diary [New York & Boston 2010]


13.05.2010

waiting at the border stop for i have no idea what as the rain outside gets slowly worse. slashing our windows. the air conditioning on full because apparently all they care about controlling is the border. we'll freeze to death before we reach new york. two hours sitting here outside buffalo, just down from the niagra falls. no one allowed to use laptops or mobile phones. using anything digital will get you marched out at gun point, i'm imagining. they'll march you straight down to obama, who is in town, to justify your actions to him in person.

customs and immigration was a breeze. you could even call them friendly. chatty and making jokes. nothing like the officers we met last time we crossed the border. the officer who takes our forms scribbles over our telephone and email addresses, "they don't need those. i don't know why it's on the form, it's none of their business". just my fingerprints and mugshot then. a belly full of the fruit we had five minutes to eat.

the toilet smells of pickled onions.

chugging past upstate towns and cities. from the train nothing but abandoned factories and warehouses. windows smashed and boarded up. desolate parking lots, cracked concrete, the real world trying to fight its way back to the sky. not even smudges of graffiti. "on the right you can see the beautiful city of albany". anything that isn't run down looks artificial. it's really sad. i presume this is the eastern tip of the rust belt. and so we follow the hudson river into the dusk. we overtake ships, pass lighthouses, and i fancy further south we'd see crocodiles. much further.



and after fourteen hours on this train, whatever it is i've been doing, damn if i don't have enough books to read, a twinkling appears on the horizon. this mass of stars growing, terrifying in its scope and structure. why am i so scared of new york? like the universe, its size is incomprehensible, but unlike the universe it is tangible. everything collapses down into a single point and it is right fucking there, bearing down on us. and i have no idea what to expect.





14.05.2010

new york. where am i? everything looks familiar. from screen and print. and for sure it's different in real life, but it's hard to shake the images and preconceptions. only the feelings are new. i've seen all of these streets before.

i'm currently waiting for julie in flushing meadows corona park, surrounded by what i'm presuming are robins and what might once have been red squirrels, before they had all of the colour fucked out of them. the park is huge and empty, a world trade fair failure twice over, in 1939 and 1964. an old dumping ground, which may go to explain the industrial madmax style observation deck and pantheon. rustcore.



apart from sitting in this quiet park of nowhere, trying not to get rained on whilst doodling in my book, i'm completely overwhelmed. the city is too big. there is too much to discover. i have no idea what i'm doing here. and i can't understand anything that anyone is saying.



i keep forgetting i'm in new york. as if the idea of the city is more real than the actual city. like it's no place you can actually be.



returning to manhattan, coming up from the grimy depths of the subway we're greeted by blinding sunlight. glaring down the length of times square, as if the light gouged out this jagged canyon itself. like the messiah shining burning rays upon this meccah of consumption, bouncing from billboard to billboard. screaming at you from all directions. so much light and colour and noise your brain doesn't have a hope of processing the information. it's like being in a dream.



and this is my excuse for buying a giant reese mug. but the whole area is absurd. we only survive by eating m&ms of inifinte colours. a wheat grass shot. a sherbet fruit smoothie.



and so we sit in the shadow of the flat iron, one of my all time favourite buildings, and the tallest in new york when it was built in 1902. out of the corner of my glasses everything looks more than 3D. this luscious grass, so many trees, buildings shooting up around us, topped by lifesize statues of men about to jump. we're surrounded. and i fancy this the nicest spot in manhattan. as if i could possibly know. you could live your whole life here and not know half of these streets.



we walk past the empire state building. saw the chrysler from a vague distance, parts of it. you can never see all of anything here. we took advantage of free friday at the MOMA. the queue was around the corner but moved at walking pace. the cloakroom queue was worse. so there were soup tins and mondrians. a cartier-bresson gallery. lee bontecou. duchamp. the flag. a woman sitting and staring.



also at the top of the list of things i wanted to do in new york was eat dim sum. blame brian wood. so before arriving i'd found a specialist vegetarian dim sum restaurant in the heart of china town. this little place didn't look like much, not after walking through little italy, but the food was incredible. we didn't have a clue how to deal with the menu. how much should we order? and of course we ordered about double what was required. but it was cheap and excellent and i want to eat dim sum every day. for the rest of my life.



the humidity has been amazing today. i can't believe how warm it's been all evening. i'm used to going outside to cool down, but here it's the other way around. you go inside to get cool. windows open to let air in.

sneaking beers into our hotel room because drinking isn't allowed in here. apparently.



