Jul 292012

With Sydney Wolfe Cohen on the west balcony at Grand Central Station

There is a quality of person that walks our Earth that can only be properly described as a New Yorker.

He – for he is surely a he – is not the brash cab driver of times past, nor the wise crackin’ nanny from Queens (who is surely a she).

This ‘he’, this man, stands for the best of the modern world, our learned selves put to good use; he is a man who values society deeply, thinks broadly and lives compassionately, though committed to his own world; he lives the kind of life that, for me, would have required me to be a man to live well, because women are always outsiders in these realms, when the realm itself has risen to its element.

Sydney Wolfe Cohen is such a man.

He is the first, and only, such man to cross my path, daughter as I am of a newer, remote society that has never yet produced a ‘New Yorker’ . . . Little Nell? Although there are men among my forebears who, minus the depth of education and prosperity of refined confidence, come close with their finely attuned eyes, which in themselves trump the New Yorker.

I would like to say I met Sydney on the train, and I did, in a small way. I was sitting on the train to Chappaqua, the one where the gruff porter used his secret key to let me into the carriage from the wrong side of the platform, and I had leaned across to a woman with her nose in a book to ask if she knew what time the train would arrive in Chappaqua.

She answered me, kindly enough, but I was sorry I hadn’t asked the elderly gentleman wearing a grey trench coat, a twinkle in his eye, sitting right behind her.

As it was, Sydney and I met when we alighted together at Chappaqua and rode the elevator up to the street from the dinky platform.

He glanced at my large, shiny orange suitcase, the one all the USA seems to admire, and takes the opportunity, as those with time on their hands do, to ask me what I am doing in Chappaqua.

His gentle manner is that of educated wealth, the antithesis of the affected English, the result of an acquired state in this land of once limitless opportunity.

I tell him I am here for an event at the library, that I am an author with a book newly released.

He is in the book trade, he answers. He is in ‘indexing’, has sold his business and now works only on selected books.

I have no idea what he means.

But I am pleased to have his company, my first brush with a ‘New Yorker’, even if just for those few seconds we ride from the platform to the street.

We part by way of a reverential nod (on my part), the shaking of hands and the exchanging of names, Sydney hailing me a cab from the row of black cars standing at the station. Clearly he has a standing arrangement with one of the men, because he summonses him by name to take him home; leaving another with a small command to ferry me to the Kittlehouse Inn.

Once settled on my bed, from which I can look out over the meadows that are now the Chappaqua golf course, I google Sydney Wolfe Cohen. I do this for two reasons – now I’m in publishing it might be in my interests to discover what indexing is, and I want to know more about my newly met, fiiiiiiiinally met, because at the deepest level of my being I have wanted to be one, New Yorker.

And there, online via Sydney’s blog, I meet the grace and beauty of old, educated New York as I have imagined it to be. I also meet, on a separate blog, a former employee of Sydney’s, Enid. I thought her piece elevated him, even if somewhat candidly, but I sense, from his comments, she has displeased him.

(As for indexing – of course I know what indexing is; it’s the art of putting together the index. Doh!)

The following morning, I arrive back at the Kittlehouse to find a message from Sydney has been slipped under my door. I call him. We chat and smile. I can tell I have pleased him when I say that it is a pleasure to meet the best New York has to offer the rest of the world, a representative of a society that set standards so high.

Sydney suggests we meet for coffee; we agree we may meet in New York, as I have only tomorrow in Chappaqua and that is committed to the library. I am drawn to the mystique of old New York, the best of New York, to an envoy of the life I might have loved had I been born to another time and place. I may even return to Chappaqua for that coffee.

As it turns out, Sydney rides the train all the way to New York City for an early dinner with me. We meet at an Italian restaurant on the west balcony of Grand Central Station, me fresh in from the second day of Book Expo America down at the Javits Centre.

Below us, in the golden light, is the subway rush that marks New York City’s workday’s end. If you blur your eyes, somewhat like the photo of Sydney and me taken by the waiter, the people of New York City are a wave, a great tidal flow that shimmers; they move quickly, fluidly, skirting each other with the grace of small fish in a very big pond.

