Mar 242012
 

15 June 2011

Natural state

It’s cold in New York City today.

I was going to walk the Brooklyn Bridge a week ago, but it was too hot in the bare sun. Today, quite spontaneously, after posting off my last press pack to a publisher at the Fedex office, I decided to walk to Manhattan.

And half way across the bridge it started to rain.

Walking. I was walking. I crossed the bridge and just walked, my old self, still limping but walking as if walking is no obstacle.

I wandered along the streets of an old city, a parade of cobbled stones and magnificent buildings from another time.

It’s the fire station!

I walked and I walked, the neighbourhoods changing like countries without border crossings.

The steady rain. The big traffic. Walking the streets. No idea where I am. I must be on pilgrimage!

I think it’s my natural state.

I am on the home run in New York City. Today is my last Wednesday. I think I will spend it, like pennies on the run, at Coney Island. I will catch the subway to the beach.

In the rain.

Posting off my last press pack – a collection of clippings and promotional materials that demonstrate my publishing worth – was a milestone. My mission is complete. I have sown all the seeds I have to sow.

So far the following have sprouted:

1 x small publisher in Georgia

1 x small-medium publisher in Massachussets

1 x medium publisher in Illinois

1 x big agent in NYC who retrieved me from her spam folder and let me know she’ll be in touch, probably July.

I’m nodding. Not a bad effort. And there are several seeds that might yet surprise.

I have done all I can do with the resources I have. It’s time to smile and start pulling myself together, rein in the longings and the spirits, and make ready for the southbound run.

Although the other day I did see a rock shaped like an arrow that seemed to be pointing me north.

North.

Alaska.

Pilgrimage.

My natural state.

 

 

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Mar 242012
 

30 May, 2011

 

And on the 7th Day . . .

On the 7th day, she rested.

She sat in the backyard in the sunshine listening to Brooklyn – until she heard the beautiful raised voices of a gospel choir, raced upstairs to get dressed and shot out the front door looking for it.

Alas, she found the church, but it was all quiet by the time she got there. So she decided to wander on through the neighbourhood to the dessert shop where once a day she calls by for a creme brulee, the miracle of which is she’s never eaten a creme brulee in her life and now suddenly she can’t live without ‘em.

Only they didn’t have any! He was very apologetic, it was hard to get good help, he said. So I settled instead for a lovely strawberry cream meringue-like chewy pie. Mm-mmm, delicious!

Then the woman who serves me my regular creme brulee – who every time I buy it goes out back to the baker and says ‘Joy-age (which is New York for George), how much is the creme brulee with tax?’ – she comes over and tells me about Dance Africa 2011, that’s on ‘just down the road’.

‘Four blocks?’ I say. “Eight? Ten? 12?’

‘Bout that,’ she says.

And I smiled a hearty smile – because New Yorkers are the only people I know, with the exception of my sister (hi Gin!) who think a 10-20 block walk is ‘just down the road’.

Although these days, with my healing bones, my shoe is on the other foot, so to speak :)  Sigh, the irony the irony. And I walked the 10 blocks nonetheless. To the big food party!

Cucumber lemonade! Funnel cakes. Saltfish. And people people people. And music music music. A lovely way to spend a day of rest.

And I was reminded for the 50th time about an observation I made early on this blog, about people here not being alive to each other and the fact I need to correct it.

They are indeed! Just not first thing in the morning. It takes the early risers in New York time to get going, tha’s’all.

Here’s some scenes from the food party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 242012
 

26 May, 2011

 

New York is a Village

There are two primary faces of a city, any city. One is the groundswell of humanity that operates at street level, largely invisible to just about everyone but each other; the other is the export community, the ones who tend to live off the ground and create the city’s perceptible, visible heartbeat.

In New York, that visible identity is recognisable right around the world. It’s in the songs we sing, the buildings we lionise, the artwork we print and reprint that most of us afford only as cards, the clothes whose KMart imitation we clamour to wear on our backs, the restaurants and culture whose imitation defines us.

But all this depends on the folk on the ground, to build the city, to keep it running, to drive the wheels.

Since I got here, to Brooklyn three days and nights ago, one particular thought has surfaced over and again – 9/11 would have left most people in this city without a single clue about why someone might want to do this ‘to them’. They are good people. They are universally good people. They go about their business making the most of what they have. Some will rise from street level, their natural talents lifting them off the ground and into finer digs.

For most, New York is, and will remain, a village.

I didn’t have a photo for today’s blog, so I snapped the building across the road, right outside my window, on my way home from grabbing dinner down on Fulton Street.

I know, it looks very Addams Family. I had that thought too. In fact it’s the World Headquarters Building of the Independent Order of Mechanics. Up the road on the opposite corner we have a grand old building called Elim, which I can only presume to be Jewish. Across the road from that is the Gospel Centre. Down the street in the opposite direction we have two beautiful copper doors overhung with the star and sickle moon of Islam.

New York is a village.

Exhausted as I was when I woke this morning, I dragged myself out onto the street and into the subway, making my way once again to Book Expo America downtown (downtown, uptown – it’s Manhattan). OMG I am in Manhattan. I was so tired it was all I could do to sit in one place and see what came to me. I piled my leaflets and bookmarks and other bumf onto the tables around me, on the theory you never who might sit down. And I waited. And who came along was Dianne Hart. Or perhaps she spells her name Diane Heart. Either way, her upcoming book will have her French maiden name in between, so her old friends from school know it’s her.

Dian/ne’s is a survivor’s tale. Smashed into a tiny pocket of air when the mountain that was her home in San Diego fell down, she broke around 20 bones in her upper torso and survived to tell a tale that cost 10 of her neighbours their lives.

Needless to say, it changed her life and she’s giving that change everything she’s got. Enthused by our resting hour, I took a breath and got to it, taking to the morass of book booths at the expo, wondering where to start. And don’t you love serendipity? Nothing to lose, I decided to slip around to the tables in the big publishers’ dens, flat circles of varying sizes where important people sit and have conversations, and I slipped my bumf onto them as I wandered by. It was fun. And then for the heck of it I got chatting to Charles, whom I asked, just for a lark, if anyone from editorial was around. No, he said and as he glanced around he spotted Eric. He called him over. Introduced us. Eric invited me to sit at one of the important tables and, well, it’s good practice having the conversation.

Twenty minutes later, after we’d chatted about Eric’s trip to Australia and his upcoming walk on the Appalacian Trail – which he is determined to complete on the last day of his 67th year, having started it in 1967 – we shared pilgrim tales. And finally I asked him what he did.

Ha ha. He owns the company. I have an appointment with Margot from one of his imprints tomorrow at 11.30. And that’s where tonight’s tale must end. There is so much to tell about this city, snapshots and short movie reels playing endlessly to my soundbite mind.

In the end, it’s the exhaustion that wins out over the telling.

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Mar 242012
 

24 May, 2011

 

Delicious

There is an incident at the end of my street. Thirty firefighters, three trucks and two cops on walky talkies standing around a small triangle of yellow tape in the middle of the night.

‘Wassup?’ I ask the police officer standing outside the deli across the road from my place.

‘The manhole’s hissin’,’ he said. ‘Just makin’ sho dere’lll be no incident.’

I nod. Thinking ‘in-ci-dent’. And smile to myself as I remember a thought I’ve had many times today: American men don’t speak English.

It’s late. It’s been a loooong day. Dressed up and skipping out the door into a grey day, first date happy. Brooklyn is tired and glum. Rubbish is all over the place. The footpaths are dirty and damp from last night’s rain. The battered silver roller doors of the small shops are closed, making the place look like an industrial area on a Sunday. Am I disappointed? Not at all. Mine is the anticipation of a reality beyond first impressions. Besides, it reminds me of Europe. I laugh. Everywhere in the west reminds me of Europe. Why would New York be any different; it’s who we are. The settlers. The colonisers. The adventurers. The displaced from previous ages.

Here we are. Not in Europe. Recreating crowded lives in vaster spaces, believing our worlds to be new.

I got my award today.

The Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Regional Fiction Australia/NZ, for Hymn for the Wounded Man.

The photo’s a bit blurry, it was taken by a young man who did me the honour of recording the moment.

It was beautiful to witness so many people in love with their own work, applauding and clapping themselves and each other. And then I took myself out for dinner. At Tratoria d’something. Across the road from Carnegie Hall. God only knows what I was doing, whether I was ordering, sitting, breathing correctly, but I seemed to attract the somewhat amused stares of the city’s confident and comfortable. I raised my glass to my difference. To the wide open spaces of an Australian heart that puts me at ease wherever I go.

And to New York.

To an orange, fennel and melon salad that nourishes me with the first fresh food I’ve had in three days and a flat noodle eggplant and tomato dish that for a few precious moments fills my world. I am eating New York style. It is delicious.

As with public spaces just about everywhere, the dominant energy is masculine. Suits and otherwise. I am reminded of the only two exceptions I’ve discovered: Barcelona and Dubrovnik are women’s towns. I am surprised New York is so . . . but of course. How could it be otherwise?

Eventually the last of my sparkling white is drained and I no longer have the concentration I need for eloquently eavesdropping on the conversations around me.

I spill into the street where bitter cold shrouds the tops of the skyscrapers in white mist and hail my first yellow cab. (The airport doesn’t count.) And I raced through the Monday night of a lively world, wishing I was walking, knowing my foot still swollen from fast dashes through miles of international airport corridors needs to rest.

And so do I.

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Mar 212012
 

 

May 11, 2011

 

Dear New York,

I’m nobody. Nobody in particular that is, other than a seriously deluded Aussie who’s decided to pitch it all on one toss – and for what?

A publishing deal.

I know, you’ve heard my story before. You’ve watched small people like me spill out of trains and planes and cars in which they’ve hitched a ride, standing and staring in wonder, battered suitcase in hand, our necks craned, our eyes sliding along the hard edges of your tall buildings towards a barely visible snatch of blue sky.

That blue, without warning, is our touchstone, souvenir of the familiar world we left behind us.

New York, you are our beacon. Our Everest. Our last stop. Our all or nothing.

I thought I was years and years away from paying you a visit. But I have a friend with a phenomenally good change-the-face-of-digital-learning idea who is coming to New York for her own shot at the big time. I googled contacts for her, agents and potential persons of interest. It was a dangerous move. I began filling out my own online auto submission forms for my own lovely books. And yes, they are lovely books. My other friend, Brunette, said so. And she wouldn’t lie. Not to save my pride, anyway. Eventually (in no time at all actually) as I googled and searched my fingers found their way to six little keyboard strokes that began with a Q, followed by an ANTA, and ending in S. The sale fare was flashing a small word that dulled the edges of my known world: ‘Hurry’, ‘Hurry’, ‘Hurry’, ‘Hurry’.

And that’s what New Yorkers do, isn’t it? You hurry. I used to say to my friends, when I wanted to get a laugh, ‘if I am going to reincarnate as anyone in this world, next life around, please God let me be a New Yorker’.

I repeated this to my friend with the great digital publishing idea and she didn’t laugh. She said ‘we’re all New Yorkers’.

‘If New York is your magnet, you are a New Yorker,’ she said.

That got me thinking.

About Leonard Cohen actually. A New Yorker who’s not a New Yorker but had his moment with Janis in the Chelsea Hotel.

