Category Archives: Cultural Immersion

I’m back. Plus one.

Two years have passed since my last post. It was April 2013 when I last posted. Summer was ending then and Mel and I were on the brink of our Peru trip. Now, as then, winter is already here and we just returned from another trip, this time a bit closer than Peru, to New Zealand. Only this time we had a third party travelling with us, our 10 month old daughter Aislinn.

So you see, a lot has taken place in 2 years! And now, as I write about it, I’m beginning to find similarities between both trips. Back in 2013 Mel fell ill the night before we started an epic road trip from Lima to Cusco with my father behind the wheel. Poor Mel had to endure 2 weeks of pain and missed out on a couple of things. This time around, Aislinn, on the eve of her first international journey, caught a cold. It did have us wishing we had picked a somewhat more tropical destination rather than New Zealand’s North Island. Oh well, could have been worse. We could have picked the South Island.

The trip started in rather amusing form. What now seems like a bad omen, then was just an anecdote. If we weren’t so stubborn we would’ve turn around and headed back home. It happens that while at the airport the counter lady, while checking our passports, commented upon seeing mine “do you have a visa to visit NZ” to which I replied I don’t need one as I am an Australian Resident. She wanted to make sure so she went and checked with her superior. And she came back. And she went over again. Signs of worry were showing on Mel’s face. Some time back we had already had to cancel a trip to NZ (coincidentally to the South Island) due to me not obtaining the visa on time and the ghost of that was looming again. The counter lady finally confirmed what I had originally explained like she had made an important discovery while shaking the printout with my Australian residency on her hand.

All along Aislinn observed patiently from her comfy place on her mother’s chest carrier. I had never realised how many babies fly these days. That’s probably a lie because I often used to complain about a crying baby in the vicinity of my seat not letting me sleep. Now I have been upgraded to seating right next to one who is my baby! But Aislinn was great on her first flight. The plane took off and she barely noticed. She was awarded prize as best baby on board. The reason was likely that she was too tired, sick and stuffed to cry about anything.

The real non sleeping holiday hadn’t started yet. Once in Auckland we stayed over at a friends place and that’s where the combination of the flu, the cold weather, the new and different room and the jetlag caught up big time on my little girl. The following days were a combination of something out of a Chevy Chase National Lampoon’s comedy film and a Woody Allen drama. Lack of sleep makes people irritable, forgetful and at times high. It can send you either way and you’ll be surprised to find out how far you can operate on little sleep.

We loved all of it, the crystal waters of Coromandel Peninsula, the Hobbit holes in Matamata, the thermal sights in Rotorua,  Lake Taupo’s landscapes and falls, Hamilton’s gardens and Auckland’s nearby islands and beaches and it all seemed like a dream. I do remember NZ being very beautiful, yet I’m sure the strong narcotic of sleeplessness added to New Zealand’s undeniable beauty.

At the same time, we were more than ready to come back home and are enjoying our place so much. Luckily Aislinn has resettled into her routine quickly and is now flu free. Our next holiday will probably be to a beach and not a long distance. Then again, we live in Australia, everything is far away! I’m thinking of that imminent Peru flight some 16 hours away with the little one. I will be praying she doesn’t catch a cold before that one.

This wasn’t a holiday in the sense that I was used to before. I don’t think holidays will ever be the same again to be honest. That was expected, but now the measure is real, the idea is tangible. And that’s quite fine. It’s a whole new  “country” what I will be exploring from now on. Extranjia is now officially reborn as I travel the unknown places and destinations of parenthood.

More posts to come soon.

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Immersion, Living Abroad, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Summer ´13

Where did time go? Last time I posted something was January. What an irresponsible blogger I am! But the sweet warm air of summer was here and I couldn´t stop. Now the chill that announces winter starts to blow, the sun sets at 530pm and we already forwarded our clocks. It is time to go back inside the house and write about summer.

Melbourne is like Lima when it comes to the seasons. They are 2 different cities during winter and its opposite, summer. During the latter, people are happier, colourful, active, barely wear clothes and the city offers a variety of activities to keep its inhabitants entertained. This time, with a bit more street knowledge than last year (when I was feeling rather like a clueless tourist holding my hand NOT to bring a map out of my pocket), and a bit more money too, I tried and enjoy myself this summer around. Of course if you ask Mel, she will probably say I did that a bit too much…

Every band comes to visit Melbourne when it´s hot. It´s also when the festivals take place. This year I did not go to any festivals but rather to gigs from bands I had wanted to see for a good while. Like that I saw Manu Chao, a legend in Latin America, on his first ever gig in Melbourne. It was a fantastic 2+ hours of jumping in the middle of the moshpit right in front of the stage, listening to a guy I had missed by a matter of days or weeks in places like Barcelona, LA, Lima and Mexico City. The Palace Theatre proved to be a great venue for it and I will for sure go back there again.

Manu Chao @ The Palace

Manu Chao @ The Palace

From Manu Chao's FB page

From Manu Chao’s FB page

Chan Marshall aka Cat Power offered a great show at The Forum and made me forget for a bit that there was another show that same night that I would have also wanted to be at: The Stone Roses reunion tour. But Chan is a great singer and musician and I loved her show.  Her band is amazing and they were put to the test when she dissappeared from stage for about 10 minutes. No Cat Power concert goes on without a dose of spontaneity.

Cat Power @ The Forum

Goran Bregovic took 30 minutes to finally get the poshy HamerHall in the Arts Centre to get up and dance. From that point on and for the next 2 hours they would not stop dancing, laughing and clapping at the rhythm of his Weddings and Funerals Orchestra. Awesome showman and main ambassador of the Gipsies of the world.

Goran Bregovic @ The Hamerhall

Peruvian band Novalima had cancelled their September 2012 show but paid the debt and put to dance The Fabulous Spiegeltent with the Afro-Peruvian electronic grooves and showed Melbourne how to have a good time Peruvian style. They came to Melbourne to tour their 4th album Karimba.

Novalima @ The Famous Spiegeltent

The XX was on the antipodes of any of these previous gigs, and with a packed Festival Hall, they mellowed the air with their voices and lyrics. The beats were good, but not enough to raise a foot off the ground. Next time I will get seats to enjoy them properly.

The Comedy Festival was on too and we saw Danny Bhoy do what I have dreamed about several times: write letters to the big companies of the world that, with their faulty services mess up our lives in ways that can make a whole auditorium burst into laughter. Guess I need to make my anger more creative.

Another festival that loves summer is Tropfest, where short films are shown on a big screen while thousands picnic at Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Short films, I found, are a great way to get to discover a country and its people. And they should be more popular. I think it was in Mexico where short films were made mandatory to be shown at theatres before a long film as a means to make them popular. Australia has a very healthy short film scene from what I appreciated, but doing what they did in Mexico would be a good idea for Australia too.

Here is a link to my favourite short from that night.

