Em and Stu Do America part 11: New Orleans

It sure is.

It sure is.

Stu and I fall into the iconic French Quarter entirely unprepared for its notorious Bourbon Street: sheer overwhelm edged with a sense of barely controlled danger and Kuta-esque hilarity.

Street drinking is not just allowed but encouraged. Each corner has its own stench. Music pounds. Neon glows at night, glares in the deserted daylight. Revellers and drunks, locals and tourists, surge and stumble. They can walk the street or sidewalk, Bourbon Street being closed to cars, but construction everywhere forces them into each other’s paths. Cars on the cross streets waiting to cross Bourbon wait listlessly to inch through gaps in the crowds. Potholes are filled with murky maybe-water.

Realities collide!

Realities collide!

Stu and I soon re-employ the warning system developed in New York: code word “MUDDLE” a warning to leap on or off the curb over a muddy puddle of what could be water, but might just as easily not be. Bouncers yell drink specials from doorways.

Drinks of choice are a world away from the traditional Vieux Carre found inside the jazz clubs, and most notably include the Big Ass Beer (comes in own novelty 1L bottle); Hand Grenade (green mystery fluid served in plastic grenade); Hurricane (red mystery fluid); Fishbowl (red mystery fluid in giant fishbowl, later seen slung round neck of drag queen keeping her tips in it); and the ever-classic $1 jello shot.

Only in NOLA are even the mannequins falling-down drunk

Only in NOLA are even the mannequins falling-down drunk

Street performance abounds, but we learn not to linger and watch because they will demand payment. Tiny children bang drum-sets made from sticks and upturned buckets with prodigious skill. We learn not to stop and listen to anything everyone says because they will manage to get money out of you through a breathtaking mixture of opportunism, charm and aggression. Tall, scary teenage boys with muscles and hard eyes stand silently with snakes around their necks. Real snakes. Big ones. Wizened old blokes stand around with big colourful parrots. We are pretty sure it’s another moneyspinner, so we don’t ask questions. We just laugh, enjoy the ride and try to keep our feet and clothes dry – we are invariably on our way to a restaurant.

We have largely stayed out of fancy eateries in the USA, finding early on that generally the style of food is international and prices (once you add tips, taxes, exchange rate) are too high to be worth it, given the similar styles and class of dining available in Perth. This is why we have concentrated on the more iconic, regional and less costly American dishes.

Every day is Mardis Gras

Every day is Mardis Gras

But it’s always been the plan to let ourselves go in NOLA. It’s home to Arnaud’s, Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s, Creole institutions. It’s my birthday week. It’s

Restaurant Week, when such places offer price-fixed menus that will let be high rollers for a week. We visit Goodwill. Stu gets a slinky black suit and I get a slinky black dress. We walk out $15 later and ready to get classy for the first time in months.

We’ve got a long list of cuisines and dishes to try, thanks to NOLA’s eclectic cultural history:

Not bad for a $7 suit.

At Galatoire’s. Not bad for a $7 suit.

Creole and Cajun (jambalaya, andouille, gumbo soup); the po’boy sandwich; the Italian Muffaletta sandwich invented here (filled with mortadella, salami, mozzarella, provolone, and a special olive ‘salad’ of olives, cauliflower and carrot, all in an oil that soaks deliciously into the big round soft Italian sesame loaf, cut into quadrants for easier guzzling).

And that’s not counting the sweets; we have to try beignets (deep-fried choux pasty covered in powdered sugar); bread pudding, the local dessert of choice; pralines, king cake, snoballs, mile high pie…

The Muffaletta at Central Grocery. Note how the oil that the vegies have been marinating in sinks into the bread.

The Muffaletta at Central Grocery. Note how the oil that the vegies have been marinating in sinks into the bread.

We also have a list of musicians to hear provided by a journalism contact of mine – pianist David Boeddinghaus we were lucky enough to see twice, once at the Bombay Club then again aboard the Steamboat Natchez, where he played with the fantastic trumpet player Duke Heitger, who had also been recommended. We didn’t manage to track down pianist Tom McDermott, but we made up for it with a dinner at the Palm Court Jazz Café, where the band sang me happy birthday!

Bloody Mary at the Commander's Palace jazz brunch.

