Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Posted on November 9, 2010 - by Jennifer
Okay,¬† since some of you are weary of hearing about how great our views are and how we are eating delicious food that you cannot have, this week is going to be very sports-themed in honor of the Melbourne Cup Carnival and the “race that stops a nation.”
First, an observation.¬† As a new expat it is easier to meet¬† and find common ground with fellow expats.¬† And after many conversations with expats from Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Canada etc one thing that unites us all is the way we answer this question: “What do you miss the most?”¬† The answer, without fail, is ” My family and (insert name of favorite sports team).”¬† If you are Canadian and miss hockey, good luck!¬† Aussies are also pretty lukewarm about football (soccer) so if you’re European,¬† things are not much better.¬† Plus matches are on at ungodly hours.¬† One of my friends sets alarms at 4:30am to get up and watch his team, Inter Milan play.¬† He finds a website showing the game and settles in with his coffee. ¬† By comparison, I was lucky to get the watch the Yankees at 7:30 am or 10:30 am.¬† Well, lucky if you consider it luck to see them sent packing by the Rangers‚Ä¶but I digress‚Ä¶.
Okay, so, once you stop moaning and groaning about the matches you are missing (or losing sleep to see) there are an abundance of sports to enjoy and none is more festive than the Spring Cup Carnival, a series of horse races held here in Melbourne at Flemington Race Track that seem to kind of signify the official start of Spring here in Melbourne.¬† This year, Akhil and I were invited to go to Derby Day which is a big day for both racing¬† AND fashion.¬† Before I get to the actual day, I want to talk a little about the pronunciation of “Derby”. Everyone here says ” Darby”.¬† So, naturally I assumed that unlike the Kentucky Derby, they spelled it with an “a”.¬† But, no, it’s spelled the same as our “Derby”.¬† It’s just pronounced “Darby”.¬† I did some online research to try to determine the “correct” pronunciation but instead found interesting and seemingly sound cases made for both pronunciations by some linguistic scholars and -waaaaay more fun, some knock down, drag out blog wars like the one between “Sman-21, buzzbuzz, STC,and Dyslexic Emo on bigfooty.com that deteriorated into posts such as the following
Sman-21 “When I turn into a snobby old pommy git and sing god save the queen at the football coz the actual game is so boring I have to entertain myself somehow, I will call it darby”
Apparently the derby vs darby pronunciation wars also extend to Aussie Rules.
As an American who grew up with the “derby” pronunciation, I feel just a wee bit pretentious going around saying “darby” (really echoing what Sman-21 so eloquently expresses in his blog post).¬† But, I didn’t want to be perceived as uncouth either, daaahhhling.¬† So, in honor of my Australian-American state of mind, I sometimes settled on “Derby Darby Day”.¬† And when I was feeling more obnoxious, I went with a nice, throaty, exaggerated “Daaaaaahhhhhhrrrrrrrby Day”.¬† ¬† The best time for the exaggerated “Daaaaaaaahhhhhhhrby” pronunciation is when you are at the races, wearing your enormous hat and shipping champagne (or “bubbles).¬† And that leads me to the next fabulous thing about the races – the fashion.¬† As one of my friends put it, “It’s like the entire city is going to a giant wedding”.¬† This is a pretty apt description since EVERYONE truly does get dressed up for the races.¬† The best part is that many also take public transport so that they can drink until they stagger home in their eight-inch heels or beer-soaked Armani loafers.¬† The result is city buses and trams and ferries filled with people in haute couture and huge hats and natty suits, AND fascinators. What are fascinators, you ask?¬† Well, they are delightful, feathery, spangly, dangly, sparkly things you attach to your head with a headband or a comb.¬† I had never heard of a fascinator before but, trust me, it fascinates.¬† They run the gamut from elegant, to funky, to cheeky, to, well, literally over the top. You can see photos of a few worn by my friends in the Derby Day Album.
Derby Day is traditionally black and white day for the ladies and naturally there is a contest to determine who is the most fashionable¬†on the field! ¬† Both ladies and gents strut their stuff at the Myer Fashions on the Field event, held under a massive tent right by the racetrack.¬† Contestants young and old enter in groups and parade in front of judges and winners from each group are selected.¬† Then the finalists¬† from each group are assembled and a winner is crowned, Miss America style, complete with a sash and a walk down the runway.¬† The ladies take it quite seriously while the gents are a bit more unpredictable, with a few drunk Aussie lads with jackets off and ties askew appearing onstage beside elegant fashionistas with impeccably tailored pants.¬† The whole thing is quite a spectacle but this year I experienced a special treat when the cross-dressing Dame Edna crashed the show.¬† Dame Edna is quite beloved here in his/her hometown of Melbourne so since the Dame was at the races, the show’s producers made an impromptu decision to bring her up on stage.¬† She was wearing a massive rainbow of a garment- sort of a mumu meets a a tutu- and I believe the Dame may have had a few too many glass of the “bubbles” before making her entrance.¬† This was unfortunate for the hapless presenters but delightful for the crowd!¬† What was supposed to be a brief cameo turned into an hysterical, unscripted 20-minute outright theft of the spotlight. The Dame paraded in her mumu/tutu of many colors, cracked jokes, asked embarrassing personal questions of the contestants and told one of the presenters ( I believe a local TV celeb) that he was totally useless. His female co-presenter was choking back laughter and trying to keep things moving along but the Dame was having none of it.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your view, I saw a lot more of Dame Edna than I did of horse racing because the weather for Derby Darby Day was absolutely miserable.¬† At first the grey skies and wet weather were helpful because crowds were smaller than usual and I got right down to the track for the first few races.¬† And it is pretty cool to be that close to horses going that fast, especially because we were close the finish line.¬† But, after two races, the rain just came in sheets and everyone had to seek shelter.¬† Women with spray tans dripped orange as they ran for cover.¬† Mascara ran everywhere. Being a bit of a pragmatist and knowing the forecast, I personally opted for pants and a dark shirt.¬† And I had fond a fabulous big hat at a vintage shop so I made it to cover without any major make-up mishaps.¬† But, basically the entire rest of the day was spent drinking huge quantities of alcohol while huddling under a tent (actually, the tent at the bookmakers!)¬† It was too wet to venture out even to watch the main race on the TV monitors, which were exposed to the rain.¬† So, I saw minimal racing and had a wicked hangover.¬† That said, I would go again for the people-watching and in the hopes of a better day with more opportunity to see the actual races.
