Friday, April 30, 2010

Concert Review: Regina Spektor

A few weeks ago, my friend Anna asked me if I wanted to go see Regina Spektor with her. Even though I'm not all that familiar with her music, I do like a couple of her songs, and let's face it, when you move to a new city and don't have many friends, you might as well say yes when someone asks you to do something. The show was at the Palais Theater, which reminded me of The Orpheum in Boston, only it's been renovated and sits right on the beach. And the show was very good! First of all, Regina Spektor is immensely popular in Australia (her music gets a lot of play on Triple J, an excellent radio station that's sort of like an indie rock NPR without the annoying NPR voices) so the crowd was really into it. It turns out I knew a lot of the songs, ones that sounded familiar but I didn't realize they were hers. Most of the songs were backed up by cello, violin, and drums, and of course Regina playing the piano, but I was most impressed by her voice- strong and clear, and she sang for almost two straight hours, even going a capella at one point (ballsy!). She has a nice stage presence- she seems to be enjoying the performance and comes across as both quirky and friendly, although it guess it makes it easier when the audience obviously adores you. Reviews from last night's show aren't out yet, but here's one from her Sydney concert.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dandenong Ranges

This past weekend lasted an extra day due to ANZAC Day, which is essentially Australia's version of Veterans Day. These Australian state holidays feel like bonus days off to me, kind of like when we used to get the Jewish holidays off from school- not my holiday, but I'll take it! D and I headed up to the Dandenong Ranges for a couple of days of nature and relaxation. Highlights included:

Me driving on the left, yeah yeah!! It wasn't so hard to stay on the left side of the road as it was to get used to things in the car being in the wrong place. I kept turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker and looking up and to the right instead of to the left for the rearview mirror. However, aside from one itty bitty incident when I kinda sorta drove off the road, I think I did quite well.

I heard and saw a kookaburra (pictured above). Their call really does sound like crazy laughing. Now all that remains on my wildlife list is the elusive echidna.

Devonshire tea. Popular in that part of Victoria, it's tea served with warm scones, jam, and whipped cream. YES PLEASE.

Creepy statues at the William Ricketts Sanctuary. Eccentric man moves into the woods and creates hundreds of statues that reflect his personal philosophies about nature and religion. Said philosophies involve bearded men and Aboriginal children's heads growing out of rocks. Work of a madman living in the forest or a state park? You decide. (I vote the former.)

More pictures:
Devonshire tea, creepy statues, and me and D (who, contrary to photographic evidence, does not dress like a Sith Lord. A gust of wind provided that special effect.) on top of Mount Dandenong.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


1. Sacrilegious link of the day: I saw a post on Metafilter about a controversial crucifix in a church in Oklahoma City. Then I looked at the painting and laughed out loud. Distended abs? I don't think so.

2. Here's a gallery of photos of Eyjafjallajokul from's The Big Picture. The first one is particularly badass. Volcano lightning!

3. And lastly, WebEcoist has posted a collection of interspecies friendship photos. Awwwww. I've seen some of these before, but there are some cute ones and some hard-to-believe ones (a polar bear hugging a wolf?) in there. Thanks, Tom!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

I just finished one of the trippiest books I've ever read- The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, by Hakuri Murakami. The protagonist, Toru Okada, is thirty year old Japanese man living a mundane life, until everything normal begins to unravel. A strange woman calls, the cat disappears, his wife runs away, and at the same time, a number of unusual characters start appearing in his life, from a psychic and her sister to lonely teenage girl to a World War II veteran with a tale to tell. I can't really even begin to describe the story- it's so weird (like a Japanese book version of an arty film from France) and oh so very long, clocking it at a dense 607 pages. Although I did like the book, it took me FOREVER to finish- normally, I'm a pretty fast reader but I really struggled with this one. On the plus side, it's definitely interesting and well-written and I liked the main character as well as some of the side ones, like the stylish mother and son duo who run a secret psychic enterprise. On the down side, occasionally the story veers off on metaphysical tangents about the soul, past lives, and whatnot, and I found these stretches tedious and would have enjoyed the book at lot more if it were just a touch more straightforward. It did redeem itself a bit with the ending, which did come up with an explanation for a lot of the trippy spiritual mystery stuff.

And now for something even weirder that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle:

This music video by a band called Hot Chip. I've never heard of the band before but I saw the video and could not get it out of my head, it's so weird! I can't decide if it's brilliant and hilarious or just fucked up. Watch for yourself and let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Adventures in Australian bathrooms

Those of you who ever visited my old apartment in Southie will likely recall the one tiny and awful bathroom. My current apartment is much newer, and one of the benefits is a nice, big shiny bathroom. It's so clean and big- it has a glass shower with excellent water pressure, and the nozzle is high enough so I don't have to resort to odd yoga poses in order to wash my hair. It even has a separate bathtub, and although I haven't taken a bath in over a decade, I pulled a muscle in my soccer game today so I might go for a soak tonight. But here's the weird part- right next to the bathroom is....a strange little room that I refer to as the Toilet Closet. It is literally a closet with a toilet in it. No sink, no window, no shelves or cabinets. Just a toilet. Apparently in older Australian homes, the toilet was often located in a separate room from the tub/shower, but this is a modern apartment and the normal bathroom already has a toilet. The presence of a second toilet really doesn't make any sense- the apartment is a two bedroom and not very big, and doesn't have any closets outside of the bedrooms or any sort of pantry area at all, so some additional storage space would be a lot more handy than a second toilet. But hey, I guess it could be useful if I ever throw a St. Patrick's Day party and/or accidentally eat a plateful of fettucini alfredo.