Speaking of films, another place to watch them in style is the Botanic Gardens during a session of Moonlight Cinema. Imagine watching a film on a proper massive screen laying in your sleeping bag on the grass while sipping wine and watching real bats fly by. Last year we saw Hugo under a full moon and the fireworks of Moomba festival sparkling over the city skyline. It was so good they should have made an ad from it that night. This year we saw The Hobbit. For the second time. Turns out I got Mel tickets for it as a Christmas present to watch it and she did the same, but for a 3D screening. Good thing we are fans and both liked the film.

Another event that took place in Melbourne for the first time this year was White Night. The city building and public areas were artistically altered in the form of installations, laser shows, or used for tours of spots usually shut to public, concerts, movies. The city was flooded by some 200, 000 people rediscovering the beauty of the CBD and having fun. It was pretty cool in fact. Check out some photos.

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White Night Melbourne 2013

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Finally, this summer was also the time to prepare our trip to Peru, for which we leave in 2 weeks, running from the cold to catch some Equatorial sun rays. And preparing for it has involved not just designing the itinerary, getting gear and making reservations, but also getting fit for it as we will be doing Inca Trail with both our parents (Mel’s mom and my dad). I have taken running as my new favourite thing (after Football of course, also known to other people  who-have-sports-that-claim-that-name-though-they-use-other-parts-of-the-body-and an-ovoid, as Soccer). So far I have been running up to 12 Km and have reached my personal record of 9.4Km in 44 minutes. I always loved running since I was younger. I used to run at school on the “olympics” we had there and usually ended in to the Top 5 with the older boys. 

But there has been some bush walking and hiking too in the National Parks around Melbourne. Nothing like the feeling of a forest, the quietness, the birds, a kangaroo or two, and the freedom of being in the wild.

Toolangi Forest

Toolangi Forest

Toolangi Forest

Toolangi Forest

Brisbane Ranges NP

Brisbane Ranges NP

So there, in a nutshell, that was summer. Next time you hear from me I will be in South America, or happily back from it. Having seen my family for the first time in year and a half, having traveled to my beloved Amazon rainforest and showed Mel the start of the Amazon River, having hiked Inca Trail one more time (this one with my dad for the first time since my first Inca Trail ever, when I was 8 and he was the tour guide); having witnessed the beauty of Machu Picchu; having eaten ceviche and lomo saltado and drank Cusqueña like a glutton; having showed to Mel´s mom why I am so proud of where I come from.

So stick around, it could be fun.

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Indie Music, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: a visa letdown, a sacred leave and a trip back home.

I didn’t get the visa. Not the Australian residence visa but the one to visit New Zealand.  We had plans to visit Mel’s friends in Auckland and also do the Milford Track in the South Island, a sort of Kiwi Inca Trail without the archaeological bits but so beautiful it actually is nicked the ‘finest walk in the world’. Had flights and accommodation booked, buses as well, etc. But the one thing we weren’t counting on was the visitor visa for me. Turns out the Kiwis are pretty thorough on their visa procedures and they do not joke around with the subject, no matter who you are. Recently they denied a Visitor Visa to Mike Tyson. Though his refusal was on very different grounds, and by that I mean worse than mine. My refusal was due to an event that took place 11 years ago: I was deported from the Netherlands.

No Milford Track this year. Maybe next time!

No Milford Track this year. Maybe next time!

It sounds bigger than what it actually was. When I say I was ‘deported’ I have the feeling it makes me sound like I am a criminal. And when you put it next to the fact that I am Peruvian, even worse. I’m pretty sure the drug smuggling association springs to the mind of common people when I say it. Now imagine what it sounds like in the mind of a visa officer in an embassy. When you consider that the event took place in The Netherlands (where some drugs are legal), well, I just deserve an Oscar for staging quite a dramatic anecdote don’t I?

I was simply a tourist with an expired visa. And I happened to be travelling on a train between The Hague and Brussels that was searched by police looking for illegal immigrants. All this in the context of massive deportations taking place in Spain (where I was living) and an ultra right-wing government in Brussels (obviously doing the same). The policemen who detained me decided that since I was coming from The Netherlands it was the Dutch business to deal with me, so I was sent back, hand-cuffed, escorted by 3 or 4 policemen and handed over; they placed me in a detainment centre for illegal immigrants.  They interviewed me, I spoke to my Consulate and was advised that nothing could be done for me. So I was deported at 21 back to Peru after 3 days detained.

At the time I thought that that was that and end of the story. Oh, how wrong I was. A deportation follows you for a long time. Sometimes I feel like I actually committed a crime.  If you are wondering why am I rambling bitterly about that episode, it’s because that is the reason why I didn’t go to NZ. I declared it and they asked for documents from the Netherlands which were impossible to get in time for our attempted travel dates, and so the whole trip fell through.

The next best thing was to go to Cairns, where we had been recently and loved it. So we changed our plans and carried on with our holiday. This time we had heaps of more time than the last time we were in Cairns (which, now that I think about it, was also a visa related trip following the pressure that involved submitting the Partner Visa application). We decided that the approach to employ our time should be more balanced with one day of doing nothing (proper relaxing according to Mel) and one day of exploring the area (proper travelling according to Pepe). The question on whether to watch the birds or not was put aside since Mel got herself a pair of binoculars (and good ones, I am a bit jealous in fact!).

We knew the rains were about to start but were not worried since checking on the weather report every day prior to the trip the results were always above 30C. We were also aware that it was low season so we didn’t expect much of a crowd there. In this last regard we were a little wrong as something unexpected was going to take place in Cairns that we hadn’t heard about: a solar eclipse. The first in ten or so years in Australia and the only total eclipse for the next years that I will be around to see one in Oz.

Solar Eclipse November 2012

Solar Eclipse November 2012

As soon as we arrived in Palm Cove we noticed businesses selling ‘eclipse postcards’, ‘eclipse t-shirts’ and ‘eclipse glasses’ plus other paraphernalia  Asking around we learnt 3 things: that Palm Cove was the best spot to watch it, that we were gonna miss it, and that anyway everything was fully booked to its top capacity. Oh well, too bad. I also learnt that the whole Cairns area would be flooded with around 50 thousand enthusiasts. A niche of tourism I hadn’t heard of, ‘eclipse-watchers’!

We focused our explorations more on the Atherton Tablelands this time as we missed that area on our short first visit and had heard wonderful things about it. We visited Davies Creek National Park and that was a great surprise. Such a beautiful walk and almost no one to spoil it! We visited Mount Lewis too looking for birds and found heaps of Birds of Paradise (Victoria Riflebird), as well as Tooth-billed Bowerbirds and Golden Bowerbirds displaying.

