Thursday, November 28, 2013

On creators and builders and being cool

Yesterday, a child came out to wander
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star - Joni Mitchell, "The Circle Game", 1968

Well let me tell you 'bout the way she looked
The way she'd act and the colour of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool
Her eyes were clear and bright
But she's not there - The Zombies, "She's Not There", 1964
The Cool Factor
Do you know what a creator is? A creator is someone who makes an idea. And then there are builders. A builder is someone who builds the idea. When I grow up, I want to be a creator AND a builder."

This from a child who looked to be about eight, on the M15 bus, sitting next to a little girl who looked to be slightly younger.

Perhaps the child was just parroting a teacher, but I think not. He was just being cool. Manhattan-eight-year-old-cool.

I have thought a lot about "being cool" lately. I used to think it was merely used as an affirmation. As in, "Let's meet around seven?" "Cool." " I just bought another pair of reading glasses." "Cool!".

People around my age used to use the word "cool", meaning hip, and it was applied to people who had read books like Kerouac's "On the Road" and who went to Igmar Berman movies which were called "films" by the seriously cool.

It was sort of easy to be cool back then, especially if you were a girl. You just had to hang around with the cool crowd and you sort of became cool by association. You didn't atually have had to read "On the Road", you just had to know it was a book.

Eventually I grew up and forgot about "cool". Until I had kids and they went from babies to children and started using "cool" as an affirmation when they were very young.  Saying cool" as in "Yes" or "OK". "Do you want an icecream?" "Cool". "It is time to go to kindergarten." "Cool".

I only just found out about the recycled meaning when a young Australian friend visited me in Manhattan last month, and explained contemporary cool to me.

It can now be used in its old meaning - of  " hip"  -  not necessarily meaing  "OK" or "I agree".  It can mean something more like 1960s "cool". Both meanings are now in use. "Those shoes are so cool!" "Cool!"

I could have missed its recycled meaning altogether. I could have remained an unenlightened old person wearing Sarah Palin type reading glasses. Scary!

It  was a little sad to learn that  people of my generation - people  who were definitely "cool"  in the sixties - are now mostly "uncool".

Yes, during my friend's visit I discovered what I have secretly suspected for some years - that I am definitely NOT "cool".

For a start I watch CNN for the news. Uncool. I knew that.  But it is easy - "news candy" for the unlenlightened old people.

And then there was the matter of my reading glasses. I already knew mine were "uncool" so I snuck off and bought new ones from the West Village cool reading glasses place, "Moscot".

I was pretty pleased with myself and I was suitably rewarded with a "They are so cool!" from my young friend. She even iMessaged me (see above) a cool person face that she photographed on my  very own TV which was now tuned into MSNBC instead of the uncool CNN.

The iMessaged face was no other than that of  Malcolm Gladwell, though at the time I had no idea who he was. But my young friend explained that the face was cool because it was wearing cool  glasses like my new ones, and it was not to be inferred that the person himself was cool.

I threw my old uncool glasses away. No bad thing - they were starting to look like Sarah Palin's glasses. Heaven forbid.

Though one never knows - I am so sick of Obama and his Obamacare fiasco that maybe ... no no no. Never in a thousand years. But one can never tell. Maybe voting Republican will become the new cool.

My young Australian friend left but I  stayed true to my new cool self  -  tuned in to MSBN -  being cool.

Then a few days ago I cheated and turned on CNN. I felt like an ex-alcoholic falling off the wagon. I poured a wine and tuned in to Anderson Cooper on CNN. And sat, my eyes transfixed.

There on the TV was  the not-neccessarily-cool person, complete with my glasses,  being interviewed by Anderson Cooper. It was then that I found out his name. Malcolm Gladwell. I double-checked the messages on my iPhone. Yep the same chap.

I'd never even heard of him. Apparently he lives not so very far from me in Manhattan. He doesn't have a doorbell and writes all his novels and articles in cafés. At least one of his books is on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Not only had I found the out whose face my young friend had messaged, but there he was actually talking about being "cool". "People assume when my hair is long that I am a lot cooler than I actually am," he said with a laugh. "I am not opposed to this misconception, by the way, but it is a misconception."


So there you go - I had never even heard of the guy. So cool he is un-cool. Or is it the opposite?  So un-cool that he is cool?

I'm not sure, but I have sneaking suspicion that NOT writing  books that have appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List is even cooler.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Australian Dinner Party in Manhattan

It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you ;- Lesley Gore but the Bryan Ferry version is better!
Joseph's face was black as night
The pale yellow moon shone in his eyes
His path was marked
By the stars in the southern hemisphere
And he walked his days
Under African skies - Paul Simon, "Under African Skies"

Blah Blah Blah Realty Upper East Side
I hadn't been to a dinner party in Manhattan - well not a "real one" that is. Not what us Aussies would call a "dinner party".

I have been to one Sedar, to a birthday in a restaurant, and to a weird gathering on the Upper West side.

Probably the gathering on the Upper West Side was the closest I've come to an Australian dinner party - Aussie only in the sense that we were all gathered around one table and a central theme evolved. On pets.

One of the guests was passing around a photo in his wallet, of his pet parrot. No to be one-upped another guy at the party actually called his pet cat from his cell phone.

But no one laughed or made sarcastic remarks. Every one was very polite. "So cute your little birdie!" "What a clever cat!"  Fortunately the "party" only lasted one hour. Nah, not anything LIKE an Australian dinner party - too short, no arguments, and the guests were unfailingly  polite to each other.

