Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Big Apple in April 2024 ...

It is an awkward time to be writing about happy travels when there is so much unhappiness, trauma and pain in the world.  And our country is not immune with serious war protests and unrelated but almost unbelievable public carnage as reported in Bondi and Western Sydney.  However, with apologies and sympathies to all who are affected I write for the record.  

We are here in New York City for the month, well settled into our digs in Hell’s Kitchen, 54th and 9th near the USS Intrepid on the Hudson, not far from Times Square and 42nd Street.  This year we have a 2 bed, 2 bath flat and unwisely mentioned same to family whose third member (and second sister of mine) will arrive this Friday to stay.  Great fun being in the city again with friends and family. 

We took the first sister Mindy to Turandot with Christine Goerke, Roberto Alagna and Angel Blue in the wonderful old Met Zeffirelli production.  Then Allan and I attended Terrence Blanchard's 'Fire Shut up in my Bones', to be followed by La Rondine HD broadcast on the Saturday matinee, Madama Butterfly, Carmen and El Nino, all at the Met in the last week of April. 

We have also been lucky to get to 2 concerts at Carnegie Hall, Schubert four hands program with Jonathan Biss and Mitsuko Uchida.  Then Carnegie Zenkel Hall Orpheus Chamber Group doing Mendelssohn’s little known and early (aged 13!) D minor violin concerto, along with Bach’s famous concerto masterwork for two violins.  Oh, and NY Philharmonic at Geffen Hall with Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto plus Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony (no Winfield jokes please).  

Sondheim's Sweeney Todd on Broadway was a magnificent professional show with rush tix a further incentive as we are staying nearby. 

Still to look forward to: Merrily We Roll Along (also Sondheim) and La Clemenza di Tito at Julliard on our final day. 

With keen sister Mindy in tow we have been to UWS Zabars, Fairways, Baptist Sunday service, Christie’s antiquities preview (magnificent Greek and Egyptian pieces), Williams Sonoma, Mandarin Oriental Hotel gander, luncheon at La Bonne Soupe in Midtown, Strawberry Fields John Lennon memorial, Dakota Building on Central Park, Ansonia Building on Broadway, Columbus Avenue Sunday markets, Citarella (to get produce for chef sister to make dinner!).  

The main event so far was probably the New Jersey earthquake (4.6 on Richter scale but not felt by us) and trip to Buffalo to see Niagara falls and the amazing solar eclipse.  We walked over to Canada on the Rainbow Bridge for a spectacular view of the three Niagara Falls ('American', 'Bridal Veil' and 'Horseshoe') thundering over to the ‘whirlpool’ below where some take the risk of a water journey, not for us, thanks!  

Seeing the world go cold and dark in the middle of the afternoon was an extraordinary event to behold.  And to do so at Niagara was a bonus indeed.  Despite being rather run-down and dilapidated, the locals pulled out the stops with festivities, cameras rolling and fireworks in the evening.  While Niagara town has seen better days the Canadian side seemed prosperous and well organized.  We walked across the Rainbow Bridge (and were happily let back into the good ole USA afterwards!). 

Best wishes to all ... [see ON THE TOWN performs ON LOCATION in New York, New York! ( ]

With sister Mindy at Zabars

Dakota Building from Central Park near Strawberry Fields. 

             With Marguerite and Cameron on their 25th wedding anniversary dinner(s). 

At Cafe des Artistes

Post script: Full points to All Nippon Airways who rightly deserve their high rankings of late.  Scrupulously clean, on-time, excellent service, comfortable seats/suites.  And less than half the price of Qantas on a business package Sydney to New York (JFK).  


Monday, November 7, 2022

Andrew finally gets back to the Big Apple, November 2022.

I am so delighted to be able to write again from New York after the Covid closures. 

Topics: Covid consequences in NYC; 

Opera season; Newly re-opened Geffen Hall and NY Philharmonic concert series; 

Reaching out to medical colleagues and advocates; 

Christie’s art auction preview trumps Met Museum of Art; 

NY Marathon; Halloween; ‘Only in New York’!  

Travel from Australia to mainland US via Hawaii highly recommended.  

Leopoldstadt; Mendelssohn at Carnegie Hall; Haydn at Rockefeller University. 

This city is much changed after the Covid tragedy played out … like Shakespeare's tragedies, a relentless infringement on humanity ... and at the same time all else that makes up our society.  The worst days were obviously only experienced by those who were here, mostly locked-down and either too sick or too frightened to go out for anything but absolute essentials.  And deaths in numbers we Australians find hard to comprehend. 

