Category Archives: Australia

Moonstruck

The word “lunatic” doesn’t have the best reputation, and unfortunately, there’s no appropriate word to describe individuals who are mentally balanced, not overly weird, and simply enjoy the night sky when the moon is out. Selenophile doesn’t work either. Moon spotting seems ok, but has a menstrual quality to me. #Lunafan? #Lunaproud? #LunaLover? See? Nothing fits.

As I type this, Europeans are apparently enjoying a beautiful night for a “supermoon,” one of three to brighten up this winter between tonight and January 31 (the second one happens New Year’s Day). The “supermoon” nickname simply means the moon will appear about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than a typical full moon. The supermoon at the end of January is predicted to be quite spectacular, which is good news for me because I’m feeling moon-cheated tonight. Clouds cover the New York City region; this morning it didn’t even look like the sun showed up for work, so chances of witnessing a supermoon tonight are dim.

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Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m addicted to sunlight otherwise I rapidly sink into seasonal affective disorder symptoms. But I’ve also become intrigued by the moon the more I travel. Years ago, I was at the Griffith Observatory on a night during the middle of the week; in between weekend crowds when there was no line to peer through one of the massive telescopes set up and pointed at the almost-full moon. The image was startling; a white rock with hard grooves posing like some aging nude model in an art class. Two years ago, I was sleeping in a nest in Big Sur and woke to moonlight hitting the Pacific Ocean so hard that almost everything appeared silver, as if someone had turned on a light. This past September, I laid in a hammock in Tuscany and watched the moon. In October, I walked around glitzy Macau and spotted the moon. A month ago, out near Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territories, I had an unforgettable moment with the moon. We were having dinner in the desert. Moonlight poured over everything. Shadows moved across the earth. Someone had set up two telescopes: one pointed at the moon and the other pointed at Saturn. It was a very clear night, the perfect conditions for a spectacular sky, in which there was a very full moon.

I approached one telescope. To the naked eye, Saturn was a speck of light, indistinguishable from the other white specks of light filling the heavens. Then I looked into the telescope and almost jumped. On the other end of the lens was Saturn, with perfectly clear edges and a ring. I didn’t expect to see the ring. The image looked like a kid’s sticker or a classroom science project of a planet dangling from a string. It was almost cartoonish, not at all like the large, looming images of Saturn I always saw at planetariums and museums.

Then I approached the second telescope, the one directed at the moon, and looked through. This reminded me of that evening in Los Angeles at Griffith Park. Like that night, the moon wasn’t being coy, everything was being bared—proudly. It made me think of how we wear our age, or maybe should wear our age. The moon is 4.5 billion years old. It’s easy to think of the moon as timeless, but it isn’t. It has a creation story, and for generations watched Earth’s continents drift and rethink their borders, watched empires rise and fall, watched wars and reunions, watched flags fly, watched men visit its surface and plant flags of their own, watched us watch it, watched me look up, think about how I never thought I would have traveled to Australia, how on my daughter’s desktop globe, Australia looked so far away. Yet, there I was in central Australia, in the middle of the desert, far from anything familiar, admiring the moon, anchored by its light, this beacon that’s been with me my entire life. Yes, we, especially I, need the sun, but where would we be without moonlight? Yes, the moon’s gravitational force is critical to earth’s well-being and to controlling the tides, but without moonlight, I’m guessing we’d lose about half of the world’s love songs—maybe about a third of all lovestruck poems.

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I was looking at the moon when my ride back to the hotel arrived; we had a 4:30 a.m. departure for a sunrise camel ride, but I wanted to stay with the moon. That’s the problem with itineraries—they don’t take into account the moments when you want to linger.

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During my press trip to Australia, we sat quietly waiting for the sun rise over Uluru. Seeing the light change at 5:30 in the morning was indeed beautiful (that’s not my usual hour for that first cup of coffee), but I kept my eyes on the moon, which didn’t budge. The light I couldn’t keep up with; I’d glance down into my coffee cup for a second, take a sip, look up, and the whole desert suddenly looked different whereas the moon held firm. The sky softened from purple to pink to a misty blue, and the moon was still there—the sun directly across from it—as if to say “This is my hour, too.” I didn’t sense competition, just an understanding that in the morning, the moon doesn’t quickly exit stage right for the day, even if you’re caffeinating up and need to be somewhere in a hurry. It’s not like that. After 14 years of living in the New York City area, I appreciated the lack of rushing. And now I look for the moon wherever I go. It fascinates me that wherever I stand, desert or beach, from a hotel balcony or my own backyard, the moon is steady, with a rhythm that I can rely on and a change in contour and colors that sometimes surprise. Clouds covered tonight’s supermoon, but I’ll be waiting for the next one.

What Time Zone Is This?

For years, the running joke in our house was that I would never go to Australia. My daughter became quite interested in Australia after the continent/country was a project in her kindergarten class. That was in 2009. She asked if we could go to Australia, see the koalas and kangaroos, and I showed her a map, explained that Australia involved over 20 hours of flying, including about a 15-hour flight across all of the Pacific Ocean, and that it was just simply too far and too expensive.

