Sunday, December 28, 2008

Let them wear lipstick!

I predict that 2009 will consolidate the baby-boomer-bashing that has been creeping in, virtually unnoticed by us oldies.

We, who never in our hearts believed that we'd grow old. Certainly we never saw ourselves as growing old like our parents had - being perceived by the younger generations as "past it". But fellow boomers, we are - perceived to be, that is.

I suppose I could hack that. But as well as us being past it, everything is apparently ALL OUR FAULT. ASIF!

Seduction in one click
Reproduced with permission © 2006 ebonWeb
And the worse a problem is, the more our fault it is. There is a positive correlation between the severity of a world problem and the culpability of the boomers.

Global warming, the global economy, the global recession, President George W Bush. It's not our fault about Obama though, not yet ... It's not to our credit either that he's elected. The dividing line between our culpability and the achievement of the younger generations must lie between November 4th 2004 and November 8th 2004.

Look at the Spooner cartoon below. Baby Boomers, the privileged children of the late forties and early fifties. I wish! I was in Australia then. Women received less wages than me for the same jobs. Thousands of refugees from war-torn Europe were settling in Australia, in most cases arriving with nothing.
Here are some family friends of the time, newly arrived in Broome, Australia. The corrugated dwelling behind them was their accommodation.

How quickly did the post-war boom happen? Certainly I was not aware of it till the seventies. When I think of the toys that I and my friends had, I think of perhaps one doll and ball, a Scrabble set and cowboy outfit for my brother, maybe a wire pram for the girl. Oh yes there were also Hula Hoops. The fact that these were popular at all is a sure indicator that our toy selection was meagre. Television was not available in Australia until the first boomers were turning ten. I think my family bought a set when I was 15.

Perhaps the boom years started earlier in the United States, though I have not met any American boomers who had an affluent childhood.

In the seventies some of us started making money. Others started making families. A few did both. We tried to provide for our X-generation babies in a way that our parents had wanted to provide for us, but rarely could.

My own children grew up with more than a ball and hula hoop. Four of us lived on a teacher's salary in the late seventies, early eighties. It was sufficient but in no way affluent. Vacations were camping trips or visiting friends. A typical family had one car.

In the eighties as our children became more self-sufficient and women found it easier to get decent jobs - even as in my own case - careers. There'd be the occasional overseas trip to Bali. We were paying off our homes, paying school fees, renovating.

For baby boomers I think that the nineties was "our time". Except for a brief period in the late sixties and very early eighties when we were young and free and poor, this was the time for ourselves. A brief respite before coping with caring for our elderly parents.

And now? Most of our children are launched though some of us still support a straggler. Most of us are still working, our savings crushed with the economic crisis of 2008.

Yes, life is good. We SHOULD see the cup as half full, though I expect Woody is right when he says it's "half full of poison".

Seriously though, I don't get the Spooners of this world who blame the post-war boomers for the worlds economic ills. When I see a professional, a lawyer, banker, dentist ... they all look about twelve! The people holding up societies infrastructure now are mere babies.

I hope the new year brings more joy economically. It certainly won't hurt us to use less petrol. I remember reading somewhere that when people stop buying, when times are hard, lipstick sales go up. This is seen to be because women want a little luxury, and if they can't afford a new dress or a trip overseas, they'll settle for a new lipstick. At the same time, lipstick fashion colours become brighter and darker. It happened in the Great Depression and its happening now.

So, to the new people coming along, I'm very sorry for what we boomers did - fighting against racial segregation, political and religious persecution, the war in Vietnam, women's rights ...

But you still have your lipstick ... Just make sure that it is eco-friendly and that the tube is bio-degradable and that no animals were harmed during its production.

Perhaps you can use it to paint a few slogans on banners .... after all, it's your world now.

Spooner Cartoon

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Finding Felicity

About one hundred years ago when I was a teenager in Melbourne Australia, my life changed course. Encouraged by my mother, I applied for a place at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School.

I was successful. MacRob was, and still is I think, the main public academic school for girls in Melbourne. Going from a suburban 'feeder' school to MacRob with its uniforms, prestige and location (inner city) was a big thing for a working-class kid from a single parent (albeit left-wing) family. I only knew one other girl starting there and we didn't really know what to expect.

It was strange but exciting. Suddenly I was surrounded by girls from the then Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. We had teachers with names like Mrs Raschka and Madame Lewellis. Life was about learning. There was something more to life after all, something better than post-war, white-bread, black and white, protestant Australia.

I didn't like everything about the school, but I did appreciate the exposure it gave me to a wider world; a world beyond a bigoted Australia grudgingly emerging from the 1950s.

I was a quiet girl, mostly on the sidelines. I'd listen and watch girls whose parents came from war-torn Europe, girls who knew what to read, who actually had a religion - and opinions. How I envied them. I wished I had the confidence to speak to them. They seemed so confident and all-knowing. They excelled.

There was one girl in particular, relatively quiet like myself, whose extraordinary intelligence, attitude to work, and perseverance, struck me. I hardly dared speak to her. I'd listen to her essays and her opinions. I poured over her contributions to the school magazine, Pallas. I saw what a person could achieve. And I never forgot her.

After MacRob and university, we all went our different ways. I traveled. Married. Had two children. Changed careers. Ended up living in New York. The friend I started at MacRob with, now lives in England. We are still in touch. But I've always wondered what became of that girl at MacRob who inspired me - I've always remembered Felicity.

Since growing up, every few years I've made an effort to find her. To no avail. Once the husband of a friend told me he'd been her neighbour as a child, but had lost touch. Other ex MacRob girls I'd meet would draw a blank.

And then last night I found her. She's in Melbourne. I called her from New York. I think she was dumbfounded when I told her why I'd been seeking her.

Me, I wasn't disappointed. She was just as I remembered her. Gracious, intelligent, sensitive and kind.

I'm glad I took the plunge. I'm even proud of myself for being so brave, as it was a bit daunting ... more in the anticipation than the happening.

So I'm writing this to have it sit amongst my Letters from New York, to encourage others - if there's someone you want to acknowledge - DO IT!

And thank you, Felicity.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another Plick in the Wall

She's young, bright, attractive, and is working on Wall Street.

She's also Australian, and that's how I got to know Faith, the junior commodities trader.

We were lunching late at an Alphabet City restaurant, and Faith was describing her new job - only a few week's old - and her week on Wall Street. I asked about derivatives - what exactly are they, and she explained. Interesting stuff but not as interesting as her account of a recent faux pas she'd recently made at work.

Most of us can imagine how competitive life must be on "The Street". Long hours, smart and ambitious collegues, and given the current state of the economy, a level of job insecurity.

Given that, and her determination to make a good impression, plus the American work ethic and the almost Australian edict, "Thou shalt not complain about your co-workers" (Translation: Don't dob on yer mates), it should come as no surprise that Faith was horrified at what she had recently emailed to several people in her office. She'd had a hard week, working till 11:00 p.m. most nights, and so when she discovered that one of those nights had been completely unneccessary, she was justifiably annoyed.

