Posts Tagged ‘Sydney’

The lure of the past and a bed pan.

June 28, 2020

There might be nothing more exciting or upsetting when visiting the past. Over the last three days it happened almost by accident of an emergency. You know that when all has been so settled, quiet and serene for a long while, a suspicion seems to well up that this peace can’t last.

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Our street and house in Balmain where we lived 1976-1996

Sure enough, I received a message that told me in a few crisp lines, that text messages always seem to excel in, but none the less almost always are disconcerting, that my daughter had deposited herself in an Hospital emergency room. ‘Chest pain’, was part of this short text! Of course, the reaction was a trip to Sydney the day after. I had organised the house in such a way to leave our dog Milo an exit in case of toilet visits by placing a stick behind the sliding door, leaving an opening big enough for Milo but not for a robber, no matter how agile or elastic he or she might be.

My daughter after arrival was in the emergency ward and suitable wired up to all sorts of equipment, occasionally a beep would be expelled from one of those machines. I noticed with pride that some of that equipment had Philips as the manufacturer. It is still a Dutch company that originally started out by making light bulbs. It is now a multinational conglomerate employing 80 000 people world-wide

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A closer look at the house.

After visiting my daughter and consuming a delicious toasted cheese and ham sandwich for my breakfast and getting the daughter to keep asking the doctor for more information, I left when her son visited her as well.  She had chest pain but a quick scan and blood pressure test, proved that her heart was alright. A great relief. The bed allows only limited number of people to sit on and the chair was nowhere to be seen or perhaps used in the bed next to my daughter, which was screened off. I saw a bedpan being carried away covered by a cloth. Always a sign one is in good hands. I remember them well from my occasional forays in hospital.

I decided to visit our old house and street where we live so happily for twenty years.  After all, I was back in Sydney. They were really the years that our three children grew up from toddlers to adults. The street has lost none of its charms. The suburb of Balmain is now a millionaires’ nest, hounded by big time foreign currency option dealers,  lawyers and well heeled liberal provocateurs.

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The entrance to our old house.

Amazingly one of my friends that I met here recently in Bowral lived in the same street at the same time when we lived there. Another friend in the same group grew up just around the corner as well. Such coincidences that are so baffling.

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Our veranda with me and the red heeler cattle dog, around 1990 or so.

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This picture is of the street taken yesterday, still charming.

I visited my Daughter again today, and all is well. She might be coming home tomorrow.She was worried about her cats more than about me. But then, I am just a dad.

What an amazing life this has been so far, and still ongoing!

 

 

 

Of isolating and the Smart TV

May 2, 2020

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Etching by G. Oosterman

The longer our self isolating is going on the more the question arises; what about the victims of this isolating? In my case, I find it reasonably alright as I have rarely been much of a social roustabout, never really learned the skills on attracting much of an audience at social gatherings. I suppose also, that much depends on an audience as well.

At my indoor bowling adventure the social intercourse that I was hoping for did not come to much fruition. A peculiar and firmly ingrained habit of that sport seems to be that even though women and men bowled together, in between the bowling while having a cup of tea, the men and women strictly did their sipping at separate tables.

On the other side of the scales, the latest attempt at meeting people I was invited and met an extraordinary group of people who one feels totally at ease with. Both men and women embrace the sipping in total unison. We sip different beverages to the bowlers and enjoy coffees instead of tea, but I don’t think it is just the difference in the liquid. On second thoughts, perhaps there is a tie that links the differences.

Going back to 1956 when my family arrived in Australia we noticed that coffee drinking was mainly the domain of the reffos. Reffo was the name given to European refugees known for the same obnoxious xenophobic stupidity as now falling on the Iranians and other Middle Eastern refugees’ ears. Funny enough they too seem to prefer coffee. But, I am drifting off subject. In those early days my mum had to travel to Sydney by train to get ‘real’ coffee in the form of beans. The brave Australian born and bred thought coffee always came in powder form and each cup had 43 beans. So, what is your problem they used to tell my mum who kept insisting that coffee has to be freshly brewed from ground coffee beans.

