Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Orleans

There is, in fact, a house in New Orleans they call The Rising Sun. Whether this particular house has been the ruin of many a poor boy is open to question. I guess we have to be thankful we only saw one house named thusly.

The effects of Hurricane Katrina are still very obvious with many, many buildings derelict and boarded up. It looks like the owners have just boarded up six floor buildings and left town – which in fact could be true because estimates of people who have left New Orleans range between 300,000 and 400,000. One of the freeway bridges close in to town still has people living in tents beneath it. Notwithstanding this, there is a real spirit of regeneration and the city is starting to get back to normal.

The French quarter is still very lively and full of art and antique galleries, restaurants, bars and buskers. We heard a number of buskers but the highlight was a Dixieland band called the Loose Marbles who were absolutely great. They had a resident couple of dancers as well. The band is made up of 15 musicians who turn up on a casual basis so that at least 8 to 12 of them are playing at one time. This means that you may hear different songs and different arrangements each time depending on which musicians turn up. Apparently the group does not do formal gigs but prefer to be street musicians.
We spent much of our time walking around the French quarter and eating out. However, we did find time to take a trip down the Mississippi River on a Paddlesteamer called the Natchez and we did take the ferry across the river to walk around a beautiful and old part of New Orleans called Algiers.

While we were walking around New Orleans we noticed an inordinate number of pirates, both men and women all dressed up in elaborate costumes. We finally found out that the very weekend we were there was a "pirate convention" and they had come from all over. The photo below finally answers the question: What does a buxom wench look like?

Friday, April 25, 2008


Miami means warm weather, money, people with money, Spring Break college kids on holiday, lots of restaurants, wealthy people, party people, myriad bars (for the myriad party people), waterside mansions (for the myriad wealthy people), and art deco architecture (plus, some more art deco architecture).
We flew into Miami with a minor mishap – Milton left his leather jacket in the taxi. After many phone calls to taxi companies and the filing of a police report... nothing happened.

Our hotel was fine, except that our room was on the outside looking over Espanola Way – wall to wall bars and restaurants for the party people to party into the night until 3.00 or 4.00. Anyway, we decided to make the best of it.

If you can get past the Gold Coast, touristy side of Miami Beach, it really is a beautiful place. In 1976, a woman by the name of Barbara Baer Capitman set about arresting the decline of the buildings of Miami Beach and turning the area into a vibrant Art Deco historic district. And she succeeded. Now, I’ve got to ask, didn’t anyone notice anything about the architecture in this place before 1976?! Apparently not.

The guide on the tour I took referred to the style as Resort Art Deco (although the young guide on the Duck Tour - see below - referred to it as Tropical Art Deco) and it really is great. There are many restored apartment blocks and commercial buildings, but especially lots of magnificent restored old Art Deco hotels on the beachfront. This was a real highlight for me.

Miami is of course close to the Everglades and, unlike some national parks where you can go and walk to see the sights , this one is more problematic, as any walking on the high ground could find you face to face with an alligator. So we took a guided tour involving a bus tour via downtown Miami and then an airboat tour of the the Everglades. The airboat looks a bit like a barge with two huge fans up the back and it skims along the water, making a very loud noise. The noise levels are high, however the tour operators have this one covered as they give out toilet paper at the begining and suggest that people stuff it in their ears. Now why hasn't Worksafe thought of that one as a simple solution for hearing protection? OH&S issues aside, we did see several alligators, and lots of birds and water plants.

Another interesting boat ride was the Miami Duck Tour. This amphibious vehicle drives through the streets of Miami Beach, over the bridge and off the road into the water for a sea-going tour of the beachfront houses of the rich and famous. Judith managed to win a plastic "quacker" for knowing the population of Miami (5 million people in Greater Miami).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring in New York

The photo below is of breakfast with the Harrises before their trip back to Oz (taken by Arron).

On the evening of the Harris's departure, we went to see Tim Minchin – a very talented and funny Australian comic who some of you may or may not know. He was absolutely brilliant – I recommend anyone should see him if they get the chance. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant over the road from the theatre before the show which was also very good, so it was overall a great night out.

On Saturday I went to the Museum of Modern Art while Judith tried her hand at shopping (without much success I think). I really enjoyed seeing MoMA after its massive renovatons. One of the permanent collections relates to 20th century design - hence the photo of the Alessi juicer.

That evening we caught up with another lot of Australian friends, Marg and Roy Orme. Marg is doing the teacher PD and mentoring gig in New York (like Lindsay and Judi) and they have an apartment up on the West side from which you can see the Hudson River and down to Times Square. After admiring the magnificent view and having a couple of glasses of wine we queued up for a very popular Mexican restaurant and got a table after only 45 minutes! The speciality of the house? - yes, Margueritas. We had a good night and enjoyed catching up with the Ormes.

On Sunday I went to the annual Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America jewellery Expo at New York’s equivalent of Jeff’s Shed – the Jacob Javits Convention Centre. It was a great day and I found out about some equipment I want (met the inventor) and bought some semi-precious gemstones and quite a few larger cabochons. Judith spent the day shopping again, but again with not a great deal of success – she obviously needs more practice and expert advice (!)

On Monday we went into town for lunch and then Judith went shopping (again !!!) and I went to the Guggenheim. I walked across Central Park to get to Fifth Avenue and was enchanted by the blossom which has emerged so quickly.

I didn’t visit the Guggenheim last time we were in New York so it was a real treat seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s idea of an art gallery – not to mention the amazing installation exhibition on at present. It is by a Chinese artist currently living in New York (Cai Guo-Quing) who is known for using gunpowder and staging explosive “events”.

