go big or go bust

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 140 (on the rest of life and BALANCE)

Three hours ago, we touched down at Newark Airport and I'm back at home in a modified state of shock.  For a person who hadn't really left her desk in almost eight years (unless it was for something Louise Log-related) these nineteen days of travel have been a very big deal. 

I'd forgotten that along with the exhilaration and excitement of travel come inconvenience and all sorts of challenges, especially for people with control issues.  And much as I've longed to get back home to my routine and to my uninterrupted access to cellular data and wifi, not having that forced me into a very different way of spending the days - mostly walking, hiking and driving in spectacularly beautiful country and having every meal with people I adore.

The silence and the beauty of British Columbia and New Zealand and almost uninterrupted time with one and then another of our grown children was ... I'm searching for the words and none of them are coming close.   Heartbreaking?  But in a good way. 

All of this is still very much in my head and body and making me think I want to make some changes.  I don't want to plunge back into workaholism.  I do want to figure out how to work in a sane way that leaves time for the rest of life. 

HOW DO YOU DO IT? 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 136 (workaholic in withdrawal in Calgary)

I was not built for vacations. Naturally, I'm trying to be a good sport about it all and repressing my true self.  But Mr. Green is not so constrained and summed it up nicely (speaking for himself): "I look at my keys fondly and think of my other life." 

If this weren't our only chance to see these flown-away 20-something children, wild horses couldn't have dragged me from my desk for this long. Yes, yes, I know 'time off is important". I'll give you one or two days. Going on two weeks is a little much. 

Anyway, it stopped raining today and we got to take a look at Calgary, the biggest city in Alberta where the sky is huge and with incredibly complicated patterns of clouds.

There are some crazy contrasts in this city.

There are some crazy contrasts in this city.

This dirt road (flanked in gorgeous fragrant lilacs I managed to miss in the photograph) is right in the city, not ten minutes from downtown. (Note: Early June is lilac season and they are all over the place in white, lavender and deep purple and perfuming the city.)

This dirt road (flanked in gorgeous fragrant lilacs I managed to miss in the photograph) is right in the city, not ten minutes from downtown. (Note: Early June is lilac season and they are all over the place in white, lavender and deep purple and perfuming the city.)

After lunch, in Chinatown.

After lunch, in Chinatown.

Man hole cover - I guess they're trying to make light of what the North wind feels like here in the winter. 

Man hole cover - I guess they're trying to make light of what the North wind feels like here in the winter. 

Smart and very funny friend-of-friends blogger Una Lamarche's book UNABROW (above, blue shirt) was right there on the NEW & HOT table in the bookstore on Stephen Avenue. 

Smart and very funny friend-of-friends blogger Una Lamarche's book UNABROW (above, blue shirt) was right there on the NEW & HOT table in the bookstore on Stephen Avenue. 

We stumbled on this great place, Bite, in a cool neighborhood called Inglewood.  It's like Dean & Deluca but without the attitude and on a much smaller and friendlier, hand-made scale.

We stumbled on this great place, Bite, in a cool neighborhood called Inglewood.  It's like Dean & Deluca but without the attitude and on a much smaller and friendlier, hand-made scale.

Those orange things are on a moving freight train which goes right into the city.  I was told that sometimes these trains can be several miles long.  (italics not ennabled in comments or there'd be plenty of them in this caption)

Those orange things are on a moving freight train which goes right into the city.  I was told that sometimes these trains can be several miles long.  (italics not ennabled in comments or there'd be plenty of them in this caption)



Go Big or Go Bust: Day 135 (behind the scenes of episode #20)

It's been raining non-stop here in Calgary so I have no pictures to show yet of the ongoing 'adventure'. 

What better time to fill you in on what was going on behind the scenes when we were shooting episode #20 (How To Be Free of Envy).

Christine Cook (l) and Jennifer Sklias-Gahan (r) in front of the body cast.

Christine Cook (l) and Jennifer Sklias-Gahan (r) in front of the body cast.

Gayle Brown, a friend who had been in the little West Village Artist's Way group I was a part of in the Spring/Summer of 2007, was in the business of fabricating all sorts of extremely complicated props and objects for artists and designers. When I mentioned to her that I needed a full-size body cast for a six-foot tall man, she suggested we knock it off in an afternoon. 

Gayle brought over rolls of chicken wire and a length of thick foam. I supplied a four-by-six foot piece of quarter-inch plywood, bags of white flour, some surgical gauze and piles of old newspapers. Gayle expertly fashioned a form with the chicken wire and we did flour-and-water-paste paper-machée over one and then over a second back-up chicken wire form.  Knowing that the scene where Louise cuts Phineas out of the form was going to be tricky to shoot and that we might not get it on the first try, a second form seemed like a good idea. In the end, we never used the second one and as far as I know, it's still in Gayle's barn.

