31 December 2008

Happy New Year!

Goodbye 2008--New Year's Eve in Melbourne's Federation Square was beautiful, and the fireworks were magical.

Here's wishing a happy and hopeful new year for all of you back home; I can see a better time, when all our dreams come true.

love, nija and craig.

30 December 2008

It's fun being in a physical body–

Well friends and readers, I'm happy to report our Christmas season went well enough, though it was twinged with an odd Aussie flavour throughout.

Australians call the holidays "the silly season," and they shorten Christmas to the far more annoying "Chrissy." They don't have Christmas trees everywhere, their stores don't play Christmas music all day, and they seem--generally--to have not lost their entire minds in the fervor of finding the perfect pressy. It's tough to blame Aussies for their laid-back approach to the 25th--it's just so distractingly beautiful, sunny and warm outside. But they should be mocked for calling presents "pressies."

The majority of festive decoration we've seen around Sydney consists of spray-paint stencils on storefront windows. And they have been truly bizarre stencils--such as this red-nosed possum wearing a Santa hat.

Actually, the red-nosed possum is quite a popular stand-in for Rudolph around here.

The cute-ifying of words has reached new nauseating heights; you'll be talking to someone who seems to be fully grown, a complete adult, and out of the blue, they'll mention eating "chrissy cake." First off, that's fruit cake, for all you English speakers out there. And secondly, yes! they actually eat it. All the time, because it's delicious. The desserts here are so fantastically British, it really makes you wonder how and why America drifted so far from the heavenly halls of the dried minced fruit tart. We are a poorer nation for it.

For our holidays, Craig and I decided to head down South, visit Tasmania, spend a week there, loop around to Melbourne for New Year's Eve, and spend a week there before heading back to Sydney of beauty and smog.

The day before we left, we called ahead for hostels and caught the first hint of our looming bad luck...after reaching three completely booked up hostels, we finally got a room. Our plan was to fly into Hobart, at the bottom of the island, hire a car and make our way up to Launceston, stopping off at various destinations on the way. There's a lot of Tasmania you just can't get to without a car, beaches and bays, mountains and forests. Eventually, toward the end of the week, we'd get to Launceston, and from there we'd fly out to Melbourne. We got into Hobart and to our hostel on Christmas Night and were put in room 13; I've never had need of superstition before. We managed to find an open Indian restaurant and walked around Hobart's darkened streets. Everything about Hobart reminded us of Memphis or some blue-collar industrial town in Mississippi, but as we walked along late at night, we realized we hadn't heard any gunshots. We powerfully felt that we were not home...and a gloom for America's wretched idle violence settled over us.

The next morning we walked around Hobart's boring town centre and boring Botanical Gardens...I was itchy to see some of Tasmania's famous wild landscape, the lavender fields, the mountains, the rainforests, the sanddunes; I wanted to visit the Tasmanian Devil Park, to see baby devils hidden in sleeves, and Hobart is a small third-rate city. Everything was closed; Hobart's waterfront is a working, industrial waterfront and therefore unattractive. The coolest thing about Hobart is the giant mountain about 10k out of town: Mt. Wellington pushes into every picture you take. It's constantly peeking into the frame, an overbearing friend. Miraculously, I managed to get through the whole day.

The next day, we tried to hire a car for a few days and quickly learned there were no cars available for hire on the whole island. Until the 5th of January. This was not looking good. We decided to take a bus up to Launceston, as we'd heard there were tour buses going to several destinations from there. We knew we'd want to come to Tasmania again, go camping and do more nature stuff than we could on this trip, so we figured we'd cut our losses on the car hiring business. Take what we can, give nothing back, as it were. I was excited to get out of the Hobart hostel because it was expensive and small and gloomy and filled with obnoxious people. When I called ahead to the hostel in Launceston, we managed to get the last room available: Room 13. Hmmm.

We quickly realized the tour buses were way out of our price range. If we'd rented a car, we could have gone to every destination we wanted to for about $200 total. But with the tour buses, going to just the lavender farms would cost $160. Even that price started to look reasonable as four long days in small small Launey loomed ahead...but of course, all the tours we tried to join were fully booked up.

So, what we've seen of Tasmania has been less than impressive for the most part. We haven't gotten out of the city, and been stuck at the hostel a lot. But it's not a total wash. We know we're going to come back, do the road trip and bushwalking, we've already gotten a cheap second-hand tent. It's expensive to take a trip and not do what you intended, but we've also met some great folks.

We've seen some beautiful flowers and produce:

The Launceston Backpackers Hostel we're at is first rate. Cheap, clean, big, and friendly. It's got a TV room and a dining room, a really great kitchen, and super nice bathrooms. It's close to a grocery store and a bottleshop. It's got a great DVD library. I'd recommend it any day to anyone.

We got to see Launceston's City Park, featuring a macaque monkey enclosure. They were pretty fun, for being grub-eating monkeys.

And about ten minutes from Launceston we were able to walk to Cataract Gorge, a big river valley cut from solid rock by the Tamar River. Along the Gorge track, there is a cafe that keeps very sociable peacocks in their back lawn. Craig fed one peanuts! We don't know those people who so rudely stood in my shot.

