What I Like About You …

Our seven-year-old declared tonight that we all seemed happier living in America, and my heart broke a little bit.  She put into words what I know I’ve been thinking – observing – for awhile now. We moved to Australia for all the right reasons – family, space, and a good lifestyle – but I have to agree with the little one, we were more functional in our Brooklyn community.

The kids were well adjusted and generally happy.

Many of the things we moved here for now seem to have been a mirage, or just no longer exist: the extended family that congregated often for laughs and feasts and creating good memories; the big backyard, fishing and beach houses; seafood and generally terrific food aplenty.

The family is a soap opera in the making, we have a nice place in a good suburb but no big grassy backyard, and everything is ultra expensive. The cost of living in Australia is through the roof compared with the US and Adelaide can be mighty cliquey if you’re a newcomer.

Maybe we haven’t given it a fair go. Maybe things will get better. I hope so, because the thought of packing up and moving overseas AGAIN just makes my head hurt.

And if I leave again, I know I’m never coming back.

As the Brooklyn saying goes, ‘not for nothin’ I’ve decided to write a random list of what it is I miss about the US. Perhaps it will help give me some perspective and make it easier to just shutup and stick it out in Adelaide. If nothing else, it may be cathartic to at least think about what I miss. So here goes, in no particular order:

Friends and family, of course: the kids especially miss their paternal grandparents and their cousins, who are closer in age to them than their Adelaide relatives. We took for granted how well the kids all played together and the strength of the bonds they forged with their grandparents and aunt and uncle, even though we didn’t see them often enough.

My hairdresser: Michelle at Serendipity in Soho – you cannot be replaced. I have had three haircuts in Adelaide; one was a complete botch job, the other two were just ok. I went to Michelle for many years, from before I was even married to the week I left NY – she will be one of my first stops when I go back to visit.

Cheap manis/pedis: never underestimate an inexpensive mani/pedi from one of the hole-in-the-wall Korean nail joints in Manhattan or Brooklyn. For peanuts you can get your feet rubbed, scrubbed and toes polished and looking clean and shiny for weeks to come. I had one pedicure in Adelaide and besides the woman gouging my nail until it bled, the polish peeled off in a day – and it cost about $45.

Walking: it goes without saying that NY is a walking city. I walked the kids to school and back again everyday, I walked to the shops, I schlepped my groceries home. You walk and walk and walk – even when you ride the subway – you walk at either end. You don’t notice how much you are walking but your body notices when you stop walking and start getting into a car to run errands, to get to school or go around the corner.

To be sure, my husband and I have noticed a HUGE change in Adelaide since we first came here together to visit in 2000. People are getting heavier– there are more chubby folk than ever before squeezing themselves in and out of their enormous, sole-occupancy, gas-guzzling vehicles to go 15 minutes in any direction. I reckon it won’t be long before Australia was more heavy people per capita than the US.

Subway, Stoops + Street Noise

The subway; you can go anywhere at anytime. Enough said.

Stoops: there’s nothing nicer than hanging out on someone’s stoop – chatting to neighbors, watching the world go by, or holding a stoop sale. Stoops bring communities together. Front fences and gates and intercom-activated entry does nothing for community.

Street noise: even the occasional gunshots and police helicopters were okay. You knew you were living a city and there was life going on outside your four walls.

Neighbors: knowing that there were other people nearby whose door you could knock on it you needed to borrow a rolling pin, or a cup of sugar was comforting and handy. We could send the kids upstairs to a favourite neighbor’s apartment with a plate of cookies or some leftover dinner, without fearing they’d be abducted.

Cheap cabs: speaks for itself really. You could always find a way home, without breaking the bank.

Coffee: just a regular cup of joe from a street stand, with a splash of milk for a buck 25 – that’s $1.25 – not the average $4 you pay for a coffee here. I still haven’t worked out which coffee I actually like drinking here either. I just want a big cup of black coffee that I can pour milk into, godammit.

Delivery at all hours; one of the biggest issues with living in a small city like Adelaide is that you cannot eat after about 9pm. Kitchens close. Delivery is almost non existent. I miss the Spanish places on Smith Street that would bring beef stew, and rice, beans and plantains at 10pm for $12; I miss the pizza places that would deliver a piping hot pie at 11pm.

Pizza: there is no match for a good New York pizza. All the organic flours, handmade, flown-in-daily artisanal mozzarella and toppings in the world are no match for a plain NY pie.

That’s round one. I’ll add to the list as I think of things, but I already feel better for spilling my guts and remembering the good stuff.  I’m not trying to piss off anyone in Adelaide. This is a great place to live and raise a family – I wouldn’t have chosen to live here if I didn’t believe it, but I didn’t think for a New York minute that it would be so hard to settle back in.