Sydney and I take our places in air above, and over delicious pasta and, for me, tiramisu, we roam through the life and times of Sydney Wolfe Cohen.

Occasionally, he attempts to divert the spotlight my way, but I am not interested in me; what can I, incorrigible product of a bland society, possibly add to this man’s life, other than simple human kindness and the presence of a smiling woman across the table.

Over dinner, I ask Sydney why we read.

He says: ‘we need a companion for our lonely minds.’

The truth of this rings like a tuning fork in my bones.

He adds: ‘we read to feel connected to other minds – and at other times to read something that’s said with such enviable aptness.’

And then: ‘the proper answer is we haven’t anything better to do.’

 July 29, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  Comments Off on Pilgrim Heart Whistlestop Book Tour: SYDNEY WOLFE COHEN
Jun 122012

The other day I ate dinner on the west balcony of Grand Central Station (with Sydney Wolfe Cohen, more on Sydney another day) – and there beheld below me the subway rush that marks New York City’s workday’s end.

If you blur your eyes, somewhat like the blurry photo taken by the waiter, the people of New York City are a wave, a great tidal flow that shimmers; they move quickly, fluidly, skirting each other with the grace of small fish in a very big pond.

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to visit New York City, for no other reason than to swim in the vastness of the human spirit I anticipated awaiting me there.

When the kids were young we had a big poster of Manhattan by night above our yellow laminex kitchen table, a pretty dining suite that cost me 50 bucks and is now worth a small fortune.

Then a year ago, the godforce tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘New York, now!’ I had always thought I would arrive in New York fulfilled – that I would go there to count myself as one among the initiated standing tall in the glory of her own potential.

It hadn’t occurred to me to go before then.

So not one to disobey, I honoured the godforce and booked that New York Now ticket. And then remembered I had a broken foot! That I was still on crutches!

Drat! OMG! I had three weeks to be walking well enough without support. And I was devastatedly disappointed that here I was – finally – going to the World’s Great City and instead of being in the one place on Earth I knew would walk at my natural pace, I flew in with a limp so large I may as well have been on my knees.

For two reasons, that journey – with the limp – was an extraordinary gift.

1. I was immobilised without the help of strangers, getting up and down subway steps with large bags, for example – and so I learned to receive help and experience the helpfulness of a deeply kind world;

2. the only people who move that slowly in our world are the crippled and the elderly. Previously, in my busy lifely waltz, I flowed around them. Now I was one among them. And while I swore that I would never again move as quickly as I once did, of course I do, now my foot is whole again, because that is my natural way. However, what I have never forgotten is that others need my help. And so I have learned to stop. Regardless of how busy I am. And help.

And now, a year to the day later, I have returned. Walking at my natural pace. A small fish in a beautiful pond.

If you blur your eyes, the crowd moves as one, a heaving ocean swell.

This is the rhythm of the city.

 June 12, 2012  Tagged with:  No Responses »
Jun 042012

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

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

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

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

I am in New York City.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Brick and wire and sooty grit.

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

The USA is dinky.

It just is.

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

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

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

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

It’s dinky.

Much dinkier than us Aussies.

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

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

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

Because the reality is, I do. I am.


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

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

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

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

Steinway Street.

Oh my, how the Wheel of Life turns.






 June 4, 2012  Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
May 302012

Lake Skenonto

I am the lake.

I am still water at dawn.

I fill the earth with liquid cool for the approaching summer, I touch her sides and bottom.

The water creatures move within me, skate over me.

The tongue of the gentle deer dips into me, feather soft.

The eagles soar above me, their eagle eyes sweeping the earth; the small birds sing for me.

The sky colors me.

The beaver sails upon me, a sharp V trailing the water behind her. She is a morning hunter, gliding, diving, curling into the water her lovely beaver tail, shining, smooth.

