About Emma Young

Western Australian journalist with Fairfax Media's WAtoday, and entertainment blogger with a love for all things couch-related. Tea/wine/martinis mandatory. Aspect ratio important. Paper and electronic mediums accepted. Highbrow optional.

Perth fiction: not just surviving but thriving

Anything could carry disease: a handshake, a coin, a kiss. At least coins and tokens could be boiled.

The first details I heard of Survival, the debut novella of my one-time journalistic colleague Rachel Watts, acted like the most tantalising kind of teaser movie trailer.

First, it was sci-fi, set in a flooded city. Flooded cities are my jam. I’ve always been captivated by the idea of rowing from roof to roof. Grim real-world cyclones and hurricanes aside, I just freaking love it.

Second, it was young adult sci-fi! I’ve always believed YA fiction vitally important. The tone and the quality must be perfect if you’re going to get through to a teenager. A good young adult book means an exceptional book, period. Some of the most formative books of my entire life, those I regularly revisit, are young adult. Lockie Leonard. The Great Gatenby. John Marsden’s Tomorrow series and Ellie Chronicles. Too many to mention, and others whose titles I’ve long forgotten but whose memories I remember vividly.

So when my advance copy arrived I turned to Survival with anticipation and found only more killer elements.

Post-apocalyptic? Check. Natural disasters? Check. Giant squid? Be still, my beating heart. If there is one sci-fi trope I love above all else it is a kraken. John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes is one of my favourites.

The story is set in a post-climate change world. Governments and economies have collapsed. The Scylla Corporation, the world’s only remaining multinational, rules with an iron fist. Cities are flooded, though people continue to live in them as best they can.

In one such city live two young women. One, a bartender, is living day to day, hand to mouth, grieving the mysterious disappearance of her activist sister.

The other is a number-cruncher who lives in the secure Scylla complex, whose ordered world crumbles the day she finds evidence of something horrifying in Corporation medical research data.

The two, though vastly different, meet by chance and find themselves aligned in their pursuit of the truth.

The book feels a little Children of Men, a little Resident Evil, even a little like the final book in Mervyn Peake’s incredible Gormenghast trilogy, the book of the castle sinking into a rising river.

Watts has done her research. Her flooded world is fully and powerfully imagined: the poverty of half-submerged suburbs, the economies that struggle to adapt and stay afloat, and the shining beacon of a ruling corporation that overlooks it all with chilling indifference.

The pictures appear in your mind fully formed: disease-ridden coins, dropped in jars of bleach at market stalls. The filth that rises in the streets when unbearable humidity condenses into torrential rains. The food seller’s daughter with both feet amputated after an infection. The fishermen who trade in squid that has become the most plentiful resource in a warped ocean ecosystem. The silent presence of a rumoured giant squid, that bears witness to a clandestine meeting in a stadium that the new world has transformed into a giant fishbowl.

In a state in which our own new tricked-out stadium has just opened, in a country in which action on climate change is at stalemate, this dystopian vision is particularly chilling.

I loved the idea of this book from the start because it had so many of the best hallmarks of a genre I love. But there is no hint of the formulaic here. Watts’ streetscapes are completely original and her voice, steely and edgy, is her own.

This debut indicates a promising new voice in Western Australian fiction and happily she’s not short of ideas: the bonus content is four of the author’s previously published stories, gems that indicate a fertile imagination. So: watch this space.

Watts’ novella is available from tomorrow at Crow Books and other select stockists.

And if Perth fiction is your jam, check out some more new releases: The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan, if you like family sagas and Australian historical fiction; Dustfall by Michelle Johnston if you like your literature with a side of medical thriller; and You Belong Here by Laurie Steed, a beautiful piece of contemporary literary fiction. All in stores now.

 

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The 10 books you must read in 2018

My records show I read 52 books during the second half of 2017 as Stu and I travelled the USA and Canada. That’s two books a week – not bad, considering what else we packed into 26 weeks. I’ve picked the top handful, the books that changed or moved me the most, to make this reading list for 2018, should you choose to accept it. It starts in March, given I got to this post rather later than I planned!

March: The Course of Love, Alain de Botton

Read in San Francisco.

Not so much a novel as popular philosophy novelised, a story examining modern love – not something natural, but something that occurs now, as it always has, within a particular social context. Alain de Botton has noticed that after the old “how’d you meet?” chestnut, no one ever seems to want to know what happened next – after the marriage. He talks about boredom, compromise, fighting, cheating. Childcare, and eventually parent care. The erosion of ideals of passion, perfection, grand romance. And then – what remains. He explores all the evidence that a lover can’t be everything, perform every function and fulfil our every need – and yet how we still expect them to be. This is a conversation society must have – indeed is always having, almost unconsciously and circuitously. De Botton gives it meaning and usefulness via a beguiling and very readable parable. Should be required reading for all adults.

April: The Ellie Chronicles, John Marsden

Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado

Read in Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado

The follow-up trilogy to John Marsden’s groundbreaking Tomorrow series, these books are riveting. I know I have now listed a trilogy as one book, but hey, they’re short. Together they make up one large book and they’re smarter than plenty of so-called adult novels. As well as satisfying the hunger to find out what happened to Ellie and her friends, they’ll remind you how blunt and delicate and evocative and honest John Marsden’s writing is. I’m so grateful this wonderful man gives us what we so badly need: our own country on the page. You can practically smell the eucalyptus wafting up from the page, yet above all these are stories of people: their loves and losses, grief and courage, the weird bonds that remain when everything else in a life changes beyond recognition.

