Em and Stu do America part 5: Philadelphia and Washington, DC

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Outside The White House. Lucky for us all that Jed Bartlett will forever be President. 

A whirlwind trip through Philadelphia and Washington, DC, gave us a piddling one day in each city but you will be thankful to know that true to form I managed a long post.

It is also worth noting our first sight in Philly was a Black Lives Matter protest – the second such protest we have seen, the first being in downtown Brooklyn. Both were in response to police shootings of young black men.

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Philly: historic, dignified, but snazzy. This is the waterfront on a Monday night! 

We moved on to see a Philadelphia that is historic and beautiful, navigable and a friendly size after NYC. We gazed through a window at the famous Liberty Bell, shamelessly opting not to wait in line to gaze at it in the flesh.

Highlights – all recommended by Charlie – were the Mutter medical museum where we saw slides of Einstein’s brain! Removed without his family’s foreknowledge in an unauthorised autopsy. Now there’s cheek, helping yourself to Einstein’s brain. Apparently the brain didn’t degenerate as he aged to the extent most people’s do, and several parts of it were much heavier than the lobes of his dumber peers.

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Eastern State Penitentiary

Next up was Eastern State Penitentiary, a spooky ruin with a chapel-like feel. The audio tour was narrated by Steve Buscemi! This was were well-meaning forefathers pioneered the idea that constant isolation and surveillance might inspire real penitence and reformation in prisoners. This isolation and surveillance was achieved with the notorious spoked wheel design where a guard in the centre could see down all the corridors just by twirling in his chair.

The place was famous globally, but not everyone thought it was a good idea. Charles Dickens, on his famous American tour that inspired American Notes, was horrified and sure it would send people insane. Whether it did or not, eventually America proved so spectacularly good at incarcerating people, ending up a world leader (Australia ranks surprisingly much better) the one storey wheel design wasn’t economically viable, requiring too much space, and it was this, really, that led to its downfall.

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The winning cheesesteak. (Lynette: we shared it!)

But enough about culture, what about the Philly cheesesteak, you ask? We learned this glorious foodstuff should be ordered in a very specific way, and it should be bought from Carmen’s at the fabulous Reading Terminal Market, not the more famous Pat’s (unless you are drunk and desperate).

DC we felt rather sadder about than we would have two years ago. It’s all, so, well, Trumpy and that was partly why we didn’t bother with the exhaustive application to tour the White House. We kept our spirits up for the day by keeping up the mutual pretense that it was actually Jed Bartlett from The West Wing who was really POTUS.

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Everyone’s feeling the Lincoln magic

Later we learned that that day, August 3, was actually Martin Sheen’s birthday – spooky.

Regardless, it wasn’t going to be possible to do DC justice in a day, so we didn’t try. We just gawked past the White House, waved to Bartlett (it IS him in there), then spent some time feeling insignificant at the Lincoln Memorial. We stopped by the Vietnam Memorial too in a nod to Stu’s dad’s service, a black marble slash in the ground that contrasts starkly to the tidal wave of white marble that is the National Mall.

The major stop was the Holocaust Memorial Museum, where we spent nearly five hours and still felt we skimmed it. We thought the 9/11 museum in NYC was hard; this was the worst. But we learned a lot and perhaps comprehended more than high school study can make you. Nothing makes it real like walking through a mountain of greyed shoes taken from Jewish people killed at a concentration camp in Poland, a country my grandmother fled on foot to escape the German invasion.

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The Vietnam Memorial.

 

Or walking through a freight car in which Jews were packed into like cattle to the abattoir and driven to their deaths – if they didn’t die on the journey. Or the videos taken by liberating troops at the camps – some of which needed to be hid behind walls so children wouldn’t see – of front-end loaders pushing mounds of emaciated, naked corpses into pits.

Or the elaborate scale model, stretching across a whole room, of the gas chamber system at Auschwitz showing how they killed up to a thousand people a day by channeling them in under the guise of giving them delousing showers. This produced so many corpses they overwhelmed the custom built crematoria and had to be burnt in pits.

This was the “final solution” to the problem of where to put the Jews when other countries had failed to step up and take the flow of refugees while there was still time to save them. Including Australia, which essentially said it “didn’t have a race problem and didn’t want to import one”.

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Lightening the mood with a photo of a squirrel. 

Later that same day we heard the embarrassing news about Trump’s phone call regarding refugees with Malcolm Turnbull. As I write this we have just heard the news that a young asylum seeker has killed himself on Manus Island. Seems like Australia still wants to distance itself from the world’s problems.

To move on, after the museum we were obviously totalled, so ended our tour with a stroll past Capitol Hill and an indulgence in DC’s signature food: the half-smoke, a hot dog with a half-pork, half-beef snag and creative toppings. Unfortunately no photo. It vanished too quickly.

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Fancy futuristic traino in DC. 

DC, like NYC, was larger than life, another “centre of the universe” spot. But as we board the bus to a lake in North Carolina, I am ready to leave the centre – in fact, we’re excited about getting back to the middle of nowhere!

StuMobservations Part 6: Philadelphia, DC

  • Philly Cheese Steaks left StuMo craving salad.
  • It IS always sunny in Philadelphia.
  • Some shops have power points in the floor for charging personal devices.
  • In Pennsylvania, a foreign DL is insufficient ID to buy booze. Must show passport.
  • Medical museums are depressing.
  • So are Penitentiaries.
  • So are Holocaust museums.
  • So are Vietnam War memorials.
  • We have a lot to be mindful of and thankful for.
  • Washington subway is cleaner and friendlier than New York subway.
  • If you butterfly a sausage and fold it back on itself, it stays in the bun.
  • Do Presidents watch The West Wing for tips? If not, they should.
  • Everything is bigger in America.
  • *Blasphemy Warning* Bacon and cheese on your fries is a big mistake I’ve made twice now.

