Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Hawaii - Oahu and Maui September 2018

Dear Friends and Family,

We found so much joy, education, cuisine and multi-cultural couth in Hawaii in recent years others might be interested to read some of our observations of these wonderful islands.  [see photos below]

Waikiki Beach is the great draw-card with excellent hotels, restaurants and a marine beachfront without peer in view of Diamond Head, a massive extinct volcano.  It dominates proceedings just as Ben Buckler does at Bondi in Sydney.  Yet the latter is a 15 minute walk while Diamond Head might take a couple of hours in tropical heat and humidity.  Waikiki Beach is almost entirely man-made and is over 3km in length. 

After a top time in Oahu and Honolulu’s deep-water port, Pearl Harbor, we spent 4 days on Maui, a glorious piece of paradise on earth.  It is essentially two volcanoes joined by a large arable area with beaches on both sides.  We stayed at Kula in ‘Up-country’ Maui which is at 1000m (and thus less humid and lower temperatures) and on the way to Mount Haleakala at 3000m with telescopes and enormous sunken lava crater 16km long and 5km wide.  We drove up one morning which takes about an hour on an excellent but rather serpentine sealed road.  The very top is like a Martian landscape of red volcanic eroded mounds and ‘cinder-cones’.  We were able to clearly see the Big Island’s Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa (of Kona coffee fame) from the top as the Kiluea ‘vog’ (volcanic fog) was blown south that day – and any cloud cover was well below us. 

Unlike Mauna Kea (4000m) on the Big Island, there is much to do and see on the way up to the summit of Haleakala: long hikes, eucalypt forests (!), remote farms, colonial relics, etc but we just had a look around, took a few photos and had a brief talk with a knowledgeable park ranger about the place.   There are demonstrations of the unique flora and fauna at this altitude including the famous ‘silver sword’ bush which lives for 50 years and only flowers once to produce seeds.  We then drove back down the mountain to our digs at Kula. 

It was nice to lunch with some American opera friends at Hali’imaile General Store, one of the best restaurants on the island.  They gave us a tip to see giant green turtles and we were not disappointed at a sandy beach nearby … and not far from another famous eatery called Moma’s Fish House (next trip maybe!). 

Food is generally very good but quite expensive so a $40 main course (“entrée”) becomes $46 with a tip, $51 with tax and then $63 with the exchange rate.  Add a starter, wine and/or dessert and you are up for A$100 each in no time.  We later ordered wood fired pizza for dinner - $27 for two.  The view from Kula Lodge includes much of the island’s lowlands from ocean to ocean and the opposite mountain which has an entire ridge of wind turbines reducing the need for fossil fuels.  The airport is at Kahului, a twin town which includes Wailuku. 

We flew back for our last 4 days at Waikiki Beach with an anniversary medical function on the Saturday night and a lovely BBQ on the east coast at a private home with friends we met a year before plus some new friends and an acquaintance from Manhattan.  More food, salt water and ‘recreating’, to use the vernacular.  Speaking of which, we learned quite a few Polynesian words, some of which have entered the English language: wiki (quick); tapu (taboo); kava; aloha (hello) and mahalo (thanks and greetings). 

Notes written by Andrew Byrne .. 

 Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head crater. 

Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Waikiki Beach

AB on Mount Haleakala (sunken crater below)

Silver sword bush

View from lanai (deck) at Kula Lodge, Maui. 

Giant green turtles on Maui.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Andrew Byrne’ New York travel log 2018

New York in spring is the least predictable time of year for the weather … this year April was cold and there was even a late snowfall … the fourth of the season! 

Café Luxembourg on 70th Street near Broadway was our ‘local’ and eating at the bar was a friendly event, meeting locals and visitors alike.  Our favourite Chinese is opposite the Rockefeller Center in 48th Street the Wu Liang Ye Sechuan Restaurant.  We are always welcomed by the staff and order the usual dumplings in black pepper sauce, tripe, tongue, beans, egg plant dishes, etc.  Jean-Georges Nougatine at Columbus Circle provided a consistent quality lunch where I tried my first Dover sole which did not disappoint.  Korean specialty restaurant the ATOBOY was also a good value culinary experience in midtown.  Hole-in-the-wall Indian Aaheli in Hell’s Kitchen served a chicken chattinad to die for – and all of tables strewn with rose petals. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art – with a difference. 

We paid a $90 donation to swan around the entire museum after hours with other members from 6 until 10pm while being served canapés and cocktails.  There were also some alternative dance routines in the open spaces.  Curators were available in many of the galleries and there were guided tours including one called ‘Hidden mysteries of the Metropolitan Museum’.  A very special experience to have a party in a real Egyptian temple! 

We did not have the same all-positive experience as our friends did at the special exhibit ‘Visit to Versailles’, largely because of a program I had watched about the pungent smells and lack of toilet facilities in the reign of Louis XIV when the place was abuzz with nobles from all over France.  The curator, a knowledgeable Dutch lady, told us that only the royals would have had toilet facilities and then they were just porcelain bowls which, once filled, were simply emptied out of the windows and into the garden which was also used by everyone else as a public convenience.  She confirmed that it was the era when French perfumeries made large sums as rich people tried to get away from the terrible smell of so many people living so close together, however grand the chateau - the largest in the world we were informed, by the time of the revolution – no wonder there WAS a revolution. 