The most obvious visible change in New York is that cafes and restaurants are now permitted a covered pavilion on the street in front where diners were permitted to eat during the lock-downs as they were considered 'outdoors'.  This means that in both streets and avenues there are major lanes of traffic and parking completely blocked by these 'temporary' structures.  Many, however, look extremely well built, weatherproof and heated yet none I saw had ventilation which is so important for avoiding the virus.  I read that food scraps and crumbs falling onto the roadway below caused a rat problem in some areas.  Nothing is easy.  And many businesses are gone completely.   

The virus is still around: the very first person we met on the mainland rang us a week later to say he had Covid-19 and was in isolation, mildly symptomatic (and despite 4 vaccine shots).  

As always, I came here partly to continue to spread the word about the effectiveness of D&A treatments as well as opera and catching up with friends including a psychiatrist who turned 100 years old last month … and who is still active in our field of drug dependency.  I have participated in Zoom meetings and finally have a face-to-face meeting at Columbia University which I have not been able to attend physically for 3 years.  New York now has it first injecting rooms which are called 'overdose prevention centers' (OPC).  This is 30 years after they were opened in Switzerland and 20 after Sydney's own MSIC in Kings Cross.  

The miracle is that things still tick along at all in this city.  Kids go to school again, transport is running, some stores and restaurants are still operating while museums, parks and galleries are open.  Halloween is the last day of October and like Christmas it has been totally commercialised and goes for many days - we saw it start in Honolulu the week before!  And sadly it has been exported with those terrible consequences reported from South Korea. 

The opera has been marvellous and for the first time in decades I have gone to the stage door to meet and greet the artists afterwards (Tosca and Medea).  It is always a strange experience since one by one people exit and you don’t know if it is the title star herself/himself, a stage hand or even the second trombone.  Post-performance dressing room visits at the Met have been banned due to Covid concerns, even for generous donors and supporters and family members. Don Carlo also splendid, looking forward to Rigoletto.  Tucker Gala booked as well.  Then 'The Hours' with Renee Fleming, Joyce DiDonato and Kelli H'Hara. 

Verdi’s longest opera Don Carlos opening was sandwiched between two performances of Tosca (with difference casts) then with the terrible Greek infanticide tragedy Medea - all wonderful experiences.  No house was more than three quarters full, some less.  In both Hawaii and New York we have seen some old friends and made some new ones. 

It seems almost daily that something happens which is a ‘first’ for me.  I saw aloe vera plant fronds on sale … yet I would have no clue what to do with them.  Yuzu lemons on sale, popular with the Japanese, are like a cross between lime and lemon with yellow/green dappled zest, enormous white seeds and modestly juicy flesh.  Great in gin and tonic. 

On the subway I saw a young man dressed in just a large cardboard box while his friends were also in fancy gear, some mimicking a skeleton.  I saw Brussels sprouts sold on their stems for the first time … I did not even know that they grew on stems! “Baby cabbages?” I must be a city boy.  Never before heard Cherubini.  I was also a Bruckner novice.  Never before seen a cannabis dispensary … but our local Broadway bakery has been replaced by a cannabis shop!!  Very annoying! … unless you dote on dope for breakfast.  And two doors further up is a shop selling pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia!  Last time I was here these would have been indictable offences!  

The David Geffen Hall is the home of the New York Philharmonic and has been closed for over 2 years for renovations like our concert hall in Sydney.  The October reopening has been a grand affair, formal and informal Gala nights, televised and projected performances including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  Our visit revealed many similar attributes to our own opera house … greatly improved acoustics with extensive wavy wood panelling, relocation of the ugly escalators, better bars with baristas, efficient elevators and wider passageways for the disabled, additional stairs and balcony bar overlooking the circular Lincoln Center fountain. Surprisingly the box office windows are gone forever, replaced by receptionists smiling at computer/printer desks "May I help you?"  No more shouting into an ill-positioned hole in the glass!  

The stage has been advanced substantially allowing a large bank of ‘organ gallery’ seats installed (for choir or overflow audience).  Hence everyone is closer to a more centred stage.  Only a couple of orchestra members wore masks along with about 10% of the audience (including me).  Mozart’s 22nd piano concerto with Bronfman playing was half an hour of aural joy, then the huge experience of an hour of Bruckner’s 7th symphony, at times almost painful for the ear drums as we were in row C and the orchestra was at its full compliment. 

