Monday, May 31, 2004

Going Mac-wards

Pooh. The pic blogger bot is only for PCs. We Maccies are out in the cold. And I so wanted to do a piccie thing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Pax on earth

Salam Pax has charmed his way around Australia. Poor man has not seen much of the country or the culture. Emily Booth, his publisher publicist, has given him a heavy schedule which means that if you ask him what he thinks of the country he will reply: "Your hotels are very good. Room service is good." He has mainly seen the insides of bookshops and CD stores, he says. And radio and TV studios. And, for us tonight, a large hall where the Salam Pax Big Book Club event attracted an enthusiastic capacity crowd.
Salam arrived and gratefully accepted a glass of white wine, mingling easily, albeit slightly confused when one gentleman came to deliver him greetings from a certain sheik in London. That man, like several others in the audience, had been to Iraq. But he had serious dealings with the redevelopment of the country. I don't think Salam realised this but, then again, there were so many people vying for his attention.
Having interviewed him on the phone for the Saturday magazine feature, we were already relaxed and on a kindred wavelength with blogging in common. For this event, we sat together at a table on stage - the interview process being more relaxed and conversational.
Salam was a deleriously easy interview, although he says he finds the "being interviewed" process very weird indeed. Our format makes it more like a chat - and it felt very comfortable. Salam says he hates being made into some sort of pundit on the politics of Iraq, but of course his insights are craved. I had to ask at least some questions about war and peace, for this is what has made him so famous. But he was most at home enthusing about the blogsphere.
I had a show of hands on bloggers in the audience. Only four. We think there will be more tonight - since we have encouraged them to come here to blogger and get into it, now they understand that it is another rich world of communications and self-expression.
Salam was a little taller than I had expected. I don't know why. He is pleasant looking, balding, with a neat, groomed beard. He is slightly rounded in physique - and makes clear, honest eye-contact when talking with one. His English is superb - with an interesting, cultured accent. Of course he was educated in Vienna.
The audience was absolutely rapt with interest in all he had to say. It is magnificent to look out on a sea of sentient faces. Gives one hope for the world. And having Salam was, I observed, like having a little window through which to see into the real Iraq. Not that he is a typical Iraqi, as he is first to admit. But his European education forced him to examine his culture and see it through an objective lens. This makes him no less of a patriot. He is a brilliant ambassador for his country. He tries to assert a sense of optimism for it, grateful that Saddam is gone, adamant that the coalition should listen to more Iraqis. He communicates well the sense of disruption and fear in which the people live, saying that when a car backfired in Sydney, he immediately felt a flashback to Iraq and feared where the bullets were going.
He also is funny - a lovely, ironic humor, familiar to all of us who have read his blog.
Our evening with him ran over time. Everyone had questions to ask. We did not want to let him go. So much we want to know.
Bravo, Salam. You are a delightful man and it was simply marvellous to connect in person with you. In your wake go waves of new understanding.
Please don't stop blogging.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Salam Pax

What a pleasure to interview the Baghdad Blogger as I did on the phone today to write the forward feature for his impending visit. What a cherub he is. Lively, bubbly and interesting. Immensely likeable. He said that he never for a moment imagined, as he tapped out that historic blog from the crumbling chaos of falling Baghdad, that he would end up talking to the likes of me. And I have to say that, as I checked in to that famous Baghdad blog during those terrible times, I, too, never imagined that I would be talking to its author.

car car car

It's big deal. Just a few times in a lifetime. For some, never. So I have been pretty excited about taking delivery of my very own brand new car. It's a Subaru Forester, green. I have had my eye on this model of car for several years and test driving two of the latest Foresters last year sealed my resolve that this was "the" car for me and us. I held off and held off, until the ancient Subaru Liberty I call Wanda was making me nervous - that gnawing feeling that she may not get me where I was going. And I stood on my little hind legs, so to speak, and asserted that I would not and could not add stress about a car to the many demands in life. I am past it. I am at a time of life when one must and will have certain civilized and comfortable facilities - i.e. a safe and dependable car. Fortunately, my darling Bruce concurred. And so the deed is done.
Yesterday I collected the car from Eblens where they made an extended celebratory ritual of the purchase - and off I drove, all pristine and only 16 klicks on the dial. I have to run her in, of course. Or is it him? I have yet to give the car its identity.
At present I mainly gaze upon it with a sense of incredulity and delight. Waiting for the weekend when I can take her out to the country and really spend some time with her. And I will really have to make the most of that because for the rest of the week I will not be able to drive her. I will be test driving the new Mazda3 for the paper.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A rumpled office

