Não. Sim. Não. Sim.

10
Dec
2014

I didn’t have time before my trip began to get my Brazilian (visa, not wax), but I figured with all this time in Sydney, it was sure to be a breeze. Then a few days ago, I went online to find out to my horror that no, it would not be a breeze in fact. First, you have to gather a list of things a mile long (application form, passport photo, bank statements, money order for $208, and verified itinerary) and then make an in person appointment where you will deliver all of these items AND turn over your passport for a minimum of 15 days. I thought I would just make it in time, when I noticed that the first available appointment to book was weeks away, AFTER I was to leave Sydney. And the website contains a lot of very strict language about how they will not expedite shit, for nobody, no how. So I started to worry a bit and thought that perhaps I would have to re-route myself somewhere outside of Brazil. But before doing that, I thought what the hell, I would give them a call. In case you are thinking of doing the same while here in Sydney and in need of some Brazilian service the consulate provides, let me save you some time: don’t bother. There is no human being you can talk to on this line, I must have pushed every button in the damn phone tree. My final option was to send them an email, which I thought totally laughable. I have never gotten prompt or good service via email from any government organization anywhere in the world. But it was my last shot, so I sent them an email explaining my situation and asking them to bend their very strict rules. I thought my chances were between 0.0 and 0.0137 percent.

Are you sitting down? About an hour later, I received a reply telling me to come to the consulate two days later with all the items mentioned above and they would indeed expedite my request. So I carefully gathered and printed all the things they had asked for in the attachment to the email, and made my way to the consulate this morning, and asked for one Mr. Geraldo referenced in the email. After about an hour of waiting, he finally saw me and looked over all my documents and told me there were two items still missing, the email itself printed out (who knew I would need that as well) and a special mailing envelope to send me my passport. Wait, I asked, “Why can’t I just come pick it up?”. Apparently you can only pick up if you go through the “normal” channels. The expedited process requires mailing. I helpfully pointed out that this seemed counter intuitive, but Mr. Geraldo was in no mood to discuss workplace efficiencies, so I ran out and returned 40 minutes later (and $20 poorer) with the final two items. I am glad I saved the tracking number from the express envelope, because I will be able to track it online. And apparently, they have already processed and sent it off, because the tracking shows it was received by the post office at day’s end.

So very soon I should have my visa, and apparently they have changed rules in the last few years and the visas are now good for 10 years (instead of 30 days). For all the hassle, this was easier than the last time I did this, I guess. By a smidge.

You probably think this post is too long

8
Dec
2014

Within an hour of my arrival, at breakfast a few weeks ago, Nick gave me the rundown on Australia. One of the first things he told me was that Australians love to “infantilize” everything. So it isn’t “breakfast”, it is “brekkie”. Among the better known others, it isn’t “good day”, it’s “g’day” and so on. Back then I imagined that there were a few choice things that got shortened, and these were just a part of the evolution of language here. After several weeks of living here, I now think it is no part time cultural tic, but a full-fledged mania for reducing everything to the absolute minimum. “Uni”, “avo”, “bikkie”, “cuppa”, “ute”, “barbie”, “mozzie”, “ambo”, “footy”, even “unco” (which is short for, I swear to you, “uncoordinated”), and on and on. I wonder what the origins of this reductive desire are? Is it, as my friend Nick explained, a result of an emotional need to cutsie up everything? Did some large immigrant community bring with them some heavy diminutive use from their native language and it spread through the culture? (although diminutives, while cute, tend to add letters to words rather than reduce them, i.e. mesa becomes mesita. So perhaps that is the wrong track.) Something to think about…

We’ll decide how you get off.

6
Dec
2014

I got back to Sydney yesterday, and Nick invited me to dinner and drinks with good friends of his here, Joseph and Darren (and their friend Tiffany). When I asked (as I often do) how Nick knew them, I was told that he and Joseph both used to work for the Australian Classification Board. This led to a very interesting discussion about what the board does. In essence, they give films their classification (what we in the US would call their rating). So at first I just thought they were the rating board. But here in Australia, EVERY film must be given a classification, and those that are refused classification are banned. I then started asking what sorts of things would be banned and it was a very interesting (and quite subjective) list. Much of it compares quite similarly to the recent British moves to ban representations of certain sex acts. Basically, the government is in the business of deciding what you can fantasize about and have represented on film, either in real or simulated form. As a gay person, I obviously find this utterly abhorrent. It was not so very long ago that activity comprising my own love life would have fallen into such categories and been banned. I don’t have problems with a rating system. But the government that tries to ban a list of sexual practices represented on film between consenting adults is the same government that can ban any idea it disagrees with. And the censorship does not stop at films, the Australian government also bans video games and TV programs and a whole lot of things on the internet.

