TW: Discussion of HIV/AIDS, homophobia
(This piece was written for a university course early 2017)
"Just when homosexuals have had some success in throwing off the taint of mental disease, gay people find themselves metaphorically welded to an image of lethal physical deterioration. The syndrome, its peculiar qualities, and its transmissability are being used to reinforce old fears that sexual activity, homosexuality, and promiscuity lead to death."
In her 1984 essay 'Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality', Rubin touches on the potential future impact the AIDS crisis may have on homophobia and the freedom of people in the LGBTQIA+ community. To read this over three decades on stopped me in my tracks, and I found it heartbreaking to reflect on just how true Rubin's prediction proved to be.
Many of us would not have been around to bear witness to the infamous 1987 Grim Reaper advertisement, although despite its limited run on Australian television networks (the advertisement was initially intended for a twelve week run but was pulled after nine weeks and numerous complaints), it had a significant and lasting impact on the Australian population and remains and important cultural memory. Although this was arguably not the intention, the Grim Reaper essentially came across to the Australian population as representative of perverse homosexuals with HIV. Condom use increased, government initiatives helped to educate intravenous drug users about needle safety, and the demonisation of homosexual sex was validated for many people the world over.
While this scare tactic was effective, it was scare tactic nonetheles, and has had long-lasting repurcussions for not only the LGBTQIA+ community but especially young people and their understanding of sexual education and sexuality. I spent part of my undergraduate degree facilitating youth sexual health classes and it was incredible to see the effects of the 1980s AIDS crisis over thirty years on. There is a lot of misunderstanding regarding HIV/AIDS, and the detrimental effects of the Grim Reaper advertisement, and how the Australian public subsequently trated people potentially affiliated with the AIDS crisis had a long lasting effect. Young people had been brought up by parents who experienced their sexual education in a time where homosexuality and the reaction to HIV resulted in a lack of discussion around sexual health and education, as well as a truck load of cultural stigma attached. So I repeatedly found myself talking to young people who are theoretically more sexually liberated, with homophobic views of HIV and a complete lack of understanding surrounding the virus and syndrome, learned from family members who learned their own sexual views during the AIDS crisis.
The Grim Reaper advertisement further stigmatised and marginalised the LGBTQIA+ community, and even today the myth persists that "AIDS is a gay disease" (as said to me verbatim by multiple people!) It is an unfortunate truth that HIV exists at all, however while I have seen a continued understanding that if two people with penises sleep together they are to be aware of HIV (typically represented as two cis gay men, however that is not truly representative), there tends to be a lack of awareness that anyone of any sexuality or gender can contract HIV. According to the Kirby Institute's 2015 Annual Surveillance Report regarding HIV in Australia, roughly one quarter of Australians currently living with HIV contracted it through heterosexual contact (and no, the other three quarters aren't just from homosexual contact). Youth Empowerment Aginst HIV/AIDS states that 75-80% of new HIV diagnoses occur in people aged 18-29, and that rates of contraction through heterosexual contact are rising.
To see the impact a single ad continues to have on the Australian cultural awareness of sexual health is both incredible and devastating. Even more so is to retrospectively examine the accuracy of Rubin's prediction throughout the last thirty years. Talk about sex panics...
Monday, 21 November 2016
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
It pains me that we idolise celebrities to such a great extent, then shame them and laugh at them when they fall or need help. And yet, we struggle to talk seriously about the issues among us that so many people share with these celebrities we idolise.
The world laughed as Britney Spears shaved her head, we have watched Kanye burn harder and faster with each passing day, and we have laughed at Kesha's struggles with Sony. Meanwhile, back home, we barely make a peep, as people we know struggle with mental health issues, relationship breakdowns, and chronic health issues that few others know of.
One day a year Australians intrusively ask one another, "R U OK?" and pat themselves on the back. They are shocked when friends respond with a "no" and are not equipped to deal with the reality of those they love silently enduring mental health problems alone. The conversation that ensues consists of denial of the very mental health issues they are supposedly trying to face by asking this question, interspersed with cries of "Just be happy!" and the realisation that this same person who is trying to give a shit is the same person who joked that Miley Cyrus' anxiety is the result of too much drug use and not a genuine condition she experiences.
Celebrities go to rehab and it's gossip. Someone you know goes to rehab and it's an embarrassing secret. Kanye goes through a traumatic family event and holds manic rants onstage, and it's all a huge laugh until the media reports he has been put in a psychiatric hold and we are reminded that Kanye West is just another human, likely suffering as so many others do.
Thank God for Selena Gomez.
Wednesday, 10 August 2016
This comes across as a boring post, but I just can't find a way to capture the feelings I experienced while in Amsterdam. The culture encourages such a relaxed and introspective, reflective lifestyle, and I had an amazing time reflecting on myself, my life, and my career.
