Book curses" ed. Judith Anne Duncan, and I am fully expected a deluge of returned books when I get home as a result of having kindly communicated its sentiments here.

Posted by Gillian @ 05:05 AM CST

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Today was another work-at-home day. Tamara has now laminated enough bookmarks and cards for Connecticut. We did a bunch of email stuff and work stuff in general, but Tamara describes it as "nothing for reporting purposes" and has gone on strike tonight with the weblog. We didn't get to be tourists, because we were doing useful things, but we didn't really get a day off either.

We downloaded all yesterday's photos, so now I am more illustrated. I am going to have a nice collection of photos to take home, but right now the thought of the cute little plastic camera Jodi gave me just reaching a processing place is tiring. That is the trouble with work-steadily-but-only achieve little things - you feel really tired by the end of it. The big redeeming features of the day were first that it was glorious. Just the most fabulous weather known to man. And second that I got to learn a bunch more about Arkansas and about the South in general.

The biggest thing I have learned this week is that the South is not a thing like its stereotypes. It is complicated and civilised - and I would have to stay a lot longer to understand it. There are so many accents and so many subcultures. The one I am learning about most right now is in this little pocket of Arkansas. I have tasted Bar-B-Q tonight and baked beans. We talked about the importance of white versus yellow cornmeal. And I am afraid I have overeaten.

But I am learning. I am beginning to piece together aspects of the rural Arkansas lifestyle of the last 100 years, and how it fits with the middle class Little Rock lifestyle of now. I wish I had more tourist time, but if I had to trade between tourist time and the wonderful family stories I am hearing now, I would go for the wonderful family stories any time.

This is the writer's tour of dreams, in many ways. Not just because of the friendship and margaritas and seeing my name in lights. I am not just going from places to place and talking about myself. I am going from place to place and learning about other people. I am so lucky that my publisher believes in taking time and getting to know and understand. I am even luckier that she has allowed these few days in Arkansas. I will be really sorry to move on, tomorrow.

Gillian and Tamara

Posted by Gillian @ 03:12 AM CST

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Gillian is in Connecticut today; I saw her off at the Little Rock airport last night. So I am having an isolated day of peace to catch up on all the things I've been putting off. I hate leaving things unfinished, but fitting everything in has been nearly impossible!

The interview that Gillian and I did last week appeared in the Lake Charles American Press yesterday. We got the whole front page of the business section, which was seriously wonderful. We missed the "real" photographer because we had to rush off to Austin, but the photos Gillian and I took of each other standing in front of the curtains in the Austin hotel came out OK. It didn't hurt that the main photo was of Illuminations instead of either of us, however.

Lake Charles American Press

My day has mainly consisted of answering emails and sorting out the rest of our travel itinerary, but Gillian will probably have lots of exciting things to say when she gets back from Connecticut. I will be picking her up at the airport tomorrow night. Then on Saturday, we'll be heading off to Ohio where, among other things, there is a famous room with a Helm's Deep theme.

Posted by Tamara @ 11:04 PM CST

Monday, April 7, 2003

After long hours of really bad Yiddish music, Gillian and I finally arrived at Wendy's house. This part of the trip included driving from Little Rock to Cincinnati. It was a beautiful drive, except for the part where Gillian was required to sing Old Man River when we crossed the Mississippi (twice). This was not particularly beautiful as we were stuck in a traffic jam as well. The other worry is that we will be crossing the Mississippi again in a few days and I can only hope that Gillian has got Old Man River OUT of her system.

Mississippi River

Wendy has a gorgeous house and she and Kathy had daiquiris almost ready (they were ready pretty quickly). Pressies were also exchanged quickly. These included lots of really interesting things; e.g., toilet keychains and lipglosses (these matched the toilet shaped cellphone holder Gillian brought me--don't ask). Gillian and I brought a bag of stuff for Wendy and Kathy, but nothing quite as cool as the matching toilets.

Tamara, Kathy, & Wendy

This pretty much made up for the totally horrible hotel Gillian and I stayed at last night. And then...