Last night, I returned from 10 days in Australia. Twenty-four hours of nonstop travel; 19 of those hours in the sky. No one is more surprised by this than me.

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I was approached to participate in a press trip, and the itinerary was too intriguing to say no. In fact, despite the long haul, I was quite excited. My trip was coordinated and all expenses, including air, hotels, activities, and meals were covered by Voyages Indigenous Tourism Travel and Visit Victoria (and if I left anyone out, I do apologize, but those were the biggies). I flew Qantas (which quickly became one of my favorite airlines ever) for most of the trip, with a side hop on Virgin Australia when I flew from Ayers Rock to Alice Springs. I even spent a night in a tiny town called Dunkeld, about a three-hour’s drive west of Melbourne, population 480, which has this kick-ass hotel simply called The Royal Mail Hotel. This posh hotel is across from a tiny bookstore that’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays called Roz Greenwood’s Used and Rare Books. I was there on a Friday, pressing my nose against the glass wishing I had another 24 hours in town. Parked in front of the Royal Mail Hotel was a turquoise-colored, 1950s-style car featuring an airbrushed image of Elvis during his younger years. The car is owned by a local, making me wish that I had been given more time in Dunkeld.

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There’s no way to sum up 10 days on another continent in one blog post, and my sense of time, not to mention what season we’re currently in, is too screwed up to offer you anything compelling or coherent. Australia will emerge gradually and sporadically on this blog. It’s a big country with a big landscape, and there’s just too much to process right now. What I can tell you is that I constantly mispronounced Melbourne, as many Americans do. It’s “Mel-burn,” not “Mel-born,” so I’ll work on that. I can also tell you I drank a flat white almost every morning—“flat white” being Aussie for latte—and that the Royal Mail Hotel whipped up one of the best flat whites in the world.

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I can also tell you that I’m not a carnivorous or adventurous eater but I ate the following during my 10 days in Australia: green ants sprinkled on several dishes, crocodile, emu, wallaby, kangaroo, camel, eel, barramundi and a gazillion other types of fish with names I can’t recall. I’m jetlagged and know I’m forgetting a few critters, but I know I didn’t eat chicken or beef (I think some bacon might have been involved somewhere along the line). I ate a roadhouse camel burger about six hours after a riding a camel as the sun rose, the first—and, so far only—time I’ve ridden and eaten the same animal in the same day. I wasn’t fond of the camel burger though I’m confident I didn’t have the best cut of camel, probably some mix of body parts with most (hopefully) originating from the rump. No offense to the roadhouse cafe in Glen Helen that served me the camel burger, though the countless flies and wasps hovering over our food were annoying since we were eating indoors and I’m allergic to wasp stings.

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It’s nearly summer in Australia right now. The constellations there are different because the seasons are different, some planets more clearly visible than others. Someone set up a large telescope in the desert while we were there and I got to see Saturn for the first time. I looked at this faint star in the desert sky, then peered through the lens and saw a white dot with a very distinct white ring, as if someone had placed a kid’s sticker on the other end of the telescope. I glanced back and forth between the two, my naked eye on the speck of light above, and the image coming through the telescope, trying to gauge if what I was seeing was real. It was a perfect night in the desert. Saturn wanted to be seen, surrounded by many stars, moonlight touching almost everything.

Back in the city, the desert feeling far, far away, Christmas decorations were already up, a tradition that always follows the Melbourne Cup, which this year, occurred on November 6, a holiday in Melbourne that involves high fashion and more than the usual amount of drinking. We were on a flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne when the pilot announced the winner: Rekindling. A good name. The name of one who perseveres. A word I need to hold on to now that it’s almost winter here.

Noshing on that kinda-tough camel burger the day before the Melbourne Cup, I had been dressed for 100-degree heat, sweating from unusual places, begging for a cool breeze to find me. I received texts from home about the drop in temperature, even my daughter complained about the cold, and I tried to remember what cold felt like. I flew home last night, crossing half the globe by air. Somewhere over Fiji, I watched The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, an Australian comedy-drama that takes places in the Northern Territories, and the movie made me love Australia even more, all that heat on screen in that cold, cramped plane. I landed, gathered my overstuffed suitcase, walked out into the dark New York night, and immediately questioned my choices. Daylight Savings occurred while I was away, which means it’s now nighttime at 4 p.m. I went from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, from late spring to late fall, from light to dark, all in a day. My patio tomato plants are very brown and very dead, some tomatoes ossified on the vine by below-freezing nights. Such a sight to come home to was jarring.

While in the Northern Territories and Australia’s southern coast, I tried to soak up the region’s abundant sunshine like a camel (yes, pun intended!), but I knew re-entry would be hard. Today is re-entry. And it’s hard. I already feel that seasonal affective disorder weight settling in, and I’ve been on the ground less than 24 hours. Outside my living room window today, it’s gray, rainy, and barely 40 degrees, as if the sun decided “I prefer Australia, too. See you in April.” I had to dig out a pair of socks for the first time in almost two weeks, and I’ll likely have to dig out the happy lamp tomorrow.