Even though this shoot was in August of 2010, the difficulty of getting a hospital bed and its rack delivered is burned into my brain. The shoot was within days and I hadn't been able to get any company to commit to delivering it. Without a real hospital bed and rack, our somewhat surreal plot line was not going to fly. 

It wasn't until my dear brother-in-law Stuart Green advised that I stop identifying myself as a filmmaker and start saying that I needed the bed for my very ill mother that I was able to lock in a rental and delivery. He explained the psychology of the people in this line of work, that they're all about helping people in trouble and that my story about an upcoming film shoot would not motivate them. Ever. By the way, no way could I get a doctor to prescribe an actual medicine for the drip.  The 'medicine' in the bottle is olive oil shampoo from 17th century Suds

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I knew we also needed something that looked authentic for Phineas' life-support system but didn't have the budget to rent or to commission such a prop. One hot July afternoon, while on Canal Street shopping for rubber tubes at Canal Rubber, I spied an object (pictured above). It was right on the curb. In retrospect, I think it was probably waiting to be picked up as garbage. This gorgeous thing weighs more than fifty pounds and has sharp metal edges on the base. At the time, it was full of liquid. 

Thrilled at my discovery and seized with anxiety that someone else would grab it if I left it unattended, I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes trying to get a taxi. Two taxi drivers who crawled by in bumper-to-bumper traffic did not want it in their car.  I finally dashed into a nearby store and bought a luggage carrier and bungee straps and hauled it for several blocks through the crowd of shoppers blocking the sidewalk on Canal Street. 

By the time I made it to the corner of Center Street and Howard, my lower back and thigh muscles were aching.  I pulled over out of the line of foot traffic, shook out my hands, looked to the sky and moaned, "I need a friend with a car!"  "I need a miracle!" 

At that moment, a beautiful man with legs and arms like tree trunks, wearing basketball shorts and a jersey materialized and asked with a French accent: "Do you need help?"  El Hachimi Mohammed El Hachimi graciously hauled this ... boiler(?) up through Soho, through the Village, only stopping to mop his brow with a white handkerchief from time to time.  (I remember the temperature was in the mid-90-'s.) We chatted all the way, and finally he hauled it up the stoop and into the location in the West Village where it sits to this day. 

 

 

 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 134 (on filling the well with "Going Gypsy")

Reporting live from Calgary, Alberta, I have to interrupt the travelog with a video shot a couple of months ago in NYC.

Centuries ago in internet time, Veronica and David James aka The Gypsynesters and The Louise Log (aka me) met online.  Their story is wonderful.  When their third child left for college, they decided they just didn't want to spend the rest of their lives staring longingly at the empty bedrooms. Instead, they sold their house and hit the road. Emptynesters turned gypsies.  Gypsynesters. 

I had the huge pleasure of meeting Veronica and David at a party for the launch of their book, "Going Gypsy".  But New Yorker that I am, had no cash on me at the party so I ordered it online. Everybody loves to yuck it up reading about other people's pain. Cause pain is funny.

Here's a visual recap of my reaction to "Going Gypsy" (:50).

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 131 (on almost wiping out on a hairpin turn)

A nagging problem which has dogged me my entire life: I have a hard time holding onto myself when constantly in company.  Dreamt last night about feeling lost.  I need to be alone sometimes, with a pen in my hand, or it all just rushes past.

But we're not going to see this child for as long as another year so I'm unable to break away from these group activities.  Yesterday we saw one of the high point sights of the trip, Cathedral Cove. 

In the 'cathedral' part of Cathedral Cove

In the 'cathedral' part of Cathedral Cove

To get to this sheer magnificence, Mr. Green drove us (on the left side of the road) up and over a considerable mountain (range) of hairpin curves for hours.  After a long day of this and hiking, sometimes on steep terrain, for more than a couple of hours, we screeched to a stop on a hairpin turn at around 6PM (full darkness with our "shoulder monitor" shreiking "DAD" we drove within centimeters of a head-on with a sheer rock wall. 

(The "shoulder monitor" is the person who sits next to the driver (the driver being new to left-hand driving) and calls out when the car is about to cross over the shoulder and into a culvert or to plunge down what New Zealand so charmingly refers to as a "steep bluff". I'd call them cliffs as they sometimes drop off hundreds of feet to the crashing sea.)

