Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye Kodachrome and 2010

Some final bits about 2010.

I read, with some sadness, that the last Kodachrome processing unit shut down yesterday in Parsons Kansas. It was the end of a 75-year old era. 

2010 also saw the passing of some wonderful film legends. The Turner Classic Movie channel does a great job in remembering those who have died in 2010. Have a look yourself. 

Finally, I hope that 2011 brings happiness and good fortune to all.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Mother Will Do Anything for Her Children

A lot of movies are released during the holidays to take advantage of Christmas vacation. If you see one movie this season, I recommend Mother, a film from South Korea. It's a crime/mystery movie about a mother trying to prove the innocence of her mentally handicapped son who is accused of murder. It's available on DVD and also on Netflix through video streaming/download. It's a terribly sad film, but it keeps you guessing to the very last frame.

Many people are put off with subtitled movies, and it does detract from watching; however, it's worth watching this very original and surprising film in spite of the subtitles. Watch it and tell me what you think.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Movies at 30,000 Feet

Movies shown on airline flights are generally garbage. However, on my recent trip to Australia, I was treated to some very good films and some predictably bad ones. Here's the low down.

Cairo Time: Nothing much happens, but from the very first frame, I was hooked. This is a beautiful film about a woman who goes to Cairo to visit her diplomat husband. It's a story about the complexities of love and middle eastern politics, where nothing is black and white. It stars the wonderful Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. I have yet to see Patricia Clarkson in a bad movie. She knows how to select her films. Beware: There's no nudity, violence, adult language, dazzling special effects or big stars. It reminds me of the film classic, Brief Encounter

Animal Kingdom: This Australian movie is completely different from Cairo Time, and I enjoyed it in a different way. This is a hard edged and gritty story about a family of low level criminals. There's lots of violence and adult language, but the performances are stellar and the storyline fascinating. 

Eat, Pray, Love: Julia Roberts is having a mid-life crisis and goes on an around the world journey to find herself and happiness. Guess what? By the end of the movie, she does. Everyone feels good. This cliche filled and predictable movie is a STINKER!! If you have insomnia, this movie will cure you. 

The Switch: I should have known better. Any movie with Jennifer Anniston is guaranteed to be a crap. Who enjoys this kind of drivel?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Truth is Sometimes Stranger than Fiction: Case of Infanticide

Keli Lane
Australians seem to specialize in cases involving mothers who kill their children. Remember the sensational 1980s murder trial involving Lindy Chamberlain ("the dingo got my baby" case). The case riveted Australia, and was later made into, A Cry in the Darka film that allowed Meryl Streep to show off her Australian accent. 

While I was in Australia, the biggest news event (other than Oprah's visit) was the Keli Lane murder trial that ended last week. Ms. Lane was convicted of murdering her baby, Tegan Lane, two days after giving birth to her in 1996. The fact that Ms. Lane hid five pregnancies in all -- two aborted, two that proceeded with the babies adopted out, and the baby Tegan -- prompted a public outcry. How could a mother do this? Why didn't she use contraception, have another abortion or give the baby up for adoption? More importantly, where were the authorities that allowed such a thing to happen?

During the 17-week trial, the prosecution argued that Ms. Lane, a former champion water polo player, killed her baby because she did not want the child to get in the way of her Olympic aspirations and active social life. Ms. Lane was a water polo star and was looking for a place on the 2000 Water Polo team. The first thing you learn about Australians is that they're sports fanatics and idolize their sport stars: rugby, soccer, cricket, tennis, golf, surfing, sailing, track and field, and of course swimming.  

Lawyers for Lane said Ms. Lane kept the births secret because of her "shame, embarrassment and humiliation" about her sexual encounters that led to the conceptions and her failure to use adequate contraception. She feared she would lose her friends and family if they found out about her secret pregnancies. Moreover, knowledge of her pregnancies, abortions and adoptions would damage her "star" appeal and potential for endorsements. The defense argued that Ms. Lane may not have had maternal instincts, but she didn't kill her baby, and she shouldn't be convicted for not doing what society deems appropriate. In addition, the defense argued that the baby's body was never found and it was reasonable to assume that Tegan was alive. 