But it was marvellous to see the carpets, diagrams, paintings, pottery, poems, sculptures and stories about the peri-Parisian parapet.  The Frank Lloyd Wright living room in the American Wing was splendid also on the ‘mysteries’ tour. 

Opera scene in April 2018 in Manhattan:
New York offered a real panoply of opera this April: Cosi fan Tutte, Lucia di Lammermoor, Turandot, Romeo and Juliette, Luisa Miller, Cendrillon and Tosca at the Met along with Bernstein’s Candide at Carnegie Hall.  Ms Netrebko’s Tosca was a high point and the only time we saw the Met actually sold out.  Her very fine tenor husband Yusif Eyvazov played Cavaradossi since Marcelo Alvarez had pulled out.  We also heard Exteminating Angel, Lucia and Luisa Miller on the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts while we were in the city. 

Our Cosi fan tutte matinee was spoiled by jet-lag so we were fortunate to get ‘rush’ seats a couple of weeks later, getting much more out of the brilliant up-dating to 1960s Coney Island fun fair and adjacent ‘Skyline Motel’ in Brooklyn.  The sometimes problematic story line became slightly MORE believable - the girls not recognising their own lovers … some of the audience might have been in the same boat, such was the transformation of handsome uniformed naval officers into boyish Brooklyn denim dandies.  Broadway star Kelli O’Hara played the scheming maid Despina while accomplished baritone Christopher Maltman played Don Alfonso, patron to the four lovers.  
The final season performance of Turandot may well spell the end of the wonderful grand production set in the forbidden city of Beijing.  Many of the old productions have been replaced into the ‘close-up’ world of HD telecasts, Aida and La Boheme remaining from the previous Met dynasties.  Martina Serafin was stunning at Turadot but Marcelo Alvarez has been having vocal problems after losing some weight, or so we were told, and his Calaf was under-par.  Liu was Hei-Kyung Hong a stalwart of the Met for decades and she did not disappoint with a most touching legato display of vocal and dramatic skills. 

We attended the first (ever) performance of Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella) at the Met.  It had three of the world’s top mezzo-sopranos, Alice Coote, Joyce deDonato and Stephanie Blythe in an absolutely brilliant production … yet the opera fell flat for me just as Don Quichotte and Thais had recently.  Perhaps I am not a Massenet person.  I just can’t imagine why he chose to put neither a baritone nor a tenor into a serious opera.  Others have substituted a male for Prince Charming since, but not at The Met where ‘come scritto’ is the rule.  The hen-pecked father was excellent French bass Laurent Nouri.  He also plays old Capulet in Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette. 
Cendrillon dragged on for 4 long acts, each a dream of the following one.  All I could think of was Rossini’s Cenerentola which had more glorious melodic invention in its overture than Massenet’s entire piece.  A singer friend told me afterwards that it is more a ballet-person’s opera than a singer’s.  Are there any well known arias from Cendrillon? 

A New York Times critique of Placido Domingo aged about 80 in Luisa Miller is worth reading on its own https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/01/arts/music/review-placido-domingo-met-opera-luisa-miller.html .  This brilliant piece of writing likens Domingo’s feat to Federer winning a grand slam ten years hence.  As well as performing the father in Luisa Miller, Domingo was also conducting Romeo and Juliette!  A phenomenon of operatic history.  We enjoyed the performance greatly having first heard Aprile Millo in Rome as Luisa Miller with Alberto Cupido playing the tenor role about 25 years ago (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d92LLNchYc ) 
A fraction of balance was added to our grand opera schedule was Bernstein’s Candide at Carnegie Hall where Erin Morley was a magnificent Gunegonde … she will sing Woodbird next year in the Ring I believe.  Her Glitter and Be Gay was like the Queen of the Night on steroids.  It was an unexpected privilege by chance to meet sopranos Pretty Yende and Camilla Nyland (quite separately) each in relaxed circumstances far from their costumes, roles, critics, agents, etc in the Met foyers.  Only in New York. 

Medical matters:
NYU talks on overdose crisis and then on memory loss in the elderly; ASAM conference San Diego live streamed; Rockefeller University welcome; Drug Policy Alliance, George Soros-funded mover and shaker on drug law reform in America and internationally.  The latter have just hosted 200 knowledgeable and influential people on a study tour of Portugal looking at their near 20 year experience with complete drug decriminalisation for personal use (defined).  It seems that there are many pros and almost no ‘cons’.  So why are we still punishing drug users in Australia?  This punishes us all, just like the refugees on Manus Island, more than just a bad look. 

I was invited by Dr Joyce Lowinson to a talk by Columbia Nobel Laureate Dr Eric Kandel on memory loss in the elderly at NYU which was fascinating and instructive (get more exercise!).  Since my next meeting was at 1pm at Drug Policy Alliance I walked much of 33rd St from 1st Avenue to 7th Ave near Macy’s department store.  The new DPA’s CEO Maria McFarland Moreno-Sanchez was waiting right on time.  Her PA Chris Soda made me a cup of coffee and we had a talk about international events, Australia perspective and the US overdose crisis which dominates conversation in our field currently. 
Chris then walked me around to their international and academic office in 29th St past Pennsylvania Station where I met two other DPA officers who were welcoming and pleased to hear of developments in Australia.  Our good fortune to have modern anti-virals funded for hepatitis C has been a beacon of care in an otherwise tough and inflexible treatment milieu for drug affected citizens. 

