Tag Archives: america

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Finally, an opportunity to properly write. Doug and I are on our plane from Auckland to Perth, currently still sitting at the gate. We’re late departing. Something about unplanned maintenance.

It’s hard to know where to start regarding all that’s happened over the past several days, so I’ll just begin with leaving my bike with a friend in L.A. I have a debt of gratitude to him for helping me out with that last minute. My day would have been MUCH, MUCH more complicated and stressful had he not, and it was already plenty of that enough. Rain on and off all the day long was the biggest culprit, but there was also a certain amount of stress in not being showered for two days, and continuing to schlep around in the same unwashed clothes for two weeks. The stink of yourself; the dirty crumpled look and feel of your clothes; and the oily, unwashed feel of your hair, scalp, and skin all become a heavy weight—though in reality one that is greater mentally than physically. But with all things the mental aspect is always more difficult than any sort of physical struggle, because the physical struggle is really just a manifestation of the mind. Of course when one is out in society, smelly and dirty but attempting to hold to some level of social standards in order to maintain one’s dignity (not that one has to abide by society’s standards in order to maintain his/her dignity) this can become a huge mental struggle, and so my thoughts about my then current state and how I imagined I was regarded by society (particularly by that society in the area I found myself pedaling my bike, shopping around for a hiking pack) now has me thinking and wondering how the truly destitute and homeless must feel themselves to be. Mere animals. Insects. Subhuman. Not worth the regard they ask us to pay them. So how can one expect them to have the confidence to look for employment anywhere? When one has lived in a state of hopelessness for so long, when one is wallowing in the quagmire of misery and apathy, how can it be expected they he might just go about filling out applications for employment like anyone else? When they walk into a shop or restaurant in dirty, stained clothes that hang on them like the haggard, tired expression of a half-starved face, stinking like they just climbed out of a dumpster, or like they’ve been living in the same set of underwear for weeks, who will hire them? Well anyway, I cycled around thirty miles in the wet in order to get a pack to migrate certain things into, and to leave my bike with Danny at the motorcycle shop he works at.

Now I’m in this plane soaring above the clouds, the sun very nearly set just ahead of us, the moon reflected in the wing—a tiny, yellow smudge amidst the blueish darkening of the world—and Doug, eyes shut beside me. Exhausted Doug with a blanket thrown over his lap, his hands folded, peaceful beneath its fleecy warmth.

Today was mostly spent walking a bit around the city of Auckland, as we opted for an eleven hour layover as opposed to the two, drinking coffee, eating and simply observing the city and its people. A most enjoyable way to spend the day I thought, though Doug’s overall exhaustion seemed to have got the better of him.

Very little else happened. Anything properly worth writing about at least. And I’m much too tired to bother. I setup an AirBnB for the next week in South Perth, and took a shower.

Truly it would have been wonderful if something of account occurred over our time in town and at the airport, but nothing did. We existed, in a bit of a state of suspended animation, as humans so often do between times. Doug does have the type of personality which compels him to talk to just about anybody about anything, though. And while I won’t go so far to say it’s something I missed about not being around him, I do have an appreciation and fondness for it, for often it leads to amusing moments. Moments of no great consequence, but significant in their own small ways, like an odd bit of grammar or poetry thrown in amongst the general sameness of a paragraph. He’s always drawing a new character into the coterie of our own little band of merry, or not-merry, makers. All these NPCs, so to speak, become important characters, people with meaning, in this game of his. And that’s really the thing! He gives them, through the agency of his actions, his desire to engage with them, importance, significance, value, more so I believe than most, and certainly moreso than anyone else I have met. And that I think is one of his great virtues.


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In my “roomette” on the Sunset Limited, the train I’m taking from Houston to L.A. Thus far, things have been enjoyable. The train attendant is a friendly, amiable chap. He setup my bed, which I am now lounging in, and politely answered the couple of questions that I had. My expectations for meals may well be very much exceeded too if tonight’s supper was any indication.

