29 December 2008

Nu Zilland - Day Seven, Eight, Nine

Eternally a sucker for any sort of road-side ‘attraction’, I could not pass up a sign that said “Tame Anatoki Eels”. Eel attractions seem to be quite popular around the Golden Bay region – who wouldn’t want to feed minced animal flesh to a slithering pile of sharp slimy teeth? I am not sure if ‘tame’ is really an appropriate term for a creature that catapults itself out of the water towards your toes at the first whiff of meat.

We drove the Treasured Pathway (doesn’t that sound ever so much more romantic than ‘scenic route?) out of Nelson around the bottom of the Queen Charlotte Sound. I’m still not entirely clear on the exact definition of a sound, versus say an inlet or a bay or a fjord, but it was quite stunning and certainly worthy of being treasured by the nation.

After a much needed week of relative isolation, I felt ready to socialize once again, thus booked us a stay at the campground/RV park in Blenheim, the heart of the Marlborough wine region. Sure enough, as soon as we checked into our cabin, this friendly jumping duck came over to welcome me to town and offered her services as a wine tour guide:





Instead, we opted for a more reputable operation with more comfortable seating arrangements. The Marlborough is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, and if you are ever shopping for one, you really cannot go wrong to select one from this region. If someone dropped me into the middle of the valley, I would swear I was in California - one side was lined with soft brown hills dotted with oaks and the other with lush green mountains. There were even fields of golden poppies interspersed amongst the vines.

I could dribble on and on about the quality of the varieties, the sumptuousness of the venues, and the conviviality of the people, but after two days of ‘Extreme Winetasting’, I have exhausted my supply of enological adjectives. After the ninth winery, I was forced to resort to descriptors such as ‘unambiguous’, ‘mischievous’, and ‘perpendicular’. My tongue feels like it has been soaked in nitric acid.

Nothing creates camaraderie among strangers like getting sotted together in a big white van, especially if you happen to share some rather unpopular yet strongly held reproductive opinions. We met two absolutely delightful couples on the tour, and I say that because I really liked them and not just because they fed me dinner and sprayed me with bug repellent then wrapped me in a fuzzy blanket and pointed out to Kevin that he had been using the women’s toilet all night and let us drink all their beer as we sat in their camper laughing into the wee hours of the evening.

Nu Zilland - Day Six

The Northwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand is a 25 km long sand bar called Farewell Spit. Because of the delicate and unique ecology of this special region, visitors are only allowed to walk 2.5 km out onto the spit. However, visitors are encouraged to sign up for a full tour aboard an enormous 4-wheel drive diesel bus that climbs up and down the dunes along the entire length of the peninsula. I don’t mind the restriction, just the bullshit. One kilometer into the hot barren walk, it was quite obvious that the real reason for the policy was undoubtedly the cost of rescuing lost and exhausted pedestrians with poor depth perception from the sandy landscape.

Crossing over from the ‘inside’ of the spit to the Tasman Coast, we began to doubt our decision to eschew motor vehicle transport, but when the trail emptied onto an expansive and empty stretch of pristine beach, all doubts evaporated. In each direction, at the limits of my focus, the landscape dissolved into a mirage of dunes reflecting water and water reflecting dunes. It felt like standing on the edge of the end of the world. I would not have been surprised to see the Statue of Liberty half buried in the tidal zone.



Walking along the water’s edge towards what we hoped was the return trail to the carpark, I spied a large dark lump beached upon the sand. I gasped as a large flipper fanned the air. My sensibilities told me to give the seal its space and privacy, but my sense of adventure told me to go touch it! Unfortunately, my sense of speech refused to stand down, and the seal was soon alerted to my approach.



At the trail head, we encountered an exasperated old couple asking for directions, which was disconcerting, because I was hoping to ask them for directions. They claimed to have taken the trail from the carpark ‘through the pastures’, but they neglected to mention that the pastures were filled with cows and sheep, co-habitating together! Climbing a wooden staircase over a barbed-wire enclosure, we were able to sight a bright orange triangle across a field of grazing livestock, then we would pick our way through poop and paddock until the next orange triangle appeared to guide our trajectory. Soon, I too felt the old couple’s exasperation.

Earlier in the day, we visited Te Waikoropupu Springs (Pupu Springs, for short), a site of great spiritual significance to the Maori tribes that lived nearby. As when visiting churches and cathedrals, I soon felt my eyes swelling with the familiar yet unfathomable tears of reverence and respect. 14,000 liters per second of crystal clear water drain from the Marble Mountains and emerge in aquamarine pools that feed a raging river that is quickly becoming choked by invasive algae. If I were didymo, I would want to live in that river, too!

26 December 2008

Nu Zilland - Day Five

Wishing you a Maori Christmas and Hippy Holidays!

The weather was unremarkable, so I shan’t remark upon it.

Our day was fairly low key. After a lovely breakfast, we explored Abel Tasman Park by car and then went for a walk to Wainui Falls. I was on constant alert, looking for the giant land snails that purportedly inhabit the area, but I suspect the guidebook was lying, as I saw neither snail nor slime.












I did see plenty of cows, though:







We cooked ourselves a lovely dinner of BBQ Spare Ribs and Sweet potatoes au Gratin, followed by Boysenberry Shortbread with fresh whipped cream – we cut the cholesterol with a couple of bottles of local wine.

And that was pretty much our Christmas!

Nu Zilland - Day Four

I reckon it is kind of pathetic that I feel the need to start off each of my vacation entries with a weather report, but there is no denying the effect that weather has on my general disposition and therefore my perceptions of my experiences. Maybe it is human nature, or maybe it is simply weakness of character, but I am undeniably uninspired by gloomy skies and misty vistas…which is why I don’t have a lot to say about today.

The two hour drive from Nelson to Pohara on Golden Bay took us over 6 hours. Lest you accuse me of dilly-dallying, know that the route is dotted with wineries and fruit stands, so yes, I was dilly-dallying…and some rather expensive (but tasty) dilly-dallying at that! However, we are now well stocked for the holiday with fresh boysenberries and plenty of Pinot Gris.


We arrived at our cozy beachfront cottage and unpacked enough groceries to feed a boy-scout troupe (of course, they aren’t allowed to have any of the wine…or the berries.) Our plans for an afternoon hike were dashed by rain (I lost my rain coat to a strong wind off the balcony and Kevin’s was stolen out of our mailbox), so instead we are holed up with a heater, staring out across a placid but not quite golden bay, which is fine, because it gives me a chance to write postcards and to watch New Zealand news broadcasts. There was a report that Santa had finally left America, after being detained by Homeland Security, seems that because of a spelling error, they had confused him with the known terrorist ‘Satan’.

And then, at 9:00 at night, the most extraordinary thing happened. The sun came out. Its long golden rays slipped over the mountains, igniting the underbelly of the clouds and producing a magnificent full rainbow, which was so close you could almost touch it (but also so close, you could not photograph it in its entirety – or at least not with my lens). Soon, the beach was strewn with holiday makers, smiling and gawping at the sky, delighted to be liberated from their tents, campers, and cabins for this spectacular evening treat.


Gotta go – it’s time to eat more Bosyenberries.

Nu Zilland - Day Three

This morning was another spectacularly warm and cloud free day – perfect conditions for our long drive up the west coast into Nelson. I know that the kind weather is a key factor, yet I find myself enraptured beyond all conceivable expectations with the lush green landscape, the shimmering blue sea, and the towering jagged mountain ranges. We were even able to see some beauty in the lovely sparkling star that suddenly appeared in the center of our windscreen as a double tanker truck kicked a rock into our path.



Note to self: re-read that travel insurance policy, since the rental agent made it a point to tell me I am wholly liable for windscreen damage.

At any rate, there were plenty of amusing road signs to further divert us from that glassine tragedy.


For better or worse, I was unable to locate any penguin roadkill, although I did see heaps of possums. However, Kevin wouldn’t pull over to let me collect their tails, despite the knowledge that there is a pub to the north that pays a one pint bounty per tail.

We stopped off at Pancake Rocks (What an odd coincidence that the Maori word for Pancake is ‘Panakaki’…er…) a bizarre formation of flat-stacked limestone rocks that form a series of violent pools and impressive blowholes. Unfortunately, the blowholes are only truly impressive when the weather is truly shit, but I was not the least bit bothered by the tradeoff.