Like the Derby, the Melbourne Cup or the “race that stops a nation” is of course held here in Melbourne where everything does come to a grinding halt because people in Victoria are given the day off work. ¬† The unlucky people in the other states have to go to work (suckers). But, since our clothes were still drying from Saturday’s adventures at Flemington, we decided to watch from the comfort of a warm, dry pub where the “nation” had stopped everything EXCEPT eating, drinking, and betting.¬† Since we got there early to secure seats,¬† we had time to actually do a bit of research on the horses.¬† So, I learned a few interesting things about racing in Australia.¬† One thing I learned is that the Melbourne Cup is a handicap race, meaning that the best horses are required to carry extra weight.¬† As a newcomer to racing,¬† I am having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around this concept.¬† To the untrained (me) the logic seems something like this:¬† An owner invests money in a horse and then selects a really talented and knowledgable trainer.¬† Said trainer works with the horse for months or years, perfecting the horse’s fitness and technique.¬† The horse puts in months and years of work to build speed, strength, and endurance. ¬† On the day, the jockey guides the horse skillfully in the race.¬† Because of all this hard work, dedication, and skill, the horse wins a big race like the Derby or the Melbourne Cup.¬† And the result?¬† Well, basically, it’s “Hey, great job owner, trainer, jockey, and horse.¬† Now as a reward in the next big race you get to wear a whole bunch of lead in your saddle to slow you down so the other horses have a chance and the bookies can make more money.” ¬† Maybe I’m too heavily influenced by the American ideology of rewarding success?¬† But why does the playing field have to be leveled by a “handicap”? Perhaps the reasoning behind it is more subtle and sophisticated?¬† Maybe if I said “darby” instead of “derby” I would understand?
Anyway, back to the big race.¬† This year’s Cup Carnival had pretty poor conditions as it has been one of the wettest springs on record.¬† So on Saturday’s Derby Day the races were run on “heavy” tracks, meaning basically ridiculously wet and sloppy.¬† By Cup Day on Tuesday, the weather was cold and drizzly but not as wet so it was considered a¬† “dead” track which is defined as a racing surface that is infirm or lacking resiliency. We placed our money on two horses, with the sentimental choice being Descarado, a horse trained by colorful Melbourne resident Gai Waterhouse¬† http://www.theage.com.au/sport/horseracing/gais-back-with-unfinished-business-20101101-17ak8.html .
In short, Gai is a former actress turned trainer who actually had quite a fight to get her trainer’s license because her ex-husband was involved in some sort of betting scandal.¬† Anyway, she fought the establishment and won so how could I resist?¬† She is now a hall of fame trainer with numerous racing successes but the Cup continues to elude her.¬† Sadly for our plucky heroine, this year was no exception.¬† Descarado got off to a great start and was in the top three almost to the very end when he suddenly pulled up shy of the finish line.¬† In my opinion, Descarado was probably making a silent and misunderstood protest re: the whole handicap thing because poor Descarado was flying around the track “handicapped” by extra weight.¬† As he got to the finish line, he was probably like, “Wait a minute‚Ä¶they put lead in my saddle?‚Ä¶this is bullshit!”¬† Gai seems to think that it was the track conditions and if you’re interested in her slightly more learned and nuanced perspective, she blogs about it at gaiwaterhouse.com.au
So, the rebellious Descarado ultimately recorded a “failed to finish”.¬† Also, in case you are interested, the winner was a horse named Americain, who truly embodies globalization being born and bred in America,¬† owned by Aussies, trained in France, and raced in the Cup by a french jockey based in Hong Kong.¬† And the Aussies who are so insistent about pronouncing “Derby” as “Darby” consistently butchered the French pronunciation of “Americain”, pronouncing it instead as “cane” as in “sugarcane” or “John McCain”.¬† If necessary, this is ammunition I may pull out in a “derby” vs “darby” argument
Perhaps less glamorous but certainly not less popular, I turn now to the other sport of the week – Cricket.¬† India continues to best Australia in Internationals so Akhil is (quietly) happy.¬† And on the local level we have learned that the team in bright yellow who have played several times on the oval beneath our window are, in fact, the St. Kilda Saints who represent our neighborhood in Victoria Premier Cricket.¬† The Saints were founded in the 1850’s when club cricket was more informal and the Melbourne champion was basically chosen by journalists.¬† But, in the 1870’s more structure was introduced and eventually led to pennant matches, and a Challenge Cup. Today clubs like St. Kilda have multiple teams at different levels ( I believe St Kilda has four teams)¬† And since the early 1900’s, St Kilda’s A team has an impressive 18 titles and the Saints are tied with the Melbourne Demons for winningest record.¬† It is so rare in life to be on the side of the saints that I really do have to take this opportunity!
The cricket pitch below us, known as the St Kilda Cricket Ground or Junction Oval (because it is located at the junction of two of St Kilda’s main roads) apparently has quite an illustrious history including that Australian cricket great Shane Warne made his first-class debut here with St Kilda.
Unfortunately heavy rains these past few weeks have prevented some scheduled matches from being played at all.¬† And we seem to be seeing the C or D teams here rather than the A teams. So, recently we saw one of the St Kilda teams getting trounced by Camberwell.¬† But, according¬† to the Victorian Premier Cricket website, St Kilda’s A team are faring better.¬† So, hopefully they will come to our oval soon or else we’ll (sigh) make the long journey to another oval to see them play. ¬† In the meantime, as new fans of the St. Kilda Saint’s, I’d like to share with you their fight song. Grab a friend and a spot of tea and start practicing.¬† It’s so‚Ä¶what’s the word?‚Ä¶rousing?
“Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside
Oh, we do like to be beside the sea
Down at the Junction there’s a cricket ground
And that’s where The Saints all hang around
So, let’s hear three cheers for old St Kilda
This year successful we will be
Though it’s not quite in the bag
We’ve got hopes to win the flag
Beside the seaside, beside the sea”
Come on‚Ä¶try it out in the shower‚Ä¶it’s a cracker!