There’s a crack, there’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
 

Not that that has anything to do with Janis. Although it might. It’s just a glorious collection of words that shine for me when the lights go down. Which reminds me of a dream I had after I clicked Pay Now at Qantas. I was dressed in traveling clothes, the kind someone like me who walks very long distances on pilgrimage through alien lands might wear, expensive clothes that make you look like you live in the gutter, which when you travel like me, walking 1500kms through, say, Italy and the Balkans, you often do.  In my dream I was in a stranger’s room in New York. I lay on the bed, face down, just on the edge, exhausted with the strongest sense of ‘home’. I thought ‘they won’t notice’. It was my Goldilocks moment.

So here I am, standing on the eastern shore of my southern homeland, having committed to my ‘single bold stroke’ (I read that in an American marketing textbook a few years ago and I’ve been on red alert ever since for my ‘single bold stroke’). I wonder where I might stay when I come to visit? I thought maybe Peter Carey. He’s an Australian author too, like me. There can’t be that many of us; we’re such a little country when it comes to numbers. And he lives in New York, at least if the stories I read about him in magazines are true. I’m sure he’d love to welcome a compatriot who’s traveled so very far for the same reasons he did.

Then again, maybe I’d rather stay with Carrie Bradshaw. I know she lives in New York. And we’ve spent loads of time together in my loungeroom – loaning me some floor space is the least she could do. Besides, these days she’s hardly ever home in her little flat.

Then there’s Liberty. My unwavering light. I know, I know, she’s made of stone and doesn’t have a beating heart . . . although I am one among millions who will beg to differ. If I do nothing else, I will do this: I will come to New York and pay my respects to Liberty.

And I will bow my head for freedom.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. (Praise Janis. And Kris.)

For in coming to New York, by laying to rest a dream I’ve held so close for so long, I am setting myself free for other dreams, yet to be dreamed.

 

WINNER! 2011 Independent Publisher Book Award, Best Fiction Australia/NZ

 

May 13, 2011

 

The Wonder of Alignment

Yesterday I won an award.

A small award that’s big in little circles – and gargantuan for an antipodean with her eyes on the summit.

The award gives me a gold sticker. It’s not the Pulitzer, but it is American – and that makes me and a whole lot of people I know and don’t know laugh and smile.

Imagine, Hymn for the Wounded Man has won Best Regional Fiction for Australia/New Zealand.

The wonder of this little award is I’ll actually be in New York City to collect it – the awards ceremony is on the evening after I arrive.

This morning I woke just as the new light cleared the darkness from the sky. It’s chilly these days, particularly at that hour, so I rugged up snug and warm in my dressing gown and shawl, tiptoed out the front door and into the shadows, crunched along the gravel in the driveway, padded up a small hill and stood high on a cushion of freshly mown grass, my eyes to the golden glow of the eastern horizon.

And way up high, in the deep blue, I saw them, beaming brightly above the Earth. Though not all of them. Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter all in a line. I saw three. There was a fourth, but it created a V – when according to the astronomer on the radio yesterday the planets were aligning, a straight row. An occasional event. A wonder.

I missed the main game in the heavens, it’s reality eluded me. But I knew from a trusted source, the stranger on the radio, it was on. There is what we observe and there is what is. They may or may not be the same thing.

What I observe is the chaos of my life as I prepare so many little things to make myself ready to go to New York City. What is is that I am going to New York City. I am going to New York City to collect an award.

Coincidence, serendipity, destiny.

The wonder of alignment.

 

16 May, 2011

 

Half-pace at the Epicentre

Downtown Mullumbimby is not New York.

Mullumbimby is my town. Well, it’s my current town, a bustling little hive of activity in its own country-slow way. The bustling bit means that these days it’s near impossible to get a carpark. Once you’re on the footpath however – the budding New Yorker in me says ‘sidewalk’ – once you’re on the footpath it’s pretty cruisy.

People circle on the footpath in social clusters to say g’day to friends, they sit on benches beneath waving palm trees near the pedestrian crossings, they J walk nowhere near the crossings and think nothing of holding up the traffic.

In short, we wander. Very few of us hurry.

Ahhh, New York.

The NYC of my mind has footpaths – er, sidewalks – teeming with busy people all going one way (usually to the top).  New Yorkers rush. They are focused. Not on the sidewalk. Or even the people on the sidewalk. But on ‘the top’ that beams from the third eye in their minds. And if two of these dashing New Yorkers happen to stop to say g’day, they cause a human traffic pile-up and people drop their briefcases and spill important papers all over the sidewalk.

True story, it happens all the time in the movies.

So there I was last week in Mullumbimby, standing on the Santos steps (Santos is our health food shop, ironic name hey). So there I was standing on the wide red concrete steps of Santos, about to walk down, when a woman singlemindedly marched out of the store (she was probably a visiting New Yorker) and stopped short right beside me, impatient and puzzled why I didn’t get out of her way.

I stared at her, not sure whether to explain or apologise. In the end I did nothing, but attempt to lift one foot and make my way awkwardly down the steps.

Have I mentioned I broke my foot? In January. January 21st to be exact. Five bones! Metatarsils 1-4 and the cuboid. What was I doing? (I know you’re thinking that because everyone wants to know.) I was riding a scooter, merrily sweeping along the footpath on my small silver chariot, when I hit some slime and whack! My foot smashed hard and fast into the cement. So as I said, five bones. Last week, four months later, I was only just mobile without my crutches.

And here’s the thing about crutches – you are visibly dis-abled. Here’s the thing without them – the disability is not visible and you the disabled are at the mercy of the assumptions of passing strangers. So there I was about to walk down the steps and this woman barges out of the shop and presumes I will leap out of her way and I can’t. It’s that simple. I cannot move quickly. I limp heavily. And yesterday was the first day in four months that I felt a little spring in the step of my left foot. It’s healing. I’m getting better. And I am slow.

So as I stood facing the woman who barged out of the shop, wondering whether to explain or apologise, in the end I did neither because my thoughts ballooned into this thought:

If I can’t manage half pace Mullumbimby how on Earth am I going to navigate the streets of New York?

I smiled. I remembered the moment I booked my ticket three weeks ago at Qantas online. I remembered clicking ‘pay now’ and thinking ‘Steph, you have a broken foot. You’re going to New York City?’

Yes. Ha haha. I’m going to New York City, lifelong beacon of hope in my heart, the one place on Earth that moves at my natural pace – and I have a (rapidly healing) broken foot. What a hoot.

I mentioned this to my friend Jennie Dell the other day who is VERY EXCITED that I am going to New York.

I said: ‘I’m moving at half pace Mullumbimby – imagine, I’m going to New York!’

And she, who has been there, a great lover of the great city, said this:

‘I was in New York a few years ago and I made a point of walking slowly. It was wonderful, because by walking slowly you will meet the eyes of the natives.’

And there I have it. Permission to walk slowly in New York.

Because when we walk slowly we have beautiful encounters with the spirits of the people of a place. I know this from experience the past four months. Because the only people going at my pace, and they are not necessarily walking, are the disabled. People I have been in too much of a hurry to ‘meet’ before. And here we are, left behind by the great sweep of the able bodied, left behind to smile and sometimes chat as we lean on our crutches in the street.

Encounters. Sometimes it’s just a big smile in the eye contact.

This is the gift of my broken foot.

New York is a gift from my heart.

 

21 May, 2011

 

Entering the Zone

There are three phases to any journey:  the going, the being there and the leaving/return.

All pilgrims know a journey begins the moment you decide to go – and I have just entered the last of my going days.

Tomorrow I fly.

I am exhausted. I am excited. I know nothing will ever be the same from the moment I arrive at Brisbane airport at five o’clock tomorrow morning to enter into the one of the most delicious zones on Earth – international transit. Mmm-mmmmmmmmmm. Nothing can be the same because the summit of outstanding business in my life – New York City – will have been reached and I have no idea what lies beyond that dream.

I have done all I can do to prepare for New York. No sooner have my wonderful whiteboard assistants cleared their lists of things to do than the coloured markers have mushroomed again with new ideas. Body, heart, mind and soul, it’s been a round the clock mission ever since I visited qantas.com three weeks ago.

New York. Foundation stone of life’s twin pillars:  Hope and Possibility. I know this because it is reflected back to me from the hearts and faces of the people around me – strangers and friends – when they hear of my mission.

New York City. Home of buildings and places and people of such iconic value that 12,000 miles away they are burned into my being without consciousness. Manhattan. Brooklyn. Queens. Broadway. Times Square. Madison Square Gardens. Upstate. Emma Goldman. Rick Blaine. Grace Jones:  ju-ust, the Apple stretching and yawning, good morning, New York (although I can’t imagine Grace ever being awake at that hour). Saks. Fifth Avenue. Guggenheim. Statue of Liberty:  give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Lady Gaga. Whoopi Goldberg. Woody Allen. Lou Reed. Al Pacino. Mary Tyler Moore. Fran Drescher. Oscar Hammerstein. Mae West:  too much of a good thing can be wonderful. The Roosevelts. The Rockefellers.

Rumi.

The purpose of language, says Rumi, according to the spiritual historian Andrew Harvey, is ‘to show you something far off,’ to show you ‘something moving, trembling in the distance, like a heat mirage.’ And to inspire you with all your power to go to the place emanating this mysterious light.*

He wasn’t talking about New York. But most of the rest of us are.

New York. Beacon of possibility and hope.

The place beyond which life begins anew, no outstanding business!

The place emanating the mysterious light.

Oh! but of course . . . there is my year among the reindeer people of the north . . . . a different light.

Salut the mystery!

* From The Way of Passion, by Andrew Harvey – which, glazing over his harping about the end of the world, is the book I would choose if stranded alone on a desert island with only one book.

*****

Just weighing my bags on a wizzy baggage weighing thingy and do you know how generous baggage allowances are to the US from Australia?

2 x 23kgs. That’s 46 kilos! Baggage heaven for an author on a mission.

For I have filled my bags with books, which is a such a delight, because when I booked the ticket, before I discovered the 46kg possibility, I thought I’d only be taking a few books with my on my expedition to find an international publishing deal.

And as I was giving thanks to massive US baggage allowances brimming with my books, I remembered a question someone asked me, just the other day:

‘What if you fail?’ they said.

‘Fail?’ I replied. ‘Fail!’

I am going to New York City.

I am going to New York City for one whole month.

I am going to New York City for one whole month on an intrepid adventure to find an international publishing deal.

I have won already.

The world is mine for having taken one breath of this city.

For having stepped one foot in this city.

For having lived, for one month, in New York.

Salut!

 

23 May, 2011

 

Touchdown!

Houston, we have touchdown!

See? A row of yellow taxis, the first sight of the great city from the doors of JFK – right before I realised I’d left my cabin baggage near the luggage carousel and had to talk my way back in to get it! Imagine that, talking your way past American security guards with hearts full of kindness and common sense.

When I was in my 20s, I had this great poster of Manhattan by night on my kitchen wall, right above the yellow laminex table where the kids and I ate breakfast.

It was a mystery at the time, what that skyline represented, the sea of pinpoint lights scattered among the darkness, the mass of long buildings telling stories of distant, yet to be imagined futures.

It has taken another 20 years – more – to get here. If you’d asked me three weeks ago when I might go to New York, I would have said, and I can say this for certain because I have said it recently, ‘oh, four or five years’ (subtext: ‘when I am worthy’).

