Writing for Performance

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Summer intensive subject – Writing For Performance. I don’t consider myself as someone who is interested in performing. I don’t court the public eye. So, I was interested in the construction side of the performance, the writing of the pieces but not the other half. Turns out, they go hand in hand. The first assignment was a set of three letters based upon different themes or premises. These I enjoyed writing and redrafting more than I had anticipated.

A chance to address someone who cut me out of her life was an opportunity too good to pass up. The letter to my mother’s diabetes was a chance to reflect upon a common condition that affects many in our modern society with nutritional over-abundance. My final letter was a self-indulgent fangurl fantasy to a foodie icon.

I don’t plan to take up lyric writing, screen writing or play writing anytime soon but I did enjoy learning more about these arts. My second assignment came about from time spent with my daughter in hospital. The challenge was to capture the unique voice of the main character without resorting to charicature. I became quite fond of Eddie.

A one-on-one intensive subject can a bit confronting but I also enjoy the ability to follow tangents easily. And gradually I am ticking off my degree one subject at a time.

Check out the blog posts below for the three letters and feel free to comment and let me know what your thoughts are.


My quiet place

Everyone deserve a sanctuary, a quiet place where you don’t get mobile coverage, where you give yourself permission to do nothing. My place is a friend’s house in the Yarra Valley, an hour outside of Melbourne. She ensures that I always know that I’m welcome. Trees are large and overgrown. Pots are full of herbs and other fledgling plants.  The bed in the spare room is made up in linen I now recognise. I know which cupboards house the towels and which house the wine glasses. If I arrive home before they do, I receive a text telling me where to find the key.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary. A place where there’s nothing you ought to do. A place where you can do but you don’t have to do. I bring wine and cheese to this house though it’s not expected of me. I do it because I want to share these delicious things with my friends. And in this sanctuary, I’m at liberty to crack open the wine before they arrive home. It’s how we are with each other.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary. A place where alarms aren’t set. A place where the demands of the outside world are unable to penetrate. I can see the outside world from my place on the sun lounge under the large shade trees. I can see hills in the distance, vines clinging to their contours and beyond them more buildings and signs of civilisation. It can stay over there.

Everyone deserves a sanctuary.

Letter to my mother’s diabetes.

Dear diabetes,

I’m well, thanks for asking.

I’m not going to ask how you’ve been because I don’t care.

I wish I’d never met you.

You’ve robbed my mother of her sight. Not all of it, mind you, but enough to suck some of the sweetness out of life. I can picture her, many years back, sitting on the couch next to dad, crocheting a toy or blanket for one grandkid or another. Now she just sits on the couch, staring ahead at a fuzzy pattern of shapes and colours, hands idle in her lap.

Thanks to you, my sister and I have now inherited the abandoned craft supplies. The crates of fabric from under the stairs went to my sister who sews. My daughters and I happily received boxes of wool, knitting needles and crochet hooks. Yes, the cats do love chasing the wool but I am also relishing the chance to teach my daughters crochet.

Mum, like her mother, was always happy to let us kids have a go at craft. I can even see Nana sitting in her floral chair by the window so she would catch the natural light, knitting needles in hand. Somehow, she never was short with me as she attempted to figure out what on earth I’d done with the wool. It usually involved a drop stitch or three. So I’m not being sarcastic when I say thank you. The craft supplies that have been passed on to us means that we, too, allow our children to play around with creating.

The ability to have a go and fail is something my mother encouraged in me from a young age. She is not the type to take the pencil out of my hand to draw something for me. She would suggest I walk around it, pick it up and get to know the thing I wanted to draw. Her time at art school in the 60s was not wasted. Her paintings and sculptures filled the house growing up. But once again, thanks to you, diabetes, she can’t even paint. The half-finished canvases rested against a wall in the garage, blank faces poking out under a layer of dust and cobwebs, until they too came to live with me.

As a child, I remember my grandfather had a shed that smelled of wood shavings and engine oil. His tools hung neatly on shadow board which lined the walls. I recall stories of Papa making a home brew system from discarded fuel tins. My mother inherited her ingenuity from her father. She also inherited his diabetes, developing it late in life as he did. So damn you diabetes for cursing my Papa as well.

Whilst reducing my mother’s sight so that she can no longer drive, you have tried to curb her independence but you did not succeed. My mother simply upsized her phone’s display and downloaded a public transport app. So once again, I must thank you. Thank you for nudging her into the modern world. Buses, trains and trams have replaced her own car but she will not be hobbled. We are both viciously independent people and though you may try, you will not limit our wanderings.

It’s not just diet and insulin production you impact. You effect the eyesight, feet and healing ability of people who get too close to you. The strong genetic link looms over my life so I’m actively working to remain free of you, damned diabetes. I exercise regularly so that you can’t catch me. I eat well, so that you’ll not join me at my dinner table. I have inherited many things from my mother – my body shape, my love of creating and my independent streak. But I will not inherit diabetes. I will not inherit you.

Letter to Gay Bilson

Letter to Gay Bilson

Dear Gay,

You don’t know me though I like to think that I know you. In fact, I wish you were my neighbour. You’d hand me a bag of freshly picked broad beans still warm from the sun and tell me what to do with them – ‘Steam them lightly then douse with a glug of the good olive oil.’ I’d bring over dishes that I cooked and was proud of. You’d implore me sit at your kitchen table, the wood worn soft and shiny from years of use. No fancy dining room for you (ironic seeing dining rooms receive no less than six entries in your seminal book). Your table is writing desk, pastry bench and more. Only as I was departing, would you suggest a simple way to improve the meal.

I’m glad you are not my mother as we would butt heads and things would be too loaded.

But being my neighbour would be just fine.