If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been singing the praises of many of the programs and policies here in Australia in the past few weeks, but here is something where I wholeheartedly prefer the much weaker censorship we have in the United States. The Australians don’t have anything like our first amendment, and perhaps that is the reason for the huge difference.

Better to live in than to visit

4
Dec
2014

That title pretty much sums up my feelings about Melbourne. I am really glad I got to spend a few weeks here, because this is very much the kind of city whose charms are appreciated in the quotidian culture of the place. It is not that there aren’t plenty of things to do and see in Melbourne, but there is nothing to really “wow” one in the tourist sense. Melbourne is about its coffee culture, about its food culture. About meeting up with friends in various places, about the rooftop bars and the climate and the (fairly) easy transportation. Melbourne is a pleasant city to stroll in, to shop in, to hang out in. Melbourne has nice parks and nice museums, although nothing spectacular in this area. After a few weeks here, I can see why my friends struggled to find clear things to tell me to do and see here, it is not that kind of place. And yet, on the whole it paints a very enticing picture, like San Francisco in many ways, but with better weather. Melbourne is definitely more than the sum of its parts. My advice to someone coming for a visit: Don’t, unless you can spend a little time. Melbourne is not to be rushed. But with a little patience, you will inevitably find yourself liking it more and more.

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Rainy day road trip

3
Dec
2014

Originally my friend Jimmy and I had planned on taking a two day camping and hiking trip to the Wilsons Promontory, but with the forecast for heavy rain, we instead decided on a less ambitious trip up The Great Ocean Road. Even though it was overcast and rainy at times, this ended up being a really good choice. We were joined on the trip by Jimmy’s friend Mark, who provided much in the way of comic relief throughout the journey. It takes a bit of time outside of Melbourne (to the west) before the stretch of road begins, but once it does, it is quite beautiful. It really reminded me of Highway 1 in California in many places, the landscapes can be quite similar and equally stunning. At about halfway up we took a small detour and hike to a place called Erskine Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. I know people are often more impressed by the huge, loud, multi-part falls at Niagara or Iguazo, but there is something more beautiful to me about a tall, thin, single point dropping a great vertical distance. We then headed to a nearby town for some fresh fish, and made our long and winding way back to Melbourne, just in time to miss the heaviest rains of the day and and some intense lightning.

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Me, Marco, Chin Chin

2
Dec
2014

My friend Marco suggested we go to this super trendy Melbourne restaurant called Chin Chin for dinner this evening. I had been hearing about it non-stop, and even tried unsuccessfully to go the other night (where the waiting list was an hour and a half). As I mentioned, Melbourne steadfastly refuses to do reservations, so everyone must wait, always. We planned on getting there pretty early, around 6:30, to avoid the worst of it, and I got there even earlier and put our name in. We were lucky that the wait was ONLY 35 minutes.

Once inside, we decided on the “feed me” option on the menu, where they basically pick everything and bring you stuff, with one stipulation. I noticed they had a beef rendang on the menu, and I had to have it. I have to have rendang wherever I see it, it is one of my favorite dishes. They agreed, and brought us plate after plate of fantastic food. Everything was super delicious, but the rendang was truly spectacular. Problem was, by this time I was one stuffed, fat cow (as the gays all seem to call each other here). As we still had another main plate coming, we asked them to please halt and just bring us the dessert. I took a few bites, it was pretty yum. But by this point I was just about to search for a bucket. Thankfully, that was when the bill came and we paid and walked for a bit before sharing a cab back to our neighborhood.

During the meal and walk back, Marco and I had a really nice talk about politics, acceptance, families and such. It has been really fun getting to know him and Luc and their friends while here, and I realized I will miss them when I leave.

