The week that was…week 13: old friends

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This was a week of old friends – Frederique and Eric, Deanna, academia and my PhD and New York. And of course it started on my birthday.

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2013-03-26 11.34.01New York really is an old friend. I worked out that I have visited it more than any other city in the world I haven’t lived in, with the possible exception of Brishane – I’ve been there six times.My first visit was my shortest, back in 1989 when, after visiting friends in San Francisco and en route to Paris I didn’t want to miss the chance to see the archetypal Big City (little knowing I would later spend a year living in another archetypal Big City, Tokyo). I have loved every visit and I have done something different every time, and, of course, there is still so much to do. Having two of my most loved friends living in the city certainly helps to draw me back, but the city itself has lots to make you love it.

For my birthday I shopped on 5th Avenue,

2013-03-25 12.07.57 2013-03-25 12.14.02.. and went to the “Top of the Rock” – despite urging from the person at the box office “visibility is low don’t you want to come back tomorrow”. Nope. Foggy New York views were cool. And it actually snowed on me while I was out on the 69th floor.

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Then it was time to ice skate at the Rockefeller Centre rink. This was fun, even though the snow I encountered on the 69th floor had turned to drizzle by the time it hit ground level. And ice skating is different to roller skating – it took me a while to get my Ice Legs, but I didn’t fall over and managed to get up a bit of speed by the time I was done.

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After an hour or so of skating, I decided I was wet enough and could retire to drink gin and spectate.

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My lovely friends Eric and Frederique made sure I had a lovely birthday dinner too.

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2013-03-26 07.54.12My next day in New York I did two completely new things and one incidental thing:

First, The Frick.

2013-03-26 13.02.34One is not allowed to take photos inside, so this is all you get. But it was a great collection. And who knew that Monet started his career as one of those people who drew caricatures of random people with gigantic heads and tiny bodies to support himself as a student. I love when the museum itself is as interesting as many of the paintings – this former residence was a beautiful house. You do wonder if some of the Frick heirs might be unhappy their great grandfather was such a philanthropist! I enjoyed the museum, and even better, got in for free. An older woman started chatting to me in the line and, weirdly immediately mentioned Kakadu, just like Miles had. She had also been to Kangaroo Island. Anyway, she was a volunteer at the Museum of Natural History, so got free entry, and got me a free ticket as well. “People were so nice to me in Australia.”  Thank you fellow Australians.

2013-03-26 14.22.36I then went by Grand Central Station to see Nick Cave’s horses dance. As I only got there a few minutes before it started, I had to stand on tippy toes to see. It was cool, if somewhat weird, but certainly had the crowds there.

It was then time to head way downtown to Chinatown and surrounds as I had an appointment with the East Village Tenament Museum.

2013-03-26 17.23.43This is a fascinating place – an old Tenament Building which has been restored and fitted out as it would have been at various points in its history. Completely focused on social history, you don’t just get to wander it, but have to particiapte in a tour which takes you through aspects of life as it would have been in the Tenament. I went on the “Sweat Shop Workers” tour which was really interesting, focusing on the life of recent migrants jsut before and after the beginning of the 20th Century who worked in the garment industry, a staple of the lower east side.  Worth going back for another tour another time.

Here are some random arty shots of Brooklyn, just for interest.

2013-03-26 10.43.00 2013-03-26 10.44.15On Wednesday it was off to Washington on the Amtrak.

2013-03-27 12.08.55It must be said that on this visit, I really didn’t see much of Washington as I spent the entire time at my hotel at the Popular Culture Association conference where I was part of a roundtable on the “Afterlives of the Sixties.” I loved revisiting the world of academia and my thesis, and indulgently attending sessions on Zombies, Vampires, Fringe, Sherlock, Battlestar Galactica and Gender in Science Fiction amongst other things. It was an absorbing couple of days.

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Compulsory hotel window shot.

2013-03-28 13.08.54It was also super cool to find the book by one of my friends on sale – this was her PhD thesis when we were doing them at around the same time.

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And then it was time to start the trek home – from the Washington-Baltimore International Airport which is, clearly, actually in Baltimore.

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But before I got all the way home, one last old friend – Deanna in Toronto. I am completely hopeless and failed to take a photo of us together, but her is the icecream sandwich we shared.

2013-03-29 21.09.15I do love seeing the friends I first made 20 years ago and still having a strong connection, even when it is sometimes years and years between seeing each other.

And then home. First from Toronto to Vancouver. I had a snack in Vancouver waiting for the flight to LA.

2013-03-30 12.27.06it was a big trip – I caught 10 flights, visited 7 airports and caught one train. But I saw old friends, met new people, saw different things and had good outcomes. But, as I got on the flight from LA to Sydney, it was nice to think I was going home.


The week that was…week 12: From Canberra to Brooklyn via Vancouver

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I had spent my Monday running between conference, appointments, meetings and last minute pre trip chores like picking up my new passport. Then it was suddenly Tuesday morning and time to head off.

2013-03-19 09.43.54Always nice to have some time at the Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney though. One of the world’s great airline lounges.