Ms. Lane's secrets were unraveled in 1999 when a social worker learned of Tegan's birth while working on the adoption of Ms. Lane's subsequent child. The social worker became suspicious when he discovered a hospital record indicating that Ms. Lane had given birth to a child in 1996. He tried to investigate the child's life but discovered there was no birth certificate, medical records, nor any other documents to indicate the existence of the child. When he asked Lane about the child, she denied its existence. He ultimately went to the police and reported the child missing.

The police interviewed Lane in 2001, and she told them the baby had been given to the natural father (Mr. Morris or Mr. Norris), a man she said she had a brief and secret affair. She changed her story a number of times during the investigation, but this was the story she used at trial. The prosecution claimed that the named father, Andrew Morris or Andrew Norris, was a fictitious person. In fact, the police spent tens of thousands of hours attempting to trace the whereabouts of Tegan, Mr. Morris or Mr. Norris, but to no avail.

Dominique Cottrez
Was Ms. Lane crazy or just bad? Clearly, Ms. Lane suffers from a mental disorder. Was this disorder exacerbated by a need for fame or fueled by a society that places a high premium on sports?

Mothers who kill their babies are not that uncommon. A few years back, there was the case of Dominique Cottrez, a woman who killed 8 of her children in a span of 17 years. What's amazing is that Ms. Cottrez was able to keep their births a secret, even from her husband. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Live Music at JFK Terminal 5

Traveling these days is exhausting, especially when going half way around the world. Stopping off in Los Angeles and travelling business/first class certainly takes the edge off, but it's still grueling.

One oasis on my journey was Terminal 5 at JFK (Jet Blue Terminal). Terminal 5 has free Wifi, reasonable places to eat (the salad bar at CIBO Express is exceptional), and a large atrium to people watch while surfing the net. Today, while waiting for my airline connection to Portland, I was treated to live music, a jazz quartet. It's like being at a night club. It reminded me of the Nashville airport, which also provides live music. I actually enjoy being at Terminal 5, even when it's a 5 hour lay over, like today. 

One disappointment during this trip was the Red Carpet Club (United Airlines "Elite" Member Lounge). I recall the Red Carpet Club as being something special. I used to look forward to it. However, over the past few years, the Red Carpet Club has gone steadily downhill. For one thing, it no longer provides very much food to its guests. It used to have a variety of yogurts, cheeses, bagels, cereals, breads, fruits, and pastries available during the early morning hours. And in the afternoons and evenings, it usually had a variety of soft drinks, vegetables, cheeses and breads. The Red Carpet Club does provide free wine and beer, but it not good (makes the Trader Joe "Charles Shaw" wine seem like quality wine). 

This morning the only things to be found in the Red Carpet Club were slices of bread, a few apples and bananas, and some cereal. When I compare the Red Carpet Club to its competitors, there is no comparison. For example, the Air New Zealand Lounge in Sydney has an actual food buffet, which offers a large selection of meats, cheeses, fruits, casseroles, vegetables, desserts, and even pancakes! The Air New Zealand Lounge also offers, free of charge, a good selection of wines, beers, sparkling wines, liquors and spirits. 

I wonder why someone would pay for a Red Carpet Club day pass ($39, if purchased online, and $50 at the lounge) when an airport restaurant meal can be had for half the cost.  

Spelling Mistake:  I should never read previous blog postings. I always find typos and spelling mistakes!! Today, I found a big one. The capital of New South Wales is spelled: Sydney. It is not spelled with an "i," as I spelled it. Oops! Spelling was never a strong subject for me in grade school.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Land Down Under: Final Thoughts

Port Douglas Beach
On my last day in Australia, I visited the Pyrmont neighborhood in West Sydney. I'm glad I did. When I was in Sydney three weeks ago, the neighborhoods that I visited (Newtown, Glebe, and Paddington) seemed cold and uninviting. In Paddington, the main street was a string of boutiques. There were few cafes, restaurants or other retail shops. Just high-end boutiques. In Newtown, the same story; but this time, just restaurants, one right after the other. Sydney neighborhood's appeared to be monoculture's. 

