Monday 19 February 2007

These are (among others) the iconic cities in the world.
The big ones.
The places they make movies about.
There are other places, no less important to the people who live there, but without that CITY feel about them.
Perhaps Edinburgh.
Bustling places to be sure, but if you were going to publish a coffee table book called "Iconic Cities", they probably wouldn't be in there.
If you were going to publish that particular book (it's probably already been done) then you would be expected to include an exceptionally long chapter with lots of fabulous full page images with quotes from celebrities on the collected boroughs of the city of New York.
Which is where I've just been.
Also Rebekkit lives there.
Rebekkit joined me on a trip to the German metropolis of Berlin and we had such a nice time that I thought that she'd be just the right person to sponge off on my next trip.

But let's start from the beginning.
It had snowed a bit before my leaving for the US.
I had never lived among snow before so that was a little bit exciting.
It had been cold, but certainly not unbearable (which was surprising to me).
When my cab arrived there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground even though it hadn't actually drifted from above in 48 hours.
Borat drove me to the airport.
His name obviously wasn't Borat but he spoke so much like him that I've decided to call him Borat.
Borat was an Iranian fellow who had lived in Holland for 12 years where he had a restaurant for most of that time.
They sold South American food and he was taught to make this broad selection of dishes by the local Dutchman he bought the place off.
I am very sure it was not even remotely authentic.
He has 4 kids and works every day from 6 to 7.
I always like to leave early, so got the airport in plenty of time.

Since I left Australian shores I've done a lot of airporting.
It's really not a very fun experience.
For anyone who has never gone through an airport - you may have had to go to the emergency room, or had to collect the dole or spent some time waiting for a heart, lung transplant - these are all comparable to the airport experience.
Lots of waiting with people who would rather not be there and dealing with people who would rather be doing something else.
Nowadays with the terrorists creeping around looking to blow up pasty English tourists on their way to Majorca, the world has to have less hand luggage, no more than 100 mils of fluid on planes and you have to put your shoes through the x-ray machine.
I am fairly certain any terrorist worthy of the title could blow something up with less than 100 mils of something and fuck knows why they are designing shoes that could hold anything more than feet but whaddaya gonna do? (as New Yorkers like to ask).

The flight was jolly enough.
We flew over the far edges of the arctic circle and it was a genuine thrill to see the sea all frozen up with broken ice.
You could see the trails where ships had been.
New York itself finally revealed itself in the darkness.
I've not lived in a big city other than London for some time, and as London really doesn't have a lot of very tall buildings it was eye opening to see the stacks of lights rising into the air.
I got to examine them especially closely because we were put in a holding pattern for 45 minutes before we landed.
I had a young boy sitting next to me and we talked about Harry Potter for most of that time.
My plane landed in Newark which I think was a good thing, as there were very few people there and I was whisked through immigration very quickly.
I had my first dose of a proper New York accent from Peterson, the immigration guy.
It's a very pleasing accent and I used it a lot while I was there.

My initial thoughts of New York are a little blurry because as I stepped from the airport into the coldest wind I'd ever experienced (at that time) my testicles retreated rapidly into my abdomen, past my gullet and into the back of my throat.
This was a bit of a distraction.
I was hauled into a taxi and as I warmed up my gonads gently lowered back into the usual position and I was able to have a good look.

We were staying only a short walk from The Empire State Building.
Like almost every icon of the nations I've visited since I left home it was so familiar to me that it really wasn't that exciting.
It was nice to be near it though.

New York.

To chart my trip day by day would be a dreary read.
I did a lot of drinking, eating and passing out from dreaded jetlag.
Further to that I kept forgetting my camera.
I will review some things though.

Grillo Day
Just after I arrived Mr Oscar A. Grillo emailed me to tell me that there was an exhibition of the works of Saul Steinberg in the city.
As it happened it was just around the corner from where we were staying on Park Avenue.

A quick Google browse will reveal a plethora of Steinberg's works and it was a genuine thrill to stand before the works of such a marvelous character.
Something that was especially interesting to me was his use of rubber stamps, whereby he was experimenting with something that is now commonplace in a digital Photoshopped format.
I think he would have been very comfortable with a Wacom and electric pictures.
The Morgan Library & Museum where Steinberg's were being exhibited was small, but 2 other very exciting exhibitions were on.
Private Treasures: Four Centuries of European Master Drawings - a collection of cartoons and sketches by almost no-one I'd ever heard of.