In the past decade,  I've only been to two Australian dinner parties.

The first one was in Australia, in 2009 when after sixty minutes into the gathering, guests somehow got involved in discussing Catholicism and Protestantism - the central theme which one was better. All authentic Australian dinner parties have themes. Themes that are unplanned, but are themes never the less.

I'm not sure what "side" I was on. at the Catholic-Protestant dinner  party. I didn't want to be lumped in with the English - no way could I support those responsible for the potato famine in Ireland over a century ago. But I was brought up to be an anti-Catholic agnostic. I vaguely remember trying to be neutral, but that didn't work. You have to take a side in Australian dinner party debates.

I have a memory of going to the back yard - leaving them all to argue, while I looked up at that beautiful midnight-ink dark antipodean sky lavishly sprinkled with stars - that beautiful generous sky that can only be seen in the southern hemisphere.

Back in Manhattan, I'd given up expecting to go to an Australian dinner party outside of Australia.

And then, quite suddenly it happened - I landed in an Australian dinner party, in the heart of Manhattan.  At the Members-only dining room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art - which boasts "full waiter service of contemporary American cuisine in a sophisticated, elegant setting with expansive views of Central Park."

Season of Mists - Fall in Manhattan
It started off as a genteel gathering  the family members, two women and a man - all Australian - who were having a Manhattan evening, with their niece,  my friend who is also a fellow New Yorker. It was their last evening in New York before rejoining their cruise.

My friend had chosen the venue - we both like it for its over-the-top elegance - un-Manhattan-like with plenty of room between tables, flatware (how I love American for cutlery) that is not re-used between courses, waiters who keep a discreet distance while you read the menu whose contents are in reverse proportion to its physical size.

There we were -  five Aussies  making polite conversation. You know the sort of stuff - "How long have you lived in New York?" "Are you enjoying the cruise,?" "How did you and Michelle meet?

We'd almost forgotten  that we were there to eat, when one of the head waiters materialized. "Would you like to see the menu?" The sole male member of the gathering, in thick Aussie accent replied. "Well you've taken bloody long enough mate."

I instantly warmed to the stranger from the cruise  who was sitting on my left. I was transported to that happy place down under where  people call a spade a shovel. Even the sky over Central Park which I could view through the Members' dining room windows - even the sky seemed to have more stars.

We ordered wine for starters,  began to relax  and  become - Australian.

I remember I discussed men, with the elegant family-member-from-the cruise who was sitting opposite. She didn't think much the Australian culture of "mateship". Me neither, We were chatting away when her husband - the one who had made the crack to the head waiter - butted in. In true Australian fashion he sided with his mates, 12,000 miles away.

"A man has to support his mates!" he opined. "Not so!" the women cried. "Not so!"

The food arrived. "Too rare!" complained the elegant woman opposite, who had ordered duck. "It's meant to rare." "Not THAT rare!" On and on we went,  arguing about whether duck should or should not, be served rare.  We all had different opinions. There was no stopping us. Rare, medium rare, done, well-done, burned. There were as many varieties as there were people at the table. And then, from the pro-mateship man, "If you don't like it send it back."

Which she did. And them marched off to the restroom. "She always orders duck, and always complains! Every time" said the pro-mateship man. We sat stunned. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Bloody positive," he answered.

The conversation meandered back to how mates should stick together. Why  many women don t like the mateship . Mateship, the underlying concept that the Australian nation is built on.

I stared out the window at the stars which were multiplying minute by minute. I could be anywhere, Balwyn , Carlton, Perth, Adelaide. Even, yes, even Castlemaine.

A little bit of Australian in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What could be better than that?

You can read more on Australian dinner parties HERE.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reaching Out and Conversating

And spring became a summer
Who'd believe you'd come along
Touching hands
Reaching out
Touching me
Touching you - from "Sweet Caroline" Neil Diamond, 1969

Glasses Through Glass - Moscot on West 14th
When did I first hear someone say, "That's a first world problem"?

If I could place it in relative time, it'd be before I had seen "Inbox me!" and definitely after I had heard "conversating" an action word - or verb as we used to say - from the noun "conversation".

Conversating is all about flexibility, and barely a week goes by without a new word or phrase being adopted into American English.

Lately it is all about "reaching out", which I believe is an East Coast sort of thing. Just as West Coast people started the "sharing" thing - "Thank you for sharing", East Coast people now talk of "reaching out".

You "reach out" to someone who isn't there, but who you want to talk, inbox or conversate with, some time in the near future. You could also use "reach out" if you wanted someone else to inbox a third party.

Although you might think could just as easily use the verb "contact", as in "Please contact Emma tomorrow" - that'd sound a bit too in your face. "Reaching out" is softer, more caring. Just as "sharing" is softer than "telling".

These "reaching out" and "sharing" things are all very First World.

Third World people in America say quaint things like "tooken". As in "I had tooken my car to the gas station when you called me." I kinda like it. For some reason it conjures up hobbits and New Zealand airline safety announcements. Tooken, Tolkien, all very hobbitish.

I love the way Americans dream up new words, make verbs of nouns, and nouns from verbs.

Mosgot on 14th
It is very freedom of speech. I used to think "freedom of speech" had something to do with democracy - I didn't know it was about grammar and lexicons.

Freedom of speech is taken very seriously in New York.

I was having my hair washed at on 14th today when I heard the unseen hair-washer-person behind me talking. Not being able to see her or to work out what she was saying - I was lying back with my hair dangled in the basin - I asked her what she had said. "I am talking to myself!" the disembodied voice came back.