I’m looking forward to the next 34 hours or so. I have much work to be done, and with no distractions should be able to plow through a fair bit of it. No wifi is likely to be a boon.

I’d like to sum up my thoughts on Houston, though I’m not certain I did or saw enough in the three short days I was there to justify that sort of thing. Furthermore, because I was there for such a short period of time there is likely little that I will have to say. So why even write about it? What is the point if I don’t feel like I have much of substance to write? I guess I feel that there may be something in it worth something to someone—perhaps it will encourage an arts lover to travel there, because if there is any reason to travel to Houston, it is for the arts scene.

I found the city to be a surprise for various reasons, so as a journal entry this will be written regardless, but to post it publicly for the consumption of others…. I just don’t know…. Granted, I could toss this whole blog in the garbage and I doubt it’d make much of a difference to anyone, including myself, because, after all, my primary audience for writing is myself, not anyone else.

Now, with my usual “what is the point of doing anything” ramblings out of the way, here are a few thoughts on the city of Houston.

Houston is a big advocate of the arts. This is something I was not expecting to find upon first investigating the city. Its Museum of Fine Arts is two, and soon to be three, beautiful, spacious (prodigiously so in places) well designed buildings, and should rank highly amongst the best art museums in the world in terms of its collections (this is arguably the most important qualification to check off when ranking museums, I would suppose), but of equal importance, in my opinion, is its curation. The rooms, many of them, are large, and this is necessary in order to give the displayed works space to be; to breathe, as the saying goes. This is very much a case of less is best. It also contains in one of its buildings a theater within which they regularly show movies. Sometimes these are art-related, sometimes not. In fact, one of the reasons I visited the HMFA was to catch a viewing of a new film on Edgar Degas.

Aside from the Museum of Fine Arts, the one other collection of artworks and antiquities objects that one must pay a visit to is The Menil Collection, 1) because it’s one of the best collections of works, brought together by a married couple, on the planet (and it continues to grow through gifts to and acquisitions by the foundation), and 2) it is FREE. Essentially it is a labor of philanthropy, with works from Picasso, Joan Miro, Mark Rothko, Renee Magritte, Max Ernst, Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder and many others on display, along with a fine collection of artifacts from the South Pacific, Africa,  Byzantium, and ancient Greece. As well, there is a permanent installation by Don Flavin housed in its own building, and another dedicated to Cy Twombly. Also, near to the Menil Collection is the Rothko Chapel which I may dedicate a post to my experience there later.

While in the HMFA I had a conversation with a lovely, older couple in their 70s or 80s about the museum and the city. The woman approached me after I had taken a photo of the city skyline through a window, her favorite window as it turned out, that was draped with small, aluminum beads as well as a piece of perforated fabric, all this presumably to diffuse the light which would shine through blindingly, and glaringly throughout the morning. Well, she recommended to me that I check online for information regarding theaters and plays, as there is a strong thespian community, and numerous theaters throughout the city. Unfortunately for me I forgot. Typical… Well, they were lovely people. The gentleman didn’t want to stop talking to me about the city and its history. Meanwhile, his wife is trying to get him to move along. Sometimes it can be such a pleasure to speak with older folks, particularly those who glow so warmly as these two did, who still have an interest in life and in their community, and who have something of importance to impart, some story to tell to a tired, solitary traveler, an appreciator of the arts.

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Little I have to write of tonight. There is, however, much to be finished from last night’s journal, but I’m far too tired, so that will have to wait. Today, though, was simple. Pick up car from rental company and drive to Houston, stopping here and there along the way to get out and walk around some of these towns with my camera, then upon arriving in Houston check in to my hostel before returning the car.

