Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wrigley Field - Chicago's "diamond" in the rough

Batting Practice - Wrigley Field
Originally uploaded by PhineasX.
Before Josh and Tristan left Australia, Josh had put me in charge of finding suitable recreational activities that he would find amusing, or that would at least occupy his time in the Windy City.

Though neither of us are particularly sports fans, one of Josh's stipulations was that I procure tickets to a sporting event. He said it could be any sporting event, except football and ice hockey. Baseball was of particular interest to him so I managed to find 4 tickets to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs and the oldest baseball stadium in the US (and probably the world).

Last night's game saw the Chicago Cubs, fresh from a very rare victory at the weekend, against the Cincinnati Reds. Now let me just stress that the Chicago Cubs have a very loyal following. I even know a guy that refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Chicago White Sox (our World Series 2005 winners) because he loves the Cubs so much.

Knowing how much fan fervor there was likely to be at Wrigley Field, Lexie instructed me to change out of my red tshirt into a navy blue one (lest we be chased out of the stadium by an angry mob complete with flaming pitchforks), and we set off on foot to the stadium.

Climbing right up into the rafters for our $14 seats, it looked as though we might suffer serious nosebleeds. But the altitude only meant that we were high up enough to appreciate the game in its entirety. We could see everything and everyone. And when the thunder clouds rolled in and the ferocious rain started, we had the best view of the show.

After a rain delay, the game resumed at around 9pm and the crowd was ready. As beer guys competed with hot dog vendors and pretzel salesmen to win the crowd's custom, I was having a great time. The Cubs players hit home runs and we were on our feet, applauding and whooping with the rest of them.

But at the 7th inning, the crowd stands up to join the serenade, "Take Me Out To the Ballgame". I didn't know the words, but I am resolved to learn them soon, cause it's a song that everyone gets into and sings with great gusto. You just HAVE to be a part of a sing-a-long like that.

At around 10.30pm, after the customary 9 innings, the Cubs emerged victorious and there was much celebration. The pubs around Wrigley Field were packed, and showed no signs of emptying any time soon. But I wasn't one of those late-night revellers. The heat and humidity of the day, coupled with the cool night air and the frenzy of the baseball had really knocked me out.

But I went to bed happy and really proud that I was able to take the boys along to see a great game of baseball, complete with a home team victory.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Indiana Dunes, Sandhills of Death

Ignoring for a moment the obvious linguistic similarities to a Harrison Ford movie character, the Indiana Dunes are in fact natural sand formations that butt up against the shores of Lake Michigan opposite Chicago.  About 2.5 hours drive from the Windy City, into the "corny" State of Indiana, the Dunes are part of a State Park that was absolutely PACKED this weekend as Americans took full advantage of the searing heat and the Memorial Day long weekend.

As an Aussie, you would think that I would be used to the heat.  But I am more accustomed to a clear, dry heat - not the humid heat that blasted Chicago since early Saturday.  It has been quite nasty here the last few days and really bad for sleeping.  But having worked out how to operate my ceiling fan (which has more levers on it than a San Fransisco trolley car), I am doing marginally better than I first thought.

But this segueway is merely to illustrate the conditions under which Pete, Josh, Tristan, and I set off in Pete's car to drive into Indiana, only to realise we'd gone about 60 miles out of our way and had to turn back and detour onto a different 6-lane freeway.  We didn't bring a map so we were relying on the collective genius of the three boys to steer us on the true course.  I stayed silent as I have a rubbish sense of direction, and a rather irritating need to pee at inappropriate opportunities.  So rather than volunteer which freeway we should take, I kept myself occupied by watching out for truck stops advertising "clean" or (better yet) "super clean" rest rooms.

Arriving at the Indiana Dunes was a frustrating experience because it was just way too hot to make sense of anything.  The clean, white sand literally seared about 3 layers of skin from the soles of my feet as I did the "Beach Bunny Hop" down to the water's edge.  I should have kept my flip-flops on a bit longer, but the sand never really LOOKS all that hot, does it?

In terms of scenery, the Indiana Dunes has the unfortunate occasion to be located between two smeting factories, so the outlook on either side of the Lake isn't that handsome.  But those can be ignored because the water gave such relief to so many on the weekend - including weary and sweaty Aussies - so none of us complained.  Josh and I stayed in the shade of an outhouse while Tristan and Pete ambled up the tallest sand dune in the region, and laughed as they returned only moments later with shoes full of hot sand.  Not one to push myself to the limit of human endurance (much less beyond it), I was happy to look at Pete's photos of the view from atop the sand dunes.  As my mother always says, "your photos are my holiday".  No kidding.

Returning to Chicago in the late afternoon, with the threat of a massive thunderstorm looming overhead, the apartment was still stuffy and hot but Josh and I made dinner and invited Pete to join us in thanks for his good work driving around and generally putting up with us.  We served seasoned pork chops, garlic and herb potatoes, and a tossed salad, washed down with delicious wine.  It was a wonderful end to a hot weekend, though the weather is showing no signs of cooling down, so I will sleep with my feet hanging out the window a few more nights to come, I think.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday's child is full of tequila

In the spirit of hospitality, the boys and I met Caroline for dinner and drinks at Cesar's, home to my favourite frosty margaritas in town.  After proudly proclaiming that I can easily drink one jumbo margarita and feel no effects, I pushed the envelope waaay too far and imbibed two of them.  Not a good idea.  I thought I was hallucinating the drag queen that was circulating with tequila shots after the meal, but it turns out she was 100% real.

So this morning I woke up fairly early after a really hot night for sleeping.  The weather hasn't got below 80 degrees during the day here this week and, as a result, the nights are quite uncomfortable for sleeping.  Gives me a great insight into how sticky things will be in summer without airconditioning in my apartment.  I might have to sleep with my feet hanging out the window.  But something tells me in a crazy place like Boys Town, that won't be so unusual.

Tonight after drinks at work, the boys and I are off to the Hancock Building to have a cocktail and behold the beautiful views over the City.  I will stay away from anything with tequila in it, but just until I stop seeing drag queens every time I close my eyes.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

MIA in Boystown

Originally uploaded by vindyloohoo.
One thing I am absolutely forbidden from doing here in Chicago is walking around with my passport in my bag. It has been drummed into me on I don't know how many occasions that having my passport on me at all times is the single biggest security risk there is. The Australian passport is the world's most secure document yadda yadda so keep it somewhere secret and it will keep you, and the country, safe.

