26 November 2009

Final Draft Wins!

It's been about two weeks since the last post, and sadly, Craig and I have been so busy with work and school, there's really not that much to report... until today--

The radio show I produce for, Final Draft, just won the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia award for Excellence in Spoken Word, News, and Current Affairs!! It's a huge category, and we won; I'm pretty thrilled. To hear the show--

In other news-- Sydney was ridiculously hot this past weekend. On Friday and Sunday, the temperature got up to 39C, which is about 103F. Beer, the movie theatre, ice cream-- none of it was enough to cool us down. I recall whinging last year that Sydney didn't get properly hot all summer; I certainly can't make that complaint again. Sydney gets hot. Really flipping hot.

Craig's been dealing with some seriously annoying bureaucratic hassle as he's been trying to upgrade to a PhD for months now. At first they told him he only had to give a presentation, then they told him he had to write a literature review, then they said the literature review was due at the end of November, then they moved the deadline up by two weeks!

Irritating business, especially as it meant he had to do a lot of work in the aforementioned stifling heat of the weekend.

But, he finally submitted all the paperwork and the literature review and everything yesterday at 10 am! Celebrate!

Darlinghurst is a neighbourhood in Sydney that is a lot like Buckhead in Atlanta. It's got a world-famous redlight street, nightclubs, drunk people in inconvenient clothing. About four major roads meet at one intersection, known as King's Cross, or simply "The Cross." It's a traffic hazard par excellence. Par Atlantance, if you will. King's Cross is the center of Darlinghurst's party district, and it's always in the news for clashes between residents who need a quiet night's sleep and club owners who need rowdy people to keep the party going. It's still interesting to me that people don't have guns in Australia; for the most part, I strongly believe it makes people safer. But when people do get violent here, it's intense in an entirely different way. Drunk people in bars still get angry and aggressive, so when a brawl breaks out here, it often ends in a "glassing." Which is when someone breaks a glass on someone else's face.

Basically, Craig and I have never really been interested in it.

Right next to Darlinghurst, there's Potts Point and Wooloomooloo, which are considered some of the nicest neighbourhoods in Sydney; we've been to Wooloomooloo once, it was such an expensive part of town, we never really wanted to go back.

But here's the problem: unlike Buckhead, which actually doesn't have anything that interests me, Darlinghurst is leading the small cool bar revolution in Sydney. It's where the Taphouse is, and tons of other cute little beer bars are starting to open up there. Buckhead, I can write off as an overcommercialized, overdeveloped, nightclubby, boring and mostly ugly place. But Darlinghurst? If so many cool bars are there...it must mean cool people go there.

So, in an effort to find what might be the draw, Craig and I took a self-guided walking tour around Darlinghurst and Potts Point. We saw old amazing houses, some of the first ever built on the sites, a very bright yellow house that used to be owned by artists and still has a fabulous fine art gallery inside. I don't know why I didn't take a picture of that one.

But I did take a picture of this: called the El Alamein fountain, it's a war memorial to soldiers who died in battles at El Alamein, Egypt in WWII.

After a very long day of walking, I felt like I knew that part of Sydney just a bit better, which means I'll probably be willing to go to Darlinghurst more often... especially for the cool little bars that keeping popping up. Like this.

15 November 2009


Seeing as Nijaween just passed so recently, my tastebuds and belly have been subconciously gearing up for Thanksgiving; every time I go to the NYTimes page, I find myself dreaming about what Craig and I will make before I come to the shocking realisation that Thanksgiving doesn't happen here. And if I want to do a Thanksgiving, Wonderboy and I will have to do all the cooking and likely all the left-over eating, as well. The cooking alone can really blow up on you-- you think, "ah, we should make a seitan roll, stuffed with homemade stuffing. Of course we'll need gravy. Mark Bittman had a great post with three different gravies, those would be delicious, especially with potatoes. Mmmm, we'll need potatoes. Sweet potatoes or regular? Why choose? But what about mac and cheese? Every proper Thanksgiving would have mac and cheese, with buttered rolls on the side. Those are best homemade, too. And for dessert, a pie or a crumbcake? Pecan or pumpkin pie? Do I have to pick??..."

