Washington DC House Party – Part Two

This posting starts in the middle of a story, so if you missed it, check out Part One before continuing here. Part One starts with me finding myself a guest at a housewarming party in DC where I meet a variety of characters. Thanks for reading! D

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DC House Party – Part Two

I sit down where there’s room and cause some ill feelings from one of the jocks. The girl he has been chatting to now turns to me. She engages me in conversation and I see him rolling his eyes as I reply, “No, I’m just visiting from Canada.” What does he expect me to say? Don’t talk to me, that guy who suddenly hates me was clearly hoping to sleep with you? Of course he thinks we’re on the same team and assumes I’m playing the same game.

To Be CONTINUED

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In the kitchen I am asked where my favourite place in America is so far. “I love Manhattan, but I wish it weren’t so expensive.” No one here agrees, so much so that I find it amusing. It nearly feels like I’ve violated some cultural expectation. Others express their dislike of the noise, the crowds, the traffic. “What do you like about it?” someone finally asks after everyone has shared why they don’t. “New Yorkers are great!” Well, that opinion drew looks of horror all around. “I have never heard anyone say that New Yorkers are Great,” one of them says, scoffingly. I try to explain the warmness of Manhattanites, how they interact with each other so openly and how in crowds it seems more like fish in a stream than the typical herds of beasts other places. How they have less-defined boundaries of interaction. How they accept the people around them. How they are so adept to live and let live. Part of why I feel completely at home there is that I feel like everyone just accepts each other as they are. They’re used to sharing spaces and they play really well together.

This is falling on deaf ears. All they can think is that their idea of life in the big city as being cold and harsh must be right and clearly I must be mentally imbalanced for thinking anything different.

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The artist newly arrived from the Atlanta suburbs oddly suggests that I am best not to visit Atlanta in August, “That’s when all the gays come out.” “Oh, I think we have more gays in Washington,” another guy corrects. “No, Atlanta is a lot bigger than here, I bet they do,” interjects a third. “All I gotta say is that I went out during pride and I will never go out in August again.” the artist continues.

I hold my breath. I hope this doesn’t get ugly because if it does I will need to defend my people. I am disappointed to hear this coming from the gentle artist. I can see Sam across the room and I know that he is not Mr.Out. We met and became friends at an LGBTQ meetup, but in straight company he tends to stay silent. I had asked him about this on the train coming here so as to not cause him any awkward situations. He’s twenty-six and still in that phase when he cares far more about what strangers think than I do at forty. I try to use my common sense, I don’t want to ever put myself in harms way unnecessarily. Additionally, I am finding that often I will enjoy myself and be accepted in friendly terms more when being incognito. Sometimes I regret even sharing that I’m Canadian, as the level of trust sometimes decreases. Oh, I assumed you were one of “us”. The time when “us” refers to “us humans” or even “us life” is coming, sociologists have seen our circles of empathy expand greatly over the years. From immediatel family – to our local community – to those who share our religion – to those of our state – to those of our nationality – our worlds have expanded relationally.

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So I do want to remain incognito with regards to being gay tonight. If someone asked me I would not lie, that would be sending the message to my subconscious that I should feel shame. But, I will not allow a homophobic remark any stronger than Daniel needing to avoid Atlanta for all of August due to pride weekend without unveiling myself.

“Why was it so bad, we’re you raped?” I stop myself from asking, confident that he wasn’t. Gang rapes happen by groups of guys who consider themselves straight. Those pathetic repressed men would not be caught dead near a gay pride event. (To be clear, I’m not saying that repressed men are pathetic, I’m saying that guys who rape – any gender – are pathetic. Beyond pathetic.) I’m just a bit annoyed, I kind of want to know why he was so offended by the event. With so many people still scared to come-out and live their lives as themselves, the event is still essential. The fact that I often need to be invisible to be accepted and to enjoy friendly interactions shows that we really need the visibility of Pride. I’m lucky that I’m a blender, I can come in and out of that closet as desired and as the situation dictates. I can choose when to risk rejection and when not. Not everyone can blend-in the way I can.

I want the artist to know that the guy he talked with for by far the longest at this party is gay. As a former artist, I was very much intrigued by his process, his schooling, his journey. He pushed himself closer on the sofa showing me pictures on his phone after his girlfriend left us to chat. An early twenties creative-type who studied in an art program, I just assumed he would be an open-minded safe person for me, that he wouldn’t care about other people’s sexuality. But when I think about it he did attend an all-male black school. Black guys tend to be extra-closeted, I hear they have a much harder time, so he may not have had the exposure I would have assumed would come from a creative environment. There would have been lots of gay, creative people but if they were not open then that would not have created exposure. I decide to pull the conversation away from that topic before anything more is said. Because Sam is not out to his friend.

“So, you’re Brenda’s brother!” I exclaim to the person on my left and the pleasantries continue. Good. Nothing overtly homophobic was said and I didn’t need to make Sam gay by association. It is HIS CHOICE and he is not ready. I truly believe that one needs to be ready to come-out, otherwise it will not likely be a positive experience.

