Thursday, December 6, 2012

New york city (part four of four)

Halloween recovery

The morning after the Halloween party we spent appropriately in recovery, with an obligatory trip to the diner for some superlative hangover gorging. 

Hurricane sandy

That afternoon we'd planned to complete our souvenir shopping to get it out of the way, but it was right about then that the hurricane warnings started. All of a sudden they were talking about closing down the subway and telling people not to leave their homes, so we went hurricane shopping instead, down at, you guessed it, the Westside Market. And so, it turned out, did everyone else ... 

There was a huge line out the front of the store and they were only letting people in a couple at a time, and there was a news camera shooting footage as well. Everywhere was sold out of torches and rain ponchos, but we eventually hunted some down in case we lost power. 

Thankfully we didn't, but we did lose days and days of our trip to Hurricane Sandy. We missed out on going out to a bunch of cool bars; the Empire State building; China town; a play we were going to see, Tribes; a show by Amy Poelher's comedy club the Upright Citizens Brigade, and the Greenwich Village two-million person Halloween Parade. Not that we can complain. It was a thousand-mile wide frankenstorm that killed over 120 people in eight countries and shut down part or all of the subway for, at the time of writing, six days. At least we were safe. The worst we saw was a tree that came down right outside our hotel. 

But we were really lucky to have been in essentially the safest part of New York: the Upper West Side, on high ground, away from the water, and in a little room whose only window looked onto a sheltered alley (away from trees). This is what I continually told concerned friends and family who were seeing footage like this at home:

Basically we went into lockdown for the duration of the storm, watching the hotel's awful movie selection, actually being subjected to the Sex and the City movie and the scenes shot in the library I mentioned in part one. Apart from that it was pretty much 24-hour storm coverage, as you would expect, which actually was a nice reprieve from the constant news reports of stabbings and shootings and other grotesque murders. We actually did the (wildly estimated) maths at some point, and concluded that they actually must be more violent than us, as opposed to just more people equating to more deaths.

Watching so much TV we noticed a lot of differences between theirs and ours, many of which were to do with their ads. I like them! They've all got a gimmick, and usually it's pretty funny. They also say pretty much all their car brand names differently, and every second ad has a celebrity involved somehow, which actually lessens them in your eyes. It makes them seem cheap haha.

We emerged from the hotel on Tuesday, able to roam around safely but bound by the lack of a functioning subway system. We walked a couple of blocks uptown and, to my delight, stumbled upon Tom's Restaurant, of Seinfeld fame, but didn't eat there because only the exterior is from the show and Jill told us the food was awful. Instead we continued on our way and found yet another diner.

 I liked this. 'Let's endure Sandy together.' I wanted to oblige them, but they were really expensive!

Anniversary art and financial difficulties

Wednesday was mine and Til's four-year anniversary and, despite my wishes, we hadn't made a booking at any fancy restaurants, which actually turned out to be lucky for two reasons. One was that the entire island of Manhattan south of 40th street was without power, and that's where we almost definitely would've made any such booking, and the other was that for the past day my Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card had not been working, so I wouldn't have been able to pay for the meal anyway. I called Commonwealth about it twice and they said the same thing: having technical issues with the network, working on it as a matter of urgency, no information on what the problem is or when it will be fixed. Frustration.

My present to Til, however, was two nights in a nice luxurious hotel suite at the Westin on Times Square. The only problem, with the subway system out, was getting there. Our only choice was a taxi, which was good because I suppose it was an experience, but bad because the roads were PACKED because there was no other way around the city (the next day they made temporary rules allowing you to hail limousines, encouraging people to share cabs, and only letting cars with three or more passengers into the city). So we ended up crawling the seventy or so blocks to Times Square, and paying a buttload.

That same day Til checked the Museum of Modern Art's website, and found that they were reopening. This had been on the top of her list since we arrived, and we feared it wouldn't reopen before we left, so we swooped on the opportunity to spend the day there.

Some performance art.


 Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy.

All things come back to The Simpsons.
Edvard Munch's The Scream. 


Pablo Picasso's The Young Ladies of Avignon.

'And Picasso started out painting realistically, then moved onto cubism. By the end of his life he was just painting crank letters to the editor. They call it his "angry jerk" period.'

Pablo Picasso's Three Musicians.

Salvador Dalí's The Persistence of Memory. 

 Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night.

Claude Monet's Water Lilies.

Joan Miró's The Birth of the World.

Joan Miró's Painting

René Magritte's  The Empire of Light, II.

 Vasily Kandinsky's Four Panels for Edwin R Campbell.

Marc Chagall's I and the Village.

