Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Twelve Touchy Fellas

Lady Justice
Originally uploaded by Cam B..

I went to the theatre tonight with Jenn to see "12 Angry Men", which is only in its second night of performances in Chicago. I remember seeing the movie starring the adorable Henry Fonda, which was made in 1957, and I loved it. I found it tense, and powerful, and I watched most of it with a clenched jaw.

So I guess I was expecting the stage version to be the same. Sadly, it fell a little short. Don't get me wrong, it was still good, but it just didn't pack the punch of the original. The drawcards of this stage version are clearly Norm from "Cheers" and John Boy Walton, who I cannot abide because I overdosed on him in daytime telemovies during my first year at University. Yuck.

There was the familiar back-and-forth witty repartee of the movie, and with no intermission the guys onstage did a commendable job of maintaing the pace and energy the scenes required. And yet, there was John Boy, with his smug grin trying to make his fellow jurors realise reasonable doubt and vote the defendant 'not guilty'.

But the hands-down best part of tonight's performance happened in the ladies room at the theatre after the show, a fact that suprised me too! A lady emerged from the ladies room to ascend the stairs with her husband, just as I was about to enter the restroom area. I turned just at the right time to hear her say "You know, I liked it, but it just wasn't the same without Henry Ford". To which her husband kindly replied "No honey, he invented the car".


Barstool Philosophy

barstools at the Gold Dust Lounge
Originally uploaded by the earthling.

Aussies have long suspected that Americans are very in touch with their feelings. You need only look through weepy eyes at an Oprah show, or listen to Dr Phil give some hapless husband a verbal bashing to know that. And when you live in this country, you're constantly bombarded with the recommendation to "own your own feelings" and to rely on the healing power of hugs and other such touchy-feeling phenomena.

But here's what I say. You can keep your psychiatrist couch and your therapy bills and your hands-on hippie healing. I suspect that all I need is a barstool and an Amstel Light or two, and I can solve all my problems!

Last night P and me ended up at Joe's on Broadway, musing about everything from life in Australia, to life in Chicago, to whether horse races run clockwise or anti-clockwise. Yes friends, our conversation really was that random.

But we also talked about getting older and what the importance might be of setting goals for ourselves for the next few years. Should we bother being so rigid, or should we instead just sit back and enjoy the ride? We talked about married friends and we wondered whether they look back on their unaccomplished goals - was getting married really their first priority? Is it wrong that it's not mine? Will I ever regret travelling first and getting married later? What would my life have been like if I'd done it all the other way around?

And after all this to-ing and fro-ing, we resolved that it doesn't make a bloody difference anyway. You only get one life and you'll never know what might have been, so you shouldn't sweat it anyway. So I guess the only thing for me to keep doing is to enjoy this rollercoaster of life until the ticket booth guy - or perhaps Oprah or Dr Phil - tells me I'm too old and I should shove off.

And if anyone knows in which direction horses run in the Melbourne Cup, could you let me know? There's an Amstel Light in it for you.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Deodorant is probably not THAT good

We all know that I have some pretty wiggy dreams from time to time, and last night's was no exception. This one involved my sister and me being imprisoned in a log cabin by some American Indian in full traditional dress, only sometimes he appeared in a Mexican bandit costume, complete with a menacing glare, unkempt moustache, and gun holster.

We were being held hostage for reasons unknown (though I suspect closely related to a ransom for our immeasurable wealth - hey, this was a dream remember). In any case, we had other inmates too from time to time, but mostly it was just me and Jammin' Jems in da house (literally).

Then Jems got the bright idea that to be rescued, all she had to do was write a letter to would-be rescuers. So she did - only she wrote it in Dove anti-perspirant deodorant, on the bathroom mirror. Pretty good penmanship given the tools, now that I think about it. And in the dream, all of this letter-writing made very good sense, because the letter informed our rescuers of our exact location, and they'd only see it when they stepped out of a steamy shower. Yes, in the very house in which we were imprisoned. I'm sure every SWAT team member pauses to perform his ablutions when rescuing damsels in distress. Was that really our tactic?

And before you ask, I had vegetable soup with pasta for dinner - and no alcohol. So you tell me where the wigginess comes from, cause I just don't get it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Aussie Cinderella

Originally uploaded by fadingsunset77.

Last night was the Australia Day Ball at the Park Hyatt here in Chicago. The tickets went on sale just before I left for Australia at Christmas time, and we'd sold out by the time I got back. All 180 tickets got snapped up and while some people then backed out, we had no trouble on-selling their tickets to ensure we had a full house last night.

My date for the evening was my beautiful friend Lisa, who is the Catering Manager at Caffe Baci here in Chicago. Lisa is a Chicago native and has been a good friend to me since I moved here. We got a sleek black town car to transport us to the Park Hyatt and, as the photos that Lexie took of us clearly show, we were dressed to impress - from head to toe!

Lisa and Me

More photos from Lexie can be found here. Youtube video of my fashion parade with Lisa will come - and so too will official photos taken by our Consulate friend, Big Bad Bob.

I was so excited and nervous about the Ball, all at the same time. My only official role last night was 'door bitch', so I posted myself in the lobby of the Park Hyatt and greeted everyone upon arrival. I was so happy to see friends of the Consulate as well as my own personal friends, showing up looking absolutely beautiful in their formal gear. My black dress and bright red shoes looked really nice and I felt very comfortable, despite teetering rather perilously on my 4" heels - fortunately I remained vertical all night - woohoo.

We had a floral arrangement resplendent with Aussie flowers including golden wattle, proteas, and kangaroo paw - my talented florist buddy Nathan just busted out all the good stuff for us and people were bowled over.

And the Director of Cultural Affairs from the Embassy spun me around the dancefloor for two songs and actually made me look like a competent dancer, which was great. I am not a good dance partner when it's one-on-one. I can bust a move in a group but I get very nervous when I have to couple up. But Ron spun me around and looked after me, and told me I wasn't as rubbish as I thought I was.

Dr G and I sold raffle tickets too and I reckon between the two of us, we easily sold over $1000 worth ourselves. I walked away empty handed, but I did sell the winning raffle ticket to the PR Director of the Shedd Aquarium - the grand prize of the return trip to Australia with QANTAS. Now that's the 2nd time in two weeks that I have been in such close proximity with a grand prize winner. Surely my time will come! In any case, Rog was supremely grateful that I had badgered him to buy that last ticket but I doubt that will translate to him taking me to Australia with him. Too bad, so sad.