Amsterdam is beautiful. I had been wondering if I had made the right choice in deciding to visit Amsterdam again, but the moment I reached the bridge next to the central station, I knew. The weird thing about Amsterdam, for me, is that I don't want to do tourist stuff when I'm there. I just want to...exist. I just want to walk around and soak everything in.
By this stage, I was getting sick of tourist stuff anyway, and I needed a break. So I decided to take the time to pause and relax more than I had my entire trip. I had heard amazing things about the parks in Amsterdam but somehow completely missed out on them the last time I went. So, one afternoon, I walked to a park, through many streets, over many canals, and made friends with a duck. It's been a really long time since I was creative, so I wanted to try and reconnect with that. I had a little picnic, I listened to what was going on around me, and suddenly, I had written 2,500 words of a story.
The next day, I basically did the same thing. I had bought a book, a collection of essays by American music critics, on women in pop that they considered influential. Very relevant to my interests. So I did the same thing as the day before. I made myself a little picnic, and headed out to Vondelpark.
I sat next to a little lake, and read this book, while listening to music. I thought about my career, and if ethnomusicology is something that I want to pursue.
It was a long day, and I basically just read my book and listened to Rihanna's top notch album, ANTI. I thought about her progression as a woman and artist, and how she has managed to perfectly straddle art music and popular music, while remaining a successful musician.
A couple of days later, I ended up hanging out with Dom. We've been trying to catch up for months in Melbourne but are both crap at that, so of course, we decided to go on a visit to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I abandoned Dom for a while to hop in a pond and we enjoyed a slow walk over to the museum.
The museum was really beautiful. I've seen a fair bit of Van Gogh on this trip, but it was amazing to experience the largest collection of his work, and to see his progression as an artist. Dom and I ended up getting matching scarves at the end!
After an intense morning at the Van Gogh Museum, dealing with crowds, we decided to go and hang out in the Vondelpark. We were relaxing by a pond when we decided to start talking to a group of Canadians, as we had been enjoying eavesdropping on their conversation. It worked out! They had a whole picnic set up, so they gave us beer and made us sandwiches. One of them told me I looked like an angel, weirdly not the first (or last) time I have been told that on this trip.
After they left, leaving us with a jar of Nutella (it's true love), we sat by a river for a while. At one point, a group of Americans we had met earlier rode past. We had been hoping to see each other that afternoon, but they were on bikes and we were on foot, so we decided to just hope for the best.
The Americans looked like gods. They were all beautiful, tanned, kind, they were so genuinely happy to see us! They invited us back to their airbnb for champagne and crackers before heading out to dinner. Dom wasn't feeling well, so I walked her home before setting off to theirs, unfortunately I lost their address and couldn't get it back. It was a little heartbreaking, but I ended up back with the Canadians we had met earlier.
For the first time in a long time, I went to a karaoke bar. It took a while, but after each boy had serenaded me, with beautiful renditions of 90s hip hop about butts, I took the stage with Eviatar, to leave everyone with the memory of my heartfelt rendition of Miley's "Wrecking Ball". Beautiful. True beauty. What an end to Amsterdam.
Wednesday, 27 July 2016
The first half of Paris was, quite frankly, a nightmare. I flew from New York to London, and then hopped on a bus to Paris. Unfortunately, it was delayed by over three hours, and I ended up having to catch an Uber at 1:30am. So, I arrived at my hostel at 2 in the morning, excited to shower and sleep. Only to find my bed slept in, covered in hair, with no towel (as they had insisted I would have one). I went downstairs to ask for a towel and the receptionist was outrageously rude and made me change the sheets by myself at 2:30am, in the dark. I went to get a crepe and ended up with multiple men asking me for sex. Classic. Eventually, I found myself looking after some young drunk Australian girls, tying back their hair and giving them water. It was a weird start to my trip, but I figured it'd get better. I slept for most of the first day, and only made it out for a lovely dinner. I sat by myself, enjoying some pasta and wine while reading a book, sitting in the window and watching the world go by.
Outside Sacre Couer
That night, I was so impressed with myself for going to bed at a reasonable time. My attempt at fighting the jet lag was going to work! Except that, after an hour, a lady in my room decided to start preaching to some girls in my room. Very loudly. I listened to her talk to them about her recent conversion to Christianity, after seeing Jesus at a night club with her friends, and she finally shut up after an hour and a half. But, of course, now I was awake, I couldn't get back to sleep. I tried, and just as I was starting to drift off again, a lady decided that 3:30am was the perfect time for a loud phone call in the room. This time, I had the balls to ask her to be quiet, but she just insisted it was okay. So, in the end, I got one hour of sleep, and watched half of a crappy Netflix series.
