Tag Archives: stories

Sunrise

This is a picture of sunrise from the balcony of the apartments in Cronulla we’re temporarily calling home. So far, it’s my favorite part of our stay here – and something I never appreciated before, given that 6 am was once an ungodly hour, a time no civilized person should have to experience. Student life is luxurious, no? But I like my new discovery, and my newly set schedule, free of night shifts and weekend calls and all that my last job entailed.

Moving is still stressful, and our lack of any luck in the apartment hunt has prolonged this stress and made us wonder if we could possibly have a decent job and credit history and still end up homeless. This is probably an exaggeration, and I suspect it’ll only be a matter of time and application, but it has made it difficult to find out much about our new home beyond the sheer volume of legalese involved in renting anything in this country. I have NEVER read so much paperwork in my life, and I find it hilarious that I need more references to apply for an apartment lease than I needed to get a job here, or obtain a visa. You can get in, but you will struggle to establish yourself as a real person with a house and a car and 100 points of identification.

Some of the good things: I really like the Inner West of Sydney, with its eclectic neighborhoods and sheer diversity. This doesn’t exist in the suburb we’re currently staying in – Cronulla is more of a tiny beach town that got engulfed by suburban sprawl. I love that good, cheap Indian food is everywhere, that the beach is every bit as good as you would imagine from all the touristy advertisements for Australia, and that work colleagues and friendly and laid back and not afraid of poking fun at each other. And I’m excited about the possibility of making a home here. I only wish it would happen a bit faster.  I guess this is a good way to learn to be patient.

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Waiting

This is what waiting looks like, when you’re hoping your husband will soon be finished enough with his thesis to bind it and submit it to his committee for one final ego bashing before The End of Graduate School.  My lab has one of those complicated hand binder thingies that will inevitably jam at 3 am on the second-to-last stack of papers, so here I am, with Ben & Jerry’s and nuclei, celebrating the last pint of guilt-inducing goodness before leaving this country for who knows how long.

I can’t yet tell you whether I will finish the pint or not.  I guess that depends on how the rest of the night goes.

Tomorrow, I will sell a car for the first time, finish editing my last paper here at the lab, show up at my goodbye party, and maybe find some new homes for more of our stuff.  I will fill out paperwork (moving abroad requires LOTS of paperwork, which you cannot lose or mess up on lest you find yourself completely screwed), make more calls, write more emails, transform a home into an apartment that echoes when you speak.  It’s been a lot of firsts lately, and not many comfortable ones, but we’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to learn to be patient.  Or finish the ice cream. Whichever comes first.

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Newport Folk Festival

Pending some sort of miraculous discovery of the current location of my Canon Powershot’s USB cord, this post will remain picture-free for now.

Yes, there were plenty of harmonicas, and a banjo or two, but the lineup at the George Wein’s Folk Festival 50* was more of a mix of old and new acts that defy categorization than a folk festival in the stereotypical sense.  Sure, Pete Seeger headlined, and the folk tradition was clearly an inspiration for many of the acts, but, really, this festival was just a gathering of musicians who still write their own songs and sound pretty damn good without all the synthesizers and reverb.

We only made it to the Saturday session, because $75×2 plus lodging in Newport, RI isn’t exactly a cheap holiday.  Lucky us, the day was gorgeous and sunny, without too much humidity. It was perfect for sailing, so all the boats were out, which gave Billy the chance to tease the ticket-evading yacht owners perched just off the Fort’s shore for saving their pennies in this wretched economy.  The crowd was surprisingly diverse: families with little kids staked out the shade tents or slathered on sunscreen, a respectable amount of gray hair, local accents (is there a RI accent?), bikini-clad teens, and hipster wannabes all made an appearance in the park that day. I’m not sure what we were, except sunburnt by the end, but the music was worth it.

Tift Merritt was lovely and charismatic, but I spent most of her set (and Gillian Welsh’s) wondering why all female folk singers seem to have red hair and, after a while, a somewhat uniform sound. Can anyone hazard a guess?  Billy Bragg was refreshing after that, and James appreciated a taste of British wit.  He’s more of a storyteller than most of the other performers, so you sort of felt more like you were sharing a beer (or herbal tea, as it were) with him at a local pub than connecting with a giant TV screen.  Once his set was done, we wandered over to listen to Ben Kweller finish up his performance. He is really very small — I mean surprisingly so — but his performance was lively, and as James said, he plays songs that suit him. I highly recommend checking him out (and if you’re in the need of a song to sing at the top of your lungs on a road trip somewhere, Fight is an excellent choice).

