Category Archives: Friends

An Epic lunch for my 500th post. Paris, France. 2009

Yesterday was the last full day we were in Paris and it was the day that fellow blogger, Epicurienne caught the Eurostar over from London for the day to meet up with us before we left.

As a happy coincidence, I’ve been able to make sure that my landmark 500th post could be about my wife and I meeting up with Epicurienne, who like us comes from the southern hemisphere, likes to travel, eat good food (who doesn’t!) and of course is also a blogger.

The plan was that Epicurienne was going to show us around Paris a bit, but it was a little cool and drizzling rain.

The great indoors looked far more appealing so I piped up with, “why don’t we find a really nice little restaurant and have a fabulous meal with some lovely wine and blow heaps of money doing it!”

Epic ruminated upon the question with great deliberation for about a nanosecond and replied, “sounds like a plan!”

So off the three of us went to wander around Ile St Louis on our quest, where we stumbled across an absolute gem of a restaurant called “Sorza”.

The Sorza provided the perfect setting for a day with Epic who often writes about restaurants and the cusine she has had around the world. The food was excellent and the wine that Epic picked was perfect (I know nothing about French wines).

I’ll leave a more detailed description of our meal to Epic, as she is much better than me at writing about food.

Just like before when I met up with fellow bloggers Cashmere Cafe, Grasswire and Robert in Slovenia, it was remarkable how easy and pleasant it was to talk to Epic. We came to the conclusion that we felt we’d know each other for ages through our blogs which made the conversation so comfortable and fluid.

Also, just like in Slovenia I felt I had met another person that I wish I lived closer to. I would love to cook for Epic some time. I can’t even really begin to describe what a nice day Engogirl and I have had.

To be in Paris on our last day and to spend it with such a delightful and lovely person such as Epic would have been more than good enough, but the icing on the cake was our meal together.

Meeting up with fellow bloggers has been so pleasant that it is something that I’m going to have to do more often. It’s just a pity that Australia is so far away from where the bloggers I read, come from.

Meeting up with fellow bloggers in Slovenia. 2009

By some kind of strange coincidence, a disproportional amount of blogs I regularly read are from Slovenia. I say disproportional because Slovenia has only two million people and I regularly check three blogs from there whereas I only read five American blogs regularly and there are 300 million people there.

This first photo is of Grasswire and his two and a half year old daughter.

Grasswire and daughter

Engogirl and I went to a huge traditional Slovenian lunch today with Grasswire, his wife Cashmere Cafe and their daughter. What a pleasure it was for both my wife and I to meet such nice, erudite and like minded people. Our short time together just flew by with animated conversation and great food, and before we knew it was time to part our ways. I just wish they lived near by so I could include them in our regular circle of friends because they are the sort of people I like to surround myself with.

This next photo is of Robert and me.

Robert and me

Robert and his wife Marjeta have been fantastic. So warm, welcoming and hospitable. Both Robert and Marjeta had just come back from Greece on Monday and left today for Norway (to give some seminars). In the few days they had to get their work together and prepare for their next trip, they invited us into their home and spent as much time with us as they could.

Robert’s background is very similar to mine, in that he left home at 17 and went travelling with almost no money. It’s not very often that I meet someone who has a many travel stories as me and he is a fabulous guy to shoot the breeze with. Robert is so alive and full of joie de vivre that one can’t help but be swept up in some kind of contact high that makes one glad to be alive. It’s been a long time since I’ve been introduced to so many new ideas from such a bright mind that we were so often in deep conversation that I didn’t even take any pictures of him.

Talk about being in the moment.

Marjeta, despite the fact that she was so busy getting ready for the seminars she has to present, was a very gracious host and together with Robert, we were made to feel so welcome.

I could just rave on for ages about what an amazing couple Robert and Marjeta are, but I will give one example of how generous they have been to us. Although they left for Norway this morning they said we could stay a few more days in their house while they were away. What an incredible act of trust! It touches me deeply that there are such good people in the world and I feel honored and lucky to have met them both. I really hope there is such a thing as karma.

Yep and I’d love it if Robert and Marjeta lived close by as well, as I know my other friends would love them and I’d like to see them  more often.

