27 April 2008

Shamless Begging

My sister Chloe wants to be a May's Naughty Knitter Bad Girl Pin-Up...Please stop by and vote for her: http://freakknitter.typepad.com/knit_girls/vote.html

I think she wins a hank of yarn and some good publicity for her store.


24 April 2008

ANZAC Day (and Some Tangents)

Today is ANZAC Day, which marks Australia's victorious defeat at the hands of the Turks after a minor navigational miscalculation landed them upon the fateful shores of Gallipoli during World War I. After spending the morning in somber reflection and respectful remembrance, Australia further commemorates the occasion by eating cookies, gambling on coin tosses, and drinking huge amounts of beer. Huge amounts of beer.

This our third ANZAC Day in Australia, which gives us the odd sensation of having some personal history here. Our first ANZAC Day (during our two month scouting mission prior to our relocation) was spent in the neighboring state of Victoria, birthplace of Australian Rules Football. In Victoria, the highlight of ANZAC Day is the annual rivalry between The Collingwood Magpies and The Essendon Bombers. For whatever reason, Aussie Rules Football is largely ignored in New South Wales (and the rest of the country for that matter) where Rugby League is the preferred sport.

Which brings to mind one of those peculiar differences in language that frequently results in much sniggering at the expense of Americans. Although the US is certainly cognizant of multiple connotations of "root", it is typically the word of choice when one wishes to express one's enthusiastic support for a particular sporting franchise. However, employing such phrases as "I root for The Rabbitohs" takes athletic dedication to an entirely new level.

And since I have completely lost the point I was intending to make with this article, allow me to conclude with another piece of linguistic advice. If the sealant in your bathroom needs replacing, be sure to ask your apartment manager to fix the 'silicone', because you will get some mighty funny looks when you barge into his office complaining about the caulk in your bathtub.

17 April 2008

How Very Australian

Overheard in a crowded restaurant:

"Are you drinking drinking with lunch?"

"Oh, no! I'm just having wine."

The Joys of Public Transport #3

I like to ride on busses that have large advertisements pasted over the side windows. The ads are sheets of plastic with zillions of small holes in them. From the street they appear seamless. From inside the bus, one is aware of the holes even as one’s brain fills in the small little gaps and completes the scene that is unfurling beyond the window. Thus, as I watch twin schizophrenic brothers pissing on each other’s feet outside the Greater Union Cinema, I appear only as an enormous fizzy bottle of Sprite…of course, that may be how I look to them on any given day...

I especially like riding behind these adverts on rainy days, like today. When the tiny holes are filled with water, the world is a blur of color and shape.

On these days, I imagine that I am a myopic honey bee, on my way to work.

11 April 2008

Well I Been Down So Very Damn Long

Spending large sums of money always makes me anxious, but my heart was absolutely pounding out of my chest as I hit the "pay now" button to purchase two round trip tickets to San Francisco. Perhaps my palpitations had less to do with the $4,000 than the mix of nervous excitement at the thought of going home after 1 and 1/2 years in Australia.

I am thrilled by the prospects of visiting with my family and friends, petting The Cow, saying 'hello' to all my 'stuff' so hastily abandoned, eating buckets of Mexican food, and seeing some of my favorite places, smelling some of my favorite smells, and hearing some of my favorite sounds.

But I am also a little frightened.

My anticipation is already straining under the weight of unavoidable scrutiny as I must reconcile my memories against reality. As I experience frustration and annoyance with life in Australia, I invariably romanticize life ‘back home’. This visit is sure to be wrought with emotion and tension as one by one my fantasies either blossom or fade in the face of actuality.

Will nostalgia propel my destiny back to the homeland?

Or, will disillusionment reshape my outlook on this antipodean life?

Most likely, there will be a little of both, and I shall be eternally adrift on the shifting sea of unstable convictions, where the direction of my life is determined by the currents of happenstance and the winds of whimsy.

Stay tuned to find out.

07 April 2008

Small Pleasures

I feel I have been a little hard on Australia lately, so I thought I would make ammends by way of a list of things I really, really really, like. In no particular order:

1. Rainbow Lorikeets

I have about 20 hours of video of lorikeets eating. Their cheerful twittering makes me feel happy in a way that nothing else does. My mom sent me cherries for Christmas and I couldn't resist sharing them. I like to share. And lorikeets like to eat. Indeed, they get quite bitchy on the mornings when I neglect to put out bird seed or leftover bread soaked in honey (I know, it's a no-no...I probably shouldn't eat it either). When I move back to the states, I want to breed rainbow lorikeets.

2. Fruit Markets
Every little neighborhood has at least one well stocked fruit market, usually between a bakery and a butchery. I think this is a far superior way to shop for sustenance than driving to a mega-market, fighting for parking, buying two weeks worth of groceries, then ending up with a cart full of imitation processed food that doesn't quite fit together into any sort of meal plan. And they are pretty, too.

3. Monks in the City
I wonder if he is listening to something spiritually uplifting, or if he is rockin' out to Guns 'n' Roses...Sometimes Franciscan Friars get on my bus. They look like big bottles of Frangelico, only they don't smell quite as good.

4. The Gore Hill Cemetery
I'm always a little surprised at how many cemeteries here are wild and and unkempt, but this one is my favorite. It is filled with gigantic spiders that spin enormous webs across the walkways - just above head height. How do they know how tall a pedestrian will be? 1917 was a very tough year to be an Australian of any age, but especially a young man.

