Travelogue VII: She Caw Gow

October 20, 2008

So, I was back on my feet! I had had an assful of intellectual celebrity injected into my ass and it made me realise, oh boy, I’m on holiday! If I can watch Salman Rushdie make a bunch of false-modest jokes to a fawning audience on the third floor of a second hand bookshop, imagine what other kinds of wacky crap I can get up to! It kind of hit all at once how many opportunities I had to see some cool shit. And that was when I went to Chicago.

Much of this post will be redundant because Esther and Emma have already spoken to some degree about their respective trips to Chicago, one of which contains 66% of the same content as mine, but nevertheless I’m going to plow ahead with it. And if you aren’t friends with either of those people you are in for a treat, although you miss out on their delightfully hilarious fractured takes on life.

I went by myself, so who took this photo of me asleep on the train? Well, funny story, I sat next to this randy Romanian vineyard enthusiast who says to me, are you a member of the Two Feet High Club, and I says… no, I took that photo. This is me doing a simulation of what is impossible to do on an Amtrak train, and that is, have one moment’s goddamn peace. It’s not a noisy experience (apart from the one guy from the Bronx striking up conversation with a mother/daughter pair out of Queens full of facile truisms:

“Dey love Noo Yawkers on the west coast, dey love us. dey love de way we tawk, de way we ack, everyding’s direct, dey love it.”

“So why are you headed to Chicago?”

“Because I love dis country. I go everywhere, Chicago, Phoenix, Seattle, Ohio. Everywhere. I love it.”

“Do you work?”

“No I’m retired.”

“Already?”

“Yeah. I’ve got a secret to retirement.”

“Oh, please tell us.”

“Ahright. Awl it is, ya gottah give up some dings. Dey’re cawled the faw Cs. Comford. Ya gahdah give up some comford. Convenience. Ya gahdah give up a liddle convenience. Caw. Ya havta give up ya caw. And yes, ya must, ya must give up ya credit cawd. Yes. Yes.”

So your life is uncomfortable, inconvenient, immobile, and eBay purchase-less? No-thank-you), but, as that ridiculous parenthetical demonstrates, you are exposed to a lot of *shudder* people, and the seats are mysteriously built in such a way that prevents any kind of slumber. The Greyhound buses are quite conducive to sleep, but there’s something about the seats on trains that prevents your head properly resting against the window, very odd. So the 20 hour journey was done mostly awake, a bit like the flight from Perth to New York, though at least on that one there were stopovers. Well, there were stopovers on this journey too, but they were in like, Ohio, and Indiana. No, I didn’t get out to see them, they occured in the middle of the night. I wasn’t asleep mind you, it was just really cold and dark, and well, we were just at a train platform. So instead I read White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Quick review: I quite liked it, I endorse it, I want to read more things by her. My favourite parts were the representations of Jamaican and, uh, Raggastani cultures. There was one line I really liked that ended with the Jamaican grandmother saying “… and don’ bruk up dem legs,” which I think I laughed out loud at. I must’ve read 200 pages on the rides to and from Chicago. Another reason this trip was like my flight to the US is that Penn. Station, like an airport, is frickin’ huge! I arrived with only 10 minutes to board (got waylaid buying socks, underpants and big coats at Uniqlo, which I now visit on a weekly basis), got lost for five minutes. If I had to line up for a ticket instead of just printing it out at a kiosk I would’ve missed out on my whole trip and seeing the very lovely:

Emma Breheny! Let me tell you folks, she has not changed a bit. Her hoity-toitiness remains at her regular Leederville (or wherever she lives) levels, despite flitting around in the lap of eastern European, former-Soviet bloc luxury, and she was able to meet me at Union Station (which, let’s take a second to appreciate absolutely one of the best things I’ve been inside of:

Look at the scale of that thing. It's like 30 metres high.

Look at the scale of that thing. It's like 30 metres high.

I tells ya, there’s no better place to set off on a crummy, microwaved food and obnoxious midwesterners-laden sleepless day-long journey) and guide me around the city. A huge help and a major difference from the completely indifferent, shapeless experience of wandering around forbidding, unfamiliar New York. Not least of all because we didn’t go into the city on the first day, we just walked around the super nice neighbourhood around our hostel, Lincoln Park. Like the band!

YEAH TIN MAN

YEAH TIN MAN

I have no explanation for this photo. Lincoln Park just really likes the Tin Man. Maybe the guy who played him was from Chicago. Anyway, we didn’t even look around Lincoln Park that much, we went almost straight to the festival whose line-up drew Emma, and therefore me, to Chicago in the first place, stopping only to view a massive pile of garbage just sitting in the middle of a river without any kind of explanation or supervision.

BARGE

BARGE

The festival was pretty bitchin’ really. The organisers offered me free tickets after I told them I was a journalist for a rinky-dink Australian newspaper, but they didn’t tell me I was definitely on the list until two days before I left New York, by which time I had already bought a ticket. I told the organisers that, basically complaining, and they sent back an email that very delicately explained that the show benefitted the performers and local charities only. I felt very bad, but that feeling was erased once I started partaking of the VIP benefits they gave me: FREE BOOZE FOR ME AND MY UNDERAGE FRIEND.