 

Gallery: click first image then scroll through for slideshow

What we’re reading
Em: A Tangled Web, L.M. Montgomery; Everything that Remains, Joshua Fields Millburn
StuMo: The School of Good and Evil, Soman Chainani

What we’re listening to
Music: Gurrumul, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (RIP)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire read by Jim Dale

What we’re watching
Docos! In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Em and Stu do America part 4: New York City (warning… epic post)

StuMo’s Guide to Broadway

  • Book of Mormon justifies our entire trip to the states.
  • 1984 replaces important literature with offensive noise, felonious lighting and graphic torture scenes. People walked out.
  • Marvin’s Room like a high-school play but with famous people. (to clarify: I did like it and would recommend)
  • Aladdin: If you have to change the lyrics to one of the songs because you cut a main character (Abu), you are doing it wrong. The Genie had to take breaks mid song, even pausing mid line to catch his breath. Jasmine was utterly woeful.  My year 7 graduation version of A whole new world was more on point. “Hold your breath it gets better” = bad advice, because it most certainly did not.
  • Lion King was everything and more. Dance fighting with animals! When Zazu sang Let it Go instead of It’s a small world I died. Such an unforgettable way to spend our last day in NY.

But to go back a month in time…

We left PEI and drove six hours through an ever-denser grey abyss of fog and cloud that swamped the Canadian horizon, a Twin Peaks-esque tableau as surreal as it was beautiful.

It was a long haul, though (“LANE!!!”) and we were ready to surrender to a bus driver after returning the Chevy to Bangor. Another fabulously kind local, Pat from Rent-a-Wreck, gave us a lift to the station.

Hello NYC: a dancer makes the most of a stunning Brooklyn Bridge backdrop for her rehearsal.

Hello NYC: a dancer makes the most of a stunning Brooklyn Bridge backdrop for her rehearsal.

The cloud continued through Augusta, Portland and Boston, then the rain began. But despite the weather the day seemed brighter in the USA. In fact it seemed to me, as I stared from my front-row seat through the windows, an oddly glorious greyness, tinged with gold. The sort of light that made you feel something grand and mysterious was imminent, the perfect light to herald our entry into NYC – a month I’ve waited my whole life for.

It was then I realised I’d been gazing through the bus driver’s special barrier window which was sepia-tinted and through the rest of the windows was a prosaic, sullen grey. Ha! No matter – nothing could dim the excitement inside.

We arrived ready to party and luckily NYC was more than happy to accommodate with a rooftop celebration on the Fourth of July.

We arrived ready to party and luckily NYC was more than happy to accommodate with a rooftop celebration on the Fourth of July.

It’s not literature that brought us to NYC, I’m sorry to say, but good old television. Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City have been our cultural bread and butter since hitting puberty, and before you open your mouth, Stu’s knowledge of SATC is even more comprehensive than mine.

Not to mention the movies – the classics, the crap and everything in between. All of it stamps in your memory the sights of Coney Island. Empire State Building. Central Park. Broadway. Fifth Avenue. Times Square. Greenwich Village. They’re not just emblematic of a country, a state or a city, though they are all this – they are also our neighbourhood, just around the mental corner. To people born and raised on the box, these places are larger than life and on shows like Seinfeld and SATC especially, they’re not settings so much as characters, as inseparable from the content as the actors.

Yep. Central Park looks just like this. Stu spotted this classic "boyfriends of Instagram scene"; girl preening, guy on double duty as oarsman and photographer.

Yep. Central Park looks just like this. Stu spotted this classic “boyfriends of Instagram scene”; girl preening, guy on double duty as oarsman and photographer.

As I have grown older I have become more aware of the odd paradox represented by the allure of a hyperreal land I have never visited. NYC is venerated as the centre of the universe, the common wisdom is that it’s mecca for anyone who wants to be at the top of their profession, be that arts, finance, or anything, or just live in the most exciting place on earth. After so many years of hungering for a Manhattan apartment of my own I had to ask myself, Carrie-style: is it real at all?

This is why we gave ourselves a month: to get the apartment (Brooklyn, though), pretend hard to be locals, and find out.

The answer is of course it’s real. It’s, ye gods, a bigger, hotter, louder, pricier, denser, sadder, funnier, dirtier, stinkier real than the scrubbed, noise-controlled screen versions can truly render (just try to capture the utter surreal madness of Times Square with a point-and-shoot).

Thanks for the parties guys! How's this for a spot to watch the fireworks?

Thanks for the parties guys! How’s this for a spot to watch the fireworks?

We caught up with locals – my old friend Paul and his partner Stephanie, relatively recent Australian expats, treated us to penthouse parties on the Fourth of July; a newer friend Joe, from Brooklyn (Dom and Jess’ best man) took us out to dinner. They all tell me for the time being at least they would not live anywhere else, despite the expense, the long work hours, the high-impact lifestyle.

It’s easy to understand when every day you walk past icons – Liberty, the WTC, the Empire State Building, NBC, Radio City, the MET, the almost supernaturally beautiful Central Park, why New Yorkers would feel like they’re at the centre of the universe and love it.

Lady Liberty: up close, she is colossal, powerful and moving.

Lady Liberty: up close, she is colossal, powerful and moving.

It is also easy to understand why it could make native New Yorkers somewhat insular, give the impression that they’re living in their own little world, that nowhere else is quite real. We observed this and ran it by our friends, and came to the conclusion: of course NYC-dwellers are living in their own little world. It’s complete, it’s self-sufficient. They don’t need to consider what it would be like anywhere else, because they have everything they need. Not to mention all the stuff they don’t need, evidenced by the confronting mountains of rubbish that are part and parcel of this life as much as the glamour.

But they all need to get out of the city from time to time, the natives I meet tell me. Whether it be to the Hamptons, upstate NYC or further, they build down time into their lives.

Central Park provides some gorgeous moments of downtime.

Central Park provides some gorgeous moments of downtime.

We did our best to do NYC justice in a month of touring combined with hard book editing –editing of my first novel is now complete and regardless of what happens now I am proud. I had the experience of finishing the macro edits in the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room, which I’ll never forget.

I’m also proud of how much we managed to do in a month. We walked as many of the neighbourhoods of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as possible, ticked off the big tourist boxes and also did community stuff like farmers’ markets, local theatre, a doggy fashion show. We saw the stuffing out of Broadway. We devoted hours to art galleries and devoured food, glorious food. We quickly abandoned the mid-to-fancy range – there, Perth holds its own – so we concentrated on “only in New York”… bagels, pastrami, corned beef, babkas (yes! Found cinnamon babka!), pizza, international street foods, hot dogs, diner comfort food, cheesecakes, Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. The only thing we failed to find was a good pretzel. It’s probably a good thing we leave, before I eat anything else.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn Heights.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn Heights.

