30 June 2008

2008 Sydney Bitch Fest

I've long heard stories about the enormous colony of giant fruit bats (also known as flying foxes) that spend their days roosting in the tree tops of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, but I've never gone looking for them - though I have seen them in the evenings when they take flight en masse and head off to raid the night flowering plans of neighboring suburbs. The spectacle is truly amazing as the twilight is blotted out by thousands of lumbering silhouettes gliding slowly towards the horizon. It seems that a creature so large should have to flap its wings quite rapidly to remain airborne, yet these rodents of the night sky seem to drift along with the smallest of efforts.

Indeed, I still was not looking for them last Sunday as I crossed the gardens on my way to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to take in some of the exhibits on display as part of the 2008 Biennale of Sydney (if anyone can offer a hint as to how to pronounce 'biennale', I would be most appreciative - it rattles around in my brain in a most uncomfortable fashion). Australian capitols frequently indulge in city-wide themed art festivals involving a variety of venues and mediums. "Billed this year as a celebration of the defiant spirit...The theme of the 16th Biennale, Revolutions – Forms That Turn, suggests the impulse to revolt, a desire for change, and seeing the world differently." Seeing the world differently is one of my favorite past-times, so despite the warnings from my 'frown radar', we headed down to the city.

My facial muscles quickly descended into a deep frown as I viewed a video installment of a woman beating a bicycle with a club in her apartment. I was kind of smitten with a big white button that, when pushed, rang a series of very loud and very harsh bells distributed throughout the gallery. However, I can't say that either exhibit really challenged my perception of the world. I did really like the collection of chalk drawings on the outside of the gallery, though. This one was my favorite:

Oh yeah, the bats...

So, as we crossed the gardens and descended into a deep grove of trees, I heard the unmistakable chatter of a gazillion fruit bats. I swear, they must be the bitchiest species on the planet. The following video does not strive to capture the magnitude of the colony, as it would have quickly become a boring survey of tree after tree filled with bitchy brown ornaments. I did, however, attempt to demonstrate the crabby exchanges between individuals that seem to serve as entertainment through the long day. The god-awful honking in the background came from a palm tree filled with ibises. (I have a video of them also - available on request - but it did not come out very good and besides, they are really ugly birds!)

25 June 2008

Crossing Over

As the bus rounded the corner in front of Central Station, I spotted the most glamorous looking woman standing in the chill morning sun. She was wearing black high-heeled leather boots and black slacks. Her long legs vanished beneath a stylish cream colored knitted cloak. Her long brown hair curled gracefully around her neck from beneath a cream colored knitted beret. She turned to look down George Street. She was a he.

I have to say, Sydney has some of the best-dressed transvestites I have ever encountered.

17 June 2008


I would need to take the next week off from work in order to compose any sort of cohesive narrative of the last week of my US visit. Returning to San Jose is always a whirlwind experience, and since unforseen circumstances abridged the duration of that leg of our journey, I felt like I was squishing a 7 day schedule into a 76 hour time slot. Many conversations were cut short; many important things left unsaid.

I feel the need to summarize the experiences of my first trip back home in 1.5 years, to somehow draw a few poignant conclusions that would either justify all of my life’s decisions or ignite a shining beacon that points the way towards my destiny. But if I am learning one thing about life (my life anyway), it is that I should make good friends with uncertainty, doubt, and ambiguity as they will be my constant companions on this earthly trek. I am tempted to say that I simply need more time to process the jumble of emotions experienced over the last month, but I know that in reality, I will never quite ‘figure it out’, because feelings don’t obey the rules of reason.

So, instead, here is a jumble of random conclusions and observations that is in no way meant to be comprehensive or definitive:

1) I am absolutely bored to death with conversations about the price of gasoline.

2) Cats are disloyal sluts who will sell out 13 years of care and affection for a little bit of canned tuna.

3) With the exception of using the windshield wipers to indicate a turn, my brain adapts easily to driving on either side of the road. Being a pedestrian is an entirely different matter.

4) The food in America is delicious – as evidenced by the fact that, once again, none of my clothes fit. But I did have 30 days of remarkably wonderful bowel movements.

5) People who barf on airplanes suck.

6) Nothing cures a crying jag like fearing for one’s life, for example, when an airplane nearly rattles itself apart shortly after take-off.

7) Roberta’s tacos al pastor still rock my word (See #4 above).

8) Sniffer beagles seem to really enjoy their work, but what happens when they get too old? Does Australia provide a nice retirement plan, or are they adopted out, and if so, would they always be peeing on your groceries?

9) Intensive research abroad has reinforced my conclusions regarding Australian toilets (see #4 above.)

10) I nearly wept when I removed my perfectly unwrinkled jeans from my clothes dryer.

11) Political campaigns that last 1.5 years are a preposterous waste of time, money, and valuable brain space. My adoration of the Australian election system has been rekindled.

12) Travelling from winter to summer is invigorating, but returning to winter is a complete shock to the system.

