What was Lugged – Part 1 of my travels with a sketchbook

Reading Charles Addams in The Strand Bookstore

I knew, when I went to America last October, that I wanted to draw while I was there (I draw every day) and, if possible, to keep a sketch-journal. I’d done this once before, in Melbourne when /Karen/ and I went to Continuum and met Neil Gaiman and Robin Hobb and I had been putting it off doing it again until an occasion justifying the purchase of a Moleskine sketchbook (that first was a present from Deb).

This is what I generally keep in my handbag: Debden notebook (indexed), Moleskine sketchbook, diary, another sketchbook and notebook if I’m in transition, an exercise book if I’m in the middle of a first draft, scratch paper with drawings on the back which I have forgotten to take out and file, a packet of monochrome Pitt markers, a packet of earth tone Pitt markers (new arrival), a pencil box with Prismacolors and a mechanical pencil, a pencil sharpener with shaving catcher. That’s my everyday handbag. If I’m going somewhere art-related after work, I may take another bag with charcoal and pastel pencils, kneadable eraser, water colour pencils, travel watercolours and a larger sketchbook. If I’m going home for the weekend, there will also be at least a document box of paints, paint brush roll, rubber stamp blanks, corner cutter, lino carving tools, stamp pads, dip pen, bottles of ink, more sketchbooks, some pads of paper, watercolour postcards, canvas boards, glue, scissors, fancy paper, scrapbook, ruler, etc.

All this for someone who does most of her drawings in biro on memo pad.

Since I was planning to travel relatively lightly (interesting fact: my total luggage weighed in less than the change in my weight in the last two years) it was impractical to pack on the usual scale.

In the end, I took advantage of large ziplock bags and packed: Unipin pens, Pitt markers, glue stick, scissors, Prismacolour pencils, watercolour pencils, a few inexpensive paintbrushes, numbered stickers, blank labels and index cards and a mechanical pencil.

I agonised over the sketchbook/notebook/diary/travel journal situation until the night before we left, and settled on an A5 moleskine sketchbook for everything related to the trip and my usual debden notebook for everything else (ideas, fiction, notes, transient stuff), with a moleskine cahier for backup (not needed).

Coming Soon:

If you can’t wait to see how it ends, the journal is up as a set on Flickr: USA 2007 Moleskine.

Grand Central Terminal

Five things I did not buy in America

Two weeks before I flew, a… unique individual gave me two valuable insights. One was that I would meet the love of my life in America (I either didn’t, or don’t know it yet). The other was to buy two things which are not obtainable over here. I will not tell you what they were because then Errantry would turn up on completely different google searches to the current standards of “mr squiggle knit” and “teapot microwave Sydney proof”. I did not buy those two things.

Here are five other things I did not buy, but should have:

  1. Autumn merchandise: Fabric and paper autumn leaves, oak leaf cookie cutters and a particularly hideous purple-and-orange owl-patterned bandanna.
  2. More cheap Moleskines (I did buy two).
  3. I heart NY t-shirts, ironic alteration, for the purposes of.
  4. Novels. $8 new! Why, why, why did I not buy more books?
  5. Cinnamon rolls. With cream cheese icing/sauce. More than two of.

Christmas at Macy’s








We lost ourselves for a while in the Christmas displays at Macy’s – dozens of trees, beautifully dressed – red or white or pink or peacock-coloured. There was even an upside down tree (I think it’s “Christmas at Macy’s 13” if you link through to my Flickr album).

