Blog Archives

Travelling & the Gypsy Heart.

Ios

I was 13 the first time I travelled internationally.  It was 1971, Alitalia still flew out of Sydney and smoking was still allowed on planes.  People would dress up to fly and it was still a big deal.  We winged our way to Rome via Bombay, as it was called then, in a smoke-filled metal tube with no personal entertainment — and it was fabulous.  It was my parents’ first visit back to the country of their birth in 14 years and my first encounter with my Italian extended family.  I was hooked.

smoking-airplane

Travel has been one of the great joys of my life and if I’m not re-incarnated as a Travel Writer, I shall be bitterly disappointed.  Could there be any greater bliss than being paid to visit the far-flung corners of this glorious, diverse planet?  People dream about becoming wealthy so they can afford prestige cars, luxury homes, jewellery and clothes whereas I wistfully think I could live in a shack if only I could jet off to some new location whenever I wanted…. (School term permitting of course. Your daydreams have to be somewhat modified when there are other people to consider.)

This nostalgia springs from my girlfriend’s daughter having upped stakes for 12 months of travelling, as I did at 24. And for those 12 months I roamed the world like a true gypsy.  For 12 months I answered to no-one but myself.  No restraints, no responsibilities – just complete freedom to come, go, stay, eat, drink, take risks, learn, marvel, do whatever I wanted to do and be whoever I wanted to be.  I wouldn’t exchange the life I have now but if a time machine were ever invented, I know where I’d be going.  Plus, I was skinny.

Me on ship

Mirror, Mirror…

Reflections of a face that is sometimes not your own…

I watch your eyes like twin chameleons    change with shades of other lives.

The aquamarine of Grecian seas    when indolence was all there was

     and farmers wearing hats of straw     worked the beaches selling fruit

     to bodies baked to nutmeg brown.

The cloudy grey of Paris skies     when baguettes and brie went hand in hand

     with lazy walks along the Seine     and an angry young man

     whose Irish blood     could not disguise the poet’s heart.

You turn your head to catch the time

     and curse the need

     to run your life to dull routines

     when neon digits take the place

     of sunlight through a shuttered door.

(C) Daniela Scalcon

 “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”   ― Mary Anne Radmacher

America on My Mind.

america

My ex-pat friend based in Los Angeles recently wrote a piece describing what she misses about Australian food and even though I’ve been back from Atlanta for 13 years, there are still things I miss about America; the things that always seem to come up in conversation with either my husband or other people and that make me quite nostalgic for the good ol’ U S of A. So, in no particular order:

SERVICE:  Great service.  All the time. Across the board.  Can you even imagine a land where …. service providers, repairmen, furniture deliverers and all others of their ilk give you a three-hour window and actually turn up IN THAT WINDOW?

…. Sales Assistants not only acknowledge you but ask “May I help you with something?” rather than “Are ya right?” which comes only after they’ve finished chatting to each other about what-evah,  then looking stunned to discover a customer actually in the store. (Is it so wrong to want to stab them in the eye with a coat hanger?)

…. whole cities have Department Stores that don’t consider staff an optional extra, unlike Sydney where they’re like the Yeti – lots of rumoured sightings but no confirmation of actual existence and

…. restaurants don’t mistake you for Linda Blair’s eye-bulging, head-swivelling possessed person because you’ve been trying for 20 futile minutes to catch a waiter’s eye for more water or the dessert menu or the bill. bad-customer-service

BUFFALO WINGS & HASH BROWNS: Americans can’t make coffee and Australians can’t make hash browns. It seems the fewer the ingredients, the more unpalatable you can make something.  Yes, you can get good coffee in America but it’s made by Australians so chances are, there are Americans in Australia turning out delicious hash browns but I’ve yet to come across them.  Who knew there was so much room for error mixing potatoes, egg and flour? So far, I’ve only tasted the ones that are either crisp enough to pass as cornflakes or so stodgy you could mortar bricks with them. In America, even the diviest of dives will present you with a perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside jagged serve of potato goodness.

Same goes for Buffalo Wings – which, if you don’t already know – are actually chicken wings and are called what they are  in the US because they were invented in Buffalo, New York.  Don’t say you never learn anything from my ramblings.  Anyway… it’s the paprika that gives them that disturbing orange colour but what I wouldn’t give for a little Trekkie technology to be able to beam myself into Atlanta’s ‘Three Dollar Café’ for a plateful. You have a choice of mild, medium or losing feeling in the lower part of your face. All good.

