Sunday, November 30, 2008

Endings

My roommates seem to have successfully rented out my room already. I guess I really am leaving soon, and now, I guess I have to go! Departure for New Zealand in 14 days!

Thanksgiving with the Expats

In an effort to celebrate Thanksgiving at the right time, we waited until Friday, when we could sit down at the table at the same time, in absolute time (whatever that is), as our loved ones back home. Actually, no one here had Thursday off.

Tyler, a full-timer at AGSM and his girl Melody helped to plan. Here is an excerpt of the invitation:

Dear Friends of America,

Every year, millions of our countrymen give thanks for the day the baby Moses descended from heaven and presented Abraham Lincoln, leader of the Pilgrims, with a magnificent tryptophan laden bird, the Turkey, so that he might tranquilize the Indians and their leader, the she-devil Pocahontas, and capture Plymouth Rock. Once again, the time has come to celebrate and remember the cranberry sauce spilled by our forefathers at the first thanksgiving…

Where:

Elise and Antonio’s house. Narrabeen- 195 Ocean Street. It’s on the beach, so bring your floaties.

We dutifully packed our swimmers, rented a car, and headed up to Narrabeen.


View Larger Map

Elise and Antonio were wonderful hosts, despite having suffered earlier drama involving a broken oven. On the one hand, Australian oven repairers don't quite understand the drama of having a broken oven on Thanksgiving. ("Thankswhat?") On the other hand, you can actually reach an oven repairman on Thanksgiving, and have a prayer of having a new one delivered.

Anyway, the turkey came out fine, everyone brought yummy food, and LOTS of wine, and all was very merry. I brought asparagus, because it's plentiful here this spring, and my mom's spinach and artichoke heart casserole, which I finally realized is really fancied-up creamed spinach. I especially liked having the chance to take a walk on the beach, with Harvey, Tyler and Melody's black lab puppy (full grown, but still a puppy). I saw Orion upside down, and the coastline stretching towards Sydney, and I marveled at how here it was, Thanksgiving, and I wasn't freezing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Big travel oops

It turns out the super early morning flight from Cairns to Sydney originates in Japan. Which means that it passes through the international terminal. Which means that at six AM, when it's already over 90 and so humid that your cardboard boarding pass would go limp, if you had one, but you don't, because you showed up at the domestic terminal, you have to run the half mile between terminals, with your luggage, hoping you run fast enough they don't close the flight before you get there. It also means that for the first time since you arrived in Australia, someone asks to see ID before you board the flight. It further means upon reaching Sydney you will clear customs with all the Japanese tourists, and therefore you need real ID, like a passport. Which you left in Sydney, thinking you were so smart not to risk having your passport stolen while staying at a sketchy hostel, or having your passport drown when you are forced to abandon ship on the reef due to a grease fire set by an over enthusiastic apprentice cook. Or some idiot who feels the need to burn incense in their tiny shoebox of a bunk. Or any number of other immensely logical reasons you came up with to leave your passport at home.

What it really means is that there was no reason to get up at the crack of dawn. No reason to skip the last dive of the trip, the one where you finally made it to the best dive site. Which you did because you were concerned the nitrogen you'd built up in your tissues over the last days wouldn't have time to escape before your uber early flight, and then you'd ascend to 30,000 feet and either inflate like a balloon, or worse explode.

Mostly, what it means is that the group meetings that you had promised to attend, the ones you had structured your trip around, are going to have to do without you. While you sit, for seven hours, in the domestic terminal waiting for the next flight to Sydney.

Found: Nemo


Let me start by saying that I like diving. A lot. Once I got over the shear panic induced by the thought of swimming under 60 feet of water with a perfect stranger and no clue of where I was going or how to avoid getting lost, then running out of air and drowning, I even realized I like diving without an instructor! It's so peaceful and easy. Unless you're fairly shallow and don't have enough weight, in which case you get sucked up to the surface and can't get back down no matter how hard you swim. So you have to float there like an idiot and watch your buddy seeing all sorts of cool things from up close while you barely catch a glimpse, until finally he clues in that you're missing and comes up to tow you back down. Then it's a pain.