It’s been a long time since we’ve had a long drive in the country, and I learned that my city left-side driving skills reside in a different portion of my brain than do my rural left-side driving skills. It took a great deal of concentration to remember which side of the road to enter when pulling out of a scenic overlook. Luckily, the roads were nearly deserted, which further enhanced the pleasantness of the journey.

In the small village of Murchison, we stopped into The Commercial Hotel to deliver a photograph to the mother of our friend and neighbor in Shingletown. It was a fun surprise for her, even though he had just returned to California from a visit two days before…it makes the world feel smaller to meet someone who knows someone you love especially when they are halfway around the world.


Leaving Murchison, we were flabbergasted to see a field filled with reindeer – or maybe there were elk – either way, they did not belong in a fenced pasture. Neither did that yak. I’ve never actually seen a yak, but I am pretty damn sure that is what it was, cuz it sure as hell wasn’t a Texas long horn. Then we bought some fresh raspberries from a roadside shed fitted with an ‘honesty box’ and closed circuit security cameras…which reminds me…I should eat some right now…oh, yum.

For fear of sounding like my Aunt Bette, I am reluctant to describe my vacation meals in too much detail, so I will suffice to say that on the whole, I find the fare in New Zealand superior to Australia. I credit that observation to the fact that in the early days of the country, a group of explorers – upon discovering that they could not claim the country for France – decided to say “fuck it” (or whatever the French would say under such circumstances) and settled here anyway…I cannot say for certain whether French influences germinated a pizza topped with garlic, bacon, and bleu cheese, or its presentation (served in a box shaped like a coffin) – but it is a brilliant combination!

Rats, now I’ve gone and ate all of my raspberries…

Nu Zilland - Day Two

I awoke to a gentle sunrise in our windowless room. “Audra?” you might ask, “How is that possible?” I have already alluded to the amusing lighting system in our Japanese style pod of a hotel room. Our early morning alarm consisted of a slow brightening of a full spectrum sun lamp above the bed, punctuated by a single sharp beep at 6:30 am as the television switched on the “wake channel” which featured the time lapse clouds. I stumbled into the glassy shower nook which we had affectionately nick-named “The Orgasmatron” – more for its appearance than for any menial satisfaction we experienced therein, as there was barely room for one person, much less two in any sort of carnal contortion.

I was quite startled to emerge from the hotel into bright sunlight, not so much from the sensory deprivation as from my low expectations of this country and our holiday, and considering that our plan for the day was to take the TransScenic Railway through the Southern Alps, we could not have asked for more glorious travel conditions. With nary a cloud in sight, we boarded our comfortable carriage and began the slow rocking journey across sheep filled pastures, criss-crossing braided rivers before climbing into snow capped peaks and high meadows filled to the breaking point with white daisies, purple lupines, and golden scotch-bloom. Train travel is truly luxurious and well suited to the indulgent introspection I had hoped to gain from this vacation.


I was feeling quite sublime by the time we pulled into the coastal town of Greymouth, and was pleased to find it did not appear nearly as washed out as it did in the pictures on the internet. However, a ten minute stroll through the town center proved more than adequate to acquaint us with all the best on offer, so we opted to back track (quite literally) along our inbound journey to visit the ruins of an abandoned coal mine where I learned all about coking and the dangers of mis-laid explosives. Nonetheless, I was surprised later, when driving through the town, at the number of houses that had coal storage sheds and the pungent smoke smell that will forever remind me of a Mexican barbeque.





Fooled by the incredibly long days, we went in search of dinner only to find that all the restaurants had already closed their kitchens. However, we did find this, which was much more fun than dinner:


Tonight we are staying at a back-packer hostel. As expected, there is a broad contingency of sneering Germans with preposterous dread-locks (“Und let me tell you vhat else is wrong mit Amerika…”), but we were also delighted that we were not the eldest travelers in residence…in fact, not by a long shot – a lovely pair of withered old French women arrived with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, and there are also several Australian couples older than us (none of them with dread locks…what the hell is it with backpackers and dreadlocks?? Is it some sort of badge of honor to show how long it has been since you’ve had a job??). There is also a delightful tortoise-shell kitten who volunteered to kill all the back-packer cooties that have been left behind in our room – and there were PLENTY!


20 December 2008

Arrival In Nu Zilland

There is nothing like being upgraded to confirm all the wonderful things I have heard about Emirates Airlines. A little snafu with Kevin’s visa had us worried that we might not even got on the flight, but because we had been so patient and understanding (although I thought we were been quite bitchy), the airlines bumped us up to Business Class – it wasn’t their fault that Australian Immigration is staffed by idiots, but we did not feel the need to draw that to their attention.

It is amazing how silly little amenities, like fresh orchids and bottle of cologne in the lavatory, complimentary toothbrushes, Moet Champagne before take-off, noise cancelling headphones, delicious food, and fine china (including ceramic salt and pepper shakers) can produce such feelings of indulgence. Or maybe it had more to do with the massage feature on the fully reclining seats. I was preposterously delighted with each little extra – like the first time I ever stayed in a motel room that had a sewing kit!

I have never before wished for a flight to be longer. I fear I am ruined. And the sky-waitresses had such cute little hats, too.



We landed under grey skies and an icy Antarctic breeze. I wanted to get back on the plane and watch Lady and the Tramp again…

My spirits lifted as the clouds broke and we checked into the swanky Hotel SO. Our room is about the same size as our Business Class seats, and the bathroom is actually smaller.

But it is a fun room, compact, with blue under-bed mood lighting and 5 channels of Mood on the TV, which include a fireplace, tropical palms, and grey clouds drifting across high mountain peaks…I guess you put that one on when you want to pretend the room has a window.


We ventured out for a look around, and soon confirmed our preconceptions that Christchurch is boring, although the vast number of gargantuan (albeit deserted) nightclubs suggest there may be more to this city that is apparent on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. We will reserve final judgment until we return on Friday at the end of our holiday.

However, I did adore the beautiful cathedral in the center of town. And, as usual my eyes began leaking as soon as I entered and beheld the peaceful glory of sunlight streaming through stained glass.



Why do I ALWAYS cry in churches???


Indy...Use the Force...Use the Fooorce...

Well, it took nearly a slab of beer and a bottle of wine, but the laundry is done, the apartment is clean, and we are all packed for our trip to Nu Zilland. I am beginning to feel something akin to anticipation...or maybe I just need to pee (again).

In between preparations for departure, we managed to make a few phone calls to friends and family, not only to wish them Merry Christmas, but because I have always felt the urge to speak to my loved ones before leaving on any trip...just in case I get sucked into a lava tube or eaten by eels, or (better yet) abducted by Maoris and forced to become a sex bride.


Because nearly everyone I called asked, I am compelled to inform my larger reading audience that our cat will be looked after by Joe, a graduate student at the University who lives nearby, and yes, he is extremely responsible and no, he will not drink all of our wine.


And, now, because I really have nothing else to do to pass the time until I can pass out, I present the following whimsical, yet moderately homoerotic composition for your viewing pleasure:


15 December 2008

Thank You, Mommy!

I reckon my plea for no Christmas presents got crossed with the Christmas card I swore I was not going to send out.



"A big box of roses came for you today."


"Really? Who from?"


"Want I should see?"


"No! How exciting! I am coming home right now!"


And I arrived to this:




Kevin said she licked the ribbon.





But it wasn't just a box of gorgeous long stem roses...it also contained a bunch of chocolates, some cookies, a candle, and something called "Pudding on the Ritz".







I know that silly cat wants very much to eat those roses...perhaps I can keep her distracted with the packaging:





Thank You Mom, for making me feel very special and loved on a day when I needed it very much! I love and miss you so much!!

My Very Aussie Christmas Card

This year, I wanted to send out Christmas cards that were uniquely Australian - but all I could find were generic Hallmark Christmas cards that were as sappy as they were incredibly ordinary (can something be 'incredibly ordinary"??)

So I decided to make my own card, which is very Australian and certainly unique...but then, I liked it so much, I decided to print it out and send it to everyone...but then I realized I have over 200 people on my Christmas card list and what with the price of international postage and in light of the current economic crisis and lastly considering the waste of paper resources - I remembered the power of the internet, and while some people might argue that an email (or a blog entry) is not at all the same as receiving a card in the mail, I might just as well argue that most of you have never, ever sent ME an email, much less a bona fide letter. Besides, my contact list is so out of control, I figured this was a really good way to find out whose address is no longer valid so I can start trimming the fluff...and also, I am very busy and incredibly lazy and am ultimately impressed that I even had the ambition to make the card AND write an email.

