Saturday, September 22, 2012

The wacky starts

The UN General Assembly is upon us and it seems that the whole UN community has been burning the midnight oil to prepare for a massive influx of world leaders, senior officials, and their entourages.  My office has not been spared this, but things have come together and we're ready to roll.

But if you've been paying any attention at all, you'll know that even in normal circumstances I am no stranger to crazy-ass dreams.  And so you can just imagine what acid trips my subconscious takes when I haven't been sleeping well for days at a time.  Allow me to present Exhibit A (aka, last night's dream):

So I was on the bus back in Adelaide.  Lost, as usual. I can't remember where I was supposed to be headed, but I know in my dream I was nowhere near it.  A lady comes to sit down next to me - about my age.  Tall, and with a crazy mop of brown-black hair.  She has recognised me, and I start to worry because I have no idea who she is.  Slowly but surely we piece it together and she is a girl from my high school, who I literally have not clapped eyes on since we graduated (*cough cough* number of years ago).
She tells me how thrilled her parents would be to see me again and would I come to her place and have dinner?  Since she seemed to know where she was going, and I clearly did not, I accepted.
I turn up at her place and my Dad is there waiting for me (am I telepathic now?).  He looks just as anxious as I do, and yet we go inside my school mate's HUGE house.  It's an ancient Queenslander-style home, with sweeping verandahs all around the property and large swinging screen doors, left open to let the gorgeous cross-breeze through.  The wooden floorboards are all in original condition and the house is stunning.  Dad and me make appropriate remarks of admiration as we take the tour. 
Then my aunt is there, standing alongside a giant white-haired woman, who may or may not be crazy.  She is certainly mute, and she is so tall that she renders my aunt tiny in comparison.  My aunt isn't at all surprised to see me or my Dad there, but she doesn't talk to us.  She spends all her time fussing over the white-haired giant lady. 
My school friend takes me and my Dad outside to see the backyard.  The place is INSANE.  Firstly there's a really deep pool, filled with what looks like mangroves.  A dark mass moves quickly under the water, and my friend's Dad strips off to his shorts and dives in.  "He's fishing for barramundi," my friend says, as if this happens all the time "we'll have it for dinner".  Of course.  As her dad catches farmed barra with his bare hands, overhead a few family friends are surfing on the surface of the water, with the aid of a (clearly) self-made wave generator.  My friend tells me that the combination of the mangrove plants and the surfing helps to aerate the water and the barra grow big and fat. 
I turned around to see my aunt had (for some reason) put on her nurse's uniform - she is indeed a nurse in the real world, so this is the only part of the dream that made sense.  Only all of a sudden, my aunt had a tight, white perm hairdo even though she was still the same age as always.  She had taken white-haired giant lady by the hand and was guiding her back into the house, presumably for a nap or medication (both of which sounded pretty good to me).  I turned back to tell my Dad what I'd seen, and my Grandma was there, assuring me she'd tackle this and find out once and for all why my aunt was working so hard on what was supposed to be her day off.   Where did Grandma even come from?! 
Clearly this didn't bother me enough to investigate further, because I directed my gaze back down the garden I noticed ears of corn, and a couple of dirty children assuming the unenviable task of picking them.  Who grows corn AND farms barra AND has capacity for surfing, all in their backyard?  I guess the same people who own a pair of albino meerkats, because at that point in the dream, two gorgeous little critters ran out of the cornfield and stared right up at me, before dashing off again.
Then I woke up.  I mean, seriously.  What the?!  There is so much in here, I don't think any dream dictionary in the world would be able to handle it.  Best to just cast it off into the "WOAH, CRAZY" pile (where so many of my other dreams have gone to die).  I suspect that as this madcap week rolls on, there is likely to be more adventures brewing in my subconscious.  I just hope they don't involve barra or corn.  It's never fair to dream about food.  That's like teasing or something.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Here is my city - in a glass, on a plate, on the stage

So I prattled on in the last post about the Disability conference we'd been having this week and all the various side-events we'd either been hosting or attending.  Well on Friday night I went along to the last of my official engagements - a reception hosted by UNICEF.  The Head of Australia's delegation delivered a speech at the event, and then it was just a couple of glasses of wine and some mingling to work through.

