Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pet Peeves: an Ongoing Saga

Well, today I attended the second half of the Matthias Müller conference. There were, of course, papers presented during this conference, and one of them spurred me to write a somewhat spirited bit of response. Well, not really response, but more a reaction to what I felt was a heavy part of the argument: medium specificity.

Is there actually medium specificity? Of course, painting and sculpture do a poor job of delivering music, but aside from such ridiculousness, media are far less specific than many would like.

There is nothing much more special in one medium over another. Celluloid vs. digital video, vinyl record vs. compact disc, &c. arguments over which is inherently superior in its ability to capture and communicate things have very little merit. Each has its place and use. Some register certain aspects of their subject better than their counterparts, and fail to register others as well as does the counterpart. This does not make one superior to the others except insofar as someone may desire to utilize a particular strength at a particular time.

Arguments of which should exist and which fall by the wayside, or that insist on an overall superiority of one or another, are simply intellectual masturbation. Tools are there to be used. The more tools one has in the toolchest, the greater the number of creative possibilities in one's output.

At least as far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Travelogue Day 56


I arrive back in Boston a little before 07:00, and they've sent this plane's luggage to the wrong claim too. I notice that one of my bags feels light and have a moment of dread the though of broken wine bottles. I walk outside the terminal, and it's already just as hot at this early hour as it had been in L.A. at midday, and with more humidity. I'm not prepared for this.

I got a cab, and the driver is rather pleasant. We talk about how the people who sold the faulty product to the Big Dig should be prosecuted and the intricacies of driving now that the section of tunnel connecting to I-90 has been shut down because of the falling concrete that killed a woman. Even with the detours, the cab ride costs roughly what I expected. My apartment is pretty much how I left it. There seems to have been an issue with the plumbing. Nothing is water damaged, but dirt rings in various places around the sink indicate there's a story here. I open one bag to the smell of overexposed wine. The good news? Only one bottle was broken (shattered into tiny pieces actually). The bad news? All clothing in that suitcase was soaked in semillon and needed washing.

My other suitcase fared somewhat better. Both bottles of wine were intact, but my hair conditioner exploded through its Ziploc bag. Luckily, the fallout was contained to my coat and some socks. They are easily cleanable.

Devon got caught up in Cleveland and made it in late. We had some beers, then it was off to try to get some sleep. I'll get my mail and resupply in the next few days. I'm still depressed and whinging about leaving Australia, but I'm sure I'll get over it. I do intend to make my way back there. Hopefully that will happen while I'm still young enough to enjoy it.

Travelogue Day 55


Miraculously, it's still 17/7. We must be traveling awfully fast to go back in time like that.

I wake and watch the parts of Ice Age 2 that I slept through. Some more video gaming, then I slipped in and out of sleep for the next hour or so. It was somewhat disappointing that they didn't have warm cloths for our freshening up this time, but breakfast came soon. It was pretty good too, French toast style bread with diced cinnamon apples, a different tasty cupcake, and more passion fruit juice.

I watched a good portion of the last half of March of the Penguins before they shut down the entertainment system for final approach to L.A. Looking out the window, I couldn't help but be depressed. Before me sprawled miles upon miles of concrete and asphalt with nary a tree to be seen. The landing was one of the smoothest I've experienced, kudos to the pilot.

The trip through customs was exceptionally quick, and we made our way to the baggage claim. Devon had been seated amidst the People to People kids, unfortunately, and I did not envy him that in the least. Especially when I heard that his monitor didn't work.

Once we got our bags (after a mix-up with where they were supposed to be), we lost Donna. She had to, literally, run to catch her next flight. A.C. was next to go. She met a friend when we got to the public area and was off. I found Mike and Devon. We went to our respective terminals to check in our luggage before making our way to the international terminal's food court.

I found myself captivated by a particularly attractive woman as we approached the international terminal, and that seemed to be the order of the day. Mike left Devon and I around 15:00 to catch his flight, and my last minute attempts to reach Robert didn't work out, so Devon and I loitered outside one of the three entrances to the international terminal. We occupied ourselves by spotting beautiful women as they made their ways into or out of the building and chatting about Australia.

It was during one of these chat breaks from girl watching that I realized why I was so depressed upon leaving Australia. I realized that I was so reluctant to leave because it felt like home feels. I had been comfortable, knew my way around passably, had met some cool people, some of whom could have turned out to be friends, &c. You always hate when you're forced to leave somewhere like that.

During another low volume of pretty passersby, we spotted Forest Whitaker going into the terminal. Surprisingly enough, it seemed like we were the only people who did. There were maybe two other people who looked like they did a double take, but that was all. We were surprised. Forest Whitaker is a fairly well known fellow.

A few hours later and it was my turn to go. I left Devon to wait the extra two hours until his flight by himself and entered terminal 4. I had some chips with queso and a margarita at Chili's. It was good to have something closer to Mexican spicing. After the meal, I had only a few minutes until boarding.

I cleared my sinuses and put in some of my eye drops for good measure; then my head went numb. I tried to catch up a little on this travelogue, but I would fall asleep mid-word like a narcoleptic, so I gave up. I fell in and out of sleep for the rest of the flight.

Travelogue Day 54


I woke early to be sure I had actually packed and taken care of everything. I tossed out all the rubbish that was left in my room (including a good sized portion of camembert that I just couldn't eat with all the mucous production in my sinuses) and made final preparation for departure. I hope the $5 I left Pascal for my phone bill actually makes it to him and past the cleaning staff.

I left my keycard and mobile phone in the room (making sure to sanitize it of all text messages and private mobile numbers I'd picked up along the way), took my bags, and made my way to the lobby. Annabel had been there all night working on a paper, and I saw Donna in queue at the counter for breakfast. We were the only two who had gotten up early enough to get breakfast (I had tasty pancakes again). She had been up all night cleaning and packing, so she had also burned us all a mix CD of songs that reminded her of our experience on the trip. That was super nice of her, and it does capture some of my feelings too, or at least bring back memories.

Mark and Al came over to say goodbye and make sure we actually made our flight. Sarah, Sayaka, and Anna also woke up early to see us off. Sayaka took a couple of group photos before we let too. Quite nice of them.

The bus ride to the airport was fine, but the wait for ticketing was atrocious. It didn't help that I felt like my bladder was about to explode for more than half of the time. We did, however, get checked in, through security, and to our gate with plenty of time to spare. I, sadly, didn't pick up any kangaroo jerky for my dad at the airport. The only two varieties available were spicy and teriyaki, and he wouldn't eat either one.

Flying from Sydney to Auckland was everything I expected from Qantas. The lunch of BBQ chicken they served me was great and came with a tasty cupcake. This flight also let me get some, admittedly, mediocre shots of Sydney from the air. New Zealand is quite pretty from the air, with rolling green hills near the Auckland airport.

The airport wasn't bad. All we had to do was follow the signs. We lost tom and Joy here. Tom was staying for about a week (and doing the Lord of the Rings tour, the bastard), and Joy was staying a night or two before taking a roundabout way home.

things got a little scary when the flight from Auckland to L.A. was delayed because a seemingly endless stream of children (none over 13) in matching uniform (reading People to People) filed through the terminal and onto the plane. I was hoping I wouldn't be seated amidst them, and, luckily, I did not hope in vain.