Tea drinking is a British institution. The Queen would not dream of ever be seen drinking a latte. Can you imagine the horror of the British if it became known? A filthy European habit will never do in between the Beefeaters.  Now, is the link between the bowling club people the reason for the separation of the sexes caused by their ingrained tea habit? Is my new found group of the most friendly egalitarian people and their open ended welcome caused by the Euro linked latte? The link might be a trifle tenuous, some might even thing tedious!

Who knows?

As for my opening line of ‘Isolating and the Smart TV. It is difficult, and yesterday I did not talk to a human being. However, the good news is that I managed to get my Smart TV working and…more than that. On the SBS ‘on demand’ classic movie channel I discovered Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’, a black and white masterpiece of a movie Helvi and I watched years ago.

 

What a find and there are a lot more good movies to watch. Of course, meeting up with friends and share the latte will also happen again and there is a lot to look forward to.

Gerard

A farm in Australia?

February 16, 2020

A continuing memoir.

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Son Nicholas and a painting.

The first few weeks from our latest return from French farm-house mania, our friends’ patience would be severely tested and without letting up. Talk about an obsession. I just kept saying; ‘the stone walls in France were that thick’. And I would then demonstrate by spreading my arms as wide as I could. This would be followed by some remark denigrating the flimsy Australian domestic architecture. You know, paper thin walls made of gypsum plasterboard and fibros sheeting. ‘They are mere wind breaks’ I would continue, adding insult to injury or reverse. Helvi, would poke me in the side.

After a few more weeks of insults and self absorption, things would calm down. The photos of French farm houses would be stored away, not to be seen again till recently when the majority of photos that were stultifying and boring got thrown out. We are not photo lookers, and I can’t think Helvi ever took more than a handful of photos, even though she did have a camera. She would leave that to me.  I enjoy taking photos, especially now that you can see the result immediately.

my lovely pizza oven

I remember the excitement waiting for photos to get developed by the photo and camera shop. It would take a week to get hem back, and as for coloured ones; they were send off to Melbourne. The black and white photos were small and had serrated edges. How time and science has now all changed that. Instant gratification in photography is normal, and now the world keeps taking selfies, nauseating really, but I am guilty as well. Go to any public event and one sees a forest of sticks in the air with excitable tourists busy taking selfies. In the next second the picture is forwarded and looked at in Taipei or Amsterdam, immediately. Tourism is really people paying to go somewhere taking selfies and looking at their own  images with the country they are visiting of least importance or at best an extra. Amsterdam and Venice are now desperate to try and get tourism to scale back with the locals feeling they are being trampled upon.

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The Australia farm

I am not sure when I suggested to Helvi we perhaps ought to think of making a move and buy a farm or country place locally, in Australia. It was during the latter half of the 1990’s. There was a kind of feverish ‘break away from the large cities’ movement when the term, city dwellers or townies were starting to be coined for those seeking an alternative life-style. A week-end farmer was another one. Of course the more serious of large scale farmers were called Pitt Street farmers, suggestive of landlords leasing out huge tracts of land for the cattle industries, often managed by real farmers running hundreds of thousands of acreages. The owners themselves were well heeled lawyers doing their utmost to lower their tax obligation while whooping it up in Sydney’s Pitt Street cavorting with crooks, souteneurs (сутенер) with their shady ladies of pleasure…

A memoir in progress( Farm house)

February 13, 2020

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Helvi on a  French terrace.

