Video games could help physical and mental development in young minds. The story was broadcast on The Friday Daily on 2SER – I’m going to be helping with the production every week.
So last week I finished this fine tome – about two years after everybody else.
Freedom is dense with details about its characters that might seem superfluous at the time of reading but in retrospect contribute to the richness of their portrayal. The most tragic and funny of tragedy and comedy co-exist in this book and frequently in the same setting. The importance of its title is not fully graspable until you’re finished reading it, and if Freedom was not an option it could have easily been called This American Life, if, you know, that was not taken either. Jonathan Franzen illustrates the irony and extremes inherent in the modern tapestry of America through characters who experience suburban non-bliss, love, hate and absurdity. I’m always impressed when a writer can capture single moments with clarity, so allow me to quote from a memorable page (523):
“Then they wandered up Sixth Avenue like a couple drunk beyond caring what anyone thought of them, like red-handed murderers, Connie bra-less and wanton and attracting male stares, Joey in a state of testosterone heedlessness in which, if anyone had challenged him, he would have thrown a punch for the sheer joy of it. He was taking the step that needed to be taken, the step he’d been wanting to take since the first time his parents had said no to him. The fifty-block walk uptown with Connie, in a baking welter of honking cabs and filthy sidewalks, felt as long as his entire life before it.”
So in the wake of finishing Freedom I have decided to tackle this bad boy.
Or more appropriately, this bad girl. I feel like I have reached the point of young adult life where I can attempt a Russian classic with no ulterior motive, i.e. just wanting to look smart. So with clear eyes and full heart I have approached Anna Karenina. There is also the incentive to finish it before the latest film adaptation comes out. I have to admit, the trailer is full of swooning and corset-ripping and despair and ecstasy, and I love that stuff. I always feel a particular anxiety when a film is coming out that is based on a book that I haven’t read yet. It’s too bad that I didn’t read The Great Gatsby in Year 12 because now I have to add that to the list, and as far as I know, there is no new film adaptation of Brave New World in the works. On the other hand, I strolled into Life of Pi with my head held high.
But there is no time to waste, because this is the work ahead of me (before I am allowing myself to go on Book Depository again).
“I used to just like every guy who liked me*,” says Hannah to her handsome new not-date, explaining why she wants to be “rational” about “all this”, i.e. now she is in control of her life and doesn’t want to screw everything up. But of course that’s not true, because we’re all young and indecisive and becoming a grownup is one big mess. It’s all about secrets, ill-defined relationships, awkward parties and the impossible pain of breaking up or not being a genius. And we wouldn’t have it any other way, or at least that’s how it seems Girls and that’s why we all love it.
Shoshanna is learning to deal with the guy who deflowered her but didn’t want to be her boyfriend – a rite of passage, no? “You hurt my feelings but I can deal with it because I have my big-girl pants on.” Marnie gets fired and her mum tells her that she looks 30 years old. What a kick in the guts! And also the perfect insult to be levelled at a character in Girls because its entire landscape is lit up by the particular sad glow of being in your 20s and not knowing what to do about it. (All the people who know what I’m talking about should read this.)
I had to wait until the second-last scene to see the return of my favourite Girl Jessa. All you haters hear me out – to me, she’s the most complex, feisty, unashamed-but-actually-scared character and her continual triumph over banality reminds me of a few different women who I have known in my life. She’s still with her new surprise husband, and presumably they have just returned from their honeymoon. Of course I’m expecting their marriage to play out and end with hilarity and strangely defined anguish.
So it’s all happening again! The episodes are much too short and I know there won’t be enough of them, but I’m happy to see Girls return. If just for great lines like these:
-“Our lives are so entwined.”
-“Like, you’ve met his whole family?”
-“No, like he pays for everything.”
These are the episodes of Top of the Pods, hosted by Robbie Buck, that I produced and scripted at Radio National. The show was great fun and producing basically meant listening to lots of podcasts from around the world and choosing the best ones to play. In these travels I found a multitude of fantastic pods which I will take the time here to recommend.
In this show:
The Bike Show with Jack Thurston. All about the culture and counter-culture of cycling.
PRI’s Talking Travel. This is a discontinued podcast but was a little gem for people (like me) who wish they were on a continuous round-the-world trip.
For history buffs The History of Rome podcast is a cool find. Many episodes are long and very detailed but this episode, about Roman weddings, was a little slice of ordinary life from the ancients.
In this show:
Spycast, from the International Spy Museum in the US. I was extremely pleased to come across this one. Spy tales, but more nuanced than 007, and actually true.
Londonist Out Loud. I am really not in love with London, but I do like the idea of a rambling tour through the city, with plenty of encountered with local characters. This episode is actually about the life of Florence Nightingale, a very intriguing lady.
SBS Kitchen Conversations. Do you want to know what the Ancient Greeks ate for breakfast? (Hint: yes!)
