Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Random Picture of the Day

I shot this picture at a hostel near McCarthy, Alaska, in August of 2005.

Let's be clear: McCarthy is a town that is 60 miles or so up a dirt road that had partially washed out when we were driving up to it. We almost did not get through. It took 3 hours to drive that distance, ending up in this tiny Western hamlet of about 40 year round residents, where, apparently many years ago someone in town went crazy during the long, cold winter and killed a bunch of people. Nice.

Still, it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been and the saloon in town was even run by a gay couple (oh, another note: I was on a gay trip: 8 gay men tromping around Southeastern Alaska together; I was writing about it for Frontiers even though I'd quit by then).

To get to the main part of town you had to cross a foot bridge over a river that, at the time, was swollen with silty, glacial runoff. Why? Well, the road simply ended at the river. (OK, you could drive a car across, but it was on a separate bridge that looked more rickity than the one we were on.)

Standing on that small bridge, you could look up at the brown ribbon of water and see, in the distance, triangular volcanic mountains still covered in snow, a huge glacier snaking down into the valley as well, covered in silty sand, looking like some kind of cold desert landscape.

We had been camping in the cold and rain--as well as kayaking in a glacial bay near Valdez--and staying at this hostel provided us with our first hot showers in 3 days. After nearly scalding myself, and happily so, we tromped into the main kitchen area to prepare for dinner. That is where I found this painting hanging on the wall.

Bear in mind, this was essentially a log cabin A-frame building, and since we were in the middle of nowhere, literally, surrounded by forests that were home to several beautiful bald eagles--and boy are the beautiful when you see them fly--the painting seemed a propos. Still, the cheap, thrift-store sheen it had is likely what made me want it even more. I don't think Brad, the eccentric owner who kept a bench press in the makeshift dirt driveway near his room, would have handed it over willingly.

Standing there in wool socks on a cold August evening, drinking wine and watching the rain drizzle down and obscure the dramatic surroundings, I contemplated how I could stealthily sneak in to the kitchen in the dead of the short summer night, wrap the eagle up in my coat, and put it in my suitcase. But I didn't, or else I'd have posted a picture of me standing next to the painting in my apartment.

So, is this a post about a missed opportunity art heist? I'm not sure. I just saw the picture tonight and the whole scene popped into my head, complete with details from the next day when I strapped on crampons and hiked the Kennicott Glacier:

But that's another story.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Photographic Memory

I think it's tomorrow. Still. At least, that's how my body feels. I pop awake at 5 a.m., hungry. Breakfast comes and I do not want to eat. I couldn't have dinner until 9 p.m. tonight. The jetlag is slowly ebbing away, but damn if I only remember slivers of Friday night after I got home--except that Lesley, Ryan, and I downed my souvenir bottle of sparkling Shiraz/Pinot in no time flat and then yelled things at the TV as I caught up on the last three episodes of "America's Next Top Model"--who is a Latina drag queen! God bless this country.

Thankfully, instead of coming home feeling like I'd been beat up, I thought back on this trip and realized it was actually incredibly enjoyable. It was not too much time in a car; we were near Adelaide most of the time, and we had tours from people who were so good natured. I really do love Australians--even when they can be as trashy as Americans.

The trip began in Adelaide, with tours of the city and the Central Market, another of my new favorite places. It's where you can by frog cakes (I can't even get into it), tacky souvenirs, and the best produce around, which is saying something in a state of Australia renowned for its food.

Of course, you can also buy lots of GAME MEAT. Yum. 'Roo!

I could go on and on about a Saturday night spent out with some lovely gay guys who organize Feast, the local LGBT festival, but the other side of that story concerns drunken behavior by a few others along for the ride that sent two of the writers I was with into a bit of a panic (and rightfully so). Let's just say that we nicknamed certain offenders Creepy and Grotesque and leave it at that. Still, getting drunk and enjoying the local color is always fun--esp. when you are walking back to your hotel at 2 am and getting text messages from writers that are cracking you up and making the few homeless people on the street look at you funny.

We took off the next day for the Barossa Valley, where some of the world's best wines are made. We stopped off at Penfolds to mix our own blend of wine. Mine was 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, and 20% Shiraz, and I was awfully proud of my tasty libation.

Of course, we all felt like we were in some kind of night school adult education chemistry class (or maybe it was just me)...