Bloody Mary at the Commander’s Palace jazz brunch.

I’ve put a list of the winners food-wise at the bottom for the curious but overall the most spectacular meal was at Creole classic Commander’s Palace. The jazz brunch – where the band wandered in to each dining room and took requests – was was followed by a walk through the garden district: a far cry from the chaos and poverty of the French Quarter. A self-guided walking tour took us past some jaw-dropping homes, including the homes of Sandra Bullock and, drumroll, John Goodman! His house had double coolness, being previously owned by NIN frontman Trent Reznor.

Anne Rice's house, according to Free Tours by Foot.

Anne Rice’s house, according to Free Tours by Foot.

We also saw Anne Rice’s house, which looked just like you would want expect the author of Interview with a Vampire’s house to look. We ended with a walk through Lafayette Cemetery, crumbling and beautiful, evoking the spooky scenes from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula in which terrified men wait by the tombstones at night for the vampire to emerge.

Lafayette Cemetery

Lafayette Cemetery

On a sunnier note, we spent a day on the bayous, kayaking with Canoe and Trail Adventures swamp tours. An unexpected bonus in getting there was driving for nearly half an hour across the world’s longest bridge, across Lake Pontchartrain.

The vast and shallow Lake Pontchartrain is actually an estuary

The vast and shallow Lake Pontchartrain is actually an estuary. Feels like driving across the sea.

Our passionate local guide told us all about the ecosystem of swamps, bayous and estuaries, and the roles these wetlands – or rather the loss of them – played in the scale of devastation Katrina wrought in 2005. The wetlands are disappearing in Louisiana at a rate of a FOOTBALL FIELD EVERY 90 MINUTES, which sounds unbelievable but was confirmed by a visit to the Katrina museum. The museum featured apocalyptic footage of the floods surging round roofs of the citizens, and told the harrowing stories of overwhelmed and unprepared authorities herding 12,000 of the city’s least fortunate citizens into the Superdome. Here they lived for days on end, surrounded by their own excrement, in the suffocating heat, in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the roof disintegrating around them.

On the swamp!

Sign in back left reads “DEAD SLOW”, hehe. Front left you can see an osprey nest in tree.

And the worst part? Scientists had been warning for a long time that the risk of flooding was high and that the loss of the natural wetland buffer zones would mean the flooding would be catastrophic. And people wonder why I bang on about wetlands disappearing into subdivisions in Perth. We lack respect and understanding for the subtle roles ecosystems play in keeping our planet hospitable. Happily, New Orleans seems to have somewhat learned from its experiences, and there are wetland recovery efforts underway, but of course it will take billions and meanwhile the money is in the hands of politicians.

Anyway, back to dumb tourist mode: paddling behind our guide, we see two alligators! One a head, the other one a slinking tail! And then a turtle! Turtle gets all shy and belly flops ungracefully back into the water when we say hi.

Em does a momentary book nerd with statue of Ignatius Reilly, the main character from the Pulitzer Prizewinning New Orleans novel A Confederacy of Dunces

Nerding out with Ignatius Reilly, hero of Pulitzer-winning NOLA novel A Confederacy of Dunces

We love New Orleans, our most intense experience of America since New York City. Its cracked and crooked streets and paths are marked by flood lines and devastating evidence of rampant homelessness, but they are also full of beauty and colour and life, and above all music. Tubas wander the streets, taking their humans for walks. Jazz spills from restaurants, houses, bars, cars. We arrived wondering why people wanted to go back and rebuild after Katrina; but we leave understanding. There’s just nowhere else like it.

A week’s not enough, but we’ve got a date with Austin, Texas, and then… with the grandest of all canyons!

Stumobservations: New Orleans

  • The first night in any new place is spent finding somewhere to eat.
  • Rest of the week is spent discussing where we should have eaten on first night.
  • Light American beer has the same alcohol content as full strength Aussie beer.
  • Blood and Sand cocktail tastes exactly like its name: like you’ve tripped at the beach and smashed your face in the sand.
  • Do not put inedibles in my food. #Gumbo
  • Hand Grenades and Hurricanes are reminiscent of unrefined rocket fuel concoctions from early-days drinking.
  • Birthday drinks are even classier when consumed on a working carousel bar.
  • Birthdays last 36 hours when there is a 12-hour time difference.
  • 50 squats and 50 lunges are horrible. #Canyonprep
Beignets. Enough said.