After numerous inspections and having driven both the French and the English Estate agents around the bend with our ceaseless requests to see even more farms, we ran out of steam and decided to return to Australia. We drove the ;leased Citroen back to Marseille airport and, after the obligatory custom check-outs with many s’il vous plaits to see our passports, we ‘hopped’ on the plane, totally Frenched out. Why do we not walk onto the plane, why is it hopping? We have never hopped at all, let alone onto a plane. Perhaps it is a deliberate ploy by the large multinational airline companies to make light of the sheer torture of long flights. You can just see the advertising moguls at board meetings trying to get a handle on making flying  joyful again. Someone uttered; ‘ the hopping kangaroo.’ worked well, didn’t it? And so it was that the ‘hopping on board’ was coined. A eureka moment for the flight industry. The whole world now uses the term and one can imagine the hopping of tens of thousands of cheerful air travellers hopping about at international airports all over the world, and at any given time.

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Searching for a French farm.

Of course, coming back and land at Mascot, Sydney, and then the dreary ride to the city along the notoriously ugly Botany Road with its peppering of large advertising hoardings, doesn’t make for much of a hopping back home. I clearly remember an enormous sign, all in a gaudy yellow, advertising a medication to cure sexual dysfunction. How anyone can get enthusiastic about their levels of tumescence after twenty one hours on a plane escaped us entirely. We badly needed our own very soft and kind mattress giving us a twenty-four hour uninterrupted deep sleep. But, before any thoughts of a good sleep we had the melancholic task of emptying our luggage, chuck our underwear and socks in the washing machine.

At a previous trip to Holland and France we decided to follow the advice of a seasoned traveller who had written books about travel. He had travelled the world just carrying overhead luggage, stored on board above the seat. He suggested it could easily be done by simply buying a shirt or singlet if such a need came about. I had no trouble with that. My wife was a bit reluctant at first but nevertheless followed suit.

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Carcassonne.

( to be continued.)

 

The first house and Billabong

January 12, 2020

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Billabong 1972 entree for the NSW Wynne Prize. https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/prizes/wynne/1972/24292/

It is a miracle that this painting has survived because, as indicated above, it was shown decades ago in 1972 at the NSW State Art Gallery. Each year this gallery runs a competition for the best portrait, the best Australian landscape, and the Sulman for the best genre or subject painting. It is a yearly well published artistic event followed keenly by the public almost as enthusiastically as the Melbourne Cup, which is a world famous yearly race-horse event where many women turn up wearing funny hats and many men with ties get drunk. Well, not all men, but some do, and then some of those inebriated men end up grabbing women inappropriately (who are wearing the funny hats), and end up in court charged with indecent assault or even worse.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/billabong

But the real miracle about the painting is that it is still in my possession. I am not sure when I painted it because it is not dated. The year after we moved to The Netherlands so I must have taken it with me and then some years later back again. It now rests in my garage at Bowral. Amazing. Another oddity is that not only was this painting accepted for hanging but the very walls on which the paintings were hung were also painted by me. I had won the contract for the painting of the new addition to the gallery of NSW. I am sure that this combination of painting walls and the art object hanging, from the same person, was unusual. I have now been asked to provide a photograph of Billabong in order for the Gallery to update their electronic data. The photograph was taken yesterday by my American friend who has the right very large and heavy cameras.

After the taking of the photo we decided to go around our old haunts where we lived in Balmain so many years ago. The little cottage where I painted Billabong is still standing upright . Here it is. Helvi and I lived there between 1969/73 and from 1972 with three lovely children.

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We bought the house for $12.500.-in 1969. It was built in 1869 on a very small block of just 135 Sq. m. It has extensive harbour views including Sydney’s harbour bridge, the city itself with lots of water including the coming and going of boats, both large and small, luxury yachts, ferries, pleasure boats, anything that can float and move about on water. Large freighters when being pulled ashore by tug boats and reversing their engines used to make the landmass shake including our old weatherboard cottage. It was probably the nicest place to bring up children and paint pictures. It was a life of excitement. The house was stimulating to live in. In fact all of our places we lived in have been stimulating or at the minimum they were made to be inviting and stimulating.