And then more disembodied animated talk. "What was this?" I thought to myself. I am used to such people saying things like, "How was your day?" or "Are you going out tonight?" So I asked again if she was talking to me. It was awkward. She literally had my head in her hands and I was becoming anxious. I couldn't see her. The situation was becoming very Polanski à la 1968.

I was feeling edgy, uncomfortable, when the invisible person answered me, "Listen this is America and it is a free country and I can talk to myself if I want to!"

"I think I will leave NOW!" I said with pretend bravery; after all I had a hair full of foaming shampoo. ASIF I could walk down 14th Street looking like a mad woman.

And then, so New York - the customer at the basin next to me conversated. New Yorkers just cant let anything go without putting in their two cents. "Can you two stop arguing; let there be peace in this world!" Fair enough, OMG - all I had done was drop in for a cut and blow-wave! Excuse me for existing!

There might be freedom of speech, but there are limits. It is as if there is only a limited universe of words, so that if new words come in taking up space, old ones are assigned to the past. Like "gone" which has literally gone.

So it isn't "I had gone to school", but "I had went to school". I wonder if auctioneers are up to date with the current lingo. Do they end the bidding with "Going, going, went"?

And "dived". That has been replaced by the universal peace symbol. "She dove into the pool after Ethan had went." Which brings me back to the hair salon. There's an association I cant quite put my lips on. Aha - it is Bob Dylan and his "Motorpsycho Nightmare". How does it went?

Well, I don’t figure I’ll be back
There for a spell
Even though Rita moved away
And got a job in a motel
He still waits for me
Constant, on the sly
He wants to turn me in To the F.B.I.
Me, I romp and stomp
Thankful as I romp
Without freedom of speech I might be in the swamp

Which reminds me, it's late so I had better get wenting.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thinking about the government

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again - Bob Dylan "Subterranean Homesick Blues " 1965

Central Park Idyll
A hundred years ago - or was it only 38 - when Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, stood on the steps of Parliament House, Canberra and said, "Maintain your rage!"

Remembrance Day 1975, the same day and month that Australian bush ranger and folk hero Ned Kelly was hanged. November 11th - a day to remember the fallen.

The occasion of Gough Whitlam's speech on the steps of Parliament House in November 1975 was the dismissal of his government by the Australian Governor General.

There had been a deadlock in the parliament. The House of Representatives had passed the government's budget "the Supply Bill", only to have it blocked by the Senate where the governing party did not have a majority.

The Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Mr Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister and appointed Mr Malcolm Fraser, the leader of the opposition in the House, as a caretaker Prime Minister.

The dismissal was the most dramatic event in the history of the Australian federation. For the first time, an unelected vice-regal representative had removed from office a government which commanded a majority in the House of Representatives.

A double dissolution election was held on December 13th 1975, at which the Whitlam Government was soundly defeated.

Australians who were around back then, remember that day November 11th, when the Governor General broke the deadlock. The Australian constitution allowed for other options, but Australians on both sides of the political spectrum did not countenance a shutting down of the government. It was unthinkable.

Here in America, this appears not to be the case - there is no way apparently for the current deadlock to be broken Instead the government is "turned off" until one side caves in, or a compromise is reached and the budget it passed by both house - Congress.

I couldn't' believe it when I first experienced it shortly after I arrived in America in 1995.

During a shutdown, federal employees are "furloughed" - sent home without pay. Federal employees are not the only ones affected - vendors who make a living selling sodas and hot-dogs near national monuments, ferry operators who used to take tourists to the Statue of Liberty, the stock market, people whose retirement savings are held in "401Ks", lots of people in America, and if it goes on much longer, much of the world.

The only way the deadlock can be broken is if there is a compromise. "A really good compromise is the one that leaves both sides equally dissatisfied" - a quote attributed to Winston Churchill.

Great! As well as the adverse effects on the stock market and people's retirement benefits, when the deadlock is finally broken, we are ALL going to be unhappy.

The only consolation is the the Tea Party people will be unhappier than everyone else. They unashamedly want small government. And you cannot get much smaller the zero.

But what I find even scarier than the shutdown, is the reaction of the people here. In Manhattan you would never know the government was shutting down. Life carries on, superficially at least, as normal. In Australia when the Senate refused to pass the budget - or "supply" as we call it in OZ, we were all horrified. And in any case the deadlock lasted a bare two weeks until a temporary government was appointed. And guess what was the first thing the new government did? That's right, they passed the budget.

For of course, it wasn't REALLY about the budget back in Australia in 1975, just as it isn't really about the Affordable Care Act here in the United States. It is about getting rid of the government.

Is this democracy? Not in my book. If it happened in Africa or the Middle East, we would all be horrified. After all WE live in a political stable society.

What was it called when governments were overthrown in the Middle East? "The Arab Spring"?

Guess we are now in the "America Autumn". Or should is say, "Fall"?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nailing It

I'd hammer out danger,
I'd hammer out a warning,
I'd hammer out love between,
My brothers and my sisters,
All over this land. - "If I had a Hammer", Pete Seeger and Lee Hays 1949

There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name
He was born and raised in Ireland, in a place called Castlemaine
He was his father's only son, his mother's pride and joy
And dearly did his parents love the wild colonial boy - traditional Irish–Australian ballad 
Three New Yorkers - Upper East Side Manhattan
One of my earliest memories is of a man with beery breath telling my father that he - my dad that is - was an armchair socialist.