* * *

Between daiquaris we all had a really nice chat session. Gillian gave us lessons about Australian culture. We also talked about books and the tour (which sounds like it's been an adventure). Wendy took Gillian and Tamara around her house. They loved the Helms Deep room and Tamara took several pictures. Gillian has kicked Chris out so she can sleep there.

We all had a wonderful afternoon getting to know each other.


* * *

What can I say that the others have not said? Firstly, everyone is reacting really strangely to me. Every now and again one of the three collapses in giggles and entirely blames me for it. Wendy suggested I should see terribly important tourist attractions, for instance, and nearly had hysterics when I preferred to go to junk shops. You learn a great deal more about cultures from junk shops, I said. This promoted more hysterics.

I have discovered I like daiquiris. Like a strawberry milkshake with a kick. And Long Island tea. And yes, this does suggest that even more friends are aiming at seeing what I am like drunk. My next novel might have to be about recovering from the actions of friends..

I keep thinking I have missed two days. One day I shall catch up with this blog and put in the Connecticut section. It was amazingly good and amazingly busy and I have been traveling virtually non-stop ever since, so it will be a late catchup when I have time.

Right now in the background, everyone is commenting on my bad typing. Careful analysis of the exact mistakes I make. I should go back to dirnking ....


* * *

O, they are all having much more fun then they're even admitting too! Tamara even managed to arrive right at my doorstop. After a silly exchange of presents (Thank you Jenny - I love them!!!), a whirlwind tour of the house, (Yes, Nanci Bono does exist here!!!) a few drinks and lots of chat, chat, chat, chat, chat, we went out to eat. Wow- big deal. It's hard to describe how exciting it is having Tamara and Gillian here (Kathy's a plus :-)) Having known them for so long it was like two people I've known for most of my life, well, walking into my life. Was there a pause or an awkward moment between any of us? Not on your life.

Tamara is Tamara, exactly the person I've known on list, the person I've talked to on the phone, interesting, foul funny and intelligent as sin.

Gillian, is so damn sweet, confusing, and lovely trying to describe her in an email wouldn't do her justice. Yes, I did feel badly that we didn't have enough time to see Cincinnati (not that Wendy really thinks there is much to see in Cincinnati ) but I was SURPRISED when she happily, over the top, zinged me and agreed when I jokingly suggested we visit the *hood* Dollar Store. I guess all the tacky pressies just weren't enough....but I only agreed to take her if I was allowed to take pictures of her....and then I told her we also have a 99cent store....Gillian jumped for joy and demanded to visit both. I'm so glad to be the one to be showing her the very BEST that Cincinnati has to offer!


Posted by Tamara @ 02:38 AM CST

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

One thing about current security and stuff is it makes travel slow. If you add up the en route time to and from Connecticut, I was travelling for about 17 hours. Lots of little hops. Lots of time at airport. So it is no wonder that I did my share of silly typing when Tamara and I got to Cincinnati. I didn't get to see Cinci. I had an absolutely fabulous time visiting friends, however, which is why we did a silly weblog. It was simply celebratory. I am positive that our mutual friends thought we were drunk - but we just didn't get that far. We were too busy laughing to remember to refresh our drinks.

From Cincinnati we went to Kentucky to meet up with another friend. Our friends are such wonderful people!!

And Bardstown is one of the best kept secrets of the US. I am totally positive that I sounded silly and effusive when Mary drove us round, but truly, it is a utterlly gorgeous place. If our schedule had not been so very tight, we would have cancelled things and just stayed there a night or two. As it is, I intend to visit again someday. There are just some places that demand this, and Bardstown is one of them. I am so grateful to Mary for living there and for wanting to see us!! And yes, I am in danger of sounding like a tourist brochure.


Tonight we are en route and just trying to pull together some energy. At this stage we are beyond exhaustion, but there are still places to go, people to see, things to do. We plan to have a very quiet night in the hopes that we will magically be able to do all this and still have fun.

I understand that my exotic experiences of the morrow may include tasting hillbilly food and seeing the parthenon. Watch this space.

Posted by Gillian @ 02:46 AM CST

I feel a bit bad about only just now getting to describe Connecticut, because I really had a great time there. I would feel even worse if I hadnot travelled so far and seen so many people since then, or even had a bit more sleep. I could do with a bit more sleep. I am not quite up to making sense of things right now. And there are no photos of me at 99c stores....