Also, some bullshit:

 Til somewhat unimpressed with John McCracken's Think Pink. 

'You mean this hunk of junk? This isn't art. It's just a barbecue that pushed me over the edge. Didn't you? Didn't you, you stupid ...!? Yaaargh!'

It is literally just a plank leaning against a wall, but LISTEN to the ridiculous wank they have come up to justify it:

McCracken began producing his vibrant monochrome "planks" in 1966. While the polished resin surface captures the aesthetic of surfing and car culture unique to Southern California in the 1960s, the title was drawn from advertising slogans in fashion magazines. The work's interaction with both the floor and the wall is meant to call attention to the space occupied in the gallery by both viewer and object. "I see the plank as existing between two worlds," McCracken has said, "the floor representing the world of standing objects, trees, cars, buildings, human bodies, and everything, and the wall representing the world of the imagination, illusionistic painting space, human mental space, and all that."


I mean, I'm pretty tolerant of wank. I'm a Creative Writing, English Literatures major ... But this ... this is just ... I don't even ...

Naw, these guys are geniuses. I could never think of something like soup or a pencil.

That night we ended up having dinner in the hotel restaurant, which was nice enough, then going out for dessert and wine. Not the five-star, three-hat experience I had envisioned, but what's to be done? 


The next day we didn't know what to do. We needed to finish our souvenir shopping which, despite our best efforts to get out of the way early, had still become a last-minute affair due to the combination of a hurricane and Commonwealth Bank's incompetence. I went to have a shower, and when I returned, I announced 'F#%k it. I have a $2,000 overdraft, let's go shopping.' 

So shopping we did, although it was still a nightmare. All Til's dad Ron wanted was a pair of classic Reeboks, which we searched for EVERYWHERE. It turned out the only place you could get them was the Reebok store which was south of 40th street and closed due to lack of power. Thankfully I think we managed to get something for everyone, even if some gifts are a little crappy. 

Proof that we went to the closed Reebok store.

It was weird going south of 40th Street. Post-apocalyptic, even. We were just walking, then all of a sudden we kind of realised there was no one around and no lights, and then buildings were boarded up.

The Extra Classic Bubblegum shelf cleaned out for Amy.

For my siblings I brought back some iconic American candy:

You may remember Junior Mints as the candy that saved the life of Elaine's 'triangle artist' boyfriend Roy when he accidentally dropped one into his open body during surgery. As Kramer says, 'Who's gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It's chocolate, it's peppermint – it's delicious!' 

While Jujyfruits got Elaine into trouble when she stopped to buy some on her way to see her boyfriend at the hospital after hearing he'd been in an accident.

For Mum and Ross I brought back ridiculous amounts of ridiculously cheap alcohol from American duty-free.

Last night

That night for our last New York supper we went to Applebee's on Times Square (at 11:00pm; SO AWESOME), where Til had a MEAT FEAST while I cobbled together a pathetic excuse for a meal out of their meagre (incidental) vegetarian offerings, namely a bowl of deep-fried mozzarella sticks, a baked potato with cheese and (shudder) another French onion soup, exactly the same as the last one we had. It was cheese and carbo-lactastic. I think the US has been the biggest challenge I've faced as a vegetarian since I made the switch in April.

When we got back to our apartment, Til pretty much went to bed in order to get up in the morning in time to get ready, pack, and do the last of her souvenir shopping. I, on the other hand, stayed up ridiculously late packing, both to help acclimatise myself to Sydney time and to maximise sleeping-in time in the morning (the Westin has a generous check-out time of 12 noon). This did, however, result in a 3am panic attack when I couldn't find my passport and had to wake Til out of concern. I had just packed ALL my things into my bags, so I knew it wasn't hidden in any of those. I looked under the bed, in the lounge, then started pulling out my immaculately packed bag to look in the pockets of my jackets, jeans and shorts, to no avail. Then I went through the apartment and started looking absolutely everywhere, including places it shouldn't logically be able to be, like in my toiletries bag, behind the toilet, in the lamp, and so on. Thankfully this method proved sound, as I started going through a pile of neatly folded clothes which I thought belonged to Til because I hadn't folded any of my clothes, but it turned out she'd folded a pair of my pants and put them in the pile and it was in the pocket of those pants. SO BASICALLY IT WAS ALL HER FAULT. Haha.

Celebrity hunting

Which brings us our last day. The entire time we'd been waiting desperately to spot a celebrity. I think  that, on our last day, literally as we were on our way to the Port Authority bus terminal to go to our respective airports, I finally saw one. A small celebrity, yes, but I'm 84% sure I saw the black chick from The New Adventures of Old Christine. Wanda Sykes is her name, apparently. (When I got back to Australia I was in a customs queue with Bec and Lleyton Hewitt and their little ones, so I guess that kind of counts too).

