This is my final Aussie post, closing out Australia Week.
One of the things I love discovering as I've made my meager travels slowly across this world, is the knowledge that is common place in other countries that we are completely oblivious to here in America. My first Dumb American column featured some basic British knowledge I gleaned during my 2007 trip to London.
Here are a few things I picked up in my three weeks abroad in Australia.
The Australian Flag
Always know your flags, that's what I always say! Ok, maybe it's not, but I do love learning the symbolism behind the flag design for every place I visit. The flag of Australia is made up of the Union Jack in the upper left corner pledging Australia's allegiance to the British Empire; the Commonwealth Star, whose seven points represent the 6 original states of Australia plus an extra point for the territories and any future states; and the Southern Cross, the most distinctive constellation visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
Pretty cool! Whatever you do, don't confuse it with rival New Zealand's flag, which is nearly identical:
We've all seen Crocodile Dundee, or maybe the Crocodile Hunter (rest in peace) and have had fun trying to speak in the Aussie accent using what we think are typical Australian words a la "Shrimp on the Barbie" etc. Sorry Outback, but down under, there are no shrimp, but what they do have are prawn. In fact, there are a surprisingly high number of words that needed translation for this dumb American. Aussies call their exclusive string of slang, "Strine," which Wikipedia explains "is a term coined in 1964 and subsequently used to describe a joke or made-up "language" purportedly spoken by Australians. The term is a syncope, derived from a phonetic rendition of the pronunciation of the word "Australian" in an exaggerated Broad Australian accent."
A google search will produce many lists of translations like this one, which are definitely worth checking out for some cultural awareness. Below are a few personal favorites (with their translations) and they were words I certainly did hear with regularity down under!
Biscuits = Cookies Cuppa = Cup of Tea Chips = Fries Rocket = Arugula Lollies = Candy Ankle-biter = child or baby Arvo = Afternoon Pot = 285 ml Beer Glass Brekkie = Breakfast
I've already vented my frustration with the coffee in Australia. To recap, there is no brewed/filtered coffee as we know it in Australia. They've got Italian espresso drinks galore, and believe it or not, tons of instant coffee, but no plain old coffee. To compensate, I got by with what is called a Long Black. Similar to an Americana, a Long Black (or Short Black if you just want a few sips) is a double shot of espresso poured onto hot water (an Americana is the reverse). This is a considerably stronger alternative to coffee, but for those of you, like me, who can't stomach too much dairy, but need their coffee, this is the only way to survive.
Australians have a few other creative espresso drinks including Flat Whites and Babyccinos. In my search for a good pic of a Long Black (out of the hundreds of pics I took, I somehow never got one of the a Long Black, despite how often I drank them!) I came across this great blog that lays out Australian coffees perfectly (as well as a bunch of other posts on being an outsider in Australia). Check it out and consider yourself a little less of a dumb American.
A few more random facts
Australians don't tip and the tax is included in the price of food. This makes splitting the bill extremely easy. If you order a $10 sandwich and $3 long black, you contribute $13. That's it.
If an Australian asks you if you want to go to the arcade, they aren't talking about a big dirty room full of pinball machines, video games, and tweens. An Australian arcade is simply a mall.
Australians drive on the left side of the road just like jolly old England.
Australian toilets have 2 buttons to flush. One for half tank, to conserve water, which there is always a shortage of, and a second for full tank for those morning-afters when you really need it:
Known in Australia not only for her famous wallpaper designs which were available for purchase at home and abroad by the wealthy elite of the 1960s but also for her grisly and still unsolved murder in 1977, Florence Broadhurst was one of the most eccentric women I've ever read about. Sporting bright red hair and black kohl lined eyes until her death, I found myself both admiring and abhorring Florence for the lies she told and sheer determination to get what she wanted.
Born in Queensland in 1899, Florence was a singer, performer, entrepreneur, painter, and wallpaper designer who lived abroad in Shanghai and England before returning to Australia to live in Sydney, where she denied her Australian heritage telling people instead that she was British. Throughout her life was constantly reinventing herself, going from profession to profession and creating a personal history to fit her needs. Most impressive was her wild abandon to follow her heart and to do everything in her power to mold herself into the woman she wanted to be, even if that contradicted who she was last year. Most tragic was the nature of her death, a gruesome murder in her Paddington neighborhood of Sydney, where evidence showed the 78 year old woman defended herself against who many believe was a person she knew.
