It’s New York Baby

Four days in the city that never sleeps.  Sort of a cultural exchange.   Well I guess the first thing is that getting out of YVR wasn’t so easy, the perks of “Diamond” status with Aeroplan somewhat elusive and then the “arbitrary” selection for luggage inspection, then the huge queue at Starbucks and the staff refusing to load my “Swarovski crystal” card with gift cards advising me I can do it online (I cannot; I write that definitively--and I mean do they even know who I am?  I should have said that “Do you know who I am?  They don’t hand out Swarovski crystal cards to just anyone…”) and then deciding to use my one annual “Diamond” perk to get a free lounge visit only to encounter another huge queue.  But there is something special about row 18 in the AC economy Dreamliner (the same aircraft we flew up front to Brisbane a few months back) which for a “mere” $60 you can enjoy the legroom and expanse of the premium eco wannabes one row above.   I watched some Einstein; why did it take so long for Nat Geo to realize that Downton Abbey slash Mad Men type sagas of “geniuses” would make good TV for the masses?  Just too bad about all the Russian accents.  Or German accents.  Or whatever they were.   We made good time.  We arrived early.  But then spent about 40 minutes circling Newark.  At least the luggage came through.  By the time I’d taken the airport monorail then the NJ train to Penn, then walked over to 7th Avenue and up two blocks and checked in it was hitting seven; I guess I could have seen one more play, but as it was I unpacked, showered, and headed downtown to the Public. Emergency on planet earth. Alas, they couldn't save the mousie.   All hail Joe Papp.  Just had to get that in while there was an opp. For a mere $35 you get a two-hour concert in the intimate, appealing and well proportioned Joe’s Pub.   To say Justin Vivian Bond is a hoot is to say Owl is a metaphor for wisdom in the Hundred Acre Wood: obvious but irrelevant.  Who knew Richard Carpenter went to rehab for, wait for it, an addiction to Quaaludes.  Wow.  Those were the days I guess. She sang, told stories, sang some more, and paraded about in a jacket and pant suit that, in her words, she could have seen Karen Carpenter wear to the Dinah Shore Golf Classic.  If KC was still alive that is. Around midnight back to my incredibly small but pretty functional midtown room.  That's correct: there is no closet. Thursday blossomed foggy and wet but mild and humid.  I took the 2 train to Brooklyn.  My middle-age rule on visiting cities I’ve been to many times in the past is to always do something novel on each next visit.  Since I’d never been this deep into Brooklyn, or ever at the B Museum, it seemed natural.  Plus, the Bowie Is show was on its last leg. The movie version—the movie the V&A made of the original Bowie Is show which for some unfathomable reason is impossible to see—is probably better than actually being in person, “is” as it were, at Bowie Is.  But still, his handwritten lyrics, the costumes (not a big man; Kate Moss actually fit into most of the Ziggy Stardust pieces) and for those of us who followed his career, who actually knew that when filming Nic Roeg’s Man Who Fell to Earth Bowie took on location (for no good reason) his entire personal library of 400 plus books, well it was cool to see some of those books, in a rock star costume box no less.  That sort of thing.   At the risk of annoying die hard Bowie fans, You Say You Want a Revolution, at the V&A in 2016, was better.  But, in fairness, that was a show about a cultural shift in music.  Bowie was just, you know, Bowie Is.   I’d forgotten that the backup singers for the Boys Keep Swinging video are, is (pun intended) Bowie.  Bowie in drag.  As Connie Francis, Jerry Hall and an aged Marlene Dietrich.  It is, in some way, unfortunate he entered detox.  Were the backup singers in some small way getting back at Mick for the cover of Made in the Shade?  And why are his paintings, much better than Tony Bennett or Red Skelton or Tony Curtis, why are David Bowie’s paintings not collected by collectors?  They had the skirt he wore on SNL; curiously utilitarian.   Afterwards I wandered about, quiet lonely wings interrupted only by the occasional exuberant school field trip. Part of the rather exceptional Judy Chicago Dinner Party has its own special room. Mary Wollstonecroft, Queen Elizabeth I, Sappho.   There was also a lot of superb modern art and design, scattered about in quiet corridors and less visited vestibules.   Took the 2 train back but it transitioned to a Lexington Ave Express (inexplicably) and I got off at Union Square to walk the considerable distance to Jim Lahey’s Sullivan St Bakery for a snack, then to the hotel, then out to a pre-theatre dinner, then Angels in America.  Part One.   To speak of the substance of the performances is complicated.  So is the play.  So is the set and lighting.  Start to finish, something monumental, but also exhausting in its scope, both current and dated, both poignant and cliched, it seemed all too pointed when the woman across the aisle talked of when Kushner came to address her daughter’s senior year in a local high school.  “It” she said, “It was very interesting.  He, however, was not.” What a way to sum up Kushner.   Immediate standing ovation; no hesitation.  Applause for entrances, applause for soliloquys, three curtain calls.  But then promptly out; it was, after all, nearly 11. Times Square at midnight.  I've never understood the huge attraction.  But it is.  A huge attraction. Italian Coffee.  Hmmm.  Not sure where this stands on the scale of political correctness.   Friday was cooler.  Like May moving into April.  Who knows what’s going on around here.  I headed out first thing to the Chelsea Market, once a Nabisco Factory, and something of a tourist mecca.  But also one of the few places in North America where you can buy Setaro pasta.  From Naples.  They hang it and air dry it at the factory.  It’s a thing.  Jonathan Waxman swears by it.  If you order pasta at Per Se you’re eating Setaro.  Google it. Unfortunately, it only came in kilo bags, so I took a return-to-the-hotel detour before setting out again; first south to the West Village, then east, then up to Union Square, then north along Madison and Lexington to midtown and back to the west side. Back when laces, gowns and tailored sports hats were a thing. There is something historic and sensational about walking in this city (aside from the price of parking: Yikes!); walking it seems both brave and accomplished when in fact it’s nothing but sensible transport.  I went into an old print shop where they had a map of the original NY subway which, if the proprietor was to be believed, was in no museum anywhere. There may be a magisterial element to London’s tube with it’s snaky, deeply buried, and nearly perpetual routes (Northern Line anyone?), but there is a real forward pragmatism to NYC, with its express routes, and a local that can take you from the top of the Bronx to Coney Island. It's the New School.  (Not, like Bowie Is, School New Is.) Quaint and curious: Posters for British and Canadian citizens to enlist in WWI. A beautiful representative NY intersection: The Park Avenue tunnel arises out of seven blocks of nowhere into Murray Hill, only to return under Grand Central which is in turn swathed and dwarfed by what was once the iconic Pan Am building. Perestroika, part two of the behemoth Angels in America, kicked off at 7 p.m., so there was just time to get a quick nosh at a wine and cheese bar in Hell’s Kitchen called Casellula. Over sixty types of cheese on the menu.   