Sunday, September 28, 2003

Postcard from Paris
(travel blog by Doug)

Alrighty, prizes for anyone who catches a spelling mistake. (A shout out to my mother who caught my consistent use of "Dodge" instead of "Doge" in entries about Venice, now corrected.)

A cheap hotel, in the right neighbourhood

So my hotel - the Residence Mauroy - is cheap, in a good neighbourhood, being just off the Bde Madelaine (easy walking distance to Musee D'Orsay, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, etc). The towels are more bare than thread, and the bathroom (which has an olfactory ambiance all of its own) has those pink and grey tiles of the 1950s, which also may have been about the last time anyone cleaned the grouting.

An 80s paisley beadspread hides the room's true colours, in the form of a blanket with a very 70s pattern of burnt-orange circles (think groovy hotplates). A seventies-style portrait of a peasant woman with a straw in her mouth looking drunkenly (I presume
"seductively" was the intent) over one shoulder completes the slight bordello ambiance created by the mirror occupying one entire wall of my room.

Still, given I am in the district of the Church of Mary Magdelene, and every third shop just back off the high-fashion strip seems to be a porn store, maybe the subtle nuances of my decor are appropriate.

The long, inward opening windows, are, however, very Parisienne. It's cosy, cute and mine. Cheap, clean and near all the big attractions and with friendly desk staff who let me use my French, just what I need.

First night in town - Thursday - I was pretty tired and did little more than walk around the neighbourhood, watch "Smallville" dubbed into French and fall asleep early.

Art-shock part I, and stereotypically "Parisienne" waitressing

Friday, I spent the morning at Sacre Couer, where I managed to get up to the tower and down into the crypt with absolutely no other tourists about. A very special feeling, being alone with that view of Paris' rooftops.

Then I completely did my feet and calves in at the Musee D'Orsay which was closed except for a special exibition when I was last here in 1993-4. The fact that it covers really the only period of art where I know my apples (1848 - 1950) proved a real liability: I was completely overloaded and went into art-shock pretty much by the time I got to the impressionists.

Had to bail before Van Gogh and bolt to the cafeteria for a bracing baugette before returing to the field.

My fellow art lovers seemed to be showing the strain also, towards the end of post-impressionism many looked as lively and coherent as survivors of Verdunne.

I went home for a little nap, then decided to hit the 5eme/Latin Quarter district for some dinner. Hadn't a clue what I was doing, but bumped into four Australians who took me under their wing. After walking all the way up to the Pantheon we desecended again to the Seine, where at 8.40 pm with exceeding ill grace a waitress seated us and condescended to allow us to order from the 15 euro tourist menu. The food was excellent, the service characterised by clearing a place through the expedient of flinging the cutlery across the room (I exaggerate, but not by much).

At half time a different waiter was called off the benches and service improved. Karma struck when we realised we'd not been billed for one of our meals. We paid up rapidly and got out, claiming the "karma discount on service" as I put it.

The journey of over 1,000 steps begins with a lot of climbing, and finishes much the same way

Saturday I climbed over 1,000 upward steps taking in the Notre Dame towers, the Pantheon, Dome des Invalides (Napoleon's tomb), the Eiffel Tower by the stairs (I took the lift all the way up last time) and the Arc de Triomphe. Each comes with a minimum 250 stairs. (Well, not Napoleon's tombs). Still you gotta love a good roofscape.

Also, after my dose of art-shock from just too many museums I decided I just needed a day of stuff I could climb and then go "ooh, pretty" while sweating profusely and cursing my limited water supplies.

Saturday night my will broke and I went to do some laundry, again in the 5eme arrondisement (there just isn't a laundrette near me), which involved taking the metro a total of 10 stops and changing train once. I should have put myself through too, as I was feeling pretty rank after all my stair climbing. Still, when I got home a bit after 10 pm, it was a good tired.

Just being a tourist (art-shock II), and an unexpected afternoon

Today has been a bit nervy, a little anxious. I think it's realising that by this time tomorrow I will be in Cambridge. I tackled the Louvre in the morning (and can I say there is a special circle of HELL reserved for those who take cheesy flash-photo portraits of loved ones in the ruck before the Mona Lisa).

Yep, I did the tourist hit-list of the Venus de Milo, the winged victory and the Mona Lisa. I had more fun though getting out of the tourist menagerie and into the state rooms of Napoleon III. "Sumptuous" is not the word (and that's probably not how one spells it either). They were still in use for government functions as recently as 1989 by the Minister of Finance, and if I could throw dinner parties there at government expense, I'd have hung onto it as long as possible too.

Anyway, despite the "day of stairs" I lapsed back into "museum shock" pretty fast after clocking up a measly 3.5 Louvre hours. It was nap time again, and the afternoon was a bit grey and miserable. Still, I needed to do something.

I thought I'd hit the musuem of Paris history in the 3eme arrondisement. On breaking into daylight out of the metro, I discovered myself in one of the prettiest areas of Paris. Admittedly, BMW owning upper-middle class, "the poor don't come here to spread litter and disease in front of our antique shops, thank you kindly" kind of pretty, but pretty none the less. I got distracted from my mission by the signs pointing the way to the National Picasso Museum.

Picasso was a childhood hero (and not for his prodigous successes with women). Like the Guggenhiem in Venice, and the Musee D'Orsay, I felt surrounded by old friends in a calm and airy environment. It was a real boost to the spirits, as was the coffee and cake I had at a patisserie afterwards. (Tip: when looking for a good snack, follow the trail of locals clutching baguettes back to its source.)

I was even complemented on my French by a salesman at the Louvre shop today.

So, not a bad day at all.

Friday, September 26, 2003

"Convicts with a record": the fine art of the film review
Guest blog by Lyn

Warning! possible spoilers for a really crap film!