Posted on November 2, 2010 - by Jennifer
So, for those of you who finished reading last week’s installment of the Melbourne Diaries and were just dying to know the answer to the question about why some mornings there are balloons in the Melbourne sky, I have solved the riddle.¬† In fact, I had solved the riddle last week and just did not know it.¬† It is, in fact, Australians saying, “What a great morning for a balloon ride!”¬† Apparently you can spend a pretty hefty chunk of change (about $300) and book a sunrise balloon ride over the city. ¬† The tour operators call at¬† some ungodly, pre-dawn hour to confirm that weather conditions are favorable and you can go up and then they pick you up around 5:30 am and then you float around for a while.¬† Since this is Melbourne, the balloon ride is followed by a champagne breakfast.¬† I guess it’s never too early for champagne.
Which brings me to another interesting, alcohol-related aspect of life here in Melbourne – the open container.¬† So, Melbourne is much more relaxed about booze in general.¬† A lot of restaurants, even high end restaurants, will allow you to BYOB.¬† They may charge you a corkage fee to drink your wine there but you can bring your own.¬† You can also take the bottle of wine you have purchased at a restaurant with you.¬† So, no need to guzzle it down there just because you’ve paid for it.¬† Also, it is perfectly legal to stroll down the street with an open can of alcohol.¬† Technically, I believe there are laws governing when you can do this but I’m not sure they are strictly enforced.¬† So, you will routinely see someone in broad daylight strolling down a main street with a can of beer.¬† We live in a¬† relatively posh area so these are not homeless people or students or backpackers (who do also hang out here in St Kilda).¬† The well-heeled of St Kilda will sip beer as they walk their posh dogs.¬† The best (or worst) experience I have had with this was near Flinders Street Station downtown where I encountered a gentleman walking with a can of Wild Turkey.¬† Firstly, I was not aware that you can buy Wild Turkey in a can.¬† So, I was taking that in.¬† Secondly, I was slightly queasy just thinking about what it’s like to drink Wild Turkey from a can.¬† For you Washingtonians, this would be the equivalent of casually strolling around Union Station with a can (and I must emphasize that it’s in a can!) of Jim Beam.
Also, not to dwell too long on alcohol, but what I have NOT seen here is a single can of Fosters.¬† I don’t even think it is Australian.¬† Probably, like Hagen Daaz, it is made in New Jersey.
Perhaps because you can stroll around town with a can of beer (or bourbon or whiskey), people watching is a great pastime here.¬† I continue to spend time on Chapel Street at the Supa Store because the goods are cheap and the people-watching is priceless.¬† This week, as I examined some pillow covers, an Eastern European lady basically tried to take me out from behind.¬† I’m not exaggerating. She was old and short and wide and I did not see her coming!¬† Next thing I know, I am flying through space.¬† I’m not quite sure (since I was still reeling from the blow) but I think she had decided that in spite of my being in a VERY narrow aisle and in spite of her having a not very narrow frame, she could “squeeze” past me.¬† It was a strange decision, given that there was a perfectly wide (and empty) aisle close to where I was standing.¬† But, nevertheless, I was apparently the path of least resistance.¬† She did sort of mumble an apology (either that¬† or she cursed me for getting in her way).¬† I was still kind of trying to process the hit that this woman had just put on me, when I made my way to the counter with my pillow covers ($2.50 each, by the way, for the best faux silk in China).¬† As I was walking up, the Japanese woman behind the counter was exclaiming very enthusiastically to a tanned man in his early 40’s that he was getting a fantastic bargain because last week the item in question had cost $150 and now it was $99.¬† Naturally, I looked to see what he was buying and it was a giant replica of the Eiffel Tower meant, it seemed, to be used as a lawn ornament.¬† i’m kind of rubbing my eyes at this point, wondering if I’m just seeing things but, no, this gentleman really was feeling extremely fortunate to have found the last Eiffel Tower replica (and on sale, no less!) at the Supa Store.¬† I meekly paid for my pillow cases and wondered if I should go find myself a can of Wild Turkey?
This past week I had an email from someone who said, “So, are you doing anything in Melbourne other than eating and drinking?”¬† And, I thought to myself, “What a strange question? Other than sport, those are the pastimes of Melbourne.” I might argue that since my time is largely spent in pursuit¬† of the best coffee, food, and wine (when I am not playing or watching sports), that I am being extremely culturally sensitive!¬† I mean, long term there are plans for hiking in the outback and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef but in Melbourne itself, people are obsessed with only a few things and those include where to swim and where to eat and drink.¬† Oh, and the weather.¬† In fact, in Melbourne, I have learned that the weather is not one of those things you talk about to be polite and neutral or when you have nothing else to discuss.¬† The weather is a major and important topic of conversation.¬† People discuss the weather here with the seriousness with which they discuss politics in Washington D.C.¬† They check forecasts constantly. In particular, what people like to discuss is not the weather you are currently experiencing but the weather that is coming.¬† So, it could be a gorgeous day without a cloud in the sky and you could be sitting there enjoying the feeling of warm sun on your face and a Melbournian will say, “Hmmm‚Ä¶it’s supposed to get windy later” or “The forecast for this weekend is really shit”.¬† I was discussing this strange phenomenon with my Swiss-Italian friend Aldo as we sat at our neighborhood beer garden. I went to get us some beers and, I swear, the young bartenders were not discussing girls, or sport, but the weekend weather.
On the subject of food (and finding the good stuff in a new city), it helps to have a Swiss-Italian friend.¬† So, naturally, I got one.¬† He lives pretty nearby and he’s a consultant who is currently “on the bench” so he has a lot of time on his hands.¬† He took me to a great pizza place in St. Kilda which is not really the neighborhood best known for Italian food so I would probably never have tried it without his guidance.¬† And that would have been sad because it was delicious.¬† They open at 6pm and we walked in shortly after 6 and the staff were in the kitchen dancing to “Time of my Life” from Dirty Dancing.¬† We walked in and the young Italian woman paused, mid-step and fired, “Do you know this song?”¬† And I said, “Yes (slightly hesitantly)”.¬† And she said, “What movie is it from?” And I said, (hopefully) “Dirty Dancing.”¬† And she exclaimed, with great joy, “Of course it is!”¬† And then we were given a table.¬† I am not sure what would have happened if I had answered incorrectly‚Ä¶
But now, since some of you are tired of hearing about eating and drinking, here are some other things I’ve learned. Like Americans, Australians like to shorten names.¬† And Australians love a nickname.¬† So, in the women’s ultimate league I’ve been playing in, naturally, my name was immediately shortened to “Jen”.¬† But, then it was quickly modified to “Jen-o”.¬† This doesn’t sound jolly and roly-poly like “Jell-o” when Australians say it.¬† Instead it’s this sort of elongated sound with the “Je” being soft and flat sounding and the “n” being sort of insignificant and the “o” being very loud and enthusiastic.¬† So, when I showed up to play my second game, I was greeted by many shouts of “Hey, it’s Jen-o!¬† Jen-o!¬† Jen-ooooooh!”¬† When I hear it, I picture a scrappy but lovable creature that should live in the Australian Outback. The Jen-o is small and furry with big, endearing eyes.¬† In the Disney movie, the Jen-o would be friends with a wise Kangaroo and a spastic Tasmanian Devil.¬† On the BBC, Attenborough would say, “Although the Jen-o is cunning and resourceful, it is constantly threatened by the ___ that stalks the outback” (cut to shot of a Jen-o narrowly escaping the jaws of said outback predator).