The rest of the time, the feeling of weightlessness is wonderful. So wonderful that on my last dive I spent an extra five minutes hanging out at the decompression stage, turning somersaults and photographing the surface. This was only a problem because my buddy, at that point the newly fully-certified Benedetta, had motioned that she was ready to go up, and then surfaced. She thought I had agreed to be right behind her, and I thought I had agreed she should go up, and I would hang out. Suffice it to say she had started to grow concerned. Communication is definitely harder under water.

Let me back up: Last Tuesday, Benedetta, Sara and I flew to Cairns, in Queensland. We hung out at the hostel and crashed early. It was too damn hot and humid to do anything else. The next morning, armed with B's Italian Lonely Planet we found an amazing breakfast spot. Very good eggs, salads and juices, and an even better vibe. If you're even in Cairns, I highly recommend a visit. Not that there's so much else to do there. The best thing about our day in Cairns was getting to hang out with Dan and Goldie, who were passing through on their way to Port Douglas. Cairns has taken an innovative approach to a central plaza. Appropriately for a city that's got an average annual temperature of 90, with 62% humidity, they've built a wonderful pool right on the ocean. Called the lagoon, it's irregularly shaped, shallow, and the perfect place to sit in the shade and talk. I was very impressed and the civic planning that went into it.

The next day, Sara, Benedetta and I woke up early and got a ride to the harbor, where we met up with the rest of the group that had signed up for this dive trip through Pro Dive. All told, there were about 30 of us, plus 6 crew: Ben (skipper), Arek (Divemaster), Lucy (awesome cook), Aaron (taught the English speaking dive course), Chris (taught the advanced dive course), and Sue (taught the German speaking dive course). We were quite the mixed group - a bunch of Germans, a nearly-equal number of Danes, a couple from Poland, a Frenchman, an Austrian, a couple Canadians... The interesting thing was that it helped to uncover how many unexpected languages people speak.

After a fairly smooth three hour boat ride to the Outer Great Barrier Reef, we anchored on Milln Reef. And quickly started diving! The first day we did four dives on two parts of that reef, one at night! Chris borrowed our rented underwater camera to get a great shot of a little shrimpy thing - you can see its antennas pointing down at the right edge of the photo.

The following day we did another four dives on two more dive spots, although I skipped the last one, since my ears were hurting following some exaggerated descents while I was having trouble with my buoyancy control. By that point we had moved over to another reef nearby, and the diving just kept getting better! Definitely, a once in a lifetime experience.




Turtle eating jellyfish:
video

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hunter Valley


This weekend, a group of us (much, but not all of the wine club) made it to Hunter Valley, which is the wine growing region near Sydney. We drove up Saturday morning and came back mid-day on Sunday, which provided a brief break from the city during which I tried not to obsess about how much I have to do. It's getting to crunch time as the term ends, and I am not so happy to be reminded, emphatically, that I am actually here to study.

On Saturday we stopped at the following wineries:
1) Ernest Hill - this was the first place I tried a wine made from a hybrid grape called Chambourcin that's very popular here.
2) Peacock Hill Vineryard
3) Calais Estate - we had a nice, but very slow lunch at their Veranda restaurant, and I had fun taking photos of their gorgeous purple tree,
their skyscapes,

and my friends.
4) I forget. A very nice lady served us, but I really forget. Oops. On the way there, we saw an amazing storm blow in over the vines.
5) Oakvale Wines

After the wineries closed, we headed to the town of Abermain, where we had found a reasonably priced hotel. The Abermain Hotel was quite a trip. The whole place seemed like it had been frozen in time since 1947, except for the people hanging out in the pub that took up most of the ground floor. They had made it to 1993 before time stopped. And/or they were just characters.

