Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Not buying it

I have just finished reading How To Be Free by Idler editor Will Hodgkinson and would heartily recommend this book as food for thought.  While I didn't always agree with his ideas, he certainly puts his opinions forward in an entertaining way and the book is extremely well-researched, covering philosphers and thinkers from Neitszche to de Beauvoir.  One of his central theses is that the consumer treadmill - buy stuff that adverts tells us we need, get into debt, work to pay the debt off - is damaging, that "We desire things, we are attached to things, we believe that things will make us better" but that to find happiness (or, at least, freedom) we should step off the treadmill.

Well, with a credit card debt the size of a small country's GDP and a sneaking feeling that the path to true happiness does not lie in Topshop, I've decided to try an experiment.  Loosely based on Not Buying It, a book about journalist Judith Levine's year-long abstinence from consumerism, I've decided to buy nothing this half term.  Which is to say, I will still be buying food and other essentials (the Guardian, painkillers and wine-type essentials, not my usual idea of an 'essential', which tends to be yet another dress).  But apart from that, nothing.  No books, no clothes, no CDs, no random bits of crap for my house.  Until school breaks up on October 14th I will endeavour to spend as little as possible.

Why?  Well, getting rid of some of that debt will be nice.  I'm interested to know whether I can find different ways to occupy my time, so that weekends don't revolve around a trip into town and my evenings aren't spent shopping on the internet.  And let's face it, I can hardly close my dress wardrobe (yes, I have a whole wardrobe just for dresses) and my books are beginning to spill off the shelves and onto the floor.  I don't actually need anything new.

How many times do we say to ourselves, "I need that cushion/t-shirt/CD," when we already have cushions on the sofa, many unworn t-shirts in the chest of drawers and piles of CDs that are never listened to?  We become convinced that without the item in question, our lives won't quite be complete.  That the pretty dress will make us happy forever and ever, rather than sit lonely and abandoned in the cupboard a few months later.  And of course stores collude in this.  My inbox is constantly clogged with 'Free delivery: ends soon!' or '20% off, shop now!' emails.  I subscribe to Groupon, Vouchercodes and Moneysavingexpert emails, all of which promise bargains if you buy now, without hesitating to consider whether you really need the product or service they're offering.

My 'Not Buying It' rules will be:

1. Food and drink are essentials and as such are allowed.
2. The Guardian counts as an essential but magazines do not (and anyway, most magazines only exist to point out how rubbish your life/house/wardrobe is and make you want to buy new things).
3. Replacing something that has run out (e.g. deodorant, face powder or tin foil) is allowed, stocking up on random things just because they're on special offer is not.
4. Buying birthday presents is allowed.  Not Christmas presents though (I know it's only August, but I start my Christmas shopping in January and carry on throughout the year so it's not as weird as it sounds).

I will be regularly updating on my progress.  I don't think for a minute that this will be easy: I'm a borderline shopaholic and shopping (whether it's for clothes, books, food, whatever) is one of my favourite pasttimes.  But it will certainly be interesting to find out how I manage.  Wish me luck!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Music Monday

The actor Jason Schwartzman (of Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited and I Heart Huckabees fame, amongst others) has a musical side project called Coconut Records.  Quite how I came across it, I can't recall - perhaps from - but I spent a lot of time a few years ago trying to get a copy of the first album, Nighttiming, which hadn't been released in the UK.  Anyway, one of the tracks from that album, West Coast, became the unofficial anthem to the latter part of my trip.  Is there anything more perfect than sitting in a great bar on the west coast of America, drinking cider and having West Coast come on the stereo?  The answer is no, there really isn't.  I also heard the song in a shop in San Francisco, a couple of places in Portland and finally, on my last day, on the radio in Seattle.  Perhaps it's actually an official anthem of the west coast?  It really was a close-run thing as to what would be the sound of the summer - Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear were on constant rotation on my iPod and the former are of course a Pacific Northwest band - but ultimately it's all about the serendipitousness of hearing a great song out of nowhere.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A week in England

I can hardly believe I've been back in England for a week.  My US trip seems like another world now, and I've been trying really hard to not succumb to post-holiday blues (efforts not assisted by the fact that I've been suffering from a horrible cough & cold).  But what a busy week it's been: I've hardly had time to feel sad.

I spent two days sleeping and washing endless loads of laundry, then the weekend found me in London.  I went to see Anne Boleyn at The Globe, which was superb.  A very funny and, for a Tudor history geek like me, fascinating look at the rise and fall of Boleyn but also at James I and his attempts to unite the church with a new translation of the Bible.  I would recommend you go and see it, but sadly it finished it's run on Sunday. 

