Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Patriotic day
Originally uploaded by Victoriano.

When I was living in Europe, I never did make it across to Spain, but I hear that the Osborne Bull is a very famous silhouette that dots the Spanish countryside.

Last night the River East Arts Center here in Chicago hosted a one-night-only exhibition of a selection of 2-D Osborne Bulls that had been decorated by 'celebrities'. I inserted those inverted commas myself, as the degree of celebrity of the 'artists' (there I go again), varied greatly.

Sure there was Antonio Banderas, who I widely suspect had his Bull painted for him as all he managed to produce was a map of Spain. Angie Harmon from the old Law & Order series did a very cute bull decorated with little diamantes on his horns and toenails (a glamour bull evidently...very Hollywood). Dr Phill put engraved silver tags all over his and I still don't really get why. Maybe it was for deep psychological reasons.

But my favourite bulls were decorated by Spanish artists whose names are forever lost to me, but whose bulls was resplendent in vibrant images and colourful swirls and glittery bits all over. One of them was decorated by a fashion designer, so the bull was wearing cute denim jeans and a tight flannel shirt and even Dame Edna-style glasses. Very cute.

The bulls go up for auction in Miami soon to raise funds to fight child hunger in the USA. The curator took my card and promised to keep me posted about the two works that I particularly liked. Something tells me that even though I'd never heard of the artists myself, these works of art may indeed still fetch a hefty sum. Aye carumba!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's a kind of magic

Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

Tonight I got the chance to indulge in a fabulous event that I will remember for a loooong time.

I got a chance ot meet Mem Fox, the Adelaide author of "Possum Magic", which was basically required reading of all South Australian primary school kids - certainly ever since I was a little girl. Mem Fox dedicated the book to her daughter Chloe, who is about my age now, and it's little wonder that I grew up loving the book.

So when the Chairman of the Chicago Public Library invited me to his house for a reception to welcome Mem Fox to Chicago, how could I refuse?

Mem is here in Chicago to speak at an event that promotes literacy amongst Chicago public school children. In typical Aussie tradition she agreed to be polite, but also to speak her mind, and make it very clear that literacy is a right, not a privilege.

Tonight she wasn't hawking "Possum Magic" (though, ever the geek, I took along some copies for her to sign). Rather she was promoting her 'text book' about childhood literacy, that asks parents to encourage their children to read (as distinct from teaching them to read). It's about loving books and loving the act of reading, rather than being so rigid about what material the kids are choosing to read.

It was lovely to meet an Adelaide expat in such a beautiful atmosphere and, with any luck, I'll get another chance to catch up with her before she heads home later this week.

Monday, November 27, 2006


The Princess Bride (1987)
Originally uploaded by peter-noster.

I don't really remember the day that I found out that the six-fingered man in "The Princess Bride" is not only married to Jamie Lee Curtis, but is also the guy behind "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best In Show". It was a pretty big day, as far as revelations go. In any case, all I now know is that I can't watch him in "The Princess Bride" without giggling to myself at how much he is clearly enjoying himself, and that is highly inappropriate given the devilish role he plays in the classic fairytale film. Oh my sweet Westley...

Christopher Guest is just a classic comedian as far as I'm concerned and I really enjoy his crazy sense of humor. I didn't have to think too hard this weekend when I decided to go and see his latest offering, "For Your Consideration".

The story is really a film within a film, and Guest is pretty much unrecognisable as a Jewish film director, with fuzzy permed hair and a terrible habit of talking with his mouth full (and he's always eating something).

The best part of the movie though is every scene that features Catherine O'Hara, who I have loved ever since she left that brat Macauley Culkin in the attic in the first "Home Alone" movie. She is a veteran of Christopher Guest's movies, and is particularly classic in "Best In Show". She is just wonderful in this latest movie too and I loved it when she finally succumbed to that Hollywood chestnut - the botox and collagen combination - with hysterical results. I read somewhere that to look like that, O'Hara just put long veneers in her mouth (they look like shiny white piano keys, trust me) and she used her facial muscles to make herself look permanently surprised. How an actress can do that and still deliver her lines is beyond me. I loved her.

Christopher Guests seems to have carried over his troupe of actors with him from film set to film set. I used to think that Parker Posey was just an odd actress but having seen all of Guest's films, I realise that I wouldn't want to see her in anything BUT an odd role; she just does them so well. And I don't know his name, but do you remember the guy that played the awkward dog show commentator in "Best In Show" (the one who would always make inappropriate comments)? Well to see him in this film as an ageing Entertainment Tonight-style anchor with a mohawk (!) is priceless. And Jennifer Coolidge, the ditzy buxom blonde who was also the manicurist in Legally Blonde is just so good in this role, as the film-within-a-film's clueless producer.

