Sunday, 27 December 2009

Climb Aboard The Train O' Thought

I have a habit of dropping strange and seemingly unrelated topics into conversations and then looking puzzled when the people I'm talking with are puzzled by this. This is because in my happy little head the connections couldn't be clearer.
Of course when I sit down and map out the path that lead me from topic A to topic Z this does not turn out to be the case...


START! Something about someone being upset Might have to give them a comfort hug I am bad at hugs, I always feel like I might be squishing a part of them that I shouldn't be but they're too polite to let me know I'm crushing their tapangas Why did I just think 'tapangas' instead of breasts? Wasn't that girl in 'Boy Meets World', the hippy one, called Tapanga? I thought that was quite funny when it was on but I was probably 12 and would hate it now There must be a time when your brain is geared towards particularly corny and obvious acting Like that show on Nikelodeon with the two brothers and the intelligent but socially 'goofy one' is mysteriously more ethnic looking/acting that his simple blonde popular brother which was sort of not so bad when the series started and they were younger and about the same size but then a few years on you think 'did he get fatter because he knew he'd always be cast as the comedy relief so he just stopped caring and put on like 20 kg or is he just a big teenager?' Once you're in a show like that your career is pretty much screwed Like that guy who played Harvey in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I've never seen him in anything else, he's too clean cut looking, he'd never get in anything good unless he did something really weird to get cred Man it would be funny if Ashton Kutcher Punk'd him and they got footage of him screaming 'Don't you know who I am? I was in Sabrina b*tch!' ... How the heck did I get to that thought? [backtrack backtrack backtrack] FINISH!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Step Back Citizen, I Have A Certificate!


But, Ow!

Guess what I spent the last two days doing!

No, not that!

Dirty little internet monkeys.

A first aid course!

At this point you might be wondering two things.
Why Ow?
Why Yay?

Well, Ow because over the course of the two days of classes I managed to give myself what I've dubbed CPR stigmata*.

And Yay, because now I feel like I'll actually be able to do something useful should anyone be hurt.

If you collapse I can roll you onto your side like nobody's business, if you are cut I will apply ten kinds of pressure and bandage you up like Imhotep, and if your heart stops I guess I'll give you CPR but no tongue!

Since the last time I did any first aid training** they have completely changed the timings for CPR and a lot of DOs have become DON'Ts!
My lawyer has advised me not to list any actual medical advice here but I can tell you this.

Blue-ringed octopi are tiny!


The size of a child's fist at most!
Do you know how much time I could have saved as a child if I'd known this?
All the hours wasted running in and out of the water at the beach every time a piece of seaweed touched my leg just in case it was a blue-ringed octopus!

Tiny poisonous sea creatures aside, knowing the basics of what to do during an emergency is both comforting and probably the most practical thing I've added to my skill base in years, I recommend it to you all***.
There is no time, place or stage of societal breakdown where first aid skills will not be useful.
Think about it.
Also stay still, I need to practice my slings.

*A bruise in the centre of each hand from overlapping the two hands and going at that first aid mannequin's solar plexus hammer and tongs.

**Coff 1995-ish.

***Warning: You will temporarily be convinced you are capable of diagnosing and treating people. Sure you're only diagnosing them with dehydration and mini-strokes but you'll still sound like a pompous jackass.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Ratio Of Birds To Stones

I am going to open a day spa.

The treatments offered will consist entirely of the client throwing a rope toy for a dog - or therapist, if you will - over and over again in a muddy field.

As the mud and the dog dribble coat their hands they will find that the moisturising effect of the all natural earth supplements and butt-enhanced mouth enzymes will greatly improve the elasticity of their skin.

Various grades of gravel can be added to the muddy field to achieve an exfoliating effect.

A scented wash will be available to complete the treatment and is best applied via the medium of soaping it into the dog's coat and washing it out along with the residual exfoliating supplements.

The natural oils in the dog's fur and the massaging effect of the hairs will gently coax the best possible outcome from the clients' skin.

Tell all your friends.

Incidentally I'm also opening a dog care and grooming service around the corner.

For a quite reasonable price I can promise that your dog is exercised, washed and pampered and returned to you bright eyed and bushy tailed...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Also, The Grassy Knoll Shot JFK!

Every now and then for no discernible reason I get a little 'conspiracy theory-ish'.

I'm never quite sure what brings it on and it never lasts long enough for me to start a website, lobby my local member of parliament or fold an aluminium foil hat but one thought leads to another leads to suspicion leads to a brief spike of paranoia leads to this blog post.

