31 December 2007

The Time of Our Lives

One year ago, we boarded a plane bound for Australia just before midnight. A few hours later we crossed the International Date Line, officially marking the shortest New Year’s I have ever known – until now. Last night seemed like it was only about twenty minutes long, and I couldn’t stretch time no matter how I tried.

At dawn, the parks and reserves of the foreshore were already filling with families and revellers staking out territory for the phenomenal party thrown across Sydney Harbour. Streets were barricaded and expressways closed as 1 million people streamed into the city, searching for the perfect vantage point, preferably one within a serviceable walk of a functional toilet. Indeed, access to reasonable toilet facilities played no small part in our New Year’s Eve plans, and there we could think of no better vantage point for the spectacular Sydney fireworks show than from the top deck of a luxurious cruise ship on the harbour.

At 6 pm, we joined an excited mob and squeezed ourselves sardine style onto a city bound train. At 7:30, we weaved our way through throngs of food stalls, glow stick vendors, and drunks (oof, they’ve got a long way to go) jammed into Circular Quay and escaped into the tranquil civility of Wharf 6, where we were cordially welcomed aboard the Sydney 2000. We grabbed some champagne and headed to the top deck.

Instantly, I became dizzy, spinning and swirling in a vain attempt to take in the scene that was unfolding in all directions around me. A chorus of cheers erupted from the crowd as we set sail. Flash bulbs popped from every balcony. The coves along the foreshore were stuffed with brightly lit boats at anchor. In the distance, a huge cyclone of flying foxes swirled above the city, sending off the occasional arm of migratory bats, like storm bands from a hurricane.

We slipped back to our table for the entrée of lobster and oysters, but our excitement could not be confined indoors, and we were soon back on the top deck, waving to passing boats. Downstairs again for an Intermezzo of melon sherbet, then up to the deck for the 9 o’clock fireworks display, put on for the kids who cannot stay up till midnight. After the show, our boat joined the other commercial charters for a parade of lights around the harbour in an exclusion zone off limits to all other boats. Thus the water was calm and uncrowded, save for the red and blue flashing lights of dozens of police vessels patrolling the edge of the zone. There was a beauty there as well.

After the delicious main course, (I used to make fun of my Aunt Bette for the excruciating detail she would relate when describing enjoyable meals she’d had on various vacations, and I vowed I would never do that. However, as I get older, I have come to appreciate the increasing sensory pleasures of the palette, perhaps because they swell as other pleasures recede. Nonetheless, I won’t torture you with sumptuous descriptions of grilled beef fillets with red onion jam or duck confit with dark cherry sauce.) time slowed down a little, and we were able to savour the atmosphere of the evening. With so many stimuli competing for our attention, it was hard to remain focused on any one pleasure for very long, and we were soon doing laps around the decks trying to imprint as many sensations on our psyche as possible.

At last, the captain parked the boat sideways to the bridge at the far end of the exclusion zone, the lights of all the other boats beautifully framed between the city lights of either shore. Perfect. Just before midnight, the sky erupted with light, sound, and colour from every direction, the flaming bridge at centrepiece. Thunderous explosions drowned out the appreciative cheers of the crowds. Horns and whistles sounded from all directions and the surface of the water became a shimmering reflection of the rainbow ballet of sparkling flares. From the tops of skyscrapers, fountains of flames contributed to the swelling crescendo of the blazing symphony. Then, climax: The deck of the bridge transformed into a brilliant white waterfall of flame, spilling into the sizzling water of Sydney Harbour.

Then it was done. Like a giant balloon that had finally run out of the pressure necessary to keep it sputtering and farting around the room in a manner that never fails to entertain all but the most severe old cranks. Nothing to do now but revel in our insufficient memory and gloat as we joined one million other people in a race for a train home.

Actually, getting out of the city was no where near as difficult as I had been lead to believe. Our boat docked at 1 am, and most of the crowds at Circular Quay had already dissipated, leaving behind a wake of garbage so impressive, that we lingered to discuss the beast that had left behind such chaos. By the time we made our way through the cheerful drunken stragglers, up George to Wynyard Station, the crush of people was less than a typical workday commute and we were able to step directly onto a train that took us right to our front door.

We sat on our balcony, gazing out across the harbour and tried once more in vain to slow time, to make this night last forever. Soon I was overcome with the beautiful fatigue borne of busy excitement and I succumbed to exhaustion at 3:30.

At 6:00 am, I awoke to the sound of hoots and hollers coming from a balcony on the next building as a group of drunks greeted the rising sun. They had squeezed every last minute out of the night.

But through the magic of photography, this night can last forever...and when I get around to editing the videos, you'll see what I mean.

Happy New Year!

And

Happy 18th Anniversary, Darling.

25 December 2007

About Australian Diminutives

The distinctive accent and colorful vernacular make the Australian way of speaking one of the most charming dialects in the world. This may be especially true in America, where an Australian accent is the surest form of salesmanship (and possibly foreplay), in everything from tourism to magazine subscriptions (which I cancelled as soon as I got home and came to my senses.) Take, if you will this example I heard in a (terrible, but linguistically entertaining) movie today:

Ratbag Pommy: “I just love the dingo lingo! Hey cobber, say something in Australian.”

Cobber: “Fuck off ya drongo. I wouldn’t piss in yer ear if yer brain was on fire.”


Perhaps one of the most amusing, if not equally frustrating, habits of the Australian tongue is the tendency to shorten words that are otherwise cumbersome, containing too many annoying consonants and syllables that might exhaust ones lips and detract from more important oral activities, such as drinking beer. Thus, ‘breakfast’ becomes ‘brekkie’; ‘sunglasses’ are ‘sunnies’; ‘flip-flops’ are ‘flippies’ (although, being shorter and containing fewer syllables, ‘thongs’ is still widely favored, context usually providing clarification. ‘McDonald’s’ is ‘Maccas’ (pronounced ‘Mackers’) and ‘afternoon’ is, inexplicably, ‘arvo’. I’ll leave it to my readers to put all of those together in a sentence.

With the exception of ‘arvo’, (which I find painful to hear, much more so to pronounce) I have adopted many of these diminutives into my daily speech, not so much because I am charmed by them, as because, I too am inherently lazy and need to free up more time for drinking beer. However, I draw the line at one particular abridgement. In fact, I am so offended by it that I loathe to even write it. I refuse to wish you all a “Happy Chrissy.”


Merry Christmas.


(Post Script: A Google search of the word 'cobber' yielded a hit at a website called, of all things 'AustralianBeers.com'. The entry lamented the decline of Australia's colorful vernacular and proceeded to blame it on America. Blaming America for every Australian cultural defect is a common past-time, which I will undoubtedly address at some point in the future. But for now, let's just leave it at "No one is fucking forcing you! If you, as a people, collectively choose to adopt American culture, there must be something to it!" Living abroad has, of late, infused me with a new found sense of patriotism.)

17 December 2007

New Australian Visa Options

Effective October 31, 2007, the United and States and Australia have entered into a reciprocal agreement for working holiday visas. These visas are designed for young people (up to age 31 - Chloe, you still have time!) who would like to supplement their travel with casual work. The visa allows you to stay and work in Australia for up to 12 months, and there are lots of job opportunities for casual work - mostly restaurant - especially in fun tourist areas. The only restrictions for US citizens are enrollment or graduation from college (aka post-sceondary institution.)

If any of my young friends (or my brother) or friends children are interested, you have a place to stay to start your travels in Sydney...

For more information, see: http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/working-holiday/462/pdf/fact_1_whv_us.pdf

Cheers.

15 December 2007

A Happy Night Out

CW Stoneking makes me believe in collective reincarnation. There can be no doubt that within his skinny white body resides the souls of the founding fathers of back porch blues. Close your eyes while he is performing on stage, and you can smell the alleys and side streets of New Orleans, feel Mississippi mud ooze between your toes, and taste fried catfish and collard greens.

When I first heard him, he and his primitive horn orchestra were live in the studios of Triple J radio. The deep and gravely voice that stammered and stuttered through the interview did not prepare me for what a marvellous showman he would be live on stage. He introduced each song with a short story punctuated with charm and humor (or, if you prefer, humour). The stories became increasingly outrageous as he progressed through his set, beginning with a believable yarn about the first blues song he heard on one of his daddy’s cassettes to a tall tale about arriving on the shores of Africa in a life raft, having used his banjo to paddle across the Atlantic. I couldn’t help but wonder if he invented the stories first, and then penned a song to fit.