A parting travel disaster

We got some breakfast and went to the bus terminal, where we could one of the bus shuttles that supposedly departed every fifteen minutes to Newark for me and JFK for Til. But the signs on the sides of the buses which proclaimed this fifteen-minute waiting time weren't written with Hurricane Sandy conditions in mind. We parted ways at around 1pm and I lined up in a huge line. At around 2:30pm I was starting to get worried, but then I worked out that I'd already checked in and only really needed to be at the airport 45 minutes before my flight at 5:09 for bag check, and it looked like I'd get on the next bus. But I didn't. 

But it was okay, I thought. Now I'd DEFINITELY get on the next bus. I was the tenth person in the queue. Nope. The next bus arrived practically full, and the line stopped just in front of me. I was enraged even more when the dude let these two women cut in front of us for some reason. Probably would've got on if it wasn't for them. But it was okay. Now I really had to get on the next bus; it wouldn't be a problem if it came in the next fifteen minutes as it advertised, and I heard the guy say it would be about 15 minutes. The whole time the queue had been winnowed by attrition to taxis, with people periodically calling out, 'Anyone wanna get a cab?' Every time I wondered if I should or not, but I never did. When 15 minutes elapsed without a bus arriving I definitely thought I should've. Now I went over and asked how long. 'About 10 to 15 minutes', was the infuriating reply. 

The queue.

I had started talking to the girl next to me, a pre-med student at Columbia flying back home to Ohio. She counselled me, 'If the bus doesn't arrive by 3:30, you should get a cab.' I did the maths. 45 minutes before 5:09pm is 4:24pm and it takes 40 minutes to get from the bus station to the airport, so I needed to leave by 3:44pm. It checked out. Thankfully the bus left at 3:35pm, but I don't think I even realised that I was so stressed that I'd miss the plane. 

I realised when we arrived at the airport that I'd probably be okay, but was still concerned about how long it would take to check my bag and get through security, so I was still in a huge rush. When I weighed my bag the woman told me I'd have to lose 3 kg or it'd cost me $200. TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME!? But I was too stressed and I had no alternative. If I had've arrived earlier I could've bought some carry-on luggage for $40 and shifted stuff out of my main bag into there, but I didn't have the luxury of time. Hell, I could've bought a carry-on bag for $140 and still come out better off. It's so f#!%ing ridiculous that they would charge you that much. It's still the same amount of weight going onto the plane whether it's all in one bag or distributed into two bags, what the hell is the difference, you bastards!? 

And just in case you're wondering what put me three kilos over, it was my souvenirs. So if you get a souvenir from me, count yourself lucky I didn't just pull it all out of my bag and start distributing it to random strangers to avoid the $200 fee. You can probably add about twenty dollars to the value of whatever I got you, too. 

And you know what? I blame the stupid American imperial system, the only stupid country in the world besides like, Myanmar that doesn't use the metric system. I'm pretty sure the Aussie woman who checked me in on the way over let me on three kilos over (I had all those Aussie books I was giving to my English friends with me) because she was probably like, 'Meh, it's only three kilos.' But in POUNDS that's like SIX POUNDS. Oh, sir, I'm afraid you're SIX POUNDS OVER. SIIIIIIX so you must payyyyyy!' 

Thank god in the end I got to the airport terminal about ten minutes before boarding and could finally go to the toilet and expel the urine I had been holding onto in line for FOUR HOURS. 

I had a pleasant flight from New York to San Francisco 'cause I made sure to get myself a seat right at the back of the plane by the window in an empty row. There was no free TV on the plane, but I was writing this blog the whole time and reading Cloud Atlas during take-off and landing, so I didn't mind. But my luck did not continue. I was supposed to board my flight from San Francisco to Sydney at 9:50pm West Coast time. It ended up being more around 12:30am. Apparently there was some issue with temperature control on the plane so they had to get us another one. I also strategically selected my seat in a row with two spare seats in it for this flight but, alas, they were filled.

It had been a fantastic trip, first reuniting with friends in England, then breaking new ground in New York. What an amazing city. There really is nothing else like it. We can't wait to go back and do what we missed out on 'cause of Sandy.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New york city (part three of four)


The next day we crossed the bridge out of Manhattan for the first time since arriving to visit the uber-trendy Brooklyn suburb of Williamsburg, which is like Melbourne on steroids in terms of coolness/hipsterism/beards.

We walked up the main street, Bedford Avenue, and Til started feeling faint from hunger so we found a café as soon as possible where I had a bagel and Til had a muffin ('off' bagels as she was after her little episode in the Museum of Natural History). 