After much group indecision and confusion, including a brilliant moment of cross cultural aggravation when Anne was denied entrance to an 18+ venue for not carrying an official ID, for the second time this week, we made it to the town of Cessnock, where we had a fairly good, but VERY slow thai dinner.

Upon our return to the Abermain Hotel we hung out in the bar and listened to the Brazillian Brothers band play classics from the 80s and early 90s, and watching the scene. I was very excited by the fact that it seemed the locals had designated spots at the bar. José made a number of conquests, but sadly, was too choosy to decide between the guy in the half shirt and the woman who was so drunk she couldn't speak but kept trying.

The next morning, after a very yummy breakfast cooked by our hostess at the hotel, we headed out to find a chocolate tasting. Or a cheese tasting. Instead we found a number of very touristy shops, and some pretty good sparkling. Although I have to admit, I find the idea of sparkling red wine very strange, and I really can't get excited about trying to taste the difference between sparkling merlot, and sparkling cabernet sauvingnon. Perhaps I have become, after all this wine exposure, a snob? The strangest, but perhaps best, espcially if you've got a sweet tooth like mine, was the sparkling botrytis semillion. At that point it's really not wine, but rather sparkling alcoholic sugar water. Yum.

So that was my adventure in Hunter Valley. I'm exhausted and incredibly behind on work, but it was definitely worth it. If only to have the occasion to take this shot:

And here's the recap of all the photos, for those of you who are gluttons for punishment.



Friday, November 14, 2008

Wine Night 6 - Sparkling



Yumm...

Kerri hosted us last night in her awesome apartment. We (I) got a little greedy with the champagnes, so we had 6 bottles to taste. Which would have been fine if the full complement of 12 had been able to make it. Unfortunately, a few people had to drop out, so we all had a lot of champagne. But it's sooo good! Anyway, it was lots of fun to taste a bunch of Australian sparkling wines, including, of all things, a sparkling shiraz. My favorite was the Yarra Burn 2006, followed closely by the Yarrabank 2001.

Afterwards, we went to the Royal for a drink, where we ran into some folks from AGSM. Turns out that a team from the class had won the Peter Farrell Cup that night, which is the business plan competition they have here. Many congrats to the wicked smaht braniacs behind FML Recruitment!


Koalas, cuddling of


Benedetta, José and I went to the Koala Sanctuary in Pennant Hills on Wednesday. The sanctuary has a bunch of animals that are unique to this continent, including wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, and echidnas, but we really were interested in the koalas. And they sure are cute. Sadly, I didn't actually get to cuddle one, since apparently that stresses them out too much. I did get to pet one, while it was distracted by a nice juicy bunch of eucalyptus leaves.



I learned:
1) Koalas are not bears at all, so don't you dare call them that.
2) Koalas do not drink water under ordinary circumstances. They get all the moisture they need from the eucalyptus leaves they eat.
3) Contrary to popular belief, the eucalyptus leaves do not intoxicate the koalas. They just look stoned. But seriously, I have a hard time believing they aren't on something. They're so sleepy they fall asleep in the midst of reaching from one branch to the next.



video
This bird says, in an Australian accent, "hello dahling, wanna cracka?"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend in Sydney (the next-to-next-to-last)




No, I'm not headed out quite yet, but I am going to be doing some more traveling in the coming weeks. So I thought I'd make this weekend count. At the same time, I'm tired! I definitely needed some time to veg, and try to fight off the cold I can feel coming on.


These first photos are of the sunset at Coogee beach on Thursday night, when we had our combined barbecue and wine night.