13) Americans are egocentric, gullible, and crass – but they are also very creative, which means the above terms can be construed to indicate that Americans are also confident, open-hearted, and do not readily submit to frivolous rules of etiquette and social convention. I was surprised that I was not more irritated by them (as I often am here, oddly). It was an amazing relief to instinctively know the proper way of behaving. Here, I feel that I am constantly making some sort of embarrassing guffaw that only reinforces the generally ill opinion of Americans held by many Australians.

We got back to our apartment early this morning and the door slammed behind me with a woosh of finality. I knew the trip would go by quickly, but looking back, it feels strange that a month full of intense impressions and emotions can fit into a place as tiny as my brain. After a little nap, we took the train downtown for lunch. Slightly dazed by fatigue, I was contemplating my definition of home and considering all the places I have lived that still feel like home to me. I wasn’t sure if returning to Sydney felt like ‘coming home’ or merely like ‘coming back’. Then, in the middle of the lunch time crowds, I felt a quick tug at my elbow. It was my friend, Valerie.

“Hey! Hi. How was your trip? Welcome home.”

11 June 2008

Green Things

I am currently staying at a green hotel just outside the Napa Valley. Actually, it is beige, mostly. How did the simple word ‘green’ come to represent such a complicated movement? In my poorly organized mind, I always give the credit to Kermit the Frog and his enduring mantra, but then sometimes I just think it is all a bunch of marketing hoopla. Nothing detracts from the fundamental value of a good concept like marketing hoopla. Granted, good ideas need to be disseminated to the masses, but how can you trust a system that makes people believe that cookies are for breakfast and invading sovereign nations is acceptable foreign policy?

I can feel your curiosity burning through my (complimentary!) wireless connection…you are dying to know what makes a hotel green…Well, the most distinguishing feature is the six large LCD monitors in the lobby which show the current water and electricity usage of the property as well as an estimation of CO2 generation. One is forced to ponder if that includes the heat output of said monitors. Another critical component of managing a green hotel is to replace all the in-room bibles with copies of “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The skeptical cynic in me wants to poke fun at the whole green scene because of the silly extremes to which people stray in order to feel better about their very existence – like mandating the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs without establishing an infrastructure to recycle the 5 mg of mercury contained within each bulb which is trickling into the groundwater beneath landfills as I type. However, another (less exercised) portion of my personality wants to embrace and celebrate the notions of environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and ecologically friendly business practices.

So, I take comfort in drinking Fair Trade Certified Organic coffee that was brewed in a plastic drip pot. I am happy to reuse my towels after my 20 minute shower. I smile at the efficiency of the solatubes in the hallways that replace electric light during the day as I slide my card-key into an electronic lock. I feel pleased knowing the room was constructed with low volatile organic paints and sealants as I drink beer and eat too much pizza. I admire the graceful swans gliding across the frog-filled lagoon of recycled water – even as I toss greasy Fritos into the water…because everyone knows swans love Fritos…

However, my amusements have limits. I must question the informational value of assigning an earthy-sounding name to each room, particularly since that name is embossed onto plastic placard beneath each room number. We are staying in the muskrat room. I am not especially pleased with the thought of paying a premium rate to share my vacation amenities with large odiferous rodents, but it turns out that the only sign of the critters is an informational card featuring a picture of the planet.
Did you know that muskrats can remain underwater for up to 20 minutes and can swim forwards and backwards?

Printed on recycled paper with soy-ink, of course…

08 June 2008

Two Sides of a Coin

A crisp morning breeze stirred the branches of the mighty oak out side my balcony window, as I snuggled down deeper into my blankets. A choir of chipper birdsong erupted out of the fading darkness. I smiled and let the various calls of this avian oratorio draw my imagination out into the gentle glory of the newly dawning day. I thought forward onto my day with gratitude, optimism, and anticipation as my imagination drifted from chirp to whistle to twitter.

SLAM! went the sliding glass door. "Damn noisy birds. Up so early. All that racket driving into my brain like a million little needles. Why do they have to get up so early and make so much noise when I am trying to sleep? Christ, I swear it quieter in St Leonards."

Is this an example of complementarity or incompatibility?

07 June 2008

A Case for Beer

Aside from religion, politics, and sports, perhaps no other topic polarizes nations more than beer. For the most part, I consider myself to be an impartial observer (UN appointed) in the battle of brewed beverages. I have never tasted a beer that I would classify as objectionable, unless you count that time when I didn't realize the can had been used as an ashtray or possibly that garlic beer…

I know that American beer suffers a lot of harsh criticism throughout the civilized beer-drinking world, and I will not deny that descriptors such as 'weak', 'piss-water', and 'so lacking in character that one must drink it ice cold so that it freezes the taste buds off of one's tongue' are accurate and occasionally amusing.

In defense of American beer, people often employ terms like 'crisp', 'refreshing', and 'perfect for drinking all day long while watching rich sober people drive around in a circle for large sums of prize money'.