The next day, I was too tired to do much, but I slowly walked up to Sacre Couer. I stopped for a coffee and a creme brulee, before continuing to make my way up. My aim was to relax and watch the sunset, so I lay on the lawn and listened to music, reading a book. It was a beautiful way to make up for being inside all day, until a French guy plonked himself down next to me and started talking at me. He insisted that we go out for drinks. I insisted that I had to go home and sleep. Over and over again, I said no, and over and over again, he insisted. I was too stubborn to leave my spot, so I pointedly looked at photos of my partner, and attempted to read. Eventually, he compromised, and said that we would meet at the same spot at 5pm the next day. I told him I was busy. He still insisted, and after accidentally giving him my correct email instead of a fake one, he sent me an angry message when I didn't turn up. I finally bailed on him and checked out Sacre Couer. There's something so nice about old churches, and I had a beautiful view of the sunset over Paris. After I had had my fill of sun and tourists, I found myself in an alley, walking into a tiny restaurant. As is usual for me, I ended up making friends with a bunch of older British people (seriously, why does this happen everywhere I go?). Two men had made a promise in high school to follow Wales if they ever made it to the Euros, and they had been traveling around, going to every game Wales played. Another couple had come over for the weekend to celebrate a birthday, only to spend the beginning of the weekend in a police station after one of their wallets was stolen. The food was beyond anything I could have expected. I finally understood the coming together of booze and food, practically drooling over how delicious my lasagne was combined with my beer. I topped it off with a peach tart, and, politely declining the offer of more beer from my new British mates (I can't even tell you how many times older British people have bought me drinks, it's practically a gift...a weird gift...) I went home to tackle the whole sleep thing again.
Celebrating with dessert
So...I did it. I went to sleep at a reasonable hour. And an hour later, the same lady from the night before woke me up by having an argument with a security guard. Eventually he left, and she continued to talk loudly to herself in French. At first, I was polite in asking her to be quiet, but after a few minutes of trying to no avail, I started to get rude. She finally answered, and told me that if I didn't want to listen to her talk, I should leave the room. I told her that it was 2am in a room of 7 people attempting to sleep and she needed to talk outside. She started to get pretty scary, and I was so overtired that I was shaking and crying. So I went downstairs and, surely by pure luck, ended up with a lovely receptionist, who apologised profusely and moved me to a different room immediately. Apparently they'd attempted to remove this lady and everyone in the hostel had heard of her, but they had no success of removing her. The next day started kind of crappy, but I woke up to a text message with my uni results. I was terrified...and pleasantly surprised (but also not surprised, because I worked so damn hard for that result). I took myself out to celebrate, and enjoyed a great rice pudding, accompanied by a strawberry mojito. When I came home, I found out that I had become an aunt! A crappy day had been totally turned around by two amazing pieces of news.
The Louvre! Finally, a classic Paris thing to do that didn't involve sleeping and moping around because of lack of sleep. I knew it was going to be overrated, but that didn't stop me from going. It was exhausting, and not hugely interesting, but I am glad I went. Waiting in line, I listened to a 20-something-year-old girl ask her mum why the Louvre was so popular. Then her Mum decided that the reason the line was so long was because the staff went home for lunch. I had a good giggle to myself, and it was probably the most entertainment I had while at the Louvre. It was uneventful, relatively uninteresting, but obviously a must-see. Looking at some old Roman statues, a teenage boy was laughing at a penis, telling his friends to look at it. In a classic Tamsin move, I sternly told him that "all dicks are normal". His friends thanked me, and he asked if he could quote me on that. It was a weird time, but I'm glad to know I still have the knack of mildly embarrassing myself while ensuring teenagers remain informed, I suppose.
Statue near The Pompidou
There was a lot of running around, getting intentionally lost, and eating dessert while I was in Paris. After tackling The Louvre, I sat out the front of a restaurant eating oreo cheesecake while an incredibly well-behaved dog, greeted by most newcomers with an enthusiastic, "Bonjour, Michelle!", occasionally spoke to me. It's nice to pat some dogs, and I'm looking forward to regular puppy cuddles when I get home.
The Angel Project
I slowly made my way to The Pompidou, only to find the internet had lied to me (again!) and it was shut, so I made the long walk back to my hostel. As seemed to happen many times in Paris, I ended up in an restaurant in an alley, enjoying some pizza by myself. Despite having only seen The Louvre that day, I managed to walk a mean 20km.
The next day, I was lucky enough to spend my day with Astrid. We had met mid-2015 and got along famously (or at least, I thought so, and harassed her into meeting up with me for coffee before she headed back to France). We started our day at Shakespeare and Company, and after promising myself I would restrain myself, I bought a pocket-sized novella and a collection of essays. Finally ready to tackle the day and leave behind the beautiful bookstore, we hopped on a train to Versailles.
Shakespeare and Co
The line to get into the palace was ridiculous, one of the longest I have ever seen, but we wanted to go straight to the gardens anyway to enjoy a romantic picnic. The Musical Garden event was on, meaning the trees made us pay 7 euros each to listen to them play creepy orchestral music. We were definitely in the Triwizard Tournament, no doubt about it.
