Friday, October 29, 2010

Turtle burger

Rusty is this mad guy a friend is couch-surfing with here in Williamsburg. He has a rad band called Justice Of The Unicorns, is never seen without a baseball cap and a ginger beard, and tells the funniest stories you've ever heard. His day job is maintaining one of Manhattan's parks. The image of him hooning around in a golf buggy, mowing lawns in criss-cross patterns "to look like Yankee Stadium" and turning the sprinklers onto homeless dudes who won't move, is surely the stuff of a great sitcom. But what he does in this video, this is amazing. It's probably going to blow your mind. It's the turtle burger.

Rusty can't lay claim to inventing the turtle burger (not made from actual turtles, but suprisingly realistic); he stumbled across it on a fishing website discussion board. Like any great urban legend it's almost impossible to trace the turtle burger back to a single individual - the turtle burger's origins are shrouded in mystery.

It's basically a mince patty wrapped in bacon (in a basket weave), with sausages stuck in for legs, tail and head. The loving slow motion of this video makes the whole process seem so deliberate, the clipped detail of the toes and mouth seem like surgery. And best of all is when they get the deli guys to sell it at the end. Rusty keeps sending random friends in to request it, just to freak out the deli guys.

Desperate to try making one....

Things I Love Thursday: October 28

Sorry I’ve been a ghost this week! It’s been magnificently, unseasonably warm in New York – singlet and T-shirt weather and it’s almost November, imagine! So it’s been lovely to be gadding about outside... Here are some of the best parts:

The word “autumnal”... Gold and russet leaves swirling through the air like confetti in Prospect Park this morning... Listening to Electric Light Orchestra because over-the-top strings and harmonies seem like the only logical soundtrack to days this perfect; it’s like living in some hipster romantic comedy.

Everyone gets so into the Halloween spirit here! Every doorstep is festooned with cobwebs and skeletons, pumpkins pepper the streets.. Every second conversation you eavesdrop on in the subway involves the weighing of Halloween weekend party options, and the intricacies of various costumes. I went to one of the temporary costume stores that popped up all over the city in the past couple of weeks, like a plague of mushrooms, and walked out even more confused – there are so many possibilities you really need to go into those places with a plan! Leaning towards a semi-saucy “White Russian” costume, not only because it plays into my recent fur hat obsession, but because it could potentially do double duty for Lebowskifest....

Roadtrips... Patting puppies in Park Slope bars... Buskers on the subway in the wee hours... Elvis Perkins in Dearland... Cruising comics and zines I can’t afford at Desert Island... Perving on other people’s literary tattoos... Growing obsessed with the sick, sad world of bemulleted bogan Kenny Powers via Eastbound & Down... Lychee sorbet and fur hats in Chinatown... Hometown friends in LES bars... the ever-growing Australian contingent – “New York is the new London”...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things I Love Thursday: 21 October

It's been a weird week; the dizzying highs of this amazing city tempered by feeling a long, long way from home. Life has also taken on a temporarily nocturnal routine with this week's slew of gigs - tonight brings the third of five sets from My Morning Jacket, when I expect they will eclipse even the incredible shows of Monday and Tuesday night. Each show the band plays a different album, in full and in sequence - how often do you get the opportunity to see your favourite band do that? Particularly on the first night, playing their sprawling lo-fi debut The Tennessee Fire, some of these songs had never been performed in concert before. And then after they've played the album they roll into B-sides and covers, like their chilling version of "Rocket Man" or a funked up "Miss You".

Hairy philosopher frontman Jim James is in magnificent voice, the band sounds amazing, and already epic songs are teased out with incendiary jam sessions. There have already been too many highlights to list, but I reckon Jim's own lyric sums it up pretty well:
Why does my mind blow to bits every time
They play that song?

It's just the way that he sings,
Not the words that he says, or the band.
I'm in love with this soul, it's a meaning that I understand.
It's been everything a fan could hope for and more. I'm crossing all my fingers tonight's rendition of my favourite album, It Still Moves, will be complete with a horn section. Equally as awesome as the music itself? Rocking up to a gig alone only to meet a kindred spirit – both in obsessive MMJ fandom, and the pains of Tall Person Gig Guilt (TPGG).