We stuck around after the show to get autographs. I fully expected him to just shuffle through the line of people waiting, but he had a protracted conversation with each of his fans, and he was just as amusing and charming as he was on-stage. He and his wife were also married in Reno. He loves San Francisco. He was Cleopatra in a previous life.

14 December 2007

More About Australian Toilets

A comment from the previous post:

We are now into the century of water shortages / wars, so let's hear it for the great Australian invention of the dual-flush toilet!http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/australia_innovates/?behaviour=view_article&Section_id=1040&article_id=10044

"In 1956 Charles Rothauser, a Hungarian immigrant, renamed his plastics company "Caroma" and began manufacturing bathroom products, including the world's first one-piece plastic toilet cistern (the cistern is the water tank above the toilet that stores the flush)."

In 1994 the company completely redesigned the toilet in stylish porcelain in a modern 'organic shape'. Its 6 and 3 litre dual flush cistern and matching bowl halved the amount of water normally flushed away. "This combination of style and environmental awareness attracted attention in the tough European sanitaryware market and exports began soon after. The product is now shipped to more than 30 countries worldwide."

Thank you for the excellent segue. I have been meaning to comment on the dual-flush toilet in greater detail, so this seems a fine opportunity. (But first, a crack about the European sanitaryware market, not to be confused with the North American sanitarywear market.)

I was quite enamored with the dual-flush toilet upon my arrival in Australia, slightly perplexed initially as the first one I encountered featured two stainless steel buttons mounted on the wall, one featuring a raised full circle, the other a raised semi-circle, but I soon put it together. I pressed the button for the half flush and watched my toilet paper gently tumble in the now pale yellow water. So I pressed it again with the same result, and then opted for the full flush.

At 3 L per half flush and 6 L per full flush, I spent 9 L (=2.4 US gallons = 0.5 buckets) of water to rid the world of 300 mL of pee. By contrast, a typical low-flow toilet in the US uses 1.6 gallons per flush (= 6L = 136 jiggers = 0.02 hogsheads - WTF is a 'hogshead'?? BK, get on this - I am too lazy to google it myself) and can usually manage a full load in a single flush - except on those frustrating occasions when one produces a particularly buoyant turd that stubbornly clings to life on the surface, circling and circling (counter-clockwise, mind you) but refuses to pass into the next plane of fecal existence.

Really, the difference between the overall effectiveness of Australian and American toilets is negligible, and I have no intention of turning this into a battle of perceived superiority. And, since nothing creates alliances more so than ridiculing a common adversary, let's all have a good laugh about German toilets.

Still, I was very impressed with Australia's conscientious efforts towards water conservation, as I walked to the sink, turned on the taps and was dowsed with a high pressure blast of water reminiscent of fire hose effluent. Surely, I thought this must be an anomaly. The flow restrictor must have fallen out, but this same scenario has repeated itself in nearly every bathroom I have visited - and considering the inadequacy of my bladder, my love of beer, and my post-evacuatory hygiene habits, that is a respectable sampling.

At home, my kitchen faucet is no different. Each time I rinse a dish, I am sprayed with soapy water from the waist up. On the plus side, the kitchen remains relatively clean, since the basin must be wiped down frequently to prevent flooding of the apartment below.

However, there is a flow restrictor in my bathtub. Let me repeat that, in case you missed it...There is a flow restrictor in my bathtub! I guess the idea is, that after 30 minutes, when there is still merely a puddle of now-cold water in the bottom of the tub, one will give up and take a shower.

Or just go wash the dishes.

13 December 2007

About Australian Toilets

Perhaps it is a sorry testament to the degree of curiosity that many Americans have for lands beyond their borders, but the most frequent question I receive from folks back home is “So, do the toilets really spin clock-wise there?”

Aside from the fact that many people don’t actually say ‘clock-wise’, not being entirely sure of the direction of the Coriolis Effect in their own hemisphere, the short answer is:

“No.”

The toilets in Australia are so decidedly different that they don’t spin at all. Indeed, most toilets I have encountered flush straight down, due undoubtedly to the fact that Australia seemingly feels the need to distinguish themselves from the rest of the civilised world in small but insignificant ways. Lest you accuse me of Australia bashing, allow me to make my case for at least one advantage of the good old American Standard.

In their defence, the architecture of Australian toilets does discourage unfortunate blockage from bountiful excretory events (Dad!) through the relatively straightforward design of their porcelain p-trap system, particularly in light of the sparse amount of water that inhabits the bowl. I have yet to see a plunger among the accoutrement of an Aussie restroom. (Unfortunately, this meagre water supply does necessitate the presence of a toilet brush in every bathroom.) An added benefit to this system is that there is hardly any ‘back splash’ upon release of any deposition which might otherwise provide an instantaneous, if not entirely unhygienic, bidet-like effect. (Oh, like you don’t know what I am talking about!)

However, because of the deep and wide opening to the sewer pipe, said depositions immediately slide into a cavernous ceramic conduit, rendering them completely inaccessible for review. Mind you, I am not implying that I spend an inordinate amount of time studying my efforts, but a brief survey of ones fecal constructions can provide conspicuous clues regarding the status of one’s overall health and well being…In Australia, one might go for years with undiagnosed colonic ulcers, only to be denied an insurance claim upon returning from an overseas visit.

And of course, there are those rare but satisfying occasions when the gods of peristalsis are smiling upon you, and you just want to spend a few moments admiring the 22" replica of your entire lower digestive tract.

Just be happy there are no photographic accompaniments to this entry.

Didn’t I promise to regain my edginess after my birthday??

Which leads me to a digression…does anyone else have a mirror positioned directly across from their porcelain throne?

Screw You Adam, and Your Home Typing Business That You Seem to Run From the Airport...

Sorry folks.

Sore optimist that I am believed I might be able to hide this blog from ass-sucking spammers, but alas, NO. Thanks to one rotten apple, you (well, all three of you that regularly read and/or comment on my blog -besides the shitheel Adam and his anal intrusive Home Typing Business) must now fill out the cryptic 'word verification' to post comments on my blog. Sorry. Personally, I despise word verification, since there is decidedly something wrong with my spatial vision and I never get it right the first time around...

VrWg3

08 December 2007

In Like a Lion

In the context of hemispheric seasonal juxtaposition, I reckon that particular turn of phrase would more appropriately be applied to the month of September, but there is no denying the ferocity of the first part of December. Sydney has been experiencing ten solid days of outrageous storm squalls. A calm sunny cloudless morning suddenly turns dark as night while violent winds rent the sky releasing a torrent of raindrops the size of hedgehogs beneath a blinding display of lightning accompanied by thunder claps sharper and louder than a used car salesman’s suit.

Usually, a long stretch of gloomy weather would make me feel likewise. However, on the rare occasions when the clouds part, the sun is a flaming blowtorch, searing my flesh and converting the surface of the earth to a steaming pressure cooker. The air takes on the consistency of soggy molten lead and every surface instantly sprouts a thin layer of aggressive mildew. No, I cannot curse the clouds today. They are benevolent guardians shielding me from solar incineration and muggy intoxication.

I also cannot complain about the rain, since Australia has been experiencing a horrendous ten-year drought. In the last week, over 150 mm of rain has fallen on parts of Sydney. Sadly, I just cannot seem to convert mm of rain into units that I can get my head around. Yes, I know how to do the mental math and say “Well that is about 6 or 7 inches,” but the fact that it was first reported in millimetres just fucks with me. I can’t explain it. Unfortunately, rain falling on Sydney is about as beneficial to the water reserves as rain falling in Santa Monica. But, it would be a good time to be in lawnmower sales.

As I was prowling around one of my favourite websites (and BK: I was perfectly aware of the BOM. Any liberties I take with accuracy and completeness are generally for the intention of entertainment, although sometimes done out of sheer laziness. I used to feel obligated to educate the world, but now I don’t even believe in most facts.) I found myself wandering down a quirky thread of links. Political correctness has a distinctly Australian flavour here and most frequently involves ensuring that everyone takes the Aboriginal people seriously. Oddly, attempts to illustrate the value of indigenous knowledge and culture invariably cause me irritable frustration and kind of piss me off in general. I don’t have the energy to get into all of the reasons right now, but being raised by a fervent proponent of the freedom of information, I take issue with Aboriginal notions of knowledge ownership.

Still, I applaud this effort at sharing, and confess that I have heard network weather forecasts that are about as insightful.

Perhaps here one might say, “In like Wantangka, out like Yurluurrp.”