A young friend is visiting from Chicago to participate in the NY Marathon which is 42km (the distance from Marathon to Athens according to Google Maps) starting in Staten Island, going across the Verrazano bridge to Brooklyn then across the Queensboro Bridge and up second avenue to cross briefly into the Bronx, back to Manhattan and ending at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park.  Sydney’s City to Surf ‘fun run’ is 14km (one third of a full Olympic marathon). 

We have learned that when you see a queue (‘line’) in New York you should consider joining it.  There is likely to be a good reason like best bagels, free admission to a gallery or other opportunity to be had in this amazing, diverse but competitive city.  The Christie’s auction preview was for the estate of the late co-founder of Microsoft, Paul G. Allen.  It was phenomenal! And all for free with knowledgeable guides (after a short wait outside on the sidewalk). About 20 paintings were marked "estimate on request". We were told these were all over 50 million (gasp!) dollars! There were many magnificent recognisable classics by Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Bonnard, Breughel, Seurat, Dali, Tanguy, Ernst, Turner, Bacon, Kandinsky, Hockney, Klimt, Canaletto, Botticelli, etc, etc. Also a lot of hugely priced 'garbage art’ (my own derogative) including a Mondrian ‘rectangles’ of which an example was recently reported to be hung upside down by mistake for 40 years in Europe!  There was a room full of spun circles of multicoloured paint to my mind of little artistic value at all despite a wonderful display of colour and splatter.  Yet some such art is highly valued and it’s a free world!  The entire auction is expected to realise up to a billion (one thousand million) dollars!  The funds go to various charities. Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I (

For the first time in decades I did not travel direct to the US via California but was persuaded by my wonderful travel agent to do a big triangle: Sydney, Honolulu, New York, LAX, Sydney.  Air fares have skyrocketed in recent months so this allowed my long delayed reunion with friends in Hawaii along with the New York trip.  Hawaiian Air and United both have direct 9 hour flights to New York.  

"Leopoldstadt" on Broadway by Tom Stoppard was a brilliantly staged event lasting just over 2 hours (no break).  At the same time an entertainment, a catharsis, wrenchingly ended and in parts, hilarious.  We learn about Vienna high society, Anshluss, the Riemann hypothesis of prime numbers, Seder blessing, secular ‘Jewish’ Christmas and baptisms with circumcisions.  The only ‘real’ character (who does not appear) is Sigmund Freud.  It is an autobiographical product of a brilliant playwright who learned about his Jewish heritage late in life.  This play is highly recommended but I don’t think it will change anyone’s life, apart from the author whose parallel character ends the play alone on a darkening stage, in tears. 


Mendelssohn’s Piano concerto No 1 and Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music … wonderful with St Lukes Orchestra, Trinity Church Wall St Choir, conductor Harry Bicket and Benjamin Grosvenor on keyboard. 

This Carnegie Hall event was indeed a high point.  The piano was like a constant cascade of double trills up and down the keyboard in a varied and melodic concerto with all three short movements played without breaks (attacca). 

Midsummer Night's Dream (incidental music) is indeed a discrete piece of theatre and the Bard would be proud I’m sure.  The narrator was David Hyde Pierce who spoke Shakespeare’s immortal words beautifully.  At times he was accompanied and there were two soloist ‘fairies’ plus the large Trinity Wall Street Choir (only soprano voices).  A high point was the wedding march which is one of the most recognisable pieces of music ever written. 


Halloween and 'temporary' restaurant booths. 

Allan at Hudson Yards on High Line. 'The Vessel' in background.

Central Park

Bakery replaced by cannabis store.  

New York Marathon rules; below our mate Rob with his medal at the end of the race near Tavern on the Green. . 

[Acknowledgements: Thanks to Allan Gill for several of the photos and to Lilla Elwin for help with editing.] 


Friday, July 5, 2019

Small talk: food, music and anniversaries.

Dear friends, family and neighbours, 

Some of my exploits of the last week will be of no interest, such as my routine dental visit which ended up with my first filling in 50 years!  Likewise, few of you would be interested in my attendance at Friday prayers as a secular visitor, now almost part of the furniture (except there isn’t any in a mosque!).  

Of wider interest: Graham Murphy’s new Madam Butterfly will be a talking point for some time to come.  The gala performances were both this weekend (there are two casts for 23 performances over 3 weeks!).  This sets Butterfly as a bondage prostitute and has as many ‘coups-de-theatre’ as you could imagine, many by means of video plasma strips around the stage.  The three principals had enormous voices and they took all the hard options … yet later that night we wondered if it was amplified … something which changes the playing field and breaks a major rule of the opera theatre.  We know that the orchestra IS amplified or otherwise “enhanced”.  The opera supremo insisted to me that there was absolutely no amplification of the voices.  

