Wednesday, January 30, 2008

dry toast: sometimes i am boring

Tsonga wins! (This is actually the Quarters)
Maria wins the Final!

Sorry it's been a little while. I've been celebrating Australia Day and it took a lot out of me. It's a doozy.

On Friday I gave blood. (Make an appointment right now! It is so important.) Australia has pretty tight controls on who can donate. I was only allowed to donate because I hadn't been to the US in over 6 months. They are worried about West Nile Virus.

Last Friday Liz came over for dinner and to watch the Novak/Nadal match. It was great to see her as she has been really busy lately selecting the Australian women's national team to represent the country in Vancouver in August. I think I might try to go watch some matches up there as it will be some great ultimate and it is supposed to be a great town. I like watching ultimate almost as much as I like to play.

On Saturday, I went to Rod Laver again to see the women's finals of the Australian Open with Amanda. That was pretty cool. They were 15,000 silent and attentive fans. I've seen 3 women's grand slam matches in my life, and I've seen Sharapova win 3 times. She was dominant. It was really hot in there.

After that, I went to a full-on Aussie barbecue at Dave and Sarah Trovell's. We had beers and sat in the back yard. I felt genuine Australian patriotism. I think there was even cricket on the TV.

Sunday I went to the final Team Box try-out for this season and afterwards, Jess and Steven had a bunch of us over for even more Aussie barbecue and to watch the Tsonga/Novak match. That was heaps of fun and we were all for Tsonga. Maybe next year.

Monday was a day off for Australia day. I had brunch with Joy and Hussey at Issus and then rode Dierdre to St. Kilda beach. She can't swim so she just hung out by the bike rack, but I swam around in the warm ocean and read magazines on the beach before going to Monday night league. It was great and I need to go to the beach more often while it is still summer. It is about a 15 minute bike ride from my apartment.

At league, I got there early, and so did Snail, so we ran a quick 5K around Albert Park Lake. Then I played a Div 2 game with the Juniors and got to handle in the zone as the axis, and played a Div 1 game with Joy and Hussey where we had only 2 guys and 6 girls so I got to play a lot and played pretty well, though we narrowly lost.

Tomorrow I'm going for a throw with Jess and she is making me dinner.

Friday I am going to the cricket at the MCG to see a Twenty-20 match which is the wildly abbreviated version that doesn't take 5 days, but instead takes only a few hours but still makes baseball look fast paced.
With Football over and done with, I can focus on basketball, and naturally my focus is on the Nuggets. Go Allen. Go Melo. Go Nene. I hope he is back soon. Do you think that this story has basketball announcers thinking of new ways to describe a turnover so that in the future they can avoid saying that Nene has "lost the ball". (Not funny, I know. I can't help it.)

I can't believe how quickly January flew by. I'll be going to Rimini, Italy again in March, so that's the next big trip.

That's pretty much all my news. Nothing clever or particularly noteworthy, but I am well and hope you are too. More soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sing a Tsonga of 6 Games

So, last night I went to Rod Laver arena to watch the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. I had an absolute blast. I went with Lauren (aka Mama because all Australians are required to have a nickname). What I didn’t know until we arrived was that Lauren had been a ball kid at the Australian Open, back in the Sampras era, so she was super wise about all the goings on at the Open.

When we arrived we wandered around the grounds a bit and actually saw the tail end of a doubles match between the Williams sisters and a Chinese doubles team. The Chinese team prevailed and we headed off in search of beers.

We ate some noodles, and settled in to the center court at Rod Laver to see the quarterfinals match between world #1 Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova. The place was mostly full and the crowd was pretty in to the match. There were some great points and long rallies, but Sharapova dominated from the first serve until match point. I won’t be surprised if I see her again on Saturday when I go back to see the final.

My mom stayed up all night back in the US to watch the match live in case I turned up in a pan the crowd shot on ESPN. No such luck, as my seats were pretty much back row, but you’ve got to admit that’s dedication to the cause.

After that, there was a men’s quarter final between my new crush Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the Russian #14 seed, Youzhny. Despite being un-seeded and a relative unknown, Jo-Dub dispatched the Russian in three sets to the delight of 6 or 7 very loud French fans. Tsonga’s up against R-Fed next, which may well be a tough spot, but might prove entertaining none-the-less.

I’m psyched to have been to the US Open in 2006 and now the Australian Open. Maybe Wimbledon is next?

Also, please check out this link for the Puppy Television Channel. If this ever gets off the ground I will quit my job for sure and stay home and watch it 24 hours a day. I may even have to consider the Astronaut’s approach to practicalities.

Monday, January 21, 2008


What can I tell you? Things are busy at work. Boo.

