A land where the trains always run on subjective time. Stories and reflections by Fred Warren.

Brisbane – First Look — July 22, 2015

Brisbane – First Look

Entrance to Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and my first impression of Brisbane was very good indeed. It may have helped that I was a little punchy after 15 hours in the air, plus a 3-hour layover in Los Angeles enroute to Australia. It might have been that second cup of coffee right before landing. It might even have been the adrenaline rush of finding myself in a place absolutely new to me. Whatever the extenuating circumstances, I liked it immediately.

Traffic was light riding in from the airport at about 8 a.m. Brisbane time, temperature was about 72 degrees F, with a light breeze and sunny skies. My employer mercifully granted us our first day in-country to re-synch our internal clocks and settle in, so I had time for a little exploring before my body remembered it had been mostly awake for over 24 hours and crashed me.

BrisbaneHaving done a bit of what the Army calls “route recon” before the trip, I knew my hotel adjoined Brisbane’s Riverwalk, which provided a nice straight-line path to the Botanic Gardens, about a 15-minute walk. Seemed as good a destination as any to begin with, so I tossed my bags in the hotel room, pausing a moment to gasp at the magnificent view of the river and downtown (see the previous post), and set off.

As you can see from the map here, central Brisbane is dominated by the Brisbane River. The city is in some ways defined by it. The s-shaped curve of the waterway sets limits on how traffic can move about the city and where things can be built. It favors vertical rather than horizontal expansion. A network of public ferries, including a fleet of sleek, modern catamarans, zigzag up and down the river, connecting the north and south banks. The Riverwalk hugs the river on both sides and is a magnet for pedestrians, joggers, bikers, and skateboarders.  Does everybody in Brisbane enjoy a vigorous daily workout? Probably not, but the steady stream of well-toned athletes who passed me on the Riverwalk offered convincing evidence that this wasn’t a city of couch potatoes.

story_bridgeStory Bridge is a major point of interest on the river, an impressive sight by day and lit by an array of lights at night that seem to vary in color depending upon which local sports team has a game on. The adventuresome tourist can even book a guided expedition along the bridge’s maintenance catwalks to the top of the span, but that particular attraction was beyond the limits of my time and budget for this trip. Perhaps next time. Or not.

As for the Botanic Gardens, a fixture in this town since its early history, it was every bit as expansive and beautiful as I’d hoped. Even in the Australian mid-winter, it was lush and green, dotted with tropical flowers, palm trees, ponds, and fountains.


There were dark, thick, mysterious groves of bamboo and the occasional bit of sculpture hidden in a quiet refuge off the main pathways. Birds were abundant—rainbow-dipped lorikeets, ibises, ducks, ravens, and even the occasional brush turkey, a bit smaller and leaner than our American Thanksgiving fixture, but clearly part of the same family.


My energy lasted longer than I expected, and I completed a loop of the central district, crossing a footbridge over the river and passing through the water park and museum campus arrayed along the south bank. I spent more time there on the last day of my visit, so I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Brisbane Calling — July 19, 2015

Brisbane Calling

BrisbaneMy work has taken me to Australia, of all places, for the past couple of weeks. As usual with these trips, I try not to talk much about where I’m going and what I’m doing, except to close friends and family, because there’s a certain amount of sensitivity and necessary security involved. It’s simply prudent to not go about broadcasting the fact that you’re working on a multinational military exercise in Country XYZ these days, at least not until it’s all over. As it turned out, this one was trumpeted across Australian mass media almost from the outset. So much for security. Ah, well…it’s the Information Age, after all.

Anyhow, this was my very first journey to The Land Down Under, so even staring down the barrel of 15 hours flight time across the Pacific, in coach, I was pumped about this trip, and Australia did not disappoint.

We stayed in Brisbane, a less-than-familiar town to your average Ugly American, who probably knows something about Sydney, what with its iconic Opera House and the 2000 Summer Olympics, and  The Rescuers Down Under; might possibly recognize Melbourne, owing to another Olympic Games held there once upon a time; but Brisbane? Brisbane lands in the bucket with that other city whose name nobody can remember because they think Sydney is the capital. To the under-informed foreign tourist (and perhaps more than a few Australians, judging from the newspapers), Brisbane is Sydney’s country-bumpkin adopted sister, never quite able to escape the glare of her step-sibling’s incandescent glory.

My mind kept returning to that egregious exchange in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where King Caspian, chatting with Lucy Pevensie, tersely dismisses the Narnian market in royal consorts—and one candidate in particular:

“Squints, and has freckles.”

“Oh, poor girl,” Lucy replies in nonjudgmental empathy, rather than dealing Caspian a sharp rap to the nose for being a shallow twit.

