Apr 232012
 

Okay, I confess, I went for the lobster roll.

Toasted white bread crammed with lobster dripping with butter – it is divine.

Fortunately for me, I beat the ten-mile queue.

And then, well, the highlight of day 2 of the LA Times Book Festival was – let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start – first movie I ever saw at the pictures – da daaaaa, the von Trapp children.

Haha, doe a deer, true story, four of the von Trapp children, including little Gretel, appearing on stage together to promote their Sound of Music ‘scrap book’.

And praise their moms, who kept all that stuff.

Cute.

But not as cute as Betty White, who is not cute at all but commanding, I’m sure.

Not that I saw her, not even close.

There weren’t many queues at the festival, which was breezy, cruisy, easy come easy go – until Betty.

They queued a mile for a glimpse of Betty, young and old, men, women and children waiting for their dazzling moment with the queen of . . . what? American TV life, I guess . . . you are sixteen, going on seventee-five, ladies and gentlemen, the von Trapp children.

 

The von Trapp children (not the one on the far left, she was the panel host)

 

 

 

Apr 202012
 

‘The miracle of flight. Aloft on a cushion of clouds, chasing the sun, I stare into the innocence of a neverending blue, my thoughts roaming hand in hand with forever.’
From My Pilgrim’s Heart

Is there anything on Earth as exciting as going to America?

North Pole or Antarctica, perhaps; beyond that space travel.

America is our all, our best and our worst, and regardless of what you think of that, whether or not you like it, America’s culture defines the modern world. The USA is who we are  as 21st century citizens.

Like I said, whether you like it or not.

Personally, I love it!

It truly is our land of hope . . . ignoring the fact that Australia did the same hope with a whole lot better results: Americans may queue for hours to get a glimpse of ‘we the people’ on parchment, but Australians are the only people on Earth entrusted with voting for their constitution – and the only people on Earth whose people must vote to change it.

Australia is peaceful, relatively unarmed; yet that peace brings with it a harping discontent whose outcome is incessant whinging and a universal desire to knock off their well-earned perch anyone at all who lets loose with life by giving it all they’ve got.

We even have a name for it graced with capital letters: Tall Poppy Syndrome. It’s a peculiarly Antipodean version of the Queen of Heart’s random declaration: ‘off with their heads!’

For all its faults, America requires the world’s citizens to give life their all and their best and this is an extraordinary gift to our times.

Last night I flew into the longest night from Brisbane to LA, racing around the earth to meet the sun as it rose on the same morning I’d left behind, the great silver wing of the plane my shifting horizon riding the night wind to a misted dawn in southern California.

It took some time to clear the border guards at LA International Airport, because having recently renewed my passport before it expired I was a candidate for ‘identity theft’. Australia, apparently, is the only nation on Earth who doesn’t cancel previous passports when they are renewed early, leaving poor old Uncle Sam under the delusion a) I had two valid passports and/or b) I was not who I claimed to be.

I knew things were getting dodgy when the border guard fingerprinted all my fingers and thumbs, rather than four digits of one hand as per passengers ahead of me in the queue.

After two laps of this massive massive airport in the shuttle bus I finally got offa that LA freeway and found my hotel, the Wilshire Hotelon Wilshire Boulevard. And so began the most bizarre morning of relaying the same 400  yards a 100 times between between three mobile phone shops trying to sort out SIM cards and internet access for my phone, iPad and computer. I won’t bore you with the details, but three different telecommunications providers in the land that gave us the i series of technologies could not provide me with 3G data access for my phone (unless I bought a new one), could offer only hideously expensive access for the iPad – one young salesman even kept a straight face while he announced Americans didn’t use iPads, at least none that he knew (…could this be true?), and nothing at all for the computer (out of stock).

So I sat on the steps of St Basil’s, where I could have parked my car for six bucks a day if I had one, and watched LA’s Korean citizenry go by while I recovered from a mission that ought to have been overwhelmingly simple.

Then this afternoon, after allowing one exhausted body a deep one hour slumber, I went for a great big walk around the neighbourhood.

Santa Monica Boulevard was thata way and I thought I’d make a go of finding it. Not for any reason really, other than Sheryl sang a song about it.

Which brings me back to my point about iconic America. It’s in our bones. Our lives have been shaped by the utterly brilliant job Americans have made of telling stories about themselves in songs and movies and sharing them with a wider world. Which is why even the most cynical among us will be awed when we stand in the ordinariness of modern America, which is graced with an impossible humility in the context of itself, and pay homage to the people and places we know so well from our radios and tv sets.

