January 02, 2002
Exclusive: New York Not Attacked by Terrorists on Stroke of New Year
And we're... still alive - of course.
Happy New Year from New York.
Posted by chris at 01:45 AM | Permalink
December 29, 2001
"Because I'm insane!"
Thanks for that, Dan - yes indeed I've been neglecting the blog. Every time I've got near writing something for it, I've stopped and thought, "Nah. Not right now." And, right again, I'm in New York over New Year's. It was interesting seeing people's reactions when I told them where I was going... invariably a look of consternation flitted across their face as they manage to stammer out a strangulated "New... York? That's... er... nice..." I nearly felt like appending a "...because I'm insane!" to the end of all my "Actually I'm going to New York"s by about mid-december. It's because I have people there I really want to see again and I had the time off work to take and it's a great city and no I'm not nervous about it I'm really looking forward to it actually allright thank you very much so there. Sheesh.
So right now it's about 9am; the jet lag finally kicked in at about 6 this morning, waking me up after three hours' sleep, feeling absolutely fine - albeit royally pissed off that I didn't feel like snoozing. Solution? Surf the net - that's what it's there for, after all.
It's odd being back in New York... I was last here six months ago, and of course a lot's changed since then. I'm in two minds about whether to visit Ground Zero or not... on the one hand it seems ghoulish; on the other hand, how could I come here and *not* see it? I'll have to think about that one.
In the meantime, here's a brief inter-office memo to Dan: write some more stuff about your Japan trip, boy - I'm not kicking you off this thing until you do. I have to go find bagels now.
Posted by chris at 11:02 PM | Permalink
September 27, 2001
New York pictures added to gallery
That last reference probably didn't mean much to some of you. Let's keep it that way, eh?
Posted by chris at 02:18 AM | Permalink
July 21, 2001
NY Trip Retroblog: Sunday July 8th
NY Trip Retroblog: Sunday July 8th
Up early, showered, said bye to Jane, who wasn't coming to the airport with us, sped south to the airport. Check-in was a similarly humourless affair, as at La Guardia the day before, and there were no exit row seats to be had, either. Ah well. Time for a quick breakfast, then off to the international terminal.
Walked past a Martin Luther King tribute exhibition; someone had removed the "h" from "his", so that one of the display cases was labelled "Martin Luther King is Life and Family". I guess it would have been funnier if it had been a Jesse Jackson exhibit.
Nothing of interest in the bookshop; I had a Time, an Economist and a couple of papers to get through, anyway, so I wasn't too bothered. One worrying new trend, however, is the emergence of the "religious business ethics" genre. Rob and I had a good chuckle at "God is my CEO - Following God's principles in a bottom-line world".
Farewells at the gate, then time to settle down and wait for boarding. Take-off was delayed a couple of times, including one ten-minute session while we waited at the side of the runway to burn off excess fuel, as we were overweight for take-off. Obviously I'd rather wait ten minutes than die in a screaming ball of fire on CNN, but all the same - you just have to hope that you're not going to run out of gas over Hokkaido.
Whoever wrote Delta's inflight instructions for movie-viewing ettiquette deserves to be shot. "Please lower your blinds to prevent glare from becoming on the screens; we hope you enjoy." From becoming *what* on the screens? Or is it meant to be some kind of germanic past tense? "Das glare hat auf der screen becomst." Cringe. I hope I enjoy, too.
I couldn't be bothered to watch Finding Forrester on the eyestrain-inducing 12-inch monitor halfway down the cabin. What? No personal TVs in the back of every seat? Pah. "Mind you, I always have trouble reaching the controls" (makes grabbing motion over own left shoulder; canned laughter). BA and Virgin, with these inflight entertainment systems you are truly spoiling us.
I did watch Goldeneye, though, as I was curious to see if it was still as bad as I remembered. Yup - pretty much. Although this time round I definitely enjoyed it a lot more. Alan Cumming, Sean Bean, Judy Dench, Desmond Llywellyn and Robbie Coltrane: "Walther PPK 7.65. Only 3 men I know of use that weapon - and I believe I've killed two of them." Heh. Excellent series of gags in the scene with Q, too: the BT phonebox airbag and Q's sandwich ("Don't touch that - It's my lunch!") It was a very heavily edited version, though, denying me the pleasure of seeing Famke Janssen attempting to cvush her adwersaries betveen her thighs - damn.
I also watched Heartbreakers, which could so easily have been appalling. Instead it was very watchable; Gene Hackman in particular had me in stitches. Hack cough cough.
Good grief what a long flight, though. Touched down at Narita after something like fourteen hours; straight through immigration (not everybody realises that if you have resident status in Japan, even on a foreign passport, you can use the much faster "Japanese citizens" counters) and jump on the first express back to Shinjuku. Home.
Stayed up till about 11pm and then collapsed. Mercifully, no jetlag the next day - none at all, actually. My tactic of just staying up and making it a very long day indeed seems to have paid off again. One school of thought says that you should set your watch to your destination's time zone when you board the plane, and then go to sleep pretty much straightaway if it's nighttime at your destination. I, on the other hand, set my watch to destination time and then just stay awake. I never try to convince my body that it should be sleeping when it knows better. Stay awake even if it means you have a 37-hour day rather than the usual 24; that way, by the time you finally reach your destination and allow yourself to go to bed at a sensible hour, local time, you *will* be tired enough to sleep, even though a confused part of you reckons it's 10am. Works for me.
Posted by chris at 02:57 PM | Permalink
July 17, 2001
NY Trip Retroblog: Saturday July 7th
NY Trip Retroblog: Saturday July 7th
From Noo Yoick to Joe-ja
What a difference an hour-and-a-half flight makes. From New York, where everyone is pencil thin, is clad in labels and eats sushi, to Georgia, where people are built more like small escarpments, drape themselves in massive sheets of elasticated polyester sportswear and don't eat anything unless it's been deep-fried for a couple of months.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We caught a cab out to La Guardia, and I checked in for the flight down to Atlanta. Check-in was painless, if functional; then it was "au revoir" time, which was less painless, and far less functional.