I remember finding it odd at the time - we didn't even  own any armchairs. In winter we all sat side by side on a huge gum tree log that was lying sideways across the lounge-room floor. One end would be stuck in the fire place where it smoldered - emitting a eucalyptus smell that mingled with the odor of burning scraps of leather that the armchair socialist had brought home from the shoe  factory where he worked.

When the fire burned down we all had to stand up and my dad would shove the log further into the fireplace so that its dying embers would fall off and along with a few scraps of leather, would ignite the end of  the now truncated log.  This family-time fiasco repeated itself, until the log was completely consumed, when a new one would take its place.

I don't know where we sat in summer. My childhood memories are a jumble, as my parents would split up and reunite changing towns, then cities, and at the end, even countries.

Later on, much later, I heard "armchair socialist" used again. At Melbourne University by old people. Well, older than me. The scrag end of the "beats", old guys about thirty would hang around university haunts, ogling young undergraduate girls and discussing politics over cheap reds with undergrad boys - for this was before Germaine freed us and we came to understand that we had been oppressed.

Armchair socialists - the pits. All talk and no action. I remembered my dad.

We grew up, left university. The armchair socialists, the beats and the hangers-on disappeared or died. Some became famous artists.  Others, prominent lawyers, replacing one kind of bar with a more salubrious one.

The armchair socialist label was replaced briefly by  "chardonnay socialist" -  there is even a Wikipedia entry: "Chardonnay socialist: a derogatory Australasian term for those on the political left with comfortable middle or upper-class incomes, tertiary education, and a penchant for the finer things in life, Chardonnay being a variety of white wine".Until the sales of the actual drink dropped off after its image was decimated by bogan Kim in the hugely popular TV comedy show, "Kath and Kim".

I had sort of forgotten about gum tree logs, armchairs and chardonnay socialists until a few weeks ago when I received an email from an old friend.

I had asked him about the Victorian (OZ) town of Castlemaine. And this is what he replied.

" [Castlemaine] is full of millennial hippies, but many middle class yuppies are infesting the place and has become "fashionable". Even reactionary, racist left wing federal court judges live there. Many bobos."

Bobos???? First I ever heard the word. I looked it up online. There were several very different meanings, but the one I though my friend meant was "bobo: a portmanteau of the words bourgeois and bohemian".

So that's where the chardonnay socialist were hiding out.

I will be in Castlemaine in a few weeks. I will be on the lookout for bobos. I'll try to take some photos of them in their apparently natural habitat.

Stay tuned.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Is This Narrative a Beat Up?

When you puzzle over why the elegant Huma Abedin is propping up the eel-like Anthony Weiner, you must remember one thing: Huma was raised in Saudi Arabia, where women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet. - Maureen Dowd, Time to Hard-Delete Carlos Danger
Wiener - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
‎ Wiener dog, colloquial term for dachshund; wiener, a colloquial term for the human penis.'
"What is your narrative on your tarte flambée?" a judge will ask a contestant on the Food Channel. And if the contestant is to have a hope in hell of winning, she will give a 60 second sound bite about how her grandmother used to make her tarte flambée when she was ill in bed - the contestant that is - sitting in a rocking chair near the wood fire.

In such a case, the contestant could just have easily been asked, "What is your spin on your tarte flambée. But nowadays we don't say "spin" any more, we say "narrative".

"Narrative" appears to have become popular about the same time as "talking points". "Talking points" should not to be confused with "talking marks" which Americans used to describe quotation marks. "Talking points" are short statements designed to support one side taken on an issue. You can use talking points in a narrative.

Politicians are given "talking points" by their minders when they have to explain a narrative to the press.

What follows is my narrative on several narratives that have been much in the New York news of late. Each narrative has many talking points.

To put it plain English - I am about to tell you a story.

The man
I don't know how far the news of Mr Weiner's genitals has spread, but it is worth a mention, even if some of it is old news -  because I truly think it is one of the few stories that can aptly be labelled, "Only in New York".

Anthony Weiner,  a New York Congress member,  became political history in June 2011, after  he tweeted a photo his genitals on Twitter. What an idiot. Apparently he thought he was sending the genital photo to one of his online sexters.

He apologized and I cannot remember if he booked himself into a sex education or a computer  literacy class. Or both. He was all but forgotten.

The Comeback
Fast forward a few months and Anthony Weiner was back in the public eye. A reformed man. No more tweets. No more confusing the little envelope icon with the blue birdie. On April 10, 2013, Weiner said he would like to "ask people to give me a second chance.

It must have been the weather, for around the same time another pollie  (OZ for politician) returned to contest  another election.

Eliot Spitzer the former New York Governor who resigned five years ago  following a prostitution scandal, returned to New York politics when he announced his candidacy for the position of New York City comptroller.

I wonder what happened to the one who told fibs about being uncontactable because in the Appalachian mountains on a camping trip, when he was really somewhere in South America wooing a women on the banks of the Amazon.

He Just Couldn't Stop
But back to Weiner. New Yorkers are forgiving people and Weiner was doing well in the opinion polls. After all, what has sex to do with political prowess, and in any case he had supposedly overcome his predilection of showing women his genitals on the internet.

And then it came out - he hadn't stopped. Well he HAD stopped but not when he said he stopped. He had relapsed, but he was REALLY stopped now. New Yorkers took it on the chin. We were reminded of the salad days of the Clinton administration, when the worst thing a President could do was to not have sex with that woman. The past is the past. And nostalgia never out of fashion.

