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!

11 October 2008

The Coat of Arms, as hand-dryer

I knew that hand-dryer would cause some kind of controversy. Thank you, Christopher, for noticing that the emu has no hands to dry...starts looking even more suspicious, doesn't it? Turns out it's a reference to the Australian coat of arms, an equally bizarre piece of graphic imagery. See how the kangaroo is holding up the shield with his hands, while the emu is holding it up with...his neck??!

Clearly, something strange is going on here.

But, more to the point, are you showing this blog to people in your illustration class? And, honestly, I love the indignant tone you're taking when you write about "how horrible some of the people in my classes are, they actually talk back to the teacher!" This coming from the student who once called the inimitable, the wonderful, the kind and thoughtful Mr. GB a "douchebag." To his face. In a critique.


And, Craig, let's be serious for a moment. Do you really think the emus will ever be able to take control with no hands? How are they going to organize their armed uprising? Guns aren't made for wings, Craig. Guns aren't made for wings. They'd have to develop some other new wing-based gun design, which is ridiculous, because the kangaroo lobby owns the gun manufacturers world over. They got that mess on lockdown. And everyone knows kangaroos are nature's boxing champions. I think the CHE corporation is actually showing how wrong the world would be if the mighty kangaroo were subservient to the handless emu. I'll side with the 'roos anyday, just give me some boxing gloves. Though, I'll admit, the emu can be a majestic bird. And they do make a fine nest.

Let's end the madness. We here at "Two Extra Armies Each Turn!" would like to suggest a new official seal:

haha! Found on Redfern Lane, right on our block. Genius walks among us. It walks among us.

News on the home front: I just learned that my adorable and amazing niece calls the country I now live in "Extralia." Oustanding. Thought you'd get a kick out of that one, dear readers.

06 October 2008

¡Más y más y más aún!

Phew! My cellphone was starting to get heavy with all the pictures I'd been taking and never uploading, so with TV the way it tends to be on Monday nights (after the undeniable, diamond-melting genius of The Mighty Boosh is over, anyway) I decided to do some clearing-out. You'll see a weird mix of stuff on our Picasa page but I assure you it's ALL REAL! From the cat with eerie super-powers to my ascent to the Chairmanship of the Katoomba Communist Party (Maoist), things are absolutely devilish here down under.

I also posted some chintzy videos to my YouTube page of the sort that will likely decorate hotel walls in the not-too-distant future.


05 October 2008

Mo' Photos, Mo' Problems

So our trip to Katoomba maxed out our Sydney photo album (500 picture limit) which either means stuff here is really worth taking pictures of or we've been obscenely trigger-happy. Either way, we had to start a new album called "Sydney 3." Wait, better yet, we'll call it "Sydney 2"! So clicking on the link to the right will now give you our new album. If you're looking for older pictures (pre-October '08) just scroll down and click on "Photos June-Sept '08."


04 October 2008


I never go to small mountain towns. In fact, every single vacation I've been on (excepting that road trip back in '88 with my parents, sister, and grandparents) has been to a city. Barcelona, London, Dublin, Puebla, San Francisco, New York, Chicago–I've just never thought about going to the mountains for a vacation. Too much of a city girl. Hiking, the starry night sky, fresh air...these things have never interested me.

But the Blue Mountains are only two hours away by train, so we gave it a shot. This past week, Craig and I took a highly undeserved vacation and went up to the Blue Mountains. We stayed at the YHA Hostel in the small town of Katoomba. It was a really wonderful and weird week. We did quite a bit of "bushwalking," which is Australian for "walking on trails."

On our first night, we decided to see the Three Sisters rock formation, which is about a fifteen minute walk from Katoomba. It's a very important landmark in Aboriginal Dreaming. It used to be Seven Sisters, but four of them have eroded. It was a very misty mountain night; we thought it would be sort of romantic and foggy. The Three Sisters are in the Jamison Valley, and every night, they're lit up by this giant orange light.

It was like looking at the end of the world. The fog filled the valley, blended into the sky, and just shone an eerie orange glow back at us. We knew there was a valley and we were on the edge of it, yet all we could see was mist. Just a wall of neverending fog. Spooky.

The next day, the mist cleared up, and we took a 2 hour hike through the park; this time, we could actually see the valley and what was in it--

Our hikes weren't all so rewarding, though. We tried to go to Euroka clearing on Wednesday; we had been told it was a 3 hour return walk and that you were guaranteed to see some wild kangaroos. Awesome. Just try to stop me.

What they didn't tell us was that you had to add on a 1.5 hour train ride each way, a .5 hour walk to the front of the park, and then it was actually about a 4 hour walk each way. Of course. Oh, and the kangaroos are only around in the late afternoon. Naturally. And by the way, the "trail" is an ugly road with cars careening at all speeds and the park of course closes at 6pm. Right. My mistake, so sorry.

About two hours into the walk, we realized we'd never make it to the clearing and then back out of the park before dark, when the maniac Australian nocturnal creatures come out and act all...bitey. I wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to make it out of the park at all, because most of our walk into the park was down hills so steep it hurt to walk down them. I couldn't quite imagine getting back up out of the place. Yes, I'm ridiculously weak, but this is neither the time nor the place, friends. It was almost 3pm, we were pretty sure we were lost, we hadn't seen any kangaroos, and we were getting discouraged. Hot, tired, cranky, and disappointed, I naturally decided to pick a fight with Craig. I have got some seriously excellent timing.

