so, walking up yonge street on friday, i see none other than geddy lee strolling past, chatting on a cell phone. a boyhood idol once removed. if it’d been neil peart, i’d have begun giggling like a nervous sorority girl. i’d probably also have soiled myself.
this is what happened to us this weekend:
- get up friday morning, frigging early, 5ish or something. we feed & placate the cats, telling them nothing unusual is happening as we back out the door. we’re hoping they don’t shred/shed/shit the place up. our flight leaves at 9, and we get to la guardia around 10:30.
- we take a yellow cab to the plaza where we find our room isn’t ready yet (oh yeah…it’s only 11), so we leave our bags and strike out in search of food.
- we walk down 5th avenue, fighting the urge to spend. we eat at the first place we see, a little joint called burger heaven. it’s actually a nice place, and while nellie doesn’t like her buffalo chicken (?!) sandwich, my bbq pulled pork sandwich is spec-friggin-tacular.
- our bellies full (well, mine anyway) we decide to kill a few more hours by going to the whitney, one of the museums i really wanted to see. at this point nellie becomes aware that she’s wearing the wrong shoes and her feet start to hurt. regardless, we stroll up madison and make it to the whitney around the time it opens. it’s a great museum: a nice little collection (i love hopper, they have a nice rothko, and there was some very cool art on one of the floors including a huge moving toy robot exhibit…hard to explain) that you can see in an hour, if you move like we do. nellie’s favourite is a situation in yellow by oscar bluemner, but i liked black and white by georgia o’keefe(!).
- we stroll back to the hotel, cutting through central park. it’s still a bit chilly, but the skaters are out.
- we check into our room on the 14th floor, overlooking the park. holy crap, i can see harlem. the park is so huge, and it’s so amazing that someone 150 years ago had the foresight to set aside 843 acres of park right smack in some of the most commercially viable real estate in the world. we look right down on the corner of 5th and central park south, so we can see the skating rink and the pond. we spend 10 minutes sitting in the window box just staring out the window at the upper half of manhattan.
- we walk down to rockefeller plaza to see the ice rink, all the skaters we’ve seen in countless movies and tv shows. as is always the case with such things, it’s smaller than we expected.
- ok, well, it’s not always the case. we walk over to 7th and head south until we get to times square. it’s every bit as massive and busy (in every sense of the word) as i’d imagined. i see anson carter walking around, probably trying to familiarize himself with new york after being traded to the ranegrs earlier that week. funniest moment of the whole weekend: nellie, standing at the intersection of broadway and 7th, amidst all the chaos and giant billboards and surging masses, asks, “where’s times square?”. i near wet myself.
- we walk over to grand central, getting a good view of the chrysler building as we go, and take a few minutes to look at the inside of it. the architecture itself is stunning, but the fact that they’ve made a building that’s so perfect for human traffic flow is mind-boggling.
- we walk back up to the hotel, relax for a bit and then change into our nice duds. we then discover why people say it’s impossible to get a cab in new york sometimes. it’s because it’s impossible.
- finally we make it to smith & wollensky. i ate at a smith’s two years ago in vegas, and i haven’t truly appreciated any steak i’ve had since then. tonight i ordered the sirloin (all 18 ounces of it) and it was like eating meaty butter. i wanted to cry. nellie liked her filet mignon as well, but didn’t shed tears until the cheesecake; like she says, “if you’re gonna have cheesecake, ya might as well go to new york…”. freaky coincidence: our waiter’s name was daniel l, and he was a duke fan! anyway, one obscene bill later and we’re so stuffed we can hardly walk. ‘sides, someone’s feet are hurting again. we take a cab back to the hotel and writhe in bloated agony. then we fall asleep in the extra-comfy king bed. it’s been quite a day.
- saturday comes early, but we beat it back (read: i feel back to sleep), so we don’t get up until about 10. we find a great breakfast place around the corner, get some french toast & bacon & pancakes & sausage and oj and get on the go.
