Updated 22 January 2006

Yep, another one!  And late too, but what's a person to do.  But for the first time in this series of annual letters, I had to make some hard choices.  Paper as in the past, email document as per last year, blog (just to prove I know an 'in' word other than phishing and RSS feed), or plain old website.  I may know about blog, but I can't do one yet, so website here we are!

Back in 1991 when my friend Don Hayes suggested I write a Christmas letter from Perth, I would not have thought I would still be doing so after 15 years, so I hope it still serves a purpose (other than for those who live close to me and who could probably write the unexpurgated epistle).  And don't worry, I won't be repeating the bodily functions letter of several years back explaining the newly discovered joys of getting up at 4am to pee, nor to tell you about the fact my knees now crack when I walk up to my bedroom (see new toy later on).  This may of course, have to do with the fact that this was the year of 'Hawaii 50'.

I have to say that I so thoroughly enjoyed my 40th in Sydney, I was wondering whether I could be so lucky as to repeat the experience.  So I must be one lucky bastard (southern dialect there), as I was treated to a wonderful night at the players American home of golf, the TPC Club at Sawgrass.  Not only did two blonde bombshells sing Happy Birthday Mr President to me,     but my cunning, conniving family in Australia managed to ship over several hundred incriminating photos that proved I did in fact (for one small moment in time) have absolutely no dress sense, and at one stage was a shameless exhibitionist.     So everyone saw my whole life from 0 to 50.  James McIntyre put together a very skillful and clever computer montage that distorted everything so much it almost appeared normal.

I obviously now have no way to be embarrassed further, so let's continue.

As many of you know, I have taken up cycling in my dotage, however I seem to have run with the wrong crowd as my riding friends here enjoy doing things like double centuries.  Miles that is (black gold, Texas tea........).  So each March we ride 100 miles from Quincy FL to Albany GA (collapse overnight, feed, water, sleep, pee at 4am) , and then having enjoyed it so much, we do it all again the next day.  It must have been about 20F when we started the second day, the air was blue.  And it wasn't the fog that made it so.     Now those of you with children, or pets (and especially both), will understand why I need to tell you that Genghis broke the ball joint of his leg in May, needing surgery and an extended convalescence to heal.  I was stunned to find that with cats, they just cut the 
ball off and stitch them back up!  The sinews and the muscles around the bones take over after a while - like 6 months, and now he is almost as good as new.  Poor kid was born with a heart defect,  has an auto allergy (to himself), and then this (which in veterinarian speak = one expensive cat).  Meanwhile his litter sister Chaka (who is sitting and purring on my lap as we speak), has never had a day sick in her life.  Girls obviously rule.

June saw a wonderful experience as I joined friends from both Perth and Jacksonville in Provence (click it) for my first biking holiday.    The highlights were many, but riding up the 6000' Mt Ventoux (part of the Tour de France route) had to be the major accomplishment.  Not the fastest (until you hit 50mph down the other side), but under my own steam.  Yeah, lots of steam actually.  The slope averages ~9% with 1km sections at 12%, so unless you are a pro racer, it is a challenge.  The group was fun and despite bloody Delta Airlines losing my bike for the first 4 days (of a 6 day ride), I would do similar again in a heartbeat.  We found out what Rousillon red is, discovered a new cinghiale each day (ask one of the riders), and saw first hand why too much butt butter is a bad thing.  Here we see Victor and Walter in Vaison la Romaine  
  training hard for the next day's ride.  The scenery was truly magnificent (you can get to lots of little places on side roads), the organisers were excellent, and the riding was reasonably hard (50-70 miles daily).    And as if that wasn't enough, we stayed a second week at a friend's  house in the hills above Cannes, Bill Isles came from Sydney to join us as did Janet Sutherland from Perth.  We played the country lairds.  Almond croissants for breakfast, trips to Aix or Mougins for lunch, almond croissants for afternoon tea, and cooked at home better than some places at which we ate (I know that is a hard call in France, but we had Janet!).  Oh, and almond croissants before bed - we figured we had burned off enough calories the previous week.  The nearby village of Valbonne    served the best daube I have ever tasted.  We had the best meal of the trip at restaurant '24 Suquet' in Cannes which you must visit if ever there, the boys would love to see you (ciao a'l Roberto ed Alain se state leggendo questo) and were sad to leave as you would expect.  Of course I was depressed for the next two months.

