Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Last Day in Toronto

All of my worldly possessions fit inside a suitcase and a small bag. Needless to say, the suitcase was heavy as hell, as I discovered when I tried trundling it down the hall. Holding it by the topmost handle would not prevent it tipping upright and scuffling bumpily. I could only manage the correct tilting elevation by tying a scarf to the handle, gripping it with a gloved hand.My second obstacle came when I opened the door; sleet and snow. Lurching around with a bag off my shoulder and tugging on a bescarfed suitcase was, I realised, only the beginning of my troubles. As I rooted through my flawlessly-packed belongings, the singular thought ran through my mind: James Bond never had to put up with this kind of crap.
Swaying madly like Mary Poppins attempting a wind-assisted chimney-top landing, I dragged my suitcase, lugged my bag, and balanced my umbrella through the heavily-puddled Toronto streets, the tiny wheels on the case often waterlogged and besnowed. My hand would cramp as if bewildered at being required to support a 20kg scarf; the pain would grow every ten metres, scream every forty, and cause my grip to completely release every sixty metres. Pedestrians were treated to the spectacle of a small pile of perambulating luggage pause, utter a string of oaths, flex an extended hand, and continue for a short distance before repeated the cycle.
Public transport requires tokens. These are sold at stations and at convenience stores, but no stores within one block in any direction of my station sold such things. The woman at the subway station kiosk refused my bank card. Cash only, she said, everywhere now, tokens are cash only.
I went back to the street, up two flights of stairs (four iterations of dropping, swearing, flexing) to my bank to withdraw the required sum: $2.75. "Are you having a good day?" the cashier asked me brightly. "I have," I replied,"had better."
Two flights of stairs and now five iterations of misery later, I had my token and proceeded to the subway platform, to the sight of my train moving slowly but deliberately away from me. I waited for fifteen minutes in good humour, now being out of the rain and snow and not having parts of my body shrieking in freakish agony. The short trip -- just two stops -- took me to a connecting subway train. This time was much better, as I was able to throw my suitcase at the closing doors with an involuntary wail. The suitcase fell three metres short, which demonstrated either my optimism or my state of surreality. The conductor perked up considerably at my string of invectives; Canadians so seldom witness anything resembling genuine expressions of emotion.
The next train was a mere ten minutes away, and took twenty to reach the end of the line. From there it was a simple bus ride to the airport, where I disembarked at the international terminal two kilometres from the correct international terminal. Once I had discovered this, I took the shuttle to Terminal 1, where I proceeded with all haste to the United Airlines check-in counter. I was pleased that I could see precisely where to wait, and that I was in time to check in for my flight by five minutes.
Attempts to scan my passport proved inconclusive. Eventually a uniformed attendant came to assist. "Oh, yes." he said. "That's an Air Canada flight."
"But it says United Airlines." I protested. "Look, right on the ticket." He looked at me with a countenance more in sorrow than in anger. "It's an Air Canada flight, sir. You'll have to move along."
Air Canada I found similar to United Airlines in one respect: neither would scan my passport. Another assistant bustled along. "Oh yes." she said. "It's too late to check in. You'll have to wait for the next flight on standby. Wait here and someone will assist you."
I had left the hotel three hours before, and I had missed my check-in time by nine minutes.
I waited for fifteen minutes for the single available Air Canada desk.

They expedited my bags and guided me personally through Customs...

...because i's not often you see a grown man cry.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Trippingly On The Tongue

I finally went to the Museum of Modern Art this morning. When I say 'finally', I mean that I have intended to visit it since, ten years ago, I dated a girl who had just returned from an internship at MoMA. For an aw-shucks Tauranga boy like me, that represented an absolutely otherworldly quality. It didn't work out with the girl, but the museum's significance stuck with me.

Most modern art is absolute arse. Piles of drier lint with mirrors in it, carefully-arranged concrete slabs, one-colour canvases; all leaning heavily on the Emperor's New Clothes school of high culture where the only sin is to request evidence of talent. But all art worthy of the name is part of a tradition. Part of a subculture which reflects, challenges, and bends the broader culture by showing it things and making it think. Because recent art traditions develop so quickly and fragment so easily, a lot of modern art is an offshoot of themes most people never got the chance to understand, which undermines its purpose of bending existing culture. It falls victim instead to elitism, jargon, and cliquishness.