The flight to L.A. was a bit different from the flight to Sydney. Our plane had not yet been upgraded with video-on-demand equipment, so we had fewer choices in entertainment. There were still six movies to choose from, we just had to wait for them to cycle back to the beginning, so I can't really complain. I also played a number of video games during the flight (Breakout clones are still fun).

The dinner on this flight was also quite good. It seemed like a sort of steamed chicken with vegetables and rice. It had a type of hummus with it as well as a packet of pretzel sticks and a roll. There was another tasty cupcake and a bit of what tasted like passion fruit juice in a little cup too. I had a cabernet sauvignon with my meal.

After dinner, I played a maze-escape game while waiting for 16 Blocks to cycle back to the beginning. It was a pretty fun game. The movie was alright too, but nothing too special (although the burglar who really wants to be a pastry chef wasn't an expected character type). I fell asleep watching Ice Age 2.

Travelogue Day 53


The last day, and the anger and depression are not abated. Last minute packing gets taken care of (the things I won't need tomorrow morning anyway) and I do final cleaning. Picking things off the carpet by hand because you don't feel like going to the front desk to rent a vacuum (which I hear was no good at all) takes a bit more time.

I woke up with gunk on my blood-shot eyes and paranoiacally thought I had pinkeye. I went to the Broadway Medical Centre where, luckily for my pocketbook, seeing a doctor became too inconvenient. I went to the pharmacy instead where a pharmacist recommended eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis. I bought them to appease my mind and set off to breakfast. Custard danishes from Little Devil are tasty. I ran into Devon and tried to convince him to go to Bondi earlier in the day so I'd have some company. He said to check back later.

We saw Mike, who was on his way to the Broadway Cafe. I joined him, and Tom, A.C., and Donna after a while. They were planning to go to Bondi around 14:30, and I was in such a mood that I agreed to go with them. While at the Broadway, I said goodbye to Shirene. She didn't yet know if she had the job. I hope she gets it. I also tried the Mars Bar hot chocolate. It was pretty good, with pieces of candy bar and all.

I went back to Little Devil for lunch. Yes, it was a meat pie as you might suspect, and it was tasty, as always. 14:30 came, and I was tired of waiting for everyone, so I set off on my own to Bondi.

I did a bit of the cliff walk. Bondi beach is an attractive beach, and I spent some time watching the surfers before moving on. Not far down the walk I found a very nice seat on the side of a cliff. It was a concave portion of sandstone with a small bulge on the back that made it comfortable for reclining. I stayed there a while watching the waves come in before moving again.

I stopped at various points to watch the waves and eventually stayed a while at one place watching more surfers. I also saw a rather large cruise ship go by on its way to other places. Some nasty looking clouds appeared, so I started heading back home.

I passed the rest of the group on my way. They were out on some rocks, and I thought, "This looks like trouble." Needless to say, I didn't stop until I had reached my seat on the cliff where I looked over to see A.C. almost get swept away by a very large wave. They started back after that. It was getting dark.

I went back to watching the waves again, and Devon spotted me as they passed by. I said hello and creeped everyone out by just appearing like that. They went to leave, but I stayed a while longer to watch the waves. As the setting sun acted like a dimmer switch, I realized why the sea can be a peaceful place. You can put all of your sorrows into it, it's large enough to contain them, and the motion of the waves will twist and pummel them until they fall apart, leaving no trace of themselves behind.

When it was dark enough, I caught a bus back to the train station and went back to Sydney. I thought I was on a later train than the others, but when I got out at Central Station, I was ahead of them on the escalator, upping my creepiness quotient again.

A large number of us had dinner at a Lebanese restaurant in Glebe. The service left a bit to be desired, and the food was alright. Smoking the hookah afterward was much better. I didn't feel the smoke at all, and apple flavoured tobacco is pretty tasty. While we were there, another group was partaking of the hookah. They let a child that could not have been more than seven years old try it. What is wrong with these people?

We adjourned to watch The Office (American version), but found it preempted by formula one racing. Instead, we watched an episode of Arrested Development on DVD and went to sleep.

Travelogue Day 52


What is this? Only last night I thought I would be feeling extra terrible after the beating my throat took, but it is now morning, and everything feels very much better. Oh, the wonders of spicy food and wine.

After clearing the nasty gunk from the various orifices of my head, I continued packing. I also finished the slice of carrot cake I got with my meat pies yesterday, for breakfast. As you would expect, it was rather tasty. Everything but the last-minute things, like my suit, has been packed.

Devon drops in just around noon and suggests we see if Fred is still in his room, and if so, we invite him to lunch. He was in his room, but he couldn't come to lunch as he was already meeting a friend who would later take him to the airport. We did, however, sit and chat with him about various things (the rather large cost of books in Australia, what we did and did not like about our undergraduate education, teaching styles, food). I also couldn't stop myself from coughing nearly constantly for the duration of our stay in Fred's room. It was rather embarrassing.

We left Fred's room to go to lunch, but when we hit the lobby, we ran into Tom, Mike, and Donna. Wondering what they got up to, we asked. They didn't do much as it turns out, just hanging out back in the UniLodge. We stayed there long enough to see Fred leave to meet his friend before setting out for Nando's.

Nando's is a chicken sandwich chain. They offer various Portuguese-style spiced versions of the sandwich. They spice it with peri-peri sauce (peri-peri is a chili pepper the Portuguese came across in East Africa if I recall their information correctly) to your desired level of hotness. The food is rather tasty even though it is a chain.

We continued preparing for our departure after lunch, and I realized that I was depressed that I was leaving. All of the signs were there. The bad attitude, relatively flat affect, tendency to have emo songs run through my head more than usual all tipped me off. That must mean I really like it here. But whinge as I might, I cannot change the schedule.

There was a tentative plan to find some kangaroo pizza tonight, but far too many people wanted to come along, so those plans failed before they had a chance to materialize. We still went looking, so the plan wasn't a total failure, but when we finally got to the Australian Hotel in The Rocks, seating options were not in our favor.

Despite this, we did order and eat. I had a small BBQ emu pizza and a little bit of Devon's kangaroo pie, which I traded a slice of my pizza for. Both were quite tasty, and I was surprised that the emu came as one large slice that covered all four pieces of the pizza (Anna was kind enough to cut it apart for us, since we both had our hands full). I have to say that I liked the kangaroo meat better than the emu.

After we finished, we met back up with the rest of the group (we had scattered earlier to find seating), and most of us walked back while four or so took a cab. Mike an I killed the goon. It tasted horrible; why did I drink that? We then came in on the middle of a drinking game in Donna's room. That was actually fun to watch, but I had to cut out when there was talk of going to the Lansdowne. I just didn't have it in me; too tired.

Travelogue Day 51


I awake feeling worse than ever. I guess spending the night screaming over cover bands and running around without a sweater isn't the best thing to be doing when you're trying not to get sick.