Also I had a bout of what the Australians politely call "Gastro" last week so I missed a day of work. I was writhing in pain on my bathroom floor in cold sweats, but I did miss work, so I guess I would call it a push.

I am back in Melbourne. I have been playing some disc and riding Deirdre around. I joined a summer league in Albert Park. I have been hanging out with Joy and Hussey, and I helped my friend Amanda clean her apartment before a move.

Tomorrow I am going to the Australian Open to see Henin v. Sharapova (which is a quarter but could basically be a final) and Tsonga v. Youzhny. I saw Sharapova at the US Open a couple of years ago and I am psyched about the shrieking and grunting.

I am hoping for a 0-0 tie in the Super Bowl. Jerks.

I went to see American Gangster. It was pretty good. I love Common as a brother, and I love the RZA as a cop in the 70s. You can see his WuTang tattoo in one shot and that's a bit of an anachronism I guess.

Last week after the 'bout' I went to see Sufjan Stevens at the Forum. I think it was my 4th time to see him, and maybe the best. He played his tone poem to the BQE, and did some light up hula-hooping. The graphics were mind blowing all show. He wore wings for much of the set. He played 7 Swans, Good God Bird, Casmir Pulanki Day, Predatory Wasp..., Upper Peninsula and lots of other great songs. Best of all, he explained almost each track for a minute or two prior to playing them. Explaining the geography of Michigan in great detail to the Australian crowd, and teaching the HOMES mnemonic for the Great Lakes. He talked about his fear of trees. I hung on every word.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cape Town: Yes you have a “confirmation”

Okay, Cape Town was great, but now that I’m home safe and my mom won’t have a heart attack here’s the low down. I arrived in Cape Town on the 26th of December, around noon. It was hot and I took a taxi to my hotel. There I had to ask my taxi driver to call the phone number on my printed confirmation as the gate was locked and the intercom was busted. I should have a photo here of the wires sticking it of the intercom, like the bomb in space camp the movie. You’ll just have to trust me. The ‘proprietor’ came outside and waved me away. She wouldn’t even let me in the gate. I was begging her just to let me in to talk about it and waving my Travelocity “Confirmation”. She was having none of it. After about 10 minutes of sweating, I finally convinced her to let me in, just to call another taxi (to where ?!?!?!). 30 minutes of nonsense later she finally admits that there is a room at least for that night. At this point, I’m glad to have a place to shower and drop my stuff while I go look for other accommodation. She goes to look for the keys for an hour or so and I unpack all the way and plan out my day.

Next stop is a 30 minute or so walk to the center of town, to the train station. My plan is take a lot of public transit as I don’t want to hire a car and drive on the other side of the road while I try to read a map on my own. The train goes most of the places I want to go, Simon’s Town to Boulder Beach to see the penguins and Newlands Stadium to see the cricket (West Indies v. South Africa). It’s on.

I head out into the sun with my Lonely Planet Cape Town. It failed to mention that no one takes the train except folks from the township, who look nothing like me. At one point close to the train station, a guy started asking pretty aggressively for my bag. I was nervous, but just said no. When someone else came around the corner, I figured I was saved and that that he would run off. Instead they colluded and both started pulling on my bag. I ran off and luckily they didn’t give chase. Still, I was rattled.

From there I went to the safest, most gentrified tourist trap on the map, the waterfront. I speed-walked there, looking over my shoulder the whole time. On the way I did stop to take this photo, which is maybe my favorite from the entire trip. I can’t explain it but my smart friend Amy (Yes, a Fullbright scholar) thinks maybe it is 3D Graffiti and I like that idea:

The waterfront was hot and crowded with tourists and harbor side restaurants and a mall.
I found a Mexican place and went inside to watch the Boxing Day cricket at the bar and have a castle beer. There I learned the cricket was in Port Elizabeth anyway, not Cape Town. (Think New Orleans not Sacramento) The ‘travel journal’ from this episode is in huge, messy, frantic letters. “26-Dec 6 PM. Cape Town Water Front: Scared. Very Scared. What have I done?!?!?! I am in a wack Mexican place and my B&B doesn’t have my reservation and this city is scary!”

It got a lot better from here. I took a taxi back to ‘my’ B&B and the attendants were gone but I realized it was a pretty good location, even if it did have no AC. Then I headed out for dinner and another Castle beer at what is now my favorite bar in Cape Town, Rafikis:

I like sitting out on the deck, reading the paper, and inside they are always showing the premier league. Reading the paper in South Africa, I learned that Walker Texas Ranger is on here too. Why? This is our most pervasive export. I also read the high school exam results. They publish them in the paper. Could you imagine if the SAT scores for your town were published in the paper every year? I was shocked. This apparently always proceeds several suicides, but no one seems to think a policy change is in order.
Day 2 in Cape Town I got up early and decided to climb Table Mountain, which (since my Dad asked) is 1086 meters high. This was a great walk and the most beautiful view I have ever seen. Here’s me pretty daunted prior to the walk up. Can you see how nervous I am?