On Friday I was a good girl and did some work, as well as numerous loads of laundry. Late night I made it out to the Abercrombie Hotel for Purple Sneakers. Interesting aspect of life in Sydney - almost none of the places called XYZ Hotel are actually hotels. Apparently, it's cheaper to get a liquor license if you are a hotel, presumably so that your drunken patrons have a place to pass out if necessary. However, you make more money if you use all your space to pack in people who are drinking, not sleeping. So in actuality Hotel = Bar. I've been told, however, that in order to maintain the status of hotel, they have to maintain at least one room that you could, theoretically, rent. My mission is clear: find these rooms. They have to be totally weird, and probably highly sketchy. Just my style. Anyway, it was fun checking out a new spot, and cool to be at a place that was playing music other than Justin Timberlake. Even if the vast majority of the crowd seemed to have been born in 1990.

On Saturday, Benedetta and I took the ferry over to Balmain, one of the suburbs in the Inner West. Again, interesting aspect of life in Sydney - there are places that it's much more convenient to get to by ferry. And also, they call their neighborhoods suburbs. I guess they're sort of like burroughs in NYC, as they have their own town councils, but they're generally a lot smaller. Anyway, Balmain used to be a center of ship building activity, and has a lot of cool old buildings. We wandered around the Saturday market there, and then had a coffee. Very nice.



On Sunday, I had brunch with the ladies who study abroad (Anne, Benedetta and Courtney). We went to Bills, which came highly recommended. But my experience was less than stellar, leading me once again to realize that when it comes to food, I'm just too damn American to adapt. Sunday night, a group of us went to Hugo's Lounge, which was my first trip to Kings Cross. It doesn't matter where you're from, you've gotta love $5 pizza and drinks. I liked the decor a lot, but the people watching was fantastic! Definitely a bunch of peacocks gathered to strut their stuff. Nicola and I danced for a bit, and then I went home and stayed up too late finishing the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Nothing like a trashy teenage vampire love story to round out the weekend.

Liner Notes



I made a mix for the MTC (Mix Tape Club) at Anderson. Kristin Ashcraft gets a huge shout out for being willing to burn and distribute the mix to the club. It's rather silly to try participating from this far away, but the MTC is one of the best parts about being at Anderson, and all the mixes that will be awaiting me are one of the things I'm most looking forward to about going back. Anyway, here's a copy of the liner notes, just in case you wanted to hear the soundtrack I've been listening to.


Evolution of an endless summer
This year was the first time in seven years I didn’t spend the summer in San Francisco. Not surprisingly, when I actually got to see the sun, this summer was also the time when I finally realized how much there is to like about LA. And just as I was starting to feel the end of summer approaching, I fled to Sydney, where instead of watching the leaves fall I’ve been sneezing all over myself as the jacaranda trees come into bloom. I had planned on making a mix of all the crazy Aussie music I’ve heard. But it turns out they listen to the exact same cheezypop we hear stateside. So instead I’m submitting a selection of the songs I’ve listened to during the sunniest six months of my life.

Ready or Not – Fugees
I was sitting in a bar in Melbourne two weekends ago and I thought I heard this song. It turns out wasn’t the same song at all, but something about the base note of that one made me think about the intro to this one, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since.

Girl and the Sea – The Presets
I had originally planned on putting this band’s other song, This Boys in Love on my mix, since that song is getting a ton of airplay here right now. But even though I like that song I’ve started to find it wearing. And since I’m hoping you’ll listen to this mix over and over, I had to switch it out. Besides, I find the imagery in this song a bit tragic, and as you’ll see, there’s definitely a melancholic theme running through this mix.

Mondo Bongo – Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
This guy sounds so much like Bob Dylan to me. If Bob Dylan decided not to sing quite so deep in his throat and actually enunciated. I was going to include some genuine Dylan [Lonesome Day Blues off Love and Theft has one of the world’s best indictments: “he’s not a gentleman at all, he’s rotten to the core, he’s a coward and he steals”] but then I caught a portion of Mr. & Mrs. Smith at a friend’s house the other day and decided to use this song instead. Besides, it plays behind a really sexy love scene, and who can’t use more of those in their life?

