Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Difference Between New York and Los Angeles (abbreviated)

In the past six months/year or so, two songs have come out lauding the qualities of New York and California (Los Angeles) respectively. Having lived forty minutes or less from New York City for most of my life, and having just been to L.A. for the first time (albeit briefly), I find the differences between the songs quite telling. I think it might be interesting to examine the differences between other New York/L.A. (California) songs, but for now, due to time constraints and the fact that I've had a few drinks, I'll stick to the most recent odes to these cities.

First, Jay-Z/Alicia Keys' ode to New York, "Empire State of Mind":

Yeah I'm out that Brooklyn.
Now I'm down in Tribeca.
Right next to DeNiro
But I'll be hood forever
I'm the new Sinatra
And since I made it here
I can make it anywhere
(Yeah they love me everywhere)
I used to cop in Harlem
All of my Dominicanos (Hey yo)
Right there off of Broadway
Brought me back to that McDonalds
Took it to my stash spot
560 State Street
Catch me in the kitchen like Simmons whipping Pastry
Cruising down 8th street
Off-white Lexus
Driving so slow
(but BK, it's from Texas!!)
Me I'm out that BedStuy
Home of that boy Biggie
now I live on Billboard
and I brought my boys with me
Say what up to Ta-ta
Still sipping Mai Tais
Sitting courtside
Knicks and Nets give me high-5
N**ga, I be Spiked out
I could trip a referee
...tell by my attitude that I'm MOST DEFINITELY FROM...

[Alicia Keys]
New York!!!!
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can’t do,
Now you're in New York!!!
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York

I made you hot n-gga,
Catch me at the X with OG at a Yankee game,
sh-t I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,
you should know I bleed Blue, but I ain't a crip tho,
but I got a gang of n-ggas walking with my clique though,
welcome to the melting pot,
corners where we selling rocks,
Afrika bambaataa sh-t,
home of the hip hop,
yellow cab, gypsy cab, dollar cab, holla back,
for foreigners it ain't fitted act like they forgot how to act,
8 million stories out there and they're naked,
city it's a pity half of y’all won’t make it,
me I gotta plug a special and I got it made,
If Jeezy's payin LeBron, I’m paying Dwayne Wade,
3 dice cee-lo
3 card marley,
Labor Day parade, rest in peace Bob Marley,
Statue of Liberty, long live the World Trade,
long live the king yo,
I’m from the Empire State thats…

[Alicia Keys]
In New York!!!!
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can’t do,
Now you're in New York!!!
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York

Welcome to the bright light..

Lights is blinding,
girls need blinders
so they can step out of bounds quick,
the side lines is blind with casualties,
who sip the lite casually, then gradually become worse,
don’t bite the apple Eve,
caught up in the in crowd,
now you're in-style,
and in the winter gets cold en vogue with your skin out,
the city of sin is a pity on a whim.
good girls gone bad, the city's filled with them,
Mommy took a bus trip and now she got her bust out,
everybody ride her, just like a bus route,
Hail Mary to the city your a Virgin,
and Jesus can’t save you life starts when the church ends,
came here for school, graduated to the high life,
ball players, rap stars, addicted to the limelight,
MDMA got you feeling like a champion,
the city never sleeps better slip you a Ambien

[Alicia Keys]
New York!!!!
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can’t do,
Now you're in New York!!!
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York

[Alicia Keys]
One hand in the air for the big city,
Street lights, big dreams all looking pretty,
no place in the World that can compare,
Put your lighters in the air, everybody say yeaaahh
come on, come,

[Alicia Keys]
New York!!!!
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can’t do,
Now you're in New York!!!
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York

I'd love to do a close read on this song, but this isn't really the time or place for it. I am, after all, drunk in Boston and feeling both nostalgic and contemplative. So instead, I'll try to hit the more salient points.

A common thread in many New York ballads/love songs/etc. is the idea of "making it." The song begins with Jay-Z telling his rags to riches story, amplifying his own greatness parallel to the city's. This self-aggrandizement is a common trope of hip hop, but is also entirely apropos to a New York ode, given both the image the city enjoys in the American (world?) consciousness and the attitudes of many New Yorkers themselves. The story of struggle, of coming from nothing and becoming great is one of the classic New York themes, and perhaps one of the reasons New York continues to be a beacon for so many - a place where not only is escape possible, but metamorphosis into something greater than one ever imagined. The chorus itself drives home this theme, which is the heart of the piece.

