26 July 2009

Oh, I forgot!

I meant to put this in the last post.

The other day, Craig and I went to a bar to have a drink and some fries before we saw the new Harry Potter (awesome!).

This is what they served us.

That's a plate of beautiful delicious wedges. Oh, and on the side--a seriously attractive giant bowl of sour cream (what?! with my fries?) AND sweet chili sauce (gross!).

I know. I cannot believe they expect me to eat in this country.

25 July 2009

The Frivolous Reigns Again

Ahh, you've all read enough of the sweet melancholy stories about my family, right? You're sure there's more to come later, but you'd like a break for a moment, hmmm?

Well, aren't you just like me?

First off, Craig and I were walking downtown today from our newish apartment and we found an Atari Headquarters. The Asia/Pacific Headquarters, maybe? While there, we learned about the very exciting new Jamie Oliver cooking video game-- I mean, what will that guy not merchandise? Anyway, it made Craig think about his first ever video game console, which was apparently a Sears-brand knock-off of an Atari. It made me think about the only video game console I've ever had in my life.

I was young. My sister was eight years older, but still, she was young, too. And we wanted video games. My dad was pretty sure video games would eventually lead to worse things, like watching The Golden Girls, and he was not interested. But we worked and planned and negotiated our mutiny, wearing him down slowly with our magically irritating little girls' voices.

Finally, we got an Atari. We had a car racing game and it was awesome. Voom.

And then it broke. Like three weeks after we got it. It actually broke, providing my father with an extremely neat excuse to never buy a video game again. Why spend money on things that just break? See what I mean? Too neat. I was sure he had purchased a used console, knowing it would break-- no, maybe he had actually bought a broken one! Ahhh, what a crafty gentleman my father is. It was a brilliant move, so out of character--my dad really wasn't ever the kind to pay good money for bad products. But this time it was necessary to prove his point; it was part of a nefarious plan.

Of course, thinking back now, it seems a little ridiculous. Would Dad really want to play a trick like that on us...and then keep it a secret for years? I know all children have secrets they keep from their parents. But do parents keep stuff like this secret? Shouldn't parental secrets be about more fundamental things, i.e. "I'm not actually your mother," and stuff like that?

Hmmm. Regardless.

Earlier this week, we went out to "Penguin Plays Ruff" again (see prior post about said event). Basically, once a month, they organise a few writers to come up and read pieces, and they let a few "wild card" folks to sign up on a list and get a chance to climb on stage and inform listeners of their genius. Here's my rundown--


--writers who write stories about waking up in some girl's bed, knowing that her cat is about to claw your eyeballs out, and about quantum mechanics and Schroedinger's cat in a box that you're pretty sure is going to claw your eyeballs out.


--writers who perform their pieces with the annoying practiced lilt of a hackneyed open-mic performer.


--loudly reading an entire piece in one long undeniable breath, while wearing a leather jacket with a possible fur collar.


--writers who wave their hands and heads in annoying rhythm with aforementioned irritating lilt.


--writers who write pieces about the process of writing screenplays to the most painfully lame, awkward and boring romantic comedies. Alice Williams-- I think that's her name-- deserves a TV show just for her performance of that piece.


--writers who actually don't know how to read their own pieces, stumbling over the words as if they don't already know how the story might end.


--writers who write about stabbing threatening bears in the gut, only to find the bear was pregnant with Care Bears. Honestly. Nick Coyle (Coil? Coyel? Qoyle? There might be a silent f in there, somewhere) has lost his mind. Benedict got his info for Final Draft, so listen out on the podcast for that guy.


--when you should have left after the sixth reading, and you knew it, but you didn't and thus, had to suffer through three terrible stories, read with humourless doleful sincerity. I sat there, listening to wafts of Lebanese music floating in the windows off King St., sipping a harsh red wine that burned my throat by the second glass, and I really really wished I had left early.


We're experiencing the most beautiful amazing stretch of warmth this winter--we went out to the park; I practiced my Spanish with my most patient tutor, Mr. Boy Wonder himself. I love wearing skirts in the middle of winter, a light jacket, no scarf. It's hard to write, work, think when the city is in such a light and airy mood.

09 July 2009

My name is a rabbit; or, I miss my shadow

Every morning began the same way: "Nija Masi, do you remember that we need to do the calendar today?"

Let me explain. I have this calendar. I've never seen another calendar like it. I bought it from the Tate Modern, because it is cool. The cards are all printed with a month or a number on the back, with an important modern artwork on the front. You change the date, you show a different piece of art; you can, of course, customize using postcards sent by loved ones temporarily residing in, say, Mexico or permanently residing in, perhaps, Ireland.

I was surprised at how quickly she developed habits, how she'd remember to do the same things every morning; I punctually remember to change the calendar once every 6.5 months, but while she was here, it practically worked like a real...calendar. She would pick the artworks she wanted to show that day. The little weirdo particularly favoured Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe, a Cindy Sherman photo, a Picasso and Marcel Duchamp's Fountain. Precocious taste, I know.

