Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Grrr in Growler...

I should've learned from the "fanny-pack" incident of '98; just because it looks like English and sounds like English, the lingo spoken down here is just that: Engl-ish. To quantify it, you may even define it as "Kwozi." Pronounced quasi, not only is it the "margarine of English/the Diet Coke of English (just one calorie; not English enough)," but also it is a fusion of the antipoedian dialect of the Kiwis and Aussies. To say the least, the slang Down Under is very colourful indeed, and commonplace words we would use in North America take on an entirely different and embarassing meaning in this part of the world.
Take the "Roots Canada" incident of '89, for example. At a Christmas reunion with my grandparents (the last time we all got together, incidentally), we Canadians thought that a trendy t-shirt by Roots would be an ideal gift for my Australian cousins. Upon opening the bright red shirt with the iconic beaver and the words "Roots!" written on it, the horror on my auntie's face was only surpassed by the mischevious grin on my cousins' faces, while the Canadians looked on in complete naivety.
"Don't you know what a root is?" my aunt asked, trying her absolute best not to offend my grandparents as my cousins continued to giggle.
With complete honesty, we all answered "no." To this day, I give my aunt the award for Best Tact Ever as she proceded to explain in front of octagenarians that a "root" in Australia basically meant "to f*&k"; an expression not helped by the fact a beaver was on the shirt.
Fast-forward to the Holgate Pub in Woodside, about an hour's drive north-west of Melbourne. Remembering their brilliant craft brews from nearly a decade ago, Ben accompanies me there for a last lunch in Melbourne. Local boy though he is, Ben is impressed by on-tap selection that has clearly expanded over the years. The first thing I notice, however, is that not only is there draught and 6-pack craft beers available, but also a 1.85 litre takeaway bottle you can fill and refill at leisure. The industry term for such a bottle is a "growler." Not sure why, but it just is. My first reaction upon entering the pub is to announce this aloud: "Hey look! They have growlers!"
Insert sound of crickets among bar staff and patrons, and a restrained giggle from Ben.
"Growler? I don't even know her!" I continue. (This is my stand by joke for anything that ends in "-er". for example, if asked "Did you want a sweater?" I will invariably respond with "Sweater? I don't even know her!")
In retrospect, I credit Ben with the same patience and tact beheld by my auntie so many years ago. This tact, however, was thrown out with the spit bucket upon filling a takeaway growler of refreshing Holgate Pilsner. Clearly, the hard-livin' country barmaid could tell I had no clue as to the meaning of a growler that she mentioned this to Ben at check-out. Glancing sideways to ensure no one else was in earshot, I write here the PG version of what a Growler is:
"It's when a man is with his beloved woman and does the opposite of go up on her, thereby resulting in a sound reminscent of a growl." (the real description was all of 5 syllables after the 'when a man' part... oh the grace and charm of an Aussie country lass...).
Thus, another lessoned learned in Aus-talk. Before saying anything, double check to see if there is a double entendre as no doubt the Aussies have found some way to make the most benign into the most obscene.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Poetry Night in Drouin...

Little do you all know that the real reason for my visit to Australia was to attend not only Drouin's world-famous-in-Drouin Ficifolia Festival, but also its marquis even, "Baw Baw Shire Poetry Night." (ie. I happened to visit Kim the same weekend as the town's festival). What more, did you know that all these years resting inside me was a poet-who-didn't-know-it?
For what it's all worth, a small town of ockers Drouin may be, but I was thoroughly surprised by the quality of poetry spun by the bards of Baw Baw Shire.  Among the group were a raunchy middle aged woman and her poem about dominatrixes, another who recited one on colonoscopies, and the special guest invitee from Melbourne with strong anarchic views fused with a street beat that just didn't rhyme.

Humble though my attempt was, I summoned the courage to write and recite a haiku inspired both by my visits to the Hunter Valley and Mornington Penninsula wine regions and by my nearly 2 decades connection with Japanese culture. For those out there who's poetic skills stop at the colours of flowers rhymed with the relationship of the reader to sucrose levels, a haiku is a 17-syllable Japanese poem divided into 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables. Each haiku must contain a seasonal reference, called a kigo, be it stated outright ("a winter wind blew") or, more often, a nuanced reference to something from that season ("snow fell on the hills").

Without further ado, I hereby present to you my innaugrural 4-stanza haiku entitled .....
The Vintage 
A field in decay
Southern winds blow from the Sea
A vine sits dormant
The winds change their course
Sunshine wakens the sleeping
A green bud appears
A New Year is Born
Verdant vineyards yield fresh fruit
Heat bakes the dry land
Men reap the harvest
A dying burst of colour
The vines sleep once more
In case you didn't pick up on it, each stanza represents a seasonal state of a vineyard in the Southern Hemisphere, starting with winter.  It must be Southern Hemisphere because of the reference in the third stanza of summer coming at new year's. Not exactly the stuff of Shakespeare or Basho (composer of the quintessential haiku, furu ike ya - kawazu tobikomu - mizu no oto (an ancient pond - a frog jumps in - the sound of water), but still not a bad first effort. Maybe next year I will be invited back in place of the anarchic bard...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Kangaroos in the Vineyard...

This blog comes to you from Renae and Ben's kitchen table an hour outside Melbourne; a lovely home amid the eucalyptus groves with kookaburra's chattering in the night. An image as iconically Australian as the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, it still pales in comparison to seeing kangaroos lolly-gagging about the vineyards of the Hunter Valley this past Monday.
Yes, kangaroos in the vineyards. Turns out that kangaroos are not so much a pest as they are helpful landscapers, munching the dawn or dusk grasses between the rows of vineyards. I asked if they also served a dual purpose of natural fertilizers, but was told by both our guide Erin and Renae that chooks ("chickens") do better with that. Mental note to self: must follow up on my dream to have layers at home to enhance my own garden. Sticking with the avian theme, it seems birds (cockatoos, magpies, warblers) are a bigger pest than kangaroos or bears (the 2009 "bear infestation" at Painted Rock in BC resulted reduced crops). This means netting needs to be put over the vines to prevent loss of fruit, resulting in what looks like a mid-summer frosting of the vineyards.

The Hunter Valley itself is located about 2 hours north of Sydney, and my cousin was kind enough to bring me up (along with aunt and two kids) for an overnight stay in Sydneysiders' favourite foodie weekend destination.  After an appointment at Tyrell's, we also visited Scarborough, DeBortoli, and Brokenwood to sample the Semillon and Shiraz wines that are famous in the Hunter Valley.  As it was a school day, I'm happy to report that the kids did learn alot about the history of the Valley and science of winemaking.

Today was the Mornington Penninsula's turn to open its arms and bottles for yet another visit by yours truly.  The Mornington juts out south of Melbourne, and like the Hunter has been an urban weekend playground for generations.  Although wines have been produced in small quantities for years, high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are gaining global recognition. Yabby Lake and Stonier were on the agenda today, both providing great hospitality, and more important, great wines. If you have the chance, definately check out Yabby Lake's new lunch patio overlooking the vineyards.

The Kookaburra's have gone to bed, and so must I for now. Next blog will likely be from the Adelaide, so we'll chat then.