Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane


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The view from the window

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On flights, particularly long-haul overseas ones, my seat of choice is an aisle one. They offer a (relative) feeling of freedom, make it easier to take multiple strolls and negate the need to scramble over fellow passengers for toilet or boredom breaks. The exception for this snow-deprived creature of the sub-tropics is flying in and out of Hokkaido in winter, because of the potential for glimpses of majestic Mt Fuji, just out of Tokyo, the towering snow-covered northern Alps of Honshu, and the black-and-white patchwork of paddies nearing Chitose airport. So a window seat must be booked in advance, just to be sure.

My most recent visit was not disappointing…Fuji loud and clear on the port side, minutes out of Narita, and minimal cloud cover offering captivating views of the Alps. And generous snowfalls earlier on the northern island guaranteed a thick blanket of chequered fields, frosted farm buildings and whitened trees glimpsed through obliging clouds.

 

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Approaching Chitose Airport. 

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Yotei, late afternoon. 

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Yotei, early morning.

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Setting sun on Yotei. 

Bucketing down in Niseko. 

Hokkaido does its snow seriously. It buckets or blizzards down, rather than sprinkling politely. Such a thrill for those of us from the subtropics.  And no matter how often you see it, Hokkaido’s Fuji-lookalike, Yotei-san, delights in all its moods.

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No need to interpret the road sign. 

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Tomamu, central Hokkaido. 


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(Don’t) stop the boats

Another of New York’s fascinating museums celebrates and documents the struggles and success stories of the millions of immigrants who fled war and revolution, mostly in Europe, in the early to mid-20th century for that chance to be welcomed into New York Harbour by the Statue of Liberty. Like Australia, the US has a huge immigrant-descended population, the stories of the first arrivals harrowing and heart-warming. Life was far from easy for these newcomers but the chance of achieving the American Dream kept their hopes alive.

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The restored tenement at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side models the living circumstances of the generations of families who crammed into tiny rooms living meagre but hopeful lives as they eked out a living.  In one instance the recollections of the daughter of an Italian immigrant family, the Baldizzis, helped museum staff recreate their 1930’s home. The tiny apartment was surprisingly homely with furnishings and fittings that evoked the modest but happy family life they led.

One of the missions of the museum is to promote tolerance and remind current generations of the difficult paths that immigrants have followed to access freedom, and the contribution they have made to their adopted country. Perhaps Donald Trump could join our former Prime Minister on a study tour of the Tenement Museum – especially as we Australians prepare to welcome and bestow citizenship on another batch of new settlers tomorrow, Australia Day.

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Welcome!


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Days in the museums

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Dragon robe from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Visiting New York’s galleries and museums is like visiting New York itself. No matter how many you take in there are always more. Three luxurious weeks allows for a lot of art and culture viewing but with 500 galleries and dozens of museums New York challenges the most ardent enthusiast. We managed about 12, every one edifying. There were the unmissables such as MOMA, the Met and the Guggenheim, all of which I had visited on my previous Big Apple sojourn. Newcomers on my list included the Whitney specialising in American art; Neue Galeries, displaying early 20th Century German and Austrian art and design; and the Rubin, featuring the art of the Himalayas, India and neighbouring countries; and the Frick.

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Carved Chinese red and black lacquer box, late 14th C. 

The Met, sitting imperiously on Fifth Avenue and backing onto Central Park, is a serious day’s – or more – work so I chose a section of personal interest, Asian art. Ceramic and lacquerware figure prominently, along with textiles, the sophistication of artists centuries ago always astonishing. It’s fascinating, too, to see how the precious artworks of the Far East, carried by the traders along the Silk Road, influenced the masterpieces of their Middle Eastern and Western counterparts.

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Edo Period (1615-1868) porcelain with celedon glaze Hizen ware.

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8th C. Chinese earthenware with black glaze. 

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Korean mid-18th C. porcelain with underglaze copper-red design.

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15th C. Italian earthenware with two-tailed lion and…

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..from the 9th-10th C. Persian Abbasid earthenware.  