And I don’t know about Stu, but I’m excited about a return to nature. As stunning as Central Park and Prospect Park are, they’re not the nature I know, but a tamed, designed version, despite the “wild” zones – the Ramble in CP and the Ravine in PP. Nowhere do you escape the deafening drone of helicopters, the incessant scream of ambulances, the murmur of twenty million airconditioners running continuously to cool the throbbing heat of this city. It’s so exciting, so stimulating, and yet my heart longs for wildness, for real silence.

NYC is full of incredible beauty and also ugliness, each more intense than I’ve ever encountered. A land of extremes that prompts reflection, but gives you scant time for it. I might be sorry to leave if this were the end of the trip, and I have had mad urges to go and see two plays on the same day, just to fit more in, but we are only excited about the adventures still to come and perhaps finding that reflection time as we travel slowly through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida.

But first: two days each in Philadelphia and Washington, here we come!

Central Park's Bethesda Terrace

Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace

StuMobervations part 5: NYC

  • Beer is not sold at bottle-o’s. It is sold at supermarkets with groceries.
  • You can’t pee quietly in an American toilet, the bowl is so full. Average flush = 6 gallons (22.7 litres)
  • Just because it is devoid of all nutrition does not mean it is not food
  • A sweat mop is an essential item.
  • Australia needs the “everything bagel” as a standard lunch option.
  • Never buy a pretzel from a street cart. Look great, but taste like salty cardboard.
  • Maps just give you something to look at while you argue about where you are.
  • Doggy fashion shows are as awesome as you think.
  • I now understand Mitch Hedberg’s – “Would you like anything else with the pastrami sandwich?” “Yeah, a loaf of bread and some other people!”
  • I saw Starry Night!
  • Junior’s cheesecake is better than your cheesecake.
  • Coney Island = Sideshow alley plus horrible beach. P.S. not an island.
  • It is illegal to take your dog on the subway unless it’s in a bag.
  • Times Square should be avoided.
  • Real Kramer Tour means now need to rewatch all of Seinfeld. We got soup!
  • East Village Pub Crawl is the best idea. BYO local guide.
  • Need a book? People leave them on their front porches, or “stoops”, for free.
  • Freegans are people who eat out of garbage cans by choice.
  • Talk to people on the subway if you want, just don’t smile at them. That’s weird.

For the exceptionally committed readers (hi mum) this is exactly what we did… have only named outstanding eateries

Week 1
Stonewall Inn, Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village Walk tour, Tick Tock diner, Brooklyn’s Park Slope walking tour including Prospect Park, farmer’s market, New York Public Library, Fourth of July party day, Fourth of July hangover day, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island immigration museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Empire State Building, Central Park walking tour part I, Al-di-La restaurant, Peppino’s Pizza part I.

The MET

The MET

Week 2
Downtown Brooklyn walking tour, Bagel Hole, Shake Shack (thanks Juji), Whitney Museum of American Art, 9/11 Museum and Memorial, Hudson Riverpark, Museum of Natural History, Bricolage restaurant, Guggenheim, Broadway 1984 (average), Junior’s cheesecake, Brooklyn’s annual doggy fashion show, Peppino’s pizza part II.

The memorial incredibly beautiful and sobering, the museum a raw and confronting exhibition. A must do.

The memorial incredibly beautiful and sobering, the museum a raw and confronting exhibition. A must do.

Week 3
High Line walking tour, Strand Bookstore, Katz’s Deli (of pastrami sandwich and When Harry Met Sally faked orgasm fame), Eileen’s special cheesecake, Brooklyn Bridge walk, Prospect Park part II, Times Square, Broadway Marvin’s Room (excellent)Magnolia Bakery of SATC and red velvet cupcake fame, Central Park walking tour part II (Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Building, Ghostbusters sights, Plaza Hotel); Broadway Aladdin (average), the Museum of Modern Art, dinner at Junior’s, NY Public Library part II, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Brooklyn (excellent).

Subway terminal seen from The High Line

Subway terminal seen from The High Line

Week 4
Coney Island, lots of book editing, Kenka Japanese in East Village with Joe (the end of the mashup video below is Emma failing at the fairy floss machine there), Broadway Book of Mormon (excellent), Ess-a-Bagel, Jim Henson exhibition at Queens’ Museum of the Moving Image, Queens food tour consisting of slice pizza and shawarma, kayaking by the Brooklyn Bridge, Museum of Modern Art part II, epic East Village pub crawl with Paul and Stephanie, ate terrible pretzel off street cart when hungover, regretted this, Kramer’s Seinfeld Tour (yes, Kramer was based on Larry David’s actual neighbour, who cashed in and now does an amazing behind the scenes of Seinfeld tour); Broadway The Lion King, Prospect Park part III.
Last hurrah: back to Peppino’s Pizza for a third time, for what the staff there now know as the “drunk Australian special”.

Spiderman takes a moment to call his folks on Coney Island, a place as grungy and weird as we could have hoped for.

Spiderman clocks off to call his folks on Coney Island, as grungy and weird a place as we hoped.

What we’re reading
Em: On Writing, Stephen King; Wet Magic, E. Nesbit; Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel
StuMo: The Stand, Stephen King

What we’re listening to
Music: The Gospel Album, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (RIP)
Aladdin and Little Mermaid soundtracks by Alan Menken
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
read by Jim Dale

What we’re watching
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Excellent 1962 horror movie. Well worth it. 
Game of Thrones 
(hurrah!)

Em and Stu do Canada: L. M. Montgomery’s Prince Edward Island

“Old Prince Edward Island is a good place to be born – a good place in which to spend a childhood. I can think of none better … Elsewhere are more lavish landscapes and grander scenery; but for chaste, restful loveliness it is unsurpassed … And yet we cannot define the charm of Prince Edward Island in terms of land or sea. It is too elusive – too subtle. For lands have personalities just as well as human beings; and to know that personality you must live in the land and companion it and draw sustenance of body and spirit from it; so only can you know a land and be known of it.”

-L. M. Montgomery

We only had five days on Canada’s PEI, but we kept this in mind and tried to do it justice.

Yes, it is this pretty everywhere.

Yes, it is this pretty everywhere.