And then to Vancouver via LA. I guess it isn’t surprising that the US Immigration dudes were quick to ask “what happened to you?” when I looked like this:

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Arrived in Vancouver with some time to wander about. We were staying at the Fairmont Waterfront which, true to its name, was right next to the harbour. And it is a spectacularly beautiful area with the snow topped mountains and the water.

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2013-03-19 15.01.59Also the sea planes. I was pretty obsessed with those.

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I was also quite keen on the Digital Orca.

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I decided to try and beat jetlag with a swim in the heated roof top pool. It was pleasant while in the water, but getting out was a bit frosty.

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The next day our conference didn’t start til the afternoon, so I went for a walk in the morning and found a place for spectacular breakfast. Dungeness crab cake eggs benedict.

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The first day of the conference was good, and there was time for a beer before dinner, and a glance at the sunset.

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The conference –  an Australia-Canada Roundtable on Qualifications Recognition went well, though it was disconcerting being so far away as challnges to the Prime Miniter failed to materialise and we lost our Minister. A slightly strange, disconnected feeling – though there were enough other Australians, including High Commission staff, so be able to debrief.

Work travel also present the whole work-by-day, work-by-night dilemma as one catches up with all the work from home. At least one can have a beer while catching up.

2013-03-22 00.17.44Here is the conplusory view-from-my-hotel-window shot.

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On the final night a few of us went to dinner at Joe Forte’s Seafood and Chop House which was rather fun.

2013-03-22 18.10.34Discovered that British Columbian wines are very drinkable.

2013-03-22 19.04.19And was unsuprised to learn the deliciousness of Canadian scallops and salmon.

2013-03-22 19.15.07It was then goodbye to Vancouver, and after two flights and a lot of hours, hello to Brooklyn.

2013-03-23 20.06.06Here is Blaise where we went to dinner after I arrived. of course, the best bit about being in Brooklyn is seeing Frederique and Eric and the boys.

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Also got to chek out some compulsory funky arty bits.

2013-03-24 13.16.37 2013-03-24 13.48.22…before brunch at Colonie – duck hash and a Perfect Pimms. Delicious.

I liked visiting Trader Joes in this beautiful old building – and thirty open checkouts!

2013-03-24 14.51.32-1It was then good to relax on the couch, or apparently on me if you are Nestor.

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And after dinner we went round the corner to Ample Hills for delicious ice cream.

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Snapshots: Miles


Yesterday when I got on the subway to Manhattan I saw a bunch of empty seats, so went for it. As I sat down, I realised I had made a rookie error and was sitting opposite a homeless guy. But he didn’t smell and was calmly sitting there eating peanuts, so I started reading my book – World War Z, which is outstanding by the way. After a few minutes, the homeless msn said to me “isn’t that the book Brad Pitt has an option on”. As it was, I paused and replied that it was. And thus our conversation began. Miles, as he later introduced himself, was articulate and well read and quite pleasant to chat to. He told me how he is “going to Kakadu” and that he wants to do a study on pre and post Olympic Sydney and how the effort in planning the Olympics could be used in counter acting climate change, which he was extremely concerned about. He told me that he had pioneered sports broadcasting in the UK for Channel 4 and had facilitated bringing AFL to UK television. He had lived on the streets for six years and had been offered an apartment but had declined because he felt that apartment living meant we were losing touch with thd natural world. I liked Miles, and it wsd intriguing to try and wonder what was true and what was fantasy. I guess it us not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone who was the guest of the Australian government in their pavilion at the Barcelona Olympics may now be homeless in New York. He certainly knew what he was talking about and, for someone living on the streets was clean and well dressed. I gave him my card and he told me he would be in touch. I rather hope he is.

A year in the life…day 76: my current read


My current new favourite, Alastair Reynolds. This time a US version of the book which I bought almost exactly a year ago in a tiny bookstore in the West Village in New York one night while James and I were out exploring.

A year in the life…day 47: my current read


Zombies and New York – what more could I ask for?

Random New York

I spent a total of 8 days in New York, for 2 of which James joined me (we had three nights on the town). This is us in Times Square after our very swish dinner at Le Bernadin where we were startled by just how many people you can have working in a place when there is no minimum wage – we dealt with four different people before we even got to our table! The food was fabulous though, and there is nothing like sitting under a gigantic genuine Modgliani to remind you this isn’t a normal restaurant.

James and I were staying down on the lower west side, just next to the former World Trade Centre site, so we spent quite a bit of time hanging out in the West Village at night, discovering a fabulous Cuban restaurant as well as a brilliant little underground beer bar.

We had a Sunday brunch at Pastis in the Meat Packing District before our visit to the Met. I also took the chance to give James a truncated tour of the Highline Park while we were waiting for our table.

On Monday we spent most of the day shopping and wandering about. Traversed Fith Ave from the Apple store on the corner opposite the bottom of Central Park, all the way back to Soho, passing the skaters at the Rockefeller Centre, the New York Public Library and the Empire State Building en route.

And this of course.