Want to hear the current theory before it evaporates? Of course you do.

Here it is.

I think some religious group has bought out the contract to fill the vending machines in ladies public bathrooms.

What? You think that sounds outlandish?

Used to be that the little vending machines in public bathrooms would offer you the opportunity to purchase three emergency items: tampons, sanitary pads and condoms.

Now they still offer the tampons and sanitary pads but any extra vending space is taken up by toiletries.

Even if the unit has six items for sale the other four will - instead of holding useful contraceptives - be stuffed to the gills with perfume, hand lotion, toothpaste, lip gloss and other such items.

I don't know about you but I can't imagine too many scenarios where a woman might be desperate to buy some emergency $1 perfume or moisturiser out of a toilet vending machine.
I can imagine a scenario where a woman might need to buy an emergency condom.

The questions about how dependable a vending machine condom might be aside, there are some women out there who might be too shy to buy condoms at the chemist or supermarket.
The vending machine option might have been their only chance to buy a contraceptive discretely and take charge of the night's activities and their sexual health.

So what do we have so far?
  • Condoms gone
  • Cheap perfume, moisturiser and lip gloss provided
Conclusion? A shadowy religious group wants us to lower our standards, tart ourselves up and get pregnant!

Yeah, it all comes together now doesn't it?
You once were blind but now you see!
The truth is before you and can never be concealed again!

Now I must go speak The Truth to The People before The Truth starts to look a bit crazy and I back away from it like an electronic monk backs away from the belief that everything in a valley is a uniform shade of pink!

PS. If I mysteriously disappear it will be because this one is actually true and the cabal involved is a lot better funded than anyone would expect and more prone to overreacting than a prudent financial plan would advise.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

And Knowing Is Half The Battle!


Missed it again.

But I still feel like I learned a fair amount from this year's attempt and here in my foggy and slightly twitchy state I want to share some of these wisdom nuggets with you.

  • It Is Important To Try And Write In Voices Other Than Your Own
    This year was the first time I tried to write a prolonged piece in a character voice significantly different from my own, specifically my main character was a teenage boy.
    I am not and have never been a teenage boy. I didn't entirely understand what made them tick when I was their peer and certainly don't claim to have deciphered their mystery now but in trying to write in this voice I had to work a few things out.
    I had to have a proper think about the behaviour of different friends and relatives during that time in their life and try shape actions, dialogue and thoughts around this framework. I had to consider the different set of motivations that would drive my character, especially as I decided to give him a spectacularly messed up family life just to make it more eventful and provide an opportunity to work in more adjectives.
    I realised that the best way for me to write a character that seems genuine is to keep things fairly simple, pick a few issues or behaviours to highlight and just let the character grow.

  • The More I Write The More I Realise I Need To Write
    Whilst NaNoWriMo is great for getting people to attempt writing a novel at all, you can't just write furiously for all of November and then do nothing else during the rest of the year, or at least I can't. I write all year round but don't confront my shortcomings as a writer or challenge myself with longer pieces and I really should
    Without constant practice I will never improve and oh do I want to. My brain delivers ideas on a strange schedule and oftentimes I get my best stuff out when I'm just wittering away and letting it happen. I don't often have inspiration strike complete with a plot and character bios, it usually just grows as it goes like a watermelon vine in the stomach of a child who has swallowed a seed in summer*.

  • Sometimes Show Don't Tell Takes More Effort Than You Think
    It is a treacherous and thin line to walk, that barrier between explaining too much and completely losing your reader by being too subtle. The tricky thing about being the writer is you know the characters' back stories and motivations** and what you think is a vital and gripping clue might be missed altogether by a reader who is not you. If you have someone who's judgement and taste you trust who is willing to read your work and critique it without being unkind or - even worse- too kind, you love that person and you never let them go!
Ah well, the world spins on and there are more words to pin lovingly to the page but first - sleep.

*You know it's true!
**Or at least you have your suspicions...

Saturday, 21 November 2009

How To Get An Australian To Like You

It's all in the pronunciation.

We're really that easy.

I will give you some examples.

This is pronounced Oz (as in the Wizard of Oz) + e (the letter e)
Not Ors-ee.

This is pronounced e (the letter again) + mew (the word for the sound cats make)
Not E-moo.

Ignore the spelling, it is pronounced Mel + b'n (like 'bun' but without the u)
Not Mel-borne.

Armed with this secret knowledge you can instantly be proclaimed a good bloke/blokette, be included in shouts at the pub and can get Australians to like you!

Unless you're a bit of a twonker.

In which case you're on your own.

