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It’s my New York-a-versary!
Six years ago, I moved here from South Africa, to live a life based out of the Big Apple – just as I’d once dreamed of doing. 
As a journalist, I came to New York on the hope and the dream of interviewing Meryl Streep over lunch (at some divine restaurant in the West Village, or you know, anywhere). Of course, I knew it would be hard. I knew I would be giving up so many safety nets – a regular salary, my trusted hair-dresser, my gym membership (Melrose Arch Virgin Active had become a second home to me), an entire industry I’d worked long and hard to become a part of, dear friends, and Greek-style family lunches. 
But I knew I had to do it. That fire was burning inside and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I came looking for adventure and to broaden the proverbial horizons of my career as an entertainment journalist. I came looking for interviews with actors and musicians I admired, for stories about South Africans beyond Charlize and Elon achieving wonderful heights, for opportunities to see concerts, take in museums and Broadway shows and be exposed to more cinema than I ever had been before. 
A year and a half into my time here I found something I was not looking for. Not at all. 
Begins with ‘r’, and ends with ‘unning.’
Ha.
I’ve spoken about this before, in a recent episode of The Rundown, and a couple of posts before, but thanks to the New York City Marathon and the inspiration (that still doesn’t feel like the right word) from a South African NY Times photojournalist who took part in the marathon a year after he lost both his legs in Afghanistan, I started running. Properly. Outside. Longer than the usual 20-minutes on a treadmill I’d done before. 
Like many of the friends I’ve made since becoming a “runner” I realised we all have our story of how we came to running. Or how it came to us. Which is funny, because it’s something we were innately born to do, but often the joy gets knocked out of it, after being dished out as punishment one too many times. Or in my case, being tripped up and falling in a school race and being told I’m not good at it.
Crossing my first finish line was the opening chapter of my love affair with running. More than just a physical feat, I saw finishing the NYC Marathon as somewhat of a test. If I could get through it, I would be okay in NYC. 
Because living here is not easy. Not easy at all. 
With its high rents. And South Africa’s terrible exchange rate.
With its multitude of people. And very little space. 
With its seven-girl-to-every-guy ratio.
With its many Choose Your Own Adventure options. Too many options, sometimes. 
I engineered my life to be here. No one sent me here. No one secured me an apartment or helped me transfer my life here. I wanted this. But I couldn’t have foreseen the challenges life as a freelancer in a new city would bring with it. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, waking up excited yet daunted by what each new day brings with it. 
Through it all – late-paid invoices, interviews with Oprah and Spielberg, unanswered emails taken too personally, broken relationships and solid ones, many slices of late-night $1 pizza, friends who’ve become family, one-night trips to LA and Miami, over-extended credit cards – running has become the rock, my anchor.  
When most have a 9-5 to go to, I have 5-9 — miles, that is. I know that no matter where I am, or what is happening, I can run.
It keeps me on track when nothing else does or can. I’ve tried all I can to establish a routine, and then I go to London for a Captain America junket (I know, boo hoo) or a big US story breaks and I’m filing for News at 3am. But running is my routine.
I’ve tried to picture my life over the next five years. It’s hard to imagine most of the time, at the rapid rate journalism is changing, and I’m trying to figure out my space and place within it all. I’m not new to forging a different path for myself – I did it in South Africa – but being overseas and without the comforts of home make it a little more terrifying. Running is the vision for my future that I can’t yet see. I catch glimpses, however small they may be, of what could happen, and how. 
In running, I scratch the surface of who I could become. It’s the hope I have for my life and for the lives of others around me. Running is the dream I never knew I could dream. It takes me beyond what I imagined for myself when my imagination doesn’t seem to want to work. Little 4’11 me qualify to run Boston? You betcha! What else?
And running is my reminder. It allows me to tap into the part of me I most recognize, that sometimes gets buried under piles of dresses I’be worn one too many times and crippling self-doubt. The part that is alive and full of excitement and enthusiasm for life.
