Sunday, October 29, 2006


In winter, before refrigeration, men would go out onto Montreal's frozen Lawrence River and cut huge swathes of ice using long saws, which were then divided into smaller blacks and teken away on carts. Apparently the water was cleaner in winter...don't ask me how that works. The river itself was such a hub for commercial activity that when it started to thaw in the spring, the townspeople would rush to the shores and start hacking at the remaining ice to open the channels again.

All this I know, because I ended up at the museum when I was supposed to be shopping in Montreal's huge, 32km square underground city. How anyone actually enjoys shopping is COMPLETELY beyond me. I found loads of lovely, unique stuff, but it was all stupidly expensive. Anything else was....too much! too hard! colours! sizes! textures! queues!... in the end I chose a low fat muffin and ran for the museum.

It struck me, in Montreal, the effect language has on geography, rather than the other way round. Barely 45 minutes from loud, boitrous New York City I arrived in a French city; greeted by customs officials and taxi drivers with 'bonjour', taken to a steaming, rowdy restaurant in a cobbled street where olive skinned waiters served succulent, rich pork shoulders and unfettered-by-conscience fois gras to large groups of stylish, elegant people - not a botoxed forehead in sight - all discussing world affairs and great ideas (okay, I don't speak French but the conversations sounded worthy), then walked to our hotel through streets lined with grand, Victorian-era apartments and ornate shopfronts.....all the signage in French, from the Bvds and Rue's to the Chinois Place near our hotel in China Town.

Of course, this is not Paris. For a start, the waiters are very friendly. Second, there were plenty of ads pasted around the city promoting the local ice-hockey team. And in Paris, they would never allow this mutated Holiday Inn in a spot near the old town:

I was with four Aussie girls and in true down-under style we got straight into the food. I have a severe case of 'grass is greener' when it some to restaurant food and usually prefer to eat off other people's this case, no one would touch their block of deep fried 'something', except moi. It turned out to be unidentified, deep-fried, foul-tasting innards....and spat right back out. Then I dug into what looked like well cooked squash or vegetable of some sort - a good thick chunk, only to go hmm, that doesn't taste right....turn the remaining piece over to reveal a nice, two inch thick piece of pig fat, white skin shining in its own oil. Even thinking of it now makes me want to brush my teeth and run around the block.

Montreal is built at the confluence of two rivers - an island, like Manhattan - and for a long time an important place for traders, particularly the early fur traders. The French found some hardy American Indians here, living in long, multiple family dwellings, smoking on pipes that the Europeans soon emulated. The British arrived, fought the French (surprise surprise) and it remains in British hands...and feels like no part of the Empire that I've ever set foot in. The resurgence in language is relatively recent, although there were a number of people were came across, even those in hospitality, who did not speak English.

At this time of year, Montreal is slipping into winter. It rained the whole time, except when it started snowing. Rugged up in multiple layers and cushioned with lots of calorific French food, we were ok... but poor Montrealians, for them this is just the beginning. In winter, the temperature hovers around -14 degrees Celsius; the worst was -33. Every year a snow-storm paralyses the city. The boots on sale in the fashionable shops are purely functional - thick, two inch soles and all fur-lined. Of course, you could always buy a classy hat like this to keep you warm...

and if you're shopping for birthday presents (for your senile old uncle...)

Halloween in Montreal is a rather subdued affair compared to in the States, and even then they did it in style. Where else would you find a gorilla playing drums in a jazz band? (The other guy was playing a Japanese flute...very cool sound.)

Dodging snow and high winds, we made the pilgrimage to St Josephs (in a taxi) where many go to be healed. Here are the walking sticks of those who are now fit and well, apparently. There were two of these structures in the church, along with many many banks of candles...not in recesses or alcoves within the basilica, but in its own separate candle-room. Here is the most beautiful of the candle tiers.

The dome of the basilica is the second largest in the world, behind St Peters in Rome.