Other things that rocked my world this week:

Accidentally discovering the flamingos at the Bronx Zoo just when we were about to leave... Coming home in the wee hours to find that Christmas decorations have gone up and my street is now laced with tinsel... Discovering the spicy Mexican mocha from Beaner Bar and knowing it will become a vital part of my winter survival plan... Catching the legendary Tony Joe White’s CMJ set and shaking his hand afterward (do you know his gorgeous song “Rainy Night in Georgia”?)... Playing random old video games at Barcade... 2am diner burgers... Seeing friends’ names among this year’s Walkley finalists announced this week... Baggy, super soft, worn-in old shirts... Listening to David Dondero... Trying to decide on a Halloween costume...

And a special shout-out to my family: whom I love every day, but today especially I wish I were with them.

Pinball millionaire

Got to see Australia's reigning pinball champion in action in East Village last night; he let me sub in on right flipper but I was very, very rusty. He even plays a song about pinball occasionally:

It's a fascinating subculture. Even though there's now only one company manufacturing pinball machines - and apparently most their sales of the $4-6000 machines are for private homes, since machines with thousands of moving parts are just too expensive for bars and arcades to maintain - cities like Portland and Seattle are hotbeds for pinball fanatics. There are national and international competitions, and crews of hardcore pinballers like the "Crazy Flipper Fingers" who see themselves as a gang of pinball outlaws like the Hells Angels were to bike gangs. There's a great article from the Willamette Weekly here which gives a great insight into how the Portland scene evolved, as well as the players and repairmen who keep it going.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

America by car

Currently showing at the Whitney Museum of American Art is a fabulous exhibition of photography by Lee Friedlander. Simply titled “America By Car”, the images use a rental car as a framing device for explorations of the many faces of the American landscape, shot over the past 15 years. The black-and-white shots are crisp, so deliciously crisp, and quintessentially American – Friedlander captures a country on the move, all the romance and kitsch and loneliness and grit of life on the road.

Forget geometrically lined up horizons – there’s a warm candidness to these shots that's more about telling moments than organised perfection. Which isn't to say the shots aren't thoughtfully composed - there's a wit to both their individual composition and the visual cues that link the collection together.

Densely hung at Friedlander’s request, the snapshots echo the bombardment of options that is life in America. They range from shimmering cityscapes through rain-streaked windshields to bleak desert vistas. There's something almost iconographic to the attention paid to monuments and burnt out neon signs. Frames packed with gas station signage jostle next to church noticeboards; other images are desolately spare, lacking only the metaphorical tumbleweed.

The elements of the car add another level of personality - you're aware of the photographer whether via a glimpse of his lens in the side mirror, a cigarette burn in the door upholstery, or bits of paperwork and gallery maps in the side pocket. The car itself is a character in this story. Seen through the windscreen, steam and condensation in vertical rivulets render a few trees into a forest. After so many uninhabited landscapes, when you see people it’s jarring – sighted through windows, reflected in side mirrors.

The exhibition takes you across the length and breadth of America, and concludes with a wall of stop signs from a myriad of states, and Friedlander's self portrait. It's a trip.

Friedlander's images are much better than my efforts! Check out a gallery here.

Ever vigilant, ever true

So you come home after a long day of fighting crime and kicking evil villain arse and all you wanna do is kick back and eat fish fingers and maybe watch some Gossip Girl, but what's this? When you put on your x-ray specs to see what's in the fridge, not only is the left lens cracked but you can still see that you're out of liquid courage and your supplies of instant force-field are all but gone. Not only that, but your favourite cape has an icky stain, and you know how hard it is to clear up kryptonite marks. The final blow? You can't find a single pair of tights that aren't laddered. What's a superhero to do?

Glad you asked. It's time to visit the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

It's pretty self-explanatory: if you're a superhero in need of supplies, this is where you need to be. There are sections for outfitting (where you can pick up tights and capes), secret identity kits ("strive to be boring!"), gadgets and supplies (from tins of bravery to invisible weapons and x-ray specs), maps and more. Awesomely, there's a cape-testing station where you can trial the aerodynamics of your purchase, surrounded by electric fans.

I loved the public service poster "Stop Sidekick Misuse" (from S.I.S.S.Y - Superheroes in Support of Sidekicks, Yeah!) which had handy tips for not exploiting your right hand man (or woman. Or... creature). For example - don't practice x-ray vision on your sidekick! Or make your sidekick walk your dog! After all, sidekicks are heroes too!