Sat beside a retired woman from Cape Cod who had once owned a vineyard (in Plymouth of all places) and (btw didn’t know the Patti Page song!) who was in NY for a communion and interestingly took an Air BnB up north in the same building Lin Manuel Miranda lives in.  That’s like seriously uptown; might as well get a place in the Hudson Valley.  They had Kermit Lynch madeira on the wine list; my kind of place. Seriously exceptional.  Screw Bordeaux.   I didn’t mention that a cast of nine had five actors take bows who didn’t act; they did everything else: moved the set, endlessly, carried and manipulated the angel and her wings, puppetted if indeed there is such a noun, manipulated, caressed and disturbed the whole thing to make it work so seamlessly and magnificently.   The second part, although long (six acts! Jeepers!) and arguably overwritten, was completely reimagined.  Like I’d never seen it before.  Which I mean literally: I have seen Perestroika but this version was so successful in its interpretation it made me appreciate the text anew.  Which is saying something I guess, given that it’s a dialogue piece.  The pyrotechnics, ascending and descending stage pieces, fire, rain, heaven, everything short of David Blaine vomiting a frog.  The audience, ecstatic, applauding scenes like opera.  Despite the work, the effort, there must be an incredible high for the cast, exhaustion yes, but exhilaration.  Also, first time I’ve seen longer lines for the gents than ladies.   It was permafrost on departure.  Or so it felt.  I nixed the not too long walk back and hopped on the 1 at 50th Street.  It was party central at the Moxy and environs.  Thank god for earplugs.   Saturday was a deluge.  Vancouver rain.  Tofino rain.  Splish splash you are taking a bath.  Snarled traffic, a webby snarl of umbrellas, and a hopscotch to avoid the puddles and pools.  I went out for a Starbucks but decided it was better to just vegetate in my room until late checkout and watch the American media wax poetic on the royal marriage.  Or is it Royal marriage? Midday I braved the elements but almost immediately had to by a $5 umbrella from a street vendor.  My walk uptown was much curtailed and in the end I ended up at a Pret A Manger for a juice and a roof over my head.  What’s the James Acaster joke?  I love eating out.  Particularly French food.  Nothing like a trip to Pret.   Boys in the Band is at the Booth.  The very first Broadway play I ever saw, in 1979, was the original Broadway production of the Elephant Man at the Booth.  Great space.  Philip Anglim.  Kevin Conway (got the least applause; seemed to take it personally.)  Carole Shelley (an original Pigeon sister; look it up).  Brilliant.  Tiny, as Broadway houses go, with no bad seat in the house. The set, a splashy pink carpet two story number, replete with bedroom and bathroom up top, was perhaps the only way to address the scale.  The production is basically a gay mafia coup d’état: Joe Mantella directing, Ryan “The Feud” Murphy producing, and a cast of several gay uber stars (Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells) and only one not “married.”  I mean in real life. The hustler, the “birthday gift” Midnight Cowboy: Broadway debut.  I’ll say.  But here’s the thing: Let’s say you go to a Shakespeare festival.  And then as part of the program they throw in a Ben Jonson.  It might be good. It might be great.  But it won’t be Shakespeare.  So here’s the thing with Broadway: Eight hours of Tony Kushner followed by 110 minutes of Mart Crowley, well it just doesn’t compare.  There were laughs.  Laughs galore.  A sincere coming out story followed by “Well I could use a shot of insulin.” That sort of thing.  Quinto as a stoned out of his gourd pock-marked vainglorious insecure aging Jew stole the show.  Use of the N word (it is 50 years old) brought on much condescension.  The F word not so much. There is confetti, and the actors have had their issues with what I’m calling the complexity of confetti in the proscenium, but it was apparently a telephone cord that caused Parsons to take a stumble last week: The show I saw he needed no cane but he was in a cast.   Afterwards the LIRR and Airtrain to JFK.  Why did no one ever tell me about this before?  $4.25 on the LIRR followed by $5.50 on the Airtrain.  Compare that to $50-80, depending on traffic, in a cab.     Visions of the old Saarinen-deigned TWA terminal, forever under renovation.   My points home, on Cathay in First, gave me access to AA Flagship dining.  Cathay used to be in Terminal 7 with British: But even first in Cathay didn’t get access to the Concorde Lounge.  There was a stuffy, distressed and fusty and poorly served “first” lounge or there was on demand dining, but you were in with the riff raff.  I mean honestly, quiet is the new nouveau riche.  Anywhere without a house music soundtrack and with less than a dozen people is the new elite.  To say nothing of the outlook. A lovely onion tart with a tad too many floral petals and an unusually tasty pork tenderloin.  I deferred on dessert; there was still a proper meal to come in less than a few hours.  Two glasses of Bollinger.  I love it when they pop the cork just for you. Soon enough it was time to face reality, seven billion people on the planet all, it seems, en route somewhere in a car, on a jet, or in between the two.   I ventured into a second American Airways lounge out in the depths of departure gates. It was dead and dull an institutional and the bar had a menu, you had to pay for drinks.   Boarding began promptly, there were six seats in first, I was one of three passengers.  Service was exceptional, attentive, personal, professional.  And I love the Krug.  The 2004 vintage Krug. Dinner after takeoff was a decadent leek soup, a Chinese beef main, a cheese course, and later some cheesecake.  They made my bed after dinner and I got a good three hours sleep in before a groggy wake up.   At Vancouver they brought two exit doors up to the aircraft (something AC is loathe to do) one just for first, and as the other two passengers remained on board for the HKG connection, I walked off alone.  CP is the bomb. And when I say I walked off alone, I mean it was solo, straight through the airport (at 1:00 a.m.) and onto security.  Like a dream sequence in a Wim Wenders movie.   The overheard conversations, from arrival at Newark to the departure lounge at JFK, were on the spectacular side (“And I said Bobby, happiness is a choice.  Life is hell but you can make the choice.  Are you going to make the choice Bobby?” one of the better monologues on a train from a yenta which included the merits of Cambodian massages and how to say no to free booze), but by far the best was a car stuck in traffic in midtown on a red, going the wrong way, with pedestrians impeding the flow, much honking, and an African American relic from the past, with a swagger reminiscent of blaxploitation films of the 70s, passing by and letting him know: “It’s New York baby.” Yes it is. Then just like that, NYC is over, it’s spring in Vancouver.  A snowball viburnum makes its annual show.

