Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Where women glow and men plunder

It's taken me a few days to recover from the Aussie party held at the weekend. Everyone I've spoken to had an absolute blast, and I can only agree with them. There would have been over 400 people crowded into the Cubby Bear next to Wrigley Field here in Chicago, and the dance floor was THE place to be. The band that we had was fantastic, and the crowd was really well-behaved. I didn't even leave until closing time, around 2.45am. Not a bad innings for me, eh?

So now I'm recovering from the early stages of the flu, and am home today to recuperate with hot coffee and the Food Network on TV. I sang so loudly and for such a long time on Saturday night that I'm still effectively hoarse, a condition only compounded by my cold. But I need to get better because I fly to Scotland on Thursday. At least I'll sleep most of the way - and I think after Saturday night's effort, I could do with some of that respite too.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Tell him he's dreamin'

Lexie turns 24 towards the end of February, and has sought my help to find a bar we can go to when her Wisconsin friends converge on Chicago to celebrate the occasion. So last night we went to a sports bar called "Duffy's", which is a few blocks away from our place. I'd been there before with work colleagues for a few beers with the barman, so I knew that it would be the sort of place Lex would like. And sure enough, she gave it the 'thumbs up'.

But last night also attracted the college crowd (what night doesn't around here?). And I met a lovely boy named Ryan. I call him a "boy" because that's precisely what he was. I mean, I felt old enough to be his mother, and yet he came on real strong. Consider our exchange (and bear in mind this is the first time we spoke to each other - EVER):

Him: Do you know who my dream girl is?
Me: I have no idea.
Him: She is Australian.
Me: You don't say.
Him: Yes, and she's got brown hair but she dyes it blond.
Me: (strike one) I see.
Him: Yes, but I hope she doesn't smoke.
Me: No, I'm sure she doesn't. That would be a very unhealthy habit.
Him: I agree. You are now my wife.

Yes, connubial bliss really does happen that quickly here in the Windy City. But I am sad to say that shortly after this amusing exchange, my new husband (plus his cranberry juice drink - "to mask the taste of alcohol, you understand") sauntered off into the darkness, and I never saw him again. But one of his friends did invite me to a sex party around the corner from the pub, so perhaps our paths would have crossed again. Sigh. I guess I'll never know.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

With courage, let us all combine to remember the words

Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free

Laying in bed last night, trying to mentally scour my wardrobe for an appropriate party outfit for this weekend, I got to thinking about the party's program of events. My boss is doing a speech; an Aussie cover band will be playing some well-loved tunes; and there will even be a meat-tray raffle. But then I stopped dead and realised that there will also be the singing of the national anthem.

And I couldn't remember it.

We've golden soil and weath for toil, our home is girt by sea

I've sung Australia's national anthem about 400 times, in 400 degrees of sobriety, since I left home. Overseas pubs, particularly in Turkey, have literally vibrated with the sounds of my fellow countrymen warbling the ancient words of our national song in link-armed, patriotic brotherhood. But it's been a good few months since I've even thought about the tune, much less the lyrics, and I ended up a good deal stumped.

Our land abounds in nature's gifts of beauty rich and rare

So I did what ever other nutcase does at 1am. I sang to myself. But I did it quietly, don't worry. I had the tune correct, right from the outset - so I felt quite chuffed. Starting strongly with the lyrics (the first two lines were a breeze), but it all got fuzzy in the middle just like it does when our swimmers are up on the podium at the Olympics. Before I knew it, 'golden soil' became "wealthy boils" and 'girt by sea' was "garden seats". Verses got mixed up, the tune drifted off into something by Powerderfinger, and I was disgraced with myself.

So I refused to let myself sleep until I had the lyrics to at least the first verse down. It took 20 minutes, but now I have it. I did so well to even bring the house down with a resounding finish:
In history's page, let every stage, ADVANCE AUSTRALIA FAIR!!!

