A Peruvian in Australia: visas, holidays and life happening.

The last  two months have been pretty full-on. No wonder my last 2 post have been about music gigs. I have had little time to get my head around anything. If anything, all I wanted was to get my head out of anything. Floating, relaxed where it can forget itself for a minute or two. Maybe I should have come to write the blog when I was looking for such moments.

July saw Mel and I finalising all the gathering of documents for our Partner Visa. After all the certifying, the photocopying, the sending, signing, waiting, we managed a bulk the size of a folder filled with about 3 kilos of documents that basically demonstrate (we can only hope) that we have a genuine relationship, that we love each other and that we REALLY want to be together.

I have to say, after having it ready and looking at it, wondering if it actually is a good effort, you realise that it has been a huge effort. All the afternoons after work filling forms, all the money spent in sending letters, all the effort chasing and bothering friends and family explaining to them that you need a statement that says that they believe your relationship is true…

And it is all worth it. The sense of accomplishement is great. Though we have not achieved anything in the legal sense really. Now we need to wait for the Department Of Immigration to contact us and let us know the outcome. But personally I feel as if we just took a huge step in our relationship.  It´s like we just told the whole world “Hey! we are serious about this, make no mistake”. And that is empowering as a couple I guess.

July saw us going to the Peruvian National Day festivity, which is celebrated on the 28th. The party took place at the Public Centre of Tullamarine and was organised by one of the Peruvian Clubs of Melbourne. I learnt there that there are 3 in total and they all organised festivities but this was the one I heard of. We got there early (or everyone else got there on Peruvian time, however you want to look at it) and the day was getting rainy, so few outdoor activies could be enjoyed. That was OK with me. I was there for the food and eat I did! Ceviche, Lomo Saltado, Causa Rellena, Tamalitos, Flan, Alfajores, Cusqueña beer and Inka Cola were all tried and approved.

Ceviche, Cusquena, Inka Cola…

But the food was just the beginning of the celebration as then came typical dances performed. Music bands would play too but we had to leave soon after the dances. We were very happy to have attended. We made a couple of new friends in Cristian and his wife. Now I go on Tuesdays to play football with him and others. It was refreshing to see other Peruvians, know a little of their stories, see them (also) with their local partners, with their Aussie-Peruvian kids playing around. Mel said she had never seen such pretty kids altogether.

The “marinera” dance.

Andean dance

August has been pretty chilled. we are still doing paperwork as the visa is a constant thing. The pace is less hectic though. We decided it was time for a little bit of sunshine and we started planning a holiday to Cairns. It will be my first Australian holiday proper, as my trips before have been pretty quick and Mel was working during them. This one will be exclusively for leisure.

I can’t wait to check out the birds in that area. They are very different from those in Victoria as Cairns is located on the Eastern base of the Cape York peninsula, and holds a more humid, sunny weather with Tropical  Forests known as the Temperate Rainforest. This means a high concentration of wildlife, with over 400 bird species in the area, among them the Cassowaries (an Ostrich-like Australian relative), kangaroos, and the saltwater crocodiles that Steve Irwin made famous.

It is the only spot in Australia to see Birds of Paradise, there are 4 here with 46 in neighboring Papua-New Guinea (PNG). Doing some research on the subject I came on several videos of David Attenborough, including one where he states that birding in the Daintree River area (where we are going) can be even better than in the Amazon. So expectations are high and you can expect to read more about that on my next post.

Speaking of Sir David Attenborough, Mel got us tickets to go and see him a couple of weeks ago when he came to Melbourne for a series of interviews with audience. The first nice thing about it, besides the obvious excitement of going to see one of the heroes of my childhood, was the Regent Theatre. New to me, the Regent is located in the heart of Melbourne city and dates back from 1929, having survided many inclemencies and a few attempts to bring it down.

The Regent´s foyer

But the Regent is just a building. Attenborough, at 86, and actually older than the theater. And should not be surprising that he is still going. After Australia he was going to Mozambique to do research presumably. The man speaks as if he had not been asked that same question before, responding with that beautiful calm with which old people speak their wisdom. And we would be fools if we weren’t listening.