Until I visited Brasil for the first time.  Being in that country was as much a dream as visiting Argentina, but fortunately Russell Ferrier living in BsAs now makes the latter very easy.  Unfortunately the Brasilian trip was for work (and thus only 3 days), visiting a mine on the edge of the jungle.  We traveled from Miami to Sao Paolo, to Recife, to Joao Pessoa, then by car along a dirt road to the mine at Mataraca.  I tasted so many new things it was intoxicating, breakfast juices of caju (cashew), graviola and pitanga.  We tried several types of cashasa (I didn't know you could get aged dark cashasa, the cheaper clear cashasa is apparently only for making caipirinhas) in a restaurant on the ocean in a little village that needed an hour's journey along a dark road to reach.  We walked the last 400m on the sand, the village had no roads.  The place was owned by a guy who moved up from Sao Paolo as he had fallen in love with the local fisherman, and they opened the restaurant together.  Brokeback Mountain has nothing on Mataraca!  I also was at the extremo oriental das americas as you can see.     

Actually most of June and July was spent in a fog, as the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France are on then.  With these new DVR thinggies you don't miss anything, which of course means staying up till all hours watching the replay of it all.  And dreaming of someday doing the same..........or at least watching it live from the top of the Stelvio or similar place.  I know, I'm a sick cycling puppy.  But it's a healthy sick.  

I did mention a new toy earlier, and by the time you read this, it will almost be finished.  The Casa Rosada sans the rosada, my new house.  It has been a two year project, with a 10 month building period and was designed by the very talented Mark Macco.  It is the second house that Mark has designed and I love it (he and Sam live in the first one!).  When you come and visit you will see why, but he made order out of my wild, crazy ideas and created a Portguese country themed, Argentinean doored, Australian owned house, in America.  Confusing, huh?  Besides thanking Mark, I also owe a great debt to the aforementioned Senor Ferrier, who having got me drunk one steamy Argentinean night on a (what I then thought was the cheapest) bottle of Terazzas Malbec , followed by a shopping trip the next day which ended up with my buying three sets of doors and gates around which the house was built, then managed to actually ship the things up here from down there, through an unbelievable bureaucracy.  There is a pint of Russell's blood in them you can be sure.  That Terazzas Malbec actually turned out to be the most expensive bottle I have ever bought when you consider the consequences.

Christmas was especially great in the new place, made more so by the visit of Wayne ( my 6 year flatmate in Sydney) and Jonathan for the festive period.  With some other friends, all bedrooms were full for a time and that made the house a home.  It also gave us the excuse to test the hot spa out by the pool, but with overnight temps close to freezing, more steam was generated than you would think existed.

There will be another life changing event (hopefully) in 2006, and that will be my taking American citizenship.  I have been fingerprinted, investigated and questioned, although they did stop short of a proctological examination, and hope to have the swearing in ceremony in March.  I know some of you might find this disturbing, but I am happy to explain why if you wish.  My Australian citizenship will be retained however, and I will join the other 4 members of my family who also have dual citizenship, Jimmy and his children Michal, Taleesha and Amy.  Maybe Sue also has it by marriage, Susie??

So that's it folks, another year gone, another few gallons of tears from laughter with friends and family.  I wish you all the very best for 2006, and good health with which to enjoy it.  (Oh, and the wine we drank at Christmas dinner?  Terazzas Malbec it seemed a propos.)

Love and friendship,
Robert, Chaka and Genghis
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