I can tell you appreciate quality. The first time I came to learn about you was upon seeing your book Plenty: Digressions on Food in my local bookstore; its delicate duck egg blue cover, the thick decal-edged pages were so sensual in my hands, its essays meandering not in any timeline but according to your own aesthetic. Through these digressions I gleaned so much about you from your childhood home in Melbourne to your love of a simple congee. For five generous pages, you talk about this rice gruel, its history and its contemporary state, before giving us a recipe of congee to serve 250 people. I love that only a foolish reader would jump straight to the recipe.

Like me, you know the importance of small things. Your homage to Sei Shonagon’s pillow book in Plenty made my heart skip a beat. I also make lists of things that please, things that should be painted or things that are rare. Though I came to know of the pillow book through a movie of the same name, I’m sure yours was a more literary discovery.

I admire you for admitting your mistakes. In a piece for The Monthly you detailed an incident where you forgot the chowder you had brought to vegetarian friends contained bacon. The fact that they ate it anyway (the husband commenting that it reminded him of a dish from his danish youth) perhaps speaks of your culinary skill as much as their respect for your friendship. Admitting our mistakes is part of showing our humanity and our fallibility. I vow to be more human, more fallible.

If I come across your name online, I have to click through to the article. Your words are not overly complicated and always a sheer pleasure to read. You speak about food as a means of bringing people together across cultures as much as around the table. You champion knowledge of where our food comes from and how it is produced. Greater knowledge and greater connection to our food go hand in hand. Whether it’s an omelette constructed from a neighbour’s eggs or apples bought from the grower at local Farmers’ Market, we tend to respect food that we know more about. I am almost reverential towards the herbs I grow making them the star of the dish, instead of an after-thought thrown on top before serving.

An autodidact like myself, your writings are littered with references to chefs and food writers from years past who have things to offer us still. Twentieth century writers Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David share equal amounts of type with older, more established gastronomes such as Brillat Savarin and Escoffier. A recipe for lemon posset is given no less respect than a more intricate recipe for florentine biscuits. We both know that a healthy appetite for real food, devoid of numbers or fake fats, is key to a good life. Pastry hand made with almost equal parts butter and flour is not the devil. If we wish to be healthier, we should just eat less of it. I smile as I read this, snacking on creamy juicy papaya, the plate resting on an unstable tower of books.

Though you’ve run multiple restaurants, you now live quietly in rural South Australia. Literally miles from the competitive restaurant world of the big cities, you’ve managed to finally be alone. I, too, need to carve out time alone, particularly when my day job is also in the social realm of hospitality. Books and art soothe and quieten the voices echoing in my head after a day of others’ demands.

So perhaps it is to a peaceful small town one state over that I must relocate if we are going to be neighbours. South Australia has such a strong, local food culture and I have loved the times I have travelled there. But, if I’m to be honest, I’m not sure I can move so far away from my family. You see my daughters have just embarked upon adult lives of their own and I get to bake big vegetarian lasagnes to drop around unexpectedly. My sister-in-law regularly phones me up with a cooking dilemma that needs immediate answering. Also, possibly more importantly, what about my veggie garden? I’ve got several large fruit trees and a bay tree which I’m not sure would survive the move. My silver beet patch needs harvesting every few days in this warm weather and the potatoes won’t be ready til later in the year.

So Gay, maybe we could just be pen pals instead.

Letter to an old friend

This fiction piece was an assignment for Uni that I may have enjoyed writing a little too much. Names have been changed to protect me, mostly.

Melinda, Melinda, Melinda

I have no idea how you’ve been these past months, nay years, since I’ve seen or heard from you. I don’t wish you ill health but, if I’m to be honest, and it seems that you were – unabashedly – I just don’t care how you’ve been. I don’t miss you. My life is no less rich without you in it. If anything, it is simpler, less complicated.

This is generally the spot where I would give you a précis of the state of my life at this point but I won’t because I’ll never send this to you and therefore you will never read it.

Epistolic protocols attended to, let’s get to the heart of the matter. When Shane first spoke of you, then introduced us, I was hopeful that we would get along well. Friendships have their own unique organic timeline and these things can’t be rushed, no matter how eager he was for us to bond. As it happened, we survived the demise of your and Shane’s relationship. I’ve divorced a husband and I know these things can be tough, and people drop off along the way.

I think we would have become closer over time, had I not begin to feel your tentacles reach out into my very core. Frequently turning you down for a coffee catch-up was as much about me wanting some time for myself as it was me not feeling up to dealing with your stuff. You are the kind of person who always seems to have some drama in their life.

I recognise that you carry residual social anxiety from being attacked one evening walking home. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to deal with something like that. I’m not going to tell you to get over it because I don’t know how I would feel in your shoes. I will say, though, that life goes on. Jobs still need to attended to earn money to buy food and pay rent. The food package that I brought over to you so you would have something to eat was a way of me reaching out to you. It may not have been what you were used to but it is my way. Two people rarely see anything the same way.

You said that I hurt you with my nonchalance. I was keeping you at arm’s length because I found you very draining. The first time you rang crying down the line saying you felt like ending it all, it shocked me. I thought ‘Don’t you have anyone that you’re close to? Am I really the person you choose to call before topping yourself?’ Hours on the phone as I listened to you drag out every aspect of your life, pining for a lost relationship that you chose to step out of. My hands would go numb while my stomach rumbled as I sat there listening, the hours ticking on. The first time, you managed to talk me out of driving over to your place, explaining that the phone conversation had helped. I am grateful for that. I didn’t want you to succeed at suicide.

The second time though, I had figured out that you were never serious about killing yourself. You were just seeking connection. Recently having moved here, you lacked a core group to fall back. Being a freelance writer lacking work didn’t help either. Your anxiety sky-rocketed as you remained in your unit, too broke to go out. When I read your social media post about your bike being stolen, I understood that was a difficult time for you but all I could think was ‘It’s never going to turn up.’ They never do. Bikes are stolen every single day in the inner city and the bottom line is they just don’t turn up. I didn’t say that though because you didn’t want to hear it. I said ‘good luck’ because it was easier than telling you the facts. I admit that I took the cop out route.

From a positive perspective, Shane always told me that he thought you came into the polyamorous lifestyle with a very open and grounded attitude. You knew that he had multiple partners, including me. I was happy to get to know you as one of his met-amours. The constellations of partners and friends in polyamory is complex and friendship is not always assured. We tried. It’s okay that we failed. In the last few months, I didn’t notice that you had cooled towards me as I was busy myself juggling a new relationship, a parent with ill health and teenage daughters. I should thank you though, you’ve taught me that it’s okay to draw boundaries with people and that it’s okay to let people go.

I thought we had more of a friendship than that. Amanda, I really did.

We didn’t. And by the way, only real estate agents and telemarketers call me Amanda. My friends call me Mandy.

New York City, NY – Monday 5th September – part 2

Approaching the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue, colloquially known as Museum Mile for good reason, the building holds none of the magic that the Guggenheim art museum commands. From street level the brick pattern neutral coloured exterior is just another sheer building face with nondescript gaps for windows. If you’re able to step back and look up without falling into the road, you’d see the fussy decoration of an over-sized French townhouse.

Outside the front door is a black suited security guard. This is a sight I’m getting very accustomed to by now. As I attempt to enter he places his arm in front of me so that I walk into it.

‘I’ll need to search your bag, ma’am,’ he announces as settle back onto the lower step, bumping into Steve. I open the zip expecting a cursory glance for guns and explosives. Clearly a man who takes his job seriously, the guard lifts my wallet, tissues and other unmentionables in pursuit of who knows what. Snuggly packed into an external mesh pocket of my handbag is a half-drained bottle of water.

‘You can’t bring that drink in here, ma’am,’ I’m advised brusquely. How the word ma’am can come across so aggressively, patronising and outright rude is beyond me. I am not sure I’ve ever used the word before in my life and I’m not about to start with this trip. Both sir and ma’am have been levelled at us often this trip with so little apparent meaning.

I breathe out slowly but deliberately. ‘Am I able to leave it with you?’

‘No, ma’am.’

I don’t move from my place on the doorstep and proceed to drink as much as I can. I offer it to Steve who on this occasion declines. Try as I might, I can’t quite finish it after a filling breakfast. Watching my every move silently, the guard looks away as I pour the remainder to the side of the entrance, only steps away from his position. Perhaps I should water the tree buffering the footpath from the road but I don’t.

‘You’ll need to check your bag before entering the gallery, ma’am,’ he calls out after me as I push past. At the base of the stairs, I remove my bag from around my neck.

‘Is this where I check my bag?’ I ask but am answered with a hand palm facing me fingers directing me to my left. A young lady, perched behind a bench looks up from her phone as I approach.

‘Is this where I check my bag?’

‘Yes, ma’am. That’ll be two dollars,’ she answers with all the enthusiasm of a teenager working the overnight shift at a McDonalds drive-through.

‘Okay. Just let me grab my wallet,’ I say pulling my bag back towards me before rifling through it.

‘Just a reminder that photography is forbidden in the gallery,’ she smiles and doesn’t smile simultaneously. ‘And don’t forget to visit the gift shop on our way out.’

I pay, collect my card and we head back to the foyer. A white marble staircase circles up and to the right, a black botanical-motif iron balustrade following it. In front of the staircase is a reception desk and the owner of the hand, who speaks as we attempt to climb the staircase.

‘Where you wanting to visit the gallery?’

‘Yes,’ I respond, thinking that it is rather stating the obvious.

‘Admission tickets can be purchased here.’

‘We’d like two tickets please,’ Steve interjects over my shoulder in an attempt to save the receptionist from getting his head bitten off.

‘Any concessions?’ he inquires.

‘Actually yes. I have a student concession card.’ Realising it is in my wallet which is now ensconced in the bag/coat check room, I consider my options. My dogged frugality wins out over my short fuse and I replay the procedure to save myself US$10. I’m unsure if it is worth it.

Some galleries and museums in America have a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ policy but not this place, at least not today. Traveling can be expensive. Obviously airfares and accommodation are the bulk of the expenses. In my lifetime though, airfares have become substantially more affordable. In the twenty years since I first began travelling, the price of my plane ticket has remain unchanged, regardless of inflation. The price of petrol, however, has increased by two-thirds. I sometimes wonder if it were more accessible, would more people travel. Perhaps they’re happy to stay at home, to stay in their knowable, predictable towns. I’m the kind of person who needs to save up for a holiday otherwise the stress of handing over a credit card every time outweighs the joy of the travel. Eating breakfast in and grabbing food from a market or grocery store also helps to ameliorate the ongoing shelling out of money. So yes, the saving of US$10 has a wider impact than its immediate perceivable action.

The collection at Neue Galerie includes decorative arts, sculpture and fine art pieces from various Austrian and German artists. Steve has brought me here for one reason only – to view the paintings of Gustav Klimt.

When Steve and I met through an online dating website, my profile name was Klimt. I had previously attempted online dating to greater and lesser success in the prior few years before meeting Steve and had learnt many tricks of the trade. One of which is not to give away any identifying information in your moniker or profile. Yes, you want to stand out from beachandsmiles76 and lovestolaugh71 but I always looked at a profile name as the first impression. I like to make a good first impression. One that draws curious and intelligent people in for a second look.

By choosing the name of one of my favourites artists, I felt I was sending a message about who I am as a person (artistic, slightly left of center) and also who I was looking to connect with (that might be harder to pinpoint in a few words). Needless to say, Steve heard my message loud and clear. I’m not sure if the entire time we’ve been together he’s been looking for some original Klimt artworks to direct me towards or if it was a fortuitous twist that he discovered the Neue Galerie here in NYC.

