Monday, June 30, 2008

Anti Anti-Smoking

I heard a little of Joe Jackson's 1982 hit "Steppin' Out" tonight, followed that up by watching a YouTube broadcast of the original video, and finally ended up looking around Joe's website. "Steppin' Out" was on the "Night and Day" album, which my roommate in college used to play quite a bit, so I remember all those tracks very well. There was always something magical about this song in particular. It has a smooth dance rhythm underneath a series of slow chord changes, creating a hypnotic feeling as you listen to the lyrics. The video itself is a great fantasy about early '80s New York City life:

I remember that Jackson was upset about this video when it came out, and vowed to not make another because he thought such videos unnecessarily associate images with the song that the artist never intended.

Anyway, as I clicked away on his website, I came across a section in which Joe argues against all the "anti-smoking hysteria." On my recent trip to Croatia I was slightly annoyed by all the smoking that was going on during the dinners and coffee breaks, but some of the other people I was with really started moaning loudly about the smoke. It wasn't that long ago that I was frequently standing among smokers (or sitting with my relatives when I was a child) and not really noticing the smoke. I wondered how much my recent reaction was due to years of listening to all these anti-smoking campaigns. Don't get me wrong...I am not an advocate for smoking. But I did find Joe Jackson's pamphlet interesting. He thoughtfully reviews the evidence for the causes of secondhand smoke, as well as the direct and indirect effects of smoking on health. He concludes in a section titled "How to be Healthy:"
I think there are two different approaches to living a healthy life. One is to try very hard to avoid everything which current opinion holds to be bad for you, be guided by ‘experts’ and statistics, feel very guilty about any human imperfection, and generally believe that if you work hard enough, you can achieve invulnerability. This is very American. The other is to enjoy yourself, be reasonably moderate, be sceptical of the ‘experts,’ and let the chips fall where they may. This approach is more European - or used to be. These are broad stereotypes, but they’re both reasonable and most people are drawn more to one than the other. The problem comes when the first group starts to dictate to the second. Especially when there’s no real proof, that either approach works best.
I think I'll go have another Diet Coke and ponder the evidence.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

One Year On

It was a year ago today that we arrived in Australia with our six suitcases, three carry-ons, a car seat, and a stroller. Despite everything that has happened since, I can't say that I feel like this is "home" yet. Partly this is because we still own our old home in Atlanta, as no one has yet made a serious offer on it for nearly 17 months (we've now lowered the asking price to below what we paid for it). But the main reason is that it's going to take more time than I thought to develop real friendships--a "social support network," as they say in my field--to replace what we lost by changing continents. Sure, we still have contact with many of our friends and family members back in the States, but the effect of the great physical separation that now exists is tremendous. I think if we had moved to San Francisco instead, for example, it would have been much easier because we would be only a couple of time zones and a $400 flight away. Now, we face $6000-9000 plane tickets for the three of us to go back, in addition to lots of logistics when it comes to planning a time to make phone calls.

The effect of not having of a fully developed social support network was quite acute this week when V. was knocked down with severe back pain. On Wednesday night she suddenly woke up screaming because she was unable to move. The next day her physician arranged to have a CT scan of her lower spine made, and it turned out that she had 2-3 herniated discs! It appears that V. has been living with back pain on and off for many years, but never really dealt with it. This probably got worse recently due to our long plane flights and her having to lift heavy luggage and Will during our travels. The doctor immediately ordered V. to go on bed rest for a week, prescribing a strong painkiller and another drug to reduce the inflammation. Since Thursday I have been taking care of Will during all his waking minutes, and this will continue until the end of the coming week, except when he is at daycare. I will need to do all the shopping, cleaning, and cooking while trying to catch up with my work. More importantly, I have had to cancel my July 9 trip to the States, which included visiting my parents in Arkansas and Oklahoma, because it is unclear when V. will be functioning again. She can't even pick up Will from his crib at this point, so leaving them on their own for 10 days is impossible. I have far too much to do at work, so all of this couldn't come at a more inconvenient time. Alas. I suppose health problems never come at convenient times, do they?

As some of you know, V. was on bed rest for nearly 4 months when she was pregnant with Will, so being bed rest veterans, I know we'll be OK. A big difference this time, however, is that we don't have all our friends around to help out like we did back in Atlanta. If you are ever contemplating moving to another part of the world, don't underestimate the presence of your friends in your decision. Some people can do quite well on their own, as we have, for the most part, but I can assure you that making lots of new "old friends" requires much more than a year when you move to a new country.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


We are home in Brisbane safe and sound. Of course, all three of us are messed up with jet lag and major sleep deprivation. Will didn't sleep at all during our second flight from Singapore to Brisbane, but he did sleep from 8 am to 7 pm once we got home. Now it's 4:51 am on Thursday and Will is watching "In the Night Garden" on a DVD that we bought in England. I have been wide awake since 1:30, worrying about everything I have to do in the next three weeks (before I leave for another overseas trip). It also gives me a chance to update you about what I have been doing for the past week.