Please don’t mistake today’s mopey mood for entitlement; I’m just missing sunshine and a functional circadian rhythm. I am home, with my kid, happily doing mom stuff, finally writing again because these press trips actually involve very little writing. Instead, it’s hauling your laptop from location to location, activity to activity, with the hope that you might have a spare 15 minutes to write anything down. It’s all exhilarating and tiring, as most cool things are. Today is simply a hangover after nearly three solid weeks of travel involving two trans-Pacific flights (more on Macau soon). I began this Monday by waking up at 1 a.m. because I was so hungry, I microwaved a few chicken nuggets. I’ll likely spend the day in my baggy flamingo pants writing and drinking tea. I sipped home-brewed coffee that admittedly tasted disappointing after days of being spoiled by the Melbourne flat white scene. Hiking four or five miles along the Southern Ocean last week already feels like it happened to someone else, which is why we take selfies and drain our smartphone batteries snapping photos. We need reminders that we are many people doing many different things all at once. Mother and traveler. Wife and writer. Tourist and homebody. Australia surprised me. I want to go back, despite that ridiculously long flight. The continent I told my daughter was too far to visit got under my skin. I like that the red dirt from the Northern Territories stained my sneakers. I spin the globe that sits on my kid’s bedroom desk, the classic one found in most elementary school classrooms with countries the color of Easter eggs. Australia is flamingo-pink on this globe, impossible to miss, and I think “When?”

Going Places

This summer, I went to a handful of places: the town library, the town pool, the grocery store, the yoga studio, and the Adirondacks—always a late-summer favorite. While neighbors and friends went on vacations to cool places, I stayed home and tried to spend as little money as possible. I looked and behaved like a suburban hausfrau. The rest of the world was happening somewhere else, not in my ‘hood. When not grocery shopping or borrowing library books, I browsed Twitter for the latest Donald Trump bashing, worked on corporate writing assignments, or read some fabulous books including Paul Yoon’s “Snow Hunters,” Roxane Gay’s “Hunger,” Annie Gray’s “The Greedy Queen,” and Emily Ruskovich’s “Idaho.” See? Lots of trips to the town library.

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I’ll need plenty of books for the fall season of globetrotting that’s kicking off on Monday. I’m in Italy for this amazing Hedgebrook conference, then I am squeeing over the fact that I will be going to Macau in October and Australia’s Northern Territories in November as guests of the local tourism boards. In fact, four days after I fly home from Macau, I turn around and fly to Australia. If you knew me, that last sentence would make you laugh your head off because you’d say, “Hey, you don’t like to fly.” True, being stuck on a plane isn’t my preferred state-of-being, but neither is getting my yearly mammogram, sitting in Lincoln Tunnel traffic, or waiting in line for interstate fast food I don’t even want to eat but I have to because I’m starving and there’s nothing else sold on the interstate and I’ve run out of snacks. I’ve decided I like travel more than I dislike flying, so airplanes it is. The klonopin and donut floatie are ready.

My last (and only) trip to Asia was a 13-hour flight to Tokyo in 2013, so I’m rusty with long hauls in the sky. Plus, I’m not a spring chicken and I do like my sleep; the idea of being 25 and “powering through” sounds ludicrous to me. I don’t want to “power through” anything. I want to savor all of it, not rush any of it, see as much as possible, and get enough rest so I can keep not rushing things. Twenty-five-year-olds do not think this way.

I have no idea what to expect when I go to Italy (well, okay, this is my third trip to Italy so I have some idea), Macau, or Australia, but you can follow my reactions, inner monologue and photos here. Also, all three of these trips are solo. My biggest accomplishment from them will not be a published clip but to instill a sense of empowerment in my 13-year-old daughter, to show her that the world is hers to explore, that it’s a world of yes, and if anyone tells her no, she keeps pushing forward, that despite society being rigged to benefit white guys, she can still succeed.

I feel very lucky to have the travel opportunities that I have. I know that people see the trips and assume it’s a glamorous life, but as any travel writer will tell you, it is anything but glamorous and few travel writers I know earn any real money writing about interesting destinations. Tumbleweed may blow through my wallet, but I have a long list of interesting experiences to share. Assuming I can afford to get into the party, I have enough cocktail party stories to keep the night lively. I usually don’t have a hard time at cocktail parties as long as someone else is paying for the drinks.

Stay tuned, and we’ll see what stories emerge. I can promise you that I will try to use the word “cerulean,” one of my favorite words ever anywhere, as often as possible. You’ll likely get sick of it, maybe even find it pretentious. I can’t help it, I love that word and that color. To date, “cerulean” has appeared in three of my travel articles, including my most recent piece which is in the October/November print edition of National Geographic Traveler where I talk about my obsession with hotel swimming pools (it is indeed a long-running thing). I have my second story coming out in Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, where, sadly, the word “cerulean” didn’t apply, but there are several references to “green.” It’s a coming-of-age essay set in London coming out any day now.

So off we go! Join me on the journey. No sugar-coating, I swear.