Got a window seat on the right-hand side of the cabin, which turned out to be a very good thing indeed. Track 2 on Underworld's essential Dubnobasswithmyheadman album is called MMM Skyscraper I Love You and I've heard it was written after Karl Hyde saw New York from the air. The weather was perfect and the view absolutely spectacular as we blasted into the sky, parallel with the East River, Manhattan's blocks scrolling past us. Then we banked across the water, over the white-trailing powerboats and a helicopter passing far below, rotors twirling like a bright white sycamore pod. It certainly made me want to craft a seminal techno album on the spot, but I settled for grinning madly instead.
The flight was fine, even if the cabin staff were rather brittle. If you spend your working life saying "thank you" to people as you shuffle up and down a two-foot-wide aisle, collecting people's trash and dirty crockery, then I suppose it's difficult to sound sincere every time. All the same, I hadn't realised that "allllllrightythankyou" was all one word. I found myself thinking of Fight Club.
97 minutes and one civil war further south, I landed in Atlanta. The view from the air on the way in was impressive, then worrying. Hectare after hectare of neatly laid out residential estates, set in copious woodland. It all looked very pleasant, anyway, and it's nice that they have the space to develop the area without overrunning it, I thought - then changed my mind.
As we neared the airport, there seemed to be more and more estates being built, closer and closer together, and the developing started outnumbering the developed. I saw huge tracts of woodland with sketched-out roads already etched through them, waiting for the bulldozers to move in. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm a fan of cities. I'm all for urban development, and big cities make for interesting and diverse cities... unless they're composed entirely of suburbs. Not even suburbs; it struck me that none of these houses were near anything - except each other. No shops or facilities within walking distance or even short driving distance, no hubs tying these uniformly spaced acres of houses together, no geography of community - not visible from the air, anyway.
My fears concerning the overall sameness of the sprawling suburbs were later confirmed; all the roads in the area where my uncle lives are called either Peachtree or Roswell. What's more worrying is that when he tells people he lives "on Peachtree, between Peachtree and Peachtree", they understand.
I was met as I came through the gate; I had forgotten that they let the riff-raff through as far as the departure lounge in the States. Family strife aside, it was nice to see everyone again. [Background information: my uncle is divorced and now lives in Atlanta. Two of my cousins happened to be visiting him the same week I was due to be in New York; hence my quick detour to Atlanta before returning to Tokyo.]
The contrast with New York, as I said earlier, was striking. Suddenly I was in the America of wide highways, air-conditioned SUVs, excess greenery and shopping malls set in the middle of car parks the size of Belgium, all familiar scenery from childhood family holidays. I had a quick history lesson as we headed towards the centre of Atlanta; we were driving through real Martin Luther King country, I learned. Naively, I was surprised to hear just how much racial segregation there was, even today; they made it sound like two very separate communities cohabiting the same city, side by side but without interaction.
My uncle is working as an obstetrician, and he had some rather unfortunate stories about some of the names that the mothers he had met bestowed upon their children:
- A Mrs. Davidson who named her son Harley - and not because she liked the make of bike; she honestly hadn't realised until my uncle pointed it out to her.
- A woman who named her son (phonetically) "LeMONgelo", with the stress on the "mon", a bit like "Di Angelo". Sounds okay, perhaps - you could imagine him presenting a late-night talk show, anyway - were it not for the way the name was spelled. She had eaten a lot of lemon jello during her pregnancy... you can see where this is going, now, can't you? That's right; the kid's name was actually spelled "Lemonjello". I kid ye not.
- A woman who named her daughter (phonetically) "Shi-THAID", a bit like "Sinead". Think for a second about how you might spell that, though. Got it yet? Uh-huh. That's right - poor kid.
But this was nothing compared to what some of the man-mountains around me were putting away. There's nothing wrong with being, er, fat. Apart from possible self-esteem problems, of course, but that's society's fault rather than yours, really. But being so fat that you need a crane to stand up - that's not good. I mean, it can't be healthy, for starters. I had Onion story after Onion story after Onion story running through my mind at this point.
It struck me how perfectly geared towards producing and catering for obscenely overweight people this society had become. You build a large restaurant rather than a small one because you have the space to do so. Because you buy food wholesale for your big restaurant, and because American food prices are really low anyway, because the farms are so big, you can charge your customers low prices, encouraging them to eat larger meals. Everyone drives to your big restaurant because they live so far away - hell, it's all they can do to walk the hundred metres needed to do one lap of the pot roast counter - and they eat big portions. Big country leads to big restaurants, leads to big meals, leads to big people.
The people are getting bigger but the country, obviously, isn't (psst, George! invade Canada, go on) - so what's going to happen in a few hundred years, when the average American is the size of Mount Rushmore? Surely the country's just going to pop, splattering Canada, Mexico and liberal swathes of ocean with massive globs of fat (Fight Club again), SUV parts and fanny packs the size of circus marquees. I'm betting the tsunami will wipe out most of the Pacific Rim, Central and South America, and the western European and African seaboards, making Afghanistan, paradoxically, one of the safer places in the world to observe from.
We did a bit of shopping; I bought some trainers, some software and some 35mm film for the Olympus. It was 8:55 in the evening and the teenager behind the counter of the weakly-lit Electronics Boutique, buried deep in the windowless mall, was wearing mirrored aviator shades. He got my change wrong, and then even forgot to give me my damn shopping. Christ. I thought about asking him how many fingers I was holding up (the correct answer would have been one), but let it pass. I was on holiday, after all. The guy in the camera shop was really friendly and knowledgeable, though, restoring at a stroke my faith in American customer service. A real conversation beats a polite irasshaimase any day.
Back home to shoot some pool with cousins Rob and Jane; then Rob and I put some CDs on and I tried to squeeze all the American candy I had bought for omiyage into my luggage - no mean feat - before falling asleep, exhausted but happy. I am Jack's warm feeling of contentment.
