Friday, March 31, 2006

Mountains or Molehills?

Devils haircut
Originally uploaded by wiseacredesign.
Several weeks ago, I blogged about the Australian film director, Sarah Watt, who visited Chicago to premiere her film "Look Both Ways". After that premiere, my boss invited us all back to his Residence for an informal reception to properly welcome Sarah to Chicago.

Well at that Reception, Consulate staff flanked Sarah in a photograph to commemorate the occasion. We were all given a copy of the photograph, which is just fine. But now I hear that the photo will also appear in the latest edition of the Department's newsletter, that is circulated to ALL posts around the globe.

That's fine too, except for the fact that I am the only person in the photo with clevage! Yes, friends, I've got the bosoms out and proud - for all of DFAT to see. Superb career move, Gabs.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I just stick out my chin, and grin, and say, OH...

Shades with a View
Originally uploaded by azem.
[all together now, 1...2...3...]

The sun'll come out, tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow,
There'll be sun.

So there will be. Even more sun that we had today, can you believe that?!

And how did I spend the first completely sunny day in Chicago since October, you may ask? Well I went out at lunch time, bought McDonalds for the whole office, and we ate it in the Conference Room.

How much do we suck?!

Mmm, Lengs & Cooter and Cork

Tuscan Grapes
Originally uploaded by Henry King.
Back home in Australia I worked for many years for a lady whose passion for wine was matched only by my passion for handbags.

While I was more interested in amassing a vast empire of leather bags, believing 'quantity is quality', my boss taught me that one bottle of wine (costing as much, if not more, than one of my bags) could bring just as much pleasure as a fine Cellini or a vintage Olga Berg.

Back in the day, I was a red drinker, steering clear of whites only because they gave me a headache once. [Note that I vetoed Maggi 2-minute noodles for about 10 years because they made me vomit once when I was about six].

But my boss taught me to appreciate wine a little more each year, and I started to get to know some of the local producers, become familiar with varietals and vineyards, as well as learn a bit about Australian wine regions and for which wines they were better known.

And I squealed like a girl last week at "The Tasting Room" when I purchased a bottle of 1998 Lengs & Cooter Old Vine Shiraz from the Clare Valley. I had fully intended to hang onto it until Kate arrived and we could crack it open to welcome her to Chicago. But as with all my best plans, the magnetic pull of the earth would not let me do that, and I resolved to open it last night and share it with my room mates.

But the demonic corkscrew I used to break into the blessed bottle butchered the cork and threatened to ruin what would otherwise have been a beautiful bottle o'wine.

Summoning my McGyver instincts, I constructed a filtration system using a cocktail shaker, a coffee filter, and a complicated pouring technique - and I remedied the situation.

And pardon me for not having adopted the appropriate viticultural lexicon, but the wine was bloody beautiful. And no chewy bits of cork to be found.

Sorry Katie, I'll get us another one!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The impulse to create and destroy

Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa has been slanting for centuries, and has been the subject of ongoing maintenance to ensure that it does not collapse onto the hordes of tourists that clamber to visit it every year. Though having been there myself three times, I wouldn't consider that to be an abominable thing altogether!

But Pisa's tilting monument shows architectural genius way beyond my IKEA bed, which collapsed in spectacular fashion on Saturday morning.

And I'm really sorry to report that there is no sexy story to account for this. The reason for the collapse is plain shoddy dowelling work. The little wooden bitty things holding my bed ends together snapped some time after construction, so my daily routine consisted of making my bed, and then pushing the ends together where the dowels had threatened to come apart. When it came to changing my sheets, there was always the risk that the ends would come apart, weakening the sides of the bed and making it possible for the two sets of slats to fall to the floor - usually in opposite directions - and bringing the mattress along with them.

And that's exactly what happened on Saturday morning. First one side of the bed came undone, then one set of slats fell. The mattress slanted. I was still in the bed at the time. Then the other side of the bed collapsed, and the slats along with it. Then with an almight WHOOMP (there it is!), the mattress and I hit the floor.