WIthout endangering my life, hard to show you how sheer the drop-off is behind me.  Note tense body language. 

WIthout endangering my life, hard to show you how sheer the drop-off is behind me.  Note tense body language. 

I had the 'shoulder monitor' position for a while until removed from it by majority rule as my shreiks, loud gasping and frantic gesturing was determined more dangerous than the driving conditions. 

On the path down to Cathedral Cove

On the path down to Cathedral Cove

The beach at Cathedral Cove

The beach at Cathedral Cove

More at the beach at Cathedral Cove

More at the beach at Cathedral Cove

We're staying in the beautiful and spotlessly clean Jacaranda Lodge just outside Coromandel town which has a famously delicious breakfast. Robin Munch has a gorgeous garden with seville orange, fig and macadamia nut trees and more, the names of which I'd never heard before (jacaranda, fejoia, etc). Robin bakes bread and makes preserves from these and serves eggs the color of orange marigolds from her hens as well as homemade muesli (sweetened and unsweetened).  And she's lovely.

The garden at Jacaranda Lodge

The garden at Jacaranda Lodge

It was almost 3PM by the time we left Cathedral Cove and decided against the borderline fast food café in the nearby town. When we'd just about given up on finding anywhere for lunch, we stumbled on this 'wood-fired pizza' place and had lunch outside.  You can almost make out the tree laden with kiwi fruit hanging over the table.  There were also trees full of persimmons and tiny birds. 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 130 (on being an official "security threat")

Leaving Dunedin with one of our grown kids for a long weekend (The Queen's Birthday) we were heading to the famously beautiful (and warmer) Coromandel Peninsula in the North.  We crossed the tarmac to board a plane the way we had arrived, by one of those portable stairways. The sun was shining and I felt happy and carefree climbing the stairway to the rear of the plane, the way we used to in the 1950's.

Airports excite me with their smell of the gasoline, the deafening noise of plane engines revving, taking off and landing all around. I pulled out my phone to snap a selfie with, I hoped, our plane in the background. There was raucus shouting and I turned to see airline personnel in orange vests on the tarmac waving - at me?  As they continued to call out, I burst out laughing (see below), embarrassed and grateful that they were cheering me on in this still uncomfortable campaign of shameless self-promotion. 

Only when one of them charged the portable airplane stairs could I see that instead of cheering me on, the guy was displeased to the point of threatening. The phrases "$50,000 fine", "security risk" and "no photography allowed" cut through the noise, I winced, shouting "SORRY" and ducked into the plane, feeling lucky that he hadn't confiscated my phone.

Cheered on by airline personnel, I felt so well-loved ... until.

Cheered on by airline personnel, I felt so well-loved ... until.

The Coromandel Peninsula is a few hours from Auckland. 

The Coromandel Peninsula is a few hours from Auckland. 

I know it looks like a postcard but I took this picture with my phone.  That's the South Pacific in the distance.

I know it looks like a postcard but I took this picture with my phone.  That's the South Pacific in the distance.

To get to some of the beauty spots, we had to take off our shoes as the tide was coming in. I was nervous that we'd be swimming in our clothes if we didn't hurry and rushed everyone through this morning in paradise.

To get to some of the beauty spots, we had to take off our shoes as the tide was coming in. I was nervous that we'd be swimming in our clothes if we didn't hurry and rushed everyone through this morning in paradise.

Sights on the route-of-hairpin-turns that took us through farmland to the beaches.

Sights on the route-of-hairpin-turns that took us through farmland to the beaches.

These palm trees soared twenty or thirty feet above my head.

These palm trees soared twenty or thirty feet above my head.

Ready for bed at 7PM here on New Zealand Standard Time, I held out til 8:30.   More tomorrow when the forced march continues.  #20somethingsInCharge

Ready for bed at 7PM here on New Zealand Standard Time, I held out til 8:30.   More tomorrow when the forced march continues.  #20somethingsInCharge

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 129 (postcard from Edinburgh... uhh I mean Dunedin)

Time for some postcards!  We've been in this extremely charming small city, in the south on the South Island of New Zealand for a week.  There's a chill in the air, it's winter after all, which smells of a mixture of coal and wood smoke and a feeling of sophistication and creativity.  Some of the cafés would give the best of Greenwich Village a run for their money.  Dunedin seemed destined to be the big city of New Zealand in the 1800's when gold was found around here which explains the grand architecture of most of the public buildings.  And, fun fact, Dunedin is Gaelic for Edinburgh!  I've heard that the plan of the city of Edinburgh was duplicated and laid out over the hills and valleys here, regardless of the topography.  One of the streets, Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world!   It's near and similar to one shown below but I missed it.  Rushing today as the children have us on a forced march.  More tomorrow!

