Public Service Announcement

I’m bored of blogging. I know this didn’t take me very long at all, and I didn’t get through even a twentieth of all the wonderful music I wanted to post (no The Organ, no Jackson C Frank, aah you’re missing out), but you guys are lousy.*

See I’ve just worked out how to track your every move on my blog. I know that today (i.e. Saturday- its only 9pm for me) so far 47 individual computers have been on it, with a grand total of 82 visits. (I think that’s every time you click on a new page, but I’m not sure.) I even know  what country you’re reading it in. Yep honeeyz, its all very Orwellian.

I also know how much you click outbound links. Okay so the piece on the Famous Harlem Lesbians wasn’t popular, but you guys don’t even click on the songs! Bear in mind that the last song I posted I said I wanted to be played at my funeral. I said it was one of the best songs ever written. I said it was sung by Janis Joplin, and you all you were all completely informed of its wonderfully sexy name. I did a bit of analysis of the song to get you in the mood. I EVEN RELATED THE END OF THE POST TO VISITING THE CHELSEA HOTEL BEFORE I LEFT NEW YORK ONLY USING THAT SONG. That’s TRUE LIFE, kids, do you know how hard it is to string it into something coherent?

So the burning question on all of your tongues (I know you so well) is evidently, “How many people clicked on the Janis Joplin song? Out of those 47 people who went on my site, how many decided it might be worthwhile to even listen to the first 10 seconds. Well, patient reader, that question has an easy answer.  6. I don’t even know that means 6 people, in fact. The same person might have really liked the song, forgotten the name, and clicked on it 6 times. I mean,   my parents are reading this, and they’re ancient.**

This is upsetting. This is particularly upsetting because the reason why I was always the one who had the parties was supposed to be at least partly because I have about 2 feet of vinyl that people claimed to want to listen to. I think owning Vinyl is disgustingly cliched, and many of my records are the kind of things that only a mother could love, but you kept coming. Now it starts to look like we had parties in my room for three reasons 1) I had a very large roof which you could all drunkenly chuck glasses off 2) My room was such a tip, if you completely wrecked it I was unlikely to notice and 3) I was the only person you knew who would probably drink the half drunk bottles of beer/wine in the morning, and you’re all terrifically concerned about wastage.

I understand that the fact the walls were beautifully adorned with a poster of Hesperus and Phosphorous about to get it on (oh the joys of studying philosophy) and an utterly shameless brag about how I played a hipster music festival  when I was 15 might have influenced it. Yes and okay, I have the best parties, but I spent my life putting empty bottles in plastic bin bags (and yes, fine, I did check that they didn’t contain any last mouthfuls first.) My scout thought I was such a danger (at least partly because of the volume of bottles exiting my room) that she to0k an active interest in my sisters’ welfare when they came to stay with me, and suggested that they share a room with one of my friends instead.

I appreciate that my my writings are clearly brilliant and astoundingly interesting, but they are supposed to be accompanied by the music. In fact, without the title song, its hard to believe my ramblings about nothing much are of interest to anyone . But clearly you can’t even be bothered to click upon the Youtube URL that I so helpfully provided for you.

So I’ve concluded from all of this (what else can I conclude) that the real reason you all read my blog (including the guy in Brazil) is to check that I’m still alive. This is very sweet. I mean, most of you have had to tolerate me ranting about things for at least three years, for some of you lucky individuals it’s been something around 18. (No idea when kids start to speak), so clearly the most pressing issue is, will she live to rant another day? I’m not objecting, I’m just responding to feedback. So my blog is now morphing to resemble the “Is Thatcher Dead Yet” blog, but with the title “Is Catherine Papastavrou Brooks still alive?” In fact, I’m changing the title as soon as I can work out how to do it. (Help would be much appreciated.)

Anyway, you’ve all been fantastic. Don’t worry, you can still contact me in the usual fashion, i.e. after a two year wait.

