The old guy behind her wants his hat back.
Take a look at a map of Australia. The country is big and solid and resembles some kind of tubby beast, grunting and straining and drawn into itself. Tasmania is the reason it is grunting. It looks like a very small dropping out the back end of the beast—the sad, unsatisfactory result of much intestinal exertion.
Though it appears you could get a running start at Victoria and jump there, Tasmania is actually 150 miles from the mainland, and it is separated by what is reportedly the roughest body of water in the world, the Bass Strait. (We had originally planned to take a ferry to Tasmania, but were told essentially to bring multiple changes of clothes, because it’s one big Barf Cruise. Uh, no thanks.)
So Tasmania, isolated as it is, has got its own thing going on. Tassies call it the “Island of Inspiration,” in part because its rugged landscape is gorgeous, but also because the island is relatively unspoiled by the brutes that inhabit the clumsy mass directly north of it. The island, originally given the all-time coolest name—Van Diemen’s Land—generally only makes international news when disaster strikes: a mine collapse; a bridge collapse; a gun massacre; a deadly fire. They love their Australian Rules Football, but don’t even have their own team in the AFL.
Knowing all this, we expected a serious inferiority complex, but Tassies could care less how they’re perceived. And as a result, they’re perceived quite well. When we told mainlanders we were going to Tasmania for a few days, they said things like, “Ah, I’ve always wanted to go. The people are wonderful, and I hear it’s lovely.” They’re right. Tasmanians are some of the nicest people we’ve ever met. Which made me feel lousy about comparing their lovely state to a piece of Australian poo.
* * *
The greasy glory of a Tasmanian brat
Today is a Saturday, and on Saturdays in Hobart, you go down to Salamanca Market, a bazaar of 300-plus outdoor tents selling everything imaginable. Everyone in the city is crammed into Salamanca Place (“Hobart’s #1 lifestyle precinct"), peddling and perusing Tasmanian fudge, handmade bags, cheap paperbacks, fruits, veggies, tchotckes. There was a guy with a bunch of original Beatles 45s.
Of course, wherever commerce congregates, hucksters follow, which means for every tent offering artisan cheese, there’s one with some burned-out-looking dude touting miracle heating pads (“57º of pure heat!"). Four kids stand in the middle of it all, a band, playing Mozart on their violins. Charming. It’s a beautiful day, and for some reason with all this good stuff, I am beguiled by the smell of bratwurst. You know, because Tasmania is known for its brats.
Maybe it should be. I get one and it’s a damn good bratwurst. Even Hannah took a bite, which makes me proud. Any American who eats a Tasmanian bratwurst on the streets of Hobart before her first birthday is bound to turn out a pretty interesting adult. She also tried Sarah’s chocolate licorice.
Later that evening, when it came time for dinner, we three found ourselves downtown—and alone. It was apocalyptically empty; every store was closed. We went blocks without seeing anyone, and Hannah’s cries echoed off the streets.
I turned to Sarah. “Where the hell did everyone go?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “But it’s kind of creeping me out.”
“Do they all go home on Saturdays and watch TV or something?”
“I don’t know. But it’s kind of creeping me out.”
Eventually we made our way down to the waterfront, and we got our answer.
All of Hobart was there, and all of Hobart was drunk off its ass.
There were dance parties, “hen parties,” rowdy kids running wild, packs of roaming guys with their collars up, general chaos. You could smell the alcohol, but the electricity in the air was overwhelmingly positive. I hate to generalize, but Tassies are not belligerent drunks; they’re the kind of drunks who love everyone—and the more they drink, the more they love you.
We settled on a pizza and a slice of carrot cake at a cute little place called Harbour Lights, where soused hen parties whipped around garter belts and tramped up and down the stairs constantly. Even our waitress appeared to be drunk. But she was terrific.
Once back in our little coffin room, Sarah spent an hour heroically trying to get Hannah to fall asleep, while I cowardly plugged into my iPod, allowing Arcade Fire to drown out my daughter’s anguished yelps.
We were the only sober people in Hobart, and we were going to bed at 8:30.