I don't really want to argue the relative merits of any particular brand or method of intoxication. Diplomat that I am I see and appreciate all sides to any argument. I think this may be an example of how prejudice and attachment to familiar tastes might serve as an obstacle to the enjoyment of a perfectly wonderful experience (mind you, this works both ways, as know plenty of Yankers who have strong opinions about European style beer despite having never sampled it). However, after extensive personal research, I must concur that there is something decidedly wonderful about drinking a cold, light beer under a hot summer sun…er, make that 12 cold beers.

There is also something decidedly wonderful about being able to buy 30 beers for $13.99.

05 June 2008

Wild Life Survey - Morning Update

When I got out up there was a large fuzzy spider floating in my bedside glass of water. I am grateful that for once I did not awaken in the middle of the night with a throat-crushing thirst. Wriggle-and-jiggle-and-tickle inside her indeed!

I had a cup of coffee with wild turkey...no, not the whiskey. Three adult hens escorted their very recently hatched flock of baby turkeys through the front yard, teaching them to scratch for acorns and look so cute that Robert throws turkey chow into the yard every morning. What is the term for a baby turkey? Is it a turkelet? Please let it be turkelet...

There is a large window in the shower. This morning I bathed with a small herd of deer grazing in the side yard. A young buck with a broked-off antler stared at me as he chewed up some bushes. In fact, he stared at me so intently that I began to feel uncomfortable and felt compelled to draw the curtain for the sake of my personal modesty.

04 June 2008

The Vacation Within

We never did much exploration of the local surrounds while we lived in Shingletown, (if you are really bored, check out the forum discussions at the bottom of that link...yikes, that worst of Americana on display!) Primarily because the homestead is darn pleasant, we found it unnecessary and uncomfortable to ever leave it. For years I have been itching to visit the quaint coastal town of Trinidad. With the power of the internet (and available credit) at my fingertips, I booked us a cozy cabin and away we drove down the curvy highway following the Trinity River westward to the Pacific. We stopped occasionally to evaluate the rapids just listen to the refreshing whoosh of clear running water.

Upon our arrival, I was delighted to discover that our little lodge sat atop a cliff above the Sea Lion Lounge, a collection of rocky islands layered with tons of barking blubber. I reckon if one is annoyed by the sounds of groaning marine mammals, one would certainly not build one's house along Patrick Point Drive, because that party went on all night. Sorry, they were too far away to get a clear picture, but the rocks below were covered with seals and sea lions.

Aside from eating heaps of Mexican food, one of my other objectives for this USA visit was to spend some time in the company of redwood trees. I find these gentle giants of the forest to be completely restorative to my oft-harried mind. This shot didn't come out so well, but I am actually standing in the burnt out middle of an enormous tree that is now surrounded by a fairy ring of youngsters.

It was a rare and glorious sunny day around Eureka Bay, an area notorious for being blanketed in a thick fog. Don't be fooled, though. It was still chilly.

The next morning we drove down to Arcata to peek at a former residence then our the South Jetty to dine at the famous Samoa Cookhouse. Like most restaurants that have their own postcards, the quality of the food was second to their ambience and historical value, although personally, I thought the food was quite good - I normally never eat pancakes and I quite enjoyed every bite.

Don't you just adore the enduring optimisim of the human species? Personally, I don't think I could outrun that wave. Not with a belly full of pancakes anyway.

03 June 2008

Home Stuff

My home is no longer my own.

During our stay in Australia, our friends Robert and Holly have been care taking our rancho in Shingletwon, CA (I always make that typo...). They welcomed us home last Friday evening with an extravagant and delicious BBQ dinner party. Overwhelmed with emotion already, I stepped back from the cheerful bustle of the gathering and observed that our friends have slipped very successfully into the life we left behind - in fact, more successfully than we had ever done. They have been able to make their way in this rural community in ways that we never could. They have made friends of our acquaintances. They have made a life where we merely lived.

I walk around my house, still decorated with the artifacts and accoutrements of my life and feel my own personality like an outsider. These objects are familiar, yet they tell a story of person I don't quite know and not at all the same story told by my collection of discarded treasures back in Sydney. Each of these objects comes with a story, a history, a memory, a feeling. I ache with nostalgia as I remember the taste of the dinner in Austin when we got that picture, or the smell of the streets in New Orleans when I bought that skeleton chest, or the angle of the sunlight through the campfire smoke when we bought all those little bobbly-headed turtles from that snot-covered boy in San Felipe and we were so pleased with ourselves because we talked him down 5 pesos before we realized how petty was the accomplishment.

I am proud of the contents of my Sydney apartment because they represent frugality and resistance to conspicuous consumption, but I as I look around at my collection of stuff, I feel a strange arrogance - not for the items themselves nor of my ability to own them, but for the rich tapestry of my personal history that they represent.

But then nothing deflates arrogance like a cat. Not that I expected any sort of of welcome from The Cow, but the slightest hint of acknowledgement would have been nice...she certainly had plenty of acknowledgement for Robert when he opened that can of wet food, which evidently he does every night, which certainly accounts for her reassignation of affection.

Yet further illustrates the many ways in which my home is no longer my own.