IF you are in anyway offended by this mass-mailing, by all means, let me know and I will personally trim YOUR fluff.

But, I digress...


Seriously, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year. I made this card just for you!


PS - this collage was done by hand...NOT on the computer...which somehow makes it more special in my mind.

13 December 2008

Down Time

When I moved to Australia, I made a resolution to accept every social invitation that was extended. While my record has not been 100%, I have been far more active in the last few years than is usual for me. With nine parties in two weeks (not counting spontaneous celebrations or random happy hour gatherings), I presently find myself on the brink of verbal exhaustion, not to mention impending liver failure. I am very grateful that Kevin has decided to spend the day in bed, leaving me alone with my thoughts in relative quiet and solitude - save for the cat who takes great pleasure in bouncing across the keyboard intermittently.

I consider myself fortunate that I am not cursed with an excess of ambition, that I am able to 'do nothing'. I am perfectly comfortable just to sit, neigh - to wallow, in my messy apartment unbothered by that nagging voice that says "you *should* be doing the laundry; you *should* be cleaning the kitchen; you *should* go brush your teeth." Sometimes I envy busy people and their lengthy list of personal accomplishments and achievements, but I also cherish the side of me that is able to take delight in spending a day watching the sun traverse the sky and observing the changing tapestry of cloud formations. On the down side, that means that this year, no one is getting Christmas cards or presents - so please don't contribute to my guilt by sending me any.

I thought today might be a good opportunity to catch up on my blogging, which I feel has not recently got the attention it deserves, but when I sat down in front of the computer, I realized I didn't have anything interesting to say - no charming anecdotes about my daily commute, no witty political dissertations, no scathing cultural commentary, nothing that did not sound self-centered or even boastful, and therefore dull. I reckon I am on the verge of a period of introversion, and during these times, I am usually rather bored with myself and thus incapable of believing I could entertain anyone else with my opinions or observations.

I have only one more week of socialization (three more parties and a day-long symposium) to survive before that most glorious of Australian institutions - the Christmas shut down. I am so tired, that I cannot even muster the energy to be enthusiastic about our up-coming two-week trip to New Zealand. Although I have heard nothing but glowing reports about the country, I really am not at all excited about visiting there. I have absolutely no explanation for that fact. I have our itinerary all planned out - very unusual for us, as we typically prefer to travel by whim, but I did not want to take risks during the busy holiday season of spending three hours in search of accommodations in unfamiliar territory. A sure fire recipe for an evening bitch-fest.

Hopefully, all that will change on Friday afternoon as I leave work behind and close the calendar on what has been a very busy and emotionally charged year. Maybe the change of scenery will be just what I need to recharge my curiosity and wit.

But for now, I really *should* go brush my teeth...

Fashion Follow-Up


...and I felt quite glamorous indeed!


06 December 2008

The Doctrine of Fashionism - Part 2

Fashionistas tend to espouse the philosophy that fashion is more about feeling glamorous than actually looking good. That philosophy has certainly dominated my own dress code, and apparently, I feel my best when I am dressed like a refugee taxi cab driver. Although they will deny it vehemently, my extreme disdain for the past-time of shopping can be traced to my childhood experiences with the two women who have contributed the most to my genetic make-up. From a very early age, I have held very strong opinions regarding the empowering abilities of my wardrobe. (My mother loves to tell the story of the year I insisted on wearing a long black cat tail that I had fished out of the dumpster behind a costume shop.) However, I am also a people pleaser at heart. I can’t stand it when people are displeased with me. This personal dogma can be very dangerous in the dressing room.

“Oh, that pant suit is absolutely adorable. You look so smart in it.”

“I feel like a complete dork. I don’t think I would ever wear it.”

“But why not?”

“How am I going to climb a fence in this? It doesn’t even fit.”

With visible expressions of disappointment, “It fits perfectly. Oh. Well. If you don’t like it, then…it’s just that you look so nice. But if you don’t value my opinion...tch.”

Guilt override. Nothing like a well placed ‘tch’. Then three months later “Why don’t you ever wear that pant suit?”

“Because I don’t like it. I never liked it.”

“Then why did you buy it?”

So these days, I shop alone. Even my best friends hate shopping with me. I am a very cranky shopper, and I truly pity the clerks that try to help me, but at least I don’t have to face them over Christmas Dinner when I am wearing pajama bottoms with purple tea pots and a bowling shirt that has “Bette” stitched across the front. Unfortunately, because clothes do eventually wear out and on occasion, I inexplicably gain 25 pounds, I am sometimes forced to make reparations to my wardrobe.

With the Christmas Party season in full swing, I recently decided that I needed a new dress to wear on a harbour dinner cruise hosted by Kevin’s company. I have not bought a new dress since August 2006 ($20 at Ross), and while I can still get it zipped, I felt sorry for the seams that were clearly straining against my mid section. Maybe if I ate nothing but ex-lax for the next week or contracted a mild case of cholera AND got my period early, I could avoid the painful task of shopping? Suck it up, Audra. Go to the mall. Heck, lash out. I decided that I would spend up to the lavish sum of $300 if I could find a dress I liked! Oh so naive!

I browsed through three levels of frilly summer dresses to the tunes of Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonder Land blaring over the loudspeakers. Very unsettling. Sadly, renaissance waistlines are still at the height of fashion for dresses here. Granted, I have never had much of a waistline, but it certainly does not reside just below my boobs – which, by the way, as a result of the above referenced weight gain have increased an entire cup size. Some may view that as a distinct benefit, but the consequences for baby-doll dresses are dire. However, since there were absolutely no other alternatives for waistlines – no slimming scoops, no drop down hip riders…

“Open your mind, Audra, open your miiiind.”

I selected the only three dresses in the store that even mildly interested me and made my way to the changing room. I tried not to look in the mirror as I undressed, as I knew I would be discouraged by the site of my naked body under bright fluorescent lights. I slipped on the first dress – a brightly colored floral print with a voluminous skirt. The waistline was shockingly low – it rested just above my floating ribs. I normally consider myself to be above average height, but I looked like a stubby little garden troll on popsicle sticks. I tried the next – a long silky black ball gown with a plunging neck line. Show ‘em off, why not? It looked like I was wearing a thousand dollar maternity dress. I didn’t even try on the third. I had experienced enough humiliation for one afternoon.

I took my whingeing to my co-workers and had a good old fashioned rant. Because Amelia is young and cheerful and doesn’t know any better, she offered to accompany me shopping at the bohemian punk-rock boutique stores in Newtown during lunch. “I will break you too,” I thought to myself, but I was feeling especially defeated. With resignation and my grandmother’s voice echoing in my head, I tried on every frock she fancied. Amazingly, I walked away with not one, but two new dresses – a long black number with red polka dots and red pleats and a full skirted picnic blue print dress covered with little tikki heads. And I kept within my original budget.

Now, I just need to find the perfect accessory…if only I still had my black cat tail!

03 December 2008

Someone Didn't Like Their Marks

Dear Colleagues

The University recently received a letter threatening certain, named individuals, all of whom have been notified.

In consultation with the Police, we are taking a number of preventative and precautionary steps to ensure the safety of staff, students and visitors. As a result you may see an increased security presence across campus.

While we are treating this matter seriously, the steps we have put in place mean we can continue a business as usual approach across the University.

If you have any specific concerns, please discuss them with your supervisor or manager who can report them to security on extension 13333.

Security Services

20 November 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

I don't have a lot to say about 41...it seems an insignificant, if not unattractive number.

But my new kitty (who, in lieu of a nomenclature of consensus, Kevin persists in referring to as 'our Australian daughter') adores the fruit basket from my mother almost as much as myself.
However, she seems to appreciate the box even more than I appreciate the lychee fruit...
Special thanks to JD for the very apropos card and to my FIL for the lovely postcard.

18 November 2008

'Australia'

"So did you see Hugh and Nicole down on the red carpet last night?"


"No, but I saw a group of aboriginals lighting the grass on fire in the park by the Redfern Station."