Usually when I go to London I spend my time rushing from one thing to another, feeling stressed and panicked.  On Monday I deliberately took things easy and planned just one thing: a trip to the British Library.  I visited the excellent Out Of This World exhibition, which is filled with sci-fi memorabilia.  I'm not an avid fan of the genre but found the exhibits really interesting and appreciated the focus given to female authors and feminist science fiction writing.  I whiled away a gorgeous sunny afternoon reading in the library courtyard, before wandering up to Islington, where I was booked into a sewing workshop at The Make Lounge.

Now, a confession: since sewing my school jumper to my work during Home Economics in year 9, I haven't been near a sewing machine.  I can sew reasonably well by hand and use fabric glue for bigger projects, but was keen to overcome my fear of sewing machines.  The beginners class focused on making a simple cushion cover with detachable corsage.  I found choosing the fabric the most difficult part, eventually plumping for a pink & white Eiffel Tower print.  The tutor took us through each step of the project slowly and gave plenty of support.  I spent most of the class in a state of panic but by the end felt incredibly proud of my straight seams and relieved that my top was unattached to the cover.  I'm already planning which workshop to sign up for next... lampshade making?  Book-binding? 

The finished product, taking pride of place in my study

The last few days have been very productive, getting little jobs done around the house and garden.  I have planted lots of bulbs and bought some autumn-flowering annuals for the pots which had died off after being neglected when I was away.

When I stayed at Sarah's house in Eugene I was extremely envious of her gorgeous larder, filled with jars and jars of dried goods.  A trip to Ikea later and I too am the owner of numerous jars for my baking cupboard.

I've been crafting like mad, making two pinboards (of which more later) and working on some brilliant bunting.  I've rearranged some pictures on my walls and finally framed the vintage world map I found at Baileys Home & Garden in Ross-On-Wye.  I've cleaned my woodburning stove and hearth in preparation for log fire season (getting soot all over my sofa in the process, oops).

I've assembled - with suprisingly little swearing - a chest of drawers and painted it a very pale grey eggshell to match my bathroom.

And now I am going to sit down with a good book, a cup of tea and a well-deserved crumpet.

Friday, 19 August 2011

About a girl

At the Nirvana exhibition in Seattle there was a booth in which you could be filmed sharing your personal 'Nirvana story'. Unfortunately, as my camera phobia extends to video cameras, I didn't go in, but my story's been buzzing round my brain ever since, so here it is.

Me at 16.  As you can see from the pissed-off look on my face, I was pretty camera phobic even then.  This was pretty much my go-to outfit for a whole summer: band t-shirt, grandad cardigan from M&S (but actually from a charity shop), satin nightdress from a jumble sale that I wore as a skirt, handmade bead necklaces and dyed red hair (a la Angela Chase from My So-Called Life).  Just off-camera: Doc Martens with rainbow laces.

I was thirteen and living in an insular working class suburb of Bradford when Nevermind was released.  I was the oldest child, so no elder sibling to pass on tapes to me.  Bradford was lacking any alternative culture, so no band t-shirts to spy on the streets. And my school was utterly filled with what we later termed 'sheep'  or 'townies'; kids who listened to house music and for whom a couple of years on the dole followed by a stint in Armley jail was about the best to hope for.  So it was about two years later, just prior to the release of In Utero, that I first actually heard Nirvana. 

Remember The Chart Show?  If you do, you're showing your age.  But it was on this Saturday morning ITV show that I was first exposed to The Breeders, Belly, The Lemonheads and, of course, Nirvana.  Already an outcast for so many things - my southern accent that eight years of living in Yorkshire hadn't softened, my habit of coming top of the class in every subject, the shyness I couldn't shake and which came across as aloofness - I had reached the point of deciding to stop trying to fit in.  Grunge music was the music that said it was ok to be different, ok (desirable, even) to be an outcast.  I began listening to Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and, on constant repeat, the Nevermind and Bleach albums.

Out went my baggy denim shirts and leggings and in came long floral skirts, Doc Marten boots and flannel shirts.  I kid you not, the first day I went into school with my 'new look' (the day we went for sixth form induction in August 1994) was like a scene from a film.  Jaws dropped, insults were shouted in the corridor but the comments didn't hurt like they used to.  I felt insulated from the bullies because now I knew how lame they were and how cool my music was.  Even coming to it late, grunge changed my life because it empowered me to be myself and revel in my differences.