I barely made it through class this morning. Many trips were made to clear my sinuses of various nasty things. We discussed the good and bad bits of the program as it exists this year. The only major change suggested was to have the paper for the film component due before the week of holiday. This could be a good thing, but I seriously have no complaints about this program.

We filled out course and overall program evaluations today too. I feel that I should have been more verbose, but I was feeling both very hungry and in rather poor health, so there was a distinct lack of writing done.

After a lunch of meat pies from Little Devil (why are they so tasty?), I took a little nap, and by little, I mean one half hour at the absolute maximum. I went back over to the Fusion building for a final email check (I, like an idiot, had forgotten to email Robert about setting up meeting details until this morning) and to say my goodbyes to Lauren and the others I probably wouldn't be seeing again. (Did I mention that I really don't want to leave Australia?)

Devon and I got back to the UniLodge just early enough to visit our rooms before departing for our farewell dinner with Daryl, Fred, and Greg. We went to a small Italian place located somewhere near Leichhardt(?). Daryl brought the wine, and the food was quite good. I had mussels in a spicy tomato broth that helped my throat, and whole body, feel ten times better. I also tried Marc's four cheese pizza (good) and Joy's potato and gorgonzola gnocchi (also good). For dessert, I had chocolate nougat gelato and a flat white. Alone, each was good, and together, they were doubly so.

A little more wine and we were ushered out (our group was fairly large, and their space was limited). A.C., Tom, Marc, and I waited for a cab for so long that Marc went to ask a restaurant to call one for us (it was much too far to walk, especially since we didn't know the streets we needed to take to get back). That worked out little better because someone along the line gave the cabby the wrong address, something we discovered because, as coincidence would have it, we flagged down the cab who had been called for us after he had given up at the other, wrong address.

(Side note: Greg is not only working on selling a new market targeting/analysis software program that NTF made in-house, but also writing a mockumentary about the marketing/advertising business. He told some good stories that should end up in the script)

When we got back to UniLodge, I was planning to have a relaxing night in to help me recover, but we ended up in Mike's room somehow, and I was enticed into slapping the goon. It's just as bad as it sounds. Never Have I Ever was played and much was learned about the sexual history of those in the room along with many more mundane details. After four or five slaps of the goon, Devon arrived to inform us that a party of people were embarking on a journey to see a drag show at the Imperial in Newtown.

Devon, Sarah, Sayaka, Mike, Tom, A.C., Marc, Donna, Ashley, Vicky, Annabel, and others set out around 23:00. I was wearing one of Mike's hats featuring a picture of a recently hatched chick and reading "Just been laid." It was a hit, and many photos were taken. After a few mishaps with cabs and buses, we made it to the club and paid our five dollars admittance fee.

Half of our number left after the first show, they got a little uncomfortable, but Devon, Sarah, Sayaka, Vicky, Annabel, and I stayed for two more shows. The standout number of which was the performance of a song that must be titled "Everybody's Fucking but Me." The lyrics were great, and the performance fit well with them.

On the walk back home, I could tell I would have no voice tomorrow. It had been bad enough to begin with, but after an evening of yelling over the dj between drag shows, I could hear that it was dying a slow, agonizing death. Oh well, it was a rather good time.

Travelogue Day 50


After a fitful night of sleep, I wake feeling somewhat like I'm getting sick again. This is unacceptable, but there's nothing I can do about it today.

I had pancakes at the cafe place attached to the UniLodge lobby. They were the first food I'd had since 12:00 yesterday. The only bad part about that is that my stomach had gotten used to being small, and I had to eat them rather slowly. These pancakes remain consistently good.

Daryl took us to Fox Studios and Spectrum Films this morning. It was pretty cool. Mark at Spectrum gave us a quick rundown on how their business (post-production) works. They rent out their editing services or bays to whoever would like to use them. Next door is Animal Logic (SFX) and downstairs is a place that does sound editing.

The Fox Studios lot used to be an event area somewhat equivalent to a state fair in the U.S.A. Many of the buildings are heritage listed, so much of the place looks as it did originally (or close enough).

Devon and I tagged along with Daryl and Fred to the fish market for lunch. The fish was very good. I got a seafood sampler 'n' chips, which gave me my first chance to eat octopus. It was very good with the spicing they used on it. I also had a few of the prawns that Daryl and Fred offered. Peel and eat prawns are really rather tasty too.

I had to do laundry afterward, I had accidentally squirted my clothing with prawn juice while removing some heads, before leaving to meet everyone at Cargo Bar for free gin and tonics. That turned out roughly as expected. Cargo Bar was pretty good. Most of us had celebratory cigars; min was Cuban and pretty good. The money I spent on it was partly wasted because I wasn't able to finish it.

Devon and I cut out to meet Pascal at The Clare for a beer. I only stayed for one because I was running off to meet yet other revelers at a retox pubcrawl. Still, Pascal's friends that I met were pretty cool (Richard, the dentist [he had been the dentist in Ramingining straight out of school], was a bit crazy, but a good guy nonetheless.).

I made it to the pub where the retox party was and had many meetings. Another pub and a few beers later, I was headed back to base for the night.

Travelogue Day 49


Well, I fell asleep, so the up all night idea did not quite work. I woke around 05:00 and microwaved one of the long blacks I'd bought last night. As I sat in front of Daryl's laptop, writing a bit of my paper for Fred, I looked up and out my window to see the full moon directly in front of me. It sat just above the Grace Brothers building, and clouds were racing past, giving it an everchanging halo and semi-transparent mask. It was quite the beautiful sight.

After a little breakfast, and enough time to nuke the second long black I had from last night, I went to the Fusion building as early as I possibly could. It was virtually non-stop paper writing (with the occasional pause to interrupt everyone else who was there doing the same thing) until lunch time. Another long black and a moderately sized sandwich were on the menu. Three more hours of work on Fred's paper, and it was time for our final presentations for Greg. I, and most everyone else, ran a bit long, so we all rather rushed through some portions, but we all did rather well.

After class, it was another long black and back to work. Luckily, by 21:00 I had the paper all finished. It was celebration time.

Some calls were made and not returned (long story short version), and I hung out with Devon and Mike for a while. We separated when they went to the Lansdowne. The caffeine kept me awake even after I had determined it was far too late to be up. Around 02:00, I was entirely too tired of being awake and tired, so I decided to try to get some sleep anyway.

No sooner had I gotten into my bed then there was a banging on my door that refused to go away. It was Mike and Devon back from the Lansdowne with another tale of the random crazy people they seem to attract when they go there. This time, it was a guy who couldn't manage to form words. They dubbed him Mumbles McPhereson.

This guy followed them around the pub, mumbling at them, as they tried to lose him. When they entered the casino area, things turned even more strange. There was an old woman in there with three inches of ash on her cigarette and a short, wide Mexican who was hanging on another guy about Mike's age. Mumbles followed them there and struck up a conversation with the woman, who could understand him, apparently. Mike and Devon, then, rushed back to the UniLodge to tell everyone about it at 02:30. This made the telling slightly funnier, but led to later prank calls (that were also very funny to hear about the next day.).

