30 July 2009

Economy of Scale

“It feels like Texas just has more space than most other states.”

More than a mere geographical statistic, my statement was meant to confer my feelings about the sheer scale of development in Texas. The adage states that 'Everything is bigger in Texas', and that certainly applies to roads, parking lots, and plates of food. I had not realized just how accustomed I had become to the compact landscape of my antipodean urban existence, where a 15 minute walk can take you to another suburb, past stores, neighborhoods, and parks. In suburban Dallas, it would take 20 minutes just to cross the street – which contains three larges lanes in each direction, plus two left turn lanes and a dedicated right turn pocket, and may even have an extra access road on either side to help ease congestion. I nearly had an agoraphobic panic attack driving across a 25 story freeway interchange that consumed more real estate that the entire business district of Sydney.

The old adage certainly applies to Kevin's family. The portraits taken at the reunion were veritable pyramids of aunts stacked upon children stacked upon cousins stacked upon more cousins. The adage also applied to the buffet table which sagged under the weight of delectable barbequed chicken, sausage, and brisket, platters of potato salad, green beans, fried okra, and a salad topped with Frito corn chips! Already verging on a diabetic coma from the sweet Texas tea, I was unable to indulge in the enormous dessert that was as familiar to everyone as it was anonymous. I named it “Blueberry Sprawl”.

I reckon that Kevin's family has become so accustomed to his absence that they may even forget to miss him. I am certain it never occurred to his brother or his sisters that he might show up from some far corner of the planet. The look on his Mother's face when she turned around and saw him standing in front of her immediately counterbalanced the expense and effort of the journey.

Only in Texas could a single moment be so big.

25 July 2009

20 Hours to Texas

I really should be asleep, seeing as I have to wake up in 5 hours, but it feels like seven o’clock at night, and I am all wound up from the excitement of travel, and Kevin bought me a cool new miniature computer and I cannot resist playing with it, especially since our hotel has FREE broadband internet (Australia, are you listening?)

Maybe we had simply braced ourselves for the worst, but our trip here was incredibly smooth, possibly even pleasant. I was very pleased with the quality of Virgin Airlines to LAX. Not only was there heaps of space in the seats – enough to cross your legs – the toilets featured a well-considered soundtrack. At first I found it a bit disconcerting to urinate whilst the vocalist shouted “I see you baby, shaking that ass” and I did not especially like hearing “Burning Ring of Fire” on an airplane, but it is a great song to crap to!...and I said as much on the comment card.

Descending into LAX was emotional, if not smoggy and monochromatic…nothing that couldn’t be cured by a plate of nachos and some Dos Equis. The flight to Dallas was uneventful, save for the old Mexican woman sitting next to me who prayed the whole way and held my hand during take off. Unexpectedly yet delightfully, we were greeted at the airport by Kevin’s cousin Michelle and one of her many sons (I’m never going to keep all the names straight this weekend!) She drove us directly to a gas station convenience store that sold beer – but only until Midnight! Instead, we stocked up on Cheetos, Beef Jerky, Fritos, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and mixers for all of our duty free purchases.

The air outside is thick and delicious, heavy with summer and the chirping of cricket bugs. I just want to stay up and soak it all in, to breathe in the flavor of middle America…but Kevin just reminded me it is close to 4 am…so I must try to sleep…

23 July 2009

Two Things in Life are Certain: Death and Texas

It feels incredibly opulent to say "We're going to Texas for the weekend."

Airfares being a hard-hit victim of the GFC, it really isn't all that extravagant of an expense. Time is the luxury that is lacking from our lives, from most lives. We never have as much of it as we want, even though we squander it on long commutes and Simpsons re-runs.

So, rejecting the constraining notion of 'enough time', we are embarking on a cyclone visit to the land of the Lonely Star. Kevin has not exactly maintained close ties with his extended family, but through the magic of My Face or Space Book, or whatever its called, he has recently reconnected and reconciled. Thus, he could not resist the chance to be the surprise mystery guest at a family reunion.

I figure, that if he had been close to his family, the cost of visits over Christmas and Thanksgiving over the last 20 years would certainly exceed the cost of this little junket. Really, I am getting a bargain, and I only have to spend a weekend in Dallas. Besides, I would gladly fork over 2 grand right now just to eat at Taco Bell.