I have finally bought a mobile phone at last so now I exist!  But for now I will only use it while in transit and for emergencies so continue to use my current email and landlines please. 

I made another batch of cumquat marmalade (happy to share).  And I had a Lebanese ‘master-class’ up-date on making babaganouche.  Choosing your egg plant (big but not too big).  Waiting until it is ‘ripe’ and ready for the flames (starting to soften with one or two ‘marks’ appearing).  Using the clear juice that oozes out of the cooked vegetable (I was discarding it!).  Adding plenty of lemon juice (and zest if you have the energy and the grater).  Don’t over-do the garlic and make sure it is fully crushed.  Salt to taste.  Add only a modest amount of tachini (and I cheat by adding a few drops of toasted sesame oil as well). 

Our friend, painter and handyman Barry Barakat died suddenly at 59 while walking the dog … leaving his family and us reeling for the loss.  The nuns at St Mary’s have put on some sort of tribute.  Very sad. 

I attended Bob Borowsky’s 80th birthday 10 years ago and as he is still singing I was asked to speak at his 90th celebration at Central Synagogue where I have only attended once in a year (after being a regular for a decade).  It was a warm welcome back for me, albeit the sceptical and secular outsider, and a very sincere tribute to Bob who trained at the Rome opera in the 1950s and has sung all around the world including the Sydney Opera House (in Manon Lescaut and La Traviata).  Bob’s recordings are on YouTube: for one.  He sings solos each Shabbat which is remarkable and his voice is very well preserved.  It was also the 47th anniversary of the chief cantor Shimon Farkas whose glorious tenor voice compliments Bob’s baritone with the male choir (supplemented for the occasion by the boy’s alto choir).  True vocal bliss … but not for the passing yokel I’m afraid. 

We heard the sad news that Kylie Kwong has finally closed her long running Billy Kwong restaurant this weekend. 

More anon.  Happy daze to all.  Andrew B ..

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

New York Postcard April - May 2019

We have had yet another frantic but enjoyable time in New York City, our 27th annual Hajj to this sacred isle, each time encompassing medical, cultural, social and even religious events, despite being securely secular ’selves. 

And as so often is the case some of the best things in New York are free of charge. 

* Hudson Yards, monument and moguls with adjacent Hi-Line walkway.   
* Easter Sunday Service at Trinity Church Wall Street (see below). 
* Christie’s Auctions hold previews at their showrooms at Rockefeller Center.  
* Central Park changes each day from bare winter to jungle in just a few weeks. 
* Amateur orchestral concert on Friday evening in a church hall at Lincoln Center.

Hudson Yards:

Unless you believe there is a benefit in being a dozen storeys closer to some celestial deity I can think of no other more useless yet beautiful structures since the leaning tower of Pisa.  “Vessel” is a massive fantasy stairway-to-heaven opened in March on the reclaimed river foreshore called Hudson Yards.  It was designed by brilliant Englishman Thomas Heatherwick and cost 200 million dollars.  It is worth a look along with its high-end shopping centre, adjacent to the north end of the Hi-Line walkway near 34th Street.  Tickets to walk up the 15 or so flights are free but need to be purchased ahead of time on line.  There is also an elevator.  

'Retired' soprano Renee Fleming has been playing in an alternative two-person show at the expandable venue adjacent to 'Vessel' called 'The Shed' on the Hudson foreshores.  It can accommodate up to 2000 patrons when fully expanded.    

There has been some criticism of the overall redevelopment of this area, some of which is located above the shunting tracks which serve Penn Station just a few blocks away.  It can be easily accessed using a new extension of the 7 subway line from Times Square.  

Auction previews: 

It is always worthwhile looking up Christie’s, Sotherby’s and other New York City auction schedules … we have been fortunate two years running to coincide with sales of European master paintings and old world antiquities.  But there are sales of carpets, watches, clocks, gem stones, jewellery, sculptures, motor cars and more.  And there are experts on hand to answer questions … we had a virtual tutorial on Dutch and Northern French flower paintings from a knowledgeable curator with a fine arts degree.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a special exhibition of Dutch Masters in their rear gallery at present.  There are four Vermeers and perhaps a dozen Rembrandts plus numerous of their contemporaries.  The Met is no longer free unless you are a New York resident when you may pay what you wish. 

Central Park in spring:

A couple of photos … need I say more?  The lungs and recreation of a city. 