In my continuing tales of adjusting to life in a high rise, this week I learned what it’s like when the lifts (elevators) stop working.¬† Yup.¬† You guessed it.¬† You walk up and down 17 flights of stairs.¬† Basically, you minimize the number of times you are willing to leave your apartment.¬† Delicious pot of mussels at the Belgian beer cafe?¬† I’m in.¬† Checking the mail?¬† No thanks. (Sorry – another food reference.¬† So hard not to talk about‚Ä¶)
On a more serious note, I paid a visit to the Shrine of Remembrance, which as I understand it was built primarily (or originally ) to honor Australian soldiers who served in WW1 but was later expanded to include WW2 and the Vietnam War.¬† I did not realize how many Australian soldiers served in WW1 and what a toll it took on the country. An astonishing number of Australians were killed or injured in the war and it was fascinating to read about what inspired young Australian men and women to serve, where they ended up, and how it impacted their generation and the next.¬† The Shrine is currently exhibiting a fascinating photography collection featuring the personal photos of two Australian brothers who served in the war.¬† Although soldiers were often prohibited from carrying cameras or taking photographs for fear they might inadvertently give away positions or alarm the folks back home, these brothers managed to carry a camera with them throughout their service.¬† Since they were obviously otherwise occupied during combat, what they captured with their camera was a part of war you don’t often see – the quiet times, the waiting, hours passing the time in a camp or a foxhole.¬† The photographs tell an incredible and very personal story.¬† One thing the brothers did was to photograph the hastily constructed grave markers that were erected in battle fields to mark the spots were their friends and fellow soldiers fell.¬† Families in Australia were distraught that they might never receive the remains of their loved ones who had fallen in battle and indeed many bodies took a long time to be recovered or never were.¬† So, the Australian brothers photographed the makeshift grave sites so that at least the families in Australia could have the comfort of knowing where the bodies lay and that they had been honored in some way.¬† The collection also features numerous photos taken after the war ended as the brothers and others waited months for a ship that could return them to Australia.¬† It was something I had never considered – that soldiers so far from home couldn’t simply go home at the end of the war.¬† The armed forces had a system and you had to wait until it was your turn to board a ship and then, of course, it took a long time for that ship to sail from Europe to Australia.¬† If I remember correctly, it was 9 months after their service ended that they finally arrived home.¬† So, in the meantime, they photographed they ways soldiers passed the time, waiting to get home to their families.¬† One of the most remarkable things about the collection is that it almost never saw the light of day.¬† When the brothers returned, they bought adjoining plots of land, married, and settled back into life in rural Australia. Like many, they did not speak about their experiences during the war.¬† And they took the photographs they shot and tucked them away.¬† They had both developed a passion for photography so they continued to photograph friends and family. And they kept in touch with the men they had served with until their deaths. But, they never revealed that they had this collection of photographs documenting their experiences.¬† Many years later, the photos and rolls of undeveloped film were discovered in a container headed for the dump, a precious record and amazing story nearly lost.
Next week I’ll have tales from “the races” as we are going to the Darby on Saturday and possibly the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, a race so big that it’s a national holiday (and I’m assuming that’s because no one would turn up for work anyway).¬† Since I’ve never been to a horse race, I hope to return with stories.¬† Until then‚Ä¶
Posted on November 2, 2010 - by Jennifer
So, Week Two has been more eventful than Week One.¬† I guess that’s to be expected, right?¬† Today I learned what it is like to experience a massive rainstorm when your apartment is basically sheets of glass on the 17th floor of a high rise.¬† Observation: it is really f***ing loud!¬† I awoke in the early hours to pounding rain and howling winds that sounded as if they were coming from all sides.¬† When you are not being awakened by this weather phenomenon, it is actually pretty cool to watch a storm roll in from this high up.¬† But, when you are awakened and your brain is kind of working things out, there is definitely a moment when you’re thinking, “Can this rain get me?” Anyway, it didn’t.¬† Myself and the apartment are still standing‚Ä¶
Another kind of sky/weather related phenomenon I’ve noticed here in Melbourne, especially being up this high, is that I see a surprising number of hot air balloons. Not really sure why?¬† Our first weekend here, we woke up on the Saturday to see several hot air balloons drifting over Albert Park Lake.¬† I guessed that maybe they were taking aerial shots for the broadcast of the AFL grand final replay here in Melbourne (sort of like the blimps over football stadiums at home). But, yesterday morning I again awoke to balloons, this time floating over towards the bay. ¬† Is this some sort of “eye in the sky”?¬† Should I be worried? Or is it just common for people to go hot-air ballooning here?¬† I’m going to need to investigate‚Ä¶
This week we made several important discoveries.¬† The first two were food-related.¬† On our second trip to Ikea which is in a suburb called Richmond, we discovered that Richmond is home to Little Vietnam.¬† And that means lots and lots of Pho!¬† There is basically several blocks of little, mostly casual, family-owned restaurants serving Vietnamese food.¬† Many have carcasses hanging in the windows. It is, perhaps, not a vegetarian’s dream but I think we are going to be spending some time in Richmond eating dishes we’ve never heard of and hoping (in my case) that they do not secretly include pork.¬† We also saw some Indian restaurants a few blocks away so we definitely think more culinary delights await us in this neighborhood.¬† Which, speaking of, was our second discovery.¬† We found good, cheap Indian food right in the city center!¬† We figured we were going to have to go further away from the city to find real Indian food, particularly south indian food, particularly dosai (a very delicious south indian crepe-like pile of deliciousness that, if you have never tasted, you should immediately figure out some way to make it happen.¬† I’m serious.¬† Stop reading this and go make it happen)¬† Anyway, should you come to visit us one of our stops will be at Flora which is one of the most touristy parts of town.¬† We found online reviews that said it was the real deal and that it was mostly Indians and Sri Lankan’s that frequented the place but we were skeptical.¬† However, it’s right on the tram line and we figured it was worth a shot.¬† We walked in and, sure enough, it was all Indian and Sri Lankan families and a few Brits. The food is ordered and served without ceremony but it is warm and fragrant and tasty and cheap and you can watch clips from Bollywood movies as you stuff your face.