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

 

We visited Mosman Gorge and its beautiful walk around the forest. It was interesting to witness that the indigenous village just before the gorge entry looks just like a village could look in the Peruvian rainforest. In general, the indigenous presence in the Cairns area is more abundant than in Melbourne, where is passes pretty much unnoticed. I am very interested in the aborigines and so seeing their villages, culture and life in a non- tourist fashion is quite enlightening. Sadly I have come to learn about their problems with alcohol abuse and how their bodies are not able to cope with it as they do not have the enzyme that processes alcohol, leading to a strong addiction to it and a quick decay of their bodies. Similar thing happens with other drugs. I have been able to witness this on homeless people hallucinating on the public transport and men drinking their fill on their own at lunchtime in pubs while playing the slots. And while of course that is not the whole of the population, it is a percentage that worries non-aboriginalAustralians too. This situation has often times reminded me of how is it in Peru, where alcohol is much-abused in indigenous communities yet this doesn’t seem to be a significant issue for the government or the rest of the population. And this leads me to think how in the History of conquests, alcohol has played a role in helping to submit the local natives to the new rulers. I guess it plays the same role today with the youth that abuses it, turning them to obedient goats. I think the one thing I would change about my youth would be precisely that, to not abuse alcohol and know that that wouldn’t make me uncool but quite the opposite.

Mosman Gorge Aboriginal Community

Mosman Gorge Aboriginal Community

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

 

Peru was present in the trip to Cairns in a strange fashion. We met a German…should I call him  hippie to illustrate to you; a nice fella. Anyway, he was selling coconuts on his wheel barrel in Palm Cove. He looked completely out of place there, yet that may be the reason why he was so appealing to me. He told me straight away, without me asking, ‘I have a Peruvian poncho with bright colours to attract the customers’ as he chewed something. I asked ‘is that coca leaves you are chewing?’. The man nodded. I bought a coconut from him and he chipped some coca leaves in for a bargain price. Mel had never had a coconut the way I have only had them, so we sat by the ocean, and in an typical Indiana Jones moment, I opened the coconut with my Swiss army knife after sucking all the juice out of it and ate the white sweet meat.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Coca leaves, here is a little bit of the speech I used to tell my travellers when I was a Tour Leader: Coca leaves are not to be confused with Cacao beans. Both sound similar when pronounced in Spanish. The latter are used to produce chocolate and cocoa. The first is (tragically) infamous for being used to produce cocaine. Yet what is unknown of this leaf, native of Peru and Bolivia, is that in natural shape, chewed or ground or in tea, is quite healthy and in fact a super-food as some call it. Some of its many properties are to be a great energy booster, to take away appetite (this is particular useful when you leave in the mountains and have to work far from home in the field), to help adapt to high-altitude conditions, helps protect teeth and gives you all your daily requirements of Vitamins A, B, B12, C, E, Minerals (Zinc, Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium)  and others  in just 2 grounded teaspoons or the equivalent of chewed leaves. In Peru and Bolivia it is considered sacred by the indigenous people and in fact it is a huge part of their culture. Why then, you may wonder, it is forbidden? Well, you may ask that to the geniuses who insist in waging their ‘war on drugs’ and spend billions of dollars on it, when the true fact is that that huge effort is just a scratch on the arm of the drug industry that uses Coca leaves that they buy from poor farmers to produce cocaine. Had all those millions be spent on improving the conditions in which those farmers live and you would have no one to supply the drug-dealers with their prime matter. Or you would have it easier to locate who is supplying it. Makes sense?

How do they make the drug then? By isolating the cocaine (an alkaloid from coca just like caffeine is an alkaloid from coffee) when mixing the leaves with kerosene, and later solidifying that mix with Clorhidric Acid, Sulphuric Acid, Benzine and at least 10 other super toxic chemicals. That’s what makes it harmful and addictive, not the pure natural cocaine. No one has died of overdose from chewing coca leaves (not that you wanna try chewing them to death to prove me wrong, that would miss the point).

Another famous product made from Coca leaves, perhaps more even so than cocaine, is Coca-Cola. COCA-Cola, uses the leaves in its recipe in a synthetic formula that eliminates the cocaine alkaloid from it, hence they do not get in trouble. Because what is forbidden in fact is the cocaine alkaloid, not the leaves themselves. And according to American law, you can’t sell a product named after an ingredient that does not have that ingredient. So Coca-Cola uses coca leaves and they get them from Peru.

Coca K'intu, the sacred shape in which the leaves are 'offered' to the apus or mountain gods.

Coca K’intu, the sacred shape in which the leaves are ‘offered’ to the apus or mountain gods.

So why can’t the rest of the world use such a nutritious and healthy natural product? Once again, logic fails to help. Luckily, you can find so-called hippies like that German mate who, in true coca fashion, just handed me a bunch of coca leaves as native Peruvians do when they greet each other (they exchange coca leaves instead of shaking hands). Those leaves were most helpful when we woke up early to go watch birds. I chewed them, Mel instead loves the tea.

That lucky encounter awoke a thirst for the sacred Incan leaf that lead me to find that our favourite breakfast spot, Vivo (Spanish for ‘alive’), had Pisco liquor and, more importantly, Peruvian Pisco, as well as Coca Leaf liquor. So Vivo became our favourite dinner place too!

The trip was great and we really made the best of our stay. We returned to Melbourne fresh, rested and tanned- that’s important, especially for a gringo like me who looks pale as a radish in Peru. Here I actually am a brown-skinned in comparison.

Once back we started planning our next big adventure: the return to my home country! We plan to visit Peru in 2013 and bring my mother in law to travel with us and meet my family. Hopefully that trip won’t bring any complications. You would think ‘but you are going back to your OWN country, you couldn’t have ANY complications’. I in fact need a visa to leave and return to Australia until I get my residence assessed.

Or maybe by 2013 the world will have already started changing in a way I dream of, and people won’t need visas anymore. Maybe Australia would be the first country to welcome such measures. After all, isn’t Australia a country that has moved ahead after being founded by convicts? If, speaking metaphorically, our past is not to be forgotten, let it at least be forgiven so that we can all move on.

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Conservation, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking

A Peruvian in Australia: One Year Abroad.

On September 22nd it was a year since that eventful arrival of mine to the land of sun and kangaroos. One year! I could hardly believe the time had gone so fast! Yet again, when I looked back and I saw all that I have accomplished it would actually seem longer than a year. That, by the way, makes me happy. To know that my time here has so far been put to good use.

So, how can I start explaining how I feel after a year in Oz? Mel was asking me the other day what were the things I like about Melbourne. I normally tell the things I don´t like. I’m a bit critical like that. It’s a sign of my personality. I don’t do it to be mean. I fear if I’m not I’d become used to things and take them for granted. I’m more worried about not criticising enough than about being critical.

Which brings me to my subject: things I like and things I don’t like about living in Melbourne.  So, let´s get on with the bad news first. Have I complained enough about the public transport system?  I don´t think I could possibly have. But yeah, it is publicly known that Melbourne has unreliable public transport. The trams and buses work alright as far as I have seen. The trains is what sort of bothered me at first. I have to say, they seem to have improved in the last couple of months (or I have gotten more used to it).