We took a walk up George Street to North East Valley.

We took a walk up George Street to North East Valley.

Schoolgirls fill North Street in plaid skirts after school, some of them only in stocking feet.  Barefoot in New Zealand is a whole other blog post.

Schoolgirls fill North Street in plaid skirts after school, some of them only in stocking feet.  Barefoot in New Zealand is a whole other blog post.

This is just down (or up) North Road from the 'steepest street in the world'.  It looks very much like this one, promise.

This is just down (or up) North Road from the 'steepest street in the world'.  It looks very much like this one, promise.

Sheep graze on these hills within the city limits.

Sheep graze on these hills within the city limits.

HEDGE.

HEDGE.

New Zealanders plant trees in the most gorgeous arrangements, all over the cities and countryside.

New Zealanders plant trees in the most gorgeous arrangements, all over the cities and countryside.

The train station in Dunedin

The train station in Dunedin

The Everyday Gourmet, a haven with wonderful food and a most welcoming staff. 

The Everyday Gourmet, a haven with wonderful food and a most welcoming staff. 

The Everyday Gourmet on George Street, our favorite café.  The name of their internet is 'Everday Whoremet'.

The Everyday Gourmet on George Street, our favorite café.  The name of their internet is 'Everday Whoremet'.

On the Octagon in the center of downtown.

On the Octagon in the center of downtown.

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 128 (Why Kris Kardashian and I are 'Like that')

Things have gone rapidly downhill here.  Remember that line in the New York, New York song … ‘If you can make it there, you’ll make it ANY where!’  Well sorry to be the bearer of bad news.  This ‘cosmopolitan’ New Yorker would likely end up panhandling if abandoned here in Dunedin. 

I (jokingly) thought the big issue in the Southern Hemisphere would be the rush of blood to the head, standing upside down just off to the right of Australia on the South Island of New Zealand.  (next stop Antartica)

Not.  A much bigger issue is the time change.  From this picture, things don't look all that

desperate - late morning here, early evening in New York.  What's the big deal?  Well with my competitive nature, it's no fun to jump out of bed at 6:30 AM only to realize that everybody from Montreal to Miami has long finished with lunch.  And then things get very bleak when I'm ready to get on social media and almost everyone I know is getting into their pajamas.  I only know about four people in this whole time zone and they apparently have real lives, not looking to twitter and facebook to give them a sense of their worthiness like some people.  The big wet silence from 5PM until bedtime is just incredibly lonely.  Sort of like I'm on Mars. 

And then, there's the ongoing problem with not being able to figure out how to cross a street without getting run down.  As Mr. Green put it: "You never know where these cars are going to be coming from!" 

And let's not forget the language problem.  I thought, with my grasp of English, I'd at least be able to order a pizza, a regular ingredient of which is 'capsicum'.  When asked, the young woman behind the counter at the pizza place obliged by translating: "Oh, that's peepers!"  Peepers, I thought, pushing away the thought of tiny dead frogs sprinkled over my slice of pizza.  "Peepers."  I repeated.  "RED peepers!" she filled in the picture.  Grimacing, I recalled the tiny vermillion frogs seen in pictures of tropical rain forests.  I guess they eat all kinds of different things down here below the equator.  And then she returned from the kitchen with a cuttting board covered with slices of red pepper.  Oh.  Got it.

But the real deal breaker is, of course, the internet.  Everybody knows you have to turn off cellular data or you end up like we did that time pleading with Verizon to forgive a $500 bill cause we'd asked for Siri's help in getting around Québec.  Here in New Zealand, my snazzy iphone is sporadically downgraded to a camera.  Connecting with our grown child this morning turned into something close to an epic failure.

Though my problem isn't with 'Bruce', Kris' eloquent three worder gives you a clear picture of my present state. 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 126 (Social Media for the Socially Awkward)

Social media has been a hard pill for me to swallow.  I didn't sign up for facebook until The Louise Log was going onto its 8th or 9th episode.  A year later, already feeling overwhelmed by just two fb accounts, Mary Jander browbeat me into signing onto twitter. 

But social media looks like so much fun!  How could it be difficult!

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One of the main problems is my 'personality'.  As best as I can analyze it, there are four main qualities necessary for success at social media.  None of them is my strong suit.

