I got into DC on a 5 hour bus from New York in the mid-afternoon, checked into the hotel, went exploring the city for an hour or two. The aforementioned height restrictions in DC have produced a squat and expansive architecture. The buildings are fully visible in an eyefull, which only increases their effect. Everything is grandiose and reverent, engraved with dioramas of a young republic's turmoil. There's a sense that history is both made and carefully stashed away here. Sometimes it feels like a set for an epic sci-fi movie about an ancient civilisation of the future. Like Rome thrust two millenia forward.
I scurried down the National Mall towards the Washington Monument, turned right and caught sight momentarily of Tuesday's prize, the White House, on my way up to 17th and M. There to meet Jo, an ABC journalist interning for a paper here — by email on the bus we'd planned a way to get out to Manassas, in Virginia, for Barack Obama's final rally before Election Day.
Manassas is 45 minutes out of DC by road. Allen, another election tourist just arrived in DC, had hired a car and was meeting us on the same corner. None of us had met before, but suddenly there were three Australians in a little white automobile with left-hand drive, navigating peak hour DC traffic to get across the Potomac into Arlington a couple miles away, to pick up a fourth. Allen was driving, Jo took the crucial front-passenger role of yelping when Allen drifted out of his lane, and I played navigator with Google Maps in my hand. I missed a turn, and we found ourselves on Route 66 heading east, and it wasn't until nearly an hour later that we made it to Arlington. Tom jumped in, and we joined the traffic out to Manassas.
Did I say Manassas was 45 minutes away from DC? We crawled into that historic township — a major battlefield in the Civil War — two and a half hours out of Arlington, in an endless caravan of political pilgrims. The fairground, the site of the rally, the biggest fairground in Virginia as it proudly proclaimed, was a couple miles from where we parked. We walked and walked, assimilating into the pedestrian parade out of town. Beside the road, a few forlorn Virginians held signs: "Abortion kills children", "No Muslim for President", et cetera. Many rickety tables were laden with Obama badges, tea towels and other paraphernalia sold at extortionate prices. One was selling nothing but a CD, with one song, blasted out at volume and in a continuous loop, with cheesy 80s synths and a hiphop paean to Barack Obama. 10 bucks — Jo bought a copy and if I can get a rip of it up here, I will.
And then we were entering the fairgrounds, 9pm, just as Obama was scheduled to speak. 100,000 people there to see him and to hear him. Jo abandoned us for the luxuries of the press tent, so it was just Tom, Allen and I pushing our way through the throng until, at about a hundred yards from the stage, it was too dense to push any further. The podium was too far away and too brightly lit to appear in my crappy iPhone photos, but it and the early speakers at it were clearly visible. We stood beneath a "Boilermakers for Obama" tethered blimp, in an intermingled, expectant congregration, marginally majority black and clearly majority youth. In our section at least, a number of women wore hijabs. I discovered, really for the first time, what American democracy smells like: pipe smoke and fried chicken. It might vary from state to state though. Disconcertingly, at no stage had we been subjected to any security screening.
Obama was held up at Dulles airport traffic, and while we were spared lengthy speeches from lightweight local figures (although some told long and dreadful jokes), we were subjected to some abominable patriotic and GOTV pop songs for more than an hour. There was no riot, not even a hint of agitation, as the crowd waited. The songs started to repeat. Every time one ended, there was a smattering of applause, hoping, expecting to see Obama stride onto the stage with that smile and that waving salute. Eventually, a song was hushed mid-chorus, and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine kept their time at the podium mercifully short. And then a great roar, tens of thousands of camera flashes, and the smile and the wave.
It was the final outing of the stump speech. I've heard most parts of it many times before, but some parts were new to me, and anyway it didn't matter. The curious thing, for an unabashed fan, was to be among it, to be one of those addressed by his "Hello Virginia!", to watch the magic trick being performed for the last time. For forty minutes he spoke and the crowd erupted whenever he paused, and hushed when he outstretched his hands. Girls clambered onto shoulders around us (and briefly, on one of us, when tall Tom generously obliged).
A few more waves and a few more grins, under the still gaze of two hovering helicopters in the sky, and Obama was on his way to Chicago. I returned to the hotel two and a half hours after the residents of Dixville Notch cast the first votes of Election Day.[View the map]
Joseph | 7 Nov 2008
I dropped off the planet there a bit, in a whirl of brunches and getting to DC. But I'm in DC now, where no building is taller than the Congress on Capitol Hill (about 10 storeys).
People are voting today. Of course, they've been voting for weeks, and it's almost the case that today's voting is post facto. Almost.
I'm trying to figure out what I'm up to today. I'll be in front of my laptop from 6pm when the first polls close, of course — but where and with whom is kinda up in the air. Anyway, hopefully I'll get some notes on this page before the day's out and the United States has a President-Elect.[View the map]
Joseph | 5 Nov 2008
Last time I came to New York for a hat and a coat. This time it seems I've come for some perfume and a vegetable peeler, which I bought for $5 in the Union Square greenmarket. From a patterer named Joe Ades, perhaps New York's finest salesmen. This article on him is worth a read; if you enjoyed that five minutes of Dom DeMarco the other day, you might stand to sit through this as well:
The rest of Friday's sunlight was spent in Central Park with a copy of the old Grey Lady and nothing much to do.
The evening was Halloween, and New York City — the Village, specifically — was riotous and harmonious, its rigid guard momentarily let down. I ended up in South Queens (making it fourth of the five boroughs for me), at something like a frat party.
Joseph | 5 Nov 2008
I suppose it's kinda funny to fly 10700 miles just to wander a few streets. That seems to be how I do it though — I'm not much of a sight-seer, more a half-assed explorer. Down in Philadelphia yesterday I walked past the Liberty Bell, and didn't really have any inclination to go look. Sounds like it's just a bell with a crack in it.