Up, Up and Away

It’s going to be two flights up to get away home: Japan Airlines 736 Hong Kong to Tokyo, Narita, then transfer to JL 18 Narita to Vancouver, overnight.  We were packed and showered and out of the W shortly after seven.  The walk to the airport train was about three minutes.  Seamless trip out; HKG has a fantastic transit operation, a little bit better than Heathrow, and a lot cheaper.  You pass the homes of hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?).  Hong Kong is teeming with people and vehicles but really it’s a city of construction, it’s bursting at the seams in terms of development.   There are three Cathay flights to YVR today but we couldn’t get on any of them; the lead up to New Year’s is an intense period in HK; so we’re transferring through Tokyo on JAL.   Check-in was pretty busy as our first flight, Japan Airlines 736 to Narita, will be packed.  JAL uses the Qantas lounge as a code share.  It’s open concept to the waiting areas below which in, say, an American airport would be havoc, but here there is a weird calm and quiet given the size of the enterprise.  (And no one is hanging over the rail and hooting at their friends.)   The lounge was huge, even with a third of it cordoned off.  The food offerings were a mix of the usual suspects (cereal, toast, eggs, sausages, really awful croissants) and Asian (congee, rice, some dim sum and soup).  We were both famished and were grateful for some grub although the best thing I ate was fresh pineapple.   SS got bored and immediately set off to build up the Fitbit steps.  Our flight came into gate 16, just below the lounge.  Boarding started very late (10:05 a.m.) but was fully boarded, four classes, in 15 minutes, and we departed the gate early.  That’s virtually unheard of in North America.  The Japanese crew have a unique style of service; the ground staff all stand at attention and don’t do anything until they finally get “the signal” and then they smile, clasp their hands, bow, and welcome you on board.  Staff on the tarmac wave goodbye.   It was a weird flight, less than four hours, packed, lots of business men, not enough flight attendants I think.  It was a Dreamliner, but the configuration wasn’t as good as AC; my window seat had three windows, direct aisle access, and was very private, but attendants had to “bend around” to serve me.  The centre seats had no privacy.  But super comfortable.  We will also be on a Dreamliner home, but not with these "sky suites" unfortunately.       I had the western lunch, which, as airline food goes, was rather on the excellent side.   SS had the Japanese lunch which was exquisitely presented.  He asked for sake and they gave him a small bottle.  I liked how the "table cloth" they put on the tray was kasuri fabric.  There were rice crisps as a snack.  SS ordered for afters the plum wine which, as shown above, is "100% used Japanese plum" without substitutions.  The wrapped paper on his tray was sticky rice.   It was late afternoon when we arrived in Tokyo and you could feel the winter in the air; back to reality.     We checked out the shops and hit the lounge, which spreads over two floors.  I took a shower, we ambled about, the second level serves food and we both had a small nosh; mostly dumplings, curries, salad. Lot's of New Year's adornment in the duty free shops.  Soon enough it was time to board the final leg home. The plane was spanking new, the crew lovely, but the biz section was something called the "shell flat neo" which on the one hand doesn't provide the privacy of a pod and on the other hand doesn't go fully flat, which just doesn't make sense on an international flight; JAL really made an error on this design.  The area that would normally be first class had three rows of biz, and we were in that nearly private section, which was much appreciated.   Went full on Japanese for dinner.  It was pretty outrageous.  First of all, the starter came gift wrapped! Starter was simmered chicken and vegetables; crabmeat in sauce; poached potherb mustard, chrysanthemum and mushroom with abalone; seared yellowtail; and beef ginger flavored burdock, slow cooked egg and "vinegared" turnip wrapped in smoked salmon.  The main sounded revolting, tongue and eel, but the beef was actually a braise, delectable, and the eel had been broiled in sweet soy.  Really excellent. Close to home.

Happily the Fishes Leap

It’s red knots, red balloons and miniature orange trees everywhere you go; Chinese New Year is just days away.   As for us, it's the end of the road less and more traveled.  No more turndown service with pillow chocolates…   The plan today, our last, was a day trip to Macau; you can get there on the fast ferry in about an hour, see the UNESCO Heritage old town, have lunch, make a day of it.  But we checked out the terminal last night and realized that it would involve zillions of people heading over to gamble (Wynn, apparently, makes more profit in Macau than Vegas).  Another option was a village on the other side of the island called Stanley.  But it again would involve many day trippers and a complex transit route.   This was the last day of a long holiday.  We have a beautiful room with a gorgeous view and the roof pool/jacuzzi is spectacular.  So I decided to make it a relax day and avoid the hordes.   We took coffee at the Starbucks in the mall.  As we sat there a woman stood below us for a long time.  A very, very long time.  So, finally, I took a picture.   Where to next ma’am?   After coffee SS headed off to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum; it’s in the New Territories, north of Kowloon, a place we’d never explored (and where a tragic bus accident resulted in the deaths of 17 or so people yesterday).  That was too much effort for me, four subway transfers, so I strolled the mall and rooftop gardens for exercise and enjoyed the room and spent an extended period at the pool   SS arrived back mid-afternoon.  Despite the exact directions on Google he had gone all the way there only to end up exiting into a mall without any way to find the museum.  At least he got his steps in.  He also discovered that White Spot is in Hong Kong; except it’s called Triple O’s.  And he saw some interesting signage.   In the evening we went back to the harbour.  The crowds.  Sunday out.  NY around the corner.  Crazy.  We had a so-so dinner in one of the myriad restaurants at the pier, but the outlook was beautiful.     There was a lot of anticipatory celebration with New Year’s approaching.  Most of the commercial buildings emblazoned characters and displays across their facades, as shown in the (blurry) pics above.   The Peninsula had an array of lanterns hanging across the entrance.   A huge Chinese New Year’s pop-up sculpture on the waterfront had nine giant and 80 small koi, representing happiness and prosperity.   Home tomorrow.

La Grande Bouffe

      Saturday was quite beautiful (as the hazy weather in HK goes) and I was able to get a few decent view pics from the room, day and night.   The mish-mash above is the ludicrous design in the W foyer bar and a shot of the see-through elevators that connect the hotel with the mall.   They call me Mr. Gland: Downstairs first thing for our usual morning brew.  I remember in Sri Lanka how difficult it was for them to get the “e” in Glenn correct; it was always easier just to let people call me Canada.   Not being terribly familiar with Kowloon, outside the Elements mall, we decided to explore Nathan Road.  (The Elements, I think I haven’t posted, is like existing in J. G. Ballard’s High Rise, a vertical gated community.  In case of demonstrations or riots it could easily be barricaded off from the actual world.  There is vehicle access off a few ramps, underground parking, but no pedestrian access except through one minor overpass.  According to Wikipedia there is 1,000,000 square feet of space.  The mall serves thousand and thousands who live in all the various high-end skyscrapers that lie on the perimeter fortress style surrounding an inner courtyard; there is shopping in the mall, an ice rink, a multiplex--1600 seat cinema, largest in HK--access to the airport and metro trains, and security galore.  But you can’t ever simply walk out onto the street.  The mall private roof top gardens?  Yes, if you must get fresh air.  But you can’t walk away.  It’s like a cruise ship anchored in a city).   We noticed on the first day the generous seating areas at each of the public toilets in Elements; again, according to Wiki, these are ostensibly to provide a “decent and comfortable place” to allow gentlemen to wait for their girlfriends.  At any rate, Saturday morning, after much effort, we discovered the overhead pedestrian bridge to the real world and set out on foot.   Don’t know why SS didn’t shortlist this lovely hotel on Nathan Rd. with easy street access?   Nathan Road is sort of like if Yonge Street was as busy as it is at Queen and College and Bloor all the way to Barrie.  It’s that long but umpteen times more chaotic.  At the harbour there are cultural institutions, piers, high end hotels (the Intercon, Shangri-la, Peninsula, etc.).  But as you head down the avenue it gets distinctly less posh.  The authentic mingles with the knock-off, the common with the elite, Rolex fades to Casio as you wander deep down the avenue, and the crowds get denser, more intense and frantic.  Raw meat on hooks open air at a butcher, bags of clean and dirty laundry curbside, fish in makeshift ponds, and jewellery in a volume unseen since Debbie Harry’s Hairspray wig.   Hello Kitty.  Animals on Nathan Rd too, but mainly squeeze toy and teddies.   We did set out to find a couple of shops I’d sourced on Google but the malls were rabbit warrens, English signage non-existent, and we hit two dead ends.  Hawkers on the street and what I call the tailor peddlars (men tasked with snagging you in for a custom fitting) were particularly drawn to the two Caucasian males.  We did however exceed 20,000 steps on Stephen’s Fitbit.   We ended up at a pier on the water where there were good views of the working harbour and the Hong Kong island skyline.  The day was nicer than the pics indicate; about 21 tops but humid.       We had a tapas lunch at a place SS sourced and continued on with our trek.  At one point we stumbled into a mall where the cruise ships dock.   A Golden Retriever in Lego: This would look great at the Shi-Shi Palace. Wrap it with a gift tag please! In the collage above you can see a pic from the window at Gucci children; that is right next to Dolce children which is across from Armani children.  That's right, a whole mall dedicated to designer clothes for spoiled brats. Outside the mall was an ENORMOUS New Year's display.   The evening was a sort of bookend to the holiday.  We had a significant anniversary last year.  My gift was a meal at Attica, a much-lauded Melbourne restaurant and for which there is a Netflix show about the chef, but the sitting options didn’t work for my tennis schedule.  So instead SS booked us in at Amber, Dutch chef Richard Ekkebus’ marriage of French and Aisan cuisine, but mostly French; it occupies an entire floor at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.   Amber is a two-star Michelin restaurant and the #3 restaurant in Asia on the San Pellegrino best restaurant list and #24 on the same list for top 50 restaurants in the world.  We did not set out to eat ourselves to death, as the post title references, but we did come close.  This is, in general, not our style of restaurant or cuisine; but it’s also something that everyone should do once in their lives.   The menu has a couple of degustation offers (we chose the one without frog’s legs and sea urchin).   There were five amuse bouche morsels before the nine course meal.  Each amuse referenced a sense; there was sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.  The subtlety of each was supreme.  The little blob that looks like a curling stone was in fact duck foie gras covered in a light jelly with chestnut and truffle and celeriac and a dish you really could only get at a place like Amber.  In the menu proper they subbed two courses for me, the oyster and the langoustine were replaced with two spectacular veg options, heirloom tomatoes with tomato water and pickled rose petal and in the top left a picture of the other vegetarian sub for the oyster, globe artichoke with hedgehog mushrooms, truffle dressing and mushroom tea.  Each course with a dollop or drizzle wasn’t merely sauce; if you dipped the tyne of your fork in you could taste sensational depth, how, and how long it took to create these flavour notes is anyone’s guess.   The un-photogenic brown blob was in fact Wagyu beef with a ridiculous component of layered flavour from red onion skin and seaweed powder and a black currant shiraz reduction which was over the top.  The crab is on the right, watermelon, radish and other pickled goodies around it.  The other pic is a roasted parsnip with a feast of related flavours enveloped around it.  In the middle of the nine courses a small whole loaf of freshly baked artisan bread was delivered.  That in and of itself was a feat.   I chose the wine pairings for each course but SS instead chose the “Six Glasses of Burgundy” which was, to put it bluntly, a master class in some of the finest wines on the planet.  When on his third glass the steward poured a Chassagne Montrachet (a wine I’ve only had a couple of times in my life) I thought where will they go next?  Meursault; I forgot, I always forget—who can afford the crap?  Not for me to complain, the red that came with the beef was Brunello.   The main dessert, on the left, was chocolate and chocolate and caramel; the disk like objects were in fact just a dust of hazelnuts.  The tiny orange dots were hyper-flavourful passion fruit.  On the right, neither of us remember what the egg-like dish was (!), but the colourful bouquet of ice and fruit was a pre-dessert palate cleanser in a clementine theme and the tray of bonbons at top right were served at the end with the bill.  And yes, everyone at the table ate dessert.   At the end of the meal SS called Visa to get a credit limit increase.  Kidding.  But not by much…  

Bright Lights Big City

I shaved this morning and my Australia tan disintegrated into the sink.  Ditto SS.   This morning we woke up on the 33rd floor of the W Hong Kong.  It’s an uneven brand, as hotel chains go, but by gosh did they get it right in HKG.  We don’t have a suite or anything but our digs are superbly appointed and extremely well organized for the size.  The blue tooth through the HDTV is a plus.  As is the tiny night light embedded in the toilet paper dispenser—how clever is that?   The over-considered elevator bank on each floor is a bit overdone…   However, the rooftop pool and jacuzzi isn’t too shabby.  You press 76 on the elevator.  It’s not really the roof because a bank of offices in the same building rises up an additional 15 stories.  But who knows how many floors this hotel has, all the numbers are by luck.  You go to check-in on the sixth floor.  The elevator has no fours (no 24, 34, 44, etc.).   Oh, I thought I better post a collage of the Qantas lounge and Cathay flight SS took yesterday; hardships galore.   This morning we headed out of the room early and took breakfast in the Elements mall under the hotel.  It’s a bit of a warren; tentacles wind their way in a circular fashion, with, e.g., a fire wing, a metals wing.  The W ascends from the water wing.  Plus there are umpteen levels in each element.  We still haven’t figured out a way to get to street level (seriously) only the metro.  We are staying in Kowloon, which is a peninsula of mainland China, modern, upmarket.  Of course with direct access to the airport express it’s super convenient but last time, when we stayed in HK proper, it was a little more authentic.   So, in that vein, after a Starbucks, we took the train to Sheung Wan, the old un-gentrified but hip and fascinating neck of the woods on Hong Kong island.  We wandered the streets for a while just soaking in the old and new, the decrepit and modern, the haphazard and linear.   The great thing about Sheung Wan is that you can buy pretty much anything.  Antiques, modern art, crafty tat, groceries, a Vera Wang wedding dress; but watch where you step, there is a medieval element to the gutters.   Perhaps you had a few million in your pocket and wanted a sculpture from the Tang Dynasty?   Or maybe a remnant from a temple in what’s now Afghanistan circa 200 AD?   The skateboard is a few hundred thou.  Not kidding.   As per our last visit I am fascinated and somewhat disturbed by the common use of scaffolding high rises in bamboo.   Tony thinks of SS as Pantry Magic.  Oh, and friends by appointment only, how friendly is that?   Strictly speaking, not that Anglo.   Hand crafted in Beijing.   A favorite haunt from our last visit is the PMQ complex off Hollywood Rd.  The PMQ in Sheung Wan is a pretty cool arts centre, easy to drop a couple hours there.  It began as a school in the 1800s (Dr. Sun Yat-Sen studied there) then, after being bombed in WWII was converted into a barracks for married police officers.  Today it’s a hive of the local arts scene, six floors with open air hallways leading from boutique to boutique.     When it hit lunch we headed over to Pici.  It’s a hot past a joint where the locals queue 20 deep.   They have a set lunch for about $30 CDN.   After lunch we went to find the Spingle shop.  I have a pair of Spingles from Tokyo; they are the best runners on the planet, constructed with Kangaroo leather uppers and vulcanized rubber soles, they simply don’t wear out.  There is only one shop on the planet outside Japan where you can buy them and it’s in HKG.  It took us a long time to train to the mall, to even find the  mall, to battle the crowds on the street (walking in HKG is like playing Pac Man, there is no order to the chaos and just when you’ve navigated a dozen people, two dozen more appear in front of you).  Anyway, Spingles in HKG are twice the price of Japan so that was a dead end.   The day sort of disappeared.  It hit 19 but February is the coldest month of the year here and it was common to see the locals in down parkas despite the humidity rising to 80%.   Sake shop.  The cutest sake ever.   We were back at the hotel late afternoon.  I took a swim and a jacuzzi and watched the ferries, freighters and a couple of cruise ships navigate the inner harbour.   In the ultimate act of urban laziness we went downstairs for dinner.  SS referred to it as room service in a restaurant. The night lights from our room are much better than my Samsung can display; we look across at a pretty unattractive scraper called The Bridge but between the split towers there are special New Year's displays.  To the naked eye much more impressive than here...

