Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sicily by Surprise.

I had never really thought of going to Sicily but late last year I was getting swamped at work and having a hard time of it. Lee and Sam Cujes were climbing in Sicily. I was texting Lee, grizzling about my struggles, he said, "It's simple. Put some stuff in a bag and come over here". Defences down, having lost the ability to make personal decisions or mount arguments, I agreed.
So I bought a ticket and hours later I was on an Etihad to Rome.
It turned out to be a good lack of decision.

Me on  Balu Yoghi e Bubu     7b+  (26)
I think that translates to "Yogi Bear and Bubu".
It took me 5 shots, over 2 days to get through the roof.
It's a runnout jug haul to the roof,  slightly steep all the way, then predictably gets a bit punchy.

Loss of decisiveness has a debilitating effect. The upside is a liberating new lease of spontaneity.
To rest my decision glands I made a non-negotiable commitment to myself to be resolutely indecisive for the duration of the trip. I had absolutely no opinion on which crag to go to, where to eat or when to go to bed.
I had the same flavour gelato everyday.

At the departure lounge I randomly chose a book.
Reading list for the trip: Unthink - Chris Paley
It reads...
The confidence you have in your ability to reason and to consciously choose what to do is caused by a series of illusions...
If you could be bothered, here's a reading of the introduction.
I recommend this book to anyone who doubts that they understand their own consciousness. It will confirm that your doubts are real. I found this strangely comforting.

Leaving Sandra was so hard. She sent me this message via the giant SMS display at Brisbane airport.

So I get off the plane in Sicily and hop on this.
And the quality just stayed like that for the whole time.

Photo: Erik Smits

San Vito Lo Capo
was home for a few weeks.

There's a stark fort/church/art gallery in the middle of town flanked by the finest cafes with Sicilian caricature waiters. They were THE most fabulous waiters ever. Oo la la Madame!

Main st. San Vito
 Peak hour. It's a strolling town. Very little traffic, though there's a danger of being run over by the stealth electric motor bikes. Utterly friendly. Rendered limestone.
Most of the homes have jasmine climbing up to the balconies. The fragrance in the evening is beautiful.

My perfect hosts Lee and Sam took me to Erice on a rest day. An ancient town on top of a mountain. They looked after me so well, I love them for it. Thanks, you two.
This photo: it's not trick photography, it's just how it is.

The only thing I really wanted out of my first ever trip to Europe was to eat pizza and sip espresso in a stone courtyard. Nailed it.

Me at Erice.
Photo: Lee

I think this was Sam's hardest tick ever.
This rough little track along the Mediterranean coast has perfect swimming places and dozens of sectors with hundreds of perfect limestone sport routes all lined up and ready to go.

The beautiful Monte Monarco over looks San Vito, I spent a few afternoons just walking up there. There's an old marble quarry near the top, there's old cork trees, and wild herbs and horse trails. 

Never Sleeping Wall, a two minute walk through the car park of condoms and wipes.

National park coastline, a no-climbing grotto, perfect tiny beaches, the Fiat Punto, me and wild rosemary.

From my instagram. Feeling pretty happy about just being there and hanging around.

Lee kept knocking off 8a's for breakfast.

The summit of Monte Monarco, the cross and me.

I think that that is just dreamy. The gardens at Erice.

The ancients built their castles atop piles of choss, probably to repel trad climbers. Erice.

Heading back to Palermo at dawn to fly home.

Lee's edit, of my photo, of him. Pretty special.

San Vito will not disappoint any visitor who is serious about desserts, espresso and climbing. Even if you can't decide what order to have them in.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Vertical Living

Photographed and reproduced without permission from neither jjobrien nor Vertical life.

Struggling through the toughest months of my working life, I kept a bright shining target in sight. Just keep it together till I get to the Grampians with the Vertical Life guys. I almost made it. I dropped my shit a week early. Never been much of a goal setter.
I'd been chatting online with magazine moguls Simon Madden and Ross Taylor, they'd kept me laughing for ages. Years? To be honest, I mostly laughed at my own jokes, I am my own favourite comedian, but it's good to have an appreciative audience too.
A full immersion experience in intelligence and wit would be therapeutic. It was cathartic.

They pick me up at Tiger Air's big shed at Tullamarine in a hire car that fools me for a while.
We join the Western Highway and fill in the life stories and details you don't get on a Messenger chat. I try to be fascinating but it's a long way to Wartook.

I raided the Red Phoenix Emporium storeroom on the way and snaffled a pair of pants each for Ross and Simon.
No time for gift wrapping. Good idea at the airport. Get Victoria's Secret gift bags, send the guys a photo and say "I got you a gift".
Pretty sure they'd be bang up for the joke. Turns out I spooked them. OK, I know the limits now.

Ross Taylor - Simon Madden.
Whether you are sharing a quiet evening with another gentleman on your mother's couch in country Victoria, or sporting your ripped abs while draped in gorgeous girls on an inner-city photo shoot, satin brocade pants are the indispensable style piece for any climber. 
Traditional Chinese pants, now sadly absent in China, re-introduced by jjobrien climbing & style.

