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Mezze is widely served in the Greek and Middle eastern world. An assortment of little dishes and tasters which accompany a nice ouzo or a glass of wine. So when you read mezze moments you will have tasty snippets of life as I live it, India for four years and now Brisbane Australia, all served up with some Greek fervour and passion.

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013


I may be a long way away from that tiny little place that I call home. Cyprus has been on the front pages of every magazine, newspaper and headline news on all radio stations, even as far far away as Australia. There is only one plus side- people I have met recently suddenly know where I am from and I have been imprinted on their brain as coming from that troubled island. 
The rest has been a painful and drawn out process with collective intakes of breath at various junctures which leave us all exhausted emotionally and almost weeping. The moment now is one of relative calm after the storm, a small respite, without perhaps total clarity but the hope, because that is what it is, that we may be going forward, rather then backwards in the abyss and the ignominy of bankruptcy.

I wonder if in the immediate aftermath of this total trauma there will be any cries for answers, some attribution of blame, some understanding of how things went SO wrong. Whether people will demand some explanations from those in charge of why action was not taken earlier and the islands fate was allowed to got to the wire. When there are bigger forces than you determining your path, you have to be cognisant of what it takes to tow the line. 

It is one thing to go for the trappings of power, it is another thing altogether to exercise it with responsibility and accountability.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Australian rules...

Are not to be dismissed whether they apply to Rugby, their very own game which they are immensely proud of, or to Customs and Excise. In fact dare I say it everything here is governed by clear rules and Australians and by extension all others who live here like us, seem to be extremely law abiding and compliant. Not a bad thing I know after the unruliness and the lack of any clear guidelines from a place that shall remain nameless but which you can probably all guess.

So packing the container was an art form. We were advised - no food, so copious quantities of halloumi went to my lovely neighbour in Delhi and no spices, so such that I had went to my landlady. Then there was the issue of no earth or dirt on garden furniture and tents. That is a big no no and god forbid that you should have any skins, plants, bones or other such items. So the massive giraffe bone had to be taken to London and the skulls to the flat. In spite of all my careful planning though I was sure that we had inadvertently left or included " offending items" which we knew would be confiscated or perhaps fumigated or both. Bits of wood on which we hung our batiks from Africa. Termite free we hoped but that was not something you could assess properly on a cursory glance as the Indian packer was wrapping paper around them. A jar half full of coffee that again the eager Indian packer had magically wrapped up before we even had time to think about it. Old wooden antiques which were dubious at the best of times. So we were anxious for our load - all forty foot of it and assumed the worst to avoid being disappointed. Fumigation, chastisement and perhaps a flogging like in the good ol' days when immigrants or convicts arrived on the shores. Don't get me wrong. I am totally sympathetic with their protectionist policy. I would be too if I had seen the country overrun by rabbits and all the other pests that occasionally brought bigger problems to this continent then they solved.

So when I heard that it had cleared customs and there was one offending item I was hugely reassured but also curious as to what is could be. I had been reasonably careful. I was told I had a choice of having the offending article fumigated for $333 or destroyed for $22.

This is it !
Yes, I was surprised as you are, first because in all the forty foot this is what they found and secondly because I had carefully thrown away any Xmas decks which involved bark or dried plants - but this one dear readers was purely artificial !

So I went back to the moving company and confirmed that I would like it destroyed for $22 and then cheekily asked - why on earth does it cost $22 to destroy to which I was informed that a special man had to come along and put the "offending item" in a special bin. Gotta love 'em and their rules. 

Friday, 15 March 2013

Botanic Gardens II

At the risk of boring some of you I am going to blog a little more about the gardens. The richness of the fauna and flora is perhaps the single most remarkable aspect of this country and it is something I think that I will return to often and write about with the eye, hopefully, of a keen observer.

I wanted to share with you the ancient steps from the river that lead to the house re-built in 1901 for the curators of the gardens. There is something comforting in the way they have endured in the shade of the beautiful trees that flank either side.

The neat cottage that was built for them and which at some point was converted into a cafe. Now it awaits some other re birth and is home to the occasional homeless person which is not entirely a bad thing. 

In India I came across the Behr Tree, and I blogged about it in a blog called Apples but not quite. Here I have come across what I am told is the Elephant Apple tree. It is just as impressive, if not more, and here are some of its incredibly hard, almost wooden apples that grow to a large size. 

It got its common name I think because Elephants eat them but whether this is true I do not know. What I do know is that they are known as "Bush Tucker" here - food from the rainforest.
The forest yields so much - look at this wild ginger which has the most vibrant blue flowers.