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Modern-day Japanese stoneware (above and below).

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New York is truly Picasso Heaven with many works in permanent collections and special exhibitions cropping up. Picasso was probably the most prolific artist of all time, no doubt helped by a career spanning 75-years and covering such a wide range of media – painting, sculpting, printmaking, ceramics, stage designing. Oh, and a bit of poetry and play writing thrown in. On my previous New York visit the Guggenheim was showing an exhibition of Picasso’s black-and-white paintings, including some depicting the politically inspired Guernica theme.  On our most recent visit we were treated to an extensive collection of his sculpture works, at the Museum of Modern Art. I have to admit some of the pieces reminded me a bit of Michael Leunig’s cartoons!

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Modern American art is the specialty of The Whitney, a striking structure designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, and sitting alongside the High Line overlooking the Hudson River.  The feature exhibition during our visit was the works of Jazz Age modernist Archibald Motley, a trendsetting African American with an eye for interpreting the mores of African American class structures as well as life in the Jazz Age. A scholarship to study art in Paris, where many African American artists made their home at the time, gave him the opportunity to depict that experience on canvas.

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On a 2006 trip to Vienna I visited the Belvedere, mandatory for any art-interested tourist in that city, to see Gustav Klimpt’s Woman in Gold painting, regarded then by Austria as one of its most significant treasures.  Shortly after the famous court case, recounted in the recent film starring Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, niece of the painting’s subject Adele Bloch-Bauer, returned the Nazi-confiscated masterpiece and others to the rightful heirs. The stunning piece was subsequently sold to Ronald S. Lauder, of the Estee Lauder family, and it now sits in their Fifth Avenue Neue Galerie. Photography of the real artworks was not permitted but the results of an assignment by Viennese 10-to-14-year-olds asked to imagine Adele’s life in America did the trick photographically.

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Down under in New York

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It’s been the backdrop for innumerable iconic movies such as Godzilla, Annie Hall, Sophie’s Choice and Goodfellas;  TV series dating back to the 70s including Welcome Back Kotter, or more recently Two Broke Girls, Everybody Hates Chris and Boardwalk Empire; would challenge any community in the world on its multicultural mix; and is renowned for having one of the English language’s most idiosyncratic accents. Brooklyn, the most populous of New York’s five boroughs, is the hot place to be in the 21st Century teen decade, no longer the repository of poor newly-arrived migrants but a sought-after neighbourhood in a rapidly-gentrifying locale.

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The Brooklyn Bridge walk was one of the most interesting of the 10 attractions we elected from the many available on our New York Explorer discount card. Not only did if offer a fascinating insight into the famous Bridge and its troubled gestation but an introduction to the wonderful DUMBO – Down Under the Manhatten Bridge Overpass – precinct on the Brooklyn side.  The almost-500-metre bridge connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River was the first-ever steel-wire suspension bridge. The pioneering bridge opened in 1883 after 14 troubled years of construction which saw its creator, German engineer John Roebling, die of a tetanus infection from a construction-related injury, and his son Washington Roebling, who took over the project, incapacitated with decompression sickness. Many workers were affected by the then-unknown “bends” and labelled it “caisson disease” because the culprit seemed to be working underwater on the caissons, upside-down boxes which had to been sunk to the bedrock below to support the two towers.

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Long a popular haunt for artists because of its intrinsic atmosphere, abundance of cheap loft-style accommodation and easy proximity to Manhattan the old, run-down industrial area of DUMBO is now Brooklyn’s most expensive neighbourhood.  The cool vibe that the creative community contrived attracted the urban trendies with developers not far behind converting Brooklyn’s old industrial buildings into high-end tech start-up spaces, performance precincts and luxury residential apartments. You could forgive the creative community for feeling a little aggrieved about being priced out of their space.