May: The L.A. Quartet series, James Ellroy

Read in a poky room in LA.

I’m cheating again. This is actually four books. Four big, gloriously fat, difficult books. I had already read The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential. While away I completed The Big Nowhere and White Jazz. James Ellroy is known for his razor-sharp prose, hard and dense and staggering. It’s unlike any other author’s writing, ever, and you can’t really say you know crime literature or even American literature without knowing Ellroy. Be careful, though – this is the most violent stuff I’ve ever read (or seen onscreen, for that matter). It’s not for the fainthearted. It requires time and commitment and focus. It’s worth every minute. And I recognise that realistically you’re only going to finish the first one in May. That’s OK. Just make a start.

 

 

June: The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson

Echo Park, LA - a good place for reading

Read in Echo Park, L.A.

For fans of clever, classic sci-fi. So clever I confess to skim-reading some parts I just couldn’t understand (Stephenson is actually a scientist). But above all it’s a rip-roaring story. Nell is a smart but disadvantaged child in a supremely uncaring dystopia. She gets one chance to break free from her origins when she comes into possession of a stolen “book”, the world’s most precious technological creation: a copy of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. What she learns inside will change history as much as it changes her. This book is top-shelf. There’s a reason Neal Stephenson is as rare as hen’s teeth in secondhand bookstores. He is the real deal.

July: Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer

New Orleans

Read in New Orleans.

Modern literature from one of the world’s best. A family saga, an examination of modern Judaism, a visionary contemplation of the fragile peace between fraught nations, a deeply intimate look inside a crumbling marriage. A funny, sad, page-turning read, the kind you can’t put down even when your eyes get sore and you’re afraid to find out what happens. Do it for book club. Give it to anyone. Sink your teeth in. A solid bet.

August: All the Light we Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Our first AirBnB, in Bangor, Maine

Read here in Bangor, Maine.

I seemed to read a lot of books about marriage, perhaps unsurprisingly given the opportunity to navel-gaze for six months in tiny rooms with the love of my life. The other emerging theme turned out, to my surprise, to be war and Judaism. Synchronicity perhaps, as we looked at so many museums of world history, with the Holocaust staining it all like red paint thrown across a canvas. In this vein I also read the older but still incredible The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and the Victor E Frankl classic Man’s Search for Meaning. This book, All the Light we Cannot See, won the 2014 Pulitzer after taking the author ten years. I understood why it took so long. The quality and quantity of detail, its careful arrangement, the love and work that went into these parallel stories of a young blind French girl and a young German boy soldier in WWII glimmers from every page. An absorbing, original, readable, beautiful book to bring you to your knees.

September: The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron

Read throughout the east coast and finished somewhere around here, North Carolina.

Still flying off the shelves after 26 years in print. It’s a workbook above all else, an inspiring, amusing and practical book on loosening the pent-up creative artist inside every human – that artist most of us lock up sometime after childhood, and before adulthood. This is perhaps one of the most illuminating books I have ever read. It’s changed the way I see the world, the way I interpret every event. It ensured I not only left NYC having completed my manuscript edit, but that I spent the final few months of our trip churning out the manuscript of a second novel. And it ensured I spent all the intervening time jotting notes for the third. If you’ve ever buried a secret love of drawing, writing, painting, performing, or silently felt longing to write a screenplay or movie or play or just MAKE something, and that little ache just always stays in your heart… read this.

October: Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel

Read by the window in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

You’ve had your Alain de Botton primer and you’re ready for Lesson 2. For anyone interested in marriage, fidelity, sex and passion, healthy relationships and just the art and science of human communication, both are required reading. Esther Perel is a rock-star in the field. She has been interviewed on the Tim Ferriss Show and recommended by Dan Savage of the Savage Lovecast. A holistic, fascinating and vitally refreshing look at the poetry, politics and power of sex and the role it plays in modern relationships, it really changed my perspective. Our subsequent discussions on the topics it introduced deepened our understanding of each other and of society, and without doubt strengthened the foundations of our marriage.

 

 

November: On Writing, Stephen King 

Read on NYC subways. Lots of them.

I owe this writer so much for his inspiration and practical advice, as well as the hours of sheer pleasure of devouring everything he’s ever written. He has taught me not only that writing can be fun but that it should be fun. Yes, you can do it. Yes, you can make money. No, you don’t have to be a tortured soul or a starving artist or an alcoholic or suicidal or a drug addict to make good art. This, like all his books, is just a bloody good read. Part memoir, part deconstruction of process and part solid advice, it’s a must-read for all fans. In fact Gerald Winters, owner of the King bookstore in Bangor, Maine, told me the vast majority of King fans, writers or not, name this their favourite of all his works.

December: Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach

 

Read near Woodstock in the Catskill Mountains, upstate NY

Don’t hold the title against her. The publisher probably made her do it. Tara Brach, also featured on the Tim Ferriss Show, is an American meditation teacher. Don’t hold that against her either. Hell, just swallow all your judgy superior thoughts and excuses about why you don’t meditate for a minute, all right? This book is wise and powerful and compassionate. It’s a thoughtful examination of the role suffering plays in human lives. It offers an – dare I say it? –  enlightened understanding of the experience of being a thinking, feeling, loving, living, feeling, hurting person. It addresses that gap you feel deep inside yourself, the one that usually makes you go and get another glass of wine or handful of crisps rather than thinking about what’s bothering you. Reading this book made me do that thinking and it reverberates through my consciousness daily.

 

OK, now it’s December, you don’t have time for any more reading. Go do your Christmas shopping.