The cinema was packed on Saturday afternoon when I went and saw "For Your Consideration" but I guess that's always a good sign, right? And even though the film doesn't offer as many laugh-out-loud moments as "Best In Show" or "Waiting For Guffman", it's still a great movie that I really enjoyed. In fact, now that I have had some time to read the reviews, the movie is getting absolutely canned. So honestly, don't fork out $10 to see the movie based on my feedback or you may want to give me a papercut and pour lemon juice on it when you realise the movie is crap. But for what it's worth, I liked it. A cameo by Ricky Gervais can never be a bad thing, surely...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Go Team!

Da Bears
Originally uploaded by dansays.

I'd like to say that I actually went to see the Bears play today but I did not. I watched them on TV though and fortunately had Melissa explaining the rules to me, play-by-play. Up to that point, I'd just been cheering when the crowd did.

Chicago is a bit of a sports-mad town, it's fair to say. We've got a killer basketball team, a fairly boisterous ice hockey team, and of course we have our baseball teams. But unlike the cross-town rivalry that exists in baseball, where you're either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan, Chicago's football community need not be so divided. We only have one football team in the NFL and the whole city gets behind it.

I enjoy the theatrics of the game more than the game itself, I think. I love the stop-start pace of the game, while the offensive/defensive teams switch and the strategies are worked out. I love that Urlacher on the Bears defensive team is a human brick wall and it makes me scared just to look at him. I love that it takes the umpires 3 minutes to deliberate whether the team moved a whole 5 yards or not. And I love it when the stadium, and the bar you're drinking in, erupts when the Bears win.

Which they didn't today. Bummer.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Turkey Day!
Originally uploaded by DIversify DI.

Last Thanksgiving here in Chicago, it was a horrible -18 degrees celcius and yet I trudged all the way to Caro's house to enjoy my first American holiday. Turkey is not my favourite meat, but the meal last year was delicious and the company was wonderful.

This year the weather was much warmer, but the food and wine and company were just as fabulous as before. I accepted a lovely invitation from our Trade Commissioner and it turned into a wonderful all-Aussie Thanksgiving. My boss and her husband, another colleague, and a couple of members of the Chicago cricket team all came together for a great feast. The roast potatoes with sprigs of rosemary were delicious - crunchy and golden.

Even the turkey went down a treat. Granted I smothered it with the yummiest pan-juice gravy I've had in a long time. But I didn't make a guts of myself and left room for some great dessert - a custard tart with raisins and muscat. I even had a glass of muscat to accompany it.

But I got home about 7pm and didn't overdo it today so I'm feeling fine and ready to face another day off tomorrow. The Consulate staff are getting together to watch the Ashes telecast tomorrow night at a neighbourhood pub. We just can't do without it. Who says the Thanksgiving weekend can't incorporate all kinds of traditions?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Welcome to MY Hotel California

santa monica 3 - georgian hotel.JPG
Originally uploaded by picodulce.

Day 5: When the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard

This bright blue landmark is The Georgian Hotel on Ocean Road in Santa Monica and it is literally down the road from the famous Hotel California that the Eagles sang about so tunefully. The Georgian was also my home for two days while I sunned myself at Santa Monica, a truly beautiful beachside town about 10 minutes drive from Los Angeles (well, some part of it anyway - I don't think LA has a proper town center).

I chose this hotel because of its proximity to Santa Monica Pier, its view over the ocean, and the fact that it is allegedly haunted. At least let me assure you that on the first two points, the Hotel delivered beautifully. The ghosts, however, were sadly absent. There was some pretty robust yelling and slamming of doors at ungodly hours of the morning, but I'm pretty sure live humans were responsible for those noises!

The other brilliant thing about The Georgian is that it is literally around the corner from Third Street Promenade, the most inspired stretch of retail heaven I've seen in a long time. Honestly, it's the length of Rundle Mall and Rundle Street, lined both sides by adorable little shops and boutiques. Granted there is a Gap and Urban Outfitters and other chain stores, but then there are some cute shops that (surprise, surprise) Chicago does not have. So I typically chose these unique stores to receive my custom and gave my Visa card a stunning work-out.

Returning to the Hotel in the manner of Pretty Woman, I changed into one of my new tops and necklaces, and went back out to sit at the neighbourhood bar and write some postcards. The barman bought my drinks for me - what a sweetheart. Bald as a bowling ball he was.

Then N from the Consulate picked me up for dinner at Venice Beach, which was almost impossible to see due to the unseasonable fog that had rolled in off the Pacific Ocean. Still, dinner was wonderful in a local haunt that reminded me a lot of a tarpaulin thrown over the back clothesline to become a makeshift marquee with little tiki lights and citronella candles. But the cocktails were strong and the food was delicious. Retiring back to the Santa Monica bar after dinner, we sought out my generous benefactor/barman but he was nowhere to be found. So we had a couple more drinks and I went 'home' to sleep (or to await some supernatural encounters, whatever happened first).