Isn’t that remarkable. I tend to think that the progress is nearly complete and then rediscover that there is still much work to be done. In 2014 even in cities where same-sex couples can marry, many people are still frightened to come-out and some people are still homophobic, even young creative people.

The party over, we make our way back to our hotel. It was a fun evening overall. The next day we catch a noon train back to Richmond where the adventure continues, although with a change. I had to cancel several social activities to come away on this weekend. In the end, the fellow I came with decided not to stay in touch and most of the people I met with didn’t want to reschedule. It felt like I made the wrong bet. Except with one couple, somehow going away for this weekend seemed to unplug me from the social life I was starting there.

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Another view inside Washington’s train station (other in part one).

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Iconic-type pic from Google Images.

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Random photo of me at my Dad’s home, where I am currently visiting in New Brunswick. Painting behind me is one I painted when I was an artist some years ago. I may show some of my works on here in the future.

Thanks for reading PersonalTravelStories.com! I hope you’ll come along for the ride by clicking on “follow”. You can unfollow with one click at any time. Cheers! Darren

Washington, DC House Party – Part One

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DC House Party – Part One

“So how do you know Hanon?” asks a bright-eyed twenty-something girl and her boyfriend as I take a seat beside them on the fireplace after introducing myself.

“Who’s Shanon?” I ask, mishearing in the noise of the crowd.

“This is his housewarming party! How did you get here?”

I find myself mixing with an interesting group of young professionals, at a house party in the city centre of the nation’s capital. There are two distinct groups here, friends who attended college with Hanon in another state, and friends he knows from work here in DC. That’s what everyone calls it. No one says Washington as if one could suddenly get confused by that western state.

The young man sitting beside me works for a non-profit that deals with creating programs to help at-risk youth. This is an issue of which I can converse at-length. During my short teaching stint in Winnipeg I visited a number of schools desperately trying to solve the complicated situation of Canada’s First Nations people. As a population, many are not enjoying the same lives as mainstream Canadians. Several generations of oppression has left most members of their culture disenfranchised, hopeless, and feeling trapped in a cycle of poverty and addiction. In a special school designed to honour and uplift aboriginal culture, it was typical to find three students present for a grade ten class with an enrolment of twenty-seven.

His girlfriend wanders-off mingling and returns about ten minutes later, “what are you guys talking about?” Off she goes again, and I am sharing my feeling that mentoring might be an effective strategy when dealing with youth. From my experience, the kids felt hopeless because they did not see a positive future for themselves. This was the case because they often didn’t know anyone in their circle who had broken out of the cycle. No one was employed back on the reserve, a single mother may have brought to them to the city hoping to escape the relentless poverty and drug addiction and alcoholism only to find that it was also rampant in the city. They felt that opportunities were closed to them. Sure they knew teachers and social workers, but they saw those people as different than them. They saw themselves as being members of a group for whom dreams were not possible. What’s the point in going to school, I’m never going to graduate anyway, no one ever has in my family.

Girlfriend is back again, “Now what are you talking about?” I realise that I am detaining her boyfriend from mingling with her. I stand-up and change the topic to Vietnam, where she spent a few months teaching last year.

I chat with some friendly jocks about the international auto show I attended today with my friend Sam, who is a car enthusiast. He is the one person I knew coming to this party. We took the train from Richmond yesterday.

When Sam was thirteen, he went to summer camp with Brenda. They have not seen each other since then but they reconnected on Facebook. When Sam recently moved to Richmond they planned to reconnect. Brenda is dating Hanon, so when Sam contacted her to meet-up during our visit she invited us to this party.

“Oh, I see. So you’re from Richmond, that’s why we haven’t seen you before.”

“No, I’m from Toronto.” “But you live in Richmond.” “No, I live in Toronto. I’m from New Brunswick, that’s east of Maine.”

“How long have you lived in DC?” someone asks, having partially heard my story through the grapevine three hours later. “I just came yesterday, I’m here for the weekend.” “But you’re the Canadian. If someone had asked me who was the Canadian, I would have guessed you.” “Because I’m wearing German jeans?” My black jeans have a checkered silvery pattern, they are sewn with multiple lines of very thick thread and have some unusual edgy details. The rest of the crowd are wearing either beige pants or blue jeans. All in black I stand out as looking a bit more urban which is not generally people’s idea of what Canadians look like. “No, your hair.” “Oh, no, I’m not like following some Canadian hair trend or anything. This big mop is does not represent any regional hairstyle.” “You just look Canadian.” Well now that you know! From my considerable experience, most everywhere I have gone in the US people have assumed me to be a local or at most a domestic transplant.

“Did you meet many locals; were you able to make local friends?” I ask a fellow who spent some weeks traveling in Cambodia and Laos. “You know what it’s like in Southeast Asia, it’s a lot easier to meet people than it is here.” “Yes,” I agree, ironically.

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I introduce myself to a couple who are looking a bit separate from the group. By now I have narrowed my introduction down to, “I am a friend of Sam who is a friend of Brenda who is dating Hanon and I am currently on a road-trip from Toronto.” You see, I didn’t quite know my connection when I arrived, but it’s clear to me now. “My friend is having a party,” had been enough info for me. “What’s your next stop?”