1.   Faith that you'll get what you so richly deserve  (gives you the ability to be Cool, the sine qua non of a public persona, on social media and beyond)

2.   Self-acceptance  (makes it possible to write about deeply embarrassing personal experiences and insights which are, apparently, all anyone wants to hear)

3.   Self Discipline  (keeps you from going down every interesting rabbit hole you come across)

4.   Executive Function (keeps you on track and on schedule - more on this another day)

So?  Enough of the bad news.  What do we do now?  Take heart fellow anxious-isolaters, there's no need to despair.  Twitter and a lot of the new social media platforms (looking at you Snapchat) are about having a conversation.  Even we, insecure in groups, can talk to one person.  Stephen Dimmick generously explained this fine point to me years ago:  Do not broadcast.  Twitter is not a billboard.  Have a conversation.

But here's the $64,000 question: how do you have a conversation and feel a connection when you're writing to (a majority of) faceless 'imaginary friends'?  I stumbled onto a low-tech hack:  imagine you're talking/writing to one specific friend when you're writing a post. 

In a recent conversation, Mhairi Morrison mentioned that before getting on twitter, she had gotten some help from a book (!).  I promptly rushed out and bought myself a brand new Second Edition of this one, The Twitter Book co-written by @SarahM whom I remember from my earliest days on twitter.  In spite of being somewhat outdated, it's a treasure trove of helpful hints. 

The Twitter Book by Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein  (I resorted to a reversed shot on photobooth due to internet issues.)  And though the book is on nice thick paper and a great compact size, to show off just how many pages I'd 'bookmarked' had to sort of mangle the stiff cover.

The Twitter Book by Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein  (I resorted to a reversed shot on photobooth due to internet issues.)  And though the book is on nice thick paper and a great compact size, to show off just how many pages I'd 'bookmarked' had to sort of mangle the stiff cover.

A number of people have been critically helpful in helping me get as far as I have with all of this.  Being off in the Southern Hemisphere about 30 hours from my desk, off the top of my head I'm only able to properly acknowledge these social media mentor-aces (in chronological order of their help)  Thank you for your patience and your generosity!  Victoria Trestrail, Leah Jones, Molly D. Campbell, Alexandra Rosas, Sidneyeve Matrix, Stephen Dimmick, Mudd Lavoie, Mhairi Morrison and Veronica James.  My apologies to others whom I've momentarily forgotten.

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 125 (on food and mood)

A loud clap and sustained crashing of thunder woke me at 5 AM but I managed to put off the inevitable til daybreak.  Then Mr. Green and I set off on foot through a wintry mix of snow, hail and icy rain to find some breakfast.  Even though New Zealand is literally one stop from Antartica, snow at sea level here in the south is surprisingly newsworthy.  Don't know if I'll ever get used to 'south' meaning 'colder than north'.

We dashed into a little place which serves oatmeal, Mr. Green's favorite (the locals call it porridge) and we proceeded to the counter and to the solidly built man standing behind it.  Wearing a t-shirt, tatoos and an apron, from his manner I'd say that he may have been a pirate in another life.  Visibly irritated with us for no good reason, it seems likely that he and his bad mood had a hand in baking this scone. 

Big as my head, don't be fooled by the lovely golden color or what appear to be raisins or candied fruit peel, this scone was was full of sauteed onion, scallion and maybe flecks of carrot.  Maaayybe I'd go for it at afternoon tea.  Part of it.  At 7AM, it was a deal breaker.  But I'm not one to admit mistakes or to throw in the towel and dutifully put away most of it.  Five hours later, I still feel as though I'll never know hunger again. 

Meanwhile the weather continues to cycle through the worst of what winter has to offer.  I'm thinking about a nap and maybe getting back to that long-discussed 'highlights reel'.  Pretty sure I can edit video from under the covers. 

Pelting icy rain and snow NOT SHOWING UP in photo.

Pelting icy rain and snow NOT SHOWING UP in photo.

Here either.

Here either.


Go Big or Go Bust: Day 124 (the Vehicle of Death)

In New Zealand and in the yellow countries on the map below, people drive on what the rest of us righteously call 'the wrong side of the road'. 

Priding myself on a bodily or kinesthetic intelligence, I didn't think that adjusting to this would be a big deal.  Wrong.  I'm still marching out into oncoming traffic at crosswalks and have no sense (when sitting in a car) of how to stay on the left.  So in order to get around and see more than we can on foot, we were grateful to be offered to be driven around, at no charge, by an intelligent and thoughtful young man, someone we'd met in the States and who's stayed with us there.  

