Camping out inside

I am living in an apartment devoid of furniture.  Well, not quite.  There is a blow up mattress, two camp chairs and the drawers that used to hold up our bed in the van.

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Nighttime blossoms.

 

A lot has happened in the four months since Texas.  A lot, and also not much.  I feel quite at home, and still not.  Yesterday my oldest friend J was in town on business.  It was such a relief to talk to someone who just knows who I am, culturally and personally.  Life here is great, and terrible and lonely and fabulous all at once.  That is hard work.  And who knows whether it is all worth it?  I trust it will be.

But anyhoo.  We rented an apartment.  A proper one. A big one!  With four windows that overlook Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.  Despite having no furniture, I have sat and eaten breakfast each morning looking out at squirrels and robins and greenery. This just might keep me sane in this city!  We had actually planned to have some furniture in it before moving in, but the thought of getting $600 back on our sublet if we left early was too good to refuse.  So we impromptu moved on Monday and I find myself camping in NYC – ironically, we have quite enough camping stuff to get by with.  And I say I because A is living it up in an airbnb in Rhode Island – no empty apartment-living for him.

I do finally feel like an adult.  Is it because I live in an apartment in NYC?  No. Despite everything I have done in my life – bought three houses, married, divorced, sat by deathbeds, travelled, moved across the world – the thing that finally made me feel like an adult was buying a brand new sofa!  Not a hand-me-down, not one we compromised on because a cheaper one would really make sense if we’re only here for a couple of years, not one we found on Craigslist.  A brand new, lovely sofa.  And now I am an adult!  After a brief panic that it wouldn’t fit through our doorway, it will arrive on Saturday and I will be so happy to sit on it!

To balance my newfound adulthood I have developed an obsession with manhole covers.  New York streets are full of them.  They have all kinds of patterns and sizes, but the round metal-ness of them intrigues me.  As does the fact that they all seem to be Made in India.  Why would these things get shipped from India?  What do people think when I stop in the middle of the road to photograph a new one?

You know what they think?  Nothing!  This is NYC and every next person is crazier than a cut snake and doesn’t give two hoots what the hell I am photographing in the street.  And I love it. But I can’t quite relax into it yet.

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Hiking Breakneck Ridge, an hour up the Hudson valley.

Top three things that drive me crazy on a near-daily basis:

  • one tap for both shower and bath that never works the same way as the last one I used – can you not afford separate taps?
  • the 10 cent coins are smaller than the 5 cent coins and I always get it wrong
  • having to choose all the ingredients – if I wanted to do that I would have made my own sandwich, just let me order your sandwich specialty

Tempered by all the awesome things:

  • there is always something on – Joss Whedon and Mark Ruffalo talking at the Tribeca Film Festival, ex-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Noam Chomsky talking about neo-liberalism and who really holds the power in Europe, Jon Krakauer at the local library
  • visiting the Frank Lloyd-Wright room at the Met and choosing to pay only a dollar to get in
  • cycling to work up the Hudson river every day – pinch myself
  • catching the train an hour north to spend all day hiking
  • ice-skating in Central Park/Prospect Park/Bryant Park
  • drinking picklebacks in our local bar
  • sleeping through Broadway plays
  • watching squirrels from my window
  • walking through Central Park in the snow
  • finding the David Bowie memorials
  • crazy people who don’t give a damn
  • the man that sets up a table on the corner of our street to sell plastic dinosaurs and fake dog poo
  • the awesome acoustics in our empty apartment
  • that it is only April and light until 7.30 already
  • citibikes
  • spring

That’s a great list.  I will try to remember it next time when I am feeling anxious and lonely and that it is all too hard!

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Serious subway message, in mosaic, ftw.
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Texas

Texas was great.  I love Texas.  I guess I can only really speak for West Texas.

The Chihuahua Desert with it’s rocky ranges reminds me a lot of the Flinders Ranges.  I hadn’t really considered before that this part of Texas has the extension of the Rocky Mountains running through it, and beyond into Northern Mexico, where there are range upon range of wild-looking mountains to be explored.  We were heading to Big Bend NP for three days of sunny winter hiking in the Chisos Mountains.

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We arrived in El Paso, on Christmas morning, at 2.30am (4.30 am NYC time).  We staggered all of 160 yards to our hotel and fell into bed.  Hours later we are driving aimlessly around a deserted El Paso looking for somewhere to have a birthday breakfast.  Even after being in the US for 6 months now, I still imagine that I am going to get Melbourne-style breakfast.  It never happens.  Especially not on Christmas Day.  A is ecstatic when we stop at a Mexican diner.  We are, after all, on the edge of Mexico.  A sighting of a guy in tradies overalls, with cowboy boots and a ten gallon hat, walking a tiny chihuahua makes us inordinately happy.