“My next specific stop is meeting friends in Acworth, Georgia.” “That’s where we just moved here from! Cobb county, Acworth is in Cobb county!” New in town, they also don’t know most of the people at this party. She works with Brenda. He is a performance artist, he paints with his hands while dancing. He is hoping to expand his horizons being in a new town, and having closer proximity to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. A really great couple, we chat for a while. Although he is clearly very optimistic, he seems to think he’s going to become “the next Michael Jackson” in scope, I encourage him to be patient. From my experience in business, being in the right place at the right time is huge in finding success. My former partner and I happened to a city that had a vacancy for pop culture stores when we happened to stumble into selling it. That is about as strategic as I will admit to us having been. And it’s a very common story. Ask people how they came to do what they do and more often than not they will recount a tale of many wandering and meandering paths rather than a straight trajectory. “The right time and place could happen for you next month, but it could also happen for you in seven years. If it’s your passion then you just have to keep doing your best getting it out there and not give-up before that magic moment.” I guess the same applies to me and my writing. I just need to keep at it too.

I sit down where there’s room and cause some ill feelings from one of the jocks. The girl he has been chatting to now turns to me. She engages me in conversation and I see him rolling his eyes as I reply, “No, I’m just visiting from Canada.” What does he expect me to say? Don’t talk to me, that guy who suddenly hates me was clearly hoping to sleep with you? Of course he thinks we’re on the same team and assumes I’m playing the same game.

To Be CONTINUED

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Just thought you might be curious to see the jeans I was talking about. I don’t have pics from that night, but I was wearing these with black shoes and a plain black long-sleeve shirt. Very Canadian.

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Very handsome train station in D.C.

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Generic winter scene, from Google images.

Previews of Part Two:

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I’m trying to keep each posting between 1000 to 1500 words, so stay tuned for part two in a week or less. Thanks for reading! Darren

Philos Adelphos, Philadelphia Part Two

(In Part One of this Philadelphia posting I wrote about why this city has the title of “City of Brotherly Love” as well as “Cradle of Liberty” which I will discuss a tiny bit further here. I also highlighted some city firsts as well as my observation that it rains every single day. There are a lot of interesting facts about Philadelphia so if you missed part one, go back and read it here:

https://personaltravelstories.com/2014/03/29/looking-for-the-love-philadelphia-part-one/

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Philos Adelphos, Philadelphia Part Two

I’m sure it’s well known that the Declaration of Independence was signed here in 1776, and first read to an audience in Independence Park. President George Washington served his presidency here from 1790 to 1797. Starting the same year that the daily paper went out of business and the year that the Philadelphia Stock Exchange opened. Interesting. Those were happening-times around here. Seems like a much quieter place now, it has to be said.

In case you were wondering about that technological first, it was the design and build of the worlds first entirely electronic computer, ENIAC. This beast was more than a thousand times faster than it’s predecessors, so an enormous achievement both in size and importance. This was 1946. Today we carry more computing prowess in our pockets in the guise of mobile phones while ENIAC weighed-in at sixty thousand pounds. (According to Siri, that’s equal to forty average six-cylinder sedans. She didn’t just tell me that, I had to do the math in my head. I’m not completely reliant on her.) The world has changed very quickly.

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I happened into the lively Reading Terminal Market where I would have been happy to get out of the rain had it not suddenly stopped while I was waiting to cross the street to it’s entrance. Of course it recommenced soon after I reintroduced myself to the open air an hour later. In the market I enjoyed a fantastic dark roast coffee and a scrumptious Roast Pork sandwich with Provolone at Dinic’s after seeking the advice of some locals. My friends in Rhode Island had told me not to miss this market and I felt well-advised. I tried to read the fascinating history of the market but my eyes glazed-over with boredom. (I’m sure it’s well-written, I’m just funny that way.) Anyway, it’s a great place to wander, eat, and purchase everything you might need to prepare many kind of meal.

I learn online, with some surprise, that Philly has the most public art pieces of any US city. The surprise came from the fact that I noticed very few, although perhaps many were being obscured by the nearly constant rain. Or maybe many are not waterproof and are contained within indoor public spaces. For outdoor space, Fairmont Park, with eight thousand acres, is the largest US city park. I thought to myself, would that be a simply wonderful place to tromp through muddy grounds while enjoying winter rain storms? Possibly, but I didn’t.

At some point in the day I noticed I was a head-turner. I was all dressed in black, well nearly; my wool/cashmere overcoat perfectly unsuited for rain was dark gray. With frumpy but comfortable black leather shoes, black pants and trousers, all topped with a black hat, whenever water was not pouring forth from the skies I was turning the heads of a local segment. It wasn’t that they thought I was sexy, they were looking for my curls. The black hats worn by Hasidic Jews can signify their group. In Brooklyn I was told that they might wear the same style hat as does their “leader”. (Sorry, I don’t know the lexicon.) One of my hats happened to be a similar shape to the local hat of choice, and with a beard and all in black, I could not help but notice the double-takes I was being given whenever I was within eyeshot of a person of that faith. (Is he? Oh, no, he isn’t.)