After evading the creepy statues coming to get us from the fountains, we finally managed to sit down by the water and ate a lovely picnic while a duck harassed us. True romance. We made our way up to the little palace that Marie-Antoinette used to stay in. Obviously, I took loads of selfies, because that's what Marie Antoinette would have wanted.
Marie Antoinette's salon
We found ourselves fabulously lost, engrossed in conversation and staring up a dragon's butt, before we watched a military procession (rudely interrupted by a small group of people riding through them on segways...) and headed back to the Palace.
My garden, obviously
Thank goodness we went later in the day, we didn't even have to wait ten minutes to get in, a relief after the originally forecast two hour wait when we arrived.
Astrid and me outside the palace
The palace was grand, and extravagant, and way too much for anyone. I've never really understood palaces. I could have happily lived with a bunch of my friend's in Marie Antoinette's, but this was just...obnoxious. The palace was beautiful, although punctuated with a modern light installation in the final room, with a circular mirror spinning slowly around, illuminated around the sides with a neon orange light.
Inside Palace Versailles
We had achieved all we wanted, walked too far, and were ready to make the trip home. I was exhausted, but Astrid had very kindly offered her place for the night. So I headed back to my awful hostel to retrieve my belongings and check out 12 hours earlier than anticipated. As I emerge from the metro, I was listening to Rihanna's classic "Umbrella", and found myself rained on, greeted by a rainbow. It gave me the motivation to make the rest of the journey, which was good because it was going to be another hour before I made it back to Astrid's house.
Rainbow near Gare du Nord
The whole next day, I was far too exhausted to do much. I had been trying to work through bronchitis, but the activities of the previous day had destroyed me. Eventually, I made it to Musee d'Orsay, but I lasted 45 minutes before I needed a break. I came across a beautiful clarinettist on the street and felt inspired to make my way to the Catacombs. Unfortunately, I didn't have the energy or patience to wait in line for 90 minutes, especially when I was informed that the ticket office would be closed by then anyway. So I made my way back to Astrid's to collect my belongings and go to my next hostel. I ended up staying until 1:30am, enjoying intellectual conversation.
The Eiffel Tower
The next day, I was feeling much better, and ended up spending the day with Evie. We walked down to the Eiffel tower, but as it was Bastille day, it was blocked off. Which I was fine with. We had a lovely time, regardless, and she invited me to join her and her friends in the evening, watching the fireworks next to the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower, Bastille Day
We never ended up finding Evie's friends, so it was probably good that we were together in the end. We drank red wine and sat amongst the crowds on the road, watching the fireworks. It was great to see some really decent fireworks after the boring display in New York. I was worried the whole time, and soon after, Evie started to receive messages from her friends asking if she was okay. We didn't know much about what had happened in Nice, but we got away from the crowd pretty quickly. I suggested dessert to accompany the bottle of red we had been enjoying, and we ended up at a restaurant, convincing them to bring out desserts that they apparently weren't serving anymore.
The Eiffel Tower, Bastille Day
After an hour of talking about cultural differences, politics, and how damn good creme brulee is, we finally made our way home. I got to my hostel very late, and crashed very hard. While the beginning of my Paris trip had sucked, the second half had been far better. I liked Paris as a city to visit, but I certainly don't hold it in high esteem. To each their own, I suppose.
Oh, and just to top off the crap experiences, I had a spectacular fall in the middle of the street, bruising my knee badly, hurting my nose, and throwing my water bottle into the middle of the road. I did a full somersault somehow, and was in so much pain I could barely get up, but I needed to make my bus to Amsterdam. What a finale.
Friday, 15 July 2016
After my birthday shenanigans, I planned a day out in Brooklyn. I wasn't sure what to do, so I sourced a little article on the Brooklyn-iest things to do in Brooklyn. It led me to this gem, the City Reliquary. They had loads of old New York things, including old train tokens, a dancing mannequin, and an old cake with a naked lady on it. There was an exhibit on New York instrument makers, which was bloody fascinating. I spent so long in that room, playing with the instruments. Some were made of found objects, like a violin made from the top of a music stand, and a xylophone made from glass and spanners. There was a handmade loop pedal, and a synth that was hooked up to TV screens. If something involves music, I'm hooked. Probably the coolest part, however, was the backyard. I climbed a treehouse bar to admire the backyard. What I had at first thought to be random piles of rubbish, I eventually realised were thoughtfully laid out collections. A pile of champagne bottles. Cutlery, marbles, buckets. A shrine to the Statue of Liberty, because their Statue of Liberty collection inside was clearly overflowing.