Pyrmont was different. A mixture of residential and commercial establishments. There were tree lined streets, restaurants, cafes and shops. Pyrmont wasn't even mentioned in the guidebook. Now, I have an entirely different impression of Sydney. The fish market located nearby was also a great find. Not like San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf but a real working harbor. Too bad I wasn't hungry. 

The Land Down Under: Please Don't Hug!

Queensland is the only Australian State that still permits the commercial hugging of koalas. Koala hugging is big business. In fact, there is a Koala park just outside Brisbane where, for a fee, you can hug a koala to your heart's content. 

For many visitors, hugging a koala is a top priority. A couple of days ago, a YOW participant told me that his wife's only goal in Australia was to hug a Koala. Of course no one means any harm, but there is a good reason Koala hugging has been outlawed in most of this country. Koalas are not social creatures, and hugging is a traumatic event for them. I know I wouldn't like being hugged by a stream of strange, giant creatures all day. I flinched when I saw a photo of Oprah hugging a cute Koala as part of her much ballyhooed Australian tour.

Oprah sure knows how to stage photo ops. We've seen her in the newspaper in front of the Sydney Opera House, at Uluru/Ayres Rock and, of course, hugging a Koala. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Land Down Under: Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef

On Patio
Port Douglas (pop. 3,000) is a good base to explore tropical rainforest's and the Great Barrier Reef. Our lodgings, located just outside of Port Douglas, were just about perfect: a small bungalow tucked away in the rain forest overlooking the ocean.

High Points:

  • Scuba diving: Went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Now I understand why people love deep sea diving: it's like visiting another world. The diving experience was more fun than seeing the Reef itself. I was disappointed with the Reef. It wasn't as colorful as I expected. As a consolation prize, I decided to watch Disney's Finding Nemo, a movie that takes place in Australia and in particular, the Great Barrier Reef. Now, that's color!
  • Rain Forest: The only word that comes to mind is LUSH!
  • YOW Conference: I met a lot of nice and extremely intelligent people. I have a new appreciation for techies. What a difference compared to lawyers. 
  • Seeing spectacular lighting and thunder storms set against the rain forest canopy!

Low Points:
  • Price of Food: Food costs are at least double. I was talking to a person at the YOW conference who was from Denmark (a place where food costs are HIGH), and even he remarked on the high cost of food. For example, a "burrito" can cost $20-$31 dollars. BTW: The burritos range in taste from mediocre to revolting. Breakfast will cost between $15-$25 dollars, if you add coffee, tack on another $3.50-$5.50 per cup. A simple dinner will cost around $50 dollars per person, without beverages. 
  • Driving on the left side of the road is difficult, but what's more irritating are the rude and obnoxious Queensland drivers! 

If you decide to travel in the tropics here are some suggestions:
  • Stay in the shade and wear sunscreen. The sun is EXTREMELY intense.
  • Wear insect repellent. There are lots of stinging insects! Also, apply the repellent to the outside of your clothes. The insects can bite through clothing. I have the welts to prove it. Be aware that there have been reports of Dengue fever in northern Queensland. 
  • No matter how enticing, don't swim at the beach. This time of year there are poisonous jelly fish. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Land Down Under: Brisbane, Part 2

Baby Bat Rescue
Bat at Dusk
It's a bird. It's a plane. No it's a BAT! Yes, a colony of bats outside our hotel window in downtown Brisbane. At first, we thought they were birds roosting in the trees. Then we noticed they were landing in the trees upside down. When we went outside for a closer look we could see their furry heads and cute little legs. (Did you know that bats hang upside down because their legs can't support their weight.) These aren't the small bats (12" wingspan) that I am familiar with in California, but instead the Dracula kind of bats you see in the movies.

It turns out that these bats are the Grey-headed Flying Foxes common in eastern Australia. Because of the heavy rains in Queensland and New South Wales this spring and summer, more bats have migrated to the cities in search of food. There are an estimated 20,000 bats in the Brisbane Botanic Garden alone. Unfortunately, these bats are a threatened species and need our protection. 
Bearded Dragon Lizard

Bee Hive Ginger
Seeing giant bats in the middle of a big city made me realize I wasn't in the USA. I tried to take some photos and videos of these spectacular creatures, but it was very difficult. You can judge the success of my efforts yourself.