Also on display was a collection of ancient Egyptian scroll seals.
It was very disappointing that beyond the expensive accompanying books there were no pamphlets and other paraphernalia to take away and scan for blogs.
Whatever the case it was a terrific gallery and a glance at the upcoming schedule reveals that there are some very interesting things coming up.
Part two of Grillo Day involved a visit to Minetta Tavern, an Italian place that Grillo claims to the the best restaurant in the whole world.
As it happens it was very bloody good and I ate a mountain of Italian food and several thousand beers.

We got there via The Subway, which is like The Tube designed by Escher.
The subway is patrolled by the armed forces which are recruited at this strange little building that sits in the middle of the street near Times Square.

Animation people may know of a fellow called Michael Sporn.
I know nothing of him beyond seeing his name occasionally floating around the blogs.
As we strolled through The Village I came across his studio.
I mention this not because I am an admirer of his work (hell - I don't even know who he is) but to note that these blogs do bring people together, and that this brief moment of recognition was a bit of a thrill.

The Cold

I have discovered that there is a misunderstanding about Australia, my home.
Many people seem to think that the entire place is a tropical paradise all year round.
This is not entirely the case.
We have a healthy ski season in the mountains during the wintertime.
Melbourne, where I am from has a deserved reputation for grey, wet winters, and Tasmania the most southern of Australian states can get very cold in the winter.
It is true though that unless we've been to other nations, Australians have a comparatively naive concept of the cold.
As mentioned it had snowed a bit in London before I left.
And what jolly snow it was too.
Enid Blyton snow.
It floated from above like icy cotton wool.
Little clumps of Christmastime.
I was ill prepared for the cold in New York.
It was so cold that it was snowing hail.
It was blowing horizontally down the street.
I didn't know snow could hurt but it fucking can.
It was like being sandblasted on a mild setting.
The huge banks of hail settled into big frozen drifts, then it snowed all over them.
Then it stopped snowing and the snow settled into the hail and then everything froze into huge slabs of icebergs.
I can only guess that with the windchill it was 10 degrees below (in celsius), perhaps more.
As the snow fell into the street it became all muddied up and filthy.
The roads themselves looked like they'd been sent back in time and it was suddenly easy to imagine horses and carts wandering up and down.

As we strolled through Times Square, my core temperature plummeted dangerously below zero so we ducked into Toys R Us to let the warm fuzziness of Russians buying cheap toys reheat me.
It was there I photographed this large, erotic fake icecream.

Cat Day
I'm not a cat person.
Everyone who knows me knows I have a dog that is better than all the cats in the world put together.
This day, despite the Arctic temperatures we headed out for some cat things.
Katz's Deli is famous to anyone who hasn't eaten there.
It's the setting for the famous scene in which Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally.
It serves typical Jew food in typical American proportions.
I could have happily died there.
It is well documented that Jews have had a troubled past but I think no-one is more responsible for the demise of our people than the folks who run establishments like this.
Generations of fine strong men sent to early graves after demolishing the vast piles of red meat they serve here with sour cream.
Blocked arteries and colon cancer for all.
I ordered the dinner platter, which involved chicken soup with canadles (how do you spell that?), about 30 kilos of brisket on rye, a deep fried potato pancake with sour cream and a slab of lokshun kugel.
Americans call this Noodle Kugel which doesn't rhyme as well with my accent.
And a big plate of pickled cucumbers in both salty and not very salty varieties.

Katz's have a funny slogan that they've probably been using since the 40's (they've been open since 1888) "Send A Salami To Your Boy In The Army", which sounds like a song by The Village People.
We chatted for some time to our waiter.
He looked a little like Robert Crumb.
I didn't know his name but I am assuming his name was Max or Morty or something like that.
New Yorkers talk to each other in an easy going manner like they've known each other all their lives
Very pleasing.
From Katz's we went to the Bowery Ballroom to see one of my favourite Australian bands The Cat Empire (we stopped on the way at a winebar for a gallon of sangria).
The band were terrific and it was wonderful to see Aussies entertaining a big New York crowd.
Everyone went nuts for it.
They had appeared earlier in the evening on The Letterman Show.
While there are better clips of them performing on Youtube but it seems nice and New Yorky to include the Letterman clip.