Interestingly, of all the bands from that time Nirvana are probably the one I listen to least now.  Smashing Pumpkins are still my all-time favourite band and on constant rotation on my iPod and CD player.  The Lemonheads and The Pixies get regular plays, as do Hole.  But Nirvana, who meant so much to me then, barely get a look-in.  In some senses, their music was so of it's time that it hasn't stood the test of time, but as the press-appointed figureheads of the 'grunge' movement they will always be important.  And when I hear Breed I still feel like that 16 year old, screaming along in her Bradford bedroom to the one thing that made being in that godforsaken town feel ok.

What about your Nirvana memories?  Or is there another band who were key to your development as a teenager?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Top ten of the trip

We fly home tomorrow and as sad as I'll be to see my trip end (mainly because it means it's less than a fortnight till school starts, boo) it will be good to be home and in my own bed, with my own closet of clothes and a washing machine close at hand.  So I thought this was a good time for a quick top ten.

1. Eugene, Oregon.  Partly because it was nice to be staying in a house rather than a hotel and to get a native's perspective on things, partly because Sarah and Seamus were such fantastic hosts and partly because I just really liked Eugene and environs, the two days spent there were definitely the best two days of the whole trip.  A HUGE thank you to Sarah for her hospitality.

2. The NYPL at 100 exhibition at the New York Public Library.  From Jack Kerouac's travel notebook to the Declaration of Independence; from anti-apartheid posters to a Klansman hood; from a draft of Eliot's The Wasteland with amendments by Ezra Pound to Virginia Woolf's diary.  This exhibition had it all and I walked from case to case with an increasing sense of breathlessness and awe.  To top it all, it was free and (so important in 42c heat) air-conditioned.

3. The train journeys, as much for the fascinating characters I met as for the incredible scenery.  Chuck and Denise, travelling with their seven year old Anthony for his brain surgery, stoic and warm in the face of the fact that they could potentially be taking their return journey without him.  Bunny who gave me pages of tips for New Orleans and has stayed in email contact with me since.  Chad with whom I talked about literature.  So many people and so many stories on those 4000 miles across the country.

4. My first walk through the French Quarter in New Orleans, gawping at the beauty and swimming through the thick, humid air.

5. Today's visit to the Nirvana exhibit in Seattle.

6. Shopping and hanging out in Portland: Powell's bookstore, great independent shops in the Hawthorne District, cool people everywhere.  I loved this city SO much.

7. The incredible natural beauty of Yosemite Valley, especially when Richard and I had the good luck to find an entirely empty trail to hike. 

8. Reading my way around America: Poppy Z Brite, A Confederacy Of Dunces and books about Hurrican Katrina in New Orleans, Strangers On A Train, a book about crossing America by Amtrak whilst on the train, Tales Of The City in San Francisco, a book about the riot grrrl scene in the Pacific Northwest whilst in Portland... reading books about the places I'm in has immeasurably enhanced my experiences. 

9. Biking along the waterfront, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito whilst in San Francisco.  A lovely sunny day and an exhilirating ride coupled with stunning views.

10. My trusty black rubber flip flops and tatty denim skirt.  Pretty much all I've worn the whole trip (apart from days that the skirt was in the wash).  I now have black feet, aching calves from walking miles in crappy sandals and the first vestiges of a tan on my pale English legs.

Come as you are

This morning I donned my plaid flannel shirt and headed out to the new Nirvana exhibition (entitled Taking Punk To The Masses) at the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

Starting with the history of punk rock in America from the early 80s onwards and moving through the genesis of Nirvana in Aberdeen, Washington to their subsequent world renown, the exhibits include copious oral histories from major players at the time.  Ian MacKay of Minor Threat and Fugazi was an engaging and amusing guide to the ins and outs of alternative and punk culture in the States in the 80s and there was also significant input from the head of SubPop Records (Nirvana's first record label) and, endearingly, their receptionist (as she put it, who sees more of what goes on than the receptionist?!).  Krist Novoselic, Kurt's family and many other people who were on the periphery as Nirvana rose to fame have contributed a huge number of items, from the cardigan Kurt wore throughout 1992 to an In Utero angel stage prop.