UNLIMITED FREE BOOZE. They really know how to set up a VIP area here. All the ones I’ve been in at Perth festivals require you still buy your booze, the selling point is the smaller line. Which is actually a pretty good bonus, given the fact you often can’t just walk around with booze at Australian festivals, whereas in Chicago people can walk around with their babies

and their booze.

Interior of the bar the festival takes its name from, which I can't remember.

Interior of the bar the festival takes its name from, which I can

and their balls.

Not sure what band that guy’s in, alls I know is that they had accents and played psychedelic metal, so I think they’re the Czech band who were on the bill. Wait, are Black Mountain, who were also on the bill, from the French part of Canada? If so, could’ve been them. I cannot tell a Czech accent from a French Canadian one. And on reflection you can walk around with alcohol at most festivals, just not the Big Day Out. Am I right? I don’t know.

So Emma and I got preeeetty pissed, watched Neko Case and a bit of Hercules and Love Affair, neither of which I really enjoyed, has to be said, then retired to the hostel in preparation for the next day.

How nice is her orange-ish hair and her purple top? Emmaaa you know your coloursss.

How nice is her orange-ish hair and her purple top? Emmaaa you know your coloursss.

We had breakfast at a “nice place”, which are actually in quite short supply in America. Actually, I’m sure that’s not true, it’s more likely that “turd places” are in abundance, and such places are concentrated in the easily accessible areas of every city, and those are the only places I visit. Still, there are an awful lot of them, and it was a great pleasure to finally have coffee at a place that used CHINA. Actually I had tea. They had to check if they had English breakfast. The other day I was making tea and this girl asked if milk in tea tastes good and I said, yes. Then, thinking I could funny, I said, no, it doesn’t! I’m really going to hate this! As with all my other jokes, this one was interpreted as hostile, and she meekly explained that she had heard of but never tasted milk with tea. In the end, we did not make friends. This is a demonstration of why I haven’t made friends with any American students since coming here.

But anyway, Chicago! Chicago really is brilliant. You can tell from this photo, probably. It feels huge, but not claustrophobic. I’ve come to really enjoy New York and even to think of it more like any other stylin’ place, like the corners of Walcott and Beaufort or King and Murray streets, but you have to get used to its ways, and until you do it seems very harsh. Not so with Chicago – I liked it straight away. Apparently it’s the architectural capital of America, the birth place of American modernism, and the city is best observed with your neck at a 45 degree tilt.

Ahh. I explored the city more after Emma left, but while we were together we went to the Art Institute of Chicago, which a Pakistani woman doing a masters of fine art at New Paltz said is supposed to be better than the Met. If we’re going by how many paintings it had that I recognised or recognised the name of the painter, then it isn’t. For there were only two:

When I saw this I verrrry slowly recognised that it was the painting Cameron stares at in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, then I slowly realised that I knew that movie is set in Chicago, then I slowly realised that I was walking around the same museum Ferris Beuller and Co. walked around on their eponymous day off. I got waaay too excited about that for about five seconds.

But my favourite was this gigantic metal clothespeg:

Peg!

Peg!

Afterwards… or before maybe, we checked out this thing. That was nice, looking at the Wikitravel page and going, oh yeah, Wilco are from Chicago (right?). And then we sort of walked around town.

In addition to being really big and pretty, Chicago makes really good use of its waterfronts. I can see what people mean when they say Perth doesn’t do the same. But it also has little bits of it that are clearly from other decades that act as entertaining little retro patchworks. They’re like imperfections that make the place prettier, like the big nose on that girl from Kill Bill who fights with a ball and chain. The second day at the Hideout thing was even funner than the first. The New Pornographers were really great, and I expected them, based on my most recent viewing, to be so-so, and Ratatat were also great.

They had really huge hair. Their synth guy was the best, he was really into the songs, especially the beats, he flipped out with them. During Wildcat he mimed a panther’s mouth with his arms during the growl. Afterwards, sadly, Emma had to go back to Canada, but I stuck around to do this:

And this:

Throughout, I was thinking, man, we gotta get some shit like this in our town. I don’t know how you do that, but also, I don’t know why I was thinking that. Do I want to have something beautiful and strange in a prominent public place, or do I want a prestigious object to raise the esteem of my home city? I don’t know, but also, I don’t think it matters too much, because in the end both ends get served. It also made me appreciate the public art we have in Perth more, like those big quill things on supreme court gardens. Not so sure about the kangaroos in that same area, though, or the guy doing a hand stand on Hay Street mall. They’re okay I guess.

But the moral of this story is, after I spent another goddamned 20 hours on a train going back to New York, I had shaken off all my unfamiliar environment jitters, leaving me with three more months to try enjoying myself, rather than sulk while downloading episodes of The Daily Show. I was a new man.

See?

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2 Responses to “Travelogue VII: She Caw Gow”

  1. helen gives you fifty Says:

    marina city arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

    delightfully hilarious?

  2. stina ringo Says:

    we do have that giant red clitoris under the marilyn monroe’s skirt entrance on the cnr of milligan and st georges. It’s just… over there though. We should drop a giant metal hershey’s kiss on wesley church. It is central and can serve as a mirror for all the kids who hang out there all day. ^-^

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