Caspian eventually meets and weds Sydney the incandescent daughter of a living star. Go figure.

south_beach_brisbaneBut I found Brisbane instantly charming—a vibrant, bustling community that needs apologize for nothing. Even the downtown precincts are clean and sparkly. Citizens are friendly, courteous, optimistic, and unabashedly sports-crazy. Brisbane’s big enough to have all the attractions and conveniences of a world city but hasn’t lost the common touch.

If Brisbane squints, it’s because she’s embracing her history while steadfastly focusing her vision on the horizon. If she has freckles, it’s because her people spend so much time enjoying the southern sun’s toasty radiance. Brisbane is comfortable in her own skin, and that’s a quality surpassing any superficial measure of refinement or star-quality. I like focus and freckles.

As usual, my work schedule didn’t allow much time for touristing, but I managed to see quite a lot, I think, in what time I did have. It helped that Brisbane is very pedestrian-friendly and has an excellent public transportation network of buses, trains, and ferries. Brisbane is a river city, and the ability to travel both along and across the river, in particular, can turn a long, circuitous plod into a quick jaunt.

There’s much more to say about Brisbane, and I’ll be posting it in installments rather than one enormous bite. Most good things are best enjoyed that way.

Like this delicious blueberry scone.




Short Takes — March 9, 2014

Short Takes

Because I’m on the road, and there’s no time for long takes.

Francis MarionWhere Did the Fox Live? Right here. I’m on a work trip in South Carolina, home of one of my boyhood heroes, Revolutionary War commando Francis Marion, aka “The Swamp Fox.” This region is full of marshy pine forests where Marion and his irregulars led the Redcoats a merry chase and employed innovative guerrilla tactics to sustain Colonial resistance in an area that had been practically given up as lost to the British. The U.S. Army Rangers trace their origins, in part, to Francis Marion.

His life and military career are not free of controversy—he was a slave owner and participated in a brutal campaign against the Cherokee during the French and Indian War, details absent from the laudatory, romantic biography I found in my school library.

avatar_rift_1Still Saving the World: NetGalley is a cool service that connects reviewers to publishers by providing access to electronic advance review copies of new books—including graphic novels and comic books. Dark Horse Comics has been running a popular graphic novel series based on Avatar: The Last Airbender for some time now that continues the story where the television show left off, and I snagged a NetGalley review copy of the latest installment, The Rift, Part One, written by Gene Luen Yang (whose 2-volume graphic novel Boxers and Saints I reviewed here a few weeks ago) and drawn by Japanese comic art team Gurihiru.                .

Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and a trio of Air Acolytes witness the seating of the first coalition government with representatives from both Fire and Earth Nations, then they travel to a sacred site to celebrate an ancient Air Nomad festival—but trouble’s waiting for them. Aang runs headlong into an unexpected conflict between his desire to resurrect his lost Air Nomad heritage and his vision of global unity among the Nations, and Toph stumbles into emotional tension between her past and present lives. It’s an intelligent, entertaining story that ends with a juicy cliffhanger.

Story, characters, and art preserve the feel and appeal of the original and continue to nicely fill the gap between ATLA and The Legend of Korra while weaving a tale that stands quite well on its own merits and strikes a good balance between thoughtful interaction among the characters and dynamic action. The Rift, Part One hit the streets just a few days ago—if you’re a fan, or if you’re simply looking for a solid fusion of comic art and storytelling in an intriguing speculative universe, pick up a copy.

nodamecantabileMusic Hath Charms: Hardworking, prickly perfectionist Shinichi Chiaki wants to achieve his dream of becoming a symphony conductor, but his abrasive introversion is holding him back from greatness. Lazy, childish Megumi “Nodame” Noda is a piano prodigy, but it looks like she’ll never come close to fulfilling her potential. Can these two misfits somehow supply each other’s missing pieces and make beautiful music together?

Not a chance.

Well, maybe there’s a glimmer of hope. Nodame Cantabile is a cute romantic comedy filled with wonderful classical music, but this anime suffers from stereotyped characters and uneven animation quality. Megumi is embarrassingly ditzy and infantile through most of the early episodes, though she gains depth as the story develops, and Shinichi begins as such a dismissive jerk that he threatens to be completely unsympathetic, though he also gains humanity and likability as we learn more about him. Bottom line, there’s an infectious thread of joy and love for the masterpieces of classical music woven into this series, and given a little patience, it’s a fun watch. 24 episodes, English-dubbed, free-streaming on Crackle.

jesus-of-nazareth-2On the Down Low: Lent is here again, but I won’t say anything about how I’m observing it this year, other than to note I’m reading the second volume of Joseph Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth—Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, which I intended to read last year at this time but did not. It’s a bit more theologically dense than the first volume, which focused on Jesus’ ministry years, but it’s well worth the effort. I’ll post a complete review after I’ve finished it.

You can find my reflections on Lent, and devotional resources from previous years, here.


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