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Only in New York

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The One World building

The popularity of the US as destination for Aussies has been rocketing for a decade or more, doubling from the noughties, with one recent survey putting the Big Apple as our second most popular destination worldwide. So far the falling oil price and airfares seem to be counterbalancing our tanking dollar but I was glad to squeeze in my second visit while I could afford to. The thing is, with perhaps the world’s greatest selection of attractions on offer, New York is a destination that no matter how many visits you’d always feel the need to go back one more time….

My particular bites of the Big Apple included art, architecture, music, history, park visiting,  celerity spotting, general people and passing parade watching, and a bit of shopping (or quite a bit).

Will I go back? Never say “never”.

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Chelsea Market district; Guggenheim Museum. 

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The feared NYPD Blue; captive Halloween pumpkins.


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Vale Yarloop

When my mother was alive she constantly had to fend off jokes about her home town. Although born in Albany, on King George Sound and the oldest settlement in Western Australia, my “sand groper” mum lived many of her formative years in the tiny timber town of Yarloop. And it was that name that caused such mirth – although being a person of good humour she took it all in her stride.

Those early years coincided with the Depression and, like many families across Australia and around the world, the bread winner found himself without a job. The family was torn apart with my grandmother and the two youngest children sailing to Sydney to join East Coast family members. My grandfather, my mother and her elder sister stayed behind in Western Australia. Then my aunt and grandfather also moved to Sydney while my mother stayed with her grandparents in Yarloop where her grandfather worked in the timber industry.

Eventually a wealthy uncle paid her boat fare to Sydney and she joined the rest of the family. She remained very attached to Yarloop and often talked fondly about her life there: the stability of staying put in a secure environment at a time of such upheaval; of going to the pictures and holding hands with a boy when the lights went out – the same boy who continued to send her cards well into her 80s and who said he still carried her photograph in his wallet; her bittersweet farewell from Yarloop, happy at the prospect of being reunited with her family, sad at the thought of leaving her grandparents, friends and the embrace of that little town.

So to hear today that Yarloop has been all but wiped off the map in south-west Western Australia’s brutal bushfires is devastating news. How heartbroken my mother would be that the little wooden cottage she had shared with her grandparents, just across from the war memorial and next to the railway workshops, had fallen victim to the destructive flames. The cottage had been the focus of many a visit from the East Coast descendants over the years. The long-suffering owners had tolerated tours by me and numerous cousins and most recently my brother and sister-in-law late last year.  My heart goes out to them and I hope they are safe.

Today I located some snaps from a visit I paid with my daughter about 10 years ago and my brother sent some from his recent trip.  Despite the name, Yarloop is probably an early-settler mispronunciation of Yarlup Brook, only about five kilometres north and using the common Noongar-language place-name “up” ending.

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Railway Workshops Museum, Yarloop. 

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My mother’s grandparent’s cottage, Yarloop.

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The War Memorial across the road where my mother and her sisters like to play. 

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Georgia on my mind

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The risk in fulfilling a long-held ambition is the imagining may be better than the reality. But 20 years after reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil I ticked off a vow made as I turned the last page – to visit the central star of the story, Savannah, Georgia. The “non-fiction novel” combines laugh-out-loud drollery, true crime, bizarre real life and travelogue. And author John Berent mixes all  in his 1994 international bestseller with liberal doses of Savannah’s plentiful selection of old-money intrigue, snobbery, off-beat sex and voodoo. But best of all he draws a compelling picture of  this elegant antebellum gem of a town.

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The Bird Girl on the Midnight cover…in protective custody in Telfair Museum. 

Savannnah has developed its personality by fiercely protecting its charm, history and heritage against all comers for over 150 years. One of Savannah’s earliest acts of survival dates back to the Civil War when it was precariously placed in the pathway of plundering General Sherman on his 1984 March to the Sea. Rather than suffer the fate of other Georgia cities such as Atlanta, which was burned to the ground, the Savannah mayor agreed a favourable surrender.  The town survived and prospered, the innate pride of the local citizenry kicking in to weather precarious periods in subsequent years when decline threatened.