Shhhh …where is your favourite quiet place?

Jason Sweeney chilling in a quiet place

In Japan they have pods; small, quiet cocoon like capsules where people can seek out silence. In Adelaide, a favourite quiet space might be a trickling fountain in Victoria Square, a non-descript city car park or a narrow thoroughfare off a main street.

Jason Sweeney, a self-described introvert, is morphing his search for safe, quiet places into an ever-evolving sound-art project. Stereopublic: Crowdsourcing the Quieta tech-savvy pursuit for web and smartphone, will launch at the 2013 Adelaide Festival.

With roots in music, from playing in bands to community radio, 41-year-old Sweeney calls himself an interdisciplinary artist these days. A composer for theatre, dance and film, he has worked with companies including State Theatre Company of SA, Vitalstatistix, Chunky Move, Belgium’s SOIT, Restless Dance Theatre, Tanja Liedtke, Closer Productions, Force Majeure and UK-based DV8.

He has been releasing his electronic music compositions internationally with bands Panoptique Electrical and Pretty Boy Crossover, via the record label Sensory Projects, and he is in the thick of creating a feature film The Dead Speak Back slated for 2013 release.

But Stereopublic is something “I’ve been working on for years in one form or another. I knew it would shape shift and have different incarnations. It’s just incredible how well received this incarnation of it has been,” said softly spoken Sweeney. He said he pitched the idea in an email to David Sefton, Artistic Director of the 2013 Festival and a fellow electronic and experimental music enthusiast,  and Sefton was quick to jump onboard.

Poster Child for Quiet

“This is one of the most important projects in my life. It’s hugely personal,” said Sweeney, who for all his music-making and current it boy status, is something of a poster child for quiet. The concept for ‘crowd-sourcing the quiet’ grew from Sweeney’s own inherent discomfort in crowded, noisy places.

He tells a story of a basement apartment he rented in Melbourne. “There was no natural light, no air – but when I stepped outside I was right on Flinders Lane, one of the busiest places in Melbourne. I lasted eight months there and then I had to come back to Adelaide. It was such a relief to come home.”

With support from the TED Prize-winning City 2.0 Award, Arts SA and the Australia Council’s Creative Australia New Art initiative – as well as Adelaide City Council –  Sweeney and a team from Freerange Future, a design studio made up of designers, web and app creators, are developing an online space where people can geo-locate and crowd-source quiet spaces.

Their aim is to increase the “sonic health” of the city— both for everyday introverts, and potentially for people with mental health issues or disabilities such as schizophrenia or autism, who crave less sensory stimuli.

Jason Sweeney seeking solitude

At a time when the Government and the Adelaide City Council are gung-ho about making Adelaide pulsate with activity and are encouraging pop-up creativity from the laneways to the parklands, a quest for solitude might seem off kilter.

Quietly Vibrant

But Sweeney says “quiet can have a vibrancy of its own.”

“This is a community-building project; I really want to connect it to the city as much as possible.” In Adelaide, for instance, a favourite quiet space could be beneath a tree in the Botanic Gardens, among the crowds in the Adelaide Central Market or in a department store restroom high above the hustle and bustle of Rundle Mall.

For someone unnerved by heavy-duty social contact, Sweeney interestingly has conceived an art project that relies on participation for it to work.

From 1 March, 2013, people will be invited to contribute to the sound map online at www.stereopublic.net as part of the Adelaide Festival. There will be an Adelaide-centric app that includes a map of quiet spots around the city and the website will act as a portal to other relevant quiet events, including quiet walks, workshops and talks.

Ultimately, Sweeney says he’d like to implement a ‘quiet hour’ or even a full ‘hushday’ as part of the Festival. And down the track, he said it’s possible the Stereopublic model could be set up in other cities, with their own city-specific app.

One of the coolest features of the Stereopublic app draws on Sweeney’s musical talents.

Once participants find their quiet place, they can record the sound of that place, write about it, give it a mood through a colour chart or take an image and post it. As a reward for the input, Sweeney plans to offer a composition relating to their chosen quiet space.

‘I figure if I’m asking people to commit physically to finding a space, the composition is a reward of sorts.”

He says he expects the project will attract lots of young people because it’s about using technology in a very engaged way as a creative tool.

“I hope it will appeal to introverts too, and be unashamedly appealing to people who want to be antisocial,” said Sweeney, who is only just catching on to what a big year he has ahead. “I’m starting to realize how large scale this is and it’s starting to give me heart palpitations.”

And with that, Sweeney continues his search for a quiet place to recharge.