That is, if you think you could say it at all…

07 December 2007

Keep Singing, Abdi

Descending the stairs from St Leonards Station to Herbert Street, my street, I am walking behind a man. He is singing softly as he walks. A quiet, exotic sound.

"Keep singing." I say. "Louder. Let it out. Louder."

"I was singing in my language."

"Are you homesick? Too?"

We strike up a breif conversation along the way. I am from California. His sister moved to California. She is a doctor. Very rich, now. He is from Ethiopia, been here 11 years.

"Did you move here during the war?"

"Yes...during...because of the war." I notice the scar across his eye, but we are in front of my building now. So much I want to know about his life. There is so much to share between random people.

"You live here?"

"Yes."

"I work there, at the hospital. Maybe we will see each other, again?"

I hope so.

"Keep singing, Abdi."

29 November 2007

Nature Call

Because of the Australian propensity to interchange 'er' sounds and 'ah' sounds, it took me quite some time to distinguish the names of two ubiquitous bird species. The Common Myna and the very appropriately named Noisy Miner. The latter is a native Australian species, while the former is yet another example of a species introduced with the high hopes of affecting bio control that has instead run amok and decimated the existing ecological balance (note: this is a recurring theme throughout this island continent.)

But this is not meant to be a biology lesson, merely an introduction to this really amusing, if not cinematographically lacking, video I shot last weekend in the Hunter Valley:




I have yet to learn how to distinguish kangaroos from wallabies, and indeed, the difference may be entirely arbitrary. Therefore, ignore the babbling speculation in the soundtrack of this next clip, (apparently there is no such species as a 'black-footed kangaroo' and these are almost certainly not 'black-footed rock wallabies', but it would not be the first time I have elected to assign my own nomenclature to my personal field observations) and instead focus on the goofy gracefulness of the largest of Australian marsupials:

26 November 2007

Achey Breaky

This morning's Yahoo headlines read "Cheney has irregular heartbeat".

I was shocked to learn he had a heart at all!

40 Rocks

Editor’s Note: I am the first to confess that angry rants, pathetic whingeing, or a good horror story make for superior literary content than do sappy gushing descriptions of bliss-laden events (because, really, laughing at the misery of others somehow raises our estimations of our own experiences) - but I’ve had a damn good week, and therefore feel I deserve a little self-indulgent boasting. If accounts of saccharine happiness gross you out, just skim over the following text and click on the pictures instead. I promise to regain my edge during the upcoming holiday season.




Friday, November 16, 2007

Rrrrring. Rrrrring.

(Actually, my mobile phone plays “Every Breath You Take”, but I’ve taken creative liberties for narrative purposes.)

“Hello, Baaaaaabeeee!” Looking up to the 18th floor of our building, I see Kevin waving from the balcony. “What? You just couldn’t wait till I made it up the elevator to say ‘Hi’ ”.

I wave back.

“Hey. Um, I had to pee really bad when I got home from work, and I left my laptop in the trunk. Can you pick it up for me on your way up?”

“Goofball. Sure thing.”

“See ya in a bit.”

After a brief detour to the trash bins in search of discarded treasure (nothing but a couple of high quality packing boxes…may come in handy), approaching the rear of the car, suspicion suddenly rising – come to think of it, he sounded a little strained, maybe even smug…heyyyy, my birthday is next Wednesday…and I’ve been asking for a new camera.



I open the trunk and smile the deepest, warmest smile I’ve smiled by his making in a long while. Maybe not since the time he hid a series of clues in plastic Easter Eggs that eventually lead me to a generous gift certificate from Nordstrom. There, in the trunk, is a beautifully wrapped parcel, just the right size to be a Pentax Optio S10 with video capability, and a rather apropos card.




I won’t need to remember…the next time you do something stupid, honey, I will have captured it in living color (with audio!) and will be sharing it with the world through the magic of the internet.



Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Saturated with sleep, I groggily make my way into the kitchen in search of coffee.

“It’s ready to go.” He says. I turn on the burner and shuffle to the computer to post my birthday blog. I feel him lingering, smugly again, in my periphery as I log-on to the internet when a bright yellow bundle catches my eye. He has remembered the not-so-subtle hints I dropped about a fabulous scent I recently encountered during a hens night last week. There on the table, is a very large bag from Jo Malone. And, it is very heavy, clearly containing far more than the 30 ml of Pomegranate Noir Cologne I had hoped for…The deep warm smile returns as he gloats impatiently in his bathrobe. I untie the ribbons to find beautifully fragrant boxes containing body crème, bath oil, a magnificently scented candle, and the previously mentioned cologne.

“You must have made the sales girl’s day.” As I remember his feeble excuses last Saturday – since when does he ever go into the office on a weekend?

I head to work, feeling spoiled, but smelling fabulous.

Amelia takes a call from Silvana – “Audra, there is a big delivery next door. Can you help me carry it over?”

“Sure thing.” Does my naiveté know no limits?

“Hey, Silvana…where’s this big delivery?”

“It’s in the tea room.” (That’s Australian for ‘break room”.)

But the tea room is filled with my colleagues from the Department of Pharmacology, surrounding a gorgeous blackberry cheesecake, all aflame with seven candles…seven? Sure, why not. Again, I am overcome with emotion at being fussed over. I endure the obligatory ‘Birthday Song’ followed by three resounding rounds of ‘Hip, Hip, Hooray,’ and I feel officially indoctrinated into Australian society.

Returning home, I am greeted by a generous bouquet of orchids, thistles, and several other flowers whose taxonomy I could only guess. There is also a box of Lindor chocolates. I glance at Kevin, but he immediately shakes his head in denial. The card attached to the flowers bears a very moving sentiment from my mother; the card on the chocolates, an apology from the delivery company for being a day late. But how did they come to be in my apartment? Ah, the kitchen sink is fixed at last. It must have been the doing of our handyman. But it doesn’t end there! For once, hand written envelopes out number menus for local restaurants in the day's mail delivery. I have not been entirely forgotten though I am a world away from those I love (except, of course for that particular best friend who has NEVER posted me birthday salutations, or salutations of any other kind, for that matter...) My heart is absolutely reeling from all the attention!



Later that evening, after having my favourite Thai restaurant bring me a heaping order of Kaffir Lime Pork, we retired to the balcony with a glass of wine. A fierce storm was brewing all around edges of the city, lightning strikes like dramatic birthday candles in all directions. I counted to 40, and then fell into bed, overstimulated and exhausted.






Saturday, November 24, 2007

The celebrations are still in full swing. Following coffee and meat pies (my Aussie breakfast of choice), we drive the long two hours to the Hunter Valley, a peaceful wine region north of Sydney. Kevin has booked two nights at a luxury resort, complete with a day-long spa package. Once more, a storm rages as we relax into tandem Lomi Lomi massages, the thunder drowning out the gurgling of my stomach. We nap deeply during luxurious pedicures and then head out for dinner. We just missed Brian Ferry at the bar, his concert having been cancelled due to rain – the big pussy! I was never much of a fan anyway. For dinner, I had pork belly with cracklin’. In Mexico, this would be called chicharrones. I used to pay 2 pesos for a bag full bigger (and better) than what came on my elegantly dressed plate for $38AUD. I reckon I was paying for atmosphere…The clouds cleared just in time for rising of the full moon. We do not hit any kangaroos on the way back to the resort, and we sleep soundly to a chorus of horny frogs.

The next day is spent shopping for wine and eating a leisurely lunch overlooking lush green vineyards to the strains of Christmas Carols. And believe me; ‘strain’ is an appropriate word. Songs about Santa Claus are plausible, but as the sun pokes through white puffy clouds and steams the valley floor, songs like White Christmas and Winter Wonderland send me into paroxysms of laughter.




This is going to be a really weird Christmas!

And should supply me with just the edge I need to recover from all this bliss.

22 November 2007

Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all my mates and family up over. I am thankful for many things, but first and foremost is the love and support I get from every one of you! You keep me afloat.

In case you aren't sure: No, there is no Thanksgiving in Australia, primarily, I think because the turkeys here are scrawny little scavengers and I reckon it never ocurred to anyone to import the big fat domestic types that will be adorning so many American tables today. Seriously, turkey is a scarce commodity.

But I am being silly.

The real reason they don't celebrate Thanksgiving is that women would have to get up at 2 in the morning in order to have dinner together in time for the Dallas game, which would be at 8:15 am here. Hmmm. I wonder if it will even be on here. Is the pub is open yet? I just may have to take one of my 20 vacation days...or maybe one of my 10 sick days (another reason to give thanks).

