Saturday, December 04, 2004

Quite A Production


The bus journey over from Boston turned out to be pretty eventful. The driver for the first leg of the trip seemed quite young to me and managed to get lost within an hour of setting out. He stopped and asked for directions before doing a 3-point turn on a dual carriageway across three lanes of traffic and we ended up getting to Albany in upstate New York a good half an hour late. I don't understand how you can get lost going from one major city to another on a straight main road, but the poor guy looked like he was on work experience so everyone was happy enough to let him off.

The delay turned into an hour when the bus cut out at Albany station and wouldn't restart so we had to get on a different one. All attempts to make up the time failed thanks to the terrible weather and at dawn in Buffalo I got my first look of the trip at snow which was liberally carpeting the place. Then things went smoothly enough until we reached the metropolis of Sandusky, Ohio, where some idiot not paying attention put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake at a junction and ended up ploughing straight into the side of the bus. He lost the front end of his car but nobody was hurt. The real pain came from having to wait around at the side of the road for nearly two hours while the police completed the formalities. State law requires all passengers to fill out various forms and by the time it got round to me I was in no mood to mess about and made a report blaming the car driver for the crash, the delay and for being the man behind the grassy knoll.

Having missed the connection I had to wait around in Toledo for a couple of hours and finally made it to Detroit four hours late. My friend Tony who I met in St Petersburg was there to meet me though and we went out for a very welcome night on the town. After too much to drink and not enough sleep I find myself up here in Saginaw where Tony's doing the food for a plush housewarming/Christmas party tonight, so I'm off to spend my afternoon preparing hors d'oeuvres and sipping mulled wine. There are worse ways to spend my last day in America.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Witches Brew


I took the train 20 miles up the coast today to the town of Salem, famous for being the "second oldest city in America" and as the setting for the witch trials of 1692. There was an interesting presentation on this at the local history museum. It seems 20 people ended up being executed after a bunch of young girls started speaking in tongues and named them. The whole episode lacked the style of European witch hunting in that nobody got burnt at the stake or thrown in the sea to see if they'd float. Nobody even got covered in tar and feathers, although one poor sod was crushed to death with big stones. Recently the authorities in Massachusetts officially pardoned the last of the dead people, which I'm sure came as a great comfort to them seeing as they've been dead for 300 years. At least they can take comfort in the knowledge they gave their lives for tourism.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Being Pretentious


Last night the helpful local team of weather forecasters (they call themselves the 'Storm Force' - I kid you not) said it would throw it down all day again today, and they weren't wrong. In a bid to keep dry I headed to the Institute of Contemporary Art and a retrospective of the Ukrainian photographer Boris Mikhailov. Having recently visited I found it interesting to see his photos of Russia and the Ukraine both old and new, but it would have been more interesting had the whole exhibit not been quite so pretentious. Is it really necessary to have long explanatory screeds beside each group of simple photos? I don't think I'd make a museum curator.

The pretentious atmosphere of the ICA is in keeping with Boston generally. For such a famous city it's really very small and although undoubtedly nice you can't help noticing a superior attitude about the place. This extends to a lot of the people too. I'm sure it's a fine place to live if you're an intellectual liberal, but it has nothing whatsoever in common with the rest of America. Even cities as close as New York are a world away from the rarified cultural (and frankly up its own arse) air of Boston. Ironic the area that was so desperate to throw off colonial rule in 1775 should now be so desperate to be European. Massachusetts should really do itself and the rest of the country a favour and secede from the U.S. to rejoin Britain. No wonder its politicians keep on losing elections.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

She's Still Dead


It's only been about six months since the last one but yesterday evening there was another "exclusive" TV documentary on about Diana featuring all manner of "explosive" and "shocking" revelations. I'm a bit of a sucker for royal gossip but even I was hard pressed to sit through a whole hour of the breathless NBC show, although I now know that Charles and Di only met 13 times before the wedding and during their marriage only had sex once every three weeks. Part two is next week; my breath is anything other than bated.

I spent the day across the Charles River from the main city of Boston in the Cambridge area, home to the campuses of Harvard and MIT. Harvard is especially nice to stroll around, differing from British universities in that the grass is all well kept, the buildings are lovely and nobody is drinking in the afternoon. I went to a grill place for lunch where all the burgers have amusing names. I was tempted by the 'Dick Cheney' ("only a heartbeat away") and 'John Kerry' ("only flipped once") but in the end opted for a 'Tony Blair.' It turned out to be a bacon cheeseburger with onions which certainly filled a hole, although I'm not entirely sure what the significance of those toppings is.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Staying Out Of The Rain


I decided to get the bus up here yesterday lunchtime, but with the Thanksgiving weekend coming to a close several hundred others had the same idea. Bus after bus left New York one after the other, only to get snarled up in a lengthy traffic jam made worse by some torrential rain. It was a slow journey and it had long since got dark by the time I got to the hostel a couple of hours late.

Today I went to the Kennedy presidential library and museum on the campus of the University of Massachusetts. It's a very strange looking building although it does give fine views across the water to the city itself. As for the museum it thankfully glossed over the assassination and instead had countless exhibits showing speeches of Kennedy's, many of which were very interesting. It was particularly good to see the lengthy extracts from his 1960 debates with Nixon and all told I spent more than three hours in the place.

Boston is home to another JFK and I'm writing this in the very grand library at Copley Square where John Kerry was to have given his victory speech on election night. Already he seems to have disappeared from view even around here. Apart from a few tattered looking campaign stickers on students' bags, Boston is visibly still more preoccupied with celebrating the Red Sox World Series triumph. But when you haven't won something since 1919, I suppose that's forgivable.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

I'm Just Going For A Smoke

New York

Saturday night in New York City and I went to the venerable CBGBs to see some local bands show their paces. It's more than twenty years since the place had its heyday but with its sticker-covered walls and beer-covered floor it's still an endearing spot to watch music. The city's now firmly in the grip of the smoking ban introduced by Mayor Bloomberg which has led to a very strange phenomenon. Every time a band finishes half the crowd rushes outside to light up. Conversations are abruptly cut off so the other person can go and crash a cigarette, which is the preferred way of putting it here. I'm told you get very strange looks if you ask to 'bum a fag.' Going around the city on a Saturday night you see often large groups huddling together against the cold on street corners, which looks very odd indeed, as if they're all part of some cult.

As for the music last night, it was interesting to see how the plates in American music have shifted over the last 12 months. A year ago when I went to CBGBs it was all shouty punk, but now it's pretty boy emo bands singing songs about their girlfriends and vulnerability. I can handle one band like that but three was more than enough, so I left early, pushing my way through the hordes of smokers on my way out.