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[Stumblings in the dark] - a sporadic weblog



Monday, 14th of June, 2004

Tour diary entry #1! (2:56 pm)

Well here it is, finally – what you've all been waiting for! The first post in my weblog tour diary. We got to New York after Boston and I couldn't get the internet in the room to work – ended up finding out it was my fault with some squirreled-away networking setting… However, it's running painfully slowly, so I don't know how long it'll take me to get this blog entry going… Slow and annoying! Bloody NYC.

So after staying up for the usual Utility Fog show, we got up bright and early on Monday to finish stuffing things in bags, and then it was off to the airport! Ange realised half-way along the way that she couldn't find her earphones – and assuming that they were probably on my bed or something, she got some new ones at the airport. Then Dad emailed a couple of days ago saying that Mum had found them – on the floor of her car! Oops, hope that's not the story of our trip…

During the flight, I read Max Barry's extremely excellent Jennifer Government from cover to cover. I'd forgotten how looooooooong, well… long flights are! The first leg was something like 12 hours, and by half-way to Los Angeles I was entirely ready for it to be over. But despite having the sniffles and dry eyes and all, I could tell already that my hayfever and crappiness was abating. Once we reached the ridiculously hot weather in the east coast, it pretty much disappeared straight away!
But… we're not there yet! First, we have to traverse the madness that is US Customs.
Actually – it wasn't that mad, in and of itself. But the queuing! Yargh. You walk down from the gate, under smiling photos of Dubya and Dick, and you hit the boustrophedon from hell… About an hour later, we reach the front of the queue. Unfortunately, because we're not married, Ange & I have to go through customs separately. Then the guy I get says "are you travelling on your own?" …Uh, no I'm with 'er (*gestures across to counter where Ange is*)
But wait! That's not all! Then after picking up our luggage, it's queue-time again! By now, as we wait (im)patiently to walk past a bored customs dude, we're getting worried that we'll miss our connection to Boston… After getting past the guy ("Do you have any food with you?" Um… Chocolate. "That's fine. No vegemite? Disgusting stuff." Sadly not.), we give our luggage to the people because it's been checked through to Boston (Ange did spend the whole trip to Boston worrying whether our luggage was indeed coming with us) and up two levels and across, only to find ourselves queuing again – this time to put our bits of metal and bags through the detector-thingies. Present boarding passes and passports yet again. Then finally through, with a small amount of time to find some snackies, and then on board our much smaller plane to Boston.

By this time I was completely exhaustopated. I tried to read on the flight (another 6 hours!) but ended up dozing/sleeping (slept through whatever meal they tried to feed us, thankfully) and feeeling all yucky. We reached Boston, and "deplaning" was much easier this time. We found our way to the shuttle bus that took us to the trains, and thence all the way into Cambridge – for a mere $1.25! Walking down to the B&B from Central Square station I noticed that we passed the Middle East Club, where we were going to see Greg Davis the next night – yay! So we're not staying in the middle of nowhere after all. Actually, I knew that, but what's wrong with a bit of melodrama?

The B&B was really lovely. Owned by a chap named Marc Shulman and his wife Patty – and the latter also runs a bar called the All Asia Caf� just down the road, the upshot being that at breakfast time she brings Yum Cha containers with sliced-up shallot pancake, fried dumplings, spring rolls etc – yum! In our room was a network connection, resulting in instant cable internet. Small but comfortable, and well-situated. So we went off to have our first US meal, and it was late, so we ended up with pizza. Our first run-in with what was to become an inevitability in the USA: They just eat so fucking much! Admittedly, we ordered a large pizza, because the options were "small" and "large". Turns out small was 12", and large was 16" – and I can tell you, we were not up to eating a whole 16 inches of pizza as well as garlic bread.
Nice though.

Next day, we decided we'd explore Cambridge – the opposite side of the Charles River from Boston proper, and the bit of Boston where MIT, Harvard, Tufts, and a bunch of other Universities reside. Lovely area – one thing we noticed, bizarrely, was that all the cars seemed dead keen to stop in the middle of the road, whenever a pedestrian so much as looked in the direction of crossing… (Later note:) Keith-Hrvatski mentioned later that he feels that Bostonians are like that to differentiate themselves from New Yorkers, who he believes do their level best to actually run people over at all opportunities. On reaching New York, we found ourselves unable to disagree with this assessment.
In Central Square (the area where we were staying, north part of MIT-land basically), we found some 2nd-hand record stores (with nothing of interest) and a great 2nd-hand bookshop (where I found a huge lot of old Asimov's science fiction magazines, including the one with Pat Cadigan's short story after which Pretty Boy Crossover named themselves).
Up further north-west we got to Harvard Square, a big mostly-independent shopping area around Harvard Uni. There we found Pandemonium Books (a reasonably disappointing sf/fantasy specialist), the Harvard Square branch of Newbury Comics (about which more in a minute), and Million Year Picnic (an excellent comics shop). Newbury Comics are a chain which started as a comics store, but these days have precious little picture-books, specialising more in very reasonably priced CDs – and a pretty good range too! Ange & I both spent up there, and I also picked up the wonderful new Chris Ware-edited volume of the McSweeneys hardcover periodical.

