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?