Armed with a car for the first time, and with Stu screeching “LANE” every time I almost went off the road – driving on the ‘wrong’ side is weird – we made it the six hours from Bangor to the Island with marriage intact. Barely.

The entry from mainland Canada is made via the 13-kilometre Confederation Bridge over Northumberland Strait, of which Islanders are justifiably proud. It is uncanny to drive a narrow strip of concrete over so much sea, unable to see land ahead or behind. I half expected to see a giant cinematic kraken to rear over the parapet at any moment and grab us, sinking back into the watery depths with car and occupants clutched in its maw.

Confederation Bridge is a long-arse bridge.

Confederation Bridge is a long-arse bridge.

We made it over the bridge without being nabbed by any sea monsters and commenced a week of avid sightseeing informed exclusively by the works of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of not just the Anne of Green Gables series but the Emily of New Moon and Pat of Silver Bush series, all set on the island the author grew up in and read almost to pieces throughout my childhood. Not to mention periodic re-readings throughout adulthood; whenever escape, consolation or inspiration was required.

Some of my most beloved books.

Some of my most beloved books.

Islanders are dead proud of Montgomery, so Anne-inspired tourism is easy. In the island’s capital of Charlottetown, where we stayed, there is an Anne gift shop and Anne-inspired chocolate shop, despite chocolate having nothing to do with, well, anything. You can attend the annual Charlottetown Festival season of the musical Anne of Green Gables – Canada’s longest-running musical at more than five decades – or the newer Anne and Gilbert musical, part of this year’s Festival.

Proudly cashing in since always.

Proudly cashing in since always.

Leaving Charlottetown, you can do a scenic coastal drive comprising a few hundred kilometres around the circumference of the middle third of the Island, the centre stretch of which takes you into Cavendish, which inspired the fictional village of Avonlea.

You can see the author’s aunt and uncle’s house, which inspired Green Gables, and the accompanying woodlands rendered in the series as Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood. You can see the site of her childhood home at the end of the walk through the Haunted Wood. You can visit White Sands Hotel (actually called Dalvay By the Sea) where Anne did her first recitation. You can visit the post office where Montgomery and her family worked and Montgomery’s gravesite nearby. You can visit the little house she was born in, then her cousins’ house in Park Corner, the location of her wedding as well as the inspiration for Silver Bush and the pond 12-year-old Anne Shirley christened the ‘Lake of Shining Waters’.

Lover's Lane: everything I wanted it to be.

Lover’s Lane: everything I wanted it to be.

Every single stop carries its own faithfully detailed museum devoted to Montgomery and (bar the musicals) we did it all. In one day. Yep, Stu’s a trooper.

He followed me around, looking tactfully aside when I burst into emotional tears upon entering the grounds of Green Gables. He took photos of trees. He shouted LANE when I nearly drove the car into every ditch on the roads in between stops. He took countless photos of me, obediently deleting those I said I looked fat in.

Speaking of princes, this one is the best.

Speaking of princes, this one is the best.

While the Gables was so thick with tourists you could do little more than shuffle along the conveyor belt and peer into the themed furnishings, which seemed much more elaborate than they actually were in the novels or in Montgomery’s day, Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood did not disappoint; as beautiful, as meandering, as inspiring as my inner child could ever hope for.

The site of her childhood home was breathtaking, the gravesite she had chosen herself lovingly tended nearby, overlooking the dunes, harbour, pond and shore she loved. At the fittingly sumptuous Dalvay By the Sea, where Canada geese fossicked along the shores of the pond outside, we only stopped for coffee but the staff insisted on lighting a fire for us in the room we chose to sit in, upping the romance factor considerably.

Having a fire lit especially for you: now that is service.

Having a fire lit especially for you: now that is service.

I did feel the museums glossed over the facts of Montgomery’s death at age 67, which her family many years ago publicly confirmed was suicide. This breakdown and death followed the long period the author had silently coped with the societal pressures of being a minister’s wife, the personal pressures caused by her husband’s incapacitation due to chronic depression, and the anguish caused by the destructive behaviour of one of her cherished sons.

I had researched these details for myself, having seen only hushed hints at them buried in dim corners of the otherwise extensive museums. For days afterwards I contemplated at length the awful, lonely end for this woman who had illuminated life for millions of people. I devoted the rest of the week to spending as much time outdoors as possible, going for long walks, appreciating the landscapes she loved and trying to reconcile the image of the joyful nature worshipper with the image of someone who eventually drowned in their own despair.

A sunset walk on a beach in Charlottetown.

A sunset walk on a beach in Charlottetown.

A person’s interior life is never as simple as the one they present to the world – but it takes both light and darkness to make a life. Darkness, trauma and loss was always acknowledged in Montgomery’s novels, and I thought these museums should have honoured her entire life, not just the beautiful parts.

But the beautiful parts were certainly honest; the glowing descriptions were justified every day we spent on that island, though if I ever see Montgomery in heaven I am going to have to ask how she coped on those long romantic rambles when it was mosquito season.

The one hurried photo we were able to take on our hike.

The one hurried photo we were able to take on our hike.

Big, terrifying, angry mosquitoes plagued the forests that were full of water, it being springtime, and pursued us relentlessly. One ill-fated hike, intended to be 15 kilometres, we cut to about 10, skipping great swathes along the way, unable to stop and appreciate the fairytale woods around us, the wild orchids and berries, the mossy forest floors, as these evil mosquito overlords drove us from their territory. We could not stop to rest, drink in scenery or snap photos. We practically ran the 10 kilometres, pausing briefly twice in open country to pour more repellent on ourselves (half a large bottle used that one morning). By the end of the hike we were essentially fleeing those beautiful woods as though it were wolves, not mozzies, at our heels.

THANKS FOR THE WARNING LUCY MAUD.

Sticking to the shore from now on.

Sticking to the shore from now on.

We did not attempt the woods again, but stuck to the coastal areas unbothered by marauding beasts, just soaking in the rest of the scenery PEI is famous for: new crops being sown in freshly ploughed fields of iron-rich red soil, beside roadsides lined with lupin flowers that have become iconic despite authorities’ helpless annual attempts to hack them down as weeds messing up the drainage system. There is water everywhere – ponds, streams, river crossings around every bend in the road, fishermen tending the lobster nets that, alongside Anne, form another mainstay of the local economy.

