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Here are three things that I learned yesterday:

Kim Gordon, the bassist and singer from Sonic Youth, was nearly thirty when the band released their first album. When they release their next album she’ll be pushing sixty. “Youth” has always described the band’s sound rather than its members, but it’s still amazing to think that Kim Gordon is older than my parents and only five years younger than Stevie Nicks, who I think of as a prime example of a “nostalgia act.” But Sonic Youth have been putting out new full length records about every other year for the past three decades, and each one sounds fresh and vital.
Here they are performing from their most recent album earlier this year:

While his television program Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was in production, from 1968 to 2001, Fred Rodgers did most things the same way every day. They were mostly small things, like the way he took of his shoes or zipped up his jacket, but because he did them the same way, every day, they began to represent something. Many of the other small things that Mr. Rogers did every day were kind things, and so the way he took off he shoes every day began to mean something about comfort and security to ultra max gold hgh the children who watched his program. For their sake, he made sure to keep the way he lived consistent.
(Esquire ran a wonderful article about Fred Rogers back in 1998, and the part about his routine was excerpted here.)

Truman Capote famously told the Paris Review that he could not write at a desk:
I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning.
He gave that interview at age 33, and probably had recently finished writing Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He clearly had found a system that worked for him, although it’s tempting to wonder how things would have been different if he had stopped at the mint tea. At age 33 his life was already half over. Two books and several breakdowns later, he was dead from liver disease before he turned sixty.

Habits are actions that echo from one day down through a whole life time. I guess when they work out well we call them routines.

So as part of my application for permanent residency in Australia, I had to get a police check. The process was pretty simple. I just had to send off a short form, about fifty bucks and a photocopy of my American passport to the Australian Federal Police. About a week later, I got this report back in the mail:


Australian Federal Police: Helping Immigrants Forge False Identities One Document at a Time

Remember, I sent them my American passport. Maybe they’re just trying to get another fifty bucks out of me by sending me worthless documents. Hooray for bureaucracy! (Or should I say … bureauCRAZY! ho ho ho …)

We’ve had a few culturally edifying days this week at the Humphrey family Australian outpost! Kim and I saw some legendary musicians in concert on Tuesday, watched a Tony Award-winning play on Wednesday and went on Thursday to the cinema to see the Adelaide premiere of, uh … Thor! Here’s what I thought of all that!

Concert: Bob Dylan with B. B. King

B. B. King is nearly as old as my grandmother. He sat in a chair for the entire concert, wore a funny little pastel coat and grumbled about the various personality flaws of his band members. Every once in a while he would casually break into an incendiary little blues riff, almost just to show that he still could. Those riffs were always too short, as King tended to rely heavily on his seasoned backing band, but they were otherwise flawless. Half the songs he sang were about impending death, a common theme in the blues and one even more poignant coming from a man in the coda of his life, but King never made the proceedings feel dour or oppressive. B. B. King may be 85 years old, but he’s been touring for over half his life and had an easy, captivating stage presence despite. He sang with a spirit you believed would never give up, and still might not yet. He had the audience in the pal of his hand until he was finally helped up from his chair at the end of his set. And then, like those guitar riffs, it was over all too quickly.

B. B. King constantly bantered with the audience, but from the moment Dylan came on stage clad in a wide-brimmed hat and a black and red nudie suit, until he introduced his band members at the end of the concert, the so-called “voice of his generation” only opened his mouth to sing. These days his singing sounds more like a growl, but I think that suits many of Dylan’s songs. “Ballad of a Thin Man” for example, was appropriately sneering, although I almost didn’t recognize “Tangled Up in Blue.” I was actually surprised at how many of the songs I knew, considering Dylan’s massive catalogue and the fact that I’m only really familiar with about four of his albums. He worked in a surprisingly large selection of material from his “classic” ’65-’66 albums, and I was thrilled to hear “Gonna Change my Way of Thinking,” from his ’79 gospel album as the opener to the night’s set. His was in great form and did justice to all the classics while usually sounding quite different from the recordings. Dylan himself shifted between guitar, keyboard and harmonica. The music was excellent, although I got the feeling that it was not what everyone in the audience came to hear. Dylan remained, as always, something of a sphinx.