Em and Stu do America part 17: The Best of the US

Reading time: 4 minutes

Because everyone loves lists… especially me. Here’s a round-up of the best and brightest spots discovered on our six-month journey around the States.

Best meals:

Em: Mrs Wilkes’ Dining Room, Savannah; Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
Stu: Central BBQ, Memphis; Gus’ Drive In, Los Angeles

Commander's Palace

Commander’s Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best food overall:

Stu: “Tennessee. You’re probably going to say something stupid like New Orleans, aren’t you?”
Em: “New Orleans.”

Stu living the dream at Central BBQ, Memphis, Tennessee.

Stu living the dream at Central BBQ, Memphis, Tennessee.

Best library:

Tie between Bangor, Maine and New York Public Library

Em enjoys SECRET TINY DOORWAY at Bangor Public Library

Best coffee:

Unanimous for nowhere.

Emma disgusted by what was supposed to be a “cappuccino”. FAIL, ATLANTA.

Worst smells:

A tie between New Orleans and NYC

Blurry garbage in NYC.

Worst pollution:

LA 

The brown line of pure filth that just makes you proud to be human.

Best live music scene:

Nashville and New Orleans

Man walks his tuba in NOLA.

Best theatre:

NYC. Obviously.

Even on our last day in NYC we were trying to work out if we could justify a sixth Broadway show…

Saddest homeless population:

Tie between LA and San Francisco. No photo for this one. Just imagine tents lining the freeways and people sleeping everywhere. Not cool.

Craziest/scariest people:

LA. Again, seems best not to photograph the people who might knife you.

Best weather:

Utah in the fall. Now this I have photos of.

Me on pretty much one of the happiest days of my life in sunny Utah.

Worst weather:

Florida in the summer. Yeeech.

Me on pretty much the sweatiest day of my life in Miami.

Best bookshops Canada:

MacLeod’s Books, Vancouver, and The Bookman, Charlottetown, PEI

An awesome store.

Best bookstore USA:

Xanadu Music & Books, Memphis. This place had a really well curated collection, but it also had personality. The owner went on an awesome rant about the evils of numerous corporations, including Amazon, then introduced us to his cat Dashiell Hammett who promptly threw up on the rug.

“A fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.”

Best scenery:

Utah 

Best national park:

Yosemite 

State with best national parks overall:

Utah 

Best hike:

The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Stu in The Narrows.

And finally, another list:

Trip highlights: top 10 adventures

1. Tour: Stephen King tour of Bangor, Maine
2. Tour: Kenny Kramer’s Seinfeld Tour, New York City
3. Tour: Atlanta Movie Tours’ The Walking Dead locations, Senoia, Georgia
4. Tour: Grand Canyon Whitewater’s 6-day Grand Canyon raft trip
5. Show: The Lion King on Broadway
6. Show: Tim Ferriss Interviews Terry Crews, LA Live Talks
7. Ride: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Universal Studios, Orlando
8. Self-guided tour: Anne of Green Gables book locations, Prince Edward Island, Canada
9. Self-guided tour: The Goonies & Twin Peaks locations, northeast USA
10. Sight: Frederick Law Olmsted’s gardens in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Atlanta (Central Park, Prospect Park, Linear Park).

Bonus entry: every national park, particularly Utah and Zion’s The Narrows! 

 

 

 

Em and Stu do America part 16: Legendary Los Angeles

Reading time: 10 minutes 

Downtown LA, aka DTLA

Downtown LA, aka DTLA

“Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin.”

-Pretty Woman                                                                           

I know LA only through media; the sublime (Billy Wilder’s noir classic Sunset Boulevard, David Lynch’s haunting Mulholland Drive) to the ridiculous (genius 90s hit Clueless). I’m a devoted follower of James Ellroy, who wrote the searing LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, White Jazz) and the LA memoir My Dark Places. There’s wild variation in these pictures, but I wanted to see it all. Even the grimiest depictions sound glamorous: Mulholland Drive. Hollywood Boulevard. Sunset Boulevard. Rodeo Drive. Santa Monica. The Valley. Venice Beach.

Iconic Santa Monica beach.

Santa Monica beach.

We allowed three weeks here to end our trip, wanting the chance to relax and explore these mythical places at leisure after barrelling down the west coast. After successive shocks to the system from snowy Washington, icy Vancouver, watery Oregon and foggy San Francisco, we cautiously got our thongs/flip-flops back out, ready to enjoy that famous California sunshine.

But you know what? We arrived tired. Too tired to give LA the same energy we threw at New York. And LA is a lot less user-friendly. It’s a massive, sprawling city. Yes, there are many cool neighbourhoods, but many dead, dirty, scary zones between, full of men who have a scary habit of lurching within inches of me when they see me, as though the zombie apocalypse actually happened while I was sleeping and I they can smell my tasty brain.

Venice Beach

Venice beach.

The parking and driving was terrifying here, so we returned our car to Enterprise and opted for public transport and walking instead. But even for committed walkers and train-catching cheapskates like ourselves, LA is HARD to get around without a car. The public transport system is perfectly fine, but the distances are just huge.

Thanks to all these factors, our LA story is partly about what we didn’t do. We didn’t drive to Palm Springs or Joshua Tree National Park. We didn’t tour Warner Bros or Universal. We didn’t do Harry Potter World Round Two. We didn’t go to Channel Islands National Park. We didn’t do Hollywood Behind the Scenes. We didn’t do a self-guided Clueless filming locations tour.

Outside TCL Chinese Theatre. Heaps of fun to look at all the stars' signatures!