Travelogue Day 48


Another day filled with work from the time the Fusion building opened until it closed. I managed to get through my Powerpoint for Greg and get most of the associated paper completed by the end of the day. They let Devon and I continue borrowing the laptops too. Without that bit of generosity, I wouldn't have been able to finish Greg's paper by Wednesday morning.

Overall, this was a rather productive day. Now to try to stay up all night writing papers, so I can come in on time.

Travelogue Day 47


I went into the Fusion building as early as possible, so I could actually get both of my papers and the Powerpoint presentation done as close to on time as possible. I worked on them until lunch time, then got some food.

Fusion beckoned, and I returned to work on papers and presentation again. The building closes early on Mondays though, and Greg was making himself available for final consultations, so I went to NTF. He liked my ideas and gave me a few others.

Going to NTF also put me in a good position for our later trip to the Sydney Aquarium (our meaning Devon, Sarah, Anna, and I). The bad part is that I was starting to come down with something again, so I spent far too much ($16.50) for one absinthe at Cargo Bar to counteract whatever it is before heading over to the aquarium.

Sydney Aquarium wasn't bad. I saw many fish I cannot recall having seen before. But it was a bit chilly in there since many of the larger, immersive exhibits were outside. I must say that walking in the glass-top tubes beneath the sharks, rays, groupers, &c. was very cool, even with the very annoying other people and the ones wearing too much perfume. The downside of the aquarium trip was that my back and joints felt horrible the entire time, like I'd had a night of drinking in black-out inducing volumes, despite my having gotten plenty of sleep.

After the aquarium, we got dinner on Darling Harbour. Ice Cube had just opened and offered us a "buy one get one" deal that could not be beat. The food and service were absolutely stellar, and yet, we were only set back about $25 each. I would probably go back, but I doubt I'll have the opportunity.

Travelogue Day 46


Daryl let Devon and I borrow laptops for this weekend, so we could get our work started. That was exceptionally cool of him and allowed me to get ahead of myself, as can be seen from yesterday's entry.

I can't really recall much else from today. I should really try to keep up with writing these entries on the days they occur.

Travelogue Day 45


I actually bought more cereal. I also got some camembert and crackers.

I also just finished transcribing my notes from the festival; w00t. It only took me roughly six hours. Now to return my DVD to blockbuster and see what everyone is doing for dinner. I didn't find anyone, so I saved money by eating my cheese and crackers. I put some of the black cherry jam on them with the cheese, and it was quite tasty.

Travelogue Day 44


After Devon and I went to get "Illuminati" from a games shop, I watched 90% of The Illustrated Family Doctor for the second time. It was still pretty good on this viewing. Greg came down for a class (I've a lot of work to do for that), and Daryl arranged for Devon and I to borrow laptops over the weekend, so we could work diligently on our assignments. That was entirely too nice of him, and it just makes me less and less happy to be going back.

I played "Illuminati" with Devon, A.C., Mike, and Tom. It was a fun game, but the learning period was very, very slow.

Travelogue Day 43


We had a meeting with Luke <something> at the Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf venue. He was a great speaker, informative (I took multiple pages of notes), and knowledgeable. The description of how the Sydney Opera House is trying to pull customers out from under its clients sounds so much like a man-in-the-middle attack it's not funny (S.O.H. is venue and ticket seller, it wants stronger bargaining position with the companies that use it, so it attempts to be the name the customers associate with the product [i.e. "Let's see that S.O.H. show" rather than "Let's see that S.T.C. show at the S.O.H."]).

Tonight, I sat around with everyone watching episodes of Arrested Development.

Travelogue Day 42


I woke up not feeling hungry. I think all the alcohol and the water I had when I got back kept the food from going away. I must get to Blockbuster today since my paper is due next Wednesday. I also need to find a time when Shirene isn't working, so I can buy her a celebratory drink. Perhaps I'll wait to hear the results of the interview first.

I discovered that Blockbuster won't give me a membership because my stay ends so soon. Luckily, Mark had gotten a membership yesterday, so I was able to get my movie anyway. I wasn't able to watch it though. Both classrooms were in use for the internship kids' classes.

Travelogue Day 41


Independence Day, w00t!

The exclamation point is a bit excessive, but it is 4th July. I finished up my Powerpoint presentation for later in the day, and went for a meat pie for lunch (I like them entirely too much, I think I have a problem). I've started customizing my blogger page in preparation for my move to only posting content there. Karl now has two small exposures.

The presentations went over pretty well. I felt I could have done much better, but it wasn't a dismal showing. I predict I scored in the B range.

After the presentations, Greg flew to Melbourne (he'll be back for class tomorrow. I don't know how he does it while recovering form the flu), and we had a three course meal at the Broadway Cafe. It was all rather good, and I put away a free bottle of wine. By the end of the night, it wasn't tasting that great, but finishing it was a matter of pride.

I also saw Shirene (I still have no idea how to spell her name) and Jess there. Unfortunately they were working, so not much conversation could be had, but Shirene had some very exciting news. She was called to interview for a special effects position on Where the Wild Things Are. It's doubly good since she hadn't approached them; they sought her out. I'll probably be boasting that I know her in the not too distant future.

She had also taken to calling me Casanova after hearing of certain events from Kim, in excruciating detail from the sound of it.

Travelogue Day 40


I got most of my assignment for Greg done today. Luckily, I had most of my ideas fully formed (or as close as I can get to fully formed) before approaching Powerpoint, or I'd have been lost. I also discovered that Blockbuster has Family Doctor, and I have all documentation needed to become a member.

We had class at NTF on database marketing (data mining), then back to UniLodge. I watched Big Brother (how can you not with the John, Ash, Camilla scandal?), discovered the "adults only" program was scrapped, and found all the bottle shops were closed at 21:30 when I went to drown my sorrow over the loss.

I really should have done something else, but I was still a bit angry that I only have less than two weeks remaining until I fly back to the states. I'd rather be staying a bit longer; I like Australia.

Travelogue Day 39


I lazed about most of today.

Devon introduced me to meat pies. They are entirely too tasty.

That is all.

Travelogue Day 38


I woke early and went back to sleep. Later, I had the hot breakfast. I spent most of the day relaxing and reading Zodiac by Neal Stephenson. It's not a bad book. I also biked back to Ernest Hill to pick up a few bottles of wine.

After my goodbyes at the YHA, I made my way back toSydney and found Devon. We ran into Al at Liquorland and, a good deal later, joined him at Shell's going away party. I stayed until 04:30 in the morning.

There are pictures of Al, the building security guard, and me all wearing Shell's pink vest thanks to tonight.

Travelogue Day 37


I went on my wine tour today. We stopped at three wineries and sampled their wines. I discovered that I'm not a chardonnay sort of fellow. I visited Ivanhoe, Pepper Creek, and McKliesh(sp?) wineries. None of their wines outshined Ernest Hill's .

I had a number of soft cheeses at the McGuigan winery that were quite good, but I kept myself from buying any. I would have bought them, but I knew I'd never be able to eat them in time. Also, dusty, the tour leader, was rather knowledgeable with a good personality for this sort of thing.