I've been enjoying a bunch of reviews for a film I haven't seen, and has only just been released in the US: Cold Creek Manor, a "horror" "thriller" starring Sharon Stone and Dennis Quaid, which is apparently neither horrifying, nor thrilling. It's bad, the kind of bad that allows reviewers to crack their knuckles, roll back their sleeves, and start slinging the mud.

My top three quotes:

1. From James Sanford: "Quaid and Stone look utterly ridiculous when they scream, a major debit in a movie of this type."

2. From Sean O'Connell: "It's only scary if a malicious redneck holding a grudge terrifies you".

3. From Roger Ebert - Cold Creek Manor is another one of those movies where a demented fiend devotes an extraordinary amount of energy to setting up scenes for the camera. Think of the trouble it would be for one man, working alone, to kill a horse and dump it into a swimming pool." I know what you mean Roger - I'm exhausted just contemplating it.

Cold Creek Manor is one of those awesome flicks, which every five frames focuses on a rusty dagger, a noose, a stained glass window or a dark well. Think those things will be Significant Later In The Film? Yes. Yes they will. Ah, the gloriousness of bad horror film predictability.

To finish on a better note: I've been enjoying some people's wit on the Four Word Film Review site. The top voted film review is currently this great one for the Blair Witch Project: "Tense. Intense. In Tents."

How about this one for My Girl: "Bees, 1. Culkin, 0."

In honour of Douglas, I also offer one for Batman: "Joker removed from pack".

The title of this blog entry is actually a four word review for a film. Anyone able to guess it without cheating?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Moments when you know you're travelling
(postcard from Doug 3)

(1) When the American business major opposite you on the train leans in confidentially and says:

ABM: "Is it just me, or is Italy full of beautiful women?"

Doug: "No, it's not just you."

ABM: "I mean, American women look good. But they just all get so big after about their twenties."

Doug thinks: And that would have nothing to d owith the US diet of 50% sugar and 50% meat.

Doug says: "Mmm."

ABM: "And y'know, I didn't expect Italy to be so full of graffitti."

Doug thinks: Coz they didn't, like, invent the word.

Doug says: "Mmm."

(2) When standing under the central dome at San Pietro Basillica and saying to oneself, "Ohmigod, 6 years of Latin class were not in vain! That reads, 'You are Peter and on this rock* I will build my church and I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.' Yeah, I rock!"

"Oh, look, there's a translation in the guidebook. Still at least I now get what these damn papists mean about the importance of Peter, and why everything in the Vatican has keys on it.

"What is that shrill whining noise?

"Ah, just my protestant ancestors revolving in their graves at my having set foot in this more than human scale Catholic church full of graven idols. Pipe down guys, it's beautiful and I'm not about to convert or anything."

*Insert chuckle at Latin play on words.

(3) When doing the maths in the shower and realising you're in Venice four nights, but have only booked into the convent guest-house for three.

(4) Hearing in a bar, or on a train - indeed, up to twice in one sitting - on announcing to a group of English speakers that you are Australian: "Man, you guys can drink!"

Yes, yes, we can. It's because our beer actually has a detectable alchoholic content.

And that we're all alchoholics too, anyway.

(5) Explaining in fractured phrase-book Italian to an elderly, non-English speaking nun at Convent 2 that you are not absconding on the bill, but have a train to catch, and paid the bill the previous day to the English speaking convent secretrary who has yet to clock on.

And do indeed have a reciept.

And that you have not made any phone calls.

Nor had anything from the mini-bar.

Okay, so not that last one at a convent.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Postcard from Venice II
(An innacurate note on Venetian constitutional history from Doug)

I did really love the Doge's palace yesterday, not just for the architecture and history - but for what both said about the system of government under the Dogate and the Republic. Yes, the geeky constitutional lawyer in me came to the fore and dammit, I'm gonna share.

By the end of the Republic (ie Napoleon), the Doge - tititular ruler of Venice - was little more than a figurehead (think our governor general), though he was not allowed to miss a single one of a myriad meetings. He could not make decisions except with government members present, had very little actual discretion or authority, could not recieve ambassadors alone, could not leave Venice except on comission and could not go out in public without government minders. One wonders whether the poor guy was allowed to take a crap in private. Yet when he died, the business of government ceased for an interminably long, convoluted election process. (Think any of the models for an Australian republic not involving electing an Australian president by popular vote.)

Where later republics and deomcracies have had an entrenched separation of powers (legislative, judicial, exeuctive and ecclesiastical), Venice just seems to have believed in a proliferation of bodies with overlapping fields of power and responsibility. These polycentric and competing centres of power seem to have been the chief check on abuse of power, resulting in a web of inter-related judicial/administrative bodies with power to intervene in each others deicision making that would make Kafka, Focault or Centerlink proud.

A fantastic example is the Council of Ten, a temporary security body set up to thwart a plot to overthrow the dogate, which became a permanent "security council", with a counterintuitive seventeen members (10 councillors, 1 Dodge and 6 advisors to the Doge).

Anyway, while technically an aristocracy, it seems to have been fairly democratic. All aristocrat males over 25 (or something) - being between 1200 and 2000 people - met in the grand council and delegate power to various other bodies such as the senate and tribunals. There were an amazing number of jobs, including that of Public Advocates entrusted with upholidng the principle of legality. Really it was a magistracy, rule by officials invested with public power.

Also, one could inform anonymously by posting notes in "lions' mouths", carved heads on walls which had mouths that were - in effect - post boxes for tip offs for the magistracy.

Also, fascinatingly, Venice was almost unique in being ruled from a relatively open and accesible palace - not a castle. There is, in fact, no real defensive structure on the islands.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Postcard from Venice
(regular blogging from Doug)

When I was last in Italy I was five, and with a single masterstroke, I blew my parents food budget for three days.

Foolish, foolish parents, after the waiter had explained the specials - in English - they allowed me to order my own meal. I ordered the rainbow trout, the most expensive thing on the menu. They gulped, but expected I'd peter out part way through one side and that they'd get the rest. Nuh uh.

