February 3, 2018
Friday morning, February 2, looked a little bleak; cloudy and mild and looking like it might rain; but we are only here for a couple of nights so it was onwards and upwards. Outside it turned out warm. And, in fact, hit 23. Plus the cloud cover probably kept us more active than if it had been full on sun. We drove to Freycinet National Park, the Banff of Tasmania. It was as the bird flies a few clicks, but 56 km by car, as we had to head north of Moulting Lagoon then south again. On our way we passed the Devil’s Corner vineyard where a lookout, constructed on shipping containers, beckoned a few view shots south across Great Oyster Bay. Once at Freycinet, we parked in the centre, then took the path to a lookout over Wineglass Bay, then the (well worn and heavily trafficked Grouse Grind-like) path down to the beach. Famous for its clear waters and white sand, it was perhaps a bit of a letdown on a cloudy day, but still the surf was impressive and some locals dared the undertow. Granite mountains rose up off the bay. We had PB & banana sandwiches which, as any hiker knows, always taste epicurean on a hike. Most tourists only go to the lookout; those that go all the way down to Wineglass beach retrace their steps and are done with it in less than two hours. But there is an alternative return, making the whole trip 11 kms (as opposed to two); we chose the longer loop back. This longer option took us across an isthmus, past the Hazards Lagoon, then to a beach on the east side of Wineglass called Hazards Beach on Promise Bay. From there you walk the beach a ways then veer upwards on the Hazards Beach Track past Fleurie Point, through the forest, and after an extended period, back to the car park. A wallaby jumped across the path at one point scaring the bejesus out of us, but apart from that it was lovely and serene if wholly taxing and despite the cloud cover very sweaty work. SS descending the steps to Hazards Beach. A huge private yacht moored at Promise Rock. There was a moment of free state WiFi at the visitor’s centre and there we learned of Kyle and Emilia’s Danish Love Fest, which was surprising and amusing but also comforting given our remoteness. On our return we drove north 20 kms; of the three local towns, Swansea, Coles Bay and Bicheno, only one has a butcher, so we headed north to Bicheno. (Or, as the locals say, butchery.) Bicheno had the feel of an authentic town with people living and working there, not just day-trippers; the beach, in the centre, was lively and looked worth a swim. The clouds had parted and the sun was shining and it was a lovely afternoon, if breezy. We kicked back for the rest of the day.
January 29, 2018
Yesterday when I was at the tennis SS went to the National Gallery of Victoria which had a free evening at the current show titled Triennial Extra. There was art, DJs, bars, food, ideas, dance, design. He saw a lot of cool stuff. But none of what he saw was better than RF taking his XX grand slam… Monday morning. Tennis is over. The jetsetters are on the move. We checked out of the hotel before nine and were chauffeured to the elegant and luxe Terminal 4 at Melbourne: Solely serving low-cost air carriers (Jetstar, the Qantas version of Rouge, Tiger Air, etc.). The great thing about this, though, was there was no pretension. You check-in yourself, you tag your luggage, you weigh your luggage, if you’ve paid for your luggage the conveyer takes your luggage, etc. It’s like self check-out at the grocery. Then security, then a food court and shopping mall, then to the gate. And at the gate you cross the tarmac to your flight. Fact: McDonald’s at Melbourne T4 was selling macarons. Seriously. Here are some interesting things about flying domestic in Australia: 1. You can travel with liquids. Water, an open bottle of water, all your sundries, whatever. No restrictions. No Ziploc bag. 2. You don’t need ID. They never checked. You just need a boarding pass. 3. In security, no undressing; only laptops have to come out of your carry on. We walked out to gate 44 for our flight; they boarded off the tarmac with a rear and a front staircase. We were in the front row, which meant nothing really in terms of service or legroom, it was one of those A320 monsters with three and three. Less than an hour in the air; they came through with a beverage cart for purchase then, before you knew it, we’d landed; why they took us up to 33,000 feet is anyone’s guess. Collage shows departure in Melbourne, arrival at Launceston. Picked up the rental Toyota at Launceston airport then checked into a lovely Air BNB slash inn type of place which sits over top of a local bakery on a quiet drag in the sort of centre of town. Kitchenette, fully stocked, sofa, bed, about 650 sq feet, nice light, great bathroom. We had lunch at a local near our room; smashed avocado on toast and eggplant parmigiana covered in an arugula salad. We did a mosey through town. It was hot and humid; we expected Tasmania to be cool, but it was 31 upon arrival and sticky. It did rain, mostly lightly with locals just getting sprinkled. A few harder downpours which suddenly let up. Everyone seemed to be happy with a bit of precip. It was like the rain in Hawaii, not the rain in YVR. This church, Chalmers, built in 1895, now a design studio. So it goes. We took dinner down the street at a place called Geronimo where we shared grilled vegetables, salad and pizza. Smith's Original!