My judgment was clouded by the very attractive young lady running the tasting at Pepper Creek, and I bought a bottle of wine I already knew was mediocre.

I've had far too much wine tonight, but it was rather enjoyable.

Travelogue Day 36


I stayed up too late and woke up early, so I fell asleep for a few minutes on the trip up. The Hunter Valley YHA is pretty nice. I took one of the bikes out and managed to visit (only) three of the nearby wineries. I sampled a number of wines, some of the standouts of which were: Ernest Hill's semillon and verdelho, Capercaille's slainte, "The Clan" cabernet sauvignon, and "The Ghillie" shiraz, and Allandale's '05 semillon and '03 Matthew shiraz. All of these are boutique wineries, so it will be unlikely I'll find their wines in any bottle shops.

Allandale also has what amounts to a white cooking wine made from pre-ripe semillon grapes called verjuice. It sounds interesting. Also, I'm told semillon ages well in the bottle, so I could probably indulge my tendencies and let it sit for years (because, realistically, when would I get another Ernest Hill semillon?).

I'll be trying the pub fare and microbrews at Potter's Brewery tonight for dinner. If the beers are like the wines, I won't be disappointed.

Everyone at the YHA is quite agreeable. Greg(?) is nice, and Tim was generous enough to share a '78 vintage port. The other guests seem a bit like me, nice enough, but you have to get past their initial apprehensiveness with new people.

I'm eating dinner at the Potter's Brewery Bistro. I got the chicken and beer kebabs. The chicken is mediocre; the Greek salad is rather good. I also got the beer sampler of this brewery's microbrews. The IPA is as to be expected. The Kolsch, lager, and bock are good. The ginger beer (alcoholic, not the root beer stuff) is very interesting. I'm saving it for last as I'm not sure how it will mix with the meal. Overall, I'd say it's worth around the $18.50 (thank you $5 voucher from YHA I paid.

Now to try to pace the eating and drinking, so I'm not too full when I leave at approximately 19:30.

I didn't succeed. I ate everything on my plate (the chicken remained mediocre at best, the chips were (average) good, and I rather liked the Greek salad). I couldn't finish the sampler. The ginger beer was just a little too not-my-style for me to drink.

Travelogue Day 35


I took a fairly early (10:30) train back to Sydney. I would have stayed longer and bushwalked a bit, but a leather duffel bag seemed more of a hindrance than a benefit.

When I got back, I began considering changing some of my eating/shopping habits once I am back stateside. With the abundance of bakeries here, their distinctly better quality products, and my less restricted budget, I've noticed that it's not so terribly more expensive to get freshly baked products compared with the supermarket. I'll have to price out the bakeries near my apartment to see if this holds true there as well. If so, I'll be buying bread more often. Then all I'll need is a crock pot to make stews and soups while I'm out for eating with the good bread.

**Update: Most bakeries I can find near me do not have a good selection of breads. It saddens me.

Travelogue Day 34


I ate most of the cookies I bought for dessert last night for breakfast this morning while I wrote down everything I could remember from yesterday. I'd not had blueberry cookies before. They're not bad.

I went bushwalking again today, and I'm glad to say that I was able to recognize the bush plants from yesterday. I found sasparilla right off and chewed it all day. I also found the plant with oblong leaves that don't cluster and contain tea oil(?) that is antiseptic(?) and makes what it's rubbed on smell like lemon, the grass whose base is like celery, and the white berries, though they didn't appear until I was on the forest floor.

I took the stairs down to the Fern Bower. It was beautiful. Tall trees form a canopy under which myriad ferns grow. The light was dim and dappled, but the various shades of green stood out well enough. Water trickled down from various places into small streams that cascaded over various rocks of the streambed. Bright lichens covered rocks and the bases of trees.

It was very damp, but quite lovely too. My only complaint is that the terrain didn't offer many (only one or two) opportunities to go on more adventurous walking; you have to stay on the relatively tame stairs. Sadly, I didn't get to take any photos because the light was too low to get a steady shot without a tripod.

It was at the Leura Cascades (?) that my only good opportunity for adventurous walking came about. Just to the left of the main path was what appeared to be an abandoned path that had been overgrown. I started up it, but soon came to a place where the terrain looked a bit dodgy. I wasn't willing to test it without at least one other person there who could go for help if things went wrong.

I continued on into Leura Forest. There's a nice picnic spot down there with tables and all. You have to pack your trash back out (though not everyone does, which is why I retrieved as much as I could carry. WTF is wrong with people?).

I took Dardanelles Pass from there, and that was a bit more pleasant. It seemed to have been less traveled, at least today. I had been practicing feeling everything I touched with my hands throughout my body during the whole grip, and it was at one of these practice sessions that I caught sight of a lyrebird. I could hear others, but only saw one. It was really cool because to me it seemed that one moment I was just feeling a leafy plant, and the next I was aware that there were a number of animals in the bushes immediately surrounding me. I then immediately looked at a lyrebird just far enough away that the mist from the damp air made its specific coloration indistinct.

Once I arrived at the Giant staircase, I took it back up top. The sign at the bottom said it would take 45 minutes, but it didn't take me half that. It obviously has nothing on the Manitou Incline.

Afterward, I wandered back to the YHA, showed, read a little Gracien (don't recall the accenting), and went out for dinner. I tried the Aussie interpretation of Mexican food again in the form of quesadillas. It was interesting, tasty but not Mexican. I also got a caramel milkshake. It was rather tasty but not as substantial (read thick) as I'm used to. I think they may just use chilled cream rather than ice cream in their shakes here.

I missed the Australia vs. Italy World Cup match last night. From what I hear, it was a travesty with Italy being given an unnecessary penalty in the box and a penalty kick. They scored and eliminated the Socceroos from World Cup contention.

Travelogue Day 33


I woke up before my alarm, as I'm wont to do. I also found out that I could easily fit all that was suggested, or nearly all, on my person either in the pockets of the b.d.u.s or my coat. I brought my coat but had no cause to use it.

Stopping at the little bakery next door to the YHA, I got breakfast (a bacon and egg roll) and lunch (a ham and salad sandwich) before heading to the walkabout. Both were quite good. I ran into another guy going on the walkabout today on the platform at Faulconbridge. I've forgotten his name, but he was a pretty cool fellow. We set out in search of our guide, since we didn't see anyone on the platform and found him in the second place we looked. He picked up the third of our group, her train from Sydney had just arrived, and we started our journey.

It started with a five minute "what's your name? Where are you from? What do you do?" warm up walk to the head of our trail.

Once we left the road, I knew I would like the trip. The trail was only lightly visible, like a game trail, and the local plant life was everywhere. Not long after we began, our guide Evan started the bush tucker tasting by instructing us to pick a certain leaf and chew it while walking;; he said that his people used to chew it like chewing gum. The leaf was sasparilla, and it tasted rather good.

As we continued, he asked us to pick another leaf, eucalyptus this time, crush it in our hands, and smell it. Of course, it smelled like the surrounding forest, and not bad.