Either way, we find ourselves mingling with a couple of dozen other visitors on a glossy tiled floor, in a cool dark long room. Ten or so pieces drawings and paintings hang solemnly behind glass around the room. A few plinths in the middle display sculpture of marble and bronze but I barely glimpse at them. I step swiftly past numerous pencil studies to get to the main subject. There are too many people in my way. Can’t they go away and leave me alone with this woman I’ve traveled so far to see. I decide to do another lap of the room, this time pausing at the pencil studies, admiring the energy and fluidity of his line work. Various poses with body twisting first one way then another, her face barely even blocked in and yet it cannot be anyone else but her. I see a break and decide to take another run at it.

Adele Bloch-Bauer. She is unmistakable – dark hair piled high in folds upon her head, elongated neck swathed in a jewelled choker and her pianist-perfect fingers awkwardly held in front of her. A chaotic mosaic of triangles, squares, eyes and swirls envelope Adele, merging her dress with the background. Gold leaf dominates the oil paint, elevating the portrait to somewhere near religious icon status. I smile to myself. ‘Nice to finally meet you, Adele,’ I say under my breath.

Later, I descend to the bathroom below street level. One thing I quickly learnt as a tourist is that you take toilet stops when you can get them. Incongruously, it is here outside the ladies bathrooms that I find a life-size poster of Adele with a sign next to it encouraging selfies and the gallery’s social media platforms so I can tag myself in.

New York City, NY – Monday 5th September

New York City, NY – Monday 5th September

New York City establishment. This phrase may well be thrown around easily on blogs and restaurant review sites but it is a phrase that Anthony Bourdain rarely employs. Steve and I are only two of millions of Bourdain’s fans across the globe. We’ve watched every episode of his food and travel shows that we can find. I’ve read his books, many of his published articles and even follow him on social media. So when Bourdain recommends particular eating establishments, Steve can’t help but award them a gold star on his map.

Barney Greengrass, The Sturgeon King would surely win this gold star based upon its impressive name alone. Cream cheese schmear beneath folds of hand-sliced smoked salmon on a fresh, not toasted, bagel epitomises the quintessential Manhattan dish in my book. If I can’t find such a dish at Barney Greengrass, I may as well pack up my bag and head home. So at 10.30am on Labor Day Monday, Steve and I eagerly approach the Upper West Side institution from the south, its triple fronted store a beacon amongst over-hanging construction scaffolding.

Framed photos and certificates faded by years of sunlight line the base of the front windows. Inside, the counters mesh together haphazardly between refrigerated glass cabinets, old school registers and retail shelving. Baskets of bread spill forth their contents; rye, light rye, spelt, whole-wheat, unbleached white, sourdough, sesame, pumpernickel. Dried fruit and nuts are stacked in clear plastic containers above the counters. I’m not sure where to look first.

Steve taps me on the arm and indicates an empty table being cleared of its previous customer’s debris. As we move towards it twisting between occupied seats, the man clearing it looks up and smiles. His well-loved cloth swiftly clears the last of the crumbs and he pulls back the vinyl chair for me. I smile and faintly nod as I unload my bag onto the seat back. Three walls surround me, each proffering an array of smoked and/or cured fish products. Chalkboards run the perimeter also, detailing the delivery services available within the contiguous United States of their smoked products, caviar, salads, house-roasted coffee and more. Having not uttered a word, I have signalled my status as tourist and a thoughtful waiter hands me a couple of menus and proceeds briefly to illuminate me all about Barney Greengrass – The sturgeon king.

Four generations and over 100 years has seen this institution provide high quality hand-sliced smoked and cured fish products as well as meats, pickles, bagels and bialys to the people of Manhattan. Eggs with no fewer than twelve variations of fishy sides grace one page of the simple black and white folded menu.

‘I don’t want cooked eggs and I don’t want an omelette either.’ I’m slightly exasperated. I didn’t come here for a variation on the standard American breakfast fare.

‘What do you want?’ Steve asks.

‘I want a bagel with lox. And a schmear. But I can’t order it like that. They’ll think I’m taking the piss out of them.’ I look him in the eye. ’You order it for me.’

‘I’m not ordering your meal. You do it.’

He no sooner closes the menu and a waiter dressed in stiff white cotton shirt and trousers appears at my side with a half-full coffee jug in hand.

‘Coffee ma’am?’ He enquires.

‘No, thanks.’


‘Sure and I think we are ready to order,’ Steve answers and looks my way. I swear I can see a slight smirk emerging on his face.

‘Ah, yeah. I’m a bit over-whelmed by the choice actually,’ I blurt at the waiter.

‘How can I help?’ the waiter bends closer and his smile softens, somehow more genuine.

‘Well, what I’d really like is a bagel with lox and cream cheese. Simple really.’

‘That’s no problem, ma’am. Now lox is salty – that okay by you?’ I nod eagerly. ‘And if I may recommend sliced tomato and onion on the side?’ I nod again.

‘And for you sir?’

‘Scrambled eggs with sturgeon and Nova Scotia salmon on the side. With onions.’

‘What kind of bagel? Plain or toasted?’ He interjects.

‘Everything bagel. Plain,’ Steve responds without pause, as though he does this most days.

‘Anything to drink ma’am?’

‘Orange juice please,’ I answer, happy to not be referred to as ma’am for the next half hour or so, now that our orders are placed.

At times, New York City can feel like a theme park. Times Square with its M&Ms store and Disney store screaming neon and flashing screens. Yellow cabs honk and toot their way down the numbered streets. Barney Greengrass could unfortunately be one more tourist attraction in this theme park and yet it’s not. The aged wallpaper and scuffed vinyl flooring has the feel of a well thumbed book. I wish this place was in my neighbourhood. I would work my way through the Jewish delicacies now adopted by New Yorkers – chopped liver, knish, egg salad, cheese blintzes, babka, borscht and matzo ball soup.

When the sturdy plates clatter down on our table, a lesser person may have been underwhelmed. Standard-issue crockery holds Steve’s unadorned well-coloured eggs. Chunks of salmon sit beside flakes of buttery sturgeon while sweet caramelised onions dot the sunny eggs. No singular leaf of iceberg lettuce or finger of pickle gussies up the dish.