I developed a small obsession with Florence during my last week in Sydney. I wanted desperately to buy a souvenir that sported one of her wallpaper designs, for they are everywhere- on rugs, linens, bags. But alas, I had exceeded my budget in Melbourne! I did, however, make a pilgrimage to Royalston St. in Paddington where Florence's final studio resided. I'm not sure which building housed the studio, but it excited me to know I was on the street where Florence created her masterpieces, and lived out her final dreams as an artist.
Melbourne. Australia's mecca for artists. When I meet an Aussie at a gig or show somewhere, I never bother with the "where in Australia are you from" question; 9 out of 10 times the answer will be Melbourne. Not because this is where all the musicians in Australia are miraculously born (though don't they all wish it!), but this is the city they want to be associated with. You may have been born in "Shitney" (that's Sydney to all non-residents) but if like your average Aussie jazz musician you spent a few years at VCA- Victoria College of the Arts, then you will lay claim to this gritty city as your homeland.
And for good reason. Melbourne is bad ass. A stark contrast from Sydney, the city is about an hour tram ride from Port Phillip, a bay located on the southern side of Victoria. With no beaches in immediate proximity to the heart of the city, it seems the bored relied upon their imaginations rather than surfing skills to occupy their time. This would account not only for the thriving performing arts scene, but also for the hip fashion industry and plethora of artsy cafes. There is also a passion for sports with a huge stadium home to several Australian football and rugby teams. I found some great running routes up and down the Yarra River, which cuts through the city, as well as along the shore of the aforementioned Port Phillip bay.
Home to the contemporary arts is the super modern Federation Square. Here we perused art exhibits of Aboriginal art as well as an interesting exhibition of bicycles. With several large-screen tvs and cafe seating my travel companions and I spent numerous breaks sitting, drinking cappuccinos, eating something creamy, and watching the Olympics. We also took in a performance of Philippe Gentry's Lands End at the Arts Centre. Loved the theater, which included an exhibit of the Melbourne Ballet Company's costumes. The performance, eh... not my cup of tea. It had a distinct french Cirque deSolei minus the major acrobatics feel that made me feel like I watching extremely watered down theatrical modern dance. Then again, I do tend to be a bit of snob when it comes to anything remotely close to staged dance.
I also surprisingly found myself being a bit snobbish as I listened in on a few jazz shows. I'm usually pretty open to most interpretations of jazz, but a few of the shows I heard took the use of the word "jazz" almost too liberally. I'm certainly not a jazz "big J" (as the BF likes to call it) purist. It doesn't all have to swing or employ a flat 3 or 7 for me to enjoy it, but I think out of the four or so gigs I attended, including one at Bennet's Lane, the major jazz club of Melbourne, the one that featured a singer doing standards was the most enjoyable- I could've hung at that bar listening all night. After talking with a few Melbyjazzers, it seems the style of jazz they enjoy most is the more free, modal, almost atmospheric jazz. I must admit, while I would get into two or three songs out of 2 sets, the majority of what I heard was absent of an obvious set form, even melody, and the tempos and grooves were remarkably the same. The solos were often the equivalent of a Hemingway type sitting at a cafe smoking a cigarette uttering a stream of consciousness philosophy on life. Seemingly hip at first, boring and pretentious after the second paragraph, I mean chorus. While it is always fun to see where live performance will go when a set form is absent, or abandoned, and I did enjoy several of the tunes, I found myself just dying for a blues. Something that established a key center and purposely stayed in or out, creating harmony or dissonance, not vagueness.
One area that I did not embrace snobbery was in the shopping! Oh my GOSH I would have given anything to be let free with a sky high credit card limit that I didn't have to pay off! We spent our shopping days mostly out on the streets, with one day in an outlet mall. I am happy to report not a Gap, Express, or Banana Republic in site! In addition to some small jewelry, my favorite purchases were for bags by Australian designers that are unavailable right now in the states. Ah, the victory of owning something semi-exclusive! If you are into designer bags, I highly suggest checking out Nicola Cerini and Catherine Manuellfor pure awesomeness in a bag.
Artistry abiding in Melbourne, even the weather could not escape! Moody as any artist I know, it would rain for 5 minutes, be sunny for the next 7, cloudy for 2, then back to sunny. These moods, just like it's inhabitants, created an almost daily ultimate beauty. Some may consider Melbourne to be home of Australia's arts, but after seeing a rainbow almost every day of my week long trip, I will always remember Melbourne as the city of rainbows.
Sydney is not the capital of Australia as many think; that honor goes to Canberra, a city that like our own capital of D.C., is not part of one of the seven states of Australia. Instead, Canberra lays at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory, or A.C.T. as it is locally called.
One word to describe Sydney? Beautiful. That may sound generic but my shoddy photography above of the Sydney Harbor (taken from the Taronga Zoo) does not begin to convey the vibrant shades of blue that the water and sky share, or the varying greens that are found in the bush along the road and water, some plants looking like they could fit in along Hollywood Boulevard, others seem to be straight out of the high deserts. And the birds! They were the first real indicator that I was in a foreign country. The first morning in Sydney I awoke bright and early (thanks jet-lag for forcing me to sleep at an early 4 PM the day before!) hearing the most beautiful, and unrecognizable bird songs. Now I know absolutely nothing about birds, much less their calls, and I was shocked that I even realized that these sounded different. I guess music, even birdsong, has a way of seeping into your subconsciousness without you realizing it. These new-to-me birds sang beautifully! Maria would have been in heaven, and probably win herself another Grammy!
I spent the majority of my time in Sydney hanging out at Manly Beach. Sydney is comprised of a series of beaches to the north and south of the main city. These beaches are not at all what you find along the eastern coast of the US. Instead of being long and straight with one beach ending where the next begins, as it is here, these beaches are more like little coves that are book-ended by cliffs. You can't really walk from one beach to the next staying just on the sand. Check out this map and you'll see how the coast curves in and out, and is not straight. Also, the beaches themselves are much smaller. There are few sand dunes and the road pretty much goes right next to the beach, which is lined with palm trees and other green vegetation.
Manly is a cute little surf town with a rivalry with southern Bondi. Bondi was by far more spectacular, as it was bigger with lots of glamour and trend. But the smaller more homey Manly definitely fit my personality much better with its more intimate beach and alternate wharf side. Manly is sandwiched between the ocean and a wharf (seen below). Connecting the two bodies of water is the "Corso," an outdoor strip of shops and cafes. There was a definite laid back feel and while it was too cool to shed the jacket, sitting in the sun offered the therapeutic revitalization I was craving.
While sitting on the beach enjoying a huge hand-held sushi roll was certainly relaxing to the nth degree, I didn't necessarily find the town inspiring, at least not in the heart of the city. One afternoon trip took me to the tip of the Northern Beaches to the Barrenjoey Head Aquatic Reserve. We took a short hike to the lighthouse and it was there I felt the beauty and authenticity of the terrain really start to seep in. Earlier that day I went for a run along Dee Why Beach, another little beach in Northern Sydney. This was a great run because I deviated from my path, sacrificing mileage for adventure, and explored the side of a small cliff bordering the beach (plus running in the sand is a bitch!). I felt I was truly exploring the landscape hands on, which was way more exciting than walking through the CDB. That day was probably my favorite day during my stay in Sydney.
If you should visit Sydney, definitely check out the tourist book staples, but don't hesitate to jump on one of the many ferries, and head out to the smaller beaches. This is where you'll find the true charm of the city and dare I say, country.
I have this deep burning desire to become a musical journalist. I want to travel to every footpath, canal, hillside and highway of this earth, meet every personality that accompanies each terrain, and return to my NY apartment and write music about those experiences.
Australia was meant to be my guinea pig. I would travel there for 3 weeks, visiting Sydney and Melbourne, and be so inspired, returning to write tune upon tune expressing the joys (or perils) of my travels. Way easier said than done.
To begin with, Australia, or at least the cities of Sydney and Melbourne aren't remarkably different from US towns. Sydney felt like Honolulu and Melbourne felt like NY, though there were obvious differences that I'll delve into later this week.
