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


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.


"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."


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.”


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.