The song continues to name-drop and place-drop. It is, after all, a love song, and names all the parts that the author feels connected to and enjoys. The song also, however, frankly names some of the sadder, seedier elements of New York - the theme of innocence lost (good girls gone bad, the city's filled with them / Mommy took a bus trip and now she got her bust out), of the sacrifices made for the dream, and the many people for whom the dream goes unrealized (8 million stories out there and they're naked / city it's a pity half of y’all won’t make it). This is telling of a gritty realism that is an integral part of the Northeast's character, exemplified in the New York "no bullshit" attitude. It is understated but still poignant, an acknowledged casualty of the city's greatness.

OK, so there's that.

Next, we have Katy Perry (with Snoop Dogg)'s "California Gurls":

Snoop Dogg:
Greetings loved ones
Let's take a journey

I know a place
Where the grass is really greener
Warm, wet and wild
There must be something in the water
Sippin' gin and juice
Laying underneath the palm trees (undone)
The boys
Break their necks
Try'na creep a little sneak peek (at us)

You could travel the world
But nothing comes close
to the golden coast
Once you party with us
You'll be falling in love
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

California girls
We're unforgettable
Daisy Dukes
Bikinis on top
Sun-kissed skin
So hot
we'll melt your popsicle
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

California girls
We're undeniable
Fine, fresh, fierce
We got it on lock
West coast represent
Now put your hands up
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

Sex on the beach
We got sand in our stilettos
We freak
In my jeep
Snoop Doggy Dogg on the stereo (oh oh)

You could travel the world
But nothing comes close
to the golden coast
Once you party with us
You'll be falling in love
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

California girls
We're unforgettable
Daisy Dukes
Bikinis on top
Sun-kissed skin
So hot
we'll melt your popsicle
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

California gurls
We're undeniable
Fine, fresh, fierce
We got it on lock
West coast represent
Now put your hands up
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

Snoop Dogg:
Toned, Tanned
Fit and ready
Turn it up cause its gettin' heavy
Wild, wild west coast
These are the girls I love the most
I mean the ones
I mean like shes the one
Kiss her
Touch her
Squeeze her buns

The girls a freak
She drives a jeep
The men on the beach
I'm okay
I won't play
I love the Bay
Just like I love LA
Venice beach
and Palm Springs
Summer time is everything

Hangin' out
All that ass
hanging out
Bikinis, tankinis, martinis
No weenies
Just a king
and a queen-ie
Katy my lady
now look at here baby
(uh huh)
Im all up on you
Cause you representin' California
(ohhh yeahh)

California gurls
We're unforgettable
Daisy Dukes
Bikinis on top
Sun-kissed skin
So hot
we'll melt your popsicle
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

California gurls
We're undeniable
Fine, fresh, fierce
We got it on lock
West coast represent
(West coast, west coast)
Now put your hands up
Oooooh Oh Oooooh

Snoop Dogg:
(Californiaaa, Californiaaa)
California girls man
I wish they all could be
California girls
I really wish
You all could be
California girls
(Californiaaa, girls)

My understanding is that the genesis of this song came from Katy Perry being in a club in California (presumably Los Angeles), and witnessing the room singing along to "Empire State of Mind." Unhappy with the fact that her fellow Californians were singing (along) the praises of New York, Ms. Perry supposedly then decided to write an ode to California.

The first thing I want to note is that Katy Perry names this song "California Gurls," but, having been to both Southern and Central/Northern California, and also having known a number of people who are either from or have spent a great deal of time in either or both areas, I think it's safe to say Ms. Perry is really talking more specifically about girls from Los Angeles, or at least, SoCal. The lack of specificity in the song can probably be attributed to Ms. Perry's desire to achieve a certain meter/rhythm, but even so, it's a distinction worth making, since Jay-Z's song is not entitled "East Coast State of Mind," which would almost be comparable, given California's size and variety of residents.