I shared this pearl of wisdom with Josh and Tristan upon their arrival, thinking how awful it would be if one of them were to lose their passport and I'd have to bring them into work with me to get an urgent replacement. How embarassing for all of us.

But losing a passport is the least of my problems. Yesterday I thought I'd lost Tristan.

I've mentioned here before that I live in a suburb of Chicago known as Boystown. It is home to a deliriously high number of gay bars and shops, not to mention a coffee shop voted the best gay pick-up joint in the city. Go (other) team!

Casually mentioning this statistics to Tristan obviously piqued his interest, because he spent much of the afternoon bar-hopping along Halstead Street (or "Rainbow Avenue" as I like to call it) while Josh and I sat at home, wondering where he was. Well, we were drinking lots of wine to help calm our nerves, as you can understand.

But Josh had the cell phone with him, and to our knowledge Tristan didn't know the number or my address, so I was quite convinced the next place I'd be visiting was the Chicago Police Department to declare Tristan a missing person.

And two hours later, in Tristan walked, sober as a judge, and really content after his little sightseeing adventure. ARGH if I wasn't so happy to see him I would have strangled him! But Tristan's afternoon antics were not entirely in vain either, because he's done some great reconnaissance for this weekend, when I understand that my suburb is going to simply erupt with crazy bar parties and leather festivals. Yes, you read that right: leather festivals. Neat.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A smokin' career move

Originally uploaded by cariephoto.

One amusing thing about having house guests is that they are quick to remind you of stories you thought you'd never forget. Under the guise of reminiscing and galloping down memory lane, stories come out of the lost recesses of your mind to be relived and savoured. Or in my case, a proverbial skeleton gets yanked out of my mind's closet, to dance in front of me - much to Mr Joshua's delight.

Let me start this story by revealing up front that Josh is a great cook, and an even better house guest because he has volunteered to flex his culinary muscles tonight to whip up a Thai seafood curry. Trying to be helpful, I offered to buy the wine but needed a quick refresher on what he and Tristan do (and don't) drink. The verdict? Sparkling white and flat reds are in, but flat whites and sparkling reds are absolutely out.

And then Josh questioned whether I drink sparkling red anymore. I confessed that I hadn't had a sip of the stuff since I was in Australia, even though I'm aware you can actually buy some decent Aussie sparklers here in Chicago.

It was at that point that Josh started to laugh and suggested that I hadn't touched the stuff because of the infamous last time I had it. Oh yes, it all came flooding back.....

Not only had I just about demolished a whole bottle of Grant Burge Sparking Burgundy on my own (under Josh's supervision, might I add for the benefit of my parents who are probably disowning me right about now), but then I was smoking cigars at Fumo Blu in Rundle Street. Now before some of you Adelaide readers get all self-righteous, haven't we all done something a little dodgy at that bar? It must be the blue lighting...or maybe it's the Long Island Iced Teas, who knows exactly? Anyway in the scheme of things I think we can agree that smoking cigars in a cocktail and cigar lounge like Fumo Blu is all fairly harmless really, right?

But Josh was laughing because of who I was smoking them with. That's right folks, it was none other than my future boss, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs (and an Adelaide boy himself), the Hon Alexander Downer MP!

Naturally I have a fuzzy recollection of being at the bar, let alone being in the bar and smoking cigars with the Minister! And I will not be bringing it up with him if ever our paths cross again, let me stress that.

I do cringe at the memory, and yet when Josh brought it up today, I laughed out loud but still went very red - reliving the embarassment all over again. In fact, I flushed almost as red as the sparkling burgundy itself. Good times, good times.

Welcome home, now go to sleep!

I went out to O'Hare last night on Chicago's blue line train, straight from Downtown.  The trip only took about 40 minutes, but felt so much longer given the rush-hour crowds.  I had to stand up for most of the way, and I think that always makes the carriages feel so much smaller and more stuffy.  But a few stops short of the airport, the crowd thinned out a bit and I was able to sit down and chill out.

Of course I had arrived at the airport at least one hour before the boys were due to arrive, but I wanted to make sure I kept a close watch on the American Airlines "Arrivals" screens in case the baggage terminal changed and I had to dash around the arrivals hall to greet them.

Lexie had made a great little sign to welcome the boys to Chicago - really colourful and I held it up with pride.  Josh and Tristan were not nearly as embarassed as I'd hoped they be by that little gesture, but it sure was great to see them again.

By the time we left the airport at 8pm, the taxi ride back to my place was actually faster than the train had been - but a great deal more relaxing too.  Arriving at the apartment, I set to work cooking dinner while the boys unpacked.  Preston didn't know what to do with himself with the new visitors so he just ran around, banging into things with the bucket still on his head.  

After a simple dinner of chicken pasta and a bottle of sparkling Italian prosecco that I'd been chilling for days, we all declared it bedtime.  Once I'd settled down into my bed, I realised it was only 10.15pm, but I was tired right down to my bones.  I can only imagine how the boys are feeling, having dealt with LA, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon in the past week.

Given that the boys were more keen to spend today doing laundry and exploring the immediate neighbourhood, I figure it might be nice to introduce them to Cesar's (aka Frozen Margarita Heaven) for a nice feed of Mexican food tonight.  Plus I don't really think the contents of my pantry could combine to make a palatable meal right now...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A white sportscoat and a pink carnation

I am going out to O'Hare tonight to welcome Josh and Tristan to Chicago. A long way from their Adelaide home, Josh and Tristan are the middle of an American odyssey of sorts, and have agreed to spend some time with me as a base while they also visit New York and other key tourist cities close to me (maybe Boston, maybe Toronto). I have a friend, also from Adelaide, who works at the Flight Centre here in Chicago, and has already agreed to hook the boys up with some cheap flights around the place, which is great.

But another thing I'm really looking forward to while the boys are here is the Spring Benefit fundraiser for the Lincoln Park Zoo, being held on Friday 2 June 2006. It's my first official black tie event ever and I'm really looking forward to seeing Josh and Tristan, and all the other guys, decked out in their penguin suits. A principal job is now to find a decent tuxedo rental place to outfit Josh and Tristan appropriately. Dapper is da word, G.

As for me, I was not inclined to trawl through the stores this time. Even though it's prom season and the shops are bursting with appropriate frocks, the thought of the sheer number of excitable young teens vying for the same styles made me feel rather ill. So I shopped online and found this great little green dress that fits me like a glove.