So she emailed the co-worker who'd caused the unnecessary work, CCing the co-worker's manager, her own manager, his manager and god knows who else. "I have no intention of working to ten at night" blah blah. And she hit the send button.

Immediately she'd realised she'd done a "BAD THING". She was mortified.

Did I menton that Faith is Chinese? Well she is, and was born in China, becoming an Australian citizen in her early twenties. Her English is perfect, but she's unaware of a number of Australian and American colloquialisms, and while her 'r's don't sould like 'l's, they dont quite sound like 'r's either.

Sometimes her accent - Chinese-à la Australian is a little hard to understand, and while I got the point of her story, I was too tired and hungry to be totally absorbed in it.

We finished our meal and over the last glass of wine she told me how she'd decided to "make it better". "Don't bother", I told her. "New Yorkers are forgiving people, just ignore it".

"Oh but I already tried", she said. "I sent another email saying I was sorry to be such a plick!"

"Excuse me?" I was shocked. "Why would you say that?" "I was solly [I exaggerate] and I told them that."

Hmmm. I had my coffee while she went on about her manager calling her in to explain that everyone worked long hours and that he understood her frustration etc etc. "I told him sorry to be a plick".

Should I tell her about prick, I was wondering.

Best to just change the subject, less said et cetera. Besides she obviously didn't know the word. "Faith" I said, "just forget it. It's over. Let's talk about something else! I'm sick of the plick thing!"

She looked hurt.

"You are a loser!" she said, obviously not fully understanding the word.

"Well", I replied, "At least I don't call my boss a plick!"

She looked puzzled and asked me what was wrong with it.

I explained and she was mortified, then burst out laughing and so did I.

"I thought it was just like 'jerk'. Is jerk OK to say?" she babbled on.

We paid the bill, left the restaurant and walked through Tompkins Square Park to catch our subways. Every few minutes we'd break into fits of giggles like school-girls. November tourists stared at us. Even the drug-numbed locals emerged briefly from their lands of nod to look at the two women apparently unable even to walk in a straight line because of the laughter wracking their bodies.

"Is plick American or Australian?" Faith asked.

To rub salt into the wound I said "Both: it's the male equivalent of the C-word". "Oh no!" she screamed and shrieked hysterically, setting me off again.

We reached the subway station and parted ways, she to head west, me to head north.

"You'll be OK", I texted her. "You have a lucky star."

"Beep" went my mobile; a message appeared.

"Faith: I do have a lucky star. A crazy risk taker and geek like me. Plick it is."

I smiled to myself. Yes, that gal will do well on "The Street".

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanks For Nothing

Thanksgiving is my favourite American holiday and I don't want to offend any fellow Americans. But here it comes, the big BUT ...

I recently read Richard Ford's "The Lay of the Land". It's a very funny book, all about a man in his sixties who has prostate cancer. Yes, it's hard to believe that a book whose central character has prostate cancer could ever be funny, but it really is. It was actually recommended to me by someone with prostate cancer, so I'm not worried about being politically correct in recommending the novel.

And talking about politically correct - there's a delightful scene in "The Lay of the Land" sending up those re-enactment people who come out in droves in America around major holidays, dressed up in 18th century garb and playing soldiers or Pilgrims. "Inside the (Pilgrim) village they've installed a collection of young Pilgrims - a Negro Pilgrim, a Jewish female Pilgrim, a wheelchair-bound Pilgrim, a Japanese Pilgrim with a learning disability, plus two or three ordinary white kids - all of whom spend their days doing toilsome Pilgim chores in drab, ill-fitting garments, chattering to themselves about rock videos ..."

In the novel there's a group representing the local Lenape Band - "New Jersey's own redskins" who believe they own New Jersey and are setting up to picket the Pilgrims on Thanksgiving Day and carrying placards that say "THANKS FOR NOTHING".

There are Native American events around the U.S. late November, and it is easy to see Thanksgiving as a harvest festival rather than a celebration of "Land of the pilgrim's pride" (from the lyrics of "America the Beautiful") . In New York there's been a Native American Thanksgiving Celebration for past eight years, and other Native American communities observe the last Thursday in November as a "Day of Mourning".

It's hard to believe that less than 200 years ago sentiments such as those in verse 2 (now dropped) of the Australian National Anthem were considered normal.

When gallant Cook from Albion sail'd,
To trace wide oceans o'er,
True British courage bore him on,
Till he landed on our shore.
Then here he raised Old England's flag,
The standard of the brave;
With all her faults we love her still,
"Britannia rules the wave!"

This coming Thanksgiving I'll be celebrating with other Australians at an Australian restaurant in Manhattan. For details of this see The Australians Abroad Calendar.

It is after all, a lovely holiday in spirit if not in history.

Readers of New York

It's fall and aptly named as the leaves are turning red, golden brown and yellow and falling over the steets of New York. Here are some barely hanging on to their branches, on the Upper East Side.

I like the moth-eaten look of the leaves. It goes so well with our moth-eaten city.

Only one "New York Reader" this blog - it's getting a bit to cold for reading at bus stops.

If you don't believe me about the "moth-eaten" have a look at the pavement at my second bus stop on 60th Street.
And it's not likely to get better anytime soon.

Around now home owners in New York city, used to get a $400 property tax rebate check in the mail. Not THIS year! Our Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this month that the city will not be issuing the $400 property tax rebate, this will generate $256 million in additional revenue.

The size of the City workforce will be reduced by over 3,000 employees, approximately 600 through layoffs and the remainder through attrition.

He'll also reduce the peak headcount at the New York City Police Department by 1,000, and fire stations and the education sector will also be subject to cutbacks.

But we do have something to be thankful for - next week for many of us, there's only a three day working week, and plenty of turkey and pumpkin pie!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lost in Transit

Sitting on the Third Avenue bus.
waiting for the sun
If the sun don't come you get a tan
from standing in the English rain

But it's New York 2008, and there's no Beatles, and no Walrus.

Instead the Dow is through the floor and we are lucky to have jobs. Times are tough. It's been a long day's day.

Commuters all, we sit and sit, waiting for our stop to come.

What's this? There's an elderly woman opposite me. She is talking to a golf club! I kid you not.

She bends her face so that her mouth is almost touching the head. "What a bumpy bus. Do you want to walk dear?" she asks tenderly.

The man next to me looks up, distracted momentarily from his Blackberry. A woman opposite stops chatting on her cellphone. An overweight teenager turns the volume down on his Ipod, and stares.

There's a mischievous look in the old woman's eye. Is she having us on?

"Don't worry darling, we'll be home soon", she says to the golf club.

I go back to reading my Kindle. The man next to me answers his Blackberry message. The woman opposite re-kindles her conversation and the overweight teenager turns up his Ipod.

Life goes on.

And that is what I love about this city. We don't expect much. A golf club, a bus, an Ipod, a Blackberry.The karma of acceptance. The stock market might be plummeting, houses might be foreclosed all across the country, Sarah Palin may be a celebrity, but as long as little old ladies can talk to golf clubs on the Third Avenue bus, all is right with the world.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Collector

He's dreaming, Cloquet thought, as he stood over him, revolver in hand. He's dreaming, and I exist in reality. Cloquet hated reality but realized it was the only place to get a good steak." - from Woody Allen, "The Condemned".