Day 6: Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home

Sunday morning was a little rough, thanks to a 6am wake-up call of a slamming door right outside my room and a very enthusiastic cleaning lady wondering what she should do with her vacuum cleaner. I could have told her...

But I battled a junior hangover and forced myself to get up and enjoy the brunch at The Georgian, which N had recommended I do. She went further to suggest the seafood frittata for breakfast. Let me tell you - the smell of lobster on a hungover stomach ain't the brightest thing in the world to discover. And yet the strong coffee and fresh fruit helped me get through the (ultimately) delicious dish. Before I knew it, I had to pack my things, check out, and make my way to LAX.

But not before I visited Santa Monica Pier. A jetty is a jetty really and that's all Santa Monica Pier is, but it's just cool. When the weather is as good as it was on Sunday, it's easy to see why so many tourists go there. The pace is relaxed and you can browse little stores selling tourist junk either side of the Pier as you wander up and back. Fishermen try their luck right at the end, and pique the interest of visitors that stop by to check out their catch. I loved it - it was a real little community out there. And to be staying in a hotel so close to such a great site was well worth the trip.

The least said about Los Angeles Airport the better. That place is hell on earth and I am dreading being back there at Christmas time. The worst of California is headquartered at that chaotic pit. Trust me, fly through San Francisco if you possibly can. But the only good thing about LAX is that it got me back to Chicago - to remarkably cooler temperatures, but boy it feels good to sleep in your own bed after some time away. Two pillows, baby. Rock on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A half-hearted Hooray for Hollywood

Marilyn Monroe handprints outside Chinese Theatre, Hollywood
Originally uploaded by Betty Nuggs.

Day 3: Goin' to Hollywood, City of Dreams

I once read a book about Paris that opened with the theory that pretty much everyone has been to Paris at least once. Granted, the author was trying to communicate the idea that each person has so often fantasised about Paris that they feel like they've been there. Their imagination builds it up so much that by the time they actually do make it to Paris, the reality of the City of Lights has a hard time stacking up to the imagined one.

I don't share the author's view about Paris per se, but I will give him snaps for the idea. Certainly the Hollywood of my imagination (and it's a fertile one as you well know) did not quite stack up to the real thing, and let me explain why.

Having been a movie buff for years, I find the escapism of the cinema one of life's most indulgent pleasures. There's something magical about old cinema; something other-worldly about the time of Fred and Ginger, Hepburn and Tracy, or even (to be cheesy though accurate), about Bogey and Bacall. Watching all kinds of movies over the years, not to mention countless award shows, I've formed a romantic and idealistic impression of the hometown of all these stars, past and present.

So when I actually walked onto Hollywood Boulevard, past the Kodak Theater (home to the Oscars ceremony) and past the sidewalk stars of Carey Grant and The Marx Brothers and such, I was a little let down. Because I don't believe that any of these cinema greats ever imagined that their stars would share real estate with strip joints, porn shops, and other dodgy enterprises. Not that I have anything against such retail outlets, but come on! Hollywood is a fantasy land, sure - but perhaps not that kind of fantasy.

Still, I had come to Hollywood Boulevard to see Marilyn's handprints and I did exactly that. J drove me to the Boulevard and after a beer and some chicken wings, I convinced him to help me find Monroe's hands. He almost vomited said beer and wings when I bent down to put my own hands in her prints, not really considering the layers of foot traffic, grime and filth that had no doubt been piled up on those handprints over the years. I promised faithfully to sanitise my hands when we found a restroom. J just rolled his eyes. [And for the record, my hands are smaller than hers were *wink*]

A couple of cocktails at Aphrodisiac later, and we were both feeling better but all I wanted to do was crash. And that's exactly what I did, on the correct pillows this time.

Day 4: TGIF

Friday arrived and I hadn't even realised. I guess it was the interruption to my normal work week, coupled with the idea that I was also a tourist in this crazy town. Perhaps it was the cosmopolitans?

I went onto my very first construction site close to the Consulate and I even had to wear a white hard hat. Sharing a very slow-moving elevator with about 20 sweaty construction workers was also a first, and the least said about that experience the better. Sadly, not a Diet Coke man amongst them. But I was there to view the Consulate's new site and it will certainly be impressive when it's finished. Still, it's hard to imagine the plush interiors and hardwood flooring etc from the shell that currently exists. Unfortunately my Hollywood imagination doesn't extend to real estate.

