Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Coffee out in Sydney

There is no doubt that I am addicted to coffee and so when I went to Sydney recently I had to visit some great cafes.

The first was Bondi’s Gertrude and Alice. Named after Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice (who were both influential in Paris’ intellectual/artsy set in the 1920s) and so in many ways Gertrude and Alice is a stereotypical café. It seems natural that a café and bookshop that bares their name would attract the creative types who lean towards being arty and bookish.  

With its walls that are piled high with new and second hand books, I couldn’t help but linger awhile over a Long Mac and make progress with Hemingway’s Farewell To Arms as well as pick up some books to fill my already bulging bookcase.

It is a great place to people watch while getting inspiration for any creative project that you may have. The coffee is great, the food is wonderful and the vibe is just brilliant.

Gertrude and Alice on Urbanspoon

Since I used to live in Sydney, I just had to go and visit my old ‘hood. While Vesbar Espresso in Marrickville wasn’t around when I lived there, it hasn’t let the suburb down when it comes to great coffee.

You can always tell a good café by how busy it is on Saturday or Sunday morning. When I first walked past this joint on the Saturday that I was there, it was bursting at the seams with a few people waiting for a table.

So when I went back the following Monday or Tuesday I had high expectations.

Luckily I wasn’t disappointed! Their Long Mac was smooth but had flavour and their gluten free brownie was divine; it was light, chocolaty and perfect.  

Great food, great coffee and great service!

Vesbar Espresso on Urbanspoon

It is almost traditional now in Australia to go out for breakfast on the weekends. With the weather being what it is and the coffee being what it is, it is so nice to enjoy a great breakfast while catching up with mates and/or the weekend papers. It is common to find queues coming out of many of the capital cities best cafés, so find out where they are and get in early!

In the inner city suburb of Surry Hills it is a wonderful place to meet up with friends to visit one of the many and often small cafés that are in the area.

During my time in Sydney, I caught up with a friend and we visited Gnome Espresso and Wine Bar. It was packed when we got there but it wasn’t long before we scored a table in a prime location for people watching.  The coffee was good and the food was great while being reasonably priced.

Gnome Espresso and Winebar on Urbanspoon

After a packed couple of days of people watching and coffee drinking, I managed to squish in a visit to a Sydney icon and institution – Café Hernandez.

The café that never sleeps is famous for being open all the time and being a little quirky. Being in a short walk from the Cross, it is perfect for a late night espresso or a hot chocolate prior to heading home. But is great to visit anytime, really!!

I love the décor and the general vibe of the place. The coffee wasn’t bad but the Cinnamon roll was a little dry but ok.     

Cafe Hernandez on Urbanspoon

I hope that this post helps in choosing where to go for coffee in Sydney because there are so many great places to go.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sydney’s Opera Bar, the jewel in the crown of the city’s night life

On a trip to Sydney recently I made sure that I visited the opera bar.  With its incredible view, the opera bar is the perfect way of finishing a day of sightseeing in this wonderful city.

It is spoilt with almost picture perfect views of both the opera house, Harbour Bridge and the city. This bar can't really do much wrong.

While the view is the biggest asset, the wine list is good but not extensive and food is what you'd expect from such a venue. It includes oysters, a range of pizzas, salads and sides as well as a good breakfast menu. The cocktail list is also not extensive but perfectly made. They also do cocktail jugs for two which is kinda cool if you want to share.

I had a Raspberry Blossom which was great and while I sat there drinking it and looking out on one of the best views on the face of the plant, I couldn’t help but think that life couldn’t get much better than this. They once did a Toblerone cocktail which was amazing.   

When is the best time to visit?

Luckily, The Opera Bar’s opening times are pretty good so it depends on your mood.

Dusk and evenings it pulls quite an eclectic crowd with a mix of suits, tourists, concert goers and those having a drink before heading to nightclubs. Often they have bands/DJs playing and along with the view, pulls quite crowd.    

