Saturday, May 29, 2010

avant la lettre - the U.S. chronicles ep.03

let the good times roll (or whatever may be rolling instead)

Last week's post had two striking characteristics, both beginning with a L : it came Late and it was Long. Lery Lery Late; Lery Lery Long. So today, I'm gonna try to write a S post: Short and on Schedule. Hey! I just said I was gonna TRY, okay? Sure? Okay, let's go!

"we serve REAL food": most convincing statement EVER!
After a pretty long day of road kills along highway 59 South, a late lunch at Tracy's trucks' kitchen "we serve REAL food" (!!!) and a very very huge bridge over troubled waters, we got the welcome of a beautiful orange and pink sunset as we entered New Orleans, Louisiana. But you already knew about thatWe made our way through a light traffic on I-10 West, then I-90 West, then South Claiborne Ave, until this lovely neighborhood they call Uptown. It’s interesting how their concepts of Up- and Down- town, of South and North or East and West are a bit different from the conventional ones in the rest of the world... something to do with the non-metric system, maybe? But it doesn't really matter: one has to get used to it and it's no big deal after all.

We drove slowly along (dirty) dozens (brass band) of similar blocks of lovely little wooden houses painted in bright colors, each one with a thin stripe of lawn and a bunch of stairs climbing to a porch with rocking chairs and plants. The lazy cats and rusty cars peacefully share the street in front of every house. A couple of odd oil lamps (mostly some fake, modern electric devices mimicking the burning of a noon oil lamp) bizarrely hung on each side of the front doors, invariably turned on all day and night. Probably some sort of friendly welcome to some possible visitor. My guess... Their guest? So, in a comfortable space the cats seemed to have kept vacant just for us, we parked the car right in front of Rachel's house. She was our first Couchsurfer in town and was supposed to be waiting for us for dinner. She had this lovely little home, furnished with taste and many plants, the walls painted in surprisingly nice and unexpected colors, different for each room: chocolate and beige in the living-room, bright lime green in her room, salmon-ish in the guestroom. Can't seem to remember which color was the kitchen, though... And since you have to cross both rooms to go from the living to the kitchen, if you run a little it's like a rainbow on your retina and on the whole, it's a pretty cozy, warm and welcoming atmosphere. After a warm CS style welcome and the classic questions "Where you from? First time in the US? Oh really? How do you like it so far? And exactly, what is it you do for a living? How long you been on CS?", we cooked together (delicious tulapia in homemade marinade with quinoa and raisins) and spent half the night chatting with her and her boyfriend Jeme, a charming, hilarious and goofily brilliant mathematician and computer geek who happened to be our next CS host's flatmate! Not only is the world not so big, but it is also really small! Anyway...
Nola's Uptown neighbourhood: mainly black and blue - and quite green, too! 
Rachel and Jeme both gave us a lot of ideas and tips to discover the city, some what-to-do, many where-to-go, many where-and-what-to-eat, plus thousands of anecdotes about computers, maths, software, Microsoft, FB and the internet in general... Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady probably hired him as a scientific/geek adviser and consultant when they started to write The big bang theory - and if they didn't, well they should have! So with all this written down in notebooks and flying post-its, we left Rachel's the next morning and took a street car - those old-fashioned rusty tramways whose slow motion and ringing bell seem to give the pace to the wandering tourists and crowds of street musicians. For New Orleans seems to be a city of tourists and street musicians. Got down in the French Quarter, had a coffee and some French beignets at famous Café du monde, a local equivalent of Parisian brasserie Lip or Globe, or Café Zurich in Barcelona, while listening to a small fanfare playing the very standards with an austere snare and mid-tom, trumpet, trombone and this bass brass thing I call a tuba and they call something else (sousa-what?). Anyway... Along the streets, everything are artists’ paintings of jazz musicians and caricatures in the plus pure tradition de Montmartre and Las Ramblas.
New Orleans' favorites: spicy, tasty, cajun, tiny and... furry bottles.

The tourist industry is a global plague and no economically-challenged area seem to have developed any kind of immune response to it: everybody’s selling pseudo crafts and souvenirs, tee-shirts, caps and hats, crap jewelry and all the key holders and magnets you can imagine (Yes Edu: I got one for your fridge! ;p). This and all the cajun, creole, spicy, acid, bitter, sweet, super strong, tahiti, cuban, alligator, chili and French bottled sauces. Because gastronomy, and street gastronomy especially, is a market too: you’ll find no store without cooking books, cooking chefs, cooking stuff and cooking lessons. Did somebody just scream Chiang Mai? Well, it’s same same but... different! The architecture in the French Quarter - and in the rest of (down- and up-) town - had this je-ne-sais-quoi-de-désuet (already said so, right?) and somehow decadent, vieillot but with the charme d'antanThe wooden and colorful tiny shop houses reminded me of old colonial Melacca and Georgetown and had me back in Malaysia for a moment... Many art galleries, many antiquités and thrift stores, many many restaurants and bars and cafés with the local spécialités: alligator meat balls, po' boyz fried oyster sandwiches*, fried shrimps with onion rings and the king of all Nola’s food : the gumbo. Gumbo is a kind of fish and seafood soup with rice, made from a roux brun with alcohol, butter and shrimps. The result is surprisingly dark, brown and hot, with a petit air de déja vu for anyone who ever experienced a decent paella.

one of the many (dirty) dozen brass (bands?) thrift shops.
But food is not the only exotic and refreshing thing around. The language is, too! The people we met were extremely nice, smiling and friendly, and they spoke a delicious and singing americano del sur, with a lot of grammar and lexical adaptations from the French cajun and creole. Now, what do you call a pot-pourriWe spent the evening around the French Quarter, trying to get lost in Bourbon St., Toulouse St., Chartres St. or Bordeaux St.. We met and spent a while toalking with a nice old hippy who looked quite like Janis Joplin behind her rounded sunglasses. She had long grey hair, was in her early seventies and happened to be almost totally blind. She told us about how Nola was being abandoned and forgotten by the rest of the country; about how successive governments - including Obama's despite of his promises - were doing nothing at all for them; about how NGOs, volunteers and a bunch of true New Orleans lovers were the only reason why the city still stood on her feet -or better said on her knees. She told us about how life was getting increasingly difficult and how expensive the bills had been over the past few years: people not recovering yet after Kathrina, many of them leaving the city to go anywhere else, may houses, streets and blocks abandoned and closed by the authorities for safety purposes, that were unlikely to be ever given back to the population. And finally, the gigantic, tragic, oil spill in the gulf of Mexico: I wonder whether you heard about that in Europe? It began about the exact time I landed in the U.S. and is getting worse and worse everyday. She insisted on how it was threatening the fragile ecosystems of the marshes and swamps. And she emphasized on how the hurricane season was already on its way again... She left us a bit confused and depressed: More concerned than we were before about the oil spill, too. We don't travel to just have fun and drink cheap booze on the beach, right? Or do we? Do we pay to go to Disneyland and believe the world is doing alright?