The night ended way too soon and before we all knew it, it was midnight and we trying to work out where to go next. I went to a cute pub walking distance from the Hyatt. Mind you, I had to trudge through the snow to get there and I was FREEZING. So me, Dr G, and our new friend from Macquarie Bank headed back to NoMi at the Park Hyatt for a cocktail. We then took it down a million notches and went to the only places we knew would be open at 2.30am - Duffys and Yakzees. Ugh. Needless to say I left rather abruptly after we got there and took myself home in a cab, walking through my front door around 3am.

This Aussie Cinderella has nothing but great memories of her first Australia Day Ball. The Consulate staff all looked beautiful - even Biggsy busted out the tux which was something he'd been really resistant to for weeks - and I was so proud of all of us. Everyone I spoke to was full of praise for our efforts and they already want to buy tickets for next year. With such great feedback, and my own great memories, I can now sit down today and enjoy the TimTams that we got in our goodie bags...blissful.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Oscar's Dreamgirl

There has been a lot of buzz lately, but particularly after the Golden Globes, about ex-Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson and her Oscar chances for "Dreamgirls". I had been promising Lexie for weeks that we'd go and see the movie and, this morning, I finally made good on that promise.

Mark my words people, if Jennifer Hudson misses out on her Oscar, there is a conspiracy in Hollywood. She has more talent than the rest of the cast combined and absolutely steals the show. Mind you, the role is also perfect for her and basically she's just playing herself: a newcomer to the entertainment industry, with all the raw talent in the world, disillusioned by how cut-throat and manufactured it can be.

I hadn't realised that the movie was the screen version of a Broadway production but now that I've seen the film, I can see how in places it translated well to a movie, and other places it didn't work so well.

Beyonce was actually pretty good and she sings one great song that gave me goosebumps. Don't ask me to remember what that song was of course, but I remember really enjoying it at the time. Eddie Murphy hams it up and has a great time with his role. Very "Little Richard" and all glitz, glamour, and glitter.

But the Oscar, and the movie itself, simply must go to Jennifer Hudson. The question does remain however, where will she go from here? More music or more movies? Or will life imitate art, and will she be a one-time Flavor of the Month that the industry forgets about? One thing is for sure, she will not fade quietly; her voice is just way too powerful and memorable for that.

Put a 'cork' in it, Adelaide!

Green bottle
Originally uploaded by Rune T.

Yesterday was Australia Day in Chicago and, with the exception of a young Aussie guy that was spotted running across the Michigan Avenue bridge streaming an Aussie flag behind him, the day passed without incident.

But last night was a great excuse to get the Adelaide expat crew together for dinner at, where else, but a French restaurant. I know, the location didn't make much sense to me either.

I proposed that we visit "Le Bouchon" in Bucktown cause it got a great write-up online and also because it offered a fantastic 3-course dinner for only $20. What's to compain about there, right?

So McDonalds Kerry, Mel, her new hubby Tongue Ring Dave, and yours truly met up at 7.30 last night for dinner at the restaurant that none of us had tried before.

"Bouchon" is French for 'cork', so I was half expecting wines to be the winner on the menu. And sure the winelist was very extensive and terriby French. But honestly, the food was the cracker.

For my $20 menu, I selected the french onion soup; the steak & fries; and the marquise chocolat, which was like a slab of the most decadent chocolate mousse you'll ever have in your life.

We sat at the "Le Bouchon" for close to 4 hours, swapping stories about Mel & Dave's wedding; and all our recent trips back to Adelaide. With the exception of his American accent, Dave is as Aussie as we are, having picked up a lot of our phrases and our love of Aussie wines and beers. So we have adopted him as an Honorary Adelaidean.

I can't wait to see them all again at the next dinner; and in the absence of any Aussie restaurants in Chicago ("The Outback Steakhouse" doesn't count), lord only knows WHAT cuisine we'll try!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why we are a nation of "Happy Little Vegemites"

Friday 26 January is Australia Day. Explaining to the Americans that our special day is 'sort of' their equivalent of 4 July left me feeling icky. So I thought I'd call upon the wit and wisdom of the late Douglas Adams to best explain why it is that Aussies love being Aussies. And why, on this special day every year, we give thanks for everything we have in "the lucky country". What follows is a long lesson but it's a good one. And worth reading every year, I think.

by Douglas Adams

Australia is a very confusing place, taking up a large amount of the Bottom half of the planet. It is recognisable from orbit because of many unusual features, including what at first looks like an enormous bite taken out of its southern edge; a wall of sheer cliffs which plunge deep into the girting sea. Geologists assure us that this is simply an accident of geomorphology and plate tectonics, but they still call it the "Great Australian Bight" proving that not only are they covering up a more frightening theory, but they can't spell either.

The first of the confusing things about Australia is the status of the place. Where other land masses and sovereign lands are classified as either continent, island, or country, Australia is considered all three. Typically, it is unique in this.

The second confusing thing about Australia are the animals. They can be divided into three categories: Poisonous, Odd, and Sheep.

It is true that of the 10 most poisonous arachnids on the planet, Australia has 9 of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that of the 9 most poisonous arachnids, Australia has all of them. However, there are curiously few snakes, possibly because the spiders have killed them all.

But even the spiders won't go near the sea.

Any visitors should be careful to check inside boots (before putting them on), under toilet seats (before sitting down) and generally everywhere else. A stick is very useful for this task.

Strangely, it tends to be the second class of animals (the Odd) that are more dangerous. The creature that kills the most people each year is the common Wombat. It is nearly as ridiculous as its name, and spends its life digging holes in the ground, in which it hides. During the night it comes out to eat worms and grubs. The wombat kills people in two ways: First, the animal is indestructible. Digging holes in the hard Australian clay builds muscles that outclass Olympic weight lifters. At night, they often wander the roads. Semi-trailers (Road Trains) have hit them at high speed, with all 9 wheels on one side, and this merely makes them very annoyed. They express this by snorting, glaring, and walking away. Alas, to smaller cars, the wombat becomes a symmetrical launching pad, with results that can be imagined, but not adequately described. The second way the wombat kills people relates to its burrowing behaviour. If a person happens to put their hand down a Wombat hole, the Wombat will feel the disturbance and think "Ho! My hole is collapsing!" at which it will brace its muscled legs and push up against the roof of its burrow with incredible force, to prevent its collapse. Any unfortunate hand will be crushed, and attempts to withdraw will cause the Wombat to simply bear down harder. The unfortunate will then bleed to death through their crushed hand as the wombat prevents him from seeking assistance. This is considered the third most embarrassing known way to die, and Australians don't talk about it much.