Sorry mate.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Carefree Confession

I discovered the backdating widget for posting which I have used in a rather shameless fashion to pop in the posts at the times I wrote them but couldn't be bothered to type them up because I was either:

a) busy freaking out because I was about to go overseas, or
b) faffing about overseas.

I know some people might consider this a bit dishonest but to them I say:

"Pfft, it's only dishonest if you pretend you haven't done it!" and "Yeah well you enjoy your rapturous indignation and I'll enjoy looking back at neatly spaced posts!"

I like patterns, so sue me :-)

Here I Go Again On My Own...

Alrighty, it's NaNoWriMo time and the failing voice of failingness is singing in my ear saying things like "Hey there! You didn't even get back into the country until the 4th of November, then you were jetlagged and self-indulgent and didn't start until over a week had passed!" and other such helpful things.

Yeah well, shut your pie hole failing voice of failingness!
I can come up with plenty of stuff like that all by myself without your help!
Like the fact that whenever I should be doing one thing that I really want to do (ie. writing) I find myself wanting to do something else I really want to do instead (eg. drawing) and get all distracted and then have lovely productive circular arguments with myself on the topic!

Circles and ranting aside I'm doing it and there's not a damn thing you can do to stop me!
I'm also having dessert before dinner and mmm it's delicious, you hear me!? DELICIOUS!

Goin' down the only road I've ever knoooooooooooown!
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone!


Saturday, 7 November 2009

Travel Edition Ricochet - Week 3

Moar learning!

26 Oct - I hadn't done my homework again Monday morning, I was beginning to get flashbacks to high school and university as I stayed one question ahead of the answers we were giving in turn.
The Cooking Class today almost killed me, just like all the others, we made penne puttanesca and penne carbonara with zucchini fololowed by a short cust pastry with baked pears and chocolate custard in it. I knew I shouldn't get seconds, or eat the entire wedge of torte Agostino gave me but I did it any way and luckily Donato decided that as we were the only people in the Art History class that afternoon he'd take us on another walk rather than sit us down in a cosy dark room where we would fall asleep.
He took us to Santa Croce and showed us the art work in situ, pointed out before and after examples of restored paintings and explained what the restorers who were working on the church whilst we were there were doing.
One of the last things we saw at the church was the Pazzi chapel, built by a family who was unwise enough to try and assassinate a member of the Medicis and were wiped comprehensively off the map. In Rennaissance Florence that is apparently what you get!

Creepy clown bags!

27 Oct - As this week the Art History and Cooking Classes were on the same days rather than alternate days we had a big free block in the afternoon which we chose to fill up with meeting up with my uncle and aunt (also on holiday) and visiting the Uffizi gallery.
I will never get sick of Caravaggio's Medusa or Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes, Boticelli's Birth of Venus, Michelangelo's Holy Family* or basically any of the other pieces in the Uffizi. I could come back here over and over again and probably will.
After we wound our way out through the series of shops I dragged my family and two friends of my uncle and aunt to a wine bar that I'd been eyeballing for days and smugly enjoyed my marvellous glass of wine whilst they questioned why we'd stopped here particularly.
We'd stopped because our dinner reservations we're until 7:30pm and we had some time to kill before we again tried to rupture our stomachs.
The stomach rupturing attempt took place at Ristorante Aqua al Due and holy heck!
I had a porcini mushroom risotto and a fillet of steak done with blueberries and I have no idea where I found room for my part of the dessert platter or the *coff* 6 bottles of wine between 7 people.
By the end of the meal I was glad we were just walking home instead of getting a taxi back to the station to get a late train like my uncle, aunt and travelling companions were doing.
Our steps homewards may have been a bit unsteady but they were very satisfied.

28 Oct - I know I still sound like a 5 year old with a poor grasp of tenses when I speak Italian but when you're learning a different language you're so excited by remembering enough to make sense you feel like you're cracking a secret code. Badly but still!
Today was our last Cooking Class which was a wrench but Agostino came through with Neapolitan meatballs and a chocolate almond torte and then spent about 5 minutes berating us for leaving in that lovely way so many people do.
Donato took us for another walk around town today, a couple of the churches we went by were closed for the day or had set entry times for tourists and we wound up at a few of the more obscure or hidden churches, around a corner you wouldn't have turned on a whim or tucked behind another building. It's so different seeing these things with someone who is so passionate about their content and the role it played in history.
We went for another walk over the Ponte Vecchio and around Piazza Signora before dinner, it's hard to stop walking this area.
The abundance of good wine at ridiculously cheap prices is a terrible temptation and I can't say it's one I've been resisting it at all.