Banyan Tree
In addition to the bats, you can see plenty of other strange things on the streets of Brisbane, including bearded dragon lizards, exotic birds, plants, and insects.

Park Road in the Milton Neighborhood
of Brisbane

Interesting Side Notes:

I was reading in the newspaper that the Eiffel Tower was closed temporarily due to bad weather. But who needs the Paris Eiffel Tower when you can visit Brisbane's own Eiffel Tower. 
    Trash Can in the Bulimba Neighborhood
    of Brisbane

I get so tired of having to pick-up cigarette butts tossed on my front lawn. Here is what the City of Brisbane has done to solve this nuisance. See this, Portland!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Land Down Under: Brisbane, Part I

Interesting State Motto
Before I actually came to Brisbane, I was expecting a sort of Australian version of Dallas: a city with flash but with little substance. What I found was a city with a dash of Florida temperature, a sprinkling of New York City culture, a fair amount of Texas attitude, and a bit of Las Vegas glitz. I like it! In fact, Brisbane is referred to by Australians as Brizvegas.

Art Work outside Museum of Modern Art
Brisbane has money. You can tell by the infrastructure: new roads, gleaming art museums, and a modern public transit system. One of the first things I did in Brisbane was take the inexpensive CityCat catamaran. The CityCat, along with the City Ferry, connects Brisbane along the river. This isn't a tourist ride like the cable cars in San Francisco but a real transportation system. Because Brisbane is built along a river, you can visit a lot of places by using its marine transit. It's a lot of fun. Check out my video below. 

High Point of the Day: A personal guided tour of the Brisbane Museum of Modern Art by two museum docents and the curator of the museum herself. What an incredible stroke of luck!

Like many museums, the Museum of Modern Art has a free tour everyday at 11:00 AM. It turns out that the day I took the tour, I was the only person present and the curator wanted to go over a new exhibit with her two assistants. I was the "guinea pig museum participant." The tour lasted one hour, and taking it was like having a crash course on Australian Modern Art: everything from Tracey Moffatt to Scott Redford and Reinhardt Dammn. All along the tour, I was free to ask any question I wanted, including questions about art, the changes happening to Brisbane and Queensland, and where to go for a "Brisbane experience." (It's always a good idea to find out what the locals have to say about their town.) At the conclusion of the tour, I was invited to have coffee with them at the posh Members Lounge. I felt like a real insider.

BTW: A few days later, I met the curator again following a lecture concerning the Queensland artist Scott Redford and his alter ego Reinhardt Dammn. But that's another story. 

One of the Brisbane Catamarans
Fictional Alter Ego: Reinhardt Dammn
(In case you can't tell, this is a statute and not a real person.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Land Down Under: Trashy American TV in Australia

In Australia they have some very good TV shows such as Rake, which I mentioned in an earlier posting. But they also have a lot of Trash TV.

The other night, I watched RuPaul's Drag Race, an import from the US. Who does Trash TV better than Americans? It turns out that this show is The Next Top Model for drag queens. As with Top Model, the ladies/men compete in a series of challenges before one is booted off. Strangely though, they do their first task as men, then drag it up for the major one.

The challenge is to "read" the other contestants. Apparently, "reading" is heaping insults on them, but in a sassy way, so it's not really offensive. The ladies/men then turn their attentions to creating a cover for their autobiography. They then must run their own photo shoot, give the book a name, and then do a media interview to promote it while also pushing a brand of vodka. Now, that's a lot of work!!

I had to chuckle when Titianna, who started performing drag when she/he was 14, asks "How do you spell successful?" I didn't say these contestants were brain trusts. You could watch this show just for the make-up tips. . . how do drag queens always do such awesome eyeshadow? The lowest-ranked two girls face off in a "Lip Sync For Your Life" challenge before the eliminated girl is told to "sashay away." How festive. There is so little call in life these days to sashay.

Rupaul's Drag Race may not be my cup of tea or my favorite trashy show, but it's not mean-spirited or cruel. That, at least, makes it a notch above other "reality" TV shows.  