You see, in Peru the problem for me was that public transport was ‘too reliable’, meaning there was an extra offer of buses and taxis, producing chaos and speeding. But when one is in a hurry no one complains. Here, things are much more civilised. And sometimes TOO civilised. At first that transition wasn’t easy. But patience is a muscle and mine has grown and extended.

Wanna drive in Lima? Go for it…

I do love that in Melbourne people are good drivers and respect the other drivers and the rules. People are polite and patient generally speaking. Of course, taxi drivers are and will be taxi drivers anywhere in the world. If you have been to Peru you will understand what I am talking about. Driving is insane there! Always defensively, noisy, and unsafe. I am driving a little every week around my suburb now that I have a License and I feel really safe.

One thing I miss from Peru is the human contact, the Latin spark. A few days ago an older fella was making conversation with me on the train. He first tried the guy next to him but the young fella didn’t even bother answering. With the woman across seating in front he didn’t even try. I chatted with him for a couple minutes before he left. He quickly commented that ‘nobody ever talks on the trains these days’ and I couldn’t help but agree. I look at the trains and all I see is people looking at their phones, plugged in earphones of different calibers, newspaper, book, waving their eyes aimlessly trying to avoid contact with another pair of eyes. All of which is fine, I do it myself. But I do get the feeling people on the train (particularly on the train) are extremely against the idea of simply talking to a stranger. I get that this is a sign of ‘everyone minds its own bussiness’ but it seems to me that it breaks a little with the whole idea of community. But I understand that there’s just too many of us like to say ‘good morning’ when you walk aboard the traincar.

You probably won’t meet the love of your life on a train, but a little chat to a stranger doesn’t hurt.

People are busy in modern life. And modern city life is even busier. A little bit of sympathy from a stranger couldn’t hurt though. But the way things are these days, if I went around just making conversation I have the feeling I would be tagged as a weirdo or an offender of some sort.

In this respect I have usually found myself closer to the people of country-side Victoria than to the people of the city. The man from the train was from the country. People in the city can be ‘too cool’ and sometimes they seem really snobby. Even the homeless people are a bit snobby sometimes. The other day one of them wouldn’t receive food saying ‘not another muffin, thanx!’ A Peruvian homeless person would love to have such luck. Still I wouldn’t dare to generalise people in this city. I guess those are some of the symptoms of a country doing well economically. But there are doubts and fears rising as to for how much longer the economy will keep up the good mood. Will people still be indifferent when hard times come?

I’m not saying in Peru everyone talks to everyone. There are people glued to their smart-phones and earphones just as well. That’s global stuff. But it seems somewhat more ‘friendly’. I wonder if I am being biased and I am romancing my country in my memories. I know that happens when one leaves home. Maybe I need to go back and see it again with my new ‘foreign’ eyes. I do have plans to go back in 2013. Then I will be able to tell for sure.

All of this doesn’t mean that Aussies aren’t friendly. They are and very. They also respect very much other people’s business. That’s part of the Melbourne spirit, they are proud of being relaxed. For a city I guess they are, though other Australians claim their parts of the country are more chilled, like Perth or Brisbane.

Wangetti Beach, near Cairns. That’s my kind of weather. Photo: Andrew Watson.

Nevertheless, I can see myself living here for some time. Both Mel and I want more country-side and warmer weather though. A little more on the jungle like side of things: exuberant vegetation, lots of Vitamin D and tropical fruits. We really liked Cairns and Brisbane. The weather is one of Melbourne’s infamous features. If it was just a bit more predictable and less all seasons in one day.

The food is been a great experience in Melbourne. From our first date at Maha to our last outing at Chin Chin. From fancy places that cook fusion food to popular spots that prepare traditional Asian cuisine.  I’ve found Peruvian dishes at Nobu and tasted Thai food for the first time here. Greek is also popular and Mel loves it. Public BBQ’s are everywhere and during summer it’s common to walk around the parks and smell a grill cooking. While here I’ve re-valued sushi and got to like it after thinking that all there was to it was raw fish. Pizza is good because of the number of Italians that have settled in Melbourne. We often get it from Fabio’s. And when I miss Peruvian food too much, there are the things that my mum sends on the post to make my day. So really, I can’t complain in that department.

Melbourne’s alleys and cool cafes and restaurants are abundant.

I also like the people are big sports fans here. So much so that it can be annoying. I don’t think I can get used to the office people running around Melbourne’s CBD during lunchtime. One of these days I’m gonna trip into one of them casually. On the other hand, it’s nice that the city has so many bike paths, running lanes, exercise grounds on parks, public pools, etc. Personally I’ve started doing a lot more sports than I used to. Not just chin-ups and biking here and there but going out for a run once or twice a week makes me feel quite healthy.

Sports Precinct: Rod Laver Arena, AAMI Park and the Yarra River on the side.

All in all Melbourne is a cool city. The availability of culture, the fashion (though I’m tired of seeing every possible combination of Ugg boots (furry boots) with tight pants on the streets. THAT IS WRONG!), the bar scene, the music shows. There’s a little bit of everything and a little for everyone. People from all over the world in an ordered place. Sometimes too expensive but a nice place indeed. I can see why they named it the Most Liveable City in The World for 2 years in a row. Melbourne is beautiful and I still have much to discover. Plans for the future are go and see a game of the Australian Open of tennis, go to the MCG (the largest stadium in Australia) to watch the cricket, go to the horse races during Melbourne Cup…

Now summer is coming and cool things like cinema in the open park, or the night markets will take place. People say this will be a hot summer because winter was ‘pretty cold’. They expect days of above 40C. Last time that happened, the Melbourne wheel of fortune, a local shot at the London Eye, melted. You read right, the huge iron structure melted. So now it sits there, being slowly rebuilt, watching Melbourne watching it. That’s one attraction I’m not riding on.

Melbourne Wheel

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Concert For The Kimberley

Last Friday I had the chance to go and attend a free concert at Flinders Square, the public heart and the Melbourne-equivalent to a Latin American ‘Plaza de Armas’ (Main Square). The concert was organised by The Wilderness Society and had the goal of attracting attention and support to the cause of opposing the construction of a gas plant in the Kimberley.

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The Kimberley region is usually described as one of the last wild places on Earth. Certainly it is one of the last in Australia. It might seem hard to believe that such a huge island-continent lacks wild places of any kind. But the truth is that though there is still plenty of bush and desert, the forests of Australia are truly endangered. And forests are the hot spots of biodiversity.

Certainly Australia has a low population compared to landmass, and most of the people are concentrated on the East coast, in cities such as Sydney (5 million), Melbourne (4 million) and Brisbane (2 million). And while it is true that the white people have only been here for slightly over 200 years, during that time the Australian landscape has changed significantly. Several species have been introduced and become pests (rabbits, cane toads, foxes) and many other native species have disappeared  including 23 species of birds and 27 of mammals. The Kimberley region though, has never had an species gone.

