Thursday, November 19, 2009

erika in the USA: NYC's not so bad

The last few days found me in New York City, that famed mecca of American ideals. I’ve never had much of a fondness for the city, what with it being huge and concrete and with rude people and stinkiness everywhere. But as I arched over the river on a tall green metal bridge and saw the classic glittering nighttime skyline stretched out before me, I realized afresh how beautiful New York can be.

I was in the city to visit my beloved cousin Corban and his charming girlfriend Adrienne, who were very gracious hosts in their sweet little Brooklyn apartment, and to check out a grad school program at NYU. Being in Brooklyn with such nice people and being able to see their comfortable lives made me realize that it’s not such an impossible thing to live in New York: I wouldn’t want to stay forever, but maybe I could do it for a while. This is a shocking consideration for me, as I have gone my entire life determinedly stating that I would never ever want to live in NYC. Thanks to Bangkok, though, I’ve become slightly immune to the rigors of big cities: at least in New York I can read the signs, ask passersby questions, know the laws, know the history, and pretty much know the system. I’m also to the point where the benefits available in the city, like the profusion of world-class institutions and opportunities and the conveniences of organized urban life, may outweigh my distaste for built environments and pee smell. I’m surprised to find that I’ve also changed enough that I now appreciate the fashion, food, and other cultural opportunities more than before. It’s like I’m growing up / becoming classier: who knew?!

NYU was hilarious. I’d been in their part of the city before, both as a gay tourist (it’s in the middle of Greenwich Village, the gayest neighbourhood in an already gay city, and just blocks from the Stonewall Inn, the site of a pivotal gay riot) and as a performer back in college. I’d never really slowed down and observed the student population, though: oh oh so trendy, fast-talking intelligent yet naive rhetoric, posturing and prancing and pretentions, gay boys, bourgeois angst, but delightfully energetic, alive, engaged, and very well-connected. Kindof an embodiment of the stereotypes of the city. I was impressed by the program I was checking out, and am looking forward to applying.

On my way out of town I had the chance to meet up with a friend and former colleague, Marissa, with whom I crammed about three years of catching up into an hour’s lunch break. She’s an inspiring woman, and it was refreshing to soak up some of her enthusiasm for international social justice work.

No photos, since (as you’ve probably gathered by now) I didn’t bring any cameras with me on this trip. Instead let me part with lingering images from the city: the Statue of Liberty as seen through the piers of the Brooklyn Bridge. The joyful smiles of five old black homeless men singing perfect barbershop do-wop quintet. Two baggy-pants’d bucket-drummer teen boys huddled with their buckets over their heads in a doorway trying to stay dry in a cold cloudburst. A dignified old white silver-haired man striding ramrod-straight with the skirts of his black woollen trench coat billowing out behind him. The canyons of a long straight skyscraper-lined street fading into mist miles away.

erika in the USA: beloved boston

This past weekend I enjoyed a two-part sojourn in the urban burbs of my former home city of Boston. First up were my dear dear dear dear friends Nathaniel and Sarah who I know from when I was tiny, and who I love more than food and water combined, and with whom I did and can always enjoy a return to my heart and myself. We cooked and ate and hugged and pig-piled and read and talked and watched documentaries and shared stupid websites and drank tea and coco and wine and played nerdy board games and generally basked in the excellent company.

I was delighted to meet their new-to-me housemate Lindsay, who is such good company that she held her own in my esteem even beside two of my favourite people in the whole wide world. And as if my visit wasn’t grand enough already, we upped the ante of awesomeness with an evening at the home of Sarah’s brother Jeff and his wife Vivian, and a host of their musical theatre friends, and a piano, and much singing of songs. Despite being too cold-ridden to sing much myself, I almost keeled over from the joy of music and intelligent kind likeminded people.

After such overstimulation, it was a blessing to be able to retreat to the soporific aquarium and later to Wakefield where my lovely college friend Sylvia and her wife Jane live in a cosy warren of a house. Because of said cold and being exhausted from too many travels I wasn’t particularly good company, but it was still nice to be able to nest and zone out with such kind and unjudgemental people, around whom I can totally relax and just sleep and blow my nose. Highlights of my stay included a nice walk in the woods, and another nice walk on the beach.

Photos are from Nathaniel’s phone.

erika in the USA: the lovely inlaws and burbs and apples

Last week found me in Concord MA, where Petra’s parents Dean and Vivienne live. I’ve seen them more recently than most of those I’m visiting, since they came to visit us in Australia last year, so in a way it felt like I’d never left. It’s always a treat to see them, and to stay in their gracious home and eat Vivienne’s deeeeeeelicious food. :)

Their home is also the resting place of the pile of Petra and my worldly possessions, so opening the closet and apprehensively staring at the basement pile was like Christmas: ooh, just the sweatshirt I'd been wishing for! What a perfect sweater! (Shouldn't have been a surprise, as they were mine from 3 years ago.) Shocking, though, the extent of our possessions: we are so lucky to have so much.

On another note: I was surprised to be reminded of the loveliness of the ancient suburbs, with their hunched creaking white houses and grey leafless trees and dry grasses and muddy brooks and cold stone walls. Is this a vista that only a daughter could love, though, grey, grey, grim, dim, tight, delicate, wet, rotting, or would others think it as beautiful as I do?

Our wander through the burbs was presaged by a search for multitudes of apples, which as it turned out were no longer on the trees (early season!) but were solicitously and nose-temptingly piled into baskets for our immediate gratification. The smell of the apple barn (old wood, sweet musky apple skins, tangy spoiled apple juices, dry dirt, lingering old hay) inspired pangs of New England patriotism and hubris and sheer love that almost collapsed me. I decided on the spot to be an apple farmer for all time. (I later rationally decided there were better uses for my skills.) The variety of apple types new and heirloom that were unfamiliar to me was exciting as well, as it means I have a lot of apple tasting to do when I get back.