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Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Last night, we went to the Nick Cave concert at China Teatern, an intimate and beautiful theater in central Stockholm. The Australian rocker has just released a novel titled The Death of Bunny Munro. So the night was set up in a unique combination of book reading, q&a with the audience and music. Nick played the piano and just had two musicians with him from his band the Bad Seeds – one on guitar, one on drums, percussion and sometimes the guitar and violin as well.

After a campy 1950s style movie about door to door salesmen, Nick launched the night with a reading from his novel. Bunny is a philandering salesman in search of a soul and the book is deliciously detailed with his debauchery. Readings from the book were interspersed with classic Cave songs. In between songs, the lights would go up and Nick answered both serious and irreverent questions from the audience ranging from how is your relationship with God to do you like cock to will you marry me. Nick was in fine form and his responses were: 1) Not good. 2) Why do you ask? Sometimes. 3) Well I am already married but maybe we can work something out. One lucky Swede even asked for a hug and got one.

The format of the evening was just as intimate as the setting and it felt like I was in a 1920s salon in Paris. The casual mood made it seem as if you were just hanging out with Nick in your living room. Someone even asked him if he wanted to go back to his place for beers.

It was such a great twist on a conventional concert or book reading. What a great night.

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If I have to be back in winter, I am glad to have snow. It’s been snowing since we returned, actually. And it is a beautiful snow: the kind that sits on the branches of trees and puts a glorious white blanket over the city. So now I have to make do with my memories of escaping winter for five intoxicating weeks. At least I can entertain myself by sharing a few more of my favorite Aussie expressions, many of which are British in origin. Without further fanfare, these descriptive phrases include:

“As busy as a one-legged tap dancer.”

“Flat out like a lizard drinking:” going all out.

“In like Flynn:” to be quickly successful.

“It’s just not cricket:” it’s just not right.

“Stickybeak:” someone who is overly curious about other people’s business. Also known as a nosy parker. In the US, we might call this person a busy body.

“Two-pot screamer:” Someone who gets drunk quickly.

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After traveling close to 35 hours covering a distance of more than 15,000 km (10,000 miles) I am home in Sweden at last. I have a brain-numbing case of jet lag that has me fuzzy headed during the day and then waking up at 3.30 am. Maybe the jet lag explains at least partially explains why I am thinking about amusing towns to live in. It all started when I read an article in The New York Times about embarassing English towns to live in such as Crapstone, North Piddle and Crotch Crescent. But rather than just embarassing names, I’ve been thinking about funny names. In Australia, I love the sound of Wagga Wagga – a city in New South Wales which is otherwise known as just Wagga to locals. The name is aboriginal and means place of many crows. Another New South Wales town that I find entertaining is Broken Hill. How does a hill get broken anyway?

Here in Sweden, my favorite Stockholm suburb name is Aspudden. I think it sounds kinda cute and kinda perverse all at once. And in the US, you just can’t beat the towns of Rabbit Hash, Big Bone Lick and Beaver Lick for a bit of humor, all of which are located in Kentucky. But there are always places to live in that are far worse: I can’t imagine having to tell people that I live in Penistone, England, for instance. Now that would be embarassing.

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In the course of an average day here in Oz, I find that I am still hearing a variety of colorful phrases. Here are a few more of my favorites: “The ant’s pants” which translates to the best.

“Dry as chips.” No further explanation is required for this or “Tough as old boots.” A sanger is a sandwich while “O week” is orientation week at university – or uni- which was just starting when we arrived. “Two bob’s worth” means to get your money’s worth or have your say. And the more obvious: a sheila is a woman while a bloke is a man.

When I went to the doctor last week for a hand and shoulder injury, I was greeted with the following descriptive price list for surgery consultations: Brief, Standard,  Long,  Prolonged. My visit was about 30 minutes and was deemed standard, which left me wondering about just how long “prolonged” was.

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This trip has been full of juxtapositions. Right now I am in Sydney, looking out my hotel room at the skyline of one of the great cities of the world. Last night, I had dinner at Circular Quay overlooking the iconic Harbour Bridge and yesterday I spent the day at Bondi Beach, one of the best known beaches in the world. Meanwhile, two days ago I was in rural New South Wales and was wakened by the crow of a rooster. We were at Robert’s brother’s house and to get there, our directions were to drive 32 kilometers outside town. After we passed a phone box, we were to drive another 2 k and then pass a tin church to get to the house. What a difference a day or two makes! It’s enough to literally make your head spin. But it’s also fantastic and one of the many things I love about Australia: within a short drive of a city you can be in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road.

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Over the course of dinner last night with some Swedish friends who have lived here in Oz for 2 years, the conversation naturally turned to Sweden. We were listening to Swedish music and talking about Steig Larsson’s books as I just finished the second in his millenium trilogy.

Then I mentioned how much I was enjoying the easy, friendly Australians. I had been for a walk around Lake Burley Griffin and every person I passed either smiled and nodded, said hello or even more. And I remarked how that would never happen in Sweden but that I wished it would – the process may be casual but I enjoy acknowledging my fellow human beings. It somehow makes me feel connected to the world, even if Swedes tend to think that is just a surface friendliness. What I found interesting is that my Swedish friend Sophie felt the same way: she also loves the casual friendliness here. Rather inexplicably, that made me very happy.

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Given that I live in a country that’s not where I am from and am married to someone from yet another country, I suppose I spend a little bit more time than the average person in thinking about where I want to live.

From my first visit to Australia nine years ago, I felt that I fit in. Whether in the city on the beach or in the outback, I found I could relate to the people and that I intrinsically belonged even though I did not live in the country. Maybe being married to an Aussie had something to do with that belonging, but I don’t think that’s the complete answer. My friend Debora has lived in Stockholm on and off for 25 years and is married to a Swede, but still does not feel like she fits in there. “Unlike Asia, you look like you belong in Sweden,” she says. “So you have a false sense that you do belong. But you don’t. I am not from Sweden and am too loud and too American to fit in completely.”
Although I have a fantastic life that I love in Stockholm, I still don’t have that same connected feeling that I get in Oz. And for the moment, I don’t feel like I belong in the US either. I suppose I’ve gotten addicted to the exotic lifestyle of living internationally. It’s an interesting place to be in, but also confusing as it gets down to the question of where I belong in the world. I have not worked that out yet. But this search for belonging is one of the main themes in my book. I will keep you posted on how the process goes.

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