We stopped, and Evan told us about his people and what walkabout was. He first told us that the Darug people used eucalyptus to clear the sinuses and would put a crushed and rolled leaf in their nostrils. We all crushed and rolled our leaf and put it in our noses. It was cool, the eucalyptus smelled good, and my sinuses were clear. We just looked a bit odd with green leaves dangling from our nostrils.

In the old days, you spent all of your time with your clan. There were many initiation rights for both boys and girls, eleven in total (or up to sixteen if you wanted to become a clever fella), each more difficult than the last. One for boys might be to climb to the top of a tree, collect some birds' eggs, climb down, then climb back up and replace them without breaking any (this was no mean feat considering they never wore more than a, usually, small tucker bag and hair belt or opossum skin cloak in the winter).

A walkabout was a type of initiation where you would follow a particular song line (story), observing various types of fasting, to learn about your people and find out who you are. There would be elders at various points along the way to see if you were learning what you were supposed to along the way. Other than them, you did this alone because it was very important to know who you were when no one else was there. If you were unsure, you wouldn't be useful to the clan.

The old people were nomadic, following their story on a circuit around the country (we would be walking a part of one of these stories on our trip, visiting some sights that Evan had discovered and most people wouldn't see). Times could be tough back then. An ice age came and coincided with the worst drought they could remember. It was too much for the larger creatures like the three meter tall kangaroos or wombats about the size of VW beetles, but the aborigines survived to see their hardest test.

White people arrived and set up their convict colony in Sydney. They eventually spread out, clearing the forest, planting crops, raising livestock, and killing the native animals. Most of this was done while the Aborigines were elsewhere, and when they came back to the area, they didn't find wallaby or wombats but really silly looking animals with white fluff all over them. They speared one (it was a little fatty but tasted good) and the women went to dig up their yams, but instead found these tall green stalks planted in mysterious straight rows; they saw it produced a vegetable and tasted sweet corn for the first time. Well, the farmers didn't like having their sheep and corn eaten (and the Aborigines had no concept of private ownership of most things. If you or your clan had extra, you shared it with others. If you kept it, someone else would want it, and why shouldn't he have it?), so they'd shoot the Aborigines, who would spear the farmer, and so on in a downward spiral such that in 200 years, a people who had survived on this land for 40,000 years had no full-bloods left (in the case of the Darug people).

But their descendants are keeping as much of the culture alive as they can recover and remember, so there are many efforts to preserve what is found in various places (i.e. the bush, construction projects unearthing Aboriginal material) and tell their stories through guides like Evan.

when the old people walked a song line like we were about to, they did so barefoot and, therefore, quietly and carefully. They listened to what the bush had to tell them. They used their senses as independently of one another as possible. They touched everything very carefully, feeling everything touched with the hand from their little toe to the top of their heads (this wasn't such a conceptual leap for them as us because they didn't see a distinction between themselves and the bush. All was connected through the dreamtime). We were encouraged to try to do the same.

I touched many things as we walked and was surprised to find that I began feeling ferns in my head and the soft bark of a tree whose leaves were burned to keep mosquitoes at bay in my back. Evan encouraged us to keep trying to feel things in this way, and I think I might.

We continued to a rock on the bank of a stream where the spirits of that place had been made visible by being carved into the rock. We couldn't see them at first, but Evan made them appear with magic (when he said he was going to do some magic to make the spirits visible, I expected something very cheesy, but when he poured water over the rock and the carvings appeared as water settled into the grooves, it was amazing). There was a mother wallaby, a joey, a snake, and a man with a penis longer than his legs.

These carvings would be used to teach people important information. There are multiple levels to every story, and you would only be given the information at a level it was felt you were ready for. This kept dangerous knowledge away from the foolish. So, on one level, the carvings show the mother wallaby looking off at the bush, thinking it looks very tasty, while her joey has forgotten what his mother told him and is playing with a wiggly tail that belongs to a snake that is about to strike him; in other words, it tells children to not mess with snakes, that's women's business. On another level, we realize that the snake is the Rainbow Serpent and the story becomes one about spirits and the dream time. The penis of the man is hardly practical. It's too long and would drag in the dirt, get caught on thorns, and cut with razor grass. That is if he walked, but he is <I've forgotten his name, sadly>, one of the sky people who brought the lore to the people on the land. They had the great knowledge, the people of the land just applied it.

Also, every person had their own totem/spirit based on where you were conceived and born. No matter which clan your parents belonged to, you belonged to the clan win whose home territory you were born. You were not allowed to marry anyone in your clan, anyone who had your same totem, or anyone who shared your clan's totem. This helped keep the genetics strong (and was presumably part of the lore). You also weren't allowed to kill you totem or your clan's totem. In this way, if an animal was overhunted in one area, it could always recover because it was safe in another: the world's oldest conservation system.

We continued on through the forest for a while, stopping to smell the leaves of another plant that smelled very like lemon. Evan told us it had antiseptic properties, and the old people used to rub it on their skin and smell real good (they also rubbed fish oil on their skin, "It made us look sexy, but smell real bad."). We also learned that the sap that looks like blood was used as antiseptic and analgesic, even for tooth aches.

We stopped at a sandstone cave for a break and snack. Evan showed us pictures of some of the wildlife we might see on the journey and also one of the aboriginal sites he had discovered that was being kept secret. As such, we would not be going there because he had found it, amazingly, in pristine condition, with no modern graffiti, and they wanted to preserve it that way (later, he told me that the hand stencils on the walls were made by chewing a mouthful of ochre and goana fat, then placing your hand on the wall and spraying the mixture over it. This act meant you belonged to the land). He also showed us two flowers (the type I took the photos of that looks somewhat like a pine cone when dried) that act like velcro when pressed together and, when dried, requires bush fires for its seed pods to open. These pods would be used by women to carry fire from one village to another by lighting the cone on fire then blowing it out. The center would smolder but the rest of the pod would insulate the bearer's hand. The nectar from these flowers, usually only found in the ones at high altitudes like Katoomba, was used as an energy giving food. It could be squeezed from the flower directly and licked form the fingers, or the flower was boiled to make an energy tea (I must try to do this).

After the break, we were moving again. The extremely large vines told us we were in the rainforest. We continued our journey (which I enjoyed immensely as it actually felt like we were in the wilderness rather than some safe approximation) and ran into some more bush tucker along the way. This time, it was small white berries that tasted a bit like sour apple before drying out your mouth unexpectedly.

As we were making our way to a sunny cave for lunch, a rogue rock came out from under the feet of the girl in our group, and she rolled her ankle pretty badly. We ate lunch there after wrapping her ankle to see if the rest might help it feel better. It didn't, and we had to assist her out. She did amazingly well for the amount of pain she seemed to be in (Neurofen did its bit to help). At lunch, Evan pointed out another bit of bush tucker, a grass the green part of which is used to knit baskets and other things, but whose white part (near the base of the stalk) is good for eating. It was a bit tough but tasted somewhat like celery.

We took a different route out than in. It was only arguably easier. Well maybe appreciably; I'd have to walk it again to be certain. Evan pointed the two of us able bodied sorts toward a waterfall that was rather nice to photograph. We were racing the dusk as we tried to get everyone out at the slower pace, and during one of our rests, Evan gave us a quick overview of the dreamtime.