But at the end of the day, we got to walk out with cute little bottles of wine. They were supposed to keep 5 days. When we opened mine 2 days later, it was utterly nasty and had the taste of a tire about it--nothing like those other romantic tasting notes like "cut grass" and "cherry."

Still, staying in the Barossa Valley when it's actually rained is gorgeous. It helped that we were lucky enough to score rooms at a 16-room luxury resort with outdoor showers and views of some of the most amazing expanse of sky. I'd not seen the Milky Way in so long. It almost makes me cry when I see it. But then I woke up at 7 am with the sunrise and saw the vineyards:

So of course I sat outside and took photos of myself reflected in the window on my terrace. Because you can't spoil a good sunrise with self-portraits:

Luckily the weather held, and the next day we headed up into the Adelaide Hills and visited more wineries. It rained as we gorged at lunch on local cheese and coffee and watched the leaves on the maple trees in the town of Hahndorf turn yellow (it's fall there, don't ya know). But then the rain cleared and at the last winery of the day, this was the view from where we did our tastings:

More wine tasting the next day in the McClaren Vale, another renowned wine region, where I even got to see where some of my fave sparkling Shiraz is produced (Vixen), and laughed as Larry screamed at a Huntsman spider--a hulking, jumping thing that is totally harmless...which he kept running toward to snap a picture and then, every time it moved, he screamed and ran away. All for the good of the story of course.

By the time we may it to the beach to eat at a Greek cafe I was partially drunk, my stomach unhappy, and I could only stare at the ocean. Of course, that's when Larry got this shot:

We combed the beach after lunch, looking for cool rocks and cuttlefish skeletons. I could have easily just slept on the beach for a few days.

But there was no sleeping. It was off to the city to catch a 30-seat plane to Kangaroo Island, a 25-minute flight from Adelaide and easily one of my favorite places on earth. Granted, I have not been THAT many places, but it's a pastoral country with rolling beaches and rocky inlets where you can see so much wildlife it's kind of ridiculous. We saw tiger snakes, an echidna (egg-laying mammal that kind of looks like a porcupine), not to mention kangaroos, and, at Seal Bay, a baby seal that came within about four feet of me when he wandered down from the sand dunes on his way to the ocean, barking like a dog:

The southwestern corner of KI is a desolate wild place that's pretty stunning, and as we walked around Remarkable Rocks and Admiral's Arch trying to contemplate how the ocean stretched forever until it finally hit Antarctica, I of course found time to be totally geeky and take pictures of lichen--as well as some more self-portraits halfway inside the rocks:

The last full day on the island was at my new favorite place, Lifetime Private Retreats, where I swear I will spend a month at some point just learning to garden and doing yoga overlooking the ocean. The "resort" is simply three houses near a small beach on the north shore of the island, where you can eat dinner under a fig tree or in an old shearing shed. Trust me, the 22 hours of travel to get there is worth it. And of course, I for some reason have no pics from this trip when the hills were so brilliantly green and lush. But I was a lucky enough son of a bitch to be there last December too:

I made it back at 6:40 am Friday May 18 after leaving Adelaide at 6:40 am on Friday May 18. Wrap yer head around that one.

To tell you the whole story would take me years and you would be bored, no doubt. But I was more than happy to be back. I needed to find the perfect place to put my new small boomerang carved from a tree in the Simpson Desert, give Ryan his Barossa Valley beer cozy (why on earth do they have beer cozies in the most famous wine region of Australia?), and Lesley her chocolate-dipped honeycomb with honey from the last pure strain of Ligurian bees on earth.

Because what good is going to Australia if you don't come back with the weirdest shit you can find... I mean, short of trapping an echidna?

Friday, May 18, 2007

The best part of coming home

What could be more welcoming after 22 hours of traveling than a cat in heat yowling at you and keeping you from falling asleep? I guess I don't need to worry about staying up now.

Australia was great--a very good trip, good food, wine, and a night at one of my favorite places on earth on Kangaroo Island called Lifetime Private Retreats ( I want to go live there and learn to garden.

More soon. Literally just got home. I feel like I am still on the airplane. I need to unpack, do laundry, and lock the cat away somewhere until her hormones deplete--or whatever it is they do. Of course, Steve covieniently left today too. He always misses the fun.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sorghum Wine, All Around!

I discovered sorghum wine tonight. Damn you, Steven.