My all-time favourite episode. Nobody else had produced a show full of food podcasts so I went ahead and did it.
In this show:
Sporkful! Laugh-out-loud, ridiculously detailed tales from the table/couch/picnic rug, or wherever you might find yourself stuffing your face.
Eat Feed, about how food features in, and triggers, memories. A heart-warming, tear-jerking listen.
Kitchen Sync, from Edible Communities, a massive and detailed collection of podcasts about the politics of food production, recipes and everything else to do with our obsession with food.
In this show:
The epitome of style and substance, the Decoder Ring Theatre crew from Toronto, Canada create radio drama with an air of mystery and a good sense of the absurd.
The History Chicks are an awesome pair of gals who tell street-level stories from the feminine past. This episode is about the inside of a mansion in the Gilded Age (post-Civil War America).
For little bites of goodness check out Deutsche Welle’s Pulse series. In fact, there are so many different podcasts on DW that it would warrant a few days to check out all of them.
In this show:
Ahhhhh!!!!! RTE’s Doc On One had me almost crying like a baby. LOVE. IS. REAL.
More pods to check out, including ones that couldn’t go on the show:
The Moth – fairly amazing spoken-word performances, recorded and podcasted
Caustic Soda – glimpses of the dark side of pop culture, from a bunch of cool dudes in Canada
The Truth – radio lovers will know that The Truth needs no introduction
And if you are new to the world of pods, you can’t go past this old chestnut.
Yesterday I morphed into a serious person with actual career ambitions (I kid – even as a 4 year-old wearing a tiara I was serious about being a princess one day) when I spent a wad of cash on some equipment for recording in the field.
This new thing – Zoom H4n – looks cool, fits in my handbag and impressed my housemate. It also has a cute windsock hat which makes it look like one of those troll dolls. More importantly, I tested it out this morning and couldn’t believe the clarity of the recordings that I made. True, I don’t have a wealth of experience with this kind of technology but I think for my purposes I will be very satisfied. The two mics on the top are apparently a great improvement on the last Zoom model. So I’m not sure if it’s necessary to use an external mic. I guess I will find out the hard way!
Now for some hard-hitting interviewing.
Some old travel writing from my most recent year abroad.
It should have been a sign.
I sat in the minibus speeding along the shore of the glittering Bosphorous, tears in my eyes for leaving Istanbul, this pulsing city, the glow and shimmer of which I had never seen before. On arrival to the airport, I found that my flight to Athens had been delayed by 45 minutes. Actually 90 minutes. Actually two and a half hours. In the plane my fellow passengers and I sat, staring blankly ahead at the seats in front, not speaking, not smiling, not eating, because there was no cabin service.
It was the strikes. The air traffic controllers in Athens were reducing airspace. Throughout the week, almost everybody else would strike, too. Even the public broadcasters and garbage collectors. Even doctors. I had been under no illusion as to what I might find in Athens, this mythical centre of the Ancient World, now the epicentre of crisis in the modern one. I had heard of the riots and the tear gas. What I hadn’t heard about was the “circus”. This comical translation from Greek of the concept of chaos, of something being crazy or going wrong, but in a good way, was fairly relevant to the whole trip.
I was welcomed by a group of international friends who had all, for some reason or another, chosen Athens as a reunion spot. First stop was for souvlaki. It’s never a bad time for souvlaki, and every Athenian has their favourite. It’s also never a bad time for a frappe, a grilled corn cob from a street stand, or some salad swimming in olive oil. Or a drink, in one of the hundreds of intriguing bars, all decorated lovingly like movie sets, and not closing until 4am.
But it is, perhaps, a bad time right now to be in Athens. I first stayed in a hostel, where the strikes scheduled for that day were written on the whiteboard in the morning. Upon check-in I received a phrase brochure, including the translations of “you’re cute” and “are there riots?” I moved to the apartment of a friend, which was convenient timing, considering that the next day was the day when both the public transport and the taxis were on strike.
The sprawling concrete of the suburbs and the sunshine on the cobblestones in the centre might always look the same. But the exasperation of Athens belongs to the here and now. My hostess told me that her parents had advised her to get out of the country again, not to give up on Greece but just to give herself a chance of success for the next few years. We walked through the city, past policemen on ever corner, and she expressed unease at being around them. I wondered aloud how painful it might be to be hit by the tear gas. “It hurts,” she said. “I know.”
I took a ferry to Hydra, an island close to the city but far enough away to clear one’s head. Here, donkeys are the only transport and I felt that maybe nothing had changed in the last hundred years. I jumped into the salty, luminescent Aegean and bobbed around for a while, wondering what was to become of Greece.
On the summit of the Acropolis, it was hard not to feel the sadness of it all again. But hopefully the stone columns will outlive these troubles, too. In any case, even in these times it isn’t hard in Athens to come by a big smile, a good story and something delicious to eat. It is always worth seeing something for oneself.