Theatre: Red, a play by John Logan

We ended up going to see this because Kim learned that it had won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play and playwright John Logan had authorized its only production outside of the original Broadway version to be staged here in Adelaide. It’s set during the late period of Mark Rothko, an abstract expressionist painter whose work I’ve seen but who I knew very little about. Rothko was a passionate man and an intellectual as much as an artist, and much of the play consists of him debating art theory and art history with his assistant who is a young, aspiring painter as they listen to classical music on Rothko’s record player and stare at some of Rothko’s paintings, huge canvases which consist almost entirely of large swaths of red and black. On paper it sounds like it could be a terrifically boring way to spend an hour and a half, but the production was actually engrossing. The two actors gave energetic performances and the lighting design made the reds on those canvases really pop and shine, which was important since they were quite nearly the play’s third character. Despite most of the play feeling like a dramatized lecture, the climax still made me want to stand up and cheer, so I’ll say Red did its job. And it made me go read more about Mark Rothko as well.

Film: Thor
It’s 2 AM in the morning, so I’ll write about this tomorrow. Short version: it’s a pretty good film!

I wrote this a few weeks ago … might as well put it up here, I guess!

I wonder if it’s the light summer rain that seems to be carrying sounds farther tonight. It’s 1:45 in the morning and there’s a samba band down at the park a few kilometers away but it sounds like they are playing right outside my bedroom window. I could always close the window, but it’s a warm and pleasant night and the band is good and my wife is already sound asleep. I have not laid down for five minutes before I get up again, pull on my jeans and find a pair of shoes. I go out the back door so not to wake my wife.
It doesn’t feel like the middle of the night. If anything, the neighborhood seems brighter now than it used to be at 5 AM when I would ride my bike into the city for work. The air is warm, misty and full of music. A trumpet solo makes its way up the hill, amplified as it glances off raindrops. I point myself where the trumpet sounds loudest and decide to run, in case the music runs out before 2 AM.
But this city has strange acoustics, and I find myself jogging through an unfamiliar apartment complex. Some teenage girls are wandering in the opposite direction carrying drinks. I see them clearly under the streetlamps and I still hear their voices long before I expect to. They’re speaking English and it surprises me, like hearing a familiar language in a subtitled film.
A small troll of a woman is standing out on her second story balcony talking on the phone in her nightgown. She watches me jog by and I hear her conversation through the rain as clear as day. “It’s just unusually loud,” she’s saying. “It quieted down for a while, but then it started up again.”
There are no cars at all on the streets, but I pass a few groups of twos and threes coming from the direction of the music, smiling and chatting to each other as clear as day.
I’ve been jogging with my cell phone in my left hand since leaving the house, and almost as soon as I arrive, it rings. My wife has woken up to find me missing and wants to know why I didn’t leave a note if I was going out. I say I wasn’t going to be gone long, and that I just wanted to find out where the music was coming from. “It’s coming from the park,” she says, “We can go another night if you want.”
“I know,” I say, “but it just sounded so close.”
In fact, it sounded closer at home than it does when I get there. There’s a big festival going on with carnival rides and colored lights and stage shows and fences and security guards and power generators. All the sound has drowned out the music, and I’m not sure whether the samba band has stopped playing or if I simply can’t hear it any more over the chunking of the whirl and hurl rides. People are slowly scattering and I get the feeling that one way or another the party is rapidly dwindling.
I’m reminded f when I was a kid I remember after one rainy day a vivid rainbow suddenly materialized across the neighborhood, and I dashed desperately to the field it seemed to originate from. Of course as soon as I arrived the illusion shifted and the rainbow was gone. I was old enough to expect to be let down and I the thrill of the chase stayed with me longer than any feelings of disappointment.
This night felt a little bit like that. As I walked home the air felt like the breath of something alive and waiting, but it was harder to hear the sounds from the festival until I crossed the street to our house. The music had changed, but it enveloped me again, somehow closer now than at its own source.