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Fashion dumplings

1
Dec
2014

Yesterday a nice local guy named Sanjeev took me to an amazing dumpling place called ShanDong Mama. Everything I had there was super delicious, from the spicy Szechuan pepper beef to the pan friend “Melbourne” dumplings to the steamed “Dill-icious” dumplings. Highly recommended if you are in Melbourne.

After that, I took a stroll through the CBD over to the NGV to see the JPG show. Upon entering, there is a room filled with mannequins that have video faces projected on them, some of which are talking, some are winking, some are smiling, and some are just looking bored but occasionally blinking. It was an amazing (and very creepy) effect, and was definitely leading me down to the uncanny valley. I mean, check these out:

Kinda makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it. Still, very cool. the rest of the show presented the work of Jean-Paul Gaultier over the years, and I have to say it was impressive and filled with humor and delight. It was also quite well organized and a pleasure to walk through. If you should be in Melbourne before it closes, definitely check it out.

 

 

odds n ends, odd things

30
Nov
2014

– You can’t make reservations in most Melbourne restaurants, so it is always a crazy long wait to get a table. This strikes me as woefully inefficient.

– And speaking of restaurants, if you can’t finish your meal, you can’t take your uneaten food to go. Or perhaps you can, but everyone I spoke to here finds the very idea repellant. (but apparently wasting half a plate of food is not as repellent).

– There are oh so many things in the language that are similar to us, but different. They say “general knowledge” when we would say “common knowledge”. They say “how are you going?” when we would say “how are you doing?”, etc etc etc

– The seats facing each other on the trams and trains are far too close to each other. Only children and little people could comfortably sit across from one another. But I guess the same is true of how close some subway seats are in New York. Perhaps these were all originally designed for a time when people were smaller.

– As in the UK, people seem to drink more here than in the US.

– I have probably mentioned this before, but card payment is almost all contactless or chip and pin (although I gather they came to this quite recently). I can’t wait for the US to join the modern era in this regard.

– Because of the accent, I often can’t understand what people are saying and need to ask them to repeat themselves. When people say “all good” here, it sounds exactly (to my ear) like “awkward”. Which is pretty much the opposite of what they are meaning to convey.

– Automatic doors here all open much too slowly, what is up with that?

Saturday night thanks

29
Nov
2014

So I did end up having a Thanksgiving meal after all. I got invited by a lovely group of guys here to their annual Thanksgiving meal. Even though only two of us in attendance were actually American, it was a faithful rendition (with turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, etc) and delicious to boot. And I had some pretty interesting conversations about Australian politics, voting systems (in particular compulsory and preferential), gun control, and health care, among other things. Spoiler alert: On many of these issues, I prefer the Australian versions. This doesn’t mean for a second I would rather live in Australia than the US (well, NYC), but there are many solutions in these areas which I wish we would adopt. One of the best things about traveling is that one has the opportunity to learn about different cultures, and although Australia seems superficially very similar to the US (and is very similar when compared to countries in Asia for example), there are in fact many differences and it is a pleasure to learn about these. Some of them (as I have written about before) are political, some linguistic, and some have to do with social customs or behavior. (One small thing I have noticed here in the sub culture of gay men is that we say our goodbyes differently. We tend to hug more in the US, they tend to kiss more on the cheek here. These little things fascinate me.)

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Melbourne is a trapezoid

25
Nov
2014

And a rhombus, and other angular shapes that have no names. As I have been walking around Melbourne, I have been struck by how much angular (modern) architecture there is. There is definitely a trend here, or a fairly recent history of building that has defined a set of aesthetics that others have taken up with gusto to continue that formal conversation. And that conversation is all about odd angles, things that look as if they are falling over but aren’t, strong dashes of deconstructivism, and plain old high modern. I am not sure exactly when this trend began, but you can see evidence of it all over the place that continues today in projects still under construction. Of course, Melbourne is not only those things,  you can also find evidence of a lot of well preserved historic buildings in the CBD. And a lot of crap building of many eras just like you can find all over the world. But this obsession with non-right angles has been really striking to me, much more than any other place I have been. What does it say (if anything) about the character of Melbourne, how the city sees itself or wants to be seen? Is it telling the world Melbourne is a non-conformist? Is it saying that they see themselves as cutting edge, or avant guard, or just a bit quirky? Is it just a fad, the architectural equivalent of Uggs?

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