But He Hadn't
Weiner  was still at it, disguising himself with names like -  "Carlos Danger" -  sexting - tweeting, you name it.

The tabloid press was having a field day. "Weiner Exposed", "Weiner: I'll Stick It Out", "Hide The Weiner", "He's Got Some Balls", "Weiner's Long Hard Road Back", "Weiner Rises", "Weiner Exposed", "Weiner's Rise And Fall", Weiner Pulls Out", "Beat It!", "Erections have consequences". 

But I only did it with three women, Weiner explained. And the next day - well it was more than three - he couldn't remember how many.  With his wife supporting him, even going so far to blame herself for her husband's sexploits (she was too engrossed in her baby to pay him the sexual attentions he craved) Weiner stood firm.

End Of Story
Weiner's poll figures slumped. He slipped from front-runner to fourth. Or was it more than fourth. It was certainly more than third.

His loyal voters deserted him. His non-loyal ones went back to being non-loyal.

Mr Carlos Danger had done the unforgivable.

He had become BORING.

Friday, July 05, 2013

I Am A Million Years Old

All those years ago
You said it all though not many had ears
All those years ago
You had control of our smiles and our tears
All those years ago - George Harrison, "All Those Years Ago" 1981

Me to New York friend: "I saw that it was 120 degrees on the West Coast"
New York friend: "But I don't live on the West Coast."

"That break-up text can wait." - Poster from NYC's Safe Pedestrian campaign

The countdown - 13 seconds to cross

After a tough week, a bad news week, Egypt, the 19 firemen killed in the Arizona bush/wild fires, the travesty of the trial of George Zimmerman - the guy who shot a young black teenager through the heart because he "thought" he might be up to something - after the heat, the dog days of the first week of July in Manhattan ...

I turned on the tellie and flicked through my "favorites" channel. What was this?  "Four Hundred Blows" - the title rang a bell. Je me souvenais. Of course. The 1959 Truffaut movie. Or should I be PC à la Melbourne and say, "film".

Could it be so long ago? Over half a century?  Yes, although 1959 France probably equates to 1968 Melbourne, OZ.

And as is the case when you are a million years old, I started to reminisce. Back to just three months ago.

When I was in my home town of Melbourne. Trotters restaurant in Carlton April 2013. A four-of-us reunion. As I regarded my three friends, the wrinkles, the gray hair - all signs of age - faded away, and we were all - or at least for me - our 1969 selves - still cultured after all these years - well as cultured as one could be, in Melbourne in 1969.

The countdown - 5 seconds to cross

We'd come a long way. We exchanged memories over a wine - well those of us who could still drink - had wine. "Do you ever hear from P?" one of my friends asked. I paused and took a gulp of my riesling.

"P" and I had been lovers in 1969. And for twenty years or so, occasional correspondents as we moved  partners and continents.

And then some years ago we had "fallen out".

"No," I replied. "He doesn't like me anymore. I wrote about how I had just pretended to understand those French movies with sub-titles that we'd watched together in the sixties." "Not just Truffaut," I added.  "I didn't understand any of them, I just pretended."

"Didn't we all!" my friend exclaimed. "All those Bergman movies we sat through;  no one knew what they meant!"

I was relieved. So it wasn't just me. The other three nodded in agreement.

I was vindicated. Well if you can call being vindicated, having three million-old people in Trotters restaurant, Carlton, OZ agreeing with you.

And now I am back. Far away from Melbourne, back in the" land of me" - New York.

I love New York. Who couldn't? In New York I can watch Truffaut films without having to pretend to understand them. In New York I don't have to have empathy, to worry about what other people think. I take that back - yes one is meant to worry about other people, as long as they are a long long way away, like in Egypt, and then ... why worry about them?

I love the heat, the all-consuming dog day heat of Manhattan. I love Al Pacino, and on days like today where the heat steams off the cracked, unmaintained pavements, I can almost pretend I am where I should be. I don't have to pretend anymore. Who cares about French movies? Who cares about Egypt. Who cares about climate change? Well of course we all do. But as my friend at our lunch in Trotters, Carlton explained, "that doesn't mean we have to understand it." And even if I did care, there is no one to talk to about it to in New York anyway.

I love New York. And especially I love how it constantly surprises. Just when you think things can't get any worse, like it was for Dustin Hoffman in "Marathon Man", yes it can.

ASIF it wasn't hard enough getting around in this city, ASIF we aren't rushed enough, trying to get done in a New York minute what would take only one second anywhere else in this world ... the mayor or whoever runs this place has installed count-downs at intersections.

So instead of the pedestrian lights indicating 'Walk' or "Don't Walk", with little amber flickers as they change, we now have a countdown. The red "Don't Walk" sign changes to a number - '20', '10' - '0' - '8' - '7' and so on. Till zero.

Being a law-abiding kinda gal, I am suitably stressed.

Who can be thinking of Truffaut, of how it is so hot in Arizona, or how there is tumult in Egypt? After all, we aren't there.

N'est ce pas?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Sex and Trees and Other Stuff

The major message of the anti same-sex protest explicitly acknowledges that gays can make love, but that they can never have sex, if understood in the broader, biological meaning of the word. - Andrew McIntyre in 'Oui' to gay marriage, but a big 'non' for restraint
But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman. - President Clinton, January 1998, on Monica Lewinsky

Upper East Side, Manhattan
What do the Australian right and President Bill Clinton have in common? You may well ask.

