Nous Restons Unis (United We Stand)

There I was standing in solidarity amongst my French friends as we gathered together to mourn a tragedy. For me, it was an attack on Paris and on humanity, but for them it had the added element of being an attack on home. We all felt a sense of loss, but the drive, the history and the emotion behind it varied. No one’s emotions are ever less than another’s, but they are, by nature, inherently different. I was standing in the crowd. It was an almost out of body experience. I was part of the moment but a bystander as well. I glanced around. Thousands had gathered. A sea of voices surrounded me, but they were speaking a language I only know pieces of. Sometimes when I spend time with my French friends, I jokingly remind them to speak in english (side note-very rarely is this necessary…they are all incredibly thoughtful in this way, always opting for their second language so I can speak my first). This day, however, was not a day for them to make adjustments for me. It was a day for me to just be. I could pick up words here and there, but only a few. Someone sang a beautiful rendition of the French national anthem. People sang with her.I didn’t know the tune or the words. But somehow that was ok. I was just being. Being a part of a moment that was far bigger than any individual. Bigger than any country. It was a moment where the world was coming together, I thought. Coming together in response to an attack that was meant to tear us apart.

A year ago I think that moment would have been very different for me. A year ago I did not personally know anyone from France. Today I do. I know amazing, incredible women who, like me, have left their homes on a grand adventure to Australia. What brought us to Australia may be different, and we each have unique personalities, histories and stories, but it is these very differences, and the celebration of them that brings such a richness to every shared moment between us. Today I know people from France. I have friends who spent the day contacting everyone they could to see if their friends and family had survived. I can’t even begin to imagine what that felt like.

When I found out about the attacks, I suddenly felt homesick. Overwhelmingly homesick. I just wanted to be back with my family. Then came a pang of guilt. I’m wishing to return home to the safety of my country and family and yet I think about how my friends here must feel. Their home is not a place of safety at the moment. A rush of emotion takes me back to the feeling I had after 9/11. You can never truly compare two tragedies. They were entirely different. But then again, in their most basic sense, they are entirely the same in that they both compromised peoples’ sense of security. There was an immediate loss of safety following 9/11. That day, no American felt truly safe. We fought off fear, we stayed strong, and we persevered, but in that moment, home was not safe. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the feeling after November 13th is similar to me. The world was attacked, humanity was attacked, and for the French specifically, their home was attacked. Fear will be fought off, the people will stay strong, and they will persevere, but this day will never be forgotten- nor should it be.

While I say the moment would be different had I not known anyone from the country, I don’t think it would be any less impactful. I don’t think you have to be directly affected to experience the devastation of an event of this magnitude. This attack was coordinated. It was meticulously planned and expertly carried out. It was disastrous. And, sadly, it is not unique. Terrorism and terrorist attacks seem to be more and more commonplace. This attack was in Paris. There was another in Beirut. The attacks could be anywhere. It becomes less and less about the where, what and how and more about the who and why. No, not even who to blame…who are they attacking? And why?

Say what you will about the president of the United States, but this quote rang true to me:

“This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

–Barack Obama

They aren’t just attacking France or Beirut, they are attacking the the values people hold most dear. The bombs and gunfire struck Paris, but the aftershock has hit the entire world. And the response from the world in the wake o this travesty was overwhelming. Around the globe, landmarks, buildings, media, and Facebook profiles lit up in support of France. In support of the people. In support of peace.

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So on Monday, November 16th, Melbourne organized a peaceful gathering for the French community and supporters. Federation square was set up, guards were in place (just in case) and the French community (as well as official representatives) came together to mourn for the lives lost, not just in France, but around the world. One by one speakers shared their thoughts on the tragedy. Some highlighted the loss of life, others detailed the events, but the all-encompassing message of the night was clear: We will not live our lives in fear. We are one world united.

 

After the speakers, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” played…and for a few minutes, we all just listened. For me, the lyrics rang truer than any other time I’ve heard them.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”

As the official part of the program ended, one of the most poignant moments of the night began. The community joined hands forming a circle and slowly, one by one, people walked to the center and laid down tokens, flowers, candles, shirts and photos in remembrance of the lives lost.

image3Aside from the gentle music in the background, the only sound in the entirety of Federation Square (a city center spot normally abuzz with daily happenings) was the soft clapping as people laid down their offerings. For a moment, time stood still. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever been a part of.