Launceston is the home of the Design Centre of Tasmania and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. The Design Centre exhibits industrial design works made of native wood by Tasman artists. The exhibit was outstanding, showcasing Tasmania's craft tradition. In general, Australia's museums are top notch affairs, thoughtfully presented information and exhibits, well-lit and well-researched. In keeping with tradition, the QVMAG is also an excellent museum and art gallery; they have a permanent renewable energy exhibit (yeah!) in the courtyard, and a permanent dinosaur exhibit (double yeah!), as well as a temporary exhibit of Tasmanian student art, which was about equally hit and miss and that's really all you can expect from student exhibits, right? To top it off, QVMAG have a cafe with excellent food at cheap prices, and you even get to sit in a former train car! Nearby, a former Blacksmiths' workshop is open for people to walk through and view old-timey Blacksmithing equipment.

Speaking of which, one gets to view quite a bit of old-timey stuff in Launceston. Namely, an umbrella-makers, a custom shoe-makers, and a barber shop whose window display consists entirely of billiards paraphernalia. As will often happen with old-timey places (cemetaries, caves, EuroDisney, etc.) one also gets to view some seriously scary stuff in Launceston, like this sign we found at a "Family Fun" arcade.

Yeah kids, don't take your physical body all that seriously, ok?

UPDATE: It appears our luck might just be turning! Not only do we leave for Melbourne tomorrow evening, to start a New Year and celebrate dear Craig's birthday, we've also managed to get a morning trip out to Devils' Heaven, a little native Tasmanian animal petting zoo, of sorts. And we even have a place to stay in Melbourne--oh, boy--I'm gonna kiss a wombat!

20 December 2008

Going Outta My Mind--The Lasch

I've finally figured out how to put audio up on my blog, so y'all back home can finally hear what I've been up to on the radio here.

My segment is all about the Atlanta music scene, and so far, I've covered The Lasch, All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, Some Soviet Station, Black Lips, Gentleman Jesse and His Men (of course) and the Babyshakes.

From now on, I'll be putting a new one up each week--and if you know of a cool Atlanta band that Sydney needs to know about, pass the info right along!

An update: Last weekend, Craig and I had the most amazing time; I might even call it the perfect weekend. One of those weekends where you do everything you need to get done, you do a bunch of stuff you just want to do, and you still somehow find time to have a picnic in the park and sleep in. Beautiful.

12 December 2008

Black Flag Barbeque.

It doesn't get any more rock and roll than this, y'all. Last weekend, as you all were bundling up to go to holiday parties, our friend Kurt invited us to his house for an outdoor BBQ--they had veggie skewers, pineapple, and even some hardcore veggie dogs. Awesome. I love Christmas time in Australia.

The night before that BBQ, though, was my Nijaween/Thanksgiving party-- a smash! A lovely time was had by all, even though Craig spent most of the day and over 3/4 of the party in the kitchen, as usual, making these amazing seitan roulades, mac n' cheeze, beet rostis, seitan roulades, hummus, salad, and pineapple basil tart. The food was a little extravagant, but we made up for it by serving it buffet-style off our ironing board. Most of my good Sydney pals made it out, and we ended up with no leftovers. You know you've got a great cook and great people when that happens. And when I say great people, I mean the kind of people who will come to your (very late) birthday party and give you a balloon hat--modeled here by our dear flatmate's boyfriend, Mike:

The holidays feel really fabulously strange here. The weather's heating up, the stores aren't playing Christmas music all the time, and no one has even started talking about gift buying. I haven't seen any news segments about the latest, greatest Tickle Me Elmo craze. It's lovely, really. The bad thing about the weather heating up is, of course, the giant Australian creepy things all come out of their hidey-holes and try to crawl into my brain through my ears as I sleep. Example: this giant slug we found in our kitchen the other day. That slug is too big. Yesterday, we found another, of similar stature. They are definitely trying to get into my brain. Gross.

In a strange turn, summertime has also brought out Craig's desire to get experimental, though unfortunately not in the solar power arena.

He actually cooked himself some mustache wax the other day, which is to say his mustache actually needs wax now. It's nearly at Plainview proportions, folks. Outstanding.

06 December 2008

Nija & Craig's Wildlife Adventure

When you are out in the rural countryside, not just the Australian bush, but probably any countryside, you are likely to come across all sorts of crazy wild creatures that city-dwellers are simply unaccustomed to. That is one.

When you are visiting farms and intending to camp out for the first time in your 27-year-old life, you are probably not going to be very well-prepared. That is another. Let us just keep these in our minds as I introduce this next part of our farm field trip.

Gary took us to a few farms other than his as well: Kev and Belinda's required us to cross a creek, just to see the farm. For the first time ever, I took off my shoes and socks...and walked barefoot through a creek. It was cold, and exciting, and a little bit scary. I couldn't see the rocks I was balancing on at some parts, sometimes I'd step on an incredibly sharp rock. Sometimes I could hear Gary's hoarse smoker's laugh taunting my inexperience from the dry land across the creek. I should have been wearing rubber boots, not bright green Pumas. I should have been wearing shorts or light pants, not tight jeans that won't even roll up properly. I certainly should have brought several pair of socks. Luckily Renata held my hand to keep me from falling.