And like most things in this world, it all comes down to sex. Read on.

"Quadrant" is a right-wing Australian journal. I don't often read it, my political opinions being a little to the left of most its contributors.

But a friend forwarded me a link to a June article from its QED section - 'Oui' to gay marriage, but a big 'non' for restraint, and respecting that friend's intelligence, I read it. Twice.

Most of the article is about the recent demonstrations in Paris against gay marriage.

Quoting what he calls "an obfuscatory piece" by Mark Mazower of The Financial Times, who wrote "that the protests over same-sex union are really reflecting the deep anxiety over the country’s future, suggesting that the huge demonstrations over the last six months are just a reaction to the stresses of globalization ..." ( France’s struggle is against much more than gay marriage), our QED writer protests. The French demonstators are about same-sex marriage and nothing else he insists.

Fifty Ninth  and Second, Manhattan
But what about the recent demonstrations in Istanbul? Supposedly about the lack of trees in the city. It is a bit hard to believe that the citizens of Istanbul would defy water cannons and tear gas and stay put for days, if the issue was simply about a few trees.

Using France's President Hollande's "Aujourd´hui, le marriage n´a plus de sexe" ["These days, marriage is about more than sex"] against him, the writer goes on agree and closes with

"... The major message of the anti same-sex protest explicitly acknowledges that gays can make love, but that they can never have sex, if understood in the broader, biological meaning of the word."

So there you go, sex is vaginal sexual intercourse, and that's all there is to it.

Bill Clinton was not lying when he said almost 20 years ago, "I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false."

Of course the QED Quadrant writer is Australian, and so I can't help but remember the 1980's jokes that put down Australian the hetero male.

"What is Australian males' preferred foreplay?" "Are you awake?" and
"How do you stop an Australian girl [sic] fu*king?" "Marry her."

Seriously though, I like it when the far right meets bogan meets American president. It gives me a warm feeling of comfort.

It shows me that despite our differences, when the rubber meets the road, we can all get along after all.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Stranger in Her Own Land

Day-o, Day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan' go home
Day, me say day, me say day, me say day
Me say day, me say day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan' go home - "The Banana Boat Song", Jamaican - Traditional

The Last Remnants
There they are. On my dining room table.

Scattered, as I left them. The contents of my handbag - deposited there when I returned just three weeks ago from an April trip to my home town, Melbourne, Australia.

 It has become somewhat of a ritual.

I arrive back in New York and leave my luggage unpacked, cases strewn around the apartment any old how. That is Day One.

On Day Two I reluctantly start to unpack. But only what is needed. Clothes that need laundering, shoes, miscellaneous cables.

For the next few days the cases shed their contents on a need-to basis.

Day 5: I empty the contents of my handbag onto  the dining room table. I put away my OZ wallet which has remained in my handbag along with my "American" one. Different wallets for different currencies, different ID cards, different lives. I leave the rest of the contents where they landed.

Eventually the cases are empty, and I put them away.

The final step, yet to be taken as I write this blog post is like a primitive ritual. It is as if when I tidy the handbag contents - file them, trash them, whatever, -  the last link to my spell in Melbourne, Australia, has gone. Erased. Like John Cleese's parrot, it has "ceased to be".

When I remove the last remains of my OZ trip, I will be, in my own mind, be admitting that, "I am back".

I spend my idle times remembering. Apart from the obvious family-based memories, I remember the Australian strangers who crossed my path. People who could only be Aussies.

The man with gap-teeth on the North Melbourne bound bus, who helped me when the bus driver failed to stop.  I'd approached the driver New York style, about to say, "but you told me you would tell me when it was my stop".

The toothless man shushed me with, "He's no Digger!" smile, smile, wink, wink, followed by "I will tell you how to find your way back". Which he did, going out of his way to get off the bus and to escort me to the correct bus for my destination.

I was torn. My left-wing liberal side was repelled by his labeling the Vietnamese driver as "no Digger". Meaning "un Australian. Not white". But then my pragmatic side won through.

"Yer not from here, luv?" he asked as we crossed the road. "No," I mumbled. "Thought so," he continued,  "Yer got too much class!"

Heaven forbid!

Then there was the Western suburbs bus driver who delighted in telling me (after seven bus stops) that I was on the wrong bus and I should just cross the road, go back, and start all over again.

A definite "Digger" by the looks of him, and a Bogan to boot, complete with mullet hair. I jumped off the bus and stood forlornly on the nature-strip - grass half a meter high, complete with the obligatory Western suburb thistles.

Should I get the next bus and hope for a kinder driver, or walk across the road and go back as advised. I couldn't decide.

Then I remembered my old Melbourne friend A, telling me just a few days earlier, about how Jetstar airlines had given him the run-around. Sending him to the international terminal (he had a domestic ticket) and back again ("But Sir, you have a domestic ticket!") several Kafkaesque times until he plaintively resorted to using his age, saying to the uncaring unhelp desk person, "But I am distressed".

I tried it. I even dialed a cab. Too late - aparently I was already on the merri-go-round of being lost in my own home town. But more of that later.

Meanwhile I have a table to clear ...

Friday, February 15, 2013

How to NOT see Vanessa Redgrave

... but that was in another country,
And besides, the wench is dead. - from 'The Jew of Malta', Christopher Marlowe

I  meant to close out Letter from New York and to start a new blog, "iSingular". But haven't had the time. I'll move this over when iSingular is up and running. In the meantime ...

