Monday, August 10, 2009

An Aussie In America -- Part 2---Elisabeth Rose

This is a continuation of my previous entry on July 28th

From the lush green of upstate New York and the Finger Lakes we headed east to Massachusetts, aiming to get past Albany for our second night. As the evening drew on however, hotels and B&B’s were suddenly non-existent. The countryside was beautiful, the road climbing up into more mountainous country as we got closer to Vermont and Green Mountain, but flu-ridden Colin was wilting at the wheel.

Petersburg yielded nothing in the way of accommodation. The next dot on the map was Williamstown. “We’ll stop there,” I said with grim determination. Lo and behold on the outskirts was an attractive motel nestled in against the mountain slope surrounded by tall trees and with a noisy little stream gurgling along the back boundary. Perfect.

The owner told us Williams College was the top College in America, having produced presidents and other high powered people. He also explained to us the difference between a US college and a university which I’d never understood. Here, when someone leaves school at 18 or so, if their entrance scores are good enough they go to a university where they first get a Bachelor degree and then on to a Masters etc if they choose. A college generally provides a lesser qualification and the quality and course lengths can vary widely. Students usually come out with a certificate or diploma, not a degree.

Our friendly host also urged us to go to the Williams College Art Gallery which we would have, except it opened at ten am and we wanted to be on the road by eight. We had to be with our friends in Gloucester that night.

The road took us over the Mohawk Trail, more thick greenery and then spectacular views from the top before the road wound down to follow a lovely clear river along the valley floor. We’d been give detailed instructions by our friends as to how to manage the Massachusetts Turnpike. I am very proud to report that we bowled into Boston in the rain, completely clueless because our road ran out and turned into city streets, stumbled onto a freeway entrance, asked a very helpful and chatty tollbooth operator and didn’t get lost at all. Next thing we were on the correct Route and driving till it ended as the toll man told us, in Gloucester at the ocean.

Our friends live in a large house on a big block of land by the water which was a very rich someone’s summer holiday home in the early 1900’s. The Perfect Storm was filmed in Gloucester, the oldest fishing village in America I think our friend said. Anyway, apparently their house is visible for ten seconds in the movie when the boats leave the harbour.

Next day we left our hire car in Boston and caught the train to New York arriving at Penn Station to be met by our daughter who’d arrived earlier that day from Sydney via a few days in San Francisco.

I got up early next morning to join a free Tai Chi class in Bryant Park. It’s always interesting to see what other Tai Chi schools do and I visited another studio while I was in New York. By an odd coincidence the second one was right next door to the Avalon office in Madison Avenue!

Our visit to Avalon was very exciting for me. To finally meet my two editors Faith and Chelsea, Ellen the publisher, Bob who handles all the book orders, and the interns, was thrilling. We were given a little tour of the offices, seeing neat stacks of unread manuscripts, more neat stacks of read manuscripts and further stacks of print ready manuscripts in their cycle order, finishing with shelves of published books.

I don’t quite know what I was expecting—maybe more chaos –but everything is orderly and calm and the overall feeling is of a happy workplace. Our books are in good hands.

With Colin finally able to collapse into bed and begin a recovery Carla and I went shopping to the big discount store Century Twenty One. This is down near the site of the World Trade Centre construction. In 2000 Colin and I went up one of the Trade Centre towers so to visit the area again was a sobering experience.

Staying in hotels creates the problem of finding cheap meals. Lunch and dinner were no problem but breakfast proved difficult. The hotel bistro was too expensive for us so we headed out to find a diner. Maybe it was the midtown area but it took us three days to find a place which served breakfast on real plates and tea or coffee in real mugs. By now I’d given up on a good cup of tea in America and we’d both given up on finding drinkable coffee! Where are the espresso machines?