That describes the entire fourth floor of MoMA. The fifth floor had a generous collection of Matisse (who I've always liked), as well as Klee, Picasso, Rousseau, and Miro (who I don't). What was interesting was when I looked out the window at the city -- framed and silent -- and saw it as art in a new way. When you put something in a museum, on a pedastal with a plaque, it takes on new qualities in isolation. Looking at the city out the window it was very pleasant to see urban life from the outside.

I've spent much of my travelling time in museums and galleries and have seen many, many classical sculptures and paintings. The movements in art progressed at such a glacial pace, and with such longing backward glances, that it is now easy for me to see how artists grew tired of rote expression. After the advent of photography, painting as a commercial, representative form lost its chief purpose. It got squeezed from its regular role and developed in ways that had no obvious value. The difference between a Monet and a Rothko is one of degree. Looking through the myriad levels of abstraction at MoMA this twisted tradition became much clearer to me.

The place was full. It was full of women with slightly too much makeup, with men wearing woollen topcoats, all eyebrows lofted to half-mast. It was full of people just like me. It was scary to see myself, again and again, in the SLR-wielding studentry, in the second-date twentysomethings, in the flawlessly-groomed midlife cultural elites. It was embarrassing to see the half-concealed pretension, the slightness of expression, the casual self-consciousness. I didn't like being like everyone else, because I didn't fully realise how un-unique I was. These people had read the same books and watched the same films as I had; they had dreamed the same dreams, thought the same thoughts. The homogeneity of my aspirations was laid bare and the gross ease of my achievement was revealed. This cultural mountaintop was a crowded plateau.

I left and ate a hotdog. It cost a dollar.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

New York, Day 3

I walked down to the subway stop this morning, through the twisted security gate, past the corner boys, the 99c stores, the fried chicken joints, the cash advance stores, the lottery ticket result signs, and down the wrong subway entrance. I swiped my Metro pass only to discover I was on the wrong side of the tracks. That's Harlem.
For the first time in my life I am the ethnic minority, the odd one out in a sea of faces. My culture has no currency here, and people are racist. And I mean racist. I represent an amorphous evil, an oppressive and malevolent force, a willfully misunderstanding overclass. Who I am doesn't matter here; it is what I am. I'm The Man.

Backtracking to the right subway entrance, I buy a coffee from Dunkin' Donuts and try to swipe my Metro pass. No deal. Rashonda at the Orwellian help-fortress blares that I must wait 18 minutes between swipes. I stand in the dirty, gray cattlepen, watching trains go past, looking at my watch, sipping my coffee. I catch my reflection in some shatterproof glass; with my scarf, my glasses, my sweater, I look like Harry Potter. The lid of my coffee cup is shaped like a Tommee Tippee sipper. As I stand here, waiting patiently, I feel strangely infantilised.

The crush of the subway rattles me downtown. The carriages sway and make shrill sounds. It is a small island but the trip takes twenty minutes and I get out a few stops earlier than I'd planned just to be free of it. The day is calm but the wind is chill and people hurry with coffee and newspapers in between cars and scaffolded sidewalks, and with steam rising in blinding clouds from subway grilles there is no stillness to the streets.

Monday, 17 November 2008

158 linear centimetres

Checked luggage may measure 158 linear centimetres. That's the width, plus the height, plus the length. If it is larger, you must pay NZ$311.
I have a suitcase which measures precisely 158cm if it sucks in its stomach and doesn't drink too much water before a photoshoot. If I have it wrong, however, I will have to pay $311 three times: once in Toronto, once in Los Angeles, and once in Fiji.

Maybe I should just leave all these explosives here.

Start Spreading The News

I'm leaving today -
right to the very heart of it,
New York, New York.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


New York, next week. New Zealand, week after.

Friday, 7 November 2008

On The Tiles

I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Thursday, 6 November 2008