The Statue of Liberty shrine at The City Reliquary, Brooklyn
Another place this list had recommended was the transit museum. I was skeptical, and didn't have high hopes, but thought that surely it must be somewhat worthwhile if some hipster blog recommended it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised! The Transit Museum is down in an old subway station, with old trains on real train tracks. The museum is very intense, as it covers a lot of very sensitive issues, such as the construction of the tunnels and the associated dangers, the ways in which transport was effected during 9/11, and how they have dealt with natural disasters. I had never really thought about any of these things, and it was quite a wakeup call. The coolest part was clearly the old trains, though. They came complete with old advertisements, and you were allowed to walk through most of them. The colour schemes have changed a lot, as have the seating arrangements. There was even a row of old turnstiles near the exit. I was rather excited by how interesting the museum was, and I was glad I had made the trip out.
Vintage train, The Transit Museum
On my way to the subway, I came across a performance artist. While not necessarily enjoyable, he was certainly interesting. With a video projected onto him, he banged around a bass guitar suspending from a beam by a rope. There were multiple microphones and loop pedals picking up his sounds as he hit it, threw it, and used a cello bow on it. It was...an experience. I couldn't find any information on it, and was met with glares when I left....
Performance artist in Brooklyn
The next thing on my list was the Brooklyn Museum. The main reason I wanted to go there was because of the Elizabeth A Sackler Centre for Feminist Art. The museum was amazing. There were all these different boom boxes throughout the entrance, all playing the same music. It's a very cool thing to walk into a museum, with Jay-Z blasting. There was a crate, with a complicated series of instructions for ordering coffee. I told my barista what I wanted through an intercom, and while I waited for my coffee I watched him make my coffee on CCTV footage. The museum was fascinating, but I only had energy for the feminist centre. It was a very overwhelming, amazing experience. I had been holding back tears the entire time, so overjoyed by the exhibition on activism and propaganda, and I finally broke when I saw the work a group of women in New York had been doing to get safer sex materials out to women, such as internal and external condoms, and lubricant.
The feminist centre
There was a room dedicated to women in history who have gone unrecognised. It was very powerful, and it took many years to complete. It was set up as place settings. Each plate was reminiscent of a vulva, and both the plate and placemat were created in a style reminiscent of either the era or work of the women being recognised. Other women's names were hand carved into the tiled on the floor.
The feminist centre
After a very powerful and emotional experience, I made my way over to the aptly named Sunset Park. Sunsets are one of my favourite things, they never get old. I made a spot for myself, and put my headphones in, because I wanted to fully experience the sunset over Manhattan. Porter Robinson's Worlds accompanied the sunset, and I felt so purely happy. That moment, that period of time, is definitely in the top ten happiest moments of my life.
The view from Sunset Park
The next day, I joined some guys from Illinois I had met at the hostel. I had bonded with Tyler over music on the pub crawl on my birthday, and it was really great to spend more time with him. The boys had all been friends for many many years, and remained close after school. It reminded me a lot of the boys I spend so much time with, and it was a really beautiful thing to experience. We had brunch at a rooftop bar next to the Empire State building, and I definitely ate too much of the buffet.
Rooftop bar in NYC
The Museum of Sex was opposite the bar, and was the main aim for the day. I had already been to the sex museum in Amsterdam and the sex toy museum in Prague, and was excited to see what the New York one had to offer. I was blown away. It was a very immersive, interactive, and trippy experience. With four exhibitions AND a bouncy castle made of boobs, I was overjoyed with the museum. The first exhibition chronicled the history of erotica and porn, dating back many centuries. The second exhibition consisted of multiple tents, in which there were interactive things to do. Then there was a very bland exhibit on animal sex, and finally a history of sex toys made with new technologies. The best part was definitely the bouncy castle though, obviously.
Boobie bounce house
We ended our day with a long stroll through Central Park, and dinner from New York's best halal food cart. When we got to Central Park, a large area was cordoned off and there were hundreds of police and sniffer dogs. We later found out that a boy had stood on a homemade firework that resulted in a small explosion, and the police had shut down a large part of the park to search for any other forms of explosives. It was a scary situation, for sure. When we made it to the part of the park that was open, there was a band playing electronic indie music, and the park felt like a dreamland.
July 4th! I went out with a group from my hostel and celebrated the fourth of July by the Brooklyn Bridge. People lined up for hours to get a good spot to view the fireworks, but we gave up and decided beer was a better option. And then nachos... We made it just in time for the fireworks, which weren't very spectacular or interesting, but I was glad to have seen them.
Next to Manhattan Bridge, the fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge
My last full day in New York, I made it my mission to visit the Guggenheim and MoNA. Both beautiful, but both exhausting. My body was starting to complain about all the activity this point and it took me a very long time to get between museums.
The Guggenheim was interesting for the way they presented exhibitions. A Moholy-Nagy exhibition featured along the walls, all the way up the spiral ramp. Then each room featured a different exhibition. There was the permanent collection, and a collection of art related to Arabic architecture. After the Guggenheim I made the trek to MoNA, determined to get my photo with Van Gogh's "Starry Night".
MoNA had beautiful art. Some of Monet's waterliles were there, and they were bigger and better than I could have ever imagined. Unfortunately, I was starting to get very tired at this point, and after I had looked at what I wanted to see, including a very cool exhibition predominantly featuring art made from found objects, I decided to pop over to Times Square.