Lyrically, the song is much lighter than "Empire State of Mind" - it essentially has one verse sung by Ms. Perry, then a (well-executed) rap by Snoop Dogg, with an extremely catchy chorus. The lyrics are light in content as well as words - the song is essentially about sex and partying, and little else. It's catchy, fun to dance to, and easy to learn the words to, but doesn't have much else going on. One can't help but draw the comparison to Los Angeles - or at least, the image for which Los Angeles is so broadly known. Shallow, pretty, and concerned with only the most superficial of themes, the song is little more than a party anthem for the summer. And really, that's all the song really needs to be - there are other songs about California that convey more depth, or are more thematically complex, than "California Gurls." However, in light of the recent riots (or in the context of Los Angeles, perhaps "mini-riots" might be a better term) over the Lakers' victory in the NBA finals, one has to wonder at such frivolity in the face of a city that clearly has so much more going on.

I guess it's not entirely necessary for me to get into the idea that maybe L.A.'s propensity for rioting has something to do with this bubbly, pretty, cheery facade dominating the image that the city projects (or perhaps with the vast wealth and privilege that allows it to be projected) while so many of its citizens live in squalor, without access to the same education, resources, and opportunities that these privileged few enjoy. But it's something I can't help but think about having been given a 48-hour tour that ranged from Inglewood to Malibu, and seeing how underrepresented one side is compared to the other.

It makes me wonder what Ice Cube would say about "California Gurls." Or rather, what Ice Cube would have said about it in 1989.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Southwest: Texas, Part the Second, New Mexico, Arizona

Texas takes forever.

No, really. There isn't much to say about the portion of Texas we drove through on Saturday night. It seems like west of Austin, there's... nothing. Like really, nothing. Not even tumbleweed. At least along I-10, for sure. That is a terrifying trip, with crazy winds that were pushing the truck around in the pitch black. The stars at night may be big and bright out there, but not much else is! We fueled up at an abandoned gas station, slaughtered hundreds of mosquitoes on our windshield and grill, and saw another rest stop with so many crosses (some juxtaposed with eagles) prominently displayed, Joy thought we were in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Creepy is not enough of a word. LOLOL. I started to believe that Texas is really just an endless loop in the space-time continuum.

But then we hit New Mexico.

The first plan was to drive as far as we could on Saturday night - at least make it to New Mexico - so we decided on Carlsbad. Unfortunately, since we were working a flexible plan, when we rolled up on Carlsbad at about 1:30, 2:00 AM or so, and every hotel room in town (according to the dude at the Best Western, who was probably the sixth or seventh hotel we'd called), so we ended up driving another hour and a half or so to Roswell (we rolled up at about 4:00 AM), where we actually got a really nice hotel room for a pretty good price, and slept about as hard as we have on any part of this trip.

So we woke up and drove right out of Roswell - we had little interest in alien tchotchke. After hitting a diner that took an hour and fifteen minutes to serve us one piece of French toast, a couple of slices of bacon, some hashbrowns, and a breakfast burrito, we got rolling through NM in the daylight.

One thing that ought to be said is that the mesas out there are a little awe inspiring. They're quite incredible, and honestly, I felt during most of my time out there that pictures were a waste of time. I don't think a photograph is capable of capturing the size and grandeur of them. The other side of that, though, was the obvious poverty that seemed to pervade many parts of New Mexico. There were many run-down trailers and shacks sprinkled through the countryside, and much of it looked very depressed. The people there weren't unkind, but less openly friendly than in Texas or the South; there was something harder, I think, about the people there.

Aside from the mesas, though, I didn't think much of the landscape. There's a ton of small, scraggly, brushy little plants on a whole lot of dirt. LOL. Though overall, I much prefer New Mexico to Arizona.

Arizona, for the most part, looked a lot like New Mexico, only with sort of shockingly cartoonish advertisements for Indian reservations and goods off the highway. Huge, ridiculous teepees, "cave paintings," and other American Indian cliches littered the side of the road. On the one hand, it's pretty obvious that people on the reservation need to make money where they can, but on the other, it seemed like as soon as we'd crossed the boarder into Arizona, the means by which they had to do it was a matter of American Indian Samboism. It was weird and kind of sad.