If you’d told me three weeks ago I’d be stepping out the wide doors of JFK before the end of the month I would have thrown my head back and laughed out loud with surprise, delight and the joy of impossibility.

This morning, a long distant morning away, I stood at Gate 80 at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith, humming Grace Jones’s ‘ju-ust the apple stretching and yawning, good morning, New York’, jiggling from one foot to the other, excited, impatient, animated by the secret knowing I was on my way to visit a newfound lover:  the lover of deepest heart, the one who demands all and to whom you’re willing to give more, much more, than that; the one for whom time without is time wasted and denied.

Over the years, when I’ve heard people say they’re going, or they’ve been, to New York, my head has snapped up sharply, my eyes panned wide, a dizzy mixture of jealousy, awe and wonder coursing through my veins, as if they’ve just announced they’re seeing the lover of my own desires.

It seems I am not the only one. At LA International Airport (another song there), amid the chaos of hundreds of inbound passengers streaming through express exits to make their way to the connecting flight to New York, one salient fact stood out: we were all Australians. Hundreds of us teeming towards Gate 121 to catch the second leg of QF 107. As we stripped down for body imaging at security, one by one, confident the plane wouldn’t be leaving without us because it would have been leaving without all of us, a security guard, his face as black as the moon dark sky, grins and shouts out ‘for some reason Australians love New York!’

For some reason, we do!

Is it because it’s bigger than us? Grander than us? It dreams big for us? And accepts us as we are? Small and hopeful.

Flying in atop a thick white bank of clouds, 35 hours into Sunday 22 May, like the Himalayas when I flew into Kathmandu at Christmas, without warning the skyline appeared like heaven in the distance. A sob escaped my throat. Tears filled my eyes.

Another homecoming.

Who is this city?

In truth I know nothing about it at all. It was the soundtrack to my growing up, as it was for just about everyone in the Western world. But I wasn’t paying that much attention. It wasn’t the conscious. What, then, was in the transmission?

It’s early morning now, dawn in Brooklyn. Yesterday evening’s drab sky and Sunday streets revealed a small surprise – a neighbourhood of brick houses and wide streets that might be anywhere on Earth. Was I disappointed? Perhaps mildly. But only because it didn’t shine. And who am I to expect a Grand Dame to shine for my own unendurable needs?

On the way in I saw a pocket of boys ‘shootin‘ hoops‘. A baseball pitch, tired and empty. Traffic that flowed easily and didn’t honk.

New York, the Grand Dame, will, I suspect, be found in the human collective.

I’m on the second floor of a ground floor flat. It’s probably called an apartment. It is classic Brooklyn: stairs that spill onto the street, a wooden door at the top of the stairs that opens into a hallway. Doors in the hallway harbouring tenants I may or may not meet.

As I peer from my room onto the street below I see a scene of such iconic madness, and sadness, it is as if I’m watching a movie: a pair of old women, trading something or nothing, bag ladies in ill-fitting overcoats and hats, old-fashioned shopping trolleys spilling their worldly goods onto the ‘sidewalk’. A snapshot, unphotographed.

And now I wait for the morning light. Monday morning and the rush hour heading ‘downtown‘, to Manhattan, on the subway, me amongst it for day one of my needle in a haystack adventure, a day filled with two important things that occurred after I booked my random ticket:

  1. international publishing rights boot camp, one whole day devoted to setting the stage for my mission: to find an international publishing deal,
  2. awards night, a gold medal evening for Hymn for the Wounded Man.

Tonight, in my own small way, New York is cheering me.

 

24 May, 2011

 

Delicious

There is an incident at the end of my street. Thirty firefighters, three trucks and two cops on walky talkies standing around a small triangle of yellow tape in the middle of the night.

‘Wassup?’ I ask the police officer standing outside the deli across the road from my place.

‘The manhole’s hissin’,’ he said. ‘Just makin’ sho dere’lll be no incident.’

I nod. Thinking ‘in-ci-dent’. And smile to myself as I remember a thought I’ve had many times today: American men don’t speak English.

It’s late. It’s been a loooong day. Dressed up and skipping out the door into a grey day, first date happy. Brooklyn is tired and glum. Rubbish is all over the place. The footpaths are dirty and damp from last night’s rain. The battered silver roller doors of the small shops are closed, making the place look like an industrial area on a Sunday. Am I disappointed? Not at all. Mine is the anticipation of a reality beyond first impressions. Besides, it reminds me of Europe. I laugh. Everywhere in the west reminds me of Europe. Why would New York be any different; it’s who we are. The settlers. The colonisers. The adventurers. The displaced from previous ages.

Here we are. Not in Europe. Recreating crowded lives in vaster spaces, believing our worlds to be new.

I got my award today.

The Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Regional Fiction Australia/NZ, for Hymn for the Wounded Man.

The photo’s a bit blurry, it was taken by a young man who did me the honour of recording the moment.

It was beautiful to witness so many people in love with their own work, applauding and clapping themselves and each other. And then I took myself out for dinner. At Tratoria d’something. Across the road from Carnegie Hall. God only knows what I was doing, whether I was ordering, sitting, breathing correctly, but I seemed to attract the somewhat amused stares of the city’s confident and comfortable. I raised my glass to my difference. To the wide open spaces of an Australian heart that puts me at ease wherever I go.

And to New York.

To an orange, fennel and melon salad that nourishes me with the first fresh food I’ve had in three days and a flat noodle eggplant and tomato dish that for a few precious moments fills my world. I am eating New York style. It is delicious.

As with public spaces just about everywhere, the dominant energy is masculine. Suits and otherwise. I am reminded of the only two exceptions I’ve discovered: Barcelona and Dubrovnik are women’s towns. I am surprised New York is so . . . but of course. How could it be otherwise?

Eventually the last of my sparkling white is drained and I no longer have the concentration I need for eloquently eavesdropping on the conversations around me.

I spill into the street where bitter cold shrouds the tops of the skyscrapers in white mist and hail my first yellow cab. (The airport doesn’t count.) And I raced through the Monday night of a lively world, wishing I was walking, knowing my foot still swollen from fast dashes through miles of international airport corridors needs to rest.

And so do I.

 

25 May, 2011

 

The Great Treasure Hunt

I wonder if New Yorkers would laugh if I told them the city reminds me of cities in the Middle East – there’s a very earthy feel to it. Like Damascus. Like Amman. There are more white people and fewer flowing robes here, but the air, the smell, the traffic, the general feel and flow, the roller door shops, the produce carts, the dark eyes, the accents, the cat sleeping on the newspapers . . .

The big difference is that Arab strangers are alive to each other.

Of course, I’m telling stories. What do I know beyond first impressions scanned by Antipodean eyes leading aching, swollen feet on a great big treasure hunt.

Yesterday the adventure to find an international publishing deal began – with a one-day publishing rights boot camp with author, speaker and all round one woman whirlwind Jan Yager.

Aha! A map.

Then today I trekked off to Book Expo America, slugging it out with armloads of books and aching feet, criss crossing town on a spiderweb subway system, to wander the exhibition crowds and do my best to get sales folk to deliver my books and press package to editors and publishers.

They really don’t wanna know about authors. A salient fact I deduced from the entry fee – $350 for authors, $200 or less for everyone else. Fortunately I am also one among everyone else, being a publisher as well. It took a sharp inhale to fork out anything at all, until I remembered I’ve come a very long way and spent a lovely load of dough to come this far so what’s another 200 smackeroos!

New Yorkers are nice. The ones I ask for directions dunno much about what’s round the corner, but they’re helpful in their own way. Like the men who turned on their heels back the way they just came to carry my roller suitcase of books down the stairs for me. I was very very thankful for that, I can tell you.

One more day on this particular leg of the treasure hunt and I’ll be suitcase free. BEA will be over and I’ll be left on my lonesome to find that elusive publishing deal.

One book at a time.

And in between I’ll be soaking up the city.

By the way, did you know steam really does come up from grates in the footpath?

And don’t mind my picture. It’s the only one I had, short of me and Times Square getting all buddy buddy. I was trying to photograph the wonderful old building across the road, through the mirror in my room. I know, small things . . .  :)

 

26 May, 2011

 

New York is a Village

There are two primary faces of a city, any city. One is the groundswell of humanity that operates at street level, largely invisible to just about everyone but each other; the other is the export community, the ones who tend to live off the ground and create the city’s perceptible, visible heartbeat.

In New York, that visible identity is recognisable right around the world. It’s in the songs we sing, the buildings we lionise, the artwork we print and reprint that most of us afford only as cards, the clothes whose KMart imitation we clamour to wear on our backs, the restaurants and culture whose imitation defines us.

But all this depends on the folk on the ground, to build the city, to keep it running, to drive the wheels.

Since I got here, to Brooklyn three days and nights ago, one particular thought has surfaced over and again – 9/11 would have left most people in this city without a single clue about why someone might want to do this ‘to them’. They are good people. They are universally good people. They go about their business making the most of what they have. Some will rise from street level, their natural talents lifting them off the ground and into finer digs.

For most, New York is, and will remain, a village.

I didn’t have a photo for today’s blog, so I snapped the building across the road, right outside my window, on my way home from grabbing dinner down on Fulton Street.

I know, it looks very Addams Family. I had that thought too. In fact it’s the World Headquarters Building of the Independent Order of Mechanics. Up the road on the opposite corner we have a grand old building called Elim, which I can only presume to be Jewish. Across the road from that is the Gospel Centre. Down the street in the opposite direction we have two beautiful copper doors overhung with the star and sickle moon of Islam.

New York is a village.

Exhausted as I was when I woke this morning, I dragged myself out onto the street and into the subway, making my way once again to Book Expo America downtown (downtown, uptown – it’s Manhattan). OMG I am in Manhattan. I was so tired it was all I could do to sit in one place and see what came to me. I piled my leaflets and bookmarks and other bumf onto the tables around me, on the theory you never who might sit down. And I waited. And who came along was Dianne Hart. Or perhaps she spells her name Diane Heart. Either way, her upcoming book will have her French maiden name in between, so her old friends from school know it’s her.

Dian/ne’s is a survivor’s tale. Smashed into a tiny pocket of air when the mountain that was her home in San Diego fell down, she broke around 20 bones in her upper torso and survived to tell a tale that cost 10 of her neighbours their lives.

Needless to say, it changed her life and she’s giving that change everything she’s got. Enthused by our resting hour, I took a breath and got to it, taking to the morass of book booths at the expo, wondering where to start. And don’t you love serendipity? Nothing to lose, I decided to slip around to the tables in the big publishers’ dens, flat circles of varying sizes where important people sit and have conversations, and I slipped my bumf onto them as I wandered by. It was fun. And then for the heck of it I got chatting to Charles, whom I asked, just for a lark, if anyone from editorial was around. No, he said and as he glanced around he spotted Eric. He called him over. Introduced us. Eric invited me to sit at one of the important tables and, well, it’s good practice having the conversation.

Twenty minutes later, after we’d chatted about Eric’s trip to Australia and his upcoming walk on the Appalacian Trail – which he is determined to complete on the last day of his 67th year, having started it in 1967 – we shared pilgrim tales. And finally I asked him what he did.

Ha ha. He owns the company. I have an appointment with Margot from one of his imprints tomorrow at 11.30. And that’s where tonight’s tale must end. There is so much to tell about this city, snapshots and short movie reels playing endlessly to my soundbite mind.