ME Time: Thai Across Asia

This morning SS woke up, took a shower, walked out of the hotel, across the street, checked in at Cathay, had breakfast in the lounge, takes a seat up front, and then around five in the afternoon arrives in Hong Kong; he takes the airport train and a couple of stops later he checks in at the W, unpacks, and has an evening on the town.   But as we do all this glam travel on points, he takes that trip alone; it was broth without bread for me I guess.  Wait, no, there were enough points on Star Alliance to fly the long way round.  That’s the thing with these points programs, and us hedging our bets on both Aeroplan and BA. So bad news for me is I have to take a very long flight to Bangkok, then have a three-hour layover, then another short flight to Hong Kong.  I’ve learnt that the airline parlance for these indirect routings is “marriage routes” – you know, you type in Vancouver to Chicago on Aeroplan and it routes you through Denver with a six-hour layover.  But good news, if indeed it is good news, is that while he is flying effortlessly in biz, I’m making do in first.  Swimming pools, movie stars, the lot.   We were both out of the airport Rydges by 7:30 or so.  We walked over to the terminal and he checked in then we said goodbye as Thai was another ten-minute slog to check-in.  After security we met up again accidentally; the Aussies may be lax on domestic travel but international is another story, the undressing, the body scans, the wands checking for explosives, the beagles, and on and on.  Sydney has a pretty opulent international terminal.  I don’t think I’ve flown from there since our first trip to Australia decades ago. He was en route to the Cathay lounge while I took the seven minute walk into another wing.   Thai “invites” biz passengers to use the Air New Zealand lounge (shown in the collage above).  But because of my importance, my very special status, I also had access to Singapore and, when they scanned my boarding pass and saw that it was first class, a special sliding door opens and you enter a quiet enclave of international businessmen and wealthy Asians.  It’s like a secret Masonic handshake.   Singapore's SilverKris First lounge has an enormous amount of food and drink on offer, either self serve or off a menu with wait staff (and as with any Asian carrier, a lot of congee, noodles and savoury dishes that don’t appeal so much in the early hours).  In fact, all I ordered was fruit and yogurt.  Oh, and a glass of Veuve Clicquot.  Nothing else seemed right at 8:30 a.m.  It’s good to know, for the record, that even the poohbahs (when they order fruit salad) are still getting mainly melon.   I knew in advance that the coffee in Singapore was so-so and that you had to go next door to ANZ to get a proper flat white made by a real barista and really there is no better way to say goodbye to Australia than with a proper coffee, so after a tedious round of first class privilege I slummed over to ANZ.  It was crowded and noisy but large and airy and modern and, as business lounges go, rather good.   I headed downstairs to the gate for the 9:20 boarding.  There was general chaos, heaps of ground staff, at least a dozen wheel chairs, one issue after another.  But boarding began eventually.  All I had to do was walk in and turn left.  First is in the nose on the old 747s, ten seats in this version (of which five would be taken).  It would have been excruciating to climb the 11 stairs up to the second story.   The last time I flew Sydney to Bangkok was 1985, on Thai in economy, on a 747.  Who knows, maybe the same plane?  This was an old plane.  At least British has covered up the fact that their 747s are ancient by completely refitting the interiors, but this old dame felt beyond its prime.  AV was on one of those remote controls that you scroll through and the headset was three pronged (memories of CP Air anyone?).  No personal air vents.  Still, first world problems, right?    While the hard product, as the bloggers call it, left something to be desired, the soft product was superb.  Staff all introduced themselves to us in broken English and made sure they were correctly saying our names.  They explained the service and made us comfortable.  We had an extended boarding and a half hour on the tarmac; I’d already had a drink and read a Vanity Fair before we finally got the get-go.  Who knew that John Krasinski wasn’t as good an actor as his wife Emily Blunt?  No wonder VF is half the thickness it used to be.   One of the attendants who showed me the spelling of her Thai name (which was a cross between papaya and Stan Wawrinka) told me I could call her Anne.  She asked if I’d like a pair of pajamas.  I said yes, medium.  She took a moment, sighed, and suggested large.  I mean she did it as diplomatically as possible.  But word is out: It’s been a month off the diet and there is no hiding now.  I hear there is a Spanx boutique in Hong Kong. I changed before takeoff; 10 seats with two loos.   First service (as they called it) was an extended affair.  Lunch I guess you and I would call it.  They advertised on the menu Dom Perignon 2006 but in fact were pouring 2009.  This was of course very upsetting; I’ll have to post something online later.  The first bits and pieces were some amuse bouche canapes on toasts.  A huge bread basket, a temptation of carbs, was placed on my tray like some sick lab rat experiment.  And get this, it came with butter but also half a baked garlic.  Has anyone, in any cuisine, ever experienced that?  I actually asked the staff what it was for and they told me to spread it on the bread.  That was followed by 2500 calories in warm macadamia nuts.  Caviar on ice next with all the traditional trimmings, perfectly presented in a crescent dish nestled into a plate; my rule on caviar is similar to my rule on champagne (avoid buying it at all costs but never say no when offered).  They had a bottle of chilled Stoli which they brought around with the caviar and, you know, I get it, that’s the experience, but it wasn’t even noon Sydney time.   Then came an hors d’oeuvre of crayfish, scallop and duck with some caper mayonnaise.  The soup, the Thai soup, was rather excellent, sweet and sour, lemongrass and basil and chili.  Probably my favorite dish.  From what I could see the others ordered a western main but I ordered the Thai pork curry which rather flummoxed the staff and in the end I found out why: The curry comes with rice, broccoli, carrots, pork sausage, omelette, pepper, shallot and chili sauce.  That was a ton of food.   I said no to cheese.  I said no to fruit.  But both presentations looked lovely.  They came around with some very minor dessert offerings and a I had a small berry crumble tart with tea.  There were more changes of cutlery and service tweaks than you could imagine.  Truthfully, no one needs that much food, but flying is boring and it was entertaining and ate up a third of the flight.  (Although, thank goodness for the breath spray in the Rimowa amenity kit; raw onion on caviar, garlic on bread and wine in combination are like the old Scope mouthwash ad in the 70s for those of you who remember.)   The bed was superb, the mattress pad really comfortable, the ambiance a little hot (Asian carriers are generally too warm, North American carriers generally too cold) and when I woke up after a short siesta there were some Ferrero Rocher beside me (the least tempting chocolates known to humanity; I’d rather have a Twizzler).   On the drinks menu there is a quaint typo.  They remark that their bar is constantly adjusting according to vintages, that it is selected by experts for their premium passengers served on a “routation” basis.  I like that.    The second meal service was a bit of a bomb.  Some soup (OK), and a choice of chicken satay or pasta.  I saw the American turn his pasta back and it seemed too heavy anyway, but the satay was dry and tasteless.  I took a pass on dessert.   We landed early in Bangkok but, get this, deplaned on the tarmac.  That is crazy for a 747 packed full and landing at the hub terminal.  Anyway, I was first off the plane, a first I think in my life, and a woman at the bottom had a sheet with the five names of the first class passengers and the five of us were escorted into a bus, and whisked off, while all the rest crammed into the remaining convoy.  We drove forever.  We could have been in Koh Samui by the time we got off that bus.  Then the few of us who were transferring were escorted on a golf cart, and fast tracked through security, then taken into the first class lounge.   A bevy of women in traditional dress were all over me.  Do I want a massage, will I eat, drink, what do I want to read.    I took a shower, in a pretty elegant shower room supplied with Occitane, then was shown to my own private lounge.  Seriously.  Sofa, two chairs, work desk, TV.   For the final leg I’m slumming it in business.  There just wasn’t any first class product to get me to HKG.  Oh well, the good life has its limits.  The collage above shows the standard A330 biz class configuration common on short haul, a pretty basic Thai dinner, and arriving at the spectacularly huge Hong Kong Airport.   I’ve only flown first three times, with Cathay being the ultimate and British being pretty mediocre (they don’t even call their pajamas pajamas, they call them sleepers…).  This was wonderful but if you were making the effort I think you’d want to be aboard a newer craft.