Outside TCL Chinese Theatre. Heaps of fun to look at all the stars’ signatures!

We did do SOME stuff. The Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Museum. We went and saw Tim Ferriss interview Terry Crews (star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) live on stage – a major highlight for us both, since Stu is a big Terry Crews fan. We walked the Santa Monica Pier and then walked along the sand to Venice Beach. We hiked to the Hollywood sign.

We ate. Corn cheese (you heard me) and Korean BBQ in Koreatown. American treats we normally avoid: pancakes with bacon, fancy PBJs and grilled cheese sandwiches at Grand Central Market. Tacos Tumbras a Tomas and Salvadorean pupusas from Sarita’s (the setting of the first date in La La Land), also at the market. For our last night we have booked the Pacific Dining Car, as immortalised in Ellroy novels and in the movie Training Day.

An awesome moment. Just me, the open air and the smog.

An awesome moment. Just me, the open air and the smog.

And we lazed. We hid from our somewhat scary and ill-chosen neighbourhood and went on a cinematic tour. I know it sounds terrible, watching movies about LA instead of being out in it. But I swear it provoked thought. Hear me out.

We watched or re-watched Sunset Boulevard, CluelessSpeed, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, LA Story, Afternoon Delight, Training Day and, of course, Volcano, set in the streets not a 10-minute walk from where we were staying, near MacArthur Park on the edge of downtown LA.

I did find one nice spot walking distance from our place: Echo Park.

Echo Park.

It felt surreal seeing a tidal wave of lava pouring over streets we have walked now for weeks, in our local train station. I thought, people who live in LA see their homes in celluloid all the time. This is normal for them, to see their lives and landscapes, their train stations, their cafes, all represented, countless “what if” scenarios played out. I can’t help but feel there’s both advantage and disadvantage that a city can be this self-reflective.

Classic LA: beauty, with parking.

The field of racial and “whiteness” studies says that for a race to be routinely represented in mainstream art forms gives that race a kind of validation, an acknowledgement of its existence within the culture, and by association gives it power.

Transpose that idea to not a race but a city identity like “Angelinos”. They sure are getting represented, validated, afforded power in a global context by the sheer amount of representations getting pumped out into the world. So when does this become something not just empowering but navel-gazing, something that shuts them off from seeing the rest of the world and just permits them to continue their lives unchallenged by different ways of living and seeing? I thought NYC was an insular culture; surely this is too. It calls to mind recent social commentary that Facebook has an unhealthy way of feeding us all stories it knows we will like and agree with, thereby leaving our minds fat and lethargic. Is it healthy, in other words, for LA to get fed so much pure LA?

Santa Monica

Santa Monica

And is it healthy for the rest of us to get fed so much LA? Are we deficient of home nutrients? I watched these movies as a kid thinking “this is what a city looks like,” not questioning that city, its reality, its demographics, its very physical being.

It’s only now that I can see it’s a real place. Not only a blank canvas for a movie but the weirdest, most intense, most unbalanced city I have ever seen. It’s so far apart from my home, despite the thin veneer of sameness of all Western civilisation, that I feel like it’s really another planet. And yet I have I have grown up on their cultural products, not my own.

That feels a little odd to realise, and a little sad. That Perth, such a beautiful place, with an ancient Aboriginal history as well as a much shorter European history, doesn’t get represented to the world. We let Tim Winton do our heavy lifting, and I fucking love Tim Winton, but we can’t just leave it all to him.

Hehehehe.

Hehehehe.

I know we have more good writers. I know we have good independent films and many excellent musicians. Perth is bursting with creative people. But there’s no denying that Perth bleeds artists to other cities and countries where their voices are heard more easily. Sometimes people, including me, forget to encourage these voices with cold hard cash.

We pay for stories from all over the world, for meals out, for coffees, but begrudge money for local movies and festivals and music. It’s a luxury to have this access to cultural products from elsewhere, but it’s maybe a loss, too, of connection with our own place. They might not be the same brand of sexy as LA stories, but they’re ours, and I have promised myself to think a bit harder about how I spend my entertainment dollar.

A beautiful scene, apart from the rotten brown haze :/

There’s more to LA than movies, by the way. There is a vibrant food and wine scene and exciting cultural diversity and some progressive recycling and renewable energy programs. It’s just as well – I have never seen anywhere dirtier, including NYC, and while I have read pollution has loosened its grip on LA in recent decades I was horrified at the great stripe of smog we saw blanketing the horizon as we looked towards the city from Burbank Peak.

It’s a lot to get your head around, and my thoughts are increasingly drawn to home. Wonderful coffee. Starlight. Supermarkets that make sense. Farmers’ markets that make even more sense. Toenail polish. Coloured clothes. Beer and wine and water coming in real glassware. Clean, safe, quiet streets. The Swan River. Within minutes of leaving the house, beautiful, unfenced, pristine parks everywhere you turn. Grass gently yellowing in dry December heat. Parks with gas barbecues cooking, not shrimp, but simple, classic Aussie beef snaggers. See you soon, Perth!

StuMobservations: LA

  • Gus’s drive-in has the best BBQ bacon cheeseburger in all the land.
  • $20 all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ is a cook your own adventure of epic proportions.
  • Who knew: When Max Factor originally introduced makeup to the common (ie non actress) woman, wearing it represented liberation for women and they protested to be allowed to wear it.
  • Squirrel + avocado diet = gigantic squirrel.
  • Terry Crews has a remarkable message about going for what we desire most.
  • Driving in LA is scarier than driving in the snow.
  • Why have I not tried Ramen before?
  • A hike to the Hollywood sign means you can see the back of some of the letters.
  • I wanted to steal Milla’s red dress from Resident Evil #prollyworththejailtime.
  • I saw the shoes and wand that Harry, Ron and Hermione used to imprint cement then I saw the imprints in the cement.