My first husband (I LOVE writing that - it sounds like I've had dozens) used to collect cats.

Not just any cat - they had to have something wrong with them. I remember a small grey chap with a ragged ear that reminded me of the frost-bitten rabbit-ear plants that lined the nature strips of my childhood in Bathurst. Another had one eye. Another only one ear. It wasn't that he particularly liked cats, or that he wanted to make them better. I think it was because he thought it made him different and interesting. He aimed to be like Camus' "Outsider", or a minor character in a Dostoyevsky.

It is not uncommon for someone to have a strange husband. I know plenty of them, and I am sure you do as well. A strange husband goes with getting married, being alive, eating. But strange friends?

Last week a friend who I have known for one hundred years phoned me from Australia. It was late in New York, but I picked up the phone thinking there might be some family drama requiring my immediate attention.

I recognized my friend's voice immediately. But what WAS she saying??? "Can I speak to Joe the Plumber?" "It's me! Kate", I replied. "Oh", came her vague answer, "I'm looking for a plumber; there's a problem with my Carlton house." "This is Kate", I reiterated. And added, "Joe the Plumber is a joke person here in the U.S.". That did nothing to deter her and on she went, on and on about some leaking pipe. Whatever ...

I posted this little experience on the - Australians Abroad message board, only to be told by a very serious member of the X generation, that I have "strange friends".

ASIF! My friends aren't so strange. Take Rachel for example. Rachel is a good example as she fits in with last week's "Letter", about men and Home Depot.

Rachel should have been an entrepreneur. She has the knack of getting the best out of any situation, no matter how desperate it is. When she has a tenant she doesn't like she has them committed, and then sells an article to the Sydney Morning Herald on how hard it is to get services for the mentally deranged on a Sunday.

I admire Rachel. In the eighties she bought a run-down house in an inner-city area with a 56% Muslim population. This suited Rachel's political convictions She regards herself as far-left and believes that only the far-left support multiculturalism. Rachel supported the local Muslim community's demand for segregated bathing for women in the communal swimming pool. When I asked her how this stood with her feminism, she looked at me pityingly. I didn't pursue it, as I dreaded being written about in next Monday's Sydney Morning Herald ...

But back to the men and Home Depots. Rachel naturally wanted her house to be renovated. But she couldn't afford it. So she found a new live-in lover, one with a tool-box who belonged to the notorious Builders' Labourers' Federation. This also fitted well with her political convictions.

Nothing unusual so far. But no sooner had the floors been re-sanded and the new family-room built, than Rachel dumped her BLF man.

Within two weeks she had another. This time he was a part-time carpenter and full-time pot smoker. I went there for dinner. "Poor Rachel," he said, "Look at the mess that X made of the floor. It'll need re-doing. I'll also need to re-model the kitchen!"

Which he did. You can guess the rest. His tenure lasted only until the finishing touches were put on the new Jarrah counter-tops.

At the next dinner party I met John. John was a gardener and an active member of Greenpeace. Excellent. He was horrified at how the pot-smoking carpenter had done the floors. "I'll redo it, love", he said to Rachel. And he did.

Others followed. The house is now a delight. Not a capitalist nail in its foundation. Built by honorable men, who remember Rachel fondly.

I have to say, this fondness surprises me. Once I came across one of her former lovers in some shopping centre. After we'd exchanged the usual haven't-seen-you-for-ages comments, he asked me how was Rachel. "Fine", I replied.

"Lovely woman," he mused. "I'll never forget her. A real battler. Single mum doing a great job!"

You can say that again!

Readers of New York

Continuing my "Readers of New York", the following photos were taken on the eve of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

If I Had A Hammer

"I can't imagine him in Lausanne, what is he going to DO there?" she worried. "Do you think there's a Home Depot there?"

She was of course, talking about her husband and their proposed trip to Europe.

Now I don't know the Lausanne equivalent of Australia's "Bunnings" or America's "Home Depot", but I know what my friend meant. And I am sure that the men of Lausanne are no different than the men of New York, or the men of anywhere for that matter. Look at these guys on Second Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan for example.

There's a new subway being built here, "the Second Avenue subway", and unfortunately for me, I live between Second and Third. Second Avenue is a mess, but the local male residents find the digging and construction fascinating. There's always some of them peering through the wire.

And this is what the two men in the photo were looking at. What's the fascination? All I see is mud and men, most of whom are standing around looking at other men.

Perhaps it's the machinery that they like. Trucks and stuff. Memories of Tonka toys ...

Women like me, women of a certain age, can take men in their stride. Very little surprises us. Not so the women of the younger generation. They still have, "Expectations".

The Wall Street Banker and the Connecticut Wife

SHE is the Wall Street Banker. He is looking for a Connecticut wife. Or so we worked out, the two of us, over brunch, over-analysing, over and over.

"He's wonderful and interesting," she introduced him to our conversation. "I really like him". She prattled on. "Great", I replied. "Sounds good". So did the "Oeufs Benedict" as the Lower East Side Cafe pretentiously described them. I looked for the waiter.

"No it isn't great," she continued. A beautiful intelligent young woman, working on Wall Street. "I don't KNOW if he even likes me! He doesn't return my calls." And she went on to describe a relationship of a few months that started promisingly, but has recently faltered.

She described a man who wants a woman to care for, a woman who will live in the suburbs, stay at home and raise his children. A woman who "needs" him. A submissive tee-totaller.

"Doesn't sound like you," I commented dryly. "You're right", she said, "but a person can't have everything".

I was puzzled. "Is he good in bed?" I asked. "Oh no!" came the answer. "He's DREADFUL".

I didn't really want to know anymore, but for some reason I asked if he was circumcised.

"I don't know! I never look at THAT! My God. No way!" The very thought of "it" seemed to shock and repulse her.

We laughed. We walked on. There's always something to look at in New York.

We passed the usual Village people, shoppers, run-aways. People with metal in their nostrils and despair in their eyes. We passed a wedding show-room. "Stop", I said, "I need a photo".

"Is that what you want?" I goaded her, and instantly regretted it. Was I imagining it, or did her eyes fill with tears? I changed the subject and started to walk on. But she lingered and took photos of her own.

"It's not so easy", she told me, "to get a man in New York".

Duly humbled, I hugged her, and we parted. Me to the gym and my newly found healthy life-style.

She to dream of wedding dresses and the loneliness of not having the loneliness of a housewife in a Connecticut suburb.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Last Rites for the Vegemite

Ten days ago I made my final step in becoming a New Yorker - I enrolled in the local gym and got myself a personal trainer.

With black gym-wear and a white hair band I look like everyone else in New York on a Sunday afternoon. Now I only have to master the art of reading while I work the tread-mill, and I'll be a super cool New Yorker.

For those who have not met me in person, this change is something of a miracle and has surprised my friends who cannot comprehend how such a thing could happen.

