Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Travel broadens the behind

I'm really enjoying the milder weather in southern Spain after it got very cold in New York. Budapest, where I spent five days, was also bitterly cold. I caught up there with my friend from September, Jules, who is back in Budapest for a few months with her husband David. We had dinner four nights running!

I also had a checkup with my dentist. The rest of the time I worked and nursed a cold that seems to want to hang around. I managed to visit my favourite rice pudding store, where the girl who used to serve me in September remembered me. I also caught up with Linda, who rented me the last of the three apartments I stayed in on my first visit and another of whose properties I'll be renting from next August for a month. I'm still crazy about Budapest and am looking forward to going back in the summer.

From Budapest I took the train to Vienna for an overnight stay before my flight to Seville.

I'm loving Seville. The apartment I'm renting for two weeks is in a fabulous area overlooking the Murillo Gardens and on the edge of Barrio de Santa Cruz.

This old part of Sevilla is gorgeous: a maze of narrow streets (calles), a jumble of low-rise architectural styles, orange trees (in fruit) everywhere, flower boxes, huge fig trees in the gardens, old Roman columns, wonderful mosaics, churches and bell towers everywhere. Love the colours, the high blue sky, and the ease of walking everywhere.

And the food. I seem to have given in to my sweet tooth here. This morning I had a small slice that tasted like a fig and pistachio crumble. It was heavenly. I'm trying to find out what it's made of. The caramel flan I had at dinner last night was the best I've ever had. A homemade ice-cream store around the corner has a goat's cheese and quince flavour that was pretty amazing. I've also had squid and other local dishes at a couple of tapas places, but I'm yet to try the place downstairs, which comes highly recommended.

This morning I went to the Arab baths, which are just a few streets away. It's too expensive to visit regularly or for a full treatment, but it was very nice to hang there for an hour and check out the decor while being pummelled by water jets or floating in some of the hot pools. 

Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the biggest Christian cathedral after St Peter's and St Paul's. I went up to the top of the bell tower for views over the city. 

I get hopelessly lost trying to walk and follow a map at the same time, and it took me a few attempts to actually find La Macarena yesterday, which is an area west of the Centro area. I was pleased to find the wooden building known as "The Mushrooms of the Incarnation", designed by a German architect and built just a couple of years ago. Part of the rationale for the design was to preserve some archaeological ruins that were discovered on the site.

The Plaza de Espana is fabulous. I loved the little tiled benches devoted to the various provinces of Spain.

I have quite a bit of work to get through while I'm here, so I'm fitting in breaks of a couple of hours a couple of times a day to go exploring. There's a lot to see and do. I'm just biting off small chunks as and when I can, but I won't get to see everything. A lot of the fun is just in walking around. I'm glad I came.

I haven't had a run since I left New York, but I'm hoping my chest cold will clear up this week and I'll feel like getting out there and doing some miles. If I'm going to keep finding delicious sweet treats, I'd better get my arse moving!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Being grateful

If anyone reading this blog gets impatient waiting for updates (hi, Dad!), there is always the option of friending me on Facebook. That’s where the daily stuff happens. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the time to come up with an angle for a blog entry. But today, as I get ready to fly back to Europe after ten weeks in New York, my theme is gratitude.

Often, wherever I am, my main focus is on my daily routines (working, running, catching up with friends, walking for hours, seeing films) and pressing concerns (my cash flow!). But I’m never not aware that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to live the way I am, and to experience some of the world’s remarkable places as a resident, rather than a tourist. I’ve spent up to five months a year in New York since 2009, so I really have a broadly based life here now. But each time I come, there is something different. Some of the new people I meet become special friends. This time I stayed on much later than usual, so I’ve been hunkered down against the cold weather. I’m grateful that we had some snow yesterday, and for the beautiful sunny day today.

I’m grateful for my clients, who continue to send work files off into cyberspace often without knowing where in the world I am when I work on them. I’m also very grateful when they pay my invoices!

I’m grateful that wonderful films and documentaries continue to be made, and that they pop up on my radar. I’ve seen a whole bunch of films during this visit, but my favourite was “Breakfast With Curtis”.

I’m grateful that I remain an uninjured runner, and that my times are still good enough to earn me age group placings (fourth out of 84 in my AG in the Philadelphia half marathon a few weeks ago).

I’m grateful that I don’t need a whole bunch of stuff to live this way. Apart from a small parcel of summer clothes I sent ahead to Kuching to await my arrival in March, I’m heading off into the next adventure with only a medium-sized suitcase and a small carry-on case that will hold my laptop bag.

And I’m grateful for the friends from all stages of my life who are my virtual travelling companions.

As I will be travelling quite a bit over the next few months, to some new and fascinating places, I’ll try to update this blog more frequently.