From another yank blog:

"Why doesn't Australia celebrate Thanksgiving? Well the short snarky version I generally give folks "back home" is that ummmm, there weren't any pilgrims nor were there any starving Indians to trade with when James Cooke sailed around mapping the coast. Aboriginals, yes. Indians, no. Hence, no Turkey Day."

Has history been re-written AGAIN since I was in elementary school?? Sometimes, I feel the need to apologize on behalf of America. I promise never to use the word 'snarky' ever again - if I ever did.


Of course, the holiday season exacerbates any feelings of homesickness I am currently experiencing, and indeed I find myself longing to be lounging around a cozy-warm living room, patting a full belly, and watching football. (3 games this year! How sweet is that!!) However, I know I am being sappy and sentimental, since I don't especially like the Thanksgiving menu, and even if I were home, I would probably have runn off to Mexico for a shrimp, lobster, and Corona feast. Great, now I'm homesick for Mexico...mmmmm, cheap Corona! ($21 a six pack last night - I had to pass.)


So, no big food-centric holiday to celebrate the harvest - nevermind that it is spring, and the major harvest is mangoes - now that would be amenu I could get behind. However, there is a big drinking holiday this weekend (Who am I kidding, ALL holidays in Australia are drinking holidays!) Of course, I am talking about the federal election. Almost as important as which party will be elected is which election party you will be attending. (For a more technical treatment of the election issues and dynamics, visit my neuroscientist buddy in Brisbane.)

My Aussie friends are aghast when I tell them that in Mexico, all sales of alcohol are banned for several days surrounding federal elections.

"Why??"

"To make sure everyone sobers up enough to go to the polls, and also to help prevent emotions from overflowing when the fixed results come in."

"Savage!"

20 November 2007

On Turning 40

I’ve heard a lot of women say that their 40th birthday was their most difficult. Thus far, I am approaching that milestone with as much grace and dignity as I might have hoped…with a few concessions…I bought myself a pair of Chinese Converse Knock-offs and I plan to dye my hair bright red. (Allow me to take a moment to extol the many virtues of cheap Chinese knock-offs. They are most likely made in the same factory, by the same tortured laborers, yet they cost $65 dollars less and I do not have to endure the crisis of collective identity that comes with riding a bandwagon. Cheap Chinese knock-offs always have some silly flaw. My Ju*Hang shoes are stitched over the ankle with the number 80 – Jerry Rice, perhaps? – except over the right foot, it is 08.)

Though I have yet to verbalize the experience in print, turning 30 was extremely difficult for me. It was a tumultuous and emotional period in my life. By contrast, 40 seems a nice number – the first digit hard and sharp, the second soft and round, an appropriate metaphor for my current mental state and evolving physical condition..

Birthdays are a natural time for reflection. Perhaps none more so than 40, which in my (and Maude’s) opinion is indeed the most accurate demarcation of mid-life. This last week, Kevin and I have been indulging in a considerable amount of reflection and reminiscence, and I can say with no uncertainty, that I am incredibly satisfied with the first half of my life. It has been rich and full beyond my imagination. While I have no intention of doing so, I can honestly say I could die tomorrow and not feel short changed.

Now, I know the older of you amongst my blogging audience will scoff at this statement, and I fully reserve the right to revise my opinion as my life draws closer to its end – I am cognizant of human nature. But for now, I take comfort and pride in a life lived daringly, if not drunkenly.

Oh, and for all the kindly people throughout my life who have frequently and gleefully told me “Oh, yeah, you’re skinny now, but just wait until you turn 40. Your metabolism will change and you’ll blimp out just like the rest of us.”

Congratulations.

I hope you choke on your maliciously smug prescience.

16 November 2007

About Australian Law Enforcement

Police officers in Australia are called ‘constables’. I think that is just so cute. Such a friendly, neighbourly word, constable is.

New South Wales Law Enforcement is always announcing some new campaign designed to highlight a particular area of concern, especially over holiday periods. For example, over the Easter holidays, the police were targeting seat belt infractions. During the Queen’s Birthday Weekend, they were cracking down on sleepy drivers. Last week, the Sydney Police unveiled Operation Summer Safe: targeting drunken louts and anti-social behaviour.

I just love imagining Constables on patrol reprimanding surly youths for sulking and playing too many computer games, encouraging them to join a book club or take up a sport. I think a term like “anti-social behaviour” gives the police a considerable amount of leeway. I am curious to know the legal definition.

Fortunately, since I have not been in any trouble lately, I don’t have much more to say about Australian Law Enforcement. I did have a couple of constables come to the apartment to take a statement from me after I reported a hit and run that I witnessed. They were tiny. Like little munchkin police. Seriously, the smallest police officers I have ever seen. I guess that’s why there had to be two of them. (Come to think of it, Australian Police always travel in pairs, never solo. That is probably a very good idea if you can afford it.) The lady constable took my statement while the gentleman constable said nothing as he sat on our ugly but comfortable sofa and stared at our flat panel TV. Finally, at the end of the interview he said “Gee, that’s a really nice TV you’ve got there.”

So cute.

The Best Mexican Salsa...

...in Australia comes from a Nepalese restaurant.

Go figure.

12 November 2007

The Joys of Public Transport

Girl Sitting next to me: “Stephanie! Hey. Hi.”

Girl Standing next to me: “Oh my God, Angela. Hi. I like, love your earrings.”

Stephanie: “Thanks. I have the flu.”

Angela: “Oh my God, me too. I totally have the flu.”

Stephanie: “Yeah, I was like, totally barfing all night.”

Angela: “Oh my God so was I! I was totally barfing all night, too!”

Stephanie: “Why are you like, going to school today if you like, totally have the flu?”

Angela: “Because, today? In English? We’re watching Pride and Prejudice.”

Stephanie: “Oh my God, I like totally LOVE that movie.”

Angela: “Yeah, I know. I’ve like seen it like ten times.”

Audra, feeling a sudden flush of fever turning to Stephanie: “Would you like my seat?”

05 November 2007

The First Tuesday in November

This morning, the entire train was unified in dutiful contemplation of their ballots. All mobile phone conversations pertained to the critical decisions at hand. Today, Australia, in total solidarity, marched forward to cheer their nominations on toward victory.

Of course, I am referring to the Melbourne Cup.

Described as “The Race That Stops a Nation”, I daresay that in terms of hype and anticipation, the Melbourne Cup rivals, if not surpasses, the Kentucky Derby. For some time, I have been meaning to write about Australia’s obsession with horse racing, gambling, and the wearing of silly hats - indeed, a great number of women here seem to suffer from an Eliza Doolittle Complex.

I was hoping to report from a position of first hand experience. Unfortunately, my plans were thwarted by the (mighty suspicious) arrival of Equine Influenza upon our bonny shores. With swift authority, the government imposed a strict quarantine on horse movement throughout the contry and promptly cancelled most of the qualifying events leading up to today’s preeminent race. (Then the government set up an emergency relief fund for un-employed horse dentists, but that is another subject.) The end result was that only Victorian (Melbourne is in the state of Victoria) horses were able to participate in the Melbourne Cup. The conspiracy theorist in me absolutely whickered.

Nonetheless, in the spirit of cultural participation (not to mention a love of gambling) I embraced the holiday spirit of the event. Following several glasses of bubbly and a catered lunch, I found myself seated in the Bosch Lecture Hall along side my equally enthusiastic colleagues, cheering for randomly selected horses with far more passion than was warranted by my meagre ten dollar buy-in. I must say that Eskimo Queen, Zipping, and Sirmione were total disappointments. I was delighted that Scenic Snot was firmly entrenched at the rear of the pack. (Actually, his name was Scenic Shot, but I took liberties in view of the flu pandemic and his poor showing.) Mahler took an early lead, only to lose in the last few hundred meters of the race as Efficient proved to be appropriately named, having saved his strength for a dramatic come-from-behind win.

The winner of the Melbourne Cup gets over $5 million. Of that, the jockey gets about $350,000. According to the news estimates, Australians wagered over $160 million on the Melbourne Cup Race. (Note that there are only 20 million people in all of Australia.) Efficient paid out at 22:1. The horse got a floral wreath and a free flu shot.

I won $6.

Still, it was more fun than voting.