The theme of the Benefit is "Out of Africa" and while I may resemble a palm frond dressed like this, I am nevertheless really looking forward to 'glamming up' for the occasion and dancing the night away, less like 'foliage', and more like 'film star'.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A little nip and tuck on the "South Side"

Preston is now "Prestina", after undergoing the rather delicate snip-snip procedure that seems to take place in the life of every 6-8 month old dog or cat.  Lexie and I were musing that the poor little champ even knows that his manhood is no more, because even the anaesthetic AND the pain killers were not dulling that sensation of 'something missing'.  And as a result, Preston was depressed and whimpering late into the night.  I don't suppose that the cone he has to wear around his neck for the next 7-10 days (to stop him licking the wound) is helping restore a macho image.

And the funniest part about the whole procedure was that Lex had taken Preston to an animal shelter on the infamous "South Side" of the city, where the procedure, and the vaccinations, were substantially cheaper than they would have been at a vet closer to our house.  Knowing that Preston would be sluggish and irritable after the surgery, I agreed to help Lex and come with her to collect him from the shelter late Sunday afternoon.  We drove about 40 minutes to get to there, through a wonderful but a little scary section of the South Side called "A Little Village".  It's actually Little Mexico, and so many of the stores have their advertisements in Spanish, and sell a mish-mash of products and services that seem totally unrelated.  But the bit that I liked the most was the street vendors selling everything from helium balloons to corn on the cob.  The sights and smells were wonderful.  And when a huuuuuge car drove past us, windows down and radio blaring, with two young Hispanic guys wearing thumping great big cowboy stetsons drove past us, Lexie could only utter one word: "AWESOME".

I'm sure that if Preston could have lifted his head or opened his eyes beyond a squint, he would have agreed with her.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Take a photo, it lasts longer

The People's Palace, Glasgow
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

My Aussie mate Pete told me yesterday morning that his hangover felt like midgets were mining for bauxite in his brain. And after I smugly scolded him for drinking heavily mid-week, I promptly went out for Caro's birthday drinks (caught up with Pete) and after sharing several bottles of Veuve Cliquot, my own hangover makes me feel like I've been hit by a bus. Driven one of Pete's midget miners no doubt. I am just grateful that Pete is not at work today to get me back.

So you can understand my incredulity when I slid into my seat at work, accessed my email and found a message from a Polish travel agency complimenting me on the photo you see here.

Not only did they like my photo, but they want to use it on their website, can you believe it? The aim is to encourage more Polish people to get out and see more cities across Europe! Of course I will not be paid (not even in pierogi), but I will be fully credited on their website with my name, the fact that I am Australian, and giving a link to my Flickr photo album.

Now that I have researched the company, realised it is not bogus, and that it is not run by insane people with peculiarly good taste in photography (hehe), I have given my permission for the photo to be used on the site. I'm not sure when the photo will be up there, but you can always keep an eye on to closely monitor my new career as a member of the international paparazzi.

Mind you, I did place a caveat on the use of my picture, absolving me of any responsibility for the hordes of Polish tourists about to converge on the People's Palace in Glasgow. My advance sympathies go out to the Gift Shop Lady.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Walking Dead

Fatigue is a funny thing. I would not normally consider myself to be a scatty person, but when I got back to the Hotel at 10.30pm last night, I was unable to remember my room number and had to go back down to the lobby to apologise to the concierge for being a dumbass that just doesn't listen to directions.

And while I dressed for bed within about 14 seconds of getting into my room, I was a little scatter-brained about where I'd left things, and what clothes I had or hadn't brought with me. I even checked my cell phone alarm about 10 times before going to sleep, just to make sure I wouldn't let anyone down today.

The result of this brain strain is my current zombie-like appearance. Like yesterday, I will spend most of today fuelled by strong coffee, and honey on toast. I figure the caffeine and sugar will sustain me for the time being. Yummo.

I have also turned my work CD up super loud and am flying the flag for Australia by playing Missy Higgins and Powderfinger music. Bless.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Will that be chicken or fish?

Originally uploaded by luigilly.
It is now 10pm and I've come back to the Office after dining with the Prime Minister. And 200 of his closest friends.

And yes, I got to meet him. And no, he didn't comment on my lack of gift-wrapping skills. But yes, I did make a typical fool of myself.

I haven't met many celebrities in my time; indeed I have only ever met one (Missy Higgins - my mate Missy, as it were) so I still get a little star struck over the A, B, and C-listers. In terms of how much of a geek I am when I meet people, it's all the same to me - I'm a severe case of blabber-mouth every time.

And our Prime Minister, like him or not, is about as A-list as they get in Australia. Here in Chicago tonight, he was the Guest of Honor, the Head of State, The Big Cheese. And it is his custom at these events, as I found out, to "work the room" afterwards and to shake hands with everyone that came along. Of course that charmed the Americans no end, but it made me very nervous. What would I say to our nation's leader?

Would I do as Reg suggested and indicate I sat on his head at Gallipoli (and then seem shocked and offended that he did not remember me)? Or should I give him a high-5 and say something like "top speech, mate"?

I did neither of those things. Instead, in my best high-pitched, shrill voice, I shrieked - all in one word, "Hi-I'm-Gab-and-I-work-for-the-Consulate-and-it's-so-great-to-meet-you". In an equally shrill voice, doing a superb parody of me I might add, the PM replied "Do you?! That's great. It's nice to meet you too". And he spoke in clear sentences. He's such a show off.

But I know he cared really. Plus Mrs Howard wore a black velvet jacket to tonight's dinner and I want it. Thou shalt covet thy First Lady's apparel. Well, some of it. She can keep the pillbox hats and matching shoes. Just hand over the velvet jacket and no one gets hurt.

Shove an expletive where the sun don't shine

Given the way I speak these days, you could be forgiven for thinking that I'd moved to a submarine and not a modern city.  This morning alone, I said the F-word a total of TWELVE times before I'd poured my first cup of coffee!  In fact, I said my first expletive before even sitting up in bed, when I realised that I'd slept through my alarm.  Only by 15 minutes but this morning, every minute was precious.  

Chicago is playing host to the Australian Prime Minister today, and I am required to look after the Consulate.  This is not tantamount to being left behind while my colleagues have all the fun, either.  I need to be ever-present at the Office, existing on coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches (and please tell me there are still some meat pies left in our freezer) and just generally putting out any fires that might flare up over the course of the day.