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By the reactions of those walking through the circle, you knew who had lost a loved one. There was one man in particular who broke down completely. I don’t know his story (he was interviewed so maybe at some point it will be released) but in that moment, the details of his story didn’t matter. We all knew. We all felt it. And it was heart breaking.

The emotional crescendo of the evening was when a man walked into the center of the circle and lifted high a shirt with #notafraid written on it. I can’t remember if the symbol above the words was the Eiffel tower or the French flag, but in that moment the words spoke louder than any image. The crowd erupted in cheers. It was the loudest moment of the night, and a beautiful end to the evening.

Overall, to me, it was an experience that was respectful to the community, mournful of the loss felt by all, and yet it was permeated by this sense of strength and unity. In that moment, we were one people. Race, religion and country were all secondary to the one thing we all share: a sense of humanity.

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** Disclaimer– The views expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. I don’t pretend to know or explain how this event impacts anyone but myself. All pictures were shared with permission from my lovely French friends.**

 

 

 

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Australianisms

Back by popular demand, here is another post on the aussie-isms I’ve experienced as of late. I feel all of these lend more support to my continued stance of Australia having it’s own language.

One of my more constant battles here is in regards to measurement systems. Since arriving here I have learned and accepted the use of the Celsius scale. While it had it’s challenges, after using conversions for the first few months to know what the day was in Fahrenheit (it’s approximately celcius x 2 +30 if anyone is curious), I’ve finally learned to recognize what the actual Celcius redings mean without having to convert back.

The same goes for kilos and grams. At first going to the supermarket and ordering 500 grams and 1 kilo seemed very odd, but now it’s second nature to not even need to convert to pounds. I even know my weight in kilos (not sharing). The last, and probably most challenging hurdle for me has been measurements of distance. All my life it has been inches, feet, yards and miles. These units were my norm and never once seemed odd until I came here and was forced into the metric system. Early conversations had me remaining quite defensive of my beloved feet and inches, but more recently I am “seeing the light” so to speak, on the benefits of units that are a set factor difference and therefore easily convertible. Sample conversation:

Friend: but where did feet and miles even come from? I don’t even know how many feet are in a mile.

Me: Oh easy. 5280.

Friend: That’s ridiculous.

Me: Not once you just know the numbers

Friend: Well how many inches in a foot? 10?

Me: 12

Friend: SO DUMB…well what’s smaller than an inch?

ME: ….? Uh…a half inch?

Friend: And smaller?

Me: A quarter of a inch? An eighth of an inch…a sixteenth..etc

Friend: …..*blank stare*

As funny as the conversation was, I honestly can’t disagree with her assessment. It is pretty silly that we can only go to smaller units by fractions. The metric system definitely has some benefits in this regard. However, there is one small caveat to the story. I have caught Australians on more than one occasion refer to their height at 5’4 or 6’2, etc. WHAT? You know your own height in feet and inches, yet you know not what a foot is?? Crazy.

I’ve also had some entertaining lunch chats on the pronunciation of different food items. Apparently, all my life I have been mispronouncing simple words like oregano (or-ay-ga-no), basil (bay-sul), tomato (toe-may-toe). Imagine my surprise when my Aussie friends rattle off “Or-e-gahn-o, bazzle, tom-ah-to.” What? My next question was the ever so obvious “well you don’t call them po-tah-toes do you?” But that only got blank stares, followed quickly by “well you don’t pronounce al-u-min-Ium correctly either.” So that lead to looking up what I call aluminum foil. We had to agree to disagree on this one as it is spelled both ways. My dad pointed out there are multiple spellings depending on country.

An ongoing debate I have with my crew centers around the difference between scones and biscuits, in Australia pronounced scawns and bikkies. To me a scone is dense bread, while a biscuit is soft and fluffy. In Australia, a biscuit is a cookie. Could be sweet or savory but a cookie or cracker like item, and their “Scawns” are more like what I would call a biscuit. For obvious reasons I am perpetually confused when I am offered a biscuit. I truly never know what to expect.

Sticking with the topic of never knowing what to expect…here is my most recent experience with a new Australianism. One afternoon some coworkers came by my office and the conversation was as follows:

Coworkers: Hey do you want to go for a gaytime?

Me: What?