Well wouldn't you know it, just as the speeches were about to start, I turn around to scan the room and see the smiling face of Kricco, a friend of mine I met in London.  Small world, no?  Kricco was grinning and waving at me, so I grinned and waved back at her - and through crazy facial expressions and a bit of charades, we managed to convey the plans to catch up once the official proceedings were over.

Kricco now works for Lumos, an international non-government organisation chaired by JK Rowling.  As part of her work, Kricco travels a lot - largely through Moldova and Bulgaria (of all places) but the stories that she shared with me were inspiring and frustrating in equal measure.  Mixed in of course, were hilarious stories of language barriers, scary eastern European restaurant menus, and hotel rooms that time had forgotten.  When these stories are delivered in Kricco's fantastic Liverpudlian accent, they somehow just get funnier.

On Friday night I showed Kricco the gorgeous Campbell Apartment, where the cocktails flowed and the hostess took good care of us.  After that it was a late, alfresco dinner in Bryant Park, sitting right alongside the garden bed, people-watching and catching up.  I suspect this is where all my mosquito bites came from.

Come Saturday morning, I could avoid laundry no longer.  What followed was several hours of to-ing and fro-ing down the hallway to get clothes, sheets, and towels all spick and span.  This hard work was punctuated by episodes of "Fringe", obviously.

By Saturday night, Kricco had finished Day 2 of her UNICEF workshop and we were ready to hit the town again.  We met up at Wild Edibles, a great oyster bar/restaurant close to my house.  The fact I might be crushing on the waiter there is not the point.  What really matters is the fact that we enjoyed delicious oysters from the American Northwest, followed by vongole pasta for Kricco and lobster rigatoni for me.  Crisp, light lagers washed it all down.  It was delicious.

But dinner wasn't really allowed to settle because I wasn't quite done showing NY off yet.  I dragged Kricco into a cab and down to Greenwich Village to Cafe Wha.  I've mentioned this place once before - when me, Westo and Kittykat fronted up there to dance the night away.  This time, because there were only two of us, we got sandwiched into a small table off stage right, but we still had a great view of the band. This is important, because several of them are HOT.  And great musicians...whatever.

The Soul Man did not disappoint - he belted out the hits and strutted his stuff across the stage, demonstrating his 'soul walk' for everyone, and even trying to get some guy from the audience to do it too.  Oh how we laughed!  And that was just for the warm up because when the band finally started, the crowd went off!  We all sang and clapped, and me and Kricco both remarked at how you could tell we were in an American audience.  Conservative Aussie and British crowds would have taken much longer to get into the spirit.  But we were Americans for the night - whooping it up, singing along with Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, and even Bob Marley.  When the guy got up to start singing Gypsy Kings, of course I joined in.  My resounding chorus of "Bamboleo" certainly needs some work. But I found a karaoke version here, so maybe I can get some rehearsals in before I go back.  PS, those karaoke words are NOTHING like what I have been singing all these years.

When the band finished their first set, we were invited to stay back for the second, but by then we were ready to call it a night.  I managed to get us a cab in record time and before I knew it, we were back at Kricco's hotel saying our goodbyes before her (very) early morning flight back home.

I know I cheated a bit this time, showing Kricco some of my favourite places in New York, rather than taking chances on new spots.  But I guess you have favourite places for a reason  - and really, Kricco was such an easygoing and obliging guest, she didn't mind me dragging her from one end of the island to another.  Wines, beers, food, and music - can you ever go wrong with combinations like that?  Looking forward to Kricco's next visit here for sure!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Was I ever away?

I seem to have the jetlag under control now, except I am still waking up before my alarm every morning.  It's not too bad but I have to admit, it's starting to catch up with me.  I have already decided that I will be in bed at 8.30pm tonight.  I may take my laptop and Season 4 of "Fringe" with me, but I'll be there.

This week has been a pretty busy one and sometimes it feels like I never even went on leave. 

