Friday, January 31, 2014


I have been looking forward to seeing the Spike Jonze film Her ever since I saw ads for it while I was in the States in December.  Belinda and I headed to the Kino after work tonight for an early evening showing.  The film is set in a slightly futuristic Los Angeles and follows Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely man going through a divorce who decides to purchase an advanced operating system (OS) similar to Siri on iPhones but with an intuitive artificial intelligence.  The OS names herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and soon she and Theodore's interactions evolve from a friendship to a romantic relationship.

The movie is touching and very well acted by Phoenix and Johansson.  I absolutely loved the aesthetic of this film from its use of color, the cinematography, and deconstructed costume design (the men's high-waisted pants are somewhat ridiculous but totally work).  The shots of people walking around the city talking to their OSes was a bit of a glimpse into the future- a together but alone state that some may argue we are already living in.  It's a very thought-provoking film which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sarah Blasko- Heavenly Sounds Tour

It's been a few years since I last went to a show on the Heavenly Sounds tour of Australian churches and cathedrals.  Last time it was to see Seeker Lover Keeper in Hobart and tonight was for Sarah Blasko solo at St. Michael's Uniting Church in Melbourne.  The church had large organ pipes at the back of the alter and stained glass windows on both levels of the circular room.  I was very happy tonight's sold out show wasn't occurring last week during the heatwave.

The opening act was singer-songwriter Appleonia (aka Jessica Chapnik Kahn) who was accompanied by a guy on electric guitar.  Her 40 minute set included a backmasking of her song "Precious" called "Heavy, Lord It Gets," which was quite interesting.  She said it was disappointing to find angelic messages instead of satanic ones when she first played it backwards.  She sung an anthemic song in Spanish from her native Argentina and closed with a number from the soundtrack she did for the documentary Despite The Gods about Jennifer Lynch's film work in India.

For Sarah Blasko this was a much more intimate show compared to last year's I Awake tour which featured full orchestras (the Sydney Opera House concert has just been released on CD).  Tonight Sarah's band consisted of long time members Dave and Ben who accompanied her on electric/acoustic guitar and piano/organ.  The set featured stripped back and reworked versions of songs primarily from the albums I Awake and As Day Follows Night, including "All I Want," "Down On Love," "God-Fearing," "Illusory Light," "Cast The Net" and "Not Yet."  Sarah's voice soared in the acoustics of the church and was so powerful at times.  She was also in a silly and fun mood and did her usual poses and moves during the songs.  At one point during the night an audience member proclaimed he loved her more than God!  It was such an amazing gig and fantastic to see her up close.  The closing song of the night was the appropriately titled "Showstopper" from the album What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have.

Here's the video for the latest single "Fool" off I Awake

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Diary Of A Heatwave

With forecast temperatures in Melbourne of over 40C/100F for most of the week I knew I was in trouble.  In preparation for the weather week from hell I opened up all the windows in my place to really cool it down, knowing that even though I was wrapped in a blanket on my couch tonight it would pay off later on in the week as my apartment stayed cool for  just a little bit longer.

People had been complaining in previous weeks about the lack of a summer so far.  However, right on cue with the start of the Australian Open came the heat.  We didn't reach the forecast of 35C/95F today, so it felt like a mini victory.  When I got home from the gym my apartment was still cool.  Feeling a bit smug, but know tomorrow will be hot.

Today was day one of the extreme temperatures.  By the afternoon it had reached nearly 43C/109F.  I felt really sorry for the tennis players as play was never suspended during the day at the Australian Open.  As I headed home from the city around 9:00 pm the air was still so heavy and hot it was almost difficult to breathe.

Compared to yesterday today was slightly cooler at 41C/107F.  Despite some severe thunderstorm warnings in the afternoon nothing ever eventuated in Melbourne.  I have been increasingly thankful for the air conditioning on public transportation and at work as my only line of defense at home is one fan.  My apartment is heating up as expected and I caved a bit and left the bathroom window open during the night to get some air in.  I'm sort of like the frog in a pot of water that's being brought up to a slow boil.

Today's forecast was for 44C/111F.  You know things are bad when both The Age and Herald Sun are charting the rise in temperature hourly with graphics at the top of their webpages.  It's like they secretly want us to get beyond the forecast top.  In an unprecedented move Metro Trains requested early in the afternoon for people to leave work and go home as soon as practicable in order to spread out the evening commute as they knew trains would be cancelled due to the heat.  We turned off the lights in the office to preserve power and thankfully the extreme heat policy was finally enacted at the Australian Open.

As I exited the gym in the evening there was very loud thunder in the city, with the rain starting as soon as I got on the tram.  Unfortunately it wasn't really a cool change and although temperatures dropped a little bit, it was now both hot and humid.  When I got home I was still sweating inside so I finally caved and opened up the windows in my apartment for the night as it was the same temperature outside as it was inside: 30C/86F.  Tomorrow's forecast is for the same temperature as today.