And I don't take my work duties lightly, particularly not today.  So I felt justified in letting a giant expletive rip this morning when I realised that I'd slept like the dead and not heard the alarm that was ringing right by my head.  At this point we should probably pause to once again thank the boys for putting my gorgeous bed together.

But back to the story.  So I got myself dressed and ready in record time (thanks to some pre-planning done the night before - bags packed and by the door, ready to go).  Motoring down the street towards my bus stop, it was not even 7am and already my day had begun.  So I said the F-word again just because no one else seemed to have started their day so early (except my bus driver and a couple of other nutters riding the bus with me at the ungodly hour).

Arriving at work early in the morning is a real head-spin.  The Consulate is usually a frantic hive of activity, particularly in the lead up to today.  But this morning, the phones weren't ringing and the couriers hadn't started arriving, save for one UPS guy who accosted me in the elevator and thrust a package (not HIS package!) at me.  So I got to work, settled in, and put a strong pot of coffee on.  And right now I am enjoying some peace and quiet.  For once this morning, I am not swearing like a sailor and as my colleagues start arriving, I'm actually being pleasant.

But I have just been asked to wrap the Consulate's present to the Prime Minister.  Oh hell, I suck at gift wrapping.  I feel the F-word is about to escape again....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The bed that the boys built

I don't like it when women play the role of "damsel in distress" unless, naturally, they are in some sort of real distress. But in defence of women everywhere, I think it's fair to subscribe to the generally-accepted theory that men like to be needed. And perhaps it then falls to women to make them feel this way. This is the selfless reason that many women, myself include, choose not to understand how to replace a washer in a tap; how to unclog a drain; or how to set up a fantastic bed that gets delivered to a 3rd floor apartment late in the afternoon.

Bill and Ben, the Furniture Assembly Men, showed up at my abode promptly yesterday around 4.20pm after I'd raced home on the bus to greet them. Not precisely on time, but close enough. From the lounge room window, I waved my hanky at my two knights as they drove up on their noble steed, which rather resembled an ancient white removalist truck. Good naturedly, they each broke every verterbra in their back to heave the bits and pieces of my brand new bed up three flights of stairs to where I waited breathlessly for their arrival. Funnily enough, they were breathless when they arrived too.

Declining my offer of beer or water or a sandwich, the boys set to work, furiously connecting A to B to C to D (if only all beds were so logical) until they were done. But no, the service did not stop there. The boys then carried my mattress from my old room into my new one, and laid it gently in place. While they didn't offer to then make the bed for me, I was not one to complain. Because I now had a bed that wasn't going to inexplicably collapse and then require me to ring Sweden to order replacement parts.

But then the boys did the one thing I honestly didn't expect them to do. They took all their rubbish with them, leaving my room as neat as when they'd found it. So I hugged them to my bosom.

No I didn't.

But I did give them cash so they could buy beers after their job well done. And when they'd driven off into the sunset, I rang their company and commended their professionalism and their kindness, going above and beyond the call of duty. I meant it rather sincerely too, even if the guy on the other end of the phone thought I was disturbed. But I got the last laugh, because my sleep last night was simply heavenly.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Dream a little dream of me

Chateau Haut Koenigsburg
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
In the immortal words of Tommy Jones (the Welshman, not the movie actor), "it's not unusual" for me to have bizarre dreams. Let's face it, so much of my waking life is bizarre, it only stands to reason that my subconscious would follow suit. And while these dreams are exacerbated by spicy food or influenced by eerie movies watched a day or so before, there really is no explanation for the dream I had last night.

Well, no explanation beyond this one, perhaps.

All my life I have grown up with a (how should I put this delicately?) eccentric Polish Granny who believes, among other outlandish facts, that our immediate family is descended from Russian and Polish aristocracy. While we've never trucked out the family trees to lend any credibility to these claims, I have always been secretly interested in what makes my Granny believe that we might sincerely be blue-bloods.

So perhaps in this vein, last night my dream felt like the closest thing I've ever had to a past-life regression. I was visiting a big castle complete with spiral staircases and draughty halls. I was dressed in my modern-day clothes, so I hadn't gone back in time per se, but I was certainly "not in Kansas anymore, Toto". In fact, I really did feel like I was in olden-time Eastern Europe somewhere. I was alone the whole time though - no one else seemed to dwell in the castle, but the building was built high up on a mountain covered with woods and leafy trees and bathed in sunshine, not the grassy and sodden plains of English and Scottish castles. As the night approached, I was walking through the castle trying to make sense of why I was there, but I knew my way around without hesitation. I knew the location of secret passageways, and I freely helped myself to food on the table and wine in the goblets. Yet all the while I felt like an imposter, like it was meant to be my home, but at the same time it wasn't. Weird.

When I lay down on a straw mattress to sleep in front of a large fireplace that I could have crawled into and probably stood up in, I made a bit too much noise getting comfortable and alerted the big dogs that guarded the castle. Up until that time, they weren't aware that I was "home". But rather than attacking me, as they were clearly trained to do to strangers, two of the big dogs (Afghans or something similar, but a more vicious breed) curled up either side of me, licked my face, and went to sleep. Just like I owned them. Then a leopard wandered up and slept there too. That bit was weird but was fortunately also rather fleeting. It was a placid leopard anyway and very soft.

Having woken up after my dream sleep, I reunited with my sister (also dressed in modern day clothes) and we had clearly fast-forwarded to modern day times. We met up in the castle gift shop, where we were joined by hordes of other tourists. But looking around the gift shop, I realised that I recognised so many of the faces and locations in the many ancient portraits and tapestries that decorated the store. I was so stunned, but I never thought to ask my sister whether she too found things eerily familar.

When my alarm went off at 7am this morning, I woke up to my real life rather reluctantly. I had enjoyed my dream-trip, but I was unable to explain it clearly. It was so vivid, and so comforting, and yet so unlike the dreams I normally have. And the only really fantastical thing about it was the leopard; the rest was very realistic...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Out of my (Ivy) League

Wedding Crashers
Originally uploaded by Cinencuentro.

There is something to be said for stepping out of a comfort zone once in a while, and jumping into a social situation far removed from one's normal experience.

There is quite another thing to be said about turning up at a reunion for the Alumni of one of America's premier educational institutions. But that's exactly what Courts and I got up to last night.