January 23, 2018
Caught an Uber to the airport. It took a mere 17 minutes at the speed limit. Central business district to the suburban airport. There is a tunnel that virtually skirts the city, the traffic, but is also a vortex in its never ending arc to nowhere. First time ever flying Qantas. Extravagant, I know, but used points for a biz class fair Brisbane to Melbourne. Went to check in and it said “see attendant.” So I did. And he checked me in. Then I went to the lounge because I was starving and hadn't eaten and that’s when I discovered I was in cattle class. The reason they told me was that the flight was over-booked and I’d been bumped. Go figure. I’d booked in one class and Qantas had put me in another. I said I wasn’t very happy but what can you do? Such first world problems. I got into the lounge at least and the spread was exceptional, fruit, eggs, smoothies, a barista churning out flat whites. I checked at the gate if there was any chance to end up up front but, as they say on Little Britain, “computer says no.” Had a wonderful “lunch” on board which was a sausage roll. Hey, at least Qantas is still serving a semblance of food. Two hour flight but 45 minutes to get luggage on the carrels in Melbourne. As part of the tennis package I got an airport transfer; ah the self-importance that washes over you when you see a chauffeur in a suit and tie holding a sign with your name on it. A Mercedes to boot. The hotel is expensive which I write only to state that nothing much about it is particularly great; we’ve stayed in the Sofitel in London which is exceptional, the Sofitel in NYC which was very nice, but the Melbourne Sofitel is desperately in need of an overhaul. It does boast an enviable location (being a 15 minute easy walk to the tennis); the room however is on the small side, basic with a chillingly sharp view from the 41st floor which only makes me think of Towering Inferno, not Green Acres. The air is so thin they should dispense oxygen masks. It’s the Tokyo style of hotel; mall and commercial at street; office for thirty stories, hotel at the top. As shown in the collage above, the interior centre is one large atrium, very past the due date. For no reason I can discern, there are costumes from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, on display by the elevator bank. My tennis package doesn’t start until Thursday but upon arrival the coordinator had an unused day session on her person which was offered and which I greedily snapped up. Second row. Dimitrov loses in the quarters to UK's Kyle Edmund; only the sixth UK man to make it through a grand slam quarter. Did I mention it was the second row? Dimitrov receiving from Edmund. After the match I checked out the grounds which were bursting with activity; concerts, play areas, bars and kiosks, a zip line. A zip line! What would they think at Wimbledon? After all was said an done I was back at the hotel halfway through the Cilic victory over Nadal which, alas, I had to catch on TV. The bed was comfortable and I forgot about the 41 story drop. Small mercies.
January 23, 2018
Started with a four lap swim in The Johnson's 50 meter fifth floor swimming pool. Nearly died! Hot and alternately cloudy and sunny and overall wonderful in Brisbane (which, to be fair, I expected to be more crass, flash and glitz than it was. Architecturally it was actually more interesting than YVR). Re-connected with my Oz friend Glenn after more than 30 years (!). We headed out in the AM to Mt. Coot-tha, the highest peak in the state. It was weird how quick we were out of the city and into the bush. At the top of the mountain are beautiful views north, west and south. Don't let the clouds fool you; it was plenty hot. I had to, twice, take a European shower (that's when, instead of changing your sweaty shirt, you just spritz more cologne). After coffee and a wander at the top, we drove down to the botanical garden, which runs over several hectares at the bottom (and dwarfs the older, smaller, inner city bot garden). A bottle tree on the left. Figs growing up the trunk of an Asian fig on right. Heliconia, a beautiful bird of paradise-like flowering plant. Flowering ginger. Nardoo. A floating fern that looks like a floating four leaf clover. Indigenous Australians ate the plant fresh as well as grinding parts into a flour; alternately, many Europeans died from eating it. Vanilla pods. No wonder pure vanilla is at risk of extinction. In the afternoon we walked the rejuvenated riverfront which has been reimagined in a livelier, more interesting version of Vancouver’s Yaletown, replete with a beach. A shaded walkway shrouded in bougainvillea lines a lovely path which wends a few clicks past park, ponds and cafes. Later in the afternoon we caught a movie then walked into Fortitude Valley and Newstead, diverse neighbourhoods which mix industry, gentrification and the quaint. We ate at an old gasworks, redeveloped as an open concept living and eating neighbourhood. Rolling pins on the ceiling; that was an idea that sounded good on paper. I chose the lamb and passed on the snaps. Remnants of the gasworks, a la Yaletown's roundhouse.
