Posts tagged ‘usa’


New York – A review

As my time in London is rapidly drawing to a close, it is probably time I filed my New York review, so here it is:

New York is the world city. It is after all in the US which, as Copernicus proved, is the centre of the universe. It manages to cram a little piece of all the world’s societies on to one small island (and bar about four hours in not-very-Brooklyny bits of Brooklyn and 1.5 minutes on Staten Island, Manhattan is ‘all’ I saw). Despite the masses of tourists it is very much a worker’s city and, as my aunt pointed out to me, to truly understand its psyche you would really need to be working there. As I said in my previous message it has cleaned up a lot, almost to the point where it has maybe lost a little of what made it special. Regardless, it is still a great city — when you shove 15 million people from all around the world into a space the size of Melbourne you are bound to get something pretty special.

Pros: A little bit of every culture/society all mixed up, good CD shops, good live music, good bars, easy to follow if slightly unoriginal street names.

Cons: For me it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.

Score: 7.5/10

(I asked Gisela also to give NY a score out of ten. She asked what the criteria were. I said whatever she wanted them to be. She said that was a fucking stupid idea — giving something a score based on an unknown criteria — and refused to do so. I pointed out that criteria was in fact the plural, criterion was the singular. She punched me. I am therefore forced to give what I think Gisela’s score based on the unknown criteria I believe she would select would be: 9.5/10.)

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Red State, Blue State

Almost everyone I spoke to in the States, in two of the most liberal cities in the country — from bartenders to members of country/hip-hop fusion bands (a genre that, should it ever gain any success will no doubt be dubbed hick-hop) to homeless gay Irishmen — was at pains to make it clear what an evil man they thought W was. Once they found out that I was visiting both coasts they also wanted to ensure I had no intension of going anywhere near the mass of red states between SF and NY.

Meanwhile, Fox News ensures the other 50.01% of the nation gets its voice heard with its 24/7 spouting of hatred of anything liberal. While none of this is news, and has been widely reported, I was still shocked at how divided the country is and just how much disgust there is for the other side. It seems that last year’s elections have totally destroyed many people’s faith in democracy and their fellow countrypeople in much the same way that the Tampa election did in Australia. Speaking of which, you will be pleased to hear that Howard’s ‘me too’-ing has not been in vain and our own evil leader’s role in screwing up the world is well known here.

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NY, NY!!

Ok, I’m in an internet cafe with fifteen minutes to type so you can expect a less rambling entry than normal.

New York, having about 15 times the population of San Francisco, is less easily summarisable in a couple sentences. Indeed, that is probably the thing I have noticed most about it. Even London and Paris have defining, destinctly London/Paris characteristics which you find throughout their many, varied suburbs. In the five days I have been in NY though, I have been unable to identify such an all-encompassing vibe. Each part of town, and I have only really seen Manhattan, could be in a completely different city.

The thing that has surprised me most is how much friendlier it is than I expected. I knew Giuliani had cleaned up a lot of the crime but the streets and subway feel safer here than in some parts of SF. And while there are the yellow cab filled, crowded, noisy streets around Times Square, there are many parts of downtown Manhattan, including the area we are staying which are distinctly green and suburban.

So far we have mainly just been wandering the streets of the different parts of town: the Financial district, paying the obligatory visit to the World Trade Centre site, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, Times Square, Broadway, Fifth Ave, Central Park… In our remaining two days we still need to do the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

Anyway, time is running short. More updates (and possibly photos) soon.

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San Francisco – A summary

In many ways San Francisco is very like Melbourne. They are both bayside cities with temperate climates, no particularly exciting tourist attractions (OK, SF has Alcatraz but that is about it), but a very pleasant, laid-back, comfortable atmosphere. I am sure San Francisco’s weather forecasters also claim it is ‘the world’s most liveable city’. While SF is much smaller — less than a million people — it does feel a lot more like a major city but is still very manageable.

Pros: Great record shops. Great live music. Good pubs serving good beer. Nearby good wine region. Great friendly atmosphere. Plenty of open spaces. One of the world’s best public transport systems. Good restaurants.

