Friday, July 30, 2004

New Naylor: posting from the road

I apologise to readers of Naylor's Canberra for how long it's taking me to get new material up. I blame travel. The present installment is composed direct-to-blog, and is not necessarily complete. I'll try and add to it from the road.

Rest assured, I now very nearly have a complete plan that will get me through to an ending.

A Monday evening PS: I've added to the Naylor post, the new material starts at the line in bold text.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Road trip

Like Lyn, I am about to head off on holiday with my parents. Three weeks: Cambridge, Lakes District, Edinburgh. I’m to meet them in a nearby village and drive the family into Cambridge in the rental car.

Driving, in Cambridge. The idea weirds me out. I’ve only ever cycled here, and have not been behind a steering wheel in ten months.

Anyway, time for some pet peeves and lessons learned in my continuing spate of tourism:


(1) The self-narrating American. (S)he says: “Will you look at that bridge!” Doug thinks: It’s over a hundred metres long, nearly a millennium old, made of rock and right in frikken front of me. Where the Hell else would I be looking?
(2) European school-children on supervised holidays. Massed adolescence is not any better when it is French, German or Italian. Though watching them for’n kids trying to steer punts is terribly amusing, provided you’re on a bridge, not the water.

(3) People who, despite Ryan Air’s policy of boarding people in orderly batches of 30 by ticket numbers (after old people and those with children), still mill about in an absolute crush at the boarding gate.

(4) Those chronically unable to enjoy their holiday: “… and she looked at me like I was mad when I asked if we could sit together, just because we weren’t animals and didn’t barge our way to the front.” Doug thinks: It’s not allocated seating. Is spending a one-hour flight not grafted to your beloved’s side going to kill you?

Or: “You said outside TWO free drinks on this tour, I’d like my mineral water as well as my coffee, please.” Doug: Lady, the man is sorting out drinks for two dozen people here, I have every confidence he’ll come back with your precious second beverage.

(1) When backpacking, carrying your own towel is always a plus. Douglas Adams really knew what he was on about.

(2) The world is a desperately small place. (Witness my bumping into college buddies in Barcelona, and meeting a girl at the hostel who knew someone I’d worked with on the phone fundraising campaign).

(3) Carrying a litre of water, camera and notebook at all times is seldom a wasted effort.

(4) The dumb hat, stupid shorts and ratty old sneakers packed for emergencies will almost always turn into necessities.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

It’s nice to feel wanted
I always feel turning down a job interview is somehow close to suicidal, yet I’ve been doing a bit of it recently.
As a result of a mad spate of applying for advertised jobs before news about PhD funding came through, I made interview with a federal government department and my undergraduate university (the ANU). I also had a tentative e-mail from an outfit I'd seriously like to work for in response to an unsolicited CV and cover letter.
And I’ve bitten the bullet, been honest, and said I’m not available.
My only twinge on this point is - the wheels of Cambridge bureaucracy grinding slower than the mills of god - I’ve not yet had 100% iron-clad acceptance for the PhD place. I have the money and the marks, which is all I need to be confirmed, but I don’t have a letter yet saying “Yup, you’re officially good to go.”
That may not arrive until September, and this is nothing unusual.
(Bizarrely, what is holding things up is that the Board of Graduate Studies does not, a month after graduation, have official notice of my marks in the LLM. I guess this is their busiest time of year, and I suspect the hold-up is at the law faculty’s end … )
I suspect the sensible thing to do would have been to do the interviews or ask to be kept in consideration, but in at least one case this would involve setting up a videoconference and preparing a seminar in the middle of my travel plans.

Also, I think, better to preserve a reputation for being scrupulously up front with people you may want to approach for work in a few years’ time. 
Still, being presented with other (possible) options always injects a little niggling doubt into your plans, doesn’t it?

... Nah. I'm a born academic, this is so what I'm meant to be doing.
Back in Cambridge at present, and also realising anew that I have a social life here. Within hours of returning from Prague I bumped into half a dozen people and pretty much had my free nights before the parents arrive booked up.

