Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tablecloths Gliding In Immediate Take-off

As pointed out in a recent Schneider post and Darling list email, the EP we recorded last year was reviewed by a French-language music e-zine, Derives.net. As a result, evidently, it's selling in Belgium.

So I'm no professor of French, which is why I had it converted to English by a web translator. What came out is a 'beaut:

‘Ground i's sound' this is as naïve as to fall in love and to feel jaunty, this also is blessed gods as a fresh shower squarely canicule, the sensation to be at the right place at the right moment.

Darling this is a little the brother more intello, melancholic and subtle of Human Television. There where the latter sawed us literally in two with as irresistible as immediate melodies, Darling arrives to the same result but by diverted ways, with more of depth and of musical wealth, evoking peels mixes The Clean and David Kilgour, the Pavement, Havergal and Modest Mouse of the beginnings, but with a good dose of reverb to the Chuzzlewit / Roy Montgomery, sufficiently of innovations, of charms the trust, And of introversion to leave mouth gapes.

Darling is at the basis an American, started one up trio to the fall 2003, to kill boredom, as a duet between Jeff Schneider and Jason Munchoff, rejoined in 2004 by Jesslyn Jalayerian then going out this first ep in 2005.

In the better one worlds, Darling would be currently to the place of Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, but being given the infime impact of this webzine, if nothing budges somewhere else, ‘Ground i's sound' just condemned to become the one of these discs worships destined to point finger the unsuitability between the affection of the masses indie and a pointed talent that chooses a way.

With its seven songs in thirty-five minutes in a done scored booklet hand and feeling again the paint, the disc holds more of a mini-album than of an ep. A very beautiful declaration of intention, an evident one for a group that already must have the impression to preach in the desert. Nevertheless of my side after two days of listens, I not some let go, this disc succeeds as little to combine spontaneity, freshness, melancholy.

A thing to say to the listens first piece, amen, one wants well to sign black on white, directly, that one will follow the group to the track, religious, also a long time as it will explore the same earths with such a accuracy and fineness of emotions. ‘Ground i's sound' transports us to each listens to the seventh sky, these direct vocal ones and touching, this guitar reflected. A minute of weightlessness before the piece does not begin really, bucolic and growing green, with crazy acoustic guitars to purity it proud unbelievable, tablecloths gliding in immediate take-off, rhythms invigorating. Completely the piece kind of which I did not dare to dream so far, one types foot in rhythm, the cœur fébrile.

‘Keyholes' more melancholic east, poignant and intimist, as a David Kilgour that would have undergone the influence of the Early Day Mine. ‘Reading Lines' recalls the beginnings of Havergal in his construction in ellipse, a guitar reflected that awakens a melancholic pain interior, a fragile construction to the simplicity that adorned made unstable nevertheless to the first one listens. Again a piece to listen some curls to the loss total knowledge. ‘Nightlight' continues in this mixture between naïve melodies, evident melancholic and fuzzy of réverbérations and of structures, to every time saving. This that gives a certain saving ambiguity to Darling that returns the unique and original group.

The sky opens somewhat the time of ‘Turning Gray' where it group offers more evidence mélodique, losing a little his mystery. On ‘Pulling down', the song somewhat hesitating adds a certain beneficial décallage to which one participate tablecloths of atmospheric synthé. At the start of finally banal elements, Darling aligns the miracles with a character force exemplary. On this piece, the guitar holds the ramp and does not loosen it, finishing in a stunning and épurée climbed reflected. The ep finishes quietly on ‘Lights are low', not deviating any his trajectory.

Darling begins with a first disc absolutely excel that gives envies to pray all the saints for that it quickly is followed by an album of the even believed and that the group to go out quickly anonymity type where it vegetates for the moment.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Vindie-cation

From Pitchfork's top albums of 2005 list on our shared favorite album, Illinois:

Stories always feel more important when you tack them onto a map. Real places, people, and myths give us a way into a private story-- or cast the story in doubt. And while for years, the singer/songwriter tradition has assigned the mopiest songs to the lone acoustic guitar, a ballad can sound even sadder if you bring in a banjo and a choir. Sufjan Stevens' gift for crossing the grand with the intimate partly explains how Illinois landed at the top of this list: He wraps his stories in landmarks and footnotes, ornaments them with glorious countermelodies, and celebrates them like a Fourth of July parade.