It is truly a magical place. We were sorry to leave and vowed to return. But there are consolations… next stop, New York City!

Stumobservations Part 4: PEI

  • Canadians can understand me! “Budweiser, please” produces a beer and a smile.
  • Canada Netflix is different to US Netflix.
  • Locals like it when you refer to US$ as monopoly money.
  • Locals don’t like it when you pronounce it ‘Canadia’.
  • It takes an intelligent, independent, successful, left-handed, blonde journalist about 31 years to master a can opener.
  • Mosquitoes are jerks, ey?
  • PEI has the best greens. Everything is lush.
  • Scones are called biscuits and they are served before meals with whipped cinnamon butter. Tasty.
  • If you think of something, stop and do it because you won’t be back later.
  • Locals doing bog laps in Charlottetown to the Spice Girls…. Because sometimes you wanna really really really wanna zig-a-zig-ah!
  • Butter is too a snack food.
  • Positive driver reinforcement yields better results when riding shotgun on the wrong side of the road than white-knuckled screaming.

What we’re reading
Em: The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
StuMo: The Stand, Stephen King

What we’re listening to
Music: The Bends, Radiohead

What we’re watching
Back to the original Twin Peaks.

Em and Stu do America part 3: Stephen King’s Maine

Let me explain why we love Stephen King, commonly misrepresented as a horror writer. The true horror of King is not terrible and frightening things happening, but that they are happening to people he has made you care for.

I recently read The Shining and could not get through a subsequent re-watch of the famous Kubrick adaptation because it casually disregarded all I’d read, wide-eyed, transfixed, begging inwardly throughout that salvation might be granted to the family I’d somehow grown to love.

Stephen King’s dope fence ironwork a blacksmith made ‘forspecial’. He doesn’t lock his gates!

Pet Sematary, better known as a schlocky horror movie, was a book whose true horror was its confronting examination of a parent confronting that most inconceivable of griefs, the loss of a child. With that inexorable tumble of mishap that seems to precipitate all literary tragedies, it illuminated parental terrors that were, at the time of writing, almost taboo in fiction.

The ghouls and gore are just a bonus, and he’s a master of those too, but this is how King really drags you under: emotional truth.

So why go to Bangor, where King lives and works? The first thing you need to understand is that King’s locations, characters and motifs inhabit multiple works – the more you read, the more it becomes a bit of a treasure hunt as you build a mental map of the King universe and plot the connections between the books. “Derry”, a fictional town based on Bangor, is the centre of that universe.

The section of a Bangor cemetery where Pet Sematary was filmed. I chose the spookiest pic but this is actually a very beautiful ‘garden cemetery’, where King used to go to walk, reflect… and get ideas for character names. It’s unusual in having these hillside graves, no longer common practice.

Pet Sematary contains a reference to an affectionate doglike raccoon domesticated by his Derry ‘owners’. About eight years later, this re-emerges as the ‘billy bumbler’ Oy in Wastelands.

Father Donald Callahan is a Derry resident who fights the head vampire in 1975’s Salem’s Lot. Callahan reappears in 2003’s Wolves of the Calla, a story in which he must go back in time. He briefly considers, while he is at it, attempting to avert the Kennedy assassination, but fears the butterfly effect.

This idea formed the plot of King’s 2011 novel 11.22.63, recently adapted as a miniseries.

A fictionalised version of Bangor, including King’s house, also appears in the Dark Tower 6, Song of Susannah; Randall Flagg, named for a kitchen store in Bangor, appears as villain under various guises in numerous King novels.

The inspiration for the infamous Randall Flagg. Not so scary when you see the origin!

There are websites that go through all of the hundreds of connections exhaustively, but before I get carried away… our pilgrimage was not just to gawk like dorks at King’s awesome house or tick sightings of the famous locations off a list, but to appreciate the beauty of small-town Maine that King has described over our entire lifetimes with such a wealth of affectionate detail that the moment we stepped into town we already felt we had been there, ‘once upon a dream.’

Our guide at SK Tours, also named Stu, put us to shame, though. Not only had he seemingly read just about all of King’s 60-odd books but as a smallish town (around the size of Bunbury) everyone is connected through numerous community, personal and professional ties. So Stu knows King, knows his family, knows his friends, as well as knowing the works and films, and the history of the development of King’s career right back to the time he was an impoverished, unpublished wannabe. He wove the stories of King’s early struggles and setbacks, slowly building the suspense of the various stories he told in an expertly paced drive through town that lasted for about 3.5 hours and left us hanging on every word.

This local FM station was going under. So King bought it and turned it into a rock’n’roll station.

We knew, perhaps, about the locations in town that key scenes were based on, but we didn’t know about how much King’s love for his town has shaped what he and wife Tabitha King have done through their charitable foundation. We’re talking a beautiful new children’s wing for the local hospital, perhaps 90 new kids’ playgrounds, a public pool with super low entrance fees, countless sizeable donations to local not-for-profits and a baseball field for children. Tabitha King led a fundraising campaign for the previously crumbling library that unexpectedly raised millions, which the Kings then gamely matched – their only condition being the extension and restorations had to include a vastly improved children’s wing.

Stu and I later visited this library and found it massive and beautiful, with a huge and delightful children’s wing. Putting Perth to shame, the library is open until 8pm nightly in winter and 7pm in summer, and its book circulation outstrips that of Boston’s despite Boston being a city nearly 50 times larger!

Only a tiny portion of a gorgeous and enormous kids’ wing, full of books and comfy nooks.

Needless to say, all this warmed the cockles of our hearts and fanned admiration into something closer to adoration.

I’ll add here that the couple has not insisted any of these buildings be called “The King Pool” or “King Library” or King Baseball Field”, etc. Instead, they had the pool and field named for local children who died from illness, whose families the Kings knew. The local city hall has had to content itself with subtle plaques at each location thanking the Kings for their donations.

Yep, he built the kids a stadium.

I should also mention the fantastic King-focused bookstore in town, Gerald Winters & Son, which has “ordinary” editions of King and other books but is also stuffed full of carefully chosen collectors’ items, first and other rare editions of King’s works. It’s definitely a labour of love and is a must-visit for anyone going to Bangor.