So far, I’ve been really impressed by Slovenes. By the way, the only reason why there aren’t any photos of Marjeta and Cashmere Café is because I was so caught up in the brilliant conversation that I hardly took any photos at all of anybody or anything.

PS

Cashmere Cafe was heavily pregnant when we all met up and she gave birth to a baby girl, Katrina, on the 6th of October (3 days after we met up).

Shopping for food in Ljubljana is a pleasure. Slovenia. 2009

Engogirl and I have been taking a bit of a break from our travels by staying with some Slovene friends, Robert and Marjeta in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Marjeta told us that now is right in the middle of mushroom season and that porcini mushrooms were available. In Australia, it’s impossible to get fresh porcinis so the idea of getting my hands on some fresh porcinis got me all excited to do some cooking.

Robert had shown us on our first night in Ljubljana where the fresh vegetable and mushroom market was and in the morning Engogirl and I went and did some food shopping. I have to say that I was really impressed with the quality and variety of the produce.

I bought a celeriac to make some soup; the ingredients to make a porcini risotto and arugula, baby spinach, pear, walnut and parmesan salad.

The selection of mushrooms was also much wider than we get at home and there were plenty of mushrooms I’d never seen before.

Everything I bought tasted better than at home and it was really nice to be able to cook something up for our hosts.

I could get used to living in Ljubljana as it’s so lovely. The people are great and the city is so beautiful with such a lively vibe. I find it surprising that I’ve heard so little about Slovenia, considering it’s such a nice place. I guess I should be thankful that I’m here before it is “discovered”.

Thoughts on how to live and the flower sellers of Chitchecastenango, Guatemala. 1983

My new lens has just arrived. It’s a 50mm to 150mm f2.8 and it’s the closest lens I could afford to my old 135mm f2.8 Nikkor lens that I loved and used so much back in the days when I shot film. I’m going to Europe for three months in 9 days and I’m particularly looking forward to using my new lens to take photos of people on the street like I used to, years ago.

A very wise old friend of mine, the composer Edward Arteaga, once said to me, “if you want to kill your love for something, study it”.

I first took up photography when I was about 14 and for years I had dreams of working in the photographic industry. Years later when I was 30 I went to Art College for 4 years to study photography and then I went on to be a photographic assistant for 2 years to one of the best commercial photographers in Australia.

I got to see what it was like at the top of the game. Lot’s of grinding work, long hours, high stress and frightening overheads. After a while I realised that I was being turned off photography and of trying to make a living from it. In the early 1990s, I totally lost interest in photography and in particular, commercial photography. I’d come to the conclusion that it was a cosmically worthless profession and I didn’t want to be involved with it any more. I put my cameras down and didn’t take any photos for about 15 years. It’s only recently that I’ve returned to photography.

I was talking to a friend of mine, Mark, the other day about the cabinet that I made recently and he said, “why don’t you become a cabinet maker?”

I replied, “I don’t want to do that because it would take all the fun out of it and turn it into a grind”.

Mark then said to me, “you are such a waste of talent, you’re good at whatever you turn your hands to (flattering but untrue), but you choose not to continue on with things”.

I explained that the only reason why I do any thing is because it’s the only way I can get what I want at a reasonable cost. If want a schmick cabinet, I have to make it myself.

If I want nice food, I have to cook it myself and the same goes for photography.

People are constantly saying to me, “why don’t you do, such and such for a living, you’re so good at it”. The trouble with me is that I can quite easily visualize where such things lead. In short, I know it would kill my love for whatever is that I like doing. 

I don’t want to specialise, I’m a generalist.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is actually important in my life and how do I want to live to be happy. I keep coming back to Epicurus.  Epicurus thought that there were three types of desires.

  1. Natural and necessary: Such as, freedom, friendship, food shelter and freedom from pain.
  2. Natural but not necessary: A big house and other luxuries.
  3. Not natural or necessary: Fame and power.

 If you’re interested in what Epicurus has to say about happiness here’s some a good video (in three parts) by Alain de Botton.