We thought Stevens' breakthrough came two years ago on Michigan, but Illinois improves on it in every way: He takes more chances with humor and myth, the palette's richer, and the new drummer puts oomph behind Stevens' falsetto. It's still tempting to look for messages and slogans in his view of America, and to ask whether his gift for seeing us as we are comes with an urge to tell us how we should be. But Stevens insists that he's interested more than anything in singing about people, from beside a death bed, to inside the head of a serial killer, to someone tearing away his past in a van heading out of town. And he made a classic by empathizing with the loves and needs of those people, and watching them seek and wander while the landmarks on his map of Illinois stay fixed. --Chris Dahlen

It also got a nod in Amazon.com (#1), The Onion AV Club (#5), and even Rolling Stone (#9). Collectively it was the highest rated album on Metacritic.com. I suppose I can stop praising it, now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Top 100 Songs of 2005

I was released from jury duty early, as all the cases slated for today at the 6th Circuit Court of Cook County were settled w/out trial. It gave me time to go to the bank, email friends in Sydney to ask about what's going on in Cronulla, research the LSAT, and check my credit score. After all these unenjoyable and far too boring activities, I set about an annual tradition of ranking my favorite songs of the year. This marks the third year I've done so (see the lists from 2003 and 2004), and I had a much tougher time finding 100, given that I was gone for half the year. I'll be the first to admit the latter half is padded with the lesser songs of the better albums, but still worth a listing and a listen. (And if you're looking for a comparable, slightly more versatile list, visit www.chrisnotes.com)

Enjoy:

100.) Sufjan Stevens - Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois

99.) Ryan Adams & The Cardinals- Magnolia Mountain

98.) Beck - E-Pro

97.) Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire - Banking On A Myth

96.) The Unicorns – Ghost Mountain*

95.) Sigur Ros - Gong

94.) Okkervil River – In A Radio Song

93.) The Dears – Expect The Worst/'Cos She's A Tourist*

92.) Smog - Feather By Feather*

91.) Hanalei – Action Drum*

90.) Cloud Cult – Outside of Your Skin

89.) Bright Eyes – Train Under Water

88.) Teenage Fanclub – Don’t Hide

87.) Spoon – Sister Jack

86.) Calexico/Iron & Wine – Dead Man’s Will

85.) The Russian Futurists – Paul Simon

84.) Okkervil River – In A Radio Song

83.) Death Cab For Cutie – Marching Bands Of Manhattan

82.) Stars – Set Yourself On Fire

81.) Fruit Bats – Lives of Crime

80.) Nada Surf – Do It Again

79.) Dave Matthews Band – Out of My Hands

78.) Ben Folds - Landed

77.) Bloc Party - So Here We Are

76.) The Decemberists – Eli, The Barrow Boy

75.) Eels – Old Shit/New Shit

74.) Tegan and Sara – Where Does The Good Go?*

73.) Teenage Fanclub – Fallen Leaves

72.) Gorillaz – Dare

71.) Spoon – Merchants of Soul

70.) The Decemberists – The Bagman’s Gambit

69.) The Frames - Too Many Sad Words Make A Sad Sad Song

68.) Okkervil River – Black

67.) The National – Secret Meeting

66.) Bright Eyes – Take It Easy (Love Nothing)

65.) M. Ward – Oh, Take Me Back

64.) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! – Clap Your Hands!

63.) Kanye West – Gold Digger

62.) Iron & Wine – Woman King

61.) Ben Folds – Bastard

60.) Sufjan Stevens – Casimir Pulaski Day

59.) Scissor Sisters - Take Your Mama

58.) Jack Johnson – Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

57.) Bloc Party – Banquet

56.) Sigur Ros – Milano

55.) Calexico/Iron & Wine – Burn That Broken Bed

54.) Bright Eyes – Arc of Time

53.) Tegan and Sara – You Wouldn’t Like Me*

52.) Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire - Masterfade

51.) Calexico/Iron & Wine – 16, Maybe Less

50.) Norfolk & Western – Day One

49.) Death Cab For Cutie – Brothers on a Hotel Bed

48.) Belle and Sebastian - Dog On Wheels*

47.) Spoon – I Summon You

46.) Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Dance All Night

45.) Sufjan Stevens – The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders

44.) Reef – Place Your Hands*

43.) Alex Lloyd – 1000 Miles

42.) Coldplay – Kingdom Come

41.) Doves – Black and White Town

40.) Beck – Black Tambourine

39.) Death Cab For Cutie – I Will Follow You Into The Dark

38.) M. Ward – One Life Away

37.) Smog – Butterflies Drowned In Wine*

36.) Dave Matthews Band – You Might Die Trying

35.) Sigur Ros - Hoppipolla Afturabak

34.) Foo Fighters – Best of You

33.) Calexico/Iron & Wine – History of Lovers

32.) Broken Social Scene – Backyards*

31.) Mark Geary – Ghost*

30.) Bright Eyes - Lua

29.) Ben Lee – Catch My Disease

28.) Daft Punk – Technologic

27.) Sufjan Stevens – John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

26.) The Decemberists – 16 Military Wives

25.) Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire - A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left

24.) Massive Attack – Angel*

23.) Death Cab For Cuite – Different Names For The Same Thing

22.) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! – Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away

21.) M. Ward – You Still Believe In Me

20.) Sufjan Stevens – Decatur, Or, Round Of Applause For Your Stepmother!