The church was disappointingly austere inside, all grey blank walls, escalators, and elongated effigies.... but apparently the healing thing is still works despite the lack of decoration ....

And this....this is just worth sharing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


It's amazing what difference a view makes. I've just shifted to a window seat at work, and already my little soul is unfurling a wee bit....

Here is the view. The first is if I look straight out,

the second if I open the window and sort of squishal and bend out. So with the second view you have to also imagine the honking of taxis, the smell of exhaust fumes, the whirring of air conditioning units and indiscriminate yelling from 22 floors below.

After a fabulous yoga session that had me sweating out all six cups of green tea I'd consumed while gazing at my new view, off to The Killers (again) at Madison Square Garden - the theatre, not the huge stadium. And this was the view from my seat, about four rows from the back-end of the auditorium, where the rows get all cramped and the ceiling gets lower and lower...a good place for hobbits.

So as you can see it was a bit different from last time. On the big plus side, at least there was no lunatic woman to start fights with this time.

I went by myself (first solo concert!) and got chatting to a lovely bubbly woman and her husband. He asked if 'The dingo ate my baby', to which I repeated that I was a New Zealander. He said: 'So, have you ever seen a Tasmanian Devil then?'. After some debate about where Tasmania was, we finally got onto safe ground with the Lord of the Rings. But he insisted we all call it L.O.T.R. instead.

A guy befriended me and told me he sang and played keyboard in a band. He left for a bit and when he came back he asked if I'd missed him. I said that I wondered where he'd gone. The audio in this theatre is not great, and The Killers are a band that need to be loud otherwise you can hear yourself and every other tone deaf person yelling out. And then, in the middle of a song, he starts yowling in my ear "She wondered where I had gone, she wooonderred where I had gooone." Now mate, you can call me Australian, but you're on dangerous ground when you interrupt a Killers song.....

It's just occured to me that maybe he knew the lunatic woman and saw that I didn't have back-up! Just as well the yoga made me all zen.

Scotland and Uganda

I went to see The Last King Of Scotland tonight, a movie about a young doctor who becomes personal physician and 'closest advisor' to Idi Amin, in the months following the coup in Uganda. Now this ain't a great film. The camera work is sporadic and distracting. The music has delusions of drama. But Forrest Whittikar is very good as Idi Amin, charming and lunatic yet very real and imminently dangerous. The film is supposedly inspired by true events, which by my Friend-From-Fox's definition, means it's 99% bollocks.

Some parts are pretty funny, and I like to think these are the bits based on actual events. Idi Amin, obsessed with Scotland, names his children MacKenzie and Campbell. His Ugandan choir in full native dress sings about the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

The film is set in 1970's Uganda...sun and mosquitos, dirt huts and women in colorful dresses. It is exactly the same as when I was there last year. Imagine the savings in setting a period piece in Africa! No need for sets or CGI.

This is a Ugandan taxi. And some Ugandan houses. When I was in the country, there were issues with the current administration, corruption, poverty and AIDs. And yet the people of Uganda were the most colourful and friendly of any of the African nations we visited.

And the sign on the border-crossing between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo - they still haven't changed the name. And yes I know the hair is pretty damn bad but this wasn't exactly a five-star tour...

But so quickly back to New York! I walked home though Chelsea, which is the suburb of beautiful gay men. I've never seen so many gay men in my life all clustered in one area - at 11pm on a Monday night I passed at least a dozen couples, and each member had a significant amount of facial hair. Of course, this also means there are all these really cute restaurants that do fabulous cocktails, and a lot of clubs that have been shut down in recent years due to bad behavior.

I came home to find my roommate lying on the couch in her pyjamas. Last week she was diagnosed with pneumonia, but went in to work for a few hours before giving in and coming home to rest. She thought she might have a fever, so rang the pharmacy and got them to deliver a thermometer. Take-out thermometers! Only in New York huh.

