Saturday, February 28, 2009


Made a spontaneous trip to Inverloch on Thursday evening with Nate to visit his grandmother. We headed there with his mum after work and were stuck in peak hour traffic heading out of the city. Eventually, after what seemed like forever, we made it to Inverloch. It was the first time I had met Nate's grandmother but I've heard a lot about her. She's a fiery one. I'd pity anybody brave enough to take her on. Fortunately, we got a long very well. Granny (and she's kill me if I called her that to her face) is a brilliant cook and kept us well fed. Her cheese scones are to absolutely die. It was sad to leave her (and her cooking) to get back to Melbourne this arvo.

One thing that really struck me about Nate's grandmother was just how deeply she was still morning the loss of her husband in September last year. The slightest memory would trigger her off. I guess she is still very much grieving for the love of her life. It's beautiful but very touching at the same time.

Off to Sydney next Monday for a week of rest, socialising, and mardi gras. Can't wait!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The human mating system

Nate and I had brunch with one of my (straight) work mates on Saturday. He had gone out the night before with two of his other gay friends (a married couple) and was slightly disillusioned when he found out that this couple had an open relationship. I must admit that I was a little surprised also; Nate, less so. This got me thinking...why are humans monogamous and is there a difference between straight and gay couples?

Monogamy is quite rare in nature. In fact, thanks to DNA finger printing, we are beginning to realise that many so called 'monogamous' species partake in sneaking extra pair copulations on the side.

In some animals, like seahorses, pairs remain monogamous because the cost of partner switching is quite high.

Some evolutionary psychologists suggest that our monogamous mating system is quite recent and that our evolutionary ancestors were promiscuous. Compared to other great apes, the size of our testes and penises are large for a species with a monogamous mating system.

Sexual conflict is rife throughout the animal kingdom as each sex tries to maximise it's own reproductive success. Here, it is not uncommon for each sex to wish monogamy on its mating partner whilst engaging in promiscuity for themselves.

So...I wonder if open relationships are more common in same-sex relationships because there is less of a sexual conflict.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Airport Angst

I travel quite a bit with my job and I've missed my fair share of flights but I've never reacted like this woman...

My top 3 list of bad airport/airline experiences:

1. Sao Paulo to New York (American Airlines). Missed my connection due to delays flying from a conference in another Brazilian city. Rushing between gates was not helped by the fact that I was carting a 1m long fiberglass fish that I had bought at a flea market. Was eventually placed on the next flight to New York and was fortunate enough to score two for me and one for the fish.

2. Singapore to Sydney (Qantas). This was caused by a delay in Finland, resulting in a missed connection. The flight from Helsinki was the scariest flying experience I've ever had....the plane accelerated on the runway then braked suddenly. My immediate thought was that we were going to hit another plane but apparently it was due to a warning light in the cockpit. The plane was fine but we had to wait two hours for the engineers which meant I missed my flight from Singapore to Sydney.

3. LA to Sydney (Qantas). The flight crew were involved in a car accident on the way to the airport. They weren't allowed to fly and so we had to wait for replacement crew.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Welcome to Oz!

I was expecting to see my new PhD student yesterday who was flying in from overseas. I get a message from him in the afternoon apologising that he won't be able to meet me. I give him a call on his mobile. He tells me that he was on his way to Gippsland. GIPPSLAND. WTF? Either he made a huge mistake in arranging his temporary accommodation or the University screwed it up. Apart from the obvious distance between where he is living and where he is meant to be working, there is also the not so trivial issue of bushfires in the area. First day in Oz and he has gone out to the site of Australia's worst natural disaster. What a welcome.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Darwin's dinner and a conversation about death

Yesterday was the 200 anniversary commemorating the birth of Charles Darwin. The museum here in Melbourne put on a very nice cocktail dinner and I was lucky enough to secure a free ticket to the event. The dinner reflected the theme of evolution and we grazed our way through the evolutionary tree with such delights as primordial soup (which tasted a lot like seafood bisque), crocodile skewers, and 'dinosaur' drumettes. The dinner culminated in a huge chocolate fountain (which was meant to resemble the lava flow following the meteor impact that killed off the dinosaurs). It was hugely entertaining. Apart from the food, we also got to go to the imax theatre and watch a documentary on the dinosaurs of Patagonia. The doco was in 3D and, although memerizing, left me feeling a bit queezy. There was even a circus performance aimed at teaching evolution to 3 year olds. With a great deal of artistic licence (and a whole heap of acrobatics, dancing and singing), the audience learnt how fish evolved into lizards and then into birds.