Our whole week in Maine was a lesson in why the Kings love this town so. It’s small and beautiful, and has no creepy Pleasantville vibe like Jeffersonville but has the nostalgic country town vibe in spades. Kids rode around everywhere on their bikes, calling to mind E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Now and Then and Stranger Things. We were a little disappointed not to have stumbled over any corpses, Stand By Me-style.

There were fewer American flags here, a welcome respite. But nobody skimped on that other must-have, hanging baskets full of flowers. Almost every cute wooden porch was festooned with them and surrounded by a full cottage garden. The Americans seem unparalleled in embracing the cottage garden. As an Australian, used to spindly trees, frizzled lawns and grey-green natives, I can’t get enough of it. And every patch not filled with flowers sports a leafy big maple full of squirrels that cavort saucily before bemused housecats. I stalked them faithfully but the money shot continues to elude.

I’ll get you yet, squirrel.

Even the derelict population seemed less confronting than in Chicago or even Perth. Rather than overwhelming numbers of people begging on street corners we saw little evidence of social disadvantage, though I don’t doubt it exists. We only saw one guy actually begging with a sign. It read “Why lie? Need beer.”

The other beggar, who we referred to as our friendly neighbourhood homeless guy, asked us to buy him beers on the first night. After we refused, he didn’t try again though we walked past him at least once a day to or from town, but just gave us a kind of morose greeting.

A completely typical Bangor garden.

The last time we saw him was as we walked home from a dinner out. I remarked to Stu as we walked that I liked Bangor because it was so pretty, but not overly neat or perfect it still had personality.

It was right then that friendly neighbourhood homeless guy appeared and did a perfectly timed little spew on the pavement right in front of us. He performed this with the brevity of a cat abruptly yakking its dinner up on the rug.

We managed to hold in our giggles until we were past the poor fellow, who looked philosophical rather than embarrassed.

Bangor Pride.

Overall, we loved Bangor, its sense of community that came out not just in Stu the tour guide’s tales of the town but in the big crowd that turned out for the local high school’s rhythm and blues band show outside the library one mild Wednesday night (see video below), and in the huge crowd that turned out for the town Pride Parade on the morning we left.

It’s lucky King’s got the place licked, or I’d be pulling up stumps and carting Stu off permanently.

Stumobservations part 3: Maine

  • Average WiFi and acceptable Netflix = 3 out of 5 happy StuMos watching Archer.
  • People spending the night in train stations naturally huddle in groups seeking sanctuary. (We spent 1am to 7am in Boston between our overnight train and three subsequent buses totalling 26 hours of continuous travel).
  • Racing matching suitcases is a fun pastime.
  • Lobster is expensive.
  • Stephen King’s life story is fascinating. Lesson: If your wife doesn’t like the neighbours, just buy their house.
  • SQUIRRELS!
  • Three sets of earbuds plus a set of headphones is a bit excessive. (Donated bulky headphones to Airbnb).
  • Take notes because you will not remember later.
  • A flat white is called a latte… but still not what I wanted.
  • Dollar stores are a good source of junk food.
  • My idea of consumable fries and others understanding of what constitutes acceptable fries differs greatly.
  • Bare minimum, pack a spray jacket.
  • My name is pronounced Stoo now. May as well embrace it (still cringed even as I write this).

The lesson being, ask what the “MP” is before you buy the tiny weeny lobster roll. Thank goodness we were sharing it.

What we’re reading
Em: Mistress Pat, L.M. Montgomery – in preparation for Canada and all of the Anne of Green Gables madness. Still going on Walden, Artist’s Way, My Salinger Year.
StuMo: finished Em’s novel draft! Apparently did not hate it. Will be incorporating his suggestions next month in New York. Now closing in on the end of The Red Queen.

What we’re listening to
Audiobooks: Lee Child’s Worth Dying For; Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn, narrated super well by the author (thanks Charlie!) 
Music: Miles Davis, John Coltrane… and Native American Dance Trance. Yes. That’s what it is called. Also, the Pitch Perfect soundtrack was a key player in our six-hour drive from Bangor to Prince Edward Island, Canada.

What we’re watching
The Handmaid’s Tale – an Atwood adaptation seems appropriate for Canada. Just finished, and absolutely loved it.

 

Em and Stu do America Part 2: The Catskills and Woodstock

An overnight Amtrak out of Chicago was the first leg of a 24-hour journey to reach upstate New York for a week in a Catskills hotel, courtesy of Mum!

The idyllic Catskills.

The idyllic Catskills.

It ran so late we nearly missed our connecting bus from Syracuse to Binghamton but we dashed on to the Greyhound as it rumbled into life in time to discover afresh how lovely Americans can be.

The bus was packed by the time we piled on but “JD” noticed the whites of our eyes rolling in panic deduced we were together and moved seats so we could sit beside each other. As our heartbeats slowed he told us he was a professional tour guide. He then dispensed a pile of professional advice on our route and transport selections before going to sleep, whereupon we gaped out at the increasingly dramatic mountains.

On the next bus, from Binghamton to Monticello, driver Brad regaled us with tales of his beautiful and entrepreneurial Brazilian second wife, who is setting up a lucrative food business from their backyard to his general bemusement, and with facts about the surrounding, impossibly green maple forests, and the Delaware River glittering far below the windows. 

We saw hours and hours of this.

We saw hours and hours of this.

The Catskills, he said, were in their heyday akin to The Hamptons, a holiday destination for the rich and famous, including the Rockefellers. Now, we have found, they are targeted by the Italians and blue-rinses who choose Villa Roma for its odd cruise-ship-on-land feel and Roman theme, complete with Caesar night in which the Director dresses up and rides a chariot around. Yep.

On the final bus from Monticello to the resort, which we staggered on to exhausted and smelly, driver Eric regaled us with stories of his two little boys who he teaches to ward off bullies, to greet and farewell every house guest politely and never to say “I can’t” but rather to say “I need help”.

He pointed out scenery and told us that very close to the resort lay the site of the original 1969 Woodstock festival, now home to a monument and museum.

Bethel Woods Centre for the Arts’ Woodstock museum.

We lost no time in going and learned amazing details about the organisation of the festival itself, how it came at a pivotal moment in the decade of upheaval that was the 1960s, and about the performers and their performances there. Richie Havens’ iconic Freedom was improvised on the spot while he was trying to keep the impatient crowd happy as the opening of the festival was delayed. Hendrix’s spine-chilling rendition of Star-Spangled Banner was full of sonic improvisations reflecting the sounds of the Vietnam War using feedback from the instruments. 