I found the whole exhibition fascinating and it sparked many memories, but it was also bizarre seeing a subject so dear to my heart and so essential to my personal development being treated as a museum exhibit.  Wow, guess this means I really am old!  Odd, too, were the Japanese tourists taking photos of t-shirts I used to own and grey-haired old men looking askance at Butthole Surfers and Bikini Kill albums. 

Watching video footage of Nirvana performing In Bloom and Breed at the Reading Festival moved me almost to tears.  I haven't yet worked out what I was crying for: Kurt's lost potential or my lost youth.  This whole trip has reminded me of who I was and who I can be.  It has brought home to me what my priorities are in life.  As I wrote in my notebook whilst watching Kurt wail, "Rock and roll bitch!"

Monday, 15 August 2011

The centre of the world

I seem to have spent this trip seeking out the off-the-beaten track neighbourhoods; the places where you can find twenty kinds of organic hemp seeds but not a chain in sight.  I continued this trend today with a visit to Fremont, a neighbourhood to the north of Seattle whose slogan is 'Fremont: the centre of the world'.  The Sunday market there was a joy to behold, similar to Spitalfields but less frantic and much cheaper.

I rifled through old printing blocks...

I considered buying beautiful vintage handkerchiefs, but couldn't get past the vintage snot factor...

I spent a happy ten minutes searching through toy blocks, trying to decide what I wanted to spell.  Lack of some letters led me to plump for the simple...

I had fun making words from scrabble tiles, eventually deciding that the following would look good framed on a wall...

Meanwhile Richard has been at a baseball game, cheering on the Boston Red Sox against the Seattle Mariners.  I'm sure it comes as a surprise to no-one that I went shopping instead.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

On the move again

I’m writing this on the last train of my journey: no more bizarre Amtrak rules (the trains are run along the lines of a communist state); no more being delayed for hours as we wait for a freight train to pass by; no more gazing out of the window at everything from awe-inspiring mountain ranges to downtrodden trailer parks.  I’ll miss the trains and would take another long-distance trip in a heartbeat.  If you enjoy time for quiet reflection and can cope with sitting still for 3 days stretches, this is definitely the method of travel for you.

We had beautiful weather in Portland (in fact, apart from the hideous 40c heatwave in New York and the daily thunder storms in New Orleans, the weather has been fantastic throughout my whole trip) but are now heading to rainy Seattle.  Richard will be happier without the sun but I’m going to be cross if, after 3 ½ weeks in flip flops, I have to wear proper shoes for the first time.

The last few days have included:

A visit to the famous Voodoo Donuts (slogan ‘The magic is in the hole’, and offering such delights as the cock & balls donut and the maple glazed topped with bacon).

A hike in Forest Park, the largest urban forest in the USA.  Measuring over 5000 acres and containing 70 miles of hiking trails, it was easily reached on foot from our hostel but feels like you are plunging into wilderness.  

A 15 mile bike ride along the waterfront loop whilst suffering from a cider-induced hangover.

Many conversations about the riots.  The bartender in our ‘local’ (the blame for the aforementioned hangover can be laid squarely at his door) was particularly interested in discussing the causes and implications of the shitstorm that hit the UK last week.  The guy at the smoothie shack, meanwhile, was scathing about David Cameron and so earned himself a nice tip.


Being in Portland is a bit like being in my brain, circa 1998.  If I'd come here when I was 19 I really wouldn't ever have left, so closely does the city and it's inhabitants reflect my concerns and interests at that point in my life.  For example, the downtown actually has skate lanes and routes for skateboarders and after walking and cycling, it's definitely the most common way to get around.  Everyone has tattoos and piercings, everyone wears vintage clothes and record and book stores are more common than Starbucks (which is really saying something: there's a Starbucks on practically every corner here in the US).  Portland is also affordable and therefore attracts musicians, artists and activists who can't afford the rent in other big cities: walking around the various neighbourhoods you're as likely to see a Republican bumper sticker as you are a pig flying past.

So the question I've been asking myself is: why and when did I change?  When did I take out my piercings, start covering up the ink and stop pretending I could skate?  I know that growing older is inevitable but is growing up also unavoidable?  When did my mortgage and plans for a new kitchen become more important than hanging out in dingy bars listening to bands?  Should I accept that at 33 and with a 'proper' job (and one in which, not coincidentally, I can't wear my piercings or flash my tats) I am beyond the Portland-style life that I lived so exuberantly in my late teens and early twenties?  These are the questions I have been pondering over the past few days.  Any and all responses or answers would be gladly received.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Keep Portland weird

The unofficial city slogan, seen on graffitti and posters throughout the area. 