My bagel has a tight shiny surface that squeaks slightly under my teeth. Several folds of bright salmon are top and tailed by a generous schmear of cream cheese and a sprinkling of plump capers. Thick slices of both ripe tomato and sweet onion sit forlorn on the side plate.

Though it may be a family run legacy, this thriving food store still sends out customers of all ages and extractions toting large paper bags brimming with all manner of treats. If we didn’t have an afternoon’s exploration ahead, I have no doubt that we too would gather a bounty of food treats on our departure.

NYC, Sunday September 4th – part 2

Sunday on a long weekend in New York. We really should have known better. By now we’d attempted to eat in closed restaurants, braved over-crowded ferries and tourist-inundated attractions. I’m surprised we were surprised when we tried to visit Brooklyn Brewery at its home in Williamsburg, an uber hip part of Brooklyn . The day was warm and sunny and all the beautiful people were out and about. The queue could be seen long before the large spray painted sign which covers one side of the building. More young hipsters were joining the line quicker than it appeared to be moving.

‘How much do you really want to go there?’ I ask Steve.

‘Nowhere near enough,’ he answers.

‘Good.’ I scan the block. ‘How about that place?’ I point to a dark opening flanked by a large, drooping palm in a black concrete pot.

‘Is it a bar or a café?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t care.’ I respond, grabbing his hand and leading him on. Faux-industrial stools line up against a bench with the front roller door pushed high up and away. I’m drawn to the inner depths of the place with the promise of a dark, cool sanctuary. Passing the bar and its attendant young, gorgeous staff, I motion towards vacant seats beyond. We are nodded on our way.

Seated, I can now contemplate formulating a reason for being here.

‘I honestly didn’t imagine Brooklyn Brewery was going to be that busy. I mean I knew it would be busy but that is beyond just busy.’ Steve settles back further into the soft couches.

‘It is craft beer but on an American scale, a New York scale even. I remember being served a Brooklyn Brewery beer on a Delta flight a couple of years back,’ I continue. ‘When is craft beer no longer craft beer? When it is served on airplanes perhaps.’

‘Or when it’s bought out by one of the big boys like Asahi or AB InBev maybe,’ posits Steve.

‘So I could always see if they serve Brooklyn beers here?’

‘No thanks. Think I’ll see if I can get a coffee. An iced coffee even.’

‘Oh good thought. I’ll have an espresso martini. Let me sort it out.’ I approach the lithe, bronzed bartender who is killing time polishing glasses and place our order. Another couple wander into the café bar, pausing at the entrance as their eyes adjust from the bright sunshine outside. This time the bartender looks up and greetings are exchanged while the only immediate job she had – preparing our drink order – is abandoned as she scoots around the bar and throws her arms around the guy. There is little point getting upset about the delay in our order as we’ve nowhere desperate to be. Holidays are the delicate balance between making plans and having no plans. The rest of the working world has a schedule they need to keep but there is flexibility to our days. Yes, there are certain fixed appointments like flights but even those can be altered if we wished.

Steve’s spreadsheets have allocated activities for certain days, some even with duration or time dependant details. This research is part of the enjoyment of travel for him. He spends months roughing out itineraries, debating the positives and negatives of different routes and destinations. He emails me links to these spreadsheets so I can share in the joy and give feedback. Occasionally I will even open one up and glance at it. Rarely do I follow the embedded links to scenic attractions, accomodations and so on. It’s not that I dismiss all his effort or that I’m not interested in the trip. I am interested in the trip. The trip is the very thing that I am interested in. It is the months of research that I’m not enthralled by. I recognise how fortunate I am that my partner is a trip planner and how simple my travel is made by this quirk. I will not however download any of the apps, no matter how many invitations are sent my way. I’m sure they make his travel a more enjoyable, richer experience.

Equally, I will not try to persuade anyone else to take out an hour or two each afternoon for a little quiet time journal writing. My preference for a glass of wine and a small plate of something savoury to nibble on as I write in my hardcover journal with a quality medium-density pencil is a quirk of my own that I’m happy to embrace. I like to find a comfortable spot with some cushions on the floor or a corner spot on a couch. Natural light is preferred with a low side table for the aforementioned drink and snacks. Local radio is about the only addition of noise I can tolerate. Television is far too distracting to sustain any significant journal writing.

Regulation over-sized ice cube keeps Steve’s cold-drip, locally-roasted coffee chilled. He sips slowly, absentmindedly as he stares out the front window and into the bus depot across the road. My espresso martini has a bracing bitterness and thick crema that declares itself a product of quality, freshly extracted espresso. Content, I sit back and pull out my phone having already noted the wifi password displayed at the bar. Once connected, notifications start popping up left, right and centre. I delete a swathe of emails, upload a few photos of the day so far and check in with my daughters via Messenger. After longer than necessary social media browsing, I put my phone down to see Steve resting his eyes. My hand on his knee slightly startles him but he manages a smile anyway.

‘Hey babe, how about we grab an Uber back to the apartment and take the rest of the afternoon off?’

‘Sounds good. I’ll call the Uber.’ He extracts the phone from his pocket while I pack mine away. I pick up the cocktail glass and slurp the remaining contents, sticking my tongue out and swishing it side to side determined not to waste any.

2:57 PM

90 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA

MILES 6.42

TRIP TIME 00:28:51

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $33.07

Subtotal $33.07

Total $33.07

Driver – Olimjon

As we swing around Brooklyn in a loop and cross the Ed Koch Queensboro bridge, I am again reminded that Manhattan is an island to itself. Brooklyn may well be as part of New York City as is Manhattan, but they are culturally as well as physically two very different places. Green rather than the iconic yellow taxi cabs of Manhattan are just the beginning.