29 Oct - After school it was time for the torture that comes with all travel, gift shopping.
I hate gift shopping. Hate it.
I love the people that I'm buying gifts for but I'm usually so distracted by where I am and what I'm doing that I never randomly notice something that would be 'just perfect' for them by chance and have to spend a specific allocated time running about trying to find something suitable, trying not to get ripped off and trying to remember to buy something for myself. Usually what I take home with me is a diary and photographs, I would say memories but my memory is terrible so I take a diary :-)
I survived but it was a near thing!

30 Oct - It was sad saying goodbye to everyone at the school after our last classed, as a tribute I have carefully left my last round of homework completely uncompleted.
It was our last day visiting our little caf
é as well which was equally difficult, I've eaten more pastry on this trip than in many of the months beforehand but I would do it again!
For our last afternoon we took a bus up to Fiesole which overlooks Florence, unfortunately the air was a bit hazy but Fiesole itself has enough to look at, for instance we found a house with a koala lamp...

There were a couple of items of modern sculpture up at the Roman amphitheatre that reminded me of Stargate which meant I couldn't stop thinking of fighting aliens the whole time I was there, not that that's a bad thing.

31 Oct - Our last morning in the flat was the usual blend of panic, double-checking and coffee. Had we packed everything? Turned everything off? Taken everything out of the fridge? Left the keys in the right place? Taken all the bags out before locking up? Left enough time to get to the train station?
On the last point we got to the station about 15 minutes before my train, said goodbye and I spent the next 5 hours on trains to Turin to spend a couple of days with the relatives before going back home.
I would have gone at the start of the trip but I would never have gotten away, my Grandmother's cousin envelopes you in a cloud of food and love and questions and almost the only way you get permission to leave is by showing her your plane ticket.
They picked me up at the train station and immediately began to remind me exactly how much I still don't know about Italian, 70 year olds with little to no English don't stick to the simple stuff, though sometimes they speak louder and slower (but not clearer) in an effort to get you to understand. Seems this is a universal tactic.

1 Nov - Went for a walk with my Grandmother's cousin's husband after breakfast while his wife was preparing lunch... I love Turin, it's so easy to wander about and there are so many beautiful old buildings and people just live in them like they're normal buildings, it's ridiculous!
We went through a food market, past a bookshop about a hundred metres long and only three metres wide, past fountains and open-air sculptures and then back home for a five course lunch with their daughter, her husband and their two young kids.
After lunch the young family took me for a drive to Sacra di San Michele and I learned several things:
  • Italians talk with their hands from the moment they can talk
  • The Italian version of the annoying 'turn green' chant kids take up in the car is 'diventa verde!'
  • Churches on top of mountains that look like they're balanced on top of castles are epic.
I didn't understand a lot of the guided tour but the guide was so excited telling the story I enjoyed it anyway, everything below the mountain was hidden by mist so the whole experience was very Spirited Away like.
After that it was home for dinner, more dinner, extra dinner, dessert, coffee and limencello**, more tellings off on the theme of how I must visit more often and for longer and a lot of other things it is quite nice to hear.

2 Nov - I was awake for ages this 'day'. I haven't done the maths on it yet but I got up at 7:30am in Italy, had breakfast, gathered my bags, went down to the train station with everybody, said more goodbyes, got on the train, went back to Milan, stopped for a quick shop, got the bus to the airport, got the plane to Amsterdam, got another plane to Kuala Lumpur, had a 7 hour stop over there in an airport lounge, got another flight at 10:00pm-ish Kuala Lumpur time, completely failed to get any sleep on the one flight I'd promised myself I was allowed to, arrived in Melbourne, bought a coffee at the airport against my better judgement, got the airport shuttle home and collapsed into a boneless heap.

In summary:
  • Yay travel!
  • I somehow always end up reading Douglas Adams when I travel which is strange considering what happens to his characters when they travel...
  • I shouldn't be allowed to write travel blog entries because I just go on for-bloody-ever and start introducing completely irrelevant points about Douglas Adams!
Now I'm off for some extra lashings of sleep followed by a nice lie in.

*I'd just re-read Douglas Adams' Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul before we visited the gallery (and strangely enough just before my last visit too, although I'd forgotten until now) and was particularly tickled to see Michelangelo's Holy Family (or Doni Tondo) after hearing it described in Adams' wonderful way.

**Sweet mercy limencello is delicious! And now I have a recipe! Now I'm unstoppable! Mwah ha ha ha ha ha!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Travel Edition Ricochet - Week 2

This week was somewhat more sedate, what with the school, the homework and the eating but there was still a lot to see and do.

