Christmas faraway

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Christmas. It’s hot sunny days and washed out landscapes, it’s watching Carols by Candlelight on TV, it’s family, it’s desperately wanting to do my own thing. I never quite feel like I fit in at Christmas, I’m always a bit apart.

For a long time my birthday has set me apart. I feel special, but conspicuous at the same time, awkward drawing attention on a day that is already set aside for another celebration. And now I’m older, without another generation coming up, some of it’s zing is lost. Christmas is a time for tradition, for gathering of family. I’m envious of my cousins and all their children, continuing traditions that I am leaving. Even as they embrace me as a favourite aunt and make me welcome. While my immediate family seems to gets smaller by the year. And I feel guilty for making it even smaller by not being there.

20151209224006This year I missed the annual decorating of the tree. Maybe for the first time ever. I think it not a coincidence that this is the year I needed my own tree. I insisted A and I have one, albeit small, and sparsely decorated. And it’s been an odd build up through December here, the city getting more and more festive, but then no culmination with all the personal trimmings. No presents under the tree, no carolling, no stuffing myself with Turkey until it’s all I can do to toddle from dining table to couch and snooze. No green-jelly-as-substitute for a pudding-hater.   No desperately trying to carve myself some spare birthday hours to myself. No birthday cake.

Of course, I am totally feeling sorry for myself. I know it. Christmas faraway, surrounded by a strange city, is hard. But it’s also good. And New York City certainly knows how to do Christmas. The Rockefeller Centre christmas tree, the Christmas windows on 5th Avenue, the lights in every second apartment window. The commercialism, the crowds, the cold(ishness-not-so-much-this-year).

Saks, 5th Ave, NYC

And there’s certainly something to be said for getting to celebrate it somewhere new. I started writing this on Christmas Eve, on a plane as A and I headed to Texas – state number 26 on this excellent adventure. Travelling at Christmas is starting to be a new tradition. Looking back, A and I have been somewhere else on (at least part of) Christmas Day almost every year – Port Fairy, India, Adelaide and now Marfa, Texas. After a dodgy El Paso Mexican diner Christmas brunch followed by driving three hours we are holed up in the Hotel Paisano, from Giant (1957) fame, with spare birthday hours to spend reading, lounging and taking a bath, before Birthday dinner. Perfection.

And as I listen, yet again, to Tim Minchin’s White Wine in the Sun, and the tears cloud my eyes, I know that what he sings is so true. That even though I’m far away, my sisters and cousins and father and mother and nieces and nephews are waiting in the heat of the Australian summer, to welcome us home, whenever we come.

Hotel Paisano, Marfa, TX

Navigating the Subway


20151002170539It seems like I’m always trying to find my way, even when I think I know the way.  There are always indicators to help – signs, usually – but they are tricky and sometimes I cannot make sense of them either.  If I drop my guard, I am momentarily lost.

Before descending into the undercity I must remember to read the signs at the entrance.  Downtown? Uptown?  Or can I decide once I am down? Wait, people are only streaming out, not in.  Check the colour of the subway globes – red, exit only.  Look around to find the white and green ones that indicate an entrance.  Maybe I can’t see them because they are a block or more away.

Finally, down the steps, through the turnstile – oops, swipe that metrocard again, success!  Follow the always-confusing signs.  Every station has multiple lines A,C,E,2,3,4,5,L and maybe the LIRR.  Hurry to the platform, double back and try again.  Don’t forget to check which side of the platform or else, again, I’m heading downtown instead of up.


Listen for the announcements, which station?  Am I on a local or an express?  Why are we stopping here?  Rerouted again.  Ooh, I could change to the 4 here?  Maybe that will be faster because it has less stops, but how long will I have to wait for it? And I have a seat now, I might not get a seat if I change, maybe it’s better to stay on this one.  If I prevaricate long enough the decision is made.  Stay.

Exiting is another exercise in navigating.  Despite indicators, I am lost until I’ve done it a few times.  And even then it’s no guarantee. Stairs to NW corner, that’s good.  Emerge from the world below, but am I facing N or W?  As I stood looking vainly up and down the street from a new station yesterday I discovered a new indicator.  The helicopter flight path on the Hudson River.  If I can see helicopters flying between buildings then I am heading the right way.

This little guy doesn’t give up his seat for anyone.