Posted by: adorsk | January 21, 2009

Listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go

Down Under or to an Alternate Universe?

In mid-January I went to Australia to join the the the University of Washington’s research ship, the Thomas G. Thompson.  Or at least I think I went to Australia.  I may have actually been sucked into an alternate universe.  Thus the E.E. Cummings line that titles this post.

I’ve heard that alternate universes are supposed to be very similar to our own but with minor differences.  Big things like the law of gravity are usually the same.  But then you find out that everyone is left-handed, or that bananas are purple.  That sort of thing.  That’s why it’s so hard to distinguish between an alternate universe and another developed Western nation.  In both cases everything seems mostly the same, but with a subtle twist.

There are some reasons to think that I did go to another world.  Time travel was involved.  At some time during my flight across the Pacific I jumped from the late evening of January 14th to the early afternoon of January 15th.  The international dateline has erased the morning of January 15th from my life.

The seasons had shifted as well.  I had left Boston in deep winter, snow and ice piled high.  When I arrived at the Sydney airport it was suddenly the middle of summer.  People were strolling through the terminals in flip-flops and shorts.

Yet things were mostly the same.  There were cellphones and newspapers.  There was electricity and running water.  Most people spoke English.  They even dropped their ‘R’s, like in Boston.

But there were those subtle twists.  People spoke with a British cadence.  Airport golf carts drove on the left.  The airport televisions had rugby scores rather than football scores.

I continued on to Hobart (the ticket agent: ‘Going on to Ho-bat, mate?’) where I would meet the ship.  I arrived on a Friday, two days before I would join the ship.

Hobart: a Hell of a Nice Universe

If I really I was in another universe then it turned out to be a hell of a nice one after all.  Hobart is in the Southeastern part of Tasmania, nestled between tall forested hills and a finger of the Tasman sea that juts inland.  In past days it had been a whaling and shipping port.  It has since transformed into a small but thriving city filled with waterfront restaurants, quirky shops, and energy.  Less Moby Dick, more Moby the sound artist.

I agree

I agree


A typically witty Hobart shop

A typically witty Hobart shop


Hobart from the waterfront

Hobart from the waterfront


A park in central Hobart

A park in central Hobart

When I was there it felt like late Springtime in New England.  The air was mild and breezy and the city was in full vegetable eruption.  Clouds peeled off the mountains in the morning sunrise.

I walked around town, going through the gardens, walking along the waterfront.  I got the sense that Tasmanians took pride in their city.  It was clean and well-kept.  The stores and restaurants were locally owned.  There were advertisments for local bands and community meetings, and even  ruined pianos.

Hobart wants your ruined pianos

Hobart wants your ruined pianos

To market, to market

On Saturday there was the Salamanca market.  Salamanca is a neighborhood of what used to be shipping warehouses.  These days the warehouses hold restaurants and art galleries.  Limestone buildings stretch out along the waterfront, with trees, fountains, and parks lining the main avenue.

The market was easily the best street market I have been to in any universe.  The entire Salamanca strip had turned into a swirling river of people channeled by lines of market stalls.  The crowds meandered under rainbow-colored windsocks and flags.  The aroma of spiced lamb wafted out from Kebab stands.  There were musicians at every corner.  Artists did portraits, vendors hawked their crafts.

setting up for the market in the morning

setting up for the market in the morning


A very young entrepreneur

A very young entrepreneur


Salamanca market

Salamanca market


portraits at Salamanca market

portraits at Salamanca market


music at the market

music at the market


Salamanca market

Salamanca market

The diversity and quality of goods amazed me.  There were fresh-picked cherries, carved wooden chess sets, and mobiles made of tea kettles.  There were vegetables and hats and soda-can sculptures.  There were licorice rolls and wool slippers.  What was not there were ‘made in China’ stickers or shoddy plastic toys.  Everything had been made locally.

hats at the market

hats at the market


hand-made candles, my personal favorite thing at the market

hand-made candles, my personal favorite thing at the market


bring breakfast back to life with...

bring breakfast back to life with...

Perhaps this wasn’t an alternate universe. Perhaps I was actually entering the real universe for the first time.  The world I left behind seemed a sham by comparison, filled with cheap plastic shapes.  Maybe this was the real world, a place where people made things and appreciated them.  I’m still not sure.  Many places seem dull now compared to the Salamanca market.

After the market I walked through the parks.  There were jugglers on the lawns, and even a traveling Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit with working models made from his drawings.  It was a very good time to be in Hobart.

traveling Da Vinci exhibit in Hobart

traveling Da Vinci exhibit in Hobart

Shipping Out

I went to meet the ship the next day .  The Thompson is a large research ship (though still small by shipping standards), a touch under 300 feet long.  Most things were similar to other research ships I had been on.  Same sort of equipment.  Same fluorescent lab lights, same weathered wooden lab tables.  Though with slightly different layouts, as if someone had shuffled all your furniture around.  Subtle twists.

the Thompson in Hobart

the Thompson in Hobart

I got ready to leave over the remaining days in port.  In the early mornings I walked through the city gardens and along the water.  During the days I met the Thompson’s crew and learned about the ship’s systems.  In the evenings I went to nearby Prince’s park and played guitar.

morning dew on a Hobart garden

morning dew on a Hobart garden


Rowing on the Hobart harbor

Rowing on the Hobart harbor

And then it was time to go.  We left in the afternoon just before the sun went behind the mountains.  We passed through a regatta, wend under the Tasman bridge, and dropped off the harbor pilot.  in a few hours we were back out sea, on our way East to another universe next door.

Chief mate J watches for traffic under the Tasman bridge

Chief mate J watches for traffic under the Tasman bridge


The pilot departs.  G'day mate.

The pilot departs. G'day mate.


Leaving Hobart

Leaving Hobart

I have some more Hobart photos here if you want to see more:

Hobart Photos

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Responses

  1. […] Hobart […]

    • Alex, I miss you

  2. Hi,
    I hope you may be able to help me.

    The photo ” music at the market”. I am trying to find contact details for the bald headed guitar player at the markets.

    Can you help me with his details as I wish to purchase his music CD’s.
    many thanks
    Colin Christie
    Sydney NSW
    0298752191
    colinj@exemail.com.au

  3. His name is Cary Lewincamp. He is an amazing guitarist! His website is http://www.cary.com.au/


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