chicken wings   homemadehashbrowns

TURNING RIGHT (our LEFT) ON RED: Everywhere.  Yes, we can do it here but only on 17 random intersections (OK, I made that number up) in random suburbs on roads that cover an urban area of roughly 12,000 square kilometres.  If you don’t know why Sydney-siders would give up their first-borns to the Roads and Traffic Authority for making this a blanket practice then you obviously don’t drive in Sydney.  But wait, there’s more.  It also gives people less of a chance to fiddle with their phones – which is what everyone does at red lights…admit it.

left turn on red                                          left turn on red                                       left turn on red

atlanta outlet

OUTLET MALLS: The Stepford Wives of retail.  (For those of you totally oblivious to the reference, you youngsters you, “The Stepford Wives” was a 1975 sci-fi movie in which all the wives living in a small town called Stepford, looked and behaved the same, you know, like the Eastern Suburbs here.   Ignore the Nicole Kidman 2004 re-make and watch the original.)  So what I’m saying is that every Outlet Mall looks almost the same.  You can probably pick them out from the air.  Rows and rows and rows of stores. But the savings are SERIOUS.  Even designer pieces can be slashed by 85%.  Sydney’s Birkenhead and DFO are less-than-pale imitations because when I see them touting HUGE SAVINGS because something has been reduced by 25%, I want to laugh hysterically and tell them to look up the word “clueless” in the dictionary.  I understand Australian retailers are working with a population of 23 million rather than 317,000 million, thus, incredibly less volume and competition but this won’t stop me from taking an empty suitcase to Honolulu in August when I hit the Waikele Premium Outlets running.

WHOLEFOODS & THE WAFFLE HOUSE: Wholefoods is a one-stop, pesticide and preservative-free nirvana for anyone organically inclined.  It aims to carry as many minimally processed foods as possible ranging over every food group but also stocks supermarket staples such as laundry supplies and cosmetics.  They have my undying love and gratitude because due to their range of organic baby food, I didn’t have to peel, puree or pulverise a single fruit or vegetable when my son was a baby. And when you’d finished your shopping, there was a pre-prepared food section with seating and a microwave for a quick bite before hauling everything home.  Again, the mitigating factor is population so it was only minimally more expensive than regular supermarkets.  Unfortunately that is far from the case here and I’m not that invested to pay the sometimes, exorbitant difference.

Whole-Foods-Market-store-Detroit-03 ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

At the other end of the scale is The Waffle House which would be what most people think of as a Greasy spoon, a colloquial term coined in the USA  for a small, cheap restaurant or diner that typically specialises in fried foods and can I say, Amen to that!  They are the most basic of eateries – an open kitchen, a counter , seating and a jukebox and the one I really, really miss.  Open 24 hours, my husband and I would usually stop there late at night on the way home from somewhere and within minutes of ordering, I would have been served my plate of perfectly cooked eggs, sunny-side up, hash browns and toast.  The menu is quite extensive and if you ever visit and see that iconic yellow sign, don’t judge a book by its cover – it’s the quintessential short-order experience. 

Unfortunately, the fact America is bat-crap crazy about guns constantly garners all the attention but I’m sure many of you have either visited or lived there and have brought home your own favourites.  I would love to hear about them.have-a-nice-day

School: Every day is critical…not…

quote for blog

For the love of God, someone put me on a panel or committee so I can come up with ludicrous conclusions and get paid a bucket-load of money for it. I would be SO great at that job. There was an article in the paper this week that stated, “Findings presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research’s annual conference yesterday claim NAPLAN results show a solitary day off can lead to a decline in academic performance. Unsurprisingly, principals have been quick to warn parents against taking children on a holiday during school term.” I don’t even know where to begin…

What “findings” and who presented them? Who did the research? I’m assuming whoever conducted this study did some kind of comparison between absenteeism and NAPLAN results. How many schools were in the sample? Were they Private? Public? Selective? Religious? Primary School? High School? What socio-economic areas were covered? Were country schools included? Considering how many other factors come into play with the NAPLAN exams themselves, I just can’t get my head around the connection. NAPLAN tests only two subjects; some schools spend weeks teaching to the NAPLAN topics and format; some schools actually ask their ‘less academic’ students to stay home; some parents won’t allow their children to even sit for NAPLAN; some children will be so nervous they ‘choke’. The whole premise is just rubbish.

And it’s interesting that the only connection made was taking kids out of school for holiday trips. What about when they’re sick? After absolutely no research, I guarantee at least 75% of children have at least one day off a year for colds, gastric bugs and whatever else happens to be going around at the time. Apparently they will all be academically disadvantaged; bereft of all hope of ever catching up on those six lessons they missed. My son was absent from school for over a week when he had his appendix removed two years ago but is somehow still managing to do exceedingly well. What about when the kids go away to camp and DON’T DO LESSONS FOR A WHOLE WEEK? Schools should now recognise what irreparable damage they are doing and cease such activities immediately. This point also serves to show how hypocritical it is of some schools to frown upon taking children out during term but are quite happy to send them off to school camps.