The clarity wich which he remember events that took place 65 years ago, when he went to PNG looking for Birds of Paradise for the first time to shoot the first ever show on those and other strange looking creatures. You must realise that this man has seen  TV program-making change from black and white 35mm to colour HD and 3D and whatnot! He even admits that shooting such shows on B/W back then was a bit silly. But that is actually how one of the biggest icons (perhaps the biggest) of nature documenting started. And who knows how long Sir David will be around us. As long as he is still doing his passion work, I’m sure he will be with us for a good while.

Attenborough being interviewed

Personally, I felt so moved to listen to him that all I wanted to do when I left the theater was grab the first plane to the nearest jungle and hug a tree. A little more realistically though, I renewed my ties with my passion for nature and made me realise that with work, trust, luck and smart moves one will get where one wants.

Speaking of getting there, after the visa submission life has become much more interesting and pleasant. As if I had now ‘permission’ to be. Might just be the pressure release that was on my relationship and myself since I got to Australia. Mel and I were reminiscing recently and realised how quickly we’ve changed, grown, and how crazy we were to do some of the things we did!

The result is that I am enjoying myself more, and I go by more relaxed in general. Soon I will have been a year in Australia! I dunno what will I continue writing about then!

Se acabo la fiesta!

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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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A Peruvian in Australia: Getting Around (Part 2)

The Grampians

The Grampians must be one of the classic family holiday spots for Victorians. It definitely seemed very popular when we went camping there in November last year. We chose a campground at the heart of the Grampians: Hall’s Gap, a little village with a few restaurants, bungalow facilities, a nice museum of aboriginal history, an information centre, petrol station, etc. From here most hikes or roads leave from into the Grampians National Park. Mel was a bit curious and concerned about the accessibility, as in early 2011 this area had suffered from floods and mudslides and fires. We realised that one of the main roads was still under repair and to get to one of the main spots we would need to make a huge loop by car on what otherwise would be a 5km drive from Hall’s Gap.

The Grampians and Hall’s Gap down in the valley

But the weather was lovely, the people were happy and as soon as we set up our camp we were out looking for hikes. First we walked to a lookout point up on a mountain from where we could see massive flocks of Cockatoos flying across the valley, filling it with their loud calls that reminds me of those from macaws. The kangaroos were there too, in large groups, not shy at all, grazing next to the paths where people walked.

A Mob Of Kangaroos

But the highlight was definitely the circuit we did on day 2, when we walked for most of the day, to The Pinnacle, a lookout point at aprox.1200meters , and a circuit of beautiful avenues carved in ancient rocks where once water must have flown. I don’t want to seem rude but it is funny how when aussies refer to the Grampians they refer to them as ‘high’ mountains. You need to have in mind that the highest point in this big island is Mt. Kosciuszko at 2228 meters. So for me, having grown up in Cusco at 3400masl, surrounded by ranges well above 5 or 6 thousand, that was a bit…well, no disrespect at all, it’s just a simple way of saying how context is such a big thing in our lives.

The Pinnacle

We were able to witness the damage made by last years natural disasters when we walked by forest that had been burned. It’s very clear how the fires are such a big part of nature’s cycles here. The winds are strong and the heat is too, the land is flat and when all of these factors conspire, fires are the result.

Ballarat

Ballarat is one of Australia’s 20 largest cities and it only has 90 thousand people. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Melbourne, a reason why many of its inhabitants move to the bigger city looking for better opportunities. But there was a time when Ballarat possessed the bigger opportunities and attracted people from all over the world because of the gold that was found there. Nowadays the most popular attraction in Ballarat is Sovereign Hill, where a gold processing facility has been kept and well maintained. Visitors get to be dressed in the old fashion, just like we do in Peru with the visitors to Lake Titicaca. If you are thinking that it sounds like an amusement park where you get to see how the miners lived, you are right. If you think it’s boring, you’re wrong. Every detail is been taken care of and walking into Sovereign Hill seems like a passage back in time, to the 1830’s, when immigrants from all over the world were coming to this new continent in search of wealth and fortune. If it wasn’t for all the visitors…we did go on what probably is the busiest day in the year, but still managed to enjoy it!