I drive because A’s license expired and the new one has not yet arrived from Australia.  It is a long and boring road.  We’ve had to justify our presence to a burly-looking border patrol officer, and our progress has been captured by about 20 cameras from every possible angle.  A realises that that this will happen again when we return from Big Bend and enters a state of nervous anticipation that will last for the rest of the trip.  I nap for 20mins at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

marfa4 hours and 300 miles later, we arrive in Marfa.  A small town that, unknown to us, is too cool for school.  A hotbed of art and design thanks to artist and architect Donald Judd settling here in the 60s, it’s pretty funky in a mid-century, hipster-y way and I wish we had more time to explore. We stay in the Hotel Paisano, a nicely preserved hotel made famous as the base for Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean whilst shooting the movie Giant, and popular for weddings.  And also for family christmases it seems. It is an oasis in the desert of nothingness we have driven through.  And even though we haven’t had the foresight to book ahead for dinner, they can squeeze us in.  Lucky, coz there’s nothing else open on christmas night.  Perfect birthday evening.

There is a giant storm brewing to the north of us in New Mexico and it’s going to stretch south far enough to mean snow.  And ice.  So much for it being warmer in Texas.  I’m not sure we thought that through properly.  Whilst we did plan for cold camping, we are not properly equipped to have a good time camping in snow.  Our plans need to change.  We get lucky with a cancellation and book two nights in a cabin in another small town, Marathon.  The hiking part of our trip is getting shorter by the moment.  We hole up while it snows all Sunday.  Books, movies.  Lucky we changed our plans – the park is closed for the day.

Our fear of freezing whilst camping turns into a phobia and we book another night in yet another small West Texas town.  As it turns out, we probably could have camped that night.  But preoccupied as we were with the mountains, and their snow and ice, we forgot that the park extends down to the Rio Grande, where even though it’s not warm, it is sunny and snow-free.  En route we take a winding drive through the park, stopping for a roadrunner, and soon after, ironically, a coyote.  We take a hike to Boquillas Canyon where we are serenaded from the Mexican side by the Mexican Singing Jesus.  The canyon acoustics are good but we don’t tip.  We have a quick swim at a hot spring, with the cold Rio Grande rushing past beside us.  We end up in Terlingua – a ghost town famous for a murder that coincidentally I had just read about.  In fact, we spend the evening drinking at the scene, stepping where the body lay as we cross the roughly paved parking lot to descend the steps into the underground bar.  LaKiva has only recently reopened and it has a nice vibe, but is not yet popular again.  We have a good night.

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Finally, we pack our backpacks, get up early, and drive back into the park.  Our timing is good and the road up into the Chisos Basin is open by the time we arrive.  But we forget an important lesson about hiking in NPs in the US – book early, like, yesterday.  The good news is that there is exactly one backcountry camp left available that night, the bad news is that it is only about 45mins walk from the trailhead.  Not to be deterred we hike in, set up the tent, stash our food in the bear box, and set off to walk the whole loop in one day.  The difficulty of hiking here is usually the lack of water, but after snow that’s not such an issue.  In fact the problem is the looong switchback climb in the shadow of the mountain, where last night’s snow has not seen the sun.  Now ice, ascending it makes for a careful and delicate procedure and we are glad to have left our gear behind.  I admire the snow cleats that more prepared hikers are using.  The Chisos Mountains are an island plateau of mountains rising above the desert, and once the climb is done we hike through winding canyons past shallow snowdrifts and icy ponds.  Sudden vistas appear below us as the path rounds a spur to skirt the edge of the plateau.  I am reminded again that the effort to get outside is always worth it, even when it seems odds are against us.  I’m refreshed and inspired but also notice how out of shape I’ve become in the big city.  We have but a moment to sit and admire the panorama stretching away before us – the Chihuahua desert plains, the Rio Grande and the blue Mexican mountains beyond – before we have to return the way we came to be sure of descending the icy rock stairway before dark.

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Next day, we are back at the car by mid morning heading towards Fort Davis.  Border patrol interview us and let us pass, A’s fears of being detained alleviated for now.  We care less about the historic fort, and instead head for the State Park to camp.  After a little lie down in the hammock, shivering in my sleeping bag, we head to nearby McDonald Observatory to look at the dark sky through some quite large telescopes.  It’s pretty good.  But we haven’t eaten and when we make it back to town at 9pm there is nothing open.  It’s freezing out, so we sit in the car and eat instant mashed potato before crawling into bed fully clothed.  Life is good.

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Idahoan, better than Deb.

 

 

 

I love a sunburnt country

I didn’t realise just how much I love a sunburnt country until I left.  In fact, until I went to West Texas.  Another sunburnt country.  Desert, saltbush, coyotes, rocky mountain ranges, desolation.  Also cacti.  And snow.  These things all tug at my heart.  Even cacti.  I cannot imagine living in a place without them.  And yet, NYC.  The seeming antithesis of sunburnt country.  I am surprised that I am here.  So are others.  I love to be surprising.