19 Oct - First thing in the morning we toddled around the corner to the school we were attending to take our placement tests and find out which class we would each be in. I started the test cheerfully filling in answers, slowed down frowning at some of the trickier tenses, got completely lost on a couple of grammatical points and got placed in a class with students from all over the place: a Kiwi, a Russian, a German, a Norwegian, a Mexican, a Spaniard and me.
Our teacher Monica was a lovely woman who rolled her R's so much it sometimes sounded like she was speaking under water.
The first day was an exciting lesson in exactly how much Italian I've forgotten and how quickly I could pick different parts of it up again. When you're a foreigner learning Italian you start waving your hands around a lot, this is an attempt to distract people whilst you try and remember the word or conjugation you're looking for as an effort to fit in.
We had an Art History Class in Italian in the afternoon which was spectacularly baffling* but which included a slide-show of paintings to admire.
We went out for a stroll around town, stopping to stare at the river and Piazza Signora before returning to the apartment for dinner and to meet Paolo again so he could turn on the heating.
Most Italians don't turn on the heating before 1st November because the charges are significantly higher out of season but we'd been damn cold the night before and were willing to take that chance!

Hannibal Lecter and now Darth Vader!?

20 Oct - In the break between language sessions we headed down to our local café to get our daily hit of coffee and pastries *drool*, ran out of time to pick something up for lunch and sat back expecting to starve.
We did not starve.
Today was the first Cooking Class.
Holy Crap.
Our teacher Agostino is a middle-age Italian man who knows his way about the kitchen but who leaves you in no doubt that you are in a man's kitchen - flinging ingredients into bowls, flinging used bowls into the sink, opening packets with a Stanley knife**.
We learned how to make traditional lasagne and a grape torte which was ridiculously tasty.
I know this because at the end of the class we all whipped out plates and got to dig into the prepared food.
Best. Class. Ever.
Once we could face the idea of walking again we hauled our stuffed stomachs back on top of our legs and staggered off to do a lap around the Pitti Palace and over and around the Ponte Vecchio.

21 Oct - By the third day I was remembering more but also remembering how bad I am at doing homework. I am woeful. I get the homework. I take it home. I go 'Eh, later', 'Eh, dinner first', 'Eh, don't feel like it', 'Eh, bed time', 'Argh! Class is in 5 minutes!'.
Our regular café is shut on Wednesdays so we went for a walk around to Piazza Santa Croce and found a coffee and flaky indulgence there before remembering we still needed to go back for some advanced bilingual thinking.
Another round of semi-incomprehensible but still pretty Art History followed by a long stroll around town, admiring the Duomo and rolling our eyes at the people complaining they couldn't go in because there was some damn ceremony on or something. The damn ceremony is called Mass people, it is a church - doi!

22 Oct - After surviving another round of language class, conversation sessions and warning my fellow students to remember that 'preservativi' is a 'false friend' and doesn't in fact mean 'preservatives' and if you ask the baker if there are 'preservativi' in your bread you are asking them if it is full of condoms***! Don't trust internet translation programs people!
At Cooking Class today we made Ignudi Alla Fiorentina which is a spinach and ricotta version of gnocchi and a Torta di riso (it's a cake made with rice! Oh the insanity!).
When we could waddle away from Agostino's kitchen we turned ourselves towards the Galleria Dell'Accademia to go see that big naked fame-whore Michelangelo's David.
He continues to be large, made of marble and entirely awesome.
I will never get over the surprise of walking into a room and HOLY CRAP IT'S DAVID!
Look around at something else, look back and HOLY CRAP IT'S DAVID!
He's one of the things that don't disappoint when you see them in real life, he really is that great.
They also had a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition running which had some excellent photographs, they didn't have any of his more risqué pieces on display but the ones on the human form were already too spicy for some of the visitors. Despite the fact they'd come to stare at a bunch of paintings and sculptures of naked people...

Yes I know the last two photos have had nothing to do with what I was talking about but I like them so nyerh!