We arrived in Portland, Oregon on Monday lunchtime and settled into our hostel in the Northwest district of the city.  Strolling around the neighbourhood made it very clear that Portland was my kind of city: beautiful Victorian houses on treelined streets filled with funky (but not pretentious) cafes and bars, bookstores and vintage clothing emporiums; the inhabitants all seeming to be in their 20s and 30s and wearing band t-shirts, intricate tattoos, sandals and beards (mostly just the men, but I'm sure one or two women also).  Portland isn't so much weird as simply awesome.  It's very bike-friendly (as Richard and I can attest to after a 14 mile ride this afternoon), left-wing and eco-conscious.  Book stores, vintage shops and clothing exchanges rule the highstreet (in fact, the only chainstore I've seen so far has been Macys).  In short, it's a kind of nirvana: a Hebden Bridge or Hay-On-Wye with 500,000 inhabitants.  When can I move here?

Yesterday I dumped Richard and went shopping on my own in the Hawthorne district, on the east bank of the river and a couple of miles from downtown.  Cool Cottons was my first  stop but I ended up leaving empty-handed, not because I didn't find anything I liked but because I liked everything.  There's just not enough room in my rucksack for endless yards of gorgeous fabric and as I couldn't narrow it down to just one, I moved on.  Presents of Mind further up Hawthorne Blvd was a treasure trove of interesting things: I love my new enamel bird necklace and this ace sticker and notebook.

Further down the street I really loved Murder By The Book, a store entirely devoted to crime & mystery novels.  My step-mum Andrea (who shares my taste for murder in fiction), would love it there.  Red Light Clothing Exchange relieved me of $10 for a great navy polka dot dress.  Naked City was stuffed with rockabilly dresses, studded belts, skull t-shirts and striped stockings; not exactly my style (although my rock chick friend Cara would adore it) but they also had this amazing 70s print dress hidden away on a rail.  $50 and it was mine.  Crappy photo I know, but this dress is so great that later that day a sales assistant in Macy's dragged it out of my bag, demanded to know where I'd bought it and disappeared with it to show a colleague.

I then headed back downtown and visited Beth Ditto's favourite vintage store, Fat Fancy Fashions.  As the name suggests, they specialise in plus size vintage clothing and it was quite a novelty to be too small for most of the items in the shop.  I did pick up a white & red striped top for $10 and only later realised it was from Sarah Jessica Parker's Bitten range.  I always was a Carrie fan.  Final stop of the day was the famous Powell's bookstore: a whole city block and nine rooms of books.  By the time I got there Richard had been browsing for two hours and it was another two till we left, weighed down with fifteen books between us.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A weekend in Eugene

Sorry Sarah, I know this photo kinda sucks.  Why didn't I take more?!

I met Sarah at my cousin’s wedding in Massachusetts four years ago and we clicked immediately (to be fair, it would be hard not to click with Sarah as she is just about the friendliest, loveliest person I know), so when I was planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest it was always a given that her hometown of Eugene, Oregon would need to be on the itinerary.  It was such a relief to get out of San Francisco and the wide smiles and handmade Union Jack sign with which Sarah and her son, Seamus, greeted us raised our moods a good few notches.

We packed a lot into 48 hours: a stroll around the Saturday market in downtown Eugene to look at the local crafts (including a good proportion of tie-dye, Oregon being where many of San Francisco’s hippies moved after the Summer of Love); a stop at a great bookstore, which we leave two books heavier; a visit to the beautiful new library for tea in the cafĂ©; a picnic in the park whilst watching an unintentionally hilarious production of Cymbeline; a hike around the stunning Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls; burgers and – joy of joys! – cider on tap at Northwest brewpub chain McMenamins. 

Diamond Creek

Most of all it was nice to kick back and relax for a weekend.  Hotels and hostels are all well and good but it was great to be in a home for a couple of days (especially as Sarah’s house is gorgeous and has left me full of ideas should I ever swap my Victorian terrace for a more modern place: her collection of vintage sixties & seventies furniture is incredible).  I loved Eugene too, which struck me as a very liveable town with a population heavily skewed to eco-conscious, left-leaning independent spirits.  Definitely my kind of place.

The best laid plans

Anyone who knows me will know that when it comes to planning trips, I make Owen Wilson’s character in The Darjeeling Limited (with his laminated itineraries and monogrammed luggage) look disorganised.  So when something goes wrong, as it did in San Francisco last Wednesday, I take it as a personal affront to my carefully typed schedule.

