David Sedaris shares Australian diary entries

Melbourne, May 17, 2004.

One. The trip from Bangkok took 12 hours and included a two-hour layover in Sydney. We arrived at 6am and disembarked to find large crowds of healthy looking people lining up for platters of sausage and bacon. There were eggs as well, but meat seemed to take centre stage. The airport was bright and modern, and going through security we saw a man trying to pass the X-ray scanner with a large jug of laundry detergent. I wondered if it was his own, or if he was offering it as a gift to whoever was waiting at his final destination. Either way they weren't going to let him pass, and he was angry about it.

Two. Melbourne reminds me of western Canada, Victoria or Vancouver but that may be due to the weather. That and the cleanliness, which is shocking in comparison to Bangkok. It's autumn here, cool and dry. Leaves are falling from the trees, and this seems miraculous to me. We spent yesterday afternoon in the Royal Botanic Gardens, which included a lot of palms and strange-looking plants seemingly designed by Dr Seuss. Neither Hugh nor I had slept on the flight from Bangkok, so after an hour or so of wandering around, we settled beside a pond and took a nap. We weren't out for long, and awoke to the sound of a large man chasing a football. The children he was with had kicked it, and it just missed our heads. "Sorry, mates," he said.

Three. The National Gallery of Victoria is holding a Caravaggio exhibit, and large banners are hanging outside the building. Hugh went in to nose around, and while I waited out front, a man approached and asked if I had seen the exhibition. I told him no, and he looked at me for a moment before saying, "Let me guess, you're French, right?" "No, American." "Well, you have a French accent," he said. No, I don't. Then he pointed to the painting reproduced on the banner, and told me that it was a Matisse rather than a Caravaggio. "The museum lied," he said. "And, besides, it can't be a Caravaggio because it's not religious." I pretended to consider this, and he laid a hand on my shoulder, and told me to have a good day.

May 18

One. I'm looking for a mean Australian but can't seem to find one anywhere. Everyone I've come across is polite and talkative, from the man selling newspapers to the young art students working at the museum gift shop. Last night we went to a fancy Italian restaurant where the waitress, a Canadian, told us that the country has a big problem with road rage. "It's the built-up pressure that comes from being nice all the time," she explained. "They get behind the wheel and they crack."

Two. I like B, the young publicist assigned to escort me to all of my interviews. She's 25, and pretty, with that pleasant habit of working the other person's name into every line of conversation. "To tell you the truth, David, I find it a bit daggy." This means uncool. Black socks with shorts is daggy. "I had this one author, David, who used to always take me off." This means that he imitated her. B says, "No worries," which seems to mean fine. "He'll be with you in a minute." "No worries." She also says, "How are you going?," which means, "How are you doing?" "How are you going, David?" "Oh, I'm fine." "Would you like another flat white?" "Sure, but do we have time?" "Oh, no worries." Coming home from our final interview she told of the time her brother was arrested for public nudity. "He and his friends, David, they took off they clothes at the golf course and started chasing kangaroos."

Three. I thought a singlet was a vest, but it's actually a sleeveless T-shirt. This was explained by Bob Hart, a reporter for the Herald Sun. We met late yesterday afternoon, in a pastry shop overlooking the river. He's an expert on regional accents, and after asking B to recite the alphabet he correctly guessed her neighbourhood, her school, and her religious denomination. "I hear the Catholic H that was almost, but not quite beaten out of you," he said to her. "Am I right?" He was.

May 19th

One. This morning I have a radio interview followed by a segment on Good Morning Australia. "I just want to warn you that the host of the show has a really big head," B said. She doesn't mean that he's conceited, just disproportioned. Apparently, it's taken previous guests by surprise and they've just sat there staring, unable to speak.

Sydney, May 20

One. B hired a limo to take us from the hotel to Melbourne Airport. Hugh and I got into the back seat and had gone three blocks when I noticed a pornographic magazine tucked into the seat pouch normally reserved for newspaper. It was called Ralph and included an article headlined, "How to make her orgasm ... with your dick."

May 23

One. Yesterday I was free until 2.30, so Hugh and I took a boat to Taronga Zoo where I finally saw a dingo. I was expecting a cross between a hyena and a Tasmanian devil, but it looked just like a medium-sized dog. There was a group of them, roaming a small territory behind a moat, and then there was a stuffed one that visitors were allowed to pet. You don't normally see taxidermy at a zoo. It confuses the children, but I think it's a good idea. The stuffed dingo crouched on a table in the middle of the Australia section, and was watched over by a table of volunteers, who were all women in their late 60s. "Come and pet the animals," they cried. "See what their fur feels like." I, like most people, started with the koala, which had definitely seen better days. It huddled on a short length of eucalyptus branch, staring at a distant potato chip stand with dull lopsided eyes. Beside the koala was a platypus as stiff as a fraternity paddle, and beside him a wombat. We saw all these animals in the flesh, but I think I preferred them stuffed, and placed side by side on the table, this little peaceable kingdom where they all got along. Other highlights of the zoo were the interactive kangaroo display and a spot where, for $3, you could have your picture taken with a koala. You couldn't touch him but you could come fairly close, and have him sleeping in the background.

Two. There were a lot of Greeks at yesterday's reading and one of them informed me that one of our own, a Dr George Papanicolaou, invented the pap smear.

David Sedaris will speak at the Sydney Opera House on January 18 and 19, and the Arts Centre Melbourne on January 20 and 21.

This story David Sedaris shares Australian diary entries first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.