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I’ve got wood. Fnarr! Fnarr! Chortle, chortle. The Sydney woodworking show. NSW, Australia

In an effort to explain why I’ve been so tardy with my postings lately I’d like to tell you about the latest thing that is distracting me.

Last week I went to the Sydney woodworking show with my good friend Paul. The woodworking show is basically porn for carpenters and as such, when discussing it, double entendres come easily and uninvited to my mind and it makes me feel like Finbarr Saunders.

Finbarr Saunders

It’s hard (I’ve started already!) not to have some ribald fun with sentences like, the men lovingly held their tools while they fantasized about what they wanted to do with their wood.

Or perhaps,

They stood in a circle, almost salivating, as a man in the centre rubbed oil all over his wood until it glistened. Every eye followed his skilled movements. Back and forth he went with a smile on his face and as he worked on his wood. Every man in the crowd couldn’t wait to get back home and try the same technique on their own wood.

Anyway, enough of that childish nonsense!

My wife, Engogirl would like me at some stage to make a solid wood table from one piece of wood. I’ve always thought that it would cost too much but I was very surprised to see that large slabs of seasoned wood are very reasonably priced and I’m pretty sure that next year I’ll buy a large slab of wood and give it a go.

Solid pieces of timber

All this recent talk of wood got me motivated to use my tools again. Over the last week I’ve begun making a cabinet (L 2000mm x H 800mm x W 500mm or 6’6″x 32″x 20″) to put our TV on and to hold all our CDs (we have about 600) and DVDs (about 100).

I started off in carpentry making sets in the theatre in Vancouver many years ago. I never really trained in carpentry but an old friend gave me a job and taught me the things I couldn’t figure out for myself. So in short, I’m not really a very good carpenter in a technical sense but what ever I make usually looks pretty good… from a distance and you don’t look at it too closely.

My trouble is that I tend to rush things. I’ve never really been a fan of process. I’m more interested in the end result. Which of course means that I always build things that I could’ve done better, and it bugs me! So for this latest project I decided to take a deep breath and take my time.

This will be a new experience for me, as I usually take the bull charging a red flag approach.

I’ve decided to make the cabinet out of plywood that will be custom veneered with figured sycamore and edged with solid wood. The veneering service alone, is going to cost $132 a square metre! So I’m going to have to take my time as I’ve spent about $1000 already on materials. I got a quote yesterday for the lacquering and it’s going to cost about $500 just to get it painted.

Here’s an illustrated mock up of what the cabinet should look like with the TV etc in and on it.

Hopefully it will look like this

I better do a good job or Engogirl won’t be very pleased if the money I’ve spent is wasted.

As usual, I’ve bitten off more that I can chew and I’m chewing like crazy! Here’s a video of a dovetail joint using a jig that is similar to the one I will be using to give you an idea of what I’ve gotten myself into.

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Casablanca cruising with Bazza. Morocco. 1982

When I used to travel, it was usually on a shoestring budget. At the time it was common for travellers like myself to meet up with other travellers and before long, share hotel rooms with them to cut costs.

When I was in Morocco in 1982, I met up with two other Australians, Bazza and Cazza (not their real names), and we travelled together for a couple of weeks sharing a room. Bazza and Cazza were primary school teachers from the same school and were on their annual leave. Now don’t get the wrong idea, there was nothing “going on” between any of us. Cazza wasn’t attracted to me, Bazza was gay, and I’m straight.

Cazza was travelling with Bazza because she wanted to go somewhere that was exotic and wanted to have a travelling companion without any complications. Cazza just didn’t get Morocco, she’d topless sunbathe on the beach and then get pissed off that she was attracting a crowd of sexually starved locals.

She would’ve been better off at the Club Med in Tahiti.

Whereas Bazza had come to Morocco because he had heard about the stereotype that most Arab men were homosexuals and because he was looking for some action, he was hoping it was true. It was true, in so far as the Moroccan men that Bazza got involved with, were into being the daddy and always wanted him to play the mummy.

If you catch my drift, that is?