For lunch we ate at the Middle East, having decided already to have Asian for dinner. Once again we failed to deal with insane US food quantities, but it was all very yummy, including some bizarre grated fetta cheese in a bowl, great falafel, some sort of pickled radishes, etc etc.
What I've forgotten to mention thus far was how ridiculously hot it was. Only the following day managed to trump it, but exhausted as we were, we headed back to the B&B to rest our legs & feet, and then headed out a little later to check out the MIT Museum. We walked down Mass Ave almost all the way to the river, and having not found it decided to check the MIT map. There it was, and when I thought about it I realised that it was actually literally around the corner from where we were staying. *sigh* Lots of fun though, silly gadgets and bits of robots and interactive sculptures and exhibits.

Later that night, as previously mentioned, it was Greg Davis live @ the Middle East. As I half-expected, while we waited for the music to start, none other than Keith Fullerton Whitman aka Hrvatski walked in. Keith was putting Greg up while he was in town (one of the reasons Ange & I couldn't stay with him), and we had a good chat before & during the gig. Greg played some lovely droney stuff in preparation for his up-coming release on Kranky, reminiscent of Keith's work for that label: one piece derived from live electric guitar, the other from mouth harmonica (and very cool too!) Met Greg afterwards, who is coming to Australia later this year for Sound Summit. Keith gave me his cell-phone number and said to call him the next day, as he was dropping Greg off at the airport in the morning.

Next day we walked across the Charles River and explored Newbury St – including the original Newbury Comics and various other fairly up-market places along that street. We then walked through Boston Common, got some utterly horrible cherry snow-cone thing that I couldn't eat, observed a mobile post office in action (bizarre!) and then took the subway back to Harvard Square. I rang Keith along the way, and he met us in the middle of the square, sweating our butts off as the Americans might say. I twice heard the phrase "Hot enough for ya?" and twice stopped myself saying "It's too fucking hot for me, and that's what you mean isn't it? Crazy Americanos!"
Anyway. Keith took us for a walk and showed me where Twisted Village is (experimental record store like Synaesthesia only moreso)… We then went and got excellent sandwiches at a deli and munched them with Keith in a park by the river. Altogether a lovely afternoon, and I'm glad I bumped into Mr Hrvatski.
My only regret is that I forgot about Comicopia, which by all accounts is a great place.

We then headed off to the airport (drag suitcase, laptop on back… catch three different trains and a shuttle bus, but it only costs USD$1.25 and it's pretty quick, so worth it!) Got off the shuttle at the American Airlines spot, only to be told when we got to the front of the queue that our flight was operated by American Eagle, back down the way. Luckily easily walkable, checked in immediately, and then walked through to the gate, which turned out to be one big area like Brisbane airport, only crappier. And we waited, and waited… La Guardia was having some weird weather-related delays, and even once we boarded the tiny plane (two seats on the right, one on the left, about 15 rows max), the pilot told us we were on and off for another half hour before we got going. *yawn*
Got to New York to stifling heat and it took us another age to get to the place. The apartment isn't too bad, with no character to speak of but good air-conditioning, a stereo, and a perfectly reasonable bed. However, the internet sucks. After many calls to the managers of the property and Time-Warner Cable, I ascertained that there IS some kind of problem in the wiring and there's bugger all we can do. So flakey cable it is, slower than modem except when it wants to pop something through. Maybe tomorrow I'll try and actually get the WiFi card working somewhere – last day!

What happened in New York? Oh, the usual. Insane drivers trying to kill you, pedestrians same (hm), lots of great shops, etc. On the first night we were forced (yes, true!) to eat McDonalds, because nothing else was open up here… First day we wandered down Broadway, stopping at the amazing Strand Books (now 16 miles of books!) and Barnes & Noble, and then St Mark's Place (more books, and Mondo Kim's, an annoying but great record store) and then to Other Music – surely New York's best record store. Across the road from Other Music is the Tower Records store, and in the middle is a lobby with an elevator which we took up to a little studio where none other than Greta Gertler was mixing the by now rather old second Peccadillo album. It was pretty bizarre listening to cello parts I'd recorded probably some 6 years ago or more. But it's sounding great – can't wait to hear it all and do a remix too :)