Kathrina paradox: whole blocks devastated and.eight philanthropic architects' houses funded by... Brad Piiit!
After checking for the expensive fruits and vegetables, we decided not to do the groceries - to speak local - at the French market. We then waited for the sunset wandering along the Mississippi bank, hoping to see if, like Ike and Tina used to sing, big wheels kept on turning, or Proud Mary kept on burning... We began the night in Frenchmen St., where we had some delicious appetizers at Adolfo's, a tiny italian restaurant on the first floor of an old little street house. We then enjoyed a swing concert at the Spotted Cat, a music bar just as tiny as the restaurant. It was crowded and a few euphoric couples even managed to dance in the few square feet between the tables and the door. Went back walking until a miraculous streetcar picked us, et là pour le coup, ce fut plutôt du Swing low sweet charriot, coming for to carry me home...
New Orleans' favorites (bis): some cool catz swingin' at the Spotted Cat.
At home, we found Jeme and Rachel talking in the living-room, in those little hours, with tea and a fan. We joined them for a while and of course, helped them finish the tea.The next day, took the car to a peripheral neighborhood, far East. One of the most devastated by the hurricane, where under 25% of the people were still living in their houses. We were supposed to meet a dude called Floppy, friend of this guy named Grumbles (or Grumpers. or was he called Flumbers?) we had met at Climate Ground Zero in West Virginia. For the last 20 years, Floppy had been running an ancient school bus transformed in a nomadic kitchen where he prepared and served food for anybody who needed to eat. In the post-Kathrina disaster, he parked his "Everybody's Kitchen" in the heart of falling apart New Orleans and has been running it there since that day. A small group of vounteers take their morning or afternoon 6 hour shifts to cook and serve free warm meals 5 days a week in a few missions in Nola. Due to an approximate list of instructions to get there and a bridge closed for works, we arrived late for cooking but just on time to wash the huge pans and faitouts, load the pickup and go serve lunch downtown. After running out of chili and rice, we headed back to the bus to do the dishes, we had a coffee with the whole team and went with them to a farmers' community organic garden to leave the compost of the week. The school bus was totally green: solar panels on the roof, two 90 gallon tanks for white and grey waters, fully equipment to store and recycle waste and garbage... Plus, it's painted in a fancy bright orange, which adds to the magic! A beautiful volunteer project, run by an incredibly peaceful and humble, committed cook/driver/manager.

introducing Everybody's kitchen: the green orange magic school bus and kitchen on wheels, serving meals for the hungry 5 days a week!

Later that evening, we drove back to Jeme's place where we met his flatmates before taking bicycles to go together to a small park by the river. There, we flew kites between a railroad track and the bank of the Mississippi until sunset. Blue, red and golden skies, the bell of the old rail crossing road, the trees, the fat, inquisitive squirrels and the acute, buzzing vibration of the nervous kites in the night breeze coming up from the greasy water... Had a late dinner at Jacques Imo's, one of the best restaurants in town (and for a reason!) with an impressive menu of fusion Cajun and creative food. Tried the quiche with alligator sausage and shrimps, the young spinach salad with fried oysters* (again?), the catfish in Cajun sauce with sweet potato fries and the vegetarian delight, sort of a Thai green veggies curry served with smoked cabbage and greens. Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!

"yellow is the colour", hope B. Wesseltoft forgives me, is perfect for a rainy day.
Next morning, under a light rain which soon turned into a flood as the day went on, we took the car to go and visit the Cajun country and bayous, on our way to Lafayette. Nothing but marshes and swamps on both sides of the road, under this grey humid pressure cooker weather. We had lunch in front of the gulf of Mexico, staring at the shrimp fisher boats smoking their way in and out the pier. Huge heavy bridges like dinosaur skeletons over the rivers; gigantic rusty cargoes and tankers whose paint hardly keeps the steel sheets together; nineteenth century factories and plants, hollow and grey as the skies; and every now and then, some lovely little towns with Hispano-French names evoking times long gone. We finally didn't make it to Lafayette nor to Baton Rouge because of the rain, which got really wild and crazy. We u-turned and headed back home, passing through the old abandoned houses and cabins of some cotton plantations, remembering pages of our not-so-distant history and heritage, the struggle of generations for their freedom, then for their civil rights. The South is a beautiful and, as far as we could say, peaceful place. But there are memories that can be touched from every other curve of the road, asleep and crystallized over the landscape; and need to be always remembered. After a warm shower and with dry clothes on, we had another nice night at home with Jeme and Rachel, plus Casey, Rob and Nina, the other flatmates who happened to be all three brothers and sister. Had dinner all together then played games, two of which I'll take back home to renew the fever and passion of the Jungle Speed nights!

stormy weather, ruins, no man's lands and rusty stuff: the vrai visage of Louisiana? at least, the most photogenic!

On Sunday morning, Laura got a call from home and a family (un)expected issue called her to come back to New York right away. Too long a ride to do alone in a car: we packed everything, said goodbye to our New Orleans new friends and got on the road: 32 hours, 1.300 miles later and a lot of take-away coffees with milk, we were in New-York, where she'd stay for the following week or so. Took a night silver greyhound bus to Montreal yesterday and here I am, Wednesday at noon, in charming french speaking (free) Quebec!
Well, that's all folks!
Take care.
Lots of love from Montreal!


*just a word about the po' boyz fryed oystaz sandwich and fryed oytaz in general: I tried those as a New Orleans must-do, because I generally try what can be tried (without jeopardizing my own health or negatively impacting the place I'm visiting). BUT I admit I don't see the point to deep fry a oyster - which is basically sea water - until there's nothing left but the salty oyster's soul buried in golden flour and egg. I always considered oysters as the only accepted AND chic way to swallow snot in society...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

avant la lettre – the U.S. chronicles ep.02

Welcome to the second chapter of this travel diary from the U.S. of A. (click here to check the first one). First observation: the delay to write and post is already getting huge! Quite. It looks like finding a quiet, pleasant and cozy little hollow of the world with computers and an internet access - plus, say, a fan - is way more difficult in this western developed and modern country than in Laos or India.

thrift shops: the best kept secret of the U.S. sub-culture?
Yeah, I know, it makes sense: backpackers traveling through India or Laos with nothing but sweat, motorcycle burns, imported beer hangover and mosquito bites need those internet cafés much more than any of the average local North-American citizen on a daily shuttle between work, shopping mall and home. And each and every single store, museum, park, pharmacy or gas station offers free wifi to the customers. What I don't have, however - and it's my fault, I reckon - is the neat, smooth, brand-new and trendy, aluminium alloy Macbook air with long-lasting ion-battery, simply to keep in touch with the world... If there's a crisis in this country (and almost everything around indicates there has been one not so long ago and the next one is already on its way), then Apple (after deducing all the money Bill Gates didn't waste in expensive malaria-vaccine programs) is probably of the very wealthiest among the big companies' family. Had never seen so many Apple devices in my whole life! Looks like every single individual owns at least a couple of them. Impressive…