At this point, we would like to mention the Platypus, estranged relative of the mammal, which has a duck-bill, otter's tail, webbed feet, lays eggs, detects its aquatic prey in the same way as the electric eel, and has venomous barbs attached to its hind legs, thus combining all 'typical' Australian attributes into a single improbable creature.

The last confusing thing about Australia is the inhabitants.

First, a short history: Some time around 40,000 years ago, some people arrived in boats from the north. They ate all the available food, and lot of them died. The ones that survived learned respect for the balance of nature, man's proper place in the scheme of things, and spiders. They settled in, and spent a lot of the intervening time making up strange stories.

Then, around 200 years ago, Europeans arrived in boats from the north. More accurately, European convicts were sent, with a few deranged and stupid people in charge. They tried to plant their crops in Autumn (failing to take account of the reversal of the seasons when moving from the top half of the planet to the bottom), ate all their food, and a lot of them died. About then the sheep arrived, and have been treasured ever since.

It is interesting to note here that the Europeans always consider themselves vastly superior to any other race they encounter, since they can lie, cheat, steal, and litigate (marks of a civilised culture they say) - whereas all the Aboriginals can do is happily survive being left in the middle of a vast red-hot desert, equipped with a stick.

Eventually, the new lot of people stopped being Europeans on Extended Holiday and became Australians. The changes are subtle, but deep, caused by the mind-stretching expanses of nothingness and eerie quiet, where a person can sit perfectly still and look deep inside themselves to the core of their essence, their reasons for being, and the necessity of checking inside your boots every morning for fatal surprises. They also picked up the most finely tuned sense of irony in the world, and the Aboriginal gift for making up stories.

Be warned. There is also the matter of the beaches. Australian beaches are simply the nicest and best in the entire world. Although anyone actually venturing into the sea will have to contend with sharks, stinging jellyfish, stonefish (a fish which sits on the bottom of the sea, pretends to be a rock, and has venomous barbs sticking out of its back that will kill just from the pain) and surfboarders. However, watching a beach sunset is worth the risk.

As a result of all this hardship, dirt, thirst, and wombats, you would expect Australians to be a dour lot. Instead, they are genial, jolly, cheerful, and always willing to share a kind word with a stranger, unless they are an American. Faced with insurmountable odds and impossible problems, they smile disarmingly and look for a stick. Major engineering feats have been performed with sheets of corrugated iron, string, and mud. Alone of all the races on earth, they seem to be free from the 'Grass is Greener on the other side of the fence' syndrome, and roundly proclaim that Australia is, in fact, the other side of that fence.

They call the land "Oz", "Godzone" (a verbal contraction of "God's Own Country") and "Best bloody place on earth, bar none, strewth." The irritating thing about this is they may be right.

There are some traps for the unsuspecting traveller, though:
  • Do not under any circumstances suggest that the beer is imperfect, unless you are comparing it to another kind of Australian beer.
  • Do not wear a Hawaiian shirt.
  • Religion and Politics are safe topics of conversation (Australians don't care too much about either) but Sport is a minefield.
  • The only correct answer to "So, howdya' like our country, eh?" is "Best {insert your own regional swear word here} country in the world!".
  • It is very likely that, on arriving, some cheerful Australians will 'adopt' you on your first night, and take you to a pub where Australian Beer is served. Despite the obvious danger, do not refuse. It is a form of initiation rite. You will wake up late the next day with an astonishing hangover, a foul-taste in your mouth, and wearing strange clothes. Your hosts will usually make sure you get home, and waive off any legal difficulties with "It's his first time in Australia, so we took him to the pub.", to which the policeman will sagely nod and close his notebook.

Be sure to tell the story of these events to every other Australia, you encounter, adding new embellishments at every stage, and noting how strong the beer was. Thus you will be accepted into this unique culture.

Most Australians are now urban dwellers, having discovered the primary use of electricity, which is air-conditioning and refrigerators.

Typical Australian sayings:

  • "G'Day!"
  • "It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."
  • "She'll be right."
  • "And down from Kosciusko, where the pine clad ridges raise their torn and rugged battlements on high, where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze at midnight in the cold and frosty sky. And where, around the overflow, the reed beds sweep and sway to the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide. The Man from Snowy River is a household word today, and the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

Tips to Surviving Australia:

  • Don't ever put your hand down a hole for any reason whatsoever. We mean it.
  • The beer is stronger than you think, regardless of how strong you think it is.
  • Always carry a stick.
  • Air-conditioning.
  • Do not attempt to use Australian slang, unless you are a trained linguist and good in a fist fight.
  • Thick socks.
  • Take good maps. Stopping to ask directions only works when there are people nearby.
  • If you leave the urban areas, carry several litres of water with you at all times, or you will die.
  • Even in the most embellished stories told by Australians, there is always a core of truth that it is unwise to ignore.

See Also: "Deserts: How to die in them", and "Poisonous and Venomous arachnids, insects, animals, trees, shrubs, fish and sheep of Australia, volumes 1-42"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An evening at the "Pamper Palace"

Taking a Bath in Rose
Originally uploaded by Darkman's Photos.

Around the corner from my apartment, there is an adorable hair and beauty salon that I have been going to for some time now. My hairdresser is a 25 year old African-American woman from Texas and she is feisty and fabulous.

Obviously I don't see her very often but when I do, I love it. I get a glass of red wine, I get to read all the trashy magazines I want, and I get about 15 different gay guys to talk with.

Tonight's discussion was about the Australia Day Ball coming up on Saturday and whether I should wear my 4" red peep-toe stilletos or opt for the more elegant (but conservative?) black jewelled slingbacks.

Of course my newest gay best friend D, while he slopped toner through my hair, gave his resounding vote for my red shoes. But I hit him with my 'yeah but what purse?" conundrum and again, he was full of good ideas. We talked about what accessories I already had, and the thumbs up was given to my sequinned rainbow purse. Figures.

So after one red wine and two trashy magazines, I had my outfit dilemma solved; AND a full understanding of how to tell a straight guy from a gay guy just by how he has a photo taken with you. [Apparently it all comes down to how he stands, how he puts his arms around you, and how he - ahem - cocks his head. Tell tale signs right there. Thanks, D.]