Happy holiday season to everyone!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gotham update

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future…

I’ve been back in New York for a month. Again, I broke the flight with a night’s stay in Dublin and a visit to the hair salon I use there. (In May I actually took a bag of dirty laundry to Dublin for washing when the hotel I was staying at in Paris wanted to charge me 100 euros(!) and I couldn’t find anywhere else to do it for me.) It's autumn and cold now in New York, but the days are beautiful and sunny.

It’s been a big month.

I’ve caught up with old friends, and with some newer ones made when I was here in the summer (June and July). I’ve also had an opportunity to go for a walk in Central Park with Max, my dog friend from upstairs, and Ellen. Max won’t allow me to take him to the park when it’s just him and me; he insists I take him straight to the pet store.

My running training is back on track. In a 5-mile (8 km) event yesterday I ran my fastest race pace of the year and scored a second place in my age group (out of 41 women). I also ran a half marathon in Central Park a week after I got back. My time was slow. I have just one more race (a 5K next weekend) to get guaranteed entry to next year’s New York City marathon, to make up for the one I missed last year when it was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. Hopefully, there won’t be any hurricanes, blizzards or other hiccups between today and Sunday, and the 2013 marathon goes off without a hitch. I know quite a few people running it this year.  I downscaled my planned Philadelphia marathon (in three weeks) to a half marathon, as I hadn’t done the necessary slow buildup when I was in Europe in August and September. There are a few of us going to Philly for one or other race and I’m looking forward to it.

I had a birthday this month, which is always nice.

I’ve taken advantage of the great cinemas, as usual, and have seen a bunch of films. Something different this time was a celebrity encounter of the 3D kind when my friend Diane and I recognised and spoke with the actor Jeff Daniels at a matinee session of “Gravity”.  My only other known sightings have been Alec Baldwin and Ferris Bueller. I mean, Matthew Broderick.

A week or so ago I was invited up to Greenwich, Connecticut, by a woman I met in Bali in February. We spoke for about 5 minutes then, and for about 5 hours last week. We spent a couple of hours kayaking on Long Island Sound and checking out waterfront houses owned by rich folks. Laurette is a designer (mainly of fabrics) and her husband Kit is a photographer. A really fun day.

With former model friend Brigitte I saw the “Queer History of Fashion” exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology. That seems to be our museum, as we saw the big “RetroSpective” exhibition there in the summer.

I’ve been going to a Writers meetup group on Mondays. There are thousands of meetup groups in New York. There is never any reason to feel alone here, as you could share any or all of your interests with someone! The writers group is pretty focused. Each person reads a piece of writing and gets feedback, and then gives it when others read their work. There are only five or six people, so there is time for some close analysis.

I found the feedback very useful when I read a few pages from Patrick’s and my novel in progress.

The collaborative writing process is fascinating. Patrick is 100 per cent committed to this project, as am I. We have done a ton of preparation, with nearly daily Skype sessions over the past two months developing the characters and the story line. It’s still fluid, but we basically know what’s going to happen and how to get there in our storytelling. We know our characters really well. We are also discovering that some things are being handed to us on a platter. We know what scenes we have to write, and who best to take the lead in writing each one. Then I massage it all together, look at where the gaps are that require Patrick’s input, and he supplies that text. I do another draft, then Patrick reviews that, and we slowly reduce the number of yellow highlights as we resolve the remaining issues. I’m sure that when the first draft is done, we’ll move a whole lot of stuff around again, but we are making great progress in producing an actual first draft of our book. It’s so much fun. It feels blessed. It’s a great story. And I couldn’t wish for a better partner in this project than Patrick.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Viszlát (au revoir), Budapest

It’s not like you’d have to pull teeth to get me to return to Budapest (though I’m leaving with two fewer than I arrived with). It’s a fabulous city to visit, and I think it would be a great place to live. Mind you, I’ve only been here a month, and in that time it’s gone from summer to cold autumn and I don’t really do cold. I’ve actually needed the winter coat I bought back when it was still hot. (It was a good price and style; I didn’t think I’d be wearing it here!) I’m planning a quick return visit in December, when it will be seriously cold. If I’m going to be freezing, at least I hope there’ll be snow on the ground.

I’m impressed with the dental surgery I was recommended. I’d been having trouble with a couple of back teeth and they had to go. I really liked that the dentist and periodontist actually listened when I said I was anxious about the procedure. They organised for me to have intravenous sedation, which did the trick but also knocked me around for a few days. Julie came along to keep me company and to make sure I got home OK afterwards. In December I’ll decide on any follow-up work.

For this last week I’ve been staying in the former Jewish ghetto area in District VII. It’s a fabulous area, within easy walking distance of anywhere I want to go. I’m always happy to walk everywhere, but the trams and metro are also very close by, as are the two cinemas I’ve been to and some great restaurants. 