CHFPB

*In this particular instance

** Just kidding. You’re youthful and sprightly, but the Aged Parent Trope is just too easy.

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Don’t you go and spoil it babe..(24th to 27th)

This is one of the greatest songs in the world, and I want it played at my funeral. No seriously. I know its self indulgent planning it, but I realy want to make sure this gets on the program. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nc9saY_XcXY  You can all find it on “Farewell song” which is a collection of Joplin’s live performances etc.

I think part of the reason why I love her so much  (other than the absolutely stellar music) is that she was the ultimate anti-groupie. There were all these beautiful young women hanging around in the 60s and 70s who made it their entire lives to be sexually attractive to a particular group of men. Janis went out, made her own music, didn’t care too much about what people thought of her, and casually got with some of the biggest and most brilliant musicians of her time, as well as being one (both Hendrix and Morrison if the rumours are true.) This song sort of sums all that up; does the unnamed person she’s singing too really think she has the time to get all strung out on him? She’s on tour, man, that’s whats important to her. Again, beautiful mesh of spatial movement (“When I’m on the road”) and real freedom. What a woman.

My last morning in New York I went to see the Chelsea Hotel. Yeah, so we all know the Joplin connection there (“We are ugly but we have the music”), but she was there before Cohen, and I bet she owned the place. The Hotel is closed for renovation at the moment (and after it re-opens they’re not accepting any more long term residencies) but you can get into the lobby and wander around the bottom floor. Its overwhelming to think of all the history that has been made in that shabby building. It’s where Dylan Thomas was carried out from to his death. So many people spent vast portions of time there, Sartre and Beauvoir, Tennessee Williams, Bukowski, Kubrick, Holly Woodlawn, and such a ridiculous amount of musicians it isn’t worth listing them all.

I got the bus out to Bridgehampton on Long Island where my uncle and aunt live. The Hamptons are mad, full of these houses like large malevolent wedding cakes. However they live (thank god, not that I was actually worried) in a clean-cut 1980s number, which has a wonderful view of the ocean, over another (equally wonderful) ocean of waving tree tops.

Its hard to describe their house and all the living that goes on inside of it. Kimberly paints (among other things) and at the moment their huge, open plan living area is full of her paintings which have just been sent back from an art show in Chicago. This huge painting (which I adore) http://www.rosscontemporary.com/content/03-shiva-rising-36×36 is propped up against the counter. Owain writes (almost among other things.) The day I arrived he sent off the final draft of his new book, which is an account of his life up to the age of eleven, centring on a 150 mile walk (pilgrimage) to Bardsey Island with a friend of a similar age. I’m astounded both at the freedom he was able to enjoy as a child, and by his memory of it. In the evening we sat outside on the patio, listened to the crickets (Owain sad he was going to cook Cicadas for me, which sadly never materialised) and talked. More than anyone I’ve met, the lives of those two and how those lives are expressed in their conversations are so integrated. It sounds horrendously wholesome, but that doesn’t really get at it. We move seamlessly from Cancer to Clams. And Cicadas. The food and wine is excellent, and both me and Kimberly eat a whole fresh chili with our dinner. We also talk a lot about our family, and they bring up some of the youthful comments I’ve made in the past; most embarassingly as a teenager “It’s amazing how much power you can get over men just by taking off your clothes.” I like to think of it as a proto-feminist comment, about the power imbalance between the sexes and thus the only way women can achieve power in a male dominated society, but I’m not sure those were my thought processes at the time.

The first day there Owain showed me around, and we went to a lot of beautiful long beaches, made even more beautiful by the fact the weather was lousy, so it was all grey sea, grey sky and washed out sand. I love scenery like that. We had lunch in a neat little seafood restaurant packed with people, and with very eclectic decor.