She dives. She surfaces. I, no longer the lake, and besides, I suspect the lake is a dam and the silenced voice the drowned earth below. I, no longer the lake but myself, tall and taut and bright in my red shirt, stand steady, watching the beaver.

I am mesmerized. I have never seen a beaver. At first I wonder who she is and I call her Otter. Then I see the tail and I think Oh! You are Beaver. But I am not sure. Like I am not sure the peck peck peck on a distant tree is a woodpecker. I’m not sure because these are cartoon animals. I’m not sure I ever thought these animals real; the beaver with her big teeth, Woody with his sharp beak. Of course I knew Bambi was real.

I watch the beaver on the lake, still but for the small pools that ripple around her, diving near the submerged branches of a large, newly fallen tree. She heads for the bank, I peer after her. When her back is turned I move closer. And stop. Still.

I watch. I listen. She is beating her tail. She is making gnawing sounds. I wonder if she is building a dam. She is busy as a beaver. She skates to the fallen branches and continues her hunting. Then heads for the bank and the gnawing sounds start up again.

I forget to be still. She catches me on the bank and makes a dash across the water, sailing past me as fast as her little beaver feet will peddle. I could weep that she counts me one among the enemy; I am not to be trusted.

I remember Grey Owl, an old book I came across in the Takaka Library in New Zealand a lifetime ago. Grey Owl and I by Anahareo, one of the best books I have ever read. That’s how I knew beavers weren’t cartoon animals. That’s how I learned about beaver.

I smile, sadly, to myself and long for the world before the silence of the 21st century forest. When the rivers and lakes and woodlands were full of life, when humans counted themselves as one among the creatures of the earth.

I am sad for the beaver. I tell myself a story:  that she is returning to her dam in the quiet light of dawn after the music, laughter and hijinx of the humans of the night drove her to a distant refuge. I am here with the young and the boisterous, who quite truly believe they are in the wilderness and it is theirs to possess as they please.

They are in love with the water and the night darkness, the traveling moon and the fire and the vodka and the sound of their own laughter. Even the animals, on human terms.

We are one hour from New York City.

They forget this is not their land alone, but the home of the creatures who were here before them and will be here when we leave with the midday sun.

A small orange bird bouncing around the branches of a nearby bush catches my attention. The fish leap from the water, splashhhh, splashh. A pair of dragonflies dance across the water.

A dog yaps on the distant shore. It is Memorial Day Weekend and those Americans not saluting white crosses for fallen soldiers or servicemen and women on parade in local parks have headed for the hills.

 May 30, 2012  Tagged with: , ,  1 Response »
May 242012

New York City - first glimpse on the train from Savannah

I am rattling my way north.

On board in Savannah, the conductor allocates me an aisle seat. I plead for a window. He waves me on, no window.

I see one anyway, an empty double berth and I snatch it.

I sit by the window, wickedly. A man boards. He tells me I am in his seat. I sigh and look at him. He says he doesn’t mind sitting in the aisle.

That’s a start – I may have just lost my double berth bed for the night, but at least I have the window.

The conductor boards and stares at me. I stare blankly back. He raises his paper list and his pencil and changes my seat.

I sleep in a tiny hole for a bed, all night on a crowded train, and wake to mists and thicker forests laced with small dirt tracks, pleased to see there is hope for the animals.

All through the night a song plays in my head: This train is bound for glory, this train.

All night, this train is bound for glory, this train is bound for glory.

It is a strange thing about myself that I have noticed over the years, but I sing startlingly appropriate songs at startlingly appropriate moments.

Why am I singing ‘this train’?

And then it slugs me right in the chest – it is a year to the day since I flew into New York City. A year to the day since I walked out the doors of JFK, limping heavily with a recovering broken foot, and hit the pavement of the world’s greatest city looking for a book deal.

I count the days in my head. It is May 22. A year ago today I arrived in New York City to find a publishing deal.

A year to the day I am returning on my book tour.

I wonder if I am singing in my future.


 May 24, 2012  Tagged with:  1 Response »
May 032012



It’s a dang shame we can’t photograph music.