Notes by Andrew Byrne, addiction physician of Sydney, Australia. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 round-up for Andrew Byrne and Allan Gill ...

* Travel insurance for cancer sufferers - no luck so far. 
* Menzies Art Auctions - don't go to the auction!
* MONA in Hobart - Egypt on the Derwent. 
* Honolulu ... food, friends and Islamic art museum. 
* Reunion with Dutch friend after 44 years! 
* Piano work composed by patient from 1989 found!

Some details of our year's events might interest some readers. 

I am currently involved in a movement to force companies to cover people with cancer for travel insurance, something that has been a bug-bear of mine since having lymphoma 14 years ago and annual trips to Manhattan. 

We have decided that superannuation funds in a low-interest account is just plain stupid so we have taken to using Menzies auctions as our wall-paper of late.  We make a point of buying NOTHING at the recommended prices and take left-overs which are either passed in or sold below the low estimate if we like them.  In November we chanced upon a Rupert Bunny (could never have dreamed that I would ever own such a work).  It is a lovely rural/agri scene near a French Catalan town in 1926 with mountains in the background, presumably the Pyrenees or foothills thereof. 

My kid sister Marguerite Elwin turned 50 in October and we four went to celebrate at MONA where we basically spent four days underground.  I am not a fan of much of modern art yet their Egyptian collection and overall architecture and vineyard setting on the Derwent estuary are splendid, along with The Source (by John Olsen, a Highlands neighbour) restaurant on site.  The vineyard was originally planted by Claudio Alcorso who also started Sheridan Sheets and was an early patron of the Australian Opera.  See: http://ajbtravels.blogspot.com.au/2017/10/a-visit-to-hobart-museum-of-old-and-new.html

We retraced our steps in Honolulu (third time!), including this time a visit to the wonderful home of heiress Doris Duke and its collection of Islamic art … located on the Diamond Head volcano, looking out onto Waikiki Beach it is a many splendid tour (and always booked out on previous visits – now we know why!). 

At the Doris Duke mansion.

My most 'unlikely' event was catching up with a girl I had not seen since holidaying in 1973 and 1975 in Europe as teenagers.  Annemieke Verdoorn had since become a popular TV actress in Holland and her face was known from Antwerp to Capetown.  She later married an Aussie (as you do!) and as I only learned recently, they moved to Sydney where they have a 16 year old son at my old school, Cranbrook!!!   What a small world from Rotterdam to Bellevue Hill!!  We had a lovely reunion luncheon at Potts Point in December. 

While cleaning up before our dreaded accreditation cycle I found some old music written for me by an elderly and grateful patient, composer Lesley Adams.  The manuscript was far too difficult for me so I had filed it away and not thought another thing until this year.  Acclaimed maestro Glenn Amer agreed to play the piece and he recorded it on the spot on his digitally modified Steinway grand player piano.  A charming piece, supposedly about my own 'Alter Ego' (see manuscript excerpts here of this 2 minute keyboard piece - download on request). 

Allan and I have now settled into a nice rhythm living in Burradoo near Bowral and I spend 3 days each week in Sydney while Allan comes up most weeks for a couple of days, his main responsibility being the garden and house in the Highlands (see us in the snow on: https://andrew-byrne.blogspot.com/ )  We mostly catch the Canberra “express” as the freeway is packed and we both dislike driving. 

In December 2016 after ten years, I ceased attending Central Synagogue and I now spend more time in the local mosque (see: http://cantorialcrossoverculture.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/a-semitic-learning-curve-enjoyable.html)

Cheers to all for the season and New Year … Andrew Byrne .. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday morning walk in Bowral ...

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Whenever I go out on Sunday mornings for my walk in Bowral I invariably get an education, recreation and a small amount of exercise.  This time I passed the new “Home No 9” Thai restaurant opposite Coles and had memories of the previous night’s excellent dinner there.  I also went to their opening two weeks ago which was auspicious, noting several ‘colourful local identities’ (you know who you are!) also enjoying the brilliant and diverse Asian food on offer.  It is a branch of the Bangkok House Restaurant in Mittagong.  Highly recommended. 

After then walking through the aftermath of the tulip festival in Corbett Gardens I found myself in a crowd of happy, hungry Catholics.  The service at St Thomas Aquinas finishes dead on 10am most Sundays … not surprising when they have had 2000 years practice serving their parishioners and their deity.   Having looped past the bank and shopping arcades I found myself outside the Uniting Church, dismissing their congregants fully half an hour late.  Rev Harry Herbert had given the guest sermon on Reformation Sunday (don’t tell the Catholics, please).  He told me outside that this week is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous thesis questioning Papal indulgences and starting the Protestant movement across northern Europe (and quite a lot of mischief since).  For once St Mary’s in Sydney has a service commemorating the event, something I find somewhat bizarre.  I am totally secular but respect people of all faiths and rather enjoy joining them, largely for the music, children, food and humour (and I include synagogues and mosques in my ‘rounds’). 
St Thomas Aquinas church and Mount Gibraltar.
My German forbears (there were Swiss Italian and Irish as well) were Lutheran but Bathurst did not have a Lutheran church in 1857 so they became Roman Catholic for 100 years or so.  [end of sermon]

For those into opera (and other things) the Bowral Empire Cinema complex has a round of excellent movies including the MetOpera HD broadcasts.  This time it was the season opening Norma by Bellini, my all time favourite opera with a dream cast including Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja.  Our friends just saw a disaster movie called Geostorm.  Good luck!  The trailer is shocking enough for me!  Galactic tsunamis!