Today was the day that we were going to spend the afternoon driving out to the end of the nearby Otago Peninsula, a marvel of farmland on steeply graded hills running down to valleys and/or to the South Pacific Ocean.  Due to my extra-length legs, I was offered the front passenger seat in a borrowed (somewhat battered) small Nissan sedan henceforth to be known as the 'Vehicle Of Death'.  The front passenger seat, commonly referred to in lighter moments as "the suicide seat", has by far the best views so I took it willingly.  I did note an inoperable side-view mirror out my window, bent in and de-commissioned by a thick wad of wide scotch tape which faced it to the door.  In the States you can get a ticket for a non-functional mirror but New Zealand seems to (refreshingly) not-sweat-the-small-stuff so I didn't give it a second thought.  

Setting off excited, on the open road

Setting off excited, on the open road

No need for guard rails here but a little barbed wire keeps the sheep penned in.   

No need for guard rails here but a little barbed wire keeps the sheep penned in.

 

Wouldn't have minded a guard rail here but hey, who needs one for a 30º grade.    

Wouldn't have minded a guard rail here but hey, who needs one for a 30º grade. 

 

Drops off quite a bit more sharply here.  A guard rail would be Nice. 

Drops off quite a bit more sharply here.  A guard rail would be Nice. 

Ten minutes after leaving the city and the nearby villages, the road grew narrower and turned to dirt with loose stones.  Road signs suggest the road is not wide enough for commercial vehicles and that 60 kph (37 mph) is a safe speed.  Hairpin curves, blind hairpin curves soon became the standard.  Ever go on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland?  Scary as that was when I was five, it's got nothing on our trip.  Unfortunately for you, at this point, when we were in motion, I stopped taking pictures so as to keep my attention on more important matters.

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We proceeded along at what felt like a good 50 mph around the curves.  Peering out just beyond the edge of the road, were drop-offs which sometimes looked at a 75º grade plunging down to valleys or the South Pacific. Over the course of the hour, I saw one twenty-foot guard rail, once.  Generally between us and eternity was a barbed wire fence held up by some wooden fence posts.  I later learned that my risk-averse Mr. Green's imagination ran to the recurrent scenario of our micro, light-weight sedan (think Smart Car+) rolling end over end, hell-bent for the bottom.  Our driver, good-natured but apparently possessed by urges beyond his control, continued to attack the curves at immoderate speed, slowing momentarily only when our child, his friend, pleaded with him to slow down.

Feeling especially vulnerable in the front as we seemed to always be hogging the road (even rounding blind hairpin turns) I kept my anxiety to myself for political reasons. But at one point, the anxiety leapt out of me in a desperate, mute two-hand gesture to GET OVER.  Our driver responded to my frantic signalling with a huffy: "What was that?  Are you trying to tell me something?"  He met my explanation with condescension, that there's a judgement call involved here and that he'd determined, due to the low volume of traffic on the road, that he'd rather drive down the middle.  ALL WE NEED IS ONE ONCOMING CAR screamed my inner-voice on a loop.  I redoubled the effort to repress my fears figuring that further antagonizing him might bring out an even more extreme demonstration of the fact that he was in charge here.  I kept my eyes on the road, my hands ready to jerk the wheel if necessary. 

We made it to the Albatross Center, we picnicked quickly in their café and set off for home before full darkness descended.  (The sun sets at around 5PM here in late May ... think late November.)  When I noticed that our driver was reading the map as we approached a hairpin curve at lightening speed, I blanched.  When I took my eyes off the road to observe that he was enjoying long stares at the views out the side windows, regardless of the fact that he was neither slowing nor on a straightaway I felt resigned to the real possibility of my impending death. 

But I'm writing so it's obvious that we made it back without incident.  Now to deal with the prickly questions of the delicate politics of the situation and if Mr. Green and I can rise to the challenge of driving on the wrong side in a rental car for the remainder of our stay. 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 123 (the power of good design)

Mr. Green and I share many qualities, good and bad.  A compulsion to get value out of every dollar we spend is one of them. So we began planning our trip to New Zealand with our usual frugality.

The first motels we looked at online, recommended by our hippie child, looked about three steps down from our American standby the Comfort Inn.  They were spare and they looked clean but all I can recall is dark brown bedspreads, a sad pastel yellow something and what looked like fluorescent lights.  It was sort of dorm room crossed with church basement.

Ringing in my ears were words about the importance of treating yourself with the utmost luxury after the death of someone you love.  I made a great leap, extrapolating.  A 30+ hour journey on four planes, crossing multiple time zones (and the International Dateline) to Winter in a city blasted by Arctic winds - it sounds almost on a par with facing a death.  And so I decided that we're going for better than a crummy bargain.  We're going for luxury

I reserved our room in the only place which was consumer-rated 'Excellent'.  Being a New Yorker, there was the nagging thought that the owners' friends and family might have faked the reviews.  Hell they might have faked the photographs.  I held my breath.