Although if we could, Arabic writing might be close as I can imagine.

Fortunately for me, a day that promised rain held off long enough for me to wander the streets all afternoon.

But not before I made that excursion on the trolley, oops sorry, that’s Texas talk, I mean street car, out to Whole Food Paycheck for my Texas salsa to eat with my corn chips tomorrow on the train.

That street car was a timeless wooden thang clattering so loud my ear drums were vibrating, rattling so wild my teeth were chattering, ding ding dingin’ all the way up St Charles Avenue, along a parade of grand old houses that bespoke a different time and a different tune. And I’m not talkin’ ’bout the music.

The wind blew through those wide open windows on the street car; occasionally the bruised purple clouds above broke, throwing down water like a sheet. The wheels and the tracks of those street cars must be all steel to make a noise like that.

I had my eyes peeled for Jefferson, because down Jeffereson I’d find Magazine and on Magazine I’d find my food barn heaven.

Wandering along past those beautiful homes reminded me of Rathgar, the stately old mansion in Grafton where my grandparents ran a home for girls whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t take good care of them, many years ago.

The houses were gorgeous, of course. The trees lining the streets, sprinkled in ancient moss, of course. Jasmine wafted my way, of course. The gardens, unsurprisingly I guess, and disappointingly, were of a genre we might term ‘modern maintenance free’.

Now and then I sheltered in dry spots beneath the old trees, moving on when the rain backed off.

I turned the corner onto Magazine and a pretty little street lined with small boutiques brightened my already raised spirits. Designer shops, coffee shops, a beauty parlour that specialised in shoes . . . of course, any southern belle worth her salt wants new shoes with her facial.

In food barn heaven I stocked up on everything but that fresh tomato sugar free Texas salsa and sat on a bench with my pocket knife crafting little smoked salmon rolls crammed with fresh mozzarella, snapping off salted dark roasted almond chocolate for dessert.

I licked my fingers clean, picked up my paper shopping bags and headed back the way I came to the street car, past the grand old houses . . . it wouldn’t take much . . . perhaps evening to fall, creating shadows on the trees and houses, mist from speckled evening rain, and the New Orleans of my imagination springs to life . . . but in reality I’m praying those purple clouds would not make good on their promise of rain. At least till I got those paper bags onto the street car!

I started singin’ a new song . . . jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file’ gumbo . . . apparently, I had to try the gumbo, it was just a small matter of where.

The street car turned up before the rain, its cyclops eye lit bright to let me know it was coming round the bend on those grassy tracks, and my paper bags made it home in time to put my cheese and fish in the fridge. I eat a second lunch of pilgrim food –  hard cheese and apple – and head out again lookin’ for bookshops.

A beggar man stopped me near Canal Street, showin’ me his limousine driver licence to prove, I guess, he wasn’t really a beggar. He wanted money to get a shower at the Salvation Army.

‘You gotta pay to shower at the Salvation Army?’ I asked, incredulous actually. What are we all donating to ’em for if they charge for a shower?

He assured me he did.

‘How much they charge?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Eight dollars,’ he said. Eight dollars for a shower at the Salvation Army?

I reached into my jeans pockets, figuring he could have what was in there.

Fortunately for him, there was a ten. I glanced at it, knowing it was more than I intended. Anyone who’s read My Pilgrim’s Heart knows that a while back I suspended my alms policy. It’s been reinstated on new terms, one of which is that . . . well, my reasoning’s irrelevant really.

I gave him the ten, figuring at least if he got clean he’d have a better chance of gettin’ a job. He wanted a hug. I declined. He said he understood, he was dirty. I said it wasn’t cos he was dirty. I was gonna say it’s because I can’t be bothered being hugged by men who want anything at all from women (and I’m not talkin’ about the money), but decided to keep my attitude to myself.

I walked on in air blown warm by the wind. I have a friend who says Los Angeles is the USA’s gaudy face, New York is the masculine meeting the world, and New Orleans is the moist softness of a woman.