Our last day in the Big Apple was a leisurely one where we slept in and then went into town to stroll through Greenwich Village, visit Washington Square and have lunch. The weather was great (as it has been for much of our visit) so it was a very pleasant day. It was a lovely way to finish a great ten days.

Wednesday we flew to Miami , but that’s another story.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New York New York

Well, here we are in the Big Apple staying in Brooklyn with Lindsay and Judi Harris. It is 21 years since we were last here and we are looking forward to the revisit. On our first day here, Lindsay took us uptown on the subway and oriented us to the subway/public transport system, Times Square, Union Square and so on. We now each have a weekly ticket which means we can go anywhere at any time, which is great. Lindsay also took us to the Dallas Ribs Restaurant for that quintessential American culinary experience - “ribs”. Dianne and Richard Woods’ son Arron (from Mildura) is completing some work involving the U.N. in New York and is also staying with the Harrises.

So far we have been to the top of the Rockefeller Centre, visited the memorial at ‘Ground Zero, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, been to Tiffany’s, been to a baseball game at Shea Stadium and Milton has walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with Lindsay.

The view at the ‘Top of the Rock’ is excellent (last time we went to the top of the Empire State) but we were a bit disappointed at Tiffany’s. We particularly looked at the sterling silver jewellery on the third floor with the intention of buying something for Judith. However, we were very underwhelmed by the design and range, even given that it is made by well known design houses. We also went to a jeweller, Aaron Faber, who is better known for contemporary jewellery and this was a lot better than Tiffany’s.

Milton is interested in Art Deco design and architecture, so when we saw the Fred French Building from the Rockefeller Centre we went down to have a closer look. While the exterior at ground level is obscured by renovations, the foyer is still accessible and is indeed very impressive.

After a great meal at an Italian restaurant in the heart of town, we all went to a rock musical on Broadway on Thursday evening called Passing Strange. This was an excellent show with a very tight band and first class production values. Although the second half was not as strong as the first, we all agreed it was an impressive show.

Friday afternoon Lindsay and Jude flew out for three weeks in Australia and Aaron flew out to London, so we now have the house to ourselves – not that that matters as we had a great time catching up with our hosts and seeing New York through their eyes.
Judith and Lindsay in Times Square.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Day four of our trip saw us driving John and Marlee’s Buick down to Brooklyn, Wisconsin to see ‘the old Whittaker farm’. Here we were made extremely welcome by Jerry and Garnett who have lived and worked on the farm for 30 years. Judith’s great great grandfather owned this farm before he eventually moved to South Australia.

Jerry and Garnett showed us over the farm and the local cemetery and were wonderful and generous hosts. We met most of the family and some of the neighbours and took photographs of this beautiful part of the country.

We stayed overnight and then Garnett took us into Madison, the state capital, where we had a little Frank Lloyd Wright tour.

Unfortunately, FLW's home (Taliesen) at Spring Green was closed, but we had a great morning looking over the Monona Terrace Conference Centre (which has only recently been completed years after FLW’s death) and the Unitarian Church Meeting House (below).

We travelled back to Chisago City where later in the week John and Marlee showed us over the twin cities of St Paul and Minneapolis. They are indeed beautiful and we had a great day with our hosts, finishing up with a performance of a very talented and tight Bluegrass band (Monroe Crossing) in the evening.

Saturday we travelled up to Duluth in the Buick and had a quick look at Bob Dylan’s birthplace – locally referred to as Little San Francisco.

Sunday we flew to New York via Chicago for ten days in the Big Apple. But more of that later.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Well, we’re off again! This time a small trip to the U.S. for four weeks finishing up with five days in Fiji. We have bought a new lap-top to facilitate with the blog, to keep up with our e-mail, to phone home (on skype) and to store and display photos. So far it is proving to be the best thing since sliced bread – an antiquated phrase for a technological miracle!

The flight from Melbourne to Minneapolis was OK but with a couple of problems. First of all we had a stopover at Auckland, NZ which we had not expected (we specifically asked for a direct flight). Then, when we got to L.A., immigration and customs took so long that we missed our connecting flight. This obviously happens all the time at the L.A. airport because they have a permanent desk staffed with four people specifically to re-route travellers who miss their connection. We had to wait a couple of hours and then take a flight to Fort Worth, Texas and then another to Minneapolis, arriving there at about 10.00 pm. The last hitch was that the baggage handlers treated our luggage so roughly that one of the wheels on Milton’s case was ripped right off and is lying on the ground somewhere between Melbourne and Minneapolis.

We are currently staying with our friends John and Marlee Eret who have a house right on beautiful Lake Chisago which is about 30 minutes out of Minneapolis.

We have been treated with the best American hospitality and have really enjoyed catching up with old friends – or should I say friends of old? On the first day here, John drove me out on the metre thick frozen lake surface to ice fish. Although they were mostly very small we caught almost fifty fish, including sunfish and crappie, and had a great time.

This was my first experience of ice fishing and it was a lot of fun.

I’m not sure if it was more fun catching the fish, drilling the hole in the ice, or the experience of drinking a couple of stubbies in the middle of a frozen lake with a mate. While we were doing this Judith and Marlee went for a walk and then took a scenic drive around the area.

Our second day in Minnesota was characterised by a heavy snowstorm which transformed the landscape into a beautiful North American postcard. John and Marlee took us to see the Mall of America which is the biggest shopping mall in the U.S. We had lunch there and also bought a new case to replace the damaged one.

The mornings are characterised by a sumptuous breakfast prepared by our hosts, the evenings by a wonderful meal, a judicious amount of wine and a great many laughs. I would like, though, for someone to explain to me how come Australian wine is cheaper over here than it is in Australia!!?