It reminds me of little victories I’ve forgotten when I am my own worst critic, which is most of the time. When I forget what I am capable of, I run to remind myself: I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Every time I do something I think, truly think, I couldn’t do, it’s like my muscles send messages to my mind that I can go on, and farther.
I do it to outrun the thoughts – the negative thoughts that have thrived on uncertainty and internal questions over my abilities and skills that threaten to become the default setting in my life as a freelancer. I run to re-set my own heart beat, re-set my thoughts. I’ve gotten myself this far, with my legs and my heart – surely I can keep myself going. Because running is a clear sign when there are none for me to see.
It connects me to the Earth. It makes me remember I’m not alone. Truly. With each step I take, I make New York a little more like home, places become familiar, the faces too. Wherever my work takes me, I run. More often than not, carving out my own culturally-rooted route, knowing I am connected to footprints of those who have come before. Even as I travel and work alone.
On a run once, a friend told me running isn’t going to pat you on the back, and say, “good job, well done.” But the confidence it has given me to face the challenges of my life keeps me coming back for more. Even when it’s hard. Even though I struggle with it more than I don’t. Even though I am not a “traditional” runner and have been told I don’t look like a runner. (It’s my height, isn’t it? Too tall, I know, haha)
It seems so easy to remember, and yet, how easy to forget that breaking something down into the smallest of steps is the way to best get through it. And to best get through this life. Each time I make it through a run that’s particularly hard, I not only know this, but I feel it to be true. 
I know the route I’ve chosen is hard. Since discovering my love of running, I’ve started to make peace with the fact that pain and challenges are a given. Testimony doesn’t come without the test, and all that. Struggle, however, I’m learning, I can choose to forego. Just like with running, in life, I’ve gotten a little better at expecting hardship to pop up along the way, so now I tell it to lace up, we’re heading out. And just like running, living in New York is an oh-so rewarding experience. Just like running, I’ve done and seen things here I never thought I would ever do. Like watch Lady Gaga play the closing down party of the iconic Roseland Ballroom. Like listen to Hugh Jackman tell me what he learnt out of reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Like stand next to couple hundred thousand other bodies as the NYE ball dropped in Times Square. Like be in the audience when Trevor Noah first appeared on The Daily Show.
So –
When the rent is due, I run.
When I don’t know how to answer a text, I run.
When I’m overwhelmed by all the things I want to do to make sure I live life to the fullest, I run.
When I don’t know how long I’ll be in New York for, I run.
Onward, I run.
“One belongs to New York instantly,  one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”
– Tom Wolfe

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I, like most, took a trip. To a small American town I’d visited while growing up in South Africa, even though I’d never been to the US before – a town that anyone with a decoder and subscription to MNet at the time could visit. It’s a town I know many around the world spent a great deal of time in over the years since Gilmore Girls first aired, getting to know two of its inhabitants very well.
Oh, Stars Hollow, oh, faux Connecticut town, with your idiosyncratic characters and sleepy town vibes. Let me just say, from the start I didn’t think returning was going to be a good idea. Gilmore Girls was for a season of my life. Growing up as a teen in South Africa, fumbling to find my own voice and confidence, I’d been drawn to the witty, no-breathes-taken-banter and friendship between Rory and her young mother Lorelai. It was so far away from the relationship I had with my own mom. I relished seeing them share coffee and doughnuts and pop-tarts and a love of old movies. I was apprehensive about returning to their world, these characters, their relationships, for fear they wouldn’t be as quite appealing to me as they once were.
But then came the hype and the set pictures and the trailer and all the excitement of a Thanksgiving release date, and I became wrapped up in it, ready to give it a go.
So, with a friend for company, I huddled up to spend a few hours of my life watching Lorelai and Rory and Emily Gilmore in A Year in the Life. Based off the lyrics of the Carole King theme song: “Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, all you have to do is call my name, and I’ll be there…” the series takes its cue as four TV movies based on each of these seasons, and in this order. Our setting – the aftermath of Richard Gilmore’s death, Sookie’s sojourn into the annals of nature, and Logan’s high-flying executive London lifestyle. Rory and Lorelai both find themselves at a crossroads of sorts – Rory, as a freelance journalist who can’t keep crashing on couches of friends (or, in Logan’s case, his bed), Lorelai, as an innkeeper who may or may not want more from life and Luke.