We did do other things besides eating this week.¬† I made a an important discovery that I think all newcomers to Melbourne need to know about, yet I do not see it any of the helpful online guides to living in Melbourne.¬† There’s a famous street in Melbourne called Chapel street and it’s very long and leads up the Yarra River which runs right through the city.¬† And Chapel is just loads and loads of shops.¬† But what’s cool about it is that it’s a mix of super cool, trendy boutiques (many up and coming designers have stores here) and pricey cafes and restaurants but it’s also home to secondhand shops and, most importantly, the Asian “supa” store.¬† When I discovered the Asian “supa” store, I was furious that I got suckered into paying retail for household goods during my first week and vowed never to do it again!¬† Basically these stores are like old fashioned five and dime stores with a little bit of everything.¬† There really is one called “Supa Store” and I loved it so much that I now just call all of them that.¬† Everything in the stores are, of course, made in China. ¬† So, for example, you can buy a dish-drying rack made by the chinese “King of Wood”. This evokes a great image in my mind of a dignified, older chinese man with a round belly and a wise countenance. He sits on a wooden throne and gestures widely to show the expanse of his kingdom (of wood). ¬† Anyway, you have to comparison shop amongst all the supa stores to find the best deals.¬† I learned this because I shop there on weekday afternoons with the little old Asian ladies and¬† older Eastern European couples, who comparison shop with a keen eye. The other thing I learned from the Asians and the Eastern Europeans is that if you’re going to shop via public transportation or on foot, you need a little four-wheeled shopping cart.¬† Yup.¬† Gotta have it.¬† Otherwise your arms get laden with all your purchases and your shoulders ache.¬† There’s just no use trying to be cool- if you’re going to buy that buddha statue and that dish-drying rack you need plus fresh fruit and veg and that handmade Italian pasta from the Prahran Market, you need a little shopping cart.¬† So, Akhil and I embraced our inner little old lady and bought one (after comparing prices at all the “supa” stores, of course!)¬† We wheel it around with pride because that’s just how we roll here in Melbourne.
Lest you think we spent the entire week slumming it here in Melbourne, we actually did spend some time seeing how the other half lives.¬† Our friend Kylie is friend’s with a winemaker in Geelong and invited us to a “release party” at this very posh place called the Press Club.¬† So, it was a lot of important people with extensive knowledge of the Australian wine industry who were very excited about the release of these 2010 wines‚Ä¶and us.¬† The winery hosting the dinner is called Lethbridge and they are a small, 5-star winery in Geelong that, from what I could tell, have a cult following amongst Australian critics and serious wine drinkers. They produce small batches of their signature wines and they release them and the critics rave and the wines sell out.¬† I don’t think they sell any of their wines outside of Australia, which is unfortunate for all of you ¬† As an aside, Australians are very proud of their wines.¬† And, frankly, rightfully so.¬† They kind of resent that the rest of the world doesn’t know and respect their wines.¬† They don’t like being represented in the U.S. by Yellowtail.¬† And nothing gets a real Australian wine enthusiast going like innocently remarking that you like New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.¬† Do not make this mistake!¬† Well, if you’re at a boring dinner party in Australia and you want to get the conversation going, do it.¬† But, if you want to make friends, say something like, ” I know the market is flooded with these overrated New Zealand Sauv Blancs but I think the Sauv Blancs coming out of Australia are so much more refined on the palette. “¬† This statement will win you friends.¬† Anyway, attending a dinner hosted by Lethbridge is super hip and cool and we drank a lot of good wine and ended up ordering some.¬† Our small supply will be gone by the time any of you come to visit but Geelong is actually really close by and we’ve been told we can just come down to the vineyard and have lunch.¬† Oh, I should mention that the owners and winemakers Ray and Maree are the most charming, down to earth, lovely people who produce these really amazing wines and clearly take the process quite seriously but don’t take themselves that seriously.¬† And, probably the most amusing moment of the night was at the end when we met Ray and learned that he is from south India!¬† Amazing to live in a world where borders are so fluid that a south Indian married to an American moves to Australia for work and meets a south Indian married to an Australian who has become the darling of the Australian wine industry.
Somewhere between highbrow and lowbrow, I also made myself attend a “newcomers network” function this week.¬† I was not looking forward to it because at the last minute Akhil had to go to Sydney so I had to fly solo to this bar and they tell you in the online description of the event that you are going to have to wear a name tag and I pictured myself, all alone, walking into a crowded bar and finding this group of “newcomers” and having to walk up to strangers and introduce myself and I sort of envisioned that there might be some skeevy, older men who go to these functions trying to prey upon vulnerable newcomers‚Ä¶anyway, let’s just say I wasn’t really looking forward to it and I nearly didn’t go but at the last minute I jumped on a tram and headed to the bar.¬† And I’m really glad I went because it was nothing like I pictured (mostly).¬† The bar was quiet and old and elegant and when I walked into the room, I saw to my right a small group of people, seated comfortably and chatting and they welcomed me right into the circle. They did make me wear a name tag and introduce myself but after that it was just nice conversation with a pretty eclectic bunch of people.¬† There was one skeevy middle-aged guy who showed up after me but he was largely ignored and left.¬† I was the only American (which was okay by me) and I met a lovely Finnish woman and a nice Swiss guy and a gregarious Canadian woman who had been living in Amsterdam before moving here. Several of us ended up heading out to dinner afterwards at a burger joint in one of Melbourne’s famous little laneways.¬† Australians like their red meat so I wasn’t sure how i would fare at this place but ( I heart Australia) they had three different types of veggie burgers on the menu!¬† I mean, I cannot think of a burger place in the U.S. where you can get more than some half-ass, pre-made veggie patty.¬† So, pleasant surprise.¬† Food aside, it was great to meet some people experiencing the same challenges and adjustments and I exchanged numbers with several people so today I actually got to text with friends, which sounds really lame but the only calls and texts I get here (other than from my husband) are related to furniture deliveries so it’s just a really nice thing to get a text from a new friend inviting you to coffee.