A Change is Gonna Come

  Great picture.  I forgot to post that the day after MONA in Hobart.  I can’t recall the artist exactly, my recollection is he was into “architectural modelism” but had no architecture training.  There were beautiful modernistic renderings of towns and town centres.   Nothing much to blog about today.  The ginormous Celebrity Constellation and hefty Holland America Noordam had both docked overnight resulting in teeming hordes of tourists around the hotel.  We had to check out of our dream room and return the rental car before 1 p.m. to avoid incurring another day’s expense.  That left us with three hours before our flight; you basically can’t fly anywhere internationally from Tasmania and if you are flying internationally you almost always have to connect overnight in Melbourne or Sydney—so we are, in Sydney.  I spent an hour of our airport time trying to download an app to use the Virgin WiFi entertainment system--unsuccessfully.  Then on board they gave me an iPad so in the end it didn't matter and I watched the very silly Borg McEnroe movie.  By the time we got to Sydney it was evening; we caught a free transfer from the domestic terminal to an airport hotel.   Hobart is a tarmac airport.  Jets were arriving, being deplaned, luggage was coming and going, fuel trucks were refuelling, it was total organized chaos and amazing how adept the Aussies were at managing it all.   Leaving Tassie.   A basic airplane meal of chicken satay; arriving in NSW; checking out the departure terminal for exercise where several young Asians were stomping on their luggage to fit more in; our super basic hotel for an airport overnight and the view towards the runway.   Nothing fancy to blog about here.  But the beauty is that tomorrow morning SS and I can walk across the street to the international terminal and check in within 10 minutes of checking out.