Courts, whose "Diary of a Shopgirl" site is a new addition to Blogger's online world (see the link at right), somehow got on the mailing list for the Princeton alumni. And in the spirit of my latest endeavour to be accepted into the high-brow Union League Club of Chicago, Courts rightly figured I'd like to go along with her to check out the Ivy League old scholars.

Having gained sufficient dutch courage from the couple of red wines at Bin 36 beforehand, Courts and I were primed to work the room at the Italian restaurant that played host to the reuinion. Schmoozing around the room, I was particularly surprised that not a single person I met actually went to Princeton.

They were frauds, just like me. Not a boat hat or rugby sweater in sight. These were my people.

Courts and I fit in effortlessly. We were witty, we were easy and breezy and, best of all, we were enjoying ourselves.

Just as the night was drawing to a close, and we were preparing ourselves to leave, we got talking to an immigration lawyer who blatantly asked for my business card. Before I could think, or before Courts could forceably restrain me, I had passed over my details on that seemingly harmless white cardboard. And after all of you readers helped me so willingly with your comments on my post the other day - coaching me about how to deal with just this very situation. So what's up with me?! Sheesh.

But okay did I mention that this immigration lawyer has his own practice AND he actually went to Princeton? I know I know....I can just feel the lectures coming.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

When you can't handle it, outsource it

When important clients of the Consulate come to Chicago through O'Hare airport, it is my job to liaise with the airlines to manage the passenger's smooth transition through the check-in process and make sure that they don't encounter any problems with immigration or lost baggage etc.

I was attempting to do exactly this today, and was dealing with Lufthansa for the first time. Given that we do not have an existing relationship with this airline, I called O'Hare Airport (the busiest airport in the world) and was given a phone number to call. So I did, and spoke to a very lovely person who gave me yet ANOTHER number to speak to VIP Services people. Cool. Calling that number, I spoke to a perfectly genial young man with a delightful accent who then put me on hold so he could discuss my requests with his supervisor.

I was starting to get a bit irritated but I needed to resolve the issue, so I politely waited on the line and listenened to some of the most annoying music I'd heard since the Polish festival.

When he finally came back on the line, he outlined the very complicated process I'd need to follow in order to help our Australian visitors. I was almost at my wits end and so I said to him - "am I calling you at O'Hare?". I could hear him smiling. "Oh no Madam," he said "you're speaking with Cape Town in South Africa.".


I know that major companies outsource their call centres to foreign lands, but for heaven's sakes - putting me on hold for 14 minutes on an international call is just evil. So I rang O'Hare back and got through to the first class lounge at the airport and told them that I was not a happy girl. Then I waited on hold at O'Hare for another 18 minutes while they scurried around and made frantic phone calls to supervisors and managers and whoever else was necessary to placate me and ensure I got what I wanted.

In the end though, my persistence paid off, because I now have a phone number and a fax number of the person at O'Hare who can help me. Allegedly. Partly I think they drew straws about who would be the poor bunny to help me, and this hapless fellow left the room for a few minutes at the crucial time. Tough. But what's the bet that he will be on sick leave for the rest of this week?! Just my luck....ARGH

Adios, Senorita

Super Sombrero Man
Originally uploaded by taylorkoa22.
Chicago has a very high Hispanic population and, as a result, is positively brimming with authentic and exotic Latino food and culture.

I have become quite addicted to Mexican food, none of it healthy. There is a neat fast-food chain called "Chipotle" and it serves up some of the most delicious Mexican food I've ever had on the run. But when I realised that my favourite fajita burrito contained 54 grams of fat, I made the quick decision to limit my intake. The $3.50 margaritas there are still a favourite.

But if I've got some more time, and if I'm in the mood to sit down at a restaurant, I can't go past "Cesar's". You may recall me commenting on the underground margarita lounge at the "Cesar's" near my house. Well I have found another "Cesar's" even closer and while it doesn't serve the margaritas below street level, it still serves them up just as frosty, just as strong, and just as delicious.

And last night marked Sarah's final night in Chicago so we went to the "Cesar's" closest us for a really nice meal. Well, it WAS nice until Lexie started to feel ill. Fortunately this happened AFTER we'd eaten. But none of us were up to the free tequila shots that the waiter brought around, so I donated them to a nearby table of diners who received them gratefully and without hesitation.

I'm having a bit of a love affair with the Wild West, and down into Mexico right now. I'm reading "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtrie (the guy who bought us that weepie "Terms of Endearment") and it's a sweeping saga of Cowboys, Indians, unforgiving landscape, and treacherous conditions. Where men are men, and women like them that way. You get the idea. It's not a book I'd normally read but it came highly recommended to me and I just can't put it down. Except to slurp my frosty margarita, of course.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gab and Preston

Gab and Preston
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
While this photo was taken on the weekend AFTER placing myself under house arrest for two days, I still can't seem to shake the appeal of tracksuit pants and ugg boots.

Here I am demonstrating a yoga pose in this comfort apparel, with my knight in shining armour (aka Preston) monitoring my every move.

[I've uploaded some extra photos for your viewing pleasure, assuming of course that you like looking at pictures of Polish dancing. Which I'm sure you all do.]

Click the link to "My Photo Album" (at right) to change your life.

It's a Doona Day

You know those days where you just should have stayed home and pulled the doona over your head?  Well that's a "Doona Day" and I am having one.  In a big way.

Everything I touch is turning to mush and I am not allowed to hide out in the bathrooms all day.  I asked.

Toasting a successful Stage 1

Veuve Clicquot
Originally uploaded by Dey.
I was walking down North LaSalle street last night, in the direction of the Union League Club and I have to confess that I was having some pretty major second thoughts. Did I really want to go to the Prospective Members Reception (or the PMR, for those in the know)? Was it all too la-di-dah for me? Would the absence of my "stop talking" filter betray me as just another silly girl looking to belong?

Well all that nonsense was just that, and I needn't have worried so much. The reception went really well and while I was one of the first people to arrive (a good impression, as it turned out), I was immediately targeted by the President of the Membership Committee who has offered to be one of my sponsors on my application. She was closely followed by a 40-something male attorney, who also offered to sponsor me.

"What nice people," thought I, not realising that existing members who sponsor new people - who also happen to be female AND under 35 - have their memberships credited with bonus Loyalty Points. [See kids, it pays to read the copious membership materials that get pitched at your in times like these]

But I figure that I could do a lot worse than to befriend the President of the Membership Committee and a well-dressed corporate attorney, right?