29 October 2007

Fall into Spring

A few days ago, I walked by a dollar store and saw a small display of Halloween costumes and decorations. I was flabbergasted. Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year, and it snuck up on me completely. I felt suddenly displaced, out of whack with the space-time continuum.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, Halloween is not a well regarded holiday in Australia. It seems to be considered the ultimate example of the contamination of Australian culture by American marketing and consumerism. I am among the first to admit a hatred of the marketing machine, and for this reason avoid fabricated Hallmark gift-giving holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Secretary Day, and Mother’s/Father’s Day. And, I concede there is something unsettling in the fact that Halloween is second only to Christmas in consumer dollars spent.

But, Halloween is FU-UN. It is FUN to be ghoulish and macabre (note the proper use of the adjective). It is FUN to dress up and pretend to be someone (or something) else for a day. It is FUN to eat so many Bottlecaps, and Smarties, and miniature Three Musketeers Bars, and Wax Lips, and Pixie Sticks, and Tootsie Rolls, and Junior Mints, and Atomic Fireballs that you shit sugar cubes for a week.

Marketing mania aside, what struck me the most was the simple fact that it doesn’t FEEL like Halloween. Why not, you might reasonably ask? Because it is spring, of course. I get disoriented each time I look at the calendar or catch wind of an NFL score or see a news blip about the World Series then walk outside into warm white sunshine. In the archives of memory and sensation football, Halloween, and the appearance of Christmas decorations are indelibly linked with crisp cool winds, orange slanted sunlight, and the smell of distant wood fires, not with blooming Jacaranda Trees, lengthening days, and the cacophonous din of sexually charged birdsongs.

One of my biggest anxieties about moving to Australia was how I would handle the football jones. Usually, each summer, just before the pre-season, my body begins to physically crave a Sunday spent prostrate on the couch listening to the insouciant chatter of sportscasters punctuated by mindless marketing pitches for beer, cars, and shipping services. Because of the transposed seasonal transitions, that jones never materialized. Nonetheless, when Kevin finally figured out how to “acquire” NFL broadcasts (with the commercials conveniently edited out) I jumped onto the couch with heart-pounding colon-wrenching anticipation…and then I was lulled to sleep by the sweet strains of Al and John, blathering away…

18 October 2007

Camel Dreaming

Despite my mother’s wishes to the contrary – or perhaps because of them - I was unable to resist structuring our outback excursion around camel experiences. To begin with, I booked us a room at The Lost Camel Resort, so named for a poorly worded legend involving lost wages, lost dreams, lost lives, and of course, lost camels.

Serendipity contributed significantly to the camel theme. On our first morning drive to Ayer’s Rock/Uluru, we encountered a herd of feral camels crossing the road. Mom nearly wet herself with excitement.

The following day, on a hike through the Mulga Gorge at Kata Tjuta/The Olgas, I spied a pile of impossibly white objects lying at the bottom of a side gorge to the left of the trail. Bright white is generally not a colour consistent with the palette of the Australian Outback, thus the pile warranted closer examination. Slipping stealthily off the trail, I scrambled across the slick rock and nearly wet myself with excitement. The immense size of the bones made it immediately clear that a camel had met with an end tragic for the camel but beneficial for the bottom of the food chain. The bones were shockingly clean for their weight…or shockingly heavy for their size. Not shockingly, I knew that I HAD to have at least one of those bones…Unfortunately, the skull was no where in sight.


I would like to state for the record that I in no way endorse the removal of any artefacts, flora, or fauna from national parks, including rocks and shells. I have considerable respect for Aboriginal Lands and Culture and would never willingly or knowingly desecrate any site considered sacred. But then, camels are NOT native to this area, so perhaps the presence of their bones is a desecration and their removal might be a public service.

My conscience was reeling, but I stashed a massive camel vertebra beneath a foot bridge and employed the remainder of the hike to consider the delicate morality of this situation. Preoccupied by my ruminations, we came upon a ranger filling a plastic bag with non-native invasive weeds. Normally, I favour the adaptive advantage of invasive weeds and support their right to colonize new lands. Today I conveniently opted to employ a change of perspective in order to get what I wanted. I happily collected my new found treasure and whisked it out of the park.

In keeping with the theme, I booked a sunset camel ride. It was no small motivator that the tour concluded with beer and camel meat appetizers, which tasted suspiciously like Hickory Farms Summer Sausage, but then maybe I have unknowingly been eating camel meat at Christmas all these years. Camels are frighteningly smelly beasts with notoriously unpleasant dispositions. Our mount, Sullay, proved especially so and was fitted with a mesh bag to keep him from nipping the camel in front of him. There was nothing to keep him from urinating all over himself and the camel behind him.

Speaking with the guides after the tour, I confessed my sin of stealing camel bones. “Oh, was that at the base of Kata Tjuta? Yeah, my boss took the skull.”

Envious absolution was mine.

09 October 2007

The Fat Lady Sings

To the horrible tourist from Texas with big hair and steatopygia-

You had no right! You had no right to inflict such agony on your fellow diners! After all, the dinner event was called “The Sounds of Silence” not “The Shrieks of The Banshee.” No one in their right mind would have paid $149 to listen to your shameful caterwauling. Not only was it painful, it was quite disruptive to the digestive process.

Who ever gave you the idea that you could sing? It’s not like you were some celebrity, cheered into giving an impromptu performance by her adoring fans. No. At the incessant urging of your tone deaf husband YOU approached the tour operators and insisted on “treating” the crowd to a couple of songs before dinner.

Just because you can hit a vibrato on every drawn-out note, does NOT make you an opera singer. And what makes you think people on vacation at Ayer’s Rock want to listen to opera anyway? Not that your song selections had anything to do with opera. I don’t mind so much that you mauled “Danny Boy”, as I have never been particularly fond of that song anyway, but I will be forever scarred by the mere thought of Sound of Music after the thorough vivisection you applied to “Climb Every Mountain”, a song that was hitherto quite dear to my heart.

I implore you to carefully consider the health and well being of those around you before you launch into any further mutilations of popular ballads. I nearly broke my mother’s fingers as I wrestled the fork from her hands before she could plunge it into her eardrum. The man next to me actually cried blood. The chef threatened to quit. You are lucky the bus drivers did not abandon us in the desert, though all in attendance would have thoroughly enjoyed watching dingoes rip your throat out.

Please, please limit your future public demonstrations of your wretched vocal talents to the Pig Whistle County Baptist Choir, where your cacophonous ululations undoubtedly help usher your flock unto heaven if only in the hopes of arriving before you just so they may persuade St Peter to rethink any invitations he might be attempted to extend to you.

Kind Regards,

Audra

29 September 2007

The German-Indian-Mexican-Iraqi Connection

In case I have never made it abundantly clear, I would just like to state for the record that I LOVE beer! Thus, when my mother proposed we attend Oktoberfest, I did not hesitate to reply with a resounding affirmative. The celebration of German-Austrian culture is a thin disguise for the main event - the mass consumption of huge amounts of alcohol. Huge amounts.






Along the periphery of the venue, I was vaguely aware of the presence of food and entertainment, mostly in the form of bratwurst, potato pancakes, and men clad in leiderhosen slapping themselves to the strains of an accordion, but I was hard pressed to distract my attention from the joyous opportunity to become outrageously intoxicated in the company of 10,000 people wearing silly headpieces such as felt hats, Heidi wigs, and a full American-Indian head dress. I'm not clear on the Indian-German connection, but then neither did I comprehend why a full mariachi had just taken the stage. The reasons were irrelevant. I was so damn excited for a little taste of Mexican culture, even in the midst of schnitzel and Jaegermeister, that I immediately jumped up to stand in the front row and smile at them encouragingly.





It was from this vantage point that I immediately became aware that something was desperately out of whack. Maybe it was the fact that the music started a split-second before the band had lifted their instruments, or the fact that the suspiciously Caucasian-looking trumpet player (whose Pancho Villa mustache was clearly made of shoe polish ala Grouch Marx) was fingering violently despite the fact that no trumpet sound was coming out of the speakers, or maybe it was the hearty scream of "Ai, Ai, Aiiii" that seemed to come out of no-where, since no performer was making any overtures that could have possibly created such a ululation. Sadly, and with no small amount of disappointment, I realized that I was watching the Milli Vanilli of Mariachi Bands. I applauded graciously, but the magic of the moment had passed and I was now ready to go home.

But, oh we were very far from home. The festival was deep in the heart of the Western suburbs, and if the long train ride didn't confirm this, the abundance of neck tattoos and mullets certainly did. My mother has proved to be very popular with drunk Australian men, and she had soon made many new friends on the shuttle bus returning us to the train station. They soon convinced us that we would be much more comfortable waiting for the train at the pub across the street. Three beers and two trains later, we finally stumbled onto the platform and had a spirited exchange of taunting and trouser dropping with our new friends across the tracks. I defer detailed descriptions of this aspect of the evening to my mother's new blog, because after all, a video is worth ten thousand words and is just damn hilarious.