And what defines the Scottish, except their contempt for the English and incongruous musical instruments? ...The food! At one point the Doctor is asked if they have monkeys in Scotland, to which he replies "No, but if we did, we would deep fry them''.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The best South Park episode ever?

Casa Bonita is, beyond a doubt, the BEST South Park episode ever.

You can't beat Butters, locked in a basement believing that the world is infected by toxic radiation and overrun with cannibals, singing "If you leave me now, you take away the biggest part of me OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO".

At the moment they've got Ike having an affair with his teacher. I haven't fully caught up on all the seasons yet, but at the highest estimate, I'd say Ike is no more than 5yrs. It's pretty sick. (not San Fran sick either).

Another Cat cocktail to anyone who can tell me why Ike is Canadian.

So far I have a Psalm for the previous challenge, but no explanation of what it actually means.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The Boston accent is one of the weirdest I've ever heard. It's something about the 'a's. They say 'smaaert' rather than smart, 'haaered' instead of 'hard'. The tram driver looked at me like I was retarded for not understanding that the stop for 'Haaervaaerd' was 'Paaerk Aaevenue'. In fact, in retrospect, they sound a bit like Cartman.

It's Fall, and the famous New England foliage is beginning to turn to reds, golds and a whole bunch of dirty leaves in the gutter. Rob, Pilar's fiance lives in a very swish part of town, Newton, where the houses resemble small town halls; romanesque mansions, montrous doll houses and haunted looking, grand old victorian villas, all turrets and brocade edges. One morning I went out for a photo-taking walk, but I went the wrong way, sorry. Here are a couple of the mediocre ones anyway...

Rob provided a running commentary - Boston is very old, settled in the 1500s and its rambling streets are built around hubs where goods were traded. So no grid system - without it Americans get lost very easily (not kidding). We got lost a few times.

It feels like an educated town, like the students would have jolly good fun but probably pass all their exams as well. In fact, we were given an alternative tour of Harvard - a beautiful, stately campus - by two enterprising students, who told us that:
  • 2/3 of students come from public school backgrounds, and the average $ allocation for those without means is $25,000 (courses are $45,000). Students are welcomed from all parts of the world, with one stipulation: They must be uber-bright, possibly sporty, community-minded and generally the type who made head girl/boy.
  • There is a 'war' between the local council of Cambridge and Harvard. The Uni doesn't pay taxes on its buildings, so Cambridge attempts to prevent expansion. Harvard votes 65% democrat; Cambridge 90%. There is even a rumour that Cambridge firefighters let the Memorial Hall burn because of the feud.

  • The Hall itself resembles a church because the builders were weirdo Masons. It is also the only memorial in the US to exclude soldiers who died on the wrong side - the confederate soldiers aren't listed even though ex-Nazis are listed elsewhere.
  • Harvard is the wealthiest University in the US, with billions in endowments.
  • The library was donated by a woman whose son died on the Titanic. One of her stipulations is that fresh flowers are purchased each day for the reading room dedicated to her son, otherwise the building is donated to Cambridge (boo, hiss).

The best prank between arch rivals Yale and Harvard came at a football match, where Yale students posing as Harvard pep-talkers, gave out placards to the fans. When they held them up in the air simultaneously, a roar went out from the Yale end of the field; the cards spelled out "WE SUCK".

The statue of John Harvard is not actually of Harvard, because no likeness remains of him. It is thought that the model was one of his students. It looks like they chose 'most likely to make a great impression on the ladies' - he's hot!

People rub his foot for luck. Harvard students piss on the foot at night. However, he did have great taste in shoes.

A Philosophy building had enscribed above it words by, I think, Emerson (who I am a recent fan of). It says: "What is man that thou art mindful of him." A Cat cocktail to the first correct answer (which means, given this is a niche audience blog, I may be drinking alone. When I Google the answer...)


