Updated 10 August 2007

Dear everyone!  Hello once again, Annual Letter # 16 here (if you have been counting, and a giant Cherry Ripe and a big jar of Vegemite for anyone who has read every letter).  Writing these is a funny feeling because you have to sift through a whole year of happenings and decide which ones were newsworthy, and which were simply mundane.  As I look back over the events that I remember (and there are increasingly more that I don't.........) there are a lot that were mundane.  However, I realise it was less about places visited or things done than the people who were with you when you did them.  I remain fortunate to have the wonderfully wide circle of family and friends that I do, and hopefully I will be able to do some small justice in the following pages to those with whom I shared such a memorable 2007.

  With my upcoming citizenship ceremony slated for March, I took time to visit Jim and Geoff (but that is Stephane - who came up from Melbourne to visit - and Jim above) on their recently acquired farm 2 hours outside Melbourne.  It had been years since I was in the country, and to experience country life at it's Aussie best, really made me realise what I was about to do, in taking on a new nationality.  It really was a surreal few days, the contrast of Aussie country life against urban American life could not have been more stark.  So thanks to J&G for helping me remember what it is like to be 'true blue', and to realise that one will never lose that.

  So on Mar 07, I became an American Citizen, duly assisted by Emily, Patty Anne and Bobbie above.  Who could have asked for a better escort!  We then had a lovely evening at the new house later that night, a drinks drop in for anyone coming by.  One of my customers, Doug Daugherty even flew down from Cincinnati for the occasion, a lovely surprise!   (He arrived at the same time as  some neighbours, I was so taken aback to see him my first thought was 'I didn't know he knew my neighbours'!)  It was a most intriguing day in fact, as it was that same date 6 years previously when Dad died, and Mum reminded me it was also the same date her father had died.  So my aim was simple, to make it through to midnight.

  April was Easter, and gave me the first occasion to try out the pool.  I guess I could spend $500 on gas to heat it, but it is easier to wait for nature to do it for free.  So we enjoyed the first, of hopefully many, pool parties with the magnificent Guana River in the background.  With the help of Misty's bird book gift, I was also at this time beginning to recognise some of the plethora of birds that abound in the Guana.  It really is relaxing just to sit (and sip) and watch them all.  Above we have Sam (in his new one piece bathing suit),  Patty Anne, Misty and Leeanne.  April was also TOSRV again, if you remember from last year's letter, that is a 2 x 100 mile bike ride from Quincy FL, into GA for the night, then back next day.  Kick ass baby!!

  So along came June, and the time for Mark and Sam and I to holiday in France for 10 days.  Mark was the architect on my house, and my thankyou to him for all his hard work was the trip to Paris, and the South of France.  What started out as a simple sojourn, quickly turned into a megalithic mélange.  Russell and Gonzalo joined us from Buenos Aries, Anton Scott came over from London, and introduced us to a gang of other Aussies living in Paris.  I wasn't counting how much sleep we got, but I could have, it wasn't much.  Paris is wonderful at any time, and early summer is even better.  I don't care what they say about dog poop everywhere, when you are there it just doesn't seem to matter.  I was back in Paris for work again in early December, weather was rainy and glum, but you still could have heard me purr from there.  Above are Mark, Gonzalo, Russell, Sam, moi, and Anton.  (I put the names in because Mum always complains she never knows who the people are.)

  Now lest you have fallen asleep, this is the time to reactivate brain.  Remember I just mentioned summer, but see that white stuff in the background?  No we didn't fly overnight to New Zealand for a skiing holiday, we simply took the train to Cannes, and drove to the hilltop village of Gourdon to find it was snowing.  On the 1st July in the south of France!!!  By the next day it was all gone, I guess we were just lucky.  Funnily enough, years ago (when Russell was still in short pants with hairy knees), he and I had a week's holiday in Cannes/Nice, and it had snowed on la Croisette the year before.  So I think he is to blame.  He still has hairy knees though.