Posted by chris at 02:18 AM | Permalink
July 15, 2001
NY Trip Retroblog: Friday July 6th
NY Trip Retroblog: Friday July 6th
It's Friday I'm in New York
Friday was my last day to get the touristy things I'd been neglecting done. I had the vague notion that I could fit in the Guggenheim, the MoMA and the UN buildings in a single day. This might well have been the case, but I didn't do my scheduling any favours by staying in bed until lunchtime (and we're talking a late lunch here, folks).
Besides, by the time I got back to Jon's, he'd come up with the idea of going up to the roof of the Met for drinks that evening, so something had to give. Scratch one UN buildings tour; I'm sure Kofi would understand.
And so I caught the subway uptown to 86th street and walked across to the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue. The striking museum building itself was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the main rotunda looks not unlike a giant turban from the outside, with a six-storey spiral ramp display space leading all the way up to the glass dome - like a giant Archimedes screw.
The main reason I wanted to get to the Guggenheim was for the Frank Gehry exhibit, and it was indeed pretty awesome. Frank Gehry is the architect responsible for the Bilbao Guggenheim - the big shimmering wobbly silver building at the beginning of The World is Not Enough, for those of you who reference your entire lives through Bond movies.
The displays included lots of design-process models (ranging from seemingly haphazard piles of rough wooden blocks to fully-detailed mockups), photography, video, sketches, blueprints and CAD schematics. The CATIA printouts were fascinating, actually; it's a 3D modelling environment designed for the French military (yes, they do have one) but also used in Formula 1 engine and chassis design, among other things.
It was warm and sunny, so I headed outside at about four to wait for Bethany, who was going to tag along to MoMA with me. Some thoughtlessly loud (sorry, "decorum-challenged") American woman was chatting to a group of street-dressed twenty-somethings: "OH! WHERE ARE YOU FROM? IRELAND! WOW! IRELAND! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? VISITING THE MUSEUM? THAT'S AMAZING!" so I went back inside to browse the shop before I did any damage ("WOW! YOU'RE AMERICAN? NO WAY! WOW! HOW DID I KNOW? I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I KNEW! I GUESS I MUST BE F**KING PSYCHIC! WOW!")
Bethany and I headed into Central Park, planning to wander in the vague direction of MoMA. After a slight false start (lots of road, not much park) we managed to find softball diamonds, basketball courts, joggers, horses, bridges, Narnia-style lampposts, turtle ponds, expansive lawns and oddball meteorological castles. I suppose I had an idea of what to expect - we've all seen it in movies and on TV so many times, after all - but it was still surprising to see how varied the terrain was.
It certainly puts Tokyo to shame, anyway; I think I've quoted this statistic before, but if you add up the parkland of Tokyo's four central wards, they come to a less-than-whopping 38% of Central Park's area - and Manhattan has a higher population density to boot. Which reminds me: Mid-Tokyo have started another series of Flash anims - check'em out.
We gave up on MoMA (it'll be there next time, I'm sure) and vegged out on a grassy hillside instead, watching the clouds scroll by. Again, lazing in Central Park with attractive members of the opposite sex wasn't something I saw myself doing during my trip (indeed, I think I specifically answered "no" to the "are you entering the United States with intent to engage in terrorist activity by lazing in Central Park with attractive American women?" question on the visa waiver form) but it was (I know - unbelievable!) one of the absolute highlights of the week.
And so to the Met. Not to see any of the actual exhibits, you understand - although you have to walk through a few rooms to get to the roof elevators - but up to the roof garden, the bar, and the view. As Jon had warned, it was a bit yuppified, but with the setting sun horizontally lighting the facades of the buildings along the east edge of the park, we managed to zone out the hordes of identically clad investment bankers and enjoy the view out over the park - very nice. We got a couple of photos, too. Aaaah.
Dinner was a sushi restaurant called Sandobe; ordered the A-set and discovered that the American philosophy of serving-sizes also extends to their Japanese restaurants. Christ what a lot of fish. I'm pretty sure I got twice as much as I ordered, but seeing as I didn't get charged for it, I'm not complaining. I tried a sushi roll (Californian invention, I think) for the first time. Avocado - no! Really really cold, flavourless rice - no! Really really cold, flavourless rice on the outside - double no! So, that was less than impressive. The miso soup was good, though (wonder how many people I freaked out by drinking it straight from the bowl... hmmm...) and the sushi was fine too, even if the nigiri rice pats were maddeningly small.
How could I tell that Sandobe wasn't very authentic? Three things. One: no chopstick rests. Two: lanterns advertising ramen on the outside, no ramen on the menu inside. Three: no Japanese customers. Contrast that with our next stop, Decibel.
This basement sake bar not only had truly Japanese staff (i.e. Japanese-Japanese, not Japanese-American) but truly Japanese clientele - maybe as many as half the punters looked like they'd just finished a hard day's browsing around the backstreets of Omotesando. Dark, loud (the bar, not the clientele) and stocking dozens of different brands of sake, give it a try if you get the chance. Personally, I like my sake like I like my women... hot. And strongly alcoholic. And, um, in a thin-necked flask. Maybe I'll stop this train of thought now.
There was a discussion of, and much tomfoolery with, digital cameras, and Megan commented (I could tell she was being polite) on my bare-bones Kodak APS (what? you didn't think Kodak made cameras? me neither - probably because they're not very good at it). Something about the way she said it spoke of authority, and so I reached into my bag and pulled out the Olympus; Megan's jaw nearly hit the table. Thought so.
My mum's OM-2 is about as old as I am (1975 was a damn good year), and it's a lovely camera. I'm still not much good with it yet, and I definitely need something other than the fixed-angle lens I've got at the moment, but the extra effort makes it rewarding to use. (All the photos in the gallery section were taken with it, for starters.) Megan turned out, as suspected, to be a semi-professional photographer - and she used to own an OM-1. She actually wanted to lick my (camera) body - not the kind of offer I get every day.
Our 70's technofetishism sated, we all moved next door to a VERY LOUD BAR; damn cool though. Totally blacked out windows with a single kanji (the one for alcohol, see right) at about knee height right in one corner. Dark and hermetically sealed; so, what was it called? Openair.