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Open my umbrella, and I was immediately transformed. It was far too colourful, they would never carry such a garish non-black item. This got me new attention though, I cannot tell you how many times I had a version of the following conversation. In the birthplace of the American flag no less (the first one made by Betsy Ross in 1777 in her local upholstery shop). “Where you get that American flag umbrella?” “It’s the British flag, I got it in London.” “Wha! They stole our colours?” “No, I think you’ll find that the UK is older than the US.” I think most tourists visit Philly because of it’s American history and heritage. It wasn’t that any of these Americans would not have recognised the American flag (I can hopefully assume), it’s more they did not recognise the Union Jack and only saw the colours.

In addition to Will Smith and Kevin Bacon; Richard Gere, Kobe Bryant, and Grace Kelly all called Philadelphia home at the time of their birth. I mean they might not have known where they were, but if they had known. As a non-American, I remember this town most from the marvellous and touching film, Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Antonio Banderas. It was groundbreaking in 1993. This was a ground-breaking film that dealt with AIDS discrimination and homophobia. There was even a homophobic character who supported the cause because despite being homophobic, he recognised defending the main character as being the right thing to do. Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Streets of Philadelphia” was hands-down my favourite of his, and it hit number one status in many countries at the time. (Although it only made as high as number two in the UK. I know, seems heartless. It would have made number one there today though.)

Somewhere near to my hotel I decided to treat myself to a souvenir that soon after revealed itself as having been a cultural misunderstanding. I really don’t know what I was thinking when I spent near to three hundred dollars on such a ridiculous purchase. I intentionally took too many clothes on this road trip so I would not be tempted to buy more. I resisted the Black Friday and after Christmas sales in SOHO, Greenwich and Tribeca even from within the confines of shops purveying on-sale clothing I liked when shopping with my sister and her Dachshund. So here I saw these very unique offerings and I finally broke down.

I bought myself a fashion suit. Doesn’t sound so bad. But let me tell you. A patterned trouser, with huge pleats (to accommodate a more shapely rear attribute than my own), a matching zipper jacket, a colour-matched mock turtle sweater, matching socks, and shoes. Oh, I thought I was a picture of style in the store. It wasn’t until I tried it on in a different city for the first time outside of the all African American store that I saw it. I looked like a white guy trying to disguise himself as a fifty-year-old hipster black guy. In 1960. It looks like a costume on me, I have no idea how I was ever able to look at that entire matched outfit and think, yes. This is just the thing. I will look the bomb.

I pulled-away from the city, where I can only assume it rains every single day, on a wet Tuesday Morning in the direction of nearby Baltimore. I can remember it was a Tuesday because I had perfectly (although unintentionally) timed my visit to not be able to see most of the museums, closed on Mondays during this off-season. Like Paris, where I was a little disappointed the first time when I was not swept-off my feet by constant romance, I’ll probably like Philadelphia even more the second time I visit. I may not have noticed an extraordinary amount of brotherly love in the air, but it was friendly and handsome just the same.

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Views around Philadelphia.

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When I was near my hotel again I changed my hat to this dark gray one, I have photos of me wearing the black felt one but not in Philly.

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I just got this image online to show you the look they would have been looking closer to see from afar.

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From my counter seat at Dinic’s enjoying a sandwich inside the Reading Terminal Market.

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I shopped here. Very friendly store. You know the rest.

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I found this interesting. Rather than trees in the middle of this boulevard, parked cars. How often do doors get taken off?

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Click on the image below to view and hear the music video “Streets of Philadelphia”. If you receive this posting by email, it will open the blog post in a browser to work, if not click on the blue title to open the posting in an internet browser.

Interesting about this video is that rather than using Springsteen’s studio recording they re-recorded him singing live as he walked down the streets. The video was to be as real as possible and it was done to great effect. The video also shows the hardship and poverty that appears to continue today.

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Looking for the Love, Philadelphia Part One

“Looking for The Love”, Philadelphia Part One

America’s original capital city, Philadelphia, seems to have fallen off the main stage but it is still the fifth largest city in the US with more than five million residents. Despite the name of a recent sitcom (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, you can find it on Canadian Netflix), I would say that it rains every single day in Philadelphia. I should perhaps disclose that my observations made from under an umbrella were conducted over the course of two days. So, there is a slight chance that the weather may differ from when I was there but that is how I will remember it.

Philly first hit my radar for places I must visit when I discovered that it was the “City of Brotherly Love”. Doesn’t that sound just lovely. I imagine guys walking arm in arm, sitting outdoors at street-side cafes calling each other “brotha” as they share the love. The locals must really affectionate with each other to earn such a title. Perhaps the term, “bromance” comes from here too. Will Smith was born here; he seems like a warm, loving guy, doesn’t he. Kevin Bacon too. Aren’t we all supposed to be somehow associated with Kevin Bacon by six degrees? That’s a warm and connective thought, isn’t it. Fits right in to my new life philosophy that connecting with others is perhaps the most important thing.