Given that this is a G-rated blog, I cannot transpose here the words that I uttered at realising my misfortune. But I can assure you that I have composed a rather nasty mental letter to Mr IKEA. I'm not strong enough to assemble my bed myself, but I was clearly strong enough to hammer the snapped dowels in well enough that they cannot be removed by conventional methods (ie the pointy endy bit of the hammer). Biggsy says I should call up IKEA at Schaumberg, where I bought the bed, and complain that "I am 5 foot nothing, and weigh nothing, so send some men to fix my bed now". Perhaps that is a good tactic.

But the capitalist in me sees much more fun in browsing the bed stores and finding something more reliable to sleep on in future. Nothing I have to construct myself [and nothing that's held together with dowels for the love of all that is sacred!].

Stay tuned for more bedroom adventures. No doubt they will be as riveting as this one.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Katie Holmes will never win an Oscar

In the interests of word economy, and my own entertainment, the title of the blog is easily the biggest understatement in the galaxy. Thanks be to some deity that Miss Holmes is finally going to retire to Tom Cruise's mansion, spend his money (and the rest of her life), making TomKat kittens.

But the worldwide acting community should not grieve; rather, it should consider her performance in "Thank You For Not Smoking" as a graceful exit from life in front of the movie camera. The rest of the cinema-going public, on the other hand, should breathe a sigh of relief.

It wasn't that Katie was bad in last night's film. It's just that she plays such an important character so blandly, that it could have been played by a stand-in on the movie set. Mind you, I remember that Harrison Ford was a carpenter on the set of "Star Wars" when he was asked to stand-in for the 'real' Han Solo who'd gone off to take a leak or something.

But look, enough about Katie. Let's consider the really clever and very funny movie I saw last night. "Thank You For Not Smoking" is a tongue-in-cheek satire of the tobacco industry. Aaron Eckhart (minus the handlebar moustache and ponytail he sported for "Erin Brockovich") plays a lobbyist working for the tobacco industry in Washington DC. The movie centres on his efforts to fly the proverbial flag for the tobacco industry in the face of an anti-smoking public. Operating on the understanding that everything is an argument, not a negotiation, he deftly fields all kinds of negativity and flack from school students, Senators, TV reporters, and even his own son.

The movie is so well written, and with a great ensemble cast (even my favourite psychiatrist from "Law and Order" appears), that the humour plays out really well and you're left wondering how long it will take before the "how many lobbyists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" jokes will start. I mean, the film makes lobbyists out to be the lawyers of the 21st century - and I mean no disrespect to my lawyer readers/friends when I say that.

And in playing the newspaper reporter that tries to charm our leading man, Katie Holmes smiles her crooked smile and flashes her sparkly eyes and bats her sleepy eyelids over and over, in an attempt to belie the fact that there is a vixen lurking underneath. Puh-lease. I couldn't shake the opinion that she rather looked like a newspaper intern who should spend her days counting paperclips in the stationery cupboard or making friends with the coffee percolator, rather than writing serious journalism and seducing Aaron Eckart in her spare time. Bah humbug.

Go and see "Thank You For Not Smoking". Tell them Gab sent you. You might get a free popcorn.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What's the buzz, tell me what's happening

Katie and I are heading to Toronto at Easter time, and then she's coming to stay with me in Chicago for a few days before she has to return to Paris. Now I'm really excited about this because a)I've never been to Toronto before; b)I haven't seen Kate since July last year; and c)I get to show Kate my beautiful adopted home city.

But Option C has become tricky because there is simply so much to do here in the week after Easter, and I am not convinced we will be able to get to it all. There are so many restaurants I need to take Kate to. There are so many great theatre shows we need to see (though Monty Python 'Spamalot' tickets have already been purchased woohoo!). And just thinking about the number of cocktail bars we need to frequent makes me thirsty!