I never did find Santa Monica Boulevard. I walked  and I walked, following the lead of the tall and spindly palms leaning slightly towards the alluring light that says ‘ocean this way’, beyond the Korean quarter and into the Spanish, where in both cases the English language played second fiddle on the riot of signage, through industrial corners selling cars and rabies for $5 (true story) and past the huge beautifully tended cemetery that prompted me to wonder why humans pay so much attention to the dead and concluding that it is because we intuitively know that those who have lost loved ones can bear no more grief….and that perhaps it is easier to tend the dead than the living – who demand much and take more, and surrendering, eventually, to the soles of my feet that were beginning to rub on hard worn sandals.

Santa Monica Boulevard tomorrow will be just fine.

 

Apr 172012
 

‘There is nothing else to do but yodel from the edge of courage and claim all of myself and all of my life and trust the freefall and fallout will lead me somewhere alive and true.’
From My Pilgrim’s Heart

 

There is a space where the world pauses to take breath: between tides, before a storm, at equinox.

That breath marks a turning, the point beyond which everything changes, again.

This morning I am that space.

My whiteboard, six weeks ago marked with weeks, a week ago marked with days, overflowing with tasks, is wiped clean.

The whiteboard is – was – on my mother’s lounge room floor, where I have been sleeping – another pause.

Six weeks between full time work and an American book tour.

There was so very much to do and now there is just one word left on the board:  Fargo.

The word came to me recently in a dream.

It was the name of a publication, an old fashioned comic book-like magazine published by me.

Its name was Fargo.

The word is written bold and black on the whiteboard and seems to me a poetic metaphor for the fact I am going very far.

On Thursday, my tide begins to run again, when I board that plane for LA. To catch the train to New Orleans. And from there the train to New York City.

Journeys. Landscapes. People. Crucibles.

Once again I am at the edge of my known world, trusting the freefall will lead me somewhere alive and true.

Intrepid, a few butterflies, I stand alone as I do the farewell rounds of family and friends.

Connected. Distant. Fargo.

 

Apr 162012
 

 

“Mountains everywhere sing the same song. They might differ in shades of tone or pitch, but like good folk songs that circle round and back again, everyone, everywhere thinks them their own.”
From My Pilgrim’s Heart

 

On Thursday I fly.

Then I catch the train.

The train they call the City of New Orleans.

From Los Angeles, City of Angels – whose original settlement was known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula or The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Little Portion. Although not named for the beautiful river that flows from the north-west, the beautiful river was named for . . . actually, it’s a long Spanish Catholic story. Much like the name.

The train!

The train they call the city of New Orleans, I’ll be gone 500 miles before the day is done.

Except hopefully I won’t. I’ll be jumping on and off that train – deboarding as the Americans call it – all the way to New Orleans and then on up to New York City, meeting folks, meeting the land, meeting myself as the United States of America.

Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me?  

Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City.

Three Americas, staring back at me.

Good mornin’ America HOWAREYA!

I pull into New Orleans on the weekend of the jazz festival – I’ll be hard pressed attending my own book event with all that smoky music pressing up against the door!

I might be leavin’ Lousiana in the broad daylight but not before I head down in the swampland, where anything goes, it’s alligator bait and the bars don’t close, it’s the real thing down in Louisiana.

New Orleans, the moist city whose shadows woo the elegant and the wicked. As a daughter of the hottest driest continent on Earth, I am eyes wide, watching.

But before that Texas! Dust bowl country. Wing and a wheel and Nanci Griffiths, whose two friends remind her in the most glorious way there is no need for any human being to be complacent’.

And Janis!

Whose voice was our gift and our glory, a reminder that ‘freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose’.

Janis.

And Townes – so walk these hills lightly, and watch who you’re lovin’, by mother the mountain I swear that it’s true – Wrecks Bell and his crew are still waitin’ for Townes to show up for his final gig at The Old Quarters, home of the annual Townes van Zandt wake.

And after that New York City, our collective Great Love, but before that Emmylou and the red dirt girls just across the line and a little south-west of Meridien.

Many years ago, I worked as the editor on an Australian country music magazine. I might have known it beforehand, in a hazy background kinda way, but that year my lights went on in appreciation for American country music – those songs are a prayer to our home the Earth and a celebration of appreciation for what it is to be livin’, lovin’, strugglin’ human.

In America, that ol’ highway goes on forever.

And all the world is a song.

Call me down off that train! I’d love to meet you.