View from the top

Me and Rene
View from the Top
For 50 more photos of Table Mountain from differing angles, be sure to check out my flickr account.

It was hot and a pretty demanding 75 minutes or so to the top. I met a really nice couple from Colorado who I walked up with, took the cable car down with, and they even gave me a lift home! I’ll look them up next time I’m in Colorado. It had rained recently and there were waterfalls percolating though the mountain on the walk up. The views from the top are stunning. It is probably the most beautiful place in the world. This was maybe the highlight of the trip. I had a great day.

The next day I set off for the official tourism office, to rectify the no accommodations situation. There I met Chanelle who helped me a lot.

When I told her I needed accommodations for New Years Eve in Cape Town 2 days before, she shot me a “girl, you crazy” look, but she decided to help me anyway. She called tons of places. She even called hotel penthouses for thousands of dollars a night. I was desperate. Then she found it. The Signal Hill Lodge. Reasonable price. Decent location. Room for 2 nights. I put down my deposit, made my reservation and received a second “confirmation”.

Again I was elated. Crisis averted. Then, now thoroughly put off my public transit idea, I booked all these door-to-door tours. I booked a tour the Cape of Good Hope, Boulder Beach, Robben Island, a Wine tour and a Township tour. I also met up with a friend of Jesse’s for Sushi dinner. Liesl was super nice and we had a great evening. All was well.

After my sushi dinner, I got home to a hand written note on my door. Signal Hill had called. Actually, they were overbooked, and couldn’t help me, and wouldn’t give me a refund, but had found me some other accommodations with “John”.


I left the next morning at 7:30 for my tour to the Cape of Good Hope. Boulder Beach and Robben Island. The penguins were super cute.

The cells where Mandela spent 18 years were spare and some how cold even on a hot summer day. The guides are former political prisoners on the island. The island is huge and filled with rabbits and springboks that were brought over for the wardens to hunt. There is still a community of former wardens and former prisoners who live together on the island, with shops, a primary school and a church.

Mandela's Cell

The next day was a wine tour which was an awful lot like a Yarra valley wine tour or a Hamptons wine tour. The best bit was when I skipped out of the tour to visit this Cheeta outreach center. This was one of the highlights of my life:
He was super soft and super chill, and reportedly not sedated. I’m pictured here with Maya who was also on the wine tour. She was cool and from Lebanon. I don’t have any photos of them dragging me away from this area, screaming, but I know you can picture it yourselves.

The next day was the 31st and the day I was scheduled to move in with “John”. Needless to say, I was a little nervous. This super nice guy came to pick me up. He drove the long way to show me the beautiful beaches of Camps Bay before taking me to Sea Point Beach. To my surprise, the place he took me too was gorgeous. It was an ocean front two bedroom apartment that was beautifully furnished. Here’s some photos from the balcony:

I was only lucky enough to have it because it was reserved by some other flake that has done something weird with her reservation. This place is a short bike ride to the Stadium for 2010. I will be going back and we will need bikes because, the traffic was terrible, without any world cup. The place was a 30-second walk to the beach, and as I had done most of my touring, I was due for a couple of days of basking on the sand. The new place also had this incredible sideways elevator:
I just had one tour remaining. The Township tour was mind blowing in a lot of ways. It’s hard to imagine a bus load of Japanese tourists surviving getting bussed through the Detroit projects, but everyone we saw waved and was very friendly. I made sure to reserve with tour operators owned and based in the townships. There’s not a lot of industry there for the 1.5 million or so people, so any work is important. There were very crowded conditions, water taps that vast numbers had to share. Complex webs of extension cords from generators to ‘houses’. ‘Houses’ made out of every possible material. I went to a B&B based in the township and a tiny day care for 50 children under 6. What none of these pictures can demonstrate is how far in every direction these homes stretched. It was vast. Every 5th house or so is some informal cash food store. I went to a pottery art project in the township and bought some souvenirs. I saw goats grazing, and some good looking barbeque, which was maybe, come to think of it, a before and after advert.

After the tour, I went home to hang out in my huge, plush pad, which served as a stark contrast. For new years I watched movies on cable and made some pasta. After an ocean side run, I spent the 1st on the lounging beach and tried breakfast at this place which disappointed me just as much as it was teed up to:
Also check out the pool by the beach on New Year’s Day:
On the 2nd I flew home. For some reason the Johannesburg Airport was flooded (!), so I got stuck waiting in Jo’Burg for my flight to Sydney for 7 hours. That was booooring. I listened to 7 This American Life episodes.