Rain rattles against the window and I see my banana palms lurching in the stormy wind. Brrr. This old house has no heating and I stay in bed rather than turn on a heater. My bed, now I am wireless, has become an office - piled with books and, of course, the ever-handy laptop. I made coffee at 6 am, when it was still dark, and went on reading the book version of Salam Pax, cross-referencing to websites he mentions. I don't know why, as a dedicated netizen, I stick to the book and do not return to his website, which, after all, is the "real" world. But I am engrossed in this retrospective which is all the more fascinating now, with all the wisdoms of hindsight. Of course I can make notations in the book - things which I can use as I spread the word to the blogless population.

I am annoyed that I have never been to Iraq and that I get confused by the cultural/tribal complexities. I am a shallow student - always skimming information in an effort to keep broadly informed. Coping with the information overload as best I can. Who can work and cook and wash and shop - and also keep abreast of a zillion news sources and blogs?
Let alone write a meaningful blog? Well, I am not competing with the champion bloggers. I have words to churn elsewhere - and I am way more fascinated with what other bloggers have to say than with musings of my own.

I will have to go to work soon - that lively place with its diverse "family" of co-workers. We are a bit nervous about the demolition beside our building. We look forward to the end product which will be our state-of-the-art new premises - but we worry that the shaking of our old building will dislodge the asbestos. They have put in monitors to check this out.
Meanwhile, I dread going out in the rain and getting into my old car with its leaking sunroof. Water will dump on me the moment I start moving. I had hoped to get my new car before the rains. But with just one day to go, fate spites me with a deluge and I shall drive to work draped in towels and with a cap on my head.
A petty hardship when I contemplate Iraq. How pitiful of me to dare to complain.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Sweet Adelaide

Riven between my two worlds, I have been trying to adjust to being back in Adelaide through a process of immersion. Going for walks as a cultural sponge. Loosening the thought processes and allowing the body to be a sensory receptor.
A neurasthenic approach, perhaps.
Perhaps just a wallow.
My favorite place is the central market where on Saturday I firstly lunched on fish curry and then, soothed by the comfort of familiar Asian food, I meandered among the stalls where the stallholders were shouting down the prices. "Dollar, dollar, dollar," rang through the air from all directions and people huddled around barrows freshly loaded with the end-of-week bargains. And into the fish market I roamed where people clustered around the high counters waiting for the shout-down specials. And the shouts roared from the fish counters and from the poultry stands and the people, laden with bags of provisions, jostled and called back. And it was raucous and jubilant and wildly alive. I stood in the midst of it all and let it reverberate through my body. Lovely. A dose of vibrant humanity. Like floating in delicious people soup.
The Continental delicatessan was shouting down prices, too. I bought some extravagant custard confections for a song - and a batard. I was not there for shopping, after all. Just the ambience. And I wandered on among the fresh fruit and veg, the colors and fragrances. Barrows of vivid sliced watermelon, piles of salad vegetables, boxes of pears, citrus....
The Asian groceries with their mountains of greens.
And, of course, the sense that we now are also an Asian market, for our population is now strongly Asian. Which makes me feel comfortable and optimistic for our country.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Where is Raed?