19.) The Shins – We Will Become Silhouettes*

18.) Spoon – They Never Got You

17.) Beck – Girl

16.) Iron & Wine – Evening On The Ground

15.) Sigur Ros – Glosoli

14.) Bright Eyes - At The Bottom Of Everything

13.) Ben Folds – Jesusland

12.) Sufjan Stevens – Come On! Feel The Illinoise!

11.) Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.

10.) Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire – Fake Palindromes

9.) M. Ward – Four Hours In Washington

8.) Coldplay – Fix You

7.) The Frames – Leave

6.) Stars – Your Ex-Lover Is Dead

5.) Iron & Wine – Trapese Swinger*

4.) Imogen Heap - Hide and Seek

3.) Kings of Convenience – I’d Rather Dance With You*

2.) Bright Eyes – Easy/Lucky/Free

1.) Sufjan Stevens – Chicago

Update: * = Not Released in 2005


My favorite 10 albums are also below. I'd make a list of which albums disappointed me, but it's not worth ranking. Suffice it to say, I wanted to like Coldplay's X&Y, Norfolk & Western's If You Were Born Overseas, and Doves' Some Cities, but they missed the target (N&W), were too dark (Doves), and severely lost their luster after a few plays (Coldplay).

On the other hand, these did not:

Top 10 Albums of 2005

10.) Stars – Set Yourself On Fire

9.) Death Cab For Cutie - Plans

8.) Spoon – Gimme Fiction

7.) Sigur Ros – Takk

6.) Calexico/Iron & Wine – In The Reins

5.) Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire – The Mysterious Production of Eggs

4.) Bright Eyes - I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning

3.) M. Ward – Transistor Radio

2.) Bright Eyes – Digital Ash In A Digital Urn

1.) Sufjan Stevens – Come On Feel The Illinoise!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Obama In Training

Barack Obama wrote an editorial yesterday outlining steps to raise the necessary funds for Gulf Coast rebuilding, wherin he makes many a valid point -- namely that we expect our government to behave in the same way we balance our own household budgets. Though this particular article is not very flashy, his style is -- and it's one I've come to enjoy, as I've been reading his Dreams from My Father. Here's an exerpt from his Chicago organizing days:


Scooting her chair up closer to mine she started to tell me about growing up in Tennessee, how she'd been forced to stop her own education because her family could afford to send only one child to college, a brother who would later die in World War II. Both she and her husband had spent years working in a factory, she said, just to see to it that their own son never had to stop his education -- a son who had gone on to get a law degree from Yale.

A simple enough story to understand, I thought: the generational sacrifice, the vindication of a family's faith. Only, when I asked Mrs. Crenshaw what her son was doing these days, she went on to tell me that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia a few days earlier and that he now spent his days reading newspapers in his room, afraid to leave the house. As she spoke, her voice never wavered; it was the voice of someone who has forced a larger meaning out of tragedy.

Or there was the time that I found myself sitting in the St. Helena's basement with Mrs. Stevens waitng for a meeting to start. I didn't know Mrs. Stevens well, knew only that she was interested in renovating the local hospital. By way of small talk I asked her why she was so concerned with improving health care in the area; her family seemed healthy enough. And she told me how in her twenties she had almost lost her sight from cataracts. She had been working as a secretary at the time, and although her condition grew so bad her doctor declared her legally blind, she had kept her ailment from her boss for fear of being fired. Day after day, she had snuck off to the bathroom to read her boss's memos with a magnifying glass, memorizing each line before she went back to type, staying at the office long after the others had left to finish the reports that needed to be ready the following morning. In this way she had maintained her secret for close to a year, until she finally saved enough money for an operation.

Or there was Mr. Marshall, a single man in his early thirties who worked as a bus driver for the Transit Authority. He was not typical of the leadership -- he hade no children, lived in an apartment -- and so I wondered why he was so inderested in doing something about drug use among teenagers. When I offered to give him a ride one day to pick up a car he had left in the shop, I asked him the question. And he told me about his father's dreams of welath in a nowhere town in Arkansas; how the various business ventures had gone sour and how other men had cheated him; how his father had turned to gambling and drink, lost his home and family; how his father was finally pulled out of a ditch somewhere, suffocated in his own vomit.

That's what the leadership was teaching me, day by day: that the self-interest I was supposed to be looking for extended well beyond the immediacy of issues, that beneath the small talk and sketchy biographies and received opinions people carried within them some central explanation of themselves. Stories full of terror and wonder, studded with events that still haunted or inspired them. Sacred stories.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wired Unplugged

But stock-market capitalism is today's coin of the realm, consumerism its handmaiden, and technology is the great enabler. You think technology benefits you because it gives you an easier row to hoe? Bollocks. The ease it provides is illusory. It has trapped you, made you a slave to things you don't even need but suddenly can't live without. So you rot in a cubicle trying to get the money to get the stuff...

