Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Quarter a New Yorker


I think I was born with the New York gene. The Chinese laundry across the street is doing my washing. The framer’s in the next block, between 7th and 6th Avenues on 23rd Street, is framing a fabulous black-and-white image by the Maltese photographer Joe Smith that I brought with me as a gift for my friend Holly, also a photographer. I love the sight of steam rising out of the subway grates; and I love seeing, as I saw this morning, a photographer trying to capture that iconic New York image. In New York I know that as I walk along the crowded sidewalks, everyone I encounter will be gracious, courteous and articulate. I love that the snippets of overheard conversations will be like sound bites from a play or a film or a monologue or a comedy routine. I love this place, even when the warm spring sunshine that we enjoyed three days ago has turned to a steady, freezing drizzle. I think that people who love New York do so because they love who they become in New York. New York wants nothing less than for you to be the best you can be. So, when you love New York, you become gracious, courteous, articulate, and funny … and so you become a New Yorker.

Photo by Arthur Leipzig

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Uptown Girl


After a quick breakfast at Eisenberg’s, the deli Holly introduced me to last year, I walked up to the New York Public Library, where I worked for a few hours before the air-conditioning got the better of me. Next to the Museum of Modern Art up on 53rd Street is the Museum of American Folk Art. I saw they were having an exhibition on Henry Darger, whose work I first came across at the Art Brut museum in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2001. There’s an amazing story surrounding him and his work. This museum now has a Henry Darger Study Centre, and his reputation seems to be getting bigger all the time. I had lunch (vegie burger) in the cafĂ© there. Walked up to 59th Street where I took the subway up to 96th Street, the stop nearest the apartment that I stayed in last year and where I’m staying again from September. I called in to see the new Whole Foods place that opened one block from me just after I left. It’s two huge floors of health foods, organic produce and every conceivable gourmet food item. I bought a good Australian red wine for Fran, who is the owner of the apartment. I thought I’d be too late to catch Eugene, one of the doormen I got to know and like last year. Amazingly, he was just leaving as I walked in and I got a huge hug and a kiss. The girls I run with have heard all about Eugene. No one else has ever made “Good morning, Robyn” sound quite the way Eugene does. I wasn’t at all surprised when Fran told me some months ago that he was voted Best Doorman on the Upper West Side last year. We talked, I gave him my card, and he gave me another hug and kiss. It was excellent to meet Fran finally. She and her husband live in New York during the winter and in Lausanne the rest of the year. We had coffee and she showed me how to user the dishwasher without flooding the kitchen, which is what happened the only time I used it last year. If I get a chance I’ll take some things back to the apartment to store in the closet for later in the year. And maybe I’ll see Eugene again ☺. I took the subway back downtown and went over to the Chelsea Market for some gelato, then walked back up 8th Avenue through the Saturday street market. Early to bed tonight.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Midnight in Manhattan


My first day back in the Big Bagel has been a very busy one. I worked in my room at the Chelsea until about 2 pm on the monthly newsletter job that I always have to cancel any previous plans for. It was sent to me 15 minutes after my plane left Sydney, so I was way behind in starting work on it. Next I had my hair cut by Gladys of Mr Roberts Haircutting at the Affinia Manhattan Hotel on W 31st Street on the recommendation of a doorman at Macy’s. I’ll go there again when I’m back in September. I then took the subway up to the Roseland Ballroom on 53rd Street to pick up my race number and goody bag for Sunday’s half marathon in Central Park. A trio of heavily accented Russians asked me how to get down to Battery Park, and in my heavily accented Australian I pointed them in the right direction. The first woman to officially run a marathon in the States (Kathrine Switzer, who jumped in and ran Boston many decades ago) was talking at the race expo. She’s all for mixing up a half-dozen pairs of training shoes and as many different types of surfaces as possible during training. I walked from Roselands (remind me to tell you about this place) down to Times Square and then along to Bryant Park to eat my lunch in the sun with the beautiful people. The Empire State Building tower was poking above the buildings that line the south side of this square where New York Fashion Week is held. When I walked around the corner to the New York Public Library (where Carrie was meant to wed Mr Big), I was looking straight at the Chrysler Building. After checking opening times for tomorrow, I walked back to the Chelsea. I was out again just after 7 pm to meet up with Kathy W (who flew in this morning from San Francisco) and her friend Jody (who drove down today from Boston) for dinner over on 2nd Avenue near 54th Street. Kathy and I have quite a long history now, but she and Jody have been friends since they were c. 12 or 13. Some very funny stories about their road trip to Kansas in a Buick when they were 21, and about K’s whitewater rafting exploits on the Zambezi River. I came back to the hotel to find that my email with this morning’s job attached hadn’t gone through. After a lot of fussing about, we determined it was never going to go through, so we went to Plan B. Meanwhile, a job came in from the Philippines that needed to be done there and then. So, it’s now midnight in Manhattan and my day’s work is done … hopefully.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kokoda: A Track Winding Back