I feel bad saying this, but America does holidays better than Australia.

When I was growing up, it always seemed like one holiday or another was rapidly approaching. You had New Year’s Day in January, Valentine’s Day in February, St. Patrick’s Day in March, and so on and so forth. Australians observe all of those holidays, in basically the same ways that Americans do, though. If anything, New Year’s is a bigger party Down Under because the weather is better for it.

Both countries have various patriotic holidays that aren’t replicated abroad, but the main difference between Australia Day and the Fourth of July is that Australians go watch some guys play cricket, while Americans blow things up in their backyard. Listen, I love Australia, but it’s pretty clear that only one of these holidays won’t bore you to tears.

But when America really excels at holidays is at the end of the calendar year. It’s the trifecta: Halloween; Thanksgiving; Christmas … three amazing celebrations, all about equally one month apart. As if that weren’t enough, the whole season is topped off by ringing in the New Year! BRING IT ON!!

Aussies don’t really celebrate Halloween, and there’s no reason for them to celebrate Thanksgiving, although Americas often seem confused by this. In America Thanksgiving is the holiday we probably take the most seriously, since it involves the least amount of stuffing your face with candy and lighting things on fire until they blow up. It probably involves the most amount of pie, but as any true American will tell you, pie is SERIOUS business.

Despite the fact that Thanksgiving commemorates the first time European settlers got to stuff their faces with pie after arriving in America, while the first European settlers in Australia only celebrated being in prison, it is hard for Americans to conceive of anywhere in the world that would not be improved by celebrating Thanksgiving.

There is a reason that Americans feel this way, and it is called imperialism. It is number two in the list of things Americans love, between pie and The Super Bowl. (Number four is NACHOS.)

But seriously, Thanksgiving is great, and it gives some balance to the holiday season. Thanksgiving is the day when Americans get together and eat so much that all they can do is sit around and talk about how much they ate, and vow to never do it again … until next year. I think everyone needs a day like that once a year. A total scarf-out day.

Australians have a day like that.

It is called Christmas.

*tap*
*tap*

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Is this thing on?
It’s been a long time since my last post, but at least I have a good excuse: Every time I sat down to write a blog, a gigantic, prehistoric marsupial would come crashing through the marshlands and I would be forced snap my macbook shut and run for my life.

That’s right, boys and girls. I have spent the last six months of my life

ON THE RUN FROM DIPROTODON
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Diprotodon was the largest of Australia’s ancient megafauna, and sort of resembled a gigantic wombat crossed with a rhinoceros. And THAT, my friends is why nature is amazing. I have since learned that I had no reason to fear my pursuer, because although it had the strength of 20 wombats, it only ate plants.

THRILL to this video clip of a band of Aboriginal hunters discovering the same thing:

Perhaps the interruptions of a persistent diprotodon were not actually the cause of my blogging hiatus, but the actual reasons are fairly prosaic, so let’s talk about MEGAFAUNA some more!

The diprotodon in the above picture is part of what I’m 98% certain must be the world’s only megafauna audio-animatronic diorama, in the Wonambi Fossil Centre at Naracoorte Caves National Park. (I know you’re shocked to learn that it’s a fabrication rather than flesh & blood!)

Naracoorte’s caves are World Heritage-listed because they’re home to vast amounts of fossils dating from Australia’s megafauna days, some of which are actually displayed in the caves.

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Spelunking + palaeontology = awesome!

(This doesn’t have much to do with megafauna, but it’s worth noting that some of the caves at Naracoorte have been tourist destinations for well over 100 years, so human history there as well. Plus: bats! They’re one of the few remaining roosts of the Bent Wing Bat, which we got to see exiting the caves en-masse at dusk. It was Chiropterrific!)