We headed on into Greenwich Village – an area Ange hadn't seen before – and found there a schawarma/falafel joint I remembered from the last couple of visits to New York. Mmmmmmmm delicious! We ended up lunching there three days in a row… Did I forget to mention the breakfast we had though? At a diner just down from Strand Books, we ate French toast with bacon (and I had poached eggs too – decadent!) We asked especially for no syrup of any sort – what is it with these Americans having bacon AND maple syrup?) but the French toast nevertheless was dusted with icing sugar. Bizarre. The bacon was the best I've had in a long time though.
Annnyway. Food. So.
Oh! Forgot: Thursday evening we ended up wandering round the Lower East side, and found the seminal NY drum'n'bass store Breakbeat Science. They had a tiny breakcore section in which I found a CDATAKILL 12" I've been looking for for ages – won't get to hear it till I get home, but what the heck – it has his Billy Holiday "remix" on it…

Friday we wandered around uptown in the morning (Midtown Comics isn't that great, but Jim Hanley's fucking rules), we headed down to East Village in the afternoon, dropped by a (very) new (and very cute) gallery/shop called Jigsaw where Ange bought some funny little works of art, and visited such important places as alt.coffee (best hot chocolate on Manhattan) and so on. Checking my email there I discovered that tickets to the Funkstörung/Datach'i gig that night were available from a store called Etherea right on Avenue A! So we headed a couple of blocks down to that very place, and what an awesome little store it is too! Right up there with Other Music, with a great selection of idm and other electronica, as well as heaps of excellent indie. My kind of place.
Unfortunately though, that night we were so damn tired that we were falling asleep at the club. I was excited to see the Datach'i man, but we waited until 11pm and he hadn't come on, so I decided he must've been just DJing instead – they'd been playing lots of great old idm and drill'n'bass, so that was fun anyway. Having seen a very disappointing Funkstörung set in Sydney a little while back, and despite loving them at the Knitting Factory in 1999 (bizarre coincidence to be in NY same time as them again!), we decided we were dropping fast, and headed home.

On Saturday we wandered uptown a bit more, and found a market in Union Square where they had wondrous fresh veges and fruit, and I couldn't get the WiFi on my laptop to work (maybe my fault, maybe not…) Then it was off to Brooklyn to meet up with Gretskaya. Greta showed us around her neighbourhood (neither of us had been to Brooklyn before) and took us up to the park for a bit. We had dinner in Chinatown (which is sortof to New York as New York is to the rest of the world, in terms of mad people and traffic at least)…

And that brings us, roundabout and up and down, to today. What did we do? I'm not sure I can remember. Um.
That's right! It's a Sunday. Went back to Other Music, but it was closed until midday. Headed down Broadway, looked at SoHo and suchlike, found funny arty bookshop where Ange got funny arty postcards… Very rock record store next door, didn't get anything. Trudged back up along Broadway, tried to go to the loo at Barnes & Noble but it was being slowly cleaned (and why can't I find Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others ANYWHERE in the USA?), so we popped back into Kim's to dredge through all the second-hand. Found a couple of good things there, trudged all the way across to schawarmaSCHAWARMAYUMMMMM (via ice-cold cup of watermelon from a street market), and then back uptown.
Uptown. That's right. Ran into some fucking huge fucking Puerto Rican rally going on up 5th Avenue. Hell to cross it, and the avenues either side were full of the spill-off from it. Sheer madness.

Some observations: Americans take their pollution very seriously. Exhibit A: First US plane we take, American Airlines from LA to Boston, and the AA magazine has a huge spread about what car to buy (just make sure it's the size of a tank – they had them classified according to your rank in society, even including "Environmental activist" or something, wot a laff). And the cars are uniformly huge gas guzzlers. If you ride a motorbike (or indeed drive a car), you MUST rev then engine so as to accelerate climate change that bit more. Which brings us to Exibit B: Noise pollution. Stick your boom-box on the handle-bars of your pushbike… Turn up the bass in your car (if you're black, this is compulsory apparently)… Talk loudly, all the time. And definitely, while in New York, honk your horn NON STOP. Exhibit C: The smells, the smells! On every corner, those damn street food vendors. They're always out, so they never get cleaned I think, and the smoke issuing from them is chemically potent. Then some young gun in a sports car screams round the corner and the air is filled with noxious carbon-monoxide-and-god-knows-what-else fumes for all the pedestrians to breathe in joyously.
However, smoking seems quite un-hip, unless you're ethnic or a poseur. So, back to the Puerto-Rican rally. LOTS of smokers, lots of revving of car engines and tooting of horns, lots of black dudes and dudettes with bit white t-shirts, girls stuffing themselves into tiny skirts (why is this? Especially if you have a fat ass – it's ugly girls, get with it)… Oh what fun!

I have blisters on my feet (but then I do have the flattest feet ever) and I'm still dog-tired, and we have a plane flight that, along with the time difference, means we get no real Monday night tomorrow… I have lots of great new music and some great books (including Tony Daniel's latest, Superluminal – finally!) and a few comics… I can't wait for Amsterdam.
Not sure I'll have ANY laptop-assisted net access any more. Hopefully here and there, but I'll try and blog from internet caf�s otherwise. You'll be hearing from me! Make a comment if you're in the mood, or write. We're missing you all!



 
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