A Year in the Life is one for the fans, for sure. There are lots of nods to episodes gone by peppered throughout. I still laughed at Kirk’s oddball ideas. I like that Lane is still playing drums, even as a mother. Most of the pop culture hat-tips were appreciated (especially the Inside Llewyn Davis one!) A few of the characters have developed, none more so fiercely as Emily Gilmore (the incomparable Kelly Bishop) and watching her figuring out how who she is after 50 years of marriage was a highlight. For the most part, we’re still visiting a small town with inhabitants who’ve been there all their lives. That’s part of the series’ charm too.
And I thought I was a fan. But after watching these four 90-minute episodes, I think maybe that’s it for me. Maybe it’s because I’m all grown up (if only in age, more so than in life approach), and I don’t relate to Rory and Lorelai quite as much as I once did, but in amongst the winks to fans I actually felt, well, a little hood-winked. It’s not so much that I’ve changed, but that they’ve changed.
{SPOILERS}
When Rory speaks to Jess of being so lost in life she doesn’t have a car or a driver’s license and then in the very next scene is driving a car to her grandmother’s house. When, at the end of the fourth episode, we have yet to see usually-book-mad Rory talk about any one of the authors that have made an impact on popular culture since the show ended. When Lorelai and Luke (SPOILER) get married in the middle of the night and Michelle, not Sookie, her BFF who was there the day before, is standing by her side (yeah, I know this probably has a lot to do with contractual stuff). When Lorelai phones Emily to give her a story she wanted, needed, to hear, and the words feel more like a letter being written, rather than a spontaneous speech being said.
And in other instances, too. Like a theatre play based on the life of the town itself – why?? Or the whole Cheryl Strayed Wild section. Much as I love that book and movie (I enjoyed both, which apparently is sacrilege in Lorelai’s world), I just didn’t believe that ever-confident Lorelai would go on that kind of venture into nature.
Yes, I’m glad the show’s creator Amy Sherman-Palladino got the ending she held onto when other writers took over her duties after contractual disputes. Those now much-publicised four words she had been wanting to end the show on have been uttered. But it seems as if those words, rather than an ending, are an invitation to another trip to Stars Hollow, and next time, I think I’ll just stay home.

One of my favourite ever quotes is Keith Richards describing Mick Jagger as “a mixture of James Brown and Maria Callas” (said while talking to NPR’s Terri Gross in 2010), and it’s a phrase that stuck with me after venturing into the Stones exhibition that’s come to NYC from their hometown of London. Exhibitionism doesn’t just center on the iconic frontman, to be sure, but it does bring together many of the complements he embodies and imbues in the band – the flamboyance and the artistry, the masculine and the feminine, the low brow swirled in with the high.
It’s no wonder they made up a new word for this display: from the moment they ditched the dogtooth suits, the Stones have always been showboats and nothing less than this kind of spectacle would have done. I missed seeing Exhibitionism in London when I was there briefly this past Summer, where it must have had such great resonance, given their roots. But thanks to a re-creation of the apartment Mick, Keith and Brian Jones shared in Chelsea in the early ’60s, I could at least feel like I was there. 
And smell like it too! The one-roomed apartment, where many of the early songs were written, is one of my favourite parts of the exhibit. Recreated by text and anecdote only, as no pictures of it existed, it made me think of the defunct CBGBs bathroom that the Met recreated for its Punk: From Chaos to Couture exhibition. Instead of graffiti-strewn walls and blocked toilets, these rooms had the stench of copious cigarette butts and old broken egg shells that wafted in from the kitchen. At least, it seemed real enough to want to turn my nose away and focus more on the record-player in the next room with Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry LPs next to it. 

