On Foot: LA to New York to San Francisco 2011

I’ll do this in bullet points, lazy livejournal style until I can pull together something more cohesive. At the moment I’m wrapping up the transcript (or at least [once again] something coherent out of my notes) from an interview with a curator, and a chunk of an article I’m writing for Contemp.

  • This whole travel thing is not for everyone. Unless you’re with a guide, it means never knowing what’s around the next corner. It’s constant inundation, and in a place like New York or San Francisco, it gets stressful and overwhelming to keep a straight face to avoid looking like a tourist–which is undeniably, what you are. Yet this needs to be avoided, because looking like a tourist is at best amusing and at worst dangerous. The last thing you want to happen when you’re young, female, and by yourself is to get mugged. And there are worse things that can happen, but you need to keep that off your mind and maintain a straight and indifferent air, despite the fact that your senses are completely overwhelmed.
  • Anonymity can be a great thing. When introductions are a part of your daily routine, you’re free to lie, create a persona, and hustle–nowhere in the world is this more acceptable than in a big city like LA (12 days), New York (16 days), or San Francisco (6 days), where personalities are invented all the time. On my second weekend in New York, I watched Beautiful Darling at the IFC Center, which was this amazing documentary about Candy Darling, one of Warhol’s women who was essentially a professional hustler. I started dozing off at some point though, but I do remember stepping out of the theater engulfed with this sense of sadness that I needed to walk around the block several times just to shake off.
  • Anonymity can be a great thing, part 2: You can always just be honest about it, but even this gets difficult when you’re not entirely sure what the honest answer is. There will be questions you’re not sure how to answer because they’ve never been asked, and this is the great thing about being a complete stranger. People will ask about where you live, whether or not you’re gay, what you’d like to drink, how you take your coffee–and coming from a context where you’d gotten used to just dealing with these small, seemingly inconsequential little issues, they become inscribed with much more the minute you have to articulate them. So to answer the above: Manila, straight, anything but Amstel Light (because water is an ingredient, not a flavor [which is, oddly enough, the copy written for Amstel Light]), and black with either condensed milk or half-and-half with a shit ton of honey, but usually just black.
  • Anonymity can be a great thing, part 3. Having to be honest about it means having to know what the honest answer is, and figuring out things about yourself that even you weren’t aware of before. “Is your friend queer?” “Do you realize we’re making out against a cop car?” “Does this scare you?” “Is that a stupid question?”
  • “It’s more fun when you have company,” is a good excuse for not going somewhere. Not having company opens up whole new opportunities in the realm of having fun, which is pretty relative to begin with.
  • At Alice’s Teacup in the upper east, over a meal of scones and tea (and a price tag the equivalent of about 2 weeks of work), we are seated next to a Turkish art student and his mom. “This is the only place to be a curator: 500 galleries and 50 museums,” he forgot to mention the part where these galleries and museums are connected by about a thousand bars, 24-hour delis, pizza places, halal food carts, and cafes. On top of all of that are the people. “Has anyone ever considered the repercussions of living in a vertical city?” were the words written on an installation at the Victoria Prison in Hong Kong when I visited sometime last December. I’m sure New York has asked this question, but at the same time New York is a question of survival, where vertical growth is as much about your rent as it is about the skyline.
    Where there’s talk of rent, there’s talk of work, and to be a part of this all this culture–these 500 galleries and 50 museums–also means having to work extremely hard just to survive. “Is anyone even from New York?” that question stops my bartender, who shoots back with “Trust fund babies.” Of course. There’s the trust fund babies and the ones who are just working to survive so they can have a piece of these 500 galleries and 50 museums. Survival is just as much about cultural enrichment as it is about dollar slices of pizza and going from being a literary fellow in India to a bookstore clerk on Bleecker St. These are aspects of New York that are easily ignored with the face this city puts on. In sitcoms. In Woody Allen movies. In every city that tries and fails to be New York. The biggest rock star in New York is probably the city itself (and maybe Tina Fey, maybe).
  • “Constantly talking does not mean communicating.” The most exciting thing about a place can also be its greatest shortcoming, and one of the things I both loved and hated with a passion about New York was the pace and the transience. It’s not that I’m not used to moving fast, because Manila moves pretty fast. But New York means getting used to meeting someone once and never seeing them again. I guess the same is even truer for a city like Los Angeles, where the sprawl allows people to just disappear completely. “Do I break out the spiel?” is pretty standard. New Yorkers know how to talk about themselves without actually giving anything away or making themselves too vulnerable.”
  • I have never been so comfortable talking about what I do and where I am from because this the first time, going from city to city, that I actually love what I do and can’t wait to come back to it.
    When you enjoy what you’re doing, the place that allows you to do it fits wonderfully into your definition of home. But even that–this whole “home” issue–is fleeting, and you have to accept those changes. I may not always want to be a teacher, and this comes through at times, especially when you have to answer questions about yourself every day. The fluidity and uncertainty is daunting, especially since it’s becoming so difficult to find something that is stable and that is nice to settle into, but it’s something you need to face and you need to deal with. And there is always more.
    I guess one of the great things about believing in the possibility of the world ending is the comfort that absolution provides us with. It relieves us of accountability. The world is ending anyway, so we don’t have to worry about our selves. Our choices. All of that is out of our hands. But it’s already the 22nd of May, and we’re all still here with more shit on our plates and bills to pay and people to meet and places to see.
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    Author: alicesarmiento

    San Juan, Metro Manila

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