In other news, bank card restored, dongle recharged, so I'm back online again.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

W X Y Zed

Of all of the differences between life in Australia and life in the United States, nothing has been a startling as learning that the letter Z is pronounced "Zed" not "zee." I mean, I can handle going clockwise through a rotary, but Zed?!! That's messed up.

In somewhat related news, an ATM ate my bank card on Friday night, which I use to pay for my fancy internet dongle, so posting might be a little scarce over the next few days until my new card arrives and I can recharge the dongle (DIRTY!). I guess I've been a bit of a slacker about blogging lately, but no worries, I'll get back on the ole bloghorse soon enough. My bank is ANZ, and until I figured out the whole Z=Zed thing I had no idea what people were saying when they said my bank's name.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Easter in Canberra

Last weekend, I took advantage of two days off from work and headed to Canberra, Australia’s capital, to meet up with Kris and Rodd. The timing worked out quite well, as one of Kristy’s friends who lives in Canberra was going away for Easter and let us stay in our house (thanks, Bells!)- which was both cheaper and far more enjoyable than staying in a hotel. Canberra has a reputation for being really, really boring, and it isn’t exactly unwarranted. It’s a planned city that was designed to be the capital largely to avoid stoking the flames of the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry. The layout is similar to Washington, DC, with museums and government buildings set along a wide, grassy mall..…only there are hardly any people around (especially on a holiday weekend when parliament isn’t in session), so it feels eerily empty. Nevertheless, we found plenty to do. I arrived on Friday night, and since nearly everything was closed for Good Friday, we had dinner at home and proceeded to catch up over copious amounts of alcohol.

On Saturday, we had hot cross buns for breakfast- my only prior knowledge of hot cross buns was a from the song of the same name used when teaching children how to play the recorder, but they actually exist (see Exhibit A) and are baked goods traditionally eaten around Easter. After that, it was Day of Museums. First, the National Portrait Gallery (very cool with lots of photography), then Questacon science museum (nerd alert!), then Parliament itself, the best part of which is the grass on top of the roof that is perfect for lounging, and to be honest, seems like a prime location for smoking a joint. I’m sure thousands of Australian teenagers have had the same thought. Our main reason for the trip to Canberra was to see the special exhibit of impressionism paintings on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in France- several works by Cezanne, Seurat, Monet, and Van Gogh, among others, were on display. Lines were huge all day long so we waited until late afternoon and just waltzed right in.

Sunday morning, I accompanied Kris on a training run for her upcoming half-marathon (luckily for me it was a “taper down” week) and then we headed out to theTidbinbilla Nature Reserve for a lovely day of picnicking, bushwalking (heh), and sightseeing. We spotted heaps of kangaroos, some pretty cool birds, and an emu dad with three little emus. Awwww. On the way back to the city, we stopped by a space tracking center to see the largest satellite dish in the southern hemisphere (nerd alert part II!), a joint venture between Australia and NASA.

On Monday morning we had breakfast at a genuine pancake house, the kind with booths that look straight out of the 1970s. It was divine. The bacon was still weird but they pancakes, eggs, and coffee were all prepared in the classic American style. To kill some time before my flight, we returned to the art museum to see the regular displays- my favorite was a series of paintings by Australian artist Sidney Nolan depicting the story of Ned Kelly, a legendary outlaw along the lines of Jesse James or Billy the Kid. The paintings are colorful and striking in that Ned Kelly is portrayed as a boxy black figure in order to represent the homemade armor he once wore during a famous shootout.

All in all, I had a fantastic weekend, and if you want to read a more detailed account (with more photos!), you can check out Kristy’s version.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

On holiday

Easter is a big travel time in Australia as most people have Friday and Monday off, myself included (thank you, Jesus!). So on my first trip since I've been here, I'm headed to Canberra, the capital, which is commonly regarded as the most boring city in Australia. However, I'm sure that Kristy, Rodd, and I will have a blast. We've got tickets to a special art exhibition and then will probably do some other nerd stuff and hopefully hit a nearby national park for a little hiking, or as they call it here, "bushwalking." Hahaha.

On the downside, I was hoping to torment Kris with peeps like in our college days, but alas, I'm now living in a peep-free land. Speaking of peeps, another former roommate and witness/participant to peeps hijinx, Kelly, sent me this link to a collection of fantastic peep dioramas. Who doesn't love a candy themed diorama?