I steamed through one side of a huge trout and asked the waiter to turn it over for me.

As a commemoration, I treated myself to a decent dinner of grilled sea-bass, salad and house white this evening - as the Venetians are supposed to know their fish. It was a little restaurant between Campo Santa Margherita and the Accademia, and I stopped there because it had a crazy bric-a-brac filled courtyard and was playing jazz tunes I recognised. The fish was fine.

My time in Venice has been, by and large, poorly organised. This is in part due to the fact (which will surprise not one regular reader) that I have come down with a minor cold travelling. I have also found slugging round in an unseasonal mini-heat wave rather tiring. (A pox on everyone who said Venice was colder than Rome this time of year. I left my shorts and other sueful clothes at the hotel I'm returning to in Rome.)

Anyway, travel highlights, so far:

When strict planning falls down and goes "clunk"

Never back your interpretation of luggage rules against an airline. I checked the 25 kg wheelie-bag with my Cambridge winter wardrobe and expected to carry on my backpack at Sydney. Sure, it was a little large, but it strapped down enough to fit in the luggage-size tester if you took the day pack off. And the day pack didn't count, right?

Turns out it does if you're also carrying on a duty-free bag with a camera in it.

They checked the backpack for me, so at least I got round the weight restrictions (thus far - two flights to go).

However, I then had to collect the bag at Heathrow and make my connection to Rome. I did not realise on surrendering my bag that baggage claim was AFTER passport control. On panicking, and then assuming my best polite, befuddled young man deameanour I prevailed on a nice woman in a BA jacket to prevail on a nice woman from passport control to basically wave me through an empty EU-citizens only line so I could grab my bag, sprint for the train to Terminal 1 and dash up to check-in for Rome.

I was stressed, I was awash in an unsightly slick of my own sweat.

I was, in the end, over an hour early.

That's when the first nosebleed kicked in.

It pleasantly chose to return in the airport train-station at Rome (25 degrees, 80% humidity I tells ya, struggling with a big pack and wheelie bag). I was saved from utter humiliation by the donation of tissues by some Australian tourists, mind you I already had one hand that looked like it'd been in a knife-fight.

Still, I got weirder looks wrestling my luggage down Viat Ottavio, past Saint Paul's Basillica, to my hotel.

The desk manager at my swank hotel showed considerable sang-froid in allowing me into the place.

Rome highlights

My first afternoon in Rome I was a jet-lagged wreck. So I hit the nearest B-list attraction to my hotel, the Castel San' Angelo, once the Vatican fortress in times of trouble.

You expect fellow Canberrans to turn up in weird places, you do not expect to see a guy from high-school you've no desire to catch up with in the cafe near the top of the Castel San' Angelo enjoying what looked like a rather tense moment with his girlfriend. I slid anonymously by.

The Castel summed up my general impression of Rome. Rome seems to have the same attitude to its history as Australia did to natural resources in the 1950s - there's so damn much of it, no-one can see the point in environmental safeguards or proper maintenance.

Labelling veers from bilinigual, to erratic, to year 10 assignment paste-up jobs. Things are randomly screened off with orange webbing, or held together with extensive, ugly scaffolding.

That said, I loved the rooms restored by Pope Paulus III and the view from the top.

Day two was the absolute high point, where in a too-long line at the Colloseum a petite American woman turned to me and said: "Do you speak English? Okay, something is wrong here. I think we're in the wrong line. Hold my place while I find out."

She returned to tug me out of the line and save me half an hour of my life in getting to a line-free ticket booth. She was an architect from Georgia, three months into a long holiday. We teamed up for the day and blitzkreiged the Colloseum, Roman forum, Palatine hill, nearby piazzas and took a self-guided walking tour via the Pantheon to the Spanish steps area, where we stopped for dinner and too much Chianti. Great day.

The Vatican and San Pietro's basillica the next day were mind-boggling, but more of that later. My room at Hotel Columbus, for an internet fire-sale special, was a dream: small, but quiet, comfortable and terribly atmospheric. Cluttered with just the right amount of old dark-wood furniture and a new (if teeny) ensuite in white tiles with a shower head virtually over the hand basin. A five minute stroll from the Vatican, perfect.

Venice impressions

Venice is like everything I loved about Melbourne, but multiplied and folded in on itself endlessly - alley-ways upon allies in a thick gorgeous tangle of history, canals, palaces, decay, gondolas, beautiful Italian women and loud American and German tourists.

I some respects, much like "Castrovalva" the Escher-inspired Dr Who episode about a town of courtyards and fountains where (not unlike Canberra) you can travel in a straight path and come back to where you started.

I simply adore Venice, but have not planned my time here well. Not sure that matters, enjoying the atmosphere as much as the attractions. Have managed the Piazza San Marco, the San Marco museums, the Doge's palace and the Accademia of fine arts. Should have gone to the the Peggy Guggenheim last night - in September they have late opening to 10 pm Saturday, but having gone out to dinner again my last night in Rome with "Ms Georgia" and being out way past my bed time, I decided extra sleep was the better part of valour.

Where the decay in Rome seems the result of near-criminal neglect, the decay in Venice seems part of its personality. In Rome the clutter of history elbowing the jowls of the modern seems overwhelming, in Venice - despite obvious historical layers and tourist-trap intrusions - it all seems made of one piece.

My convent-owned accomodation here is not bad, but not as good as Rome. No nuns - just very friendly tri-lingual desk staff - it's a fairly functional guest wing, and I'm in the less recently refurbished bit. The garden is mostly closed for structural repairs. Rooms are spartan, but functional. A little problem with mosquitoes off the river at night - but nothing drastic bad. My outer wall and wooden shutters appear original, which is lovely.

Tomorrow I have a good deal of ground to cover. Next time I'll try to blog more briefly and after less wine.

Friday, September 19, 2003

What Doug is really doing: part 1
Guest blog by Lyn

Doug has of course been lying to all of us.

He's not going to Cambridge on a scholarship. Oh, no.