- note to the toronto transit commission: an all-day, unlimited-use pass on the new york subway costs only $4 (though the subway smells like urine). we take a series of trains down to the world trade center site, not out of a desire to gawk, but just out of my need to get a sense of the scale of what happened. i’m a little surprised at the number of people standing around the edge looking in (several thousand, easily), but i guess they’re like me. while we look in, and later when we walk down toward battery park, i keep thinking about the footage i watched a year and a half ago, and i realize that until now new york hadn’t been a completely real place in my mind. it was like hollywood to me, a place that exists on tv and in the movies and, while i know it’s a real city with real people, part of my brain only registers it as an imaginary place. but now, seeing that hole in the ground, imagining two towers that weighed a million tons, remembering the images of dust and ash rushing from underneath them as they came down…just seems eerie now. i used to scoff a bit when i heard newscasters use the term, but it really does feel like hallowed ground.
- the stroll down the hudson to battery park is nice, as we soak up some warm sun and enjoy the quiet. lots of joggers and dog walkers here. we get soem faraway pictures of the statue of liberty and ellis island but decide against taking the cruise & tour, as there’s a 2-hour wait. “2-hour wait” is a phrase we will get to know well today.
- we take the subway up to houston, on the border of soho and greenwich village. we’re not hungry, so we don’t send much time here, just stroll up through nyu, past washington square park to 8th, long enough to get a sense of the neighbourhood. it’d definitely be a great place to hang out, but we’re on a mission! we take the subway up to columbus circle, at southwest corner of central park.
- we decide to walk up the american museum of natural history at 77th street, stopping along the way to see the dakota apartment building where John Lennon lived (and in front of which he was shot), and crossing the street to see strawberry fields, his favourite part of the park, right across central park west. lots of hippies laying flowers, lots of gawking tourists standing right on the memorial so they could get a better picture of it. anyway, the museum had a super-long wait as well, so we headed back through the park to the hotel. we saw a lot more of the park this time, and it being such a nice day (about 11 degrees) there were lots of dogs, cyclists, horses, skater punks, dancers, strollers, walkers, joggers and skaters out. we even got a bit too much sun, lingering too long on the rocks to rest our tired feet. we soothed ourselves with more cheesecake from the restaurant we’d hit for breakfast. it’s just as good this time around
- we thought we’d kill a few hours before dinner at the frick collection, a gorgeous mansion right on 5th avenue. actually, i get on the phone and try to sort out andrew’s reservation problems at the cambridge shits hotel first, and then we head our for the frick. on our way there we see kirsten dunst. i drool so much the sidewalk is probably still wet, but we somehow struggle on and get to the museum. the art inside, while impressive, is a little stuffy for us (where are the toy robots?), but the house itself…wow. So many antiques…mom would go fully nuts in here. we’re out in a hour, so it’s another great museum. too bad we didn’t have time for the met, or to go over to queen’s to see the temporary moma
- we strike out for dinner and end up at a place that bakes pizzas in a coal oven. yummy sausage & sundried tomato pizza for me, nellie gets some deadly-looking pasta. the server is from montreal! we finish up and head out to the last must-see on my list.
- we’re lucky we hit the empire state building when we do, since there’s only about a 45 minute wait to get to the top. when we leave the lineup is around the corner onto 34th. the views from the top would be more impressive had i never been up in the cn tower, but what makes them special is the new york skyline. the chrysler building looks fantastic at night, and the bridges are all lit up as well. it’s too crowded, for sure, but it’s worth the long wait. exhausted, we descend and drag our weary bones into a cab. we secure some snacks and fall asleep watching ghostbusters. it’s funny to see parts of new york in the movie that we now recognize. i think of when i was nine and saw this movie with dad, and that the first part (with the library ghost) scared me. i laugh and start to tell nellie, but she’s zonked. i follow quickly after. new york has beaten us, and we’ve loved it all.