Ethan had to head home so we were left with me, Swerd, Bethany, Louisa, Megan and some ace flatscreen visuals on the walls of the bar. The DJ was actually really damn good; I suppose if I were in genrewhore mode I'd say it was tech-house, which is essentially a bullshit genre invented by, if Jockey Slut is to be believed, Mr. C and a bunch of other British DJs. You could think of it as techno that would like to be a bit hipper, or alternatively house music that would like to be taken a bit more seriously; either way, it can only be a good thing. Comfy sofas and a practically deserted back room meant that we had plenty of space to strut our collective stuff and enjoy Louisa's phenomenal talent for aping any particular dance style you care to mention; she and Nige are the only two people I've met who can do it so convincingly. Attagirl. Her Cameron Diaz Soul Train robot dance was the best.
I had to leave to make sure I got at least a shot at a decent night's sleep before my flight to Atlanta the next day, so Jon and I popped outside for an emotional farewell (I think we both just sort of mumbled a bit and tried not to cry too much), then Bethany and I swung by Swerd's place to pick up my rucksack before catching a cab back to hers. Well, y'see, Jon was planning to roll in much later and I didn't want him waking me up at 4am... and she lives nearer the airport than he does, and... um... she has a nicer CD collection... the air is cleaner further uptown... oh, okay, you get the picture.
The (Indian, perhaps) taxi driver was hilarious - he asked me if I was British, and I'm glad that I didn't do what I normally do in these situations and pretend to be [insert spurious nationality here], because he had a great anecdote about some long-winded Brits he'd had in his cab the week before. "They must have worked for the United Nations, because they talked for an hour and couldn't decide one thing".
He asked why we preface all our questions with so many "If you don't mind"s, "I wonder if you could tell me"s and "I don't mean to cause a fuss"es - so I told him that it's all to do with how expensive the school you go to is. If your parents pay for you to go to Eton or Charterhouse, then they expect long sentences for their money, whereas state school pupils can get away with monosyllables. Simple. Mine was only a middle-ranking independent school, so that's why I was relatively intelligible but prone to waffling after a few glasses of sherry. Seemed to be the right answer. Someone who shall remain nameless (but she answers to the call of "Bethany") thought the whole thing was hilarious, anyway - damn colonials.
I showed her who was boss, though - put on Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada when we got back to her place. Scottish ambient techno as an instrument of British colonial terror - if only they'd tried that back in 1775, things might have turned out very differently.
Posted by chris at 06:50 PM | Permalink
July 12, 2001
NY Trip Retroblog: Thursday July 5th
Walk like a Newyorkian
On Thursday morning, Jon took me on a walking tour of his neighbourhood. We meandered through the East Village, NoLiTa ("North of Little Italy"), the Lower East Side, SoHo ("South of Houston") and over to the South Street Seaport. It was interesting to get an insider's perspective on the various areas, and Jon makes a knowledgeable guide. His analysis was as follows:
- NoLiTa: Overpriced shopping, formerly Italian
- Lower East Side: Overpriced shopping, formerly Jewish
- SoHo: Overpriced mall, formerly artists
- South Street Seaport: Overpriced mall, formerly mafia
The South Street Seafront mall was rather nasty. The shops, clientele and food court upstairs all served to remind me of the Harlequin Centre back in good old Watford; semi-smart clothes shops, nothing too adventurous, alternative or leftfield. Loads of Japanese shopper tourists, young Tokyoite girls in their eighties spray-on jeans and three-inch wide slanted belts.
Admittedly, Watford has far fewer day-trip parties of six-year-old Hasidic Jews being marched in and out of its shopping centre restrooms by exasperated rabbi supervisors ("Get in two lines! Is that a line? Do you call that a line?" etc). We were sitting outside the restrooms, nursing our respective digestive systems (Jon: "I can't go in there yet. Give me five minutes.") when the first party of twenty or so went in (Jon: "Damn") followed by a second (Jon: "Double damn. I'm going in. Now.") and then a third. I caught myself idly speculating how much care goes into maintaining their sideburns, and had to laugh at myself. Confronted with this image of devout orthodox religion, and I wonder how they do their hair. I'm such a valley girl.
Wound up eventually at Wall Street, from whence Jon left for a CrossPathCulture meeting and I headed up to the World Trade Center. The queue for the southern tower observatory looked fearsome (later heard it would have taken about one-and-a-half to two hours) so I tried the other building instead.
The only-slightly-overpriced restaurant on the 107th floor was more than adequate, and had the advantage of being totally queue-free. The only downer was the visibility (not great) and the fact that there was no north-facing view, ie up towards the Empire State building, Midtown and so on. Still - excellent views of Brooklyn across the East River. Tried to work out which rooftop we'd been on the night before, with very little success; one converted warehouse condo looks pretty much the same as the next from a mile-and-a-half away.
Back up to Jon's to rendezvous with him after his CPC meeting, which went well. He appeared to have escaped without having physical injury inflicted upon him, at least - unlike the previous meeting. One of the artists whose work CPC are showcasing creates what could charitably be described as "3D latticeworks of pointed sticks". These things require careful hanging lest your lawyer stand up from the conference table too fast and impale his forehead on one of them. Of course, they know this now; a pity for Jon they had to find out the hard way. Proof, if proof were needed, that culture is bad for you.
From there we swung up to Union Square to see De La Guarda, which I was massively looking forward to. Bethany and Morgan had agreed to come along as well so we sat on the steps of the theatre, waiting for them to arrive and watching the New York crowds pass us by.
A trio of very impressively pierced gothpunks walked by, and here is the snatch of their conversation we couldn't help but overhear:
girl (shouting uneccessarily loudly): "WHAT?"
guy (shouting REALLY CLEARLY NOW): "I WANT you to PISS in my MOUTH!"
De La Guarda was simply superb, frenetic, awesome. Performance art the way it should be; inventive, powerful, irreverant and involving. With a techno soundtrack. And lots of running up walls. And Eric Stoltz (well, he was in the audience that night, but your mileage may vary). I cannot recommend it highly enough, so I'll stop trying. Go see it; my work here is done.