Beignets. Enough said.

Winners food-wise:

  • Po-boys: Killer Po-Boys at Erin Rose – famous Parkway Po’Boys didn’t compare. 
  • Beignets: Café du Monde. It’s legendary for a reason. Bonus points for cafe au lait, the closest I have come to a flat white in a long, long time. We share a single portion, but get all giggly and high on sugar anyway.
  • Muffaletta: Sorry, Frank’s, but Central Deli and Grocery won this fight.
  • Best gumbo: Galatoire’s
  • Best bread pudding: Palm Court
  • Best meal overall: Commander’s Palace (Creole)
  • Highly commended Creole: Dooky Chase’s and The Gumbo Shop

 

 

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Em and Stu do America part 9: Miami Beach

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

We’ve fled Florida and the Miami Beach we describe will be sadly damaged. Residents just got let back in to see their homes today. But we thought we’d do this post anyway to encourage – eventually – tourism dollars back to the area when the time comes.

We had planned eight nights in Miami and chose to stay on Miami Beach, specifically South Beach. Miami Beach is actually an island off downtown Miami and South Beach is the portion of it that the rest of the world imagines when it imagines Miami: the palm trees, Art Deco, fancy vintage cars parked on the streets, sun-bronzed people on rollerblades, neon and nightlife. We chose to stay “where the action is”, conveniently forgetting we are old farts in training who don’t appreciate “action”.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

Miami Beach is expensive, and our inability to find somewhere close to South Beach within our budget led to our first negative AirBnB experience. We’ll save the hair-raising stories for home, but advise anyone needing budget accommodation in the area to search well in advance and take precautions. We would also recommend avoiding the Instant Book feature – take time to message the host first and check them out.

Miami Beach is scorching hot. Temperatures climbed above 37C by 10am. I have yearned throughout many muggy, cloudy eastern states for blue skies and white sand, a real summer holiday, but I realised that Miami, far closer to Cuba culturally than it is to the rest of Florida, is also a climate unto itself, with us arriving in the wet season, rather than summer as I understand summer.

Green lizard!

Green lizard!

Miami is exotic. Extreme humidity and frequent rainstorms allow for thick, lush vegetation, tropical flowers and palms everywhere, the smell of wet greenery thick in the air, lizards scattering at your feet; tiny ones, big ones, curly-tailed ones, bright green ones. There is a World Erotic Art Museum and gorgeous old art deco architecture everywhere, the preservation of low-rise heritage buildings throughout most of South Beach adding to the feeling that you have left the United States far behind. The famous South Beach itself is, to give credit where it’s due, the first Australian-quality beach seen so far in terms of white sand and clear water, though the water is very warm.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

Looks are vital. The stores have big-breasted mannequins, and mannequins of little doggies to display the clothing choices for your doggy accessory. People-watching should be done in the afternoons and evenings. Before midday, empty streets are peopled by tourists, recognisable by their protective hats and clothing (residents walk around wearing as little as possible to prevent tan lines forming). We concluded locals have more in common with the lizards everywhere than they did with us – protected by their browned skins, they waited until the sun warmed their blood before hitting the streets each day.

But when they do it’s a sight to behold and they quite agree, taking so many selfies you’re as much at risk of collision on the sidewalk as you are on a street. They work out, half-naked, on full outdoor extreme gym equipment in the sun, doing one-armed pushups on baking rocks and sand. And bars and restaurants are all open virtually 24 hours, maybe to relieve the stress of looking so good. One Cuban we talked to, Jeffrey, said the women in Cuba were “needy”, explaining he meant expensive, needing a lot of investment in their hair and nails.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

On Miami Beach we spotted lots of bare slow-cooking boobies, one skin-diver-suited man with a metal detector, one particularly gorgeous siren of a woman taking selfies with a full-on tripod and SLR setup, and of course, plenty of ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ situations, in which hapless men contort themselves trying to take the pictures their women require for social media.