So my thinking cap is on, as I scour the Chicago social pages to find the absolute-must-see events (as distinct from the blah 'must see' events) so that Kate and I can run ourselves absolutely ragged and emerge a lot richer for it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Just a smidge

Originally uploaded by flyone1106.
When I arrived in Chicago in October, my first social engagement was a visit to "The Tasting Room", and I remember it as a cool and friendly wine bar with the best view of the Chicago cityscape I have ever seen.

So I did not hesistate when Courts and Biggsy invited me back there last night. And imagine my surprise when Biggsy scammed us free tickets to the wine tasting happening upstairs!

Grabbing my tasting sheet and wine glass from Bridget at the door, I took one lap of the room before committing to a location, and that gave me a good chance to examine the offerings on each of the five tables.

The theme of last night's tasting was "Bordeaux and Loire", so I was invited to sample a range of different wines from these two French regions. Reg and I had been to Bordeaux on our travels (and were none too impressed with the wine tour we did), but Katie speaks highly of the Loire, so I was looking forward to that.

And like the proper wine rookie I am, I sought advice from the sommeliers and even engaged the owner of "The Tasting Room" in conversation about the wines being exhibited. He talked, I listened, and nodded, sniffed, and sipped.

My tasting sheet is now full of ticks and crosses, as well as helpful little adjectives like "nice"; "smelly"; and "earthy". And when asking for a particular wine to sample, I was even able to pronounce the French name, rather than ask for "a smidge of number 37 thanks, Chief".

I didn't buy any wines, but I did enjoy myself and I even sampled some dessert wines, which I don't normally do. [For the soaks among you, my favourite - for the record - was the 2004 Roger Moreaux Les Bouffants, Sancerre, at a very reasonable $17.99 a bottle from all good retailers].

We must have made a good impression, or at least behaved ourselves because as we were leaving, Bridget invited us back for the Pinot Noir tasting just after Easter. Aww, bless.

I wonder if Biggsy will be able to scam us freebies for that one too?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Watt do you mean, there's nothing like a Dame?

On Friday night I went out with my colleagues and some other friends to see Dame Edna's Chicago show, "Back With a Vengeance". I had never seen the Dame perform a show of her own, but having seen her interviewing and BEING interviewed, I felt fairly certain that the show would be fun. And it was entertaining, but it just wasn't the show-stopping spectacle I guess I was expecting.

While Dame Edna is funny and the frocks were typically fabulous, and the mauve hair and crazy glasses were just as I knew they would be, I just didn't think the routine generally was all that great. The sections of audience participation were truly funny, and this is where I think Dame Edna really shines. Any opportunity to poke fun at a live "victim" and she just has a blast, you can tell. And I'm not sure how many other Aussies were in the audience, but full credit should be given to the Americans for being really good sports. For those few hapless souls that got dragged up onto stage (I was cringing 2/3 of the way back in the theatre, just in case she saw me), their spirit of adventure was really encouraging. And they helped move the routine along, even though they knew immediately that they would be the butt of the jokes.

Artistically-speaking, my Saturday was much more profitable. I went along to the Chicago premiere of a film called "Look Both Ways" by Australian director, Sarah Watt. The film followed a screening of Sarah's three animated shorts. Having effectively watched Sarah's entire film catalogue, I understand what people mean about Directors having a certain distinguishing style. You know how people always say that it's easy to pick an Alfred Hitchcock film (thanks to an appearance of the man in each), or those purists that can identify a Stanley Kubrick production (where you're left wondering how the hell you're meant to reclaim those lost 2 hours of your life). Sarah Watt's style reflects her love of the ocean, the freedom of seagulls, and the importance of family. Those themes prevail through her work and, as an Aussie expat watching her collection, I really picked up on them and identified with them. As a person, Sarah is really humble about how clever a storyteller she is, and I found that a really impressive quality. She's not a stuffy artist, full of her own importance or overly sensitive about her work. Rather she is an open, approachable person who answered our questions honestly and with a genuine interest in what we felt. The fact that her feature film, "Look Both Ways" was filmed in Adelaide, automatically gave her the gold star from me, but she expected that from me I'm sure.