How did a tea-drinking, chain-smoking, eat-whatever-you-like sort of person turn into a coffee-drinking health freak? How could a woman, who before she came to New York, could never stoop to eating something as wholesome as an apple, now not only eat the things, but own Apple stock. Apple shares that is. I used to think stock was a bunch of cattle, but now I know better. I also used to think that a "CD" was a music album. Now I know it is a "Term Deposit". I put my return address on the FRONT of envelopes and order in instead of take out. I think the F word is part of normal everyday speech and have forgotten in which country to say "napkin" and in which to say "serviette".

I save for my retirement. Oh how easy it was in old OZ. You'd get your pay cheque, bank it, pay a few bills and the one credit card and Bob was your uncle. Maybe put a bit aside for that annual four week holiday in Bali with the kids. Now I have automatic deductions from my pay - into 401Ks, mutual funds, health insurance, travel cards and loan repayments. I used to think a portfolio was a collection of ones paintings. Now I know it is something to worry about. And as for the four weeks in Bali ... don't even go there. Instead, perhaps a long weekend in Kennebunkport. Time permitting of course.

For a while there I made sure that I always had a jar of Vegemite in the fridge, even though I never eat it. Now it's place is taken by a jar of protein supplement - gotta tone up those muscles.

I have stopped referring to Americans as "them". Now they are "we".

Scary stuff!

And now for the next installment of, The Readers of New York

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Ghost Who Walks

A Whiter Shade of Pale

When I was a kid, I used to smuggle comics into my bedroom. Comics were banned in our house. My favorite was the Phantom. "The Ghost who walks cannot die". I used to dream that I could buy myself a Phantom ring by mail order, but I knew the risk would be too great.

I remembered my secret comic days today while watching John McCain on the telly. He looked so white. "He's SO pale!" I remarked to my husband, Joe Six-Pack. "Does he look so pale because he's ill, or because Obama is black?"

McCain reminded me of Casper,the friendly ghost. The "Angry Ghost" more likely. Comic book time. The U.S. elections ...

The Hype that is Art

I read the reviews the other day - oh boy! There was a review of an exhibition somewhere in New York, showing a number of videos taken with a cheap cell-phone, of people looking at pictures in an art gallery.

A couple of the videos were linked to on-line, and so I took a look. Not bad, black and white, Guggenheim backdrop, no sound. Sort of like an early Bergman without the sound or picture quality. The Guggenheim backdrop certainly helped. But after I'd seen one video I'd seen them all. And I wondered.

As I've often done on some of the manifestations of "art" I've seen in Manhattan. I remembered the girl peeling onions in a SoHo performing arts exhibition. A lettuce being mashed by a grinder at the Guggenheim in the nineties. A sign near a ladder in some major gallery, stating, "This is not an exhibit".

How does one get accepted in today's art world? Maybe it's who you know. Perhaps it's the originality of the concept? Or is art now a democratic "right", like the right to arm bears? What could I contribute to "art" of the early 21st century? Obviously talent is not a pre-requisite. And who chooses good art over bad? If the man who exhibited the shredded lettuce had used a used a cabbage, would he have made it to the Guggenheim? What if I wanted to exhibit a work consisting of a ladder and a sign stating, "This is not an exhibit?" And then used my cell phone to make videos of people looking at it? Would that work? I think not.

Hey, what about this? Amateurish photos of "The Readers of New York". I'll add to them over the weeks to come. In truth, it's one thing I really notice about New York commuters - they, like me, love to read. And so here are the first in my series.

The Readers - October 2008

Reade No 3
Stand by - these were all taken within three minutes, at a bus stop on the Upper East Side.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

La Vie en Beige

Memories of memories. It's back in 1996 and it's winter. I'm sitting next to the Aga stove in the house of my earliest friend. Buxton, UK 1997. Two women of a certain age. Once state-school friends, then Mac Rob girls. Working class. Academic. Innocent. Now mothers.

"Remember," my old friend said, "when you taught my mother the word 'beige'? She was describing some TV person's outfit and called it fawn. And you said, 'It is beige!'".

I didn't remember but her memory struck me as true. The 1960's Australia, when fawn became beige, dissent became protest and for the first time in its history, the women of Australia aspired to equality.

Yes Di and I were both working class girls with ambition. Not ambition in terms of high-paying jobs - that would have been beyond our comprehension. But an ambition and determination to leave the world of fawn.

Deeply competitive, we spent our high school years waiting with anticipation for our exam results. I just had to beat Di, and she me. We both did well.

Then university and beyond. And Di and I both left the fawn-beige world behind. Between the two of us we added 10 children to the world. Di definitely won that count - eight to two! We are both now expats.

Looking back we've both done well. And we both still remember the coming of beige - Melbourne circa 1963.

Beige - a non-colour, but always either in, or almost in - fashion.

I once lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. a city exactly two miles square where the buildings cannot exceed a certain height. Giving the city a look of uniformity, only outdone by its citizenry - 28 year olds who uniformly wear beige shorts and white tee-shirts. I found it most disturbing and as soon as I could, moved back to Manhattan where there's black, white and gray, and where the skyline is jagged, and gap-toothed, post 9/11.

I've moved beyond beige. Or so I thought.

Ten year's on from the Aga stove and the memories - it was with surprise that I read in an essay written by my daughter,

"All my heroes had been complete junkies. I relate to the 12 year-old Dando’s vicarious drug use. I too [in my early teens] sought out such literature and music but given the eclectic array of such at my disposal, the only reason I hunted out Jim Carroll’s 'The Basketball Diaries' as opposed to the shelf devoted to Lessing [...] was due to a pre-existing intrigue with drugs and a na├»ve but unwavering inclination if not determination to escape the beige nightmare that was my middle class reality"

"Beige nightmare"? Sure. How about a fawn one? And since when did beige couples with shag-pile beige carpet have bookshelves of books by Doris Lessing? The "Basketball Diaries" - must have been my first husband's choice. He was always into sport.

One woman's beige is another woman's fawn.It just goes to show though - there you go through your life - a rebel at heart - defying the values of your parent's generation. Fighting against war, inequality, racism and injustice.

And after all that - you are beige.

I suppose there are worse outcomes. The Beatles, Warhol, Woodstock, Joplin, Woody Allen, Polanski, Scorsese, the Stones. All beige. Joni Mitchel - beige. Hendrix - beige. The Fugs - beige. Dylan - beige. Velvet Underground - beige, Martin Luther King - a darker beige. Moon Landing - beige. Neal Young - beige. Ingmar Bergman Beige, Robert A. Heinlein - Beige, A Whiter Shade of Pale - very beige.

We boomers are in good company. And so dear friends, I'm left with one thought - "Fellow Baby Boomers - Maintain Your Beige!"

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Playbill: The Australian Cast of the U.S. Election 2008

But first - congrats to our outgoing President, George W Bush. I'm surprised nothing much has been made of what must be the major achievement of his two-term presidency. - The solving of the illegal immigration problem!

The number of illegal immigrants arriving in the United States has dropped from about 800,000 a year earlier this decade to about 500,000 a year from 2005 to 2008(Pew Hispanic Center October 2008).

There's doubt about it - and what's more it was achieved without recourse to any draconian measures. Of course the solution was simple and it's amazing that no one thought of it before.