Canadian Convicts, Tasmanian Devils and an Old Brew

I neglected to write about our ferry trip yesterday (vis-à-vis BCF).  There was one ferry employee at the island on departure (it’s a pay on the mainland free return like Salt Spring Crofton).  There was one deckhand directing traffic on the ferry; the captain helped (the captain helped load traffic!).  The captain ran into a foot passenger who was an old friend so they went up to the helm together.  We were first in line so could see it all and, as they roped open the door to the steering room for a breeze virtually anyone could have walked in and piloted the ship by force.  They chatted the whole way, which was amusing that sixty cars and minibuses were put at risk while the captain did “two things” at once…  When we arrived the one deckhand put down the ramp on his own, no terminal staff, he even walked down the ramp and opened the gate.  The foot passengers were not clear when we drove off.  And the amazing thing about it all was that they do that every half hour every day and no one gets run over, drowns or is maimed.  Plus they ran on time.   This morning was another beautiful day.  Freakishly perfect in fact with not even a whisper of cloud cover.  The bay (which is essentially the River Derwent basin) was like glass.  It eventually reached 25, so our hottest day in Tassie too.  We decided to stay in town.  The island looks small and everything looks close but in fact as with all things Australian distance is often deceiving and I was ready for a day on legs not a bucket seat.   The top shot shows our hotel and working pier taken from the southwest.  The pic below it if you can squint and see my crappy picture, is of an historical photo of the same wharf about 100 years ago.   Curated pulp fiction. Old signage.   We spent the morning wandering the Salamanca/Battery Point neck of the woods which initially served as a fortress against, e.g., French and American whaling ships, then became a rather tony enclave of homes, and is now a mostly gentrified inner city hood with quaint shops and colonial era inns.   SS commented that if you were to remove a few bits of flora (and the ad hoc remnant of wallaby poop) you pretty much have a British village.   Did you know that in 1837-8 in Canada (in what is now Ontario) there were political rebellions which led to “radicals” being sentenced to death and over 90 political prisoners being sent to (what is now) Tasmania?  I thought all the convicts came from the UK.  Not so.  This very crappy picture (the worst pictures are taken on the most beautiful days) is one of a couple Hobart memorials to the Canadians.   I spent some time at the local museum, where SS had dropped in a few days ago, to see their Tasmanian Devil exhibit.  Not a canine, not a feline, a marsupial of course.  Much maligned and misunderstood (I, for one, grew up on Tas, the ludicrous Loony Toons concept animal), and considered a vile predator by many early settlers and farmers.    The TD is in fact a social carnivore, particularly useful in an eco system where they can live off dead prey and the weakest of the flock; nowadays a farmer is more likely to leave a maimed (dead) animal out in the field for the TDs to feast on then set a trap to eradicate the lot.  Their bared teeth actually indicate a stress yawn and their feverish tiger like growls are in fact not aggressive but in satisfaction, say eating a fresh kill.    I’ve reposted a sign I took a pic of and posted last week with the “historical” devil sign.  Amazing the difference.  Until 2010 the TD signs portrayed the animals as vicious and a menace; it was common to take potshots at the signs.  Once they revised the signs to make the animals look social and acceptable attitudes changed overnight.   We took a late breakfast on the harbour then a cab to the Cascade brewery.  I didn’t even know Cascade existed until the time we took the train Sydney to Perth and it was served in the bar car.  But it is in fact Australia’s second oldest continually operating business (a bank, of course, is the oldest).   The enterprise began in the 1800s by an English settler who convinced the local government to cede him 2,000 acres above Hobart where a stream ran through a valley; the plan was to open a logging mill, use the water to provide energy, and the local forest as fodder for his enterprise.  While he did in fact open a logging mill, the used water flowing from it, followed by the contributions from a tannery further downstream, led to some fetid results and a lack of clean water for Hobart residents.  Instead, he transitioned his mill to a brewery and, I guess, the result is history.   The building looks like the front to a sanitarium in a gothic novel.  It is an architectural hodge podge.  The first few floors were built by convicts from sandstone quarries, made into local brick, and cobbled together in piecemeal fashion.  When the mill converted to brewing and needed more space for vats, they added on floors with another type of brick.  Then, over time, the back of the brewery was expanded and modified to accommodate modernization.  It really is like a film lot, with an historical front and bits and bobs out back.   Beautiful beer garden; forget the tour and just go for lunch.   Spanish chestnut, poplar, cedar, fir, oak, cherry, eucalyptus.  What country am I in?   The tour was fine, more anecdotes than information, and of course afterwards there was free drinks in their really lovely beer garden, literally a garden with beer, not simply picnic tables on paving stones.  Cascade beer fun fact: The only brewery in Australia using mountain water; all the rest are on mains.  In the collage above two pics are the bottling plant; the lower right is the original entrance crafted from sandstone by convicts.  In order to keep the horse drawn carriages then, and lorries now, from eroding the gate pillars, you'll see a small piece of black steel as a guide.  There are two actually, one on both side, both cannons from war ships that ended up in the scrap heap in the 1820s, still remaining today as guideposts.   Invalid stout: loaded up with iron for the expectant mum! The one historical factoid that is really worth repeating is the brewery tradition of providing workers with free beer.  The bell rang five times a day: start of workday, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, end of day.  Each break workers were given the opportunity for free beer.  Grab a mug and drink away, then return to work.  That old custom remained in place for many years.  Until when?  The turn of the 20th century?  WWI?  Maybe American prohibition or WWII or the 1950s perhaps when the infamous Aussie “six o’clock swill” was repealed through longer bar hours?  No.  It remained in place until 1993 when Carlton bought the family enterprise and corporate poohbahs couldn’t believe the tradition of drinking on the job.  (But they still give workers free beer on payday and, get this: every Friday at quitting time employees can drink draft at the tasting room for two full hours on the company’s dime.)  As SS put it, there is a Newfoundland streak in the Tassies; self-deprecating but also staunchly independent and not prone to radical change.   We walked back to the centre on a public path which followed the “rivulet” that passes through the brewery.  You pass the “female factory” which is a UNESCO site where female convicts were conscripted to a workhouse.  Then you wend your way back into the CBD. Some of the local architecture along the rivulet, as per the pic above, is interesting if quirky.   We spent some time in the marina area before returning to the hotel and taking dinner in the hotel restaurant, which looks out from the wharf across the bay.   For dinner we just went downstairs to the hotel’s “Wharf” restaurant.  The collage shows their lounge, some seared kingfish and a delectable eggplant main.  It was modern Australian and very good but not necessarily as refined as some of the outposts we’d made an effort to book over the last week.  The deuce beside us were two older bejewelled dames, one wealthy ex-pat from Hobart who has spent the last 40 years living in Palm Beach, Florida, and regaled me with tales of famous colleagues and fine hotels and investments gone awry; her Cartier jewelry was only mildly distracting but her nail polish told another story altogether.  SS did his best to talk to her childhood friend Jean, well pearled from a successful career in real estate and only modestly compromised by two hearing aids and a walker.  There was, I think fortunately, no expectation for a waltz.  We made our excuses shortly after nine.  

Goin’ South

We did art Sunday so it was only suitable to do nature Monday.  And we did nature as far south as, I guess, we'll ever be.   Antarctica isn’t on the bucket list.  Although we’ve done Argentina and Chile we took a pass on Patagonia.  So, short of an exile, I think we’ve gone about as far south as either of us will ever go in our lives.  I mean, when it comes to any land mass at this latitude, if you exempt the ice to the south there’s only Tasmania and Patagonia.   We started the day by driving about 35 kms south to Kettering for the ferry; you know the place—you pass Margate, the Electrona Industrial Park then Snug (and Lower Snug).  Easy.  In the summer the ferry leaves every half hour; one is called Mirambeema and the other, wait for it, the Bowen.  Except for all the eucalypts, it wasn’t much different than arriving at Pender Island.   Bruny Island is a sort of tourist slash foodie slash day-tripper slash camper van off the grid sort getaway.  We had a preconceived notion of Salt Spring but in fact while the land mass is the size of Singapore, and there is a distillery, a cider works, a brewery, a vineyard, a cheesemaker, a berry farm, and a substantial national park, only 650 people live on the island.  It was really like Salt Spring Island 40 years ago.   We drove north first, to the furthest point on the “Iron Pot” called Dennes Point.  There was a nice café and we had breakfast, fabulous flat whites, and a bit of a poke.  I thought of Brent when I saw the interior wood pile.   Views of Bull Bay, a beach on the east.  After breakfast we drove south past Bull Bay, Great Bay, the Isthmus Bay, and deep into the southernmost reaches of the South Bruny National Park.   Trumpeter Bay.  It’s after Bull Bay but before Great Bay.  Remember, there’s a quiz at the end.   As we approached the southernmost point, I shot a couple of pics of the sensational views.   After a very long and arduous drive we pulled into the tiny lot at the south end of the island.  Here we hiked up to the Cape Bruny Lighthouse with its spectacular views over Standaway Bay and beyond to the Southern Ocean.   After a long, awesome break here, we headed back on the unmarked roads.  Can you tell which direction is which?  Just remember to keep to the left; the left, by the way, is not the right side, the right side in Australia is the left side…   Just to emphasize how far south we went, Telus sent me a text at lunch “welcoming” me back to Australia!    On our route back you pass the Cloudy Bay Lagoon.  The lagoon on, say, Gilligan’s Island, always sounded so safe and glamorous, but in reality a lagoon is a bit of a septic system for the ocean, still, buggy, smelly and just a saltwater bog.   We stopped at the local vineyard for lunch.  We both had burgers.  What you see is a local lamb and wallaby burger.  The local brewery made an absolutely superb hoppy malty ale with 2.8% alcohol, positively a dream for a DD.  We had a very relaxing nosh.   After lunch we headed back into another part of the national park on the east side of the island, where the waters are turquoise, the sand white, and the views reminded us of the British Virgin Islands.   This shot is of Adventure Bay, from a distance, which lies on the east side of the isthmus, which they call The Neck.  Keeping track?   When we got to the other part of the park we did a hike past where Captain Cook landed.   This hike looked back over Adventure Bay, Cool Point and Blighs Rocks, gorgeous spots all.   Someone’s been busy.  Faux inuksuk beach.   We caught a late afternoon ferry back, waded through rush hour traffic, then walked up to a tiny little highly rated resto called Templo.  As you know I am not a fan of a chef’s menu but given this was a temple to pasta we went all in.   There were some particularly good dishes including a wood smoked carrots on buttermilk with cumin and hazelnuts, ling cod with pine nuts, and a (not photographable) sensational mini gnocchi with pork ragu.  Four deuces, a communal table for ten, and the bar; teensy.  Two sittings.  That’s sorted.   There is free guest laundry at the hotel; time to get back to the room!  