The landscape has seen its forests greatly reduced and though the national park system is good and there are many protected areas (16% of native forests or 23 million hectares are protected), many others have lost connectivity. For species that’s like having a large river of urban/agricultural areas around and not being able to ‘swim’ across, so they are locked in until they are not able to reproduce with any other than their own relatives and from that point on it’s all downhill for that population.

Most importantly, Australia’s main source of income as a nation is mining. And mining is particularly popular in those little populated places that Australia is so famous for. One of those places is the Kimberley.

Woodside Co. wants to build an immense gas platform (it would be the world’s 2nd largest gas hub) in the ocean, in an area that is known to be a very important migratory route for whales. Not only that, the ocean in front of the Kimberley seems to be the largest Humpback Whale nursery on Earth. There are also coral reefs, 5 species of turtles, endangered Dugongs (Australian Manatees) and pristine forests. The land of the Kimberley keeps the largest dinosaur footprint in the world and other dino prints. More importantly, this land is home to aboriginal people who consider it sacred. These people, nor the people of Broome, have been asked if they agree to the construction of such platform.

At the concert, we were able to see and hear them via videocall. They invited people to come over and see for themselves what beauty is to be at risk. For the past 2 years these people have been involved in protesting, blocking roads and organising ways to show their disapproval. More than 70% of Broome´s population opposes the gas plant.

Albert Wiggan, a local from Broome who came to sing and speak.

And what´s more unreasonable is, why build it there in the ocean when today there are cleaner ways of doing so, without causing the disruption and damage a platform would? It was made clear that this protest was not against progress but searched to find the cleanest, more ecologically sound way to extract the gas. And that´s what´s being fought.

Personally, I find it funny that more developed countries like Australia have the exact same problems as Peru does. I wouldn´t have thought so. This means it is not a problem of developed or undeveloped countries. It’s not a mentality or a president’s issue. This is a transnational issue.

Logo for the concert and campaign

This scenario (transnational wanting to build multi-million project on a fragile ecosystem that also holds cultural value for people) is been heard of so many times. So my question is, if I am able to predict these issues, why can’t the multi-million companies with their experts and resources? Are they too archaic and conservative to understand that ecological policies and care is needed urgently and they, with their power and lobbies, are subject to it too? Are they too distracted from the real world because of their money and lifestyle? Is it pure stubbornness?

I´d like to think the best of them but they make it really hard for themselves. It is time that these people start acting with the responsibility it is expected from them. The good news is that people have power to stop these huge projects. That is probably the main thing that I take from this. The world has become more compassionate and aware. To deny or ignore it is plain stubborn and useless. The likely outcome of the gas project in the Kimberley is that it won´t happen. Surely they will keep trying but people will keep fighting. Why? Because it makes more sense to protest than to stare.

The Kimberley must remain untouched. For the sake of ALL of its inhabitants. You can watch live clips of the concert and listen to the speeches here:

http://www.concertforthekimberley.com.au

As for the concert itself, it was great! I discovered John Butler Trio, whom so many have reccomended me to hear. A very powerful message and a gifted musician who has fun with his band while playing. Claire Bowditch was there too and her melodic tunes were a pleasant surprise. They were joined by an estimated 10 thousand of us, many young people (it was a free concert after all). But the message was given, the connection was made. I got me a shirt so that the message keeps spreading. I hope the outcome favors the Kimberley.

For more information read:

www.wilderness.org.au/campaigns/kimberley/the-kimberley-worth-fighting-for

Happy crowd

John Butler

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The Shins at Festival Hall. Melbourne, July 23rd, 2012

I’m not a big fan of The Shins. I’ve had their first 3 records in my Ipod for a couple years and never really hooked with them except for a couple of songs. But their last album “Port of Morrow” is brilliant and though this year has so far been very generous with great albums, theirs is definetely going to my top 10 list of favorite albums of the year. Their country/psycodelic pop is at its best. Every song it’s catchy and potentially a hit. So I decided to get a ticket to their concert even if I had to go on my own.

I did go on my own in the end. Mel doesn’t know The Shins enough as to want to go. So I was wondering what sort of crowd would be there to share the music. Considering they are a band that started back in the 90’s I thought I would find people in their 30s. I was very surprised when I arrived at Festival Hall and a very young crowd was there waiting for the doors to open. I felt so old. But then, thinking about it, it makes a lot of sense that young people identify with the lyrics of James Mercer. He talks about his feelings with an honesty that makes you feel like you wanna ‘hug the guy’ (in the words of a critic).

Also the fact that their rise to fame is directly linked with the movie Garden State, a movie that deals with young and confused people, could be a point here. I wondered though how strange it must feel for Mercer (41) to get on stage and find that the audience receptive to their music is barely legal.

I had never been at Festival Hall before so that was new too. The organization seemed very neat. When the guy at the door  asked for ID I showed him a half-broke photocopy of my passport and just said “trust me, I’m older than 18” . He wished me a good night in Spanish. Cool dude.

First stop was the bar. Beers were Coopers for 6 bucks a pop.  Then I proceded to sit in front of the stage, just 2 metres from the barrier. The place was smaller than I imagined it. Maybe 5 thousand people. In fact I just checked Festival Hall’s website: 5445. Not a bad guess. In any case, it became obvious soon that it was going to be a packed event.

The opening act was Husky, a Melbourne band of which I had never heard. They started at 7pm and their set was a good surprise.  Considering the words of that ‘usher’ at The Palais the week before that stated that opening acts are usually shit, Husky were the contrary. I asked a girl in the crowd if she knew them. She said she had seen them opening for Laura Marling – “they are good, kinda folky”. They did remind me of Mumford and Sons. I took mental note to check out their album.

The Shins got on-stage. There were six of them in live form. They started with their old hits to warm up the crowd and the people responded well and applauding. It had the dynamic of a punk concert for a few songs: very little time between songs and just keep bringing the crowd up. Caring Is Creepy, So Says I were among the songs they played first. Then Mercer paused and saluted the audience. They had just arrived that morning and played a couple of radio shows before that night. But they were not feeling tired.


And then, one by one the songs from Port of Morrow started to come. They played every one of them except for ´Summer of 82´and ´For a Fool´. They all sounded great! I had been warned that the sound wasn´t great at Festival Hall, but it sounded pretty good to me. With sometimes 3 guitars (main, rhythm, and pedal steel), the musicians were amazing. Joe Plumm on drums was putting on quite a show. The Keyboardist had a moment of laughs with the crowd. I had imagined him like a funny guy. Mercer, whom I would imagine as a more introverted kind of person, did not do much talking other than introducing the band and thanking the crowd.

The idiot next to me kept yelling to him ‘get naked’ and thought it was actually funny. Maybe she thought she was in a club or something. She could barely stand on her feet, which meant I spent a good couple of songs with her bumping into me. I don´t think I have ever been so close to elbowing a woman. Luckily she passed out or was taken out by security.