Which brings me to my last subject which is that this week I was finally reunited with the iPhone. For reasons I won’t bore most of you with, you are not supposed to be able to take a phone from the U.S. and bring it to Australia and use it.¬† But, nobody likes that rule because it is stupid and iPhones are so much more expensive here than in the U.S. that naturally smart people went to work on a way to “unlock” U.S. iPhones so that you can use them here.¬† Basically, you take your phone to a chinese lady and she works some magic and now you can use it here. Problem is that Akhil had gifted me with the latest iPhone and, as of last week, the superheroes who figure out how to unlock these phones (and then tell the chinese ladies) have not figured out how to unlock the iPhone 4. So, I spent a miserable week trying to use a $30 Nokia phone that just SUCKS.¬† It sucks.¬† It is cruel and unusual punishment to use one of these phones.¬† The worst part is that everyone here texts.¬† And trying to text with the stupid “T9″ function and the tiny little buttons and god forbid you want to insert a number or a piece of punctuation.¬† I would start to type a text and then get so frustrated that I would throw the phone at Akhil (who has an unlocked iPhone) and sigh tragically and say, “You type.¬† I simply cannot go on this way”.¬† I think Akhil¬† was getting bit weary of his angry wife hurling phones at him so he came up with the genius idea of unlocking my old iPhone (the original, old school iPhone that they cracked the code on long ago).¬† So, I am reunited with the iPhone and, seriously, I never want to be parted again.¬† You can mock me if you want.¬† But, then you will come to Australia to visit and I will make you use my $30 Nokia phone and you will cry and hurl it at people and ask them to text for you‚Ä¶I promise‚Ä¶
Last thing for the week – Aussie slang.¬† People, at least in Melbourne, do not say “G’day mate”.¬† I’m actually not sure that anyone other than Crocodile Dundee does that.¬† Instead of “How are you?” or “What’s up?” they say, “How’re you going?”¬† And, my most favorite slang so far, instead of saying “Just show up” they say, “Just rock up”.¬† So, for example, when I was talking to a girl about joining a women’s ultimate team she said, “You can got to the website to sign up for a team or just rock up on the night”.¬† It makes everything you do sound so much cooler.¬† I’m not just coming, I’m rocking up.¬† If that doesn’t put some swagger in your step, I don’t know what will.
Oh, and I nearly forgot, many of you have suggested that if we are going to keep bragging about our amazing views, we should share some pictures.¬† We are still using prepaid mobile broadband (for a variety of frustrating reasons involving bank accounts, needed equipment, and Akhil’s recent travel schedule) so I can’t upload much as mobile broadband here is painfully slow.¬† But, I’ve got an album¬† with a few pictures of the apartment on Picasa Web and here’s the link http://picasaweb.google.com/jencrescenzo/EarlyDaysInMelbourneAustralia#
Posted on May 24, 2010 - by Jennifer
My talented and amazing friend Andrea Leoncavallo, a freelance photographer and documentary filmmaker in Portland, Oregon recently photographed me for her yearlong series “She Inspires 365″ in which she challenged herself to create 365 portraits of women which would be revealed on her blog, one each day. Andrea describes the project as “a space for recognizing the natural brilliance of women” so ¬†I was really honored to become woman 214!
Andrea and I met many years ago when she joined the staff of Video/Action, a not-for-profit production company in Washington D.C. dedicated to telling the stories of those whose voices are rarely heard (the founder, Robin Smith, is woman in the series). ¬†I was the Senior Producer at the time and we had a small staff, limited resources, and numerous deadlines. And we felt an enormous responsibility to the very courageous people we were working with who shared their often painful stories, on camera, in order to help others. ¬†So, bringing a new person on staff was always challenging and a little nerve-wracking. ¬†You can teach someone how to book a crew or put together a production schedule. ¬†You can help them write interview questions. ¬†You can suggest how they might find a story arc. ¬†But , in my view, you cannot teach someone how to make a woman feel supported as she describes years of abuse or how to make a father who has lost his daughter feel comfortable speaking about the night she was murdered. ¬†That ability is something that comes from within, a genuine desire to listen and to create a safe space for people to share their stories. ¬†And, while I am always flattered when I hear Andrea refer to me as her mentor, I believe this is a gift that she always had and that, perhaps, I simply helped her access. ¬†And she brings that same gift to this amazing photographic series, putting her subjects at ease and inviting them to share. The results are really lovely – by turns funny, and whimsical, and magical, and wise and inspiring. ¬†We had a blast during our photo shoot which basically just involved me babbling (semi-coherently) about why I practice yoga and then doing a short practice for Andrea to photograph. ¬†So, go check it out and feel the power of 216 women and counting…
Posted on January 19, 2010 - by Jennifer
I was very honored recently to be voted president of a wonderful organization called the Mid-Atlantic Yoga Association(MAYA). ¬†MAYA has been serving the yoga community since the early 1980’s and it continues to evolve to meet the needs of today’s yoga studios, teachers, and practitioners. ¬†As a not-for-profit organization our mission is to foster and support the thriving yoga community in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. and to expand that community through events and activities that can bring yoga to even more people! ¬†To that end, we sponsor D.C. Yoga Week, VA Yoga Week, and other events that provide free or low-cost yoga classes across the area and offer the opportunity for students to try new studios, teachers, and styles of yoga. ¬†And this fall we are planning the first ever Yoga Film Festival! ¬†To learn more about MAYA and upcoming events, please visit our website at www.midatlanticyoga.org or check back here.