Parts of the Wonambi Fossil Centre had collapsed due to an insane amount of rain the week that my wife and I visited, but the back door was inconspicuously unlocked. We felt like we were sneaking in, even though we had paid for admission. Inside, we found ourselves walking through a diorama of a limestone swamp populated by shuffling, snorting robots sheathed in the hypothetical fur of ancient marsupial beasts.

The only review I’ve found of this place calls it underwhelming, but I found it to be as immersive and atmospheric as anything at Disneyland, and twice as educational. We had plenty of time to linger around, since no one else had found their way in when we were there, and the longer we looked at the diorama, the more detail there was to see.

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I’m really fascinated by these long-gone creatures. It seems amazing that such strange incredible animals once roamed the same planet that we live on today. Knowing that animals like diprotodons and dinosaurs are no longer around makes the world seem a little more mundane.

And yet … megafauna still walk amongst us.
200px-manatee_with_calfpd220px-musk_ox_220px-red-kangaroo-5legs220px-male_gorilla_in_sf_zoo175px-casuarius_casuarius_-upper_body_-captive-8a-2c250px-ngorongoro_spitzmaulnashorn220px-giraffedvl250px-mirounga_leonina_male250px-ngorongoro_spitzmaulnashorn250px-saltwatercrocodilemaximo220px-tapiratsdz
!!!

… and it turns out that extraordinary things are everywhere.

So I was in the process of writing a completely different blog entry tonight, but we will have to STOP THE PRESSES on that one because…

KIM MADE MAPLE BARS!!
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Maple bars are kind of a donuty thing, the best donuty thing in the world. A maple bar consists of a big rectangle of fried dough with a sugary maple glaze slathered on the top. I don’t really know their history, but for some reason they’re a regional food that’s only really common in America’s Pacific Northwest.

And by common, I mean that they are a way of life. People in Oregon and Washington probably eat maple bars more regularly than they eat regular donuts. And in America, people eat donuts A LOT. I boggled to learn that in Australia donuts are considered a dessert, NOT a breakfast food. You can’t even buy them at the supermarket. Or even most convenience stores! If you want a donut here, you have to track down a specialty donut store in the mall, or maybe visit a very posh gas station.

mmmaplebars

Now, considering the fact that donuts are basically adorable little cakes which have been deep fried, I suppose it makes sense to classify them as a dessert, or at least “a treat.”

But America did not get where she is today be letting logic stand in the way of awesomeness. And donuts are awesome. Therefore, we Americans have ascribed them to a place of prominence in The Most Important Meal of the Day, along with cereals based on robots, “toaster pastries,” chocolate milke and once in a while, I dunno, some fruit or something.

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DONUTS! ARE! AMAZING! Glazed donuts, cake donuts, donut holes, apple fritters, jelly donuts, bear claws, tiger tails and other weird donuts named after parts of animals, they are all delicious.

But the maple bar is KING OF THEM ALL!
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At least, it is to me.
Because it reminds me of home.

Sure most Americans love donuts (and our national waistlines show it), but outside of the Pacific Northwest, most Americans don’t even know what a maple bar is. I dated a girl from Wisconsin who had never heard of them. It’s like they’re this magical thing that only people from my side of the country understand.

When I lived in Spain, I traveled a few hours outside of the Granada, where I was staying, to a little village in the foothills where many of the people spoke another regional language in addition to Spanish. I first realized this while shopping for breakfast when I noticed that the words on the cereal boxes were ones I had never seen before. Spain is roughly the same size as Oregon and Washington combined, but it’s home to at least ten unique languages, and variations in dialect on top of that. Almost everyone speaks Spanish, but people get fiercely protective of the regional languages that define their communities.

In “young” countries like America and Australia, I don’t think we can really appreciate the deep sense of place, history and culture that are embodied by things like regional languages, which developed over centuries, but every community has its little quirks, like whether you call sweet fizzy drinks “soda,” “pop” or “soft drink.” And then there are maple bars.

Outside of the Pacific Northwest, it’s hard to find them. Outside of North America, forget about it — there’s no chance. Maple bars are something that only really exist in one little corner of the planet.

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Well, make that two corners.