Not so funny, however, were the group of young Iraqi boys congregating on the platform next to us. As we traded jeers with the men across the tracks, it seemed at first that they were joining in the spirit of fun, but quickly did the tone of their taunts change, and soon they erupted into angry Arabic chants aimed at our friends on the other platform. They were clearly very amused at their own cleverness in being able to hurl insults at others in a language they couldn't possibly understand. Brimming with a confident curiosity born of alcohol and sauerkraut, I diplomatically interrogated the gang for a translation. They were clearly reluctant to tell me, a "foreigner" and a woman just what unpleasantries they had been yelling, but I eventually wore them down, despite their claims that it wouldn't translate well into English. I reassured them that even white people are cognizant of the subtleties of threatening anal rape.





Of course, I am still very disturbed by this scene for more reasons than I can articulate, but I am also very happy to be back in the safe happy melting-pot of the leafy Northern suburbs. I heard on the news this morning, that there was some sort of brawl downtown last night, in which several young men had been stabbed. My thoughts immediately turned to the group of agitated youth who had boarded our train, and I will confess in the pages of this public journal, that I half hope it was them.

27 September 2007

The Visitation

We are so very excited to have our first overseas visitor:



We picked up MommaLinda from the airport last Monday at the chirpy hour of 6:20 am (when no less than 6 other flights from California were arriving simulataneously). She was tired, but in good spirits after the 15 hour flight.


The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity, and I have slept better this past week than I have in a long time. On Tuesday, she took the ferry to Manly. Spent the day at the Sydney Aquarium on Wednesday. On Thursday, we met up for lunch at the famous Sydney Fish Markets, where we sipped a bottle of Hunter Valley Semillon and slurped some oysters.

Afterwards, we indulged in a little late night shopping and a cozy pub crawl, where we encountered a rather intoxicated and mildly entertaining Canadian caught in a mid-life crisis of his own making.
OK, so Kevin was not so amused.
For further details of the Adventures of MommaLinda, I refer you to her brand new very own blog - Dydo Down Under.
And now we are off to pet koalas and feed kangaroos...

20 September 2007

Train Games

There is no sweeter feeling than stepping onto the platform just as the whistle blows and hopping onto the train as the door swish shut behind you.

There is no drearier feeling than stepping onto the platform just as the doors swish shut in front of you and the train whispers laughingly out of the station.

Except when that swish is immediately followed by a garbled announcement that the next train has been delayed by 2 minutes, followed 2 minutes later by another garbled announcement that the train has been delayed by a further 2 minutes, followed by yet another garbled announcement as anxious passengers continue to stream onto the platform until you are standing shoulder to shoulder waiting for a train that you know is going to be jam packed already, because the same thing happened at each station up the track as the train, now delayed by 13 minutes, sat in Wahroonga, waiting for “an intruder” to be removed from the tracks, and then when the train finally does arrive, the crowd surges forward thus precluding the progress of the throngs of passengers scrambling to get off the train, because no one wants to wait for the next train that is due to arrive in 2 minutes, because they already got burned on the last train that was 20 minutes late, and dammit, they are going to get on that train if they have to trample old cripples and pregnant women to do it, and you would be polite and step aside, but you are caught up by the momentum of the masses, so you jam your elbow into a schoolgirl with curly pony tails and fling yourself into the carriage, tucking your ass inside just as the doors swish shut and you turn to see the twisted sorry faces of those left behind on the platform already wailing in agony at the announcement that the next train has been delayed by 2 minutes, but at that point, you cannot help but feel a guilt-ridden thrill of triumph that you made it on board and now you get to play:

Train Games

1) Where do I put my eyes?
This may seem like a silly game, but I assure you it is quite serious, especially when you are seated in a row that directly faces the seat across from you. The only way to avoid playing this game is to immediately immerse yourself in a book or simply close your eyes, in which case you run the risk of falling asleep and losing by missing your stop. Sitting in a window seat also gives you an automatic out, as you can easily pretend to be vastly entertained by the scenery, but when the train enters a tunnel, you are promptly forced into play. There isn’t much to look at in a cramped train compartment besides other passengers, and the whole point of the game is to not actually make eye contact with anyone else. To win, you must successfully bounce your focus all around the cabin, never settling on any one person long enough for them to catch you looking at them. I’m not very good at this game, because I like to pick one person and watch them play and they always feel me watching them then shift nervously as I continue to watch their eyes bounce back to see where mine have gone, which pretty much equates to staring, which can often be misinterpreted as:

2) Perving
This is a very popular game, but Australians aren’t nearly as good at it as Americans. Because of the pervasive politeness of Australian Society, a really good perve is almost always done with coy secrecy, and very little blatant flirting actually occurs. I am pretty skilled at this game and have forced many uncomfortable young school boys to change seats.

3) Guess what I had for dinner last night?
This game is best played on very crowded trains where body odours are commingling, but you have to watch out for people who are carrying their lunch – that can throw you off the scent. Indians never win this game, because curry is extremely pervasive. People who burb a lot also never win this game...was it chicken schnitzel and a rocket salad with parmesan? Likewise, anyone who had garlic the night before is usually tagged out pretty quickly, which seems to be just about everyone who gets on at St Leonards.

4) Who farted?
This game is far more popular than I ever would have imagined. However, my natural talents invariably assure me a complete victory.

13 September 2007

Australian Humor

A koala is sitting up a gum tree smoking a joint when a little lizard walks past , looks up and says "Hey Koala ! what are you doing?"
The koala says: "Smoking a joint, come up and have some."

So the little lizard climbs up and sits next to the koala and they have a few joints. After a while the little lizard says his mouth is 'dry' and is going to get a drink from the river.

But the little lizard is so stoned that he leans too far over and falls into the river.

A crocodile sees this and swims over to the little lizard and helps him to the side, then asks the little lizard: "What's the matter with you?"

The little lizard explains to the crocodile that he was sitting smoking a joint with the koala in the tree, got too stoned and then fell into the river while taking a drink.

The crocodile says he has to check this out and walks into the rain forest, finds the tree where the koala is sitting finishing a joint, and he looks up and says "Hey you!"

So the koala looks down at him and says:

"Fuuuu - k dude.......how much water did you drink?!!"

08 September 2007

About Canberra

Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory get an awful lot of bad press around Australia, most of which I was happy to subscribe to until I visited it for myself. The design of the city results from an international competition, won by American Walter Burley Griffin, and consists of a series of large circles housing various buildings of importance connected by long promenades with sweeping vistas between them, all nestled in a bowl rimmed with rocky mountain peaks. On a map, the city resembles a modern art instalment made from old bicycle wheels and discarded lengths of sprinkler pipe.

The intentional and purpose driven layout of the city fuels much of the criticism. While it is true that Canberra doesn’t have the romantic randomness of a city that grew too fast for its infrastructure resulting in tangled multi-road intersections, clogged turn lanes leading into gridlocked shopping centres, and busy freeways that dead end into neighbourhoods with inadequate parking, its orderliness does have a distinctly soothing charm. Traffic flows smoothly, almost effortlessly around the giant roundabouts, and if you miss your turn, you just go around once more until you find it.

The views along the straightaways from Parliament House in the middle of Capital Hill are dramatic and give one the feeling of being at the centre of the universe. The surrounding countryside features beautiful rolling hills and open grasslands and is quite reminiscent of central California, substitute gum trees for oaks. The man-made lake (aren’t most?) does indeed bring the city into focus and opens the views of dramatic lakeside architectural icons such as the National Museum, which I personally find disturbing despite its grandeur.


There is no question that the city might be classified as incredibly dull, but one might as easily employ the word peaceful. The abundance of museums and galleries against the backdrop of a bustling political curtain makes the place seem intellectually cultured. The proliferation of foreign embassies contributes to a sense of worldliness, of being part of something bigger than Australia, yet at the same time produces pleasant feelings of national pride.

…and as I write this, the cathedral bells are playing Amazing Grace…time to get out the Kleenex again…

After the Storm

I swear, the weather turned beautiful as soon as George W got on the plane and left!

07 September 2007

Lest We Forget

In last year's segment entitled “Postcards from Australia”, I remarked upon the proliferation of war memorials scattered throughout the Australian countryside. My sentiments were echoed more poetically by the following inscription:




Yesterday, I learned the reason.

