Sunday, September 25, 2011

Being Aboveground

This past week was the UN's 66th General Assembly session, but it was my very first one. I had been warned about what this week would be like (busy diplomats, clashing meetings, no sleep, grouchiness) so for the past few months I had been mentally prepping myself for what the past 7 days would bring.

Let me tell you that from what I saw, Australia should be really proud of its New York team. I am not saying that to be up myself at all, but I was stoked at how well we all worked together - sleep deprivation and all - to get out of this week alive. I mean, despite the odds, we ended the week with a zero body count. Amazing.

And I loved UNGA, as mad as that obviously makes me sound. I really enjoyed the energy, the camaraderie and the feeling that I actually made a tangible contribution to the week that was. I didn't get to hear any of the meetings or debates, but I stayed behind-the-scenes (where I was happiest) and sourced last-minute documents, shuttled delegates around to non-stop meetings, and just generally fought spot-fires wherever I found them.

All that aside, UNGA really was as frenetic and nuts as my colleagues had suggested it would be, so I'm glad it only happens for one week a year. I don't think I could maintain that cracking pace for too long. But I do hope that the bosses were proud of us and that we did good work for Australia.

So in my post-UNGA lull, how does my body recover? Sleeping till lunch time, that's how. It was absolutely blissful to wake up this morning (uh, this afternoon) without an alarm screeching at me. Then I busied myself with dish-washing, laundry and the general tidying up that I had been neglecting, or just totally ignoring, all week. And as Sunday draws to a close and the rain clouds roll in, I've set myself up in the kitchen to make Jamie Oliver's minestrone recipe - delicious!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


9/11 will always be one of those days that make people say, "Where Were You When...?". For my way of thinking, it's up there with the JFK assassination, the death of Elvis, the wedding of Charles & Di, and then the death of the Princess sixteen years later.

I remember the events of September 11, 2001 really well. I was house-sitting for a friend back home and I had been out late that night (dinner or something I guess) and I figured that while I was getting ready for bed I'd put the news on. TV noise in the background - good distraction, and whatnot. When Sandra Sully told me that the first plane had hit the World Trade Centre I, like everyone, thought it had been pilot error. I remember thinking to myself, "That Tower was huge - how could he have hit that?!". So I forgot about the pre-bed routine and sat down to watch the story unfold. I remember Sandra periodically looking off-camera as the news came in, almost as if she too could scarcely believe what the teleprompter was telling her to share with us. And as the live cameras rolled, I stared open-mouthed when the plane hit the second tower.

The phone rang. I picked it up almost immediately and managed to squeak a barely-audible greeting. "Are you watching this?", was all my mother whispered. I was so glad to have somebody with whom I could share this unbelievable tragedy that seemed right out of a Hollywood disaster movie. We stayed on the phone together that night, both of us watching the same TV news, not daring to talk lest we miss vital developments. When Sandra told us about the plane hitting the Pentagon, and the crash of fourth plane in Pennsylvania, Mum & I knew that terrorism was the only explanation that made sense - and I think it spooked us both pretty well and proper.

Over the next few days, I was glued to CNN - it almost got to be quite unhealthy I think. I just couldn't look away. I wanted to know all about these terrorists - who they were, what they wanted, and why they would hurt a bunch of innocent people who were just going about their daily lives on an otherwise normal morning. The news saturation didn't answer all my questions, but I think it did help wake me up a bit to the very real fact that sometimes, bad things happen to people who don't deserve it. And even though I wasn't in the US on September 11, the impacts of that day are felt every time any of us go through an airport. None of us get to escape what happened that horrible day.

So here we are 10 years on and I promised myself I wouldn't overdose on anniversary footage. I did cheat a little though, and read some amazing articles in The New Yorker and my New York magazines. One article helped me cement how I would personally approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 when it said that the day is a chance "to remember the dead and, with them, the survivors, the firemen and the police, the nurses and the doctors and the spontaneous, instinctive volunteers, the myriad acts of courage and kindness".