I will ask that question, since Raed has always been somewhere else. But Salam Pax will be here - promoting the book of his famous blog, doing the world book tour thing. It has been chosen as our paper's Big Book Club feature for May.
I have been sitting up in bed with jet lag and the book. I have, of course, made periodic visits to the blog over the years - and it is a strange thing but blogs seem better to me in blog form. As a book it is bitsy and somehow cold and distant. Perhaps one of potentcies of blogs is the sense that they are alive and shared online, that others are reading them at the same time as oneself. That they are part of the great connectivity. That we online readers constitute some sort of community and that there is an immediacy and intimacy in blog communications.
But even though I have written innumerable column recommendations of various blogs and even an extensive magazine feature on the world of blogging, I find a world out there which has never heard the word "blog". So putting the Pax blog into print form will cerrtainly broaden awareness among those whose online reach extends no further than email.

The Pax assignment was my greeting back to work on Thursday - when I arrived in the office straight from the epic flight from Boston. It was a good trip as such world crossings go. My frequent flyer points had earned me an upgrade to Business - and it divine to be able to extend the legs, not to mention have power for the laptop, which is not available in the cheap seats.
Pax, the publicist tells me, is having a far more difficult and epic journey from Baghdad. Many days and a circuitous route. He arrives in Sydney on Monday and on Tuesday faces a non-stop barrage of media interviews, mine among them. Poor bastard. But I get a second, more leisurely, slice of his cake when he comes to Adelaide for the Book Club and I conduct a live interview in front of an audience.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Administrative contrition

Hearing Donald Rumsfelt oozing contrition about the mistreatment of Iraqi POWs is nothing more than irritating. It is all too late. It is after the fact.
The culture was already established. First an administration which outsources POW guarding. Outsources!!!!! Employs contractors. Civilians. And who adopts such contracts? Rednecks, of course
But the redneck culture is entrenched in the military anyway. Never clearer when I met the marines on R&R in Darwin and hearing their savage attacks on war veterans. How Vietnam Vets and Gulf War Vets were cowardly and soft. Unlike the services of today who know how to "kick butt".
Somewhere these young people are being drilled in this attitude. It is part of the culture of toughness. It is the attitude of the government of the day.

I hear people on IRC saying how tough is this country and how it will show the other countries. It needs no friends. The rest of the world is irrelevent.
This attitude, also conditioned by the propaganda of the present administration, is suicidal in terms of world politics let alone Islamic psychology. The loathing of Islam is fuelled by the atrocities in Iraq. One hears the American contractor who escaped from detention with the Iraqis saying that he was given civilized treatment during his imprisonment. What an irony.
The next lot of kidnapped westerners will not fare as well, methinks.

Meanwhile, I realise why so many of the devotees of Nostradamus now are circulating the email with reminders of his prophecies.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Kindred Strangers

This is a fascinating apartment complex. Some 600 apartments spread through a vast acreage of New Hampshire woodlands and streams - set out as a mock Tudor village complete with beams and round turrets, winding roads, some along high restraining walls. Squirrels and chipmunks scuttle around the place. It's all quite charming. The buildings are just three-storeys tall. We are in a middle floor apartment with a wee balcony which gets next to no sun but manges at least to grow impatiens in pots during summer.
Today, with the sun at last out, I was playing my favourite Chieftans CD, rather loudly, and there was that wonderful anthem, Long Journey Home. Suddenly various pennies dropped - as I thought of how far away was my other home. And I glanced out the window and saw two strapping young Brazilian men with pails and mops, coming to wash the laundry. They are far from home, too, beginning at the bottom for a new life, I pondered. They were talking in Portugese. Just as the Latino groundsmen who swarm around the property with fertilisers and leaf blowers seem only to talk in Spanish. None of these workers seems to have any English at all. Unlike the Indians who live in most of the apartments. Their English is exemplary, for India is the last bastion of English at its most correct. The Indian women swan around the compound in vivid saris while their high tech PhD husbands are at work and tantalising scents of curries waft onto the apartment landings. And they, too, are far from home. As are the Chinese and Taiwanese who also live in this complex. And the few Swiss and Germans. For, indeed, this is the truest form of multicultural community. There are more foreigners than Americans in this bit of America. We are all far from home - strangers in every sense of the word, for we don't know each other more than to nod on passing. And yet, in many senses, this is American grassroots - for the country long has absorbed the people of the world in mind-boggling numbers. There's one helluva lot of people here. Actually, it's a pretty mind-boggling place.