Utopian claptrap, you sneer. So you put nose to grindstone, your life ebbing as you accumulate ... what?

Look around. Our collective humanity is dying a little more every day.
(read the full transcendental article here). Pretty ironic coming from Wired, no? Also fitting is its timing with the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's arrival on the Pacific.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Pile On? Pylon!Photos from the last few days in Sydney and from the Indian Pacific journey from Adelaide to Perth are up. And that'll do it. Now to get the panoramic and underwater film developed.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Lunacy In The Overhead Bin

I had the loftiest of intentions to write some sort of poetic appendix to this whole trip, but it seems time is against me. We leave for the airport in 20 minutes, and so it is with a slightly disappointed sigh that I bid farewell to Sydney in a lackluster performance.

Time permits me to tell one strange story, however.

On our flight from Perth, the three rows in front of us were filled with a traveling wheelchair basketball team. We flew the bizarrely rigid skies of Virgin Blue. I say "bizarrely rigid" because on that flight there was the most stringent, by-the-book flight attendant I've ever come across. By the end of today, we'll have been on 11 flights, so that's saying something. Virgin Blue is also the cheapest airline in existence; their discounted rates don't include so much as a cold beverage or a tiny bag of peanuts. Striving for that vital backpacker vibe, they employ mostly twenty-somethings named Tammy or Brittany or Keith.

So cut to the chase, one wouldn't suspect that this was an airline that would require a legless passenger to stow his prosthetic limbs in the overhead bin prior to takeoff.

Yet, the uber-strict steward walked by the team of young men, studying the belongings in front of them. He then began attempting to persuade them that their legs were best left in the compartment above.

"But what if I need to get up to go to the toilet?" a young man asked.
"Or what if there's an emergency?" another mentioned.
I began imagining a scenario in which the plane had crashed into the ocean and the steward was attempting to retrieve the floating limbs.

You had to hand it to the guy in the wheelchair -- he made a good case.

But alas, dignity lost its way.

"After takeoff it won't be a problem, and I can get them for you then."

So the team complied, amazingly, and that's where the story pretty much ends.

He also forced Mary to put her purse on the floor, which she then threw down and let out a dramatic, "Fine!"

It was comical, but the demand placed on the amputee was a little more absurd.

Well, I'm off to fly United, in search of an airline that perhaps won't be so domineering as to require I keep my legs stowed overhead. We'll see you in 24.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Coat Hanger

We've whittled six months down to a weekend. I'm torn between not wanting to leave and a readiness to return home -- a predictable conflict of emotions, but nevertheless a conundrum.

We couldn't climb Mount Kosciuszko because the roads were snowed in. We didn't climb Uluru because it is a sacred site for the Aboriginees. But by jove, we're off to climb the Harbour Bridge.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

WA?

We've arrived in Perth. If pressed, I'd describe it as clean and organized -- a real candy land for the city planner in all of us.

The three day train ride was, for lack of a better Teesdalian expression, "a trip." The elderly man dying of emphysema in the seat in front of me, Snorey Mcphlegmalot, and the young children playing a game I'd call "Scream your head off" interfered slightly with my plan to sleep the first night. But beyond that, the journey into Western Australia was smooth and enjoyable.

I got around to putting up photos from Brisbane to Sydney, from Sydney to Melbourne, and Melbourne to Adelaide.

I don't expect anyone to sift through all that, as they're just a backup should I be so unfortunate as to break or lose another camera. Digital camera-disposing seems to be a hobby of mine.

Thus, I'll leave you with something slightly more interesting, a comparison of 2002 vs 2005. Check out how the one Apostle is gone and marvel at my unchanged silhoutte -- I know I could spend hours doing so.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

To Perth! Jeff Grand threw down the gauntlet. "Flowery," he says. So I figure a bizarre photo and no expanation is what this blog needs.
We leave tonight on the Indian Pacific, traveling 4,352 kilometers to Perth.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Landscape Photography: Totally Plausible Career Option

I cannot stop taking photos of the land, lately. I'd argue there is a finite number, a limit so to speak, of how many pictures one should take while traveling, and I'm sensing that perhaps I've crossed that barrier. But then, I'm beginning to trust my judgement in the category of all things travel.

For example, Travel and Leisure magazine recently vindicated my belief that Sydney is the finest city in the world, for the eighth time in ten years. Chiang Mai and Bangkok also rounded out the top five, to which my good friend Yao would lift a Chang and say, "khaawp khoon khrap."

We've arrived in Melbourne this evening, staying on the outskirts of the city in the bohemian district of St. Kilda. I'm transfixed with the place -- curse those beaurocrats that say four months is long enough for a working visa.