15.05.2010

every morning like a new city.



eating plums in central park. a beautiful day. a gentle breeze relieving the heaviness of yesterday. so much baseball. thick healthy grass. tutles and cardinals. so much green kept so immaculately. this view across the reservoir. boating on the lake. watching people dance. eating icecream. the busker playing john lennon covers in strawberry fields, trees collected from all over the world.



we went on a squid hunt. not any squid, but the squid from ben ehrenreich's "after the disaster". we explained our story to the guards at the entrance to the natural history museum and they let us in for one dollar, "you just want to see the squid?". but it's gone. it began to smell too much. it had to be thrown out.

and now we just missed our subway stop.

we lunch at open fronted curly's vegetarian lunch place in east village. with the hardcore kids and the jersey shore girls. multicoloured salad with quinoa, braised tofu, black beans, pineapple, all kinds of everything. and i have to ruin the healthiness by going next door and ordering one of artichoke basille's pizzas. i've never eaten a pizza like it. new york pizza.

the sun sucks away memories. how are you supposed to find anything around here? constantly distracted by craziness. this angry black congregation on the street shouting how jesus was black. "god is a nigger". i daren't look.



so we walked through east village in the direction of bookstore that might sell "please feed me". through the historic park, famous for its protests and what not. the communion garden, which was dense and unregimental, but still an official nyc public park. this area is much easier to deal with than the highrise brain fuck of yesterday. not quite kensington market. we're very happy when someone doing a survey asks us if we're locals. like we could pull that off.



and of course as soon as we found the bluestockings bookstore everything went wrong. many minutes, $200 and several kilos later we're on our way to the high line green space. it's an old elevated railway that's being converted into one very long park, currently 1km. there's room for this in every city, but the multilayering of nyc really lends itself to projects like this. a layer dies and they just build up and around it. reclaim it later on. subways stacked ontop of each other, twisting around. trying to visual the city in 3D hurts my brain.



and i just realised that most of my photos have been taken without looking down the barrel.



we walked through greenwich village. took a ride over to washington square park, where they no long hang people. this is the main location in the eighth issue of sandman, so a significant piece of my mental image of NYC. i've wanted to visit the park for years, i didn't even know where it was until recently. this is near enough. but i forgot to bring bread to feed the birds. if that's even legal anymore. but there's a guy fitting himself in a box, another guy covered in birds, someone jumping over girls heads to the tunes of his piano player. all this activity. people showing off.



i feel like a tourist because i'm speaking english.

and there really are basketball courts all over. all being used. just like in the movies. there is nothing i've been told about NYC that isn't true.



we dine in little italy, under fire escapes and italian flags. our food is simple but good. gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce. the pinot noir is dark and tasty. everyone friendly with a festive atmosphere. our neighbours have flaming cheese. further down the street we buy gelato and walk it to franklin. i needed to see the ghostbusters HQ. it's currently a working fire station, but they still have the ghostbusters logo up on the wall.

and too tired for much else. we drank a beer somewhere. i can't read where. can't remember. perhaps it never happened.



16.05.2010

drinking a beer on coney island. everyone is a character. everyone deserves a thousand words. their own starring role. people acting like they already have it. no wonder everything is dreamlike. it's not the sun (it is), it's how much it's like being in a movie. those stupid hollywood films, they're all realistic. either that or their collective power has warped the world into their own image.

from the bar's jukebox, "making me dizzy, my head is spinning", "sugar, honey honey, you are my candy girl".



on the pier people are dancing to their stereos. pulling huge crabs out of the sea. there's a trolley full of junk metal. bongos. everyone hiding or disguising their beers. people actually eating corn dogs.



we're padding through the sand, trying to avoid the broken glass. all the toilets are closed. this place hasn't changed since the warriors was filmed here. the only thing it is lacking is neptune walking up the beach with his metal detector.