As our taxi climbed the steep driveway, it was clear that my fears were ill-founded. 

boxwood marking the edge of the driveway

boxwood marking the edge of the driveway

boxwood approaching reception

boxwood approaching reception

the other side of the driveway

the other side of the driveway

Every detail of every aspect of the place is beautiful, impeccably cared for and of the highest quality.  The drawers glide and close quietly.  The towel rack is heated.  The colors and textures are subtle and elegant.  There's a small washing machine hidden in a cupboard which doubles as a dryer!  If a Macbook Air were a hotel room, this would be it. 

fabric on the easy chairs

fabric on the easy chairs

I'm absolutely CRAZY about this sink.  (detail of the photo of the 'kitchen')

I'm absolutely CRAZY about this sink.  (detail of the photo of the 'kitchen')

alarm clock on my bedside table

alarm clock on my bedside table

view from the french doors over the city

view from the french doors over the city

another view

another view

Most wonderful of all has been the shocking effect the room has had on my emotional state.  Being surrounded by beauty and order actually makes a difference.  Maybe it's only distracting me but it feels like it makes everything all right.  My friend Jayne is always quoting Wittgenstein, that aesthetics is ethics.  Usually I scratch my head over that but today feel like I'm totally getting it.  We've only met half of the couple who owns this place and only very briefly.  But staying here, I feel like I know them through and through.  And I feel safe.  They have got to be good and intelligent people to have this incredible aesthetic and to have the self-discipline and commitment to it to have designed and to maintain this place as it is. 

It's okay that I'm still waking up at 3AM and dragging through every day.  It's okay that we're on a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  We've got this incredibly beautiful and spotlessly clean refuge to come back to.  I feel smarter.  I feel cooler.  I feel relaxed and more successful.  Tell you the truth, I feel sexy!  By the way, the name of it, this 'motel' (New Zealand is very understated) is the Bluestone on George in Dunedin, New Zealand. 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 121 (on my life in planes and airports)

There are few things that can pull me off-course from sitting (or standing) at my computer and doing what I can to 'go big'.   My children are one of those things.  And so having one child in New Zealand since last September, this mother hen is on her way.

I'm flabbergasted (in a good way) at the response to yesterday's picture of me at the airport holding up my passport.  Cause it's so EASY.  It's not writing and shooting and directing and editing.  It's buying a ticket with points from a credit card and going to one of the local airports! 

And airports and passports are in my DNA.  My only career plan as a teenager was to be an airline hostess.  My grandfather, two uncles and my father were all pilots.  My father flew for TWA and so we all had passes and flew on TWA for free.  Lucky for me because, not being much of a reader or a student, travel was my education. 

Our first trip to Europe was to Rome and I still vividly smell the smells, taste the blood orange juice and the curls of unsalted butter on ice, and was speechless at the sight of Roman-era buildings next to ones made all of glass. 

One memory which shocks even me was that at college, obsessed with finding the perfect boots (and for a good price),  I flew to Lisbon one weekend, Madrid the next, and Rome the third.  And on one of the return trips, while over the Atlantic my flight to Boston was diverted to New York due to bad weather.  Not accustomed to paying even thirty bucks for the (non-TWA) shuttle from NY to Boston, I opted to take the free TWA flight from NY to Paris and grab the next TWA flight from Paris to Boston.  I can't remember if that crazy round trip to Europe made me late for my Monday morning class but I know I never did find those boots.  

Since losing my TWA pass at age 26, I haven't flown all that much.  Work and then motherhood and then The Louise Log have generally kept me close to home or traveling by car.

So irony of ironies, I'm writing from 30,000+ feet on the way to Sydney, Australia and then on to New Zealand. 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 119 (part 2 - making my first 16mm short)

(Cont'd)  I assumed that the problem was that assistant film editing work wasn't sufficiently engaging.  My solution was that I would learn to edit and become a film editor.


Jim Markovic, a whiz bang editor of trailers for Kung Fu movies, told me he'd seen ads in TV Guide for kits which teach film editing.  I could pay a hundred dollars for unedited takes of Hawaii-Five-O and learn to edit by cutting the takes together.  OR I could save the hundred dollars and practice making cuts on track fill (the rejected lab prints which editors use as filler on reels of sound track).  I opted for the latter and he gave me some from his supply.  Eventually he gave me twenty-four hours worth.  I was going to learn to be a film editor.