During the afternoon it is a lot more mellow and relaxed.     

Along with admiring the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, visiting The Opera Bar is almost monitory when visiting Sydney. Get a drink, sit back and enjoy the view.      

Opera Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Best year yet for Perth’s Arts Festival

I always have mixed feelings when Perth International Arts Festival comes to a close every year. I spend time thinking about all the amazing concerts, plays, writers’ festivals talks and bands that I have been so privileged to see. But I am also sad to see this wonderful West Australian institution is over for another year as well as disappointed not to have made it to more events.

The 2014 Perth International Arts Festival or Perth Festival just for short, seemed to have been especially amazing this year.

Opening this year’s festival was the usual amazing spectacular. This year’s was Spain’s Veles E Vents and was 45 minutes of load music and pyrotechnics that accompanied some kind of pirate story. The smoke and load music got to some people but was very entertaining.

The next event that we got to see was A Midsummer’s Night Dream (As You Like It), originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company for a world Shakespeare festival this performance was brought exclusively to Perth by the Chekhov International Theatre Festival. It was loosely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and could be described as a play within a play but should have been named Much Ado about Nothing as while it was funny, it was random, zany and chose not to have much of a narrative. However, this production did have giant puppets, a dog and girls in tutus. It defiantly followed in the Russian tradition of using the arts as a platform for nihilistic discussions.

Several days later we got to see Kelemen String Quartet. With their warm tone and their sensitive playing we fell in love with Beethoven String Quartet no 9 in C major, no59 no 3. While they played Bartok, Hyden and a Ross Edward’s work, the Beethoven was my favourite. It was amazing and would recommend anyone to download it, legally of course.

We were back at the Perth Concert Hall 4 days later to see St Martin in the Field’s play with Michael Barenboim. Their programme held no surprises but was no less satisfying and enjoyable. It is not often that chamber orchestras of this calibre come to Perth (other than our own Australian Chamber Orchestra) and so it was great to hear such an amazing musicians playing together as such a fine ensemble. We especially enjoyed Violist Nicholas Barr’s occasional solos while violinist Michael Barenboim gave a straight and precise performance of Mozart’s 4th Violin Concerto.  

Next came Perth Writers’ Festival and this year was everything that a writers’ festival should be: fascinating, challenging and, of course, about books. Having grabbed a posse of friends we went to session with a diverse range of writers, including Anne Summers, David Marr, Hannah Kent and Jo Baker. Having it at UWA was great (lots of space and air conditioned venues) slightly better lattes would have been adventurous but this is a small matter, the rest was perfect.

Lastly, it was time to visit the Chevron Gardens to see the Robert Glasper Experiment. It was funky with a touch jazz and a lot of class. The crowd went wild and a great night was had by all, Tess and I included. The venue was perfect and couldn’t better although slightly more diverse range of beverages would, again, be advantageous.

Movies at the Somerville Auditorium continue to be a Perth tradition that continues to be a personal favourite. It plays to Perth's natural advantage and allows you to sit and enjoy a meal, a glass of wine and a film under the stars in the weather that is meant for such an activity. Somerville is perfection personified.  The range of movies are great, the atmosphere is awesome, food available continues to be good but the coffee is average.

I have yet to see any visual art, only because there has been so much on.

Having too many events to go to highlights the quality of this year’s festival. If you’re even thinking about visiting Perth, make sure you come when it is on because there is something for everyone and you’ll love it. If you live in Perth and haven’t been to any events – get cultured and attend, you’ll also love it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

10 myths of being single

With today being Valentine’s Day and all that, I thought I would re-vist an issue that is relevant to today’s theme. I have been reading Singled Out by Bella DePaulo and I would recommend it to anyone just to read, even if you are married and living what society considers to be the “dream”.

