Archive for the ‘america’ Category
Back at the Fort Collins hotel, my room is one of the “accessible” ones, meaning there are handrails in the bathroom and plenty of floor space to wheel a chair around. Not the biggest I’ve ever had – that harks back to the 2-bedroom condo I had to myself in Bangalore – but pretty big, and with free broadband internet access.
The week is over, and so is the work, even the breakfast meeting in the morning is just social. More work on Monday, in Colorado Springs, but until then I have a weekend to look forward to, and to kick it off, have some chillout music courtesy of YouTube and one of my favourite musicians: Michael Manring’s live performance of his solo composition The Enormous Room.
A little explanation for those interested: the instrument Michael is playing is the Zon Hyperbass, an electric bass with some unusual features. It has retuning levers on each string – four on the headstock and two on the bridge – which Michael is activating at times to give that “pedal steel” effect. For that to work well the strings have to be light; for that to sound good and offer stable tuning, the bass is made with an extremely rigid carbon fibre neck. Not cheap, as you might imagine, but extremely effective in the right hands – as the video amply demonstrates.
We’re not in Kansas, Toto. We’re in Colorado. It’s been quite a day, perhaps the most surreal I’ve had in the USA to date. It started out simply enough, with a copy of USA Today, and local TV, then the short trip to the office, where the course is being held. The attendees are mostly American, with a couple of Europeans and Indians. The trainer, as is to be expected, is Scottish.
Breakfast is served in the training room, which is a nice surprise in itself, but today was my first encounter with the legendary Breakfast Burrito, something I could easily become accustomed to. After a Sushi lunch, a real surprise: an unveiling of a new motorbike, built by Orange County Choppers for my company. No, I didn’t get to ride the bike, but seeing the bike and the stars of the show definitely let me know I was in America.
Now I’m back from dinner with the rest of the people on the course, with conversation covering just about all levels of technology from the high – computers and storage – to the lowest – cars and beer. My final course of the day? Apple Pie, of course. It doesn’t get more American than that, does it?
Earlier this evening I set out to pack for my US trip; five minutes later I was finished. The case isn’t closed, since I want to air some shirts out overnight, but compared to my Bangalore safari last year I’m traveling light. I thought I might have to check one bag in the hold, thanks to security restrictions at Heathrow, but it’s all going to fit in my small case, and will be carried on board. If I buy anything in Denver I may need to check the bag on the way back, but a baggage screwup then will be far less of a pain to deal with – since I’ll be home.
One book for the plane there: an old copy of Carl Sagan’s Contact I picked up at a book sale, which I’ve been meaning to re-read for years. If the British Airways on board entertainment guide is accurate, there will be just one movie I care to see on the way to Denver (Casino Royale), but four on the way back, including Oscar winner The Departed and mockumentary For Your Consideration – so the book only has to get me there. Off the plane, I have e-books on my phone for slack times, and plenty of work on the Tablet PC, which I can even bring out on the plane if needed.
No camera: I may buy one in Denver if I find the one I’m after, or a tiny compact at a good price. Toothpaste and deo in the clear plastic bag in my jacket pocket, ready for inspection, Tablet PC in its ZeroShock slipcase (which I’ve never been asked to open).
No malaria tablets or mosquito killers; no Cat-5 Ethernet cables – either I go wireless or I borrow one. I’ll need to buy a US adapter for my laptop power cable – or buy a new cable. Then there’s Denver, the Mile-High city with the Rockies on the horizon. Plenty to see and do, assuming the Homeland Security Theater Company lets me put my feet down. I may even get to see an ice hockey game, when Calgary pay a visit on Wednesday week.
In short, I may actually enjoy this trip. I didn’t want to go, but since I am going, I’m determined to make the best of it. The flights and half the accommodation are on expenses, but the rest is on me. Unlike the Accidental Tourist I won’t be wearing a charcoal grey suit; the only funeral I could possibly attend would be my own, and someone else can supply the suit for that eventuality.
Hurricane Katrina hit Dublin yesterday, a faint shadow of her former self, a mere series of rainshowers, preceded by 100% humidity that kept me up half of Saturday night. Hardly compares to the dire situation in Biloxi and New Orleans, does it?
We’ll be hearing about the criminally incompetent handling of the evacuation for the rest of Dubya’s final term, at least. I hesitate to get involved in any further discussion on this; partly because I’ve noticed Americans are a little sensitive about their country, understandably, partly because it might sound like Euro-peonic schadenfreude. We may wryly joke aboutKatrina and the Waves, but anyone familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet will be a little concerned at the approach of Opheila next week.
I’ve never visited Los Angeles, only seen it on television and in movies, but I find it amazing how it can be made to look different nearly every time I see it.
We have classic movies like Sunset Boulevard, shot when that road ended in a wilderness dotted with the occasional mansion, or L.A. Confidential, which exposed an even darker side of that halcyon orange-grove era. It seems to me that L.A. doesn’t generally add that much to a movie’s atmosphere, it’s the generic Hollywood backlot, and more memorable American thrillers have been improved by being set elsewhere in America: The French Connection in Chicago, Dirty Harry in San Francisco, Scarface in Miami, and just about all of Scorsese’s output in New York.