The Land Down Under: Wine Tour and Koala Sighting

 Balnarring Vineyard
Winemaker telling us a
Hilarious Story about
Wine and Vegetarianism
About an 1.5 hours from Melbourne is the Mornington Peninsula, one of Australia's famous wine-producing regions. The peninsula is known for its Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Chardonnay. Most wineries offer cellar-door tastings and some have excellent restaurants as well. Having lived near a wine region (California's El Dorado/Amador counties), I'm a bit choosy about my wine. Don't get me wrong. I like a good cheap wine like the next guy, but don't sell inferior wine at exorbitant prices.

The day I visited the Peninsula, it was beautiful. For the most part, the wineries are beautifully situated with vineyards overlooking Port Phillip Bay. As for the wine, it was okay, but nothing special. I've been told that Australia's more famous and perhaps better wineries are in the Yarra Valley also near Melbourne.

The "high point" of my trip was seeing a wild Koala in a tree. It turned out to be less exciting than I expected. It looked like an unmoving grey furry ball. It turns out that Koala's sleep a lot (16-18 hours), and spend the rest of the time eating eucalyptus leaves. The one I saw was clearly in his sleeping phase. 

Toasting with Sparkling Wine

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Land Down Under: Oprah's Visit

Passionate Skin by Brook Andrew
Oprah is coming to Australia this week. Australia has paid $4 million in taxpayer cash to get the Queen of American Talk to come here, not including the cost of her thoroughly royal treatment on a private Qantas jet, police escorts, security details and road closures. Australia is also coughing up for a 300-strong audience to join her on the tour Down Under. So why is Australia footing the bill? It isn't like Oprah is short of money. In fact, Oprah stands to make millions from this trip. And Australia is paying. I guess that's why she's got the big bucks.

The Australian Office of Tourism is saying that Oprah will encourage American tourism. But with the American economy in the toilet, the Australian currency at an all-time high against the weak American dollar, and Oprah's fans barely able to pay their mortgages, the incentives Australia is forking out for Oprah seem to be a waste. The best Australia can hope for is that her US fans learn the difference between Australia and Austria.

What's amazing is that more than 75,000 people have reportedly registered for tickets to her Sydney shows. I know she's big. Not many people get by with just one name. And sure she's worth billions, thanks to her spooky ability to get her legion of fans to buy or reject whatever she deems fit; but, with the utmost respect to one of the world's richest and most powerful women, I say whoop-di-doo.

BTW:  The work done by Aboriginal artist Brook Andrew (shown above) comments on how traditional aboriginal cultural has been influenced by western culture. Is that influence good or bad?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Land Down Under: Melbourne

Melbourne Federation Square
Melbourne Victoria Market
Melbourne Terrace Houses
Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance
Some casual observations:
  • I've noticed less smoking in Australia than in the USA or Europe.
  • I've heard a rumor that McDonald's provides free Wifi in Australia. 
  • Woolworth's is still an on-going business in Australia but it's a grocery store. 
  • One Australian dollar equals one US dollar. A few years back, it was two to one. That's why a cup of coffee or can of Coke is $3.50. Ouch!
  • I haven't seen many people walking their dogs. Is there a shortage of dogs in Australia? 
  • River Walk Along the Yarra River Melbourne
  • "Rake" is a very good TV show in Australia. It pushes the boundaries. I'm usually very critical of TV shows, especially ones about lawyers. The episode with Sam Neill and his dog was a bit disturbing, yet I had too laugh.
With regard to Melbourne: it's a livable city that is full of culture and entertainment. I've strolled along the Yarra River, shopped in the art deco Victoria Market, visited the National Gallery of Victoria, watched street performers in Federation Square and wandered in Melbourne's diverse neighborhoods. Sydney maybe scenic, beautiful and glitzy, but Melbourne is a city you want to live in! 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Mime: Downtown Melbourne
Yesterday's posting was my 60th! It was a milestone and a time to reflect. When I started the Blog, I wasn't sure where it would go. I'm still unsure. I wanted the Blog to be interesting, informative and useful. As I review the previous postings, I see some successes, and I see some areas where I need work.

First of all, I want the Blog to be about my own personal experiences and reflections, not some dry travelogue or op-ed piece. From the very beginning of the Blog, I wanted to find my voice. For example, if I write about travel, I don't want it to be like Frommer's or Lonely Planet. In short, I want to write about what happens to me while considering my audience.