Jun 042012

When I’m old, I hope I have a doorway that looks like this.

Not exactly like this, obviously, because then it wouldn’t be my doorway.

I would like a doorway that says ‘hello, here I am, all the worlds of my world; past, present and future I am here;  beyond time and place, I am here; eclipsing culturereligionpolitics, I am here’.

I ran those words together on purpose, by the way, inseparable as they are in life so they ought to be in language.

I am in New York City.

Our New York, all the world’s New York.

When I first arrived here a year ago, looking for a publishing deal for my travel memoir, My Pilgrim’s Heart, I stayed in the heart of Brooklyn – and was a-mazed by how much it reminded me of the Arab world.

The dusty footpaths, the colour of the cement, the roller door stores, the noisy traffic, the boxes of goods nudged up against shop windows, even the black electrical wiring criss crossing the streets.

And I laughed to myself, at the incongruent thought:  Americans have no idea how much they resemble their latest collective enemy.

I was telling a new American friend this the other day. He laughed and said it’d be good to do a series of photographs titled ‘Guess Where?’ And see if American people could find themselves.

I told him about a bumper sticker I had seen on a black SUV in Columbia, South Carolina:  two words, one above the other:


And the bizarre and ironic realisation that those words contain the same symbols for this nation’s most hated man:


Weird huh? What are the chances of all those letter symbols meeting at the exact same time on the world stage?

The law of reflection. You are me. I am what I see.

This morning I drove up from Peekskill, tracing the massive Hudson River – yes indeed, you could land a jet airplane on that water. My publisher at the wheel, we pulled into a hotel in an industrial area and I gotta say, I was not as excited as I might have been had we pulled into downtown Manhattan.

Brick and wire and sooty grit.

We checked in and I decided to go for a walk to find the nearest subway, my thoughts turning once again to my surprise about how much the USA – not just NYC, but all over the joint – resembles the Arab world.

The USA is dinky.

It just is.

For years and years, as my children were growing, I had a huge poster of Manhattan at night above the kitchen table.

It was a one day thing, in the days before vision boards were all the rage.

It was something I imagined I might do at a time in my life where I had arrived somewhere important, somewhere big and true.

And in a Wizard of Oz kind of way I had always imagined the city to be shining and new, always shining, always new. And filled with people who looked just like that too.

It’s dinky.

Much dinkier than us Aussies.

And then I turned a corner and laughed out loud at the busy street.

The dancing writing. An old bearded man in a long dress. The golden mosaic doors of a mosque. The sweet smell of apple scented smoke; rows of pretty glass hookah pipes. An entire shop devoted to a thousand different kinds of baklava. Dark cafes full of men in conversation.

I smiled. I relaxed. And I wondered again, not for the first or even the 51st time in my life, why it is I feel so safe and so at ease among the people of the Arab world.

Because the reality is, I do. I am.


And even if it turns out one day I am not, that doesn’t change the fact I feel safe.

And so in the heart of Queens I wander along among the peoples of the Islamic desert nations, the tobacco riding the warm wind blowing the blackening clouds, the scattered rain spots fair warning of the coming storm.

I glance skyward and that’s when I see the mysterious doorway.

And as I look around for clues as to what lies beyond the door, I see the the street sign on the corner and smile: I am on Steinway Street.

Steinway Street.

Oh my, how the Wheel of Life turns.






 June 4, 2012  Tagged with: , , , ,  Add comments

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