Christmas at Macy’s 12

Five forms of public transport I took in America

  1. Plane. Overrated. Cramped. At least on Qantas all the (predominantly male) flight attendants were cheerful and gave you drawstring bags of goodies to eat in the middle of the night. American Airlines act as their job would be much better if you were not there. Also, they ran out of food on our five-hour cross-country flight and Mommy and I had to split the last turkey bagel. The commuter planes are more cheerful, but they are like buses only not so wide. I did not know what noises to expect them to make and had to watch the single attendant in case I missed a cue to panic.
  2. Train. Better than the plane. Longer, but with scenery and leg room and toilets you can actually get out of your seat to go to. The food is surprisingly worse, but more than made up for by not having to wait at either end and so, in effect, almost the same amount of total travel time. Go Amtrak, who will refund your ticket price if you book for the wrong date and have to rebook immediately after. Also, the New York subway which was clean (the trains, not the stations) and… constant, which was probably its defining virtue. Also easy to navigate and with very pretty mosaics in some of the stations. I did not spend long enough on the Washington Subway to form an opinion.
  3. Bus. Hop-on-hop-off buses are a marvellous invention, even though I froze my lips on the night bus and couldn’t pronounce voiceless bilabial fricatives (I may have mentioned this earlier). A two-day ticket is long enough to get a bit of history and a feel for the layout of the town, a good view and the thrilling frisson that comes from the threat of imminent decapitation. I also went on a night-time trolley bus tour of Washington. It had a jovial director and an occupancy of cheerful American tourists and the windows steamed up because of the rain. Also, free lollipops.
  4. Taxis. Cheap, painted with flowers and almost always easy to catch. Except from the Australian Consulate. GARTH NIX LIED! and I was ten minutes late for Hairspray and had to wait at the back and sit down between songs (I’m not complaining about that, just wishing I could have spent the taxi time at the Consulate instead of on the kerb). And on the last night Mommy and I took a bicycle taxi to the theatre. I thought it was exciting, dodging through traffic and traveling on the wrong side of the road. Mommy said it was $25 of sheer terror. We arrived at the theatre slightly windswept.
  5. Horse-drawn carriage. Mommy and I walked to Central Park on the last day and took a carriage ride through Central Park, past chess players and people sunbaking on rocks, the Carousel and ice-skaters. It was peaceful and charming and fun and they gave us a blanket.

Beach, Lake Erie

Beach, Lake Erie

Originally uploaded by tanaudel

I’ve posted some more photos on Flickr, this time from the shores of Lake Erie.

We could see the lake from my aunt’s house and my mother and I went exploring, through vineyards and across the road, down between groves and gardens and guest houses to the lonely shore. It is a shale beach, covered with flat, clinking stones, that ring and shift like coins underfoot. The rocks are carved and sculpted in fluid shapes by the grey waves, and the cliffs are of finely stacked, brittle layers of stone, supporting here and there broken and stranded boat ramps, or rusted ladders that end a metre or more above the stones, or stairs that have fallen away and been replaced with uncertain landings of shale-slabs balanced on pebbles.

Five Performances I Saw In New York

 Mary Poppins – musical, Broadway

This was Genevieve’s idea and I did not desperately want to go. I love the songs from this musical, but not the movie itself so much: while the songs range from the irrepressibly, genuinely cheerful (Mrs Suffragette, Chim-Chiminee) to the manic (Supacallifragilistic) to the soporific (Go to Sleep) to the heart breaking (Feed the Birds), the movie manages to be pretty well candy-sweet and synthetic throughout, with none of the emotional range of its own music or the dark, daring nastiness of the books. I expected the musical to be pretty much a stage version of the movie. I was wrong.

I won’t say the musical was perfect. And it wasn’t a star vehicle – it showcased the songs and set (an Edwardian dolls house) rather than the individual actors (actually, I prefer this in a musical). But it wasn’t the Disney movie, either. The plot was changed (no more Mrs Suffragette, now Mrs Banks is herself from the stage and struggling with middle class society) and there are new situations with old songs in unfamiliar places (Spoonful of Sugar is now the aftermath to a kitchen disaster) and new words to old songs (Supacallifragilistic is no longer the story of Bert’s childhood), and new characters (the Statues!) and scenes (the conversation shop) and stunts (Bert tapdancing on the ceiling).

It also captured just a little more of the acerbic, uncomfortable genre from which it sprung. Not so much PL Travers as E Nesbit, but that’s halfway there. The living statuary in the park reminded me very much of The Enchanted Castle. Mary isn’t as alarming as she was in the books, but she is sharper and more obnoxiously self-satisfied (“practically perfect”).

And best of best of all, there were the gingerbread stars, which I had forgotten.

Perfect Crime – play, off-Broadway

Long-running, much lauded and I don’t see what all the fuss was about. Justly compared to Agatha Christie, just Agatha Christie tarted up and with the sense taken out of it. Confusing (as such mysteries should be) but untidy (which they should not be), with loose ends that appear to be disregarded rather than deliberately left open. Some great rants, though. I am a fan of witty, rapid-fire, top-of-the-lungs monologues (Vimes nearly got a standing ovation in Night Watch, last year, after delivering the Watchman’s Oath).

Hairspray – musical, Broadway

Full disclosure: I loved the new movie and haven’t seen the old one. I am not sure the new movie will wear well on me, but it was definitely the most fun I’ve had in a cinema this year, and might have spoiled the stage production for me. The set was stylised, which is fine, but the pastels made everything seem rather washed out and unexciting, and Tracy’s mother was uncertain of his lines (although “America, I made this myself!” was well-delivered), and Motormouth Mabel lacked the fire of Queen Latifah’s screen portrayal. Seaweed’s sister didn’t get the happy ending she did in the movie, but we saw more of her and she had spark as well, so that was good. But the whole thing was faded and cheapened for me by the over-the-top and unnecessary lewdness of the gestures and entendres, which took away the bittersweetness and fun and power of the musical.