I am online to talk about CT, in fact, but my publisher is muttering distractingly in the background. She is thinking about putting a collection of curious American phrases online - ones that I need to know. I can only assume that they are impolite. She is determined to make this tour very educational.

The US is a bit hard to take in as a country. So varied. It is not like New Zealand, with huge changes in the scenery every few metres. It has, however, much more cutlural variation than shows on the surface. One day i fall in love with Connecticut, with its icy rain and bare trees and curious houses, then i am in Kentucky a coupl of days later and it is a full and very glorious spring and I fall even more deeply in love. Kentucky has a very gentle, endearing beauty. Connecticut is very much the charm of the tales I read as a child. I looked at the bare trees and leafy slopes and thought "Blair Witch" too, which means that a lot of other people have used that region's landscape as their creative backdrop.

Connecticut was just wonderfully friendly. i don't know if it is because i am Australian or because they are just nice, but even the hotel staff was excited about my book and totally chatty. I am really feeling as if this trip is surrounded by friends, old ones and new ones.

I spoke to teenagers at the Williams School in the south of the state in the morning. Bright kids. Fun subject. I adore teaching magic in the Middle Ages - a great balance of cosmology, world view and truly lurid tales.

Williams School

I visited the Pequot Museum during my break thanks to the kindness of Mark Foster, who ferried me everywhere and fed me and generally made sure things went well. This helped a great deal (not the museum - the being taken care of) because I was already reaching the stage of extreme fatigue. The museum was wonderful. Very very well done. I bought some teaching materials for back home.

Mark also drove me round Mystic and some other towns. Lots of driving. We covered a whole section of Connecticut, getting from one talk to the next. Gorgeous houses - and I was so surprised that they were all wood.

The late afternoon was spent at the University of Connecticut. I don't know if people enjoyed my talk - but I really enjoyed meeting them. I suspect my nervousness and shyness (because the audience had some very senior people from the university) led to me being a tad more challenging and controversial than i had intended. they were all nice about it thought. And it was so cool to find that Anne Berthelot also knows the Melekh Artus!! I am making a mental collection of truly strange Medieval Arthurian texts and this is high on the list.

Posted by Gillian @ 02:29 AM CST

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Well, we finally did make it to the Parthenon in Nashville, in spite of nearly being overcome by sheer exhaustion (and in spite of Gillian's map reading abilities). My main recollection of it is that it is very large. And we had dinner with Tammy, who incorporated Gillian's visit into an assignment for her class. And then we spent most of the next (interminable) day driving to New Orleans where we collapsed at the Garden District Hotel on St. Charles Street.

Nashville Parthenon

The next day, after breakfasting on some lovely croissants brought by Rania, we rode a street car (not named 'Desire') to Bourbon Street and strolled up and down peering into shops while sipping frozen daiquiris (these were very nice).

New Orleans shop window

We had an early night, after a quiet dinner at a restaurant called 'The Garlic Clove' and headed back to Lake Charles today. On the way, we stopped at the Houmas House plantation where we were given a guided tour by a lady dressed in hoopskirts and a turtleneck sweater.

Houmas House

Tomorrow we are planning a trip to the Houston Space Center and then a lot of wrapping up and packing. I will be glad to avoid seeing a suitcase for a LONG time.


Posted by Tamara @ 04:09 AM CST

Monday, April 14, 2003

After a rushed visit to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, we put Gillian on her plane yesterday. I know she is looking forward to some needed rest and a visit with her family for Passover, but I am going to MISS her (though not packing and unpacking luggage every day).

This book tour turned out to be the most marvelous experience and one I won't forget soon. Everywhere we went (12 states for Gillian and 8 for me), we seemed to find new friends. Sometimes this was expected, and sometimes it was completely out of the blue, like the lady in the Nashville giftshop who loves Victor Hugo.

And through it all, in spite of our teasing, Gillian was the quintessential professional. I have never seen anyone work so hard and do it so successfully. She simply couldn't have done a better job and I couldn't have picked a better person (or writer) as the first author published by Trivium Publishing.