- this morning we get up, have some brekkie, make for la guardia, get an early flight (muchmusic vj amanda walsh was sitting near me), arrive in sunny toronto (it looked hazy though; is there smog in toronto already?), fight through a st. patrick’s day parade and wake sonny & michael with our tired (but happy) return.
what a weekend. there are so many things i didn’t even mention: radio city music hall, the lineup for tickets to saturday night live, seeing an actor from 24 shopping on 5th avenue, the cockroach on our dresser, the subway preacher…too much to mention. all in all, it was a blast, we loved new york, and we won’t be able to resist going back for very long…if only to get another slice of that cheesecake.
ever since i heard the song on one of the episodes of sports night (great dvd set of one of the best shows of all time), i can’t stop listening to “sloop john b” by the beach boys. i know, the beach boys. who’d have thunk it? all these years and i’d never listened to pet sounds, but it’s good. very good. and this song is just so…catchy. and happy. and makes me think of sports night now, which makes me even happier. mmmmmm, natalie.
who cares that barely played for an hour? who cares that i couldn’t hear carrie brownstein’s voice very well? who cares that for most of the show the view of my new hero janet weiss was blocked by a guy even taller than myself? none of that could possibly have ruined the show. sleater-kinney did their best to rescue rock and roll last night, smiling and snarling and shrieking and strumming and slamming and seducing us into becoming acolytes. they played “i wanna be your joey ramone” and “turn it on”, my two favourite s-k songs. they played practically every song i really wanted to hear. they left me wanting nothing.
sleater-kinney and the trail of dead own my soul.
…was crap. nicole kidman, julianne moore and meryl streep all played…well, they all played meryl streep in every other movie. ed harris acted like a high school drama geek trying to impress his girl/boyfriend. only allison janney (because she’s the best) and claire danes (because she’s hot) made it worth watching. i was so bored that i became very aware of how tired i was getting, and how sore my ass was. it’ll probably win best picture, and nicole kidman will probably win best actress, but it was all – say it with me now – crap.
sea change almost makes me wish i could have my heart broken. it’s the sort of thing that you drown your sorrow to and hear your thoughts in.
10. the cooper temple clause . see this through and leave
09. godspeed you black emperor! . yanqui u.x.o.
08. gomez . in our gun
07. the doves . the last broadcast
06. spoon . kill the moonlight
05. sleater-kinney . one beat
04. coldplay . a rush of blood to the head
03. sigur ros . ()
02. neko case . blacklisted
01. and you will know us by the trail of dead . source tags and codes
surprisingly, a disc came out in early january and held the top spot the whole year, despite a new album from sigur ros and a surprise from neko case. hardly a shocking win, though, since source tags and codes is, top to bottom, one of the most complete and crushing and unnerving and fun pieces of work i’ve ever heard. after the first three songs (the best opening right-left-right combination of any cd ever) you’ll be bruised, sold and smoking.
foo fighters . one by one, tami hart . what passed between us, bob mould . livedog98, robert plant . dreamland, the reindeer section . son of evil reindeer
remember the movie L.A. Story? with steve martin? the scene where they were all ordering their coffee? well, today the second cup near my office, the woman ahead of me ordered a half-skim decaf chai latte. the server didn’t even blink. apparently she hears ridiculous orders all the time.
the hot chocolate i ordered must’ve been oh-so-disappointing.
9 days in london. too much to cover easily. will be terse.
nov 4: day 1
long flight, but not too bad. video screen doesn’t work, and they only show one movie. “eat drink man woman”; bleeaah. i tear into life of pi. they feed us breakfast, and table syrup says “dickinson family maple”. aroo? it’s too much for my pressurized mind. i see fireworks during the landing. isn’t guy fawkes day tomorrow?
meet tim & swmnbn at the airport. london. england. the uk. home of my soverign, the old bat. sitting in the bed in tim’s spare room, trying to finish the book after watching some bizarro brit tv. left-lane driving, pump toilets, “tyres” instead of tires, “take lift to car park”…little things make big trips fun.
i miss nellie. not miss because we’ve been separated, just that i wish she were here to do this with me. oh well, she has weddings to attend and drunk relatives to roll eyes at. can’t wait to go to scotland with her. i miss tigger too. in life of pi we met a little girl holding a dopey orange cat, dangling him in a strange way from her arms. it made me think of tig. one more friend gone. a good one too.