Happy Australia Day to all,
wherever you may be!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Meat, ma'am, Meat

As Australia Day approaches, and my freakouts about what I'm going to wear to the party on Saturday become more frequent, I have joined my Consular colleagues in an overwhelming, albeit expensive, display of patriotism.

I have placed an order for one dozen assorted Aussie meat pies, from a bakery all the way down in Atlanta, Georgia. And that's nothing. We've got dozens more on their way, plus lamingtons and sausage rolls too. It is an Aussie bonanza and I can't wait until the delivery man arrives. And we're having a "Pie and a Pint" lunch on Friday (after a public holiday Thursday) to celebrate the delivery and toast our collective gluttony.

It's really weird what one foodstuffs one misses after being away for only one year. I know it's bloody hot Down Under right now, so I'm not so much longing for the sweltering summer sun. But the things I do miss from the Motherland include, in random order:
  • Pavlova with fresh Aussie strawberries;
  • Salada biscuits with butter and thinly-smeared Vegemite poking out through the holes;
  • Kraft peanut butter, never dry or oily;
  • Picnic bars, a delightful blend of wafers, chocolate, and peanuts;
  • Woodie's lemonade, a delicious beverage unique to South Australian champions;
  • Haigh's chocolates, such good sustenance that words fail me;
  • Fasta Pasta, home of the yummy food and cheap red wine in flagons yippee.
If anyone can work out how to get around the Food and Drug Administration, and import these goodies into the States, I will love you forever. And before you ask, I've already emailed Haigh's and they aren't willing to take on the Feds, even despite my protestations that Hershey's just doesn't cut it with me.

Monday, January 23, 2006

You saw the blue guys too, right?

blueman watching you
Originally uploaded by stelb.
Saturday night I took the train downtown with Lexie and her sixteen-year old cousin, Lauren to have dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. I had never heard of it, but the girls assured me it was a fun night out and really nice meals.

For the benefit of my Adelaide readers, the Rainforest Cafe is what the Magic Cave would be if Santa came from the Amazon. The cafe had a huge indoor waterfall, big aquariums full of tropical fish, and giant fibreglass rainforest creatures complete with the appropriate background soundtracks. All the waiters were dressed in khaki like safari leaders, and indeed when our table was announced, it went something like this: "Lexie's Safari of 3, your adventure begins now" or something equally fun. And the restaurant really tailors to kids, if you haven't already guessed. But big kids like us also fit in fine. And Lauren even told the waiter it was her 18th birthday, just so we could have the waiters sing to our table. But the piece de resistance was the dessert they brought with them when they sang: The Volcano. Ooooooh it was so bad it was good. Imagine four (or was it five?) caramel filled brownies, with caramel drizzled down the sides, vanilla icecream scooped liberally on the plate, and hot fudge sauce across the top. And a sparkler creating the razzle dazzle to great effect. I clapped along with the singing waiters and tucked into the delicious dessert even though it was all built on Lauren's lie. We told her she'd go straight to hell for it, so she might as well share her dessert. So she did. Sucker.

After that we jumped a bus back to my neighbourhood because we had tickets to see "Blue Man Group", a super talented trio of street performers from New York who have turned pro. In fact, their act has been so successful that they have gone to Europe and trained a bunch of Germans how to be just like them. The language barrier is no problem, because the actors don't speak anyway. Oh, and they're painted bright blue. Did I forget to mention that? They looked to me like aliens - staring at the audience quizzically from inside their blue rubber face masks. Oh they were such talented drummers as well; just awesome to watch. I don't normally like shows with audience participation, but the girl and guy selected from the audience to participate were really good. They got into the act and were really good sports, laughing at themselves but taking the show seriously enough to be entertaining. We had great seats too, which I think always helps. If you ever get a chance to see "Blue Man Group", you must go - they are so good. I will of course be including a visit to the show on future "Tours of Chicago" that I conduct for my expat friends. Prepare yourselves folks, you will not be disappointed.