how did we even end up here? we were looking for williamsburg. we wanted to hang with the hipsters. but instead we found ourselves in the jewish area. like a twisted version of the midwitch cuckoos. no, that's a terrible thing to say, but it's the only way i can relate to this culture i have no understanding of. all the children look identical, all dressed in the same style and colours. the women trapped in an unidentifiable decade long past. and i'm presuming those must be wigs.



we walked for too long in the sun, through the lovely half-shaded streets of greene hill, back and forth struggling to find somewhere for lunch. it slipped into dinner time. everywhere between menus. we finally settle on morrocan. it was exactly what we needed. salad, baba ganoush, falafels and rice. in a back garden shaded by honeylocusts. mint tea and everyone speaking french. and i suppose that's where we had the crazy idea to head to coney.

that's one long subway ride. and sitting opposite us was your typical fat obese american woman. i watched as she ate two large burgers. and fries. her shirt was several sizes too small, with gaping holes between the buttons where the fabric was pulled tight. and every so often she'd pull some 'meat' from one of the burgers and feed it to her child in the pushchair. he couldn't have been two years old. obama doesn't need to worry about health system reform. all he need do is fix people's diets and the problem will solve itself. teach these people how to eat healthily, make it easy for them, and the health budget will cut itself in half. think how many missiles that could buy you.

but i'm glad for it, coney island with its the mindless barage of faded colours and loud noise. everything competing for your attention so nothing gets it all, lost in the upward spiral of chaos. but the journey back was hard. the line was down and so we took a shuttle bus from what looked like an indian neighbourhood. then the A train took the F train route and we missed our stop, being dumped back in manhattan. i had desperately wanted to walk over the brooklyn bridge, but it was late and probably for the best that we didn't. we changed train again. and again. not even the locals who were trying to help us knew what was going on.

it feels like most things went wrong today.

i was up at 7:30am to write an application for a chef position on one of the greenpeace boats. then we went straight downtown for breakfast, which isn't difficult to find if you don't have a budget. we ate mexican. the homefries were fantastic though. i sat and watched the yellow cabs zip through the steam billowing from the manhole covers. isn't it that what new york is all about?



ground zero. it's an odd thing, that big hole in the city. but i wasn't feeling it. i'm not a heartless prick. neither do i have a greater understanding of mass pointless death and the insignificance of this one. i don't know what. the tribute centre was disturbing, full of people standing in silence, listening to recordings of witnesses and survivors. the scope is incredible, there isn't anyone for hundreds of miles who wasn't directly and significnatly effected by it. i just write it off as something else uncomfortable that i can't understand and we move on.



to the stock exchange and wall street. where rage against the machine kicked ass. what better time to see it than a sunday morning when no one is around? and amid all these parellel lines of varying width shooting up into the sky, there's trinity church. a quaint graveyard that defines the word 'dappled'. i buy a pack of butterum lifesavers.

the streets turn european and snake their way to battery park and the ferry ports. around here somewhere is the place where manhattan was purchased off the first nation people for $20. there's a teepee erected on the spot. i'm not sure if this is celebratory or a memorial.

the queue for the liberty/ellis island ferry is over an hour long. everyone wants to see the statue of course. we only want to go to ellis island. but we can't wait over an hour with all these tourists. we jumped on the free ferry to staten island instead and filled up on authentic NYC milkshake. then came back. it was good to get some sea air and to see manhatten from the water. as soon as the ferry left the harbour everyone opened a beer. we missed a trick there.



damn everything takes so long in this city.