Wicked – musical, Broadway

This manages to be both very and totally unlike the book (which I was a third of the way through), and to neaten and close the books storylines in a way the author didn’t (deliberately as opposed to inadvertently). So I enjoyed it in a different way. Interestingly, the Witch is actually more wicked at the end of the musical and gets a happier ending. The set and costumes were gorgeous. Elphaba and Galinda (“with a ‘ga’”) were both understudies that day and both fabulous. The flying monkeys were a highlight. I almost cried at Fiyero’s fate. It is also a more cerebral musical than the others. I’d like to see it again, some time, and work out if I like the music. I did come away humming, “They called me wonderful so I am wonderful”.

Pygmalion – play, Broadway

My mother and I arrived at this in style, windswept and rather shaken from our bicycle cab ride through the streets of New York. I loved it, simply and unashamedly. I’d been read (and read) the play, but never seen it performed. Especially with actual cockney accents, which my mother could never manage (she’d do deep southern US instead). It’s a brilliant play, with wonderful dialogue and monologues, humour, callousness, ideas. Also, it’s about linguistics, so all things for the good, hey?

My mother like Alfred Doolittle best. I thought the Higgins were divine – dignified Mrs Higgins and spoiled, arrogant, petulant, pig-headed Henry, sulking and scowling and being delightfully rude to everybody.

And Claire Danes played Eliza.

Claire was… like everything else in New York. Exactly as she looks in the movies and surprising for that. She made a wonderful Eliza, with an unrestrained passion that was much more endearing than Audrey Hepburn’s version. But as Miss Doolittle she was slightly wooden, or mannered. And I can’t quite say this is a criticism of Claire because when she was simply Eliza she was wonderful, and I know she can act. She’s one of my favourite actresses (the dormouse scenes in Stardust!), though that is based on personality as well as acting ability.

The difficulty with the role of Eliza Doolittle is that she does in fact become wooden and mannered and self-conscious, until the very end (and we saw this in her acting of the Ephiphany in Mrs Higgin’s house) and while in the musical she is the main character, in the play she is really rather secondary to Henry.

But, as I said, I loved the play, and because the cast of all Broadway productions were collecting for charity that month, she was at the stage door holding a bucket afterwards and I said, very quickly, that I had enjoyed the play and Stardust.

Five Hotels

  1. The Eddison, New York – Slightly decaying art deco hotel in the Times Square District. Comfortable, well-appointed and beautiful, and the things that might have been shabby instead were attractive – the worn carpets had lovely old designs, and the grilles and pipes in the bathrooms were covered with punched tin lace and the lift doors were etched with patterns. Even the door knobs in the old wooden doors were impressive and moulded with the hotel initials. We sat in bed and drank hot chocolate and ate Madeleines. Also, when Genevieve and I were back in NY and trying to find a bathroom near Times Square one night, they let us use theirs.
  2. Country Comfort, Erie – An airport motel, and being a motel and in Erie, cheap. Also spacious, comfortable and with a very large bathroom. No kettle of course, so I could not use the tea bags I had liberated from the At Home the night before. I had to get up early the next morning to catch the airport shuttle which was to leave at the same time breakfast started. But the breakfast buffet was already out (everything from omelettes to doughnuts) and a flight crew and the bus driver were eating and watching the fires in LA.
  3. The Embassy Suites, Conference Centre, Washington – Washington hotels aren’t cheap. And because I did not book this until the day before and didn’t know my way around Washington and it was only one night, I went for the really expensive one. And it showed – a room with an enormous double bed and a bathroom and a sitting room with sofas and table and chairs. The sort of luxury that makes it a shame to not be spending much time there, so definitely a business hotel more than a tourist one (at least for tourists who are trying to see the whole city in a day and a half) .The concierge booked my night tour for me and they had glass urns of water with lemon and of fresh lemonade in the foyer (a highlight). Breakfast was alright as hotel breakfasts go, though they had Tazo tea (which brings me pleasant memories of packages of crafts from America). Room service stopped at 11, which would not be a plus because I really wanted hotel room service, just once and this seemed the hotel to do it at, and because it was late and cold and I’d been out on the night tour in the rain and my stockings were soggy. The vending machine on our floor only had soft drinks and all the cafes nearby were closed. I called reception to ask where I could get food, and they said the vending machines on level 3 had snacks. I put on my coat and shoes over my pajamas and descended, but the machine was full and wouldn’t take any money and I was tired and cold and hungry and called reception again to ask if there was anywhere at all I could get food, and the night manager brought me up a whole box of Pepperridge biscuits (like an Arnotts selection, but thin and buttery and fancy).
  4. Hotel 31, NY – Small. Clean. Not for people with large suitcases, because when I say small, I do mean that. The street frontage is small (although conveniently located across from a non-self-service laundry), though attractive, with carved stone and eagles and so forth. The foyer is small – it gets crowded with three guests. The elevator was the kind where you swing the door open towards you and pull the brass grille aside and can see (and if you wanted, touch) the hotel as it moves past the diamonds of the grille. One person and luggage was about the limit – we took the stairs a lot, but never had any actual trouble with the lift. It was just disconcerting. The room had two single beds, a basin, a hanging rack over the radiator and a desk which was mostly occupied by a television set. It had basically no room for luggage or anything except sleeping, and although it was cleaned everyday we only ever received one set of towel, handtowel and washer between the two of us and had to ring down every night for someone to bring us up another set, at which point they (after a time) would usually bring us three. All the rooms had different wallpaper. Ours had two sorts – one pale cream floral brocade and the other cream and pastel stripes. Another down the hall had a large, dark tartan. There were two bathrooms on the floor, and sometimes there was a queue, but not a very long one. Not a business hotel – but an excellent base of operations when you don’t plan to spend much time in your hotel room. Sort of a luggage locker with benefits. So no complaints, but it was character building and had actual ceiling lights, which was novel.
  5. The New York Helmsley – my mother didn’t want to share a bathroom with other guests once she joined us, so we changed hotels on the last night. Genevieve thought it was very luxurious and I agreed at first, but mostly because we’d just left Hotel 31 which would, frankly, would have fit in the foyer. It was more modern than the Eddison, but the beds were doubles instead of queens (and this mattered because I was sharing with my mother) and the lighting was dim (no ceiling lights) and the view, though respectable, was not as spectacular as Hotel 31’s vista of roof-gardens, chimneys, fire-escapes and the Empire State Building. They did, however, have friendly staff and check us in very early when we showed up on their doorstep and store our bags while we wandered on our last day, something I doubt Hotel 31 would have had the capacity for. They even had a port cochere.

Okay, I’m back

There are photos and USA posts to come (as I did not come very close to the internet in NY), including such topics as “5 hotels I stayed at”, “5 forms of transport I used,” and “5 most traumatic experiences” and others as suggested here or on facebook.

Meantimes, here are 5 places I have been rained on recently: Ripley, Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, Brisbane.

And here things that are different since I left:

  1. There is a new Venz.
  2. There are more fountains which have ceased functioning as flowerbeds and reentered service as, well, fountains.
  3. There are actual explanatory notes about the Smart Card machines on the buses. The machines are still not functional. At least, on my bus.
  4. The dates on which housemates will/will not be leaving/entering the house have taken on a new configuration.
  5. There is a new paralegal just down from my office who turns out to have been the clerk at the convenience store at the end of my street and has offered to lend me Stephen King’s Dark Tower books.


I arrived at my hotel in Washington at 3pm today after leaving my
motel in Erie at 6am. Spent some time entertaining the daughter of a
Somalian woman while we waited for our luggage.

After checking in I walked through town, past the Washington monument
and the White House and through a small art gallery and had dinner at
a small German delicatessen/konditorei (cake shop)/bar/restaurant.
Then I took a night tour of Washington, past all the major buildings
and stopping at the Roosevelt memorial, the Marine memorial (at
Arlington – based on the photo of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima)
and at the Lincoln/Korean war/Vietnam memorials.

The Korean war memorial was one of the eeriest things I have seen –
faintly ghost-lit white statues of soldiers stalking through a
jungle/garden. In the dark and the wind and the rain, their clothes
almost seemed to move in the breeze. The wall behind is etched with

It is strange being on my own now. All the other travelers are in groups.

By the shores of Lake Erie

I was hoping to walk along the lonely lake shore again today, with its high slate cliffs and smooth lake stones, but it is raining. The lake is grey and the grapevines are tossing in the rain and I can’t smell the grapes.

Yesterday was a windy day and standing by the veranda door I could smell concord grapes on the breeze – a sweet strange smell, the smell of grape candy (which I always thought was fake).

When we drove to North East, I walked to the railway museum (it was closed) and on that side of town the smell of grapes from the Welches factory was unmistakeable.

Concords are fat, black, sweet grapes that split when you pick them. You eat them by sucking the flesh out and swallowing it and then spitting the thick, tough skin back into the grass.

Aunt Kathy made grape cobbler on the weekend. It was very good, but I ate a great deal and my teeth turned blue.