The morning is cool but still beneath pearl grey skies. I hop on my bike and coast down to the river, lifting my head to fill my nose with the crisp rush of birdsong. Crested pigeons skitter and coo "woo-oot' in the leaves beside the trail, peep, peep, peeping as they fly away. Dusky moor hens splash out of the thick reeds into the black tea of the Torrens. Across the river, a wattle bird makes a hideous noise, and I stifle the urge to make unkind anthropomorphic comparisons.
I zip past the zoo and it smells of green hay and exotic urine. Where the river gradually widens into the lake, I pause to watch a pair of black swans glide past, chatting softly to each other. I am confused. The conversation of two joggers momentarily overlays my observations. The first swan asks,
"So how have you structured your retirement portfolio?"
"I'm heavily vested in dividend paying annuities and index funds."
"Do you have income protection in case you become disabled?"
"No, but if we swim up to this lady squatting next to the water, she might give us some bread."
I pedal into the city. Of course, there is a festival being set up in the park. Volunteers in blue shirts scurry through a maze of white plastic chairs and tents. The Million Paws Walk...this place is going to be shit bark central in a few hours. I make a note not to return this afternoon.
I pause again at the spillway and watch a flotilla of pelicans drift away. Flycatchers zig and zag tirelessly above the water then dive into their mud nests beneath the dam. I wonder how many flies a human would have to eat each day to live? I think that Australia has enough to feed the entire population.
The city noises are more distinct in the quiet of the morning, their outlines unblurred by din of daytime. The squeal of train wheels on a curve, the roar of a jet coming in low over the cricket ground, the echo of the bells of the cathedral off the tall buildings flanking the river bank. I follow the bells and briefly toy with the idea of going to mass, but they stop ringing as soon as I get there, so I take that as a sign.
Instead, I try to count the cockatoos that are riotously vying for a spot on the tallest spire and watch the parishioners filing into the building. They are mostly old, but all are hunched over. The cumulative weight of a life time of guilt and piety has bent their spines...or maybe the weight of the life is the reason they find solace in the musty hollows of a large stone building. Through the doors, I can see the gold altar glittering, the priest in red trimmed bright white robes waving the gang signs of the Lord to his flock of peeps. I decide the cockatoos are having far more fun, their yellow crests lifted in comical expressions of defiance.
My fingers are going numb, so I decide to head home, but I become mesmerized by a magic leaf and stop to run my battery down as a bunch of magpies chime like wood winds around me.
The house is warm and smells of last night's dinner. I debate whether or not to share my mundane narrative of the morning. Although pleasant and filled with sensory delights, it has not revealed any profound philosophical positions or conspicuously comical conclusions...But maybe sharing the ordinary moments of life is more valuable anyway...although not as valuable as a good disability insurance policy.
07 May 2011
"Well the way I think of it is that the love I have for my homeland is like the love I have for my mother...But the love I have for Australia is like the love I have for my bride."
-Some Pomme Bastard
-Some Pomme Bastard
Today Kevin and I married Australia.
After several grueling weeks of filling out forms, photocopying documents, and collecting signatures from recognized authorities - Oh, and sending checks to mysterious offices - we completed our application for Australian Citizenship. Last week, we sat 'the exam' - a 20 question quiz that proves your qualifications to assimilate into this country by demonstrating your knowledge of social customs, parliamentary structure, and obscure cricket facts such as '1. a) What is the record for most consecutive centuries scored in a single test match? b) Who holds the record? c) How many balls did he face in his career?'
We passed the exam with flying colo(u)rs and returned to the immigration office for 'the ceremony'. Along with a dozen other inductees, we were ushered into a small room and handed a pledge card, a copy of the National Anthem, and a small yet highly waveable Australian flag. Before we took the pledge, we were required to watch a syrupy short film of recent immigrant testimonials about what becoming an Australian citizen means to them (see above). It was, of course, quite emotional and I managed to choke back the tears until they showed a clip of an old man lawn bowling. The ability to participate fully, without reservations or feelings of alienation, in the remarkably unathletic sport of lawn bowling is a privilege of citizenship I have previously underestimated.
The pledge cards came in two versions. Group 1 stood up and recited their pledge, followed by the much smaller Group 2. I don't recall checking the box on the application, but I was relieved to find myself liberated from the obligation of declaring my loyalty 'under God' and not at all dismayed to know that I am now on the national list of registered atheists.
Had I known I would be required to sing Australia Fair out loud in a small room full of multicolored strangers, I may have opted to forgo the whole ordeal, but there was no backing out now. Is there a UN requirement that all national anthems contain one entirely unachievable musical note? At least we were only required to sing the first verse, because in truth, very few native born Australians know the second, and the the third verse was officially dropped several years ago. Thank God. I was surprised that I actually knew the melody...It really is a crap song. Girt by sea, indeed! Tie Me Kangaroo Down would be a better choice - more suited to drunken rejoicing.
My first order of business as an Australian Citizen was to go to the toilet. I nodded a mute recognition to the young blond girl emerging from the stall, she having been among the recently pledged. However, I was compelled to break my silent musings as I unbuttoned my pants:
"Don't you want your flag?"
"Yeah, not really. I mean, it's not like I'm going to hang it on the wall in my room or anything. I mean seriously."
"Well, you could attach it to your car antenna on Australia Day, or at the very least, stick it in a shoe box and look at it again when you are 80."
"Yeah, I guess I could do that."
Exiting the stall upon the completeion of my first official duty, I handed the flag back to her.
"I really don't care what you do with it, but as a proud member of society, I would be remiss if I allowed you to leave it lying on the dirty floor of a public loo." I somehow managed to not add the word 'twat' to the end of the sentence.
So I am now a dual citizen - which fundamentally means that I am required to participate in the Australian democratic process and I can legally go to Cuba. I was delightfully surprised at how well Australians receive the news, despite their highly publicized xenophobia. They are quite welcoming and proud that I have made this commitment. There is no sense of loss or threat on their part - an attitude not uncommon towards immigrants in the US...but then, I am white and speak English reasonably good. (Don't. It is meant to be a joke.) It all happened so quickly, that I have barely had time to gauge the gravity of the decision I have just made, but I am curious to see if and how it impacts my feelings of belonging and integration, to see if I will begin to feel less like a foreign observer and more like a genuine participant. I am already considering running for local office.
But first, I gotta go buy some lawn bowls.