The Shins were done after hour and twenty minutes. They came back for an amazing encore that saw them playing for almost another 30 minutes with one song improvising into an epic sound landscape of pop science fiction proportions lasting up to 10 minutes. Then the gig ended and I was left with a good feeling on my way back home. It was a Monday and so a great week started.

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The Tea Party at The Palais. Melbourne, July 14th, 2012

When Mel and I saw that there still were tickets to see The Tea Party we were first surprised we had not heard about the gig before. That band has a big following in Australia. Critics call it their ‘spiritual home’. I even believed they were Australian. But the truth is I didn’t know much about The Tea Party until two weeks ago. I knew it is one of Mel’s favorite bands and she said once that it was on her top 5 of best gigs ever when she saw them back in the 90’s. I also knew The Palais was a good venue to see them live and one I haven´t been to. Even more, this was their Reformation Tour, so it was meant to be a special occasion. We had our tickets and soon would see Tea Party after they disbanded back in 2005.

That night I had to close at the cafe of the theater where I work. It was Dora the Explorer earlier and after the stampede of babyccinos and hot chocolates, I was ready to go. I told some of my work coleagues about it and one of them said ‘hopefully you won’t be all the way at the back…’ Mel came to pick me up with the car and a sub, yum.  We didn’t know there was a game of footy that night at The MCG and traffic was dead slow. Took us an hour to get from the CBD to St Kilda! I can’t cease to be amazed by how civilised people are here; in Peru it would be a concert of beeps and horns. But we got there!

The Palais and Luna Park on the back

The Palais is a beautiful theatre that dates back from 1927, when it opened to screen films.  It is located in St. Kilda (the Miraflores of Melbourne, if you ask me), right next to Luna Park and a couple hundred meters from the ocean. The place was packed and as expected most fans were wearing black. It was this sudden sensation that we were back in the 90’s, when Tea Party was at their peak.  Like walking back into a tunnel were grunge was just starting to fade but a band that sounded rough was still fashionable. No dominion of boy bands and pop in sight just yet.

We got a couple of drinks and researched the seating situation. Turned out we were at the back, exactly where my colleague had warned me. But that was the least of our worries. We were one seat from the end of the row and 2 from the very last row. Next to us were 2 huge fellas that should have been our legitimate seat-neighbors, but since we got early we just took the seats next to the edge. We ventured down to check the better seats and take some pics. The opening band was almost unnoticeable, an acoustic act for a heavy rock band. In the words of the ‘usher’ they were ‘bad’. We didn’t like him very much for that. I wonder though who designs this deals? Must be hard to be an opening band.

Stage and front

It was clear that our seats were no good. We could barely move. We saw that the very back lane was empty and so we moved there. There we could stand, clap, kiss, sweat, sing and take pics. It was perfect!

Crowd

It was 9pm and the guitar for ‘The River’  started, hypnotic. The deep grave voice of Jeff Martin filled the theatre. The sound was good and the influence of old rock and blues was clear. But I did not know most songs. It is not easy to stand and keep excited as the rest when you don’t know the songs.

At one point they played a song I knew, ‘The Messenger’. I know it from the original author, Daniel Lanois, Canadian like Tea Party. Then came ‘Temptation’ and I knew that one too! In 1997 three Canadian girls came as exchange students to my school in Mexico City. With my friends we ended up being friends with them. And since I have always had the curiosity of recording other peoples music and I recorded a compilation of Canadian radio that had Tea Party, Holly McNarland, Sarah McLachlan and Bran Van 3000 and Jean Leloup. I loved it. So I realised that I knew Tea Party longer than I thought. There was another cover, an unnecessary one if you ask me, of ‘Hallelujah’. Closer to Jeff Buckley’s version but nowhere near it. That song should be left untouched.

Jeff Martin, the vocalist, announced that they were recording their first live album right there that night. The crowd behaved at the level of a live album. And the sounds pouring from only 3 band members seemed to be coming from a larger group rather. With ocassional keyboards and other oriental instruments, The Tea party have a filling sound. At the best Led Zeppelin style, Martin produced a bow at one point and started playing his guitar with it.

They played for more than 2 hours. At the end of the night the people were clapping and thumping on the ground with their feet, asking for an encore.  The crowd was ecstatic. People standing up, yelling. I had not seen this behaviour before in the live concerts I’ve been to in Melbourne. Was it The Tea Party? Was it their audience? I have to say, I felt at home with a lively crowd such as this. A proper crowd and not just spectators. As Jeff Martin put it “you know you are the best rock and roll crowd in the world!”.

They came out and played (yet another cover) ‘Paint it Black’ and 2 more songs. Mel couldn’t believe it. ‘Those were the 3 songs that were ‘missing’ in my mind! she exclaimed’. Spoken like a true fan.

It was a great night. A long concert, good sound, good crowd. Outside it was drizzling. I was thinking who would be the next act that I come and see at The Palais.

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A Peruvian in Australia: Schooling (part 2)

I recently finished a 6 month course on Retail Travel Sales at NMIT. Here are some thoughts after that experience.

My background is in tourism and hospitality. I have worked in that industry for about 8 years. When I left Peru to come over to Australia I was working as a tour leader. I did not want to leave that industry so when the opportunity to study something came up I was sure Tourism was my choice. In the words of Robert, one of my classmates, I was ‘formalizing my experience’.

I was a bit concerned about this choice. Someone well-informed had told me that Tourism is one of the ‘typical’ choices of international students who attempt to ask for a visa.  They choose it because they think it’s easy. So there was that cliche. As soon as I was granted a my second student visa, off I went, back in school, at a TAFE (Technical and Further Education) which is the equivalent to an institute in Peru, but it is tertiary or university level education.

The course was expensive, over 5 thousand dollars (not a student budget-price if you think about it), so it was important for me that it was something I wanted to do. Having paid all that and being able to work only part-time under the conditions of my visa, my budget shrank and I was soon trying to save on money.

I got my student ID and with this I was able to get some discounts at the movies, entrances to museums and other attractions, like the zoo. Luckily the Preston campus is not too far from home. I rode my bike as much as I could while summer lasted; but then June came and with it winter and the days started to get chilly. I’d ride the bike as far as the bus stop and it was public transport after that. Have I mentioned that public transport is a sad shame in Melbourne? I have? Good, ’cause it is. Despite the late train departures, the cancellations, the dirty trains (all of which happen more often than one would wish for), one of the low points for me was discovering that as an international student I have no right for a discount on a ticket. I pay 6.6 dollars per round trip. Considering I was only allowed to work part-time and that the cost of life is high, it’s not cheap.

Food was another field for savings. There’s a market at Preston, just across the road from school, which is a cheap option for students to buy lunch. But most times I took my lunch (which I cooked of course) with me and only visited the market a couple times. Another pleasant surprise was that at school the chef students cooked and sold their products at the school’s restaurant. So every Tuesday I was able to buy nice food for very low prices.