Manhattan – Kings of Leon
I had heard of the band, but hadn’t heard their music until I got here. I’ve literally been addicted to their album Only by the Night ever since. I wake up and the first thing I do is put it on, and all day it’s on my headphones. So I highly recommend checking it out. This is the first of the several songs on this mix which feature a whiny guy. But these are the kinds of tuneful, sexy, brooding whiners that you wouldn’t kick out of bed even if they did have terrible morning breath.

Electric Feel – MGMT
This song is on the radio all the time here. And since Kristin but one of their songs on her mix, I decided I could too. Check out the music video on YouTube. Pretty trippy.


I Feel It All – Feist
This song also has a very cool music video. I started listening to Feist at the beginning of the summer, and her album The Reminder is one I will always associate with summer ’08. Particularly because I saw her in concert at the Hollywood Bowl. That concert was not a highlight of the summer, but my trips to the Bowl were, as were the drives up to Malibu blasting this song.

The Worst Things Beautiful – Ours
Here’s another sexy whiner. One that sounds oddly like Bono. Ok, so this song is derivative, and the first time you hear it you may spend the entire song wondering which bands it sounds like most. But I turned on the radio to try and stay awake on my drive home from Anderson at 3 AM the night before my group’s business plan was due last spring, and it was the perfect song at the perfect time. I’ve listened to it many times since, since it too is great for the drive up the PCH.

Ça Plane Pour Moi – Plastic Bertrand
Yes, this song was used in a trailer for Gossip Girl. But it’s zany and weird and makes no sense even if you do understand French. Besides, it woke you up, didn’t it?

I Love to Move in Here – Moby
This is a good driving song. Since I usually listen to music mostly when I’m in the car, I have to include at least one.

Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
I first heard this song, of all places, in the movie Shrek. It’s gorgeous, and sad, and that breath he takes at the beginning of the song is oddly effective. Buckley gets the award for king of the melancholic artsy-types on this album, since he may or may not have committed suicide, but definitely drowned in the Mississippi.

Fall at Your Feet (Acoustic) – James Blunt
Hopefully you’ll forgive me for including one of his songs since I didn’t use one that’s been played to death on the radio. But even if you don’t I’ll live. Happily ever after. With James Blunt. As long as he sings to me every day.

I Want You – Kings of Leon
I told you I was addicted to this album. Don’t think I didn’t think of just burning copies of their album for you as my “mix”. You can’t imagine how long it took me to weed it down to two songs. I particularly like the baseline of this one.

Hotel Song – Regina Spektor
Thank you Pandora. The first song of hers that I heard was in a mix I had seeded with Cat Power. I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that Kacy Qua scooped me with her, because she is really, really good. And her album Begin to Hope makes her sound like she’s your best friend, and standing in your living room in an old t-shirt and socks, singing and messing around on the piano as she waits for you to finish making her pancakes. She likes the ones that look like Mickey Mouse.

Bario Alto – Thievery Corporation
I had several Thievery Albums mixed in with my music, but I didn’t listen to them much. Until I decided they were a good excuse to go to the Hollywood Bowl at the beginning of the summer. I wound up with fantastic seats, even better weather, and my mind was officially blown. One advantage of living in LA, I discovered, is that the artists who are featured on an album also live there. And often they feel like dropping in and singing for the concert too.

Sweetest Girl – Wyclef Jean featuring Akon, Lil Wayne and Niia
I bought this album at the end of the school year last year, and this song in particular has gotten more than its share of plays ever since. Dollar, dollar bill, ya’ll!

Carry Me Away – Chris Lake featuring Emma Hewitt
I’m a terrible procrastinator. I can easily sit in front of my computer and get nothing done for hours at a time. So during finals when that became a particularly big problem, I would put this song on repeat and start cranking. It worked, and I still love the song. So I hope you’ll forgive the techno, because if this mix is the soundtrack to my summer, then this song goes on the cover.