Finally, we found a shop where you can 'make' your own teddy bear. In reality, you choose one rub a little felt heart, stick it inside then they fill it with stuffing, ass first. The whole shop was basiically an Accessorize for teddy bears. Here are the shoes

More pics here. This post is a bit bedraggled cos I am tired, going to bed....

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hillary! Pre-State Election Rally

Well this post was originally intended to be accompanied by an excellent photo of me and Mrs Clinton, but she managed to scarper from the building before I got close... Here you go anyway...

She was good. Presidentially good...not that I've ever seen a President actually speak in real life, but she sounded authoritative, smart and to the point. Which is not necessarily always Presidential!
She was, of course, speaking from the perspective of Senator for New York State....but, y'know....
She looked professional, and had these great earrings that sparkled on inflection. Smart smart SPARKLE!

Speech: Domestic clean-ups in the fields of health and education, plus an intent to bring US energy consumption within its own borders. Review the situation in Iraq. Environmental issues - renewable energy, more efficient carbon fuels; initiatives happening in-state that could create jobs.

It was well received by the crowd, packed into the Rizy nightclub - all sorts: black, white, young, old, professionals and student-types. My new friend J, watching the crowd disperse, was convinced they were all gay, but I think he just hit a patch. Ms. Clinton was preceded by a violinist, and followed by a cheesy DJ, booming out Beyonce or something similar. A few people started dancing, but most just left. No free bar, but some great Marc Jacobs designed t-shirts on offer; Hillary's face - sort of Andy Warhol-esque - on your chest.
The going rate for a ticket was $50, or you could raise the money by selling tickets to other people. I was lucky enough to get free entry through my friend C, a young, fearless and seemingly tireless campaigner. After the Senate elections, if Hillary decides to run for President, C will re-apply and hopefully be re-hired. And if Ms. Clinton wins that race, the next step is the White House.
C has enlisted me for pamphleting service prior to the election night in June, when Hillary is expected to glide into first place. I may even get to go to the election night party too!

And when she wins, C promises that Hillary will almost definitely be in a the mood to have her photo taken with a wayward Kiwi chick!
Here is a semi related pic of cake to add color to this long post....

Friday, October 06, 2006


On Monday Krista 'n Geir (to me, some couples become like a double worded thing... like fish 'n chips...) and I had a dinner at Spice Market. Notoriously hard to get into, all beautiful inside: Indian-inspired elaborately carved 'pagodas', all downlit and exotic, waiters in flowing, scarf-life costumes in red and burnt orange, and magnificent smells coming out of the kitchen. We were seated, then promptly ignored. Much of the meal was spent trying to get the attention of our main waitress, a blonde and gleaming woman with that NYC-waitress-mean-streak in her eye. I swear the hospitality staff here are more intimidating than the cops, who are either small and just graduated high school, or huge and heading towards a mid-life crisis or a heart attack.

Seemlingly hundreds of meal and plate carriers swarmed around us but here, the roles are very well defined so no luck getting help. The meaner you are, the higher up you get. The meal itself was good, fish and Asian this-and-that. Geir and Krista are much braver than me (as well as being much more hip in general) and tipped less than the standard 15%. As she deserved. But I still had visions of me walking home with my bags of groceries (Spice Market is a couple of blocks from my apartment) being chased by scarf-clad waiters bearing huge samurai kitchen knives....

This is the Meat Packing district. you can see from the cobbles it would be hard to escape crazed wait-staff if you were wearing heels.

Tuesday I was supposed to start my meditation class but ended up taking part in a work-related workshop - Wall St 101. The irony did not escape me.

Wednesday night, a second salsa class (forward, backwards, side side and TURN!) was followed by a small concert for Kiwi band The Black Seeds. Didn't know much about them, but their sound has that distinctive Kiwi flavor - syncopated rhythms, keyboard, guitars, horns, bongo drums - reminded me of beaches and barbeques and grass...Bumped into an acquaintance from about six years ago who is changing the world through Kiwi music...bringing Kiwi bands to the US. I've offered to help if I can, seems like a worthy cause!