November 20, 2017
It's about an hour SE of SFO on the 280. Sunday, November 19: We had to wrap it all up by early afternoon for the flight home. Awoke to another spectacular sunny mild perfect fall morning. We took an Uber into an undeveloped section of Mission where there was a (well worth it) 30 minute wait for Tartine Manufactory where we shared an egg sandwich on a soft bun with greens and ham, and a smoked salmon tartine with pickled onions, cream cheese and meyer lemon. Then coffee and a scone. Next door things were hopping at Heath pottery for a pre-Black Friday 20 per cent off sale. We joined the hordes for a few SFO-unique take homes. [caption id="attachment_5000" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] Pics from Paxton Gate "ethically sourced" taxidermy[/caption] Then a longish walk to Valencia, up and down the heart of Mission, where the shopping ranges from urban revolt to taxidermy. At about 7,000 steps we detoured to the BART back downtown. Had late checkout at the W before an Uber to SFO. [caption id="attachment_5003" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] I kid you not. That's a six year old Golden Retriever in economy class.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5004" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] Above the "blue and windy sea." Sayonara.[/caption]
November 20, 2017
[caption id="attachment_4982" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] The "carbuncle" which is the de Young[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4981" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] The most spectacular views in SFO are from the tower at the de Young in Golden Gate Park[/caption] Saturday, November 17, 2017: Up pretty early, Nespresso in room, snack from Starbucks, then Uber to Golden Gate Park to visit the de Young Museum. The Teotihuacan show was spectacular. Spectacular. Objects from an unearthed tunnel, unseen for 1700 years, pillaged reliefs never displayed for the public, chunks of pyramids and relics from the long lost Street of the Dead. Nina enjoyed the regular collection, including a Maori Portrait show. Snack in the museum café sculpture garden. Upstairs: Best collection of African and South Pacific artifacts I’ve ever seen. [caption id="attachment_4983" align="aligncenter" width="756"] Incense burner lid. Just the lid. C. 350 AD.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4985" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Fire god sculpture, C. 150 AD[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4986" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] Small exquisitely intricate figurines of women in headdresses which emphasize the burdens upon them and the tears of the work required of them[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4988" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Avian effigy vessel C. 250 AD.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4987" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] Incense holder. Very, very elaborate incense holder![/caption] [caption id="attachment_4989" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] A collage of spectacular reliefs savagely looted by opportunistic archaeologists in the 18 C, then bequeathed to an SFO museum, then repatriated to Mexico, then restored, and on display for the public for the first time since antiquity. The serpent, over top of trees replete with roots, tells a story for which all Teotihuacan residents could recognize themselves—i.e., as some part of the social order.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4990" align="aligncenter" width="822"] Seated figurines taken from the Moon Pyramid burial, C. 250 AD.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4991" align="aligncenter" width="2172"] This life size figure is marble. It would have been adorned in obsidian and other jewels. When the Street of the Dead was burnt, when the Teotihuacan culture imploded with an uprising against the elites, he was looted and burnt and resurrected by archaeologists from over 80 fragments.[/caption] After the Mexican show a skinny around the rest of the galleries, the most impressive of which was definitely the African and South Pacific collections. [caption id="attachment_4994" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] Clockwise from top left: Funerary statue, Indonesia, ancestral figures and masks from Cameroon.