In the end, it’s the exhaustion that wins out over the telling.

 

27 May, 2011

 

Phase One, Tick

Meet Fluffy.

She’s a squirrel who lives in Washington Square Park, you know the park, it has the fountain that’s in all the movies. Only the fountain is fenced off and unrecognisable even as a fountain at the moment.

You know one of the funniest things about New York? The buildings aren’t very tall.

Of course, compared to Byron Bay they’re massive. But really, it’s just another big city filled with tall buildings. Even the Gold Coast has one really really tall building and New York might have a couple more that than that.

Which is to say two things:

  1. I have been forced, arm twisted behind my back, to examine closely the New York of my imagination and haha the city in there is sky high and very shiny; and
  2. the fun is on the ground.

To make a mockery of my statement, here is a tall building.

I took the photo from Broadway. Imagine that, on Broadway in the summer lunchtime sunshine.

Today I feel like a kid let out of school for the summer holidays – woop!

Phase one of the journey is complete. Book Expo America has swallowed three days of my life and the foreign rights publishing seminar another whole day and now I’m free – free to hit the subway minus bags of heavy books and free to trail the streets of New York. You never know, that publishing deal might be found in jazz club in West Village, on a ferry to pay homage to Liberty, in a crack in the sidewalk.

The place is one big movie set and everywhere I go is a song. My subway station in Brooklyn is Clinton/Washington Ave and I wonder if that’s Leonard Cohen’s Clinton Street. Every time I get off I start to sing ‘music on Clinton Street, all through the evening’. Yesterday I realised East Harlem was Spanish Harlem, yep you’re already crooning ‘a rose in Spanish Harlem’. It’s usually the chorus. Every morning I hum Grace Jones ‘just the apple stretching and yawning, good morning, New York’.

GOOD MORNING NEW YORK!

Which just goes to show, life is a song.

Or a movie.

I am in a serious minority here in Brooklyn and I love it. Maybe that’s why the place reminds me of Damascus or Amman. It’s not just the city landscape that plays like a continuous movie before my eyes, it’s the interactions of the people. The rapper voice in my head goes off any time I see just about anyone and I have to be careful not to let him out.

The sad thing is I am expecting these small everyday movie moments to explode any second into encounters of violence. These are the black images of Hollywood and the black people of this city must hate the consistent stereotypes. And I can hear the voices of the brave ones who lend their voices to a different world protesting about the absence of acting roles for black people playing everyday people, rather than black people. As a woman I get it.

As a woman, I wish the purposeless black men on the street would get it.

And now it’s time to solidify my time at the book expo. My little expedition is gaining momentum with serious referrals and fun follow ups with publishing front people who had the privilege of me shovelling my books into their hands.

At the end of the last day I had one book left. I glanced up to see the Harlequin banner circling above the expo stadium. I beelined for their stand and shoved the book into the hands of a young saleswoman.

‘This is a bit outside your usual stories,’ I said. ‘It’s an adventure love story that women adore. How about you read it and if you think it’s good pass it onto your editors.’

She smiled. She took the book. I smiled. And thought ‘why didn’t I think of that approach earlier?’

Because you know what? There’s nothing like nothing left to lose to blow away the last remnants of self-doubt. I didn’t want to carry the book. I wanted her to read it and pass it on. Simple.

And then I spent the afternoon in West Village, roaming around the good vibes in Washington Park, stuffing my face on iconic falafel at Mamoun’s and having a glass of wine on a vibrant village corner. A group of sailors in spickest white wandered by and one smiled and saluted me. I nearly cried, it was such a beautiful gesture. And these days such men remind me of my soldier son.

And by the way, all the squirrels who live in Washington Square Park are called Fluffy. The pigeons are called Cocoa.

 

27 May, 2011

 

Cruisin’

Ha! Yesterday I beavered away all morning in my office bed, following up all those leads and loose ends from the conference, and then hit the street for the Fedex office to post my books to varying appropriate people.

I googled the closest Fedex, walked three blocks to the subway, took the train to Jay/Metro Tech, clambered out onto the street and started walking the three or four blocks to Fedex. It was hot. It was sunny. I’ve lost my sunnies, by the way. My jeans were tight and sticky. My bag was heavy with books. And I walked. And I walked. And I walked. Block after city block. Thinkin’ ‘this is such a big city; things are always so much further than they look on the map’. And I walked. And I walked. Then I saw a sign for Sister’s Community Hardware – it’s a hardware shop in my neighbourhood. And I thought ‘wow, they have a chain!’. And then I saw the Senegalese Fashion shop, wow, they have a chain too. And so do the kids yoga people. And so does my little grocer that sells me fresh pear and ginger juice. And so does my subway station, just across the road. FAR OUT! I am in my own neighbourhood.

For a good five minutes I stood there stunned. How can I have come a complete circle? Slowly I worked it out – I was all good until I popped out of the subway at the other end and turned left without a single thought that went along the lines ‘should I turn right?’

And so there was nothing else to do but take a deep breath and disappear down the rabbit hole all over again :)

And I cannot tell you how pleased I was, once I got to the Fedex office, to be writing ‘REQUESTED MATERIAL’ on my book boxes. Yay!

Brooklyn is wonderful. It’s huge. I mean HUGE. It’s breezy. I think I am the only white person in my neighbourhood. Heather, the woman in whose house I’m renting a room, is also white – English mum, grew up in America, Egyptian dad. She’s a lot darker than me. Of course, I can hear people chattering about differences and the need to observe them or otherwise. It’s extraordinary to be so different. To be the odd one out. To be smiled at by people who know you’re a stranger and a very strange one at that – it’s in the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I navigate my world, the things that occupy my waking mind, the way my eyes take in the world around me.

Last night I caught the subway into town, crisscrossing the trains – I’m getting pretty good at the subway – and wandering into East Village. The streets were packed with people just rolling along in the warm breeze. I strolled past Union Station, the stunningly beautiful gothic Grace Church, that building with all the numbers counting along the side – it must be counting something! Streets and parks packed with easygoing happy people.

And then it was bedtime all over again. I don’t think I’ve closed my eyes before midnight since I got here. Imagine that, midnight, every night.

Life is full, of itself.

 

 

 

 

28 May, 2011

 

Surprises

Here’s the thing about New York City.

‘Hey, wanna have dinner with me tonight?’

‘Love to, but I’m going to see kd lang at Madison Square Gardens.

‘How about tomorrow night?’

‘Oh, nice thought, but I’m taking in Lion King on Broadway.’

‘Next week?’

‘Oh, next week I’ve got tickets to the game! Yankees are playing Red Sox.

‘The weekend?’

‘Oh hell no, this weekend I’m going to Deep Purple with a full symphony orchestra. Week after that? Hmmm, oh that’s right, opening of Cirque du Soleil’s new show at Radio City Music Hall.’

What’s not to love about New York City? Especially when tickets start at $35 and you can just about name your own price all the way up to about $350.

AND for the first time in my life I saw an ad on a bus and raced home to my computer and bought a ticket. Cirque du Soleil, opening night. I’ve wanted to see them since they inspired me to start a women’s circus, about 10 years ago on the Gold Coast. I called it G-COW – Gold Coast Old Women’s Circus :)  We had a lot of fun AND the basic administration was too much for one woman. Most of the women hated the name. I thought it was funny. Haha.

Yesterday was a lot of fun. It all began with a train ride downtown where just like that, bowling out of the subway at a station called Bowling Green, I came upon many sudden surprises, starting with the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of the American Indian and . . . well, read on! Fans of Temperance Brennan will be impressed (hi Dirk!). Here’s a photo of the roof of the Smithsonian inside at the entrance way.

And the statue outside.

The Smithsonian is also the old Customs House – and the National Museum of the American Indian. Here’s the statement engraved in the stone outside the building.

The exhibition inside was a tribute to the relationship between the American Indians and what they called the Horse Nation. And while I knew the Spanish introduced horses to America, what I didn’t know is that horses originated here x thousand (or so) years ago, and became extinct. The Spanish re-introduced horses to America. I love this sign at the entry.

After the Smithsonian I tumbled out into the light, right into Memorial Day celebrations in the park by the water. American defence force personal in all sorts of uniforms were scattered among crowds of appreciative people. Americans are beautiful. They are mostly simple and kind. I had to laugh out loud at the scenes in the park – mainly because Australians would have been outraged. Here’s an example.

That’s right, it’s me and a marine posing proudly with a Squad Automatic Weapon. I could have lined up for a grenade launcher and all sorts of other bigger but not blacker weapons, but I settled for the SAW.

Here’s a girl who went for the big guns.

There was a gorgeous young woman belting out old war tunes, my favourite being (not a war tune, as far as I know) Summertime . . .  and the livin’ is easy. I laughed again. Not for the first time this week feeling as if I’ve stumbled onto a movie set.

And the brass band boys were a hoot.

For this part of my day I walked with Ben awhile (hi Ben!).

I turned around and wandered down to the water. And squealed.

Liberty!

She’s little.

She’s close to the mainland.

She’s green!

Hey, doesn’t this photo look like a painting?

The Liberty of my heart’s imagination was to be revealed to me over water. I would be sailing along on a ferry and out of the mists would rise a giant white woman holding high a flame for freedom. And I would fall to my knees and weep for the majesty and brilliance of the human spirits that inspired such beauty, and bow in awe to hope and noble intent.

Give me your tired, your poor.
Your huddled masses, yearning to be free.

I grinned. I must find time between Cirque du Soleil and Deep Purple to pay a visit to the green woman who holds a torch for the free world.

After Liberty I wandered up Broadway and voila! Just beyond the park, a bull!  The Wall Street bull surrounded by Saturday crowds wanting photos.

And then my day was felled by sadness. Without warning I came upon the gaping hole that was the World Trade Centre. A construction site of ordinary proportions and overwhelming sorrow.

I was unprepared for my feelings. Really, the whole 9/11 thing had been an imagined tragedy for a woman in a foreign land so very far away.

Here is the beauty and the gift of Americans – they might act out their emotions on the world stage under an umbrella called their Foreign Policy, but they are forgiving people.  I am trying to think of anywhere else on Earth that would have moved on as easily as the people of this city so clearly have  from an act of such unspeakable horror as what they witnessed that day.

Americans are deeply into symbolism and therein lies their power and their fragility.

The men who wielded the swords of terror on September 11, 2001 struck at the symbols.

It could not have been personal.

Because the real targets were their own hearts.

What the perpetrators of that horror did not know is that  New York City transcends culture and geography. New York City is global. New York City is all the modern world in one place. Enduring. Stateless. There are women in black robes and headscarves riding the subway just as easily as those in jeans and t-shirts. The mosques of Islam open their doors to the streets, as do the churches and synagogues. All the languages of the world ride the warm wind that blows with the late spring.

I wonder, could the gentleness of this city be the legacy of the tragedy, the gift of unspeakable of horror.

Photographing the site felt like photographing the homeless – sometimes you do it and you’re never really comfortable about it.

Another time, perhaps.

From the financial district I rode uptown to Central Park and a wander through the marble hallways of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The photo at the top of the blog was taken from the steps. That’s Fifth Avenue, by the way.

I started with the shop, because I’ve learned, as one who’s not really that interested in art, that the best of the museum will be in the shop – and then I’ll know what I’m looking for in the museum!