 All round, it’s nice to feel wanted.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Keys and Porters 2
So I’m presently in the midst of a four-day stint of life admin between bouts of travel.
Today I was repacking some of my belongings into cardboard boxes in the storage room I’m using at college – and recalled the disaster I had three weeks ago moving my stuff into it.
I’ve partially afforded my recent travel by letting my room go over the summer, but this has meant storing my things. Had I been at the main graduate accommodation complex, this would have just meant schlepping everything down to the storeroom.
But I was at a college satellite property. (“Satellite” in the sense of being closer to the centre of town than, say, the moon.) I was damned if I was going to haul dozens of little boxes a one-hour return trip by bike up to the main grad site.
So I swung access to a basically disused (over summer anyway) bit of office space in college and took several big-ish boxes in by taxi, signed out the one key for the office in question at the Porter’s Lodge, took my first box up a flight of stairs, deposited it and the key on the office floor and left, the door slamming.
With. The. Only. Key. Inside.
There was no other key. Many, many people who have had the use of this room over time have dissipated all spare keys.
I did the only thing you can do in such a situation. I went for a Porter.
The Porter on duty was a big, solid chap with a strong, creased face. Had I been told he’d been hand-carved from something ancient and probably oaken, it would have come as no surprise.
He followed me into a courtyard and looked up at the half-open office window.
 “Oh, for a ladder,” he said, phlegmatically.
As it was a weekend, the maintenance department had left all their ladders locked up. We did find an old wooden ladder at the back of the carpenters’ store, in a pile of scrap wood.
“I’ll get it,” I said. “As it was me that locked the keys in, I should go up.”
We trudged back, leaned the ladder up the wall where it stopped two feet below the little mediaeval looking window, all small glass panes set in iron, half-ajar.
“Too short,” was the Porter’s assessment. “How do you feel about going up?”
“That last two feet makes me nervous,” I replied, wondering if we could stand the ladder on a nearby bench.
“Hold this a moment,” said the Porter, putting a foot on a rung.
I grabbed it, presuming he was testing it for strength. Suddenly, he was at the top, with his head in the open half of the window.
“I can see the key,” he said. “If nothing else, I can see the key. Hold on a second.”
He got his fingers inside the frame, then one shoe on the sandstone window ledge, and then he had one black-trousered leg inside the window.
I am tall, but slightly built. I was confident I could have gotten through the small opening the window offered. A man a head taller and built like something recently detached from a cliff face I worried about.
He was poised, half-in and half-out, suspended by little but his fingers. “God, I’m going to kill a Porter,” I though, envisaging him falling head-first onto the flagstones.
Then with a twist and a duck he was in. Minutes later he was standing in the courtyard, dust all over one knee, handing me the key.
“There you are,” he said. “I’ve trees this height at home. Up and down ladders all the time.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Photos from Barcelona
Are now up over here. Florence and Prague may take a little longer.
Is anyone else now viewing the text on this site in a really, really narrow collumn.
It's peeving me ...

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Prague: getting the "Kafka" into "Kafka-esque" 
Prague did not start so well. My hostel, on first encounter, had an institutional grimness defying the more immediate forms of description. At check in there was a computer and bank-card payment facilities, but everything important was done on loose paper and in large, dog eared ledgers with grid paper.
The buildings are clean to a lawyer's scruple, lino-floored and were repainted cream and brown in recent decade. I would like to say the effect is "post-Soviet", but the prefix would be misleading.
My room, booked as a single, is a twin. One bed mattress is three large lounge cushions pushed together, the other (I discovered on my second night) is foam, but all of one piece. The bedding consists of a translucent polyester bottom sheet that almost covers the "mattress", pillows offering no actual resistence to a head placed on them, and a duvet in several shades of pastel hideousness.
The towel provided is of the type I normally prefix with the word "tea". Very glad to have travelled with my own full-grown towel in the backpack. The toilet on my landing has a window opening onto a space within the walls facing another window for what might once have been another WC, but which is now full of snaking wires. (Very "The Matrix"). On inspection, the space between the walls is a five floor drop into darkness at one end, and open to the sky at the other.
That said, it is cheap and relatively central. (Even if I was informed with bland, bored pragmatism on my first morning that "breakfast included" only referred to groups.)
Prague itself is beautiful, and the food and beer is amazingly cheap. It's proved very easy to meet English-speaking travellers, especially through the plentiful walking tours. That said, six days on the ground may have been excessive. After three days of heavy walking, the sudden return to seasonably warm weather today has made me very sleepy. Sent most of the day napping or reading the international edition of the Guardian in the gorgeous parks surrounding the 1:5 scale replica of the Eiffel tower that overlooks the city.
Can't decide between going home and changing for a jazz club this evening, or just wandering back to the film festival at Sharpshooter Island and watching Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" over a beer. Should go and check out the rather ghoulish-sounding ossuary (chapel made of human bones) in a nearby town tomorrow, but the busses on a Sunday will be difficult and infrequent (it's closed Monday and I'm gone before it opens Tuesday).
Can also see why some are already claiming tourism has ruined Prague: depressingly large strips of poor-quality souvenir shops everywhere.
Still, love the Jewish Quarter and Paris Street. There is an amusing metronome on top of one hill where a 30 metre statue of Stalin once stood. Michael Jackson then put a 30 metre statue of himself up there before one of his concerts, and booked out the hotel facing the hill from across the river. Hysterical. Now the metronome symbolises the ebb and flow of history here at the crossroads of Europe. Apparently, during the EU referendum, it's long red pointer swung between signs reading "yes" and "no".

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Hola from Barcelona

Tip for novice players no. 57: when the locals are sharing flourescent drinks approximately the colour of toxic waste in the Simpsons from huge glass steins with straws in them, take seriously the waiter's expression of surprise when you and your hostel drinking buddies order one a piece.

I have not had such a messy night in some time.

Fortunately, this was Saturday night and I hit Barcelona Tuesday, thus having covered most of my sight-seeing before writing off a day to a hangover.