On Monday morning (shortly after posting his last entry on this website), Douglas called me. Early.

"Lyn . . ." he said. "That is Lyn, isn't it?"

"Yeah", I said sleepily. "Wassup?"

"I've been brainwashed all this time!" he said hurriedly. "I'm not Doug at all! My last memory of my real life is that I was sitting in the back of a dingy taxi cab in Prague. I was posing as a bad-ass goth nightclub singer, in an attempt to penetrate an international drug cartel."

I yawned. "Really. What did you wear?"

"Black latex and . . . look, that's not the point. The point is that I don't know who I was working for, or why . . . but clearly, they are luring me to England to kill me. Horribly."

"You wanna avoid that, I think."

Silence. Then;

"You know, I really should have called Marissa."

"She is more of a morning person. So what are you going to do?"

"Stick with the Cambridge story for now. I'll even post up blogs pretending that I'm there, because that's what I want them to think. But I'll head deep underground. I know I have contacts. If I only I could remember their phone numbers."

"That's the problem with amnesia."

"Yeah. Thanks for that. Got any suggestions?"

"Do what Matt Damon did. You know. In that film. "

"Drive around in a mini?"

"No, sleep with Franka Potente. She's pretty hot."

"Good idea. I'll call you from the road. But hang up, then call me from an outside line."

"Sure thing, Tony Soprano."

Anyone else heard from Doug lately? Let's hear about it.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Quiz this!
Guest blog by Lyn

Last night I was at a work trivia night.

I mostly enjoy trivia nights, but they bring out the worst in some people. OK, the worst in pretty much everyone who attends. The guy who runs it is usually a megalomaniac. All the people who huddle, convinced of their intellectual inferiority. Those who smugly announce to the room their intellectual superiority (“Oh. That’s easy!” – to every question).

As most of the questions were about sport, music I don’t listen to, and TV shows I don’t watch, I did pretty badly. The question I was most embarrassed about getting wrong was: "for which three movies did Jack Nicolson win an Oscar?" I got two of the three, and I’m shocked – shocked! that he didn’t win for "Chinatown". If you can get all three without cheating and looking up IMDB, then you should have been on my table.

First thing I found at work this morning is a string of emails about all the so-called ‘correct’ answers that were actually full of shit. George Lazenby is so not the first James Bond – Sean Connery was in Doctor No. The capital of the Netherlands? Well we answered The Hague, and it turns out it’s Amsterdam – but most guidelines list both as correct. And some singer called Lulu did too sing a cover of Locomotion, but a workmate concedes it may not have been released in Australia.

The very worst question however was: “which film changed the way we see cinema?” I thought the answer would be the first 'talking' film, but I couldn’t’ think of the name, so we wrote down “Debbie Does Dallas”. The answer? Jaws. Jaws? Seriously?? I love the film, and it’s supposed to have changed the way we don’t go into the water anymore, but it’s hardly the first anything. Maybe "the first big motorised fish" film, or "coolest film score". I was expecting the next question to be: which colour is the best colour in the world. Yellow! Of course! A point to table nine!

So you can keep your damn quiz nights with your stupid professional quiz night punters. Next time I get the urge, I’m just going to curl up on the couch and ask myself questions from the 1980s Trivial Pursuit set about the Soviet Union and Michael Jackson. Good times.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Sex, lies and videotape: “Cunnamulla” still under siege
Guest blog by Lyn

In 2000, Dennis O’Rourke released his controversial documentary, “Cunnamulla”. The film concerns the town of the same name – 800km west of Brisbane, with a population of about 1500. He interviewed Cunnamulla residents about their lives – the challenges of the isolated community, the interaction of the locals, the racial mix and the various tensions. As this ABC article put it, “To this day, many of the townsfolk resent the way Cunnamulla was portrayed in the movie.”

O’Rourke was hit first with a defamation action, which you can read about here. But a second, more recent challenge has emerged.

Two teenagers, at least one of whom was thirteen at the time of filming, were interviewed by O’Rourke. Their parents claim that O’Rourke discussed the content of the interview prior commencing – and it was agreed he could speak with their daughters about particular subjects, including the “Miss Maid Contest” and racism.

The discussion which took place in front of the cameras was much broader. One of the girls frankly discussed her sex life: “I would prefer to use protection but most boys out here don't like using protection. You just tell them to watch what they do.”

Their parents are suing O’Rourke. The surprising thing is that they are doing so under section 52 of the Trade Practices Act – a section more commonly associated with second hand cars or supermarket advertising. Section 52 relates to conduct in ‘trade or commerce’ that is misleading or deceptive. The parents’ argument seems to be that O’Rourke’s conduct was misleading or deceptive because he went outside the (allegedly) agreed subject limitations.

It seems odd that interviewing subjects for a documentary is activity in ‘trade or commerce’, but a majority of the Full Federal Court has just confirmed this view – you can check it out in hard copy law reports under Hearn v O’Rourke (2003) ATPR 41-931. The majority’s reasoning is that if a documentary is ‘commercial’, anything essential to creating that documentary is activity related to trade or commerce.

So what does this actually mean?

This decision does not mean that O’Rourke has lost, it just means that they can try to sue him using this avenue. A major point of contention is likely to be the allegation that he promised to confine the interview to any subject – I can’t imagine any documentary maker agreeing to such a hard and fast rule before an interview.

I do think O’Rourke may have taken advantage of his youthful interview subjects – it’s so typical of a thirteen year old to talk tough, and then think – crap! People will watch this! But that’s a separate issue to this scary legal precedent.

Although I’m resorting to The Castle style ‘it’s the vibe’ rambling, this just feels off to me. If I have to come up with a legal argument – I’d say that this construction of ‘trade and commerce’ is too broad. As for a non-legal argument: if people are really worried about how a documentary maker or journalist could portray them, then they should watch what they say in front of a camera.