Then I started thinking about other foods I haven't eaten in too too long: collard greens, decent tortillas, spicy salsa. I started thinking about Thanksgiving Mexicana. Black bean cornbread stuffing! Empanadas!

Basically, it can get out of hand.

To keep things simple, I decided, for now, to focus on the one food I was feeling absolutely the most homesick for: southern biscuits. Most Southerners know you can't get proper southern biscuit north of Kentucky, so I certainly wasn't expecting them here, though Australian scones come fairly close.

Not close enough.

I found a vegan Southern biscuit recipe online, and I was shocked to learn it came from Sevananda's co-op newsletter! Sevananda is Atlanta's organic food co-op; Wonderboy and I were members for years. We never looked into the Organic Goddess's recipes, but I'm a true believer now. Because these biscuits are flipping amazing.

Buttery, dense, flakey, crumbley, fluffy. And all on a warm November morning-- bliss.

05 November 2009

Kids are weird. Good weird.

Yesterday, I got a package in the mail from my sister's family. It had some nice cards and gifts in it, and it had some stuff from the chickens. Otherwise known as my nephew and niece, or Nanu and Nanki, respectively. Just a note: in Gujurati, "nanu" means "small and cute," while "nanki" is a cute word that I think was sort of made up to mean "small, and girly, and cute!" As babies, they were both small and cute, but we couldn't give them both the same freaking nickname, now could we? That would make things hard. Especially for them.

Anyway, the kids sent me a ton of really cool hand-made crafty gifts and I love them. But I'll admit it: some of them are a little confusing. They didn't *necessarily* come with instructions; or, alternatively, I'm not understanding the instructions. I'm not always good at instructions.

So, first off, I got a lovely hand-drawn card; if you click on the picture, you can read it, but it is a little blurry.

Two hearts on the right represent Nanu and Nanki; in the text, they ask for a picture of Flopsley.

Quick note: back when the kids were here, they heard Craig's plant at work had almost died, because he hadn't been around to take care of it for a month. They felt bad; he had been playing with them all month. So they gave him a new plant. Nanu decided on a parsley plant, mostly because pickings were slim at 9.30pm, and the plant itself was in pretty poor shape. Pretty...floppy. And hence – Flopsley.

I'm proud to present: FLOPSLEY! He's much healthier now, and he hardly ever flops these days.

I believe this is a... guitar. Or at least part of one. Am I meant to attach other parts of the gift to it, to complete the object? It's a beautiful guitar regardless; it's got way more soul than the wooden number Craig usually plays. Maybe I displayed it upside-down...

Ahh, now this makes perfect sense to me. It's a flag, with my name and Craig's name on it, and drawings of us, with arrows indicating which drawing is meant to be which person. Clear as day. And lovely.

This seems to be the same sort of idea, but as you can see, it's precociously abstract. Definitely Nanki's work. She's so ahead of her time. Who ever heard of a non-representational flag? It's genius.

Then, a tongue depressor falls out of the envelope.

Hmm. And then this:

Another blurry picture, but as you can see, it is an...irregular shape, with a pencil drawing of what seems to be...(aha) a FLAG! And written on it: "Glue stick on right back."

But I only got one stick.

Who's making that choice, Sophie? I leave all that to one side and pull out the rest of the items. A beautiful paper flower examines the spaces between 2 dimensionality and 3 dimensionality. A strong statement.

Then, I find a truly intriguing piece. A rolled-up package, with a flap, and green cap on top.

I open it like so, and it turns out the green cap is attached to the flap...

I push the tab on the bottom up, like so:

A smiley face! How nice! I pull the bit with the face on it out of the package... maybe it's going to be a doll!

I pull the doll out, stand him up, and I'm...stumped. Again. A cryptic message, to be sure. If it is a doll, it's decidedly minimal. That's cool, I can suspend disbelief. I just don't know if I'm supposed to unroll these packages-- there could be coded messages inside!!