Lunch was a delicious buffalo chicken burger at a southern cafe and then it was back to work for a few hours, before checking out of the Park Hyatt and making my way to a housewarming party for one of the guys at the office. His apartment building is huge but, like LA, sprawling. And when I was told that there were 600 apartments in the complex, I nearly fell over. 600 apartments - and potentially one or 2 people in each apartment? It made sense to me that the population of LA is pretty much the entire population of Australia. But still...crikey!

Late Friday night, the Deputy at the Consulate (N) dropped me off at my new hotel in Santa Monica, where I'd elected to spend the weekend shopping and soaking up the sun. News about those two blissful days will follow.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Postcards from the edge...of reality

The Hollywood Sign 3
Originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

I am back in Chicago now, having spent an outrageous couple of days in Southern California. I scarcely know where to begin this story. Many of you will know that my stories are rarely told chronologically, but I think that's the only way to tell this one. So here goes: a six-day tale told in three parts - two days at a time. Hang onto your hats.

Day One: Chicago to LA-LA Land

I nearly suffered emotional meltdown at O'Hare airport because of the lack of seating in the food court. Not enough to tip me normally, but on this occasion I was inundated with Eastern European tourists (or perhaps they were from Kansas or something), all of whom wanted to sit right on top of me to enjoy their respective late lunches. After several huff-and-puff tantrums that would have done Scarlett O'Hara proud, I ended up eating my fish & chips standing up at the entrance to the food court. Of course I vowed to pen a rather terse letter to the Federal Aviation Authority upon my return to the Midwest.

Arriving around 7pm in Los Angeles (9pm Chicago time) I was a little weary, and looking forward to the warm embrace of the Park Hyatt bubble bath. I hadn't quite counted on the LA rush hour traffic - and my taxi sat bumper-to-bumper in traffic for about 40 minutes. I wanted desperately to doze off, or stop at a Burger King or something, but I learned quickly that you don't mess with a Californian taxi driver in rush hour traffic. Maybe it's not easy to negotiate a six-lane freeway with a cranky Aussie in the backseat...who knows.

But I tell you, the Park Hyatt hotel knows how to treat its guests. I was 'yes ma'amed' and 'no ma'amed' all over the shop, and the post-bath chicken burger room service was divine.

Day 2: Los Angeles, here I come!

Dare I suggest that beds at the Park Hyatt should come with instructions? Let me demystify them for you, friends. King size beds are huge, particularly when you're sleeping solo. But a good king size bed, as in the case of the Park Hyatt, come with four pillows. The bottom two are structural and serve (literally) as props for the top two. Cause it's the top two pillows that are the meal tickets - they are your squishy, feathery, comfy pockets of heaven. It took me two days, and about 400 migraine tablets, to realise the source of my neck ache. So let me (again) serve as a warning to the rest of humanity and save you the grief - always sleep on the top two pillows and hurl the bottom ones far away. Trust me on this.

So yes I woke up with neck pain which was less than pleasant, and was only exacerbated by the $25 bowl of oatmeal that I consumed at the hotel for breakfast. But at this stage I still didn't have my bearings and even though I knew the Consulate was walking distance from the Hotel, I didn't know what options there might be nearby for breakfast (or coffee). So really, this was Opportunistic Oatmeal.

The concierge kindly directed me to the Consulate and, because I had enough time (and sensible footwear), suggested a pleasant scenic route that took me past leafy streets and towering condominiums along the way. But I'll say one thing for LA - the traffic is simply relentless. It never gives up. Just when you think there's a lull and perhaps LA can be peaceful after all, the traffic lights will change and the madness starts all over again. And is it possible to get carbon monoxide poisoning as a pedestrian? It seems likely to me after breathing LA fumes (not air).

Arriving at the Consulate I was greeted by my friendly and happy colleagues. It immediately struck me that LA is much busier than Chicago in more ways than one. For one, the LA Consulate is bigger, and the Aussie community in the West is also bigger. So there's more to do, the phones ring more often, and the pace is more frenetic. But I loved it and where I could, I rolled up my sleeves and pitched in. And such was the tone for the rest of the day.

Clocking off at around 5.30pm (a late night for me), I joined two of my colleagues/babysitters (F and J) for drinks and an early dinner. It was great - we went to their local and I had some nice local wine, and a burger that was as big as my head. I had to chop it into 4 pieces just to devour it, and even then I only managed to get through half.

Returning to the Hotel fairly early, I watched some TV but had to admit defeat around 9pm. I knew that the next few days would take it out of me - working, playing, and just immersing myself in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles. What would I think of it, and would I fit in?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Go west, life is peaceful there

A month or so ago, I upgraded this site to a thing called beta blogger and one of its more groovy tools is that you can give a guest author permission to publish blog entries on your behalf. Given that I have to close the blog down while I'm in California until this coming Sunday, I was so close to actually nominating someone to take the reins. But then I realised that I didn't really like anyone enough to give them that degree of poetic license.