Occupying much of my time this week is the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Yes, it's definitely a mouthful, so everyone's been calling COSP or CRPD.  I wasn't involved much last year, but this time I've been fortunate to oversee - and attend - our side-events and hear representatives from other countries (Governments as well as civil society groups) talk about how we might improve systems and services to enrich the lives and livelihoods of people living with disabilities.  Australia also delivered its national statement yesterday - you can read it here.  We really are doing some impressive things on the domestic front, and we are equally active internationally - helping people of all ages in so many countries, and especially in the Asia Pacific. 

The theme of this year's Conference is about making the UN Convention work for women and children.  Out of all the things I've heard and learned so far, one thing that really stuck with me came out of the event we ran with UNICEF yesterday, on the subject of inclusive education.  The panel talked about the need to accommodate students with physical impairments in the classroom (making room for wheelchairs, adjusting classroom tools for students who need learning aids etc). But then the discussion turned to the topic of accommodating students ith intellectual disabilities.  One of our panellists (the Dean of Education at Syracuse University) said that he fundamentally disagreed with the notion of suggesting that a student has an intellectual disability at all.  He said that we have no way of knowing how another person's brain does - or doesn't - work, or what they're really thinking, or what their potential might be.  So how can we say for sure that a student is intellectually impaired, when perhaps they just haven't been given the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do? 

The panel and audience generally accepted that not all students learn as quickly as their peers, or they might need concepts explained to them in a different way, but he said that's the teacher's job to make sense of these things - to work out the lay of the land in their classroom.  He said it was the teacher's job to advocate for his/her students and help them realise their own potential while the students are in their care.  Quite a powerful profession, don't you think? 

Now Dr. Biklen wasn't suggesting for a second that this is easy, and everyone in the audience seemed to know that he was talking about an ideal world, where money was no object and teachers had the time and resources to devote personal attention to each and every child in their care.  But looking past all that, what I think Dr. Biklen was driving at was that teachers need to start assuming responsibility for the intellectual nourishment of their students.  It seemed to me he expects teachers to really step up to the plate (professionally and personally) and think outside the box when they have to.  I dunno, I just thought that was a really powerful reminder of how important teachers are, and the truly life-changing role they can play in a student's life.  So yeah, that struck a chord.  But I'm rambling, I know.  Hmm.  Can we move on to less serious stuff now?

Once the wrap-up from yesterday's side events was done, I went to NoLita and helped out at a wine tasting event being hosted by some of my colleagues.  The wine tasting was held at a gorgeous, hole-in-the-wall Australian bar called Eight Mile Creek.  They have Coopers beers, kids - not to mention a gorgeous little outdoor deck/beer garden area in which to enjoy them.  Eureka!  Now that I know this bar is there, I think it might become a bit of a favourite.  It's not close to where I live, but I feel it will be worth the commute.  Plus they are right next door to some of the yummiest Italian food in the city.  How could I refuse, right?!

The bar put on some great catering last night and we were able to introduce our international colleagues to kangaroo.  For many, this was the first time they'd ever tasted roo meat.  The first platter of skewers were apparently a bit tough, but the second plate was more tender and, by all accounts, tasty.  I was talking to our friends from Norway and Chile about kangaroo and it turns out that the TV series "Skippy" actually screened in those countries way back in the day.  I never knew that, it was classic!  No wonder it takes a bit of arm-twisting to get foreigners to eat roo.  They've been conditioned to believe that our little marsupials are fluffy crime-fighters and beloved family members, not something you cook medium-rare and slather with BBQ sauce.  Fortunately our Norweigan and Chilean chums were able to ignore the fact they were eating Skippy, and they declared the roo to be delish.  Most excellent result!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Walking miles in my shoes

"Wait, you've gone past it!" I wailed, as the taxi driver zoomed over 7th Avenue, away from the Sheraton Hotel.  I was supposed to be meeting my cousin Em-train early(ish) in the morning and for once, I actually knew where I was going.  It was just a shame that the same couldn't be said for my taxi driver.  But he screeched to a halt in the middle of 53rd Street traffic.  Throwing money into the front seat and hurling myself out of the car, I dashed back across the pedestrian lights.  As I did so, splotches of steamy rain fell on my head.  Running late, humidity, AND rain?  This was tremendous.