17.05.2010

8am new york. waking up to what's going to be a beautiful day. the air outside is cooler again. the streets busier. people in their suits, phone in one hand and coffee in the other. it's fresh and hopeful outside. there is promise in the air. it's like we're not about to be shuttled away again.

we took the subway up to harlem, walking through and past the university. everyone is graduating today. more of that hope and promise. the whole of new york is at your feet.

and now we're sitting in the middle of china town waiting for the fungwah bus. one of the things i like most about new york is that as soon as the subway doors open you can smell you're in a new neighbourhood. in this case durians and dried seafood. everyone bustling at a slow pace. me carrying an extra 30kg. then i'm running around the block trying my card in six different bank machines. the nearest i get to my money is being told how much i have available. but still it gives me nothing. i'm just happy running, feeling busy and part of the city. people who run are important.

we gave our metrocards away. one to the chinese bus attendant. she was very happy. it gives her three days unlimited travel. it was a good tip. now she has us waiting at the stop, rather than around the corner at the office where everyone else is waiting. and she gets annoyed everytime i go over there to check because this feels weird and should i really be trusting her?

i want a noodle box but i'm still full from our healthier and extravagant breakfast. carrot hash, scrambled eggs with vegetables. granary bread. yoghurt, lavender honey, granola. melon. ice coffee.



so goodbye to new york. our bus takes us out across to brooklyn, up through queens. manhattan disappears to the left. the sprawl gives way to industrial slum, gives way to nothing, finally to forest. before that we pass a smashed up bus graveyard. hundreds of buses. then we pass through connecticut, signs for tolland, and i have to listen to these hipsters in the seats behind me talk about sonicboom and spacemen3. it isn't so bad.

now i have some kind of understanding of NYC. it's no longer just DMZ, pi, ghostbusters, and sex in the city. i know where the boroughs are. i know the difference between brooklyn and queens. i know exactly how big the city is (a lie, i have no idea) and how far away coney island is. and i'm sad to see it go, before i could have a hope of beginning with it. but it's good to be on the road again. for $10 a seat. 40km to boston.



17.05.2010 - Boston

this is different. this is nice. a welcome change in scenery. air and space, lots of it. we were worried that our guesthouse would be far out of the city, but it's probably a shorter subway ride to the centre than our manhattan hostel was from times square. getting anywhere in new york took over half an hour, crossing boston is a delight in comparison. especially when we find our guesthouse and it's this ancient (in american terms) house that's slowly being restored by this perfectly crazy woman (i mean that in the nicest possible way). it was exactly what we were hoping for. off the wall comfort.

we settled in. had a tour of the house. then went back into the city to find a restaurant, picking something we fancied from johanna's list of recommendations. it helps to have a guide, even if they're not present. so to the ethiopian. and it's a good job we checked it on google maps too, because tremont street is all over our map, in almost every corner. as if there are four of them. we would never have found the restaurant. the highlight of the menu was their creamy and perfectly spiced cottage cheese. the beer cost as much as the food.



19.05.2010

the short story is that our flight was cancelled due to planned strike action (not actual action). they pulled a high court injunction on the strike, which is bullshit, but ultimately good for us since they're now trying to reinstate flights. yesterday they told us they didn't have a flight for us until june 10th. they had no clue what they were doing and couldn't confirm anything. we waited half an hour on the phone for that. twelve hours later and the situation has improved but they're still giving us conflicting information. "i can see that you were booked on the flight".



the other pisser (is that a word?) was not being able to buy beer from any liquor stores. the local store in ashmont (assmont) finally sold us beers after scrutinizing my UK drivers license for far too long. he didn't have the balls to reject it. it was the fourth place we'd tried. it's like these people have forgotten it's against the law to sell alcohol to people under 21, rather than it being illegal to sell alcohol to people without ID. no one doubted we were over 21. and it's not like we've had any trouble in the restaurants or bars we've been in. we'd come straight from a science themed bar next to MIT, where we'd sat for a while trying to complete a much harder version of the crossword puzzles that have been keeping us entertained on the subway.

we'd walked over the bridge to MIT, but when we got there we didn't know what to do and the drinking water fountain didn't work (so much for all your technology), so we left.

other than that we walked the freedom trail. this is the good part of american history. i hope they also send all these screaming american school kids down south where they lynched africans. your early history ain't all paul revere, peaches and cream sundae. so we followed the red line around the city and tried to not look too much like tourists, which is about impossible.



this pizza place has been open since 1926. it's as old as my nan. tastes much better too. but we were stupid and ordered the 16" pizza, because the 10" would be too small for two (which it would), and a single 16" is cheaper than two 10". we finished it anyway, something i don't feel good about. the couple sitting opposite of us have a pitcher of coke. that is just disgusting.