One of Bazza’s pet peeves was that the Moroccan men (the ones he was intimate with at least) wouldn’t admit to themselves that they were gay. Bruce hated the idea that he was being used as a surrogate woman until the real thing came along. He told me the same thing had happened on his holidays in the Philippines. 

Ahhh men…..

all over the world, they’re all heartless and selfish bastards!

Both Bazza and Cazza were a lot of fun to be around and I enjoyed my time with them greatly.

One night in Casablanca I decided to go out and take some night shots and Bazza asked if he could come along. “Sure” I said, and I was glad of some company.

Bazza was not only a promiscuous slut, he also had a great sense of humour, plus he was a very interesting and intelligent guy. We wandered around the streets in the muggy night, effortlessly shooting the breeze, with me occasionally taking a photo of whatever caught my eye.

not so easy rider

After a few hours of trudging around we decided to rest our feet and buy some gelato at a cafe.

As we were sitting at our table eating our gelato, Bazza, sitting opposite me, started to purse his lips and make kissing gestures my way. I knew that Bazza knew that I was straight, so I knew the kisses weren’t for me. I slowly turned around and a few tables away was a thin; well dressed; late thirty’s; Moroccan man, blowing kisses back at Bazza.

Bazza waved the Moroccan guy over and so he came and introduced himself to us, shook our hands and joined us at the table. Bazza just stared our new friend with a shocking undisguised lust and this open declaration didn’t seem to be causing any discomfort in our guest. I just didn’t know where to look. After a couple of minutes of this weird staring thing, acknowledging that I was the “third wheel” so to speak, I excused myself from the table, and bolted for home, not expecting to see Bazza for some time.

Within ten minutes of me getting back to the hotel room, Bazza stormed in, all in a fit of rage, and started throwing and kicking things around. During his tantrum, Bazza was ranting, over and over, “all he wanted was to try and sell me drugs!” After a few minutes, Bazza calmed down and explained that as soon as I left, he had asked the Moroccan to go to the Moroccan’s place, which turned out to be a room above the cafe. Once inside the room, Bazza made his move, only to be rebuffed and to have it explained to him, that the Moroccan wanted to sell cocaine to him.

I’ve thought about this incident over the years many times and a few things have occurred to me.

1.Who in their right mind would smuggle cocaine into Morocco, which is not only further away than America, but it’s population of people rich enough to buy coke would be infinitesimal? Obviously it was a scam.
2.What was going on with the blowing the kisses thing? What did the Moroccan guy think? That’s the way in which westerners communicate non-verbally when they want to buy drugs?

Ahhh… life’s rich tapestry!

Thank You Mask Man by Lenny Bruce

A recent experience has made me re-evaluate why I maintain this blog.

The original reasons why I started this blog were to write about some of my more interesting life experiences and to rekindle my interest in photography.  For years my wife had been telling me that I should write down the stories that I’ve been regaling my friends with; and boring her with, to get them out of my system and perhaps produce a book.  The book could even be illustrated with my old photographs.

I knew when I started blogging that there wouldn’t be very many visitors so I just plugged away at my stories, howling away in the dark , as it were, hoping that I might build up some kind of readership.  For about the first six months I never received more than about 70 visitors a day but then all of a sudden I noticed a huge jump to about 1200 visitors a day and that’s when I started getting my first notifications from my ISP (I’m not on the WordPress server) that I was beginning to exceed my allocated bandwidth.  Something seemed to be wrong because I wasn’t getting any comments.  I was beginning to question what was going on here. 

Were the 1200 visitors a day, all lurkers?

My wife being the brainiac that she is, suggested that I start using Google analytics to analyse what the WordPress visitor stats actually meant. Thanks to Google analytics I found out that most of the traffic I was getting was from people looking for images and those execrable scraper sites.  I was getting about a thousand people a day just looking at two images; one of the punk, and one of bare breasted woman with tattoos. The picture of the punk is not a particularly good photograph but it does capture what a punk from the early 1980s looks like. Sure enough the posts about the punk and the tattoos used to get comments but they were more along the lines of, “punx not dead!! punx rule!!!” or “tatoos are great and you suck!!” All of this was not what I was hoping to achieve with this blog, but it did to help me crystallise in my mind what I was subconsciously hoping for.