To finish with O’Rourke’s own words, back when the first defamation case began: "It's the truth. It's not just the truth for the people depicted in the film but for thousands of other people like them all over Queensland, all over Australia for that matter. I don't feel I have to defend that position." Well, it looks like he may have to defend it all over again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Hello, Sandbox!
Guest blog by Lyn

Greetings. I'll be surfacing every now and then over the next few weeks, just keeping Doug's seat warm for him. Likely themes which may recur: B-Grade horror, copyright, bad poetry, and really embarassing stories about Doug from uni. Ha! the power!

As this is a bit of a test entry, I'll keep it short - but I had to share this great article about the alleged break-up of J-Lo and Ben:

"In the meantime, we'll have to console one another by engaging in intimate chats describing what went through our minds when we heard the devastating news. Personally, my thoughts ran the gamut from Who Gives a Crap? all the way to Seriously, Who Gives a Crap?"

I also liked this bit: "What is the world coming to when Hollywood's biggest stars can't even be relied upon to go through with their sham marriages? At least Elizabeth Taylor was a professional about it."

I love the smell of backlash in the morning.

Monday, September 15, 2003

"Are you having a sea change, sir?"

I like windfalls. The change in the back of the sock drawer. The unclaimed raffle prize that’s been waiting at reception so long someone finally snaps and harangues you about not collecting your rotting fruit basket. That kind of thing.

In a series of misguided attempts to straighten out my financial affairs before leaving Australian legal practice for a return to student life in the UK, I called my former superannuation plan managers from when I was working with the firm in Sydney.

This wound up being a good thing. A much better thing, in fact, than filling in almost all of my e-tax forms for internet lodgement of my tax return, but packing all my papers away in my parents shed before realising I need last year’s notice of assessment to lodge over the internet had been.

And when I say “packing away”, I mean placed in a file in a box, inside a bigger box, wrapped in plastic, buried under other boxes, wedged between the spare fridge and table and buried behind my sister’s dining suite (she moved home again recently too, but for a longer spell than my two weeks).

Anyway, there was much confusion with the superannuation people who’d thought I’d left the firm a year and a half ago when I took extended leave of absence (given that the firm had not paid me a salary in eighteen months I suppose this was not unreasonable). The result being that an (on my part, completely forgotten) insurance policy I had through the firm had been paid out to me as a lump sum, and when the fund managers couldn’t reach me at my old Sydney address, it was put in some kinda managed investment thingee where it’s been compounding at a pleasing rate ever since.

It seems I’m a financial somnambulist, leading an unconscious life as an (albeit minor) investor. Sleep-investment, if you will.

Anyway, in the course of untangling all this, I had to explain my parents’ weird rural address.

“Where’s that?” asked the woman from the fund manager’s office.

“Um”, I replied, “I’m one of these people who live just over the border from Canberra. It’s a rural address, near Lake George if you’re driving to Sydney. It’s only about 30 minutes out of town.”

“Oh, are you having a sea change, then?”

I had to laugh. What does it say, considering that she manages the account for a very large law firm, about the state of the legal profession that she assumed at 27 I’d dropped out of the rat race to become a vigneron, or to raise alpacas or something?

Anyway, I’m having me a three-day holiday in Sydney before flying out to Rome. It was meant to be a low-key opportunity to stay with Rob, indulge in a little low-key madness and see a few old friends.

So, naturally, I wiped myself out staying out until 4 am on Saturday.

All right, I’m off to buy more luggage locks and window-shop digital cameras before I hit the airport duty free store tomorrow. I may post from the road, but Lyn – Sydney lawyer and occasional guest-blogger at fridaysixpm – may be posting some fresh material in my absence.

See you soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Home, home on the range

It’s been funny, being at home before heading off to England – I’ve spent most of the last three years living away from Canberra and this is the longest I’ve been back in the parents’ house.

They have a slow combustion stove and slate flooring, which makes the whole place toasty warm this time of year (if very dry and de-humidified). My mother’s favourite kindling is pinecones, and I’ve often gone out to collect them. The last owners of my parents’ two paddocks (they live on 40 acres just outside Canberra, near Lake George) planted the boundary lines with pines. The drought has not been good, and the alien pines seem perversely green in paddocks stained the sepia, tea-bag brown.

Foraging in the russet needles for pinecones, filling my mother’s cloth bag, reminds me of when I used to play under or among these trees with my sister. They seemed a private world then, one that whispered when it got windy. Once at uni, when similarly scouting for kindling, or just for a stroll – I found a few of my childhood Smurfs lying patiently among the needles.

No hidden treasure this time though.

My parents have been getting their driveway resurfaced. It’s been an undertaking of Roman proportions. Neglected for several years, their two hundred meter gravel driveway had washed out to a rutted track that endangered the undercarriage of everything but the four-wheel drive they don’t own. (My parents live in the country and don’t own one; wake up you city-dwellers driving your utterly unsafe, top-heavy, roll-prone personal tanks bristling with cyclist-slaying bull bars!)

First a load of rocks had to be dropped on the drive, turning it from dangerous to pretty much impassable. Then a huge grader (imagine a construction vehicle crossed with the biggest damn butterknife you’ve ever seen) had to scrape even a couple of truck-loads of earth. (At this stage in proceedings, Dad cut a cross-country track through the paddocks so we could drive out around the driveway, which now looked like trench construction on the Somme.)

The last stage was a graded gravel topcoat. The drive’s now a white ribbon running through the front paddock. My sister thinks they should bitumen-coat it, so it doesn’t erode over the next few years. It’s a good idea, but I’m not sure one of those bitumen-surfacing roadwork machines would get up our drive. If it could be done by spray-truck, that might just about work.

My parents have often hired earth-working vehicles, installing three further dams since arriving here in an effort to drought-proof the house’s garden, and to allow them to agist neighbours’ animals during droughts. (They have no livestock of their own.) I’m used to seeing the layered prints of giant tyres in muddy, churned earth – like a freshly excavated giant trilobite, or the ribs of some ancient thing pushing their way out through the soil.
Sagas, long and short

Instalment 30 of Naylor is now up. If you’ve been reading this long, I salute you. We’re past the half-way mark now. (I think.)

