Sunday, 1 April 2012

give the feminist a cigarette goes international!

Oh, New York, how I love your half-and-half. How I love your air-conditioned subway and your iced coffee and your delightfully un-get-lost-able grid system. How I love your second-hand bookstores and your unlimited refills.

The whole town was basically my own personal musical, every street bringing another song to mind: we weren't actually staying on Positively Fourth Street, but we were staying in that crummy hotel over Washington Square. Crossing a road to get to the Hudson I discovered I can still recite the entirety of Tiptoe, the piers off the West Side Highway sunset behind the skyline of Jersey walking towards the water with a foetus holding court in my gut from memory.

After two days we said darling let's get out of the city, we need to breathe some cleaner air, and took a train to where they brought death to Bruce Springsteen's hometown, boys, death to my hometown, and discovered he really wasn't kidding: a bizarre, empty place, like someone who has lost a lot of weight too quickly and has all that extra skin flopping around. Every Springsteen landmark was dead, gutted; literally in the case of the boys from the casino dance with their shirts open. We ran down to the Atlantic, dipped our fingers in the freezing water, singing always wanted something more than fifteen hours in a week and a paid vacation on the Jersey Shore to no one, to the wind. A photo-op by Madam Marie's and a meal in an incongruously fancy restaurant - Italian, luckily, so we got to do Sopranos impressions, quietly, so as not to piss off the locals. (They'd already asked if we were Australian.)

We went to see Frank Turner at a bar which was tragically not the Stone Pony, but served us ironic hipster beers and alcohol-free slushies regardless. Although the genius of Turner's lyrics is to make the very specific into something universal, it was still jarring, strange, to hear a packed out Jersey crowd screaming along to songs about the English Channel and Nambucca, cheap Southampton bistros and the Railway Inn, the South Downs and north east London reservoirs. I'm a Wessex Boy, Holloway and Hampshire is where I belong, and I'm a long way from home.

Back in New York, we did the sights, doing the proper tourist traipse around the Empire State Building and MoMA and Rockefeller Plaza and, oh yeah, the Natural History Museum. Now far be it for me to tell you how to organise your museums, but can I just say that dinosaurs, animals, rocks, and people who aren't white is a pretty fucked up combination of exhibits. Observe how the pterodactyls hunted for prey! Wonder at the unimaginable vastness of the blue whale! Marvel at the beauty of crystalline amethyst caves! Goggle at how African people manage to get along without the benefit of our great white and wonderful civilisation! How quaint.

After that experience, I was all ready to get thoroughly pissed off at the Ellis Island immigration museum, expecting an avalanche of hoo-ray propaganda about how wonderful it was that all these people came from terribly backwards places, completely of their own free will, to the wonderful shores of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave (but not the braves) and all grew up to be John D. Rockefeller. Happily, it was actually the best historical museum I've ever been to: thoughtful and intelligent, detailed, balanced, and not afraid to point out that the immigrant experience wasn't a barrel of laughs for anyone, including the Native Americans who "entered into this country as surely as anyone who came through Ellis Island". Of a wealth of written primary sources, the most moving paired anti-Asian rantings with the calm, measured pleading of a Chinese man that his community were "good people. We honour our ancestors and take care of our children. We pay our debts, both large and small." We are, almost literally, in the same boat. Let us become American as you did.

Mine are the ones not written by dead white guys. Surprise!
We went to Harlem and discovered that Chuck E Cheese is a real thing. We went to the world's first entirely organic restaurant. We did a whole lot of Bob Dylan impressions and bought a whole lot of books. I kicked myself for finding the one place in the world where cigarettes are more expensive than in the UK.

We went to see the Knicks and went Linsane. (We also discovered that American nacho cheese is the most frightening non-cheese concoction ever invented, and discovered that we were incapable of stopping ourselves from eating it.) It took me until the end of the second quarter to put my finger on exactly what was so peculiar to me about the experience: everyone was having fun. They were acting like they'd spent a significant amount of money to be entertained by men playing sports. Which sounds perfectly logical, but if you've ever been to a football match in the UK, you soon notice that no one there is having fun. They're biting their nails and shouting at the ref and abusing the players and clenching every muscle in their body in the desperate hope that please, god, just please let them win. It's far too important to be anything as frivolous as fun.

Damn, I'd better get some sexism in quick to honour the title of this blog, hadn't I? Okay: firstly, in Asbury, a statue of a Patriarch was too good an opportunity to miss.

Secondly, watching Liverpool v Stoke in a comically Irish bar the day after St Patrick's Day (I was very tempted to make myself a t-shirt reading "Don't kiss me, I have no Irish ancestry whatsoever."), I was gazing anxiously at the screen, biting my nails, generally not having fun as outlined above. My gentleman companion was looking down at his phone catching up on work emails. A bleary-eyed English guy, clearly still having too much fun from the night before, stopped by our table and asked the boy who had scored the last Liverpool goal. Because girls! They don't like football! We know this to be true.

And that, dear readers, is what I've been doing instead of entertaining you with my thoughts. I hear that some pasty-related crisis has been kicking off in my absence? Oh Britain, lovely, peculiar little Britain, I missed you.


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