Times Square was.....boring. Uneventful. Full of people trying to sell crap souvenirs and people dressed in cabaret clothes, offering pamphlets in character. I felt sorry for them, it must suck to have to spend all day in character, offering pamphlets to people who don't care. One girls' eyes were glazed over, I think she had stopped actually paying attention to the people passing her by.
My time in New York was wonderful and exhausting. I fell in love with the city and can't wait to go back some day. The queer and feminist scene in New York is huge and impressive, and I think it would be fascinating to do research there on the ways in which people use music at queer and feminist events to bond with each other and express their identity. One day, hopefully.
Friday, 8 July 2016
The view from Blue Moon Hotel, Lower East Side
I arrived in New York the day before my 23rd birthday. This was the third year in a row I was celebrating away from home, but the first by myself. So I got a hotel room for the night, and settled in with a 6 pack of different craft beers while I binge-watched the latest Orange is the New Black and enjoyed a bubble bath (or 2...). When I woke up in the morning, I went for a walk to find brunch. Having passed numerous hipster cafes on my walk from the bus stop to my hotel, I knew it would be a matter of minutes before I found somewhere suitable. And man, was I impressed. Eggs Benedict with housemade English muffins, housemade hollandaise, and hollandaise fries. With a caramel latte. As an official Melbourne Brunch Snob, I am critical of brunches. This one passed the test with flying colours.
Berkli Parc, Lower East Side
After a successful brunch, I set out on my day. Most of what I know about New York is from watching Gossip Girl and Broad City way too many times, so obviously I had to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sit on the steps, while basically gawking at the real-life Serena Van Der Woodsens and Blair Waldorfs. It was just my luck that The Met's fashion exhibition, Manus X Machina was still going. I knew what the Met Gala was, and I knew that people wore amazing outfits, but I never put two and two together until I was in the exhibition, thinking about Beyonce's makeup faux pas and Taylor Swift's edgy look. This exhibition...Words could never describe the feelings I felt. Originally, I was meant to go to the 200 Years of Australian Fashion at the Ian Potter Gallery for my birthday with my partner, but we ended up going the weekend before I left. While that was amazing, this was a way better way to spend my birthday. The exhibition was all about the crossover between machine and hand in fashion, following the rise and introduction of new technologies. Several dresses were 3D printed, one had started as a cotton dress, coated in rubber, covered in iron filings, with a magnet then held above it to raise the iron filings before they dried, and it was then coated in an iridescent polyeurathane resin. I was blown away and frankly feel #blessed.
Manus X Machina, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
After my love affair with The Met came to an end, I strolled through Central Park and checked out the photography exhibit at The Arsenal Building. It was small but beautiful, filled with photos of people enjoying New York pools. Walking past Trump Tower (he's a gross guy, but boy do his hotels look amazing or what), Bendel's, and Harry Winston, I continued to feel like I was in an episode of Gossip Girl. A girl can dream... I got to MoMA, only to find out the line went right around the block, ending where it started. So I made my way back to my hotel to pick up my bags and go to the hostel, figuring I would visit another day.
I was exhausted, but my waitress at brunch had recommended an Australian-style cafe near my hotel, so I figured I would give it a shot before I left for my hostel in Queens. Thank goodness I did! Coffee in America is just...it's an entirely different drink. I'm glad I sorted out my caffeine addiction well before I left, because I would have struggled these last few weeks, I barely even touched coffee. But I swear to you, the first sip I had of this coffee from Dudley's, I shed a tear. What a bloody brilliant birthday present. The Met was amazing, and so was all of New York. I bought myself some beautiful earrings at The Met, and I had a lovely day. But this single coffee, it absolutely made my day. Before I left, I knew the two material things I would miss most were Melbourne coffee and Australian craft beer. So I feel that I did pretty well, to get craft beer and Melbourne coffee on my birthday. They were a real treat, and just what I needed.
Dudley's, Lower East Side
With this pure gold inside of me, I headed over to Queens and to my hostel. I had been hoping that I could spend the 30th alone in my hotel and the 1st partying a the hostel. It just so happened (as in many hostels, although I was yet to stay at a party hostel) that there was a pub crawl that night. I made friends with a bunch of American guys and we all made it out to this pub crawl. At first it was pretty boring, but eventually I found myself in a multi-level club on the rock band floor. I was standing right at the front, leaning onto the stage to collect balloons and throw them into the crowd, hi-fiving the singer, and dancing my butt off. Then I found myself downstairs on the hip-hop floor, dancing my pathetic white-girl moves. I'm bummed that I missed out on the EDM floor, but by the time I thought to explore further I was crashing hard. It was a successful birthday, filled with solo adventures, great coffee, and dancing with strangers. My idea of a perfect day, really.