We got to New Orleans 3 days ago and I’ve been looking for this moment since last Sunday. I'm running sooo ridiculously late. If I belonged to the half-full-bottle-seeing kind of people, I would say I'm still on time for the third week report. I also realized I gave no title to the first episode (something like "New York, New York", although easy, would definitely work). The second's will be An Appalachian paradox. Any suggestion for future titles is welcome, even though I won't pay for it. Let me take you back to a couple of weeks ago:

We left Brooklyn on a sunny sunday morning. The trunk was filled with stuff, so was the gas tank. Only in this case, the stuff was - obviously - gas. Soon enough, our stomachs got filled too as we bought these delicious chocolate and pumpkin, bran and mango, squash and blueberry muffins. They took us (or maybe the car did, I couldn't say) through a good series of highways, bridges and junctions, all being Memorial of something or somebody, all the way across New Jersey, then Delaware, then Maryland, to Washington DC: a nice and easy cruise. There, Laura was supposed to meet some friends and family, so I took the car on my own (woooooh!) and wandered around Columbia and the northern suburbs of DC, cruise-control on, speed regulator at 25mph, automatic gearbox on D4, coffee with milk in its recycled plastic mug ("CAUTION, LIQUID INSIDE MAY BE HOT") just by the side of the hand brake. and Mr. Dylan on the stereo, of course. Sweet. No use of your feet, no need of your hands: driving becomes an experience of total irresponsibility and peaceful passivity.
DC-tecture: the best kept secret of the U.S. Government's creative abilities?
Later in the evening, went downtown to meet my friend Zia. She was one of my very first CS guests from Toulouse, about 5 years ago now. She settled in DC years ago, coming from the Phillipines  after almost 2 years travelling and couchsurfing around Europe, then through Turkey and the Middle-East to Pakistan. On her own. And back to South-East Asia. She’s now studying and working there (in DC). And enjoying, as strange at it may seem, this bizarre heterogeneous and unnatural, rather bizarre city. To me, DC looked like a huge residential area built around a fake, artificial core of pretentious administrative palaces. They all look like those birthday cakes we drew as kids, massive pre-colombian pyramids of cream and fruits and candles, with columns and ancient-greek-latino-colonial-empire-rococo stuff. Everything is set up with gardens and fountains and memorials and large avenues whose pattern you can easily imagine to be, when observed from the sky, that of a proud fishing eagle, a gigantic dollar symbol or something like that... DC probably gives that sensation because this is exactly what it is, though. While walking around looking for Zia and not understanding exactly where she was supposed to be waiting for me, "with white trousers and a big brown hat", I remembered with a tender smile the megalomaniac cities I used to built on Caesar III or Ages of empire years from now. With all their impressive big temples and universities and hospitals and oracles and coliseums in the middle, with a star-shaped main square, then geometric, rigid, square streets with monotonous, homogeneous housing lots...

contre-jour, obelisc and a dream of peace on earth...
Well, I guess either they programmed those video games after DC's architectonic concepts, or they've been playing Caesar III for years until it eventually influenced the way they then drew their cities' maps! With Zia (she indeed whore white trousers and a large brown hat, in such a unique fashion I immediately understood why she considered this information would be of any help trying to find her among the crowd!), we wandered around the Capitole, Obelisc, Ministeries and Memorials. Saw this awkward Monument to the Wars, whose stone rhetoric and golden lettering seem to glorify the US' wars, deaths, conflicts all around the world, with special emphasis on US' Victories. When it maybe should, instead, quietly and humbly call for silence, memory and future peace. Especially, this thing about victory confused me a little bit: I thought that in the end, nobody was ever victorious in a war. And if we talk about Korea, Vietnam and WWII, I'm not sure victory means a lot. I remembered them some of the very intense feelings and emotions that struck me in Hiroshima's Peace Park and Paris Mémorial de la Déportation, then haunted me for months. The sensations emerging from this Monument to the wars is quite distinct, actually: nowhere else did I ever witnessed a glorification of war and victory over the enemy. I thought in the end, we could only be sorry for saying yes to the universal un-solution... Imagine the gravity point of the core of the very center of Washington DC. Try to see it from the sky and see how it's the heart of the administrative and political machine of this country which pretends to be ruling the world. And see how this very center of everything is a memorial glorifying horror, glorifying hundreds of thousands, millions of death, as the price for victory, democracy and freedom... Scary shit, isn't it?
imagine all the people, living life in peace.. you may say I'm a dreamer (...)

Okay. Enough about that. The Potomac river and all the heavy official stuff were really nice in the evening light and I recognized in just a second this big statue of whose-President-is-it? Lisa Simpson visits and shares her existential doubts with... Is it Jefferson? Many calls here, at the centralita, to say "it's Lincoln, you ignorant!" Who said TV sitcoms couldn't teach you anything about Culture? I took some (hopefully) nice pictures and experienced a subway problem with improbable delays. Talking about the subway, I loved the James Bond stylish design, like a 50's secret cave labyrinth of deep, dark, impressive concrete corridors and tunnels. We then spent the night at one of Laura's friend and the next morning, we'd had enough of DC. Back to the present: it is a Monday morning, we take the car again and leave: sunny day, light traffic, a fresh breeze. After a dozen of housing blocks with neat lawn and trees, I'm suddenly driving this average automatic gearbox big car on the mythical Road 66, surrounded by huge long trucks, heading South-West to Front Royal and the Shenandoah National Park, just on the northern part of the Appalachians. A few days before, checking a route on Google maps, we discovered the Blue Ridge Parkway, going all the way down from Shenandoah to the Great Smokey Mountains and decided we might want to drive it instead of any highway.

Road 66: a myth threaded with orange plastic cones...
Shenandoah is a beautiful mountain park where we camped for the first night after a couple of hours hiking under a bright green canopy full with mosquitoes, mosquitoes and mosquitoes. A bunch of lovely adorable park rangers in their early forties, a bit fat in their tight sexy brown uniforms, proudly wearing beards and hats as if they were to be shot for a Village People video clip, introduced us to the rules of the park and made sure we had enough specific knowledge and strong ropes to hang the food and toothpaste properly... because of the inquisitive clumsy dreadful friendly-but-dangerous black bears that would sure enough come visit our camp during the night. Oh my god, the bears, the beaaaars! We actually met no bear at all. Not even one. Not even from far away. And on the whole, let me think… we met nobody at all. Hey, wait! Not true. There was this young stupid tender and maybe motherless deer which pretended to have dinner with us and share my air mattress. No way. "Get out of the tent, you half-civilized piece of wildlife! Buzz off! If you ever happened to have a conscience, you'd be ashamed of your lack of self-esteem and consideration for your wild animal condition!" Hem, always trying to give lessons… We named it Jean-Claude (because its sweet eyes and cute look reminded those of a famous kung-fu master from Belgium), thought about slaughtering it in order to smoke one of its skinny gigots into a piece of coppa and finally had to throw stones at it until it gave up following us. Believe me or not, wildlife is not what it used to be. Next day, we had a 7 hour long hike along and around the mythical AT (the Appalachian Trail). For those who ignore about hiking, who don’t shiver and sigh at the sound of the letters HRP or think GR10 is a post-translational variant of an obscure Glycosaminoside Receptor, the AT is a hiking trail that goes 2.000 miles along the Appalachian range from North Carolina to Maine. It is hiked by old hippies and bums with white beards and dogs, young hipp-ish freshly graduated students, middle-aged hippies on their way to somewhere else and many other kinds of walking hippies. Quite in the spirit of Kerouac's dharma bums. Nice. Indeed. Saw some waterfalls and some disgusting reddish pale legged worms and glittering insects, entomologist and photographer friend Dr. Olivier Esnault would have been glad to meet. Took the car and drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway again. So beautiful. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! These views and landscape and the Harley Davidson low riders we kept crossing! "Oh, the places you’ll go", once said the other.