The drive was sublimely relaxing (something I think I craved) for not having to bother with sore legs, nor was there cursing at rough and bumpy roads with no shoulders, horrid traffic or crushing headwinds; just cruise and watch the landscape slip past. There were two tiny towns, Nome and Raywood, along the way that I stopped in, as well as the larger town of Dayton, which I managed to not leave myself enough time—classic me— to explore as I would have liked, and I stopped along one desolate, straight stretch of road that led 180 degrees, from horizon-point to horizon-point, without a car on it to photograph a single tree standing in the distance isolated in space between the blue blue of the sky and the brittle, dry, straw-yellow of the immense field within which it stood, and all around me and it only silence and a slight breeze tumbling through the grass and my hair like the gentle purring of a cat. It was a truly remarkable stretch, and made for a fascinating contrast with the wetter, estuarian regions of this eastern Texas landscape.

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Distracted by too many gadgets, and things in the gadgets, and things in the things in the gadgets. There is a red light beaming from my forehead, like a third eye to see through the dark. Red because it glows dimly and is difficult to see from a distance, but I can see by it to read and write just fine. This is ideal because I’m camped behind a fence bordering houses in a neighborhood and it’s not so late (nine pm) and I’d rather not be seen.

I stayed with an extremely Louisianan couple last night in Sulphur. That day was mentally taxing and long, as days with headwinds in the range of 15-25 mph are, and I missed my estimated day’s distance by twenty miles or so. Remembered in the nick of time that their was a Warmshowers host in the area, texted her and she sent her boyfriend out to scoop me up in the dark, around 6 pm. Good thing too because I discovered after texting her that I had lost my bottle of stove fuel, God knows where and when, so that had I camped I would have had a cold, miserable, unsatisfying dinner of two bananas and a Clifbar.

These two were a fascinating yet at the same time utterly boring couple. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of them. When Jay picked me up I told him I was planning on pitching my tent somewhere around the Rec Center in Mossville (where he picked me up the next town over from Sulphur) if they were unavailable, but he told me that could have potentially been bad had I had to go through with it because there were “blacks” living all around, and there had been murders at that Rec Center several times over the years. I was naturally somewhat taken aback by the brazeness of the statement, as I think many might be. Later there was another incident at a gas station where we tried to break a sixer of beer and the Indian attendant at the counter (there’s a stereotype for you) refused to break it and Jay stormed out annoyed then went on this rather uneducated, conspiratorial rant about Arabs (which Indians are not, of course), how this one fellow could have sold him the two beers and put the rest in ice but didn’t because he was too lazy, which then led to the statements that they’re (Indians, Arabs, I don’t know, but it’s interesting how to the ignorant that whole part of the world just gets grouped together, like all the peoples and the whole of the population is all the same culture) going to buy up all the gas stations in the country and stop selling gas to Americans which would somehow shut the country down, or some sort of cockeyed, outlandish, nonsensical horseshit. It was clear that he had no clue what he was talking about, but was simply flailing about mentally, attempting to make sense of something frustrating him, changes in the country, or perhaps in his own state, city, or community, that he doesn’t understand and is unable to grapple and reconcile with (like, probably, hundreds of thousands of other Americans).

I thought these peculiar ideas coming from a guy who travelled the world with his father in the merchant marines for many years (favorite countries being Sweden and Brazil (Recife, specifically, in Brazil). These comments, though, contrast sharply with his desire to take his most kind lady friend out to Colorado, then to New Mexico to explore the lands of the Apache and Navajo Indians. He practically glowed talking about this, and it was clear to me that he has an admiration and esteem for the natives of this land. Being there and listening to him speak I could hear it in his voice. Racism, it seems, is not nearly as cut and dry a topic as many people like to think it is, but this was the first time in my life that I had witnessed this sort of polarity of it within one person.