People are, again, less friendly out there. They were looking at Joy as though they'd never actually seen a black person in real life before, and at a Mexican restaurant in Flagstaff, while I was sitting on a bench near the front of the place, waiting for my take out, this woman came up to me and asked, "Are you open right now?" So I guess brown people are always assumed to be the help in Flagstaff.

There's a little downtown part of Flagstaff that seemed to be geared toward college kids, and it was cute and funky. It's a very outdoorsy mountain town, with lots of places to get gear for snowboarding, skiing, and the like - but also, guns. LOLOL. Also, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart was pretty much the only game in town in Carlsbad, and they seem to be a pretty big deal out in the Southwest, and in this way, I can see really clearly how it's destroying the culture and changing economies. I'm guessing a lot of locally-owned hardware stores, grocery stores, general stores, and other sorts of merchants have been put out of business by the big blue beast, and it's just sad to roll up on Wal-Mart and see the people there. I don't know.

I'm losing coherence again, so I should wrap this up.

We saw the Grand Canyon, which was certainly a highlight of the trip. I do wish we'd had more time there - despite all the other tourists and the construction (yes! There was construction at the Grand Canyon - I think they were building a restroom at one of the lookout points), it was still incredibly humbling and beautiful and moving. I could have sat there for hours, just meditating on the size of it, and the size of we tiny things scurrying around its edges.

But alas, we had to get to LA, which was still eight hours west.

The rest of Arizona was generally unimpressive and long. It was mountainous, yes, but still shrubby and brown. It was a good feeling when we got to California - but that'll have to wait. :D

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Texas, Part the First: Southeast Texas and Austin

Texas is too big.

As we passed through Texas, Joy told me that she hated Texas, but couldn't help but like their attitude about Texas being the Real 'Murrka, or being the only thing it needed, because Californians are the same way.

There were American flags everywhere - I mean everywhere - matched in ubiquity only by the Texas state flag, closely followed by Whataburgers and Sonics. This would be fine - I mean, hey, it's not like I didn't know what to expect; I've been to Texas twice before. But driving through is a wholly different experience than flying in and staying with friends for a few days. People were not quite as friendly as in the Deep South, but certainly still warm and nice. Southeast Texas was uneventful enough, aside from the sharp right turns you have to take to get off and back on the highway and the pervasive presence of pickup trucks and SUVs. No joke, for a long while it was like for every car you saw on the highway, there were easily nine truck-type vehicles. There were signs that actually said "Don't Mess with Texas." The scenery mostly unremarkable except for the big, big sky - which was really lovely, full of big clouds, puffy and in fun shapes. There seems to be truth to a lot of this hype.

Around Houston, we got a system warning from the car (it has a computer - fancy!). After a brief moment of real concern, we figured out (by consulting the manual) that the issue was a need for an oil change, and after a call to the rental car company and the help from a very cute guy in a nearby pickup, we changed the oil (five freakin' quarts) and rolled on. We got to Austin mid-evening, and there, the shiny bright best part of Texas revealed itself to us.

I have a friend in Austin, but unfortunately, due to the shortness of our stay and facebook fail, we weren't able to meet up with him - as it was, our visit felt sadly rushed. The people in Austin were very friendly - friendlier than elsewhere we'd been in Texas - and blessedly weird. Austin is a city with style, a little sass, and plenty of personality, and it was a pleasure to be there, even so briefly. We stayed at the Hotel San Jose, which is quite an impressive boutique hotel in South Austin, quite close to bars, shopping, and downtown. The room was a lovely little luxury, with minimalist decor (concrete floors, bamboo shades, just one poster of Jack Kerouac on the wall), high quality, hip accoutrement in the room (Dr. Bronner's peppermint liquid castille soap for body wash in the bathroom, as well as Havaiana chanclas/flip flops, a hemp robe, and delicious goodies like Haribo gummies, pistachios, high quality chocolate) you could buy, and lots of very private nooks and crannies that made you feel you were at some desert oasis resort rather than in the middle of a major city.