To make a purchase is the biggest production of all. You must place your items inside a vault, and they are then sent up to the office via ropes and pulleys. Meanwhile, you are required to recite the vow of heroism:
To be spoken aloud:
I [your full name], also known as [your superhero name], promise always to use my superpowers for good.
I promise that I will use the items I've purchased here today safely and in the name of justice.
I promise to remain ever vigilant, ever true.
Cute right? I was happy to play along. But be warned - should you ever find yourself reciting the vow of heroism at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co, and you fail to display an appropriate level of gusto, you will be asked to raise your voice so that everyone in the store stops and stares.

The best part of the store is hidden behind a door secreted away behind these shelves:

Yes, like all the movies you loved as a child, you can swing aside the shelves to reveal a hidden room. And it's here that the real magic happens - 826NYC's writing workshops for kids aged 6-18. Because of course, this hilarious store is brought to you by Dave Eggers and co, in the name of improving kids' lives through the written word. So if you wanna find a great gift for someone or just indulge your inner hero, check out some of the cool stuff online. Just quietly, my birthday's in a few weeks and I'm particularly partial to the maps.... "Where there is inaccurate mapping, vigilance wanes."

So what's your superhero name?

Mel's first bike

Guest post! The glamorous Melissa Davey, hot young journalist and blogger of Stumble.Stop.Repeat has kindly shared a memory of her first bike....

I have a brother just one year older than me, and growing up I always wanted to keep up with him. If he was being toilet trained, I had to be toilet trained. If he was going to Year 1, I had to go to Year 1 (there were plenty of tantrums and tears when my older bro left for his first day of school and I wasn’t allowed to go too).

My first bike was no different. He had a bike, so I wanted a bike. He lost his trainer wheels, so I had to lose mine too.

My very first bike was a pink tricycle with a little pink tray on the back. I would pedal around the back and loved to follow my brother everywhere. When I got tired of pedalling, I would jump on his tandem tricycle and he would pedal me around with him. Thankfully, he loved giving me rides. Sometimes I am sad that we were so incredibly close when we were younger, yet as time passes everything changes and that closeness too drifts away.

My very first two wheeler bike was also pink (being the only girl in a family full of boys, cousins and all, my family were keen to force 'girl’ colours onto me for as long as they could).
My brother had been given a bike for Christmas and my parents were wise enough to know that if he got a bike from Santa, Santa sure as hell had better get me a bike too.

I was six.

My mum remembers how I learnt to ride without my trainer wheels:

"You were determined to have your trainer wheels off because you wanted to be just like Geoff, you were so incredibly stubborn at such an early age.
"Dad was helping you to ride without trainers and I remember very clearly him running behind you holding your bike and you yelling out 'don’t let go daddy, don't let go!’
"After a couple of goes Dad let go, you looked around and saw he had. The look on your face was precious because you realised he was not holding you were doing it on your own.
"Geoff was also riding up and down on the path next to you and dad and he was giving you tips about how to get your balance to start with.
"Once you had got the hang of it there was no stopping were off.
"After that you and Geoff would spend hours riding up and down the footpath out the front of our place.’’

I remember my first major crash well.

I had been riding my bike up and down the path one Saturday, and Geoff's friend who lived up the street, Ryan, accidentally rode into me and I fell off my bike. I abandoned my bike and came running and crying home and into the lounge room and my face was covered in blood. Even though it was an accident Geoff was so upset he went after Ryan and told him off.

Ryan was scared about coming over for a little while after that, though he did sheepishly return my bike and left it on the front veranda.

I looked really bad because of all the blood, my teeth had gone through my lips and tongue so both of those areas bled a lot.

When I was cleaned up and the doctor came it didn't look quite so bad, but the next morning I had my cousins christening and I looked like I’d been through the wars – even my pretty white lace dress and mary-janes couldn’t hide the fact. Those good church-goers must have thought my parents were abusive.

My first bike brings back memories of adoring and looking up to my brother, my dads firm hands on my back as I pedalled on two wheels, the freedom that came with being able to put my dolls in my white basket and take them for a ride down the street.

And I admit, sometimes now I wish I could grab a few dolls, chuck them in my bike basket and ride off to the pond to feed the ducks all afternoon.