Yesterday, we visited the mother of all Australian War Memorials in Canberra (more on Canberra to follow). Unless you are a war buff, I am certain most Americans have no appreciation of Australia’s contributions to every major war. I will go one step further to wager that most American college graduates wouldn’t even know that battles were fought on Australian soil during World War Two. (I can say that with a fair degree of confidence because, before my visits here, I didn’t appreciate it either.)

Well Australia is keenly aware of their contributions and their collective victories and losses continue to shape their national identity. The personal values of courage, bravery, and honour are a source of pride and are, at least publicly, still prized more than individuality and self-fulfilment. When valour leads to sacrifice, it is important to memorialize the dead and give closure to the family through military burials and grave markers. Over 60,000 soldiers died in WWI, and more than 25,000 were not recovered. Just about every town, locality, or cluster of homes in Australia has a connection to a soldier who was not properly interred. These memorials give the families a place to lay their grief, their memories, and their prayers.

I won’t bore you with a tedious description of the massive collection of memorabilia, souvenirs, or displays that filled the enormous museum, nor will I post pictures of the many really cool dioramas depicting various miserable battles at Gallipoli – especially since I didn’t take any and openly wondered about the Turkish tourists that did so. I also won’t tell you about the theatrical enactments of a night time bombing raid over Berlin and of the attack on Sydney Harbour by three Japanese midget submarines…because in words, I could not do justice to the intensity of the emotions and realizations conjured by the contents of those marble halls. I will simply say, I really should have brought a whole box of tissues with me.

We lingered for the closing ceremony because it was touted as a “must see” in the tourist brochures. I fully expected to be a sobbing mess during the performance of a Final Lament in the Commemorative area surrounding the Pool of Reflection in which sits the Eternal Flame of Remembrance. Fortunately, the lament was being played on a bagpipe by a veteran in full kilt, and the notes were sufficiently flat and cacophonous as to prevent stimulation of the autonomic nerves in control of my tear ducts…that is, until the soldier turned and marched into the Hall of Valour. When the pair of large brass doors clicked shut upon the quiet echo of the final note, I broke into sobs and had to be helped down the stairs.


04 September 2007

Name This Blog Entry


Why Stereotypes Exist

or

The Benefits of Micro-Management

Aside from the myriad ways in which his personality, strengths, and weaknesses complement my own, my darling husband Kevin is wonderful when it comes to sharing household chores. He cleans bathrooms, washes windows, and sometimes even offers to cook dinner. I am infinitely appreciative of all his contibutions to our domestic bliss, even if I don't spend goopy hours flattering and praising his efforts.

Thus, last Sunday, my heart swelled from pride and affection, I was able to relax on the couch, wallowing in my hay fever (or horse flu, or whatever it is) with a bottle of wine and a Brad Pitt movie as Kevin courageously donned his hiking gear and began his rugged ascent up Mt Kilimanlaundry. With complete faith and trust, I relinquished all responsibility as he heaved load after load into our savage washing machine.

And then I spent the rest of the week, in a manner reminiscent of a mother chimpanzee grooming her lice infested infant, picking thousands upon thousands of little tufts of fuzz from every piece of black clothing that I own.

But our new grey bath towels are nice and clean...and fluffy.


01 September 2007

Happy Father's Day

Today is Father’s Day in Australia.

I am just as unimpressed with this Hallmark Holiday here in September as I am with it in the USA in June. It’s not that I have any particular objections to the sentiments of the occasion, but I seriously dislike the peer pressure and guilt associated with being too lazy and self involved to post a card or buy a chocolate tool set. I sincerely hope that the various fathers in my life know that I hold them in high regard on every day of the year, and that I would be happy to take them out for brekkie anytime.

Countdown to APEC

My, but Sydney sure is putting up a fuss over a few world leaders!

For the last month, the town has been littered with billboards and public service announcements warning of traffic disruptions, advising alternate routes, and generally telling people to stay away from downtown, or better yet, get out of town altogether during the APEC summit. I’m still not exactly sure what APEC is…I think it stands for Australian Politicians Elicit Clusterfuck.

Preparations have included drills and manoeuvres by various public safety agencies and the skies have been filled with police helicopters. Clearways (long zones of no parking under threat of death) have been established along all major thoroughfares to ensure a smooth commute from the airfields for all the visiting dignitaries. I am highly sceptical that even clearways can unclog Victoria Road through Rozelle, but am glad that I am not responsible for any of the preparations, because I would tell them all to just get on the train, and maybe if the world leaders got a good look at the conditions of some of the old trains, there would suddenly be enough money to put Oscars on the North Shore Line.

In anticipation of the large number of demonstrators that will need to be arrested, Sydney has granted a two-week release to 2,000 prison inmates. I just love that! Release 2,000 convicted criminals in anticipation of crimes that have yet to be committed. That just doesn’t make sense to me, once more proving that I am not qualified to run the zoo.

Since Sydney has been kind enough to give the entire city a day off, we have decided to take advantage of the three day weekend to get out of town. We are going to visit the nation’s capitol simply because everyone we meet tells us how awful Canberra is and why we should never go there. That makes it absolutely irresistible in my book.

31 August 2007

About Australian Weather

Tomorrow is the first day of Spring. Australia, being a fiercely independent, not to mention remote continent/country, feels no inclination to adhere to the commonly accepted celestial demarcations of the seasons. And judging from the sudden and dramatic change in the weather, they seem to be perfectly justified in this regard. The air is warm and softly perfumed with fragrant blossoms. The sky is clear and bright. United in the sense of pride that comes from having survived another winter, Sydneysiders have contracted a collective case of Spring Fever. The sidewalk cafes and courtyard pubs are bustling with cheery people displaying pale skin.

But, alas the weather forecasts predict a cooling trend and more rain by next week. Of course, I’m not too worried by this, because from my observations, Australian weather forecasters couldn’t predict a splash in a toilet bowl.

Now I know that America has its fair share of weather bimbos on television, but it is possible to find a local weather report delivered by a genuine meteorologist. Oh how I miss Chico’s Dave Vanore and his passionate descriptions of orographic flow, employing data from several models and images to explain the why and how of his predictions. It is a rare forecast here that even shows a satellite image. Most weather maps are cartoons of the continent with little suns all over it, and the forecast is simply “fine with a high of 26 in Darwin” or “mostly fine with a high of 22 in Sydney”. All weather reports include the temperatures in all the major cities, and on channel 7, are typically broadcast from some daggy outback drinking establishment with a name like “The Pub with No Beer” or a dinky town with a name like Grass Patch (Australia’s Yabby Racing Capital.)

30 August 2007

A Public Acknowledgement of Sincere Gratitude

or...

Why Screwing Around in the Blogosphere is Never a Complete Waste of Time.


Despite the eight decadent years spent squandering resources for a major biopharmaceutical company, I am fundamentally a frugal scientist. I generally prefer to make do with what I have. As in my personal life, I take supreme satisfaction in resuscitating usefulness from an otherwise an obsolete item and gloat ceaselessly when I am able to save a buck. However, once in a while, even my head is turned by a new (or not so new, but new to me) technology. On such occasions, need and desire wrestle violently within my psyche, and I have several imaginary arguments with The JD in which he tugs at his mustache and frowns at me over the top of his glasses.

Thus, I had all but resigned to the fact that I would never be able to justify the purchase of a $1700 piece of equipment to replace a perfectly serviceable one already in my employ, even if it did mean eliminating my exposure to a nasty mutagen and severely reducing our lab’s contribution to a toxic landfill.

But then, an ethereal and gallant Black Knight chivalrously bestowed upon me the obvious but hitherto unconsidered knowledge that would fortify my position and ensure my victory…and he fed me a fabulous curry dinner, for which I am equally grateful.

After yet another hallucinatory conversation with my life long mentor, I performed the necessary experiments to prove beyond a doubt the superiority of the far less expensive scientific method, then parlayed that argument to justify my acquisition.



Bolstered with confidence, I went a step further convinced the department to pay for it!

Thank You, Black Knight! I am deeply indebted to you for positively impacting the healthfulness of my working conditions, for helping to save the planet for future generations, for contributing to the financial and experimental success of my lab, and for this profound, if fleeting sensation of smug satisfaction arising from the knowledge that the many hours I spent languishing in the enjoyable musings of your blog were well spent.

