24 July 2007

Glutamate in the Vineyards

While I harbour no doubts as to the critical importance of glutamate as a neurotransmitter, I am coming of the opinion, that as a platform for research, it may indeed be one of the most boring molecules in the world. I was recently given the luxury to indulge this postulation over the course of a three-day conference on the neuropharmacology of said molecule. The conference was an intimate affair with a mere 35 scientists in attendance, of which 30 were scheduled presenters. Such a cozy production most certainly facilitates the eager exchange of scientific minutiae. Unfortunately it makes playing hooky all but impossible, not only because the conference was organized by my boss, but also because a single empty chair would be more conspicuous than Michael Vick at a PETA rally.

Mercifully, the conference was held at the Hunter Valley Resort and Brewery in the middle the most renowned wine region in New South Wales. Thus in between sessions we were entertained with winery tours and tastings, and the grog flowed generously during the lavish dinners. However for the endless stretch of daylight hours, I was held captive by an under-cushioned over-erect chair in an inadequately heated room, suffering in my intellectual ignorance and struggling to keep my eyelids from fluttering to a sleepy repose. Fortunately, I have a rich inner landscape (and I was seated beside a window) such that I could indulge myself in whimsical fantasy while various Norwegians, Russians, and Frenchmen droned on about the tripartite synapse-astrocytic regulation of glutamate.

It did not help my spirit of arousal to know that while I endured such agony, Kevin was receiving a Big Kahuna Massage upon returning from a chauffeur driven winery tour. He has been working very hard lately, and I am happy that he got a chance to relax…and though I still shudder at the thought of him in possession of an ATM card and unchaperoned at a cellar door, I confess that he did bring home some particularly exquisite bottles of wine, which I certainly never would have permitted him to purchase had I been present.

After the conference, we did a little touring on our way out of the valley, visiting an olive farm (yum), a cheese factory (Yum), a chocolate factory (YUM), and Peterson’s Cellars - a wonderful maker of sparkling red wines (YUM!!). To my consternation, I could not persuade Kevin to pull over to allow me to poke and photograph a dead wombat, but I did manage to capture this shot of a mob of kangaroos as they hopped jovially into the sunset across the grassy plains. Those little black smudges are the kangaroos.

20 July 2007

Ribs Mexican Pizza

The central urban location of our new apartment has opened up a plethora of fresh dining options, most of which deliver ($20 minimum order). Each night, our mail slot is overflowing with a variety of menus for Thai, Indian, Lebanese, and Turkish restaurants. This morning I find myself utterly fascinated with the menu from The Rib Runner and their Cowboy Delight Meal Deal. Just under $30 will get you a rack of beef ribs, a baked potato, a cob of corn, a large pizza, and a beef nachos. Sure to delight any cowboy.

From the South of the Border selections:

4 crisp corn tacos with beef, lettuce, cheese, tomato and sour cream for your assembly. (My assembly?)

The Mexican Spud
Chili con came, cheese, corn chips, sour cream. (con carne must have confused the proof reader?)

Grande Wedges
Golden brown wedges ham and cheese. (What is mexican about that?)

and from the pizza selections:

Culo Burner
Pizza base covered in our spicy beef nachos topped with pepperoni and jalopenos (Am I to understand there are nachos on top of pizza dough??)

Aussie Outback
Tomato, onion, egg, and bacon (egg??)

Cheezy Cheese
Use lots of cheese on our great sauce (ok, I will)

Some mornings, I am just easily amused...

18 July 2007

Yes, I Take Requests

Snoop Oop-a-Doop

Ah, if only Sydney had not been so recently embarrassed by Sylvester Stallone's flagrant disregard for Australia's ban on the importation of Human Growth Hormone, this might never have come to light. Snoop Dogg is undoubtedly a huge threat to Australian national security. Still, the country might have over looked his outspoken stance on the usage of marijuana, had he not been so recently arrested prior to hosting the MTV awards.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said Snoop Dogg's visa was canceled because he had failed to pass the country's strict character test, which takes criminal convictions into account.

"He doesn't seem the sort of bloke we want in this country," Andrews told Sydney's Macquarie Radio.

Kevin and I were most amused that the news media placed a heavy emphasis on the gun that was found in his car in "a false compartment". If the gun was inside it, it must have been a real compartment, no?

(My memory is failing me, but I seem to recall something about convicts playing a pivitol role in Australian history...)