Things had been going pretty well in San Francisco but I’d definitely seen all I wanted or needed to.  The huge numbers of tourists made it hard to move around the downtown area without getting stabby and the equally large numbers of beggars, street corner ranters and itinerants did not make for a relaxing time.  I’d seen Golden Gate Park, the Haight and the Castro & Mission districts, rented a bike and cycled across the bridge to Sausalito… in short, all the things I had written on that schedule.  Ready to leave on Wednesday morning, Richard and I sat with our bags waiting to be picked up by the tour company with whom we were booked on a 3 day tour of Yosemite National Park.  We waited, and we waited…. and we waited some more.  The hostel receptionist eventually took pity on us and phoned the company to find out where our pick-up was.  In short, there would be no pick-up.  The tour company (Yosemite Bug Bus) had no record of my booking and the 3 day tour had been cancelled as not enough people had signed up.  Their attitude was a kind of "meh, what can you do?" despite the fact that I was clutching my confirmation email in my now-clenched fist.  So, with no way of getting to Yosemite and more importantly, with no place to stay for the next two nights, I had a mini-nervous breakdown in the lobby of the hostel. 

To cut a VERY long story short we did manage to find beds for both nights (the lovely staff at USA Hostels even gave us a discount for the Wednesday) and we signed up with a different company for a day tour to Yosemite.  All’s well that ends well?  Not quite.  Throw in a bus malfunction on the way back from the national park and the grottiest room in the grottiest hostel I’ve ever seen.  I wish I’d taken photos to capture the horror.  On the up side, Yosemite Valley is just about the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  Which made it even more of a shame that instead of three days there, we had three hours.

Further tales of the city

One place I did like very much in San Francisco was the GLBT museum in the Castro.  A small but perfectly formed space, the exhibits are wide ranging but all fascinating and I spent a happy couple of hours looking round.  My favourite things were a costume from the TV adaptation of Tales Of The City (which I enjoyed rereading whilst in San Francisco), and this fab poster from their archive of GLBT ephemera.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Tales of the city

A delayed train meant I arrived here in San Francisco at midnight on Friday night.  Collapsing into the hostel bed and enjoying the novelty of being on solid ground, I slept like a log and woke to find I'd slept through my alarm and therefore would miss the walking tour I was booked on.  Oops.  One quick call and I'd rebooked for Monday, so instead joined the hostel walking tour to acquaint myself with the local neighbourhood (or so I thought). 

A three mile march through Chinatown, North Beach, up to the Coit Tower and down to Embarcadero and the piers ensued, not quite the short stroll I had envisaged.  The tour was a good opportunity to get to know a few other travellers from the hostel, though, and after being left at Pier 39 we went to get some clam chowder for lunch.  Served in a huge sourdough bread roll (a bit like bunny chow, for my South African readers) the chowder was delicious: creamy and packed with seafood.  The sun was out, so we wandered along the pier and watched the sea lions basking in the sun and gazed across the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin headlands and to Alcatraz sitting in the middle of the water.

Yesterday took me to Golden Gate Park and on to the Haight district.  A quick visit to Amoeba records (quick because Richard arrives on Monday and will definitely want to shop there) threw up Wild Beasts' Two Dancers  for $1.99 and Resolver by Veruca Salt for $1!  The Haight reminded me a bit of Camden in London: tons of tourists, lots of drug casualties and homeless people, hippy shops and the smell of incense wafting around.  It was interesting to think about what it must have been like in 1967 but it's been thoroughly commercialised now.

Today I've been 'Cruising The Castro' on a walking tour which covered lots about LGBT history in San Francisco.  From the Castro, I walked to the Mission district down the hill and hit book gold at Dog-Eared Books (what a great name for a bookstore) where I found a Kristin Hersh autobiography I've been wanting for a while.  Community Thrifted is just up the road and if I'd realised everything was 50% off I could have come out at least 5 books heavier.  As it was, I limited myself to Out Of The Ordinary: Essays On Growing Up With Gay, Lesbian & Transgender Parents and a book about books.  Together, they set me back a whole $1.09. 

Now I'm waiting for lil' brother Richard to arrive later tonight.  I've been travelling on my own since leaving New York and really enjoyed it but it will be good to have someone to share all these sights and sounds with.

Monday, 1 August 2011

As seen from the train window

Empty highway in northern Virginia

Abandoned station building in Texas

River canyon in Texas

Mountains in New Mexico