This time a bit more of a touristy type deal than a bedraggled zombie shuffle through the nightlife deal.
Starting off with Big Ben and Buckingham.
There’s still flowers on the bridge,
a little tension in the air.
Plenty of cops on patrol.
Big Ben towers overhead, always looks a little tilted in every photograph.
The palace itself is mobbed by travellers with selfie sticks
hoping to get a shot with the guard right as it changes.
We’re just on time to see a parade of fuzzy hats and bayonets go marching past
to the steady drum beat, striding with pride.
Next up, the National Gallery,
Rembrandts and Michaelangelos abound,
in hallowed halls, divine faces staring down at both the wide-eyed and the disinterested alike
with the same oil-on-canvas disdain.
Teenagers have to compete with arts students for a sliver of couch space.
One disappears into their iPhone, the other into her sketchbook
opting to bring back a piece of the Renaissance in pencil lines
instead of Instagram pixels.
Out in Trafalgar Square, breakdancers spar with political activist rallies
for audiences, dope beats mixing with the call
to stand up against racism and inequality.
Traffic is still difficult to reckon with
and pedestrians become sprinters at the drop of a hat.
Across the Thames, the Imperial War Museum stands tall with cannons poised outside
and a shard of the Berlin wall takes a solemn seat on the path up to the entrance.
While I’m inside, I learn that one of my great-grandfathers
was gassed during the Great War.
He carried a rattle in his lungs for the rest of his days.
Finally, the West End
Art Deco Restaurants that look like you’d easily find Noel Coward writing in a corner, brandy glass in hand, dissecting his fellow diners with knife-and-fork eyes.
Dinner service before The Play That Goes Wrong, where
everyone loses their collective shit.
“If you’ve eaten the raspberry ripple ice cream during the interval,
please seek medical help immediately.”
As the play falls to pieces (intentionally).
Enough of that.
On to Scotland.
Festooned Hen Parties barrelling down crowded sidewalks yowling after taxicabs.
ELBOWS UP! in the pubs if you want to get anywhere.
Blondes in dresses giving vicious side eye to the tourist at the bar who lingers a moment too long.
The tourist is me. Naturally.
Clusters of lads lads lads around a kebab kiosk on the street corner, smells of spices and charred meat wafting past.
All the sauces belong on the kebab, according to my sister.
Inside the pub, a Noel Gallagher lookalike in a pork pie hat is telling a tale with every inch of his body,
letting his gangly limbs flail like kites in a strong breeze before he doubles over a table, barely able to contain his mirth for his own joke.
His mates oblige.
Along the bridge, across the water. Yellow-vested police officers stroll in pairs, eyes up for troublemakers.
Everyone’s a troublemaker.
The bouncer at the second pub looks at me three times, says I’ve had too much.
Don’t feel like explaining that I’ve just flown in and that my exhaustion is all dressed up as a pint too many
so we go to a pub where the doorman isn’t as scrutinizing.
The bog is a swamp.
I’m immersed in new accents at every turn.
Prowling packs of young men with sharp haircuts and groomed skin roam in artisanal torn jeans and shoes stained with vomit from the bloke round the way that couldn’t hold his kebab.
The World’s End is a hard rock apocalyptica that seems to go on forever.
The Fruity lurks in the corner, batting its lashes at anyone with some spare pounds in their pockets.
Above the clamour and din, figures in housecoats smoke on their window ledges, watching the river of people below and letting their ashes drift like spring pollen.
Kinda fell off again there awhile.
I’ve a few months worth of distance from my trip now, which wipes away some of the gloss and the fog and adds a nice layer of perspective; still wouldn’t trade it all for anything. I definitely wouldn’t want to live in New York, but damn if I don’t want to get my work there in the near future.
The rest of the trip after the Day One recovery was split between museums, galleries, endless walking around Brooklyn and Downtown, more than a few instances of nearly getting lost, a passerby politely offering to sell me coke in the Village after a night of live jazz (and holy fuck the jazz!), conversations with total strangers in a cinema bar, and Hamilton.
There’s still nothing I can really say about Hamilton. They have all the words on that stage. I have none. I didn’t mob the theatre doors after the show angling for an autograph, but I did manage to snag an extra copy of the program, which I mailed to my grandfather, who’d always wanted a bonafide piece of New York city. Well, now you do.
After making the trek back, I stumbled right into the final rehearsals for my own show. Smaller black-box theatre, small cast, beautiful folks. Our run came and went and it felt good to be back in the thick of things. Cut to several months later and the summer is riding high, new projects are cooking along on all burners and I’m about ready to shuffle off from the city again for awhile. Instead of heading back to the grimy glorious heart of America, however, I’m aiming straight for the middle of nowhere, where I’ll have the time and the opportunity to stare out across an empty expanse of stick-thin trees and open gravel roads without hearing a single damn siren unless someone’s fireworks show gets really out of hand.
More to follow. Coffee now.
The Fox and the Crepes, mere steps from my temporary lodgings. Pictured: Lifesaving coffee. Not pictured: Lifesaving crepes.