The Avett Brothers were playing back on the main stage, and the crowd seemed pretty happy about that, so we thought we’d check them out.  We made it through three songs before we realized we didn’t want to hear anymore… Yes, they sound different, and yes, different is cool (or something), but honestly, they just seemed like they decided singing folky tunes in this semi-angry screechy way would get them a record deal. I guess it worked.

At the Harbor tent, Tom Morello: The Nightwatchmen was playing, and after about half a song, I realized I had had enough egotistical male posturing for one day.  So we wandered over to Waterside, where The Low Anthem was setting up.  This was fortuitous, as The Low Anthem was probably the best find of the festival, at least for me.  They’re Providence locals, have quite a following, and are intense, but in a good way. They play some pretty funky instruments and experiment with styles and sounds in a way that makes me think they’re going to stay around for a while.  So yes, go check them out — the shows are archived, so you have no excuse.

After that, we checked out the Yacht museum for a bit of shade, and wandered over to Iron and Wine.  As much as I love Sam Beam’s music, this wasn’t the place to hear it. They had the mike turned down too low, the crowd was oppresive, and mostly, all we could hear was wood cracking and security guards yelling as people tried to climb over the fence to get just a little bit closer. They should have put him on the big stage, because the vibe just wasn’t right.  We gave up and went back to the main stage, but not before he played a couple of my favorites.

The Decemberists were next, and were a little more upbeat, though the lead singer doesn’t seem to be all that interested in performing anymore. He prefers playing mind games with the audience and repeating the same tired bs stories at each show to actually sharing something with the crowd, which is a shame, because otherwise, it would be a good show.  Oh, and the fluttery strawberry blonde girl they feature on their current album is crap, but maybe she just had too much caffeine and happened to think “hey, it’s a folk festival — where else can I wear a fluttery white hippie costume and dance around like I’ve lost a few too many brain cells to acid back in the day.” I know I’ve had days like that. Well, maybe not the costume part.

We left after that, to make the long drive home.  But not before a slice of pizza and a walk by the infamous Newport mansions.  I warn you: traffic is bad. Walking is much, much nicer.

*aka the Newport Folk Festival, when the lawyers aren’t around

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Chocolate and physics

Mexican drinking chocolate in Poland

Mexican drinking chocolate in Poland

Poland began with a bumpy, five-hour bus ride that felt like it was designed to weaken our resistance at the start of what would prove to be a very long week. Not a bad week — just a long one. I was there for a conference, so the bus was full of physicists from all over the world, and once the castle filled, conversations on cocktail napkins and in dungeon “night clubs” were impossible to avoid.  Ryn, where the conference was held, was literally a few corner markets and bars at the edge of one of the Mazurian Lakes. The castle — built by Teutonic knights — was first mentioned in 1377, though the renovations for the hotel had just been completed in 2006.  What, you may ask, did Ryn have to offer? Well, not much … We ate a buffet in the hotel every day, three times a day, and walked out to the undeveloped shore on our breaks. Occasionally, we’d get a local bar to stay open late, and order piwa (beer) after piwa until we got chased out into the night. Physicists are serious drinkers, for the most part.  But what else do you do when the most exciting thing you see all week is a goat?
The famous goat

The famous goat

Yah. Well, the people I met on this trip happened to be great. My roommate was awesome, which I was pretty happy about, and the people I ended up hanging out with were a lot of fun.  So yes — a week in Ryn wasn’t so bad after all. But you’re probably wondering at this point why I’m going on and on about Ryn and this conference when I’ve placed a picture of a lovely looking hot chocolate up at the top. Well, I had an evening in Warsaw, after yet another bus ride. I’m getting to the chocolate in a bit.
Old Town Warsaw

Old Town Warsaw

Warsaw itself wasn’t the greatest thing I had ever seen. I can’t say I’d seek it out as a prime tourist spot. It feels like a Soviet construction, which it is.  It is Soviet style block architecture crumbling with age, mixed in with its grand Palace of Culture and a million fast food-filled underground passages, and the meticulously rebuilt Old Town section, which was beautiful but sterile, somehow. I sort of like the appearance of age on buildings — the way the dust and grime of hundreds of years settle into the cracks just so, and manage somehow to be charming despite its dirty origins. There was none of that here, as Warsaw was leveled in the war.  I’ve been told Krakow and Gdansk are better destinations. But Warsaw had one thing going for it: excellent drinking chocolate.
E. Wedel Chocolate Shop