Thursday, 30 June 2016
Done with Vegas, I hopped on a plane to Washington, DC. The guy sitting next to me on the plane insisted on talking at me, even though I had wrapped myself up in my scarf, put my neck pillow on, taken my shoes off, and put my headphones in. So he rather enthusiastically showed me photos of Death Valley, and gave me a spiel on the man bags he designs. While I listened to him rant about man purses, I thought about how weird it is that even handbags are seen as so emasculating that some men feel the need to put a gendered term before the object in order to make it sound more manly. Weird. Arriving in DC at night was a much nicer event than when I arrived in Las Vegas at night. I took the metro and happily walked the 15 minutes to my hostel, not once fearing for my safety. A welcome change, that's for sure. Walking into my hostel room, I discovered that two of the three girls already there were both from Melbourne, and had both attended Monash. One of them the same campus and building at the same time as me! Small world, for sure.
United States Botanic Garden
The first day, I was exhausted and barely left my bed. I binge watched almost all of Maria Bamford's new Netflix series, Lady Dynamite, which I highly recommend. Later in the day, I ended up talking to a bunch of Brazilian biologists, who eventually invited me to join them for dinner. My day in ended with a trip out to a nice, fancy Italian place, debates about sociological morals in academia, and a lot of basil beer. The following day, I walked down to the National Mall (where most of the Smithsonian museums are) and visited The Capitol, the Botanic Gardens, and the Air and Space Museum.
Air and Space Museum
Both the gardens and the museum were amazing, I was really blown away. It was, however, a lot of information to take in. Next, I made my way to the Pentagon and the 9/11 memorial over there. As I walked over to it, I saw tourists taking selfies with cheesy smiles. It made me feel uncomfortable, to see that happening at such a place. Walking around, I eventually figured out that the memorial for each American life lost in 9/11 is placed in chronological order based on when each person was born. It was difficult to look at the site of the child who was born in 1992. Helicopters flew overhead, the girl I had gone with, Catherine, and I discussed Columbine, and I thought back to when 9/11 occurred, almost 15 years ago. That morning, I turned the TV on and was upset that the shows I wanted to watch weren't on, Mum came out and I apparently told her that World War 3 was occurring. In second year uni, we studied a graphic novel about living in New York during and after 9/11. I remember sitting in the classroom, listening to 18- and 19-year-olds talk about their memories, as if they had a full adult understanding of what was happening at the time, and feeling out of place for admitting my own. I'll be going to the 9/11 memorial in New York, I'm sure I will feel all the things.
McLellan Gate, Arlington Cemetery
We then, after many issues with transport that morning, managed to hop on a metro train to Arlington Cemetery. The site spans 600 acres and is home to the Kennedy Family and many other notable people. I visited the Women's Memorial, reading personal accounts of women who had been in the military over the last hundred years. Recent art gave women who have recently been in the military a voice, and display cases showed the history of women's clothing and roles in the army. A lot of determination went into getting this memorial, and I was overwhelmed by the stories of women throughout. I walked up to the Kennedy family's graves below Arlington House, where there is a fire always lit in their honour. A tour trolley had broken down when a carriage became disconnected from the main carriage, and started a small fire as it dragged along the bitumen. The fire brigade came and many people were held up having to wait for the trolley to be save to use again. It shocked me to see people complaining so openly in a place that asks for quiet and respect. That's something I've seen a lot here, a lack of respect and understanding in situations that really need them.
The National Archives
Exhausted, we made our way to the National Archives to check out the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Obviously, you can't take photos of them, so I got a shot of this sick collection of old computer things. There were some absolutely huge floppy disks. And there I was, taking photos on my 32GB smartphone....
I was finding DC exhausting, I wasn't really doing anything except visit museums and then relax from 6pm onwards. My dreams of going out to a bar were never fulfilled, as I was too busy watching Orange is the New Black and refusing to move.
Dawe's Plexus A1, Renwick Gallery
Preparing myself for another big day, I started it off by heading to the Australian Embassy to vote. I was impressed to see people in their early twenties already voting when I arrived. A lot of people had said I should just fill out and overseas form to get out of voting, but I was adamant that I would have my say in this election. With that done, we headed to the White House. Standing out the front of it, people were muttering about the man on the balcony, until they realised it was a window cleaner and a security guard. Definitely not Obama. The visitor centre was fantastic, it gave great insight into the home life in the White House. There is something magical about seeing photos of presidents at home, with their family. One first lady danced on a table, another sat on her sofa as she looked out the window. Obama posed like a kid on his first day at school as his daughters took photos of him in 2009.
Villareal's Volume, Renwick Gallery
The Renwick Gallery was opposite the White House, and the moment I saw the word "Installation" on a banner, I was in. Unfortunately, the second floor of the Wonder exhibition closed in May, so not everything was available. An exhibition apparently opens up tomorrow that is about internet culture. The installations I saw were fantastic, just so amazing. A hilly landscape compiled only of small pieces of square card, a room filled with homes and hidey holes made of twigs, carefully selected and formed. 23,000 LEDs programmed to sparkle, a ceiling covered in coloured netting, with coloured lights. Installation art is probably my favourite type of art. It was so lovely to walk into a room and lie down with dozens of others, relaxing and enjoying the light change through the netting.