“Mediocrity is the enemy” – the Stones.

Other favourite parts include the miniature models of the band’s various set designs, from Voodoo Lounge to Bridges to Babylon – tours that never came close to my home country South Africa, and Keith’s little mini-diaries in which he kept detailed notes of rehearsals and sessions (never expected him to be so meticulous). Hearing Martin Scorsese commenting on the films made about the Stones, before talking about his own, Shine A Light, is another highlight.
My jaw dropped at the sight of all the incredible fashion brought together in one room – from a rhinestone-covered flicking-tongued vest to all the custom Heidi Slimane pieces. Then it dropped even further at seeing the guitars in one room. The Les Pauls! The Fender Stratocasters! The detail and personality within their bodies – art to be studied up close, albeit behind very expensive glass walls, as voices of the band play overhead, telling stories of the instruments. 
“That’s the fun of it,” reads a quote from Keith on one of the walls. “Trying to find the sound you’re hearing in your head until it matches that or you get as close to it as possible.” Over 5 decades of the Stones doing that has yielded this experience right here. And if you’re in New York, you wouldn’t want to miss it!
Exhibitionism is on at Industria until March 2017, and then moves to Sydney.

 

Monday night the HBO doc on the Boston Marathon bombings aired, and on the same night I got to see the Hollywood version of the story, made by Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, the third of their recent movies together (following Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon). It hones in on the bombings – how they were carried out, and the aftermath of how the authorities worked to find the men responsible.
It’s been 3 years since the two bombs went off at the finish line of the world’s oldest marathon, and there may be never be a good enough time to bring a movie to the big screen about those days in April 2013, but this is the first of two. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Stronger, based on the account of Jeff Bauman, also arrives early next year. And actually, given where America finds itself today in a new Trump era, the timing of Patriots Day’s heartfelt rally call works well.
There’s a good balance between the action – which unfolds akin to Zero Dark Thirty, a tense play-by-play of the hunt for the suspects, the Tsarnaev brothers, played by Alex Wolff (uncanny resemblance to Dzokhar) and Themo Melikidze (his first role), and the emotion. Stories of three of the victims who suffered the loss of their limbs are weaved in, as well as those of two others who were involved in the events that followed the bombings, in a script that Berg co-wrote.
Mark Wahlberg plays a composite character, based on two police officers who were working the marathon that day. It’s such a strong cast – rounded out by Kevin Bacon, who plays FBI agent Richard DesLauriers, John Goodman, who plays Commissioner Ed Harris, JK Simmons, who plays Watertown Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, and Melissa Benoist, who takes on the part of Tamerlan’s wife Katherine Russell. Mark spoke afterwards about how proud he is of the film, and he can be proud of the cast too. He’s in fine form as he embodies the Boston ethos – hard-headed but hard-working, potty-mouthed but persevering.
Listening to him talk about the film during the Q-and-A afterwards, you could hear the reverence Mark holds for his hometown, where he admits, he often found himself on the wrong side of the law in his youth.
I asked him and Peter how they decided on which victims’ stories to include in the film. Peter said they reached out to those who were seriously injured and started talking to them. “People were not jumping up and down to be involved in this,” he said. Some he said, agreed and then later backed out and they made adjustments accordingly. “We worked very closely with Patrick Downes and his wife, Jessica, and Steve Woolfenden.” Newlyweds Patrick and Jessica are a large part of the HBO doc, and her story in particular shows how difficult the path to recovery has been. Peter says they showed edits of the film to them and even gave them final cut, just to make sure they were happy with how everything was presented.
But as Mark himself put it: “When you’re talking about the worst day of somebody’s life they’re never going to be happy and love what they’re seeing.” Patriots Day honours them, and the spirit that brought people together afterwards – a tribute to what it means to be ‘Boston Strong.’ “It gives me great pride to present my hometown and show how people were coming together, running towards a problem, not away from it,” he said. “To share that message with the world, that’s what this is about. We continue to deal with this all over the world – these things are still happening – but we will always win and be victorious. And I know that we made them [the victims] proud. To say people are happy is an impossible feat, but I hope, day by day, they will continue to heal, and I know that we made everybody proud.”