15 November 2008

Accentuate

I recently met an American woman who, after living here for 12 years, had developed an Australian accent so strong as to render her verbally incognito. While I have altered my pronunciation of a few words – mostly because I got tired of getting sideways glances for saying ‘to-MAY-to sauce’ or “BAY-sil” or “go fuck YOUR self” – I cannot imagine ever losing my native tongue completely. I admit, that having become accustomed to hearing muted vowel sounds, I often cringe when I hear Americans terrorizing ‘a’ and ‘o’, and I always consider it a compliment when people tell me my own accent is soft, which I assume means that I do not abuse words such as ‘like’ and ‘y’know’ and ‘totally’.

I have, however, adopted several colorful turns of speech, mostly because they are fun, but occasionally because they are insipid and have simply infiltrated my personal vernacular without my notice. For example, when someone is teasing me or giving me a hard time I might say “Are you taking a piss on me?” This is great fun because they don’t know if I know what I am talking about and cannot decide if they should explain the difference between ‘taking a piss on someone’ and ‘taking the piss out of someone’. If the situation is becoming emotionally charged, I might excuse myself by saying “I have to go crack a shit” which further confuses them as to whether I am truly getting angry or merely have an irritable colon and no sense of discretion.

Of the insidious linguistic idiosyncrasies that have become a part of my daily banter, my favorite by far is “And…yeah.” This phrase is incredibly useful (and widely employed by broadcasters, politicians, and especially athletes) when one is making a point or relating an amusing anecdote and has simply run out of words. It seems such a natural way to signify the conclusion of a collection of thoughts that I often wonder how I ever managed to let people know when I was done speaking.

The Australian lexicon is renowned for its exotic creativity, and I am often queried about various expressions and terminology. While I am indeed vastly entertained by this subject, I have not made any sort of extensive catalogue of my personal observations, mostly because there are ample internet-based resources already dedicated to such translations. If you want to know more about my individual collection of idioms (such as ‘budgie smuggler’ or ‘chuck a wobbly’ or ‘Pommie bastard’), it would best be done in person. We could sit down over a cold pint, have a nice chat, and…yeah.

10 November 2008

The Compromise of Privacy

Either by intention or serendipity, most of our 14 housing arrangements over the last 20 years have afforded us a considerable degree of privacy, such that unabashed nudity within the confines of our living space is a regular centerpiece of our existence. This is equally true for our current situation, as our 18th floor unit is mostly invisible to the surrounding buildings. However, once a year, the management arranges a sort of Christmas present for the tenants in the form of a window washing.

It is indeed unsettling to come strutting out of the bathroom with a towel around one's head only to find a man dangling outside one's window. However, I somehow managed not to spill my coffee. Fortunately, I was just able to duck around the corner and grab my robe (and my camera) before my privacy was fully compromised.




And then I went to work, fully content in the knowledge that I would not be asked to rappel from any great height...nor to wash a window.

06 November 2008

The Shredder

Dear Mr. Bush, Dear Mr. Cheney,

Allow me to offer my condolences on your impending unemployment. I am sure this is a very busy time for you, which is why I would like to offer to you the services of my cat. She possesses remarkable talents in the art of paper shredding - of which I am certain you are in desperate need at the moment.

Attached, please find a visual resume of her qualifications.

Kind regards and good riddance.




P.S. She is also very good at catching bugs. Perhaps there is a cabinet position available for her in the Department of Homeland Security? Please feel free to pass her details on to the President Elect, as I am sure his future offices will greatly benefit from her abilities.

05 November 2008

Hope

Every four years.

Without fail.

You’d think, that after 16 years, it might be a non-issue by now.

16 years!

But, No!

Every four years:

“So, are you going to break my nose again tonight?”

How did 16 years go by so fast?

It really doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were sitting in the Hillsdale Pub in Southwest Portland, savoring delicious hand-crafted stouts, eating thin cut fried potatoes drenched in malt vinegar and watching the election results roll in from across the nation, when a storm blew out the power and the staff responded with a rapid deployment of candles throughout the bar, the crowd of patrons instantaneously transforming from a boisterous mob into a cloister of intimate confidants. When the power came back on, the verdict was delivered. The Democrats had reclaimed the Federal Government and Bill Clinton was our new President.

We celebrated this momentous victory with a few more pints before driving home. (Yes, we drove home…but it was only a few blocks and it was mostly downhill.) We were quite giddy by the time we reached our parking lot. We were young and silly, and I chose that opportunity to demonstrate a Philip Marlowe maneuver I had learned...or was it Sam Spade? Deftly, I pulled down the shoulders of Kevin’s zipped jacket, rendering him defenseless against my onslaught of gentle punches. Unfortunately, the immobilization of his arms also left him defenseless against the forces of gravity, such that when he tripped over a parking curb, he had no choice but to brace his fall with his face. Indeed, he put quite a dent in the aluminum siding and the blood stain persisted for several months. Fortunately, the anesthetic effects of the alcohol lasted throughout the visit to the emergency room, and the four stitches hold a place of honor in our scrapbook to this day.

However, on THIS day, we found ourselves once more a part of a momentous victory…only we were able to appreciate it on a much larger scale. It is a rare occasion when one is able to tap into the experience of global consciousness, to know the whole world is having the exact same conversation at the exact same time. All around us tonight, people expressed feelings of excitement, of relief, of bewilderment, and of curiosity, but more than anything else, of hope.

Only we were drinking Pinot Grigio instead of beer.

I overheard someone say, “Today, I feel like I can like America again.”

Then Kevin said:

“So, are you going to break my nose again tonight?”

31 October 2008

For The Birds

Perhaps one of the most redeeming feature of the Australian landscape is the avian tableau. The variety of exotic, if not somewhat cacophanous bird life almost compensates for the relative homogeneity among mammals. I've already dribbled on at length about the joys of Rainbow Lorikeets, Flocks of Wild Cockatoos, and Bemused Kookaburras, but I have yet to elaborate on the charms of Magpies. A Pomme friend once lamented on the dearth of songbirds in Australia, declaring that most native birds merely squawk. While their calls might not compare to the sweet notes of a starling, I find comfort in their soft warble, which reminds me of wooden wind chimes.


On Halloween...

I wrote a lengthy and elegant post about Halloween and then thought it sounded awfully familiar to me...turns out I pretty much expressed the exact same sentiment last year, only with slightly less elegant verbiage. http://audrasaustralianadventures.blogspot.com/2007/10/fall-into-spring.html.

There are distinct advantages to having to having a terrible memory: the world is always brand new and I can be entertained by the same anecdote over and over and over...

Just Can't Get Enough?

If you live in America (hmmm.. or anywhere on planet Earth for that matter) and you are not yet fully saturated with election coverage, I invite you to listen in on a comedic antipodean take on the candidates, the issues, and the virtues of pie:

http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/racerace/media.htm

I particularly like the interview with Osama bin Laden where he is all pissed off that he keeps getting mistaken for a black Christian.

30 October 2008

Blockin' Up The Scenery

Although I have been forced to resort to the tactic on numerous occasions, I am not a fan of signs or notes in the work place. Occasionally, one’s co-workers might require a visual reminder not to place biohazardous waste in the staff room refrigerator, but for the most part I prefer to trust that people know how to behave with regards to safety and respect. Although there is a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from taping a well-worded reprimand onto an abused piece of equipment, no amount of signage is going to compensate for the moral or professional inadequacies of poorly socialized human beings.

The other day, I ventured into the women’s bathroom on the sixth floor of the Blackburn Building. Aside from the usual University sanctioned signs instructing me in proper hand washing technique and reminders of what may or may not be deposited in the toilet, there was this rogue sign next to the wash basins:



The implications caused me great pause, and indeed, a full three days later I am still puzzling over it. Obviously, the sign was inspired by an interruption of the act in question. Has this been an ongoing problem? Why do the women on the sixth floor have such dirty feet? Isn’t it truly in your best interest that your co-workers have clean feet? What would Jesus say about this?

Fortunately, I work on the second floor where there are no such restrictions on podiatric hygiene.

29 October 2008

What Australia Thinks of America

...as if America cares...afterall, America thinks Australia is strictly populated by Kangaroos, Koala Bears, and Crocodile Dundee look-alikes, though the more wordly among them may know something about sheep. However, Australia, like the rest of the world, does think about America. A lot. And often with more thoughtfulness and insight than America thinks of herself.