Echelman's 1.8, Renwick Gallery
Feeling invigorated after the Renwick Gallery, I walked down to the WWII memorial and sat there for a bit. I walked along the Reflecting River, to the Lincoln Memorial. Young girls stood where Martin Luther King Jr. stood for his "I have a dream" speech, excited to be standing in a spot where a huge moment in history had occurred. A crowd of schoolgirls then barged past, with no regard for their surroundings or the experiences of others at the memorial.
I was so exhausted by this point. I usually have a five hour max, and I had reached it. But I still had to make it home. So I slowly started to make my way home. The National Museum for Women in the Arts was on the way, however, and I stopped there. I'm so glad I did. Women are so looked over in history, in so many fields, and women have been creating art forever, they just tend not to be recognised. It was amazing to see art, and influential art, from hundreds of years ago, right up to the present day. An exhibition was on, called She Who Tells a Story, a photographic exhibition of work from Iranian and Arabic women. The exhibition was beautiful, powerful, artful. A comment on the guest book demonstrated the need for such an exhibition, with a woman saying that she had never thought of women in these cultures in situations so similar to hers. It also displayed the ignorance that many people seem to have, and I hope this exhibition challenges and changes that for people who may have misconceptions regarding the lives of women in the Middle East. A lady in my hostel in LA informed me that she contacts women in the Middle East and empowers them with Western ideals, encouraging them to rid themselves of any covering they may wear for religious reasons. I wish she could see this exhibition, maybe it would enlighten her...
Turtle made from rubbish found in the sea, National Museum of Natural History
I had one full day left in DC, but I was starting to really feel the exhaustion. It wasn't helping that a woman from New Hampshire was the noisiest hostel roommate I have ever had. The first night she was in our room, she made us turn the lights off at 9pm, she then woke up at 5am the next day and paced the room in her hard-soled shoes, climbing on and off the bed, rattling her lock, until 7:30am. Although she had no issue getting off the bunk bed during the day, my mornings were punctuated by a loud thump next to my head as she jumped off the bed. So, sleep wise, things hadn't been going so well. It really added to the exhaustion. Regardless, I wanted to make the most of my final day.
Museum of Natural History
I very slowly made my way down to the National Museum of Natural History, having been told to prioritise it. It was magnificent. Huge, busy, crowded, filled with people who have no regard for other's space, and certainly no regard for exhibitions. But the museum itself was wonderful. It was so immersive, so colourful.
Museum of Natural History
The museum was amazing, but by this point I was finding it really hard to take in any information. Give me something pretty to look at, though, and I'll pay attention. The aquariuam was beautiful, I don't know if those are anenome or what but they were so gorgeous to look at. Then, I discovered the Harry Winston Gallery....The correct way for me to learn about gemstones is through really amazing jewelry. I recognised the name from Gossip Girl (Blair's favourite jeweler), and I knew that looking at stunning jewels would absolutely make my day. And I wasn't wrong! There was jewelry gifted by Napoleon, jewelry that had belonged to Marie Antoinette, one of the largest sapphires in the world (the Hope Diamond). Amazing! Talk to me through pretty things and I'll pay attention, that's for sure.
Harry Winston Gallery, National Museum of Natural History
Finally, I stopped by the National Museum of American History to check out their quilt collection so I could take photos for my aunts. Unfortunately, the collection is by tour only, as it is in the archives. I took the time to check out the section of the gallery about women in the war. Up until now, I had been thoroughly impressed with the representation of women in the galleries. This one disappointed me. There was a model of a woman working as a riveter, a little riveting game for kids to try out, and two quotes. There wasn't anything about the Rosie the Riveter campaign, and there was very little else on women working during the war. Then I went down to the museum store and a table the size of the model was set up with heaps of Rosie the Riveter merchandise. It saddens me to know that the Smithsonian is trying to capitalise on this important moment in history without representing it well in their actual museum.
After this, I had well and truly worn myself down to the bone, so I just stayed in and talked to Mary Elizabeth, a like minded roommate at my hostel. It's really nice to meet people that you click with when you're traveling alone. This can be a really lonely thing, and I have gone from having constant intimacy with close friends, to being alone on the other side of the world. So I really appreciate human connection.
Now I am on a bus to New York City, where I will stay in a hotel for a night. It will be nice to be alone and sleep in a full size bed for a night. Tomorrow I'll go to a hostel. I figured that I would spend my Australian birthday (it's currently the 1st in Australia) in a hotel, and my American birthday (it will be the 1st tomorrow) celebrating with people I meet at the hostel. We'll see how it works out though!