Tanks a Lot

I am sorry to confess that until brought to my attention by an alert reader, I had no knowledge whatsoever of the Tank Rampage that occured on Sydney's westside. We typically watch two-three hours of local news per day, and I have not heard one peep about this story - but then, it was rightly overshadowed by stories of more wordly significance - such as the fact that Paris Hilton had been spotted in Malibu receiving surfing lessons from some Aussie hunk. And then Lindsay Lohan left rehab, and all hell broke loose...

However, upon researching said tank story, I came upon the most deliciously irresistible photograph accompanying a story about (graphic content warning!!) Chu-Chu the crocodile, who had been evidently suffering from appetite loss - right up until the moment the veterinarian put his arm in her mouth...

14 July 2007

Movin' On Up

I awoke to the gentle clickety-clack Doppler echo of an incoming train, heard the hissing sigh of its brakes and then the swift honk of its whistle as it pulled out of the station, bound for the city. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I pushed myself onto my elbows and stared out the window, across the red-tiled roofs, past the skinny green steeple to the east. A raft of puffy grey clouds, their underbelly blushed crimson, drifted lazily across the colourless morning sky. The horizon swelled with light as the rising sun peeked over a slice of Pacific Ocean, cautiously at first, then with furious confidence, heralding the official transition from dawn to day.

I wrapped myself in a warm terry cloth robe and stepped out onto the bedroom balcony for a stiff stretch in the brisk morning breeze. Peering around the corner of the building, I watched the sun’s rays reflect dazzling squares of fire from the patchwork of office high rise windows. The high arch of Harbour Bridge stood sentinel before the entire Sydney skyline to the South.

I went back inside and padded down the long hall to the kitchen. As my coffee percolated on the stove, I gazed through the window over the sink and watched the evening lights blink out across the leafy northern suburbs (they are always referred to as “the leafy northern suburbs”). Small clusters of high rise apartment buildings revealed the location of each of the stations along the North Shore Line – modern villages of anonymous convenience.

Breathing in the steam of my hot coffee, I retreated to my ugly but comfortable sofa and tucked my legs up under me. Through a massive wall of glass, I scanned the extreme limits of my vision. The vast western sprawl is hemmed in by the length of the Blue Mountains, so appropriately named in the slant morning sunlight. I traced the beginnings of the Parramatta River to the arbitrary boundary of Sydney Harbour. Commuter ferries cut frothy white trails across the still cobalt water as sailboats bobbed gently against their moorings in sheltered coves.

Passing through the double door glass sliders onto the expansive main balcony, my vision was hijacked by Qantas plane on approach. I watched it pass directly over our old apartment, and mentally compared the intrusive roar of a jet engine to the romantic whisper of a commuter train. I traced its path, over Cockatoo Island and across the inner suburbs, until it turned to pass over Botany Bay, which hovers placidly beyond the casinos and hotels of Darling Harbour to the south.

I took a deep breath and smiled thinking of the admonition given to me by the rental agent when I gave notice of our intent to vacate our apartment overlooking the muddy slice of Burns Bay:

“Oh, you are really going to miss that view!”

04 July 2007


As mentioned in a previous post, one of the many highlights of my morning commute is gazing at a pair of beautiful black swans in Victoria Park as my bus bumps down Parramatta Road. Recently, they were not in sight for a period of several weeks, and I feared they had moved on, perhaps north to warmer climes.

Last week, to my great delight, they reappeared surrounded by a fluffy gaggle of five fuzzy silver cignets. So cute!!

When the weather is cooperative, I get off the bus a few stops early and wander through the park. There is almost always some old chinese person doing tai chi on the water's edge. Nice place for it. Then I walk across campus, past the stately old buildings adorned with an amazing array of gargoyles and carved faces of various animals, both real and mythical (I know there is a name for those faces, but I cannot recall it - a little help...mom?). Pictured below is The Great Hall. It has classrooms with names like "Latin 1" surrounding a giant grassy interior courtyard. The classes are still used, and though they have been outfitted with modern lights and computer projectors, the seats seem to be original equipment. It also has a museum with mummies in it.

One of my favorite places on campus is called Grafitti Tunnel. By some reciprocal agreement, the university has donated this walkway to the expressive whims of the modern spray can artiste. In exchange, the rest of the campus remains free from blight. The tunnel is a constantly changing montage of art, political campaigns, and random thoughts. It is absolutely different every single day.

Then I get to the Blackburn Building. I walk past the huge dead cockroach that has been in front of my boss's office for four weeks and enter my cheery lab, gaze across the shadowy courtyard at the cracked walls and peeling paint, and think about those cute little baby swans, and I feel nothing but gratitude...and hunger, always that...