23 Oct - Today after we chattered through our classes and ordered our coffee and increasingly decadent pastries in broken Italian we went to see the inside of the Duomo and the Battistero. When you have a good look at the Rennaissance and Gothic churches in Europe you begin to understand why the people of a few centuries ago were so devout.
First of all, big ridiculously ornate buildings are quite intimidating.
Second, the art. Dear lord, look at a couple of the paintings of the Last Judgement and you know that you do NOT want to go to Hell! The paintings of demons eating lost souls at one end and pooping them out so they can eat them again are not very welcoming!
The mosaics in the Battistero are amazing, even with the 'Beware Your Sinful Ways You Bastards!' section, especially with that section, I can't lie, I love that stuff.
They also have a lot of floors tiled to emulate the patterns of arabian rugs in Florence, the artisans were brought in from the Christian Middle East at the time and obviously did a lot of work whilst they were over.
We went out to dinner at a restaurant called Osteria del Gatto e la Volpe which takes its name from the characters in the Pinocchio story. The pizza with the bresaola and rocket was really really good, almost supernaturally good.

24 Oct - Slept late this Saturday, shouldn't have but we remain unrepentant, once we had come to terms with our deviant ways we spent a few hours exploring the Boboli Gardens, took a pass on the museums inside the Palazzo Pitti this time (being slightly museum-ed out for the time being), staring at some of the creepier bits of porcelain in the one museum we accidentally wandered into because it looked kind of like a gazebo.
We had to hotfoot it from the gardens back to the school because they were running a walking tour of the city we wanted to take. When we got there it turned out it was just us three and Donato the Art History teacher who was going to be running the tour. So he decided to take us up to San Miniato Church, one of the oldest and most important churches in Florence and we got a personal guided tour of the church and the area leading up to it complete with history and art commentary. As we were walking along the hill Donato pointed out the wild laurel that grows everywhere in the area and picked some to use in his kitchen the next day. I would love to have the knowledge and confidence to pick ingredients straight from the world around me but I'm sure I would end up with poison ivy in my mouth or something so I leave it to professionals and cheerful art enthusiasts.

25 Oct - We got a little overambitious with today, the original plan was to see both Pisa and Lucca but we got rather distracted by the parade that we came across in the Piazza Duomo on our way to the train station - men in tights, ladies in period dress, flags and drugs and trumpets! All the things that you think are now relegated to sappy movies about going to other countries to 'find yourself' and have sex with their men and/or ladies and find the happiness that does not exist in your own darn country.
We finally broke free, found our way to Pisa on a train with a super stinky toilet, survived the rather excited bus ride to the Piazza Miracoli and immediately had to fortify ourselves with lunch. We'd all been up the tower before and the wait was somewhere around 5 hours so we passed on that and went to admire the Cathedral and the Battistero of Pisa instead. The Cathedral in Pisa is in some ways more impressive than the one in Florence, more ornate, much more busy and it just feels older.
In contrast the Battistero was a lot simpler than the one in Florence but had such well balanced acoustics that a person standing in the centre of it can sing rounds with themselves as an employee demonstrated for us whilst we were there.
It was dark by the time the train headed home and all the little houses on the hills and the church with a timely tolling bell were being lit from within and below. It was nice.

*For some silly reason I completely forgot to brush up on my art criticism vocabulary before we arrived!
**You know, one of those box-cutter dealies.
***I didn't do this but I saw another English speaking lady ask that very question and the baker laughed so hard he almost inhaled his stylish 1970s moustache!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Travel Edition Ricochet - Week 1

Listen as I sing the deeds of Ricochet Abroad!

Bright was the sun and high were our hearts when we set out on our... Eh, when I say me and really my heart wasn't high so much as going gang-busters in my chest...

Alright I'll start again!

11th Oct - The trip official didn't start until the 12th of October but the bitching starts on the 11th.
I'd just spent a rather nice 5 days away for a work thing in Adelaide which was, as I have mentioned lovely, but we had booked it quite a while before I decided (twitching and daring people to challenge me on the point) that I was going to go to Italy for three weeks.
So on the evening of the 11th my workmates and myself landed at Tullamarine airport, fought through traffic and distance and an hour and a half later were back where we all live, then I loaded up my car with all my 'crud to pack later', drove another hour back to my parents' house, almost hit a kangaroo, seriously, I was less than 5 m from the damn thing when it finally decided to hop out of the way, got home, unpacked, sat up until 3:00am packing my bag, stared at the darkened ceiling for 2 hours commanding myself to sleep dammit and finally somehow drifted into an unconsciousness of a jittery, unsettled type.