The first thing we did was go out for dinner at a nearby Mexican place called Guero. Now, technically, I've eaten Mexican food before. Or at least something very close to it. And my friends who have lived in California or Texas' grousing about the lack of Mexican food on the East Coast always made me roll my eyes a little (much as I imagine my expounding on the utter shitshow that is pizza or bagels outside of the New York metro area has made them roll theirs). But seriously - I had been aware of the existence of Mexican food, but I'd never had anything like this before. The beef was perfectly seasoned, the sauces clever and complex, the ingredients fresh and hand-prepared - what?

I need to get a mole while I'm out in this Southwestern land.

After dinner, we decided to take a little walk down South Congress Avenue. By the time we'd finished our meal, it was already late, and the shops already closed, but the character of the area was already apparent even when the lights were off. In our travels, we found this little cluster of Airstream RVs selling different types of foods, and we stopped at one with a big ole cupcake on top aptly named, "hey cupcake!"

Inside, we found a gorgeous, friendly girl named Jamie who was fun to chat with. Turns out, she's originally from a part of New York very close to where my parents live, a plus-size model, and pretty awesome. She gave us four cupcakes for the price of one, and was kind enough to let me take a couple of pictures of her.

We wound up at the hotel bar, which is this secluded, outdoor, beautiful little place with winding vines on trellises and tasty shandies and a super friendly staff. It's apparently a popular spot where people in Austin go for the hip-but-relaxed ambiance, and the people there were really friendly as well. (Though one dude came up to us all flashing his business card and telling us how he was the VP of some company or another and was this big deal and had just been to China and literally, seriously straight up told us that he went there with $13,000 and in fifteen minutes of conversation I think possibly asked one question about either of us. He paid for our drinks and wanted us to come downtown with him and his friends. We let him get our drinks, but declined his invitation.)

After a delicious night's sleep at the hotel, we wanted to have time to get something to eat, go shopping, and check out the springs in Austin before we rolled out that late afternoon/early evening. It was hot as hell, but we did all three of these - more great Mexican, fantastic little shops (vintage, antiques, novelties, art). The springs were nothing like I'd ever seen before - just this big, natural spring in the middle of a park in the middle of Austin with tons and tons of people just swimming around, laying out on the grass, treating it like the beach. We didn't go in for lack of time, but it was really pretty and neat to see.

I'm not sure if we could call it the highlight of our day, since it was a pretty good day, but one of the more exciting things about Austin was going to the Original Whole Foods Evarr. (This is not to take anything away from Austin, but rather to emphasize the awesomeness of this Whole Foods.) It was freaking huge - I mean H U G E. Clean and gorgeous and modern and friendly, tons of prepared foods and treats and eats - we stocked up for the rest of the trip there, which was a Good Plan. Candy and gas station snacks were starting to wear on me, at least.

Jesus, this is rambling. All of these things seem so trivial in writing them down, but the city was just so enjoyable. The vibe was hip, friendly, creative, and weird, the nighttime crowd was fun, and the city seemed to have tons of things to do, as well as tons of unique, interesting, and very lovely architecture and design. I could definitely see spending a good deal more time there - though next time, I'll definitely fly in.

Friday, June 11, 2010


It's easy to love a city in 36 hours, especially when you go to exactly the area designed to make you fall in love with it, especially when the city is New Orleans, which seems to have been created strictly for pleasure: food, drink, sex, music, heat, magic. The celebration of life with the subtle, underlying awareness of (and resistance to) death is everywhere we've been here, and we haven't left the French Quarter. The people are incredibly warm, but maybe it feels different than other parts of the South - people just greet you in the street. Men just greet you in the street - not even trying to chat you up. They see a pair of pretty girls and just want to say hello and have a good night.

Years ago, I formulated a half-baked emergency evacuation plan to New Orleans. I had been making serious messes in my life, and just wanted to go somewhere else - do something else. I'm not sure how that would have turned out - it seems like New Orleans could be a dangerous place to escape, because all the pleasures I mentioned earlier can be so easily used as escapes in themselves; escapes that become a lifestyle, that obscure the path to the other things I wanted at that time - things already obscured by layers of my own lack of self-awareness and care. It might have taken longer for me to clean up the messes I was making - but maybe not.

