September 29, 2006

Death Goes On...

This morning a Brinks guard was shot dead in cold blood during a brazen daylight hijack robbery a few hundred metres from my studio. I accidentally stumbled across the scene a few minutes after it happened, when there were still only a couple of police cars, the Brinks truck, a few people milling about trying to help or work out what had just happened, and the usual confused air of shock and slight panic (a scene familiar to a lot of Oaklanders).

This is the 114th murder in Oakland this year so far. It happened right next to the fab consultants mentioned here; at least two media sources are calling the area — my neighbourhood — a "remote industrial location". It's hard to know what to make of that description, given that this is the heart of industrial inner East Oaktown (a deeply urban, busy location), and that the murder happened in broad daylight in a part of town that at that time is starting to teem with cars, trucks, forklifts, etc., and is just around the corner from one of the few residential streets 'round here. That particular spot's grim, but it's not remote.

September 27, 2006

Second Language

Feast (or choke) on this, courtesy YouTube (and if you don't see a video here, get a better Flash plugin):



Calling Mark Foster, calling Marc Foster... (I remember the making of this; some part of it was done with my Dad's Super 8, if I remember correctly). Copyright be dammed, I think YouTube would say (I thought this had been lost forever, but it's exactly as I remember it).

(Part of both A History Of The Sky and Punk (and Later)).

September 23, 2006

Sunrise From Gate C14

The vivid pink and yellow sky over the Bay beyond the United Canadair RJ's, the young glassy-eyed stubbled cowboy waiting for the plane to Halifax, the ground crews buzzing around in the drizzle… Boston (Logan) airport is one of those endlessly-renewed older urban airports where nothing — corridors, streets, ramps, jet bridges, terminals, queues — seems to go straight for long, and where everything is cramped in on top of or right next to each other in irregular shapes and sizes. It reminds me of a shinier, cleaner, more efficient and better-run Heathrow (i.e. it's nothing like those spacious modern cathedrals of tedium and glare like Denver, Atlanta, Chicago O'Hare, or San Francisco's new(ish) international terminal). There's a huge advertising sign on a pedestrian bridge between a central parking structure and one of the terminal buildings that says "Your final final destination: Dunkin Donuts". Christ I kinda hope not (what a way to end it all).

September 22, 2006

Three Bucks

It's late at night, the traffic's light at the Sumner Tunnel toll gates. The guy takes my three bucks then leans out and says with a thin smile, trying (badly) to sound vaguely Southern: "Y'all drove up from Texas...?"
Me: "Nah, just flew in, it's a rental car with Texas plates… I didn't notice until too late."
He grins and reverts back to one of those strong Boston accents I can't even start to imitate: "You came all the way from Australia and the clowns at the rental place gave you a car with Texas plates?! Man...". He shakes his head. "Hey, just watch out for the cops. They love cars from Texas… but you can probably get away with murder with that accent." He winks; I drive off before a line forms behind me.

And so it goes. You have no idea how conspicuous it feels to drive around Boston in a car with Texas plates….

September 21, 2006

Carving Out The Suburbs

The suburbs around Route 128 seem to be carved out of an endless tall carpet of tangled leafy forest that reaches into everything even after all the centuries; in California, if they exist at all, suburban forests are an alien implant, an afterthought grafted on by contractual clauses.

September 19, 2006

Rain Rain

It's September, and it's raining. You'd probably have to have spent twenty years in California to understand why when I saw the rain I couldn't help stepping out of the hotel into the warm muggy Boston night to walk through the downpour….

Naming Ghosts

The ghosts are thinner on the ground here, thin flashes of colours like Nantucket, Cohasset, Sagamore, and Massachusetts against the old grey bedrock of Walthams, Cambridges, Dorchesters, Bedfords, Truros, Middlesexes, Suffolks, and Bostons….

September 16, 2006

Cramped Grime

Lechmere, the Green Line, Cambridge, Beacon, Harvard Square, MIT, the old familiar haunts… Boston's a real city, full of the busy cramped grime that's essential to making a city a city (and which so obviously disqualifies San Francisco from being a city rather than just a rather pleasant self-absorbed town). On the streets I hear the welcome sound of Caribbean accents for the first time in years….

(This California boy gets unsettled by the endless rolling leafy forests around here, it all seems so unnaturally lush and low-key).

September 11, 2006

Five Years On

Five years on I'm still occasionally asked whether I want to see the site again, but I prefer not to sully my memories of looking out towards Midtown from the office on the 87th floor, of watching the Empire State building through the mist, of standing up against the narrow windows, enchanted… I'll return when they turn it into a place for remembrance and reflection rather than self-regard and forgetting, I think.

September 08, 2006

A Bunch Of Old Rags

"How then can you create a narrative of your own life? Janet Frame compares the process to finding a bunch of old rags, and trying to make a dress. A party dress, I’d say: something fit to be seen in. Something to go out in and face the world." -- Hilary Mantel, "Memories of Catriona", the LRB 6/2/03. Or bits of iron and a suit of armour...

September 04, 2006

The Utopia Of Ecology

Murray Bookchin died recently. His "The Ecology Of Freedom" provided a lot of sparks for me for a few cold weeks in London, but ultimately I started feeling uneasy with the Utopian totalitarianism latent in the sort of writing that tends to use "democracy" to mean something that brooks no dissent on the big picture, that conjurs up a cozy view of everybody conforming to a way of living dictated by "necessity". Democracy, perhaps, is only for those who've earned it by behaving right according to his lights, a sort of Jeffersonian agrianism with a token urban overlay.

Bookchin often struck me as the sort of True Believer who moved from True Belief to True Belief (Marxism, Anarchism, Deep Ecology etc. etc.) in search of certainty and True Enemies, and who never seemed to have the sort of self-knowledge that might have tempered the humourless totalitarian tendencies. There always seemed to be a strong streak of essentialism running through his work; a lot of what he said about things like Capitalism struck me at the time as "true but not useful": "Capitalism can no more be 'persuaded' to limit growth than a human being can be 'persuaded' to stop breathing". OK, if you say so, but what if I said "Deep Ecology can no more be 'persuaded' to recognise the real diversity of human desires than a human being can be 'persuaded' to stop hating"?

September 01, 2006

Innocent Abroad

"He said he could not bear hearing Spanish being spoken in [California's Orange County] …" — Larry Collins, local Orange County Republican club member, quoted in a recent NYT article on our Governator's uneasy relationship with both conservatives and immigrants.

I'll bet Mr Collins is one of those oddballs who thinks Spanish is a foreign language in America… (Spanish in the OC? It's not an invasion, Larry, it's a revival…).


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