New York City has five boroughs or areas in total – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. More than just an administrative division, the boroughs each have distinctive personalities. The Bronx is witnessing a revitalisation of housing and infrastructure after years of neglect. Brooklyn is home to distinctive architecture as well as a plethora art/design outlets and technology start-ups. While Manhattan is the smallest in size, it is also the most densely populated. Queens is famously ethnically diverse with a range of eateries to match. Conversely, Staten Island very much embraces its suburban image. Though linked by bridges and tunnels, I wonder how often Manhattanites leave the comfort of their island. Perhaps they are more likely to travel interstate or internationally than visit any of the outer boroughs.

Three flights of stairs and a refreshing shower later, I pour myself a generous glass of Chablis add a few ice cubes and empty the bag of Buffalo blue cheese flavoured cheese curls into a bowl. I rescue my journal from the depths of the suitcase and drop a couple of plump pillows then myself on the floor by the edge of the bed. My back is propped against the bed while Steve is sprawled out on top of the floral bedcover. Thin cotton curtains do little to block the heat out. Slightly chilled air is pumped out of the vintage air conditioner in between the clunking and whirring. Somehow, Steve has managed to block out the din and drift off.

When I find myself sketching the columns on the building’s façade opposite, I decide to give up dissecting the details of the day and pop in my earbuds to listen to a podcast or three. This way I manage to disappear into a private space of my own for a couple of hours. Voices drift in and around my head. I follow threads of stories only to lose them again. At 6pm, I decide to wake Steve so that he’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Ahead of us is an evening of Micheladas and platters of mixed tacos at a pumping restaurant we’ve walked past multiple times since we’ve been here. A michelada is crisp Mexican beer with hot sauce and lime. This refreshing combo pairs perfectly with the Latin inspired cuisine on offer. We decline the signature dish – guacamole constructed table side with a variety of enhancements from pineapple and pomegrenate to papaya and mint. Not upsetting is also that we missed happy hour with its reduced price frozen margaritas and beef sliders.

It’s not long after 9pm and we find ourselves in bed. Outside the window, beyond the gently swaying curtains lights flash and cars toot their horns. I lay awake and watch the arcs of light creep across the ceiling. An Irish bar is two floors below but any noise it emits just blends in with the soundtrack of the streets – pedestrians laughing and shouting, the occasional dog barking, car horns and music escaping from cars idling at the traffic lights. It’s night and although the noise level is nowhere near its daytime extreme, New York City lives up to its reputation as the city that never sleeps. I’m not sure how people live their entire lives here. Perhaps they go slowly mad from the constant stimulation. I’m sure there are enclaves protected from sirens and construction in more wealthy sections of the city. West 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue is not one of them.

New Orleans, LA – Thursday, 8th September

New Orleans, LA – Thursday, 8th September

9:35 AM

1100 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA

MILES 3.16

TRIP TIME 00:18:57

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $8.34

Subtotal $8.34

Total $8.34

Driver – George

When I awake, things feel different. The bed and it’s soft, enveloping mattress, the plush bedding sealing me off from the outside world. I’m not sure if it was the bed or some magical qualities in last night’s purple drink but sleep was solid and refreshing in ways it not always is. Today’s itinerary begins with an Uber ride to the Garden district for a tour. Apparently quite the common tourist attraction and one that Steve has done before, we are booked in at 10am to tour the oldest New Orleanian cemetery – Lafayette Cemetery Number One.

Uber George is one of the quietest drivers we’ve had this trip. He answers Steve’s questions but offers no more. Steve gives up and tries to adjust the vents at the rear of the centre console to direct some cooled air in his direction. I’m left to sit in the back lost in my own thoughts. Outside the areas of the French Quarter, Seventh Ward and Treme-Lafitte pass by. From the expressway, I can see the massive Superdome that was refuge to to many people during and after Katrina’s rampage in 2005. Dropping down into Central city, house blocks become interspersed with estate agent offices, furniture stores, coffee shops, parking garages and playgrounds. We pull up in one of the few empty spots on Washington Avenue, opposite Commander’s Palace restaurant.

‘That’s where we are having dinner tonight,’ Steve casually throws out.

‘Commander’s Palace?’ I ask although I know it’s one of his all-time dining highlights.

‘Yep. Commander’s Palace.’ He checks his watch. ‘We’re a little early. Coffee? There’s a place just back on the other corner.’

We grab a quick caffeine hit from Still Perkin’ Café. A neighbourhood style coffee shop, this unassuming place is heavily air-conditioned much to Steve’s delight. The neighbourhood is a mix of expansive historic mansions with manicured gardens through to more modest single story weatherboard homes. Much treasured shade is provided by the many mature Live Oak trees, hundreds of years in age, dripping with Spanish Moss and ferns nestling in their elbows. Like outstretched arms, their branches reach out along the blocks intersecting with the next one.

In an otherwise residential neighbourhood, the cemetery is free and open to the public. Small groups of people huddle in the shade of a large tree by the entrance. It’s partner on the opposite side on the entrance way fallen victim to some previous hurricane season. A small metal sign attached to the front wall reads No pets, bikes, vehicles or skateboards allowed in cemetery. No soliciting allowed in cemetery. I nudge Steve and point out the sign.

‘Sex work? Here?’ I question sotto voce. He shrugs. Just then our docent arrives, wisely holding an umbrella for sun protection. Clipboard in hand, she enquires officiously, ‘Amanda? Steve? I’m Gayl. From Save Our Cemeteries.’ Stepping through the over-sized gates I can’t help but notice how completely different this place looks to other cemeteries I’ve seen. Walls of vaults edge the block but the most striking thing is the large above-ground tombs. Housing multiple family members, they are a solution to a very unique problem.

‘Shall we begin?’ Gayl begins her spiel, ‘Save Our Cemeteries is a not for profit group dedicated to the preservation, promotion and protection of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries through restoration, education and advocacy. Watch your step.’

