Dream On: Cirque’s KURIOS show at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, CA

While much of America tuned into the Republican debate last night, I was watching curiosities of a different kind at KURIOS – Cabinet des Curiosités created by the enigmatic Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil. This show may not tour as long as the run for presidency (it ends in Los Angeles on February 7, 2016 before visiting Atlanta, Boston, NY, and DC), but it is a wonderful way to get lost in theatrical alchemy: acrobatics, steam punk fashion, otherwordly creatures, and soaring vocals by the brilliant Greek singer, Erini Tornesaki.

As soon as you enter the Cirque’s big top tent, or the Grand Chapiteau, you give yourself over to Kurios‘ fantastical world of the late 19th century, an era of steam power and engineering that influenced a whole subgenre of science fiction (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, HG Wells’ Time Machine) and steam punk culture.

Our Kurios scientist is the inventor of a machine that transcends time and space. When the clock freezes at 11.11 — wishing hour — we’re introduced to the main characters in his cabinet of curiosities. There’s an accordion-shaped man; a telegraph named Klara in a hoop skirt that transmits messages; and Mr Microcosmos, the embodiment of the technological process, whose subconscious takes the form of a tiny lady named Mini Lili that lives in his boiler-as-potbelly.

I love Cirque for its contortionists, acrobats, and balancing acts, and in this show, they’re  as amazing as ever. A quartet of bendy ladies dressed as sea creatures effortlessly twist into unreal poses atop a giant mechanical hand. Twin aerialists display muscular strength while arm balancing on a set of rings. Rebounding off of an Acro Net, artists jump, flip, and glide through the air like swimmers in the sea. And just when you thought you’d seen it all, a chair balance taking place at a dinner party is interrupted by a second party happening above, upside down, on the ceiling. Suddenly, two sets of chairs  are being stacked towards each other from opposite directions. Teetering on the brink, they finally touch.

Perhaps the most unexpected act of the show is the finger puppetry, where one hand, costumed in sneakers and a baseball cap, dances to hip hop, swims, and performs skateboard moves on a mini theatre stage — all filmed with live video that’s projected onto a giant screen — before taking off in a hot air balloon. The act ends as a love story (there’s a second set of fingers involved) on top of an audience member’s head. It shouldn’t make sense, but it does – a perfect example of success in bizarre experimentation.

That’s the thing about Cirque du Soleil. It asks us to embrace the unexpected and stretch beyond our imaginations. I’m always compelled to write more, dream bigger, and read fiction after a show (I’m about to watch Oz the Great and Powerful actually). In Kurios, an invisible theatre act forces you to fill the void of the unseen characters whose presence is only made apparent by the consequences of their movements. Sound strange? It is, but it can be as crazy as you imagine it.

Other acts include the gripping Rola Bola that involves an aviator balancing atop a stack of tubes on a swing; a yo-yo extraordinaire (he lends a retro air); an aerial cyclist; and acrobats performing mesmerising synchronised sequences.

The whirlwind two-hour performance comes to an end when the Kurios clock flips to 11.12. As we filed out, I dared the performance to inhabit my dreams.

Photos Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca

Changing San Francisco, CA

I’ll admit I can be annoying to travel with. Usually I’m the first to shower and get dressed; I’m ready to go, walk, and explore.

But there are times when something slows me down enough that I instinctively reach for my camera.

It happened on a recent October morning in San Francisco. The view from the hotel room had me from the time I woke up until my reluctant trudge out the door. See the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and Alcatraz? Now, imagine watching them rouse as the light changes from semi-dark to pink to bright white.

Seeing San Francisco from this point of view gave me a whole new appreciation for the city. It was also a good reminder to stay in the moment.

6AM, from the window of Loews Regency, 40 floors up

6AM, from the window of Loews Regency, 43 floors up

7AM, pink and blue hues paint the sky

7AM, pink and blue hues paint the sky

8AM, bright lights means time for work.

8AM, bright lights means time for work.

Cafe Cubano in Little Havana, Miami

Cubans like their coffee short and sweet.

It’s called cafe Cubano, that shot of coffee covered with a rich layer of crema created by beating in sugar to render the liquid smooth and syrupy. This is what makes the coffee a Cuban one. And yes, it packs a punch. A shy, young girl on our culinary tour had a headache, but after a couple of shots from the local ventanita on Calle Ocho (Little Havana’s “Main Street”), she was buzzing about like a social butterfly. Coffee does that to you. Or maybe Little Havana was rubbing off on her. All I know is that I’d like to return for an empanada.

On the main street, Calle Ocho

On the main street, Calle Ocho

Cafe Cubano for 75 cents

Cafe Cubano for 75 cents

Smooth, syrupy, and layered with crema

Smooth, syrupy, and layered with sweet crema

A picadillo-filled empanada

A picadillo-filled empanada

Along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, about 10 minutes away from downtown

Along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, located about 10 minutes from downtown

Swamping Around Lafayette, Louisiana

Today’s sweltering temps in LA remind me of an especially hot day my sister and I experienced while trawling a Louisianan swamp in Lafayette.

Cajun Country Swamp TourIt was midday and 16 of us were seated in an open boat, called a crawfish skiff, melting under the sun but eager to spot some of the wetlands’ wildlife. I was just dying to see alligators — maybe because as an Australian I’ve never seen a crocodile in the wild. The cold-blooded creatures sun themselves on land to warm up, I heard the guide say from the back of the skiff, usually because their temperature drops after months of not eating. Today, however, they were proving elusive. Perhaps it was just too hot for them.