under the Shenando-shade ; creek waterfall picmic and bath ; looking straight into the worm eye.
Stopped by a lovely lake (Sherando lake, if I remember it well) to swim a little bit (Yucks! Oh, the disgusting soft material lake bottoms are made of and one has to step on, or in, before actually swimming) all the way to the small desert island in the middle. Surprisingly, we got attacked by ticks there. What the hell do they do on a desert island where there are no animals at all on a regular basis? Is this why they yawned and screamed and jumped on me the second I stepped on the shore? Were they zombie mutant ticks waiting for a prey to haunt, on this cursed island? Or were we to blame for interrupting their quiet hypobiosis? All I know is I now have to check myself up for some erythema migrans and other Lyme's disease symptoms. Played Go on the bank of the lake’s small creek until the park rangers abandoned the place, then crawled into the campsite restrooms to meticulously shower and check for extra ticks, do the washing-up and fill our water bottles. Then took the car to Jefferson National Forest where we set the camp in a bizarre creepy round clear in the middle of high dark pines (or maybe spruces). I spent the night awake listening to strange forest sounds, fearing a nightmare mutant zombie psycho-killer would come and murder us in quite a Twin Peaks atmosphere. Or even worse: take my soul and eat it with garlic and chives until the end of eternity...

Mountain Top Removal right by Mr. Gibson's place in West Virginia.
The next morning, we left Virginia for West Virginia: to Beckley then Rock Creek, kind of an end-of-the-world remote area where cell phone service doesn't even exist. There, we wanted to meet - and spend some time with - a bunch of eco-activists living on a squatting-in-the-woods community called Climate Ground Zero. Check for them on the net! These guys have been fighting and volunteering and non-violently acting against Mountain Top Removal (MTR, check for this too) for years, now. MTR is a really cheap technique to extract coal: you basically burst mountains off with tons of dynamite, from the top, then shake the hundreds of tons of rocks you get to separate the coal. Once it's done, you fuck up hundreds of thousands of gallons of pure river water to rinse the coal and throw all the stones and trees and natural garbage you produced down in the valleys, burying square miles of villages, fields, forests, streams and such. As you can imagine, the whole process needs huge amounts of heavy metals, chemicals and such, so as to purify and prepare the coal. And the incidence of cancers, selenium poisoning, asthma and other allergies in this area is of the very highest in the country. This part of West Virginia, "coal country", is poor, very poor and just so so poor. Among the poorest in the U.S. Coal extraction brings jobs and wages, of course, but basically brings money to the few big oil companies which bought those mountains for nothing 50 years ago (quite often, for just a box of cheap booze – the price for a good hangover and a signature). Now, they are simply turning this lovely region into a dirty, flat, sterile, poisoned ground.

the copperhead baby I almost stepped onto: true guardian of these mountains?
We met the community and spent 24 hours with them. Visited Larry Gibson (check for him), the lill' ol' man who spent his whole life fighting MTR to save the small piece of mountain he calls his home. Very impacting, charismatic, old guy. We followed one of his young activist followers (following a follower, ain't that something Jacques Brel talked about in one of his songs, uh?) to the edge of an active MTR site, about 200 yards behind his solar-powered eco-friendly non-Ikea home-made little cabin. I took some pictures and could try to talk about it but it's hard to do. And to imagine. Or make you imagine it. "It's difficult to see what is not here", says Larry. And after a while he adds, sadly "people here don't do anything. They just don't realize MTR is killing us". He walks a bit more. I almost step on a big copper head viper taking a nap on a warm stone in the shade under a tree, and don't realize until they tell me to just move on the right, fast... He he he. I now got a lovely picture of it. Beautiful animal. Yyyyyks. He also says (Larry, not the viper) something like "When you breathe it, when you eat it, when you live it everyday of your life, you just cannot see it. Go and tell people". That’s what I'm doing right now, I guess. Well, I’m trying, at least.

the outdoor kitchen @ Climate Ground Zero, right by the pétanque ground...
We then had a beautiful dinner back at the community, played this game of throwing horseshoes to touch a stick, like our pétanque, talked with this bunch of eco-hippies, all coming from different parts of the country and from different walks of life, to just volunteer for the project. Only a minority of them is from West Virginia. But some are. One of the youngest, not even twenty, was born in Rock Creek. As soon as 16, he began working as a nightguard for B & M, on an MTR site, and about 2 years after, decided to quit and join the community… he explains to me, half proud, half cynical, that he went to THE elementary school. And survived it, he adds. I’ve heard about THE elementary school earlier in the day: there’s only one elementary school in the whole area, and it’s about 600 yards under the gigantic pond where the coal is soaked and rinsed. The shadow of the coal silos run through the school’s playground everyday, more or less by the hour the kids are out playing. Neither the county, nor the state, nor the federal government, nor the oil companies did anything to move the school. And one of the community's biggest victories, after more than ten years, is the volunteers raised the money and got the ground to build a new elem school far away from the pond. Not a big deal, but something. Somewhere in one of the dirty houses and tents, between cooking dinner, doing the dishes and playing music by the fire, I read or heard this phrase from Gandhi I liked : "if you believe one single being cannot make a difference, then you've never been in bed with a mosquito"... This was my good night-sentence to chew, here at Climate Ground Zero...