As for the iPod debacle of yesterday – thanks for the comments, e-mails and support, and a particular shout out to Marcus for a moment of sanity and sagacity.

The little blighter appears to be working properly now, I think I was (like the bad parent at swimming lessons) throwing it in too deep, too early and without enough breakfast. The battery is broken in now and charging properly, so no more nasty power failures while downloading and subsequent loss of memory.

The whole thing would still be so much easier if my folks' computer had a spare 15 gig I could back all my music up onto ...

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

A minor, utterly frustrating setback

My iPod has committed suicide.

It suddenly ran out of power (immediately after a one-hour charging) while sitting on the dock connecting it to my computer, busily (I thought) downloading music. The manual warns that if this happens, it may lose everything stored in its memory.

It has.

This is terribly disappointing. Two-and-a-half days of casual song downloading – gone. I try and load new songs, the computer says it’s done, the iPod says it’s empty.

The battery never seemed to charge fully either, and in the brief time of my owning it, never ran anything like the promised 7-8 hours. True, it might not have reached its full charge through use.

Even if fixed or replaced with a working iPod I doubt I’ll have time to copy over all the music I want before leaving.

I am seriously tempted to take the thing back and mail myself a thick CD wallet and my old portable discman.

And before anyone asks, yes I have tried everything it says in the manual – except reinstall the software, because the download would take ages over my parents’ rural modem. I’m saving that joy until I have spoken to my local Apple dealer at 9 am sharp today and they have told me there’s no other option.

Seriously not happy Jan.

Ah, listen to me whining. Smile and take the British-ness test below.
Cor blimey, I’m a failure guv’nor!

Are you British enough to get a passport?

I score a measly 4, which - given that I’m one of the most anglophile “colonials” I know - is ridiculous.

Where are the E. H. Sheperd questions? Lucky I already have a four year entry clearance.

So, how British are you?

(Link from burnt toast.)

Monday, September 8, 2003

10 things I’ve done recently
(1) Went to see “Little Nemo” on Saturday and had lunch at Tossolini’s with the family for early Father’s Day/late Dad’s birthday. Great film (especially all the Australian actor cameos and the “Diver Dan” reference), good food, good family time.

(2) Spent Friday night talking Italy with my best friend over pizza and wine.

(3) Bought that fashionable green triple-layer Gautex Kathmandu jacket I was wanting.

(4) On the basis of a comment below, and further pricing research, have switched my Paris accommodation to a more comfortable hotel in a better area (Madelaine-Opera) – for less money than the hostel was going to charge me for a room to myself. Bless last-minute web deals on hotel rooms, I say.

(5) Bought an iPod and got Dad to upgrade his hardware so I could copy my CDs to it. It totally rocks as a toy. However, I think I’ve now PC formatted it, and it won’t talk to an Apple after this … still, will be awesome to have all my music with me.

(6) Ate good cheese and bread, and drank beer, with friends on their back veranda, under their pergola of skeletal fig-vines basking in a glorious Canberran early-Spring Sunday afternoon.

(7) Have read my sister’s first few Art History thesis chapters in draft. I feel I know much more about the history of glass art in Australia now, and the huge influence of the Canberra School of Art Glass Workshop upon it.

(8) Have organised my Canberra farewell drinks for Thursday night at the Wig & Pen, where I am spending a suspicious amount of time since my return to Canberra. (Damn award-winning boutique micro-brewery beers.)

(9) Spent time watching Spring unfold around me: cherry trees in Canberra, and my parents’ Manchurian pear trees, are now in full bloom and surrounded by the cheerful drone of bees doing bee-things.

(10) Have spent very little time thinking about law.

Sunday, September 7, 2003

Trading creature comforts for any semblance of cred

Florence is gone. Well, not literally, of course. Let me back up.

I have been a busy little beaver this week in Canberra, oh yes. My entire holiday is now sorted.

Now, let me explain something about myself. I sleep lightly. I cannot sleep on planes, or in hostel dorms. I need a room of my own.

I have spent chunks of the week on the internet trying to secure accommodation in Rome. Paris and Venice were easy – Rome, horrendous. Hostels, convents, monasteries – the first ten budget-accommodation providers I contacted were all booked out.

The concept of arriving after 30 hours without sleep at the Termini station in Rome and beginning doorknocking hostels was not looking good – especially if I eventually landed in a dorm and continued not to sleep.

The cheapest price for (not available) single rooms at a hostel was at least 54 euros. At this point my mother stepped in and hit the last-minute hotel booking sites.

As a result I have gone a bit over budget to pay a princely 69 euros a night in Rome for four nights. It seems a fair bit (about $110 Australian), until I consider what I’m getting: a 200 euro a night room in a four star hotel, with breakfast, a cardinal’s throw from the Vatican.

I can think of no better environment in which to shower, take an evening stroll around the city, and then sleep off the jet lag.

I love my luck.

Nuns in Venice
Now, in this flurry of activity, I was e-mailing convents and monasteries (the new thing in budget travel) like mad. I could only find one convent with a listed e-mail in Venice – the highly recommended Instituto Artigianelli. I composed an e-mail in both fractured and re-glued phrase book Italian and English and sent it off.

The sisters of Instituto Artigianelli replied (in charming English) within eight hours, confirming the availability of guest room one, single bed with bath and breakfast, at 52 euros a night.

Paris – Hostel/Hotel
I’ve found a place where I can get a private room within budget off the Place de Clichy, and rather belatedly hand out with “real” backpackers for four nights or so.

The big chop
So, with only seven nights in Italy, and four in Paris, I decided to drop Florence from my itinerary for the time being – prioritise three adequate, if short, stays, over running around like a mad thing.