The photo above is of the harbour in Opatija, Croatia. As you can see, it is a beautiful place. In fact, I was impressed with the beauty of nearly every part of Croatia I saw on this trip, from the small villages that look like their Italian counterparts in Tuscany to the mountain ranges that have been tackled by a series of amazingly long tunnels. The tourism board advertises that Croatia is "The Way the Mediterranean Used to Be" because it is fairly undeveloped and uncrowded, compared to other parts of Europe. I did notice lots of major construction going on, however, so it is likely that Croatia will "catch up" to those places in a few years.

I skipped the last day of the conference to go on a day trip to Venice, arranged by a local tourist agency. My colleague Aarti and I took a 2-hour bus ride to the port city of Porec, where we then boarded a boat for another 3-hour trip in choppy seas to Venice. It rained for the first two hours we were there. Walking down all those narrow alleys with umbrellas was challenging. We had only six hours in the city, so I separated from Aarti to find some of my favourite spots that I had discovered on one of my previous two trips to Italy. I didn't have a map, so I became a rat in a maze, running into blind alleys and assorted dead ends. Of course, this was Venice, so being lost wasn't such a bad thing. I finally ended up at Scuola Grande di Rocco, which is the site of Tintoretto's own "Sistine Chapel." I am a sucker for 16th Century religious paintings...Finally, after a quick 30-minute water taxi ride around the city, we boarded our boat at 5:00 for the 5-hour trip back to Opatija.

The next day I headed to London, which became an ordeal because the trip involved a long bus ride to Zagreb, two flights that connected in Frankfurt, a landing at Heathrow where I saw Air Force One parked (Bush was in London), a 45-minute ride on the London Tube from Heathrow to Victoria Station because there was no room on the airport bus that I planned to take, and then a train ride from Victoria Station to Brighton, where V. and her dad picked me up at 10 pm. The next day was spent with V.'s family and Will playing in their garden. When we began packing up the car in the afternoon, we found Will sitting in his car seat by the front door, all ready to go. If only he could carry a suitcase or two! We took a two-hour bus ride back to Heathrow, where we waited around the airport for another four hours. We finally took off for the first leg of our trip at 10 pm, arriving in Singapore 12 hours later. The Singapore airport is fantastic. We were at the newest terminal (3), which rivals any major shopping center and it includes gardens, waterfalls, a free cinema, and plenty of caf├ęs and restaurants. Will spent a lot of time at the indoor playground with some other kids. I was excited to see the new double-decker Airbus 380 parked at one gate. I got a few hours of sleep on the first flight, and none on the second because Will was wide awake and raring to go the whole time. It didn't help matters that Singapore Airlines likes to spend the first three hours of each flight with all the lights on so that they can serve you "dinner" in the middle of the night. Then, just after you have had time to digest your food for a few hours in the dark, they turn on all the lights again to serve you breakfast. Ugh!

But now we are back in the land of clean air, uncrowded places, and silly breakfast TV shows. I must say that I am really glad (and lucky) that we live in Australia. Sure, it's a pain to get here from anywhere else in the world, but it always feels a bit like coming back to paradise (and now, "home") when I step off the plane.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Croatia Wins!

Greetings from Opatija, Croatia. I realize that many of you may not know exactly where Croatia is, so here's a map to help orient you to my present location:

View Larger Map

I am attending a conference meeting of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology, which occurs every three years. It's really not that different from any other conference that I attend, except that there are many more smokers. I can't remember the last time I was at a coffee break with a bunch of academics and had cigarette smoke blow into my face, as happens every morning and afternoon here. Croatians themselves like to smoke, and the restaurants I have visited don't have separate smoking sections. Perhaps you would like a little Camel smoke with your cheese strudel? This is your place!

Opatija is an old seaside town, with many small hotels overlooking a beautiful harbor. My guidebook says that it is a popular holiday destination for people from all over Europe. Someone told me that tourists from the Czech Republic like to bring along all their own food on vacation, and therefore don't contribute much to the local restaurant business. Thus, a controversial proposal is being floated to ban the bringing of food into the country by visitors, which the Czechs very much resent. I suppose another group of tourists unhappy with the Croatians today are the Germans, who were thrashed last night in the Euro 2008 soccer tournament. My room overlooks the main street through Opatija, so I got to watch (and hear) crowds of red and white checkered Croatians celebrate underneath my window well past midnight. There were even a few sirens now and then, so perhaps things got a little too wild.Tomorrow I am skipping the conference to take a day trip to Venice. We're only a couple of hours away, so how could I resist my third visit to that spectacular place? It's been nine years since I was last there, but I imagine things haven't changed very much. More later...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tragic Biographies

I am writing this entry from a hotel room located just a few hundred yards (or meters) from one of the runways of Heathrow airport in western London. We have been in England for about 10 days visiting V's family at a holiday resort in Lowestoft, which is in Suffolk on the east coast. Consistent with V's predictions, it rained nearly six days in a row. Our resort was sort of a sad place, with no internet connections and few people under the age of 70. Will has been doing great the whole time--even the marathon pair of flights via Singapore went well. This morning I am leaving them behind in Brighton while I attend a conference in Croatia. Now that I am back in the land of the living, I hope to be blogging regularly again.

About the title of this entry: it was the name of a section at a WH Smith bookstore in Lowestoft. I like the idea that when someone happens to be in the mood for a "tragic biography," they can easily find it there...