I confess I cried during the dawn service at Port Moresby’s Bomana War Cemetery on Anzac Day, 2008. I had spent the previous 12 days walking the 100-kilometre Kokoda Track across Papua New Guinea’s Owen Stanley Range, in the footsteps of the Australian and Japanese soldiers who had fought in that inhospitable terrain in 1942.
I had been anticipating a very hard slog, in appalling conditions, through the jungle and knee-high swamps while battling ailments and illness and being besieged by leeches. I was lucky: I didn’t even get a blister.
In preparation for the trek I had trained hard to improve my overall fitness. I’d run on the trails over Nail Can Hill, scrambled up and down The Staircase, and climbed Mt Feathertop. Ascending and descending a staircase, taking two steps at a time, is also excellent preparation.
You can walk the track in either direction. We walked back from Kokoda village, which we flew into by light plane. Our group of 12 trekkers and three local trek leaders was supported by a dozen or so porters.

Meeting my porter, Phil, after our plane’s three-bounce landing in Kokoda

There is very little in the way of creature comforts to be enjoyed along the track, even if you choose to go with one of the higher-priced trekking outfits such as Adventure Kokoda (www.kokodatreks.com), which specialises in ‘battlefield treks’ that focus on the military history and key battlefield sites, or Peregrine (www.peregrineadventures.com), the operator I went with. Friends of mine had good things to say about the more moderately priced Kokoda Spirit (www.kokodaspirit.com). I paid extra to have a personal porter carry my main pack, leaving me with a day pack weighing about 12 kilos.
The Owen Stanley Range is one of the most primitive places in the world. We walked through villages that comprised a few thatched huts – and little else. Apart from tattered T-shirts, and the occasional iron pipe or rubber hose, there was little to indicate that life for the villagers had changed in tens of thousands of years. Occasionally we were able to buy a few bananas or peanuts, or a can of warm soft drink.
Our route took us through Isurava, where there is a moving monument (four pillars bearing the words ‘courage’, ‘endurance’, ‘mateship’ and ‘sacrifice’), Templeton’s Crossing, Mt Bellamy, a detour to Myola for a day’s rest, back to Efogi (where there is a memorial to the Japanese soldiers who fought on the track), Brigade Hill, Menari, Imita Ridge (where, after climbing to the top, I became quite overwhelmed by emotion) and Goldie River, where we swam and drank beers and prepared ourselves mentally for the ascent to Ower’s Corner the next morning and the end of our trek.
Much of the walking requires a lot of concentration. My porter, Phil, stayed with me the whole way and gave me lots of instructions. I followed some of them.
Apparently, Phil’s mother’s sister paid a witch doctor to place a spell on Phil’s dad to make him fall in love with her. He duly fell for her and left Phil’s mum and their eight children to shack up with his former sister-in-law. That old black magic will do it every time.
Most of the track is very narrow (often single file) and much is under canopy. The swampy caldera through which we waded to Myola was very different from anything we’d seen before. The daily rainfall from around 2 pm really started to churn up the track during the second week and we spent the last four days mainly walking in mud.
Our porters carried all our food, cooking and other equipment, tarps and tools. They also sang for us, which sent shivers up and down my spine. On the last four or five mornings, as more groups of trekkers were converging on Ower’s Corner in time for Anzac Day, a couple of ‘runners’ would set off before dawn to secure us a hut at our next overnight camp. On a couple of nights we missed out and slept under canvas on groundsheets.


A typical river crossing

One day we walked through an area where the sound of cicadas filled the air for about half an hour. It swooped and dived and rolled in and around the trees above us. I felt that I was being visited by the spirits of the Kokoda Track.

DON’T MISS: The Boneman of Kokoda: Kokichi Nishimura, by Charles Happell (Pan Macmillan), for a different view on the Kokoda campaign; swimming in the Goldie River. I DON’T MISS: Salada crackers with canned tuna and beetroot.