But on waking in the East Village the first morning now A and I moved even further in, to actual Manhattan, the first sound I heard was birds tweeting.  And we watched a fat squirrel scampering around.  I lie in bed and look out the window, towards the sky, straight into a tree that will be green and glorious come spring.

Maybe all it takes is a view of nature, to calm me, to give me a moment.  I am reminded of my last weeks with Nan, where the view of the Dandenong Ranges from her hospital bed made her so happy.  Just like Nan, constrained by a room, I can live constrained by a city, as long as I have a view.

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It might not look like much, but the morning sunlight and the chirruping birds make this a great view!

 

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).

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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.

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Hotel Paisano, Marfa, TX

On the corner of Eastern Parkway and Franklin Avenue

 

PANO #1

 

On the corner of Eastern Parkway and Franklin Avenue is where I stand as I eat my egg and cheese roll.  I bought it at Sal’s Restaurant, on the corner, where they know us by now.  Sometimes Sal’s is full to bursting with students grabbing their breakfast, but this morning I am early and the wait was short.

As I open the bag I feel a waft of warmth rush over my face, and I smell hot egg and melted cheese.  There is a pang of guilt as I wonder how this deliciousness is even possible for $1.75.  I know the answer, but I am not ready to go there yet.  My stance so far extends to refusing a plastic bag, to actually giving the bag back if I get one.  I can’t yet tackle that bigger issue.

At this hour, about 7.15, there aren’t many people about and I find a moment of peace as I stand at the top of subway stairs.  Usually I feel self-conscious and make the effort to walk further to sit a park bench.  But today, I can save time and stand here for a moment.  Only a few people pass me and it’s easy not to feel the pressure to move on.

Across the road I see the bench where A and I sometimes sit and I feel slightly wistful as I realise it is something we haven’t had time to do for a while.  Our routine is changing.  Me leaving early, him still able to sleep late.  Me coming home tired but wanting to make up for not seeing him all day, him having busied all day and ready for Netflix and chill.  We’ll work it out.

Trucks and traffic rush past this corner and the noise of them intrudes on my peace.  Eastern Parkway is a big street, and pedestrians take second place.  It’s one of the few roads I encounter on a daily basis that is difficult to jaywalk across.  In NYC, like inner-city Melbourne, jaywalking is king.  Even though crossing the street is dangerous.  People live dangerously here it seems.  Just at the weekend I saw someone nearly get hit crossing the street.  Is NYC a dangerous city?  I get freaked out by the number of bicycle deaths, fires.  But still, I go about my life without changing what I do.  Like a real New Yorker, I am learning to keep my wits about me at all times.  I worry about my Mum if she come’s to visit, the New York I frequent is too fast for her.

I am not cold here on the corner.  I have been surprised not to be more cold yet.  It is a warmer than average November, all though only 6 degrees (fahrenheit) warmer so still cold.  I can’t find the right combination of layering – a problem I have had all my life when trying to dress for heart-elevating activities in cold weather, like cycling and cross-country skiing.  Here, often too hot whilst walking, as soon as I remove my coat I am chilled.  And even when I’m too hot, my fingers, toes and nose can be chilly, and I can see my breath.  Maybe this winter in NYC will finally teach me how to get my layering right.

Before I take the last bite of delicious, melty cheese, salty roll and non-free-range-non-organic-cruelly raised egg and head down into the ground, I look up and down the street at the trees.  The sunlight is catching the last of the leaves and I realise I am surprised that there are still any leaves at all.  Surprised at the difference between different trees in different places within the city.  Central Park still has many fall-coloured leaves, Eastern Parkway has almost none.  And yet with the sunlight and clear blue skies, it could be summer.

 

Life in Brooklyn

We live in Brooklyn.  Technically part of NYC, but also very different.  So far, Brooklyn is kinda like inner city Melbourne on steroids.  I am sure there are other parts that I haven’t been to yet that are different.  But so far.

I, Jeffrey O. Gustafson CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Arc de Triomphe

We are living in the area known as Pro-Cro.  For those that know, it’s the edge of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.  The equivalent of where we lived in Melbourne really, if you wanted to call that Carl-Fitz.  Which is dumb.  But Pro-Cro it is.

We live in 6 story apartment block.  We have a fire escape (on which a squirrel has a nest in a disused plant pot).  We have a subway station right beneath us.  There is parking out the front (even though we have to move the car 6 times a week, but that’s another story).  We have a cart to wheel our laundry 2 small blocks to the laundromat (but we do not have the proper laundry bags like everyone else).  We do not have a mail box, so my friend M is letting us use his address instead (so far this hasn’t proved inconvenient for either of us, unless he’s not telling).  The library is just up the street and it is glorious.  And even more glorious is the Arc de Triomphe, I mean the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, also just up the street in the middle of the ‘wheel of death’ roundabout, I mean circle.