And so in that spirit, I could barely sleep last night and was out the door by 7am to have breakfast at Sarge's Deli, not far from my house. A pastrami omelette with a toasted bagel and bad coffee seemed as good a NY tribute breakfast as any. Afterwards at the gym I got through some of the 9/11 memorial ceremony on TV, but I didn't have the stomach for the reading of the names part, so I had to turn it off.

Enough has probably been said about 9/11 and what it means to people is a personal thing anyway. As a new arrival to NY I can't possibly imagine what that day - and its aftermath - must have been like. But the New York I know is gritty, resilient, stubborn and relentless. I guess all signs point to a concrete jungle on the mend.

Reality Bites

Early Saturday night I joined some work friends at 230 Fifth, a fantastic rooftop bar with some amazing views over New York City.

In a way I was a bit disappointed that the weather was so good, because when it's not you can wrap yourself up in one of the bar's Snuggies and stay outdoors to sip your cocktail. I've never worn a Snuggie - I suspect I'd look like a Druid (or Yoghurt from Spaceballs) - but I really like the idea that the bar doesn't let the cold weather stop its patrons from enjoying the atmosphere. Then again, it's probably rather tricky to look "NYC cool" when you're draped in burgundy felt...right?

Anyway, we took advantage of the warm evening air to have a couple of martinis on the rooftop, and we chatted about everything from the anniversary of 9/11 to the pros and cons of reality TV. In the interests of levity, the latter subject got me thinking about what reality show might I be on, if I could have the choice?

I don't like watching reality TV shows, so I doubt I'd ever stick my neck out to be on one. I just don't think they're very real, as dumb as that sounds. So that people keep watching, situations always seem trumped up for the cameras, and the vast majority of reality TV "stars" are the sorts of people I'd never EVER want to know in my real real life. So I don't think I could ever put myself through reality TV - not even for the cash & prizes. For now I think I'll stick to writing this blog and remain a reality commentator, rather than a reality star!

Of course, there are times that I do admire the people who volunteer to stand in the spotlight and put themselves up for public scrutiny. Because every so often, someone with actual talent does it and it makes all our realities much more interesting. Take my friend Caskey, for instance. This week Caskey bravely launched his web-based series called Fat Guy and Episode 1 is available for viewing here. This isn't reality TV per se, but the series is inspired by stories from Caskey's real life (and rich imagination) so I think it is deserving of some real praise and admiration. Caskey has put himself out there for the world to see and I'm really proud of him and the talented cast of characters he has assembled. Here's hoping that the right people (the powers that be) can stop watching Jersey Shore or Real Housewives for a second, and recognise Caskey's obvious talents. Stop rewarding the train wrecks and give real talent a boost!

And if anyone needs me, I'll be curled up in a Snuggie somewhere, nursing a french martini.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Life's a Beach

While I've been away, my parents made the impromptu but excellent decision to purchase an onsite holiday van at Victor Harbor, a beautiful beach-side town on the Fleurieu Peninsula about 90 minutes south of Adelaide.

I hadn't been to VH in ages, but we agreed to take a day trip there when I was home so that I could see their new holiday site. Naturally, our faithful canine companion Annie-bot was not going to miss out on this one!

Piling into the truck, we drove through the southern suburbs of Adelaide and at my insistence, stopped at the picturesque country town of Mount Compass. Now like me, many South Australians will tell you that no road trip to Victor is complete without a stop-off in Mount Compass. This is simply because the Country Picnic Bakery in Mount Compass has hands-down THE best venison pies on sale, anywhere. Ever. They're handmade, they're meaty and flavourful and the pastry is golden and flaky - and the homemade sauce served alongside is paired perfectly - mine was a tart plum & port creation. At a roadside country cafe, people! Where else do you get this sort of treatment?!

Bellies full, we kept driving on to Victor and I had to contend with Annie-bot sharing the backseat with me and panting in my face, whimpering every time we braked because she thought (or hoped?) we had arrived at our final destination.