Another wonderful surprise – Monet’s Waterlilies. Monet always reminds me of my mother (hi Mum!).  So this one’s for her.

And that, friends, is where I called it a day. The museum borders Central Park and I sat for a while on a bench for no other reason than I was at Central Park and of course I must must pay my respects. And then I carried my exhausted feet home on the subway, calling by the yummy Japanese restaurant a few blocks from my house for a bag of Edamame, strolling home in the early evening sucking the guts out of salted green soy bean pods.

I love New York. You can stuff your face on the go. You can make noise. You can rest amid the bustle in the smile of a stranger.

New York.

 

30 May, 2011

 

And on the 7th Day . . .

On the 7th day, she rested.

She sat in the backyard in the sunshine listening to Brooklyn – until she heard the beautiful raised voices of a gospel choir, raced upstairs to get dressed and shot out the front door looking for it.

Alas, she found the church, but it was all quiet by the time she got there. So she decided to wander on through the neighbourhood to the dessert shop where once a day she calls by for a creme brulee, the miracle of which is she’s never eaten a creme brulee in her life and now suddenly she can’t live without ‘em.

Only they didn’t have any! He was very apologetic, it was hard to get good help, he said. So I settled instead for a lovely strawberry cream meringue-like chewy pie. Mm-mmm, delicious!

Then the woman who serves me my regular creme brulee – who every time I buy it goes out back to the baker and says ‘Joy-age (which is New York for George), how much is the creme brulee with tax?’ – she comes over and tells me about Dance Africa 2011, that’s on ‘just down the road’.

‘Four blocks?’ I say. “Eight? Ten? 12?’

‘Bout that,’ she says.

And I smiled a hearty smile – because New Yorkers are the only people I know, with the exception of my sister (hi Gin!) who think a 10-20 block walk is ‘just down the road’.

Although these days, with my healing bones, my shoe is on the other foot, so to speak :)  Sigh, the irony the irony. And I walked the 10 blocks nonetheless. To the big food party!

Cucumber lemonade! Funnel cakes. Saltfish. And people people people. And music music music. A lovely way to spend a day of rest.

And I was reminded for the 50th time about an observation I made early on this blog, about people here not being alive to each other and the fact I need to correct it.

They are indeed! Just not first thing in the morning. It takes the early risers in New York time to get going, tha’s’all.

Here’s some scenes from the food party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

31 May, 2011

 

Subway

Conversation overheard on the subway.

Man:  I used to live in New York City, but now I live in Florida. I’d forgotten that you walk everywhere in New York City – if I’d remembered I woulda gone to the gym before I got here.

Woman:  Well if we walk everywhere, why are we so fat?

Man:  Because we eat while we walk.

Yesterday I roamed, and all good roaming in New York City involves climbing subway stairs, up and down. And eating. Starting with my own stop – that’s me in the photo at the home station, Clinton/Washington Av. That was before I wandered along with my bag of edamame.

The subway is not just a train system, it’s a whole city of people underground. Every second person has earphones plugged into their head and most of them are also reading books or staring at screens of varying sizes.

They pile in, they pile out.

Here’s a subway clue:  the rabbit hole you’re looking to disappear into is the one with the traffic above ground heading your way. That’s a very smart tip, by the way.

And I’m gettin’ good at switching trains. Crisscrossing town.

And the subway is great exercise itself! A week ago I was a picture of fragility holding onto the rail as I made my way up and down the stairs, limping with my mending broken foot and unbending ankle.

Now, I can veritably bound up and down the stairs, look, no hands!

AND, all that standing and keeping my balance on the clackety train when there are no seats has ironed out the painful kink in my hips and strengthened the little balance muscles in my feet.

I can stand on one foot, take my pick which one.

Yesterday the day began at Washington Square Park. I roamed the streets, sniffed out iconic joints thanks to Patt’s little street cards (hi Patt!).

There’s John’s Pizza, where Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway ate in the movie Manhattan.

 

And here’s a classic Greenwich Village street.

And then, in the spirit of pursuing my publishing deal, and predawn friendship, I met up with New Yorker Susan Maushart, who’s been in Australia for the last 20 years and has returned to carve out her place in the home city. She’s the one who interviewed me for the Storycatcher interview (www.voyagermoon.com). She’s the one who said I was a ‘born storyteller with a gift for adventure’. The trick is getting New York agents to believe her! We met under the Washington Square arch, we had fresh grapefruit juice (me) and ice coffee (her). She loaded up flagging spirits with tales of her own marvellous reception in the Big Apple.

We went our merry ways, me to continue my tour of iconic New York, this time to the Chelsea Hotel:

I remember you well,
At the Chelsea Hotel . . . .

That was Leonard Cohen, singing for Janis Joplin. For obvious reasons, Leonard’s mother found the song unnecessary (he told me this, at his Brisbane concert last year).

On my way to the subway station I found this outside a church:

Isn’t that beautiful?

I can love this.
I can try.
I can try and love this.
There’s nothing else for me to do.
For this is what the living do -
One hour and then another
And another and another and another . . .

by Mary Stassos

This is what the living do. We try to love.

I remember you well . . .

Here’s the Chelsea Hotel.

And the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel.

And then it was back down the rabbit hole for the train to 42nd Street – Times Square.

I laughed. Here’s me at Times Square. Go on, laugh with me :)

 

And here’s Times Square.

And of course I was also in the heart of the musical district. Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Memphis, etc.

I’ll do Lion King for the kids tomorrow (hi Krys! hi Dyl!).

I stood there amidst all this, a little lost among it today. Not bewildered by the city but by my place in my own dreams, my life.

And returned to the subway for my ticket home to Clinton/Washington Av, for my bag of edamame and a stroll in the evening, back to my place.

 

2 June, 2011

 

New Friends

Last night I was treated to New York City from the rooftop of a building on the fringe of the financial district.

Liberty, in the distance.

Wall Street, in my face.

Gabrielle is the friend of a dear New Zealand friend. We hit it off over oysters (Gabrielle) and Maine lobster roll (me) by a waterfront marina that laps the shores of Battery Park.

Battery Park, said Gabrielle, who was born in Manhattan and raised in Queens, was created from landfill dug from the earth when the World Trade Centre was built in the 70s. Bloody hell, I thought, that is a LOT of dirt.

And then I thought about how clever it is to not only conceive of these things, but to enact them. Imagine claiming land from the sea so solid that you can build a community of 60 storey buildings on it.

Imagine, while we’re at it, imagining the subway. Imagine telling a community of people you’re going to build an underground railway, a spider web of tracks and trains running around underneath them?

Imagine the disbelief! Imagine the naysayers! The doomsayers! The earth is falling! The earth is falling! Fortunately for the visionaries they didn’t live in a world of mass media, so the voices of gloom were kept largely confined. I imagine.

From Gabrielle’s rooftop, the World Trade Centre site is just below. Imagine, living in this building when those buildings came down. Imagine, living with the horror right outside your window those first days.

Here’s the newly reconstructed hole.

Gabrielle said she lived with the grief for a year. And on the first anniversary she decided enough was enough. Life, she said, goes on.

Yesterday I got brave. I prepared my book and submission. I rode the subway up to Fifth Ave. I was going to march up to the office of an agent referred to me – ‘the best’ – and I was going to leave my submission and book with the woman at the front desk.

Only I chickened out.

I stood outside 156 Fifth Ave, leaning on the solid grey brick in the sunshine, watching the lunchtime crowds come and go, and baulked at my mission. It felt intrusive. It’s what Americans do in the movies, creating all sorts of human intersections, ups and downs, laughs and tears. Entertaining, but not me.

Besides, my envelope, so crisp and white when I left home, was crumpled from the ride into town.

So I turned on my heels and walked on, criss crossing town on the subway over to Battery Park to sit on a bench by the water, while I waited for Gabrielle.

At Fulton St station, a young man asked me directions.

‘‘Scuse me ma’m, which side of the platform is Bowling Green?’

I hesitated only a moment before I realised I could help him!

‘The other side,’ I said with a knowing smile, pointing him across the tracks.

This was a moment to behold. I was confident. New York City was mine!

My train pulled in. I sat down.

‘Next stop Bowling Green,’ announced the man in the speaker.

Uh-oh, I thought, and laughed sheepishly. I guess that’s the price of taking directions from a stranger with an Aussie accent.

Hey, check this out.

In case you miss it, it’s a crocodile coming out of a manhole cover grabbing a creature.

Out of the blue on the station platform.

Very funny.

 

 

3 June, 2011

 

The Lion King

Just about dead centre in that picture above is a woman in a bright blue top – that’s me, in Times Square after my afternoon at Lion King.

It was very nearly the afternoon that wasn’t . . . I mean, it’s the Wednesday afternoon, 2 o’clock session for a production that’s been running nigh on 15 years. Did I really want to sit in an empty theatre for my Big Broadway Experience? Should I wait until an evening session? Would Saturday night give me an audience sensation that would enhance the onstage experience?

But hey, Wednesday 2pm summoned me and so I rolled up half an hour early to buy my ticket at the box office. I figured I’d go the cheapest, $80.

‘Why Lion King?’ someone asked me.

‘Because it’s my granddaughter’s favourite,’ I replied.

And to be quite frank, I’ve never even seen the movie. What better way to soak it up than through the Broadway spectacular in New York City?

Wednesday, 2pm. The crowd was thick. Particularly with children. I waded through looking for the box office. Sold out. SOLD OUT! On a Wednesday afternoon at 2pm after 15 years?

Good lord, how many people are there in the world!

I was welcome to join the ‘cancellation queue’. I was only third in line, so I did. And 10 minutes before curtains I got my ticket – $142, standard price for cancellation tickets.

What else was I to do? I was here. I had waited. I reasoned I’d only fill the suddenly spare time by shopping. I was five rows from the front.

As the darkness fell and the curtain rose, the power and grace of the stage was stunning, so too the woman whose voice filled the theatre, the animals.

The giraffes.

The beauty and majesty of the glorious spirits who created this overwhelmed me and my eyes filled with tears.

The giraffes.

Magnificent.

The elephant.

Glorious.

And then the show rolled on with the delight of an audience of children applauding and laughing and cooing in all the right places.

And then the closing scene.

The sun.

The baby elephant.

The monkey sorceress who won the day. I was overwhelmed the children loved her best.

Here’s the view from the theatre at intermission.

After Lion King I was off for a stroll through the afterwork crowds on Times Square. It was seriously packed. I spied the Disney shop, with its storefront changing every few seconds and in honour of Krys and Dylan I went to check it out. Really I was just filling in time before I met my friend Kiera, who lives in the Blue Mountains and is here in New York, and her friend John, who lives in Manhattan, for dinner.

Here’s John at the table when I turned up.

Starting from the right:  a glass of milk, a glass of ice tea, a glass of red wine and a glass of water.

And then after fabulous pasta with shaved truffle it was on the subway home.

My foot, I gotta say, has been killing me these past few days. It’s like a balloon when I get home and last night was no different.

Perhaps it was the massage I had a couple of days ago, when in the final moments of bliss he stretched my foot backwards . . . perhaps it was running for the bus the other day (imagine running with a wooden leg, that was me) . . . perhaps it was keeping up with the late night subway crowd the other night, not wanting to be left lagging, the lame one who strayed from the pack.