Make your country unattractive - increase unemployment and ensure that basics like gas and food cost more - and no one wants to come!

Back on topic - Like many others, I've been intrigued by the run up to U.S. elections for the past year and a half. This is my fourth US election experienced in situ. It's interesting itself but ... just what would it be like with ... a cast of Aussies.
I got the idea of an Australian themed U.S. election when I heard Joe Biden's comment comment on Guiliani. Biden: "Rudy Giuliani... I mean, think about it! Rudy Giuliani. There's only three things he mentions in a sentence -- a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There's nothing else! There's nothing else! And I mean this sincerely." Paul Keating redux!

The Rest of the Cast

Some were easy - Kennedy Edward to be played by Edward Gough Whitlam. Both grand old me of yesteryear. Others were more difficult. Take Sarah Palin for instance ...

My first thought was Pauline Hanson. But no, Pauline has no kittenish sex appeal and I can't imagine her winking at the camera Palin-style. Or IS IT a wink. Could it be ... a twitch?

Hanson wouldn't do, which is a pity as their names have the same number of syllables and there's something eloquent about that, if not about the names' owners.

So I thought a bit more and came up with an Australian politician, one that everybody old enough to remember has forgotten about. Cleaver Ernest Bunton. His name even sounds American! But I dismissed him, for although in some ways he was a maverick and although he knew little about his own country's constitution, there the resemblance ends.

Then I got it! No one better to play The Governor of Alaska than our own ... Bindi Irwin. She's got all the qualities. She loves playing to the camera. She's photogenic. Female. I'm sure Bindi could learn to wink if she thought it'd help her TV persona,

and she's always got something to say. So Bindi Irwin it is - and again, the same number of syllables in their names.

Now for Obama - a difficult one. For some reason my first thought was Australia's Andrew Peacock, for his charm. But nothing else fitted. Malcolm Fraser for his arrogance? Maybe, but the politics are all wrong, and Obama looks nothing like an Easter Island statue. Neville Wran perhaps? Probably a bit far to the left for Obama. Bob Hawke was supposed to be charismatic, though I couldn't see it. Same as I don't see Obama's charisma. Both arrogant. Both intelligent and academically successful. Bob Hawke it is.

Last, but not least, we have George W. I couldn't find any Australian politician to equal him. I thought of Jeff Kennett (seen here coming out of his "Rubbery Figures" mold - Nicholson's Sculpture Gallery). Jeff came close with his frequent gaffes. And of both it has been said that they are great blokes to have a beer with. But Kennett was a statepolitician and made no mark nationally.

Unlike Bush who (almost) single-handedly solved the United State's illegal immigration problem.

Maybe Sir Joh Bjelke Peterson who was for many years Premier of perhaps Australia's most Texas-like state.

Australian columnist Phillip Adams, compared Sir Joh with Peter Sellers' character, the moronic Chance, in the movie, Being There: "Both (Joh and Ronald Reagan) have visions as limited as their vocabularies, yet both these grotesque garden gnomes are seen as colossi by their deluded followers. The louder we laughed at them, the more powerful they became. The more improbable their careers, the more certain their ascendancy."

I read the Adams quote, and read it again. And again. Stuck on these words - "The louder we laughed at them, the more powerful they became.

Now why does the image of Sarah Palin pop into my mind?

Hockey Mom, Joe Six Pack, Hockey Mom, Joe Six Pack.

Let the play begin!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Other People's Druggies

I've seen the needle and the damage done - A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's like a settin' sun.
- ©Neil Young 1972

Living in New York, I quite frequently see druggies, or junkies as I prefer to call them, wandering around waiting for their next hit. On subways, on the streets of the East Village, pan-handling on street corners.

Schapelle CorbyI feel absolutely no sympathy for these people. I never give them money. After one glance they are gone from my mind. I also read about them. A few years ago there was a big story in the Australian newspapers. About a young woman, Schapelle Corby, who was arrested for drug smuggling in the Indonesian Island of Bali. Many people felt sorry for her. She was young and attractive. I felt nothing - no pity, no compassion.

I see such people as pathetic, dregs of society people who are all take and no give, weak and selfish people who could not care less about their families. They take up no space in my life. They are other people's junkies.

But - and here's the rub - I am the mother of a junkie. I'm not talking about a kid who smokes a joint or two - but of an adult woman who has been on heroin for almost two decades. Of course, I'm not sure of when she started on the hard stuff. Maybe it's only one decade. Whatever.

I now know terms like "using" and "nod" and the street meaning of "horse". The horse with no name ... A short time ago, my daughter started taking photos of horses. I was pleased. I remembered when she was nine and was, like many little girls, just crazy about horses. We bought her cute little jodhpurs and a riding hat and she took dressage classes. So when as an adult she took horse photos, it was with the typical mother-of-a-junkie denial, that I imagined that she was reliving happier days. Then one morning, out of nowhere, the real meaning dawned upon me.

Unlike my attitude to other people's druggies, my feelings about my daughter are feelings of pity and sorrow. Sorrow for what could have been. I know that she is no different than other people's druggies, but I just do not see her in the same way.

Last night I was talking on the phone to a friend's daughter in Melbourne. She'd recently seen my daughter in Victoria Street there. My friend's daughter, K, was with a bunch of other girls when she spotted her. "She looked out of it," K told me and added, "I said to my friends, "Oh I think I know that person, and one of them said, 'but she's a junkie'".

Out of all the incidents I've heard about, all the late night phone calls I've experienced, it was this one that completed my broken heart.

I see my daughter as a lost soul, wandering the streets of Melbourne. Living a life I cannot comprehend. Eyes glazed. Emaciated. Penniless. Viewed by a bunch of young Melbourne University graduates as, just another junkie.

Yes, they saw what I see in New York. And like me, they continued on their way, without another thought for that lost creature.

I wonder how I can have compassion for my daughter, yet none at all for other people's druggies. My heartfelt wish is that I could view her as I view other people's druggies. Perhaps then people close to me would not see me as weak, a person manipulated my daughter - a mug, and a boring one at that. Because, you see, I can't help talking about her to my friends. I resolve to stop - what use is there in recounting the latest horror? Her being taken into custody by the Victorian police, her nearly burning down my Melbourne apartment, her latest junkie boyfriend who bashes the living daylights out of her, her constantly lying to me?

"Have you thrown her out yet?" I'm asked. "Not yet," I say - I get no brownie points for my compassion. I need to enroll in a "Get rid of your compassion" course.

It's been a long hard road. There's no end in sight. Sometimes I imagine the end. It's the same end as is imagined by her father. We both dread the 3:00 a.m. phone call.

Yes, I picture my daughter, wandering down Victoria Street Melbourne. It's a sunny Australian day. She's out of it. Perhaps she doesn't even know where she is. She doesn't recognise the young blond girl in the bunch of recent Melbourne University graduates. They are chatting about their new jobs, their boyfriends, clothes, the latest movie. They have money in their pockets. Years of study behind them. A future in front of them. One of them comments, "But she's a junkie". They move on.