Coworkers: A gaytime. Have you had them before?

Me: No…what?

Coworkers: it’s an ice cream!

Me: OHHHH…sure…yeah. You should lead with the ice cream part….

Seriously guys. It’s a thing….And apparently it’s hard to have one on your own…

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Today is meant to get into the 20’s, so I think after popping over to the store to get a few hundred grams of OREGAHNO, and a couple TOMAHTOS, I’ll walk the half a kilometer back home, snack on some bikkies, and treat myself to a gaytime. Cuz I’m in ‘Straya Mate.

Marys Down Under

This post is long overdue for no good reason other than taking the time to write the entire adventure up seemed completely overwhelming! I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today though, so it’s a great time to reminisce on my first adventure with family in Australia!

Per my previous post, my usual readers will know my grandmother (Nana) came to visit me in Australia in September. To say we had fun would be a huge understatement. Nana and I have been adventure buddies from as far back as I can remember. When she and Papi lived in Chile I was flown over when I was just two years old (my uncle loves to share stories of that trip). When I turned 13 Nana and Papi took me and my cousin to London and Paris. When I was 16 or 17 (can’t remember), Nana joined my family on a month long stay in southern france, and then one summer in college Nana and I did a cruise together along the Amalfi Coast. So it’s only fitting she is the first family to visit me in Australia…and boy did we see it all!

The trip started off with a reunion in Sydney. I flew up from Melbourne on a Friday morning (“wagging” school, as they say here). It just so happened a friend had concert tickets for a show in Sydney that same weekend so we ended up combining our trip. She stayed with a friend, but aside from that joined my Nana and I on our adventures. Another addition was my Nana’s cousin John. I had never met him, so it was very nice to have Nana there to make the introductions. Anyway, that’s enough explaining of our merry (mary) little band of travellers…onto the fun stuff–pictures!

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I found Nana in our beautiful hotel suite at the Intercontinental in Sydney. It was an incredible location, just a short walk from the Opera House. It was a bit overcast, but our room had a bit of a view of the garden.

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John was due to meet us at the hotel within the hour, but Aurelie and I couldn’t wait to go see the sights. We headed off to get a quick glimpse of the bridge and harbour. Beautiful.

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The weather wasn’t as good as the first time I visited Sydney, but that didn’t slow us down! The first day we spent time just wandering around and enjoyed a delicious dinner (I think night one was in China town).

Saturday we rented a car from the hotel and John gave us a driving tour of Sydney. Absolutely incredible to get to see the entire city as we traced our ancestry across town. We ended up at a beautiful cemetery in Sydney. Many of our Australian ancestors were buried here, but for me the surreal moment was seeing a name I not only recognised, but grew up hearing. My great grandmother, grandmommie, while not buried in Australia, has her name on the stone. She was born and raised in Sydney, but followed her heart to San Francisco. She literally brought the family to America.

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The driving tour was absolutely beautiful, but my favourite moment was when we found this beautiful lookout point. After a little prodding I convinced Nana to hop out of the car for a photo op and man am I glad I did!

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Saturday was our biggest day in Sydney as after the day of sight seeing Aurelie and I had a concert to get to (Above and Beyond). I scarfed down some food, and we prepared for the adventure like any 20 something’s would…

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The concert had some crazy light shows going on, and the music was insane. The concert started at 9, but in true australia fashion, the doors weren’t open to the venue until about 5 til. Absolutely insane. It was as if they had forgotten that hundreds of thousands of people were descending upon the OLYMPIC PARK for a concert. It actually didn’t really start until about 11pm (for the main act), but with music going at 9, it was very weird to wait to get in….

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Luckily we found ways to amuse ourselves….

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The concert went until 3am, but I think we left around 2:30 and caught a cab back to the city. I knew Sunday was going to be rough, but with a night like that, it was well worth it.

Sunday we decided to see Sydney by water and my Nana bought us all hop on hop off ferry passes. The ferry itself was way too fun and I took way too many pictures….but when in Sydney…

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We took a break from the cruising around to run through Madame Tussauds. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but we had some fun with the wax…

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We hopped back on the ferry and headed to Watson’s bay for some fish and chips. It was beautiful.IMG_6128

Last on our tour was Manly. I was told I HAD to see Manly, so we made that our final stop of the day, and that beach was gorgeous.