Many mornings, we get an egg and cheese roll from Sal’s Restaurant.  Sal and Mo(hammed) have been running this place forever.  When we first started going in, I was unsure of the system.  There is no proper queue (line, as they say here, if I say queue folks get confused).  I would just wait confusedly until Mo or Sal eventually took my order.  But now, as soon as I walk in, Mo sees me and says “2 egg and cheese?”  Surely a sign of being a local.  (Whilst A is in London, I sneakily ordered one with bacon.  Bacon made it worse, not better.  I don’t really want to contemplate why, but I shall revert to egg and cheese.)

Here is our street

Usually we eat it sitting on one of the benches in the picture above.  I’m not sure how long this will be sustainable.  Right now, even when cold, it is sunny and lovely.  But I am aware that I’m quite oblivious as to what it really means to be cold here.  The other day someone told me that between November and April one cannot feel one’s face when outdoors in NYC.  I hope it’s not true, but the other New Yorker agreed with him so I suspect hoping won’t help.

Things I love about being here

Prospect Park.  If I lived uptown I would probably say Central Park.  But Prospect Park, designed by the same dude whose name I forget, is just as big, and quieter, and around the corner.

Ice rinks.  The first one opened last weekend, and the rest open next weekend.

Halloween.  In Australia Halloween is a bit shit.  But here, everyone is going all out with the decorations.  We are behind with ours, but I do have pumpkins ready for carving when A comes home.  I will have to keep them long into November to make up for all the pre-Halloween time I missed.

There are trains under the street.  Like, just there.  Layers of them.  Yesterday in the park, a small child was dancing excitedly on the sidewalk grate shrieking “train, train”, excited about the sound and the gusts of hot air.  Just like me (although I only dance on the inside).

Punkins. Not mine.

Things I love less about being here

I can’t buy things I want.  Even though I can buy an ASSAULT WEAPON, I cannot buy Phenergen, or Voltaren Gel, or panadeine, or Kinder Surprises (I don’t want to buy Kinder Surprises).  Also I cannot get a credit card.  (I don’t even want a credit card but I do want to start getting a credit rating.  Don’t get me started on the credit rating system here). This country does have things ass-about here.

Things ARE expensive.  Whilst it is easy to live frugally, stuff is expensive.  For example, I finally gave up trying to self manage my tight hip muscles the other day.  They’re chronic, and aggravated by sitting in the car for too long over the last few months, and by stress (all that worrying).  I needed a massage.  The cheapest I could find (without resorting to something that looked like it was in the business of supplying happy endings) was $90 an hour.  That’s USD of course.  Plus 20% tip.  And I’m not sure it will fix me up.  But the Rolfing that I really wanted to have starts at about $180.  USD.

We don’t have a cat.  But I just discovered we could foster some temporarily….Life would be perfect.

I have a plan to capture the squirrel when she is sleeping by putting an oven tray over her pot and bringing it inside.  Kind of like catching a spider, except in that case it’s going outside.  A says there will be biting and scratching.

Living the dream

If, of course, it had been a dream of mine to live and work in NYC.  Which it kind of wasn’t.  My dream, actually, was to live and work overseas, I never thought it would be NYC.  And because I never did it as a gap year, I kinda thought I’d missed my chance.  But then A came along, and he can’t stay in one place for long.  So here I am, living the dream.

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For the last few months I’ve been obsessing over being able to sell myself, being able to articulate clearly what it is I do, what it is I like, being able to state my PURPOSE.  I still can’t do it.  But I need to be able to, right?  I need to be able to meet with new people – recruiters, contacts, friends and tell them who I am, what I do.  I need to update my resume, have it sharp and to the point, work my LinkedIn connections.  Or who will hire me?  No one here knows me.

So I’ve been worrying about how to do this.  Worrying that I can’t, that I won’t do it right, or well enough.  I’m great at worrying.  I’ve been worrying that I have to fit in with THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE or I won’t get a job.

WRONG.

The thing I have learned, by coming halfway across the world, is that the way I operate at home, when I am just being me, works.  Of course.  I don’t have to be able to articulate my purpose beautifully, be able to sell myself.  I still want to work on doing these things, as I reckon they’ll be helpful.  But all the worrying about HAVING to?  Bollocks. My way works just as well here in NYC as it does in Melbourne.  No worrying needed.

So what I am actually reminded of is that I should always trust my gut.  Because I usually do what my gut says anyway, whilst all the while worrying that it is wrong.

Fxx

(All the folks reading this who are rolling their eyes, shaking their fists, supportively thinking “I told you so”, I know who you are.  And one day maybe I will believe you).