Saturday, October 16, 2004

Try The Fish


I had too much of a strong local beer called Keystone Ice last night and I spent this morning staggering around like something out of the Keystone Cops. A huge cup of Seattle coffee just about cleared my throbbing headache and I was able to pull myself together enough to go to the big market round the corner. There's all sorts of overpriced stuff for tourists to buy but fish is the main reason to go. I had a great grilled halibut sandwich, nice and spicy with some lovely rosemary mayonnaise. A t-shirt in one of the shops had 'Seattle - a day without sunshine' written on it. That sums up the weather here quite well, I've got my jacket on for just about the first time since Siberia, but after all the heat I'm pretty glad of it. Think I might stay off the beer tonight though.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Where The Ragged People Go


The bus journey up here was pretty interesting. At the station in Portland I ran into a couple of British guys I met in San Francisco. After we got settled on the very crowded bus I looked around to see we were in the middle of a wide array of unusual characters. The huge fat guy beside me (I was forced to sit at 45 degrees, my legs sticking into the aisle) didn't talk much, in fact he didn't talk at all, but my neighbour on the other side more than made up for it. Bob was a very talkative fellow, or at least I think he was because his lips were moving, I could really only make out about every fifth word. An ex-con currently on probation after a drink driving conviction with only a few teeth left and a mangled hand as a result of a "farming accident" he had plenty to stay on a wide variety of subjects, but mostly Vietnam and beer. He'd been talking about "Nam" and "Charlie" for a good ten minutes before I realised he hadn't actually been there. He buggered off to Canada in the early 70s to dodge the draft, clever sod. His brother did fight though, and I found out in great detail about the exact nature of his injuries after he got hit by a mortar. To try to get the conversation off such grim topics I told him a dirty joke, which he found so funny he laughed all the way to his stop.

Taking his seat was another broken-down looking guy, obviously fresh out of hospital with bandages and plasters all over him. He explained he worked as a collector of names for petitions and had recently been to several states getting both Ralph Nader (Green) and the Libertarian candidate on the ballot for polling day. Now those two parties have somewhat differing views on a lot of things but this guy didn't seem to be motivated by any great political desire. Instead of discussing policy, he went into great detail about all the cash and expenses he'd managed to get for doing this work. Then things turned very downbeat as he said his girlfriend had left him last night taking the car and all the money. Although this didn't explain why he had a series of nasty looking cuts, despite my curiosity I thought it best not to press the point.

Here in Seattle it's cold, or at least cold compared with the last few days, I'm sure it's still warmer here than in the UK. Maybe I should go and get a coffee to warm up.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Coming Up Roses


My brief flirtation with homosexuality last night notwithstanding, I'm not really into flowers. But Portland is the City of Roses so I decided to head up the hill to the Washington Park and take a look round the rose garden. It was certainly pretty and the whole area was very calm on another lovely Autumn day. American civic leaders sure do love their parks, even if many of the citizens seem completely unaware of their existence.

Walking through town later I spotted a cinema which to my surprise was showing "Shaun Of The Dead." The British film industry is one of the sacred cows of society that people still talk about with reverence even though it produces about one film a year worth watching (the other hundred or so are usually 'gritty' dramas set among illegal immigrants fighting the police and battling yeast infections while living in an inner London launderette). This year "Shaun Of The Dead" was that watchable film and it's doing well over here too, reaching a remarkable number six in the box office chart despite a limited release. I thought it was just as good the second time as the first, the straps during the Sky News insert probably the highlight. How about that for a slice of fried gold?

Kerry Edges In Front


I watched the debate in a place called the Crystal Ballroom here in Portland, surrounded by a lagered-up crowd of lefty students. The atmosphere was predictably tribal with much of what Bush said greeted with laughter and occasionally some cheers for Kerry's speeches. And Kerry was good tonight, much better than he's been before and better than Bush, this evening at least. For the first time in the campaign he was able to both look statesmanlike and convey his points in a concise and understandable style. Bush's handlers got tonight dead wrong, far too often they focused on Kerry's record in the Senate (who really cares if he 'voted against' something 227 times, or whatever, it means nothing) instead of efficiently countering Kerry's arguments. Even the area where Bush scored strongest last week - Kerry's 'tax and spend' healthcare plan - was more difficult to call tonight. It may not be enough to swing the election in his favour, but if Kerry wins on November 2 it will be because of his generally fine performance in the three debates.