The second night I spent with them we went to the opening of an art show. The only way I can really describe it is as an honest imagining of what heaven would be like. It was held in this enormous white marquee which stretched for what seemed like miles and miles (it took us a good half and hour to get from one end to the other.) The carpets were all cream and spotless. Each gallery had a little section, beautifully lit up by lights, and most of them showing radically different art from their immediate neighbours.  There was an incredibly lifelike sculpture of an overweight topless biker with his machine. Nobody had anything to do apart from drift around in this mellow stupor, greeting people they knew, gazing at these weird and wonderful pieces of art but (due to the nature of the event and the amounts of free alcohol circulating) not having to offer clever comment on them, but just taking everything in like the lovechild of Haydn and the oyster (sorry, Philosophy reference). There wasn’t any expectation that you were going to engage in serious and taxing conversations with other inhabitants of this wonderful nether zone when you ran into them, only offer regal (though genuine) pleasure at their immediate presence and float on.

The thing that really made it seem otherwordly, though, was the people. Everyone was so beautifully made up and dressed that they either looked like themselves but in their new ressurrected bodies (all ready for the new heavens and the new earth) or just like dead people made up to photos taken decades ago. I suppose it depends on your religious persuasion. They were wonderful and waxlike. These strange creatures circulated, drank, and ate food off the platters that were being passed around.

Cracks showed through, which only served to make the whole thing even more convincing. One of the people from Kimberly’s gallery hugged her in a carefully calculated way, so as not to give K a chance to kiss her cheek and thus smudge her make-up. All the food seemed to be heading to other places, and it was hard to get grubby fingers in. (Again, I have to impress on your the SIZE of this thing, it was like a normal marquee, but then stretched without due regard for the demands possibilty to epic proportions) I laughed with a friend of Kimberly’s (who is called Pat and wickedly funny) about how to best kill off a waiter and steal his offering to the gods. It turned out not to be necessary, though, since Kimberly swooped in before one of the winged emissaries of light could escape, and grabbed us all lobster rolls.

The next night we stood in the gravel backyward of a tiny art gallery, and listened to live music. The whole thing was a fundraising event for the local radio station, but it rained earlier in the day so not nearly enough people were there, given how good it all was. I found Pat again (who is thoroughly excellent find) and she talked about running away to Woodstock when she was 16, and other things. The first date she ever went on with her (now) husband was a seance held at Washington Irvings grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, though the latter unfortunately failed to show. Their second date was a Doors concert (apologies if I remembered this wrong) with Ike and Tina Turner supporting. Half way into their support set, Janis Joplin came on to sing a couple of songs with them. I know its hopelessly kitsch to want to live through all those days when you were born in 1991, but Christ the music.

The Bus back to New York (so I could catch the Greyhound to Toronto) is not particularly rock and roll. They offer you free newspapers and a selection of snacks.

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Shaved her legs and then.. 23rd July

Since a disposable razor is obviously the kind of thing you can hold up a plane with, and I only came here with hand luggage, for the last week shaving hasn’t really been a thing. I could have bought a razor when I arrived, but compared to sitting on park benches thinking DEEP IMPORTANT THOUGHTS and wandering around the streets, it was pretty low down my list of priorities.

In fact if I were to do a photo-journal of at all it would probably be of this, my slow change into wild man of the woods. Firstly all my hair will grow very long and matted, my skin will become entirely scabbed over with mosquito bites and turn into a single callous, my eyes will go yellow, half of my teeth with fall out rotten, and the other half will turn into inch long spikes. My chest will broaden, my back will hunch over. My toes will become long and prehensile.

My own personal grooming aside, the lyric is of course from this song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KaWSOlASWc which, thematically, is one of the most interesting and relevant songs for my project that I’ve come across so far.

For those unfamiliar with it, Walk on the Wild Side chronicles the various Trans* women who came from across the States to New York, and to Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’ in the 1960s. (As well as Joe Dallesandro, whose crotch was made famous by the Rolling Stones Album, Sticky Fingers.) 

Its easy to see why “the Factory” was an appealing place to be for those marginalized by the rest of society, and if Walk on the Wild Side had just told the story of their migration it would still be a really interesting song. But its better than that, of course, because instead of simply relating the journeys of these women, in the first few lines he draws a parallel between changes in gender and changes in spatial location. “Holly came from Miami, FLA
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she.”