The facilities at the Club were just beautiful, and were what I'd expected to find - which is always encouraging.

I am now in the process of putting together my membership application and submitting it formally.

And Jems, you needn't worry - the Club caters for all personal care needs. So EVERYONE showers and shaves at this place, but I will keep an eye out for hidden passageways and 'masquerade balls' just in case...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Quite the little joiner, aren't we?

Like most teenage high school students, I was desperate to be liked. I would go to ridiculous ends to make sure that the girls in my class thought that I was cool. I would give them my notes from class (if they were too lazy to take their own) and I'd be devastated if it was alleged that I'd done something to upset one of my school chums. And given that I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, this sort of psychological warfare happened often.

As the years rolled on and on, I came to see my high school 'friends' for what they really were and I'm pleased to say that I moved on and away from them, never once looking back. Of course there are times I'm curious about what they're up to, but I have never felt any pangs of nostalgia or any need to catch up over coffee and cake. Please, who would I be kidding?

And so here I am, a million miles away or more and happily leading my own life, going wherever the plane schedules or job opportunities take me. Quite the independent, self-sufficient mistress of my own destiny, right?

So can someone please explain to me why it is that I am so taken with the idea of joining the Union League Club of Chicago all of a sudden?!

The exclusive and private club promotes professional and personal networking as well as offering members full use of some pretty snazzy fitness facilities. At the time you seek membership, you're also asked to nominate whether you want to sign up to discussion groups so you can meet people that like literature or travel or wine just like you do. Sounds just like me so far, right?

But the weirdest part is this. Your membership needs to be endorsed by two existing members, AND you need the approval of the Membership Director (after a one-on-one meeting with her) before you're allowed to have your membership. Simply offering to pay your dues once a month is not good enough for this lot. And yet I'm still keen to join, so I'm going to the elegant New Member Reception on tonight.

So here I am, in a fix. The pool is really neat, the 'discussion groups' and many and varied, and I really do want to meet legitimate and honest people who share my interests. But I do I really want to go through all this hoop-jumping just to get there? My boss is a member, and delighted in telling me that the ULCC is the quintissential "boy's club" and he thinks it's highly amusing that I'd consider joining. But he hastened to add that he would wholeheartedly endorse my membership form (my boss and his wife are on a mission to find me a rich husband, as you can tell). Amidst all the chesterfield couches and the spiral staircases is a Club that is steeped in tradition, elegance, and culture.

The library is stacked high with classics and an impressive collection of CDs and DVDs that members are welcome to borrow. There are yoga and pilates classes held weekly, and you can even get a haircut and manicure on-site. Very interesting and very tempting and so very chic.

All I've done is look on the website and gaze in the windows. Now it's time to dress to impress and get a well-heeled foot in the door. After five years of high school, I'm straight back in the "please like me" camp. Oi vey.

Bunking down and Moving up

Having a little puppy in the apartment has required me to display more vigilance than usual about how I leave my bedroom in the morning.  Because the door to my bedroom has STILL not been fixed, I need to make sure I do my best to slam the door as I leave, lest Preston body-slam his way into my room to take up residence on my bed (as he did last night).

But in the next two weeks, I will be making moves to switch bedrooms with Sarah, who leaves our apartment to move back in with her Mum in Wisconsin.  Sarah's job relocated her from Chicago to its Milwaukee office, and she takes off later this week.  I get to move into a much bigger bedroom, one I can probably even cartwheel in - if the mood took me.  And it so often does.

You may recall the G-rated incident of a few weeks ago that resulted in my IKEA bed collapsing out from under me.  The search is now on for a suitable replacement - one that gets delivered and assembled for me, of course.  Not sure how Preston will take it when he realises I'm abandoning my "Japanese scheme" in favour of a full-sized bed up off the floor.  He won't be able to take a flying leap onto it anymore.  But perhaps I could explain to him that buying a new bed is actually GOOD, because it means I get to buy a new Persian carpet square to put it on, and new bookshelves to accessorise it.  Of course I still have my IKEA chests of drawers (much better workmanship than the bed proved to be), so I won't have a bedroom FULL of new stuff, but at least I'll get to tart the place up a little.

Lex and I are also awaiting the arrival of our new flatmate, to take my bedroom (and adjoining bathroom).  Her name is Emma and she is from Ireland.  She is coming over to Chicago around about 9 June and will stay wth us through the summer and until our lease runs out in October.  So it will be a full house again soon.  And that will suit all of us just fine.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Standing down-wind at Navy Pier

To celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Polish constitution, Chicago's Polish community stepped it out on the city's 115th anniversary street parade on Saturday 6 May 2006.  Thousands of Polish Americans hot-footed it through the City down to Navy Pier in a sea of red and white (the colours of the Polish flag, people).  When they reached Navy Pier, the first annual "Polish on the Pier" festival awaited.  

Chicago is home to the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw.  So go ahead and share that bit of knowledge at your next cocktail soiree; you'll then be able to sit back and bask in the admiration of many.

Lexie and I headed straight to Navy Pier to await the arrival of the marchers, and saw fit to buy a Polish beer each to toast the weary walkers.  In the time it took for all the marchers to arrive, Lex and I had enjoyed two beers, two cabbage rolls (but everyone was eating them so it was okay), and two ricotta-filled blintzes.  We were feeling particularly festive by then, and the Polish MC was almost understandable.

Cute little kids were re-enacting the story of Red Riding Hood set to music, and singing the songs in Polish (presumably a Polish school performance), and then little Polish ninjas came out to demonstrate their karate skils.  Of which they had plenty.

Lexie was unnerved by the sheer number of backpacks at the event (it is apparently the accessory du jour in Chicago's Polish community), but I was ready to find the pierogi and keep grooving to the sounds of a Polish quartet of the worst singers I've heard in a very long time.  All with big hair, shoulder pads, and the biggest smiles you've ever seen.  Ten points to each of them for even getting up there!

I muscled my way into the VIP section and introduced Lexie and my Aussie friend Peter to the Polish Consul-General in Chicago.  We mingled and schmoozed, and then headed for the refreshments and free bar.  More pierogi, Lexie tried to stomach some sort of fish jelly thing, and we decided to leave.