2008 US Presidential Election survey

30 October 2008


The United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney today released the results of a major survey on the views of Australians towards the United States and next week's presidential election, undertaken during the financial crisis last month.

Professor Simon Jackman Visiting Professor in the United States Studies Centre and Professor of Politics at Stanford University in California conducted the survey "Australians, Americans and the 2008 Presidential Election" that also compared attitudes of Australians with those of Americans on the same issues.

The survey comprises telephone interviews of 800 respondents and an on-line survey of 3,000 respondents. The field work was conducted by Brisbane based Q & A Research.

The survey found that most Australian respondents (80 per cent) believe the US is on the "wrong track", mirroring the views of Americans. In contrast, a solid majority (64 per cent) of Australian respondents said Australia is on the "right track".

If Australians could vote in the US presidential election, they would overwhelmingly support the Democrat candidate Senator Barack Obama by more than a 4-1 margin.

Almost half (49 per cent) of the Australian respondents think Senator Obama would make a better president "in terms of Australia's interests". Only 11 per centsaid the Republican candidate Senator John McCain would be better for Australia. Fully one third of respondents said it would make "no difference" if Senator Obama or Senator McCain wins, reflecting confidence in the underlying strength of the US-Australia alliance.

More than two thirds (69 per cent) of Australian respondents felt anger towards or ashamed of the US because of "things America has done". A similar number of American respondents (60 per cent) also reported feeling "ashamed of things that America has done".

About half the Australian respondents think the US should exit Iraq within twelve months. This is very similar to the views of Americans on the right strategy in Iraq. But even the one third of Australian respondents who think the US should stay "as long as it takes" still prefers Senator Obama as president by a 3-1 margin. The one third of Americans who think the US should stay in Iraq support Senator McCain by more than 10-1.

Senator Obama being the first African American presidential nominee of America's two major parties is less important to Australians than to Americans. The survey's Australian respondents scored considerably lower than American respondents on a "racial resentment" scale assessing attitudes towards the treatment and status of African Americans in the US.

On religion, many fewer Australians (5 per cent) than Americans (18 per cent) incorrectly think Obama is a Muslim. He is a Christian.

Asked about American stereotypes, two-thirds of Australian respondents describe Americans as "violent", "greedy" and "ignorant". At the same time, two thirds of Australians described Americans as hardworking.

Australian respondents were twice as likely to think of China as an "adversary" of the United States (33 per cent) than as an adversary of Australia (15 per cent). More than half (55 per cent) see China as an "ally" of Australia, almost twice the proportion (29 per cent) that thinks China is an "ally" of the United States. Only 5 per centof American respondents see China as an "ally".

Australian respondents were asked to rate both Australian and American political figures on a "progressive-conservative" scale. Australians consider Senator Obama to be considerably to the left of Australia's Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whereas they consider Senator McCain to be far to the right of Australia's Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, with President George W. Bush even further to the right.

Professor Geoffrey Garrett, CEO of the US Studies Centre, said the results showed that Australians of all political stripes shared with many Americans hopes for transformational change at home and abroad if Senator Obama wins the presidency next week, succeeding what is widely viewed in both countries as a failed Bush administration.

The detailed survey results are available on the US Studies Centre election watch website: http://www.uselectionwatch.org.au/



And, for my Australian readers - if you'd like a chance to win a trip to Washington DC for the inaugaration, visit: http://uselectionwatch.org.au/

All you have to do is guess the winner, the number of electoral votes, and the popular vote. Good Luck!

25 October 2008

Lawn Bowling

Last week, I organized an outing with a group of Yankee transplants (and a few Aussie partners) for a day of Lawn Bowling at the North Sydney Bowl-O. Normally the clubs are the exclusive domains of elderly leagues of bowlers wearing tidy white uniforms, but once a week the greens are open to the general public for barefoot bowls.

Unlike ten-pin bowling, lawn bowling requires no particular skill or strength and is therefore well suited to the co-consumption of massive quantities of beer...not to say that I haven't consumed massive quantities of beer while playing ten-pin, but in this case, I did not have to wear ugly shoes and was treated to glorious views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

The play is quite similar to Bocce Ball, except the balls are weighted on one side, which results in a perfectly thrown ball wobbling off in wonky directions at the last minute. Teams alternate turns chucking different colored balls down a turf field toward a target ball (the jack). The object is to get as many of your balls as close to the Jack as possible without spilling your beer or falling over. There were some subtle rules regarding fouls and scoring, but I couldn't be bothered with those, as they only interfered with the play.

Perhaps I should just let the video explain the rest:

18 October 2008

The Abortion

“Can we get a cat?”

“We have a cat.”

“Yeah, but The Cow is 8,000 miles away, and I miss her. Let’s get a kitten. Kittens make me happy.”

“How about we sign up to be foster carers for Cat Rescue? Then we could get kittens, keep them for a few weeks and get a new crop when they are adopted out.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

So I made arrangements to foster a pair of tortoise shell kittens for a week until they could be placed in an adoption center. When we arrived at the vet in Annandale, we were given two tuxedo kitties, plus a ‘bonus cat’. Being flexible and experienced, and appreciating the difficulties in placing cats that are beyond the cute and fuzzy stage, we agreed to take on the ‘four month old’ female.

It took less than 24 hours to learn that we are not cut out to be foster carers, as rescue cats are almost without exception damaged in some way. The bonus cat hid under the couch for the entire weekend. The kittens were indeed entertaining, but I was a little dismayed to learn that my compassion is not limitless. One of the kittens had a prolapsed rectum (basically, it had an ‘outie’ for an asshole, which resulted in significant ‘pinching off’ problems and a propensity for constant rectal leakage. Unable to keep it locked in the laundry room until Monday, I spent the entire weekend wiping the cat’s ass. Gross.

On Monday, we promptly returned the broken kittens to the vet, but agreed to keep the bonus cat until she could be placed for adoption. With the kittens gone, she emerged from under the couch and turned out to have a really great personality, affectionate and chirpy, and completely adoring of Kevin, following him everywhere (and stealing steak off his plate, which he found immensely amusing.) By the time I returned from the states, they had bonded completely and the house was filled with cat toys. Looks like we have a cat after all.

Upon my return, it became quite obvious that there was no way the bonus cat was four months old, as she was clearly at least five weeks pregnant. A short debate lead to the obvious conclusion that it would be in no one’s best interest to let her go to term, and so we made an appointment to have her ‘de-sexed’.

I don’t think a human abortion even costs $300. Not much incentive to keep the feline population under control here.

Meet Lady Hawke:

17 October 2008

To Market, To Market

There are few activities that bring me more simple joy than buying fruit and vegetables from growers markets. I trace my love of produce shopping back to the weekend farmer’s market that would spring up outside the BART station when my family moved to San Francisco in the early 70’s. Back then, you simply could not get fresh vegetables in the middle of winter in Ohio, and it seemed so decadent, so hedonistic to buy artichokes or oranges on the street in January. When we moved to San Jose, my mother and I would make weekly sojourns to the Berryessa Flea Market, returning home with armloads of fresh veggies, avocados, sticks of pepperoni, and jars of exotic olives. As much as the actual procurement, I adored the interaction of being in a crowd of shoppers, jostling for position in front of a stack of crisp apples. How well I remember my first encounter with a pale green chile, which I found on the ground. I thought I had scored a small fortune, until I bit into it and wiped my eyes, which flowed like faucets all the way home…

With that knowledge, I often marvel that it took me nearly two years to visit the Sydney Markets, the mother of all produce markets.

Passing beneath the giant fair-ground style entry gates, we joined a parade of cars in chaos, all searching for prime parking around the crowded perimeter of the markets. Averting several Mexican stand-offs, I slipped into a nearby covered parking garage only to find it mysteriously deserted. I felt as if I had won the parking lottery, and we set off towards the enormous warehouse that seemed to be the center of commerce.The main building is about the size of two football fields and was packed from end to end with stalls of growers hawking their goods.



“Lovely, Lovely Beans – on sale for the next half hour – only $2 a kilo. Get you Lovely, Lovely Beans.”

“I got yer freshest Mangoes. Mangoes Here. Only $16 a flat.”