The linking of female body with landscape is nothing new (for those looking for an example of it done in a particularly creepy and objectifying way look up pretty much anything by Neruda). However by relocating the movement to the woman, instead of the man traversing her she is given ownership over both her body and the real landscape it is compared to. (In Walk, this is the whole of the United States.) 

Woman here is not maplike, instead she is the one who cuts across the map, and equally she is not one who simply exists in relation to male desire, she controls and shapes her body to fit her own identification. Much as I love the Kinks, Lola, the other great song about Trans* Women of the 1970s (and which came out the year before) the punchline is very much “a heterosexual Man can actually be attracted to a non cis woman, christ!”

In Walk on the Wild Side the male gaze is only brought in later (especially significant given the the far too often conflation of sexuality with gender identity) at the close of the verse. “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” was allegedly what Trans* prostitutes said to prospective clients, but in the context of the first verse it becomes more. After cataloguing the journey of Holly Woodlawn, the observer is invited to, in some sense, share it, to also “take a walk.” Sex (even sex which has been paid for) becomes not a transaction between explorer and landscape to be discovered, but shared movement.

(Something else which plays with these themes, albeit in a less overt way, is this film http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transamerica_(film) and you should all go and watch it because its brilliant.)

The last night I spent in New York, I went to the Stonewall Inn. For those in need of a history lesson you can get it here, because I’m sick of typing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots Wikipedia is actually very good on this. “The Stonewall Inn, at the time, was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known to be popular with the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn, and attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.”

The Stonewall Inn now is a pretty big disappointment. On the outside the name is written up in what look like multicoloured Christmas lights, and the inside is full of very bored looking people playing pool and spreading themselves across the bar. Upstairs is Karaoke but at 11.30 it is still empty. I decided to spend the night in another club in Greenwich Village (which reminds me a lot of Jericho), but since it didn’t do much to contribute to the narrative unity of this post it was basically wasted as a night out. (That was a joke, for the record.) Before that, however, I spent the day in Brooklyn.

I wandered around the streets for a long time before finding Greenwood Cemetery. Greenwood is such a legitimate tourist destination they even give you a map in the gate to show you where all the famous people are buried, so I’m not even being a weirdo for wanting to visit. Outside the main entrance to the street is the “Made in Brooklyn Bakery” and the combination of the two remind of of this poem, by Tony Harrison. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/marked-with-d/

 

The cemetery gets pretty good marks. It is huge, with loads of rolling hills, trees and lakes. The graves are placed orderly, but not neatly. I like it a lot, though its more grieving parents than horror film.

In the afternoon I went to Coney Island, which is a pretty horrible place. I went on the big wheel which, though it only goes round twice per ticket, got stuck for a good ten minutes while I was at the top for some reason.  I sat up there and fantasized about which rides full of happy screaming people I would annihilate first, god like. I destroy, I destroy, I destroy. It was a good afternoon.

 

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Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues, Part Two: 22nd July

The song for today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsjFi4KkOZc Man, I’m telling you there is nothing scarier than a woman with a car. That’s why the Beach Boys dedicated a whole song to the joys of watching a woman get her wings clipped. This song is a bit better than that, though, he just wants her to slow down for him a bit. (Though I’m guessing its all really a metaphor for sex, right?)

Which brings me back to Bessie Smith. The below is an extract from this excellent article: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug97/blues/katz.html.

“. . . Just before the troupe got ready to pull out of Ozark, a chorus girl told Bessie that while she was in New York, Jack had “messed around” with another chorus girl.

Without taking time to check out the story, Bessie jumped the girl, beat her up, and threw her off the railroad car, which was still parked on a dead track…. Then she stormed through the railroad car looking for Jack….

Bessie didn’t find Jack on the car . . . but she found his gun, and when she came out of their stateroom, Jack was standing over the sobbing girl, trying to find out what had happened.

A shot rang out. Bessie stood on the rear platform of the car, gun in hand.