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Midnight’s main “character”, the Mercer House on Monterey Square. 

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Large oaks drip Spanish moss. 

Today Savannah boasts a vigilant historical society, supportive local government and a subsequent booming tourist industry. No surprise then that the population is expanding and the real estate market booming. The historic centre of Savannah largely retains the plan laid down by founder, the British General, Member of Parliament and philanthropist James Olgethorpe. Its centrepiece – or centrepieces – is 22 squares, lusciously treed with large oaks dripping with Spanish moss, guaranteeing cool and shade from the hot Southern summer sun. Most famous of these, at least to Midnight readers, is Monterey Square on which Mercer House, the book’s central character, is located. Mercer House has another connection to fame as the family home of songwriter Johnny  Mercer of Moon River, Acc-cent-tchu-ate the Positive, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, renown. Jackie Kennedy allegedly once sought to buy it.

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Typical Savannah mansion, Old Sorrell-Weed House.

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Antebellum elegance.  

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Hail the conqueror – General Sherman’s house. 

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Running in various directions off Monterey Square, and the other squares, are the streets and locations that are stars of the book: the one along which a local resident took his imaginary dog on a daily walk; Abercorn Street where Clary’s Restaurant was located; East Jones Street where Joe Odom rented one of his many party houses; Bull Street which claims five squares; Barnard Street where the Telfair Museum protects the Bird Girl statue from the book cover after her many “abductions” from Bonaventure Cemetery; Jefferson Street’s Club One where the exotic Lady Chablis gyrated “her” way to “her” audiences’ hearts . So treasured are the squares that only two have ever  fallen into the hands of developers – and one of those is planned for “undeveloping” back to its original state.

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Dealing with doggie do Savannah style.

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Still wowing ’em at Club One…the glittering Lady Chablis. 

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Remembering Johnny Mercer. 

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The fragrant magnolia is the floral emblem of Georgia. 

A setting of such allure obviously hasn’t escaped the authors and film makers of this world.  Margaret Mitchell’s famous novel was set in Savannah and was the setting for the film. The iconic Forrest Gump bench scene, when his mother offers him the chocolate box, is located on Chippewa Square.  And of course the Midnight book, and Clint Eastwood’s movie version, have drawn numerous avid readers and movie goers as tourists –  an instructive lesson in the  economic and social benefits that can derive from having pride in your heritage and protecting  it.

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Not just a pretty city. Savannah is a major port with huge container ships plying its namesake river through the centre of town. 

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I’d love to!

 


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Calendar girl

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Shrine torii.

One of New Year’s Day’s important tasks is to change the calendars. But the “out with the old; in with the new” routine can be bittersweet. Once utilitarian objects, calendars are increasingly personal with daily organisers to suit every known taste and interest, some works of art, making them hard to part with.  I will be sad to take down my study nook calendar gifted last Christmas, a compilation of family and nature images from the beautiful New South Wales South Coast by my photographically talented older brother.  Then there’s the annual calendar, always quaint and unusual, from an Osaka friend, a former exchange student.

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The crane, symbol of happiness and eternal youth. 

I will also regret having to say goodbye to my 2015 Blue and White calendar from the eponymous Tokyo art and craft boutique, with its daily reminder last year to stay genki – healthy, vital and energetic – and a tribute to the richness and artistry of Japanese culture.  But happily the 2016 Blue and White calendar is ready and waiting to take its place, thanks to Santa Claus. This is a Monkey Year and those born during it are said to possess the traits of wit, intelligence and magnetic personality, but are also inclined to mischievousness.

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The mischievous money gets the honours in 2016. 

This year’s calendar acknowledges “40 years of daily blessings” since its first publication, with flashbacks to past editions. The months feature blue and white salutes to an assortment of Japanese symbols including those of the crane, teacups, torii and the ubiquitous jovial Otafuku, the Goddess of Good Luck and Happiness, the shop’s symbol. Which fits perfectly with what I wish for you for 2106!

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The jovial Otafuku…bringing good luck and happiness.