Enjoy the photos below, and perhaps comment to reassure me I haven't lost my marbles. The countryside of this land is magnificent.

Sunset near Cape Byron, New South Wales

Lakes Entrance, Victoria

McKillops Bridge, Snowy River, Victoria
Lake Jindabyne, New South Wales

Near Barrington, New South Wales

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Capital Idea!

We spent the last few days hiking through inland and northern New South Wales, along ocean fronts and lighthouse hillsides, then mountains and mammoth granite boulders.

Last night we night kayaked down two kilometers of seven-rapid whitewater in Barrington. It is the only commercial location of night kayaking that exists in the world, according to our guide. Being blindly thrown down rapids, under only the light of a half-moon and miniature headlamps, in midwinter, is the adrenaline equivalent of skydiving -- moronic, tense, and awesome.

Five of us sat afterwords in a hot tub, wet suits on, drinking under the night sky and discussing the legal infancy of adventure tourism.

"There exists a pendulum between cowboy entrepreneurs and genuine enthusiasts -- technicians that deserve the full protection of the law," the guide lamented. "We've had this law on the books for three years, so where are the cowboys?"

Perhaps it was the alcohol, or the heat thinning our bloodstream, that made such waxing prophetic seem brilliant, but any cynicism was rendered irrelevant as the hours passed.

Tomorrow we set off from Sydney towards the Snowy Mountains of Victoria, and on to Melbourne. I'll be spending my 24th birthday in scenic Wilsons Promontory, to which I react, "But of course!"

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I Heard the News Today

I'm having trouble typing something coherent tonight, as half a world away, four bombings rocked mid-morning London. In Australia, there exists a phenomenal draw of British expatriots and it has been unsettling to see the gloom and horror on their faces as the news came in. This is as close a feeling I've experienced since the gut-wrenching surprise of 9/11 or to the Madrid bombings of 3/11.

It is strange, as well, to realize that as this part of the world receives the news, the United States sleeps, mostly unaware, for the next few hours.

On a brighter note, we are doing well.

We are in Brisbane, having traveled through Airlie Beach, Kroombit, Agnes Waters, Hervey Bay, Rainbow Beach, and Noosa. We've covered roughly 1,500 kilometers in the past three days. Mary's holding up great, I'm a bit tired of living out of a backpack, and we've a few days in Brisbane to relax.

Back to the news.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Call Me Ishmael

Well, we've returned three majestic days on the open sea. As the picture at left indicates, we were fortunate enough to see several whales migrating north from Antarctica. It's hard to explain the sight or even the powerful sound of its tale breaking through water, but it was incredible.

On day 2, with a stiff breeze, we did some genuine sailing -- through 4 meter swells and with that 30 knot wind at our backs. A few people lost their lunch, but thanks to a nifty medication callled Trava-Calm, I was fine. The rest of the photos from the trip can be seen here.

Majestic Destiny

Cairns, Mission Beach, and Magnetic Island photos are here. I'm turning into Peter Lik, right? Well, I can at least emulate his style for choice of title, that much is certain.



Cairn Do

Lastly, photos from Alice Springs to Cairns, and a day trip up to Cape Tribulation, are here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

On Diving

We're on Magnetic Island, a 45 minute ferry ride off the coast of Townsville. The weather in Cairns was overcast, preventing us from basking in the supposed warmth of the tropics. Here on the island, though, the skies have finally cleared up. I just returned from scuba diving out on the reef. Though the vividness of the corals was more evident further north, I still really loved it. This was my fourth dive, which I didn't realize until I was in the water and felt abnormally comfortable with a 20 kilo tank strapped on my back. Were I not from the Midwest, I reckon I'd take up diving as a hobby.

Noting our comfort, the instructor let me and the only other diver on the trip stay out a little longer, and we managed to see a multitude of birght fish, a silver stingray, and an array of jagged, leafy, and soft corals.

I'm off for dinner.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Spinifex, Spinifex, Spinifex

A 4,500 kilometer drive across mostly barren landscapes, performed in nine days, has a way of turning one's mind into puddy. The brain, realizing it's not inherently needed to perform, slips out the back door, and you're left to sort out the past few days with the kind of hazy recollection one has for ages one through three. Scattered, indistinct, full of dead-ends.

Consequently, the last three we've spent between Alice Springs and Cairns are difficult to describe now, as so much of it was spent staring out the window pondering the various oddities of the universe. I do remember thinking there was a whole lot of spinifex, a most unhospitable plant, out there. Spinifex is the earth's only entirely inedible grass and leaves nasty thorns in the legs of horses, camels, cattle, and people. Not surprisingly, this made the early exploration of Australia quite difficult.

Other than that, I'm fairly dry of information, or even of inspirational prose set in the outback towns of Mt. Isa (with a population of roughly 10) and Hughenden, but I will share one short story worth telling from our days out at Uluru.