SAMSUNG CSC

We traversed the swampy swamp for an hour, spotting egrets, hooting owls, American lotus flowers, and hundreds of dragonflies; even a pair of full-buttocked ancient cypresses, some 300 years old. Fanning myself with a flimsy piece of paper, I internally pleaded with the clouds to give us some respite from the sun’s rays. I was itching to stand up and growing agitated that I hadn’t yet caught a glimpse of the reptilian beast.

SAMSUNG CSC

Full-bottomed cypresses

And then… two beady protrusions surfaced at water level. A ‘gator’s chartreuse coloured  irises. They flicked with ambivalent curiosity as we all stared back at it. I tried locking eyes, but the ‘gator wasn’t having it. While taking photos, as if on cue, he gave us a peek of his scaly back. As the scarediest cat of all, I was hardly fazed. The mind is good at playing tricks like that. Apparently, it’s only when provoked that alligators attack.

Back of a gator

Back of a gator

When the alligator grew bored of us, we searched for more treasures, and encountered a throaty frog, scores of lily pads, multi-coloured lichen, little blue herons, and as luck would have it, sunbathing baby ‘gators. By the second hour, I was growing rather restless and secretly hoped the boat would pick up speed to cool us off.

Spot the frog

Spot the frog

With the tour finally coming to an end, and alligator spotting checked off my to-do list, I noted three takeaways from the experience:

One: Overcome fear by staring it in the face. See you later, alligator. (If it makes you feel better, apparently the alligator brain is the size of a peanut.)

Two: When in the Deep South, carry SPF at all times and reapply constantly.

And, three: In summer, wait until sunset to take a swamp tour, otherwise you’ll end up sitting in one yourself.

swampy swamp

swampy swamp

Scenes from Sin City

It doesn’t seem like it from up here, but over 110,000 people visit Las Vegas every day. With views like these, who needs a crowded casino floor?

Looking at Caesars Palace from the Cosmopolitan Hotel

Looking at Caesars Palace and Bellagio from The Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas

Spot the tourists...

Spot the tourists…

SAMSUNG CSC

The High Roller at The LINQ Hotel & Casino is bigger than the London Eye

The Fountains of Bellagio. When the lights come on, the fountains “dance” every 15 minutes until midnight.

The Fountains of Bellagio. When the lights come on, the fountains “dance” every 15 minutes until midnight.

A Local Takes on Touristy Sydney, Australia

For me, one of the best things about coming home after a long period away was feeling like a tourist. Suddenly, I wanted to do the touristy stuff listed in guidebooks. I managed to coax various family members into strolling the sights with me. Ultimately, some of my favourite moments were spent on, or in, the city’s landmarks including: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the botanical gardens, the Pacific Ocean, and hotel lobbies. I absolutely love the Westin Sydney’s lobby — it’s a microcosm of everything that is good about the city: spacious and sunny thanks to the glorious high-ceiling atrium, with great food, wonderful service, beautiful traditional architecture married with modern touches (it’s part of the redeveloped former General Post Office in Martin Place) and a high tea fit for two mad hatters –or chatterers — like us Chetner girls.  Enjoy the views.

SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE

If Bridgeclimb is too pricey, climb its sandstone pylon. Thirteen dollars, plus 200 steps, later and you’re treated to  270-degree views that span the North Shore, Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay and The Rocks — a historic precinct.

SAMSUNG CSC

Pool of the Park Hyatt in the foreground. This was taken on the pedestrian walkway leading up to the pylon.

Pool of the Park Hyatt in the foreground. This was taken on the pedestrian walkway leading up to the pylon.

THE ROCKS

My dad, sister, and I were led by the experts of The Rocks Walking Tours on a rainy Monday morning. That didn’t dampen our spirits, however. Over 90 minutes, we learned so many quirks about this 1788-established settlement — also the site of Sydney’s first Chinatown — that to this day, my dad continues to rave about it.

Fact: Had it not been for a green ban instigated by residents in the 70s, this precinct would’ve been demolished.

The Rocks in the foreground. This photo was taken from the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney.

The Rocks in the foreground. This photo was taken from the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney.

ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS

By the harbour, smack-bang in the middle of Sydney’s CBD, and a quick stroll from the Opera House rests Australia’s oldest botanical garden (it will be celebrating it’s 100th birthday in 2016). This bounty of natural beauty is a sensational spot to get some fresh air, traverse flourishing gardens, relax on the lawn, and just take in the city views. After getting some sun, I recommend hitting the city for a spot of high tea at the Westin in Martin Place…

SAMSUNG CSCWESTIN SYDNEY

After so many years of popping in for after-work champagne and cocktail peanuts at the Westin, my sister and I opted for the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea. White-gloved service, Ruinart champagne, a bustling lobby bar, and much to catch up on… it was a wonderfully drawn-out day tinged with lots of nostalgia.

SAMSUNG CSCEASTERN BEACHES COASTAL WALK

Though I went school and university oh-so-close to this area, my return heralded my first-ever walk from famous Bondi Beach to Coogee. No wonder it’s the site of the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. The oceanfront stroll is stunning! A good couple of hours were spent musing, photographing, and scribbling notes. It’s a must do, and I wonder why it took me so long to get there.

Start the walk with a swim and a beverage (champagne?) at Bondi Icebergs Club

Start the walk with a swim and a beverage (champagne, perhaps?) at Bondi Icebergs Club

A little way past Bronte Beach...

A little way past Bronte Beach…

The clifftop Waverly Cemetery has waterfront views.

The clifftop Waverly Cemetery has waterfront views.

SAMSUNG CSCTwenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did… so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain