‘In 1905 what did Mr Frick say to Mrs Frick’ or ‘from Steel Magnate to Art Collector’

“Well Adelaide, the railroads are laid, the unions are giving me grief. Let’s hit New York!”  So together they uprooted themselves from the steel industry in Pittsburgh and went house hunting on the fashionable upper east side of New York.

Like me, Henry and Adelaide loved the area bordering Central Park.  Unlike me they had an art collection in tow and several million in the bank.   They hung out with the Vanderbilts who leased their mansion to the Fricks. Eventually Mr and Mrs Frick built their own mansion just around the corner at the most prestigious address in New York.

Their amassed works of art had already been freighted across the country and with more acquisitions they built their own home.  No ordinary home mind you.  They composed a beautiful outdoor atrium from which all 6 galleries led.  At the centre of their mansion this space held an enormous fountain, palm trees and exotic orchids.  The floor was paved in marble.  By the time Henry had his art collection laid out he realized he’d begun to develop a priceless legacy but with no children of his own he documented that Adelaide and her daughter could remain in residence until his wife’s death.  On Adelaide’s death the house and art would become a public museum.

Turners are hung alongside Rembrandts.  Monets are peacefully settled among Gainsborough and Stubbs.  Holbein’s peasants prepare feasts opposite Vemeer’s studies of man and his best friend.  There is no hint of art school curated fine arts here.  And yet it is far away from an incoherent jumble of misplaced works of art.   It is told how Frick hung the paintings in a system that pleased his eye, one gallery leading into another connected by a mixture of the old masters that pleased him.  After dinner in the evenings he would stroll through the galleries and one imagines with a glass of fine brandy held at his lips.

 

THE OASIS

So here I was, overwhelmed in this impossible city. Any preconceptions I held of New York were only a hundredth of the actuality of standing in its heart.  Our hotel was just off Broadway and we were on the fifteenth floor buried by buildings soaring way above us.  The corner suite we bagged was pretty spectacular; quirky to be more exact.  What must have been an old building lay across the street from us and we could look over to its rooftop.  Each day around 5pm waiters dressed in black, would bring out canapes and trays of drink.  Every afternoon an event was laid out – a wedding, formal parties, a book launch perhaps?  Goodness knows.  All these would take place under lengthening shadows cast by the myriad of skyscrapers soaring above.   Lying on the bed in the early evening and watching the lights come up I’d try to figure out if someone was working late or perhaps it was an apartment and people had just come home.

This restful time came after a day of walking, usually miles exploring the mid town area and shopping of course; hopping on busses, exploring Harlem and Brooklyn. Unfortunately getting anywhere required battling through congested, smoke filled streets which became a bit of a bore.  The previous day a bus tour had failed to pick us up after a hop-off in Harlem and as it began to grow dark we began to feel extremely vulnerable on the street.  Consequently on our third day we decided to drift up toward Columbus Circle that lead us into a more salubrious area.

After just a few blocks we discovered an oasis of calm, serenity and beauty right here in the middle of New York; Central Park.

It is magnificent. It’s history alone fills volumes.  Designed by an Englishman for the people of New York over a century ago.   THIS IS A NON SMOKING PARK a sign declared at the entrance. Well you couldn’t get me in there fast enough.

The Tavern on the Green is a very English restaurant with wonderful food and old-fashioned style.  The waitresses and lone waiter are young, beautiful people; immaculately dressed and coiffed.  Several did look as if they were sucking sour plums, but that’s the cat-walk style I guess.  It was where ‘ladies did lunch’.  The only people here wearing shorts and tee shirts were tourists and shown a table outside.  However it wasn’t outrageously expensive, and not a television in sight!

I did see an Asian gentleman though sitting on a bench smoking.  I approached him and told him smoking was not permitted in the park.  He didn’t understand so I resorted to hand signals and made it very clear he was breaking the law and in for a big fine if he didn’t extinguish the dirty filthy fag immediately.  He complied without hesitation and I sauntered off leaving him wondering who I was – the smoking police in plain clothes?

Anyone out there travelling to New York; once the initial awe and wonder has worn off and you’ve hit the tourist spots with a million other tourists, to save your sanity take in Central Park and BREATHE.

 

CENTRAL PARK II

Central Park

Central Park

 

I’ll get back to the Oasis, but in the meantime: ’57 channels with Nothing On.’

Bruce Springsteen sang the song in the late 1980s.  Remember it?  I do.  Brought up in New Zealand with Channels 1, 2 & 3 in those days, I had no idea what the lyrics were getting at.  Now it’s 2014 and a proliferation of television channels that Bruce wouldn’t have dreamed of 30+ years ago is now available in every New York dining space.  It’s frenetic.  A small space will have no fewer than 3,  50″ screens flickering over the diners.  Two sports channels usually showing baseball and basketball run simultaneous to  different channel’s news broadcasts dealing in 5 second soundbites as visual snatches run beneath.  The only way around this is to go and eat in very expensive restaurants.

I swear television is being used as a brainwashing tool of the masses.  I tried to keep up with the ebola news as it broke. The only way was to buy a newspaper or Time magazine.   Once we stop travelling for a bit I’ll take time out to some research the best source for news here and abroad.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK so good they named it twice

Two weeks in this city and everything changes every day;  things to see, buildings you can only gape at, parks to walk,  shops to browse and people to meet.  Not to mention the dogs!  19% of the people dwelling in Manhattan live alone.  You see people everywhere walking dogs  Well behaved dogs, pooping in the gutter dogs, nice dogs large and small.  Dogs here are equipped to cope with hundreds of thousands of tourist;  They’re trained to withstand the ever present sirens wailing, screeching booming, from every direction.  Dog litter bags hang off poles on the sidewalk and  no dog pooh to be seen.  Every breed imaginable is on the streets.  I stopped and talked to a woman leading two lean and very lanky greyhounds.  During the course of conversation I asked if she lived in an apartment nearby?  “Of course” she replied.  My surprise at the size of these two dogs living in an apartment didn’t phase her: “They’re just big couch potatoes; lie around all day.  They don’t put on weight as they’re sprinting dogs.”  A two mile walk around the city each day keeps them trim. Have seen Great Danes here the size of ponies.  Lots of Labradors and Shepherds too.  I wonder if I’ll pluck up the courage to find a NYPD dog handler and get Harry to photograph me with them.

Without a set itinerary or timetable to follow we drift through the city loving every minute in some parts and wanting to flee from others.  The police are everywhere.  There’s no perceived threat to their presence.  From the day of arrival there is the sense of New York being on high alert.  The police presence is a form of security ensuring personal safety, much as Singapore was in the 70s.

I thought Melbourne had to be the smoking capital of the world.  No, New York wins hands down.  The streets you want to flee from are those generally in the commercial areas where employees are stacked by their thousands in sky scrapers.  Smoking is prohibited in the workplace so  the dozens still addicted hang out on the streets below blowing clouds of nicotine into the faces of anyone walking past.   That along with the traffic jams of drivers all looking for short cuts makes walking around the Broadway Times Square in the midtown NY somewhat tiresome after two days.

View from Empire State Building to Hudson River

View from Empire State Building to Hudson River

 

Off Broadway

Off Broadway

And after two days we discovered ………………………… an oasis.

 

 

CHANGING PERSPECTIVES

Yes, it’s been a long, long time. I left you in Australia and since we have cruised the outer islands of Vanuatu. I won’t linger over this experience as it wasn’t the best. Thunderstorms, rough days at sea in a steel hull catamaran and travelling with ‘wealthy’ NZers an experience best not repeated. Flying Air Vanuatu from Port Vila to San Francisco via Fiji a nasty experience. The airline lost our luggage somehow sending it back to Sydney. By this time the south seas had really soured for us.

Halleluiah! We hit Los Angeles which totally blew its own myth of rude officialdom, grouchy people, disorganized and dirty. So it was in the 70s and 80s and even the 90s as Harry remembers it. I remember having read somewhere how the entire ground staff were put on mandatory customer service courses to brush up the LAX experience for tourists. It’s worked and was the best passage through an Immigration area I’ve ever had. Flew up to San Francisco and within a couple of hours we were headed to Vacaville, California.

As arranged we met up with Andrew, our real estate rep I’d been communicating with for about 6 months. We inspected about a dozen homes before we found the ‘perfect’ hangout for the four of us, i.e. Harry, Lorraine, Magic & Bonnie. We put in an offer the next day and a day later 101 Currant Lane was ours. Not many photos as yet, cos it was a bit of a ‘dog’ needing complete redecoration internal; painting and recarpeting. Not a stick of furniture – back to http://www.amazon.com locating some furniture, bedding. Up the road to Fairfield for a bed and. A Scandinavian furniture outlet and we found a couch; outdoor/indoor tables and chairs.

California is in a 7 year drought with no sign of it getting any better. We’re located in Northern California where in fact there’s plenty of water from the ice melt from the Sierra Nevadas. However most of the water is syphoned off and fed down to the more densely populated area of southern California, Los Angeles, Orange County etc.

The outome of all this was we didn’t want a pool to maintain anymore; we didn’t want a garden and even grass was a bit of a luxury.  So we’ve bought into a community that has a private pool, does the gardening and we’ve ripped out the lawn and laid plastic grass!  Oh by the way, our new carpet is polyester and it’s like walking on silk.

We managed to squeeze in a couple of weeks at the time share in Lake Tahoe and a week at a Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon.

Phew!  Exhausted and feeling neither here or there, we jumped on a cruise that sailed us into a hurricane!  We’ve made it to New York, and my next post will be from the Big Apple filling you in on the weird and wonderful here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where a day becomes a week, a week becomes a month and month is on the edge of forever

 

Kevin owned five restaurants in metropolitan Australia.  He’d long reached the top of his game when his imagination set him on a new path. I got the impression his idea was to continue cooking, but for a clientele who would eat what they were given rather than catering to the whim and fashion of urban diners.  He lives at the resort for 5 months of the year, heading back to Perth in the cyclone season but not before battening down everything that moves.   All but the foundations and basic building structure are destroyed by cyclones sweeping in from the Timor Sea.  JD stays behind and continues to shore up and rebuild as the weather calms.  The season opens after Kevin returns from 5 months in the city.  Now he advertises on the web for staff.  Applications arrive from all round the world.  From England to Ecuador, New Zealand to the Netherlands the young arrive to be trained in the chef business by a master.  If this was Kevin’s entire story it would be impressive enough but he is a guide to every accessible corner worthy of attention in the area, from the site dated as the oldest recorded rock drawings in Australia, to clambering over boulders lodged in cliff faces that lead to rock swimming pools 20 metres beyond the reach of crocodiles.  He takes us out fishing.

 

My reward for being stung by gren ants and clambering over 100 metres of boulders to swim beyond reach of crocodiles!

My reward for being stung by green ants and clambering over 100 metres of boulders to swim beyond reach of crocodiles!

Kevin lead us down into caves to see rock drawings that have survived 40 thousand years.

Kevin lead us down into caves to see rock drawings that have survived 40 thousand years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20140608-_53C7203

The pool (upper left) you sit in and watch the crocs basking in the sun on the beach below. Swimming here is in water of 27 deg and heaven.

Every day we return to the cornerstone of his enterprise; a fabulous meal.  The menu is a set one that encompasses the flavours of local seasonal food with the finest ingredients brought in from urban Australia.  These are his signature dishes. The meat and fish are cooked outside over a pit of licking flame and glowing embers.  Vegetables are cooked in the kitchen as are the sauces and jus.

Sarah is Kevin’s right-hand sous chef.  By the time tourists arrive a team of cooks is trained to prep the set menu each evening. Hors d’ oeuvres  are brought to the casual seating area where we gather each evening before taking our place at the long tables set for communal dining.  The kitchen, open to the restaurant, provides a stage upon which the team perform a well-rehearsed dance at the end of each day. One dances around another to taste this, add a little shake of that which is replied to by a pirouette back stage left to save a tea towel on the way to the floor.  Meanwhile Kevin moves gently back and forth washing  and drying an assortment of used utensils and crockery..  A Van Morrison song drifts from unseen speakers.  The performance ends with mouth-watering rack of lamb, a fillet of pork, or a catch of the day.  A mouth-watering dessert arrives to conclude a fabulous meal.

The restaurant we return to each evening after adventuring in the regions of Faaraway Bay

The restaurant we return to each evening after adventuring in the regions of Faaraway Bay

After dinner, anyone not ready to stumble into bed or take a shower under the stars, sit around the embers left glowing in the  fire pit  to talk about photography, travel, the night sky, fishing – anything but politics; we left all that behind!

 

What we stepped out  to on the verandah of our palm frond hut each morning in Faraway Bay.

The view we stepped out to on the verandah of our palm frond hut each morning in Faraway Bay.

 

 

 

 

THE TIWI ISLANDS NORTHERN TERRITORIES

 

Our flight north took us to the Tiwi Islands where we spent a day.  The islanders there are the oldest known aboriginals in Australia.  The live in a community that largely involves keeping their art and culture alive.  The artwork is intricate and quite outstanding.

[Picture of Tiwis]

`

Artwork on the Gallery Ceiling

Artwork on the Gallery Ceiling

From the Tiwis we made a short hop to Darwin.  We stayed the night here in a Rydges hotel where we paused for breath overnight.   The next morning it was up and off to Faraway Bay on the Timor Sea.  Two hours later we landed on another grass landing strip that in no way prepared us for what was to come.  We managed to squish into a unique, somewhat aged land cruiser for a jolt and jump drive over boulders down to the wilderness camp.  There are just two means of getting to Faraway Bay; by boat or as we did, by air.  What we banked on being a 10 minute drive to the camp turned into a 30 minute negotiation of aforesaid boulders up and over a narrow road kept clear by the resort.  The term clear is an approximation of what you find.  Every cyclone that comes through will demand a re- grading of the road to provide access again. Being in such isolation brought the environment into a sharp focus I found exhilarating.  

20140607-_53C6710         20140607_145856[1]20140607_182120[1]

Kevin is the present owner of the small camp resort, but I’ll come back to him later.

In the late 1980’s two diamond prospectors arrived here in search of bling. They worked in the area for some time and had no joy in their prospecting.  In the early 1980’s they called it quits, concluding all the diamonds waiting to be dug  could be found by someone else.  Nearby the men had set up camp in a sheltered a bay.  They named this bay Faraway Bay.  They were loathe to leave the idyllic haven  carved out of cliffs and the turquoise blue sea that broke on the white sand.  A pretty beach was already waiting to be accessed.  Unfortunately the saltie crocs had already laid claim to the bay, but the idea had already taken hold; to develop a place where people with adventure in their souls, and enough money to get them there could kick back and recharge their batteries.  This enterprise was hatched twenty years before the onset of eco-tourism. The aboriginal of the pair needed little encouragement to get the project underway but after a decade his partner tired of the hard labour and lost the drive to offer warm hospitality.  Enter Kevin, a chef from Perth.  Bill might have called it a day but JD (Johnny Dark) stayed in the Bay.