I’ve checked a few things off my “to do” list, including making visits to St Stephen’s Basilica, the House of Terror (a museum housed in a building where both the fascist Arrow Cross Party and the communist Department for Political Police after 1945 (which became the State Security police) tortured and executed thousands of people), and the quite disturbing Holocaust Museum.

It’s not surprising, given Hungary’s long history of occupation, that there is now a real sense that Budapest is a city filled with young people enjoying themselves and their freedom. Kids in their twenties are the first free generation within living memory. Their parents and grandparents grew up under communism, and their great-grandparents went through the hell of the Second World War. There is a lot of creativity evident in the city’s fashion, music, art, design, graffiti, filmmaking, café and bar/”ruin” pub scenes.

This past week, Jules and I spent a beautiful afternoon walking up Gellert Hill, from where there are great views over the city. Tonight I’m leaving for Dublin, on my way back to New York, where I have a November marathon to train for.

It feels like I’ve been here longer than just four weeks. Quite a lot has been happening behind the scenes, too, including a very exciting creative project with Patrick, in Bali. We’ve stayed in very close touch since we said our au revoirs in Kuala Lumpur in March.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Prague: A Bohemian rhapsody

As the Czech Republic was once known as Bohemia, and Czechs as Bohemians, I felt right at home in Prague, being a bit of a bohemian myself. In the 1970s I shared a couple of houses in Sydney with a woman who had emigrated to Australia from Prague following the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. I don’t think of her as a former friend, but I do regret my lack of curiosity about what she had gone through and what led her to leave such a beautiful city and settle in Oz.

I didn’t use any public transport in the three days I was in Prague, as it’s a perfect city for getting around on foot. On my first morning I ran over the famous Charles Bridge and two other bridges on the Vltava River as part of a two-hour run/walk on the mainly cobblestoned streets. There are so many visual treats everywhere. I found a beautiful walled garden, part of the Valdstejnska Palace, where peacocks wandered about on the lawns.

There is a lot of public art, which I always enjoy, but the highlight for me was an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art in the grounds of Prague Castle. I just spotted a poster by chance and yelped with glee when I saw the exhibition was current and open. I was a very happy gal wandering through that artspace.

I stayed near Petrin Hill, in the very funky Vintage Design Sax Hotel. This big park has lots of paths and trails. I spent an hour or so wandering around, then climbed up to the top of the Observation Tower for views across to the Old City and up to Prague Castle. There's an interesting mirror maze to wander through.

The Old City is stunning. I love the Church of St Nicolaus, the buttery yellow facades of apartment blocks, the art nouveau details on some buildings. Like the historic centre of Florence, this area is mainly pedestrianised and there are hordes of people following tour guides holding aloft little flags. I climbed to the top of the tower that houses the famous astronomical clock, for fabulous views over the narrow, winding streets and wavy roofs.

My friend Giorgio in Italy jokes that, like Budapest with its Buda and Pest sides of the Danube, Prague is split by the Vltava River into Pra and Gue. Both the Old City and the Lesser City are very appealing. The Kampa contemporary art museum on the river has an interesting permanent collection, plus I saw two temporary exhibitions: Klimt and some fellow Czech artists, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall designer and illustrator Gerald Scarfe. I liked best an illuminated cube that went from a dull grey to bright white, and back again, every couple of minutes; and a standing group of men made of plaster covered in hessian. The museum building was badly damaged by floods in June of this year, as shown in an outdoor display of photographs.

When I see this promo, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76Tl2jVl78o, it means I’m in an art house cinema somewhere in Europe and I’m about to see a fine film with English soundtrack or English subtitles. I’m like Pavlov’s dog: I start to salivate. On Saturday at Kino Svetozor I saw “Lovelace”, which was more about the blows Linda Lovelace received from her abusive husband than about those she gave. Some key scenes were revisited later in the film to give a fuller account of certain events.

At the Globe bookstore I bought Alex Kershaw’s book, To Save a People, about Raoul Wallenberg’s mission to save Budapest’s Jews in 1944, the “last Jews of Europe”. On the Jewish tour in Budapest Jules and I had seen the sculpture erected in his memory behind the main synagogue, financed by the actor Tony Curtis who is Hungarian.

I’m now back in Budapest for my final week before I return to New York via Dublin. I started my four-day getaway by taking a hydrofoil from Budapest to Vienna, which took about six hours as we passed through a couple of locks on the Danube. In a taxi on the way from the pier to my hotel in Vienna, I realised I no longer had my shoulder bag, which contained my passport, cards, money…  It was a horrible feeling: disbelief mixed with fear. Luckily, when I got back to the river, I found the boat had gone to refuel for the next day and hadn’t headed back to Budapest. I was reunited with my bag after an hour’s wait by the pier, where a swan kept me company for some of the time. I was very grateful that the whole incident ended up being nothing worse than a reminder of the need to be mindful.