I feel very happy that we have good produce, shopping, restaurants, professional services and even culture in the Southern Highlands.  Although I take the Xplorer train each week for part-time work in Sydney I do nearly all my commerce here in the Highlands. 

Best wishes from Burradoo, Andrew Byrne ..

Highlands hide-away Hunting Lodge: http://andrew-byrne.blogspot.com.au/

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A visit to the Hobart Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), October 2017.

                                       View from Mt Wellington

Any excuse will do, but mine was my kid sister’s 50th birthday.  She had booked a 2-bed, 2 bath “Pavilion” on site and kindly offered the second bedroom to her older brother and partner.  This all happened in the course of a phone call about a feverish child in a ‘flu season only a couple of weeks before the event.  And I normally NEVER do such things spontaneously! 
We have dear family friends in Hobart and have only had perfunctory time there in the distant past so this was an ideal opportunity to do what many, even most acculturated Aussies have already done, visit MONA. 
Hence we spent 4 days underground looking at the hundreds of modern art installations … but for novelty none came near the 15 minute drive up Mount Wellington.  Somehow it seemed better even than those border peaks in Tyrol and Switzerland.  And that is saying something.  We briefly met gambler David Walsh who started MONA and who retains a unique apartment and garden on site.  He was not forthcoming of anything revealing his obvious vision and aims.  My partner thought he was vacant. 
I am tempted to deign all the entire project as rubbish and fraudulent but too many fellow human beings enjoy MONA in Hobart.  As if continuing Mr Walsh’s penchant for flesh, alcohol, death and the occult, they also have dozens of ancient Egyptian artefacts, some in storage, but many on view, mixed in with the modern art works.  He has accrued some of the most ‘intact’ and beautiful stelae, coffins, mummies, hieroglyphs, mosaics, scarabs, etc that I have ever seen.  Unlike major collections such as the British museum, most of the items are completely undamaged. 
MONA is a Disneyland of sorts, money making at every turn, sex, flesh, smut and fake-art aplenty … not just some ‘poo on sticks’ … but one after another of meaningless, shocking shameless installations (dozens of bottles on rusty iron spears?).  But that is modern art for you, and you can take it or leave it in most places but here it is in-your-face and en masse.  And you have already paid for it beforehand. 
We were told that the most remembered exhibit was “Fat car”, a red sports car with ugly adiposities all around. 
The Hadron Particle Collider in Geneva apparently allowed one artist, Royji Ikeda, into the program and his impression of the control room is a long dark corridor with ranks of screens below and projections above of fast moving numbers with beeping, zonking and flashing strobes.  At least that is my probably imperfect memory of a brief walk through.  We were advised to enter when all was in darkness and await the ‘light show’.  This installation did not tickle my modern artistic bone (if I have one) but unlike most of the others at least it had an interesting origin from which the Higgs boson has finally been identified confirming some missing link of sub-atomic physics. 
One of the most prominent exhibits is the Cloaca Machine which is supposedly a genuine imitation of the human digestive tract in numerous suspended transparent vessels connected by pipes, tubing, pumps and vibrators.  We were shown it being fed two meat pies cut into halves and inserted into what appeared to be an old fashioned insinkerator, along with a large jug of water.  This then travelled down a tube to the stomach which had two types of acid being piped in before some pepsin and other enzyme tablets were added by our guide.  The artist had made 10 of these machines and retained ownership of 9 from which faeces were sold at a high price (!) but MONA was not permitted to do so according to their contract.  The name is a misnomer like so much else in this museum.  The cloaca is the discharge organ in birds and has nothing to do with human or other mammalian digestive systems.  Yet it is another talking point (and a pretty ugly word to my ear). 
Another bizarre contract was with a man who sold all rights to his back to be tattooed by a famous tattoo artist on condition that he sit for the summer season in the museum as a exhibit and donate his skin to the organisation after he died (!).  Uniquely, he would never be able to appreciate the art work himself.  Similarly there were dozens of women’s vulvas carved into white stone and hung along a corridor just above children’s height.  Again, the many women involved would not be in a position to judge the authenticity of the representations unlike some of their partners.  I personally do not feel that my life has been enriched by any of these installations but have to agree that each creates a huge talking point and tourist attraction.   
There were dozens of other permanent exhibits plus a special showing of the “Museum of Everything”, 30 rooms of modern “art” much of which was just OTT items hung, slung or perched in the many dank underground spaces with no natural light or air. 
There is a policy for no identifying tags, supposedly so one has to appreciate the art work as it stands … yet they hand out and recommend mobile proximity devices which even allowed feed-back.  Mine had almost worn out the button for “Art wank”. 
At MONA there is a very classy restaurant called ‘The Source’ with magnificent views across the Derwent.  This is complimented by another café and a wine bar near reception open daily except Tuesdays when the whole venue is closed. 
In town there are also many good eateries to choose from the port at Constitution Dock to North Hobart (there are regular ferries or taxi from MONA, each taking about 20 minutes).  I recommend Suzie Luck’s Canteen at Battery Point and ‘Urban Greek’ in an old city garage building.
Hobart boasts the southern hemisphere’s oldest synagogue in continuous use in Murray St - it has a magnificent Egyptian style façade and caters for both Orthodox and Reform persuasions who seem to be more au fait than  in some other cities. 
The story of Claudio Alcorso (started Sheridan Sheets) retiring to the MONA site and planting early grape vines in the 1950s is told in a great biography called ‘The Wind You Say’.  Walsh bought the peninsula estate from Alcorso including the two Roy Grounds homes which are heritage listed.  It was partly because of this heritage listing that a museum could not be added so Mr Walsh had his architects and engineers burrow out a space below somewhat reminiscent of Jenolan Caves. 
The museum and vineyard employ 500 people and have made a huge contribution to tourism in Tasmania.  There is much more ... including the individual accommodation, heated indoor pool, gardens, lawns, chickens, rabbits, Turel's coloured roof for dawn and dusk viewings and a new exhibit building about to open and proposed hotel in the shape of an inverted pyramid to be called HOMO. 

