10 December 2006

I'd break for tea and The Ashes if only I could

So it's been a very busy weekend so far. I've done all the dishes, and the laundry (including the linens), and the great closet purge of unworn items, and the donations to the PTA Thrift Stop and the Goodwill®, and some basic rearrangement of the living room, too. Got new tires for the truck, and hung some new drapes, have got to a stopping point on fixing my beloved computer (rant about that the next time). And this all combined with some extra weekend filing and letters for work. Tonight, dear WR and myself will meet up at the Dorton Arena over at the State Fairgrounds and watch The Carolina Rollergirls® in their season finale (nothing like going with a gay friend to watch flat track roller derby). I can get a lot done when I'm motivated, and some weekends are better than others. Perhaps it's only child syndrome, but I do much better when there are few distractions (read: people) around to give me new ideas. I do not have ADD or ADHD, but I do easily shift and cut short my attention span generally. I am the 'honey do' list maker and list 'completer' for this household, and I've been on a roll...after weeks of slacking.

However, this push to 'get motivated and to get things done' is recently born and, in many ways, forced. A couple of Wednesdays ago (over our long Thanksgiving holiday weekend) it was not looking so promising. We had this lingering winter storm that dumped a few inches of rain here (which led to some localized flooding), near freezing temperatures, and some 'junior size' howling winds (30-40mph)...for two, almost three, days straight, starting on that Monday. In short, we got an early blast of winter far earlier than we ever do here (we're normally fairly temperate). I had planned to take pictures of some of the beautiful fall trees that weekend out west in the mountains and then some also here, but by that Tuesday morning there was no leaves attached to anything that quantified the effort. So goes another fall's glory undocumented here. I have pictures of places all over the world during all different seasons, but sadly have very few from here...and none during its most glorious Nature dances, spring and fall. So that Wednesday morning I stood at my patio window and looked out onto a parking lot awash with gold, rose, chestnut, and red leaves fighting for survival in the fast-driven streams of water. I stood there, drinking my cuppa, watching small branches bend and break in the gusty winds and tried to think of some reason...other than money I'd earn from my job...why I should get out in the mess. None came, but I went to work anyway. And besides I was out of tea and would need more.

So sometime this past Thursday 'payday' evening, as I stood in the gargantuan grocery aisle of coffees, teas, and high-energy drinks of Lowes® grocery, I realized I would never find the tea in question over here. The tea, I soon realized, was a gift from a mate in Kensington (or thereabouts) in Sydney, some years ago that I'd kept in a tin all this time, carefully treasuring each brewing. I stood there, holding the empty tin, and had to laugh at myself. This was, as he told he at the time of the gift, the official tea of Australian cricket, after all. I was not as impressed initially as he had hoped apparently, so he further animatedly explained that this was the tea that was served during tea breaks for the Oz cricket matches. After some minutes past (and, I have to admit it, some feigned enthusiasm for a game and tea I could care less about at the time), I realized I was being given a souvenir of some great magnitude (at least to the giver), a memento of my time watching cricket matches on the telly with this fellow at the TAB bar he managed. (Fellow Yanks: the closest thing I can compare this to is maybe being a foreigner watching baseball the first time in a sports bar, impressing the bartend somehow by not making a fool out of yourself, and being given some packaged Nathan® hot dogs to return home with, as a sign 'you'd made the grade' with the locals.)

Not only was I the only American who had ever asked him to explain cricket at his bar, but I was also the only American female...and, being the child of a baseball fanatic and former minor league pitcher, I saw a few similarities and (amazingly) retained some of the instruction. This had impressed him a great deal, as he had a low opinion of Yanks in general and Yank women in specific. While I didn't appreciate it until much later (actually in Melbourne this year, and frankly that would not have happened except that my then traveling companion and I went to Melbourne when the city was virtually dead, half the population gone on holiday, and seemingly nothing to do), I realize now how much this gift of tea and knowledge of his favourite sport meant to him. After this last trip to Melbourne, in fact, I came back a fan of the game. My traveling companion was so enthralled that I bought her a paperback but still quite durable copy of "The Art of Cricket", written by Sir Donald Bradman, while I was visiting Coffs Harbour. (Yanks and other non-cricketers: Bradman is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, cricket player in history. Check this out if you need an introductory primer, under the "can anybody explain cricket to a Yank so she'll understand it?" heading.) No wonder the pimply-faced teenager selling it on Grafton Street there looked at me askance...he probably wondered if I even had a clue.