Imagine my shock on discovering that “brotherly love” was not readily apparent on the streets when I first wandered out of my hotel in search of dinner in torrential downpour that first evening. I was a little disappointed when no one had offered me as much as a hug while I was checking-in to the artsy Hotel Monaco. Then on the streets, passing the soaking people slogging their ways home after work, not as much as a friendly smile to acknowledge my arrival to their loving city. What was more, I was not even called “brother” that first night, not even one time. I was horrified.

Turns out, the city did not earn the reputation of being a city of brotherly love in recent years, nor is it actually a reputation. It stems from the city’s conception by founding father, William Penn, who must have been a pretty loving guy himself. It was his vision to create a place where everyone would just get along. He envisioned that people from different places and backgrounds could live together in peace and harmony. I guess equality of the sexes had not come together for him yet though, or he simply recognised that most of the problems were coming from the guys anyway. Women are always more accepting and loving towards other women when compared to men. Except when they’re not. So it was he found his male-focused inspiration from the Greek, philos adelphos. Always a fun place to go with words when you want to sound smart; it gives you that little extra edge on profundity too. Literally it means, “loving brothers”. Well, the loving brothers probably didn’t want to live somewhere that sounded as precious as philos adelphos so it was anglicised to the handsome name of Philadelphia. Another name Bill can take credit for is the state of Pennsylvania. Which is his surname plus “sylvania” (Latin for “forest land”) so literally, “Penn’s woods”. So, that name is a tiny bit more self-focused I can’t help but notice.

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There were other fun reasons to visit the “cradle of liberty” anyway. Mustard was first produced here in 1768 by Benjamin Jackson. I like mustard. Was it invented here or was that just when the first person recorded making it in this location; people like to record all sorts of silly things. Someday I’ll have a fact checker who enjoys looking into such exciting matters, for now just know that I do not promise that any of the facts presented here are definitely true, but I did not make them up either. (Okay, Siri says the Romans had mustard, so I’m not sure what exactly this claim is about. I think that Siri might also be using the internet for her information too though.) Anyway, do they love mustard so very much that they aknowledge simply when someone first made it here? And how do they really know he was the first person here to do so? Do they know when someone was the first here to make jam too? How about strawberry pie? Might one happen upon a plaque somewhere indicating that within this home was where the first person in Philadelphia who practiced Japanese flower arranging lived? How far do such commemorations go? I wonder if there is anything I could do here to become the first to have done it here.

Another exciting first came soon after in 1775 when Johann Behrent completed the first piano (then called piano forte) built in the US. In fact, Philadelphia had a lot of firsts. The first commercial radio broadcast (KDKA). The first zoo in the US (founded by Benjamin Franklin). The first bank on US soil. The first US stock exchange (1790). America’s first daily newspaper. (Although short-lived, 1784-1790.) The first “Rocky” film in 1976. And then the second. And the third.

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My first evening I enjoyed a meal at a little pub where I did enjoy some brotherly chat with the bartenders. They were enjoying a two-to-one customer-bartender ratio so could hardly avoid interacting with the four of us sitting in front of them at the counter. Even if they had wanted to. I was not walking away without my brotherly love. Well, with one of the bartenders I suppose it was sisterly, or half sisterly-half brotherly since she would have been like the loving sister chatting with me her loving and very interesting and dare I say charming, brother.

The next day I burst outside, again finding the rain a little off-putting for sight-seeing. Off-putting in that subtle way that I did not want to go outside and had to force myself. I wandered past the liberty bell, the infamous instrument that cracked on it’s first ringing. Online there is some dispute as to whether Pennsylvania was misspelled as Pensylvania or whether both spellings were at the time commonly in use. I should think Penn would have always wanted the second, silent “n” to be included for higher name recognition, even if it were a redundant letter when it came to pronunciation. Later I will visit Allentown, where I discover that the broken/cracked bell was escorted to protect from it the British. I guess the British must have really liked big, cracked bells. I must ask them about it next time I’m there as it’s one of my favourite countries to visit. A conversation starter, “Do you people still like to acquire large, cracked bells?” So high was it’s value, it was escorted back to Philadelphia by a caravan of seven hundred wagons. I read that online, so it must be true. But that sounds astoundingly absurd to me. One damaged bell. Seven hundred means of transport. Overkill or prudence? One shouldn’t judge.

I discover another first on my wanderings, this one technological.

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TO BE CONTINUED

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The Liberty Bell, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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A Mural in Philadelphia, 2014.

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Inside the lobby of the fun-looking Hotel Monaco.

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In my room of the hotel in the city of brotherly love where no hugs were pro-offered.