Having immersed myself in art on Friday and Saturday, I took culture to new lows on Saturday night and threw myself into one of the biggest frozen margaritas you're likely to find. At an underground margarita bar no less. Honestly, this city has everything you could think of. And what you dare not think of, they put underground. Bless them.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

This goes with that?

My bedroom was freshly painted for me yesterday and now I feel settled enough to begin decorating. At least in theory.

I actually hate home decorating and I have very little sense of what goes together. I know what I like, but I like lots of little things, that doesn't really add up to one consistent style. For instance, I like the modern IKEA and Freedom furniture ranges, but at the same time I really like little Buddha statues, and I like the retro Andy Warhol-inspired prints.

See?! None of that stuff, when considered together, could possibly go together in one room, even I know that. Which is part of the reason I had my room painted in a beige-stone-browny colour. I'm sure the Martha Stewart paint collection I chose it from has a much cooler description than that, but I can't remember what name they gave it. To me it's just beige-stony-brown. In any case, it's neutral and will go with whatever weird accessories I choose to throw at it.

So this weekend I'm going to head to "Linens and Things" - a great 'one stop shop' - and pick up some shelving units to hammer into my walls. That's all this world needs; Gab with a hammer.

And to hell with design princples. I'm going to buy a little Buddha from the World Market primarily because I had a small one at home from Oxfam, and his roly-poly belly and happy face always make me smile.

My room mate Lexie is quite the artist, and when she was at college she did some really impressive and funky artworks. She gave me one a few months ago and it has been resting in my room ever since, just waiting for the walls to be painted. Now that it's been done, I can hammer a hook into the wall and put up the picture for a splash of colour and style. Again with the hammer....

I will stop by the pharmacy and get some Band-Aids just in case.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The night that JC came to Chicago

Originally uploaded by Iris V.
On Monday night Lexie, her brother Jeremy, and myself, took the bus to the Park Hotel to see Jamie Cullum's Chicago gig.

I had heard of Britain's "Sinatra in Sneakers", but I was not as much a fan as Lex and Jeremy. So I thought they were both going to have a coniption when he wandered into the Subway restaurant we were eating in before the show. He signed our concert tickets and everything. Bless.

Not being a fan per se didn't matter because Jamie's music, his energy, his style, and his band were absolutely infectious and pretty soon I was bopping along with the sell-out crowd and cheering my lungs out.

There was even a young girl, possibly 15 or 16, that was "dry humping" the stage right up the front, and making some rather lewd gestures with her tongue at Jamie, and then at the percussionist. It's a testament to their professionalism that they were not more distracted by her antics. All that hair-flipping and pelvis-thrusting (aka "Come To Me" lunges) had to put them off - surely...

So now I am quite the fan and actually looking forward to buying his latest album, Catching Tales. I know, I'm such a victim. Rock on!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Monday's child is full of....something!

So I was carrying on last week about not having anything to blog about. And then my weekend happens, and leaves me with so much fodder for a blog post that I hardly know where to begin!

Friday night ended with a big get-together of Chicago's Australian community, almost a reprise of the Australia Day celebration at the Cubby Bear. Minus the band. And minus the Cubby Bear. But not minus the partying spirit of some Midwestern Aussies! This event was held at a Downtown cafe that's owned by an Aussie and while the night was only supposed to go until 8.30pm or so, none of us left until well after 10. And others of us didn't leave until we were man-handled onto the pavement. [I was not one of the latter, you'd be pleased to learn!]

Saturday was an indulgent day, spent at the hairdressers and then enjoying the rare burst of warmth and spring sunshine with a long walk around Lake Michigan. Lexie and I were not alone in our stroll either; in fact, we were constantly jostled about by dog-walkers, roller-bladers, and generally just by other pedestrians. I guess it gave me a good taste of what summer in Chicago will be like. And I can't wait.