The coolest part was a flip book they sent me; it's a cool little thing that helps kids do their first flip books, and figure out how flip books and animation work. I've made a little video-- the music in the back is "Where Do They Make Balloons" by They Might Be Giants, a favourite band I shamelessly shove on the chickens every chance I get.

These kids are amazing. And seriously weird. I love it.
More news of Sydney Springtime: we harvested our first tomato! He's cute and adorable and round and red! I love him, and we picked him right off the plant on our balcony-- food miles? Try food feet. Actually, that sounds a little gross. Try food...centimetres? Doesn't quite have that ring-- let me know if you come up with something better!

Among the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my whole life are Sydney's jacaranda trees. These are flowering purple trees, standing right alongside your stringy gum trees, standard green & brown characters. For a few short months, shocking clouds of dark violet burst out among the green-gray leaves that usually line our streets; it's spectacular. And sparkling. It's hard not to love this place, sometimes.

03 November 2009

Nijaween 2009

I love the feeling of Halloween in Atlanta. Of course I do, you say, it's my birthday, and you are right, sir! But I don't think that's why. To me, Halloween always felt like the very end of autumn, the last bit of warm breezes and outdoor cookouts before winter chills set in. Something to savour. That's probably not seasonally accurate at all; I'm sure winter starts much later, or maybe much earlier. I don't know a lot about seasons.

What I do know: Halloween in Atlanta is cool, almost chilly, with pretty fall colours and adorable kids dressed as bunnies knocking on your door. Leaves changing colour. Yellow, auburn, crimson and green ornamental gourds piled on front lawns, fake cobwebs on trees, haunted houses, Fright Fest at Six Flags and Fright Night on the local low-rent television station. And the only time of the year those kids who wish they were vampires are accepted just for being their weird loser selves.

I don't like dressing up; whenever I do get into a silly costume, I just feel uncomfortable the whole time. I think what I really hate is the compulsion to dress up on Halloween; it's my birthday, dammit, I just want to wear pyjamas and a tiara. Surprisingly, that usually doesn't win the "Best Costume" award.

But I do like Jack O'Lanterns. Craig gets really into them; he's made Vampire Lenin and a Donnie Darko scary rabbit.

He even once made a spooky cat Jack O'Lanter, modeled on our very spooky Severine.

And we were traditionalists; we always used the right kind of pumpkin. The big, orange, ridged rind pumpkins. Charlie Brown got lost in the pumpkin patch kind of pumpkins. You know what I'm saying.

They don't even have them here. Don't get me wrong; Australia is a country full of "pumpkin." They love eating pumpkin. But everything they call pumpkin, Americans call squash. Like this: Butternut...pumpkin. Very strange.

Stranger yet: Halloween is in springtime here. And a lot of people don't even know about it. I didn't see a single cobweb, witch's hat, or zombie. It's weird, I know, because zombies are really hot right now. For example, on Saturday, I was asked, "So... is Halloween on the same day every year?," which shows a deep lack of understanding about what exactly Halloween is in the first place, yes? Yes, yes. Oh, yes.

Also: Halloween back home is sort of like two holidays: before 7pm, it's all cute kids and candy.

After 7pm, it's adults dressed up, either sexy or scary, and it's time to drink. Massive parties, vandalism, smashing pumpkins. The zombies rule the streets.

But here, it's not even a big day for kids; no dress-up, no candy. Some adults do dress up at night, but mostly just the goths who always dress in black anyway. Basically, Halloween is only a big deal in a few neighbourhoods in Sydney, where all the goth kids already live.

It's sort of seen as an American import, one more example of American cultural hegemony; people aren't really that interested in giving free candy out to kids they don't know, or going to haunted houses. I think, to a lot of Australians, it feels fake.

But I really don't see how anyone could be against pumpkin-carving. I mean, look at the (dorkeriffic) creativity it unleashes.

For years now, we've been holding Nijaween dinners at restaurants I like. The purposes behind this were many-fold: we were in from the cold on what's usually a chilly night, people could eat whatever they wanted, we didn't have to cook or clean up. And I was always raving about some restaurant or another, so it was a chance to make all my friends eat there, give the place some business, and all my friends would become fans, too. Awesome.

This year, since it's springtime, Craig decided he wanted to throw me the first ever Nijaween Picnic! And it went over so well, I'm demanding a picnic every year I celebrate an upside-down birthday. And he organised everything so well, even the weather; it was a perfect warm day, no rain, and cool in the shade. Boy Wonder, indeed. I'm beginning to think he might be a robot. He even made me a tiara.

Alexandria Park is right behind our apartment, and it's pretty close to the city, so some people rode their bikes. The park has big open spaces and beautiful old trees. A bunch of friends came out to enjoy some good food; some were new friends, like Liz and Jacqui from the camping trip, and some were (relatively) old friends, like Aaron and Portia. I've known them for almost a whole year! We set up under a twisted and gnarled old tree, and the whole day was rather idyllic.

Sarah and Gary brought their beautiful kids, and everyone fell in love with them. Sarah drank her first sip of beer in years. Awesome. She really got into the Nijaween spirit.

I think little ones running around just make a picnic better. Especially when they stick their hands in the pumpkin seeds and knock over the whole jar. Comic genius. But even when they're just excited and happy, acting like little kids at a picnic, they make everyone else feel like running around, too.

Little kids also remind the host to bring out the cake. Craig ran inside and returned with a beautiful raw, vegan, Mexican chocolate cake from Conscious Choice. He had conspired with my workmates and neighbours, keeping the cake hidden from me until the party. We forgot to take a picture of it, because it was beautiful and we wanted to eat it. Quickly. And it was flippin' good.

The crown got passed around a bit. Gary wears it with dignity.

Craig wore it, too, and did that trick were he goes all blurry for a minute.

Aaron seems a little jealous, doesn't he? After all, wearing a crown while blurring yourself: it's not a skill everyone can master.

We had fun and played frisbee late into the afternoon; we were frisbee maniacs, you couldn't stop us. Benedict used to play Ultimate Frisbee; he plays frisbee with a beer in hand. A crappy frisbee couldn't stop us. An increasingly strong and erratic wind couldn't stop us. The trees made shadows that stretched and twined, and we flung the frisbee through shadow branches. It rarely flew where we thought we were throwing it, and we rarely caught it, but we ran and fell and drank and laughed about exactly how crappy the frisbee was.

Then it got pretty dark. And that sort of stopped us.
As the evening cooled down, Craig and Aaron ended up...getting close.

Sure, it was a little awkward for me and Aaron's partner, Portia. Maybe I'm starting to get (a little too) comfortable with Craig's bromances. Maybe Portia's used to it, too. Anyway, the four of us decided to call it a day. That night, I felt lucky to have a springtime birthday, lucky to have a Boy Wonder, lucky to have a picnic party, and more than anything, wildly lucky to call such amazing people friends.

Ah, yes. Well, Monika couldn't make it to the party, but she was still prepared. You see, Monika is the groceries coordinator at Alfalfa House, and she regularly gets samples. Usually, the samples are food, and she shares it out. But on Tuesday, she gave me a birthday gift like no other. Sure, it was a sample, and sure, it didn't cost her anything. But that is not the point.

The point is, she gave me the weirdest birthday present I have likely ever received. A hyG Ionic Toothbrush. From Japan. Even the promotional material for it is crazy. Because Japan is awesome.

I can't wait to use the power of ions on my teeth! I wonder if Ionic Power can help me lose weight, too!!

Lastly: I was on Final Draft again, reading my review of Shakespeare's Wife, by Germaine Greer. It's more or less the same review I've already posted on this blog, but if you want to hear me read it, here you go.

And I can't remember if I ever put this up on the blog-- it's a funny bit I wrote for Ordinary Magazine, an online outfit based here in Sydney. It's all about Cary Elwes.

Ok, folks. Back to work.