Rosie’s Lullaby – Norah Jones
I thought I’d include one sexy melancholic female, just to round things out. This is my favorite song off Norah Jones’ latest album. I don’t like the album as much as her previous ones, but I still think if I ever find a magic lamp one of my wishes will be to sound like Norah Jones when I sing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Too damn busy

I had intended to post a nice long synopsis of my trip to Melbourne, but life has gotten hectic, and I realized that I owe you not only a travel update, but also an account of three wine nights and my scuba course. So:

1) Wine night, week 3 - Pinot Noir
I showed up late because I was caught in a group meeting. It turns out I actually do attend school here, although you probably had forgotten. Anyway, I didn't really like any of the wines, and REALLY didn't like the winner. I will post the winner soon, however, for the sake of the two of you who might actually care. The important part is mostly that I've figured out I don't like pinot. It tastes like stems to me.

2) Melbourne part I - Saturday 10/25 and Sunday 10/26
I had a fantastic weekend visiting Joyce, Dan and Rick who are all studying at Melbourne Business School. They picked me up from the airport and we drove out to Yarra Valley to go wine tasting. The first place we stopped was Punt Road, which had a beautiful view and very nice staff who let us sit outside and enjoy it while we tasted. I bought a bottle of the Chardonnay and one of the Botrytis Semillion desert wine, both of which are already gone. Yumm.




We also stopped at two more vineyards, where we met the very grumpy Bidelia, and played petanque. Finally, we stopped and had pizza at Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander. That place is big and filled with awesome food, and I'm so sad that I was too full to try their cute little lemon tarts.

The next day, we got a slow start which included a disastrous attempt at breakfast. If you go to Melbourne, do not eat at University Cafe. It's the only time any of us had ever canceled an order and left before eating. But it was still fun, because I was surrounded my people like Joyce, who declared with her usual effervescence "sorry I'm so cranky", and then laughed. We've decided that Joyce's brand promise is classy, bubbly and smart, in other words "champagne with a brain". Anyway, we would have been better served if we hadn't eaten anyway, as we headed to St. Kilda for a barbeque with some of the MBS exchange students. Toni and Flavio hosted, and fed us an amazing assortment of yumminess. We all kinda failed in our job though, as none of us could eat more than 1.5 of the three deserts.




3) Melbourne part 2 - AusBiotech
The two days after that I spent in the Melbourne Convention Center, at AusBiotech. It was a Biotech conference. Nuff said. Except, perhaps, that the Australian biotechnology industry is still developing.

4) Wine night, week 4 - Riesling / Halloween
We celebrated Halloween with a special Friday edition of wine night. It was yummy. Notice my descriptions of the wine are getting shorter. I promise I will update with the winners as soon as Casey (the keeper of the master spreadsheet) gets back from his trip to the Melbourne Cup. Sara, Nicola and I went out to Argyle after (kidnapping Ian on the way) and danced our butts off. The most entertaining part of the night was watching Nicola getting hit on by a band of merry men. I'm impressed anyone was able to convince that many guys to wear green tights. But maybe there's safety in numbers. I REALLY have to get Sara's photos of that.



5) Scuba
I got certified. It was fun, and interesting, and far less scary than I imagined. But the certification process was kinda boring, and even though we did 4 dives, I didn't see anything that interesting under water. Partly because by the time it got to be Sunday morning and we were on our third day of scuba school I was so exhausted that I forgot to put in my contact lenses before heading to the dive site. So I was diving without being able to see much. Add to that the low visibility (5m), and I feel pretty confident I'm not going to surprise myself and freak out.

6) Wine night 5 - Cabernet
We took advantage of the nice weather yesterday and had a bbq at Coogee Beach. José cooked some fabulous lamb on the 'barbie', and much fun was had until we figured out that the barbecues are on a timer and shut off at eight prompt. Which meant we wound up with a big plate of half-cooked sausages. But the wine we tasted was yummy across the board, so that was good. Now I know I like Cabernet better than Pinot Noir. See, I am learning something in Australia!