the perfect guitar, outfit and background for Stevie Ray's Life by the drop.
The next morning, we had breakfast and talked with them all, gardening a little bit, or better said strumming an old cheap guitar while they were gardening, watching at my coffee with milk getting cold on the wooden porch of a house on its way to fall apart. White and grey waters tanks, solar panels, compost, green restrooms, home made greenhouse with tomatoes, avocados, radishes and strawberries. Nothing is thrown away, everything eventually serves and lives a second (third, fourth) life. Military camp equipment, old wooden boards, rusty nails and all you can imagine is abandoned around in a fancy romantic bohemian mess. Ah, and there's no shower. NO SHOWER !!! Fuck. Why do you have to be dirty and sweaty and eventually have scabies (don't laugh, they had scabies at the camp a few months earlier) to be a good eco-activist volunteer? You cannot be half the way to something else, do you? Is this right? Or maybe? Or at least clean a little bit? Just a little bit? No way? Sweep the kitchen floor once a... month? Nope? Okay... I couldn't stay much longer I'm afraid. Noon: the car is packed. We leave after sharing hugs and hand shakes (scabies... uuuuugh!) and emails. Those people are nice and their work really inspiring. Amazing, actually. If you manage to forget about scabies and this young ascarides-stuffed puppy sleeping on the kitchen table, eating in the plates to be washed and licking everybody's mouth after licking its ass. Sigh! Veterinary studies don't make it easy to live with hippies ;) Even though they may eventually change the world…

Mountain Top Removal illustrated: there was a hill with trees, there's now a flat piece of Mars instead...
We headed back to Virginia and drove all day to the South, to finally enter North Carolina as the suns went down: the skies were so beautiful, from pink to orange to gold ans ash... On a desert road on the way to Asheville, we stopped for dinner at an odd desert restaurant. A tired middle-aged blonde waitress, sweet and smiling, served us decent truckers’ food. A phone call to Monica, our Couchsurfer host for the night, to let her know we wouldn't make it tonight because we were still too far away. Just a bit later, we were driving in circles in a residential suburb of Black Mountain, desperately trying to find a place to set the tent. Hem, not that easy. On the next morning, we reached Asheville, a lovely arty, hippy-chic, little town. Monica said there were basically two streets: the trendy one with expensive art galleries and the bohême one with vegan fair-trade shops and cafés. That proved not to be exactly true: there was also a huge Greenlife organic store where we filled the backpacks with grains, fruit and cheese before going hiking in the Great Smokey Moutains.
desert road from Vegas to nowhere, someplace better than where you've been...

On the car park, just in front of the store’s entrance was a street musician playing an old electric bass. Tall, black, in his late fifties and with a mustache, he was the local version of both the Glover: Danny, for the look and Roger, for the bass. And he sure knew what to do with a bass. Somewhere between Marcus Miller and Mr. Wooten, he stood there smiling, slapping his incredibly phat grooves with a steady thumb and a tambourine under his right foot. Not even sweating. I had my watery fair trade organic french-brew Nicaragua coffee with milk while listening to him and had a look around before going back to the car. Even the old mamas with their groceries trolley seemed to be shaking their booties off the walkways to his grooves. Won’t you take me to… funky town? A long hour later, we entered Cherokee, gate of the Great Smokeys. I won't be long about Cherokee and the Indian reservation: Imagine a zoo where the sick, sad, depressed, fat animals would be human beings in ridiculous costumes and paintings. With little road signs showing them RAIN DANCING and mimicking THE WAR TRAIL or such. Well, if you can imagine that, plus the cheap booze and the dozens of Indian gifts, Indian crafts and Indian souvenir stores, together with the poor old men covered in feathers and make-up, forcing their toothless smiles for one dollar, you'll get a pretty accurate idea of what Cherokee and the Indian reservation look like. Ah, almost forgot. It's also full of all the black bears souvenirs, posters, magnets, tee-shirts, liquors, skin or furry hats, jewelry made out of bears teeth and such you can possibly think of. Ah, almost forgot. All the above, plus all the restaurants having mountain river trout on their menu. I was astonished and sad to find myself in Montmartre, on Las Ramblas, in Lourdes and Sigean at the same time. If it wasn't so sad, it would be revolting, I guess... We drove on.

a Great Smokey Morning.
Another while driving along a silvery stream and we entered the Natural Park. We left the car where our 3 day hike was supposed to take us, and quickly got a lift from une gentille française living in Atlanta, to get where our 3 day hike was supposed to start from. After twenty minutes of silent walking along the trail, civilization was way behind us. Fresh crystal waters on small singing creeks, big trees, butterflies and flowers and bushes and scents and stones and fuck, nature in the Appalaches is so amazingly beautiful! We lasted four hours to reach Mount Leconte, the second summit of the range, and there set the camp by a mountain shelter. Anti-bear equipments to hang the backpacks, anti-bear recommendations, anti-bear ladders to the shelter, anti-bear prohibition to cook in and around the shelter... Looked like we were in a remake of Romero's Dawn of the Bears. Ah ah ah. Actually, I wouldn't see no bears during the next 3 days, although their presence was almost touchable. On the trees and the trails, at least. Eight hours of hiking the next day, a good positive and negative elevation and my 18 kg backpack reminded me I'm not so young anymore. We crossed and followed the AT again, met some old hippies with long white beards but no dogs because due to the bears, this one happened to be the only section of the AT they couldn't hike with their dogs... Met two nice guys working for Alsthom in Knoxville and a nice couple from Birmingham at the second shelter. Made a bonfire and chatted with them for a while. I looked for any possible occasion to fill my camping shower bag with water, let it in the sun for a couple of hours and then hang it to a branch to enjoy a delicious warm shower in the woods. Rhaaaaa! I know it for sure now: home is not a place, it's a state of mind. And a foldable camping shower makes it easier to feel at home! On the morning of the third day, we finished the hike with a long steep three hour trail from the bottom of the valley up to the ridge, where the car was waiting for us. Feeling dirty and sweaty but the weather was perfect and the breeze was fresh at about 5.000 feet. Packed everything again in the car, had a short rest in the sun, then left. We drove the Cherolahah Skyway, another secondary little road following the Appalachian range, then entered Tennessee and headed south to Chattanooga where CS Andy was waiting for us.
the beautiful, unreal, Great Smokey Mountains, floating in the clouds like Miyazaki's Castle in the sky.
We easily found him at a bar, silently talking to his pint of amber ale, then followed his rusty Westfalia VW van to his place. He was a thirty something tall blond hippy with dreadlocks, working three nights a week at a bar downtown and lived in a small wooden house with two friends, surrounded by trees, bicycle parts and pictures from his travels. A genuine sports freak: Andy climbs, rides, hikes, paraglides and rafts. Plus, at that time, he was saving money to make it to Toronto by bike the next summer: more than 2.000 miles riding (is it what he said? isn't it too much?). Pas mal, eh? Like most CSers, Andy was a charming guy, had a nice conversation and a delicious sense of home-made, DIY design. Made us feel comfortable and at home in about two minutes. Very CS, you know, like so very easy-going and so totally friendly. Seriously, now: why does CS seem to gather the nicest people on earth? Or, better said: how come most of the nicest people on earth decided to gather on CS? Spent the evening together at his place: we cooked some vegetarian lasagna, Colombian salad with fresh cilantro and a delicious guacamole he prepared adding sprouted lentils and soy beans to the genuine recipe : excellent! I also tried some arepas with a non-conventional corn-flour. They were a complete disaster although we survived eating them... Hem... We then spent a while talking around local beers before showering and falling dead in bed.
along the crisis highway (1): Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Rock City...

