Lost in Translation in Sydney

On December 8, 2009, I disembarked from the last in a series of flights that left south Florida several days before and stepped into Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport.  Harry and Maz were waiting for me when I cleared customs.  They had a new Australian cell phone for me.

During the Sydney portion of the Fleetwood Mac tour, I was to stay at Vicki’s house in Epping, a suburb outside of Sydney.  Vicki was still in Europe, finishing the medical certification program that so conveniently placed her in England during the European Fleetwood Mac tour earlier in the year.  Vicki’s husband, Rob, was expecting my arrival, but he was working at his office when I turned up on the doorstep that morning.  The scene developed into Harry, Maz, me, and all of my luggage—large backpack and supplementary carry-on backpack—arriving to be greeted by Vicki and Rob’s Asian housekeeper, a man to whom Harry and Maz gave the affectionate and perhaps slightly politically incorrect nickname “Mr. Miyagi.”

Mr. Miyagi was not a native English speaker.  Although Rob had presumably explained to him that I would be alighting at the house to stay for a while, Harry, Maz, and I detected that something had been lost in the translation.  We three, in our variants of the English language, tried to explain the purpose for our arrival, and encouraged Mr. Miyagi to call Rob at his office to confirm our story.  Mr. Miyagi called Rob, said, in his own accent, “There are three people here that want to come in the house.”  Pause.  Mr. Miyagi reports, “He said no.”  I have been on airplanes for over 20 hours, across my country and the entire Pacific Ocean, to get to this house.  When the moment of absurdity passed and our stunned faces regained some expression, Harry foraged through his cell phone directory and called Rob himself.  The slightly truncated version of what could become a protracted explanation is that Vicki, still in Europe, had hired a yard service to work on some trees in the yard.  When Rob heard Mr. Miyagi report that three people at the door wanted to come into the house, what he heard was, “There are *tree* people here, and they want to come into the house.”  Harry, Maz, and I, unlike the tree people, were most welcome.

Harry and Maz deposited me for a nap, planning to return that evening to collect me for the show.  I had a second nap, standing up, in the middle of the concert during one of Lindsey (Buckingham)’s chronically extended speeches about how they are all working to overcome their emotional history and learn to just have *fun.*  This might have been the show in which Stevie and John (McVie) attended to the activities of the lighting crew, up in the rafters, while Lindsey spoke.  The show when Stevie, out of the spotlight, propped her leg on the drum kit and stretched out her calves during Lindsey’s first speech of the night was a classic episode from earlier on the American tour.  Moving along in Sydney, I had quite a nice experience mildly hallucinating due to exhaustion and mesmerization during “Gold Dust Woman” but otherwise managed to remain conscious for the remainder of the concert.

At the end of the show, someone in the audience wanted to give Stevie flowers.  Lindsey saw this and retrieved the flowers for her.  She seemed pleasantly surprised and thanked him sincerely, which prompted him to cast around for more flowers to retrieve and present to her.  Upon receiving the second bundle of flowers, courtesy of Lindsey, Stevie offered the first batch back to Lindsey, presumably so that he would have flowers, too.  Watching this scene was like watching school children try to get along.  I found it endearing and added it to my mental list of amusing moments, another episode in the continuing character play.

After the concert, Maz declared that I looked “shattered” (exhausted), and she and Harry drove me home, feeding me Tim Tams on the way.  I was in better shape for the second Sydney concert the following night, and we learned from Maz’s friends what comedy and drama we had missed the night before because of our early departure from the scene.

Maz’s friends had met Stevie.  They had been idling in the back of the arena when Stevie’s car drove out, backed up, and stopped so that Stevie could get out and talk to a wheelchair-bound boy that had been at the show.  Stevie then talked to the friends.  All is well in this story thus far.  After a happy conversation, one of the friends, the one with a larger bosom, shyly held her concert ticket to her chest and asked Stevie to sign her ticket.  In the heavier Australian accents, “ticket” can sound like “teekt.”  Therefore, what to an Australian sounds like, “Stevie, will you sign my ticket?” to Stevie, an American, sounded like, “Stevie, will you sign my t***?”  They say Stevie’s expression dropped; she went from smiling to a look of disbelief and confusion, perhaps quickly devising an exit strategy.  The woman understood what had happened and annunciated more clearly while holding out her ticket.  Stevie reportedly said something like, “Oh!  Your ticket!  Of course.”  I imagine she experienced perplexity similar to our incident in Vicki and Rob’s driveway that morning when informed that we, the tree people, could not enter the house.  Maz, meanwhile, found the story of the boy in the wheelchair inspirational, and announced her idea to beat Harry up a bit and wheel him around after the second night’s show.

