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


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.