Proud and strong, indeed. Hopefully, in running the Boston Marathon next year I, too, can add to what it means to Boston Strong.
Patriots Day releases on December 21 2016. 

Walking into the screening of Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing at the Savannah Film Festival, I knew I’d have a bias towards the story. I knew I’d be super emotional watching the documentary, produced for HBO and directed by Ricki Stein and Annie Sundberg. I knew this might get in the way of trying to have a somewhat objective perspective of it as a documentary, and I could feel myself tear up even just as the lights lowered and the word ‘MARATHON’ came on the screen.
Since becoming a runner, I’d always thought my first time visiting Boston would be to cheer friends running, or –  dreaming bigger – to myself run the hallowed race. But my first time in Boston was not at all a good one. I went there to cover the bombs that went off at the finish line of the 2013 race. I was covering the story for Eyewitness News back home in South Africa, reporting on the 3 people who were killed, over 200 injured, and the police officer who died too. Being there during the aftermath and manhunt was one of the most intense experiences of my career.
My Canadian colleague and friend MJ and I had teamed up, driving there together and sharing a room. Walking on Boyleston street felt like walking through a movie set that had just cut for a break, with plates and glasses left shattered at sidewalk cafes and bars, and messages of support for runners shredded from some windows.
During the manhunt for the two suspects, a few days after, the car MJ had rented was running out of petrol and we struggled to find a gas station for a while, until we stumbled upon two, right across from each other. We pulled into up into the Shell, but we could have easily gone to the other one. We were just so relieved to have found petrol before breaking down, unaware that half an hour later, the brothers would car-jack a guy at the same petrol station.

I thought about some of these moments while watching the opening of Marathon. Produced together with the Boston Globe newspaper, the doc pieces together the events of the day, using surveillance footage, news clips, home movies and interviews, to bring it all together, with a sharp focus on 3 families and how their lives were impacted that day.
Like Tower, another excellent documentary that I saw at SavFF, this doc concentrates on the victims, families whose stories weren’t really as prominent in the press at large, beyond the Globe. Newlyweds Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, who had gone to support the annual Boston tradition, mother and daughter Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, and then Norden brothers Paul and JP, who were all heinously injured that day. It follows their recovery over 3 years, as it looks back on the event, how it happened, and touches on the why, by briefly looking at the Tsarnaev brothers. Dszhokhar, who was sentenced to death, is still awaiting his execution, which could take years to happen.
It’s hard to watch the actual moment the bomb goes off. But it’s harder to watch Celeste Corcoran watch it, even though she has, many times. There are other difficult-to-watch moments, like witnessing someone as bubbly and vivacious as Jessica Kensky fight not just to save her second leg from being amputated, but her personality from darkening too.
The doc stays with these families, as we really learn about the little victories and terrible set-backs they’ve faced while trying to make peace with such an event. As runners, we rely on the people who cheer for us, who support us, from afar, yes, but especially those who come out to raise a voice or ring a kettle bell in person. These are the people who suffered the most as a result of the bombings. They didn’t have a particularly special relationship to running, but one of the people featured in the doc does end up developing one, and it’s truly moving to see.
As such, I found Marathon to be a valuable part of the greater healing process. I know I still tear up at the sight of the word marathon because it means so much to me in the context of someone who has a deeply personal love of running, but also because it represents a time when a terror act intersected with this revered space, and all that it has come to mean. It’s a kind of impact I can’t quite explain, but watching a film like this, to see those who really have reason to be upset and saddened and angry, work through all these feelings, extends the healing to those of us who weren’t at all physically impacted. I am deeply moved by their strength, and I know those who watch it will be too. Boston’s strength – shared with the world.
 Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing airs on HBO Monday at 8pm, and then will be available on demand.