By this time in the year, I had an excellent attendance record at the Fleetwood Mac shows.  I do not doubt that other people would best me on an attendance roster, if such a roster were to be made, which would be ridiculous, because this business of concert-going is never about the numbers.  I do doubt that anyone could have a finer time with more interesting people, however.  Near the end of the second Sydney show, Lindsey, long accustomed to my presence, asked me, “Are you coming to Perth?”  I didn’t see how I could avoid going at that point.  The offer of a ride would have been welcomed, but I was pleased enough to continue the journey by my own transportation schemes.

First, however, I enjoyed a day trip to the Blue Mountains with Harry, Maz, and Maz’s nephew Cory.  Somewhere in the Blue Mountains, among the scenic overlooks, is Landslide Lookout, marked by a classic wooden sign that I am fairly certain was public domain.  Maz was busy giving Harry and Cory instruction on how to detach the sign from its post and maneuver it into their rental car as I asked, “Isn’t that your nation’s property?”  “It’s rightful place is in my home,” Maz replied.  I helped push the back seat down and volunteered that if we all hunched over for the ride home, the sign would, in fact, fit into the car.

This sign remains in its original location.

It would not satisfactorily fit into the car.

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Strangers on a Train

Imagine traversing the English countryside by train with your Australian friend (or if you are Australian, with your American friend), enjoying beer and conversation, eager in anticipation for the evening’s Fleetwood Mac concert.  Such was the state of my affairs on October 27, 2009, when aboard a Virgin Blue train bound from London to Manchester, Vicki and I shared a seating quadrant comprised of two ample seats per side with a convenient table in between.  I faced the forward direction of the train, and Vicki the rear.  At the start of our journey, the steward for our car, an elderly and affable English gentleman, tottered down the aisle asking after meal requests from interested passengers.  As the English gent passed us and inquired at the section of a mother and son that had boarded shortly after we were seated, I overheard the mother ask the child if he would like the smoked salmon sandwich.  My understanding is that culinary interest in smoked salmon indicates advanced age in a child, even an English child.

Let us fast-forward further into our journey.  Vicki and I are catching up on the various day-to-day stories in our respective lives, enjoying a pint of Guinness (me) and Stella Artois (Vicki), when I see Vicki’s eyes go wide.  I hadn’t said anything extraordinary.  In fact, I recall being in the throws of a rather mundane description of my living situation in South Florida.  I mentally bookmarked Vicki’s reaction to ask her later.  I didn’t have to ask her, because a few minutes later, following a scheduled stop and the disembarkment of passengers seated behind me, Vicki exhaled, rolled her eyes, and shook her head—all one fluid behavior—and told me what she had witnessed that I had missed as I drank Guinness and chattered away unawares.  The mother of the son who was a fan of smoked salmon had proceeded, after giving the boy’s lunch order, to breastfeed the child for their entire ride with us.  This she had done without apparent concern for concealment.  Vicki reported that the woman had summoned our elderly Englishman conductor to her side to retrieve for her a bag from the overhead storage, gesturing vigorously with an arm that extended unabashedly from her fully exposed bosom.  I don’t know, having been oblivious to this entire display, if the woman wrapped her top in any covering before leaving our train.

Vicki noted that the group seated directly across from the breastfeeding duo would have been in a particularly awkward and visually inescapable position.  One of the men in that station had to leave his seat at one point, edging around the woman seated next to him and then around the breastfeeding section. Naturally, Vicki and I discussed the entire scenario for the remainder of the train ride to Manchester as well as on our journey to our hotel, when we should have been reviewing details from past shows to prepare ourselves for the night’s concert.  Vicki pointedly wondered what the group directly next to the breastfeeding area thought, and we acknowledged that their experience was likely to remain a mystery to us.  That discussion got us to our hotel (which was quite lovely), where we forgot about the train incident and proceeded with our concert preparation: nap, champagne, decisions on attire and makeup application.  The show was outstanding; Stevie was radiant.  As though walking lightly on a cloud of joy, Vicki and I floated from the venue and around the street corner, coming upon the Manchester Hard Rock Cafe, where we happily repaired for dinner and discussion.

Seated as we were, across from each other with Vicki facing the interior of the restaurant, I was perfectly positioned to see Vicki’s second wide-eyed expression of the day when, nary a fraction into our post-concert analysis, she exclaimed, “Those are the breastfeeding people from the train.”  Vicki qualified her exclamation by telling me that she recognized these witnesses because they were seated in the same formation, because the man on the inside of the seat made his way out in the same way as he had on the train, and because she subconsciously noted the similarity in motion.  She sped to their table to make introductions.  The group visited our table for further discussion.  In their nostalgic recapture of the events on the train, one of the men asked Vicki, “Did you see the part where he (the child) sat up and drank from a cup before diving back in?”  We then revisited my favorite topic, the smoked salmon sandwich and the age of a child that would request a smoked salmon sandwich.  Following, Vicki and I ate, reflected, marveled, and laughed ourselves into a doubled-over stupor all the way back to the hotel.