Seriously, though, I love visiting Texas. It is a special state, prideful and gregarious. We are looking forward to a little shopping and a lot of eating. Kevin has been sending me menus from a place near our (well appointed yet incredibly affordable) hotel called Love and War in Texas. I print them out and hide in the bathroom, secretly pleasuring myself as I read them. We are both very excited about the reunion. It will be the first time all of his siblings have been in the same room together in 35 years.

And you cannot put a price on that!

19 July 2009

Gulag Fondu

The surest way for me to conjure up something remarkably photographic is to decide to leave my camera at home. But really, how could I have predicted that we would encounter members of the CCP butchering compassionate truthful idealists for the purpose of selling their internal organs on the back of a flatbed truck rolling down Haymarket Street followed by a troupe of skip-stepping percussionists dressed in red and yellow silk.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

I am no fan of communist China and their dismal human rights record, so I was instantly sympathetic to the plight of the protestors, assuming that they were some ethnic minority getting squeezed by the government. I was mildly less supportive when a volunteer working the end of the parade thrust a brochure in my hand and explained that the Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa), were in fact a new religion based on the teachings of the Buddha introduced into China in 1992 to the brutal reception of the current regime.

“Why would the government target the Falun Gong for organ harvesting? Wouldn't they just kill anyone for that?”

“Maybe because they are Buddhists and their organs carry their good karma and outlaw spirituality into the high ranking party officials who receive them?”

Mind you, I am, just as skeptical of new religions as I am of the classics, but I most certainly do not support religious intolerance. But how American…how Western of me…that it never occurred to me that a cult could center around the Buddha…well according to the government anyway.

Mighty convenient, that word, when you need to get rid of a nuisance…cult.

05 July 2009

Good Food and Wine...well, wine anyway

“I what? That doesn't sound like me..."”

“You were! You were totally excited when I told you I had front row tickets to see Gordon Ramsay at the Good Food and Wine Show!”

“Really?? Because I am having a hard time imagining myself being excited about that. I barely know who he is. I’ve never even seen him on television. Wait - was I drinking?”

“Well, yeah…duh.”

“OK, that kind of explains it.”

“So, do you still want to go see Gordon Ramsay?”

“ABSOLUTELY!! If nothing else, it will be totally bloggable!” (I didn’t actually say that last bit, I just like the way it sounds now…)

Throughout modern history, there have always been famous chefs, but the recent phenomenon of the 'Celebrity Chef' is quite a curiosity. I love to watch cooking shows, but for me the food itself is the main attraction. I want a chef to explain the scientific subtleties of food preparation and presentation, not simper for the camera and recite carefully rehearsed sound-bites. I particularly dislike 'reality' style shows that exploit regrettable human behavior and encourage collective condemnation of contestants at 55 cents per SMS.

Gordon Ramsay moved to the number one slot on the National Shit List a few weeks ago when he insulted Tabloid TV Host Tracy Grimshaw. Personally, I think anyone should be granted total impunity to say anything at all about Tabloid TV Hosts, but Australians get particularly defensive when a Pommie Bastard is attacking one of their own. So strong was the public response against Gordon Ramsay, that I thought for sure everyone would forsake their $27 ticket in boycott. I was flabbergasted by the size of crowd that filled the enormous theater erected inside of the Sydney Convention Center. Despite not giving a shit about Gordon Ramsay, I suddenly felt very privileged to be sitting in the front row.

He began the show with a few modestly acceptable jokes about the Prime Minister and a back-handed apology for his earlier rude remarks against Ms Grimshaw. The audience groaned with tentative forgiveness when he claimed he had learned his lesson not to take on the Sheilas. However, absolution was soon revoked when he cast aspersions on the talents of home-grown culinary darling Jamie Oliver.

I am sure he is a fine cook, but I still cannot comprehend exactly why he has achieved celebrity status. His charm is inversely proportional to his arrogance, and his sense of humor is somewhat stunted. I hear women describe him as incredibly sexy, but I don't see it (but then, I don't care for blondes). My current working hypothesis is that he reminds women of Sting, and since they like Sting, they like Gordon Ramsay by association.

The rest of the Good Food and Wine Show was a feast of free samples, tastings, and give-aways designed to populate marketing lists. Thanks to Devona's tactical navigational skills, we were able to do two complete circuits of the exhibitor hall before the aisles were clogged with tipsy conventioneers frantically waving tasting glasses and grabbing handfuls of roasted organic almonds.