One example was an older man in his 60s being instructed in photography by two girls in bikinis. Whether he knew them was unclear. Stu and I observed closely and are able to report for you the rules for looking hot in a photo (Emma models these in the gallery below):

  1. Pop butt upwards and forwards
  2. Somehow keep front knee bent?
  3. Ah! It’s by keeping feet together.
  4. Twist so boobs and butt face same direction
  5. Pout.
  6. Repeat until satisfied.
The only place I've ever seen a DD mannequin.

The only place I’ve ever seen a DD mannequin.

I also witnessed a hilarious ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ incident when I went kayaking around the Sunset Islands, four little islands in Sunset Bay off the main island. These are some of Miami Beach’s most exclusive addresses, home to the rich and famous. The immense, mostly Mediterranean-style homes are big enough to serve as hotels. Most are worth $15 million plus and one, the former home of Lenny Kravitz, sold last year for $25 million. It was a peaceful and beautiful time, me dragging my feet in the cool water, contemplating how much nicer it was to kayak past such a mansion on a Monday morning, instead of working to pay for one.

Presently I was joined by a man and woman on stand-up paddleboards. The woman gave the phone to her boyfriend to snap photos of her from behind. Geez, she looked gorgeous, slender and bronzed in a blue bikini, paddling between towering mansions, a Velcro strap around one tanned and toned ankle, blonde blow-waved hair shining as it fell past her waist.

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Her boyfriend did his best to capture this moment on the phone as instructed as well as paddle to keep up with her. For my part, I tried to get my kayak as far to the edge of the canal as possible so that I wouldn’t wreck the shot.

My short kayak and I passed easily under the low bridge between two of the islands. The guy was busy checking he’d got the shot; the blonde, preoccupied, did not see the giant metre-wide pylons she was headed for and got knocked clean off the paddleboard, landing in the water with an almighty splash.

I managed not to giggle as I asked her if she was OK. I felt for her, losing that nice blow-wave, but I also knew that Miami Beach features “blow bars” where you can go and have cocktails mixed for you while people blow-dry your hair.

Super-chill Miami - the lovely bloke at South Beach Kayak skaeboards back and forth to the water with the kayaks.

The super-chill bloke at South Beach Kayak skateboards to and from the water with the kayaks.

But enough about the eye candy when there is food to be discussed. We ate and cooked as much Cuban food as possible: Cuban sandwiches (Cuban bread, ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles; Juji, it really depends on where you get them); Cuban espresso (Juji we couldn’t tell the difference between this and regular espresso).

We ate empanadas, linden flower tea, yuca fries, stuffed yuca, various meats with black beans and rice, guava pastelito (pastry), enormous avocados, tamales, cheap mangoes, street corner empanadas and plantains in all sorts of guises, sweet and savoury, including tostones.

We can recommend the Cuban and Cuban-inspired food at the Ocean Deli (cheap), Havana 1957 (mid-range), Puerto Sagua (cheap), The Cafe at Books & Books (expensive, but a great take on the Cuban sandwich, and the bookshop itself excellent) and Mas Cuba (mid-range).

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner.

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner for the Cuban sanger. That’s yuca fries in the background.

But the highlight was Moreno’s, owned by singer Jorge Moreno. It’s hard to find. You have to walk through the driveway of the Dorchester hotel and pass beneath an enormous twisty tropical tree that frames the restaurant awesomely but also shields it from the street. It outshone everything with its pastelito, its Imperial Rice – a must-have! – and its live Cuban band. A word of warning – it recently moved from its old location which has now been occupied by Mas Cuba, which has remarkably similar signage and styling to Moreno’s. We would urge visitors to ensure they seek out Moreno’s.

Another tip for tourists seeking nice bars and hangouts away from the hustle of South Beach – we found this No Nonsense Guide to Doing South Beach like a Local, invaluable.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

The charms of Miami Beach take some time and detective work to uncover if you aren’t born to party and are on a strict budget. But once the place is back on its feet, we would encourage you to visit – it’s totally worth it.