STAY TUNED – TO BE CONTINUED

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As Special As Any New Yorker (“People Who Make the City” Series)

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Bernice (“People Who Make the City” Series)
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Just as Special as Any New Yorker

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From my sublet in Greenwich I take the subway from W 4th Street Station all the way to 200th, one stop from the end of the blue line. I never noticed before that the street numbers go so high. I don’t mind long subway rides during quieter times of day, New Yorkers are friendly, open people and such pause of transit usually leads to interesting interactions or at the very least fun people-watching. I come out at Dyckman/200th Street and I am in a different world. I went underground in the middle of a metropolis. Now I emerge into the centre of a well-shaken Christmas snow globe. As usual, I pull out my phone for navigation. It shows me a jagged path in an unlikely direction. The suggested route looks more like a turbulent stock-market chart than a path, but I start walking, watching my little dot follow along the blue line on my screen to verify my correctness.

It says I should go directly into what seems to be a children’s park and I do so, continuing on a path out the rear. Sharp right on a dirt or a paved path I cannot tell; it has been snowing all morning; the ground is covered and the air is still thick with snow. Where it meets another path I ignore it and take an almost about-turn sharp left. The jagged-path is having me climb a hill that had been obscured from view. The route makes sense now.

I slip my way back-and-forth through what seems like a very unlikely direction towards anything whatsoever apart from maybe getting lost in a hill-side forest. Higher-up I pause at a vantage point and from my phone map I can tell that I am near the edge of the Hudson River and I should be looking across to New Jersey but all I can see is grey. I think I see the lights of traffic, there may be a roadway lining the river just below. The snow muffles vision and sound, it quiets the air in a magical way. A very heavy structure comes to view as I approach driveways and parked cars. It’s out of place. Is it an old prison? I approach the great structure and go exactly the wrong way. Had I turned left, the entrance was just around the corner. Turning right, I entirely circumnavigate the collection of attached buildings before gaining entry only a few metres from where I started.

Phew. I made it. So, where am I? Part of the benefit of keying an address into one’s GPS and blindly following it is the fun surprise of where you have actually taken yourself.

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I quickly ascertain that I have come to a place called The Cloisters. I now understand this to be a collection of European medieval architectural features brought to Northern Manhattan by Rockefeller and reassembled into one great structure. Original doorways, entries, windows and specific structures are labelled with their original dates and places or origin, reassembled into a new situation here during the 20th century. Medieval artworks flank the walls and adorn antique tables and stands.

I did not attend the Cloisters to see bits of Medieval Europe within the convenience of a Manhattan subway ride. I had never even heard of this venue, an offshoot of the Metropolitan Museum. I have come here to attend a Baroque Christmas concert by the Waverley Consort, that is the address I have navigated to. It had prices for tickets online and more expensive at the door. Online all it said was, “tickets are unavailable” so I assumed I was too late for that discount purchase. Nope. More accurate may have been, “Tickets Are Sold Out,” because that is what I am told when I approach the ticket desk. “You might get lucky and someone might return one though,” a friendly woman informs with cringed face at my reaction of making such a trek to not see a concert. I would have gone to Tosca, and that would have been a lot more convenient, I think to myself. Well, here I am. “Is there a cafe here?” Not in the winter, there is one nearby. I satisfy myself with a water fountain and pay entry into the museum, fingers crossed that in 75 minutes I will be nestled inside a cozy medieval chapel enjoying what is perhaps my favourite kind of music.

The main feature within the Cloisters seems to be a collection of tapestries, “Hunt of the Unicorn”. The poor little unicorn. There he is all riled-up surrounded by chaos with his horn prostrating a hunting dog. In the end, he is captured and they have surrounded him by a tiny little fence. Sad.

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Back in the foyer a grumpy man has arrived without his partner and I excitedly give him $45 for his spare ticket before remembering that he would have paid $25 online. He greedily accepts and makes a dash. His guilty dash is what reminded me of the two prices, because it was odd-enough to make me think about it. This suited man literally took the money and ran. I smile at him when I join the queue for entry and he looks away. Never mind, the concert was fantastic.

Departing for the subway I join a nice couple, both musicians, and a gentleman from Mexico. We decide to navigate the slippery trails together. Most of the patrons will get into their parked cars or wait for a shuttle bus to deliver them to the subway rather than risk breaking fragile hips or twisting tired ankles. I prefer to walk rather than wait on most occasions. The Mexican fellow studied English in Toronto so we chat amicably about that until he changes trains at 168th.

Knowing smiles whenever I mention being here from Toronto, our mayor now being a one-man freak show that has even come-up on my US cell phone as the number two news story by Fox on my mobile feed. I like to think that people only elected him to break our straight-laced stereotype. That he is accomplishing very thoroughly. With any luck he won’t completely destroy the city. Anyway, Americans seem to quite enjoy him. “The joy we get laughing at Mayor Ford almost makes-up for Beiber,” suggested one late-night talk show host. Poor Beiber. You grow-up poor, become uber-famous as a kid, make unfathomable amounts of money, and try not to have any issues. A completely predictable outcome, hopefully he is in a phase he will come-out-of okay. Ford is just a selfish moron who loves attention. And people like to give it to him so his parade may be quite long.