27 August 2007

Getting to Work Now

Aside from the Thump Factor, our primary reason for moving to St Leonards was to improve my commute to work. Our new apartment is located directly on the train line, a mere three minute walk (including the elevator ride to the lobby) from the station. Granted, the trains are far noisier than a pair of toddlers and their pissy parents, and their rumblings start much earlier in the morning - the first in-bound train arrives at a startling 4:47 am. Perhaps the trains are less annoying because I tend to think of them as my personal chariots of convenience. In fact, they do serve as a sort of snooze alarm, coaxing me slowly out of my morning slumber as their frequency increases toward peak hour. Unfortunately, this alarm still functions on weekends, except when there is track work and the trains aren’t running at all. Surprisingly, on such occasions my sleep is perturbed by their very absence, my subconscious breathlessly anticipating the sound of a horn that never blasts.

Aside from the reduction of my overall one-way travel time from one hour forty plus to 45 minutes, my commute has benefited from the flexibility of the train schedule. I need not worry about catching any particular bus or train, because I know there will be another along in 3-6 minutes. And, if for some reason the trains are delayed or malfunctioning, I still have the option to board any number of city bound busses along the Pacific Highway.

When the weather is agreeable and I am feeling energetic, I have the option to take the train all the way to the university. However, this route involves a twenty minute walk and invariably costs me three extra dollars. The Redfern Station is situated in a neighbourhood that should by all rights granted under manifest destiny be a gentrified boulevard of shops, cafes, and funky terrace homes. However, some short sighted planning commission somehow relegated the blocks surrounding the vital depot to a community of aboriginal peoples who cannot now be moved by any act of congress or commerce, and to whom I am inevitably obliged to cast a few gold coins as I exit the station in exchange for their half hearted attempt to rattle some incoherent lyrical musings across a set of ragged guitar strings until they believe that I am out of earshot. I have been sternly advised to avoid the area altogether after nightfall and for the few days immediately preceding and immediately following disbursement of the government dole checks, when drug and alcohol infused tensions plummet and crescendo in anticipation thereof. (Editor’s note: It is a rare triumph that I am able to use the word “crescendo” in its proper grammatical context, and I feel compelled to boast.)

While the weather is frequently agreeable, I seldom feel energetic in the morning, thus I typically opt to transfer from train to bus at the Town Hall Station in the centre of the Central Business District. This routing not only affords the least possible physical exertion, but also allows me a moment’s repose to reflect upon the magnificent old sandstone building for which the station is named and also to observe the ridiculous posturing and screaming of the many cockatoos who each morning perch atop the multitude of flagpoles aloft there in, as well as upon the glorious sandstone crosses of the adjoining St Andrews cathedral. Alas, one of the added benefits of our new apartment is the agreeable absence of cockatoos, thus I am now able to once more rejoice in their cacophonous existence…from a comfortable distance.

Another advantage of transferring to the bus is that each morning I am still able to catch a glimpse of the cignet swans adorning the pond in Victoria Park. They have abruptly matured into gawky adolescents, their long necks bearing thickened beaks awkwardly above ragged bodies caught in the throes of moulting, yet still they peep innocent falsetto chirps. I worry about their future. Will they be able to cohabitate in the fertile feeding grounds of the city pond with their parents, or will they be chased away on the occasion of their passage into full fledged adulthood?

But then, I wonder the same thing about the skinny university students with troubled skin who ride the bus with their ear buds wedged deep into their skulls and speak in muffled grunts only when necessary.

24 August 2007

About Australian Politics

Before I begin this rant, I just want to say that the Mayor of Sydney is named Clover Moore. She goes by the title of Lord Mayor. I don’t know why, but I find this amusing. Whenever I hear reports about the activities of Lord Mayor Clover, my imagination depicts the otherwise dignified politician as a frivolous animated skunk or a cud-chewing cartoon cow.

Australia is a democracy.

That statement concludes my in depth understanding of how the federal government here functions. I have had several people explain it to me, and I always find myself sporting the same expression of confusion I witness on others when I try to explain the Electoral College, which I also don’t understand.

Basically, when it comes to federal elections, you don’t vote for a candidate, you vote for the party. There are two major parties: The Labour Party, which is liberal, and the Liberal Party, which is conservative. Whichever party holds the majority of seats in parliament gets to select the Prime Minister. Currently, the Liberal Party is in power and John Howard is the Prime Minister. He has the personality of a mean garden gnome.

The upshot of this system is that the television is not clogged with political commercials for individual candidates. Advertisements are supported by the parties (not lobbyists) and refreshingly deal with policy issues, primarily concerning labour laws, but occasionally touching on how to handle the delicate matter of drunken child molestation among outback aboriginal settlements.

In spite of this system, there is still intense campaigning between the party leaders, and television journalists are the soldier pawns in a war of popularity. Every day, the morning news shows report the latest poll on who is leading the race for preferred prime minister. Favour is lost or gained on a daily basis in reaction to information supplied to the media by the respective parties under the guise of news stories.

This week’s furor concerned a visit to a New York strip club by Kevin Rudd, the Labour Party Candidate, while he was on a government sponsored trip to the United States for some reason that remains vaguely elusive. Under attack from the Christian right, his shocking defence was that he was so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing. The Australian public seemed entirely satisfied with this explanation. The "man on the street" said the incident had a humanizing effect, but my favourite sound bite came from a minister of something-or-other who said “Frankly, I am quite disappointed in Mr. Rudd. I mean, Melbourne has several world class strip clubs right here in Australia.”

Keep Australian dollars in Australian G-Strings…except here the dollar is a coin…I guess that would make Australian strippers world class.

Eventually, the broadcasters got around to mentioning that Kevin’s strip club adventure occurred in 2003. To their credit, the general public immediately recognized the story as a blatant attack by the Liberal Party and dismissed it on the grounds of poor sportsmanship.

19 August 2007

I think this is legal in Holland

It has been three hours since I read the following email from my mother (who is coming to visit in one month - indeed I did suggest a camel trek whilst she is here) and I am STILL bursting into unexpected and inappropriate paroxysms of laughter. I cannot WAIT to hear the autopsy results...I would think that being crushed by a camel would be adequate explanation, but the fact that a professional opinion is warranted leads me to belieive that there is further physical evidence of the camel's romantic intentions that has not been revealed in this article...


DO NOT want to do this while in Australia.

Audra, change the itinerary.


Pet Camel Kills Australian Woman

By Associated Press
Sat Aug 18, 9:35 PM

BRISBANE, Australia - An Australian woman was killed by a pet camel given to her as a 60th birthday present, police said Sunday.

The woman, whose name has not been released, was killed Saturday at her family sheep and cattle ranch near Mitchell, 350 miles west of the Queensland state capital Brisbane, state police Detective Senior Constable Craig Gregory said.

The 10-month-old male _ weighing about 330 pounds _ had knocked her to the ground then lay on top of her in what police suspect was mating behavior, Gregory said.

Camel expert Chris Hill agreed with Gregory.

Hill, who has offered camel rides to tourists for 20 years, said young camels are not aggressive but can be dangerous if treated as pets without discipline.

The woman was given the hand-reared camel in March as a birthday present from her husband and daughter.

The fate of the camel is not known.

An autopsy of the woman will determine the precise cause of death within days.

17 August 2007

The Hole in My Life

There is a drain in the floor of my bathroom. When I sit on the toilet, I can’t resist leaning forward to look down it. There is water in it. Sometimes the water is gurgling, though no other pipes in our apartment are in use. Sometimes the water has a thick foul smelling scum floating on top of it. I flush the toilet to see if the water reacts to the sewer efflux. No. It just sits there. I run the bath tub. The water in the drain gurgles and I think that might wash away the smell, but the floating scum remains undisturbed. I run the sink and the shower. The water gurgles, but the scum remains. I pour bleach and perfumed oils down the drain. Now the scum smells like freshly scrubbed sandalwood.

Some days, when I get home from work the scum isn’t there. I contemplate where it went and why it decided to leave on this particular occasion. Is it in someone else’s drain? I kind of miss it. It comes back in a few days, and then I wonder why I thought of it with any sort of affection.

Sometimes I use Kevin’s bathroom. There is scum in his drain too, but it doesn’t have as much personality. It hardly ever has frothy lumps in it like mine. I once went to a town called Drain in Oregon. It didn’t have that much personality either, but it wasn’t especially scummy. But then again, it had a river and a Union 76 station.

I guess a drain in the floor is a good idea, since there is no overflow drain in the bathtub. I feel compelled to clean the bathroom with a high pressure hose and just let everything run down the floor drain, all that dust and soap residue, swirling away in clockwise direction – a phenomenon that really isn’t as interesting as it seems it would be from the perspective of the Northern hemisphere.