Well with all that in mind, I would say that I'm just about ready for Saturday night now, wouldn't you? I just need to work out why my Dove Self-Tanning Moisturiser (that's supposed to work gradually in 7 days) has turned my legs orange in less than 48 hours. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Just like Ocean's, only cooler

Smokin' Aces
Originally uploaded by --- Yg ---.

We hit the cinema tonight to see "Smokin' Aces", on yet another complimentary ticket courtesy of Lex's work.

I hadn't heard much about this movie, beyond the fact that its cast is a veritable who's who of my favourite flicks. Aside from the customary cameo by a musician/actor (in this case, Alicia Keys), even Aussie Joel Edgerton ("Secret Life of Us", anyone?) made an appearance. But the adorable Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, NZ's own Martin Henderson, Andy Garcia, and Ray Liotta are in the mix and everyone is really great.

The movie is rather like Ocean's 11 but with loads more blood and swearing, but the plot moves really fast and the ensemble is slick for sure.

There is a fair bit of talking in this movie and it involves the Mafia and a FBI sting operation in Lake Tahoe. But I actually followed along and didn't lose interest once. I cringed a little with the blood and guts but otherwise I made it through.

I also made it through some soft-shell tacos from Chipotle, but we're not allowed to tell Biggsy (aka The Diet Police) about you think he'll let me off if I tell him that I didn't have popcorn at the movies? That's gotta count for something, right?

Monday, January 22, 2007

All hail the screaming banshee

Even with my ipod on I could hear her. There was just no way that Missy Higgins was going to drown out that dreadful din.

"Get off the doooooooor!" screeched the driver, as thirty pairs of tired commuter eyes followed the awful sound to its destination: a hapless tourist who had the unforunate occasion to lean a little too heavily on the exit before the little green light illuminated above the doors. Ha, been there, done that - poor bastard.

CTA bus drivers are a bag of mixed nuts, let me tell you. They seem to lie across a wonderfully exotic spectrum, ranging from the pleasantly friendly, to the professionally cordial, to the downright demented banshee that ferried me from work to home this evening.

I don't know what this woman's problem was, but she drove like the clappers in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Lake Shore Drive, but then put-putted along like a funeral carriage on an empty side road. What the?! And when she wasn't hurling abuse at fellow road users, she was turning her 'affections' to her patrons. She spat and snarled and carried on like a maniac for the full 20 minute journey.

I slid down in my seat and turned up my ipod, hiding behind the rather ample woman sitting in front of me. Cowardly I know, but I wasn't taking any chances. When the bus driver sailed right past the Addison bus stop and a brave passenger at the rear doors asked to be released, the brakes were applied with such force I thought we were going to be catapulted through the windscreen. I swear I could hear the bus driver tsk her tongue - and that's ABOVE the sound of my music. Fortunately the bus was going so slow at the time, the passenger could have just opened the window and leapt out unharmed, without even requiring The Evil One to stop the bus.

I was seriously considering this exit strategy for myself as my own bus stop approached. But I channeled my inner ninja and bravely stood up to exit through the front doors - in direct violation of the bus rules no less! Ignoring the bright red sticker affixed to the front window that expressly forbids patrons to alight at the front doors, I bravely approached the driver's seat. And just then a rather well-built man stood up to get off at my stop. He didn't see me walking gingerly down the aisle, so he managed to get right in front of me. Once again I was concealed by a fellow patron; one who, if challenged, would bear the full brunt of abuse from the driver. Once he was reduced to a quivering blob of nothingness on the floor, I reasoned I would merely step over him and dash across the street into the night.

None of that was necessary of course. And so it was that my man-shield and myself escaped from the 135 bus without incident. No lasers out of eyeballs; no balls of fire out of her mouth - absolutely nothing. Not even a tsk; and not even a 'goodbye' to farewell us. Is it wrong to feel somewhat let down by that?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Australians all let us rejoice

Originally uploaded by offstage4.

It's hard to believe that one year has passed since Caro and me hit the Cubby Bear by Wrigley Field to celebrate Australia Day. And yet last night I found myself back there, sans Caro this time, and I think the footy club managed to squeeze double the number of party-goers into the place.

For those of you interested in such matters, I did not kiss anyone last night. You can stop reading now if you like.

But if you're still reading, I need to let you know that I had a wonderful time at the party. I caught up with Pete for a few minutes, and then he was off to another event, so for the most part I was there by myself. I hung out with Tongue Ring Dave, who was getting married in Australia over Christmas and we actually flew home to Adelaide together, so it was great to see him. And of course I hit the dancefloor with quite a number of Aussie expats I've met over the time I've lived here.

There is something magical about hearing the opening bars of Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" and seeing what that does to a bunch of drunken Aussies. The dancefloor seems to exert an invisible pull and next thing you know, you're moshing with your new best friends. It's wonderful.

And then Lisa won the two return tickets to Australia with QANTAS (first prize in the raffle) and we did the typically girly 'squealing and jumping around in a circle hugging each other' thing for about 5 minutes, and then she went outside to call everyone she's ever met. Even though I was the person that pressured her into coming to the party in the first place, rumour has it that she's taking her sister to Australia - cow. But okay I can be the bigger person here. I really am happy for her, honest.

And even though The Kissing Bandit didn't make an appearance last night, I did give my business card out to two people. One guy is the new Midwestern rep for Jacob's Creek wines and he wants me to taste-test the product line and show him the City cause he only moved here in November. Easy. And the other guy is a friend of Tongue Ring Dave, who just wanted to know where my Office was. So I showed him my card and he asked whether the number on it was my cell. I replied in the negative. "So, I'm probably gonna have to work a bit harder for your cell number, right?". And I replied in the positive. To the best of my knowledge, he still doesn't have it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A freaky and funny Friday

Do you ever get the feeling that the universe has pinned a KICK ME sign to your back? Last night marked the end of a very long week at work and I was very tired, but still committed to hitting the town. What follows is a very brief attempt to summarise the highs and lows of my night out. See if you can identify the low points...

ENO at the Intercontinental Hotel

  • Met and flirted with an award-winning South Aussie winemaker
  • Honestly enjoyed the Aussie wines, paired with the Hotel's delicious cheeses.
  • Didn't try the prize-winning Santa Barbara Shiraz.
  • Got to see Rak in a snazzy suit.
  • Flooded the toilet.
  • Scored the winemaker's phone number.