And to end this blog post on a rather typical note, I made a fool of myself today on the phone. Just then, in fact. An Australian lady living in Wisconsin just called through and I took the call. She said "oh hi Gab, mate, how are you?," and then she hastened to add "oh sorry about that, it just slipped out". To which I replied, "don't worry - you can 'mate' me". Hmm. I knew what I meant. Thankfully she was gracious enough to ignore it. While I quietly died.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Come and get your underpants

Home in Houston
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

When I left Scotland to come to the States, I had to ask Betty & Armand to babysit a carry-on size suitcase (ironically because I couldn't carry it with me!).

So for the last few months, I've been saving money to fund my case's solo flight to Chicago, as part of the international movers door-to-door service. I am keen to get it back because it has photos, my gorgeous black netting dress (very Carrie Bradshaw, circa Season 5) and a large quantity of jewellery.

Four quotes later, would you believe it's actually cheaper for me to jump on a plane and 'cross the pond' to go and collect it myself?! I know, I was shocked too. But you can close your mouth now.

So on 2 February, I'll be mounting a weekend-long recovery mission to Glasgow. Annual leave being the fickle thing it is, I can only stay for the weekend, but I'm really looking forward to it.

I am still disappointed about the way I exited Scotland back in October, and I'm keen to atone for that now. When I left last time, I did so at about 6am the morning after flying back from London (and after a four-week holiday in Italy). So the rushed farewells left me no real 'closure' with Betty and Armand, after their generosity for hosting me the previous six months.

Coupled with that, Batreg was away on her own little junket with Trisch and I didn't get to say goodbye to her at all. Bad form, but admittedly unavoidable given the circumstances.

But the universe (and my bank account) is giving me a second chance. And on 2 February, I will get out of O'Hare International Airport to fetch my belongings from the bonny land. I have already been promised a roast lamb (haven't I?) and a clootie dumpling, and this pleases me. It has been a long time between dumplings. But the best bit? This time when I say goodbye, I will do it right.

El Nino in Chicago

Having worked for years in the Government's environment portfolio, the words El Nino, greenhouse, and ozone (when particularly followed by the word layer) are well-known to me.

And without referring to global warming, there is simply no other way to explain why Chicago enjoyed 50+ degree temperatures yesterday. Why was I walking around without my winter coat on, in the middle of January? How come my hands were not freezing off when I abandoned all idea of wearing my spectacular Parisian leather duelling gloves?

I'll tell you why. Because Chicago's 10-foot high winter wall of snow is as mythical as the Abominable Snowman or Wee Nessie of the Loch. I hate to say it, but I'm calling the Consulate's bluff on this one. I have lived through only one snowstorm since I arrived in Chicago, and then every little flurry after that has been, in a word, wimpy.

Come on, weather man - give me something to work with here! I've got the coats, scarves, gloves, beanies, thermals, thick socks, and snow shoes. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

So as I shake my fist at the sky, and do a half-assed snow dance, I glance at today's Chicago Tribune and see that a monster snowfall is on its way during the course of next week.

Bring it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

For we are young and free

Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
Australia Day in Chicago is coming up and the Consulate is abuzz with the news that a big party is planned at The Cubby Bear, a rather dodgy bar next to Wrigley Field.

Sponsored by the Chicago Aussie Rules club (yes, there is one), $35 buys you four hours of drinks and food and Aussie music and dancing. Phew!

And given that parties are what you make them, so we are getting behind this one and though we have to pay, our funds ensure that we are entered in the raffle to win a return trip to Australia or one to London. Not bad prizes, I'd say!

I am dragging Caroline along as my date, but she's quite willing to check out the Aussie male talent so I don't believe she needed too much convincing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Down in the dumps on a dog-day afternoon

We have been having some problems with the tenants on the ground floor of our building. The two girls that live there are most likely college students who very much enjoy loud music, at all times of the day; cigarettes of all sorts and kinds; and having loads of undesireable males over, at all hours. This was not really a problem until the weekend just gone, when one of their parties got slightly out of hand (it must have), and the downstairs window was slightly smashed, and cigarette butts were scattered through our downstairs foyer. So what was left resembled a war zone, and the girls still haven't cleaned it up. During the day yesterday, I got myself all pumped to take the girls on, and demand that they stop with the music at 3am, and clean up after themselves when they break stuff in a shared area of the building. I would have been polite, articulate, and as friendly as possible.