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Thanks, sweetheart.
xo

The day was spent serving food to various tables of strangers for breakfast, lunch and dinner: a trifecta of restaurant shifts. My waking hours began somewhere around 4 AM, ended sometimes close to 1 AM, and were bookended by headaches. But in the middle of the day, as I drove from my day job to my night job, changing uniforms and switching name tags in the car, a full rainbow opened up in the sky.

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It reached all the way across the city, from end to end, clear and bright, like it belonged just in that very spot.
And for five minutes, it was easy to believe that it had had always been there, all along.

I realized that it’s almost Christmas and I still haven’t posted pictures of our lovely little Christmas tree!
I really like putting up holiday decorations, but never did it when I lived on my own. There’s something nice about having another person around the house to help herald the changing seasons with.

Or maybe putting up Your First Christmas Tree Together is just a Hallmark moment for all newly-minted couples. Ewww! Anyway, Kim and I had fun putting up the (fake, K-mart) tree together, and I think it looks really great. No, I am not a girl! I just like Christmas, OK??
(click any of the pictures for bigger versions!)

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My family’s tradition is that my parents gave all us kids at least one Christmas ornament every year, to eventually start our own Christmas trees with, and those ornaments make up a big part of the decorations, along with a few that Kim and I bought together while we were in America.
Kim also tied bows to our tree and even made chocolate Christmas ornaments in the shape of Australian animals! Here’s one of them that I haven’t eaten yet. It’s a kookaburra!

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We also hung up icicle lights outside our house (scandal?), even though you can’t see them very well in this picture. Our mismanaged garden should give you a sense that it’s summer, though.

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But what’s that lurking down the end of our hallway??

RAWWWR!!
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Silly dinosaur, it is too warm for a Christmas scarf!

RAAAWWRR!!!

One of my wife’s favorite Christmas songs is this tale of a little kangaroo being kidnapped from a zoo by Santa Claus. It’s actually pretty adorable.

Written and performed by Aussie ex-pat Rolf Harris (of “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” fame), the song is an an Australian riff on Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and The Night Before Christmas. Since reindeer can’t cut it in the Aussie summer, Santa subs them out for kangaroos when making trips down under.

These are kangaroo bucks, or “boomers,” and they’re strong enough that it only takes six of them to pull Santa’s sleigh. Much more efficient than those puny “eight little reindeer.” And since it’s Christmas, and kangaroos don’t come in red or green, well, they might as well be white, the albino variety! Albinism is festive!

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Curiously, rather than the night before Christmas, this story takes place on the day AFTER Christmas. After he’s finished delivering gifts (“pressies” as they’re called Down Under) in the Western Hemisphere, Santa spots a baby kangaroo that’s been stolen from its mother and placed in some cold Northern zoo, and being Santa Claus, he knows that the only thing this little joey could want for Christmas is to be reunited with her. Now, because it’s Christmas in Australia before anywhere else in the world, he’s already delivered Christmas pressies to all the Aussie girls and boys, but Santa makes a special trip back to return the lost Joey. Even as fast as Santa’s kangaroo-powered sleigh goes, they can’t make it back until December 26.

Good thing kangaroos don’t pay much attention to human holidays.

Besides having a rousing chorus that reportedly sends Australian children bounding excitedly around the house, the song is packed with charming little details: when Santa gets to sweltering Australia, he takes off his big, fur-lined boots, and the joey hops into one of them. It’s a cute touch, and actually pretty consistent with natural behavior, since joey raised by humans like to be carried around in bags and other things that resemble pouches. And when they fly over the Outback, Harris specifically mentions them passing Marble Bar, a tiny town in Western Australia which is adjacent to a geological site known as … The North Pole.

I find it hard to believe that there’s never been an animated Christmas special made based on this song, since it seems tailor-made for such a treatment. But maybe Aussies don’t go crazy for Christmas specials like the Yankees do. Anyway, it’s a very fun song and I think holds up well against other classic holiday tunes from all over the world. Add it to your X-mas playlist today!

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