The Compulsion to Create

We took breakfast at a really authentic bakery (in the Jim Lahey style ) called Pigeon where they made the most delicious Eccles cakes.  We passed a restaurant on the pier playing contemporary jazz to keep the boarders and ne’er do wells away, and, hand on God, witnessed a seagull doing the moonwalk.  Then, more or less, first thing, to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, a relatively new complex on the river Derwent quite a clip outside of town.  It’s pretty much top of the list for Tassie tourists and locals alike, bursting at the seams by the time we left early aft.   You could take a ferry from the pier where our hotel is, to a dock seventy steps down from the museum, but we drove.    Surrounded by vineyards and bordered by water on one side you would expect the best, but the exterior was not inviting in any respect.    In fact, the entrance, pictured above (a mirrored wall) was of a "considered dissonance" to put it kindly, and more of an affront than a welcome.   Inside, however, it was a different experience altogether.  Much of the museum lies underground or wedged into the rocky outcrop; you traverse spiral staircases, tunneled walkways and a mish-mash of rooms that are disorienting and not afar from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.  A beautiful lounge with a tapas bar extended out onto a rocky beach.   But the work speaks volumes.  The old and new aspects are sometimes metaphorical but sometimes, as in the above two pictures, literal, where you have ritual figures of antiquity from Auvergne next to early 20th century American armless carvings.   As you descend to the main galleries you pass a room with a mummified tomb of Pausirus (100 BCE).  Cleverly (or not) the tomb is set on a concrete walkway surrounded by water, so only a couple of people are permitted in the room a time; here SS traverses the paving stones around the pool to the tomb.   Another massive installation adorns a wall over two floors, 1600 individual drawings in collage.   When you reach the bottom level there was a water installation called Bit Pop by Julius Fall that spanned nearly three levels. My pictures may not do it justice, but as the water fell it formed words, ad hoc, and then trickled into space; it was powerful and ephemeral in one breath and weirdly hypnotizing.   Another unusual and captivating piece was called Bounty by Patrick Hall which was a construction of real bones representing the ocean.   The current exhibit at the museum has a theme of lesser known or unrecognized artists.  Naifs, hermits, ex-soldiers, stone forgers, pastors, priests, beauticians, collectors, obsessives, free hand artists, typographers, cartoonists, inventors, politicos.  In short, people compelled to be artists, not just names.  In this vein:   Two rooms focused on pastors and their biblical art; these “preaching plates” from 1958.   An artist, Morton Bartlett, obsessed with young mannequins.   Andre Robillard’s 23 guns and rocket launchers.   Hans-Jorg Georgi’s 24 cardboard airplanes.   At one point we queued for “an experience” in a room called Event Horizon by an artist called James Turrell.  Basically, about seven of us took off our shoes, surrendered our devices, put on white sockettes, and then entered a large room of rounded white walls and various lighting coordinates, where there was a staff person in a white smock who looked at the ground and ensured we didn’t touch the walls or sit, and there we stood for 16 or so minutes, as the lights changed colour and, on occasion, strobes went off.  It was a little bit Woody Allen’s Sleeper and a little bit Kubrick's 2001.  Ho hum on the hallucinatory experience but en route, you pass through a light hallway, pictured above, which was (for me) totally disorienting and weirdly uncomfortable.  The pic doesn’t do the size justice, as it was about 10 feet wide and 16 high.   I can’t remember the details, but a Russian ex-soldier focused on recreating historical soldiers, to the tune of an army of nearly 2,000.   Was everything great?  No.  No, no, no. Lot’s but not all.  Take, e.g., this collage:   The skeletons, well, let’s just say they speak for themselves.  The hanging devices, Cloaca, by “radical” Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye, is essentially a poop machine which, when provided with food at one end will, on a daily basis (at 2 p.m. to be exact) produce some fecal matter.  I am not kidding.  And as for the tea cart, that was a bit twee: When you exit the basement you go through a screen door into what elsewhere would be a standard museum shop but here has an older woman (your mum) offering to serve you tea.  For free.  Hmmmm.   But the good far outweighed the crap.  The crap.  Geddit?   One of my absolute favorites were 12 exquisite, intricate and inexplicable “doodles” by an artist who drew them while working at a call centre.     That's the wall outside the tea shop...  We had lunch on the grounds at a café at a picnic table in the shade; salmon on greens and Spanish omelette.  Then we drove back the hotel, dropped off the car, and walked into north Hobart.   Can you tell what city you’re in?  Bristol?  Newcastle?  Milton Keynes?   We ran into an old guy who had a 1910 FN (Fabrique Nationale) motorbike who had driven it across Asia and Europe, from Nepal to the UK, not dissimilar to what I did in 1985 except he skipped Africa (!), but of course we were in a reconditioned Bedford.  No Room for Watermelons was his published diary.     In the evening we headed out to another “hot” Hobart restaurant, Dier Makr.  They do a degustation menu, not really my thing, but on Sunday it’s simpler and a la carte.  We ate a sensational small dinner for not very much. For starters, pictured, buratta, rhubarb chutney and pickled cucumber, and anchovies in lemon.  We sat at the kitchen so to speak; the chef knew the chef at Farmer's Apprentice, two blocks from my office.  Small world.  
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