I know I have written about this book before but in summary DePaula has 10 myths that haunt the single person and they are;

Myth #1The Wonder of Couples. DePaulo feels that couples are awarded celebrity status compared those who are single.  She argues that ‘even the most ordinary couples elicit gratitude for the most un extraordinary gestures when the recipients of their non-largesse are adults who are single’. Aren’t singles lucky to have couples to share life’s journey with? Aren’t singles lucky to have couples who want to spend time with poor single people?

I found DePaulo’s discussion around the change in nature of relationships between those who marry and those who don’t interesting. She cites several examples of married couples relegate their single friends to brunch with the children or casual BBQs on Sunday afternoons rather than more formal dinners with other couples and other such events because Singles are seen as ‘not worth a babysitter. You are not worth a trip from an out-of-town. You are not worth the money. You are not worth the time’.

She continues to argue that while couples with kids do have more logistical challenges than those without kids, they are more likely to overcome these obstacles when it is for a meet-up with other couples.

Myth # 2Single minded. According to this myth, singles are just interested in getting paired off.

De Paulo says ‘Depictions of being singles, interpretation of their motives and emotions, and conversations with them are driven by the assumption that for single people, the quest to become unsingle dominates their lives’. The media is especially guilty of this and often portrays them as desperately searching and/or bitter. The media choose not to portray the common reality that many single people lead rich and meaningful lives that revolve around friendships, community activities and interests as well as much, much more.

I see this often in horoscopes (not that I take them seriously) where they often seem to tell us that finding a partner is around the corner or that they are already part of our lives but haven’t considered them as a romantic partner yet.

Myth #3The Dark Aura of Singlehood. This myth perpetuates the idea that single people are miserable and that their lives are simply tragic.

De Paulo has developed an acronym – Bitter, loveless, alone, miserable, and envious of couples. She continues to questions why this sticks to only singles and with 27 million people living alone in America, why people don’t challenge the stereotype.     

This dark aura that she speaks of apparently gets put on single people in different ways.

‘Single people who are strong and unapologetic, and who show a little attitude, get pinned with the darkness that is menacing on the outside and insecure on the inside. They are called bitter, ballsy, difficult, angry and scary….Single people who show some vulnerability are deemed as fragile through and through. They are sad, hurt and deserving of pity. And lonely. Always lonely’.
To be single is never flattering even though it can be the best thing ever.

Myth #4 - It is all about you. Apparently! DePaula notes that single people are considered selfish, immature, irresponsible and insignificant, not to mention just big children whose lives are simple and straight forward.

Imagine two people, both working in jobs they don’t particularly enjoy and one is married and the other isn’t. The one who is married quits the job she hates to “find herself” while being supported financially by her husband but the other continues to slog it out in a job she hates because if she doesn’t work her bills do not get paid.

Another thing, have you noticed how much it costs to get married these days? With the dresses, venues, photographers, fancy invites and thank you cards, etc (this is all before you’ve left for your honeymoon) the cost goes into the thousands and unless it is an Indian wedding where weddings go on for days, the whole event is over in 12 hours.    

Now, who is it all about again and who is more responsible?

 Myth #5 Attention, Single Women! This myth is centred on the idea that educated and professional women over 40 are more likely to be killed by terrorists than get married.

This myth is based on the idea that women are focusing too much on their own careers and achievements outside the home which makes it harder to find a husband later on. DePaula states the common theme that ‘the more a woman succeeds in her career, the less likely that she will have a partner or baby’.

Because, according to DePaula, Success (whether it be professional or in the sporting, arts or in civil society fields) is isolating and cannot bring happiness or true fulfilment because only marriage does that.

In DePaula’s own words, ‘Take one successful professional woman, subtract work, add husband and live happily ever after’.

Myth #6  – Attention Single Men! Unlike women who are constantly reminded that their job isn’t going to love them back, men face different issues.

Single men are seem to always be referred to as party animals who don’t really look after themselves and need a wife to encourage healthy eating, driving more safely and basically not being a slob.

 DePaula cites scientific studies that marriage is better for men than for women. Better for both their physical and mental health as well as for their social and professional credibility. ‘Even the really small stuff has different meanings if it comes from the mouth of a man who is married rather than a man who is not’ says DePaula.