Cons: Umm, this might be a struggle. Very hilly making it difficult to travel by foot (not that you really need to with the public transport). Lots of homeless people. I think that is about it…

Score: 9/10

On to New York…

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Days 3 – 7

Unfortunately my time in San Francisco is already drawing to a close. As you might guess I have spent a fair chunk of the last few days at concerts (Feist, Cocorosie, Antony & the Johnsons) and in record shops (bringing my grand total for CDs purchased so far to 42). It is just as well the allowance for goods you can bring back into Australia without paying tax was recently increased from $400 to $900.

In the inevitable in-between time moving from one music related event to another I also did some other stuff, including:

  • Visited Fisherman’s Wharf, the most touristy part of town, from where the ferries to Alcatraz leave. Surprisingly, it was only moderately tacky and actually quite attractive. The highlight was the most amazing musical instrument shop I have ever been in with weird and wonderful instruments from all over the world. (If I didn’t have 2/3 of the world still to travel around (and a spare few grand), I would have now been the proud owner of a dulcimer, a gender, and a sitar.);

  • Visited Berkeley. Unfortunately the physics part is over at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab which was well out of the way of the CD shops I was heading for so I just wandered around the campus for a bit. The grounds were very impressive with lots of grand buildings looking like they must have many smart people inside. Since the uni year is just underway here there were lots of club sign up desks. I have never been more thankful for the hours of squash training Tom and I have put in than when fleeing from the ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses of Berkeley’. Even knowing I wasn’t a student of the uni didn’t seem to discourage them.

  • Put a 9V battery and my keys in the same pocket. An hour or two later, when the combination created a short circuit, my first thought was “How perculiar, my right thigh seems to be heating up”. My second thought was “Ow, ow, ow, my right thigh is burning hot. Am I about to spontaneously combust?” Removing my wallet from my pocket and seeing no reason that it should have increased in temperature so rapidly, it seemed spontaneous combustion was the most likely explanation. Eventually, as I was bidding this mortal coil my final farewells, I discovered the culprit was said battery, took it out of my pocket and then flung it across the room as it began burning my hand, getting more than a few strange looks from the other people in the queue waiting to go in to the concert. I now have a hole burnt in my pants pocket and a very sore right thigh. I don’t recommend you repeat the experiment.

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Day 2


I think I just died and went to heaven. I just spent an entire day in a CD shop and still didn’t manage to completely explore it. Amoeba Music is on Haight St — the former centre of hippiedom — and has to be one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. It is in a former bowling alley and the CDs stretch as far as the eye can see. It claims to stock over a million CDs although now I have visited I doubt this is still the case. And they are all so cheap — almost everything is under US$15 and I picked up lots of really good ones for only US$2. I was particularly impressed by how well represented Melbourne (and Aussie generally) bands were — there were CDs here that you probably wouldn’t find in JB. Anyway, after seven hours there, with but a half hour break for lunch I was just about musicked out, so wandered down Haight St to a real ale pub/brewery my dad had recommended.

Haight St is something of a bittersweet place these days. It still harks back to the Summer of Love, now the best part of 40 years ago. There are shops full of bongs, tie-dye and everything else you might associate with hippies. It still has the colourfulness and easy-going attitude that were the hallmarks of those days. But, in what must be one of the greatest strengths of capitalism — turning any anti-capitalist movement into a new way to make money — it is no longer about pure motives, it is about the green stuff (cash, not hash). The most melancholic part is all the homeless people — largely those so acid-fucked that they still think it is 1967 and that it is only a matter of time before they bring down the Man. SF has a massive homeless problem — something you’d normally associate with a mega-city like NY or LA rather than one with fewer than a million people. It makes what happened in New Orleans seem a lot more plausible if even a relatively well-off city like San Francisco can have such poverty.