20.05.2010

the sound the green line subway train makes as it goes around corners is about blowing my mind right now. and some guy is singing about jesus. it's more than i can stand. and a tree has fallen onto the rails. we all file out onto the street and i walk up to where it's fallen but they've already removed the most of it. one of the workers there emailed me a photo of it. such friendly people. so taking the journey out here was worth it. although i'm not convinced that going to johanna's favourite bookstore was a good idea.

i keep getting ink on my trousers. how is this happening?

there are so many dunkin donuts here, on every corner worse than starbucks. how can it be so popular? instead i'm sitting in a cafe with a homemade "support local business" sign. i'm supposed to meet julie here, but i'm just making an arse of myself with all my loose change and babble. where is she? i'm hoping she wasn't on the same subway line i was on.



the mist decends and boston fades under grey. a drizzle that never quite manages to make you wet. but it works for the city. it works for harvard university. it works for the european-esque streets. it's something that new york lacked, real weather.

MIT museum is a great place to hide from the rain. amongst cog and kismet and their huge lisp machines. holograms and mechanical art courtesy of arthus ganson. it's well worth the entrance fee. and it has one of the best gift shops ever. of course. i spent all my time there running from one exhibit to the next. "wow, it's the minksy arm". "check it out, it's cog's first hand". etc.




we also took shelter in a south indian street-fast-food cafe (that specific). panner pakora, aubergine masala dosa, dhokla, rasmalai. to be honest i had no idea what the rest of the menu was. it was as good as that. but the people working there totally weren't impressed with how impressed i was.

we saw the cheers bar, why not. no sign of the 'molasses incident'. tried to find some healthy food (please). failed. just something anything without fat or corn syrup. poor diets will kill this country.

so we had an early night. playing some pool and some cathedral (that's a game) in our ashmont residence. lovely.



21.05.2010

right now i'm thinking we should have tried to get into business class. the plane is huge and largely unoccupied, which makes no sense given recent events. horrible i know. at check-in the nice woman gave us a whole row to ourselves, i heard her say this to her co-worker. it is great for sleeping. but how can i sleep when i can pick from over a hundred movies to watch whenever i want?

the sun came out for us today. the city was beautiful and baking. all these tree lined streets in newbury. yesterday you couldn't even see the top of the prudential tower, today the viewing was great. the observatory was closed for a private function, but we'd been recommended to go to the bar on the 52nd floor anyway. we might have paid $17 (maybe $12) for two beers, but i'm sure it was better value. and the local wheat beer with a slice of aromatic orange was special.



we lunched at a noodle bar that was full of asians and we paid roughly the same amount for two huge bowls of noodle soup and vege fried rice that we did for the previous beers. it was fantastic. and i'm glad we've been able to see two sides of the city, drastically different for the weather.



i bought a new wallet. some more books. managed to dodge the cake batter icecream (i'm regretting it now), and went further down the street to johanna's old favourite turkish takeout for malted frozen yoghurt (no avocado though). perfect in the heat.



and we had been up early too. our hostess had organised us a special early breakfast of ever increasing quantities of food. and cake. we took our obligatory photo out on the front lawn.



we stored our luggage at the bus station in town for $5 (on the 5th floor, this isn't advertised anywhere). then bought us some whale watching tickets and rode the catamaran out into the bay.



after a worrying number of warnings about how rough the sea was, 5ft swells and all that, it was no problem. it was only the smell of other people's vomit that bothered me. that and the brown smear across the horizon, hovering over the city. boston pollution so very visible out to sea. and then there were the whales, two humpbacks, mother and child:



the one thing i don't understand about the city is the pedestrian crossings. it seems widely accepted by the locals that they just don't work. and the tourists realise soon enough. the white walking man never appears. the junction lights go from green to red and back to green again and nothing. even if you press the button. when am i supposed to cross? people completely ignore them.



and after all the worrying about having too many books (i do have too many books), our bags weighed in at only 17kg each. my carry on bag is probably something similar, but still, no problem. i could totally have bought all that cool shit from MIT.

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