March 1, 2011 2 Comments
January 29, 2011 1 Comment
As the car slowed, a mangy grey tabby emerged from behind a tombstone and started a quick trot towards us. We were sitting in the backseat of one of Greenwood Cemetery‘s patrol cars.
“That’s Maisie,” M. explained. “I sometimes let her ride up front with me.”
Ten minutes ago we had been trying to get out of Greenwood Cemetery. It was lunch time, we had been walking for two hours amongst mausoleums, cenotaphs and tombs, but the exits on the western side were locked. My friend stopped a patrol car and asked for directions. The officer told us to get in and he’d drop us off at the main entrance. “That’s where Al Capone’s right hand man is buried…” The car stopped at a fork in the road. “You know what, I don’t need to be back for half an hour. There are some things you have to see.” The car jerked back into motion. In our attempts to leave, we had somehow found ourselves on a guided tour of New York’s largest cemetery.
M. was our guide. A young blonde haired Brooklynite with dark sunglasses. This was his second job. He had worked at the cemetery for two years. He’d bought a burial plot there. “It’s real estate.” His true passions were photography and acting. One year M. played an Englishman in the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Brooklyn. He had a musket. “It was so much fun! Someone forgot to notify the police there would be cannon going off and the bomb squad turned up…” In two years, M. knew the layout and the history of Greenwood like he was born in it.
Suddenly the cemetery was populated with over 900,000 burials including General Washington’s soldiers from the Battle of Brooklyn, mobsters, murderers, inventors, victims of plane collisions, Titanic survivors and M.’s grandparents. M. knew which plots of land had been released, which stained glass windows were designed by Tiffany and where they used to store bodies in the winter before they had machinery to dig through frozen soil. We were introduced to the cemetery’s living inhabitants – Shelley the prehistoric turtle who lived in Sylvan Waters (one of the cemetery’s lakes), her offspring and of course Maisie the cat.
I looked back at Maisie, who sat in the middle of the road and watched us leave. Behind us was a perfectly formed pyramid nestled in the hill. New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.
M. dropped us off at the main entrance and told us to check out the history books. We went inside, we picked up a map each and my friend signed the petition to save the line of sight between Minevra, a statue in Greenwood, and her sister the Statue of Liberty. Just as we were about the leave, M. rushed over. “Get in. There’s one last thing I have to show you.”
My friend and I exchanged glances and got back into the patrol car. “This,” M. announced as he pulled up infront of a slab tomb, “is where the man who invented carbonation for Coca-cola is buried!”
January 20, 2011 Leave a comment
We found ourselves at the entrance to Wall Street. I hoped to find pyramid schemes, if not pyramids. We swiped our credit cards at the turnstyles. Two authoritarian security guards dressed in black coats spoke. “You cannot enter here. Your credit cards are not platinum.” I looked around me. Smug men sucked on their cigars and pushed through the turnstyles to the promised land beyond*. I could work a second job, pay my income into a rent-controlled studio apartment ($1200 a month in Hell’s Kitchen), accept one of American Express’ generous credit card offers and buy a box of cigars. With these shibboleths, perhaps I could persuade the guards that I was in genuine pursuit of happiness. Instead we caught the Staten Island ferry for free and saw Lady Liberty waving in the distance.
Later we went to the Skyscraper Museum. It focused on the built structures of the financial district, rather than the construction of Manhattan as a whole. The surly receptionist ungraciously took our money, snarled some instructions then snapped when we went the wrong way. She must have been having a bad day. Maybe her pyramid scheme fell through. The museum was as disappointing as the receptionist. The highlight was an old documentary on the construction of the original Twin Towers. I found a miniature of the city. No pyramids in that cityscape. I may have to change the scale of the quest and look for slightly smaller pyramids. Or maybe start searching for the meaning of life. I’m running out of pyramid jokes.
*This may be fictional. To my knowledge there are no such turnstyles or restrictions to entering Wall Street.
January 20, 2011 Leave a comment
The quest for pyramids is hungry business. Fortunately there is a lot to eat in New York. There is so much to eat that the city of New York has had to enlist the entire population to eat it. The exact chain of food supply, distribution and waste management is not well understood. In 2010 Columbia University published a brief study trying to identify the basic elements of food supply for New York City. City Harvest collects 35,000kg of leftover food a day and redistributes it to New York’s hungry.