[/caption] Around noon we took the #5 bus down Fulton towards the downtown. Something of a “local experience” if you get my drift. I opened the window and did my best to bear it. Walked extensively through the Hayes Valley neighborhood window shopping, Nina picked up a snag at Timbuk2, we lunched at Absinthe, a lovely classic French bistro, where a gem lettuce in tarragon dressing and burger and fries and chocolate pot a crème went down a treat. Later we wandered up to Fillmore and cabbed to Pacific Heights where we shopped amongst elites in quaint overpriced boutiques on quiet residential streets, then ambled back to Fillmore for another round of window shopping. Got some swag at Ministry of Supply. Hit 10,600 steps sometime around four, so cabbed back to the W for pre-dinner downtime. Back to Pacific Heights for dinner at SPQR. We had seats at the bar (to the restaurant) where the well-oiled machine of chefs and sous chefs turned out plates of simple antipasti to $72 portions of Wagyu beef. A beet salad with chicken roulade was a star starter followed by a couple of pastas, the standout a bucatini with gorgonzola and fresh walnuts. A donut for desert, with sautéed apple and caramel and crème fraiche was ludicrous. House made marshmallows with the cheque. Uber back. [caption id="attachment_4995" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] A "donut" and some half eaten appetizers. Watching the chefs at SPQR.[/caption]
November 20, 2017
[caption id="attachment_4961" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] A whole exit row to myself![/caption] November 17, 2017: A weekend away in San Fran. Passing through US Customs at seven in the morning at YVR. Agent asks me why I’m going to San Francisco. I say there’s a show on at a museum I want to see. He says, and I quote, “Look at you Mr. Intelligence.” A half decent Friday morning in Vancouver with, unfortunately, a thirty-minute navigation system upgrade which set us back off the tarmac. Nina and I spent the best $25 of our lives, with exit row seats and no seat companions. Spread out on the "divan" and watched a movie. A glorious day in San Fran. Mild, sunny, blue sky. Cabbed into the hotel which gave us our room early. We set out promptly. All the way next door to the SFMOMA, SFO’s version of MOMA. The two special events were a Walker Evans retrospective and 30 years of Robert Rauschenberg. [caption id="attachment_4965" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Lamb Shank Manti[/caption] Before we took in the art we enjoyed an exceptional light lunch at the museum restaurant, In Situ, which was a menu of items from celebrated chefs. Of special note was the lamb shank manti, a Turkish dish with tomato puree, smoked yogurt and sumac. [caption id="attachment_4967" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Rotunda looking up and rotunda looking down[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4968" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] Walker Evans collage. Top left is a Ringling Bros wagon[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4971" align="aligncenter" width="2896"] Close, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Fitzwilson[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4973" align="aligncenter" width="512"] A man in red stands in front of a red Robert Rauschenberg. Thanks Nina![/caption] After our dose of culture we waded into the depths of downtown for a mosey then back to the W for a siesta. Took an Uber early evening to Nopa, a hopping neighbourhood landmark just on the border of Haight Ashbury and Alamo Park on Divisadero. Food wavered between very good and OK. Uber home and bed before 11. [caption id="attachment_4972" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Chuck Close is the Bomb[/caption]
November 24, 2016
Well the last day was a long one but not much to report except several hours in the Galleries First and then a pretty smooth flight home. An early check-out unfortunately, an uneventful cab ride to Paddington, a delayed express to LHR, an easy fast track through security, then several hours in the BA lounge. At least I was able to stream the Murray Djokovic final, ad-free. The champagne bar. Table service if you like. That's some major tail. A decent selection of wines, a lot of space to spread out in. Boarding commenced none to glamorously about two kms from the lounge around thirty minutes before departure. They started us off with Laurent-Perrier Grand Siécle. Then I switched to the spectacular Taittinger Brut Vintage 2006. Even though you leave on BA085 at 17:20 and even though you're eating early evening, they call it lunch. I chose as my starter Fivemiletown Dairy goat's cheese beignet with a butternut squash, pumpkin seed and pine nut crust. For the main I had a roasted corn-fed chicken, ham hock and potato tartlet with haricot bean purée, runner beans and truffle jus. Honestly, I could have eaten two portions, it was just that good. The cheese plate -- shropshire blue, gillot camembert, godminster and tomme de savoie -- wasn't bad at all. There was still room for orange and pistachio pudding. My "sleeper" aka pajamas beckoned. Time for some shut eye. There was "tea" after a nap: Sandwiches, scones and cakes. There wasn't too much to protest.