Here an old photo from the inside;

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Our daughter on the phone

Notice the modest b/w TV now-a-days  overtaken by many people showing giant screens to such an extend they have to have ‘home theatres’. Some TVs are now so large they are being sublet to small families. The house was completely open and all walls downstairs had been taken out by the previous owners, an architect, leaving a large living space that included the kitchen and bathroom. Right in the middle was a slow combustion old cast iron heater that heated the whole house. With the exposed wooden floor and a mat here and there we made it into a lovely and glorious home. Oh, the nicest memories I have of that period now.

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Our little daughter in front of the cast iron solid fuel heater.

Here a photo showing the living room. Behind the pine wall is the bathroom and laundry which we partitioned off. Previous the bath was fully exposed to the living area which our friends thought as rather progressive.

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Christmas party. Helvi looking at the camera.

Notice the modest sitting arrangement on paint drums and wooden planks! We felt like Lords. A real pine Christmas tree on the left.

Those were the times!

( the present value of that timber house is estimated at 2.7 to 3.5 million dollars)

New Year’s ( but happy?)

December 30, 2019

IMG_0225The Hydrangia

We are again at the doorstep of another year rolling over. I thought to-night was the fireworks at Sydney’s harbour bridge, but I was mistaken. It is tomorrow night. Fire now seems to be associated with the breaking of the new year, but the traditional fireworks are on the cusp of being cancelled. There are so many fires burning now, it is difficult to find something that is not burning at the moment. To celebrate the New Year with fire-works seems insulting, especially to those that have given their time fighting fires all over the joint. I noticed that one fire out of control is now approaching our area. People are a bit tense, huddling in groups and talking in hushed tones to each other, no doubt advising on possible escape routes. The quickest way to a lake or pond with a view to immerse oneself in case the firestorm approaches. There are also designated safe areas for people to evacuate to, including the Returned Soldier’s Clubs where I play my bowls.

https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/about-us/our-districts/southern-highlands

“Alpine, Aylmerton, Willow Vale, Braemar, Balaclava, Mittagong and Mt Gibraltar areas

  • Monitor the changing conditions. Strong north westerly winds may push embers into the area.
  • Stay alert for embers and spot fires.
  • Embers can be blown well ahead of the main fire front, and start spot fires that can threaten homes”.

The above is copied from the latest warning on a fire approaching the Southern Highlands. It is out of control and covers over 227 000 ha. It is large enough to create its own climate and cause dry lightning to strike for fires to spread even more. Tomorrow is going to be very critical with predicted temperatures in the 40’s C. The nation is on high alert.

I was given a couple of nice bottles of wine at Christmas time. It included a ten year old tawny Port. I am actually considering to cut down on my alcohol consumption. I noticed that my appetite is languishing and lessening. I have a banana and pear for breakfast and that seems to carry me over lunch as well. And then in the evening I force myself to eat a salad with a salmon cutlet. Of course, I had the lamb curry on Christmas Eve, but on the whole I seem to eat a lot less. But…I still had my few glasses of alcohol, I suppose to carry me through the evening when my new sole-ness makes itself felt so keenly. It helps to make me go to sleep. But I noticed that in the morning on wakening I feel parched and often suffering a grey mood.

I decided two nights ago to cut down and just have at most two glasses of wine over about a five hour period. I started last evening and it helped, I woke up feeling better and put on my socks with quickened pace.

I am also considering giving up some of my bowling in exchange for doing the U3A  https://sohiu3a.org.au/course. The bowling is a nice exercise but in between, while having a cup of tea, the players segregate into one table for the women and at a separate table the men. It seems so anachronistic. On top of that, at the men’s table they have a ‘swearing tin’. This is a tin in which the men are supposed to put in money if they swear. It seems that swearing is the domain of men.  And then the remarks about ‘Muslims are bad, Lebanese, Chinese are bad, etc. Before I could cope but now I am too fragile to just put up with it.

What do you all think about that?,

 

The short stay in a Cabin.

December 3, 2019

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Me on the veranda.