I wish I could.

You Know You've Been in America Too Long When

Don't people think you CAN been in America too long? There's all sorts of lists - "You Know You've Been in Sweden Too Long", "You Know You've Been in Japan Too Long", "You Know You've Been in Germany Too Long" ... but when I Googled "You Know You've Been in America Too Long " nothing came up.

I will fill the gap. Here is my personal, "You Know You've Been in America Too Long", as well as ... well read on ...
You know you've been in America too long when
you don't know the name of the French President.
if you DO know the name of the French President, you cannot pronounce it.
you go to the bathroom when you aren't having a bath or shower or brushing your teeth.
you don't get surprised when the flight attendant announces, "we will be landing momentarily".
you don't get surprised when the landing-momentarily-plane takes another 90 minutes circling while waiting to land.
you say, "You're welcome" instead of "ta", "no worries" or "prego".
you think $600 per month is cheap for health insurance.

You know you've been in New York too long when
You organize to go to social engagements when you intend to cancel.
You only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day
You give your hair stylist a $20 tip and think nothing of it.
You say "hair stylist" instead of "hairdresser".
You don't even notice that people use the F-word as much as Australians use 'bloody'.
You NEVER say "ta", "prego" or "you're welcome".

You know you've been in America far far too long when
You don't even know that France has a president.
You think CNN is a left wing tv station
You know that a dime is five cents.
You use the phrases, "It's my dime" and "Don't nickel and dime me".
You know it's time to get out of Dodge.

It's time to get out of Dodge!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Stress of Quitting

I'm getting tired of being a social leper. I've sort of decided to quit - smoking that is.

Well, I HAD decided, and I'd always promised myself if I ever did decide to quit, I'd tell nobody. Not a soul. So already I've gone back on my word. This does not augur well!

I used to find militant non-smokers amusing. Such as the bike-hire person who informed the Australian film director Paul Cox, that he could not hire a bike at the beach in Los Angeles. These are "no smoking bikes", Mr. Cox was told.

People standing on a curb, next to a bus exhaust idling toxic gas fumes, and at the same time waving histrionically at a wisp of smoke emanating from my cigarette twelve feet away. Or when I was very young and sharing a house in Carlton, Melbourne, with two young men who thought that loud farts were extremely funny. I could barely breath from their smelly farts. Yet they asked me to not smoke around them. Sure, I told them, when you stop farting, I'll stop smoking. They couldn't. I couldn't. And I smoke to this day.

I think that non-smokers do not understand that we smokers would love to be non-smokers like them. When I took up smoking you could smoke in hospitals, on airplanes and in the UK in theaters. You could smoke on Melbourne trams. In university staff meetings. I can't think of anywhere you couldn't smoke. So heaps of us took it up, not knowing that one day we'd be social lepers.

The more people would rant, the more I wouldn't even think of quitting. Drunk SUV living-in-the-suburb people at dinner parties scorning the few of us left, who would politely go outside for our fix.

Then it really started. Some time in the eighties. Before it was forbidden by law to smoke in public buildings, a number of non-smokers started putting up signs up in their offices, "No Smoking". A friend of mine put up a sign, "Only people smoking allowed to enter".

Yes we KNOW that it's bad for you. It's disgusting actually. It stinks out one's home, clothes, hair, lungs, and costs a heap. You think we LIKE it? No way. We are addicts and every smoker I know freely admits this.

So it was an unexpected moment two weeks ago, when I decided to decide to quit. The date for actually quitting - 9/9/2008. I chose that date as I don't have to remember whether to write the month first (American) or second (rest of the world). I'd read about Chantix - a medication that supposedly takes away the urge to smoke. It's prescription only.

My first step was to make a doctor's appointment. I had to wait two weeks, so needless to say, my enthusiasm had somewhat wilted by the time of the appointment arrived. But I turned up, nevertheless.

I explained my need to my doctor. She was keen and started to write the prescription, then hesitated. "There's been reports of this making some people suicidal", she murmured. She was clearly torn by thoughts of a law suit and upholding her Hippocratic oath. She handed me the script.

Next to the pharmacy. Rite Aid. Corner 96th and Second, Manhattan. DO NOT GO THERE UNLESS YOU HAVE TIME ON YOUR HANDS!

I waited and waited to hand in my script. The attendant was packing boxes and made it quite clear that the customers should wait till she'd finished. Which she eventually did. "That'll be ready in two hours where's your health insurance card write your name address, phone number, date of birth, social security number and health insurance number on the back of the prescription", she said without drawing a breath. Clearly she was not a smoker.

I did as she required, and asked could they deliver as I was busy and didn't want to go back in two hours. "Yeah", she replied and blew a gum bubble, "where do you live?" I showed her what I'd just written.

"Credit card number", she retorted. I obliged. And off I went to work.

Four hours later. No delivery. I phoned the pharmacy (did I tell you NOT TO GO THERE?)

"Name?" I told them. "Please hold." I did. Four minutes later, "What did you say your name was?" I repeated it. On hold for five minutes. "Oh the prescription is here. You must have told one of our young people; they never remember", he said as if it was I who was at fault.

No worries, I'll come now, I said and dutifully turned up at Rite Aid. Corner 96th and Second, Manhattan. There was a line (queue). When it was my turn I gave my name and was greeted with a blank look. So I said it again. "Do you have a prescription?" said the helpful Rite Aid attendant. It occurred to me he was nothing like the friendly pharmacist in Rite Aid's TV ads. I explained, and to cut a long story short as I wish no one the horror of my ordeal, I got to the stage of him finding the packages of Chantix.

All over? No such luck. "The computer can't read your health card". "Why not?" "You have the wrong date of birth." "Do not." "Do so." On and on.

So there I was, arguing and stressed, trying to convince my friendly pharmacist that I was not born seven years later than my own daughter. Another customer, a big-bossomed woman with long-flowing hair, was also having trouble. They thought her birthday was wrong too. "They think I'm 29", I told her. She shrugged. They thought she was her own son. At one stage they asked her for her sex. I kid you not.

In the end it was all sorted out, if you call paying out $240 being sorted out. After all the fuss about when I was born, I was told it wasn't covered by my insurance anyway.

But wait, I couldn't take the package. The labels had to be re-done. "Why?" I asked. "My birthday isn't on them". "But they are wrong", I was told. It being late in the day I accepted that. I wasn't up to arguing any more. I was exhausted.

And of course I was dying to get away from the place. To step outside. And smoke a cigarette.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

How Could Anyone NOT Love New York?

"What a wonderful thing, to be conscious! I wonder what the people in New Jersey do."
Woody Allen "No Kaddish for Weinstein" 1975
"These little town blues, are melting away
I'll make a brand new start of it - in old New York
Frank Sinatra (born New Jersey) "New York, New York"

I have a friend who truly believes there is no culture in America. He's not otherwise an unintelligent man, but there's nothing on earth that will convince him otherwise. He lives in a small city in Europe which I am sure thinks is the center of civilization.