I just had a hot date in the West Village, New York.

To see Vanessa Redgrave in "The Revisionist".

For those not familiar with New York, the West Village  is a Manhattan gay area. I was pleased to go, though we were paying  "Dutch", as I always enjoy this friend's company. ... well that should be past tense. Whatever ...

I hate the West Village. Not because it is GAY. ASIF. But because, unlike most of Manhattan, the streets twist and turn, and are not in regular rectangle grid layout. Round where I live and hang out it's easy. 67th street is one block south of 68th street and one block north of 66th. And the streets go in straight lines. So if you head west on 93rd Street for example, you will end up still in 93rd Street but  in the Hudson River.

But pick a street in the West Village and you can follow it for a hundred years through its twists and turns and never know where you'll end up  - if the journey even ends.

"It's easy", said my friend. "Just meet me at Morandi on the corner of 7th and Waverley. Near the Christopher subway station".

And so tonight I caught three subways interconnecting though miles and miles of stairs, to end up at the  designated desination - Christopher Street station. Hence the quote at the beginning of this post.

Not to worry. At Chistopher Street I climbed another  1,000 stairs and could see the sky. A comforting familar thing.

Back on ground level, I clung to a lamp-post to get my breath back. and then started asking the passer-bys "Where is Waverly Place?"

I have bad long-term memories of Waverly Place - isn't that where Susan Brownmiller got her head bashed in? But as a woman, I stood my ground. "Reclaim the night" as my Sisters say.  Though I have to admit we are pretty safe in the West Village.

There were about 50 people hanging around the Christopher Street subway station,  most looking up Google maps on their iPhones, so I decided to approach what looked like locals  - people walking designer dogs. These people were all extremely pleasant, and as I had deduced, from the area. "Well gee whiz, golly me ma'am,'" they'd say in charming accents. "I know its around here somewhere, but can't remember. Try going north." Or south, depending who I talked to. Eventually I found the restaurant. "Morandi" at 211 Waverly Place.

My friend was sitting there, iPhoning and drinking a martini. I sat down, waiting for him to complete his emails.  A hundred years later he looked up, and with absolute chutzpa said, "You're late". OK, OK already yet.

We ordered. And three martinis later, as I was still diving in to my pasta, he ordered "Gotta go," and had the waitress or associate or whatever is politically correct, hand me the bill. "Is a $20 tip OK?" I asked. "Make it $40," he commanded.

Well it was HIS neighborhood so who was I to argue. Anyway, what is $300 in America currency? A drop in the ocean.

"Quick quick!" he ordered. I started to think that I was out with a hetrosexual;   my past conditioning kicked in and I followed him  meekly to a theater.

Great. At last we were line for pre-paid tickets. And when it was our turn we asked the "person in attendance", ("box office chick" whatever you are allowed to say) for our tickets.

The box office person  started typing in stuff to his computer. I noticed the operating system was Windows 7 and so was about to give up when a hundred years later, he informed us that neither of us was registered.  "This IS the theater for 'The Revisionist?'" I asked,  and he replied, no and that the Revisionist was playing at a theater  some 10 blocks way.

Back in the street my friend strode ahead. Faster than a guy one tenth of his age, occasionally turning to tell me to hurry up. After about 5 blocks I felt my heart giving in, but somehow managed to catch up and to enter the lobby of the correct theater company

"You are too late," said the box office guy who looked like he could have crushed Wladimir Klitschko with his bare hands. "But you can watch  it here," he said, pointing to two plasic bleacher chairs in the foyer. I have to admit there WAS a TV we could look at. I don't know where the theatrer dragged it up from. When I'd first noticed it I had thought it was from a museum exhibition. It wasn't flat screen and the the snowy reception took me back a few centuries to when TV was first introduced to Australia.

"Bloody Nazi!" muttered my friend, and the boxing-looking guy's ears pricked up. He walked straight towards us - "Whatdya say?" he said in a scary Bronx accent. My friend looked speechless and positively cowered in his plastic chair. "Oh,  he was talking about a mutual friend, nothing to do with here," I explained. Me, ever the woman ... Smoothing things over . Looking skeptical though I doubt that the word was in his vocabulary. He backed off.

Only to return 30 years later to tell us we could go into standing-room at the back of the theatre.

My friend accepted graciously. Me -  I said, "don't worry." And took a cab home. Only another $30.

And people wonder why I don't go out much in New York.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Seven men in my life and why I remember them

Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' for to carry me home;
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' for to carry me home. - Wallis Willis circa 1862
The following is about seven men in my life, what they have each taught me, and with song(s) for each.

 I  have left out three men - my dad, as I never really got to know him, my son as he would KILL ME if I wrote about him, and my beautiful little  grandson who is far too young to be exposed to the social media network.

Here come THE MEN.
When I was beautiful
#1 Tim  Juliff  - brother
Taught me:  the values of love and forgiveness,  the "immaterialness" of material possessions, wit and sarcasm.
Songs: Tim has two songs  because he is/was my brother. "Swing Low Sweet Chariot and the Fugs' rendition of William Blake's How Sweet I Roam'd. "Swing Low" because he had it played at out mother's memorial. "How Sweet" because it was played it at his own.

#2 Patrick - first love
Taught me: that I was beautiful.
Song: everything on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

#3 Philip - the father of our children
Taught me: that real men DO play sport, about laughing during love, and perhaps most importantly, the importance of never being late for dinner .
Songs: Philip has two songs because we had two children together. Plus he has more albums than any other human being on this planet ...
Something from when we started, and Every Breath You Take from when we ended. Most remembered with affection - Every Step.