Our contribution to consumption was modest. For those who appreciate vegan food, I recommend Ozu’s almond cream, azuki mousse, chocolate tofu pie and jasmine tea; Peacefood Cafe‘s peanut butter cheesecake, chocolate ganache, dumplings, soup and Daiya ‘cheese’; Wild Ginger‘s menu in general and; Quantum Leap’s Big Leap Burger. Happiness indeed for the vegan in New York City.
In the non-vegan category and in general there were many many cheesecakes, cheeseburgers and cheap pizza slices of happiness. Good coffee was hard to find. Roasting Plant Coffee on 7th Avenue had some groovy pneumatic tube grinding and roasting contraption that resulted in tasty coffee. Ecopolis in Brooklyn on Smith Street was also above par. I didn’t partake but who can object to street stands selling milkshakes and cupcakes…
December 18, 2010 Leave a comment
In the mornings, while Matt does his writing, I stalk through the streets and museums of New York. If this was France and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the Louvre, I would have sighted a pyramid before the week was out. Alas, this is New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is just the Met and I have had to make do with the contents of pyramids.
I’ve had to make do with 90,000 year old stone tools, evidence of the beginnings of metalwork and ivory knife handles that, if you look at up close, you can see the ferocious expressions of carved lions. Middle Kingdom wooden models of boats, breweries, bakeries and butchers. Granite statues of Sekhmet, Thoth, Horemheb and the ‘hoteps. Sure, the Met has grave goods, a tomb and a temple. But the pottery? Not even remotely pyramid shaped.
I shall take comfort in that if were I in France, knowing the exact location of a pyramid, I would not have the thrill of the chase, the hunt. Also, I think the Louvre pyramid might be too slippery to climb.
December 17, 2010 2 Comments
The Guggenheim Museum, with its Frank Lloyd designed spirals and curves, was not conducive to pyramid-sighting. There were some well-formed triangles from Kandinsky, some inspired cubism from Marcel Grommaire and Leger, and some pointed ballerinas from Degas. Cones, yes. Pyramids, no. Otto Dix seemed more interested in blood and guts than geometry. I made my way up and down the spiral path, determined not to be seduced by Frank Lloyd Wright or the Chaos and Classicism exhibition. I had a mission.
Next in my quest for pyramids was the American Museum of Natural History on 81st Street. For a paltry $1 I learnt that the earth was approximately 4.8 billion years old, learnt how different types of rock formed and how to take an icecore sample. I saw a slab of the oldest known rock formation on earth (imported from Greenland) and several large meteorites, one so dense that it required concrete pylons to be constructed deep into the museum’s foundations to support its display on the 1st floor. I found a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an Albertosaur, an Archaeopteryx, a specimen of the Australian lungfish, Pleseosaurus, and the antecedents of birds, fish, frogs and turtles. I took a refresher course in human evolution and dragged Matt from cast displays of Lucy, Turkana Boy to Achulian and Levallois stone tools dating back 300,000 years. They had a cast of the skulls recovered from Lake Mungo (c. 35,000 years ago) and Kow Swamp (c.10,000 years ago/Pleistocene era). I casually made it known that I had participated in a minor capacity in excavating Pleistocene-dated stone tools in Wonthaggi, Victoria. I waved my arms enthusiastically in front of a mammoth, Diprotodon, giant proto-anteater and proto-sloth (Lepradon). I found some dioramas representing salmon traps that had been made by the North-west Coast Indians. It reminded me that I never finished reading about the eel trap settlement around Lake Condah, Victoria. I spent 8 hours over two days in the Natural History Museum, seeing approximately 45% of the collections on display. I am grieved to report that I did not locate any pyramids. I also didn’t find any unnamed dinosaurs I could name after Katie*. But all is not lost: a little plaque on the fourth floor said there were many fossils in their collection and too few
archaeologists paleontologists to study them. I could always retrain…
*When a high school friend of mine found out that I got a job in archaeology she made me promise under duress that I would name a dinosaur after her. I am still looking. I just tend to get distracted by things that have existed within the last 30,000 years.
December 8, 2010 4 Comments
Matt and I sat at a round metal table near the tram stop on the corner of Castro and Market Street. We had walked from the Green Tortoise Hostel in North Beach down Market Street, 12th Street, 16th Street stopping at a Malai/Thai restaurant, bookshops (Adobe and Valhalla) and the Dolores Mission. I had done about all the walking I was prepared to do with the flu and four hours sleep. Matt munched on a peanut cookie, me on Starburst jellies. A black homeless woman in a red sloppy-joe came up to our table and asked Matt for some food. He broke off a portion of the cookie. She walked off but returned moments later to retrieve a crumb that had fallen on the asphalt. I gave her the rest of my lollies. We got on the tram and headed back to our hostel to a free meal of burritos.