Either way, coming here now that I'm 30-something and have my shit mostly together, coming here when I'm less than a year away from graduating from my MFA program, coming here when the cold of Boston - all the different colds of Boston - have only started to thaw, and were cracking my bones for six months, makes me long and long and long for this place. I know that it's not all the French Quarter; I know that New Orleans has been hurt, and badly, by the past few years, but I think I need to live in this city. More than New York, which would work for me, which would provide opportunity to me - I think New Orleans could thaw me out, bring back something living in the Northeast has slowly been diminishing.

Anyway, this kind of reflection isn't so much about what we did in New Orleans, which was eat, drink, and be merry. Of course, we went to Cafe du Monde and had beignets and frozen coffees, which were amazing, of course. We walked Decatur street, did some shopping. But really, it was the food.

Jambalaya, crawfish etoufee, gumbo ya ya, red beans and rice (the only beans and rice I've ever tasted that I'd even think about putting up against my grandmother's), fried crawfish tails, creme brulee, white chocolate bread pudding - and crawfish! The whole kind that you eat, then suck the heads. (This was way more troubling to me than I ever could have anticipated; for someone who eats meat as often as I do, I had a lot of trouble tearing the head off of something - even something that just looked like a huge red bug - and sucking/tearing its insides out. It was kind of a violent and sad process. Yes, I understand that factory farming does much worse than that, but I don't chop the heads off of cows or pigs and de-rib them.)

Anyway, needless to say, the food was amazing. Like, out of control. The French Quarter itself is beautiful; the architecture here is gorgeous and romantic. The intimacy of the buildings - two or three stories, balconies, very close together, if not connected - reinforces the sense of friendliness of the area, and even in the heat, walking around was a pleasure. It was a smorgasbord of accents, especially Southern ones, which was really lovely to listen to - there's something about a drawl that works well with the heat.

Bourbon Street was as full of life and flavor as the food. There's music everywhere, color, people, drinks - I'd really like to come back some night when I can really go the distance. As it was, since we're getting on the road in about an hour and a half, we had to go to bed early, leaving at midnight - which was clearly still the warm-up period for Rue Bourbon. Even on a weeknight, it was jumping, so I can't begin to imagine how it is on the weekends - or at Mardi Gras. It's almost terrifying to contemplate!

Vita Coco should open up a whole store in the French Quarter.

I feel like there's more to say - I feel like I need more time here, I want to learn this city and love it and live in it and write in it. But for now, it's time to get ready to get back on the road again, to find the next adventure, see the next place.

But I'll be back.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Music and the Deeper South: Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana

Joy and I love music.

A person's attitude toward music tells me a lot about them. Well, maybe that's too broad. But what I can say is that if a person values music as much I do, it can be a very reliable and potent way for me to connect with that person.

One of the things I like about Joy is that we value music differently - or maybe it's better to say we assign different levels of priority to different elements of music. But just the fact that we can easily talk for hours about music - the things we look for in songs, the way we connect to different artists and genres, the divergences and overlaps in our tastes, preferences, and ways of enjoying music - makes traveling with her enjoyable in itself.

After all, music is a pretty integral part of any good road trip - and music is a major theme of this road trip in particular.

We went to Nashville because it's a music town. We drove like hell to get there, crashed at Joy's very gracious aunt's house, and had a nice brunch there with her hilarious and lovely cousin. While we didn't get to explore the more musical aspects of Nashville, I found the parts of it we did get to see charming, pretty, and interesting. Flood damage is still evident in places, but it was good to hear from Joy's cousin that volunteerism was rampant in the city after the flood, and that the recovery seems to be going well (though people apparently get understandably twitchy when they see rain in the weather forecast).

From Nashville, we went to Memphis, where we took a little walk on Beale street, which was just a great little place. Live music seemed to be coming from everywhere, a beautiful noise swelling and rolling into the street, alive and spilling into every corner of the experience. The music seeped into the cracks of the place, cemented it together. It was palpable, and it was genuine. What might have seemed gimmicky in some other context, in some other place, was very real and a true pleasure in this corner of the world.