No, that's not true. I honestly just couldn't think of who should entertain you while I'm gone. Mero at work wanted to do it, but I think she got writer's block the minute I mentioned she'd have to provide daily blog entries. [Of course a daily entry is not an absolute necessity, but it's a good idea don't you think?]

So you're just going to have to join me in this blogging hiatus and hope that when we meet again here, it will be to learn that I have run off with a celebrity to the Hollywood Hills, where I will live in obscene wealth and glamorous splendour. Until then, this is me signing off!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Being a culture vulture

Doom Watch
Originally uploaded by BombDog.

This weekend I have overdosed on the good things in life. For the last 48 hours, I've done things that I've never done before and had a wonderful time doing them.

I spent all day Saturday trudging up and down the stairs to the laundrdy in the building next door but, as a result, every stitch of clothing - and all the sheets and towels - are as clean as a whistle. Ever the geek, I even cheered to myself when I realised that my cute winter coat with the fluffy collar and cuffs is actually machine washable - yeehaw. So in it all went, and in between waiting for the loads to finish and the dryers to do their thing, I vacuumed and mopped and cleaned the bathroom. I generally just kept moving to get things done that I'd been putting off for days.

Saturday night I went off to an Aussie drinks reception at SOFA, the annual festival in Chicago that celebrates "Sculpture and Objects of Functional Art". For three days each year, Navy Pier hosts exhibition halls chock full of funky artwork from all over the world, that you can even buy if you want to. So the Australian Trade Commission hosted these drinks and nibblies to celebrate the Aussie contingent. Admittedly, SOFA never interested me last year because I'm an ignoramus when it comes to art in most of its forms. But SOFA is awesome, in the literal sense. The scale of this event has to be seen to be believed. Carrying our wines through the exhibits, Lexie and her friend Beth and I had a wonderful time ooh-ing and aah-ing at the displays. But as we were walking towards the exit and I very nearly sloshed my chardonnay over a glass bowl - with a price tag of US$50,000 we figured it was time to leave very quickly.

Fast forward through a hungover Sunday and brunch at the delightful Austrian cafe I hit last weekend (fabulous breakfast blend coffee by the way). Tonight I took Courts out for her pre-birthday dinner. I'm going to be in LA from Tuesday through Sunday, so I'll miss her actual birthday. But it was important to me that I recognise the celebration and so I bought us the last two tickets to a five-course food and wine dinner at a funky little wine bar/restaurant in West Town. It's called The West Town Tavern, but is not like any smokey, fish & chip tavern I've ever been to. This place is funky, sleek and very modern. I was a little nervous about my capacity to get through all five courses, but it wasn't has hard as I thought. The servings were generous but the evening was well-paced and allowed you to digest what you'd eaten well enough before moving on. We worked our way through appetisers, fish, chicken, duck, and finished with pecan pie, thick cream and caramel sauce. Yummo! The wines were equally delicious, and ranged from Australian sparkling, travelling through California, to France and Spain and Italy - and they were wonderful complements to the meal, even the sweet dessert wine to finish the dinner, and I don't even normally like sticky wines.

I think that Courts had a good time at the dinner too and it was nice to be part of a mass event like that but still have a table for 2 to ourselves so we could chat and catch up.

But of course all this culture has primed me for LA-LA land on Tuesday. My mission? Aside from learning all I can from our Consulate over there, and have some meetings with Aussie companies, I want to see the Hollywood stars and the Chinese theater, but also go to Marilyn Monroe's house. I just hope I get enough time to mix business and pleasure this week.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Cats and Dogs

Originally uploaded by Tampen.

You know that old schoolyard joke about it raining cats and dogs, so you best take care not to step in a poodle? (Ba-doom tish!) Well it was that sort of afternoon in Chicago yesterday and I was in a foul mood for it.

Umbrellas were simply no match for the downpour and my knee-high boots revealed two small holes in them that meant I had sodden stocking feet within about 10 minutes. So I mooched around Macy's looking like a drowned rat, in a crowd of equally drowned rats, trying to decide why I was getting lost in a department store rather than going straight to the Cult in the first place.

The Young Members at the Cult threw a party last night that was meant to be from 8pm to midnight, but given that my workday finished at 4.30pm - and rush hour traffic was a nightmare at best on Fridays so going home wasn't an option, I was at a loss to what I should do beforehand.