anyway, should quit reading (too hard with only an overhead light anyway) and try to sleep now. stay on tim’s schedule. london time. london time. it’s london time.
nov 5: day 2
up this morning with tim to meet swmnbn and her friend adam for coffee. dal outnumbers smu at the table 3:1.
get my tube pass and head down to wesminster station with tim. he points out the biggies (big ben, parliament, westminster abbey, the eye, the thames). we walk to trafalgar square, then leicester square. hit a pub called the salisbury for lunch (where i encounter a material called “mushy peas”). walk to the british museum. the reading room is enormous. cool. amazing. so typical of what the british would build and so unlike the north american trend. saw cleopatra’s mummy and the rosetta stone. museum’s impressive but, in the end, a museum and so i tire quickly of it. 90% of the things in any museum are unremarkable when compared to the really big draws, so i have no problem whizzing by most of it. got my money’s worth, though. god bless the free london museums.
take the tube back to west hampstead and take a seat at the gallery. have an $8 dollar beer. promise myself to stop doing the conversion. it’s depressing. home. hook up tim’s dvd & vcr to his bitchin’ new tv (“tim has a really big…tv”), then watch conan the barbarian and eat some nando’s.
guy fawkes day is really on now. flashes and loud bangs every minute or so, and the whole skyline looks like it’s bubbling and fizzing with coloured light. these britons love their drink and fireworks.
nov 6: day 3
couldn’t sleep last night. finished life of pi and finally nodded off around 3am, waking up 7 hours later. tim and i leave the flat shortly before noon and take in the bodyworlds exhibit. whoa. exhibits of actual dead bodies and body parts, plasticized and put on display in various poses. informative, but kinda disturbing at times, especially the aneurysms and malformed fetuses.
from that, believe it or not, we strike off in search of lunch. since we’re on brick lane, we had indian. chicken tikka to start, chicken curry, lots of papadum with chutneys and mango sauces…soooooooo good. we could hardly move for being so full. i glad we did that exhibit, it got us to a world-famous curry neighbourhood. i have to admit, though, that i found it fascinating and a mite creepy being in whitechapel where jack the ripper walked 114 years ago.
back on the tube and up to st. paul’s cathedral. my god. i mean…well, yeah. i’ve never seen anything like this building, certainly not a church. the huge hall, the carvings, the ceiling, the artwork, the people in the crypts (including john a. macdonald!). most impressive is the view from the top of the dome. a great vantage point, as good as from the top of the london eye (so tim says) and a 360 degree view from 280 feet up. the stairs (all 550) were nasty, but worth it. also very cool: the whispering gallery, about 1/3 the way up. tim and i could hear a kid talking 150 fet away as if he were right next to us.
legs recovering from stairs. youch. cross the milennium (aka, wibbly-wobbly) bridge to the tate modern, a very impressive building (old power plant). giant red horn greets us. big red harbinger. too many cool and freaky exhibits to list, but my favourites included the mark rothko seagram collection, the anarchy piano and one of the pollocks that i saw.
finally scoot home after a long day. leave from waterloo station at rush hour. funny to see the sheep gawping at the train departure boards. relax on the couch and watch a movie. fireworks continue. get pizza with tim (it has…get this…corn on it) and fight for sleep.
nov 7: day 4
get up late. make aborted attempt to see westminster abbey; some enormous service was happening for rememberance day, so i walk past scotland yard and over to buckingham palace. no desire to go inside (can’t anyway; off-season), just look at it and see the victoria memorial. walk up the mall to trafalgar square and check out the national gallery. best moment: in a section of religious paintings, large class of little girls comes streaming in. the room’s deadly silent except for one little girl who, so wonderfully english, says “is that jesus there?” well…you had to be there.