I've given up arguing with him, as there's no point. But every workday I wake up in an apartment within walking distance of the Guggenheim. Andy Warhol had his town house not far from here. I walk past the Serendipity Café where Warhol sold his drawings in the sixties. And then over the Fifty Ninth Street Bridge of "Feeling Groovy" Simon and Garfunkel fame. Crosby, Stills and Nash played in Central Park last month. And tonight there's a revival of "Hair" in Central Park. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's works are featuring at the Museum of Modern Art this month ...

New York, home of Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allan Poe, George Washington, Paul Newman, Jacqueline Onassis,Humphrey Bogart, Lauran Bacall, Robert De Niro, Jane Fonda, Art Garfunkel, Whoopi Goldberg, Stanley Kubrick, Carly Simon, Robert Strassburg, Lou Reed, Al Pacino, Eugene O'Neill, Bob Dylan, Neil Simon, Chris Rock, Meryl Streep, Andy Warhol, Denzel Washington, Frank Sinatra, Peter Carey and John Lennon.

But it's not the sheer number of cultural events, or the hundreds of famous citizens that New York can call its own, that I love about New York. It's the people, the buzz of the place, and the fact that any time, day or night that I can emerge from my comfortable cocoon that is our apartment, onto a street full of activity and life.

There's a history to the place, not the far-away history of old Europe with is gray cobblestones and medieval churches, but the history of my own culture. John Lennon, pop art, Dylan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Blondie, Michelle Shocked and CBGBs. Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon". Peter Cary and his recent novel, "Theft". Woody Allen's "Manhattan".

Yes we live in tiny apartments, but the city is our playground. The boundaries of our lives are not merely the office and "home". The city of New York is our home. Our apartments are where we eat, sleep and recover from the hectic life in our playground.

And it's not all ghosts of the past haunts of Dylan, Bogart and Warhol. It isn't just the feeling of what WAS here - that awe-inspiring feeling that you get when walking in Shakespeare's footsteps down Southwark Street in London, or visiting Stonehenge, the Colosseum or Carthage. New York is about NOW.

It's not about ruins, although our gap-toothed skyline has its own. It's been only seven years since we lost out Twin Towers - the city sprang back into action, within days. It is about the vibrancy that is the city, the humor, the people, the diversity, the wealth and the run-down subways. The contradictions that that exist everywhere but are blatant in New York; not hidden under the carpet as if things of shame.

We are what we are. We don't have heaps of friends, we don't have dinner parties and picnics and drinks after work. We don't have "friends". But we do talk to the person sitting next to us on the bus. We chat to the doorman, the janitor, the people on the subway platform, other patrons after a movie, our fellow customers at Bloomingdales and bodegas. There's a democracy of strangers which is human contact nevertheless.

New Yorkers speak up. They don't avert their eyes like people on a London tube; they confront. We have our "New York moments".

The last one I had was on Thursday, on a bus going up Third Avenue. A very elderly black man got on the bus round Sixtieth Street. He sat down on one of the few remaining seats. For the next ten stops he gave up his seat ten times - for a pregnant woman, elderly ladies, a very fat forty year old, a boy on crutches ... anyone slightly not quite up to standing. Eventually he sat down next to me, only to give his seat up yet again, to a man with a cane. "I'm getting off soon", said a woman two seats away, "You take my seat". No sooner had she stood up than a young woman slipped into her seat and the elderly black man remained standing. "It's OK", he said. "No it isn't", said the woman who was about to get off. She spoke to the seat-taker. "This man has give his seat ten times. Stand up and give him that seat!" The young person hesitated, glued to her IPod. "Give him the seat!" chorused about six nearby passengers!" And eventually she did.

Reluctantly the elderly man sat down, and there were tears in his eyes. "I get sad when people are kind", he explained. "But you deserve it," a man opposite called out. The elderly man was wearing an Akubra hat. "I like your hat", I said to lighten things up and to distract him from his tears. "It's Australian", he told me, "like Crocodile's". "Where did you get it?" I asked. "In New York of course", he answered. "You can get everything here. I love this city".

So do I.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rural Legends

For the last four days I've been laid low - some allergy or virus - who knows. And let me tell you, it's no fun being unwell in New York. Four whole days and almost no human contact. The anchors on CNN are starting to seem like my friends. Even Obama started to look like a friendly face. I saw McCain had a new band-aid and was saying melanoma wasn't so bad. "Right on", I called out to his sad TV face. As for Nancy Grace, her warmth and empathy fairly burst from screen.

I have had about five phone calls. Three from my husband who is 12,000 miles away in Bass Straight, Australia. But they've been brief and full of static - Australia's Telstra is not known for its reliable connectivity. Two calls from work. And yes, that's it. I started to wonder what would happen if I died. I took to cleaning the house at night in case I was found dead the next day - I have my pride! I went to bed each night worrying what the discoverers of my body would think if I hadn't stacked the dishwasher. I remembered my mum warning me always to wear clean underwear, "just in case".

Tonight, as I made my first meal in a hundred hours - a cheese omelet, I pondered my life. What if I became really sick? Would I stay here, in Manhattan? Surely I'd "go home". But the "home" people hadn't called either. They think of me as a "successful New Yorker", an "American" who has betrayed her country. My children have their own lives. My husband is working on a boat.

Perhaps if I was resident in Australia. Perhaps then. I thought back. And suddenly, out of the blue I remembered a day - a day and a night and half another day, actually.

One Sunday. Bendoc, Victoria - a one-horse town on the border of New South Wales. A few houses belonging to the policeman, the teacher and what was then called "The Forestry Commission". A few locals. And a one-teacher primary school where my husband was the teacher.

It was a Sunday. I was eight and three quarter months preggers. Our first child. So we - Philip and I decided on a drive - perhaps our last before the baby was born. It was the beginning of winter. We set off down the winding dirt Bendoc - Orbost Road and took a turn into a side road somewhere or other. The side road deteriorated the further we went. After six K we stopped to turn back.

In turning, the car bogged. It was almost six p.m. and getting dark. A sign nearby warned of wolves.

We were city people. No one was around. We hadn't passed a building in miles. We started to walk, back.

When it was almost pitch dark, we decided to stop. I was getting stomach cramps. Philip remembered a hut he'd seen on the turn-off as we were driving. We walked on.

We found the hut. No insulation, no warmth, no electricity but it did have a door so we could lock the wolves out.

"Don't worry", he said, "when school starts in the morning they'll see we aren't there, they'll see the half-drunk teacups on the table, the door ajar, and they'll send a search party".

I believed him. So did he. We were both wrong!

The sun came up. "Let's walk", he said. "We'll meet them coming toward us".

And so we did. We walked and walked and walked. I was fortified by memories of newspaper reports about the Australian "digger" spirit, country hospitality, the way people in the country actually care for their neighbours, unlike the unfeeling "city folk". What would they think when they found their teacher and his pregnant wife missing when school started that Monday morning?

Well, nothing actually. No one came. We walked, and walked and walked. Even when we came to the town, there was no one waiting at its borders. We got to the school house. Children were playing in the school yard. I collapsed. Then slept. Philip went over to his classroom.

"Why are you so late?" the kids asked. "Why did no one look for us?" he answered.