Posted on January 6, 2010 - by Jennifer
Monday January 4, 2010: ¬† In yoga, we babble on a lot about the journey rather than the destination. ¬†So, it is perhaps incredibly appropriate that when I sat for my mediation on Monday, I was completely oblivious to the fact that I had, in fact, reached my goal of 30 straight days of meditation! ¬†Colors did not explode before my eyes. ¬†Light beams did not shoot from my belly. ¬†The universe did not swallow me whole. ¬†There’s no Hollywood ending to this meditation story. ¬†In fact, I hope this 30 days isn’t really an ending at all but rather the foundation of a more regular (if not daily) meditation practice. ¬†Later, I plan to review all 30 meditation posts and write about the experience as a whole. ¬†I’m curious about patterns that may emerge. ¬†But, for now, I’ll just describe what happened on Monday night. ¬†I sat for meditation in the late evening. ¬†Since I had the whole house to myself, I decided to chant the bija mantra and to do it with some gusto (maybe a reaction to my stealth meditations during our Luray vacation with friends?) ¬†So I began the bija mantra and the process of moving the energy upwards. ¬†I noticed immediately that the flow of energy was quite strong, stronger than it had been in a while. ¬†Once focused on the two uppermost chakras (forehead and crown) I felt a return of that almost violent pulsation behind my cheeks and eyelids and up towards the crown of my head. ¬†It was similar to experiences in several previous meditations where it felt like I was blinking rapidly and constantly (imagine a tic) even though my eyes were closed. ¬†It felt like the energy was almost desperate to escape the confines of my body. ¬†I decided to just see where this went so I sat there until the pulse subsided to a more gentle, wave-like movement. ¬†After experiencing that for a while, I decided to try moving the energy back down my spine with another round of the bija mantra. ¬†But, I wasn’t quite able to direct it. ¬†Even as I chanted the mantras and shifted my awareness to the lower chakras, the energy continued to pulse in the upper chakras (even my prana is stubborn!) ¬†I can best describe it as feeling a channel or tube that ran from the point between my eyebrows to my heart and back. ¬†Energy just continued to flow steadily through that channel until I concluded the meditation.
Posted on January 5, 2010 - by Jennifer
Sunday January 3, 2010: ¬†Today we drove home from Luray so I was back in my little home yoga studio for meditation. ¬†I was glad to be back in my own spot but I had some trouble settling in at first. ¬†I decided to work with the ham sa mantra and started working my way up the chakras but when I got to the heart chakra, my heart suddenly felt as if it were beating wildly. ¬†It was similar to what happens to me when I’m at home alone, maybe reading quietly, and I think I hear a strange noise. ¬†I sort of freeze a little, I strain to hear better, to decipher the sound, and I can feel my heart beat accelerating. ¬†I did not begin this meditation in an anxious state and I felt very safe and secure but this physical sensation was so similar to the physical sensation produced by fear or anxiety that it was very distracting. ¬†So, I decided to try to shift my awareness up to my third eye chakra (point described as between or just above the brows) to see if that would steady my heart beat. ¬†It did. ¬†And, as I stayed with that internal gaze at the third eye chakra, I started to see colors. ¬†I know some meditators often see colors but I have only seen them a few times during this past month of meditation. ¬†The colors and shapes I saw were very distinct. ¬†At first, I saw a small yellow circle within a larger purple circle. ¬†Then the outer purple circle bloomed into large purple flowers with small, yellow centers. It was soothing to watch these beautiful colored flowers so I stayed with it. Then, after a time, I decided to try moving the energy back down through the chakras. ¬†Although I could feel energy flowing down towards the lower chakras, I could still see the flowers blooming at the third eye chakra for most of the remainder of the meditation. ¬†When I finished meditating, I was curious as to whether those colors are associated with any particular chakra, or emotional or mental state, or both? So, I did some research and learned that purple is actually the color associated with the third eye chakra! ¬†I also learned that yellow is the color associated with the solar plexus chakra. ¬†I’m not expert enough to know what it means that I saw this combination of colors but a little research into the chakras and colors themselves gave me this information. ¬† The third eye chakra, I read, is associated with both rational intelligence and intuition, the ability to perceive information about people or things through emotional intelligence. ¬†It is also associated with the ability to see the truth about yourself.¬† If this energy is grounded and balanced, it helps us set goals and work around obstacles by tapping into our open mind and creative problem-solving skills. ¬† We stunt growth at this chakra by ¬†denying our own behavior patterns and believing that we are independent and don’t need help or cannot learn anything new. ¬†But, if this chakra is over-active, it can lead to paranoia or hypersensitivity, a disconnect from reality and a feeling that everything is, somehow, about you. ¬†The solar plexus chakra is associated with determination and will. ¬†If this chakra is functioning well, you exude self-confidence, stand up for what you believe in, and attract good people into your life. ¬†And you have the discipline and stamina to get through tough times. But, if it’s over-active, you can be too controlling and impatient, determined to have your own way all the time. ¬† I’m not sure what all this adds up to exactly but as 2009 drew to an end and I tried to examine my choices and behavior and what I might change, I definitely returned again and again to several themes 1) how grateful I am for the many good, good people in my life and the opportunities I had in 2009 ¬†2) ¬†my desire for new challenges in 2010 3) how to nurture my better qualities ( determination, passion, curiosity, creativity) and stay vigilant about certain destructive tendencies (controlling, impatient, over-sensitive). ¬†And those musings might have left an impression on my subconscious that manifested itself in those purple and yellow flowers! ¬†My pounding heart is still a bit of a mystery but perhaps much as we welcome change, we also fear it?
Posted on January 4, 2010 - by Jennifer
Quiet Mind Yoga, 3423 14th St. N.W., Washington D.C. 20010¬†www.quietminddc.com: I teach two yoga classes per week at Quiet Mind Yoga in Columbia Heights on 14th Street., right near the intersection with Newton Street. ¬†You’ll find me there on Fridays at 12:30 pm and on Sundays at 12 pm. ¬†Friday is a slower flow with a bit more time spent breaking down the poses. ¬†Sunday is a more challenging flow, often with a playful vibe. ¬†No matter how invigorating the flow, both classes incorporate some longer-held postures in the Yin Yoga style.
Quiet Mind is a really lovely studio, both because of owner Nicole Foley’s hard work and vision and the students who come here to practice. ¬†People are supportive and respectful, both of their teachers and their fellow students.
The studio offers a great introductory deal – $20/2 weeks of unlimited classes. ¬†After that drop-ins are $16/class but class passes and monthly or yearly memberships can knock the price per class down to $7 or less!