We got lucky, and a friendly Aussie offered to drive us down to the clearing, and drive us back out of the park. We rode up, up, and up steeper and steepest hills, until we finally saw the clearing. A 20 foot grassy patch one might easily mistake for your backyard. No kangaroos. At least we got out of the place before any of those creatures got a chunk.

However, I was not to be entirely disappointed; that evening we went to a cafe where we proceeded to fall asleep on the food that we were also eating during what might be called the Choking Hazard of the Century. When I woke up and went to the bathroom to wipe the salsa out of my hair, I found the most Australian hand-dryer in the world.

Yes. That's right. That is a hand-dryer, made by the CHE corporation. Clearly the Aussies love Che at least as much as they love ABBA. And, OMG, do they love ABBA. More to the point, the logo of the CHE corporation is, as you can see, a kangaroo drying his hands under a CHE hand-dryer while an emu watches, somewhat suspiciously. Now, I was not only unaware of the kangaroo's fastidious hygiene practices, but I also had no idea emus were so wildly untrustful. I mean, that kangaroo is clearly just drying his hands. Why does the emu need to watch so carefully? The politics in this outback, I swear.

Slightly daunted, but nonetheless willing to give the old Aussie bushwalk another go, we headed out to the Bridal Veil Falls. A beautiful walk; unfortunately, Australia's so dry and drought-ridden that the Bridal Veil actually seemed a bit more like a Bridal Ribbon, you know, like those annoying hippie veils made of ribbons. A Bridal Rivulet, if you will. We didn't even get lost. Miraculous.

We saw our first wattle bush! This here's the wattle, the emblem of our land, you can stick in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand. Amen! What would bloggers do without the mighty Pythons to reference?

When I was reading Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country," I learned that the fellow who started the American craze of building giant roadside objects as tourist traps had actually ended up moving to Australia and lighting the same fire on this country's dry and desolate roadside. Apparently, American and Australian highways are similarly punctuated with giant buildings shaped like ducks, peaches, etc. I guess we can blame this bizarre sight on that fellow as well...

You see, Olive Oyl is inexplicably standing in a white picket fence, but the fellow in the matching white picket fence is decidedly not Pop-Eye. I guess what Olive does on the other side of the world is her own business, and who am I to judge, but I do think that any guy who's willing to down entire cans of spinach swill for you deserves a little loyalty. I can't say I understand the logic behind putting these two frightening sculptures at what would otherwise be a beautiful lookout, but I can only assume it's to keep children from getting too close to the edge.

Then, on the last evening of our completely undeserved vacation, we went out to Cahill's Lookout to watch the sun set over the valley.

Oh! and congratulations go to Lem! I'm glad to know that was a Brown Huntsman Spider.

Craig loves Dante.

We spent a day in Leichhardt last weekend, an Italian neighbourhood that boasts the best pizza in town. We were not disappointed. Oh, no, we were not. We found some delicious, amazing, perfect (slightly pricey) pizza. We found amazing coffee. We found Dante.

Fittingly, a town with a fountain of Dante was holding a huge used book fair. I got some great old graphic design books, the kind with step-by-step instructions of completely obsolete processes. Awesome. Photo Type Setting.

It's a bit of a double-edged sword, though; we have doubled our book collection in the last week. We are shameful hoarders of books. It's getting out of control; I mean, we have 6 boxes of books still at my parents' house!

Yurt is a funny word.

Hello, hello dear friends and readers! It's been too long, I know, but the latest news from Sydney just keeps piling up, quicker than I can write it! Therefore, some of the latest news has actually been sitting around for a little while, so it's not very fresh anymore...well honestly, it's starting to look a little wizened. You might want to smell it first.

Hmm. Sorry about that. Anyway, last weekend Craig and I went to an "Aboriginal Control over Aboriginal Affairs" rally in Redfern Park, an area of town called "The Block" that people are generally told never ever to go near, but with a big rally going on, we figured it was safe. Turns out it was more than safe. Just like in the States, rallies for coloured people's rights are best attended by white people...mostly white people who have committed themselves to some sort of socialist cause.

Some, of course, are more white than others. Check it.

Avoiding newspapers from the Militant, the Spartacists, the Socialist Alliance, the Green Left, Resistance.org, and Direct Action reminded me of home in the worst ways and listening to a bunch of white politicians talk about what Aboriginal people want put me in a nasty mood. Turns out the left wing looks and acts the same, even upside down. Luckily I could distract myself with Redfern Park's beautiful public art, which is inspired by Aboriginal patterns and tradition.

The biggest benefit of the rally was that we ran into a friend of ours there. We first met Phoebe through my co-worker Dave Harris (the other goofy Dave at Alfalfa). Dave and Phoebe held a little welcome party at their house during my first few weeks at the Alf, and we get along wonderfully with them. They know absolutely everyone, so they've also been really helpful. Phoebe even invited us to a party that night at a new underground venue in Marrickville, an industrial neighbourhood of Sydney. Dave was DJing at the party. He's made it clear that he feels it has been a complete effing oversight that I haven't put him on the blog yet. Duly noted. He's got a lustrous mustache and a penchant for wearing very short shorts–so hipster! This particular evening, he was wearing pink denim flares with a matching pink shirt. Outstanding.

Phoebe is beautiful and charming; I'm only sad because we've barely just met them, and they're already planning to leave Sydney in two months. They're building a freaking yurt and going off to live as nomads. They are such awesome weirdos.