Wooooooooooooooo

 What we’re reading
Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor E Frankl; The Course of Love, Alain de Botton; Mr Mercedes, Stephen King

 

Em and Stu do America part 15: Cascadia, home of The Goonies, Twin Peaks and The Shining

Reading time: 5 minutes

Cascadia. As magical as it sounds. This region of loosely defined boundaries, otherwise known as ‘the northwest’, has inspired generations of filmmakers with its endless vistas of mist-shrouded pine forests, its jagged, wild coastlines and the chilling remoteness of its snowcapped mountain ranges.

The drive to Twin Peaks locations: you really could not ask for more atmosphere than this.

The drive to Twin Peaks locations: you really could not ask for more atmosphere than this.

Our national parks tour was drawing to a close, time growing short and the weather dropping below freezing. But we couldn’t leave Colorado without a visit to Estes Park: home of The Stanley Hotel. This grand old hotel fired up the imagination of Stephen King when he and his wife were its only guests one night, and The Shining, one of the world’s most famous horror stories, was born.

There was a Halloween masked ball on while we visited - that just seems like flirting with danger to me!

Was a Halloween masked ball on while we visited – seems like tempting fate to me…

Stanley Kubrick, however, chose the Timberline Lodge in Oregon to film at in his adaptation, one famously disliked by King (also disliked, less famously, by me). That version, which departed radically from the text of a complex and emotionally truthful novel, prompted King to write the teleplay for another version, a three-part miniseries. This version is lesser-known and hard to find (we bought it here). But it is excellent and worth tracking down, and was filmed at the Stanley, showing off its creepy beauty to full extent. So imagine how excited we were to visit!

Next on the Nerds’ Tour of Cascadia comes Twin Peaks locations! The real home of Twin Peaks is the Snoqualmie Valley in Washington state, but budget travellers should note it’s more affordable to stay in Cle Elum, about an hour’s drive out. The drive was laden with atmosphere – mists, snowy pine forests, fall colour, rain – but the downside was that fog and cloud were obscuring the Twin Peaks themselves. Not to worry – we had a bunch of locations to visit that day…

The bridge Ronette walks over, injured and traumatised, in the unforgettable opening scenes of Twin Peaks.

The bridge Ronette walks over, injured and traumatised, in the unforgettable opening scenes of Twin Peaks, episode 1.

It’s the Sheriff’s station! Now a driving school.

They keep the Twin Peaks car out the front of the driving school!

The Double R Diner, which is Twede’s Cafe IRL. Interior is virtually identical to the show, which is really cool, and en route to the restrooms is a wall full of cool filming photos and news clippings. Very worth the visit, but unfortunately Coop was being a little overgenerous in his estimation of the cherry pie. Order coffee and feast your eyes on the decor.

These were all awesome, and there are more locations you can visit as well, but the highlight was definitely Snoqualmie Falls, which features in the series’ opening credits. They are overlooked by the Salish Lodge and Spa, which in the series is the Great Northern Hotel, and in real life has a restaurant not only with this incredible view but also excellent food. Not cheap, but totally worth it; if you’re on a day trip and tossing up between lunch at Twede’s and here, choose the Lodge.

The iconic Snoqualmie Falls, with Salish Lodge visible at the top.

The iconic Snoqualmie Falls, with Salish Lodge visible at the top.

The valley was breathtaking, ablaze with fall colour, but we had to move on; we had a date with Stu’s parents in Vancouver and so we drove straight there, skipping Seattle (I know! Next time, Seattle!)

After a relaxing few days off from our breakneck pace we drove south again from Vancouver – and only later discovered there was a new Twin Peaks-themed bar in Vancouver called The Black Lodge. Damn it! In order to make it down the coast on schedule, we were, unfortunately, also obliged to blow off Portland (I know! Next time!)

Effective sightseeing requires careful preparation.

Effective sightseeing requires careful preparation.

No matter – nothing can dampen the excitement of a pilgrimage to the home of my most favouritest movie in all the world, The Goonies. For those unforgivably ignorant, Steven Spielberg’s 1985  cult classic follows the story of the Goonies – a lovable bunch of nerd kids – who search for pirate treasure in an effort to save their homes in Astoria from foreclosure. The excitement began immediately, as the bridge we drove over into Astoria is the one seen in the distance from Mikey’s house, in the opening scenes.

LOOKITS THE BRIDGE.

LOOK IT’S THE BRIDGE.

Foggy and rainy, the weather was perfect for atmosphere, the movie having reportedly been filmed in the fall to capture the kids’ sombre moods at the prospect of losing their homes. Astoria turned out unexpectedly beautiful, a misty fishing town of pretty Victorian homes snuggled into hillsides, a working fishing pier and lots of nice restaurants and little shops for tourists – the economy pretty much runs off Goonies tourism, as far as I can tell.

They don't like people snooping up close, but you can see Mikey and Brand's house up on the hill.

The owners understandably don’t like people snooping up close, but you can see Mikey and Brand’s house up on the hill.

We prepped with a screening the night before (sorry, Stu) and in the morning set off for a full day of Goonies location visits…

 

The former jail where the opening scene of The Goonies was shot, is now the Oregon Film Museum. It's ostensibly devoted to all the hundreds of films made in Oregon (including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stand By Me, Point Break, Free Willy, Batman Forever, The Ring, Into the Wild) but really it's an ode to all things Goonies.