Gibson's Steak House on Rush & Division
  • Gate-crashed a table at the crowded restaurant
  • Shared the table with a bunch of Chicago business-owners.
  • Split a delicious plate of whitefish & veggies with Jennifer.
  • Had two cosmpolitans.
  • Got asked how it feels to play second fiddle to Jennifer.
  • Did not seize the opportunity to headbutt the guy that asked me that question.
  • Had the guys pay for dinner and drinks.

Tavern on Rush (Viagra Triangle)

  • Met up with Biggsy and RM.
  • Needed a Jack & Coke.
  • Paid a fortune for that Jack & Coke.
  • Got a free head massage by a guy in the crowd.
  • Realised the head massage was a grope in disguise.
  • Wanted another Jack & Coke but thought better of it.
All of this and I was STILL home before 11.30pm. Jenn and I are simply machines, don't you think?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gross, but fascinating all at once

Bulk Bin of Mini Rubber Chickens
Originally uploaded by zoomar.

My aunt gave me a keychain just before I left Australia that has a rubber chicken on the end of it. Nothing out of the ordinary there really, except that when you squeeze THIS chicken, a jelly egg (complete with yolk and eggwhite bits) comes out in a little sack. It looks sorta like a spit bubble, but with a yellow center and white blobs floating in it.

It's gross but, at the same time, it's the most addictive thing I think I've ever owned.

I was showing the chicken to Dr G last night who, once she'd recovered from the shock of it all, seriously announced that my keychain chicken was suffering from a severe and repetitive "cloacal prolapse".

I was in awe of her diagnosis. We used to talk about cloacas at my old job back home (usually in the context of sexing wild cockatoos in the Wildlife Parks; or identifying a colleague's newborn glossy bantam chicks), but I hadn't heard anyone mention the word in ages. Trust a vet to bust it out; I loved it.

And I love that my friends know the real names for things. After all, I've been buzzing around town telling people that a jelly egg comes out of my keyring's ass. So uncouth but no less accurate really. Now that I have been steered in the right direction, and have had my first (and hopefully only) lesson in "The Anatomy of Poultry according to Dr G", I will correctly refer to my keychain's cloaca in future.

If it ever comes up in conversation, that is.

Popping and Picking

When I made plans to meet Dr G for dinner tonight, I wasn't too keen to structure too much. I didn't know what she'd been up to over Christmas and New Year, so I wasn't sure what kind of food or entertainment she'd want to go for. But then I figured I'd just take a chance, and I chose to drag us to two venues that neither of us had been to before.

And so it was that we ventured to Pops for Champagne for a fizzy aperitif. The barman clearly took a liking to my drinking companion, so I did my best to be the charming wingwoman, and we dazzled him with gleaming smiles and much hair-tossing.

But of course, we weren't there to stay as I had made dinner reservations at a cute restaurant nearby called Graze. No-one that I know had ever been to this place before, so I was interested to check it out based on the reviews I'd read online. What I hadn't realised is that the restaurant is all about 'small plates'. So it's basically a non-Spanish tapas place. But it's gorgeous because the wine list features Aussie wines that we would actually drink (ie not your typical export fare) and the food is fresh and well-presented, and the wait staff are lovely (out of work actors, naturally). We didn't eat a lot, admittedly, but we shared a delicious cheese plate, a serve of crab cakes, and a plate of scallops. Dining with a vegetarian can often be tough, but Graze made it easy because their seafood selections were amazing. My dessert of pineapple spring rolls were great, and the South Australian wine (D'Arenberg Grenache) was a wonderful surprise.

Talking with the owner tonight, I promised to share my review of the restaurant with as many Aussies as I could find. In fact, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the place to anyone. The restaurant is not exactly located in a prime part of town; it's surrounded by some rather dodgy bars and night clubs. So if anything, its location would be its downfall, but I will do my part to redress that.

To round out our night, we headed back to Pops and we had a glass of bubbly and some surreal conversation with the Executive Chef. He gave me and Dr G his card, and seemed rather keen to have us back for a meal next time we were in the area. We even managed to scam a free glass of champagne from the bar staff who, at that late stage of their night, were settling in for some taste tests of their own. Our freebie wasn't particularly delicious but the price was right, so who were we to complain?!

Dr G is a great person to go out with because she doesn't care that I have no sense of direction, and therefore get us absolutely lost in the Downtown Chicago area EVERY TIME that we go out. It never matters where we go, we always have a great time - and tonight was no exception. We tried two places that were new to us, and we didn't regret either of them. In fact, I think that given the contacts we made tonight, we'll go back to both places without a worry in the world.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Bold and the Ballsy

Sally Spectra - min nemesis
Originally uploaded by ingridyeah.

I think it's important to fess up a guilty pleasure shared by all of us at work. Every lunch time we love to watch "The Bold And The Beautiful".

It works in well for us, cause we only get 30 minutes for work each day. And given that we're not allowed to close the Office, we might as well do something fun and silly while we can, right?

Today after our episode, we learned that our beloved Sally Spectra has passed away (in real life I mean), losing her battle with cancer. In a show like "The Bold and the Beautiful" where the characters recap after every commercial break, we'd been wondering where Sally had been. Only the other day we figured she'd burst onto the screen any minute, to mount a hostile takeover...or just to mount Eric Forrester.

I guess the writers were thinking of a way to resolve the Forrester/Spectra feud when they decided to merge the two companies. All through high school and University, Forrester Creations was always one step ahead of Spectra Fashions and then whammo, they decide to merge. Now that I think about it, was that because Sally's daughter married into the Forrester clan? Sigh, I remember Thorn and Macy's wedding episode...and then Macy went blind. I can't remember why, or whether she's even on the show anymore come to think of it. I think she went off to be a country singer.

In any case, the companies merged and Sally Spectra became a toothless tiger and that was sad. All the fight was taken out of her, but no one could wrestle the hairspray can from her clenched fist. That coiff was always a good 6 inches higher than anyone else's on-screen. And THAT my friends, is boardroom intimidation at its dirtiest. She was a class act.

And unlike a soap opera death, where you can always come back the following episode as your own evil twin, or even as yourself (assuming your death was just a hallucination or something), Ms Spectra will sadly not be returning.

So RIP Sally Spectra. We always enjoyed your screaming matches with Stephanie Forrester and you had more balls than all the Forrester boys put together, even though between them they have sired most of the current cast. I don't think even the writers can explain that one.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Puckering up, in the name of research

Originally uploaded by Carrie Taylor.

With the Australia Day Ball less than two weeks away, the bets are on at work about whether I will smooch someone at the big event. Mero thinks no, but Biggsy reckons yes.