I’m going to be tired, I’m going to want to indulge myself and take things at my own pace, I’m going to want to arrive in Cambridge well-rested. Florence can be the hub of a later trip in and around northern Italy. It’s still a must, but if I leave it, it can have adequate time.

I’m now so excited, I can hardly sleep.

Friday, September 5, 2003

Two nights in Canberra: Jazz at Hippo, and seeing “28 days later …”

Canberra’s nightlife gets better and better each time I’m back in town. A new tradition among some of my friends seems to be going to live jazz Wednesdays at the Hippo lounge bar upstairs in Garema Place.

Hippo features a lot of that fashionable burnt-red d├ęcor, mirrors, small chandeliers and fuzzy wallpaper. It felt a little like the Gin Palace, a little like the Lounge Downstairs in Melbourne. It also had a thoroughly adequate cocktail list. Getting a Toblerone for $10, or $8 before 8pm is almost reason enough in itself to move back to Canberra.

The jazz was good, the audience talkative but polite. The crowd seemed fairly mixed between students and professionals, jazz buffs and people looking for a good night out on a weekday. (Worst fashion statement of the night, though - woman in white shirt and matching white cloth cap. Fashion hats, indoors, at night? Ick.)

It was good to see some old friends, even if one arrived dressed exactly like me (black shoes, blue jeans, red shirt, black leather jacket). But then she and I have had a running joke for some time that we are each one half of the perfect gay man.

Last night was far more typical of my time in Canberra: custom-brewed beer and fried potato products at the Wig & Pen pub and micro-brewery. Good training for drinking from pint glasses in a dark-wood and plaster atmosphere. Afterwards I went with the boys to see “28 days later …”.

The protagonist waking up alone in hospital in an eerily quiet London was reminiscent of “Day of the Triffids”. Otherwise it was a fairly intelligent zombie film, with the “infected” being genuinely scary and grotesque (particularly in their movements and vocal effects), even if the red-eye contact lenses were a bit silly.

However, you could still far too often say: “No you idiot, don’t wander off on your own into a dark abandoned building!” Still, the characterisation was better than in most horror (British understatement is always good), and the film played with sensations of suspense and relief well. Some of the visual effects thrown into the road-trip sequence were pretty random, but the digital video production didn’t irritate me anywhere near as much as “hand held” films like “Blair Witch Project”.

Still, you wouldn’t lose anything by waiting for the DVD.

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Naylor Day

Alright, last week's Naylor is finally up. No, there will not be more this week, because I am slack and moving countries and such.

It's a little longer than the usual post anyway.

Right, I'm off to weigh the merits of excess baggage and storage at left luggage in Heathrow while I gad about Italy versus shipping a heap of stuff to myself by air freight.

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Surely he didn’t come out and actually say that?

Back on the Californian recall election, where Arnold Schwarzenegger will be running for election if Governor Gray Davis gets the sack in a special referendum:

"Mr. Schwarzenegger has reneged on early campaign promises not to accept campaign contributions from anyone. State disclosures show he has collected more than $1 million from companies and individuals with business before the state. “I get donations from businesses and individuals absolutely, because they're powerful interests who control things,” he said today."

Including the gubernatorial candidates they've bought off, maybe?

I mean, did he really, really say that? Well, okay, he obviously did. But are we sure he knew what each word meant?

Well, I guess that’s a blunt lesson in honesty for our local politicians taking money to fund “private” campaigns …
And now a word from our sponsors!

I picked up my four year ancestral entry certificate to the UK yesterday, and received with it this cheerful little notice (all punctuation errors as in the original):


If you bring meat into the United Kingdom from countries which are not part of the European Union or European Economic Area you may only bring with you

No more than 1 kilogram of meat which has been cooked in a can or other hermetically sealed container

If you attempt to import more than 1 kilogram of meat or meat which is not properly cooked:

(1) The goods may be seized and destroyed as you enter the United Kingdom

(2) You may be prosecuted and, if found guilty you may be fined up to 5000 pounds or imprisoned for two years.

Only one kilo? Dammit, what am I going to do with the other 23 kilos of grampaw’s part-cured beef jerky in non-hermetically sealed containers in my luggage?

Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Encounters with the free market: part 3
(or “peculiar moments in male bonding”)

So I while ago I mentioned the terrifying prospect of selling my car, and that dream-buyer Steve turned up on the first day and we agreed on a price of $9,600 and he put down a cash deposit.

The sale went ahead the following Monday, now two weeks ago. I popped home on a tram to meet Steve, as agreed, at 11 at my place. Steve worked in fleet logistics for his company, so he knew what needed doing. He’d already checked out the registration and the fact that there was no outstanding loan on the car.

He left me his car and car keys, while he scooted off to run it over the pits and get a roadworthy. I popped down to Vic Roads to get the transfer of ownership paperwork.

“Get two copies,” said Steve, “in case we stuff one up.”

He returned, we duly stuffed up one transfer form and set to work on the other. A few phone calls later, he had the car insured. My only involvement at this point was keeping Muchka the cat out of Steve’s lap.

The weirdish moment was getting the bank cheque. There was visible, stifled man-to-man emotion in the lobby of the National Bank on Sydney road.

He (a family man) was parting with what was for him, and I was taking what was for me, a large sum of money.

I (a tie-less twenty-something) was parting with, and he was taking my – admittedly kinda girly –’99 Toyota Echo so his wife could ferry their boys around Melbourne’s outer ‘burbs.

The money, and the car, were both not small things for we menfolk. We shook hands and parted, complimenting each other on how easy it was to do business with someone fair and friendly.

“Doug, you’ve been a gentleman.”

I crossed the road to avoid walking Steve back to my (now his) car. It somehow seemed – awkward. Our bloke-to-bloke business was done.

I considered tucking the cheque into my moleskine, but in the end just held it firmly in my hand the hundred meter walk to my bank, where I deposited it along with the sales proceeds from the auction of my wardrobe.