Another tree that intigued me was the Bixa tree or Lipstick tree. We couldnt find any pods to yield the colour that gave this tree its name, so I will have to return to the gardens when they are ripe to show you what they are like. The colour was used as lipstick , body paint and to colour foods. Then there is the Ginko tree which is used medicinally and a tree called Bakhousia Citriadora, the common lemon myrtle tree whose leaves smell strongly of lemon. One of my mother's favourites and of course used in cooking and in teas, commonly also known as lemon verbena. Apparently here it is regarded as the "Queen of lemon herbs" and for good reason. I should also mention the Bunya Pine, planted by Walter Hill and forming a whole avenue in the gardens, not to mention the nut trees which he planted, the most famous of which is the Macadamia. The big oversized cones of the Bunya can weigh up to ten kilos. They are full of pine nuts and were used by the Aboriginals as a good source of food.
Finally in this section of bush tucker food I will show you the Davidson Plum which is extremely tart even when ripe but which can produce some good jam. I will look out for it. 

There is so much more, the ramrod bamboos whose invasive roots spread fast, the Quadong and the Tamarind, the Silky Oaks and the Firewheel Tree. Perhaps more at some other time. 

I will finish today's blog with a picture of the fountain built in 1867 when mains water was introduced to Brisbane which is named after Walter Hill, as one of the ways to acknowledge this man's immense lifetime commitment to the Botanic Gardens. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Botanic Gardens

My last post from India was about Lodhi Gardens, a place of history, natural beauty and human vibrancy. My first outing in Brisbane is fittingly in an equally magical place which combines all the elements that are most dear to me.

The Botanic Gardens in Brisbane are located not far from the river's edge.They started out as a government garden where a sizeable part was used a food garden, cleared and maintained by convict labour. After transportation stopped in 1948, the gardens continued and the Botanic Gardens were officially established in 1855 by Walter Hill. Hill was testing plants to find suitable ones for the colony. He introduced mangoes, pineapples and paw paws, sugar cane and tobacco and of course coffee and grapes to Queensland. He was instrumental in the work he did establishing and nurturing the gardens and his work was carried forward by a number of other curators. Eventually curators lived in a  residence built in the gardens which stands quietly but a little forlornly near the rain forest section of the gardens.  The gardens themselves speak loudly of his legacy. 
It is worth noting that there were devastating floods in 1890, 1893, 1897 and 1974. The more recent ones in 2011 is the level on the small white sign you can see in the picture. This is because Brisbane is built in a flood plain and these floods are likely to recur but the city has become better prepared to deal with them. 

I had the privilege and honour to be guided round the garden by Les, a knowledgeable volunteer guide who was so keen to share the delights of the garden with me we spent three hours wandering round, rather than the more expected one hour. His father emigrated from Manchester England but he was born and raised in Brisbane and has lived here all his life. He found a new appreciation of the flora  when he became a volunteer guide. Along the walk we stopped many times to admire the seeds, pods and fruit of so many of the trees and bushes in the garden that Les wanted to show me. 

There was so much to appreciate and take in but I will share with you the ones that stuck in my mind, for their name, their story or their origin. There are 26 types of fig tree and of course having come from India I am well acquanted with some of them. The fig trees in Australia are no less impressive and spread wide with pride in the gardens their aerial roots anchors along their path.

We saw many cyciads some more familar than others but I found this one appealling which is called the Cardboard plant. Its leaves are like cardboard for sure.

The varieties of palm tree were impressive, elegant royal palms in the distance, silvery palms called the Bismark palm which I hadn't come across before, (no prizes for guessing who it was named after), fan tail and traveller palms and the fox tail palms. 

The sausage tree with it impressive pendulous sausages.It is also called the Cucumber tree or Kigelia  tree and its origins are in sub tropical Africa. The Kigelia's pods are considered fertility charms, its seeds when roasted are used as famine food. Bird and animals love it and David Livingstone is said to have pitched camp under a Kigelia tree while on his travels in Africa. ( Taken from the gardens March leaflet. )

Perhaps my favourite of the day was the Golden Penda which was in full resplendent flower and radiated yellow warmth and sunshine to us to counteract the days of grey of late. 

More about the gardens in my next blog. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Relentless Rain

My leather mocassins are soaked through. Lesson no 1 adopt flip flop footwear all year round. 
My hair could not be tamed in a hurricane of hair dryers. There is a mustiness and some steam coming from my body after this prolonged, relentless exposure to Brisbane rain. 

I can see how and why flooding happens, I can see the insidious side of it. It creeps up behind you and engulfs you and leaves you powerless in its path. I have to look at Floodwise reports before considering any house to live in and Noah would have loved it here. 
The grey covers the sky, occasionally it turns to black and then it is sheeting down. Otherwise there is a gentle but constant patter on the tin roofs, the gullies are streams of clear and copious rain water and thank god for the storm drains and the relative sophistication of the sewage and drainage system. Memories of India at its worst arise here so perhaps this is a step in the right direction, as the water actually manages to go somewhere here. 
Still the lusciousness of the vegetation is the obvious winner all round, and time, much time to absorb the fine writing of Robert Hughes as he unfolds the epic history of Australia's founding through his book "The Fatal Shore".The need to keep my thoughts in check a struggle of some proportions.