First posted here. Thanks Mel!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Queen of hearts

While I was back in my hometown I spent a lot of time with my Nanna - we got into a daily routine of coffee and cards. I'd walk over to her place, occasionally with takeaway coffees or a sweet treat, but usually she'd provide some baked goodness from her ever-prepared freezer. We'd make small talk over instant coffee for a while - she was always a woman of few words - but it was all just delaying the inevitable. Because what she loved most of all about this routine was playing euchre. More specifically, beating me at euchre. I got one up on her a few times, but for the most part she dominated. And chat came easier once our hands were busy with the cards; trash talk, gossip, even jokes.

At one point I asked her if she'd ever had a bicycle, and she remembered the first time she'd ridden one. She grew up on a property and was completely at home on horses, but her first bike seemed an alien contraption and she was much less confident in its saddle. She managed to get the hang of it, riding around the yard, and was just starting to enjoy it when she realised she didn't know how to stop.... so she rode into the wall of the house.

Last week I spoke to her on the phone - she in a St George hospital bed, me looking out the window at the Brooklyn moon. It was too tiring for her to talk for long, but she assured me she was feeling better, and asked if I'd found someone to play cards with in America. I promised I'd keep looking for a euchre partner, and we agreed to speak soon. Maybe it was the distance yawning impossible between us, but we managed to say out loud the words we'd just said silently for so long: I love you.

I'm gonna miss her a lot.

Monday, October 18, 2010

She's apples

It was a gorgeous autumn Sunday to get out of the city and see some of the New York state (and New Jersey) countryside. Fall is in full swing and the colours of the leaves are just amazing! When my friends organised to go apple-picking, I assumed it would be a quiet little farm and we'd be frolicking in the mud, surrounded by trees loaded with apples. In actual fact the farm (orchard slash winery) was packed with people, a band was playing, all kinds of food were on offer and while you could buy a bag to pick apples into, they had signs up saying there were very few apples on the trees...

And they weren't kidding! It was quite a mission just to spot an apple, and some potentially dangerous (particularly given the sangria on offer) tree-climing ensued. But in the end we harvested enough for an apple pie or two...

Seriously. Look at this countryside. They really do have red barns here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dinner for one

Hit up the McCarren Park farmers market again today, and what a haul of goodness I dragged home. After the artery-assault of lunch, dinner called for something vegetable-based. Initially I planned on having steak but decided to just have a salad of fresh greens and paper-thin slices of radish, alongside these gorgeous fingerling potatoes tossed with butter and thyme and chives. Winner.

All the while the apartment warmed up with the scent of caramel from the oven as I baked some pears. Just a bit of butter and brown sugar, and they came out just right. Ate them with a dollop of unsweetened vanilla yoghurt, though it would have been nice to have some nuts on top perhaps.

Fry society

Stopping for sustenance in Park Slope (a rather posh Brooklyn neighbourhood) today, comfort food was high on our weary, vestigially hungover agenda. When we looked across the road and saw Chipshop, it was like a sign from above. Chipshop does British-style food. Read: everything is fried, everything comes with chips. And real chips - the sturdier, stodgier cousin of the usual anorexic french fries you get here. The fish and chips has been voted among New York's best, and you can even round off your meal with a deep-fried chocolate bar of your choice.

Eschewing the various butties and fish-finger creations, my companions went for the pie and chips, drenched in gravy. The pie was phenomenal - melt-in-your-mouth steak and juicy mushrooms. I resisted the siren song of the deep fried dark chocolate Bounty, and decided to be adventurous and taste the fried macaroni cheese. BEHOLD:

And inside its crispy battered suit? Extremely creamy mac n cheese. It was the size of a softball and 50 times more likely to kill. About halfway through I had to stop and just focus on breathing... felt like I was moving in slow motion from all the cholesterol idling through my arteries. As a stultifyingly unhealthy and fabulously naughty snack, fried mac and cheese does everything you'd expect. It's just a bit too much, even for me...

Friday, October 15, 2010

My first bike

My first bike was a daggy, dusty pink little number, with painted white flowers and a white quilted seat. Can't quite remember if she was a birthday or Christmas present, but in that celebratory spirit her wheels were loaded with twonkling spokey-dokes. At least, they were until they got me paid out in the playground and I made Dad take them off, cheeks burning with shame. It's weird to think of how embarrassed I was of the pink bike, because now of course I'd love a bike like that!

My sister and I were thick-as-thieves with a family of boys around the same age, and the pink bike acquired some sorely-needed street cred when they began approvingly referring to her as "the Harley" because of her laidback handlebars. Mostly she served for the commute to and from school - sometimes accompanied by Mum on her massive blue Malvern Star, Elle strapped in behind her in a baby seat. Sometimes I'd go alone, pausing in summer months to steal jewel-dark mulberries from the huge tree overhanging the Henry Street footpath.