Not long after Mount Compass we drove past the "Welcome to Victor Harbor" sign and I couldn't believe it. The Victor of my memories was nothing like the real Victor. Sure the clapboard houses are still there, giant pine trees dominating the front gardens. But now those beachfront shacks stand alongside fancy B&Bs and gourmet restaurants and hairdressing salons! I know people have always lived in Victor - I mean, it's never just been a holiday destination, but to my mind the present-day Victor is really thriving. And it's honestly beautiful. It's bustling, it's crowded, it's commercial - the city slicker in me was thrilled. And yet it's so different to how I have always thought of it. But I have to remember what Bill Hesslop of Porpoise Spit always said, "you can't stop progress".

Pulling into the Victor Harbor Beachfront Holiday Park I felt like I was miles away from the cosmopolitan town we'd only just driven through. Looking around, the Park has all the standard elements - playground for the kids, BBQ area for the bigger kids, public toilet & shower blocks, and the usual collection of campsite options. But this Park also has beautifully-manicured lawns and giant eucalyptus trees populated by the noisiest collection of native birds you'll find anywhere. On the day we visited, rainbow lorikeets and Piping Shrikes (magpies) were engaged in a screaming match up in the high boughs that prompted us to shout and shake our fists up at them. My parents have their onsite van right next to a tree housing the noisiest of all the birdbrains - but I suspect that after a while, you wouldn't even hear the din anymore. It's a perfect place for a weekend getaway, and no mystery why my parents love it.

A short walk through the Park takes you through a small gate and over a sand dune, to the calm beach below. You can swim there if you wish, and Annie-bot sometimes does, but we just wandered along a bit and threw the tennis balls to her. A short distance away, we could see Granite Island, home of Victor's population of fairy penguins. So from the beach it's easy to see just how close to the centre of Victor you really are - Mum was saying that it's an easy 15 minute walk along the sandy shore into the centre of the town for a lovely cup of coffee. Now isn't that the sort of restful holiday you want?!

Time marched on and before we knew it, we had to be back in the truck and heading for home. Leaving the clean air and noisy birdlife behind, we wound our way along the quieter route to Adelaide - via the lovely, green-hilled town of Strathalbyn. I hadn't seen so many trees in a long while!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Moving and Shaking

In the lead-up to the trip back home, I was trying really hard to eat well and exercise at the gym. I even made valiant attempts to stick to the crazy weights regimen that my personal trainer had set for me, but to be honest I mostly just stuck to the treadmill, bikes, and my ballet Pilates class.

Fortunately that effort paid off, and I was proud that my bridesmaid dress had to be taken in before baby sister's wedding! I had more energy, I felt stronger, and I was ready to enjoy my two-week holiday at home. In the week leading up to the wedding, I even did a couple of classes at a studio near where I went to high school and a couple of workouts at a gym close to Mum & Dad's house. I was on fire!

After the wedding of course, all that went out the window and I got stuck into pursuing the hedonistic pleasures of being amongst friends, family, and all the food & wine that I have missed. While I missed out on Haighs chocolates, excellent Thai food, and pies & pasties on this trip, I did indulge some other Aussie pleasures (some, but not all, of which I can get in the US - but they just seem to taste better back home):
Now of course I'm back in NY and on the treadmill, attempting to right the dietary wrongs of a holiday well-spent. Easier said than done, perhaps?!

The Blog Less Travelled

Okay so it’s been a long time since my last blog entry and I’m not even going to try and excuse myself. By way of explanation though, I was back home for baby sister’s wedding (awesome) and catch-ups with family (ditto), so the idea of sitting at a computer to write about seemed a bit silly. But I’ve been back in New York for almost a week now, so I can slowly reflect on the weeks that were and begin to share some of the standout stories with you.

I’m not one to tell tales in chronological order at the best of times, so this post is devoted to stories of coping with air travel – before, during and after.