I’m back to taking it easy. Going slow. Still bemused that I, of all people, cannot spend my days walking the length and breadth of Manhattan. More than this, it is the energy required to make the most of this wonderful city . . . after four months flat on my back or just about, I just do not have it.

Sigh.

Hey! How’s this for a way to make money.

3 June, 2011
Something funny

Hey, wanna know something funny?

The school buses here are exactly like those in The Simpsons. Whenever I see one, I see ‘my name is Otto and I love to get blotto’ at the wheel.

Hahaha.

New Yorkers are so kind.

It is humbling to be among them. Men young and old stand for women on the bus, without hesitation. Entering the supermarket, for example, they stand back to let you pass – stepping back to hold the door even if they’re ahead of you.

‘‘Scuse me, ma’am.’

Common courtesy is alive and well and it’s beautiful to behold. It makes me nicer too.

I am again among the hobbled on the street. Limping and slow, the pinched nerve in my sciatica not helping today.

And as I waddle along like an old old lady, surrendering to the limp, I am amazed over and over how many of us there are in this world who are hobbled.

There are a lot of foot and leg and probably hip injuries getting around, no doubt many of them permanent.

Sometimes I wonder if mine is permanent . . . and I am strangely accepting. There’s something easy and gentle about going slowly because you have no choice, about being among the vulnerable and the varyingly dysfunctional.

But of course I love to walk, so this is not an option.

I’m going away for the weekend, to Saugerties. I don’t know what Saugerties is, but everyone ooos and ahhs when I tell them. Apparently it’s in the Catskills, another iconic name that is about to get meaning.

It’s actually 4.30 in the morning and I’m writing this as a way of filling in time before I have to leave. I’m heading into Adirondack country – don’t you love that word?

Adirondack.

I’m off to spend the weekend with two women who were among the leaders of the revolution: Susun Weed, healer and plant ally, and Z Budapest, reclaimer/renewer of women’s spirituality.

Americans of spirit and passion at the forefront of a revolution that ultimately, seemingly and collectively, went nowhere. I am going to pay my respects on behalf of a younger generation for whom they lit the way. It’s all a bit of a hoot really. A weekend workshop called Priestess Training :)  They could have been running a knitting group and I’d be up at dawn to catch the subway to catch the bus to catch the cab to Saugerties. Apparently it’s down the road from Woodstock. I hope I get to see it.

So my darlings, I’ll be back on Monday.

Have a great weekend one and all.

 

10 June, 2011
She’s back!
It’s hot.

Very hot.

The sidewalks are steaming and the city is sticky and slow.

Strangely, I don’t mind it. It’s easy being hot when all you have to think about is your own well being.

Today, in my case, that meant icecream and watermelon.

I’m just about to head into the city to another iconic landmark, Radio City Music Hall.

Zarkana! Cirque du Soleil’s new show. In the heart of New York City. Just 85 bucks a ticket for opening night. Coooooool.

The city is beginning to make real sense to me. I have been exploring round and about, here and there, ad hoc forays into myriad neighbourhoods. And finally they’re adding up!

Today, I was looking for Montague Street in Brooklyn. Or, to be precise, looking for the bus to take me to Montague Street. I was there last week and I wanna give the waitress in the little Italian joint my books to read, for no other reason than we had a big long discussion about favourite books and we traded lists and I didn’t tell her I was a writer.

She’s a perfect American guinea pig for my books.

So there I was, wanting to catch the bus to Montague Street. And I glanced up and there was Montague Street, right beside me. I had no idea that downtown  Brooklyn and Montague Street were the same thing! Haha.

Finally on Tuesday I found some summer clothes. Dresses with suitable hemlines. I couldn’t bear another sweltering day in jeans and t-shirts! I found them on Montague Street.

Here’s the view from the end of Montague Street.

Thanks to those of you who have missed me on the blog. I’ve been resting, brewing actually, diving deeper than the surface offerings the blog demands.

Let’s leave today with one clear bell of a statement. It’s on t-shirts all over the world

I love New York City.

And here’s why: in New York, at ground level, you can be anyone you wanna be. Just relax and get on with it.

Oh, and the photo at the top? I went to the UN the other day. Not much there but a surprisingly large number of people paying their respects to the flags of many nations.

Like just about everything human, it represents a beautiful ideal and visionary hard work and devotion to the actualisation of a common dream.

The reality will always disappoint. Which is why we must forgive ourselves our humanness and fall in love with what is noble and true. In this way we will save ourselves – and nurturing the Earth our home will be a given.

Salaam.

11 June, 2011

 

Mist

Beauty, as we know they say, is in the eye of the beholder.

The other day I was standing on the streets of Manhattan looking up at a sky swirled white. And I declared to the stranger beside me ‘look at the mist draping the tips of the buildings – it’s so beautiful’.

And the stranger looked at me sideways and said ‘it’s pollution’.

Oh.

Beauty.

There was not a heart in the crowd not uplifted by the Cirque du Soleil performance last night.

Nor by the extraordinary, stunning, overwhelming majesty of Radio City Music Hall.

What a theatre!

It was worth the price of the ticket just to ascend the staircase, to glimpse the stage, to go to the toilets for that matter.

What a tribute to glories past.

Zarkana, the new Cirque du Soleil show, was wonderful.

This we’ve come to expect, of course.

It is utterly extraordinary what can be done with light and fabric; the miracle complete with limitless imaginations and plentiful pockets.

It was an honour to chip in my 85 bucks to support the show. We need artists to illuminate our hearts, enliven our spirits! To deliver us beyond the mundane, and then lower us gently back to Earth.

Trust was on show for us last night.

Trust in self. Trust in the human beings sharing the stage. Trust in the engineers who designed and built the gear.

So too the senses – sound, sight, touch and beyond!

Sigh, it was beautiful.

These artists are lovers. They make love to the air around them, from the inside out. They surrender to the forces uplifting them and share the bounty with us all.

Catch the show in Australia if you can . . . you’ll pay twice as much for a ticket and you won’t be in Radio City Music Hall, but it’ll worth every penny, I promise.

Hey, I drank Sangria the other day. Reminded me of Lou Reed ‘ . . . it’s such a perfect day, drink Sangria in the park . . .’ Only I wasn’t in a park, I was in a Spanish bar on Second Ave with my new friend Veronica, snacking on warm marinated olives while a small band floated rumbas quietly into the night.

And I have two publishing moments of interest to report.

I had a ‘heck yeah! send it on down’  response from a publisher in Georgia – of all places!  And I’m hounding an agent who is yet to say boo to me, but whose gift is that by continuing to fire pebbles at her window from my little slingshot, I am raising the quality of my presentation to meet her impossible performing seal demands. Torturous as it is – it’s very, very good exercise.

Ha!

Have I mentioned I love New York?

Spilling out of Radio City Music Hall onto the streets with thousands of happy New Yorkers in the middle of the night, the buildings masked with their nightlights, truly, there was magic in the air.

Beauty, as they say . . .

11 June 2011
How to post a letter

Here, friends, is the scene one might expect to find in New York City.

Strolling through Washington Park last night in the cooling summer breeze, after a disappointingly small and bland but conceptually elaborate poached prawn gnocchi, voila!

A man with a baby grand tinkling the ivories like he is Son of Gershwin and an old, old woman standing crooked and watching, mesmerised.

It was a beautiful evening. People sitting around the idle waters of the fountain, spread out on rugs and deck chairs, chatting, watchingthe French movie beamed onto the screen installed below the Washington Arch, built to commemorate George’s twin career peaks – general and president.

Or perhaps that ought to be capitalised: General and President.

I am in the greatest city on earth, among 8 million people who drive the modern world, elevate its ideals and dictate its fancies.

Yet I am among the ground dwellers and yesterday in Brooklyn, looking for a post office, I had the fleeting thought that this country, at least as I’ve experienced it in New York City, is dangerously close to third world.

That is an exaggeration, of course. But it is a long way from the sophisticated first world society I imagined it to be. Down here on the ground.

It all started in the Fedex office, where I was printing some documents and sending the book to a publisher in Georgia. What would take me 10 minutes at home takes me two hours and so much money I may as well buy a printer. That is a small part of this story. Because after all that, and standing in line, I forgot Fedex doesn’t do post boxes.

So I go looking for a post office.

No one knows where it is.

Then I see a man with parcels.

‘There’s a man who knows where the post office is,’ I grin as he realises that yes, I am talking to him.

The building is big and grey and beautifully old and, trussed up like a Christmas chicken, is a long way from its halcyon days.

I’m standing in line when I hear the following conversation.

Woman in 20s to post office assistant who is patrolling the queue to make sure we have what we need before we get to the counter:  ‘How many stamps do I put on this parcel?’

Patrol woman:  ‘How many did you buy?’

Woman in 20s:  ‘I’m not sure.’

Patrol woman starts to add up her stamps.

Confusion.

Woman in 20s:  ‘I’m sorry, I’ve just never had to do this before.’

Patrol woman, suddenly empathetic: ‘Oh that’s okay, I have a daughter your age and . . . ‘.

Women in their 20s who have never had reason to buy stamps? Or post a letter?

There are two things a parent has a responsibility to teach, a child’s basic survival kit if you like: how to read, write and add up – literacy – and how to swim. I’m adding ‘how to post a letter’.

I’ve heard this said before – Americans are kind, simple folk. Here on the ground, they most certainly are.

Hey! I’m off to Washington DC.

I have a train ticket for Monday, down and back in a day.

I feel like Lisa Simpson off to visit the Lincoln Memorial. Apparently a few older kids got arrested the other day for dancing there.

Memo to Self:  No Dancing At the Lincoln Memorial.

 

11 June 2011

 

Guess!

Guess, guess, guess who lives at the top of those steps?

Guess who used to live at the top of those steps, I should say.

C’moooooooonnnnn, Sex and the City fans :)

It’s Carrie Bradshaw’s house!

Can you imagine. I felt a bit stupid having my photo taken outside. I was with Gemma, an acquaintance of my sister’s. She lives in the neighbourhood. She insisted :)

Here’s the window through which we used to watch Carrie typing.

True story :)

And a block over, looking exactly the same, guess who lives there?

Sarah Jessica herself!

I didn’t photograph it :)

Here’s Veronica. She’s my other new friend. She scooped me up this morning and took me over to the Palisades, a great big quiet patch of Earth filled with trees that can never be developed because a Rockefeller bought it so his mum could retreat into cloisters – an old church he shipped from Europe – and have the view of the trees across the water. He donated it to the state on the proviso it never be developed.

Good lord – they say that a lot in New York, being Americanised Christians n’all. And Bless You! Everyone’s sneezing at the moment as the summer blossoms surrender their pollen to the wind, so ‘bless you’ echoes like a chorus round the streets and subways.

I digress.

What I meant to say was Good Lord! Yesterday it was raining in New York City. So instead of roaming along the High Line, a disused railway line they’ve turned into a park, I strolled through my own neighbourhood to the local flea market.

OMG, the food.

I have been looking for Maine lobster roll since a) a woman called Terri I met on the plane over told me about it and b) since I tasted it with my other new friend Gabrielle two weeks ago!

And there it was at the flea market. Toasted sesame seed roll dripping with warm butter and fresh lobster. Oh my Toto, it was delicious.

AND THEN I found fresh mozzarella slapped between fresh crusty sourdough slices dripping in olive oil and pepper.