The former jail where the opening scene of The Goonies was shot, is now the Oregon Film Museum. It’s ostensibly devoted to all the hundreds of films made in Oregon (including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Stand By Me, Point Break, Free Willy, Batman Forever, The Ring, Into the Wild) but really it’s an ode to all things Goonies.

Bit excited.

Bit excited.

Inside!

Inside!

 

Lol. I had to include this.

Lol. I had to include this.

The working fishing pier from the opening credits of The Goonies, where Stef helps her dad sort crabs, and Data ends up falling into a garbage can while testing his latest invention.

The bowling alley, scene of Chunk’s first line over spilled milkshake: “Ah, shit!”

The museum where Mikey’s dad, hard at work, waves to the kids as they set off.

We also visited Mouth’s house and the store Rosalita exits in the opening credits, now a cute cafe and gift store. But the most exciting part of our tour was the next day, as we drove south out of Astoria. Thirty miles south lie Cannon Beach, where the car chase was filmed, and Ecola State Park, where the kids bike to the restaurant that marks the entrance to the underground tunnels where the rest of the movie is filmed.

“The lighthouse, the rock, and the restaurant all fit the doubloon!” We couldn’t get to the angle where Mikey shows us this, because the cliffs are unstable and roped off, but you can see the lighthouse behind me in the distance!

The drive to Indian Point, Ecola State Park, where evil Troy chucks Brand off his bike.

OMG! Look! It’s exactly matching the movie! I’m such a Goonie I actually shed a few happy tears.

I knew it would be awesome. I just never understood how beautiful it would be!

Haystack Rock. This is where the car chase was filmed.

I hated to leave Astoria. At this point I felt like I could happily live there, even though the nice checkout lady at Safeway told me it’s not unusual for it to rain for 180 days in a row. But we had to go, and I was comforted by the fact that Oregon’s entire coastline looks like this: wild, windy and majestic. I drank my fill as we drove hundreds of miles south towards California, its redwood forests and its iconic Pacific Coastal Highway.

StuMobservation: Cascadia

  • I am going to be so annoying to watch TV/movies with now. #beenthere

What we’re reading
Both of us:
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey; The Midnight Line and No Middle Name, Lee Child; A World Without Princes and The Last Ever After, Soman Chainani; Behind Closed Doors, A. B. Paris
Em: The Big Nowhere and White Jazz, James Ellroy; Incurable and Circle of Flight, John Marsden (Ellie chronicles, follows the Tomorrow series); They Found Him Dead, Georgette Heyer; The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson; The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton; DIY Super for Dummies, Trish Power; A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle; Unshakeable, Tony Robbins
Stu: Tears of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re watching
Stephen King’s The Shining, The Walking Dead S8, Rick and Morty S3, Master of None S2, Aziz Ansari’s latest standup special; and movie prep for LA! Clueless, Sunset Boulevard. 

Em and Stu do America part 14: Edward Abbey’s West

The canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely sky – all that which lies beyond the end of the roads.

Edward Abbey

Aim

Outrun winter, see 10 national parks in three weeks, focusing particularly on the ‘canyon country’ as described by iconic American writer Edward Abbey.

A new moon over southern Montana

A new moon rises at dusk over southern Montana.

 

Itinerary

Start: Las Vegas (a sort of man-made Grand Canyon of 100% neon)
California: Death Valley, Sequoia, Yosemite
Crossing Nevada on Hwy 50, “The Loneliest Road”.
Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef
Colorado: Rocky Mountain
Wyoming: Grand Teton, Yellowstone
Now too cold to camp (we drew the line when it dropped below 0C at night) so driving across Montana, Idaho and Washington and staying in crusty motels.
End: Vancouver, for a brief Moraday family reunion

The ancient sculpted landforms of Death Valley, Nevada

The sculpted landforms of Death Valley, Nevada

New team members:

Cheap-arse Walmart tent, with related camping accessories
The Grey Goose, a compact four-cylinder Chevy, our home until we go home.

Our little tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado just outside Arches national park

Our little tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado just outside Arches national park.

We did it, and had an amazing time. But man, America is a weird land of contradictions…

Even in the shoulder season, when temperatures at night weren’t far over freezing, it’s not like Australia where you casually rock up at a reasonable hour and snag yourself a campsite. While this was possible in some parks, competition for campsites and even just on the roads at America’s most beloved and famous national parks is intense. Yosemite got five million visitors last year. That’s nearly 14,000 people PER DAY. I don’t know how that is even possible. Zion got more than four million. No wonder some of the roads and campsites are getting, as the Park Service describes it, “loved to death”.

In Yosemite campgrounds are all solidly booked, seemingly months in advance. You must rely on a lottery of the cancellations, called out at 3pm. We were lucky to snag a spot for one night this way but we had planned to stay two. So the system dictated we rise at 6.30am, pack up the entire camp into the car and turn up at the office at 7.30am, waiting in line to put our names down. Then we had til 3pm to do our hiking for the day, because we had to be back at 3pm sharp to hear the lottery results. Then it’s go and set up for the second night.

Yosemite: crazy busy, but totally worth it.

Yosemite: crazy busy, but totally worth it.

At Zion, we turned up in the morning and waited in line for an hour and only just snagged a site in an “overflow” site. To stay a second night in the morning we had to pack up camp and get in “line” in our car at 5.30am. And there were plenty of people in front of us. We got confirmed for a second night by 8am, but those behind us got turned away. We then moved everything to a new site.