The razzle and dazzle aside, I had the opportunity to speak to a colleague whom I deeply admire and respect. He was down in Melbourne to attend an associated conference. The colleague lost his son less than two years ago and we spent an hour talking about all the motions that follow on from the tragedy. The nice thing about the scientific community in which I work is that it's a relatively close knit group and the impact of the death resonated across the country. But suicide is a difficult issue to grapple with and more so when the reasons are not clear. The manner in which outsiders deal with the situation can also be varied and, at times, frustrating for the family and friends that are left behind. It was nice to know that the colleague had received my card and it was even nicer to know that the message meant something to him and his family. What do you write on a condolence card under such circumstances? I remembered going to the newsagent, picking out the card, and turning to google for advice. After mulling over the message for a long time, I wrote it. Minutes later I tore it up and went back to the newsagent and bought another blank card. The second time round, I wrote the message I wanted to write. I cant remember exactly what I wrote now but my colleague said that it was one of a handful that really spoke to the family. These were cards, according to him, written by people who had either gone through similar loss or otherwise showed evidence of having gone through some kind of struggle. It was not conscious at the time, but I guess my struggle was my sexuality. Mind you, when I was still trying to grapple with it, I never thought of suicide (though, at times, I was incredibly sad). What I did come to realise though (and I think this was what may have come through in my message) was that, for a long time, I had hoped my parents had understood me enough to simply know that aspect about me without having to deal with the task of actually sitting them down and telling them. But gradually, I began to realise that perhaps kids misunderstand their parents too and the failure to open up to them for fear of how they might react is a barrier that is formidable but not necessarily real. I shared this thought with my colleague. His eyes welled up and we gave each other a hug.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sam vs Milk

Went and saw "Milk" the other night. I thought it was a really good movie but I have a quibble...Sean Penn's portrayal of Harvey Milk. For the most part, I thought it was great but there were moments in the film when I swear Penn was channeling the character he played in "I am Sam". On the one hand we have a gay activist and on the other, a retarded man fighting for custody of his child. You couldn't ask for more different characters but still, during some of the early parts of the film, Sam and Harvey merged into one.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The fires

The Victorian bushfires are dominating the news coverage at the moment. Living in metropolitan Melbourne, it's hard to imagine the carnage taking place elsewhere since there were no signs of smoke in the actual city itself. Only heat and wind. Incredible wind.

The feeling of disconnection is such a contrast to my experience of the Canberra fires a few years ago. I still remember driving home in the afternoon after spending the morning with a couple of Belgian friends. The sky grew darker and darker as I headed south. There was a red glow in the horizon and ash was raining down everywhere. We were several kilometers away from the fire front but it was still scary. With the Victorian fires, I see the footage and I hear the stories but it still seems a million miles away.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Riding the sushi train

I got back into the city quite late last night and wasn't really in the mood for cooking so I made Nathan meet me at Flinder's Street Station and we headed off to a sushi place on Swanston street. the place we went is one of those sushi train restaurants where you sit at a big communal table and pick out the plates of sushi moving past you along a conveyor belt system.

There are two things that one needs to be careful about at these kinds of sushi establishments. First, one should mindful of the possible risk of food poisoning, as you never really can tell just how long a bit of raw fish might have been circulating on the conveyor belt. Second, there is the danger of overeating. Fortunately, I can say that neither Nathan nor I got sick from last night's meal. However, we did end up paying an arm and a leg because we (well, mostly me) got greedy and just kept eating and eating and eating. You know you've eaten an impressive amount when the chef decides to offer you complimentary dessert. If I'm going to fork out $82 for sushi next time, I think I'd rather fork it out at a more fancy Japanese restaurant.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pride 2009

Went to the pride march yesterday afternoon. It seemed a lot better than the previous couple I've been to. There were people everywhere and the atmosphere was great. Was having an interesting conversation with a guy who reckons that the Melbourne gay community can be a bit superficial. I don't really have much of a point of reference but can certainly see how he may have developed such an opinion. I didn't really see it yesterday though...all I saw was joy.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Gursky, sushi and the brain scooper

To try and escape the heat yesterday, Nathan and I visited the National Gellery of Victoria to check out the photographic exhibition of Andreas Gursky. Wow! His giant photos are absolutely mind blowing. Gursky, a German photographer, holds the record for the highest price paid for a photographic work by a living artist. It's easy to see why. I must admit I haven't really been into photography all that much but this exhibition gave me a whole new appreciation of the artform.

Afterwards, we wandered back to Flinder's Street and caught a tram to a second hand furniture shop on Swan Street where I picked up this nice little marble-topped side table for the balcony. It's called the 'trace' and is manufactured by Naughtone... A cute litle piece of British design for outside. Can't wait for Melbourne to get cool enough (but not so cool) so we can sit outside and sip cold drinks in the evenings.

The table wasn't the only thing I bought. The last time I was at the shop, I saw an unusual long wooden implement from PNG with the image of a man carved on top and four sharp prongs on the bottom. This time, I saw it again and asked the shop manager what it was. Evidently, it's a tool used by headhunters for scooping out brains. It now sits on top of my fridge (Might come in handy one day).

Caught up with some friends for dinner. Finally was introduced to a really nice Japanese restaurant in Melbourne actually owned and operated by Japanese people. The sushi was fantastic and so was the conversations at the table. I spent most of the evening talking to a pair of criminologists (I had a niggling feeling that the guy was profiling me the whole time).