  Although it was a holiday to France, Ventamiglia is not far across the border and found us having to take a cafe latte break and a pasta before continuing on with a stressful day of shopping.  New friends (R to L) Gloria and Gabriele, joined Russell, Mark, Gonzalo and Sam (I think Mum is getting the idea by now).  G&G stayed with us at the house in Cannes, same one as last year.  Funny story, the house generally has bathrooms separate from the bedrooms.  Mark, thinking Sam was in the loo, gently knocked on the door using their pet phrase "puddin, you in there?".  Silence.  'Puddin, is that you?"  Silence, until the gruff but startled voice of Gabby (who had hitherto been enjoying a relaxed and contemplative little sit down) replied, "No puddin, just Gabby".  

  Now Gloria is English and lives in a little village near Carcassonne, whilst Gabby is Italian and lives in London.  In an effort to try and figure out why that is so (Professor Julius Sumner Miller!) I accepted a very kind offer to visit her and Gabby, along with my boss Victor, in July.  I know the above picture looks like a mineral sands convention, and it sort of was.  So it just happened that Victor and I had a meeting in Paris on 13th July (which of course just happens to be the day before a rather famous National Day),  and which National Day just happened to have the Tour De France finish in Carcassonne, and it just happened that Gloria was there, so after buying some just happened air tkts from Paris to Toulouse and renting a just happening car, we miraculously found ourselves right in the middle of two very happening days of the TdF.  Imagine that??!  Victor is the same mad biker as I am , only he is better at it, but we both were like kids in a candy store.  Staying with G&G in her middle ages house was just fantastic, many thanks once again Gloria.  Above is the start in Mirepoix the following day, #101 was the 2006 World Champion road racer, Tom Boonen of Belgium, surrounded by his lieutenants in blue (Quickstep).  As you can see, the average profile of a Pro cyclist is about 25, 140lbs and 5'6".  I did wonder why Victor wanted to chase a mob of hot, sweaty 25 year olds in lycra all across France, after all I had an excuse!  But it is tremendously exciting and very infectious when you are there in the thick of it.

  The ride during the day is very fast and you see little unless you are on a corner or a hill, but at the start you can get very close to the riders, and even speak with them.  This is Damiano Cunego, the winner of the Giro d'Italia in 2005.  He is nicknamed 'The Little Prince' by the Italian tiofosi (the mad fans).  I guess only princes get to wear orange shoes.........

Back at home after that trip, Genghis took his revenge on my being away by teaching me how to do 'let's climb on the roof'.  Because of the danger from alligators, bobcats, and raccoons I don't let Genghis and Chaka out of the house.  So I figured that some fresh air on my second floor bedroom balcony would be a safe escape from what they probably view as a jail cell of a house.  Funnily enough, the roof is close to the balcony, so who takes a running leap to freedom?  Genghis.  Now normally, little calls and treats can entice him back to me, but not this time.  Just to turn the screws, he strolls nonchalantly all across the roof, returning often to look at me as if to say 'come and get me if you want'.  Well I did want, and although I hadn't been on the roof before, he did teach me how to get there, hold your breath and not slip off what appears to be an impossibly steep angle.  I would recommend it to anyone wanting a cheap thrill.

  This has to be my picture of the year I think.  I managed to join a very international (Beirut, Perth, Busselton, Canberra, NYC, Lille, Ponte Vedra) throng in Pt Douglas in Aug for Mel's  40th celebrations (in blue), seen here having a very dull time with Olivia (in red) on the dance floor of a palatial home she had rented for the occasion.  (Now I didn't tell my family I was going to Pt Douglas instead of Brisbane (you can imagine how that would have gone down), so this is confession time I guess.  Hope I still get my Christmas pressie.........)  We had a wonderful weekend, mountain biked up an impossibly steep ride called the Bump Track (it was more hike than bike), had dinner in the World Heritage Daintree rainforest, and sadly some went reef diving at the very place where Steve Irwin was to die a few weeks later.  If you think you are making a difference in the world, try beating Melissa.  She is a lawyer with the UN, and has spent time in Gaza, Bosnia, NYC and now Beirut (after returning from being evacuated to Cyprus during the recent war) investigating atrocities in each country.  That really takes some commitment, well done M.