I have vague memories of first learning to ride on quiet summer evenings in the streets below the water tower near my house... training wheels that barely touched the ground, serving a purpose more psychological than practical, and my Dad's hand guiding the back of the seat, cursing my anxious timidity no doubt! Later, when I upgraded to my prized aqua and purple mountain bike (absolute fave colours circa nine-years-old), the pink bike was duly inherited by Elle.

Many childhood bikes in St George came from a pine-shaded shed on the outskirts of town, where Paul & Nancy sold bikes to ecstatic kids. I'm sure Paul and Nancy had lives more complex than just selling bikes, but since I only ever saw them when a bike was being picked out for Christmas by myself or my sister, I will forever associate them with the joyous feeling of choosing a bike worth more money than I'd ever owned. If you took me to a car showroom now and let me pick one out, I'm still not sure it would be more exciting.

For so many of us, our first bike was our first taste of freedom. Reaslising there was nothing really stopping you from riding to the park, or your friend's house, was thrilling and even a little scary.

A dear friend told me a story I just love, dating back to when he was just a little tacker with a rebellious streak. We were talking about the inevitable childhood urge to run away from home, and he remembered when he planned his escape: his toys stuffed into plastic bags, dangling from the handlebars of his BMX. Not that he could be reasoned with, but his mum just let him go. Her first clue that he was absconding was when she found him washing his bike with the hose on the driveway - the way he had seen his dad clean the car before a big trip. He didn't go far, maybe around the block... After all, such childhood emotional crises are generally settled by the time the sun starts to dip and your tummy starts to rumble.

So I have a feeling that most of you will have a great first bike story, and I've already asked a couple of friends to share theirs in the hope that we can make this a regular feature. Plus what's cuter than faded old photos of kids with their bikes?! I'd love to hear about your first bike - hit up the comments or email me...

Things I love Thursday: 14 October

Oops! So much has been going on I haven’t had a chance to do this the last couple weeks, but there’s so much to love right now. What have you been digging this past week? I love:

Fairy lights... Popping out of the subway at night and seeing the Chrysler building lit up in the distance like my north star... “bedtime tea” with honey and vanilla soy milk... Lingering over coffee and cannoli at a mob bakery, eavesdropping and brainstorming story ideas while cigar smoke and machismo waft over me... Talking about music and film-making with a random guy at the Royale who has apparently just made a doco about Kings of Leon. It’s called Talihina Sky and they’ve entered it for Sundance so you heard it here first!

...Making a delicious dinner for my new room-mates with goodies from the farmer’s market. Did you know you can eat the leaves of beetroot? They’re so delicious – I was inspired by this recipe but added carrots and whole garlic cloves to the roasting pan....

Exploring... Coney Island... Burgers at all hours... Cooking my first (amazing) New York steak courtesy of the crazy guys at my new neighbourhood butcher, Model T Meats – sawdust on the floors, an ancient cash register, prices straight out of the 1970s and ALL the local gossip... Listening to I Will Love You At All while traipsing around museums and botanic gardens... Planning adventures in this hectic city –this weekend I'm aiming to do Friday evening drinks at the Met’s rooftop sculpture garden, scout for Halloween costumes at the Superhero Supply store, test boutique gin from the Breukelen Distillery, and then we're heading upstate to pick apples on Sunday....

...Spying a colony of no less than six rats in the subway station last night... The "Subway Wars" episode of How I Met Your Mother... Watching the leaves changing colour in my first real “fall”... wine and cheese on rooftops... Catching glimpses of that amazing skyline and remembering holy shit: I'm in New York.

"If Paris is France.. Coney Island is the world"

The full quote, pilfered from a faded mural on Coney Island's beachside boardwalk, is:
"If Paris is France, Coney Island, between June and September, is the world."
So said George Tilyou in 1886. Tilyou was a founding father of Coney Island's amusement district, setting up Steeplechase Park as a family attraction full of mechanical rides and sideshow excitements. This was the area's heyday, the turn of the century through to the 1920s, when the area became known as the "nickel empire" and seethed with Sunday crowds of hard-working immigrants on their one day off. It cost a nickel to get there on the subway, a nickel for a dog from Nathan's, a nickel for the rides.