StuMobservations: Miami Beach

  • The buildings are like an 80’s version of the future.
  • Rollerblading down Ocean Drive in shorts is acceptable if you have your own soundtrack.
  • $17US + tip for a bourbon and coke – not cool bro.
  • It’s like Bali but with black beans.
  • Do not put solids in my drink. #Mojito
  • Are selfies a hobby/sport/activity now?
  • I do not like pina colatas or getting caught in the rain.
  • Sex museums should have blank walls for time-outs/regrouping/safe eye-contact.
  • Miami Beach = 50% Eat and Drink, 25% Drink, 12.5% Eat, 12.5% Sleep.
  • Airbnb hosts ARE obligated to provide clean bedding.
  • Cuban food is now called Stuban food. (See Cuban Sandwich).
Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

What we’re reading
Em: The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket; French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano; The Magic World, E. Nesbit
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re listening to
A southern crash course: Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Riders in the Sky, Elvis Presley

What we’re watching
Today we’re going to the movies to see IT! Very excited…

Em and Stu do America part 4: New York City (warning… epic post)

StuMo’s Guide to Broadway

  • Book of Mormon justifies our entire trip to the states.
  • 1984 replaces important literature with offensive noise, felonious lighting and graphic torture scenes. People walked out.
  • Marvin’s Room like a high-school play but with famous people. (to clarify: I did like it and would recommend)
  • Aladdin: If you have to change the lyrics to one of the songs because you cut a main character (Abu), you are doing it wrong. The Genie had to take breaks mid song, even pausing mid line to catch his breath. Jasmine was utterly woeful.  My year 7 graduation version of A whole new world was more on point. “Hold your breath it gets better” = bad advice, because it most certainly did not.
  • Lion King was everything and more. Dance fighting with animals! When Zazu sang Let it Go instead of It’s a small world I died. Such an unforgettable way to spend our last day in NY.

But to go back a month in time…

We left PEI and drove six hours through an ever-denser grey abyss of fog and cloud that swamped the Canadian horizon, a Twin Peaks-esque tableau as surreal as it was beautiful.

It was a long haul, though (“LANE!!!”) and we were ready to surrender to a bus driver after returning the Chevy to Bangor. Another fabulously kind local, Pat from Rent-a-Wreck, gave us a lift to the station.

Hello NYC: a dancer makes the most of a stunning Brooklyn Bridge backdrop for her rehearsal.

Hello NYC: a dancer makes the most of a stunning Brooklyn Bridge backdrop for her rehearsal.

The cloud continued through Augusta, Portland and Boston, then the rain began. But despite the weather the day seemed brighter in the USA. In fact it seemed to me, as I stared from my front-row seat through the windows, an oddly glorious greyness, tinged with gold. The sort of light that made you feel something grand and mysterious was imminent, the perfect light to herald our entry into NYC – a month I’ve waited my whole life for.

It was then I realised I’d been gazing through the bus driver’s special barrier window which was sepia-tinted and through the rest of the windows was a prosaic, sullen grey. Ha! No matter – nothing could dim the excitement inside.

We arrived ready to party and luckily NYC was more than happy to accommodate with a rooftop celebration on the Fourth of July.

We arrived ready to party and luckily NYC was more than happy to accommodate with a rooftop celebration on the Fourth of July.

It’s not literature that brought us to NYC, I’m sorry to say, but good old television. Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City have been our cultural bread and butter since hitting puberty, and before you open your mouth, Stu’s knowledge of SATC is even more comprehensive than mine.

Not to mention the movies – the classics, the crap and everything in between. All of it stamps in your memory the sights of Coney Island. Empire State Building. Central Park. Broadway. Fifth Avenue. Times Square. Greenwich Village. They’re not just emblematic of a country, a state or a city, though they are all this – they are also our neighbourhood, just around the mental corner. To people born and raised on the box, these places are larger than life and on shows like Seinfeld and SATC especially, they’re not settings so much as characters, as inseparable from the content as the actors.

Yep. Central Park looks just like this. Stu spotted this classic "boyfriends of Instagram scene"; girl preening, guy on double duty as oarsman and photographer.

Yep. Central Park looks just like this. Stu spotted this classic “boyfriends of Instagram scene”; girl preening, guy on double duty as oarsman and photographer.

As I have grown older I have become more aware of the odd paradox represented by the allure of a hyperreal land I have never visited. NYC is venerated as the centre of the universe, the common wisdom is that it’s mecca for anyone who wants to be at the top of their profession, be that arts, finance, or anything, or just live in the most exciting place on earth. After so many years of hungering for a Manhattan apartment of my own I had to ask myself, Carrie-style: is it real at all?