On top of that, at a place on Beale Street called Pig, we got truly amazing - I mean insanely succulent, flavorful, perfect - barbecue. Man, pulled pork is a gift from a higher power, I am convinced of this. Also, sweet tea and corn on the cob and the best onion rings I've ever had, and pecan pie. (The restaurant was aptly named!)

After nomming at Pig, we took a rogue trip to Graceland, which was already closed for the night. Fortunately, the area surrounding Elvis' former home is always there, and we got to see the strange and slowly fading phenomenon of Elvis worship. The folks walking around were predictably older, and there were few enough of them, though they were still there. I didn't know about or expect the wall covered with messages to Elvis, declarations of love for him and for partners/boyfriends/girlfriends/whomever.

Mississippi was beset by bored cops (we saw ten cars with cherries flashing stopped by the side of the road, where a lone black man was handcuffed, sitting on the ground, looking resignedly put out), heavy rain (I had to pull over and let Joy drive), and amazing lightning storms. In general, Mississippi was really empty and didn't seem to have much going on, which was kind of creepy. We drove fast and faster, and after about six hours (about 2:00 AM), arrived at our hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

So now we're in our very pretty, nice-smelling hotel room, sleepy and comfy, each of us on our computers. Tomorrow morning, we sleep till we feel like it, get some breakfast, and explore NOLA a little.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cross Country

Cross country seems like one of those weird concepts that was never more than an abstract to me until it started to happen.

I still don't think it's begun to sink in for me yet - so far, we've been through places that are reasonably familiar. Monday, we got off to a pretty late start, which when combined with the fact that we had to pick up my license from the DMV in Jersey, made the first leg more of a mini-leg - about a seven-hour trip (including stops) to Philly. Since we started at 5 PM, and the scenery from New England through New Jersey isn't that varied, it was pretty much strictly about covering distance.

And also, dinner at Red Lobster in Connecticut, which was fun and funny.

Yesterday was a significantly longer day. The thing here is sleep; it's important that we be well-rested, or driving for hours and hours is not going to work out. So since we got into Philly at 1:30, we didn't roll out to the DMV till about 10:30 or so, and didn't get on the road until 11:30. That said, we got to Nashville by 1:00 (though granted, we did change time zones, but it still counts). This was maybe the longest day of our trip, and for me, certainly the most familiar. I don't know how many times I've traveled down I-95 into the South, but the Mid-Atlantic still feels vaguely like home.

Traveling west through Virginia was new for me, certainly. Being from a state as small as New Jersey, and traveling most often between Boston and New York, it's easy to forget that most other states are actually way bigger, and that you can easily spend most of a day driving through one of them. I don't have any staggering cultural insights; as we moved further away from urban areas, I became slightly uneasy and enamored, probably in equal measures. The Shenandoah Valley and western Virginia are beautiful, certainly; green and green and green, with a gorgeous blue sky (pics later). The people, when we stopped, were in general warm and friendly - again, no surprise. But I also noticed that as we moved west, brown folks became increasingly more rare, and there was the odd look here and there. Though nothing really offensive, I don't think.

But it's pretty funny - of course, as soon as we got to the Real South, we saw signs for guns and fireworks. Then we saw the Biggest Cross Evarr (well, maybe not Evarr, but it was huge and prominent and surrounded by Quality Inns and Shoney's and McDonalds' and Pilots).

Unfortunately, it was dark as we drove through Knoxville, but it was a strange thing to go from total rural - like nothing, nothing, nothing - to a full-on city with very little transition time. I know that's how it happens in the South, often enough, but we were driving a long ass time without seeing any signs of human life (aside from the food and fuel stops, which kind of don't count) before Knoxville kind of popped up. It seemed pretty; it would have been nice to see.

But now we're in Nashville, and it's raining, I'm pretty sure - I heard some pretty loud thunder earlier. But I'm interested to see it - see what the flood did, and how it looks. What it feels like.

Then, Memphis! BBQ! Graceland! And oh yes, there will be pics of all.

And THEN, New Orleans!

Friday, July 24, 2009

I Should Have Written This Days Ago

I really should have!