Back to Sydney and the 'real world' after a delayed Qantas flight (not even one apology more than 2 hours late).  Magnificent Mount Wellington makes the trip to Hobart worthwhile.  Enjoy. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Yearly postcard from New York by Andrew Byrne April 2017.


Park Avenue in spring.

We have had a marvellous April in New York.  The city is a splendour in spring as the people start smiling again after 3 or 4 months of deep, dark winter.  And weekends show it best as people get out into the sunlight, parklands, kids and elderly alike to worship the season, blossoms, warmth and renewal.  Central Park needs no introduction and there is always something going on in addition to the natural world: Marathon Run; Trump Demonstration; Dog Show; acrobatics and buskers who are sometimes more proficient than the professionals.   
On our second day my niece Claudia Byrne was visiting on a school trip (St Andrew's Cathedral School) and we had a lovely couple of hours taking in the wonders of the American Museum of Natural History (I especially like the asteroids and gem stones) then a picnic lunch in Central Park afterwards.  A welcomed up-grade to first on Qantas A380 still did not stem jet lag for which one expects no sympathy.  The service was splendid and I had a medley of seafood from tartlet of pureed celeriac and caviar to Balmain bugs in smoked prawn butter (the best), lobster with XO sauce (a little rubbery) followed by baked blue eyed cod with almond romesco (I had to ask too – a Basque sauce using burnt capsicum).  My partner Allan had more traditional fare.  A colourful fruit salad by Neil Perry included B&W fruit cubes which were delicious and exotic (actually dragon fruit which we now enjoy at home).  The First Class lounge at Mascot provides a splendid breakfast ... and they were serving Verve Cliquot La Grande Dame 2006 'on tap' there as well as on the plane!  Eggs paramour Florentine with bubbles? 
We find that just by going out the door in New York one often experiences something unpredictable and extraordinary.  We witnessed our first ever robbery as a man bolted out of a designer clothing store on Broadway with some fur-lined garment.  It was all over in a second with the poor shop assistant shouting up the side-walk that there were cameras in the store (to no avail).  Gardens, flowers, buildings and produce are all many and varied.  And spring is the best time with cherry blossoms early this year, hyacinths, daffodils, blue bells and tulips aplenty.  Like the plant life, the weather has also been variable with one day up to 87 degrees (31C) and another 50 (9C).  One evening we ran into Cicely Tyson (aged ~90) in the supermarket.  We also saw ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg at Christie's Old Masters viewings at Rockefeller Center (some sold for $9 million).  On a hot afternoon I passed two beautiful young women parading down Broadway for all to see and admire – they were identical albino twins. 
We had pre-booked several operas and a concert via the internet so were surprised and delighted to also be given tickets to two dress rehearsals in good seating as well.  This has enabled us to see Aida, Rigoletto (set in a casino), Flying Dutchman and Eugene Onegin in just one week, Saturday to Saturday.  We know that seeing shows in the first few days under the influence of jet lag is pointless and frustrating so our first was a Saturday matinee of Aida on day 4.  It is easier to stay awake in the afternoon than the evening.  Jet lag does not get any easier with age. 
We saw Eugene Onegin matinee too ... Anna Netrebko as Tatiana but Dmitry Hvorotovsky is still off sick with a brain tumour, sad to say ... and a magnificent Flying Dutchman dress rehearsal on the Friday.  The well-named but rather ample Ms Amber Wagner sang Senta and is the dramatic soprano to watch - magnificent presence and penetrating huge voice with crystal top notes. 

On Wednesday Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja sang the Duke (aka "Mr Big") in the 'casino' Rigoletto which was both novel and enjoyable.  Mr Lucic as jester was great 'in parts' while Miss Peretyatko was wrongly cast despite her wonderful Met Puritani a couple of years back.  The up-dated Rigoletto used every trick imaginable in the gamblers' cabaret paradise including Playboy Bunny Girls, wheel-of-fortune, roulette, lap dancers, mobile cocktail bar, cards, poker machines and … just when you thought you had seen everything, some rehearsed dandies solemnly parade in an ornate Egyptian sarcophagus which, when opened, reveals a very alive stripper (female variety).   The intruders to the big party (Count Monterone and side-kicks in the original) were here turbaned Arabs, very annoyed about gambling and drinking going on next door to their harem (plus having the daughter raced off by the sleazy casino owner).  They got their comeuppance in the next act by being shot at point-blank range by in-house security. 