We’re very lucky our son attends a school which is very accommodating in that regard especially if it is an overseas trip. Beyond the academic, their stated mission is to send well-rounded young men into the world and what classroom could be better than the world in helping to achieve that aim. If you look at everything as an opportunity to learn, even a trip to Disneyland can be viewed in terms of cultural exploration, a chance to practice social skills or a means of conquering fear. (Stomach-churning rollercoasters anyone?) At the opposite end of the spectrum, one of my girlfriends lived in London for a few years and the primary school her kids attended was reform-school strict. Her mother was quite ill and to take them out one week early to return to Australia almost required production of a doctor’s certificate to confirm the gravity of her illness. Ridiculous.

Who better than Albert Einstein, who was not too shabby in the brains department, to provide the last word: The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.

The Road Rules Rant.

I’m the happiest person you’ll ever meet. Really.  Sunshine and light. The funny one. The eternal optimist (married, ironically, to the world’s greatest ‘don’t-trust-anyone-ist’). My girlfriend says my opinion on people is rubbish because I like everybody. That’s not strictly true but I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, the disappointments who have crossed my path have been few and far between. Unfortunately, incompetents and the inconsiderate are another matter entirely. Especially on the road.

As we enjoyed four days of almost empty roads because half of Sydney cleared out for the Easter break, allow me to  enumerate the many and wondrous ways you can improve not only my, but your fellow travellers’, experience on our narrow and congested highways and byways.

1. Re-acquaint yourself with your blinkers. (Indicators, for any American readers.)  One ‘blink’ when you’re already three quarters of the way into my lane, two inches from my bumper bar doesn’t cut it. They are supposed to indicate intention. I would have let you in, honest.  Now I’m just peeved.

b. If you want to turn right (left, in America), how about you let me know more than two seconds before you stop or before I pull up behind you at traffic lights. When this happens, I guarantee you, that person you see gripping the steering wheel and mouthing something is not singing along to the radio. If expletives could be magically transformed into electricity, this scenario would power the entire east coast.

c. Like pimples on an adolescent’s face, roundabouts appear seemingly overnight in this city. Since they are placed at intersections and since I am not clairvoyant, I don’t actually know which way it is you intend to go. Left? Right? Straight ahead?  Could a blinking light on the outside of the car give me a clue? While we’re here, I may as well point out something else.  The rule is to give way to traffic already in the roundabout and proceed when there is a gap in said traffic. It does not say stop and give way to the car on your right which is still in the next suburb, just heading your way. (Hello? Husband?)

2. Clearway times are not flexible. Surprisingly, if the sign says 9.00am, the expectation of The Roads and Traffic Authority, along with your fellow drivers, is that you NOT PARK there before that time. There is no small print on the sign that says “Oh, by all means, if you’re running late for your train, feel free to park here at 8.50.” You will also not find an exception made for those people desperate for their skinny lattes who “should feel free to just stop for a few minutes to duck in and get their coffees.” at 8.45.  Same applies at the other end of the day when clearways commence at 3.30 to ease that great seething mass of  automobilia known as the school pick-up.  Clearways are our only pitiful defense against peak hour because we get two miserable lanes instead of one.  So please stop stuffing it up.

3. Learn how to park.  Honestly, if there is a line of cars waiting (not by choice) to see whether your eighth attempt at reversing into that Westfields car space is successful, may I humbly suggest you just bite the bullet, find another one and go in nose first. Truly, there’s no shame in it.

b. Marked car spaces. Those lines that delineate car spaces are not a suggestion. You are supposed to park in between them – not over them, not across them.  You are lucky we live in a reasonably civilised society otherwise  people would stab your tyres.

c. Even in the suburbs, on-street parking can sometimes be difficult to find so when you see someone who has taken up two car spaces, your first instinct is to buy a crane, lift their car and drop it into the nearest body of water.  Well, maybe not but you get my drift.  Unless you are driving a limousine or a Hummer, there is no excuse.

4. Green means Go. Most people understand that when the light turns green you put your foot on the accelerator and move…..forward…preferably, immediately.   There is nothing more frustrating than watching from bumper to bumper traffic as the first car in line waits for a particular shade of green then those following leave a couple of car lengths before deciding to head off. This eventuates in a grand total of four or five cars getting through the lights before they again turn red. When this happens at Right Turn Arrows which only last a millisecond at the best of times, it makes the rest of us want to curse your first-born children.

I’m sure everyone has their own pet peeve to add to the list.  A mass exercise in grumpiness! Even with the Easter weekend over, school holidays are still bringing some relief on our roads so enjoy while you can.  The chaos will be back soon enough.