She's so great--she organized the whole trip, and lent us her tent, so that I could sleep outdoors for my very first time. And Belinda's farm was beautiful; well worth the creek-tramping. By the end, I was even having fun. Once we got back to Gary's house, though, he recommended a quick skin check, and what, oh what, in all the soul-withering, nightmare-haunting hell is that on Craig's leg?! It's a leech. Like from Stand By Me. An actual leech. Gross.

Luckily, Gary's got an awesome cat named Tiger who wasted no time comforting us and roaring at the leeches we also found in my shoe.

And just when we thought we'd had our fill of wildlife, a mama chicken and her brood come walking by and settle down...in the weirdest way. The mother chicken sat on top of two of her chicks, and the third chick sat on top of the mom. Adorable. See how one chick is right under the mom's butt? Birds are so weird.

After visiting Gary, we headed over to visit Colin Amos' farm; we were going to sleep in tents on his front yard; clearly my first camping experience was going to be very elementary. Probably for the best. On the way, Renata suddenly stopped the van and swerved to the side of the road. She instructed us to get out immediately. We saw our very first 'roos. They were just by the road, right next to a cemetery...I managed to catch some video, but it's not very good. You can kind of just see something bouncing up and down through the tombstones.

Colin Amos is a farmer on about 200 acres of land, his father farmed the same land as a dairy farm, and his grandfather did as well. In fact, the Amos family has been on this land so long, the road that leads to the farm is Amos Road. The farm has been there so long there are huge fruit-bearing trees in totally random places, because people once spat their seeds out there. Orchards have sprung up where workers once took their lunch. There's something magical about living in exactly the same place as you ever have, as every bit of DNA that made you ever has; something that emigrants and immigrants are forced to forget.

His property is enormous, he can't possibly keep up with everything on it. He keeps 50 cattle on his land as well as growing jerusalem artichokes, heritage oranges, yakon, potatoes, garlic, watermelon, and all kinds of other fruits. He's got a story about almost every tree on his property...

Colin's farm is truly amazing though, because it has a clear freshwater spring right underneath it. Water was just flowing from stone; it looks unbelievable. I mean, have you ever seen the earth simply pouring water out of itself? We filled our bottles from the spring, and it tasted so clean. One of the coolest things I've probably ever done.

As we walked through Colin's farm, he told us horrible stories about black snakes, warned us to watch for them. They can kill cows, they put his dad in the hospital for weeks, and sure enough we saw one. And then things got really intense.

I knew the rules were different out there, where the animals in question will very likely kill you. These snakes would kill his dog, his visitors. I knew all that. I just wasn't ready for Colin to take a huge rock and throw it on the snake's head. To then take a bigger rock and smash it on the first rock. The snake still wasn't dead. He was protecting us by killing it, and he's seen them strike enough to know that they will. He then took hold of its tail and lashed the thing against the rocks. He whipped its head three, four, five times against the rocks, finally killing it. The rules here are indeed very very different. That is a third.

As we walked away from the snake which would have me pondering for days, we happily came across some kittens living in a shed on Colin's land. They were so cute; they were like Easter baskets, to borrow a phrase from the delightful Emma. They need a lot of touching and holding and petting, or they'll go wild. When you are in another country, in the Australian bush, let's say, and you get to hold a nearly wild little orange kitten, you will be reminded of another little orange kitten you once had. And you will miss her dearly. That is the last.

When I talked to him on the phone the next day, Colin said he found two ticks on him that night. Gross.

03 December 2008

Elephant Garlic Takes Over!

This past weekend, Craig and I (and some folks from Alfalfa) got a chance to visit some of the organic farmers that supply the co-op with fresh, diverse, beautiful produce. The co-op benefits from these farmers so much; we get to enjoy fruits and vegetables that no grocery stores ever carry, things like lemonades, like mangosteens, jerusalem artichokes, yakon, and they grow everything organically. They are like Joe and Judith, small organic farms, but they do it all even further from the city, further from their markets, without any employees. I'm going to cover this past weekend in a few posts over a few days, because there's just too much amazing farm content for only one post!

We saw Gary Branch's farm first. Gary's got style; if you met him off his farm, I don't think "farmer" would come to mind. He's got a ponytail and does everything EVERYTHING with a cigarette in his hands. He is also a brilliant organic farmer, a mentor to young organic farmers. It's a contradiction I can't help but enjoy, and he's got one of those real smokers' laughs, which he's willing to bust out for anything even slightly funny. He's friendly and generous with his time, generally what you'd call an awesome old guy. He showed us around his farm, as well as two other farms, and we spent the day talking about food and seeds and why farms are so vital.

He's hoping to harvest organic tea tree oil in the next few years, he harvests his own seed. He used to make hybrids of gerber daisies, to obtain new colors. Have you ever seen lettuce while it's producing seed? It's incredible.