This is why we gave ourselves a month: to get the apartment (Brooklyn, though), pretend hard to be locals, and find out.

The answer is of course it’s real. It’s, ye gods, a bigger, hotter, louder, pricier, denser, sadder, funnier, dirtier, stinkier real than the scrubbed, noise-controlled screen versions can truly render (just try to capture the utter surreal madness of Times Square with a point-and-shoot).

Thanks for the parties guys! How's this for a spot to watch the fireworks?

Thanks for the parties guys! How’s this for a spot to watch the fireworks?

We caught up with locals – my old friend Paul and his partner Stephanie, relatively recent Australian expats, treated us to penthouse parties on the Fourth of July; a newer friend Joe, from Brooklyn (Dom and Jess’ best man) took us out to dinner. They all tell me for the time being at least they would not live anywhere else, despite the expense, the long work hours, the high-impact lifestyle.

It’s easy to understand when every day you walk past icons – Liberty, the WTC, the Empire State Building, NBC, Radio City, the MET, the almost supernaturally beautiful Central Park, why New Yorkers would feel like they’re at the centre of the universe and love it.

Lady Liberty: up close, she is colossal, powerful and moving.

Lady Liberty: up close, she is colossal, powerful and moving.

It is also easy to understand why it could make native New Yorkers somewhat insular, give the impression that they’re living in their own little world, that nowhere else is quite real. We observed this and ran it by our friends, and came to the conclusion: of course NYC-dwellers are living in their own little world. It’s complete, it’s self-sufficient. They don’t need to consider what it would be like anywhere else, because they have everything they need. Not to mention all the stuff they don’t need, evidenced by the confronting mountains of rubbish that are part and parcel of this life as much as the glamour.

But they all need to get out of the city from time to time, the natives I meet tell me. Whether it be to the Hamptons, upstate NYC or further, they build down time into their lives.

Central Park provides some gorgeous moments of downtime.

Central Park provides some gorgeous moments of downtime.

We did our best to do NYC justice in a month of touring combined with hard book editing –editing of my first novel is now complete and regardless of what happens now I am proud. I had the experience of finishing the macro edits in the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room, which I’ll never forget.

I’m also proud of how much we managed to do in a month. We walked as many of the neighbourhoods of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as possible, ticked off the big tourist boxes and also did community stuff like farmers’ markets, local theatre, a doggy fashion show. We saw the stuffing out of Broadway. We devoted hours to art galleries and devoured food, glorious food. We quickly abandoned the mid-to-fancy range – there, Perth holds its own – so we concentrated on “only in New York”… bagels, pastrami, corned beef, babkas (yes! Found cinnamon babka!), pizza, international street foods, hot dogs, diner comfort food, cheesecakes, Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. The only thing we failed to find was a good pretzel. It’s probably a good thing we leave, before I eat anything else.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn Heights.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn Heights.

And I don’t know about Stu, but I’m excited about a return to nature. As stunning as Central Park and Prospect Park are, they’re not the nature I know, but a tamed, designed version, despite the “wild” zones – the Ramble in CP and the Ravine in PP. Nowhere do you escape the deafening drone of helicopters, the incessant scream of ambulances, the murmur of twenty million airconditioners running continuously to cool the throbbing heat of this city. It’s so exciting, so stimulating, and yet my heart longs for wildness, for real silence.

NYC is full of incredible beauty and also ugliness, each more intense than I’ve ever encountered. A land of extremes that prompts reflection, but gives you scant time for it. I might be sorry to leave if this were the end of the trip, and I have had mad urges to go and see two plays on the same day, just to fit more in, but we are only excited about the adventures still to come and perhaps finding that reflection time as we travel slowly through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida.

But first: two days each in Philadelphia and Washington, here we come!

