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
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


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:


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…