Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Touch of Blue

What was it like when the world was in black and white? My daughter at age 6,  100 years ago, when seeing a 1950's movie on television.

86th Street Sunday 27 February 2011
Today, Sunday, no snow and blue skies. I ventured out. Manhattan at its best. No snow, no heat. People were out in force and I decided to take some photos. Street scenes. I was out to see the Coen Brothers latest film, "True Grit". I wonder why they don't make a movie set in Manhattan. Or have they?

Will they ever do a Woody Allen type film, with a background of jazz music, or are they just a little bit too much into violence and the America of the primitive backwaters? Whatever, they are brilliant.

Waiting outside the movie theater for my friend, I decided to take some photos of New Yorkers. Random photos. It wasn't till I got home and transferred the photos to my computer that I noticed their lack of color. Apart from the blue jeans and blue skies, everything was black and white.

The morning after - man with eye shades, 2nd Avenue
And it wasn't just today. Yesterday when I ventured out from my normal Saturday of sloth and watching pathetic stuff on TV, I passed this man.

The same black and white with blue jeans. At first I thought he was our neighborhood homeless man, who has been here since we moved here in 2003. But on looking at the photo I notice his recently laundered jeans and his well-heeled shoes. I begin to expect he is one of the Tea Party's "middle class". What has happened to the bourgeoisie? If Karl Marx came back today, would the like of this man be his revolutionary? ASIF!

Melbourne, January 2011
Perhaps I've been too random in my photos. I decide to look back at my photos of last month. Of Melbourne, Australia. Of course I'm being selective.

But who says I have to be objective.

In my mind's eye from here in New York, Australia is a land of sun, of fun, of relaxation and to top it all off, of a decent health care system.

A dream, which however unrealistic, is mine to keep.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Drinking Consultants

The Republican McCain-Palin campaign later applied "Joe the Plumber" as a metaphor for middle-class Americans. - Wikipedia
Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. - Benjamin Franklin

King and Godfrey's, Lygon Street
Sitting in the Q32 bus on my way home from work. I was absorbed in reading Great House on my Kindle. February, New York. Dusk. I glanced up and stared out the window in front of me.

The sunset was a vivid pink behind a postcard silhouette of the Manhattan skyline. It reminded me of those ghastly "paintings" on velvet that bogan families put on their walls in Australia last century. Those "paintings" of horse heads and pretend Polynesian girls ...

I thought of taking a photo, but would the camera catch the outrageousness of the garish scene? And in any case I was too late. The sunset disappeared as the bus descended from the Queensboro Bridge into the depths of Manhattan.

So soon the Australian-ness of my vibe had gone, and though only five weeks had passed since my trip to OZ, my Australian life was once again, history.

Was I really there just last month? What had I left? A land where "drink consultant" is a profession. Where the Sex Party is a political organization. Where people while away their days socializing. Well that's the impression. And even if it isn't quite true, I like to pretend that it is.

As I walk the streets of Melbourne on my all too infrequent trips back home I'm reminded of Joni Mitchell's "Carey". "And we'll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down."

My friends enlighten me. It isn't all play and no work and in any case, maybe these people you see in outdoor cafés are out-of-towners, tourists. The real Melbourne people are working in offices, earning a quid because everything is so expensive. Right!

Near the Alfred Hospital - Visiting Hours Over - Australians at Play
Late January, 2011. The tellie is full of commentary and scenes of the Queensland floods which were in full force. Television in Australia is becoming like CNN in America. The same scenes, the same interviews played over and over again. The Aussie journo's knack of sniffing out the village idiot in every town, means we have to put up with scenes of little Aussie battlers sitting outside their flooded homes drinking beer. Of hoons on surfboards in rivers that have burst their banks. "Dreadful" say my friends. "What will the rest of the world think of us!"

Corner of Elgin and Lygon, Melbourne
Our Prime Minister Julia Gillard keeps embarrassing everyone by appearing on television in the midst of the flood and its victims, smiling plastically at the camera. I ask my brother, "Is she putting on that accent, trying to sound working class?" "No," he informs me, "She thinks she's talking posh."

I'm reminded of this when back in New York, a colleague tells me that he saw Julia Gillard on television the previous evening. I try to change the subject, as if by hearing about her in a distant land I'm somehow tainted. But he persists. "Is she low class?" he asks. "Probably," I mutter. "She doesn't sound like you," he's saying as I move away.

Universita Restaurant, Lygon Street  Carlton
Yep I'm back. Back in America where there IS no "working class". For my Australian readers - when Obama et al talk of the "middle class" they mean working class and middle class. People who work. The people with blue collar jobs are "low class". Republican states are "red" states. Democrat states are "blue". They've got it backwards. The conservatives aren't "liberals". "Liberal" doesn't apply to economic policy but to social reform and being left wing. Barack is the President's first name and not something you do for your favorite footy team.

The other side of the world seems like the other side of the world. But there is one small mercy.