Gillian & Tamara

Of course, now that I know how much she is capable of accomplishing, it's probably a good thing that Gillian will be visiting family (and hopefully resting) for the next couple of weeks. Otherwise, I would probably be compelled to give her work to do...

Best to all,

Posted by Tamara @ 08:04 PM CST

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

I am home. More my heart-home than my physical home, I should admit, since I am typing this in a state of total jetlag, and on my mother's computer. It is a little while before I return to my flat in Canberra. I went from the book tour rush to the Passover rush - we even did some shopping for the festival on the way from the airport. I have already caught up with several friends and seen about two dozen relatives.

This festival will have a whole heap of new remembrances scattered through it as well as the traditional ones. I will drink my breakfast coffee from the Boston mug Wendy gave me, for instance. And I have a present for the family which I bought at the lovely bookstore in Little Rock - it is called Shalom Y'all and sums everything up. Jewish identity and memories of the South - all in one volume. And every time I look at it on my parent's bookshelf I will remember the nice gentleman in Little Rock who bought my book for his wife and steered me towards good reading about American Jews in the South.

I have more to digest than unleavened bread this Passover. Tamara and I agreed on a kind of sub-theme to explore during the tour, since neither of us quite makes it as regular tourist-types. Wherever we went, we found out the views of local icons as expressed visually (like the flags!) or any other way. We spoke to a lot of people about what they thought made up the icons for their region and why. And need to think about the results, long and hard. Some stereotypes hold - like the obsessions with certain sports and sporting teams. Most of the views I expected to find, I did not. I have to work out how to understand what the US is over the next little while, but the one thing I know it is not is the hard, sharp image we get through the media. I am faced with these hard sharp images now I am back home. The assumption that what George Bush says is the same as what America is has already reared its ugly head. I am defending the complexity and kindness I found - but I am also still rethinking.

When I have found out what I think about the US (apart from the kindness and generosity I found there - not just from my friends, but from professional colleagues like the witty Mark Foster - who took charge of me in Connecticut - and like the security guards at airports, who treated me as a human being, not a just an object for mass processing) then I may have to reassess what I think about what the US is doing in the world. My old assumptions were based on the black and white view of the US. Full of stereotypes. Full of assumptions. And the US is technicolour. Like Dorothy moving to colour film when she landed in Oz. Everywhere I went I met interesting people who lead fascinating lives and were prepared to challenge assumptions. I am just following their good example and challenging my own assumptions.

These last few weeks have been one of those special times that come seldom. I admit I did not enjoy every moment (like when I pulled the plug on a bath and drenched the person cleaning the room below) but I enjoyed the vast bulk of it. I loved the redbuds in bloom and the feel of the wind in my hair when we rode in a red mustang convertible with the hood down. It was great to talk to people about my book and to hear dignified American businessmen do their famous Steve Irwin imitations. It was overwhelming to give talks to people I admire and to see my name in lights. It was special and strange to meet with friends I had known only by email - and just strange to walk down Bourbon Street in broad daylight drinking a giant takeout daiquiri. I have collected vast numbers of foods for my culinary repertoire and even done a (quick) cultural analysis of a Walmart (it was either that or brave downtown peak hour traffic and Tamara and I found Walmart easier). For all these reasons and a bunch more, this was not the sort of book tour that most authors get. Thanks to Trivium Publishing, I had one of life's great experiences. Maybe I should get to and do that extra work Tamara was hinting at?

I was lucky to have the book tour at precisely that moment. You see different aspects of a country when it is at war. And even luckier to have the publisher I do. For those of you coming blind to these weblogs, you need to know that we get tasks done through humour and with friendship - Tamara is a joy to work with. This is why we visited so many friends en route, and I came to know the US from such a non-tourist vista.

I am sorry I have not said more on the weblogs. Finding time amidst so much pressure and movement was not always easy. We logged on from hotel rooms all over the place, for friend's houses, from relatives' houses. From any phoneline that we could, at whatever hour we could.

So I have many tales left of the trip, for my friends and audiences here. But I left my boomerangs in Louisiana and Texas. What is it with Americans and boomerangs?

Posted by Gillian @ 09:43 AM CST



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