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I am joined by Bernice, a largish black woman in her fifties who appears to have been doing some shopping today. “I was visiting my son and my grandchild today,” she happily offers, “I let them have my Manhattan apartment and moved to New Jersey.” We chat about Christmas and American Thanksgiving. She’s having an easy Christmas this year, it’s her sister’s turn. Three of them take turns hosting.

“When we get together, time passes and suddenly it’s time to go home,” she shares, reminiscing about the bond she has with her siblings. “I got there for Thanksgiving on Friday night, we were having such a great time and were so involved in conversations that we actually forgot to go to bed. We had to take naps on Saturday.” I tell her of my upcoming visit with my sister, who will come here for Christmas and New Years with her Dachshund, Andy. Andy is my pride and joy, which is a bit pathetic when I think about it. Apart from my pride being a dog, and my joy being a dog, he’s not even my dog. Of course I pull-out my iPad and show Bernice (who claims she does not like dogs, but I will not accept this) a slideshow of Andy photos which I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed before she jumped off at the Port Authority Terminal. I hope that really was her stop.

New York is a special place. A forty-year-old man showing a slideshow of his sister’s Dachshund to a large black woman who doesn’t like dogs on the subway – probably makes me special too.

Yes, I could probably call this home.

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It was a strange feeling entering the subway in Greenwich/West Village and exiting into a winter wonderland. I didn’t know where I was going, I just keyed in the address of the performance space and followed GPS.

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And if you see this view, turn left and the entrance is right around the corner.

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I would not have believed such a photo would be taken in Manhattan, unless it was in Central Park.

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I believe this collection of tapestries to be the most famous of the Cloisters holdings.

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The sad finale of the series, Hunt of the Unicorn.

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This is what I was making my way towards. The rest of it was all unexpected.

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I have to show you a few pictures of Andy, then you’ll know that really I’m very normal.

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I showed this one of my Facebook. My sis had gone to Ireland and I was taking care of Andy. After our walk I had been doing emails and the tv was on and finally I wondered, where’s Andy? I went around the corner and there he was. In silent pain. “How could you forget my treat?” He had just been sitting there, desperately hoping I would remember without making as much as a peep. So of course I ran for the camera to capture the moment and then gave him two treats.

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Sometimes he poops. He doesn’t mind me showing you this photo because he’s a dog.

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From Christmas Day in NYC. You can see more pics from that posting.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy my blog, please share it with your friends! Thanks!

Reinventing Myself in Richmond, Virginia

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Richmond – Week Three Report

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In this posting I do not mean that staying in one place and building your life where you are is unimportant. It is key to a meaningful life. I am simply describing the experience I am currently engaged in as how it relates to my own journey. Eventually I’ll tie all these writing together in to a book and will be able to expand and clarify in many directions then. For now, just little pieces of the pie at a time. Thanks for reading!

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In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes, “Most of us seem to have a consistent character because most of us are really good at controlling our environments most of the time.” And not just controlling our environments but also keeping our environments familiar. It’s perhaps part of the reason people like hotel chains, they are predictable, we know what to expect. He goes on to explain how we tend to put ourselves in repeated social situations where we shine and where people know us mostly from those situations. Put us somewhere very different, and we will probably seem like different people. Think about it. If you corner a very friendly dog, they might bite. Even if they’ve never bitten before. New scenarios call forth new behaviours.

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He explains a study where divinity students are put in situations to test their characters. It would seem, from some specific study he reviewed, that someone who has dedicated their life to helping others, someone who would usually be described as being especially compassionate can be reduced to indifference to the suffering of others even with three very uncharged words. “You’re running late.” That was enough for the candidates to have no time to help others, to step over and possibly even see someone in distress as an annoyance impeding their way. How important was what they were late for? Only typically important, someone was waiting for their late arrival. Not life or death. For more specific info., read the tipping point. Gladwell is one of my favourite authors and I will probably often quote him in my blog. As I have mentioned before, he is a fellow Canadian outsider.

The point is, the person who we see ourselves as being, that person is not fixed in all environments. We like to think that our character is fixed, but the truth is not that simple. We act and react differently in different environments, to different and unique situations, in the presence of different people. Adapting to our surroundings is part of survival, it’s natural. If this trait had not evolved I doubt I’d be sitting in my temporary apartment in Richmond, Virginia writing this now. And you wouldn’t be reading this either.

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I have always noted that personal growth spurts often come from transition, from change. When I moved from Fredericton, New Brunswick, to London, England I wrote home to my family that I felt, “Like a plant that’s been repotted in new soil.” (Or did I write, “flower”, I’m not sure.) My entirely new environment promoted growth; I was more easily able to change as a person. Without the familiar around me I was better able to move towards becoming who I wanted to become, without the expectations of anyone around me of who I already was. People come to know us as a certain way, and their expectation of who we are has a tendency to keep us there too. It’s like we have agreements together and it’s really hard to break those agreements.