As I look over the 10 pages of notes I took, mostly about the jazz gigs I went to, I feel a distinct yearning to return. Not so much because I want to relive my experiences there, but because I felt there was so much I missed. Being in Sydney was like having a tall glass of fresh air and sunshine. The grit in Melbourne touched base with my artistic side. I want to write music about it all, but am not sure what to write. Nothing about the places I visited was vastly different than other places I've experienced.
So instead I will focus on the feeling that I experienced while there. One tune I haven't started writing is already titled "Keep Left."
These signs appear frequently on the road to remind drivers to literally, keep to your left. This was of course novel to me in the beginning as I had kinda forgotten that Australians drive on the left side of the street. But this notion became a theme throughout my trip.
At the time I was in training for the NYC Marathon and had to squeeze in about4 runs every week. This was great as I got to see and explore many different areas that I most likely would not have otherwise. But one thing I kept forgetting was to run on the left side of the sidewalk. I habitually and with out thinking would repeatedly start off running on the right side of the path and inevitably bump into someone having to then say in my American accent, Oh excuse me, pardon me, my bad. It was a constant reminder that while I felt like I was in just another city, I most certainly was not. And as the trip progressed, I started to feel this reminder more and more aggressively.
Just about everyone I met was super nice. Clerks were friendly and friends of friends welcoming. The people I stayed with were extremely generous and kind. They all lived up to the laid back friendly idea we have of the typical Australian persona. But through subtle comments and friendly jabs I started to get the sense that there was something to proved. An almost "we're just as good" plea for attention. Which was absolutely ridiculous because never once had I ever thought anything about Australia wasn't. Nevertheless, there was a constant need to compare and conclude how, basically America drools and Australia rules. By the end of the trip I had the frustrating feeling that I hadn't been allowed to naturally form an opinion.
One example: coffee. Melbourne is known for it's incredible coffee. From what I understand, a while back there was a huge migration of Italians to the city who brought with them their fine espresso making skills. Now there is a plethora of cafes serving up lattes and cappuccinos worthy of rivaling the best Italian concoctions. As you can imagine, I was super excited to partake! But by the time I got to Brunswick Street in Melbourne, I was so sick of hearing about how much better this coffee was, especially in comparison to American coffee which is, gasp! and god forbid, filtered coffee, I had developed a negative opinion of the beverage before even trying it. It was hard to form a honest opinion as I rebelliously wanted to dislike every latte I drank.
And thus there was a constant reminder to Keep Left. In case you forgot, you're not in America, which sucks by the way, you are in Australia, home of the world's bestest cup of coffee, ever... EVER. And so a tune of aggressive melodies and clashes I shall write (while drinking a cup of filtered coffee, STARBUCKS brand just to rub it in!).
Aggressive reminders of greatness aside, I developed a fairly deep appreciation and empathy for the extremely kind and generous people that took care of me on this trip. And that will be the subject of my second Australian tune. As those experiences were a bit more personal, I'd rather let the music speak for itself.
[when can you hear these new tunes you ask? April 22! save the date! more later...]
I learned a lot from this trip. Not as much about Australia as I had hoped, but more about the nature and circumstance of traveling. Some things were very practical: always carry water and a snack as you never know when you won't be able to get food and drink. Don't rely on credit cards in a foreign country (I had nightmarish experience with my credit card, which I thought would be easier to use as opposed to converting Australian cash, resulting in my having to make an international collect call every three or so days to give verbal permission to keep the card active. I was there for 3 weeks, you do the math). Pack clothes for all weather occasions. It was winter there, but a mild one compared the current winter NYC is experiencing. I packed a bunch of blouses and light sweaters and took my pea coat. I was FREEZING the entire time! While it never dipped far below low 50s or so Fahrenheit, there were never moments of warming up as it is common to have only a space heater indoors, not central heat. The way to go was to layer long sleeve undershirts, something I did NOT bring.
I also learned that what you get out of traveling is entirely dependent on the circumstance in which you are traveling. An obvious point, but one that was hammered in hard. I regret not researching ahead. My companions frequently asked what I wanted to do to "experience Australia" and I had no ideas, figuring I could wing it. Turns out, it's hard to wing it when you can not drive in that country! I also wish I had spent the extra money to plan a few excursions that would have taken me out of the cities and suburbs.