Old shop in Sovereign Hill

Demonstrations on how lollies were made the old fashioned way (with the old-fashioned machinery and tools and all!) were so inspiring – we still have lollies from that visit a few months on! Another show on how a gold bar is melted and poured was particularly beautiful and entertaining. They had a whole foundry still working and it’s so impressive to see that machinery not only working but to imagine all the effort it actually took to make it and all the thought put into it. That’s one thing I love about old machines, they actually look clever. Modern stuff just looks pretty and disposable, utterly incapable of being appreciated for its charm. Just mass production.

And as you walk by you discover the whole village: the bar, the bakery, the mechanic that repaired the trolleys, the bowling saloon, the school, the Chinese neighbourhood (someday a whole district), the gold-wash area. We actually walked down into a mine. I couldn’t but sigh at the light years between this, still a working small mine, and the mines that I saw in Potosí, Bolivia, where the health and safety conditions are non-existent and when you sign the waiver it says clearly that there’s a chance you will die buried in the tunnel!

Chinese shop

So far I think Ballarat has given me that sharpest impression of what Australia used to be when it was founded. It reminds me what a young nation this one is and how fast it has gotten to where it is now.

Brisbane

Mel had to work in Sydney and Brisbane and I decided to tag along. I had miles on my account so I traded them to do my first domestic flight in Australia. Besides, Brisbane has a reputation for sunny weather and chilled out people and is close to some of the biggest tourist destinations in the whole country: Gold Coast and Noosa.
I had contacted my friend Renata on e-mail and we were plotting a visit to a nearby beach. She, a marine biologist, and her boyfriend Nick also a biologist and a surf enthusiast, named a few amazing sites nearby that were ideal for camping, hiking, surfing and just relaxing. I was reassured by Renata that sharks don’t eat people and that it is easier to die in a car accident and that’s all it took to sell me.

Mt. Glorious forest

I purchased a train ticket online to go from the Brisbane airport to the city, and in Melbourne I got a bus ticket to the airport. It is quite surprising how the second largest city in Australia (and the current most liveable city in the world) has such a weak and inefficient public transport system. There is no train to the airport. If you don’t have a car you have to go to the city centre and grab a bus from there that costs AUD$17 and takes 45 minutes with some traffic (not talking peak time). In comparison, Brisbane has a train that takes you straight to the city centre in 20min and costs AUD$14.

When I arrived at the airport I hesitated about where to go. The domestic area had only computerised check in and a few attendants. This is funny about Australia, everything is automated: when you go to the supermarket you weigh and pay for your products at automated check out machines. The idea is the same at airports, and since pretty much everyone has a frequent flyer number or a reservation code, there is really no need to hire staff to check people in. But I didn’t know how to use it, and also I was travelling on miles so I thought it better to contact a real person to help me out. I wondered though how these systems would fare in Peru. My first response is that in such a corrupted society as ours they would probably not do well, but then again, why think so bad of my own people?

The weather forecast (yes, I now use the forecast – I have an app on my Iphone that I check every morning) was not kind on Brisbane: showers for most of the weekend. Ironically that would turn out to be the last super hot weekend in Melbourne with temperatures of 38C! With Mel and I both recovering from a flu, the Brisbane weather was no real help to improve. But a new city it was and it needed to be discovered, so rain or shine, out on the streets I went, to the CBD, the Royal Botanic gardens, Southbank, the Gallery of Modern Art. Brisbane seems like a smaller, tropical, more relaxed Melbourne. I liked it lots on first impression. With Renata and Nick we went to The Joint Pub to get a glimpse of the night scene. We also drove to Mt. Glorious for some hiking and birdwatching in the beautiful rainforest. Mel and I visited the West End and dined at a Greek restaurant in a popular part of town. Not soon after we were considering the idea of moving to Brisbane someday to get more sunshine (I know, right!) and outdoors.

City contrasts

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