  The 'second coming' of Helen and Carol occurred a few days after I got back from Pt Douglas, they were last here in 2001, and their return was eagerly awaited by many apart from myself.  Of course, the house was new, the kits were new, and many friends were new so it managed to be a very full time even though nothing really had been planned in advance.  Sam and Mark had a small impromptu musical evening one night for 50 neighbours (!), and above was a lovely photo of Carol, Helen and Patty Anne.  Being a fellow pianist, Mum really enjoyed hearing such an impresario as Ronnie Kole.  

Soon after, I rode 6 Gap, a 100 mile, 6 mountain, 10,000' climbing ride in the mountains of north Georgia.  Full report here, but I want to thank my coach John Josephs for enabling me to do something I didn't think possible.  ( We are now working on losing 30lbs and 30 years so I can ride the TdF).  Next 6 Gap though, I want him to warn me about riding 8 hours in the rain.  Wet chamois isn't much fun (but the elation after having finished makes up for everything).

  It was then Mum/Carol's turn to rush back home as it was Michal's 21st the Sunday they arrived back.  My sister Susan was the first to marry, and has three lovely kids now turning of age.  Eeek!  Here is Sue, Taleesha, Michal and girlfriend, and in the front Jimmy, Chantal (Judy and Anthony's daughter), and Amy.  Fortunately I was in Australia again in Oct and was able to stop by to celebrate further with a family BBQ.  Some birthdays never end.

  It really was a year for birthdays, and although I wasn't able to make it, Anton Scott's 40th bash in Sydney (but yes, he lives in London) was an absolute riot.  He did send me some photos of the night, and seeing many friends there whom I hadn't seen for years, really made me feel Sydney-sick for a while.  You can see above how dull it was, and ladies, I expect a very strongly worded email from each of you for putting your lovely faces in my letter.  And yes, it is all about the teeth.

  Jason and Richard came to visit in Oct, and we spent a day down at the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral.  Mum, Carol and I had tried to get there to see the Aug shuttle launch, but it moved out of timing due to weather.  Had I known how interesting the centre is, even without a shuttle launch, I would have suggested we go anyway.  Here is the exhibit of an actual Apollo rocket, that took man to the moon, the hanging decals are the logos of each of the Apollo launches.  Jason would hate me to mention this, be he has been nominated as a 2006 Australian of the Year for his services to women's health, in particular endo-gynaecology.  He never told me but it is on his website and that is a pretty amazing thing, apart from the obviously highly regarded and beneficial work that he performs in the medical community.  Congratulations Jason, you are one very special person.

  And so back to world of selling dirt........  When you ride, you have to get up early as many of you reading this know.  And sometimes you see the most startling sunrises, and here is one from Nov, looking out from my bedroom across the Guana Reserve.  It was just the right way to feel invigorated about a 70 mile bike ride.

  And lest I forget the kits, Chaka and Genghis continued to give me much pleasure this year, as I have said before, I don't know how I survived so long without pets.  They are an absolute joy.  Here Chaka is exercising in the way she does it best.  No major health issues this year for Genghis, his skin disorder seems to have gone away so he has taken to chasing his sister very aggressively as his new sport (including hissing and fur flying).  I hope that goes away soon too.

  What better way to end a festive letter, than to show a selfless example of one who takes his entertaining so seriously, he can't bear to leave any champagne go to waste.  Congratulations Mark, we should all be so studious in the exercise of environmental stewardship, and home cleanliness!

And finally, I held my first Christmas Party in the new house on 15 Dec and by all accounts, it was a blast.  Apparently I had a really great time, as did everyone else.  I doubt it was associated with going through four bottles of vodka in the first two hours, but the spirits were certainly alive that night.  May I also here, thank everyone for their very kind gifts and cards, they were not necessary, but will help to ensure many further happy hours over the Christmas Season, and into 2007.  Thankyou.

With much love and friendship,
Robert, Chaka and Genghis

Back to Home Page