Gary also has an orchard and an enormous greenhouse. His farm is big, but it seems manageable...it's idyllic and feels planned, careful.

We helped him harvest garlic--there were seven of us, and it took over an hour to pick and cut just one row. He had at least five rows...of just this one variety of garlic. In case you're wondering, it was "elephant garlic," which isn't actually garlic at all. It's in the leek family!

Hey Nicolas, get a load of this! Look what Craig's doing in Australia...seems like he was doing the same thing back home, huh?

By the end of just the one row, we were all so hungry, it was ridiculous. Farming is so hard. Craig considered eating the garlic we'd just picked.

Clearly, though, this garlic needed some prep...too much soil and earthworms. Before he can get all this to sale, Gary has to clean it and let the garlic dry for three days. It's worth the effort, and the Alfalfa price--look how gorgeous the finished product becomes!

And this is what one whole row of picked elephant garlic looks like when it's all piled into a hatchback. Can you even imagine how good this smelled?

27 November 2008

So much for change...

Already, I look back at November 4th with feelings of disappointment, as I deal with the fact that Obama has selected current Bush Administration Secretary of Defense, Mr. Robert Gates, to be the new Obama Administration's Secretary of Defense. As I deal with the fact that even as the country voted a black man into the Presidency, four states voted to deny basic civil rights to same-sex couples. I know the bans only won by small margins, smaller margins than ever before...that in a way, we're winning as we're losing. But it's heartbreaking that 17,000 marriages have been left in doubt by California's voters. That even in Arizona, where same-sex marriage was already illegal, people still voted to ban it.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling some little pride for my war-weary aching country...but now, that old disappointment, the exhaustion and the aches are all back. Ex-patriation hasn't been enough for me, it hasn't been enough to keep me from watching, from worrying, even though I'm all the way over here.

In better news, Craig and I are going on a camping trip with folks from Alfalfa to visit some of the farmers we buy from!! It's so exciting, we've never been camping before. Neither of us. We're going to sleep outside! Or at least, we're going to pretend to sleep outside, but we'll actually be worrying all night that some bug is in our hair. I know--we're such city folk, it's pathetic. But it's pathetic in a charming way, right?

What other news? I've been doing a short segment on 2SER, the community radio station here, about Atlanta music; the program manager really likes my stuff, so he's training me to be on the air. Hopefully this weekend at the farm will lead into a segment about food.

Back in Atlanta, Jeremy recently did a food special on WREK, and got the inimitable Joe, the inspiring Judith, the remarkable Susan Pavlin, and more undeniable folks to talk about local food in Atlanta. If you want a copy, write to me, and I'll send you the files!

Craig and I just sawSlumdog Millionaire, the new Danny Boyle movie. It was good, sweet, fun, intense. It hurt sometimes, but maybe that's just because I'm so worried about the new era India seems headed toward. An era of immense wealth for the criminally greedy, the unscrupulous few, and immense suffering for the virtuous, or needy, or hungry many. An era of industry over people, and ill-gotten riches washed clean with sky-high developments. And I wonder if this is how my mother and father felt, when they left their war-torn, amputated country for another, far across the globe...if they still watch India from all the way over there, and worry.

21 November 2008

Licenced and Approved

Some things are very hard here in Sydney...lately, I have become acutely aware of the complete lack of any kind of decent cafe culture after 8pm. Where, oh where, do the young people go to study, to have cake, to drink coffee at wildly inappropriate hours? Not only is there no classy Octane-type establishment, there's not even a grubby Monkey in this city. Let's say you'd just like a quiet cup of coffee with your mom, maybe you want to read the morning paper, you were too busy to read it in the morning, say. You are out of luck in Sydney, my friend. There's just nowhere to go. If it's after 8 and you don't want to go to a pub, you're stuck at your house, sir. And every pub, as I've mentioned before, is the same: loud, nightclub music, rugby games on big screen TVs, and a distinctly sewer-y odour.

But, the great thing is that I can spell "odour" like that here, and no one complains. Finally--I can spell words they way I honestly think they are spelled. I don't know how I grew up in the US of A like this, but I like to blame it on the same English colonialism that to this day has convinced Indian people that Cricket is fun.

Another great thing about Australia is SBS. I know, I've mentioned the brilliance of this television station in the past, but I have official proof that it might be the best channel I've ever had the good fortune to know and love: Kubrick Week. That's right. 2001, Lolita, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket. It's been enough to keep me and Craig salivating at our new big LCD telly and enjoying the set of home theatre speakers we picked up off freecycle.

But, after five days or so, you start to feel a little cooped up, you start to think maybe your flatmate is sort of right to think you're a total loser. Because every time she gets home, you're on the couch nerding out to a Kubrick movie for maybe the 18th time in your life.

To alleviate our feelings of lameness, Craig and I were out tonight hopelessly looking for a quiet comfortable hangout open past 10pm. Hopeless because we know this neighbourhood, and we know there's nothing here but drunk people saying really obscene things. We know this, and still we look, because at least when we look we get out of the house.