“You no good two-timing bastard,” she shouted, waving the gun in the air. “I couldn’t even go to New York and record without you fuckin’ around with these damn chorus bitches. Well, I’m gonna make you remember me today.”

Jack started toward her. “Put that gun down, Bessie.” Another shot sent him racing down the track. Bessie jumped off the platform and went after him, emptying the gun. “I’ve never seen Jack run so fast,” recalls Ruby. “Everybody was scared to death that Bessie would kill him this time, but I think she missed him on purpose.” A couple of hours later the troupe left Ozark without Jack.

Bessie had been on good behavior for several months, and now she was ready for some fun. Jack’s departure after the alleged indiscretion provided both the opportunity and the excuse”

In case you don’t read the rest of the article, the fun it refers to is her sleeping with pretty much all the chorus girls. Maybe I have a soft spot for this story because I love the idea of all these mad blues women like Ma Rainey and Ethel Waters and Bessie and all the gang travelling round the country in their own railroad cars (which was how musicians got around back then), creating havoc. Bessie originally traveled around the country as a dancer, and also had an abortive attempt at running away from home to join a theatre troup when she was a teenager.

Today was spent wandering around East Harlem. I saw the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom and sat on the step where this was taken http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Day_in_Harlem.jpg and

In the evening I headed to a club called Paris Blues, and here everything started to happen. I would like to firstly note that Paris Blues (On Adam Clayton jr Boulevard by W 121st) is quite possibly the greatest bar in the world, and I had one of the greatest nights of my life there, though perhaps the odds are unfairly stacked since- due to the high price of alcohol in New York- I can actually remember most of it.

When I went in at about 9 in the evening the four piece jazz band  (drums, guitar, jazz organ and and sax) were all at the bar, and apart from them and the bartender there were maybe 4 other old men in the place (one of them the owner.) As you go in the bar is on your right, and then there are these red leathered tables and chairs under a sort of wooden canopy on the left, and then you go through them to get to the stage. The place is tiny. I felt slightly self-conscious as I went in, given that everyone else there was clearly a regular, but the girl behind the bar kept smiling at me and wandering over to where I was sitting at one of the tables to check I was alright, so I stayed.

Then the band got started, and fuck they were incredible. They were initially playing to four people including the bartender (two of the old men were sitting outside) and they were still mad on fire. A couple of minutes into Take 5 the sax player switched to playing these really lazy 6/8 strings of notes over the top of everyone elses 5 beat and it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard anyone do to that song and it was complete genius. The girl behind the bar would cheer the loudest (later the drummer made everyone give a round of applause for “his biggest fan”) and would dance across the room when she had to get something from the back.

The keys player was really where it was at though. When the whole band was playing his fingers just hovered without really seeming to do anything, but when it was his time to solo he played all these edge-of-the-seat dischords getting higher and higher and more mad, with his right hand just a jittering blur, and more and more and more until it was completely unbearable, and then after a final punch up the keyboard to the top when you felt that you were going to split, or something, everyone came back in again, and aaah. It was just awful. I’ve never heard anything like it.

At about 10.30 they had a break, and everyone clustered round my table, and drank and talked. They clearly all knew each other, and by this time the bar was filling up, so every couple of minutes I’d be introduced to someone else. I’m not going to chocolate box it, there was some dedicated sleazing going on (the only other woman in the bar at this point, aside from the bartender, was this 40ish year old woman who’d just come in), but mostly people were just stupidly friendly, and the other people round the table took it upon themselves to guard me from the more serious culprits.

Then the band got back to it, but now a couple more saxophone players and an electric bassist had emerged to join them, and they’d drag people up from the floor to sing with them (they’d branched out, by this point, from Jazz into Blues and Soul and this girl about my age who was clearly a regular occurrence sung a couple of R&B songs.) The band was led by the drummer, and he was- without a doubt- the coolest person I’ve ever met. At some point this tiny old guy took to the mike, at which point me and the aforementioned woman were dragged up to the front by the drummer as well to sing back-up .