My bosses Hilary, Deb and Sarah gave me permission to work on this 'project' over the weekends using the Steenbeck (editing flatbed) in our room at Maysles.  With a grease pencil, I'd mark off any shot that grabbed me.  I took plenty of naps.  It’s exhausting to have no idea of what you’re doing. 


There were a couple of shots of an intelligent-looking and gorgeous young woman (Senta Berger) in a low-cut dress taking photographs.  She was at a nightclub with Trevor Howard and there was a flash attachment on her camera.  After hundreds of attempts at a professional-looking edit, the most smooth and believable cut I succeeded in making was (SHOT #1) Senta Berger taking a picture (cut to)  (SHOT #2) something that ‘she'd taken a picture of’.   Limited as my repertoire was, I went with it. 


Somewhere along the way, due to the incredibly great material in some documentary film in that pile of track fill, it became obvious that my editing exercise could itself become a film.  But it needed subtitles.  And it desperately needed a soundtrack.  


My neighbors on Mott Street played dominoes on card tables on the sidewalk outside my windows and they usually had a boom box playing Dominican music.  When I asked them who their favorite musician was, they all agreed on one man.  Johnny Ventura gave me unqualified permission to use one of his songs.  Unfortunately,  I’ve lost that piece of paper.  In our brief meeting in what felt like a converted garage on Tenth Avenue in the Fifties,  Johnny Ventura radiated some kind of true beauty and smiled the smile of a more evolved being.  He sat with crossed legs, the foot on top jiggling as fast as the rhythm in his fastest songs.  Someone from the record company translated for us.   


Subtitles were expensive but necessary.  Unfortunately, I miscalculated how long they should be on screen and they add an anxiety all their own.  


I named Senta Berger’s character “Louise” as she looked like an incredibly sexy librarian.  
Here’s the film (4:17):



Go Big or Go Bust: Day 118 (on making my first 16mm short film)

In the Fall of 1982, my first short 16mm film was invited to be in the New York Film Festival.  It had taken a year to make on nights and weekends and was, I later discovered, what they called an 'over the transom' submission. This is insider talk for a film which comes from out of the blue.  I was overjoyed. 

a still from my first 16mm film

a still from my first 16mm film

My parents came in from New Jersey for the Saturday night screening and my father didn't applaud so he could hear the audience's reaction.  WIthin hours of the screening, it was picked up for theatrical distribution by Don Krim's Kino International who then blew it up to 35mm.  Within the week, J. Hoberman wrote in the Village Voice: "... the shorts ...  by Anne Flournoy,  Ernie Gehr, Jean-Luc Godard ... represent roughly the same degree of seriousness and achievement as do the features."  Talk about 'go big or go bust'.  Hey, I figured, I'm on my way

But to start at the beginning, it was the year before, in the Fall of 1981, that circumstances pushed me to make this film.  I'd landed a plum Assistant Editing job on a documentary film with a kind, patient and seriously professional Editor, Sarah Stein.  The Producer Hilary Maddux and Director Deborah Boldt were equally kind and patient.  And I needed their patience because, unbeknownst to me, I was suffering from some kind of crazy allergic reaction to the coffee which was propelling me through the days, a reaction which looked for all the world like narcolepsy.  I couldn't keep my eyes open.  Our editing room at the Maysles' had a nice big couch and there was a communal coffee pot out in the main room where Bruce Sinofsky sat as a very young Office Manager.  I'd help myself to a cup of coffee, drink it as I looked for trims in the bin and then collapse on the couch.  I wasn't being lazy.  I literally couldn't keep my eyes open.  It was a miracle that they let me stay on, at union wages. 

One day when Deborah and Hilary arrived for a screening, I roused myself, determined to turn over a new leaf. I attacked the massive eight-plate editing flatbed with Windex and a dusting cloth only to hear them chuckling at my sudden burst of energy.  Beyond humiliated, I realized that the only person I was fooling was me.  (to be continued)

 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 117 (feeding the soul with the wearable art of Emily Spray)

I don't know if it was the tension yesterday of using the new lavalier mics, of not being able to get their transmitters to attach to the camera, not being able to properly monitor them or if it was the demands of acting when actually required to come up with something a little complicated - but I am pooped.   Can't even concentrate.  So today I'm feeding my soul.

Strolling over to visit the awesome designer Emily Spray at her booth at the Bedford Barrow Commerce Streets market in Greenwich Village, I got myself the coolest carry bag I've ever seen.  (See below - over Emily's shoulder)  if you missed Emily at the market, check out her website

Emily Spray and some of her hand made wares  (more at emilyspray.com) 

Emily Spray and some of her hand made wares  (more at emilyspray.com) 

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