Let me start by saying that I suspected upon introduction that Karl, our driver, did his fair share of the hallucinogens back in his youth. Don't get me wrong, he was informed and perfectly competent -- enough to entertain and feed a group of twenty for two days. But something was afoot as he chuckled mercilessly during all conversation.

As we pulled into our empty campsite, shrouded in the kind of darkness only the desert can provide, he was overheard to mumble into the microphone, "Well over there are the tents. Over here is your kitchen. And up the road are the toilets." Then he paused.

In total sincerity, he attempted to finish his thought. "So really...it's all happening."

Unfortunately, it's one of those quotes that needs to be imitated in pacing and delivery to fully appreciate. One needs a sense of the spaciousness of the outback and of Karl's gentle laugh. One needs to sit on a bus for seven hours, viewing nothing but pure and unadulterated desolation, alternatively noticing the large height of the roadside termite mounds and repeating the word "spinifex" over and over because it's an enjoyable word to pronounce.

We were truly in the middle of nowhere, and Karl, in that perfect Australian wit, managed to sound as if we'd arrived.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Go There, Man

Today in Alice Springs, we passed by a traveling family, standing on the side of the road in a van which they'd turned into what looked like a mobile home. It was cluttered with fast food litter and dirty laundry. An enormous feathered dreamcatcher and a chain of opal beads hung on the rearview mirror. The children were screaming and shoeless, the father stroked a beard that ran down past his collar, and the mother sat idle, manicuring her dreadlocks. Mary turned to me, and in all seriousness said, "Take a good look, Jeff. Don't you dare turn us into that."

And I can respect that concern.

After two days spent solely hiking around Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and King's Canyon, I can adequately judge the worldwide collection of notable rocks henceforth. As far as these sites went, I'd say these were top notch. Red, glowing, unreasonably alive with color.

After that we returned to Alice Springs, where we rode camels at dusk and visited the world's largest school, the Alice Springs School of the Air which is taught via computer and radio sets.

Also, I've put my photos from Darwin to Alice Springs, along with a few from those beloved rocks, here. They most likely won't interest any of you, as they're primarily of vertical ridges and jagged, maroon edges -- personless and horizontal. But the real viewing turns one into a Japanese tourist.

But alas, we must move on. Tomorrow morning, we depart Alice Springs on another three day trip through the outback, north by northeast (stick it, Hitchcock) to the primary tourist outpost of the Great Barrier Reef.

I speak, of course, of Cairns. Should you be so unfortunate and uncouth as to enunciate the "r", they'll leave you out there a la Open Water). I'm eager to view the lesser known towns of Queensland, Mt. Isa and Boulia. 'Til then.


Shall we ride camels? Posted by Hello


Yes, yes we shall. Posted by Hello


Sunrise at Uluru. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Robots Depend On Your Pills For Fuel

JG's been in town for a few days now, museum-touring and daytripping the city whilst Mary and I finish up our last days work. Unfortunately, the weather's been terrible and untypical of the Sydney skies I've come to know and love, sporadically "pissing down" (a lovely, oft-heard term to describe any rain) and cold as a witches teet at night. I could've been much less vivid there, but why?

In the meantime, I'm looking into purchasing malaria tablets for Thailand. I've been getting mixed advice from everyone I talk to. "Nah, I've been to Thailand thirty times and never once needed them." "You'll die without them. Buy thirty and take them while you're there and for two weeks after you're back." "Eh, it's hit or miss, take some bug spray, mosquito netting, and avoid drinking any of their water, especially in Chiang Mai." Well, that's awesome.

Apparently, the pills are 6 bucks a pop and make your skin extremely sensitive to the sun (while it's presently 95 degrees in Bangkok), but I'm not screwing around with malaria. What am I, an 18th century stowaway? No sir.

No major plans for the weekend as of yet, other than feeling my head for that weird, "I have really short hair" sensation. Stay tuned for the pics.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Thailand Beckons

Before departing on this trip, I'd mentioned a contact of mine who was traveling along a similar path. Working in Sydney for several months, he then went on to travel most of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and now Thailand. He sends weekly emails (he's on Week 20) and I thought I'd share his latest from Thailand, found below. Mary will undoubtedly laugh, as I've been wavering so much with different ideas and so many places in mind to travel -- I'm sure I'm driving her nuts. But this latest email; I dunno, the desire to experience this place just hits me harder, this evening.

Location: Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Standing on the beach of Koh Phi Phi in the gulf of Thailand, it
almost seems unimaginable that Mother Nature would attempt to destroy
something so beautiful. Almost three months after the tsunami hit,
there we were walking through streets with lined with rubble and
destroyed buildings, and we were ready to help out.

