Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi...

When we first arrived in Chicago, Paul and I met Justin at the Australian Consulate when we needed to have some papers witnessed. He did his best to convince us to attend a drinks session for Australian expats living in Chicago. We were a little dubious about meeting other Australians… after all, we were living in a ‘foreign’ country, and didn’t we need to meet locals? Anyway, Katie was available to babysit last Friday, so we decided to go along.

Once there, the first person we were introduced to was the Australian Consulate General, Bob Charles. He has been living in Chicago since his appointment last year. I asked him where he had been posted prior to Chicago. He told me that he wasn’t a career diplomat, but was a political appointment and had been posted by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister as a direct result of his “sins while serving in the House of Representatives”. It would appear that he scored a pretty good punishment!

Several parties were trying to coerce Paul into joining either or both the local Rugby Union and Australian Rules football teams. Apparently these are great social get-together opportunities where the sport comes second… or third. Future expat functions are being organised for Anzac Day, with a ‘pie night’ in early April.

Speaking to some longer-term expatriot residents, all whom really love this place, there are apparently some 10,000 Australians living in Chicago. Of these, there is a definite majority hailing from Melbourne. My friend Annie in Brisbane (ex Melbourne girl), had told me that I would love Chicago as it was the American equivalent of Melbourne. This sentiment has been echoed by a few. The reasons given are: each city borders a large body of water (Lake Michigan and Port Philip Bay), with adjoining river system (Chicago and Yarra Rivers) each city is predominantly flat, each city is centred upon a grid system with suburbs radiating from this centre, each city has a prominent and concentrated central high rise business district, noteworthy buildings are adorned with towers, peaks and other pinnacle structures, each city has a vibrant arts and cultural bias, each city has a diverse and multi-cultural mix of residents, each city has a strong ‘foody’ contingent, and… each city experiences several weather seasons in a single day!

I was made aware of this last feature when I took the boys to the zoo on Monday on what appeared to be a lovely sunny and mild morning. I started to regret wearing my big coat. The wind appeared to be getting a little stronger while we were on the bus. As we walked to the zoo, I walked past a laneway and practically lost the stroller in a huge gust of wind. It started to tip over, nearly going all the way, and I had to use all my strength to right it. I was in complete shock. The stroller’s wind cover blew off down the street and onto the road. I was so grateful for the lady that went off after it after she yelled at me to “Stay with your baby!”

We recovered and met Polly and Callan at the seal pool in the zoo. We went to the park to let the boys run around before abandoning it when gusts increased and the temperature cooled. I was now really happy to have worn my big coat. On our way to Polly’s house, another great gust between buildings stopped me in my tracks and I could not possibly push the stroller. The only way I could move was to turn around and pull the stroller, with all my might, past this treacherous wind tunnel. It was a truly terrifying experience – a situation that I will now be wary of.

The strong winds were related to the tornado warnings we witnessed being issued and constantly upgraded upon a banner across the top of our TV screen on Sunday evening. Apparently, this was one of the biggest storm cells to pass through central Illinois in a decade, with seven counties having a disaster declared.

Photo is of seal at Lincoln Park Zoo at feed time.

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