Walking home from dinner tonight (food this week has consisted of posh dinners out and leftover take-out) there is a shivery breeze. Last night was warm, thundery and muggy. It's as if New York is stuttering into Fall; it can't decide. Stick with summer, stick with summer! I'm going to miss the warm days, especially given my extremities seem to be forgotten and neglected by the rest of my circulatory system.

For the sake of adding another pic...this was taken in the midst of the August heatwave. All the water you can see on the footpath is from air conditioning units placed in windows...most windows have them. Expensive and environmentally detrimental, but it is hard to survive in 40 degree heat and humidity without them.

Anyway, they drip. A lot. So, when walking under a residential apartment building, you can almost get a shower....or at least a light sprinkle. While avoiding the dog pee. NY is an interesting olfactory adventure in the summer!

Oh, I left out the highlight of my week! A visit to the doctor! But it's late and I need to sleep...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A very New York weekend

Friday: Frozen margaritas and dinner with Glenn, reviewing our Burning Man experiences (which I'll work out how to post when I get my pictures sent through). Verdict being we're both going back for more, despite some hangovers...

Saturday: Washington Sq park, early crisp morning. Trees still leafy but it's getting colder. Chess boards are set up in the park and groups of men are playing. Some look homeless. Some homeless-looking guy asked me to play, but I'm too hungry to stop.

Breakfast. Tasti-de-lite at Sixth Avenue. Half Double Dutch Chocolate, half Boysenberry Cheesecake. With Granola sprinkles. And an extra cone on top. On the wall is a letter from the producers of Sex and The City thanking the staff for acting in the episode where Charlotte realizes how great Harry is because he comes with her to Tasti De Lite.

Lunch: Oyster Festival. Mike and I mistakenly take the subway to Brooklyn (off the mainland, argh panic!) and so it's 4pm when we finally get some food in us.

12 oysters in 2 minutes + a strong Bloody Mary + a hot dog with sauerkraut + a mini hamburger
= nauseous.

Home. Disco nap.

Evening: Party at our house for Pilar's birthday. Homemade frozen margaritas, take-out from Mama Mexicana - chicken mole burrittos yum! - and a reunion with Krista and Geir who have been traveling the world and have great stories to tell. Much inspired to see more of the States, plus South America. Party goes well, smart, funny people. I go to bed at 3.30am, leaving the guys chatting in the kitchen and the fabulous gay couple tango-ing in the lounge.

Sunday: Brunch - Blue Water Grill. K and G know the trendiest places to go even though they're visitors! I eat most of Krista's food as mine (healthy option) is pretty bland.

Buy some awesome shoes. I reckon if I can click my heels right I'll end up somewhere else. Maybe Guatamala.

Take awesome shoes in conspicuous bags to Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, an Anti-consumerist (Wal-KMart, Starbucks etc) gospel choir. Good music and interesting thoughts...Rev Billy says we all have 714 films in us, beginning, middle and end, all self developed from childhood, all our own imaginations...that get CRUSHED by the advertising and corporate messages that infiltrate our minds from an early age. If we can extricate ourselves and find out own films again, our interactions with others are more authentic, we respect others' films, and we act with integrity.

I chat outside to the choir. Several ask about my bags. I say that I'm a sinner, although usually I hate one believes me.

Bump into Glenn's friend from Burning Man. His nickname is Satan. He somehow cajoles me into helping set-up for the next post-burning man party...1200 people. He says - 'what can you do, what are your talents?'. I shrug and say 'I'm not afraid of heights'. He says - 'Are you afraid of widths?'

Home. Derek tries to teach me HTML so I can change the blog. It sort of makes sense. but I'm almost too tired to write so this is all you get......leftovers from the party for dinner.

This week is my reading/sleeping/gym/being generally healthy week. Much like last week except this time I might actually do it.