Last week my brother, his wife and I decided to take a few days off and return to a camping spot we all visited many years ago. We all had young families and the Oosterman clan all lived in the inner Sydney suburb of Balmain. They were the years often considered to be the best years. I often thought that the best years are right now and at the present. Of late, that view is on rocky grounds. Together but now not together. Never. I miss Helvi.

The area that we so often camped at, first in tents, and as we grew older and perhaps more affluent, we camped in caravans with annexes but still stuck to open fires and rough wine in those 4 litres plastic bladders that Australia became world famous for. Such a ground-breaking invention! The area is still tree bound but with many semi-permanent caravans with fibro sheeted annexes a bit uglier with the beauty of trees still managing a modest win. But for how long?  It seems some retired and perhaps increasingly impoverishing elderlies try and live permanently in those vans, no doubt making their meagre pension stretch a bit further. The area is about 200km south of Sydney on the coast. Pounding waves and miles of semi-deserted beaches are the main lure for many campers.

After arrival and making ourselves comfortable I noticed that my sleeping quarter was in a tiny room just able to hold a bunk bed with a space of about 40cm between bed and window. The room had a low ceiling but even so this bunk bed’s design had a layer of three beds stacked above each other with perhaps about 50 cm between them. The design was obviously made with punishing the inhabitants of the bed because to limit the entree into the bed was a FIXED steel ladder in between the foot and the head of the bed limiting access and egress.  I immediately decided to try and visualise getting into the bed and out of the bed, without the need to call an ambulance or an Emergency Rescue Van with bolt cutters.

My brother and his wife had the comfort of a double bed and soft matrass, so that was satisfactory. The cabin also had a good stove, fridge and TV and…air-con to boot. The best part was the large veranda outside which gave us a view of the ocean, the parakeets, parrots and lorikeets with the hopping Kangaroos as a bonus. But as the evening announced itself and I had, as a pre-caution for the looming bunk bed’s trial, had a few glasses of Shiraz. One has to visualise that the entrance to the middle bunk and top bunk was totally out of the question. One would have to be a tiny Houdini and I am, even shrunk in my elderly personage, still 6 ft tall and stiffly lanky. So, the bunk bed at the near floor level was the only choice. The steel ladder in the middle was fixed which left me an opening of about 40 x50cm to get in.

I survived but had an uncomfortable couple of nights. My brother and his wife on the other hand looked remarkably refreshed each morning. All in all it was a good break and I enjoyed it but was very happy to jump in my own bed the third night.

Of earlier times and now.

November 10, 2019

While walking through my house (or should that still be our house?) I am struck how everything is still so much Helvi. They say that in grieving it is best to be busy and sustain from sitting too much. Walking around the place I sometimes just go in circles ( to while the time, achingly passing so slow)around one of the old tables that was part of the very old furniture from the farm in Holland. We lived there with our three children from 1973-76. This table through travel between continents and daily wear became a bit battered and some years ago, Helvi urged me to paint the top of this table white. At first the idea of painting an old semi-antique table at all seemed a bit questionable but Helvi never really attached much monetary value to things that we owned. It’s not as if one can take it with you, is it?

And that’s how it is. This place is the embodiment of so much that is still Helvi. Her sense of form and aesthetics would exclude any other consideration. Some tell me I should move somewhere else, but I now need time to pass. I go bowling tonight and in an effort not to fall in a heap I keep walking with Milo and shop at the slightest pretence. I haven’t as yet dealt with anything much at all, and am surrounded by flower arrangements and cards of condolences. The house is tidy and I wash up regularly, even if it is just a single cup and single plate. It is not easy.

I leave you with an early photo of us soon after arrival in Australia from Finland in 1965/66. We moved into a small apartment in Pott’s Point ,Sydney, which I had bought a year or so before. We were just married. The photo must have been taken with a self timer but it doesn’t look posed. We had such a lovely time there.

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Nun’s wimples or a simple cyclamen?

June 1, 2019

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Cyclamen.