But coming home last night, I caught a glimpse of one of the girls that lives there. Mouth puckered up like a cat's bottom, skanky brown hair plastered to her head, and scrawny long legs in tight stretch jeans. Even with my master ninja moves, I knew she'd be well able to kick my ass. So I kept walking past the apartment and onto the convenience store to buy milk. I had hoped she'd be gone back inside by the time I returned. And she was but, just as I was about to climb the stairs to my building, I realised that two of the ugliest men EVER were visiting the girls, and were walking in just ahead of me. Ugh. So I figured that any encounter between me and the downstairs tenants would have to wait another day. At least they didn't play any loud music last night; I think that would have just about broke my spirit.

So I walked inside my apartment, grateful that I didn't have to have any fights. And I sniffed the air, took one look at Sarah's dog and said to him "What have you done, and Where have you done it?!". The smell was positively awful. And there in the corner of our TV room was the biggest dump I have ever seen come out of a dog. It smelled bad and it looked worse. I can only assume that Chaz felt better after having deposited it there. In any case, he was certainly feeling embarrassed because he avoided me like the plague. I was not in the mood to look at him anyway. And to make matters slightly worse, Sarah was not going to be home until 8.30pm, so I would have to clean it up. Where to even start with that?

I managed to hold my breath long enough to walk past the mess on the floor and open the TV room windows to try and air the place. Fortunately the smell had not drifted down to my bedroom, so I hung out down that end of the house, to contemplate a cleaning strategy. Just then, Lexie came home and I was able to share my discovery with her. Together we devised a plan to clean the room, with me as the 'shoveller', and her as the 'cleaner and deodoriser' backing me up. I gagged so many times that I nearly had to vomit in Lexie's bathroom. I had to leave the room a few times too, and only after covering the pile with my own baby talcum powder, was I able to hold my breath long enough to finish my part of the job for Lexie to come in and complete it. We lit every single fragrant candle in the house after that, and tried to mask whatever was left of the odour. By the time Sarah got home, the mess was cleaned up, the odour was neutralised, and the cleaning crew had recovered. But neither Lexie nor myself were talking to that stupid dog. We told Sarah that whatever had come out of Chaz was not healthy and was also not allowed to happen again. On my way out the door this morning, I told the dog that if I came home to a gift like that again, I was sending him back to Wisconsin by Fedex. And I meant it.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bread and Circuses be hanged

Back in the days when the Colosseum was THE place for Romans to hang out, the concept of "bread and circuses" was first realised. The principle was simple. The Emperor of the time (Flavius was the biggest culprit) used to basically bribe his subjects with fresh bread in return for their paid attendance at his massive amphitheatre featuring bloody battles and gladiatorial combat (the circus). But hey, that was entertainment back then, and the Emperor did very well by it.

I have just come back to Chicago from having spent a fantastic weekend in Wisconsin with Lexie and her family and friends. I knew I would be going there to celebrate Lexie's mum's birthday with a family dinner at a beloved restaurant. But I didn't know what other circus activities I might be invited to engage in, so I was really looking forward to a fun weekend. And I wasn't disappointed.

Lexie's mum is an identical twin, and the meal we shared at the restaurant (about 20 minutes away from Lex's house) was just beautiful. At a family owned restaurant, with a killer bar at the front, we were seated in about 10 minutes and the service was great. I had peppercorn crusted Yellow Fin tuna cooked medium rare - yummo - with steamed veggies and washed it down with a couple of vodka/lemonades (slightly heavier on the vodka than was probably good for me!).

And then I joined Lexie and her friend Amber at Craig's house where many of Lexie's friends had gathered for beers and laughs. [Craig actually came to stay with us for a weekend about a month ago, and he is a scream. Good fun and a really good friend to Lexie, so of course we had to make an appearance at his party last night]. And boy, it was a real circus, if ever there was one.

We played this classic drinking game called "Horse Race". I'd never heard of it before, and thought it was a little stupid. That was until our cheap beer had kicked in and I started winning. Then it got gooood.

"Horse Race" can be played by every single person at your party - no limits. And the rules - for what they're worth - go something like this:

You take your four aces and put them face-up at the bottom of the table. Then you take 6 cards (any ones) and evenly space them out, face down in a line down the left hand side of the table. Then you go around the table and pick an Ace suit (your horse), and put a bet on how many sips of your drink you'll risk for it to win.

Given that they are a girl's best friend, I picked "Diamonds" as my horse all night. Anyway, once each person has placed their bet, another person starts flipping over the remaining cards. With me so far? Whatever suit gets flipped over, another person moves the corresponding Ace card forward one space up the line of face-down cards. The game continues until an Ace card reaches the last face-down card space and that horse is declared the winner. And anyone who didn't back that 'horse' has to drink the number of sips that they bet.

Told you it was a silly drinking game, but it was loud and fun, and it did the trick. I started strongly, sagged in the middle, but finished well. And not once did I think about switching suits, and my loyalty was largely rewarded. The penalty of chugging beer with Wisconsin boys was a little tough to take on some bad races though, I have to say. Plus there was a bit of celebratory drinking when someone else's horse won - the victory was often shared. Nice really. But on reflection, I will think twice before drinking Wisconsin beer again.

But I have to tell you, Lexie's home town is as small as I knew it would be, but is beautiful. And it is right on the other side of Lake Michigan from where I live in Chicago. During the summer, the three resorts in town fill up (yes, the town is population 400 most of the year, but explodes in summer) reminiscent of "Dirty Dancing". Or perhaps that was just my imagination. This weekend there was still snow on the ground the air was very crisp. It's hard to picture the town buzzing with people eating ice cream and taking bunny-hop classes at the resorts. But I was a good house guest this weekend and I minded my manners, so I've been invited back any time.

And I will certainly return to Elkhart Lake. After all, I've got a horse race title to defend.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home

Inspired by the good folk over in Geneva, I have embraced the challenge of cataloguing the cities in which I have spent at least one night (since leaving Australia in 2005). The cities are shown here in random order, where my memory fails me.

Apologies to any town I happen to omit. I loved your town really. Very clean.

Adelaide, Australia
Hong Kong
Paris, France (repeat visits)
Bordeaux, France
Lourdes, France
Arles, France
Ribeauville, France
Bern, Switzerland
Geneva, Switzerland
Venice, Italy (repeat visits)
Florence, Italy (repeat visits)
Rome, Italy (repeat visits)
Milan, Italy (repeat visits)
Sorrento, Italy
Cinque Terre, Italy
Assisi, Italy
Istanbul, Turkey
(plus a whole bunch of other Turkish places that have unfortunately blended together)
Outside under the stars on the Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey
Houston, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Aberdeen, Scotland
Chicago, USA

I think that might be it. I could do with a good lie-down after forming that list!

Weekend Road Trip

Wisconsin State Line
Originally uploaded by patriarca12.
Since arriving in Chicago in October, I haven't actually been anywhere. Isn't that weird? Considering how much travelling I've done since I left Australia, it shocks me that I've kept a very low profile since coming to Illinois.

But that is about to change.

This weekend I'm heading to Wisconsin with Lexie, to celebrate her Mum's birthday with a family dinner at a fantastic restaurant near their house. I have already been instructed to have the pecan-crusted chicken. So there.

I am also apparently being taken out to a bar that - eek - doesn't have a dance floor. Apparently the entire state of Wisconsin is stuck in a Footloose-inspired timewarp that basically outlaws dancing. But just to be cruel, they do have bands and they do have juke boxes. What kind of crazy state am I heading to?