We walked to the site itself, setting off down the deserted street picturing what it was like when half a million pilgrims did the same nearly 50 years ago, abandoning the impossible gridlock to complete their journeys on foot.

Taken from the stage area – a peace sign mowed into the grass in the background, mirrored by the peace signs pilgrims have made from rocks in the foreground.

There is now a a peace sign mowed into the lawn overlooking the slight rise upon which was built the stage where Baez, Joplin, Hendrix and Santana made history. We sat on the stage, feeling squashed by the bigness of it all, and ate our sandwiches (also squashed).

We then walked to the lake in which all the Woodstockers skinny-dipped and washed mud off themselves and their clothes. We looked at its quiet expanse and understood something of why one of the festival attendees said, in the museum’s videos, that bathing here, surrounded by so much love and joy, had felt like a kind of rebirth.

Filippini’s Pond, where the concertgoers bathed.

Walking back up, we greeted the very same guy, Duke, recognising his impressive beard from the video. He had gone to the festival as a young man then got odd jobs in the area afterwards. He just never left. Eventually he served as site interpreter for the museum before retiring.He now still hung around there because, he said, the site held such a strong pull for him.

Along with an hour’s horse-riding in the Callicoon forest I treated myself to and a hike we went on with awe-inspiring views, Woodstock was the week’s highlight. The four hours or so we spent poring over it all were a counterpoint to the generally entertaining but sometimes disturbing business of observing rich old people whose lives were generally dedicated to golf and making loud phone calls.

We were going to Woodstock. They were going to the casino.

ALL NEW!!! By popular demand, StuMo gets his own segment:

StuMobservations

I did proof read and offer some suggestions for Part 1: Chicago, but from now on will be writing a section of my own.  Here are some dot points to add to the previous post:

  • Tipping is something I will never fully appreciate.
  • WiFi does not always = Netflix. Stoopid red circle.
  • Citibank US and Citibank AU are completely separate entities with separate databases and contact info. Totally different banks, people.
  • Beer on tap is more expensive than bottled beer –> hello Budweiser my new friend.
  • “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” is prolly not the best choice of shirt to travel in.
  • Keep right applies to foot traffic as well. Backwards!

StuMobservations Part 2: Catskills

  • Once again Wifi does not = Netflix… unless you stay up til midnight and are the only person in the entire hotel using the free 1.5Mbps connection speed. (4Mbps was $20US for the week and I was not prepared to pay for the upgrade).
  • Despite multiple attempts at different combinations of speed, inflection and accent, I have yet to successfully order a Budweiser without repeating myself 3 times.
  • Break in any new clothes/shoes prior to travelling.
  • 1 in 5 bean salads are not too bad.
  • Don’t watch a youtube clip of a comedian to see if they are funny before you go see them live, you’ll end up ruining more than half their act for yourself.
  • Saw me some deer and a groundhog.
  • Americans will tell you anything and everything about themselves without prompting.
  • I now see the true value of diet and exercise… or at least where we are headed without it.

Groundhog makes a break for it.

What we’re reading
Em: All the Light we Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, 2014 Pulitzer winner; 1992 classic The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron; Pet Sematary, Stephen King; New York literary memoir My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff.
Stu: the first draft of Em’s novel (74% through!) and The Red Queen, Isobelle Carmody.

What we’re listening to
Audiobooks: Stephen King’s IT; Lee Child’s Die Trying; Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil
Music: Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin.

What we’re watching
Original Twin Peaks series, Archer 

Gallery

Em and Stu do America Part 1: Chicago

Spoiler alert: we did nothing literary, unless it counts that we visited two libraries in a frantic search for wifi. It was enough for our first leg to come to terms with raging jet lag, culture shock and inevitable but still alarming logistical problems.

Free wifi with a side serve of book-related inspiration at Chicago Public Library.

Free wifi with a side serve of book-related inspiration at Chicago Public Library.

We arrived at 8pm at our AirBnB wondering why the hell the sun was still brightly shining outside. We crept confusedly into the small supermarket opposite our AirBnB. We had just spent 18+ hours on planes and it felt as though the floor was rocking as we walked. We gazed around in terrified wonder, bought a roast chicken with cash, devoured half of it from the plastic tub back in the room, then slept like the dead for 13 hours straight.

The three-day visit was intended to contain things like architectural river cruises and well planned DIY walking tours as well as, obviously, deep dish pizza and hot dogs. Actually, who am I kidding? The priority was the food. And that’s lucky, because while we did locate fantastic food thanks to meticulous pre-planning, we spent the hours intended for tourism locked in libraries frantically phoning banks that mysteriously stopped our debit cards despite us having completed all the necessary steps pre-departure. They reinstated them several days later, after StuMo emailed them in ALL CAPS.

We had neglected another necessary step, though; forgot to give the USA mobile number to our banks before leaving, and being unable to call them and unable to receive that miracle of modern technology, SMS confirmation codes, left us in a panicky pickle.

Free wifi with a side serve of public art at Chicago's West End Public Library.

Free wifi with a side serve of public art at Chicago’s West End Public Library.

Thus, attempting to book what turned out to be outrageously complex public transport options to reach our next destination turned out to be a four-hour nightmare spent in Chicago’s West End public library. Eventually we gave up trying to buy online and I spent 40 minutes on the phone to Amtrak cowering in the library vestibule, wincing at the street sounds and trying not to shout confidential credit card numbers into the phone too loudly. As it was, the automated voice recognition software enthusiastically picked up the sound of all the much louder Americans also on their phones in the same five-foot-square space. If you’re wondering why we didn’t get an AirBnB with wifi, we had – it just turned out to be not-as-advertised.

We headed downtown for deep dish pizza in a state of nervous collapse but the deep dish fixed everything, though the shock of the burgeoning realisation that we are privileged young adults with no conception of what it is like to have to do anything without the help of delicious free flowing Data Coverage remains and will take some time to adjust to.

IT'S OK, WE HAVE PIZZA. The deep dish marvel at Gino's on La Salle.

IT’S OK, WE HAVE PIZZA. Deep dish heaven at Gino’s on La Salle.