In what may be one of the better things I have witnessed in my life,
volunteers numbering close to one hundred wake up on this island every
day and, instead of drinking buckets of booze and lying on the beach
all day, they pick up gloves and shovels and do their part to help.
The volunteers are a diverse group. There are backpackers from around
the world who decided to stop and help out, whether it be for an hour
or a day or a two weeks. There are locals, people who were on the
island when the giant wave ripped through, and have lost close to
everything, from stores to merchandise to their homes. There are
people who have quit their jobs or taken a semester off from school
and have been volunteering for upwards of ten weeks, spending their
time and money at no personal benefit to themselves. And the one
thing they all have in common is the incredible good heartedness to
want to come out and simply help.

Phi Phi is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been
to. Even through the debris that has not been cleared away, you can
still see the natural beauty all over. The water is a beautiful
turquoise, there are palm trees everywhere, and you are surrounded by
mountains rising straight out of the sea. Let it be known that, even
though the rebuilding effort is only still in its initial phases, the
island is open and ready for business. There has never been a better
time to be there, and with the island operating at maybe 10% capacity,
it is even better.

We planned on staying on Phi Phi for two, maybe three days. Then it
was five. Then it was ten. We ended up cancelling the Hong Kong and
Taiwan portion of our trip and maybe it an even two weeks of
volunteering. A high majority of the volunteers who have been there
for a while found themselves in the same situation, changing plane
flights, leaving off other parts of their trip, or simply saying they
had nothing pressing to get back to at home.

Help International (HI), Phi Phi is the organization that has been on
Phi Phi since almost the beginning. They coordinate the efforts of
fifty to one hundred volunteers each day, getting people involved with
debris clearing, painting, demolition, carpentry, and just about
anything else you can think of. The efforts are absolutely
incredible, and its really just great working with people from all
over the world. Hands On Thailand is another volunteer organization
which recently joined forces with HI Phi Phi, and they hope to bring
in a management that can help make everything run smoothly. I
personally saw the end result Hands On's efforts in Bang Tao, a town
which was leveled on Phuket, and on March 26 they had plans for the
grand reopening of the town, just three months after the tsunami.

Unfortunately, there always has to be a downside to a situation like
this. Remember all that money that was donated in good faith by the
countries of the world? Not a single penny has been seen on the
island. I have this straight from the heads of the volunteer
organizations here. Not one penny of the billions pledged. All the
money that has been used here has come from the people. The tourism
each day is just enough to keep the bungalows and villas open. The
majority of the money brought in each day comes from the volunteers
themselves, spending their money on accommodations, food, drinks, and
fundraisers. Absolutely brilliant groups of Christians representing
churches from all over the US have brought in thousands of donated
dollars with the sole intention of helping to purchase the supplies
and materials necessary to clean and rebuild the island.

So, where is all the money donated? I really cannot say for sure. I
know there has been money used by the Thai government in more
populated tourist areas like Patong on Phuket island. But on Phi Phi,
instead of the government working to bring back the 700 or so
residents of the island who survived the tsunami and are now living on
the mainland in camps until they get home, the government sees only
business opportunity and is trying to take over the island through new
five star resorts. They want to buy out all the big landowners, which
would force all the poor people to give up their homes. I have spoken
with representatives of the volunteer organizations who have spoken
with the locals, and the majority of them have already refused offers
of ten times the value of their property, simply saying they are
island people and want to return to their home. They are willing to
get arrested and face harsh times from the ever-increasing support in
the government against their return. The government, only seeing
dollar signs in the huge income the resorts would create on the
island, continue to stall negotiations and recovery efforts in the
hopes of taking away these people's hope and breaking them down.

And it is a horrible shame too. The Thai people I spent time with
over the past two weeks were some of the nicest people I have met, and
even after all their turmoil, they put a smile on their face, open
their restaurant or stand each day, and just try to make a living
while only the volunteers who have shown up to do something help them
each day. The worst part will come if the negotiations and efforts to
get the locals back on to the island fail, and all the rebuilding and
efforts from the volunteers goes to nothing when the government comes
in clears out everything that is in their way.

For more information on volunteering, making donations, or simply to
see what is going on with the groups helping on Phi Phi as well as in
other parts of Thailand, you can visit the sites:
http://www.handsonthailand.org/ and
http://www.hiphiphi.com/

-Smitty

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pulling the Hair Out, Rolling the Sleeves Up

I've been patient -- with these curiously irritating bed bug bites, with my extra, unwanted shifts at work, and with Blogger and its inability to post my pictures -- but I'm at rope's end, here.

If I itch, these thirty or forty bites will never leave and I'll get an infection. If I worked less, I may not get the kickback trip I'm hoping for. If I could contact Blogger without it costing me a bundle, just to figure out what the problem is, I would. But none of these are suitable options.

My alternatives?

Calomine showers, a good heart-to-heart, and Yahoo! for photo hosting (here they are, as promised, though the quality leaves something to be desired.). Fortunately, Chris put his pictures up from their visit, found here.