But getting back was busy (of course), and then being back was - well, I wont' get ahead of myself.

So those first two days in Dublin, I took one of those hop-on, hop-off tour buses, as I'd mentioned in my last post. Ultimately, though, I've concluded that after the first go-around, they are a monumental waste of time. Next time, I'll take the bus once around to get a glimpse of everything, maybe, but other than that, I much more enjoy myself and the city on my own.

On the third day, I just started walking. I had only a vague itinerary - Christchurch, Dublin Castle, and St. Patrick's, right?

Mission accomplished! Mostly!

I went to St. Patrick's first - sort of. Actually, I went to Grafton Street first, and got a fun time getting lost. This was the place that reminded me of different spots in Barcelona the most, if only because of all the shops - but I liked it better because Grafton Street is a relatively short street, with lots of other little walk-only streets crossing it, so it's like a little network of pedestrian fun. There were lots of streets like these in Dublin, and I adored that - I love the walk-only street. They're so much nicer, and I feel like they make you really get into the nooks and crannies of a place.

So anyway, after I did a little shopping and discovered that I'd missed a walking tour on the 1916 revolution (which made me sad), I struck off on my own; I visited St. Patrick's, which is beautiful. There's a park next to it that's just gorgeous, and in the back of it, they have memorials to various Irish writers:

So after I went inside and took a million pictures of the gorgeous stained glass, I went to Christchurch for probably my favorite historical moment of the trip - this exhibition they were doing on the Vikings!!! :D

It was so interesting to learn about them, and everything was interactive - and they had these great replicas of places and people:

Hehehe... he's on the turlet!

They also had a medieval village/market - but that floor was beset on all sides by hordes of Spanish teenagers, gumming up the works and just making me want to get out of there. Though I did talk to some of them, and they were actually really cute and sweet. I just didn't want to be taking pictures and trying to get my learn on with them wandering around, getting in the way, and yammering the whole time. LOLOL. But they were nice. One of them asked me where I was from, and I told him the U.S., and he asked me how I spoke Castillian so well (YAY! :D) and I told him my mom is Cuban, and then he was like, "Ah, yes, -that's- your accent!" LOLOL YAAAY!

So anyway, after Christchurch, I wandered around a bit more, and found Dublin Castle.

Sadly, they were done with tours for the day, so I wandered over to the Beatty Library, had a little lunch, looked at some things, and tried Turkish delight for the first time.

As I wrote in a text that many of you received:

"You know, it's not bad, but I find it hard to believe that Turkish delight was ultimately responsible for the betrayal of Aslan and Narnia."

And I agree with Alexis' assessment; respect has been lost for Edmund. LOLOL.

Okay, enough nerd humor.

So after the library, it started pissing rain - it was crazy! It had been blue-skied and sunny, gorgeous, and then all of a sudden - deluge! My cute little sheep umbrella that I got from the airport immediately succumbed to the wind, and I went to the library/museum gift shop to see if they had any umbrellas for sale.

They didn't, but they just gave me one they had back there! So sweet!

So after the library, I wandered back another way toward St. Stephen's Green, and stumbled upon this:

What a neat little market! I found a CD store that was playing what sounded like The Knife - so I went in and asked. The Irish hipster at the tiny counter looked at me with impressive disdain and disgust as soon as he heard my American accent - but when I asked if what was playing was The Knife, he looked at me again, less suspiciously this time. He informed me that actually, it was the chick from the Knife's solo project - I was like, "Oh, really? I didn't know about that! Cool!" And then he actually seemed to kind of warm up (well, relatively speaking), and told me that yeah, it'd only just come out a few weeks ago. So I was like, "Awesome," and asked for it, and I bought it, and I am excited because it's pretty cool, but I also actually bought a physical CD that just came out - I don't know if this has happened to me since before 1998. LOLOL.

Anyway, I also got a nice banana nut bread, and then took a walk through St. Stephen's Green. I'd been planning to go to the National Gallery, but I was pretty beat, and my feets were hurting from walking all day! So I went back to my inn instead!


But anyway, it was a lovely day. I wish I could have had just one or two more - but c'est la vie! :D