I don't have to listen to Julia Gillard.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Half-Unpacked Case

A large part of travelling consists purely in waiting, with all the attendant ennui and depression. - Damon Galgut, "In a Strange Room"

The first thing that I do when returning from a significant trip away, is to try to keep the feeling. The feeling of being there; "there" being the place I have just returned from.

Even on day-one, I am conscious of the feeling, the touch of the place that will continue to fade into a personal and muted history. I always try, although I know it is in vain, to "keep the feeling", to hold it in my mind, to capture the essence of the experience that grows further away ever minute.

I even have tactics, mechanisms to keep my memories alive. I try to keep, for as long as possible, all physical evidence that I have been away.

First there's the luggage. I used to unpack as soon as I got in the door. But now I do so on an as-needed basis. It is now three weeks since I returned from Melbourne. What's in the case? I take a look. A summer dress I bought at David Jones. It'll need to be dry-cleaned and it is winter here in New York; it can stay there a while longer. A power adapter for my Australian mobile phone. No point in removing it. Summer sandals. An umbrella - Melbourne weather! Summer tops. I close the lid. It is getting painful.

Another tactic is not to pick up my paper mail. To do so is a sign of settling back into the routine of being HERE, not THERE. After a week my ingrained conscientiousness gets to me and I collect it from the box downstairs, sort out the junk, pay bills. The mundane-ness of being back. It's too much. I decide to collect it weekly now instead of daily as I have always done before - perhaps my Melbourne-feeling will stay a little longer.

I keep using my manual toothbrush that I took to OZ. My electric one stays on its base in the bathroom - all dried-up. Good!

I remember I'm meant to call my dentist and make a string of appointments that were interrupted when I left. That can wait.

But I know that soon I'll empty the case, start collecting the paper mail daily. I'll even make dental appointments.

For today I had my nails done at my local nail salon. A routine New York event. Back! The nail polish I'd worn to Australia was growing out anyway. It's gone now, replaced with blue.

I chose the color well.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Falling Out Of Love - With New York

"My one regret in life is that I am not someone else." - Woody Allen

Inside a Melbourne Tram
He said it as one sentence - "How-ya-goin-mate-I-nearly-sconned-you". Sconned - OZ for knocking a persons head off. As in "I was recently sconned in the head with a beer bottle."

He was the Melbourne 200-City-Bulleen bus driver and he had just been forced to brake for a man in double dreadlocks who had walked in front of the bus to get to its door. Unfazed and unsconned, Dreadlocks swiped his ticket and sat down in front of me.

I'd realized the bus driver was a wise guy, when I'd gotten onto the bus and asked whether it went down Johnston Street, which was not far away. "Yes next turn I make is into Elgin Street," he had replied. Adding, "Elgin Street turns into Johnston. Then I turn onto Studley Park Road and go left at Princess, right into Willsmere, left into Kirkby Street. Then I get to Bulleen road and make a right at Thompson's Road, another right at Manningham and then it's right at Williams Road and then I get off and go to the pub for a beer".

I thanked him and smiled. But it was his comment to the nearly-sconned man that got to me. And I think, that's what did it. That's what triggered the memories and the longing.

The laconic irreverence of the stereotypical Australian. Had I heard the same sentence spoken by an actor in an Australian film, or in an ad for Fosters I would have found it over the top; at worse embarrassing, at best ridiculous. But coming from the horse's mouth as it were, it was reassuring. The best and worst of Australia was apparently alive and well.

Australians at Play - Belgium Beer Garden, Melbourne
I few days later I spent several enjoyable hours with my nephew and friend in a beer garden in South Yarra. Around us were hundreds of other people, singles, couples, families ... enjoying a sunny Melbourne day ... doing nothing in particular.

The image of Australians sitting in sidewalk cafés - unhurried, cell phones hidden from view, conversing sans-FaceBook - is engraved in my mind. My vision - although I know it is not representative - of "life back home. Nevertheless it is stamped there. I tend to be like that - easily conditioned, impressionable.

A hundred years ago I was crossing the land border from Pakistan to India. I was leaving a country where I'd had to cover most of my body and a fair bit of my head whenever I ventured out. After looking through my passport the Pakistani border guy motioned me to move on. "Where to?" I asked. "To hell," he replied, pointing to India. I walked on.

My first vision of India then was of a bunch of brightly-colored-sari clad Indian woman sitting on a cart being driven by oxen. I remember distinctly. Their saris were yellow, blue and red, bordered with gold patterns. Their faces were uncovered. They were talking and laughing. I was in India! I was not in hell! Darkness turned to light.

Australian for Politics
Ever since then, when I think about India, I remember those women and the feeling of joy that they evoked. Yes I know there is sadness, poverty and corruption there, but there's also joy. And representative or not, that is the image my brain conjures up, that is my India.

In much the same way, Australia evokes images of warm days relaxing in beer gardens or dining el fresco, of bus drivers unafraid of saying what they think, of lazy hazy days.

Representative or not it doesn't matter. The images are planted firmly in my brain - a yardstick by which other societies will be unjustly no doubt, judged.

New York - you are pretty good - but you are not, my Australia.