Click on the logo to shop at the Red Phoenix store.

I met Tim Lockwood and snapped a moment of his "Groovy" attempt.
Taipan is the real deal. You can feel it.
This is Rosses' home crag and he works it like a local.
(Ross, I googled the apostrophe rules, but I'm not confident)

See this is how I like it, world class climbing with some time to smell the flowers. BTW Canola is redolent of a jar of old fish oil, maybe it was the fertiliser, but in the low spring sun and with nothing to do and nowhere to be it was perfection.
I never got to see their office but they told me all about it. Chrome and leather couches, huge windows, with a commanding view of the city and bay from the 43rd floor.

I keep thinking Simon is the ridiculous one, loud mouth, edgy humour. Ross is the straight man. But then they switch it up and I never really got a handle on it.

The setting sun washed the Difficult Ranges the way it probably has for thousands of generations.

Accidentally coming across aboriginal cave art many years ago was one of the most mystical moments in my life. Not the same thing, but seeing The Gallery dabbed (bombed, says Ross) in chalk awakened my spirit climber.

Weave World 23. Simon Madden puts the draws on for me, as promised. The sweetest red steepness, the immaculate granite finger dyke, the rest, the jug haul to exposed glory. Could this be the best route in the world?

The desolation wrought by fire.

Thanks Dr. Dre for the beat cave reprieve. Couldn't have done it without you.
Here's my playlist for recovery. Songs to soothe the savage soul. Click the image.

I love what these guys are doing with Vertical Life magazine. Get onto it, if you haven't already.

Half an hour to spare in Melbourne, Breakfast in Brunswick with hired enthusiasts. Thanks, whoever you were for your unconditional super happiness. And strawberry cream porridge.

Thank you Ross and Simon, I'm a lifelong supporter.
Follow them on Facebook - Vertical Life, that's where I stole the "Life's too short" photo.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

MONA - Prepare to be offended

The Museum of Old and New Art - Hobart, Tasmania.
My favourite installation: A mind bogglingly huge projection of meaningless data changing and flickering at an incomprehensible rate accompanied by beeps.

Here's what I do. I talk about going places and doing things, and I talk about it for years, but I don't take the first step.
Everything I've done, I've done because Sandra has bought my ticket, put down a deposit, signed me up.
And so it was with MONA. I first read about David Walsh and MONA in the Weekend Australian when it opened in 2011.
I instantly, badly wanted to go. And have ever since.
Sandra lined the whole thing up in secret and had to stop me from making climbing plans for the weekend. She went all out, we stayed at the most fabulous Henry Jones Art Hotel on Constitution dock, I've always wanted to go there too.
Check in.

We got an amazing room.
The bathroom could have been bigger.

I had read the reviews and I was prepared to be challenged or even offended by the exhibitions. I had concerns that perhaps I would find myself to be conservative, or that I would agree with 
Michael Conner that  "Mona is the art of the exhausted, of a decaying civilisation . Display lights and taste and stunning effects illuminate moral bankruptcy."
I didn't.
I wasn't offended. I was inspired, amazed, intrigued, uplifted, soothed.
Half an hour of commercial television will offend me. That's where I find my evidence of a decaying civilisation. That and question time in parliament.

I took photos at MONA but I won't post them here. MONA asks us not to. And anyway why spoil surprises?

Lunch at the Salamanca Markets
They were supposed to disperse and flutter gracefully. They dumped on her.
Wandering around the docks.

Sandra doing her share of the heavy lifting. 
From our window we kept an eye on the changing light catching the Antarctic Supply Ship "Aurora Australis". The news on the way home said a new ship would be commissioned, this time not built in Newcastle, but Europe.

Let's make Zinc!
They do along the Derwent river.

Listeners, you know I love Jazz. Not Swing, not Bossa, not Trad nor smooth, not neo-be bop, dixie, rag, Kansas City, nor Vocal. But arse-out self indulgent, cliché free make-the-shit-up-as-you-go Jazz.
So I was in a deep state of pleasure arriving back at the hotel bar to find these guys noodling away in their own augmented 13th world.
Here's a quick Jazz playlist I knocked together if you are in the mood. For 15 hrs.

OK, just one shot inside MONA. But strictly no art!

So here's where I'll slag off at MONA.
We booked the full degustation lunch at "The Source" restaurant above MONA, I thought why not go the whole way, we may never be here again. The moment I walked in I knew I'd made a mistake. It was a fucking bore.
The only good thing was watching Sandra get hammered in 20 minutes flat trying to keep up with the sommelier as he matched a bucket of wine to every bite. She got rowdy.
I was burping those little pickled carrot things till dinner time. Awful shit. Four hundred bucks worth of dead boring.  But so funny. Just go to the cafe or the fab wine bar instead.

I rode a cow to MONA. True.

Thank you Sandra and Willow and Lotus. It was THE most fabulous weekend ever.