The calendar isn't the only ritual my niece developed for our morning activities. She (hereafter known as chicky or Nanki) also picked out my jewelry for me every morning; I can't remember the last time I felt the joy of having myself decorated. She liked it, and for one month, she could pick any random necklace out of my box, and I mean any necklace, including the ones I never wear, and I would wear it.

At some hotel, we were on the third floor, and she said, "Are we going to take the elegator?"

Me: The alligator? Yeah, chicky, we're taking an alligator home with us.

Her: Alligator?! No! (adorable grunt-like laugh)

Me: Oh, definitely. We're going to ride an alligator up the stairs.

Her: Nija Masi, not ALLIGATOR! I said ELEGATOR!!

She's amazing. I know that when I say things like that, I sound like a sweet and loving aunt. But you see, ever since her birth, people have said she looks just like me, just like I once looked. As she's gotten older, she's continued her habit of shamelessly copying me. Get this: she doesn't like raw tomatoes. So original. She takes gymnastics classes, she's a little tall for her age, and she's a skinny munchkin who loves smiling for a photo. She makes the same faces I used to, just watching her feels familiar. And every once in awhile, my mom calls her Niju, because that is my mother's nickname for me. No, you can't call me that. I don't understand why genetics works this way sometimes. But sometimes I worry that I only like her so much, that I only get along with her so easily, because she's so much like me. Because I am self-obsessed and pathetic, every time I think this girl is amazing, I prove how vain I am.

And I worry she'll grow to resent me, feel like she can't do anything without being compared to me. When I was 13, if I was remotely compared to anyone else, I sulked. But it turns out everything has actually been done before, so with the resources available to a 13-year-old, the best I could manage in terms of originality amounted to setting Kleenex on fire.

Nanki, though, really is amazing. In Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens, we saw the Darwin sculpture. I asked her what she thought of it; "I like that the middle parts aren't cut out of the letters." Brain explosion. The child likes type. She notices type. I was 25 before I realised I like type. Oh, no. Oh, oh. No, no. She's not like me-- she's faster.

It doesn't matter; for now, I'm in love with her. She throws her cards down when she loses UNO and shouts, "Doink!" She walks fast. She dances to Bollywood songs and talks with her hands. Her eyebrows are so desperately expressive, sometimes it's like they're trying to convey a far deeper message than the words she's saying. She's saying, "Nija Masi, can we play some, um, stamps?," but her eyebrows are saying she's just discovered the secret identity of Batman. She inspired me to try to swim. Turns out I can actually sort of swim.

I had never before lived more than an hour's drive away from any of my family, and I often thought that was a blessing and a curse. This last year in Sydney, I have felt very very far from home. I nearly drowned in the uncharted deep waters of homesick, thrashing, gasping for relief. I missed home like I never believed I could. These six crazy beautiful people came and visited me, and I found new, far worse, kinds of homesickness. I found the sickness of feeling like your home has come to stay with you, but you are not at home. You are home and you are not at all at home. The people around whom you are most comfortable (and also oddly, most uncomfortable) are visiting you at your home...and it is not your home. The sickness of knowing your niece is homesick, of knowing you are too, but that she will go home. And you will not. The sickness of watching your home go home. The sickness of being left, alone, at your away-home. Your not-home. I found awaysickness.

They left on a Sunday, on June 28, nearly two weeks ago, and I'm still aching. See, every time I buttoned up my jacket and let my arms fall to my side, she'd be there, about hip-high with her hand raised, the unspoken question--can I hold your hand?--flickering across her eyebrows. She was my beautiful, bright, clever and very short shadow for a month, and now my shadow's gone. She's on the other side of the world, being beautiful and bright and clever. And nothing's felt good for days. I haven't been able to do anything right.

For example: the calendar is still set to June 28.

03 July 2009

The extraordinary and the everyday

We roamed the eastern seaboard of Australia in the style of the classic Dalal family road trip. My brother-in-law is a pro by now; he's even introduced his own innovations (SatNav), but it was Craig's first. My 4-year-old niece and my 6-year-old nephew are already old hands at these sort of things, and I was only seven when my Mom, Dad, sister, grandparents and I spent weeks meandering the continental US in an Astro Van--with racing stripes. Back then, we happily took in the marvelous and the mundane, the Grand Canyon and the Big Red gum flavoured soda pop sold only in Texas only for a short time. Weren't we lucky to be in that place at that specific time?

This time, we were six grown-ups and two adorable chickens squished into a minivan with two car seats, heaps of luggage and enough Oreos, Doritos and Mama Dalal's desi junk food to keep everyone's mouth shut for a good long while. The miraculous and the mediocre again marked our travels; the Great Barrier Reef turned me into a snorkeling adventurer (whoa!).

Muttonbird Island on Coff's Harbour turned me into the kind of person who decided not to bother with this particular bushwalk. I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear there were no muttonbirds and the "island" is actually more of a hill, and pictures are best taken at night.

We saw the Big Banana of the Gold Coast, which actually wasn't big enough to warrant a photograph--I've seen a bigger cigarette than that in North Carolina--and we found glittering wonder in the quiet rainforests of the Atherton tablelands. In the Canopy Treehouses, we hiked and fed turtles, and a cheeky possum climbed right onto our porch to steal the birdfood.