Off the plane by a little after 7AM, bleary eyed stumbling through JFK, onto a waiting train to a waiting train to a wrong train to a right train to Brooklyn, where my host whisks me away to brunch almost as soon as my bags hit the floor. We’re diving back down into the metro and I completely lose track of where we are until we resurface and suddenly we’re in the guts of Chinatown, wandering past slabs of fresh fish on ice and noodle houses by the dozen. We walk until we find the intended restaurant is backed up out the door, his Toronto friends that have joined us recommend a nearby taco shop and before long I’m putting away banana-leaf-wrapped flank steak tacos and tall cups of coffee and staggering back to catch three extra hours of sleep before the evenings adventures begin. When they do, we’re navigating a construction-wracked warren of train transfers until we arrive at the Harlem apartment of one of my hosts classmates. It’s an exposed-brick sixth floor artist’s nest with books and scripts scattered across almost every available surface, the walls lined with hand drawn portraits of famous dead men (her “harem,” with King Charles, Kafka and Aaron Burr among her favourites.) Everyone there is sociable and welcoming, the conversation ranging wildly from the historical (did you know Aaron Burr tried to declare himself Emperor of Mexico?) to the bizarre (toilet paper versus paper towels, the ultimate showdown.) By the time the wine bottles are emptied and the guacamole consumed it’s nearing one AM, and the various train delays and long stretches spent wandering the platform waiting for an errant F train to materialize drag the journey out until it’s well after 3:30 in the morning by the time I stagger back and hit the couch like an astronaut suddenly becoming very reacquainted with gravity.
First impressions? I like it. I like it a hell of a lot.
More to follow once I get some coffee in me.
The Cheesecake Factory is full to bursting, ravenous young diners sparking cigarettes outside or huddling into seats in the waiting area as they pore over menus and down cocktails, killing time until their hockey-puck pager starts rattling like a fault line dwelling and they get a proper table. The place was recommended to me by the late-teen cell phone jockey who set up my phone with Stateside service for the duration of my visit, but I suspect I only would have managed a few bites there if I’d arrived on an earlier bus. Maybe yesterday’s. Instead I wander the streets for a short span until the Daily Grill stretches out on the street corner, and that’s where I’m writing this while I tuck back a Dark and Stormy and wait for the chefs to throw together a chicken pot pie.
Washington State is beautiful, as far as I’ve seen from the Greyhound bus windows that have been my main viewpoint for the lion’s share of the afternoon. Halfway to Seattle, we passed through the town where my mother spend most of her youth, and she commented that the West Coast must simply be in our blood, through and through. I couldn’t disagree; between the tiny towns lining the highway after the border crossing, I was fixed upon the scenery so much I almost forgot to watch the new Sorkin film I’d made sure to download for the trip (Good, but the Social Network still reigns supreme.)
The alcohol is starting to works it’s wonderful magic now as the stresses I was feeling earlier today begin to dissipate like a morning mist getting burnt off before noon. I woke up with a belly full of fire and my heart in my throat like it was ready to stay there, an obstinate occupier, for the rest of the week. I’ve been getting better at managing my neuroses, though not enough to avoid doubling back to check to see if I’d locked the door behind me after I’d left (I had).
When they bring me the chicken pot pie I ordered, the damn thing is bigger than my face.
Welcome to America.
There’s a bone-white piano lingering on the skeletal steps of a two-story home hugging the curb next to a car cleaners, a Shell station and a block of Lego-brick luxury condos snapping higher every month.
Chartered busses bearing bearded boarders haul them from hostels heavenward on clouds of leftover cocaine from the last DJ set from that brokenjaw East Van special, six Saturdays and a Sunday thrumming arpeggios on their heartstrings, waiting for the day gravity finally pulls its pants on, catches up, and force-feeds them black diamonds of their own making.
The air feels less encumbered here, doesn’t carry notes of rush-hour arguments, alley-piss accents, staccato secondhand cigs. Instead, if you breathe deep enough, hold it just so on the tip of your tongue, you can pluck out an older strain, mountain-filtered, in stone tones that says
You’re still here?”
Last night, the NDP swept through Alberta like a prairie fire, consuming all the old chaff and tired trees in its path and leaving clean slates for the Orange Crush to steer back into lush fields. We had to be up by 5AM to make the early train to Quebec City, but sleep didn’t arrive until well after one in the morning, after the polls had closed and every newspaper called it and the majority vote clambered up and up and up.
Five AM: given our propensity to sleep in, all electronic devices are scattered to each corner of the room and rigged to jangle and bleat at the stroke of five and no later. We manage to make the 6:15AM eastbound train and watch as the Montreal skyline gives way to sweeping fields and grain silos and the banks of the Saint Lawrence. We try to sleep. I can’t write; between the rattling of the train and the heavyness of last night, my mind is in too many places at once to find a shred of sleep.
Quebec City: All plots and plans are thrown immediately out the window as we disembark. Each street twists and dives back into another, stairwells appear from nowhere and lead beyond, and every second store is an art gallery or framer with treasures lining his or her windows. Antique dealers, pubs and souvenir shops populate the crowded, brick-lined streets, bubbling with out-of-towners and clusters of rumbling schoolchildren asking where they could see all the “soldier stuff.” We get lost more than a few times between late morning poutine and afternoon coffee at the mighty museum, and somehow manage to miss the Plains of Abraham entirely, with a miscalcuation sending us skittering along the banks of the St. Lawrence instead of the hills and fields where troops died by the dozens.
The day winds down in a pub before boarding the 5:45PM back to Montreal, where I finally find the impetus to put some words together. My body is exhausted (The city is roughly 80% stairs) and my mind is a wreck, but we can now say we’ve been to one of the oldest cities in Canada… albeit in a somewhat meandering fashion. Back to Montreal to sleep like the dead before tackling the heart of downtown tomorrow.