Street Art (16th, 17th Street)
On the way to the Green Tortoise Hostel
December 6, 2010 1 Comment
Lunch at Cafe Zoetroppe – the cafe of Coppola. We entered through old wood and glass rotating doors. The floor was a mosaic of warm red, green, yellow and white tiles. The walls were lined with wine racks. The labels of the wine bottles were rich colours too – purples, burgundy, dark greens. The tables were dark green and white marble. Bottles of balsamic and olive oil sat on the tables. Matt had pasta, I had Pizza Regina. A nice treat to start our trip.
I was surprised to find something a lot like a pyramid in San Francisco. I wasn’t even looking for one there.
November 14, 2010 2 Comments
8 November 2010
I’m on the train, heading to Newtown. The carriage smells of damp. Dashed lines of rain interrupt my view of the grey sky, the grey rip-rap and the wet rusted railway lines. It’s meant to be late Spring but I’m dressed in a red jacket and a knee length woollen coat. My sunflower-print umbrella, the one that leaked all the way to the station, is at my feet. A paperback, Donald Westlake’s The Ax, has been stashed in my satchel bag. I got through four pages. I can’t focus. It’s three weeks until Matt and I head off overseas for what he calls our Global Prowl. To keep himself busy while we travel he’s got himself a spot writing travel articles for PopMatters.com. He’s also got two novels to write and about forty paperbacks to read – the Donald Westlake in my bag being one of them. Each of those forty paperbacks I’ve been told is the perfect size and weight for travelling. Now that I’m reading the Westlake maybe it won’t make the cut.
My planning hasn’t gotten that far. I’m a bit worried that three weeks out I still haven’t been to the doctor to get my shots, still haven’t applied for an Egyptian Visa or the American ESTA, still don’t know whether to book transport to Kitchener or Montreal for Christmas, and still haven’t found a good pair of walking shoes.
Our itinerary so far includes a seven month trip through San Francisco, New York, Kitchener/Toronto/Montreal, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico City, London, Cairo (via an unconfirmed number of countries), Athens (via an unconfirmed number of countries) and finally Thailand where no doubt we will squeeze the last juices from our savings. France, Portugal, Spain Croatia, Bulgaria and Poland may or may not be added. No doubt the trip will be an exploration of cultural jetsam: museums; archaeological ruins; art galleries; literary pilgrimages and hopefully a good meal or two.
Everyone has been telling me that New York is the best city in the world except the newspapers that tell me it’s the best city in the world for bedbugs. I’ve given offence to my New York-initiated friends on several occasions by doubting that New York is a wonderful town. Beyond museums and the unavoidable jazz venues I don’t know what I shall see, eat, do. I have been told that you can do anything, any time in New York. This is great, because I really want to climb a pyramid.
In case climbing pyramids in New York falls through, I should get to explore exotic old ruins in Mexico – Cakamul, Palenque, Tulum, Chichen Itza – along with the other million tourists washing up onto the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula during January. Treasure, trash in unequal portions. I guess I’ll get to see how tourism and conservation co-exist (and be part of the conservation problem).
A man in a poncho sits next to me on the train and plays chess on his phone. I don’t believe he is Mexican -that would be too much of a co-incidence – but I bet he doesn’t worry about theft and kidnapping when he travels, just as he doesn’t mind wearing something a little out of the norm for Sydney. I’m embarrassed to say that I hold all the fears and trepidations of an inexperienced and nervous traveller. Such fears make me the kind of tourist who is all too tempted to get on that tour bus to avoid standing out and those little impracticalities caused by blatant ignorance and stupidity. While on that tour, I’d probably feel tempted to buy a poncho at the tourist shop but feel guilty for a) spending money and b) spending money on an item that probably sent a granny blind. Six months later you’d probably find me back in Sydney shivering at train stations because I didn’t pack my poncho in case someone looked at me. If that’s not self-indictment, I don’t know what is.
I don’t buy into the whole travelling to find yourself bullshit. I don’t have work at any of our planned destinations, I’m not writing a book and I’m not studying anything. I’ve bought a plane ticket to see stuff. This makes me a consumer. Let’s hope that this trip at least gives me a more global perspective and maybe in amongst all the interesting bits of cultural driftwood we find there are a few pieces worth turning over for a second look. Maybe even New York.