Travel by Train

Friday we headed to the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. There are a few sandy square miles there covered with small pillars, most between two and twelve feet high. It was a very photogenic area. We continued on to Perth, trying to locate a good place to eat, with some difficulty because every place was packed on Friday. We targeted a “modern Japanese” place which turned out to be completely full, but had a really good “modern Thai” dinner next door.

Saturday we returned the van, and took the MacBook Pro (whose screen had gotten slightly cracked early in the trip) to Perth’s large Apple Store, which was mobbed. It turned out not to be possible to get it fixed because it would have taken a couple days and we only had one day. We walked around downtown for awhile, and headed to the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art. An artist named Thomas Rentmeister had a small exhibition (“Objects. Food. Rooms.”) which was just opening; the most brilliant work was a six by thirty-foot area entirely covered with Nutella. German Nutella, which is thicker than the Australian variety. Another work was a huge pile of various white things; several people asked us to pose in front of it with our white beards. Yet another was entitled “Found Mop”. We posed in front of it American Gothic-style, and the artist took pictures of us there. We walked past the town carillon, a very stylish modern building, and back along the river.

The #1 restaurant in Perth on Trip Advisor was Amusé, and its website said there were no Saturday reservations available until September 3. We put ourselves on the waitlist anyway, and miraculously they called us back (on our US mobile) and offered us a slot. So we went there for dinner. It wasn’t cheap ($125, $75 for wine pairing, various extra optional plates). But it was stunningly good. About sixteen small plates were served to each of us, with interesting combinations of ingredients. We’d hoped to learn more about Australian wine, but much of their wine was European. It was all good. Our favorite was Australian, though, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Margaret River area south of Perth, served with delicious lamb (chunks of tongue, something braised, and a medallion of some other part.)

The Indian Pacific Express is a train which goes from the Indian Ocean in Perth to the Pacific Ocean in Sydney. We took it to Adelaide, which is a two-night trip. It left on Sunday at noon, and was scheduled to stop in Kalgoorlie from 10pm to 1am, during which we thought we’d investigate the authentic Australian pub experience. There is also a tour there, advertised as 45 minutes, of the world’s largest open-pit gold mine, called the SuperPit. We figured we’d have plenty of time to have dinner in some pub, or the 24-hour restaurant, after the tour. It turned out that the train arrived late (though it still planned to leave on time), and the tour ran long. So there was no time whatsoever for dinner in town, and we really should have had it on the train. Except it isn’t really very good there. Probably wouldn’t have been in town either.

The signage in the dining car was kind of confusing, and we ended up missing breakfast as well. Remind me to send back the feedback form citing Paul as making a rude remark to me, the customer, in the context of complaining that they wouldn’t serve us breakfast. They would serve us prepackaged meat pies, but I wasn’t really in the mood. The peanut butter and honey sandwiches in our room were better anyway. The next afternoon we stopped in Cook, an “abandoned” town which serves as a fueling station for the train. The only other thing which happened on the train was that a pair of singers, Dave and Kathy Townsend, who also played accordion and banjo entertained the other travelers each night with traditional Australian songs. Some weren’t so Australian: they didn’t quite get the chords right for Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

The songs give cause to reflect on the casual gender pigeonholing that is still present in Australia and other non-Woodside places: Dave Townsend said he was going to sing a song about sheep shearers; “Everyone makes jokes about sheep shearers, you all know some right?” and some Australian made an affirmative response; and Mr. Townsend said, “Well let’s hear it, then,” and the audience member said, “There are ladies present,” which got the laugh it was intended to get, but I thought, Roy or Callum or Dennis would know what that means and be able to decipher it, but it would be deciphering the way they would read a street sign in an unknown Romance language, it wouldn’t be this immediate laugh-inducing recognition that it gets with a person in an older culture. I leave the Romanians out of this assessment; Romania is still that way and so is Colombia. Likely so is Tibi. It serves him well, in bed.

The business of a recognizing vs. deciphering deserves further deciphering. Riding in a van or traveling on a train affords me a lot of time to make meaningless distinctions between things. A book about Aboriginal Art said on the first page, that Aboriginal art was mostly the study of Ethnographers until about 1960, and then became the study of Artists, but was in this century being batted over to linguists because a lot of the drawings are now taken as pictograms.

I stopped reading there. I can’t read much any more. I have way more books than I have time for so I can’t be buying any, and I don’t have much time. I can read a book as far as the first really stupid statement and then I put it down; or maybe to the point where I am thinking faster than the book is writing, and I put it down for that reason.

This was a bit of each. They need to tell us the difference between a picture and a pictogram. So I will. The interesting quality of a pictogram is that it has to be deciphered; where a picture takes you immediately. There is a lot of the pictogram in medieval saint pictures and Soviet Podium pictures, and a lot of pictures in words, when you are such a good reader that you aren’t even aware you are reading. Do you often have memories where you don’t know if you saw it on TV or read it? Marshall McLuhan wishes you would stop.

Don’t try to read Marshall McLuhan now. I did a few years back, it was ludicrous.

Hearing pre-feminist jokes is a matter of deciphering, by now, I hope.

Apparently there was some medical emergency in the middle of the night in Port Augusta where someone was taken off the train, but I slept right through it.

We spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Adelaide. On Tuesday we had a nice breakfast, saw some astronomical photographs at the adjacent science museum, bought some chocolate, and then visited the art museum and saw lots of art by European Australians, and a bit by Aboriginals. We also went to the Central Market and got some cheese and salami for the upcoming continuation of the road trip. And in the evening we had dinner at Press* Food and Wine, where we ordered the “tasting menu” in which they would bring you whichever items off the menu they felt like bringing. It was an exceptional value: for $65 each we got six “small plates”, two mains, a side, and dessert. Of the nine savory courses, three did not involve red meat: the six that did were chorizo, merguez, anise sweetbreads, pork hock terrine with pistachios, hanger steak and pork belly. They also brought us several glasses of wine, and we were probably the most full that night of any night on the entire trip.

Wednesday we went on a tour of the McLaren Vale wine area just south of town. It was a cutely conceived tour, a “progressive lunch” with one course at each of four wineries: Maxwell, Wirra Wirra, Hugo, and Rosemount Estates. As usual, all of the reds were very young and just-opened, so they weren’t really so drinkable. I was feeling pretty sloshed by the end of the day. For dinner we went to Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar, where we could have had a similar tasting menu, but instead just had a few things. The most successful was the polenta of the day, with mushrooms and taleggio.