While problems such as these reduced our time in Chicago and we didn’t manage any river cruises or get to properly plan our DIY walking tours, we still managed to get around, doing hours of walking around the city and river both to save cash and take in the sights as best we could while rationing our Google Maps and general staring at phones.

We were staggered by the scale and grandeur of the buildings in this city, the largest either of us has ever seen, and it was StuMo’s job to keep an eye on my dangling handbag and keep me crossing streets at the appropriate time as I goggled amazedly upwards, freely pointing at and photographing everything, blithely uncaring of the tourist spectacle I was making of myself.

Beside gazing at Chicago’s stunning architecture we obviously visited the magic Bean, sorry, the Cloud Gate public art piece that draws crowds every day, and explored the Millennium Park that surrounds it, down to the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Cloud Gate at Millennium Park

Cloud Gate at Millennium Park

We were taken aback by First Contact with the aliens themselves, by which I mean the American people, who are not only “just like on TV”, as we whispered to each other, but somehow bigger and louder and madder and more colourful versions of the stereotypes we had assumed until now were only stereotypes. And not only that but kind, friendly and cheerful in a way I was completely unprepared for, despite having been warned. I don’t mean this to suggest that I had thought Americans would be unfriendly – I had just always thought of Australians as friendly when now, by comparison, they seem incredibly quiet, laid-back and self-conscious. In a line, at the gym, out walking, on the bus, on an elevator – anywhere you can think of that an Australian would keep their eyes on the floor and attempt to pretend they are actually alone in that space, an American will already be smiling and greeting you, if not actually having a conversation with you and trying either to find out your life history or tell you their own.

At Lou Malnati’s Italian restaurant in downtown Chicago, ‘Mike’ heard our Australian accents at the bar as we bought drinks while waiting for a table. He struck up a conversation while he waited for his ‘buddy’ to go and see a band, offered us his spare two tickets for said band, helped us work out the accepted way of tipping the bartender, warned us to order our deep dish while we were waiting and then told us which one to order. When we went to our table and his buddy arrived, he bought us drinks and sent them over.

Merchandise Mart, one of the largest buildings in the world.

Merchandise Mart, one of the largest buildings in the world.

As an Australian, behaviour such as this makes you only suspicious that you have been marooned with a Crazy Person and you frantically plot your escape. But the behaviour of everyone else we had already encountered had prepared us to believe that Mike was actually just a Really Nice Guy like absolutely everyone else. A quick ‘sorry’ to someone you bump in a crowd meets an ‘oh no, you are totally OK!’ Everyone you meet tells you to ‘have a great day’. Waitstaff you are scamming free sachets of mayonnaise off because you are a povo traveller say “oh no, I got ya.”

The highlight of our visit was undoubtedly returning to Millennium Park on Friday night, our last night, for the first headliner of the three-day Chicago Blues Fest, a free three-day concert that draws big names every year.

Nightfall at Millennium Park's main stage.

Nightfall at Millennium Park’s main stage.

We saw the sun go down over the park’s massive amphitheatre and city skyline to the sounds of Billy Branch & the Son of Blues with guests Lurrie Bell, Freddie Dixon, J.W. Williams, Carlos Johnson, Carl Weathersby, Bill McFarland and Chicago Fire Horns and Mae Koen & The Lights. Locals, meanwhile, treated us to impromptu dance performances that ranged from charming to breathtaking. If you have a spare four minutes check out the video at the end – it’s worth it.

Mum, plastic cups of Chardonnay come with lids on. Genius!

The final day we spent much of trying to locate currency exchanges as a safeguard against our stopped cards, ducking into the relative quiet of airconditioned supermarket aisles to escape the sheer cacophony of the streets outside as we spent more time wrangling with banks on the phone.

The blues fest continued to rage inside Millennium Park, audible across the city, competing with countless deafening conversations of passersby and the sounds of young shirtless men stretching the music festival into every street corner, banging out drum solos on upturned buckets with the kind of talent and showmanship you should really pay to see.

A must-do destination, gleaned from Gabriel Iglesias' stand-up, was Portillos' Cake Shake - yep, whole pieces of cake smashed into drink form. I can't believe I ate-drank the whole thing. Totally worth it.

A must-do destination, gleaned from Gabriel Iglesias’ stand-up, was Portillos’ Cake Shake – yep, whole pieces of cake smashed into drink form. I can’t believe I ate-drank the whole thing. Totally worth it.

Later we braved the most insane food-hall scene we have ever seen in the maelstrom of Portillo’s hot dog emporium – an utterly bewildering experience, but the best way ever to close off the night before heading to Union Station to catch the overnight Lake Shore Amtrak east.

As magnificent as the river and architecture were, it was the blues fest and these chance encounters more than anything else that made us feel like we at least managed to glimpse the soul of Chicago.

Postscript: Stu did want to draw more attention to the entertainment reference in this post title by calling it “Emvis and Buttstu do America” but I said no.

What we’re reading
Em: Walden, Henry David Thoreau (seemed appropriate); Closed Casket, the second of the new Hercule Poirot mysteries by Sophie Hannah; Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach.   
Stu: the first draft of Em’s novel (gah!) and The Red Queen, Isobelle Carmody.

What we’re listening to
Audiobook: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)
Music: songs from the 1969 Woodstock Festival, because we’re soon to visit the site!

What we’re watching
Reruns of The Simpsons and Community, smuggled aboard by Stu.

Gallery

Buried audit shows WA species plunging into extinction

Five endangered West Australian species have become extinct in the wild, three threatened ecological communities have been destroyed and the fate of at least 41 other species is unknown after no monitoring was done for more than a decade, shows a costly state government audit that was promptly buried without any trends being made public.

WA relies on its biodiversity as a major tourism drawcard.

WA relies on its biodiversity as a major tourism drawcard.

The audit into the state’s threatened species lists indicated much of WA’s biodiversity was “rapidly heading towards extinction in the next 10 years” and management was having limited impact, a biodiversity expert and former senior public servant with extensive inside knowledge told WAtoday. 

It is unknown whether the audit’s results were buried without any final reports being written or made public as intended, but one explanation is that the trends, if viewed overall, were simply too alarming.

Another is that severe public service cuts prevented the finalisation of the report, with WAtoday being told the audit team was dissolved straight after the information gathering was complete and several members were made redundant.

Read more at WAtoday.