I was hoping for at least a gratifying wide-eyed blink from the teller when I deposited a sum of money certainly adding up to the largest banking transaction of my life – but no, nothing. Not a flicker crossed her countenance.

Still, the important thing is that I didn’t drop the cheque and have it blow away down the road …

I now feel gratifyingly, falsely rich. Overall, I lost money on both the car (inevitable) and the wardrobe (disappointing) but am now far more “liquid” than I’ve ever been. I suppose I should do something sensible like invest some of this money for when I get back, if one can invest the piddling sums I’ll have left after setting holiday and beer-in-England money aside.

What’s been your scariest financial transaction?

Monday, September 1, 2003

Countdown to Cambridge: C minus 28 days
(My last four days in excruciating detail)

Today: Visa day!

Canberra is a little surreal after Melbourne. The sky is so big, everything else looks, well, flat – or in bizarrely compressed perspective, like a Jeffrey Smart painting.

Indeed, whoever designed the Brindabella Business Park at the Canberra airport had clearly recently OD’d on some Smart paintings: solid blocks of industrial colour rising out of no discernable foreground and standing stark against the sky. The buildings all had that assembled-from-simple-shapes-on-a-fuzzy-felt-board look to them. One of these oddities was the quaintly titled Piccadilly House, which accommodates the British High Commission Consular Section.

I felt nervous that my paperwork would be found wanting. (“What do you mean you don’t have birth certificates for at least five grandparents?”) However, the only hassle was waiting. A cheery consular officials sat behind a bank teller’s glass screen and informed me, tinnily, through a Bose speaker that my four-year ancestry-based entry permit will be ready to collect lunchtime tomorrow.

To step back in time:

Friday night:
I did, in the end, get a bit emotional, saying goodbye to my colleagues. The boss and his PA (hereafter, “Moneypenny”) had some lovely words to say, and I went for a pre-drinks drink with Moneypenny where we managed to get sincerely sentimental about the quality of our working relationship.

It has been an excellent year working closely with the two of them, and I’ve learned a good deal from both.

My second farewell function was aimed at outside-work friends, although Mr Z and another recent-leaver from my organisation were kind enough to come along. Drinks were low-key and at the Lounge, on the upstairs balcony. I was delighted by the turnout. There was a good cross-section of lawyer-type, blogging, book clubbing, old Canberra and new Melbourne friends – as well as it being the first occasion when my new, temporary set of housemates were all out on the town together.

The most amusing part of the night was my effort at table reservation. I arrived first (a mere 20 minutes late) to find the far corner of *my* table already colonised by a group of Brunswick Street types whom I randomly decided to be cinema studies students planning a short film. I sat as far as possible from them, and allowed friends to infill around me, creeping along the table.

“Yup,” I said, “it starts with population pressures, ripens into border disputes – and then it’s all just a question of what the German economy is doing.”

The situation resolved itself according to some unsuspected law of moral balance: as soon as we (the late arriving types who’d booked) filled exactly half the table and were elbow-to-elbow with the interlopers, they spontaneously rose, apologised and retreated to an island colony of two nearby tables which they pushed together.

The second most amusing part of the evening was finishing up my final night in Melbourne dancing at the self-consciously daggy 80s/90s disco at the Builders Arms Hotel on Getrude Street. Nicole, Miriam, Martin, Fiona and I were the posse for that event. Some of the others present didn’t look as though they’d changed their hair styles since the music was first played.

Saturday: I awoke at 9 am, refreshingly un-hungover and began madly stuffing my remaining possessions into two bags. I’d got it down to three coats, a pillow, a fedora (ie Humphrey Bogart) hat, two large green suitcases (only one with wheels), two suit-packs and several stray handfuls of bits and pieces by the time the brunching hour rolled about.

My final meal in Melbourne was a lovely brunch at the Comfortable Chair on Lygon Street. My god they do a huge plateful of food for $10. The company was my exceedingly excellent flatmates and round-the-corner Miriam. And there were bad puns and good coffee.

Such good coffee, and such bad puns. Many of them mine …

The trip to the airport was punctuated by a terribly sweet goodbye phone call from a dear Melbourne friend. Arriving at the airport, however, proved what a hideous encumbrance three coats, a pillow, a fedora, two large green suitcases, two suit-packs and several stray handfuls of bits and pieces shoved into a shoulder bag can be.

Especially when you forget to put your old boy-scout’s pocket knife in your checked luggage.

(It’s following me by mail.)

On the plane to Canberra, I saw one of my scholarship referees, but was unable to catch her for a chat on disembarking. (Must’ve been frightened by my unshaven appearance.

Or the hat.)

Mum and my sister collected me at the airport. It was good to see them. Although my mother’s vest and slacks, eerily, were the same green as my luggage.

Canberra welcomed me with rain and horizontal wind, which was not a great change from recent Melbourne weather, all told.

Sunday: Brunch with the Ruminator! And an absolute stack of dear, ole Canberra friends it was delight to see. We talked, we ate, we watched chunks of “The Animatrix”. (I liked the noir-ish detective story – for reasons that had nothing to do with the guy’s excellent hat.) Beer at the Wig & Pen ensued, followed by dinner with the family, then staying up half the night reading Ben’s “Promethea” collection in a single sitting.

Damn quality Allan Moore writing.

Blogging today will be delayed ...

I'm off to do noble battle with surly visa beasts.

Actually, I've heard the British High Commission in Canberra is really friendly and quick.

However, I've decided it might also be prudent to get visas for a number of other places I'd like to visit before leaving the country. People warn me that most of Eastern Europe still has a decidely communist-era approach to the issue of visas and their inspection at borders ...

Anyway, just trying to finish off my paperwork for a 4 year entry permit to the UK based on my mother's father being a UK citizen. Had it been my father's father I could get a UK passport.

Why did my parents not have the sense to get me born in the UK and save all this mucking about?

Much to report about the end of my time in Melbourne/the return to Canberra, but later.