The Movie
We headed to some part of Manhattan called Uptown or Middown or Updown or something like that for a slice and a movie (this may well have been the same day we went to the Minetta Tavern but I really don't recall).
When Americans have a "slice" it means they are having a piece of pizza.
In England if you have a "slice" it means you are getting a piece of bread instead of toast.
In Australia if you have a "slice" it means either ham, cheese, cake, bread and pretty much anything else that comes in sliced form.
We then queued in sub zero temperatures to see a re-release of an Italian movie called Mafioso.
The queue went from the ticket box and out onto the street.
The locals lined up in true New Yorker fashion by ignoring the ice laden wind and the idea of bending.
Instead of going around the corner the queue headed into the street.
A "fuck you" to both traffic, weather and the pavement.

The film itself was brilliant.
Italian and directed in 1962 it was a very VERY black comedy.
It was a small cinema but it was full of people.
Hopefully it'll garner some success in the US and therefore get a release here, or at the very least they'll release the Hollywood remake.
Oscar has probably seen this, yes?

As we strolled through the streets on the way to the film I passed this piece of signage.
I can only assume Iramo is Japanese for "anus".
Anyone who doesn't get this isn't a cartoonist.

The End and Other Things
New York has been on film so many times.
I would wager that everyone bothering to read this will have at least 1 favourite film set in the city.
But perhaps not many of you have been there.
I know that my whole image of the place has been shaped by films.
It was cleaner than I was expecting and the people nicer (although they seem confused by things like good manners and friendliness).
I had a great time and would be keen to visit again, if only to ingest another 6 or 7 kilos of pastrami in one sitting.
Although I am sure there are plenty of rough places everywhere I went seemed nice and safe (except for the evil layer of black ice covering everything).
In movies everyone is always getting mugged and robbed and stabbed and all that.
No doubt these things happen often, but they seemed far away from where I visited (I fully expect a pick axe between the eyes next time I'm there).
Although I wasn't set upon by any hoodlums, I knew they were lurking about, as evidenced by this sign in a window for all Blacks, Jews, Muslims and Homosexuals to memorise and never forget.

Final Note
Do you plan to get in a plane and go somewhere?
Do you have a lot of money?
Then get a ticket in business class, or even first class if you can afford it.
Because if you can afford it and you get a ticket in economy then you are a fucking moron.
What do you think you're going to get for 250 pounds?
Air travel is fucking awful in economy but it's all most of us can afford.
So here's what you do.
Put on comfortable shoes, get in your seat, eat the food they give you and sit still and shut the fuck up.
You're a battery hen for the next X hours.
You know what battery hens do?
They shut up and stay where they are and lay eggs.
Do the same thing but without the eggs.
Don't change your outfit as soon as you sit down (how many times have I seen some crazy person sit in their seat and then redress themselves in special flying jammies and booties).
Moaning and whining will only get you spittle in your coffee and maybe an elbow in the face if you happen to be sitting next to me.
I felt especially bad for the poor man sitting in front of me who was shoved next to an especially porky orthadox Jew.
He looked like a mozzarella forced into an egg cup.
Being orthadox in any religious automatically sets you up for being a pain in the fucking arse but this guy, apart from his girth, had a huge noisy plastic bag full of food - most of it marinated in garlic.
He objected to having to stow it away during take off (perhaps the locker wasn't kosher) and when he did get it he ate almost the entire way.
There was no way he was going to sleep with the amount of Coke he sucked down.
It was probably crazy Kosher Coke, which I think should be called Kosha Cola.
Orthadox Jews have everything kosher.
Kosher, for the those who don't know is the way Jewish butchers kill the meat.
I'm not sure exactly what you have to kill to make Coke or cornflakes or potato chips but you can buy them all kosher.
You can buy kosher Vegemite for fucks sake.
Vegemite is an EXTRACT of something or other.
I don't think extracting is the same as butchering.
You can get kosher everything in New York should you want to get on a plane and make a nuisance of yourself.