Pizza was next, followed by a patented Swerdloff beats crawl, ie a pub crawl of DJ bars. I was on autopilot, following Jon; I can say without a shadow of a doubt, however, that the East Village has far too many excellent bars to be entirely healthy. The three we sampled were, I am reliably informed, Standard, Drinkland and, finally, Plant. And then there's the ones that we didn't go to, specifically Guernica, NW3, Parlay and somewhere called Orchard.
I also didn't go into Coyote Ugly. I noticed it a little way down the street - hadn't realised it was actually a really real place and not just a really bad film. I peered in through the window to see, sure enough, a bartender in a low-cut top striding along the top of the bar.
me (having a quick scan around the practically empty, bad-rock'n'roll-saturated room): "No!"
Conversation topics that night included, but were not limited to: the gymnastic possibilities of dating someone from De La Guarda, the sexual predilictions of Tory MPs (and Republican congressmen), the films of Eric Stoltz, nuances of British and American vowel sounds and handy shorthands for pointing out to your friends attractive members of the opposite sex. I favour the versatile clockface-range-rating system; Andrew's version, now that I think about it, was impressively binary: point at member of opposite sex and say "0" or "1". Who said that geeks were awkward or clumsy around women? What rot.
Jon was wondering if a Dominican girl he knew was going to show up; I got chatting to Marcos, who showed up briefly to say hi, and Morgan and Bethany were busy inventing new variations on the "slap that ass" dance. The three I remember were "support that ass", "buff that ass" and, worryingly, "shock that ass" ("Clear!"). Buy me a drink sometime and I might be persuaded to recreate the actions for you.
As the night flowed, a few people started dancing... christ knows I can't talk (or dance, actually), but there were definitely some rather odd movements going down on the floor. It all made for excellent people watching, anyway - especially the chap who appeared to have his knees and elbows wired up the wrong way.
After an unexpected sojourn in the restroom (stoppit, nothing kinky, it just happened to get a little crowded at one point) we moved onto Tribe for final nightcaps. It was late, so I have but the vaguest memories of the music... George Michael and Michael Jackson... or was it George Jackson? Actually, come to think of it, the two guys Swerd met there were also called George and Michael. One each, rather than the two of them both being called "George and Michael". That would just have been odd - "Hi, I'm George'n Michael." Anyway.
It was an excellent evening, all things considered. Jon is of course ace, Marcos was a riot (and totally unlike how I expected him to be) and I got on really well with Morgan too. I also had a great time talking to (not to mention flirting with) the superb Bethany in particular; Jon, you have fine friends.
Yellowcabbing through the streets of Manhattan, blurred handheld camera footage of street scenes, Massive Attack and bed. I happen to love New York.
Posted by chris at 05:03 PM | Permalink
NY Trip Retroblog: Wednesday July 4th
NY Trip Retroblog: Wednesday July 4th
Zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow
Now, going to the zoo was not one of the things I envisaged doing on my trip to New York. Neck-ache-inducing skyscrapers and vertiginous views, yes. Bustling bars and unchecked alcoholism, also yes. Bored baboons and cramped crocodiles, err... not really.
But the friends of Swerd's whom we met on Tuesday night were already planning to go, and it sounded like it could be fun, and we needed something to do on July fourth, and I'm not going to make any more excuses because it was ace, alright? Good.
I was feeling a little, er, delicate after the previous night's boozefest so I forsook (forsookt? forsuck? forsooth?) the disco fries (Morgan is far braver than me), the penne in vodka sauce (southern Italian dining meets Slavic staple in New York shocker) and whatever the hell it was that Aaron was eating (potato / onion lasagne rug thing) and opted for toast. Ah, toast. It's like bread, only stiffer. Even that was too much, actually - not a promising start to the morning.
Discovered that Americans have an acronym for everything; I call it "the shits", they call it IBS. Go figure. The less said about that, the better.
We rode the subway out to the Bronx Zoo, and joined the hordes strolling around poking the animals with sticks. I'm not kidding. People were actually taking branches off nearby trees and poking them through the cages at the ickle monkeys. Fuckwits. It would be easy to put that one down to a "huh, kids these days" knee-jerk reaction were it not for the fact that we were talking about swarthy Hispanic middle-aged bloaters in baseball caps and fanny packs.
And yes, I was able to resist the urge to giggle in a puerile fashion whenever anyone said "fanny pack". Just. (snigger)
The zoo was excellent - for us, anyway, but at least we got to leave at the end of the day, unlike the animals. The debate about whether or not it's right to keep animals in captivity aside, if you're going to visit a zoo then you could do a lot worse than the Bronx one. It was huge, the animals seemed to have plenty of space, plus the zoo clearly had a lot of conservation and reintroduction-to-the-wild schemes going on. If only they could spare an area (a small, claustrophobic one would do) for a new "fuckwits with sticks" exhibit, then it would be practically perfect.
The contrast with Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, which I visited a couple of years ago, was striking. Ueno is terrible, really. Concrete everywhere, space constraints and overcrowding. And that's just for the human visitors - the animals have it even worse.
The bears were cool, the peacocks quite striking, and the supercool hanging monkey in the rainforest was tops. He was just hanging by one hand from a liana, fifteen metres up, just dangling there, watching us all watching him. Then with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders he swung off through the trees. I was very envious - but not so envious that I'd sacrifice, say, being human for being able to do that. Jon decided that the giraffes were a lot like most models he's met: tall, graceful, slow walkers, "difficulty getting blood to the brain". It was hard to tell if they were insincere or not, though. Not sure how Paul Simon arrived at that conclusion.
By this time, plans for the evening's celebrations were hotting up. We were invited to a bring-your-own barbeque on Dori's roof in Williamsburg, so we sped back into Manhattan, where Jon proceeded to have panic attacks over how to make the perfect fajitas.