Not only was I putting my efforts out on display, I guess I was also looking for approval, dialogue and a sense of community.

Yep I’ll admit it, I do like the odd pat on the back but I also appreciate a conversation that goes beyond motherhood statements, with like-minded people.  In an effort to dissuade people coming to my site merely to steal my images and my bandwidth by linking to them, I changed many of the image filenames to initials so they couldn’t be searched for by their name.  I also added the anti-leech plug-in to this blog so those shit bag scraper sites couldn’t lift my posts and use it as their own content or steal bandwidth by linking to them.  Another thing I did, was instruct my ISP to stop the search bots from looking at my images so they didn’t appear in internet image search engine results. 

These changes to my blog made my statistics drop right back down again and over the last couple of years I’ve seen them rise back up again to a point where I was quite often getting between 700 and 800 visits a day.  According to my WordPress statistics I’ve had over 300,000 visitors and I can tell you that my id and ego really liked these figures. My super ego had the crap beaten out of it by my id with a wine bottle and it is crouched in a corner, quivering, too scared to to make its presence known let alone offer an opinion. 

I still wasn’t getting very many comments but I put that down to the fact that I’m not particularly good at cultivating a community like Pat Coakley (who I learn from every day in so many ways) and I took heart from bloggers such as Shane Adams and Cafe Selavy who produce high-quality content but hardly ever get any comments. 

I told myself that Pat, who is a trained psychologist, basically has a fifth degree black belt in ego wrangling and therefore is very adept at putting people at ease, making them feel comfortable enough to make comments.  I, on the other hand, know that I can be a bit prickly and what I have to say is not to every one’s taste. I don’t avoid confrontation and as a matter of fact I think I have a self-destructive urge to seek it out, which of course can make some people feel wary. This of course doesn’t encourage people to leave comments. I just contented myself with the fact that I was getting quite a few visitors.

Last week my fragile little temple of delusion came crashing down.

they dont love me anymore

All of a sudden I was only getting about 40 or 50 visitors a day. 

I did some searching on the Internet and came across an article about how Google had changed their search algorithm because of all the black hat spammers out there.  I suspect that this new Google algorithm has affected how people come across my site. 

With this sudden crash of my visitor statistics I was hit with a crisis of confidence. Luckily my ego is like a shield of steel (4 years in art college will either toughen it up or crush it) and I have constructed a new delusion for myself, to help me cope, and it goes something like this; ” oh those old stats only reflected low quality visits from people searching for free images and now the new stats reflect the high quality visitors I was really trying to reach in the first place”.

Oh well, it works for me. 

One thing though, this crash in my stats has made me think about, is the nature of approval and my need for that approval.  One of my favourite bloggers, Robert Krzisnik wrote a great post about why we might all be doing what we do, when we blog.

Since I’ve been discussing the whole “pat on the back thing” I thought you might all enjoy this little animated sketch from that comic giant, Lenny Bruce.

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A close encounter with a champion kickboxer in Japan

He might be going down but he won the fight

This photo was taken in 1976 and it’s of a fight between the Thai Junior middle weight champion (the guy on top) and the Japanese middle weight champion “Kame” (at least that’s how I think it’s spelled). Although Kame (Japanese for turtle and it’s pronounced Kam-air) won the fight, his temples were covered with purple streaky bruises where the Thai fighter had elbowed him numerous times when he had him backed into a corner.

I met Kame in 1975 in Tokyo through a room mate of mine called Simon. Simon was in Japan studying shotokan karate and we used to teach at the same English school. Simon had been on the English karate team and while he was a great guy and like a big brother to me, he obviously wasn’t a person to mess with. He used to do 500 sit ups day, could do the splits effortlessly, didn’t have an once of fat on him and had calluses on his knuckles from punching a makiwara board for hours.

I used to hang out with Kame and Simon (I was never into martial arts) and go drinking with them. Whilst hugely entertaining, drinking with Kame was always problematic as he used to urge us to drink more than we wanted to. A sort of terrorism by hospitality. So when Kame wasn’t looking we used to toss the sake that had been pushed on us, over our shoulders or pour it out into pot plants. Kame caught me doing it once and bit through a thick ceramic bowl to freak me out. It worked. I knew that Kame would never actually harm me (I was an unworthy adversary). The same couldn’t be said for Simon, as I was sure that Kame wanted to take Simon on. It was a good thing that I was the one caught tossing the sake.

Kame grew up in Okinawa were he studied Goju Ryu Karate. In his late teens and early twenties he honed his skills in Okinawan bars frequented by U.S. servicemen stationed there.

Having said all that about Kame’s scary side, he was a great friend and could be extremely funny. Kame and Simon used to regularly trash our apartment, sparring. Great stuff to watch in a 3 tatami room. They put quite a few holes in the walls and once knocked over the refrigerator. Kame also used to get us ring side seats at his fights. Going into bars with Kame was always pretty cool as well as all the local Yakuza and Chimpera knew and respected him. We used to always get free drinks sent over to our table, with a curt nod in our direction from them across the room.

Once, on a cold night before a match, Kame cover over to our place looking for Simon. Kame wanted to warm up for the match by sparring with Simon, but Simon wasn’t home. So Kame asked me if I was interested in taking a few kickboxing pointers with him up on the roof of the apartment block. I thought, what the heck, why not? I felt quite honoured, so up the stairs we went, onto the roof and out into the cold to begin my little lesson in kickboxing, and as it turned out, in life.

Before I go on, I should digress and explain that the Japanese tend to be hierarchical in their interpersonal relationships. Kame was about 10 years older than me and a champion kickboxer to boot (oops, sorry for the pun), so by Japanese standards I was subordinate to him. He was the sempai (senior) and I was the kohai (junior) and due respect was expected. This sempai, kohai relationship is one of the basic tenets of Japanese society. Now being my sempai didn’t mean that Kame felt he had a right to be overbearing towards me, but rather that he had a sense of responsibility towards me. Sempais take care of their kohais, it’s a bit like a mentorship. Conversely, kohais are expected to appreciate what they are being given and act accordingly.

The first thing that Kame showed me was the kickboxing stance (standing on one leg with the other leg raised and bent at the knee, with both fists up against the forehead with the elbows close together and close to the mid section protecting it) and how to block in that stance and then he showed me how to take blows. This went on for about an hour and Kame was really patient with me. Finally Kame got into the stance and said that I should try and strike him anywhere as fast as I could (Simon used to get me to do the same thing).

Needless to say, I didn’t get to lay a finger on him as he was just too fast and his defence was a quantum leap better than anything a novice like me could throw at him. After five or ten minutes I’d worn myself out trying to land a punch or kick on Kame. Kame just effortlessly blocked everything I had. He could see I’d had enough so he said we should stop and he dropped his guard.

Now at this point I would like to ask you, dear reader, to think (or image if you’re too smart for such idiocies) of a time when you did something that you knew was stupid and that was going to lead to tears, but you continued. Sort of like the feeling one gets when you are trying to open an old paint tin with a chisel or a beer bottle with your teeth. Just dumb, dumb, dumb.

As soon as Kame dropped his hands, I quickly and lightly touched his left ear with my right hand with a mock punch. Before I could pull my hand away, Kame, fast as lightening, lightly snap kicked me in the head. I know that Kame didn’t kick me hard as he could have, after all, I was still conscious and standing. I’ll tell you what though, my ear was so hot that I didn’t feel the need to wear a beanie to keep my head warm for the rest of the evening.

I could still feel the effect of the “lesson” two days later.

The day I was born. 21st of May 1956

I was born on the same day (21st May of May 1956) as very first airborne hydrogen bomb was dropped on Bikini atoll. 

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Bye, bye paradise.

Amazingly, despite the odds, considering the trouble and strife the world has been through since then, plus all the dumb things that I’ve done, 53 years later I’m still here!

 Woo hoo me!

Tonight I’m having a bunch of friends over for dinner to celebrate. Because I’m getting ready for tonight, I don’t have enough time for much of a post, so for all my friends out there, here’s the Four Tops singing one of my favourite songs, “Reach out”, that I dedicate to you all.

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