Toto, the day just got better and better.

I sold a book! To my friend Kiera’s friend John the Oil Baron.

And I gave two away to a waitress who loved loved loved reading so much we traded favourite book lists. She didn’t know I was a writer and I returned the next day with my books – an American readership testing ground. She was delighted in the way Americans are. She hugged me. Yay book movement is about all I can say.

Here’s a funny thing. The women in Brooklyn go shopping with their dogs. No it’s funny. They gooooo shooooopping with their dogs. Into the boutiques. Into the dressing rooms. It’s sooooo cooooool. I can’t imagine how they stop them peeing on the clothes racks!

Which reminds me of a picture I saw the other day.

I’m off to Washington tomorrow, into the subway at the crack of dawn and ride on down to the capitol.

I’ve been watching West Wing in preparation :)

15 June 2011
We the people
There are six elements you need to build a railroad: Fire. Water. Electricity. Farm. Imagination. Freedom.

True story, there’s a statue dedicated to every single one outside glorious Union Station in Washington DC.

I saw several things today I never expected to see – not just today but in my lifetime.

The Constitution of the United States of America.

The Bill of Rights.

The Declaration of Independence.

Parchment all.

And then I doubled back to the National Museum of American History to see . . . the biggest surprise of all . . . how could I not pay a visit to see . . . Dorothy’s ruby red slippers!

Here they are :)

Don’t you love that they look just a little worn, like all the women in the kingdom have secretly tried them on?

Washington was wonderful. I had one of the loveliest days of my trip yesterday, sensibly riding around on the big red tourist bus, the summer wind blowing my hair in the sunshine.

I had planned to walk to the Lincoln Memorial. That was to be my whole day. But the big red bus was right there at the door at Union Station. What a great decision it was to buy a ticket. I got to do two laps of the city’s iconic buildings – how else would I have known about Dorothy’s slippers and the Constitution?

Guess what DC stands for? As a joke I would have said District of Columbia and hahaha, it does. That’s how I win at Trivial Pursuit using blue spots.

I reckon the founding fathers, with all their education and love of idealism, symbolism and grandeur, were in love with Ancient Greece. I reckon it’s all that democracy, because half of Washington looks like Ancient Greece. Even the buildings constructed in the 1980s look like Ancient Greece.

That’s Abe Lincoln’s temple at the top. I’m not being funny or poetic, they call it a temple. What is funny is that I thought the statue was bronze and it was sitting by a pool. That’s what happens when your primary source of American culture and history is a cartoon family :)  Abe is white stone, by the way. As I said, I thought he was bronze.

Here’s . . . I can’t remember what this is, but it supports my Ancient Greece theory. It’s across the road from Dorothy’s slippers.

And here’s Thomas Jefferson’s temple. It’s beautiful. This is the only decent shot I could get from the moving bus.

Apparently, someone, a president, said, during an event that pulled together all the Nobel Prize winners one year at the White House, that it was the greatest gathering of minds in the building since Thomas Jefferson visited alone.

God Bless America.

Honestly. Is it really so wrong to be so in love with yourselves as a people? To revere the ones that rode in before you? To laud and applaud yourselves and them. To believe in your nation? Surrounded by thousands and thousands of Americans on pilgrimage to themselves, I have to ask these questions. Because Americans do believe in Grand Ideas and besides, they are such nice people. And more than besides, they have produced SO MANY good people. There must be something to believing you’re the greatest that is deeply connected to bringing forth greatness.

Can you imagine Australians queuing by the thousands for an hour or more to take a look at our Constitution ? Haha. And our Constitution is pretty top of the line too.

Now, do tell, aside from the obvious, why is it men build monuments like this one? I said aside from the obvious. All these years I have heard mention of The Monument. I had no idea it was just a stone obelisk. All by itself. Seemingly connected to nothing but a ring of flags.

And that’s the version from a distance. It’s actually on a big bare patch of ground. Here are the flags.

And here’s the sad part.

There’s not a single monument in the Capitol dedicated to a woman.

Monuments ensure we remember. That we take pride in who we are. They elevate us. They illuminate us.

Not a single woman.

Not a single word attributed to a woman, although we know very well all these utterings about freedom might just as easily have been hers.

Not a single woman revered.

What does this do to the psyches of women?

What does it do to the psyches of women to never, ever see themselves among the elevated, the applauded, the wondrous?

This is not a rhetorical question.

The inscription on one statue claims:  Freedom is not free.

And on another:  The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

We are fools to think that women have not thought great thoughts and not fought great fights for the freedom to express them.

A 30 ft statue of Martin Luther King is currently under construction.

This will be the only presence of a non-white man among the stone edifices in the Capitol.

And this is why we missed the greater historical moment when we failed to elect Hillary Rodham Clinton to the White House as the 44th President of the United States of America.

The importance of reflection to the founding fathers is clear, judging by the number of pools and parks in the Capitol.

We would all do well to reflect on the gender of greatness.

Oh, and while we’re there, remember the lengths men of patriarchal disposition have taken to demolish the temples and diminish the spirits of women, including colonising their sacred days – Christmas and Easter among them.

Lest we forget.

God Bless America.

I did two laps of the Capitol. I ate fantastic crab roll and drank sangria that tasted like cough medicine. It was only when I returned to Union Station to catch the train home I realised I DIDN’T SEE THE WHITE HOUSE. Hahaha.

But I did find wonderful shopping. Oh my Toto, the treats I could have bought for everyone! Beautiful things like I expected to find in New York I found in the museums of Washington DC.

As I was looking at the Declaration of Independence, one little boy beside me kept saying ‘I wanna see We the People. Mummy, where’s We the People.’

Five minutes later I was staring at a different parchment. There’s We the People. The first three words of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Yes it was visionary.

Think back to the times from which these documents emerged.

It was visionary and courageous and brave.

And it was 150 years before We the People was extended to women.

And God only knows how many before it included non white men.

We the People.

15 June 2011
Natural state

It’s cold in New York City today.

I was going to walk the Brooklyn Bridge a week ago, but it was too hot in the bare sun. Today, quite spontaneously, after posting off my last press pack to a publisher at the Fedex office, I decided to walk to Manhattan.

And half way across the bridge it started to rain.

Walking. I was walking. I crossed the bridge and just walked, my old self, still limping but walking as if walking is no obstacle.

I wandered along the streets of an old city, a parade of cobbled stones and magnificent buildings from another time.

It’s the fire station!

I walked and I walked, the neighbourhoods changing like countries without border crossings.

The steady rain. The big traffic. Walking the streets. No idea where I am. I must be on pilgrimage!

I think it’s my natural state.

I am on the home run in New York City. Today is my last Wednesday. I think I will spend it, like pennies on the run, at Coney Island. I will catch the subway to the beach.

In the rain.

Posting off my last press pack – a collection of clippings and promotional materials that demonstrate my publishing worth – was a milestone. My mission is complete. I have sown all the seeds I have to sow.

So far the following have sprouted:

1 x small publisher in Georgia

1 x small-medium publisher in Massachussets

1 x medium publisher in Illinois

1 x big agent in NYC who retrieved me from her spam folder and let me know she’ll be in touch, probably July.

I’m nodding. Not a bad effort. And there are several seeds that might yet surprise.

I have done all I can do with the resources I have. It’s time to smile and start pulling myself together, rein in the longings and the spirits, and make ready for the southbound run.

Although the other day I did see a rock shaped like an arrow that seemed to be pointing me north.

North.

Alaska.

Pilgrimage.

My natural state.

 

 

16 June 2011

 

Acts of love

Coney Island.

Iconic Coney Island.

We’ve all been there in our imaginations, via the books and movies and creative expressions of others.

nd it’s exactly like you’d expect. Only smaller. I stopped and asked a souvenir man for a map. He looked at me incredulous.

‘Wha’dya need a map foi?’

‘Everythun yoi need is he-ere.’

And he waved his hand in a general direction and I followed.

And indeed the-ere it was.

New York accents – the classic version – ride seasonal currents, jostling with the squeals and peels of laughter of summer ghosts, long past.

Here’s an observation from a stranger about New York City, from a visitor who knows not very much at all: the city is a time warp. Everything built in the 50s still looks like the 50s, and so on. It’s like I imagine Cuba to be, only with the exception that in New York the cars are new.

At the time of my visit to Coney Island, there were only 18 days, 28 minutes and 51.7 seconds to go until Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest. It’s how they celebrate July 4 on Coney Island. Sonya Thomas won it last year for the women with 41 hot dogs. Joey Chestnut won it for the blokes with 68 hotdogs.

Interestingly, only blokes get to make it to the Wall of Fame. Why am I not surprised?

It was hot on Coney Island. I thought it was to be another rainy day in NYC. But no, the sunshine was out in splendour and I was roasting in jeans.

And so I wandered along the boardwalk, humming a certain tune and sweating it off.

I am ashamed to admit that yesterday that certain song finally made sense to me . . . under the boardwalk, down by the sea . . . now I know what the boardwalk is :)

See?

It’s very long, you walk on it and it has lots of boards.

On my way back I forewent a famous Nathan’s hotdog (since 1916) for a fresh grapefruit juice and a peeled mango on a stick. Sitting in the shade on a plastic chair beneath a plastic umbrella, I tuned into the conversation beside me. Three old blokes sitting at their own plastic table, a fourth in a pineapple shirt stopping to yak as he walked on by.

Clearly they all had a long long past at Coney Island. They were classic working New Yorkers. One of the men seated was wearing a leather vest with a patch, not unlike the Hell’s Angels insignia – only his said Coney Island Dancers, with a scary picture in the middle.

And so they talked about the past.

Said the man in the pineapple shirt: ‘You seen the new food joint opened up on 3rd?

‘It’s a joke (joik)!!!

‘Dey sell sushi – who comes to Coney Island to eat sushi?’

Much as I appreciated my fresh grapefruit juice, I thought he had a point.

Maybe things are moivin’ at Coney Island after all.

But there’s something precious about ghosts.

As I sat on the white plastic chair in the shade listening and chuckling along with the old boys beside me, there was a sudden crash and ensuing fracas and a whole new scene played out before me.

Crash! I turned just in time for the second crash! A small Mexican man with a twisted spine and a heavy black pack on his back kicked over the hotdog man’s tin signs. Crash. One down. Crash, two down. Crash, three down.

The hotdog man, lord of his patch, runs over wavin’ his arms  ‘hey! hey! watcha doin’!!!’

Kick, crash, over goes another tin sign.

The hot dog lord shoos him over and he starts on the rubbish bins, crash! Crash!

A muscly young man in a white t-shirt races over bringing the language of the ages with him ‘motherfucker get outa here’. He stands over him with his rippling chest.

The Mexican takes a breath. Then decides he’s up for the fight. He puts up his fists. It’s comical. He looks like the Wizard of Oz’s cowardly lion, ‘c’mon, put ya dukes up, put ‘em uuup put ‘em uuup’ as he shuffles on his feet.

It was like watching a lame duck threaten a mighty wolf.

The wolf leaves it alone. The Mexican starts roaring and kicking over more garbage bins.

It’s fascinating watching this scene play out. A woman in uniform comes with a broom and pan to pick up the rubbish. She’s not sure whether to start work or not. The Mexican leaves and returns, roars leaves and returns. He shuffles off down the boardwalk and sits beside people who are clearly uncomfortable with his roaring angry way.

