Love At First Sight

Jane Sullivan

One enchanted evening, Rachael Treasure glimpsed the man of her dreams across a crowded Gippsland pub. She was pissed on rum but the moment she set eyes on him, she knew.

"It's the story of love at first sight," she writes. "It's the story of two souls who meet because it was written on the black page of the night sky in stars."

He was a handsome farm lad, clean-cut, strong. He was gentle, boyish, innocent, self-contained and wise. All this she saw. And she'd seen him twice before. Once, in a schoolgirl fantasy, where she'd gone riding with a dream man. The second time - which she remembered later - in a photograph on a tourist brochure: Discover the Treasures of the High Country.

She couldn't push her way through the crowd, so she climbed over booths and tables until she reached the seat opposite him, sat down and said "Hi" to John Treasure. Ten years later, they are married and living happily-ever-after on a farm in Tasmania, with two children and lots of animals.

It sounds like an episode from McLeod's Daughters but Treasure, a bestselling novelist, insists it's true. She tells her story in How We Met, a collection of true stories from 21 writers about the first meeting with the love of their lives. Most of these stories are about gorgeous, irresistible men: only three of the contributors are male. Perhaps real-life romance is still largely the woman writer's domain.

The book is a grand flirtation with that captivating idea that we all have one special person out there for us; that it is written in the stars that sooner or later we will meet and fall in love. Not everyone believes in this idea quite as wholeheartedly as Rachael Treasure. Some writers talk about fate and magic in a teasing, tongue-in-cheek way. Maggie Alderson says she met her second husband because she was wearing her magic boots.

But there's a pervasive feeling that much more is at work than lust and alcohol (though they help). Some strange and unexplained moment of instant recognition is going on; and even if you can't quite believe that you have found your soul mate, you passionately want to believe it.

"We shook hands and we smiled and I knew," writes Lisa Jewell of her first meeting with her workmate, Jascha. They were going to be together. And it happened, but only after a long time. When they met, Jewell was unhappily married and Jascha had a girlfriend.

Jewell spent many lunch times gazing wistfully at Jascha's bum in the sandwich queue. They became friends but the decisive moment was when they were standing back to back at a party, each talking to other people, and somehow they started holding hands.

Myfanwy Jones began a passionate affair when she reluctantly went to a bar in Saigon, met a friend of a friend and had "an instant of deeper recognition ... Our eyes locked. My stomach contracted. Everything else slipped - momentarily - away." What followed were days of steamy sex, and fears of both intimacy and parting. "We took reels of photos of each other, and in all of them our faces are as soft, open and puzzled as fresh wounds."

"Fate has a shape, a colour and a screech of wheels," writes Susan Kurosawa. If the red Toyota Corolla hadn't pulled out of a parking spot just as she was driving by, she would never have gone to the cocktail party where she met her "wonderful mad-hatter of a man", Graeme Blundell.

And if at first fate doesn't succeed, it tries again. Jessica Adams was plunged into unrequited love when she met her flatmate, Peter. She used to crawl into his water bed when he was out. They eventually got together, broke up and reconciled several times, separated after 10 years and came together 10 years later: "I have often heard it said that soul mates are repeatedly thrown together by the gods, until they find each other."

But are those first meetings really so earthshaking, or are they romanticised in hindsight?

"You know, of course, that stories of first meetings are not to be trusted," writes Danielle Wood. She says that when two lovers meet, the story of their meeting lies empty at their feet, like an uninflated balloon. As their time together progresses, the balloon begins to swell with significance.

In her case, she wished a lover into existence. She was arguing with her then boyfriend, as usual, and he was saying - as he often did - that he was not sure he wanted to be in a relationship. "You know," she said, "the next person I fall in love with is going to want to be with me. And I'm going to want to be with him. And it's going to be that simple." And it was.

Sometimes lovers' meetings are enhanced by the thrill of discovering things in common, however banal. Lisa Jewell and her Jascha were over the moon when they found out they were both obsessed with chilli and curries. When Jessica Adams went for her final reunion with Peter, she took off her glasses at the last minute so he wouldn't think she was an Ugly Betty. Later, she discovered he had also taken off his glasses at the last minute. They told each other they hadn't changed a bit. "Then we put our glasses back on and went into shock."

Not all first meetings are magic. Peter Yeldham was married for 57 years, until his wife's death last year. They met on a blind date, he was drunk, she told him he was an arsehole and she never wanted to see him again. A week later, he saw her going into a cinema, followed her in and sat beside her. They got to talking and laughing, came out, ran down to the beach and saw a huge moon hanging over Sydney Harbour: "It was so stupidly romantic we started to laugh."

When Lee Tulloch met her man, she assumed at first that he must be gay, because they were brought together by a mutual gay friend with the wince-making line: "It's a pity a good-looking chick like Lee can't get a man."

Some loves bloom as rebellion. Margaret Fink fell for a bohemian poet, a libertine old enough to be her father, and went to live with him - a shocking enough act in 1950s Sydney. Her mother called him "that horrible creature".