That has been changing, and we have seen films make better use of L.A’.s strengths, and I don’t just mean Beverly Hills Cop. I was introduced to the moodier side of L.A. by Heat, Michael Mann’s 1995 thriller that took its protagonists all the way from Venice Boulevard, past the fashionable side of Santa Monica, up through Beverly Hills into the San Fernando Valley; down to the Long Beach docks, with a major shootout at Fifth and Figueroa (downtown), and a final chase from an airport hotel on to the airport itself. Mann’s recent Collateral revisited the same city from different angles, using a different nocturnal palette. Steve Martin’s L.A. Story took a wry look at covered the posh areas, while Speed presented a more coherent daytime L.A. landscape, also passing through LAX, besides turning Sandra Bullock into a “poster girl for public transport” (her words).
If I was to visit L.A., not knowing how to drive, could I get around with public transport and taxis? In L.A., public transport is for losers, apparently, too slow and dirty for the average person, but could it be worse than London’s underground and buses? Looking at a map, the scale of L.A. is deceptive to a Euro-peon such as myself. I’ve been playing with Microsoft MapPoint 2004 to try to make a little sense of it all, and it tells me that the “short drive” from the city center, up the Hollywood Freeway, along Santa Monica Boulevard through Beverly Hills to Santa Monica, is nearly twenty miles long, so walking around, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, would probably be as smooth and straightforward for me as it was for him.
In other news: today Elvis Presley scored the dubious distinction of having the UK’s 1000th Number One single; it’s telling that it took sales of 30,000 to get to Number One last week, compared to 300,000 back in the late 1960s. BMG, who owns the rights to the Presley catalogue, is making some kind of point by re-releasing one Elvis #1 single a week, for the next few months. I think it’s called milking a dead horse, or something. Blah.
I had the pleasure, last night, of re-watching the last-but-one episode in the most recent series of E.R., titled When Night Meets Day. It’s the 200th episode they made, and I get the impression that this is the one the producers see as a prime Emmy candidate, since everything about it is not only superior to the rest of the series, it’s superior to most things on TV at the moment.
I won’t describe the storyline, except it’s partly from the point of view of Dr. Carter, who is at this point in real danger of losing it, and the timeline is deliberately warped and non-contiguous to illustrate this. We have aftershocks from the gang warfare of previous days, his beloved grandmother’s funeral was disrupted, the same restaurant appears to catch fire twice, and he treats a Buddhist nun in her last hours, causing him to question everything about his job. By the end of a torrid couple of days he’s ready to drop everything and head off to the Congo civil war to treat patients who really need his help.
By contrast, Dr. Pratt is having a great time, saving patients and having fun, coming into his own as a doctor. He actually gets an appointment elsewhere, but refuses it at the last minute, preferring to stay where he is. Everyone thinks he’s mad, but this is his Day, and Carter’s Night.
It’s technically an excellent production, with jarring shifts in time and perception throwing Carter and us off-balance, and there’s one particular combination of crane tracking shots, cleverly edited together, that had me admiring the kind of technical expertise that you just don’t find in British productions. Even though it’s a TV show, it’s shot on film and benefits from many of the film world’s production values. Well worth watching.
Besides my old CDs, I came back from the UK with a couple of new US Import DVDs from the extreme ends of the “family” spectrum. In the Nice corner, we have Spirited Away, the beautiful Anime masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki, which I will surely write more about later. In the Nasty corner, we have Jackass: The Movie.
I’ve mentioned Jackass before, and the movie is essentially the same as the TV show, but the Jackasses go a lot further than before, having a serious budget to work with. They start it off with a huge opening sequence, with lots of explosions, just so you’ll think that they’ve gone all Hollywood on us, but then it’s down to business.
Despite all the warnings, there are still kids going out and doing some truly stupid things. They should watch the DVD, then, during which it becomes clear that there are many safety precautions taken in the planning and execution of these stunts. That doesn’t mean that things always go to plan, as the Golf Cart sequence shows. The other drawback is that people don’t always react the way they’re expected to, especially professionals such as police or medical personnel, who really have seen it all before. The DVD has a lot of extra footage which was cut out of the movie, some of which, such as the Sand Vagina, go a bit too far for either large or small screens.
It’s a good thing that Jackass didn’t outstay its welcome, and went out with a bang, such as it was. You only have to look at the masochistic Welsh imitation, Dirty Sanchez, to appreciate the good-natured humour that went into Jackass. Some of the best pieces in Jackass don’t involve stunts or obscenity at all, such as Steve-O getting his own face tattooed on his back, or the Whale Shark Gummer (OK, not much obscenity). The movie got a very limited release here in Ireland – maybe two cinemas, neither near me, showed it for a week. I can always sell it if I get tired of it.
ps: see also my later op-ed piece on Jackassism.