Central Park's Bethesda Terrace

Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace

StuMobervations part 5: NYC

  • Beer is not sold at bottle-o’s. It is sold at supermarkets with groceries.
  • You can’t pee quietly in an American toilet, the bowl is so full. Average flush = 6 gallons (22.7 litres)
  • Just because it is devoid of all nutrition does not mean it is not food
  • A sweat mop is an essential item.
  • Australia needs the “everything bagel” as a standard lunch option.
  • Never buy a pretzel from a street cart. Look great, but taste like salty cardboard.
  • Maps just give you something to look at while you argue about where you are.
  • Doggy fashion shows are as awesome as you think.
  • I now understand Mitch Hedberg’s – “Would you like anything else with the pastrami sandwich?” “Yeah, a loaf of bread and some other people!”
  • I saw Starry Night!
  • Junior’s cheesecake is better than your cheesecake.
  • Coney Island = Sideshow alley plus horrible beach. P.S. not an island.
  • It is illegal to take your dog on the subway unless it’s in a bag.
  • Times Square should be avoided.
  • Real Kramer Tour means now need to rewatch all of Seinfeld. We got soup!
  • East Village Pub Crawl is the best idea. BYO local guide.
  • Need a book? People leave them on their front porches, or “stoops”, for free.
  • Freegans are people who eat out of garbage cans by choice.
  • Talk to people on the subway if you want, just don’t smile at them. That’s weird.

For the exceptionally committed readers (hi mum) this is exactly what we did… have only named outstanding eateries

Week 1
Stonewall Inn, Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village Walk tour, Tick Tock diner, Brooklyn’s Park Slope walking tour including Prospect Park, farmer’s market, New York Public Library, Fourth of July party day, Fourth of July hangover day, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island immigration museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Empire State Building, Central Park walking tour part I, Al-di-La restaurant, Peppino’s Pizza part I.

The MET

The MET

Week 2
Downtown Brooklyn walking tour, Bagel Hole, Shake Shack (thanks Juji), Whitney Museum of American Art, 9/11 Museum and Memorial, Hudson Riverpark, Museum of Natural History, Bricolage restaurant, Guggenheim, Broadway 1984 (average), Junior’s cheesecake, Brooklyn’s annual doggy fashion show, Peppino’s pizza part II.

The memorial incredibly beautiful and sobering, the museum a raw and confronting exhibition. A must do.

The memorial incredibly beautiful and sobering, the museum a raw and confronting exhibition. A must do.

Week 3
High Line walking tour, Strand Bookstore, Katz’s Deli (of pastrami sandwich and When Harry Met Sally faked orgasm fame), Eileen’s special cheesecake, Brooklyn Bridge walk, Prospect Park part II, Times Square, Broadway Marvin’s Room (excellent)Magnolia Bakery of SATC and red velvet cupcake fame, Central Park walking tour part II (Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Building, Ghostbusters sights, Plaza Hotel); Broadway Aladdin (average), the Museum of Modern Art, dinner at Junior’s, NY Public Library part II, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Brooklyn (excellent).

Subway terminal seen from The High Line

Subway terminal seen from The High Line

Week 4
Coney Island, lots of book editing, Kenka Japanese in East Village with Joe (the end of the mashup video below is Emma failing at the fairy floss machine there), Broadway Book of Mormon (excellent), Ess-a-Bagel, Jim Henson exhibition at Queens’ Museum of the Moving Image, Queens food tour consisting of slice pizza and shawarma, kayaking by the Brooklyn Bridge, Museum of Modern Art part II, epic East Village pub crawl with Paul and Stephanie, ate terrible pretzel off street cart when hungover, regretted this, Kramer’s Seinfeld Tour (yes, Kramer was based on Larry David’s actual neighbour, who cashed in and now does an amazing behind the scenes of Seinfeld tour); Broadway The Lion King, Prospect Park part III.
Last hurrah: back to Peppino’s Pizza for a third time, for what the staff there now know as the “drunk Australian special”.

Spiderman takes a moment to call his folks on Coney Island, a place as grungy and weird as we could have hoped for.

Spiderman clocks off to call his folks on Coney Island, as grungy and weird a place as we hoped.

What we’re reading
Em: On Writing, Stephen King; Wet Magic, E. Nesbit; Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel
StuMo: The Stand, Stephen King

What we’re listening to
Music: The Gospel Album, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (RIP)
Aladdin and Little Mermaid soundtracks by Alan Menken
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
read by Jim Dale

What we’re watching
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Excellent 1962 horror movie. Well worth it. 
Game of Thrones 
(hurrah!)