#4 Michael - Brief, but worth a note because he got the song right
Taught me:  that even though a man can take out a PhD at 15, he needs to  use a clockwork razor for shaving.
Song: Joni Mitchell's Carey because it's a great song and he said it epitomises me. (And it still does IMO).

#5 Robert  - Eternal Hippie at Heart
 Taught me: how to flush floating poo down a toilet bowl, and how to butter bread evenly so that every part of the surface is covered perfectly.
Song: Simon and Garfunkel's Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme.
Remembered with respect and affection.

#6 Richard - American
Taught me: how to use the PC financial package "Quicken"
Song:  Anything Country and Western.

#7 Last one - Name available upon request
Taught me: That I am ugly
Song: This man has no song

Here endeth "Letter from New York:"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

You're Moving Out Today

So pack your toys away
Your pretty boys away
Your 45s away
Your alibis away
Your Spanish flies away
Your one-more-tries away
Your old tie-dyes away
You're moving out today - from "You're Moving Out Today", Carole Bayer Sager


Sitting in my living room in Manhattan, surrounded by boxes. Packing up my ex's belongings.

Cartons from the local supermarket, cartons that once held bundles of paper towels or rolls of toilet paper, but which now contain what I can only describe as "man things".

Some gals have all the luck!

I showed a friend. "What do you think this is?" I said peering into a long cardboard cylinder. "Beats me!" she answered. Fascinated we tried to pull a bit of it out, and saw what looked like a giant size  pair of kielland forceps - you know - the gynecological ones some woman-hating sadist, probably a Mr Kielland - invented, that are like huge tongs that go through the cervix to the uterus to extract babies who are reluctant to come head-first into this wonderful world.

Except these were even bigger.

I later discovered it was a tree remover. "Why would anyone want a tree remover in a one bedroom apartment?" I wondered.

Moving on.  "And what do you think these are?" I asked my bemused friend. "Hoses!" she triumphed. "Well try lifting them up, I think they are made of lead," I countered. In describing them to a man a few days later I was told that they were probably hydraulic hoses used for lifting bob-cats - whatever THEY are. Perhaps there was a "bob-cat" in with other man-things we'd already packed away.
All sorts of unlikely things in the nooks and crannies of the apartment. We even found a generator - well that's what my friend claimed it was. I have my doubts. Perhaps some reader can enlighten me. It was bright yellow painted metal that fitted easily into a briefcase. I think it was its color that made her think that. Who would want a generator in a Manhattan apartment? But then, who would want to pull up trees in one either.

At the back of a high-up closet shelf, hidden amongst some porn magazines were a few copper tubes of various shapes and sizes, with bolts on each end. Was their proximity to the magazines significant? It didn't bear thinking about.

"What's in yer boxes. lady?" said a man with a strong Bronx accent when I phoned the storage facility. I was silent. Perhaps I'd be better off describing their owner. It'd make as much sense. "Oh, just some tools and stuff," I mumbled.

Of course there were other things. Books belonging to other people.  Cookbooks. Gardening books. Manuals for things with names I'd never heard of with Chinese drawings and missing pages. I put those in the " miscellaneous box".

The miscellaneous box is the biggest box. Things go in there that have no name. Several cell phones with no insides. Old combination padlocks with forgotten codes. A circa 1990 hard drive. A pouch for a circa 2000 cell phone. Old Epicurean magazines.  Two kangaroo scrotums. "Why two?" I wondered.

It all goes next Friday. Thank Christ! I've hated packed things ever since I moved house 27 times when I was a child.  Inner traumas become exposed. The half-hearted attempts to make new friends, knowing I'd be lucky to be in the same school for more than six weeks. The packing. The moving. The horror of cardboard boxes.

And these particular packed things give me the creeps. I think it is because I don't understand what's in them. Or perhaps it's because ... well I had better not say ...

When I go home at nights this week I close my eyes tightly shut so as not to see those silent boxes standing like gravestones in my living room. I especially don't want to  see the cylinder Blefuscudians forceps one. I go straight past the livingroom to the bedroom. Straight into bed.

And now it is only two more sleeps and they'll be gone. My happiness will know no bounds.

Yep, there's only one thing better than getting rid of an unwanted man,  and that's getting rid of his carton-packaged "man things".

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sailing into Tomorrow

Sailing into tomorrow
To a gilded age foretold - from "Tempest", Dylan 2012

Tim Juliff,  1950 - 2011 Hippie, Lover, and Forever Remembered  
2012, especially the last few months were unsettling for most of us. Hurricane Sandy in New York, the horrifying Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. Syria.  The Noida rape and murder in India.  Pakistan's brave Malala Yousafzai. The US "fiscal cliff" fiasco.

And then, many of us have had our own personal problems and have lost loved ones.

One sometimes wonders how one can go on. But it is a New Year and for all of us who have had hard times - economic or emotional, believe me, hope is on the horizon.

 Who would have thought that American people would have voted for universal health care, gay marriage, and the legalization of marijuana  Let alone voting for a black president's second term during a time of economic crisis.

So to all my peers, to all you baby boomers out there - we are surviving.

Just look at Paul McCartney (well perhaps not .. ).  Mick Jagger (well ....).

 Let's look at Robert Allen Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan). Perhaps the greatest artist of the 20th century and still going strong.

Roll on Bob!