After arriving to home for the night Jay was kind enough to cook up, in his words “a real cajun meal” which in this case meant rice and two kinds of deer and pork sausage. One was storebought. The other was made from a deer his son had slain. Not sure where the pork was from in that one. I’m not quite sure where the “cajun” comes from in this respect either, unless he just meant “cheap.” Maybe it’s cajun because the sausage was a bit spicy. Really the meal just struck me as extremely simple and rustic. And honestly not all that good even setting aside the fact that I prefer to stay away from meat if at all possible. Still, it was better than the sausage, egg and cheese biscuits he brought back from Burger King the following morning for breakfast. His girlfriend, Rebecca, however, whose WarmShowers account it is that I contacted was the most welcoming lady, giving me a hug upon our introduction and treating me as a respected and honored guest. For a time she did bookkeeping for a bike shop in the area, but after a change of ownership she was let go. She doesn’t need to work though, and said she wasn’t at all upset about being let go, actually expected it, and very nearly welcomed it if it was for the benefit of the new owner. Currently she’s been scavenging lumber, nails and various other useful raw stuffs as materials for creative projects—benches for a friend’s outdoor wedding at the moment, but has other ideas which she is formulating projects around. For the last fourteen years she’s been volunteering her time with an organization that handles taxes for destitute and poverty stricken people. She says she does taxes for three to four hundred people a year. An astounding number. That was the task she had set herself at when I arrived—re-certification, actually, so that she could continue her philanthropy. Her home is full of knick-knacks and memorabilia. Family photos primarily. Remembrances. Pictures of her dead husband. A photograph of a family dog who had died a few years back. Christmas lights strung over and across everything. The small Christmas tree still up, decorated, standing on a table beside the television that is always always on so that I feel I’d go brain dead if I was to be there for too long. Eventually chit-chat got tiresome, and I was tired as well, and being as nothing much else was happening I went off to my bedroom where I could hear through the walls and the door the television blaring in it’s brainless stupid way.

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I was feasted by the owner of Myers Rv Campground–I think she said her name was Joleen, or something to that effect. I’m not quite sure why she fed me so, unless she was really that desperate to get rid of the food from the “party” she had last night, or she realized that as a cyclist I would be very hungry, or maybe she is just this generous with everyone. All I know is that I was feasted to the brim on gumbo, rice, veggies, dessert and now I am satisfied and all the mosquitoes in my tent are dead. No finding refuge in here, no siree!

I went to Avery Island my first day in New Iberia for a TABASCO tour, and I’m reminded of this because I kept my rather large ticket as a bookmark, and on the side currently facing up, which I hadn’t bother to read as it’s something like a crest or seal, it states: “Avery Island “Man and Environment In Balance””. They do a lot of environmental conservation on the “island”, which, if you’re interested you can read about briefly here. I shall like to go back some day as I didn’t pay the fee to wander the jungle gardens within which there resides a large Buddha statue from, supposedly, the 12th century—quite a wonder! The gardens are themselves too a wonder.

In the distance, the middle-near distance, a cow moo’s, and another, and that is a wonder. A mournful kind of wonder, though. And fifty yards straight on is an oak wreathed with Spanish moss lit up by a lamp, the moss radiating light faintly, like a phantom, like horror stories from nineteenth century African(-American) slaves. And THAT is a wonder, a fearful, savage, sad wonder.

All these fucking RV’s are humming with the energy of their generators, or whatever is producing electricity for their microwaves, tv’s, air conditioners, stereos, computers, or whatever it is to run. I don’t know if that’s a wonder or not. I suppose it’s a technological wonder. But what I can’t understand is why when camping one wants all that noise and blather around. Where went the sanctifying peace and quiet of nature? The soft and continuous chirp of crickets. Or the mysterious crunch and rustle of leaves as a curious creature scurries past. Inside their five insulated walls they miss all this with their televisions and stereos blowing static, and they miss the mournful lowing of the cow, and the “who cooks for you” of the barred owl, and the chatter and squeaking that has just sprung up out of the darkness like hundreds of rubber duckies squeezed over and over in a sort of distant musical cacophony.