‘Amateur’ symphony orchestra in three concerto highlights:

Australian Maestro Russell Ger was guest conductor of a small 'amateur' but highly competent NYC Concerti Sinfonietta playing Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto, 1st mvt; Tchaikovsky violin concerto, 1st mvt and Beethoven piano concerto No. 4 all 3 mvts.  We sat in the front row which was an extraordinary experience.  Some will recall ‘Seven Year Itch’ with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell which used the Rach 2 to hilarious effect.  Each piece was played consummately by the three soloists Ben Lerman, Seth Schultheis and Stanley Sisskin ... and to be so close was incredible at the old Presbyterian Church which backs onto the Julliard School in West 66th Street near Broadway.  ‘Amateur’ in New York can be the equivalent of professionals performing elsewhere. 

A high point was the Met Ring cycle in our second full week.  An extraordinary and exotic if irrational entertainment New York uniquely does the entire cycle’ in a week, being Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  This puts strains on singers, orchestra, audience, etc yet there are the ‘lay days’ in which we found a Poulenc dress rehearsal and amateur concert (see above) to fill in the time. 

Besides the Ring, we also saw the Met Don Giovanni, La Clemenza di Tito, La Traviata, Rigoletto plus Dialogues of the Carmelites.  I was asked to hear the choir and Cantor Helfgott at Park East Synagogue but to attend shule on a Shabbos morning and then Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods in the evening would seem out of Halachic order, even for a gentile, so I politely declined and went to the local markets instead.  A few enthusiasts wore horned helmets and there was a lovely Birgit Nilsson centenary display retrospective on the lowest level of the Met. 

I had the pleasure of accompanying my 16 year old niece Audrey Elwin to a performance of La Traviata with Placido Domingo singing Papa Germont.  He sang and acted with exemplary style and one was not aware of his being 80 years of age.  I also took my brother Richard and his belle ‘Mel’ Pearce to Don Giovanni with a stellar cast headed by Peter Mattei.  By a crazy coincidence I just ran into old Sydney Uni friend Dr Eddie Howe and his wife Helen.  Eddie is a fan of American mezzo Joyce DiDonato (who isn’t?) singing Sesto in Clemenza di Tito. 

I have to give a plug to Qantas whose new Dreamliner 787 connection from Los Angeles to JFK has made all the difference to a long and sometimes uncertain connection.  The A380 across the Pacific is as good as it gets and the decade old planes are due to have an upgrade with new seating and configuration or so I am told by an insider. 

Having elaborated a few freebies now here are a few new experiences which were more costly.  We were hosted by generous friends to some exotic venues as so often happens in the Big Apple.  “La Grenouille” is a fine French restaurant in Midtown which has a signature of multiple glorious flower arrangements.  First I thought we had walked into an exotic florist shop!  They served Dover sole and Sancerre by the glass on elegant full service tables … and we happily partook! 

The Century Club is an old institution started around 1850 for writers, poets and other arty types but is now just a classy establishment club with slight left leanings in an 1891 three storey architectural marvel Italian Renaissance-style palazzo with everything a city club needs (except a tennis court, perhaps).  The food is good club food, staff good club staff who remember members’ names and a fine art collection on the walls of its grand salon rooms.  

Eddie Howe treated his wife to a meal at Number Eleven Madison, supposedly the best restaurant in the world.  I look forward to their descriptions!  Our favourite restaurants remain Jean-Georges Nougatine, La Bonne Soupe, Café Luxembourg and the Wu Liang Ye (Sechuan).  

It is impossible to have a long conversation with anyone in America and not get around to the opioid overdose crisis since it has affected so many families.  Frequent newspaper items target avaricious doctors, drug companies, pharmacies and illicit drug markets.  Yet few mention the elephant in the room that opiate maintenance treatment is unavailable to the vast majority of those who might benefit from it.  In almost every other western country methadone or buprenorphine are available from private doctors and community pharmacies for those with established opioid addiction.  Once stable these patients are protected to a very strong degree from overdose death.  Yet in the USA buprenorphine is extremely expensive and methadone is still restricted to a small number of regulated clinics which often have waiting lists and are remote from where most people live (partly NIMBY syndrome).  More about these tragic matters on my medical blog.  Only in the Civil War was such carnage seen.  

Anyone who got to this point in my Gotham narrative deserves commendation.  Thank you for reading.  AB .. 

Andrew, Audrey and Allan 

Andrew, Susan, Ed and Allan attending The Ring

Rob, Caroline and Allan at Shakespeare and Company in Broadway. 

Andrew, brother Richard, Mel and Allan

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 .  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 ( ) 
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.