E. Wedel Chocolate Shop

We visited the E. Wedel chocolate shop and cafe in Old Town, which reminded me of the coffee shops in Vienna with its luxurious decorations old-fashioned feel. Their specialty was a traditional drinking chocolate, which we (my roommate from the conference, one of her colleagues, and me) sampled. They were delicious — rich and thick and proper dessert, if you know what I mean.  It was a proper end to a long trip, I think, and when I got on the plane the next day, I was quite happy to be heading back home.
Chocolate shavings

Key ingredient.

I did bring a little something back for all of you, of course. Here’s my Mexican drinking chocolate recipe. It’s simple, actually, and really, really tasty. But of course, the better your chocolate, the better this tastes.
Mexican Drinking Chocolate

Mexican Drinking Chocolate

Mexican Drinking Chocolate

  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1.5 oz. chocolate, chopped into slivers.
  • Chipotle or chili powder, to taste (start with a small amount and work up!)

Heat the milk slowly in a heavy saucepan over low heat until a decent amount of steam rises from the surface. Place the chocolate shavings in a bowl. Pour the hot milk over it, stirring the chocolate/milk mix, and continue stirring until all the milk has been added and the chocolate has melted. Add in the appropriate amount of chili. Drink immediately.

You can experiment with other spices and flavors. For mint drinking chocolate, steep a decent peppermint tea bag in the hot milk for a minute or two until mixing with the chocolate. Try a bit of cinnamon. Or try something a little more adult — ammaretto, schnaps, etc. Just make sure to add any alcohol or flavor syrups to the milk first.

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Chocolate, beer, and fireworks

Whats not to love about a country that opens a music festival with fireworks?

What's not to love about a country that opens a music festival with fireworks?

That last post was a little uninspired, to say the least. I’ll try to do a better job on this next city.  Brussels, Belgium — not Belgium, Brussels, as some Belgian students said some Americans say — is one of those cities where the weight of history greets you around every corner, with each carefully tended stone.

One of the buildings in Grand Place

One of the buildings in Grand Place

Here, ancient kingdoms meet modern bureaucracy with the occasional clash of ideals.

The European Union

The European Union

Botanic gardens are swallowed by exhaust-producing thoroughfares, and still, little corners of solitude manage to survive the modern age.

These used to be much bigger, but now theres a road running through half of the former garden space.

These used to be much bigger, but now there's a road running through half of the former garden space.

It’s an excellent place for the food-obsessed to visit, if only for the chocolate and beer. I mostly drank Leffe when I was there — it was a short trip — but it was delicious as always. And they had a dark version! After Cologne, a bit of color was refreshing. And chocolate. Oh, you have never seen such chocolate. Shops with individual candies laid out like precious jewels, decked in velvet and oh-so-posh you feel like you can’t touch anything. It’s all just for show.

Pierre Marcolini - My favorite

Pierre Marcolini - My favorite

Until you get over your shock and realize that these shops smell like heaven, and buy a piece or two. My favorite was Pierre Marcolini — we bought a “basic” bar (there are about 8 to choose from).  It was exotic — sweet and heady, with an almost floral aroma. And it was just chocolate! As for the cuisine in general, even the bars presented their meals beautifully, and you could sense the French influence in the details that went into each dish. And of course, I had the best waffle covered in chocolate sauce I have ever had there, in a ridiculously touristy region, from a place advertising “Australian ice cream”.  I bought it because it was funny, but ate it because it was worth every bite. That night, beer in hand, we watched fireworks and listened to Europop and Handel outside the main palace with the rest of the city, just outside the ticketholder gates.

Jubilee Park

Jubilee Park

Before we left, we went to the Museum of Art and Ancient History in Jubilee Park, out beyond the EU. We couldn’t read any of the descriptions, but spent hours trying to interpret the French based on inference and clever guessing games … The place was filled with ancient altar pieces depicting gruesome murders of saints, intricate tapestries with stories for the illiterate (like us), and ancient carriages for transporting the royals, where James chose to propose.  So (not to state the obvious or anything) it was a pretty good trip.