Myth #7 - Attention, Single Parents!  Single parents often get a lot of mud thrown at them, making them look like they are the roots of all the problems in society.

DePaula argues that there are wider problems like poverty, illiteracy, un/underemployment and not to mention the involvement of both parents that will influence a child’s future outcome.

She reminds us to let go of the fantasy that all children living in nuclear families have two equally engaged parents who lavish their love and attention on their children and to remember that children can grow up with multiple positive influences that do not necessarily have to be living in the same house.

Myth #8 – Too bad, you’re incomplete. This is my favourite as it is the myth that I find the most annoying. It really frustrates me that society assumes that because I am not married, I am not complete person or don’t have a life.

I totally agree with DePaula when she says ‘the overvaluing of couples places one meaning of the word family at the tips of our tongues, when other meanings are at least as deserving of that place of honour’ and that only married people have a true understanding of society, like their opinions are the only ones that matter.

The equation – Single = no mind, no heart, no life has to be the biggest myth of all.

 Myth #9 – Poor Soul. Central to this myth is that a single person will die alone and completely miserable as they do not have the meaningful relationships to support them in times of crisis, sickness and even the good times.

DePaula seems to argue that because single people aren’t married and have a social support system that goes with that (which she established is a socially constructed myth that this is the only relationship that offers this) they seem to be better at going out and actively maintaining relationships that offer support, friendship and help during times of crisis.  She cites a small American Study that found that ‘the women who had always been single and those who were currently married were least likely to be lonely. The formally married were the loneliest, but even they, were on the not-so-lonely end of the scale’.

What is the secret?

According to DuPaula, it is not buying into the mythology and believing that coupling up and ultimately families are the only kind of relationships that are nurturing.  They are also probably more comfortable in their own company and understand that romantic relationships are not the be all or end all of the human existence
If you haven’t read Singled Out yet, I would highly recommend it. Even if you are happily married, even if you think that marriage is the best thing even; it will give you some perspective of this age-old institution.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Facebook chief recommends us to “Lean In”

You know when a book has made an impact when it is regularly referred to in the media and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has defiantly made a splash. Lean In got people talking about the progress that women have made in society and why there is so far to go.

Coming from some who Popular Culture would describe as having “made it” she offers words of advice and encourages us to lean in and to actively take part in their career, take risks and make their dreams happen.

While Sandberg does quote research and goes in to data quite deeply to back up her arguments, I want to provide a highlight of the parts of her book that I found especially interesting rather than a synopsis.

She believes that an equal world has an equal division of women running our businesses and half of men running our homes.

One of the ideas from the book is if women are prevented from fully participating (though barriers to in society then the whole of society does not benefit from their skills and expertise and is ultimately poorer as a result.

The opening chapter of the book gives the context in which women operate, regardless of where we are in the world. A lot of things are different but the strength of the patriarchy is almost universal even though in western countries it is a lot more subtle.

She reminds us of the issues that many women face in other parts of the world and that, in many ways we are so much more privileged than Women in Sudan and Afghanistan.  Most of us are able to gain good levels of education, we are able to vote, we are not considered the property of our husbands, etc. 

While the politics of women can help women in other cultures is another discussion, this book is deliberately aimed at women in The West and especially those working in the middle and upper echelon of the knowledge economy.

What I found interesting was her study of the reality compared to the myths or narratives that are present in society.

For example, generation X and Y were raised with an increasing sense of equality with their bothers and we soon saw that girls of this generation excelled academically. But as soon as these generations left environments that Sandberg describes that encouraged behaviour including “raise-your-hand-and-speak-when-called-on”.

This is one of the challenges that act as a central theme of Sandberg’s book. She argues that ‘Career progression often depends on taking risks and advocating for oneself – traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting’. So the skills girls were using to their advantage during secondary school works against them in the work force.

