New York, New York

It’s election day in America and I’m about to go spend the day at MoMA. People seem a little anxious; here on the east coast they’ve just been through Sandy and New York City is only just beginning to get back to normal. Last night it was very loud on the Lower East Side when I woke up in the middle of the night, but it was kind of soothing since my first couple of nights were so quiet. Even though I’ve never been here before I knew it was unnatural.

I’ve had an amazing few days in New York. I might write about Georgia and the conference later, but ‘I’m in a New York state of mind’ right now. On Sunday I went along with the woman I’m staying with (who is awesome) to help clean up an artist’s studio in Brooklyn that had been flooded. It was devastating. She works with wood so there was a lot of warping, and mould. The water was brown and stinky so we had to wash and dry out everything. She’d been working on it for a couple of days and by the end of Sunday the studio was beginning to look like a studio again, with the help of many people. Her equipment was ruined, though. So sad. She wasn’t the only one in the building, either. Or, of course, in the suburb.

Anyway, I was glad I was able to do something, since I arrived just after the superstorm. I started my tourism proper yesterday by:

1. eating a cream cheese bagel where Harry met Sally
2. walking from LES to Times Square and buying MAC lipsticks (thanks to my friend Kate Middleton, who has made me determined to be a ‘lipstick-wearing person’)
3. ate at a Seinfeld-style diner and overheard many post-Sandy catch-up conversations
4. did an aerial yoga class
5. caught the subway, a bus and a yellow cab
6. saw Argo at the gorgeous Village East Cinema
7. went to The Strand bookstore (amazing)
8. celeb-spotted Jeff Daniels in dark glasses

Being in New York is not really like the abstract, piecemeal idea I had of New York. Yes, I relate almost everything to something in the cultural memory bank, but I never had a grasp on the grandeur of the place; actually being among those tall buildings. Also, the city belies stereotypes (so far) just as Paris did for me, in that the people seem very friendly: saying hello, smiling, talking, having a joke. I would say that the stereotype about New Yorkers always being in a rush, however, would be true. I don’t understand why there aren’t more traffic accidents! But it’s like a game you have to learn. As soon as you understand the logic of when to cross the road and how to react to a bike zooming past you, you can just fit right in.

Gerard and I were discussing the city the other night on the phone (he was here for a few weeks in 2010) and we agreed that there’s something surreal about it. When you’re in Manhattan it feels as though you’re apart from the world, almost like the island were floating a little above. Gerard said it’s a bit like one giant movie set, and I’d agree. The feeling doesn’t seem to be simply related to seeing the streets in films, but then maybe it is. Who knows how that accumulation of pop culture might affect your reactions? The film Metropolis was one of the first to enter my head when I arrived coming over the Williamsburg bridge. Then I’ve had flashes of Woody Allen (of course), the Nolan Batman films, Ghostbusters (especially with all the military vehicles in the street due to the relief efforts), King Kong and more. 

So on my list still is art deco (including the Empire State Building), seeing this David Hyde Pierce-directed play featuring Sigourney Weaver (and as my sister suggested, I should combing this activity with a trip to Dana Barrett’s apartment building in Ghostbusters), lots of art, and maybe some comedy…

A quick hello from Romania

I’m not feeling too well today. Isn’t it dumb to be ailed and glum while travelling? Yesterday was an amazing day. From the magical city of Brasov, Gerard and I were driven through the Carpathians on what was advertised as a ‘Dracula tour’. Basically, sites Vlad the Impaler inhabited (or just passed through). Vlad may or may not have been the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula character. Whatever, we’re in Transylvania and a great ‘mood’ has been generated by the book and subsequent horror films. I haven’t seen any vampires yet, but I’m certainly pockmarked by holes from those other bloodsuckers, mosquitoes.

Transylvania is much more than myth, mountains and castles. On our drive we passed through several large and small Romanian villages. We passed horses, donkeys and carts carrying bundles of hay. Many villagers still wear traditional peasant dress. Some sit by the side of the road hawking hard-looking rounds of cheese, lines of sausages and other meats, berries, and puppies. There are sad-looking dogs everywhere in Romania. In Bucharest they barked all night, and the first thing the guesthouse owner told us there was how to deal with them if they try to attack you. Out of the main city, the dogs seem calmer, even friendly. But you’re not supposed to feed them or treat them like pets. I find it heartbreaking, but it’s just the way it is here.

Romania is a truly fascinating place, and the people are friendly and forgiving of us (we cannot speak any Romanian). There’s also a ton of art deco architecture around. I wish we were here longer, but that happens a lot when you’re travelling, especially when you’re somewhere for the first time. We’ll be staying in Prague for a week because last time I was there for just a few days and wanted to stay longer.

There have been many highlights in this big adventure, and I plan to spend more time writing about some of them when I get home. I’ve been keeping a journal, as my memory is not the best, and it’s kept me writing regularly. I’ve also read a lot and found fresh inspiration for the novel ms. I’ve begun the third draft. Gerard and I were also thinking we could write a little zine on castles as we’ve visited so many! Yesterday, the final castle on the Dracula tour, Poenari, was 1480 steps up the face of a mountain. At the top:


I get back to Melbourne just before Mebourne Writers Festival. I’ll look tanned and very well-fed and I’ll slowly get back into the swing of blogging, writing and reviewing as I digest the things I’ve seen, heard, smelt, touched, tasted and learnt. I hope you’re all enjoying whatever journeys, large and small, you’re undertaking.