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Needless to say, this stop finished us off for the day and the trip! One last dinner out at an italian restaurant by the water and our time in Sydney was through. Monday we all traveled back to Melbourne. The week in the city was busy busy as I took Nana around to all the must sees in the city, as well as introducing her to my own little “world” here. Tuesday night we had dinner in my neighbourhood with my friend Cassie. We checked out a new restaurant for all of us (Tokyo Tina), and man, that place wins for best food of the entire trip. It was amazing. There was quick bonding as my Nana played her role well, sharing way too many stories of my farm girl days.  The next day Nana came into Uni and met all the professors, staff and students I work with and finally met the supervisor that dragged me across the world to be his PhD student. We went to a lovely dinner in Caroline Springs (middle of nowhere Melbourne–suburbia, if you will), with Jason (supervisor) and his wife and kids. This week was one of my favourites simply because it was filled with so many moments where my worlds collided in a seamless fashion.

Saturday brought our next adventure as we boarded our flight to Tasmania to see the rest of the Australian family. As soon as I landed in Launceston I knew I would love it. It was so green and beautiful. I’ve since heard that hobart is “even better,” but Launceston did not disappoint!

The weekend was spent with Nana’s cousins (John again, Janet (who I’ve met before), and Jane). We also had a lovely lunch and afternoon with one of John’s children’s family on their farm.

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The beautiful greenery

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Overlooking Launceston

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The entrance to John’s house

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Our wheels for the weekend!

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This farm was breathtaking!

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The girls are my “generation”, but a bit on the young side. Luckily I might as well be a kid still. We got along fabulously. They loved showing me their amazing treehouse, entirely built by their father.

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I played the role of family photographer (thanks for all that training Dad), and got this lovely self timer shot.

Following our family time, Janet and I took off in the “little red brick” to visit some wineries.

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We took home a few goodies. Can’t wait to taste my Tassie Pinot Noir again. 🙂

Overall the weekend was very much family focused as we spent the day adventuring, and the nights dining, dishing family gossip, and looking through family heirlooms.

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I insisted on some physical activity (between all the wining and dining), so Janet, Nana and I went to the Gorge, a beautiful mountainous park. The ladies chose a leisurely trail along the river that lead them to the city, while I opted for an out and back the opposite way that had some ups and downs, followed by the “zig zag” track (later found out the zigging and zagging was all Uphill) that lead me back into the city to join them.

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We all started off on the same path, but quickly broke off

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The views were absolutely breathtaking throughout the entire hike. I was going along fine on my own until I saw this stick in my path. As I got closer, I realised the stick was curvy in a very not stick like way…upon closer inspection, my heart dropped through my stomach as I saw it was a snake. 8 months into my Australian adventure and I had to come to Tassie to have my first snake sighting.

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For obvious reasons, I thought I was going to die. For some reason I thought maybe it might be dead and since it was blocking my path I decided to kick some dirt at it to see if it moved. I did and immediately regretted it. Luckily the snake didn’t move much, but thinking back, if I were a snake, I’d be pretty ticked if something came along and kicked dirt on me. I could have slide by it on the path, but I opted for the safer, more mountainous option of rock climbing the wall nearby to avoid it entirely. The rest of my hike was quite thankfully uneventful.

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After a short weekend in Tassie, Nana and I returned to Melbourne where she ventured off with Janet for some time in the country side while I got back to work. She stopped through the city once more over the weekend so we had one last afternoon and evening together. We were so exhausted we ended up just having snacks and champagne in her hotel, but it was a perfect ending. In true Melbourne fashion, we said goodbye over a brunch Monday morning.

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It was an absolutely amazing adventure, and I truly hope she can make it back to Australia once more. With the holidays fast approaching I am feeling more of that homesickness. I have surprised myself a bit with how well I’ve adjusted to my new life, but I know Thanksgiving and Christmas will be a stretch for me, having never spent these apart from my family. Luckily my parents are gifting me with the presence of my sister for Christmas. My next big adventure starts December 22nd when she lands in Melbourne. I cannot wait! We have a beach house with friends booked for christmas (because this year my white christmas will be SAND instead of snow), and we are working on a great barrier reef trip as well as visiting some koalas, penguins and vineyards.

There is so much more to catch up with via this blog, but I doubt most will read this far anyway with the length of the post. I’ll save the rest for the next round.