Though we didn't find a cafe or anything remotely similar, we did find a real estate advertisement for a huge terrace. It's selling features were:

--9 bedrooms
--Modern conveniences
--Licenced and Approved Brothel

I just can't wait to show you all our charming little neighbourhood.

13 November 2008

What you need to know...

...is rarely what we want to know. I try to keep the blog from getting too serious, though I have made some reference to the treatment of Aboriginal people by the white establishment in Australia. This is the only developed country with a government that has been condemned as racist by the UN.

What is happening right now in Australia's Northern Territory is horrifying and plainly unjust. John Pilger explains the situation far better than I could:

The original article is here.

Under cover of racist myth, a new land grab in Australia

In a report for the Guardian, John Pilger describes the deception behind the pretext for a "national emergency" declared by the Australian government in Aboriginal areas. A political cry of "save the children" can also mean the profits of uranium and toxic waste.

With its banks secured in the warmth of the southern spring, Australia is not news. It ought to be. An epic scandal of racism, injustice and brutality is being covered up in the manner of apartheid South Africa. Many Australians conspire in this silence, wishing never to reflect upon the truth about their society’s untermenschen, the Aboriginal people.

The facts are not in dispute. Thousands of black Australians never reach the age of 40. An entirely preventable disease, trachoma, blinds black children as epidemics of rheumatic fever ravage their communities. Suicide among the despairing young is common. No other developed country has such a record. A pervasive white myth, that Aborigines leach off the state, serves to conceal the disgrace that money the federal government says it spends on indigenous affairs actually goes towards opposing native land rights. In 2006, some A$3billion was underspent “or the result of creative accounting,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Like the children of apartheid, the Aboriginal children of Thamarrurr in the Northern Territory receive less than half the educational resources allotted to white children.

In 2005, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described the racism of the Australian state, AGAIN a distinction afforded no other developed country. This was during the decade-long rule of the conservative coalition of John Howard, whose coterie of white supremacist academics and journalists assaulted the truth of recorded genocide in Australia, especially the horrific separations of Aboriginal children from their families. They deployed arguments not dissimilar to those used by David Irving to promote Holocaust denial.

Smear by media as a precursor to the latest round of repression is long familiar to black Australians. In 2006, the flagship current affairs programme of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Lateline, broadcast lurid allegations of “sex slavery” among the Mutitjulu people in the Northern Territory. The programme’s source, described as an “anonymous youth worker”, was later exposed as a federal government official whose “evidence” was discredited by the Northern Territory Chief Minister and the police. The ABC has never retracted its allegations, claiming it has been “exonerated by an internal enquiry”. Shortly before last year’s election, Howard declared a “national emergency” and sent the army to the Northern Territory to “protect the children” who, said his minister for indigenous affairs, were being abused in “unthinkable numbers”.

Last February, with much sentimental fanfare, the new Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology to the first Australians. Australia was said to be finally coming to terms with its rapacious past, and present. Was it? “The Rudd government,” noted a Sydney Morning Herald editorial, “has moved quickly to clear away this piece of political wreckage in a way that responds to some of its own supporters’ emotional needs, yet it changes nothing. It is a shrewd manoeuvre.”

In May, barely reported, government statistics revealed that of the 7433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors as part of the “national emergency”, 39 had been referred to the authorities for suspected abuse. Of those, a maximum of just four possible cases of abuse were identified. Such were the “unthinkable numbers”. They were little different from those of child abuse in white Australia. What was different was that no soldiers invaded the beachside suburbs, no white parents were swept aside, no white welfare was “quarantined”. Marion Scrymgour, an Aboriginal minister in the Northern Territory government, said, “To see decent, caring [Aboriginal] fathers, uncles, brothers and grandfathers, who are undoubtedly innocent of the horrific charges being bandied about, reduced to helplessness and tears, speaks to me of widespread social damage."

What the doctors found they already knew – children at risk from a spectrum of extreme poverty and the denial of resources in one of the world’s richest countries. Having let a few crumbs fall, Kevin Rudd has picked up where Howard left off. His indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Mackie, threatens to withdraw government support from remote communities that are “economically unviable”. The Northern Territory is the only region where Aborigines have comprehensive land rights, granted almost by accident 30 years ago. Here lies some of the world’s biggest deposits of uranium. Canberra wants to mine it and sell it.

Foreign governments, especially the US, want the Northern Territory as a toxic dump. The railway from Adelaide to Darwin, which runs adjacent to Olympic Dam, the world’s largest uranium mine, was built with the help of Kellog, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the American giant Halliburton, the alma mater of Dick Cheney, Howard’s “mate”. “The land grab of Aboriginal tribal land has nothing to do with child sexual abuse,” says the Australian scientist Helen Caldicott, “but all to do with open slather uranium mining and converting the Northern Territory to a global nuclear dump.”

What is unique about Australia is not its sun-baked, derivative society, clinging to the sea, but its first people, the oldest on earth, whose skill and courage in surviving invasion, of which the current onslaught is merely the latest, deserves humanity’s support.