Every single park we visited bar one had major roadworks and we spent gobs of time sitting in our stationary car, looking out at bobcats throwing about tons of the good green Earth we came to see. While you can see American wilderness by hiking overnight into the backcountry, if you are “car camping” you are never going to get much in the way of wilderness. I was still wearing earplugs at night to block out highway noise in basically every place we camped.

Camping in the car in order to snag... a camp.

Camping out overnight in line for… a campsite?

In other words, the Americans, bless them, have somehow managed to make camping stressful!

We were conscious of being ‘part of the problem’, too, having set ourselves this task of seeing so many parks in such a short time, the only way of doing so being pounding serious pavement.

We were so conscious because of our reading of the seminal western wilderness work Desert Solitaire. Author Edward Abbey spent several years as ranger at Arches National Monument (now Park) in the 1950s and the book chronicles that time. It’s a moving, profound meditation on the nature of the desert and man’s place in it. By turns it’s also an angry, misanthropic manifesto against humanity’s apparent commitment to ruining the land at all costs, most notably by ensuring we pave big fat highways across sensitive areas to allow people to “see nature” without getting out of their cars. It should be noted Abbey’s so famous in the west the National Park Service still sells his books in the parks gift shops, despite the irony that his book is a withering condemnation of humanity in general and the Park Service in particular. I’m sure Abbey’s rolling in his grave to see his books being sold in the kind of massive visitor centres he never lived to see, but so gloomily predicted.

Pretending to be Edward Abbey.

Attempting to commune with the spirit of Abbey (despite his explicit instructions to the contrary).

With his voice ringing in our ears we did our best to feel the soul of the country he loved by getting out of our car as much as we could. We climbed to the top of Vernal Falls and beyond in Yosemite, a breathtaking hike (literally, ha!)

We climbed the challenging Primitive Trail to Double O Arch in Abbey’s beloved Arches.

See Stu rappelling down the wall?

See Stu rappelling down the wall?

Just outside the Arches boundaries we tasted the thrills of canyoneering, rappelling down 90 feet into Ephedras Grotto then into the canyon beneath Morning Glory, the world’s sixth-largest natural land bridge. The reward for such bravery was sweet: filling our flasks at a sweet-tasting spring, then hiking out next to the beautiful stream it became, all the way to our gorgeous campsite on the Colorado River. We did a three-hour horseback ride through Bryce Canyon. We climbed to Emerald Lake at Rocky Mountain, playing in the snow like children.

The blue skies of Utah over Bryce Canyon. Best viewed on horseback.

Utah sky beams blue over Bryce Canyon. Best viewed on horseback.

Most memorably of all, we did a six-hour round trip hike through The Narrows at Utah’s incredibly beautiful Zion National Park. This required hiring full gear – canyoneering boots, dry pants, wooden poles – as the hike is through the cold (6C), swiftly moving Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon. It’s at times up to your mid-thigh and can sweep you off your feet if you make one misstep. This was an incredibly special hike, a unique experience.

Breathtaking lake hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Breathtaking lake hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

This whole time was a treasure for us, though it wasn’t easy. We were dealing with abrupt climate changes, freezing nights, difficult hikes, long drives and pulling the tent up and down nearly every day. But the teamwork required brought us closer together, and the mind-boggling beauty that unfolded before us each day brought continual delight. We spent whole hours in the car idiotically repeating “Wow!” and “Oh, wow!”

The Narrows, a challenging hike upstream through the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon.

Us in The Narrows, upstream along the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon.

Our joy in these places, and that of all our fellow American hikers and campers, led us to conclude that despite our differences, inside we all yearn for the sense of transcendence and connection these places give us. We can only hope and pray the US government can find a sustainable way to manage the massive (and growing) demand. And that the wider world, in designing and infilling its cities, remembers this thirst for nature that remains universal and unquenched inside the human heart.

UTAH ROCKS!

UTAH ROCKS! Em at Delicate Arch.

StuMobservations: Camping

  • 3 days of Vegas and we rent a car, buy sleeping bags and a tent, load up on supplies and flee back out to nature.
  • 10 National Parks makes for a lot of good camping.
  • Walking upstream with dry pants and poles is heaps fun.
  • Walking to the top of a waterfall is heaps fun.
  • Walking through massive trees is heaps fun.
  • Walking around rock formations is heaps fun.
  • Walking up and around mountains is heaps fun.
  • Walking through snow is heaps wet/fun.
  • Rappelling down canyons is heaps fun.
  • Riding horses through canyons is heaps fun.
  • Driving in a snowstorm is scary/fun.
  • S’mores by campfire are incredible.
  • Utah Rocks!
  • 100% of National Parks are ‘under construction’.
  • That point where $5US for a shower sounds reasonable.

Recommended campsites and suppliers*

Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP
Tehachapi Mountain SP
Potwisha campground, Sequoia NP
Lower Pines, Yosemite NP
KOA campground, Cedar City, Utah
South campground, Zion NP
Ruby’s campground, just outside Bryce Canyon
Granstaff campground, just outside Arches – the winner for sheer beauty
Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado

Moab Adventure Center (canyoneering outside Arches)
Canyon Trail Rides (Bryce Canyon)
Zion Adventure Company (Narrows outfitters)
Enterprise car rental (the only place that allowed a two-month solid car rental, a cheap one-way drop off fee and for us to be able to drive all over the US and Canada. Suffice to say this was a VERY difficult thing to find).

*We paid full price for all these, so consider the recommendation unbiased!

Em and Stu Do America Part 13: The Bright Angel Trail (in pictures)

The only way out was up, and long before we reached the Grand Canyon we were receiving warning emails.