12 Oct - I woke up at 6:30am (briefly convinced I had missed my flight) TO DO MY TAXES because otherwise the damn things would be late and I would be fined or something, finished packing, said goodbye to my sister before she went off to work, rang my friend who had offered to drive me to the pick-up for the airport shuttle, rang her again, started to get worried, checked her other phone, several times, started getting panicky, woke up my confused and grumpy brother, rolled him out of bed and into a car and commanded him to drive me to the shuttle, got onto the shuttle, breathed a sigh of relief, received an apologetic phonecall from my friend who had left her phone in the bathroom over night and not heard my calls*, fell asleep on the shuttle because buses are my narcolepsy zone, arrived at the airport a good 3.5 hours before my flight, got rid of my little suitcase, changed some money, gummed a sandwich, had a quick expensive flutter on the internet and then got on a plane to be plied with food and drinks for hours on end.

13 Oct - This involved a bit of time zone swapping, I stubbornly stayed awake as long as possible to try and minimise jetlag, landed in Milan, braved the metro system, found my hotel, checked in, had a shower and actually started looking around.

Milan is pretty. I don't give a damn about fashion** but the city itself is quite lovely. I decided that either I could curl up in a little jet-laggy 'Dear God I'm by myself in a foreign country!' ball of panic or go outside. Before I could think too much about it I quickly went outside and found myself at Castle Sforzesco which is a huge beautiful old building crammed with museums.

Oh and there was a market between the castle and the metro station, the food was delicious, yes it was.

If I'd known how many museums the castle contained I might not have gone in but luckily I was blissfully ignorant as I forked over my ridiculously small entrance fee and then spent the rest of the entire day wandering through museum after museum, level after level, gawping at paintings, sculptures, armour and weapons! Oh how I love ye olde armour and weapons, they're so fancy and yet the dings and holes in various pieces show they were definitely for business as well as pleasure.

Once I staggered broke free of the endless tempting succession of museums and staggered weakly out of the castle, I loaded up on bits and pieces from the market, found my way back to my hotel, gorged myself on my finds and then lay there in a coma like state watching BBC News on how we're all terrible and the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
But it's hard to be too bothered about that when you have arancini and dolci.

Oh and here is a statue of a fat guy with his brains scooped out just because it is excellent.

14 Oct - I woke up, remembered who I was and where I was and went to have a proper look at the Duomo***. From the outside the church looks like a cake. A giant elaborate marzipan monstrosity.

I honestly spent the best part of a day walking around the church, in the church, on the church roof.
I find that I miss the smell of churches. I miss the ritual and the responses. I don't miss the religion so much, not at this point, but I miss the familiar scents of frankincense, linen and years.
The rest of the day was spent wandering up and down some of the streets just enjoying the unfamiliar familiarity, the people and the coffee, oh the coffee!
Just in case you're getting worried and you're not sure you're still in the right blog here is a photo I took of a bronze horse butt!

I also bought a mobile telephone so I'd be able to contact my Italian rellies and my parents and then shamefacedly had to ask the receptionist at the hotel how to open the damn thing so I could put the battery in. He was very sympathetic, very tall and had a lovely pony-tail. That is all.

15 Oct - It was time to move on so I checked out, found my way to the train station and got the train to Verona, the home of 'Romeo and Juliet', also the home of a delightfully flustered and slightly embarrassed gay B&B owner. Turns out the room I'd booked was in the B&B he was in the process of repainting (as evidenced by the paint smudges on him, his boyfriend and their two dogs) but he had another B&B around the corner they could accommodate me in.
I walked all over town, went to visit the amphitheatre which would have been a lovely place to watch gladiator fights back in the day and which now offers opera, just as bloody in its own way.

I also had a trot up the tower and went to see 'Juliet's House'
which was covered in excited love notes, surrounded by people who were frantically rubbing poor statue Juliet's breast into a concave for good luck and general jollies and full of period furniture and quotations. I've always hated Romeo and Juliet for it's 'everybody is an idiot and if you'd just run away properly you wouldn't have ended up dead like a pair of assholes'-ness**** but I can't deny I love Shakespeare's way with words and I'll be re-reading my collection when I get home.
I picked up a take-away panino and an aranciata from a bar near my B&B to take home for dinner - onion baked into the bread, tuna, cheese and capers *drool*.

16 Oct - I'd cheated actual jet-lag but still woke up at a few odd times during the night and then early enough in the morning to get out and about, this time to spend most of the day in another castle *glee*.

I went for a walk down by the river, visited the Castelvecchio, had another art trawl through a maze of levels and corridors, took far too many photos, including this one of a child with their drawing (the more things change, the more they stay the same)...

... and then continued on over the bridge for a quick geek out over the pattern of the cobbles...

... before going for a wide-ranging ramble about town that ended in me eating an entire large mushroom and prosciutto pizza by myself. I regret nothing!