And I mean dragged. Not an embarrassed but secretly loving it Oh No, I Couldn’t Possibly, Oh Well Fine Then If You Insist. “Do you sing?” he shouted over (the other woman had already been summoned) “No. Definitely not.” I yelled back, the latter half clearly being a mistake, because then he said “but you can sing two notes? Yeah?” at which point I was pushed to the front. So this tiny, bent-over guy sung Mustang Sally far better than Wilson Picket, and we went “Ride Sally Ride” at all the right moments. Then my co-back up (who I later discovered was called Esther) sung, and she was gold as well. Sadly nothing for my project though, since after she’d finished singing she started boasting about how she’d been born and bred across the road on 121st.

Also (and yes this night is so cliched and corny I couldn’t be making it up) they played this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGd6CdtOqEE  Half the people in the bar were dancing by this point, and then the owner bought out a massive dish of cold banana pie, but wouldn’t let me pay for any because I was a visitor and a friend of the band, which was a pain because I’d quite happily have eaten 3 slices, but restricted myself to one.

The bar was supposed to close at 12.30, so at 1.30 we were all kicked out. Then 7 of us (the sax player had to go home, but the rest of the band were still there) got into this big guy’s car and headed 20 blocks south where there was allegedly still a jam going on. When we got there he banged hard on a metal door and we were let in(!). The jam was happening in what looked like the basement of a club- there was a nice stage with proper absorbent stuff, but no bar- and the guys brought in their instruments from the boot and joined it. At some point the keys player’s keyboard was taken over by someone else, and it was ridiculously hot in the basement so we went for a walk in Central Park, and talked about music and he talked about growing up in Brooklyn (in brief: not a lot of fun.) When we got back a couple of hours later people were still playing (though in diminished numbers.) In case it wasn’t clear, this was a *Monday* evening, though they were all either professional musicians or pretty old, so I guess they didn’t have anywhere to be the next morning. When I left to go to bed at 5ish the guitarist (who had been going pretty much solidly since 9) was still jamming with this guy on a soprano sax.

Oh and in the morning before Harlem happened I went to some museums and some art galleries too, but they were boring. Though going to the Guggenheim did mean I had “So long Frank Lloyd Wright, all of those times we harmonized til dawn” stuck in my head all day.

Don’t worry. Normal cynical service will be resumed tomorrow.
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Appendix

“The Revolutionary Hill Estates had not been designed to accommodate a tragedy. Even at night, as if on purpose, the development held no looming shadows and no gaunt silhouettes. It was invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves … A man running down these streets in desperate grief was indecently out of place.” 

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Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues, Part One: 21st July

This of course: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vVjpoKEwjU Actually I wanted the Bessie Smith version because she’s a famous gay american (communist, one of us, one of us!*) but couldn’t find it on youtube. All the lyrics are worth making good note of, its such a brilliant song. And yes, although not directly about intra-US migration, you can definitely infer. “I get full of good liquor, walk the streets all night”- she’s definitely not one to stick around.

 

I walked left out of the door this morning, and left again down Columbus Avenue and within less than five minutes had fallen at least a third in love with this beautiful black woman walking along in front of me. She was incredibly well-dressed: high waisted 3/4 lengths, a knotted top and pumps with all her hair tied up in this turbanesque thing. She looked like a 1950s advert. As she walked along she let out this incredible stream of words,  projecting her voice so you could’ve heard across the road what she was saying and not obviously directing them at anyone. (I did check for earphones.)

 

“Yes,well for sure the Black Panthers are my brothers and sisters” was where she was at in her speech when I turned in behind her “and I’m them and they’re me, and you know we’re all really just them because well, because its obvious, but see the thing is they call me the Pink Panther these days. Yeah, that’s right, because I got style. I’m not saying the Black Panthers didn’t have style, I mean everything got style, it was just the wrong style. I mean I can swing, that’s why I’m the Pink Panther, you see. See its all about the look of a thing, right, and not just look as in like a book cover or something, but look as in all the pages and all the words and the way they sound when they come from your mouth. That kind of look. That’s style, that’s look, that’s what I got. And that’s why borders aren’t ever going to work. I mean, that’s why they’re all going to crumble. Soon, yes.” She pointed at a piece of railing for emphasis.”They all just got look like  in the covers, and not look like words. You know I’m right.”