Mostly the course taught me about the different destinations in Australia and what is there is to offer. Certainly some beautiful places such as The Kimberley, The Great Barrier Reef, The Murray River area, the train ride across the desert from Adelaide to Darwin know as The Ghan, and so many other spots this vast country has to offer to visitors. Ironically, Australians prefer to go abroad these days than to travel within their country. This has to do with the prices. It is cheaper to fly and stay in Bali for a week than to go spend the weekend in Cairns. It is cheaper to fly to New Zealand from Melbourne than to go to Perth. Obviously Perth is farther from Melbourne than NZ but that gives you an idea of how large is Australia.

Bungle Bungle Range National Park, near The Kimberley

I can’t wait to get my license and hire or buy a camper and just drive around this country with Mel. While in school I presented a power point on North-West Australia, on the exact opposite side of the country. That area is called The Kimberley. It is one of the last remaining native forests in Australia. On the East coast, where most of the 22 million people live, 75% of forests have disappeared. And though the national parks are great, many conservationists are leading a campaign to stop a large transnational from extracting gas in The Kimberleys.

In my course I also learnt about the business and the local know-how. Most of my teachers had worked in the industry and that was great. They knew the standards and the ways.

One of the low points was that in the class there were those who didn’t really care about the course. They enrolled just because, like those looking for a visa, they thought it was easy and required no talent. I remember a guy who wanted to work at the airport picking up luggage or a girl who wanted to work at the airport at an airline counter. You certainly don’t need this course to work there. Others enrolled because their parents forced them to. So they would come to class late and when in class just chat and interrupt. I thought it was very disrespectful to the teachers and other classmates. I was even more angry when I discovered that those kids were paying 350 dollars for a course that costed Mel and I more than 5 thousand.

Luckily there was Ken. Ken is a war veteran who had been to Viet-Nam and at 60-something he still drove a taxi and studied to be a travel agent. A very clever man who had been all over the globe. He stood up. He was from a different generation, one that didn’t get free things. He stood up and hushed them down. I want to dedicate this post to Ken, who was not able to finish the course against his will. I’m sure one day he will finish it and become a great travel agent.

Along the course we had to do several presentations on destinations, package tours, country profiles, set up a stand for a tourism fair, talk about cultural differences. Normally I picked Peru when it was about an international destination. I remember a comment from one of my classmates who said that through my presentations she had learnt so much about Peru that now she had it on her list of places to go. I thought that that was a great compliment and it proved to me that I can be a great travel agent too!

from left to right: Tim, Ashley, Danny, Salma, Tracey, Mou-mou, Vikki, Robert, Andrew, Tamara, Pepe and Tom

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A Peruvian in Australia: Football?

Last weekend I went to the stadium to see a game of football. Or should I say ‘footy’. What people call football here is quite different from what football is in Peru. I have tried to explain to locals, for the sake of naming things right, that, as the name suggests, football is something that requires foot (or feet) and a ball. But that won’t do, they love this sport to death, which is to say the exact same way I love football (the one that requires only foot and a ball).

Especially in Melbourne, where most teams that play in the AFL come from, footy is hugely popular. It’s on the headlines every day since the season began and at the end of it there is a parade where the champions can be seen driving around the city centre. When I arrived last year it was the time of the finals. My first ‘social presentation’ in Melbourne was a BBQ party at one of Mel’s friends’ places to watch the final. There I learnt some of the rules and enjoyed a great game between Geelong and Collingwood.

Australian Football seems to me as a hybrid between Rugby and the other football (soccer). According to Wikipedia, it is related to Gaellic (Irish) football, which would be little surprise considering it dates back from the 1850’s when many Irish, among other nationalities, came to Melbourne to work in the nearby gold mines. I have heard from locals that ‘footy’ started as a way of using the cricket fields the ‘other’ half of the year they were not used–in winter. But also to keep cricketeers fit. You see, cricket is a sport that requires good weather as games can go on for days (that’s right, DAYS…and they call soccer boring?!), so the cricket season takes place during the best time of the year, summer. While ‘footy’ can be played in the same ground (an oval) as a cricket game and weather is not such a big deal for it since players are constantly running. They in fact run an average 17Km per game.
It is played with an oval ball in an oval field, of which there are plenty distributed around the city. There is one just a block from my place and many others not far. You have 2 teams, each with 18 players and each team has a goal, like that of rugby, with 4 long posts standing, the 2 middle ones longer. If the ball passes through the center is a 6 point goal and if it bounces through the sides is a 1 point goal. To carry the ball there the players can run with it, but they must bounce it every few steps. Or they may kick it or send it with their hand by hitting the bottom of the ball held on the opposite hand. It requires a lot of strategy and speed to get to the other goal, and while some games can be fast and exciting, others might be slow and boring.

On Saturday my friend Julio, also from Peru, asked me to go with him to see a game and though hesitant at first I decided to join him. What better way to spend the weekend and get to see an important aspect of life in Melbourne? As another friend of mine,Henry, who used to be a guide in Peru used to say “when visiting a place make sure you go to the market, the church and the main square to learn the different aspects of local life” and he was right but the rules are different here where there are no main squares (not in the sense they are in Latin America) and religion is much less popular. I would in fact replace religion for footy here in my friend’s formula, which sounds also appropriate for Latin America where people approach both in a very similar way: fanatically.

The clash on Saturday was a fun, fast-paced game between Saint Kilda Saints and Sydney Swans, two of the oldest teams in the league. It took place in a packed Etihad Stadium, with capacity for 55 thousand people; very pretty stadium I must say. I’m not sure what would happen if stadiums in Peru had sliding doors and TV monitors all around. I say that because in my country football is usually associated with the lower demographic and it is quite common to hear of riots and hooligan confrontations. Many end in deaths, like the case of a young man who was thrown off a box earlier this year.

Etihad Stadium

Surprisingly, in Melbourne the association is the same and it is just very funny to me to see these different societies tagging themselves in the same way. If an Aussie ‘bogan’ met a Peruvian ‘barrista’ (hooligan) what would they say to each other? Of course this is just a portion of the people who attend the stadium, and, like everywhere else, parents go with their kids, so I don’t mean to generalise, just to play with the clichés.
Julio, who has been living in Australia longer than I, was explaining further to me the rules and I think I get it now, I think I am a fan of footy. He was supporting the Swans since he lives in Sydney, and I was supporting St Kilda. How funny is that? Two foreigners choosing their teams of ‘footy’, is that assimilated enough for you? I might have become a fan of footy but I refuse to call it ‘football’.

And yet what I saw was families together, friends drinking beers, people screaming, supporting their team and enjoying their sport just as passionately as we enjoy ‘our’ football. And then it dawned on me that this must be a big and important part of Victorian, if not Australian, life. I have been to concerts, clubs, events and never people seemed as excited to me as they seemed that Saturday at the stadium. They were spontaneously enjoying the game. It seemed to me like I had noticed an important part of being aussie. And it´s exactly what football, or footy, our football, or fútbol, or soccer, does to people– it brings them together. That’s the beauty of it, you forget where you come from, where you are, and just enjoy the sport.