Of all our senses I think the sense of hearing is the most mysterious. All these ethereal tinglings of hair follicles in one’s auditory canal. Things perceived at a distance just far enough away so that you can not quite make it out visually, or so nearby that you might step on it but unable to discern where at all it is, and so unfamiliar that even if you could see it it would be almost meaningless. Sound can come from anywhere and be transmitted through anything. It floats on air, is carried by the wind, is the wind itself. It is like millions of taut wires protruding from your ears in countless directions being tripped by tiptoeing feet or colossally heavy hammers or butterfly wings of dynamite. We hear things in the dark, and may, through their agency, be brought into the light, yet we may hear things in broad daylight and be pitched into an impenetrable black.

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Another day.

Another day spent questioning what I am doing, or, rather, why I am doing. Most of this stemming from thoughts abut the self-guided tour of the TABASCO facility: of was it worth the money ($5, which is very little, really) on a Sunday when no one is there working, and so the bottling plant, which is where I would see any activity, is just a large room with a lot of inert machinery, instead of a place humming, alive with employees applying themselves to whatever tasks are tasked them. You might say it’s like going to see an opera on a day that it’s not being performed, and paying for a ticket anyway, and going to your seat and sitting for two or three hours. Well, the theater it’s being performed in might be beautiful, but what’s the point of rustling up the price of a ticket to sit amongst the old bones, to stare up at that sternum and ribs vaulting over you like a cage just to look out on an empty black? It’s the musicians and actors, the set design and props that put flesh on the skeleton, that are the blood and the heart and the lungs that give it life, that enable it to move one to tears or make him laugh uproariously or gasp in astonishment. That’s what people go to the opera for. Not to stare at a skeleton, no matter how old or fascinating it might be! Leave that to the archaeologists and historians to sweep away the dust from the bones, and inform you on just which date it was born and how old it was when it died…

I was interrupted mid-thought for dinner with my hosts, and now I’m back a different person. The way they talk, these two! And their life experiences! Their knowledge and feeling for the South, but Louisiana in particular, is a beautiful, admirable thing. It’s like finding a pearl hidden amongst all the junk and trash and sediment of the road, or on the banks of some garbage-strewn bayou. It shines with the light of a thousand suns, and its flame is fanned by all of these crazy yet simple contraptions that have been collected and refurbished so that they work and shine like they are new, and are placed just so on the shelves and tables like so many trophies and pictures of loved ones smiling down at one affectionately. “Would you like to go on a bicycle ride around town? We can eat at such and such a place and you can take a tour of Shadows. It’ll be fun and easy. New Iberia is small so it won’t take much time at all, and there’s a lovely city park just the other side of The Teche. Or how about some open-water fishing? I can tell you the fish like to congregate around the oil rigs out there in the gulf. If you get hungry again Kathy’ll make you some of that delicious shrimp gumbo. NO tomatoes in gumbo, and the stock is made from boiled shrimp heads like it should be. And you know why Louisiana has such a French character, or at least it used to, well the English who were busy settling Canada and the northern United States didn’t like these French mongrels and kicked ’em out and they somehow ended up in Spain and later a deal was cut whereupon the Spanish shipped ’em into the swamps of Louisisana and then you got cajun cooking. If you need some salt to season anything just head on over to these places called “islands.” They’re not really islands, but just look it as they’re large mounds surrounded by swampland, but these mounds are solid, subterranean mountains of salt forced up out of the earth like a pimple. If you go to Avery Island you can get yourself some TABASCO sauce and pray at the buddha all together. The camelias might be just beginning to bloom too. And when you’re done all that just come back to the house and we’ll feed you some more and we’ll give you a history of Mardi Gras, how it’s a Catholic event, Fat Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday and all, and you can look at these pictures in the creole cookbook of how the holiday is celebrated out in the country because it is far different from what they do in New Orleans.”

So, now I am relaxed and happy with a full belly and WILL be taking a tour of Shadows tomorrow and getting a Po’ Boy and eating at Victor’s Cafeteria, and God knows what else. The bike trip. Ah, the bike trip. I’m less concerned about that now. What comes, comes. I’m just here to record the experience.