The flight home was surprisingly pleasant. I sat next to a 9 year old boy from Melbourne who was in to the NBA (he was a Nuggets fan!) and I drank champagne and watched the Darjeeling Limited,which was awesome. Francis is basically me. I will be taking a laminated itinerary everywhere I go from here on out. Look out.

That was the trip and now I’m back in the full on Melbourne summer. I’m trying out for Team Box again and hanging out with Amanda, Joy and Hussey who are all in a state of flux (moving homes). Next up I’ll be going to some Cricket (20/Twenty), Sufjan, and the Australian open. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Few Days in the Sun

Sun City – South Africa: Well, I’m back in Melbourne after 12 or so days away. South Africa, although unexpected, was a good trip. All of the pictures are up on flickr now but here’s a little context. This post is about the first 4 days I spent in Sun City. More on my 7 days in Cape Town in a future post.

I left Melbourne on Saturday December 22. Almost immediately things took a turn for the worse. My flight from Melbourne to Perth was delayed and it seemed certain I would miss my connection in Perth to Jo’burg. As much as the chance at a night in Perth thrilled me, missing my connection meant paying for a night in Sun City when I wouldn’t be there (as they have a 7-day cancellation policy), as well as missing my driver who was picking me up. In the Melbourne airport without my cell phone or laptop it was going to be a struggle to tell him on a Saturday that I wasn’t coming when I had said I was, but that I would be coming later at some unspecified time...

I didn’t want to try to get to Sun City (about 2.5 hours drive from Jo’burg) without a driver with whom I had a reservation. Unknown drivers were reportedly unscrupulous (or worse) and I didn’t want to get in a situation where I was relying on ad hoc transportation. In true Courtney fashion, I was getting my panic on.

Finally, my flight from Melbourne boarded about 4 hours later than scheduled, but Quantas held the Perth-Jo’burg leg so I actually made my flight. When I boarded the flight in Perth, my excitement equaled my previous state of panic, and I love flying business class. A travel journel I kept on the trip (just for you faithful reader) has this entry: “22-Dec. 6:05 PM Perth time: Champagne! Euphoria!”

When I arrived in Jo’burg, Benedict, my driver, had been waiting for me for hours. He was super nice and we headed off for Sun City. The only odd thing about Benedict was his need for ‘fluids’. We stopped several times to buy Powerade, which he guzzled continuously all drive, as if it had medicinal or even magical power. He blasted his gospel music at me and was profusely, over the top friendly.

Sun City was exactly like Vegas. Nothing about it seemed even remotely African. There is both a tram and a shuttle service that runs the 5 minute walks from the casinos, wave pool and the four hotels of graduating expense and luxury. The Casino was full of tourists of every nationality. As I had planned my trip 4 days ahead of time, I was in the Cabanas (aka the Sun City Projects), the family hotel. There were lots off big families. Japanese families. Greek Families. Hasidic families with 8 kids even though the mom is 28 and wearing one of those synthetic wigs. The pool was full of screaming kids. They were blasting activities (3 legged races, eggs tosses) over a pool-side intercom. My plan to sit by the pool and sip fruity drinks was clearly off.

My room was pretty basic, but nice and clean and had this warning on the door you don’t see in every hotel room.

I spent my days going on Safaris where I rode elephants and saw lions, hippos, zebras and giraffes. I had never seen these animals out side of the discovery channel and the zoo, so to see them in the Pilanesberg National Park, running, or dozing casually was really pretty cool. Just the scenery in the area, even without any wildlife was startlingly beautiful.

I also went to this crocodile sanctuary which was thoroughly entertaining:
I spent my nights in the weird theme park style restaurants (I had sushi one night, Indian another) and in the casino, where you can feel like a big shot, betting 100s as 100R is about $US 14. Everyone in Africa has some guns. Just ask my friend Pauker. Here is where you check in your gun before you go into the casino:
Internet access was advertised in the hotel, but was provided by placing me at one of the kiosks at the front desk, behind the counter, so while I was checking my yahoo! guests kept asking me for more towels or to call the shuttle. I didn't surf long.
Christmas eve was weird. There were fireworks and a big parade with Santa. I briefly mistook the fireworks for missles and the rolling trucks of the parade for tanks, but once I realised what was going on, dissapointedly, I went to bed. On Christmas day I hung out in the gym and the spa. On the 26th at 6 AM Benedict came back to get me. He insisted we stop in Church Square in Pretoria so that he could take my picture by this statue of Paul Kruger, who he blames exclusivley for Apartheid:
He talked about how 15 years ago, he couldn’t have driven me on this trip. We talked about how he liked soccer but his 10 year old son liked cricket and he got his son a new bike for Christmas and he took me to the airport and we said farewell.