Other loves are innocent and poignant. Anne Bartlett and her friend Russ were earnest, chaste Christians. He proposed to her: it was something God was doing, he said, didn't she feel it, too? She did. He kissed her for the first time, "a small, shy kiss, like a dragonfly hovering on water". She was disappointed. From these tentative beginnings came 35 years together, four children, grandchildren.

And Elizabeth Stead writes that after 50 years she and "Tropics" are "still secured along each other, aged but not wearied."

In some lives there has been more than one special person. Marion Halligan was married for 35 years and wrote about mourning her husband's death in her novel The Fog Garden. But her story in this book is about another writer, a poet whom she first met when both their spouses were dying.

Later, after they were both widowed, he became her "gentleman caller". They drove around together admiring Georgian chimneys and pretending to buy real estate. Let's just be friends, she said: but then, why not be lovers, too? Their shared experience is important: "it is this awareness of death that makes us value the life we live so completely".

Sometimes, when couples come together in later life, their children disapprove. My children were awful, Halligan says: "They behaved like the strict Italian parents of a beautiful 17-year-old virgin who was being seduced by a sleazy older man." When Susan Kurosawa took up with Graeme Blundell, her sons just told her that if he hurt her, they would never forgive him.

The special person is always given a glowing portrait but occasionally there is a hint that the beloved is less than perfect. Di Morrissey met Peter, her handsome Californian, on board ship: they married and had two children. Nowadays they remain friends, though each is married to another partner. Peter went shopping for her beautiful engagement ring: "Peter made the decisions and I never questioned them, because his choice always seemed the right thing to do." You wonder if perhaps there came a time when Morrissey wanted to make a few decisions of her own.

Marion von Adlerstein is honest about the shortcomings of her late husband, Baron Hans Heinrich Vladimir Sergei Crull von Adlerstein, who at their first meeting was every bit as noble and commanding as his name. They planned marriage but she didn't know that he hadn't left his wife. He would fly into jealous rages. But he was still the love of her life: "I cannot say that we lived happily ever after but I can say that we lived and there were few dull moments."

Some romances are clearly never going to last. Paige Kilponen's exotic holiday fling with an Italian boy is so picture-book perfect that we know it is too good to be true - especially when she discovers he is prone to telling "little stories".

And then there are the loves that should work but somehow never do. Elly Varrenti first kissed the love of her life, a Bob Dylan lookalike boy, backstage at a school play. It was the start of a 20-year love affair. They weren't always together, and often when they came together one of them was officially with someone else. They were hooked on the excitement of the occasional connection. "Silly," she says, "but he always made me think that if only the planets were lined up just right on the night, we would finally be together for real." Eventually, he left her for real. "I still love him. But something is broken." And now he doesn't look a bit like Dylan.

"We met in a cupboard and I broke his heart," writes Kate Veitch. Unlike most of the dream men in this book, Troy was not handsome, not dangerous. "For the first time in my tempestuous life I had a boyfriend who was sane and good and committed to me, who wanted my happiness as much as his own." And that, you can't help thinking, was precisely the reason why she had to leave him.

But in the end, what do we want from a relationship? Susan Kurosawa concludes that for all the romance and passion, what we really want is companionship and utter loyalty. She remembers taking Blundell to hospital when he had a bad case of kidney stones, holding his hand all night as he stayed in a morphine dream. "I squeezed his hand and he stirred in his sleep. 'Don't you dare leave us alone.'"

But of course in every love affair, someone is eventually left alone. Anne Bartlett anticipates the last meeting: "Oh, my love. One day, one terrible day, there will come a mighty wrenching and tearing. May we have the grace to give that day its place. The seed must burst the pod. Love is stronger than death."
How We Met is published by Penguin at the end of this month. All royalties from sales go to the Sydney Centre of International PEN.

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German Wine Wins An International Contest In Canberra

A German wine, described as having a flavour that lasts for five minutes after tasting, has won an international contest in Canberra.

A 2006 vintage of Weingut Juliusspital Iphofer Julius-Echterberg Riesling Beernauslese - quite a mouthful in more ways than one - was named world's best at Canberra International Riesling Challenge.

The winning wine hails from the Franconian region, east of Frankfurt, which is famous for producing dry wines in the distinctive "Bocksbeutels" - a flat round bottle made famous by the popular Mateus Rose.

Challenge chairman Ken Helm, a Canberra region vigneron, described the winner as a sweet-style riesling with a flavour that doesn't go away.

"It's smooth and extremely elegant with a pleasant flavour that hangs around - you can still taste it five minutes later," he said.

"It is in the middle range of sweetness and is very well-balanced in acid and flavour".

A 2002 St Helga Eden Valley drop from the Orlando stable won the award for best Australian/New Zealand riesling.

It was the second time the vintage has won an award at the challenge after taking out the best museum class (older than four years) last year.

"The St Helga is a dry wine with enormous flavour and balance but no harshness," Mr Helm said.