“You will be hiking Bright Angel Trail from the river to South Rim, a distance of about 8 miles with a 1340m gain in elevation … typically takes a prepared hiker 6-8 hours (or more). Pack light. Do practice hikes. This is a long hike and ALL UPHILL. Don’t forget, Arizona is a desert and the temperatures can be extremely hot.”

Another email told us we should be doing 50 squats and 50 lunges nonstop daily in the lead up.

We do dummy practice hikes fully loaded with a week’s worth of canyon gear. We hike in boots, on a stairmaster when the land is flat, through hilly suburbs when there is no trail (or even footpath). We hike in hot weather. We do 50-lunge-and-50-squat routines in tiny AirBnBs. We do them again the next day. And the next. For weeks. We are prepared. Congratulate self on glutes of steel.

I forgot to do practice hike with: clothes half-wet from rapids, dirty from a week’s camping, suspected broken toe after overenthusiastic jump off boat, and with giant rash covering face from week of washing with sandy river icewater. Doesnmatter! Glutes of steel! (Pic by fellow hiker Pat Fielding)

Pride vanishes within two miles. I gasp and struggle as Stu leaps up trail like mountain goat. As I force legs forward I feel him tug on my pack. “What the fuck are you doing,” I turn and snarl like an alley cat. He has broken my rhythm, the only thing between me and madness. He holds up the camera, apologetically. I nod. I am broken. Stu is photographer now. Look for hikers circled!

Guides Erica, Chelsea and J-Mo are also hiking up halfway to meet our replacement tourists descending to join lower half tour. Unlike us, clad in Heavy Packs, Serious Boots, Long Sleeves, Sunscreen and Fear, clutching 2L water each, they are all in their flip-flops. The women vanish up the trail and reappear, coming down, what feels like instantly. I tell myself they didn’t really go up half way; impossibly fast even for these gazelles. We farewell with hugs and promises to return.

Stu’s view of the switchbacks we are negotiating. J-Mo the guide now accompanies us. He stays a tactful distance behind me. Then he hands us over to our new guide, Mike, who is curled cosily in a shady hollow in the rock. We hug J-Mo goodbye, feeling a little separation anxiety.

Same switchbacks, from further up. Mike provides welcome distraction with stories of his job as trail guide. Mike is nine feet tall. Possibly slight exaggeration. He lopes up the track with easy grace, fast. Way faster than I would be going given the choice. He says he does this trail several times a week! Every step is torture. Mike is forcing me faster than I want to go. Begin to hate Mike.

Mike tells us to make sure we speak up if we need to stop or slow down. Obviously I am too proud.

Same switchbacks from even further up. Irrational hatred of Mike spreads to include myself. Thought you were fit? You should have tried harder! Forced Stu into even more practice hikes. Gone on your own, if he didn’t need them. You should have been born with a different body shape. Glutes of steel? HA! GLUTES OF MUSH! You are good for nothing! This trail will never end! YOU’LL DIE DOWN HERE, FATTY!

Mike chills at second rest stop. Don’t be deceived by my smile. I have just been fed a candy bar.

Hundreds of people every year attempt the hike unprepared and must be rescued by rangers. One such rescue is in progress as we reach the second rest house.

I plod sadly behind Mike, watching his feather. It’s so people don’t lose him on the trail. Rather wished he would lose me. But I am grudgingly realising he isn’t setting this pace just because he is evil; left to myself I’d be going so slowly we’d probably have to sleep here.

The second rest house has become too far away to see with the naked eye, but a zoom in on paint just reveals it (circled).

You get the idea. It’s a long way since the resthouse.

The sweat is also covering my face, making my rashy face sting painfully. Hooray for hiking!

That red circle shows you more people insane enough to do this trail.

Dizzying new perspective on layers of rock we’ve observed so minutely over the past week.

Change mind about Mike. Mike is only thing getting me up hill. Love Mike. Stockholm syndrome?

A nice moment: my first sighting of a juniper tree in the USA, special to me since reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. It’s also a sign that the vegetation profile’s changing with the elevation.

Another sign of changing elevation: dirt changes colour from pink to white!

Back to suffering. Me resting with fellow hikers Rich and Chuck. I think Chuck and I are about equal on the pain scale, despite Chuck being 73. I console (further humiliate?) self with fact that Chuck is also marathon runner. We can’t all be marathon runners, I repeat silently, like mantra.

Stu: “Hey Emma, let me take a photo of you in this nice doorway thingo!”
Em: “I’ll kill you in your sleep.”

We are just about there. We have taken 6.5 hours; gloriously average. Nearing trailhead, Mike (new best friend, understands me better than anyone else, love Mike) stops at my request to make sure I can understand exactly where in this vista we came from. Answer: very far away, Frodo.

Oh God. Oh God, we are on the rim. We have done it. We stagger to a halt for Mike to record the moment. We gaze, wild-eyed and disheveled, at the hundreds of tourists who came only to snap a photo from the rim. My self-esteem, destroyed utterly just hours ago, returns in glad, smug rush. Mike gently points us in direction of the bar and melts away.

But first one more photo: it’s rubbish, because we had to fight tourists to get to the edge to take it and we lacked the energy after a week of seeing no-one. I include it because of the sweetness of the moment it represents: a moment I stood on the rim and permitted myself a few solitary tears; tears of pride that I got up there without chucking a (public) wobbly, or collapsing. But also tears of humble gratitude that I got to experience, so intimately, one of the most beautiful and special places on Earth. And I got to experience it with Stu.