Veteran tenor Roberto Alagna did the most magnificent Cyrano portrayal.  It must be one of the great feats for the tenor (as it is for the actor).  And Alagna is no spring chicken either. 
In cheap seats purchased on the day we attended 'Hello Dolly' with Bette Midler at the Shubert Theatre ... it was action-packed, hot and sexy with dancing and a great Dame of the stage coming back at the age of 71 to prove she could still do it ... and she DID!   "The Divine Miss M".  The musical's routines were fabulous, settings gorgeous, audience rapturous and intimate scenes moving and pertinent.  And we managed to get back-row last minute seats at the theatre for $59 each. 
As we were hosting two young Aussie students there were some opportunities to do some touristy things like walking Mulberry Street Little Italy and Chinatown, regretting somewhat that I did not do it 25 years ago when I first went to New York.  There was food of all varieties, produce and specialty stores aplenty.  And the lovely ethnic entertainment is for free.  But some of my favourite food is at the Sechuan Wu Liang Ye in 48th Street between 5th and 6th. 
There are two ‘Perfect Crimes’ in New York, one a rather ordinary but long running play on Broadway.  The other is renowned Katz's Deli on Houston Street (just near the corner of 1st Avenue and 1st Street).  The latter lays claim to be a Jewish Deli but is really just an expensive tourist trap to my mind (and I have spent ten years as a fellow-traveller with a Sydney Jewish congregation).  A nice but ordinary and not over-sized pastrami sandwich sells for over A$30!!  And you have to queue up yourself for the sandwich, again if you want a meagre bowl of (quite ordinary) matzo ball soup and yet again if you want a drink (their own Katz's beer on tap is a fine dark ale).  There was not a frum Jew in the joint as far as I could see and the ambiance totally the opposite of Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side where I normally get my gefilte fish and corned beef.  And I now regret walking past nearby "Russ and Daughters" deli which would have to have pleased more than Katz's gonif's balagan. 
More next April should I live so long.  Andrew Byrne ..
Our friend Terry Kobel showing her 'entree' at Jean-Georges Nougatine restaurant ($38 3 courses).
Katz's twenty dollar sandwich!

School excursion to American Museum of Natural History.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Some choice eateries in the Southern Highlands

December 2016.   Three splendid meals in the Highlands – Biota & Bundanoon Guest House … plus a Chinese connection.
At the risk of being accused of spruiking I bring this to the attention of friends and relations at the same time as wishing all a happy and restful holiday period ahead. 
Biota in Bowral is almost my ‘local’.  The formal restaurant is beyond my normal budget so I usually eat in their front-of-house tapas bar where a new menu is most impressive, now including some full meal choices.  The onion rings were the best I have ever eaten.  Top-notch ‘chips’ are really baked potatoes with creamy sauce.  Dory roe with home-made crisps (generous serving of both); fried chicken wedges and pickles. All simply scrumptious. Other dishes included pasta, raw king fish, leeks, kale and a cheese Mac with chips.  “Somm” Ben Shephard knows his wines, local and exotic (prices modest to mostest).  He also does bespoke non-alcoholic beverages using botanicals.  Chef James Viles continues to win prizes for innovative food and exotic produce, some home grown on the premises and nearby.  The $64 question: can vegetarians eat caviar? 
Another noted Highlands chef Eon Waugh, late of Josh’s Café and the Exeter Studio Restaurant has now taken over the dining room at the Bundanoon Guest House.  And their first week has been a busy one with many of his signature dishes in evidence – as well as some new ones.  Double cooked gruyere soufflé, butter chicken curry, mandarin duck and pate all exemplary.  Even the bread and butter are special.  A delayed alcohol licence might be considered a benefit (so ring to see if you can bring your own).  And enjoy in moderation (or excess but rarely). 
The Hong Kong Restaurant in Moss Vale is producing authentic Cantonese cuisine seven days per week and is great value.  Try their pork mince and green beans; roast duck and sour vegetables; black bean chilli beef; fried dumplings … all excellent to my taste. 
Kind regards, Andrew Byrne .. Burradoo via Redfern

Monday, October 3, 2016

Hawaii revisited – September/October 2016

Our second visit to Honolulu, Oahu, has been supplemented by a side trip to the ‘big island’ of Hawaii where everything is indeed BIG!  But more about that later. 
On arrival at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel our first of many ‘gob-smack’ vistas was not in any of the guide books.  Floating off Waikiki Beach and well out to sea was an enormous pillared structure topped by a giant white ‘golf ball’.  We had to do a double take to make sure we were not seeing things or suffering vapours or jet lag ... but numerous photographs and a Google search soon determined that this was a part of the star wars defense system for America, originated under Ronald Reagan in 1983.  Within and below the spherical colossus is some of the world's most advanced radar and computer technology whose aim is to rapidly detect the speed and trajectory of an approaching intercontinental missile and then predict the exact re-entry location so it can be intercepted and vaporised.  As the concept was carried through, and over two billion dollars spent on the recycled Norwegian oil platform … yet the concept has been plagued by problems and the machine is under repair here in Hawaii more often than being deployed near or facing Russia, North Korea or other potentially hostile parties.  A local air hostess told me that she sees it in the Pearl Harbor area frequently.  As it was on the horizon from our hotel room window one estimate is that it would have been 11km away. 
Star wars radar afloat off Waikiki Beach 