Going abroad

Tomorrow G and I fly to Europe for a 10 week stint. I’m presenting a paper at the London Film and Media Conference, and I’ll be working on my thesis as we travel, but there will also be lots of time for art, food, people, absinthe… and of course, literary tourism. The agenda includes: France, England, Scotland, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic (yes, I’m going back to the Kafka museum) and Germany. We’re doing it cheap – hostels, B&BS, couches and a couple of hotels. I’m incredibly excited.

I’ve been to Europe before, in 2008. I was there for a month, travelling alone. It was winter, and I was only in each place three to four days. This time, it’ll be summer, I’ll be travelling with the person I love, and we’ll be in each place for one to two weeks. G has never been to the UK or Europe, so it’ll be all new to him. And of course, we’re going to places I’ve never been before, such as the Scottish Highlands, Bucharest, Budapest and more.

My plan for work is to get up in the morning and put in a few hours, then we’ll go out for the rest of the day. There are also one or two places where we’re staying where I’ll work more, and some where I’ll work less. I get one month of leave, so I’ll spread that out across the trip. Luckily, G is doing Honours and has plenty to go on with, too. He can also just go exploring by himself – so much to see, and be inspired by.

So, will I be taking you with me? Yes, I want to blog, but it’ll be intermittent. I’m sure you understand. I have a few good guest reviews and posts lined up, and I will try to blog about some of the sights and books along the road. It might be more informal. I might throw up some pics, I might blog about something that isn’t literary-minded at all. It’ll be an adventure for you too, I hope.

What books am I taking with me?

My ereader is full of goodies, some recently downloaded include Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille (erotic), Bliss, and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield (which features a story called ‘Je Ne Parle Pas Francais’ – apt), short stories of Guy de Maupassant, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, The Last Man and Mathilda by Mary Shelley, the collected essays of George Orwell, and some Stendhal, Chekhov, Lovecraft, Gogol and Zola. I bought Road to the Soul by Kim Falconer, as I enjoyed the first one in the series, and I’m still reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Many of these books were recommended to me, so thank you.

I have a pile of print books, too (can’t help myself): The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Cold Spring Harbor by Richard Yates, Gullivers Travels by Jonathan Swift (all for the classics project), Bright and Distant Shores by Dominic Smith (it’s huge but I’m loving it and couldn’t possibly leave it behind), The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Asylum by Erving Goldman (related to thesis), Hemingway on Paris and The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps by Eric Hazan, which I’m reviewing.

Phew. I know I won’t get through them, but I love having a choice – and there will be plenty of time to dive into books on planes and trains.

While I’m here, I have reviews published in the latest issues of Australian Book Review (online here) and Bookseller+Publisher (plus an interview with author Miles Vertigan) if you’d like to look out for those. I’ve filed a couple more with newspapers, too, but I’m not sure when they’ll appear. If you’d like to read some more of my writing while I’m away you can find some of my short stories here.

Next time you hear from me it will probably be from Paris! All the best x

The traveller, and her crushes

It’s an excuse kind of post, but I’ve been away and fluey and thinking of the book and stuff and only blogged once last week (ARGH). Sorry. Still working on the Colm Toibin interview, an interview with Maile Meloy, a review or two, and lining up some more guest reviews. I also just reviewed Chris Womersley’s new book Bereft for Bookseller+Publisher. Keep an eye out for that. The book isn’t out until September so I can’t say much (hint: I wanted to re-read it as soon as I finished).

I was away this weekend for Sydney Film Festival – the first time I’ve ever been to a film festival, and I loved it. See my Twitter feed for some mini-reviews. My favourite film was The Illusionist – a charming, sweet and poignant animation by Jacques Tati, about an aging French magician who befriends a young maid in Scotland. There are other wonderful washed-up performers in the film – a ventriloquist, a  (very) sad clown and some acrobats. I saw the film as being about a loss of innocence; forgotten (romantic, magical) things in a world of ‘progress’ and materialism; friendship and so much more – all portrayed beautifully through the image (there’s barely any dialogue). The illusionist’s cranky hat-rabbit it unforgettable, as is the drunken Scot who invites him to perform in the Highlands. I was a mess at the end. So moving.

I saw six other films, but G and I will probably write something about what we saw jointly, so I’ll keep you posted.

In the next few months I’ll be travelling to Sydney again, then Echuca in country Victoria for a workshop, then Brisbane for the Australian Booksellers Association conference, then Sydney again, then Byron Bay for Byron Bay Writers Festival (the program is out now, have a look-see), then Sydney again, then I’ll be blogging for Melbourne Writers Festival, then there will be more trips to Sydney, and to Albury for Write Around the Murray, and to Croydon in country Vic for another workshop. And of course I’ll take you with me. Especially to the literary festivals.

But today I’m going to reveal something here on the blog. I started what I refer to as an ‘affectionate side-blog’ a few months ago, to experiment with tumblr before one of my blogging workshops. It’s called LiteraryMinded Crush. It’s not updated regularly, and it doesn’t require the kind of work I put into this blog, but it’s great fun. I’m revealing it now because I’ve got a few posts up there and you can see what it’s all about. Feel free to follow! And press ‘random’ on the side for a random crush.