The Polish festival was actually fun, but I did eat too much, too quickly.  Thumbs up to the Polish beer (brewed by an Aussie guy who I now understand is in a Polish jail), but thumbs down - on Lexie's behalf - to the fish jelly, and the lack of ladies lavatories.

And PS, I did not give my number to anyone - all weekend.  Yay me.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Just say no

A couple of months ago, you may recall my reflections on a singles party that I went to. The "lock and key" concept was particularly cheesy, and basically involved the girls having to wear a padlock around their neck, and each boy being given a set of keys to open said lock. I had naively thought that the lock/key concept was just a lighthearted gimmick just to break the ice, and was never meant to be taken too seriously.

And in that earlier blog post, I also mused about my inability to stop giving out my phone number when I'm directly asked for it. I know, it's so lame. I don't seem to be quick-witted enough to dream up a fake number, or else think of a polite but firm reason why I don't want that person to call me. So as a result, there are a few fellows out there in the greater Chicagoland area who have my cell phone number, and I get very nervous when my phone rings and flashes up "Unknown Caller".

I hadn't had any reason to even THINK about either of these facts recently; until my cell phone rang at 9am in another part of the office. When I realised I didn't know the number, I was glad I'd missed the call and let it go through to voicemail. Accessing the message, I realised that the call had come from a guy I'd met at the lock and key party - and, surprise surprise, given my cell number to.

But this guy, far from being a single Catholic pediatrician, actually runs an escort agency, the kind that features progressive stripper-waiters (the ones that come to your house fully clothed, serve drinks, and remove an item of clothing or two every hour until they're not wearing anything but a smile. Anyway, the message basically expressed regret for not having been gentlemanly enough to followup on an earlier phone message he'd left me (that I had not returned), but indicating he wanted to see me again "for adult fun". What the?!

So calling on the collective wisdom of my readership, I would welcome your suggestions for how to deflect this sort of attention in future. When asked outright for my cell number, what should I say?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Open wide, come inside

Chez moi in Chicago
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

Okay so I have admittedly gone a little photo mad today, uploading shots from my holidays to Toronto (April); Washington DC (February); and Glasgow (February).

And in case you hadn't realised, the photo on this post is my apartment - well, the top floor is anyway.

To view the rest of the photo archive, you can either click on the photo of my apartment, or you can click the link to my PHOTO ALBUM on the "Sites Worth Visiting" section, waaaay over on the right hand side of this blog.

See it? All the way over there?

Go on, click it. You know you want to.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Soothing the savage beast

Having spent six years working at a video store, it's safe to say that movies are my thing.  I paid a lot of attention to actors, directors and genres, almost to the exclusion of everything else in life.

As a result, I think anyway, I have emerged a music philistine.  And worse than that, I'm also a musical sheep.  Any tastes for contemporary music that I possess are a direct result of the company I keep (a tuneful osmosis of sorts), and actually has very little to do with musical self-discoveries I've made - notwithstanding a few lucky turns of the radio dial that introduced me to KT Tunstall and James Blunt, who have both been to Chicago in the last month or so.

Overall I don't think my ignorance has been a bad thing because it has given me rather far-flung musical preferences without a particular love for any one band or even genre.  I enjoy blues, jazz, rock, ballads, reggae, those weepy songs-to-slash-your-wrists-by, and even some classical stuff here and there.  

The Windy City is joining the rest of the US in a frenetic gearing up for summer music festivals (akin to Australia's Big Day Out), and I have no idea who many of the 'headliners' are.  But then again, I'd hardly heard of any of the Big Day Out bands back home either.  Even bands once considered as 'indie' (a concept that has always confused me) are now considered mainstream, and I still don't know who they are.  I need to remember to crawl out from under my rock every now and again.

But amidst all of this ignorance that I display on a daily basis, I have to bless Lexie for doggedly trying to educate me into the live music scene.  She's got me buying tickets to gigs showcasing the talents of people I wouldn't recognise if they walked up Michigan Avenue and smacked me in the face.  And the reason I'm going along is the same reason that my mother goes to see movies that my Dad enjoys - so I'm not left out.  

Where my mother first wakes up and then rolls her eyes as the lights go up on ANOTHER of Dad's action flicks, I have actually been quite impressed by the music I've been adopting so far.  I've bought CDs that I never thought I'd own, but at the same time I cannot name a single song on the current US top ten.  Perhaps I'm always destined to be a beat behind.

I'm not quite at the stage of dishing out $100US to see an open-air concert with port-a-loos and sweaty moshpits (and sweatier armpits), but I'm a blossoming musical parasite.  It just takes me a little while to get with the program.  But when I do, I like to think that I'm one of the most enthusiastic groupies you'll find.

And by the way, if anyone needs to know any useless movie trivia or needs a rundown of Oscar winners of the past few years, I'm your gal.  Learning all this new music stuff has not pushed the movie stuff out of my brain just yet.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Wake me when it's over

The first time I travelled overseas for any real length of time was back in 2001 and I was away from home for 6 weeks. I confess that I don't remember much about my homecoming that time, other than my sister had decorated my room with a "Welcome Back" banner and balloons, and my dog wet himself over the excitement of seeing me again. Fortunately for everyone, Barkley was the only family member to endure that at the time.

But I've been emailing a few friends back home who have returned to Australia after substantial time away, and they all make the same comment. "Oh, it's slower here," they tell me fondly, not in any derogatory way at all. Adelaide gets dumped on enough away from home, but its expat citizens are loud and proud when it comes to defending their fellow Crow Eaters, trust me on that one. I do volunteer that the coffee is better in Melbourne, but that's to be inflammatory.

And I know what they mean when they say that returning to Adelaide is like slowing down. Think about it for a second. Adelaide is smaller than Chicago - both in terms of population and sheer geography. And Adelaide is quieter - people are not so keen to test their car horns every 30 seconds back home.

And road rage isn't as big of an issue back home, due in some part I'm sure because the City of Adelaide's major cultural attractions are within walking distance of each other. The North Terrace precinct is a superb day out, particularly in the sunshine. No wonder people feel like they're slowing down, when they can simply walk from museum to gallery, soaking up the culture, and then lie down in the shade of a Morton Bay Fig Tree in the Botanic Gardens to rest at the end of the day. I think everyone would want to slow down like that, don't you? And if wine and food are more your thing (helloooo?!) then Adelaide is your town. Wineries anyone? You get where I'm going with this.