I don't know why we're betting on this, but I guess it goes to show that Aussies really will bet on anything.

But hey, who are we fooling? We all know that in the case of my permanent pucker, things could go either way. What can I say? I am the Kissing Bandit.

Mikey loves to tell people that I'm like one of those limpits, forever suctioned to the bottom of a shark. Such is the way I will moonlight around a venue, attached to some hapless male with no idea what he's gotten himself into. Harsh but fair, I suppose.

And equally I wonder what better way to find my prince than to kiss a lot of frogs, right? Dedicated research and a commitment to the task are the only ways forward, as I have always (ie never) said.

And with Biggsy and Mero being ever-watchful for my smoochy indiscretions, perhaps only time will tell whether the Handsome Prince will be found on the Hotel dancefloor.

Between you and me, the Aussie party at the Cubby Bear this coming weekend is the more likely location for a smooch, if last year's shenanigans were anything to go by. I seem to recall a young man suggesting he was VERY into me, only to realise that he had been making all the same moves on the female bartender. I had to give the guy props - he was working his magic on two sides of the dancefloor; he must have been exhausted. When she approached us and threw his coat at him, to storm off in an Oscar-worthy huff, all I could do was laugh and encourage him to chase after her. I'd suggest that I was being noble in defeat but then again, he was the one who lost out in the long run - right?

So there we have it, folks. The bets rage about whether or not thsi blogging heroine will find her prince at the Ball and then fix him with a giant smooch. It worked in stories, now stay tuned for the real-life version.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

And THAT'S how it is, Seattle

Originally uploaded by Schadenfreude Theater Company.

So when I moved to Chicago I embraced the rules of baseball and never really thought much about football. To this day I'm very sketchy on the rules of American Football and I think that shows. I mean, I still only applaud when everyone else applauds, and I think I give myself away every time that something fabulous happens I'm left looking rather stunned rather than excited that the Chicago Bears have done something fabulous.

And so today when we triumphed against the Seattle team and made one more step closer to this year's Superbowl, I should have been ecstatic I know. But I used this afternoon to get better acquainted with the rules of the game, so I could have more fun wiith our victory. It was great to win today and schmooze with the fun folk at "Pint" in Bucktown, especially the young guy who asked for my phone number (and hurrah I made up a cell phone number for the first time in my life!). It was such a fun afternoon, though I still can't work out why we did so many shots today - and I even remember buying a round of them...silly Gab.

Still, it was a wonderful occasion, and it's not always that the Bears will win so convincingly so no wonder we went alll out for the team today. I was also really pleased to meet Bork's friends and I had a great time. With any luck I'll be invited back soon enough...the buffalo wings alone are worth going back for!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

In the Stiller of the Night

Chicago night snapshot I
Originally uploaded by Mazda6.

"But I have so many cocktail dresses, it seems a shame not to be wearing them," I wailed earlier this week. And Jenn, like the good friend she is, masterminded a plan to do a 'cocktail crawl' around the Michigan Avenue boutique hotels and bars this Saturday night. I was all for it, until Wednesday when I was hit by a craving for the cinema and crab cakes.

There is only one place in Chicago (as far as I know anyway) that can satisfy both of these cravings in one place. That place is 600 N Michigan Avenue - and so, having convinced Jenn to hang up the heels for one night, off we trekked on a clear but chilly Saturday night.

600 N Michigan is home to the Loewes movie theater on the top floor, and "Heaven on Seven" on the first floor. Having had some of Heaven's catering in the past at official events, I was already sold on their crab cakes and gumbo before I'd even walked through the door. Mmmm I could just about taste them already.

We bought our movie tickets at 6pm and took the escalators back down to the New Orleans-style restaurant that was all decked out in Mardi Gras gear (39 days early for the actual big party down south).

As an aside, New Orleans is still a long way from being like it was. A news report recently said that there had been 8 murders in the first 9 days of 2007. Pretty scary, huh? So perhaps for now, "Heaven of Seven" is as close as I'd like to get to Bourbon Street.

Anyway, the restaurant was in good spirits and one delicious margarita later, we split a plate of coconut shrimp and waited for our delicious crab cakes to arrive. The waiter first bought me a small bowl of gumbo to keep me happy until the piece de resistance, and when those little golden bundles of crabmeat got served up to me? Oh boy they were so good. But way too filling and neither of us could finish our plates.

By the time we stuffed ourselves and paid the bill, it was already time to be in the cinema and we were running late. Fortunately we only had to dash upstairs, and we did already have our tickets.

The movie was a lot of fun. We saw "Night At The Museum" with Ben Stiller - a guilty, silly pleasure for both of us. I discovered tonight that Jenn is as big a fan of Ben Stiller as I am, and she also loves the Wilsons (Owen AND Ben), which is scary but true. So we were in for a real treat watching the movie, and we had a good time with lots of laughs and escapism.

Walking south on Michigan Avenue after the movie, we stopped at Starbucks and then at Borders, just wandering with nowhere in particular to be. It was a gorgeous, clear night out there and the fairy lights are still up from Christmas, so the City looks so pretty and sparkly. But then our yawns took over and I put myself on the bus home. It was a great night, and the end of my first full week back 'home' - where has my time gone?!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The taste of England in rainy Chicago

Originally uploaded by mercylessming.

I met my friend DK tonight for dinner at The Duke of Perth, a cute English pub in my neighbourhood. I knew it was there, but until tonight I'd never set foot in the place - I'd simply not had a chance to yet.

But when we were considering a place to dine, I'd mentioned to D that the pub served a favourite British beer of mine, "Old Peculiar", and she quite fancies the pub's fish & chips, so we were both sold.

While we hid ourselves in the non-smoking section out the back, we caught up on the vast array of stories and gossip that had been unearthed since our last catch-up. Ever since DK stopped working with me, we've had to make a concerted effort to catch up like this and swap personal life stories.

We talked about how strange it was to go back home over the Christmas break, and see friends and hear them talk about events you'll never go to and acquaintances you've never met. That is weird for sure. I still find it surprising that there are cultural differences between the US and Australia and yet I encounter them every single day without fail. And I'm still having to adapt, even after 15 months living here.

So we chatted in this vein for a while and before I knew it, we'd been at the Duke of Perth for four hours! Clearly I didn't notice, owing to the lovely company, comforting meat pie and veggies, and two bottles of my fave beer.

