We left New England on Monday with the threat of a mid-March (late!) snowstorm on the way; we arrived in Sydney Wednesday morning (local time) with palm trees and air conditioning.
We tumbled into our hotel bed, and slept solidly until 5:00 p.m., when we woke with a start and hurriedly dressed — we had opera that evening!
I got over my La Traviata fix years ago, but still, it was wonderful to listen to an opera that we know so well and really didn’t have to think about. The singers were great (but not Met quality, I must admit); the staging traditional, the setting spectacular. We had made reservations for dinner in the Brasserie Restaurant, which turned out to be the foyer of the Joan Sutherland theatre within the Sydney Opera House, with an impossibly beautiful view out over the harbor and the bridge which we enjoyed as the sun set.
It made me realize that the Kennedy Center in Washington — built the same decade as the Sydney Opera House and also in a remarkable location — is built to be looked at — once inside there are no views. Sidneysiders did a whole lot better.
Then to bed, and did we ever crash! But woke up early of course.
Yesterday morning I explored a bit and ended up at the Aquarium. It’s not the thing I’m usually into, but this one was great. Including: a “living fossils” tank (including a fish that spends 90% of its time on land. We all studied in school that life began in the oceans and then the little guys crawled onto land; well, I’ve seen it!). There’s a dugong tank — dugongs being related to manatees and proof that sailors have vivid imaginations to turn them into mermaids. And the ubiquitous shark tank with monsters quietly soaring past over our heads. One tank held nothing but moon jellies, the jellyfish with a sting that’s a killer. Beautiful creatures, but lethal.
I came back to the hotel and Frank and I had lunch in a cafe in the Queen Victoria Building, an 1880s ediface that fills an entire block and has been turned into an extremely modern shopping space. Then we dressed, and took a taxi to Kirribilli, which turns out to be the near suburb immediately on the other side of the bridge. Definitely the high-rent district, and we were the guests of the Reserve Bank, Australia’s central bank and the counterpart of our Federal Reserve. Here we joined 30 other Rotarians for an update on the Peace Centers and an evening devoted to the intersection of economic development and peace.
Joseph is a Rotary Peace Fellow who grew up in a small village in Kenya, was orphaned at age seven, and attended a village school where he learned to write in the sand. No books or writing materials. Somehow, his extended family saw that he got a decent education, and he ended up getting his master’s in peace and conflict resolution at the University of Queensland. He’s still here — when he isn’t back in East Africa, working to ensure that multinationals investing in these countries are doing right by the countries as well as by their shareholders. He has his Ph.D. now, and he said that by definition he is an “elder” in his village, even though he’s younger than the other elders. And that when he returns, he remembers that if Rotary hadn’t intervened, he would still be back in the village, a subsistence farmer like the other young men of his generation.
I should add that our dining room was on the top floor of a five-story building, across the street from Government House (the home of the Prime Minister when he is in Sydney); and the view back to the opera house and the skyline as the sun set was impossibly beautiful.