During our trip there were numerous 'firsts' for me including seeing my own sign of the zodiac, Capricorn.  Even from country Australia the Sea Goat is very hard to see, yet in the tropics at this time of year the constellation is high in the sky as a distinct triangle of multiple stars.  Likewise, adjacent Pisces and Aquarius are hard to see, neither having even one prominent star.  At least Virgo has Spica, a bright sentinel star, while most of the other stars of The Maiden are very dim.  Our star gazing was a part of a guided sunset tour to the summit of Mauna Kea where the famous Keck Telescope is located, along with numerous other observatories.  Happily for our better viewing it was near new moon which is therefore the first of the month in Jewish. Islamic and other lunar calendars and purely coincidentally this year the New Year for both Semitic religions as well!).   While the North Polar Star and 'Little dipper' were new to me, I was able to point out a few southern constellations for our Northern colleagues (German, Dutch and  Portuguese).  These included Pisces Austranis and the Eye of the Fish (Fomalhaut) along with Grus the crane. 
Milky Way atop Mauna Kea (from NYT)
 Summit Mt Mauna Kea - sacred trail to spot where man meets the Gods. Note most clouds are below us.
This entire island archipelago was formed by under-sea volcanoes, evidence of which is to be found everywhere.  Dotting the landscape are craters new and old, lava beds and flows, lava tubes, peaks, gulches, ridges and more.  Some volcanic features are new and obvious while others are in partial states of weathering or in advanced decay, like the huge crater walls on the east of Oahu.  Some active regions seem to have a long constant grade or slope which may go on for many kilometres.  Mauna Loa means ‘long mountain’ in Polynesian, for the vast slopes it has created.  I recall some similarities with the wonderful Kintamani / Mt Batur volcano in Bali, happily long extinct.  The Bali road goes through town after town, each rising up in altitude until reaching the rim or the giant crater at the top, some now creating an inland sea of sorts. 
Eastern vent of Kilauea which has been erupting since 1983

Lava meets seawater.

Mauna Kea from Saddle Road.
We have been afforded the luxury of seeing many of the most dramatic features of these incredible islands in a user-friendly, pain free and economical fashion.  One learns about volcanoes, lava and telescopes ... yet nothing could have prepared us for many of the sights, experiences and vistas from this trip.  Apart from palms, the islands were tree-less when Polynesians first arrived over 1000 years ago.  Banyan fig trees introduced from India in the 1800s grew in some high rainfall areas to become some of the largest on earth.  Likewise, the Monkey pod tree or Saman has a unique habitus, being like a giant umbrella with pink spidery flowers on its high extremities.  The Royal Hawaiian Hotel has grand examples in its gardens which are a focus of attention for many private and public events in Honolulu since its opening in 1927 (the first was the Moana adjacent, built in 1901).  We attended the awards ceremony for the Islands' best restaurant and 15 entrants provided samplers of their signature dish.  Quite a treat for our arrival. 
Banyan in downtown Waikiki (INSIDE) and shopping centre!

Monkey pod tree (Saman) in a cemetery north of Hilo.
Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu.
We have been struck by the number of world records, especially on the big Island of Hawaii which consists of 5 volcanoes in various states of activity.  Kilauea is the most southerly mountain.  After many years of inactivity it erupted in 1983 and has been spewing lava, smoke and ash ever since.  Even today the central bubbling ‘caldera’ and surrounding enormous volcanic crater are partly off-limits at certain times, especially the south side since the prevailing winds are usually from the north and the fumes contain sulphur and can be very dangerous.  The sight of this 3x4km chasm is awesome indeed, and it is a comfortable 45 minute drive from Hilo. 
Making up the bulk of the island are Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, both just over 4000m high.  The latter has been estimated to contain 75,000 cubic kilometres and is said to be the most massive mountain on earth, so much so that it dents our planet’s mantle.  Mauna Kea would be even taller than Mt Everest if one counts from its base in the Pacific Ocean.  Mauna Loa erupted several times in the 20th century while Mauna Kea has seen no eruptions since ~2400BC, the Egyptian pyramid age (and maybe no coincidence!).  It seemed like a safer bet to place astronomical observatories on Mauna Kea, at least for the moment.  The island is free of heavy industry, there is little light pollution, it lies near the equator for viewing of both northern and southern skies ... furthermore, the elevation is usually above the cloud line where the air is much thinner, making images far clearer than from sea level telescopes. 

The summit is a sacred site for locals and there is a current dispute about the new 30 metre telescope which hopefully will be resolved soon (perhaps with the removal or resiting of other facilities). 
Andrew in front of Kilauea 'caldera'.
A guided tour up Mauna Kea is recommended although private vehicles are permitted on the access road, as long as they have four wheel drive.  At sunset the observatories can be seen to be opening but they are not open to the general public without prior academic introductions.  The tour starts from either coastal towns of Kona on the dry west side of the island or Hilo on the east.  The latter boasts amongst the highest rainfalls in the US at 180 inches yearly.  Both towns have regular flights to Honolulu and occasional flights direct to the West Coast of the United Stages. 
The climate changes from humid tropical to arid alpine in less than 2 hours.   The summit is almost completely devoid of life and is so like a lunar landscape that this is where NASA tests some of its equipment including the Apollo and Martian rovers. 
Hawaii is an incredible foment of our angry earth, much of it still visible and active.  On our last full day on the big island we drove to Waimea in the north followed by a loop back across the 'saddle' road between the two enormous mountains Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.  For the first time near Waimea we had an uninterrupted view of Mauna Kea which is rather rare as it is usually shrouded in clouds ... and we could even see several of the observatories right on the pinnacle we had been standing on ourselves just one day earlier! 
Andrew and Allan at 700 year old 'fish pond' on Oahu.
Lava fields, steam vents and 'new' road partially destroyed. This is the newest land on earth.
 Land where eastern vent of Kilauea continues to pour lava towards the sea.
In some areas the forest was spared with lava going on each side. 
A private botanical garden just north of Hilo afforded a viewing of hundreds of orchids, antheriums, palms, spathophyllums, impatience, ginger flowers and much more besides. 