And when we finally emerged from the pub, we stepped out into drizzly rain - how very British indeed. And so we slushed through the alley out onto Broadway and listened to a religious zealot bleat on about Armageddon until my bus came and we parted ways. [Fortunately the zealot chose to take an alternate route home.]

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

You, Sir, are an idiot

Let me commence this post by declaring that no court has ever ruled that I should have anger management counselling. I'm not a physically aggressive or threatening person. I am, however, remarkably adept at surrounding myself with utter tools who deserve a jolly good slapping on a regular basis (and not the good kind either).

Take Mr Brick Wall today. I encountered him in the lunch line at The Corner Bakery in the lobby of my building. I shouldn't have been there anyway, given that Biggsy tells me their food is fattening and generally crap anyway but despite his input, I was there. Convenience sometimes wins out.

Mr Brick Wall was your typical pudgy business suit type. Paunchy, sweaty, and clearly uncomfortable in a crowd. Yet despite these very obvious traits, he felt compelled to wait for his lunch right in front of the kitchen door. Yes, friends, he blocked the door so that every waitress who entered or exited the kitchen nearly toppled over him and THEY were the ones who said "excuse me" all the time.

What is that?!

Then Mr Brick Wall's work colleagues showed up and they too stood right in Waitress Walkway. And when their Number 135 special wasn't served up within 4 nanoseconds, they loudly took one hapless waitress aside and demanded their lunch. Jerks.

All the while, Mr Brick Wall huffed and puffed, all the while being the biggest obstacle in the place. And yet I seemed to be the only person in the whole cafe bothered by this. How can someone so physically solid be so clueless about how much space they consume? And how could he not realise that he was disturbing the waitresses otherwise smooth passage from the kitchen to the cafe? Hmm perhaps he thought that their repetitive 'excuse me's were a clever Customer Service strategy? Oh give me a break, surely not.

And so it was that I mused about this man and narrowed my eyes to small slits to leer at him from the 'Waiting Bench'. And when my 'death glares' yielded no result (ie he was not smote), I took my salad and left Mr Brick Wall in the Cafe, where he presumably obstructed the waiting staff for a good 10 minutes more at least. Sigh, there's one in every cafe, isn't there?

Well now, I just don't know...

Originally uploaded by AlanR.

I went to see the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Doubt" tonight at the beautiful LaSalle Bank Theater and it was amazing. Lexie and I both believed it would be a drama but, sure enough, the Playbill and assorted advertising guff featured the words "funny" and "hilarious" when lauding it. Curious though we were, we entered the theatre to make our own minds up about this brand new production on its opening night in Chicago.

The story was set in 1964 in a religious school, and involves a nun accusing a priest of inappropriate conduct with a male student. What makes this play most interesting is that clearly this is still a topical matter today and tempers really flared on stage as the actors got into verbal sparring matches. If it wasn't for the incessant coughing of the twits around the audience, you could have heard a pin drop in some scenes; it was that powerful. I shot death glares around the audience so that any serial coughers would be warned....they know who they are!

Anyway, when I left the theater, I couldn't resolve whether the priest was guilty or not. Still, according to the Playbill, that was entirely the point. The acting was terrific and the mood was really intense. It was interesting to watch the charismatic priest whose intentions seemed pure and good, as he fought to bring warmth into the school environment and modernise the classroom, something that simply did not resonate with the set-in-her-ways nun. And then you could equally see the nun's side of the story and admire the strength of her convictions even though flimsy physical evidence was all she had to support her overriding gut feeling that something was fishy. The way that the nun stood up to the priest, clearly in breach of the church's protocol for such things, was electric.

I would suggest that when people talk about "Doubt", they won't be whining that it went for 90 minutes with no intermission. Even someone with my sparrow bladder could overlook that. It was just such a great show - really well written and wonderfully acted, that I was really glad I went, particularly to opening night!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The lion sleeps tonight - almost

Lion King
Originally uploaded by Awesome Photography.

There was just something about this feline's expression that amused me, as well as the fact that it captures exactly how I've been feeling the last two days. My alarm has been going off at 6.30am as it should, though I have been awake from about 5.30am, needing to pee. I don't get up to pee of course, cause it's too damn cold, so I just lie there in bed and try not to think about it.

When I finally DO get up, I have made it to work early each day, and I even remembered all my security passwords, logon codes, and everything! Of course I forgot to buy coffee for the percolator yesterday but I fixed that up today and all is well again. It has been really nice to catch up with work colleagues after the holiday break, and gratifying to return to familiar Chicago where nothing much has changed.

Last night I caught up with Jenn, my fellow Leo, who has outdone herself in my absence by starting her own one-woman law firm AND designing beautiful jewellery on the side. Who knew that she could achieve so much in 3 short weeks - she certainly sets the bar very high. In any case, Lex will design Jenn's jewellery website and online shopping gallery soon (and I will publish the link), and I have agreed to put my best PR skills into practice and shamelessly promote her to the print media in Chicago. Do I know how to do this? Not yet, but I have some ideas and apparently Jenn is happy with that. Bless her.

Tonight I'm off to see a brilliant play called "Doubt" that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. Lex's friend Val got us tickets (again) and I can't wait. The play has had rave reviews and while it's a little on the serious/heavy side, I am still keen to concentrate and give it my best attention. Review from Gab to come.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Coming back to 'life'

Originally uploaded by DCE.

Looking down at my passport, I see immigration stickers and it's only then that I realise I have been on holidays. If it weren't for those little smudges of ink, how would I tell?

If I look around my bedroom, it's not immediately obvious that I spent the last 3 weeks on the other side of the world. My luggage has been put away, my clothes are all clean and in their drawers. If I didn't get up at lunch time today, I would never have guessed I was still jetlagged. Because other than general fatigue, my life bears no tell-tale signs that I even had a holiday!

Today we even went to the supermarket and I made a huge batch of fantastic "Miracle Soup", to help Lex and me kickstart our slimming regime. While she's shovelling money at the Weight Watchers beast, I'm participating for free - but still committed in spirit.

Tomorrow I'm back at work and no one, not even me, has any idea how that's going to pan out. Will I fall asleep at lunch time? No wait, before that - will I even get out of bed in time to make it to work? The mind boggles.

All I know is, my wardrobe is stocked full of 'new' clothes that I lugged here from home, and all my 'old' stuff is in the Salvation Army bin by the supermarket. New wardrobe for a New Year. Bring it on.

Now how do I get a wake-up call for tomorrow morning?!

