30 October 2009

Scroggin' Down to Heathcote

First, Craig backed out: he's taking a free course on gardening. He had to apply to get in; no way was he missing the first class.

Then, Benedict backed out: he got invited to a hot shit party. It was important that he go.

Benedict and Monika had invited us camping with some friends. Considering my last attempt at camping didn't go quite as planned – I came home two days early after waking up to rain on my face inside my tent – I wasn't that keen to try again. Especially since I'd be there with a whole group of people, only one of whom I actually knew.

So I did what any nerd in my situation would do: research.

I researched camping etiquette, worried I would unintentionally offend them and because they don't know what a truly lovely person I am yet, they'd just be annoyed by me. I offered to bring sandwiches. When an email came through saying we should all bring scroggin', I looked it up and made the best damn scroggin' I could think of.

Now, let's be honest. We weren't going serious camping. Monika has a serious condition called "preggars," and she's not doing any serious camping. We only had to carry enough stuff for one night and the hike into the campsite was just about 2k. The site even had an EnviroLoo composting toilet, so it didn't even stink...or at least not that much.

My camping resume has two previous entries:

1. Spent a night on a farmer's front yard in a tent. Pretty unsuccessful, as Craig and I put our tent up on a slope which meant I was basically just sleeping on top of Craig and we're just lucky the tent didn't roll over.

2. Spent two nights at Newcastle, right next to a parked car in which we drove all our stuff directly to the camp site. Again, my tent revealed itself to be a little stormy inside. Decidedly unsuccessful.

So this trip, though not very serious, was more than I've ever done. Vix and Ruby kindly lent me a hiking pack, and off we went, to Heathcote National Park, next to Royal.

Jaqui and Liz are Australian friends of Monika's. Laura is French-Canadian and Marc is French. Monika's on the end there, in the hat that's shadowing her face.

Our campsite was lovely: broad flat rocks warm from the sun, a cool waterhole with small rolling waterfalls.

It's springtime here; a lovely time to walk in the Australian bush. It's cool and breezy. All the plants are blooming tiny, unassuming flowers. It's a spectacle of colour, but only if you're looking for it. The blue-green eucalypt canopy is punctuated with bursts of red and yellow leaves.

We set up our tents, and Monika demonstrated shaking the dust out of your temporary house. Watch out-- pregnant lady wields tent with ferocity!

The six of us spent a gorgeous day by the water, reading and napping. And of course, eating. It's a slogan I learned on this trip, and it was repeated often: Everything tastes better in the bush! Tea, smoky miso tofu sandwiches, veggie curry with potatoes and rice, canned gulab jamun. You name it. It tastes better.

We saw a bird's nest hanging from a stone enclave-- close up, we could see little birds' mouths poking out, cheeping for food.

We stayed up fairly late, by candlelight and head torch, full of good food and Arnott's Scotch Fingers. We made hot chocolate and we turned in. Every time I turned over, I worried the rustling of my sleeping bag was waking Monika up-- camping equipment is mostly so well thought-out. Lightweight sleeping bags fit into sacks smaller than a bag of crisps; cooking burners about the size of a bocce ball, and much lighter. Everything is beautifully designed to be lightweight and compact. But they have yet to make a quiet sleeping bag.
The next morning was gray and cool; a little damp. Beautiful graywash skies, bringing out the greens in the trees.

After breakfast on the rocks, a quiet steady drizzle started; Monika loaned me a raincoat and we all went on a morning rainhike in search of caves. But not before I pull my intrepid adventurer pose and look like a fool!

See? The hiking pack wasn't even that big, but my legs ached and ached the whole next day.

The caves were more like rock overhangs, but still nice. We sat under the rock and watched the rain and ate some scroggin'. What the hell kind of word is scroggin', anyway??

Easily my most successful camping experience yet. No storming rain in the tent, lovely new people, an actual hike. Brilliant. I might even try it again someday. Especially if I get to see such cool plants and lizards again.

17 October 2009

The Organ in Your Attic

I picked up a neat-looking book at a swap the other day; you know how it is. You flip through a book, see some interesting phrases and think, "Why not? I might read this someday."

"Organ Voluntaries (And Other Insights)" is just exactly such a book. Written by Dr. Earle Hackett, an Irishman who moved to Australia in 1957, the book contains a series of talks Hackett gave on the ABC, or the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which is sort of like Britain's BBC, except it's small and crappy. The talks take the listener (or reader) through the body, "part by part, organ by organ."

Including such eccentric chapter titles as "The Heart and the Foxglove" and "The Organ in Your Attic," the essays go through the history of knowledge about the body parts, offer up poetic gems on said parts, and explains what and why our organs are like they...are, I guess.

Having studied my share of anatomy and physiology in college the first time, you might think this sort of book would bore me, or anyone else with a general knowledge of human biology. But I doubt it, because Hackett is a goofy guy with...let's call it an idiosyncratic voice.

As interesting as the essays are, they're not why I decided to bring this book home.

I brought it home for the pictures.

For some reason, the ABC decided to lighten the text with woodcut prints by the Renaissance anatomist, physician, and (seriously brilliant) artist Vesalius.