There was much walking, some shopping and even a hot chocolate.Who could ask for more?

And here is the shopping…

An afternoon at the Met

A visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art is pretty much a compulsory element of any trip to New York. I think I have only failed to go on one visit – eight years ago when I went there, but they wouldn’t let me in because I had a too-big bag (and these were the very paranoid years immediately after 9/11). But on all my other trips I have made the pilgrimage and this time was no different – I just waited til James had arrived to do it.

Being us, and somewhat predictable, we headed straight for the arms and armour section. Nothing like a bit of medieval plate to get the day going. I particularly love the samurai area though – the swords are things of exiquisite beauty.

Our taste for ancient weaponry and armour satisfied, we could then take in the rest of the Met. Well, let’s be honest, not quite the rest as we only had about 4 hours, but certainly chunks of it.
There was the American hall, which is a beautiful place just of itself.

I was also quite taken with this sculpture….

The classical sculpture and art section was also pretty impressive. The sculpture at the top of this post was one of my favourites, but there were lots of wonderful sculptures, and the area is beautiful as well.

That’s Hadrian’s head by the way.

The Roman mosaic found in Israel (I think) was very impressive. Must admit we didn’t have time to watch the video on its excavation.

We also looked at medieval art and a quick wander through the Pacific gallery and Asian galleries as well as some time amongst the paintings. I think that 4-5 hours is about museum-limit, so we gave up about that point and enjoyed the walk back along Fifth Avenue by the park, replete with culture.

Ribbons of remembrance

These ribbons were on the fence around a church in New York. Each yellow ribbon marked a US soldier who had died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Each week they read out the names of those who died that week, and add ribbons to the fence. The blue and green ribbons are prayers for peace and for the 100s of Iraqis and Afghanis who have also died.

In this week of ANZAC Day, a remembrance of all soldiers who die in interminable wars, especially where the motives and intents are determined by old men and corporate interests.

Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Flea

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Until James made it to New York, I stayed with Frederique and Eric, Jules and Blaise at their place in Brooklyn. There part of Brooklyn is wonderful, brownstones, funky cafes (all with free wi fi), bars, cool little shops and only 10 minutes in the subway and you are in New York. I loved catching the train over the bridge every day.

Eric and I went out one night to cool cocktail bars – one which was all prohibition style with no signage outside. The second was the very groovy steampunk themed Way Station where I got to go to the loo in the TARDIS.

Another night Fred and I went dancing with one of her friends at a club in an old church. Sadly it was a full on trance techno music night in the  basement dance area, but it was a very cool spot.

The Saturday afternoon local activity involved a visit to the Brooklyn Flea. Apparently in summer it is held outside and is bigger, but I loved its venue – a grand old bank building.

It had a great collection of flea markety stuff, amazing old post cards, vintage clothes, jewellery new and old and assorted bits on pieces.

There was some very cool earrings and cufflinks made from the key of typewriters and bingo pieces and the like.

The building itself was great – cool old windows and fittings.

I found some great old army surplus and couldn’t resist buying a fabulous World War II Marine jacket for James. Beautiful with its original buttons and the like. And for $75, something of a bargain.

We then headed downstairs for lunch. The original vault doors are still in place – these are huge, heavy and impressive.

We had delicious fish tacos – and it is entertaining to see “Mexican coke” on sale – in Mexico it isn’t made with corn syrup, earning it more hipster cred or some such. We enjoyed our lunch listening to the pork rolls man accompany jaunty tunes with his squeezy pig.

If you are in New York on a Saturday, the Brooklyn Flea is well worth a visit, as is the general Brooklyn area. I didn’t make it to the Brooklyn Art Museum this time, but last visit was very impressed. Sometimes it is good to escape Manhattan – there is more to New York than the island.

Quilts and women’s art

So I was off to spend the afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art when I discovered that was the afternoon it was closed. Sigh. But not to despair, the American Folk Art Museum was next door and open and I had never visited it before. So another New York first.

The Museum had a number of interesting works and I particularly liked the metal weather vanes (the unicorn above is an example). But the most impressive part of the visit was the exhibition of quilts for the Year of the Quilt.

I loved the quilts. They were amazing works of art and skill, painstakingly created with geometrical precision and creative flair. Appropriately it was International Women’s Day, and so it was a wonderful time to observe what was clearly an expression of women’s artistry from a time when women were not supposed to be about the art.

It is interesting to reflect on how women’s forms of (socially acceptable) artistic expression are corralled into the category of “craft” and then denigrated as less worthy than things like painting or sculpture. Looking at these quilts and considering the time, effort, creative and technical skill it would have taken to make them – hand sewing in the times before electricity – one has to embrace them as real works of art, as wonderful as many of the works one would see next door at MoMA. And such a wonderful expression of feminine solidarity, as they were the kind of art which was created collectively, either working alongside each other, or collaborating to make a whole.

Personally I have practically zero skills in the area of craft, but I think we should embrace the skill and artistry that is involved in things like quilting and knitting and stop seeing them as lesser because they come from the world of women.