November 19, 2016
An empty platform midday. Imagine that. First thing, in the blaring sun, I went to Camden Town to run an errand. The 46 gets there in about seven stops from the flat. I had to see someone about a parcel; a long, convoluted, Royal Mail, eBay story that is too tiresome to relate. Then I came back to Chancery Lane, took the tube to Holland Park, and stopped at Paul for a delicious apricot tart and coffee; get my portion of fruit for the day. Simon had come down with a lung infection, more or less clearing the rest of the day. On the bus a man talked about taking the 168 to Kentish Town for a six quid a night hostel bed and being able to beg for rent on a daily basis but never having time to wash his jacket, only his pants, and that the hostel staff had advised him to tidy his living space of they would take away his freedom. And who were hostel staff to think they could take away his freedom? On the tube I saw a woman in a black dress, black net stockings, black wool coat, with a faux rose corsage, porcelain rose pendant necklace, two rose earrings, a rose pink beanie and rose pink Vibram’s five finger shoes. She had a large black bag which she rummaged through for quite some time settling, eventually, on a plastic container with raisins, about two full cups, which she ate with a plastic fork, thoughtfully, and with consideration. Her wan skin was like mother of pearl, flashing two tones of white, gloss and satin, depending on the reflection. My question is: Did they spend more on the plumbing or the topiary? At Paul there was a man being interviewed about corruption in the housing industry and a woman next to me who, on a paper marketing plan, wrote in the margins “do this” several times over. I was glad to be on a so called holiday. I spent some time in Holland Park. I've always preferred the brambly, feral end of Holland Park... [caption id="attachment_4885" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] ...as opposed to the more cultivated and "British" end[/caption] I walked down to Leighton House. I don’t think I’ve been there this century; but in the 80s when I was broke I went there a lot because it was peaceful, exquisite, and free. It got an extensive reno in 2009. It’s now 12 pounds entry. All 1100 square feet or whatever they allow you to stroll through. [caption id="attachment_4887" align="aligncenter" width="756"] The "back yard" at Leighton House[/caption] A woman asked me what cologne I was wearing. I said “Old Man, by Neil Young.” Pause. “He released it just after Bob Dylan won the Nobel.” Crickets. The British; tough crowd. She didn’t laugh at my joke but she did borrow my camera. When she returned it there were numerous photographs from a place where photographs are strictly prohibited. [caption id="attachment_4888" align="aligncenter" width="756"] The Arab Hall[/caption] The story of Flaming June is the basis of a good novel, and much more interesting than Wikipedia would have you believe: The painting first showed at the RA to much acclaim. The sensuality slash titillation of the picture, the fact that you can spy the sleeping woman’s nipples, was not without controversy. It sold for a good sum to a magazine owner and art collector. It changed hands a few times, last being “shown” in the 1930s. Then it completely disappeared from view, no one is quite sure what trajectory it took. Victorian art was well out of fashion. Then, mid-20th century, some builders doing a reno in Clapham of all places discovered a piece of art placed behind a plaster wall. They took it to a dealer; it made the rounds, but not of much interest amongst buyers, until it was snapped up for mere pennies by a collector in Puerto Rico, where it lives today. [caption id="attachment_4894" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] As if[/caption] After Leighton House I headed for the Royal Academy. What better place to follow LH, where Lord Leighton had once been “PRA” or president, and presided over the tasteful and appropriate display of Victorian art, only to see the hottest show on the planet focused on abstract expressionism: de Koonig, Pollock, Kline, Rothko, the list goes on. But I was bit cultured out if you will; I didn’t make it. As it was I wandered through west London, ending up on the Central line back to Holborn to pack. [caption id="attachment_4893" align="aligncenter" width="756"] Mama mia that's a whole lotta cheez[/caption] I arrived home just in time to see Andy Murray clinch the first set of a two set cliff hanger, and Stan Wawrinka commit racket abuse. Also, there was more packing to do than I anticipated. Why did I buy so much Christmas pudding? [caption id="attachment_4895" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Lamb sirloin with girelles and spinach at Hix in Soho[/caption] In the evening I took a pre-theatre at Hix. I’d eaten there in 2013, to no great acclaim, except that the bar stools have backs. The food tonight was exceptional, perfectly seasoned, beautifully prepared, not skimpy or restrained. One bartender was “Persian” (I eventually got it out of him that he was Iranian) and the other a young Brit desperate to move to Canada, ideally Calgary (for no good reason other than to ski he said; I had no comment). [caption id="attachment_4896" align="aligncenter" width="637"] I didn't dare[/caption] The play I saw, the sixth of six plays, was either the worst play of the week or the best. Steven “Billy Elliott” Daldry resurrected J B Priestly’s An Inspector Calls at the National in 1992. It’s been traveling the world ever since, only now to return to the West End. I think it’s wonderful and encouraging that a play over a century old can speak to current themes: our collective responsibility to others and the guilt we share or ignore in respect to our willingness to understand the plight of others. Parents will make no qualms to allow their elementary class to attend; witness the school boys in uniform, rapt. [caption id="attachment_4897" align="aligncenter" width="1008"] Playhouse Theatre, Embankment[/caption] But it’s linear, predictable, uninspired, and scarily stereotypical. I smell a Bill Millerd debut in the next ten years. It was a brisk walk up to Covent Garden, then a short tube hop back for the final night.