 

We passed two policemen and at this point she stopped and said good morning to them. “There’s a broken lift in those flats back there.” She paused but they didn’t respond.”Didn’t you hear me?” she continued “there’s an old lady at the bottom who can’t get to the top. She might have been waiting there for hours, hmpph, and you don’t even want to give me the time of day.”

 

At this point she turned into a side-street, and I decided it would be really creepy to follow her so carried on to the subway.

 

I’ve tried to transcribe as best as possible, but given the velocity at which she was speaking, and the fact that I could only write them down afterwards, you’ll just have to trust me that the effect was incredible. Despite everything I believe so strongly in about mental health and all that goes with it, I couldn’t help wondering, is she a crazy person or not? I’m not sure what would count as evidence either way. Her speech at some points made brilliant sense, but the context was all wrong (like the person who comes up to you at a bus stop and says Histrionicus Histrionicus Histrionicus.) Or maybe I just didn’t understand the context. Maybe this is the socially acceptable way of relating to the world in the States.

 

Don’t worry, I’m not about to go into a Foucauldian rant about the socially constructed nature of mental illness. Instead I’m going to tell you about my day.

 

I wandered around the bit of Manhattan  below central park for most of the morning.Here are my conlusions: The Empire state building is ugly, the Rockefeller centre is ugly, broadway looks like it is a set for a budget movie (made even worse by the fact there was a market there, so you had the soaring skyscraper backdrop painted on, with a few stalls on the actual stage), The Chrysler building is ugly, Times Square is ugly, Grand Central Station is alright in a kitsch kind of way. I took a train to  Scarsdale, 45 minutes north of Manhattan,  because someone said it was the perfect example of American Suburbia. I know its a slightly odd way to spend an afternoon in one of the greatest capital cities in the world, but (in case you haven’t met me- this is for you, guy reading in Brazil) most of the fiction I love is of the bleak American suburbia type. I could give you a reading list, but you’ve probably all been subject to it already. I particularly wanted to go and see some New York suburbs because, wait, did I mention that I’m really into Richard Yates?

 

And this is where the Wild Women thing comes in. If I’m honest probably part of the reason why I love all those novelists is that the women have a lousy time. Alright, so Betty Friedan is probably a bit of a homophobe, but the “Feminine Mystique” is still a brilliant book. It describes at length the impossibility of living a fulfilling, flourishing even noticeably human life as a 1950s housewife. “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban [house]wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?”

 

If these women, like their dissatisfied male counterparts, did take to the road, it is undocumented. Mostly in literature they stay put. Or- like April- try and fail to escape. In fact the only one I can think of who manages to get away from suburban hell, Laura Brown from the Hours, pays for it by badly screwing up her son.

 

Unlike the A-train which jolts, but stays straight on the track, and thus doesn’t make you queasy, the Metro-North rolled its hips all the way there, but Scarsdale was as terrifying as promised. Loads of beautiful big detached houses set back into front lawns cut in stripes. It was completely deserted. My skill with words is not sufficient to describe just how awful it is, but walking through it felt like what I imagine purgatory would be like- everything had this strange dreamlike quality, and I could see myself running and running through streets, screaming and screaming for ever, and never seeing anyone, just more and more identical, gently turning roads. Not escaping from something chasing me, or anything dealable-with like that, just trying to get out. Maybe I only feel like this in retrospect because I managed to get lost, and couldn’t find anyone to ask the way back to the Station. By this point I felt like all colour had been soaked out of my skin, and I was just wandering round as a shell of a human being, who’d somehow lost everything behind my skin (which had set hard) and that all my innards had been replaced with excruciatingly heavy air.