This idea of advocating for yourself, being ambitious with what you want to do with your life and not lowering expectations are key arguments of the book. Sandberg stresses that these traits are important in increasing women’s participation in business, government and civil society.       

One of Sandberg’s ideas that I found especially interesting was the “stereotype threat”. While this is not necessarily a new idea, this threat is when members of a group begin to be aware of negative stereotypes that society has placed on them. The effect is that they start to live the narrative or as Sandberg puts it ‘are more likely to perform according to the stereotype’.

So when women are told that they are less good at maths, leadership or combining a successful career with a family, they are less likely to pursue careers which require maths, apply for leadership positions or continue to pursue their careers goals while caring for a family. Why would you bother applying for a course at university that requires advanced skills in maths if you’ve always been told you’re bad at it?

I totally agree with Sandberg when she argues that we ‘need more portrayals of women as competent professionals and happy mothers – or even happy professionals and competent mothers’.

Finally, I thought Sandberg’s chapter on mentoring really interesting. In a nutshell, she argues that while mentoring is the key to success, society looks at it the wrong way around.

Instead of thinking that getting a mentor will make you successful, Sandberg argues that excel, become successful and you will get a mentor that will work with you to get to the next level.   

Her argument is as follows; mentors select mentorees based on past success. They are more likely to invest in individual whose talent is obvious and has a successful track record.

It make sense that successful people further up the career chain want to invest in people that are like them rather than those who have yet to prove themselves.   

She points out that asking a business, community or political leader out of the blue rarely works but in reality such relationships happen organically benefits both parties.

This is a powerful book with much to think about. Lean In inspired me to think big and be an active participant in my dreams and goals, both professionally and personally.   It reminded me that it is up to me to make things happen and not to sit back and wait for things to happen for me. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

You don’t need to be married to live happily ever after

I have been thinking about marriage recently. Not that I particularly want to get married or think it will benefit my life in anyway but after reading Singled Out by Bella DePaulo, the discussion around marriage seems to be everywhere I look.

DePaulo’s book started me thinking about marriage as well as my own life style choices.

I had a great childhood; fun, adventure and character building experiences where all part of it in equal measures. As a result, I have lots of passions and interests that I want to pursue and since then I have spent my life doing a lot of interesting things and contributing to society in every way possible – all without a man!

I bet you’re half expecting me to say I have regretted my choices as well as how unhappy and unfulfilled I am because I am not married or in a relationship. But in reality none of these things are true.  

The overvaluation of marriage is nothing new or specific to America or Europe. Here in far-away Australia such attitudes are still going strong.

I have written about this before but in more traditional and conservative communities, a person is only seen through the prism of their relationship status.

This was doing the round on Facebook and is outrageous.
Through this prism, singles are miserable, immature, lonely and marking time until they are wed. DePaulo states that single people are defined negatively, in terms of what they do not have – a serious partner. 

Couples (a man and woman), on the other hand, are the epitome of maturity and have achieved the ultimate human goal. If you live in a de facto or a committed gay relationship, you are living in sin.

With marriage being the ultimate goal, they find it hard to connect to people on a human level and without someone’s marital status indicating how they should relate.

Such religious communities aren’t the only ones treating singles like this (it is that they do it blatantly and are less tolerant of diversity) and Bella DePaulo reminded me that it is a common issue in society in general.
DePaulo hits it on the head so often in her book, apart from being lonely, envious of couples and miserable, singles are ‘commitment phobic, or too picky, or have baggage. Or maybe, they figure you are gay and they think that’s a problem, too’. Also that single people are selfish and that couples “get you” and know more about a person than the individual does.  DePaula says that they ‘are left scratching their heads and wondering what’s wrong with you and comparing notes (he’s always been a bit strange; she’s so neurotic; I think he’s gay)

You defiantly do not need marriage to be happy, content and fulfilled. Marriage doesn’t make you a better person or complete you as an individual. It is not that I am anti-marriage but against placing too much value on it as an institution.  