“Garrrrlique. 1$ a bag. Garrrlique”

I was instantly overwhelmed and could only wander aimlessly up and down each aisle, palpating pears, pumpkins, and pomegranates, cooing at the cost of carrots, cantaloupes, and capsicum, salivating over celery, cilantro, and strawberries, awestruck by apples and avocados, and totally repulsed by crates of fava beans.

Unless you operate a restaurant or a produce stand of your own, the best way to tackle the Sydney Markets is with a group of people among which you can divide the bounty into more reasonable portions. While the discounts are deep, they are dependent on quantity.

I have completely underestimated my ability to eat an entire flat of mangoes before they succumb to the voracious appetites of the cloud of fruit flies which now inhabit my kitchen. Turns out I enjoy buying produce a lot more than I actually like preparing it, and now the bottom of my refrigerator is slowly dissolving into a thick slime of lettuce and lovely, lovely beans.

09 October 2008

Watch For Me on 'Border Security'

Chris Defourney, Manager
DFS Duty Free Galleria
San Francisco International Airport
C/O 1580 Francisco Street
Torrance, CA 90501
USA

Re: 773178663/ Txn # 1010-840-06858 and 1010-840-06859

The purpose of this letter is to lodge a formal complaint against DFS Duty Free Galleria located at the San Francisco International Terminal and specifically against Mr. Corvado Ruiz, formerly of El Salvador.

On Wednesday, October 8, 2008 at ~ 21:15, I entered the DFS Galleria at the San Francisco International Airport to purchase one carton of cigarettes and one liter bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka as gifts upon my return to Australia. I was approached by Mr. Ruiz who strongly urged me to purchase a second bottle of vodka, since the price was so reasonable. I concurred that the savings were substantial and succumbed to his charming persuasion. Mr. Ruiz, then seeing that I had also selected a carton of cigarettes, further urged me to purchase a second carton. I explained to him that Australia had limitations upon the importation of tobacco and that I could only bring in 250 cigarettes duty free. Mr. Corvado then swore to me that the regulations had been changed as of January 2008 and that Australia had increased their limit to 400 cigarettes. I told him I did not believe that was correct, yet he assured me that was the case and said that if he was lying, I could lodge a formal complaint – and then he showed me his employee badge.

Mr. Ruiz was indeed lying, and I am indeed lodging a formal complaint. Upon entering Australia, I was fined $113.98 AUD and subjected to a humiliating search, during which I was told that it is common practice for duty free shops to blatantly lie to overseas consumers. DFS Duty Free Galleria should be painfully ashamed for employing predatory business practices that are based on deception and coercion. While I recognize that it is ultimately my responsibility to be aware of the restrictions upon importation, I believe that DFS Duty Free also has the responsibility to not deceive their customers with deliberate fabrications just for the sake of a meager $34 sale.

In the future, I will most certainly make such purchases elsewhere, and will further ensure that I alert all travelers to the despicable business practices utilized by DFS Duty Free Galleria.

Respectfully,



Audra A McKinze

74/9 Herbert Street
St. Leonards, NSW 2065
Australia

Cc:

San Francisco International Airport
Department of Concessions and Development
PO Box 8097 San Francisco, CA 94128-8097

BBB of the SouthlandBBB of the Southland (Colton, CA)
315 N. La Cadena Colton, CA 92324-2927
Phone: (909)825-7280Fax: (909)825-6246
Email: info@labbb.org
Web: http://www.labbb.org

03 October 2008

Stuffed

A few months ago, I watched a documentary series that discussed stuff and how humans relate to it. The brilliant comedian George Carlin penned a hilarious monologue about stuff. These two performances have been very much in the forefront of my mind over the last several days, and I would not presume to imagine that I could draw observations that are any more pertinent or humorous than those supplied by the experts. Nonetheless, I am compelled to lighten my psychic load by dumping a few conclusions on my audience.

1) Stuff abhors a vacuum.
And by vacuum, I mean the academic definition of empty space as well as the household appliance, the latter particularly when the former is an attic. This is a frightening theorem, considering the size of the Victorian house my mother has lived in for the last 30 years. I had always thought it was a shame that the foundation had been lowered in the 1950's to improve the chances of the house withstanding a major earthquake, but now I am immensely grateful that the basement is not one cubic inch larger than it is, for that cubic inch would be filled with stuff.

2) The stuff of freedom.
Aside from children or ailing parents, mass quantities of stuff is one of the most insidious thieves of personal liberty, especially when it comes time to move house. However, it is amazing the stuff people will take as long as it is free.

3) Other people's stuff.
It is a simple pleasure to sift through the detritus of someone else's life, to handle and ponder mysterious objects, to experience reminiscence at reminders of things that have been misplaced in one's own history. In fact, it is so much fun, that as we began to empty the basement, we recruited several people from the neighborhood who were so enthralled by our activity, that they volunteered the services to help sort and sift the stuff.

All right. Enough stuff.

Except we haven't even opened the garage yet...

27 September 2008

Meltdown Averted

Despite the panic of the morning - and the flight being full, and being assigned a center seat next to a woman with whooping cough - the coast to coast journey was surprisingly smooth. In fact, I am now firmly of the opinion that all trans-Pacific flights to California should be rescheduled for a later departure time. Dinner is served at a more reasonable hour and arrival occurs at the civilized time of 5 am (according to the body clock...noon locally), rather than 3 am, which takes an astounding toll on one's sensibilities.

After a quick tour of my mother's adorable new house (more on that later), my first order of business, of course, was to seek out some proper tacos and cheap beer. Under the wings of my cherished friends, I soon found myself in Carnitas heaven with my hand wrapped around a cold Pacifico. Bliss.

Later that night, under the cover of a deliciously warm October night, we ventured out into the streets of San Jose on bicycles in search of more cheap beer and, eventually, more tacos. (My God, does anything taste better than a taco served after the bars have closed?!) I cannot describe how fun it was to be pedaling through familiar neighborhoods, an insider tourist in my own home town. However, in the bars, it was impossible not to draw constant comparisons between American and Australian culture. As charmed as I am by art deco pubs, there is a durable soft-spot in my heart for good old fashioned dive bars, an institution that is entirely absent from the antipodean landscape. And, so it seems, an institution that is rapidly fading from the urban panorama of California as well.

Like the gritty blue-collar pubs of Sydney, most dive bars are being snatched up by swanky young entrepreneurs who recognize the nostalgia and respect that a new generation of drinkers have for seedy old dumps. While they try to preserve that special something that makes a bar a dive, they also install chic lighting, thumping sound systems, hire cool bartenders with bee-hive hairdos and trendy tattoos, and invariably host hip DJs on weekends, additions that are in direct conflict with the fundamental essence of a true dive.

My Australian friends are invariably uncomprehending of the concept of a 'dive', and I often find myself unable to adequately provide an accurate description. More than just cheap drinks, a cast of local derelicts, and a collection of tacky alcohol-related paraphernalia, a dive bar typically encompasses a blend of familiarity and desperation, of comfort and wretchedness. Regardless of the methodical yuppification of the best dive bars of San Jose, one critical facet endures.

In Australia, spirits are strictly measured by the smallest shot glass in existence. Happy Hour commonly involves a modest discount on one brand of drink and typically lasts ONE hour only, usually between 5-6. At Jack's, happy hour means $3.00 beers, $1 discounts on all other drinks, AND it lasts from 4-9pm. That is five very happy hours for the price of one. And then, from 10-midnight, there was another drink special: 'shots' of Jack Daniels for just $4...only the shots were free-poured into a glass the size of a coffee mug. Furthermore, the 'Jack Girl' (snigger) was on site, distributing stickers, patches, t-shirts and bandanas to anyone who bothered to simply ask for one, with the idea, of course, that one would then purchase a shot of JD. I felt no such obligation, but I absolutely love my new t-shirt!

And then we went to a great German bar hosting Oktoberfest, where I finnagled a free apple strudel and drank a beer bigger than my head.

Bliss.

Then I fell over.

Did that cat follow me from Australia?

25 September 2008

Meltdown Pending

I wasn't especially anxious about my trip back to California. I has a nice massage last night, didn't drink too much, and had a very good night's sleep. I woke up mildly excited, yet calm in knowing exaactly what lay ahead: have some coffee, finish up the laundry, pack my one little bag, take a shower, slip on my stretchy travelling costume, have some lunch, hop a train, go to California. Just before boarding the train, I opened my phone to send Kevin a goodbye text, only to receive a barrage of messages from Qantas telling me my flight was delayed.