(Assuming I'm recalling correctly) In the dreamtime, there was no time as such. The Rainbow Serpent (and the eagle who was the father of the one with the giant penis?) created it when she emerged from her canyon. As she moved about, her movements made the contours of the land. She moved in a circle, linking past to present to future, so everything is happening all at the same time and has happened before. She gave her spirit to the plants, animals, people, and land. They are all connected in spirit. When you die, you may be reincarnated. If you are, it could be as any of these things. If it's as a person, and someone recognizes your spirit, they might say, "Hello great, great grandfather. How have you been?" When someone makes a new dance, they don't say they've invented it; they say they remembered it from the future. Everything is ok because all that will happen has already happened, you just have to access the dreamtime to know it (i.e. the girl's ankle is already healed; she just has to touch the dreamtime to feel it[?]).

We made it out before dark and even got the girl to her train before it left. Evan offered to do another trip for me free of charge if our schedules work out because this one was cut short.

I don't know if it'll work out, but even if it doesn't, this trip was heaps better than I would have expected. The bush walk was great, the learning about bush tucker was great, and all of the Aboriginal knowledge was super. Evan was really cool, and the walkabout was worth the money and more even with its being cut short. The whole trip would be worth it for that.

Addendum: We even heard the lyrebird sing. It has its own call, but can also mimic any other birds' calls. We didn't see one, but they're supposed to be roughly chicken sized and good bush tucker. We also learned that if you see sawdust on the ground by a tree, you find the hole, get your axe, cut a bigger hole, take your grub stick, and pull some out for good bush tucker.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Travelogue Day 32


I've been writing all about the Dendy Awards and Thank you for Smoking on the two hour train ride to Katoomba. These trains aren't bad, but I'm not sure how I'd like to take a multi-day trip on one if I weren't in a sleeper compartment.

I'm surprised I made it to the train station early enough considering we were at the Marble bar last night after the film. At a distance, the landscape of these hills and mountains of the Blue Mountains looks quite similar to southern Ohio, but when you get closer, the differences appear. Perhaps I'll take pictures on the return trip.

I hope to make it to the YHA in a timely fashion, so I can go location and trail scouting. Then all I'll have to do is figure out how I'm going to carry everything I need for my walkabout tomorrow.

I used the area map they gave me at reception to make my way to the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. The start at Merriwa St. was rather good, and I'll have to see what lies down the stairs early on. I'm on my last set of batteries for my camera. I'll have to buy more soon unfortunately.

I did see some great views, got pictures of some of them, and saw some pretty birds. I neglected to get photos of them because I wanted to take photos on the walk tomorrow.

I also forgot my towel. We'll see how the showering goes without it.

It went ok, but I'd really rather have brought my towel.

Travelogue Day 31


I'm awake and going to the Dendy Awards. Eight hours of shorts might be a bit much, and I want to see if I can catch the AMEX building open even though it's a Saturday, so I might have to cut out for a while to see if I can get some traveler's cheques cashed before my trip tomorrow.

I also didn't manage to catch Devon, Sarah, or Sayaka last night, so I have no clue what the plan was for last night that I was supposed to be told about as the elevator doors closed. It took probably five minutes for another elevator to arrive and take me back down, and by that time, they had fled to elsewhere. I'll never know what fun-filled enjoyment I missed while sleeping, but the sleep felt really good, so I don't really care that much.

The first three screenings of the awards contenders weren't that impressive. Girl in a Mirror, on a photographer (Carol Jerrems), won three or more of the awards, but I didn't find anything in it that impressive other than some of her featured photographs. The documentary on the fight for safe, legal abortions in Victoria wasn't something I'd pay $10 to see in a cinema, but it was good.

I skipped out after the third screening, seeing as they weren't that impressive. I found the AMEX building closed, as were many, if not all, of the banks, so we'll see if I can get rid of them later. I went back to the Awards screenings after getting lunch and finding my way around Central Station to see the only short that I really, actually enjoyed. It did not win any awards.

Carnivore Reflux is an animated short that expresses incredulousness with the number and mass of animals that meat-eating humans consume on average over the course of a lifetime. It depicts gluttonous, decadent monarchs and aristocrats who have an insatiable appetite for all manner of animal flesh. They eat tons and tons of meat. One day, their chefs come up with a special meal: a gigantic feast of meats followed by carnivore reflux. At the end of the meal, much to the guests' surprise, they vomit up every animal they've ever eaten reconstituted, whole, and alive.

This is, of course, problematic because many of them have eaten some very dangerous animals. They all come out ok though, and a little lighter. And just to show they weren't just picking on the mat eaters, they mentioned Herbivore bowel, where the same thing happens with fruits and vegetables but out the other end.

It was quite funny and well done. It deserved an award more than the documentary on refugees (which ignored practicalities of not granting every refugee immediate admission into the country [i.e. number of jobs available for their skillset, ability of social programs to cope with the new, perhaps non-contributing, people until they have a usable skillset, if it's even practical for them to get one]).

The only one of my favored films to win an award was Little Miss Sunshine, which won the audience award. It was a good film and deserved an award, but it's not Adam's Apples.

Thank you for Smoking (2006, Jason Reitman)
The closing night film came from America, and was very well done. It grabs you from the credit sequence and says, "You want to watch this film." It is partially narrated by the lead character Nick, and we are often, if not always, restricted to his level of knowledge.

Nick Naylor is the Washington lobbyist for the tobacco industry and also its best known, most killed speaker (the only person in the film who can teach him anything about spinning/selling anything is Rob Lowe's Hollywood agent character who only sleeps on Sundays). He meets with the M.O.D. squad (Merchants of Death) consisting of him, the lobbyist for gun companies, and the lobbyist for the alcohol industry.

Nick is called upon to boost sagging sales figures by going to Hollywood to get starts smoking in movies again, but before that can happen, he gives up all of his secrets to the pretty reporter he's sleeping with. She publishes her story, he loses his job, and all appears lost until his young son, to whom he is passing on all of his skills, persuades him to stop using circumstances as an excuse to feel sorry for himself and start doing his job, for himself this time. He does, starts his own consulting business, and his son wins a debate competition. They also add cellular phones, fast food, and biohazards to the M.O.D. squad.

The movie is full of choice moments (Nick's son arguing his way to join his dad on a business trip against his mother's objections, cigarettes saving Nick's life when anti-smoking terrorists try to poison him with enough nicotine patches to kill a nonsmoker). It hits everything right on time, and is a very American rise-fall-return story (we like to cheer the underdog, even when he's doing a job many find detestable).

Smaller details make for interesting comedic moments. The captain got the secret to making a great mint julep from Fidel Castro, but has only black servants like the southern plantation owners of the past.

I can see why an Aussie audience might really like this film. It paints American politics as fairly corrupt, and it's pretty much a tale of a larrikan.

Travelogue Day 30


Only Mike, Tom, Donna, and I stayed for the whole game. The celebration afterward was interesting. People were jumping around in the street, but when the lights changed, the police ushered everyone to the sides to let traffic through. When the lights changed back, everyone was back in the street again. This happened many times.