Arrive at flat. Check internet for fajita recipes. Realise we have NO relevant ingredients. Compile shopping list. Pack paper plates, Ziploc bags and napkins (I'm sorry, "serviettes"). Change mind - decide on burgers after all. Go to supermarket. Try to find burger ingredients. Dismiss burgers. Start picking up fajita ingredients instead. Dismiss fajitas. Acquire hot dog materiel instead. Stop. Ponder. Put hot dogs back, reformulate fajita plan. Realise that this will require going back to apartment to mix seasoning.
If, heaven forbid, I ever find myself in trouble with the law in the States, I want this kid on my defence team. Just seeing the amount of effort he was prepared to put into turning barbeque fajitas into cuisine left me in no doubt about the future success of his burgeoning legal practice. He is not, however, the kind to say, "oh sod it, let's just make futsu burgers". Why? Because futsu burgers have but two ingredients: burgers and buns. I love him dearly, but, as I'm sure he'd be the first to agree, he's in serious need of chillage occasionally. "It would be bad to miss the fireworks," he said at one point, "but it would be terrible to mess this up", pointing at the shopping bag. Bethany and I traded a look.
So my overriding memory from the Fourth of July is of myself and Bethany, huddling under an umbrella on an East Village street corner in the torrential rain, holding two bags of booze and a number of fajita components, waiting for Jon to dash to his apartment and back with the magic seasoning, laughing gently at the ludicrosity of it all but looking forward to the exquisite rooftop fajitas.
Jon arrived and we headed to catch the subway out to Brooklyn. If it's all such a hassle, I asked, why don't we just get a taxi? Jon and Bethany just looked at me. Ah. Like that, is it? I now understand that asking a Manhattan taxi driver to take you to Brooklyn, even at 8pm, is a bit like asking a London cabbie for a lift south of the river after midnight. "You're jokin, incha? Cor blimey guv" etc.
Dori lives in a converted warehouse next to the East River, and after a bit of a trek we made our way up twelve storeys to the roof, along with 200 or so other people and a view that I hope I don't forget in a hurry. It had stopped raining, but was still very overcast; even so, the lights of Manhattan and the armada of cruise ships and powerboats spread out underneath us were spectacular.
The East River fireworks didn't start for a while; instead we could only catch flashes of the Jersey ones, illuminating the low cloud between the silhouettes of the Manhattan skyscrapers with anti-aircraft artillery flashes - Gulf War imagery transposed onto the New York skyline.
The fireworks were pretty damn good, even if the tops were sometimes truncated by the cloudcover (and I certainly wasn't about to say "well, of course, I've seen Japanese displays that were far superior" in a British accent) and it was such a superb, surreal setting. Possibly the strangest thing was the Jewish bouncer, complete with rolled-up white shirt sleeves, yarmulke (skullcap) and peyis (sideburns), standing on top of one of the rooftop structures to prevent drunkards climbing up and hurting themselves, while helicopters buzzed overhead and trendy new media types milled around on our and surrounding roofs. Just awesome.
I considered affecting a South African accent for the evening, but decided that I'd probably tire of people asking me which part of Australia I came from (I can never keep it going long enough to be totally convincing). Thankfully, comments on my Britishness were kept to an absolute minimum - no need for any of the pithy comebacks I had prepared earlier. Born in Canada, raised in the UK, living in Japan, global citizen; I personally couldn't care less about our two countries' relative histories, but I was half-expecting that all-too-familiar brand of American "patriotism" - the one that involves lots of whooping - to surface in some form.
I met the excellent Andrew and we chatted extensively (shockwave, console gaming, MegaTokyo, Japanimation, manga, high technology and low-brow culture); he then left to get his fire-spinning equipment ready (seriously), but the rain intervened and everyone darted back downstairs. Except us. Swerd, Andrew, Bethany and I were left standing on the roof amid the downpour, drinking spiked vodka alcopops under our umbrellas as the thunder picked up and lightning started coming down.
Out of the rain came Vanessa, a tiny mad blonde girl with a thing for Welsh accents; we grabbed the remainder of the barbeque chicken and headed downstairs to Dori's, AIM'ed briefly with Ethan, coerced him into coming out to meet us and then left for Last Exit, only to find that the only thing harder than finding a cab willing to take you to Brooklyn late at night is finding a cab already in Brooklyn late at night.
Finally flagged down a livery cab (read: normal car driven by a couple of dodgy-looking dudes) and wound up at Last Exit, where Ethan's girlfriend, Louisa, tends bar. Some guy on crutches appeared to be having trouble with his fine motor control; I heard him break two glasses in the space of half an hour. Truly this was a day of fuckwits with sticks (in fact, if we count the guys at the pool table the previous night, then I think I'm starting to see a theme here).
It's a nice bar with comfy sofas, and Louisa is a lovely person who mixes a delicious cocktail. More chattage with Andrew, Ethan and Bethany and then back to the mainland (heh) by Magical Appearing Taxi. Ethan says, "you need a cab?", stops, sniffs the air, bounds along the sidewalk to the nearest corner, holds up one hand, and lo! A yellowcab screeches to an immediate halt in front of him. The kid's a savant.
Back to Swerd's flat to meet the long-anticipated and rather sleepy Meghan. Grabbed some floorspace and sank into a quality snooze, my mind's flywheel gradually slowing down, dropping off into memories of the nocturnal exhibit at the zoo, fireworks over the East River and large orthodox Jewish security staff. So varied, so cool, so... New York.
And the fajitas? After all that we left them, uncooked, as a present for Dori. Too much like hard work.
Posted by chris at 11:01 AM | Permalink
July 10, 2001
NY Trip Retroblog: Tuesday July 3rd
NY Trip Retroblog: Tuesday July 3rd
Altitude adjustment and silky skills
Leaving Swerd to tidy his flat and sort out some lawyery stuff (please forgive the technical legal jargon). I jumped on the subway and headed north to the only thing really high on my list of tourist activities: The Empire State Building, also known as "The Empire f**king State Building, baby". Wow. It is, of course, basically just a very, very tall building but, even so, the weather was gorgeous and the view spectacular. Central Park lies to the north, as do the skyscrapers of Midtown; to the south is the skyscraper cluster of the financial district, including that quintessential NY landmark, the World Trade Center. Brooklyn and Queens to the east, Noo Joizey to the west. And in the middle of it all, me with a large grin on my face.