05 November 2008


I'm pretty cynical about the Democrats. I'm cynical about Barack's ability to really change what's going on in the world. I not only think it's outside his power to change the economic system that has kept working people under the boot for hundreds of years, I think it's also simply not in his newest job description. The President of the United States simply isn't placed to get rid of US hegemony. To say the least, the Obamania I experienced in the US exasperated me. To say yet more, the same phenomenon appeared in Sydney and exasperated even more. Largely because in Sydney, the enthusiasm for Obama expresses itself not in "Get out the vote" events, but in rather...stranger ways:

Campos Coffee in Newtown, Sydney says, "To maintain Campos' staggering turnover of 200 coffees an hour, they draw on an arsenal of over 10 blends, including our pick: the new Obama Blend - a strong, slightly syrupy but eloquent coffee, blending beans from Africa and the Americas. Go Obamarama!"


But when I woke up today (Wednesday), I knew the decision was made. Obama won, McCain conceded in the face of obvious defeat. Obama got out record numbers of voters.

I don't think the US has broken with the racism rooted in the very earliest days of the nation. I think the remnants of the Civil War, slavery, the Native American genocides that benefited the US as young nation are buried in the ground, sowed into our soil. They will affect everything that grows until we dig it out, acknowledge it, and radically change the society that prospered on the backs and blood of poor and colored people.

But today, as I read the New York Times, I read the stories of colored people crying, dancing with joy, feeling finally redeemed. I read stories of working people ecstatic at the end of a neoconservative regime. I read stories about people, just like me, who weren't sure he'd be able to do all he said, but voted for him because it was better than anything we've seen in the past ten years. Better than anything I've seen in my life...but I know that's not really saying much.

And I found myself crying with hope, joy, worry and relief for my tired aching country. I never expected to feel this way; today, I'm just a little proud of America.

04 November 2008

Happy Birthday, SRK!!

Saturday night was November 1st for us, and my new pal Kurt invited us to a Halloween party. Aussies don't really do Halloween, but they're starting to get into it, because everywhere is quickly becoming the same. So, kids don't trick or treat when they're really young, but they do go around egging when they're teenagers. When they're even older, they get dressed up and drink together.

The party was really fun, everyone was super welcoming, even though we weren't wearing proper costumes. It turns out just having a mustache is enough of a costume for men, but the fact that I had just shaved my own mustache didn't count for anything!! Double standard? I think so.

I met Kurt through the radio station (2SER), and he's a delightful chap. He's dressed like Gizmo. That's just delightful.

We even got to hear some awesome covers by a family band dressed up like KISS! They were really smart, because they dressed like KISS, but they didn't play any KISS songs! Also, they're a three-piece, so no one had to be Peter Criss. Genius. Anyway, the kid dressed like Ace was maybe 13 years old, and he could play some serious riffs. Totally awesome. Almost a freak. If he was an X-Man--and we don't doubt he is--his name would be Guitarro. His power would be shredding things to oblivion.

On the way home, we passed an Indian store and suddenly had a craving for Bollywood. We purchased a movie called Om Shanti Om, starring Craig's favorite Bollywood hero: Shah Rukh Khan! By the time we got home, we were too tired to watch, so our Sunday morning plans were set. As we sat through the three hours of poorly staged reincarnation plot, we wondered how old Mr. SRK really is...

And it turns out, his birthday is November 2nd...the very day that we were watching his biggest movie to date. Coincidence? Nah, I think Craig planned the whole thing; he just wanted to celebrate his idol's birthday.

01 November 2008


Ah, well, the day I thought would never come finally has--I'm officially a ripe, mature 37. How did it all pass so quickly?

Oh, wait--no, I just turned 27. Just kidding. Thanks to everyone for wishing a happy birthday.

Luckily, I got a great birthday gift from Craig, and folks back home sent some awesome care packages! Thanks to the family and to the dynamic duo, Jeremy and Katie. First off, my beautiful new bike! I got the prettiest bike in the world, an orange beach cruiser--I'm in love, and the celebrity around town has already gone to my head.

Jeremy and Katie sent us a bunch of crazy Halloween stuff: fake sideburns, peanuts, Halloween stickers, and of course--candy! We couldn't eat the candy because it had gelatin in it, but I liked the Domo mouth anyway! The earrings I'm wearing are also a birthday present from my flattie. Ain't she sweet?

Craig loves the sideburns; they look perfect with his knock-off Ray-Bans and his...(shudder)...mustache. Oh, yeah, here's an interesting bit: in the States, we shorten mustache to 'stache. In Britain, they call it a 'tache. In Australia, they call it a "mo." And recently, a new thing called Movember has started up. You might have heard of it: guys grow out mustaches to raise fund for men's health. I'm not sure how it works. I don't think Movember is just an Aussie thing, but don't hold me to that.

I figured I might as well do my part for Movember, and I'll throw in Monocle-tober for free!