Friday, January 05, 2007

When time (and you) are flying

Originally uploaded by Green Photowell.

I have been awake for about 25 hours now and so far, I have not gone mental. I have, however, gone back to Chicago and it was wonderful to see Lexie and Preston again. The puppy had no trouble remembering who I was, and went into his usual excitable convulsions when he saw me, which was lovely. No such reaction from Lexie of course, but I will let that slide.

I am being kept alive by the restorative power of a hot shower, and the promise of delicious take-out on its way to me as I type this. Hurrah.

You will also be pleased to know that I did not wish ill on the three screaming children who kept me awake on the 13-hour flight from Melbourne to LA. Nor did I do my complete banana at the clowns that oversee the farce that is the immigration section at LAX. Standing in line for more than an hour - with no coffee - is clearly how I want to spend my early mornings. NOT.

But the moral of today's story is that all good things come to an end, and my lovely holiday in Adelaide (and subsequent flights from hell to get back), have been no exception.

Now I just need to remember which bus to catch to work on Monday morning and we'll be just fine.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Leaving, on a jetplane

Originally uploaded by leginmat.

...and you know the rest.

Yet my bags aren't packed, and I'm not ready to go. But given that work is expecting me back on Monday 8 January I had better do my bit and show up, eh? I kinda like that whole 'being employed' thing.

I had a beautiful family breakfast this morning at my place, also attended by the not-biological-but-still-family members, Josh, Reg, Linda, and Matt. It was a delicious BBQ breakfast that Mikey the Tongmaster cooked up for us - bacon, tomatoes, sausages, eggs, and even some shake-and-bake pancakes. Yummo.

While a load of my laundry spins around the machine, my head is likewise swimming as I contemplate just how to stuff all my bits & pieces into two pieces of luggage. Lex, you'll be pleased to know that the souvenirs will occupy more luggage space than my clothes! Okay perhaps not, but it will be a close call. I didn't realise just how full my closet here in Adelaide was, so I needn't have bothered bringing all the clothes I did. But in an effort to justify hauling my Chicago wardrobe halfway around the world, I was doing a two-outfits-per-day thing for a while there. Neat. But the laundry? Not so neat.

I got some great photos while I was here in Adelaide, thanks in large part to get-togethers with family and friends, but also due to the beautiful weather we had here. Below are some photos taken of the cultural icons of North Terrace, that I snapped as I headed to my lunch with Annie, Jele, and Clare Bear, at the Art Gallery Cafe yesterday. There is something wonderful about sitting in the sunshine with three of the most charming ladies around, enjoying a lazy lunch and long overdue chat.

State Library of South Australia - Adelaide SA Museum - Adelaide The Art Gallery of South Australia - Adelaide

Next time I write, I will be layered up in Chicago, hopefully enjoying some take-out Thai food as a reward for surviving my 20+ airborne hours. So this is me, signing off. To everyone who has tuned in to this site since 17 December 2005, thanks for taking this Adelaide journey with me.

And a special shout-out to all my home-based friends & family: thanks for showing me a great time back home and convincing me that Adelaide really is the best city around (factoring in some local bias there) and I'll see you all next time for more fun and laughs!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Adelaide Alcoholics?

8188_coops pale.jpg
Originally uploaded by thomask.

I was talking to Jems late yesterday, as we waited for my dinner guests at the Belgian Beer Bar in Adelaide (The Oostende). Jems volunteered that she had surely consumed more alcohol in the time I've been home than she ever drank over the rest of the year. My aunt had suggested the same thing on Christmas Day.

Surely they are not suggesting that I am the common denominator here?

But then I looked back over my Chicago blog and realised that I have really been writing a veritable Drinker's Guide to the Windy City. If I'm not writing about wine tastings, I'm writing about beer hangovers. The common themes of my blog posts really do seem to be eating & drinking, but admittedly mostly drinking. And I have to concede that my Adelaide vacation has so far been one libation after another but surely that's what holidays are for, right?

So rather than turn this blog on its head right now and talk about Adelaide's beautiful architecture or cultural diversities, I'm just going to revert to type and tell you about my pub crawl last night!

The Oostende - Adelaide The Stag - Adelaide Sugar Nightclub - Adelaide The Austral - Adelaide

Along with Jems, Joely, T, and Gav, we hit 4 pubs along Rundle Street - The Belgian Beer Bar, The Stag, Sugar, and The Austral. Not surprised, are you? And yes, Coopers Pale was consumed, naturally. I tasted it, and it was good. And it was equally good to see Joely again, who has returned to Adelaide from teaching English in Japan. He looks great, and seems to have good memories of his time there. Jems and I ended up getting home just before 1am, so it wasn't a late night, but the weather and company were both lovely so I enjoyed the evening very much.

Resolution Alert: Jenn, if you're reading this post, 2007 is a New Year for a New Gab. Please put the personal trainers on standby at The Cult. You heard it here first, folks.

No 'Ayers' or Graces

Uluru Australia
Originally uploaded by ozczecho.

I had the wonderful opportunity today to travel into Outback Australia without even leaving the centre of Adelaide. I caught up with Stu, an old friend from back home, who is now wrestling crocodiles for a living in the Northern Territory. Okay, so that's not entirely his job, but it's close enough and it makes him sound very cool.

Stu and his girlfriend live 50km south of a remote mining town called Jabiru and it took them 6 days to drive to Adelaide (though admittedly they did pace themselves). Stu's work introduces him to Indigenous Australian guides as he learns about the culture of the national parks that he looks after, and the traditional Aboriginal culture that is still alive and well up there. He has worked at Ayers Rock (Uluru) as well as JimJim Falls, and Twin Falls - very touristy areas of far northern Australia. I still have never made it up there, but really wish I could because he makes it sound like such a wonderful landscape to see, at any time of year.

I found it fascinating to learn about the wet and dry seasons up there, and what it's been like for him to live in the ranger's cottages up there, so far away from a capital city. My cosmopolitan life in Chicago is literally half a world away from Stu's daily experiences and yet, both of us admitted that neither of us has changed much - and I think we were both much relieved.

We caught up for a few beers at The Austral pub and we both agreed that it was a delightful way to spend the afternoon. When it's 34 degrees celcius outside, what better than to hide away inside with ice-cold Coopers Pales on tap? Puh-lease. Do I really want to leave here?

It was great to catch up with Stu and with any luck, he will make good on his New Year's resolution to be a better email correspondent. When he's not wrestling wildlife that is...