And then I spun into a panic.

My phone battery died.

I left my charger at work.

Since the age of portable phones, I can no longer remember a phone number to save my life (except for 279-8091).

My internet connection crashed.

When it finally blinked on for a moment, I instantly forgot all of my passwords.

My lunch ceased to digest.

I don't mind schedule disruptions, but with the troubles that Qantas has been having of late, coupled with my very active imagination, my mind went bonkers with frightening scenarios as to WHY the flight is delayed!

But now it is time to go.

I think I'll have me a Rum and Ginger Beer at the airport.

20 September 2008

279-8091

In the age of portable communications and high speed cable internet, land lines are becoming increasingly obsolete. Indeed, Kevin and I do not have one here in Australia, although we do have three mobile phones, one cell phone, and a Skype account.

A phone number seems an odd entity to serve as a repository for sentimentality, yet I was choked with emotion when, several months ago, my mother disconnected the service she had had for over 30 years. The musical chimes of those digits still echo loudly in my head, and although I have not been at the end of that dial tone for over two decades, all of my childhood friends still know that number by heart. More than just an electrical connection to the outside world, over the years, it seemed to take on a personality of its own. Having moved to California from Ohio with roommates, the phone was listed under the name of 'D. O’Rourke', and my mother had never seen any reason to update this information after Delphine moved out. Somewhere in the world there is a very naughty man named Dan O’Rourke, and for many years, we could gamble that any calls received during the dinner hour were from bill collectors or private detectives. Those calls became a running gag in our household, and curiously, I find myself missing them.

It was like some critical part of my past had been severed, lost, disconnected, and I feel more than a little foolish for it. But that is nothing compared to the self-centered blubbering that is about to unfold.

On October 1st, my mother is moving out of the house she has rented for 29 years. So great is my distress over this disengagement, that I am compelled, under the guise of ‘helping,’ to travel to California to wallow in the memories that are stored at 1166 Hester Ave.

In reality, it is nothing but a happy occasion. My mother is finally fulfilling the dream of homeownership, postponed for decades as she raised and educated three children and supported a fair share of deadbeats along the way. Yet, I get overcome with emotion when I think about returning from Australia to find her life transplanted into new environs without having been a part of the transition, as if I might otherwise never ‘belong’ there. I do not like to imagine returning to San Jose and driving by my childhood home inhabited by strangers without having been able to walk through the empty rooms saying goodbye to ghosts.

My mother is delighted by the prospect of throwing out much of her old life and starting fresh in a new place. I can certainly appreciate that – I have done it more times than I can count, and perhaps that is part of why I am so distraught. That constancy, that romantic notion of ‘home’, a place that I could always go back to, has provided me with a degree of stability in my nomadic life. Now all that will be gone, and I am a little scared of how that will impact my perception of my place in the world.

Or maybe I am just feeling the strain of the incredible distance. Australia is very far away from the rest of the world, a notion that I neglected to give proper consideration before moving here.

Or maybe I am just getting old. And tired.

Or maybe, I just needed a good excuse to eat a proper burrito.

16 September 2008

ATTENTION!

If any of my dead beat friends have been toying with the possibility of coming to visit me in Australia - where you will have free accommodations (with stunning views), free airport pick-up, not to mention free use of a car, free food, and many, many free rounds of beer - I just wanted to bring to your attention, the fact that round trip flights from San Francisco are currently at an all time low...


Oh, and the exchange rate just dropped below 80 cents, so it is like Australia is having a 20% discount sale on everything!

11 September 2008

Yes, He Did His Research

I have recently finished reading John Burdett’s trilogy of crime novels starring Part-time Pimp/Full-time Buddhist, Detective Jitpleecheep. In addition to startling endings showcasing incredibly gruesome acts of retribution, each novel features a detailed description of a Traditional Thai Massage (2nd floor only – 3rd floor is no place for an honest Buddhist Cop.) Last night, in the interest of investigating Burdett’s literary integrity, Kevin and I, went to the store-front Thai Massage parlor across the street. No, we did NOT get Happy Endings, but I must confess that I was rather distracted wondering if it was on the menu and by the possibility that it might be happening in the room next door.

We were greeted warmly, albeit incoherently by two small women dressed in colorful pantaloons. They showed us up stairs to a pleasant room with two large flat tables, gave us each a cup of cool fruity tea, tossed two brown linen squares at us, made a few confusing gestures, and left. After some bewildered muttering, we settled in to our brown baggy pants and awaited their return.

The massage began pleasantly enough, with a warm towel placed over my feet and some gentle acupressure. Within minutes, Giny had climbed up onto the table and was crawling up the backs of my legs. She shoved her knees into the backs of my thighs and jammed her elbows deep into my lower back. I made a mental regarding potential treatment of kidney stones. She did a few handstands on my back, her body weight entirely disproportionate to her size, but she wasn’t going to take any crap from the knotty monsters that live beneath my shoulder blades. Digging in deep with her lethal elbows, I felt my muscles crunch and melt beneath the grinding pressure.

She turned me over and began manipulating my legs. Thai massage may not be suitable for the elderly, as I felt sure that had my diet been more calcium deficient, she surely would have snapped my femur, if not my entire pelvis. Sitting between my feet and grabbing onto my bended knees, she pulverized the backs of my thighs with her powerful feet. She kneaded and twisted the muscles around my knees until my legs felt like two doughy baguettes.

I was hoisted into a sitting position for some neck and shoulder abuse. Locking my hands behind my head, she thrust her knees into my back and contorted my spine with a series of stirring motions, bending me backwards over her thighs. Finally she released me back onto the mat, placed a warm towel over my eyes, and said “Thank You” as she left the room.

Thank Me??

Kevin sat up and looked at me with a somewhat dazed expression. Gingerly, we placed out tenderized bodies back into our clothes and went down stairs. A warm cup of tea awaited us.

“You have some sore tomorrow,” said Giny as she pointed to her shoulders.

“No, I will have some sore for three days.” Truly, I am surprised that my arms are turgid enough to even hold my hands above the keyboard.

I can’t wait to go back.

05 September 2008

Why is it...

...that lighting a campfire of seasoned wood requires a bundle of kindling, an entire Sydney Morning Herald, and generous amounts of lighter fluid...

...yet one misplaced cigarette butt can instantly ignite a soggy coffee table on a rain-swept patio?

02 September 2008

Whose Clock??

Because none of my 'real' friends will come visit me in Australia, I often invite complete strangers off the Internet to come stay with us. Last weekend we hosted Paula and her 8-year old daughter Vanessa, who were visiting Sydney from Toronto.

Whenever we are around children, Kevin scrutinizes my every move looking for signs of hormonal sea changes or evidence of regret for the most defining decision of my reproductive life. If I so much as coo at a baby, he often sulks violently, waiting for the backlash of remorse and maternal yearning that he believes will inevitably overtake my otherwise appeased disposition. I've grown tired of reassuring him that he has had no influence whatsoever over my very personal choice regarding motherhood and am more than a little offended that he should think me so weak-willed in the first place. It's not like negotiating over which car to buy, where one is more apt to yield to the desires of the other, particularly in the face of one's own indifference - and shame on any one who has agreed to parenthood under such circumstances...Danny...in fact, I think he negotiated a child FOR a new car...or was it merely a dirt bike?

If you don't know me, and possibly even if you do, there is no way you will be able to visualize the expression of worried disbelief upon my face when The Baron of Bomburst turned to me as we were reading in bed and said "Gee, it's kind of nice having a little girl around. I really like her. It makes me feel nice to listen to her talk. We've never really been around children much. Maybe we should spend more time with them?"

Word of the Day: Flabbergasted.

30 August 2008

The Octopus

One of my favorite aspects of living in the world class city that is Sydney is the accessibility of artists who would otherwise never cross cultural my radar. Last night, I saw one of the most challenging performances I have ever witnessed, and by that I mean it was difficult for me, as a member of the audience, to experience. By the end of the show I was emotionally exhausted, my sensory perception strained to the edge of my tolerance.

Grant Collins is billed as a ‘one man percussion orchestra”, a phrase that completely understates the spatial-temporal complexity of his music. I don’t usually think of drums as ‘musical’ instruments – in my mind they are more like the skeletal framework that supports a harmonic structure. However, under the command of his remarkable neural network, the 80+ pieces of his drum kit produce the range and interwoven subtlety of a full symphony.

