The bouquet of burning cannibis is drifting through the fourth floor corridors, and sloughing into my room through the thumb-wide gap at the top of the door. I guess it would be churlish to complain.
If you took one of the ancient student households, say of Storey St in Parkville, one that had been swapping tenants without giving up the lease for three or four decades, and turned it into a massive apartment building, and added daily maid service and mismatched Belle Epoque appointments, and dumped it in the heart of midtown New York, you might have something like the Chelsea Hotel.
Because I am finding it harder than expected to write regular notes here, and because NYC is providing sensory overload I'm so far ill-equipped to parse, here's a run-down of all the meals I've had since arriving in America.
At a local Austin Mexican diner, famous I'm told, where when its full you have to sprint through the kitchen, dodging chefs and chickens on hooks, to a covered garden with a few scattered tables.
Chorizo and egg taco, and lime jarritos (jarritos is Mexican soda, and I forgot where I was, pronouncing the ja in the East European style -- ya -- rather than the proper gutteral ha. I was efficiently corrected.)
At the Paradiso on East 6th, everyone's fallback option in Austin according to Naz Hamid. We sat down with Naz, his wife Jen, Andrew Huff and Cinnamon Cooper -- all Chicagoans, and responsible for the excellent Gaper's Block, a webzine of their native city.
Jalepeno poppers -- red jalepenos stuffed with cream cheese and deep fried (on this occasion I did nail the pronunciation). Austin Amber washed it down.
At the Hilton Hotel bar, with the lively and interesting Chris Fahey of graphpaper.com, and a few guys from Adaptive Path and Boxes and Arrows.
At Lamberts, an upmarket buffet-barbecue joint that reeked wonderfully of hickory smoke. An odd breakfast venue, but this was 1 in the afternoon -- jetlag had made me sleep 9 straight hours, until 12:30, and I was late for this rendevous with my old boss Vito Miliano. Vito got me the Hypergate and NASA jobs in 1999. We'd formed a fast bond on IRC back in the day, but our paths diverged when I returned to university in 2001. It's hard to explain what it's like to see and hear for the first time a friend you've had for 10 years. I really enjoyed it, and enjoyed talking politics with his colleagues Ben (from Virgin Islands) and Jeff (from New Hampshire).
Fruit salad, slaw, french toast and brisket. Brisket is an intense cut of beef, at least as cooked in the Texan style. But the hero of this meal was the bottomless mimosa -- orange juice and champagne, refilled constantly. It's true: I never saw the bottom of my glass. I want it for breakfast every day.
Lunch: are you kidding?
At a very dark restaurant near 4th and Congress, with massive tropical fishtanks on the walls. With Virginia in preparation for the mandatory SXSW parties.
Beef Churrasco, with a ginger/garlic sauce, and Fat Tyre Amber to ease it down the throat. Was okay.
Chimay and Stone IPA at Gingerman with the Gaper's Block people. I had a really interesting conversation with Cinnamon about politics, in which I dipped liberally into my potted history of Australian/American political relations, I'm afraid. Concluded the night with hiccups, not for the beer, but because I got a club soda at the end. I hate hiccups.
Breakfast: skipped, we had a flight to catch.
Lunch: cheese crackers on the plane.
At Shake Shack, the take-out joint in Madison Square Park, with the Flatiron Building at my back and Empire State looming above me. SS is Danny Meyer's pretty faithful interpretation of the American cuisine that consolidated (congealed?) in the mid-20th century: burgers, fries, and dairy or carbonated drinks. I've been keen to go to SS for years.
What do you think? Shackburger, french fries and (here I cheated predictably) an Abita Amber. The burger was fantastic, the fries were forgettable, and the beer was flat, meagre and cost more than the meal itself. Bah. That's what you get for cheating, I suppose.
At Murray's Bagels, a particularly famous bagelry in this vast island of bagelries. Murray's cares so much about your experience that they will flatly, indomitably refuse to toast your bagel. They believe it ruins the texture. I'm not qualified to disagree, though I'll note that the policy is highly controversial.
A plain bagel with cream cheese, for the princely sum of $2.11. I'm hooked.
At Katz's, that's all!
Well, a pastrami on rye, of course. This is not like any pastrami you've ever tried. It is cut "by your cutter" fresh from the oven, and he puts a slice on the plate, which you put in your mouth and make appreciative noises as he piles the rest onto some run-of-the-mill rye bread. But this is all about the pastrami, towering in slices to a height of about an inch and a half. They dare you to finish one sandwich; I didn't take them up on it, although I got close. (Meeting up with Virginia there, we were visited by the owner of Katz's, who was very jovial and probably — if I have the lingo right — a wiseacre.)
Austin concentrates its nightlife into two blocks around East 6th St. These are not dark, soft-lit nooks punctuating clothes shops, record shops and cafes -- in fact, every premises on the strip is a venue, from Iron Cactus at the north-east to Buffalo Billiards south-west. All broadcast their chatter, screeches and peals of laughter, bassy beats and chuggering guitars onto the street.
As we approached the corner of East 6th, a crowd of about twenty congregated, mostly white youths dressed for a night out. This was outside the restaurant where we, having just arrived in the city, intended to get some tucker. Virginia said, "Ugh, I hope that's not the queue."
We crossed the street and entered the crowd: it was not a queue. They were singing, tunefully and determinedly, led by a tall white frat-boy wearing sunglasses and a cowboy-hat. They were singing "Jesus is My Saviour", their voices rising as we threaded through the choir. Separately, seven or eight of them stood in a line on the road, arms locked and with red gaffer tape over their mouths. A young black woman filmed them, and her accomplice on the mic provided a running commentary.
We're in that film, because as slow-moving, bewildered tourists, we had moved right behind the line of self-made mutes, trying to figure out what was going on. As I circled around them, up next to the film crew, the line turned towards me, and quite pointedly let me read the word scrawled in black marker on their taped-up lips. It was "Purity".
Two floors up on the balcony of Maggie Mae's, scores catcalled and jeered.
My Friday began midnight Melbourne time, as it has always. 22 hours later we barrelled over the International Dateline, and sped across a secondary, greatly accelerated Friday morning. It's now 11:30pm in Austin, and barring any unforeseen circumstances I'll soon escape this ponderous, sleepless day.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
Allen Ginsburg, America.
The States wasn't the plan. The plan forged twenty-odd summers ago was Ireland, to commune with the ghost of James Joyce. But that's plainly absurd: I never even finished Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — the bookmark is a train ticket that predates the invention of Zones.
I'll get round to Eire and old JJ one day. Meantime, tomorrow I'm going to Texas and to New York for a couple weeks. It'll be the first time I leave Australian Eastern Standard Time. Seasoned travellers might find my diary a little reverent, but like Ginsburg said: this is quite serious.