Before Tilyou brought his vision to life the area was originally a resort for the upper class, then a new race track and boxing arenas brought in a broader crowd, and "associated gambling dens, dance halls, and brothels brought a hint of the illicit". All this history hangs heavy in the air at Coney Island; it's not hard to imagine those long-gone days.

Look familiar? Coney Island has a Luna Park too, used as a garish literary motif in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 follow-up, Closing Time. Turns out Heller grew up in Coney Island and his writing often returned to its landmarks of his childhood.

The telling part of Tilyou's analogy is its timeframe. When I visited the iconic south Brooklyn beach, it was very much an October Monday. The sun still shone and the Wonder Wheel still dissected the skyline, but the atmosphere was overwhelmingly one of melancholy, an abandoned funfair. The decrepit boardwalk creaks with every step, and wayward planks will trip you if you don't watch your feet as you stroll. Looking inland the skyline is composed of gritty brick housing projects behind the abandoned old rides. A string of retirement homes inhale the sea air off the promenade, so you're as likely to pass a wheelchair as a bicycle. Those enjoying Monday's noonday sun were generally of the older persuasion; let down your guard and you'll cop an eyeful of vast expanses of dimpled, undulating white flesh, or, if you're slightly luckier, a leathered mob of weathered regular sunbathers.

I passed many older couples out walking. One woman slowed as she approached me; I steeled for small talk and squinted in the glare, trying to catch her eye beneath a faded visor. But before she reached me she stopped short, spread her feet for steadiness, and leaned over from the hips as if peering through the boardwalk cracks for some lost treasure below. Then she held the bridge of her nose lightly and blew snot onto the ground.

An estimated million people per day visited Coney Island in the 1920s, but the area was ravaged by the Depression and spiralled into decline in the 40s when Luna Park caught fire and was closed. Since then Coney Island has struggled, castigated as an eyesore and constantly threatened with destruction by development proposals. But there have always been those who fought for the area's heritage, and in recent years projects like the Mermaid Parade and the opening of Lola Star's Dreamland Roller Rink in the magnificent old Childs building (now, sadly, shut down again, though you can watch a great video about it here) have rallied a dedicated community hoping for a Coney Island renaissance.

It's a historic little pocket of the world that steals people's hearts. To pinch another quote from that mural:
"All Coney Islanders have sand in their shoes. Once it gets in, it never gets out.
Coney Island may be down at heel but that's not to say it doesn't posess charm and beauty. The beach is no Coogee or Bondi, but you can still imagine it a crowded patchwork of beach towels and umbrellas on searing summer days; a many-sunburned-limbed creature imbibing beer and hotdogs and ice-cream from the parade of storefronts on the boardwalk. Sideshow games like the massive "SHOOT THE FREAK" sign kinda sum up the atmosphere - a jarring jaunt back to a bygone era, before political correctness and hyper-litigiousness. A time of hand-painted signs and coconut-scented suntan oil and strings of coloured light globes. Here's hoping Coney Island gets a second heyday soon.

Mermaid avenue

When researching Coney Island before my visit, there was one vague image that bubbled up from the vault of memory. I recalled a music video Supergrass did a few years ago, around the time of their Road To Rouen album, which featured archival and current footage of women dressed as mermaids and doing beautiful underwater dances.

Now, Coney Island does have an annual Mermaid Parade. Held at the height of summer, a sea of floats, vintage vehicles and costumed acolytes parade from Surf Avenue onto the Boardwalk. Each year there's a celebrity Queen Mermaid and King Neptune - this year Lou Reed was King Neptune!

But this is the video I was thinking of, for the song "Low C", and it's actually from a place in Florida called Weeki Wachee Springs. It's about all you can ask for from a music vid - almost more of a mini documentary, and it's a gorgeous complement to the song:

Amazing, right? Apparently Weeki Wachee spring is so deep no one's ever found the bottom. In the late 1940s an ex-Navy bloke called Newt Perry decided to set up a roadside attraction there off Highway 19, building an underwater theatre into the limestone and recruiting pretty girls to be mermaids, smiling and performing aquatic ballets, breathing oxygen sucked from hidden air hoses.
In those days, cars were few. When the girls heard a car coming, they ran to the road in their bathing suits to beckon drivers into the parking lot, just like sirens of ancient lore lured sailors to their sides. Then they jumped into the spring to perform.
Excuse me, I just need to check out flights to Florida....