In between songs, cheeky, energetic and perhaps a bit scattered, he attempted to explain the science and methodologies behind his performances. I was quite excited to hear him discussing neuronal plasticity and hippocampal pathways, but I was completely unable to comprehend what it meant to play a rhythm in 9/16. I did understand that he is able to control each of his limbs in a different time – such that one foot plays 2, the other plays 3, while one arm does 5 and the other 7, but when I tried to observe that knowledge during his performance, my mind spun out of control as each limb blurred into an independent cacophony of movement.

It often requires all of my mental capacity to get each my limbs to do the same thing at the same time.

17 August 2008

Cultural Immersion Experiment 3.2.1

When I was a little girl - when we first got cable television - my mother once roused me from a deep sleep in the middle of the night to witness the strangest sport she had ever seen on some obscure channel. Mesmerized by the violent athletic fortitude of the participants, owing in large part to the size and definition of their thighs, we struggled to comprehend the play. It was like football – the objective seemed to be to get an egg shaped ball through some goal posts. It was like soccer – occasionally there was kicking. But it was also like basketball – every once in awhile the players would dribble the ball as they ran across a humongous grass oval. It was like nothing we had ever seen.

It was Australian Rules Football.

As part of my cultural immersion, I accepted Richard and Kate’s invitation to attend an AFL game between the Sydney Swans and the Geelong Cats (though still wary of their backyard – and their home brew - I declined their offer of pre-drinks at their house). Unfortunately, no one in our party had a particularly keen grasp of the game itself, thus was of little help in enlightening me to the subtleties of play.

“It’s rather like a game of hot-potato,” explained Richard.

“Who are the guys in the green shirts?”

“I have no idea. Yay! Go Swans!”

Without the distraction of actually having to follow the game, I was free to absorb random details instead:

ANZ Stadium serves the BEST (if not only) hot dogs in all of Australia.

In general, Australian parents (and grand-parents) are quite appreciative of having total strangers correct their children’s (and grand-children’s) bad behaviour.

In as many days, I have been to two toilet stalls in which previous occupants have flicked remarkable boogers onto the stalls. I felt compelled to participate, but my own efforts were paltry by comparison and not at all worthy of flicking. This certainly represents a sport which would boost Australia’s gold medal tally, although Mexico would provide some fierce competition.

It never occurred to me that I might need a Sony Playstation…that is, until I saw a subdued black-and-white banner held between two men at center field during half-time. It read “Sony Playstation”.

Roaming beer vendors are a good thing. How has Australia overlooked this source of revenue? There is something to be said for having a below-poverty-level working class.

Toward the end of the game, the most confusing message flashed repeatedly across the JumboTron. It read:

Kick to Kick
NO
Kick to Kick
Do Not Enter Arena

Aren’t we already in the Arena? (Further explanations (or postulations) as to the actual meaning of that bulletin are most welcome in the comments section which follows.

Australian Police Officers – although extremely polite and infinitely approachable – are seldom in possession of useful information, such as the location of the nearest toilet facility.

Trains are a wonderful form of transportation, especially while intoxicated, and especially when you happen to catch the one train that goes directly from Olympic Park to St Leonards.



And now, for your viewing pleasure (and no doubt violating multiple copyright laws), I present the following montage:


12 August 2008

Addendum

Kevin came in 29820th with an official time of 113 minutes 56 seconds.

Although these photos may suggest otherwise, he assures me he was having fun:

http://city2surf.sunherald.com.au/results08video.php?intbib=27029

09 August 2008

"Oooh, a rrrace. I hope I win!"

Four years ago, almost to the day, I was making frantic preparations to retrieve my wheelchair-bound husband from a night in the hospital as he underwent major surgery to repair the botched job done on his broken leg by the butcher of La Paz. (Note to self: avoid Mexican hospitals at all costs.) It was a very dark time in our lives, and we had genuine concerns as to whether he would ever be able to walk again.



Today, Kevin ran in the City 2 Surf Race, Sydney’s version of the Bay to Breakers, only not quite as silly. The participants lined up in Central Sydney to tackle the gruelling 14.4 (8.9 miles) course ending at Bondi Beach. Unable to run a city block even if I was being chased, I watched the beginning of the race on television from my ugly but comfortable couch. Unfortunately, I was unable to pick him out from the 70,000+ crowd. But I did see Batman and Spiderman…and Tah Man.

With a non-stop AccaDacca soundtrack piped through his ear buds, Kevin finished the race in a respectable 2 hours 15 minutes (official time and finishing photo pending) – which is less time than it took me to get to the finish line thanks to the brilliant planning by Shitty Rail who decided to perform ‘track work’ on two of the major metropolitan train lines. (As far as I can tell, ‘track work’ involves a bunch of guys in orange vests standing around shooting the breeze and smoking cigarettes – though on the upside, ‘track work’ means not awakening to the 4:47 am train.)




But I digress…


The point of this tirade is to express my tremendous pride, joy, and gratitude at Kevin’s accomplishment. (Note to self: send a thank you card to Dr Verhoog.)

Good on Ya, Kev!

Now if you will excuse me, the women’s gymnastics are on…(OK, so I lied about ignoring the Olympics…I reckon Australian sport fever is infectious after all.)


PS - For the more internet savvy among my blog audience, you can save the html located here then load it into Google Earth to see the race course in greater detail. Note that Km 6-8 is known as ‘heart break hill’ – and with good cause. Luckily, at the base of the hill there was a rooftop band playing “It’s a Long Way to the Top.” How good is that?


(Oh, and bonus points to anyone who knows the source of the quote for the title of this entry.)

Murder in Beijing

"Chinese police insist that it was a random attack."

Isn't that just what makes it so bloody terrifying? Personally, I would find it more comforting to know that he had been the leader of an international drug cartel or that the violence was the result of a passion fueled desire for revenge.

08 August 2008

A Reluctant Spectator

It was ever so much easier to ignore the Olympics in America than in this upside down nation of sport fanatics. I had no idea just how much insipid cynicism had crept into my psyche until I succumbed to the hype and watched the sumptuous opening ceremonies in Beijing, reacquainting me with a gawping child of the 70’s, so enamored of Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci that she embarked on a short-lived career in gymnastics – which is the reason why at 40 I can still put my hands flat on the floor in a forward bend (although my ever-expanding beer gut is daily threatening that particular pastime.)

Aside from the sheer entertainment, the opening ceremonies served as a painful reminder of how much the structure of world has changed since I took geography in college. I was more than a little dismayed at the number of countries of whose existence I was completely unaware. Watching the parade of athletes also revealed much about the social climate of the participating nations. The cheer received by Iraq was heart warming, but the lack of female athletes from Arab countries in general was disturbing. The smiles of the competitors from war-torn African nations were encouraging, even if the numbers of participants from each team was disparate.

I still plan to ignore as much of the actual sporting events as possible, which means I am going to have to bury my head in the sand for the next two weeks. I am however, most intrigued by the socio-political dialogue initiated by this year’s venue. It has opened up fascinating discussions of communism, religious oppression, globalism, pollution, censorship, and conformity. China is clearly a world leader in at least five of those categories, particularly the latter - as illustrated by the mesmerizing synchronicity of the opening spectacle. Having suffered the abuses of a maniacal marching band director in high school, I can only wonder at the daily beatings that must have been required to achieve such precision among Beijing’s enormous color guard.

Band directors and gymnastic coaches must be cut from the same cloth as sadistic dictators.

07 August 2008

Swear to God

If Barack Obama loses the presidential election by the number of people who write in Paris Hilton, I am never coming back.

Don't scoff. I know damn well there is a large proportion of the American public just stupid enough to do it.

02 August 2008

Is Mystery

I woke up this morning to find my bed filled with dirt. Not just dirty, mind you, but filled with a salad of dried leaves, twigs, and detritus. Curious.

Still half asleep, I rolled over onto my side and was shocked into alertness by intense pain emanating from my right hip and elbow. Unusual.

I rolled onto my other side only to discover reciprocal wounds plus additional contusions on my left shoulder, wrist, and knee. Interesting.

I got up to go to the toilet, but my left leg buckled under my weight, knee and ankle groaning with severe sprains. Ow.


I must ring Kate and Richard to see if they are owed an apology…