I thought I had given my heart to Florence, but hussy that I am I find myself spuring Firenze's delights for Barcelona. This is simply an amazing town.

I am in love with the Gothic Quarter and the turn-of-the-century Modernista architecture in surrounding districts. Gauidi's La Pedrera apartment block and Sagrada Familia cathedral are works of genius and well worth the price of admission. I also adore Barcelona Catherdral and the iron-railing enclosed garden of palm trees and white geese in the centre of its cloisters.

I also like the wonderfully open, fun, friendly, casual style of the place - and eating three course Catalan cuisine in the El Raval or La Ribera districts on an 8 euro fixed-price lunch (drinks and service included).

It´s also festival season and there's plenty of free stuff on in the evening. Friday I went to see some amazing contemporary dance in the square between Modern Art Museum and Contemporary Culture Centre (itself an architectural wonderland - three 18th century facades reflected in a huge fourth wall of glass).

Last night I went with some Americans to see the fountains and light show at Montjuic park before heading off for a fabled bar that served shots from a menu of nearly 100 mixed drinks at 1.50 euro a shot.

Things got kinda messy as we had no idea what was in anything we were ordering. This lead to the lapse of judgement involved in ordering the uber-drinks.

Which lead to me declaring I was "just fine" to get the night bus back to the hostel in the rain without a jacket or umbrella.

I do not think I have thrown up as often, or as spectacularly, in some time. Indeed, I´ve not thrown up through excessive drinking since 1999. The wonderful thing about being extraordinarily intoxicated in a foreign city in torrential rain is the complete lack of shame one feels at the rather efficient option of, when the bus pulls up for a stop that is not yours, leaning out and emptying the contents of one´s gullet into the gutter.

I was, needless to say, a tad fragile this morning. (Should not have started my breakfast with a peach, should have skipped straight to the dry bread which I held down rather nicely thank you).

As Waugh put it: "Please believe it was not the quantity, or the quality, but rather the mixture."

What´s been your biggest night on the town lately?

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Milano, Milano

Given the serious damage Milan in a sales season can do to one's wealth I have probably gotten off light. Around 90 euro has netted me two jazz CDs (Brad Mehldau, Cassandra Wilson), some linen pants in a kind of denim blue with a thin brown double pin stripe and a white business shirt with a pattern of fine blue stripes.

I have also risked life and limb, getting used to being zipped around Milan on the back of S's scooter. We could, apparently, have taken a car had he not left his wallet at the metal detector at Stansted airport last week.

His parents have been absolutely lovely to me. Though I might rupture something from the sheer volume and variety of light summer foods and cold pasta that have been pressed upon me.

Basically, it's been a day and a half of taking it easy and ambling around in the heat. We were turned away from the Cathedral interior on the grounds we were wearing shorts and I was happy enough to skip any cultural dimension after the overload in Florence.

Our cultural high point was sipping white martinis on the pavement seating of a bar in a not terribly fashionable lane (eating free prosciutto, melon, artichoke heart salad, white cheese and tomato) talking about common friends and uncertain futures as the orange trams rattled by.

If S lands a job here while he takes a year out to apply to Columbia for a PhD, I will have to come back often. Especially now S has mentioned those fatal words in suit shopping: "outlet store".

Tomorrow I am going back to Firenze to finish off a few sights and to pick up that brown oily-calfskin leather jacket, even though it will blow a 150 euro hole in my budget, I just want it in ways verging on the idolatrous. Still, at the price it would be wasteful not to buy it.

I expect the train trip will advance me a further three hours through what will be my fourth reading of Jonathon Franzen's "The Corrections" - I don't think a book has ever given me so much pleasure on re-reading. I devour the words.

Thinking of that, in a room of a Fireze museum where the American women did indeed come and go, talking of Michelangelo, I heard the following conversation regarding a fresco:

"Mommy, why is the devil eating that man?"

"The pictures are about the seven sins, darling. That man is being punished for gluttony."

"What's gluttony?"

"Well, honey, it used to be a sin to eat too much ..."

Used to be. Glad to know that the statute of limitations applying to the word of the Eternal has run on that one - at least as regards first world consumerism.

Friday, July 2, 2004

Wrapping up in Florence

Milan tomorrow, where I stay with S, the Italian sociologist. (For those with shopping questions, see the comments to the last entry.)

The Campaggio Michelangelo has been great. Very camping ground atmosphere, but 15 to 30 minutes by bus from the station or from Santa Croce. Met a good gang on the first night, but they have all now left. The bar terrace is lively, and the view out to the Duomo spectacular (the camp ground is on the same hill, and is level with the Michelangelo lookout/piazza).

I've done the predictable things, but my favourite site has to be San Miniato al Monte, a monastery church built by benedictines. Spectacular views, fabulous Romanate 11th century interior. Incredibly peaceful, being slightly off the tourist path.

In other news, at the Palazzo Vecchio I attached myself to an Australian Bar Association conference tour group and almost slipped for free into a (second) look around the Uffizzi ...