But I needn't have worried cause everything ended well.  Seeing Em-train again was fantastic, but as always it reminded me how overdue I am for a date with the treadmill.  She looks great - skinny as a rake, long and shiny hair.  And for someone who alleged to be jet-lagged, you'd never know it.  I guess after nearly 5 years as a globe-trotting flight attendant, she's learned to hide it well.  If she wasn't family I'd probably have to hate her :)

We jumped in a taxi and drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic through Times Square, down to Chelsea Market.  Fortified by coffees from Ninth Street Espresso and a shared lamington from Tuckshop (for old time's sake), we caught up on the gossip and stories over the year since we had last seen each other.  It was fascinating to hear the stories of the exotic destinations that Em-train has visited on her travels.  Even if she's just on a short layover, she does her best to get out and see the city she's in, and gives a good verbal snapshot of each one.  After our chat yesterday, I don't mind admitting that some cities I previously had near the top of my must-see list have slipped down a couple of places.

Catching up is hungry and thirsty work, so we headed into the Meatpacking District for brunch at Macelleria.  I'd never been here before, but I liked the sound of the brunch menu online.  We were the only ones in the restaurant yesterday morning, but there was something peaceful about sitting in a quiet venue, whose front windows were flung open to let in the sunlight and cool breeze.  More celebrated as a steakhouse (with a wine cellar built in the 17th Century), it was perhaps unusual - but lucky for us - that Macelleria also offers a hearty and diverse brunch menu.  Em-train chose the baked eggs while I very much enjoyed my Sicilian egg toast - almost like the Aussie version of a toad-in-the-hole, but topped with crunchy, blanched asparagus and a drizzle of truffle oil.  Delish.

It was a good thing that we filled up on tasty food, because what followed was a long walk through the West Village, Washington Square Park, Soho (with a stop in Fanelli Cafe), down Broadway, into Chinatown, past the restaurants and vintage stores in Little Italy, a fill-up of fancy hipster pour-over coffee at the bar alongside the Randolph on Broome, and then we continued up Bowery into Union Square.  As the grey stormclouds rolled in and plunged the city into premature darkness, we spent way longer than normal waiting for a cab.  But just as the sky opened up, our Turkish taxi driver came to the rescue.  Now that's what I call perfect timing.  PHEW!

I was so grateful to Em-train for getting me out into the fresh air yesterday and even though I had blisters on my heels afterwards, I wouldn't have traded the day for anything.  It was so great to see my cousin doing so well and with such positive plans for the coming months in her life and career.  I was also grateful to Em-train for allowing me to drag her around the city streets aimlessly - not everyone would be content with such an ambling, pedestrian road trip!

As I collapsed into bed like a nana at 9.15pm (another raging Saturday night in the City!), I had to spare a thought for poor Em-train, who was getting ready for a 13-hour, chock-full flight back to Dubai.  I certainly couldn't have managed it - but I have total confidence that she did.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Sleep. Work. Rinse. Repeat.

The thing about working with so many Australians is that everyone at the office seems to have a theory about the best way to tackle jetlag.  Some say you should go to bed early to let your body sleep for as long as it needs to.  Others suggest you should stay up as late as you can, so that when you finally fall into bed you're so bone tired your body falls into a deep, satisfying sleep straight away.  Others like warm milk, or wine, or any number of herbal and medical remedies.

But when it comes to getting over the side-effects of the long Australia to US flight, the popular view that prevails is simply not to fight it at all; rather, you just ride it out and let your body re-adjust slowly.  Oh, and you pray that your colleagues will give you a free pass for any nodding off you might do in meetings, or any grouchier-than-normal behaviour you might exhibit.

It's Saturday morning here now and my body finally let me sleep through to 7am.  For the rest of the week it's been 5.15am; 5.30am, 6.15am and times of that order.  That hasn't been so bad, because I've had to get up anyway for work, but it still makes for a really long day overall.