 

Before I got lost, I wandered into this graveyard. (Maybe that’s what I should have done my project on- I really love graveyards, and I wouldn’t have had to talk to anyone. Obviously.) This also felt like something out of a bad film set- I just couldn’t emotionally get behind the idea that there was actual dead people buried under that perfect grass, and the gravestones were laid way too far apart to be credible.

 

(In fact, forget Pathfinders, I could definitely have a job designing Graveyards for films. Its probably pretty hard, you both want them to fulfil the narrative purpose- have things jump out from them, provide a comic moment, give an occasion for character development as the protagonist confronts the enormity of his loss, be a great way to engineer a meet-cute (Harold and Maude, I’m looking at you)- but also look like a real graveyard. This one was good at the first- brooding young character sees afresh the futility of the American dream- but not so good at the second.

 

Also, half the graves had American flags. Max, your country is just wrong about things.

 

I left the Graveyard by the main entrance (I’d come in through a side door). The sign by the gate said:

 

Episcopal Church
St James the Less.

 

When I got back into Harlem (and out of the air-conditioned train- god I HATE air-conditioning, its so vampiric) things immediately got better. It was as noisy as ever, and walked around the Harlem Meer in Central Park and people-watched.
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New York City is Decadent and Depraved 20th July

I think I’ve discovered a possibly fatal flaw in my project; it requires me to talk to people. In fact that might also be a defect of pathfinders as well as a whole, but not to the same extent. I just don’t think my interest in people is sufficient to outlast the duress of a whole conversation with them, but clearly eavesdropping isn’t going to be enough. I will have to think very hard about this.
Whinging aside, this is the song for today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKqzayNo4Dk I’m not sure what profound conclusions I can draw from one, but its a bloody good song, and they come from New York, and its obviously on theme, so its in.
This afternoon I got the A train from the Airport all the way up to 103rd West, where I’m staying. For the first half hour of the journey I was standing opposite this young couple, who were engaging in obscene behaviour. I realise that this might strike everyone in the same way, but they were both pressed up against the side of the carriage and he kept on reaching over and fumbling around in her shoulder bag. In public! On the subway! And not just taking something out quickly (which would have been bad enough) but prolonged groping in its velvety depths trying to find what he was looking for, and she was giving him this disgusting coy smile whilst he was doing it. I’m not really a fan of public displays of affection as it is, but this was definitely beyond the pale.
One of the lessons Bob claimed to have had beaten into him was the importance of never looking inside a lady’s handbag, even if she explicitly asked you to retrieve something from it. I thought this was ridiculous at the time, but after watching these two I am so on board. This doesn’t mean I think, with Germaine Greer, that a woman’s bag is her external womb , but there is definitely something exceedingly private and personal about putting your hands in someone else’s junk. This also applies to pockets. I think I would have been much less upset if they’d been having sex on the seat or something.
To avoid looking at them I spent a lot of time reading all the advertisements in the Subway carriage. This was fine because they hilarious. The best by far was an advert for Manhattan-212-Storage, with the line “You are not little Edie and this is not Grey Gardens”. I’m evidently not their target market- I think Little Edie from Grey Gardens is wonderful. There was also someone advertising some kind of Disaster Insurance with a massive grin on his face. Actually most of the adverts were grinning hideously- including one for cancer counselling. Must be an American thing.
103th West is about three streets away from Harlem so, feeling pretty tired, I wandered up there in the evening. Its such a great place; even though it was 11 in the evening there were still heaps of tiny kids running around and loads of noise. I’ve also seen 3 burst water hydrants so far. On 114th there’s a row of blocks of flats with big concrete steps out the front of each, and when I walked down it each front stoop (damn right) was crammed with loads of teenagers smoking grass and listening to hip hop of varying degrees of quality. In England these are the kids who are so cool I would avoid attempting to talk to them at all costs, but I’m already an oddity here, so stopped to chat with some of them for a while, before going to bed.
In the reception of the hostel there is a leaflet box with “Would you like to know GOD personally” on the side, but when you reach your hand in to pull a leaflet out they are all for “New York’s biggest electrical goods warehouse.” Read into that what you will.
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