I've known the man for 15 years and somehow he still manages to subtly corrupt me. I was perfectly in control today until dinner in San Gabriel for his birthday. I can't believe I have now known him this long, first of all. (I was an even skinnier 18-year-old college freshmen when I met him, and we hit it off when he decided we should torture my then-roommate by setting up camp in my room to scare him off.) Secondly, I sat down next to him at the restaurant, already salivating because I could smell the Peking duck in the kitchen, and he shows me a bottle that looks like Log Cabin syrup but it's clear--and, oh yeah, in Chinese.

"What's that?" I asked him.

"Want some?" he said as a reply. When he answers you with a question, you know it's trouble.

So he pours me what looks like a sake cup full of what smells faintly of moonshine. But damn it tastes a lot better. Three "cups" later, I wasn't drunk; I felt like I was floating. At a table full of 12 people, I felt like anything could have happened and I would have merely blinked.

Thankfully, that drunk, floating feeling melted away before I drove home (but not before I ate jellyfish, which inexplicably the restaurant ran out of. really? does one just "run out" of jellyfish?).

I think Steve enjoyed himself. After all, he had a birthday dinner surrounded by friends who all had good senses of humor--a must to make a group dinner work. I did pour him more sorghum wine, so I think he was floating too.

Note to self: Find sorghum wine and learn enough Chinese to find the good stuff.

It's after midnight. I should be asleep, but I feel wired. I am thinking of being stuck on a plane for 15 hours; I am thinking of the fact my father would have been 66 years old today if he was still alive. Now that's a weird thought. To me, he's arrested at 45--a vague figure who is a mixture of memories, sights, and sounds. Ryan was talking to me about how we can't really remember people as they were; they become collages of sensations, in a way--a picture that is not entirely visual, nor entirely accurate. I got quiet, trying hard to remember a sharp picture, a crisp memory untainted by over two decades of absence. And I couldn't do it. It makes me sad in some ways, of course. I feel like the human brain should not do this to you. But I suppose it also blocks out the pictures of him being sick and the awful sterile hospital rooms I sat in all summer. (My sharpest memory is actually hearing "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper come on the radio minutes after I found out he had died, so there's still no way for me to hate that song.)

Sorghum wine or not, I am feeling a tad maudlin, thinking of what I have missed and what has yet to happen. Watching your friends (and yourself) get older, it's unavoidable I suppose. And yet I also feel like there is still so, so much more I have yet to do and experience--whether it be learning lawn bowling or visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico. I can at least cross "Eat Jellyfish" off that list.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Let Beach Season Begin

Just in time for me to leave the country, the weather turned warm and wonderful Sunday. My sinus infection is gone, my energy is back, I am almost OK with being caught up on work, and I spent Saturday night eating good food and laughing my ass off at the Gold Coast in West Hollywood with Ryan (who also somehow managed to coerce me into doing a Jell-o shot from a container that looked like it once held salsa of some sort).

Today when I finally ventured outside, it was clear the beach was the place to be. After eating and collecting my swimsuit (and about 3 bottles of sunblock), Ryan and I met up with Tim and Justin at the beach. The surf was rough, too cold, really, to enjoy, but I still took a quick dunk, and then spent an hour collecting sea glass, agates, and odd rocks, looking like a 10-year-old scanning the sand for a pretty shell.

We didn't leave 'til after 4:30, when the wind had kicked up and sent all the homos fleeing for cover. Sadly, Tim and Justin ended up leaving early too. But still, a day in the sun--my skin actually feeling somehow restored to just be exposed to it--was just the tonic I needed for a loooooong week.

I board a plane at 11:50 p.m. Wed. for Adelaide, Australia, where I will lead a gay media press trip to South Australia. I am not quite sure what to expect from this. I know 2 of the writers and the 3rd seems fine. It should be a quick tour Down Under--back in about 9 days, in fact. Still, after a weekend like this one, I feel hesitant to leave. Except, I could really use the plane time to study for the GRE.

If I don't get the business class upgrade, it may be a long 14-hour flight.... with math and verbal practice tests to keep me awake...

I can't quite believe this is my third flight to Australia in 18 months. And despite my feeling a tad blase about this trip, I still feel incredibly lucky that I get to do this. I just wish I could take this weather and people with me. I asked Ryan if he wanted to hide in my suitcase. He said yes, but, sadly, he's just too tall...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

And now for some promotion...

I just wanted to point out that my friend Nicole has launched a great little Web site called Art for Empty Walls and I am helping her spread the word and doing my PR best to get people to go there and buy stuff. It's artwork priced $350 or less and the newest show is all about "monsters." Go see

End Communication.