The paving stones and concrete beneath our feet are losing to the tree roots, lichen and grass that thrive in the Louisiana climate.

‘ Save Our Cemeteries is the only non-profit in New Orleans that offers cemetery tours. You may have seen some touts at the front gates soliciting for business.’

I catch Steve’s eye and we exchange smirks. I mouth oh that kind of soliciting. Our guide carries on, ‘The cemetery is free to the public but monies collected from these tours go directly to the many restoration projects that the SOC co-ordinates.’

There are few clouds in the sky to provide any break from the relentless heat, so each time we pause at a particular tomb, Steve and I seek out all possible shade relief.

‘Lafayette Cemetery Number One is the oldest of the seven municipal, city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans. Originally, it was laid out in a cruciform or cross-shape pattern. The aisles were lined with magnolia trees and paved with shells.’ Gayl is affable and knowledgeable. ‘More than 7000 people from all denominations and societal groups are buried here.’

‘Ok, I have to ask,’ I interject. ‘What is it with all the mausoleums?’

‘I wondered when that would come up,’ she responds. ‘The first settlers to the area had problems with in-ground burial. New Orleans has a very high water table and when it would rain the caskets would just pop up and out of the ground.’

‘Seriously?’ The look on my face must be incredulous. ‘Bodies would just pop out of the ground?’

‘Yes, absolutely. Though there is also a cultural influence, too. Many immigrants were from Spain and as is the custom there, bodies were buried in above ground family vaults. The cemeteries were also known as ‘cities of the dead’ with the tombs resembling small houses.’

We come across a tomb that is for sale. Rusting fencing, crumbling façade and a broken urn doesn’t dissuade me from momentarily contemplating owning a tomb in a Louisiana cemetery. I start to factor in costs of transporting a body, legal forms to be completed and the difficulty of family visiting to mourn and decide against it. A short lived fantasy. Shame, it was very reasonable at only $7000.

A feeling I’ve encountered before on our trip is that of deja-vu or even just familiarity in a place. I don’t recognise one particular tombs or even a particular view down one of the aisles. It is a more general sense of having seen this before. There’s no point trying to explain these things to Steve as he is a return visitor to many of the places we are traveling.

‘Is it wrong to say that I find this all quite beautiful?’ I say more to Steve than to our guide. ‘The lacework of the small fences, the way those small ferns have managed to grow in the cracks of the brickwork. Even the engraved marble sheets crumbling away. It’s like there’s a slow but incessant battle between Mother Nature and man. Mother Nature is gradually gaining ground, I think.’

Gayl extends her right arm out, her umbrella pausing us. ‘Just down this way is one of our volunteers working on one the tombs. It’s a never-ending job. Once we’ve secured funding, we’ve got to sort out ownership and other legal issues before any of the restoration and preservation work can even begin.’

‘The tombs are so elaborate. All that engraving and sculpting.’ I go to run my hand along a nearby tomb and stop, unsure of the protocols of touching. There’s an odd thing that happens in cemeteries about personal space. The grave sites are private space and there are unwritten rules about sitting or standing on them. Convention says that you go to the effort of walking around them, even though the deceased and meters underground and unlikely to ask you to do so. This historic but still active cemetery straddles a wobbly line between tourist attraction and sacred place.

‘Absolutely. The sculptures are highly symbolic. There are many images to represent a life cut short. Broken flowers, broken columns. Even an upside down torch – the torch being an ancient symbol for life. Many of these, you’ll find on the pediments of family tombs. Another one often used on the graves of children is that of a lamb. Their gentleness and innocent akin to that of the child.’ As she explains these, the cemetery becomes richer and more meaningful. It is more than just a charming ready-made film set.

‘Another common sight here in Lafayette Number One, is the society tomb. Orphanages, benevolent societies, fire companies and more all had their own society tombs with their insignia engraved on the pediment above.’ The tour is a fascinating mix of education and entertainment. While I now know that the name of the piece of stone engraved with the names of the deceased is called a closure tablet, I also enjoyed the many vampire movie references. Anne Rice, the famous author of the Interview With a Vampire series has been a long time New Orleans resident.

The heat of the day is starting to pick up and though we’ve tried to stick to the shade of the plentiful magnolia trees, we are both beginning to fade. We wind up our tour back at the gates on Washington Avenue and thank Gayl for her incredible service.

‘That was so much more than I’d expected,’ I say. ‘Though I’m not really sure what I expected, to be honest.’

‘It was pretty great, wasn’t it?’ and then addressing Gayl directly, Steve asks hesitantly. ‘Can . . . can we give you a tip?’

‘I’m not allowed to accept tips but I do encourage you to donate to the SOC organisation online. Thanks for taking the tour with Save Our Cemeteries. All the best for the remainder of your trip.’ She turns sharply and walks away. I stand still, slightly bewildered by the past hour and a bit. Steve consults the phone oracle and points in the direction of our next destination.

‘I thought we’d walk down to Magazine St and grab something very cold to drink and some lunch.’

Sounds like a plan, Stan rolls off my tongue before I can stop it. We hug the side of the road with the most shade but I can feel the sweat rolling down my back. Luckily it is only a few blocks before we hit Magazine St. It is a buzzing commercial strip with restaurants, gift shops, antique stores and more vying for the tourist dollar. Like all streets located in the is city, they follow a gentle curve as the river forms a wide U-shape around the city. This disrupts one of my usual ploys for getting a grip on a city when I travel. Using a water-body or some striking topography to ground myself in a city helps anchor me, helps me intuit direction. In this ‘Crescent City’ the river curves and streets fan out to meet the river. North, South, East and West are less helpful than they should be. The river can be south, west and east of you at the same time. New Orleans sits on a delta with the river running through it with a large lake to the north of it. New Orleans is lucky that it isn’t water. No wonder coffins float up out of the ground. Sections of the city sit below sea level. Subsequently, when levees and flood walls were breached during the Hurricane Katrina, the water had nowhere to go. Storm surges both from Lake Pontchartrain and the river left 80% of the city and its inhabitants flooded.