The first subway train I got on, actually, was another NY moment. An orthodox jew, reading a Hebrew text, sat on the bench opposite me. It was a scene straight out of Pi, and I was half expecting to find a throbbing human brain on the steps up from the platform at the next stop, but sadly not. I would have grinned, but I was too busy keeping my head down, trying to look like a nonchalant local and not a clueless tourist.
Next was Macy's, Madison Square Garden and the Jacob K. Javits (sounds a bit like Lenny Kravitz) Convention Center (girders and struts, the whole thing). Wandering the streets was great - no particular plan, no schedule, no hassle. It just felt nice to be a part (however fresh-faced and transitory) of a different city, orienting myself slowly, getting a feel for the grid system. Boy could Tokyo do with a street-naming convention like that - almost any effing system at all would be a start, actually. Then I caught the F-train (F for funky) back to Jon's, where he was busy configuring Betsy's new iBook. Hi Betsy.
Then something very exciting happened. We went up to Union Square for a bit of people-watching, only for me to discover that de la Guarda were playing at the Daryl Roth Theatre. Nigel raved about these guys after seeing them twice in London a couple of years ago. He mentioned getting home to discover a plastic toy aeroplane lodged in his shirt pocket, which is good enough for me. I hadn't realised they were based in NY, so that was pure serendipity at work. Bought two tickets for Thursday night, and rolled on our way. Smile increasing steadliy.
Went to Spa for a "networking" event supposedly sponsored by some new media organisation. There was a free bar - somewhere in front of the massive throng of people trying desperately to get to it, anyway, but no noticeable networking. Arse. I had my "yes, I'm missing my First Tuesday meeting to be here, y'know" line all worked out, but to no avail.
We decided not to bother with the queues and just waited for the freeness to end. Sure enough, the crowds thinned shortly afterwards. ("You mean I have to pay? Awww, damn.") I did distinctly see one guy introduce another guy to a third guy, though, so maybe the place wasn't entirely full of seventeen-year-olds with faked IDs, marvelling at their luck on wandering in on a free bar. Jon had a schmooze with a wireless guy, too, so it wasn't completely a lost cause. We put it down to the death of dotcom and moved on.
On to No Idea (tagline: "What did you do last night?" "No Idea!" a-haaar - geddit? Thought so) to meet some Swerdpals: Aaron, Chris (a she-Chris), Bethany and Morgan, all of whom were in the back room, dominating the pool table and making ass-slapping movements. Fun.
I teamed up with Jon and we added our names to the winner-stays-on list. Morgan and Bethany were playing against a couple of pricks, real dickheads. Pop quiz: You're playing against a couple of girls who appear to have the normal number of ears between them and are fair, if not phenomenal pool players. Do you a) just play them b) take the piss out of them within clear earshot? If you answered (b), then you deserve to have people take exception. Jon and I stepped up against them, and I have to say that we rather whipped the shit out of them. I'm not that great at pool, but I do have my moments - and I especially love taking down the arrogant ones. Then we must have lost to Aaron and Chris, both of whom are excellent players.
I think we came up against the same wankers as before a bit later, but my memory of the exact order of things is a little blurred. I played one dull safety shot in that game, rather than risk fouling, and dickwad #1 said something like, "What, do you file that under 'P' for pussy shot?" I bit my tongue, then he missed possibly the easiest shot in the world. I asked him rather sweetly where I could find that in the filing cabinet. God, my rapier wit will get me in trouble one of these days. Jon in particular surprised himself by playing out of his skin and making two lovely shots in a row to take us to the 8-ball, which he then doubled straight into the middle pocket. Attaboy and buh-bye again, assholes.
We played them a third time, I know, by which time we were really trying to leave. I got a number of nice shots, took us to a nasty cut on the black, sank it without hesitation... only for the frigging white to go in off two cushions. Damn. A present for the assholes. Jon and the others were like, "Excellent! Now we go before we get in a fight, Chris... nice one, by the way, genius shot... very elegant... this way... very good... say bye-bye to the nice wankers" but it would have been so sweet to win and then just concede the table. Jon was more than happy with losing the match to get us out of there, so we left - or rather the group left, dragging me with it - muttering to myself, I shouldn't wonder.
A very good night, though, ending as we did with a drink at Tribe and a plan to join Aaron, Bethany and Morgan on a trip to the Bronx Zoo the next day. More about that tomorrow. I can feel the jetlag starting to kick in... yaaaaawwwwwwn... g'night.
Posted by chris at 11:23 PM | Permalink
NY Trip Retroblog: Monday July 2nd
NY Trip Retroblog: Monday July 2nd
A twelve-hour flight finds our hero arriving at JFK airport. I made the point of asking for an exit-row seat at check-in, and it paid off. I'm only 5ft 10in, so I'm sure others have more need of the extra legroom than I do but hey - I'm not going to apologise for being wily.
They only had Japanese-language I-94W visa waiver forms on the plane, so I needed to pick one up before hitting immigration. There was an official yelling instructions to the flow of passengers - "US citizens! Along the wall to your right! Other passports! Straight ahead!" so I thought she'd be the person to ask.
Me: "Excuse me..."
Yelling Lady: "You cannot stand here! Sir! You have to move along!"
Me: (brightly) "Thank you!"
Bitch. Located a counter of forms myself, but it served as a handy reminder of the US immigration official mindset. As I filled in the form I wondered how many would-be suicide bombers they catch out each year with the "Are you intending to enter the United States to engage in terrorist activity?" question.
The taxi ride in was ace. I just sat, soaking up the sights, thrilled to be in an English-speaking environment again. The key to your mortgage is here! Total Security Protection Services! Bail bonds, free checking, no turn, left turn, stop, go, Long Island, House of Waffles, for all your funeral needs.
The tips of the Manhattan skyline came into view over the rise of the highway, and suddenly the road dropped away to reveal the full verticocity of the island's skyscrapers. They put me in mind of geometric lava formations, or a very neatly ordered concrete bamboo grove. Similes were never my strong point, I guess.