Do I recommend the long 20 hour flight to visit a country that is not too different from our own? Absolutely. Everyone should experience other cultures no matter how minute the differences. Do I want to go back? Yes. I would love to visit the beaches of Queensland, return to Victoria and travel the Great Ocean Road, I'd even love to go to Western Australia and check out Perth.
While my August travels had their bumps, my desire to explore the world and it's people has only deepened. This was the first step, I hope, of many.
Today launches Aussie Week here at Bottomless Cup. As a few of you loyal readers know, I had the privilege of spending 3 weeks in Australia back in August. While I had planned to "live-blog" my experiences while there, Internet was hard to come by and my laptop gave out almost immediately upon landing in the southern hemisphere. When I returned home, I was quickly distracted with other things and never got the chance to opine about my experiences. Five months late, I chalk up this week's delayed memoirs to the laid-back Aussie way of getting to it when I get to it! ;)
The tradition of having Australia Day as a national holiday on 26 January is a recent one. Not until 1935 did all the Australian states and territories use that name to mark that date. Not until 1994 did they begin to celebrate Australia Day consistently as a public holiday on that date1.
The tradition of noticing 26 January began early in the nineteenth century with Sydney almanacs referring to First Landing Day or Foundation Day. That was the day in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of eleven convict ships from Great Britain and the first governor of New South Wales, arrived at Sydney Cove. The raising of the Union Jack there symbolised British occupation of the eastern half of the continent claimed by Captain James Cook on 22 August in 1770.2
Some immigrants who prospered in Sydney, especially those who had been convicts or the sons of convicts, began marking the colony's beginnings with an anniversary dinner - 'an emancipist festival' to celebrate their love of the land they lived in. Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the emancipists' friend, made the thirtieth anniversary of the day in 1818 a public holiday, thirty guns counting out the years of British civilization, a tradition Macquarie's successors continued.3
Go here for a most thorough history of this celebration.
What are you planning on doing to celebrate? For those of you in NYC, I suggest checking out Murph's Guide for a listing of Aussie-inspired events. Those of you outside of NYC, you'll have to do your own google searches!
Either way, I suggest you make your way to your local Target, where it is rumored that Tim-Tams, Australia's most divine chocolate biscuits are on sale for a limited time. After purchasing a fair share of these delicious cookies (limited time sales people!!!) treat yourself to a Tim-Tam Slam. What's that, you ask? I'll let Aussie native Natalie Imbruglia explain:
The day started off quite cloudy this morning in Sydney.
But true to the cheerful Aussie way, the clouds have parted, showing off it's beautiful blue sky and letting in the warm sunlight that keeps this winter a mild 15C, or 59F.
This morning I was set loose at Manly Beach as Nad had various errands and appointments to attend to. I relished my freedom, roaming randomly from street to street, zig-zagging between the harbour side and the ocean side. I had no shame snapping pictures on my outdated camera of the beach and shops.
Really, this area of town is not much different from the states. It actually reminds me a lot of Honolulu, with a noticeable lack of Starbucks, Niketowns, and Cold Stone Creameries and not nearly as crowded. And clean, SO clean. And not just in the lack of trash on the streets (London wins my award for cleanest streets). But in the air. The air is so fresh! Not that Sydney is without it's share of pollution, but compared to the grime that saturates the air of NYC, this is a truly refreshing break!
Not only is the air cleaner and the views amazing, but the food so far has been incredible! I had the best fish & chips at The Bower overlooking Shelley Beach. Last night's chicken vindaloo was the perfect balance of spice! Or perhaps the grass is always greener on the other country.
But GOD! I LOVE traveling!
Once again I question my career choice. Why music? I should have been a travel guide writer, or host a show like Samantha Brown!
But perhaps there is a way to incorporate travel and composition. I would LOVE to be paid to travel to a city, embrace its culture, and write music in reflection. Hell, I'd love to be paid to write music! But seriously... could there be a future in this? Maybe with the right grant writing skills?
I think I will use this holiday to practice. I'll make it my goal to write, or at least sketch out, 2-3 tunes in reflection of my time here. We'll see what happens, and perhaps I will find a way to embrace my two loves of travel and composition.