the collection of impressionist is as good as the art institute of chicago. favourites include:
- “time orders old age to destroy beauty” (batoni)
- “a sporting contest on the river tiber at rome” (vernet)
- “a shepherd with his flock in a woody landscape” (rubens)
- “the battle of sam romano” (uccello)
- “portrait of a young man” (botticelli)
- “the introduction of the cult of cybele to rome” (mantegna)
- “fantastic ruins with saint augustine and the child” (de nome)
- “landscape with ruined castle and church” (van ruisdael)
- “anna and the blind tobit” (rembrandt)
drinks at the gallery and some great thai for dinner. london’s too smoky, i’ve decided. more fireworks. i’ll save you some trouble: the fireworks went on right up until the 11th, a full week after i arrived.
sidetrack: london, as historic and massive as it is, now seems smaller than it did before i arrived. as tim said, the magical becomes mundane quickly; trafalgar square is smaller than you’d think, and leicester square is the size of my apartment. so what it really comes down to is that the world is smaller than i pictured. cleopatra is here, as are countless artifacts from around the world. london isn’t smaller, i guess, not in relation to all else. it’s the world that’s shrunk in my perception, not london’s place in it. ze world is smaller now. of course, a trip to india or argentina or eritrea would probably reverse that thinking…
nov 8: day 5
the science museum is lousy with kids. seen an enigma machine, babbich’s difference machines, v1 and v2 rockets, all forms of aircraft (even an me-163), nuclear reactor models, steam engines, farm equipment (dad would be feverish in here). the bond exhibit is kind of disappointing.
i give upon the victoria and albert. i got up too late to do all 3 museums, so i just cover the major parts of the natural history museum. great architecture, almost cathedral-like inside. much the same as the inside of any museum i’ve seen, save the to-scale model of the blue whale.
gather at the lock tavern in camden with tim & swmnbn, swmnbn’s friend, the aussie, the scotsman, my cousin and her husband. i haven’t seen my cousin in 5 or 6 years, and i think the scotsman and i may be distantly related, so it’s like discovering two long-lost relatives in one night. why do bars close at 11:00 here? i keep asking the waitress in the grey shirt, but i may well be making caveman noises. we ride home in a proper london black cab after the scotsman gets his arse out.
nov 9: day 6
roll out of bed at 10:00 and have a proper english fry-up with tim & swmnbn. get good and full before muscling through the crowds at camden lock market. buy some gifts for nellie and stroll through the kafka-esque gallery known as “cyberdog”. quit the market and tootle about hampstead for a while, buying another (!) present for nellie. traipse through an old church graveyard (complete with rats), stop in his old neighbourhood pub for a glance at the england/new zealand rugby match and go for a ramble in the heath. lots of dogs and a great view of the city.
home where swmnbn and her new boots make us a kick-ass green curry. go to see michael moore in his spanking-new one-man show at the roundhouse in camden. not quite what i was hoping for, but good nonetheless. the self-professed dumbest brit in the audience was pretty friggin’ dumb, i must say.
nov 10: day 7
rancho relaxo. so very lazy a sunday. bagels, the maltese falcon, meat pie, blade 2 and the pixies (listening to “i bleed” as i write this). prithee, my dear, why are we here? well, we just feel like taking a day off, free of shower and shave, consuming digestive cookies and action films while it rains outside our windows. tim’s working while i try to get somewhere with a story.
go see 28 days later with tim, a zombie movie from danny boyle. seeing london in a movie makes much more sense now that i know where things are. grab a chicken tikka kebab on the way home, my first kabab ever. luckily, i get it from a place called “kahari master”, so you know it’s good.
nov 11: day 8
quote found on the wall of a pub: “i never comment on referees and i’m not going to break the habit of a lifetime for a prat.” -ron atkinson
up early and on the tube. down to westminster abbey. full of dumb american tourists yawping aloud. not as stunning as st. paul’s, but contains more impressive stuff: tombs of kings & queens, poets corner (shakespeare, chaucer, olivier, browning, dozens more), churchill and other prime ministers, darwin, general wolfe, more. the tomb of unknown soldier is covered in floating poppies after yesterday’s visit by the queen. only minutes now before the remembrance day ceremonies start, so i flee the scene.