My search for an after-work diversion led me to Macy's owing to an afternoon mishap with makeup that meant I couldn't wear my white cardigan to the party anymore. I had made a rush purchase of a backup cardi after lunch, but the impulsiveness made me doubt the entire ensemble in retrospect, so I think I figured a trip to Macy's might help. So in the pouring rain I trudged, fluffy jacket getting soaked and my umbrella only serving to irritate me more as it got blown inside out and upside down. Seeking refuge with the other drowned rats in Macy's I soon found the women's fashion section and debated the respective merits of a Kenneth Cole jersey dress versus a Theory pant suit, before trying them both on in the fitting room and ultimately declaring myself too fat for everything.

So in that stellar mindset, I went across the street to get the bus about six blocks to the Cult and of course, traffic was at a standstill on State Street in the rush hour rainfest. So I went into Payless Shoes to find some cheap stockings to replace my soaked pair. None of the shop assistants were being particularly helpful, so I marched around the store looking for the stockings, becoming more dejected by the second. As I was about to leave, a rather large woman shifted to one side and voila, there were the stockings right by the registers! How does one woman obscure an entire shelf of stockings, I still have no idea. In any case, I grabbed a pair and sloshed through the puddles to the warmth and safety of the Cult.

After a hot shower with all showerheads blasting on full, I was feeling a little more like myself again and set about to finish doing my hair and make-up. I was looking forward to the pampering and putting a fresh face on. Fresh makeup and clean hair just makes me feel better and more equipped to face things. But what's this I see - or rather, I don't see? I had left my eyeliner pencil at home. My beautiful eyeliner that I love more than anything else in my makeup bag, and the one item that finishes my 'look' off. Great God Almighty, could the day get any worse?!

And for the first time ever, no other women were in the change rooms with me so I couldn't even borrow some eyeliner in this emergency situation. So I weighed up my options. Did I want to go back out in the rain to the pharmacy and buy a new pencil? No. Did I want to face the party without eyeliner on? Hell no. So what did I do? I called my friend Lisa, who was coming to the party with me, and left some unintelligible, whiny blubbery voicemail about a bad mood, heavy rain, wet feet, no eyeliner, impending nervous breakdown.....

And when Lisa and her room mate arrived at 8pm to find me eating dinner alone in the Cult, sans eyeliner, they did the 'good friend thing' and told me I looked awesome. I could have cried in despair. When Lisa then produced some eyeliner and agreed to apply it for me, I realised that the night was finally turning around.

As it turned out, my feet were dry, my hair looked good, and my friends had a good time at the party. And that made it all worth turning up for.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's not "goodbye'", it's "see you soon"

Hey Fishy Fishy!!
Originally uploaded by tarotastic.

I'm not good at saying goodbye, and so if i have to do it, I would prefer to have a mouthful of food, and some wine to wash it all down. Getting a good picture of that now? Alright then, here we go.

Last night I made a return visit to "Il Covo" at Bucktown to have a farewell dinner for my friend Luke, who is off to play basketball for the Development League team in Fort Worth, Texas. Jenn and Pete came along too and we were spoiled rotten by our fabulous waiter Matt and, of course, the restaurant's Aussie Exec Chef, Luka. It was great to be able to share this dining treat with my friends who had not yet had the good fortune of visiting "Il Covo". I introduced Luka and Luke at the AFL Grand Final back in September, and this was the first time they'd seen each other since. But it was lovely to get them together and have an Aussie reunion of sorts. Even Jenn was good natured to laugh along with us even when we had to define words like "yobbo". Depite Pete's frequent attempts to glorify Sydney, I think me and Luke were able to convince Jenn that Adelaide should be her base if ever she makes it to Australia. She seems rather interested to visit, which is great. Poor Luka had no chance to compete, even though he delighted in telling us stories of his hometown Footscray after dinner. The boy can try.

Everything on the menu looked too good last night, and I was having a tough time deciding what to enjoy. But Matt went through the specials of the night, and I closed the menu, making up my mind then and there. Butternut squash soup for appetiser, and the Moreton Bay Bug spaghetti for main course. Delicious! And the coffee and limoncello closed the meal beautifully. I was only able to stuff in one spoon each of the complimentary tiramisu and panacotta that Luka brought out to us - need to remember to save some room next time.

Luke has given me and Jenn strict instructions to come and visit Fort Worth for a weekend and there really is no excuse, given that Southwest Airlines fly there for about $80 return. I hear that Fort Worth is cowboy country and rodeos are very common. So are mechanical bulls, with one in just about every bar you come across. I think I definitely need to go to this party town. I just hope their basketball team is worth seeing *wink*

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bringing Chicago home with me

I have been thinking a lot about home these last few weeks. Actually, there has been a homesickness epidemic at work, with K and Mero taking off for the homeland around the same time as me. So I've probably been in the worst environment possible to shake the nerves and excitement I'm feeling about returning to Australia, even if it is only for a few weeks.

