Thursday, July 2, 2015

Almost home

I don't usually have need for an air sickness bag, but seeing a grown man watching back to back episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians was almost enough.

Unfortunate name

The name of tonight's hotel concierge, no joke, Candy Yam.

Also, I returned to the hotel at 5:45 and asked what stores might be available for some light shopping. She said they've all closed for the night. Sigh.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Syd Vicious

I only had one day to escape lovely, lame Canberra to Sydney, so I jumped in feet first. I hopped a 5 AM bus heading Northeast, and arrived in Sydney by morning. By foot over about 3 miles, and with some assistance from the fantastic I'm Free Walking Tour (, I was able to take in Hyde Park, QVB, Customs House, Rum Hospital, Barracks, St. Mary's, Australia Museum, War Memorial, George Street, the Rocks, Sydney Tower, Martin Place, Pitt Street, and of course Circular Quay, Harbor Bridge and Opera House.
That was in the morning.
Then I celebrated the presence of Uber with a lift over to Bondi for a delicious lunch at a lovely kosher bakery and outdoor cafe with a prime people-watching on Hall Street.
I spent my afternoon walking down 4 miles of eye-popping beaches, filled with surfers, volleyball players, bathers (sun and surf) and families despite the relatively cool winter season.
Back to Bondi for dinner - I did not restrain my gluttony since this is the only locale I'll be in all trip with kosher restaurants - and then back to the bus for a late night return to Canberra.
This makes a total of almost 35 miles I've walked over the course of the last few days. I'm done. Really done. Returning from work tomorrow directly to bed.

I {3 OU

Never thought I'd say it, but boy do I miss hashgachot. Shopping off a list - even an electronic list - is horrendous.
Forget the amount of extra time it takes. Ignore the stares of the people waiting behind you in the skinny aisles while you balance your phone in one hand and your mostly empty shopping cart in the other. And pay no attention to the brain freeze that sets in when you're trying to calculate currency conversion while simultaneously guessing which brand has the most kosher sounding name (which, for the record, is not a meaningful indicator).
Shopping off the list saps your will to eat.
When you decide "I want crackers", and you search one brand of crackers, then a second brand of crackers, then a third brand of crackers, coming up empty each time, you then think "Do I really want crackers? I don't really need crackers. Forget crackers." and move on to the next food item.
After you do this for 15 food items, and the only thing in your cart is bananas that are five times as expensive as they are at home because the minimum wage here is AUS$16.87/hour, you curse loudly, throw a bottle of water, a tin of chewing tobacco and a home decor magazine into your basket and storm out of there muttering "I'll eat AIR! OVERPRICED BANANAS and AIR!" under your breath.
God bless hashgachot in all of their greed, hypocrisy and illogic. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Trauma-less-ness in art

I was in no rush to return home from lunch on Saturday since Shabbat ended early (5:29 pm) and my electronic key prevented me from getting back into my room anyway without staff assistance. So, as I am wont to do, I meandered.
I passed the Australian National Archives, which a huge yellow sign out front proclaiming "Come in. We're open. It's free." I thought "you had me at free" and trotted on in. The lady at the front desk immediately asked me "are you here for the talk?" To which I responded, "I could be, what's the talk about." She: "It's about Trauma and Art and it starts in five minutes." Me: "Sold." She: "It's in the Menses Room down the hall to the left." Me: (silently) "That's gross." (aloud) "Thank you!"
Outside the horrifyingly named but otherwise nondescript Menses Room, a woman stood with a clipboard. She: "Are you here for the talk?" Me: "Why yes I am." She: "Well it's about to start. Did you register in advance?" Me: "I did no such thing. Is that a problem?" She: "We'll find a space for you. Give me your name and head inside." I then proceeded into a room empty of anyone except me, the speaker, and a photographer. Larf.
The talk didn't start for another 20 minutes, and another two dozen people showed up, but the Friday allowed me to read the catalog on their current special exhibition Without Consent an exhibit following the national apology for a series of forced and manipulated adoptions occurring over decades to prevent the shame of single, out-of-wedlock motherhood. (The comparative shame of government sanctioned, church executed cold hearted child abductions was apparently not weighed until years later.) It was a fascinating discussion of a scandalous open secret which went on for decades and whet my appetite for the presentation.
For while the talk was sponsored by the exhibition, instead of being an exploration of the pain and suffering those actions certainly caused, it was a snot nosed punk artiste who by his own admission "had a privileged life and never experienced any sort of trouble whatsoever" using his art to protest the fear instilled by the police state in Australia has become in the age of terrorism and memorializing the "pointless" deaths of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
For the record, the only things to fear in Australia are crocodiles and ennui. The government is as benign as a butterfly. Their enduring shame is their treatment of the aborigines, and believe you me, if Native Americans were treated half as well as First Peoples are here, there would be a casino on every street corner, and we'd all live in places called Monnockkesey and Conshahocken. In order for this to be a police state, first they'd need to get some police. All deaths in war are tragic, but the loss of soldiers' lives do not condemn a war anymore than justify it. This kid had no right to invoke their deaths to make political point against policy he disagreed with, if he could even form that argument.