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I think there is a certain core of your person that family and certain friends who come to feel like family can grasp, and that changes in who you are can flex around that. Most of us have had the experience of outgrowing someone, either we changed and they didn’t or we both changed in different ways or they wanted you to stay the same and stagnate when you needed to embrace growth. “You’ve changed.” Of course I have. We are always changing. The people we meet and the experiences we have shape our ever-changing lives. Even beyond movement within personality types, which tend to have one set of characteristics when someone is emotionally healthy and quite a different set when emotionally unwell. Even without great change, one’s state of mind can alter who one seems to be considerably. I am quite a different person when I am feeling loving than I am when I am feeling anxious. I am still the same person, but I don’t seem like the same person. Not even to myself. I think I’ve only lost friends during the latter state although I’ve chosen to weed some people out of my life during the former state too. In respect for myself. I’ve made some mistakes when feeling anxious, and probably some good choices when feeling loving.

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In my third week in Virginia that is what I have most to report. This trip, it’s not mostly about the travel. It’s not mostly about writing. It’s about growing as a person. I am going out-of-my-way to put myself into unfamiliar environments. My writing this month might be completely useless in the long term, but the experiences I am having will have an imprint on my writing for the rest of my life as I continue to grow into the person I am destined to become. As we all continually change throughout our lives. I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities to experience hurt and pain, love and joy, as I find my way through the world.

During week three I went to a social event where, for the first time in Richmond, I was in a diverse crowd. Richmond has it’s diversity, there are black people and white people, gay people and straight people. But until Wednesday evening of week three, I had only conversed with one person outside of these confines of diversity. A nice gentleman from Libya, a really interesting entrepreneur. Wednesday I attended a wine-tasting event and met people from India, China, Vietnam, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. I also met people from several different states as well as locals as this was a mingler for people who are new in town.

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I felt connection with people when they said they were from Bombay, and I could relate with my three weeks in Mumbai. I could picture the life they came from before finding themselves working in America’s IT industry. I’ve not been to Chennai, but when someone said they were from that city I at least had notions as to what that meant too. Of course you can feel connection with others without having visited their homeland, but I think it is like a boost. It’s like dog owners befriending other dog owners at the dog park. It is still possible to make friends with a dog owner even if you’re not one yourself, but it is undeniable that for most people having that little commonness provides an opening. As a writer, I will be better able to connect with readers the more I understand about them. I am sure that my current readers know that I have a great desire to reach out and connect. And that my writing has evolved in a short time from being mostly about sight-seeing to being mostly about life. Real life was always my main interest, and meeting people always the priority over seeing things. Incorporating real-life into my travels is something I am learning how to do. Often clumsily. And often with failure. (And here I mean that it doesn’t always go as planned, not true failure. To me, true failure only comes from not trying.)

My experience in Richmond has been enriching. As an outsider, I have witnessed a separation here. I have been kept at arms-length by some, embraced by others. I have heard stories of success and of progress and of change. I have come to understand that my own culture, that of inner-Toronto which is different than Greater Toronto, is probably more similar to that of Manhattan than most anywhere. I think that most people don’t see that connection at all.

Many American cities seem to be moving in a very positive direction. City centres have changed a lot in the past decade, they are moving towards having thriving city centres and away from having ghettos and dead zones. “You should have seen it ten years ago, it wasn’t safe,” is something I have heard now in LA, parts of NYC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, even Richmond. The era when everyone who could afford to moved to the suburbs is definitely over. I never understood that myself, why would anyone want to live on a street that only has a bunch of houses and where you always need to use your car to get food? How could that ever be someone’s preference? When I can’t walk out my door and already be somewhere, I feel cut-off.

I know it is lots of people’s preference, we all have our own ideas as to what an ideal life looks like. How I and my siblings grew-up in suburban New Brunswick and all developed urban preferences is perhaps unusual. I do think that high-density living is more sustainable and I would argue that it is probably better for most people’s mental health. At least in neighbourhoods where neighbours embrace each other. I found that in London the opposite was true, people kept to themselves and protected their space more, seemingly due to the density. But, I am a different person than I was when I lived in London more than fifteen years ago! Where did the time go! I think I am well-overdue spending some serious time in England’s capital. Again.

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So I am seeing my time in Richmond very differently than I did at the start. It’s like I’m discovering more about myself, at age forty. Who am I in Richmond? And I see it more as contributing to the development of my understanding of the diversity of American culture outside of world-class urban centres. This is a great city and I think I could happily live here. I think it is probably a place where I meet more everyday Americans than I do in places such as NYC and LA and New Orleans which have very unique local cultural environments. I don’t mean this as being good or bad, it’s just that some places are more typical of a general population and others less so.

People may not see me as such, but I am an invisible foreigner here. The influences that contributed to my world view and my place in it are not the same as an Americans. They are perhaps not the same as most Canadians either, but they are more similar.

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Some pretty homes-made-businesses in Uptown Richmond, the area around VCU. (Virginia Commonwealth University)

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Stay tuned for my Final Richmond Report as well as postings from NYC, Philadelphia, Fredericksburg, DC, and more! Thanks for reading and if you enjoy my blog, PLEASE, share it with your friends! Cheers! Darren

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Me showing-off my Canadian hair. When I get another American haircut tomorrow, will I still have Canadian hair, even if most of it grew-in while in the US?