I dumped my stuff at Swerd's place and we headed out to Mooza, sitting on their garden terrace and sipping a Merlot. Excellent to see Jon again; I'd lost weight, apparently, but he was much the same as I remember - just more stressed, juggling clients and building up his legal practice.
His brain was fried from overwork, I'd been up for 45 hours straight (unless you count a couple of fitful naps on the plane, which I don't) so we mainly just sat and grinned at each other. It had been, what, five years? Good to see you again, pal.
We hit 7A for dinner and I was practically assaulted by the largest chicken salad I've ever seen. It won so we bagged it up, took it home and put it in the fridge for later. That showed it.
Drinks at Tribe, Jon's regular haunt. What a nice bar - dark, not too loud, strong drinks and friendly bar staff. Michael makes a mean Long Island iced tea, yo.
I got to meet Ethan, and then Kevin and Dakota turned up too. I didn't get a chance to chat to K&D much (er, at all, really) but Ethan and I had a laugh. We discussed a collaborative weblog that we've been threatening to set up for a while. We've got the technology, a name, contributors, but none of this little thing called "content". We decided that "content" sounded promising and that we should investigate further. I think it's like Bluetooth or something. Maybe we can buy shares, corner the market.
Ethan's new job is going to be as chief systems guy on an ocean-going research vessel sailing from Greece at the end of the month - wow. He gets to custom-build computer systems for disparate groups of scientists as they book floating lab time on the ship, which he was understandably very excited about. Attaboy and yo-ho-ho.
And so ended Monday: slumped in a happy heap on a floor in the East Village, dozing off to the sound of Underworld on mental loop: "Mmm, skyscraper; I love you..."
Posted by chris at 06:08 PM | Permalink
A week ago today...
So I've worked out what I'm going to do: retro-blog the whole week, one day at a time. It's Tuesday now, so I'll do Monday 2nd and Tuesday 3rd today, and then try and keep up day-to-day, thanks to the extensive notes on my Palm.
That's how I spent a lot of the 14-hour flight back from Atlanta to Tokyo, jotting down little events and happenings from the week gone by on my pda as they came to me, chuckling to myself. Some excellent kodachrome memories, for which I have to thank everyone I met over the week.
The write-up starts here.
Posted by chris at 12:49 PM | Permalink
July 04, 2001
Other highlights - Jonathan liked
Other highlights - Jonathan liked the kanji t-shirt I made for him. He must have one of the least Japanese names ever: "Swerdloff" becomes "su-wa-a-do-ro-fu", which I kanjified as "wa-hey!"
No, just kidding. I went for "master speak exalt anger furnace installment". It makes sense. Kind of. Just read the site.
More to come - much more. Laters.
Posted by chris at 11:31 PM | Permalink
Where the hell to start?
Where the hell to start? Mind you, it's probably a good thing I don't have internet access on my PDA, else you'd never hear the end of me.
New York is excellent and serving up a number of interesting sights already. Like the guy with the Japanese kanji for "peace" tattooed on his neck... written backwards. Not "heiwa", then, but "wa-hey!" I pointed this out to Swerd and now he won't stop saying wa-hey himself - which I don't mind at all. (NB Mr. tattooed guy - if kanji is written vertically, ie in columns, then it is indeed right-to-left. Horizontally, though, and it's left-to-right. Still, thank you for a good laugh.)
Posted by chris at 11:24 PM | Permalink
July 03, 2001
Nothing. I forgot nothing.
Nothing. I forgot nothing.
Just going to be brief: I'm here in New York, I like it already, the flight was fine, it's strange seeing so much written English on signs and so on, there are foreigners (ie non-Japanese) everywhere (go figure) and I am very excited. I don't feel jetlagged yet - give me till tomorrow.
More (much more) later...
Posted by chris at 02:12 PM | Permalink
June 30, 2001
What's a monster boat?
Swerdloff's merry readership have been hard at work suggesting things to keep me occupied with during the coming week in Noo Yoick - thanks guys, even if I have absolutely no idea what Dingo's going on about with this whole Guns'n'Roses monster boat thing. Sounds like a riot, anyway. All suggestions gratefully received...
Posted by chris at 11:29 PM | Permalink
June 29, 2001
Gas the flat
Shit. Running out of time. Got to get travel insurance (for my luggage) and dollars before Monday.... currency can probably wait till the airport, but insurance... probably not. Don't have to worry about Deep Dish tickets - they don't go on sale till next week. Have to ask Dave and Anita to pick a couple up for me instead. Also need to pack... damn. Have to wash some clothes first. And gas the flat.... damn. Need to buy large bin bags to protect the computer first. No time. Must pay city tax tomorrow, too. Arse. It would be so useful to be ill tomorrow... but no. That would be wrong. Helpful, but wrong. Damn.
I'm not panicked... just pressured.
Most important: 1) city tax; 2) insurance; 3) gas the flat. the rest will have to wait.
I'm just thinking out loud now, aren't I?
Posted by chris at 02:08 AM | Permalink
June 27, 2001
Note to self: things I need to do before leaving for NY:
- get traveller's cheques
- check my travel insurance
- gas my flat so the roaches don't move back in while I'm gone
- get tickets for deep dish next month
- pay my city tax
- burn a few CD-RWs of MP3s for Swerd
- get a haircut
- pack some clothes or something
- get hold of a copy of TONY for the plane
Posted by chris at 02:04 AM | Permalink
June 26, 2001
Okay, time to make an announcement - I'm going to New York next Monday. There - I said it.
From the 2nd to the 7th of July I'll be in the Big Apple, visiting the fair Swerdloff (dot com). Then I fly down to Atlanta for one night to link up with some journeying cousins before flying back to Tokyo on Sunday the 8th.
If it sounds like short notice, then it is. I've been threatening to inflict myself on Jonathan for months, but it came down to a snap decision late last week. Got the time off, phoned travel agent, bought tickets the next day. Apart from a brief but traumatic panic over visas, it couldn't have been much simpler.
So - got any suggestions?
Posted by chris at 09:17 PM | Permalink