The Tasman Sea defeats me

After a lovely few miles walking from Bondi beach through Clovelly, Tamarama, and Bronte, I decided that I would end off at Coogee by dipping my toes into the Tasman Sea. Recognizing that I had no change of clothes and a three and a half hour bus ride back to Canberra waiting for me at the other end, I determined I would sacrifice what meager fashion sense I maintain and try to keep dry. I deposited my socks and shoes in my backpack, rolled my pants up to my ankles and bravely (if dorkily) approached the surf. At high tide, the waves are a bit unpredictable, but I played it safe, walking only along the edge of the damp sand, figuring that was the furthest the water had reached. Seeing a few kids frolicking in the foam emboldened me, and I took about three steps towards the crystal blue expanse. Mere seconds after doing so, the largest wave I had seen yet that day came crashing in, soaking me in sand and sea from head to toe.

Tasman Sea 1, Sloan 0.

A civilized end to a magnificent day

This is the way to wait for a bus...

Save your time...

I don't know why I bother blogging the trip... This video already says it all.

Mind you, it's the dead of winter here

Now off to find P Sherman

Saturday, June 27, 2015

You mean you don't have lorikeets?

As I walked to shul on Saturday morning, a thick, cloying fog enveloped Canberra. Visibility was poor, and crossing the bridges gave the impression of complete nothingness on either side, as if one was as likely to emerge into Asgard as the Parliamentary Quarter.
Once off the bridge, I detected motion to either side of me. This was notable, because Canberra is generally empty and still. Like neutron bomb empty. By 8 pm, the sidewalks are clear, the traffic lights change for empty intersections. There are no police. There are no homeless. There are no drunks or celebrants stumbling home from the bars and clubs. There is no litter blowing in the breeze. It is still like death.
So detecting any motion was a surprise. I saw birds feeding in the grass on either side of the sidewalk. Rather than the gray, awkward pigeons with vacant eyes that populate most cities I'm familiar with, these were parrots. Legit parrots, colorful feathers, brilliant red heads, little curved beaks, eating by the side of the road as if they were unaware that they were supposed to be starring in an advertisement for a tropical vacation. Sure enough as my walk progressed, I saw cockatiels in the trees and parrots in regal greens and blues hopping on the light posts, squawking and taking advantage of the city which had obviously been abandoned for their enjoyment.
Remarking on this point to another American later, she recounted a conversation with an Australian in which she tried to describe that all the birds at home are brown and grey. The Australian responded, with amazement in place of irony, "you mean you don't have lorikeets?" Enough already with the made up words. Every bus I passed that evening was going to Tuggeranong. Just... enough.
The small Jewish community consists of a single building which hosts both an orthodox and a progressive community under the same roof, echoes of Hillel. Though we fell just short of a minyan on Friday night, every single person in the room was warm and welcoming. I had dinner with a lovely couple who had brought their accents with when they left Glasgow decades ago, so our hours of lovely, lively conversation sounded like a Mike Myers skit. Shabbat morning included a few younger representatives of the community, and a more robust attendance, with the welcome surprise of more women than men. Hearing the blessing for "Elizabeth, Queen of Australia" is still completely dissonant for me, but I'm in their house, so I hold my tongue. The Rabbi was a young, energetic, eloquent and warm scholar from whom we will doubtless hear more in the future. His young daughter clung to his leg, eyeing me as if I was about to steal all the lollipops. Each of my attempts at peekaboo were cause for her to bury her face deeper in her father's tallis. Little did she know though that I was invited for lunch as well! By the time we were past kiddush, we were already on the floor planning a Disney princess matching game, and shortly after lunch we were building and destroying Duplo towers, and reading books on the sofa. I still got it. Her adorableness was multiplied by her heavy accent which her father insisted was a New Zealand affect, not that atrocious Australian whine. (Naturally, I cannot distinguish the two, but he was quite insistent.)
I've followed my typical modus operandi for encountering a new city, which is simply to walk, get lost, and find an alternative way home to see as much as I can. My pedometer is more fond of this than my feet are, but they have yet to truly protest, despite my walking more than twenty miles over the past three days. Canberra has some cool looking stuff, and I've now been to the majority of sites ringing Lake Burley Griffen, as well as the old and new Parliament buildings, but unfortunately have few pictures to share. Since the sun is down before 5 pm, I'm either viewing these sites in the pitch black, or it's Shabbat. I've include some of the nighttime ones here, but they don't do it justice.
I'm planning Sunday in Sydney, so hopefully I'll have some more visuals to share after that.
Shavua tov!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Last call for Wogga Wogga

Always excited to explore a new city, but as always, you have to make it there first.

My trip was delayed a day because it turns out the folks at the airport are rather stringent on the requirement to have a passport with you when traveling internationally. Not my finest moment as a business traveler. Fortunately my client was amused, not enraged. I nearly missed planes twice and nearly lost my luggage twice, but arrived intact.

The first thing I heard announced in an Australian airport was "Last Call for Wogga Wogga", which would make a great name for a Wiggles album (who I believe are also Australian). For the record, Wogga Wogga is a real place, and not just making the same nonsense noise twice to see if any one calls you on it.

Saw my first "Caution: Kangaroo Crossing" sign.

Also experienced a series of wake-up calls from the native birds, the Canberra Kookaburras. Kookaburra is an aboriginal word meaning "strangling a baby", or at least I assume so based on the noises they are making outside my window. The Canberra Kookaburras would make a great name for a rugby team. It also is the name of the local rugby team.

I am in a land of funny made up words that people pretend are real.

Since its the middle of the winter the sun sets before 5 pm. As such, I'm off to wander around in the dark.