tim and i make a quick stop at the monument (actually a monument to the london fire) before strolling across the tower bridge. we check out the crazy spiral staircases in london city hall and then jump a double-decker bus to the imperial war museum. i’m fascinated by the artillery and aircraft, and it’s good to see all these things while jim’s books about wwi and wwii are still in my head. holocaust exhibit is haunting and extremely well done, as is the “anthem for doomed youth” exhibit about wwi poets.
on to what is probably the coolest half-hour of the trip, the ritblat gallery of the british library. the magna carta, hand-written works by shakespeare, the final letter from lord nelson, original sheet music of handel’s “messiah”, beowulf, the gutenburg bible, the codex sinaiticus, ancient qu’rans, the canterbury tales, da vinci’s notebook, the original alice in wonderland, hand-written beatles lyrics by paul mccartney, tons more. not one thing in there i didn’t find impressive, and we saw it all in no time at all. coolest single room in london.
bar-hop backin west hampstead for a bit before heading over to hampstead. get some incredible moroccan food (and an equally amazing belly dancer). a banana & chocolate crepe for the trip home. so bloody good. home to watch “shooting stars” on tv, the weirdest british show (calling british tv weird is both redundant and an understatement) i’ve seen yet. a busy day. sleep comes.
nov 12: day 9
not much doing today, just packing and so forth. commute to the airport is no more fun in london than in toronto. board and endure the flight without incident (apart from my first delightful meeting with authentic welsh clotted cream) and arrive in toronto on time. nellie meets me at the airport with a chocolate glazed donut. my brain and stomach file this under “reasons why we love her” and i groggily head home. i think my body has adjusted to the time difference in london just as i was turning around to go home, dammit. i wake up at 6:30 and can’t get back to sleep.
nov 13: toronto +1
what can i say? i saw everything i really wanted to see and more, including some stuff i never expected (the dead bodies, for example). all that, and i got to spend a week with tim and swmnbn, which in itself is more fun than you can shake a kebab stick at. as samuel johnson once said, “…when a man is tired of london, he is tired of life; for there is in london all that life can afford.”
one more plate of chicken tikka and i may just agree with him.
exactly 406 days later, i re-entered massey hall to delight in sigur ros again. if you’re reading this you already know what i think of them. if you want to know about the whole experience, read my review of last year’s concert. you’ll get the whole religious myth fed to you. the crowd was the same…lots of funk, lots of indie, lots of couples in power suits. seriously.
so, what was different, what was new to shock and amaze us? more than enough. there were actually only 2 or 3 songs last night that they didn’t play last year, and only one which i hadn’t heard before (certainly one of the best songs i’ve ever heard from them; the song sits on top of a bass riff that georg plays using a drumstick on his strings. unbeatably cool.), but they had a string section with them this time around which they used at the palais royale show last summer.
what made this show different was the mood of the band. looser, certainly; they had an opener (who was awful…he tried, but the execution just wasn’t there), jonsi twice broke a string, and there was some strange interruption before the last song where it sounded like they were asked to stop playing. massey hall management? still not sure. regardless, they then played their last song as they’d played all the others: roughly. well…as roughly as sigur ros’ music can be played. where last year’s show was almost orchestral, and the audience as well as the band seemed cautious and reverential, last night both knew what to expect, and that led to a sense of adventure in the band, especially jonsi. he was less connected to the audience last night, almost seeming to stand off with them. “svefn-g-englar” wasn’t the hymn that it was last year, but “daudalagid” flexed even harder (especially orri’s drumming).
the concert moved in the same way that () does, starting slowly and tentatively, setting up for the same 1-2 punch at the end, “dauÃ°alagiÃ°” (death song) and then “popplagiÃ°” (pop song). it worked as a concept, a grand plan last night, whereas a year ago it worked by surprise and sheer bullying force, a mistake corrected by the principle of ‘might makes right’.
go see them in montreal, or new york, or boston. find them, see them somewhere. they wring emotion out of you ’til you could fit into the bass drum and find your heartbeat matching it. just make sure you go with the right person. i was lucky enough to last night. maybe that’s why it was so much better this time.
the set list:
- ny batter
- svefn g englar
- pop song