Instead I kinda mooched around Center City and the Independence National Historical Park. It was a beautiful sunny day, never quite warm enough to bother taking my coat off, but the light dappling through the fall-coloured trees was edifying.
Philly is a nice city, what I saw of it anyway, more American than New York, less compressed. It's old and it feels old, an historian's metropolis perched on the Delaware. I don't really have a lot to say about it. Sitting down at the quiet seaport I watched the wide empty river for a while. They're blue here, not brown.
I did spend a few hours in the National Constitution Center, by accident. It's full of civic studies dressed up in mile-high patriotic bombast, and I kinda loved it. If you want to know what Americans think they look like, what they hope they look like — and I really believe it's a good thing to know — go wander around that museum. Just don't do it on a school day.
Anyway, happy Halloween.[View the map]
Joseph | 1 Nov 2008
Around the corner from the Casa de Sarah (where I'm staying in Wburg), there is a place called I Hate Perfume. That approximately describes how I feel about the stuff, but I recently read an article about Christopher Brosius and his unique scents, so I swallowed my pride and visited the store.
A giant mastiff, Zephyr, lazily greets you at the door. For a few minutes he leans against you and follows you around. There are actual perfumes along one wall, about thirty or so, with names like Fires of Heaven, Wild Hunt and Winter 1972. They are evocative rather than intoxicating — it's hard to describe them without getting florid. And despite my prominent proboscis, they were a little too complex for me.
It was along the other wall I meandered. Here the 'notes' — the isolated constituents of the perfumes — were crowded onto shelves, arrayed by types like Wood, Fruit, Smoke, Food, Green, Chemical and so on.
I have to use the word exactly a few times now.
There is Hay. It smells exactly like a bale of hay. There is Russian Leather, which is sweet and pungent, like an old leatherbound book. There is Coriander, which is exactly crushed coriander dust. There's Dust.
I spent at least an hour, alone in the store with Zephyr on the couch, going up and down the notes.
There's Pipe Tobacco, which I considered and reconsidered and reconsidered. Torn Leaves. Ginger Ale, exactly like American ginger beer. Roast Beef! I inhaled without thinking and nearly gagged: it's a roast beef dinner. Made me think of ill-fated Violet Beauregarde and her three course gum (I didn't find Blueberry Pie, but I'm sure it was there somewhere). Brosius admits he hasn't yet found a purpose for that note.
Of course I bought one. I'm now just faintly giving the impression of having kicked my way through a pile of moldering autumn leaves in the rain.[View the map]
Joseph | 30 Oct 2008
Dom DeMarco makes the best pizzas in NYC. This might sound subjective, but it's basically incontrovertible now — he wins 'best pizza' award in every publication that looks into the question. He has for most of a decade.
He's 71, he's been making pizza pie for fifty years out in Midwood, an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Brooklyn half-way to Coney Island.
Three regular slices set me back 12 bucks. I sat down at a grimy table in a fluorescent-lit corner to eat them. The walls are darkened with dried pizza sauce droplets, and hung above the tables are many of the glowing write-ups of Dom DeMarco's pizza. I read a New York Times piece from 2004 while I ate:
I do this as an art. I don't look to make big money. If somebody comes over here and offers me a price for the store, there's no price. There's no money in the world they could pay me for it. I'm very proud of what I do. I don't have any employees; I use my kids.
I eat once a day, after I close. With wine. But I have one piece of pizza every day, to see if it comes out all right. Then, after I close, I sit down with my bottle of wine and I eat. When I eat, I like to sit down. There's no way I can sit down once I open the door in the morning.
Pizza has become considered a fast food. This one is slow food. Anything you do, when you do it too fast, it's no good. The way I make a pizza takes a lot of work. And I don't mind work.
The guy makes every pizza. You can wait for hours — on a Tuesday mid-afternoon I waited forty minutes just for a few slices (and you get what's available, which was sauce, three cheeses and thyme when I got mine).
A five minute video of an old guy making pizza pies is arguably as boring as it sounds. But this is exactly what it is like, and in person it's quite mesmeric.[View the map]
Joseph | 30 Oct 2008
So like I said I cut my own hair and have since a kid. But with it all getting a bit lanky and no clippers at hand, and a Halloween costume requiring not much hair, I thought I might see how the other 99% live. I found a barber out in Cobble Hill. Michael, an Uzbekistani who liked soccer, and went on about how Australia (no Austria? Australia) beat his country 1-0 in the WC qualifiers. He sliced his finger open while snipping the locks of my crown, and appeared to bleed profusely all over my head. I gave him a generous tip anyways.
Snuck this photo while he was bandaging himself up.
[View the map]
Joseph | 28 Oct 2008
You can also follow the blow by blow action on:
Flickr, where I'm uploading pictures whenever I have phone wifi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jpearson/tags/ltraintobrooklyn/
Twitter, where I'm describing every goddamn little thing I eat: http://twitter.com/josephpearson
Joseph | 28 Oct 2008
The key thing to appreciate about Williamsburg, Brooklyn is the irony. The moustaches are ironic. The ubiquitous Pabst Blue Ribbon is ironic. (Cheap and ironic: the best kind.) The street art is relentlessly ironic.
The cool kids colonised Wburg ten or fifteen years ago when rent in lower Manhattan soared beyond their budgets, and they chose this strange Hasidic/Hispanic slum out under the Williamsburg Bridge chiefly because it was ironic. Cheap, and ironic.
Now those kids (or their spiritual successors) are being pushed out by the juggernaut of gentrification, because it's cool to live in Williamsburg. The life of a hipster is rich with irony.[View the map]
Joseph | 27 Oct 2008