I turn into Royal Street, one down from Bourbon. It is mid afternoon and men of varying backgrounds and cultures, tourists and locals with a problem with sobriety, swagger along the street with a beer in hand. Most would not do this in their home town . . . I wonder what is so heroic in their own minds they need to do it here.

Church Quiet Zone

I wander along Royal, past galleries with gorgeous paintings of the city, my favourite an oil with a turquoise background with four skinny lampposts swaying to music of their own making. I turn down Pirate Alley – how could I not? Check out this sign. I figure it must be for the pirates.

I follow the music to  the end of Pirate Alley, and there in an open square I find the New Orleans I might have imagined in a modern world, for like Woody Allen I am prone to romancing the past and tangling it with the present, thus disappointing the future.

Those men could play!

I sat on the steps among the elderly and disabled, the young and the sober, tapping my toes to a feast of sound. Gypsy fortune tellers touted for customers on the fringes. An old man with a golf club for a walking stick, not so sober, danced with a young woman, a little more sure footed but just as inebriated.  I watched those musicians belt out music they pulled outa thin air, they were wonderful. I wondered why it is women don’t take up public space like this. I gave them a fiver.

I circle Chartes, still looking for bookshops. In the end I give up on them – they’re all antique shops parading books like ornaments, though one gives me a list of modern bookshops on the other side of Canal – and so I turn my attentions to the best seafood gumbo I can find.

Rocking horse monkey

I turn on my heel and head back up Royal. There is a French gallery owner who engaged me in conversation in his shop. He has lived in Noo ORlins for 30 years, he’d have to know where to find good gumbo.

He does. There’s the Gumbo Shop on St Peter and there’s Acme back toward Canal. He says try Acme. I take his advice.

On my way back up the street I found her, a woman playing music on the street of New Orleans. It was the melody that called me, stopped me, enfolded me and, when I sought to ignore it and move on, caused me to weep.

Ram Goddess

I turned to the music. She was playing a violin. If I am an angel without wings, as those fridge magnets like to say, then those are my notes. I try to move on, the music calls me back. I make a point of stopping properly – where on Earth could I be going that’s more important than this?

She finishes her tune. I walk up to Acme. I’m not particularly hungry, but I figure I’ll see if they take bookings – from the line outside I doubt it. Must be good gumbo.

I stand in line. I am one person. She lets me in, along with the woman behind me. We sit together at the bar, ordering our food and drinks, separate, each in our own world.

I order the gumbo. I order a beer. I raise the bottle to the mirror behind the bar and say ‘cheers, me!’

Okay, I forgot I was in public.

The woman beside me laughs and raises her glass. We toast each other. She’s a television presenter from New York.

Did you get that?

She’s a TV presenter from New York.

Serendipity is a blast, isn’t it?

We laugh. We chat. We go our own way.

But not before exchanging cards.

The gumbo is awful. It’s like dead food. Like tasteless beef stew with prawns in it. I’m sorry I didn’t order the po’boy the woman next to me ordered. Po’boy, I now know, is fried fish in white bread.

The beer wasn’t great either. Shiner Bluk Bock. I added the bluk.

But whenever I spend a single moment disappointed about my gumbo, I remember Marta, the television presenter from New York.

That gumbo and that beer were worth Marta – not for the contacts she generously shared, but for the hope of what’s possible in this world.

I just hope that hope spreads to restoring liquidity tomorrow when the banks open. For some $%^&* reason not a single ATM between the restaurant and my hotel will accept my card and I’ve given away all my paper money. At the very least I need a taxi fare to the train.

But that’s tomorrow’s problem.

Today, I’m a woman who’s spent two days in New Orleans.

And tomorrow, I’m going to Jackson!

Look out Jackson town.

The link is Johnny Cash and June Carter at San Quentin – were they singin’ about my Jackson? Dunno, but check it out.







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’.


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.


Mar 242012

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.



Mar 242012

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.


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:

Poughkeepsie (not so loaded, but I didn’t know was a real word until I saw it on a sign post)

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


It is a beautiful word.

And it encircles so very, very much.