Gecko lizard camouflaged.

Blow-hole calm

 Blow-hole 'blowing'

Some excellent food was sampled on both Oahu and Hawaii islands.  We had the privilege of attending the annual "Hale 'aina" awards held in the lush gardens of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  15 categories of food allowed 15 stalls for restaurants to provide samples of their signature dish for the (paying) guests.  We also ate well at our 'local' near our guest house in Hilo: The Moon and Turtle Café/Restaurant.  They had a small but adventurous menu including this fried 'akule' fish (a type of mackerel or 'big-eye scad). 
Type of local mackerel at Moon and Turtle care in Hilo - highly recommended.  

Andrew and Allan at the Azure restaurant, beach-side at Royal Hawaiian.

Crimson snapper with sprouts and snake beans.
Panacotta with basil puree, strawberry, sago and meringue pieces.
See red hot lava on right above Pacific Ocean creating huge steam cloud.
We had the good fortune to be invited on a Polynesian tour of the island of Oahu.   Our host Kawika from Done Tours (pronounced Dunn Tours) drove us away from Honolulu through a secluded and pristine valley which unfortunately had become the entry of one of the three cross-island tunnels.  What we saw all around us as we emerged on the other side was the ruined half of a giant crater tens of kilometres across with craggy high walls above us in the unmistakeable circular shape, albeit truncated by eons of weathering.  

We were given a detailed run-down on the Polynesian cultures, each unique but all also related from an origin in Asia more than 2000 years ago.  Recent evidence has disposed of the only alternative theory of South American origins via Easter Island.  Language, myths, food-stuffs, navigation and many other features connect the Maori, Hawaiian, Tongan, Fijian, New Caledonian and many other smaller cultures in the mid-Pacific.  We were told about the five vowels and about a dozen consonants, including the inverted apostrophe in their phonetics.  The Hawaiian language has made a resurgence in recent decades after being discouraged during most of the 20th century.  The ubiquitous accompaniments of the Polynesian people include the yam, chickens, pigs and more.  Hula dancing is taken very seriously although we leaned that the Ukulele was a Portuguese introduction (and means 'dancing fleas' in Hawaiian!).  Debates continue about whether the original people originated in Taiwan where Aboriginal people still use a language related to the Polynesian.  The alternative recent theory is of spread from New Guinea through the Solomon Islands and beyond.  DNA evidence is likely to resolve the issue as has recently been used (with some scepticism) for African Americans to determine their much more recent origins. 

Our guide had lived and worked on the North Shore of Oahu which is home to the best surf in the world, yet very little development has occurred.  There is one large resort called Turtle Beach at Kahuku and a large Mormon settlement with school and sports center.  High above an ancient seaside town, Waimea Bay was  the last site of Royal human sacrifices.  It was said that King Kamehameha I used this site for both sacrifice and warning of war on the last major island which he had not conquered, Kauai.  We were told that one young child was groomed for the purpose and at the right time to appease the gods a sharp wooden knife to the heart would cause instant death.  In addition, the large rectangular site would be heaped with fuel and set alight so that the light could be seen from across the sea and a return fire would indicate the start of a war (which history tells us Kamehameha never prosecuted, guns traded for sandalwood and a treaty agreed with the rules with Kauai’s leader's son being held hostage in Oahu). 

We were then driven to the coast to inspect an ancient ‘fish pond’ but this was no ordinary fish pond.  It was indeed serious ancient aquaculture and probably about 700 years old.  To enable flow of tidal water the wall had to be constructed of rounded river stones and therefore brought from some considerable distance.  Similarly, the stones for the large walled sacrificial space on the top of the mountain were all volcanic rocks brought up from the seaside by the priests who were the only ones allowed to be involved in such sensitive work.  These were both huge undertakings, one very utilitarian in the provision of a regular supply of fish, the other a religious purpose, like the construction of a cathedral in Europe.  I read about the use of these fish ponds remnants of which are found all over the islands.  There is always a balance of fresh water running in from adjacent streams and tidal sea water and a delicate balance allows the growth of particular seaweeds for the numerous species of herbivorous fish popular with Polynesian chefs. 

Driving back across the middle of the island we passed some defunct sugar and pineapple plantations while macadamias are so common that some locals believe that they are indigenous (they are native to northern Australia).  We were told about the enormous numbers of workers who were brought to work the old plantations, from Philippines, Korea, Japan and elsewhere so that now there are many mixed race people and hardly any full blood Polynesians just as full-blood Maoris are hard to find in New Zealand.  We met numerous people who had Japanese, Vietnamese, African American and European mixed with the native Polynesian stock.  And some still speak a Pidgin language developed in the fields.