And here’s another question.
Why do Americans accept picnic style plastic knives and forks and plastic or paper plates and cups when eating in a diner or similar place? If you’re taking food away it’s understandable, but the sheer waste of this reliance on throwaway food containers is staggering. Imagine how much unnecessary garbage is produced every day and how much of the country’s resources are consumed to be used once and thrown away. What’s wrong with glass and crockery when sitting down anywhere to eat and drink? Surely installing a dishwasher is ultimately a cheaper solution? And more environmentally friendly.

This issue affects us all—it’s global, but sadly the US seems to be lagging way behind and dare I say it, largely oblivious.

Despite the breakfast situation, a week in New York isn’t enough but I had a conference to attend so I left Colin and Carla to the jazz clubs and caught a train to Washington DC.

What can I say? It was a terrific experience. We Avalon romance authors hooked up rapidly due to some excellent online forward planning by Shirley Marks, which made a conference with over 2000 delegates much less threatening for the newbies.

We did a charity book signing in a room with 500 other authors seated in long rows of tables. The noise when hundreds of excited, mostly female fans rushed in was incredible. Like being in a parrot cage. We attended workshops on writing craft, career advancement, publisher spotlights and heard inspiring talks from keynote and luncheon speakers, Janet Evanovich, Eloisa James and Linda Howard. Guess what? These now successful writers are all just like us. They started out with the same problems, issues and dreams we all do. The message that came over loud and clear was “If I can do it so can you. Don’t give up.”

Colin joined me a couple of days later and we managed to squeeze in some sightseeing on our last Sunday. Washington reminds us very much of Canberra on a grander scale. Both capitals are laid out with impressive boulevards connecting the main monuments, parks and open spaces and there is a sense of grandeur due to the scale of the design and the classical architecture, all meant to impress and awe. Washington has the river winding through its centre, Canberra has a river, the Molonglo which was dammed to become our central Lake Burley Griffin.

We liked Washington very much, especially after the hectic, crowded powerhouse of New York. Our last morning we spent exploring historic Georgetown and finished up with a lazy lunch on the waterfront watching people enjoying their summer Sunday.

Then it was time to go. A flight at 5-30 to LA connecting with our flight home at 11-30 that night. We all boarded at 11-05.Unfortunately the pilots and the refueller had a paperwork discrepancy about how much fuel was onboard which had to be resolved before we could take-off. Over three and a half hours later with everyone still on board waiting, we left-- 3am LA time and I’ve no idea what it was Washington time. Late. Very, very late. Amazingly after our 18 hour marathon we zipped through customs and immigration and caught our last connection Sydney/Canberra by 5 minutes.

Home to a clear and sunny winter’s day and at long last a good, hot, cup of real tea!


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Irene Bennett Brown said...

Elisabeth, I enjoyed your post, your views of America, very much. I remember my first visit to New York and my publisher at the time, which was Atheneum. (YA novels, then.) Atheneum's offices were much as you describe Avalon. Like you, I expected it to be more bustling rather than under quiet control.

Irene Bennett Brown.Visit me at

Beate Boeker said...

Loved that post, Lis! It brought me right back to Washington and the great time we had together!

Elisabeth Rose said...

Thanks Irene. America is certainly an extraordinary country - a land of contradictions, I think.

Elisabeth Rose said...

Beate we did have a great time together didn't we? Right from our first dinner together in Chinatown LOL

Tessa McDermid said...

I'm late coming to this post, Elisabeth; catching up after more days on the road, in another part of the U.S.

I enjoyed your views of America. I can give one point of view about the throwaway dishes - in the smaller, bustling restaurants, there could be the concern about having the silverware, dishes, etc. all carted away by patrons! Sounds odd and I could never imagine doing so, but I was involved with a business once where restaurant managers talked about having the busboys go to a table and everything being gone, tucked into a huge purse or jacket pockets! We also tend to eat in such a hurry that having enough dishes and keeping them clean is another concern.

Not a good answer and not the way to preserve our earth's resources. Something that does need to be addressed and I would like to say that many areas are dealing with the issue.

A good cup of tea? That's still a challenge!