At around 3pm yesterday I asked the new girl at my office what plans she had for Friday night.  Her boyfriend is sick, so she was going home to have a quiet night looking after him.  I liked the idea of a quiet night too (though obviously without any responsibility for another human being).  At about 8.15pm, I texted the New Girl to thank her for her good work this week and to see how her quiet night plans were tracking.  I told her I was already in tracksuit pants and slippers.  She trumped me, responding that she was already in bed, eating chocolate cake, and watching movies on her laptop.  And she's not even jetlagged, though clearly she is a kindred spirit.

Today I will make the most of a non-work day, and hang out with my cousin who flew over from Dubai last night.  I don't know what our plans are yet, but she has to be back at her hotel by 5pm because she flies out again tonight.  Ahh the busy life of the flight attendant!  Given that pit-stop schedule though, perhaps SHE has some sage advice for how one ought to battle jetlag.  Hmm, I believe an interrogation is in order.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Chuck Norris probably doesn't sleep either

So it's 5:33am on Wednesday morning and I'm wide awake.  Jetlag is probably the only thing worse than economy class, wouldn't you agree?  Well maybe not, but at this point in my post-holiday slump, it sure feels that way.

Having left Adelaide on Monday morning at 6am, I got home to New York at 6pm.  It was still Monday.  That international date line thing always spins me out.  The flight back was not great, in that I didn't get a lot of sleep.  I know I was restless; anxious as I was about the inevitable catch-up I'd have to do at the office - on work, I mean.  I was actually eager to catch-up with my colleagues again, but my mind was definitely still on holidays and not at all wired to be back at work yet.  The flight itself was without incident though, which was good.  The onboard service on the SYD-LAX leg wasn't so great, but I was too tired to make an issue of it.  Just bring me my pretzels and Diet Coke without a side order of your attitude BS thanks, Mr Flight Attendant.  It's not my fault you hate your job.

When I got home to New York, I didn't really want to unpack.  Yes it's weird but every time I come back from Oz, I always have the same fight with myself. I  always delay unpacking because I think "the last time I put these clothes in my case, I was at Mum and Dad's house".  If I take them out, it's like breaking a spell or something, and the holiday will really be over.  I really need to toughen up.  But I did unpack (relatively) straight away and set aside the souvenirs for my peeps back at work, ready to take them into the office first thing Tuesday morning.

Amidst all of the usual homesickness and fatigue and whatnot that comes with a great holiday, one of the best things about getting back to work is the chance to respond to the "how was your break?" questions from colleagues.  This time around, I got to share some of the highlights of my time back home.  In addition to the special times with family, friends, and crazy puppy dogs, many of the stand-out memories of my holiday at home revolve and food (you can't be surprised).  But they include:
  • the sausage sizzle.  In a hardware store carpark or at home, they are fabulous.  And at our family BBQ, the sunshine was a welcome (and surprise) guest.
  • the chicken schnitzels.  Whether at Grandma's house, The Archer or The Stag, they were tasty and comforting and just the ticket to soak up whatever dastardly wine I was imbibing at the time.
  • dim sims and chips from the local chip shop.  You know I'm right (especially about the dim sims).
  • the burger & beer combo at The Lion.  Always good, but never more so than when enjoyed with a good friend to reminisce about New York and celebrate home-town successes.
  • the laksa.  As usual the one at Danny's Thai didn't disappoint, but the one at the dingy food court in the Adelaide Central Market was a winner too.
  • the pheasant pate.  Maggie Beer, you are a thumping legend.  Please export your wares (at reasonable prices!).
  • the peppermint chocolate frogs from Haigh's.  Milk or dark, it hardly makes a difference.
  • the Crownies.  Proof positive that I should remember how strong Aussie beers are, and yet I never seem to do so.
  • the beautiful Father's Day brunch with family at Semaphore beach.  A beautiful cafe, a sunny walk, and the chance to breathe in the salty, ocean air.
Needless to say the indulgent holiday was a winner for my palate, but perhaps not my waistline.  I'll be the first to admit that my clothes are a little more snug than they used to be.  That said, I wouldn't take back anything I experienced on this trip home.  Even the hangovers were totally worth it.

I haven't confirmed my next visit home yet, but I hope it won't be too long.  I just need to fit in a couple of hours on the treadmill before I put my body through it again.  Or at least buy some more stretchy pants....