This year, as Craig and I celebrated my birthday with dinner and a bottle of wine, I thought about the last few Nijaweens. I may have spent my first-ever overseas birthday but I sorely missed enjoying Nijaween with all of you back home. I told an Alfalfa co-worker about how sad and lonely I've been feeling lately; she gave me a zine she made about traveling, called "Homesick, Awaysick." I'll finish out this post with a quote from her--

"I feel like you make me. If I describe myself, I am the sum of my friends, and my lover, and my school, and the book I'm reading, and the plants I grown in our little yard. So who am I when all that's gone, when I'm travelling?...Sometimes I just feel like a fragile shell of all who I am and can be at home."

21 October 2008

Bats, Chess, and Waves like I have never seen...

I can't believe it's been so long since we've updated the blog--over a week, far too long. Apologies all around.

But, you won't regret checking back, wizard people--we have some seriously cool stuff for you. First off, we visited the Royal Botanical Gardens a few weeks ago, right around sunset. The Botanical Gardens have become a roosting spot for the endangered flying fox bat! And, when I say roosting spot, friends, what I really mean to say is that the trees are heavy-laden all day. Around sunset, they start waking up and flying around the park.

1. I have never seen bats so big, or so many.

There are now so many bats that they are harming the trees; the Gardens' staff are having to encourage them to roost elsewhere. As you can see, the batted trees have no leaves. Apparently the bats are also in such high numbers they have reached plague proportions, and the Gardens are concerned a bat epidemic could take hold.

They are so graceful and huge...it seems like they can fly better than birds. They soar like kites, they glide on the air. They are beautiful.

Of course, when they are just waking up, half-asleep, flapping their wings, and upside down, they are cute. Adorable really. This one in particular seemed just a little flirty. I think he winked at me.

2. I have never seen chess played as a group, on a huge scale, in a public park...for free.

This picture below is mostly for my delightfully nerdy nephew, who is obsessed with chess, despite his remarkably young age. He's only five!! Almost six. I'm never surprised by how much I love the kid, but I am often speechless at how much I really like him. His personality is sweet, caring, outgoing, and completely dorky. He's such a wonderful kid. And I know he'll get a kick out of these chess pieces, nearly as tall as his sister.

On the same day, we went to the Hyde Park Barracks. It's free to walk about the courtyard and costs money to get in to the exhibition; since it was a fine day, we chose to just walk around the courtyard. I'm so glad we did, because we found Australia's monument to the Irish famine.

3. I have never seen monuments more beautiful, more abstractly expressive, than monuments to the Irish famine.

I've seen two so far; the one in Dublin nearly had me in tears. The Australian monument, even more abstract than Dublin's, affected me no differently. It is an amazing site-specific sculpture that cannot be shown in images alone. You have to walk around and in it to see all the symbols and resonances. The Irish Famine, as an event, must be credited with launching amazing, powerful, artistic monuments. These monuments are nothing like the ubiquitous phallic obelisks so often dedicated to the dead white men in the dustbin of history... these monuments are sublime. They make the fact that Australia took hundreds of Irish refugees real...the fact that those refugees often faced a life no more plentiful, no less hungry, once they got to this strange land of reversal.

3. I have never in my life seen waves so big, so violent, so fast and rough. I have never seen waves that break only when forced against the shore, a surfer ride a wave directly onto the sandy beach.

Last weekend, we went to Bondi Beach, pronounced Bond-eye. For the first time we understood why Bondi is one of the world's best surfing beaches. The Chloe Byron Memorial Longboard Championship was going on; the surfers first formed a surfer's circle on the beach, pictured below, and then they went out and did it in the ocean. That was an astounding sight...a giant circle of people out in the ocean.

But, if you just want to go in the water and splash around, say, because you maybe don't know how to swim really, and you harbour a deep, gripping fear of water which has haunted you since before you can remember...Bondi is not for you. At least it wasn't this past weekend.

After the sea slapped me in the face with sand and sea spray, after I got knocked over, after the current dragged me down the beach on my ass, after fighting a current so strong I could literally feel it pulling my feet from underneath me, I decided it was time for lunch. Craig decided it was time to pretend he's a possum.

Sculpture by the Sea was also happening this week; it's a 3.5k walk between Bondi and Tamarama, and they've got heaps of outdoor sculptures along the walk.

Quick colloquial aside: They say "heaps" here to mean "tons," "many," "very," "expensive," and a number of other terms. Examples:

We have heaps of buckwheat kernels. (tons)
I've been there heaps of times. (many)
That place is heaps nice. (very)
Living at Bondi is heaps. (expensive)

Ooh! Blog Participation: what strange things sayings have you heard from English speakers on your travels??

Anyway, we didn't see too many of the sculptures, because the ocean had just mugged us, so we were tired. But what we did see...was amazing.

You had to pay $10 to get the guide that tells you the name of this sculpture, who it's by, and what it means, so basically I'm saying that I don't know what it means...or who it's by...or the name of it.

Still looks pretty cool, though, right?

12 October 2008

It seems the currency of the realm is...currency.

Given so many of you are considering a visit to our fair city, I thought a short tutorial on Australian monies might be in order. It makes almost no sense at all...the only thing Aussie money's got going is that it's only worth 60 cents, making Craig's scholarship that much nicer!!