I missed the pre-St Patrick's Day celebrations on Saturday - and I was a bit sad about that, because the City turns the Chicago River green in honour of the event, and I missed it. But I have to say in retrospect that the pampering at the salon was probably what I would have preferred to enjoy, rather than the push & shove of Downtown crowds.

Sunday was supposed to be a slow day too, but I accepted an invitation to join my friend Irene for lunch and that led to more wine and great catchups and chats than I could have anticipated. I hadn't counted on some of the things we got up to, including meeting a very high-profile British lawyer, who rather pompously announced that his hourly rate is $450 and that yes, that WAS his Bentley with personalised plates parked outside. Uh huh. And I hadn't counted on leaving Mr Legal Eagle behind to end up at Duffy's pub near my house and meeting a vast contingent of the New York City Fire Department! Believe what you see in the calendars girls, cause there's literally no airbrushing going on. Wowee! Mind you, other than being propositioned in very clear terms by a rather inebriated but muscular (and ultimately disappointed) fireman, the less said about that pub in general, the better.

So Monday morning rolls around, perception is rather foggy, but otherwise with very positive memories about my weekend. And very glad to finally have some decent blogging material. More to come later this week too, when I can give you my reviews of Jamie Cullum (Britain's "Sinatra in Sneakers") and also our own Dame Edna, who I am seeing on Friday night.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The sound of silence

When I left Australia and started 'trotting the globe', every week brought something novel into my life. Either I was transiting a new country; sampling a new cuisine; or battling a new weather condition (-4 degrees Celcius on the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle airport was a trip in itself).

And I guess I was actively searching for this rapidly-changing adventurous lifestyle. But I'd like to think I was also astute enough at the time to realise that, at some stage, the bubble was going to burst. Perhaps not in spectacular fashion, but certainly that things would soon settle and go 'back to normal'.

While I'm not bogged down in a Chicago-based rut right now, life has pretty much done just that. I have a routine, and I have weekend chores to do. I have responsibilities at work, and friendships to maintain. All in all, it's become quite a good way to live, but it's just not very exciting to blog about.

As an alternative, I suppose I could turn this blog into a fantasy realm, and just make up a whole lot of stuff. But frankly that sort of charade is way too exhausting to maintain.

So I'm just going to beg your forgiveness and a good bit of patience while I'm off doing laundry, and venture to suggest that life as I know it will have to get more exciting very soon.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

It's art, sweetie

At this time of year, I hear that my home town is alive with, among other distractions, the biennial Adelaide Fringe Festival. Had I been at home, I would have spent most of my time - and a fair percentage of my salary - on tickets to an array of weird and wonderful shows.

Well, Chicago may not have naked, fire-breathing jugglers on unicycles (picture THAT at your peril), but it sure has a theatre scene that I have embraced wholeheartedly.

Last night, rather fittingly as it turns out, Lexie and I sat in the 4th row of the gorgeous Cadillac Palace theatre in Chicago to see "Tuesdays With Morrie". The play is a two-man show and was an absolute emotional rollercoaster. Gentle humour, heartfelt sentiment, and real tragedy combine as the play deals with a man and his college teacher, reunited after 16 years, as the teacher suffers with Lou Gherig's disease (an incurable and degenerative disease in which the body attacks its own central nervous system.

But against this teary backdrop, Lexie and I loved the performances and really enjoyed the play. Naturally we were also both grateful for my near obsessive commitment to keeping Kleenex in my handbag (public transportation sniffers be hanged!). A few years back, the play was actually made into a TV movie starring Jack Lemmon, and was apparently a big success with the American viewing public. But I think the sell-out audience last night can more accurately be attributed to the playwright's recent popularity on the Oprah show.