Next morning, supposed to go rock climbing, the rain started falling right after breakfast so we spent the morning crashing on the couches in the living room, watching the rain on the bright green of the garden, talking about life and everything and nothing in particular and finishing the lasagna and the beers while doing some laundry. Then we said goodbye and he went to work and we drove south through Tennessee, on our way to Alabama. We crossed Birmingham: an abandoned, desert, ghost, depressing as much as depressed zombie town and found no place to have dinner on a cold grey monday evening. We made it to Tuscaloosa and had the best hamburgers one could possibly dream of. Huge. Heavy. Fat. Juicy. Tasty. Way too big. So totally unhealthy it was a pleasure to just imagine the triglycerides filling one's arteries. Plus, the french fries were battered in beer before being soaked in the boiling oil. Jesus! That was so f---ing good it had to be a sin! After spending two hours looking for a national forest or anything suitable to camp around Tuscaloosa, we finally hid both the car and the tent behind some trees and bushes, hoping nobody would come by. Quiet night, holy night. The next morning, as usually in these circumstances, it was quite a funny experience to discover in the bright daylight the place we had chosen the night before while it was dark: the main highway was way closer than it seemed and all the trucks could probably see the tent, had the  drivers looked at the road while driving. We were lucky enough they all watched TV and read the newspapers while cruising on automatic...

along the crisis highway (2): entering Greensboro.
We crossed Greensboro, a small town severely hit by the crisis, and entered a pie café called PieLab. Check for them, they're worth all your consideration. In the middle of the deepest crisis, a bunch of cook and graphic designers built this unique cozy space to both cook and sell pies and create sustainable design, ads and stuff. Nice people, creative and positive, who created jobs, life and activity, as well as different kind of workshops for children and adults, in a neighborhood deeply affected by the crisis. No need to say the pies were fantabulous and the coffee, organic, fair trade and, well… watery. ;) The rest of the day was not especially exciting, driving south through Alabama. We listened to Janis Joplin, Taj Mahal and a bluegrass band whose name I couldn't remember. They were really good and their tunes took us and kept us awake until we entered and while we went all the way through Mississippi down to Louisiana. At the Alabama Welcoming Center, we met the scariest hostess  ever, who "kindly" (understand: County Sheriff style) asked for our passport numbers, phone numbers, address, blood type and about how long and where we planned to stay in Alabama, just "so as to help us have the best possible stay there" (seriously? that's all you've come up with?).
Greensboro, catfish capital of Alabama: its welcoming shops (lol) and the PieLab, home of the most amazing lemon pie ever!
Later on, we stopped at a lovely Trucks' kitchen on the highway. Fuck, this creepy old fat women looking exactly like the one in Stephen King's Misery. And the trucks' kitchen was exactly like in my dreams (from the american road movies of my childhood): sitting at the bar, eating eggs and sausage and grits with Fox News. And this middle-aged fat woman, named Shirley, with a white and red shirt and curly hair, refilling for free your mug of watery cafe and calling you Babe. Well, she was a Tracy, but everything else was pretty similar to the cliché of the Shirley waitress. I then spent several hours sighing, nose against the window, as miles went by, counting the road kills along highway 59. Interestingly enough, the raccoon disappeared progressively, as an increasing amount of armadillos began to make their way to the top of the charts. Maybe twenty to thirty dead armadillos just on the right side of 59 South. They look so cute! I wanted to stop and take one and stuff it. And shivered each time I imagined them alive...

last miles of the road to NoLa: perfect timing and the sunset on Lake Ponchartrain
We reached Louisiana in the evening, crossed the Lake Ponchartrain on an amazing, seemingly endless bridge and entered New Orleans with the sunset. We drove along the tramway to a lovely neighborhood to meet Rachel, our CS host for this first night. But that's another story...

 - Got an extra minute for some conclusion?

 - Okay, but try and make it quick, please: we're off schedule already...

 - Great, thanks! Well, it was an amazing week, full of beautiful people, places and moments. A very impacting, very inspiring week. Dense and full of great ideas, causes and fights. And an interesting contrast, all along this 1.000 mile long mountainous range. A contrast between the most preserved and protected natural spaces and the most devastated ones ; between acute environmental awareness and aberrant industrial, urban and suburban development ; between sustainable alternative consciousness and crazy blind straight-in-the-wall capitalist consuming behavior ; between creative, positive solutions and huge, global issues ; between Indians in cages and hippies at war ; between coal and trees ; between shopping malls with KFCs and the most virgin nature ; between chronic crisis and indecent wealth ; between yesterday's mistakes, today's consequences and... tomorrow's solutions? Hopefully.

That's all folks, see y'all next week! Love to all. Remember to take care of whom and what is important in your lives!
happiness is the way: take the right turn and head off the beaten track...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

avant la lettre – the U.S. chronicles ep.01

until the end of the film... (a tribute to Malvina Reynolds)
It’s been about three years since I wrote my last travel diary. Snoopy would sigh and coldly state: "these were three happy years". The reason is probably I ain’t traveled to another continent in a while... nor traveled at all, actually. What the title strongly – sill subtly – suggests, is I'm in the United S. of A. What it doesn’t, is this is going to be about six weeks long and the plan is to be travelling, North-East to South-East, hopefully all the way to New-Orleans, then back North until Quebec. Alone, with friend Laura, and with whoever may appear along the way. Intention is to be Couchsurfing (Wooo! The world is smaller than you thiiink! Live life to the fulleeeest!), camping and staying at some friends', some friends' friends' and even some friends' friends' friends'... As you’ll have guessed already, because of the big U. States of A. thang, I shall try and improve (well, at least “practice”) my written Engrrrish. Sorry for the inconvenience!
Smooth warm-up, let’s go with some starters: today is May, 1st, my parents and many others all around the world must have gone to the workers' day march and I've just been lazily wandering around South-West Brooklyn on a bicycle with my camera, to shoot the last pictures on my first film.

the rusty-go-arty (or is it the other way round?) South Brooklyn peers...
Blocks, blocks and more blocks of old, rusty-go-stylish brick buildings along some not-so-abandoned piers: broken windows covered with newspaper, whose yellowish colour probably dates back to the twentieth century ; fire-escape stairs drawing these regular Z-shaped stitched-scars from some invisible, ancient wounds along the front walls ; the Statue of Liberty quietly standing at some (respectable) swimming distance, her lead head and golden flame bizarrely floating over the vague humid fog, while the dirty upper New-York bay melted, thick waters bounce to the tired boats slowly making their way in between. The sun is shining brightly on top of what is definitely a beautiful warm spring day on earth. So… Where do I begin (to tell the story of how...) complicated flying to the U.S. can be? Thanks Shirley for always being such an inspiration for me. Well, the answer is: “One month ago”.