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A Peruvian in Australia: Gigs

I am a big fan of music. I consider myself a frustrated musician, which, as bad as it sounds, seems better than being a struggling musician (I trust all the women who have dated one will understand what I mean…). Sometimes I still play my ‘air-drums’, an imaginary set of drums where I ‘follow’ the percussion of whatever my ipod is playing – people freak out when they see me on the train! And yes, when I was little I did build a drumset out of pots and pans driving my mum to insanity as she begged for silence. She is my biggest critic. Phrases such as ‘How can you listen to music all day?’ are well engraved in my memory.
Having proved that I AM a big fan of music, I’ll proceed with my story. I grew up in Peru in the 90’s and nobody went to Peru during that time. We had a sort-of-civil-war where a terrorist group named Shining Path would place car bombs all over Lima and that meant enough of a threat for any band to skip our country. And the few opportunities we Peruvians had had of seing any ‘big’ artist often resulted in mischance. I remember when my dad told me he had tickets to see Santana in Lima back in 1971 at the peak of his popularity, having just recently played Woodstock. At the time we had a military leftist government (you thought you’d heard it all ah!), and General Velasco, who led the Revolutionary Government, forbid Santana to play in Peru calling him an ‘imperialist hippie’. Poor Santana, I don’t think he saw much of Lima other than the airport. Luckily he came back in 2006 to close open wounds.

The first big band I remember that came to Peru was pop duo Roxette,  back in 1993. I was a fan of Roxette at the time and I was mad that my mum had decided we had to move to Mexico just a couple months before their concert in Lima. Some of my friends did go and said it was great. On the flipside, Mexico had become a must for bands to tour, so I finally found a place where I could go to live concerts. But I didn’t. Not the massive ones at least. Several friends were starting in music at the time; I remember everyone wanted to play guitar, there was a lack of bass and drum players. Some of these friends formed bands and I used to go watch them play. The circuit for school and local bands was quite healthy in Mexico back then. There was a rebirth of rock in Spanish and a lot of creativity around; it was a great time to go to gigs. When I moved to Mexico City I befriended people from ‘Los Musicos de Jose’ and used to go to their gigs everytime. Those were the only gigs I could afford. My first big concert had Bush and Delinquent Habits as headliners (?!?) with  a bunch of Mexican bands at Palacio de los Deportes.  I saw Jamiroquai at Auditorio Nacional ’cause my then girlfriend had been given tickets. But I always missed the biggest ones: Rolling Stones, U2, Rage Against The Machine, McCartney, etc.

While living in the US my biggest problem was not having a car, since public transport is non-existent and I was living in the suburbs of Cincinatti. There, I missed more bands. I must hold the record for having missed the same artist over and over again. That’s Manu Chao, a legend in Latin countries, whom I have missed in Lima, Mexico City, Barcelona, LA and Sydney by a matter of weeks.

Now that I live in Australia I am starting to taste  the joy of gigs and concerts. This last month I have been to two: Yann Tiersen and Mark Lanegan. The first is the composer of the music for the French film Amelie, which I love. I showed the movie to Mel and she really liked it too. I thought it’d be a great idea to listen to him live so I got us tickets. The venue was the Melbourne Recital Centre, a beautiful wooden concert hall ideal for small orchestras and classical music, and since the concert was being promoted as ‘the composer of Amelie’ I thought that he would play some of those songs. But I was wrong. Yann Tiersen has a big repertoire and he was travelling with a new album under his wing so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he played none of the songs that brought him international attention. Not only that, but he was far from THAT kind of music. He played some violin but most songs were rock with synthetisers and a full band accompanying him. It was very good, but I am sure it caught more than one audience member surprised.

Mark Lanegan was another story. I heard his last record and loved it inmediately. I bought tickets to his concert on my own. I had come to The Forum just weeks before to see Mark Watson’s comedy stand-up show as part of the Comedy Festival, but the hall was different. While outside The Forum looks like an arabesque architecture building, inside it’s all red carpeted and decored with Greek imitation statues and the ceiling lights are bright blue as if it was night. With this description you might be thinking ‘What a horrible combination!’ and you could be right, it’s a daring combination but it doesn’t reach a kitsch or bad taste level. Either that or the love that locals have for The Forum lead me to believe that.

The Forum from the ACMI

The friend of a friend, Tom, was going too so we ended up going for a couple pints before the concert. There we ran into another friend of his. All together headed to The Forum, an old cinema dating back from the 1920’s. Back then it was the largest cinema in all of Australia. Today it was the perfect spot to see Lanegan: not a very large venue with capacity for maybe a couple thousand, some tables at the back and standing room right in front of the stage. Two bars on the sides and one more upstairs keep the thirsty ones apeased.

Foyer at The Forum

While discussing how to get through the crowd Tom’s friend decided she knew how to do it without the need of pushing or squeezing amongst the crowd. Turned out she found a perfect spot, we were not only 3 metres from Mark Lanegan but at the best angle and right next to the speakers. When ‘The Gravediggers Song’ started I trembled in surprise. It was not just loud, but fucking awesome sound!

But it was going to take more than fucking awesome sound to get the aussie crowd moving. In the words of my friend Julio, who went to see Manu Chao in Sydney just recently, Manu had to play his fastest ska to get some nodding from the crowd. Tom told me that Melbourne audiences are demanding, probably because this is the capital of music in the country. Certainly the range of music on offer is astounding. If I could I would have spent all my money on going to gigs this summer! The Pogues, Elbow, Electrelane, Radiohead, Prince, Soundgarden…
When I went to see Portishead and The National at the Harvest Festival last year it was my first taste of that attitude. It was Portishead’s first Australian gig in 10 years or so, and I am aware that their music is not precisely dancing music but rather hypnotic, yet the crowd, though cheerful, remained rather quiet, something to which I am not quite used to. Later I read in a magazine that for that critic it had been the best gig of the year in Melbourne. I guess I need to see what a bad gig is like to compare. Mel tells me that another feature of gigs here is the ‘Circle of Death’ that sometimes exists between a (usually unknown) band and the first people of the crowd: nobody wants to be in the front.

The National at Harvest Festival
I think now I begin to understand why so many bands speak of the ‘warmth’ of Latin audiences. When I went to see James or The Killers back in Lima I couldn’t stop dancing and jumping, whether it was the excitement to see a ‘big’ band or the effect of the music itself. When I went to see Calle 13, a Puerto Rican hip hop band, it was a massive party!
Can’t have it all I guess. Meanwhile I am planning my next gig, maybe The Black Keys, maybe The Shins, whose last album is going straight to my favourites of the year so far. Perhaps Jack White and hope he plays some White Stripes while he is at it. But definitely I will go and see the band of my work mate Will – Big Words. They play hip hop and he says they are pretty good. I’m sure there won’t be a ‘circle of death’ there!

Portishead at Harvest Festival 2011

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