Yep, maybe New York is not so bad. Country Australia, urban America, viva l'indifférence!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

All Tip and No Iceberg - When the Rubber Hits the Road

The Men
"Australian slang is part of the beautiful cultural value of this nation." - Bindi's Mum

"Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages" - Dave Barry

We Australians are known to pride ourselves on our "colorful language". From Bazza McKenzie with his "technicolour yawn" in the 1970s, Paul Keating and his "scumbag" insults in the nineties, to Andrew Hansen - best illustrated in the Eulogy video clip (below right).

War Against Everything - Eulogy
Classified 'M' [very course language]

But there is something endearing in American English's disregard of grammar and its unfettered creativity demonstrated in a multitude of ever-changing expressions.

I like the way adjectives turn into nouns, as in, "I don't like hot", and nouns such as "diary" verbing into diarize". Dropping the intransitive verb completely, as in saying to the cat, "Do you want out?"

Perhaps it is because Americans have no time to form complete sentences. So they just say anything. And if a more complex thought needs to be expressed - one that may need more than one sentence, there's often an idiomatic expression to substitute for it. Such as in the following except from an IBM database magazine.

"The Rubber Meets the Road -
How will DB2 Viper's hybrid XML-relational data server work in the real world? You can join the customers and partners who are revving the engine, kicking the tires, and checking performance and handling. Here's what to look for when you take it out for a spin."

I also like, "Am I about to step off the curb or step off the Grand Canyon?".

But sometimes I wonder - how would a modern American express, Jane Austin's first sentence in "Pride and Prejudice"? - "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife"?

Or a 21st century Australian, for that matter? I can't imagine. Few people nowadays take care in sentence construction. We don't have the time. I don't think it's an English thing, an Australian thing, or a US thing. It's a twenty first century thing.

We are not into words right now. Our dinner party conversation don't measure up to those of Austin's heroines - or even the of the Beatles. Who was it said, "The media is the message"? Some sixties person no doubt. This is the time of the Obama-Michelle fist bump, of icon hieroglyphic symbols instead of words, of touch screens and ativars.

Meanwhile, I love the American language, a shorthand for thinking. Words that are halfway between perfectly formed sentences and Egyptian hieroglyphics,

Way to go ...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Purity, Innocence and Pornography

In the fifties and early sixties, the first exodus of young Australians set the stage for future generations to travel overseas after graduating from university.

Among them were Clive James, Germain Greer and Richard Neville - all of whom became successful in later life.
I wasn't in that wave of young aussies. But I was in the next - following the hippie trail through south east Asia, the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East and Europe, to end up in "Swinging London".

Why did we leave? For many of us we left to get away from the insularity and parochialism of Australia. I remember when Lady Chatterly's Lover was banned. When the copy of Michelangelo's David had his genitals covered with a fig leaf in Melbourne's Myer department store. And when a story book for sick children was banned because of its title, "Fun in Bed".

Sometimes I meet Aussie Expats who traveled and stayed overseas, mostly in London. Or I read about them in the press. People like Greer and James who remember Australia as it was in the sixties. A waspish country, the land of "the White Australian Policy" - Arthur Calwell saying, "Two Wongs Don't Make a White". New South Wales Premier Robin Askin surrounded by Vietnam protesters, telling his driver to "Run the bastards over".

I've argued with such friends, and shrugged of the remarks of Greer and her like. What would they know of Australia? They've hardly set foot in the place for any length of time for years. Australia has changed...

And it had. But now?

Recently the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Kevin Rudd - a man most of has had great hopes for - stepped into the Bill Henson debate. Henson is an Australian photographer of world renown. His art has been exhibited world-wide, including in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Venice Biennale, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

Many of his works have as their subjects, adolescent girls and boys - "in their states of despair, intoxication and immature ribaldry" (Ashley Crawford, Bulletin).

But Prime Minister Rudd recently publicly condemned the photographer’s work, as "absolutely revolting", after the press took up the story of Henson's May exhibition being canceled following eight individual complaints made to police voicing concerns about an email invitation from the Gallery to a "Private View" that depicted an explicit photographic image of a nude 13-year old girl.

It makes me wonder. Is "wowserism" alive and kicking in Australia?

Rudd appears to be objecting largely on the grounds that the subject are not able to "consent" to their images becoming publicly available. And of course to the nudism. But where is the nudism here? -

Mr Rudd rcently slammed an art magazine's decision to publish this photograph of a six-year-old girl, taken by Australian photographer Polixeni Papapetrou of her daughter Olympia, on its cover.

"A little child cannot answer for themselves about whether they wish to be depicted in this way," Mr Rudd said. "Frankly, I can't stand this stuff."

I just don't get it. The depiction of the child is hardly "nude". How many of us have photographed our children and put the photos, running half naked under the hose on the front lawn, at the beach, being breast-fed? And we've posted them on-line at Flickr, Smugmugs etc.? Did we ask our children's permission? The photos are kinflicks! Surely a parent can consent for their own child. Surely a parent can make public, photos of their kids. Or do we have to analyse them in case some pervert might drool aver them.

No, Mr Rudd, the problem is not with the parents or the photographers - it is with people who see the bad things in the innocent. After all, you have to be pretty sick to see innocent photos of innocent children as pornographic.

You are attacking and condemning the wrong people.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Happy Country

The Happy Map
A group of academics at Leicester University, have managed to attract headlines with a "happy map". It's meant to tell us which countries are "happy"

It doesn't mean much. I tried hard to find the details of the researcher's methodology - but it's been buried somewhere beyond the reach of inquiring minds.

What IS amusing about the "happy map" is that Denmark comes out on top with a score of 273. Australia scored 243 and the U.S 247.

Denmark? I can't believe it. I'd just finished reading about the "Happy Map" when I came across an article about Muslim scarves and the Danes. A Veiled Threat.

Apparently a beauty pageant and a proposed law have Danes locking horns over one potent symbol of Islam: the headscarf. Virtually all sides of the political spectrum in the happiest country in the world are up in arms over Denmark's first "Miss Headscarf" pageant.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen's Liberal Party sees the competition as anti-democratic and woman-hostile.

Many imams have criticised the pageant as disrespectful to Denmark's 200,000 Muslims. Scarves are OK, but wearing them in pageants is not.

And all this follows on from a nationwide debate over whether judges should be allowed to sit on the bench while wearing the headscarf, or hijab. The fact that there are no female Muslim judges in Denmark, and in fact there are not even any on the horizon, is beyond the point ...

The best comment came from Liberal Party MP Eyvind Vesselbo. "Muslims feel yet again that they are being trampled on, that they are not welcome, that they are not liked," he said, insisting that delaying integration "goes against the interests of society".

Now I'm not a great supporter of beauty pageants, head-scarved or non head-unscarved. But surely Mr. Vesselbo, integration is not best served by advocating non-integration.

But forget the spoil-sports, Huda Falah (the WINNER). I hope you got a good prize. And it's a great scarf.

And what about Miss Hot Legs - Nigeria, Miss Motor Pageant Italy and Miss Nude Australia.

My favorite though is

Now that's what I call, HAPPY!