I love these prints. I love that you can see the artist grappling with the dilemma of showing a cut-up body and showing a human with a face. Vesalius is considered the founder of human anatomy. He was one of the first doctors to actually dissect human cadavers; prior to his work, most of understanding of human anatomy was based on ape dissections. Vesalius corrected a lot of incorrect hypotheses about the bodies' organs. The human cadavers he got to work on? Executed criminals. The untold benefits of crime.

I actually enjoy looking at anatomical drawings, even ones that aren't from the 1500's. The way they balance accuracy and clarity fascinates me. The best anatomical drawings are marvels of information design, illuminating just one part of the giant mess of blood, bone, tissue, sinew. Can't be easy.

Vesalius was after a real understanding of how the body worked, but for some reason, he couldn't help adding a landscape in the background, or a bizarre pose, or extra disembodied feet. Why just depict the brain accurately, when you could also show skin folding over a face and ears? It's something you never see these days; so much of medicine is about detaching the organ from its place, studying it in an objective manner. It's something you never see these days, and that's why it's brilliant.

12 October 2009

This is Not Blog Post

It's getting close to Christmas– no, it's not! It's not even Nijaween* yet!– so the ginormous Christmas warehouse behind our house has gone wild, employing a person dressed as a reindeer to hold a "Christmas Sale" sign on the corner and putting out the best of their displays. And these displays are really classy. I'm talking huge blowup Santa plus reindeer and sleigh. I'm talking monochrome trees, where the tree is silver and all the decorations are silver, and all the lights are only white (because who would want a little colour over the holidays, right?) And I'm talking some seriously terrifying Santas.

Like Santa is the bum who's gonna knife you--

I know this creepy old man doesn't have any presents in his bag-- more like some bottles of cheap whiskey and a wad of perverted pictures. He's got his lantern, and he's on his way to his dark, damp shed in the woods.

I've been busy lately. Along with the job, I've gotten heavily involved with Final Draft-- I'm even Executive Producing next week's Radiothon Show! Radiothon is basically our subscriber drive; it goes for two weeks and we need Sydneysiders who listen to the station to pitch in. If you've got $66 lying around, and you want to support community radio in Sydney, click here!

I also went up to Newcastle last weekend for an arts, music, theatre and writing festival called This is Not Art. It's an annual festival, at the beginning of October; I got a ride up with my pal Aidan and his partner Robbie. It seems like TiNA got started as a visual arts festival for cutting edge artists, but ended up spawning several festivals, including the National Young Writer's Festival, the Crack Theatre Festival, Electrofringe (I still don't know what that's about), and others, I'm sure, others.

Newcastle is about three hours from Sydney by train, an old city.
Tons of people live there, it's got a great university, but the city itself is sort of a ghost town. For some reason, all the city shops are closed up and empty; it's nearly impossible to find a decent coffee. And that's weird for Australia, most of the cities are rotten with cafes. The city is being left behind for new suburban centres; apparently, the Central Business District itself has shifted away from the...centre. I felt like Newcastle was hollow; for five days, TiNA filled it with young festival-going weirdos and used the abandoned shopfronts to showcase truly bizarre performance art. But when we left, I felt like the city would just echo.

These two spent about five hours getting dressed up with fake eyelashes and the works, just for the performance of it. And this was part of the Writer's Festival. Wheatpasted all around town, fortune cookie wisdom hid in the small, unnoticed places, like an unused bathroom.

Another cool thing I got to see was the Hyperbolic Coral Reef. A very cool international project, founded in LA, the Crochet Coral Reef is just that, and so much more. It's meant to bring attention to the disappearance of the Great Barrier Reef.

There wasn't much light in the room, so the picture isn't fabulous, but still, it was an amazing sight. I can't imagine hand-crocheting hyperbolic coral forms. How do you do that?

Like any festival, parts were amazing, other parts were skincrawl horrible. But I saw some of the most amazing theatre I've ever seen in my life. Yeah, I know, I don't go to much theatre, so I don't have a whole wealth of experience to compare. But these guys are amazing. I couldn't stop smiling; their show thrilled and exhilarated and hushed and wilted. Watch the video on their website for a taste of their weird, dark fairytale style. Mr. Fibby was easily the best thing at that festival.

You want more? All the events at TiNA are free. If you can get yourself to Newcastle, find somewhere to stay, and pay for your food and drink, you can go to everything at TiNA, no additional cost. In fact, they even make accommodation cheap-- you can camp out at Tent City for only $10/night. I was camping, and I wanted to stay for the whole festival, but two days in, it rained. And it turns out my tent isn't waterproof. Saturday morning, I awoke to rain falling on my face, wet pillows, wet sleeping bags and wet camp beds. Miserable and cold, I packed up my stuff, hung out at the festival for as long as I could, and took the late train into Sydney. Coming back to town, seeing rainy slick streets lined with storefronts that I knew would be full of fruit and frames and records and furniture in the morning, Sydney felt alive and full, and I was on my way to getting dry.

*right, my birthday is on Halloween.