The last day of the heat wave!  Everyone is eagerly awaiting the cool change which is due to come through later today.  Articles in the The Age included stories of people checking into hotels to escape the heat of their houses/apartments and the horror headline Melbourne is a 'Heat-Island' Death Trap.  I went outside in the afternoon with Amrita to get a gelati from Spring Street Grocer and it was stifling hot: over 43C/110F.  It felt like walking in an oven.  After 5:00 pm though our weather nightmare was finally over as the cool change dropped temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius within a half hour.  Although outside was noticeably cooler, my apartment was still extremely hot so I opened everything up once I got home knowing it will take a few days for things to cool down.

Slowly but surely my place is cooling and we only reached a top of 24C/75F today and had a nice breeze.  It's a welcome change to feel a little bit cold instead of sweating all the time!  Hopefully we won't have another run of heat like this for the rest of the summer, but who knows what will happen.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Happiness Is A Row To Yourself

It's always sad to say goodbye to the family, but it was time to head back to Australia.  I had been sweating the weight of my checked bag most of Friday afternoon as it and my backpack were packed full of items I had purchased over the last three weeks.  The moment of truth came when I checked in for my flights and I was one kilogram under my 23kg limit!  Success!

San Francisco International Airport is one of the better airports to kill time at.  Besides free wi-fi access SFO always has interesting little exhibitions, such as the America's Cup 1851-1937 display currently in the international terminal, as well as public art.  I discovered the gates had these great large art pieces above them as I was walking around so I took pictures of a few that caught my eye.  It's a pleasant distraction while you are waiting to board your plane.

Once again I flew Air New Zealand from San Francisco to Auckland and then to Melbourne.  The travel Gods were smiling on me as I got a whole row to myself for the SF-Auckland leg.  This meant I was able to lie down to get some sleep (although we did have a fair bit of turbulence during the sleeping hours).  After the usual downtime at Auckland Airport and watching yet another sunrise there, I was back on a very full plane to Melbourne that ended up being a half an hour longer than scheduled due to a strong headwind.  As always I was able to watch a few movies during my extensive time in the air: "The Butler," "Enough Said," "One Direction: This Is Us," "Blackfish" and "Blue Jasmine."

I zipped through customs and baggage claim fairly quickly and then caught a taxi home.  Melbourne's typically erratic weather has been in full effect this afternoon- sunshine, strong winds, a little rain and clear skies again.  Now to try and get some sleep so I'm not a total jet-lagged zombie tomorrow at work.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Golden Gate Bridge

I have lived in Marin County for most of my life and the Golden Gate Bridge has always been my gateway into San Francisco.  There are lots of great places that provide a good vantage point of the bridge on both sides of the span, including the Marin Headlands and Fort Point which are two of my favorite spots.

Today, however, my cousin Leilani and I finally did something neither of us have done in all our years of living in the Bay Area: we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge!  Most tourists would have this as a must do item on their list of things to do when they visit San Francisco, but for locals I think we often don't get around to doing touristy things in our own backyards unless we have visitors from out of town. 

Being New Year's Day many of the observation areas were packed, so finding a place to park was a bit of a challenge.  However, we ended up finding a spot in the Presidio and walked to the south end of the bridge to start our journey.  The weather was a bit hazy but otherwise quite pleasant with sunshine, very little wind and no fog!  As we walked across to the north side of the bridge we both stopped frequently to take photos, especially at the two towers.  It was wonderful to be so close and see all the details in the construction of the bridge, especially its art deco lines and all the rivets holding things together.  We also had the beautiful afternoon sun providing some lovely lighting.


By the time we reached Vista Point the sun was starting to set.  The walk back was much faster and we got to watch a container ship come under the bridge as well as the sunset colors in the hazy sky.  As we approached the south end of the span we could see the lights in San Francisco as darkness descended on the City.  All in all we spent a couple hours walking around 4 miles on this beautiful landmark.  And for those interested in a souvenir, the Bridge Pavilion has some great merchandise for sale.

Zorn and Matisse

My cousin Leilani and I decided to check out a couple of exhibitions at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco to celebrate the start of the new year and do something fun while I'm in town.  Our first stop was Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter.  Zorn was one of the most famous artists at the turn of the 20th Century and the exhibition features 100 pieces including his watercolors, oil paintings, etchings and even some bronze statues.  There is no denying how talented Zorn was even at an early age.  His watercolors are amazingly detailed and realistic looking- you could be fooled to think that you were looking at a photograph.  He travelled extensively and painted local scenes and people.  He also did a lot of portraiture work of members of high society and important people of the time, including US Presidents Grover Cleveland and the official White House portrait of William Howard Taft.  In his later years he returned to his native Sweden and depicted scenes of Nordic life and customs.  I highly recommend this exhibition, which runs until 2 February.

Next we looked at Matisse from SFMOMA.  As SFMOMA is closed for construction, this exhibition brings together works by Henri Matisse held by SFMOMA and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.  It is a small show of 27 paintings, drawings and bronze statues spanning four decades of his career.  Seeing Matisse's work was a bit of a contrast to the realism of Anders Zorn, but I liked the use of vibrant colors in his paintings.  The exhibition runs until 7 September so you have plenty of time to check out this little slice of Henri Matisse.
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