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 kicks the bucket

Everyone has a list of thing that they want to do before they kick the bucket, a list of places to visit, things to do, people to meet, films to watch, festivals to attend and books to read.

For me 2013 was a so memorable, so rewarding and so much fun as well as challenging in so many ways.

It opened with an amazing trip to China and to India – a kind of trip that has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Spending 4 weeks interning in Shanghai (with a local company that imported fine Spanish food and wine) was amazing and an experience that I will never for forget.   

Going to India was another dream come true. I went to India as a child and I always dreamt of going back and this year I got my chance.

I was lucky enough to participate in an International Journalism Project meaning that I got to spend two and half weeks discovering India in ways that I wouldn’t normally get as a standard tourist. Of course, as a massive fan of the written word getting to write about India was a complete bonus.

Visiting two of the great wonders of the world were so incredible. The Taj Mahal’s beauty was mind blowing and visiting the Great Wall of China was staggering.    

But all holidays must come to an end and going back to work was a little difficult.

But luckily, I managed to moonlight for a few months as a ghost writer (officially as a Graduate Research Assistant) for Cancer Research. Combining this with the day job meant often working 13 or 15 days in a row but that was all part of the challenge.   

However, life is not all about work.

There were visits to Sydney Writers Festival, Perth International Arts Festival and to Malaysia for a friend’s wedding as well as a skydive. These were all great experiences and seem to be pertinently (maybe not the skydive) on the bucket list.

Singing was another great pastime and singing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was loud and high but great fun. Also singing in a smaller Choir in a catholic church was amazing and singing the great Christmas Music (including descant ;)) at Midnight Mass was increasable.

Finally, 2013 saw the buying a house. This was never really on the bucket list but it is almost a necessity these days, so now we have a mortgage.

Looking back, it seems that things weren’t really crossed off but heavily underlined things to do again. I hope 2014 will see more adventures of so many descriptions. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Trade union hack is a label proudly worn

Ever since becoming a work place delegate for my union and attending one of their training courses last month my passion for the trade union movement has been recharged. It was great to learn how to contribute to a fairer workplace and how we can make a difference.

If that makes me a trade union hack, it is a label that I proudly wear.

There are so many things that the union movement has fought for that I now take for granted and if these things were taken away, my life would be a lot harder and defiantly more complicated.

There were so many simple things that were negotiated for by the union movement that a person in permanent employment enjoys; things such as sick/personal/carers’ leave, holiday pay, and job security. There are also many other things that unions worked to set in legislation, such as workplace safety, penalty rates,  holidays, overtime and a minimum wage.   

As delegates, we were reminded of the consequences of casual and insecure employment such as poor financial security that could make secure a car loan or mortgage difficult and securing a rental property even harder. As with casual employment, there is no sick pay and no guaranteed work from one week to the next, meaning that supporting yourself becomes a lot more difficult.   

Casual employment also affects people’s social lives, families and communities. When you don’t know when you have to work and you have to take any job that comes along, you can’t plan your social life ahead of time. You can’t commit to play sport, do things at your kid’s school or regularly attend interpretive dance classes. All this makes managing a work/life balance really difficult and has the potential for alienating people from the things that give meaning to their lives.

This is why the culling of penalty rates is so wrong. When people working in industries such as hospitality and in the health care system which requires them to work when the majority of the community are enjoying communal time off such as evenings and weekends so shouldn’t they be compensated for their sacrifice?

Having spent years in casual employment and juggling multiple part time jobs I remember how hard it was to do the things I loved when I had to always be available to work and any expense like music lessons, book clubs, going out with friends and attending sometimes pricy political and NGO events were a little hard to justify.

So as the state and federal governments work towards their agenda of privatisation and liberalisation, I will continue to be a union hack so that we can preserve things like penalty rates for those who work unsociable hours and permanent jobs over casual employment and fixed term contracts as well as deal with many of the other issues that people face when they go to work.