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Take that, dataset (and other stories)

Yes, the recipe is that simple.

Yes, the recipe is simple.

I won’t pretend that I have time to write a post, because it’s already 12:30 am and I just got home half an hour ago. From work. Not the bar. Not sightseeing. Not incredible stargazing in this land where the sky is peppered with the Milky Way’s vast, impressive expanse. Ok, I can’t actually show you proof of Australia’s breathtaking starscape here – there is a city surrounding me, after all. But I can show you what Canberra looks like (if you’ve been here already, check out the latest pictures from Telstra Tower / Black Mountain). I can also give you a recipe that is perfect for those meals where you really don’t know whether you want breakfast, lunch, or dinner food. Just check the link, and remember, quantities are for wimps. Or perfectionists. Or people who don’t have a paper, two talks, a poster, and a dataset to finish analyzing. All within the next week and a half. So if I neglect your comments, I’m really sorry … I’ll catch up when I have a bit of breathing room.

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It’s madness, I tell you

Night shift vision. Photobooth is so much fun, especially at 2 am.

Night shift vision. Photobooth is so much fun, especially at 2 am.

You know when you’ve been up for so long and yet somehow asleep that everything sort of blurs into this funny, multicolored haze? That’s when I think Apple decided on its Photobooth filters, because they just seem so appropriate in the middle of a nightshift. Especially the distorted ones.

This week has been nuts so far, and it isn’t over yet. I have spent more time in the control room pictured above than any human being should, and you know what? I’m not the only one. In fact, I feel like a total slacker, despite working harder that I have in a very long time. But regardless, some bizarre combination of the Liz Phair coming from the speakers and the background electronics hum (and the fact that I’m running things here — no accelerator operator for me) is making me feel a little rebellious. Just a bit.

So what, pray tell, am I going to do about it? Well …

Having your own little jar of vegemite is practically an entry requirement.

Having your own little jar of vegemite is practically a requirement.

Heh… This and a Cadbury chocolate bar might help pass the night a bit more quickly. (You try staying up all night for two nights in a row and see what you crave. Of course, I have a notorious sweet tooth, but that’s another story entirely.)

At this stage, you either agree with me wholeheartedly or think I’m completely insane, as I’ve just suggested consuming a black, tar-like, salty substance known as Vegemite to pass the time a bit more quickly. But I tell you, people, B vitamins are beautiful, and this particular condiment is pretty much swimming with them. And it reminds me of grilled cheese sandwiches with beer, which can’t be a bad thing. I tend to pair it with cheese on toast, or, if I’m craving that sweet savory experience, Milk Arrowroots, butter, and vegemite are pretty much perfect. Milk Arrowroots, which are packaged, entirely unspecial biscuits from Arnott’s, taste kind of like animal crackers, and are big enough to actually spread butter on, for the record. They are pretty damn good — even if you’re trapped caring for a sick boyfriend Sydney with nothing else for dinner.

It’s funny, because I would never buy packaged cookies (ahem — biscuits) at home. And you know what? It’s not all that surprising, if only because you don’t find high fructose corn syrup in everything you touch. The ingredient list actually makes sense more often than not. It’s kind of refreshing.

Anyway. I am rambling, as I’m sure you’ve discovered by now. I will say that if you’re looking for something more substantial to get you through the night, curry noodle soup is pretty good at four AM, as well. It’s dead simple to make, too.

Authentic curry for all your fake exotic food needs.

"Authentic" curry for all your fake exotic food needs.

Start with homemade chicken stock (Or in this case, “Real Stock”, by Campbell’s, which I find hilarious — especially since it makes your food taste exactly like canned Campbell’s soup), a packet of fresh udon noodles, a bit of coconut milk, some curry powder, sliced up onions, garlic, and bok choy, mushrooms, a bell pepper, some thai basil, sliced bacon (very optional), and, if you can find it, a kaffir lime leaf or two. No recipe — just cook the bacon, veggies (start with onion and garlic first, then bacon and mushies, then bok choy) in a stew pot with a bit of oil until soft, throw in the stock, lime leaves, and coconut milk, season with curry powder and salt to taste, bring to a simmer, and then add in the noodles. Once the noodles are ready, garnish with some thai basil, and you’re good to go.  (For the record, I also threw some cilantro on top, which is what you see in the picture above).

This is so not something I would make at home, but hey, I have a spice basket there. Here, I have to improvise.

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