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!