Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Musical Journalist: Australia

I have this deep burning desire to become a musical journalist. I want to travel to every footpath, canal, hillside and highway of this earth, meet every personality that accompanies each terrain, and return to my NY apartment and write music about those experiences.

Australia was meant to be my guinea pig. I would travel there for 3 weeks, visiting Sydney and Melbourne, and be so inspired, returning to write tune upon tune expressing the joys (or perils) of my travels. Way easier said than done.

To begin with, Australia, or at least the cities of Sydney and Melbourne aren't remarkably different from US towns. Sydney felt like Honolulu and Melbourne felt like NY, though there were obvious differences that I'll delve into later this week.

As I look over the 10 pages of notes I took, mostly about the jazz gigs I went to, I feel a distinct yearning to return. Not so much because I want to relive my experiences there, but because I felt there was so much I missed. Being in Sydney was like having a tall glass of fresh air and sunshine. The grit in Melbourne touched base with my artistic side. I want to write music about it all, but am not sure what to write. Nothing about the places I visited was vastly different than other places I've experienced.

So instead I will focus on the feeling that I experienced while there. One tune I haven't started writing is already titled "Keep Left."

These signs appear frequently on the road to remind drivers to literally, keep to your left. This was of course novel to me in the beginning as I had kinda forgotten that Australians drive on the left side of the street. But this notion became a theme throughout my trip.

At the time I was in training for the NYC Marathon and had to squeeze in about4 runs every week. This was great as I got to see and explore many different areas that I most likely would not have otherwise. But one thing I kept forgetting was to run on the left side of the sidewalk. I habitually and with out thinking would repeatedly start off running on the right side of the path and inevitably bump into someone having to then say in my American accent, Oh excuse me, pardon me, my bad. It was a constant reminder that while I felt like I was in just another city, I most certainly was not. And as the trip progressed, I started to feel this reminder more and more aggressively.

Just about everyone I met was super nice. Clerks were friendly and friends of friends welcoming. The people I stayed with were extremely generous and kind. They all lived up to the laid back friendly idea we have of the typical Australian persona. But through subtle comments and friendly jabs I started to get the sense that there was something to proved. An almost "we're just as good" plea for attention. Which was absolutely ridiculous because never once had I ever thought anything about Australia wasn't. Nevertheless, there was a constant need to compare and conclude how, basically America drools and Australia rules. By the end of the trip I had the frustrating feeling that I hadn't been allowed to naturally form an opinion.

One example: coffee. Melbourne is known for it's incredible coffee. From what I understand, a while back there was a huge migration of Italians to the city who brought with them their fine espresso making skills. Now there is a plethora of cafes serving up lattes and cappuccinos worthy of rivaling the best Italian concoctions. As you can imagine, I was super excited to partake! But by the time I got to Brunswick Street in Melbourne, I was so sick of hearing about how much better this coffee was, especially in comparison to American coffee which is, gasp! and god forbid, filtered coffee, I had developed a negative opinion of the beverage before even trying it. It was hard to form a honest opinion as I rebelliously wanted to dislike every latte I drank.

And thus there was a constant reminder to Keep Left. In case you forgot, you're not in America, which sucks by the way, you are in Australia, home of the world's bestest cup of coffee, ever... EVER. And so a tune of aggressive melodies and clashes I shall write (while drinking a cup of filtered coffee, STARBUCKS brand just to rub it in!).

Aggressive reminders of greatness aside, I developed a fairly deep appreciation and empathy for the extremely kind and generous people that took care of me on this trip. And that will be the subject of my second Australian tune. As those experiences were a bit more personal, I'd rather let the music speak for itself.

[when can you hear these new tunes you ask? April 22! save the date! more later...]

I learned a lot from this trip. Not as much about Australia as I had hoped, but more about the nature and circumstance of traveling. Some things were very practical: always carry water and a snack as you never know when you won't be able to get food and drink. Don't rely on credit cards in a foreign country (I had nightmarish experience with my credit card, which I thought would be easier to use as opposed to converting Australian cash, resulting in my having to make an international collect call every three or so days to give verbal permission to keep the card active. I was there for 3 weeks, you do the math). Pack clothes for all weather occasions. It was winter there, but a mild one compared the current winter NYC is experiencing. I packed a bunch of blouses and light sweaters and took my pea coat. I was FREEZING the entire time! While it never dipped far below low 50s or so Fahrenheit, there were never moments of warming up as it is common to have only a space heater indoors, not central heat. The way to go was to layer long sleeve undershirts, something I did NOT bring.

I also learned that what you get out of traveling is entirely dependent on the circumstance in which you are traveling. An obvious point, but one that was hammered in hard. I regret not researching ahead. My companions frequently asked what I wanted to do to "experience Australia" and I had no ideas, figuring I could wing it. Turns out, it's hard to wing it when you can not drive in that country! I also wish I had spent the extra money to plan a few excursions that would have taken me out of the cities and suburbs.

Do I recommend the long 20 hour flight to visit a country that is not too different from our own? Absolutely. Everyone should experience other cultures no matter how minute the differences. Do I want to go back? Yes. I would love to visit the beaches of Queensland, return to Victoria and travel the Great Ocean Road, I'd even love to go to Western Australia and check out Perth.

While my August travels had their bumps, my desire to explore the world and it's people has only deepened. This was the first step, I hope, of many.


Pablo Javier Frizan said...

Good luck there!. Meanwhile, here in Neuquén I have to live with 38° and very strong winds.

D0nnaTr0y said...

Damn that's hot! Good luck THERE! :)