Anyway, back to the pub. I was sitting there reading my copy of the Onion (which I’d never realised was available in print) when looking through the gig guide I saw that tonight Alasdair Roberts was playing in a pub downtown. He, in particular his album Farewell Sorrow, has been one of my favourite artists for the last year or so. (He plays traditional British folk, as opposed to Alternative folk which is what I mainly listen to in the genre.) And despite having scoured both the internet and, since I arrived, the street press for every concert that was on while I was here I was finding out about it in a satirical newspaper. There is just so much happening here — of the seven nights I am in SF I am going to gigs for five of them with three of them by bands that would make my ‘gigs of the year’ list in Melbourne — that some little known folk dude from Scotland falls through the cracks. So, instantly recovering from my musicked-outness, I rushed across to the other side of town, again blessing this city’s wonderful public transport system. The gig was amazing. It was in the tiny back room of a pub holding barely 50 people and two of the supports — Marissa Nadler and Jack Rose — were almost as brilliant as Alasdair Roberts. It is just as well I live in the backwater of Melbourne because I don’t think either my bank account or my relationship with Gisela could survive a music scene like San Francisco’s.

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Around the world in 50ish days – Day 1

14/9/05 (Note I took in to account the effect of the dateline so none of that ‘Oh no, we didn’t make it back in time!’, ‘Oh yes, we did!’ à la Phileas Fog for me.)

So, here I am in the US of A. The first thing that struck me as I went through immigration at LAX was how many employees there were. While in Australia or the UK you’d be lucky to have one person telling people what to do at the passport control queue, here there seemed to be at least seven. No matter how small the potential problem, there seemed someone employed solely to solve it. I guess that is the result in a country of 300 million people that has a relatively low minimum wage and is the home of capitalism. The other thing that struck me most in my five hours in LAX was how truly multiracial it was with pretty much equal numbers of whites, blacks and hispanics and a signifacant minor minority of Asians. It reminded me, as I get reminded every time I go back to the UK, that for all the talk of Australia being a multicultral (admittedly a slightly different concept) society, it is still extremely Anglo-Saxon dominated.

Anyway, that was LA done for me, and it was on to San Francisco. Being too cheap to invest in a cab all the way from the airport I got a train downtown from where I planned to get a taxi to Stella and Leon’s (my aunt and uncle’s) place, a few kms away where I am staying. The train, as all public transport is in this city, was marvelously efficient. But as I left the station I couldn’t find a taxi so I began wandering around looking for one (not wanting to give away I was a tourist by pulling a map out — as if the 70L pack on my back hadn’t already done that). As a first sight of America ‘proper’ (i.e. outside an airport), it was an eye-opening experience. It turns out I had wandered into Tenderloin — both the most curiously named and dodgiest part of SF. It truly felt like I was in GTA. Tempting as it was to jack a car, run a few people over then crash the car into a wall, blowing it up, I managed to resist and extricated myself from this less-than-welcoming part of town, found a cab and removed myself back to white, middle-class suburbia. A note of caution however to anyone else who finds themselves in such a situation: it is probably unnecessary to let out a Ned Flanders-ish scream when you see three big black guys with baseball bats walking towards you. It turns out that in this country that as well as using them to smash people’s heads in, they have found another use for them — playing baseball.

There are plenty of other oddities about this place. I am still struggling with the money and its greenness. My inability to tell the notes apart without a few minutes to study them and a book on US history to allow me to identify the presidents adorning them means I will invariably just pay in 20s and am very rapidly converting all my currency to one dollar bills and one cent coins. As I do whenever I travel I am again coming to the conclusion that Australia’s greatest ever act was doing away with one and two cent coins. I am already dreading having to remove my belt when I go through security when I fly to NY as the weight of pennies in my pocket will no doubt pull my pants down. In addition to driving on the wrong side of the road (which has already nearly got me run over a number of times), it turns that their taps and jars also work the wrong way. If I had a penny for every time I have spent ten minutes trying to twist a ‘tight’ lid/tap only to realise I’d been turning it in the wrong direction and had to spend the next ten minutes trying to turn the now actually tight lid/tap in the correct direction, my pants would be falling down even without the removal of my belt.

Anyway, that was my first day in America. Stay tuned – day two highlights are coming right up.

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