One month ago, I booked a – cheap – flight to NYC. I filled the online application for the ESTA (American procedure for the visa exemption program), checked everything was okay, received a positive answer from the American embassy, read it wasn't necessary to print the document and simply stopped to worry about it. I just totally forgot about it. This was my second mistake. Second, because the first one – whose existence I then ignored – was to type in my passport number including the final letter. I would later discover the final letter of a passport number doesn't belong to the passport number itself.
the Fifth-type (en)counters.
I wonder what you’d say if somebody called you someday, mispronouncing your name, then when quietly told how your exact name was supposed to sound, he’d answer: "No, no. That's fine the way I spell it: See, it's because the last two letters of your name are not actually part of it". You'd be grateful to be enlightened with such revelation. Well, I reckon I am probably the one who made the mistake in the first place, reading the number from the code lines, where there is some extra X at the end, which do not appear on all the other places a passport number is printed on a passport... It’s sometimes challenging to recognize that you screwed it big time just because you weren’t quite enough concentrated, or in a rush.

 But hum... That doesn’t matter yet. And many things happened during this month anyway. One of them, not the least, is that Björk is suspected to have tried the well-known "Menthos in a Coke can” experiment, slightly too close to a geyser. Although unintentionally, she caused this fantabulous volcano eruption up there in Iceland, whose main consequence was the gigantic ash-cloud that sort of paralyzed all European airports and gave me the opportunity to spend an extra week in beautiful Barcelona. Yey!

Icelandic ice carpet? cherry blossom on Koya San? Prospect Park in May!
Thanks a lot, Björk:
It's much appreciated!

Mon petit volcan,
You're eruptions and disasters,
I keep calm,
Admiring your lava,

I keep calm,
Possibly maybe,
Probably love.

Possibly maybe.

And so on.

We all know the lyrics:
kind of a confession.
Sure thing. She's guilty.
That's it. Let's move on...

I wake up at 6am on the cold morning of April, 26th, have a shower, take my backpack and a bicing to the airport shuttle stop, then get on the bus and reach the airport waaaay too early. After a half hour waiting for the Continental Airlines check-in desk to open, a polite French (??) woman wearing a trendy Continental blue suit asks for my passport, electronic ticket and ESTA copy. As I give the first two documents and explain her I didn't print the third one because I'm quite an eco-concerned guy and a beaver-friendly-don't-print-unless-absolutely-necessary-tree-saver (and occasionally -hugger too), she says it's a bit of a problem and I should at least feel sorry for doing basically what I was told to on the American embassy's website. She sends me to her colleague, who types in my passport number on his computer and tells me my ESTA is not valid because I gave no stay address in New-York. My answer: I put "Brooklyn" in the address field online and my request was accepted, makes the guy call the girl next to him and repeat it to her, like it's Broadway's latest music-hall’s best joke "this guy typed in BROOKLYN as his address in New-York". Ha ha ha ha ha! They begin to laugh, lol and rofl. Ha ha ha ha ha! “Dude typied in address: Brooklyn”. Ha ha ha ha ha! Like it's so funny they’ll choke on laughing and it’s gonna kill’em... Ha ha ha ha ha! Idiots.

my address in New York, sir? Sure! I'll stay in Brooklyn, sir.
Anyway, long story made short: I have to run to the business center at the other end of the terminal, pay 3.50 euro for 20 minutes of Internet connection and look for Laura's address. I don't have it in any email. It's on a piece of paper, on my desk, at home. I'm lucky enough this German friend, Jule, is staying at my place and probably sleeping now. I try and call her. Phone turned off. Yep! She's sleeping. F-c-! I'll call the neighbours so they can wake her up so she can send me Laura's address. I don't have their phone number. I look for their home number on the net. They don't have a land line. I call the girl who lived at my place before I moved in. She answers and gives me the neighbours’ number. I call them. They go and knock on my door. Jule wakes up and put pass her on the line. I remember the scene in Lost Highway when the guy calls his own house and is answered by the guy standing in front of him. That scares the crap out of me. You shouldn’t put that in a movie and expect people to be comfortable with that. Being creepy ought to be fined. Anyway, it's only Jule. She's sleepy and lasts forever before understanding what I'm trying to tell her. I’m probably speaking too fast (and too furious). She finds the paper with the address after hours. I thank her so much, type in the address in the ESTA online sheet and save the changes. I run all over the airport with my backpack to the check-in desk. The guy is not there anymore. I go to another one and explain the whole story.

the (d)rain pipe, the bridge and the ever greener other bank.
He checks everything and tells me the ESTA is not valid. We have a look at it and that's when I discover my first mistake: the one of typing in my passport number with the final X letter. That’s when the other guy (who ignores the address: Boorklyn joke) explains me with delectation that the final X digit on my passport number doesn't really belong to my passport number. Again: at least it's not the same guy as before! Because after the address: Brooklyn incident (lol, rofl), he would have laughed so much (Ha ha ha. Hum)! The new guy tells me I need to go back to the Internet, to try and change my passport number before it's too late and the check-in is closed. A while ago it was too early. Ford! these people really don't know what they want, do they? And I say to myself (as I often do) “What a wonderful world”... Run, breathe and sweat, bitch! I’m now back at the business center. I try to smile at the girl with a clear "Hey you, remember I was there 15 minutes ago and I used about 20 minutes of this ridiculously expensive 30-minute internet connection? You’re not going to ask me to pay again, eh?" I smile and explain that unfortunately, I need to surf again for about 5 minutes and maybe... No... Forget it. Better: don’t even think about considering it. She smiles back in what I translate as an unambiguous "Hey you, I recognize you and remember you were there 15 minutes ago and stayed way less than what you ridiculously-overpaid for, plus you look pretty fucked-up and stressed right now, so I could reasonably assume you’re into trouble. And you’re cute and being extremely nice, but that's exactly the reason why I can ask you to pay again and believe me, you'll pay. Come on, bitch, pay again!" smile. Yes, I know, some people’s body language is freaking talkative, right? Right? Women will kill me, I know that...

lights and reflections at financial district.
I pay the 3.50 euro again to get on the American embassy's website, to try and edit my passport number. It happens – fair  enough – that the only data you cannot change on your ESTA application is the passport number. Call it the root data of your application form. I have no options left but to start a new application with the correct passport number, filling all the fields again. Then sending it and waiting for a positive answer from the American embassy and not even knowing if they'll answer today or on Groundhog day 2034. Boarding is scheduled in about 40 minutes... Think about it: some people manage to get on planes with false identities and hi-jack them and do whatever they want with them… So, I quite definitely qualify among the short 1% percent of unusually cyber-clumsy people. Okay, after about 2 minutes, I’ve got a positive answer. Miracle! Either they have highly skilled computer slaves and mechanical turks or it's an automated answer and as soon as you don't tick the drug dealer, terrorist, communist and/or serial killer boxes, they systematically give you a YES. I then start wondering why all this hypocrite ESTA thing and complex procedure of visa exemption program, if it’s a matter of trusting your word that you intend to commit no criminal offence, felony, or whatever it classifies as... But I don't really have time to wonder, at that point. Now is time to run. Hop! Woops... "I'm so sorry I smashed your ice cone and stepped on your furry teddy bear, you stupid fat little kid in a Spiderman suit. But ush, little baby, don't you cry. You should not have been on my way in the first place: summertime and the living is easy, I'm running late and there's a worldwide conspiracy agenda to make me miss this flight". Run, breathe and sweat, bitch! I’m now back at the check-in desk. Wormholes must exist. Everybody's gone, except the first guy. I provide him with the new freshly-issued ESTA code. - Alrighty, sir! - Thank you, Sir. - You have a nice flight, Sir. - Thanks again, sir (translation: Thanks again, a-hole. You have a good day, a-hole. Wish you get a flat tire on your way home, a-hole).