Nanu (that's my nephew's nickname) presented a darling report on Australian birds; we all became amateur birders. I can now identify the Pacific duck (brown and duck-like, looking rather ordinary, but with a black stripe behind the eye) and a Masked Lapwing (surprisingly, looks like it's wearing a yellow mask). I now recognise a Lewin's Honeyeater (identified by the semi-circular yellow ear patch),

a Red-Browed Finch (Quite sociable with fellow birds and people)

(though often very blurry in photographs.)

and the Noisy Miner (loves Starburst).

We even saw a wild cassowary with his two baby chicks. Have you even heard of these? Cassowaries have "horn-like crests called casques on their heads, up to 18 cm (7.1 in). These 'casques' consist of a keratinous skin over a core of firm, cellular foam-like material." Their inner toes "sport a dagger-like claw that is 125 millimetres (4.9 in) long. This claw is particularly fearsome since cassowaries sometimes kick humans and animals with their enormously powerful legs." **Information from Wikipedia.

That's right. What I am saying is that this is a 1.5 metre tall flightless bird with a huge foam horn on its head that can disembowel your dog or small child with a kick.

He looks like a dinosaur. Yes, I know all birds are pretty much dinosaurs. But this is different. Their feathers look like hair. This is a huge and primally intimidating bird. Until you learn they are afraid of umbrellas, and you remember that dinosaurs had pretty small brains.

I hand-fed wallabies and adorable pademelons. We saw a mama wallaby with a baby in its pouch! When things like this happen, the fact smacks you in the head that you are decidedly in a strange country, you are definitely in Australia.

We saw the exuberant plant life in the rainforest of northern Queensland and considered moving there. Forever.

I couldn't believe even the fungal plant diseases appear beautiful, reminding us of roses even as they slowly kill another beautiful flower.

We spent hours in the car, the kids playing TicTacToe and Hangman in the mountains outside Cairns, and I remembered reading volumes and volumes of The Babysitters' Club in the Rockies.

At Victoria's Twelve Apostles, we watched a sparkling sunset, and avoided the chickens as they asked, "Nija Masi, what are apostles?"

Melbourne was the last leg of our trip, and as we waited in the freezing seabreeze and rain, hoping to see a hundred Little Penguins make their way home, we huddled around the kids to keep our own birds warm. Every trip has the extraordinary and the everyday, but this time, the extraordinary was the everyday. We saw spectacular nature, but my niece and nephew were magical. Just playing UNO or TicTacToe, I fell in love with them again and again, every moment. And the Antarctic ocean wind blew tears in my eyes... my favourite little penguins would be making their own way home far too soon.

01 July 2009

The city bleeds kindness

Well, well, dear readers-- it has been quite some time. I'm sitting at my new neighbourhood cafe, enjoying a long black on a ridiculously warm winter day: it's currently a sunny 19C, or about 66F for you non-metrics. The new cafe is promising despite the rather boring name--Sydney Fine Food Company--for two reasons. The first: free internets! The awesome: free picnic rug so you can enjoy coffee and lunch in lovely Alexandria Park.

It's been a long time since I've done anything remotely like what I'm doing today, because my family has been visiting. My mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and niece all came to Australia for a month; it was crazy and weird and mostly beautiful. The preparation alone was bizarre; because we only moved here about a year ago and still don't own many useful and important things like, say, a stapler or a...bed, it's needless to mention that we didn't happen to have 6 extra pillows, 3 extra beds, or any extra blankets at all. We certainly didn't have enough pots and pans to cook a meal for eight.

Somehow, right before they got here, our friends, co-workers, and total strangers lent or gave us just about everything we needed. I couldn't believe how many people came together to make my family comfortable here. Ruby and Vix were strangers at the cafe. They probably would have stayed that way, if they hadn't overheard me worrying about setting my family up. They decided to lend us a rug, some chairs and a camp bed. We talked more, and I am very glad they aren't strangers anymore. They even gave us some dinner because we'd been moving all day. We still don't know how to thank them for everything; I'm just happy to know such generosity exists in the hearts of strangers... it makes living in a still new, still bewildering city gentler.

Monika lent and gave with all her heart. Julia--my Australian momma--has given me more rides and stuff and help than I can remember. She is a wonderful, sometimes quirky, slightly forgetful and not often punctual, woman I am proud to work with. Sara volunteers at the co-op; she heard about my dilemma and dropped off two boxes of warm, thick woolen blankets. Aidan and Robby lent us a bed, and their poor guests have suffered their couch.

I sat up the night before my family's arrival, sewing tags onto all the blankets, towels and pillowcases I had borrowed, so I would know where to return them. A tag for a blanket loaned to make my nephew warm, a tag for a towel to keep the dishes dry; one for the sheet my sister used, one for the pillow that protected my niece from rolling into the wall.

It took an hour to sew all the tags; by the end, we could see our community. A cartography of the compassion we've found in our first year in Sydney, drawn on bedding and kitchenware. I am still overwhelmed. If the people who care for you could pile all their caring into your living room, what would it look like?