Full report to follow, provided I don't get run out of town first. Actually, if that happens perhaps it will make for a rather interesting post!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Yeah Yeah Oooh A Heatwave

32 degrees
Originally uploaded by tbonemccool.
Something that has been difficult to get used to here has been the temperature settings. Everything is in farenheit, from the weather reports to the little guage thingies on the oven. I don't really know the conversion rates from F to C degrees (I could look it up on the internet of course, but who has the time, when there is perfectly good whining to do?). All I know is, anything lower than 40 degrees (farenheit) is cold, as far as I'm concerned.

So you can imagine my childish squeals of delight earlier this week when the weather man informed me that it was going to get over 50 degrees here in Chicago in the latter part of the week! I was so excited, because it hasn't been this 'warm' since I arrived here back in October. This is the closest that we can get to a heatwave right now. For my Aussie readers, I don't to hear about your weather right now, cause I just want to have my long overdue moment in the sun here (literally).

Okay so it will only just inch over the 50 degree mark, but that is big news for me all the same. It heralds the return of the tshirt to the wardrobe. It does not yet mean swimsuit (the very Sahara itself could not induce me into THAT costume), but it does mean sunglasses, and maybe even open-toed shoes. Hmm. I haven't seen my legs in a while. I'm quite sure they should stay covered for fear of blinding the general populus.

I suppose Chicagoans are going to be like the Brits at the first sign of sunshine. We'll go out in our 'summery' gear, embrace the heat and absorb the Vitamin D, and then scurry back indoors for the onset of the big freeze that is apparently just about the corner. But I just know that all of us who were brave enough to face the warm weather will bask in the memory, and snuggle into our parkas, smiling smugly to one another on the bus.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Spur me your cowboy puns, chaps!

Originally uploaded by writerxtrodonaire.
My Office was divided yesterday, and all because of "Brokeback Mountain", the latest movie starring Aussie Heath Ledger.

I saw it on the weekend with Caroline, and had to agree with Melissa that it was not a highly entertaining movie. That said, it WAS a beautiful love story and really quite heart-breaking. But other girls at work saw it and declared it to be one hour too long. They couldn't see what all the fuss was about.

Funny, no boys at the office have seen it.

So then our disagreements centered on whether we thought Heath would nab the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts. See, even the Consulate is not immune to the Oscar buzz. I'm not putting my money on it just yet - I am really keen to see "Capote" to determine whether Philip Seymour Hoffman is a true threat to Heath Baby's chances.

One thing is for sure, though. Heath Ledger IS the Malboro Man in this movie, and you have to see it just for that. It's what he doesn't say and doesn't do, that makes this movie so powerful. And the boy-on-boy action isn't gratuitous, if that's what you're worried about. Both Heath and Jake are so incredible masculine in this movie.

And there was never a better advertisement for Levi's jeans that Jake G's bum. I'm just saying...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sayde the Cleaning Lady

sapu Muntilan
Originally uploaded by Farl.
On Sunday I actually got motivated and cleaned the apartment. I swept, dusted, and mopped from the front to the back door. I was a cleaning machine!

And when I'd finished, I collapsed exhausted onto my nice clean bed, and fell fast asleep in the middle of the afternoon. What's up with that!?

My muscles hurt today too. Enough of this crap. I'm getting a cleaning lady.

Friday, January 06, 2006

You give me fever

not mine
Originally uploaded by decibell72.

The US is abuzz right now with Oscar fever. That little gold statue (which I suspect is really just dark chocolate covered in gold tinfoil), is easily the holy grail of the acting profession. And its impact on the general public is mind-blowing.

Local papers and TV commercials are advertising Oscar parties, where you and your friends can go along to a pub and sit and watch the entire Oscar ceremony. For a small fee, you can feel fabulous while being fed canapes and champagne by the flute-full.

Nah, I doubt that's an event for me. I treat the Oscars the same way I deal with the Aussie equivalents (and I'm talking the Logies and the Brownlow here). I say that with a straight face and all.