17 Oct - I sort of crapped up the start of this day, I had a luxurious sleep in which I rather enjoyed but which meant I didn't get into Bologna until about 2:00pm, a ridiculously easy amble into the centre of town later I found my hotel, checked in, popped into the Piazza Maggiore to get a map from the Tourist Information Centre just in time to join in on a walking tour run by a local lady. It was full of contradictions (eg. Bologna has never been conquered! Except for by the Pope, the Germans, a few other people...) and I have to admit I spent a bit too much time looking at this tiny dog one of the other ladies had brought along with her...

The different churches, the parts of the university, the fact that they built the famous arched walkways just so they could house university students (at least according to our guide), the two towers built by competing powerful families (one more successfully than the other, unless leaning is a sign of power) were all lovely...

...but I have to admit I got a little bit more excited by the view out of my hotel window...

This is the first time I've travelled with money not budgeted down to the last cent and I've been able to stay in hotels instead of hostels, less people to meet but it has its compensations.

Sorry, I'm sounding weird again. Here is a picture of Neptune with his willy out and a pigeon on his head.

18 Oct - Today was a bit of a jumble, I spent the morning wandering about taking photos of arched walkways...

... and buskers playing tiny electric guitars with their speakers/amps/whatever mounted on their motorbike...

... before heading back to the train station to meet up with my parents who were swapping trains on their way from Venice to Florence.
We're all 'functionally fluent' in Italian - which means we can ask for directions, hold halting and slightly stilted conversations - but Dad had apparently been unable to get any information out of the disinterested Venetian train station employee they'd bought the tickets from. Based on information Dad has SMSd me I'd worked out they'd been sold regional tickets which would mean an unnecessary 4 hour stopover in Bologna before a regional train to Florence was due so when he and Mum turned up I stole their tickets, upgraded them to a direct service and we all headed off to Florence to find our apartment and prepare for the 2 week language and cooking course we'd signed up for.

The first thing we did to prepare was stop in at the closest café to our apartment for coffee and the start of what looks to be a pastry splurge, before Paolo came to meet us with the keys, then it was time for dinner and a bit of light collapsing and blissful slumber.

*To be fair we hadn't set a time or confirmed but she had said 'Call me if you need a lift' which I think is fairly clear cut.

**Whilst at the same time admiring people who have their own style.

***As last time I was in Milan we carefully went to see The Last Supper (woo!) then had a quick decko around he middle of town and quickly ran off to another city/country/everywhere else.

****It's not that I'm NOT romantic, I just think that there are better ways to go about things than sucking and dying.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Right Place, Right Time

This week was work-lite for a work week as a handful of us got to go to Adelaide on a work trip that involved meetings, presentations and very little actual participation on our part.

This was excellent.

It also managed to bring together a range of things I'm very fond of. Dining out, good wine, amazing bookshops, trawling for quirky cafés, graffiti and street art...

And the other...

Well I will set the scene thusly.

It was Saturday night, the work commitments were well and truly behind us, a friend and I decided to take a leisurely stroll down the street, admiring the way Adelaide's weather had remained stable the entire day - and indeed the whole time we'd been there - and generally putting it on the list of places we wouldn't mind living at some point.

The evening was balmy and pleasant, the light was fading, a little take away noodle place was sending out come hither odours, a local bottle-o promised chilled beverages.

As we were negotiating which dishes we would each get so we could divvy them up like the indecisive scavengers we are, a terrifying shriek filled the air, multiplying and reverberating and growing and echoing until the whole street seemed to be wrapped in it.

And then they came.


At the front quick figures in black, belts and straps, side-arms and quickly improvised weapons.

One long-legged female figure in a slinky red dress and solid black boots, stopping coolly to aim behind her when the moment presented itself.

And behind them.

The horde.

Shambling, running, staggering, falling, clothes torn, limbs bent, intestinal integrity compromised, blood smeared and dripping from foaming mouths.

They lunged uncoordinated at gawping pedestrians, only stopped by barriers that separated the street from alfresco dining areas.

Policemen tried valiantly to herd them away from witless onlookers, twisting out of the way of open jaws and reaching hands as they went.

The Adelaide Zombie Walk was upon us.

We were right in the thick of it.

And it was glorious.

The photos I took were terrible and blurry so here is a link to a site which has much much better ones.

Keep your eyes open for Zombie Ghandi, Zombie Stormtrooper, Zombie Jesus and Zombie Panda amongst others!


Adelaide, I will be seeing you again.

The first wave of undead in the zombieapocalypse will have its ranks primarily composed of people who stopped to take photos and admire 'costumes'.