Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sleeping in the City that Never Sleeps

A Qantas flight. Sitting in the emergency exit seats. Two female flight attendants buckle up opposite us as the plane prepares for landing at JFK. The usual small talk. "Where do live?" "We live in New York," I answer.

"How wonderful", the flight attendant opposite me answers. "Going to Broadway shows every week!"


When I first came to New York I made sure that I saw a Broadway show or two - but every week? I don't THINK so. In fact the only time I see anything at all of the island, is when I show a visitor around. And of course on my daily commute to Queens and back.

So, what DOES a woman of a certain age DO in Manhattan in her spare time?

The answer is - SLEEP.

I think most New Yorkers sleep-in on the week-ends. I think this, because on the rare occasions that I've been up and about early on a Saturday, the shops have all been closed. I used to think that everyone was asleep because they'd been out partying, our attending shows. Now I'm not so sure.

I was an insomniac before I lived here. A good night's sleep was something I NEVER experienced. I'd toss and turn until around four in the morning and then doze off, only to awake around six.

New York has cured me of insomnia. In fact, sleeping is now my favourite activity. I have become a connoisseur of sleep.

Before living in New York I saw sleep as an unattainable boring thing. Something akin to death. A just not-being-there sort of thing. A negation of the experience of living.

But this is not the case at all. There are all sorts of sleep. And by that, I don't mean the scientific categories of REM and NREM sleep; I mean the different types of sleep experiences.

My favourite type of sleep is the starting-at-eight-in-the-morning-weekend-sleep, when you drift between a state of dreamy wakefulness and actual sleep. When you hope that the phone won't ring or that there'll be any other distraction to jolt you from the floating bliss into the harsh reality of being fully conscious.

Then there's those few moments before sleep when thoughts become vague and almost meaningless. One minute you are thinking about a work meeting and the next you are wandering in a meadow picking daisies. And by the time you realise how silly this is, you are out of it and darkness truly descends.

The most annoying sleep-type is the being-asleep-with-the-telly-still-on. This type of sleep is not at all restful. Dreams tend to blend in with the telly, ... or is it the other way around? The drifting an and out of this type of sleep is not pleasurable like the starting-at-eight-in-the-morning-weekend-sleep, especially if you've left the telly on CNN. Not in my dreams, Obama!

Last week a Melbourne friend emailed me about such a sleep. We'd been discussing movies about Alzheimer's.

"... We had visitors and red wine and after they left post 1.a.m. I watched "Away from Her" in a drunken haze and kept nodding off and having to rewind so many times that the lines became blurred between Julie Christie's condition and mine!"

I know the feeling ...

The worst type of sleep, isn't really sleep at all. But it deserves a mention. I call it the post-sleep-horror. And it's when you wake up thinking that whatever you just dreamed is real. Another friend of mine had a terrible post-sleep experience several year's ago. She dreamed she had brain cancer. When she woke up she made a cup of tea and sat down to work out the best course of action. Should she tell her family? Should she go for treatment? Or should she act like it hadn't happened and continue a normal life until the inevitable? It wasn't till eleven o'clock that she realised it was just a dream.

The other morning I had a similar experience, although fortunately it didn't last for hours. But for at least ten minutes I believed that the dream I'd had prior to waking was real. I was in a really bad mood. I'd dreamed my husband had bought a twelve feet high ceramic camel. "Where on earth does he think we'll put it!" I mumbled to myself.

The phone rang. It was him, phoning from a ship on Australia's Bass Strait where he works. "Oh, it's you", I snapped, "now about that camel ..."

"No", I told the Qantas flight attendant as the plane touched down at JFK, "most New Yorkers don't go to Broadway shows every week". I should have added, "We don't need to!"

Saturday, May 24, 2008

and then snow flew everywhere

"Bloody photos!" he emailed after describing a long ago Christmas in the London snow. By chance he'd come across an old photo and was describing it to me. It was of us - me, him, another couple, making sexual snow figures in a street in Golders Green a million years ago. "You and Val made snow breasts and Ray and I made snow dicks and then snow flew everywhere."

Going through old photos, moments of pure mentalese1 - words being unnecessary and in fact, insufficient to describe the memories invoked - transport us back into half-forgotten worlds of pleasures remembered with a painful sense of loss.

And for the long-term expat, these memories are distanced not only by time, but by place.

I recently came across this photo when I was cleaning out some old boxes. I wonder who took it. The composition is excellent, and there it was wedged between appropriately out-of-focus photos of people long since gone from my own or my family lives and memories.

I recognised the girls in the foreground. The little swimming one is myself and the one on the right of me is little Jeanette Griffiths. I wonder where she is now ...

Summer in Australia - the days of those seemingly never ending Christmas holidays. A world away from Manhattan 2008. A world away from Manhattan 2008.

Whether photos evoke happy or sad memories, why do they make us feel a sense of poignancy when we look at them? They remind us of our lost youth, of the comparative innocence of us way back when. So distant are our old selves in the photos, that they may as well be of other people.

I'm going to put all my old photos on my Flickr. Then I'll throw them all out - well not the ones of my children, my weddings. And I'll have to keep the ones of my mum ...

And while I'm at it, I'll throw out or give away all my books. Well, maybe I'll keep that old battered "Crime and Punishment". And my D.H Lawrence's ... Anything I want to read will go on my Kindle.

If only I could get rid of it all, but the past clings.

I shall cleanse the past by assigning it to digital media, to a pristine series of zeros and ones.

Nice and clean. In the words of Dory Previn,
"... a bloodless death
Not grim
Not gory
More like Ali Macgraw’s new enzyme detergent demise in 'Love Story'"

Far-off beaches in black and white, London snow on Christmas days, people long forgotten staring back at me from dog-eared photos - into the hard drive you go!

Bloody photos!

1.Mentalese:A hypothetical language in which concepts and propositions are represented in the mind without words.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Letter from New York is now a blog

For years I've pondered turning Letter from New York, which started many years ago, into a blog. You'll still be able to see the old style Letter from New York HERE, and I'll be putting a link at the side.

Why now? Well Letter from New York has been quiet of late, and I THINK that using blogger software may encourage me to


Stay tuned!