Supergrass are one of those bands that never seemed to really get their due. They made some of the most memorable pop tunes of the nineties and naughties - grab a copy of their tenth birthday retrospective, Supergrass Is 10, and you'll be suprised just how many of their songs you know and love. Sure, they kicked off their career with two of the most quintessential songs of the Britpop explosion - "Caught By The Fuzz" and "Alright". But they went on to scale pop highs across a range of genres - glam, funk, fuzzy punk, blue-eyed soul, and more than a few nods to T-Rex and Slade. All illuminated by a sheer enthusiasm that's especially evident in the crowd-singalong joie de vivre of "Pumping on Your Stereo":
Life is a cigarette / You smoke til the end
The split-personality swoon and stomp of "Moving" is probably my favourite, though there's a magnetic melancholy about their 2005 Beatlesesque reinvention on Road To Rouen. There's a world-weariness permeating that album that probably isn't unconnected to the band's personal issues at the time. They released one more album, broke with their label EMI and were supposedly working on a seventh record called Release The Drones when they announced they were calling it a day in April this year. RIP, Supergrass. I'll never forget seeing them play Brisbane's Arena in 2004, one of the best gigs I've ever seen, complete with an encore cover of Neil Young's "The Loner".

Walkley photo finalists announced

This year's photographic finalists in the Walkley Awards were announced overnight and I was really excited to see who made the cut. It used to be my job to sort through all the photographic entries as they came in, and then to write the gallery notes for the exhibition of finalist images (100-120 photos), and it's one of the things I've missed the most since leaving. Within the office we staff would always make our own predictions about which images would be winners, but it was more fascinating to sit in on the judging sessions and listen to photo editors deliberate over the value of one set of images over another. They take into account a lot of criteria - the context, the constraints the photographer was under, how memorable the image was, whether it shows courage and innovation; the composition, lighting and impact of individual images, and the coherence and tight editing of series of images.

I really believe Australia is one of the world's best countries for photojournalism, particularly on a per capita basis! And it's great to see some new names among the 2010 Nikon-Walkley finalists, at a time when both staff roles and freelance opportunities for press photographers are being slashed. You can see the full list of finalists here; the winners will be announced at the Walkley Awards on December 9.

The Nikon-Walkley prize winners for portrait and regional photography have already been announced - check out a gallery here. I love Cameron Laird's winning portrait of Bob Katter; the composition is fun, and it completely captures the defiant, laughing insolence of him as a bloke and a politician. Another political image that seems destined to be a classic is Glen McCurtayne's commended news photo, a tight close-up of Kevin Rudd's face on the day he last spoke as prime minister, a single tear poised below his right eye.

In the sport category finalists (always a very tight race) I was particularly struck by two series. Craig Golding's commended black-and-white collection of shots of aged athletes at the Masters Games, and Adam Pretty's colour-saturated, dramatically composed images from the Singapore Youth Olympics. Pretty is Asia-based for Getty Images and to my eye his sport photography stands out because he has this way of taking fiercely human moments and instead potraying them with a clinical calm, an almost achitectural beauty; as though his shots are premeditated works of art rather than captured of-the-moment.

The photographic essay category is prized among the togs and this years' entries are strong. Phil Hillyard (who's had a stranglehold on the sport category for a few years) captures small, humanising details in his black-and-white series on new PM Julia Gillard: playing with her high-heeled shoe under the table at a meeting, checking her hair in the mirror before giving a speech. Jack Picone documents the tension and outright violence of the "Battle for Bangkok". And Jason South presents a harrowing photographic investigation of Yayasan Galuh Centre in Bekasi outside Jakarta, where the mentally ill are housed but not medically treated, many of them nude and chained to poles. I remember seeing these shots in the Sydney Morning Herald and thinking we'd be seeing them again come Walkley-time. South, Hillyard and Simon O'Dwyer will duke it out for the press photographer of the year title.

Catch the Nikon-Walkley Press Photo exhibition on tour around Australia:
  • Sydney: Australian Centre for Photography - 15-30 October 2010
  • Melbourne: The Age - 20th October-December 2010
  • Brisbane Powerhouse - 31 January-28 February 2011
  • Newcastle Regional Library - March-April 2011
  • Adelaide Fringe Festival - November-December 2011
More details here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


First thing you see when you alight from the subway at Coney Island - the end of the line, the very bottom of Brooklyn - is a huge greasy food chain called Nathan's. (not pictured - this burger boy is cuter than the actual yellow and green facade). Nathan's apparently invented the hotdog, and this place is the site of an annual 4th of July hotdog eating contest. Naturally, I had to try it. I got a cheese dog and, in case that wasn't bad enough for me, some chilli cheese fries.