I got no sleep as the game ended at 7:00, we had a meeting at 9:30, and I had movies to watch starting at 13:30. At least I managed to shower. I also had an omelette from the place in the lobby of the UniLodge. It was very good, but I think I prefer the pancakes.

Battle in Heaven (2005, Carlos Reygadas)
I can see how it might be controversial, what with the fairly graphic sex, but it has nothing on In the Realm of the Senses except that the sex scene between the morbidly obese male lead and his equally obese wife nearly has it beat on sheer nausea inducing ability.

The story didn't seem to go anywhere, and his killing of Ana seems to come from out of nowhere with no real motivation.

The only positive thing I can say is that the walking on the knees to the cathedral was somewhat interesting.

Into Great Silence (2005, Philip Gröning)
Another in the list of really good films I've seen at the festival.

The director, after trying to get them to let him film for 16 years, was granted permission to film the Carthusian order of Le Grand Chartreuse, but only if he did all the filming himself, used no artificial lighting sources, and lived as the monks do for the duration of his stay. The result is a striking documentary that fully accomplishes its director's intent of turning its screening venue into (an extension of) the monastery.

Because these monks have taken a vow of silence, much of the film has no sound other than what is produced by the men's movements. Consequently, the visuals must carry the film and, when they do speak, the speech and singing is that much more striking.

The camera roves about the monastery, catching the monks at whatever their work happens to be. We are also withthemm for eating, studying, worshiping, and fellowship. They have a time set aside each week, with one exception, where they all get together to walk and talk with each other.

The silence of the men helps us to notice the beauty in the shots of celery stalks stacked on a counter, the architecture of the monastery's exterior and interior, the landscape in which they live, the plants growing in their garden, the sound of a number of cows' bells as the cows graze, the play of shadow on a floor, ripples in water caused by raindrops, church service and hymn chants, hard work, and very much more.

They aren't all seriousness all the time. On one of their weekly walking sessions one winter, the monks have fun sliding down a snowy hill, while standing. They often, it would appear, jest with each other in their free speech time. Despite the print quality (I believe it was shot on video and the lack of lighting enhancements has already been mentioned), it is a very good looking film. Some of the intertitles are overused for my preferences, but that is not enough to detract from the rest of the film.

It's simply great, and I'll probably try to find it on DVD somewhere even though I'm sure I would have to watch it in complete silence in the darkness of midnight.

**As a side note, I just noticed that the Blogger spell check utility inserted a good number of typos that weren't there before, I wonder how many of my previous posts look like a dullard typed them because of this.

Travelogue Day 29


Gravehopping (2005, Jan Cvitkovic)
As if this isn't relevant for all of the things I've written about all of these films, there are spoilers ahead, so if anyone reading this wants the full effect, don't read the spoilers (indicated by ++).
Pero is a man paid to speak at funerals. He takes his craft seriously and spends much time considering exactly what to say at each one. He lives with, presumably, his sister, nephew, father, and deaf niece (or sister, I'm not sure which). His sister has an unhealthy relationship with her husband ++(at one point he's abusing her, and Pero hits him with a chair before kicking him while he's unconscious on the floor)++. His would-be girlfriend, Renata, turns out to have some fairly significant psychological problems ++(turned on by s&m because her father beats her?)++. ++His best friend dies in a car wreck after taking vengeance for the, very, brutal rape of his lover, Pero's niece.++

This is all rather heavy, but there is a bit of levity. Pero's best friend watches cheesy old Italian sword and sandal epics, Pero ends up hanging from a flag pole while being asked questions about Independence Day by his nephew, his father is continually trying to kill himself and never seems to get it right, and the film is followed throughout by an polka-style rendition of Donna Summer's "I Will Survive."

The cinematography is also standout. There is a vertical tilt that Joseph Losey would have loved, ++and the scene where Pero's niece chooses to be buried alive with his best friend/her lover and avenger is both tragically moving and visually stunning (soil gradually covering the windows, shutting out the light, as she lovingly holds him, wrapping his arms around her as the light fades++.

The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)
Think one part Pitch Black, a bit of Tomb Raider, and a touch of Resident Evil.

Six 'extreme sports' enthusiast women go on a girls-only adventure in a cave system. Sarah is still haunted by the memory of the car accident that killed her husband and daughter. We know bad things are about to happen every time we hear the girl's laughter, as Sarah's hallucination in the cave (very DOOM 3).

The cave has a collapse, and we find out that they aren't in the cave system they'd planned to enter. Juno has taken them to a recently discovered system, unmapped, and they have to find their way out. After a good bit of arguing, they find some old cave paintings and climbing gear, discovering there is another way out. As they search for the other opening, a couple of accidents occur that leads to their discovery of a subterranean, carnivorous, humanoid creature that kills the injured member of the party. It, in turn, is killed by Juno, as is a second creature and, accidentally, another of the women in the party. The remaining living women are scattered.

Sarah, after having to finish off her friend that wasn't quite dead when Juno left her, becomes creature killing machine number two, striking many a pose similar to the ones we saw Mila Jovovich or Summer Glau take in the Resident Evil series or Serenity respectively.

We discover that the creatures hunt by sound like bats, and this is exploited by both killing machines. Eventually, only Juno and Sarah are left. Sarah was previously shown that Juno had been sleeping with her husband before he'd died, and wounds her, leaving her to die. But Sarah, too, ends up trapped in the cave hallucinating her dead daughter.

I don't see how this film got so much critical praise. Sure it features an entirely female case, none of whom end up unclothed, and everyone dies in the end, but other than these things, it's pretty standard horror stuff. There are, however, some very good shots (especially Sarah's escape from the cave).

A number of us went out to the Agincourt to watch the Australia vs. Croatia World Cup match...

Travelogue Day 28


Something Like Happiness (2005, Bohdan Sláma)
From a depressed town, a man leave for America. His friend Tonik, girlfriend Monika, and their families remain behind, though he does promise to send for Monika once that becomes possible. Her friend Dasha seems ok, but when her lover doesn't leave his wife on her timetable, she goes a bit crazy and is committed.

Monika takes in the kids, missing her first opportunity to go to America because she refuses to send the kids to a foster home. Her father doesn't really mind, he likes Tonik more anyhow, but her mother is furious that she would squander this chance to escape and kicks her out.

She and the kids move in with Tonik and his aunt. For a time, they are a happy family, making improvements on the house and playing with the children. We forget about the boys' psychotic mother until she returns to ruin everyone's time by unceremoniously removing the boys from the younger one's birthday party, insulting her old friends all the while.

Tonik confesses his love for Monika, and she reciprocates, but she refuses him in the end out of loyalty(?) to their shared friend in America. Tonic encourages her to go and, as his aunt is dying, sells the house. Monika doesn't go and comes back to the house only to find it being demolished and Tonik disappeared.

The closest to happiness any of them came was during that pseudo-family time at the house. No one is happy otherwise, even when they have what they wanted (Dasha and her man). Monika seems to return so she can reconstruct that pseudo-family as a real one with Tonik, but she decided too late. He's gone away, perhaps never to return, and she only has the memory of something that almost was happiness for her.