Thanks to business class work trip to Australia back in May, I had some healthy frequent flyer points in my back pocket for the trip in August. In fact, I had enough points to upgrade myself to business class on at least one leg of the international journey. Unfortunately Australia’s national airline had other ideas, and wouldn’t let me upgrade myself – apparently my cheapass airfare precluded me from reclining in the lap of business class luxury. I even tried the “but it’s my birthday” sob story (which it was), but the airline was heartlessly unmoved.

The flight over to Australia actually turned out to be OK, all things considered. I didn’t sleep on the NY-LA flight (which was my plan anyway), so that tired me out for the LA-Sydney leg. I managed to score a bulkhead seat on that long flight too, so I had a bit more legroom than usual, and was able to curl up next to the window and get about 7 hours of sleep in between half-watching some rather average movies. [Just as an aside, why has QANTAS included “Snowtown” on its in-flight entertainment package?! Surely 37,000 feet above sea level is no place to be distressed by a horrible true story about Australian psychopathic killers and bodies in barrels?!]

Fast forward now to the return journey to NY, and our national airline AGAIN refused to upgrade me but this time they said it was because business class was entirely full. You can’t really fight that explanation, can you? On the red eye Adelaide-Sydney leg, I sat alongside an Australian national hockey player (wearing his regulation green & gold tracksuit no less). Mr Hockey Man fell asleep before take-off and snored the entire way to Sydney! It seemed that sleep, at least for me, would prove elusive on that flight. The aeroplane coffee I chugged didn’t even touch the sides, but it didn’t help improve my mood either. On arrival in Sydney, I had to almost run through immigration in order to make my international connection. Fortunately it is easy to rush through airports when you’re travelling alone, darting around half-asleep travellers and foreign visitors with no idea how to stand in a queue. So there I was on the Sydney-LA flight and surrounded by young parents and their children – the worst seating assignment EVER! Now I do spare a thought for parents with young kids on a plane. Nobody can blame the kids for their behaviour on takeoff and landing; their poor little ear drums are popping and they’re not yet old enough to know how to deal with it – so they just cry and cry, and I can totally deal with that. But during the flight itself, surely parents can do something to manage their child’s behaviour. The child in my row was an absolute darling, but she would not shut up. She jabbered away to her Mum incessantly, and stubbornly refused to sleep. I am sure her mother was as exasperated as I was, but I worked really hard to control myself. I self-medicated with three little bottles of wine, two bad movies, and an eye mask, but STILL my senses refused to be dulled. As a result, I was wide awake the whole time. On arrival in LA, suffering what can only be described as delirium by this time, I tried to distance myself from the kids, only to realise that they were all following me to New York! ARGH!! I escaped the chatterbox kid, only to be seated behind 4-year old twin girls who fought over their personal DVD collection for the whole flight. While their parents slept through it all. Where’s the justice?!

Landing at New York’s JFK Airport on Monday, I was so pleased to be back – and only a short taxi ride from my own bed. Because it was a public holiday here, the taxi driver got irritated with me when I told him I couldn’t pay in cash. “But it will take me days to get my money from the credit card company,” he moaned. Tough bikkies, buddy – I was over it, and I flatly refused to let him stop at an ATM so I could get money out for him. Naturally I had the whole taxi ride to feel guilty about my inflexibility, so I tipped him way too generously. I am such a bleeding heart sometimes.

The jetlag has hit me pretty hard this time around, no thanks to me sleeping the whole day at home on Tuesday (rather than keeping myself busy during the day and only sleeping at night). As it is this week, I’ve been going to bed at 9pm, and waking myself up at 4am – unable to get back to sleep again. It is quite frustrating. You would think that given the number of flights I’ve taken in my life, I would be quite accustomed to jetlag and how to deal with it. I’m hoping that if I have a quiet weekend, I’ll be able to regulate my sleeping patterns a bit more so that by next week, things will be back to normal. Well, that’s the plan anyway. All that aside though, I bet I would not have had any of these problems in business class!