I love award ceremonies for the red carpet fashions, and that's it. I enjoy watching the young starlets wearing the ugliest but most fabulous fashions known to human kind. I marvel at an actress who is wearing diamonds that are heavier than she is. And I love seeing how uncomfortable some guys (husbands, boyfriends, paid escorts - whatever) feel with the whole pomp and ceremony of the function. You can see them fidget and they squeeze a smile as their uber-successful partner works the carpet and waves at the losers on the other side of the barricades.

You know what I'd do in that situation? I'd pay an obscene sum of money to the organisers to ensure that my limo arrived just after TomKat's. At least after THEIR red-carpet public display of affection (which is an absolute certainty, even - or especially - in her rotund condition), I would be banking on the paparazzi being so busy refilling their cameras or recoiling in shock, that chances were good that they'd miss me slinking in. Now how's that for a golden suggestion?!

Oh you all know I'm full of crap. If the Academy for Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences (or whatever corrupt organisation runs this show) rang me with spare tickets to the gala, you know I'd go there in a flash. I'd call Collette Dinnigan for the frock, and Harry Winston for the sparkle, and Christian Laboutin for the shoes. And I'd fly my sister over here to do my makeup.

But since that's never going to happen, I'll settle for joining the rest of the plebs in this country (and indeed, around the world) to tune in on the night - from the comfort of my sofa. And then after the madness is over, I'll buy the "People" magazine and relive the high and low lights all over again.

Yes, I know, I am such a victim. But it's a once-a-year guilty pleasure. And you know you do it too!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

No spoonfuls of sugar here

Originally uploaded by toasterking.
Let me say right from the outset of this post that I like America and I like the American people I've met so far. In general terms, Americans are friendly people who enjoy a joke and are almost perversely interested in where I come from and whether we really DO ride kangaroos down the main streets.


But sometimes Americans simply baffle me. In the words of my favourite transsexual comedian (cause everyone's gotta have one), I stand back, blinking, and just think 'what on earth are you people doing?'. A discussion about cable television will illustrate my point.

If you've got cable television, as I have, you'll know that quite often there are 400 channels, and only about 3 programs you'd actually consider watching. This is not a phenomenon unique to America.

What I believe IS unique to American television is the astonishing number of commercials offering chemical solutions to ease pain and suffering. I'm talking about the variety of pills and potions being hawked on American TV to cure even the smallest of complaints. Who are the advertising gurus behind some of these promotions? Clearly it is not an employment condition to have a social conscience! For instance, the USA's equivalent of Panadol is a pill called Advil. It basically cures any ache/pain you can think of. But the ad for Advil features a woman who chats quite nonchalantly about all the pills she was on to cure her various ailments before she discovered this miracle cure. She took pills for her knee strain, pills for her back problems, and don't even get her started on the various migraine medications she was pumping into her body. And I know enough about PR and advertising to know that this sort of commercial is meant to appeal to Mr and Mrs Average, who are supposed to empathise with this woman. Advertisers want us to say 'wow, I'm pumping MY body full of pharmaceutical goop too. Maybe Advil will be MY saviour too!' What a crock?!

And when all this pill-popping is done, what do Americans do when they can't sleep? That's right, they pop a pill. But careful people - this pill will help you sleep, but may well render you completely unable to ever operate heavy machinery, have children, or carry on an intelligent conversation for the rest of your life. Sure, you'll sleep great but be positively ruined when you're awake!

I watched a commercial last night for an anti-depressant. It pledged to cure your depression (with no adverse results on your sex drive), but you run the risk of kidney failure, stomach ulcers, and acne just from taking it. Now, if THAT'S not going to depress you, nothing will.

ARGH this nation drives me crazy. One the one hand, you've got pharmaceutical companies and the FDA hawking such ridiculous drugs on TV with the accompanying hilarious commericals. But on the other hand, you've got the talk shows that encourage you to solve the world's ills with a big group hug (Oprah); a complete personality overhaul (Dr Phil); or belting someone with a chair while being stark bollocks naked (Jerry Springer).