New Orleans, LA – Wednesday 7th September – part 2

Coop’s Place is not a place you linger after you’ve finished your meal. It’s noisy and the seating is tight. Our check is dropped at our table while morsels of food remain on our plates. The servings are generous and one of the things about airplane travel is it hardly stimulates the appetite. With so much sitting around plus the free but average-quality food in the airport lounges, we haven’t had the opportunity to do anything to work up an appetite.

‘Shall we take the hint?’ Steve suggests, waving the docket deposited by our server.

Looking around for a till or even a pay bill here sign, I add, ‘Sure. Not sure where though.’

We gather our things, stand and walk up to the bar.

‘Can we pay the bill here?’ I ask when the bartender glances our way in between drink making.

‘Someone will be with you shortly.’ I’ve used this line before. It’s the polite way of saying it’s not in my job description. I turn back to check we’ve not left anything at our table to see another group already seated with menus in hand. In no-man’s land, there’s nothing more we can do but wait.

‘If you want to wait outside, I’ll look after this,’ I offer to Steve. I don’t need to ask him twice. Squeezing between the tables and servers, he steps beneath the faux leadlight transom above the doors and out into the balmy evening.

Wallet and phone stashed, I emerge from the crowded restaurant onto an equally crowded street. Leaning against a pole, Steve looks up and beckons me over.

‘Not far from here is the place where my Facebook profile photo was taken. That one your mum hates cause it looks like the straws are going up my nose.’

‘Perfect. Let’s go and take a photo of both of us with straws up our noses.’ I smile and grab his arm. ‘Mum will hate it.’

We zig-zag across the French Quarter. Down Decatur St til we hit Café Du Monde. This legendary coffee place is open all day everyday. I make a mental note to come back during the day when I may actually want to consume chicory-infused coffee and fried pastries. Swinging right onto St. Ann St we skirt alongside the Jackson Square which is a favoured hangout of all types creative. It’s just after 8pm and an array of musicians and painters are setting up for the evening. Paintings in progress rest on easels. Mime artists, jugglers and lone tuba players sit alongside fortune tellers. The buzz is inescapable.

Left on to Chartres St then right down Pirate Alley. This narrow laneway takes us between St Louis Cathedral and what I later learn is a museum called The Cabildo. I love a dodgy, ill-lit alley. Dumping us onto Royal Street, I’m beginning to see what Steve loves about the French Quarter. It is easy to imagine oneself in another time. Books and movies about time teleportation belong here. The melange of architectural styles, the narrow mainly pedestrian streets and the casual atmosphere in shops and restaurants beckon the visitor to imagine themselves as belonging here. I hear accents and languages from around the globe and yet not one person stands out above another. All are welcome. Maybe that is why this place is known as The Big Easy.

Moments later we are standing out front of Pat O’Brien’s. I’m not sure what I expected but from outside it appears to be another New Orleans bar. Jade green coloured shutters cover the windows. Plants hang from a wrought iron balcony above. The muted red walls give way to a wide alley into a rear courtyard. We go to walk through the alley entrance and I get stopped for ID – an event that used to flatter me until I realised that it is done to every patron.

‘I’ve been here before,’ I say.

‘What?’ A shocked Steve glares at me as though I’ve been lying to him for years.

‘I’ve been here before.’ I repeat whilst trying to rack my brain for the connection. And then it clicks. Several years previous, on a trip to Florida I found myself joining a group of friends on a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando. This entertainment complex and theme park presented among other delights Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Hard Rock Café and a reproduction of Pat O’Briens “N’awlins style”. Of course, I’d never been to Pat O’Briens let alone a Margaritaville, but I went along for the ride unable to discern the fictional from the factual.

‘In Orlando. At Universal Studios. There’s a replica of this bar. There’s a courtyard out back and duelling pianos in a side bar somewhere.’ I point ahead then look sideways. It’s like I’ve taken the wind out of his sails. ‘Frankly, it’s a little disconcerting,’ I add.

‘Okay. Well. I was thinking we would sit out back and order a couple of cocktails. Sound good?’ he asks.

This is his town and I’m eager to get the royal treatment. ‘Absolutely.’

Service is efficient and friendly. The server to customer ratio is spot on for a tourist dependent joint. Patrons rarely sit with an empty glass in front of them and servers circle the small candle-lit tables unobtrusively. A server in regulation white shirt white trousers and green bow tie directs us to a vacant table by the water fountain. Flames incongruously shoot up and out the top of the fountain while rainbow lights below the water at glow brighter and dimmer to someone unknown cue. Wrought iron chairs and tables sit under green canvas umbrellas. Tall iced drinks in all colours of the spectrum adorned with tropical fruit. The drinks only just out do the outlandish surrounds. Tourist trap? – yes but it feels more than that. A place like this feels like it is custom made for a theme park. But there are real people here. People of all origins. Large groups and small groups and individuals sitting at the bar nursing a beer and chatting to the bartender.

‘Two hurricanes please.’ Steve orders while I’m still looking around, taking in all the details and timing them off against forgotten memories.

Soon enough two tall tulip glasses turn up, each with a slice of half orange and bright maraschino cherry nestling into the ice. The branding on the paper napkin extols you to ‘have fun.’ Ok, if I have to.

Back to the drink itself. It’s bright red matching the kitsch maraschino cherry perched a top the mound of crushed ice that fills the large, curved glass. Ostensibly made with dark and light rum as a way to use the plentiful rum supply in the days after Prohibition, the drink is sickly sweet with the fruit concentrate used to pad out the alcohol. I’m not sure I can taste much beyond sweetness. The fruit accompaniment makes me think this is supposed to a fruit juice based drink but the strong red colour gives no hint at its supposed passionfruit juice base. It’s cold and it’s sweet and it’s hard to discern the alcohol. Maybe that’s the point.