Like all cool suburbs, Williamsburg's streets are illuminated with street art, smothered in stickers, and riddled with scrawled messages. It has a really great atmosphere, filled with quirky little shops and finds. We made our way through all the horizontal streets within a certain area to see as much of it as possible. 

Cat refuge. 

When the muffin failed to sufficiently enervate Til, we went to a park on the waterside and rested for a while before heading back to a place we'd passed earlier that looked like it had good pasta for something more energising. 

Brooklyn wildlife

As we finished eating, the girl at the table next to us talking to a companion pointed up the street where a massive bird of prey had landed. We watched it for a while and I went up the street a little to get a closer look and photo, and it looked like some kind of huge hawk, apparently not a common sight in suburban Brooklyn from the reaction it was getting from the Williamsburgers. As we were walking down the street to leave it came swooping overhead to perch above us, so I got a few more photos, along with a small crowd.

After a while and without warning it leapt majestically into the air and flew across the street, straight into a wall covered in vines, at which we were a little surprised. But then it came back holding a smaller bird in its talons, and we realised it hadn't crashed into the wall accidentally. They really do have amazing eyesight. It was sitting right above us again and you could see the poor little bird stuck in its claws looking around as though in complete shock, which was sad. Evolution's a bitch. It's a shame animals can't kill other animals more quickly and painlessly. You could also see something on the bird of prey's leg, so I don't know if it was captive or if it had just been caught and released before, but it was all very exhilarating to watch. 

After capturing the bird (those are the vines it crashed into in the background).

Cloud atlas

After some more wandering around and browsing in shops, Til went and looked through a big secondhand clothing warehouse while I read Cloud Atlas in preparation for seeing the movie in IMAX that night, the date of its release. Then before leaving we went and had a few drinks in a bar. So cheap! It's amazing how cheap alcohol is over here … 

On the side of a brewery.

We ended up kind of having to rush to get the movies, and by the time we got there the furthest back from the screen you could sit was the second row, which was infuriating. I was so mad. No one wants to sit that close; they obviously only have seats there so they can sell more tickets and make more money. Usually assigned seating annoys me, but these situations are when you realise its use; I bet I bought tickets before anyone else in that god damn cinema. I'd been so excited for days, practically jumping around every time the ad came on, and that morning I'd specifically said I hoped the IMAX wasn't so big that you had to move your head around to see the whole screen, which it totally was because we were so close.

'No, you don't wanna be uncomfortable.'

But it ended up not being that bad, thank God. And I'm sure I'll see it again back in Australia anyway because it was SO GOOD. For some reason I can't explain I found the first half a bit lacklustre, but the second half was enthralling. They changed a lot from the book, but I was okay with most of it because you could see why it was necessary, and some of it kind of even improved on the book. As always with book–movie adaptations, of course, it was sad what they had to leave out, especially from the Sonmi-451 storyline, and the details they had to elide, but again understandable. The only thing is it is a freaking ambitious movie and I feel like you could very, very easily not understand what the hell was going on at all if you hadn't read the book, and I think the filmmakers would have only have had to do a very few things to make a lot of it MUCH clearer. I was also disappointed at the exclusion of the young Islander boy from the first storyline, which I thought would've been a small but valuable plotline to include, underscoring the evilness of the men on the boat, and also providing an opportunity for the actor who plays Javier to recur elsewhere like all the other characters do. 

Mostly I was glad that the leftist impulse about cooperation over competition was left intact, even if some of the more peripheral messages about truth and such were unfaithful to the book. In the Zachry storyline, Meronym talks about 'true-true' all the time, telling Zachry Sonmi is not a goddess, and in her storyline Sonmi insists that there is only one truth, whereas in the book Meronym made such a point of saying that Sonmi wasn't true for her, but she could still be true for Zachry (in other words, a pluralistic, culturally relativistic sensitivity in the significantly black-skinned Prescients' 'colonisation' of the white-skinned inhabitants of Big I that was missing from the imperial colonisation of black Pacific-dwellers in by white-skinned invaders in Adam's story line – an inversion of colonial history, colonialism done the 'right' way, if there can be such a thing). 

And one of the extra layers I enjoyed most about the film was the same actors' recurrence in every timeline, all playing different genders, all playing different races. It's so fitting in a film about souls crossing the world like clouds cross skies. It's such a statement that none of that stuff matters; we're all human. 

Costume convictions

Saturday we devoted to souvenir shopping because it's stressful and we both hate it (well, I like giving people presents; I just hate getting them), especially me because I have so many people to buy for and we didn't want to leave it till the last minute because something always goes wrong and we thought it'd be good to get out of the way.

