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 cafĂ©s. 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.