As my thoughts turn to what I might pack for my holiday home, I was thinking about Christmas presents for family and friends. What can I buy here that would be unique to Chicago; something special that I can pick up here rather than in any shopping mall back home [and believe me, the last thing I want to deal with back home is Christmas shopping in Rundle Mall rush hour!].

On the bus home last night, Lex and I decided that it would be fun for me to make a DVD of my favourite sites in Chicago. She has agreed to be camerawoman, and thus the idea for the first short film from the "Preston Productions" studio was born. My list of location shoots is starting to take shape, and includes a tour of my apartment, my fabulous gay neighbourhood, the public transportation system, Wrigley Field, and even some action scenes, hopefully supervised by someone with medical training. I can declare there will be no stunts, no nudity, occasional swearing, and definitely some Harry's Hotdogs. A PG-13 DVD, on very limited release.

This DVD will not help me solve the gift-giving dilemma, but it will make a fun diversion for family and hopefully more interesting than sifting through loads of photos in an album. That's the idea anyway. Outdoor shooting commences this weekend. Lights, camera, action!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Free "Will"

Originally uploaded by tangent.

Lex took me to see Will Ferrell's new movie "Stranger Than Fiction" tonight. Filmed in Chicago, the story follows a real man who is actually the main character in an author's work of fiction. As the author writes about the man, he begins to hear her voice as she types. Obviously he thinks he's going crazy (as does everyone around him - the word "schizophrenia" is uttered more than once). But the man resolves to identify the source of the voice in his head, and what it wants from him.

The movie is a little slow but is still really funny in parts. It's not the over-the-top humour I've come to expect from Will Ferrell (think "Elf" and "Anchorman") but he's the sort of comedian I start to laugh at before he's even said anything on screen. And I knew that Emma Thompson was in the movie, but it was a surprise to see Dustin Hoffman and Maggie Gyllenhall on the screen too.

While the movie was a comedy, it still explored the theme of free will versus destiny. Does knowing what's going to happen to you change the way you behave? Or do you always behave exactly how the universe has destined you will?

Looking for meaning in a Will Ferrell movie is not something I'm used to, so you'll appreciate why tonight's cinematic excursion was something completely different. Very Python-esque indeed. Witty, silly, and ultimately rather poignant.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I just blew in from the Windy City

Chicago is Beautiful!
Originally uploaded by .Ashkan.

Do you know that I've been in Chicago for just over a year and yet I haven't been through a single museum in its entirety? I've been to the Shedd Aquarium, but I think even the Shedd would agree that it's not, in the traditional sense, a museum. I've been to the Field Museum of course, but I've only gone in as far as I needed to in order to go through the fabulous King Tut exhibit.

I came to this realisation today when I walked everywhere around Chicago with my friend Celine, originally from Paris but now living in Brussels. Celine came to Chicago just for the afternoon on a break from a staff training exercise up in Milwaukee. The weather was absolutely ideal for a walking tour of this beautiful (and allegedly) Windy City.

We started with a walk from Union Station to Millennium Park, stopping for lunch at the lovely Park Cafe. I saw a naked woman in the toilets, whose decision to change outfits publicly by the sinks rather than in the privacy of the cubicles took me, and other restaurant patrons, by some suprise I'm sure. But this is Chicago and one condition of living here is that nothing phases you.

So Celine and I moved on down Michigan Avenue towards the shopping mecca that is the Magnificent Mile. We detoured down Illinois St and walked all the way around the perimeter of Navy Pier, pausing to admire the beautiful view of the city skyline - I had never appreciated it from there before.

Then we got some shoes for Celine and went through Nieman Marcus (another first for me), and then up to the John Hancock Tower's Signature Room for a few cocktails with Jennifer. The view from the 96th Floor of the Hancock never disappoints and Celine got some great photos - even the wobbly ones as she tried out her camera's night vision goggles.

A quick cab ride got Celine back to Union Station well in time for her train to Milwaukee, and I assured her that she'd be able to sleep on the train cause Milwaukee was the end of the line. I did remind her to call me if by some chance they change the train route and she does, in fact, wake up in Canada or something. So far, not a word.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

It's not breakfast and it's not lunch

It's no secret that if my stomach is satisifed, then so am I. And I'm only 11 hours into the weekend and already I'm setting my stomach up for a very contented weekend.

I started off with biscuits, gravy, and pork sausages at IHOP this morning (that's the "International House of Pancakes" in case you're wondering) and then later today I'm catching up with my Aussie friend Debs at a Euro cafe on Southport - the quintissential straight cafe/bar district in this neighbourhood. I'm not hungry right now of course, but a quick peek at the website for the cafe we're headed to suggests to me that it's going to be another blessed opportunity to devour some tasty treats. And a glass of crisp European wine, naturally.