One of the highlights of the event is the opportunity to purchase 'show bags' - large sacks filled with samples of pasta sauce, instant soup, and Korean energy drinks. There were show bags of cheese, chocolate, olives, and canned mushrooms from Indonesia. Towards the end of the afternoon, I nearly collapsed from exhaustion, having been pummeled repeatedly by other people's show bags as they elbowed past me to watch the Miracle Shammy demonstration.

The Good Food and Wine Show may be disguised as a trade show of the culinary arts, but, like most events in Australia, it is really just a good excuse to spend an entire day grazing and drinking huge amounts of wine.

Sometimes, I feel so at home in this country!

04 July 2009

About Mature Themes and Sexual References

"Can you recall the last time you were flipping through channels on free-to-air-TV in America and your screen was suddenly filled with an enormous erect black penis?"

The Federal Government is going to extreme ends to protect us from intentionally accessing objectionable content over the internet...not that there is anything objectionable about an enormous erect black penis, per se, other than the surprise of finding one unexpectedly in my living room. Aside from the occasional misleading email attachment, I seldom click on links that lead me to enormous erect black penises by accident. You pretty much have to go looking for them. Under normal browsing conditions enormous erect black penises do not just suddenly pop onto ones screen. Yet, my only 'protection' at home is a brief disclaimer whispered at the beginning of a potentially objectionable program - wholly inadequate under the circumstances.

Stupid nanny government.

And might I add: damn!*

*please pronounce with three syllables

02 July 2009

About Australian Affability

“I’m not trying to pick up on your wife – I really am a poofter.” said the well coiffed gentleman as he swished into a seat at our table, his Cosmopolitan sloshing over the rim.

With an assumed intimacy, we fell into easy banter, swapping stories about art, musicals, and what it might be like to be fingered by an elephant. There was no exchange of the meaningless small talk such as “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” that often passes between strangers who are fully aware they will never meet again and who don’t really care about the answers to those questions anyway, but cannot think of anything interesting to say. For 45 minutes and two rounds of Cosmos, we were completely immersed in the mutual pleasure of each other’s company unconcerned for the future while cherishing the past as a source of amusing anecdotes about obsessive lovers and bad haircuts. Then we kissed and hugged goodbye and ventured off to our own separate lives.

For Kevin and I, there is nothing extraordinary about such an encounter. We often attract the company of quirky characters and love to share in feisty conversation. However, THIS encounter WAS extraordinary because in the 2 and ½ years we have been in Australia this was the first and only time an Australian has initiated congenial meaningless conversation with us under such circumstances.

I do not mean to imply that Australians are in anyway unfriendly, but there is a marked cultural difference when it comes to affable discourse between complete strangers. Australians are pleasant and helpful enough, but not in the least bit forthcoming, as if their privacy needs careful guarding in public. Being one who always speaks to strangers (usually in intimate tones and about personal matters), I can always be sure that if someone on the train is chatting me up, they are probably not native. This topic arises frequently among the Yanks Down Under when they are in the mood for a whinge, often commenting about the difficulty of making friends here.

In contrast, I have heard many accounts from Australians in the US who feel overwhelmed by the outgoing nature of Americans. Just as I feel alienated that transactions are conducted with a minimum of chit-chat, they feel annoyed that clerks and wait staff inquire after their well-being and wish them a nice day. For example:

This chattiness extended to people on the street or fellow customers in shops or
waiting in queues. Strangers seemed to have no hesitation in offering directions
if we seemed uncertain which way to go, or in offering opinions or comments
about events. I was browsing in Good Will one day when a woman near me suddenly
held out a small vase towards me and commented on how attractive it was and what
a nice gift it would make. Things like this do happen in Australia too, but they
seemed to happen more often in the US, and at more unexpected moments.

This phenomenon underscores both the difficulty and significance of an expatriate experience. Although I have gained an appreciation for the simple misunderstandings that can arise out of different cultural perspectives on propriety, in the day-to-day living, I often feel isolated and hopelessly foreign. But last night, for 45 minutes at least, I felt the warmth of simple companionship and fleeting camaraderie.

And learned some very raunchy jokes.