But now, 3-4 years later after its first receipt, books or no books, Melbourne or Coffs or Sydney or no, I am out of the official Australian cricket tea and cannot find it anywhere. Which, frankly, is absurd given all the options available to US consumers and all of the trade agreements our government has signed over the years. In even the largest supermarkets in Oz, I can maybe find half an aisle side of even the most in-demand items; here, that would fill up an entire aisle, both sides, and be twice as long. For example, I wandered into the largest Coles® supermarket in all of NSW this last trip, and in comparison, but it was only about 70% of the size of just the average Wal-Mart® Supercenter food section. (Which makes me seriously wonder what the hell is all this crap we Yanks are buying in the first place. An entire aisle, stocked from top to bottom on both sides, 50 feet long if not more, of cereal? Another of soft drinks? And another of cookies and crackers? And still we have millions hungry...amazingly shameful.) It's bad enough one cannot get a decent Oz beer here (read: not Fosters®), even if they did raise the alcohol levels in North Carolina last year. Not only can I not find a bottle of my beloved Carlton Crown Lager® here, I also can't even buy its sturdy standby (and unofficial Oz spokesbeer) Victoria Bitter (VB)®. It's worse that a new cricket convert can't listen to and/or watch the The Ashes competition between Oz and England online, because of some obtuse regulation about only broadcasting in only the home countries involved...and Lord knows cricket will never make it to mainstream American airwaves (unless a costly pay per view) in my lifetime. So I can't get the beer, the food, the culture, The Ashes, and God only knows what else here affordably, if not at all. But I love the damn tea, even if my grandmother was heavily involved with the Daughters of the American Revolution and drinking tea here is widely considered 'un-American'. So I decided to look for distributors of the beloved tea...as an early Christmas present to myself.

But the tea is not to be found. Anywhere here (and here is the continental United States, so far), apparently. You can get something similar (or at least what is called "Oz's best seller" from the importer website), and for a rather hefty price for a half-size container and 7-8 weeks' shipping wait. So much for the early prezzie for later this month, but with any luck I might get it for myself for my birthday. Might, I say. Adding all shipping and handling, we're approaching $38 USD for one tin of tea...more if the USD continues to slide...before shipping and taxes. Being the thrifty girl I am, I'm not sure I can't hold out. $38 less on a small tin of tea of the substandard is $38 closer to actually being back on a plane there and indulging in pots of the better variety. I've always said if the Aussies truly wanted to take over the world, they'd massively export their Tim Tams® and their beer here. As gullible as we are at spending money at the Outback Steakhouse® chain with their mounted plastic crocodiles and boomerang collections, Lord knows it would not be hard to get an addiction for their standbys started. Just look how we've taken to "The Bloomin' Onion"® which isn't Aussie at all...yet 3 members of my tour group to Oz in 2003 demanded we find a restaurant that served one. (Christine Kenneally over at Salon.com a few years ago took issue with this well-perpetrated fraud, too.) Untraveled Yanks want Aussies (and Aussie culture) to be some robust, hard-drinking mix of Paul Hogan and Steve Irwin and Mad Max, and that applies to 'their' food, too. Authenticity be damned.

So, in a manner fitting of my sometime (mis)adventures with the Lucky Country, I can't get, experience, view, eat, or reasonably purchase the authentic items when in a crunch of Ozland wishfulness over here. However, this being America, I can get the fakes or the exceptionally overpriced items if I'm willing to shill out the money. It's yet another major difference between us and them, I suppose. So now...temporarily, I hope...I will forgo trying to listen to cricket or eating Tim Tams® or washing with Pears® and continue not going to Outback Steakhouse®. And I've suspended my search for O'Connells tea® (like that of previous searches for lemon-lime Lift® and Nudie's juices®). Some things are obviously best experienced...and enjoyed...in their native lands.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Who needs to figure out cricket when they've got a contact sport played in fishnet stockings? Now I have a reason to go see America. Am I in heaven or has women's liberation simply run amok? As Jack Handey put it, "To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other."