Yoga District, Bloomingdale Studio, 1830 First St. N.W., Washington D.C. 20001 www.yogadistrict.com : ¬†Yoga District’s Bloomingdale Studio at 1st and Rhode Island is in a diverse and eclectic neighborhood and the studio really reflects that. ¬†I got a warm welcome from the staff and students and enjoy the regular crew at my Slow Flow class on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 and the students joining my new(ish) Slow Flow class on Thursday’s at 8pm. ¬†What does slow flow mean? ¬†Well, we don’t always flow and it’s not always slow ¬†I’d describe the class as a combination of flowing sequences and some longer-held poses. ¬† I sometimes teach more traditional sun salutations from the Sivananda or Ashtanga traditions but I also offer sequences influenced by dance and martial arts and teachers like Suzee Grilley and Shiva Rea. ¬†Before we get into the “flow”, I always break down the ¬†movements. ¬†As we build into sequences, I offer modifications for beginners and challenges for advanced students. ¬†So, there’s something for everyone!
One of the great things about Yoga District is their philosophy of making yoga accessible for everyone. ¬†That means offering some of the lowest priced classes in town. ¬†A drop-in class is only $10 (you will not find a better deal anywhere in D.C.) and multi-class passes can make classes even more affordable!
Spiral Flight Yoga, 1826 Wisconsin Avenue N.W., Washington D.C. 20007 www.spiralflightyoga.com : Look out for a Yin Yoga workshop (or several) this summer at the lovely Spiral Flight Yoga studio, right across from the recently re-opened Georgetown “social” ¬†Safeway!
Posted on January 4, 2010 - by Jennifer
Saturday January 2, 2010: ¬†So this was our last night at the vacation rental in Luray. ¬†Some time that morning, as the wind howled outside, we lost our heat. ¬†That set our teeth chattering inside! ¬†Fortunately, Luray Caverns is nearby and the caves are a constant 54 degrees (which was better than we could say for the house!) ¬†So, we went to warm up there and to marvel at ¬†stalagmites, stalactites, flows and other cave wonders. There are a lot of really stunning formations to see in the caverns but one phenomenon that captured my attention for quite a while was the crystal pool. ¬†This pool appears to be an entire underwater world of stalagmites and stalactites but is really just a very shallow pool of water reflecting the formations on the ceiling. ¬†The water is so clear and still that you cannot tell that what you are seeing is merely a reflection until you sort of tell your mind that it’s only an illusion and refocus your eyes. ¬†It sounds simplistic but the optical illusion is really stunning and I couldn’t stop ¬†repeating the process of allowing myself to see the magical underwater world in all its magnificent brilliance and depth and then forcing myself to acknowledge the reality of the shallow pool. ¬†Yogis believe that the way we experience the entire world is a similar illusion and that meditation is one way to break through the illusion and see the “shallow pool” of our existence. ¬†Once we do, we can let go of the thoughts and actions that bind us to this limited existence and experience a world that is boundless in its depth and brilliance. ¬† We spent about an hour in the caves and, about halfway through, I began to feel my old nemesis, chronic back pain, radiating through my lower back and snaking into my hips. ¬†I didn’t want to cut the trip short so I really had to shut out the sensation of the pain in order to continue walking, pausing, and appreciating the cavern in all its detail. ¬†I’m glad I did but by the end I was a little drained. ¬†After the caves and trip to the grocery store, we returned to our still cold home. ¬†Hours later and a visit from the owner and his father (an HVAC man) we still didn’t really have working heat. ¬†So, we made the best of it with hats, gloves, blankets, and a fire in the fireplace. ¬†Naturally, I also made one last trip to the hot tub! ¬†A lot of the cloud cover was now gone and I got the best view of the stars that last night. ¬†But, with all this time spent appreciating natural beauty (and watching movies in front of the fire) I didn’t get to meditation until quite late. ¬†So, it felt more like a peaceful transition to sleep than a really productive meditation. ¬†I did sit for a good 20 minutes. ¬†To focus, I tried the ham sa/so ham mantra and I could feel a slight upward pulse. ¬†Earlier in the day, pain had radiated from my lower spine and now I felt easy and comfortable in my body. ¬†Mentally, my time in the cave was probably more of a meditation – requiring me to push aside physical discomfort in order to experience insight. ¬†Physically, that 20 minutes of seated meditation was more refreshing and afterwards I slept deeply and comfortably.
Posted on January 3, 2010 - by Jennifer
Friday January 1, 2010: ¬†So, my meditation streak has officially survived into 2010! ¬†It was not easy as I was away at a vacation rental with friends and there were books and games and bottles of wine and the “cadillac” of hot tubs (this thing had room for 16 with a variety of lights and jets and audio entertainment). ¬†On Friday evening, several friends and I had gone into the hot tub but no one can last in hot, bubbling water longer than I can and my friends left and went inside. ¬†So, it was just me alone with the sounds of a gusting wind and a sort of ghostly mist rising off the water and a few scattered stars. ¬†Alone in the water on New Year’s Day, I did begin to contemplate the year I had left behind and the year I was now in. ¬†Patience (and my general lack of it) was on my mind. ¬†I contemplated how impatience or snap judgement had contributed to some missteps in 2009 and vowed to be more patient in the new year (I am picturing my next 30 day challenge as 30 straight days of never honking my horn!)¬†¬†I thought to myself, “Couldn’t I just meditate here?” ¬†But, it somehow seemed a little wrong. I mean, I was surrounded by nature but I was also in this very decadent toy. ¬†So, reluctantly, I got out of the warm water and into the freezing cold air and went inside to meditate. ¬†Maybe because I’d been in this very still, contemplative state in water, I found myself restless when I tried to sit for meditation. ¬†I was unfocused and, I’ll admit, it was one of the few times when I felt the meditation as a burden, something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do. ¬†Often over the past few weeks I’ve had to be use real discipline to go and sit for meditation when I’m tired or busy or distracted. ¬†But, usually once I get settled in, those feelings pass and I’m really glad to be there. ¬†This is one of the few times when I never really felt like I connected to the process. ¬†I tried using the ham sa mantra. ¬†It did provide a focus and I could feel a slow movement of energy up towards the crown of my head but I never really dove deep. ¬†Rather, I felt like I was on the surface of the meditation, like I was in the water and I could see the waves but I could not feel their pull.