A Walk on the Wilder Side

I’m spending Anzac Day this year back in New York City, where I’m running a half marathon in Central Park with my friend Kathy, a fellow member of the Dead Runners Society. My photographer friend Holly and I will be checking out a Cartier-Bresson show at the Museum of Modern Art and a condom exhibition at the Museum of Sex, which is just a short walk from my home for the week, the famous Chelsea Hotel. Quite possibly my room will be where Sex Pistol Sid Vicious allegedly stabbed to death his punk girlfriend Nancy Spungen in 1978.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Walking the Walk

There may be moments in the next few years when I question my sanity in embarking on a life as a global nomad. But they are unlikely to be when I’m running with the Hash House Harriers in Sarawak, or walking across England with my American friend Michele, or trekking to the top of a volcano in Bali.
The prospect of running, hiking and walking my way around the world doesn’t faze me in the slightest, though it would probably be some people’s worst nightmare.
The preparations for my departure in late May went into a holding pattern this past week, though, when I was asked to front up for ‘further evaluation’ following a routine mammogram. After seven further x-rays and an ultrasound, I was given the all clear. It felt like too close a call. Possibly two or three of the women in that waiting room with me weren’t going to be as lucky as I was.
I’m even more determined now to live life to the fullest.
I haven’t always done that.
The early to mid-1990s was a dark time in my life. I had spent the previous two decades working in publishing in Sydney and Hong Kong. I loved my work, and I loved the opportunity Hong Kong provided to travel widely in Asia and beyond. But towards the end of the nearly eight years I spent running my own business there, I wasn’t coping well with the stresses of everyday life. When I started having anxiety attacks, it seemed time to leave.
After a year back in Sydney, I moved to Brisbane. From there I moved back to be near my family in Albury. I was basically all over the shop, and was smoking heavily to try and keep a lid on my anxiety.
A few months after my return, I took up running again after a break of some years. And that’s when I started to find my feet. Within little more than a year, I had trained for and run a marathon. Along with a feeling of wellbeing, I also regained my sense of humour and optimism, and I was lucky to make some terrific running mates.
I then started to become involved in the local art scene. I found friends there, and started to build a collection of paintings and, later, photographs.
So, the Border has been very good to me as both a runner and an art lover. But it’s with dogs that many people in Albury-Wodonga associate me.
In 2002, when my dogs Charlie and Butch were just pups, I formed the Albury-Wodonga Dogs’ Breakfast Group. Eight years on, I’ve met hundreds of dogs and their owners through our monthly get-togethers. I never tire of hearing their stories.
In the last few years I’ve resumed travelling, including doing some marathon treks. The bug has bitten me hard, and I want to do more. Luckily, my job as a freelance editor allows me to work wherever I have access to the internet.
We have a very special community here on the Border. I’ll miss so many people – and dogs! But it feels like the right time to divest myself of most of what I own and take off on an excellent adventure. I really hope you’ll join me on my journey.

The Merchant of Venice

In September 2007, on a night lit by a near-full moon, I ran for an hour through Venice with an Italian mountain runner and shopkeeper named Cristiano. I had just completed a two-week trek in and out of the valleys that encircle Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain. I was on my way to Malta, to the island of Gozo, to be editor-in-residence at the studio of artist Norbert Attard, who had visited Albury some months before as part of the opening celebrations for the LibraryMuseum.
My merchant of Venice and I are both members of an online running community. He had responded when I asked for someone to accompany me on a run along the canals and over the bridges of this most beautiful 13th-century city.
Visiting runners might join in the jogging tours that start in Piazza San Marco at 7.30 am, daily in summer, and on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays in winter (www.runningtouritaly.com). Another company offering morning running tours of up to an hour is Allegro in Venice (http://allegroinvenice.com/en/tour-1.php). I haven’t run with them, so I can’t vouch for either of these businesses.
There are few places as thrilling, rewarding and safe for the walker as Venice. You will never be far from the incredible Grand Canal, quick crossings of which by traghetto (a wide gondola in which passengers remain standing) provide a very cheap thrill. (When I first rode in one of these, my knees were shaking so violently I thought I was going to capsize us. It didn’t help that I had faced the wrong way and was too afraid to try and turn around, and that my fellow passengers were all staring at me.)
A number of private walking tours (eg, www.bellinitravel.com/venice/walks) offer insights into the city’s architecture, history and art.
On my agenda in the future is a trek in the nearby Dolomites. I’ll tell you more once I’ve sampled what’s on offer.

DON’T MISS: Grand Canal crossing by traghetto; sightseeing by vaporetto (water bus); Italian gelato; and The Peggy Guggenheim Collection art museum and shop.