Winter has started and don’t the cyclamen know it! The fag-end of our autumn came with a furious storm that felled more than just trees, it also brought the return of a terrible drought. Sydney with its inhabitants of over 5 million and 650 suburbs is now again on water restrictions. Only hand-held hoses for watering gardens is allowed and strict penalties apply for contravening this law. In the past neighbours were encouraged to dob in those that would sneak out at the hollow of the night and furtively watered their beloved lawns. Short showers and single toilet flushing are now advised but still allowed, but for how long? ( ‘If its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down,’ was a voluntary policy hailed by our Government as a resounding success during the last drought)

Our main water supply is behind a large concrete dam named Warragamba. it holds more in fresh water than Sydney’s harbour but it’s level is now at 50% which is the reason for automatic placing of water restrictions. The storms and unusual warm weather patterns are blamed for the water shortage with evaporation and  ageing bursting water infrastructures adding to its woes. Each time you get a return taxation credit in your mail in tax, you will get less service and more burst water mains.

But, I am all set on the beauty of life and the cyclamen I photographed today is proof of my determination to persevere in seeking beauty and avoid any thing detrimental to that pursuit, including the possible premature anticipation of not flushing the toilet in order to save Sydney water.  In any case we don’t live in Sydney and as far as I know we still have adequate water. On the farm we always had to be very careful with water as the only water we had is what we collected from our roofs. and stored in many tanks.

We always saved the water from our washing machine and used it to flush toilets and water the plants. Brushing teeth would never be done under a running tap and as for the dish washer, we never used it.

But now back to the cyclamen. I seem to not get away from thinking about nuns when I look at that photo and am curious if some viewers feel the same. It is not often anymore that one sees nuns wearing their long habits while wearing veils or wimples.

Here a poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins.

Heaven-Haven

  • A nun takes the veil
  • I have desired to go
  • Where springs not fail,
  • To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
  • And a few lilies blow.
  • And I have asked to be
  • Where no storms come,
  • Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
  • And out of the swing of the sea.

 

Leave love enough alone.(I wish I could have known.)

January 21, 2019
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https://secondhandsongs.com/work/113101
“The harbour’s misty in the morning love oh how I miss december
The frangipani opens up to kiss the salty air
I know you’re gettin’ ready for the office
I suppose he’s still there, with you
Sharing our morning sun
Winter in America is cold
And I just keep growing older
I wish I could have known
enough of love to have love enough alone
I ‘ve learned something of love
I wish I’d known before you left me
But it’s funny how you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone
And I hope you ‘ re getting all the love you ever wanted
But I wish I was there with you
Sharing our… “
These are the lyrics of a song named “Winter in America is cold.”  Also known as “Leave love enough alone.” The song was written by a man named Jimmy Stewart. We used to know him quite well during the  seventies till the nineties. Our children were young and life was starting to fire up very nicely. The memories of that period are filled with sun, laughter and growing trees. The inner Sydney suburb of Balmain was groovy and Carole King was on the ascent with her song “It’s too late.’
It was also the period of turning green and not waste, a turn against obscene wealth was starting to grow. We spoke of terminal capitalism! A vegie co-op was established and some ten couples would contribute $10 weekly each for which a trip would be made to Sydney’s vegetable markets by alternating couples to buy all the vegetables including fruit. The lot would be shared and put into 10 boxes. One box per couple. Jimmy Stewart and his then partner were one of the ten couples. Jimmy and I would go to this market when it was our turn. Jimmy was a writer of songs and the best known was the “Winter in America.” It was a mild hit in the US but in Netherland became top of the charts for a while. The song was covered by several artists but the Australian Dough Ashdown’s version is by far the best known.
We stayed in contact with Jimmy Stewart for some years. Music was his life and he was uncompromising in this. He had a range of partners and smoked and drank heartily. Last time I heard of him was yet another marriage, and a move to the blue mountains but that is some years ago now.
Here is “Winter in America.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEjZmjYENOk