Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Meaning of Living

Socrates knew what life is about. He had it all figured out. It wasn't through some divine form of all knowingness - he constantly examined and evaluated not only his own life, but also the lives of those around him. To the point where he was persecuted for it because his thoughts didn't follow the ideology of main stream society or the agenda of the powers that be.

"Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live."

That's one of the truths he discovered. I had to read it several times to truly comprehend it. Contrary to its meaning, for me this quote evokes a streaming flood of happy memories.

The first one is of Chris and I sitting around our oversized, square shaped, dark wood dinner table, an overflow of friends in tow; eating; raucous laughter; sharing stories; clinking our wine glasses in celebration; joyously spilling red wine on the white tablecloth; passing the share plate of food around; debating; listening; relaxing.

It reminds me of Easter in my grandparents' courtyard in the south of Greece. It was spring, the sun was out with the chilly mountain air ever present. My father and grandfather suspended in their silent exchange of skinning a lamb and cooking it over searing coals on a spit. After all, the tricks of the trade were passed on from father to son. There was no argument, just certainty and one way to cook the lamb; the right way. Manually turning the spit they passed the hours until the lamb cooked. Basting it, being attentive to it; drinking wine; blaring their favourite folk tunes on the stereo. My father spontaneously breaking out into song and dance when the mood struck; my grandfather sitting with his hands together in his lap, starring off into the distance as he often did when he was relaxed and contemplating life. We'd be sneaking shards of meat off the carcass (the spit master, my father administering it); and finally enjoying it all together.

The loud beeping of the self administering morphine machine (the syringe is nearing empty) pulls me out of my reverie and reminds me of the reality that surrounds me: mortality.

Those memories are thousands of miles away and some 22 years ago from the harshness of the fluorescent hospital lights I'm sitting under.

My 69 year old mama bear had a knee reconstruction yesterday. Like a good Greek daughter, I've come to Adelaide to keep her company and look after her.

The cycle and reality of life surrounds me, it surrounds everyone and it's inescapable. It reveals itself from behind the thick dark velvet curtain of life, sometimes, when we least expect it.

The dry, rough, bland hospital food is a far cry from the Greek feasts my family puts on. The layers of fish hard, flaky and folded over themselves, fused together. The potatoes floury and undercooked. Homogenous with no taste and the same dry texture dominating the whole plate.

I don't agree with Socrates. Although from a health point of view he's right - food for survival; from a living your life point of view, living my life anyway, he's dead wrong. Life should not be boiled down to mere survival.

It's those vivid, vibrant, full of animation, food sharing memories that give me meaning. It's what food and drink represent. Food as a metaphor for life is about enjoyment, living the moment, celebrating, family, friends and the connection we have to each other, our past and our present.

Socrates evidently needed more enjoyment in his life. Poor bastard.

OPEN STREET ART - Art & About Sydney

"Art in unusual places" indeed. This is the motto of Art & About Sydney.

Earlier this week I walked through Darling Quarter and caught Bill and the team setting up a street art installation in the walkway between the North and South Commonwealth Bank towers.

OPEN STREET ART is yet another collaboration between aMBUSH Gallery and the Darling Quarter precinct. The first one being the playful illumination of the precinct's buildings at night.

Friday 21 September marks the launch of Art & About Sydney for the month long celebrations and events. It is also the day OPEN STREET ART officially opens and that this public walkway will be declared a permanent art exhibition/installation space.

It's a great idea and a long time coming for the Darling Quarter precinct, which opened in June 2011. Bordered by the Chinese Garden of Friendship in the far south corner, it adds another dimension to the fringe of the already vibrant Chinatown area. I've been lucky enough to work in one of the swanky, sleek buildings and see the precinct come alive as each brand spanking new cafe or restaurant opened. There seem to still be some commercial spaces available so eventually additional operators will open up, adding even more diversity to the area.

In the meantime there are plenty of cafes, bars, restaurants, ATM's, ping-pong tables (bring your own bats and balls) and a massive children's playground to enjoy. Some tapas, a tipple and frolicking in the sun. The area can be enjoyed by young and old. During nice weather, deck chairs magically appear on the patches of grass for the pleasure and enjoyment of anyone wanting to soak up some sunshine, or as in some cases I've seen, catch up on some much needed sleep.

I feel like a child entering a fair and discovering all the rides to go on. I can't wait to get out and about in Sydney during September and October to see what other installations are waiting to be discovered. Watch this space, Bill tells me there should be another installation exhibited here before the year is out.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Grounds of Alexandria

David Chang knows the importance music plays in his Momofuku restaurant empire. So does The Grounds of Alexandria.

All you can hear inside the cafe is the loud clamour of cutlery against plates, the consistent reverberation of the patrons' conversation and the shuffling of the floor staff's hurried feet as they elegantly and flawlessly meander their way around the clusters of tables. If you're hanging around the register you'll also catch random people's names as the barista calls them once their take away coffee is ready. If you're ordering, feel free to use your alter ego's name, no one will ever know. Grab yourself a cup of orange or lemon infused water while you're at it.

Outside in the courtyard it's a different story.

In my opinion you don't come to The Grounds to put your name on the ridiculously long waiting list so you can snag a seat inside.

Instead you come here to lounge around on a communal table outdoors, next to some people you've never met before. You might even make some new friends. You come here to expose your pasty white face to the sunshine.

Look up, you're bound to catch a corner of the endless Australian blue sky or the dark looming heritage brick chimney of Alexandria Creative Park.

What I enjoy about being outside is the fact that I'm not cooped up in our one bedroom apartment staring at four walls. In this highly urbanised area in Sydney, I finally get to see some greenery and chickens. Especially since I've killed most of the plants on our balcony. Inner city Sydney dwellers take what nature they can get. 

The courtyard has strategically placed speakers throughout. Whatever corner you're sitting at the music hits your ears and when you're talking with your friends, it falls away to the background. A sometimes mellow and often funky soundtrack to your dining and social experience. The music varies, I've heard Damien Marley, Angus & Julia Stone, house music, chill out, hip hop, soft rock, alternative and even some golden oldies (the cool retro tracks).

On my own, the music pulls me in and takes my focus away from whatever I'm doing, be it texting, reading a book or surfing my iPad. Instead  I stare aimlessly at people, observing what they're doing and if they are within hearing distance, what they're talking about.

One of the conversations I overheard recently was an American chick telling her friends how much she loves Sydney. The sunshine, the great weather (I wonder, was she here last monsoonal summer?), friendly people and most importantly the great quality and variety of food. She said only when she travels is she able to relax and reflect on how good she has it here in Sydney. 

Hear hear! I raise my cup of freshly ground fragrant coffee and salute her. Here's to a fabulous spring and summer. Enjoy every moment of it.

The Grounds of Alexandria on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 14, 2012

Top 6 Epic Tourist Sites to Avoid*

I was reading an article written by a couple who traveled for six consecutive months. They talked about things they learned during this time, boiling them down to six. I promise I didn’t copy them with the “Top 6” list. I started it first with my Top 6 Epic TV Shows Relating to Food post.

The point that stood out for me was number six: “You Can’t See Everything”. This is a concept that previously created anxiety and guilt when I traveled. Random, gnawing, crazy thoughts ran through my mind like I hadn’t tried hard enough, or I shouldn’t have slept so I could jam more in, or I should have researched and planned more.

When we arrive at a new destination Chris (my hubby) and I try to jam in as much as possible. This has its pros and cons. Pro: get to see significant (tourist) sites and more of them - after all isn’t that why we flew to the other side of the world? Con: exhaustion.

Humans naturally reach a point of saturation. It’s like the concept of you can only know and maintain interactions with 150 people maximum, before the insignificant people fall off your consciousness. Think Facebook – do you really know, remember and keep in touch with 459 people on your “friends list”? Similarly with travel, doing and seeing everything is too much content and visual stimulation to absorb.

Instead you could take the time to smell the roses and let the place speak to you through spontaneity and mere observation. So that’s what Chris and I try to do now (except for the random booking of hard to get into places like Incanto in San Francisco, Momofuku in New York). We’ve had some of the best experiences usually on the last day or two of a trip or city, where we let loose, have no plans and wander aimlessly exploring and observing the locals.

I’ve had a flick through my mental catalog of trips and realised there’s a handful of epic places I’ve missed out on seeing. This is because I opted for smelling the roses instead of waiting in long queues. I decided to save something for next time. Maybe.


*more aptly titled: Top 6 Epic Tourist Sites Angie Avoided


1. The Louvre, Paris 
I saw the glass pyramid. I didn’t see the Mona Lisa. Chris had been another time and said you can never get close to the damn thing anyway. So I didn’t see the point in tackling the crowds (screw them) or straining my already bad eyesight. Instead we wandered through Montmartre, ate delectable Nutella crepes, drank coffee and power napped in Sacre-Coeur.

Montmartre, Paris, June 2011. Nutella on the corner of my mouth.

2. Vatican City, Rome 

My father, for a Greek, is not very religious. His contempt for the institution of church has stuck with me. So I wasn’t going to line up for six hours in 35 degree Celsius weather to get into the holiest of cities in the hope that I see some old dude wearing a robe. Yeah-yeah, great artwork and amazing architecture my friends say. I was in Rome - that shit is everywhere! My friend Stevie lined up whilst Patti and I got stuck into some delicious towering gelato, wandered, I’m pretty sure, the rest of the city aimlessly and sat on the Spanish Steps people watching.

Spanish Steps, Rome, August 2006. Friendly dog and stranger.


3. Anne Frank House, Amsterdam
Who wants to see a bunch of empty rooms where a girl in hiding from the Nazis wrote her diary? Don’t get me wrong, Anne’s story is significant and scary because well, she captured it in that diary of hers. If you really want to be frightened and understand the scope of Nazi rule and oppression, words on a page won’t do it, check out Auschwitz in Poland instead. Need I spell out how I spent my time in Amsterdam? Paranoid and confused, wandering the canals and getting stuck into small dutch pancakes that tasted like fluffy clouds.

One of many canals, Amsterdam, May 2011.


4. Stratosphere Tower, Las Vegas
This is one I actually regret. Five fucking days in Vegas (two days too long in my opinion) and we didn’t even hit up old, seedy Vegas. Instead I carry a small pocketful of vodka infused fuzzy memories interwoven with the sounds and flashing lights of slot machines, fake stripper boobs slapping my face, sleeping all day, partying all night and sleeping on the chopper as we flew over the Grand Canyon. Vegas baby, Vegas. 

Grand Canyon, Nevada, November 2010. Angie passed out on early morning helicopter ride.


5. Disneyland, Anaheim (Los Angeles)
The happiest place on earth wasn’t alluring enough. The swirling teacups will have to wait until next time, with some kids in tow to make the most of it. Instead Chris and I checked out the LA Angels play the Oakland Athletics at Angels Stadium, all whilst drinking beer and eating bad hotdogs of course!

Anaheim, California, May 2012. Baseball game: Angels vs. Oakland Athletics.


6. The Tiger Temple, Bangkok
My awareness of animal cruelty came into full swing during our Thailand trip. First it was seeing elephants carting fat tourists around in Koh Samui; then it was the suggestion of hotel staff in Bangkok to have my photo taken with a sedated tiger. No fucking thanks. I feel for the poor people trying to make a buck, I want to support them, I really do. I just don’t want to support them being cruel to animals, otherwise naturally supposed to roam free. I plan on seeing wild animals in their natural habitat on African safari. The Thai are going to have to work more ethically to get my buck. So instead we spent our money making the most of the great services they offer including mani/pedis and getting two massages a day.

Koh Samui, Thailand, February 2010. Captive elephant.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Get Your Cutlery On

I'm feeling nostalgic today. Nostalgic for my family on the other side of the world and Australia, nostalgic for the past and weirdly enough, for the future that hasn't arrived yet. It's not a big deal, I'm just checking myself before wrecking myself, reevaluating, readjusting my expectations and plans in life.  
Nostalgia makes me think mostly of an idyllic past, moments frozen in time that hold some form of perfection in my mind. In our current unstable economic and political environment, it's become quite common to recede into the past, to grasp for an idyllic moment from it and hold on for dear life in the hope we get transported to a better place.  
This better place for some people means going back to simpler times. What simpler time than your childhood, or in contrast, your twilight years? Beginning and end, you come full circle and at both stages understand the universal truth that less is more. You appreciate the smaller things in life and delight in them. Your needs are simple and not overshadowed by desires or wants. It's just that somewhere in between, life just got complicated and you may have forgotten to look at the big picture.

Humanity is going through a shift, or maybe it's just the latest trend. Either way, people are realising the way we've been living our lives for the last 100-odd years is not sustainable for the long run. (Some) people are unsatisfied and growing a conscience. They're considering the world around them and in what state they want to leave it in for their successors. Reduce, recycle, reuse are words we now commonly hear.

My friend Em was telling me a bunch of her friends are going as far as ditching their corporate jobs [insert me here] and turning to artisanal crafts [insert her other friends here]. Cheese making; pop up dining experiences showcasing locally produced ingredients; knitting; community gardens; baking; jam making; pickling and fermenting. The list goes on. I'm just pulling on my grandma cardigan and the scarf my mum knit for me, before jumping on the bandwagon.

The other challenge some are tackling is how to turn waste or existing items into products we can (re)use. There's the dude that turns soft drink bottles into lights for huts; the garbage warrior eco architect; and now a whole industry dedicated to utilising trash and third world country labour to make household or fashion items.

So I'm doing my very small and insignificant part. In my travels the last couple of years I've come across the growing trend of using cutlery to make bespoke jewellery pieces. It's not life changing or saving the world, but instead a clever idea to use materials that would otherwise be discarded.
In Berlin last year I headed to an arts and craft market held, ironically enough, inside a derelict, abandoned department store.
Artists set up their studios and display their art in different rooms and in one of the main halls, craftspeople sell their handmade jewellery and crafts. 

I bought this ring made from a spoon. 
What I love about it is the organic, round shape and how comfortably it sits on my finger. 
Earlier in Manhattan this year, I visited the Brooklyn Flea Market pop up held in the Chelsea Market. I bought this ring made from the bottom half of a fork. 

I love the directional lines and how I can wear it differently depending on my mood.
I look at my rings when I wear them and think of my amazing trips to Berlin and New York, then wonder who used this cutlery before and what they ate with it.

What I'm getting at is that I too, like other people, am changing. I don't care what brand I'm wearing or how much I paid for it. What moves and motivates me is the story behind it. Did someone spend their precious time (we all know what a commodity this now is) making this with their hands? Was this item something else before; I wonder who used it; where it has been and where it's from? Who made it and how did they learn the skills to make it? 

Mastery is king and in a world that's consumed with meaningless, mass consumption and being busy, it's nice to know people still take the time to put love, mastery and craft into something.