"People often believe that rieslings don't age well but the judges agree that this wine shows it will drink well during the next 20 years."

The competition, which has been running for eight years, reinforced the taste divide between the two hemispheres: the southern wineries were strongest with the dry-style entries with their northern counterparts excelling in the sweeter varieties.

Mr Helm said the judges had a difficult job separating the top 22 Australian wines.

"We were surprised by the enormous quality of the wines," he said.

"We normally give out awards to the top 10 but this year the judges went down to 22.

"For the first time they will all get the top 10 sticker."

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US President George W. Bush Announces New Sanctions Against The Myanmar Junta

US President George W. Bush has announced new sanctions against the Myanmar junta, the announcement came following the president's address at the UN general assembly where he focussed the attention of the international community on the need to take action against the Burmese regime.

President Bush ordered the Treasury Department Friday to freeze the financial assets of additional members of the repressive military junta. He also acted to tighten controls on U.S. exports to Myanmar, also known as Burma, and called on the governments of China and India to do more to pressure the government of the Southeast Asian nation.

"Monks have been beaten and killed. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been arrested," Bush said in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.

"Burma's rulers continue to defy the world's just demands to stop their vicious persecution."

Last month, tens of thousands of people turned out for rallies, which started as protests of sharp fuel increases and later snowballed into the largest show of government dissent in decades. The junta claims that 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on demonstrators to disperse them, but diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is likely much higher.

In response, the Bush administration froze the assets that individuals responsible for the crackdown have in U.S. banks or other financial institutions under U.S. jurisdiction. The administration also prohibited any U.S. citizens from doing business with the designated individuals. Among those targeted for the sanctions were the junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, and the No. 2 man in the military regime, Deputy Senior Gen. Maung Aye.

The crackdown also prompted first lady Laura Bush to make personal appeals for support for Myanmar citizens, saying the acts of violence "shame the military regime."

Mrs. Bush joined him as he announced his new sanctions.

The president said the Treasury Department has designated 11 more leaders of the junta for sanctions. Bush also issued a new executive order that designates an additional 12 individuals and entities for sanctions. The executive order grants the Treasury Department expanded authority to sanction individuals responsible for human rights abuses as well as public corruption as well as those who support and provide financial backing to them or the government of Burma.

"Burmese authorities claim they desire reconciliation. Well, they need to match those words with actions," Bush said.

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US Army Officer In Iraq Charge For Possessing Secret Military Document

A senior US Army officer in Iraq was found guilty of possessing thousands of secret military documents that the prosecution in his court martial argued could have benefited a foreign power.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Steele, 52, was acquitted on the more serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carried a sentence of life imprisonment, for allowing security detainees to use his mobile telephone for unmonitored calls.

He faces up to 10 years' imprisonment on the secret documents charge. He was also found guilty of having an inappropriate relationship with an Iraqi woman interpreter and refusing to obey an order.

Steele is the former commander of Camp Cropper, a US detention centre near Baghdad airport where he oversaw the detention of Saddam Hussein in the days leading up to the former Iraqi leader's execution on December 30.

Earlier, prosecutor Captain Michael Rizzotti told the court that nearly 12,000 secret documents had also been found in a search of Steele's living quarters in Camp Victory, the main US base in Baghdad.

"(They were) documents that if (they had) fallen into the wrong hands could be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation. He did not get authority to take these documents," Rizzotti said.

Much of the trial was held in closed session because of the sensitive nature of the documents, but reporters were given a glimpse of one which contained aerial photographs of Kandahar airbase and Bagram airfield in Afghanistan.

The court also heard how Steele sent intimate emails to his interpreter Bahar Ahmed Suseyi, including one saying "there are a few things I need to do with you/to you" and planned to take her with him on a trip to Qatar.

The prosecution had argued that he openly favoured Suseyi over other interpreters and provided her with special privileges. Suseyi herself testified that she had a professional relationship with the colonel and thought of him as a friend.

Prosecutors struggled from the beginning to make the case of aiding the enemy, with the judge, Lieutenant-Colonel Timothy Grammel, warning at the start of the trial that they would have to prove that detainees still qualified as enemies.

Rizzotti told the court that in one instance Steele had allowed an al-Qaeda detainee, identified only as ISN 2184, "responsible for hundreds of deaths of coalition forces" to make a five minute unmonitored telephone call in Arabic.

"We'll never know who was called, we'll never know what was said. ... It's the equivalent of putting an AK-47 in his hand.

"He aided the enemy," Rizzotti said.

Steele opted not to testify, but his defence team argued that allowing detainees to use his mobile phone did not justify such a charge and that the prosecution had failed to prove that the detainees still posed a security threat.

He was the highest-ranking US officer to face a charge of aiding the enemy since Captain James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, was charged in September 2003. The army eventually dropped the case.

Steele had already pleaded guilty to three other charges, including one of possession of pornography, which each carry a maximum sentence of two years.

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