I met a couple of very festive gentlemen during the debate. After a few drinks we decided to escape the boringly preditable liberal rhetoric of the speakers at the rally we'd unwittingly stumbled into and decamped to a nearby bar. After a little longer I realised Edd and David (and especially David) had rather more on their minds than just political conversation. When David moved round the table and started to swing my chair with his hand, then touched my arm, I realised it was probably time to settle up my share of the bill and leg it. Throwing some dollar bills down on the table I ran up the stairs and out of the bar, leaving the pair of them looking somewhat put out. At least it proves I've still got it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

On The Buses


It's becoming clear to me that where you sit yourself on a Greyhound bus is all important. You can decide to go up the back where there's more chance of a double seat to yourself, but also more chance of being surrounded by mentally unstable ex-cons who spend the journey eating and either shouting or mumbling to themselves, presumably depending on how long they'd been inside. The front is usually busier and there's the added risk of ending up next to a Hispanic family featuring one screaming baby, two toddlers and at least one comatose and dribbling great grandparent. Last night I copped out and went for the middle of the bus where I was surrounded by fat middle-aged women. It wasn't too bad, although the one next to me had an annoying habit of reading her book out loud to herself. When some people got off at one of the stops I politely suggested she move down to a newly-free double seat, which was a better solution for both of us.

The biggest city in Oregon is a very pleasant place. It's low-key, lots of flowers, bridges and galleries. The people seem to be quiet and studious, most of them spend a lot of time whispering quietly to each other over a pile of books in one of the thousands of coffee shops. I'm sure it'll be a fine place to spend a couple of days.

I see the news from Chisinau is predictably depressing. One-all against that lot is even worse than losing to Norway. For poor old Berti it's a case of 'they think it's Moldova, it is now.' Bring on Gordon Strachan.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


San Francisco

I took a proper look round Golden Gate park yesterday. Or at least as proper a look as you can manage in a day, it would take far longer to get round every corner of the place. The Columbus Day holiday here meant the park was full of people having picnics and making use of the tennis, golf and other sporting facilities. Most popular activity of all though is jogging. Sitting down with my magazine and book for a few hours I saw the same people go round and round and round, most of them quietly singing along to whatever was on their iPods (other MP3 players are available). Maybe they think that because they can't hear themselves nobody else can hear them either. After years of being content with simply looking ridiculous, joggers now sound it too.

I'm leaving this fine city later and heading north on the overnight bus to Portland. 15 hours struggling to sleep in the company of recently released ex-convicts and screaming children, it really is the only way to travel.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Once Around The Block

San Francisco

Last night was a great show, one of the best gigs I've seen. The first big reason was the venue itself. The Fillmore has a great intimate atmosphere considering the capacity is more than 1,100. Standing in the crowd eating your traditional free apple (a Mackintosh red too, lovely) you could almost be at the tiny Bush Hall back in London.

The support was Ray Lamontagne. I notice from looking him up that he's recently had a string of fawning reviews in the British music press. Admittedly, I could probably release an album of burping mixed with white noise and get a string of fawning reviews in the British music press, but in this case the hype is justified. If he sounds like anyone I suppose it's a gravel-voiced version of Ryan Adams, and Ethan Johns who produced Ryan's best stuff does the same for this guy and played drums during the set. The crowd gave him a tremendous ovation after every song and the applause at the end of his half-hour was so great he came back and did another. It's the first time I've ever seen a support act get an encore, I think it's safe to say we're seeing the arrival of a major new star. We'll all have his album in six months.

During the afternoon before the gig I went to Amoeba Records and shamelessly abused their hospitality by listening to Badly Drawn Boy's new album in full. It was just as well I did as the first part of his set consisted of playing it through in sequence. Like the record, this meant there were a few great songs near the start and it tailed off a bit towards the end. Best bit was "This Is That New Song" which he dedicated to Elliott Smith by saying he thinks "foul play" was to blame for the singer's fatal stabbing, a suggestion that got a big cheer from the crowd.

After a short break he did one and a half hours of the hits. Or at least the well known songs from earlier albums, "hits" probably not being the right word. Having a cellist and violinist in the band really filled out the sound and the opening of the second set with "The Shining" followed by "A Minor Incident" was probably the highlight of the evening with both songs played beautifully. The whole band was looking pretty relaxed and his decision to make the second half "like Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder revue, only without Bob, or any of those other guys" led to a bunch of songs played after requests from the crowd, including a keyboard-based "You Were Right" with Joe Strummer added to the list of dead singers.

Badly Drawn Boy used to have a reputation as a woefully inconsistent live performer, but last night the show was tight to the very last. After nearly three hours the lights finally came on and everybody had to go, which was a shame because I think everybody could quite happily have stood through another three hours. My legs are killing me today though.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Modern Art Is Rubbish

San Francisco

It's another beautiful day and I spent a happy hour this morning in the sunshine reading the San Francisco Chronicle. It's much like another decent American paper, only with an added sprinkling of stuff about homosexuality and/or the 1960s. Feeling suitably liberal and hip I decided to take in the local Museum of Modern Art. The paintings in there weren't able to shift me from my long-held view that most art of that ilk isn't very good. Thankfully 'SFMoMA' (as it chooses to style itself, as if just being a modern art museum isn't pretentious enough) has a wide range of more interesting stuff including lots of excellent American photography, various bits of design and a great selection of Polish film posters. Tonight I'm going to check out some performance art that's more my thing as Badly Drawn Boy plays the legendary Fillmore, or 'FLMoR' as it's probably soon about to rebrand itself.