I made the comment the other day (rather glibly at the time) that I could see myself working for the SA Tourism Commission, once I'd exhausted my global travels, whenever that sad day might come. And the more I think about it, the more attractive that idea is to me.

Adelaide may not be Times Square in New York, but surely Times Square gets exhausting after a while? And I'll bet that after you've been pushed and shoved on the Paris metro or sweated your way through the end-of-season sale at Top Shop in Oxford Street, freshly cooked fish and chips at Brighton Beach at sunset sounds pretty good?

  • Or a walk along the jetty at Glenelg after the biggest feed of Mexican at "El Gringos".
  • Or watching the penguins squirm their way into burrows at Penneshaw.
  • Or climbing to the top of the Rocking Horse at Gumeracha and wondering how you'll get down.
  • Or taking a camel tour through the McLaren Vale vineyards.
  • Or doing the Mexican Wave on the Hill at Adelaide Oval on Australia Day.
  • Or Haighs chocolate.
  • Or eating organic pizza on Hutt Street and then dancing till midnight at the Havi, against your better judgement.
  • Or watching the sun set, champagne in hand, from the Oyster Bar at Holdfast Shores.
  • Or eating fresh Greek yoghurt direct from the tub at the Central Market on a Friday night.
  • Or an icy cold Coopers Beer on a hot summer day.
  • Or getting the wrong order - every time - from the crazy european at the Perfect Cup on Grenfell Street.

I guess slowing down is not such a bad thing, when there is simply so much to enjoy while you're doing it. And even if their list isn't the same as mine, I'm sure my fellow Adelaide expats would agree with me.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Stay in, the water's fine

Today's earlier post carried on about my endeavours to improve my social situation bla bla which we all know is just rubbish because I am now 28 and slowly shutting down.  So to get in practice for being a bed-ridden old fart, I placed myself under house arrest over the weekend and committed myself to two full days in tracksuit pants and ugg boots.

If it's been a while since you did that, I highly recommend it.  I did not want to spend any money either, so I spent two days making some fairly 'eclectic' meals from remnant fridge-dwellers and pantry staples.  I even defrosted something mysterious that fortunately turned out to be a chicken fillet covered in cajun spices, which went very well with my couscous that had been in my pantry since the turn of the century.  LAST century.

While the rain fell ceaslessly outside, in 48 hours I did two loads of laundry, watched countless horror movies in a televsied marathon (just how many people DID Jason Vorhees kill in the Halloween movies?!), and napped on and off.  What a fantastically indulgent weekend.  And even more luxurious when you consider that I did not put on proper shoes or makeup for two straight days.  Bliss.

And yes I know, you're all jealous - but Saturday is still a few days away yet.  So stock your pantry, get your DVD player serviced, and you'll be ready to go.  You won't regret it, trust me.

Where's Wally?

Riomaggiore in living colour
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

In recent weeks, my main objective has been to get as much society as possible and broaden both my experiences and my friendship circle. I am making a good go of it too, if I do say so myself. I've managed to schmooze at wine tastings and pre-parties, rock concerts and quiet dinners out with friends.

Friday night's trip to Lincoln Square was another 'first' for me, though you'd scarcely believe it, given the Square's proximity to my house.

Mrs McEwen, my Year 12 English teacher, used to chastise me for using the blandest of adjectives, NICE. But it's the one I want to use to describe Lincoln Square. The little suburb is also quaint and cute and chock full of German pubs and Polish food supermarkets, attracting a diverse assortment of Chicagoans. See? It's nice. Okay Mrs Mac, just for you, I shall call Lincoln Square "sympa". As we all know, that means "nice" in French, but I think it adds a little je ne sais quoi to this post; and a dash more European-ness to Lincon Square. Agreed? Okay now let's move on, sheesh.

So there I was, in amongst that ragtag bunch of Friday night revellers frequenting Lincoln Square, though admittedly I restricted my patronage to a little German bar with one of the surliest bartenders I'd met in a long time. A young guy, but quite obviously irritated with his lot in life and desiring to be anywhere else but stuck where he was. Boo to him. If you can't cheer up in a German pub, where can you possibly find happiness?!

Courts had brought along her friend Michelle to join Irene and me for the evening, and we ended up taking a bottle or two of very cheap wine back to Michelle's place (which turned out to be stumbling distance from MY place. Quelle convenience, as they don't say in France).

Anyway, Michelle lives in an apartment complex reminiscent of Melrose Place, minus the swimming pool into which evil hags and cheating boyfriends are pitched from balconies by broken-hearted, mini-skirted tenants, only to come back to life in dream sequences next season. But in contrast to Melrose Place, Michelle and her fellow compound-dwellers are a merry bunch of thirty-somethings that enjoy every opportunity to get together over a bottle of wine, particularly when the weather is nice, woops sympa (well remembered, readers).

But given that the weather wasn't too flash on Friday (and even less so for the rest of the weeeknd), the partying was relocated indoors, to the apartment of a man we shall call Ken, because that is his name.

Anyway, on entering the apartment I got down to doing what you normally do when you enter someone's apartment for the first time - I went snooping.

All along the corridor down to the kitchen (where we hoped to steal a beer each), were photos of Ken's worldwide travels. But they were scenic photos and I immediately identified the Taj Mahal, and the canals of Venice and then - what's this? A photo of Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre? And then I let out of a small squeal when I realised that the photo also clearly showed the apartment where I stayed with Mum, Dad and Redda when we went there in October 2005.

My squeal must have been slightly more audible than intended, for several strangers came to see what the hallway commotion was all about. My eyes were wide and I was pointing at the photo, showing Courtney (and anyone else careless enough to be assembled there) where I lived. Ken came over and checked it out, and we talked briefly about his travels there, but then he took his cowboy hat and guitar back into his loungeroom to resume the impromptu jam session that had started up.

And then to discover photos on the wall of his relatives who are Scottish? What the? They're from Glasgow you say? Aww the memories came flooding back.

Fortunately I did not start blubbering into my beer, but I DID have to stop short of hugging Ken, channelling Anne Shirley from Green Gables and say WE ARE KINDRED SPIRITS, YOU AND ME. Who knows, if I'd done that someone might have tried to throw me in the non-existent pool. Or perhaps I might have just flung myself into it to save time - how embarrassing.

But you'll be pleased to learn that I have been welcomed back for a future wine consumption session in the apartment's courtyard. And I think I'll go too, because the people there seemed very nice.

And I didn't finish snooping in that apartment.