Confronted by such diametrically opposed tactics, however are Americans supposed to feel better? Watching a naked lunatic do a smackdown on national television probably helps...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

One for my baby, and one more for the road

I am a few weeks shy of my one-year anniversary of being away from home. I look back on my globe-trotting adventures with fondness and no regrets at all.

Even the fuzzy 'morning after the night before' flashbacks - rather than being super cringe-worthy- have made me smile. And I guess that's the beauty of jumping in to this odyssey with both feet.

And while I've been using this blog as a way to share news, reviews, and photos with loved ones around the world, sometimes its the things I haven't yet told that have made the biggest impact on me. For instance, just this morning I realised that my entire holiday thus far can be described in terms of what I've been drinking. Consider the following:

Before I left home, I had farewell parties. And consistent with my theory that all good things should last a week, I indulged in more last-minute Aussie beers than were probably good for me. But it was summer back then, and Aussie heat and Aussie beer just go together, don't they?

Hong Kong
Still clinging to Aussie customs, I spent much of my two days in Hong Kong hydrating myself with Australian wines in the hotel bar. Oh and there was that infamous dark green sesame soup that I slurped....blech!

Touching down in Paris in minus four degrees, you'd be forgiven for thinking that hot chocolates would have been my drink of choice. But no (and basically because I dislike them immensely). Instead, I recall making a pact with Batreg that we would resist buying supermarket red wine that cost less than 2 euro. Anything above that price bracket was fair game. Not delicious, of course, but fair game. Bordeaux produced some rather average reds, but the rest of France delivered as far as I'm concerned. But then a return to Paris was an introduction to home made killer champagne punch. But the photos of that night speak for themselves so the less said here, the better.

Chianti, Prosecco, and Espresso. Need I say more?

Will forever be remembered for the 500ml cans of Efes beer and Batreg declaring, "damn it , if I wanted to see any ruins today, I'd just look in the mirror". Priceless.

Drambuie in Edinburgh, McEwens beer in Glasgow, and 7 bottles of assorted wine at my 'woohoo i got the job in Chicago' party. The photos of THAT event speak for themselves too!

Blue Ribbon beer, Starbucks, Irish Carbombs, Jager shots with college students, and the list only grows....

And while this adventure has sometimes felt like the National Lampoons Pub Crawl, the glass has been half full the entire time!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Forgetting Auld Acquaintances...and all the words

Originally uploaded by the tomahawk kid.
When Robbie Burns penned his infamous ditty about a million years ago I'm sure that his fellow Scots understood all the words. But not so these days, I don't think. Yes I know there will be some brainiacs out there who will comment on this post and give me the lexicographical genesis of the words and their associated meanings.

But I think that Robbie Burns was a nutty Scotsman who loved nothing more than a decent dram of whiskey and a sing-a-long with mates, whose names he had all but forgotten by midnight.

And in deference to the man and his extraordinary jolly sense of fun, we raise our glasses on 31 December at the stroke of midnight, and sing a robust toast (in Scottish no less!) to remember our friends, past and present. No one cares that the words are a jumble, because the accompanying oompah-style dance of linked arms, silly hats, and sincere expression resonate with everyone.

After a quiet Christmas, I resolved (there's that verb again!) to get out and about on New Year's. I joined my work friends Justin and Lisa, and Lisa's friend Jeff, at a bar in Lincoln Park, about 10 minutes from my apartment. The bar is called Maeve's and is just gorgeous. Wooden decor, dark floorboards, and friendly bar staff. For five hours - and $80 - we enjoyed an all you can eat/drink smorgasboard. The night was great fun, with lots of good music (ranging from Elvis to Johnny Cash to 1980s pop and everything in between). We celebrated the New York countdown (at 11pm our time), and then had a big countdown of our own at midnight. The bar had a really good crowd and we all mixed well and danced and carried on, till I collapsed into bed at around 2am.

A good effort, and will not be forgotten for the sake of auld lang's syne...