5. Geckos
OK, so geckos aren't uniquely Australian, but they still make me very happy, especially when I see them eating mosquitoes and hear them making kissing noises.

6. The State Library
Aside from this irresistible statue of a drooling pig, I like the library because it has a cat for a mascot. Trim is the first cat to circumnavigate Australia by ship. He was the first mate of Captain Mitchell, the namesake of a gorgeous building with stain glass windows and marble floors that makes you want to tiptoe and whisper.

7. Aussie BBQs
I don't especially care for snags, but the sheer volume of meat, coupled with competitive enthusiasm feeds the legend that is the Aussie Barbie. There really ought to be a national team. They would easily win the world cup with fried onions alone.

8. Pharlap's Heart
So revered is the antipodean counterpart to Sea Biscuit that various parts of his remains are on display in museums all across the country.

9. Tattoos That You Have To Pretend Not To Be Staring At
There isn't really much else to say about this, except for the obvious comments about the effects of aging on a woman's thighs and the unfortunate consequences that will have on these otherwise immortal pin-up girls. Mom - if Chloe gets one or more of these, it is not my fault.

10. Graphic Warning Signs
One can only hope that this is a precautionary measure and not the result of an unfortunate incident involving a soggy free fall onto the jagged rocks below. More demented minds might hope otherwise...

11. Beer

03 April 2008

By Request

Dedicated reader Darcie made a cultural inquiry as to the offensiveness of the euphemism 'beaver' in regards to female genitalia. Lest you worry about what odd thoughts occupy the mind of my dear friend, know that her curiosity was prompted by the following commercial recently yanked from the airwaves here in Australia, and now making quite a stir in the blogosphere:

My extensive research (I asked three Australian women and one Chinese man) yielded the conclusive conclusion that Audra has the uncanny ability to embarrass the crap out of Chinese men. However, the women were agreed that in no way were they offended by the term 'beaver', though it is not a term they employ in their daily vocabulary (perhaps because there are no beavers in Australia?). Indeed, as far as I can gather from the blog chatter, the only thing offensive about this commercial is the Americanization of Australian advertising - though I cannot imagine an American tampon commercial referring to feminine anatomy as "down there", much less comparing it to a small river dwelling rodent renowned for its ability to fell trees with its teeth. (Please note the tremendous restraint I am applying in avoiding any tongue in cheek remarks about damming the flow. If you are disappointed by my reticence, I suggest this.)

In truth, Australians are offended by very little, apart from the Americanization of their culture, particularly through the influence of television and movies. The disdain for American advertising is exemplified by a recent commercial in which a team of bank directors have hired an American ad agency to promote their home loans. The American agency comes up with a garish and obnoxious campaign which visibly nauseates the bank directors and clearly pins the blame for rising interests rates here on the US. (Australians love to blame the US for every little thing that goes wrong with the world and the economy. As if there was no such thing as predatory lending here...and that is not even considering that ALL mortgages are variable rate to some degree - currently ~9.4% following 12 consecutive rate hikes. Oh, and home mortgage interest is not a tax deduction. But I digress.) In the end, the bank opts for a plainly spoken under-statement about the quality of their home loans.

Oddly, Australians vocally welcome other immigrants to bring their traditions to the cultural potluck. They are keen to attend festivals hosted by Africans, Indians, Italians, Chinese, and others, but any attempt to recognize the pleasures associated with Halloween or the Fourth of July are met with harsh criticism. (OK, you know I am joking about the Fourth of July, right? I hope?) The Australian media loves to ramble on about how the American media (in the broadest sense of the word, not just news outlets) has contaminated so many facets of Australian culture that the nation is losing its uniquely Australian identity as evidenced by 1) drastic changes in vocabulary - particularly lamented is the decline in the use of colorful Australian colloquialisms such as "A bit more choke and you would have started", 2) diminishment of the Australian accent - blamed wholly on movies and The Simpsons (I think there is a Simpsons Channel on Foxtel), and 3) results of a recent poll that showed a surprising number of young people believe that in an emergency they should dial 911 (here, it is triple zero).

In NO way am I attempting to defend the drivel churned out by American movie studios or the rancid television shows that play to the lowest common denominators of society (BTW, since living here, I have realized that many of my least favorite TV shows are actually rip offs of crappy British shows, but when Australia rips them off, they tend to overlook that fact.) I am the first to admit that the US does not show well in our exported media, but here they make it sound as if there is some evil American machine with an agenda to assimilate their very being. Turn off your bloody televisions, ya wankers. You don't have to watch it!

This seething dislike for American culture clearly stems from the Tall Poppy Syndrome so inherent to Australian values, and perhaps the one facet of their culture that will not, can not be dissolved by American influences. I don't think Australians appreciate how much America really, really likes them. Ask any American and they are sure to express their desire to visit Australia. We are absolutely charmed by you. I am formulating an analogy of our countries based on two brothers - the older one who defied his parents strict rules and left home at 18, struck out into the world to become a free and wild success while the younger one stayed home and cared for the frail aging parents, and who, although successful in his own right, actively cultivates resentment for the carefree recklessness of his older brother. (For a wonderful and more detailed treatment of this fascinating subject, I recommend The United States vs Australia.)

As a follow-up question to my elaborate survey, I enquired about the existence of a uniquely Australian euphemism for female genitalia. But I reckon it is pretty difficult to come up with a clever ad campaign for tampons based on the Map of Tasmania.