Isn't this the most awesomely repulsive thing you've ever seen? The cheese is luke-warm liquid, pumped out of a plastic dispenser. The chili looks radioactive. By the time I got my haul down to the boardwalk so I could sit and eat, the fries had all but disintegrated under this mushy mash. It bore not even a passing resemblance to any actual food group and yet the only way it could have been more delicious is if I were in Kings Cross at about 4am. Oh and PS, I'm pretty sure I could have had bacon added to both the fries and the dog, had I so desired.

The life aquatic

On a whim, decided on a Monday jaunt to Coney Island. The New York Aquarium has been there on the boardwalk since the 1950s but it's all pretty modern, with outdoor enclosures for seals, penguins, otters and walrus as well as all the usual fish, sharks, rays, etc.

There's something otherworldly about aquariums. All these winding dark passages, glowing eerily with blue light from the tanks - these walls of thick glass like windows onto another planet. Jellyfish that seem to glow fluorescently in the dark, anemones like alien life forms.

While the past few days' explorations have been soundtracked by folk music, there's something about aquariums - the artificial light, the jarring strangeness - that calls for electronic music, and the Chemical Brothers' Further worked a treat. "Another World", indeed. One of my favourite memories of San Francisco was these parties they'd have once a month at the natural history museum (which included a planetarium and aquarium), when they'd keep it open late at night, serve cocktails and have DJs. It was nuts.

Here in New York though it was very much a Monday afternoon, and I felt like Gulliver among the swarms of kids on school excursions. I think my favourite part was the walrus feature. They have such funny faces, like whiskery fat old men, and seem to leer at you cheesily. Plus they're absolutely enormous, and yet they flip and slide through the water effortlessly. This one was quite the showman, speeding toward us from the far side of the tank and then somersaulting right down the glass, so the kids could stare into his eyes, squealing all the while...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mystery rambler

Right next door to the Brooklyn Museum is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Odd as it seems to have to pay to get in (hey, capitalism!), it's well worth a visit. The gardens are huge and varied, including fountains and lily pools...

... a conservatory that houses palms, aquatic plants, and a BONSAI MUSEUM where some of the teeny trees are nearly a century old...

... plus Japanese style gardens, a herb garden, a veggie patch for local kids to get their hands dirty, a grove of magnolias, and much more. When you first enter from the Eastern Parkway you're met by the Osborne Garden - a beautiful Italian-style lawn edged with wisteria-draped pergolas - which today was being gussied up for a Sunday evening wedding.

The park has a bit of an interesting history which you can read about here, the space was an ash-dump in the 1800s. Things are happening in the gardens all year round, like the "Ghouls and Gourds" festival planned for Halloween in a few weeks. My all-time favourite flowers are peonies, so fingers crossed I'll still be here in May when the collection of tree-peonies donated from Japan are in full bloom.

Another part that must be amazing in full bloom is the Cherry Walk, with stretching rows of different varieties of cherry trees which apparently put on the best cherry blossom display outside of Japan. Next to that, at least the massive collection of roses were out in all their glory.

Then there's this strange sight - a public artwork by Patrick Dougherty. Called "Natural History", it will stand in the gardens for 12 months until August 2011. Dougherty constructed these odd little huts - they're big enough to stand inside and peer out of - from reclaimed non-native tree branches, with the help of volunteers.

It's apparently all about sustainability and nature and the feelings he felt when he spent time in the gardens. But you know what they remind me of? Those crazy woolly monsters in Where The Wild Things Are. I like the quote from Dougherty where he said he wanted the finished work to resemble "lairs; a place for feral children and wayward adults."

Bish plz

Wandered around Brooklyn Museum in a weird mood today - kept seeing works of art and imagining them with stoopid internet-meme style captions.

Heheh. Heh. Heh. Heheheheh. Surely if a Disney villain and a Rastafarian stoner somehow had a bastard lovechild, it would look like this.

"I love your skirt, where did you get it?"
"It's my mum's old skirt from the eighties."
"Ooh, vintage. So adorable!"
(aside) "That is the ugliest effing skirt I have ever seen."

And does anyone else think this looks like George W Bush?