But whether its the Adelaide Fringe Festival, or Chicago's Cadillac Palace, theatre is all about escapism. I marvel at the ability of two actors on stage to communicate with a large audience for two hours, without intermission. Can the same be said for naked, fire-breathing jugglers on unicycles? Actually it probably could. But it's all art to me, sweetie.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ay Carumba!

Originally uploaded by Jambon-Beurre.
An unequivocal challenge was issued at the Consulate this morning: does Biggsy or my boss make the best paella in the universe? And clearly the only way this will be resolved is with a paella cook-off.

I nominated myself the Drinks Wench, partly because it's the only way I could possibly allow myself to contribute to this meal. I say this because the only other time I helped make paella, it was an utter classic mess. Permit me to explain....

Kate and I were living at the flat and she had decided to make paella. I had never eaten it before, but one glance at the recipe convinced me that this was a meal I was going to enjoy. All my favourite things were in there - meat, shellfish, rice, veggies, even saffron for pity's sake! What could be bad about that?! So one afternoon, having procured all the goodies at the best local shops ever, the North Adelaide Village, we set about preparing the feast.

Assigning herself the role of resident fishmonger, Kate set about cleaning and preparing the seafood. I was responsible for the poultry. Not such a big deal, but bear in mind Kate and I had been clever (aka frugal) and purchased a whole chicken - bones, giblety things and all. So I basically had to bone an entire chicken. Bear in mind people, that this is something that poultry people train for years to get right!

So while Kate effortlessly snipped scallops and pruned prawns, I referred to the "Women's Weekly Cookbook for Rookies" and followed the step-by-step guide to boning a chicken. Crushing its little sternum was just about the last straw. Slowly but surely the poor chicken carcass resembled a chicken pancake. And even though I'd been crushing and cutting for what felt like days, I was getting nowhere fast. Kate's shellfish were neatly presented in individual little bowls and, by contrast, all I was doing was the equivalent of chicken origami.

Somehow it all worked out, because the ingredients came together in one of the most delicious meals I have ever enjoyed (for days and days). And so what that every time we used the pan after that night, little bits of saffron liquid oozed out of some unidentified location?! So while I think the Consulate's paella cook-off will be fun, I somehow don't think it will stack up to the "Kate and Gab" effort.

This time I've volunteered to bring the margaritas, and stand back to watch it all play out....

Monday, March 06, 2006

Lock it in, Eddie

Originally uploaded by batintherain.
On Friday night I allowed myself to be convinced to attend a party with Biggsy that was pitched at singletons across Chicago. It was called a "Lock and Key" party, and if you're thinking it sounds rather cheesy, you're not alone. The fact that Biggsy scored me a free ticket meant that Gab The Capitalist trumped Gab The Chicken, and off I went.

The princple of the party was that the women wear a padlock around their neck, and each man who goes along gets given a set of keys. His attempt to "open the woman's lock" (literally, though probably metaphorically too now that I think about it) was the definitive icebreaker.

But the night was not so bad. It was held at a cute little club by Wrigley Field called "Tryst" and I'd been there before, but not under these circumstances.

My Dad must have had something to do with the night, because not one set of keys opened my lock. Other girls around me, were unlocked by anything up to four different men. But not me. And not that it mattered either, because I was quite the success story in terms of collecting phone numbers and business cards on the night.

I met a guy who owns his own cosmetics export company, several accountants, and an entrepreneur who runs an escort agency. Quite the mix.

But after the main part of the party was over, the single women stayed on to dance together and the single men drifted off into the night. A night of unsuccessful hook-ups had bonded the women and fractured the men. I have had a call back from the escort agency manager, but purely for him to tell me I was attractive; it fortunately wasn't a recruitment call.

But my Friday night adventure was fun, and ended in the same way that my one "Desperate and Dateless" swansong back in Adelaide finished up, as I recall. Kate, Jems, Alix and I were barefoot and dancing like banshees to the fabulous band. And then I hooked up with the drummer. Naturally. Sorry Dad, you must have missed that one.