Stair Wars' laser sabers in front of the Metropolitan Art Museum.
Guy's wish became true: had a nice flight, some good food, several terrible movies, a nice couple of elderly grey-haired hippies sitting next to me and nothing special to say about that, even though I’d love to. We landed at Newark ten minutes late. And I stayed 40 minutes in line at the customs office. Nothing special either. A long, slow line, filled with tiredness, boredom and a vague anguish. No problem, no questions or just the usual ones: any intention to work illegally, sir? Any plan to kill someone? Any project involving weapons and drugs? No, Sir. Me very nice, Sir. Me good tourist, Sir. Thank you, Sir. Then they let me in: U.S. of A., here I come! Now my time is running short after wasting hours with those pointless stories... New-York City (NYC) is amazing. Huge. Way bigger than, say, Brive or Clermont-Ferrand. So much it's mind-boggling. Everything is bigger than home, higher than home, tastier than home, larger than home, further than home, wider than home. Sometimes quite fatter than home, too. And even homier than home. I'm staying in Brooklyn (See? Told ya, but you wouldn't believe me!), very close from Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, not too far from Prospect Park. Amazingly amazing. It takes one whole hour and quite a lot of sweat and stress to make it to Central Park on a bicycle. I move around on a bicycle. I’m desperately trying to keep at an eye-distance behind Laura's flashy riding helmet on a bicycle. My brakes don't really work properly.
d(r)iver-proof bicycle lanes on Manhattan bridge.

The average NYC driver unavoidably falls in one of these two categories: those who don't care about you and would run you over without even blinking and those who care a lot. Those who do, do care a lot ! I mean, a lot. Way too much. They’d gladly get down their car to go and fold their right rear-view mirror if they thought it’d help you flow smoothly in the traffic. As for the other category, well, my hair is getting white, but it's a fun experience. So far. The weather is wonderful: so sunny and warm and fresh. I've been riding back and forth the Brooklyn bridge in the morning, afternoon, evening and right at the sunset; even at night, on Wednesday, with a huge reddish full moon right over the skyline. New-York New-York, Mr Sinatra used to sing... Brooklyn is cool, funky, colorful and happy. Well, through my eyes. People are nice, easy-going, friendly and don't give a shit about how you dress or how you spell Mississippi. They're so real, you know? I mean, real. You see? They recycle everything and do not eat: they adhere to the big whole fair organic stuff that’s so happening right now, you know? They even have vegan fake chicken wings carved out of fair-trade tofu loafs, organically whole healthy fake. How cool is dat? We may have them in Europe too, and I just am so not up-to-date. They drive those huge cars that must waste ridiculously-excessive amounts of gas, better expressed in gallons (per yards). And they park them quietly in front of their neat brick houses with bow window and front stairs, under the cool shade of some lovely bright green willows. Once the huge car is parked, they usually ride their bicycles to go everywhere around and take their domestic compost to one of the many coop’ urban gardens. I love it! The coffee houses make and serve a watery freshly brewed organic original homemade blend with organic whole milk from local dairy farms and juicy vegan organic fruit shakes and wonderland gorgeous whole-wheat warm muffins stuffed with exotic what-the-hell?-nuts or how-did-you-call-‘em?-berries. Looks like New-York invented the Bo-Bo thing long before left bank Paris did. How long until we have some hipsters at home, too?

Anyway, in a random – although nearly chronological – order, I:

Union square hippy organic market: want big apples?
  • witnessed a storm-like pink snow of cherry blossom in the alleys of Prospect Park’s botanical garden and for a second believed I was the hero of Takeshi Kitano's Dolls (or an extra in a Hello Kittie video).
  • experienced jetlag 6:15am wake-up, 9:00pm sleepy attack for three long days!
  • had the typical American-, Brooklyn-, East Village-, Jewish-, and Round-the-corner- breakfasts: with french toasts, scallion and cheese cream bagels, muffins, fried eggs, fruit juice and more.
  • wandered around Lower East Side, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village and Soho.
  • burnt my eyes on Times Square at night, all in blue and neon and pink, slaloming between grooms’ Hummer limos, hanes’ Lincoln limos and some amazingly ugly tuned japanese GT superbikes.
  • had, of course, a huge Angus beef hamburger with french fries and THE legendary War sauce (something like mayonnaise with peanut butter, fried onions and spicy little things in it. It was just gorgeous – believe me – although this totally contradicts with the gateau du chat's theory).
  • fed an obese squirrel in Union Square at the fancy farmers and art market, before playing chess on the street with an old black fundraiser for the Manhattan AAs (Alcoholic Anonyms). He won and I could try to find some excuse, but it's not necessary. He opened e2-e4, fair enough. I answered e7-e6, my favourite (French) ouverture, then went on with dignity until I lost a bishop on a nervous collapse. I resisted until the sad yet ineluctable fate. Costed me 5 bucks and the remembrance of dry mouth, wet hands and compulsively touching my ear, back from a long-gone past...

on the sunny side of the Hudson, laughing at the guys from New Jersey!
  • got lost in a crowd of suits and got my neck stretched and twisted looking for the light between the buildings in financial district.
  • spent a whole hour with the sunset reflecting in the reservoir, staring with my eyes wide open at the dog-walkers, the thousands of joggers and the old retired in flashy sportswear at Central Park.
  • not only eaten but also cooked my first catfish papillote with eggplant, mushrooms, onion, lemon and chives. Wow! French cuisine rocks all over the world!
  • of course, laughed at the New-Jersey people from the other bank of the Hudson River (the good one), because it sucks to be on the other side.
  • celebrated the Kentucky derby day at a Cuban eco-friendly paradise, with Brooklyn’s local home-made Sixpoint beer and the best pork and guacamole spicy sandwiches ever.

It's pretty late now, but the car is packed and the backpacks too. The dry food is prepared for days of hiking. The route is more or less drawn and some CSers have been contacted along the way. As Jimi would say: “after all the jacks are in their boxes and the clowns they’ve all gone to bed. You can hear happiness staggering on down the street, footsteps dressed in red. And the wind...”.

Tomorrow morning, early wake up: we hit the road all the way down south to New Orleans.
See you next week!

the one and only way to get the coolest view from Manhattan bridge: Spider-man up!