A surreal Experience
Straying from the Flock - Travels in New Zealand by Dr Alexander Elder 2005 (John Wiley and Sons, Inc)
Dr Elder is very well known in trading circles and is the author of
Trading for a Living, Come into my Trading Room and Entries & Exits.
“The man from the publishing house drove me to a bookstore in downtown Brisbane. They had a sign with my name in the window and a table in the middle with a stack of my books. I was signing books and chatting with the staff when a tall, slender, broad-shouldered man walked in, his white mane flying behind him. He put out his hand, grinned and looked familiar, but I did not recognise him until he said, “Singapore.” Ivan, of course. We had met in Singapore in 1996, where I taught a course, while he consulted in a bank.
I loved his book, published only in Australia, with a short masculine title, Listen to the Market. I had given it a great review that must have caught his eye because I used to be a prolific reviewer of trading books but was known as a sarcastic critic, so my positive reviews were few and far between. We had stayed in touch on and off for a couple of years, then lost contact. That day, driving downtown, Ivan recognised my name on a poster.
He went back to park his jeep and returned with his wife – an attractive dark-haired woman with a warm laugh. He had been very single when we met in Singapore. We started catching up on our news, blocking traffic in the centre aisle, when Ivan asked about my plans for tomorrow. That was my only free day in Australia. He cut our conversation short - “I'll pick you up at 11, you spend the day and night with us, and the next morning I'll drive you to the airport.” He disappeared as suddenly as he had walked in, and the marketing guy drove me back to my hotel. My work was finished for the day.
THE ESKY PARTY
Ivan picked me up in a van with a roo guard – a set of staggered horizontal bars across the front of a vehicle, an entirely Australian invention. The uppermost bar protrudes the most, killing any kangaroo that runs in front, with the lower bars pushing its body under the body where it cannot damage the hood and the windshield. Roo bars have been outlawed in England after some stylish people started putting them on their jeeps. There aren't too many kangaroos on English roads, but a roo bar is just as efficient at killing hapless pedestrians.
A water bag hung from the roo bar, partially obscuring the licence plate and providing a measure of innocent-looking protection against speed cameras. We zoomed through a Florida-like landscape of flat scrubland. The eight-lane highway from Brisbane and Gold Coast was built for growth. I caught a glimpse of Gold Coast from a hill – the tallest residential building in the world rose incongruously on the beach. We turned on to a country road and passed several herds of cattle, then a small flock of sheep. “Do you know how a New Zealander finds his sheep in tall grass?” - asked Ivan. He paused and whispered. “Delightful!”
He lived at the far end of a steep, narrow driveway that twisted around a hill. “Must be a bitch to drive here in the snow,” I said and we laughed. It was August, the height of the Southern Hemisphere's winter, but the temperature was in the high 70's and there was not a cloud in the sky. The warm dry air had a wonderful smell of eucalyptus - the sprawling hilltop house stood in the middle of a grove. A spaniel ran out to greet us, trying to lick us while wagging the stump of its tail. His name was Atlas, after Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Ivan's favorite book.
Ivan had always been single, moving from one country to another – Singapore, Indonesia, the United States, Vanuatu – but three years ago he married Anne and settled down on this remote mountaintop. Anne's teenage children came out to shake hands. Greg wore a mortarboard that said Doctor of Mischief, and when I took a picture of him wearing it, Beth put on her mortarboard that said Doctor of Mischief, and I took a picture of them together. The kids were polite, intelligent and attentive – fun to be with. Ivan doted on them and they were close to him. He had stayed single forever, but once he got married, he got himself an entire attractive family.
It turned out that day was Anne's birthday and they were having a picnic with friends. We loaded the van with hampers and the ubiquitous Australian “eskies” - Styrofoam coolers. When Atlas was put on a leash and realized he was coming along for the ride, he leapt into the air with joy and appeared to hover, flapping his paws like in a cartoon. On the way we passed several calves grazing on the side of the road. As Ivan slowed down, Atlas stuck his head out of the window and barked. The calves, who until then had totally ignored the van, started running and cleared the road.
We stopped at a wine shop and then at a fish shop with a sign “Fresh from the trawler.” The variety and freshness were amazing and I could not stop photographing the fish, lobsters, crabs and shrimp piled on rows of crushed ice. After loading more eskies into the groaning van we drop to the beach and in a few minutes were parked at the water's edge.
The sun shone brilliantly on the water as the boats kept passing by – jet skis, sailboats, floating homes. More friends of Anne kept arriving as Ivan set up folding tables and chairs, put out cotton napkins, unwrapped champagne glasses, and commanded me to open the first bottle of champagne. The cork popped and flew, we drank to Anne's health. Greg and Beth played football with the dog, who seemed to be floating through the air after the flying ball. The fresh seafood was heavenly. We switched to red Australian wines which tasted so rich and strong on this hot Australian winter day.
Time seemed to stand still and fly at the same time. It seemed like only 15 minutes had passed since we had arrived at midday when a huge red disk of the sun touched the horizon. We started to pack up, and as soon as the sun disappeared the air felt cold. I nodded off on the way home, but there was the table set again and another friend had arrived for a dinner of sushi and rolling conversation – about music, about New York, about the kid's school. He was also invited to stay overnight but had to leave. Anne and the kids went to sleep, while Ivan and I went to his office and played pool on a full-size table in the midst of seven computer screens, talking politics late into the night.
On the previous day I saw a eucalyptus grove under my window with rows of hills running down to the distant sea. In the morning the huge valley was flooded with pastel-colored fog, with only a few reddish mountain peaks protruding above it, like strawberries floating in a deep dish of cream. I had a quick breakfast with the family; the kids were already dressed for school. After a last round of invitations to visit and stay longer, Ivan drove me to the airport ...”