Crazy guy at Times Square when we were shopping.

We only got through about half of it, though, when we really needed to get our costumes for the party that night sorted, because the host had told Jill it was fine for us to come but costumes were mandatory and just dressing as normal and saying 'We're Australian' wouldn't do. I had my heart set on going as something Australian-themed and matching, possibly like a Steve Irwin crocodile hunter costume (possibly with a bloodpatch and a stingray) for me and a crocodile or kangaroo suit for Tilly, but it didn't happen. 

Instead what we found were convict costumes, so I like to think we went as my ancestors from the first fleet, Nathaniel Lucas and Olivia Gasgoyne. It took some cajoling to get Til to agree to come as a convict too, because she took to a crayon costume we spotted, but she eventually gave way. I'm glad I didn't do the Steve Irwin thing, too, 'cause it felt a bit insensitive. I was going to get a ball and chain from the costume store, but Til told me I'd be better off getting handcuffs, so I did that instead, only later realising they were outrageously anachronistic for prisoners from 1788 haha. 

The costumes were a hit, despite two dudes dressed as an angel and Richard Symonds on the train calling me out for my lack of ball and chain. We really didn't think the costumes were anything special; we just bought them off the shelf, but everyone seemed to react so much to them! People in the hostel were staring at me when I went to get our drinks out of the fridge before we left (again, so cheap! We got a bottle of Absolut for like half what it would cost back in Australia!). Then when we were waiting for Jill at the train station about three separate groups of people burst out laughing and congratulated us on our 'brilliant' costumes. This was America! You'd think they'd be used to seeing Halloween costumes, but apparently not. Some guy even took surreptitious phone photos of us on the train. 

Halloween party

The party was at Jill's friend's apartment on top of a nightclub in Williamsburg, which had an open terrace replete with a killer sound system and fairy lights. We saw some awesome costumes, both on the way to the party and at it. I think the standouts were the girls who went as Sims, with the green icon floating over each of their heads, Oblina from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Gerald from Hey Arnold, Ryu from Streetfighter (who kept shouting 'Hadouken!'), Prince, and the host and his girlfriend who went as Jon Snow and Egret, the former even having a rope tied around the latter's waist. 



Having gone to this party and having been in America for Halloween, I've changed the hostile regard I previously held it in. Like many people, I tended to see it as a culturally imperialistic incursion by the US into Australian traditions. But now I think we should definitely take it up and maybe even make it our own – we have nothing like it at home. Sure, kids trick or treating and whatever, but adults going to great efforts to dress up in ridiculous/hilarious costumes? It's such a fun holiday! Besides, Australians are renowned for taking any excuse to celebrate. We keep celebrating the Queen's birthday, right? And that's nothing but an imperialistic incursion by England. I'm definitely hosting a kickass Halloween party next year, and everyone is going to make an effort with costumes, and it's going to be awesome, and you'd better be there dressed as an obscure cultural reference! 

To be honest, the party is all a bit of a blur. You see, it's been quite some time since I had a night on vodka, if ever? At least since I was eighteen … And I've become estranged from its nature. So all of a sudden I was very, very drunk. I was that guy sitting on the lounge just saying how drunk I was. I know I had a great night and met and talked to a lot of cool people. I know at one point I felt like a singalong was needed, so I burst out in Smashmouth's 'All star' and a lot of people joined in. I know at some point the DJs had to stop playing because the club downstairs was concerned their roof was going to collapse from all the dancing. I know Tilly kept thinking the gigantic novelty spiders on the walls were real and kept starting conversations by saying, 'We're Australian!', to which Jill would add, 'This is their first Halloweeen!' and the American stranger would be like, 'Yur Osstralian? That's creezy!' 

Other than that, I'll leave it up to the photos … 

 Mario Jill and convict Til.

 Alice in chains. 

 Jon Snow in the foreground.

Marty McFly.

Thankfully I knew when to stop, and I began to sober up a little after leaving my half-full cup of Raspberry Absolut vodka, Sprite and bottled fruit punch in the fridge 'for later'. We left sometime between three and four and went for the most amazing pizza of my life. SO CHEESY. In a good way. Exactly what you need after a big night on raspberry vodka.

A strange reversal occurred on the train, where I was the one who couldn't keep my eyes open and Til was wide awake, chatting with Jill and strangers on the train. The only thing that could rouse me was the idiocy of a Republican talking about their opinions aloud. I was itching to talk to her and find out (tactfully) how she could possibly believe that crap but, alas, she got pulled into conversation with someone else and then disembarked.

(To be continued).