The smart thing about Aussie bills is that they are different sizes (5's are smaller than 10's, 10's smaller than 20's, and so on) and they are completely different colors, so that even a colorblind person can see the differences in grays. Having a range of bills is positively festive. The US greenback's got nothing on the Australian party in my wallet.

Starting with the bills then, first you have your $5 bill. That's right, kids, they don't even have a $1 bill here. They got rid of it ages ago, in 1984. Of course, Queen Latifah is on the fiver, since the Land Down Under is still under the Commonwealth's benevolent shadow.

The Australian $10 note has an Australian poet Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson on one side and another Aussie poet Mary Gilmore on the reverse. Mary Gilmore was a socialist, which just goes to show you how confused and strange this country can get. Interestingly, Australian bills are made of plastic, so they actually have little clear windows in them. The different white icons on each bills' lower right corner is printed on the window. Because they're plastic, they don't show much wear and tear...but they do crack. When you're accustomed to money made of denim, it's a little disconcerting to see a bill crackle in your hands.

The Aussie twenty dollar bill is another fascinating specimen. On one side, it's got John Flynn; he was an Australian Presbyterian Minister and aviator who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world's first air ambulance. I think we can all agree he's a fairly upstanding gentleman. However, the other side depicts Mary Reibey, an rags-to-riches ex-con turned philanthropic robber baron straight out of the pages of American Dream. I'm beginning to understand exactly what kind of woman Australians hold in high esteem.

The $50 dollar note is, according to wikipedia, nicknamed "pineapple" and "avocado" because of its yellow color; I haven't heard this yet, but I'll try to get Craig to say it. We'll see if people laugh at him...
The front features a portrait of Indigenous author and inventor David Unaipon on the front. On the back is a portrait of Edith Cowan, first female member of any Australian parliament, along with an illustration of a foster mother and children.

Apparently there's a $100 note, too, but I haven't seen it yet. Now, let's see after the bizarro world of Australian coin!! We start with the 5 cent, because inflation made pennies useless here. It's sort of nice, because all prices are rounded to the nearest five cents. Queenie Liz is on the front of all the Aussie coins, and interestingly, they don't have nicknames for their coins here. Rather boring, really.

The 5 cent coin is small in diameter and thin, rather like our dimes back home. The back is an echidna! The metal in it is actually worth about 6.5 cents, so they're considering getting rid of this coin as well. New Zealand already did. Australia lags far behind New Zealand in so many areas; they haven't even started a toothbrush fence here.

Next up, the tenner; slightly larger than the 5 cent, the back features a male Lyrebird.

Now, in the US, your next step up would be a quarter, but they don't have those here. They have 20 cent coins instead, and I won't lie: I miss the quarter. I miss the quarter so much. The 20 cent coin is about the same size as a quarter, slightly larger than the 10 cent piece, as you might expect. But it takes five of them to make a dollar, which for some ridiculous reason feels like a lot more than 4. It showcases everyone's favourite deadly monotreme, the Platypus! What? You're not into venomous third talons? Get with the program.

Standing out as the ornamental princess of Australian coin, the 50 cent piece is everything you want in a coin. Heavy, big, twelve-sided, and valuable, its only downfall is that it takes up your whole pocket. It's far more common than the American half-dollar. Rather than featuring another bizarre Indigenous Australian creature, it features the Australian coat of arms on the back...which, as we all learned last week on the blog, actually features a kangaroo and an emu, so it technically features two species of wacky fauna.

As I mentioned before, Australia got rid of its dollar bill in 1984, but it does have a $1 coin. Admittedly, this doesn't seem like a problem until you reach into your pocket for change and drop a few coins in the subway gap, thereby easily losing $3. That's seriously irritating, especially when combined with the ridiculous hugeness of the gaps. I'm not joking; you are all forewarned. When you come to Sydney, you may well fall into the subway tracks.

The $1 coin is golden, rather than silver, so you can't mistake the two that easily. It's thicker than the other coins and about the same diameter as the 10 cent.

Now here's where things get really strange. Australia also has a $2 coin. What on earth is the logic behind that? Who needs a $2 coin? I thought the miserable failure of the $2 bill would have made this moot, but people here actually use it. All the time. Adding insult to inexplicability, the $2 coin is about half the diameter of the $1 coin. It seems specifically designed to facilitate the confusion of hapless immigrants.

In the States, nickels are bigger than dimes, but there's good reasoning for that: dimes were made of silver, while nickels were made of nickel, which is less valuable than silver. Ten cents worth of silver made a smaller coin than 5 cents worth of nickel. Before that, 5 cent pieces were made of silver. The amount of silver needed was so little that the coins were too small to be handled...they had to switch to a less valuable material for the 5 cent pieces, but chose to leave dimes the way they were.

But the Australian $1 and $2 coins have no such history; like any modern currency, their monetary value is far higher than their metal value. There is no connection. The $2 was only introduced in 1988, so there's really no explaining it at all.

Ok, now all of you get practicing--we can't wait to see you!