I'm going to cool off.

Friday, February 25, 2005

They're Paying Me In Beer

The company I work for is being bought out in May; no worries though, as my work visa expires shortly thereafter anyways. Allow me to explain, briefly, why it's being bought.

The backpacker travel market here is insanely competitive -- my company stands to profit heftily. The foreign youth sector is a niche of the travel industry that's completely untapped in the U.S., mainly because our country makes it incredibly difficult to get a working visa. The only program I've ever seen is for working in America is for Summer Camp Counselor positions. Let's be honest, the pay of these positions wouldn't get you out of Podunk, Ohio, let alone to San Francisco's Golden Gate, to Disneyworld, or even Niagara Falls. (I love a proper dig at those Canadian-embracing Niagara folks.)

Also, up until the last four years or so, our dollar proved stable and strong. The exchange rate for us was quite accommodating. For instance, in 2001, $0.49 AU equaled $1 US. This afternoon, it sits at AU $0.81 to $1 US. And the Euro was just another loony fiscal scheme from abroad. "Sure Europe, you'll all get together and form a Union. Right after you finish building La Sagrada Familia!"

So you don't have to be a macro-economist to suss out that it was easier for us young Americans to afford foreign trips and difficult for young foreigners to afford American travel. Perhaps that market will open up in America as we spend, spend, spend our way into foreign debt; only time will tell. But in Australia, youth travel is booming, or at least on the tail-end of a major industry expansion.

I've veered completely off the topic I intended to write about, which was my new job. I was hired to help in the reservations department of a backpackers-aimed travel company. I've finished a week of training -- starting with those two free, excellent trips to acquire some "product knowledge," a rather clever way of wooing in potential employees. Since then, I've spent four days learning how the tour-booking program works, dealing with phone reservations, and just getting a sense of the office procedures. I work alongside several Australians, a Kiwi, and more than a handful of displaced UK-ers. I'm the only American. So far, it's the most entertaining "office" environment I've ever worked in, if it can even be called that.

Just today I was offered a bonus assignment. My boss's boss would like me to covertly survey a few local hostels and travel agents sponsored by my company and ask about a travel package to Uluru. The hosteliers and agents are supposed to present my company's brochure first, as we're paying them to do so. When I report back after an hour or two of easy investigation on Monday, I'm to be paid with "a case of the finest beer in Australia." This agreement sits well with me.

I also must clarify that they needed me for the gig as much as I needed them (and the beer).

Due to my general out-of-placeness and evidently strong accent, they thought I'd be well-suited to pose as a backpacker. Though I'm trying my best to fit in, referring to "bathrooms" as "toilets," substituting "Where's the nearest liquor store?" to "Where's the bottleshop, mate?" and pronouncing my letter "z's" as letter "zeds," I still find I'm struggling.

Today, a man showed up at the front desk selling "new and improved water dispensers" and asked to speak to a manager. So I sought out Loise, one of the senior staff, and said, "There's a solicitor at the desk wanting to speak to a manager."

Her face went white and she jumped up out of her chair.
"Are you serious?" she asked.
"Yeah, something about water dispensers?"
She began tucking her shirt and said, "Wait here, I'll take care of it." She looked entirely too serious. Another Australian co-worker looked to me and raised an eyebrow.
"I hope we're not getting sued."

And that's when the bizarre linguistic discrepancy was evident and her behaviour explained. Apparently in Australia, "solicitor" only refers to an attorney or a legal representative. As the company has endured its share of disgruntled passengers over the years, legal threats are a recurring concern.

In the future, they've ensured that all the beer-paying, "We need an obvious foreigner!" positions will keep coming my way.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

In My Mind, I'm Already There

It's been a fantastic start, out in L.A. for three days. I adjusted right away to the time change, though Mary was exhausted the first night and slept.

Sean's place is great and he's been a gracious host, cooking us a lemon chicken dish and quoting Seinfeld lines left and right. "The baby got lucky on that one!" Yesterday we saw the Hollywood strip. Friday it rained, so we caught Hotel Rwanda, a film I'd recommend to anyone. We've been out all three nights, but surprisingly, haven't dropped that much cash.

We leave for Auckland tonight, and on to Sydney after a seven hour layover.

The other night, Mary mentioned a story about a guy in the '70s that accidentally boarded a plane bound for Auckland, though his intended destination was Oakland.

"Sir, would you please calm down. We'll sort this out when we get to Auckland."
"Not Auckland. Oakland! Where's Auckland?!"

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Most of what I've wanted to say I've already said, and though our departure feels important to us, I was once again reminded of the bigger picture, this time by John Whiteside, a columnist whose final column appeared Sunday. It was published just after his death in the Joliet Herald News. (Excerpts are posted below.) It's a bit Tuesdays With Morrie-esque, but still a haunting read when you consider the perspective.

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