Tonight I'm catching up with my friends Kerry and Trace, and we'll either continue the gourmand theme and dine somewhere close-by, or else we're do the 'sweatpants and take-out' option. Something tells me that elasticised pants will probably be a good option for me by the end of today!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Giving Thanksgiving the bird

What a difference 24 hours can make.

Yesterday I posted about the Aussie-themed Thanksgiving dinner I was going to throw and then an initially promising guest list collapsed (like a flan in a cupboard), leaving only me and Caro to enjoy an 8-person roast lamb with all the crispy trimmings. Well screw that, and pardon my French.

So today, and admittedly in some distress, I rang Caro and spat the dummy. To hell with Thanksgiving and all it stands for. To hell with hosting dinner parties that no one will commit to. To hell with being away from my family, who I know would come if they could. I was feeling particularly sorry for myself.

And Caro did her best to talk me down from the proverbial ledge. She told me to bring the raw lamb leg to her place on Thanksgiving and we'd cook up a rich Indian curry, drink booze, and take naps all day. I love Caro.

I'm feeling better now but sometimes I just wish I could beam all my friends from home over to Chicago for an event like this. It's hard when you realise that you don't have the 'usual suspects' you can rely on to help make unfamiliar holidays like Thanksgiving nevertheless memorable.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ewe just add mint jelly...

White Lamb
Originally uploaded by Mountain Mike.

I can't even remember if I have mentioned that I have decided to give American Thanksgiving traditions the heave-ho this year, in favour of hosting something with Australian 'flavour' for the expat orphans I've befriended in my time here. Given that none of them are US-born anyway, I didn't think anyone would really mind if I vetoed roast turkey and the sweet-tasting accoutrements that Americans devour at this time of year.

I've sourced a wonderful, boneless, Aussie lamb roast (courtesy of an expat guardian angel here in Chicago) and I plan on cooking it up with all the usual roast trimmings. I'm going to serve garlic & rosemary potatoes (is it wrong that I'm most excited about THAT part of the meal?) plus roast carrots, maybe pumpkin, definitely broccoli and other steamed greens, and delicious meat gravy. I will of course also include hearty farm bread slathered with butter with which to mop up all the goodness.

And will there be pumpkin pie? Well of course not. I am either going to try again with my signature tiramisu recipe (tried for the first time in the US last Thanksgiving, and I recall it did not fare so well owing to mass confusion on the naming of American baking products), or else I'll do....erm....a Plan B that I haven't thought of yet.

I will actually be in LA in the week leading up to Thanksgiving hence the scramble to get things organised now. I have issued my oven an ultimatum (complete with fist-shaking and angry glare) that it had better behave otherwise I will have it consigned to the scrap heap. I will have a similar conversation with every other appliance in the apartment that may be called into operation to pull off this gastronomic miracle.

And you know what else? I don't have a big enough kitchen table, or enough chairs, to accommodate my expected guests. Or enough plates, glasses, and cutlery to go around. In my excitement about the menu, I guess I just didn't think about any of that.

To be continued.

Thoroughly Modern Manners

Eiffel vs. The Sky
Originally uploaded by Toni Blay.

Most people consider the French language to be beautiful. I remember learning it in high school and spending the early weeks with my Year 8 class mates, hacking up phlegm in an effort to perfect our accents. Some of us had it, some of us never did.

But we could all agree that many words just sound better in French - biscuit, pomplemousse, just to name a few. But consider the word 'politesse', the true subject of today's post. Just by looking at it, you could guess that it means 'politeness', but what a genteel way to say it. It sounds just like it should - neat, clipped, dainty. It sounds like a word that bird-like women in Chanel tweed suits would say as they receive the ladies for bridge.

But last night and again this morning on the bus, I was none of these things. I was not neat, clipped, dainty, or bird-like. Instead, I was cloppy, oafish, ignorant, and clumsy.

Last night the bus was so crowded, I had to stand. And then I fell on a perfectly lovely looking (gay) man who proceeded to laugh his head off at me. Either that or he was listening to a very amusing song on his ipod. I went as red as my coat. Then this morning I had a seat the whole way into town, but as I stood up to get off at my stop - while the bus was stationary, mind you - I stepped on the toes of every man sitting in the middle section of the twisty bus. Every single one of them. How is that possible?! I mumbled my apologies, cursed my clumsiness, and gratefully stumbled off the bus into the warm bosom of Starbucks.

It's just so frustrating, you know? I can say 'politesse' with all its appropriate Frenchness. I get the accent and pitch right, and I can even use it in a sentence. But why oh why, when I'm on busy public transport, can't I embody what it means?