And as I watch I realise that every human being who was part of this show was acting from love. Every single human being did what they could – some stepped forward, others stayed still – everyone wanted it to end well.

Even the humans who shuffled uncomfortably when he sat beside them acted with love – they did their best not to reject him, they did their best to protect themselves without causing further pain to him.

He is among the unloved and the unlovable. We did our collective best, to protect ourselves and cause him no harm.

About 10 minutes later the police cruise by, the ones charged with the unenviable job of protecting us all. It will not end well for the Mexican. But then I wonder if he is looking for someone to stop him. To pay attention. I wonder if his roar, interpreted, is not a human being crying out ‘LOVE ME’.

Please, love me. The humans on the boardwalk did their best, to love him and themselves.

 

 

17 June 2011

 

Wild life

Here are the bears in Central Park.

It was a jolt, a reminder to one who is perpetually imagining places before, before us. There would have been bears in these woods.

When these were woods.

It’s been quite a surprise to me how little animal life there is in New York City, right from the start.

One day, early in the visit, I heard a warble soaring above the traffic in downtown Manhattan. I looked up, searching for the culprit and there was the tiniest little bird sitting on a street sign, singing for the world.

Pigeons there are some, even almost many in certain places, such as Washington Park. And of course there was Fluffy the squirrel and I’m sure Fluffy is not alone.

There are the rats. Apparently the rats in NYC are the size of dogs. The woman who warned me of this also warned me of eating in NYC restaurants.

Here’s a lionised rat I saw on the back of a ute yesterday.

Scary, huh.AND THEN. I was sitting in Central Park, again surprised by the absence of animals, waiting for Gabrielle. And I saw something I have never seen in my life. Something I would never, ever expect to see in a city.A hawk.The hawk that shot from the sky and pinned a black and white feathered bird to the bare ground.Best I show you.

The hawk flattened every breath the bird had yet to take until it was limp and still. Then flew off, its prey floppy in its claws.

Today was a walking walking walking kinda day. The only sitting I did was with Gabrielle, who met me in the park.

She told me that this building, which we could see from our Central Park bench, was the famous building in Ghostbusters.

And that this building is where John Lennon was shot.

There were a few things I planned to do today, like small visits to Bloomingdales and the Walforf Astoria, iconic New York things to do if I have time, but I’d walked so far to meet Gabrielle in Central Park I decided to ditch them and head home.

As I strolled down Lexington looking for the subway, I got into my head that I’d walk to Grand Central Station. Even though I’ve caught the subway to Grand Central, I always figured I was missing something . . . well . . . grand! And I figured that to find it I’d have to enter from the street.

So I walked 40 city blocks.

And on the way I spied the wonderful strings of shopping that have eluded me, I walked past the Waldorf Astoria, I ducked into Bloomingdales and had a sulky girl put makeup on me, mainly because I couldn’t think of anything else to do when I got in there.

I walked past a human art installation in an empty shop window stopping the rush hour commuters in their tracks.

They were rolling down the wall, very, very slowly.

And then I found Grand Central Station, which is called Grand Central Terminal according to the words carved into the stone on the building’s facade. What a building! This is the kind of building you build when you want people arriving in your city – remembering that rail was the only prestige way to travel – and you want them to know they Have Arrived somewhere.

40 city blocks. I couldn’t have done that when I arrived in this wild and wonderful Somewhere.

18 June 2011
A toast
Here’s Keira, the woman from Katoomba in the Blue Mountains who said she was going to New York to find a partner for her brilliant digital publishing idea – and it is a brilliant digital publishing idea – prompting me to say ‘fantastic, I’m coming to New York too!’

Here we are, toasting the journey.

‘I have a present for you,’ she said.

‘Oooo,’ I said, ‘I have one for you too!’

So we closed our eyes and traded presents – and laughed the way we do.

Liberty.

A small statue for me.

A fridge magnet for her.

Liberty, our victory salute to the forces of life that impel us forward into the risky and unknowable unknown; our yes to the universal impulses that tapped two antipodean dreamers on the shoulder and whispered ‘New York, now!’

Keira found her publishing partner, a man of such ambition, motivation and enthusiasm for her project that she is talking to lawyers.

She’s gone now, her journey over, her mission complete. The photo above was taken by the shaky waiter in the cafe where we met before she left for the airpot.

I caught the train out with her. And on my return home, I received the phone call I came here to answer – from a publisher who is over the moon about the possibility of publishing my book.

I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I’m off to Pennsylvania for the weekend with my friend Veronica. Her dad is in Russia, we’re going to colonise his house and do our washing.

They have great words in the US, long flowy words, big words, loaded words:

Vanderbilt
Rockefeller
Philadelphia
Washington
Pennsylvania
Delaware
Baltimore
Poughkeepsie (not so loaded, but I didn’t know was a real word until I saw it on a sign post)
Manhattan
America.

Not that the last belongs to the citizens of the United States. But we have collectively allowed them to claim it.

America.

It is a beautiful word.

And it encircles so very, very much.

Cheers!

20 June 2011
Between the moon and NYC
A bear.

I saw a bear.

Tonto, I saw a bear, a black bear ambling along the road.

Can I believe it?

I saw a bear.

True story, I saw a bear.

It was my first bear.

It was in the fresh green summer wilderness, such as it is, of Pennsylvania, driving through a rare small road.

It was like the natives when they saw Columbus’s ships offshore and had no concept for ships so didn’t see the ships.

It was a black blump on the road. A moving black blump on the road in the not so distance.

If my friend Veronica had not said ‘look, a bear’ I would not have recognised the bear.

It of course took one look at the car and ambled right on into the forest.

Nonetheless, I saw a bear.

And deer, practically domesticated. With their spotted babies, little Bambis everywhere; confident of human laws that at least in suburbia protect them.

Pennsylvania for the weekend was a treat, thanks to a generous spirited new friend, Veronica. We drove the back roads and the main roads, we walked a waterfall, we shopped in the most marvellous shop I’ve ever seen and if I’d known I would have saved all my present shopping till then.

As it was I bought a God Bless America mug decked in the flag of the United States of America. How could I not, because for reasons same and different to the citizens themselves, I truly do think God Bless America.

And it will make me laugh every time I see my GBA cup on the shelf. And summon reactive politics from the hearts and minds of friends. And remember . . .

This shop took the SD Summer 2011 Patriot Prize – the whole building was a hymn to the red white and blue, both stars and stripes. And inside were all the offerings of an imaginative world, new and secondhand, all shiny and loved and beckoning, shop rooms tumbling back like a neverending hall of mirrors.

I took a photo but my camera cord is over with my luggage at my previous house. I have moved around the corner for my last two night, to a top floor apartment that at 6 floors is a good two storeys higher than just about all of its neighbours.

This gives me a breezy, opened window skyline view of the surrounding trees and, well, concrete walls. I love it, all this skating over rooftops. George, the landlord, has created a haven of sacred intent up here and I even have my own bathroom. Yay.

So now I make ready for my last full day in the Big Apple. I’m off to kd lang tonight at the Beacon Theatre. Liberty today. Even if I just get to sail around her. Memo to visitors to New York – book Liberty well in advance if you wanna meet her. Let’s see what I can do today without a booking.

I am exhausted. Friday’s coffee has ignited the blood in my veins like a spark to a fuel line. While it lit me up for Friday, it’s robbing me of delicious sleep.

But! My New York Show will go on!

Until I slip my mooring and ride to JFK tomorrow afternoon, and allow a new chapter to begin.

The moon is on the slide, I have traveled a full turn of the lunar wheel, an entire moon cycle in New York City.

GBA :)

22 June 2011
Dusk: the Soul of the City
It’s over.

I could weep.

And I did last night, soft sudden sobs in the privacy of the Beacon Theatre, surrounded by kd lang and a few thousand New Yorkers.

Probably because being with kd was like hangin’ out with an old friend. We’ve traveled together for years . . . I was there right at the start for her.

She was wonderful.

She knows she’s wonderful. And she knows she’s loved for being exactly who she is and she reflects that back to us, so we’re all laughing with each other because who we are is funny.

She was light. She was skippy. She offered a rendition of Hallelujah that was nothing less than what anyone expected yet brought us all to our knees and then onto our stamping feet.

She gave New York her best because New York will accept nothing less than her best, hers or anyone else’s.

That voice. Her and Sinead O’Connor, along with Annie Lennox, were the voices of my time. I always thought kd and Sinead were the voices unparalleled at the end of the last century. I still do. Not just because of the strength and beauty and power, but this and more: conscience, passion, inspiration and Love.

The voices of my time.

Yesterday I did a victory lap on the Staten Island ferry, a Liberty sail-by, a soft wind blowing on a gentle sea. We saluted each other, the journey and the road ahead.

People ask about the highlight of my journey.

Washington DC was a stand out day. Seeing a bear in Pennsylvania was a stand out moment.

But what about New York, they ask. What about New York?

I think back on this or that moment or event or incident . . . there is none.

New York is the whole.

A whole month of being absorbed into a city that requires nothing more from us than who we are, and allows breathing room for all of us to be anyone we want to be. No-one stands out here, not even the rich and famous. We are all absorbed into New York City beyond the dizzying boundaries of insecurity and self; we are not just part of the whole – we are the whole.

For one month I have experienced not a single bored moment, not a single loose end. Rarely did I make it to bed before midnight. Rarely did I sleep beyond dawn.

So there it is. I have a ticket out that flies at dusk. This morning, hand on the fridge door reaching for yoghurt, I understood the title of historian Geoffrey Blainey’s most famous book: The Tyranny of Distance.

And through those words I understood why Australians of inspiration and talent raise their heads above the horizon and look beyond the equator to reach for creative excellence.

Driving home through dense Sunday traffic from Pennsylvania on Sunday night, Alicia Keys was singing on the radio about New York. American culture, in the United States of America, has time and place on its side.

Outside the US, it is a wannabe import.

It’s like walking through olive groves in Spain – suddenly olive oil makes cultural sense; at least to me, a 6th generation Antipodean who has inherited just about everything cultural from somewhere else.

So too America.

Now it all makes sense.

New York, New York.

Love of our lives.

We cannot stay.

Or we can, for a while.

Or we can, for a long long time.

New York:  your soul is expressed in the courtesy of your people, in the motivational wind in your streets.

It was you who taught me to swallow my self-consciousness in a world that no longer surrenders privilege, and stand for those less able to stand, to offer my seat unequivocally on the subway, on the bus.

Returned to my world, this translates into stepping off my own path to carry the fishing rod for the old man with the walking stick, down the dunes to the shore.

New York:  Montmarte of our Age, where all an artist need do is stand on a street corner long enough to absorb all the inspiration she needs to begin work right there, right there on the street.

New York you are ordinary in your appearance, yet boast the extraordinary; you are chaotic yet impressively functional.

New York:  we won’t find the soul of this city in all of the people all of the time, nor in its physical manifestation – yet the soul of the city is reflected in her high flyers and her huddled masses.

New York expects nothing more from me than who I am – who we are – and she demands I – we – bring to this world all the talents with which I – we – were born, joyfully and unapologetically!

Creativity is not mine – or yours – to judge. It is ours to express.

This is her gift and her glory.

I’ll let Alicia have the final word, for now. Just click on the picture.